There is a long queue to reserve the boat to Mont Athos. I go and get the authorization to enter at the next building. “Religion?”, “Without”, I feel almost ashamed of saying it. This authorization allows me to visit Mont Athos during 4 consecutive days. It will be a next time that I’ll stay that long.
I buy a feta pastry for breakfast and some other pastries for the hike and add-ons to the small meals said to be given at the monasteries. It is not more possible to reserve anymore the boat, I should go directly to the port, they inform me. The Greek coast guard verifies the authorization and passport before allowing to get into the boat. Only men and lot of luggage. Several handcrafters commute to work.
At Dafne port most people get out. Others did already get out and some go further to stops on monasteries next to the sea. I go directly to the van which takes me to Karyes, the center of the peninsula. The road is steep, concrete and later dirt. I see we are not on the main road anymore, which has construction works going on.
Karyes is a small village, with cafe, supermarket, restaurant, hospital. There are some monks dressed in black, but most of the people (here said ‘men’) are either workers or pilgrims with not so practical luggage. I saw only one “tourist” equipped like to for a hike.
The expectation and surprise have disappeared. Mont Athos is like any other valley or small region with houses, roads and so on. The difference is that there are many monasteries and there are only men, some cats and some dogs.
I follow the planned stone path, very slippery, often with thin pipes on the side taking water to the houses.
On the way man hear always cars, the dirt roads are never far. Later a jeep passes by and proposes to give me a ride, which I nicely refuse. After an hour I arrive at the Prophete Elias Skete. People are talking around a table. A monk stands up and I say I would like to visit the church. He opens the door, and the amount of gold elements surprises me. It is quite rich. It was founded a little more than 100 years ago by Ukrainians and Russians, explains me. He is my age and is called something like Filipos. Then he offers me the typical gift: a sweet and glass of alcohol. Other people arrive and he left me tasting the gift on the monastery’ patio with view to the sea.
I arrive to Bogoroditsa Skete. Everything is closed and a big silence. On a door something in Greek is written with a phone number. I hoped to be welcomed like on the first Skete. Instead I appreciate the silence and write these lines.
I’m at Vatopodi Monastery. This last part of the way was not easy, part of it was not cared of and I got scratched all over to make my way.
At the entrance of the Monastery a monk points me to the guest house. There are already some people seated around tables. Another monk invites me to seat and brings me water, sweet cubes and glass of alcohol. He explains me the day: mess at 16h, then dinner, then free. Mess again at 4h in the morning, and “lunch” at 9h. He tells me where my room is and remains with the other people.
There are 6 beds in a small room. I choose a free one. One needs to finish to prepare the bed, only the lower sheet is installed. The top sheet and blanket are folded. I see a shower and profit to wash myself. On the 15km hike I sweat quite a lot.
Mess. I get into the church and don’t understand anything. There is construction going on and scaffolding inside. The pillars of the church make it look like a labyrinth. The men go to each figure and venerate and kiss the glass that protects them. The monks read and sing, everything in Greek. On the first half I’m seated, but after is standing and I’m not used to stay at the same quiet position so long. My foot hurts from twisting it during the hike.
We go to the refectory. I read there is not so much food and there is short time to eat, one should be fast. It is vegetarian – rice with raisins and spinach, olives, salad, fruit and biscuits. There is a lot to eat and they keep serving. Everyone has time to eat and also finish their glass of wine.
Each monk looks for a group of men who speak the same language. No one takes me until a monk with a Italian group asks me why I’m still alone. He looks for the monk who speaks English, who was already inside the church. This is an Australian monk that explains the history and miracles of Vatopedi Monastery. The treasures that they keep – part of the cross of Christ, the ear of a Saint, the crane of another. We are two listeners: me and a Serbian that found Orthodox Christianism recently and wants to become a monk. From hearing him speaking, I see that is looks to solve other problems he has with himself and the mother of his daughter. The monk knowing that I’m not believer, tries to convince me that there is always a beginning and that beginning needs to be a person. He offer us two gifts from the monastery that should help a person to heal in hard times.
I’m in the room writing and the Serbian speaks with a Romanian in English about his problems and how he looks for a solution in the church. Meanwhile the timetable changed, and there is a special service to Nectarius at 21:00, which might last three hours and the morning service will be at 7:00.
At the church I look soon for a seat, to I can rest time to time. They are limited number. As the service starts I see there is much less man as before. Also some leave after some minutes. I stand and go the front part, where I can see the monks and priest reading and singing. At 21:40 I follow some other people and leave. I stay for a while alone in the patio, looking the moon and clouds. Something that I believe. The service is interesting, but I do not feel staying longer than some believers here do.
I come back to the guest house and in the bathroom one men listens to some podcast in German while shaving. The church bell rings 4 times. It is 22:00, hour 4 of the Byzantine time.