As Maria lights the way deeper into the cave, she talks. She tells you to mind your step here and your head there...She begins her story, as in old, passed down from one storey teller to another...nothing written until now...
"There was in Byzantine times, a ruler in the area of Agia Gala, called 'Konstandinos, the Warrior,' 'O Konstandinos, O Monomachos.' Konstandinos had a daughter who had Leprosy whom he 'threw away into the fields,' as was the unfortunate destiny of those who were stricken with the then uncurable curse from evil sources...
Fortunately, the young girl found herself near the cave where she took shelter from the harsh weather and even harsher people near her. To her luck, she was found there by a holy woman, who bathed her in the 'white milk from the breasts of the Virgin Mary.' Of course, the myth is that the child was miraculously cured of the disease of the devil, thus ensuring the place in church history, of the 'miraculous Holy Cave of Agia Gala.' From this myth thence came the name of the village, 'Saint Milk,' or 'Agia Gala.'
This is how myths are born. The white liquid no longer drips, but wouldn't it be interesting to discover the chemicals that could still be found there and what healing properties they may hide?
Nature is the miracle, and we must not let these miracles be destroyed by the evils of human beings...Can we save these places for future generations??? Or will the stories burn out one day with the last candle lit by Kira Maria?
Kiria Maria, 35 years young, lives with her elder parents in the village, and takes care not only of them, but of the church. When ever tourists come to visit the church, she runs down the steep stairs along the cliff, with the key to open the door of the church and to tell them the story of 'How the Village Got its Name.'
There is only one light in the church, but Maria does not turn it on straight away, Instead, she lights the candle that will show us the way into the far room of the church. It is not a room that has been built with bricks, but a room that was made 6,000 years ago from the dripping of stalactites on the ceiling of a Neolithic Cave!
From these Stalactites, a mysterious 'White Liquid' had dripped until just some recent years ago! This white liquid, like 'milk' dripped from two juxtaposed stalactites, that have been likened to the 'Breasts of The Virgin Mary.' There is a famous Myth that is told by Kira Maria, which gives even greater mystery to the Cave of Agia Gala....
Here in this remote mountain village, the woman, none of whom have ever driven a car, wait for their monthly pension money to arrive, via the Postman. He then takes some of that money back, as each of them pays him for their electricity bills and water bills. The government giveth, and the government taketh! Each of these women probably get not much more than 300Euros a month, from which they must live. An average monthly light bill for them, is probably at least 100Euros and the water bill another 70-80Euros. That doesn't leave them much to buy the food and daily essential things that could make their life a bit more easier.
This is the reason, we don't see these women dressed in new dresses, or carrying fancy name-brand purses or wearing impractical shoes! Yet, they manage. It was heartwarming to hear that their most wanted thing was...'Money to fix the church that had been damaged in recent Earthquakes.' No matter they ate beans, but how shamefull that the country was allowing their national monuments and Orthodox heritages to crumble...
I can only agree!
As the time passed, we came to share our stories. I told them of how I had come to Chios in search of a paper showing that my father's father, my grandfather Ioannis Helios, had been written in the Town Hall. I told them of my quest to get Greek Citizenship and of the long, long, journey I had taken this far in my search for this one missing paper. They opened up to me and saw me not as a total stranger, but of a child of Chios, looking for my roots. They told me their names and gave me permission, with huge smiles, to take their pictures...if I promised to send them copies of the photographs when I returned to Athens.
This is the first picture I took, that has since been accepted from 5,000 entries, by National Geographic to be one photo published in the first week of September, 2007, in the "Daily Dozen' feature of on-line pictures submitted by ordinary people like myself! What an honour. I can only again, thank "Agia Ipomoni,' for giving me the patience to sit for those 3 hours and to get to know these lovely women of a village that soon will have lost its old ways, and its old women who have given it so much colour for my pages here on VT and in National Geographic.
Yet, there was still the church to be discovered....!!!
