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OPWT2 DIARY - DAYS 27 - 34

OPWT2 DIARY - DAYS 27 - 34

DAY 27 – Butrint – Lefkada (Greece) 126 Miles

Albania has been way more interesting and engaging than we had expected but time pressures mean we can’t linger and it’s time for us to head to Greece. Over breakfast we spot Jovi, our disapproving Balkan Astrologer from the night before – seems he still disapproved of a Fish lying down with a Ram as he studiously avoided our eyes and busied himself with some cushion plumping in the reception area.

Now, to get away from Butrint and to the border at Konispol you can either take a long circuitous route that adds at least an hour or two to your journey or you can take the ferry.  It’s a chain ferry. Of sorts. And quite unlike any other ferry I’ve ever been on. This was an assemblage of various timber planks fashioned into a makeshift platform and roughly attached to what appeared to be a couple of old builders skips to provide the necessary flotation. If you squint and look closely you can just make out the faded phone number of a skip company somewhere in the UK. Rolling towards the waters edge, the “ferry” was on the other side – a car and a van creaked onto the platform and the phone number disappeared under the weight. An ancient engine clawed itself alive  and the cable slowly rose out of the water until, reaching full tension, the contraption headed our way – a minute or two later it clattered into the concrete and the vehicles lurched off and it was our turn.

All I can say is, that if I ever get carted across the River Styx to meet my judgement, I reckon the ferryman would look a damn site better than the crew of our skip based thing who swiftly relieved of us a few Albanian Lek and before we knew it we were over the other side and heading for the border.

Leaving Albania was simplicity itself – handover the passport, stamped out and into the no mans land – no longer in Albania, not yet in Greece. We had been warned that getting into Greece was a lot trickier and we would need to show evidence of how many days we’d been in the Schengen area and produce all sorts of documents for the bikes and go through a lengthy customs inspection. Not so. Instead, we had a Greek Border Guard who loved the fact I have a new Blue UK Passport but Annie still has her old Purple EU version. I can’t repeat here what he said about Brexit and the EU but he was very expletive pleased the UK had stuck it to the expletive EU and he wished Greece would do the expletive same. We were left in no uncertain terms what he would have enjoyed doing to the EU if it could be manifested as an actual person against whom he could have inflicted some serious injuries. It wasn’t pretty. Stamping us in and wishing us well with a lovely toothy smile, he welcomed us to Greece and we were in. Heading south along the coast road towards Lefkada and away from his invective.

Twisty roads, sea on the right, olive groves to our left – some tended, mostly not. Blossom hanging heavy and swaying gently in the breeze. Trees are old here – many at least 100 years plus, not much new planting. Ground underneath more like a rich meadow with yellow flowers along with scarlet poppies not yet turned to seed.

Passing Igoumenitsa, the roads became familiar in that we have driven them a number of times before whilst holidaying here. Somehow this seemed a little wrong and we both felt a little off kilter as if we shouldn’t really be here and as if something was missing. We realised what it was after a few miles. Children.  Normally, on these self same roads we have our children with us. This time around they are looking after the house, cat, fish and each other. We chat about this with a pang of guilt and feeling of incompleteness. To sort that out we swing off he main road, find a taverna we know and eat Horiatiki and Kalamari to help us forget. We WhatsApp the kids to help them deal with our guilt which makes us feel loads better.

Hunger dealt with, we ride off and can’t remember when we’ve felt so good. Guilt is such a negative feeling. The kids would have hated this so best they stated home…

Riding over the Swing Bridge that connects Lefkada to the mainland felt really good until I looked down at my non whirry bits to spot the numbers jangling up and down but not going round and round as intended. Situation normal. Situation Not Normal was the Battery Charging Light glowing up at me. Not good. Its Wednesday 1st May today and it’s the Greek Easter Weekend ahead followed by Labour Day on the Monday. Chances of getting this fixed anytime soon are just about zero. The Greeks have a lot of national holiday days and the general approach to them is to take most of the preceding week off to ‘prepare’ for the holiday and then take much of the following week off to ‘recover’. This weekend is the double whammy of both Easter Sunday and Labour Day on the Monday followed by another Bank Holiday on the Tuesday for good luck and to recover from the previous holidays.

