Our Airbnb at Zacharo was called “Niko’s Palace” and I was conferring with someone named Theo, who informed me his mother would greet us. When we arrived we were greeted not by the mother, but a man named Niko, presumably the Niko, whilst who we guessed was the mother glared at us from her balcony on high. It really felt like we got the whole family experience. Their English was not great, and following the instructions in the email correspondence with Theo(son?), we were gifted with one final, friendly but almost threatening sentence: “The good will come”. We also assumed that with the possible language barrier, they meant to call it Niko’s Place for palace it certainly was not.
From our back stoop that overlooked a garbage pit, the nearby caw of chickens could be heard. Gemma wanted to ask the hosts if it were ok if she fed the chickens but I was worried if it translated as if we could eat the chickens, and more worried if they had said yes.
Walking back from the beach to our condo we ran into an animated man named Theo(a LOT of people here are named Theo) who talked to us about his life. These are the things we learned:
- He is married though it is not great
- He has three kids and they are *shrugs*
- His daughter cannot get work in this country due to the economic struggles so she has to go to Russia now that she has finished studying
- He has the best oranges in all of Greece
- You can throw your orange rinds to his llamas but you cannot throw it on the burning grass because he does not like his llamas getting burned
- He is very content with his life even though he seemed very *shrugs* about it
We later dined at the tavern attached to the back of his property after insistence that we do so. Half the menu was not available but what was was very good and not at all *shrugs*. We passed him riding through his orchard and he yelled out to us, grinning maniacally from atop his quad bike.
Had a Freddo Espresso (iced coffee) at a café named Ambrosia – the coffee did not grant life-extending qualities, their business is a lie – we were brought a bowl of bread, and with it a side serving of drama that only the creators of Greek tragedies could muster. Halfway through the basket before us, a man who worked there noticed that we were given bread, despite the fact that we were only having coffee (bread is a meal only offering, as it were). He expressed this to the woman who had brought us the bread. They fought. The woman, upon having been reprimanded for apparently the world’s most heinous crime, came and took the bread away, apologising profusely, having brought shame to our table, to her family, and all of Greece. I would have been more perturbed if I hadn’t already shoved half the bread in my bag for later.
At ancient Olympia tour groups abounded and throughout the site one could see the colourful array of wooden paddles held up to distinguish them. They were like ugly flowers blooming among the ruins.
In Olympia I became enamoured with a group of middle-aged Asian women who had each brought a coloured scarf to billow around in photos posed with the ruins, and a man each to take said photo. They were pointed out to me by my friends when I was inspecting a beautiful old pool and I ran, leaping over fallen buildings to find them. At first I was laughing at them and their silly ways, then, like staring at the sun for too long, I became blind to anything else. They were feeling themselves so intensely it was impossible not to fall for them like silent sirens with silk scarves. They were intoxicating and I followed them for hours.
On the original Olympic track field a child ran with its parents, tripped, and fell. I did not witness it because I was too busy being enamoured by my group of Asian tourists, and for that I will forever resent them.
Overheard at Olympia:
Woman: Did you get a picture of the arch Mark?
Mark: Not yet
Woman: Well hurry I don’t want to miss it!
I felt for Mark. Not because he was in any danger of missing the arch that had stood in the same spot for centuries, but for having ended up in a situation where he was with someone who thought that they would.
I thought my second toe on my right foot was growing because it was suddenly longer than my big toe. My fears were assuaged when I realised it was just blistering. Goodie.
Our house in Stoupa was a villa overlooking the Mediterranean and it was perfect. So perfect I was in danger of staying there forever. The house next door was only half completed and for a moment I considered living there. Then I looked up squatters rights and it just seemed like too much effort. Plus most of it didn’t have a roof and the pool wasn’t even filled in.
As we were leaving Sparta a pack of dogs ran out in front of our car and chased us out of town, barking in our wake. Possibly they were the guardians of the city and we were not worthy. I will never know, but I do know I don’t want to cross them again.
In our hillside neighbourhood of Stoupa we also had a pack of local dogs. They did not chase us out, they simply hung around being cool. One morning we heard a mighty row and assumed they had attacked some unwelcome soul. I am glad it was not us. I fear the residential dog packs, but also hold them in high reverence.
Kinder Surprises here are called Kinder Joy, which I think is far superior. Joy is a much more preferred experience to a surprise. It’s hard to fault joy but surprises can be deadly, like opening a chocolate egg and a tiny viper jumping out and biting your face and running away.
We swam in a stunning waterfall in the Messenia region. It was a long drive there and I had one of the most magnificent pisses of my life in the azure waters. I will remember it forever.
The best animal we saw this week was a scorpion, found making its way through Gemma’s luggage like a creep. It was super adorable for something so deadly. We fawned over it until we sent it on its way over the fence out back. We reminisced about how great it was, but none of us slept completely through the night from then on.
At the ancient city of Mystras while exploring off-route I stumbled upon two members of a German school group who had snuck off for a sneaky cigarette in a crumbling house. They looked up, startled, and I gave them the thumbs up and left them be. In my eyes they were the real heroes.
A little later while exploring again I stumbled upon two more school kids from the same group, this time making out furiously in a dark old ruin. What is this school and how do I get in?
One curious thing about this ancient city, is that there is only one toilet and it is located outside the entrance. The site is huge and takes hours to traverse, and the laborious task of heading back to the toilets seems far too much to undertake. If you explore enough off the designated path, the most common thing you will find among the ancient ruins are turds. Though they are not ancient. Some are so modern they probably vote liberal.
At a restaurant after we had finished our bread I noticed that the table of people next to us had not finished their bread. In an act of bravery, I swapped the bread baskets out when the waiter was not looking and stuffed my bag with the contents. I later ate that bread with olive oil and it tasted divine with the juices of victory.
Our Uber driver conversation involved idle talk of how everyone in Greece is so happy and friendly despite most of the population being poor as dirt. They can’t afford to eat but they can always afford to smile! This was said to us with a laugh, so I laughed back, unsure of the tone but following the social cue. This was not the first time an Uber driver here had told us this in a jovial manner. I laughed along then too, and I will probably laugh at the next one, but only if the driver does too. I think about what Theo had threatened me in that email, the good will come. I sure hope it does for the people of Greece, though from all accounts no one seems to be that bothered by it. Perhaps the good never left and we foreigners are who it is coming for, because the Greeks may not be able to afford food but they know more about the good than we ever will.