The cafe in Petroto was called “The Monopoly” – the only place to get food in the tiny village. The primary school was next door, and the cafe was run by the school teacher and his wife. We pitched our tent in the churchyard, and returned to the cafe for supper. Once again, it felt like a family affair – just us, Dimitri, the teacher, with his wife and son, and two elderly villagers.
It was Dimitri’s home village and he had returned here twelve years ago, after many years teaching in larger schools elsewhere. There were only three children at the school, one of which was his own son.
“It might sound easy teaching so few children, but they’re all at different stages, so it’s hard work,” said Dimitri. “This is the only school for the surrounding villages. Next year, my son will go to the secondary school in Trikala, down in the valley, and my wife will go with him. I’ll stay here, and we’ll commute.”
“It’s quiet in the winter,” added Vicki, his wife, “and we go to bed early. But people come back in the summer and then it’s livelier.”
“There used to be eighty children in the school here, when we were growing up,” chipped in one of the villagers. ” “There was no road until the mid sixties, and I was twelve years old before I saw a car for the first time. Now, so many people have emigrated, all over the world.”
It was drizzling when we left, and we were glad to have camped next to the covered porch of the church in case the weather got worse. As we’d been settling in, an old man had appeared, interested to find out who we were and what we were up to. “What can I give you?” he asked, and plucked two marigolds from the church garden, presenting one to me and a smaller one to Alan. Later on, he reappeared with a bunch of grapes and a handful of figs for us.
It’s impossible to mention all the small kindnesses from people we met along the way – all those who invited us for a coffee, gave us fruit from their gardens or went out of their way to set us on the right track. Walking exclusively on high mountain trails, beyond shepherds and villages, has no appeal for me, if it means missing out on this friendliness. And the unexpected perspectives too. The two elderly villagers were probably of a similar age to myself. I tried to imagine a childhood without ever seeing a car.
As we snuggled down into our sleeping bags, two owls, perched in the bell tower and the tall pines next to the tent, called to each other softly. We were excited and a little nervous about the next two days: up the Koubourianitiko river, then across the mountain pass below the looming peak of Delidhimi.
The route: Mixture of dirt and tarred roads, with a brief stretch of mule path. However, organised German and British hiking groups used to come this way, and it would almost certainly be possible to find an alternative route parallel to the road, even though it’s not marked on the map. Kilometres: 10. Ascent: 482m Descent: 400m. Map: Anavasi South Pindus 4.2.
Facilities: The Monopoly cafe at Petroto, open all year. Vicki’s omelettes, made from their own eggs and vegetables, are renowned.