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SERENE SIFNOS

We timed our arrival on the Cyclades island of Sifnos to an annual religious festival that we had read about. One of the pleasures of this life is participating in local events.

On the evening of July 18th we anchored in the nearly landlocked harbor at Vathi on the east coast of Sifnos.

Vathi Sunset

It is a charming little vacation village that boasts a five-star hotel with pricey amenities. We enjoyed the serenity of the harbor for a lot less, as did other boaters.

Vathi's waterside Chapel

Five stars for big bucks. . .

or camping on the water--Vathi is special.

The next day we went to the main town of Kamares to find out about the festival. Kamares is the main ferry port for the island and had an information desk that gave provided details about the festival scheduled for that day–July 19th. 

We had just anchored when the first ferry arrived.

There are two separate venues for the Festival honoring St. Elias–both monasteries some distance from Kamares. We decided to attend the larger of the two festivals despite the fact that it was a longer hike to the monastery—in retrospect that was a mistake.

First we took a bus to Apollonia—a lovely little mountain town about 7 km from Kamares.  With some time to kill before our next bus, we wandered around the town.

Apollonia has tiny pedestrian only streets. . .

vibrant flowers. . .

and charming cafes serving coffee frappes.

We caught a 6 p.m. bus toward Vathi with a stop at the trail to the monastery of Profitis Ilias Psilos.  The monastery was built in 1686 and is named after St. Elias.

The beginning of the path seems benign.

We were told that it was a 1 ½ hour hike to the monastery but we had no idea when we started that it was mostly uphill. The monastery sits at the top of a 694 meter (that’s over 2,000 ft.) mountain, one of the highest points on the island.

The trail went up, then down, then up again, and up and up and up. The sun was still high in the sky when we started about 6:30 p.m.(the festivities were scheduled to start at 8 p.m.), and as we trekked along, Kent eventually shed his shirt.

The trail goes up. . .

and up. . .

and meanders across the mountain down a valley and back up!

We kept track of the time, and at 45 minutes into the climb we were only half way and couldn’t even see the monastery. We gave some thought to turning around, but at that point stubborn determination took over and we had to get to the top.

 At one point we were passed by donkeys carrying food for the festival and another time by a motorbike—now that is really crazy given the terrain.

Kent scurries out of the way of a motorbike. . .yikes!

Finally, we made it to the top where ouzo, water and cookies were awaiting our arrival. By this time we were soaked with sweat from the long, dusty climb and were dried off with paper towels by an elderly Greek woman who greeted new arrivals.

Finally, the monastery is in sight. . .

We did it!

The view from the monastery was incredible as was the sunset.

Celebrants gather on the roof. . .

for a heavenly sunset.

The monastery glowed in the evening sun and people perched everywhere, including near the dome.

We enjoy the setting sun. . .

as children perch by the dome. . .

and the priest enjoys a moment of quiet reflection.

Bells were rung with great enthusiasm and the air was electric with celebration. The priest wandered through the crowd greeting people before he began the solemn service.

As dusk falls the religious ceremony begins.

We are told that the celebration continued on into the evening with food, music and dancing, but by 9:30 p.m. we decided that it was time to take our leave if we were going to make it back to Kamares and Jolie who was patiently waiting on the boat.

We can see the lights of Apollonia far below. . .

as we leave Profitis Ilias Psilos, circa 1686

As we started back down the steep path by flashlight the sky still glowed pink with the sunset and along the way we met people still coming up to the festivities—much younger people, I might add.

We surmised that many of those who attended the Festival would sleep outdoors under the stars rather than venture downhill in the dark as we did. Down proved to be more challenging than up—darkness and loose gravel made for a treacherous return. Once down and safely in a cab to return us to Kamares, we were exhausted, but so glad that we did it.

The next time, however, we’ll go to the festival that only requires a 30 minute walk to the monastery and overlooks the bay in which Destiny was anchored.

Live and learn.

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