Dave the motorhome has something of a split personality. His chassis is Italian, while his living area and crew are of German and British descent. Thus, his bottom half is more than relaxed being parked up here right against the fishing boats in Φοινικούντα (the stereotyped Italian relationship with the law being something akin to a premiership footballer’s relationship with the referee). His northern European upper bits are, however, rather nervous of being in such as beautiful place without official permission. We’re fighting the urge to move though. The coast guard trundled up here in a deep blue pick-up earlier, eyed us up, lifted a hand in response to ours, turned on the quayside and left. We’re taking this as a thumbs-up to stay and no-one else has paid us any attention (N36.80545 E21.80535).
A few clouds gathered in the sky last night over Methoni, a point for conversation – clouds! We supped a few glasses of Lidl’s finest boxed Italian red wine, chatted about our plans for the future, supped more red and hit the sack. Come the morning the clouds had gone west, more pure blue, a delight of light and warmth.
Breakfast munched, pots washed, wetsuit squeezed into a cupboard, we left. A Dutch couple parked next to us when we’d arrived left and came back before we’d even set off. We guess they needed supplies of water or some such, and were resting at Methoni for at least a few days, swimming in the early morning before resting in camping chairs beneath the castle walls or under trees for the day. Good on ’em.
Φοινικούντα is all of about 6 miles from Methoni, south, a tiny bit closer to the equator. The road leading here ran past the sea at first, the edge crumbled away like a biscuit, large rounded stones lined either side of it from an earlier storm. Turning away from the water, the signless track looked like my new nickname of ‘deadend Jay’ might be about to stick, but with a few twists and a first gear hill we found the main road. Empty of other cars, we cruised it for a few minutes, passing an open campsite or two before pulling in here.
I’m calling this place Φοινικούντα, rather than Foinikounta, as it seems have umpteen transliterations into Latin, Foinikounta being only one of them. The Greek’s not too hard to translate: Φ sounds like an F. ν sounds like an N. The rest sound pretty much like they look.
After we’d pulled in here, we ummed and arred for a while about whether we’d get moved on, and decided to have a walk round and see what happened. Φοινικούντα has three Blue Flag beaches, sweeps of small stones and sand, sloping off into crystal lapping water. Being Greece, or perhaps being Greece out of season, there are no ‘No Dogs’ signs and Charlie legged it about barking at the water, the crazy mutt. We stressed about the noise until locals arrived in picked-ups with speakers tied to the roof and barking out their own echoing requests, flogging Italian blankets, gathering scrap metal and selling other stuff we couldn’t see.
Turning at the end of the beach and taking to the pathway, a chap who’d been angle-grinding rust from a sea-front taverna’s outdoor frame stopped, pulled off his mask and smiled at Charlie. It turned out his name was Paul, and he came from an area of the UK an hour from us. He’d first been here with his wife 12 years ago, finally moving to the next village last year, renting their UK property and now picking up odd jobs for expats in the sun. I asked if things had gotten tight around here, ‘not really, the problems are in Athens’ he told us. He was helping get the taverna ready for a friend, Easter Sunday is 5th May here, and Paul told us is bigger than Christmas for the Orthodox Greeks. At the rate we’re pottering about Greece, we’ll be somewhere in the country to see the celebrations. Thomas Cook punters will be here too, the first flights arriving for Easter Paul told us. His friends are hoping for a good Easter, hoping fellow Greeks still have a few €s to spend.
Sitting in the sun back at Dave, a couple rode past on push bikes, one of them riding over to say hello. A German couple staying in their motorhome at the neighbouring campsite, we had a quick chat in Genglish, the woman pointing out a nearby boat selling fish and me pointing at her electric-assisted Raleigh bike. I told her it was English, made in Nottingham where we’re from. Checking WikiPedia later, it seems more likely the parts were made in the far east and assembled in Germany – more German than English!
With the fishy prompt, we headed over to the boat, one of a cluster of a small fleet lined up on the concrete quayside next to us. Their nets all piled onto the side, they seem to be line fishing with hundreds of hooks carefully hanging onto the rim of plastic barrels. One of the two guys on the boat spotted me awkwardly hanging about, hangs in pockets. Having not looked up the Greek for fish (pesci), a bit of miming was required, although I managed to mime something resembling ‘have you got any bananas’. Somehow we ended up with four fish, him uncovering them from a tray of ice and weighing them in front of us. 1Kg for €10 was the going rate, which sounded about right. Enough for two meals. I de-scaled them outside Dave, gutted them and removed the heads and tails. Charlie scored various bits, thumb-popped eyeballs appeared to be his favourite. Ju tried to hold down her breakfast. Two of the fish went into the freezer and Ju cooked the other two, wrapped in foil with butter, stuffed with lemon slices and bay leaves she’d got from the local shop.
Our afternoon’s been a replay of the morning, a wander about the town and beach, but with the addition of a €10 foray into a cafe for cake (no baklava available here, probably a bit too out of season), Turkish coffee and thick hot chocolate. VAT on the supermarket staples was 13%; this luxury stuff was bumped up by a whopping 23%, the standard rate here.
Φοινικούντα’s quiet at the moment, just a few cars and folks moving about, most of the tavernas and shops closed or in a half-open state. One of the supermarkets Ju tried may or may not have been open, hard to tell. The camping/fishing shop’s shelves were half empty. It’s fabulous for us, as the weather’s beautiful and we’re not getting in the way (we think!). It would be a wonderful place to see when it comes alive in a few weeks though. The place’s reason for being is clearly tourism, but on a gentle, two-storey high level. Fishing’s still important it would seem, the boats started to head off one by one about 6pm, young and old alike manning them as their diesel engines push the painted wood out over the still water.
P.S. if you fancy doing a Paul and moving to this part of the world, make sure the place is (a) finished and (b) has a roof?