Greece So Far

May 18

Happy Birthday Dad. I am sitting in a café somewhere in rural Greece, where I have been saved, at last, from a trying situation. It is a good 15 miles to the next town, and raining. I have no cash except for some Croatian kuna, and I cannot ride my bike, for the moment.

After my adventures in Albania, I was glad to get into Macedonia, which is much, much wealthier. I had a beautiful ride along rivers and lakes through thriving, vibrant vegetation. It was a pleasant day, which I needed. A friend of mine told me that there is a wall you hit when travelling a long time at about the three month point. Well, I hit it. Albania tried my nerves, and I had some significant internal struggles in Shkoder that left me at a tipping point: I am learning how to see the world in a healthier way, but there are habits that must be replaced, and I need time to accustom myself to a new internal way of living. Regression is downhill though, and I left Shkoder struggling. A good day and a perfect camping spot on a beautiful lake outside of Orhid put me back on track.

Different lake, earlier in the day

he next day I bumped back into Albania in order to take the least mountainous route into Greece. It does not take a border guard to tell that you are in a different country. The disparity was shocking, again. I thought I had made my peace with Albania, but its infrastructure is just squalid. You feel conspicuously wealthy, you can feel the value of your possessions go up, and it is sad to see, though the people seem happy enough. I saw a lot of men riding donkeys side-saddle. I’ll be honest, I was anxious to get into Greece. I have been chasing Antony, a cyclist I met in Spain, but I can’t catch him. I was waved down by a man I ignored at first because I thought he was going to try to sell me something, but then I saw a bike- turns out he is a Swiss fellow named Clement who had met Antony, and had been warned to look out for an American on his way West. He has been riding in Turkey and Greece for a month and is now heading towards home.

The border was ridiculous- this is rude to say, but you pair the Albanian government with the Greek and you haven’t exactly set the bar. There was a lot of waiting, stalling, pedestrians, armies of taxis, for some reason, kids selling water and bread, men selling newspapers, people arguing, chatting with guards. It doesn’t really matter which line you are in, whichever is available. The man in front of me checks his trunk to make sure there are no bodies, then walks around the far side of the booth to get his papers checked and drives through without stopping when the path is cleared. Pidgeons are flying all around the canopy. Groups of men seem to be lounging on either side, guards are leaving their booths, talking to cabbies, it was all a big joke. There was a sign that said ALL CORRUPTION IS EQUALLY PUNISHED on the booth in the truck lane. I think these cabbies are all drug dealers, personally. This place is in the middle of nowhere, and I saw cabbies park on one side and walk on foot across to the other. Neither guard said anything, just handed me my passport. The Albanian guard was annoyed when I hesitated and implored me to get a move on. The Greek guard closely inspected my passport- they all flip through it like it is a foreign object, though I can’t blame them, having to try to decipher all the blurry stamps- added a stamp and handed it back without a word. As I emerged free on the other side, two cycle tourists waved me down. I think they were a German couple. The man warned me not to take the highway, which I could see for myself, it was an Autobahn type road. They had taken it, and were escorted back to the border by the police, informed that they entered Greece from Albania by the wrong border entrance, and were now in Greece illegally. They were headed towards Turkey, and I said maybe I’d see them on the road, but not today. I wished them luck and cringed to think how long they would be detained. Hopefully it didn’t cost them money, whether in bribery or in legitimate fines, and they avoided getting thrown in jail! Obviously it is the fault of whoever let them through, but the corruption of Greece is unfortunately legendary. I hope for their sake that my concerns are somewhat unwarranted.

As for me, I took the side road and coasted through Pan’s territory- nothing out here. The days are too long, and I tried to take advantage of the light, but I could only push my tired body another 10 miles before I turned in. It seems I had all of Greece to myself, and I spent a very comfortable night in a little nook next to a field.

