On my last day in Naxos, I found out about a cave where Zeus was supposedly born (or brought into existence, or however that works for gods) and also the mountain in which the cave resides, Mt. Zas, which has the highest summit in the Cyclades islands. It was a half hour bus ride away, and since our ferry didn’t leave until 6pm, I decided to spend all day hiking. Teresa was going to check out the nearby town, Halki, which is supposed to be one of the oldest cities on the island and full of stuff to look at. Her shoes had unfortunately broken so there was no hiking for her.
Woke up bright and early to get to the bus station, gorgeous view of the sunrise over the white buildings.
If there’s one thing you should know about Greece, it’s that nothing is on time. When the bus station says it’s open from 9am onward, it actually means they’re open from whenever the hell they feel like waking up and going to work. This may be a product of coming during the off season, but who knows. Additionally, the bus didn’t leave until 45 minutes after it’s scheduled departure, which put me a ways behind in terms of time, but I still had something like six hours to climb the mountain and see the cave, so whatevs.
There are two roads you can take up to the summit (three actually, but really only two are used). One starts at Αγία Μαρίνα, a tiny churchy thing, and the other starts from Φιλοτι, a town situated at the base of the mountain. The easier one starts at Agia Marina and you can follow the second path downward to Filoti while passing by the caves, so I chose to do that. Until I thought it was too easy.
5km hike? Pfft. Difficulty: high? Pfft. Not difficult enough.
I decided to go off the beaten path when I saw some rocks. For whatever reason, having briefly learned to climb rock walls in Dublin instilled in me a desire to climb everything. That, and I remembered my friend Chloe from WashU whom I met in Philadelphia and her ability to/excitement for drunkenly climbing light posts and I figured I should be just like her. What I was unaware of, though, was that literally every bit of life on the mountain had only one purpose: the stab the shit out of you.
My backpack was too heavy at certain points for me to be able to climb with it on, so a couple times I had to throw it up on ledges and then go chasing after it.
Goodbye, path. You’re too boring for the Acorn.
Okay, stay there, I’m coming!
The plants here aren’t really plants. They’re hard as rock and made entirely of thorns. Had I known this before climbing for half a hour to reach them, I would have turned back. I was wearing shorts, so one wrong step and it felt like I was being mauled by innumerable angry hormonal cats on crack.
I was up I the bushes for a good hour and a half trying to make it to the top where I might find more path to walk on. Moving even a few feet here required a lot of planning, because if you reached a point where there was no rock to step on, you literally can’t move in any direction and you’ll have to trek backwards to find a new path, which I did end up having to do a couple times.
There are a couple ways to tell you’re going the right way: follow the goat poop. It’s everywhere and easy to spot. That, and the dung beetles. They roll it up like happy little living ice cream scoops except the ice cream is poop. They’re shiny and easy to spot. Also, if you touch them, they get really pissed.
A couple times, I got too friendly with the bushes and jerked one direction or the other in pain. I had several of these little punctures on my legs and hands, and a particularly painful one on my butt before deciding I wasn’t going to be able to make it and turned back.
Ouch. 🙁 You can literally ALMOST walk on these plants without them bending significantly. WHY?!
Once I had made it back to the path (which took forever… Traveling downward has a lot more momentum and this is a BAD thing when you’re surrounded by blood-thirsty demon bushes) it was a more or less easy hike up to the top. I was so happy seeing the surrounding land I couldn’t help but smile the whole time.
Half way to the top.
At this point I was listening to “I feel like a woman” by Shania Twain and “Roar” by Katy Perry, screaming the lyrics as loudly as I could between breaths and skipping my way up the mountain side feeling like a million bucks.
I don’t know why anything would want to live on this mountain. There are some really terrifying insects all over the place…
What in the hell kind of hornet is that? Or wasp? Death bug?
But seriously, what?
Eventually I reached right up to the very tippy top. There was a book inside a box where you could write your name and a note to show you had climbed the mountain.
“Hi Zeus. I climbed your stupid mountain like a pro with only minimal injury. Greetings from STL. For those reading this, life is beautiful. Embrace it and the ones you love.”
