The Rila Experienca

(22/10/13)

My fantastic hostel in Sofia recommended that I go on a day-trip out to a monastery at nearby Rila.  Actually, the guy suggesting it said that there’s a sacred cave out there, and by passing through it you’ll be cleansed of your sins.  He said that I seemed like I needed a bit of cleansing.  There may have been winking.

In the end, there were five of us heading out, necessitating two taxis.  It was myself, three French guys and one miniature German girl.  Ramona and I went in one taxi, with the three guys in the other.  Luckily, our driver spoke Russian as well as Bulgarian, which Ramona and I could each speak to some extent.  So I had a couple of hours of Russian practice each way, huzzah.

We got out to the monastery, and as it turns out, one of the French guys was some kind of ex-religious scholar, and told us all about the things we were seeing.  Which were a bit messed up, to be fair: the monastery was Orthodox (I think?  It was very different to Russian and Greek Orthodox churches), but covered with paintings which would terrify even the most devout Catholic.  Think scenes of torture and degradation.  Charming!

Once we’d had a good look around, we went for a bit of a walk up a nearby road to see if we could get a good view, while the guys threw snowballs at one another.  And then, spontaneously and with no prior discussion, we all climbed a steep hill and went for a hike in the snow.  It was well past my knee, and on Ramona it was waist-high!  Plus we were all wearing jeans and slip-on shoes.  Seriously though—great life choice, it was so much fun!  Though sadly, my jeans didn’t survive the adventure: I fell through some snow into a tree, got my foot hooked under a branch, the rest of me slid down a hill, and I ended up not only trapped but with my jeans ripped the whole way up.  When Xavier came down to assist me, he spent at least two minutes laughing at me and my arse in the snow before he could bring himself to help.

On the walk, we encountered a wild dog and her adorable cubs, an abandoned shack, and apparently a new kind of monkey: the French guys climbed up some very unsafe-looking trees to take a photo of the monastery.  Haha I think the shot from ground level was just fine!

Being as we were not on anything remotely resembling a track, we had some difficulties getting back to ground level.  The others all got to jump off a high wall into a snowdrift, but because of my back I couldn’t 🙁  So instead I found somewhere to climb.

That night back in Sofia, it all got a little crazy.  We were drinking in the hostel, then I ended up with the French guys (and five more of their friends) at a nearby bar.  Wait, when I said it got a little ‘crazy’, I probably should have said ‘hazy’: memories are understandably indistinct!  I recall that at the bar, asking for rakia (the local spirit), the bartender asked me whether I wanted a ‘little’ or ‘big’ one.  Challenge accepted!  So there was lots of that.  I remember the French guy I was talking to (whose name I, again in typically good form, never bothered to ask) learned I was travelling by myself and was shocked.  He asked me whether I was scared to be in a bar with eight guys whom I didn’t know, and I asked him whether I had something to be scared of?  People were forever asking me that question on my Bloc Trip—’aren’t you scared?’—I mean, how does one respond to that?

Next it was off to some bar the guys had heard of in the student district.  I presume we caught a taxi.  We must have.  Wait, by squinting a bit I can just about remember—I think I had to give directions to the driver in Russian, because he only spoke Russian/Bulgarian, and the guys only spoke French/English/some German.  Whoa, it’s all coming back to me now.

Anyway, we got to the club and it was all a bit crazy.  The music was Western music from circa 2000 (Linkin Park, whaaaat), and it was the same price for one bottle of vodka as three.  So we had three bottles of Absolut on the table, and only two litres of juice (which I’d insisted on).  Every time I turned away to talk to someone, the French guy I’d been talking to earlier in the night would pour extra vodka into my drink (I have deadly peripheral vision), and when I turned back around I’d pour more juice in.  Didn’t think through ratios too well though did I, and sometime after completely forgetting English (I have this theory that after dealing with only French and Russian all day, then copious quantities of alcohol, my brain threw its hands up in the air and went ‘fuck this shit’), became crying drunk (probably not the French guy’s plan?!) and sent myself home.  God, the poor taxi driver: I was completely incoherent.  He gave me tissues though.  Man I’d hate to be a taxi driver.

So that was Rila-day.  Epic.

