21/5/90

After a large dose of sun yesterday (Linda’s back was bright crimson!) we decided to give the beach a miss and go up to the hilltop village of Lefkos¹ for the day.

After an hour or so of waiting, during which time a mad old lady, talking to herself ten to the dozen, came past and gave us some stale bread which we pretended to eat then threw away, a bus came along and we made the 10-minute trip up to Lefkos. It is a true Greek village with a maze of narrow, white-washed streets, most of which led to the church standing on a point overlooking the valley. 

Most of the village is closed to traffic which lends it an even more quiet and peaceful air and the only sounds to be heard were those of the wind and hidden conversations in Greek echoing down from the open windows.

We sat on the steps of the church debating whether or not to go in but then a party of Germans stomped in so we decided that it must, indeed, be open to the public. I picked up the words “Renaissance” and “Napoleon” amongst the speil of their guide so they probably pertain to the history of the church, but how I don’t know.

Before we entered the church we walked around its outer walls. Beyond an iron gate, a graveyard ran steeply down into the valley behind the church. Many of the graves were ornamented with photographs of their occupants. The church is built from glittering white marble and the main door is set below the twin bell towers, each tower containing several bells. Above the door, the date 1845 was carved into the lintel, perhaps the date that the church was either built or rebuilt².

Inside, in the cool and quiet, an old man, barely able to see, gave us each a small candle to light and place in a small stand. I gave him 100DR for the upkeep of the church. The interior was exquisite. Although not very big, it was full of paintings, chandeliers, ornately carved wood and marble friezes. The ceiling was decorated with paintings of the life of Christ and on the wall near the door was a picture of the 12 Disciples beside the body of Jesus woven from threads of gold.

Leaving the church we wandered the streets, now quiet for the siesta, and ended up at a small square where we had drinks and watched a bunch of German tourists – some of them dressed in knickerbockers, knee socks and mountain boots – shoving cameras into the faces of passing locals.

9CEB1B5A-9134-4D9C-B735-FAB9EED819CF

Lefkes, Paros, Greece. (photo supplied)

We bought some bread and chips in a couple of shops and set out to walk back to Marpissa (the town overlooking Piso Livadi) via the ancient Byzantine pathway running down the valley. The sun was blazing hot by now but there was a cool breeze blowing which made walking quite pleasant. 

The path was paved with cobblestones of hewn marble in places and led down the valley on the right-hand side then gradually climbed up over a shoulder running down from the hills behind Lefkos. The way led through olive groves and tiny fields marked out with stone walls. The opposite sunny side of the valley was entirely cultivated but on the shady side where we were walking the fields were scrubby and disused. None of the rocky creek beds we crossed had water in them.

We stopped for a snack in the shade of a gnarled olive tree then carried on up over a rounded ridge which led down to flat land and the sea. We had passed several stone huts on the way down from Lefkos and I had a look into one built right on the ridge. It was only a few feet square inside but would have offered shelter from wind and rain to a farmer or a shepherd when it was in use.

The path was almost entirely paved with cobblestones down to the plain which made walking easy and we arrived back down at the island’s main circular road after about an hour. That only left about a mile to walk to get back to camp.

In the evening we once again headed for the Flotilla Club and had a meal of fish for tea. We were the only guests there and the waiter shouted us a glass of Ouzo each. Linda couldn’t drink much of hers so in order to please the waiter I downed mine then finished hers. We paid the bill and began walking back up to the camp but after about 5 minutes the Ouzo took my legs from under me and Linda had to half carry, half drag me all the way back!

¹I misspelt the name of the town in my diary. It is actually called Lefkes.

²The church is actually called Agia Triada and was built between 1830 and 1845. The stone used to build the church is a semi-translucent marble known as lychnitis and is only found on Paros.

20/5/90

ISLAND LIFE We got up around 8:30 and after a breakfast of yoghurt and oranges we drifted down to the beach through the quiet Sunday streets of Piso Livadi. We found ourselves a nice spot at the very end of the beach amongst some rocks where we had some shelter from the wind and couldn’t be crowded out by Germans.¹

It was quite cool on the beach at first but we had a swim in the cold, clear water then settled down to watch the antics of the people who slowly began to arrive at the beach, select their spot and take all their clothes off! We laughed at one couple who had a small boy with an inflatable dolphin which was promptly blown out to sea by the strong offshore wind. The father had to swim after it in his clothes while the mum stood on the shore with her bare tits jiggling with laughter!

