I came out of the Lorenzo Hotel to find the sun behind clouds. I was going alone to Mount Ainos National Park for a 7 hour walk which was described as moderate to strenuous with an ascent of just under 600 metres. Still, I could not help thinking that the hardest part was going to be getting there. Little did I know how correct that would be ! We had not hired a car for the holiday and the bus system from the capital City, Argostoli, did not appear to provide a connection to the National Park (and we heard later in the week had not actually started up at all for this year yet…). I had no idea how much a taxi would cost to take me there, and, more importantly, bring me back, so when one of the taxi drivers at the Mediterranee Hotel suggested 60 Euros I thought it a good enough price to solve the problem.
We left at 0820, went along the Lassi Main Road, and turned right at the top of the hill as the taxi driver was trying to tell me something about a monastery. We did not get to Argostoli but were staying on main roads. Fisherman’s Blues by The Waterboys comes on the radio. Nice one. And then we were out in the countryside on good roads, with the cloud cover gone. I was glad I had packed a lot of water. We drove through Mousata and were gradually climbing, although still near enough to the coast for there to be signs to the beaches. Vlachata was next and the views over the sea were stunning as we passed a roadside shrine. Simotata led us to what I believed was a detour for the Sissia Monestary, which appeared deserted. The driver was suggesting we stay there for half an hour. It was a lovely building with some stunning views, but even dragging that out I could not manage 10 minutes. We left there at 0848, but were driving back the way we had come. I had hoped the stop would at least have been on our way as I was keen to get as much of the hard walking as possible done before midday. Back we went through Simotata, past the roadside shrine and the stunning views, and I was beginning to wonder if this hill featured in our actual route at all. Or maybe my initial concern that the driver did not know how to drive to the National Park was going to prove to be true. We are back at Mousata now and there is light jazz on the radio. 0910 and the taxi driver suggests he drives me back to the hotel. I have to explain to him that I want to go to the National Park. I think we are going to drive there now, although I remain unconvinced that he knows where it is. We drive along the Argostoli front. There are more fishing boats here now than yesterday. And then the driver points out two banks. I tell him I only want to go to the Park. He tells me he thought I wanted to go to the Monastery and then back to Argostoli. I tell him I could not possibly have asked for that because the Monastery is not on the map. It is clear he is not going to drive me to the National Park. That knowledge has cost me 35 Euros and it is now 0920. I am not a happy bunny.
All is not lost ! The young lady at the tourist information office reckons it will take half an hour to drive there so I decide to try another taxi. This driver seems to better understand. He tells me it will be by the meter in terms of the price. The taxi company charge 35 Euros per hour and he will charge me 25 Euros per hour. He says he will take me there and
then come back at 1500 to collect me. Do this, and I will pay you handsomely ! I do not say that to him, but I do think it. He gives me a guide book to read which tells me Ainos is a 10km mountain range and its highest peak is Mount Soros at 1628m. I should look out for the dragon, Loukissas. I am back to being excited. We stop to get water. For the
driver, not for me. It is 0950 and this is getting epic. Our drive up the winding roads takes us past what he tells me is a NATO radar station. I see this many times through the rest of the day and the holiday. I do not think it is a secret radar station. I can see dark clouds on the inland side of the mountain and blue skies going to the coast. We get to what I believe is the edge of the National Park at 1010. He can still drive me in a bit further, and right now the air coming into the taxi is cold. This is going to be interesting, but I was treating this seriously from the start and had brought my new Rab jacket. I do know where my walk will take me because the ‘track’ is a road and we have just driven to the top, arriving at 1025. He is now driving me back to the park gates (what I had previously thought to be the edge of the National Park) and I will make the same ascent on foot. As we got to the park gates a National Parks truck pulled alongside and a very nice lady produced a route map and seemed to be at pains to warn me it was a long way to the top (if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll). I assured her I had done some walking before. The taxi driver gives me his card with his mobile number and we agree he will return to the park gates for 1600. He refuses to take any money from me at this time.
