Friday, 21 May 2010

Many Mani Miles On

21st May

So, up and about, in the bright sunshine in Gythio, heading south and into the Mani, the remote middle finger of the Peloponnese.

We stopped first of all at the Marathonesi islet on the edge of Gythio - the place believed to be Cranae where Paris wooed Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta, brother of Agamemnon, King of the Argives (ie, people of Argos, I never realised that) which kicked off the whole ten years of the Trojan War.  I also hadn't realised, until the museum at Delphi, that he only got her because he judged Aphrodite (aka Venus) to be the prettiest of the three goddesses before him (can't remember the others) and in return, the goddess of love rewarded him by bewitching Helen, the most beauteous woman in the kingdoms, in his favour.  For those of you who haven't read it, the Illiad starts in year nine so the initial cause of the whole business is not fully recounted (or if it is, I missed it).

Anyway, no wooing turkish princes on the islet today but there is the museum of Mani history, which turns out to be more about the travellers from all over europe who visited or somehow documented without visiting (which seemed to be most of them!) the history of the Mani from the 16th century onwards than actually the history, but which is interesting nonetheless.  Had us both separately remembering endless school history lessons early on where they drum into you the difference between primary and secondary sources :)

It seems by all accounts, the Mani were known to be a fierce and independent  people - hospitable according to some, pirates according to others (mostly the wandering english!) - living in remote stone towers in a poor rocky landscape which they tilled or terraced every inch of it to make it productive.  I think, if I understood it correctlythey were one of the few areas which resisted the Ottoman empires occupation of Greece ans there was even some correspondence between the leader of the Mani and Napolean, in which the Maniates offered safe landings and manpower and assistance in the liberation of Greece by the great powers (Britain, France and Russia).

Otherwise, lots of maps and line drawings and 1980's black and white pictures.

Onwards in search of said peoples and tower dwellings and, true to recent form, we managed to completely miss the coast road south that we wanted and ended up cutting straight across the top to the otherside at Aeropoli.  I am beginning to believe the two maps we have - our english atllas and greek tourist office map - are actually of somewhere else which has places and roads which are seemingly deceptively similar to, yet totally different from, the country through which we are actually travelling - maybe they all fell through some time vortex... Thanks to MWK, we have just watched the Dr Who christmas special - wow, that was dark!  And tense.  Best christmas special ever! - so that sort of thing seems much more likely...

Sorry, I digress.  Turns out, if cone topped, rugged and desolate hills, dotted with square stone towers are your thing, the western coast and southern tip of the Mani is your idea of heaven.  It is beautiful.

We pottered down the coast, happened upon a fabulous bird's eye viewpoint for lunch and then made the mistake of trying to poke the fuel map and drive the narrow windy roads at the same time - mistake :(  

We were trying to use the device to gather info about throttle position, rpm and airflow and use the multimetre to take readings from the lamda sensor to know whether the map is rich or lean for a given airflow, and then I would change the map on the fly to something approaching the right mix.  

But, as we have the previously discussed airleak problem, we need a map for WOT and a different map for not WOT so we need some empty roads on long straight hills where Will can have the throttle wide open and use different gears or different inclines to get and hold different values of airflow so he can then read the multimetre and tell me what fuel mix value needs to be changed in the map and then check it.  And empty though these roads were, they were just not good.

This is all further complicated by the fact that, by necessity, the lamda sensor is retro fitted a long way down the exhaust pipe from the engine, there is a variable and uncorrectable for delay between the change in fuel mapand the change in lamda sensor reading which is of course further exacerbated by the delay between Will reading the multimetre and me changing the fuel map whilst also going round hairpin bends...

