A ride into the wilds of East Mani ... and the Far South ... and no further!
Well, this was not the first time I had used the 2407 Outdoor excellent services but even so, the level of organization of this particular tour easily surpassed any expectations I had.
You could call this the Dead-End Tour and this is not just a pun, because you reach the legendary Cape Tainaron, which is as far south as you can get in mainland Greece and, by some estimate, mainland Europe. It really feels you are at the end of the world and it is no wonder that on this very spot the ancient Greeks put one of the entrances to Hades, the Underworld, a Death Oracle and a Poseidon temple.
Our cycling started at Gerolimenas, a village at the head of a sea cove, nestled at the foot of a massive cliff. We got there in our own car but the company can easily make arrangements for your transfer in one of their cars if you don’t have your own wheels. As Yiannis, the owner, cheerfully put it: ‘nothing is impossible for 2407 Outdoor’.
Cheerfulness, high spirits and a sense of humour are definitely some of Yiannis’s personality traits but they are matched with professionalism and attention to detail, especially when it comes to safety. He will make sure that the bike fits the rider, not the other way round, which is crucial for comfort and safe riding. I was pleasantly surprised by his insistence that everyone in the group, regardless of their cycling experience, fully understood the basic riding and safety rules he demonstrated.
As we started pedaling, the great Mani barren landscape unrolled in front of us. Make no mistake, this is austere at its most extreme, there is only sky and the deep blue of the sea and unforgiving rocky hills, dotted by sparse little villages and Maniot towers perched on ridges suspiciously looking down on you as you cycle past. And what better way to experience this than on an e-bike, with nothing but the whisper of the wind in your ears?
I am not sure if Yiannis finds the right partners or if they find him…This time our co-pilot was confidence-inspiring Smaro (with her name stressed on the last syllable, please, as she politely reminded me with a smile), who would make sure the group were spaced out but maintaining the right distances, keeping a watchful eye on everyone from the rear, as well as filling in the details of the history and culture map, when it came to it. With Yiannis in the lead and Smaro in the back, we felt as if we were protected by guardian angels.
The sloping part of the road leading to the village of Vathia looked daunting and I braced myself to tackle it aggressively. I needn’t have done so, though, because the Riese-Muller took it easily in its stride, and I got to the fortified settlement not panting and breathless but with a smile on my face. Indeed, the only thing that took my breath away in this tour was the sweeping vistas, not the incline of the hills.
Vathia is the most impressive village along the route and it merits a stop and a visit. Actually, Yiannis and Smaro had organized a snacks-break and a short walking tour of the densest cluster of Maniot towers there is! Whatever did they build so many towers for? Is the obvious question. – Well, it was all about warring clans, came Smaro’s answer. Endless feuds and vendettas. Anyone outside the clan was a potential enemy. But strangers were welcome! It made me think again about the toughness of character of the people who lived here. Yes, these stone walls have stories to tell. But there is no one to listen now because Vathia is deserted.
Back on the road, bound for our legendary destination, Cape Tainaron. Again and again, whether uphill or downhill, I couldn’t help admiring the Riese-Muller, that wonderful piece of technology on two wheels. The rigid frame, the superb disc brakes and above all, their super-smooth belt transmission. No gears, no clanking noises, no missed changes, just a noiseless, jerk-free flow of movement.
It’s all very well to cycle through the wilds of Mani but what about those hunches about things going wrong? Well, before they started haunting me, the reassuring sight of the big white van with the 2407 logo on the sides, magically appearing on strategically decided spots, instantly dispelled them.
Yes, we did get to the end of the road and the end of the world, the vestiges of the past are still there to evoke the passage of people and cultures through time, ancient Greek, Roman, Christian, all unified under the stark Tainarian landscape. If there is any deity to be worshipped here, this must be it.
We surely deserved our coffee stop at the picturesque little fishing harbour of Porto Kayo, a pirates’ hideout in now bygone times of trouble. Good opportunity to replenish lost body fluids while we kept our feet in the cool water before mounting our bikes for the stretch back to Gerolimenas.
When it comes to reminiscing about the tour, I can’t really decide if it was the magic of the otherworldly landscape or the charm and professionalism of the 2407 people that made it truly unforgettable. But then again, why distinguish, it must be a fusion of both, the kind of recipe that makes for a unique experience.