Xenia Apostolopoulou – When red dots are marking your traces on Ikaria

Xenia Apostolopoulou – When red dots are marking your traces on Ikaria

Xenia pulls her hat a little bit deeper into her face. The sun is burning hot, even though it‘s not even 11  o’clock in the morning. But she‘s already been out here on the hiking path between Raches and Armenistis for some time. She shakes the  red colour in the jar she‘s holding in her left hand carefully carefully observing its texture. As it‘s still looking ok,  she dips a brush into it and continues painting a middle sized red  circle on the rock.

Xenia steps back a bit, observing the result. „It‘s ok“ she tells herself, then she looks ahead at the path, checking out the distance to where she might paint another one. There is still a long way go and Xenia is wondering, if she will really have a chance to finish marking this part of the hiking path today. She might need another hour to arrive by foot in Armenistis, but she has to be back to Christos Raches by 2 pm as she  has to take care of Kiria Ioanna this afternoon.

As Xenia is pretty familiar with this part  of the Ikarian mountains, she knows that a difficult part  of the path is waiting ahead for her, but if she hurries up a bit, she could make it on time.
She looks back, verifying where she had painted the last dot. There it is, still in sight, nicely visible in the sunshine on the trunk of a tree.

Xenia smiles. Interesting that these red dots have become somehow also her trademark on this island. For how many years has she been doing this work now? Marking the hiking paths on Ikaria with these red dots to give orientation to hikers  in these rough and sometimes dangerous mountains  of this island? She doesn’t remember, she‘s lost count of the years. Xenia opens the jar again.

This time she paints a small arrow next to the  dot she‘s just painted a few minutes before. This one is indicating the direction of the path to follow. As it is a hot day, the colour doesn‘t run and is drying fast „Yep,“ Xenia thinks, „this is how it goes – the marking of the hiking paths on Ikaria.“

Xenia’s face lights up, when she thinks about a discussion she‘s just had the previous evening with a group of hikers in Christos, Raches. They were from Switzerland and were not only surprised, about the broad variety of hiking paths on Ikaria, but also about the good quality they were able to experience in different areas in the Northern part of the island. As Xenia had been their tour guide for a day, she was patient to answer their many questions about hiking on Ikaria. Yes, it is true, Ikaria is a very different kind of hiking destination. Even though the island has a rich history when it comes to hiking paths and crossing the island by foot, many  of the old hiking trails are not maintained or even lost.

And as hiking activities are not considered – so far – to play an important role in the development of tourism on Ikaria, hiking and the remaining hiking paths didn’t get a lot of attention  for many years. For sure, there‘s always been dedicated people on the island who cared about the trails, cleaning them a bit and marking them on a voluntary basis, but it had not been done neither in a systematic approach nor with public funding.

In 2008  some Ikarians founded the local hiking association „OPSIkarias“ and Xenia became a dedicated member. Since then the club is organizing hiking tours to open the beauty of the mountains to a broader community. And from time to time they make open calls to work together on the trails. But most of the time, some members of the  club just grab a pot of red  colour and they go to the mountains to do the work Xenia is doing today: painting dots and red arrows on rocks. And this way the network of hiking trails is spreading out on Ikaria … not officially financed, but with private money and with people who are volunteers and are offering their time for it.

The tourists Xenia was talking to were pretty impressed by these descriptions and little by little they got an idea about the efforts it takes to have hiking trails on this island.

„Yes, indeed, it takes effort“ Xenia thinks, while she continues her work on the path. „But I like it“. She puts the pot with the red colour into her backpack and hangs it over her shoulder. „And it‘s rewarding work“. She looks around and every time she‘s up here, she‘s overwhelmed by the beauty nature is offering to her. Even after all these years, she feels joy while climbing these rocks at any time of the year, by taking a little pause at the waterfalls or by diving into the ice-cold water of the little hidden river lakes.

