Goodbye Greece: Papigo Dreaming & The Butcher of Zagorohoria

Thanks to a great — and late—evening with new friends at Dryoino, I could not get up early. It’s noon when I am packed and ready to go.

Within 10 minutes riding, my shirt is sweaty and sticking to my back, the tips of my fingers stick to the inside of my gloves. Another hot day in Greece.

I stop for fuel and an ATM because I’m told that in Albania many places cannot accept credit cards, and those who do, prefer cash.

I’m less than an hour to the Albanian border, so I figure I’ve got time to visit the Zagorohoria region, and particularly Papigo. As I ride northwest, I roll into the small village of Kalpaki. On the roadside I see the usual market, cafes, and people milling about. Then I notice about hanging outside a butcher shop about a dozen goats, dead and skinned.

I pull over. I’ve seen so many goats wandering the hillsides and sometimes the roadsides in Greece, but this is the first time I’ve seen them dead and about to be butchered. I know that goat milk is used in making cheese, especially for the tasty feta cheese of Greece, but to date, I’ve not seen goat meat on any menu.

Inside the butcher shop, through the large plate-glass window, I notice a woman inside swatting flies against the window. A man walks outside and pushes the dead goats hanging from the shackling hook inside, the hooks run along a track that extends from above the sidewalk outside along the ceiling of the shop, through the front door and to the rear of the building into a walk-in cooler.

My boots are suddenly slippery against the tiled patio outside the shop where I realize I’ve stepped into the blotches of fresh blood that spot the tile. The man waves at me and then invites me into the shop. It smells like a butcher shop, but not nasty—fresh. I say “sure” when Chrysa asks if I’d like a coffee. She exits the shop while her husband, Kosmós continues to bring in the goats, explaining that the larger animals hanging are “mommy goats” while the smaller are babies.

“They’re hot, hot,” Kosmós explains, rubbing his hands together and pointing to the blood on the floor, showing that they were freshly slaughtered this morning and are still warm to the touch.

I put my camera down and pull out my phone to go live on Facebook. I know this isn’t pretty, and my vegan and vegetarian friends will gag in disgust, but this is real life in a small village in northern Greece just twenty minutes from the Albanian border.

They show me how they can produce quantities of souvlaki with a clever system Chrysa calls a machine. They have two children, boys and have been running this business for over 25 years, serving the villages of Zagorohoria (Zagori) and customers from Albania. I feel they want me to stay, talk longer, but I must move on as I need to be in Sarande Albania before nightfall.

In the village of Aristi, near Vikos Gorge and Papigo, I notice a guy manning a rotisserie and cooking souvlaki and fish. I ask them if the meat came from Kosmós and Chrysa, it does.

“He’s the Grillfather,” Natasa tells me as she wades across the narrow road, between vans pulling trailers stocked with rafts. “You can have an adventure on the river,” she tells me, “well, not an adventure, a ride.”

Another Facebook live segment, and soon I meet her whole family, Dimitris her son, Lukia her daughter and her husband. They all want to friend my Facebook page, and then they take the WorldRider sticker I give to them and post it to the door of their restaurant, posting for a classic photo.

It’s a windy road with enough switchbacks to make anyone dizzy, as I climb my way to Papigo, a stone village in the shadows or soaring rock cliffs rising from the forest below 1,000 feet. The road is narrow, and large cars winding down cut into my lane. Cattle with loud clanking bells, along with goats cross the road. There’s no place to pull over, I want to get a photo but must focus on the road.

Thirty minutes later I’m in Papigo. Cozy cafes shaded by trellised wisteria and olive trees, give Papigo a tranquil feeling. The streets are steep, made of stones. I must be careful getting off my bike, the inconsistent gaps in the stones could trap the leg of my kickstand.

Off the bike, I wander, climb and find solace in a place that seems trapped in a different time. There are tourists, and cafes offer cold beer, local food, and a place to rest your feet, yet after hiking around it occurs to me that this part of Greece is hidden, mostly, from the tourist trek.

I make my way to the tiny village to Zikos to teeter at the edge of the Zikos Gorge, where more rock spires rise from the river winding below, in some places over 3,000 feet. Latosa told me the real Grand Canyon is here, in Zikos. The US Grand Canyon is secondary, expressing love and pride of her country, something I find throughout the Greek people.

