Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Mastic Villages of Chios

Of all the islands, Chios was my other favorite (along with colorful Symi). We saw the beautiful parts of Chios, though learned later that on the day we had arrived, three boats of Syrian refugees had arrived too (Chios being just 11 km from Turkey), which is really heartbreaking. There was so much frustration apparently over dwindling food supplies and no clear path forward for assimilation that one of the refugees set fire to a refugee camp the day after we had left. We had no idea of the camps, being insulated inside the island in these charming villages.
Chios is known for two things: 1) it's the nautical training center of Greece, its hills dotted with captains' mansions, and 2) it's the only place in the world that produces mastic.
We visited a mastic grove, where the mastic is produced and gathered. Though these trees can grow elsewhere, this is the only island on the planet with conditions that allow the tree to produce mastic. It's somewhat of a mystery why.
 They call these the "bleeding trees," because when they're cut just right along the bark, they ooze out this clear substance that congeals into small piles on the ground - mastic. This rare substance is medicinal and also used to make forms of alcohol, candy, and most famously, Turkish delight. (We sampled all forms throughout the trip - the mastic/lime/mint cocktail was killer, and the kids opted, of course, for the Turkish delights, which lived up to their name.)
 Look closely, and you'll glimpse a tiny drop of fresh mastic hanging off the bark, and the white crystallized mastic along the slits.
 We visited two Mastic Villages, both with their own unique charms. The first was Mesta, a fort-like medieval village tucked away among the hills, far from the view of pirates. It was designed like a labyrinthine maze of stone, most streets leading to a dead-end in case of invaders. It felt more like the tucked away villages I'd stumbled upon in Umbria, Italy than Greece. Idyllic as a storybook!

This little bouquet!

 The next Mastic Village we visited was Pyrgi, decorated with these exquisite tessellations of dark concrete. No other place like it in the world.
 The art is simple, bold and creates a stunning effect. I wonder how places and cultures adopt their own unique identity, like this. It had to start with one crazy cool person. :)

 It was a quiet, peaceful village. And the locals were close, all huddled outside cafes, laughing and gossiping (I imagine - it was Greek to me!).

 Another cat!

Lemon trees, creeping blossoms, grapevines everywhere. Charming, charming Chios!

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