The blue light of early morning – seven o’clock – and Papingo was still in the deep, deep shade of the Towers. We started our walk over to the big village, happy in the thought that our heavy [though small] tent and sleeping bags were already in transit on a mule. We were going up to Agia Kiriaki for the annual name-day blessing on July 7th– preceded by a day of festival and tea-gathering!
Three hours later we arrived at the Sacred Grove of Agia Kiriaki – a knot of juniper and pine trees on a rocky promontory hard up under the flanks of Lapatos and with breath-taking views over to Astraka, the Papingo Towers and the Vikos Gorge.
We hung up our food away from eager ants, and went to have lunch.
The local water supply was found to be dry, but the flow of tsipouro soon diminished the worry of being halfway up a mountain with nothing to drink… as the heat of the afternoon rose we all went off to lie in the shade – except for Tasos, Michaelis and Vangellis who went to clear the water pipe.
An amazing amount of tsipouro had been consumed – and it was astonishing to see people leaping to their feet at six o’clock to go higher on the mountain slopes to pick Mountain Tea. Michaelis, Angela, Iro and Alexandra returned to camp with armfuls of tea, which was then carefully bunched and hung up to dry.
Bed was warm and comfortable despite obvious shortcomings. In the night the wind rose and buffeted the trees above. The heavy little tent – an old Vango Force Ten – hardly quivered.
Next morning the voices round the firepit told us that the eighteen over-night campers had been joined by more villagers for the church service. The ringing of the bell – suspended in a juniper tree – marked the start of the service at eight o’clock.
Breakfast – in our removed camping spot - was a delight of fresh fruit and biscuits with lovely hot Greek coffee provided by Tasos – who also preferred camping away from the masses!
The church service was two and a half hours of liturgy, robes, candles, incense and icons – all in the most incredibly beautiful setting. The tiny church could only hold about ten people, so we all went in and out in relays, or gathered at the window slits. You couldn’t stand in the doorway as the cantor needed the light to read his words!
It all ended very quickly: the day was getting hot and we all had to get back down the mountain. Tent down, strapped to the mule and then off.
A wonderful village expression of worship, fellowship, humour, generosity and acceptance.