My first evening on the road-- dinner at a rooftop restaurant. Halfway through my meal the floodlights come on and behind me the Acropolis is bathed in a golden glow. As I sit here, sipping my wine taking it all in, I can only think:
This update brought to you via the joys of acoustic coupling at a Greek payphone.
For the worldly sum of 3,000 Drachma (9 bucks) a night I am now ensconced in a tiny caravan (trailer) here in Kastraki, below mystical black spires of Meteora.
Hike to some of the monasteries instead. Dinner in Kalambaka where they light the rocks beneath the monasteries. Floodlights seem to be a Greek thing.
On the walk I saw a truck being driven by a man and woman in Arabic dress. The man had a microphone and was shouting through a loudspeaker. It might have been Greek, I couldn't tell with all the distortion. As the truck went by, I saw that the back door was open and that it was full of baby chickens. Sensory terrorism? Bizarre political demonstration? Or a Greek chick salesman? I'm still not sure.
After breakfast I did the steep hike up to the last of the monasteries on my list, Agias Triados, which was featured in the James Bond film "For your eyes only."
Tomorrow, I have a big treat planned-- I'm going to make myself some Peets Coffee
I chatted with a Dutch climber, Jan, about his epic of the previous day. I realized that it's the first conversation of more than a sentence or two that I have had with anyone since I left. Although I don't really feel lonely, I do miss company at meals, and of course there is the frustrating lack of climbing partners.
I am getting used to the notion of begin retired, of not having a place I need to be, or a thing that needs rushing off to do. I am vowing not to let traveling to become a chore. I want to learn to experience life at a more relaxed pace.
Ok, here is the question of the day. No matter what I order, no matter how nice the restaurant, no matter what kind of wine I send for-- my meal is always served with French fries. What's up with that?
The Spindle is this 100 foot tall, 20 foot diameter finger of rock, that pokes up from a valley behind Kastraki. You can see it from everywhere and it is sort of an icon for the town. As I hiked up to it, I began to think how terrible it would be for me to come all the way, and not get to the top of something. Dangerous thoughts...
It didn't go so well. In fact, it went about as badly as these things can go and still have all the damage be fixable with ouzo and gummi worms. I wrote about it here:
It seems that ever since I was dumb enough to leave my wallet in a Paris cab, I have spent 20 percent of my waking hours recovering from that moment of folly.
It is always a bad sign when the Department of Motor vehicles is the most competent organization you deal with in any endeavor, but sure enough, they replaced my license on the spot, while I waited. You'd expect that sort of service from American Express, and they delivered. In Paris, they replaced my card in two hours.
Everyone else has been disaster.
not realizing that anyone ever leaves the United States, never mind
lives there, does not have any phone numbers on their "contact us" web page
that does not begin 1-800... The one internationally dialable number I found
was on the investor relations page and connected me to a main switchboard that
was only open from 8-4 Colorado Time.
So-- 16 hours after losing by debit card, I get to report it stolen and request a new one. "Sure sir, we'll be glad to pop that off to your billing address in ten business days," the woman says as I watch my phone card trickle down at a Paris kiosk. "Umm, that's bad," I reply, "you see in ten days I'll be on a plane to Greece". "Oh," she says, "when will you be back?" "I wont," I try to explain to her as the card ticks down and then I desperately rattle off my parents address as the card goes to zed (zero).
Not trusting that, I show up at the bank during my final 48 hours in Boulder.
The dude at the "help" counter confirms that they did not manage to get my card
rerouted. It's impossible to do that he says, it must go to your billing
address. So, we change my billing address to my parents address and hope for
the best. Ten days later, sure enough, the card shows up in my Boulder PO
Box. By this time of course, I'm in Greece.
I e-mail a friend, and have him post me the card care of one of the competent organizations, American Express. Today, I traipse down to the Athens Amex office to fetch it, and my new ATM card it has this fabulous little sticker on it:
your home phone to activate this card.
One is forced to ponder the Seuss-like absurdity of this.
Hello, my name is Evan.|
I do not have a home.
I do not have a phone.
How could I have a home-phone?
