It was a very boring Sunday at work in the Netherlands when I came across a disclaimer about a volunteer project in the Greek island of Ikaria. I knew something about this place because of Greek friends talking about this ‘wild’ spot, where nature is rough and hiking is as pure as in a few other places in this corner of the world. I was looking for ideas about where to go for my summer break. I didn’t think twice and as soon I found myself approaching the Ikarian soil by a midnight boat from Piraeus the first day of June 2016.
The ‘Pathways’ project is aimed at cleaning the pathways of the island. Tourists, adventurers and hikers for sure need a guideline in terms of organisation, planning and development of their routes, especially if they want to reach the sea through the mountain. The land is steep almost everywhere, rough with tall and deep vegetation. It can be difficult to hike because there are no signs and even experts can get lost if they get too deep into the mainland without a local guide.
This island is basically a piece of mountain in the middle of the sea.
A territory of old local conflicts with Turkish, Germans and Italians, Ikarians learnt quickly how to stay quiet when the enemy was approaching the coast and to step back on the mountains at night, where would have been really difficult to be followed and found.
You won’t find a single dog because they don’t know how to keep quiet. This is the island of the cat. Silent.
Locals learnt how to become self-sustainable, how to live with what they have and even today, their water and electrical system is totally independent of Athens.
Ikaria is a living myth if you have open ears, ready to listen to the sound of something unique, authentic.
Me, an Australian couple of travellers (the guy of Greek origins), a German translator, an English guy and a Canadian doctor who was actually already living on the island as well as a couple of Italians, founders of the association Amikaria, we were the outsiders. Truth is, we never felt outsiders. It is hard to beat the sense of hospitality these people transmit. I will always remember the gratitude for our efforts shown by their emotional eyes. These people are natural and spontaneous and I loved getting to know them.
We spent almost four weeks waking up at 7, going to the open fields after breakfast and working hard under the sun until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. I personally was involved with some blogging and marketing stuff too, so some days were spent in the cute library of the Greek language school where I and the rest of the gang were sleeping. We also looked for the wood to create the signs, we cut it and paint it with the names of the places. At the end, we located the pathways with a GPRS and created the maps in Google.
We worked hard. We planned how to clean this rough land with almost no tools. Locals helped us with what they had, especially wine, food and smiles!
In the afternoon we were always heading to the beach or discovering other parts of the island.
We also studied Greek and had open air classes of Ikariotiko dance with a professional teacher at the sunset. Local parties called ‘panigiria’ are something you really don’t want to miss if you will visit this place. In some other parts of the world, they could be called healthy raves, as people dance until the sun is rising.
In almost four weeks I discovered a reality which is hard to forget. It is so different from the other Greek islands and in every aspect of their life, Ikarians bring a taste of old wisdom and of rough, difficult past.
This island is not for conventional people. Even in the most commercial sites, thanking heaven will never be like anywhere else!
I highly recommend a visit if you are passionate about wild nature, dramatic sea cost and mountains to hike but above all willing to get deep into folklore and a real Greek culture. This land is full of history, blood and suffering.
Locals are able to welcome you and hug you and grab you down to their dances but if you will ever head to this diamond of the Greek sea, please be gentle. Be ready and willing to leave the rush of modernity on the plane and if you can, get there by boat, so that you will slowly forget the modern madness and while tasting the flavour of one of the most laid back spirit to be found on earth.
This land gives birth to people who are among the longest lived and it’s named among the ‘blue zones’ of our planet: places that don’t know stress and unhealthy lifestyles.
Life gets longer and people smile more enjoying what they actually have.
If you want to get involved, you can visit the Pathways website because they are looking for volunteers all year round.
For other info:
If you want to know more about the island, I also suggest Eleni’s blog.
The two pathways cleaned by the group of vounteers I joined are: