The Greek Border

Yesterday was one of those days where everything seemed to go wrong, but at the same time, those are the days that really tell me that not everyone could do this trip. On easy days I find myself thinking ‘anyone could do this, if everyone who is giving me all this praise and pride could join and actually see what it’s like they’d realise that anyone could walk for a month and a bit.’

But then there are the really tough days, and nights, that make this trip a real challenge.

Yesterday started with me heading on a route shown to me by Google, that crossed the border in to Greece and gave me a total walk of 16 miles to the first city that looked like it might have a hotel, called Mesopotamia. About half an hour into the walk, from Bilisht in Albania towards the border, I was stopped by two police in a Land Rover. They asked to see my passport and after some exchanges about what i was doing, they made me get in the truck, telling me this road wasn’t a border crossing. They took me to the border police station, then after twenty minutes looking at my passport and summarising the events in a book, they let me go.  

I check google maps and see they have driven me the whole distance from Bilisht to the border, stealing from me my final hours walk in Albania.

I cross the border and the first thing I see, apart from deserted mountains, is a sign warning of bears… From this point onwards I see them every few miles. In a car this would be a pretty cool sign, maybe you would be looking out as you pass through, desperately trying to spot a bear, probably never seeing one. But in this instance it just set me on edge, wanting to listen to some music or Greek language podcasts, but knowing I really should stay aware of what’s going on around me. Also knowing I absolutely had to reach a city with a hotel as I couldn’t camp in a place like this, around the time when they give birth, when EVERYBODY mentions, hey watch out for bears, they’re very protective… Or maybe I should just relax and forget about it. No point stressing about something you have no control over I guess…?

What I forgot (that I was constantly aware of in Albania) was that there are probably still people here herding sheep and goats around the hills.. What this means is that they have guard dogs, to protect the cattle from predators. I have been ‘chased’ by guard dogs a few times now. I say ‘chased’ because I never actually ran, as I didn’t want them biting my butt. So usually if they are really aggressive and get very close and walking away doesn’t help, I hold my backpack in front of me and keep walking away backwards, facing the dog till it leaves me alone. The last time was a goat herding ladies dog (three dogs to be precise), and she had run back to help me, and showed me to shout, have some small stones at hand to throw, and a stick as well. All good advice for the average sized slightly protective dog that’s scared of its owner. This Greek dog however was not normal. It was huge. It saw me from ages away, and ran for about a hundred metres across the road to come and attack me. It was the most aggressive dog ive ever seen, pinprick eyes, snarling and barking furiously just a metre or two away from me. I forgot about my pocket full of stones so just held my bag in front of my legs. As it got closer I heard the shepherd shouting. No idea what. I got desperate and started shouting and raising my hand like I had stones. This dog seemed to have no fear. Maybe because, I don’t know, here in Greece these dogs are for protection against bears and wolves rather than small predators. Why would it be afraid of me? Pretending to throw invisible little stones at it?

Anyway after a few minutes it left me alone and I continued on my way. I wasn’t gonna risk a handful of little stones and a thin stick any more. I found a stick which was like a heavy baseball bat and carried that for the rest of the day. I needed to know I could literally knock these dogs out to feel safe, as I know they could kill me.

I walked a bit further and realised I hadn’t eaten anything since I left a few hours before. I felt myself losing my appetite again. Partly because of lack of nice food to eat (dried prunes, salted nuts and a peach was what I had), and partly because of the not knowing aspect of entering a new country, so I took out my last peach, which was so nice and ripe that it had squashed in my bag, I took one bite then it slipped and dropped it in the dirt. As I say, not a great day.

I knew entering Greece would throw up new challenges. Going from Montenegro to Albania was a very noticeable shift. In Montenegro there were no shops for two days, and I had to drink water from rainwater wells (thinking they were spring wells or something) but in Albania there were cafes and restaurants everywhere so I had no problem getting tap water at any point. I kind of wanted to leave Albania but now I miss it.

I rarely saw places for water yesterday. In the morning I passed a couple of villages where I could have asked someone had I needed to, but I had two litres still. By midday this water was gone, and I was on a road with no settlements for the next two or three hours. When I got near the end of my last bottle I decided to finish it, and fill the bottle at a river I had been walking by. I have no sterilising stuff so I planned to only drink it if I was desperate. I couldn’t help but try a tiny bit from the river and it tasted fine…I decided not to drink the bottle and instead poured it over myself when I got too hot.

I looked at my map at maybe 13:00, and saw Mesopotamia was just two miles away. When I reached the point where I had to turn, it had been fenced off, they had built new roads that weren’t on google maps. I found a way round the fences and back on track. Just 1.8 miles away. But then more fences. I was so close to a place I knew would have hotels but there was no way of passing these fences.

After twenty minutes walking round deserted unopened highways I gave up and headed towards another city. This one was actually more logical to the new route I had taken this morning so actually maybe it was good I didn’t end up reaching Mesopotamia.

So I headed down the deserted highway towards Kolokynthou. I think at about 14:30 I started to get desperate. My pace had slowed to maybe 2-3mph and I knew every town was getting further and further away. The lack of water started to get to me and I ended up picking up discarded half bottles of water from the side of the road to drink them. I sniffed them first to check of course. I feel it’s almost safer to do this than river water as realistically what is going to have been done to a bottle of water. Just check it’s not petrol or something.the second tasted like it had been there a long time but the little bit of water really kept me going. Not for long though…

I ended up crossing to the other side of the road to try and hitchhike. Cars passed every minute or so, I might get lucky. After a few cars, a pick up truck pulls over and drives me the last mile to Kolokynthou (I didn’t count that on my final mile count of course, and as I walked 12 miles further than planned today, adding to the final 500 mile target, I’m allowed) he happened to be going there anyway and mentioned there was one hotel. Not wanting to walk in to a small town to find the hotel full, I decided to carry on to the next town which was much bigger and definitely had multiple hotels: Argos. After a bit of walking I realised I had made a mistake. The place the driver dropped me off had a road going straight in to Argos. I had carried on the highway which skirted round, adding at least two miles to my route. I decided to try and hitchhike again as there was a road a couple of miles away that led straight in. I could save two miles hitch hiking. After a few minutes a lorry pulls up maybe 75 metres in front of me, up a hill. I ran to him, somehow.

He drives me to the junction, I hop out and decide to walk the final 2 miles in to the centre. By the end I am limping again, I know it must be over 25 miles as I haven’t had this sort of pain since my 27 mile day. I feel I won’t be able to walk the next day. I stop at the first hotel I find. It’s 30€ a night which is WAY out of my budget so this may have to be the last hotel, which is good as it makes me stick to my initial rules. With hotels being so expensive here it will force me to go and ask at churches etc, and I’ll have a go with more couch surfs (although I feel a bit rude showing up shattered, sleeping then leaving early the next day, kind of against the social couch surf ethos).

So Greece will have its difficulties, but I’m sure it will have its benefits too. I’m just yet to discover them. Food is way less affordable here as well so my budget isn’t going quite as far. I’m really on to basics now whereas in Albania I often wouldn’t spend the whole day’s budget and could actually afford warm food at restaurants sometimes. That certainly won’t happen here… 272 miles to Athena. 248 miles walked.

(Below is my planned route in blue and actual route in black)

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