Dafnis birthday cake personally made by the chef at the restaurant for dafni. He said ,”i make for Dafni from the bottom of my heart, so she remember her 12th birthday in Greece” so sweet! It was delicious homemade ice cream cake!
Monthly Archives: June 2013
I have to warn you about this next post. It is not uplifting or joyful. It’s actually a little sad, a descriptive tale of extreme horse drama and trauma here in the land where horsemanship was birthed. Pelion is a mountain region that is famous for indigenous Arravani gaited horses, and where Jason and Achilles were sent to learn horsemanship from the centaurs (mythological creatures, half man and half horse). A Horse ranch advertised a wonderful trail ride in the mountains and along the beach. As we researched, we found the owner of the place was the president of the trail ride association of Greece. Riding on the beach with ancient native horses from the very land where natural horsemanship began, was a dream and deep desire of my heart. Today is also Dafni’s 12 birthday and she is an extreme horse lover, so we arranged for a 6-7 hour trail ride including a picnic lunch. We were VERY excited.
As we drove to the horse ranch, we saw a wolf-like looking dog sneak across the road deviously looking in both directions. He had snuck into a neighbors farm and killed and stole a hen and was carrying it in his mouth. I pointed at him and said, “look! the thief!” We were all feeling sorry for the farmer who lost his hen. Little did we know this moment was a prophetic fore shadowing of the next several hours.
We arrived at the horse ranch and the owner and a guide named Elena greeted us warmly. They had probably 30 to 40 horse there, mostly Greek breeds. There were a lot of stallions and babies and pregnant mares. After a while they told us which horses we would be riding. Dino and John got the two horses they described as peaceful and mild, which began to start some questions in my mind about the other horses. John’s horse was a grey Arravani named Vaiyo. Dino’s horse’s name was Beauty. Dalia got a Arravani Arabian mix named Koula, and Dafni got a Greek pinto named Billy. Dimitra’s horse was white and looked a lot like her horse Carmella back home. Her horse’s name was Jasmine. They told us that she had Parreli training and was an excellent endurance horse. It was Elena, the guide’s horse and she said she needed a light hand on her mouth. Perfect for Dimitra. They asked me if I wanted to ride a stallion. I thought they were kidding, but in case not, I said emphatically NO! I got Lico, another beautiful white horse the same Greek breed as Dimitras but cannot remember what that is. His name means ‘wolf’. AND wolf he WAS!
All the horses behaved wonderfully tacking up and stood very calm for a long time. I talked with Elena about different kinds of horse training. She said she was a huge fan of Clinton Anderson and natural horsemanship. So I thought that we were all on the same page. I asked her if Lico had a soft mouth and she said, “NO, I needed to hold him”. She also said to not let him go in the front because he will run. Stupidly I figured that meant a Greek translation of ‘hurry’. So, they were actually serious about the stallion because Elena shows up to the group mounted on a black Arravani stallion ready to rumble! I questioned her about the safety with all these mares and she said, “no problem!” It started to feel like a perfect storm brewing.
So right out of the ranch it started to not feel right. Elena darts off with my three girls and John and Lico is running after them, while Dino is left alone in the back, with his pregnant slow mare. So I catch up and tell them to wait. She asks why. I say, “because my son is left alone and his horse can’t see us and it’s not safe”. She sort of shrugs, like “crazy mother”. So John goes back for Dino and the owner John and Dino, bring up the rear. So everything is going ok for a while, except that John, Dino, and the owner are way back and all the girls with Elena are trotting fast and bumpy, and we are all trying to figure out how these rare Greek horses are gaited. Me and Dimitra are in Super English saddles. Mine doesn’t even have a dip to it. It’s like I’m sitting on a flat board that taunts me, “you can’t stay on here, you’re going off!”. I have tennis shoes on and large English stirrups and all I can think is, “Lord, don’t let my foot slip, don’t let my foot slip”. I am rehashing every grotesque story I have heard of people’s feet slipping through the stirrup and getting drug on the ground for miles until they have no face left.
