Dave the motorhome has the official sanction of the adjacent Kostas’ Restuarant to rest here under the pines for the night, up against the sea-water lake at Limini Vouliagmenis (N38.032653 E22.873846). We’re on the North-East edge of the Peloponnese, on the Gulf of Corinth, and it is ruggedly beautiful.
Last night we took another walk around the pines and yellow grass of the headland at Ermioni. The air was hot, hot enough to have me whipping off my shirt and plodding into the calm waters for a swim, half chased by a furball black pooch which had chosen to follow us, its progress mainly made by bounding. The sense of freedom, of warmth, of being able to just get all my clothes soaking wet and to hell with the chafing, that seems to sum up Greece for me. It’s carefree.
Splashing about done, we cracked open all the vents on Dave and checked the clock. 8:30pm. Late enough to eat, almost a respectable Greek hour. Walking up and over the hill to the taverna we eye’d up the small things which make this land what it is. Two small nippers played on their bikes on the main road, no apparent fear of being run over or abducted. A tree to our left stood dividing the road, lime-based whitewash halting the progress of hungry ants. From a balcony a hosepipe sprayed water onto a car below in a lazy but entertaining attempt to wash away the African dust brought down by the rain. Passing cars carried along worry beads, crosses and other little icons hanging from the rear view mirror, presumably seen as more effective than seat belts, air bags or driving at anything less than breakneck speed, everywhere.
8:30pm wasn’t late enough. The taverna was empty. Or so we thought. Directed down a small flight of stairs into the sea, or just above it, we found a few tables occupied at this early hour, a German couple and a Greek family. Behind Ju a mast planted onto dry land rose up, clustered with layers of thick white paint, next to it a ship’s varnished wooden wheel, spinning freely. The moon had appeared, looking much like the sun in the silvery haze, but for the give-away marks of its cratered face.
Baked stuffed tomato and pepper, fried aubergine, crab salad, chips and moussaka, oh, and a half litre of house red. Ooh yeah. The menu outstripped the chef’s ability to cook it though. The meaty bit of the crab salad consisted of ‘crab sticks’ (which everyone knows have never seem a crab), the aubergine was dripping with olive oil to the point it was more like fried olive oil, and the rice in the stuffing wasn’t cooked, cracking in our teeth like birdseed. The view out over the sea easily balanced off the, ah, crap food though, and it came to a whole €23. As no till receipt arrived, I figured the unpaid VAT would do as a tip and we drifted off back to Dave.
Neds arrived. ‘Ned’ is a generic term we have stolen from the hilarious ‘Still Game‘. A ‘ned’ is a kind word for those youthful folks, usually men, who contrive to make our lives a little less of a complete dream than it is. They usually employ the tactic of a massively loud car stereo, parked a few inches from us in an otherwise empty car park, or by drag racing their 50cc scooter (un-silenced in desperate attempt to unleash another horsepower) past us until 2am. Neds are a force in the world, much like the collective flatulence of cows, to be generally ignored as there’s not much we can do about it. At 2am we went to sleep.
Today we’ve driven. To Lidl first off, stocking up on all the essentials, since Lidl only sells essentials. These happen to include boxes of tiny wicks, bottles of oil, small charcoal tablets and boxes of incense to feed the little glass-doored mouths of the million or so road-side shrines we pass each day. I grabbed boxes of charcoal and incense. Not to stroke the ego of a saint, more to try out as sweet-smelling indoor firework.
After Lidl we just kept going, all the way up to the Corinth Canal. We’d read some folks just drive over it while trying to find it, not spotting it below them. Ju’s eagle eye avoided this fate for us, spying a 3.5 tonne limit sign she figured that must be the submersible bridge? True enough, we rounded the corner and pulled over alongside a queue of traffic waiting for the bridge to, erm, arise from the depths. Ju legged it over to see it as I did a Dave lock-down (much pulling closed of curtains, turning fridge onto gas, hanging a towel from the rear cupboards as the blind’s broken). By the time I arrived it was up, the thick wooden boards running across it dripping wet and cars ploughing across. For some reason a weight limit sign now read ‘3 tonnes’, a bit of miscommunication maybe? We walked over, spying the control booth and a chap stood idly by his moped in the doorway. With a bit of sign language he told us the next lowering was in 40 minutes, as the boat had to travel the length of the canal before another could come the other way. I looked past him at the controls, they looked like a long-abandoned, yellowing and dusty ‘Tardis’ film set.
It turned out the same boat which had just left was actually going to about-turn at the other end of the canal and come back, which seemed a bit pointless. We ate some lunch and sat on the side of the wall to watch the magic, waving at the folks on the pleasure cruiser.
Be warned the sound is quite loud on this video as Ju had to shout over the noise of the bridge mechanism!
Reading Wikipedia just now, it seems the canal’s had a difficult life from the start. For one thing it was supposed to be started about 2000 years back, but they quickly gave up and dragged the boats overland instead (the 4 mile drag, now a 4 mile canal, saves a 430 mile journey around the Peloponnese). For another, the sides were so steep they either periodically collapsed of their own accord, were ushered downwards by earthquakes, or in WW2 were filled with random rubbish by the retreating Germans. Modern shipping is too big to use the narrow trench, and even older shipping often avoided it as it was hard to get down with weird tides and winds. Tourists ride it now, and we could see why once we’d driven to a bridge at the other end, it’s stunning.
Seven times in all we crossed the canal, walking and driving, staring into it. At one point as we crawled along a chap tried to flog me a plastic needle threading device. He demonstrated it with a smile. I guess he must make all of nothing selling this stuff. Another chap had offered a windscreen clean at the lights. At Lidl a pick-up truck had pulled up with a plywood and wire cage made up on the back holding not cattle but two small nippers. None of these folks seem to be ethnic Greeks.
From the canal we drove here, all in, maybe 3 hours of driving. Since about 8 minutes of that was on flat straight road, my back was killing me as we finally found a spot high up on the cliff above us here. The car park sits above some pretty well preserved ancient ruins, an idyllic taverna and little cove at Cape Melagavi. Sadly the remains of a couple of car windows adorned the ground, and the neds had been at the almost-finished little building to one side, plastering it with political graffiti. Ju had a bad feeling. While I have to admit the phrase ‘wild camping’ is a bit over the top, since we’re not exactly Bear Grylls out here, it’s not entirely as safe as it could be either and we have to go on gut feeling when choosing places to stay. My gut feeling was this place was awesome and I lobbed my dummy.
The world brought to rights, we ended up here, just a few hundred metres away, which is even by my own admission, a much safer spot than the one up top. We grabbed drinks at the taverna, eyeballing all the roaming dogs and behind them the gorgeous view over the lake, sea, thing (it’s lake-shaped, but open at one end to the sea). Walking inside to ask if we could stay here the night, we found the taverna owner soundly asleep with the TV on. One of the waiters spoke English and couldn’t be more friendly: ‘no police here, very quiet, if the police come, tell them you are with Kostas’ Restaurant’. Happy days, for the price of a beer and a glass of lemonade.
P.S. If you’re a dog-lover, read no further.