 

Sofia

(3/11/13)

I really loved Sofia, and I’m still not entirely sure why.  There was the fact that signs were written in Cyrillic, of course, and that I had the opportunity to speak Russian with people.  Or the book market, where I spent hours poring over children’s books in Russian, and bought my copy of The Little Prince in that language (Маленький Принц).  There’s the fact that the city itself is quite majestic, or there’s the history: but I think my favourite thing of all was the water fountains.

The water fountains are actually  natural springs which have been built into a tap-and-fountain system.  The water bubbles up from below (at 28 degrees Celsius, from recollection) and is funneled out into taps in a series of fountains throughout the city.  Every day, sometimes several times a day, I’d join the locals to go and fill my water bottles.  The water was delicious, and renowned to have healing powers.  More to the point though, it’s a big part of the reason Sofia was founded where it was.  The springs, and the fact that it lay on the trade routes between Europe, the Med and the East, meant that it was a thriving trade town.  Under the city, you can still find the remnants of its past, such as this Roman road which was the main route into the city:

Sofia (18 of 23)

The whole area, including Bulgaria, Romania and former Yugoslavia, have this thing about lions.  They say that the area looks like a lion on the map, and currencies are named for it: thus in Romania, the currency is the leu, and in Bulgaria, the lev (лев)–each meaning ‘lion’.  I’ve just spent ten minutes staring at a map of Europe and I either see no lions, or far too many lions, but whatever.  Lions are cool.

Lion??
Lion??
Mufasa?
Mufasa?

I went on a free walking tour of Sofia with a very proud local man in his early 20s.  We learned about some hero of Bulgaria, who started a movement to free his country from Ottoman rule: Vasil Levski, or Vasil the Lion/the Leonine.  We saw one of many monuments to him, by the oldest Christian church in Sofia (pictures in the gallery below).  The walking tour was quite late at night and it was cold, so I don’t remember much from it.  So, here are the wikis for the history of Bulgaria and Vasil Levski.

Hm, I’m looking to make a broad generalisation (is there any other kind?) about Bulgarians.  It seems they’re not very good at picking sides, for a start: they aligned with Germany in WW2, and were part of the Soviet Union Советский Союз during the Cold War.  Come to think of it, I think that’s what the tour guide said.  He then went on to speak at some length about Bulgaria during WW2 before speaking about the country under communism.  He said that it’s a matter of vast national pride that none of Bulgaria’s Jews were executed: requests kept coming through from Hitler’s regime, but people would hide their friends and protect them in any way they could.  Actually, the place seems very religiously tolerant, and Sofia is filled with mosques, Orthodox and Catholic churches, and synagogues alike.  Plus one great big pagan statue in the main street, a goddess representing wisdom and justice.  She stands where дедушка Lenin’s statue used to.

Another matter of pride for the people of Sofia, continued our tour guide, was how much of its national heritage they managed to save from Soviet destruction.  Unlike Bucharest, buildings and monuments hundreds and close to a thousand years old still stand in some places.  A lot of archaeological ruins are also to be found beneath the city, and care is taken when building transport infrastructure to build around them.  The guide showed us the old Party Headquarter buildings, and told us how a great big red Star used to sit on top.  When the Communist Party was defeated, some locals (one man?) climbed the building and threw the star off, at which point it disappeared for years.  Something like that, anyway.  Tell you what, go on the tour yourself and get back to me 🙂

I’ve not a lot else to report from Sofia really.  There are lots of stray dogs, again, and lots of homeless-looking people: the weekly wage was even lower than that in Romania, at just 100 euro a week.  Like Romania, it gets a lot of EU assistance.

People seem to love or hate Sofia, but apart from the terrifying train station, I would definitely go back.  I really thought I might get kidnapped for a little while there, but (as you can see) it all worked out in the end.

Donkey Tales

(14/06/14)  Aegina is a gorgeous little island, about an hour by ferry from Athens.  It seemed only right that my first trip to Greece should see me go to an island or so, and considering how late I woke up, Aegina was pretty much my only option left for the day.  Far from a regrettable one, however!

Leaving Aegina port from the ferry, I headed straight along the waterfront, as I could see some kind of open-air archaeological museum.  I did accidentally take a wrong turn (ie refused to walk on the clearly signed path as usual), so wound up having to climb a small cliff and jump over a fence, but hey.  Results, right?

