From Albania to Greece, Epirus trail, summer 2019 – Thru-hike Europe LOG#28
Hello and welcome for this new logbook between Albania and Greece, these border logs that you like. You are more and more numerous to follow this project, to support us on YouTube. You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, we have a website that is stuffed with information. You can find our itineraries, follow us in real time and stay abreast of all the news of the project. Last time, we left you in Ksamil, where Clemence, our next guest, was about to join us. Hi, it’s Clemence, it’s been ten days that I joined 2PVA. First in Albania. I followed the project quite early. I told myself “they are totally crazy!” I have already done a bit of hiking but never on this scale! And I said to myself: I must come and see what happens when you do that for two years of your life. I was not disappointed! It’s an adventure, an epic that you can not even imagine! So Clemence did not join us for the easiest moment! In the south of Albania, it is super hot, most days were very difficult. We had to find some spots in the shade with water corners, to get a small makeshift camp until we can finish the day quietly. Our last days in Albania have been a little bit complicated… We tried to cross the border with Greece on small mountain trails. This region is called Epirus, a region that has long been a source of conflict between the two countries and it still is today. In all these villages that we crossed, we really felt a change of culture. Some of the villages spoke in Greek, others in Albanian. At the end of one of those days when we thought we were going to die of heatstroke, we crossed the village of Janjar and we arrived at the edge of this lake. We dreamed of one thing, taking a swim at the end of the day This guy arrived on the back of a mullet… and started to engage with us so we said to ourselves: nice, someone who comes to speak… Actually no! After a while, he took out an old plastic card from his jacket. Police! He made us do kilometers in back to meet his boss, tell our story, in short we lost a lot of time and we could not cross the border the next day as we wanted to. Back to square one! Change of plan, we decide to take another route and unfortunately it was not conclusive! 20 km later, we saw that there was a track on the map that allowed us to potentially go to Greece Obviously a little bit of bush wacking, under this hellish heat, a lot of brambles and other rejoicing… In short, we finally arrive at this small border post. We come across this customs officer a little bit surprised who tells us: for you it is 70 km further, to the real border. Luckily one of his colleagues arrived who kindly offered to drop us in the nearest village. He dropped us off at the cafe, immediately a guy came to offer us honey he made, bread he had just baked and the mayor, who actually runs the cafe, invited us for dinner and a homestay. After these two border crossing failures, we realized that we did not have much choice and that we had to go through the official border crossing, which represented a huge detour for hikers. At that moment, we met Nino our guardian angel who saw us all drying up in the shade of a tree and who told us: Wait, I’ll get you out of here! Not thinking twice, On his moped, he can get two people and a bag or one person and two bags. He went back and forth like that many times, taking us alternatively and drop us off on a proper road. So here we are in Greece, it took us a long time to cross that border. Greece in summer is surely not ideal, it’s not what we originally planned on our road map. It’s a big section of our itinerary, Greece is more than 1,000 km. When we arrived, our first goal was to join the Pindus, these mountains that run from North to South in the West of the country, that we would follow to the Gulf of Corinth. We have already had a first idea of how looked the trails, tracks, roads… We went through the big city of Ioannina to join the Epirus Trail, a long-distance trail that was planned to follow. In Greece it was still really hot. This is the first time I had so many blisters on my feet! We sort it up with new shoes, so I’m walking in great sandals now! Like Nil! I may not be as talented as him, he goes in the snow with it… But I’m rather satisfied with these little sandals! From Metsovo begins our ascent on the Pindus. Here we did not really meet any hikers or even tourists, we had seen some shelters on the maps, but most often these shelters were closed. I think that because of the lack of attendance one after another they close down. and that’s a bit of a shame because finally it’s really a vicious circle. The fewer people there are, the fewer shelters there are, the fewer shelters there are, the less attraction there is and the less attraction there is, the less people come to use these paths which little by little are really dying. On the Epirus Trail, we crossed a beautiful village: Syrrako. All in stones, very well maintained. As in many mountain villages they basically live in the summer and in winter, no one stays there. What I found crazy, it was the ease with which they could meet, discuss, share with people Even if once or twice we crossed deserted villages, overall, there is always someone who helps you and who feeds you, who hosts you… We slept at the mayor’s of a lost village in the middle of the Albanian mountain! So many smiles, so many exchanges, even if we do not understand each other and we do not speak the same language. I wondered: but how are they doing this, how is it possible? And