Well, life is not a pony camp, or sometimes it isn’t. Because after our visit to the Dmitrios wreck (more on that later) we went to Sparta or Sparti in Greek. And there we suffered from uninvited guests…
Sparti… the city of Leonidas I
Sparti, or Sparta, is a city located in the heart of the Peloponnese in Greece, which is known for its rich and heroic history. In ancient times, Sparta was one of the most powerful city-states of ancient Greece, known for its strict military organization and unyielding way of life. Hence the expression ‘Spartan’ when something is rather basic…
One of the most celebrated figures in the history of Sparta is undoubtedly King Leonidas I. This legendary ruler of Sparta is remembered for his extraordinary bravery and leadership during the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. By the way, Thermopylae was also on our itinerary and is now home to a refugee center and a river with hot water, but that’s for another time… According to tradition, Leonidas led an army of 300 Spartans (along with several thousand other Greek soldiers ) against an overwhelming Persian force led by King Xerxes I. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Leonidas and his men held off the Persians for three days, giving the Greek city-states precious time to build their defenses. Although Leonidas eventually lost his life in battle, his courage and sacrifice became a symbol of resistance and heroism that lives on to this day. Most people know this story as it was made into the iconic movie ‘300’.
We wanted to get away from the coast again, so we decided to leave Kai near Gytheio and explore Sparti. We parked Nigel next to a school and we walked through the archaeological park. There we were a little disappointed: there was actually less to see than we expected. The largest ruin, that of the amphitheatre, is still in the excavation and restoration phase. After half an hour we were around and we took a look at the statue of Leonidas. Apparently this was a temporary arrival for some competition. Since Sparti is otherwise a perfectly normal city where people live, work and live, we decided to look for a nice place on the outskirts of the city.
Unfortunately, there was a malfunction with our internet connection and we could not properly search for a place. Shortly before I had already marked a few spots so we drove there.
We found a beautiful spot on a dirt parking lot near a church on a hill surrounded by olive trees. The sun was shining and we had a clear view of Sparti and the lightly snowy mountain tops in the distance. After some tidying up and cleaning we decided to stretch our legs. We hadn’t even left five minutes before we decided to return: actually we both didn’t feel like walking. We looked at the church for a while and then strolled back to Nigel.
Our carelessness punished
I remember saying “Tiens, why is our sliding door open?”. it took us a while to realize what had happened. We ran back to the bus and to our dismay we found a Nigel with a smashed side window and all our belongings on the floor… Fortunately, Nalah and Siggy, our two cats, were just sitting on the bed, watching quietly. We must have also caught the thieves because there was a trail of our stuff towards the bushes, along which they must have fled to the street to escape by car. Pfff, what do you do at such a moment… We expected everything of value to be stolen. Just take a look at the hiding place for the laptops, practice, they were still there. My wallet: also present in its hiding place. My digital reflex camera that I had carelessly hung on the seats was also still there. Drone: present. These idlers were clearly not interested in recovering stolen electronics. To difficult? Too risky? Not profitable enough? Just when we almost started to breathe a sigh of relief, Nikki finds that all her bags had been stolen, along with her documents, ID card and bank cards. Shit! Quickly call card-stop to have all her cards blocked and her ID card reported stolen. As she did, I called 911 to notify the police. Fortunately, the internet was working again so I could look up where we were. After trying twice I got into the emergency center and got a lady on the phone who luckily spoke good English, but it was not easy to explain where we were. The police were on their way, she said…
An hour later I received a call from 112 with the message that the police could not find us and that we had to go to the Sparti police station ourselves to report the incident. We concluded that the police probably wouldn’t investigate for evidence and we dejectedly set about cleaning up Nigel and sweeping away the broken glass. Painful to see, Nigel was injured, and someone had been in our house with his dirty fingers. In addition, the bag that was taken contained a note with the handwriting of Nikki’s deceased grandfather, so emotional value, really disappointing. We also found that some coins, which we used to take shopping cart, were missing. Every purse and bag they could find had also been opened, the thieves were clearly only interested in cash – a quick win. Apparently they had hit their heads too, because the Dafalgan Codeine, which Nikki gets on prescription for migraine attacks, was missing.
Saved to pieces
With some transparent packing tape on the broken window, we drove to the police. Nikki was allowed in to tell her story, anyway we needed a police report to apply for a new passport at the embassy. Inside and around the police station, it was striking how bad Greece is still economically, and how the police hardly have any resources. Inside there were no lights and no computers, everything was done by hand. Outside I spoke to some agents and I saw that the portable radio they were using was a € 15 model from Aliexpres. I also have one of those (as a radio amateur I also have the necessary permit for this). Quite different from the police in Belgium and the surrounding countries, who often walk around and drive with expensive equipment. Of course we have known for some time that Greece is not well off, you see that everywhere, but you still expect a certain standard from an EU country, another myth busted.
