Bad weather can be the difference between staying in one place for a while or moving on quickly. No place looks inviting in a howling gale. With rain looming, grey clouds overhead, and a cold wind blowing who wants to get out and explore? It’s just too easy to sit inside and watch movies or read a book with a blanket wrapped around your legs for warmth and comfort, and the smell of hot coffee brewing nearby. Yet when the sun is shining, the weather calm, and the ocean glistening with encouragement trying to entice you in for a swim, your spirits are lifted and you feel happy without really knowing why. That’s when it is easy to motivate yourself to inhale the sights, sounds, and mysteries of your new surroundings. As a traveler, this type of weather makes you want to get out on foot, or bike and soak up everything your new location has to offer. That’s when you think, ‘what will we discover here, or ‘how did people live thousands of years ago’ and ‘how do the locals feel about what we are experiencing today’. In seven months we had experienced just seven days of bad weather that stopped us from venturing out and exploring the mysteries of Europe. Little did we know what was to come. On 18 January 2018 we found ourselves in the quaint historic seaside village of Pylos (also spelt Pilos) nestled in the southwest corner of the Peloponnese region of Greece. We tend to gravitate towards water, rather than mountains, and found ourselves once again in a harbour township. The first night we parked in the prime spot at the end of the pier and were spoilt with tranquil water views of the Ionian Sea and magnificent vistas of the numerous islands surrounding this picturesque little town. We were in good company with three other motorhomes parked alongside us, one of which we followed for several miles into Pylos with obviously the same “Park for Night” (an app designed for motorhomes to find safe and usually free parking) location beckoning them. Once parked, it’s customary to say hello to the neighbours and introduce ourselves, and to make it very clear that they know we are from New Zealand(!), not from France, as the number plates would have you think. Despite New Zealand decals in bold black lettering on the front and rear of Betsy (our Motorhome), and the obvious ‘NZ’ stickers strategically placed on her exterior, people look past these clear signs and go straight for the number plate to determine the driver and co-pilot’s nationality. Before long we were invited to dinner that evening at a local waterfront restaurant, Poseidonia Cafe and Restaurant, which had been previously scouted out by Katherine and James, hailing from Bristol in the UK. Katherine determined, correctly, that an earlier restaurant in Pylos she’d investigated offering chicken nuggets and chips wouldn’t be up to scratch. Besides, Poseidonia Café also kindly tolerated dogs accompanying their owners while enjoying dinner. (I must say that not being a dog owner or admirer, the idea of having three dogs join us for dinner didn’t delight me much). To their credit and that of the owners, we never heard a sound from any of the dogs and there was, thankfully, no dog seen to be begging for food or being fed from their owners or other patrons. Walking back to our motorhomes, wrapped in gloves, hats, scarves, and of course, warm jackets to keep the whistling cold wind from hitting our exposed flesh, a comment was made that we should have a shared dinner tomorrow evening. Having skited about Alan catching and us both cooking calamari a couple of weeks previously, I was tasked with cooking stuffed squid for eight people as the main dish. Arrgh, me and my big mouth! It sounded like a fine idea after a couple or three wines, until the next day when I was reminded of my offer. Heading back to Betsy, the wind by this time had swung around, causing our bike bag that covers the electric bikes on the back, to noisily flap around in the wind. Given this is right beside our head when in bed, Alan very quickly repositioned Betsy so we were nose into the wind and could sleep comfortably without earplugs. The next day dawned fine but windy and we were off exploring Nestor’s Palace with our newly acquired Swedish friends Hakan and Helena in their motorhome (good thinking Ruth – giving Alan a day off driving).
Later that day it was time to get ready for dinner and stuffing eight individual calamari was my next chore. Luckily I enjoy cooking and it was more pleasure than pain, especially when looking forward to the ooohs and aaahs of adoring diners.
