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Saturday, June 16, 2007

AMORGOS: AEGIALI BAY

June 11.

Quite a few years ago I bought post card with a photo of a beautiful village with white cubistic houses clinging to the mountainside above a bay. This is it. Aegiali Bay on the little Cycladic Island of Amorgos.

When we arrived we wre driven up to theposh Aegiali Hotel on the mountain overlooking the bay, the water so clear and brilliant turquoise you can see down into the depths. I was awestruck to the point of tears. This was it! The post card picture I had horded all those years. Finally I had arrived!

It began in April when I was sent a notice by the travel writers org. regarding a conference for tourism and culture at Amorgos. I contacted the travel agent there and introduced myself. i couldn't attend the confrerence, but I was coming to Greece and would definitely like to visit Amorgos in order to write about it. She responded eager to meet me and show me the island.

Amorgos isn't one of the Cycladic islands like Mykonos or Naxos that has as yet been overrun with tourism, although it is popular with some Brits, Scandanavians, French and Germans who come each year. It's a rugged, barren mountainous island, its main attraction being the extraordinary Monastary which clings to a cliff high above the sea. It's an enticing island for those who want to get off the trouist route and explore, an island which is still like the Greece of 20 years ago except I was told twenty years ago there were no rods. At Aegiali the atmosphere is definitely laid back, perhaps a left over hippie vibe fro the '70's hwne the hippies came to camp on the beaches. There is hardly any traffic and few tourists except the happy groups of Norse folk with their beautiful blonde children, and the hardy Brit seniors who have come to hike in the hills.

We waited in the hotel's reception area, treated to a refreshing drink and talked to an interesting German many who has been coming there for years. Aside from the greeting we received on arrival, we were pretty much left alone until the driver came and said he was takingus to our room. I had turned down the offer of an expensive suite at the hotel/spa and asked for a more doest accomodation. We were told we would have a room at the "new" Cabana Complex on the beach. So we wre whisked away from the posh hotel complex (like two poor relaations) and taken to a room on the beach (which was good as it had access to the town) but the room was very poorly equiped, no hangers for our clothes, no plce to hang wet twels etc, no cups for our coffeee. This was quite a let-down after what we'd had a Naxos for the same price! (In addition, the first morning we used the electrive kettle provied, the elctricity went kaput). Down below us was a sea-side bar but the men running it were so surly we felt uncomfortable ween asking questions, as they made it seem like such a burden. (We had to deal with the bar guy to pay our hotel bill in the end or take a taxi up the mountain to the hotel.) From the time we arrived, nobody from Aigiali Tourism contacted us. Eventually, after calls regarding the lack of electricity, the woman expressed surprise we were leaving so soon and said she'd intended to invite us for a dinner. No such invitation had been indicated on our arrival and we couldn't take advantage of the offer of a massage or use of the pool, gym etc as the hotel was so far awy from where we were locate. What upset me most was, she knew I was there to write about the island, but made no offer to include us in the tours that the company offers guests.

Instead, we made our own way by bus to the famous monastary. For starters, the bus serice on the island is sparse. We were dropped off by the roadsie at 12.30 and the returning bus to the
chora and the other port of Katopolo was at 1.20. It took over half an hour to slog our way up the cobbled pathway and many, many steps to the monastary. Then I discovered I was not allowed to enter as I was wearing pants. (At Meteora they supply wraps and I had assumed - wrongly - they would here too). I waited inside the shad eof AB to enter the sanctuary. I was already exhausted and saturated with sweat from the long hike up.

The Moni Hazouretissia is an 11thc. monastary which contains a miraculous icon found in the sea elow and believed to have arrived (on it's own) from Jerusalem.

The dazzling white building clings percariously to a cliff face aove the coast. Three monks still live there.

I waited in the shaded area and eventually a kind lady from Worcester Eng came along and offered to loan me her town for a skirt. I climbed up the steep stairway to th sanctuary but it was already closed. I was invited into the waiting are and offered a Turksih delight and small glass of local raki and wter.

Then began the trek back down the hundreds of stesp to the road. And just our luck, we had missed the us back to Hora.
"Only two kilometers. It's not far!" we were told. But it was uphill, on a winding mountain road, midday, blazing hot sun and not bitt of shade anywhere. We slogged on, exhausted. Even though I wore a hat and carried water I swear that if I'd had to walk one more kilometere I would have collapsed of heat stoke. I could feel the blood throbbing in my head and began to get worried that I'd neer make it. We won our fitness bedges that day for sure!

Finally, we reached Hora, a small Cycadic village 400 m. above the sea. It's all white buildings and capped with a 12 cent. Kastro high on a rock. By that time thougn, we had little interest in archaeologogical finds or history. We sat in a shady cafe and slurped down iced tea, debaint on what to do next as we'd missed the bus to town. AB wanted to cab it to Aigiali: 18 Eur. I wanted a look at Katopolo, down at the coast : 8 Euro. We ended up sharing a cab with a Norse lady and her two kids who had also missed the bus.

Another disappointment, as though it the principal port occuping a large bay, Katapolo didn't hve the magical charm of Aigiali. The each was pebbly and u ninviting 9dirty) and there was nothing much to see except the famour Big Blue Pub, named after the French fil The Big Blue, filmed in Amrogos in the late '80's, which evidently they show at the pub each night at 8.

We walked over, took some photos of it, and left to catch the bus. The drive back to Aegiali was one of those hair raising, breath-taking rides where at every narrow hairpin turn you gasp, genuflect and pray the brakes are working. I dare say it was even more winding, spectacular and freaky than the drive therough the Andes that Patrick and I took last Nov. to Argentina.

To say the scenery was spectaucrular was an u nderstatement and I took a few photos from the bus indow to prove it. We eventually arrived safely in Aegiali only to face a few more hassles with the unfriendly tavern guys trying to get the electricity turned on. We were not amused!

By the we were both tired, hot and cranky and headed to the beach in separate directions. Our last night in Aegilia wasn't so much fun at all. We had arrived hopeful and excited, impressed with the lovely setting, the magical twinkling of the stars and lights of the tiny villages tucked high in the folds of the mountains, the pleasant beach, the otherwise friendly people in the town. But we were very disappointed by the reception we'd had and felt 'abandoned', really, and as AB said even the room they gave us seemed 'abandoned".

A nice memory t hough, was our conversation with the German man who we met again on various occasions, and the cheerful interesting chats with the lovely man w ho ran the Slini Taverna by the sea. He spoke several languages fluently and was so helpful and kind to us. I know when I saw him that I could fall in love again. maybe because he reminded me of Anibal in a way. I'd like to return there, wish I could have stayed longer (without the hassles) It is a good place to retreat, perhaps to hole up to write or paint or just refelct on life. That was my best impression of Aegiali and if you want a place that is quiet and unexploited, I'd recommend. it.

NEXT: The Little Cyclades (The journey back to NAxos)

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