BouBoukakia Street Sign
BouBoukakia street sign.
BouBoukakia Path
The walkway up to BouBoukakia.

BouBoukakia, like Cafe Pantepoleion, has an assortment of groceries, food and drink. However, it is a more informal environment, and can be endlessly entertaining due to its charismatic owners, Roula (BouBou) and Kostas.

Kostas and Roula
Kostas and Roula

Kostas and BouBou have been happily together for 23 years. For 17 of those years, in the summertime, they have taken their boat to Seychelles beach, close to Magganitis, in order to sell drinks, sandwiches and snacks to islanders and travellers alike. This is one of the ways that they get to know people from all over!

Kostas flexing
It is a sunny warm day. Kostas takes the opportunity to show off his muscles.
BouBou with Patio Cat
BouBou relaxes on the patio.

BouBou and Kostas love growing plants and flowers, and have a patio that is made for spending all day outside.

BouBou Patio
The patio outside BouBoukakia.

BouBoukakia patio flower

BouBou rock plant

BouBoukakia patio flower

BouBoukakia Patio
People come all day long to buy drinks and sit for a break at BouBoukakia.
Fran With Beer
One of the regulars – Francesco, or “Fran.”
Fran and Kostas
Fran posing with Kostas
Sander and Kostas
Sander, Fran’s brother, with Kostas.

Fran and Sander are two of our favorite people in the village. They come from Albania, which to Albanians is actually known as Shqiperia, “Land of Eagles.”

BouBou's dog Goofy
BouBou’s dog “Goofy.”

Not only does BouBou love cats, she also loves dogs. This is unusual in Ikaria, where dogs are even more unpopular than cats. Including Goofy, BouBou has a small collection of dogs which bark faithfully and loudly every time someone arrives. Given that she’s running a popular cafe and grocery, the cacophony is an all-day affair!

Smoking sign
Smoking warnings inside BouBoukakia

A number of Greeks chain-smoke in the cafes and tavernas. Though there are technically laws against this now, they are virtually never enforced by business owners. One of the reasons we love BouBoukakia is that it is the only place in Magganitis that we can go that is 100% smoke free. BouBou will kick you out if you light up in here.

TV in BouBoukakia
The TV is always on inside BouBoukakia.

In addition to the normal assortment of updates on car accidents, murders and riots, Greek television has lengthy reports on things such as specific olive oil prices across the country.

BouBoukakia TV
Locals watch TV and chat inside BouBoukakia.

People filter in and out of BouBoukakia all day. Residents come to take breaks from work, buy groceries, drink beer, wine or coffee, eat small plates of food, watch TV and catch up on gossip.

Amongst the topics of conversation at BouBoukakia: how many olives you’ve picked so far, how much olive oil you got, which oil press you went to, whose goat got into whose garden and what to do about it, and how big an octopus someone just reeled in from the sea.

BouBoukakia Mail Day
Mail day at BouBoukakia

About once a week, a woman brings mail to our village. Because there are no addresses here, she takes the mail sequentially to each of the two cafes in town. She goes through the mail at each place, announcing the recipients’ names. The people at each cafe will take a handful of mail to deliver to their own friends and relatives. The unclaimed mail eventually goes into a box at the second cafe.

The woman pictured above is the only person assigned to deliver mail to Magganitis. If she is sick, the mail doesn’t come. This happened one week while we were here, and it caused quite a fuss amongst the townsfolk, many of whom depend on regular pension money that comes via the weekly mailperson.

Kostas standing outside BouBoukakia.

Kostas used to be a ship’s cook. He does most of the cooking for himself, BouBou, and all the visitors to BouBoukakia.

Octopus dinner
An octopus dinner.

Octopus is one of the favorite meals here in the village. It is normally served with a vinegar and herb dressing.

Kostas homemade liquor
Homemade spiced liquor and a small plate of dried fruit and nuts.

Kostas makes some of the best wine and liquor in town. This is a nice glass of homemade spiced liquor that has honey, cloves and other spices added.

Kostas Salsa
Kostas has prepared a huge pan of sauteed vegetables for a pasta dinner.
Kostas pasta dinner
Kostas likes to tell us exactly what he’s added to each dish.

Kostas Pasta Meal

Most of the vegetables in our meal, such as the lettuce and celery, come from their garden down the hill.

BouBou Garden
Kostas and BouBou’s garden.
Kostas and BouBou garden
Kostas gathers some lettuce to send home with us.
Snail hitchhiker
As it turns out, Kostas grows amazingly large snails too!

Our snail hitchhiker has lost his lettuce home, but we relocate him to a pot of other greens, where hopefully he will be just as happy.

Kostas with olive harvest
Kostas with part of his olive harvest.

While BouBou sticks around BouBoukakia to make sure she can serve customers, Kostas takes care of more of the outdoor work such as vegetable gardening and picking olives. Pictured above is a portion of Kostas’s olive harvest for the year.

Unfortunately, Kostas had two full sacks of olives stolen from him this year, a discouraging fact considering how few people live in Magganitis.

BouBou fixing chair
BouBou fixing a wobbly table.

Though BouBou has decorated every surface with a busy array of objects, she is meticulous about cleaning everything daily, and fixes anything that doesn’t work just right.

Evil Eye Pendant
A talisman, known as a “mataki,” – meant to help ward off the evil eye.