Aegina, and Greece in general, really surprised me.  I remember when studying Thucydides and the Peloponnesian Wars, our teacher drilled in to us over and over again that Greek terrain is inhospitable, rocky and spiny.  Thus the sheer profusion of wildflowers pretty much had me gob-smacked.  They were stunning!

I went for a wander around the ruins and mini-museum.  Stopping to take a photo of an old column, I couldn’t help but think that the view from the mountains in the background wouldn’t be too bad. You can probably imagine what happened next.

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Not knowing where I was going (other than ‘up’), I set off.  I bypassed Aegina town, overheating rather rapidly as I started climbing past vineyards to the somewhat obtrusive soundtrack of guys beeping me from their motorbikes.  It’s probably also worth mentioning that I was wearing knee-high lined winter boots, because hey, practicality.

After an hour or so of slow but unvarying uphill, the landscape started to open somewhat.  I was following a road winding up through the mountains, and the flower-covered slopes were almost able to distract me from my thoughts of ‘is this impulsive or idiotic?’.

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I stopped for a little while by a tiny village with a spectacular church, and hung out in a field of flowers.  Some goats then appeared, scaring the heck out of me.  It took me a little while to convince myself that goats didn’t eat people, and I probably wasn’t about to die a grisly goat-based death.  Then it was off up the road once more.

I’d gone well past the original peaks by this point, and was looking for a way to get up to the ridge-line properly.  Walking up the switch-back road, which was littered with shrines and flowers (deja vu?), I finally found what I was looking for.  At the top of the hill, I stopped to check out a little church—an omnipresent feature of the Greek landscape.  I then saw a small path leading to a church further up, and finally in the direction I actually wanted to head in.

By this time I’d unzipped my boots down to my ankles, and was making some fairly distinctive thwack-thwack noises as I was walking.  No ninja skills here!  After the second little church, I walked past a few very scenically-placed graves, and then the track ended.  Time to improvise!

I followed goat trails for the first little bit.  I made a couple of stops for photos (also, to stave off the seemingly inevitable heat exhaustion), then aspied myself a very tempting-looking rock. ‘Oooh!’ I thought to myself.  ‘I should take photos from there‘.  Face palm.

I got closer to the gigantic boulder, which was around 10m high and perched on the very edge of a cliff dropping down a few hundred feet, only to find that it was actually split in half.  I couldn’t see any way to get on top, so decided that this would be an appropriate time to do some free-climbing.  I tied my camera into my top, zipped my boots up once more, and set myself to climbing up the channel between the two boulders.

There are things that could have improved this situation.  One would probably be better footwear.  Another would be an easier climb (I was doing it by jamming my back and shoulders against one side of the crack, and walking my legs up the other).  Lastly, perhaps if I hadn’t been doing all of this while directly over the aforementioned deadly drop, with nothing but a few hundred feet of air below me.  I had gone beyond ‘this is stupid’ and keeping my thoughts inside my head, and was chanting out loud, “oh my god oh my god oh my god i’m going to die i’m going to die i’m going to die”.  Eugh and then I had to change sides, so that I could get the top half of my body over a prickle bush and onto a ledge.  There were lunging actions involved.  Safety first, people!

Haha finally I was on top of this rock, super adrenaliny, and the view wasn’t that great.  Kind of a let down, really: but at least the way up was an adventure.  I then improvised my way down again and pushed my way through the thigh-high prickle bushes, to find myself at the top of the island.  See, the leather boots were good for something: namely, not getting prickled like that other time I improvised a hike in Greece.

From the top, I could see the town I’d come from far below me (I’d hiked around 14km so far).  I could also see the ferry terminal, and it occurred to me that the last ferry back to Athens was leaving in about two hours.  Helter-skelter, I set off once more.  A little bit past the village with the church which I’d previously stopped in, I realised it was time to start hitch-hiking.

nearthetop-8

Luckily, one of the first cars I saw stopped, and I got in with a lady who spoke reasonable English and her four small and very curious children.  “Did you like the temple?” she asked me.  Hmm, what temple was that then?  Apparently the ‘big deal’ on Aegina is an ancient temple to Artemis or some such.  Oops!  I apologised, saying I knew nothing about the island, and she looked at me like I was a thoroughly irresponsible human being, and asked what on earth I was doing there then.  I like to discover things I guess, not just see things I’ve already experienced through the eyes of others!  At the end she extracted a promise that I would at least eat some pistachios, because Aegina had the infamously best pistachios in the world.

