That Day We Nearly Died on a Beautiful Greek Island
04.09.2018 - 04.09.2018
The day started innocently enough. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast on our balcony, listening to the surf crashing against the rocks below.
Our plan was to drive to Porto Limnionas, a unique swimming area carved into the rock on the other side of the island. Zykanthos is a fairly large island (156 square miles) and the interior is wild and untamed, filled with mountains and rocky expanses.
Armed with nothing more than Google Maps on our iPhones, we set off, blindly trusting.
I think visual aids are in order to fully explain what happened to us that day.
I present Exhibit 1: an innocent looking Google map that we are all familiar with, offering multiple routes and highlighting the shortest route, which is obviously the right choice. I mean, obviously.
What I didn’t know was that the shortest route (indicated below in red) included a HUGE section of road that doesn’t appear in Google Street View.
Wanna’ know why? BECAUSE IT’S NOT A FLIPPING ROAD. It's a goat path.
But we didn’t know that yet.
We started merrily on our way, marveling at the pretty sights.
La te da. Here we go.
We had a second chance to PAY ATTENTION when we reached this intersection and the route turned us toward a very rangy road. Very. Rangy.
Instead of noticing the increasing deterioration of our “road,” we were too busy “ooooing” and “aaaaahhhing” over the beautiful olive groves that lined the “road.” It was truly beautiful.
Until it wasn’t.
The semi-paved road gave way to dirt. The dirt gave way to loose soil and rock. It got narrower and narrower.
We made our final, and fatal, mistake when the map told us to make a sharp left turn, over a giant gravel pile, up a steep hill, with drop offs on either side. That was our last chance to turn around.
We didn’t take it.
We powered on.
And soon found ourselves on a footpath, lined sharply with dense shrubbery and thorns, too narrow to drive through without hearing the continual screeeeeeeech of the branches tearing down the sides of our vehicle (it was a very expensive sound in case you were wondering). To add to our delight, it was steep, with sheer drop offs on one side and a sheer dirt face on the other, going up endless switchback turns.
We were going to die.
It was very quiet in the car.
Well, except for the sound of the shrubbery eating all of the paint off of our rental vehicle. This shrubbery:
We couldn’t turn around.
We couldn’t back up.
All we could do was continue to inch forward and hope the path stayed wide enough to pass and didn’t eventually peter out into nothing.
For the final exhibit I show you THIS:
Our path is in red dots. See that bit in the middle? That’s where there wasn’t even a road.
At this point, we simply stopped the car. We didn’t know what to do. Matt got out and silently cursed. I was repeating a silent prayer in my head, like an endless mantra.
There was nothing to do but keep going.
After the most nail biting, miserable hour of my life, we saw this:
It was the Church of Agia Marina and it meant we had found a road. And a village.
And our sanity.
We got back onto the road, found the first place to pull over, and stopped. We didn’t know whether to vomit, weep, or kiss the pavement.
We both stood beside the car, simply breathing deeply, eyes closed, feeling like we might pass out.
We were badly shaken and the Jeep…..oooooohhhhh nooooo….don’t even ask about the Jeep.
We heaved a sigh of relief as this donkey looked on in sympathy.
We continued on down to Porto Limnionas. What else could we do? We sure as hell weren't turning around and going back.
Desperately in need of a stiff drink, we made it to Porto Limnionas, found two loungers, and promptly ordered 2 caipirinhas. We finished them before the waiter could even walk away and ordered 2 more as he quietly looked at us and exclaimed, “Oh my.”
He had no idea what we’d just been through.
Somehow, we managed to shake the morning off and enjoy ourselves. It was probably the liquor. We decided not to worry about the Jeep. We’d try to buff it out later, and if we couldn’t, so be it. There was nothing we could do at this point.
So why not drink, lounge in the sun, and swim? We were in Greece on holiday, after all.
