Day 167 (6.29.17): The Ancient Island of Delos

Today was perhaps the busiest, most complicated travel day of our time in Europe. Despite careful planning, we weren’t certain it was going to work out.

Our plan was to make our way by ferry from the Greek mainland to the tiny island of Koufonissi.  By itself, this wouldn’t be too hard, but we also wanted to stop along the way to visit Delos, an small uninhabited island filled with ancient ruins.  Visiting Delos had become a top priority since Lydie wrote a paper on the island for home school.  Though we had finished home schooling in Spain (whew!), we were all excited to visit the island that Lydie had researched so thoroughly.   In order to visit Delos, we would need to stop over in Mykonos, find a place to stash our luggage, find a boat tour to Delos, and return to Mykonos in time for our 4:30 ferry to Koufonissi.

Rafina.Mykonos.Delos.Koufonissi.

We woke early to pack and were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise over the Mediterranean.   The seas looked calm and the wind light, perfect weather for island hopping.

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We made it to the port with time to spare and were all excited to board the ferry.

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For the next couple of hours we passed the time watching the islands slide by.  By 9:15AM, we arrived at the modern port of Mykonos, where we found a bus headed for the old port.  There, we found a small travel agency that both booked us on a boat to Delos and agreed to keep our things.  Our load lightened, we walked into town to find the boat to Delos, along the way enjoying the hustle and bustle of this popular tourist spot.

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By 11:30, we were on the boat to Delos, gasping at the turquoise color of the water like a bunch of tourists, which, of course, we were.

We soon got to Delos, and put ourselves into the capable hands of our tour guide, Lydie.  We had read her paper, so we knew where the ruins on the island came from and why the island is uninhabited.  As Lydie wrote in her introduction,

Delos is an island in the Cyclades, which are a group of Greek islands in the Mediterranean Sea. There are hundreds of Greek Islands, but Delos is special.  Greek mythology tells that Delos is the birth place to the twin gods Apollo and Artemis.  Many Greeks lived on the island until Athens tried to “purify” it but ended up destroying its civilization.  Later, the island was used by pirates to fill with gold and treasure.  After the pirates, the island did not quite recover. Today, Delos is uninhabited but filled with archaeological remains.

Lydie started by leading us through a collection of ruined temples known as the Sacred Way, as we headed towards the spot on the island where Apollo and Artemis were born.  Ever helpful, Cassie did her best along the way to return some of the ruins to their original state.

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The ruins on the island are around 2,000 to 2,600 years old, but due to the relatively remote location, you can walk among and interact with the ruins.

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The ruins are also incredibly well preserved, with some still displaying Greek writing after more than 2000 years.

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Map in hand, Lydie then took us to the Terrace of the Lions, which surrounds the natural spring where Artemis and Apollo were born.

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We continued to explore wandering among the ruins on the north side of the island.  We found headless marble statues, their heads likely in museums elsewhere.

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Though the island is uninhabited, there is a small cafe, and we stopped for cool drinks.  Recharged, we set off again.  We soon found another headless statue.

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Wait!  What’s that statue visible in the background?  The one just to the right of the “leg” in the picture above?  The one that is shaped a bit like a phallus?

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Oh.  It’s literally a phallus.  This one might embarrass the girls when they are older…

Though the girls had icy drinks, it was extremely hot. Close to 100 degrees hot.  The sun was beating down, and there was no wind which made it even hotter. Our next destination was the Temple of Isis, which was a short hike away and uphill.  At this point anyone in their right mind would decide to slow down.  Team Hubbard decided to split up.  The three girls calmly and intelligently hiked up the hill toward the temple, while I ran off the other direction to explore some ruins that were a little off the beaten track.

Sure, I nearly blacked out from the heat and dehydration, but it was a great decision.  I soon found myself wandering in houses that were more than 2000 years old, walking the same mosaic floors as ancient Greeks.

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I raced though small ancient alleys filled with brambles to meet the girls up the hill near the Temple of Isis.  The temple is about 2000 years old and was built to venerate the Egyptian gods Anubis, Serapis and Isis.  Delos was a bit of a cross-roads for people in the Mediterranean, including Greeks and Egyptians.