Not feeling hopeful, we arrived at our destination and settled in for the night.

 

DAY 28 – Lefkada – Kaklamanis Electrician, Hire Car

Once, when on holiday in these parts, our host was a lady called Barbara – a real force of nature. Always smiling, kind, warm and generous hearted and with more contacts than its possibly wise for just one person to have – she knew everyone and, more importantly, everything about everyone. Whenever she saw us she would ask, “Where you go today?” We’d respond, “Afteli Beach,” or “Ammousa,” or “thinking of taking a boat,” and she would look carefully from side to side, take a step closer and say, with a smile that although broad and white toothy had a slight hint of menace that hadn’t been there before,

“You see my friend, Mikos/Spiros/Panos/Dimitri.
Tell him you know Barbara…”

So we tried it and By Georgios it worked a treat. So much so that we were thinking of having T Shirts printed with ‘I KNOW BARBARA’ on, just in case we went somewhere that Barbara didn’t know we were going to and we needed the full Barbara treatment.

Looking out her phone number from the last time we had been looked after by her, we gave her a call to see if she could recommend someone to look at the charging system on my bike. It took her less than 10 seconds before she had us recalled with a frightening degree of accuracy to the front of her mind – “Ah Yes, Giles and Annie, Villa Boubouki, 3 or 4 years ago – June – you have the two gorgeous girls, Ella and Maddie…” Mighty impressive given the number of people this lady comes into contact with.

“Go see George Kaklamanis in Nidri. By the Church. Kak La Man Is. Tell him you know Barbara.” Of course.

Riding into town we pull up by the church and find a scooter rental shop and assume this must be the place.

“George Kakalamanis? We know Barbara.”

“What?”

“George? Kakalamanis? Fixes Bikes?

“In Nidri? No one here. No one fix bikes. Who is Barbara?”

Maybe the Barbara effect didn’t stretch this far: “Barbara said it was by the Church and it was George Kakalamanis.”

“Oh, Yorgios Sparkio. Electrician. The Other Church Yorgios
Kakla-maaan-eeees.”

 

Turns out my pronunciation, or lack of it, had done for us again. We head off to the other end of town and find the workshop of vehicle electrician George Kaklamanis which has to be the most disorganised and chaotic workshop on the planet. If you had an infinite amount of monkeys with an infinite number of tools and let them loose the result would be tidier than the Kaklamanis workshop.

He cheerfully told us that nothing would be done until after Easter as it was all a big holiday. We tried telling him we knew Barbara. He looked nonplussed. So I gave Annie a look and, right on cue, she welled up and a slow tear ran down her cheek and plopped onto the tools strewn across the floor. George and I looked at the tear, looked at each other and then both looked at Annie and George sighed. He promised to do what he could.

His colleague then came and tested the voltage with a large voltmeter and confirmed we were a bit “spasménos” in the charging department. I asked him what that meant and he said,

“Broken – is broken.”

“Ah. Spasmenos – is ‘broken’’ in Greek?”

“Yes. Is paramorfoménos.”

“Ah. Paramorfoménos is also broken in Greek?”

“No. Paramorfoménos is buggered.”

He fiddled with a few things for a minute or two and then looked a bit lost and wandered off, distracted. After watching him wander in and out of the workshop and scratching about on various benches, racks and shelves it became clear he was looking for something.

Eventually, he re-discovered the voltmeter from 15 minutes previously and, grinning sheepishly, said, “Found it.”

I almost asked if they charged by the job or by the time it took to do the job – if it was the latter we were completely paramorfénos as it was clear they would spend at least 4 times as long looking for the correct tool than fixing the actual problem. I decided against the challenge lest they downed tools and went off for an extended Easter.

We didn’t hold out much hope and, leaving the bike in a number of bits with George, we went over the road to hire a car from Vasilli – a wizened, tiny chap with a face like a walnut with an added pair of eyes, nose and a mouth from which came a noise in place of a voice that only serious tobacco usage over many years can produce. He sounded like a bucket of gravel being poured into a colander – very slowly and from a great height. He proudly showed us the car. A Nissan Wisp (or something) – filthiest hire car ever but cheap and Vasilli was happy to do a deal.

                “Very strong car. New.”

