With a short ride to Elafonisos, I take advantage of the morning and ride the mile stretch back to the medieval city of Monemvasia, this time to fly the drone and capture the majesty and work that the Byzantines did to create this city some 800 years ago.
It’s also my late brother Bob’s birthday today. He loved the beach and I will toast to his life when I arrive.
The ride should take an hour and a half, so I motor along the coast, heading south from Monemvasia and then west into the hills. I follow my gut, and my GPS, and at one point the GPS guides me right, and I follow, but catching out of the corner of my eye a worn sign that says old road.
Oh well, that might be good, or not.
It’s a one lane road that hugs a mountain as it switches back and forth, passing through tiny towns where corners of stone buildings jut into my lane, I wiggle my bike by a tractor passing my way. Elderly men and women sit on the side of the road, craning their necks watching me as I whir by.
I wind my way high and then back low. After more than an hour, I feel a reprieve from the heat. The temperature drops, and then I wind down through a decreasing radius turn when the sea appears in front of me. Just off the coast, there’s a small island, the surrounding sea is a deep dark blue, and hugging the perimeter of the island, the water is aquamarine—glowing like a coral reef.
Is that Elafonisos? I wonder. It must be. Yet it seems still far to the north and looks like a tiny dot from way up here.
Soon I come to the end of the road—where I meet a wider, smoother and more modern road. Hmmm, I ask myself, “is this the new road?”
I merge onto the road and soon am joined by dozens of cars whizzing by in both directions until I get to the turn off that takes me to the ferry landing for the 10-minute ferry ride to Elafonisos.
I pay the five Euro fare and ride onto the small ferry which carries about fifty or so cars and as many passengers that can line the bridge and ramparts and cargo area. Unlike the efficient ferries I recall from riding the fjords of Norway, where you drive onto the ferry one way and off the ferry in the same direction,
here the ferry is one way. Cars must back onto the ship. I’m nearly the last vehicle loading, so there’s no room to circle the bike around so to face the exit and make for easier departure. Oh well.
Elafonisos sits at the bottom tip of the first of three fingers of the Peloponnesus peninsula. It’s small, about seven square miles, and has just one little town, the settlement of Elafonisos. The town hugs the coast around the ferry landing facing the mainland. A handful of cafes and small guest houses make up the town, but visitors do not visit Elafonisos to stay in town, they retreat to the beaches of the southern and southeastern coast, like Simos and Panagia on the west.
I travel with no itinerary. This can be a challenge when deciding to settle in a popular destination. This turned out to be true on Elafonisos. I looped the island first, getting my bearings before starting my quest for accommodation. After stopping at about five inns and hotels, all booked, I worried.
I checked on Booking.com. The only availability it showed was 6.2 miles away—on the mainland, or further on Kithira, another island deeper into the Mediterranean.
Great, I thought. I’m screwed. I could camp, I guess. But my plan was to find a beachside room, catch up on my writing and digital file downloads since I couldn’t do that in Monemvasia. I also need to recharge batteries.
At one inn the manager suggests I go to the Keli Mara Inn near Panagia Beach. I’m greeted by the friendly, smiling and sarcastic Katia.
“How many nights?” she asks.
“One or two,” I say.
“You don’t know?” she says with a smirk, “Well, I don’t know if I have a room.”
She’s funny. I explain depends how much work I get done.
“Work?” she says with disgust. “You’re on vacation!”
“Not really!” I try to explain, telling her I’m a writer, photographer and working on a new book.
Yes, she has a room. If I want to stay for two nights, I must let her know because the room could get booked. This is true, but I still like to wage my bets, take a chance.
Right in front of me is one of the best beaches on the island. This is a killer location and a better deal. The hotel is decent, takes up three buildings, each in a row and set perpendicular to the beach. So while all rooms get somewhat of a sea view from a balcony facing north or south, not west toward the beach. I don’t care.
After unpacking, getting out of my riding gear and ordering a cold Alpha beer, I learn that wifi is only available in the lobby and cafe/restaurant—not in the rooms. Damn.
I haul the computer down to the cafe and bury my head in it. When the battery dies, I don my shorts and dip into the crystal clear blue and aquamarine waters of the Mediterranean. Warm, glimmering, and perfect for cooling off and relaxing after a short ride and work.
In the water, I meet Spyros, an Athenian who studied in Boston and had traveled throughout California many years ago. The conversation soon turned to US politics with Spyros flailing questions about policy, presidents, and predicaments. Taking a page out of Jonathan’s playbook, I tried to keep my answers balanced, objective, and with a dose of my personal curiosity and inability to get a crystal ball to work for me.
When I flipped the conversation around to Greek politics and the recent announcement from Greece and the newly named “Republic of North Macedonia,” I was amazed by Spyros’ deep understanding of history—modern history—and his perspective on a subject that in Greece is perhaps as divisive as politics in the USA.
Most Greeks, and with passion, leave no room for discussion or debate when it comes to their neighbors to the north. Many believe that the country of North Macedonia shouldn’t be named “Macedonia” at all. Keep in mind, there is a province in Greece named “Macedonia” and at one time, before the formation of Greece, Macedonia itself took up a larger area that stretched to Belgrade in the north, Albania to the west, part of Bulgaria to the east and south into today’s Greek province of Macedonia. Many young Greeks insist that the Macedonians should embrace their Slavic roots and give up anything to do with Macedonia. Perhaps they are fearful that the neighbors to the north will try to take control of the northern Province and its capital, Thessaloniki. They are also sore about the use of Greek symbols and historical figures, including Alexander the Great.
The discussion and history of this conflict, which most recently came to rift during the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s, but stretch back to Hitler and World War II, is well beyond the scope of this post and my only superficial, yet getting a deeper understanding of the conflict.
The agreement between the prime minister of Greece and his counterpart in Macedonia could be a step in the right direction, but many Greeks have less than nice things to say about their president and this agreement.
For Spyros, who is from the Greek province of Macedonia, he’s fine with it. Though he admits there are Greeks who might be discriminatory toward the northern Greek Macedonians and therefore discount his opinion.
For me, it’s just one more reason semantics, history, and old vendettas shouldn’t define modern thinking or politics. That’s why I travel border to border and why I’ve always deemed the title of our TV show to be Beyond Borders, because when people sit down, face-to-face, over a good meal and drink we can go beyond borders and connect.
Here on Elafonisos, I’ve made a new friend—Macedonian, Greek, or otherwise—this time a friendship not made over good food and drink, but rather in warm water on a great Greek beach.
So I stay the second night after all. I’m glad I did. The skies were perfect for viewing the lunar eclipse, the blood red moon lasted nearly two hours. In awe, I just gazed from my balcony—snapping photos and hoping just one might capture the beauty I experienced live from Elafonisos.