Day 140-LXVI, from Βόνιτσα to Δρυμός, 16 km.
When we crossed the sea yesterday from Preveza to Actium we left Epirus and entered the region of Acarnania. All I can say about it is that it’s getting better all the time.
Up until now, it was mostly the gorgeous countryside that enchanted me. The villages and towns looked strangely modern. They gave me the impression that they have changed a lot in recent years under the unifying influence of voracious capitalism, and that little is left of how they used to be.
Vonitsa was different. It’s a small town that completely blew my mind. Last night, when I wandered through her small streets and up to the old Venetian castle, I realised that this is the place that I have been looking for for a long time. It’s one of those places that I only know from classic Donald Duck adventure stories and of which I feared that they didn’t exist any more, at least in Europe.
Vonitsa owes most of her beauty to her location on the shore of the Ambratian Gulf. This inland sea is speckled with green islands, rocky capes and lagoons. It’s surrounded by small fertile plains and high mountains whose peaks are still covered with snow. I like to think of this gulf as a miniature Mediterranean. And I already imagine adventures like a miniature Odyssey. I can see myself sailing along her shores in the morning fog…
I shouldn’t be telling you all this. As we are moving straight east, away from the outer Ionian coast, we are leaving mass tourism behind. This territory is authentically Greek. Don’t spoil it, don’t come here, don’t tell your neighbours.
The castle of Vonitsa is one of those things that you won’t find elsewhere. It’s lit up at night, but that’s about as far as the modern touch goes. There are no fences, there is no entry fee to pay. People don’t go there, there is no trash, no graffiti. Just the ruins left to the invasion of nature, and the air of mystery.
If I had known about this when I drafted the route in Naples, I would have planned a day off in Vonitsa. Instead, this morning we prepared to move on, but the locals wouldn’t let us. We were invited by the mayor for lunch in grand style. We might not be able to communicate fluently with the Greek people, but they know what we’re doing, and they wholeheartedly support us.
After lunch we walk on along the hills to the small village of Drymos, where people are not at all used to meeting foreigners.
You won’t find any fashionable bars here. Instead you find only the typical Greek pubs, which all more or less look the same. Square wooden tables, wooden chairs, tiles on the floor, bare walls, and a kitchen instead of a counter. The customers are either busy watching football, playing cards or playing backgammon. They all smoke like Turks.
When I enter the local pub together with my American comrade, we are already well known. The word of our march is spreading across the region, and we harvest sympathy wherever we go. We are invited to drink, we are invited to talk to the mayor. There is always someone who speaks enough English or German to translate.
I have a feeling that the villages of northern Greece are not doing so bad, because of the fact that they have the land and the sea and relatively few inhabitants. But that doesn’t mean people don’t care. There is a strong sense of solidarity in these places, both among the locals themselves, and between them and all the people over the world who are resisting.
Right now, in this village, we represent those people. When we walk into the local pub, we aren’t strangers any more. We’re part of the family.