|I wake up much later than I'd expected to - around 10:50 - though this is probably a fair price for the previous days' travels. Sticking my FlowerChild Rose in my hair, I hunt down the ATM. Can I leave my bags somewhere? Yes, yes. You leave them here.|
|By day I realise why the town had seemed so familiar the night before. The narrow streets and concrete evoke strong images of Cap-Haitien, but not as we know it. This is what it could be one day, perhaps, though I would somehow miss its current gritty character.|
Breakfast, found at a wee bakery and obtained through the cunning use of gestures, is chocolate milk and some sort of egg-filled pastry.
The previous night, wandering the town, I'd seen something which I immediately and unquestioningly knew I was destined to try - a sign saying "Motorbike Rental". I find that sign again and perhaps the language barrier prevents his reading the words "Instruction Permit"; perhaps, reading them, he doesn't know their meaning; perchance my beard convinces him of something words cannot; peradventure he does not care! Regardless, he's soon retrieving a key for me.
Have I driven one of these before? Only half-lying, I tell him no and he promptly tries to convince me to rent a four-wheeler, but I have visions of the over-weight, shirtless man I saw riding one up an alley last night and am very certain that I want a motorbike. He hands me a key and we walk around the corner of the building. I'd been hoping to rent the Full Package: a Triumph Thunderbird 6T, leather jacket, tattoos, chains, and a guide to Greek profanity, but it seems that isn't available here. I'm faced with a collection of scooters and directed to a bright green one stamped "Hamburg-Mannheimer".
"This is the frontbrakebackbrakethrottlehornlightskey," says the man, pointers flying. His eyes bore into me, "This is throttle. All Power Here. You turn slowly. This front brake, you don't use or…" and, in an inspired performance, he shows the front wheel turning sideways and my flailing body flying off the bike to certain doom.
I nod, and nod some more; he hands me a helmet, starts the bike, and rides it out to the street, leaving me with it. I put on the helmet and discover I can't get the kickstand to retract, to the amusement of the cafe tables nearest the road (the Greeks having no tabboo against speaking about people when they're present). I flag a passing scooter, and the driver also has problems, but we eventually figure out that you just have to shove the bike forward.
As he roars away, I settle myself, turn the key, and press the starter: the engine coughs and strains and dies. I try again. WhirrWhirrWhirrGrikGrikpahpahpah pah. Dejectedly, I wheel the bike back into the alley.
"Look, I show you," says the man, and turns the key, twisting the throttle. The bike purrs to life. "Now, you do it once while I am here." I repeat his actions, turning the throttle with great reverence and respect, as commanded: the bike groans. "No NO! You do like this…" and he cranks the throttle. The bike roars, jumping out of his hands, and smacks into the wall ahead of us!
At least, that happens in my mind. In reality, the HMS purrs contentedly. I understand now. Walking the bike back to the street, I pull it onto a ten foot stretch of yellow lines - the only ones around. To my left (the Greeks drive on the right, which seems very odd), the busiest street in town is flooded with cars, motos, occasional trucks, horse-drawn carriages, and bikes. I rev the bike to life; I will have exactly ten feet in which to learn to drive it before hitting the traffic.
The first three feet are spent off-balance, the next three are decidedly better, and, on the last four, I glance behind me, the bike wobbling, and pull out. Thirty seconds later, I adjust the mirror as the bike accelerates and deaccelerates jumpily, the throttle having, roughly, two speeds: fast and slow.
A minute later, I'm cruising smoothly within fifteen feet of painted-this-morning blue and tourist-company-advert green waters. The concentration split between enjoying the scenery and keeping the bike working safely is roughly akin to biking over one of Minnesota's largest wildlife refuges on an interstate in a January blizzard, not that I would know, but I quickly reach "professional" status at going straight.
A few small towns later, I discover that the Greek names on my map (I have to stop the bike to get it out of storage) are not the same Greek names on the road signs. At the same time, I also discover the HMS's wide turning radius, as a few odd cars build up behind me.
I stop into a quiet service station on a back road. Out front, two men are having what appears to be a heated discussion. I head inside, do they have sunscreen? The counter man doesn't speak English, but steps outside, interrupts the discussion, and now I have a translator. At this point, the shopkeeper's whole family seems to have appeared. But sunscreen and sunblock don't translate to these bronzen people: they are born with a permatan and never look back. Go to Αγ Μαρινα, they say, maybe you will find it there… in the pharmacy.
Back on the bike, I feel my skin heating up. But I need sunscreen now. Oh well… I roar (that is, putz) away.
The road winds between the liquid neons of the sea and the dry, sandy, olive-tree-spotted landscape of the island's hills, it begins to climb towards Αφια and the HMS slows to a crawl. "Richard, you're killing me," HMS says, in a monotone voice. I don't reply, but continue tearing at the throttle.1
|Thankfully, only ~50% of the island is uphill and we practically fly into Αγ Μαρινα. There, trying to coax the HMS up a little rutted gravel road to the Temple of Αφια, I almost tip it. Realizing the danger, I get off and walk upwards only to discover that the temple is hard to find. The hot sun beats down and I discover my attachment to cruising the islands is greater than my attachment to visiting the temple - we've both reached limits.|
In Αγ Μαρινα, I find a tourist shop with many kinds of sunscreen. I choose a bottle with lucious smootheners and vitamins and moisteners and SPF50(!). I hand this to shopkeep and he looks down, looks up, and then shouts, "This is for kids!" And it's true, the bottle does say that. Intent on saving me from myself, he heads outside and finds me an appopriate bottle: one without moisteners, without vitamins, and with SPF10. I have no choice…
At the far end of town I stop in a little shop and buy more chocolate milk, water, and a banana (labeled with the ubiquitous "Dole" stamp), intending to eat them by the beach. I take the wrong way out of town, though, and circle up and into the mountains for nearly ten minutes before deciding I've had enough of the mistake.