The lady dropped me off near the dock, and I now magically had some time up my sleeve.  I had a quick browse through the seafront stores, buying a donkey for my current flatmate Crystal.  The reason I bought it was that my eyes made a bit of a Freudian slip when reading ‘Aegina donkey’, and it made me laugh so much I decided it had to come with me.  I’ve since bought her a collection of donkeys from around the world, including one from Colombia.  Oh Colombia.  My friend Laura told me when I was there about how men on the coast would have sex with donkeys.  ‘Noooooooooooo,’ I replied, not believing her.  She insisted—’no, really!  Men leave their wives for their donkeys!’.  Well, turns out there was something to it.  In some small towns, ‘pinning the tail on the donkey’, so to speak (heh heh) is a rite of passage.  There’s a documentary about it called ‘Donkey Love’, but I really recommend that you do not, do not, google that particular phrase.

Once I’d made my purchases, I was pretty much all out.  So I bought a kilo of pistachios (and haven’t been able to eat one since), sat by the dock, and watched the sunset.  Epic day.

P1020776-11

 

http://www.akbaser.com/StormClearing.htm

Blue Skies

…because there’s never a bad time for a Joss Whedon reference.

Well, I’ve managed to escape Russia!  It reminds me of a post I saw on facebook a while back:
not emigration evacuation - Copy

I nearly didn’t manage my ‘escape’ however—due to a traffic jam on the road to Finland, I didn’t actually get to the border before my visa expired.  The thing is, in Russia, your visa is both an entry visa and an exit visa: if it’s not valid, then you’re not allowed to leave.  I’ve since read countless horror stories of people being imprisoned, or at the very least trapped for several months while they try to sort out a legal exit visa.  Anyway, so we got to the border, and I handed over my passport etc to the immigration lady.  She threw her hands up at the sight of a foreigner’s passport—clearly not something she wanted to deal with at one in the morning—and then realised that my visa had expired.  She made a few phone calls, and then a huuuuuuuuuuuge guy arrived.  He asked me about my ongoing travel plans, and I told him how it was just because of the traffic jam that I hadn’t left on time.  (To be fair, I’d completely seen this eventuality coming—I wasn’t sure that 3 hours was definitely enough to get to the border, but I decided to be a useless human being and just wing it).  He then went off with my passport and made some more phone-calls, while the lady from the marshrutka was freaking out, asking why I hadn’t told her that my visa was about to expire.  I hadn’t told her, because I’d been told that if it was close to the expiration time, marshrutkas won’t let you on—they don’t want to be held up at the border, or have to deal with someone who was going to have to return to Russia.

Eventually, the big official re-emerged (at this point, my marshrutka had been waiting for around 10-15 minutes and was holding up the queue) and said that there would be a fine.  I said that was no problems, and so off we went.  We had to go into the heart of the immigration building, where many documents were signed and many things were stamped.  I was sent off with another guard to a cashier, where it took about another twenty minutes to process my fine.  I felt like such an asshole—the poor other passengers in my marshrutka were all having to wait for me, simply because I’d decided not to do things properly.

I went back to the big guy and signed some more things (he didn’t actually tell me I can’t go back to Russia, though theoretically I can be banned for 5 years for overstaying my visa), and then I was free.  And the thing is, when I got back to the marshrutka I was so apologetic (as apologetic as I can be in Russian, I haven’t actually needed to know many variations of apologies to date), but the other passengers were totally fine.  They were just curious about what had happened inside, and how much I’d had to pay (1000 rubles).  I guess Russians of all people are used to people being taken away, to bureaucracy, and to paying fines.

We got to Helsinki’s airport at around 2:30am local time, where it was a real struggle to stay awake for my flight a few hours later.  This was my first time out of Russia since i’d first entered it, and I was more than baffled by people being nice and helpful.  The lady checking in my bag, rather than charging me for the extra 3kg, didn’t say anything other than “just try not to  pack a little less next time, okay?”.  When my carry-on was randomly selected on this freaking magical conveyer belt to be searched, the guy made small-talk while doing it.  Everything also seemed a little too convenient: why are the bathrooms so clean and well-stocked, and why is there the soundtrack of birds chirping?  It was all rather plastic and surreal.

