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copyright 1999, Lois Wickstrom

Kokireon Andro Cave

by Lois June Wickstrom


Whenever I hear there’s a cave that doesn’t require hands-and-knees crawling, I have to go see it My husband likes the challenge of finding a cave. And Jean just comes along because she likes to watch other people being weird.

Finding the Kokireon Andro cave near Delphi, Greece was our biggest and weirdest challenge yet. First, we had to learn to speak passable Greek, because caving is not a typical tourist request, and we didn’t expect tourist office instructions. When a child learns to speaks, her words are Mama and Dada. When a tourist learns to speak, her first lessons are "Where is the toilet?" and "What does this cost?" and of course please and thank you. It takes a lot more than that to get directions to a cave in Greece.

First, an unsolicited plug for the University of South Florida. Dr. Jacob Caflisch Sr. of the English department explained the difference between how humans and parrots learn to speak. Parrots can learn "Polly wants a cracker" and "Pretty boy." But a parrot cannot rearrange the words to say "Polly wants a pretty boy," or even "Pretty boy wants a cracker." Many language courses available on audio tape are no better than parrots. But the USF library carries a series of audio tapes that lets tourists talk like humans. With about 20 hours of practice with the tapes and a dictionary, you can ask almost any question. And after you don’t understand the answer, you can say, "Then catalavehno, Grabstehto, parakalo." which means, "I don’t understand. Write it down, please ." Then out comes the dictionary, and off you go. Which still doesn’t get you to the cave.

I don’t understand most directions people give me in English. Even "I don’t understand. Please draw me a map" doesn’t keep me from getting lost. Fortunately, my husband isn’t as good at getting lost as I am. So, here are the instructions as we received them from the man at the t-shirt shop in Delphi. "Go to the next town, turn left at the ski sign and ask directions from the men in front of the shop." After we figured out that ski in Greek would be spelled S K I, we found the sign, turn and found the men in front of the rug shop. They told us to take the road at the next ski sign and follow it to Bobby’s Taverna. Ask for more directions there. All this was in Greek, but with three of us listening, we thought we understood it. The fact that this cave is dedicated to Pan increased our odds. As modern folk who don’t panic we expected his aid.

Along the way to Bobby’s Taverna, we discussed the fact that Greek doesn’t have any letters that sound like B. But then we remembered that M before P sounds like B, so we decided to look for a sign M P A M P I S S. And we found it! MPAMPISS TABEPNA. The bar wasn’t open, but we heard men in the back talking. (All the men we saw in Greece seemed to spend their days sitting around talking, smoking and drinking -- not dancing and breaking plates like in the movies.) We interrupted their conversation and convinced a man to help us. He drew a map in the dirt for us. He stressed that the name of the cave was Kokireon Andro. We didn’t know why it was important, but we repeated the name until he was sure we were pronouncing it correctly. We found out why, just as we were feeling thoroughly lost, there was a small yellow sign on a stick by the road (in Greek alphabet of course) reading Kokireon Andro. It pointed to a one-lane dirt path. We took it in our little, formerly white, rented car, thinking we’d have the cave to ourselves. But as we drove along, we had to pull off to the side to let a car pass us going the other way. And when we got to the end, we found another car parked. But as we ate our picnic lunch, the other cave visitors left. Still, we didn’t know where the cave was — we just knew we were at the end of the road. We felt totally isolated. The only sounds we could hear were a running stream and goat bells in the valley below. I could get used to that, easily. It was time to search out the cave. It had to be here. Two other cars had taken this road ahead of us and their occupants didn’t look disappointed.

From there we hiked up a winding path that seemed to dead end. We climbed over the dead-end, and suddenly — there was the cave! The opening, marked by one jagged tooth stalagmite, looked sooty from fires. Inside we found several stone-lined fire pits — probably used by recent campers, rather than worshipers of Pan. We entered without asking permission of the gods.

I travel with a hand-pump flashlight (so I’ll never have to worry about dead batteries.) It gave a flickering glow to the cave walls. At the back on the right, I found what may be some carvings, or perhaps just carving-like cave formations. The film is at the shop as I write this, so I’m still hoping to see them more clearly. One looked like the head of Pan. We found some damp areas with growing stalactites and stalagmites. The cave is still alive.

But I wanted more evidence of Pan. Suddenly, at the left back of the cave, my flashlight flickered on something white. A goat skull. If the goat’s body was ever in the cave, no bones remain. We pictured Pan worshipers roasting and eating the goat in that cave, then leaving the skull for a prank. The skull was as dirty as the surrounding sooty rocks, so there’s no way of knowing how long the skull has been there. Jean took the opportunity to take my picture. I’ve told her that pictures stick me in time and since I hope to be a time traveler, I don’t want pictures sticking me here in this time frame. Jean thinks that the idea of pictures sticking you in time is as silly as pictures stealing your soul. Anyway, her picture came out blurry and you can’t recognize the goat skull at all.

Eric wanted to take the goat skull home. Jean and I had to remind him that customs doesn’t let you bring animal products into the country. And besides, other cave visitors wouldn’t have the fun of finding a goat skull. Fortunately he agreed to leave it there.

When we got the car back to Delphi people asked us how we got the car so dirty. When we told them we’d gone to the Cave of Pan, they got attacks of the giggles. I guess that’s as close as anybody gets to a panic these days, when you mention Pan. At the next gas station we stopped at the woman who ran it insisted on washing the car for free.