This talisman is one of many that BouBou has hung in various places around the inside of BouBoukakia. It is meant to help protect against the curse of the evil eye, or “kako mati.” The Greeks, who are very superstitious, believe that a curse can be cast on someone through a glance that harbors negative intentions such as envy, malice, or even misplaced admiration. Signs someone may be affected by an evil eye curse include headaches, dizziness or a string of bad luck.  Strangers, old women, or blue-eyed people are thought to cause the curse of the evil eye most frequently. This may be why most protective talismans in Greece are blue. According to Greek folklore, the talismans help bend the gaze of the evil eye back to the sorcerer.

References to the evil eye can be found in ancient texts, including the Bible. In Greece, references appear as far back as classical Greece, when people believed the eyes could be a source for rays of evil. This superstition was spread by Alexander the Great as he moved east. The concept is still going strong in many parts of the world; in Europe it is most prevalent in the Aegean and Mediterranean areas.

In fact, someone has now even developed an app for android phones that allows a user to log on to chat with a digital Greek grandma who guides the user through the steps necessary in order to rid yourself of the evil eye curse.

Evil Eye Horseshoe
An evil eye talisman in the shape of a horseshoe.

When I counted talismans hanging in BouBoukakia, I found at least ten.

Evil Eye Rabbit
A cage where BouBou once kept a pet rabbit.

It is widely believed in Magganitis that BouBou’s rabbit died as a result of an evil eye curse.

BouBou Painted Rocks
BouBou is known for her painted rocks.

BouBou used to sell the smaller painted rocks at Seychelles Beach in the summertime for 5 Euros apiece, which is now about 6 dollars. Since the economic crisis in Greece, she cannot bring herself to charge more than a few Euros to people, and also has not raised prices at her cafe for some time.

Painted Rock
BouBou paints a rock for us to take home with us.

Toilets of Ikaria

Womens Cooperative – Raches

For a reason we never discovered, many toilet seats in Greek bathrooms are either missing or stored separately from the toilet itself.

Toilet BouBoukakia
Public Toilet Evdilos
Public Toilet – Evdilos
Evdilos Public Toilet
Evdilos Public Toilet #2

Evdilos Squatter

We’re pretty sure that somewhere in town, there is a nicer bathroom they reserve just for German tourists.

Toilet Mounte Monastery
Mounte Monastery

Don’t be fooled. This is actually a decorative piece of art in the shape of a toilet.

Aleko Rooms Toilet
This is our bathroom and shower stall for the winter.

Pictured on the right is the tiny receptacle for disposing of all waste paper. A good deal of Greek plumbing problems are caused by tourists who forget about this and clog up the pipes.

Theoktistis Monastery

Pine needles are not as easy to pee on as you might think.

Old Forest Potty Tree
Ranti Forest

Thank you, Old Forest, for humbly accepting our donation.

Cape Fanari
Cape Fanari

Flashing Samos!

Potty Seychelles
Seychelles Beach – trail

We wish we had this view from our bathroom at home…

Little Church Chronicles / Agios Taxiyarchis

A little church called Agios Taxiyarchis is nestled in the hills south of Magganitis.

Up hill from room
Our room is conveniently located on the steep slope leading up the mountainside.

Many trailheads in Ikaria are difficult to track down, and without actually travelling with a local, it can take a little while to find the right path.

Taxiyarchis Trailhead Sign
The sign for the trailhead to Agios Taxiyarchis.

After looking for this trailhead unsuccessfully for weeks, I discover it by accident while out walking one day.

Magganitis First School
The trail begins at the site of the first school of Magganitis, established in 1850.

First School of Magganitis

Taxiyarchis Trail

Taxiyarchis Trail

Taxiyarchis Bones
Animal bones are scattered everywhere on the dry gravelly trail.

Taxiyarchis Trail

Taxiyarchis Trail
I have been in Ikaria for long enough now that I am well-trained to follow the red dots while hiking.
Taxiyarchis Trail
So naturally, when I arrive at this gate, I follow the red dots through to the other side.
Taxiyarchis Canyon
This is where I lose the trail.

Taxiyarchis Canyon

This canyon of boulders is also riddled with streams and pools. The red dots are extremely difficult to locate in this area, and the boulders are wet and slippery.

Taxiyarchis Trail
The trail continues.

I finally cross the boulder canyon, and find the red dots again. But then I realize that the church I’m trying to get to is on the side of the ravine I just came from! It is visible from a distance, but where is the path?

Taxiyarchis from afar
Taxiyarchis from afar.

I go back to investigate. Sure enough, there is a tall fence separating me from the church.

Taxiyarchis Fence

I retrace my steps back through the gate I opened over an hour ago when I was so confidently following red dots. As it turns out, there is a short path to Agios Taxiyarchis on the other side. Within five minutes, and close to sundown, I am standing at my destination.

Taxiyarchis Exterior
Exterior of Agios Taxiyarchis.

Taxiyarchis Exterior

Saint Taxiyarchis is one of the patron saints of the Aegean islands. “Taxiyarchis” is translated literally as ‘commander,’ but the more commonly known English translation is ‘Archangel.’ More specifically, Taxiyarchis is often equated with Archangel Michael, leader and most powerful of all angels.

Taxiyarchis Exterior
Agios Taxiyarchis is surrounded by gnarled, ancient olive trees.
Taxiyarchis Key
The key is stored underneath a stone on the south side of the church.
Taxiyarchis Interior
The interior of Agios Taxiyarchis.
Taxiyarchis Bell
The last glint of evening sun hits the hills behind the church tower.