And then I was finally back in Greece.  From hell to Helsinki to Hellas.  I was feeling pretty awesome from pulling the transport-based all-nighter, but nonetheless caught the bus into the city so that I could read the street signs and reacquaint myself with the Greek alphabet.  It’s quite similar to Russian in some ways, similar to English in others, and then I know a few of the other symbols from studying pure math.  Making sure you know the alphabet of the city you’re in is so useful, whenever you can manage it: even in a city like Athens, where a lot of the street signs are in at least two languages.

I really need to find a male blogger counterpart to me, so that the universe can be balanced out: I talk a lot about the different men I find in different countries, but I almost never talk about other women!  In the Greek case, I forgot how in-your-face they are here.  There always seem to be groups of men standing around doing nothing, especially outside cafes, at all times of day and night.  I’d almost forgotten (the attempt was made!) how they make a clicking sound (as if beckoning a horse) when you walk past.  And they’re so voluble—as I was walking past one guy, he goes, quote, “oh my god!  Wow!  Ay ay ay!” and then starts getting up and waving his hands around.  Maybe it’s a pastime, or maybe he has a thing for girls who’ve slept in their clothes and are covered in that weird grease you get from flying in airplanes.  In another example, I went to a film just before (first English-language movie experience in a year!  Yay!  I went to see Fast and the Furious 6—I have an outrageous love for the franchise—and it was super-cool.  Except for killing off my favourite character, of course.  But all of the Greek audience were so into it: clapping and cheering and whistling.  It was great!  I’ve not experienced anything like it since one of the times I went to see FF5 back in Sydney, where the audience went similarly nuts.)—anyway, I was walking back to the hostel from the metro, and a taxi pulled over.  I waved to him that no, I didn’t need a lift.  So then he starts crawling along in the car, hitting on me.  It was really uncool, especially given that there were quite a few homeless people trying to sleep nearby—and here’s this guy waking them all up!  Living on the streets is surely unreasonable enough without having to put up with those kind of shenanigans.

Speaking of living on the streets, there are noticeably more people doing that since I was last here in March last year.  While at the metro station earlier, a lady came up to me asking for change, and we had quite a conversation about it.  I do spend a lot of time when I’m travelling talking to people, beggars included.  This lady said that yes, there are definitely a lot more people on the street now.  She was very frustrated with her situation: I shan’t tell you her whole life story, but basically she used to be well-off, but has lost everything in the economic crisis.  She feels humiliated by having to ask strangers for money (incidentally, I actually didn’t yet have any change, but she didn’t hold it against me), but she still maintains that “life is sweet” and that “at least I am strong.”  It’s weird, actually.  Here, the beggars act like they are ordinary people who will be fine again in the future, whereas in Russia beggars are those who have given up hope.  Or are working for the mafia, of course.  We talked at some length about the Greek economy in the end, but then my train arrived and I was off, wishing her good luck.  I may not have been able to give her money, but I could at least give her dignity.

This is getting a little long and I should really get to bed soon, so briefly, it’s great to see people being warm, and even chatting to strangers on the street; I heard a piano accordion (which I love) on the metro and its music wasn’t depressing like that played in Russia; and ohmygod REAL FOOD.  I went to a taverna recommended by my hostel, and asked the guy (who’s already remembered my name) to bring me whatever he recommended.  I can’t believe how good real food tastes.  The tomato was just absolute bliss.  Fresh food, I love you.

I was just speaking with two Indian girls who’ve been here a few hours and have already experienced Athens’ seedy underbelly.  They’re long time couch-surfers, and turned up at their organised couch earlier this evening.  It was a run-down house which apparently had an air of abandonment; the guy and the random girls ‘on assignment’ who were awaiting them were high as kites; the place was filled with porn, and apparently the guy wanted to make some ‘new videos’ for the ‘gay market’.  And this is how the girls ended up at the hostel haha.

Finally, to finish for today, thanks to everyone who sent me emails and messages following my final Russia post the other day, it was amazing 🙂

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My hostel in Plakias, Crete: YH Plakias

Hammock Time

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:

1-P1070783

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.


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My hostel in Plakias, Crete: YH Plakias