Other accounts and travel writings
Pindos/Vikos Circuit - , Greece
James Down's account
Here is James Down's account of his Vikos Gorge walk from his blog of his walk from Greece to the UK, Down and Out: http://jamesdown.tumblr.com/
Back in Igoumenitsa after an early ferry, I caught the bus to the city of Ioannina, although buoyed by my new plan; I still watched the peaks of Corfu until they were out of sight with a heavy heart. Ioannina had another pleasant old town with Byzantine relics and pretty houses, but little else to offer in the way of Greek culture. In a café, again trying to connect to wifi to see if my excellently planned last minute couchsurf requests had been accepted I got chatting with a young student and her friend. We spent the day by the lake, and I was interrogated on all aspects of British culture, they invited me to stay and were fascinated by my trip, and even asked me to read long extracts from my journal, which even I had difficulty understanding sometimes.
An hour from the city is the highly mountainous region of the Zagori, left off Ottoman tax rolls due to its inaccessibility, it retains a very different culture to the rest of Greece, and I was surprised at just how different it felt. In climate, lush vegetation and architecture. It was much cooler, much greener, and often much more like England than the rest of Greece. I loved it. The first night I was there, I was offered a bed in a local house. But he had absented himself from the village for three days on account of the rain, understandable given the fact that his house didn’t actually include a roof. He had also managed to destroy large areas of his beautiful traditional Zagori home though personal excavations in search of treasure buried under his floor, hidden there from fleeing invaders (this was not in any way substantiated by any other villager). As this offer was void, I hitched to the next village even higher up, and was shown to the school yard where I was allowed to sleep, along with a group of 15 German scouts form Cologne, but more from them later.
Sitting above the village and high up in those Pindus mountains, I felt a calm and a peace so far undiscovered on my trip, and a gratefulness to be travelling again. ‘Finally’, I thought.
The next day I walked down into the Vikos Gorge through damp forests of Oak and Beech trees. On a bulwark of rock, halfway down the deep ravine, 3 fighter jets roared their way through the canyon and into the distance. I carried on down into the white rocky and dry river bed, along to the one arched 17th century stone bridge, which was a hugely rewarding, unlike the vertical steps up to Vitsa. In this village I got a text message from my father saying that a job I had applied for well before I left, which I felt would have been a perfect job for me, had called my home wanting to contact me. Did they want me for an interview? For more details? It was quite disarming thinking about this sort of thing, when the night before I had just started to begin to feel I was settling into the pace of my trip.
I spent the night in Mondodhendri’s churchyard, with no cash, but was kindly given a free meal by the pitying taverna owners. In the evening I walked down the path to the Agios Paraskevi 14th century monastery, perched precipitously above the plunging Vikos Gorge, which was a sight to behold and was a calm and lovely place to sit and look at the ancient frescoes and flickering candles.
I had planned to walk the Vikos Gorge all along, and had factored it into my (original) plan; I descended into the gorge down steep steps that doubled back every few metres. Eventually at the bottom I let myself look up the view I had been saving myself. It was worth it. Walls of sheer yellow and orange rock soared away toward the sky, their tops and jagged and sharp, a few trees dangled themselves from these walls, and sparrows darted in and out of caves. These buttresses of rock are 1600 feet deep and 1300 feet wide in places, at 20 kilometers long, with my big pack I found it touch going. At the hallway point was a natural spring; I threw off my bag and hat and drank with my heads underwater deeply. A little further on was another spring big enough to have a real swim in, and in my case, a much needed wash. I jumped in, assuming the Greek Heat would have exacted its intense power on the water, but alas, I came up gasping in the freezing mountain water, stumbling around, creating whirlpools with my hands, I provided a satisfying sight for a young French family, who smugly applauded me when I finally managed to get out shivering. The last and highest section of the path took me, heart poundingly steeply up the sheer face to the village of Papingo. Shadowed by three huge peaks Papingo is one of the prettiest and most charming villages I’ve been, I wandered through the square and towards the churchish looking building to make my bed and bumped into the scout leader again.