Deadly water, epic legend! Let`s go to the springs where Achilles became invulnerable!
Text & Photos: Argyro Athanasopoulou
In mid-July, we are in Platanos Beach, 7 km after Akrata. The thermometer shows 35 degrees Celsius, just after eight o'clock in the evening! The heat is unbearable. As long as we are by the sea, frequent dives keep us cool, but at night, we have to close doors and windows and use the air conditioner, in order to be able to sleep. This is too much! We have to find another solution to avoid all this heat. Having this thought, between the sounds of cicada`s songs, the cell phone rings and we hear the best proposal from a friend! "What about going to the Waters of Styx in the morning?" At the sound of the word "waters" a sense of coolness penetrates us. Although the heat really slows us down, we load the tent, the sleeping bags, our mountaineering shoes and everything that is necessary for camping in the mountains, in no time into the car.
On the road to the oasis
We take the old national road and we head towards Akrata. At the traffic lights the sign shows 40 km to Zarouchla. So, we turn right and start the ascend. The car devours the kilometers of the snaking uphill road above Akrata, overlooking the Corinthian Gulf and in the background, the Mainland of Greece. The sea is totally calm. The numerous lanterns from the boats of the ambitious fishermen, decorate the calm waters in the night. And as we continue to ascend the hill, the thermometer follows a reverse course. 15 km before Zarouchla the temperature outside has reached the 22-degree mark! We do not need the technology any more, nature has done its miracle. So, we turn off the air conditioning of the car and open the windows!
The dew, the smells and the sounds of the mountain, are a godsend gift. We see at our right the sign which shows the way to Lake Tsivlou and 5 km before Zarouchla we turn right for Solo. The little village sleeps. We continue straight to Golfos Fountain and we follow the sign to the Kastraki area. The hum of the river, which comes more and more intense to our ears, signals that we are very close to our destination. We stop at its shore, because the water level does not allow the crossing with the car. With a 4x4 of course, we could easily cross it and reach the camp site on the other side.
Camping on heroic ground
In the dark, from the small plateau we hear happy voices, while we see moving lights approaching us. The group that has camped the day before, come to help us with our stuff. After the warm welcome, we take the necessary things on hand and stepping carefully on the stones that protrude from the waters, we pass the river the level of which is quite low. In the campground, there is a monument to remind us of the heroic battle in Kastraki. In the spring of 1826, at this fortified place, Soliotis, the pride of Solo, took cover with his few lads to confront Ibrahim. Although they fought with abnegation, the Egyptians prevailed, while the surviving Greek civilians resorted to the steep slopes of Helmos to be saved. 1,000 Greeks died and 200 were captured.
This heroic place will host us again this year as well as every year in this time of season. Our own lads undertake the setting up of our tent with the help of the light of our torches. The others have been gathered around the small camping table, where little Evelina, only 2.5 years old, has attracted attention with her questions, as the whole experience is unprecedented for her. The atmosphere is dominated by the distinctive smell of tea, indicating the upcoming morning activity... ascent to the slopes of Helmos for gathering tea. The harvest for the winter.
After setting up the tent, we sit down and start planning the route to the legendary place of the Styx`s Waters. The 3 hours of ascent and 3 hours of descent require an early awakening. So, we go to sleep in the cool atmosphere of the mountain, with the sound of the river`s waters as a lullaby and the feeling of the absolute satisfaction that we managed to escape from the summer`s heat.
Climbing under the shadows of the black pine and fir trees
Early morning lecture. We dress properly, wearing long-sleeved t-shirts- although in the heart of the summer - because of the coolness of the mountain, we eat breakfast, we pack the necessary stuff and we leave. Some decide to stay and enjoy the campsite by the river, or taking short tours to the nearby villages, or cycling on the forest roads. "Waters of Styx, Immortal Water", writes a sign nailed to the trunk of a tree in front of the camp site and shows us the start of the route. We cross the river vertically and with the guides and the coloured marks on the trees we start our journey. The uphill path at the beginning is easy, with the roots of the trees forming ornate steps.
The route under the shade of the black pine and tall firs is characterized by intense green and of course, plenty of oxygen. As we go up, on our left lies the complex of Helmos, a Slavic name, meaning "snowy mountain". The Aroania Mountains, (the Greek name of Helmos), form a petal around the valley of Krathi River, the waters of which, following a course from South to North, meet the sea of the Corinthian Gulf. Looking at the scenery around us, we imagine all those frightened people running away and trying to hide on the steep slopes of the mountain and the women who plunged into the abyss to escape the disgrace. These slopes are now traversing trails - among them the international E4 - for aspiring walkers and modern shelters, far away from the unhealthy city life.
Going further up
The fast and the experienced walkers of the team increase the speed. After about 20 minutes of climbing, we came to a glade. There, in the middle of the scents of the nature, which pleasantly irritate our smell, a new familiar one is suddenly added. That of the oregano. The leading ones have been picking the aromatic plant which gives flavour and seasons many Greek dishes, as they wait for the slower ones of the group. Then, we continue together the ascend, with the sun following its own route up to the summer sky.
