Peloponnisos Part II: September 2 2009
We departed Nafplio August 20 but not before strong winds left a layer of dirt and wildfire ash coating Barefeet. Ick...crawling into bed was like crawling into a sandbox. Ah well, a stem to stern cleaning is never a bad idea. Sparkling clean we had our boat back and were anchored in the quiet anchorage of Khaidhari. We reconnected with neighbors met at Simi for sundowners before moving on toward Monemvasia (August 22). It was a smooth sail that we had hoped to break up with a stop at picturesque Kyparissi (quite possibly the last place Princess Diana swam before making her fateful trip to Paris). Unfortunately, increased winds kept up a surge at the cement wall that made Barefeet creak and wiggle...cement is not very forgiving to fiberglass. After an hour of fiddling with ropes and fenders we finally decided to push on all the way to Monemvasia...another 20 miles. We dropped the anchor in Ormos Palaio Monemvasia late in the day. This was further from the old town than we wanted to be but forecasted strong North winds made it the best of the anchoring options. Well, it was a good thing we picked the spot we did because all day August 23 we were boat bound due to constantly blowing 30-35 knot winds (gusting to 41 knots). Too bad Finn and Tove were not nearby to pass the time playing cards. The strong winds were a bummer for us but worse for the fire fighters battling the more than seventy wildfires in and around Athens. Greece becomes quite a tinder box after the hot summer heat dries the vegetation to kindling.
Lighter winds gave us a chance to visit the old town of Monemvasia (August 24). The island of Monemvasia looks like a cross between the rock of Gibraltar and Mont Saint Michel. It was an important port until the 20th century with structures originating from the Byzantine era. Today the buildings are being lovingly restored by wealthy Athenians...despite the lack of 21st century building aides. The sole entrance to the fortified village is only wide enough to allow a donkey to pass with whatever bags of cement and bricks he can carry. Restoration is slow but the results were lovely. We hiked up the zig-zag paths to the church of Ayia Sophia. The church stands on the edge of a sheer cliff ringed by ruins of the upper town containing the administrative center and homes of nobles. Below is the still active lower village where we stopped for a bite to eat and to rest our legs. Local red wine is said to travel well and thus was well prized by ships passing through. We bought a bottle even though we only needed it to last for the 3 mile dinghy ride back to Barefeet. Ah, the light winds were a nice change as we watched the sun go down.
The Peloponnisos is shaped like a flat hand with three fingers forming capes at the southern edge. The finger tips can be treacherously windy which requires good weather windows in order to pass. After a good weather forecast from both the GRIBS and Poseidon we rounded the cape from Monemvasia to Elafonisos island (August 25). We anchored in the large bay of Sarakiniko...lined with white sand beaches and clear, blue water. First order of business was a swim ashore and a barefoot walk along the sand. Most of the Greek beaches we have seen have been rocky and strewn with spiky sea urchins...this was a nice treat. Back aboard Barefeet Chris made pizza as we watched the mega yacht dinghies...closer in comparison to sport fishers than inflatable ribs...ferry guests to the sandy shore. Wow, one even had two crew, dressed from head to toe in white...ready with dry towels in one hand and fresh water hose in the other as the two guests climbed the ladder after a swim. An additional source of entertainment for us were the far swimming Greeks. It is quite amazing to look off into the distance and think we were seeing a fishing buoy only to realize that it was a Greek swimming leagues from shore...clad in sunglasses and hat. Distance is rarely a concern in Greece with almost non-existent current and barely discernable tides.
The next morning it was difficult to leave our beach anchorage but off we went ambling for Githeion after a breakfast of cheese croissants a la Pillsbury (August 26). As we travel from place to place we find that our tourist moments are "just in time" planning...not exactly sure where our next anchorage will be or how long we will be there. While in Greece we have used guidebooks, recommendations from friends and word of mouth as well as a great on-line travel guide about Greece www.GreekTravel.com by Matt Barrett. He has given solid overviews of islands and mainland towns as well as restaurant suggestions and even a taxi driver recommendation...George the famous taxi driver (Hughie used him and the experience was flawless).
