Travel Writing by Cory Hanson

Hydra Thunder

 

Greece–December 2015

I was scuffling with a stubborn case of traveler’s sickness. Often feeling as if I’d eaten the jagged metal Krusty-O, I was determined not to let it beat me or ruin my experience. With gritted teeth, I left Athens behind and boarded the ferry to Hydra.

Hydra's Harbor Hydra Greece

Hydra’s Harbor[Tweet this image]

This rocky, hilly little island across a narrow strait from the Peloponnese peninsula is one of the more heavily-touristed Greek Isles, but visiting as we were in late December, we were going to miss the summer tourist slam. Arriving in the main harbor of Hydra—pronounced “EE-dra”—we dropped off our bags at the guesthouse and hit the small market for some picnic supplies. Sickness be damned, we had come to this island to hike the seaside trails and modest hills.

From the cute harbor—swarming with locals offering donkey rides to the (literal) boatload of tourists milling about—we rounded the harbor and headed west along the island’s northern coast, looking across to the hills of the Peloponnese and to the pleasure boats cruising the calm waters between the islands. On the low road, we walked past locals riding donkeys, who we greeted with a simple “Yasus!

The weather had cooperated, and even though it wasn’t hot by anyone’s definition, it was decidedly warmer and brighter than it was back in Dublin. On the sun-warmed rocks, some of the island’s many half-stray cats were lounging, giving us weak, lazy acknowledgement as we passed. There are few cars or gas-powered vehicles on the island—by choice of the islanders—so the only sounds disturbing the afternoon peace were the braying of donkeys and the ringing of bells on the sheep grazing the hillsides.

After a few relaxing miles, with several stops to wait out waves of blinding abdominal pain, we reached an irresistible outcropping overlooking the village of Vlychos and the Church of St. John the Theologian on a tiny island in the strait.

Vlychos and Church of St. John the Theologian Hydra Greece

A Tiny Church on a Tiny Island[Tweet this image]

I did my best with the delicious foods we had brought with us from Athens and supplemented at the small island market: olives of remarkable variety, pickles, traditional cheeses, and Greek beer. In other words, a list of the exact foods that should not be eaten when in gastrointestinal distress.

Still determined to experience the hills of Hydra despite my sickness, I boldly followed Sara up into the inland hills—y’know, for the sake of variety. After a gradual climb that I could normally make while singing Broadway show tunes, I was nearly crawling, hunched over and clutching my gut. A bit like the donkeys that were easily passing me on the way up the hill, I stubbornly pushed on through the pain to the top, where I collapsed, wincing and panting, at the gate of a small churchyard. I wondered if it wouldn’t have been a better choice to slow my pace just a little bit, sticking to the flat, smooth coastal road back to Hydra town and our comfortable guestroom.

A Hilltop Church Hydra Greece

A Hilltop Church[Tweet this image]

After my insides had settled, we continued on the higher road, wisely skipping the optional trails that led even higher into the scrub-and-stone hills in the center of the island. The village of Kamini, which we had passed earlier along the coast, blended together with the main village of Hydra in the higher reaches, and we lost track of the walking signs pointing back to Ύδρα (Ydra).

We weaved through the narrow lanes between the whitewashed stone-and-stucco houses, adorned with winter-themed Christmas decorations that clashed—pleasingly—with the Mediterranean atmosphere of the village. After a few more exchanges of “Yasus!” we stumbled our way back to the harbor, where I could finally rest my aching insides.

The next morning, I felt like the proverbial million bucks, and hopped out of bed for more walking. We had booked tickets for the return ferry to Athens early that afternoon, but had originally planned to spend the morning doing more hillwalking. I assured Sara—and myself—that I was finally back in action on our last full day in Greece. Upon the climbing the first incline, I realized I was wrong.

I fought through it again, this time heading east from Hydra and into the hills near Mandraki. I had to stop to clutch my abdomen a little bit less frequently as we walked along the hilltops, looking down to see small farmhouses and grazing sheep and goats on the rocky slopes. We stopped to eat lunch—more oily, salty, greasy food, this time supplemented with more fresh Greek oranges—on a rock overlooking the port of Hydra.

We reflected on our Greek experience: the food, the sights, the sounds, the sickness. I congratulated myself for not letting it slow me down or change my ambitious sightseeing plans, and hoped that the stiff breeze blowing in from the north wouldn’t make the ferry ride home bumpy enough to add the threat of seasickness to my already sensitive insides.

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