Kyra Rinio: The Guardian Angel of Kinaros

Rinio Katsotourhi-Thireou, the sole resident of Kinaros, a remote islet in the Dodecanese, is determined to stand guard over her corner of Greece.


Kinaros, we arrived in the small port of Pnigos and disembarked in front of Kyra Rinio’s house. I was carrying a box of pastries, and she had made goat ragu pasta. We had a celebratory evening picnic in the middle of the sea, on an island with only one resident. We felt a sense of accomplishment, but only until we realized that the true achievement is living alone on a rocky islet for 365 days a year, in almost primitive conditions, with many modern basic needs being severely underserved. Talk about a change of perspective. Kinaros is located in the Dodecanese archipelago, east of Amorgos and west of Leros and Kalymnos. It is easy to find on a map, but approaching it is extremely difficult due to the open sea and strong winds.

Kinaros’ only current resident lives in an old fishermen’s café with a single room near the concrete dock where fishing boats are moored during the summer. She was born in Amorgos in 1945, one of six daughters born to farmers Giorgos and Akathi Thireou, who were permanent residents of Kinaros. Kyra Rinio came to the island when she was nine days old.  To survive in this harsh environment, without running water or a sewage system, with electricity provided by solar panels and communication with the “outside world” only via satellite phone, one must have a strong will. If the weather allows, the boat from Amorgos brings basic supplies once a week.

From dawn to dusk

When the wind dies down, Kyra Rinio sits and stares for hours at the mouth of the narrow Pnigos Bay, where her tiny house stands next to a small beach. When the weather is mild, private boats or the boats of her fishermen friends dock there, but when it is stormy, she may not see another human being for months. At other times, she barely has enough time to finish her chores. Before she can leave a couple of stonefish to cook in her old pot on her courtyard stove, she must scramble up the rugged slopes of the dry cliff to water and feed her animals before nightfall. In addition to her dog Shiva, Kyra Rinio has a dozen chickens in a coop and about two hundred hardy goats and sheep that graze on the slopes. “Nothing else grows here anymore,” she says, “the sun burns everything.” Aside from a carob tree, prickly pears, some wild figs, shrubs, and a few vineyards with Muscats, Strawberries, Voudomato grapes, and raisins, Kinaros is a barren land.

Days of nostalgia

There are also those days when she is overcome by nostalgia. She remembers her husband Mikes, whom she lost in 2013. She climbs up to the old, abandoned settlement, tireless as a goat. There, in the small Byzantine church of Aghios Georgios, built in 1878 by her great-grandfather Michael Davis, she lights a candle in his memory every other day. In the churchyard, there is also a memorial for lieutenants Anastasios Toulitsis and Konstantinos Pananas, as well as surface radar operator Eleftherios Evangelou, who died on February 11, 2016, when the navy helicopter Agusta Bell 212 crashed on Kinaros. A little further up, the old house where she once lived with her parents stands deserted.

On the long journey home, I thought about Kyra Rinio, whose laughter echoes throughout the entire island, and her courageous decision to remain there, standing guard over Thermopylae and welcoming visitors, only to bid them farewell with her handkerchief once again. As long as she lives and breathes on the island she has chosen to protect, Kinaros is more than just a drop in the ocean; it is a piece of vibrant Greece. As we left by boat, I watched her standing proudly on the shore, dressed in a well-worn striped t-shirt. At that moment, she seemed to me like a vision of the Greek flag.

“Why don’t you get out of here, Kyra Rinio? Doesn’t the loneliness bother you? Are you not afraid?” I asked her just before getting into the boat. Her answer left no room for misinterpretation: “I’m not leaving, my child; my home is here. Even if they gave me a sack full of pounds, I would give it to the poor and remain here.” What passion, determination, and love she has for her homeland!

Kyra Rinio, the Lady of Kinaros, won First Prize at the 16th Gastronomos Quality Awards, which were organized in December 2023 by Gastronomos, Greece’s leading food magazine.

 

This article was previously published in Greek at gastronomos.gr.



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