Little Church Chronicles / Agios Nektarios

In less than an hour by foot, it is possible to reach the small church of Agios Nektarios from the center of Magganitis.

Stone Window

The church of Agios Nektarios is located west of our village, on the very rough road to Karkinagri, the westernmost settlement of Ikaria.

Path to Nektarios
Some skittish goats keep an eye on me.

This path is so desolate that aside from the occasional car, all one can hear is the distant clinking of bells as the goats jump over the boulders in the mountains.

Ikarian Pig
The elusive Ikarian pig.

We have been in Ikaria for weeks, and though pork seems to make its way into every meal people try to feed us here, we never saw a single pig anywhere – until today! Most Ikarians do not have the luxury or habit of keeping animals as pets, and are mainly inclined to keep animals that serve a purpose, such as for meat, milk or eggs. This pig is surely destined to become a meal at some point, but since we will be leaving the island within a few weeks, we will probably not be around to partake in its demise.

Not much grows along this road, but these weeds that have gone to seed seem to be thriving here.

Star Mushroom
There are a few mushrooms hiding away amongst the weeds.
Nektarios Arrow
The road is full of signs and arrows. Only the locals know what they mean!
Nektarios Coast
This is the view of the coastline looking east.

Despite its bleakness, this path is an excellent place to witness some geology in action.

Spheroidal Weathering
A boulder is born.

Southwestern Ikaria got its boulders through a process called “spheroidal weathering.” In places where this occurs, granite starts out by fracturing along joints in the subsurface, which splits the rocks into cubes. When water seeps into these cracks, chemical decay transforms the exposed areas into a type of granite sand called “grus.” The corners of the granite cubes have the most joint intersections, thus are the most susceptible to breaking down. This is why the boulders are rounded instead of angular. The process of spheroidal weathering all takes place underground, and the boulders are eventually exposed through the process of erosion.

Spheroidal Weathering

Spheroidal Weathering

Nektarios Boulders

Nektarios Sign
After about forty-five minutes of walking, the little church of Agios Nektarios appears.
Agios Nektarios
The church dedicated to Agios Nektarios.

Nektarios was born in the 1800s in an area that is now occupied by Turkey. He started as a shop assistant, then took a teaching job on the island of Chios. There he entered the local monastery and eventually was appointed deacon. As deacon, he was much admired for his writings and teachings, as well as his love and patience toward his flock. He was eventually ordained bishop in an Egyptian diocese. His popularity stirred envy in higher church officials, and he was eventually removed from his role.

He returned to Greece, continued to write and teach, and was inspired to found a monastery for women in Aegina. The monastery thrived, and Nektarios spent the rest of his days serving as a spiritual guide there. He was also visited by people from distant lands who sought advice and healing.

After his death, several miracles were attributed to him. Some years later, in 1961, the Orthodox Church declared him a saint. His feast day is celebrated on November 9th every year.

Nektarios Church

The church is locked. I look around for a key, but it is nowhere to be found.

Nektarios Stream

After walking past the church, I come to what looks like a giant puddle, but is actually a stream that is flowing over the entire road.

Nektarios Stream

Nektarios Stream
Plane trees, or “sycamores” grow near the water’s edge.

Various sycamores grow all over the world. This variety, with lacier leaves, grows in Asia and Southern Europe. Sycamores prefer wet areas, and they are found predictably in Ikaria around streams and river canyons. They are some of the largest trees growing on the island.

Nektarios Stream
Crossing the stream at its narrowest point.

Nektarios Stream

Nektarios Stream
On the other side.

This road leads to the west coast of Ikaria, and would take the better part of a day to walk there. Most cars don’t even come this far.

Little Church Chronicles / Profitis Ilias

Profitis Ilias
A man harvests olives in the hills east of Magganitis.

No matter which direction you walk from Magganitis, you will eventually reach a small church. This hike starts a short distance past Apostolis Restaurant, beginning with a staircase leading up from the easternmost houses of the village.

Profitis Ilias Hike

Profitis Ilias Trail
Not surprisingly, the trail is laden with boulders.
Profitis Ilias Hike
Magganitis is quickly disappearing from view.
Profitis Ilias Trail
There are some micro-forests along part of the trail.

Profitis Ilias Trail

Profitis Ilias Trail Flowers

Acorn Path
Some parts of the trail are completely blanketed with acorns.

Curly Acorns

Alongside pine and olives, oak stands dominate the landscape here. In ancient times, the word for “oak” in Greek – “dris” – was also the word for ‘tree.’

Prickly Acorn
This is the most common type of acorn to see in the area around Magganitis. It likely belongs to a type of Kermes or Palestine oak.

Kermes oak varieties are much more tolerant of drought conditions than Holm oaks, and will take over areas where Holm oaks struggle to grow. They can easily thrive on sea cliffs and windy environments such as the area around Magganitis, but only at lower elevations, and not too far inland.

Round Acorns
Not as common here, the Lebanon Oak is a deciduous oak and loses its leaves in the winter.
The wild lavender has all started to bloom again.
Profitis Ilias Last view of sea
This is the last view of the sea as the trail turns inland.

Profitas Ilias Trail

Ikaria remains remote, rugged, and undeveloped, with very little effort put toward tourist infrastructure. With this comes several frustrations, but also the very large reward of Ikaria’s largely untouched wilds  – a walker’s paradise. Especially in the winter, it is possible to wander all day and see very few people and almost nothing man-made.

