Breaking it down into tiny steps seemed to be the only way. One foot in front of the other. Squinting in the bright sunlight. Not looking up ahead to what may lie at the ridge and especially not looking down. There seemed to be more dramatic views the higher we got – not that I saw any of them. I enjoyed them later with aching legs and safely sat on low ground when G showed me them on his phone.
It wasn’t that the hike was particularly steep. It wasn’t meant to be particularly challenging either – we’d walked from Kini to Gallissas on a route I love as it takes you out into wild headlands and over the stone steps that connect the two villages. The route out to Katokefalos (only funny because Google translates it as the ‘headache’!) was described as a medium easy hike. Of course it totally felt like that at the start pondering up the incline at the end of Gallissas beach – we looked up and found the path, fairly steep at first for 100mtrs and then balanced out into a fairly flat but HIGH up – a goat clinging path. With every turn and whoosh of the warm breeze, it got slightly worse and my vertigo-fear kicked in.
The walk paralysed me with fear. Just focusing on getting through the steps ahead was the only tactic. Giving myself over to the crunchy gravel-like stones that’s seemed to be shifting underfoot creating a moving surface. When there was flatter rocks and boulders, it was slippery underfoot. My faithful spider stick was now doubling up as a leaning stick. By the time we were at the end of the Katokefalos headland, I was clinging on. Trying (and failing) to channel my Inner Cheryl Strayed.
If there is one comparison to be made between hiking and life, it is this: by attempting to look at the whole route will do nothing but set out intimidation to block your way. To look at every pitfall and high ledge with fear might feel natural. Yes, that path looks to be fit for nothing more than skinny goats, it probably is. But you’ll try anyway. G led the way – he had this look in his eyes that was less about his fear and more about the fear I have of falling and how he’d need to support me if I freak out. Leaning silently on one another is needed in relationships. How to be supportive, without leading and telling. Being scared and making mistakes, giving them space to find their feet and way of seeing things.
Life’s preciousness has a brutal way of reminding you not to take it for granted. Like the path it is impossible to take it all in at once – it is too much to process, every twist and turn, marker on the way, snake in the grass and wildflower clinging to the rocks. Looking for too long and too hard can leave nothing but a sheer drop into the deep frothing sea. But by taking the path for what you can see can be part of this. Not just the few metres in front – just each step. One by one. No looking back, no looking up and ahead. Not down to the vertiginous plants clinging to the rock, not to wonder how they survive in an impossible feat of nature. Just take life for what it is. There on the path I learned to follow these rules.
In the village there are white painted steps that rise up from the main road and lead to the church – on one side and on the other. A common sight in any Greek village – instead of all roads leading to Rome, nearly all paths lead to a church in Greece. The steps are painted white so you can see them in the dark, there often isn’t street lights on every path so that helps. I have little routes around and across the village, to the small harbour one day, then across Loto the next. Up one way and down the other. As someone who grew up in a large town and lived in cities all my adult life, I find the village atmosphere refreshing even when I’m on my own. It isn’t scary to be alone. The funny thing is you can’t really be lonely in a village this size, there are Kalamera’s and Kalaspera’s and other nods and smiles, and often, a crazed barking dog on every wander. I spent 5 days here alone while G was in the UK and am more than pleased to admit I wasn’t bored at all. I took myself out to lunch and on a trip around the Industrial Museum. Drinking coffee and watching the day slowly unfolding with quiet dramas of island life. I was social and went out with people for dinner which was fun as I like listening to people’s stories. The stories about the villages, the politics of places and people who live here are fascinating. Syros is an island of contrasts – rural farming and goats grazing, beaches and bars, heavy industry and commerce. An island of nomads – why they came, how they live and what grounds them here.
Last Saturday I went out early to pick caper berries from a bush a little further out from the village. It had been damp overnight and the smell of seaweed hung in the humid air as I walked over the soft wet sand on Loto beach. The caper bush I found was abundant with flowers and berries, all graciously unpicked. I know won’t really be a secret – I bet at least one wise lady knows it’s there. But that’s why I only took enough to half fill the jar, barely making a dent on its bounty. I love walking alone, although always consider the risk of snake-bite, which people warn us about as now’s the time of year they roam around. The other night we overheard a conversation about a snake bite. A typical tale involving a trip to the hospital, anti-venom injection. Always a lucky escape.
I’ve still never seen a snake on the path and hope it stays that way.
“I myself have always found that if I examine something, it’s less scary. I grew up in the West, and we always had this theory that if you saw – if you kept the snake in your eye line, the snake wasn’t going to bite you. And that’s kind of the way I feel about confronting pain. I want to know where it is.”- Joan Didion,