You may, at this point, if you are still reading (i am assuming Kiri, Brian, Bill and my dad are, if no one else!), be asking as I did, 'why not reduce the margin of error caused by human induced delay and get the computer to read the lamda sensor and make a nice excel spreadsheet of rpm, throttle position, airflow and lamda, from which you can iteratively develop the perfect maps?'  (the rest of you are probably just asking 'why are you doing this at all but that is even less answerable.  If you are asking this question, just skip to the ***'s for more scenery)

Trust me, I have asked all the stupid 'why...?' and 'can't you...?' questions and been at first patiently answered then growled at for my efforts.  School report from A-level physics teacher 'Rebecca needs to learn when to stop asking why and just accept the status quo' or, as could be otherwise interpreted at that time 'Although I am the teacher here, I only know what is in the text book so asking questions for which the answer cannot be supplied by my having read two pages further ahead in the text book makes me look incompetent and I don't like that - stop it'...  Still, in this case the point is probably valid.

It seems that the 'project' only has capacity for two analogue inputs, (along with the rpm which is a switching input whatever that means) so we can only do two of airflow, lamda and throttle position at the same time, which, will not enable us to do two different maps based on throttle position to get the right fuel mix for the airflow...

At the point at which we both simultaneously shouted at the other to 'stop shouting at me, you don't appreciate how difficult it is to be driving-on-these-windy roads-and-sharp-corners-with-a-bad-fuel-map/changing-values-in-this-programming-window-and-tiny-spreadsheet-whilst-being-flung-around-tight-corners-on-these-windy-roads, we decided enough was enough and disconnected everything 


and drove to the southernmost tip of the peninsula - following signs for the intriguing Oracle of Death.

A cup of tea and a bit of a sit calmed everything down and we headed out along the well marked path, past the roman ruins

for the lighthouse

(not sure what these signs said, probably, 'don't pass this point until after you have consulted the Oracle of Death and therefore know it is safe to proceed') and what, may or may not be, the southernmost point of mainland Greece - it is unclear from our map whether it is this finger or the previous one and we haven't had any internet recently to check. 

Still, it felt pretty end-of-the-world-ish and we sat and watched the sunset over the sea, reflecting that the last time we did this over the Agean was in Ia on Santorini some five years ago - where does time go??

I get the impression that the Mani is criss-crossed with lovely hiking paths but as we haven't found a tourist office outside of Athens and Delphi since day one in Ioannina, we have very little in the way of information about where we are or what's around, so I can't tell you for sure.

Back to the van in the gathering gloom  and just time to check out the Oracle of Death, the seat of which is housed in an arched dry stone building, and for whom, it seems, offerings, in the form or chocolate, oranges and receipts (is that 'I bought you this offering but ate it on the way'??) are left.

But no portents of death today so we parked up for the night in the nearest cliffside layby and watched the first episode of Supernatural, again courtesy of MWK, and very good, if not exactly the ideal choice of restful bedtime viewing for someone in a small defenseless van, in the middle of nowhere, in the dark, who found the x-files too scary to watch...

Still, we awoke yesterday unmolested by any marauding forces of otherworldly darkness and headed back northwards again and had a surprisingly nice day,  notable especially for unexpected gifts from strangers.

Having randomly taken an unmarked road which led up to the top of the world for fabulous views back down to the southern tip,

we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves not only in a village actually marked on both my maps but also on the road on the map that we actually wanted to be on, and going  in the right direction - blimey!

And so back down to the coast.

Seduced by a desire for coffee, we stopped in Kotronas in a pretty pavement café where the attentive owner apologised for the hand written menu, explaining that he was just newly opened, and bought us a free sticky bun with our delicious greek coffees

- if you are ever there, it is the one in the centre of town with the bright orange chairs, opposite the place with two wizened locals sitting outside squinting into the sun (I assume they are part of the decor).  You may not get free bun but he was lovely and I hope his venture is successful.

On again, we decided on a whim, to stop at the port/beach of Skoutari, where Will set up the fishing line and settled in to some fettling whilst I planned my daisies and generally wandered about.  Unfortunately, only I was near the fishing rod when the huge shark appeared out of nowhere, ate the float (well the cork which replaced the float that Will smashed on the rocks in portugal on his first attempt at casting) off the line and raced out to sea with it, performing aquabatics the like of which you have never seen and completely tangled the line up, defying all my attempts to reel it in nicely.  Yes, a shark I tell you.  So I spent the next three hours untangling the unholy mess the shark - yes, the shark, I was absolutely nowhere near the rod at the time of the incident - had left it in.  Well, Will is not getting out of his fish catching quest that easily, so despite it being all the fault of the shark - it wasn't me, I wasn't there, I was on the moon, no, I was dead at the time... - it was up to me to put it right.  And was rewarded with a sympathy chocolate biscuit by an italian motorhomer who kept walking past between beach and van ansd sadly shaking his head.  Poor piccolo pecher (or something that sounded like that) indeed.