At the beginning, everybody walks with a playful mood, teasing one another, while later, there is a complete silence, indicating that everyone has turned his attention to the path that becomes narrower and steeper. The camera is trying to capture the beauty of the landscape and its alternations. We reach a high point looking for Styx`s Waters. It is still far away. A brief stop for drinking water is considered necessary. Now we must walk a little downhill, on a narrow path on a steep slope. The mountaineering club however, has already installed a wire rope making the passage easier and more interesting.
The Adrenaline Rises
On the horizon, on the eastern side of the impressive Neraidorachi, one of the highest mountain peaks of Helmos, the river Mavroneri of Styx emerges, named after the black colour of the river`s waters (in Greek “Mavro Nero”), which falls vertically down from the steep cliff at a height of 2,100 m for almost 200 m. At the view of the waters which shimmer under the strong sun rays, we feel confidence that we are on the right path and we continue walking uphill, having completed about 2.5 hours of climbing. The toughest part of the route is close to our destination, as the loose rocks under our feet on the steep slope, make it difficult to climb. Hands are asked to help in this effort. For about 15 minutes, we keep our center of gravity low, while the adrenaline level rises! We try to spot the coloured markings on low stones to avoid losing the path. We hear the immortal waters more and more as we approach. Finally, the leader of the group gives the signal of the arrival and at the same time gives courage to those who follow.
When myths come alive
We stop a few meters below the base of the natural waterfall, at the place where the legendary waters, after an abrupt collapse, run calmly to meet Krathi River. We fill our empty bottles and drink plenty of water, defying Pausanias (a Greek traveller and geographer of the second century AD), who says that the waters of Styx are poisonous. Their victim was Alexander the Great, according to the great traveller. He claimed that glass, crystals and clay vases broke as they were plunged into the waters. Even metal, silver and gold, were altered (amber). Only the hooves of the horses withstood. That is why the gods drank the water in cups made of horse hoofs.
"Water is dripping over the cliff that the Greeks call Water of Styx. The water falls first on a high rock and from there it ends up on Krathi River. This water is deadly for humans and all animals..." Pausanias
We climb parallel to the waters to the base of the waterfall, where there is also a cave. In front of what we had done till now, this looks very easy. Inside the idyllic cave a loving couple exchanges vows of love. Obviously, they chose that place because according to mythology, the gods use to swear there, and this oath was very sacred for them. We return to the place where we sat and drunk water previously and we enjoy looking at this wonderful masterpiece of nature, this legendary waterfall. When the water burst down, a wet smoke rises, creating a mysterious atmosphere. The picture is unique. We throw cool water on us in the hope of making us immune and perhaps immortal, like Achilles' mother hoped when she plunged him into the waters of Styx.
- A nearby excursion to Lake Tsivlou at an altitude of 700 m for picnic and bicycle ride on the banks of the lake.
- Pilgrimage to the historic church of St. George in the village of Solo.
- A walk to the picturesque settlement of Zarouchla, where you will buy tea, beans and handmade spoon sweets. In addition to accommodation, you will find taverns with traditional dishes and cafes.
- Taste roasted trout in the village of Peristera next to Solo.
The picturesque settlement of Zarouchla.
Mythology has the first word
According to mythology, Styx was a river that passed through the Underworld. In its waters, the goddess Thetis, sank Achilles to become immortal. On its waters, the gods were taking their oaths and the perjurers waited for a terrible punishment. For Homer, Styx was the place where the shadows of the dead that did not enjoy the proper funeral values and the souls of those who had committed evil, are wandering. According to Hesiod, the goddess Styx together with her children supported Zeus in the war with the Titans, which is why he gave her the status of the greatest and indestructible oath of the gods and mortals.
Spa in the river
Little Evelina runs to anticipate her own experiences of nature. For the first time she sees frogs, gathers flowers and tries to catch colourful butterflies. Sweaty and exhausted we wear our bathing suits, we grab our towels and rush to the river, looking for deep water ponds, which are formed every year in different places and in a different shape. In these natural swimming pools, the relaxation we feel from the cold water is relieving. It is everything we need to renew us after more than five and something hours. It`s the best spa ever!
The cool watermelon that we had left in the cool waters of the river last night, misleads for a short while our hungry stomach that continues to complain, because the climb from 1,100 m to 1,900 m made us very hungry. We pack our tents, we load the bags in the cars and we head to Solo, where a unique culinary experience awaits us. We take our seats in a village tavern and delicious chopsticks on the grill and fresh beans of Helmos are served among other delicacies. Like the bread, freshly baked in the wood oven by the hands of the owner.
Στο χωριό Σόλος.
Here, at the small tavern, we renew the appointment at Helmos's hospitable slopes for the next summer, as every year, and we take the way back with our batteries loaded, full of oxygen and good mood, valuable gifts that the contact with nature gives generously.
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