Eight of us crammed into Katherine and James’ A Class motorhome (a nice specimen) and enjoyed a Greek entrée of oven baked aubergine, haloumi, and tomato stack with a beautifully dressed crispy green side salad, followed by our stuffed calamari cooked until mouth wateringly tender in a rich tomato broth with freshly toasted pine nuts, with Alan’s famous Mediterranean flavoured couscous, fresh crusty white bread, and a delicious Greek salad made by Helena. The dessert lived up to expectations as we devoured a traditional English Lemon Meringue Pie made by Sue from Brighton in the UK. (Lemons and citrus fruit trees are a dime a dozen in Greece and you literally can’t drive down a street without seeing the glow of yellow from lemons or the large round oranges begging to be picked)
Helena & Hakan, Sweden
Mick & Sue, Brighton, UK
James & Katherine, Bristol, UK
Tummies stuffed with great home (or motorhome) cooking, it was time to head back to our respective abodes. Upon exiting, Mick (Sue’s husband) shared that the wind was expected to blow tonight. I remember thinking hasn’t that been happening all day? Then, with that knowledge, I looked out onto the harbour rather thankful we were in a motorhome, and not on a yacht. Past memories came flooding back of clanging and banging rigging on boats and being rocked from side to side enough to stop one from sleeping. I remember thinking thank goodness Betsy is a solid motorhome on firm ground. Or was she? We tucked ourselves into bed, listening to the gentle wind blowing outside. Alan’s reparking of Betsy yesterday set a trend and our neighbours had now reparked with their noses into the wind. This was, or so I thought, going to be another night of no earplugs required as we drifted off into a peaceful slumber having enjoyed the rare pleasure of other people’s company both during the day and of course, the shared decadent evening meal. CRASH! It is 1am. BANG!! What on earth was that? We were jolted awake by fierce winds howling outside our bedroom window, screaming like a cat on heat. Betsy was swaying – were we in a boat or a motorhome? The wind was trying to push us over, of that I was sure. It blew and blew and Besty held her ground while I held my breath wondering which gust was going to send us on our side. Each gust seemed to be building upon the one before it and Betsy was struggling to hold her ground. I’m praying that there is something to be said for being of wide girth (sorry Betsy, we love you). However, the wind didn’t relent. Not only did it slam into us, but it was now also pushing water from the harbour right to our door – literally! Our tyres were surrounded by seawater – what the heck?! We are, or at least were when we went to bed last night, on dry land. So much for a night without earplugs! In went the plugs as I knew there was nothing we could do in the middle of the night in a raging storm. Moving location in these conditions is asking for trouble and there was no way we were going to have Betsy side on into these huge gusts. That would be giving into the wind as she would most definitely topple over. It was all we could do to hold on and hope for the best. This was the first time in many weeks that we had encountered other motorhome travelers, and given our circumstances (thanks to the raging storm outside) I was thankful for the thought of safety in numbers, even though we were all in the same boat, so to speak. Why we stayed parked up on the wharf in Pylos overnight is anyone’s guess. Knowing the wind was going to increase, none of the five couples in neighbouring motorhomes (many with more experience than us) expected the wind would rage uncontrollably and dump tonnes of water on us and them. The noise was like a freight train with nowhere to go and no goal other than to offer a disturbing and frightening night, which it did with ease. Having been a sailor in a previous life, the motorhome felt like we were at anchor in a storm, being thrown from side to side trying to loosen our grip on the firm ground. Thankfully I didn’t have to get up to see if we were dragging our anchor. The wind increased, we estimate to about 60 knots by the morning, and we watched the water encroach where it shouldn’t, namely around our and on top of other people’s motorhomes. The wind didn’t let up and tormented poor Betsy all night and was still at it when the sun decided to raise its head in the morning. Morning finally came, and we endured the plummeting for a short while longer, before relocating to a safer, and dryer position on the other side of the pier. It was then we could see the extent of what we were feeling during the night. Huge waves came in, over, and on top of the campervans to our port side, crashing down on their roof. Thankful for our position further west, we were still not without the dangers, and I took a video to show what we woke to.
Betsy being hammered by waves on the pier at Pylos
Now the sun was up and we could see it was time to run for shelter like a yacht in a storm. Betsy put her tail between her legs and Alan helped her to high-tail it out of the storms fury but only after we felt safe enough to leave. Looking around, we could see one of the party of four, had already made a run for it and had repositioned their motorhome. Smart thinking. By about 10am the wind calmed down and I was afraid I’d lost the opportunity to capture stunning photos. I need not have worried. Soon it roared up again to a now estimated ferocious seventy plus knots. These photos and videos don’t give the true sense of just how hard it was to stand up, or the roaring sound of that freight train we were hearing which was almost deafening at times.
The roads of Pylos being hammered by the waves which also towered above and crashed down on to the three-story houses!
Now we were safe, it allowed me to think of others and I felt sorry for those in the homes opposite the waterfront where the waves were crashing on the road and wondered how often they endure these seas; was it a usual occurrence, or was this one out of the box? We walked over to the shops where a retailer told us she hadn’t seen this sort of weather for five years. Then we noticed the locals stopping their cars, literally in the middle of the street (as they do in Greece), and taking photos of the crashing water, before moving on. That told the story of the storm’s rage.
Don’t Rent a Boat today!
Waves breaking on the road
It was time for us to move on and later that day (after Alan washed the van down with fresh water twice to try and remove the salt), we headed further down the Peloponnese coast to Methoni, just a short drive away. Hoping to find more shelter, we went for a walk up the impressive 600-year-old castle and were astonished to find waves crashing some fifty-foot high into the ancient castle frontage! Here the wind was so strong that I ended up sitting down, as I could hardly stand against the pummelling. But this was not before the wind literally blew off my woollen All-Black’s beanie from my head and sent it over the cliff. I resisted the urge to go after it, or to look over the fifty-foot cliff and see where it landed in case the wind took me there too.
Methoni Castle under attack by relentless huge waves
I’m happy to say that the next day, with the weather and seas much calmer, we walked to the base of the cliff and Alan found my hat, a little worse for wear with a couple of holes in it. Thanks to a local seamstress in Kalamata, our next stop, it has now been repaired and is back to full working order. Having experienced a once-in-a-lifetime raging storm, we were thankful for the opportunity to snap fabulous photos and share them here. That way you won’t have to wait for the five-year timeframe or the frightening freight train in the middle of the night to see how beautiful mother nature can be in all her fury.