We only had a little bread, cheese and lentils left for breakfast the next morning. I was fine with lentils for breakfast, but they didn’t measure up to Alan’s breakfast standards and he made do with coffee. My camera had run out of battery, too, so there are no photos in this section.
We headed up over the ridge, but lost the path and had to scramble down to the Flenga lakes over a steep slope with loose rocks. We filled up with water from the stream, then climbed up again to where we could see the peaks of Smolikas and Timfi behind us and the Aoos Lakes reservoir below, its turquoise waters surrounded by a patchwork of woodland and pastures. Beyond the high plateau of Politses, with its vast expanse of empty grazing lands, lay Metsovo, our destination, with a comfortable hotel bed and supper.
The path took us through the alpine pastures, looping down into valleys where we could top up with water from the streams. A few mules galloped away as we approached. We had seen nobody since leaving Vovousa the morning before.
The waymarks were not always clear but we could pick out the route over the open slopes. This was where Alan and I had a very different approach. Alan roared ahead with the map, while I was much slower. With the lake below, we couldn’t get lost, but I worried that we’d land up off the path again on another difficult descent, and kept stopping to check the GPS. We were both tired, hungry and grouchy with other.
At last we came down to the mountain refuge, closed as refuges always were. Ah, if only they had been open and selling refreshments! From there, a well-maintained dirt road zigzagged down towards the lake. It was hot and exposed, with few trees.
Six dogs rushed out barking as we came down to the tarred road. An old shepherd came over to call them off. “Have you seen my mules?” he asked “Brown ones, up the mountain.” Yes, we had seen some mules, and some were brown, but whether they were his, we couldn’t say. “It’s a long way to Metsovo,” he commented drily, as we sat off again along the tar. It was five pm and still very hot.
The road curved around the lake, tantalisingly blue down below. Suddenly half a dozen roller bladers came whizzing past – what a weird sight in the middle of nowhere! We passed a forestry truck and could see fishermen on the lake shore. But there seemed to be little chance of a lift until we reached the main road, a good five kilometres away. We struggled on.
Then, at last, two shepherds passed in a pick up and stopped to let us climb gratefully in the back with the milk churns. They were delivering the milk to the cheese factory in Metsovo, stopping to pick up more at another encampment, where enormous pigs, covered in mud, rootled in the stream below. It felt like the Wild West: rolling prairie, with only the occasional make-shift summer huts breaking up the lonely miles.
When we reached Metsovo, the shepherds pressed a bag of newly laid eggs on us. How kind people are! So ended stage one of our trip. We were ready for a little luxury, a cold beer and a good meal. We’d be back after the summer heat, in early September.
The route: Waymarked path, not always easy to find, although the route is clear in open country. Dirt road from the refuge, then tar along the lake shore to the main Metsovo road. Water from small streams, probably dry in summer. Kilometres: 17. Ascent: 457m Descent: 1000m Map: Anavasi 6.4 Valia Kalda.
Facilities: All town facilities at Metsovo: hotels, restaurants, bank, shops, bus to Ioannina.