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woensdag 2 september 2009

Greece II - Ioannina - and more

“Do one thing a day that scares you”, says my Lulu Lemon Bag. Well, I did. Today and yesterday. Not entirely on purpose – but I did. And on the whole, it worked out well.

Yesterday, I made a walk in the dark. I didn't intend to do so – I just walked up a path in the woods on The Island (Ionnina's island that has no name) above the monastery that I was going to see. The path was tempting, and it was large, and easy. So I followed it. But then, dusk set in, and I forgot how short the twilight is in these regions... However large the path may have been, I couldn't make out where it was. I walked down, and saw the road below. But how to reach it? The closer it seemed, the steeper was the slope between the road and me. In the end, as it became really dark, I sat down on the slope and slid down. I reached the road unharmed, except for a few scratches on my arms. But my shorts were all mucky – and I went on the ferry, back to town, trying to hide my behind... and walking in the shade as much as possible. When I got to the hotel and took my pants off, I saw that it was even worse than I had imagined. Oh well. I did it – but wouldn't for the world repeat it.

Today, it was something else. On my way to the mountain village Mondodendri, in the Zagora mountains, I came across Perama and decided to visit the famous cave in this village. So I did – in the company of a group of young Germans, and a young Dutch family (with a kid of about 3, and the mother expecting another one), and a lot of young AND old Greeks – some with walking sticks. I mention all this, because in order to admire the huge “rooms” and all the stalagtites and -mites, we had to climb – and to descend – an impressive amount of steps. And there wasn't always a railing. At times, I had to overcome my claustrophobia as well as my vertigo... There seemed no end to this “mega” cave as the Dutch woman said. But I looked at the old man with the walking stick, or at the little boy – who kept asking his mother where the elves were - and decided I could do it too.

The funny thing about this cave was its location in the middle of a village. There was a large banner across the street to attract the attention of the visitors. You might have missed it otherwise. And people missed it for centuries, even for millions of years (have there been humans that long?). It was discovered by accident when the villagers looked for shelter during the bombings in WWII; and after the war, a couple of speleologists laid out the map of the cave and prepared it for visitors like us. I have seen quite a few caves, some with a lake inside (this cave had a lake, too) but hardly any as vast as this one. Amazing.

Once outside again, a path led along the mountainside back to the village. Along this path, a woman sat on her veranda, addressing the passers-by and trying to sell jewellery and other souvenirs to them. Or at least a cup of coffee. No such luck – until she found me. I was good bait.

I wouldn't mind a cup of tea, I said. So she made me herbal tea with camomile from the mountain, and we chatted. That is, she told me her story. Today, she said, was her 42nd wedding anniversary (she married at 18, she added). She showed pictures of her son and daughter and her three grandsons. Her daughter would have liked a girl for a second child, but no, “You not buy them in supermarket.”

And then she started, in her broken German, to tell me about her husband. He had been a silver smith, apparently, making the jewellery she sold (and there were some beautiful pieces). But now, he had stopped working, as he had a pension, and he was very ill (from what she told, he must have bowel cancer), but he kept on drinking. He drank and he drank and he drank, she said, and when he ran out of beer (she showed me the empty bottles), he went to town to drink more. (I think that is where he was right then, on their wedding anniversary.)

What to do? she complained. “Doctor says, he should not drink.” But he did. And he had made debts, she went on. She had worked hard all her life, cleaning other people's houses, for little money (“Men, they make good money. Women, they work hard, but no money.”).

Of course, having listened to a story like hers, I didn't have the heart not to buy at least one of the silver objects on offer. I even felt guilty afterwards for having moaned about the price, so she lowered it. And she gave me a little extra, a nice key latch – and she wanted no money for that cup of tea.

We embraced when I left. She then gave me directions, and warned me against the Albanians (we are close to the Albanian border here). “Greek people good. Albanians no good.” They still remember Ali Pasha here, the Albanian ruler who once was the cruel master of this Greek province, Epiros, until the Turks had him killed. But by then (in 1821) he was 82...

'See you next year”, the woman said. “See you next year”, I echoed her, before walking down the path and out of her life.

Read also my other blogs on Greece, "Preveza", "Close encounters of various kinds"

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