Saturday, April 26, 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Hyatt

It was about five o'clock in the evening and we had been biking up a steep pass for about five hours. We were out of water and there was no town in sight when Cindy spotted a farmer bent over in a garden and suggested I ask for water and maybe a place to put our tent. She was an older woman, tough looking, bent and knarled from work, mud covered her hands and knees, was caked on her shoes and a small swath went across her face. I hated interupting her work, but she was happy to stop and give us some water. She took me up the drive a bit and through a gate and into a managerie of animals, buildings, grapevines, parts and pieces of things scattered everywhere. There were noisy goats tethered by one leg, chickens pecking the ground, a man tying grapevines, one dog tied up and one running around. There were stoves, cabinets and machinery long past their usable days mired in the mud. There were many projects half started or finished, I couldn't tell. I was overwhelmed with ...stimulus. I thought we shouldn't stay but I asked anyway, it was late and we didn't have many options. She shrugged her shoulders and agreed to let us camp, though I wondered were we would put up a tent. I went to get Cindy and we spent about an hour setting up camp and looking at the place. We had an amazing view of the coast line we had biked the previous day, it was a grogeous spot to camp. The man tying the grapevines never hesitated in his work and the woman began bringing in the sheep and goats and feeding the chickens. I eventually went to the man to see what he was doing and he "explained" that these were their grapevines and they had a little winery in one of the buildings. About that time the woman finished with her chores and motioned Cindy and I into the only intact building on the place. The man followed. The place smelled wonderfully of herbs and cooking, wine fermenting, machinery and old tools. It was more of the same that was outside but with more density. There was corn, peppers, herbs and dried, salted meat hanging from the rafters. A moped right in the doorway, a table in the middle of the room askew and full of utensils, pots, toilet paper, big loaves of bread, feed for the pigs, a frying pan, a lemon, a hat, a flashlight, some wieners. We stepped around kids toys and tools and ducked under extentsion cords to get to their winery. They showed us with pride their fermenting wine and then poured us a liter. They showed us some pasta in the cupboard, a pot of lamb (from their herd) and tomato sauce from their garden on the stove and and told us we could have that for dinner. Then they showed us their fresh eggs, fresh pressed olive oil, salt, pepper, coffee and sugar and told us to have that for breakfast. They demonstrated how to turn on the stove, the T.V. and the lights and gave us a flashlight to get to our tent, then they packed up, gave us the key and left. We stood there dumbfounded. There we were, the Tyrannian sea to our east, mountain walls to our west, a beautiful sunset and the place to ourselves. Under the glow of one naked light bulb we had dinner (minus the lamb), wine, and bread. Later we stumbled to the tent a bit toasted off their wine, stuffed of their spagettii and and full of their kindness.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Well I will just write about it, and maybe the sour taste in my mouth will go away. But the bike will always be gone. That's right, GONE, within an hour of being in Italy. I had arrived from Greece on the ferry into the port town of Bari, Italy, stayed one night, and then spent Easter day at McDonald's, the only place open, waiting for my overnight train to Rome where I would meet Cindy. We would travel back to Bari and start our bike trip from there. I was able to leave my bike at a hostel in Bari while I traveled to Rome, Cindy was bringing her bike with her. She was excited about her bike and had spent a great deal of time with the bike shop guys in Fairfax getting it ready for a mountainous tour of Italy. Before leaving for Rome I had arranged for a hotel in Bari and was excited that our hotel had a locked lobby and had planned on staging the bikes in the lobby, tinkering with them and getting them ready to start our trip. Oh but there would be no tinkering. When we arrived at the hotel (in Bari) we left the boxed bike in the lobby, ran up four flights of stairs to check in and get the rest of her stuff in the room and went back down for the bike. It was gone. Finnito. Stolen. Roboerto. Nicked. D.U.N. I was ready to give up the bike trip. We'll just get on a stinking bus I thought, but Cindy undaunted, (well maybe a little daunted), suggested we find a another bike and get moving with our plans. And so we did. We spent the next three days going through what proved to be a good experience with the people of Italy. We found a bike shop guy that was really a motorbike shop guy but had a few bikes, particularly this used one, that was just what we needed, sort of, but he made it work for us. He was big, hairy,loud and spoke absolutely no English but was kind and made sure we had what it would take to get on the road. For two days while he was making repairs and adjustments on the bike we were out trying to buy a sleeping bag and clothes to replace the ones Cindy lost in the bike box. In a huge Walmart kind of place we asked a woman to use her phone to make a call to our bike guy and she ended up spending 20 minutes in difficult translation to help us get the bike guy to go ahead with a particular repair. We met an English speaking woman on the street who after hearing of our dilemma made phone calls to find a store, then took us to the store and translated for us so we could get a suitable bag, and gave us snacks on her departure. An old man showed us to a place to do laundry that was unfortunately closed for the afternoon. We thanked him, sat down to wait and he left, only to return about fifteen minutes later to take us to a laundromat that was open. The hotel guy was a weird one and seemingly not very helpful with the whole ordeal until on the second day after the incident he very shyly coerced us around the corner of his hallway and offered his bike to us. I think the bike was the one used in the film "Wizard of Oz" so it just wouldn't work, but we were touched by his gesture. Eventually we left Bari with everything we needed. Our confidence in Italians intact, though shaken.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

