Distance: 85km Shanna; 118km Sam
Dried our things in the morning, wind and sun came out and made it easy! Fantastic! Boiled some eggs. Cranberries, hazelnuts and nectarines. But still hungry...
Cycled back to Igoumentia 'whatsitsname...' city. Milk with cerial, yoghurt- really good yoghurt!! Went to an internet cafe to try and figure out how to get to the Albania border, googlemaps pretty useless... Eventually decided we'd have to just try and ask people (we have maps of Albania and Greece but neither is detailed enough, and they both contradict each other).
Eventually, after asking around 15 people we made it onto a road that turned onto another road that, hmmm, where the hell is Albania, no signs anywhere, more turns, still no signs. Anyway, finally we got to the Greece/Albania border, not really anyone here, told that Greeks don't like Albanians, maybe that's why there's no signs...
Went to take out our visas and I realised I'd left the wallet back in a town we'd stopped at for some drinks about 17 kms away (and back down a few big hills). Damn it!!! Take all the bags off my bike and cycle back to the town as fast as I can. Feels amazing to ride without bags on the bike, but can't think about that, worried about finding the wallet... Phewww, a nice lady at the unopened '____' (nothing open here in Greece in the afternoon) picked it up, she says something like 'speaken de Deutcher'? No, but thanks all the same I say. Thanks, thanks.
Shanna is waiting at the checkpoint. We meet a man here who kindly gives us some water, cold water, so much better, says he's been to Newcastle, but doesn't like Albanians, he says 'they takes the jobs.'
We say good bye, and we're in Albania...
Amazing, scenery, mountains, beautiful road.
And then, no more road, only rocks, for the next 25 kilometers, bone jarring rocks, I never even rode a mountain bike track this rough, wow! Another thing, everyone drives a Mercedes, almost everyone, truck, car, van- all Mercedes.
Finally we're approaching the town, but not sure- it's dark now, sweating profusely, exhausted, arms jarred, it's really dark, and shots ring out into the night, gunfire, seems right next to us... Crap, are they firing at us, no,its OK, maybe gangs, cycle faster into the town, cant see much.
And suddenly we realise, we're in Albania!
Wow, this place is awesome we both say to each other... a little scary though!!
Awoke to sound of waves rolling along the beach... and noisy kids running around our tent. So we packed up and left as quickly as we could, with the fat mans angry dog trying to bite Shanna's heels, until I got off my bike and chased it into the damn ocean, were it drowned... At least I imagined doing this anyway.
After we'd bought some milk and had some breakfast we felt a little better, got back on the bikes and cycled to Igoumentia. Our legs were much more tired and sore today, and we had to cycle up a more hills than usual. The first of these began from the ocean and stopped at 240 meters in altitude, went back down quickly (past a huge landslide that had spilled out onto the road) to 40 meters and then back up suddenly to 230.
Although not so high, the hills kept on coming, and we struggled through the heat, having to go our own pace up the hills, rather than cycle together to block the wind. Around 6pm we began looking for somewhere to camp, and actually ended up cycling around ten kilometers in the opposite direction to were we thought we'd find a perfect secluded spot.It wasn't to be, the cliffs continued along the oceans front and we eventually gave up, riding into the city itself.
From here we cycled another five or so kilometers further along the exposed Greek coastline until we came to an Isthmus. As you can see from the photos it was an amazing beachside camp spot, with the first real sand beach we have seen since Thailand, warm ocean temps, and even a fresh water shower close by were we washed ourselves and our clothes!!!
Despite the disco/parties that blasted music from who knows where, again, the men cruising past staring from their 'fully sick cars', and the almost gail force winds that preceded the incredible lightning, hail and thunder storm (amazing, scary!!) that erupted during the early hours of the morning, we had a memorable time here, one I think we'll both reminisce about fondly years into the future.
We both felt great after a day off from riding the bikes, but by the time we finally got ourselves organised and left it was 11am and already the temperature was 35 degrees celcius.
Despite this we marvelled at the incredible view the road presented us with as it wound its way around the coastline, and even began saying to each other that this made the Great Ocean Road look tame...
By 6pm we had covered 100kms and we finally arrived at what we thought was a bridge but what turned out to be a tunnel, connecting one side of the peninsula to the other. Without the use of this tunnel, a 600km round trip or a ferry ride would be necessary, so we were surprised to find that bicycles were not allowed, particularly as the tunnel was only a kilometer long, shorter even than some of the unlit tunnels we rode through in China.
