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zondag 6 september 2009

Greece III - Close encounters of various kinds

Up and down, I wandered... Up... and down... all through the Zagora mountains. I went up to a little chapel dedicated to St Nicholas (as he is Amsterdam's patron saint, I thought I shouldn't miss him...), hidden in the woods on top of a hill – the church bell hanging from a tree nearby...

I met some very nasty mosquitoes on my way, and a herd of curious goats, they, too hidden amongst the trees. There were many more encounters to follow, with goats (and sheep, and cattle, and even horses). And with shepherds. Every morning, they lead their herds into the mountains, every evening, they lead them back “home”, wherever home may be. Next to one of those pretty, steep and narrow “bridges of Zagora county”, I saw a camp of gypsies, as I first thought – but no, this was a camps of modern shepherds, who follow their animals in their four-wheel drive, live in mobile homes, and dress temporary enclosures for the goats and sheep to pass the night in (for there might be bears around, and other predators, human mainly, I should think...).

But the little old man who led his goats up the mountain near the village of Tsepolovo, was of the traditional kind. In his broken German he told me he had worked in Dortmund, and in Wuppertal, in a big factory - but then, after a few years, came back to Greece, to his wife and kids. Now, he was herding his 100 goats. He wrote the figure down, scratched it, rather, on a rock, together with his age (76), and mine (66) – for yes, the Lonely Planet is right: people over here ask you right away for the most intimate details of your life (age, kids, why are you travelling alone, married?)... and don't hesitate telling about theirs. I took a picture of him, and of some of his goats. Then he came a bit too close for comfort, and I pretended not to understand a word of what he was suggesting... ;-) So I drove away, up the mountain, while he climbed effortlessly on...

The place I wanted to reach was the Beloi Outlook, one of those spots where you can oversee the Vikos Gorge. It was, as predicted, a long and winding road... as if it was never to end, one hairpin after another. But I did get there, although – with all my wandering around – this was the very end of the afternoon. As I set out to walk to the Outlook point itself – still at least half an hour away, according to the signs, though actually closer to an hour – I met a couple coming from there. So I asked them about the walk. And the woman – pretty, Italian Isabella, as it appeared – told me they had gone only half way 'because it may seem silly, but I am really afraid of bears...' I said I didn't fear them too much and would sing the “Teddy Bears' Picnic” if I came across one... She then asked me if they might join me, if she wasn't alone, she wouldn't be afraid... Alone? With Pierre, that immensely tall Belgian husband of hers? Did she think this little grandma would be an easy prey for the bear, who would then leave her alone? I will never know.

Anyhow, there we went, the three of us, and I was quite happy with their company too, because you never know what may happen when you're on you own. We walked, and we walked, and we walked, Pierre with his long legs leading the way, even finding the time to take pictures, the woman chatting, about bears, about life in Italy, in Belgium, in Holland... I told them about a nice English family I met back in Monodendri, who did make it all the way down to the Gorge (and back...). They had discussed, jokingly, what they would do if a bear came on their path: Jeff (the son-in-law) would take care of the beast, so his wife Karen and father-in-law David would have time to get away... Isabella, then, in her most dramatic voice: “Pierre, would you do that?Would you sacrifice yourself for me?”“Ehm... Do you have another question?” Pierre replied.

The view was breathtaking at times, you could see the whole valley, the sun slowly going down behind the mountains. The trail was OK – though at the very end, it became very steep and I didn't go any further, while Isabella and Pierre went all the way down to the outlook point. Isabella, apparently, had lost her fear for bears by now. Or she had forgotten about it.

The walk back to where we left the cars was uneventful. Still no bears in sight. We took leave as the dusk was setting in.

It was a long drive back to Monodendri. One hairpin after another, and the night getting darker and darker... I was exhausted when I arrived, parked the car... and decided it wasn't parked well enough. I was so tired I couldn't tell one foot from another – literally – so why I didn't leave the car just where it was, I don't know. Maybe it was just because I was so tired. And hungry. And about to have a hypoglycaemia. Anyway, I thought I'd advance the car just a tiny little bit by loosening the handbrake... and then I didn't pull it fast enough. And bumped right into the Ford Fiesta in front of me.

The whole village, it seems, was watching me. The shop owner from across the street – whose Ford Fiesta it was I had bumped into – came running towards me, gesticulating, shouting. I drove the car back, got out of it and told her how sorry I was, that the insurance would take care of everything, etc etc. She didn't get a word of it, as I didn't understand her. But she didn't find anything wrong with her car, so she finally said: “OK, no problem, OK.” I was most relieved, but then I hadn't counted with her husband. He insisted on inspecting the car thoroughly, again and again.... and yes, he found a tiny little scratch. So... “Police!” Police? A young man offered himself as an interpreter. “We need police to say what has happened, so insurance can pay.” OK then, but can't it be done tomorrow? “No, we have to wait for police, but you not to worry. Go and have dinner, and when police is here, we will call you.” So I ordered dinner... and was called away just as my pasta were put on the table. Still starving, and, worse, still on the border of a hypoglycaemia, I joined the little company. The policeman had arrived in his big Jeep, lit a cigarette, and started discussing the case. In Greek. The woman kept saying: “OK, no problem, OK.” The husband said a lot of things in Greek. The policeman took out a form and started to fill it in. But copying my driver's licence, even with the help of our “interpreter” appeared to be extremely difficult. He persistently mixed up my place of birth and surname, wanted to know my father's first name (“But he's been dead for over 40 years!” I protested, in vain) and couldn't make out the name of the company that rented the car. “Rented cars have good insurance”, our interpreter explained. Aha. That might explain a few things.

The next problem was to find the insurance papers of the “victim”. Her husband showed the policeman one paper after another, but none seemed to satisfy him. Our interpreter had left. I was more and more starving. Meanwhile, the woman kept saying, “OK. No problem. OK!” Eventually, the policeman told me, with gestures, to go back to my dinner; he would then come and bring me the form, signed by the two parties. So he did. And took leave with a firm handshake.

The next morning, I decided to go into the shop and restore relations with the shop owner. She said: “Hi”, and smiled broadly, repeated “OK, no problem” and made clear that it was really, really a very little scratch. “No problem.” I have a feeling that, had it been up to her, she would have left it at that, without all the insurance-fuss. I bought a few things, then we left as the best of friends.

See my pictures of the Zagora Horia
Greece II-Zagora

See also my earlier blogs about Greece, "Preveza" and "Ioannina - and more"

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