Greece, part two – beach campings, waterfalls and meeting the Greek MacGyver
We left Lamia in search of a shelter against the storm, and we were in quite a hurry, as it was getting dark, and it is much harder to find something good after the sun goes down when we have low visibility. We didn’t have too many choices, because near Eraklea, close to the famous Thermopylae, a long climb awaited us, which was out of the question at this time. Along the road was thick vegetation, olive groves or houses, and the mountain loomed over us in the front. Our only hope really was an out of town church right before it, but we didn’t know if it was open or in use. We cautiously pushed the handle down, and the door opened, revealing a surprised face inside, sitting at a table. He thought we were from the town checking on it, and we thought we have a missed opportunity. But the assumption was wrong, from both sides. We found ourselves a fellow cyclist, who had the same idea as us. 😀
Meeting the Greek MacGyver
After the initial confusion we laughed at ourselves a lot, put the bikes inside, lit a ton of candles and had a wonderful dinner with quite a romantic feel to it. We were happy, dry and safe from the pouring down rain outside, which started not so long after we closed the door. Luckily only the edge of the storm reached us, bringing a 3 day long almost continuous rain. This forced us to have a long rest period, which we didn’t mind at all. The only drawback was that Alan’s yoga mat is not the best for sleeping on a hard stone surface, but under the circumstances, we couldn’t have hoped for a better place.
Our cyclist was an older Greek guy called Giannis; his English was good so we chatted long about everything. He was a real do it yourself guy, for instance he made his own headlamp and power bank, and used wooden panniers on the bike he made himself. Bike included of course, you can kinda see it in the picture inside the church, but unfortunately we didn’t take many pictures together. Not the lightest setup I might add (just the bags were 5kg), but he liked to take his time while touring and was in no hurry ever. He even checked our wheels, making sure the spokes are ok and adjusted them to be perfect.
He was just going back from a one month tour in Peloponnese, and we eagerly jumped to the opportunity to get as many tips as we could from him. We got info about the best routes, the must see beautiful places (including a lot of waterfalls) and historical sites. He also told us about the free, outside thermal springs at Thermopylae, which was actually just ten kilometres away from the church (which we did eventually go to months later, more about that in the next post).
Finally in Peloponnese
Once the rain stopped, we set ourselves towards Patras, where we were planning to go over the long bridge to reach the peninsula from the West. The climb mentioned in the beginning was actually pretty nice and not so tiring or steep, and we had plenty of refreshments in the form of figs. After Amfissa, the quickest and shortest way was the coastal high road, which, as almost everywhere, had a lot of small hills, following the natural curve of the land. We had the sea on one side, and a wall on the other, with a bit of typical Mediterranean vegetation in between, with lots of cedars, pomegranate and even orange trees, and figs growing wild in every crevasse. Giannis told us that there was a sidewalk on the bridge, so we could cross it in spite of it being a highway. He only forgot to mention that the other end you will find stairs.. Lucky for me, Alan is in good shape. 😀
Our first destination was Ancient Olympia, deep in the mountains. More climbing, more views, as always, although we soon discovered that it was not worth to suffer that much in this case and we are more into natural beauties. Along the road, as usual in the countryside, olive groves were covering the ground. There were plantations cutting deep pockets into the forest too, so big you could easily see them from far away. Olive oil production is a major income source in the crisis stricken Greece, but as more and more people turn towards it, prices are predicted to drop. Nevertheless, you can see newly planted olive trees along the ancient groves all over the country.
A lot of people come to Greece to see the historical sites and it can cost a lot of money to visit the archaeological areas and museums. Of course for western tourists enjoying their vacation it doesn’t make a dent, but for us long term travellers or Greek people on a much lower income, it does matter. As a help for the locals, the price is reduced by half for all archaeological sites between November and March, and also every first Sunday of the months is free in this period. Additionally, there are free days on all national holidays; I think it’s around 6 in total. Sadly we were still in high season when we reached our first site, and we were not willing to pay the 10 eur entry free for a little more than a bunch of rocks we could easily see from the outside of the fence. So we just had a nice lunch there, went a bit around and got shocked by the still high amount of tourists (can’t even imagine it in the summer!), and then moved on.
Waterfalls and beaches
Our next stop was a waterfall at the valley of the Neda River near Fygalia. We ended up camping and hiding the bikes in the morning to go on a hike, because it was only reachable by walking on a super steep 3km long gravel road. The landscape, as in most mountain areas in Greece, is breath-taking; there are countless peaks and valleys all around you and everything is covered in thick, green forests. Although it was early October, it still felt like summer, with no sign of any autumn colours yet. There were two connected gorgeous waterfalls almost next to each other and even a monastery up in the rocks (they really love to build monasteries in impossible places in Greece), so we couldn’t have wished for a better lunch spot.
Even after having to climb a brutal, sometimes around 15 percent steep road for long kilometres when we left the village, I would say it was worth it. We even stumbled upon a newly built outside theatre in the middle of nowhere, so culture was done too. Besides, you feel really proud of yourself after you managed to do it, and most of the time (but not always) can enjoy a long and easy downhill section.
Getting back to the coast, we finally set our eyes on a long awaited beach stay. As our way of celebrating our half a year on the road, as well as our one year anniversary together, we planned to have half a week of rest, with doing nothing much but chilling, sunbathing, swimming, and consuming our celebration cake. Our original destination for this was Voidokilia, which is one of the most famous non island beaches in Greece; however it was pretty remote with no promise of water nearby, making it a bit too inconvenient for a longer stay. Eventually we found an awesome beach more North, where we could even use a closed-for-the-season cafe’s table and electricity, and the shower was still working, so we could feel like we are staying in a real camp ground. In wild camping terms, we could say we hit the jackpot. As I said earlier, it is not legal to do it in Greece, and in the summer the police go around and have a goldmine of campers to fine. But this late in the season, only a few people even bother to come down to the beach to enjoy the last of the good weather, and everyone is greeting us in the friendliest way, even the owner of the café came by and gave us free beer and soda.
We still wanted to discover Voidokilia, so we spent one day there camping in the sand dunes and hiking up to a beautiful, ancient, 700 hundred year old French castle. We enjoyed it much more than Olympia, even saw a huge cave, and didn’t have to pay a dime. The area itself is really unique, as the beach and sand dunes turn into a green forest as you go up the hill and see the gorgeous view, having a plethora of different landscapes in sight. It’s hard to describe it with words, so I rather let the pictures speak. 🙂
Polylimnio, the queen of waterfalls
And then we were back to the mountains again, among the trees, olive groves and forest roads, as we made our way eastward towards Kalamata, from where the famous olives are from. Around the middle, we stumbled upon even more waterfalls, one of which was actually a consecutive cascade of them along their river, forming some bigger lakes in between. The name, Polylimnio is rather fitting, it means many lakes, and I bet in the rainy season it would not have been possible to hike all the way up on the river path to see as many waterfalls as we could. I think for me this was one of the highlights of our stay in Greece, and I am already planning to go back there for a family vacation later in life. If you want to check it out, the village where you can reach it from is called Charavgi, a cute little village up in the mountains, between Kalamata and the western coastline.
Although met with immense beauty, we were getting a bit tired from all the climbing and decided to rest if we can get some hosting in Kalamata before we finish up with Peloponnese and start going north again. We thought our stay in Greece was getting close, since we only planned to stay in Athens for a bit and get straight to Turkey on mainland, in time before the cold really hits. But life happens, and the country still had more to offer, but you can hear all about that in our next episode.