On my way back to the main road I pass by Latasa’s place and stop for a glass of cold water. She quizzes me, makes sure I saw all the highlights. But I barely see much of Zagorohoria, there are more villages and hikes I would like to take. But it’s time. Sadly, I must leave Greece.

Albania is waiting.

Outside The Walls of Ioannina Castle Town

Ioannina is relaxed, comfortable, and easy. With my bike parked safely inside the old city, I walk around and then outside the walls along the lake. I join other locals who are chatting, drinking coffee and juices and smoking cigarettes under umbrellas and tall trees that line the lake.

So what I thought would be a one-night stay in Ioannina, turned into a second night. Do you see? Am I ever going to leave Greece?

For dinner, I enjoy local cuisine at a restaurant tucked into a former mansion with a courtyard just outside the main gate of the old town. I wander the cobblestone pedestrian walkway lined with bars and sit down to enjoy a cold beer. Watching the world walk by, I see I’m not the only one sitting and watching—and not with my head buried into my iPhone. People talk to each other.

Later I walk to a cozy wine bar with a large courtyard with comfortable chairs on a beautiful stone patio. The bar stretches from an entrance on the street the runs outside the walls of the city, to a narrow cobblestone street on the next block. Last night the owner of DryOino, Jenny, shared with me local wines from the nearby wine regions. It was quiet, fun and the music mix was perfect for late night glasses of wine. During our goodbyes, I tell her I’d like to stay another night in Ioannina, but I must move on–that Greece has a strong grip on me. We hug, laugh and I thank her for her hospitality

Tonight, I meet her husband. They surprise me and have a bottle of wine I had asked Jenny about the night before, but it wasn’t available. Without knowing if I’d return, they still went out of their way, found the bottle so they could share with me if I returned.

“First,” her husband Panos tells me, “we have a sparkling rosé.” He pops a bottle of bubbly and pours three glasses. Tonight another traveler joins us at the wine bar, Patricjia, from Poland. Then Panos opens the bottle I searched for, a Paliokeisio by Glivanos, a semi-sparkling orange wine typically homemade and sealed with a bottle cap. The local winery Glivanos bottles it and Panos admits he doesn’t like it. It’s interesting, spritzy and simple. Just a glass is all I need, and I resort back to the sparkling rose. 

We talk about Greek wine. Panos is passionate, knowledgeable and excited to talk to travelers interested in Greek wine. I ask about business. They opened two years ago, but there aren’t many customers tonight, nor last night. The bars on the pedestrian street were packed, but Dryoino is quiet. It not only serves wine and small snack plates but is also a wine store that carries wines from all over Greece. They explain that here people still do not understand wine and that it’s hard for locals to justify paying 10-€20 for a bottle of wine when they can get a 500ml carafe at a local restaurant for 3 or €4. But attitudes are shifting, and Jenny says in the winter months they are busier. I wish and hope for them to succeed.

Jenny expresses her love for Xinomavro, a thick hearty red grape most commonly found in the Naoussa region. Panos talks about the white wines of Santorini, from the Assyrtiko grape. Patricjia, who is on a month-long journey throughout Eastern Europe has yet to try wine from the grape that might be Greece’s quintessential varietal—most famous. So Panos pours us each a glass. Instead of pouring an Assyrtiko from Santorini, he pours one from northern Greece. It’s more fruity, citrus-like, and alive.

We are now getting geeky, talking about wine, and the difference between those Assyrtikos I’ve tasted from Santorini and trying to explain to Patricjia the difference–urging her to search, find and try one from Santorini before she leaves Greece. At that point, Panos gets up and in seconds brings several glasses of an Assyrtiko from Santorini. He poured them before and waited for the right moment to bring them.

Jenny and Patricjia at DryOino Wine Bar in Ioannina

So for my last night in Ioannina, between four people, all passionate and excited about Greek wine, we have a connection. We share stories, small bites of cheese and plenty of conversation–that evolves away from wine and to travel, history and politics.

It’s 3 AM when we say our goodbyes. Too late now as I hoped for an early start tomorrow. We’ll see. I want to visit the villages of Zagorohoria before crossing into Albania.

