Uncle Giorgos is Mikalis’s elderly uncle, and lives below the olive grove in Paleohora. Most conversations with him involved shouting back and forth across the olive fields, so it was weeks before we actually met him in person.
As it turns out, the ferry going to Athens that day was cancelled due to rough seas, and we saw him running to catch a plane instead (which he also missed, because he was still in the Magganitis cafe a day later, eating salt fish and drinking tsipouro (very strong pomace brandy).
Mikalis lives right next to the sea, and loves to have coffee every morning on his patio underneath his fig tree. He describes it as “parathissos,” the Greek word for “paradise.”
Mikalis is retired, like most of the people who live in Magganitis year-round. Younger people must move to Athens, America, or elsewhere in order to find work, and can only visit Ikaria during the summer months when they have vacation. Many of the retired people who live here now spent decades of their lives in mainland Greece or America in order to earn money, and are now enjoying the relaxed lifestyle of the island in their old age.
The meal includes a ziti-like meat casserole, savory pumpkin and greens pasties, and cabbage salad. Once again, when I tell Athina there is too much food on my plate, she doubles it.
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.
Christos Raches is about four miles inland in a larger area called Raches. Raches is one of the greenest sections of Ikaria, dense with pine forests, wetlands, and an extensive series of hiking trails.
The village is quiet in the daytime, but comes alive late at night – a practice that originated long ago before cars existed. Because the village of Christos Raches was considered the center of the entire Raches area, people would leave on foot from surrounding villages at the beginning of the day, and not reach Christos Raches until evening. In order to serve these local merchants, businesses became accustomed to staying open late, a custom that continues into the modern era.
The ingredients are purchased from small operations on the island which use sustainable and organic methods. The women’s cooperative offers a rare opportunity to these small-scale producers, who might otherwise never have a chance to market their goods successfully outside Ikaria.
The women’s cooperative is helping to generate a source of ongoing income for farmers and their families, and thus fostering the continuance of traditional farming on Ikaria, while also contributing to a healthier local economy.
Through their ongoing work, the cooperative strives to support young women so that they don’t have to leave Ikaria, and to ensure that the cooperative members can continue living on the island and build a future here.
Duncan and Laura are living in Ikaria with their twin sons, Huck and Max. They are renovating Laura’s great-grandfather’s beautiful house in Magganitis.
Having recently moved from Atlanta to Magganitis, which has no more than 150 permanent residents, the boys are still adjusting to small town life, Greek school, and the lack of cheddar cheese.
Laura and Duncan are hosting Thanksgiving at Kostas’s house because it has a big kitchen. Kostas is pictured on the right in the photo above. He is a retired ship captain and has many stories about traveling the world.
Even before we serve our food, Duncan tries to explain to the Greeks that in America, many people eat Thanksgiving dinners quickly and then fall asleep in front of the television.
Sure enough, five hours after the meal started, all but one American has gotten tired and left. The Greeks are still going strong and the wine is still flowing!
The newer port cities in Ikaria, such as Evdilos and Agios Kirykos, were built after the mid-1800s when piracy was finally eradicated on the island.
People regularly fish in this harbor. Surprisingly, the water is very clear, and dozens of medium-sized fish can be seen swimming in the shallow waters here.
Evdilos is a gateway for many of the locations in the North. There are other smaller roads that bypass Evdilos and seem closer to certain destinations, but generally the decision comes down to the following: “One-lane paved road with blind corners or scarier one-lane dirt road with blind corners?”
The herb pictured above is a type of sage that is native to Ikaria. The flavor is reminiscent of North American sage, but with a more complex and pungent flavor.
People in Ikaria drink tea from herbs they have gathered themselves. Many people who live here have a deep connection to the natural world, and recognize the edible and medicinal plants that grow around them. Several times, I have walked into the cafe holding a strange herb I’ve gathered in the mountains, and most people know the name of it and can tell me how to prepare it.
