A Mani’s home really is his castle

Up and away from Koroni was slightly easier said than done, our route took us out through what seemed some very tiny village streets. We squeezed the van through, with me congratulating Iain on negotiating widths that appeared not much more than an inch or two either side of us, at which point a massive draw-bar arctic appeared coming in the opposite direction. We reversed back to allow him through, no idea how he was going where we had come from but really glad we didn’t meet him a mile or two further back to find out. To be fair a lot of roads look way too small for much more than a car and then you see a coach or bus trundling along so they must be wider than they look. We have yet to see a width restriction on any road, that may be  because they don’t have any signs or it maybe because they believe anything can go through if they just aim and put their foot down, the latter seems to be more likely.

From Koroni we followed the coast road up to the outskirts of Kalamata, for a visit to the mecca of motorhome shoppers – Lidl. Normally we limit ourselves to a basket at a supermarket, at Lidl its a trolley and we stock up on all the essentials for a good few weeks and then some. As at home Lidl stocks some weird and varied stuff but its all edible and its all reasonably cheap so  it will do for us. Giant Greek Beans are going to be a theme on meals for a while now, way too cheap to leave on the shelves. We are limited for storage space, especially for chilled and frozen so we tend to shop carefully for those and go mad with the ambient. Letting Iain loose near the frozen was not a good plan, hope he likes lolly with salad as its on the menu this weekend 🙂

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Around Kalamata it seems someone has been listening to my complaints that good fruit and vegetables are not widely available. Road side stalls selling fruit, veg, honey and olive oil (not olives) became very frequent. The quality looked good and it made us feel a bit nostalgic for Spain seeing the massive netted bags of oranges. The only problem with these stalls is if we stop we have to buy something, even if they don’t have what we want, or I feel guilty that they are sitting there all day without a sale. We stopped for lunch outside Kalamata and these rather natty standard lamps made from old tree branches were for sale on the road next to us! I just went for a look and the bloke appeared, I had to make a dash for it before his sad face convinced me we needed one of these to stand outside the van at night – in hindsight it may have looked rather good though.

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We missed out Kalamata town, we couldn’t think of a reason to trudge around the shops and we don’t know of anything special to see so it seemed easier to pass it by and head down finger number two of the Peloponnese. We climbed for miles and were lucky that breaks in the clouds did give us some incredible views down towards the Mani and out to sea. The roads were good until you reach a village, then its a bit of a squeeze through for a few hundred metres and all ok again out the other side. Once we reached Kampos it was a series of hairpin bends winding steeply all the way back down to the coast

As we started to drop the landscape changed as did the houses. The land is more barren and the houses resemble small castles, the original Mani houses were towers and fortified dwellings from the times of the Ottoman occupation. It seems that even now this is very popular as every village had new developments taking place in the Mani style. As we came through Otitylo we spotted the castle on the hill in front of us, built in 1670 it was pretty much just walls, so we made a joint decision that you can see too many castles and skipped this one. We carried on down to the sea and stopped at Neo Oitylo for a look around the bay, despite being miles from civilization there is plenty of new building and renovations taking place some quite sympathetic with the surroundings but as many appeared to be designed to demonstrate wealth over taste. As it was another hour or so to the next campsite we decided to overnight on the promenade, well more on the wasteland next to the promenade as one of the tavernas had put up a sign saying free parking for motorhomes on the carpark so we thought it best to park where we were most welcome.

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Neo Oitylo

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Tucked away on the right in our home for the night

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from the village across the bay

From Neo Oitylo our plan was a little camperstop by a lake for the following night, found by me on the internet and looking quite good in the photo. I plotted coordinates on the Sat Nav and sat back rather pleased with myself. As we went along the route was a bit daunting to say the least, the road went from the quality of small lane to that of the an old goat herders track. It was so bad that 15 km took 40 minutes and those 40 minutes felt like 2 hours. The width of the road meant that if we met said goat herder he wasn’t passing us unless he was climbing down the sheer drops. Eventually we reached our destination – at the sea on the opposite side of the peninsular!! The photo looked like a lake but was actually the sea, the Sat Nav had taken us the shortest route, however it would have been 8 km more and 25 minutes less to take the main road route. Hence my credentials as a route planner and camperstop finder were shot to pieces – ooops!

