“Thalassa! Thalassa! The sea! The sea!” went up the cry from the Greek army, stranded deep in Persia. They had struggled through the snows of winter, attacked on all sides, until at last they saw the sea shining on the horizon with its promise of home. This childhood tale of Ancient Greece still sticks in my mind. Occasionally, some seaside bungalow named Thalassa, no doubt the home of a retired classics teacher, rouses a frisson of recognition. I thought of it again as we reached the shores of the Messine Bay.
Three stormy days had passed before we caught the bus back to Aris, once again in the company of our friend, Lani. From our village high up on the slopes of the Taygetos, the Messine plain had been hidden by early morning haze, made thicker by the smouldering fires of olive prunings. But it cleared to perfect T-shirt weather as we walked along the bamboo-lined banks of the Pamissos, through rich and fertile country. Irrigation pipes were laid out on the ploughed fields. Two men on motorbikes stopped to say hello, and presented us with a handful of newly harvested peanuts, leaves, roots and all.
As we approached the coast we could hear the screech of fighter planes practising their touch-downs at the military airport. We passed a couple of small factories, then crossed the main Kalamata- Messine road, waving to children from the Roma encampment nearby. It was a long, slightly boring trudge through flatlands until at last we reached the sea, and collapsed on the beach.
We’d finally made it, from northern border to southern shore, just as we’d planned. No matter how far it was, or the Ano Mousounitsa gap that still remains to be completed one day – what a sense of achievement! We paddled in the sea and sat on the sand eating sesame bars and freshly picked peanuts.
But it was still a few miles to Kalamata, sprawled at the end of the long sandy beach. We resisted the urge to call a taxi and set off along the coast road. It was already half past three when we reached the edge of town, and there set back a little from the sea was a pavement taverna, with just six tables under the mulberry trees. Lunch was still being served, the place was bustling, and fish was the speciality – what I’d dreamed about in all those inland cafes serving grilled meat.
We celebrated with whitebait, cuttlefish stew, salad and chips. A man with a guitar appeared, busking from table to table. Realising we were foreigners, he launched into House in New Orleans. A perfect ending to a perfect walk.
The route: Easy walking: mostly dirt roads through flat, cultivated plains. Kilometres: 16. Ascent: 11m. Descent: 26m. Road map only.
Facilities: Nothing between Aris and Kalamata, though you could pick up a bus on the main road.