There have been a few occasions in recent years when I’ve wondered what the hell I am doing
Drinking wine for breakfast at 7am alongside monks in a Greek Orthodox monastery is one of them.
Ive been on Mount Athos , the Holy Mountain, where no women are allowed and where I traveled back in time. Literally, because here they still operate to the Byzantine Julian calendar which is 13 days behind ours. And for some reason I never fully grasped , they are three and a half hours ahead of us.
They only let ten foreigners a day on to the mountain. I had to collect my special pass and then take a two hour ferry journey to start my trek
I’m not entirely convinced they’ve got the hang of this pilgrimage thing.
After being dropped off in Karyes , the only place that qualifies as a village on Athos , I planned to hike to my first overnight stay. The monastery of Karakalou.
Two policeman told me it was “a long way”. Too far to go.
“How far?” I asked
A group of passing Greek men agreed and told me to take a minibus
I resisted the urge to sneer in contempt or point out that two hours was but a swift dog walk for my daughter back home
I also resisted the urge to point out I’d walked up to eight hours a day across Spain
I couldn’t help thinking this didn’t feel right , coming from a nation that invented the Marathon.
“I know this was a great victory Pheidippides , but are you sure you want to run to Athens to tell them the news?
“It’s 26 miles you know – why dont you wait for a passing chariot?
I mean, it’s not as if in 2000 years anyone’s going to remember you ran all that way is it?
Two hours later I wasn’t feeling so chipper. A Greek kid I met on the mainland told me you can’t get lost. They have signs pointing to the 20 monasteries here
Yes. Yes they do. But they are all in Greek. Have you ever tried reading Greek?
It’s as if someone has given a crayon to a 5 year old child and told it to draw some random geometrical shapes
The landscape reminded me initially of the early stages of the Camino.
But then ominously began to resemble the hill and forest tracks of the st Paul Trail in Turkey. A comparison that became even more apt when , true to form, I got lost.
After floundering around among the paths and dirt tracks I somehow staggered upon a sign pointing to the monastery
The Holy Mountain isn’t a place to jump up and down screaming •
” F…. Yeah !!!!!!” with relief
But I did it anyway