Thursday, 12 December 2013

safe harbour

Just as we step out of the ticket office with our ferry tickets for Lesbos a taxi pulls up and knocks over my loaded bike.  I give the taxi door a good kick and demonstrate my eloquence with colloquial English through the open window to the driver.  I am shouting.  This is not cool in Greece - you don't see people shouting in the street.  The taxi driver starts to shout back in unintelligible Greek.  I respond in unintelligible English.  The portly taxi driver gets out and continues babbling.  And then I realise he is saying sorry.  I say sorry.  He says sorry.  I pick up my bike - it looks undamaged.  We shake hands.  Gayle looks distinctly unimpressed.  "What if he got out of the taxi and was bigger than you?"
Greeks think they live in the most seismically-active country in Europe, but we know better
The sailing to Lesbos is uneventful.  It's all locals on board and a group of soldiers.  Lesbos, Greece's third largest island, has a big army presence.  We know this because when we ride out of the main town of Mytilene in the late afternoon looking for somewhere quiet to camp we end up in a pine forest on the south west corner of the island just below an army camp.  Clearly they still don't trust the Turks.  In the morning we return to town to e-mail and shop for supplies.  The shopping streets are bustling. Our stove has developed two leaks at either end of the fuel pipe.  Petrol drips out at an alarming rate - not something we want when camping in a pine forest.  Luckily we have some butane gas as well - when we cooked in our hotel room in Athens - but this is not a long-term solution.  So my dad has ordered some spare parts for us and will post them to us here in Mytilene.  Our intention is to meet our friend Jeff here in just over a week's time so this will give us enough days to cycle around the island first.  Or so we think.

It's grey and chilly when we head north up the coast.  Olive groves are in abundance here, but they are all fenced in - a bit unusual for Greece.  Plenty of black netting is laid out beneath the trees ready for harvesting the fruit.  We roll along the coast and through a few small villages before loading up with water and looking for a place to pitch the tent.  After climbing some switchbacks we emerge onto an airy flat headland covered in scrub.  Just beyond a little church we see an army truck pull onto the road.  We wait for it to disappear and then turn onto the track where it pulled out.  In amongst the rocks and bushes we just find enough space to camp.  It seems perfect.  After a torchlit dinner we settle down for the night.  Rain starts and with it some wind.  Our tent is a tunnel but fortunately the lie of the land means that we have pitched into the oncoming wind.  The rain stops but the wind gets stronger.  At around 10pm we are still being buffeted.  We are well pegged down but the noise makes it hard to sleep.  At midnight it's still roaring and the taut tent fabric rumbles like a drum.  After another two hours we are still awake.  Somehow the wind seems worse at 4am.  Surely this can't continue.  We are resigned to fitful dozing, partially on edge lest the tent fabric is torn asunder.  
shelter from the storm
At dawn we decide to pack up quickly, and bug out to the church we passed last night.  It's only 300 metres away.  The problem is how to take the tent down in the wind.  Gayle lies on it as I remove the poles and pegs.  We wobble on our bikes in the gusts and gladly discover that the church, a small chapel, is unlocked.  Inside it's quiet and relatively cozy.  We have breakfast and ponder what to do.  The gusts have got stronger, the bushes and trees bend and dip.  When in doubt, brew up.  Someone arrives in a car and enters to light a candle, kiss an icon, say a prayer, drive off.  This happens almost every hour.  The wind does not let up.  We determine to sit it out.  A couple arrive in the afternoon and tells us it's 9 on the Beaufort scale.  (Greek weather forecasts always refer to this shipping term for windspeed.  Later we look up the scale - 9 is gale force.)  They ask where we are going and we say that tomorrow we will go to Molyvos.  The woman seems to indicate that we should wait here.  It is our second night seeking shelter in a church.

In the morning the wind has abated somewhat and we are happy to head off again along the road.  It is very cold in the wind but we soon find the way more sheltered and easier going.  We turn the corner along the north coast and climb and climb up and around the headlands, skirting villages, turning into sheltered valleys and then out again with great views over to Turkey.  Molyvos comes into sight as we drop down from a high point.  The old town sits nestled on the leeside of a hill jutting into the sea.  On the crown of the hill sits an old fort.  It's a stunning setting.  We gleefully descend down to sea-level and find a sunny spot in the doorway of a closed up old stone house overlooking the bay to have our lunch.  A man wanders past and stops.  "You must be the French Australian cyclists?", we're English.  The man explains that his friend has met some cyclists staying here.  We ask where they are staying but he does not know.  His name is Ahmed.  Not a Greek name this.  "No, I'm Turkish, I stay here in the winter and sail my boat in the summer".  We arrange to meet later and Gayle goes in search of a room.  The town is a warren of cobbled lanes and stairs and all is deserted almost.  This place would be packed in the summer and everyone would rent out rooms, but in December there are no signs out.  Finally Gayle finds a place and we push our bikes up the street to it.  It's 20 euros with a kitchenette in the room - kind of cramped/cosy depending on your view. 
We go down to the harbour and find Ahmed who invites us into a cafe for coffee.  His friend Laurie arrives - a Canadian on holiday here, she looks a little uptight and strange to us - Ahmed told us that she had cycled Istanbul to Beijing in four months.  When we start to ask about her bike touring she seems a little vague and uncertain and we wonder if she had been doing a 'supported' ride in a group.  We're not being snobby about this - but we can't understand how someone could not be more specific about the places she went.  A bit mysterious.  She is more certain about the French Australian cyclists and tells us where they are staying.  We haven't met anyone touring on bikes for a long time so we seek them out.  Pascal and Pascale have been living in Australia for about 9 years and set out on their journey about 18 months ago.  Pascal does free-lance translation work while they travel and they are thinking about stopping here for the winter before moving on to Turkey next year - heading to Australia. They are staying in a very nice studio just off the beach - it looks very swish to us, with a kitchen and sofa, big double bed, terrace with a great view to the old town and out to sea.  We are rather envious of the space. 

Wandering around Molyvos is wonderful.  The houses overlap each other, separated by stairs and paths and only a few lanes where traffic can pass.  It looks quite deserted at first - only a few people around.  Later we guess that about half the buildings are only used in the summer.  Only a handful of shops along the cobbled market street are open.  Most of the houses are stone built but some have Ottoman style wooden upper floors.  The setting is marvellous and we enjoy walking around and getting lost.  We don't want to leave and we think Jeff might prefer it here to Mytilene, although it is much quieter here.  The Pascales help us contact the owner of the place where they stay and we move next door to them.  Now we have a little luxury we definitely don't feel the urge to move on.  A cold spell arrives sending the temperatures downward and a biting wind makes it even colder.  Bob the kettle on, will yer?

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