Thursday, August 6, 2020

Greece ~ Beyond the Bougainvillea

 'You are living a charmed life,' commented a friend on a recent Facebook post of mine.

The Stone House on the Hill 


The comment was in response to this photo of bougainvillea on our Stone House on the Hill. It does show the serene side of life here. And I'll admit I prefer to write about and photograph the best parts of life here, often times omitting -- both in this blog and on social media -- the more negative realities of 'living differently' in a foreign country. 

We live above Agios Dimitrios


The last three years we've chosen to make our home in a rural area of the Greek Peloponnese, a place that reminds us of  those vast empty lands of the American Southwest. In the Mani, as our area is known, the sweeping and sparsely-populated wide open spaces are bordered to one side by towering peaks of the Taygetos Mountains and the Messinian Bay on the other. Small villages and isolated churches  are scattered randomly about the rugged landscape as if jigsaw puzzle pieces waiting to be put together. We are among a couple dozen expat Americans and several hundred expats from countries on this side of the Atlantic..

Most of the time our expat life here, while not always 'charmed', is a good one.  But we've learned that life in this Grecian paradise isn't always as perfect as I am guilty of leading you to believe it is.  So this week I'm focusing on the back story - life beyond that bougainvillea.

High and Dry

On the other side of the wall on which the postcard-perfect bougainvillea clings is our master bath. Its shower pan is lined this summer with rather unsightly mismatched plastic buckets - our crude attempt at recycling gray water. 

The Stone House on the Hill

When we bought our Stone House on the Hill and naively asked about its electric, water and sewage we learned that tap water was provided by 'the Municipality', DIMOS as it is called. It didn't occur to us to ask about the source, strength and guarantee of that water supply. 

We did ask those questions the following year when we turned on the taps and no water came out. 

The reserve tank is hidden by bouganvillea and oleander bushes


That was our introduction to water shortages in Greece. One of our first home improvement projects was installation of a 2,000 liter (528 gallon) reserve tank to provide back up to the 1,000 liter tank on the roof.  (Most homes being built now days have one or two reserve tanks, another for rain water and some even have gray water tanks. Fifteen years ago when our home was built that wasn't the practice.) 

Nevertheless, our reserve tank has served us well. It has been drawn down as the water supply diminishes in the summer but seldom did we go completely dry.  Well, that was until this year:

Our plumber and assistant  work on our water tank on the roof


With little or no snowpack in those towering Taygetos and little rain (which did make for a rather 'charmed' winter) we are experiencing one of the most severe water shortages to hit this area in recent years. The standard routine for DIMOS during scarce/low water times is to ration water by turning off the source of off water to one area and providing it to another for alternating periods of time. This year the balancing act of sharing water has been put to the test.  Many times there has been little if no water in many areas.

Adonis, our modern-day Water God


As I write this post we are waiting for the water truck to bring a supply of water. Our taps were dry again this morning. It will be the sixth truckload of water we have purchased from a private vendor in as many weeks. We've severely curtailed our water use this summer - taking dash-in-and-out showers, doing laundry less frequently and setting up a makeshift system of collecting gray water to use on desperately water-starved plants. I've let most of our garden go - tomato plants and sunflowers are withered and dead. Flowering plants are struggling.  The small amount of gray water helps keep the remaining plants alive. 

Water from our reserve tank passes through this filter to the house

Our lives seem focused on water or the lack of it.  I ask The Scout, 'Did you check the tank this morning? Can I do a load of laundry?'  Since learning one toilet flush uses 10 liters of water we flush judiciously. And let me tell you that COVID 20-second handwashing can use a ton of water!!

DIMOS released water 10 days ago for a day allowing our tanks to fill.. Today we again wait for the water delivery.  We've realized how much we taken this precious resource for granted. 

Refilling the water bottles at the drinking water faucet

Our drinking water comes from community fountains, believed to be spring-fed, located throughout the villages. Those community faucets provide water for drinking and cooking. This year as if the water shortage wasn't enough some residents began questioning the quality of the potable water. Water tests showed high levels of bacteria and no levels of chlorine. They've called on DIMOS for answers and help.

We went to fill the drinking water bottles today in the village and found the water taps there were also dry.