I took a long morning too. I lost another hour, now ten hours ahead of home, but it makes no difference to me. I set off, in a good mood, set to work on personal growth via meditative cycling. The road beagn to climb, and I only made it a few miles before my bike felt wobbly. Looking down, I saw that my front tire is low. I pull over and try to pump the tire up so that I can get to a better spot, but it won’t inflate. The pump is acting up, I had a little trouble with it the other day. I am surprised to have two flats in the same week, but these things happen. I am skeptical too, because I saw no cause for my last flat and these Schwalbe tires are supposed to be super tough, but after failing to inflate it, I swap the tube, convinced that I have a legitimate flat. On checking the tire I am surprised to find that a little thorn pierced right through my puncture resistant membrane. Must have been a perfect hit- you are supposed to be able to ride these tires even after the tread is gone: the puncture-resistant membrane is blue, and legend has it you can “ride em til they’re blue,” but my luck has run out. I can’t extract the thorn either, it breaks off, so I rub it down as best I can, slap a tire patch over it and put on a new tube. But it won’t inflate all the way. At first I thought maybe the thorn punctured through again, but no, my fucking pump is broken. Well. I am in the middle of nowhere- almost; I saw some house around the corner, so I am in luck. I try to ride it in, but the pressure is so low I am sure the tire will pop. It has also started to rain quite heavily. More rainy days than not this week, and a little cold, to boot! So, I push my bike around the corner and there is a little gazebo in a turn off. I get out of the rain and pack all my valuables in one pannier, throw the rest over a railing out of sight save for my front wheel, and hike into town.

I took a long morning too. I lost another hour, now ten hours ahead of home, but it makes no difference to me. I set off, in a good mood, set to work on personal growth via meditative cycling. The road beagn to climb, and I only made it a few miles before my bike felt wobbly. Looking down, I saw that my front tire is low. I pull over and try to pump the tire up so that I can get to a better spot, but it won’t inflate. The pump is acting up, I had a little trouble with it the other day. I am surprised to have two flats in the same week, but these things happen. I am skeptical too, because I saw no cause for my last flat and these Schwalbe tires are supposed to be super tough, but after failing to inflate it, I swap the tube, convinced that I have a legitimate flat. On checking the tire I am surprised to find that a little thorn pierced right through my puncture resistant membrane. Must have been a perfect hit- you are supposed to be able to ride these tires even after the tread is gone: the puncture-resistant membrane is blue, and legend has it you can “ride em til they’re blue,” but my luck has run out. I can’t extract the thorn either, it breaks off, so I rub it down as best I can, slap a tire patch over it and put on a new tube. But it won’t inflate all the way. At first I thought maybe the thorn punctured through again, but no, my fucking pump is broken. Well. I am in the middle of nowhere- almost; I saw some house around the corner, so I am in luck. I try to ride it in, but the pressure is so low I am sure the tire will pop. It has also started to rain quite heavily. More rainy days than not this week, and a little cold, to boot! So, I push my bike around the corner and there is a little gazebo in a turn off. I get out of the rain and pack all my valuables in one pannier, throw the rest over a railing out of sight save for my front wheel, and hike into town.

There is a café, but the proprietor does not have a pump. I knock on three houses, but no one answers. This is a little hotel town, closed for the season, dead. I walk back to my bike, actually enjoying myself. This is adventure, and it is raining, so I don’t particularly care to be riding anyhow. I go back, pull all of my stuff inside the gazebo and make a delicious sandwich.Then, for lack of any alternative, I try to finesse my pump, with no luck. I get it to about a third of the pressure it needs to be and at least wheel all my gear into town. I park it at the café and knock on a few more doors, but we are up in the hills, no point in having a bike up here, for the layman. It is still raining. I check the distance to the nearest town, Florina, and it is a winding fifteen miles, I would say. I would walk it, but it is raining. So I just stand dumbly by my bike under an awning. All of three minutes goes by before a guy pulls up. He looks at me, asks me where I am going, and I say “Turkey, but I am stuck for now.” I explain my dilemma. He tells me to wait here an hour. They get me a tall coffee, for free, and sit me down. I write and drink my coffee, watching a British car refab show on the tv and write this post. About an hour later the man returns. He could have brought a bike pump, but instead he came with a flatbed truck. He asks, “Are you travelling alone?” “Yes,” I reply. “That’s not such a good idea.” I laugh and agree that maybe it isn’t. With good men like this guy, it’s okay though! He has a driver too, these guys are in construction. They talk in Greek on the twenty minute drive. I missed a HUGE DOWNHILL!!! I almost want to take a taxi back to the top! I asked if there was snow up there, and he said “yes, lots.” ah, another mountain pass. Oh well, I am here, in Florina, and the bike shop just opened. This Greek fellow really went out of his way to save me! Hopefully they have a road pump for sale. If not, all I need is a damned pump to borrow.

