I’ve just come from drinking the latest ‘medicine’ advised by a stranger. I told the manager of the hostel I’m at that I think I’m getting a cold, and the next thing you know, he walks into the kitchen, cuts up two cloves of garlic, and serves them to me in a glass with half a lemon’s juice and some water. I do get fed rather a lot of unusual things..!
The hostel itself is a very strange one, in a small sea-side town called Plakias. I got here a couple of days ago, after catching the overnight ferry from Athens to Crete on the second. I spent my second day in Athens at the National Museum—last time I was in Athens, I only got through half of it before it closed for the day, so I was more than happy to finish the tour. The ferry here was absolutely dreadful, though very cheap, so I guess I can’t really begrudge the discomfort and lack of sleep.
Needless to say, my first half-day after arriving was spent chilling in a hammock, before being fed a gigantic salad by a guy from Portland-Oregon. (I heard him say where he was from several times, and every time he said ‘PortlandOregon’ like it’s one word). We had an interesting conversation, as he’s a traveller himself, and has been on the go for nine months already. He’s not quite finished his first loop around the world, and is about to start his second. After Russia, of course, it was nice to talk to any man about anything. I’ve since spoken with a few Westerners, as they’re all very interested to hear about Russia: it’s a big question mark to a lot of people.
I am, unsurprisingly I guess, suffering a bit of reverse culture-shock after leaving Russia. It’s put me in a bit of a funk, but I’m sure I’ll reacclimatise to a non-Russian way of life soon enough. It feels like when you spin around in a circle twenty times, then try to walk in a straight line: you know your intention, and how the straight line is supposed to look, but everything in you is rebelling against your efforts. I’m further confused by the fact that I’ve come to a fairly remote town on an island in Greece, and there are people speaking Russian everywhere. For my first two days, in Athens, I had as many conversations in Russian as I did in English. The labels on things in stores—eg, shampoo—are as likely to be in Russian as they are in English: it came as quite a surprise.
As I mentioned above, the hostel I’m in is very strange. I’ve spent a lot of time in hostels—perhaps nearly a year of the past ten—and this has to be one of the most peculiar. It’s full of people who’ve been coming back year after year (which I just can’t understand), and the age range and backgrounds of the people are more than diverse. There’s a whole cadre of older men who look like they came here in the 70s and never got around to leaving. It’s very hippyesque (an impression not assisted by the relaxed attitude in town and plenitude of clothing-negotiable beaches). It kind of weirds me out, and I can’t figure out why. I do like that nobody here steals things though: today I left my laptop on a table in the common area and went on a jaunt into town, with no concerns that the computer would be gone when I returned. Gleugh, one of the old guys is the worst type of hippy however: the other night he was making up climate science, and I was absolutely grinding my teeth in frustration! There’s nothing wrong with having new ideas, of course, but please get some empirical evidence (or evidence of any kind, for that matter) before using them in aid of important causes such as the environment. People like that do more harm than good.
Yesterday I turned to the mountain behind the hostel and told it I was coming for it, and set off. Naturally, I decided to leave at midday. Practical timing: after all, if you’ve not been in 30 degree heat for a couple of years in a row, what better thing to do than go and walk up a mountain in the hottest part of the day? I really, really struggled with the heat. Nevertheless, I persevered, though not in a necessarily linear fashion. A big section was walking up a road through a gorge, but walking on roads is boring, so instead I descended into the gorge and started hiking up that instead. The river was dry with the summer, so it mainly involved scrambling over rocks and climbing up the odd waterfall. I really have to stop climbing stuff! Since I broke my right arm and wrist last year, it sometimes loses its grip with no warning. Not precisely ideal when free-climbing.
After a few hours (of a hike that purportedly takes 4-5 hours return), I reached a small taverna, which was my sign to turn off toward the mountain. It was another 45 minutes or so walking along a track before I reached a rusty wire fence. I consulted the map I’d photographed with my phone, and I was sure I was in the right spot, but the big signs in Greek didn’t exactly comfort:
Naturally, I climbed over the fence and carried on. As it turned out, there was no track to speak of, and I was to spend the next few hours walking through shin-deep prickles. I wasn’t very impressed with the whole situation, between the prickly pain and the incredibly unstable footing. I had to climb over a lot of fences (though to be fair, on one occasion it was easier to dig under it instead, and on another occasion I was flung over the fence when it sprung back at the worst possible moment); I saw a gigantic freaking snake (at least 2 metres, and I want to say 3: it was really the biggest snake I’ve seen in a long time), an eagle, and a myriad of goats. Goats are everywhere here, and they wear bells. It actually sounds incredible, with all of the different tones echoing from the rock faces: just like wind-chimes, but with the noises coming from all around you.
Eventually the prickles ended, and I was faced with a few hundred metres of rocks at around an ~45 degree angle. It turned out being easier to just stay on all fours and pretend I was climbing a ladder, especially as by this point I was utterly exhausted, I’d run out of water, and was pretty much running on stubbornness alone! I honestly have no idea why I go hiking so much: I utterly hate walking uphill.
Finally I made it to the top (6 hours in), but was too tired for even a little victory dance before starting back down again. At which point I took a convenient-looking road which took me to approximately the middle of nowhere. I then had another hour and a half of walking through prickles and jumping fences. I was very shitty. I yelled at a rooster for crowing at the wrong time of day, and basically just grumped to myself the entire way. It was the opposite of a good time! On the upside, I heard the trickle of water and found a leaking irrigation pipe with what seemed to be fresh water: I must have drunk nearly two litres on the spot!
When I finally reached the taverna I’d passed earlier that day, I staggered in and had an epic meal. I had the best Greek salad I’ve ever tasted in my life, followed by a plate of some kind of bean-y thing. And it only cost 6 euro, it was ridiculous!! Food here is so cheap, and so good!! Everything about Greece is less expensive than Russia as well, which is an amazingly pleasant surprise. And again, it’s so good. Today I found an organic store just by the hostel, where I bought a huge punnet of the most divine strawberries. They complemented my hammock-day perfectly J
Anyway, back to the hike: it was nearly dark by this point, and I was all out of energy, so started walking back down the road and trying to hitch. I saw my first car after about 15 minutes, and they not only didn’t stop, but sped up. I hate those people: I don’t mind if people don’t pick me up (though it’s rare that they don’t), I figure they have their reasons; but people who actually speed up, it’s like, “hey, we COULD pick you up, but we’re really, really not going to. Let me show you how much we’re not going to.” Happily, another car came by about five minutes later, and at first they drove past, but then pulled over. The lady was obviously a local (hitch-hiking’s very common in Greece, and it’s normal for Greeks to stop), with her three young kids in the back. She explained that at first she’d thought I was a man, which is why she didn’t stop. She wasn’t going to my town, but to the next one along the coast, and said that walking from there would still be shorter. Sure enough, it only took me another half an hour’s walking from the town, and it had nice views, to boot J
I think I’ll spend a few more days here: it’s a fairly ideal place to try to start detoxing from Russia. I do want to go to Heraklion before I leave the island though, and need to be in Istanbul for a conference starting June 14. It’s quite funny actually: it’s a ‘Climate Reality’ (Al Gore’s thing) conference, and on my application I was sooooo facetious. I responded to questions with answers that included Captain Planet. But let’s face it, Captain Planet is awesome.
__________________________ My hostel in Plakias, Crete: YH Plakias