Hello from Argistoli, the capital of Cephalonia. It’s a lively wee place; pastel houses perched on low ground beside a lagoon, like some Norwegian fjordside settlement. There are 15,000 souls here, & with it being Saturday night the grand piazza is filled with teenagers, while the muter sort stroll pleasantly around in circles along the clean Ionian streets. My first glimpse of Cephalonia came several dawns ago. I was on the Brindisi-Patras ferry & awoke to see a slim, silvery shard capping what appeared to be black hills slightly less inky than the night behind. Then colours started to increase in vividity & before long the whole rugged, mountainous Ionian archipelago was passing our boat on either side. “I’ll see you soon, I muttered into the sea-breeze,” & it is a promise I have kept.
Me & Paul berthed at Patras, a pleasant port city stacked against a mountain, & soon discovered that as the Greeks imported basically everything, the prices of food were proper steep! I think their current economic crisis must be down to all the plates they smash at weddings! My first day in Greece was spent basically sleeping off my lack of sleep on the ferry, plus the hangover from my last 5 litre bottle of cheap Italian red.
We’d camped a few k up the road in a lush spot of greenery, & then waking early carried on our walk. After a few more k we came across a bus station which whizzed us toward our first target – Killini. We almost made it, jumping off the bus on a motorway, then hiking a few more k before setting up camp & building a fire just as dusk. Next morning, as we strolled toward the port, we were picked up by a friendly port official who patrols the waters finding rafts full of Africans. At the port we discovered we had seven hours to wait til our boat – but this was cool as the beer was cheap & we chilled out in the ruins of medieval Glarantza, just beside the harbour, with wonderful views of Kephalonia rising like a supervolcano from the waves.
The ferry crossing was perfect – the sun set into the waters & cast a pink arm around the shoulders of the Kephalonian mountains, an island which grew ever larger as we steamed to its shores. We docked at Polos, a charming town, & camped on its beach for the night, cooking on an open fire, the sea lulling us into a soft sleep. Then yesterday morning, after stocking up on water & supplies for a couple of days, we set off out on our adventure. I’d told Paul that I was searching for the Cove of Phorcys – the old man of the sea – described in book 13 of the Odyssey. It was the final piece in my jigsaw & finding it would be fucking braw! Paul was more interested in the treasure that Odysseus hid in the back of the cave, & so joined in my enthusiasm!
Our walk was delightful, the road soon turned to an earth-track, pickled with goat herds & the lovely chiming of the bells around their necks. On our right stretched the island-peppered sea, with Ithaca ever growing closer, & more detailed, to the north. On our right a long chain of mountains stretched north & below us the road twisted & turned until, with a flash of spaciousness, I saw the cove itself. It fit the description Homer gave perfectly, which was further enhanced once we pitched camp & scouted out the beach. Half-way along was a proper cave, which Homer had described as the Cave of the Naiads, & all round us every box was ticked; the wild olive tree, the overhanging cliffs, the mountain slopes, the beach big enough for a boat, etc. What amazed me more was the strange petrified dragon of a rock formation that commanded one of the headlands. Phorcys was said to be the father of sea-monsters, including a dragon & the gorgons, those hideous ladies who turned things to stone. One can imagine an ancient Greek seeing the curious ‘statue’ & immediately thinking of Phorcys.
That night the Milky Way showed her unpolluted face & we gazed on a TV screen of stars, high over the sea, energized by our find. That brought us to today. Faced with high mountains & impassable coast-line, we walked back to Poros, only to find there wouldn’t be busses til Monday. So, we set off walking, popping in on a Mycenaean tholos tomb on the way – a sort of underground brick beehive 3,500 years old. Not long after I flagged down a van & we were picked up by overfriendly Kirriokos, a 40-ish year old guy who was intrigued to discover I was on the trail of Homer’s Ithaca. Amazingly enough, this very evening in Argostoli there was a series of archeology lectures, one of which covered a Mycenaean dig which supported one of my theories. Getting the VIP treatment, he drove us to Sami, where we paused at the monastery of wild olives, high up & tranquil with gorgeous views. Then he took us the classical-era citadel (where I think Odysseus’ palace is), stopping off to eat some delicious wild red fruits on the way. Then he drove us to the other side of the island through Kephalonia’s hinterland – a true marvel of nature, all lush greenery ringed by mountains – passing a church built over a river (after a miraculous saving of a young boys life) & dropping down into watery Argostoli.
En route he fed us & bought us cappuccinos in the town while we waited for the lectures to begin. These were mostly in Greek, & Paul left after one, but I stayed on, working on my book in an academic setting. Behind me were 20 young Canadian archeology students who had been digging on the island, who gave their teacher a rapturous applause when he stepped up to deliver his lecture. On my part, I got a few tit-bits here & there, & am ready to deliver my findings to the local newspaper first thing Monday… wish me luck