Heading North Into The Region of Ali Pasha

I can feel beads of sweat drip down my back as I ride out of Lefkada.

There is only one way off this island. And everyone leaving must take the same road and cross the same bridge. So the traffic is crazy. I take advantage of the small profile of my motorcycle and edge along the right side of the cars lined up and waiting until I get within a few cars of the bridge. That’s when I realize it’s not a bridge. The short span across the narrow waterway or channel is about 100 feet. Boats use this channel to access points north of Lefkada.

The bridge is a boat, sort of. When other boats need to head out to sea, the bridge morphs into a small ferry-like boat that motors out of the way while lifting its port and starboard ramps, like wings, into the air 90 degrees, giving room for the other boats to pass.

I’ve seen nothing like this. And I didn’t even notice this when I rode onto the island several days ago.

But I get it. The channel is too narrow for a traditional drawbridge, so this movable bridge provides the solution—as well as the traffic. When the boat returns to the gap, drops its winged ramps, I motor across and make my way north.

The road winds through a gentle pastoral countryside, with tall mountains looming to the east. Here roadside stands sell vegetables instead of honey or olives. As a crest a rise in the road, I’m taken by a huge swath of orange. It’s a stand with some of the largest pumpkins and squash I’ve seen—and it’s still several months until Halloween.
I’ve crossed the border of the Ionian Islands region, and into the northwestern most region of Epirus on my way to its primary city, Ioannina.

Greece is divided into regions, unlike my country which is divided into states, or Canada which is divided into provinces. There are thirteen “administrative regions” in Greece. These regions are divided into prefectures (now known as regional units), which I assume are similar to counties as we have in California and other states.

To date, I count riding through seven regions of Greece: Attica, Central Greece, Western Macedonia, Central Greece, Attica, Peloponnese, Thessaly, Western Greece, and today I’m heading to my eighth, Epirus, the place where the Lion of Yannina, Ali Pasha once held court during the Ottoman period.

While southern Greece and the Peloponnese were liberated from the Ottomans after the Greek War of Independence in 1830, the province of Epirus remained under Ottoman rule until 1913. As the Ottoman rule over Greece weakened, the despotic Ali Pasha took advantage of and harnessed his power through brutal means, including drowning anyone who he didn’t like by putting them in a sack filled with stones and dropping the sack from the top of the castle walls into Lake Pamvotida. He also enjoyed forcing people to dance over beds of dried thorny bushes until they bled to death.

Pasha’s heritage was Albanian, not Turkish, and he continued to be at odds with Constantinople and Sultan Mahmud II. Over the years of his rule, he waged a separatist campaign against the Ottoman’s and sought to create an autonomous state. The Sultan waged war against Ali Pasha, urging him to surrender. But Ali Pasha refused to surrender, fighting until his fateful end when in 1822 the Turks captured and killed him in his castle on Lake Pamvotida here in Ioannina.

As was common in medieval times, the Sultan ordered proof of Ali Pasha’s death by demanding his head be returned to Constantinople. There they presented his head to the Sultan on a silver platter. Today, the headless body of Ali Pasha is buried in a tomb outside the Fethiye Mosque in Ioannina, while his head is buried in Turkey.

The Fethiye Mosque, outside of which is the tomb of the headless Ali Pasha.

Ioannina and Epirus continued under Ottoman rule for over 80 years, but today this part of the once Ottoman empire that spread to north Epirus and into Albania and beyond, is now Greece, though through the area the influence of the Ottoman’s and their some 500 year rule is clear, especially in the hillside villages north of Ioannina.

I find a hotel inside the walls of the old town of Ioannina, just outside “Its Kale”, the Ottoman name for the Southeastern citadel. There are only two gates or entrances to the old town, and as I ride by each I notice signs clearly marks them as “do not enter”. I’m confused and trying to figure out just where I can ride my bike through the imposing walls.

Just outside one gate marked “do not enter”, I pull over, take off my helmet and look at a map. I notice a group of four police offers standing next to a police bike and car. They stare at me. One officer approaches me. I worry they’ll ask me to move, that I am blocking traffic. Wrong.

