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I am one part American, two parts Adventurer

Today, I managed to drag myself out of bed at 530am. I quietly dressed, washed my face and brushed my teeth while I filled water bottles and made sure my food was properly packed. Then, I set off. Jubilee attached securely to my back, my GOOD COUNTRY playlist blasting, I set off toward Kochylas, the closest mountain to the village of Skyros. I’ve been obsessing over this mountain since I arrived on the island exactly 3 weeks ago. Not only is it in plain sight of the main village, but I learned that it also houses the largest nesting site for the rare Eleonora’s Falcon- a beautiful, beautiful bird which is found almost exclusively in Greece and Madagascar. Fully aware that finding their nests was unlikely (they nest in July typically) and knowing that the likelihood of seeing more than one was slim (a hoard of Skyrian men spent an entire dinner laughing at my determination at finding them on the mountain), I set off with the hope and intention of having an adventure- Eleonora would just be icing on the cake.

The best part about this little adventure was that I had only a slim idea of how far away the mountain was and of where I was actually going. I wound my way through village after village, admiring the beauty of Greece in the early morning light. Kochylas loomed closer and closer as the miles added up. After 6 miles, I reached its base just outside a tiny village near a fishing port and started searching for a path that would take me up.

Gates on Skyros are common and are simply deterrents for mischievous sheep and goats. I’ve never even seen a lock on one and they present only a small pause in your average journey here- 30 seconds to untie them and you’re back on your way. For some stupid reason, however, the first THREE gates I encountered were locked and I had to turn back around a search for a new path. Eventually, I hit paydirt. After taking a small detour to check out a little church near a beach, I hiked up and up, passing wild (?) ponies and an assortment of sheep and goats. After a while, the path thinned out and I encountered a gate. It wasn’t locked. So I untied it, hopped through, ate a peanut butter & banana sandwich on some delicious, crusty, fresh bread, chugged ½ litre of water, and journeyed onward.

One more gate later (which I had to climb over as the thing was rusted shut), and I saw something black coast through my periphery. I turned my head and there she was- Eleonora. And she had company. Lots of company. I coasted ahead, trying to follow her flight and ended up on what was likely a widened goat path that took me over a crest and blasted me with an incredible view of a massive rock face juxtaposed with the sun rising high over the Aegean Sea. And falcons. Lots of them. They were accompanied by a hoard of gulls and some other small birds but they seemed to think I was as interesting to look at as I found them to be. Swooping past me in ones and twos, this small falcon colony got as close to this strange human as they could- timing their investigation with moments that my phone wasn’t set to “camera” - typical. I do have loads of videos of them flying around though, which is cool.

At one point I decided it would be a good idea to investigate a hidden cove that they were flying in and out of- sketchiest down climb EVER! But, totally worth it as I watched an assortment of birds calling to one another as they darted in and out of holes in the rock face. Their voices coupled with the sound of waves crashing was pure ecstasy. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.

After I had my fill of falcons and magical hidden coves, I hiked out. Or tried to… Instead I spent another two hours exploring more rock faces, following more goat trails, sliding precariously down scree fields, and chasing my water bottle down several steep slopes.

By the time I made it down to the church I’d spotted on my hike in, I needed a break. So I ate another sandwich, drank the last of my water, and soaked in the rays from the midday sun as crisp blue waves crashed up the rocks around me.

I eventually pulled myself away from Kochylas, plugged in to ZZ Ward’s latest album, and walk/danced the 6 miles back to Magazia happily taking in the beauty of skyros and looking forward to a long nap on the beach, and a cool swim in the sea.

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