Log #27o Nisiros

December 5, 2002 in Log Series 20 - 29, Logs by Series, Series 27 Summer in Greece, The Logs

Kemer, Turkey
Dec. 5, 2002

Hi Folks,

Here is the next log of our interesting time on the volcanic island of Nisiros. Now that we are into December, the weather is turning to the heavy rains and storms of winter. It has been raining for the past three days, with heavy downpours and gale force winds that had Judy feeling uneasy, even though we are securely moored in this well protected marina. I have been involved with the Noel Baba Santa Claus Peace Foundation conference hosted in Antalya. South Korea is also a major participant this year in addition to representatives from other countries. The South Korean delegation arranged for a very dramatic Tae Kwon Do demonstration after the opening session a couple of days ago. I’m not sure about a martial arts demonstration for a World Peace Foundation, but it was very entertaining, especially the last half when the performers danced to lively music performing the various katas, and other martial arts manoeuvres without opponents and other acrobatic routines.

I also find it interesting that two non-Christian countries use Santa as an image and symbol for peace.

We are looking forward to seeing family and friends when we return to Canada two weeks from now. We hope to see some of you when we are back.

All the best,

PS – I am able to send out pictures of our travels and at present am sending two at a time of our East Med Yacht Rally to a mailing list of those able and interested in seeing them. If you are not on my photo list, but would like to get them, please let me know.

Log #27o Nisiros

Kemer, Turkey
Dec. 3, 2002

We left early, just before dawn, Oct. 11th, from Vathi on Astipalaia, into a very light SE wind across flat sea, having to motor all the 41 miles to our next destination, Nisiros. As we were approaching the main town, Mandraki, we noticed a small fishing harbour south east of it that looked far too small to be bothered with, and so went alongside the town wall, about 100 metres from the ferry quay (36ْ 36.8’ N, 027ْ 08.4’ E). Judy was happy to find the hotel a few metres from Veleda offered hot showers. Happiness is…

Shortly after mooring we were asked to check in at the harbour master’s office. No problem; we even got a stamp in our transit log, and paid only 2 or 3 Euros for two nights. If we had not obtained our transit log, and been legitimate, we would have been asked or made to purchase one. However, we were legitimate, even if it is against EU laws for Greece to charge EU boats (remember, we were flying the British Red Ensign under our SSR number) such fees. We found the t-shirted young man helpful and when we didn’t have the right change, he casually said to drop by with it later. We were also recommended to shift to Med mooring rather than staying alongside, as the swell could be dangerous. There was no swell, and the ferries had stopped running for the night, but we switched around to bows on mooring anyways. During the night, there was a bit of swell, and frankly I felt we would have been more stable alongside with fenders rather than the bobbing we were experiencing. We also had concerns as to how well our stern anchor was set, with onshore swells. It was not a comfortable night.

The ferry dock had several day trip ferry excursions, the only source of tourism in town. Mandraki is a pleasant quaint Greek town stretched along the water’s edge west from the ferry dock up to the ancient ruins of a castle that once dominated the wide bay and strait looking across to the still active quarries on Nisos Yiali two miles away. The quarries are the only economic source of employment for the island other than some tourism and a bit of subsistence farming. It suffers as do other Greek islands, in that there is not enough employment or interest to keep the young people on the island, and thus it is becoming depopulated. This was noticeable right in Mandraki with a number of deserted homes, abandoned and beyond repair, scattered throughout the town.

We rented a moped next day to do some touring of the volcano crater which is still active with large and small fumaroles venting hot (up to 99.6ْ C) sulphurous fumes and is used for hydrothermal energy. As well I wanted to explore the mountain top semi-deserted ancient villages above the caldera. The island is thus a dormant (no eruptions for 15,000 years), but active (with volcanic gases still escaping through to the surface, and hot springs venting heated waters) volcano, its wide caldera having its own internal mountain-like range of post-caldera domes. A guide book describes the island thus:

“The shape of Nisiros is like that of a truncated cone with the diameter at the base of 8 kilometres. The centre of the island is dominated by a prominent, circular explosive crucible: the caldera of Nisiros. Its diameter is some 4 kilometres, its rim ranges in altitude from 250 to 600 metres, while its floor is at 100 metres above sea level. The west-northwestern part of this basin is occupied by the hills (the post-caldera domes) of Boriatiko, Nifios, Profitis Ilias and Trapezina.”

We followed the map to get up the mountain, but instead found ourselves going up into a military compound, yet we were sure we followed the distances and side road as indicated. Their maps are horribly out of scale, and difficult to follow. However, we realized that we had to go along the shore road further, past the small fishing harbour we saw when coming in, and then past another larger fishing/yacht harbour, Palon, that we did not realize was there. This one would be able to accommodate Veleda in a sheltered camber. We continued up and around the crater to its summit.

The view was impressive! We saw the valley below spread out into the caldera, the single main road running straight across a wide dry sandy flat, half the distance to the far side 4 kilometres away. We noticed to the right of the road, near the middle, a few dome like features, 25 to 75 metres in height, with sulphur yellow fringed tops. Near the middle, just beyond the road was a large crater, 300 metres in diameter, sunk another 50 metres below the road level, and to its left a range of hills which were the post-caldera domes, all still inside this immense caldera.