'Where is the Postman?' The question repeats itself, every 15 minutes for the next three hours! That's right, THREE HOURS!
But, oh, what lovely three hours those were! Thank you, Agia Ipomoni, for giving me the opportunity to know the lovely ladies from the village of Agia Gala and especially, Kiria Maria, 'The Keeper Of the Key.'
As I sat, in the growing heat of the morning, and as the sun was rising to its pinnacle in the clear blue sky above Agia Gala, I chatted with 'Maria.' I watched as the other ladies, walked back and forth, and as they talked about their daily chores; the bread that was baked; the mid-day meal, yet to be cooked, and 'would there be time? Where was Kiros Costa? How would they have time to finish their work? He was so slow, that postman today? Was there trouble down the road? Was there an accident? Call the next village to see if he had arrived there! No, he hadn't, but call back again in 1/2 hour; he must be on his way!
A little, hunched-over, woman, surely the oldest in the village, passed infront of me. I smiled and said, 'Kalimera!' What fortitude these village women had! Here was a woman, who is any other country, would have been 'safely' 'put-away,' in an 'Old Folks Home,' to die alone far from what had been her familiar, daily routine for more that 80 years! Not so, here in the mountain village of 'Agia Gala,' or for that matter, Not So, in most of the villages of Greece! No, the older people are looked after and taken care of and allowed to be a part of the community with respect and reverance...'Bravo,' I thought to myself! I hope that when I am 85 years old, I will have the strength and 'patience' to stand for 3 hot hours waiting for the postman! I took her photograph to remember the strength, courage, and above all, the 'Patience,' of this beautiful old woman.
I continued driving up the road, around several more curves until I arrived at the 'top' of the village. Here, by chance, and I cannot emphasize the word 'chance,' here as you will understand as my story unfolds, I see a group of woman standing next to the road. This looked like a good opportunity to stop and ask some friendly village women, where I might find the key to the church!
Sure enough, the youngest looking lady, with a big smile, turned around and said, 'Yes, I have the key, but, 'if you want to wait until the 'Postman' gets here, I will take you to the church afterwards. 'We are waiting for him to bring us our pension money and to pay our monthly bills for 'lights' and 'water.'
Why not, I thought, as I looked down at my wrist to see the hour hand just slipping by the number 12 and the little hand sitting on the 10! It must be just about time for the Postman to deliver his precious envelopes, with their much anticipated money.
Little did I know, that I would be soon saying a small prayer to my patron saint, "Agia Ipomoni!'
One of my favourite Greek icons is called 'Agia Ipomoni,' or in English, 'Saint Patience.' My visit in Agia Gala, 'Saint Milk,' is a tribute to Agia Ipomoni!
Before I left for my road trip to Agia Gala, I had stopped in the village of Vollisos to buy water. While in the little supermarket and during a short conversation with the owner, another shopper overheard me and recognized my 'American Greek accent!' To make a long story shorter, she also was from America and lived in the village with her mother. She told me to be sure to 'find the key to the church in Agia Gala,' and 'not to leave without seeing the church no matter what else I did.' So, with these orders, I left Vollisos, on my way to the village of Agia Gala. The time from Vollisos to Agia Gala is less than one hour, but the road is narrow and very curvey, with steep abrupt drop-offs at the edge of the pavement.
As I drove into the area of the village, I noticed a stone church, clutching to the side of a slope of the hill to my left. It was surrounded by beautiful, green, lush trees; Plane trees, Oak trees, both of which were signs of the flowing water at their roots. Sure enough, a small creek of cold mountain water, snaked below in the valley, across which, a stone bridge linked the far side to the stone path that led to the church above. Was this the famous church not to be missed?
Next to the old church of Agia Barbara in Vollisos, you will find another small building. If you are not afraid of old human bones, you can look down into the open door and see the remains of human bones and skulls! It seems that this is where people's bones have been put after they have been removed from the tombs in the cemetery. I didn't, however, see any cemetery in the area, so maybe there is another explanation for these bones being here!