So this lake that has turned into a sea is at Skoutari, a small quayside away from any houses or restaurants and looking pretty sheltered. Thinking it would do nicely for us now after the drama of getting there we pulled on and parked up, as the handbrake was lifting we just noticed the wave washing over the pier and flooding up around our wheels. Maybe not such a good spot for the night then, we moved up to the end by the road for a lunch stop and then headed out to find something a bit more suitable.

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There was a chance we were going to get very wet

Just 8 km down the coast we came across a quiet village, Kotronas, where we found a lovely pier jutting out into the sea and a small harbour tucked in behind it. It didn’t look like any of the fishing boats were going out soon so we felt confident we would be ok for an overnight stop.  We parked up, and went off for a walk around the village, stopping for a coffee in the local ‘brew of death shop’ where I indulged in a cup of the local sludge to further silt up my kidneys. I am of the firm opinion that the Greeks don’t even drink Greek coffee, the last two occasions I have ordered Greek coffee the waiters have said ‘are you sure?’ as if I am asking to be force fed liquid tar, they are not keen to sell it so I don’t think they really drink it.

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We were just back at the van when we heard a Scottish voice shout “that’s €5 for the night”.  We were shocked a) at a British voice b) that there was anyone around c) that we were going to have to pay for Wild Camping, luckily it was a and b, not c. Norman and Marion had ‘sneaked’ their monster 8.5 metre Carthago onto the pier behind us, no mean feat in the area concerned. They had been  a few miles down the coast and looking through their binoculars saw a motorhome on the pier in the next village, then spotted it was a British registration and decided to come and check it out and say hello. Like us they hadn’t seen a motorhome for a couple of weeks, so we spent an hour comparing notes on our experiences, our notes were much shorter – we have been away 13 weeks, their notes are considerably longer as they have been away 15 years! After our visitors left to go back to their own motorhome we settled down to start tea, as we did the storm started. A few claps of thunder, a strong gust of wind that rocked the van and some decent waves breaking just a few feet from us were all we needed to help us decide to move off the pier and onto the harbour for some shelter overnight.

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The best camping spot ever (as long as the wind doesn’t get up!)

That’s brings us on to the weather. Yes its been raining, and its been a bit cloudy too. Ok that isn’t the full story – its been torrential rain since Saturday lunchtime and there is buckets of it still coming down, last night we had thunder and lightening for over 3 hours. The sun has poked its head out a few times today for an hour or so but the rain is winning hands down. Of course ‘fried eggs’ on the weather map would be preferable but we can cope with a week or so of this, which is good as the forecast shows rain for at least 10 days but with the odd sunny afternoon here and there.

The rest of the Mani peninsular is on now on hold, again we would prefer good weather to see the views so see no point in trudging around it in the rain when we don’t need to. We left Kotronas handy on Saturday morning heading up the road to another little camperstop we had found, called Poseidon, 200 metres from the arrival point there was a ford to cross, which due to the last 48 hours of rain was looking fairly deep. We waited to see someone else go through to check on the depth, as we did conversation went to the Poseidon Adventure! We waited a few minutes and watched a 4×4 go through up to his wheel arches. The thought of our being stuck in a flooded ford could not have appealed less and now the visions of a Gene Hackman helping us climb out the windows was firmly lodged in my mind. I managed to convince adventure man not to take the risk and we headed for Camping Gythion Bay instead.

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Commeth the rain, commeth the rainbow at our 2nd parking spot at Kotronas

We are now installed in said campsite, and find this is where most of the motorhomes in the Peloponnese who are not at Camping Finikes are hanging out. There are several nationalities here from all the usual motorhome spots including Norway, Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium, plus a couple of Brits in exceptionally large RV’s. The campsite is spacious and the pitches are big, set in an old olive grove which backs onto the beach. We have secured a pitch next to the swimming pool – obviously we wont be using it in this weather in but its lovely to look out the window and see a pool through the rain. In the middle of the site is what the campsite calls the winter room, a large wooden building with chairs, books and a log fire for people to use when they want to get out of their vans and its not too warm or dry, a good touch that’s being well used today.

