As Boris predicted, there was a sign guiding us to Chilandariou. A bit later than expected. But still there was a sign. Here with pilgrim Jaap who is preparing his walking sticks.
Due to the devasting fire the landscape had changed, as we will see. And even the dirt road takes part of the erosion process. The road is washed out and only accessible by four-wheel-drive.The clearance of the trees gives room for smaller plants and shrubberies to develop. Changes give new opportunities for new plants. The burnt wood leaves nutrition in the soil. An abundant amount of flowers appeared in large fields giving a picturesque view on the Holy Mountain. An inspiration for impressionists.These man-high thistles with their intense purple flowers contrast nicely with the clean white clouds and the green stalks.The dirt road twists and turns to reach the highest point on a range of hills. Then it binds the one top of the hill with the next. And that continues for a long and winding time. It is hard to get lost here. All is very clear and open. There are practically no crossings.The lack of trees gives wide open views on the surroundings. Here we are looking north and see the old wind mill of Chromitsa, known for its wine fields. The wind mill has changed its source of energy from wind into solar power. Behind it we see the profane beaches of the town Ierissos. In the background the mountains of Stratoni, with its much disputed gold mines above the town.
This part of Athos is almost without any human activity. There are no monasteries or sketes. No buildings what so ever. Only the dirt road. It is an impressive emptiness. Sydney Loch, who lived in the Byzantine tower in Ouranopolis used to walk here from his home town via Chromitsa, and Proto Nero, the first water, to Chilandariou, the first monastery.We discovered an artificial lake, used as an water reservoir. It will take a while before this a full grown forest again, if it ever happens. The fire was extinguished on august the 12th in the year 2012. Most of the images of the aftermath of the fire have been taken from the ferry. But here, in the inland, walking through the vast hilly and barren lands, the immense impact of the fire grabbed me by the throat.A clear symbol of the fire. The fir tree blackened by the fire and bleached by the sun with mount Athos as a back drop. The fresh greenish vegetation represents the hope for the future.Pilgrims Jacques and Jaap on their way. The evolution puts us back on four feet again with the aid of the walking sticks. We had planned to go to Chilandariou but is was fully booked. So we decided to take the risk and try our luck in Esfigmenou. We know about their reputation but they have been very kind to us before, so we hoped we could receive hospitality there. If not, we would try Chilandariou again. And if that would not work, we would sleep outside for a night. Under the clear sky.Clear sky? Suddenly black clouds packed over our heads. We were still walking on a ridge and very exposed. No shelter for miles. No place to hide. A thunder made me quiver. We unpacked our rain gear. The disturbing weather moved away quickly to our relief. There were only a few thick drops of rain.On the northern site of the ridge the road drops. The landscape here looks terraced like Indonesian flooded rice-fields. As if it had been used a long time ago.Because of the fire we couldn’t find any of the red trails, the monopati, that were indicated on our maps in this part of Athos, that is called Zygos. The fire destroyed them all. Probably forever, unless the Friends of Mount Athos find their way here and do reconstruct the old paths. Which is rather unlikely because the trails in this part of Athos go from nowhere to nowhere.
The scan is taken from the very detailed Peter Howarth’s map of Athos (2016). I added a green line as an indication where we walked. Needless to say that we didn’t meet a living soul there, in the Athonian desert.
Bas Kamps, 5/7/2017