Every day about 3 or 4 p.m., I blow a kiss into my half-closed hand and then, as if it’s a bowling bowl, I roll it forward with a question: Ok, Guardian Angels, we need a safe place to sleep tonight…what do you have on mind a few kilometers from now?
I know the task of finding a good (or at minimum, decent) spot falls us, but I like the idea of outsourcing the job and pretending that there will be a big, flashing, neon sign ahead that says “Park here for the night.” If nothing else, my angel-wishing bowling game gives me a tiny bit of comfort that we will intuitively be guided to a place where no harm will come to us while we are in dreamland.
In Greece, our angels, in whichever physical or esoteric form they take, definitely seemed to have fun with us. We ended up stretching our legs for the night in some pretty oddball places.
Here are a few our favorite daily nests in Greece.
* An abandoned factory filled with hay (Feature photo). This spot was one of the weirdest spots we have camped in our entire journey.
Lluís scouted out a few obviously abandoned buildings, and reported that he had found a good place to pitch the tent. His idea was to sleep in one of the smaller rooms of what appeared to be an old factory. Some parts of the factory, though, had at some point in its abandoned history been converted into a hay storehouse, and perhaps, in one of the bigger rooms where heavy equipment once stood, a stable for cows, judging by the dried cow poop paddies scattered about.
If you’ve been camping, you know hay can make a soft cushion. But a whole room of hay…what would that feel like? Pretty darn comfortable!
(Side note: We usually pitch our tent even if we are indoors to keep out the bugs and dreadful mosquitoes. In Greece, we also used our tents to keep out the snakes, something locals kept warning us about when we said we were camping wherever we found an okay spot.)
* The patient’s table in a village’s community center’s visiting doctor’s office. Luck was on our side this evening. Dark clouds were brewing up a storm, so Lluís went to find some place with a roof (he often is the sleeping-location scout, and I am the backpack babysitter). In his search, he was invited to an iced frappe by a few locals sitting in the town square; he came back to get me. The conversation over coffee eventually led to a question, “Can we sleep there?” Lluís said, pointing to the covered area under the building’s staircase. The older chaps sitting around the table shrugged their shoulders in a “sure, why not” kind of way.
But, the lady at the table, Sofia, the “manager” of the cafe, had a better idea. She suggested, in Greek and universal sign language, that we sleep inside the building where there is a couch in the hallway and an office used by the doctor who visits the village now and again. She was going to talk to the mayor and get the okay. The chaps at the table again shrugged their shoulders, saying, “sure, why not.”
While we waited for the mayor to show up, Sofia offered us a multi-course dinner where fried sardines, feta cheese, salad and orange soda suddenly appeared. She refused our offer to pay, and, instead, said tomorrow she will also make us coffee before we go.
The mayor showed up, basically ignored us and let Sofia do the talking. We have no idea what she said, but she gave us the thumbs up when the mayor went to sit at another table of card-playing, coffee-drinking old farmers.
Lluís, the eternal gentleman, took the couch in the hot hallway and gave me the patient’s table in the doctor’s office that also had an air conditioner. Sofia said we could turn on the AC if it got hot, which it did.
The next morning, Sofia made us coffee as promised and sent us off with hugs, cookies and baseball hats to keep the sun out of our eyes.
* An NGO’s clothing warehouse. We knew when we got to Europe, we wanted to volunteer with an NGO helping refugees, but we haven’t had the time to research options along our route. That’s when serendipity stepped in.
We literally walked by a camp with 600+ Yazidi people from the Shingal area of Iraqi Kurdistan, and were directed to talk to the field coordinators of Lifting Hands International, an organization providing humanitarian aid to refugees. Our jaws dropped when we found out they needed volunteers to sort boxes of clothes donations for their upcoming summer clothing distribution, an experience I wrote about in another post earlier this month.
The downside was that their volunteer apartments were filled, and we didn’t want to shell out money for a hotel room. We suggested sleeping in the back room of the warehouse, and they said ok! We eagerly traded out a rest day in a hotel with a hot shower and a couple walking days to be fully present in these moments to connect with people who have lived more than their fair share of suffering. Sleeping on a tile floor near crates of used shoes didn’t bother us a bit.
* The kitchen floor of a community center. The rain that kept showing up northern Greece — unusual during this time of year, locals told us— dictated most of our sleeping-spot searches. This day, we walked a fast 23 kilometers to beat the rain, and found ourselves sitting in a doorway of a community center on church grounds weighing the possibility of being able to sleep near here.
We were eating yogurt and drinking a bottle of Coke when a priest holding his young son strolled over to us. We chit-chatted about our journey and how we ended up sitting here. Father Panagiotis said it would be ok for us to camp in the doorway, which had roof we had hoped would keep us mostly dry.
Hours later, after sharing a meal, walking together around the village and engaging in thoughtful conversations about life, culture, travel and religion, Father Panagiotis said he thought it would be better if we slept inside the community center. We sighed with relief! Being inside when rain is coming is much better than being outside!