“Can I help you,” he asks with friendly eyes and a warm smile.

“I need to get into the old town,” I explain, pointing to the stone archway that serves as one gate into the city. “Can I ride through there?”

“It is forbidden,” he tells me, matter-of-factly.

He pauses and then says, “But it’s okay, you can go.”

Ah, so that’s how it works here. He asks the usual questions of where I’m from, where I’m going and about the motorcycle.

“You need anything else?” I explain he’s been helpful and thank him for the information.

I ride through the walls of the old city and find my guest house. Though I’ve broken the law here in Ioannina, my head is still intact and I’ve no fear anyone will try to drown me or make me dance to my death!

The Last Lefkada Supper

The view from one of Adonis’ Thea Resort villas on Lefkada island on the Ionian Sea in Northwestern Greece

I stay an extra night in Lefkada. I want to ride the island one more time. Take comfort and revel in awe at these beautiful beaches. I also share a sunset and meal with Adonis, the owner of the villa, Thea Resort, my brother Jonathan and his friends rented a few years ago.

Full of energy, spirit, and spunk, Adonis—who is also known as Antonio—is an architect but chooses not to practice anymore, except for close friends. He tired of the handholding and challenges of client service. Instead, he built two hillside villas with panoramic views overlooking the sea and other islands around Lefkada.

Adonis aka Antonio of Lefkada’s Thea Resort Villas

Sharing a fun moment with a fellow world traveler, Renee from Boston. Follow her on Instagram

He prefers to service his guests who travel from all over the world who also wish to revel in awe at the beaches and hospitality of Lefkada. He shows me the villas as he tends to a group of young Bulgarians, then later introduces me to a family from Great Britain as they lounge by the infinity pool. They all great him not as someone they leased a property, but rather as a host and friend.

Adonis takes me a western beach where we enjoy a sunset over a meal of local cuisine, dining alfresco at his favorite restaurant. The fava puree with onions is fresh and gives a new appreciation of the flavors of fava, and the octopus, cooked the traditional way with olive oil, lemon and cooked in the oven is tender and delicious. Zucchini lightly breaded and flash fried joins the several other accompaniments or meze of our meal.

After, at a cafe in downtown Lefkada we meet Renee, a woman from Boston who is traveling the world, but taking refuge for some time in Lefkada and living and working on a sailboat to enjoy more Greek sunshine while saving money for further travels. She is a beekeeper and a photographer who has been traveling for several months. I tell her about the beekeeper I met near Athani while Adonis sets her up with accommodations near there for this weekends Festival of Bees and Honey.

Sadly, I will not make it to the festival. It would be easy to stick around and settle into the Lefkada chilled lifestyle, and the lifestyle of a perpetual traveler. It’s been many years since I traveled for “years at a time” — this trip I’m on a mission, though always leaving time for spontaneity. Yet I have a deadline, I think.

For now, the road calls and while I will leave Lefkada, I wonder if I can leave Greece behind.

Bliss. Riding The Island and Savoring The Waters of the Ionian Sea.

 

The cool evening breeze is a welcome relief from the heat of the hot summer days here in Lefkada. Nick and the entire staff at the Hotel Konaki are welcoming and offer suggestions for dinner, so I walk to nearby Seven Islands on my first night on the island and the second night to the adjacent Kanioria.

The owner of Seven Islands guides me to a small display case cooler where several fish are stacked on ice. “You have the tchupero,” she says pointing to a small white mullet fish, served whole, grilled and with fresh grilled vegetables. I order a greek salad and a nice bottle of local white wine, Lefkadas.

At Kanioria, I meet the passionate chef Tasos who serves me a hearty beef stew and for an appetizer the traditional Lefkada dish of Savoro tuna marinated in rosemary vinegar sauce with garlic and served with smoked eggplant puree and black raisins.

 

Porto Katsiki

What makes the Lefkada beaches paradise and ranked in the top ten of the world is the pure crystal clear blue and aquamarine color of the Ionian sea, especially on the west coast of the island. I ride around the entire island while taking a reprieve from the heat in those clear waters twice. The entire trip is about 75 miles and the roads wind and twists over steep hills covered in conifer and olive trees and thickets of sage, rosemary, and other herbs, while on the western slopes tall green pine trees.

