As the weather is slowly improving over here, I thought it to be a good idea to visit the neighboring country, Greece. Forecasting weather during spring in this part of the world is rather like looking trough muddy water, and forecasts can change on daily basis with temperatures varying from a few degrees above zero centigrade to hot weather. But I took my chances anyway.
I had no planned nor preset route, just the wish to meet the people behind the Telaithrion Project. The project is driven by a number of people who quit their often well-paid and comfortable jobs to live in a more ecological way. To this purpose they strive to set up a self-sustaining community by harvesting fruits and vegetables of the land, trying to find a way to cultivate those in an ecological way, together with raising the awareness of the world of our task to preserve the world. Quite a huge task with many problems and setbacks, but this seems only to magnify the motivation of the participants .
So I loaded up my bike with my clothes, camping gear, and some emergency equipment to cope with eventual setback when driving alone a motorcycle in often off-road conditions. As a bonus I added my paraglider, I would really be upset finding the perfect flying spot while traveling without having a glider with me.
Loaded as a camel, seated on my saddle between my packs, I started the journey southward on saturday the 18th of april. It was a rather sunny day with a nice temperature. My navigation system was given the initial destination of Thessalonica, and with its feature ‘curvy roads’ it took me – as advertised – via small curvy roads trough Bulgaria. Small villages, streams and rivers, lakes and mountains passed by while the engine purred satisfied between my legs.
In the southern mountain range close to the border with Greece temperatures dropped dramatically and soon enough I found the roads surrounded by thick packs of snow. Fortunately the roads themselves were mostly clear of snow and slush, but the melting snow made driving conditions on the narrow twisting roads calling for more attention. Soon enough I had to make a stop to add some layers to my outfit to keep from freezing. Meanwhile the views were superb and I felt elated. The feeling of freedom I had was unbound.
Before I realized the distance I had made that first day I crossed the Bulgarian-Greek border. The spinning wheels of my bike slowly ate the kilometers, and one hour before sunset I set to the task of looking out for a nice camping spot. Away from the small road I found myself on I saw a hill that looked promising. The temperatures had risen again and I left the road on a dirt track winding trough the mountainous area. I unloaded the motorcycle and set up my tent, and found a big stone serving as a prop to form a seat where I could spend half an hour reading before enjoying the sun setting over the valley that unfolded beneath my camping spot. Far away under me I could hear the murmur of a river carving its path trough the narrow valley. I was happy because that first day I managed to cross into Greece, haven driven some 500km while enjoying the views and the winding roads.
The camping spot that seemed so perfect at first turned out to be not so ideal during the night. The wind that was almost nonexistent when setting up camp grew in strength and my tent swayed under the force of it, waking me up over and over again during the night. After too few hours of sleep I woke up to see the sun rising again, and I was confronted with the problem of packing up my tent in the stormy wind. Fortunately it was dry and not too cold, with the sky colouring in red, yellow and blue. The wind pulled out the pegs holding my tent on the grass, and helped by some collected heavy stones I managed to pack up my gear.
My hopes of fleeing the stormy wind on that blue-sky day in the valley were vain, once I reached the plains at the foot of the mountain range reaching to the Aegean Sea at Thessalonica I realized the wind would be a major factor for the rest of the day. The area that my gear presented to the cross winds made driving difficult and some people might have thought me being drunk as my bike waddled over the road from left to right under the forces of nature.
During the afternoon of that sunday the gods of the wind were appeased, and I could concentrate more on my surroundings than on fighting a battle to keep my bike straight. As the plains were uninspiring and too flat for my taste I drove on to Glyfa, a small dormant village where I hoped a ferry would operate in this season and take me to the island of Evia where the guys of The Telaithrion Project have their base.