in fact they do not, it’s done by itself, there is no magic. It’s just that people come to us, are curious, just know how to say hello in just about every language and people come to you and that’s it! I think it’s one of the things I’ll remember the most. From Syrrako, we already had this little idea in mind that most of the paths we were going to cross would be completely blocked, full of thorns, brambles and other and crossed our minds to hike in this river which lacked a little bit of water. Nice to go from one bank to another, to be able to cool off, to stay a little in the shade, to bathe in this fresh water, it was pretty cool and finally on the itinerary it saved us a lot of time. I think we should not be afraid to be dragged along a path and then no, we’ll go to another way because it changes all the time and there is no rule, one day it gets stuck and we get kicked back at the border, and finally the way it does not really exist… Tribute to the brambles that we crossed and the thistle fields that have a little stung our calves. But that’s how it works and that’s what makes the adventure so beautiful! Get started, do it! and thanks to both of you for sharing this with me. It was beyond what I could have imagined. We said goodbye to Clemence who went back to France and we continued our way South. The Pindus was crossing pretty little villages… We do not speak two words of Greek, we make efforts, small progress, but up there in the mountains, it is the only language spoken. Arriving at Karpenisi, we were going to tackle two of the most famous mountains in central Greece. When I say “famous”, do not get me wrong, it’s still places that are absolutely not frequented, but on which we can still find some info on the internet. Vardoussia on the map we liked it a lot, it was about climbing on this ridge and following it between 1,700 and 2,000 meters of altitude, in the cool, for about 50 km. What we had not considered at all it is still that these trails would be in very bad condition, a lot of thorny plants everywhere… It cost us a lot to hike these 50 km. A little before arriving on the summit, a funny phone call. a guy call us back in Greek to tell us… that the refuge that is up there is in fact open only on weekends. It was Thursday, he took a little bit of time to call us back and we had nothing left to eat. We went down to the nearest village and got lucky! Yes we arrived in Kolokithia, we wanted to drink some fresh water or even a little coffee frappe and then people immediately at the cafe came to see us saying: we have never seen tourists here! Never! From the history of this village, no one has ever come without having any connection whatsoever with the village. So pretty soon became a little bit the attraction and people have turned out to be adorable, invited us to drink, to have dinner and then we were thinking of staying for a coffee, we stayed two days finally! There is something pretty funny when we meet people like that in the villages, it is this escalation of hospitality, of generosity. Everything is really about this first person who will open, with whom we will start to discuss who really plays a role of vector of meetings with all the others. A few kilometers further, just in Marmara, we met Kostas, who runs a cafe but who is also a French billiard champion. A super nice guy with whom he was a true pleasure to exchange, we did not stay longer with him, I think we would have had a great time but we had some road ahead! It was a big detour to to arrive on this second mountain: Mount Giona. A little higher than Vardoussia still, but not more crowded. We went through some nice villages again before stopping in Sikia where we made some meetings and especially this couple who accompanied us the next morning on the first third of this climb on Mount Giona. Of course, apart from them we did not see anyone but we saw a lot of waste left by the shepherds. And that’s where we realize that it’s also the professionals of nature, of the mountains, all these people who live outside, foresters, shepherds, people who do jobs that often do not really hesitate to leave behind all this garbage. The trail was in good condition, it made us feel really good to be able to hike easily, not to be constantly cutting our way with the machete, to remove the thorns from the shoes, etc. Arriving at the top of Mount Giona, we have the same day started our descent we had a little trouble finding the perfect place to camp, so we pushed quite far and finally we found ourselves in the dry river bed, for a camp… Gorgeous! We will remember it all our life I think, it was so beautiful! After this nice little makeshift camp, we have continued in the bed of this river. Canyoning without water or rope. It’s not always easy to sneak between the rocks, sometimes above, sometimes below, really climbing. With Marie we do a lot of bouldering and I think it helps us a lot in this kind of section. it was quite funny. We headed to Delphi, this city of which you have pretty much all heard in the storybooks being a kid, known for the oracle. We would have liked to visit these ruins which are UNESCO heritage, but the heat of the afternoon, tourist buses everywhere and because we were late, we just hiked next to it. But we did take some images. We had never seen olive groves of this size, it was out of sight, on two valleys and we did not realize that so many olive trees are planted in Greece. That’s the end of this episode, we’ll see you in a few weeks with several very special guests… We don’t spoil you more and we talk to you soon! Ciao!