Saturday, 28 September 2013

Ikaria…

   
The Fountain of Longevity
   
by Nancy Snipper
 
Floating inconspicuously in the East Aegean chain of Greek islands is Ikaria. Its lack of pizzazz, tourist hype along with its remote location (it sits in the shadow of its popular neighbours, Mykonos and Samos) definitely contributes to its natural if not enigmatic qualities. 
This lack of commercially-driven acumen is intentionally crafted by its solid, yet easy-going inhabitants. Indeed Ikarians seems to have inherited their mythical ancestor’s tendency to seek freedom, defy convention and fly far away from earthly rules set by others.  The ancient myth says Icarus disobeyed his father’s advice when he flew right towards the sun to escape imprisonment from King Midas. 
His wings of wax melted; the recalcitrant youth he fell into the sea and Ikaria was formed in the very spot where he fell. 




Sun-soaked Ikaria makes a mockery of the myth’s finale, for death seems to be delayed here. Indeed, beating the odds is this island’s idiosyncratic imprint. An inordinate number of its 9000 inhabitants lives to be over 100. One in three natives makes it into their 90s, and those that are only 85 are as agile as a Greek mountain goat. They are called ‘young’ by their friends. 

                                   Ikarian resident, Elefterios Tsimbidis: 90-year-old former general

The five octogenarians I met the first day were swimming vigorously in the sea. Their vigour and sunny disposition were obvious. Folks here have memories that put mine to shame. One such person was Anna Kavouriaris whose son Mihalis runs the Ikarian Centre of language and culture – a place I visited to improve my Greek. She’s 85. Her conversation was clever and her memory enviable - she remembered my last name, but I kept having to ask hers. Jokes, astute perceptions and curiosity filled her mind. Meeting such people creates a surreal feeling. Their appearance and vitality is almost spooky. 
So, what’s going on here? Ikarians do not live in stress, nor are they money-minded. Barter and friendship are the Ikarian way. When other islands are scrambling to attract tourists and their Euros, Ikaria closes down during the day. Forget about finding a souvenir shop or tourist agency. Nor are there tavernas with owners vying for you to sit at their tables.  All is ‘isikia (quiet) in Ikaria. You will never hear anyone honking their horn; patience is part of the no-stress lifestyle. Another quirk is the island has no addresses, so forget about numbers, except when you ask someone how old they are. Go ahead and guess, but you’ll be off the mark by at least twenty years!  By the way, there is no stealing here at all. Ikarians are renowned for their honesty and community. That spirit of freedom, tolerance and equality may be due in part its political history. It was the dumping ground for exiled Communists during the Greek Civil War (1946-1949). Isolation and sustainability has worked well for the island. 
Diet is key to Ikarian longevity. Most grow their own vegetables, have chickens, goats, sheep and cows. Sugar and salt are a rarity, but their local honey and homemade virgin pressed olive oil (done the old-fashioned way with the feet) along with their daily intake of fresh goat milk is quintessential to Ikarians. Three-hundred varieties of beans grow here and leaves from Atheras Mountain are part of their meals. Kathoura cheese is their specialty. Tiropita (cheese pies) are as healthy and addictive as Ikarian yogourt. Dessert is fruit.  





Therapeutic radioenergized spring sources – amongst the best in the world – can be found in Therma on the southern coast of the island. As far back as the fourth century BC, people have been coming to this little place to take cures from the abundant mineral sea waters surrounding Therma. People walk around in bathrobes and bathing suits for there are more than five such areas proliferating in these waters, some right in the sea, such as at Lefkadas, a veritable hotspot. You actually sea steam rising over the hot watery source at the shoreline.  









Over 160 kilometres of coastline proliferating in beaches sheltered by steep, craggy boulder-ridden Atheras whose pinnacle peak reaches 1040 metres. I took a hike above the great gorge that starts at Nas Beach. Spectacular views enriched with wild floral wonders are intensely intoxicating. Ikaria is untamed and underappreciated.






I left Ikaria feeling rejuvenated. If I could live to be 100 feeling this good, I say to hell with it. I’m packing my bags and moving there.

To taxi around Ikaria call Stelios: 2275032992 or 6973836836