Fortunately – as I did not check in advance – a regular ferry boat took me that same day over a half hour-trip to the island, I did not have to wait for long before the boat left the main land. Once on the island I realized that the long distance I had traveled, mainly over small curvy roads, the strong winds during past night and the first part of the day, and the lack of sleep I suffered because of those winds, had drained my energy. So I decided to look for a small hotel in Agiokampos, right where the ferry delivered me on the island. To have presented myself to the people of the ecological project that same evening in my condition would not have been very respectful as I doubted I would be an attentive listener and could hold up an intelligent and friendly conversation for a few more hours. And having spent two days on the saddle made me a bit worried about my physical and hygienic appearance when meeting the people I was looking for.
The hotel I found was right on the beachfront, a mere one hundred meters away from the quay of the boat that brought me. A quay might be a big word, it was merely a kind of small ramp on the pebble beach allowing the cars to enter and exit the ferry when moored. A shower brought refreshment and the restaurant next door filled my hungry stomach with a delicious Greek salad and a plate with freshly caught small fried fish. A few kilometers away from my ultimate goal sleep was quick to come and very deep ?
In the morning I realized my gps showed many villages with the name of ‘Agios’, so that made me wonder if I found myself in the right area. The only thing I was sure about was that I was on the right island, but the island is quite huge. Anyway, I was in no hurry and had time on my side, for I was on no schedule. My neighbours at home take care of my dogs, cat and house when I’m gone, until the day I will be back, so everything at home was covered and safe. But finding The Telaithrion Project was an adventure in itself, so I was not particularly worried.
I drove the few kilometers separating my former sleeping place from the closest village of Agios, and being a stupid and stubborn male I resented asking for information and directions. Having seen some photographs of the project, I knew they had fields to cultivate away from the village, somewhere near a hilltop. So I drove trough Agios and found myself on a dirt road going up the hills. After having driven a while I was not sure any more I was going in the right direction, and overcoming my misplaced male pride I descended again towards the village. There I approached a man, who did not seem to speak anything but Greek, but took me inside a small tavern where the lady behind the furnace managed to speak some words in English. She took me back out where a fine-looking lady was called who tried to help me out, but when confronted with my question of pointing me out the right location of the project on my gps, she asked another passing English-speaking man to help me out.
This man guided me with his car to a house where he said the participants in the project spent some time every day for cooking and socializing. But unfortunately no one was present at that time. So he managed to point out another location on my gps where I probably could meet some of them, on top of a hill outside the village. I thanked my guide and left for the place he showed me. The dirt road was exactly the same I took the first time when I was stubborn and convinced I could manage on my own… It was just that I gave up two or three kilometers too soon. Thus enhancing my pride my intuition was right the first time, and simultaneously degrading my pride realizing I was a quitter for not having set trough following my hunch.
But the place on top of the hill, with a fantastic view of the villages below, the Aegean Sea, and the mainland across it, was also empty of people. In the middle of a green patch of land with young fruit trees was erected a big dome, which I learned later would be used as a place for meditation, social events, conferences and studies. I spent some time there contemplating the views and the abundant nature, and the silence. Wandering around I saw a perfect spot to take of with my paraglider, and when looking for an eventual landing place below, if the winds would not be able to hold me up and offer me a landing at my starting place, I discerned a green valley with lots of grass, and with old green trees following a stream I could not see but hear from where I was.
Remembering the turnoff left I passed just below me on the hill I set on driving down to find that road. The dirt road was in good condition, but just before I reached that green valley the road fell down so steep I wondered if I would survive this unscathed on my bike. Unfortunately there was no way I could turn back, hampered by lack of maneuvering area and the steepness of the place when I discovered the difficulty ahead. Added to the steepness were the tracks in the road made by off road jeeps in the past, forming tracks in the mud that were now dried solid as concrete. Driving with your motorcycle in such a track is just like driving with a bicycle trough an iron tram rail in the road, it is a possible prelude for disaster. But there was no other way, I could not avoid those tracks, and would have to rely on some speed to descend trough them unharmed.
