Kalymnos, Greece- September 2006
Early this summer, my girlfriend mentioned she'd been invited to a wedding in Athens, Greece. "Hmmm... Greece..." I thought. "Wasn't there some climbing in Greece?"
Of course, Kalymnos! If you've been reading the magazines lately, they've all had articles about Kalymnos. Well, if we're going to be in the area, well, might as well stop by and check it out right? Yeah, right. The wedding was an excuse to get to Kalymnos.
We spent a couple weeks pondering the logistics. Some personal scheduling issues and the wedding itself needed to be taken into account. There aren't many direct flights from the NYC to Athens, but eventually we got the start and end dates figured out. We had tickets to and from Athens ($900US/person), the hotel in Athens (140 euros/night), but we still hadn't figured out about Kalymnos.
The problem is Kalymnos about as far as a Greek island can be. There are two ferries, one takes 10 hours, the other 12. They're both overnight, but getting a cabin cost about 80 euros/person. It's cheaper if you want to sit in a lounge chair all night, which might have been fine when I was 20, but nowadays I like a good bed. A more popular option is a flight from Athens to a neighboring island Kos (direct flights to Kos from many EU cities), and a quick ferry from Kos to Kalymnos. This costs slightly more than the cabin on the ferry, and adds yet another link. A third option was to fly to Bodrum, Turkey, and take a ferry from there. The last problem was that the ferries and the flights didn't get back to Athens in time to catch the flight back to the US, which meant an extra night in Athens. We went back and forth between the direct ferry and the flight to Kos.
Lucky for us though, our procrastination paid off. Just as we were about to book the ferry tickets, the airport on Kalymnos opened! We immediately booked a flight. The flight was more expensive than the ferry, and we still had to stay overnight in Athens on the return, but at least the flight got us directly to Kalymnos without wasting 12 hours on a ferry.
We packed our harnesses, belay devices and shoes in our 30L crag packs and carried them onboard. All the other gear went into a big duffel; actually all the hardware went into a smaller duffel, which along with the rope bag went into the big duffel so everything was doubly protected. Since we had a wedding we each had a wheeled suitcase (the 20" carry-on type that we checked). Overall my suitcase and gear duffel didn't weight more than 80lbs, well under the limit.
So, after the wedding, we're in Athens airport waiting to board the flight to Kalymnos. There aren't many people, less than 40. Hmm... how small is this plane going to be? We board the bus and drive out onto the tarmac, past the jets, past the big turbo props, and head to the smallest plane around. Some other people are laughing, it's a new experience for everyone. It's a small plane, looking on the net it seems like it was a Bombardier Dash-8 turboprop. http://static.flickr.com/87/246407898_c64f705edd.jpg
The flight is an experience. The plane makes a shaky approach as the pilot fights against the strong winds. I suppose there's really no danger, it's routine for the pilot but I'm still gripping the armrest tight and secretly swearing never to fly again. Of course I will, the flight is just too convenient; I'm just a wimp when it comes to flying.
We're at Kalymnos! It takes all of 5 minutes between getting off the plane, picking up the bags and hopping in a taxi. We showed the driver the printout of the Studio, and he takes us there. As we crest over the hill Telendos and the bay come into view... amazing. http://static.flickr.com/90/246408628_b59d0afd47.jpg
The driver chats with us as he drives the windy streets. He drops us off and we walk up to the Studios. It's 8AM, it's quiet, no one is stirring yet. But soon enough the proprietor wakes and shows us to our room.
We stayed at the Lambrinos Studios, which I don't think was all that exceptional, just one that was suggested to us. Cost was 20 euros a night, which seemed reasonable. The studio had two twin beds, a kitchen with a noisy fridge and electric hot plates, toilet, shower, a balcony that looked out over the bay.http://static.flickr.com/92/246408379_7e020b50f5.jpg
We learned quickly that the tap water was salty, as was the shower. Ok, we're not going to be drinking that. And it's very dry there. After checking out the facilities, we decided to head into town to look around and pick up some bottles of water.
Just in front of Lambrinos Studio is the "Climber's Nest". We stopped in and were greeted by Bridget. We'd asked about the new guide that was supposed to be released, but she said they hadn't gotten it yet. Shoot. We had a printout that we downloaded, but I was looking forward to picking up the guide. She asked if we'd just gotten in, and since we said 'yes', she took us outside and showed us what the area markers looked like and gave us some information. We picked up a photocopy of the latest updates, which lists all the routes and costs 2 euros.
As we headed into town, we saw the Avis scooter rental and stopped in. The scooters were around 15 euros a day and highly recommended. There's a bus that runs around, but the scooter just makes things a lot easier. Dimitris was very friendly and helpful with all our questions. Once we picked up the scooter, we stopped in one of the mini markets to pick up some water and head back to the studio.
