The other day I went on a terrific day trip to two remote, uninhabited islands off of the east coast of Naxos. They’re collectively 2 of 3 islands that form the Makares cluster. In days of yore, they were rumored to be the back door to Hades. I’m still trying to track down more information on exactly what gave them that reputation, but here’s the best explanation I’ve heard so far: The three islands have beautiful, steep sloping cliff faces and are home to large colonies of yellow legged gulls. When the gulls are crying, the shouts echo off the cliff walls and are reminiscent of doomed souls, trapped in the underworld. It’s a pretty evocative backdrop for, as you will see, a gorgeous setting.
I visited two islands, you can explore them in the map above, named “Agios Nikolaos” and “Agios Paraskevi.”
Our boat ride to the islands was slow but uneventful. Luckily the seas were considerably calmer than they often are this time of the year. The putt-putt of our little boat was the only limiting factor. Still, we covered the distance between Moutsouna and Nikolaos in an easy half-hour. After that, it was full-throttle lizard catching. The lizards on these islands were extremely enthusiastic about the mealworms we’d brought and so, though they were a bit difficult to find in the dense underbrush, once we’d introduced them to the wriggly packets of protein, they leapt on our fishing rods and were an easy lift and drop into our buckets.
The lizards in Makares are unlike any that I’d seen here in Greece. There’s talk of a separate subspecies. Those distinctions often come down to subtle differences, but there’s no denying, these lizards are different and really breathtaking. Here are a few pictures of the “red morph” found only in Makares, and almost entirely on Nikolaos.
We don’t yet know anything about these red-bellied Podarcis erhardii, but there’s definitely something going on with them. I’ve my fingers crossed that someone’s going to come through one of these labs and sort out exactly what all of this color variability means!
While the Makares islands my have a bad wrap in antiquity, they sure are stunning. Here are a few panoramas I snapped with my telephone just as I was walking around looking for lizards.
(click, and zoom in on the panoramas for more detail!)
I think of all of the lizards I’ve seen in Greece this population is just about my favorite. The islands are remote, but I’m definitely going to be looking for an excuse to visit again next year!