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Caves in Greece

Another article which proves the old saying that the B.E.C. get every where!

By Colin Priddle.

Having spent six weeks on holiday in Greece this year it is inevitable that one comes across caves of one sort or another without really looking for them.

My wife Jan and I, being tourists, had a rucksack each and travelled by bus, train and boat living as cheaply as possible on local fruit, bread, cheese and fish.  We caught a boat from Dubrovnik in Jugoslavia to the island of Corfu, and from there a boat to Patras then we went down the west coast of the Peloponese by train staying for a night or two at a camping site or on a beach.

One afternoon, we caught a bus to a village called Otilon on the middle peninsula of the Peloponese (Akra Tenarch) arriving at 9.30 p.m.  Being late (for Greece) the conductor asked where we were staying. When we said we would go to the beach, he said it would be best to sleep on the bus, so after he and the bus driver bought us a meal we kipped down in the bus.

In the morning we found that we were in the tiniest of villages and saw the sea as a lovely bay about 600 feet below us.  Through the churchyard and down a steep donkey track we went and half an hour later we were by the sea.  After asking, we put up our tent in an olive grove about a hundred yards from the beach and went to the cluster of houses along the bay to buy some food. Unfortunately there were no good shops, so I was elected to climb back up the donkey path to the village we had left some two hours previously.  By this time, the day was hotter, so I stopped frequently to look around at the numerous cave entrances in the cliffs and slopes.  Reaching the village, I bought the usual food; but trying to buy candles where nobody spoke English proved impossible.  I’m sure they had some, but they were not on any of the shelves.

We stayed in the olive grove for two nights.  During the day it was too hot to climb to cave entrances, knowing that once there, a dozen matches would not take us in very far!  We had heard, however, of some show caves in the locality, so after our two nights we packed our tent and waited for the 7.30 bus.  It didn't arrive, so knowing that the next (and last!) bus was due at 12.30 p.m., we tried hitching and were lucky enough to get a lift directly to the show cave at Pirgos Dirou, which is some 15 miles from Oitilon.

Dirou caves are right on the coast and at sea level.  One cave was closed but the other consisted of two parts, the first by boat and the rest by walking.  We heard that the boat Journey was the best part so, as the total fees were over £1, we settled for the boat trip only, which halved the cost.  The cave was called Vylkhada and we boarded a punt-type boat in a well decorated chamber about a hundred yards from daylight.  The punt was propelled and guided by two men - one at the bow and one at the stern.  We moved through passages ten feet wide of varying height to regularly spaced chambers.  All was superbly decorated with straws and stalactites, the proliferation of which I had never seen before.  There was no part without some decoration - the beautiful orangy-pink stal seeming to dive straight into the crystal-clear water.  It really was a marvellous sight!

The lighting, both above and below water, was most effective.  The boat slid along with rocks sometimes inches below and sometimes out of sight in the green-blue depths.  The round trip took twenty minutes, so we reckoned that we went two kilometres or more, our only complaint being that we could have gone a lot slower and had more time to gaze at the fantastic sights.  I really would advise anyone who finds himself in the area to visit these lovely caves.  This part of Greece is relatively tourist-free, with only the Greeks; donkeys; goats and the barren limestone hills.

One very pleasant tip we discovered was to flavour the water with lemon juice, otherwise it is very brackish and sickly but nevertheless O.K. (at any rate, we were never ill drinking it.)  It mostly comes from shallow wells only a short distance from the beach, and this is general for most coastal areas of Greece.

Well, we carried on with our travels towards Athens travelling by bus over high, barren inland areas, through tiny villages, and towns like Sparti.  We did the usual tourist thing by visiting several ruins and amphitheatres (there is an excellent example of one at a place called Epidavros) and eventually, after a ten minute boat trip we arrived on the island of Spetre, one of the Saronic islands.  One of the problems of travelling in Greece is that you must always find a place to sleep costing as little as possible.  This is really pretty easy as the beach costs nothing and the local people don't mind if you sleep there with or without a tent.  Water is never a problem, but toilet facilities are - since they are usually completely lacking.

On Spetre we found that there was a good beach on the other side of the island and after a twenty minute bus ride we were there.  A church, restaurant and two houses were the only buildings at the back of a beautiful bay and beach.  Three or four others were sleeping at one end of this beach, and we pitched our tent alongside that of an Australian couple at one side of the bay, then we went swimming. The beach was occupied by a few holiday makers for about three or four hours each day, but for the rest of the time it was deserted.  However, there seemed to be quite a number of people using a track near us, and it was not long before I followed this track to its end - a hole in the rocks right on the sea shore.

Heaving myself down about six feet, I was amazed to find a concrete path that led away from daylight. Squatting by the entrance I could gradually make out a chamber filled with water with a beach and formations at one end and at the other a duck which led out to sea, through which light was filtering.  The next day we had to get to a town on the other side of the island for food and mosquito netting.  We bought food, netting and CANDLES and later that day went to the cave armed with our lights.

The cave was actually two chambers divided by the concrete path.  The right hand chamber was about twenty feet square and about six feet high with no formations.  The other chamber was about thirty feet square with a ten foot high roof.  It reminded me very much of Wookey 3.  It had a couple of sparkling stalagmite bosses which made it a pretty little cave.  The rock was conglomerate with some red sandstone, so how the stalagmites were formed is a mystery to me.

We left the beach after a few days and after visiting another island, we reached Athens.  This is a centre for young tourists.  There are cheap travel facilities (to England for £20, India for £45, Egypt for £17 etc.)  These facilities are supposed to be for students, but it was obvious that others could use them - like us!  Having booked our plane tickets for Nairobi, we left Athens for some further sightseeing amongst the Greek islands.

We went to Pares in the Cyclades, and visited the famous marble I caves I which produce marble (which was used to build many of the ancient Greek temples). We got on a bus and then wandered up a track to a marble quarry where a dozen or so men were shaping blocks from the beautiful white rock.  We found the 'caves' on the other side of the valley.  There were four entrances two were inclined shafts and two more like cave entrances.  Armed with candles, we explored the mines.  The main shafts went down at least 200 feet, with tunnels leading off to large chambers.  Everywhere glistened white, and walls of the white stone supported the roof.  We spent an hour or so exploring this mine.

A temple of Apollo was built on a hill near these mines and although only the foundations and a few other stones are still present, the main marble pillars can be seen built into an eighteenth century castle in the town and even the castle looks a bit odd with these and other features built into it.

The finale of our Greek holiday was a trip to the island of Delos, the ancient city of 20,000 inhabitants with temples; houses; courtyards; statues; villas and a stadium all now devoid of life except for thousands of lizards darting across the sun-drenched stones.