A Widespread Problem - No Solutions in Sight

Greece is known for the sea that surrounds it


An article highlighting the water problem in Greece appeared in National Geographic, May 2020. It carried a dire prediction by experts that unless some new sources of water are found (desalination plants are among the suggested solutions) Greece is going to find itself high and dry in the not too distant future.  The article points to a number of Greek islands where water demand is outstripping the supply. Seems like the same is happening on the mainland as well from our point of view.

In Greece, according to this report, households account four 14 percent of water consumption. It is one of the highest water users in the European Union with nearly 40 gallons (177 liters) being used per person, per day.  I can assure you not that much is being used by us this summer!

What A Bunch of Garbage!

Another less-than-charmed side of life is: garbage. Piles and growing piles of garbage.  

Do-it-yourself-garbage hauling is the practice here


We don't have curbside garbage collection in this rural land for several reasons: no curbs, narrow roads and homes scattered in such remote areas that it would take months to complete the pick up.  So we take our garbage to communal bins, usually located on the outskirts of villages and along highways.  We know when 'tourist season' is about to start because bin area is pristine.  But DIMOS seems unable to keep up with tourism's impact on the community's infrastructure and often garbage overflows the bins as it has been doing this summer.


Welcome to Agios Nikolaos - a contrast with my normal photos of town

A visitor to our village, Agios Nikolaos, will pass this garbage collection site on one of the roads leading into our village.  A sharp contrast to the beauty of the village itself, don't you think? We often wonder what tourists think as they drive into the village for the first time. We 'locals' don't like this sure sign of summer but protests and complaints to elected officials continue to fall on deaf ears.   

After the garbage bin welcome you arrive in Agios Nikolaos


We'd given little thought in the past to where the collected garbage was taken. We'd believed it was to a 'landfill' or dumping ground out in a remote area of the region. That was until a cry went up for help a few weeks ago went up from residents living just a few miles/kilometer from us alerting the entire area to a disgusting dumping ground a few hundred meters off  the main road and a residential area. 

Mounds of filth just meters from homes in our area

While nearby residents and other concerned citizens take their pleas for help in cleaning up and removing this dumping ground (alleged to be private property leased to DIMOS) through various levels of bureaucracy the putrid smells it generates are matched only by the thousands of flies that swarm among the piles of rubbish.

'Mounds of filth'

Our local landfill spills out beyond the fenced property on which it located

Again it isn't just our area of Greece, waste disposal seems a major problem throughout this country.
Back in 2013 the BBC News did a story on Greece with the headline being, 'Mounds of Filth'.  I suspect the tourism folks weren't pleased! From that article I learned that Greece buries 80 percent of its rubbish - and back then, that accounted for twice the European Union average.

The article went on to say that in 2005 the European Commission took Greece to court to force closure of 1,100 illegal landfills but eight years later 70 of them remained open.  Brussels launched a second case against Athens threatening a daily fine of 71,000 euros.  I suspect from the size of our local 'dump' that the threat of fine had no impact on behaviors.

Just this week a report appeared in the Greek City Times saying that by 2022 the island of Santorini plans to close 14 landfills and is opening a recycling facility.   Let's hope the idea catches on elsewhere. . .like in The Mani!

Beyond the Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea, oleander and olive trees icons of Greece

So as summer moves into its third and final month, tourism is picking up in our area. Home construction continues to boom with at least a dozen new structures visible from our Stone House on the Hill.  Business is picking up after the COVID lockdown and it appears at least a portion of the tourist season will be saved.   

Our bougainvillea and side deck


Parked cars line the beach access roads now. The temperatures are in the 80's and the sky is blue. Life is good in Greece for tourists and residents alike. . .but it isn't always charmed. I will continue to tell you of the wonders of life (the good does outweigh the bad) here but every so often I plan to provide a touch of the reality as well.  I know a number of you reading this are planning to move to Greece as soon as the world's situation allows.  You've asked our advice and today I offer one more piece of it: look beyond the bougainvillea.

Next week we are back to travel. We've got a palace just a couple hours away and I plan to take you there! Until then, thanks for the time you spent with us and where ever you are in the world: stay safe.  

Linking in the near future with:









25 comments:

  1. I wrote a similar post about the gritty underbelly of Honolulu. The water situation sounds most dire. Where does the water guy get his water from?