Yes!

It’s this lush green landscape combined with the white beaches and hypnotically blue waters that makes Lefkada unique among the Greek islands. While the beach bars of Mykonos, Eos, and Corfu are likely blasting thumping beats of the latest dance-pop, on Lefkada, it’s easy to find peace serenity, and silence, save the kinetic beat of the cicadas.

Oh, that’s not to say the party cannot be found on Lefkada, the beaches and bars of the town of Lefkada, the western beach of Kathisma Beach/Agios Nikitas), and the busy town of Nydri offers beautiful cafes, boat rentals, outdoor recreation services, and the party at night.

Tasos the chef at Kanioria in Lefkada Greece

 

The appeal of Lefkada is there are no huge resort-style hotels and this makes the island seem to offer a more authentic Greek island experience than the popular destinations. Just riding through the hills I love to stop at a small roadside stands where friendly locals sell olives and olive oil and particular near the tiny village of Athani, the honey. Stopping here I meet a local beekeeper who lets me wander through the hillside where colorful bee boxes are buzzing with bees at work making that glorious honey that makes this town famous.

As much as I would love to support and load up on great Greek olive oil and some of the best honey in the world, but I’m on a bike and space is tight.

So I pack my heart and mind with experiences—like walking down the 99 steps to the beach at Porto Katsiki, where the busy August crowds wade and swim in the beautiful waters, people jump from the rock cliffs, or off sailboats moored in the crescent-shaped bay. I’d say it’s one of the best beaches I’ve ever been through that is accessible by road.

created by dji camera

Another, Egremni beach, just north of here is only accessible by boat since an earthquake crumbled the rocky steps that once provided access, albeit by a steep and long walk up and down.

Dining Off The Well Traveled Path In Lefkada

I find it hard to leave Lefkada. The beautiful beaches, the great food and wine, and most of all, the friendly locals.

Kollokas Taverna in Katouna, Lefkada

Panagiotis Kollokas

Take Panagiotis Kollokas, one of the family members that own and operate Taverna Kollokas, a restaurant tucked into the tiny hillside village of Katouna, just a few miles south of Lefkada. My brother, who along with his family, and the family of a close friend from college, together rented a villa on Lefkada a few years ago. They liked Kollokas enough to have at least 2 or 3 meals there.

So I climbed the steep road about a mile off the main road to see why they enjoyed Kollokas so much. With a bottle of wine in hand, intending to share with the family and locals, I wander into the kitchen first and then meet Panagiotis (Panos), who sets me down at a nice table outside. The stone building holds a modest indoor space, but in Greece, it’s all about dining alfresco.

Panos opens the bottle and pours the wine into a couple basic rocks-style or water glasses. I notice a couple men sitting at a table just finishing their meal and wine, and I make conversation and offer them a couple glasses of wine.

I pour a glass for Pano’s dad who tends the outdoor grill tucked into a small room with an open door. He grills pork, sausages, lamb and a host of tasty treats and hand delivers to customers sitting under the awning or cozy tables surrounding the town square.

Panos did not work at the family restaurant when Jonathan was last here. He studied optometry in Athens and worked for an optical store in Athens. Married with a son, his wife also is an optician and works at the optical store in Lefkada. They returned to Katouna to help with the family business.

Panos mother smiles has a hearty laugh and is giddy and playful when I wander the restaurant taking pictures and looking for takers for the wine.

Soon the bottle is empty and Panos sits with me, brings me a couple dishes of local Lefkada cuisine and opens a different bottle of Lefkadan white and we sit, telling stories and together polish the wine, I take more photos.

As the evening winds on, Panos mom takes off on her scooter while dad cleans tables. Soon, I realize we are the last people in the restaurant. Panos offers to give me a ride back to my hotel. With my DSLR camera in one hand, I sit on his little scooter and grab a handle next to the seat and we zoom off.

I realize that he may have had as much to drink as I have, and it’s dark. My two rules for travel are never riding the bike at night, and never drive after drinking. Now I’m on the back of this scooter with a Greek driver at the handlebars, and I’ve barely got a grip on the scooter and my camera.

