Firstly I want to say that I’m not insulting the bus by calling it Cronky. Yes it has seen better days and yes, when heading up to the mountain villages she needs a top up of water and oil (daily), but the number 17 bus is an experience in itself. It reminds me of the old days – you know – when you used to actually carry a rucksack to go island hopping. Thank God they invented cases on wheels is all that I can say! Because of the sense of nostalgia this bus gives me I pay homage to it by giving it the black and white treatment!
The driver arrives at the bus station on his moped and parks up on the pavement next to his bus. I say ‘his’ bus because he’s the only driver that I’ve seen drive it. Of course he’d park his moped on the pavement because in Greece, pavements are for mopeds, motorbikes, motorcars, lamposts – you know, anything except pedestrians!
Having been on the number 17 several times before I know the driver’s routine. He goes into the cafe for a large frappe and sits at the table outside with some locals having a chat for a while. He then moseys on over to the bus and opens up her bonnet. He’ll now top her up with oil and water and check the levels with the dip stick. He keeps a rag and spare oil under the bonnet but you have ask, if this is a daily task, how much oil and water does this bus consume! Once he’s happy with this part of the process he’ll start the engine going and sit in the drivers seat. This in most instances would mean that the bus is ready to board. Oh no. Not on this bus. Several people, my self included walk towards the bus but he makes an up and down movement with his palm meaning – not yet. He sits in his seat drinking his frappe and doing not much else. Maybe he’s having a moment of quiet contemplation before he has to navigate those treacherous hairpin bends up the mountains. Maybe he’s ‘getting in the zone’. I sure as hell wouldn’t be driving up those mountain passes – that’s obviously why I’m catching the bus.
When he’s ready – and only when he’s really ready and there’s about two minutes to departure time, does he allow people to board. If there’s an elderly lady with shopping he’ll get out of his seat and help her with her bags. He greets everyone with a smile and all the locals know him. Discussions go back and forth across the bus with him included in most of them.
I sit towards the back of the bus, keeping the seats towards the front free for the elderly. Yes I know I’m elderly but some of the passengers are ‘really’ elderly. Far be it for me to go ‘off piste’ with the pecking order system categorised by age.
One last thing he does before setting off is turn on the radio. Proper old fashioned, traditional Greek music. Since when did most Greek buses stop playing music? It should be a law that all Greek buses have to play Greek music – and specifically this type of music full of “Sagapooooo’s” and “Agapi Moooooooous!”!
Off we set. Up through residential areas until the bay below disappears from site. We are now climbing through pine forests growing through rock. Just how do they do that? There seems to be no soil and all the things you’d expect a tree to need to grow and thrive by literally these trees are growing in rock. I try to take a couple of video’s but this bus ride is not conducive to this type of thing. For one thing the suspension on the bus is practically non-existent. The polyester seat covers mean you have to keep shuffling your bottom back up onto the seat every two seconds and when the bus takes a hairpin bend well, on several occasions I nearly slid right down to the floor!
The driver waves and shouts something to the guy who’s on fire duty and keeping watch over the safety of the forest. There are these guys dotted all of the place along with the odd fire engine just in case the worst should happen. I have a nice chat with a man sitting adjacent to me on the bus. He speaks good English and he asks me a lot about myself. He asks me if I’ve been to Anavatos and I tell him that I had. He tells me the story of when the Ottomans invaded the island and that rather than be captured and taken into slavery, the people threw themselves from the cliff. He said that the woman of the village started dancing in a circle all holding hands and one by one they took turns to jump. You know Greek history is filled full of myth and legend but what sends chills down my spine that this is reality. This happened and also it happened in a relatively recent history and of course a similar story from the Island of Psara which I wrote about in previous posts.
Soon Avgonima comes into sight. This is the same route to Anavatos that I’d done the previous week so roughly knew where it was. The bus goes past Avgonima and at first I wonder if there is another road further along that takes us up to the village. However, as the bus goes sailing past the village which is now looking quite far away I realise that he’s not going to stop there. What I didn’t know is that Avgonima is a special stop. Now I’d assumed that the driver had seen my ticket which clearly says Avgonima but that that isn’t the case. I walk to the front of the bus as it swings side to side and say “Avgonima?” He replies “No Avgonima”. Oh, maybe I have to spend another afternoon at Anavatos. He does the up and down hand movement again telling me to sit which I do. The Doris Day song Que Sera Sera comes into my head. Just go with the flow Stephanie, just go with the flow.