Profitis Ilias Trail
The top of the Atheras Ridge seems like just a few steps away.

Rock formations

Rock Garden

Tree Roots

Profitis Ilias
Finally, I catch sight of the small church across the canyon, barely visible on the backdrop of Ikaria’s towering cliffs.

This little church lies in an area so isolated that a crime could occur in broad daylight and there wouldn’t be a single witness.

Profitis Ilias
A bit of a walk over difficult terrain remains in order to reach the church, and it is invisible until I am standing here on the hillside above it.

Profitis Ilias

It may seem perplexing to outsiders why the Greeks have gone to such an effort to construct so many little churches in inaccessible places.

Throughout Greece, some of these churches are built on sites where miracles are thought to have occurred. But especially on islands, where people depended on the dangerous sea for their living, many churches were built in dedication to revered teachers or saints whom villagers believed would offer protection for their families.

Profitis Ilias

This little church, Profitis Ilias, is dedicated to the prophet Elijah. According to Greek folklore, Profitis Ilias, who suffered much in his seafaring life, eventually left his quiet fishing village in order to find a place where people knew nothing of the sea or ships, and where he could do good beyond his known reality. He carried an oar with him for days as he traveled inland, seeking a place where his oar was not recognized as an oar, but instead as a simple stick. And he asked people as he traveled “Do you know what this is?” to which people kept answering “An oar.” Finally he came to a place far from the sea, high up on a mountaintop, where the oar was not recognized, and there he settled and built a church.

Profitis Ilias Bell

For this reason, chapels dedicated to Profitis Ilias are often built on the sides or tops of mountains, inland and away from the sea.

Profitis Ilias

Profitis Ilias Interior
Interior of Profitis Ilias
Circular Foundation
The remains of a circular foundation in the hills.

Near the church, ruins of stone shelters are scattered over the hillside. They are all in various stages of dilapidation.

Stone Shelter
This old shelter used some pre-existing layers of metamorphic rock as a natural wall on one side.

Profitis Ilias Stone Structure

Profitis Ilias Stone Structure

Stone Structure Exterior

Stone Oven

Profitis Elias
As I set back for the village, a storm moves in.

Profitis Elias Trail

Profitis Ilias Trail

Profitis Elias Trail

Profitis Elias Trail

Profitis Elias Trail

Profitis Elias Trail

Profitis Elias Trail

Profitis Elias Trail

Year End

Magganitis Sunny Day
A sunny December day in Magganitis.

Ikaria has a mild climate, and the winters are generally short. Because the village of Magganitis is on the south side of the island, it can be as much as ten degrees warmer in winter than the villages on the other side of the mountain.

Aegean Rainstorm
A rainstorm moving across the Aegean Sea.

Winter is also when Magganitis receives most of its rain. However, it tends to rain in small bursts and not constantly. There are also sporadic lightning storms and high winds. The warmer winds, “Notyas,” originate in Africa, while the colder winds and storms, “Voryas,” come from Northern Europe. There is also occasional hail, which can occur during otherwise pleasant weather.

Stormy Walk
Two minutes before a hail storm.
Stormy Port
A storm looms over Magganitis.
Power Outage
We have a few candles for nights with no electricity.

We lose power and/or internet about once a week. If the lights don’t come back on by nightfall, we light a candle and go to bed early.


The winter weather in Magganitis is extremely changeable, which makes it imperative to seize the moment when there is a period of warmth and sunshine.

Cactus In The Sun

Last Olives
This is the very last of Mikalis’s olive harvest.

On every good weather day in December, the villagers continue busily harvesting olives. Mikalis is sorting through the last of his crop in order to separate the good and bad olives. It is later in the season and many of the olives have tiny holes where olive maggots have made their homes. The bad olives can still go to the olive press for oil, but cannot be preserved whole because they will rot.

Helping Nikki
Olive sacks are heavy.

We are out walking one day, and stop to help one of the villagers, Nikki, load her olive sacks into her vehicle.

Nikki and Mersina
Nikki and her sister Mersina.

Nikki and her sister Mersina are on their way to the oil press today. Nikki is a widow, and her five children all live in the United States or Canada. Like many others here, she calls her home in Ikaria “paradise,” but is also lonely for her family. She tries to stay busy here in the village.

Burn Pile
After pruning the olive trees for the year, families burn the branches, along with any other yard debris they have.

On any given day, there is a very smoky fire going somewhere in the village or in the surrounding areas. But strangely enough, there never seems to be more than one at a time, which keeps the air in the village somewhat breathable.

Ikarian Garden
Broccoli and lettuce grow in a winter garden.

The importance of these gardens should not be underestimated. Most Greeks who live in the city do not have access to their own fresh  food and must buy everything. Here in Ikaria, people are able to gather vegetables and fruit from their garden year-round, so they are always guaranteed to have a plate of food on their table, even when money gets tight.

In past years, when Magganitis was even more isolated and received no imports, families had to gather and produce everything they needed. This is changing now, as imports and infrastructure increase.

Magganitis Hotel
This area has been under construction since we arrived. The buildings will eventually be used as vacation rentals.
A villager shows off a large harvest of herbs and greens.
This vitamin-rich mix includes dandelion leaves and other bitter herbs.

We have a bit of trouble getting greens, due to the fact that we don’t have our own garden here. Ironically, since most people have vegetables and fruits at their homes, the cafes don’t even bother to stock them.

