Tuesday 14 August 2018

Welcome to Aegina


I take a second look at the jeep, which seems to come straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. No lights, no windows, no roof, garbage on the back seat, sand and pine needles all over the floor. The tan Greek in an Hawaiian shirt points to the contract I just signed two minutes ago and puts the bill I gave him in his pocket. I look at the brand new car (probably his) advertising in the front. "You rent the same in blue", he said, before retrieving that one probably from the nearest scrapyard. The same model indeed, with an additional 150.000 km at the meter!

I sight, no time to argue. Milady and I jump into the car. I'm surprised to find security belts! The Greek hands us a sloppy map of the island: "Welcome to Aegina!"

Maybe I'm going a bit fast here, let's rewind a few hours.

6:45 - Vibrations... Ringing... Phone's alarm... Boy it's early! We landed in Athens last night and barely had time to eat something in the city before heading straight to bed. With only two days here, no time to loose, let's make this trip legendary!

7:30 - Breakfast is frugal and we swallow it as fast as if we were at a marathon's last aid station. We are now in the M1 subway up to Piraeus, the docks where depart all ships to the nearby islands. The morning is young but already warm and sunny. It's gonna be an amazing day!

8:20 - A loud siren rings out and the huge ferry slowly exits the harbour. The salty wind is lashing my face, while Athens is going away behind us. I move to the front deck, where I can already spot Aegina on the horizon. Shaped like a triangle with a size of about 10 x 15 km, the island is the closest one to Athens and can be reached in 45 to 90 min. We chose to cross the sea on a ferry, slower than hydrofoils, but this way we can enjoy the view from the sunny deck. I lean over the sea, hoping to see some dolphins, but I guess we are too close to the coast.

10:00 - The jeep coughs a cloud of black smoke and valiantly climbs the road leaving Aegina Town. After being scammed like rookie tourists, we head East for some adventure. Hair in the wind, bumpy and dusty road, trees all around us, I feel like exploring Isla Nublar in Jurassic Park. I wouldn't be surprised to bump into a T-Rex at the next corner!

We follow the main road up to the hilly center of the island. The church of Agios Nektarios emerges out of nowhere. This is our first stop and we park the jeep under the trees. "Did you lock the doors?", asks milady. I laugh, looking back at the open-air jeep.

10:30 - The ancient cathedral, named after the most widely known Greek orthodox Saint and the little monastery of Agia Triada located right above it are important pilgrimage sites. Christians travel from far away to prey in front of the saint's tomb, for healing reasons and to ask for his blessings. We visit the cathedral where a group of Romanian pilgrims are having an office. Then we climb the stone steps surrounded by colourful bougainvilleas up to the little monastery. The place is stunningly quiet, except for the crickets singing. We enjoy a moment of peace under the olive trees and we feel completely rested when we head back to the jeep.

11:15 - The adventure goes on, as we drive down the hill towards the East coast. I'm surprised to meet so few cars and tourists. Despite its proximity to Athens, Aegina is well known for its peacefulness, even in the hot season like today. The landscape around us changes, as we reach the other side of the island. Pine trees, rocky roads and cactus bushes. Suddenly, the shining blue sea appears on the horizon, as we drive downhill towards Agia Marina, or second halt.

11:45 - We drop the car on an abandoned parking under the burning sun. At least, looking at the jeep, I'm confident no one will want to steal it. Alright, time to do some good to the environment and use our feet now! Aegina features a wide range of hiking trails. The island is fairly small and most parts of it can be explored by foot. We couldn't therefore spend the day here without going out for a walk!

We cross the charming center of Agia Marina, filled up with tourist shops, bright colourful clothes and stands of fistiki, the locally grown pistachios, speciality of the island. I buy a straw hat to an old Greek lady who says I look good with it, who am I to question that? We follow a narrow stone path uphill and exit the village.

12:45 - After hiking out way up under the striking sun, we reach our destination: the ruins of an ancient temple, dedicated to the goddess of Aphaia. With 2500 years old, it is one of the most preserved temple of Greece and forms a mysterious triangle with the Parthenon and the Sounion. Most columns are still standing while the roof and the constructions around have collapsed. We explore the quiet place, amongst a handful of tourists. The temple is built on a hill, the panorama around it is breathtaking and we could see the whole island, if Mount Oros in its center was not blocking the view. Not cool Oros, really! Below the horizon, the sea is sparkling and calling for us. Alright, we've been to church, we've done history class, now it's about time to get lazy!