On the way to the hotel, Panos asks me if I’d like to come to his home, and have raki, a distilled spirit usually made from grape must like grappa and continue the conversation. “Why not?” I say, and when we arrive at his home just a kilometer down the road, suggest we drink glasses of Retsina, a wine resinated with pine, and has a history that stretches back for more than a thousand years in the area.

Shortly after, Panos’ wife shows up with their 4-year-old son and some friends. It’s nearly 3AM, so soon after we say goodbyes and we hop back on the scooter and I’m back in my comfortable bed at Hotel Konaki.

A late night. Okay, I think I get why Jonathan family and friends enjoyed so many meals at Kollokas.

Athens to Paradise. Welcome to Lefkada!

Before leaving Athens, I have a little more business handle. So after a nice breakfast on the rooftop at the A for Athens Hotel where I was happy to join Dimitri’s family, but Dimitri is still sleeping.  Since he drives back to his village in the Peloponnese today, they let him sleep in. Today, I will drive further and without the comfort and convenience of air-conditioning. But before I go, I walk the streets of Athens to tackle a few errands.

I head to Kokkoris Optics just a few blocks away from where I meet another old friend, Minas Kokkoris, the owner. I  stopped here a couple of weeks ago looking to see if they carried frames from my friend’s company, DITA Eyewear. They do.

The owner is an energetic and fun guy who is happy to adjust my DITA eyeglass frames and tries to fix my IZIPIZI readers. They are beyond repair, but because he is the Greek importer of the French company, he sells me another pair.

Soon I’m done with my errands and on the road.

As I make my way to Patras, I battle strong headwinds from the sea.

About 70 miles outside Athens the reserve fuel light catches my eye. Good timing, there’s a rest area in just 5km. But when I get there the gas station is getting refilled. The manager tells me it will be a 30 or 40-minute wait. The next rest area is 49 km (about 30 miles) down the road.

I know Doc. I know that I can get about 40 miles, maybe more, on reserve. But I’m sure these strong headwinds are taking a toll on fuel economy. Could I make it? Or, will I run out of gas. I take a chance and go.

I am easy on the throttle, cruising slowly, about 50-60mph, often drafting behind big trucks. I’ll do anything to make sure what little fuel I have left will make it to the next rest area. I do not want to be stranded on this road.

It’s still hot, and I’m climbing a big hill. Doc is loaded, and the bike hesitates for a few seconds, then again. My heart skips a beat, maybe two. Shit! Am I running out of gas? I goose the throttle, the engine smooths, and then purrs. It’s Doc letting me know it is hot, and we are under a heavy load uphill in this heat.

A few minutes later I see a sign: 5km to the rest area. It’s a satisfying celebration. I made it.

A Greek motorcycle rider on a Ducati pulls up as I’m gearing up to leave. He’s on a short 100km ride, tells me that Lefkada is beautiful.

Just before he puts his helmet back on, he tells me “Be careful.” His tone turns serious and eyes look deep into mine, and says, “The Greeks are not good drivers.” He pauses a moment and with a shake of his wrist and index fingers says, “but they are good!.”

Yes, the Greeks are good. I experience this every day. I also agree with the driving, and that experience I wish only happens every few days. It’s always good to hope, to dream. But it’s also good to understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

The Greeks are good.

Hotel Konaki in the foreground with the swimming pool. olive trees and courtyard. My home in Lefkada! Great location, amazing service and the best place to chill while enjoying the beauty of Lefkada.

I roll into Lefkada, and into the parking lot at the Hotel Konaki where I meet Nick, one of the friendly owners and a friend of my brother Jon, and cousin to one of his co-workers. Nick tells me that on Lefkada I will soon experience and learn that this Greek island is a slice of paradise. Happy to be out of my hot riding suit and boots, I’m comfortable. I feel like I’m home—with a cold beer and an old friend.

Athens to Lefkada Details
Miles traveled: 231 miles
Travel time: 5 hours 28 minutes
Fuel economy: 12.8 miles per liter
Fuel Cost: 1.84€ per liter (100 octane)

The Road Back To Athens

Nikos Psaltiras owner of Psaltiras Wine Bar and wine and olive oil shop—legendary in Kardymili

I dig Kardymili. Tucked into the hillside on the coast in the northwestern Peloponnese an hour south of Kalamata, it is a quiet town sitting on cliffs that form a small bay with a beach and surrounded by olive groves. There are nice coffee shops, restaurants, souvlaki joints, and a handful of specialty shops run by passionate locals.

