24-31/03/2018 Kalamata Marina.
We left the campsite at Finikounde and if we had known what the weather was going to be for our journey northward to Kalamata was going to be like we would have stayed put where we were. It would have been safer. We wanted to move to a bigger town because we knew that there was going to be a National Celebration on Sunday so off we went. As soon as Brian started their van he knew they had a problem as the left-hand indicator started going and wouldn’t turn off. Now we needed to get to a bigger place for a different reason. We needed to get the problem fixed.
Brian took the lead I followed so I could do his indicating for him. Suddenly it started raining. Well, actually, it didn’t just start raining, torrential rain poured out of the sky accompanied by loud claps of thunder and instant bolts of lightning. There was nowhere to pull over to until the storm had finished. Brian turned left off the main road, so I followed. Now we were on a much smaller road which was totally covered in fast flowing water. Elaine used her phone to send them a message because our Sat-Nav had said we should have stayed on the wider road. All in all, it was an awful journey.
Finally, we pulled into the marina. We were given keys to the toilets and showers and were told where to plug in, so we could use the electric. There is a lovely bar here and a separate restaurant. It is a great place to stop, in amongst the boats and yachting fraternity. We went to a local bar later on, to relax after the stresses of the drive here.
One thing I haven’t talked about is the airborne sand that is being carried here on the south winds from the Sahara Desert. We have now learnt that this year it is particularly bad. Everywhere and everything is covered in a layer of sand.
The mountain that towers over the area is almost invisible because of this dust. When the wind comes from the south and it rains then it is even worse. Brian and I had washed our vans at the last camp site and after the one journey, the vans looked uncared for. The Greek government are advising the young and the elderly to stay indoors due to the inhalation of the dust, and in the Athens area schools have been closed. We learnt on Google news that Crete is particularly badly hit and up in the mountains, the snow is turning orange. I feel particularly sorry for the detailer at the Peugeot garage we called into about the indicator problems. There were hundreds of brand new cars on the forecourt, covered in dust. What a job he will have to get all those cars looking clean again.
The 25th of March is a public holiday. This is the main reason we came to this large town. Finally aided by Russia, Britain and France, after an 8year struggle Greece was finally recognised as Independent from the Ottoman Empire and in 1832. Prince Otto of Bavaria was established as the first king of Greece. Every year the lots of the population dress in national costumes and joined by representatives of the Greek armed forces, the rescue services and even the scouting fraternity join marches all over Greece. Those dressed in medieval fighting costumes fire very loud guns to celebrate their victory. It was quite rousing to witness the appreciation the armed forces got as they marched by. Every spectator was loudly clapping all the armed services as they went through the town.
When the railway that came into the centre of Kalamata was closed due to the bankruptcy of the company that ran it in 2010 many of the old trains and carriages were left as memorials in the park. It is quite fascinating to walk up to the centre, passed the old station with the rolling stock all around. The park is a photographer’s dream.
The central street of the city is very modern and looks very affluent. The shame is that you only have to go a few streets either side to see the evidence of the perilous state of the Greek economy. Empty and abandoned wrecks of buildings can be seen in nearly every street. Old motorbikes and scooters with parts missing or torn seats are just left to rot in the street and in amongst the decent cars parked along the streets are lots that surely haven’t been driven for many years, looking at the state they are in. On the plus side, the Greek people we have had contact with have all been great and many of them speak enough English to make visiting here very easy. It is really nice when driving through villages and towns to have people smile and wave to us and we always reciprocate by waving back to them.
In Kalamata there is the impressive cathedral and we lost count as to how many churches of every size we saw around the town. On every road, all over the country, every mile or so, we have seen these little religious boxes complete with oil lamps, religious pictures and small crucifixes. Obviously, the Greeks are very religious people; it seemed odd that the council men were out working on a Sunday emptying the communal rubbish bins.
We waited with Brian and Wendy until their part was ordered. We had been told by people from the marina that we had to drive south to go and explore the area called Outer Mani and Inner Mani and to go to the caves at Pyrgos Diros.
29/03/2018 Agios Nikoliaos
We left the Marina and drove 31 miles down to this lovely, little coastal town and parked up on the car park directly adjacent to the very picturesque harbour.
The weather now is warm, and the sun is shining so we quickly locked up and went off to investigate what is there. We found some very inviting bars and shops, so we decided to stay the night on the car park and to move on down to the caves tomorrow. We had just moved the van away from the sea wall in case the sea got up when Dennis and Kim rolled into the car park and came and parked close to us. They had parked on the Marina for a couple of days. We told them we were stopping there for the night, so they said they would as well. The four of us went off to the nicest looking bar. Later on, they came back into our van and Dennis brought in some different bottles of Ouzo that he had bought on Kalamata. We slept well that night once the pair had gone back to their van
30/03/2018 Pyrgos Diros
We only had 36 miles to do to get down to the caves at Pyrgos Diros. So, off the four of us went. 36 miles doesn’t sound a lot but driving in Greece is completely different. Windy, narrow roads which narrowed even more every time you get to drive through a village means everywhere is a long way away. There must be money in this part of Greece. We kept passing lots of very smart houses or others that were in the process of being renovated. Also, the verges and the fields around are covered in wild flowers and lots of trees are covered in blossom. This is the best part of Greece we have seen so far. This is paradise.
