A few days later we left for Kastraki… a village below a range of very unique mountains with isolated monolithic outcrops of solid rock towering into the sky. Perched on top of some of them, like fairytale castles are historic living monasteries (eight in active use). They are partially open to the public and are a massive tourist attraction for people from all over the world. We wanted to visit them.
We had unknowingly arrived during a Greek public holiday and accommodation was at a premium. Our first night was spent in a small room behind the kitchen of a popular central restaurant. Ambient temperatures were high and even higher behind the kitchen. Business was good into the early hours, people happy and voices loud. However, for us, sleep and rest passed us by.
The next day bleary eyed and zombie like, limbs and joints still not sure how they should feel; we went searching for something with a bit more quiet. We found it, on the outskirts of the village at the foot of the road to the monasteries and with fabulous views over the village to the mountains – our haven for the next six days.
We explored the local villages, visited three of the monasteries, (walking up from our hotel to two of them). Found and took footpaths through the mountains from the monasteries to the villages. We did a lot of strenuous walking and it was easy.
It was exhilarating. All stiffness aches and pains, having to make a forceful effort, had disappeared. Our successful canyon challenge seemed to have rejuvenated our body systems and made the last six days of our holiday a special pleasure.
I remember reading that when we push ourselves sufficiently the mitochondria (the energy converter particles in each cell in our bodies) start to reproduce more of themselves so that each cell can have more energy to do what we demand of it. But of course: if we don’t use it we lose it.
So create them and use them – rejuvenate and exhilarate.
We didn’t stop except to drink water or take a quick photo. After about five hours of solid walking the gorge basin opened out. Our path moved into an open plain with small trees, shrubs, almost no shade and constant exposure to the searing sun now at its highest point above us. Within minutes our clothes were drenched in sweat and clinging to our bodies. The path started to climb gently at first and then more acutely to the base of the canyon wall where the steep climb to the top started. A meandering, relatively well maintained stone path hugging the canyon sides with the occasional rocky over hang to snatch a few brief moments of respite from the glaring sun. The heat and the steep constant incline rapidly sapped the strength from our legs and the moisture from our bodies. It became a major exercise to put one foot in front of the other, a constant mental/ physical battle played, “stop, go”, “I can’t go on”, “yes you can”, “just a bit more” etc. etc. And so the battle raged getting more and more desperate as our pace slowed to little more than a snail crawl. Finally we reached the top, crying with exhausted relief. We had made it!!! We stumbled onto and over the narrow tar road and collapsed onto the bench in the strategically placed open shelter (clearly placed there for the likes of us).
When normal body sensations and mental clarity returned I slipped off my wet clammy saturated shirt and duly wrung it out leaving pools of liquid on the floor. Water from the tap in the shelter ran until our thirsts were slated. Some more minutes of idle recuperation and then we walked the last hundred metres or so around a bend in the road to Vikos’s centre; two restaurant/cafes some bungalows and a look-out point. We flopped into a seat outside the nearest restaurant, ordered a large beer and another bottle of water, placed my shirt on some hot sun baked boulders to dry, phoned for our host to come and collect us, relaxed, and waited for our lift – content with our day’s accomplishment.
Our host, Dimitris, told us that six hours and a quarter (which we had taken) to complete the 13 km gorge walk was considered a good average time for fit young people, so we were well satisfied. Back in our lodgings in Monodendri we showered and changed and let the experience sink in. The first physical reactions were felt that evening when walking down the cobbled road to dinner. The uneven surface of the road seemed to accentuate the stiffness that was setting in from our physical exertions of the day and little twinges of just acceptable pain were being felt in all joints from the feet up and into the hips and trunk.
That night we slept solidly and soundly no doubt giving us strength for the day to come. We woke up with intense stiffness all over, no joint or muscle escaping. A hot power shower eased the bulk of the pain and stiffness. Then to breakfast, ”Oh My God”, a short flight of stairs down to the dinning room, pain and suffering, on the first step down both calf muscles seized up with cramp, up or down whichever calf took the weight the cramp intensified along with the pain and suffering. Standing still on tiptoe for an interminable length of time eased the pain enough to gently and very slowly with gritted teeth move down to the next step, wait, get my breath back and repeat the procedure one by one to the bottom.
On even ground the after glow of the cramp seizures were still very painfully but at least I could move without gritting my teeth. Throughout that day any small downward step triggered the cramp reaction in the calf muscles. For the next two days we rested and walked slowly around the village on the most level roads and paths we could find. It helped work out some of the stiffness and pain in the muscles. *****************