So we get close to the beach and I can start to see it through the trees, and my heart is pounding as I am nearly living out my dream. We approach the beach and we are all together and Lico’s hoofs just barely touch the sand and BOOM! off he goes like a bullet with me flying in and out of my 2 by 4 of a saddle. i am screaming at the top of my lungs! “STOP! WHOA! STOP IN THE NAME OF JESUS!” no stop, I tried Greek, “STAMATE” Still nothing. I am pulling the reins as hard as i can, I am jerking back the reins POP, POP, POP! still nothing. We are blazing at a dead run down the beach and now I know that all three of the girls are running right behind me, screaming and crying in hysterics. So I started to think straight for a minute. I told myself, “ok, Elli, just relax, sit this, and do a one rein stop” so I started yelling at the girls, “ONE REIN STOP!!!!” my horse was trying to turn left back onto a path towards the mountains, so I do a right one rein stop and this horse is pulling against my right rein with everything he had. UGH! That rotten Lico! So I am grabbing practically down to his bit and yank with all my might and fight this horse for what feels like an eternity and finally I get him to slam hard right into the sea. Meanwhile the girls have turned left and are headed for the ranch at a dead run. I had no control over this horse, so I couldn’t run after them. Then I looked over and see the most horrible and disturbing and frightful scene. Elena’s stallion is attacking Dalia and her horse in full blown frontal rear charge, the stallions front hooves even with Dalia’s head and baring his teeth in full aggression. I jump off of Lico, and try to grab the stallion, but Elena is now off of him trying to pull him off. The stallion has his front feet caught in Dalia’s reins and is now trying to mount her horse and still baring his teeth at Dalia who is only inches from his gaping mouth! I was hysterical, and totally helpless. Dalia is screaming and flinging her elbows at the stallion’s head and then covering her own head and then punching at the stallion. Her poor little horse equally trying to defend herself, kicking at the stallion and biting at him. Finally, Dalia’s horse Koula gets loose and runs down the road after the other two horses and Lico with no rider joins them.
I look back and the owner is zoned out talking on his phone and doing nothing. Elena is yelling at him on the walkie talkie to come quickly. John and Dino have 2 pokey horses that even though John is kicking his horse desperately, his horse will only walk slowly down the beach. Elena still cannot get control of her horse and THANK GOD did not let go! Now the three girls have vanished from sight and I have no horse to go after them. Finally the owner gets his horse into a gallop and goes down the road to find them. In a few minutes I tell Elena to walkie talkie them and see if he found them. So she says, “he found them, they are ok, but Dimitra fell off”. So I get on the walkie talkie and Dalia is crying and yelling and trying to tell me what happened but saying Dimitra is ok. So after a long walk we get the girls who are quite shaken up. They tell us what happened to them. They were all running down the path towards the ranch. Dalia had lost her reins and was holding onto the saddle to stay on getting whipped in the face by olive branches as the horses started running through an olive grove. Dafni said, she was behind Dimitra and saw her roll right off and land in the dirt as her horse raced away. Dafni said she tried the one rein stop a billion times but her horse pulled the other direction and would not stop or even slow down. Dimitra said she was totally off balance in her english saddle and was praying and her foot slipped through the stirrup on the side she was going off. She said she was holding onto the horses neck and knew her foot was through the stirrup and she was falling off, but then all of a sudden she just remembers being on the ground looking up at a bunch of horse hoofs hoping they wouldn’t trample her. Meanwhile Dafni said she yelled out “Jesus! Help us!” and she and Dalia’s horse suddenly stopped and they jumped off, and then their horses ran off without them.
All I can say, is the massive amount of desperate prayers going out from me, John and the girls brought all the angels to attention and miraculously no one was hurt. Even though Dimitra’s foot was stuck in the stirrup and she fell off a horse running at top speed, she only has one tiny bruise on her hip. Even though Dalia was attacked by a psychopathic highly testosteroned stallion fed on mountain herb, lost her reins, has only had 5 lessons, and her horse was running for her life, she stayed on until her horse miraculously halted briefly. And even though Dafni ran through a thick forest of olive trees at high speeds on Billy the wild, hard mouthed, Greek Pinto. No one is hurt! Thank you! Lord! I was so angry with the crazy people! Who would ride a stallion with children riding mares that is aggressive and so out of control? Why was the owner so lackadaisical? Didn’t he realize he was super stupid and had the lamest horses in the world that won’t even obey an emergency one rein stop!!!
Here is the thing that totally astounds me. Knowing how to ride a horse and horses that willingly obey the rider because they respectfully look to the rider as their leader is the gospel of ancient Greek horsemanship. Greece had exported this concept all over the world. The Americans have resurrected this ancient way of natural horsemanship and marketed it and sold it to where it is the dominant way to ride in the united states. But now here, in 2013, in Greece, these horses, are ridden through coercive and abusive means to the point where a bit in their mount is useless and the very roots of this horsemanship are lost.
As we drove away from there back to our beautiful apartment set along the calm peaceful seaside with the crystal clear blue water, I kept thinking of the wolf-like dog that stole the hen. I thought about how my horse that had started all the trauma was named Lico which means wolf. I felt like that limp hen his mouth was my beautiful daydream of riding ancient rare Greek horses along the very beaches where horsemanship began.
