Kalymnos 2010

For Carmel and I, this was our third trip to Kalymnos, which I think makes us sound old and boring, but there are three good reasons for our repeated visits.

  1. Minimal Brits. The hotel we prefer is the Hotel Elies in Elies, which is not an area overrun by tourists, tacky bars and British restaurants, so massively suits us. For the second year running we were the only English speaking people in the hotel, with the majority being Greek. Even if the other guests are tourists, the fact that they aren’t British tourists adds a great deal to our enjoyment of the place.
  2. Diving. We can go diving (not uncommon for Greece), but what makes this special is that the single PADI dive instructor on the island is a really friendly and easy going girl called Tiia. She manages to make our progress through the various diving certifications fairly effortless and a lot of fun.
  3. Walking. The island, more than many other Greek islands, has a plethora of walking tracks. The highest point is just short of 700m and there are many tracks up and down the different peaks. We have done a few of the walks, but looking at the map there are many more for us to do.

And it is extremely pretty.

Diving

One of the massive attractions with Kalymnos is the ease with which we can go diving there. There is only one PADI dive school, the Kalymnos Dive Centre, and that is situated in the hotel that we prefer to stay at.

We spent 4 days of our week’s trip last year doing diving, so this time we planned to do just 2 days of the activity. We met with Tiia, the dive instructor, and organised to get our Adventure Diver qualification. This entailed doing 3 adventure-class dives from a selection of about 15. The next qualification up was the Advanced Open Water Diver which required 5 adventure-class dives including navigation and deep water diving as mandatory.

For this trip we decided to do the navigation course (to help towards the Advanced qualification the next time), the underwater photography and the fish identification courses. Each course involved an hour or two of discussion/theory and then a single dive.

Each diving session normally accommodates 2 dives, so to make our 3 selected dives up to a total of 4, we decided to start with a refresher dive so that we could remember how to breathe and operate everything underwater.

The first dive was our refresher dive and I didn’t realise how essential this was. Carmel was very keen on it as after 12 months on dry land she felt a little nervous about being underwater. I thought we’d cope fine, but was fairly wrong in my assumption. On splashing in backwards into the water, the first thing I managed to do was hyperventilate such that I could not control my breathing with my head underwater. Carmel and Tiia did not notice this as Carmel was having her own assorted issues, and fortunately within a few minutes my body had gained enough confidence in the scuba apparatus to allow me to breathe underwater. The dive was good fun and we just swam around gently near a reef. A fair amount of time was spent ensuring Carmel was comfortable equalising at the different depths, as her body seems to find this trickier than mine.

The second dive was what we considered the serious one. This was the underwater navigation dive and primarily consisted of two activities. The first was counting our fin kicks over a distance of 10 metres. The second was navigating in a square using an initial compass heading and then turning 90 degrees right (left for Carmel) after 10 fin kicks. This was tricky. Not only did we have to hold a compass out straight with one hand, we also had to hold our slate with the directions on. The problem was the sea floor which was angled up towards the nearby rocks. This meant that we needed a third hand to control our buoyancy – and since neither Carmel nor I had a third hand it meant that we got very distracted by the task of keeping ourselves from scraping along the rocky bottom and finding our direction. I managed to swim the square and end up within about 3 metres of the start – not really very great. Carmel, on the other hand, managed to swim just 3 sides of the square and end up 3 metres from the start. By the time she had swum the 4th side of the square she was in danger of being mixed up in the breakers crashing against the rock face at the surface. Oh well, we did enough to pass the dive course.

The third dive was to get our underwater photography certification. The theory part ensured we knew about apertures, shutter speeds, ISO modes etc. But after learning all this Tiia then turned on the camera’s built-in underwater mode. We were joined on this dive, and the next one, by Monica – an American friend of Tiia’s who was earning her keep on the island by massaging weary climbers in the climbing resort of Massouri. Underwater we each took various photos with different compositions and lighting so that we could see the differences later. The hardest thing for me was trying to keep steady while getting close up to a moving fish and taking the shot – there was a lot to think about it! The only problem with the photography was that the camera’s waterproof housing had a large lens covering which got in the way of the camera’s flash. This caused a very noticeable shadow on photos of close-up subjects.

At the end of our diving sessions we had progressed to be certified PADI Adventure divers. It is always nice to progress towards a qualification, so we were quite pleased to have achieved more than just having a few purposeless dives. Our next challenge is to do two more adventure dives (one of which has to be Deep Diving, i.e. 30+m) and gain our Advanced Open Water qualification.

Walking

Another aspect of Kalymnos that we really enjoy is the selection of walks available. We dedicated two separate days to walking and enjoyed our exploring.

For the first day we decided to climb to the top of Telendos (459m) on a nearby island. Telendos used to be attached to the mainland a thousand years or so ago, but a massive earthquake flooded the low lying land and it became an island. The understanding is that the island’s original capital was sunk during the earthquake, and the sea between Kalymnos and Telendos remains protected against diving to preserve any artefacts that are still down there.

We had walked half way to the top of the little island a year earlier, but considered ourselves short of daylight when the path became unclear for the final section. This time we set off in plenty of time and had summited by midday. The final path that we could not find the previous year was still hard to find, but when we looked carefully many little cairns guided our way up a very step and scrambly ascent to the summit. At the top the views were fabulous on a clear and sunny day.

Duration 8:01 hours
Distance 9.3 miles
Path (Google Earth)

Our second day of walking took us to the highest point on the island. We had done this walk on 3 previous visits but we really enjoyed it. To make this walk a little more interesting we decided to extend it by walking over the mountain into the far valley and then walking back over a different mountain to the island’s port at Pothia.

The walk to the top of Profitis Ilias (679m) was straightforward, but Carmel was struggling in the searing heat during the ascent and was not her sprightly normal self. After walking down the long path towards Vathi we arrived at the start of the path back over to Pothia. The path started off being fairly difficult to find (no routes are signposted, of course) but within a hundred metres or so it became clear that we were following a fairly well preserved original stone path built hundreds of years ago. Apparently Greece used to have many of these stone paths, called kalderimis, but many have recently been removed to allow vehicles to use the routes. Given how long was obviously spent making the paths, their removal seems absolutely criminal to us.

The weather was incredibly hot – far too hot for walking up barren mountains with no shade. Carmel was really struggling and had to be kicked up the final 20 mins of ascent. But the views from the top of the pass, that the path followed, were pretty perfect as we sat and watched ships come and go from the port from our high vantage point.

Duration 6:04 hours
Distance 8.3 miles
Path (Google Earth)

Other

Aside from the days diving and walking we took life pretty easy. On one of the days we went on an organised boat trip to a couple of nearby islands.

On the way out of Pothia we were treated to the sight of dolphins who were feeding near the fish farms. Apparently they had stayed for most of the summer rather than just the normal couple of weeks, and we agreed that this was nice of them.

Duration 4:53 hours
Distance 23 miles
Path (Google Earth)