She enjoys the view  to the sea, that is opening in front of her, while she‘sup in the barren rocky landscape of the Atheras.

Yes, Ikaria is offering to her what she was looking for: peace, calmness and a different rhythm of life to the one she has been living in the city for years. Xenia already sensed it shortly after her arrival in Ikaria in 2008 that this island could be the place where she could stay for longer. By then she had gotten around a lot and maybe it was time to settle down a bit.

Xenia was born in Austria to a Greek father and an Austrian mother. Having lived the first years of her life in Austria might explain a bit her love for nature and the mountains, because she was able to enjoy them  to the fullest when she was small. At the age of 7, her family moved to Greece and Xenia grew up in a village on the Peleponese and later lived in Athens.

After school she followed her deep interest in nature and got involved in botanical studies and therapies. The topic close to her heart was homeopathy, but it was still some time until she could delve deeper into this subject.

In the meantime Xenia worked many jobs; in hotels, as a tour guide on Greek islands or in projects such as animal welfare or with people with special needs. Xenia travelled a lot in Greece and beyond, before she finally started working for a homeopath in Athens who gave her a deep insight into the effects of herbs on the human body. This has  not only increased her interest in herbs and nature, but it was also her starting point to make homeopathic tinctures herself.

With her arrival on Ikaria, the different experiences of Xenia’s life fit together like a puzzle: here she could dive deep into nature in  many different ways not only by learning more about herbs, but also by collecting them. Joining the local hiking club gave here the possibility to explore in depth the Ikarian mountains and their history.

Being curious and volunteering in numerous activities on Ikaria, she gained a strong foothold. To earn money, she worked different jobs, which was difficult not only during the financial and economic crisis that hit Greece, but also because Xenia got a young son and she decided to raise him by herself on Ikaria.
Like other single mums who are not surrounded by family, this can give you a tough time and Xenia lived many of them. But she did not give up. She was and is persistent, trying to adapt to different challenges and making the best of them.
Over the years she became not only a dedicated moutain guide, but she also offers herbal tours, introducing people  to the world of herbs and flowers on Ikaria. In addition, she became a beekeeper, profiting from the knowledge of an old Ikarian, who was a good teacher and gave Xenia her first beehives.
Today you may say that Xenia’s life on Ikaria stands on different feet: still working in different jobs- if available – mountain guide, herbal tours, making honey, making homeopathic tinctures … plus her voluntary work in marking the hiking trails.

Looking back, the years have not been easy for Xenia, but living somewhere else has never been an option. Some years ago, Xenia and her son tried to live in Athens again, but it didn’t work out. Both missed the nature and the rhythm of Ikaria very badly, their summer nights sleeping in the open air, watching the sunset in Nas.
So here she is: back on the hiking trail on Ikaria, painting red and white dots on rocks and trees, knowing that this will have an added value for Ikaria as tourist destination and for the hikers to come.

With a sure step Xenia heads down the path to Armenistis. She‘s looking forward to meet Kiria Ioanna, the oldest lady on Ikaria. She really loves this old lady. Since her arrival on Ikaria, Kiria Ioanna has become a good friend to her. She introduced Xenia to the world of weaving, which has a rich tradition on the island. As she‘s getting older and a little bit more frail, Xenia joins in when necessary to take care of this very special Ikarian lady. But it‘s always a pleasure for her. Despite her 107 years, Kiria Ioanna is still curious about her surroundings and keen to share her knowledge about Ikaria and family stories. „I think, I will take her out for a coffee“, Xenia says to herself, „ she will like it.“ With this in mind, Xenia gives the brush for the remaining dots an extra twist. „Yes, indeed, it is good that I am still here, here on Ikaria“, Xenia says out loud, „ – against all odds.“

(Please note: Kiria Ioanna died in 2023 at the age of 112 years).

( written by @ Birgit_Urban)

Find out more about Xenia and her activities. You can also book her as a hiking guide:
email: larosadejerico573@gmail.com
and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100066367603925