Morning Walk In Exarchos Village

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sheep herding in exarchos, greece

I arrived in Exarchos, located in Central Greece within the prefecture of Phthiotis in the evening of the 8th of August. Whenever I travel, my schedule is upended – sometimes it means I have much energy and can’t sleep all night while other times, I end up waking up too early. This happened to me on Tuesday the 10th of August, and at 5am, I had planned to go for a walk in the village with my camera to take advantage of the morning light.

Exarchos has a population of about 600 people (perhaps less now), and the vast majority of people are involved in agriculture in some way. The village has not changed much over the past decades – and it’s probably a typical somewhat traditional village made of people, some who are very friendly, but with some others who don’t trust a stranger in the village they’ve never seen before. I’ve been here more than a few times now, and I’m not as much a stranger as I first was and some of the older people look at me as if I can be trusted, but a bit strange, while I’ve quite enjoyed the company of others as we have all gotten to know each other – even though language problems can exist.

I was quite honoured a few months ago, when some of the locals who don’t speak English still wanted to take me out to a late night party at a local “warehouse” where various Greek hard spirits would be flowing and traditional music would be playing loudly – I declined the offer but promised to take them up on it at a later date.

Perhaps there is a mutual respect in some ways; I understand the hard work many of these people have to do having spent some years on the back of hay wagons myself, and in cow milking parlours. Farmers around the world likely have a certain respect for each other.

Many parts of Greece are still what some in North America would consider “third world” in their ways. I can recall when towns and cities banned drying clothes on outdoor clotheslines because some people thought it an “eyesore” – but my mother would do it anyway, to save on electricity costs. Here in Greece, if you were to try to ban drying clothes outdoors on clotheslines, you’d probably have a new revolution – and it would be women at the front lines. When I tell some of them that there are places in North America where outdoor clothes lines are actually banned, they rightfully say that it is crazy!

During my early morning walk, I spotted this house from across the “back lane” – different coloured clothing hanging on the line all night, contrasting with the exterior blue colour of the house. By the way, there were laying chickens behind a fence in someone else’s back yard, right beside me, when I took the photo:

colourful clothing hanging on a line to dry in front of blue house

I had seen the house about half an hour before I took the photo, when I took my dog, Beans, out for a quick walk. But before I actually started on my walk, my view from the balcony of the house I am staying at also is worthy of some comment. Most Greek villages were built long before there was any idea of planning, that roads might one day be used for vehicular traffic (donkeys and carts were common), and there is not really a lot of space between houses. This photo does not show the “houses” right next door, but does show the view from the balcony looking across the small “square” that has barely enough room for the cars that are owned by the residents, or even visitors:

view from balcony of house

In Exarchos, firearms are pretty common – and if you sit out late, you can often hear the boom of a shotgun in the distance, or the sounds of rifles being shot. Farmers here take protecting their crops and their farm animals pretty seriously. This might be a big shock to some folk back home in North America; especially “woke folk” that spend 99% of their time in the city, and have no clue about agriculture or wildlife. Perhaps “woke folk” will come up with better ideas about how to protect your crops out in the fields from being damaged by wild boars, or your chickens from foxes – but here in Greece, they do what farmers have been doing for centuries and what works best – they shoot them if need be.

So the other morning, when I walked up the back lane, and then headed around the corner, it was not a huge surprise to me to see a farmer hoisting this wild boar he had just shot through the night, so it would hang from the tree and he could butcher it outside his house. We had a conversation; he was quite friendly as we discussed the damages wild boars in the area had been doing to his corn fields. So, he did what any good farmer would do – knowing he’d never get paid the full value for his crop loss if he did not – and he has his own family to feed. He shot one of the wild boars.

This thing was pretty big – from nose to rear leg, longer than the farmer was high. I took a photo just before the farmer started to butcher the wild boar:

dead wild boar hanging from tree

Some metres of walking further, I saw some big differences between newer homes which are increasing in size, and old traditional homes – lovely looking,y but quite small. I’d dare a “wolk folk” in Toronto to try living in one of these – just how small? Well the one beside the house I am in has two rooms, and no running water inside.

I’m not kidding. There is a friendly gentleman – an Albanian – who somehow found his way to Exarchos and a job with one of the local farmers. He wakes up at about 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning, walks out to his job in the fields, spends about 8 hours working under the hot sun, and then returns to his house, and uses the outside hose to rinse the sweat and dirt from his body before heading inside to make himself a meal.