update and pictures

Hi all, Cindy here. Tracy wanted me to tell you that she is having a great deal of trouble finding internet in Italy. I can attest to that. It was very difficult to find an internet connection even at the hostels. One hostel owner told us it was because of the strictness of the police, the paperwork they require and privacy issues. Anyway, Tracy said she has many new stories ready to post when she gets a chance. She is currently making her way from Pompeii, Italy to Madrid, Spain by bicycle.

Well, it seems that preparing for, going to, and recovering from Italy has put me behind in getting pictures posted. I realized that I still had pictures from Africa that I haven't posted, including many of the animals she saw in Kruger. I have Greece photos and of course Italy photos. So while she is on hiatus from blogging I'll post some of the photos starting now with Greece.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Places to stay.

I had just finished biking through the city of Patras, Greece and then going across the 2.5 mile bridge into a sleepy little country town. I was a bit frazzled by the trip through Patras, it had been rush hour traffic and I had spent about two hours negotiating my way through the thick mass of cars, buses, motorbikes, trucks and such. I was relieved to be out of the fray but it was getting dark and I had to find a place to sleep. I usually check out the churches in towns for a yard to sleep in but this particular town's church had no yard, not even a court yard to speak of, so I headed out of town. I spied a horse pasture but it was right next to a road and house so I continued on a bit further. I passed a grove of olive trees with a bent over old man and a woman in a dress among the trees herding their sheep and chickens into a little shed. I thought to myself what an idyllic life, a grove of olive trees, sheep, chickens and a garden, everything they need. A simple stress free life. I bicycled on by and as the road narrowed and the country side opened up the camping options dwindled. No woods or olive groves to hide in. I turned around and headed back into town and as I made my way I passed the old man who had been in the sheep field. He was on an ancient rickety bike with a contraption on the front rack that held his milk bucket. He had a traditional Greek cap on, was dirty from milking and had absolutely huge farmer hands, short stubby and muscular from years of work. I said "yahsus" , he stopped and smiled and then I proceeded to make a little tent with my hands and then put my hands together under my cocked head to indicate sleeping and then began to shrug my shoulders to ask where I could camp when he said... " do you speak English". We both laughed. We spoke for some time as I anxiously watched the sun go lower and lower and disappear. Then he told me to come with him. I followed him to his yard and he told me I could camp there and when I got my tent set up for me to come to the house. I spent the evening with him and his wife, she did not speak a lick of English but he was fluent. He was also fluent in world politics and economics. He could tell me what was going on with our election process, what the candidates were claiming to believe and for whom he would vote... Hillary. We also talked about personal economics. He asked me what the average slsary at home was and what kind of taxes we paid. Turned out he did not pay any taxes in Greece, he and his wife made less than twelve thousand dollars a year. They made their money on their olive grove and kept the animals and garden as a supplement. Some years were good and some were very bad. They fed me a dinner of their lamb, cheese, and eggs and I went back to my tent stuffed full. The next morning I met him at their sheep shed and helped do some chores and played with the day old lambs. I had coffee with him, his wife and his sister who lived next door. I asked how they made their cheese. The farmer began to explain but then the wife and the sister took over. They fought over the stage, each grabbing one utensil or another and demonstrating what to do with it as if they were on a cooking show and then arguing with one another about whether they had done it right or not. One would use the utensil and look at me and smile then the other would grab it from her hands and shake her finger at me or the sister and use the utensil in another way. I don't know how they ever made cheese. I was sent off with 6 boiled eggs, and about 4 pounds of cheese, bread and fresh milk. Life was good.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Beautiful beach road.

