Travels with V


Ikaria – village fiestas and hot baths

A tradition that basically exists in many – if not all – greek villages, but that here on Ikaria has developed into something different is called Panegiria. Originally it’s a religious festival for the village’s patron saint, but in Ikaria it’s a big village fiesta.  Hundreds of people pour in from everywhere, eat, drink and dance the whole night long. Panegiria exists the whole year, but in the summer it really explodes, and each weekend three or four villages can have panegirias simultaneously.

Tonight’s panegiria is in the mountain village of  Petropouli. When we arrive at about 10 am the first guests have already seated themselves at the long tables in the little square. Whole grilled goat, fried goat’s liver, greek salad, bread and potatoes are on the menu along with wine and water in plastic bottles. There’s a band on a stage playing very oriental greek folk music. Which reminds us, we’re not so very far from Turkey and the Orient.

For the next two hours not much changes, people keep pouring in and some early birds leave. But then a small group of elderly ladies get up and dance a slow and slender dance. They’re joined by some younger women and this is like a signal. Ten minutes later the whole open space in front of the stage is packed with people spinning in concentric circles. This is Panegiria as an old greek Dionysian ritual, and the dance steps are said to resemble the trotting of a goat. 

The crowd keeps on swirling hour after hour, sometimes only stopping at the break of dawn. But we leave much earlier, we don’t have the Greek circadian rhythm in us. 

Another living tradition in Ikaria going far back in history is the thermal baths. It’s an unusual type though, because here the thermal hot water runs out of openings in the sea floor. The coast has several of these geothermal flows, that are also slightly radioactive.  In old Roman times the aristocracy travelled to Ikaria’s Therma , situated in a kind of cavelikee niche by the harbour. People still like to swim there, and the water is said to heal skin diseases and other types of sickness.  

In the Aegean Sea the islands are relatively close to each other, and one day we hop on a ferry to nearby Patmos, half an hour south of Ikaria. There we meet a totally different vibe, more geared towards tourism, and we really don’t see much of any activity that isn’t touristic. 

Patmos great attraction is the cave where John the evangelist is said to have received the visions that became the Book of revelations, describing the apocalypse, the end of the world.

In the cave we see several  men entering and kissing a stone in a corner where John supposedly sat.

We rent a moped scooter and ride up to the top of the hill above Skala, the main harbour. Up here lies the white village of Chora around the St John monastery. That loks like a fortress, which in fact it is, since the monastery needed protection against pirates and warring Turks. Inside there’s an interesting little museum with lots of ancient books and scriptures, along with archeological findings, among them a head of the wine god Dionysos. 

Back on Ikaria there are unfortunately not many archeological sites from the cassic  Greek or Roman times. In Nas on the west coast there is a ruined Artemis tempel, but apart from that there is really only in the old (some say the first) main city Oinos, nowadays named Kampos, that you can see ruins. There is an Odeion, a kind of small amphitheatre that had walls and a roof and was used for plays but also community meetings. Later a byzantine palace was built over it, but today the only visible remnants of the palace are some beautiful arches.

We have already mentioned that the roads on Ikaria are narrow and winding, but they are also in many parts neglected to a state of real danger. The only decent two-way lane is on a short stretch along the north coast. The rest is narrow lanes where cars, goats, motorbikes, tractors and lorrys have to cooperate in an acrobatic sort of way to get ahead. Some roads are dotted with potholes, some partially fixed with hand-laid concrete, often there are no crash barriers. In the more desolate parts of the island there are only gravel roads.


I suppose that it’s the parsimonious attitude of the administration in Athens that’s the reason for the terrible condition of the roads. It must surely reduce the lives of cars here. Furthermore there is no system for scrapping cars on the island, so the roads are lined with abandoned cars rusting slowly. 

This video shows some clips from driving in Ikaria. At the end You’ll se us enetring the island’s only tunnel. We rented a small jeep that turned out to be perfect for these roads.