Ripe Lemons
All the citrus has ripened.

The cafe brought in a crate of lemons to sell, but they went moldy because no one was buying them. Everyone has too many lemons of their own!

Kostas is still harvesting his olives too. The electric device he is using to spin the olives off the top branches is powered by a diesel generator.

Just taking a short walk in Magganitis can easily result in several dinner invitations. Tonight, Kostas invites us over to BouBoukakia for a fish meal.

Kostas Fish Dinner
One of the most common meals here is simple fried fish with sliced lemon.

The next night, at Cafe Pantepoleion, a fisherman named Giorgos very generously sends us home with two kilos of raw squid.

Kalamari Whole
Unprocessed kalamari.

In the United States, when buying seafood such as squid, there is usually a certain amount of processing that has occurred before the consumer takes the product home. This is not the case in rural Greek villages.

Being novices to the cooking of squid, preparing the kalamari consumed the better part of a day. I should say that most of the day was actually spent staring at the leaking 2-kilo bag of squid, wondering what to do. And in the end, it was definitely one of the more time-consuming meals we’ve ever prepared.

Kalamari Prep
Preparing kalamari

We finally tackle it, but it is a two-person job.

Kalamari pen
Kalamari pen.

The innards of the squid must be removed, including the rigid pen.

Kalamari Skin
Peeling off the outer layer of speckled skin.

The sheath of speckled exterior flesh must be peeled off carefully and discarded. Otherwise the kalamari becomes tough while cooking.

Squid is extremely slippery, and we drop it multiple times while attempting to process it.

Kalamari Waste
Kalamari waste.

The “wings” and the ink sacs can be optionally retained for cooking, but since these are large squid, we choose not to use the wings, which can be tougher to prepare. And we accidentally puncture the ink sacs while pulling the entrails out. In the end, we have a good number of squid trimmings -the heads, eyes, hard pieces, beak, skin, and other inedible bits – which the cats are more than happy to eat for us. 

Kalamari Ingredients
Kalamari, ready for cooking.

What is left after our laborious effort: the smooth white ring-like exterior of the squid. 

Kalamari Strips
Kalamari, chopped into strips.

Our kitchen is covered in squid juice. We can’t get the smell off our hands, and we feel like we may never be clean again.

But…some onions, red wine, tomatoes, lemon and parsley…and a few hours later…

We have a delicious dinner! Thank you Giorgo!

Kalamari Pasta
Kalamari with onions, wine, tomatoes, and lemon, served over pasta.

Kalamari will always be a bit chewy, but if is cooked either very fast under high heat, or long and slow, it will eventually become quite tender as well. Anything in between these two cooking methods will result in a rubbery texture.

Solstice Dawn
Solstice sunrise.

We get up early on the shortest day of the year and watch the sun come up over the sea.

Solstice Moon
We also make time to watch the solstice moon drift through the wispy evening clouds. 
Cafe Doriforos
Cafe Doriforos

This period of winter gets very quiet in the village, as many people head back to Athens until Easter. Nightlife is centered around the few cafes that are open for the locals. There are almost no tourists here at this time of year. The cozy and warm Cafe Doriforos is reliably open every evening – with drinks, small plates of food, and sometimes live music.

Cafe Doriforos
The interior of Cafe Doriforos is quaint and cozy.

“Doriforos” means ‘satellite’ in English. The name of the cafe is used infrequently –  instead, the locals say they are going to “Christina” – the name of the woman who runs the small taverna.

Cafe Doriforos
Christina (left) runs Cafe Doriforos with her husband (middle).

Christina is from the United States, born to a Greek family. She speaks fluent Greek and English. Now she lives here in Magganitis and runs the cafe.

As we get closer to the beginning of Christmas, Panagiotis – who runs Cafe Pantepoleion – arranges a concert.

Panagiotis has played the violin for years and seems to know an infinite number of songs. His repertoire includes traditional songs from the Aegean area and Greek islands: wedding songs, dances such as zeibetiko, rembetiko music, and even the occasional tango.

A beautiful striped lute will soon take the stage.

Panagiotis is playing the concert with a friend from Evdilos. Cafe Pantepoleion welcomes visitors from all over the island, who crowd in to hear good music, eat special food, and drink until all hours.

Concert Dancing
Around 1am, the dancing starts.

When the Greeks say the music goes all night, they aren’t kidding. Mid-morning, it is time to get a ride home with several other people. As it turns out, they are not going home to bed yet! Instead, they are going over to drink coffee at Vasso’s house.

Vasso Coffee
Coffee and cookies at Vasso’s house.
Vasso Kitchen
Vasso’s kitchen is filled with antiques.
Vasso Iron
An old-style iron.
Vasso Grain Mill
Underneath the clay vessel there is even an old grain mill consisting of two stone plates and a crank.

Vasso sends cookies home with us. It is almost time for the sun to come up!

Magganitis Dawn

Cats of Ikaria

Cat On Amphora

There are very few indoor cats in Magganitis. People throw food to feral cats for part of the year, but when many of the Ikarians leave the village for the winter, the cats must fend for themselves.

Black Cat

Cat In Dumpster
The dumpsters of the village are not packed with restaurant food like city dumpsters, but they sustain the cats from week to week.
Unhealthy Cats
Feral cats struggle with infections, scratches and other health issues.
Cat Sisters

We met these two sisters when they were tiny kittens, only about a month old. They were malnourished, as was their mother. All are infected with parasites, get ticks regularly, and have bouts of diarrhea frequently. We have been feeding these cats for about two months, and they are well on their way to adolescence.