This man did have a road pump, a few. I picked the biggest one. We had a nice interaction, despite a language barrier. Oddly, this whole affair put me in an excellent mood, and I peacefully rode outside the city, where civilisation quickly disappeared, and once again I seemed to have all of Greece to myself! I tell you, Northern Greece is a paradise for vagrants. I did not make much distance today though.

Happy Birthday Scott- May 19

Despite hardly any riding, I still felt like a beer.

It rained hard last night, and it was cold and damp when I woke up. I started to ride, and descended at least 2000 meters it seemed like after a little climbing. After that it was flat. I planned to stop in Thessaloniki, but I was at an awkward distance away, about a day and a half’s worth. I could use a shower, and definitely some wifi! It was flat too, so I went for it. I rode 150 kilometers today, about 90 miles! I initially had some trouble finding accommodation because, of course, it is Saturday! Just my luck. After the third hotel, a lady finally directed me to a legitimate hostel, which had plenty of space, to my relief! I made the mistake of stopping at a particular café to use some wifi. The proprietress was drunk and only spoke Greek. She let me use wifi, but I had to buy a beer. Then she changed her mind and wanted two or three euros for the wifi as well. She had computers for use, 1 hour for 3 euros, so I didn’t complain. But the drunken Greek thief took my 5 euro bill and literally smiled and danced off! She wouldn’t give me any change, and even asked me for more money later. I am pretty pissed off about it. I almost did something rash, but cut my losses. 8 euro for a beer and three minutes of wifi, which didn’t even help me find accommodation.

I have mixed feelings about Greece. Food is as expensive as in France, the border was a joke, and some Greeks are of a flagrantly dubious character- one of the hotel guys was trying to work me over a little too. Others, however, are excellent, like the fellow who gave me a ride, the man at the bike shop, and a mother and daughter who passed me while I was eating lunch in a field off the highway and came back with a bag full of cherries!
For whatever reason, whether due to my own adaptation to travel, or the comparison to Albania, or the nature of Greece itself, but I feel quite as comfortable here as if it were my own country. Not even the language barrier bothers me, or even inhibits my conversations, except for with that foolish woman. I am about a week from Istanbul though, where I need to load up on visas. I think I am ready. Definitely excited to be near the edge of the Western world!

Dogs

I have been chased by dogs four times today. The first encounter was one dog from the driveway, which stopped, but another bolted in from the field and was being very aggressive. They had me flanked and I was on a slightly uphill stretch, so all I could do was dismount and talk down the snarling one. It worked out. I walked my bike a ways away and pedalled on. Twice dogs snapped at me from the sidewalk. I was trapped between a bus and a German shepherd at one point, but thankfully he didn’t follow through. If I have speed, I can pull my near leg out of the way and zip by. I was hauling down the road and saw two dogs ahead, so I gunned it past them. I hear nails on pavement, and one big dog is right on me, fast boy! As soon as we make eye contact he angles for me, but I outpedal him. These are terrifying experiences. Whenever I hear the barking start up my heart jumps into my throat. It is high time to get me a good stick. I really don’t want to hit them, but I also really don’t want to get bit, or require rabies vaccinations. I had a few encounters in Albania, but for a few days after that the dogs were shy, timid, scared even, and I was lulled into a false sense of security. Today was pretty hair-raising. There are also bears out here, but I have seen hordes of bears in my day and am unconcerned. There are wild dogs everywhere though; I had to stomach quite an assortment of rotting dog carcasses on my ride in today. Something about seeing man’s best friend- and smelling him- in various stages of decomposition, with gruesome death grins, bloated thoraxes, or maybe just a pair of paws to distinguish dog from deer, is unsettling. If the apocalypse ever hits, between the pigs and the dogs, the people of the Balkans won’t starve!

Published by: bipedalgunnar

This is a blog about my trip across Europe and Asia. I am back in the States now, and turning this sequence of unedited, flurried and often poorly documented posts into a book, and hopefully a good one. That is proving to be a piece of work, but I am eager to do it. Now I'm back to work, trying to learn a thing or two about welding, get a career opportunity secured, and climb some rocks when I have a chance. Hope you enjoy it, but the book will be better *wink*.

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