DRIMOS, GREECE — It feels like our car will hurl off the side of the mountain and down a 300m cliff at any moment. My mother, who is driving, honks multiple times to alert oncoming traffic of our presence as we exit another hidden hairpin corner. This is probably the most perilous road trip I’ve ever been on.
I try to avert my eyes from the terrifying road and instead concentrate on the gorgeous landscape surrounding us. I’ll be so happy to get to Drimos, the village of my great-great-grandparents.
It’s almost impossible to find Drimos on a map, but it’s located less than an hour south of Kalavryta in the Peloponnese, which is also known as the “Hand of Greece.”
Finally, the long drive ends and we safely arrive at our destination. I shut the car door and look around, feeling far from enthusiastic. Drimos, you see, isn’t anything close to the dreamy pictures of Greece you see on social media.
The village only has a population of around 15 and is surrounded by mountains on all sides. The ground here is parched and cracked from baking under a relentless sun. The rustic stone houses don’t look anything like the whitewashed traditional Greek homes you see on travel posters.
Above: Life has changed little over the centuries in rural Greece.
I hear the jingle of goat bells in the distance, while countless cicadas (loud, buzzing insects) sing from the shade of nearby trees.
There’s not an Instagram-worthy beach in sight.
I follow my family into the 100-year-old house where my grandfather was born. My grandparents, who had arrived earlier in the day, warmly welcome us inside. The smell of wood burning in the home's original fireplace fills the air and I admire the countless black and white photographs of my ancestors that line the walls.
My family soon starts planning the traditional Greek dinner we will enjoy the next evening.
Like a typical teenager, I beeline straight for the couch and immediately pull out my phone. To my dismay, there isn’t any Wi-Fi reception here.
To make matters worse, my phone dies a short time after our arrival. And to top it all off, I discover that I’ve left my charger back at the hotel.
Frustrated, I start exploring the house. The wooden floor creaks with every step I take. I see my grandfather, or pappou, as I call him in Greek, sitting alone on the large balcony. I take two candies off the kitchen table and bring one to my pappou as I join him outside. He smiles as he takes it, and together we gaze out at the village.
Above: The sleepy little village where Sophie's family is from is nestled in a lush valley.
“We’re lucky that we can have things like candy whenever we want,” my pappou exclaims. “When I was little, I would only have candy whenever someone brought it back from America. I would run up the mountain and hide to slowly enjoy my candy all by myself. I was afraid that someone would take it from me.”
“Life must have been very different growing up in a place like Drimos back than,” I say to pappou.
My grandfather’s eyes fill with memories.
“It was different,” he agrees, “and very challenging.”
He tells me stories of how the Nazis invaded Drimos back in the 1940s, during World War II.
“They had overrun the village before I was born, and forced everyone out,” he explains. “After that, they took over this very house and used it as their base.”
Pappou points to the middle of the balcony and tells me: “They had even set up cannons right here, since this balcony overlooks all of Drimos.”
My pappou then points to the wilderness.
“The villagers all fled up there,” he tells me. “I grew up hearing stories about how everyone had to pitch in just to keep themselves alive. Luckily, the Germans left Drimos shortly after because the war ended.”
Above: Sophie's grandmother teaches her how to cook some secret family treats.
I was shocked that such a small, easy to overlook village had such a rich history. As I gaze at the sun setting behind the mountains, I realize that this place is like seeing an untouched piece of the past.
Pappou smiles and heads into the house.
“We better get some rest,” he tells me. “Tomorrow, we’re all going to experience the true Greece.”
Apparently, experiencing the true Greece includes waking up to the national anthem blaring on the village speakers at 7 a.m. It was one of the most patriotic alarm clocks one could ask for.
My family and I trek up a steep mountain with the sun hot on our backs. Pappou bravely leads the way, armed with my great-grandfather’s walking stick to ward off attacking snakes. I smile with glee as he passes it to me and allows me to lead the pack.
We arrive at an area rich in oregano bushes. The locals are already there, gathering the aromatic herb without a tool in sight. It was strange to see tasks done in such a simple, traditional way. I follow along, collecting the fragrant, wild oregano with my bare hands.
I’m loving the experience.
After our baskets are full of oregano, we head down into the village to meet up with some of the local yiayias (grandmothers). My own yiayia spots us approaching and eagerly waves us over. They show us the age-old way of how to make grape vine leaves stuffed with rice, called dolmadakia.
Pappou was right, I realize. This really was the true Greek experience. Living and breathing the culture and experiencing history for myself made the visit truly immersive.
I start to understand that snapping selfies in front of tourist hot-spots wasn’t what the real Greece was all about.
After a hard day of work, we enjoy the dolmadakia along with a fresh Greek salad. The locals then treat us to a Greek delicacy: sweet watermelon topped with feta cheese.
When the time comes to leave Drimos, my grandparents lead the way out of the village, while we drive closely behind. We honk goodbye to the villagers as they heartily wave and wish us safe travels.
As Drimos disappears in the rear window, I smile to myself and realize that memories like this could never be captured in a social media post.
I feel glad that I’ve experienced the true Greece for myself.