Friday, September 14, 2007


Only a blind fool would pass up this tantalizing opportunity:

My shining steed, Poppy:

Poppy was clearly the brains of the bunch, shoving past other donkeys who didn't quite know the way when it came to crossroads, and heading down trails with confidence. As soon as my ass hit the (side)saddle, she was on the trot. She had a distinct preference for being on the outside of the donkey pack; if I ever guided her inside to let automobile traffic pass on the left, she would immediately cut out as soon as tension was off the rope. But I figured she knew what she was doing more than I did, and let her do her thing. At walking pace, donkeys don't actually go a whole lot faster than humans. But their noses are way softer. Like, chinchilla soft.

I took an overnight ferry from the Athens port Piraeus to the island of Mytilene, aka Lesvos. If I need to do a long haul over distance, I prefer to do it at night - I save on accommodation, and don't waste daytime hours sitting on transportation (at least, not all of the time). I paid a couple euro extra to get an assigned airline-style seat inside, instead of out on the deck, and I'm pretty sure the people I saw crashed out on the upper deck in sleeping bags got better sleep than I did inside. Like trains, the vessels are stopping at various ports during the wee hours, loudspeaker announcements are made, and a whole bunch of people grab their gear and head out. More people head in. All the inside seating was in one massive room, and the lights and television were on all night. I basically took a series of naps propped up against my rucksack, and didn't feel too wasted the next day. Had I still had my sleeping bag I may have gone out to the deck, but I sent it back to England along with my tent. Camping is no longer an option, but my rucksack is somewhat lighter, and a lot smaller. If only this laptop weighed half as much. It's by far the heaviest single thing I'm carrying.

I'm a little anxious about landing on Mytilene. Athens marked the end of all my planned travel. I had hotel reservations all through Italy and into Athens, but nothing after that. No accommodation lined up, but no schedule to keep either, except for what whimsy tells me. After reading my guidebook material, I decided to just show up and find something on arrival. The island port is in the town of Mytilene on the east coat, but I want to get to Mithynma, up at the top. Conveniently, the vessel docks at 7:30 am, leaving me plenty of time to figure stuff out. Since I have no map of the town, I just start walking in the general direction I think the long distance bus station is. The main street leading from the harbor is lined with travel agents, and I snag a town map from one of them. Within a half-hour I find the bus station almost by accident - looked down a promising street and hey, there's a bus. I have 45 minutes until departure, and kill time at a grocery store. I need toothpaste.

I don't get a chance to test out my accommodation-finding skills in Mithynma, since a member of the local tourist board meets the bus and asks if I need a place to stay. We go back to the tourist office, she asks me what I'm looking for (safe, clean, cheap), and one phone call later I'm set in a €20 a night pension, The Schoolmistress with the Golden Eyes, named after a book by a Mytilenean author. I get a sparkling clean room with two single beds, a private bathroom, and a little balcony that looks over a garden. The first thing I do is take a nap. The second thing I do is go get coffee.

Mithynma is a cute, picturesque village with steep hills, lots of steps, and shady streets.

Built up on a hill, topped with a little crumbling castle, many of the restaurants have balconies that look over the sea. I don't think I've written about cheese in a while, since I've been snarfing gyros,

but I did eat a lot of cheese here, including grilled oil cheese, a pile of mini cheese pie pastries, and of course, feta in a Greek salad. They don't bother crumbling it up here. You just get a big slab of it on top of your veggies.

I also tried some ouzo here. Umm, not so tasty. When diluted with water, it goes from clear to opaque, but doesn't improve the flavor at all.

A few kilometers away is a town called Petra, and at a restaurant there I saw some informal Greek dancing, just to music being played over the stereo system. An old man who looked like he had only a single tooth in his head, and could barely lift his feet got up and shuffled around, and he looked so happy. He was clearly pleased that everyone was enjoying his performance, but I kind of think he would have been just as joyful had no one been there, and it had just been him, dancing away to awesome Greek music, even if the dance steps were only in his head and not really in his feet anymore.

I think Mithynma is the smallest village I've been in so far. Other than donkey trekking, conventional strolling and eating, there isn't a whole lot else to do here but go to the pebbly beach. Being a mid-sized city girl, I frequently find myself walking in circles when I get to places like this; because I keep looking for something new, something that I missed, or because I still haven't quite adapted to slow life, at least, not when I'm on my own. Perhaps it's not for me, but that's okay. Others wouldn't want it any other way; at least a couple of people I met here were born here, are still here, and don't seem likely to leave, except to go on holidays. They work seasonal jobs because few jobs are year-round. The young guy who runs the pension has four months of doing nothing after he closes in the fall. Admitting he gets a little bored, he told me about working with his brother in Athens for a bit, but doesn't care for the Athenian sprawl or traffic. Many of the people who vacation here do so for weeks, instead of the days that I spent, and return every year. I think all the other guests in the pension were on some two-week yoga holiday. No one is in any rush to get anything done. Shopkeepers sit in their doorways chatting with the shopkeep next door or across the street. There's no line at the post office, but it also closes for the day at 2:00 pm. I did manage to get some writing done, and considered staying a couple extra days, but also felt a little tug to move on. Rest will come later when I'm tired, but not now.


Danielle said...

A donkey ride. Of course!

Love the coffee/journal/boat on water photo.

Heidi said...

omg, i'm so jealous of the cheese!!! I've never been to Greece and it sounds quite lovely. I could use a touch of the slow life right now.