Crazed as Captain Corelli

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I must have been looking well and truly lost at the makeshift Tripolis bus station because a voice behind me asked, 'Where you go?'. '

Turning to face the voice I found a young Greek bloke, mid 20s with spikey hair and a tight eurotrash outfit (imagine a cross between a sponsored moto racer and a hedgehog), who had also cornered the market in bling-bling sunglasses and jewelery.

'Ummm, Sparta?' I replied. Despite the flashy appearance his smile and concern seemed sincere, and the timetables posted on the walls were all Greek to me.
'Why you go to Sparta? There is nothing there', he said, squashing that idea.
'Okay.., what you think about Olympia then?'
'Ahhh, Olympia... The old stadium,' His tone raised my hopes but his shaking head quickly dispelled them, '...there is nothing there'.

Strike two. 'Well, maybe Manu at Gerolimenas then..?' My question hung as I pointed at my hopeless map, quite sure I'd butchered the pronunciation of both destinations.
'Ahhh - Hades!'
'That's right!' I said, hope raising with his apparent understanding and excitement.
'Mani is at Areopoli. It's nice.., but there is nothing there.'

It would have been cool going to the gates of Hell on this trip, but with that I gave up on going further south. Not only was 'nothing there' but the buses west of Napflio became very few and far between. No-one could tell me if a bus went further than the next town, let alone when, and they certainly weren't posted on any timetable. If I ever got to the south of the Peloponnesus I could take a few days to get back - after seeing nothing. That really did sound like hell.

But that's the fun thing travelling like this. If things don't work out you just change direction - there are always options. So a few hours later I found myself on the only bus to Patra, Greece's third largest city on the north coast of the Peloponnese, en route to Kefallonia - island of Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

Still, my wayfarer's contentment was shattered late in the night. The ferry arrived at the small town of Sami at 11.30pm and much to my chagrin all of the hotels in town were deserted, not even open for the season yet, leaving me bedless on the beach at midnight. I did ask around the cafes for a domatia (a private room) and seeing the desperate traveller one was offered for 35 Euro (double its value), but when he wanted to hold my passport for ransom I put the foot down - no way sport.

And so he unceremoniously kicked me out on the street. Cheers mate - how many of my countrymen died fighting to defend your country, eh? Bastard.

So I ended up sleeping rough on the rocky shore, under a large gum tree as the dead of night descended. Next morning I woke to a minor earth tremor (you can really feel it when you're lying directly on the ground) and a very nice view of Ithaki - Odysseus' long-lost home island. The temperature was 13C apparently, but my sleeping bag had kept me warm and despite the rocky mattress I'd had a semi-decent night's sleep. Things were looking up.

Most of the sights on Kefallonia are in the north east of the island and Sami is in that neighbourhood. These include the very photogenic Myrtos Beach (where the hilarious exploding mine scene from the Corelli movie was filmed), a number of interesting caves, other nice beaches like Antisamos, and the standard whitewash and pastel traditional island towns like Assos. However if you come to see sights from the Corelli movie you will be disappointed - most towns were pretty well flattened by a massive earthquake in 1953, so elaborate sets were built around Kefallonia for the filming.

Unfortunately it's not high season yet so there isn't much public transport or hire options available. Curse this late starting season! Sensing a need unfulfilled, the only scooter guy I could find wanted 20 euro a day for a dodgy pile of rust. Piss off - I would have to walk or hitch.

Fortunately Messilina Lake is only a couple of kilometres from Sami and I was glad I made the effort to leg it. This is a bizarre pot lake and cave formation that is accessed by a man-made tunnel. The half-salt, half-fresh water concoction is extremely clean, blue and deep (up to 30 metres), so it is pretty impressive in any weather. But if it was warm and the sun is was shining down the 20 metre deep circular rock shaft onto the pool it would be absolutely magic to see and swim.

There is a large cavern eroded out of one face, with a tiny opening that the boat can squeeze through, taking you to an extension of the pool but in inky blackness. Now the cavern is partially lit for tourism but this 'underworld' section is still a little eerie, especially when fat cold drops of water land on your head that have dripped from the stalactites above. The boatman kept moving so I couldn't get a defined shot but hopefully you get the drift.

Despite the 5 Euro price tag I was invigorated by that adventure - a very unusual and beautiful attraction that is fortunately open despite the low season.

Wandering back into town produced some unusual sights (smoke on the water, ducks, beach grfafiti, weird flowers) but after a quick lunch, including an unsuccessful attempt to convince a cute waitress that the huge motor yacht in the harbour was mine, I charged off in the other direction to see Antisamos Beach so I could get back before my ferry departed at 5pm. Like hell I was going to sleep on this rocky beach again!

Up the steep and winding 4km coastal road I went, past ancient bus stops that no doubt served Sami's ancient Acropolis further up the hill. There is a bit of excavation going on here but I'm bored with piles of rock for the time being so marvelled at the natural wonders down below instead. The Ionian Sea was smooth as a mirror and clear as crystal, and the partially overcast day actually lent itself to more bizarre, reflective effects. Only one vehicle passed me (going the other way) in that hour of trekking.

Antisamos hove into view and from afar it looked like paradise, a thin white strip ringed and dwarfed by lush green hills above. Winds gently rippled the water here and there, punctuating the script of a truly beautiful scene. On closer inspection the beach ended up being golf ball shaped pebbles which made lolling about distinctly difficult, but it was pretty quiet so I walked to the extremity and sat watching a local snorkeller plumb the chilly depths in search of octopus for Sami's dinner plates. It didn't take long before he surfaced and waved a big one over his head.

I was hoping he would come out so I could talk and get a photo or two of the catch, but a Brit called Peter drove by and offered a lift back to Sami which I couldn't refuse. On the way he confirmed that there had been a lot of earthquakes on the Ionian islands recently - the largest registering 5.9 on the Richter scale - so when I got on the ferry that night I was quite glad to be leaving crazy Kefallonia.

If you do make it to Sami, don't come by the late ferry unless it's definitely high season, and try to avoid Akrogiali Restaurant and Domatia at the western end of the foreshore - he was the prick that kicked me out at midnight.

Next entry -> Athens - I am definitely going to get there this time!

I didn't know...

Mani is a region south of Sparta and is home to one of the main entrances to Hades - the mythical Gateway to Hell - located at Cape Tenaro.

Apparently the land is extremely rugged and difficult to negotiate, meaning the locals haven't been subjugated (by either Ottoman or German) in the past 400 years. It would be a very interesting place to go if you have some time to spend getting around.

More info here.
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