It was time to go down the other path and go past the caves. Easy enough. I just looked around for the path I hadn’t taken before. Supposedly, it’s well marked and easy to follow, but dangerous because of slopes and slippery rocks. Well… I thought I took the right path down, but I ran into a sign I KNEW I had passed coming up. At that point, I ran into a Austrian couple who promised to show me the way to the caves. Unfortunately, we all got lost and ended up back at Agia Marina. That’s right, back at the start.
However, I was determined to see these damn caves. You can climb mountains all the time. How often can you witness the birthplace of a sky god? I started walking along the road to an unfinished house where a path would take me to Filoti from whence I could take the other path upwards toward the cave (or so the Austrian couple had told me). I had two hours remaining before I would need to get back to a town with a bus stop. There was a stone marked with two words: Φιλοτι, with an arrow pointing down a dirt path, and τρογλο (troglo) which I didn’t understand in the slightest, so I took the path down toward Filoti. Five minutes down that path, and it hit me. Troglo is a root for word formation in biology for things that live in caves or dark places. Hurray for biology! And languages!
I jumped back up the path back to the road and continued walking. I happened to find another person who was walking that direction and we discussed the summit and the caves. She offered to give me a ride closer to the caves since I was running low on time, so we went to her car and she and her husband drove me up to the beginning of another path. Yay!
I started walking really fast to make up for lost time.
What else would I use it for…?
I LITERALLY almost died here. The angle of the picture is weird, but the slope is very, very steep here on that rock. I thought I would be okay to get across it to the other side without much difficulty, but I slipped and went sliding a few feet downward. I literally thought I was going to die. I managed to stop sliding and grab a hold on some of the cracks and pull myself sideways and back up. I have never been so scared for my life. Anyway, moving on!
To continue along this path, you follow some rocks that are vaguely marked with red spots or arrows. They’re usually easy to see, but sometimes require some searching. There are also little piles of rocks that some other travelers have put together to help mark the path.
On the way up, I met several people who were coming back down from the caves. A Greek man asked me where I was from, and he didn’t believe I was from the US. “Are you German?” he asked me after I introduced myself in Greek. Basically everyone I try talking to in Greek thinks I’m German because of my “strong accent.”
“You don’t look like a normal American. Maybe you look like Australian or even Greek.” Yep. No. Just American, sorry.
The view from the cave entrance.
At this point since I’m an idiot I realized I hadn’t brought a flashlight. For a minute my heart sank, but then I remembered I had my external battery with me, and it had a little light on it! What luck! So I entered the cave and explored it using a tiny little lightbulb situated on the giant block which was my external battery. The cave is supposedly the birthplace of Zeus, Greek god of the sky. Additionally, the ancient Greeks held ritualistic orgies in the cave. Gross.
The entrance area is all green and brown where the sun comes in through the small opening to the outside world. Once you move past the green and blue rocks, you get into the stuff that never sees daylight, where most of the terrifyingly huge bugs live and curious bats like to fly at your head because you are a large moving object with a little flashlight. At first I was too scared to go in, but I figured I’d come so far, now was not the time to chicken out even if I had to go in alone.
The ceiling was really cool because it had multi-colored striations all over.
The cave is about 100m deep, but the stones get really slippery hallway through. The small opening and first half of the cave has a low ceiling, but then it opens up into this magnificent room with a huge back wall and just being in there was really moving. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to the very back without slipping all over the place so I had to head back. If I had slipped and lost my battery flashlight, I don’t know what I would have done.
I emerged out of the cave and hurried back down to the town feeling like a new person on top of the world.
I made it down to the bus stop with time to attempt a conversation with a local woman selling chocolate, and caught the bus back to the port I time to head out with Teresa.
Cheap travel tip number 35: no one checks your tickets once you’re on the ferry. If your boat goes from one island to another to another, get a ticket to the nearest island because it will be the cheapest, and then when you’re in port, just stay on the boat and hide in the bathrooms until you leave port. We were able to get from Naxos to Athens for only €20 total (as opposed to €64)! Shhhhh