On Monday, September 26, 2022, our team started our first mission, clearing the path between Vatopedi and Esfigmenou. After waking up at 6am and having breakfast at 6.30am specially made for our team, we got a lift from a grumpy Greek driver, who couldn’t understand why we had to go up the hill, thinking we had can start working on the trails from below, near the monastery (it would have taken us an hour to walk up the hill to our starting point!). Anyway, we finally reached our spot to start our day cutting down and removing obstacles such as bushes and trees, to ensure that pilgrims can have a good and safe walk on the Athos hiking trails.
But before I continue describing the work on our first day, I would like to share a webinar where two of our prominent members of the FoMA footpath team attended, Chris Thomas and Peter Desmond, which took place in February 2022. In this video of a webinar from the Anglo-Hellenic League, viewable on YouTube, the story of the FoMA footpath team is told. What I didn’t know was that (at the time) Prince Charles played an active role in the foundation of the footpath team in 2004, 18 years ago. He asked the members of FoMA to set up a team of footpath cleaners to preserve and maintain the Athos trails. He even helped a team in 2004, as you can see in the photos below, which I ‘took’ from the video.
Father Mathew from Vatopedi discribed our mission as follows in simple words: “make shure that a monk on a donkey can pass the paths smoothly”. With that simple task in mind we put on our work gloves and took our loppers and saws and started working.
Most kalderimi, these are the wider paths that have been paved with cobblestones in the passed centuries, do require much work, although sometimes you have to remove fallen trees or the most annoying plants, the broom plants with their vicious thorns – see photo below.
Unfortunately the old trapeza of Vatopedi is being renovated while we were there, so dinner was served at 5:30 pm in a cellar near the kitchen: that night we got spaghetti with tomato sauce without oil, but with olives and fruit (not wine but fruit juice) . Let’s not forget to mention Father Mathew’s hot sauce made from the Carolina Reaper pepper, the hottest pepper in the world: just 5 drops of it in my spaghetti and it almost killed me too!
Wim Voogd, 14-3-2023