The route down to the next campsite took us through the middle of ancient Olympia, which put us in mind of all those mythical Greek gods and goddesses (even though they lived on top of Mt Olympus, quite a way from where we were – but that’s the power of suggestion for you). The roads were small and windy, while the terrain was hilly and remote. The combination of these factors led to an ever-present sense of danger and it seems that we weren’t the only ones who sensed it.
On the approaches to hairpin bends, particularly narrow bits of road and similar hazardous parts of the route we frequently noted small shrines. Some – usually the older looking ones – were little more than whitewashed concrete boxes or rusting iron cages, with an icon or two and an oil lamp in them. Often, people had left other more worldy offerings in the shrines; things like cans of Coke or small bottles of what we imagined was soft drinks. Most of these roadside hazard shrines, though, took the form of a small model of a simple Greek chapel. Doubtless the intention was to call down Divine protection on those about to negotiate a mix of 30 km/h speed limit, road narrowing, uneven road surface and series of bends as they aimed their vehicles round the inside edge of a startlingly unprotected drop:
All of which was fair enough – but why go to the trouble of making model chapels? Perhaps they felt that if they could make it look realistic enough then God might be fooled into thinking it was the real thing and taking up permanent residence? This idea, while initially attractive, turned out on closer inspection to be theologically flawed, but we could offer no other feasible interpretation. A good few hours of this sort of debate, accompanied by brake-stamping and steering-wheel-twirling took us eventually to a small stony looking village perched on a hill.
The ‘park4night’ app directed us to a well-concealed and almost empty car park, right next to the village church. Handbrake on, tea and toast made, we were just beginning to relax when 6 pm happened and the church bell began to ring. And not in a predictable regular way, but more as if a semi-intelligent ape had come across a bell-rope and started tugging on it manically but with no real idea of cause and effect. Ten minutes of this and we were ready to call it a day and go elsewhere, but thankfully the ape was removed from the bell-rope and silence returned. At 6:59 pm we were poised ready to make a dash for an alternative home for the night, but… nothing happened. Hah! Expectations well and truly dislocated. We stayed.
A peaceful night blended into an equally hushed morning. Then at the odd time of 7.29 am the church bell went off again. This time the ape had brought a friend along, so we were treated to the asynchronous random noises of a Triple Bob Major with six of the eight bells absent, along with the senses of the bell ringers. Not something that you encounter every day, we felt as we endured the assault on our ears. A couple of minutes of this was enough to weary the anonymous bell ringers, but after a break for bananas or something they resumed at 7:38, with another short but impassioned session at 7:52 – nothing after that, so maybe they’d been recaptured or shot with tranquiliser darts. We didn’t try to find out. Sorry…
Later that morning and back on the twisting death trap that the satnav chose to call the road, we paused en route to the coast to take a quick look at some nearby waterfalls that boasted their own signpost, so visit-worthy were they deemed to be. Setting off with a cheery bounce in our stride and a capering hound to keep us company, we followed the signpost up a rough track, which quickly started taking us downhill. On we went, as the sun climbed higher. An hour later we were beginning to feel slightly tired, but hoorah – the waterfall came into view.
Before too long all three of us, dog and all, were in the water. The route back to the van was slightly tiresome, being all uphill in what was by now blazing sunshine. As the Instagram feed elsewhere on this blog makes plain, we paused in our relentless uphill struggles to admire a large rock on the edge of a ravine, which suggested that we were on an ‘Extreme Tour’, and later the dog discovered another wild tortoise and indulged herself in the canine equivalent of a fit of shrieking hysterics every time the thing moved, no matter how slowly. All very entertaining but not enough to hold us up for long. We pressed onwards. The dog stopped capering, we’d altered our pace to a resigned trudge; ninety minutes of this was enough to (a) put us off visiting any more waterfalls and (b) make us hugely thankful that nobody had stolen the van – or more importantly, the drinking water we kept in it.
Fortnuately the act of driving requires little by way of physical effort so we made it to the next stop with no dramas. Van awning up, chairs out, cold beers cracked open and we were sorted. No more travelling for a while.