By 1pm the beach was full of people, most of them Germans and all of them either topless or completely nude. We left our spot to be claimed by the slavering horde and walked back up to the camp, stopping for a rest under some trees on one of the other beaches. Back up at the camp, we sat out on a deserted balcony drinking wine and reading. Later, after showers, we wandered down to the Flotilla Club for a few beers followed by tea at another restaurant. 

684225F2-2C5B-4F8F-8CE4-632F882422C5

On the deserted balcony at our own private camping ground, Piso Livadi.

¹There were a lot of German tourists at Piso Livadi and we found out two things about them: 1) they spent a lot of their time completely naked and 2) they would arrive en masse and squeeze you out of the nice spots by sheer blubbery weight of numbers! 

19/5/90

We got up fairly early and broke camp. We had a spot of luck when we checked out when the lady in the office only charged us for one night (400DR) instead of two. I sat at a café drinking a carton of milk and writing up a few lost days while Linda went shopping for a few provisions. We had a sticky bun and a drink in the town square then caught a bus over to Piso Livadi which cost us 180DR (about 40p). The camping ground was deserted and we selected a secluded site for the tent and suddenly remembered…the little backpack with our provisions in it was still on the bus!

I spent 3 hours sitting up at the corner waiting for the bus to come back (it followed a circular route around the island), during which time Linda pitched the tent then decided that it was too close to the road and shifted it up to the top terrace, right out of sight. Eventually, the bus came back and I retrieved the bag, amid profuse apologies from the bus conductor (even though it was in no way his fault that I’d left the bag behind) and we spent the rest of the afternoon in deep siesta.

After a hot shower (solar heated water) we wandered lazily down to the village and sat on the terrace of the Flotilla Club Bar, Linda with a Tequila Sunrise and me with a beer, and watched the sun set over the hills as another day drifted slowly to an end.

We had a pizza for tea then walked bac

C742861C-B571-4443-A4DE-D6405B7AD416_1_201_a

Our camp at Piso Livadi. Doing a quick critter check before retiring!

k up the hill to find another tent had been set up in plain view of the road. Whoever was living in it also had a blazing fire going to further advertise their presence. Some people are too thick to know when they are onto a good thing.

 

18/5/90

A8832713-90C4-4FE4-A77C-5B70543C4B4A_1_201_aWe walked up the street from the camping ground to one of the many places hiring motorbikes, mopeds and cars. The slimy little Greek who ran the one we had chosen had been friendly enough yesterday when we enquired about the cost of hiring a motorbike, but as with all salesmen of his ilk, important details had been left out, the price had gone up and, once he had our money, the friendliness vanished as well. He told us to fill the tank at a petrol station but luckily the last person to use it had filled it up, thus saving us from doing it.

We set sail with me doubling Linda, out of town and over the hill towards Noussa, 5km away. After a brief period of stuffing around finding which way was “off” for the choke, we cruised into Noussa about ¾ of an hour later. It was obviously a tourist trap and we only stayed long enough to buy some oranges and pay twice the price for two bottles of yoghurt.

D919BCFD-5C39-4783-9BEA-6985AF40D71D_1_201_aBack on the bike we followed the coastline round through the harsh, dry farmland, the fields marked out by hundreds of dry-stone walls until we reached the tiny fishing village of Piso Livadi.

The camping ground, about 1.5 kilometres from town, which we had come to look at was closed but a lone German camped there said that he was camping for free. As we were leaving we ran into the owner’s son who said we could also stay there for free.

We had lunch on the beach at Piso Livadi then carried on round to Golden Beach where we spent a couple of hours swimming, sun-bathing and watching the nude Germans!

Back on the bike and it was the middle of the afternoon and very hot. We retraced our route back to the turn-off which led up to a village called Lefkos then down the other side to an old quarry where we had a poke around before carrying on back down to Parikia again.

With several hours to fill in before the bike was due back we followed the coastline to another little village where we sat on the wharf looking down into the crystal clear water.