There is even an ATM machine. And a wine bar. I make one more stop to Psaltiras Wine Bar to visit with Nikos and Katarina one last time. Nikos pours me a nice agiorgitiko from Nemea and sets me up with a beautiful cheese plate.

Yet it’s time to say goodbye to my cozy digs here.

I’m taking a four-hour drive to Athens to spend one more evening with Pan, his friends, and family. The ride isn’t very exciting, except for the first hour that winds through the mountains and tiny villages to Kalamata. Then I hop on the national road and tuck behind the windscreen and motor for 3 hours to the capital.

To be honest, I almost backed out of the return to Athens. I know it’s time to head north, to Albania. But I’m not sure when I’ll see Pan again, and we can take advantage of the face-to-face time to discuss our strategy and potential locations for the TV show.

This morning, however, the trip to Athens took on great importance as it relates to this current Summer 2018 Journey. I woke up to nearly dead battery on my laptop, a MacBook Pro. I’ve struggled with the MagSafe adapter—a magnetic connector that attaches from the power adapter to my laptop.

The MagSafe is an ingenious design. If someone trips or runs into the cord it pulls the magnet away off the computer. But it’s been problematic. Lately, the adapter shows the MacBook Pro is fully charged, showing a green light. When it charges, the light glows amber or orange. I must fiddle with the magnetic adapter, moving it so slightly to find the sweet spot: where the light turns from green to amber.

This morning no amount of fiddling would get the light to glow amber. I either need a new Apple Power adapter—or the connector on my MacBook is toast. I’m confident that the adapter is the problem, as back in California I have another power adapter I use when working in my home office. This adapter has been my travel adapter. If I thought about this before, I would have brought the other adapter. My bad.

By the time I arrive in Athens, it’s hot. Over 100 degrees. I sweat in the insane Athens traffic on these narrow streets. Traffic lights only let two cars through before turning red. I’m behind at least ten cars and a delivery truck. Scooters whiz by me and the cars and truck. There’s not enough room for my bike with my Jesse bags. I would hit someone or scratch a car for sure. So I sit, my bike idles. After about 20 minutes of making my way these narrow streets, Doc alerts me through its warning light that the bike is overheating. Damn.

I pull over, turn off the engine, take off my riding jacket and sit on the curb. Checking my iPhone I realize I’m just 800 feet from iStorm, a “premium Apple Reseller” according to its website. I wait 15 minutes and then ride to iStorm.

I technician thinks there is something wrong with the connector on my MacBook Pro. He tells it will take 2 days to get a diagnostic and another four days to repair. The MacBook seems to charge fine with iStorm’s adapter, but it gets hot. I ask him to try my adapter. It works for a few seconds on the iStorm computer but then fails.

Dimitris

Pan

I cannot wait a week in Athens. He doesn’t recommend it, but I buy a new adapter, at about 25% more than it costs in the USA. Oh well. This is life on the road.

I meet Pan and two of the subjects for his new documentary about “post-crisis Greece’ titled “Freedom Besieged.” He plans to premiere the feature-length documentary in Athens this November.

I also meet Dimitris, a close friend of Pan from Vancouver who spends several months each year here in Greece. He’s spirited and a wealth of knowledge. Arranges for me to meet a legendary and passionate winemaker from the Nemea region in the Peloponnese.

Later that evening we have one more Greek dinner together, with Brittany, Pan, and Dimitris family. After a long goodbye and good night, I take a walk to Vintage Wine Bar & Bistro. It’s past midnight, but I’m happy to see Panos and Iza are still open. Panos pours me a 2004 wine from Northern Greece, a rare treat to try a 14-year-old wine. It’s dark, brooding and layered. Wonderful.

The last supper for me with the newlyweds and their friends.

Panos and Iza—the lovely couple that own the Vintage Wine Bary & Bistro in Athens

They close shop and I wander back to my hotel. Tomorrow, I ride to Lefkada. It will be a long ride, a good portion of it once again on the national road.

