Here are some useful tips for the path clearing crew :
- We supply tools, gloves and safety glasses. We supply first aid kits, but these contain NO pills, potions or ointments, not even Paracetamol. So as well as any prescribed medication, do bring your own assortment of painkillers, insect bite ointment, sunscreen and so on.
- Uneven surfaces, crowded ferries and many flights of monastery stairs mean that a backpack is much better than a suitcase. If you’re checking a backpack onto a flight, a rucksack overbag protects it and stops straps getting stuck in conveyor belts.
- May is usually fine, but there can be heavy rainstorms, so be prepared for both hot and wet weather. Long sleeves are essential. Two reasons: to protect your forearms from sun and scratches while working, and because it is respectful to cover as much skin as possible while inside the monastery. Obviously no shorts, not even for midnight trips to the lavatory, and if you bring sandals for use around the monastery, please wear socks with them, even though this is a fashion faux-pas.
- Good comfortable walking boots are absolutely essential. They protect your ankles on uneven trails; the only significant injury we’ve had in the last 10 years was because a rock fell on the unprotected ankle of a shoe-wearer.
- Some of you may choose to bring walking poles – but there are plenty of bushes which can provide a suitable pilgrim staff.
- Jeans. A lot of pilgrims do wear jeans, but some monasteries/monks frown on them. As we’re special guests, staying longer than the usual one night, we try to respect Athonite practice as much as possible. A dark-coloured shirt and trousers seems to be appropriate in any monastery, no matter how strict.
- Dimitris points out that food can sometimes be problematic and/or repetitive, especially if you’re staying at Gt Lavra. Obviously only 4 or 5 of the team are likely to go there, but it’s worth considering bringing some non-perishable emergency supplies. There’s usually plenty of bread, so he suggests tahini, honey, and instant coffee. I always carry nut and sesame bars, and sometimes a few muesli/granola bars.
- On the subject of food, don’t expect much variety, let alone gourmet cuisine. Mon, Wed and Fri are fast days, so no oil, fish, cheese or wine. There’s usually enough food, but quality varies according to who is cooking, what is in the store cupboard, and what the monastery’s fields are producing at the time. One year we were given tinned peaches at every meal for a whole week; another year there was a glut of cucumbers.