Samos, Greece
December 20, 2023

Megalo Seitani

Jesse recounts the time he hiked to Satan's beach on the remote north side of the island of Samos.

Megalo Seitani
Jesse Blackwood

A shot rang out to my right, then reverberated immediately to my left. I looked into the woods, wondering momentarily if someone was shooting in my direction. I was exploring a new trail on the Greek island of Samos, just off the coast of Turkey. I had driven to the far end of the island, past a horse standing in the middle of road who had carefully observed me, seeming to wonder what a car was doing in that place, before I had arrived at the actual end of the road, at a little town called Drakei, the dragons’ town, and using my limited survival Greek had managed to ask directions to the ‘paralia Megalo Seitani,’ to Big Satan’s beach.

I knew that walking alone in August, on a morning with a heat warning, on a path that zigzagged down the cliffside was perhaps not something I would recommend to others, but that was partly why I wanted to do it, to know if I could recommend it. And, because I love walking alone. I love the gradual transition when my mental ‘to do’ lists are quieted, when I begin to notice the exuberance of nature and feel that my footsteps grow attuned to the slow progress of the horizon. But I hadn’t expected to hear gunshots. Hunting season was not due to start for a couple more months. And I morbidly reflected that my concerns about the heat or getting lost on an unknown path without cell service would not be helped by the extra bottle of water I had tossed in my backpack or the full battery on my phone if someone shot me accidentally.

I kept walking. Another shot rang out to my right then reverberated again through the mountains. I guessed that a local was probably hunting wild boar and I decided not to worry about it.

The sun was still low enough that I was walking in the morning shade. And the path, if I was on the right one, was making a wide arc towards the mountains before, I hoped, turning back to the sea.

I was sure that I had followed the first part of the directions correctly. I hesitated momentarily, recalling the first steps of my morning journey.

In Drakei there were signs that confirmed the directions in Greek I had only poorly understood. These had led through the narrow streets of town, too narrow for any car, and more sparsely populated than it had once been, as indicated by the collapsed roofs of several houses. But abundant fruit trees indicated a once thriving town. I had popped a few plums into my mouth, discarded the peaches which turned out to be wormy, snacked on a cluster of grapes, and finished my breakfast with a few figs, all before leaving the confines of town. Next, I had passed the centuries-old stone wash house, built exactly at the site of the spring, and sitting under the shade of several massive plain trees. I had guessed that the water here was pure and drinkable but decided not to risk it till after my hike.

Then a half a kilometer later I had come to a fork in the path, one way led down and towards the sea, and the other uphill on a wide arc which seemed to point in the direction of Satan’s beach.

Now I stood wondering if I had taken a wrong turn or if the gunshots were reason enough to turn back. But I decided to keep walking and like most decisions to go forward, rather than backward, was soon rewarded for it. A moment later the path turned back towards the sea. I heard the musical jangle of bells and glanced up to see a small herd of goats, grazing between the trees. Then, coming over the summit, I suddenly stood at a high perspective overlooking the familiar sea.

Unlike the Cinque Terre or the Amalfi Coast in Italy, much of the coastline of the Greek islands is undeveloped. And as I examined the wide expanse of horizon and sea, not a single building or human development showed itself. I stopped to take a drink from my water bottle and considered that the coastline I was admiring was probably mostly unchanged from days Pythagoras lived in Samos some twenty-six hundred years earlier. It was certainly not much less remote than during the days when Megalo Seitani had gotten its name from its association with the pirates who visited the area and likewise caused the inhabitants to assume the name drakei or dragons for their isolated ways and distance from others.

It was hardly nine-thirty in the morning, and I decided that the more appropriate reason for these names was the August sun which was causing me to sweat even when I wasn’t moving. I knew the return journey would be worse and decided to carry on. 

I’d left a group of American students back in Limnionas Bay where they had their classes. They had come to Samos as the first part of a year-long master’s program dedicated to philosophy, the humanities, and the study of Greek, and it was my job to help them experience the concrete life of those abstract realities. Years of traveling with groups has taught me that beauty is one of the great teachers, and a hike, like the one I was on, might help the students to feel that they were actually living the beauty they were spending so much energy trying to understand.

For the next three kilometers I followed the unmarked path through alternating areas of thick forest, barren rocky terrain, and spectacular vistas of the Aegean. Wild sage, which makes my favorite Greek tea, grew abundantly, but like much of the Greek landscape, the path was a rugged one, with occasional loose gravel, brambles, dense brush, and signs that this path was also used by goats and deer.

The recurrent question in the back of my mind as I descended towards what I knew was considered the most beautiful beach on Samos, was whether this hike might be well suited to the students. Ever since I stopped working in commercial tourism I discovered that the hardest thing when developing new itineraries or exploring possible activities is finding the right balance between the real, the authentic, the feeling of discovering-something-new, and finding a way of keeping things predictable and practical for travelers of different backgrounds and dispositions. I knew that my own level of fitness was towards the lower end with respect to the students. But still, the risk of vipers, tripping, or the August sun couldn’t easily be forgotten.

During the entire hour or so descent, I didn’t encounter another person on the trail. In classic Greek style, the only other human I saw was a fisherman steering his boat alongside the rocky coastline. And as I neared the beach, a single off-grid home with a barking dog reminded me that I was still in the twenty-first century.

Crossing the threshold between the tall pine trees and the tufts of beach grass was an experience well worth the hike. In the space of a few meters the surrounding mountains created a perspective between their own immense grandeur and their gradual approach to the wide flat sea. Marked by a narrow, white sand beach I could easily see why Megalo Seitani was considered the most beautiful on the island. Like a painting of Leonardo DaVinci, standing on the white corridor of sand seemed to draw one into the sense of a vanishing perspective between the mountains and the sea.

I dropped my backpack at the foot of a tree that had probably been washed ashore by one of the winter storms that preserved the beach’s name, then changed into my swimsuit and plunged into the water. After a few strokes admiring the sea floor, I rolled over and floated, letting the cool water seep into my limbs and enjoying the beautiful view.

A fisherman entered the cove with a small group of beach-goers and unloaded them at a small, make-shift pier. Somewhat enviously I watched the boat glide back out to sea. I had already asked every company if there was a boat that would bring thirty students and professors here, but there was not. Almost reluctantly, I had to admit that the lack of infrastructure and mass tourism on the island was one of the things that preserved its beauty.

Knowing the day was only going to get hotter and that I had the more difficult return journey ahead of me I swam back to shore, finished a bottle of water, and put my clothes back on without drying off.

Within just two or three minutes of walking, the coolness of my swim felt like a distant memory. Within ten minutes of hiking back up the cliffside I was already sweating profusely. I walked slowly, taking regular breaks, and rationed my remaining two liters of water. The question I had come to answer, whether this was an experience I could share with the students, seemed to find its answer in every challenging, upward step. I had brought four liters of water for the day, thinking that would be plenty and I realized it was the bare minimum. The return hike was not less beautiful than the descent had been, but it took me double the time and I couldn’t deny feeling (and not for the first time) that the most beautiful and unique experiences are often the most difficult to share. I reached the summit where the goats were still grazing in the trees. They seemed unbothered by the heat. A couple of shepherds had come to bring them a supply of fresh hay. A short while later I stopped momentarily at the old wash house, standing in the shade of the massive plain trees, wondering if the water from the spring would be safe to drink.

Jesse Blackwood

Jesse is a writer, tour guide, and teacher at heart. With nearly a decade of experience leading groups around Europe, Jesse’s love for exploring and sharing the beauty of the world is contagious.