To my relief, and I must admit, adding to my misplaced pride, I managed to reach the promised valley without a hassle. Once near the stream I found the perfect camping place. Away from civilization, away from people, in the middle of nature, surrounded by wonderful trees, some very old and hollow, near a clean mountain stream that could provide me with fresh water, and soft green grass to make a great bed for the night to come. In the distance I could hear the bells of a goat-herd, so the only unexpected human encounter I might have there was with a shepherd guarding his flock.
Having enjoyed a while my future camping spot, having decided where to put my tent and gear, I set off again to the task finding the people I was looking for in the first place. The steep climb trough the dried mud tracks worried me a little, but my conscience was put to sleep by my effortless victory over that part while descending. Approaching the hard part I increased my speed to some 30 km/Hr, for I knew that a lower speed would not give me the needed stability to handle those tracks in a straight line, and on top of that it was likely that my tires would lack the traction needed to manage the slope when going slower.
Having engaged the slope in great spirits, I found my helmet slamming the earth with force when my plan was blown to hell after my rear wheel left the rut my front wheel was in, and my bike just gave up on me by getting into a low profile.. I felt a sharp pain in my right ribs when I realized I was laying on the ground, and I could hardly breathe. My ribs had connected with the earth just at a point where a thin but high wall of about 30cm, made of dried mud and pebbles and strong as concrete, divided one rut from another. Getting myself up the first thing I did was pushing the emergency stop on the bike to halt the engine. Then I checked my body for possible damage. I found none, except for the diminishing pain in my ribcage. I thought I came out fairly unharmed after all.
After a breathing pause of a few minutes I tried to get my bike up again, but with all the added weight of my gear this task was simply impossible for a man alone. Or maybe just for me alone. So I unpacked and removed my gear pack by pack from the motorcycle and laid it out on the side. Sweat was pouring down and I had to remove my jacket. Once I removed most of the gear I finally managed to get the bike on its wheels, struggling against the steep slope. Fighting the elements somehow I found myself sitting on it again, but my tires where no match for the slope, and my rear tire just spinned and spew out pebbles without moving forward an inch. I killed the engine and, positioning myself next to my bike, I slowly started skidding and sliding down in a more or less controlled way the slope.
Once the motorcycle was on less sloping ground, I looked around and thought I found a way round to avoid those ruts. It would take some skills to manage bumps, holes and stones under the grass, and the earth was muddy in some places because of water trickling down from the hill beside. But now my ride was considerably lighter and more in balance when empty, so I got on with it. There was no chance I would try those dangerous ruts again, and there where not many other solutions. Prepared for the worst my bike handled the obstacles pretty nicely, and before I realized it brought me to a flatter spot some 50 meters away and above from where the ruts were. My ribs started to hurt, probably now the adrenalin wore off in my bloodstream, and slowly but steadily I made the trip up and down the slope to collect my gear laying next to the track. It was just then I realized I forgot to take a photograph of my fallen bike, but apparently my priorities laid elsewhere during my ordeal.
The rest of the trip back to Agios was uneventful, except for some dog getting upset with my motorcycle and snarling at the engine when handling the dirt road, but no limbs were lost nor bitten in the course of that event. Finally my luck was turning for the best when I found some people present at the house the man guiding me showed me previously. I introduced myself to a young couple of Germans, who had spent the last two weeks volunteering for the Telaithrion Project, and we talked a while before one of the permanent members of the project turned up.
Manthos explained to me their goals, the workings, the projects and seminars, and the setbacks they had by last unexpected harsh winter. We also talked about finding balance in life, about politics and the monetization of society, of the greed of people and companies, and of little and big things important to lead a happy and fulfilling life. Quite a nice chat in all honesty. But the pain in my ribs was growing, and I found myself unable to breathe deeply, to cough and sneeze, and even to laugh without much pain. Some movements caused a sharp pain that took away my breath every time it happened.