It had 130,000km on the clock, no panel left undented, chronic steering wallow and the whole thing creaked and groaned worse than Vasilli first thing in the morning pre fag number 1 of 60 or 70. We took it and hoped for the best.

 

DAY 29 – Lefkada

Villa Skala sits high above the village of Poros and has one of the top 2 or 3 views in all of Greece (in our humble opinion) – at around eight or nine hundred feet above the sea the villa looks across the channel to the island of Meganissi and then to the mainland some distance beyond that. To the left of Meganissi is the smaller island of Skorpios – once the playground of the oil magnate, Onassis who was born on Lefkada – it is an ever changing view of sea and land that never looks quite the same twice as the light is ever altering and the sea state in a constant state of flux – one minute glassy still, the next, whipped by the winds the sailing boats flock here for.

We have been lucky enough to holiday here a few times and got to know the owners, Neil & Tina. It was here that we were staying when we hatched the plan for this trip and on hearing of it, they kindly suggested that we could stay for a couple of days on our way through. As it turned out, what with the bike and all, this is a very welcome break in our schedule and some much needed washing machine time.

The Nissan Lisp (or whatever) didn’t inspire us to go too far and we were beginning to doubt the reach of Barbara so we opted to stay local and catch up various bits of weather watching and inspecting the insides of eyelids. Nipped out to go and see how George was getting on. Workshop shut. Bike outside. No sign of George and lady on phone was having none of it.

Needing some home comfort, got a chicken and enjoyed a ‘home cooked chook’ washed down with local wine and listened to the thunder gathering.

 DAY 30 & 31 – Lefkada – collected bike

Woke to a blustery sky and even more blustery day but judging the moment between downpours, decided to go and see if bike had been fixed. Arrived at the Kaklamanis tool depository and peered through the window and saw not a tool was in its place – all must be well. Bike was still outside and looking more or less intact. Blackboard in door window said, ‘Back – call’. I called. No answer. Tried again. No answer. Pondered my navel for a minute wondering what to do, turned around to find George, on the other side of the door, fastening his trousers with what looked like a cable tie, and shuffling the lock.

“Kalimera George, is bike fixed?

“All fixed.”

“Epharisto!  Thank you! What was it?”

“Faulty diode – gone phut.  You very lucky – I had just one!”

Given that a diode is about half the size of a single freckle how on earth he had known he had one, let alone actually find it, was a miracle worthy of some wise men and a star but I resisted the temptation to ask him how he had actually managed to find it. Instead, I handed over the required amount of cash so he would hand me my keys and we could get gone. It was no surprise that it took him a little time to find my keys.  However, it took him very little time to relieve me of the cash, not give me a bill or receipt, shut the door, turn the lock and start to find something to cut the table tie on his trousers with. I took my time, checking the bike, putting on my helmet and gloves and he was still looking at his trousers five minutes later as I rode away.

All I can say is, that whatever he did seems to have done the trick and we now have no warning lights so can get on with the journey. But not before one last day on Lefkada which we spent checking, planning, packing, sunbathing, planning, packing, cleaning, checking and sunbathing a little more before taking our amazing hosts, Neil & Tina, out for dinner to say a very big fat thank you for letting us stay in what is, in all honesty and without an ounce of exaggeration or boosterish hyperbole, a place that once visited, is never forgotten. Went to bed feeling very lucky, privileged and grateful for knowing two of the toppest folk you could wish to meet. Neil & Tina – we shall be forever in your debt.

DAY 32 – Lefkada – Kefalonia

For those of you that know, remember, have been told or are simply clairvoyant savants, the idea for this trip was hatched whilst sitting on the terrace of a certain Taverna that overlooks Jerusalem Beach in Northern Kefalonia having lunched long and well. The taverna is run by a Greek born, ex Hells Angel from Bristol called Fat Oddy (seriously – it’s on his business card) who has one of the finest gin collections in all of Greece.  We told him about our own Olive Brine Gin which he was most interested in and, having plied us with another double or two from his collection we rashly offered to deliver it in person and, having enjoyed his examples of gin soooo much, we even more rashly decided to deliver it on our two original motorbikes.

Today is the day we head to Kefalonia to deliver the gin which is making us both feel a little giddy. We’ve been hauling this gin, wrapped in so much swaddling bubble wrap it could survive a direct hit from a tactical nuclear bomb, for over a month now and we’re getting a bit itchy scratchy to see it delivered and Mission One Accomplished.

