The International Writers Magazine: A
Rough Climb to Demeters Temple
Theresa Hunt in Greece
It's that exasperated sigh that Steve gives when he's intensely
frustrated - so frustrated that he can't even kick anything or throw
something. It was windy, cold, something you wouldn't expect on
a Greek Island, but this is Naxos, land of irony.
It was strange enough to pass by souvenir stands selling chipped
candleholders with "Santorini" written on them in Sharpie
marker. But to be prattling through a rocky, uninhabited, mars-like
terrain now on a bargain scooter, which we couldn't get past, oh,
30 mph, was almost too much to take in. But then, how would I know
we were only going 30 mph, when the speedometer was broken? It was
all for the best, I supposed, considering the brakes were so soft.
wasn't in the mood for seeing the glass half full that day, especially
since the scooter had stalled out three? maybe four times since we'd
left "Porto Naxos", our "five star" hotel, the one
with the ants in the bathroom and the concierge who couldn't take his
eyes of Steve's derriere. Oh, and lest I forget to mention it later:
the melted chocolate candy and half empty water bottles in the "mini
bar". I guess I wasn't quite in the mood, either, since I burned
my leg by getting off on the wrong side of the scooter, precisely what
he told me not to do.
We had been to Mikri Vigla and Kastraki beach the day before. The sand
was soft, the sun, pink. The beach was nearly deserted, and the water
clear enough to notice that the smooth, cold stones shifting under the
water were multi-colored. We sat, thought, talked for hours. We smiled
a lot. Natural smiles, coming from a place deep within - a place of
comfort and beauty, of luscious peace and calm. It had been a while
since those kinds of smiles had been for either one of us - we let the
teacher smiles, business smiles, i want to buy this house smiles, and
wedding smiles crumble and shatter in the afternoon sun, slipping into
Today, an adventure. Head out to Moutsouna, on the other side of the
island. Another coastal city, but certainly no Hora. The map in the
hotel room was not a topographical map. It was flat, and pink, the island
itself blue. There were a few red veins running through the map that
showed some roads, and mile markers noting the Goody's (like BK, but
grosser) and car rental places along the way. Our guidebooks map
wasn't much better - it showed a far away, aerial view of the island,
alongside the most eastern part of nearby Paros.
Despite being rather confused, we left early and headed west, in search
of something. Cultural, historic, ancient - something besides the isolated
beaches and contemplative relaxation we treasured but didn't want to
exploit, silently each afraid we might overuse them somehow.
As such, we found ourselves pulled over on the side of the road, trying
desperately to untangle Greek signs, cryptic to us despite their feeble
attempts to use English and Greek alphabets. A German or Norwegian couple
roared past us on the BMW of scooters - a shiny silver Peugeot with
an elongated seat that comfortably fit two people, the back rider even
raised up a bit for better viewing pleasure. I looked on in envy as
the sunglassed pair waved and pointed behind them, perhaps hoping to
help us find wherever it was they just came from. If they were there,
after all, wouldn't we want to be?
They seemingly shrugged and roared away when we only looked up at them
momentarily and then looked back at the hotel map. I shot a glance at
our lawn mower of a scooter parked pathetically under what little shade
there was, and suppressed a groan when I thought of getting back on.
The seat was barely enough for Steve, let alone me. Oh, and in case
I forgot to mention it before, there were also no shocks on the bike.
Not bad shocks, no shocks.
"Well let's just keep driving that way", I said, pointing
to what I thought might have said "Apiranthos", which was
just south and west of "Moutsouna". Steve shrugged and off
we went, at a rip-roaring 20 mph.
It wasn't so bad, actually, since at slower speeds you don't swallow
as many bugs or get things in your eyes as quickly. I found myself moping
and muttering a bit, cursing my idea to turn down the suggestion to
return to Mikri Vigla with it's soft, cool sand and topless only swimming
and seek out some adventure instead.
But then, we turned the corner. Great mountains and foothills rose up
in front of us. There was nothing, save for a few practical, stone homes
scattered along the roadside, some donkeys pulling carts with no driver
in sight, and a lonely, lovely, blue and white stone church high up
on the peak of the mountain. There was nothing but vast openness, low
greens and the beautiful tans of dry Greek earth. I leaned forward with
my hands around Steve, and I could feel him smiling again. A new kind
of contemplative peacefulness, happiness, found in a new way. The higher
we climbed, the windier it got, the sea breeze (or view of the sea)
no longer obstructed by the cliffs below us.
We found a sign that offered up the Temple of Demeter, for our viewing
pleasure, and wound our way in and out of villages to find it. We passed
more donkeys, more old men wrapped in what could only be wool clothing,
despite the heat. We passed clotheslines, dark skinned boys playing
soccer barefoot on dirt roads. We had been thundering down one road
for quite some time, so we pulled over and asked one of the boys "Pou
ine Demitras?" - where is Demeter's temple? He looked shocked -
shocked to see us, shocked to hear bad greek, shocked anything could
interrupt their game. We tried again, and he pointed onward, in the
direction we were headed. With an efharisto - a thank you - we drove
on and eventually found it - the ruins of a temple perched on a hilltop
high above the villages below.
Half an hour and 500 or so steps later, we found the ruins, not quite
looking like ruins, and completely abandoned. There was a small rope
which at one point might have been meant to keep people out, but laid
on the ground now, unmaintained. Excavation sites being pursued by the
University of Athens were covered in glass or filled in with stone,
little plastic signs denoting what was found or hoping to be found.
We ran at the temple when we saw there was no barrier - we jumped like
children up and down the steps, darting behind columns and daring to
step over the one rope standing to feel the cold marble entrance way
under our feet.
The temple had been broken down to build a church, a sacred church high
on this hill, dedicated to Christianity after several wars and centuries
had gone by. The liberal university then saw to it, perhaps in the "light
a fire under your patriotism" decades of the 20th century, to brake
down the church and rebuild what was taken from the temple - the columns,
the marble, the stone. The floor stood, never shifted, but the temple,
rising up once again, provided us with shade, a chance to touch, and
a reason to say "hey, at least it got us here" instead of
resenting the scooter for the rest of the day.
Of course we continued back from our detour, the scooter finally turning
over after the fourth try at starting it, passing by the same group
of boys playing soccer, who decided to run after us for a bit and yell
"YAY, DEMETRAS!" for reasons only known to them.
When we finally got back to the Islands main drag we were as exhausted
as we were pleased that wed again found another out of the way
spot for the day. "Wed better get to sleep early," Steve
said over some take-away Gyros later on that evening. I nodded. We wanted
to get out to a mountain that hid an old monastery wed
been told not to go because the nearly impossible climb wasnt
worth the trouble. I looked at the scooter and winced, but I must admit
my heart pounded in anticipation for our next wandering day out.
© Theresa Hunt - May 2004
Bio: Theresa is an avid traveler who teaches Literature, Writing,
and Women's Studies at two universities in her home state of New Jersey.
She has explored travel through volunteer work, education, and ecotourism
projects, and most recently spent time in Greece and North Africa.
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