After the rains.
Look at our photos you could be forgiven if you think that the sun shines eternal on Lefkada.
When it rains it’s a different heavenly experience, one of open skies.
Water gushes down the street, every roof creates a waterfall, and the sea forgets all that aquamarine business and takes on an appearance more like the sea we’d recognise from home.
Lefkada doesn’t seem to do showers. When it rains it rains hard, and sets in for the day. Several days even. Suddenly you understand how a hot country so far south can be so green.
Then when the sun shines again the flowers pop out.
The olive grove that we now accept as a garden is full of cyclamens this morning. Full in a way we’d never see in England. Thousands of the pretty pinks leap through the red soil.
Autumn crocus fills the gaps.
All over the countryside there are huge bulbs pushing forth shoots that I suspect to be amaryllis. If they are they’ll be a pretty sight in another few weeks.
And the glorious smell.
The air is sharp with the scent of sage.
Walking along releases the thyme. Occasionally passing a villa there’s jasmine to bring a sweet note too.
As I look through the window now the world seems bright, fresh and new after a weekend of almost constant downpour.
I need to get out there.
Rain? When it rains it takes it seriously.
When there’s a storm it takes everything to another level.
It’s usually at night.
Polly knows about it first. She starts pacing around the bedroom before the rumbles of thunder even start.
Last night was exceptional.
Electricity ripped through the sky, coming from afar, but approaching fast.
The house roof leaks a little and I went downstairs to move the laptop out of range of any drips. No need to turn the light on, the sky was lit so brightly and near constantly by the long flashes coming from several directions.
By the time the storm was overhead Polly achieved a stunt that would have been impressive for a fully able dog of her size. She somehow shimmied under the bed, despite the gap being just 17cms. I don’t believe her rib cage is that small in any direction so the fear driving her must have been strong.
Zeus sure was angry last night, I felt for anyone at sea while he was raging. Even from the safety of home it was an exciting, scary event.
When we woke this morning Polly was back in her bed, hopefully having forgotten the events of a few hours ago.
Downstairs there were a few pools of water – no doubt some roof tiles will have cracked over in the super heat of the summer. Simon, our host, will be along later to check.
Alli Gata and Polly Skilos.
In many Greek towns cats and dogs roam the streets. Not fighting, rarely even raising hackles. Most are well looked after, but always keen for a morsel if offered. They’re part of the scenery, and certainly not unpleasant, even though some of the dogs are huge.
Villa Noe, our short term house on Lefkada came with its own cat – Alli Gata.
We don’t know where Alli sleeps, but he’s always outside when we come down in the morning. Mewing wildly. He’s good for keeping the snakes away in summer, mice in winter, and he’s clean so he’s OK with us too.
Initially Polly wasn’t so keen. Polly’d love to chase him, but on three legs she’s neither fast nor steady.
Failing a chase Polly’d be quite pleased just to have a sniff, but Alli’s having none of that, not yet anyway. Each time Polly gets close Alli turns into cartoon spikey cat and hisses obscene Greek venom at his suitor.
They examine each other separated by a pane of glass.
They are both curious.
Although he doesn’t let Polly come too close, Alli joins us on our walks down the lane. Staying out of reach of the dog, but happy to get a stroke from me.
Outside if Polly’s off the lead they remain cautious, keeping their distance.
I have faith that they’ll bridge the gap of fear that separates them, they just need time.
Kitten smitten (Gatáki).
Elsewhere, at Dessimimi Bay, a little beach on the east side of the island, all cat population control has been ignored. Twenty or more come padding on silent paws when we get out of the car, and a particularly bold kitten takes to Minty, keeping her entertained as I went to explore the little beach.
I find a sad charm in holiday places out of season. I imagine this hamlet teeming with people having the best time in the sunshine, free of all the cares of home, parents letting the little ones roam free.
Today there’s only one old lady, dressed in black, rounded over, collecting olives with one of the grey sacks you see at the roadside. She lifts her head sideways, shouts a “Yasas” and gives a nod, then carries on picking the little black jewels from the grass.
Back at the car Minty’s kitten smitten. The little fellow hops up into the car with no encouragement. It could have ended with a bigger ArchieVan family, but with heavy heart I lifted him out, and again, and again. He clearly wanted an ArchieVan adventure.
Paradise has electric gates.
There’s a little beach a couple of miles from the house that I’ve seen on Google’s satellite view and during the rain of Sunday afternoon I decided that to avoid cabin fever I’d walk there. Stepping from the house was rather like stepping into a waterfall. I was immediately soaked, my boots were full of water (from the top), and my supposedly waterproof jacket was having none of it.
It makes such a difference when the rain’s warm though, while I’d prefer a dry walk, I wasn’t that bothered.
I trudged for an hour or so, head down, watching the ground to avoid slipping, and observing all the little plants pushing through.
Villages tend to be made up of real houses, normal sized dwellings, with real people living in them.
Outside of the villages are the huge and often beautiful holiday villas. These are owned by enterprising Greeks doing something to bring income from land that has been in the family for centuries, or they’re owned by foreigners. The rent these bring in the summer is huge, but they spend half of the year empty. If we lived here we’d work hard to tempt year round flow of visitors, rather as we did at home in Cornwall, but hey, we don’t (yet).