The beach is disappointing. Shadeless, there are far too many people. Of these, far too many should be required not to wear swimsuits, for too few should be required to wear swimsuits, and those left a choice have used it to go elsewhere. I join them in this.
|Parking the HMS at the top of a cliff, I climb down it some ways before settling in for "lunch". A hungry, accusing gaze follows me the whole while; I'll need to feed the HMS soon.|
Greece's temperatures seem somewhat binary. In the sun it is hot, in the shade it is not. Gradients and middle-grounds seem non-existent.
|Passing Πορτεσ, the road winds up into the island's interior, towards its highest mountain. I'm sure I could walk faster than the bike's going.|
|Surrounded by carbonific odours, we reach the top of the pass and the HMS picks up speed. How far have we come? I may never know: the odometer's stuck forever at 40,192.8. But is this in kilometers or miles? With a sinking sensation, I realise I don't know whether the gas gauge is reading 1/16th of a metric tank or of an English tank! I can't seem to remember my percentage conversions…|
|A sign labeled "Archaeological Site", pulls the HMS and I off onto a wee dirt road. The HMS bounces and skids on the stones and ends up disgruntled with me. "Fine," I tell it, "you can just wait here!" And I stalk away into the heat waves. Growing quickly tired and thirsty, the site is much farther off than I'd expected. When I arrive, it turns out to be a non-descript stone church with locked doors surrounded by random stone walls and terracing (all the hills are terraced) of unknown origin. Clearly, this has been worth the trip, and I am ecstatic.2|
I return to the HMS and tell it a bold, if transparent, story about how fantastic my side-trip has been. The HMS, as usual, doesn't say much.
Approaching Εγινα, and the completion of my circle tour, I turn off on another road leading back along the shore. This takes me within three feet of the sea most of the way to Μαρατονοσ, when the road loses its negotiation with the cliffs and climbs higher. Περδικα seems to be the end of all things and I buy yogurt and an apple from a small shop; the counter-lady also passes me a small plastic spoon - quite a change from the wooden sticks I've received in England. The HMS gets fed on the way back out of town.
|I stop for second lunch by a more secluded beach. A quarter way through my apple, a naked couple emerges from the bushes to my left, plunging into the water. Half-way through, a swimsuit-only, mildly-over-weight surfer-Yanni mix sets up a tarp just behind me and digs into his lunch. Three-quarters way through, a bike pulls up next to where I left the HMS and someone climbs down and begins strolling the water where I'd planned on wading.|
Climbing back up towards the bike, I'm wondering where the other person is when he emerges, naked, from the bushes behind me to ask if I have the time.
Arriving back in Αγινα, I cycle through town, park near another beach (islands seem to be surrounded by these, for some reason), and pull out my map of Greece. I've enjoyed Αγινα and so decide on another island: Ποροσ.
The first thing the bike rental man asks me, as I ride up through the narrow street, is if the bike's alright. Only then does he inquire about my health.
|First supper is a Λοιχ soda, reminiscient of Fiesta and Sprite, and a vegetable pita.|
|Then there's nothing to do but wait until the ferry arrives.|
Αγινα, slipping away
But where will I stay? A uniformed ferry-man wearing blue bands and a bullet-proof vest's worth of pins appears and speaks to me expansively. You are going to Ποροσ? I have a house there, you stay with me, yes? I ask if there are campgrounds and he tells me no, absolutely not. I decide to stay with him.
Waiting for the Captain
|The shores and islands slide by.|
|Fifteen minutes after making port the Captain appears. We disembark quickly and catch a water taxi across the strait to Γαλλατιασ. On the way, his story changes: I will stay with his cousin. As we land and walk through town I have visions of how his cousin will live in a picturesque house, how we will all dine at a big table, how there will be a beautiful daughter… We arrive and the house turns out to be more of a hotel. The beautiful daughter evaporates.|
The Captain, the Cousin, and I troop upstairs to view the room. "You come! You look! You like!? You stay!!" he cries. The cousin knows knows only a few words of English, but she tries to be helpful.
|Captain||I have fridge.|
|Captain||I have bed.|
|Captain||I have sink.|
|Captain||I have microwave.|
|Captain||I have TV.|
And so it went. The microwave was significant because Greeks believe these exude a death field of some sort, so they don't generally have them. I accept the room.
And go out into the town to end a perfect day by eating σαγανάκι (saganaki) at a table by the sea with breezes worming through palms and stray cats sliding through the twilight of the candles.
Returning to my room I lie mostly naked on the bed, without sheets, while the AC makes a whining sounds and blows warm air across my sweaty brow. My head lolls to the left as the heat stiffles me… and I see a door. Behind the door is a balcony.
It takes patience, but, in the end, I manage to wrestle the matress out onto the balcony and the stuff on the balcony into the room. I fall asleep staring upwards at a bazillion bright stars.
1 But only the first time, when I'm alluding to 2001: A Space Odyssey. After that, I realise it's futile and am content to simply turn the throttle full and wait while the HMS groans upwards.
2 The reader will excuse the unusual occurence of a second footnote, but I wish to make unambiguous the presence of sarcasm in the demarcated sentence.