Back on dry land, back in Athens. I take the metro to Monastiraki and hope I’ll remember what Smaranada looks like.
I met Sma on my first night in Amsterdam, at Casa Robino. She left the next day, but we stayed in touch. She’s been travelling Greece for a couple of weeks with a girl called Lana, who’s going back to Belgrade in a couple of days. Sma and I will travel together a while.
It’s New Years Eve. Sma and Lana have arranged to Couchsurf with an Indian guy named Rony. We go to meet him in the small internet café he runs in a dodgy part of town near Monastiraki. I’m touched by the humility and generosity of this man, who says on his CS profile: “The most amazing thing I have experienced is to grow up in the slums of Kalkutta and living now in a king life (high standard). I was born with nothing and now I have everything. But now I want nothing materialistic. I have seen the life, bottom to top.” One look at his small apartment tells me Rony has far from everything. His room has a balcony and a view of the Acropolis, but the balcony door doesn’t shut properly, let alone lock. He has limited electricity, no heating, no hot water and the toilet is also the shower.
Rony suggests his best friend join us for our walk about town. I’m happy with this, but Sma and Lana seem uncomfortable, yet unable to refuse. First we go to the squat and cook food since Rony doesn’t have a kitchen, then to a party of EVSers and CSers and meet a wonderful girl named Michaila from Romania. Everyone at her party is from a different country: Romania, France, Lithuania, Portugal, India, England, America, Serbia, Poland, Germany, Australia… We have a few drinks, meet some people and decide it’s time to move on. I seperate from the others to check out the migrant social centre as I’ve heard there’s a party there, but it hasn’t started yet. I make it to Syntagma Square as the clock strikes twelve. Thousands of people have gathered and fireworks are going off. Every other man asks my name or where I’m from, but I’m not in the mood. Athens is beginning to resemble a city version of Mad Max where everyone is drunk
After finding the others and wandering the streets a while, we go back to Rony’s and attempt to sleep, despite the fireworks, noise from the street and cold coming in through the open patio door by my head.
We could probably stay with Rony longer, but the other two aren‘t very keen. Homeless in Athens again, but this time there’s three of us. I send some text messages and get a surprise reply from a friend at the squat, “sure, no problem!” Really? At the squat? The squat that said no before?
Yes, we can stay, but when we arrive there’s been a mis-communication: my friend thought I asked for two people, the others thought it was only me. Three of us turning up is frowned upon, but accepted, and we set about making food and tea for everyone. The few people who actually live here are friendly, but another man makes it clear he doesn’t want us to stay. It appears he thinks I should have emailed a month in advance, brought campaign materials and propaganda from the movements I’m involved in and done a presentation. I didn’t. I explain that I’m a long-term traveler, with a backpack. The French girl who’s staying long-term tries to back me up, but he says we need to go to the big meeting the following day and plead our case to the assembly. I’m not fond of this idea. The big assemblies can have up to fifty people and are far from lively, warm or welcoming. Generally people sit and stare at their hands for several minute intervals between long monologues.
Instead we go to stay with Vaios, the man who hosted me and David before I left Athens the first time, but we can only stay two nights. It’s starting to turn into the same saga as last time – moving on every other day, never knowing where to sleep next. It’s definitely time to leave Athens.
Our first big plan is to try to get to Crete, but only if we can hitch. Sma hitched the boat from Italy that David and I paid €26 each for. She paid €15, but got a bed in a shared cabin with her truck driver. We spend about half a day at Piraeus Port, but fail miserably. Impossible? Maybe, maybe not. Not today, for us anyway.
Sitting and planning our next move, a man attempts to engage us in conversation while his friend sneaks up behind us. A man and woman come running out of the waiting room shouting and scare him away. I quickly go through my bag – money, passport, everything seems to be there. Lucky, very lucky! A couple of African guys inside had seen him first and raised the alarm. One comes over to speak with us. He asks for my email address, which I give him, much to the horror of Sma. Why am I giving it to him? I don’t know. He asked nicely.
A friend hooks us up with a new host, Nikos. On the way to his house we pass by Attiki Square. I’ve been meaning to visit this place. I have read this: “The square is empty; the fascist residents are sitting around the square fulfilling their self-proclaimed “duty”. At that time of the day the “square keepers” are mostly pensioners, men and women that found their personal meaning of life in chasing the refugees out of “their” square; fighting for the “cleanness” of “their neighbourhood” and “their nation”!” When we arrive the square is empty save for a small group of white men huddled around a fire on one side. Nazi insignia and ‘White Power’ symbols are sprayed on every wall in the neighbourhood. I want to take a picture, but I don’t want to get beaten up.
Nikos quickly becomes one of my favourite Athenians. I cook some of the dumpstered veggies we found near Vaios’ house and we spend the evening drinking gallons of tea with soya milk and talking about life, the universe and everything.
Nikos gives us a lift to the motorway in the morning, where we get a lift from an oldish guy who doesn’t speak English. Sma isn’t happy about going with people who don’t speak English. She’s had some dodgy drivers in the past and has a tendency to assume people will be bastards until proven otherwise. I find this attitude a little frustrating and struggle to keep my own optimism, which I have a superstitious belief about.
We’re dropped on the highway by a nice couple from Kalamata. Unfortunately the police aren’t too happy about us standing on the highway and we get a ticking off from a cop and then the traffic police come and take us to a “better road” after my firm and repeated insistence that “we will not take a bus”. The better road is smaller, but we inch our way along it with the help of a few cars. One takes us back to the highway and down to Sparta, where we spend the night stealth camping in an orange orchard and eat as many as we can for breakfast. Thousands of them cover the ground in various states of decomposition. They were falling around the tent in the night too, but fortunately none fell on our heads.
On our way out of Sparta we discover Sma can speak with lots of people, despite not knowing Greek – they’re all Romanian! One such couple give us a lift up the winding mountain pass to the beautiful coffee shop at the top. We stop for a coffee and get a lift down the other side with someone else.
We eat dinner on the beach with free wifi from the bar behind us, which we go inside when it gets dark and begins to rain. We drink beer and wait for Di to come and rescue us, feeling fortunate at the synchronicity which brought our last lift to drop us here, not far from her home. Sma stayed at Paul and Diane’s place before, on her way to Athens with Lana. They live up a mountain in a yurt – three yurts actually – and their lounge yurt exactly resembles a typical English living room. Two other American couchsurfers are also staying, along with a wonderful German woman named Heike who lives nearby and is staying over to do her olive harvest in the morning. We watch Shirley Valentine on the widescreen TV. It’s a film from my childhood – one of my mother’s favourites. I try to imagine my mum in this yurt up this mountain. I think she would like it.
I do yoga on the patio and update my diary looking out over Di and Paul’s olive trees to the sea and the land beyond, the sun hot on my face. It’s so good to be out of Athens. It’s tempting to stay and help Heike with her olives, but a small village called Trahila is calling. I had this reply from Dieter, one of the hippies living in the village: “you are welcome in Trahila. Let us know when you come”.