As­cent into the sky

If it’s Easter at Sifnos then it’s time to get high

Central and North Burnett Times - - JUNIOR SPORT - with Ann Rickard

EASTER is nigh and that means egg hunts in the gar­den for the lit­tle ones and beer around the bar­be­cue for the big ones.

One year I will get to Greece to cel­e­brate Easter. Greeks do Easter so well. An­cient tra­di­tions, deeply rooted cus­toms and church at­ten­dance cul­mi­nate in a whop­ping big feast on Easter Sun­day, usu­ally a lamb or goat on a spit. The fun and feast­ing goes on through­out the af­ter­noon and into the evening.

Sev­eral years ago on the Greek is­land of Sifnos dur­ing a visit shortly af­ter Easter, our ho­tel man­ager told us how the lo­cals cel­e­brated Easter ev­ery year by walk­ing up to a small white church on top of a stark moun­tain. There are small white churches on top of stark moun­tains all over Greece, and along with weath­ered old men sit­ting in tav­er­nas, and blue-domed white-washed build­ings, they epit­o­mise ev­ery­thing you think of and love about Greece.

“The lo­cals walk up to the church in a pro­ces­sion by a goat track ev­ery Easter,” our Sifnos ho­tel man­ager told us.

We were might­ily im­pressed. The moun­tain was high and steep and the church just a white dot against the vivid blue sky.

We spent a cou­ple of weeks on this serene Greek is­land, swim­ming in gin-clear wa­ter and eat­ing roasted meats and Greek sal­ads at toe-in-the-sand tav­er­nas. Each day with over-full bel­lies, we looked up to the tiny church and rolled our eyes in ad­mi­ra­tion for the lo­cals who make the climb each Easter.

One day, af­ter a par­tic­u­larly ex­ces­sive lunch of fried cheese and too much retsina, we de­cided to tackle the moun­tain our­selves.

We set off mid-morn­ing the next day.

The first 200 me­tres rose gen­tly. We plod­ded up, look­ing down on a patch­work land­scape in the val­leys. Small stone walls sep­a­rated lit­tle farmed sec­tions where rolls of hay lay side by side. Olive trees spread out in neat pat­terns. There was no sign of a car – just don­key drop­pings.

We crossed pre­car­i­ous stone bridges over dry trenches. The air be­came hot­ter with each me­tre. The lit­tle church never seemed to get any closer.

Wild herbs grew by the side of the track and lit­tle blue wooden boxes – bee hives – were scat­tered around the rocky ter­rain.

The road fi­nally flat­tened, giv­ing a lit­tle respite. We were pant­ing, sweat­ing and curs­ing our stu­pid­ity while at the same time mar­vel­ling at the tenac­ity of the lo­cals to make it all this way up by a goat track.

An­other half an hour later we were up very high and could look across the is­land to the town of Apol­lo­nia, a clus­ter of white build­ings som­no­lent against the blue of the dis­tant sea. We had never felt so alone.

Fi­nally, life. An old man ap­proached, sit­ting side-sad­dle on a don­key. He ges­tured to us that we were mad to be climb­ing the moun­tain in the heat of the day, posed for a photo, and then qui­etly clopped off down the moun­tain. Mo­ments later we walked into a storm of yel­low but­ter­flies, thou­sands of them sur­round­ing us, their frag­ile flut­tery wings brush­ing and cool­ing our hot faces. The last 100 me­tres were very dif­fi­cult, we had to leave the road and take a pre­cip­i­tous rocky path, ob­vi­ously the end of the goat track.

Dou­bled over by the steep­ness of the track, we fi­nally reached the church: white, blue, lonely.

We were so high, so ver­ti­cal, we felt we could top­ple over and roll down the moun­tain if we weren’t care­ful. But the views: the sky, the sea, the dis­tance. We were speech­less.

There was no Easter feast to cel­e­brate our trek, but a mod­est pic­nic of bread, cheese, tomato and retsina felt like a ban­quet.

PHO­TOS: THINKSTOCK AND ANN RICKARD

The Church of the Seven Mar­tyrs on Sifnos is­land in the Cy­clades and, be­low, a man rides a don­key up the goat track.

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