Sunday, 22 September 2013

on the up

Down by the sea we have a day off before setting off once more into the mountains.  There’s a tourist train that climbs through a dramatic gorge to Kalavryta, but we opt to take the road – a now familiar feeling comes over us as we start to wind our way uphill.  But no worry, there are water fountains along the road and we’ve food in the panniers so we can stop when we want.  So after a shortish climb, when a track appears at a hairpin bend, we check it out – it heads into an olive grove in a quiet empty side valley.  A perfect spot for camping, once we’ve weeded all the spiky prickly plants from the ground. 
view from our pitch
The road goes the hard way to Kalavryta – we climb over the top of a ridge the next day and descend into a valley where the train passes.  These climbs are averaging at around  1000m which is why we like to split them up.  There’s a smattering of weekend tourists in Kalavryta, but we stop only to stock up and try a kebab.  On the way out of the village, up another tear-inducing gradient we come to a moving memorial to the men and boys executed by the Germans in the last war.  This was in retaliation for the killing of German prisoners by some of the local resistance.  511 rounded up and shot.  It’s chilling and desperately sad.  Not since we left Poland have we heard such dreadful stories.  The Greek resistance must have been a true thorn in the Germans’ side because similar atrocities occurred in other parts of the country.  Our guide book sometimes remarks about a modern village because the old village was flattened in reprisals.

We continue our climb with a short break for lunch at a closed down restaurant perched on the side of the road with a view looking over the surrounding mountains and valleys.  We sit on the fancy marble steps and munch our sandwiches.  Once again we are on a quiet road with only local farmers passing in their pick-ups and a few tourists.  There’s a ski centre up here somewhere.  We surprise ourselves when we reach the pass early afternoon and delight in the big downhill before us – a good 30km or more – through a high plateau of farms and then down a steep narrow valley to Greece’s g-spot.  This is the town of Klitoria.  We fly down the road just behind a storm and reach a soggy Klitoria just as a big crowd is breaking up in the main plaza.  The shops are all shut and there’s a lot of milling around the church.  It turns out to be a funeral.  We mooch on more slowly looking for a camping pitch, and find one in the wet valley bottom.  Now and again there’s a shotgun blast across in the nearby fields.  It’s only when the sun has set and the light has faded that Gayle realises that there’s no hunting going on here – the shots are single at regular events – it’s a device to scare off birds and/or wild boar and/or wild campers.

Misty morning and another mountain pass to climb.  We gradually and comfortably climb out of the mist and into the sunshine and a new valley dotted with quiet villages.  An old man steps out of his house and spots a tin can on the road by his garden gate.  He kicks it over the road into the field.  Despite this kind of scene, the villages are clean and there are bins in each one we pass.  There’s also one by each water fountain so the area is kept fairly clean.  But when you’re cycling you see it all – and just down the road is the now familiar sight of the road edge tip: a place locals come and tip building rubbish, furniture, general trash to scour and foul the mountainside.  We stop in one village to look for bread.  In the shop there’s not a lot on the shelves.  Really not a lot.  Barely anything edible.  The shopkeeper offers me toothpaste.  When I indicate I want something to eat he points me out the door to the café.

Our ride finally tops out after a little bit of huff and puff and the occasional push.   Well, okay then, a lot of huff and puff.  We have a cup of tea in the shade of pine trees, glad of a flat spot to sit down.  And now it’s a cruise down the other side and onto a main road which helps us get our daily average speed back up.  We enter another valley which twists into a gorge, and climb remorselessly once again up to the scenic village of Dhimitsana.  It’s Saturday and this is our last hope for a food shop before the Sunday closedown.  The reward for our long ride is one of the prettiest villages we have come across since we left Puglia.  Looking over a balcony rail the gorge bottom plunges out of sight.  Somewhere down there in the cliffsides is a monastery.  There’s a good shop, there’s a bakery, there’s a bench to lie down on.  Wonderful.  After chatting with a few bored-looking Belgians in a tour group and an English woman who is “doing classical and Byzantine Greece” with her husband, we nosey on down the road, loaded up with water and looking optimistically for somewhere to camp.  The road is contouring a cliffside and the chances look slim, until we come across a turn-off up to a remote village which provides a nice flat spot off a handy hairpin bend.  It’ll do.

We are eating our breakfast and packing up in the morning sunshine at around 8 o’clock.  Gayle remarks how she’d like some rain – sick of the sun. 
We have decided on a lazy day as a just reward for our journey south through the Peloponnese mountains.  Along the road is another picturesque village called Stemnitsa, perched on steep slopes on the side of the valley.  We stop at a café to use their wi-fi.  I order a coffee and Gayle goes for a wander with the camera.  At around midday the skies darken and a thunder storm arrives.  It continues non-stop until about  5 o’clock. We stay rooted in our café.  The owner doesn’t seem to mind that we’ve only ordered one coffee.  Thunder rumbles above us and lightning strikes get closer and closer.  Finally, the storm seems to have passed and we mount the bikes and rush off in search of a place to camp.  Thankfully the road is heading down to a wider part of the valley and we pitch off the road behind a hedge.  Gayle seems happy with her afternoon of rain. I pray for sunshine tomorrow.

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