Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A visit to the area of the big forest fire

In July 2000, a several day lasting big forest fire eliminated at least 30 percent of the forests on Samos. The area around the village of Pirgos and north of Pirgos up to the top of Karvounis suffered especially. That was a big tragedy for the natural beauty of Samos and a life threatening experience for some owners of land and house properties.

After that fire at lot of initiatives were started to fight future forest fires on Samos. But sadly enough, this large area with beautiful forests in the center and south of Samos was gone. And everyone knew that it would take about 50 - 100 years before there will be real forests again.

During a Jeep tour through the Ambelos mountains in the center of Samos, from Pandroso up to the white chapel Profitis Ilias on top of Karvounis, I was interested to see how things might have changed in the meantime.

In many places, lots of fresh and incredibly green young trees can be seen, most of the newly grown trees (bushes) are approx. 1 to 1,5 meters high.

Here are some photos that show the situation in October 2009.

Some other areas still look devastated, like nothing has changed at all since July/August 2000.

Somewhere on the dirt road leading up to Profitis Ilias: The view to the west towards Kerkis mountain and the bare islands of Fourni

On top of Karvounis mountain (1153 meter high)

View to the northeast from top of Karvounis

The chapel Profitis Ilias on top of Karvounis :

Friday, October 16, 2009

A paradise lost soon? Balos beach in autumn.

Below the village of Koumeika in the south of the island of Samos, a road leads down to Balos beach. Since last winter, the upper half of this road has been completely renewed, an asphalt road (feels almost like a highway now) leads very comfortably down to lovely Balos bay in a couple of minutes.
On the second photo, the view goes down on the old road with many serpentines. The new broad road leads straight along the slope of the hill on the other side of the valley. The small island in the background is Samiopoula.
On the third photo (taken already in 2007) the old road can be seen on the left hand side, the lower part of the new road - which had been finished already then - on the right hand side .

A bit of nostalgia in the next two photos, those were the days when I went down on the old road to Balos beach.
Btw., this old road is still there!

I have visited Balos beach many times during the last years, but only in 2008 I discovered the special light of October in Balos. So I wanted to go back to Balos beach this year again.
Together with the singer/guitarist Dimos, I visited this beach three times between October 7th and 12th, 2009 und we were fortunate to enjoy the beach whilst having the most beautiful warm autumn weather on Samos.

"Arriving in Balos was like entering a secret, peaceful world - far from the madding crowds!" somebody wrote in "tripadvisor" about his stay there. That is exactly how it has been there until now.
I am not quite sure what effect this new road will have on this remote and cosy place, since it seems that sort of "highway" was build to enable large busses full of tourists to go down to Balos beach now. Sure, the times they are a-changin'! So, maybe another piece of paradise on Samos might get lost pretty soon.

Well, before the remote and calm atmosphere might disappear, let me take you on a journey down to this magic place on Samos! Here are some of my impressions, mostly from autumn 2008 and October 2009: fantastic views to Mount Kerkis, a long beach with a mixture of sand and pebbles, cristal clear waters, lots of sunshine almost all day long till the sun sets dramatically behind Mount Kerkis or Ikaria island (depending on season) with glowing evening horizons.

Several houses, a few apartment buildings, two hotels and four (small) taverns are build on the road leading along the long beach.

And, further to the east, behind the main bay, some small rocky bays/coves can be explored.

Dimos sent me some photos he took after climbing up on top of the cliff.

In October, a perfect place for those who seek the calm and want to stay away from the hectic world. On Sunday, October 11th 2009, there was almost no wind, a perfect day for relaxing, swimming in the warm sea, sunbathing, playing music and recording some music video.

"Caveman" Dimos with his guitar, as depicted above, "live from Balos beach": you can listen to him singing the song: "If I needed you" with the waves rolling on Balos beach in the background. The second song we were singing together, it is the famous "California Dreaming". We recorded these songs in that sort of cave shown in the first photo of this photostory.

The tavern "Esperos" at the eastern end of the beach, where I have been several times over the recent years, already was closed when I came to Balos beach this year. The space, where tables and chairs usually are standing to invite the hungry & thirsty beach visitors, from now on during the winter season is used for apparently other purposes!

If you want to get an idea of how the view is from inside of "Esperos" out on the beach, e.g. in September, please look here !

The tavern "Akrogiali" on the corner, where the road down from Koumeika meets the seafront, was still open, over noon and in the late afternoon after 6:30 pm (both photos are from October 2008).

And the tavern in the middle of the beach "I Paralia" (photo from 2008) was still open too, but they only served drinks: there I got my greek coffee with the glas of water, as you can clearly see in a photo further above!

Stella's cypriot restaurant we didn't visit, so I can't say if this place was still open (photo is from October 2008).

An almost magic atmosphere can be encountered, when the sun sets slowly and floods Balos beach with golden light.

The little chapel Agia Pelagia next to the taverna "Esperos"

Scenes along the road parallel to the beach

Last minutes of sunlight on the beach

Balos beach already is in the shade, but high up on the slopes of the mountain Spatharei glows in the light of the setting sun.

Sunset in September 2008

If you head westwards along the waterfront and leave Balos bay at the very western end, by passing a rocky segment, you will discover another beach. I haven't been to this beach but this beach can be seen in Google Earth and here.

And, for those who like to eat fresh seafood, it might be a good idea to move on a bit further southeast to the next bay, Pefkos, to pay a visit to the Ouzeri "Bella Vista" on Pefkos beach. For me, there is no other comparable place on Samos to watch the sunset and the glowing horizon behind the huge dark Kerkis mountain while enjoying some excellent seafood and wine in good company.
This place finished its season 2009 on Sunday, October 11th. They told us they will be open again next year from May 1st on. We were lucky enough to be there on the last night with this fantastic evening sky. And, by chance, met some locals coming from Pythagorio too.

Additional information (October 23rd, 2009):
I would like to direct your attention to websites relating to that area in the south of Samos:

An initiative by Patrick Humphreys called "Amfilissos, River Area of Cultural Inheritance and Ecology" that proposes a plan for a possible development and revitalisation of the area between Neochori, Skoureika, Koumeika and Balos.

A blog called "Mpalos (Balos)" in greek language. Giving lots of information on (greek) music, island life and showing beautiful photos of Samos.

Additional information: (November 1st, 2009)
More than 10 years ago, Franz Nahrada from Austria (Globally Integrated Village Environment (GIVE) Lab, Vienna) proposed a project for the same area: Neohori-Project.

Additional information: (November 2nd, 2009)
Rainer Kastl has done a very good job and has posted more than 20 hiking tours on his website "Samos-Wandern" (in german) using a combination of GPS data and his photos.
His latest addition (tour 22) is a tour in the area between Balos beach and Psili Ammos beach/Peri.