Sep 03, 2017 - Sea Cloud

The Sea Cloud arrived in Ithaca, the second smallest island in the Ionian Sea and home to Odysseus, in the early morning, on a cloudy but warm day. We tendered ashore where the statue of Odysseus was awaiting to welcome us! Ithaca is small and rugged, but still one of the best-kept secrets of our islands, and a place with a long maritime tradition. Vathy, the main port and capital, is a nice, small, quiet town hiding in one of the most concealed and protected natural bays of Greece—in the old days it kept it hidden from the pirates but nowadays only from the strong winds. It’s a tiny port, but many sailboats prefer it and come to enjoy the sweetness of the land and the legends associated with the cunning king Odysseus, the “man of many devices”.

We drove along the windy roads of the northern part of Ithaca and Mount Neritos. The landscape was green, full of low vegetation but also pines, olives and cypress. We drove past the beach where Odysseus landed after 20 years away from home, fighting in Troy for 10 years and then wandering in the seas—and the arms of various women—for another ten, and we made it up to the Monastery of Kathara, founded in 1696.  The view from the elevation of 1800 feet down to the south and the Bay of Vathy was spectacular!  Lord Byron had also visited the precincts, but there was very little from the original buildings because of a disastrous earthquake in 1953. However, we did see the miraculous icon of the birth of the Virgin Mary in the main church that was loaded with votive offerings in the form of jewelry or silver and bronze plates with representations of objects, body parts or people for whom the dedications were made. Chandeliers, candle holders and a small silver ship hung all over the ceiling.

Our picturesque drive continued through the village of Anogi and we enjoyed the 12th-century Byzantine church of the Virgin Mary and its original frescoes, which in this case survived the earthquake! A few minutes later we reached Stavros, the second largest town on the island with 250 inhabitants. We stopped in the central plateia (square) with the main church, the Greek kafeneia (cafes), a map of Odysseus’ journey and a bust of the man himself. Stavros is very close to what some archaeologists believe are the ruins of Odysseus’ Palace—in other words, a Mycenaean 13th-century palace complex, and possibly the very home to which Odysseus strived to return, while his faithful wife Penelope with her son Telemachus were trying to keep the suitors away from the throne.

After enjoying our Greek coffees, juices, and local sweets like ravani, baklava and kantaifi, we drove back to Vathy, always following the road on the steep slopes of the mountain and enjoying spectacular views of the neighboring island of Cephalonia, the island of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The day continued with a wonderful sailing as the Sea Cloud headed for Albania.

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About the Author

Smaragda Touloupa

Cultural Specialist

Born in Piraeus into a family with roots in Macedonia, Greece, “Smaro” majored in sociology at university, then received an M.A. in cultural heritage theory at University College in London. She also completed a three-year course of study at the School of Guides in Athens. She has been guiding university, museum and other groups in Greece since 1998. She is fluent in Greek, English and Italian, and is a member of the World Archaeological Congress and the Initiative of Heritage Conservancy. Smaro enjoys reading, travelling, trekking and — still — studying!

About the Photographer

José Calvo

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Nicknamed “Indio” (Indian) because of his powers of observation and quiet nature, José has almost two decades of experience working as a naturalist and photography guide; as well as being recognized as an expert birder and nature photographer in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is rich in biodiversity — over 893 bird species have been recorded in the country. Since very young José spent all of his free time in the outdoors in the forest, where he soon fell in love with the birds. He particularly enjoys listening to their calls, and watching their behavior. Oddly enough, another one of Jose’s passions is science and technology, and because of this, he was among the first in Costa Rica to experiment with digital photography. As the technology quickly improved so did his love for it.  He truly believes that nature photography is the perfect combination of both of his passions.

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