After dropping two people off at the turning circle at Anavatos, he does actually drive me back to Avgonima. There are still people on the bus who are going to the final destination but this isn’t a problem for anyone. He stops at the entrance to the village and I double check with him the time that he will pick me back up, pointing to the spot just to confirm he will come back up here for me. He tells me “Three and Forty Five”.
Perfect! I have a couple of hours here. I head into the village, not really sure which direction to the centre, but that doesn’t really matter. Once into the village all I’m sure will become clear.
Avgonima is another of Chios’s medieval fortified villages that has undergone some restoration since it was almost abandoned in the 1960’s. There is a good choice of accommodation here and several taverna’s to choose from. The focal point on the main square is the church and from here the alleyways will take you in all directions, past beautiful stone houses covered in bougainvillea and potted plants on doorsteps.
What really catches my eye though is the view over to the sea below. There is a taverna called Asteri that gives the best of this particular view so if I don’t do anything else whilst I’m here, I’m going to have a meal at this taverna! Usually I don’t eat a full meal at lunchtime, preferring to build up an appetite for dinner but right here and right now I’m going to make an exception!
I take a seat on the terrace with the view over to the bay below. A friendly lady takes my order of horta, the beef in tomato sauce with orza and a glass of wine. The food is delicious though I do have to retreat to a table inside to escape the wasps that descend upon me as soon as the plate hits the table. A small group of tourists arrive and also sit inside the taverna – not because of pesky insects but because the mountain breeze is too cold for them. The weather is perfect for someone from the North of England like me! Excellent meal and service!
Now for a wander around this pretty village. One thing that I wanted to do is say hello to a guy called George who owns Spitaki, one of the hotels in Avgonema. In my day job working for Hidden Greece we do whenever possible, try to visit the hotels that we have in our portfolio. Our founders, now both elderly gentlemen have worked with these local businesses for many years but it is always good to have a refresh of information and to introduce ourselves. I head to the square where I’d seen a sign for honey for sale. I’m always a sucker for a jar of Greek honey, especially the old Meli Pinus! (You had to be there!). The square is quiet and nobody seems to be in at the taverna until I walk in and see the owners are having their lunch. I apologise for disturbing them and say I’ll come back later. The lady won’t hear of it. I buy a jar of honey and ask her if she knows if George is around. She points me in the direction of his reception. I thank her and make my way there. It’s that time of day when everything and everyone goes to sleep (in spirit at least) and there is no sign of Mr George. Not to worry – another time.
Here is the beautiful village of Avgonema!
At 3.30 I make my way to the road outside the village hoping that the bus driver doesn’t forget to pick me up. I allow a bit of time to err on the side of caution. From here there is a fantastic view over the valley and the pine forest which is the largest pine forest on the island.
We head to Anavatos to pick up the two people who’d come up with us. It really does give me the willy’s being on the bus when he does his three point turn in the road. It’s just that bit where he reverses back towards the edge of the cliff!
Our affable driver heads back down the valley. He stops this time to have a conversation with the guy on fire duty. I don’t know what the conversation is but it relates to a question that the other two travellers (who are Greek) have asked. The guy on duty points somewhere into the forest and the we then carry on. A bit further along the road the driver starts pointing to something in the valley doing that very scary pointing, talking and looking in another direction instead of keeping his eyes on the road. Anyway, I’ve no idea what they were looking at but there was a lot of animated talking and craning of necks. I craned mine but couldn’t see anything!
Further down the road the bus driver lets the couple off at the top of the road so that they can walk down to Neo Moni, the island’s spectacular monastery. This I think I’ll put on my bucket list for my next visit – though it still looks a hell of a walk back to Chios town!
When I get back to the hotel I have to pack. I go to the patisserie close to the hotel to buy something to motivate me! Gosh those three days back in Chios Town went quickly. After a month of travelling and exploring somewhere new almost everyday I feel like I need a little bit of R&R. Tomorrow I head to the fishing village of Limnia near Volissos for 5 days where I plan to not do much! She says!