We wound down the road into the caldera, along the flat stretch to an information centre where we consulted a map of the area and its geological structures. Along the road we saw pipes which were linked up to geothermal vents at several locations in this large crater and over on some of the large fumaroles, with sulphur yellow swaths cascading down their conical shoulders. No one was around at this time (0900) of a cool grey morning, and so we wandered over to the lip of the crater to gaze at its flat dull muddy grey surface. The sides of the crater were indented with what looked like fault lines or erosion channels from the surface 50 metres below to the top where we were standing. In a few locations on that flat mud caked surface inside the crater were groups of holes marked off by sticks planted around them, some of the sticks linked with ribbons to caution against the danger of these openings. There was a path winding down into the crater, which I took much to Judy’s concern, as she felt the surface of the crater might break under my weight, like thin ice. However, I followed some other footprints onto the dry mud flat inside the crater, and walked across it.

I was leery at first, not 100% convinced that the dry mud surface would hold my weight. The potential horror of crashing through was made evident as I approached the first set of marked off holes or openings through the dried mud surface. Inside the holes, less than a foot below the surface was boiling brown soupy mud, bubbling up with a noxious pungent smell of sulphur and rotten eggs. This hot mud bath lay below the dried surface on which I was walking! I felt the surface as having a hollow beneath it, and did not want to tramp too hard lest I break through. However, I saw another group of tourists coming down now and wandering around the mud flat looking at the openings in the surface, and so I assumed the flat area was safe for walking. Judy had by then come down to join me. However we still had the feeling of walking on a frozen lake, hoping the ice was thick enough.

Closer examination of the bubbling mud indicated it to be too hot to touch. In other areas of the flat we saw mini fumaroles, small openings in the clay with fascinating lime green and yellow crystals deposited or formed from fissures of steam hissing up from the depths of this “dormant” volcano. We could see the steam puffing up from the openings, and when I approached carefully with my hand, I could not get closer than about 6 inches before having to withdraw to avoid being scalded. Well, the book says it comes out at 99.6C, which is very close to the boiling point of 100C.

As we climbed back out of the crater, we were aware again of the strong winds blowing down through the caldera, causing us to be uneasy about the security of Veleda in the exposed harbour at Mandraki. Rather than spending more time to explore the larger fumaroles, we decided to head back. Instead of returning the way we came (along paved roads) we took the dirt side roads which would take us back the other side of the caldera to Mandraki. It was interesting bumping along them on the moped, climbing up above the caldera, hoping that the road was not overgrown or washed out, and that we would not be unduly delayed in getting back to Veleda. The views as we climbed the edges were panoramic, changing with every crest and turn as we wended our way over this primitive road, the shoreline and sea to our left, and the caldera spread out below us to our right. We could see abandoned terraced pastures, stone dwellings without roofs, and the occasional house still inhabited. We did not see another human for the entire return until we got back to Mandraki, entering the town from a different direction. The road into town narrowed into a cobblestone alley, which turned into a flagstone walkway between houses. I didn’t know if mopeds were allowed down these paths, and kept hoping we would not wind up at the top of a set of stairs. Turning around and going back up those narrow paths would be difficult. We finally emerged below the castle on the west side of town on the shore road leading back to the harbour to find Veleda safely bobbing at her mooring.
We were not happy at this exposed mooring and decided to take Veleda down to the larger fishing/yacht harbour we saw on our journey this morning. It was unfortunate that we did not go there first, but we mistook the small fishing harbour just east of Mandraki for Palon and saw it was too small. We should have checked the position more carefully on our approach. It was only a 20 minute motor into Palon, with adequate depth in spite of the cautions about silting indicated in the pilot. I then took Sprite back to Mandraki and returned to Veleda with the moped, to explore the almost deserted towns above the caldera. They were interesting hamlets, half the houses in each left uninhabited 50 to 200 years ago. Emborios has only 20 inhabitants left, whereas Nikea has a metropolitan 50 citizens; towns which in earlier times housed populations up to 500. I find it intriguing to explore old ruins, abandoned houses, and caves. Some of these dwellings still had cooking fireplaces in kitchens lined with holes and receptacles for storage amphorae, some with broken amphorae still in place, scenes we have seen only in folk museums. It is difficult to assess how old these deserted houses, and the ones still inhabited, were. 200 years? 2000 years?

As Judy has knee problems, I scooted by myself all over these locations, like a curious kid, into crumbling ruins, down rickety stairs, up onto derelict overgrown patios with fantastic views over the shoreline or down into the caldera. I was intrigued by the primitive internal walls with built-in niches for lamps or pots, rounded holes for amphorae, narrow stairs and entrances, and small openings for windows, many with breathtaking views over the mountain slopes and valleys. I wandered out of town along a cow or donkey trail into wide fertile fields sectioned off with terraces and low stone walls. Nisiros is a lush island, the lava deposits breaking down into fertile soil. It was nice to walk on grass and see green pastures instead of the dry scrub brush and stone filled fields encountered on most of the Aegean Islands. In Nikea we saw several people around the town square, where the library and town hall were converted to a restaurant. However in the more sparsely populated Emborios, I did not see another person from the time I left Judy at the car park until I returned an hour later, having gone through the entire town and out the far side of it.

On our way back down the mountainous slope of the crater we stopped at a couple of ancient arched ruins used for animal shelters or storage now. The structure of the stone vaulted arches was similar to that of which I have read in various publications about Aegean architecture in the Hellenistic period 500 to 300 BC. However, as that technique was so successful, it was used for the next 2000 years as well in these small rural islands.

I dropped Judy off on Veleda, but before taking the moped back, I quickly motored around to several other deserted locations and ruins, including a large abandoned hot springs health spa.