This morning holds unknown. We’ve made no plans. Breakfast is slow, we ponder over a map of the island. After a while, we determine, we will rent a scooter and tour the far other side of the island where we’re told, the roads get too steep for even scooters, much less bikes.
With all of about 30 seconds of instruction, we’re on the scooter, heading up the side of the island which is basically just a really steep mountain. Within minutes, we’re already laughing at how ridiculous this would be on a bike and we’re glad for our inexpensive ride for the day. Bike touring certainly does have limitations.
The roads climb skyward and apparently no one thought about using switchbacks when these roads were built. Under our weight, the scooter whines as we summit hill after hill. I feel almost guilty for asking so much from this little machine.
The views however, offer me absolution. We never would have come all the way up here under our own power. The forests, the towns, the sapphire water, the cool morning air in my face combine together. This is heaven.
We roll into the monastery just in time to catch the end of Sunday services and we sit in the overflow observing worshipers and listening to the resonating music. Many stop to kiss a glass case, and later we note that behind the case appear to be bones. I’m dying to know where they came from, but instead, we head outside.
Almost immediately, we meet a kitty cat. I squat down to pet his head and he sees my bent legs as a free place to snuggle. Still squating in the air, I’m now holding a cat in my lap. Ben and I are in stitches and together, the cat and I waddle over to a bench where I scratch his chin for a long while. This place seems to be absolutely made for crazy cat ladies.
Once we’ve done the monastery justice we hop back on the bike and continue to climb, noting stunning views of the harbor and forested roads. The scooter moans and squeals until we reach the sign noting Kastros beach.
We’d been told we were up against a 20 minute walk down to the water, but between a long detour and the fact that we didn’t drive nearly as far down the road as we might have, I think we hiked well over an hour. En route, we visited a castle from the 1300’s as well as a mosque and a number of churches.
Finally, we start heading down to the water, just in time to watch three separate tour boats departing the beach, leaving the whole area practically deserted. We can hardly believe the luck of our timing. The sea is more stunningly clear than anything I’ve ever witnessed and almost perfectly calm. Only a handful of other people are around to share it with us.
Four hours disappear. We lap back and forth, practicing our open water skills across the harbor, bemoaning the fact that we somehow forgot our goggles. Undaunted, we paddle anyway, baffled by the beauty of this magical place. When the ocean chill gets to be too much, we perch on a rock, absently picking through the pebbles, selecting the most colorful and unique and setting them aside. We swim again, we sunbathe some more. Even once we start to worry that we’ll be tomato red in the morning, we delay our departure. This place has compelled us far beyond our normal interest in sitting on the shore and we’re reluctant to leave.
When the sun finally wins and sends us looking for cover, we head up the beach to the shady taverna, run by a mother, father, and their son who looks around eleven. The boy comes to take our order, and we ask for an order of fried potatoes hoping it will tide us over until dinnertime. When he returns, he is bearing a plate of fries, but also an unexpected small salad and bread. He slides the whole thing in front of us announces, “your fried potatoes…and the salad is from us.” We eat and feel once again wrapped up safely in the kindness of an entire country of people that we’ve never met before.
One final ocean dip, and we’re back on the trail, hiking sharply up toward the scooter. Then, we hop on for a long ride down down down. Somewhere during the descent, the scooter dies but the roads are so insanely steep that Ben doesn’t even fire it back up. Even without the motor, we whip down with such a sharp pitch that I’m sliding out of my spot on the seat. The landscape twirls by at a dizzying, spectacular pace with nothing but wind chasing us along the way.
We don’t even pause when we get to our hotel room, we just keep on riding to the other end of the island. We’re interested to see the other beaches and now seems as good of time as any. We get on and off, checking out sandy strips of land, all beautiful in their own right, but none quite as stunning as Kastro. Finally, at our last stop, we find an ugly stone dock and after some deliberation, decide that we simply can’t go home without diving off of it.
The afternoon heat is long gone and we’d only just recently dried off from our last swims. I’m not anxious to be wet and cold, but dive in anyway. Twice in fact, just because it was there.
Finally, we head toward home. For the last stretch of road, I focus on the smells: the flowers, the sea, the smell of fish and chicken roasting. Complete bliss.