Every Friday, my little sister Lisa takes over the blog to share a tale from her travels and this week is all about the Chios Rocket War, an event held during Easter in Greece…so without further ado.
After an eventful 45 minute flight sitting too close for comfort to the propeller of my very small plane I had made it to Greece’s fifth largest island, 7km from Turkey, Chios. And what you may ask was I doing on a Greek island during Easter….it was time for a Rocket War!
I was met outside the ‘airport’ by Markella from Hotel Agia Markella where I would be staying over the weekends festivities, and taken on a tiki tour of the sights I should visit while in Chios and a drive along the road between the two churches in this war, Agios Markos and Erithiani, so I could get my bearings for the next day. The hotel was otherwise occupied with media from across the globe including a couple of guys all the way from Brazil to cover the war.
That evening I went for a walk toward Panagia Erithiani and decided Vrontados would make the perfect setting for a murder mystery. The proximity to Turkey, the stillness of the streets, the early April chill to the night air, the sounds of priests chanting coming from the churches, rockets being tested, and the procession of Christ’s body had just been made so flowers could be seen all along the road. I was in full Agatha Christie mode.
Once back in my room I finally drifted off to the sound of rockets below my balcony, thank god I come from South Auckland or it could have bothered me, only the sound of a police siren could have made me feel more at home.
It was the day of the showdown and the heavens had opened. I had unfortunately decided to walk to the main town of Chios and by the time I had returned to the hotel my Alannah Hill wool coat smelt like a dog, my converse sneakers didn’t squeak so much as squelch and I looked like a drowned rat.
One thing I had heard about before I came was a parade that was usually done through Vrontados before the war begins, but with the rain no one wanted to come out. Then at 5pm the sun came out and Markella rang to tell me the parade was on and I could still make it if I left then. Well like a woman on a mission I was gone, camera in hand to find me some rocketeers.
Within a couple of minutes I could hear the horns tooting and engines revving, something I had come to learn meant the arrival of the combatants. Standing on the edge of the crossroads I watched as one of the groups paused in front of me with trucks and vans loaded full of rockets, some say 50,000 are fired during the night and all are home made. With a little Greek road rage, because of the road closures, they were off again and I began the walk further up the hill toward Panagia Erithiani with a smile on my dial, only to be met by another group, this one though with a megaphone, and they were not afraid to use it.
It was then a slow walk back to my hotel taking in the wire meshing that had been put up throughout the surrounding houses to stop the rockets going through windows and the such. Whole sides of Panagia Erithiani were also covered in mesh to protect the parishioners who would be attending the midnight service, as I later would see them dashing around the courtyard between rocket volleys.
Luckily there was a free bus up to a higher viewpoint in the town to watch the festivities unfold. With coat and scarf I was off, once on the hill it was time to decide on the best viewpoint and after a few changes I was settled for the evening. After a practical lesson in crackers and how close they could get before blowing your hearing, the rockets began to fly.
No words or pictures can fully describe the experience, it is something you definitely have to see for yourself. It is the noise of horns and sirens going off to warn of an impending barrage, the excitement of watching the sky for wayward rockets and clearing out of the way when they are heading for you. Smoke from the rockets would drift across the valley and obscure Agios Markos from view, even though it was metres away. Kids cheered as the combatants from their church doused the opposing church in rockets, it was definitely a festive mood in Vrontados.
At 10.30pm there was a half hour ceasefire for more people to go to the churches and the roads that had been closed to momentarily open to let traffic move around, and it was time for me to catch the bus back down the hill. After picking up my gloves at my hotel I walked to Panagia Erithiani, which was closest to me, for the midnight firework show.
When my alarm went off at 6.30am the next morning I was up and threw on some clothes to check out the damage. The closer I got to the church the more rockets I saw lying on the road or sticking out of the wire mesh surrounding the houses. Once at Panagia Erithiani I found a few old men inside the courtyard cleaning up. I was let in and began to survey the scene for myself, along the side of the church that faced the valley was a pile of rockets that were past my ankles, making walking close to impossible.
I quickly made my way to Agios Markos before any more evidence of the night before was cleared away to find evidence of a direct hit in the clock tower. The courtyard may not have been as littered, but the bullseye was proof to me who won that night.