Kotakolon is a tiny seaport village blessed with a harbor big enough to hold three cruise ships. We came here today so most of our fellow passengers could visit Olympia, the site of the first Olympic games. Been there, done that so we booked an all day taxi that had great reviews on Trip Advisor. As usual Trip Advisor did not disappoint. We spent a wonderful day with one of the angriest, bummed out people we’ve ever met. The deteriorating Greek economy hasn’t been in our news lately, because we’ve been too worried about our own economy deteriorating, but the situation here is worse than ever. To meet their EU debt payments, Greece has sold off almost everything that isn’t locked down. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they had sold the Parthenon. It sounded like the Chinese own everything. Although Katakolon had a prosperous look today since it was within walking distance of cruisers doing their final port shopping, our driver took us through his bigger home town a few miles away and we saw shuttered store fronts and abandoned homes. Our driver said he hopes his children find jobs somewhere else and leave because there is no future for them here. He stays here to care of his elderly mother whose pension is about $400/month. He said just her medications cost more than that. It was not clear to us whether the fee we paid him today will ever show up on the books with taxes being paid. He said taxes consume almost half of what he makes. The Greeks have been notorious for not paying taxes, which is part of the reason they got in so much trouble in the first place. They overspent big time on the 2004 Olympics and nearly all of the buildings from those events stand empty and deteriorating. Our driver wants to return to the drachma and stop using the Euro, but he sounded like he thought part of that switch would involve the forgiveness of all their debts. I can’t imagine banks ever be in that benevolent of a mood.
But Greece continues to be a beautiful place and he took us to many great views and a few agrotourism stops in this rural part of Greece. Everyone here grows olive trees and this cash crop buffers the low incomes a bit. Tourism dies down in the fall when the weather cools and that’s when the olives are pressed. It’s a job that hasn’t been mechanized much and lots of physical labor is involved They also make wine here. We went to a farm where the owner raises bees and she cooked all manner of Greek delicacies covered in honey for us. She also uses the beeswax to make cosmetics and candles. Various fruit trees on her farm enable her to produce jams and jellies. Her moderately sized garden yields enough produce so she can make meals from it three - four times a week. She was much less bummed out and acted like she had all the time in the world to share her produce with us. At a vineyard we were toured by a woman who used to live in Los Angeles and flip houses with her husband. When our real estate bubble burst, she came back here and shortly after that Greece was put on an ever tightening leash by the EU. Sometimes you just can’t win.
We drove to a monastery high up on a hill, where a baptism had just taken place and a crowd of people wearing black were waiting for a funeral to begin. It looked like a spot where everyone knows your name. The inside of the church was amazing, so crammed full of paintings, icons brass lights and incense burners that we hardly knew where to look. Our driver kindly let us out at the top oil at the top of the hill and picked us up again at the bottom. People who live around here must be mighty fit.
We stopped at what is supposed to be one of the nicest beaches around here, but were not impressed. There were lots of rocks in the sand and brown seaweed had piled up on shore. A few brave folks were swimming. Perhaps in better times there would have been a budget for someone to clean up the beach.
Back in town we shopped our way back to the ship. Luckily almost everything I saw that I liked, I already own. It’s hard to believe that this is the last port we will visit and after one more day at sea another great cruise will have come to an end.