Neil and Tina wave us off from their hilltop eyrie and we rumble down the track and head for the ferry to take us from Vassiliki to Fiscardo on Kefalonia.  Rolling onto the jetty to wait for the ferry there were already a few cars and camper vans waiting. It’s always interesting to see who your fellow travellers are.  A car pulled up behind us, the driver emerged and in an accent we recognised said,

                “Have they opened the ticket booth yet? Bet they haven’t”. 

It was Mary. From Wareham. With her cat. They had both driven from the UK to go to her house on Kefalonia. Mary and Cat. She shops at our place in Sturminster Newton and Poundbury. Having her next to us in the queue amongst all the Greeks travelling to be with their families for Easter, travellers of various nationalities in an assortment of vehicles seemed perfectly normal – Mary from Wareham and us from Sturminster Newton. All Dorset folk together. Chatting about the weather (of course).

We were joined by a couple of other bikers from Austria – fully geared and tooled up for serious biking and off roading. We got chatting whilst Mary and Cat went to wait for the ticket booth to open.

“Do you go off roading?” They asked.

We explained that we were travelling for 90 days across around 8500 miles and that the bikes were over 30 years old and we didn’t want to stress them too much.

“Ach. It’s not the bikes that are old. It’s you. These were designed for the Paris Dakar rally. The deserts.”

We then mentioned that we had owned them from new and had spent 12 months riding them from the UK, across the top of the Mediterranean, around Turkey into Syria, across Syria to the Iraqi border, then down to Jordan and across Wadi Rum to Aquaba before crossing into Sinai and across the deserts to Cairo and down the Nile to Sudan then crossing the Western Desert to the Libyan Border before returning to the UK. This from 1992 to 1993 covering a combined distance of around 40,000 miles.

“Oooof! You did that? On these? In 1992? Wow! I was in Kindergarten. And you’re still riding?”

Like we said. On this trip we didn’t want to stress them. They are old ladies and have earned the right to be treated with a certain amount of gentleness and respect. So have we. They went to queue up with Mary and Cat.

On the ferry we chatted softly about the quirks and coincidences of meeting people on the road and the bountiful hospitality of strangers we’d enjoyed over the years and were about to do so once again.

During those strange months and days of COVID we’d begun to deliver, in person, all across Dorset and beyond everything we could lay our hands on that people needed – initially, the staples of bread, butter, milk, eggs, vegetables and of course, the emergency olive or two. Our provisioning expanded to meet the demands of our customers – most notably sourcing a bottle of very fine Armagnac via one of our fine dining customers. In due course we arrived at the door of Mike and Helen who were customers of ours at The Potting Shed. Those COVID conversations were so weird looking back – holding up the delivery note to the doorbell or knocker and knocking or ringing through it like some sort of bacteria buffer. Placing the order down and retreating the required 2 metres so you’re standing in a rose bed or herbaceous border when the door opens and you commence the pleasantries and chat. Mike and Helen were regular orderers and users of our service and we got to know them a little. We discovered that we had a connection in common in the fact their son operates a business in Kefalonia that we knew of and had used at some point in the past.

What we didn’t know was the fact that they also had a house in Kefalonia. On hearing about our trip and reading about the inspiration for it being Ody’s taverna, Helen dropped us a line and said we should meet up when we arrived on the Island as they also knew Ody and their house was more or less directly above the beach where Ody’s taverna was.

We needed a place to hole up for a day or two to catch up on ourselves and wait for Ody to open so we could hand over the gin and enjoy a nice lunch. We asked them if they knew of anywhere and without hesitation they very generously invited us to come and stay for a day or two with them which really was above and beyond all expectations. Once again, the hospitality and generosity afforded to us two dusty travellers from people we barely knew fills us both with gratitude and warmth. After all, we’d barely spent more than five minutes in each other’s company before and that was nearly always on a doorstep mid covid delivery run. 

Their house on the hill above the two beaches of Jerusalem and Alati commands a view across the sea towards Assos and the peninsula that hangs off the Western side of the island. In their garden is a magnificent old olive tree that has to be around 800-1000 years old and provided a suitable resting place for our bikes.

