Dave the motorhome has a wide windscreen. I recall sitting in the driver’s seat on our old driveway, having hardly ever driven our new purchase, looking at the back of the gates and wondering; what would we see through this windscreen? And whether I would immediately crash the thing, it’s so flipping wide! Since then Dave’s presented us with some bin-your-telly-forever views from his windscreen, and we’ve currently got one of them, peering out at a magnificent scene, a milky white sunlit Bay of Messina. We’re here (N36.88300 E22.23428), opposite the tiny island of Nisis Meropi, thanks to Rose (The 731report) for yet another brilliant pointer, you’re an angel!
Last night we discovered that our little corner of the car park near Sparti wasn’t just an impromptu roadside loo, but also a spot for, erm, illicit liaisons shall we say, stacked high with empty Durex packets. We hoped the two weren’t interlinked in some way. A car pulled in as night fell, reversing into a car-shaped gap in the trees which I’d initially though about popping Dave into, glad we didn’t! We pulled the curtains shut to give ’em some privacy, later hearing the wheels spin up the Earth as they, for some reason, left in a hurry. No problems for us though, we slept like kittens.
This morning we headed back up and over the Langadha Pass. A bit of research had thrown some light on the burned trees – a forest fire ripped through the west side of the pass in 2007. This time we didn’t stop to photo the desolate mountain sides, but did wonder what it must have been like in a village we could see, still surrounded by trees, presumably terrifying. Engineering miracles of road building had us halting from time to time to try and capture them on film, err, on SD card, and failing!
The road it turns out is an ancient one, one of Homer’s poems includes a rhyme about a chap on a chariot making the journey in a day. The start of it, at the Sparti end, is reputed to be where infant boys deemed too puny to grow into fighters were left to die of exposure. It’s also home to a few bee hives, causing us to slow when we spot them after an incident a few days back which went something like this: ‘ah, look, bee hives’ SPLAT SPLAT SPLAT SPLATTERSPLATSPLATTER … SPLAT. ‘oh, bugger’.
Rounding past the talented graffiti again, Kalamata came into view, filling the sky with blocky buildings.
Close up Kalamata looks pretty much as it does from above; a bit of a characterless place, kept interesting by the array of Whacky Races driving manoeuvres playing out around us. I laughed as a helmet-less couple of lads on a moped ran the red light, straight across the road of flowing traffic and up and along the pavement on the other side. Ju had one to top it, a guy riding and chatting with his pillion while supping a cup of coffee. Half the time this bonkers driving scares me witless, other times it feels almost natural, lawless, like pushing a trolley around a busy supermarket.
Straight out the other side of Kalamata, the city refused to let go, dragging itself out along a curved ramp of rock from the sea up the side of the mountains behind us. Houses seemed to be trying to escape the clutches of the city, plonked infeasibly high up the ever steepening hillside. Pushing on, the road turned inland, avoiding the cliffs on the coast, and the houses gave up the fight to the trees and rocks. By now driving for about 4 hours we pulled into a panoramic lay-by, chatted and took photos for a French couple in a Greek-registered car who stroked a lovin’ it Charlie, and tucked into a bowl of salad and feta, silently looking out over the town of Kardamyli below us.
A few switchbacks lowered us back to the coast and into the town where we found a spot outside a supermarket and pulled in for a look-see. A sign behind us pointed up a track to Old Kardamyli, past a few handsome goats, a wild air-pawing dog tied to a tree and along a little path into what appeared to be someone’s back garden we found ourselves in among the famed tower houses. Yeah baby! I’ll bore you with info on these when we get further into the Mani where the really tough folks used to live and the towers are many. We’re just into the Outer Mani at the moment, which was relatively peaceful compared with the, wait for it, Deep Mani (what a name) south of us.
Losing each other for a few minutes, the barkathon dog yielded my whereabouts to Ju and we met up. Walking from Dave down towards the beach to recon it for a kipping spot, an elderly lady staggered up the hill in front of us. Dressed in a black dress, she’d a plastic tray on her bent back, two pieces of rough string holding it to her shoulders. Her face looked a hundred if a day. As she crept along past us, ignoring our presence completely, I spotted a couple of huge motionless chicken feet under a bag in the tray. Our first non-encounter with a Maniot.
The pebbly beach looked a bit awkward for an overnight spot, we’d be parked up between tavernas and guest houses and the sea. I imagined a fed-up resident calling the rozzers out to despatch us, Ju was far more relaxed about it, but we hit the road anyway. I’m glad we did. Just a mile or two further on we saw the island below us, a tiny thing, and a motorhome parked up in the little harbour on the mainland. By now the driving was starting to grind a bit, as I constantly tried to get out of the way of a steady stream of pick-ups, faded vans and hire cars catching me up. Into a lay-bye on a blind bend I spun Dave about, his poor old gearbox taking a beating as I played pick-a-gear-any-gear with him. Back along the road, turning back sharp on ourselves, a little road rounded in on the harbour.
The other van had moved a little. Ju jumped out, spotting they were Italian and deployed her well-practised and perfectly intoned ‘sorry I don’t speak Italian’. Fortunately for us they spoke English, telling us they’d been travelling around the Peloponnese for 2 months and giving the thumbs up to this place. ‘Yes, you can sleep here, no problem, there is water here’ points to a hose running into their van ‘but there will be a few cars at night and in the morning’ pointing at the small fleet of tiny fishing boats. At this point our second non-encounter with a Maniot. A tanned chap hopping about one of the boats asked, incredibly politely and in English, if he could have some of his own water, holding out an empty bottle. The Italian lady quickly obliged, and he cast off, his small engine put-putting him out into the open sea.
I was just about ready to explode with ecstasy. I’ve zero questions why Patrick chose this part of the world to live in, despite him being well aware of the charms of many other parts of Greece and the World for that matter. It’s just stunning. We pulled Dave up away from the harbour, both behind some bushes which hide us from the road and into a travel agent’s dream of a view. I’ve donned my snorkelling gear, leaping into the clear blue sea, spying and fearing a metre long eel, nipping to the island opposite. Speaking of which, the island has an abandoned stone house and crumbling crenelated walls. At some point in the past, it was literally someone’s lonely, perfect castle. Ju’s been reading about a lady who rode a motorbike the length of Africa. Charlie’s snored.
We’ve enough supplies to last it out a few days here and although a fair few folks have wandered about around us, not a soul’s questioned us being here. If our luck holds, we may well be glued to this spot for a while, wouldn’t you?