Eventually a man pulled up in a ute though, so luckily we were able to load our bikes on the back, getting a free ride across. Two hours later, our stomachs full with 1.60 Euro lamb gyros and we had finally found what we thought was the perfect camp spot on the beach, with only one caravan 00 meters from us in sight.
We dozed off to sleep almost immediately after swimming and washing our things in the ocean, but were woken at 11pm by some sort of disco somewhere (it was so far away we couldn't see it but loud enough that even with ear plugs in we struggled to get back to sleep.)
Sleeping once again and at 1am a couple with two young children and two dogs arrived. Deciding they liked our spot even more than us, they camped right near us, and set about setting up camp for the next year, or so it seemed... Finally back to sleep and two hours later at 4am the family's caged dogs began letting loose with a cacophony of growls and barks...
A day in Astakos
We enjoyed our rest day in Astakos, even splurging on a hotel room so we could wash clothes, stay cool in the air con and get a good night sleep!
We walked the streets of the beautiful town, swam, ate delicious food, and made friends with a Greek lady and her mother (see photos). It was interesting trying to talk to our new friend - she spoke a little English (and we spoke no Greek) so a few things got lost in translation... Sam tried to tell her that his sister was married to a Greek man and they were expecting a baby, but when she repeated details back to us it sounded like she thought Sam went to school in Athenia and had two Greek children... and when we tried to tell her that her beautiful home on the coast would be worth more than a million euros in Australia, she told us we would stay with her next year when we came back to work... It was a great experience and they were two of the nicest people we have met.
We loved Astakos - it is one of the nicest towns we've seen and we would happily go back.
At the base of the mountains
I didn't want to ride. I wanted to stop and rest. I dreamt of sitting by a beach all day and sleeping in the shade. But we weren't in a good spot. The water wasn't clean enough. We needed to ride to the nearest coastal spot. And I could tell from the squiggles on the map there were more mountains.
I felt sick. I felt tired. I sooked a lot. But we rode.
Most of the time it wasn't too bad. Relatively flat, roads in good condition, a cool breeze to temper the heat, and we even managed a tailwind for some of the time (although this backfired when we missed our turn-off and had to ride back almost 10km).
With 10km to go to Astokos - our coastal destination - the road wound up the mountain. It looked hard, but once we got into our low gears and found our rhythm it was manageable. It reminded me of Mt Dandenong and I found myself enjoying the ride. Especially when it was time to come down!
The town was so picturesque, sitting at the bottom of the mountains alongside the water. When we stopped to buy drinks the shopkeeper said it was 40 degrees that day! We knew it had been hot - we had been reminded of the sting of sweat in the eyes and it had been dripping off us all day - but the coolbreeze had made it tolerable.
We swam in warm, clear water again - it felt so good! The water was almost too warm. There were rocks of all shapes and colours and we spent almost an hour pointing out different rocks, finding perfect ones to skim across the calm surface.
The wrong way round
Often it is the difficult days that we end up covering the most distance... I started the day feeling like I was pedaling through quicksand, and skeptical that I would make the 60km to the bridge near Patra... but I was surprised at how much distance we covered. Especially given the fierce headwind, that seems determined to plague us no matter where we are in the world, and which direction we are riding. We often dream of what it would be like to be going the other way, and firmly believe we're going the wrong way around the world.
Around lunch time we stumbled upon a sight familiar to us in Bayswater, but which we haven't seen for the past 5 months. Aldi. We dumped our bikes at the door and excitedly scoured the aisles. 500ml chocolate milk for 50 cents. Chocolate and vanilla pudding for 28 cents. The bargains were even better than at home! We grabbed a heap of food, spent 6 euro, and proceeded to gorge ourselves outside. Boy did I feel sick! There are very few occasions I can remember feeling so sick...
Once I regained my ability to function we rode to the huge suspension bridge (for my roads friends I read that it is the world's longest multi-span cable-stayed bridge) joining the Peloponesse to the mainland. It was quite a sight! The bridge is considered an engineering masterpiece, as the difficulties around its construction were deep water, insecure foundations, seismic activity, and expansion from plate tectonics. But the engineers met the challenges and the bridge stands! We were lucky that a lane was closed for roadworks, but no works were happening, so we ended up with a whole lane to ourselves while we crossed the 2.25km structure.