It turned out that we were able to spend two nights in the company of Father Panagiotis, his family and his neighbors, a kindness we will always remember.
* Couchsurfing with Stavros. Around the time our rest day is coming up, we sometimes we trade off a room in a pension and use Couchsurfing, where a local person agrees to host travelers for free. Part of the Couchsurfing philosophy is to connnect people, something we also believe in.
Stavros was one of our more generous hosts. He made us frappes, took our laundry to his his friend’s laundromat because his washing machine wasn’t working, bought us lunch twice , watched movies with us and put us up in an extra bedroom, which was especially great when that late afternoon storm hit.
But, the best part was that he introduced us to some of his friends. Over several beers, the group of us talked for hours. We talked about the impact the last recession, its impact on Catalonia, on the Greek economy and on their lives. We spoke about their plans for the future and the craziness of our walk and the experiences we had along the way. We shared life philosophies and ideas for living a good life.
Stavros was our bridge, gracefully translating Greek to English and vice versa. One day we hope to return the kindness if/when he comes to Barcelona.
* The gathering of travelers near river and the old Byzantine bridge. It started as a short uphill walk, and ended with a bath in a river in a river basin.
At the top of a hill, we found three cyclists heading in the opposite direction. Of course we stopped to talk with them. They are our brothers on wheels. A few minutes later, a couple in an RV van rolled up to the hilltop gathering and joined the conversation, pulling out a can of beer and a half bottle of wine to quench our thirst. The seven of us chatted in the road’s pullout for about a half an hour. Eventually the cyclists said goodbye and rode away.
The RV couple planned to camp at the river at the bottom of the hill, which we had just passed. They told us there was an old Byzantine bridge somewhere nearby, and they were going to swim/shower in the pool. Having not showered for several days, the idea of going for a swim was the best part.
We followed them back down the hill and pitched our tent behind their RV. They shared their spaghetti dinner with us and another can of beer. We slipped-slider our way into the river basin at dusk, and let the cool water wash away the dirt and grime.
Another cyclist showed up. The three cyclists we had met earlier had passed him and told him he would find all of us somewhere near the river. We moved the conversation inside the RV and shared travel love.
We fell asleep to the sound of frogs croaking and the distant song of an owl calling out, “droop, droop, droop.”
In the morning, we found the old, mostly well-preserved Byzantine bridge around the bend in the river. We marveled at its consutruction and durability, and wondered how many people had walked over it throughout history.
We bid farewell to our travelling friends. We watched the cyclist strum his guitar as one of the street dogs sat patiently beside him hoping for breakfast. His music got washed away by the sound of a passing car.
* The picnic spot turned into a camping site. In the early part of our Greek walk, we came across some nice picnic spots outfitted with well-made gazebos. This was one of them.
We chose this spot despite its close proximity to the road and the number of abandoned dogs that troll around the picnic grounds picking through the rubbage people left behind. We were on a windy road and thought there may not be too many suitable camping options in the next few kilometers.
We called it a day here. We cooked red lentil beans and couscous, and gave a few spoons to one of the dogs; he seemed to be the king of the castle and kept the other dogs a fair distance away.
I struck a deal with the dog: We’ll give him some salami for breakfast if he protects us during the night. The number of beer bottles and condom wrappers were the red flag items that signaled the gazebo may have an active nightlife scene. We just wanted to sleep.
As I entered the tent, the dog curled up a few meters away. When we woke up, he was still there. There had been some barking during the night as he sent off other dogs who wandered by, but nothing that was a threat to us.
Our dog friend got up and, without looking back, walked off before I could pull out our food bag. I guess he didn’t like salami.
*Wild camping in the forest and among pomegranate trees. Some nights we really like being outdoors and sleeping in nature.
I wasn’t always comfortable sleeping in a tent, but living outdoors for a large part of the last 30 months has squashed some of my fears. While I still worry about the creatures that lurk in the night, I’ve gotten used to listening to the outside sounds from inside the protective bubble of our mobile home.
Still, I have my issues, one of which is a concern that we will be found in the middle of the night and have to deal with some problem in a half-asleep state. To avoid that, we have a little routine every night before we dose off. We swoosh our hands north to south and east to west. “Invisibility shield activated,” we say (yes, I got Lluis to do this, too). “Please let no person or animal find us or disturb us. We come here with light and love, and only want to sleep. We need rest so we can walk on. We mean no harm,” I recite this out loud while Lluis rolls over and pulls the sleeping bag over his head.
As it seems to be working, I’ll keep activating my invisbility shield and pretend I’m Wonder Woman in her invisible jet.
You may have noticed that we have two different tents. That’s because we are now each carrying a tent. We did this because we started this phase of the walk in different parts of Turkey, and decided we each needed to self-suffiecint should we take different paths in Europe. I traded out my hammock/bivy for a cheap, beach tent I found in a big-box hardware store in Istanbul. It’s far from the fancy tent we have been using, but it has held up pretty well so far in Greece… at least on the nights when we don’t have rain.