Many of the villas look fantastic, and their views are unlike anything available anywhere else in the world, but the amount of land that is scarred just creating them is criminal. Incredibly steep tracks are cut through virgin hillsides that are impressive engineering feats, but seem to have little regard for the golden egg laying goose.
Then up go the electric gates.
I know there are several routes to the beach I had targeted, but each was gated.
Back in the house I looked again at the satellite view and I think I have found an old track to the beach that I’ll try next time. But there’s a theme developing here that it seems the government has little power to stop.
Again it makes me grateful for the National Trust in Britain. Many complain about its policies and charging, but at least the vast majority of our coastline remains accessible to all.
Simon, our host, insists we ignore the gates, climbing over if necessary. He tells me that all of the coast has public access, but as I expected, the government doesn’t have the resources to check the abuses of those building the mansions.
Lefkas skyline drive.
Lefkada is a small island, it’s only 35km long and 15km wide, but there’s serious height here with a lot of peaks above 1100m. Better still there are roads (of sorts) that get you near those peaks.
We tried some today.
Driving Billie is getting easier. Even the lane doesn’t seem as bad as when we arrived.
Today’s drive might have been possible in ArchieVan, but horribly difficult. Had we met anything coming the other way the sweats would have come on strong.
Mountain roads took us from the village of Sivros (my favourite so far) to Agios Illias.
It was a bit bendy.
Drive through the village of Agios Illias and you feel as though you’re drive through someone’s back yard. Not only are the houses almost touching across the street, but it’s also limestone paved.
This is the bit that might have defeated ArchieVan. Although here, as everywhere else in Greece, there’ll be a decent sized pickup truck at the end of every seemingly impassable lane.
Leaving Billie on the hillside we stanked a couple of miles up to the next summit. Here the usual acres of olive grove gave way to vineyards. An old lady collected chestnuts as her dogs ran riot around the chickens. On the crazy slopes goats rang out with their bells. Tracks climbed steeper hills than any vehicle should be able to manage. And Minty and KC gasped at ever more dramatic views.
The plan was to carry on to 1157m, but it was chuffing cold when the winds came down off the mountains. We stopped off at this delightful bright church, had our lunch, and retreated back to the car.
The road on up in Billie was a heart in the mouth experience, cloud occasionally lifting to reveal views right down to the sea at Vasiliki, generally with no barrier, and always with a slew of grip defeating limestone gravel across the road.
Over the top everything changed.
Olives and vines were replaced by low scrub at the top, and further down on this, the shady side, the cover was mostly conifers until a lot lower. Dense pines create a cold dark atmosphere unlike anywhere else we’ve been on the island.
The single track is badly pot holed, often with subsidence, there are few passing places, but oh my god what a road.
Little churches line the way, shrines between them.
Curiously there were lots of wells. This tiny church at just below 1000m had nine wells in front of it, and the remains of windmills too.
The road wound through Eglouvi, highest village on the island. Eglouvi is famed for its excellent lentils but memorable to me for having a bend in its road that was impossible to take in one go, no matter how you approached it. A little beyond was a turning space that we needed to use even in little Billie.
Occasionally the close sided track opened out to views like these down past Nidri and onwards to take in other islands and the mainland.
The whole day’s drive was only 40kms or so, but the scene presented was wildly varied, the attention needed intense, the views jaw dropping, and now, back at the house, we know that at times life is indeed very good.
Roasted garlic soup with mustard cheese croutons.
The only way to bring such a magnificent day to a close.
Two heads of garlic, one roasted, one fried, stock, onions, thyme.
And the best croutons. Old bread toasted, smeared in hot mustard, then mixed parmesan and cheddar melted on top.
Village red. €2 for a litre and a half. Rough, ready and right.
Shorts on, shirt off.
It could be the last time for the year so let’s celebrate. Thursday 22 November, it’s a beautiful day, with another forecast so we head out in ArchieVan for a few nights.
We didn’t make our destination. At 40kms it was just too far!
We’re parked up on Kathisma Beach high on the west coast of Lefkada.
There are vans! We haven’t seen another van for a while. They’re both German. Of course. Two friendly young families, one in a cool old monster motorhome and the other in a cool new van conversion. The couple we chatted with are teachers and took advantage of a brilliant sabbatical system where they can be paid 66% of salary for two years and then take the third year off, continuing to be paid at the same rate.
It has only been five nights since we last slept in the van, but we’re excited all over again.
The sun beat down, Polly was up for a longer walk, the sea was more animated than usual. And as I cooked dinner I was so pleased to have everything I needed in such a small space. Our next (house) kitchen is destined to be compact indeed.
Here the beach is sandy (as opposed to the pebbles on much of the island), there are long stretches, and little coves, all with that crazy Greek island turquoise colour combination that no one believes until they see it with their own eyes.
Swims, swims more swims.
The sun kept shining so we stayed on the road, choosing Lefkas’s lagoon for a twitcher’s delight spot. We woke on the shallow lake where so many feathered friends took roost – the various gulls, egrets, herons and cormorants are fairly commonplace, but also we had the added interest of flamingoes, what a strange sight to see them taking off, and huge and ungainly pelicans.