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20 miles - Monday, October 31
Andy and I had hoped to bypass busy roads between Corinth and Pireas – boarding a boat from southern Peloponnese directly to Pireas and from there ferry to Greek islands. However, information was poor and we've little choice but to close the distance by bike. Train service is apparently four times slower than the bus. But as with any misinformation, it's often an opportunity. We can return north by a scenic coastal route.
Andy and I ride around picturesque Nafplio. A tiny castle-like structure rests offshore, nearly covering a rocky island. Once protecting the harbor, the building now houses a restaurant. A small open hulled boat is anchored between island and shore; it's image is reflected in calm water, like glass, under a perfect blue sky.
We spend the morning, enchanted, riding a walkway around a peninsula then visit the restored 17th century Palamidi Fort. It's the prominent feature, situated on the crest of a hill above Nafplio. Built by the Venetians, then captured by the Turks, the Greeks gained control in the 1800s. The approach to the high-walled fortress is by climbing 999 stone steps – no easy feat. The ascent is slow and steep, but thankfully in the shade. After each flight we take a break, admiring views of the broad bay, red-roofed Nafplio, and a public beach whose aqua waters and growing number of bathers, and most especially enjoying the ocean, looked more and more appealing the further uphill we went. At the top Andy and I roam the ramparts. Without rails or any safety features of any kind, it's a bit spooky. There is a fine line between peering over the edge and experiencing vertigo, so I remain safely back. I go week kneed though, as Andy gazes downward, unafraid of heights.
Back with the bikes, we eat lunch and pedal a long hill, ascending for 26 kilometers. Rising for 1,000 feet we observe eucalyptus and palm trees give way to rocky hillsides studded in pine and olive groves. Passing by one long white building, the tart smell of olives drifts upwards along with us. I wondered whether they're pressing oil or soaking olives for later consumption.
I prefer riding beside olive trees. The thin leaves provide a little shade, are fragrant, spacious underneath, and are a last resort should we need a place to pitch our yellow tent. All the more comforting because most campgrounds close today.
By mid-afternoon we reach the piney heights of Epidavros, a sanctuary of Esculapeus, god of health. Several temples stand in ruin; only large stones outline each building on dry, cracked earth, covering several acres. Yet, a restored amphitheater, seating 14,000 is exquisitely beautiful, Above the seating are rocky, flat summits and pine trees; the structure was deliberately built into the side of the hill, taking advantage of natural acoustics. I climb to higher seats while Andy stands on stage. His voice is sharply magnified, sending goosebumps up my arms.
Afterward,we begin a deserved downhill stretch and start looking for a place to camp. Andy and I turn down a dirt road near an old stone building. We don't really know if the locals understand our intent but when asked to camp they respond with “no problem”, which is good enough for us. We make dinner and are halfway through making our usual tomato sauce and pasta when a maroon-colored Jeep pulls up. A woman and man get out. First they walk away from us but then double back. I was nervous, wondering if we misunderstood; these two were not the same folks who gave us permission to stay. Andy waves and smiles, continuing to stir our dinner pot. I jumped up to try and explain our presence. The woman turns to her companion who speaks a little English. He confirms that it's all right to stay. Interestingly enough, he tells us his grandmother lives or lived in Chicago – I wasn't sure which. He and his mom had come by to check the olives. Fifteen more days until harvest.
A few days ago, someone assured us the Greeks are laid back. Tonight certainly proves it. Without further worry we set up the tent on sloping ground, crawl inside, and read by candlelight. I am content and delighted to sleep under the sprawling olive trees.