On the other side we met a German couple cycling the 'right' way. In a combination of English, German, French and Italian we managed to communicate about our trips and the conditions of the road each was about to face. We were told no hills. Less than 10km later we were hit with two massive hills. Through the wind we battled. We were inland and we wanted to make it back to the coast, so we could wash before going to bed.
In the late afternoon we arrived in Mesologi. Our legs ached and we were tired. We ate some delicious souvlaki pitas for 2 euro and rode to a pier for a swim. The water in this area was surrounded by land on all sides, not really an ocean after all, so a bit dirty and stagnant. We found a pier to jump off, but when we landed we sank into various silt and sea plants that made us even dirtier. We crawled out not sure if the plunge had been worth it.
Our camping spot for the night was on a patch of dirt, behind some trees along the main road into the town. Barking dogs, noisy cars and the heat made sleep hard to come by...
One little road
Waking to the sound of the waves rolling along the beach and the sun rising was nice, pushing and carrying our bikes up the steep rocky path back to the road was not so nice. But of course it was worth it for getting to camp in such a beautiful spot.
But before we packed to leave we went for a swim in the ocean, again. Nice and cool, great start to the day.
After approx 20kms we came to Mellisio, a town with a post-office (were we sent some more things home), an internet cafe, two bike shops (the first we have seen in Greece) and a nice little supermarket.
All of a sudden it was almost lunch time so we headed off, only to be greeted by another incredible head wind. Wow, it is so hard riding into this kind of wind... so we stopped on the side of the road at an abandoned beach cafe, and went for another swim, and laid on the deck overlooking our own private beach...
When we got started again it was almost 5pm, and still the wind was strong and the sun high and hot. But after an hour or so of riding we rode through an incredible little village were the waves that had been strung up by the wind were crashing into the side of the road as we rode along, spray streaming through the air and sprinkling us as we rode past.
After a while we looked at each other, smiles on our faces, wondering at the amazement of such a road, by the ocean... if you close your eyes for a moment, maybe you can picture it too, the wind and the water spraying you through the twilight of the evening sun, the centuries old Greek villas lining the road on your right side, nothing but ocean on your left...
Very hot day, feels almost like Thailand!
Left our beautiful campsite, and rode for most of the day through a really difficult headwind along the coast.
Saw some amazing villages, houses, streets... and we rode across the Corinth Canal, way cool!!!!
Here is an excerpt from wikipedia about the canal:
The Corinth Canal (Greek: Διώρυγα της Κορίνθου) is a canal that connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek mainland, thus effectively making the former an island. The canal is 6.3 kilometres in length and was built between 1881 and 1893.
Remains of Nero's canal project in 1881 Several rulers in antiquity dreamt of cutting a canal through the Isthmus. The first to propose such an undertaking was the tyrant Periander in the 7th century BC. He abandoned the project due to technical difficulties, and instead constructed a simpler and less costly overland portage road, named Diolkos.According to another theory, Periander feared that a canal would have robbed Corinth of its dominating role as entrepôt for goods. Remnants of the Diolkos still exist next to the modern canal.
The Diadoch Demetrius (336–283 BC) planned to construct a canal as a means to improve his communication lines, but dropped the plan after his surveyors, miscalculating the levels of the adjacent seas, feared heavy floods.
The historian Suetonius tells us that the Roman dictator Julius Caesar (r. 48 to 44 BC) projected, among other grandiose engineering schemes, a canal through the Isthmus.He was assassinated before he could bring the scheme to fruition.
The Roman Emperor Nero (r. 54–68 A.D.) launched an excavation, personally breaking the ground with a pickaxe and removing the first basket-load of soil, but the project was abandoned when he died shortly afterwards. The Roman workforce, consisting of 6000 Jewish prisoners of war, started digging 40–50 m wide trenches from both sides, while a third group at the ridge drilled deep shafts for probing the quality of the rock (which were reused in 1881 for the same purpose). As the modern canal follows the same course as Nero's, no remains have survived.
