Monday, May 28, 2007

Here Be Dragons

So here I am now in Albania. For quite some time now I've been telling all who would care to listen (and quite a few who didn't) that I was really looking forward to visiting the country. Not that I know much about the country, on the contrary, I know very little.Albania is Europe's very own black hole, a place we know must exist from surrounding,circumstantial evidence, but about which direct observational data is lacking. It is perhaps the most under reported country on the continent. But it must be a fascinating place as it is the only country unequivocally in Europe to have a Muslim majority; up until recently blood feuds were the norm in some regions; and during the Communist period it was one of the most isolated countries in the world (Enver Hoxha, the country's dictator, as well as breaking relations with the West, also broke diplomatic ties with most Communist countries because he perceived them as too lax and revisionist). But I have only just got here, so instead I will regale you with stories of my last few days in Greece.

After having been thwarted by Zeus on Olympus I felt determined to do at least some hiking and so set my sights on the Zagoria region in the northwest of the country. Despite Greece having a reputation as a beach-and-ruins holiday destination, the mountains of Zagoria easily hold their own in natural beauty and splendour when compared to other, more well known, hiking destinations although this may be partly because of the poorly marked trails on which getting lost is a certainty. It seems that the person marking the trails was given a paintball gun as the signs are just haphazard splotches of dull red paint, which unfortunately is very similar to the colour of a local species of lichen. Needless to say confusion reigns. But poor trail-finding aside I had a great time traipsing up and down the mountains and the fairytale gorges, though I am determined that in future I shall get myself better footwear and not just sandals held together by dental floss (a really useful tool for the intrepid traveller as it can be used to fix things, tie things together, as a fishing line, and, or so I am told although I believe it's an urban myth, one can also use it to help clean your teeth) and that I shall make a greater effort to leave non-essentials behind. Because I wasn't doing a circuit I had to lug all my baggage with me, which sometimes (depending on food and water) amounted to 25kg. Among the treasures of Zagoria were the Drakolimni (Dragon lake) whose population of placid, 5cm newts is scant reason for the fearsome name; the Vikos gorge whose awesome (in the original sense of the word), unscalable cliffs hem you in and make you fell oh-so small; and the traditional villages, with cute names like Papingo and Koukouli (reason enough to visit them), that blend into the hillsides with their simple and harmonious architecture. But the greatest feeling was finally coming out onto a high Alpine meadow after hours of slogging up a very steep hill and finding the place carpeted in yellow, blue and purple wildflowers in their millions, each smaller than a fingernail, tended to by bees living up to their reputations and knowing that I was the only person to revel in the sight, sound and smell of the place. Bliss, and certainly worth the preceding hours of torture.

A truly enchanting place to end my short stay in Greece, a country I plan to revisit for there is lots more to see. Though next time I will hopefully be able to pick up more of the language for I was spoilt by the Greeks' mastery of English (though my science background did help a bit in deciphering the alphabet and some of the meanings of words). One thing that I enjoyed linguistically though was finding uncommon English words alive and well and very common in Greece. So, for example, whilst waiting for a bus you are in stasis, when leaving the cinema you go out via the exodus, and metaphors aren't just for conveying ideas and images, but also goods (they're lorries).

But now for a change of scenery and a slightly more sedate itinerary of city-hopping, at least until my calves manage to untie the mass of knots that have formed in them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Erik it's Theo here. I just wanted to say that this was by far one of the most awesome fotos I've ever seen. Have you ever considered talking to the National Geographic guys? Getting to Drakolimni is one hell of a feat also. I mean, Gosh... you actually walked all the way up there? How long did it take you? A friend once told me that it is a 15 hr footwalk to get to Drakolimni...
Oh, and another thing. Thessaloniki has also invented the frapuccino!!! (frape + capuccino) :p