PHOTOS ADDED (for those who have difficulty with the words)
Wednesday, the last day in the Mani and the Exit Strategy looming.
First task after breakfast was to trot around to the bus station and book my ticket on the bus to Athens tomorrow morning. There is a strange agglomeration of ticketing strategies in Greece. In some places you have to buy a ticket before you get on the bus in a periptero (all-purpose kiosk) or local shop and have it ‘verified’ (torn in half) on the bus. In some places you buy them on the bus. But that’s oversimplifying it, it can be very complicated.
When I travelled from Kardamili to Areopoli I bought a ticket to Itilo on the bus and then another from Itilo to Kardamili on the bus. When I travelled from Areopoli to Gerolimenas I got sent off the bus to but buy a ticket in the ‘stathmos’ (bus station office) which was then scrutinised and ‘verified’ (torn in half) 3 metres away when I got back on the bus.
Not wanting to be caught out again travelling back from Gerolimenas, when I passed the bus parked in the ‘stathmos’ in Gerolimenas, just a one-bus sized parking space at the end of the street and with no office at all, I thought I would enquire of the driver who was doing bus-cleaning chores. The reason for my enquiry was that with no office it raised the possibility that I may have to buy the ticket in the supermarket 100 metres or more away. I used my very best Greek and he simply yelled at me petulantly “No speak English!!!” and adding in Greek that the bus left at 14.30 and waved me away dismissively.
I knew the bus left at 14.30 but didn’t know about the ticket purchasing system, so I repeated my enquiry but more slowly and enunciating more clearly. He repeated his yelling at me, to which I replied in my best, if very irritated, English: “I’m speaking Greek!! Obviously futile words. I guessed that he was one of those people who, when faced with a foreigner panics and assumes they are speaking some alien language that they don’t and cannot understand and just don’t listen to what you say. I stood my ground, looked him in the eye and said loudly and clearly, one – word – at – a – time: “agorazo” (do I buy), and when a light of recognition of the vowels coming out of my mouth dawned across his face carried on “to isiteirio” (the ticket)… “sto leoforeo” (on the bus)…. “ee” (or)…. “sto magazi” (in the shop). Even though by now it was clear that I was speaking in Greek and he had understood what I had said, he didn’t say a word but just pointed aggressively at a ticket machine on the dashboard and carried on with his cleaning duties.
I didn’t want the same problem for the trip to Athens hence the reason I went to the bus station ticket office a day early to book a ticket for “avrio” (tomorrow) at “ochto to prowee” (8 in the morning). The contrast couldn’t have been much greater. The guy clearly spoke adequate English but was pleased I was speaking Greek (indicated by a “bravo!”) and I was invited behind the desk to view a seating plan for the bus on the computer screen and choose my seat. As there were only two tickets sold at that point I had plenty of choice. Very satisfactory experience. The cost of a ticket from Areopoli to Athens? €22.
Then it was off for a walk. I had sussed out that the coldest bottled water in the town was from the periptero in the main square a few feet from the hotel so armed with that I set off to follow a path to the Areopoli caves. Yet another story of map showing a path and no sign of it on the ground.
I digress once again. The numbers of visitors has been low everywhere I have been and people who know the places say that numbers are significantly down on last year when they were significantly down on the year before. It is lean times and all because of the adverse publicity in the media, scaremongering about the Greek economy and engendering a fear of civil disturbance. The guy in the Akrogiali Hotel in Gerolimenas said that he regularly has 4 walking groups from the UK 3 of which have cancelled bookings for this year because of uncertainty arising from media scaremongering.
It is a hard path in Greece at the moment. For those who care I simply say that I have been here for 2 months and no hint of any problems whatever. A real bonus is that that the exchange rate between Sterling and the Euro is better than at any time in the last 3 years ( I haven’t looked back further than that).
But there is no point in simply being negative about these things. Positive action can slowly make changes. From my experience in the last 2 weeks, one problem in the Deep Mani, around Areopoli and Gerolimenas, is that footpaths are very, I emphasise, very, poorly maintained. What is on the maps in many cases does not match what is on the ground. If properly addressed more people might be attracted as the walking experience is improved by simple actions like clearing and signing footpaths properly. Around Kardamili it is 95% there. Improvements on the ground to match the footpaths mapped in the Areopoli/Gerolimenas area could have a dramatic effect , especially if fed back into marketing the area.
I bang on about this because today, my last day, I set out to follow paths and tracks to the Areopoli caves. The caves may be there, I don’t know. I struggled a bit on one section of path connecting two tracks but then the final section of path just didn’t exist, lost among thorn bushes and cow paths. I had enough of being lacerated so I packed, it in backtracked and walked to Diros Bay for a swim. And a very great pleasure that was!!!!!
On the walk back up to Areopoli I kept stopping to look around at the sea, at the beaches, at the mountains I had climbed, at the tower villages I had visited. I nostalged. There, it’s written. It seems to be that there should be a verb in the language to encompass the feeling of nostalgia. It wasn’t simply something which came over me , it was something I positively did. At one point I walked backwards up the hill to look back at the beach where only 20 minutes before had been swimming. I deliberately ‘nostalged’. The sense isn’t conveyed adequately by ‘reminisced’. I’ll miss the Mani. I’ll definitely miss swimming in the Aegean.
About 18 kms walking in increasingly hot and unusually humid weather so really looked forward to a beer in the very good taverna in the top corner of the main square. And yet another Ryan Giggs moment. Interesting chat with the owner, Kostas, in my increasingly confident, if not always accurate Greek, and yet again when responding to the enquiry where I was from he said “Ah Yes! Wales. Ryan Giggs!” When we finished chatting he went inside for a few moments and came back with two contact cards, one for me and one, with a gleam of humour in his eye, to pass on to Ryan Giggs.
I tokk a large number of photos as I nostalged to try to capture the moment. As yet no time to sort them out. If time permits I’ll edit the blog and add them later. Being on holiday is very time-consuming!!!!
Early start Thursday. Apparently with the long distance route to Athens passengers need to be at the ‘stathmos’ 15 minutes before departure. Fits in nicely with the seat allocation process. I wonder if the hostesses will do the safety drill in the aisles.