Maybe the elongated front teeth of the neighbours have another story to tell???? Be careful, and make sure you aren't out walking in the night when the moon is full!
This church was built on an old ancient Greek Nao, or pagan temple. It is now called Agia Barbara and is located just before you reach a curve in the road that goes to the main village of Vollisos. You can find the key to the church next door at the small house. I was surprised to meet a woman from Baltimore, Maryland who lived in the house with her two children and husband. She told me she had lived there for 26 years! Her daughter took me up to the church and opened it for me. I thought the hand carved wooden icon stasis was magnificent. The daughter told me that this wooden structure was about to fall over but that the Ministry of Ancient Artifacts and Archeology would not let anyone try to fix it! So, like so many other old churches and buildings throughout Greece, there are left unkempt and waiting for money from some wealthy and interested benefactor! Too bad that Greece is letting it's national treasures go to waste!
a veryyyyyyyyyyyyyy long sandy beach on the north west of the island. this is one of the beaches close to the village of Volissos.
the beach looks towards the open Aegean Sea so the waters are clear, cold and deep. a real treat to swim in those waters.
it is not the closest beach to get to of course but it is well worth the effort. If you have rented a room near by makes it all the more appealing.
Nearly forgot the most important part. Sunsets there can be magical.
Chios is famous because of its mastic trees. In the south of the island you can see them.
Since the Middle Ages, mastic is won. Twenty villages in the south of Chios thank their names to this resin. These villages have been founded in the 14th and 15th century by the Genoese to protect them agains the assaults of pirates.
Mastic is used for the production of chewing gum, liqueur and toothpaste. Every summer, about 300 tons of resin is won.
Emborios is far from a beaten path destination!
I included it here because it is the first beach that mainly attracts all the people. The next two which require quite some walking are less crowded and the more you distance yourself the more isolated you are. The third beach where the rocks form cavities to protect you from the midday sun is my favourite.
A totally black beach formed by the eruption of a volcano, looks frightening at first sight. The rough terrain and high vertical cliffs make it look awesome and impressive.
Because of the black pebbles this place gets really hot in the summer. Make sure you take lots of water and food with you.
To get there you must walk past the first beach over the rocks and continue walking as far as you like or can make it.....
Emborios is on the south of the island and can be reached by bus or private car. On the little port there are many fish taverns. Best avoided during August.
A small sandy beach with lovely turqoise clear waters at the south of the island, close to the village of Olympoi. It takes its name from the tiny little church on the side. A lovely lonely feature on the ragged landscape. You will find this beach deserted at all times except for August.
As you are driving from the village of Pyrgi towards the village of Mesta you will find a signpost on your left hand side. Follow the dirt road down to the beach. You must have your own transport.
Take plenty of water, food and shade with you, you will find nothing there other than this beautiful little beach.
On your way back do not omit to visit the medieval fort-village of Olympoi. The most beautiful and authentic of all the medieval villages of Chios, my favourite. Sit at the traditional "cafeneion" at the center of the village next to the central fort and order a cheese omellete, ouzo and salad! Absolutely the perfect meal after a whole day on the beach!
At Easter saturday, when mass is over, there is a big "rocket war" in Vrondados. We watched it from high up in the road to mount Aipos and it was really worth the trip! the "war" takes place between the two churches, and the aim is to hit the "enemys" church with the rockets. It must be a hundred home made rockets fired at once, and the rain of sparks when they hit the church...!
Be ware, and keep a safe distanse! And if you _are_ going, you should be there in plenty of time before midnight because the traffic jams after a while. We were there around 11 and the shooting of rockets was already started, so it wasn't boreing;-)
We hired a taxi for the whole day and were glad we did. We got to see lots of the Island. At this beach there is a "clothing optional part" I never got to go there as my wife had me by the ear!