But anyway, now I have my card, and I can withdraw Drachmas to my heart's
For my next big trick, I'm going to try and pay the bill for the credit card I've been using instead of my ATM card. Or you know what? Maybe I wont. What are they going to do come looking for me? Hey, I'm tired of hassling for these people. You want your money? Come and get it! But let me tell you one thing, it's gonna be in Drachma, and I'm setting the exchange rate.
Evan I am!
Before that, more errands. I got my Meteora slides developed, and a few came out well so I was on a mission from god to find a slide scanner in Athens. Eventually, I found a service bureau that would do it cheaply, but take two weeks. That was so frustrating that I bought a digital camera. Now you are going to be subjected to schwag like this:
Greek lesson #1 for the day: there is a lot of Greek I don't know.
Greek lesson #2: beware any plan that begins, "ok, we'll pick you up at 3 a.m."
Moral of the day: Pharos good, Athens bad.
Unfortunately it is Friday, so I say goodbye to my Greek friends. Cody & Tyler some very nice travelers who were sharing my rooftop apartment also leave.
To celebrate I went windsurfing at Hyrsi Akti.
|Kaylea's lessons though, are right on the edge of the||Gray zone|
With motion-sports, I think it is useful to measure progress by the change in failure modes. Today I progressed from merely falling off, to being ejected from the board (and nearly the planet) at something approaching orbital velocity. Although the mean time between failures remained constant, this somehow still seemed like progress. At least, it felt like progress until the boat had to come out and rescue me. You see, I was well on my way to Jordan, and I didn't have a visa. Rats.
I got to the point where I could tear along in any direction. Not any direction of my choosing mind you, just any direction. I managed to avoid the ignominy of the tow boat, but it was a long walk.
After my daily dose of the Aegean, I explored (by the light of a fading headlamp) the ancient quarry of Marathi where the marble for the Venus de Milo originated. Just a path of marble bricks leading up to the entrance, and then-- darkness. You know you aren't in America anymore when you're allowed to wander around an abandoned 5,000-year-old mine. The whole thing had that fall into a bottomless pit and never be heard from again feel to it.
Here is a valuable tip that I'm sure is on page 3 of some windsurfing manual I haven't read:
In other news, I wanted to hike to Homer's tomb (Iliad & Odyssey, not Simpson). The plan was to read poetry, write in my journal and think deep thoughts. But I got lost, so no deep thoughts were thunk.
Night: With the aid of a
I achieved bodily
harm. A champagne glass is filled with a few ounces of a clear liquid (secret
ingredient #1). This is then lit on fire and you drink it through a straw as
rapidly as possible. You have to go quickly because it
soon becomes too hot to drink and the straw melts. While you are busy pretending
to suck the chrome off a trailer hitch, a shot of Baileys and a shot of
something green (secret ingredient #2) are dumped into the mix. And -- only if you
order today -- for 1,000 Drachma (3 bucks) you get all this plus a beer.
You only have to drink six for a free t-shirt.
Blood was drawn...
Moral of the day: If you're not bleeding, you're not trying hard enough.
Wow, Santorini is amazing. The island is all that remains of a volcano that violently erupted in 1450BC. What the Minoans called Stronghyle (the Round One) is now a crescent. The cities are built right on the brink of the steep cliffs that used to be the crater and overlook other volcanic islets out in the sea. On the sloped side of the island are the famous black sand beaches.
Lesson of the day: Black sand gets hot. I mean really hot. I mean, so hot
you can walk a few feet onto it thinking, "wow, that's hot" and then, as your
feet begin to sear you realize that you might not be able to get back to the
relative coolness of the boardwalk before suffering third degree burns.
I've belatedly made the discovery that I am alone in the most romantic place on Earth. I think I may be the only person in town who is not in love. Of course, I made this discovery right after I skipped the ferry and decided to stay here for a few days. The next ferry is Sunday...
The check out procedure in Greece is different than what I am used to. None of that fussing around with log books and certification cards.
|Them:||How long have you been diving?|
|Me:||A few years.|
|Them:||Cool, lets go.|
There I am -- about five meters up, contemplating whether I should attempt a back double or a front one and a half -- when a tall, blond, beautiful woman swims in from the sea and scales the cliff to my perch. It turns out she is an actress from Sweden, and apparently she is here to chat me up.
After a few hours of lounging on the rocks we make plans for a sunset dinner together at one of the nice restaurants perched on the edge of the caldera in Thira.
