This morning we had to come to terms with our rash decision of the previous evening and after breakfast on the terrace we set out for a planned full day drive in our hire vehicle. This wasn’t a regular car or a jeep or even a quad bike but rather a sort of easy-rider roadster dune buggy.
It looked cool and it looked fun but this was to be a full day of terror.
I would not advise anyone to hire one of these vehicles and these are the reasons: to begin with the driver only has about 10% control of this contraption, that is when it is stationary, the rest is down to pure chance. There is no suspension so it vibrates through every bone in your body, which is an experience that I can only liken to sitting on a washing machine on full spin cycle. There is very little steering control and no effective turning lock so to do a simple turning manoeuvre almost always requires a three-point turn.
In the event of an accident there is no protection from very serious injury as the seat and therefore your arse is only a few centimetres from the road surface and your knees are effectively the front crumple zone. Hit something in this and if you are not killed outright then you face many long painful months recovering in hospital. In a Greek hospital that is! Death would be preferable.
To hire one is relatively straightforward, you need three bits of documentation, a driving licence, a credit card and a letter certifying that you are clinically insane!
Naxos is one of the largest of the Cyclades Islands and drove out of the town and past a number of beautiful beaches, at Agia Anna, Agios Prokopios, Marangas and Agios Georgios and then we turned inland. It is the most fertile island of the Cyclades because it has a good supply of water in a region where water is usually inadequate. Mount Zas at nine hundred and ninety-nine metres is the highest peak in the Cyclades, and tends to trap the clouds, providing higher levels of rainfall than is normal in the islands.
This has made agriculture an important economic sector with various vegetable and fruit crops as well as cattle breeding, making Naxos one of the most self sufficient islands in the Cyclades. There was plenty of evidence of an agricultural ecomomy but with my main efforts concentrated on keeping the buggy in a straight line it wasn’t possible to fully appreciate the scenery.
We were heading for the Temple of Demeter somewhere in the centre of the island and it was quite difficult to locate. This is the site of an ancient temple site that has ony recently been restored by German archeologists and had some interesting buildings and a small museum. It was built a hundred years before the Parthenon in Athens at the time of Pythagoras and it possesses valuable evidence and clues about the architectural mysteries of the Acropolis.
The goddess Demeter is one of the lesser-known Greek Gods and although traditionally one of the twelve main Olympians she has become generally overlooked. This is a little strange because she was in fact quite important in agricultural terms because she was the goddess of grain and fertility, the replenisher of youth and the green earth and the health-giving cycle of life and death.
It wasn’t a very big site however and there was only enough to see to provide thirty minutes or so respite from the killer vehicle and soon it was time to return to the buggy and continue our adventure.
This time Kim decided she would like to try to drive and this, if anything, was even more terrifying. Not because she is a bad driver but because it is comforting to be in some sort of control but to be in the passenger seat as we flashed past dangerously adjacent rocks and vegetation as she clung to the edge of the road where the tarmac gave way to pot holes and and loose stones, was a complete nightmare.
After a while I resumed driving duties and we decided to drive south back towards the coast and the small and completely inadequate paper tablecloth map that we had for navigation purposes indicated a straight road through to the beach at Agiassos, which looked like a good location for a lunch time drink.
The road was fine for a few kilometres and then the paved surface suddenly ran out and was replaced by unmade shale road and a big sign saying that the new road was under construction with the generous assistance of EU funding. We had a short debate about whether to continue or turn back and as other people seemed to be using the road we foolishly choose to go on. Foolish because most of the other people were using proper vehicles, usually four-by-fours!
Although the buggy had been hard enough to drive on a regular road that paled into insignificance now that we started to drive down this gravel highway because now it was like trying to drive a fair ground dodgem car over a frozen lake. The loose shale was like ice under the wheels and we skidded uncontrollably as I tried to negotiate deep potholes that could have rendered enormous damage to the underside of the vehicle and our bottoms.
There was no protection from the dust and the stones that were thrown up by other passing vehicles and just to make driving even more difficult it was necessary to close my eyes every time someone went by in the opposite direction or overtook us. We were being shaken like a vodka martini and the road surface seemed to be deteriorating with every kilometre that we went on. Eventually it became so bad that we stopped and turned around even though to go back the way that we had come there was about ten kilometres of sheer hell to renegotiate.
As we stopped to take a breather a young couple in exactly the same sort of buggy pulled up and asked for answers to the same questions that we were asking ourselves, ‘where are we? what are we doing here? Will it ever end?’ Of course we couldn’t help but we took comfort from being able to share our ordeal with someone else and when they announced that they were pushing on to the coast we thought ‘well, why not’, turned around again and intrepidly followed them. Soon we did arrive at the coast but this did not bring any relief from the wretched gravel road that just kept on going and going and brought unending agony.
Eventually we chanced across a taverna next to the beach at Pyrgaki and we had no hesitation in pulling in and getting out of the vehicle for some recovery time. My whole body was shaking, especially my hands and arms because of the severe vibrations that came up through the front wheels and the steering column, I felt like Shakin’ Stevens and it took all my concentration and considerable effort not to wobble my beer glass so violently that I didn’t distribute the top half of the contents of cold mythos all over the fresh check tablecloth.
It took a good thirty minutes and another glass of beer to stop violently vibrating and return somewhere towards normal.
The bad news of course was that we had to return to the vehicle because there was still a long way to go to get back to Agios Prokopios but fortunately very soon after this we thankfully returned to a paved road and we came across a nice beach at Aliko which was an attractive bay with cream sandstone cliffs and ochre red rocks and fine sand. There were some big waves in the sea and we enjoyed cooling down and cleaning off in the water as we swam and washed the dust from our bodies.
There was a final thirty-minute journey back to the hotel and I was so pleased to get back. On the way we stopped to refuel the vehicle and the man at the filling station squirted about half a litre of fuel in the tank and enquired if we liked driving around Naxos in small cars. ‘No – we just made a huge mistake OK!