I set off at 1040. My camera says I am at 1065m, but the sign says 1044m. The air is cold, the sky overcast with some black clouds but the sun is trying to peak through. It feels cool as I walk and there is very little sound. I will be surprised if I encounter another person. It is really just a matter of walking the hairpin bends and taking in whatever you can see of the scenery on either side through the pine trees. The guide book calls this a wide track, and I do not know how it was before, but now it is a tarmac road, and could not be easier walking, other than for the gradient. I pass a guard hut at 1130m quite early on, and I keep seeing the NATO radar base through the trees. In fact, the views through the trees are stunning. I notice the other trails which lead off from the main track, but I am concentrating on pushing right on and arrive at the picnic area on the left at 1125. This is supposed to be a little over half way and it has taken me 45 minutes, which is both pleasing and encouraging. The track just keeps going up and up, and while it is not difficult because I am walking on a tarmac road and not through the pine forest itself, it is relentless. Suddenly I spy one of the communication masts through the trees, so I know I am close to the summit. I pass another picnic area on my right and press on. Not quite as soon as I thought I would after seeing the mast, I reach the T-junction at the top and turn right towards the communication station. I arrive at the summit of Megas Soros at 1210 and my camera measures it at 1609m. Officially, it is 1628m. I walk around the station first enjoying all the masts as well as the views, and then head the other way across the T-junction, along a rough track, to the viewing point. I scramble to the top of some rocks, instead of walking around them, and the view makes the hassle and cost of getting here worthwhile. It is quite warm in the sun but cold out of it, with a bitter wind, but the wooden benches on the other side of the rocks are in the sun. The views of the Ionian Sea and the south east corner of the island are breathtaking. On top of the world. I was soon joined by a group who had driven to the top in a minibus, and took the opportunity to ask their guide to take some photos of me up there.
I walk back along the track and begin my descent at 1300, deciding to listen to my iPod Shuffle on the way down
Pendragon – Passion
Black Sabbath – Die Young
Judas Priest – Breaking The Law
Galahad – Battle Scars
Jethro Tull – Rocks On The Road
Porcupine Tree – Halo
Rush – Dreamline
I reach the picnic area again at 1330.
Faith No More – Epic
UFO – Lights Out (live)
And I am rocking down this mountain.
The Fat Lady Sings – Drunkard Logic
Brother Dege – The Battle Song Of New Orleans
The Waterboys – This Is The Sea
Rainbow – Eyes Of The World
ELO – Mr Blue Sky
Riverside – Goodbye Sweet Innocence
I arrived at the park gates at 1420, with a bit of time to spare before the taxi was due to get here at 1600. The sun was out now, so I chose to take a wander to find some shade. I picked the Epano Eza to Melissi trail, which appeared to go through trees, and set off at 1430. It starts at 1044m and descends to 770m.
Opeth – Blackwater Park
Deep Purple – Fireball
Suddenly I am confronted by goats and the wonderful sounds of their bells as they run from me. I also get to see the NATO radar base from another angle.
Porcupine Tree – The Blind House
Twelfth Night – Jungle
Iron Maiden – The Trooper (live)
Rush – Caravan
Dec Burke – Days Like These
Rush – Driven
Von Hertzen Brothers – Bring Out The Snakes
It gets to 1500 and I realise I have been mostly descending…which means my journey back will mostly be an ascent, so I turn around to make sure I do not miss my taxi. A much longer walk awaits if that happens. It has been very pleasant walking under the cover of the trees, and it has also been a very easy walk on soft but firm ground. If I get to come back again I will do some more of these trails.
Red Sparrows – In Illusions Of Order
Riverside – Forgotten Land
I get back at 1532, so I could have walked a little further along that track, although as I emerge the taxi is waiting for me. We got back to Argostoli at 1610 and I could see his meter said 49 Euros for that trip. It had said about the same for the journey there, so I had no hesitation in giving him 110 Euros when he asked for 100. That is how much I had thought it would be when I realised there were no buses.
I had decided to walk back to Lassi. I set off at 1615.
Marillion – Holidays In Eden
AC/DC – Problem Child
The Fat Lady Sings – Drunkard Logic
The Waterboys – Don’t Bang The Drum
Deep Purple – Highway Star
DeeExpus – Me And My Downfall
I got back to the Lorenzo Hotel at 1645 after what has turned out to be a very satisfying day.