Mike and Helen were superb hosts and looked after us incredibly well. Especially as, after a month or so on the road, one can tend to turn towards the feral and forget the subtle arts of conversation and good manners – Annie and I get so used to each others company that our behaviours become instinctive and, having been with each other for so long, we are forgiving of each other’s foibles in a way that can surprise others who might not be quite so comfortable with such freedoms. So we really take our hats off to Mike and Helen for being so wonderfully gracious and hospitable. All I can say is a huge thank you to the pair of them – it was a joy to get to know them better and, once again, we leave some people behind us that we owe much to.

DAY 33 – Kefalonia – Sami – Poros

Introduced to us by Mike and Helen’s son, Richard, was Themi -  a professional farmer of both olives and vegetables for 15 years based in Poros on the other side of the island. Keen not to pass up an opportunity we headed over the meet him. It was still a National Holiday but he kindly gave up his time to show the olive trees he tended and talk us through his experiences. A very interesting and insightful hour with a thoughtful and optimistic gentleman. You can see his answers to the 5 Questions elsewhere but here’s a snippet of what else we learnt.

We saw three different varieties in various stages of blossom – the Ithaki variety (from Ithaca) had already fully blossomed and some had had suffered from wind, rain and scorching, the local variety with no name (Kefalonia?), had still yet to fully come into blossom and looked like it would fare much better this year. Lastly, His Kalamata/Kalamon trees were just coming into blossom and he was confident of a good year so long as the rains were not too heavy and there was no more hail which is disastrous once the trees are in blossom or the fruit has set.

Sheep graze under the trees as they clear the ground of the undergrowth that can take water from the trees – they clear it down to ground level but is soon springs back ready for them to graze again. Sheep poo is the preferred fertiliser of all animal poos, so, as they graze and clear, they fertilize as they go – a symbiotic relationship if ever there was one.

He makes sure he has different varieties of tree so that they are able to support each other. His trees are 60-70 years old with some of 150 to 200 (the older ones are the Kalamon/Kalamata). As one variety blossoms or sets fruit, he says it supports and encourages the others to do the same.

The trees need between 600-800 hours of below 7C during the winter phase to reset (which we have since heard many times) – last year was too warm. The result is that the trees keep working and become tired with a weakened immune system so allowing diseases to take hold.  This, he says, is a sign of the changing weather patterns.

The sea is at least 1C hotter than before. When he was a child, from September they needed long sleeves or a jumper and sometimes even a coat. Now, he is in short sleeves until Christmas.

The olives higher up get more sunshine so yield more fruit. He gets between 14-22% yield meaning that he gets between 14-22kg of oil from 100kg of Olives. In December the water loss from the olives means that 100kg in September weighs only 80kg in December – The oil content remains the same. Hence the change in percentage of yields.

The harvest starts in mid to late September now. Before it was early November so is now fully 30 - 40 days earlier. This, he feels, is a sure sign of the changing cycles.

His phone goes off and he leaves us to wander the trees alone for a while. The soft breeze is warm, the scent of the blossom and sheep poo is somehow comforting as is the distant sound of a sheep bell as they graze at will, nibbling the undergrowth and repaying the favour as they go. Themi is an optimist and it’s good to see.

 

DAY 34 – Kefalonia – Jerusalem Beach – Ody

Rolling down the hill towards Ody with the gin, we hoped he would be there. As if on cue, we turned into the car park and rumbled to a stop as Ody came onto the terrace, looked at us, smiled, shrugged and went back inside.

We followed him in and he gave us the biggest, broadest grin and a surprisingly gentle bear hug. He relieved us of the gin, went back onto the terrace and, holding the bottle aloft, announced to everyone in the place, “Another Gin for the Collection!” Which prompted a suitably gratifying cheer and made us feel all warm and cuddly for a moment.  Mission One Accomplished. Mission Two was lunch. Mission Three was getting back up the hill after lunch.

If ever you’re passing Ody’s Taverna on Jerusalem Beach, pop in and ask him for a Gin and Tonic with Ěstía Gin – made from olive brine. All the way from Dorset. By motorcycle courier. Ask him how it got there. It’s almost an interesting tale. Oh, and the Pork Belly is one of the most sublime things I have ever had in my mouth. Try it.

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