When Manthos offered me to spend some time with them, as long as I wanted, and maybe help them out with some construction work on the dome I saw when I rode up the mountains, I knew I would not be of much help in my current state. I apologized. He offered me a place to rest and to be cared for, but I also politely declined, stating I really felt more comfortable being on my own when hurt or ill. “Ah, you are just like an animal” he said, “they also isolate themselves when ill to show up when completely recovered”. I never thought about this but his description seems to fit me quite right. All my life I have withdrawn when ill or wounded, not liking the company of others around me during my ordeal. Maybe I do not like others to see me suffering, or is it because I do not want to burden others with the extra care they want to give me at that moment? I don’t know, but that has been my way as long as I remember.
So I got up on my saddle with some sharp pangs of pain, and rode back to the heavenly lush valley where I thought I would find some rest and speedy recovery. Heaven was with me during this ride, nothing happened, except for the dirt road taking some toll on my ribcage. But nothing I could not manage. The pain reminded me of a decade ago, when I fell in a stupid way – just like falling always is – and the hospital showed me three broken ribs on the ultrasonography. Except from giving me the advice to rest a lot there was not much they could do to help me.
Once arrived in the little paradise I changed into more comfortable clothing, but when I started to set up my tent the thought of sleeping on the hard ground seemed not so attractive to me any more. I doubted wether I would get much sleep that night, though the place was magical to me and offered me everything I could dream of. So I changed my mind and packed again. Slowly and painfully ? I called the KTM dealer in Sofia (BG) to set up a maintenance appointment the next day, and punched in my gps the fastest way to Sofia. As my motorcycle dealer is about a four hour drive away from my home, I thought it would be more practical to let them perform first the due maintenance on my bike before returning home.
I left the island by boat at around 6PM, and once on the mainland my old enemy the wind was partying again and trying to push my bike off the road with strong gusts over the open plains. Once in the mountains approaching the Bulgarian border the wind appeased and let go of me. The time getting close to midnight, the tiredness and pain getting the most of me, I found a hotel not far from the border on Bulgarian territory. Well, they advertised themselves as a hotel, and it looked like an enormous hotel, probably built in the better Soviet-era when everything had to be bigger and better to extol the glory of communism. It even boasted an open-air swimming pool beating all standard olympic dimensions, but the next morning I saw it was filled with muddy water. Once I took off the bedspread I found out I would be sleeping on a mattress without sheets, so I took my sleeping bag out. But at least it was a soft mattress, way better than the floor of my tent. Getting into the sleeping bag and closing the zipper took away at least five minutes of my hard-needed sleeping time and cut my breath short several times by the sharp pangs in my ribcage, and as fate always wants it, I had to get out and back in during the night to visit the bathroom, not really adding to the quality of my rest.
At seven AM I got out again, a bit rested, and drove on towards Sofia, enjoying the magical views of snow covered mountains, wild rivers and narrow mountain passes along the way. As long as I rode and could sit still, without too many bumps in the road (which is a rarity in Bulgaria), the ribs were not really bothering me. I took some sedatives in the morning to help appease the pain. In Sofia the garage worked fast and a few hours later I could drive on towards home where my pets, bath and bed where happily waiting for me. (Most people will be astonished reading this, as I was at first when I came to live here, but Bulgarians always fix things in record speed. Administration, while looking archaic, is easy and fast compared to other countries I lived in, especially Belgium. Rebuilding houses also, as is making appointments with instances, be it official or commercial ones).
After having been received by the howls and yelps of my excited dogs, and the infinite cuddles of Tsar Buba the cat (who even came to sit on my lap when I laid in my bath filling it with hot water and soapy bubbles – I got him out against his will when his tail and hind legs were soaked with the mounting water), I now rest, as it is the only thing I can do to save me from pain. Still it frustrates me for I see how much more work I could do in and around the house and garden. But that will have to wait.
Summed up: I was gone for four days, drove some 2000km of which about 300km were highways, it was a wonderful but due to circumstances a too short experience where I met some interesting people and learned new things. Topmost of those lessons surely is to be more humble in regard to nature, and its forces, including wind and gravity… ?
Take care, be safe, and love❤️
The Telaithrion Project: http://en.telaithrion.freeandreal.org/