Sister #3, who hangs out up the hill at Lambros’s house.

This kitten, who is a little smaller than her two sisters, was the first to contract cat flu as a baby, and may have had her growth stunted. Cat flu is rampant in feral cat populations, and can be serious in kittens.

Cats Alekos Studios
The whole family.

Cat of Nas

This cat is about to sneak into the kitchen of this taverna to look for food. When it gets kicked out, it comes begging to us. When that doesn’t work, it contents itself with eating a fly.

Cat Puddle
Cat puddle
Mustafa Roaring
Mustafa, “roaring”

This enormous cat, named Mustafa, hangs out at BouBoukakia. He can look big and sometimes intimidating, and clearly gets into a fair number of brawls, but he’s perfectly friendly toward humans.

BouBou and Mustafa
BouBou and Mustafa
Mustafa with Olives
Mustafa guards some freshly picked olives.
Lounging Cat
Mustafa’s rival

This cat, though also sizable himself, is smaller than Mustafa and is considered lower on the dominance chain. He spends most of his time hanging about BouBoukakia meowing for attention and provoking Mustafa.

Cat Drinking
The local watering hole
Cat Asleep
In Greece, naptime is sacred
Cat Washing
Making a hairball
Washed and ready for action!

Cat In Tree

Roof Cat
Yet another cat, similarly colored, which tends to prowl along the roof of BouBoukakia waiting for food.

Roof Cat

Roof Cat

BouBou with friendly cat
BouBou may love cats more than anyone else in the village.

BouBou is the only person we know of here who not only feeds the feral cats, but also gives them worm medicine every few months and removes their ticks.

BouBou pointing out cat worms
FriFriko, BouBou’s one indoor/outdoor cat

BouBou claims to have once owned 44 cats. Though she now feeds several feral cats, the only cat she allows inside is this large orange cat named FriFriko.

FriFriko’s favorite chair
Cafe Cat
The cat at Cafe Pantepoleion

Every cat has its spot in the village. This cat hangs out at Cafe Pantepoleion and is affectionate with absolutely everything, whether it is alive or not.

Cat and Latria
The cat’s newest friend – a dog named Latria
Cat and Latria
The cat wants to play all day long

Cat And Latria

Cat watching
One of the many orange cats in town

Cat Sniffing Hand

Cat on Roof

Orange Cat Leaning

Cat Christinas

Orange Pallet Cat

Cat With Short Ears
The only cat in town with short ears
Pirate Cat
Pirate Cat
On the Prowl
On the prowl
On the Prowl
Don't take my picture!
Don’t take my picture!

Mad Cat
I mean it!
Black Cat
Staring contest

Black Cat

Street Cats
Here, there is a particular sound that people make -like loud whispering- to call cats when they have food for them. If you make this sound in the middle of the street, all the cats from the whole area will come running toward you.
Cat gang
If you have no food for them, they will still hang around and sometimes follow you for several blocks, hoping for a morsel.
Cat in Tree
In the winter, it becomes easy to see all the cats in the trees.

Cat in Tree

Tree Cats

Little White Kitty
Our favorite cat of all

We call this kitten “Little White Kitty.” He is an exceptionally tiny cat and does not appear to be growing much at all. He is the most affectionate cat we’ve met here, and purrs non-stop. When we feed him, he is more interested in being petted than eating food. Sometimes we have to stand out of sight while he eats so he doesn’t see us and lose interest in the kibble. When we leave home, he frequently trots after us happily, following us to wherever we are going and waiting outside the door until we’re done – not because he’s hungry, but because he likes our company. This has gotten him into trouble with some of the bigger cats who “own” the territory he wanders into when he follows us. He doesn’t seem cut out to be a feral cat, and we hope he survives after we leave next month. We love you, Little White Kitty!

The Old Forest / Part II

Slow Truck
On our way home one day, we get stuck behind a very slow truck.
Ranti Sign
We are going so slowly that we notice a sign on the side of the road that we’ve never seen before.

It’s another entrance into the Old Forest, or “Ranti Forest!”

Agios Dmitrios
The trailhead starts across the road from the sign for the small church “Agios Dmitrios” at the highest point on the road between Evdilos and the south part of the island.
The first red arrow
This is the first red arrow leading up a rocky slope. Agios Dmitrios is visible in the background across the road on the left.

The first part of the trail follows the plateau along the top of the Atheras ridge.


Ridge top view

Dung Beetle
Dung beetles scamper around on the plateau.

Decaying olive pits look almost exactly like goat dung. Apparently these beetles are sometimes duped too, because we noticed one rolling an olive pit up a slope for a few seconds before realizing its mistake.

Stunted Sage
All leaves, plants, and trees at the top of the Atheras ridge have a stunted appearance, including this wild sage, which is only a few inches tall with tiny curled leaves.

Trees on the Ridge


Cracks in Rocks

Top of Ridge

Many of the trail markers consist of stacked rocks.

Rock Stack

Sharp Marker
Some of the trail markers look dangerous.

Ridge Markers

Ridgetop Trail

Hollow Log


View of Hill near Petropouli
From afar, looking north, we can see the hill that we reached when we hiked into the Old Forest several weeks ago. Today we are starting from the south – the opposite side of the forest. Most of the oldest trees lie in the valley below us.

