Ian Roberts travels the birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite in a not so godlike Skoda The Venetian fortress atop the Hora of Kythira.
Photo: Georgios Alexandris
Photo: Georgios Alexandris
As I arm wrestled it into reverse for the first time I could glimpse the ancient paving beneath us through a non factory fitted observation hole in the floor beside the gear stick. Skoda squeaked and stopped. "If you're so smart and caring you'd know I want to go backwards..... and you'd do it now."
And so began my day with Skoda, driving on the wrong side of donkey and mountain goat tracks around the ancient Ionian Island of Kythira where most of the population has escaped to Australia; the great south land where the Skoda is all but extinct.
I don't know if it was a simple change of heart or the anticipation of being sent back to the rent a car man, but just when I thought that I would have to get out a kick something Skoda yawned, gasped and exhaled as one does first thing in the morning. Sensing a new eagerness I slipped Skoda into first gear, flattened the accelerator, hauled the steering wheel hard left and lunged onto the roadway which is shared by half the tables and chairs of an adjacent cafe. Not a patron spilled a drop as I found second gear.
Our destination was the Hora, the capital of Kythira, which is also called Kythira when it's not called Hora. I suppose that it can get confusing when the name of the capital is the same as the island: imagine how perplexing it would be if Canberra was called Australia. Besides everybody knows that it's the real name for Sydney.
Anyway, Skoda seemed delighted to be heading for the big smoke. We cleared the Karpousi (watermelon) truck which was doing brisk sales in the middle of the road and took on a modest incline with a real sense of purpose. But a 1/3 of a tonne of near 6ft Aussies had its effect and 3rd gear was out of the question. Instead we ground our way past the olive groves at maximum revs with Skoda internally hemorrhaging in 2nd.
From the top of hill number 1 we could see the beautiful, narrow stone bridge ahead of us. It was downhill all the way and completely clear except for an approaching psychedelic, gypsy truck, overloaded with rugs, urns and plastic chairs. It seemed committed to a mid bridge sales demonstration. I booted Skoda in the guts, girded her 1100 cc's into automotive frenzy and although she squealed like a lamb heading for souvlaki, we fairly flashed passed the ancient stones and front number plate of the heavily breaking truck. The gypsies seemed to be cheering us on as we passed bridge number 1 and headed for our first hairpin bend. This was Skoda's own country: not bad for a little Czech assembled in the '80's.
Skoda had adapted wonderfully to the Greek Med. Its white duco, brilliant at a distance was in constant need of a touch up and as we were about to find out, Skoda was to be at its best in the early morning or evening. It would do everything possible to avoid moving in the heat of the day.
The 3kms uphill to the Hora were tense but uneventful. We parked Skoda in the designated parking area; a dusty patch of gravel where gigantic tourist busses turn during summer and the locals play soccer in the winter. I didn't lock Skoda: there was no need and no key. I left the windows down an inch or so to let the rapidly heating north wind relieve Skoda's cracked and peeling internal black vinyl.
* ΝΕΟS KOSMOS Australia