In late November (2017) Katerina and the Greece Has Soul team hatched a plan to go to VIKOS GORGE to perform an aerial dance. It would be the result of a wish of Katerina’s – broadcast on live television earlier that autumn. Turns out the people from the Zagori Excellence Network (ZEN) had their eyes peeled when Katerina made the announcement. So they called us in.
We left Athens with Katerina Soldatou and Andonis Kitsikis one Tuesday morning and sped along the brand new roads leading us West to Patra, over the Rio Antirrio Bridge and North along the Ionia Odos to Ioannina. The ride was smooth and easy but expensive. I think we racked up about 60 euros in tolls including the €13 bridge toll, before reaching Ioannina. But time was of the essence…
We headed North-West from Ioannina to the Aristi Mountain Resort where we met the rest of the crew – Vassilis (Billy) Theodorou (Rigger), Spiros Badios (Production Director) – MANIC SIDE, Costas Zissis (Local Photographer) and Dimitris Maziotis (ZEN Representative). ZEN is a pretty cool organisation – a network of sustainable businesses in the general Zagori area, including activities like mushroom guiding, hiking, tours and of course great food. So when Katerina mentioned we were interested in promoting opposition to the proposed oil drilling in the area, they jumped on board and gave us the green light to put it on the table. After a decent meal and a couple glasses of Tsipouro it was off to charge our batteries for the next day.
When we arrived at the spot in the morning the setting was peaceful and quiet. The Gorge itself is the deepest in the world, YES – THE DEEPEST IN THE WORLD – and it’s in Northern Epirus. We got to work immediately hoping to get the dance finished the same day. Billy was the main rigger, with help from Spiro Badio. Andoni and Costa were taking photos which left me with the responsibility to film and eat snacks.
The dynamics of the weather here are something we couldn’t have accounted for really. Basically the gorge acts as a funnel, sending northerly winds heaving down its narrow passages, creating intense anabatic winds all along the upper walls. We only realised what this meant when Katerina finally got out onto the line. Hanging there, more than 800m above the ground, the winds were literally taking control of the fabric, launching it up over her head, and all the way up onto the top of the cliffs. It was scary, and dangerous, so we pulled the plug and decided to sit on it for a day.
The sun was on it’s way down, I grabbed my skateboard and went ahead of the convoy down the hill. Spiro hit the same run the following day on a longboard and a freeboard. Freeboards are these crazy mix of snowboarding and skateboarding, with a center wheel underneath each wheelbase. Super stylish when you get it right, and super silly looking when you get it wrong. Not for me to say though. My skating was conservative and boring, but the cold wind on my face felt great so I don’t care.
That evening we stopped at Kanella & Garifallo, a mushroom specialty boutique restaurant owned by Vasili Katsoupas, also the President of ZEN. He had been on site with us all day too, but none of us realised he was also the owner and head chef of this epic little gem. The risotto was amazing, and the steak was also apparently a winner (sorry I never tried it – I wasn’t eating meat that day). Make sure to check it out on facebook by clicking here
The next day we got up to the spot early. It was quiet again. No wind. A little chilly but not cold. We put “Territory – Blaze” and “Jamie XX – Gosh” on the car speakers while we prepared all the gear. Katerina got kitted up, we all said our ok’s, and started working. I found myself a little spot to film, hanging off a rock balcony, attached to a tree, with a view if Katerina and a triangle of sunlight on the canyon walls behind her.
It was really cool to watch. She was dancing, moving, trying to navigate the fabric and her safety line simultaneously, making the heavy strands look light and easy to handle. She danced for about 40 minutes, and everyone was quiet and just watched. We had some visitors too, some French tourists who were pretty blown away at this find they made on their Greece trip.
Once Katerina called it, she made her way back to the near edge, where she was helped back up by Billy and Spiro. We all hugged. It was a good moment. And it was still warm and early. We headed down to Konitsa to check out the famous stone bridge there. Built in 1870, the bridge is a symbolic landmark in the region. Katerina had this crazy look in her eye, like a minx, looking up and down the shaded facade of the stone bridge. It was round 2.
We had a day left and Billy was keen to do a base jump. He had already scoped out the spot he wanted to jump from, and after enlisting Costa and Vassili to drive us into the upper plateau, it looked like it might just happen after all. A good two hours into hiking and we reached the edge of the gorge. The most interesting rock formations populated the landscape, like something out of a sci fi movie, with layers of stacked rocks just kind of plopped around everywhere.
The spot was a perfect little launch balcony over about 400 meters of sheer cliff. A bunch of trees gave us good anchors to secure ourselves from. Spiro and I got working on filming the jump while Billy made his last preparations and rituals. He almost tripped in his own harness at one point, on the edge, without a safety line. Not stressful at all.
Before jumping Billy called his girlfriend for a quick chat. He was standing on the edge, looking down, through the gorge, totally focussed. It was really touching. Antonis in the meantime had edged out onto a precipice next to the big tree, for a better view of the jump. Billy had asked us for silence before he jumped. He was going to count down from 15. The drone was in the air but not too close and loud. everyone else was quiet.
15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5… silence
He jumps. Still silence. He opens his chute, steers away from the rock wall, and there’s this big gasp let out by everyone left up on the rock. You just felt this huge release, a relief just takes over your whole body, like you’d been holding your breath for ten minutes and just took your first breath. Truly Awesome!
and Greece Has Soul online at: https://greece-has-soul.com/
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