It is election day here today, we have no idea what impact that may have but feel reasonably confident nothing will change for a while (if we are wrong the next Blog will be from Turkey or Bulgaria!)

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Take a trip in a mebea – oh go on then

Life at Camp Koroni remains very quiet, we still have the whole place to ourselves. Not sure what would keep the motorhomers at Finikes as opposed to here other than the beach being closer. In exchange for the beach the town is two minutes walk and its a much more lively, lived in affair than the Finikounda. The facilities in camp are very good, it’s all clean and the showers have hot water, for us that is good facilities. The showers are almost al fresco, a stable door with gaps at top and bottom and they open out directly onto the site (ensures plenty of fresh air whilst you shower), there is plenty of plant life vying for space at the top of the cubicle due to the lack of a ceiling which adds to the breeze :). The family who run the site are very accommodating, we did a full wash in the machine here and whilst it was a big machine I was a bit horrified when Pappous Campsite owner told me the cost was €45 for a wash!!! Even worse when he said it I just smiled and nodded, I kind of hope he meant €4.50, fingers crossed.

Koroni town has continued to hold our interest, there has been something new to find each day. Added to which we are enjoying being more in a village and therefore having some daily contact with Greek people.  Whilst we enjoyed the contact with the other moho owners at Finikounda, we also felt a bit removed from village life due to the location of the site there.  Here we see people all day on the roads, in town and the owners family wandering around the site. Pretty much every person we pass waves, smiles and says some form of greeting, we respond as best we can and hope we use the right words in the right instances.

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Town square where it all happens

We must be doing something right, we waved and said our ‘kalimera’ to a lovely old chap we saw driving a cross between a moped and a trailer with a sewing machine engine attached (we think it’s maybe a Candia or a Mebea). He not only stopped, he motioned us to get in. I took the front seat and Iain climbed into the back, it was only as I sat down I realised this contraption was held together with spit and goodwill. Our driver didn’t ask where we were going, he just set off and we were on a mini tour around the streets.  Not a word passed between us whilst he drove us around, he just seemed pleased to be able to do something for us. It was without doubt one of the best experiences and money didn’t buy it. Afterwards the thought came that we would never consider jumping in a car with someone we didn’t know if it were an everyday car or van, but get something a bit wacky and yup we can overlook a bit of common sense 🙂

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Our new friend with the amazing cross bred vehicle

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Front seat for me…

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Iain had to climb in the back

Sunday morning there was a small market, very small by the time we got there as it was just closing. The local handmade pottery lady saw me coming, I was totally talked into a very cute little coffee cup for €1, I could have bought everything she owned except we don’t have enough space and I don’t have enough money to waste of souveneirs. We bought some fruit and vegetables from one stall, whilst everything was various € per kilo the guy just put it all in one bag and weighed it and came up with €1.50, no idea if we did well out of it but we paid up anyway. Pricing seems hit and miss, some things so cheap its unbelievable, and at the opposite end of the scale some stuff is really expensive – in both cases of course comparing to home. The general standard of living here seems good, house prices are very cheap (I read today on average 30% cheaper than at home). There must be a good size expat community out here, lots of German registrations on cars and the local supermarket sells German newspapers and also had several copies of the Daily Mail and Heinz baked beans – a sure signs of Brits in the area!

As the weather has become sunnier then the locals have been more out in force promenading up and down the main street and stopping for a few glasses of ouzo or wine and a plate of meze in the winter sun.  What is with the worry beads? nearly every man we see has a set being twisted or swung around in one hand whilst the other hand grasps a cigarette or a coffee. There must be something in it or surely there wouldn’t be so many of them about. My theory is they have nothing to worry about anyway other than where there next coffee and cigarette are coming from. A less stressed group of people it must be harder to find: traffic delay – no worries, they all just chat; sheep in the road – oh well lets all just chat, a customer waiting – will just pop over for a chat with someone else first. If it is the worry beads than bring about this calmness we should be issuing them on the National Health at home.

