August 11: I’d originally wanted to go to Olympia today, but I ultimately decided that it would involve too much driving for a one-day trip. Still, I had this crazy notion that I wanted to see what was on the other side of the Taygetus Mountain – I’d read about the regions and seen some pictures, and it seemed like it might be interesting. So I took myself up and over the mountain. It was a beautiful stretch of road, but I must admit to feeling a bit tired of endless switchbacks. You might think that a big road on a map would be a big road, not a road that narrows into one lane at points veers precipitously around cliffs without guard rails. Not so in Greece – a big road on a map just means a slightly bigger road (sometimes) than what you’d find in a village. Still, the view once the mountains open out onto the city of Kalamata was tremendous – a wide expanse of ocean stretching far out beyond the city sprawl.
I’d planned to give Kalamata a miss, but I noticed a lively market going on near the outskirts of town. I decided to stop, and wow, what a market. It was nearly half a kilometer long, filled with vendor upon vendor. Most of the people were selling fruits and vegetables; at this time of year, it’s grape, orange, tomato, squash, and mystery (to me) greens season, with the occasional assortment of plums, peaches, figs, prickly pear cactus fruits, cucumbers, and beans here and there.
Then you get to the fish-selling area, and then to the butcher (there are things here that might scare The Godfather himself), and sprinklings of shops with cheese and candy and beans and grains. It all smelled really bad and was really cool.
My next stop was about an hour away to the west: the small seaside town of Pylos. I went here because Matt Barrett said it’s the closest thing he’s seen to the way Greece was back in the sixties: not too touristy, lots of tavernas on the well-shaded town square, and an good overall view of what Greek life is like in a small town. I treated myself to a too-sweet crepe and walked around; the town did, indeed, feel pretty authentic (insofar as I’m qualified to evaluate such things).
On Matt’s suggestion (I’ve probably mentioned Matt in earlier blogs; he has a Greek travel website that’s filled with great recommendations), I then went to Voidokilia beach, a perfect half-circle of sand that’s one of the most beautiful beach settings I’ve ever seen. There have been people living in this area since Neolithic man, and it’s easy to see why. There’s a lagoon just on the other side of the beach with all sorts of birds and other wildlife. And the curl of beach sand is protected by two huge rocks on either end, which are dotted with caves – including Nestor’s Cave (in Greek mythology, the cave where Hermes is said to have hidden Apollo’s cattle after he stole them). I never found that particular cave (the Greeks are great at putting up yellow and brown “Archeological Site” signs that don’t seem to lead anywhere), but I had a great swim and rest.
The drive back was long, but I was better able to appreciate the rocky cliff faces and forests of Taygetus this time. When I returned to the village, I walked to what I now think of as “the other tavern.” There, I found a going-away party for two of the Williamsburg brothers from the States in full swing. Litsa very kindly invited me to join them, which was lots of fun until the going away hugs began and I started to feel very much out of place. But I still appreciated the invitation; it’s always good to feel welcome, and I’m starting to feel very much a part of the village.
I had to smile when I told everyone I was walking home, because several people seemed concerned and offered me rides. I’m not sure if this is because (a) people in the village don’t really walk anywhere at night or (b) it’s odd to see a woman going places alone. I can say for certain that women don’t drive alone in this part of Greece – I’m the only woman I’ve seen out and about on my own.
The walk back to the house was delightful. The weather had cooled, the only sounds were of crickets and the occasional barking dog, and the starts were out in full force. It fascinates me that I’m thousands of miles from home but can see the same stars – only they’re so much brighter here with without the competition of ambient light!