We last left you outside the abandoned Salandi Beach Hotel, near Kiladha, in the Eastern Peloponnese….
We’re awake a lot of the night listening to the rain and when we look outside in the morning we discover we are parked in a lake! Luckily it’s only a few inches deep and the ground beneath the water is still firm. We make a quick exit!
We’d decided to move on anyway, so having moved to higher ground for breakfast, we begin to retrace our route towards Nafplio, before heading West and South to the bottom of the Westernmost finger of the Peloponnese and a recommended campsite where we hope we’ll spend Christmas and New Year.
We stop to refill the water and have a cuppa at Karathonas Bay again (just south of Nafplio), and are surprised to find most of the same ‘inhabitants’ still there. It’s tempting to stay, but we continue with the plan and travel over the mountains through dramatic scenery and no doubt far-reaching views – if we could see through the clouds and rain! We pass through Tripoli, avoiding the expensive toll motorway, over a high pass (about 750m) and back down to a flat plain covered in olive trees leading towards Kalamata.
Stopping for the night on the beach front, south of Analipsi – a vegetable growing area with lot’s of roadside stalls vying for our attention. A short walk west along the beach reveals another huge abandoned holiday complex (Sias Hotel and Bungalows). The scale is incredible. The bungalows are numbered and I noticed numbers in excess of 800! It’s all in pretty good condition too. I never discovered what the ‘story’ was; perhaps another illegal development? An encounter with the local dogs had me on edge and beating a hasty retreat. Some were on chains, but others came running at me, at speed, from a distance. The usual trick of picking up a stone and making to throw it at them didn’t work this time. I walked backwards for a long time, keeping eye contact with a particularly snarly, drooling specimen, before he gave up. Presumably I was now out of his territory? Scary!
Following the coast road south through ‘private beachfront villa land’, we wonder who decides it’s ok for individuals to claim the beach as private and prevent access to the coast by us ‘commoners’? We find a spot for the night at Agios Andreas; a quiet, almost deserted village with a fishing harbour and lot’s of big harbour side restaurants. The restaurants are all closed up for the season and the weather has turned very grey. We stop in the carpark next to a small abandoned campsite. It’s hard to see why. I’m sure it’s a nice enough place in the season.
In the morning, the bakers are friendly and we relieve them of some bread and a couple of ‘spinakopitas’ (spinach and cheese pie wrapped in filo pastry – our favourite). Back at the van, we have a visitor. An old man comes to sit on the bench outside the door and stares for a bit. After a bit he comes to the door and wraps his arms around himself showing he’s cold and in sign language asks for clothes. I really haven’t got anything to give him. We’ve pared down our clothes to a minimum as it is. I’m considering whether I should give him something I’d pretty quickly miss, when he asks for food. I give him half the spinakopita we’ve just bought. Perhaps he saw us go to the bakers? His eyes light up in thanks, but before long he’s asking for clothes again, pointing at his jumper, socks and shoes. As we leave he smiles and waves and I’m left wondering whether I should consider buying something to give in the future? The same goes for food. We’ve been approached and asked a few times (this was the first in Greece though) and I always regret not having something to easily give to someone who seems genuinely in need. We don’t consider ourselves rich, but these things are all relative. How must we appear in our obviously expensive van? Who’s to know it’s our only home and transport and one of the reasons we live like this is it’s the cheapest way we’ve found?
Taking the ‘scenic’ route, we follow increasingly narrow roads with no passing places and come to a stop in someones ‘drive’. It’s a track between red mud cliffs and there’s nowhere to turn a Heidi around. After a slow and tense reverse, we eventually manage to turn in a gateway and thankfully don’t meet anybody. For anybody following in our footsteps, don’t try taking what looks like the beach road at Vounaria! We escape and end up in Koroni on the point. There are signs as we enter the village showing no busses, lorries, caravans, campers etc. The only available carpark for us is chained off so we continue. I hope it’s not going to be one of ‘those’ days…. Luckily we don’t meet anybody on the single track road between the houses. There really does seem to be only one way in here. We ignore the Sat-Navs suggestion, which turns out to be a stepped! footpath and make it down to the harbour and plenty of parking – at this time of year anyway.
