Friday, 11 November 2011

Lost in the Peloponnese

the road stretches forward to Aghios Petros

One of the things we most enjoy doing is exploring small roads, enjoying the scenery, finding small interesting villages, stumbling upon unique experiences and sometimes even getting lost. And that is easy to do here in the mountainous Peloponnese.
On our first trip out, armed with what we thought was a decent map, we were following the yellow-marked roads through the mountains to the coast when all of a sudden we found ourselves on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. We persevered for several hours. Thirty kilometres later, the only creature that we had encountered was this magnificent beast.

Is this really a wild mountain sheep/goat?
It certainly looked like a wild goat to me but perhaps it was just one who was fed up with putting up with the rest of the herd. However he was happy to pose as I snapped his picture from the car window.
On our second outing we were a little smarter and turned around when we hit a dirt road, although we were forced to abandon our outing in favour of a quick trip home on the highway .  Then we bought a different map - one intended for hikers; with isometric lines and roads that are listed as paved or not. I use both the maps, one to see where we are headed and one for the details. Our GPS is rather useless for the small roads of Greece.

marking a fatal accident
One of the other aspects of driving along roads in Greece is the constant reminders of those who have lost their lives in automobile accidents. There are, of course, few safety barriers and the roads through the mountains are perched on steep cliffs and unavoidably consist of many hairpin curves. The Greek families who lose loved ones, erect interesting looking glass and wrought iron, or glass and concrete miniature houses on poles. Inside there are lamps, extra oil in bottles, pictures of the loved one and religious icons. They are a sombering influence as you round just about every curve on every road and especially moving when there is a cluster of them in one place. 

We have found that Canada does not have a monopoly on the beautiful colour display that is Fall.
This year we are managing to enjoy the colours twice:first at home in October and for the second time here in Greece. I marvel at the beauty of the lower forested slopes and the stark rocky contours of the higher mountains and valleys. Much of the orange colour comes from the chestnut trees which are being harvested right now.

We have more than enough chestnuts in our house and we haven't paid a penny for them. Instead we pick them up on quiet little roads where they drop from overhanging wild chestnut trees. Sometimes they are loose from their prickly covering and sometimes it takes a bit of an effort with feet and hands to free them from their jackets. They fill vases and baskets in our little house and we enjoy them, roasted, as appetizers most evenings.

chestnuts in their hairy shells on the road
Minas picks up chestnuts



 But chestnuts are not the only treasure to be found. I gather pine cones and rose hips, wild sage and oregano and take photos of the tiny pink orchid like flowers that have sprung up in the most unusual places.
orchid -like flowers emerge from a bed of dry leaves

But for me, the best experiences on our tours in the wilds of the Peloponneses are the  chance encounters with locals who really want to meet you. If the Greek bureaucracy is archaic and frustrating then the people of this area are charming, welcoming and will bend over backwards to help you. They even want you to take their photograph. This is Evangelis, the shepherd, whom we met on the road between Aghios Petros and Vourvoura.  Minas struck up quite a conversation with him while I admired his sheep. It must be lonely being out on the hills all day long with only your sheep for company. Minas took several photos with his permission and then printed them, framed them in dollar store frames and left then at the καφνίων  (cafe ) as a present for the shepherd. The lady who ran the cafe was extremely impressed that we would do that. 

Georgia, the shepherdess of Aghios Petros
the mule driver

Here is Georgia , the shepherdess , whom  we met  just  outside  the  town  of  Aghios  Petros  and  who was delighted to have her picture taken. And this is the friendly mule driver, who signalled, "Please take my picture," as he was walking towards us on the road. 
I have the frames for these pictures on my Saturday shopping list for Sparta.

But the true enchantment of a tour in the wilds of the Peloponnese is to stumble upon a fairy-tale village, one stuck in a time warp, where real people live, where tourists rarely venture and which provides me with the thrill of discovery. When seen from afar you never know if it is just a cute picture or a real find. And find some we have, but that's a story for another day.

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