Yesterday we rented a car. By now used to the laissez faire attitude of the shop owners and restauranteurs, we were still taken aback by the auto rental guy, who took laid back to a new level of horizontal.
To hire a car, anywhere in the world, two things are vital. Number one a driving licence, number two, a credit card. Now even in Agios, the first is needed, but the second? Not only do you not need one, they don’t allow them. Cash only thank you. And payment? Well I can pay now or, if I would like I may pay upon my return, no problem. When do I need to return the car? Nine o’clock that night. Give or take an hour .
Can you imagine walking up to the Avis desk at Heathrow airport and asking if it’s ok if you pay for the car when ever you decide to pop back and if cash is ok? Exactly. We hired a little Suzuki open top jeep.
We set off, the only instruction from the car hire guy being to not drive on the beach, please. Wrestling with a gearbox possibly last seen in a tractor we crunched our way up into the mountains. The roads, as steep as they are narrow, snake up the pine covered hills past villas that alternate between luxurious and derelict.
Sarah like all loving partners with children was of the attitude that the enthusiastic driver to her left, sitting at controls the wrong way round would inevitably kill her and her children either by forgetting which side of the road to drive on or by skidding off at a hairpin bend and plunging down a ravine, just like an Italian Job Mini.
Of course that fear was a lot of nonsense. There was something much more terrifying in store .
After negotiating three wheel tractors, locals as indifferent to the traffic as the skinny cats and dogs prowling the roadside edges and bends as tight as a tuning fork, we emerged from the pine trees and in a flash of bright Mediterranean sunshine we were transported back in time to 1966.
Liapades, the village we found ourselves driving through was not to scale. It was as though a designer had built the roadside houses and shops for a race of people thirty percent smaller than humans are today. As we wound our way through the impossibly narrow streets, the whitewashed walls and faded pink doors seemed to shrink smaller and smaller. Constantly breaking and waiting for ancient old women on dusty mopeds to buzz past, we found ourselves in a Lilliputian piazza where our little jeep suddenly appeared massive. A restaurant and a bar dominated the tight little public space which was packed full of locals. The old and the young regarded us with complete indifference, probably used to seeing gormless tourists driving around their picture postcard hamlet.
Eventually, we descended from the mountainside village, the cicadas heralding our arrival just outside Paleokastritsa.
.Our car hire friend had advised us to stop outside the village and drop into La Grotto, an entreaty which we duly complied with.
We parked on a little scrub of white gravelly dust and stepped out into the searing heat. Sarah tried to secure the hire car by folding the roof back and locking the boot. When she realised that the trunk was secured from intruders by button fasteners accessible to all apart from midgets, she gave up and we negotiated the steps down to La Grotta
A trendy cafe that just about clings to the sheer walls of the cliffside, its astronomical prices are more than justified by the achingly beautiful seascape.
But it’s not the view that entices a predominantly youthful crowd, rather it’s the natural plunge pool that draws in the customers. Whereas the beaches of Corfu have many hues of blue, the palette of the lagoon below La Grotta is predominantly green.
Apart from the jetty, ferrying bathers to different patches of otherwise inaccessible sand, the cafe has a diving board and a rope up to a tiny platform, some six meters above the sea. From this slippery rostrum, youths launched themselves gleefully into the abyss, trusting that the bicey depths held the requisite volumes of brine to cushion their leaps.
A cradle to youth, this venue is no place for those the wrong side of forty, so we climbed the near vertical pebble artery to the the road, some thirty meters above.
Now it was time to venture on an adventure of our own. Despite Sarah’s angst ridden protestations, we were about to put out a boat and set ourselves upon the high seas.
As dedicated landlubbers, we had some five minutes to gain our sea legs. A task that only the most optimistic would-be seafarer would embark upon.
But as we all know, faint heart n’er won fair lady…