Well, we had to wait two weeks for a copy of the PV, which had to be typed over first and then sent back and forth with a carrier pigeon or something. So we dropped off and spent the night in an uninviting parking lot of the university, at least it was safe there. The next day I started with a walk through the center, looking for someone who could tell me where to find the local car window dealer. Googling for ‘carglass’ hadn’t yielded much and we didn’t get very far with English terms either. I came back from a barren journey: I was told by a friendly baker that it was a local holiday in Sparti and that I probably wouldn’t be able to find someone until after the weekend (it was Saturday), or we would have to drive all the way back to Kalamata , we would find a company there. I bought two sausage rolls and headed over to Nigel.
But, our friends Alex and Leonie, a German couple we met on Elea beach, had seen our accident on Instagram. Alex has Greek parents but grew up in Germany, where his parents run a Greek restaurant. He contacted us and offered to help us find a company that could help us. He speaks Greek and not much later he gave us an address on the outskirts of Sparta. A friendly man was waiting for us at the corner of the street and led us to his ‘garage’. We knew we had come to the right place by the large number of broken car windows piled up. He spoke a few words of German and surveyed the damage. He said he would let us know when the new window came in and how much it would cost, but he couldn’t call his supplier until Monday. He removed the old broken window and placed plastic foil over the hole so that we could continue.
After this incident we needed a sense of security and people around us. We therefore decided to drive back to Gytheio, where Kai was still camping at the shipwreck where we had previously stopped and spent one night. Meanwhile, Amber – with her bicycle – had also arrived there. We left the place earlier to drive to Sparta because it was a bit too busy for us and the animals. It was not so pleasant with large families and many small children who almost crawled into our camper. Addressing the understanding parents hadn’t helped much, so we had looked elsewhere. Fortunately, there was a different atmosphere on our return. The families with children had made way for a few ‘chill’ types of German origin and our regular travel buddies. We tried to get our mind off things and I took images and pictures of the Dimitrios wreck. A boat that has been rusting away on the beach since the 1980s with an interesting but uncertain history.
The origin of the “Dimitrios”
There are plenty of wild stories, from ghost ship to cigarette smuggling boat from Turkey to Italy, after which the ship was deliberately set adrift by the authorities or the smugglers themselves. This second story is what you always hear. I give more credence to the story of Vice Admiral Christos Ntounis, of the Greek Coast Guard. Although one story does not exclude the other. The Vice-Admiral, now deceased, wrote a book about the wrecks in Hellenic waters.
The ship is said to have docked in the port of Gytheio on December 4, 1980 after the captain had to be hospitalized. A subsequent series of financial setbacks, engine problems and squabbles with creditors led to the dismissal of the crew and the ship was abandoned in port. To what extent the ship was involved in shady practices, such as smuggling cigarettes, is difficult to determine.
In June 1981, the ship was deemed ‘unsafe’ due to rope wear and the ship was also said to be taking on water. The owners were asked to remove the ship, but otherwise they left everything, everything. Until finally on November 9, 1981 Mother Nature decided the fate of the Dimitrios and the ship broke loose during a storm and drifted. An attempt was made to capture the ship, but not much later the ship drifted again and eventually stranded on the beach of Valtaki, about 5 km from Gytheio. Since nobody wanted to have anything to do with the ship anymore, it just stayed there, until today, almost 45 years later.
During our stay we also had a strong storm over us, and the next day we clearly saw that the hull had been smashed open further by the waves. Despite this, I don’t think you should rush to see the ship, in all likelihood it will still be there in 10 years.
Back to our less fun story… On Tuesday Alex called us to say that the repairman in Sparti had received the new window. We quickly packed everything to drive to Sparti. We wanted to replace the flapping piece of plastic as quickly as possible so that we could put the whole thing behind us.
The job was done in about two hours. If we wanted we could use this man’s car while he replaced the window but we preferred to stay on site and work on our laptops so he had coffee brought over. Admittedly, if Nigel had been an expensive BMW then the repair could be a little more precise. But Nigel is not an expensive BMW but a 2007 van so we are not going to complain. We are very grateful to this sympathetic garage mechanic from Sparti for helping us so quickly. For € 115 (cash of course) we were rid of it. Again a big thank you to Alex and Leonie for helping with communication. It certainly wouldn’t have been possible without them in such a short period of time.
After the repair we searched the area around the ‘crime scene’ for another hour in the hope of finding Nikki’s bag. We searched the roadsides and containers, unfortunately without success. We also spoke to some local farmers who initially gave us a surly look when they saw us drive by a few times. After telling our story, their attitude changed and they tried to help. One of them drove – or so he claimed – to the local gypsies to seek redress. The gypsies or gypsies would have done it no doubt. He returned without result with the message that they said they hadn’t done it… Whether this is all true we leave in the middle of course and we have no indication that the perpetrators were gypsies, in the end it doesn’t matter either. The fact is that all thefts and burglaries are blamed on them by the average Greek.
To this day we have not fully digested this bad experience. We might have become a little too carefree and heedless after visiting so many countries. Greece is not an unsafe country at all (outside of big cities) and we always left Nigel with peace of mind, at least in the countryside. The comments of this place on park4night already testified to a few similar stories. But we had not read those comments due to lack of internet.
Since then we’ve learned to be more wary, always fasten our locks on the inside and hide anything valuable. Too bad we’ve probably lost this feeling of carefree for good, but this was a very clear wake-up call about the world and harsh reality we live in.