Posted on 2017-11-292017-12-05 by larkspurThe Old Forest It is a nice winter day, so we decide to cross the mountain for a hike. But no rush… We return to the main church in the village of Petropouli to search for the trail into the Old Forest. This will be our second attempt to find the path. Petropouli bell tower. On a side street off the main square, we finally locate a single red arrow, inconspicuously placed on a stone wall. After several false starts that result in us standing at the top of a muddy hill amongst blackberry brambles and weeds, we come across this red arrow pointing up some stone steps. Here is the sign denoting the trailhead, which is only visible after you’ve actually figured out where you’re going. The first part of the hike takes us through an extensive poultry farm. The geese and large turkey are clearly perturbed by our presence. Time to move on. As we climb into the hills, we get a nice view toward the North. Petropouli gets farther and farther away. The hills are strewn with old stone walls. The trail forks here, with one direction leading to Raos Houtra Cave, and the other to the Old Forest. We come across some wild sage. Mountain heather is blooming on the hillside. These little daisies are everywhere. But we only see about three of these crocuses on our whole hike. We continue to follow red arrows. Or red dots. The red arrows and dots are painted onto a variety of surfaces. Sometimes they are even found on loose stones, which means they could easily be shifted to point in any direction. We come to the periphery of the Old Forest. There is a mix of trees here, with a predominance of various oak species. The Old Forest, or the “Randi Forest,” is considered the most ancient forest in the Balkans. It is home to the rare Quercus Ilex (Holm Oak) which evolved during the Miocene Epoch 5 million years ago. This Holm Oak forest is one of the oldest remaining forests of its kind in the Eastern Mediterranean. It makes up almost 25 percent of Ikaria’s total forested area. The Randi Forest is an EU Natura 2000 protected ecosystem, and is over 200 years old, with the most mature live oaks having reached ages over 300 years. There are other species of trees and bushes contained within the Randi Forest, including arbutus, fyllyrea and cistus. This type of arbutus, or “Strawberry Tree” develops smooth cream-colored and red bark as it grows. The peeling trunk of a Strawberry Tree. We are careful to continue following the red arrows or dots. This forest is notoriously easy to get lost in, even for native Ikarians. Some areas of the forest, which we won’t reach today, are so dense that they are almost impenetrable. The ‘exuvia,’ or the shed skin of a cicada on a tree trunk. This ghostly shell was left behind when a cicada nymph dug itself out from underground and molted for the final time, emerging as a winged adult. As we are hiking directly after a period of rain, the forest floor is thick with mushrooms of various kinds. This large gooey mushroom is over 6 inches wide. These tiny white mushrooms growing on a tree trunk range from 1 to 3 millimeters. Other tree-loving mushrooms. And then there are the ones that are easy to step on. A puffball mushroom. After a steep hike, we reach a small church at the top of the hill. The Greeks have a penchant for building churches in the middle of nowhere. The interior of the small church. Wooden Jesus Metal Jesus Moldy Jesus… Outside, the butterflies bask in the sun. The marker at the top of the hill. It is cool and windy while we’re up here, but one of the violinists from our village tells us he comes up here during the summer when it’s warm in order to have feasts and play music with people. The view from this hill is remarkable: the sea on both sides of the island is visible, as well as all the villages below and the castle Koskina on a neighboring hill. Castle Koskina. The view looking toward the northern coast of Ikaria. The southern part of Ikaria can be seen in the distance behind the marker. From this point, the trail descends into the denser area of the Old Forest. If followed for several hours, it would take us back to Magganitis.