Koroni’s an attractive up-market little place. They’re putting up the Christmas decorations in all the cafes and there’s still enough locals around to give the place some life. The weather, however, has gone from bad to worse and we move back from the front to avoid the worst of the approaching storm and don’t leave the van. It rains hard, all night.
It’s still raining in the morning as we head towards Camping Finikes just beyond Finikounda. There are several long-term residents and we decide it’ll do. There are very few alternatives anyway.
Camping Finikes (Friday 12th Dec – Mon 4th Jan):
At this time of year, reception is closed up and there’s a note on the door saying speak to Rod on pitch 1A. Rod is English and has run things for the owners over the winter in exchange for his pitch for the past 6 years – not such a great deal, we decided, especially considering all the gardening and tree maintenance work he does. He looks after the chickens too; meaning an easy supply of fresh eggs whilst we’re here.
The campsite is unfortunately a bit dark and dreary under all the trees and artificial shade made from palm fronds supported on metal ‘pergodas’. It may well be necessary in the summer heat, but it’s not great at this time of year. Thankfully we manage to get a spot on the front line which is somewhat open and we can see the sea across a narrow stretch of sand-dunes.
We settle in and meet the neighbours. We’ve got German couples both sides of us. Both have been coming here for years and stay all winter. There are more Germans, some of whom live in Hungary, confusing us with their Hungarian number plates. There’s also French, Dutch and later a couple more English and an Austrian. Oh, and a Norwegian, who is actually another German in disguise. Quite a multi-national community, the majority of whom speak good English – luckily for us!
The surrounding area is dotted with empty holiday villas and even the town is virtually deserted at this time of year. It feels a bit odd living in our isolated expat world with virtually no local contact. We don’t even see them much of the time.
There’s a wonderful beach, great for swimming, only a minute from our door. We swim a few times whilst we’re there (Christmas day – check), but really it’s too cold to stay in for long.
We get out walking and cycling a few times whilst we’re here. We cycle to Methoni several times. 3 long slow hills both ways – must get some training in! The other way is worse. The town is disappointingly empty of people. Oops, it’s siesta time again. We’re not very good at getting up and out in the morning, and by the time we’ve got anywhere it’s often lunchtime and shops are beginning to shut up, and any people there are about, disappear indoors. After siesta, 4 – 5pm, it’s definitely time to be heading home and hiding from the plummeting temperatures at this time of year, so we’ve been missing the action. We visit the fort/castle on a particularly beautiful sunny day. It was started by the Venetians, around the 14th century, as much has around the coasts of Greece it seems. It was subsequently completed and improved by the Ottomans before the Venetians managed to take it back.
It once housed the whole town and is mostly in ruins and overgrown now. There’s an interesting mix of Turkish and Christian architecture. We spot both the ruins of Turkish bath houses, with their domed roofs and a multitude of light / ventilation openings (I always wonder if they’re designed to look like stars?). There’s an intact Othodox Christian church, though the roof ‘s been leaking badly and, under restoration, what looks like a more Catholic Christian church. Wandering through the overgrown remains of past centuries, we pick wild baby leeks which are growing everywhere and some lemon sage. There’s a couple of locals picking stuff too. There’s been gardens and cultivation here for centuries, so there’s bound to be some interesting bounty remaining.
A drive out to Pylos, a little up the west coast, reveals ‘Divari Lagoon’ just to the north. It’s home to migrating birds including Flamingos, Black Winged Stilts and others. We ‘daringly’ spend a night away from the campsite here, and walk to Paleokastro castle the following day. The route out the opposite side of the castle has to be seen to be believed! It goes almost vertically downwards, with much use of dodgy improvised steps and handrails, to the stunning perfect horseshoe cove beyond. It’s a good job we found the alternative route back or Elaine might still be there; having flatly refused to return by the same route. We spend a beautifully quiet night in this isolated spot and wonder why we’re staying at a campsite? Heading back into Pylos the following day, we find a busy ‘proper’ town where the locals live, as opposed to deserted ‘holiday land’ where we are. We shop here just before Christmas and everything seems very festive and people are wishing each other “Kala Christougenna” (Merry Xmas). It’s tempting to stay parked up there by the harbour.
