We started early on our bikes to make sure of cycling in the morning cool. Intending to cycle up the River Acheron to Kanaliki, the local town for a supermarket shop, we instead got diverted by a sign to the Necramanteon – the ‘Oracle of the Dead’ which Demetrius had urged us to see.
Climbing up the steep hill to the site we were put off by signs advising that no entry was allowed without a paid guide and only between the hours of 11am and 4pm but were happily allowed entrance for just two euros and told to make our own way around as a gang of workmen toiled at reconstruction work being funded by the EU.
The Necromanteion was built on the site originally claimed by Homer to be that of Odysseus’s communication with the dead. In Classical times it was the hill which overlooked the meeting of the Kokitos and Acheron Rivers and the entrance to the underworld, Hades.
The Necromanteion sanctuary is believed to date later from the 4th to 3rd centuries BC and was where pilgrims would travel to endure a ritual of fasting, cleansing (and probably drug-taking) before being allowed by the high priests to find their way through the stone labyrinth and climb down to the sacred hall to commune with the spirits of the dead.
We clung to the steep iron steps which took us down out of daylight and deep underground to the Hall of Hades. It was mesmerising to stand in the darkness of the stone hall which still has a ceiling of 15 porous arches intact and which ran with cold dripping water.
Snake pellets on the ground kept us on the dimly lit iron platform as we smelled the musty air of centuries’ old superstitions and beliefs. This place is also where Persephone was believed to have been forced to reside by the King of the Underworld, thus causing winter to hold its icy grip on the land up above.
It was utterly quiet and eerily mysterious.
The climb back up to hot sunshine and the clanging sounds of the workmen rebuilding stone walls was like waking from a dream. It was a very special experience.
Shunning the necessary practicalities of a supermarket shop we headed back to the coast on a back lane to find Odysseus’ bay, presumably where he came ashore under instruction to seek out the souls of the dead, or ‘deads’ as our map charmingly told us.
Our cycle took us past neat and orderly fields and well-tended vegetable plots.
It was hot now and the air was full of the scents of roadside broom and gorse bushes, wild garlic and herbs. In country gardens we were surprised to see and enjoy the aromas of masses of roses in deep reds and pinks.
Along the farming tracks goats, sheep and cows roamed freely, ringing their bells and ambling good-naturedly alongside us.
We stopped to ask permission of an old goat herder to cycle through his gorgeous herd of kids and mothers tripping ahead of us on the road.
He urged us, ‘yassos yassos, pass pass, keine problem!’ Dodging sunning snakes and lizards we found the red sandy track to the bay and came across a couple of moored yachts enjoying their own Greek paradise in a beautiful setting.
Our pedal around the cove to Kerentsa introduced us to Lyceon, an enthusiastic café owner who told us of his planned ‘Musical Festival for Mittwoch’ – which turned out to be the Greek national holiday of May Day in two days’ time.
Fortified on strong Greek coffee and lemonade (a surprisingly refreshing combination!) we cycled back to the Necromanteion and out on the roads to Ammoudia for a cooling swim in the crystal clear waters at the beach.
Drying off over a beer and accompanying ouzo at fisherman Michelmos’ bar, our lack of Greek almost saw us buy his entire stock of 100 litres of home-bottled Rose wine. Michelmos’ customers’ needs thankfully prevailed and we headed home with just the litre and a half to enjoy sampling with the sunset.
Back at Bertha we had been joined by a gorgeous white beach dog. ‘Pola’ was named by Carole who has been feeding her during their visits to Ammoudia for the last three years. Carole’s van included supplies of tinned food, flea spray and worming tablets for the many Greek loose dogs, cats and kittens she knows to expect to encounter on their travels.
This opened our eyes to the care that touring campervanners give to animals shunned in their local community. It is a sad practice that the Greek’s use poisons as a means of ‘controlling’ the dog and cat populations.
Pola ate well that evening enjoying the impromptu bbq wars between the two British vans – but frankly, Alec didn’t stand a chance.