The Road to Vathia

February sea

The small road winds through stone-walled olive groves and small villages. Areopoli at the top of hill is the largest town with an abundance of (well two of three) confectionery shops (or Zaxaroplastiki or ζαχαροπλαστική); an important first word in any language.  The road continues south and the villages appear crumbling and part-abandoned although smart, new tower houses continue to sprout from the dark garrigue. There are many tiny roads that branch off either up in to the hills or down to coastal villages, beaches and famous caves. The land become drier and the olive groves turn to short heath. The old terraces and crumbling walls indicate that these lower slopes were all farmed once.

On the road, a leopard snake sits looking dead but is just sluggish and slow. I move it to the side of the road and it does not mind; its mouth is part-open and it looks unwell. I remember the spot and think to check on the way back but miss it of course. The last one I saw near Lake Sasko in Montengro in early spring was much faster moving but never hurried. The birds of the rock and scrub include linnets and blue rock thrushes. On the open heath corn buntings sit hunched on bushes putting out their monotonous jangle for hours.

An old, old lady rides a donkey up a hill out of a small village, a faithful black dog runs beside her; she shouts words of welcome with a smiling wave and waggles her stout stick in the air. The road eventually reaches Vathia which sits high on a hill overlooking the sea. The part-abandoned village is the most complete and romantic expression of the local stone tower architecture of the past few centuries and a silent testament to the rural depopulation of the last 70 years. Vathia is said to be the most photographed village in Greece; it is impossible not to add to the collection of near identical images.

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