Porto Limionas was gorgeous. Not a beach, Porto Limionas is a narrow inlet fringed by limestone. More of what we used to call a “swimming hole” than a beach, the hillside is covered with stone terraces and sunbeds with umbrellas, where you can waste a day away sipping caipirinhas and forgetting about your scratched up Jeep.
There was even a horrific and rusty old jumping platform that I simply couldn’t keep myself off of.
Tetanus be damned.
When our nerves were finally numbed by alcohol, we drove a short way to Porto Schiza where we had lunch with the most stunning view.
Greek salad; toasted bread with crushed tomatoes, capers, and feta; and pasta with a rich meat sauce went wonderfully with the red wine and the view to the sea.
It was time for Navagio Beach, aka Shipwreck Beach, the one obligatory tourist moment I insisted we have on this island. A beach only accessible by boat, the blinding white sand is dominated by the hulking rusty skeleton of a wrecked ship.
The first time I saw a photo of that beach from above, I was smitten. I didn’t care if I had to push my way through three busloads of senior citizens, I was going to see that view.
Matt was less than enthused. It is important to note that, 1) Matt hates anything crowded, 2) Matt hates anything touristy, and 3) Matt hates heights.
For Matt, my burning need to see Navagio from above was a trifecta of wretchedness.
We arrived and, as expected, the overlook area for Navagio was like Disney on steroids. It was like someone was giving away free puppies and money, there were so many people.
Technically, there are 2 overlooks for Navagio Beach. There is the official overlook, where most people go and patiently stand in line for their 10 second photo. Then there is the “you’re not supposed to go there” overlook that requires a 10 minute hike on a scrubby path with all the other people who have absolutely no concern about their own safety. This is the overlook at least one tourist falls to his or her death from each year. Of course this was the overlook I wanted to see. I’ll have none of your official, let’s put up a metal barricade so no one can die taking their picture, thankyouverymuch. I preferred to risk my life for my selfie.
What I didn’t anticipate was just how many other fools were willing to walk out on the same ledge. While the vast majority of people were waiting in the official line for the crap view, there were still an awful lot of rule breakers trekking out the path that led to the alternate view. I fully realized that I had been sucked into the Instagram Vortex when I passed an Asian girl in a sparkly ball gown and heels…on a treacherous cliff walk, for goodness sakes.
I almost turned back. I hate to be “one of the crowd,” but ooohhhh, I wanted to see that view.
Matt. Hated. Every. Moment.
He walked about 50 feet back from the crumbling edge, filled with all manner of loose rock, grumbling the whole way.
“Come see this view,” I would pause and shout.
“Matt, this is AH-MAZING…come look!” I’d scream enthusiastically.
Eventually we made it out and Matt glowered as I got my requisite shot. I made him get in one too. I think his face says it all.
We pushed our way through the hordes of bloggers and social media junkies, and the occasional girl in a prom dress, and hopped in our Jeep to high tail it back to the villa. It had been a long and nerve wrenching day. We needed some down time.
Oh…but look SHOPPING!
I was exhausted UNTIL I saw several beautiful shops with gorgeous jewelry, rugs, and dishware.
And then we stumbled across the most amazing little winery. Art & Wine was located in a lovingly restored stone building, surrounded by vineyards, olive trees, and lemons. In their own words, they offer "fine Greek wine from the Ionian, made in the old ways and certified by the modern. In our winery you will find not regular, commercial labels, but only varieties provided within the history and culture of the Heptanese: rare, red Avgoustiatis and lively, golden Robola."
Not only does he make wine, but Giannis Giatras also does religious painting in his nearby creative workshop.
The place was serene, raw, and authentic.
We were so tired when we finally arrived back that we decided we didn’t want to get back in that Jeep. We spent the evening with wine down by the sea. When we finally got hungry, we made the leisurely walk back over to Ammoudi and grabbed a light dinner of stuffed peppers, chicken salad, and garlic dip.
So far, this vacation had not been as relaxing as we had hoped.
Maybe we could crank down the excitement factor in the days to come….