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    1. Well there are nearby villages with water mains that the water suppliers use to fill their trucks. . .so we are assuming from one of those.

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  2. These are never ending problems. I remember the piles of garbage in the town where I lived. And the bad part is that my house was right next to the bin. And lets not get started on the strikes.

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    1. I can tell from the comments who understands my point of view on this and who doesn't. I can tell you do!! As I said, life here is good but it shouldn't always be looked at through rose-colored glasses (as you well know). Hope you are well~ xx Jackie

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  3. I have never considered living in Greece and this account of its underbelly would not encourage me! Garbage is a worldwide issue. I have visited Costa Rica three times and Panama twice and both of those "paradises" are slowly being buried in garbage, and as far as I can tell no one gives damn.

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    1. Well, I often say that until the water scarcity and the piles of garbage start discouraging people from buying homes or tourists from visiting, the officials will likely continue to turn a deaf ear to the requests for solutions. As it is this pandemic period alone we have 14 new homes that have been built in our surrounding areas -- several huge with equally huge swimming pools -- so I anticipate that the problem is only going to intensify in future years.

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  4. Certainly a different view of life in idyllic Greece. :) but I must say that little table for 2 by the bougainvillea looks delightful. I great place to escape to I would say. It was lovely to hear from you this week Jackie. Stay safe and enjoy the rest of summer.

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    1. Well, the good still outweighs the bad by a long shot! Good hearing from you as well. Stay safe and well ~ Hugs from the Mani

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  5. There must be a garbage dump behind every beautiful place on earth, right? If people live there, they create garbage. The question is what gets done with it, and some places manage it better than others. It sounds like your part of Greece isn't managing it properly. It amazes me that home construction can go ahead when your water and garbage problems haven't been solved!

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    1. So very true and I think we have a tendency to overlook the bad in favor of the good which probably keeps all of us traveling. If we really wrote about what we saw in some places I doubt if we'd have many readers as we certainly wouldn't be inspiring travel.

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  6. Interesting share, we have relied in our island to catching water from the roof in large 15000 gallon catchments and garbage centers are also common but better organized with recycling parts for green, cardboard, glass and regular garbage - fortunately most people follow the rules for taking care of the aina or land.

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    1. We've always been inspired by Hawaii's efforts to reduce and recycle and take care of the aina. I wish other places on earth cared as much! Stay safe!

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  7. Thank you for your honest look at some of the issues that we can find when we dig through the layers of pretty pictures. Every country has its issues and the economic downturn has certainly exacerbated them.

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  8. Sometimes I think we need to add balance to our blogging - my intent is to inspire others to stretch themselves and go where they haven't thought themselves able. . .but maybe I should be inspiring them to take a look at the real world, warts and all!

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  9. So beautiful!
    Thank you for sharing at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2020/08/play-time.html

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  10. I love your photos and such a great post with all the information. I remember the beautiful flowers on our trip to Greece. We ate in a restaurant and the flowers were like a rooftop!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Judee. Glad the post brought back great memories.

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  11. Bougainvillea is a very interesting plant.

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  12. There are negative realities to many places, although yours seems pretty dire. It's good to take in all the positive to counterbalance it. My garden photos make it all seem so perfect, when in reality, parts of the yard are screaming for help :) Love your blog.

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    1. Thanks, Yvonne. Glad you like the blog. Please come back again!

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  13. Oh no. Your water situation seems very dire. And the grabage situation is not any better. I can't see myself going through that. But then you are in Europe!!!

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    1. Yes, we are in Europe - where you take both the good with the bad!

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  14. Yes, there is probably a dark underbelly in every residential area. Thanks for shining the light on it in your envious living situation. Makes me feel a little better. :)

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  15. There are many countries that don't seem to have a disposal plan, Costa Rica and Panama have been mentioned. and we agree. As for water, the lack of high elevation snow and subsequent melt that the local people depend on is plaguing many countries, all too evident in Peru and Chile. Thanks for sharing.

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We have been having problems in recent weeks with our comment section and I am not quite sure how to fix it. Thanks for letting us know. Some comments have been coming in as emails, so I will respond to those as I get them.

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