Since it was still early, we decided to grab the gear and do some climbing. Since we didn't know where to begin, we decided to just take a ride north and look at the various crags, and if we didn't find anything we'd head to Kasteli. We drove to Emporios, taking in the views and looking at the crags from the road. They all looked great, but we liked the looks of the Kasteli approach, and since there were no scooters, parked at the trail head we decided it would be a good
place to start.http://static.flickr.com/90/246410182_9c59628717.jpg
As it turned out, there were a lot of people at Kasteli. Guess most walked or took the bus. Well, no problem there were some moderate routes open so we roped up and began climbing. The rock was sharp, cheese grater type rock, the kind that would take out chunks of flesh if you slipped.http://static.flickr.com/93/246494470_0299993b60.jpg
Ugh, not my favorite. But nice routes, bolts all looked in great shape and placed at reasonable intervals. I felt pretty safe leading, although at that point there was no way I was willing to slip much less fall. We did several routes before the sun peeked over the top and we decided to call it a day and head to the beach.
We rode down to the beach at Arginonta, which being pretty far from Masouri was relatively quiet. The water wasn't exactly warm but ok once you got used to it. The water was clean and clear, but amazingly salty. I've never been in the Med so maybe that's normal, but when you got out and sat in the sun, you'd actually be covered in flakes of salt. Oh yeah, and many of the beaches are rocky beaches. Not easy on your feet, I wore my flip-flops most of the time. All the beaches have cabana chairs and umbrellas, but you need to pay to use them. So bring a towel or buy a straw mat for 2 euros.
I'm not much of a beach person, so I had planned on spending as much time as possible on the rock. But well climbing until 2pm and then lounging on the beach turned out to be much more enjoyable than I expected, so for the most part that's what we did. The second day we did get some routes in the afternoon at Summertime, which goes into the shade around 2pm.
We tried out many of the crags; Kasteli,
Arhi, Baby House and Summertime. It seems like most of the routes in the guide have stars, and there seems to be a large number of three star routes. Some three star routes were so-so, some were fantastic.
Most of the approach trails wind up to the crags through a few varieties of brush, all of which had thorns. My GF slipped and landed in one bush, and we spent a good hour with tweezers picking out bits of thorns out of her arm and hand. We couldn't get them all out, but she still climbed the last day despite the pain (amazingly the last thorn didn't come out for another 10 days!). Convertible pants help keep your legs from getting scratched, but won't help if you land in a bush.http://static.flickr.com/88/246494280_f5a584a8bf.jpg
There were a lot of ants, and some scary looking bees, but not many other pests. Except late at night there were a few mosquitoes that found their way into the room. We didn't need any repellent.
In the evenings, we'd head to Masouri to eat. We tried a few different places; they all pretty much had the same menus and the same prices. Generally everyone was friendly, the portions were huge big and filling. We really liked Barba Yiannis, the service was fast and the portions big.http://static.flickr.com/90/246417495_97a8246bf9.jpg
At Kokkindes Taverna we had the roast lamb for two that was the largest hunk of lamb I've ever seen.http://static.flickr.com/84/246493361_f055b6abde.jpg
Without alcohol, meals were about 25-30 euros for two. Most places charge you 2-3 euros for bread and call it a cover. Surprisingly, most of the seafood was frozen, the menus all listed seafood and meats as frozen or fresh.
For groceries, we stopped at several of the mini markets in Masouri and Myrties and even a side trip to Pothia (where they have a few excellent bakeries). The mini markets in Masouri were reasonably priced, at least as a NYC'er I didn't find them unreasonable. We spent about 40 euros for coffee, milk, bread, cold cuts, mayo and mustard, honey, cereal, paper towels, plastic wrap and dish soap, enough to last the week.
Water was 60-70 cents per 1.5L. There is actually a fresh water spring in Masouri where you can fill your empty bottles, but we didn't find it until the day we were leaving. It's in a stone alcove off the main road (next to Maria's Mini Market), I'd passed it many times but thought it was just some kind of roadside alter (as you find all around Asia).http://static.flickr.com/89/246493692_37dc906f71.jpg
There are so many churches, I just assumed, and didn't realize it until I saw someone walking out with bottles of water. We drank 4-6L a day, not including drinks at dinner. We brought along several packets of Emergen-C and other energy drink mixes since I tend to dehydrate quickly. But I think there was gatorade/powerade drinks in most of the convenience stores.
We shopped at several places, but Mr. Souvlaki's was our favorite. http://static.flickr.com/82/246493527_2229f7676e.jpg
We talked to Mr. Souvlaki at least once a day, he's one of the friendliest people we met. We were buying coffee and saw a bottle of honey on the shelf so we picked it up. When we went to pay, he asked how long we were staying (it was a tiny bottle) and suggested a better deal would be one of the cans of Kalymnian honey. He told us about how good it was harvested on the island- it seemed really good, but I'm not much for honey. He asked where we were from, and told us about how many Kalymnians there were living in Astoria (Queens). Very nice guy. We didn't get a chance to eat at his shop next door, although the food looked really good.