Old Forest Border

Old Forest Fork
The trail forks, and we take the path to the right, which will descend into the forest and eventually lead up to Petropouli on the other side.

Old Forest Path

Matthew in the Old Forest

Holly Oak LeavesHolm Oak is also known as ‘Holly Oak’ (Holm is an ancient word for ‘holly’). Indeed, younger leaves or leaves on younger oak trees have holly-like leaves, with spines around the edge.

If you look closely, you can see the whitish down that coats the surfaces of the young leaves. As the leaves age, they will acquire a glossier texture, visible below.

Holly Oak leavesOlder leaves or leaves on an older tree are smoother without toothed edges.

In ancient Greece, acorns were a fertility symbol, and the acorn motif was popular on jewelry and other adornments.

Acorns from Holm Oak are sweeter than the acorns from most other species, and, once leached of their tannins, can be toasted or used as flour. In fact, many older generations of Ikarians remember their parents making acorn flour during the scarce times after the war.

Still alive
This tree, connected to the earth by just a wisp of trunk, is still very much alive.

This old oak, seemingly uprooted, also refuses to quit.

Old Tree

Old Forest

Holm Oaks, native to the Mediterranean,  are one of the most popular trees chosen for the cultivation of truffle orchards, due to the fact that their roots develop a symbiotic relationship with the fungus, attracting them to the bases of trees.

Old FOrest

Old Forest

Old Forest

Old Tree

The oldest Holm Oaks in Europe are between 500 and 1000 years old.

Old Forest

Hannah in Tree

Holm Oaks are slow growers, but can eventually reach an average height of 82 feet, with a spread of 68 feet.

Old Forest


Old Forest

Old Tree

Oaks were held in high regard in ancient Greece. It is believed that the Holm Oak was the oak species that was used early on in the oracle at Dodona, where Zeus foretold the future by speaking through the rustling leaves.

The shrine at Dodona is the oldest Greek oracle, dating back to the second millenium B.C.

After Dodona stopped functioning as a pagan site, the sacred oak at Dodona was eventually cut down. Following the invasion by the Slavs in the 6th century, the site was completely abandoned, and later replaced by the famous oracle at Delphi.

Old Forest

Shelf Fungus

Old Tree

Old Forest

Old Forest

Old Forest Trees

Old Forest

Matthew on the trail

Old Trees

Old Tree

Tree Silhouette

Lone Tree

– In honor of old trees everywhere –

The South Coast

A road winds along Ikaria’s steep southern coast.
South Coast
The coastline is dotted with tiny villages. The smallest village has only one family left living in it.
Olive press Chrissostomo
We pass the olive press in Chrissostomo.
White horse
When driving through Ikaria, you are likely to come across more livestock than people.
North Shore Goat
Caught in the act!
Admiring the view.
The village of Plagia, which means ‘slope’ in Greek.
Xylosirtis, known as “The Village of Apricots.”

Just outside the village, there is a renowned freshwater spring called “Athanatou Nero” or “Water of Immortality,” which flows out from amongst granite rocks. The water is drinkable and said to have therapeutic properties.

In the 19th century, the area around Xylosirtis was filled with cypress trees. They were eventually felled in order to build masts for sailboats.

Near Lefkada
Coastline near Lefkada.
Lefkada, which is just west of Agios Kirykos, has some natural hot springs on the shore of the sea.
Lefkada Springs
The single sign, in English, pointing down to the beach.
Lefkada Beach Trail
A rough but short trail down to the shoreline, which is composed solely of large rocks.
Matthew at Lefkada
Matthew staring off into the distance, at the island of Fournoi.

When you’re on a remote island for several months, a clear view of neighboring islands makes for an exciting day.

Lefkada Hot Springs

There is no charge to visit these hot springs. In true Greek fashion, there are also no safety signs. If you want to go scald all the skin off your body, you are free to do so without any interference from anyone at all. If you do go for a soak, the trick is to find a spot that is a good mix of cooler sea water and heated water from the springs.

This hot spring at Lefkada belongs to a cluster of radon-rich sodium-chloride hot springs on Ikaria’s southeast coast. Ikaria’s geothermal springs rank amongst the most radioactive in the world. At Therma, just east of Agios Kirykos, there are organized spa facilities utilizing five of the known springs. These hot springs have been treasured for therapeutic purposes since the 4th century B.C. Remnants of the ancient spas such as marble bathtubs and aqueducts still exist, though most of ancient Thermae was probably destroyed by an earthquake in 205 B.C.

A hawk soars above the rocky cliffs of Ikaria.

Not only is much of Ikaria protected under the EU Natura 2000 program, it is also classified as an Important Bird Area. The island’s habitat is ideal for several kinds of raptor and also serves as a critical migratory passage and breeding area for many other types of birds, including rare and endangered species.

Faros Village
The village of Faros – also called Fanari (meaning “lantern” in Greek) – at the far eastern end of the island.

We are in the village of Faros looking for the road to Drakano Tower. The island becomes so narrow at its eastern tip, that from a hill here in Faros looking north, we can easily see Ikaria’s small airport.