This day was beyond words or descriptions, utterly heavenly and blessed. But before I get to the good part first I must describe the downside of the day. It most definitely was the drive. Normally I would LOVE driving thru the quaint beautiful little mountain and seaside villages and seeing all the beautiful green lush landscape, waterfalls, and amazing vistas. However, all this bliss was interrupted by children’s car ride shenanigans. Dimitra spent a majority of the ride in ignore mode with both hands covering her ears. Dafni flipped back and forth between yelling at the little ones and begging us to sit in the front. Dalia, felt that she was being perfect and it was aaaaaallllllll Dino who was making the noise and arguments. Dino said contrary to my comment that it takes two, “It does NOT take 2 to fight, it only takes one, because one person can kick, bite and scratch themselves” then Dalia says, “yeah that is only when they have an evil spirit” WHAT! Where did these kids get all this? John pulled the car over at least 7 times, holding his forehead with ALL ten digits at once. I know he is frustrated when this happens. So I told them, “lets play the alphabet game”. We looked outside the car and had to find something that started with A. We must be in jet lag because I think it took us a full 15 minutes to think of AUTOMOBILE. So when we get to N, and got stuck, Dino says, “N is for NO sign of N’s”. Finally the game ended at X, when Dalia and Dino erupted into an argument on whether we were on X or W. So much for a game to keep them occupied. You would think Arizona children who live their life in a car could handle.
So,…. after 2 hours of windy roads and getting lost, and many of John’s uphill stick shift traumas, and several close calls with miniature semi trucks barreling around single lane hair-pin curves, we finally arrived at a beautiful beach called Pappa Nero. We stayed all of 10 minutes, because Dimitra was convinced there was a better beach just around the corner. This beach had large waves and tiny rocks that slammed into your feet as you tried to stand in the waves. It was like a tortuous Chinese foot massage with no escape. The water was amazingly clear and azure blue like a picture in a magazine, but you really couldn’t enjoy it much from the rock pummel you endure just trying to get in the water. (the good part is coming)
So back in the car, big sigh! up some more windy hills and down some more windy hills looking for Dimitra’s perfect beach. After asking a million directions, we finally get near a place we saw on the map with a little symbol of an umbrella which means ‘resort’, called Damouchari, nearly named after her. We drove until the little road ended, and parked. We would have to walk the rest of the way. We trekked down a small stony path thru some olive groves, and down some more trails and paths until we came to this hidden village nestled along a cove in the rocks by a historic castle. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. There were like 4 or 5 restaurants, little shops and houses. The water was like a perfect swimming pool, calm and clear enough that 30 feet deep water looked like 5. I nearly cried from beauty overwhelment. All the shop owners and restaurant owners were super friendly and welcoming like they knew what a jewel they had and couldn’t wait to share it with us. We walked around and explored and Dino saw his first naked bather. He worked really hard to ignore her and act normal. Then we went to one of the beaches that had little tide pools filled with fish and critters for the kids to poke and try to catch.
We all swam in the cool clear water that felt exhilarating. It was truly an amazing place. Just when I didn’t think it was possible to be anymore blessed, I saw this dog walking along the beach that is the exact image of my most favorite dog I ever had, Gracey. She was a lab/chow mix, who lived with us for 16 years. We had to put her down about 5 years ago. I couldn’t believe it. It was like Gracey slipped out of doggy heaven to come spend an afternoon with us on the beach. This dog was super friendly to us too and wanted to be around us. It was such a blessing for our family to see this dog. If it wasn’t pregnant, I would have thought it was actually my dog. It even behaved like her and had her mannerisms. AMAZING!
We finished the afternoon with another great meal in our little paradise. We ate little fishes caught fresh in the sea, calamari, (of course) fried zucchini, and greek salad. This Greek meal would not be complete with out some kind of critter coming to beg for food. This time it was a white tom cat. He had a rough night sporting many injuries, from a chewed up foot, scratched up neck and bit off ear. Maybe he had a fight with himself, like Dino says. Anyway, he was oblivious to the fact that I do not care for cats, especially nasty, dinged up tom cats. He kept coming to me, paw on my knee with the puss in boots look, saying, “pssst, you got some feeshes for me”.
This day was one of those days you don’t ever forget. We are so thankful.
