The Acheron River; Hell is not what it used to be!
“Lost in Hell,-Persephone,
Take her head upon your knee;
Say to her, “My dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here.”
― Edna St. Vincent Millay, Collected Poems
Rarely visited by tourists, there is a place that our ancient ancestors used to describe as frightful. A place where death reigned and no living soul could cross the river. This is the Kingdom of Hades, the King of the Underworld and Grand Master of Souls.
Death led souls to their last resting place, taking them silently across the river Acheron to this land of shadows. Given such macabre associations, you might be surprised to learn that this river turns out to be a secret paradise on earth.
The village Glyki is one of the least known villages in Greece. It is located 414 km north-west of Athens, takes about five and a half hours to reach by road and belongs to the prefecture of Thesprotia, pretty close to Parga. Inconspicuous as it may seem, this village is blessed enough to be located on the banks of the Acheron, “the river of woe”, reason enough for well-read travellers to pay it particular attention. The Acheron is known from mythology as one of the cursed rivers and one of the five that led to the Underworld.
But, let’s cut out the gloom once and for all! In its modern-day visage, the river itself is a true wonder of nature. Nowadays, the favoured mode of transport to the river bank is the car. Once there, people have been known to take quite some time before plucking up the necessary courage to make their way into the water. Your reward for taking the plunge into these icy depths and allowing yourself to be carried along in their flow is not the Kingdom of Hades, but an amazing forest straddling the banks, with a multitude of green pathways entreating you to step inside and explore this prodigy of nature.
Say it with a whisper, but the dive itself might well be one of the most rewarding experiences you are going to have in your life. When your head touches the cold water, there is a rare feeling of divine catharsis touching your soul, the closest thing to heaven that you could possibly imagine. Watched over by the gorge and with spring waters spouting up all around you, there’s that transcendent feeling that you are as one with the nature that celebrates its own existence as well as your delight at its magnificence.
I urge you to start walking inside the river as far as you can. Most people do not walk more than 500 meters. Yet, the more you walk where no one else follows, the more you feel a part of the landscape; a unique feeling that you are somehow completing the picture of this bracing wilderness, just you alone and the water. By turns, its currents are deep and fast, and then shallow and soothing; they grab you for a vigorous tussle with the elements or lead you silently to beautiful pools they have sculpted out of the river banks. Tiny fish scuttle around your feet … so far no snakes! After a while you get used to the cold and you accept the temperature as if it were normal.
You’ll open up to a sensation of absolute freedom. You’ll while away the hours in the blissful company of friends. They’ll be time also for a bite to eat in a couple of handily placed taverns or maybe even a go at rafting- now it’s your turn to be the master of these dark waters!
Acheron is indeed the heaven on earth
When you look back on your experience of the Acheron, peace and tranquility will flood your soul and you’ll be borne on its generous whirling current all over again. This will be the moment when you realize that no matter how darkly tarnished by the brush of mythology, here is a place that in truth is a little piece of heaven on earth. Damned no longer… except for the damned fine job that nature has done in putting the record straight!