By Vicky Katehaki
It was late August 2005 when a group of mountaineers based in Vrilissia, northern Athens, arrived on the island of Ikaria with the aim of mapping the Aegean island’s network of mountain paths, which up until then were mostly uncharted and had in many cases become impassable. The volunteer mission – their first – was successful, and since then all of Ikaria’s trails have been mapped.
Every summer, some 30 members of the Vrilissos Naturalist Club go island-hopping, mapping scenic walking paths and making them accessible for those who want to follow in their footsteps. This summer they traveled to the group of small islands called Fourni, which lie between Ikaria and Samos, with 900 permanent residents.
We caught up with the team the day before they were due to head back to Athens. They were enjoying a meal at a seaside taverna in the town of Kamari, celebrating their exhausting but successful mission. Each day they would set out at the crack of dawn. Daylight hours were spent hiking, mapping and clearing trails, while also highlighting places of interest along the way.
“On Fourni [the biggest island in the homonymous complex] and Thymaina there was not a single mapped trail. But now hikers have three to choose from which we’ve marked and can even be seen on Google Earth,” said Diamantis Papadopoulos, the team leader.
The trail on Thymaina starts on the island’s north coast, heading south, then crosses the interior, including Thymaina’s highest point – from where there is a breathtaking view of the whole Ikarian archipelago – before ending on the eastern coast. “This is a path that locals said had been used for a very long time. Today it’s much easier to find. It’s a three-and-a-half hour hike and ends at the small church of Aghios Nikolaos in a beautiful little bay,” team member Dimitra Mazaraki told us.
The Vrilissos group mapped two paths on the island of Fourni, which consists of two parts joined by a narrow isthmus. Both trails are on the southern part of the island. The first is a cyclical route which had been all but abandoned but is now walkable again thanks to the volunteers’ efforts. It starts in Fourni Town and heads up into the mountains before circling round back to the coast, taking in little churches and gorgeous countryside with views of the Aegean Sea in all directions.
The second route the team mapped on Fourni was the Maneta Pirate pathway, which, as its name suggests, has quite a history, according to locals. It only takes 40 minutes to hike and ends at one of the island’s best beaches.
It was an awe-inspiring mission for the volunteers. During the nine days they spent on Thymaina, they were housed in the island’s school building. The team said they had a lot of help from the local municipality, although the islanders were a bit wary of them at first. “To begin with, they would look upon our every move with suspicion. But quickly they understood that what we were doing was important for them and they became much more friendly,” said Diamantis.
“In Greece alone there are more than 300,000 hikers and mountaineers. That means areas like this will immediately benefit from this volunteer work. They will benefit from a boost in tourism and it could even lead to more jobs,” he added. To view the pathways that Diamantis Papadopoulos and his team have mapped, click here.
This article first appeared at ekathimerini.com on 5/10/17