Thursday, July 9, 2015

Greece

At school we had learned that Greece was one of the oldest civilisations. The Greek were portrayed in my school days as intelligent and very advanced for their time. Lately a quite different picture of Greece had been portrayed in the media. Greece is now deemed corrupt, on the brink of bankruptcy and not a good place to be... Hmmm. We had never been to Greece, came with an open mind and decided to leave both ancient and recent history at the border and look at Greece from a visitors point of view. We weren't disappointed...

The forecast had told us it would be 32 degrees in Athens, which is surrounded by the mediterranean sea. As we entered Greece much more inland from Bulgaria, we found ourselves riding in seriously hot weather. We were riding in the Rukka Cosmic suits, the same suits that had kept us dry and warm just a few days ago when we were riding through a deluge of biblical proportions high in the mountains. The same jackets and pants we had also used while riding over snow covered mountain passes in Switzerland at minus 10, while we were now in plus 38 degrees C conditions...! I've written it before but these jackets and pants are seriously impressive. 

We knew it was seriously hot and I wasn't surprised when the thermometer outside a pharmacy showed 38°C in the shade. I was surprised that we could still wear the jackets and pants without being shrink wrapped in them! The only concession we had to do is open the front zipper down to the belt to let more fresh air in while riding through towns at low speed.



The Greek hinterland is beautiful. Green, rolling hills and very quiet. We rode through beautiful towns and villages but missed the horse and carts we had become accustomed to! Suddenly all cars were newer models too... strange. The temperature dropped to 32 degrees when we hit the Greek coastline and we re-discovered the meaning of the word busy. Tourism seems the only form of income and with summer now well under way and arriving in the weekend we found lots of people out and about. 

Even so it is still a beautiful place to be and the coastline is seriously stunning. In just a few days we had 'traded' mountains for coastline and unreadable Cyrillic for unreadable Greek. Looking at the signs along the way made me realise that Turkey would be the last country we would visit where roadsigns would be readable. After that it would be Cyrillic again, then Chinese and then Pakistani and Indian.

We stopped for a bottle of water and a tub of cold yoghurt. The lady behind the cash register was a sweet old gal who told me all kinds of things, of which I didn't understand a word. She said it so sweet and with such a lovely smile that it was all good though. She didn't even mind that I tried to pay with a Bulgarian 5 Lev note instead of 5 Euro. All these notes look the same to me in the end. I thought I had spend all my Bulgarian notes but one obviously got misplaced in the Euro section of my wallet.

Beach camps are not my thing and the first two campgrounds we found reinforced that feeling. Chock-a-bloc full with permanent vans. The GPS showed us an ACSI campground which have proven to be ok in the past. As far as beach camps go this one was fine too. Of course toilet paper wasn't provided and the actual toilet was replaced with nothing but a hole in the ground... but what the heck. We had a shady spot, and all was good! Later they even came with a couple of garden type seats and a picnic table so we had something to sit on.

Entering Greece also meant entering the land of Vespa again! Even the handyman on the campground we stayed at has a Vespa and it's amazing to see what he transports with it. The two garden chairs and table for instance were delivered by Vespa! Couldn't have done that with a motorcycle... Later we saw him with a pile of at least 20 cushions stashed on his little Vespa and of course his toolbox 'lives' on the Wasp as well. We love Vespas!

So, Greece is not such a bad place to be then. Quite the opposite. Unfortunately I got to study Greek soil from up close when I was struck down with food poisoning, well water poisoning to be precise. It wasn't Greek but Bulgarian tap-water which caused it by the way. We had been told it was drinking water, but it apparently wasn't. No doubt the hot weather hadn't helped, creating the perfect climate for bacteria to multiply. Just 20 minutes after I drank it I became quite ill. Looking at another water bottle from the same source it was easy to see why... there were plenty of 'things' living in it...! Some of them looked like microscopic jelly fish! It took my system quite a few days to recover and also made me realise that water is dangerous stuff. After all the only time I've had this before was in Mexico, where it had also been the water. There it had even been from bottled water! Bottles which probably had been refilled. Maybe I should stick to Coca Cola from now on... :-) 

