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A wildlife trip to Rhodes April 21, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.

In the island of Rhodes for a walk in the limestone hills west of Lindos.

We leave the cave and begin to climb. Sage bushes here are crammed into every crack between the rocks and in places you have to feel for footholds, hoping that there won’t be any snakes lying curled up, asleep in the heat.

The boulders across the valley here almost block the path and several possible trails have been worn through the vegetation as walkers have struggled to forge easier routes between them. The rock looks soft and crumbly, but where feet have worn the surfaces, it has become polished and reveals a hardness almost of marble quality. Here and there it is riddled with cavities, as if it had once been full of bubbles. The holes vary from marble sized to football sized and even bigger A large black looking butterfly dithers across patches of light and shadow under a scatter of olive trees ahead.

A small goat kid stands bleating under one tree, gazing up into the branches. The branches above begin to shake and sway and to our amazement, a large mother goat climbs down from the highest part of the tree to peer down and bleat back at her kid. She must be feeding on the leaves in the upper branches. The lower ones are too far above the ground for her to reach. But how on earth did she climb up the gnarled, twisted trunk in the first place?

The kid catches sight of us and renews its stammering cries with fresh urgency. Mother lurches awkwardly down in the tree and regards us with suspicion for a while, then makes a frantic effort to leap down to the ground She takes off and lands badly, clambering up after a moment’s rest, to shake her legs, one after the other, then hurries away, limping a little, with her kid bouncing and bleating along after her.

Bees throng the sage bushes here in such numbers that the humming is really loud. There is a universal droning like that of a small aeroplane flying nearby. Some bees are orange and yellow, but others are tiny, with silver grey wings and tails, while yet more a larger and jet black. Different aromatic bushes are appearing, still only in bud. Their soft leafy stems have a strong scent somewhere between thyme and marjoram. The grasshoppers too are a varied bunch. Bright green grasshoppers, glowing like sucked, boiled sweets, are common. Some are darker, with a double row of tiny white squares running down their backs.

At last we have reached the watershed. The route between the rocks begins to descend. There is a breeze here to lessen the heat, but the boulders are now even bigger and parts of the trail require you to climb over them; a painful process, requiring careful balancing acts. We stop to examine a curious structure. A small, circular building, rises about six feet above the boulders ahead. We wobble across and peer down into it. The ground inside is at least another six feet down, with a neat entrance half way up at one side. The interior wall surface has been plastered at one time. A well, we’ll have to enquire when we get back.

As the path descends, we begin to see across the slopes below and more man-made structures appear. Where the ground begins to level out, there is a clear outline of a large walled enclosure. Accustomed to early settlement features, we look uphill from it to check for house sites and sure enough, the wall becomes double, opening into a small loop, with a tumble of fallen masonry in between. The gaps between the stones are stuffed with shrubs, but we find a few fragments of coarse pottery in places.

The going is easier on the more level ground, but people have made a range of tracks and we have to keep a sharp eye out for the tiny red spots of paint, which mark the correct route through this desert wilderness of rocks. It you look further ahead, you can make out tiny cairns here and there along the route to come. These too help to keep you on the wiggly and narrow. Asphodel grows on this lower altitude area, with tall, branched spires of beautiful starry flowers, like candelabra, poised above dense clusters of strap like, waxy leaves.

Pefkos village comes into sight far below but Lindos is still hidden by a shoulder of the mountain. The path begins to drop steeply and leg muscles, already weary, begin to get the shakes as you drop, from one awkward step, anything from a foot to two feet down to the next one. We negotiate the steep bit safely, disturbing a flock of sheep, who panic, galloping off in several directions at once. We sit and wait for them to calm down. They are remarkably multicoloured with sensitive faces, but the lambs are very different, resembling tiny terriers.

Lindos now lies below us, the little town houses sparkling like quartz crystals in a cluster around the foot of the rock below the acropolis, but sadly the foreground is very different. Despite a rigid ban on development, a hotel was built above the slopes west of Lindos. The world heritage site protective dam had been breached. First one appealed “if he got permission, why not me” and the flood of hideous, cheap build properties swept in. You can’t see the mess from down inside the old town, but the setting and approaches are ruined.

We descend through the building sites, past earth and rock mounds where wild hyacinth bulbs and iris tubers lie dying among litter and uprooted shrubs. Later we visit a wonderful old Lindian museum house, where the old lady still lives. Here she relates sadly how during the construction of the new developments above, the ancient water catchment, storage and filter system which supplied the town for over a thousand years, has been smashed to pieces by the construction of the new hotels. The little tower we had found was part of that intricate system too.

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