On our second day passing through Evdilos, every single business in town is closed. We are told by a Greek, in English, that it is due to a strike regarding “taxis.” We set off for home, perplexed as to why everything else was closed if it was only the taxis that were on strike. Later someone else explained that it all had to do with “taxes.”
Strikes occur very frequently in Greece. There is no reliable way of finding out about them ahead of time. As a result, we have three different back-up plans for getting off the island in January in case of transportation strikes.
Ikaria has several ancient castle ruins and a unique landscape that caught the eye of the major series “Game of Thrones,” which approached the government of Ikaria several years ago with the intention of filming the location of “Dorne” here. The official story is that “Greek bureaucracy” impeded the process. The local story is that the mayor of Ikaria said no. Regardless, “Game of Thrones” was forced to find another filming location and moved on to Spain instead.
There is evidence that most of Ikaria was once covered in forest. In recent years, due to EU subsidies, goats have increased three-fold. Overgrazing and associated issues have rendered many parts of the island barren, and are contributing to erosion and decrease in plant species.
There is really not much left of Koskina Castle – one must use the imagination. Though we hear from a friend that the 360 degree view from the top is spectacular, and also a perfect place to watch meteor showers.
In general, Ikaria is not known for its beaches. However, Seychelles beach, which is only one to two miles from the village of Magganitis, is thought to be one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. When the tunnel to Magganitis was created, a landslide opened up access to the beach.
Ikarian honey has a reputation for being some of the purest most flavorful honey in the world. Due to the rocky landscape of the island, there is no agricultural farming here, and pesticide residue is therefore not a threat for the bees, which forage year-round on the island’s unique plant nectars.
We finally have a rental car, and the freedom to travel now. We are less thrilled when we realize that it will cost the equivalent of $150 to fill up our tank on the island.
Yes, the middle cat is blue. It may have gotten too close to a paintbrush.
A boat stops at Magganitis on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:10am in order to take people to Agios Kirykos, the capitol city of Ikaria. In reality, whether it stops or not depends on the condition of the sea on that day. And there is no guarantee that it will come back to Magganitis later that afternoon.
After we are told that the boat would indeed not be returning to Magganitis later in the afternoon, and seeing how rough the sea is, I decide I do not want to be seasick/stranded in Agios Kirykos/pay for an expensive cab ride home. We walk back to Magganitis along the coastline.
After the Nationalist and Communist clashes during the Greek Civil War in the late 1940s, the Greek government exiled about 13,000 communists to Ikaria. Thus Ikaria acquired the title “Red Rock.” A number of locals still have left-leaning and communist tendancies.
This church, completed in 2003, is called “Agios Paraskevis,” or Saint Paraskevi – patron saint for health of the eyes.
Longevity is a badge of honor for Ikarians. Almost daily, an Ikarian will excitedly point out to us who is in their 90s, often in front of the 90-year-old people themselves, who smile as everyone exclaims how they don’t look over 70. People’s ages are announced publicly and proudly here.
This is a gesture of typical Greek hospitality. The meal includes stuffed zucchini, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, feta, olives, greens with lemon juice, and bread. A large portion of it is olive oil. Athina continues giving me food, insisting that I am too skinny and must eat more.
Olives are bitter if they are eaten straight off the tree. If they dry out in the sun and become shriveled (but not rotten), the bitterness goes away, and they are delicious with a soft chewy texture. Olives are not naturally salty.
The olives pictured here are small, mostly green olives. They get an oil yield of 15%, versus larger black olives which yield 30% oil. However, the small green olive trees produce a reliable harvest every year, whereas the trees that grow black olives only produce a good harvest about every three years. Many Ikarians have both types of olives on their property.
Sticky notes are labelled with the name of the person whose olives are in that particular compartment. Some people have so many olives that they take up two full segments of the masher or more.
Fresh olive oil may be used immediately, but is better to let the oil sit for several months before using it.
The whole process would take about one hour, if unimpeded. However, after driving an hour in either direction and waiting in line behind all the other people ahead of us at the olive press, it ends up taking half a day. A reward well worth the wait!