- Maria-the-little-old-lady-in-little-old-Greek-lady-black, who lived in a little stone house, in a practically deserted village, who turned out to be a civil engineer of some international repute: We were walking through the tiny settlement of Ano Boularii - one of many in-the-middle-of-nowhere Mani villages, just north of Geriolimenas, when we came across Maria Alevromayiru. At first sight she was a wonderfully-typical elderly Greek village woman in her widows weeds, black headscarf, hobbling about in her garden. A crackly "kali mera" to passing tourists. Except she wasn't at all what we thought. She invited us into the house, talking in Italian and some English, apologising for her tatty clothing. She was in mourning for her sister, who had died three months ago, she said. This was her sister's house; she had moved back to her native village to be with her sister at the end. In the low-ceilinged, whitewashed stone-walled living room she showed us photos of a stylishly-dressed business woman sitting with others around a conference table, and in "project successfully completed" line-up shots with lots of men in suits. In a couple of them she was standing next to then French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. She had been a civil engineer, she said, had worked in Italy for some years and travelled widely. It was not what we had expected. She asked us back another day to drink coffee, if we had time. Here is my phone number, she said, typing it into my mobile phone. And of course we wanted to, but we never did. (The third photo below is me walking in Ano Boularii, the village where Maria lives)
2. The dog: We picked up this dog - or rather it picked us up - in the practically deserted village of Mountaniotika. It was lunchtime and the only sign of life in the whole place was a couple of cats and the sound of snoring coming from a shuttered stone house. The dog watched us eat our spanakopita and then cheerily joined us on our walk. Like she was our dog and this is what we did every day.
The trouble was that at the edge of the village she wouldn't go back. When we shooed her away, she'd lie cheerfully on the road for a while, but when we looked back, there she was following us again. Eight hot, dusty kilometres later we felt we couldn't just leave her to find her way back up to her mountain village. So I hitched back to Gerolimenas, picked up the car and Sam (who joined us for the ride) and we loaded the dog (with a good deal of reluctance on her part) into the car and took her back to her village. Where she totally ignored the dog meat we had thoughtfully bought for her delectation and trotted happily off home, without so much as a backward glance. Bloody dogs. (A selection of photos below of Geoff, the dog, and the village where the dog came from. In one of the latter, check out the work that went into those terraces. Just to squeeze out a few strips of semi-fertile land. They were tough, those Maniots.)
3. The tortoise. I know, I posted a photo of a tortoise before. But this is a different one. In fact we saw wild tortoises on three separate occasions. How cool is that.
4. The dung beetles. We saw them the day where we were afraid we were going to be shot by invisible hunters, and their dogs must have been along the path earlier on. The dung beetles had rolled the dog poo into balls and were rolling their smelly loads... wherever dung beetles take shit. Over stony paths, round thorn bushes. I read that in a single day, a dung beetle can bury dung 250 times its own weight. (It stores it as a healthy snack for later, or as a place to lay its eggs. It's best not to think too hard about that, especially when you are having breakfast.) And we thought our walking was hard work. (Taking pictures of dung beetles is hard - this is the best of a terrible bunch.)
5. Mule tracks. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Ottomans built a hundreds of kilometres of "kalderimi", or mule tracks, to carry soldiers and supplies between their conquered towns and villages. They are an impressive engineering feat, two metre-wide cobblestone paths supported in many places by stone embankments, through that steep, inhospitable terrain. Many kilometres remain in pretty good condition and make fabulous walking tracks and relatively good protection against those evil thorns. In other places, the Maniots built paths between stone walls, giving the landscape a Welsh look. Those tracks often aren't in nearly such good nick.
6. This walking sign. There weren't many walking signs on the tracks we did. Just the occasional faded blue paint spot on a rock. (Actually, mostly just the walking book saying to look out for faded blue paint spots, but NONE to be seen.) And the signs that were there often appeared to be pointing in the wrong direction. This junction was the best. If you know a bit of the Greek alphabet, you'll notice Areopoli signed both to right and left. There was a third sign at the same junction pointing at 90 degrees to these two, also signalling the way to Areopoli. Such choice!
7. This lunar-like monument: This was the only time we saw anything remotely like this, and who knows what it is. Shrine? Monument? Nuclear bunker? It is very fine though, especially with the cows.
8. The snakes. Quite exciting for snake-deprived New Zealanders. Actually, we ddin't see any live snakes, but we took photos of two dead ones in an enthusiastic fashion.
9. The 9km-long walls around Ancient Messene: They were built from 720BC onwards in an often-futile attempt to keep the Spartans at bay. (Somehow it isn't possible to write a Greek blog without mentioning the Spartans...) Though most of the walls have fallen down in the last 2500 years, the remaining sections are deeply impressive. As is the fact flowers eek out an existence there. And here's a random photo of a preying mantis I found on my leg as we walked along the walls.
Thinking about it, I suppose it's quite impressive that you are able to walk along 2500-year-old walls. Reminds me that as a child you could scramble on the stones at Stonehenge. Now you can't even walk between them. In 30 years time we'll be telling the tale to our grandchildren of how we walked on the (now) forbidden walls at Messene.
10: Lunch: Often eaten in a shady spot outside a church (there's always a church in Greece). Whenever possible we ate spanakopita (a Greek spinach pastry) bought at a bakery before we left. And drank water from an outside tap fed by a spring at the church. Not a bad life...
(This is our lunch spot on our last walk in Greece - a circular 14km from the seaside village of Finikounda, a 10km hitch from Methoni. The church, typical of the Messinia area, is dedicated to John the Baptist and has some deliciously-gory-before-lunch icons of the saint in various positions with and without his head (in the same picture, of course). The church also has this strange little hobbit door. And a fine wall for eating lunch.)