14:15 - We're back to Agia Marina, following the same route weaving under the pine trees full of noisy crickets. We avoid the main beach, too crowded, and head straight to a narrow cove between rocks, where locals seems to have a good time. Surprisingly, there is no way to reach it and we have to go chest deep into the water, backpack over the head, up to the thin strip of sand!

Ten minutes later, I'm in the salty water with mask and tuba. Coming from the South West of France, I am used to the cold rough ocean. It's always a surprise how warm and crystal clear the Mediterranean is. We can see underwater far around us. Milady joins me, struggling a bit with her tuba. Fishes flee around us and hide in the seaweeds. I'm a bit disappointed that in spite of the water clarity, there is not much to see around. But we do enjoy a well deserved swim and the view of Agia Marina and the hills around.

16:00 - You can be in the most romantic place in the world, when hunger strikes, nothing else really matters. We head back to town (again reaching the shore with the backpack over the head) to find a place to eat. But the village is really tiny, offering only expensive restaurants or cheap fast-foods. Since our mind is set on seafood, we decide to resist a bit more and drive to the next beach area we have in mind. Of course, not before ransacking the main street shops and stocking up with fistikis, pistachios products and fresh figs.

Our faithful jeep is still there (what a surprise, who wouldn't want it!?), its seats in real fake leather melting under the sun. We manage somehow sit and drive back to the main road, the cool sea wind in our hair. No roof, no window, best air conditioning ever!

16:45 - The journey goes on towards the South of the island. I read somewhere that the beach of Marathona is beautiful, thanks to the lack of tourists preserving is wilderness. Let's have a look, we still have a couple of hours before us. We exit the main road and head south on a small route crossing tiny villages. Milady and I are discussing the pistachios subject. Aegina is famous for its fistikis and exports loads of them. How come we did not see any plantation until now? Where are they? Suddenly, while stopping at a crossroads, it hits me and I point at the trees around us. What I mistook for leaves were actually red grapes of small olive-shaped berries... Raw pistachios! We have been seeing those trees everywhere along the road since we left town this morning. The whole island is a plantation!

17:15 - We dump the car when reaching Marathonas and walks up to the village, that is, a few houses along the main road following the coast. Hunger is back and it's about time to eat something, as we haven't since breakfast this morning. We can't resist sitting at one of the beach restaurants, under the olive trees, barefoot in the sand, with a magnificent view of Agistri and Moni, the nearby islands. We are starving and I keep myself from ordering the whole menu. Our mind settle on feta puff pastry sprinkled with pistachios and fresh fried seafood. Man it's good to feel alive! We stay here a long time, simply enjoying the moment. Then, after asking the dishonest waiter to recount the bill a few times, not willing to pay for extra bread, water and new tires for his car, we walk up to the beach for a last swim under the starting sunset. The area is indeed a bit wilder than Agia Marina, with very few tourists, therefore peaceful and quiet.

19:15 - Time flies way too fast when you enjoy such beautiful places. Why isn't it the same on Monday morning at work? With deep regrets, we have to leave and head back to Aegina town, or we will miss the boat and we will have to spend the night in the jeep! A magnificent sunset tears the sky apart, with a bright coat of red, blue and yellow paint, as we drive along the coast up to town. Time to put some gas in the greedy jeep and we bring it back just in time. The Greek inspects it thoroughly, to check if we did not add a new scratch to the twenty existing ones... Are you kidding me now!? We walk along the harbour, shopping for some more fistikis and waiting for the boat. The sky turns dark blue and ochre, as the sun is disappearing behind the hills of Agistri, over the horizon.

20:30 - Cuddled to each others on the back seats, the humming of the hydrofoil's engine and the waves rocking us gently, we fall asleep at once. In 40 minutes we will reach Piraeus where we departed this morning. That was thirteen hours ago, yet the day has passed like a flash of lightning. Maybe we'll stop by in the old town to get some Greek yogurt with honey and nuts. But for now we get some well-deserved rest, the head filled up with sweat pictures of our first day to Aegina. Next time I promise, we'll bring the running shoes :)

No comments:

Post a Comment