It rained my third morning biking so I was slow to get up and out. I had camped in a church yard. Greek Orthodox. I had, as usual, waited until dark the night before to set up my tent so I didn't see that the spot I had chosen was on quite a slope. In the night I had slid down and slept in a pile at the end of my tent. As a result my feet had been cold all night as they were pressed against the nylon of my tent and not centered in the nice, not so fluffy, toe box of my sleeping bag. I was cold, grumpy and it was raining. There happened to be a little building in the church yard with a covered porch so I got under its roof to avoid the rain. My feet were freezing, I was grateful for the shelter. I got out some toe warmers, shook them to get them going, put my crocks on, no socks, with the warmers under my toes. I had my crocks on because I wanted to keep my cycling shoes and socks dry, it is miserable cycling with cold wet feet. I made my coffee and had breakfast, sat around and looked at the gloomy weather but eventually I had to face the day. The rain had subsided, but the roads were wet and the air misty. I packed my stuff, got my bike and stood at the top of a hill and tried to decide between easy highway or beach road. Since it was my last few days in Greece I chose the beach. I started down, and man it was steep. So steep that I got off my bike and walked it down. Then the road turned into gravely mud and it sucked me down. It was all over me, my shoes, my bike, my panniers, my tires, all before I could say Chit. It accumulated in my frame so much so I could not push the bike. I had to clean the mud from the frame about every ten steps just so I could continue. I didn't want to walk back up that extremely steep slope to get out so I kept going forward. I could see asphalt ahead but it took me forever to get there. Once I got there I had to clean my bike and myself. The chain, the frame, my shoes were packed with gritty mud, I was packed with gritty mud. I went to the beach to get some water. I got on my hands and knees, put my feet in the air to keep them dry and crawled to the surf. I was stretched out washing my hands and reaching for the sea with my water bottle when the surf took the bottle right out of my hand. I let out a loud CHIT and started crawling fast along the beach . To no avail, the bottle drifted away to the right. I got up and ran for the bottle, grabbed it, jumped in the air and high stepped it out of the surf to avoid my feet getting wet, but in the midst of all that I accidentally threw the bottle near the surf again. I ran after it cursing . Got it again, high stepped it again and got out of the wet zone and safely to dry beach. I looked around to see if someone was watching and of course there was. An old, one-eyed woman up on her balcony held up her hands and said something, which I am pretty sure was " what the hell are you doing?" I held up my water bottle and yelled, "naru naru...( water)". She just walked back into her house. I stood on the beach breathing hard from my fiasco but glad my feet were still dry when she came out in the yard and motioned me over. She offered water from her hose and I accepted. I asked if I could rinse my bike "explaining " that the grit and mud were bad for the chain etc. She motioned to go ahead, so I spent some time cleaning the bike and myself , being careful to keep my feet dry. I put the hose away. She motioned me back over to the hose so I followed her. She grabbed the hose,turned it full on, turned around and blasted it on my shoes to clean them. Her one eye was pointing away, she had a big smile on, and her other eye shone with satisfaction, she was so happy to help. Chit. I said my efaristo's and headed down the road. My feet cold... and wet. I didn't get 20 meters before I noticed I had a flat front tire. Chit. I changed it, getting what mud was left on the tire all over my legs, hands and face. I started on my way again. I didn't get 50 meters until my view of the ocean was obscured by an olive grove. Well CHIT. Then I started up hill. Okay not such a good idea this beach road. About 3k down this beach road I met a guy who came up to me, very excited, and offered me a huge bottle of water and wanted to talk. He said he had seen me three days earlier on the Patras bridge. He was right I had been there. He told me that the site of my bike journey sent him into an evaluation of his life and that he had spent three days there on the beach camping and thinking about how he was living it. We had a great talk. We were both amazed we had met up again. We exchanged addresses, hugged and did the greek kiss on the cheek thing when I left. I had completely forgotten my feet were wet.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Cattin around Athens

Chris and Jan met me in Athens. They decided to stay where I would be in order to spend more time together. The Hyatt they were accustomed to turned into the "Economu" in Greece. No hot water, no towels, no soap, no heat, but the cockroach, free of charge. I fixed them coffee ( starbucks fine grind on my international whisper lite camp stove ) in the morning and brought them pastries, (my efforts at easing their pain). We had happy hour in the room every night with grape leaves, cheese, bread and olives or fruit,(it was as close to room service as they got). We trapsed around the ruins of Greece and I was the sherpa, I carried the pack with the water and snacks (I ate most of the snacks). We stopped for beer thirty every day ( I ate most the snacks then too) and ate untold Greek salads. While we weren't doing the above we were doing our "Cats of Athens" photo shoots, soon to be featured. We had a wonderful time, and so did the cats.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Italy and Greece, Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

Well I was able to bike from Athens to Igoumenitsia Greece and catch the ferry to Bari, Italy to meet Cindy so we could bike through Italy. (A few great Greece gypsie stories to come.) When I got to ItaLy and met Cindy ... well ....that's where the thieves part comes in (another story). Now we are tramping ( biking )around Italy together, grinding up mountain passes, staying in empty farm houses in the country, closed campgrounds near the cities and eating lots of great food and drinking mucho vino. The views of Cindy's ass are amazing. That's about all I see for she is ahead of me. If I look left I see the coast, and it is almost as good. Talk to you soon!