Greece Monodendri 2001.06.08 - 06.10

Vikos Gorge

Monodendri is the starting point for several hikes in and around Vikos Gorge, the deepest gorge in the world according to the Guinness Book. Although we didn't research Guinness' definition of "deep", we suspect it's the ratio between vertical drop and width, since the depth alone is only a fraction of the vertical of the Grand Canyon. Located in the northwestern corner of Greece with rolling hills and jagged granite outcrops, the scenery is beautiful. The standard hike through Vikos Gorge is northward from Monodendri to Papingo and takes about 7 hours.

Buses to Monodendri and Papingo depart from the main bus terminal in Ioannina. They are infrequent on weekdays (maybe 2 per day) and don't run on Saturday and Sunday. The drive is one hour. No transport connects Monodendri and Papingo directly. We reached Monodendri on the Friday afternoon bus and departed Sunday morning by hitchhiking. The town fills with day-trip tourists in the afternoon so hitchhiking out is easy. Our total wait time was 5 minutes before a German couple gave us a lift.

Monodendri is no more than 30 affluent granite houses clustered together. The structures and furnishings look new. Many have flower beds and grape vines. The town screams wealth. About 6 of the houses are modified into Bed and Breakfasts. For such a beautiful setting, the towns people are shockingly unfriendly. The family that owned the Bed and Breakfast we stayed at was aloof and disheveled. The wife was meek and expressionless. The man we think was the husband sat around in his dirty overalls drinking with his greasy-haired buddies. The teenage son, who also has zero people skills and may have never smiled in his life, dealt with the B&B guests. When we first arrived, the son showed us a vacant double room. Masami asked, "Is this the cheapest room?" "NO!" he replied curtly with force. "So you have a cheaper room?" "NO!" "So this is the cheapest room?" "NO! 10,000 Drachma!" Strange boy who must think we're trying to bargain, we thought. During our stay, we discovered that his demeanor never improved on any topic. Our curiosity about the discrepancy between the visual appeal of the town and the backward towns people was answered by the German tourist who gave us a lift. He explained that two brothers won a fortune gambling. When they passed away, they left the entire fortune to the town of Monodendri. The grubby hick-town was suddenly rich. Houses were built and a sports complex with tennis courts and soccer field was added to the cliff side overlooking Vikos gorge. The money vanished as suddenly as if appeared. Although the town is dependent on tourism to generate enough cash for maintenance, the towns people dislike and are suspicious of outsiders.

(Added on 04 May 2003) One reader from Greece, Danae, contributes helpful corrections and commentary on Monodendri.
"Having read your impressions on you visits to Greece and especially to the village of Monodendri, I would like to make a few corrections. Having myself just returned from a trekking trip to Pindos I learned that Monodendri is a village, in the Epirus region of the Zagorohoria that has a history so long it is impossible to trace back. The houses that look new are in fact in their majority restored traditional houses some dating back even to 1700. As in all the villages of this stunning region it has a long history of strong people that withstood the 400 year long Turkish invasion and managed to keep their culture intact. Many important scholars were born there and although leaving their villages they never forgot it, sending back money for their community. In no way could I say that a land this old and proud is a 'hick town' that restored itself from the money of a couple of drunken gamblers."

We hiked to the bottom of the gorge and back with a picnic in between. Monodendri to the dry riverbed was an hour downhill. Half an hour north in the gorge, we found a lunch spot, and after lunch we were back in Monodendri 1½ hours later. The typical route from Monodendri to Papingo is 7 hours but we didn't want to carry all our luggage that far.

Pension Ladia, where we stayed, is representative of the granite buildings that comprise Monodendri.

Vikos Gorge was almost completely dry in June. Walking up the riverbed or along the marked trail on the bank were both possible.

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