It seems like every place I’ve lived during the past 20 years has had that one special hike, amongst many, that I keep returning to. It is the place where I always find inspiration as I walk along the trail. By the time I’m done, I will have experienced a transformation of some sort, discovered a new way of looking at some aspect of the world, or my own life.
In Silverton, it was a hike to the beaver ponds. It was the perfect combination of alpine wonder—within minutes of town one was walking thru aspens, pines, and wildflowers. A lucky wanderer might see a beaver working on their house. When we moved to Paonia the choices right out of town were more limited, but I usually found myself up on Jumbo mountain—a bit of a climb, but the spectacular views of the North Fork Valley made it worth it. In Berlin, it was a bike path that followed the Panke Canal—it was lush, a bit wild, weaving through both urbanity and nature. If one followed it long enough, you’d end up at the North Sea. Back in Durango, it was definitely the Colorado Trail. During this 2.5 mile hike to the bridge, friends and I solved many of the world’s problems, thought of business ideas, and worked out many personal problems. These trails have been all the therapy I’ve ever needed.
Here in the Pelio Peninsula, I have found myself over these past few months returning to a trail, known as a Kalderimi, that starts in Milina—a small village next to the sea around 4 miles from our house—and ends in Lafkos, a picturesque village perched at 1,000 feet in elevation on top of the ridge. The trail bed is mostly cobblestone built over a hundred years ago with pezoules (low stone walls) on both sides. At first the trail winds through thick vegetation but then opens up to magnificent views of the Pagasitikos Gulf.
Around a third of the way up there’s a small church called Panagia Mesosporitissa. Panagia translates to the all-holy one, or the Virgin Mary, and Mesosporitissa is a ritual that takes place halfway thru fall planting. In pre-Christian times, the planting ritual was connected to Demeter—goddess of the renewal of nature and the germination of the grains. Once Christianity arrived, the Virgin Mary replaced the goddess Demeter as the chosen entity. There is also a small spring next to Panagia Mesosporitissa where we always stop to let Lada have a drink and to fill our water bottles.
Once we crest the ridge around 30 minutes later, the village of Lafkos emerges. Dozens of stone houses terraced along the hillside draped in bougainvillea, trumpet vines, wisteria, all tucked in amongst fig, pear, and walnut trees.
The best part of the hike is going to the traditional bakery, Ioannis Drositis, for fresh spanakopita, cheese pie, or lemon cream filled croissants. There are many other delectables to choose from, but these are my favorites.
Once we have our pastries, we head over to the town square in order to drink Greek coffee at my favorite kafenio (cafe)— I.E. Forlida. The only thing on the menu is small or large Greek coffee, with or without sugar. Sometimes we wait 10, maybe 15 minutes to order from the older gentleman that is both waiter and barrista. While we wait we nibble on our pastries. Usually there are a dozen or so other customers, older men accompanied by an Orthodox Greek priest with in a long black robe, and a beard that matches. The people-watching is almost as good as the coffee and cheese pie.
After an hour, we fill our water at the spring at the center of the square and happily, lazily make the trek back to Milina—bellies full, caffeinated, and open to transformation.