As our last day in Pelion region we wanted to spend the day at a perfect beach. We looked on the map and looked at some pictures on the internet and decided to go to Kastri. It was only about 20 minutes from our hotel up some windy hills and then back down some windy hills. We drove down this narrow one lane road through some houses and pulled up to a parking lot for 3 cars and come to the beach. I was hoping for a little beach side taverna too so we wouldn’t have to leave to eat. We got out of car and walked to the beach and surveyed and I could hardly believe what I was seeing. It was like 100’s better than the pictures show! Kastri is an amazing breathtaking beach only existing in Utopia somewhere. A large cove nestled between two rocky cliffs that hold historic red roof tiled mediterranean villas. The water was like a swimming pool, clear and clean and calm and lit up by the sun like glowing sapphire. The beach was sandy and not rocky and the water was soft powdery sand as far as you could walk or swim. The water stayed shallow up to your waste for at least 50 feet out. The temperature of the water was exhilerating. At first I thought it was too cold, but after I sat in the sun tanning for a while and committed in my heart to dive in, the water was completely refreshing and energizing. I swam out a ways with my googles and by the time I swam back my skin was almost numb with coldness but on the inside I felt warm and like how you feel after a great workout. When I got out of the water I felt like I could run 10 miles, I had so much energy. The cold water didn’t bother the kids all day. They were running in and out, splashing around. The day was heavenly! We didn’t want to leave.
The sand was perfect sand for building sand castles because it was so fine it held the water like cement. The kids and John had a sand castle contest and they nominated me to be the judge. The kids concentrated on their castles for at least an hour while I sat under the palm frond shade shelter reading my book. Sigh!!! Days like this don’t come too often in your life, when all conditions are absolutely perfect. To complete the perfect beach day there was a little taverna just feet from the edge of the sand, and of course, the food was beyond amazing! We ordered calamari, greek salad, grilled vegetables, yogurt cucumber salad french fries and beef patties. The beef patties are home made like a meatloaf with all kinds of herbs and spices. The grilled vegetables came looking kind of brown and limp and disappointing. I made myself and all the kids try them and I have never tasted eggplant, zuccinni, and long green peppers so delicious. They were full of flavors like grilled infused garlic with a slight tanginess of balsamic. The calamari was the best calamari we have had on this trip so far.
After lunch we all played on the beach for a few more hours. This time of year in Greece is perfect. The weather is very warm, like upper 80’s but not so hot that you are uncomfortable. The beaches are nearly empty and all the tourist areas are sparse so the you get the best service and are very appreciated by the business owners. They make you always feel special and welcome.
After our perfect day at the beach we headed 2 hours away to my very good friend Voula’s house. I went to high school with Voula in Thessaloniki and we had many adventures in our youth. Voula and her husband Kosta and their 2 boys live in a town called Larissa home of the best Souvlaki in the world. Souvlaki is a shish kabob of grilled marinated pork. There is this one restaurant that we have been going to for 10 years now with Voula that is famous for their souvlaki. He has 5 restaurants in this region and is growing. He keeps all his recipes a secret including his marinade. There are all kinds of rumors going around about what he puts in his marinade. Some people say the souvlakis soak in kiwi juice, others say, it is the tears of elves living deep in the mountain forests,. (no just kidding, don’t believe that one!)
I was very excited to hear we were going to this restaurant for dinner with some of Voula’s friends who have teenage girls Dafni and Dimitra’s age. When I say dinner, that means you leave the house at 10pm and walk 15 minutes to the souvlaki restaurant and sit and have a beer while you wait for friends to come and ordering. you eat around 11pm or so, a giant feast of a pyramid of souvlaki kabobs, salads, french fries, and bread. As soon as i tasted the souvlaki it brought back all the times I hadn’t eaten this with Voula and Kosta. All the great memories and laughs all complied into this first delicious bite of tender, flavorful grilled pork that will make you cry. It was even better than I remember it. My only regret is that at 11pm at night my appetite was not big enough to support the feast in front of me. But believe me, I did the very best I could!
The restaurant is surrounded by a park full of Greek teen agers walking around “hanging out” while the parents all sit and eat with friends. The restaurants were all full with people, laughing, drinking, eating, enjoying each other. This is one my most favorite aspects of Greece and the Greeks life style. My kids, with Voula’s boys, and the other teen age girls all went walking around the park in a pack soaking in the life that it here. It was a wonderful experience of Greek culture for my kids to see and participate in. I am so happy they have the opportunity to see Greece this way in a simple agricultural town, having dinner with Greek teenagers exchanging stories about school and friends, far away from the tourist places, and hotels. It was a perfect night to end a perfect day, enjoying our friends who we love dearly, meeting new friends. Voula and Kosta are a perfect example of warm, generous Greek hospitality who live to show you a good time and fill your glass with Greek beer, and your plate with the very best of Greek food! Thank you! Voula and Kosta for being YOU! — with Kostas Vrakas and Savoula Mavropoulou.