28 May 2013

If only....

If only life was made up of more moments like these. A journey around the Greek island of Kefalonia would cause almost anyone to believe in God, because when He made Kefalonia He was smiling. Smiling his virgin light to sparkle in the azure water.


To reflect off the vast moonscape of rocky outcrops.


And to sink deeply into the infinitely slender and graceful native pines.


Kefalonia promises much and delivers still more. Clearly an enigma, even its name is spelt many ways, Kefalonia, Kefallinia, Cephalonia to name but a few. It endured a particularly turbulent twentieth century, including occupation by both Italian and German forces in World War II. In 1943, the island was witness to the horrific slaughter of some 5,000 Italian soldiers as the Germans tried to take control of the island, this poetically portrayed in the film adaptation of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, recently released.


The largest of the Ionian Greek islands, Kefalonia is an island of contrasts with much to discover. Driving around the island is a delight, but not for the fainthearted as most of the roads are rock faces on one side, and hundred foot drops to the sea on the other. It certainly made the drive from the capital Argostoli to the most northern village, Fiskardo breathtaking. Only 30 miles, the journey still took just over an hour due to the extreme hairpin bends we encountered. Upon reaching the pretty fishing village of Fiskardo, we were able to imagine how other parts of the island may have looked, were it not for the cataclysmic earthquake that destroyed much of Kefalonia in 1953.


Fiskardo was the only village to escape the destruction, and it has been unkindly described as ‘twee’ due to the pretty pastel facades of the buildings lining the harbour, but I prefer to think of it as a glimpse into the Kefalonia that would have been.


Another landmark that thankfully escaped destruction is Myrtos Beach, a sheltered cove only really accessible by car, unless you fancy the incredibly steep 4km walk down from the main road. There, exists water that is arguably the clearest, and most aquamarine in Greece. In October, an afternoon spent here is more than pleasant. The water laps barely noticeably against the shore, not even loud enough to drown out the twittering of birds and the clanging of goat bells from the cliffs high above as the goatherd guides them home.


So what of the goatherds and other islanders who inhabit this picturesque place?   Well, they have many stories to tell. After the war followed ten years later by the earthquake, those who did not leave to seek more settled climes in places such as the US and Australia, stayed and rebuilt the island with their bare hands, and this has made them a hardy, resilient people who have learnt to overcome adversity and discover the meaning of ‘Carpe Diem’ – Seize the Day.


Their generosity extends perhaps further than natural hospitality because they have learnt to be blessed with so little. The most recent example of this is allowing the island to be overrun by film crew for the filming of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin in early 2000. A whole town fa├žade was skilfully erected in Sami to portray the real capital, Argostoli, in the movie. Thankfully, once filming ended, Sami was just as skilfully restored to its former glory as a pretty port town serving the nearby islands of Ithaca and Zakynthos.



Despite the mass of publicity the island has received since the film’s release, Kefalonia appears to be blissfully ignorant of all the fuss it has caused. Undoubtedly, there has been a rise in visitor numbers, but on the island, life goes on timelessly as it has for hundreds of years. The goatherd still herds his flocks, the beekeeper still tends to his honey, and the islanders continue to appreciate life knowing that living on a major fault line will always bring some uncertainty to their lives. As for the island itself, it is almost as if Kefalonia does not realise how truly unspoilt and desirable it is. Truly a jewel of the Ionian, if only it can stay that way.


This is an excerpt from a travelogue of our trip to Kefalonia in 2001. To be continued.....


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