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On the olive front, we have taken matters into our own hands, literally. We went olive scrumping and picked a couple of kilos and are now doing a ‘brew your own’ experiment. We found some trees just off the site where the olives hadn’t been picked, they have now. We have started the soaking stage which will take 3-4 weeks, followed by a brining stage of 6-8 weeks, then a flavouring stage of 1-2 weeks. So it looks like we will have our own Baxter Koroni olives ready around the time we hit Estonia. Something to look forward to if it’s as bleak there are people are telling us.

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We hadn’t so far visited the main beach area for the town which is on the other side of the headland, so we set out with rucksacks for a hike to walk the coast and see what the fuss was about. Called Zaga beach, it is a pretty ok beach, I wouldn’t say you would rave over it but that might be because we walked along it in a storm force wind and had our faces sand blasted? A few beach bars and plenty of sun loungers stored for the summer season so it must be a popular place in high summer. The whole beach bar left in winter undisturbed thing is something else we have noticed. They are all closed for the winter, by closed there is some thick polythene wrapped around the ‘window’ gaps and the doors are locked. Looking in windows we see all the bottles of alcohol on the shelves, the decorations, furniture, fittings etc. yet these bars are left as they are, no damage, no graffiti, nothing stolen – fairly remarkable in today’s society anywhere in the world,

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Zaga beach – Koroni Monastery and the Taygetos mountains in the background

Back out on our walk to Zaga Beach we noticed a tree lined lane, which took us down to the stone built temple of Panagia Eleistria, which was built to celebrate the discovery of three statuettes, the Christ Crucified, the Virgin Mary holding the Holy Infant and another one that it is attributed to the Luke, the Evangelist, back in 1897. The temple was open to walk around, the priest was sat outside having a smoke and a flick of his beads.  To the side of the church is a tomb and a small chapel built into the rock, we were unsure exactly who the tomb belongs to, but it may be the place the icons were found. From what we gathered a woman called Maria Statjaki saw visions for 15 years telling her there were icons in the rocks, she told the villagers but they didn’t believe her, Then a child, Magdalini, led the villagers to icons, after no one had believed poor old Maria for all those years. However she is buried right outside the door of the chapel so we guess they felt bad about it afterwards. As we have found in most places in Greece, there is very little in the way of information as to what you are seeing. Even when we Google it afterwards there is a lot of conflicting information. It really is amazing that there is so little tourist information of any kind here. There are so many things to see and so little information about any of it even existing let along telling you what it is. Even good old Wikipedia is letting me down and I am having to cobble together information from many conflicting Greek websites.

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Panagia Eleistria

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inside the temple

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The crypt where the icons were found in the rock face

Our last major discovery here has been that they have Processionary Caterpillars, we spotted a couple of the hairy nests in the trees near to the temple. We first came across these in Spain where we were warned they are very harmful to humans but even more so to dogs as it can lead to their tongues swelling. The nests look very like a harmless candyfloss in the trees, we haven’t yet seen any of the dangerous little blighter’s on the ground but will be keeping our eyes peeled as they start their processions.

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We have decided to move on tomorrow, there is that little bit of usual worry that this place is so good the next one cannot live up to it.  We were aiming to go up into the mountains and visit Sparta and Mystras monastery but due to the weather forecast not being great we have decided to postpone that trip and do it in a few weeks. Instead we are heading for Kalamata, a big stock up of shopping in Lidl and maybe a stop outside the military airbase for some plane spotting, yes we know how to live it up. The next peninsular is where the sea turtle protection takes place on many of the beaches, think we may be too early for actual turtles but we are hoping something interesting about it all may be open. On the weather front, its been scorchio today, we have the same forecast for tomorrow, then rain for several days, this will be our first spell of bad weather since we left at the beginning of November, let’s get it over with – we have our waterproofs ready 🙂koroni4 (11)                                                               My Dream car!!