But, as always, persistence was rewarded, and I had it untangled and was back to my daisies and Will had run out of all available power in the leisure battery and laptop so was back to his fishing with a new bit of cork when Herbert and Valentin, two austrians in two converted landrovers pitched up 

and immediately started dispensing very welcome chat and ice cold beer.


They had been shown over all frankinstein collection of bits and wires in the engine bay and traced the whole daisy map, when Valentin also got his fishing rod out, accompanied by a whole box of proper fishing gear, and set about dispensing advice, proper weights and a proper float.  Excellent.  Bound to catch something now...  

He also said that he uses cheese as bait - austrian cheese - but Will can think again if he is feeding my precious cheese to the fishes.  Although, in the last two weeks we have gone from four cheeses (Pag, Montepulciano, Gran Padana and Feta) from three countries (Croatia, Italy and Greece respectively) to one (gran padana) as they were not liking the heat.  So there is no cheese to be had anyway.... I will only go so far towards aiding the fishing challenge,   my time may not be worth much these days but my cheese is not to be wasted... ;)


If we had had more battery power, more beer, food in stock for the bbq, or caught any fish, we would have stayed and maybe even attempted fire on the safe concrete harbour (although only the previous day we had emptied out all of the spare wood we have been carting around since ever as we figured we were not going to find suitable spots for bbq-ing where we would neither upset anyone, nor start a bush fire) but we had none of these things 

so, daisies finally done, waved good bye and headed on until it got dark.


And today has largely been driving and fettling, with the added excitement of on-off torrential rain which has lead to extremely slippery roads, one near spin-out-of-control moment of a cliff side hairpin 

and logflume like splashing from passing cars where we stopped for lunch - a real white knuckle ride at times.


Contrary to my initial 'gone-the-wrong-way-round-not-going-to-see-it-all' fretting of last week, I am now getting my 'been-there-done-that-want-to-move-on itch and have already started reading my bulgaria and romania book.  Much as we like Greece and it is easy, and friendly, and the weather is (mostly) lovely, it is all very much of the same thing.  We think this is why we haven't beeable to elicit much in the way of recommendations from fellow travellers, the few we have met.  When asked where they have been, liked, or recommend, without exception they have pretty much said "oh everywhere".  And that's the thing, it is all so uniformly lovely that once you've had a week or two, you start thinking 'well what next'


So, we have decided to skip the last finger of the Peloponnese - although my parents had a lovely  holiday in Methoni once and there is apparently a fabulous bakery in Finikounda - and head north.  Kalamata was also recommended by Bonney, who lived in Greece for a year so really should know, especially for 'licious olives but it was hot, and big, and busy when we got there mid afternoon, and we couldn't find anywhere to park, so that will have to wait for another time too.

Sorry, having asked for recommendations last time we had proper internet, we haven't had much since and we're now not going to take you up on them.  Not on this trip anyway. 

And the fettling has ground to a halt again, even on nice flat or slightly inclined roads at WOT, something to do with sampling frequency, read out averages which mean that for any given displayed 'bucket' (the arbitrary unit of airflow), you are probably actually looking at the average of three 'buckets' so it is nearly impossible to know which one to change, oh and some new maths error which is resulting in funny numbers anyway.   Will says, comfortingly, that no one said this would be easy and this is why most people don't do this sort of thing... I said this is why those that do, get paid lots of money... Oh and they have proper test equipment and luxuries like a rolling road.  Still, think of the sense of triumph over adversity when we're done.... (4 months and counting)

So, heading north, just Olympia, Mount Olympus and moussaka left on the 'to do' list then onwards and upwards.  Anyone have any good Bulgaria or Romania suggestions?? 

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