Saturday, January 16

In The Beginning

Did you know there are 6000 islands and islets in Greece? Only 277 are inhabited, and of those, you can visit about 80. They are clustered into 7 groups, each with its own landscape characteristics and architecture. Even after 20+ years of exploring, I haven't been to them all. Though I am getting close! And those are just the islands. It is an amazingly diverse country.

I spent this November in the Mani. Rugged and rocky, it's on the southern-most outcrop of the Peloponnese (Greek pron.: pelo-PON-nee-sos), which is a hand-shaped peninsula, stretching into the Mediterranean Sea. As if to keep from floating away, it holds onto the mainland by a thumb, crossing the Corinthian canal. 

The Peloponnese. Remember Pelops? The son of Tantalus and father of Atreus. He was killed by his father and served up as food to the gods, but only one shoulder was eaten, and he was restored to life with an ivory shoulder replacing the one that was missing. This was his island ("nissos" in Greek). Only, of course it's not really an island.

The tip of the Mani in the Peloponnese

And if you jumped off the tip, swam south, you'd surface in Africa. Libya to be exact. Susah, to be more exact. Susah, also known as Apollonia - yes, after the Greek god Apollo. Now there's something to think about...

But I digress...the Mani.

Patrick Lee Fermor, Sir Patrick 'Paddy' Michael Leigh Fermor, born in England in 1915, author, scholar and soldier, he played a prominent role behind the lines in the Battle of Crete during World War II. And lived to write about it. But earlier, in 1933, at age 18, he set out to WALK across Europe to Constantinople. And if that wasn't enough, in 1935 he then proceeded to walk throughout Greece, and finally, down into, and across the Mani. I suppose if he was able to deal with the Alps, the Mani wouldn't be so hard. But I was there - and it's rough! But beautiful, especially in November.

Driving over the mountains from Kosmas...

Yes, we drove that road, through rocky landscapes and villages of stone towers.

South to the port of Gytheion (also: Gythio), the most important town of the Mani...

and Octopus (Greek: oktapodi) Capitol of the Peloponnese.

Once out of Gythio, it's rocks and towers again. When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, and the Byzantine empire fell, the Maniots were never subdued. Their fierceness, and the towers, helped protect from enemies.


Back to Sir Patrick, who's walking all over this place... years later, after many other adventures, he wrote about the experience. The book is aptly titled: Mani, Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, and is required reading for anyone interested in this area. He is widely regarded as Britain's greatest living travel writer. Yes, living... near the Maniot village of Kardamyli...

After many adventures of our own, climbing back up the west side of that 'finger' of the Mani, we settled in the beach town of Stoupa, blissfully empty in the off-season. Nearby Kalogria was home to another writer with a bit of reknown, Nikos Kazantzakis, who lived and wrote there in 1917 and 1918.

"A man needs a little madness, or else he never dares cut the rope and be free."

From Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis