Each tourist attraction becomes a cultural experience. We visit Theoskepasti — a tiny chapel tucked beneath a gigantic granite ledge. It’s decorated with icons and oil lamps, and houses the skulls and bones of old monks. We sit at a long wooden table under the pine trees while the elderly caretaker serves us Greek coffee and freshly made loukoumades — hot dough balls sprinkled with cinnamon and drizzled with honey. The young couple at the other end of the table shift down and strike up a conversation. They tell us that in ancient Greece, loukoumades were served to the winning athletes as “honey tokens.” They speak slowly and don’t seem to mind my limited Greek.
Ikaria may not be bursting with classical ruins, but it’s a walker’s paradise of hills, forests, gullies and gorges. Starting out on the Plateau of Raches about 1,640 feet above sea level, my classmates and I follow a dirt path toward Armenistis, a quiet fishing village west of Evdilos. Every step brings a dramatic change of scene — abandoned stone houses hidden among pine trees, followed by terraced mountainsides and then desertlike cacti and lunar landscapes. We stop at a gushing waterfall to rest and snack on local almonds and apricots. We end up at Livadi, one of the island’s most beautiful beaches, for a dip in crystal-clear waters.