By Emely Nieto
As the houses grew bigger and the water lightened to a teal shade, our plane approached Chios Island. The transparent turquoise of the water, the sparse vegetation and warm toned buildings immediately contrasted with Athens, which is some distance from the sea and full of pale-toned and often tall buildings surrounded by lots of trees. As I stepped out of the plane, which was the kind you climb into from the asphalt and not through a jetway, the breeze and the scent of the ocean welcomed me.
It felt like a welcome back though I had never been here before. Unlike the intense and unforgiving heat of Athens, the fresh wind on the island concealed its warmth, making the weather more bearable. As we walked along the coast, small fish swam parallel to us as if showing us around. I was overwhelmed with the excitement of a brand new place. While Athens was large, bustling and overwhelming from the first moment, Chios Island introduced itself as tranquil.
In the afternoon, we walked past shops along Chios Town’s boardwalk type atmosphere near the marina. It was nowhere near as crowded and complex as the streets in Plaka, Monastiraki or other Athens neighborhoods.
These streets were calm and people seemed to be more relaxed, reminding me of walks through the Puerto Nuevo boardwalk in Baja. I almost expected a “Pásele, pásele” as customers and store owners watched the tourist mob that now filled their sidewalks. As our guide Danai (from Alios Travel on Chios Island) walked us past the shops, the fresh baked goods and wood baked pizza could be smelled from miles away. The warmness stirred my stomach and my mouth watered. Thankfully, she surprised us with a stop at Kronos, the first ice cream shop established in Chios.
The fresh mastic ice cream sample cooled my mouth. I had tried mastic ice cream in Athens but this ice cream took the win. I leaned on a fig tree, its shade protecting me from the heat. It reminded me of the big fig tree outside of my grandparent’s house. A kind woman offered us sun dried figs stuffed with almonds, a typical treat here in Chios. The sweet nectar took me back to those days where I’d enjoy figs with my grandpa as he exaggerated another one of his stories. Chios felt so familiar. It felt like home. Like Imperial Beach. Like Tijuana. The beautiful sunset however was not visible from the angle of Chios Town. In the late afternoon, the sun conceals itself behind the mountains and all you see is the sky slowly shifting from warm to cool tones.
Exploring the Chios Castle (also called the fortress) was astonishing. Danai narrated stories of the Ottoman invasion and occupation (including the massacre of the people Chios Greeks in 1822) and the significant damage caused by the massive earthquake in 1891. I could imagine what life here was like hundreds of years ago. The path we walked into the fortress was once surrounded by water, an ingenuous use of mother nature as defense. Walking through the castle’s inner courtyards was so easy for us, yet years ago in the same location, people died trying to even get past the entrance. The scent of chamomile surrounded us and mosquito crowds attacked us as we peered over the fortress walls near the sea. Athens and Chios both have such rich histories dating back thousands of years. It’s amazing to walk past monuments that were once so different and so important in history.
After a long sunny day, I walked back to the hotel and stepped outside to admire the view from my balcony. The wind welcomed me with a fresh breeze and the sailboats waved goodnight. Chios felt completely different from Athens, and much more like home.