The bus fare to Katapola was good value at only €2.50 each and after we paid the driver started the engine and left Egiali dead on time. We had liked it here and if we planning the trip again we would have squeezed an extra night in at the Filoxenia but our plans were made and we had a room booked in Katapola in the south of the island.
We sat close to the front of the bus and in the seat directly behind the driver there was an old woman who was determined to talk constantly in some sort of quest to distract him as he eased the vehicle out of the village and began the ascent to the top of the mountain that separates the two ends of the island. Before this road was built the only effective way to get between Egiali and Katapola was by ferry but this new road provides a useful dry land alternative.
At first we passed through what might be loosely described as fields with rows of derelict terraces and dry stonewalls that separated the hillside into individual plots of land. Amorgos is mostly inhospitable rock that has been baked hard in the sun for thousands of years but as recently as only fifty years ago people here were scraping away at the thin soil and the stones to try and make a living or to feed the family by growing fruit and vegetables. Each islander had a personal plot and would attend each day to manage and tend the land. They had to carry all of the water to the side of these plots and the only way to achieve this was by using a donkey. Then in the 1960s visitors started to arrive and the enterprising islanders realised that there was more money to be made renting out the back room and this was also a lot easier than a twelve-hour day toiling under a hot sun.
The terraces are all abandoned now to thistles and what other few plants can survive in a hostile environment and they are unlikely ever to be cultivated again. There is no one to look after them or protect the heritage, each year parts of the walls collapse and disappear and soon they will be gone altogether and that will be a sad day. Although no one will ever see it again I like to imagine what this hillside might have looked like fifty years ago with farmers scratching away at the ground, donkeys patiently waiting to return to the town and fishing boats slipping in and out of the harbour below.
As the bus climbed higher and the engine began to labour and groan the sides of the mountain became greener with rugged plants clinging stubbornly to the thin soil and then we reached the top of the mountainous spine of the island and we could see all the way down across the Chora and into the port of Katapola and still the woman in the seat behind the driver kept talking – I’d have backed that woman in a talk-off against my mum!
The bus stopped briefly at the Chora to pick up more passengers and then the driver set off down the hairpin bends of the mountain road and down to the port. I think he liked this part of the journey because he made extravagant manoeuvres with theatrical turns of the steering wheel and he was confident too, even at one stage of the precipitous descent taking time out to make a telephone call while still listening to the woman behind him jabbering away.
After only a few minutes we arrived at the final bus stop, got off and met the owner of the apartments, the Villa Katapoliana where we had stayed previously and were hoping for the same room that we had liked. We were to be disappointed on that score but we had a nice room anyway and a balcony that was surrounded by flowers and trees so we settled in and then went out to reacquaint ourselves with one of our favourite islands.