Back at the camping ground an hour or so later we showered and changed then took the motorbike back, telling the owner that the tank was full before escaping before he could discover otherwise.

17/5/90

We woke up to the sound of the old lady arguing with someone over how much she should have charged for the other room in her house and after we had both had (cold) showers, we packed our gear and left it at the house while we went out to find the camping ground which was about 500 metres from the centre of town. We had a look round and it seemed very nice so we went back to get our gear, stopping for breakfast on the way.

Later on after we had pitched the tent and settled in we walked round the long curving beach and found a quiet spot to sunbathe for a few hours. After an hour or three of sunning ourselves we went back to the camp for a siesta then, as evening was coming on, we went into town to the main area of tavernas and restaurants for tea. 

Our first day in the Greek Islands ended with us watching the burning sphere of the sun sink slowly through a haze of colours into the calm blue Aegean.

16/5/90

ATHINA The Hotel Palladium cost 4,000 DR1 (£20-00) but it was worth it to get 8 hours’ sleep and after a shower we packed up and left our packs downstairs.

The streets of Athens are wide (they have to be with drivers as bad as the Greeks seem to be!) and clean. Our first stop was at a bank where we changed £100-00 for 26,000DR. We walked up to the main square near which most of the travel company offices are located and after a bit of a look around we went to an office and bought tickets on a ferry to Paros Island2 in the Cyclades group for 4,200DR each. The ferry was due to depart from Pareus (Athens’ port) at 5pm which left us most of the day to fill in so we walked up to the Acropolis.

What a beautiful and awe-inspiring place it is. Sited on a hill overlooking the centre of Athens it stands as a testament to the building technology possessed by the ancient Greeks at a time, 2,500 years ago, when the tribes of Britain were still living in grass huts and using primitive iron implements. 

The approach to the base of the hill led through a maze of narrow streets lined with souvenir stalls. Once out of the built up area we walked to the right, under the cliffs upon which the Acropolis is built, then up a series of flights of smooth marble steps to the first part of the Acropolis complex: the Amphitheatre. Dropping away steeply below us the original amphitheatre has been rebuilt and is still used for performances today. Down on the stage some ballet dancers were rehearsing in the blazing sunshine. Further round the base of the hill the partially buried remains of an even older amphitheatre were being slowly uncovered by archaeologists. 

By using our YHA “student” ID cards3 we gained access to the Acropolis for ½ price and climbed the steep and slippery marble steps between the huge marble columns through which, thousands of years ago, berobed ancients passed on their way into the temple.

There are three main buildings on the windswept top of the hill, in a reasonable state of preservation, but still undergoing a complete rebuilding programme at present. There is a museum with some beautiful examples of early Greek sculpture and a lookout with beautiful views of the city and the surrounding hills.

We spent about an hour up there then followed another maze of back streets down to the main square and back to the hotel to collect our packs. The travel agent had told us that the best way to get to Pareaus was by train so we plotted a route to the station, swung up our packs and began walking. It was siesta (2:30-5:00) so there weren’t many people around but the trains were crowded with people going home. The trip took about 20 minutes and after another 20  minutes of searching at the port we found our ferry: the Golden Vergina.

We had an hour to fill in before sailing so we had a beer at a sidewalk café then boarded the boat and found a comfy place on our 3rd Class deck to sit on.

The voyage, which took 5 hours, landing us at Parikia at 10:30PM, was pretty boring although we did see our first Greek sunset while sheltering from the cool sea breeze which sprang up in the late afternoon. The sun, a brilliant crimson orb, left hazy images on our retinas as it dipped slowly behind a small island and darkness followed quickly.

As we were waiting to disembark at the stern of the ship, a lady came up to me and asked if we were looking for a room. She wanted 1,500 DR which isn’t a lot, £5 or so, so we accepted and made our way off the ship through a crowd of touts offering rooms to the other passengers and walked up to the town’s main square about 150 metres from the wharf. 

The lady’s house was up a narrow, white-washed side street and the room was quite nice, with a double bed and adjoining toilet and shower. We left our packs there and went out into the warm night to find a place to have tea which wasn’t a hard task at all. We had a salad and a beer each then wandered back to our room.    

