We headed for the south coast of island of Thassos, to the town of Potos. It’s about an 80km drive from where the ferry landed in the north. Like a lot of Greek islands, Thassos is very mountainous in the middle. In fact, the highest peak is over 1,200 metres – taller than the Blue Mountains.
But I was looking forward to seeing the Aegean Sea, and luckily I got a nice day to enjoy the seaside.
Even though Potos is a resort town, it still has a few fishing boats moored.
But most of the boats were recreational.
Potos was very quiet in April. It felt like we were the only tourists around. It would be different if we visited a few weeks later, when Bulgarian and Romanian holiday-makers head for their Easter break.
And I’m always fascinated by the ‘Aussie’ bar. They are getting to be as ubiquitous as the Irish pub.
We are heading for the northern Aegean island of Thassos, about 10km offshore. To get there, we need to take a ferry from the small port of Keramoti.
Keramoti seemed a sleepy enough place in Spring, although the locals told us that all hell breaks loose in the summer when it is filled with Eastern European tourists heading for Thassos.
A storm was brewing as we waited for the ferry. Lucky for me, the crossing was not too bad.
I thought that the Pomaks had an ancient way of life, but there was a lot of history to be had in Thrace. There were of course some remnants of Ancient Greece, like this amphitheatre in the coastal region of Maronia.
But the Ancient Greeks weren’t the first to live in the region. Oh no, human history in this area went way back to the stone age. These first peoples weren’t Greeks but Thracians who came before them. Like in Stonehenge, these people worked with stone. We didn’t see any stone circles as such, but one look at the landscape would tell you why the ancient Thracians found Maronia so special.
It looked as if a giant had just trampled through a mountain and tossed around a few boulders.
It also had olive groves that seemed to have been planted by the Ancient Greeks themselves.
We didn’t see another soul while we were there. Unfortunately some locals had started grazing their cattle there – a big shame since it meant that the area would be greatly damaged. But that’s the way it goes in Greece. If you know some one who knows some one and you can strike a deal between you all, then the rule book (if there was one in the first place) goes out the window.
We weren’t only eating vegetables – that certainly won’t sustain you up in the mountains. We had our share of non-veg dishes too. This sausage was a bit like a chorizo, but perhaps more Turkish influenced.
The chicken souvlaki was marinated with a mix of oregano and thyme – typical of Greece.
This fried hard cheese I think tastes like haloumi, but harder.
And of course, big chunks of goats milk feta.
We had plenty of ‘schnitzels’ too. This one is made from pork with a mushroom and cream sauce.
And the favourite lunch-time dish of herders, lamb chop stew with risoni.
After all that eating, there really wasn’t any room for dessert. We only managed it once. Being in Greece, they were super-sweet.
We ate at a lot of tavernas (old style/family-run eateries), and it was no different in the north of Greece. The decor though wasn’t white-washed at all, but something even more rustic.
What was offered is quite similar to that down south, but with a cold weather twist. There of course lots of vegetables, some boiled…
The grilled eggplant with feta was especially good – smoky and pungent. Greek food at its simple best.
I must take my hat off to the geologists. As you’ve noticed by now, the terrain in the Rodophes wasn’t easy.
It’s rocky and steep, and the weather for most of the week was around 10C or colder on the hilltops. The only tracks to be had were ones made by goats, which on a precipice, made for a hair-raising walk.
Since my balance isn’t very good at the best of times, I didn’t really fancy being out all day in such conditions, so for most of the week I watched Hubby and P walk into the hills.
Meanwhile, I watched the scenery and the goats go by. Being in the mountains, the light changes constantly, providing many photo opportunities.
I also did some painting. Having bought a small set of watercolours and a pocket sketchbook in London, they came to good use.
At the end of the day, the satisfied geologists returned with several kilos of rock specimens. I was quite happy with a full page.
While most Pomaks now live in modern houses and flats…
Some still preferred to live a more rustic life.
Still, there were signs that they knew how to make their own fun.
And by the time summer comes around, I’m sure they would make good use of all the creeks and water holes.
Let’s get a few more glimpses of how life is in the mountains for the Pomaks.
As I mentioned earlier, unlike the Christian Orthodox Greeks, the Pomaks are strictly Muslim. You can see a few mosques dotted in the mountains, and you can certainly hear the calls to prayer echoed via loudspeakers several times a day. So there’s no excuse not to pray, even if you’re away from the village tending your goats.
Spring is a time to plough the fields and plant seeds for the coming year. There was plenty of evidence of agriculture in the mountains.
Even though it’s less than 50km as the crow flies from the nearest city, the winding and precipitous roads make the region quite remote. Most Greeks have never visited this area, and up until 20 years ago, outsiders weren’t even allowed to enter, and that makes the Rodophes even more unworldly.
Life on the mountain is hard. It can get to -15C in the winter, and the terrain is challenging to say the least.
But the goat herders certainly know the mountains and their goats. The goats graze on the move, and the goat herders just direct them now and then.
Each herder seems to have their own technique. Some let the goats do their thing, some whistle and shout to move the goats along.
What they all have in common are their dogs. Each herder has several dog helpers. They lead the goats and also herd the stragglers. Most seem to be hardy mountain breeds, but there seems to be the odd mongrel.
These dogs were certainly the herder’s best friend.
The mountains that we visited are called the Rhodopes. It’s the home of the Pomaks, an ethnic group originally from Bulgaria, that are Muslim. They live mainly in little villages such as this one, all over the mountains.
The villages are usually on hilltops, because it’s close to pastures and aren’t subjected to the spring floods.
The Pomaks still live a subsistance lifestyle, growing vegetables, and tending their goats.
The goats are all around the hillside.
I heard their bells everywhere I went, and I would see at least one herd come past everyday.
It’s certainly a world away from modern Athens. I wonder how long this way of life will last?