Faros Beach
The beach in the village of Faros.
Sea Turtle Sign
A sign on the beach at Faros, notifying visitors that the coastline is a protected area for Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta Caretta), which have a low reproductive rate, laying only a few eggs every few years.
Sign to Drakano
Finally we locate the sign to Drakano Tower.
Drakano Road
This rough road curves along the very eastern tip of Ikaria.
East Tip Ikaria
There are no signs of any other people, aside from a small boat stationed off the coast down below.
Drakano Tower
This round tower is all that is left of the ancient settlement of Drakano.

Drakano Tower, constructed in 330 B.C. during the reign of Alexander the Great, was an important military outpost due to its location at the eastern tip of Ikaria and its proximity to the island of Samos (seen in the photograph above). Ships sailing between Ikaria and Samos could be easily monitored from this vantage point, which affords a view of the Aegean Sea in almost every direction.

Drakano Tower
When the road gets too rough, we park the rental car and walk the rest of the way.
A small church, Agios Giorgios, lies a short distance down the hill from Drakano Tower.

According to legend, the area around Drakano was the birthplace of Dionysos – god of wine, madness, and ecstasy. It is believed that a cave at the nearby beach of Iero was used by ancients as a temple of worship for the god. But watch out for the Satyrs and Mainades who still roam these areas looking for unsuspecting tourists to lure into a drunken orgy.

Drakano Tower
The tower is gated off when we arrive, but there are supposedly specific hours (not accurate on the website!) during which the tower is opened for public access.

In 1827, Drakano Tower was damaged when the Greek navy used it for target practice. The tower has since been restored, and is currently one of the best-preserved watchtowers of the Hellenistic Age.

Magganitis Village / Part IV

Ikarian Boulders
Ikaria is full of enormous granite boulders, especially prevalent in the area around Magganitis.
Boulder House
This house wedged under a giant rock proves that there is no space unfit for a dwelling.
Boulder Homes
Each of these houses is built on top of a large boulder.
Giant Boulder
This boulder, suspended by a seemingly small amount of earth, sits in the middle of Magganitis. And naturally, a relaxing bench has been added directly underneath it.
Boulder Garden
On closer inspection, the boulder’s many pits and crevices are home to various plants and animals.
Boulder insect
A grasshopper shares space with an insect pupa inside a depression on the granite.
Amegilla Bee
This bee, in the “Amergilla” genus (a solitary bee) is asleep on a tufted grass stalk under the boulder.
Amergilla Duo
A latecomer decides to join the bee that is already sleeping.

Female Amergilla bees build nests, which they also sleep in. But male Amergilla bees, which are nest-less, often settle down overnight on a choice grass blade in a sheltered spot. During dusk, a group of male bees may be seen buzzing about the area as they congregate to choose a grass stalk for the night, groom themselves, and eventually quiet down for some rest. One grass blade often hosts multiple bees.

Due to the mild climate, many plants bloom through the winter.


Other plants, like this “Monk’s Pepper,” or “Chaste Tree Berry,” are in their seed stage, and ready for harvesting.

Chaste Tree berry has a peppery perfumy flavor that is reminiscent of coriander and clove, and is used throughout the Middle East in culinary spice blends.

Harvesting Vitex
Chaste Tree is native to the Eastern Mediterranean region. It has vibrant purple flowers that give way to bundles of small seeds during fall and winter.

The medicinal use of chaste tree dates back several thousand years, and it is still one of the most popular herbs in America and Western Europe for treating gynecological conditions. The origin of the name lies in the old belief that the herb would help reduce “urges of the flesh.” Monks often chewed both the leaves and berries, and chaste tree berry syrup was given to nuns to repress sexual desire.

Carob Plant
This is a carob plant, also native to the eastern Mediterranean. It has been cultivated for at least four millenia.

Carob is an evergreen plant, suited well for unimproved soil and able to produce a reliable and versatile food source even during poor conditions. Its tap root can extend over 100 feet down, enabling it to survive long droughts.

Carob Beans
Carob is a member of the legume (pea) family, with long thick leathery pods- which, when snapped open raw, look like hard toffee inside and smell like slightly rancid sweet cheese.

Every part of the fruit (produced only by female carob trees in the wild) is edible. The pod is roasted and then ground up to be used as a ‘chocolate substitute.’ The seeds are used to make locust bean gum – an emulsifier and thickener that is used in food applications such as confection, but also in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

Carob seeds, which tend to be very consistently sized, are thought to have been the original measurement for the ‘carat,’ used by jewelers.

Mastic Gum Shrub
Mastic shrub, “Pistacia Lentiscus.”

Mastic is an evergreen plant in the pistachio family. Ikaria has mastic trees like the one pictured above, which are utilized by Ikarians as medicine. However, the most well-known kind of mastic is the variety that grows in Chios, Greece, which weeps resin when cut. These “tears of Chios” or ‘mastic gum’ are harvested in summer by locals in the traditional way, then dried and marketed throughout the world. The name of the plant may originate from the Greek word “masso,” ‘to chew,’ or may also come from the ancient Greek verb “mastix,” ‘to whip,’ due to the old practice of whipping (instead of the modern practice of cutting) the mastic bark in order to produce the resin.

Mastic Gum Berries
Mastic berries are ripe when black.
Mastic Products
Greeks make various products out of mastic such as chewing gum, oil and rosin. Mastic is also used throughout Mediterranean cuisine and is used as a flavor for bread products, as well as in the production of Greek liquors such as ouzo and mastika.

Mastic gum has a strong resinous flavor. It has been used since ancient times for gastrointestinal issues, and it is still marketed today as a natural treatment for conditions such as ulcers.