My main reason for visiting Areopolis was that I wanted to check out the nearby Diros Caves. I liked the idea of taking a little boat through the caves and seeing all the beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. It was something different, a change from stairs and fortresses – not that I minded the beautiful sweeping views, I just felt that it might be nice to go underground for a change.
The Diros Caves lie about 11km from Areopolis, near the village of Pyrgos Dirou, and regular buses travel there. We were the only passengers on the bus – I guess in the middle of winter there’s not such a demand for this route. Given the scenic location and the beachfront resort, I’d say it’s a touch more popular in the height of summer. As it was we made our way there alone, and bought our tickets for the boat trip through the cavern. It was about a fifteen minute wait before we could go in – I don’t know why, but it gave us time to enjoy the views. The sky was stormy and yet the waves rolled quite gently. The beach was of grey pebbles with no soft golden sand in sight. A pile of white plastic chairs sat forlorn in front of the closed and lonely beach club, and before the caves entrance lay dozens of giant concrete blocks, with rusty iron loops and the occasional upturned boat on top, paint cracked and fading.
And soon enough it was time to enter. We put on our life jackets and climbed into the narrow boat. Inside the caverns, the only sounds were the muffled motor of the boat and the water lapping against the walls. Gently lit, the stalactites and stalagmites glowed a soft gold, slowly dripping and ever-growing. Some went right into the water while others seemed to have just begun. The boat was moving too fast for me to get any sharp pictures of the caverns; that, and I was trying to soak it in and enjoy the journey. It felt like another world. At times, the space above us was huge and at others it felt closed in. The stalactites formed rooms and walls, and it felt like we were moving through an underground stone forest, the stalactites the roots of enormous ancient trees.
If you’re wondering about the title, I’m aware that there’s no such word as stegomites. This was what my mother called the stalactites and stalagmites. I’m not sure if she was thinking of dinosaurs at the time, but its the most logical explanation I’ve been able to come up with. For the record, there was no stegosaurus to be found. Which was disappointing, as finding a real live dinosaur would probably bring in enough cash to keep travelling for a good long time.
The boats only take you 1.5km through the cave system, although they extend for at least 14km. Apparently they were inhabited in Neolithic times, and there’s a nearby museum dedicated to Neolithic finds from nearby caves. It was, unfortunately, closed when we visited.
The boats don’t take you right through the caves – there’s a point at which you’re required to disembark and walk. And it’s amazing. A formal path leads through a series of immense caverns filled with ‘stegomites’ of all shapes and sizes and colours.
Some look like old bones, like big-knuckled fingers patched with lichen. Others look like flames or streams of blood, while others just sit there and glow happily like big dribbles of paint or melting ice-cream. Stone curtains draped the walls, and clumps of delicate stalactites fell like thick locks of hair. It was beautiful.
Back outside, we could see the bus sitting at the top of the hill but didn’t know when it would be leaving – or, more importantly, when the next one would be. A little concerned, we chose to climb up the cliff rather than take the road we’d come down. It might not have been the most sensible idea, but it was a little more enjoyable – and definitely more challenging in the mud.
As it turned out, the bus didn’t leave for another half an hour.