The weather is very mixed. We do have some warm sunshine and occasionally even get the shorts out, but we also have days and days of rain and cold, meaning we hibernate in the van and don’t manage to get out and speak to people as much as we’d like. We meet ‘the famous’ Barry and Margaret from MagBaz travels: http://www.magbaztravels.com and spend an enjoyable afternoon getting to know them over a glass of wine. Barry and Margaret have been travelling in various combinations of motorhome, van and caravan and of course bicycle for more than 20 years. If you’ve got similar plans, do have a look at their website; you won’t be disappointed! We also met Ian and Judit: http://www.bessyonthemove.weebly.com whos website has been another source of useful information to us. Much as we enjoyed their very spacious van, I don’t fancy driving 7.6! metres around some of the places we’ve been.
Thanks to the Campsite’s free internet and various bits of software, we manage to get English TV and radio over Christmas, reminding us of home. It’s a bit of a grey day, but we still get out on the bikes for a bit of fresh air, before returning to Christmas Dinner chez Heidi – a bit of a challenge with no oven!
Shortly before the new year, our friend Lilli from Germany: http://www.lillis-world.com who we met at Camping Hellas in the Pelion back at the beginning of November, turns up to meet us again and we spend more time getting to know her, sharing food and drinks, and generally hiding from the grotty weather. Thankfully she’s found some more professional help to repair her van, the roof rack, and ladder.
On New Years Eve, we get access to the usually closed campsite bar and manage to have a ‘bit of a do’. Ralph, one of the German’s who is staying here all winter, organises a game of darts for everyone. We divide into two teams and play several rounds of ‘cricket’, which reminds me of my time growing up in Holland, where it was also popular. We make some mulled wine to share and various food appears. We have a good evening and finally get round to meeting just about everyone on the site. At least half the conversation is in German, which I can occasionally catch the gist of, and reminds me that perhaps I should concentrate on trying to learn German rather than Greek – it’d probably be more useful. It’s a shame the bar or some other communal area wasn’t open and used more often, it would’ve made the whole ‘campsite experience’ more enjoyable. In winter, when everybody spends a lot of time in their vans, we don’t find it easy to go and knock on someone’s door and say hello. We’ll just have to try harder I suppose.
On Monday 5th January, with the bill constantly rising, we decide it’s time to move on. ‘Campsite life’ has been an experience. We’ve met some interesting people, thoroughly recharged Heidi’s batteries (this is the longest, by far, that we’ve ever been plugged into the mains.) and made good use of the almost limitless free internet. Just as we’re leaving, several more people arrive, including another ‘youngish’ English couple touring for a year. It would be nice to have met them, but preferably in ‘the real world’, which this isolated campsite feels very removed from – Time to hit the road.
We’ll finish with a few thoughts / observations about the current Greek economic / political crisis. We find ourselves in ‘interesting’ times..
Follow the emerging story here: http://www.greekcrisis.net
In December the current Parliament (it’s a coalition) failed to agree on a new president, which has resulted in the need for a national election – due to take place on January 25th. It seems likely that the leftist Syriza party, led by Alexis Tsipras is likely to win and if we were voting, we think we’d join his followers.
Initially it seemed that a Syriza win would almost certainly trigger a Greek exit from the euro. When we first heard, with thoughts of ‘a run on the banks’, so often predicted in the past, we decided it would be wise to withdraw enough cash to at least get us out of the country if everything went pear-shaped. Speeking to others at the campsite, it seemed everybody had had the same thought and it was somewhat nervously that I punched the numbers into the cash-machine. As it turns out, the Greeks don’t apear to be overly worried. The cashpoints and banks apear to be working normally, and there’s no queues as we’d feared. The latest news has Tsipras promising not to default on loans AND to get rid of the hated austerity measures currently in place and start spending on public services again. One wonders how that is possible?!
As we talked with other Europeans at the campsite, it was intresting to note that everyone we spoke to thought that the euro has to ultimately crash, and it might as well be sooner rather than later. The general opinion was that the European Union wasn’t working. A German, now living in Norway with his Norwegian wife, called himself a German Refugee from the European Union. An English-Hungarian partnership told us how difficult it had become to run a small business from Hungary once they joined the EU. The negative opinions continued…
We’ll wait and see…