One Day in Katakolon
Over the last editions of my “One Day in” series, we slowly got towards ports with fewer and fewer calls on my list of total visits there. All the last three ports, I talked about had only three or two visits ton their name. So now I would like to talk about a port that I only visited once during my five years with the company. The claim that my memory of this visit is as vivid as those ports I called close to fifty times can probably give an idea as to the profoundness of the experience.
So, to set the scene, let me start three days prior, when we arrived on the island of Crete, early in spring. Heraklion had been our first European port after a four-day long transit of the Suez Canal. And our arrival there marked the beginning of the end to a two-month-long transit voyage. This journey brought us from Bangkok all the way to the port of Marseille in France. There we were scheduled for a two-week yard stay with our ship, AIDAbella.
As soon as we arrived in Heraklion, a mass of contractors and additional crew embarked until every so-far empty guest or crew cabin was occupied. One day later in Piraeus, the port of Athens the sports deck was closed off and used as a storage for heavy equipment and boxes of outfitting materials, brought up there by a shoreside crane, like we were some sort of cargo ship. And the next day we called on Katakolon, our second to last port before we would disembark our guests and head over to the dry dock. There, while contractors were already busy dismantling our crew areas to prepare their refit, I guided a biking tour to remember.
A few factors contributed to that right from the start. The first one being that I only had two guests on this tour. A lovely couple who were the only ones to have booked the fifty-kilometre-long active cycling tour. Those tours are geared towards those guests who like their biking tours a little challenging on the sportive side. Usually, those groups turn out smaller, but two is unusually tiny. The second part is that we absolutely did not know what to expect. Preliminary information provided to us about that tour had only been one GPS track. Usually sheets with tour descriptions and other notes that are prepared by all the guides that have guided a tour in the past and are made available to everyone. However, they happened to be missing in this case. That would indicate that it had probably been a long time since someone had guided a tour there, which in turn might mean that also the GPS track was not to be trusted. So, in preparation, I had spent quite some time comparing the track to satellite images of the area to find out, if the track would actually be a viable route. As we left the port, I was cautiously optimistic that we could complete the tour, following our intended path. But this last bit of insecurity sure added a level of thrill and challenge to guide this tour. I knew that I might need to have to do some quick thinking and decision-making.
But leaving the port and cycling up the first hill of our tour, I was optimistic. Katakolon is a tiny port. Only five hundred people live there, the somewhat nearby ruins of Olympia being the only reason for ships to call upon that port. Due to the tiny size of our harbour village, we pretty much got out into nature immediately. It took us only a few minutes up the hill until we crossed the threshold of the town, and found us on a loose gravel road, leading through tunnels of blooming gorse, through olive orchards and past green pastures. Due to the port being situated on a headland, we cycled for quite some time along the hill’s ridgeline, the ocean visible on both sides. It took almost half an hour until we had reached the actual end of the promontory, the vast, blooming, the countryside of springtime Greece now to our left. And we turned towards it.
A short descent brought us down to some old train tracks, almost entirely overgrown with grass and shrubbery and an excellent gravel road, which would lead us parallel to these tracks. This road had been the biggest gamble in terms of tour planning, as I never really could verify its full traversability via the satellite images available to me. But for now, it seemed to pay off, as riding was smooth and easy. Well, it was, until a few turns later we noticed that now there was grass growing on some parts of the road. And it got higher with every turn until it was up to our knees. But luckily it was only grass and riding through it was quite a fun and unique experience. And soon the condition of the road improved again until we were back on old and cracked tarmac.
And then we arrived at the next gravel road. And it immediately became apparent that we would not be able to pass that way. Not only was the road overgrown with thick grass, but also by large shrubs and even a few small trees. So, we instead decided to take a detour, which would lead us over a nearby hill, a town and church atop its peak. In that small town, we also met the first local of the day, who greeted us, to our surprise, in German. As it turns out, he had been living in Germany for quite some while, before emigrating back home to Greece with his wife. He was able to provide us with some useful information about the town and its monastery, making our detour not only worthwhile but also a rather considerable improvement of the tour overall. Experiences like this are what made me believe that a tour should never be taken for granted but always continuously worked on, and every possible variation explored. Quite frequently there are hidden gems left and right of the predetermined track, just waiting to be discovered. And when such a gem is found it feels like magic.
Now, following that experience, we went on to ride further through the countryside. As someone who has only ever known Greece from summer holidays, I have to say it was shocking to me, how lush and green the land appeared. Flowers were blooming everywhere with some trees full of citrus fruits, and everything felt so alive. Compared to the dried-up brownish colour I remembered the same countryside in during the summer it was quite an eye-opener.
But the most memorable moment of our tour was yet to come. After turning again, back towards the shore, we happened to stumble upon a destroyed village right where our tack met the sea. The street ended in the sand, in front of us the ruins of former homes littering the beach. There we met an old man who told us about the fierce winter storms, that every year took another row of houses. Most inhabitants had deserted the village already, but he was staying, because he liked to have his house available for his grandkids to vacation at sea. His home was, while still intact, now a seafront property. Even today I wonder what became of the village and the old man and the sea. It was quite a humbling experience, and for sure one, we did not expect to find. After leaving the destroyed village behind us, we found another beach, where we sat for a while on the sand and let the sun burn our skin. We wondered at the power of the water, that seemed smooth as glass on that day. And none of us went for a sim, despite the warm and fair weather.
And from now on, it was only a long ride along the shore until we got back to our ship. We made one more stop at a Greek restaurant to enjoy some local specialities. And then it was time to return to our boat, and sail on to a new adventure.