I wrote in the beginning that we wanted to look at Greece from a travellers' point of view. Strangely enough though my food poisoning made me think about the ancient Greek civilisation... as I had more than my fair share of toilet visits because of it. The old Greek civilisation may have been ahead of it's time, but the Romans had a toilet system 2000 years ago which is much better than what we found in Greece today. Heck, even Australia's 'short stay, long drop' dunny is better than the hole-in-the-ground thing they have here. It's not that it's an old run down campground we are at, far from it. It's quite new and nicely done... apart from the poo-holes that is. Crouching down and hanging suspended on your knees is not only uncomfortable on the poor knees, with diarrhoea like I had you'd have to be very careful not to splash it all over your shoes too... On one of the many visits to this uncomfortable contraption, I wondered what was wrong with the commonly used toilet seat virtually everywhere else in the world. Ok, you won't have to put up with a pee-ed on toilet seat, but shitting on your own boots isn't much of an improvement. It was then that I was told how to use this 'system' properly... 'Don't wear boots but thongs"... eh? Apparently the 'normal' way is to simply hose down your pee-ed and/or splashed on feet and thongs afterwards... Right... :-( We also wondered how this could possibly work for disabled people... but couldn't work that one out :-)

While we were in Greece, the locals told us Greece was on the brink of being declared bankrupt and the Euro might not be the Greek currency for much longer. We sensed mixed feelings about it all and as we knew little about it, as we had been on the road for the past 3 years and 20,000 km away from Greece before that, we didn't quite know what to say. Strangely enough while Greece could remain part of Europe, it could be loosing the Euro currency, yet when I asked what would replace it nobody seemed to know. A lady at the local supermarket said 'we don't have the old currency anymore so we would have to print millions of notes and stamp even more coins. We would then have to transport it all over the country, change the ATM machines, all the computer programs, the cash registers etc. All this would cost a lot of money... but we don't have any money!'

Meanwhile the beautiful weather reached a point where it became stifling humid. It was clearly building up to a thunderstorm. Heavy clouds rolled in, thunder and lightning filled the skies and the temperature plummeted to 25°C (which felt quite chilly after being well into the 30s the last week). We were in for a real blaster of fireworks with all the trimmings. The tents were shaking in the wind, continuous rain did it's best to soak mother earth while the winds did their best to rip the tent pegs out of the wet ground. It made me remember that one night around Christmas time in Mexico, where we woke up with the tent floating at 2 am in the morning and the campground turned into a foot-deep lake. Strangely enough earlier that day I looked at a video someone had posted about a 1950s caravan behind a scooter with sidecar. It had seemed so unrealistic just hours before, but now a much better alternative to lying in a tent on saturated ground...

The thunder closed in to the point where there was hardly any time between flash and thunder. The forecast showed it would rain for well over 24 hours and 45mm... but the same forecast had said there would only be 0.9mm until midnight, while rivers were flowing all around us well before that.
There was no avoiding the rain either as not only did the weather charts show bad weather well into Turkey, we were also waiting for the first spare part I needed for the Bonneville in 116,000 km. The bearing in the rear sprocket didn't sound too healthy when I had fitted the new tyres in Bulgaria. As I was struck with food poisoning, it seemed a good idea to order that bearing and replace it here. We had to stay put for a few days anyway. What I didn't know was the part would arrive just after the forecasted storm. Everywhere we went, we've had unusual weather. Greece proved on exception. In the usually dry period when we were there, It rained and thundered for 30 hours straight. 

In the morning we found the storm had ripped a couple of tent pegs out of the ground but the most important ones stayed put, although only just! The Hilleberg Staika hadn't remain dry on the inside as the rain cover over the top is useless when it's... raining! The slightest bit of wind simply pushes the water under the cover until it drips in... clever design. Closing the top vent keeps most of the rain out but makes the tent drip from condensation... Meanwhile my Keron had leaked at every seam, steadily dripping onto the inner tent, which luckily was waterproof. 

The sun returned two days later. For some this was the time to indulge as the grounds were wet and soft. The funny looking bird in the photo was having an easy time getting insects out of the ground and snails were sliding along happily too. Along the coast it looked like nothing had happened and the usually relaxed way of life in Greece had seemingly returned once more.


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