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We kept moving uphill passing ancient ruins and decapitated statues.  The stone carved to look like cloth reminded us of some of the statues we saw at the Louvre in Paris.  Come to think of it, that might be were some of the heads are.

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We continued uphill towards the base of Mount Kynthos, which Lydie’s said was the highest point on the island, following an ancient stone path.  Along the way, we took a small side trail, searching for the temple to Hercules.  After scrambling up the rocks for a few minutes we soon found it, impressively massive and rough.  This, was a place for heavily muscled heroes.  Or flexing twelve-year-old girls.  Either way.

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We were starting to get a little worried about the time.  If we missed our boat back to Mykonos, we would miss our ferry to Koufonissi.  With the troops hot and tired, we started to work our way back toward the small wharf where the boats docked, though we took the scenic route as there were still lots of amazing ruins to see along the way, including a massive amphitheater, where the girls put on a small play.

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Next, we explored the once-densely populated neighborhood that surrounded the theater, an area filled with narrow streets and small homes.  It was amazing to walk the streets knowing that Greeks had walked these same paths more than two millennia ago.

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It was amazing to see columns still standing and the intricate designs of mosaic floors.

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These areas were closer to the boat landing and more frequently visited by tourists, and ropes prevented us from exploring some areas.  But part of the trick was simply finding the right path to reach different ruins.  The narrow streets formed a complex labyrinth (fortunately without any minotaurs).  Lydie and I wanted to find our way to some columns that we could see a couple of streets over.  Cassie and Julie, however, were too hot.  After Julie’s heat-related tumble in Tenerife, they decided to head on back to the shade near the landing.   Lydie and I pressed on, picking our way up narrow stone streets choked with brambles.  After a few minutes we made it to the columns we had seen.

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It turned out that the columns were part of the House of Cleopatra.  It was an impressive house (though it had nothing to do with the Cleopatra of Egyptian fame).  Nearby there were also two beautiful and, yes, headless statues.  The portrayal of cloth in stone was once again impressive, and it was amazing to think that these statues also showed us how the people who lived here 2000 years ago dressed.  Based on our experiences, they would have been hot.

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Lydie and I headed on down to the boat landing to meet up with Cassie and Julie.  The girls cooled their feet in the ocean while we waited for the boat, and we were soon on our way back to Mykonos.  I looked back at the ruins on Delos longingly.  I could have spent many more hours exploring.  We had had a great day and an amazing experience.  Given the quality, extent, and age of the ruins the island was practically deserted.  In many places, we were entirely alone.

But we had a ferry to catch.  We got back to Mykonos with enough time to spare that we could get a cool drink before getting our luggage and heading to the port.  Fortunately, the ferry to Koufonissi is a small one and therefore would leave from the old port rather than the new port where we had arrived that morning.  We grabbed our bags and headed down to the port with a few minutes to spare … only to discover that our ferry would be about 45 minutes late.

When the boat finally arrived we were doubly hot and tired.  We took our seats on the ferry, and Julie, Cassie, and Lydie promptly fell asleep.  The ferry stopped at a number of islands on our way to Koufonissi, prompting Julie to bolt upright at Naxos fearing that we had slept through our port of call.

A little after 6, we arrived at the small port in Koufonissi, grabbed our luggage, and disembarked.

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This led us to the last step of this complicated day of travel — finding out if the hotel I booked actually existed.  I’d made our reservations at the Koufonissi Hotel and Resort online, sight unseen.  In the weeks leading up to our arrival, I had called the hotel a few times,  but for days there was no answer.  I reached someone shortly before we left Spain, but I still had a nagging fear that I’d been the victim of an elaborate online scam.

Fortunately, when we arrived at the wharf, we were met by a representative from the hotel — our soon-to-be Greek friend Giannis.  We dropped our luggage into our room, where we would be staying for the next six nights, and walked to a nearby restaurant for pizza and gyros.

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It had been an extremely busy day, with our already full cups of unforgettable travel experiences continuing to overflow.   We went to bed elated.

-Will

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