A Fishy Tea and Maniot History

St Sergios and Vakchos church and the Taiyetos Mountains

Dave the motorhome is getting used to our slow moving lifestyle, we’ve barely covered 20 kilometres in the last four days pottering along the ‘shadow coast’ of the Mesa Mani. We’re getting used to it too; today we arrived at a little car park by a beach in Yerolimenas just after 1pm and decided we’d travelled far enough today – this will be perfect for tonight (N36.48258 E22.39989).

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Last night we went for a walk down to one of the beaches which flank the cliffs that Mezapos sits on. We sat on the rocks looking out over another amazing sunset over the sea – we’ll miss these when we start up the east coast – around us shallow wells were cut into the rocks creating salt pans which the local women used to work to earn a very meagre living. We wandered back up to Dave, deposited a sleepy Charlie, changed out of our shorts and headed out to the taverna.

Sunset in Mezapos
Sunset in Mezapos

Stepping through the door we really didn’t know what to expect, but I guess what we didn’t expect was a living room / restaurant. The owner (who we think was called Stavo, at least that is what someone shouted to him) ushered us onto the verandah and asked if we wanted to sit inside or outside. Having got chilly dining al fresco a few nights ago we opted for inside – besides for once there was far more to see inside than outside. The room was full of stuff, pictures, photos, ornaments  a boat engine with its carburetor stripped on one of the tables, crates of drinks, a dried lobster and some netting hanging from the ceiling – let’s just say it was a good job we had a meal in there, if it had only been a coffee we would have left without spotting half of the stuff crammed in the one room.

Inside Stavo's taverna
Inside Stavo’s taverna
Map of the UK in Greek!
Map of the UK in Greek!

There were no menus, Stavo simply pointed to us and said ‘Fish?’, to which we both nodded. ‘Two Fish?’ he questioned and or main course was ordered. ‘Greek Salad?’, again we both nodded, looking surprised he questioned us again ‘Two Greek Salad?’, we opted to share one. Half a litre of Retsina, the local pine-resinated vino was delivered before Stavo disappeared into the kitchen. The sound of deep frying had us wondering if we were getting chips with our fish – but when it arrived it was clear it was simply what we ordered – Fish.

Stavo in his taverna
Stavo in his taverna

I’m not a fan of fish that look like fish. Fish covered in batter, a fillet of fish with no bones or skin or fish fingers and I’m fine, but if there are faces and tails included I struggle to cope and pick over the less fish-looking parts with my knife and fork. In front of me on a little plastic plate sat three deep fried fish, eyes, fins, tails and all. Jay gallantly cut off the heads for me, but all we were given to eat with was a fork. Taking a deep breath I poked at the fish, peeling back the skin and trying to edge the bones out onto the side, but it was never going to work. A large glug of wine and I had to get stuck in. At first it was a bit like a bush-tucker trial from I’m a Celebrity… but soon the taste of the fish helped me to overcome my fear, that and the fact that we weren’t sure if this was a starter or a main course and I was starving.

I'm smiling, but inside I'm trying not to throw up!
I’m smiling, but inside I’m trying not to throw up!

It took just over half an hour to demolish the three beasties in front of me, accompanied by the tomatoes from the Greek salad (Jay doesn’t like them and there were plenty). A chunk of bread was used to mop up the olive oil that coats all meals and makes them so tasty and it was all washed down with the wine. Stavo joined us when we’d finished, switching on the TV and turning it to the movie channel – he obviously knew it would be in English and subtitled in Greek. Spiderman joined us as we finished off our wine, realising that it was dinner. It was a refreshing change to leave the restaurant not feeling over-stuffed from eating way too much, a problem we’ve had every time we’ve eaten out in Greece. I think I can safely say I’ll never forget that meal!

The fish remains pile
The fish remains pile

Back in Dave a quick pre-bedtime check of Charlie found several more ticks attached to him. Jay skilfully removed them and we decided to give him another dose of his treatment. It says that he can have it up to once a week in high season, it’s only been 10 days since his last dose which has certainly lost its effectiveness, so we must be in high season now.

This morning I was woken before the sun had chance to heat up Dave, the reason? A mosquito. It decided I looked tasty despite the fact that I was wrapped up in a bed sheet to stop such an attack, with only my face showing. So that was how it woke me, buzzing around my face. After that I struggled to get back to sleep so I got up and carried on working on our motorhome packing list – it’s a real eye opener when you start to write down what you have in your van, with this much stuff in it I’m amazed Dave manages to move.

As we headed off, Stavo popped his head out of the taverna and waved to us, he’d already said hello when he popped to put fuel in his boat, no doubt preparing to go and catch some more fish for tonight’s tea. Holding our breath through the tiny narrow roads we made it out in one piece and onto the main road. A few kilometres away we reached Kitta, which was once the largest and most powerful village in the region and the scene of the last full-scale Maniot Blood Feud which took place in 1870, a full detachment of the army was needed to end it.