Yes, this happens in Europe in the 21st century. And is quite common in some parts.

This particular house that I saw on my morning walk is not the one I’m talking about – but I thought the old narrow road leading up to it would make for a good photo:

Moving along on my walk, the sun had still not cleared the mountain top in the east, although dawn had broken for several hours. I was walking along one of the most northerly roads and as I looked south, I had a really good morning view of the village, with the St. George Church steeple rising above the heights of the houses. There are quite a few Greek Orthodox churches in the area, which I’ve wrote about and taken photos of here, and here, but St. George is the most used, and from which we mark time in the Village when it begins it’s hourly and half-hourly bell ringing and continues through the day.

view of exarchos village from the north

Generally speaking, Greeks hold to a very strong Greek Orthodox tradition – and interestingly to me, although my own Biblical knowledge would have me disagree with much of the Orthodox in practice, they really do have a strong claim to holding to the most oldest of Christian traditions and ways of practicing the Christian faith as taught by the Apostle Paul. Whether Paul would write to them today with further guidance or instruction, I don’t know. But, one thing I do know is that churches and small chapels are very common no matter where you travel in Greece. Even many individuals will construct a “chapel” in memory of a loved one or a saint that is special to them. I don’t know much about this particular one, but it is attached to some private property, and in the morning had a beautiful look to it that I liked – the stone chapel contrasting with the blue of the gate:

small chapel in exarchos

Above, I had mentioned that one of the photos I had taken, I was standing near chickens. Here in Greece, it is very common for rural people to have chickens in their back yards, and perhaps some sheep or goats. The backyard of this house had no goats or lambs, but I bet the free range eggs are among the best here:

chickens in back yard of house in exarchos

Many of us talk about “taking the road less traveled” – how many of you actually do? In my own travels, I come across many people who talk about it – but in their own lives, will not take too many road that are actually less traveled. I know this, because I actually take them, and seldom meet those who claim they do.

But sometimes, you might come across a road that appears less traveled, but when you investigate further, it’s well traveled by people who are living their lives and doing things most of the world is not – growing food for other people in rough places. The road may not be maintained all that well, but it is well traveled – but not by people that simply expect every comfort. In fact, some of these roads are traveled by those who provide the food to the rest. It’s one of the roads to some of the fields, and to where the animals such as sheep and goats are kept, where they can graze.

Hardy people you might call “toxic” go up these roads every day. Of course, they’re not your ‘greenhouse organic’ folk that think they can provide the world with food; these are the people who actually farm in touch situations. But they are beautiful roads:

road leading to farm fields from exarchos

Every village wants to educate their children. In Greece, especially in rural areas, children get an education that many others don’t get. Like… they know how to grow food, and survive. But, they also go too school to learn other things – and I’m impressed as I walk around here, at how many of the youth know English.

They’re taught maths and languages here:

school in exarchos

Further down the road and around some corners is where I met this man herding his sheep. I can’t remember his name, but I remember is wonderful friendliness to me! I was a stranger to him, but with some translation, I got that he was telling me that I should consider coming to live in his village of Exarchos, where the air is clean and refreshing, and life can be good.

I hope to meet him again – his wife was close by working in a field beside their house, and she was full of smiles and appeared to be very happy. Perhaps if we meet again and can spend some time, he can play for me his favorite Greek music, and I’ll play some Irish tunes for him. But no matter what, his smile was wonderful!

A little further on, I discovered a vineyard – obviously well kept and much pride taken. It was just off the road, and I decide to walk along the side and see how things were going. There were some signs where some of the grapes had suffered from the recent heat wave, but most of the vines held grapes like this:

grapes growing in vineyard near exarchos

I wonder how many of you actually takes to harvest grapes, ferment them, and make into a wine you will enjoy?

Finally, after some time out walking, the sun came up over the mountain in the east… and I knew the heat of the day would start to get intense. I had my awesome Boston Terrier with me, but he does not do intense sun and heat very well…. but a quick photo before we headed back to the shade of the balcony:

sunrise over exarchos
Sun Rising above mountain near Exarchos, Greece

I really like this little village, but then, I really enjoy real people who have to do real things, to survive and try to thrive.

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