We'd planned on climbing three days, taking a rest day, climbing the fifth day and the morning of the sixth, but instead just climbed until 2pm each day and then went to the beach. Arginonta was a nice beach, but we wanted to look around as well so we tried some of the other parts of the island. Kantourni beach south of Myrties turned out to have actual sand and some pretty nice waves. On Friday we headed to the other side of the island, which turned out to be a pretty long trip on a scooter. The road from Pothia to Vathys was a bit barren and windy, and we wondered if there was going to be anything at the other end. We passed Akti beach which looked pretty nice, but continued on to Vathys. Nice little valley and small marina, but we were looking for a beach and headed back to Akti. It's a very steep road down, and we weren't sure we'd get back up. The beach was another stone beach, but the water was very calm and very clear.http://static.flickr.com/77/246417217_4851a3a984.jpg
There's no shower and there's only a small store that sells drinks, but the beach was very quiet and relaxing. Except for the goats that came right up and poked through your bag if you weren't vigilant.
There's goats everywhere, and they can climb better than you. You look up and there's a goat staring back down at you. Along with the goats were the droppings; it was hard to walk without stepping in some. The path to Baby House and the Palace was just a sea of droppings... don't go if you're squeamish about that kind of thing. The dry climate desiccates it so it's not too gross, but well it does get over everything. We had planned on climbing Saturday morning, but decided Friday night to rinse everything (but the rope) so we wouldn't have to pack everything covered in goat droppings. There's a laundry in Myrties but we didn't try it. We hand washed some clothes, it will dry overnight since it's so dry, but the water is salty and the clothes tend to get salty and it takes a lot of soap to wash things. Oh yeah, bring a big bar of soap for the shower, it goes quickly.
Another thing about the shower, the hot water is generated by solar panels on the roof. So there's no hot water in the morning and it goes fast as people come back from climbing and shower. It was actually very nice to stay overnight in Athens on the way home, gave us a chance to get cleaned up before getting on the plane.
The scooter we rented was a midsized one, 50cc, and the only place we really had a problem was trying to get up Akti beach road; my GF got off and walked the last 100 feet. I think next time I'll rent one size bigger. I talked to a few people who said they've walked to the crags, but by the time they got there they were half-baked and promptly rented scooters. There's the bus but I don't know how frequently it runs. With the scooter, I put the rope bag at my feet, stacked my pack on top and clipped it in. Not much room for my feet. My GF had her own small pack. I've seen couples with a single large pack carried by the passenger which would work if you split up the gear before hitting the approach trail.
Gas was 1 euro a liter, we probably spent 6 euros total driving around. If you've never ridden a scooter, I advise against driving into Pothia, it can be a bit hectic with scooters jumping out in front of you, passing on both sides, and even going the wrong way. The roads are narrow and crowded. Even Masouri can be a bit crowded, but heading out to the crags is no problem. Just watch for rocks that have fallen out of the roadcut, goats, and goat droppings.
The taxi from the Athens hotel to central Athens (below the Acropolis) cost us 23, 39, 34, and 28 euros, although we couldn't figure out why there were such huge differences. The taxi from the Kalymnos airport to the studio was about 14 euros both ways, at least it was somewhat consistent. I hear they don't expect tips, we tipped around 10% most of the time.
There's articles about Kalymnos in Climbing issue #238 (April 2005) and shesends issue #10 (Winter 2006). I remember seeing another one somewhere but can't find it now.
There are some websites, but Aris' website should get you most of what you need.
Aris Theodoropoulos' website: http://www.oreivatein.com/climb/eng.htm
Official Kalymnos Website: http://www.kalymnos-isl.gr/webweaver/climb/
Things to bring
Rope bag or tarp- there's goat droppings everywhere.
60m rope worked fine, although there are some routes that need longer ropes.
15 draws, anchors were Fixe Shut types.
Cordalette or long webbing if you need to anchor your partner.
Flip flops/water shoes, the stone beaches kinda hurt. Towel, bathing suit, books to read on the beach.
Big bar of soap, the salty water makes it difficult to get a good lather.
Suntan lotion, that Mediterranean sun is very strong.
Jacket, it's chilly in the morning and can get downright cold at night.
Sharp pointed tweezers and a needle, in case you end up in one of those bushes
Additional cooking utensils, spatula, big coffee mugs, saran wrap or sandwich baggies
Pen to write the email addresses of those you meet. Or use your camera or phone to take a video of the person telling you their email address!
One last thing, that everyone asked. How is it compared to Potrero Chico?
-The rock was similar to Potrero, but I think I liked Kalymnos better. I seem to recall that there weren't any moderate overhanging routes at Potrero, but there were some at Kalymnos. I like those types of routes.
-Didn't seem like there was any worry about rock fall at Kalymnos.
-The beaches at Kalymnos are a huge selling point.
-The weather seemed nicer, but I was at Potrero in the Spring and Kalymnos at the end of summer.
-Boo to salty showers, plenty of fresh drinking water at Potrero.
-Staying in town at Kalymnos where everyone (well, mostly) speaks English is a plus, easy access to groceries, the scooters to get to the crags. -There are bars, "pubs", you can order "full English breakfasts", menus have hamburgers, schnitzel and spaghetti.
So because of the beaches, the town, the food, the scooters, the routes, I liked Kalymnos better. But it costs three times as much, takes three times as long to get there, and requires an overnight stay (or two) in Athens. Potrero is much more convenient. So if I'm going to go climbing, I'd head to Potrero. For a "climbing vacation", I'd definitely go to Kalymnos