Over dinner we commiserate about being alone and single amongst all the couples in this fabulously romantic place. After dinner we go home for a night of mad passionate love. Well, actually, we only do one of those two activities. But, if you are ever in Gothenburg and need some theater tickets, I might be able to set you up...
Supposedly this is the approximate site of the mythical labyrinth inhabited by the Minotaur (half man, half bull). As the story goes, King Minos
of Crete pissed off the god Poseidon by not sacrificing a bull he'd been given
for that purpose. As punishment, Poseidon caused the king's wife to fall in love
with the bull. The enterprising little woman had Daedalus (later to be of
wax wing fame) put her together a cow costume. Daedalus must have been quite a
craftsman, because the bull found her irresistible and the deed was done, thus
begetting the Minotaur.
And they say video games are the problem?
It's a pretty cool town with a Venetian-Ottoman old quarter that even sports some minarets, giving it almost an Asian feel. Lots of 3 meter wide winding alleyways and a cute little harbor. A bit touristy, but cool nonetheless.
The uglier second cousin to Rethymno. I'm about to OD on tourists though.
Hike the Samaria Gorge. At 18k, supposedly Europe's longest gorge, and
quite a workout for my ankle. The width varies from 150m all the way down to
just 3m for a short ways. The walls tower 500m at their highest point. Yosemite
it's not, but pretty damn cool.
Pictured at right are the Iron Gates, the gorges narrowest point.
After hiking down the gorge I took a ferry to Hora Sfakion and then a completely hairball bus ride back to Rethymno. The road from the coast is one lane for 10 miles with 180 degree switchbacks and precipitous drop-offs. At each turn the driver would just toot his horn and go for it using 120% of the road. A couple of times we got stuffed and ended up playing chicken with other busses coming down. Sketchy, but in the end I was amazed with the driver's competence. Some of the moves he made, just didn't look possible.
At the airport, I watched a German couple argue with some rental car people. The German's were adamant that they'd brought the car in with a full tank, but the Greeks insisted they hadn't. As they began to worry about missing their plane, things started to get pretty heated. In the midst of this, the German guy storms off in a huff.
While he is gone, the police came and took away his girlfriend. They just walked up and told her, "please come this way." She tried to insist on waiting for her guy, but they said something like, "we have the right to mrmph[detain?] you," and led her off.
So, now the guy comes back and his looking for her. I tap him on the shoulder, "excuse me, but you might want to know the police dragged off your girlfriend." Then, he gets all pissy with me, "you are joking, right? Ha, ha, funny, funny?" I tell him very slowly, "Dude, no. The police took her away." Just as I'm thinking that instead of arguing with me, this guy really should go look for her before they get to the exciting cavities, more police walk up to us. He asks, "is this them?" I'm about to tell him they all look the same to me, but they lead him off as well, and I don't see either of them again.
More mysterious and opaque goings on with the Greek Police!
He said to me, "I think you need a bigger board and a smaller sail." Which, I'm pretty sure is windsurferese for, "Wow, you really suck!"
Of course, post-rescue with a new sail, I did not do markedly better.
Overnight (4 p.m. to 8 a.m.) ferry back to Athens.
I'll leave Rhodes with fond memories, it was one of my favorite places in Greece.
The Old Town is a maze of winding cobbled streets built within medieval fortifications. The city looks like something put together by a Disney crew, but was really built by the Knights of St John in the 1300s. The walls are huge, 10 to 15 meters thick and 20 meters tall. It even has a moat! I think there should be a rule, that any city with a moat is inherently cool.
Outside of the city, the entire coast of the island is one big beach. and surf on one side, calm on the other. Watersports paradise.
On top of all that, there is an
number in town, so I can actually surf the web instead of just hurriedly
downloading my e-mail has yet another phone card ticks away.
I easily could have spent more time here, but a plane to Egypt awaits me back in Athens.
I'd hoped to have dinner with Elizabeth, leader of the bikini terrorists. But alas, she was in a car accident yesterday and wasn't able to make it. Novel excuse though. Not many women crash a car just to avoid going out with me.
Instead, I returned to the rooftop cafe where I started my Greek journey. I sipped my wine, gazed at the floodlit Acropolis and wondered how I've changed and what I've learned over the past six weeks. I think things are going to be ok.