We’d stopped at a little roadside cafe, bright with flowers overflowing out of old olive oil tins. They specialised in Greek coffee. Nothing else, not even soft drinks, and no food. We couldn’t see any houses, the village of Monastiraki was high above, and there were virtually no cars. I wondered where their clientele came from. And then we carried on round the corner and I understood. A long line of earth-moving equipment – lorries, diggers, and graders – was parked up all along the road. The road had already been tarred as far as Varvariada, and this was the next stretch to be done. In an area of unstable soils and landslides, it was a major undertaking, with the need to build vast concrete buttresses and culverts before asphalting. Coming down the footpath, we’d missed the sign saying the road was closed between eight am and three pm.
Despite the Crisis, building of all-weather, tarred roads continues throughout the Agrafa, the “unwritten places”, once so remote they were ignored by Turkish tax collectors. It’s seen as a vital support for the rural economy, a way to overcome the isolation of the mountain villages and reverse the migration to the cities. For the walker, it’s a disaster. The tarred surface is hard and unforgiving, and there’s usually little shade. The new roads often follow the old mule paths, which are destroyed in the process. Where they merely cross them, the entrance is lost in a pile of bulldozed stones. Traffic isn’t a problem, though. There are still far more sheep than cars.
What a contrast to the lovely walk in the morning, along the old mule path from Epiniana down to the Agrafiotis river! Sometimes it had dissolved into a scramble of rocks and scree,with burnished orange fungi, the size of tennis balls, pushing their way up through the stones. But more often it was easy going, shaded by low woodland. We stopped to cook soup for lunch down by the river, at long last learning to take it easy. Then we forsook the path uphill to Monastiraki village, heading down the stream bed instead, crossing over again and again to find the easiest route. It was hot, with little shade in the river bed, and the water was beautifully cool on the feet. We didn’t bother taking our boots off. Further down, there were extensive gravel excavations and the river lost its charm, shortly before we scrambled out onto the dirt road that led to Varvariadha.
We got past the roadworks, then stopped to camp early, on a terrace high above the road. There was time to read a little as well as cook supper before it got dark. Below, we could still hear a bulldozer doing a little moonlighting for a local farmer.
The route: Dirt road out of Epiniana, then mule track down to the Anifora bridge. Fairly easy to find, although not waymarked. Easy walk down the river from the bridge, if the water is low. Otherwise, the path leads uphill to Monastiraki. At Karavasaras, we rejoined the E4 (very occasional waymarks), which follows the soon to be asphalted road along the Agrafiotis river to Varavariadha. Water from the river, and at the Kotsista cafe. Kilometres: 14. Ascent: 307m Descent: 823m. Map: Anavasi: Mountains of Evritania 2.4.
Facilities: Very basic cafe at Kotsista, although this may well close once the roadworks are finished.