Dave the motorhome is at The Perfect Beach, well, a near-as-perfect stretch of curved sand around a small bay in the sea (N36.96700 E21.66119). This thin rise of dunes separates the sea from a broad lagoon of freshwater with a few leaping fish and the odd flamingo to top it off. We’re at the Bay of Voidhokilia, just north of Pylos, and we’re once again breaking the law. A fallen sign announcing itself as posted by the Democracy of Greece tells us all forms of camping are forbidden, and we must pay over €100 per person if we’re caught. That’s a relief. The sign at last night’s place told us in English we’d be subject to ‘severe penalties’, and in French that we risked prison. Flippin’ eck, we just want to park and sleep?
Everyone we’ve read about and spoken with who’s travelled in a motorhome in Greece, and people who live here, tells us the law’s only likely to be enforced in summer. Our ageing Rough Guide offers this advice: “Since 1977 Free Camping has actually been forbidden by a law originally enacted to harass gypsies, and is increasingly enforced”, it goes on to say “Police will crack down on people camping (and especially littering) around popular tourist beaches, especially when a large community of campers develops. Off the beaten track however, nobody is very bothered…”.
Being British, we’ve recognised, means we’re pre-programmed to obey every law, no matter how minor or inappropriate, or how likely to be enforced. The embarrassment of being caught worse than the fine I imagine. So, this flouting of Greek law feels uncomfortable. Balancing risk and reward, being able to stay in such out-of-this-world places means we’re willing to take the risk to enjoy the reward. Our guess is a single van isn’t seen as an issue, but a semi-permanent community of vans is, so we guess we’ll be ignored.
Anyway, away with all that tosh, summer’s here! We woke this morning to another pure blue sky, pottered about washing dishes and sweeping sand from the floor before hitting the road. For all of about 15 minutes. Checking AutoRoute the spot we’re in now looked a bit awkward to find, twisting little roads bound to confuse us, but Ju’s gone non-GPS native, ignoring the map, navigating using the infrequent signs and common sense. In the 18 months (and counting) of this trip we figured we must have seen every olive tree in existence, but they keep on coming, gnarled old things, field after field, hillside after hillside.
The end of the road we found here is sand, just a few inches deep but enough to require the dual-purpose ‘door-sand-mats’ so we stayed back a little. Getting out and walking about, spying the ‘no camping sign’ and walking past it to see if we could get any further, I was taken aback. A photo of the shallow, cliff edged bay can’t do it justice. It is simply lovely. No cafes, hardly any people, a stunning location.
We’ve spent the day enjoying the place, taking a walk around the sand and up to ‘Nestor’s Cave’ and the castle above. Nestor, should you be wondering, is a myth, one of Homer’s Argonauts from his epic Illiad and Odyssey poems. He was the King of Pylos, the next town south of here, and was by Homer’s accounts an all-round-nice-guy (only he didn’t actually exist, I have to remind myself). The myth aspect of all this is sidelined by the tourist industry, and probably before that by anyone wanted to peddle a story. You can go visit ‘Nestor’s Palace’ a bit further north of here. On the south side of the bay, a sandy path had us out-of-shape folks slogging our way skywards, factor 30 sun cream quickly feeling inadequate. A large cave stands out all the way from the distance, the place where mythical cows were kept or hidden, and when we arrived it indeed whiffed like they’d just vacated.
At least it was open, we’d earlier found the burial ground on the smaller hill above Dave surrounded by a metal fence and locked, a victim perhaps of the Greek Government being more broke than Woolworths?
Just before the cave we bumped into a German couple who had chatted with us on the beach. They were parked in front of us on our first night in Greece in their motorhome, and are travelling around on their moped while parked at a nearby friends. They first came here 20 years ago, and told us how the place is thick with mozzies, and camper vans, in summer. We’ve accidentally timed our visit here well it seems. The German lady grinned ear to ear as she told us they are on their way south to Crete for a couple of months, obviously they love this country. Perhaps not for the ferry costs though, over €400 to get their motorhome to the island and back from the mainland.
Further up the hill, the path went a bit vertical for our liking. Some kind soul’s installed metal rope hand rails and anchored rebar hand and foot holds into the cliff face, but climbing ’em in sandals clutching a dog to one’s chest isn’t recommended. A snake saw us flinch at one turn as it slid off into the undergrowth. After that we kept a close eye on where out hands and feet went! The ancient castle at the summit, topped off with Frankish and Venetian (yeah, Venice’s empire stretched this far out!) stones, is supposed to be the reason for the climb. The views over over Homer’s countryside were fabulous though, far more than the mainly ruined castle. We scoffed a bar of chocolate while we breathed it in, flicking giant mozzies off Charlie and then doing a sort of canine pass-the-parcel on the descent.
As we came back another fellow climber spoke to us. In fact THE other fellow climber, there are few folks here. Caralee, an American lady, married to a Brit and living in Albania for 20 years, she smiled as she told us how she’d been the first female car driver in Albania! When they arrived, seeking a new life in a place only just opened to the West, there were a grand total of 125 cars in the whole country. Things have moved on a lot she told us, even a few coaches of British tourists are turning up these days. Our insurer still refuses to cover us there though, along with Iraq and various other countries. Albania sounds like a much more endearing place after we’ve spoken with someone who lives there.
Exercise done, Ju attempted to relax on the beach, as much as you can when a Greek man’s stripped starkers next to you, as I snorkelled about. There are a few fish, sea cucumbers and urchins, but just floating in the swimming pool-clear waters, looking up at the rugged cliffs was a great feeling, truly wonderful, GUSH ALERT! Nah, it’s passed, but it is an amazing place, pitch dark now with a black blanket stacked full of stars.
If you’re passing this way, in a motorhome, hire car, whatever, come and see it. It’s beautiful, unspoiled, free.