Yesterday Giannis took me for a morning outing around a hill known as Vatsina (pronounced Vacheena). It looms above Skala Loutron, our sister village, a harbor town that was settled by refugees from Asia Minor in the early 20th century. On its crest is the tiny chapel of Panagia Apsili (Madonna on High). If you want you can climb the 100+ stairs to visit the church and enjoy the awesome panoramic view from her heights. Our quest was to circle around and make our way to the southern slopes where it is said that there is an ancient quarry and stone walls dating to the pre-Christian epoch.
We parked our vintage Yamaha Townmate by the shipyard near the center of the village and followed a little trail that winds between old workshops and olive groves, through beds of giant reeds, and emerges quickly at water's edge. There, in front of the shipyard, is a floating iron dock and the vestigal remains of ships and boats, like this one who is still managing to keep somewhat afloat.
Natural springs of sweet water flow out from beneath the limestone mountain, providing a fertile environment for little creatures. The rocky shoals are stained vibrant green and purple by the rich waters of the Gulf of Geras, one of two huge bays that stretch far inland, cutting the island into a wonderful convoluted shape. Our bay is almost enclosed and its warm Aegean currents nourish an incredible variety of sea life. It also provides us with endless wild shores to roam.
Giannis decided to test the waters for fish, giving me time to explore, gather and photograph. Below you can see the road that runs beside the harbor of Skala Loutron, and our village, Loutra, in the distance.
I found plenty of treasures, as I do everywhere we wander. Tiny green sea urchin shells were tucked into the drift, blown ashore by the wind and waves. Giannis pointed out a tonna galea (giant sea snail) tossing in the waves, which I was just able to reach with a long stick. It was empty but a little slimy, so it's going into the compost pile to be cleaned by microorganisms. Just down the way we saw a live one, and I found one more, an empty shell as big as my outstretched hand. That one also came home with me.
As we maneuvered the rocky cliffs that encircle the base of the mountain, we came across openings that revealed small meadows and steep walls of limestone rock, crowned by sinuous olive trees. These weren't the ancient quarries I had hoped to find, but were the remains of limestone quarries that were active until the mid-1900s.
Nearly hidden in the thick brush beneath them were deep round caves of drystacked stone, the remnants of lime kilns. Giannis' father and many other villagers worked very hard to turn the local limestone mountains into quicklime for building and plastering. They cut and carried great bundles of thorny oak down the mountainsides to fire the kilns. We run across old lime kilns nearly everywhere we roam, but these were the biggest I have seen. There were four of them, mostly in beautiful condition, stone arches and all.
Rounding the western side of Βατσίνα, we came across a little boat that had been blown ashore, made of flimsy fiberglass and pink styrofoam. It didn't look very seaworthy but made for a lovely photograph.
We continued around to the southern side of Βατσίνα where we headed inland. There we found a crumbling farmhouse at the foot of the hill, a few of its plastered stone walls were still standing.
We didn't climb to the top of the mountain (yet) to find the ancient quarry, but we did discover a section of an ancient marble column in the collapsed porch of the old farmhouse. It made a convenient plinth to hold up a bearing post and quite likely was a remnant of worked marble from the old quarry that tumbled down or got broken in transit and left behind.
Just as we reached the road, I discovered a trash dump amidst the rubble at the base of the hill. It contained parts of old clay water jars, rusty cans, broken bottles, old shoes, and other wonderful little remnants from the village that lay just beyond. My favorite find was a little piece of printed vinyl from a schoolchild's satchel. I rescued it, of course.