The largest of the Ionian Islands, Corfu is just a short ferry ride to mainland Greece. As our first stop in Greece, it was incredible. Greece is already shaping up to be one of our favourite destinations on the entire trip! Flowers bloom all year rouond, it is still warm enough to swim in the sea, the locals are friendly (think Irish friendly), and, especially because it is off season, Greece has been quiet and relaxing. Corfu is one of Greece's lushest isles. It is practically covered in olive groves, orange groves and lemon orchards. There are incredible rock formations all along the shoreline and clear shallow water as far as the eye can see.
On our first day in Corfu, we decided to walk on the dusty road through the olive groves south of our hostel. The hostel's two dogs, who we affectionately named 'Lemon' and 'Squirt', apparetnly decided that it would be a nice day for a walk as well. We thought that they would turn around after we had gotten a little ways from the hostel, but they didn't. Assuming they were just the sort of pets that took themselves for walks around the friendly islands, we accepted them as our tour guides and followed them on the twisty roads. It may seem weird, but seriously animals just wander around most of Europe by themselves and make their way home when they are either bored (or hungry!). Anyway, our tour guides successfully pointed out every single living thing our paths crossed over the next four hours. They barked at hedghogs, tried to catch sparrows and chased several stray cats. All this while managing to dodge crazy Corfuians speeding along the narrow, winding roads. We were impressed at how well the dogs were behaving. As it usually goes, however, we spoke too soon.
We rounded a bend onto a little street with a small house with a chicken coop. By 'chicken coop' I mean the chickens were wanderig around the property, across the road and right towards us. These were free-range chickens. The otherwise well behaved 'tour guides' must have thought that it was just too good to pass up. So, there we were, having not been in Greece for even 24 hours, chasing dogs that weren't ours, while they chased chickens whose owners were (a) screaming at us in Greek and (b) angrily charging down the stairs, holding a thick stick. Feathers were either hanging out of the dogs' mouths or flying everywhere. Despite our pleas the dogs were having a jolly good time. The situation did not look good. We, however, were just praying that the chicken owner didn't intend the thick stick for us. As the dust (and feathers) finally settled, literally, and we dragged the dogs away and saw that there were no chicken casualities, we hurried off down the street hoping that there would be another route back to the hostel and that it wouldn't involve any more encounters of the chicken kind.
On the way back to town, after walking a little further down the road, we saw a foot path that would enable us to bypass the dreaded chicken coop. Apparently the term 'foot path' in Greece means 'tiny cut through the bushes with a space only two feet high that isn't overgrown with prickly things.' Oh, and it may also loosely translate to 'scaling along the side of a steep cliff face'. At this point, though, anything that avoided that cute little Greek house and it not-so-happy, stick-bearing owner seemed like a good choice.
By now the dogs must have grown a bit attached to us (traumatic experiences tend to do that sort of thing). As we were slowly and carefully making our way down the slippery rocks, the dogs would always come back and check on us, or wait for us a few feet ahead. It was really cute.
The path landed us right on the beach just as the sun was setting. Whoever thought that we would be watching a beautiful Greek sunset with our tour guide dogs, two other small puppies that randomly appeared and the beaches five resident cats. How can you not laugh picturing that?
The adventures in Corfu don't end there, though. Determined to see the most of this seemingly public- transportation free island as we could before heading to the mainland, we bit the bullet and rented ATVs! Yes, Pomes Family, take a minute to digest it. I, your favourite daughter, who can barely park the van without needing a three parking space buffer, rented an ATV and scooted around the island with no assistance (well, until it broke down, of course.) I think I should have a chat with Jeremy about borrowing HIS ATV when we get home!
Anyway, armed with a plan, a map and enthusiasm, we rolled out of the hostel parking lot. The morning went perfect. We drove through little hill-side villages, along the coast and down to some beautiful sandy beaches. Driving through the villages felt weird. I felt like I was ruining their perfect preserved old-Greekness by motoring through on my loud ATV. It was like the clashing of different times: ATVs didn't exist in the time the villages bring you back to.
We motored along to the stunningly cliffs and crystal-clear water of the beaches and coves at the north-west of the island. It was breath-taking. Locals stopped to chat and explained how hot springs keep the water warm all year long. We drove along roads so secluded that I thought that we were the only two people on a huge island of olive groves! The massive Mount Panocrator loomed above us, making me realize how small we were on the island. There were some beaches on the north-east end of the island that we had wanted to check out. Making our way to the main road to cut across the island, it became apparent that, no, we are not the only ones here. It felt like all 130,000 Corfuians were out on the main road with their cars as we were nipping along the shoulder of what was more like a highway on our little ATVs. I, Kristen, was petrified, which, annoyingly, amused Jonathan even more. Deciding that it may be better to stick to the small roads, we turned around to explore the south of the island instead.
Just as we were nearing the gas station we came to a gorgeous lookout over the countryside. Naturally, I turned off my ATV and dismounted it to set up for a picture or two or five. Now, those of you who went to school with me and remember my track record with computers will not be surprised to learn that my ATV had decided to stop working! I turned the key, nothing; Held the start button, nothing; Talked to it in soothing tones, still nothing. As a last resort I tried the kick start.
Jonathan to the rescue! On his perfectly-working ATV he scooted down to the hostel (thankfully we were nearby) and brought back an official ATV-fixer! Within a half hour we were back on the road again. We sped down hills, around tight corners, past the notorious chicken coop (we went extra fast past there) and towards what would have been about the fiftieth beach on our ATV excursion. Unfortunately time ran short and we didn't want to be late returning the ATVs. We made it back with thirty seconds to spare! The hostel's welcoming-committee, Lemon and Squirt, were there waiting to greet us.
That was our only stop in the Ionians. From here we are going to the Pelopennese.