The Gates of Hell
In March to Athens on 18 March 2012 at 19:45
Day 132-LVIII, from Μαργαρίτη to Μεσοπόταμο, 20 km.
Mesopotamo, March 18
Today we walked for twenty kilometres under the burning sun, but people were more than happy to do so. This country is amazingly beautiful. The people who wanted to go to Patras are happy we didn’t. Because if all of Greece is going to be like this, than 500 kilometres is not enough.
As a march we are doing great. And it’s the first time I can say that without any reserves. There are no threats of rebellion or civil war, no people plotting, no big questions likely to cause conflict. And what’s more, our numbers keep growing. Since Bari we have been joined by an American and three Frenchmen. If only we also had a couple of Greeks among us, things would be just perfect.
We walk and we enjoy the panorama. This is the Greece of the ancient heroes, the Greece of shepherds and sailors.
As modern people, we have become accustomed to the economic exploitation of beauty. Along the shores of a mountain lake you know that you will find villas, hotels, bars, restaurants, parking lots, billboards, screaming children, etc. You have to use your imagination to get a picture of how this place would have looked like, once upon a time.
Then the road takes us back towards the sea, we see the virgin coasts from above, a lonely beach, a small trail through the thick green forests, and not a single piece of concrete. If you really want to use your imagination here, you can see the wooden triremes of yore, you can see the ancient heroes in their sparkling armours sailing towards mythical lands.
We descend on a wetland plain. In the old days, this used to be part of the sea, now it’s the delta of two small rivers. There’s a little village in between, appropriately called Mesopotamo.This morning when we left Margariti, an old man who spoke Italian warned us about this place.
“It’s the Gate of Hell. The place were Ulysses descended into the Underworld to speak with the fortuneteller Teresias, and with the heroes of the Trojan war.”
Poor Ulysses. He finally managed to get away from the temptation of Circe, he was so close to home, but it wasn’t meant to be. When he went down into the Underworld he encountered his mother, who had died of sadness after her son had left. He met Agamemnon, who told him about the betrayal of his wife and how she slaughtered him in the bath tub of his palace in Mycene. He met Achilles, whose armour he inherited after the great hero was killed by Paris while Troy was already burning. He met Ajax as well, but the big man refused to talk to him, because he had wanted Achilles’ armour for himself.
The March to Athens arrives in Mesapotamo in the late afternoon. I rally people for a little expedition to the Gates of Hell, but not straight away. “We will venture down there at sunset.”
In the meantime, we play a little game of football against local children on the square. The sun signs the time. When it begins the set on the plain, the game ends, three to three, and we all march off. We jump the fence, we enter the old ruins, and we descend the stairs into the dark.
In between puddles of water rising up from the Styx we advance gropingly into the bowels of the earth. We touch the Gate, and without any surprise, but with tangible relief, we find that it is closed…