Saturday, September 20 Ferry boat port in Igoumenitsa to Ioannina, Greece
I don’t know if it was a change in perspective or a change in circumstance, but I had one of those days that even old age couldn’t make me forget. The only way that seems to make any sense to me at all is to paint a series of pictures for you as it unfolded.
SCENE 1: The Ferry Ride from Bari to Igoumenitsa
Because the ferry ride was expected to be from 8:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. I was hoping that a good portion of that would be sleep. I also spent a good deal of time reminding myself that whatever I faced when I arrived in Greece, I would be able to handle. Would my phone coverage suddenly be voided as I moved into another country? I was on an Italy-only plan that was supposed to transfer to a Travel Plan once I made the leap over the Adriatic Sea. Would I discover that like Italy I would arrive and it would be near to impossible to find food before 11:00 a.m. in the morning? It didn’t really matter. I was resolved to handle one thing at a time. Sleep was another issue. Nearly 50% of the ship was a large group of late teens/early twenties who ready to take advantage of the absence of their parents’ watchful eyes. They partied until about midnight. Late, but not unusual. Where they left off, however, a group of four men picked up until nearly 4:00 in the morning. They were consuming at a scarily rapid rate two bottles of Absolut Vodka. Three were Greek, one was Australian. The more alcohol they drank the more the Greeks were insistent on convincing the one lone Australian that Greece was the number one country in the world. I know this and the rest of the ship know this because the alcohol also seemed to serve like a P.A. system.
SCENE 2: Arrival in Igoumenitsa, Greece
As we pulled into the ferry terminal it was still dark, but not the pitch black that one encounters in the middle of the night. I had three goals and one mantra. The three goals were 1) get food, 2) pack for the possibility that I might be stealth camping for a few days (meaning plenty of food, water, and hopefully a canister of fuel, and 3) figure out how to get out of the town and decide what route east through Greece would be the safest and most delightful. The mantra: “All will be well!” I didn’t see the veils of light from sunrise on the sea as it was slightly overcast, but being that I am not generally a morning person, I was delighted to discover that birds welcome the morning with song. Nice start to the day. And then things unfolded like clockwork. Numerous places were open for coffee. I had a Caffe’ Americano, recharged my phone, found two supermarkets (that’s one more than I found in all of Italy), bought supplies for the isolated countryside, and even purchased a canister of fuel from an 8-foot shelf with more than a dozen options.
SCENE 3: I’m in home territory now!
Immediately out of Igoumenitsa I began climbing. Southern Italy has hills. Greece has mountains. They are not quite Rocky Mountain flavor, but believe me, these are real mountains. I immediately began to relax. I know this kind of terrain and despite what can, at times be punishing climbing, I feel at home reaching and aching for a summit and enjoying the post-climactic cascade down the other side. It’s not the reaching the top that is so exhilarating. It’s something about having a relationship with the mountain that one cannot get in a car. My body gets to know the mountain. I can feel the contours of the mountain by how my legs feel, by the sweat the runs down my body in sheets, and the rhythm of my breath. Is it deep and consistent or has it gotten to that double “Huh-Huh, Uh-Uh” when my lung capacity is at its max, but I want to keep from switching over to anaerobic power (the short bursts one uses only in sprints). Over two hours I gutted my way to the top over a dozen or so switchbacks and a consistently steep grade. Just as I reached the top a couple touring on tandems reached the top from the other side. Bob and Elizabeth are in the fourth month of a five month tour of every European country. They only have Italy, Spain, Portugal and France left.
Scene 4: The strangest lunch I have ever had
I knew that I still had one more mountain to climb without the knowledge of whether it would be long and gradual, short and steep or something in between. All I knew is that Bob used his hands to describe the descent I would now enjoy after the 38 kilometers of climbing I had just finished and then graphed the picture of another rather ascent using his eyes to tell me to take it seriously. I decided that I should stop for lunch and not just rely on the few remaining snacks I had.
I stopped at a lovely little village that had an old painted yellow racing bike sitting out front as part of the patio decorations. That’s all I needed to convince that this was the place. I sat at one of about ten tables on the patio. Me on one side and a group of about eight macho-looking men on the other side. I am macho in my own way, but not tough and grizzled like a few of these men. A couple of them had orange vests on and I quickly assumed that it was a road crew. I ordered a Greek salad (what else!) and of the three Greek salads I have eaten in my life this one far outclassed the other two. Honesty, if I had eaten a thousand Greek salads I am sure this would have still taken top prize. The dressing was a perfect complement to the cucumbers, Greek olives, and fresh tomatoes. But, what really made it was a slab of marinated feta cheese that I broke off in chunks and forked with the rest of the salad. My taste buds jumped at each bite and I felt like a little slice of heaven had fallen down on this spot.
Still, there was an awkward tension in the air. The oldest son of the family that ran the restaurant seemed uncomfortable with me, my bike, or where it was placed. He kept talking in Greek to his younger siblings in what seemed like an expression of displeasure. Each time I could feel the rest of his family telling him to calm down. “It will be alright,” they seemed to be assuring him. Then a pickup truck pulled up in front of the patio. Three men immediately sprang into action and helped carry an injured dog to a shady spot. The restaurant family grabbed loads of paper towels. Through the gap between a trellis and a garage door I could see fresh, bright red blood soaking up the towels.
Another truck pulled up. A man, just as macho, but with a significant pot-belly hanging over his belt emerged and quickly found a seat with the other men. The wary oldest son apparently knew what to do. He entered the restaurant and came out with a cold Coke, straw and glass. The heavy-set man took a few sips and then wandered just off the patio about fifteen feet from me. He leaned over in the best 90 degree position his belly would allow him and began spitting. It wasn’t long before the spitting expanded to a light, but constant stream of vomit. Suddenly the dam broke and a week’s worth of good Greek food and drink pooled at his feet. “What the hell,” I was beginning to think. “It’s like I am in an emergency ward with not enough doctors to go around.”
It was at this moment that I realized that the orange vests were hunting vests as I surveyed further and also saw a couple of pairs of camouflage pants. I was sitting with men from a hunting party and the dog had probably gotten injured out there in the forest. The vomiting man I mistook for being macho, but was probably the only one with a wounded inner child.
I continued to eat and watch the drama unfold. Two more trucks pulled up in succession. Now the men were getting excited, almost giddy. One man pulled out his GoPro video camera and stood behind the tailgate of the first truck. Here was the prize. A large wild boar was lifted out by four men and placed on the ground. The next truck produced one large boar and one that seemed too small to pass as game. Finally, a jeep pulled up and it elicited a few cheers and laughs from the men. This jeep too had a large, dead boar and had tied it to the back of the jeep in the same way that you might tie down a large spare tire.
Scene 5: Miscellaneous
There was still one major climb before I could reach Ioannina, and if I could reach it. It felt good to know that I had supplies to stealth camp for the night. And this area easily lends itself to that. Every kilometer I was eyeing some little flat spot in ashady culvert thirty yards off the side of the road. Before I reached the top I stopped to save a Frisbee-sized turtle who was making his way across the road at an uncomfortably slow pace. He didn’t seem to appreciate it, but I am sure he’ll recognize his lack of gratitude later. I am camping on the side of the lake in town and thinking seriously of staying an extra day. The cycling was wonderful and punishing as I completed nearly 100 kilometers and over 3,000 feet in climbing. I believe there will be many more days like this in Greece. “All is well, all is wonderful, all is unexpectedly rich”.