Nomia, thearch rivals of, and  village next to, Kitta
Nomia, the arch rivals of, and village next to, Kitta

We pulled up by the side of the road and set off for a look around the tower houses. Reaching the church a larger than life chap stopped us and asked if we were visiting and what we thought to the place. We’d only been in the village for about 5 minutes, but said how beautiful it was. Dimitris then spent the next half an hour telling us all about the history of the village, how it used to be home to over 3000 people but now only 100 Greeks live there and 50 Albanian workers. Consequently the tower houses have fallen into disrepair and many of them are just walls of a few metres high. He went on to explain how he only came back to the village for Easter and Summer as he lived and worked in Pireas, the port of Athens, but many who leave never come back as life in the area is hard. There is very little work and the houses take a lot of work to maintain them. As we chatted a car drove past, its driver Dimitris told us was around 14 or 15. Looking at the boy at the wheel we were surprised so asked about the police, ‘They will come if you kill someone’, he replied. That’s reassuring to know!

Kitta church, the first floor was built in 1906, but recently another floor has been added - Dimitris told us the people from the area paid for it, the paintings alone must have cost a small fortune in an area with no jobs.
Kitta’s main church (it has six!). The first floor was built in 1906, but recently another floor has been added – Dimitris told us the people from the area paid for it, the paintings alone must have cost a small fortune in an area with no jobs.

It was great to hear all the details about life around here from a local instead of a guidebook, Dimitris carried on to the supermarket as his wife would by now be wondering what had happened to him, but not before offering to walk us to a small 14th Century church on the outskirts of town. We declined and let him get on with his errand. We strolled along an olive-lined land in the heat of the sun to the small but perfectly formed little church. Sitting in a valley with a backdrop of the Taiyetos Mountains whose highest peaks still clung on to the last of the winter snow.

St Sergios and Vakchos church and the Taiyetos Mountains
St Sergios and Vakchos church and the Taiyetos Mountains

Jay scrambled over the scrubby land and stones surrounding the church for a closer look and prompted slipped onto his behind, collecting some prickles and splinters in his feet and bottom in the process. It’s a very good job there are no local police to drive past while I was removing them!

Charlie and Jay go exploring
Charlie and Jay go exploring

The sun glared down as it was getting close to midday so we retreated back to the shade of the village. A quick shop for bread, milk and water in the local supermarket and we trudged back to Dave and melted under the blast of heat that greeted us as we opened his door. The quickest way to cool him was to get moving and get some air through the windows, so we set off looking for another tower house village called Boularii, but we didn’t spot it, or at least we didn’t spot any signs for it – there were plenty of groups of tower houses dotted all over the plain around us. Another few kilometres and we spotted the tranquil fishing village of Yerolimenas, built around a secluded bay. We knew from our database that we could stop here so we found a parking place and pulled in.

Yerolimenas
Yerolimenas

After a spot of lunch the heat of the midday sun was too much and soon we were all napping, the windows fully open to catch the slightest breeze.

Who has been licking out the meatball tin?
Who has been licking out the meatball tin?

A tour group of Italian bikers were parked next to us, and as the first of them fired up their engines we awoke, thankful that we could wander around in shorts and t-shirts and not have to gear up in crash helmets, back protectors and gloves. Around 4pm the sun started to lose its heat and we went for a walk around the village, it didn’t take long.

The smallest church we've seen so far
The smallest church we’ve seen so far
seafood hanging out to dry in Yerolimenas
Seafood hanging out to dry in Yerolimenas

Houses lining the waterfront hid a second row of derelict buildings, another village the victim of the population exodus. Peering inside the crumbling remains you could still see furniture and belongings of the previous owner – perhaps they planned to come back, or perhaps they passed away and their children haven’t been back. It reminded me of some of the towns on the border between Croatia and Bosnia, perfect homes side by side with ruins. Then to our surprise we stopped by the last building on the waterfront, a four star hotel complete with cushion covered sun loungers and huge umbrellas to protect its guests from the sun.

Abandoned homes with full cupboards
Abandoned homes with full cupboards
Four star luxury in Yerolimenas
Four star luxury in Yerolimenas

The sun has set now and the temperature it a manageable 27°C, the weather forecast predicted a mini-heatwave and they weren’t wrong. Tomorrow we head for the tip of the Mani peninsular and the second most southerly part of mainland Europe (Tarifa in Spain is the most southerly if you’re wondering!).

Jay decided what to build with the tonnes of stone lying around - house, hotel or castle?
Jay decided what to build with the tonnes of stone lying around – house, hotel or castle?

Ju x

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3 Comments

  1. U don’t like real fish & Jay dislikes tomatoes? Too bad they’re at the heart of most mediterranean dishes. Like being a vegetarian in Italy, the choice is minimal. Did get a nice spinach, mush, cheese & olive pie tho here in Gaeta. Nice & clean here, got lost in a garbage dump y/day in Pagani, mountains of it reeking on every street, heinous…
    So is it hot enough for you ? We love it, a mild 28c for us today.

    Keep on Rolling….

  2. Jason off the east coast you could try Moni and Hydra, Neither allow motor vehicles. Moni is uninhabited except for deers and peafowl. Hyfra is still get around by donkey or walk.

    • Thanks Mick, we’ll check ’em out. Decided last night to try and get to Istanbul, so might need to leave Greece a tiny bit earlier. What a country, just stunning, the friendliest folks in the world I reckon. Cheers, Jay

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