I had forgotten just how remote our new Greek hovel was. Leaving the small village of Kambos (three tavernas, three food stores and a place that sells snake repellent) myself and Susan Shimmin from the Real Mani drive our respective cars past a small church. The road as we head downhill is, at first, pretty good. That is because the first building on it – and my nearest neighbour – is a monastery. At this point there are only a few potholes to deal with.
I shall return to the subject of my neighbour, the monk, later. And also to the relationship between State and Church here in Greece. Suffice to say that in an enormous building there is now just one resident. I plan to pop in and say hello at some stage next week.
As we pass the monastery the road deteriorates rapidly. While the Greek State must ensure that the Church is not put out in any way, caring for the needs of its ordinary citizens is no longer affordable. At this point the pot holes become cavernous and the tarmac disappears as we head to the bottom of the valley. I am in first gear and driving at five miles an hour.
At the bottom of the valley there is a river in winter which flows over the road. It is now totally dry but a pond still exists hidden behind the trees. I guess there must be a spring there. That is something else for me to investigate at some point. But now we start the steep climb up the other side of the valley.
Susan pushes on in her battered van. I rather worry about how much I am damaging the underside of my small hire car as the track – it can no longer be called a road at this point twists and turns and we climb, in first gear, slowly towards the house. After about six or seven minutes the steep climb turns to a gentle rise. The stone walls occasionally crumble in the face of goat attack and I know that getting out to clear away the stones is par for the course. We pass an abandoned well and about twelve minutes after leaving Kambos the olive groves clear a bit and the hovel is in sight.
The gates are padlocked. Naturally everyone in the Mani seems to know where the keys are “hidden.” Since the gates are actually off their hinges and could be pushed over by anyone who cared this process of padlocking is all a bit of a game but we all play it anyway. And we have arrived at the hovel. The enormity of the task ahead is starting to sink in.