Entering Greece brought back a feeling of familiarity and some ‘homesickness’. The beloved Greek letters were everywhere; street signs looked like physics equations and at first glance it looks like distances to cities are given in micrometers (wishful thinking on our part).
Now, here, in Greece though, the equations made no sense – either in a mathematical or literal way. Up until now we could somehow make sense of some words using the Latin alphabet or at least try to say them but trying to put all of these variables together in one word couldn’t have been more confusing.
After crossing the border, we started descending downhill and soon passed street signs warning us of bears and wolves in the area. Yes – we were in bear country and Greece proudly has a healthy population of bears and wolves. We set up camp opposite Prespo National Park for the night and enjoyed a clear starry sky while discussing the possibilities of a bear attack.
The conversation went something like:
Simon: “I’m not worried about a bear attack – the statistics are just so unlikely.”
Tanya: “Were the statistics done on two cyclists camping in the middle of Greek bear country?”
A few hours later in the middle of the night heavy breathing is heard, rocks are turned over and teeth are biting at something.
Tanya: “Simon, Simon – there’s a bear next to our tent!”
Tanya was convinced the bear was ripping our panniers apart so we quickly decided that we should talk to each other in a loud voice. The noises stopped and Simon bravely went outside to find nothing there. The bear – or whatever it was – was gone. The panniers were untouched. We never heard it come or go. Of course, it could also have been a wild boar or a deer, but the heavy breathing and gnawing was enough to convince us. In the morning we could see all the rocks next to our tent turned over – this was definitely bear country. Saying that, bear encounters might be common but attacks are very unusual. European Brown Bears are actually quite shy.
Over the next couple of days we realised how much untouched nature Greece has. We also realised that we did not leave the mountains behind in Albania. We cycled through forested hills which had flat plateaus at the top where we could enjoy 360 degree views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
On the way, we stopped close to a town and wanted to set up camp in an area with a beautiful view. A local man passing in his car immediately came over and seemed very concerned about what we were doing. When we told him we wanted to sleep there, it was as if we told him that we wanted to jump into a bear pit. He took a step back and shouted “nooooooo!” He was shocked and stupefied that we wanted to sleep outside there and due to the limited English – gave the best bear impression he could (hands over head and roaring included). “You stay here – you kaput. Cougars!” We think he meant bears? Maybe it was best we didn’t mention our experience on the first night. We weren’t worried at all, but for his sake and to spare him of a heart attack – we found somewhere else.
After this we went to a small town to find a cafe with wifi to watch one of the climbing world cups with a cold Greek beer. Tanya tried her first Freddo Espresso and it was love at first sip! This combination of espresso, sugar and ice is a coffee lovers dream in the heat of summer.
The owner of the cafe was also crazy about mushrooms and he kindly gave us a local mushroom dessert to enjoy… unfortunately it didn’t tickle our taste buds, tasting more like rubber dropped in syrup than a local treat. Not wanting to be rude, Tanya took one for the team and finished it all.
We cycled out in the evening and camped out on a field watching city lights in the distance before tackling the last big hill before Meteora. We stopped for a coffee on the way down when a Greek couple hooted as they passed. They turned around to come and say hi and they left us with three pieces of delicious apple pie – Greek style! We still have dreams about this pie… Just what we needed for our picnic and ride into Meteora.
More photos of Greece will follow soon. Next, we entered the unique world of Meteora.