We parked up in the car park for the caves and after paying our €6 euro each went down to the entrance and were led to a boat to take us the first part underground in a pretty, blue boat paddled by a Greek guide.
Once out of the boat; the rest was of the way was by foot and we followed the path marvelling at the stalagmites and stalactites. A Little more thought about introducing some coloured lights instead of the too bright white lights would have made it and even more wonderful experience.
Our stop for the night is going to be in the next bay round from the caves. We could see a few other vans, but it took 6km to get to where they are. The reviews about this bay say that it is a wonderful place to go snorkelling because of the wonderful variety of fish that can be seen. Someone even talked about swimming with a sea turtle in this very bay.
In no time I was changed and was ready to dive to see what wonders I could find. I even took my new underwater camera, so I could share my experience with Elaine. Nothing! Not a sighting of anything! I “snorkelled” for so long, up and down the bay and ended up with the prune effect on my fingers. To make matters worse, the waves had got up and I was buffeted about as I tried to get out of the water, very conscious that I was being watched by Elaine, Dennis, Kim, and the Germans parked a little way away. I have to be honest I must have looked like a beached whale.
I did my utmost to look like a seasoned diver and failed. Later on, Dennis and Kim, donned some gloves and big bin bags and went up and down the beach collecting all the plastic the could find.
I just stayed in our van until I got over the fit of shivering I had after my long swim.
Off we went to Gytheio. It meant going down to the bottom of Inner Mani and back up the other side. We were now driving up in the mountains on the narrowest roads imaginable. Hair pin bends came, one after another. For many miles we didn’t see a crash barrier to keep us from plunging over the edge of these often, broken roads. In places you would go around such a tight bend you almost meet yourself coming the other way. The roads are so steep that immediately after going around such a bend I would have to put the van into first gear just to make progress up to the next sharp bend. Our 7meter motorhome, fully laden, is just not built for these sorts of roads. Whenever we get to a village it only gets worse. The roads through the villages would be wide enough to get the horse and cart through. We went through one village where we had a kilometre to get through where it would have been impossible to pass another vehicle had it been coming the other way. On top of that, the only way to describe a Greek driver is as a lunatic with a death wish.
Half way through our 63mile journey we came across a sign pointing towards a “ancient fortified settlement”. Vatheia is just amazing virtually the whole place is deserted, and you can wander around these abandoned tower houses at will.
The doors are open and in the deserted bar there are still complete bottles of pop. In others you can see beds and even pillows, discarded when the houses were discarded. Apparently, these tower houses were occupied by very feudal Greeks. They built their houses so tall to enable them to throw stones down at their neighbours. Beware of any Greek person trying to get planning permission, near you, to build a tallish house. When we got here Dennis and Kim had already arrived.
We moved on and the “fun journey “continued. Finally, we arrived at Gytheio and looked for somewhere to stop for the night. We had a quick look around the town and moved on to a bay to a known camper stop at the bay where you can see the wreck of Demetrius.
There are conflicting reports of how this ship came to be washed up on the sands here. The best I can find is that the ship was caught smuggling cigarettes and was set alight and abandoned here by the authorities. What a great place to stop for the night. Dennis and Kim followed a us there and we spent our last evening together as we decided to stop there for a second night and they elected to move on.
After they had gone, that next day, I checked how much gas we had left. Not a lot! So, we went off to look for a garage selling auto gas. I turned at a corner and bang: we were grounded! The road at that point was so bad that the water tank had been pushed back so far that it had broken a pipe, so all our fresh water was running out and the steel straps holding the tank in place were hanging loose. Nightmare! I managed to get the van to a safe place to stop. It took me over 4 hours on a very hot day (most of the time under the van). With the limited tools I carry with me I managed to put a bung in the tank to stop it leaking. Elaine had to sacrifice the fancy bottle stop she had bought in Spain and then whittle the cork down to fit the hole to stop the water coming out of the tank. I think the only way I got the tank straps back in place was by sheer determination Finally we got the van in a fit condition to drive it safely. I didn’t have the mental energy to drive back to the wreck. We drove a few miles onward and stopped at a campsite at Gytheio Bay that had only opened for the season that day As Elaine booked us in, I filled the water tank to the brim and watched with baited breath to see if our “temporary” repair was a good one. Not a single drop came out. We could carry on with our journey! It was very nice to be parked in amongst the olive trees and a long shower there made me feel human again.