The modern attempt at construction began in the 1870s following the successful opening of the Suez Canal. A French company was hired to build it, but due to financial difficulties, the company ceased work after only the two ends had been dug. Finally, in 1881 the Hungarian architects István Türr and Béla Gerster, who had also been involved with early surveys for the Panama Canal, were hired to plan a new canal. A Greek company led by Andreas Syngros (the main contractor being Antonis Matsas) ultimately took over the project and completed it in 1893.
On April 7, 2010, Australian daredevil Robbie Maddison performed a moto-x jump over the canal.
So that night we found what we both considered our best campsite ever, in a perfect secluded spot right on the beach.
Maybe you can also be the judge of this from the photos...
Distance: Maybe 30kms...
Stayed in Athens for 3 days waiting for Sams fevers to abate.
Saw some street fights, some beautiful buildings, a lot of big people (there are more here than in Australia guys, somebody is pulling our leg saying we take the crown...), ate some average food- All in all Athens was so so. But maybe thats just because I was sick with the measles...
Anyway, after 3 days I was finally well enough to ride again and we left the city via the coast, finding the second best camp site of our entire trip... you should have seen it, overlooking the ocean where there was a huge ship laying overturned. We swam out to the ship, washing ourselves from the sweat, and dived off what used to be the officers quarters!
Wow, beautiful water, perfect spot, photo's with proof to come soon.
Lesbos to Athens
Distance: 25km riding, lots more on a ferry
We attributed Sam's fever to our lack of sleep for a couple of nights and his ongoing health problems, and the itchy rash to one of the noxious, spiky plants we'd cleared for our tent the night before.
When we woke we rode back to the small shop Sam found the night before and bought some cereal and yoghurts for breakfast. We went to a nearby deserted beach and ate, before spending some time swimming in the clear water. We decided to relax for the day and just enjoy the beach. We found a small water trough and tap nearby and washed a lot of clothes, towels and our sleeping sacs and hung them to dry in the hot sun while we swam.
It was a great day and we enjoyed going back and forth between the water and the rocks (not sand). We ate some delicious bananas and more yoghurt, and happily packed away our dry laundry a few hours later.
In the afternoon we headed back to the port to eat some food and get ready for the overnight voyage. Onboard the ferry we locked our bikes in the hull and took some of our bags up with us. We had bought the cheapest tickets which entitled us to a seat outside on the deck all night. Again, the ferry was well below capacity, and we happily sat on a deserted section of deck watching the sun lower in the sky as we sailed out of the port.
A scout of the ship to find a place to sleep revealed a deserted foyer inside with carpet and a power point! Both cameras, the video camera and laptop were all out of power! So we set up and started charging things. A couple of hours later a noisy group with many adults and children (Arabs yelling at each other incessantly for no discernible reason) decided it was a good spot and started to set-up in our corridor too. We didn't hesitate - we packed up our things and moved to the next foyer. We didn't want to be kept awake by their noise (and they were SO noisy already).
Around this time Sam started to get the shivers again. He said he was freezing cold and we pulled out one of our sleeping bags for him. For a while he was ok to sit there in the sleeping bag, but the shivering got worse (even though his head was burning) so I blew up one of the mattresses for him to lay down. Despite ear plugs, an eye mask and head rubs from me, he was unable to fall asleep. I got some panadol to try and bring down the fever, and I was very worried! Some children started running around the corridors and up and down the stairs (even though it was well after 10pm by this time), Greeks and Asians were determined to yell at each other, and when I walked around the ship I couldn't find anywhere quiet to go. The best place was outside on the deck - where the strong cold wind prevented people congregating, except to smoke by themselves.
We moved our things outside - careful that nothing blew away in the wind - and set up on the deck. The noise of the wind drowned out any other noise and we were able to get a decent sleep for the rest of the night protected in our warm sleeping bags and comfortable on our mattresses.
When we arrived in Pireaus the plan had been to ride away from the city and start our journey through Greece, but Sam was exhausted and weak, so instead we found the cheapest hotel we could find with a shared bathroom- but still $30 Euro per night... expensive by our standards.
For a few hours we explored the streets of Athens and in the afternoon we watched a football game in a public square surrounded by expensive (for the cool people...) cafes while we surfed some free wifi.
That night the mad fever came back and the rash got worse... So it looks like we'll be staying another day.
Thanks to everyone for all of your support and positive comments on the site, it really keeps us going.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia