Our legs brush the plants as we approach the crag and sage smell surrounds. We seek shade. Humidity pulls forth sweat, though a breeze has us talking of ideal conditions once we've escaped the sun. It's about eight, maybe nine in the morning. The hill levels out and the Aegean Sea appears, an impossible blue, the sky envious of its beauty. We pass baaing goats eyeing us through slits. We're careful not to step in their absurd amount of poop. Around a bend and the Secret Garden wall juts out from the hill as an imposing limestone cliff overlooking the waters.
I tie in for an area classic, Frapogalo, and thug my way up the juggy, slightly overhanging climb. Halfway up I wrap my legs around a stalactite and shake out the pump. I find this to be the pace of the climbing here: power your way through relatively good holds on steep rock, then milk the rests, which usually involves straddling a stalactite or threading your arms through a hole in the rock.
My first couple of days I felt awkward, unsure of the heat after climbing in winter, unsure of the humidity coming from the West. And then there was the whole overhanging thing. A far stretch from the vertical limestone of home, the caves of Kalymnos throw you into a 3-dimensional field of climbing where your next hold might be behind you. But there are plenty of climbs that offer Kalymnos Climbing 101 lessons, and after a few days out I grew more comfortable on the rock and began pursuing the long routes that bring climbers from all over the world to this Greek island near the coast of Turkey.
After climbing we vroom-vroom back to the small town of Massouri on our mopeds. Beers, cocktails, and iced coffees await at a favorite hangout, The Snack Bar. Eighties style upholstery decorates the patio chairs while bees buzz in the ceiling of intertwining grape vines. I'll order fruit with yogurt and Kalymnos thyme honey or a giant tuna salad, and it'll cost about five euros. It may be a thousand dollars to fly to Greece from the States, but you'll probably spend less on food here than you do at home. And the food! We gorged.
One day we take a ferry over to Telendos. After being dropped off on a rocky shore a kilometer or two away from the village, we hike up to Eros, a large, amphitheater-like cliff. The climbs are just as solid and fun as the routes on Kalymnos, but it feels more remote. Telendos reminds me experiencing this place is more than just climbing. It's about the teal waters lapping the shore, the quiet laced with a moped's echo, buzzing bees, laughter.
One way I could summarize our time in Kalymnos: a life-affirming escapade, from cappuccinos to the crag, trying hard climbing to skinny dipping in the sea. We are already scheming on when to return. There's enough climbing to seemingly last a lifetime there, and I miss the Greeks' easygoing lifestyle, their generosity and good nature. Oh, and their delicious food.
Yes Please? Top Five Places to Feast
1. Azul Wine Bar: Inexpensive but delicious beef or bean burgers and chicken sandwiches, the best mojito I've ever had, and a curated selection of wine made this little escape off the main road an instant favorite. Azul's view and ambiance is on point as well.
2. Safrano Cafe: Best. Coffee. Ever. There's also the fresh juices, giant omelets, and choices like the Fitness Breakfast for healthy starts to the day. Again, the view didn't suck, and the waitstaff felt more like friends than strangers by the end of our time there.
3. Aegean Tavern: This sexy little restaurant is a great place for a date night, celebration, or fancy food fix. A little more expensive than other places, (8-15 euro a plate), the menu offers everything from fried squid to fresh salad, vegetarian platters to ribs in creamy butter sauce. The tuna steak with fig paste and tahini, served with sautéed beet greens, was a steal for 11 euro. And if you're a gluten eater, you'll probably be as happy as my companions were when the complimentary deep-fried doughballs drenched in honey rolled out after the meal. I recommend making dinner reservations ahead of time; you can reserve particular tables, including the ones with the best vistas.
4. Prego: How many ginormous salads were consumed between ten of us? Or two of us, for that matter? If you're craving greens, this restaurant offers the biggest salad I've ever had the pleasure of eating. Served with local cheeses, sundried tomatoes, and walnuts, Prego's namesake salad proves salads can, in fact, serve as a main course.
5. Fatolitis Snack Bar: This is where we'd go after climbing most days for Mythos from a frosty keg or a frothy iced coffee. They also have a GIANT English breakfast for a rest day meal, and the honey that comes with yogurt and fruit is liquid gold.
Top Ten Favorite Climbs
Kalynikhla (6b) at Kalydna: Fun, hip twisting moves up blobby holds.
Mythos (6b+) at the Odyssey: I don't usually like crimpy slab, but the top of this climb proved to be interesting - and airy!
Ricounet (7a) at the Secret Garden: Pumpy and unique climbing up fins. A novel experience.
Island in the Sun (7a+) and Lucky Strike (7b) at the Odyssey: I don't think these climbs get as much traffic as Daphni, another 12 classic in the area. Although I enjoyed Daphni, I thought the tufa navigating and powerful sequences in these climbs were some of the best in Kalymnos. All three of the climbs share something in common: cruxes at the top. Oy!
Morgan (7b+) and Armata Sikati (7b) at the Sikati Cave: Although it is a bit of a haul to the Sikati Cave, it is WELL WORTH the effort to get there. The Sikati Cave is a giant hole in the ground you must climb or rappel down to enter. For me, Morgan was the quintessential Kalymnos climb: very overhung and riddled with stalactites. And as the guidebook says, it doesn't get much better than Armata Sikati. A secluded beach offers post-climbing swimming in the salty, tepid waters of the Aegean Sea.
The Craic (7b+) at the Ivory Tower: Technical crux at the bottom to a powerful midsection to a cruiser crack - this climb offers diverse movement. Sidewinder (6c+) is also a fun climb in the area.
Super Carpe Diem (7b+) at Panorama: Tricky moves through overhanging terrain; the bolting is a little spacey, making for big falls into air.
Odontogerphida (7c) at the Local Freezer: If you need a break from overhung tufa pulling, this climb and its neighbors offer more vertical, techtastic classics.