Areopoli: from above the clouds to below ground and time warping

Tuesday, my first full day in Areopoli, was really something.  So was Wednesday!!

The Plan-for-the-Day was to walk to the Pyrgos Dhirou caves, one of the major tourist attractions not only of Mani but of Greece outside of Athens.  I put together a walk from the ‘hiking trails’ on the map, confirmed with the very helpful hotel staff that I could circumvent the cliff which seemed from the map and viewed from the top of Profitis Ilias to get in the way, and off I went, confident that after yesterday I could tackle anything.

Within half an hour the air was turning blue with expletives. To put it bluntly, the path marked on the map as the route to where I wanted to reach turned out to be the worst I have ever walked in my entire life  (and that’s a lot of paths!).  After 100 metres or so of averagely overgrown path, it was blocked by dense very aggressive vegetation, collapsing stone walls, and slumping earth banks.  In my optimism I pushed on.  I teetered along the top of stone walls, I climbed over into terraced fields,  I climbed back over 2-metre high overhanging stone walls, I pushed through the most aggressively spiny vegetation you can imagine,  I clambered down into a deep gully and then had to down-climb a 4 metre-high waterfall into its plungepool and then climb out of that and immediately down-climb another drop.  In short, I would never walk that path again unless I was wearing high-ankle leather boots, thorn-proof trousers, thorn–proof coat, thorn-proof gantlets hardhat  and carrying secateurs, loppers and a chain saw.

By the time I staggered torn and bleeding onto the road leading to the beach for which I was heading I was frenetic.  My brain was going 100 mph. I checked my watch convinced it must be at least 15.00 and was amazed to find that it was only 13.00.  My perception of time had been warped by the fact that I had had to choose every single step carefully while at the same time checking the route ahead and that the entire path had been so vividly attention-grabbingly ‘immediate’.

A guy I used to know from white water canoeing summed up his enjoyment of the sport as “you can’t be anywhere else at the time”.  It’s true.  No matter what the stresses of your job or personal life with white water canoeing you have to be switched on every second to where you are, what was coming up, and judge precisely every paddle stroke.  Or you are wrecked and maybe dead.  So it was on this s…ing path today!!  I actually thought “if I get this wrong nobody will ever find me”.  As I climbed the 2 metre overhanging stone wall I even thought of Aron Rawlston’s book/film ‘127 hours’.  At least I had my Swiss Army knife and antiseptic wipes.

But I had got through it.  I headed straight for the beach and a long swim, partly to cool off, partly to chill out, partly to get my cuts and lacerations into salt water.

During the eternity of that path I had given up any prospect of going into the caves because of the wrongly perceived time lapse and because I just wasn’t in a calm enough frame of mind to take them in.  An hour in the sea and on the beach, and wrapped around a banana and sesame seed bar (I sometimes do sesame seed bars instead of nutbars …. I don’t want to be predictable) I realised that it was still only 14.15 so I checked out the system for viewing the caves.

The system is set up for those arriving by car or bus so weird individuals like me who walk over the cliffs have to walk 150 metres up the access road to the ticket sales kiosk … and then walk back down.  The very attractive young lady at the kiosk looked at me as if I was something from outer space.  If I hadn’t come by car or coach, where was my flying saucer?  I proffered a €50 note for the €10 entrance fee just to show that I was solvent and therefore not a candidate for immediate deportation and my brief flush of self-assertion was washed away by the humiliation of being asked if I had a €2 as the entrance fee for old farts was only €7 and it was easier to give two €20 notes and €5 in change.

Then my second experience of the day of time-warping.  The first part of the trip around the cave consists of 1.5 kilometres in a boat.  I was told to sit down and having done so for 30 seconds was then ushered to what turned out be basically a blue punt.  There were only 3 of us in the boat plus the boatman and he gently steered us through the most amazing series of passageways and caverns covered in multi-coloured stalactites.  I have done a reasonable amount of caving and been in a couple of commercial cave systems in Yugoslavia (as it was then), the Peak District and the Mendips so I’m not new to  underground ’pretties’ but this was fascinating.  Around tight bends, duck your head to avoid getting it speared in low passages, into broad caverns.  I have read that the trip is a waste of time and money.  Don’t believe it!  If you are in the area, go for it.

A sign at the entrance said that video cameras were not allowed but there was no problem with my SLR.  I had set it at ISO 3200 to take account of the low lighting provided by the strategically placed spotlights and I just popped away for the whole trip.  I knew I could delete the shots which didn’t work.  To be honest, most of them didn’t but some did.  Though the punt moved very slowly it still meant that few shots were from a sufficiently stable position for the low shutter speeds which the camera needed even at ISO 3200. (technocrap over!)

The last 500 metres or so was on foot and so I could set my own pace and the success rate with the camera was higher.

Showing the problem of photography in low light from a moving boat in narrow, low-roofed passages

Many of the formations are reflected in the flat calm water

What cavers call ‘straws’, thousands of long narrow stalactites

Multiple colours as the water dissolves minerals as it passes through the rock

Sometimes fluted shapes

High in the wall of a chamber at least 100 feet to the visible ceiling

Much of the red colour is added by the nature of the lighting used

I eventually emerged blinking into the light and the heat of the outside world.  Assuming it must now be getting on for 1½ or 2 hours since I went down the steps into the cave I thought I had better head back to Areopoli, via a different path obviously.  But in fact I  had been in the cave barely 45 minutes.  It was so interesting, with so much to see at every turn that time had again been warped.

I had plenty of time for yet another swim and laze in the sun before heading back.  And the footpath back to Areopoli was a piece of cake.  A welcome pleasure after the first  path. And I found a taverna on the opposite side of the square from the hotel which sold draft Amstel … and it was only €2.50.  Very refreshing and relaxing end to a (seemingly) very long day.

Yet more time warping.  It seems that I have been travelling around Greece for months.  It’s difficult to remember Meteora, Metsovo, Parga, Paxos, Corfu and Patras.  They are distant memories difficult to summon up, another world. Yet I flew to Athens at the beginning of May and have only been here 6 weeks.  Once again it’s time warping.  Because there has been so much which has been new and interesting time in retrospect time has been considerably elongated.

I started to think about an exit strategy from the Mani because I realised that I was not going to be able to include the second part of the original plan which was to travel from Geithio to Crete and possibly into the Cyclades.   An exit strategy proved elusive. The first one I tried, flying back from Kalamata didn’t work out because flights were apparently fully booked until the end of July.   For a number of reasons I have therefore now booked a flight back to the UK from Athens on Friday 29 June …. just over a week.  Ho hum!

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One Response to Areopoli: from above the clouds to below ground and time warping

  1. dai hankey says:

    Dad. This is definitely my favourite one of your posts ever! Laughed out loud (on my own) all the way through it. Fair play – you’re a nutter!! Sounds like a great adventure though!

    God bless

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