We crawl up a bit more on the map, after recovering from our visit to Athens. We have now arrived in the second half of December (2022). The days are getting noticeably shorter and the mild climate we were used to in the Peloponnese is gradually making way for chillier temperatures. We can count ourselves lucky with temperatures between 15 and 20 degrees throughout the day. In the evening it cools down considerably and we dare to turn on the diesel heating.
Refugees & Moya attacked
Undoubtedly a strange intertitle. “Thermopylae: Lovely warm-water river in a place of immense history” would probably have been a more clickable title. But that’s not how it went. First a brief sketch of this place, which you would drive past…
If you are a fan of the movie ‘300’ then you know that this is where King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans lived in 480 BC. made an unforgettable last stand against the vast Persian army of Xerxes. In addition to the 300 Spartans, an army of about 7000 Greeks held out against the attacking troops for 3 days. It seemed like a strange place for a battle to us, but you should know that 2500 years ago the coastline was much closer to the mountains, about where the highway is now.
Thermopylae, meaning ‘Hot Gates’, takes its name from the hot springs, the real reason for our visit there. It is truly remarkable how these plumes of steam bubble up from the earth, as if they carry with them the stories of the distant past. Who knows, perhaps the Spartans prepared themselves here for the coming battle. The Ancient Greeks thought these steam plumes were impressive enough to label them as the gates of Hades, the underworld.
Today Thermopylae is a peaceful place, next to the highway you will find a museum and a statue of King Leonidas. But Thermopylae is more than just a historical monument. The hot springs are still there, and you can take a bath in these healing waters that have been flowing from the earth for centuries. The source or sources together form a river, in our opinion and judging by the landscape, a partly artificial river. In several places, pieces are formed that are deep enough to sit in as in a natural wellness. Oddly enough, probably from enjoying the warm water too much, I don’t have any photos of this plain itself, hence the photo below from Wikipedia. At the traffic sign on the left of the motorway, you will see the excavated river.
In the meantime we also knew that Thermopylae houses a refugee center, we read that on Park4Night. Not knowing how to get to the site, because the river cuts it in two, we drove up the paved road to the refugee center. There was some commotion there: fire, police and security personnel were all mixed up and when I got out to ask what was wrong, they pointed to a van that was on fire.
A unlucky German had a fire in his van, which was completely burnt out. Fortunately, apart from melted plastic at the front, his caravan had largely escaped the flame dance.
A great camper spot, next to the warm water river
We parked Nigel under the trees right next to the refugee center to take a look at the source of the warm river. We had already decided to stand a little further downstream on the plain. The dilapidated building in which the refugees stayed, draped with pieces of shade cloth, and the associated container units, did not immediately invite people to camp next to it.
A few seconds from Nigel, a dozen or so dogs came, as usual, to sniff Moya. But this time things went terribly wrong, the dogs attacked and started biting Moya everywhere. We tried to run after it and kick the other dogs away but Moya had already started running towards Nigel. With a few more bites to her ass, she luckily made it to our bus and crawled under the chassis, where the much larger dogs couldn’t touch her. We kicked the dogs (yes, we kick dogs when our own dog is attacked) and refugees and security came to our aid. Fortunately, the stray dogs blew the retreat and we were able to get our trembling animal from under the bus. Moya had a few small but deep bite marks. At a local we got the coordinates of a vet in the area, but we decided to disinfect the wounds ourselves first and wait a few days. Fortunately, Moya recovered quickly over the next few days and the bite marks are gone, but the mental scars are still there…
Christmas in French
We installed ourselves a little further along the river, in a place where there was a large pool formed by the rocks, wonderful! The only drawback of this place was limited sun, only between 11am and 3pm we could enjoy our star. Night frost was also present, but with a river of around 40 degrees at 2 meters from your bus, there is little that can spoil the fun. The combination of the late morning sun, warm vapor and cobwebs created a nice setting for some close-up wildlife shots. We ended up staying here until after Christmas Eve and celebrated with some Frenchmen and the unfortunate German who saw his light cargo go up in flames. He had sold the caravan locally and in the meantime he had rented a Smart to travel back to Germany. Nevertheless, he tried to make the best of it.
Amber also befriended an Egyptian refugee, Ahmed, who was narrowly rescued from a sinking boatload of refugees. Communication was difficult via Google Translate from Arabic. A fierce story indeed, the things we read in the newspaper about the refugees who wash up in Greece, a far-from-our-bed show, became the harsh reality there. We follow Ahmed on Facebook, and he seems to be doing well. He now works in construction in Italy. How he got there, and whether it all happened legally, we prefer not to know. You feel from the conversations that it is a difficult issue: We usually look at the refugee issue through our European lens, but if you hear the stories directly from the mouth of a refugee themselves: how they consciously risk their lives to get here in the hope to build a better life, you can hardly help but understand their side of the story.
On Christmas Day itself, we decided to stand a few kilometers away, in the sun and with a view of an outcrop of the sea, where large water birds were looking for their food with the greatest of patience. It was a very sad day, despite the beautiful weather, because Amber was leaving us – definitively – for this trip. She took the ferry to Crete, where her family would meet her. We looked at the Crete option, but a fickle timetable, a long drive back to the south of Peloponnese and an expensive and long crossing made us refrain from visiting this island.
Amber left and we also said goodbye to Kai, but we will see him again later. We wanted to go to Meteora, further north, the famous monasteries built on the typical steep rocks. The interior of Greece attracted us and we wanted to take advantage of the sunny weather at the time. Here’s a preview.