Diros Caves and the Mani

Trip Start Sep 13, 2010
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Trip End Sep 30, 2010


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Flag of Greece  , Peloponnese,
Friday, September 17, 2010

Today was a good day. After breakfast we drove to The Pirgos Dirou Caves which are a popular destination for Greeks and tourists alike.  In 1955 a dog crawled through a hole into the caves and returned a few days later covered in red clay.  Its owner was a spelunker and was curious about what had happened to her dog so she followed him and eventually found the cave network.  Today about 5 km of the caves have been explored.  We toured the cave by boat and on foot as it houses an underwater lake.   It was a fun and beautiful way to see the caves.  They have set up a light network which creates a mirror effect on the water which was magical.  It was very quiet and eerie and beautiful.  There were incredible numbers of stalagtites and stalagmites in various colours like red, green, yellow and white.  Some of them have grown so large that they join each other to form columns.  As our guide poled us through the caves we often had to duck to get through tiny holes into the next chamber.  The caves have developed archaeological importance as well because artifacts (pottery, bone tools, etc.) have been found inside which date back to Greece's earliest history.

The caves are located at the top of one of Greece’s peninsula’s known as the Mani.  As soon as you enter this area, you know you are in a different place.  The terrain is mountainous and very dry.  It seems like a very harsh and remote landscape and very rocky.  I would hate to try and create a garden there.  Our plan was to drive down the west coast to the bottom and visit Vathia which looked like a fascinating place in the guide books.  Then we would drive up the east coast.  I filled up the car with gas because we were warned that there are not many gas stations in the Mani.  The gas was even more expensive here.  I’ll have to make sure that the next time I get gas I find a station that sells cheaper quality than the 100 which I didn’t realize was all that this particular place had.  I went into a bakery and picked up some bread and biscotti and in the next town I picked up some water, fruit and cheese and we were off. 

It was another hot sunny day and we were very thankful to have air conditioning in the car.  Besides the barren, rocky, mountainous scenery, what strikes you as you travel down the coast is that everywhere you look there are square stone towers of varying heights.   They look very old and some are in the most impossible places right at the top of mountains.  Even the newer homes in the villages are made of stone and blend in with the general fort-like theme. 

At around 12:30 we stopped at a little village on the seaside called Gerolimenas and decided to look for a place to sit down and eat in the shade.  There was no shade to be found except in restaurants under their umbrellas… but I don’t think they would have appreciated us bringing in our own food.  So I found a stairway down to the rocks by the water and we took off our shoes, dipped our feet in the nice cold water and ate our feast.  It was wonderful.  Even with the sun beating down on us we were cool with our feet in the water with the tadpoles.  The break, cheese, water, biscotti and apple were perfect and we felt totally refreshed and satisfied in the end. 

Walking back to the car Mom pointed out some octopus arms hanging up on a line outside on one of the umbrellas by the seating area of a restaurant.  It looked like laundry hanging on a line and when you take a closer look… ugh!  I don’t think I would want to eat with octopus arms handing down beside my head.  A cat had managed to get up on the table and pull one off the line and was starting to munch on the tip when another cat came along, stole it and ran away.

Thus fortified we continued on toward Vathia.  First I need to share some history about these towers and the people that live in the Mani.  The people here are tough and even when the Turks invaded Greece, they couldn’t convert the Maniotes who are independent, hard to access in their remote locations, fortified in their tower homes and not afraid to attack anyone who rubs them the wrong way.  The Turks left them alone.  Amongst themselves, they were very clan-like and fought for the best land for cultivation and the best vantage point to build their tower home for defense and offense.  If someone was offended or had a relative killed by a neighbour, they would shoot cannonballs at the offending neighbour’s tower.  A feud could only be ended by total annihilation or capitulation and the last recorded feud ended in 1870 after the intervention of the Greek army.  Many of the towers have fallen but in Vathia you can see a grouping of a tower village perched on the crest of a hill that is quite striking to see.  We drove all the way down to this place and walked along the pathways and imagined what it must have been like hundreds of years ago.  Remarkably, some people still live there.  Some towers have been converted to rooms for rent and I could hear some televisions through the small windows and clothes hanging outside and makeshift  gardens planted in that formidable terrain.

I noticed a graveyard higher up on the mountain and we took the car up to check it out.  Some of the gravestones were dated in the 1800s.  Many were so old they were eroded to practically nothing and other old markers were dated differently than we do now.  Surprisingly there were many new gravestones or elaborate mini-mausoleums that were dated as recently as 2007, some with windows you could look into and some with pictures of the deceased.  One of these people looked like they had been standing on the barren hillside by the cemetery dressed in his soldiers uniform and holding his rifle.

On the way back north we took the winding road up the east coast and took in the beautiful scenery with the sea juxtaposed with the mountains.  The rugged land looks like a desert with prickly pear cactuses growing everywhere.  It all looks incredibly inhospitable and barren now but hundreds of years ago these hills were densely populated and cultivated the remnants of which we can see today with the ancient terracing of the hillsides dotted with olive trees and stone walls that marked farmers’ fields. 

We saw cows on the hillside and some on the roadside where you would normally expect to see mountain goats.  I also noticed cow droppings all over the place on the road, in towns, and in cemeteries as they seem to roam freely.

We ate an excellent dinner at the Fish Taverna Takis in Lemeni which is about 30 minutes from our hotel.  We have learned over the last few days how to identify fresh fish which is important because I am told that if we do not have this skill, we will surely be ripped off and get old fish… which has happened once already and we don’t wish to experience again.  We chose our fish, and it was delicious.

I have more to say in general about Greece but it will have to wait because this is getting long and I am ready to take a break.

Tomorrow we are off to Monemvasia.  It is a castle out on the water and my travel agent couldn’t find a room available inside the walls.  We really wanted to stay inside as I have read that it is a special experience to do so and after several tries I was able to find a place and she booked it for me.  This place is not on trip advisor and I have no idea of what to expect.  I hope they have a bathroom and running water.  I hope they have internet access but if they don’t, you won’t get another blog post until the following day. 
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Comments

Cindy on

I am really enjoying the detailed description of your wonderful holiday. Marla, you look great, I am impressed with all of the hiking etc...that you are doing. I know that this will be a memorable adventure for you both. I am jealous:)

Lots of love
Cindy and the crew

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