The typical Greek mountain refuge is locked, barred and vandal-proof, and only opens for groups. If you’re lucky, there may be a verandah for shelter in bad weather, and there’s usually a water source and a spectacular view.
The Astrakas refuge (website in English) was the only refuge we ever managed to stay in. It’s a comfortable, clean and modern building, staffed and open all summer, and providing food as well as dormitory beds. It was Sunday afternoon, and a trickle of hikers passed through, stopping off for refreshments and a chat. We had met very few hikers before: this marked the start of more popular hiking territory.
Grazing beside the refuge was a small herd of mules, which bring in supplies once or twice a week. I mentioned the Pyrenean refuges, which get their supplies delivered by helicopter, making a mockery of walking as a low carbon choice. “We prefer the old ways,” commented the refuge manager, “and it’s cheaper too.” But they also made the most of modern technology: there was a solar PV array with battery storage to provide electricity.
We chatted about the path ahead. Why didn’t the Anavasi map show a path all the way down the Vikos gorge, when we all knew one existed? “Ah, they always put in a deliberate mistake, so they can see who is abusing their copyright.” “Or is it that the GPS doesn’t work in the narrowest part, so the path never got recorded?”
There were only four of us staying, so Alan and I had a dormitory to ourselves. The water was cold, so we skipped a shower. Alan grumbled a little about the the squat toilets. I reflected that women are more accustomed to squatting and have developed the right muscles to deal with them! After supper, we went outside to admire the sunset and spectacular peaks all round. It was very cold. Lights out was ten o’clock, not in some antiquated throw-back to youth hostel rules, but because the battery storage for the electricity was limited.