Kardymili to Athens details
Miles traveled: 170
Travel time: 3 hrs 31 minutes
Fuel Economy: 14.8 kilometers per liter
Fuel cost: 1.90€ /liter (95 octane)

Signs of August: The Greek Holiday Begins

The sign tells all. This popular taverna in Kardamyli shuts down for the entire month of August. The Greeks are hitting the road and the skies. I’m told most Greeks escape Greece or take in their own country during the month of August.

It’s probably time for me to head north. But there’s still some business left and new places in this great country to explore. I travel with “No Itinerary” — so let’s see where the road takes us!

The Mani Road to Kardymili

The southern Mani is rugged, desolate, and harsh. Yet it has a beauty and tons of hidden beaches. Roads hug the cliffs, don’t look down.

I’d like to stay more days at the bottom of Greece here in Porto Kagio, but the road calls me and it’s time to explore the north. I bid the owners farewell, but before I suit up, the owner helps me repair the 7€ hat I bought in Napflio—the glue holding the black hand that circles the hat failed. So my host finds a safety pin and gives new life to my hat.

The ride is as good today as it was yesterday. Winding around this craggy cliffs at dizzying heights, I find myself pulling over more times today trying to capture this landscape through the lens of my camera.

Instead of wandering the caves of Diros, these young kids take turns at cliff jumping!

The caves at Diros are impressive, but I missed the boat.

I’m headed to Kalamata but stop in Pyrgos to explore the Diro caves, however, the boats that take travelers into the caves are fully booked for today. Instead, I purchase a cheaper ticket that allows me to walk through some of the caves. 

Making stops while riding always presents a few considerations and complications. Any time I must leave my bike when it’s fully loaded, I must consider security. Petty theft happens anywhere. The key is to remove the temptation—incentive. If a potential thief does not want what he or she cannot see. In this case, I ask the ticket seller if he would keep an eye on my bike. He agrees, but when people crowd around his window, they block his view. So I pull out my motorcycle cover. 

Roadside photo app with Doc. When I stop, I like to unload the bike and from there go by foot

The other consideration is comfort. A motorcycle riding jacket, pants, and boots are not designed for hiking, especially in this heat. So take off my boots and put on comfier shoes, and stash the boots with my jacket on my seat under the cover. This part of Greece is very remote, not widely touristed and I feel comfortable and not worried. I probably would not do this in a city or larger tourist attraction. That’s why I always prefer to stay near areas I wish to explore and have my things securely in a room so I can explore on foot, or nearby by bike without my full load.

The caves, the part I can see, are spectacular. I miss the subterranean river that stretches for 1.6km, but the roughly 350m walk gives me a taste of what I could have seen. Massive formations of stalagmites and stalactites.

I learn that the small Mani town of Aeropolis is the home of Greek Independence, so I stop to wander the town square and the statue of Petros Mavromichalis who on the 17th of May in 1821 with a ragtag band of rebels marched to Kalamata, defeating the Ottomans and launching the Greek War for Independence.

Aeropolis in the Mani gave birth to the Greek revolution when this guy, Petros Mavromichalis, defied the Turks and took Kalamata from them in 1821

As I travel up the western side of the Mani, the road cuts down to the coast passing several small towns and beaches and then climbs again offering panoramic views of the sea and rugged coastline.

Soon the sky darkens, rain threatens and in a few moments raindrops bead my face shield. I roll through the seaside hamlet of Kardamyli and decide to stay here rather than go onto the bigger city of Kalamata.

Kardamyli is quaint, a small main road is lined with a handful of shops and boutiques, including Psaltiras wine bar and olive oil shop. It’s here I meet the owner Nikos and his wife Katarina and continue my Greek wine education—and a primer on olive oil. Over good wine and cheese, I sit down with Nikos for a quick chat that will be featured in an upcoming WorldRider podcast.

Three bars and restaurants hug the Kardymili cliffs and offer great views with tasty treats and libations. This place is a perfect stop where I think I can finally catch up on some work, and make new friends — of the feline kind, this time.

Chilling at Psaltiras wine bar and olive oil shop

Why can’t I take her with me?