Written in the early morning Kardamyli sunshine, one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen
To the Bay
It’s almost two weeks in now and the ‘bum’ lifestyle is working out a treat. Other than healthy exhaustion and a wrong turn or two that stormy night on the beach was the last wobbly point- everything else has been vying for highlight status.
Since that rain cleared we’ve barely seen a cloud in the sky- the climate is perfect- dry heat, warm and sunny in the day, cool enough to sleep well at night and not too windy for cycling. I don’t know if we’re lucky for this time of year, or if this is the ideal time to come but it couldn’t be better for us.
The afternoon after the rain saw us put in a hurried 60ks to our major destination on the west coast- a stunning complex of lagoon and bays near Pylos. I was on a ‘60s tip on my new Fiio X3 Mp3 player (bit geeky, but amazing quality)- The Grateful Dead, Revolver and Johnny Cash spun away the miles. We arrived just before dark (as usual) having barely had a break all the way down and without a clue where we were going to stay. The joy of self-sufficiency though- we just headed to the most beautiful spot on the bay, found an extremely friendly beach bar for a sundowner orange juice (still not drinking) and were welcomed to camp next to it, to use their showers and toilets and to benefit from their 24 hr security- nice! I don’t think my words can do justice to the ideal which was this gently lapping bay of sand, 5km long with the twinkling lights of Pylos at the far end and a mountainous island across the mouth to keep the heavy seas out. Add to this a huge lagoon a stone’s throw across the spit of land we were camped on, a ruined castle on the headland surveying the site and a postcard perfect mushroom-shaped cove just to the north and you’ve got wild-camp heaven.
This made the impromptu decision to stay the next day an easy one. There was plenty to explore and the legs were crying out for a rest day. Despite not shifting camp I can’t say they got one! We’ve got a place on the Royal Parks half marathon in London the weekend we get back so feel we should be running a bit, and what better spot? Duly we ran most of our exploring route around the castle, bay and dunes and despite being pretty tired and having missed lunch by the time we got back I was desperate to rent some watersports gear- almost anything would do. The breeze was a steady force 4- perfect for sailing or windsurfing- and there was enough swell for surfing in some of the bays, I was almost literally chomping at the bit. Anna was almost literally gnawing her arm off though! No time for compromise I lead her on a 10km wild goose chase for kit, which ended in failure of gear but somehow total restaurant success- justice was served!
Not feeling particularly rested we set out on what looked to be our toughest ride yet; across a ridge of mountains about 65km to the north east to a little-known ruined city called Mesini. Things started well enough as we climbed steadily away from the coast into the hills, olive groves, spectacular views and empty roads of the interior. We took in some Greek Sunday-life- coffee and snacks at the first town square- and pushed on through the afternoon in hope of a remote lunch spot serving food on a mid-Sunday afternoon (my idea). Total disaster was courted when we arrived at the largest town, starving. The only taverna ‘open’ looked puzzled when we asked for food, served us a couple of cans of drink and left me soon to be deep in the shit. Anna was just gathering her strength for a ‘review’ of my confidence not to carry supplies (I was battening down the hatches) when a friendly Greek chap turned up with a smile and perfect English chat, asking if we were after food. Result!! It was his family’s place and it looked like they were getting ready to cook for themselves and they rustled us up more amazing stewed lamb and Greek salad than even we could manage and joined us for a lazy Sunday chat. We left stuffed and more in love with Greece and its incredibly warm, friendly people and way of life than ever.
We were assured it was mostly downhill from there so once we thought we were on the right road we didn’t question the directions as we flew down towards the plain. Whoops. I still don’t know how the right road turned wrong (the network of country lanes which constitutes the road system isn’t the easiest) but 10 minutes of downhill wrong meant close to an hour of uphill slog to put it right again- bugger. All this meant we dragged ourselves into Mesini just before dark (again) after 75 tough kms in the saddle- 5 ½ hrs at an average of 14km/h- exhausted. Setting up camp in the dark wasn’t much of an option but €25 a night for a comfy room certainly was! We didn’t even make dinner in the end, just another massive sleep.
(A note on that- we seem to be sleeping about 10-12 hours an night! Presumably it’s our bodies calling for regeneration time, and we certainly feel we need it, but I’ve never slept so much in my life. Having said that it’s a total luxury to drift to sleep exhausted with the lapping of the waves and wake up when you feel ready to the warming of the sun.)
While the room was a bit of a treat the buzzzzzzzzz of mosquitos and mid-night bites certainly weren’t, every night seems to be something! I saw a whole new side to Anna though- mossy hunter extraordinaire! With sharpened senses and razor reflexes she hunted tirelessly, no piece of furniture went unturned in the quest for vengeance for the blood they had taken. (Strangely reminiscent of Homer Simpson on Whacking Day!)
Despite being the site of some world-class ruins (still being excavated) Mesini is a sleepy, friendly mountain village; swelled slightly each day by the usual coach tour or two but basically un-phased by the flow of strangers. It was the perfect place for another ‘rest’ day. We started off well enough drifting around the ruined city, complete with theatre, stadium, villa, town square and temples. Unfortunately it seems we can’t be within sight of a peak without being called to it. After an excellent lunch of roasted pork and Greek salad (of course, we’re addicted) we set out. While the path was good the climb to an ancient, abandoned monastery on the summit was lengthy on tired legs- but judge for yourselves the reward! Stunning- the whole of the Peloponnese laid out below us! Another dinner was skipped in favour of an early night- I went face-down on the bed at about 9pm and didn’t really wake up until next morning!
Finally fairly rested we had a gift of a morning, whizzing the 30ks to the coast in just over an hour with Anth Gaskill’s excellent ‘Messy in Action’ mix loud in my ears. While the regional capital Kalamata seemed nice enough and yielded a few enormous crepes to keep hunger at bay we were really excited to be entering the Mani- the fabled mountainous peninsula, Greece’s answer to the Highlands, complete with 2,400m peaks and awash with the blood of a thousand feuds. We’ve been reading Patrick Leigh-Fermer’s 1958 exposé of the area since we knew we were coming here and couldn’t wait to get stuck in. The first 20k or so was easy enough going, skirting a charming coast of clear blue water and sleepy villages- it had to end. Turning inland we embarked on the toughest climb I’ve faced, 5km/45 mins of grinding it out in the lowest gear, each corner hoping for an easing of the gradient and instead finding an ever steeper climb! The result was fantastic though, by the end we had rocketed high above the coast, and cresting a hill our destination- the Maniot coast and the idyllic town Kardamyli- was laid out far below us. Another sunny freewheel brought us in to perhaps the most perfect spot I’ve ever seen. I feel like I’m in an advert for the South of France of the 1950s- sparkling water, swish cafes, dramatic mountains and crystal sunshine- what a find. We settled right in, found a spot at the end of the beach and made ourselves at home.
We had given ourselves a day to explore the mountains as much as we could, but the morning drifted away to sleep, lazy swimming in the deep, clear sea and ‘café culture’ (i.e. frappes and milkshakes in swanky cafes). We made amends in the afternoon- hiking hours along the local rocky gorge and then putting in a run high up the side and back to town in time for a bit more café culture at sunset!