1 The Drachma is the Greek currency.
We chose Paros quite at random. Linda closed her eyes and placed a finger on a map of Greece. Paros was the island she pointed to and it turned out to be amazing!
3 We used this ruse successfully throughout our travels: pretending that our YHA cards were student ID cards in order to gain discounts.

15/5/90

EXIT BRITAIN Kenya Airways flight QF165 took off exactly on schedule at 8:30pm and headed south-east towards Greece. We were in the very back seats of the aircraft, an Airbus A310-300, which was full to the gunwales with mostly young tourists bound for Greece.

We had spent most of the day leisurely mucking around at the pub, packing our final bits and pieces and buying a few last minute things. We also withdrew £1,000 from the bank, leaving the princely sum of £841-00 to survive on when we return to England.

After saying goodbye to everyone at the pub at 4:00pm, we caught the Piccadilly Line (full of stoney, bored faces) out to Terminal Three at Heathrow, where we had a 3 ½ hour wait until boarding time.

Three and a half hours after taking off, at 2.00am local time, we touched down in Athens. The air was warm and sultry as we waited outside the terminal with a bunch of other travellers for a bus into town. Flight QF165 left Athens bound for Cairo and Nairobi around the same time that we were dropped off in the centre of Athens at 3:15am. After an hour of fruitlessly searching for a cheap hotel we booked into an expensive one and crashed out. 

14/5/90

BACK TO LONDON Ali and some of his workmates dropped us off in Pulborough on their way to do some more shearing and after leaving our luggage at the train station we walked into “town” where we bought some eats and sat in a paddock overlooking some rolling Hampshire countryside. I went for a walk up to the old parish church on the top of the hill, passing through a herd of sleek dairy cows sitting contentedly chewing their cuds on the way.

We had a ploughman’s lunch at a pub then caught the 2:38 train up to London and went back to the Red Lion where, unsurprisingly, nothing had changed. We spent the evening repacking our stuff and had some drinks downstairs with the nurses.1

1Nurses from nearby St Thomas’ Hospital. 

13/5/90

SHEARING We spent the morning on another tiki tour of the lambing mobs and mucked around in the farmyard at Marden Farm. Matt Daly1 had rung earlier to ask Ali to shear a few sheep for him so at 12:30 a girl called Charlotte, who is a rousey2, arrived to pick us up. So, we spent the afternoon out at a set of yards with two portable shearing machines set up on a cover in the corner of the field beside the yards. Linda and I rousied along with Charlotte and I even managed to knock the wool off 5 ewes!

After we’d cut out3 we packed the whole shebang onto the pickup truck and drove to Pulborough where Ali lives along with an assortment of farmers, shearers, fencers and shepherds. Chopper was there along with John Singleton, a bloke who was in my class at Lincoln.4  

That night, after a huge feed, we tied a big one on5 at the local pub.

1Matt and I had gone to school together. He had married an English girl and now worked as a farm manager for a landowner called Duncan Branch.

2A rousey is someone who picks up the wool after a shearer has finished shearing it off the sheep.

3 The “cut out” is when all the sheep on a farm are shorn and is usually followed by a cutout shout in which the farmer provides beer for the shearers.

4The agricultural college I attended in 1983.

5To “tie a big one on” is New Zealand slang for getting horrendously drunk.

12/5/90

I got up at seven o’clock and went out into the cool early morning and chopped 2 cords of firewood before breakfast. The rest of the morning John and I spent restanding a ½ ton slab of slate fence beside the stables.  After a sumptuous lunch of roast pork we packed up and said goodbye to Sally and the kids then John drove us down to Petersfield in Hampshire. He dropped us off  at the railway station and I rang Ali1 who came and collected us in a battered old Toyota pickup loaded with bits of wire, dead lambs and other bits and pieces.

After a cup of tea at Marden Farm we went for a tiki tour2 around some mobs of ewes and lambs that Ali is looking after. It was great to be on the land again and we even had to lamb an old ewe!

We spent the evening drinking up large at the local pub. It was just like old times…even Chopper3 turned up to welcome us!

1Linda’s cousin, also a former high country shepherd, who was managing a farm near Petersfield.

2New Zealand slang for looking around
3John “Chopper” Darling was another shepherd I’d worked with back in New Zealand. He was a renowned drunkard and readers may recall meeting him at the Red Lion earlier in the year.