One of the main reasons we stayed in Githeion was to see the Mistra...an abandoned Byzantine city in the hills above Sparta. Yikes, it must have been a fearful time of war and pirates for the Byzantines to repeatedly build in such rugged places...the rock of Monemvasia and up mountain walls at Mistra. Mistra was originally built in 1204 but reached its height later under the Byzantine Greeks when the population swelled to 25,000 people. Byzantine emperors sent their heirs to Mistra for on-the-job training and the last Byzantine emperor was crowned in the cathedral at Mistra. We took the bus from Githeion to Sparta and then a taxi to the Fortress entrance at the top...walking down the streets and passageways to the bottom (August 27). We passed churches with still colorful frescos amidst intricate brickwork and crumbling stucco. The views to Sparta in the valley and the Taiyetos mountains behind were spectacular. But gosh, 25,000 people stuck to a steep mountainside...probably a bit smelly despite very specific rules about sewer pipes (could not touch another dwelling) and each household was responsible for their own septic tank and garbage...maybe the 21st century isn't so bad. Walking on to the bus stop we caught the bus back to Sparta where we had a fantastic lunch at Diethnes (105 Paleologou, ph.27310/28-636); traditional dishes were displayed in chafing dishes on shelves behind a display case...the roasted chicken in lemon and herb sauce was to die for! Thank goodness there was plenty of soft bread to mop up the extra sauce. Yum!
August 28 we made a 60 mile leap from Githeion to Methoni rounding cape Tainaron with forecasted calm conditions...but not before having to disentangle an enormous, orphaned fisherman's anchor from our anchor. No wind allowed us to work together with rope lasso while Barefeet hovered on her own. Cape Tainaron is also known as Matapan...the entrance to the underworld of Greek mythology. Not sure where the "door" was but the sun baked yellow shoreline was lovely to look at as we slowly motored past. Dolphins broke up the day as they jumped and twirled off in the distance...but we wish they had come closer. Methoni was a tranquil, sandy anchorage bounded by a Venetian fort...walls and tower still very much intact. Methoni came alive at night with lights strung across streets and between trees above taverna tables with their check table clothes and paper covers. We lingered over a drink and some mezes in the square before exploring the town. August 29 we hiked around the fort's walls and marveled at the jewel colored, clear sea before making a quick 1.5 hour hop to Pilos. There was room at the town pier to tie alongside without any drama whatsoever...aaahhhh.
Pilos is dominated by...you guessed it...a fortress on the hill. We wandered around the fortress after a lazy salsa and egg breakfast on Barefeet (August 30). Neokastro is a Turkish fortress with pine shaded squares, colorful bougainvillea and marvelous views of the harbor. The back-and-forth between Greece and Turkey was again evident in the mosque that is now a church located within the fortress. And although historic the central courtyard within the fortress is still used for cultural events today...pretty cool venue for a modern concert. Temperatures have again soared so we put up all our canvas covers...amazing what a bit of shade can do?! Additionally, this town wall provided a rare opportunity...we could be in a town AND swim off the boat...refreshing! Later, a dinner of gyros in the town square was delicious with evening entertainment provided by a pick-up kick ball game of local young girls...and no one seemed too ruffled when the ball periodically bumped into a cafe patron. The Greeks love the vitality of their town squares.
We left Pilos September 1 with one motor running. The winds were light but the sea was still rolling from residual swell after boisterous winds the day before. Nothing too slappy but it was not easy to do much except read...and Erin worked on a new Greek courtesy flag. The original courtesy flag has become so tattered that it looked more like a bunch of streamers than a single flag. Sewing by hand...it helps to pass the time. We arrived at the Strofadhes Islands with time for a quick swim. Thankfully, getting into the water with masks and snorkels quickly changed our emotions from scared to comfortable. While anchoring the depth looked okay at 18 feet but the water clarity kept us second guessing the depth readings...the rocks looked close enough to touch...from the deck?! We had the anchorage almost all to ourselves (except for the sole monk in the big monastery)...until another boat arrived. Ah well, the single-hander was forgiven because his crew was an adorable pug...who was quickly ferried ashore to answer the call of nature...tee, hee, hee.
Another half-day hop and we were anchored in Keri Bay of Zakinthos Island (September 2). This marks a sea change for us from the Aegean Sea to the Ionian Sea! We feel very lucky to have ridden the meltemi in such a way that we could take such a slow stroll through Greece. We still have a few more islands to see before we arrive at our winter spot in Corfu but the winds are generally less intense in this collection of islands so the real tough stuff should be behind us. Yippee! Keri Bay is part of the Zakinthos National Park and is a turtle breeding ground. Regulations are as follows; boats may only anchor in one, designated place, boats of any size cannot reach a speed above 6 knots and no one is allowed on the beach after dark. Sounds good but the by-day cheek to jowl beach umbrellas and sun worshipers seems to some how miss the point. Regardless, we liked the spot. The anchor was well dug into sand, there were a collection of tavernas ashore and we could swim off of Barefeet...heaven. Burritos for dinner on deck as we kept watch for egg laying turtles. Do you think we can use flashlights?!