A well-used maroon-colored car rolls up to the bus stop where we are hiding from the sun.
A big man with a big belly and big eyes jumps out from behind the steering wheel. He waves and then opens the passenger door. He takes out a plastic bag and approaches us.
He talks to us in Greek we don’t understand. We smile and shrug our shoulders. He switches to the universal language of basic sounds and hand gestures we have become skilled in interpreting.
“Baaa, baaa.” He draws horns in air. Sheep and goats. We translate that to mean he is a shepherd. He points to his eyes and then to us. He moves his hands to steer an imaginary wheel. We assume he is saying he saw us walking while he was driving.
He opens the bag wide and shows us what is inside. Two bottles of water and three cans of soda, with drops of condensation forming in the afternoon heat. They are for us, he signs, swinging his arms toward the sky and sun. It’s hot, and the early June sun is already unbearable. He thought we could use a few cold drinks.
We thank him profusely. We chat a bit. “Perpatima. Walking. Thailand to Catalonia.” We try to explain our walking from Asia to Europe. He shakes his head in disbelief. “Podia?,” he asks. “By foot?”
“Ne,” we say in Greece, nodding yes and attesting to our own craziness.
“My name is Fanus,” he says slowly in English. He pulls out his telephone, and we understand that he wants to give us his phone number. “For help, if you need.”
We shake hands. He drives off, beeping his goodbye. We wave a final “Efaristo, thank you.”
For me, it’s moments like these that matter most. These kinds of interactions that happen in between our footsteps are the moments that make me feel most alive. These fleeting moments are, many days, the only things that keep me walking hours on end.
They are, too, the moments that are better shared and appreciated with someone I love. I smile at Lluís. I’m happy to be sitting next to him in the partially shaded bus stop, my jaw dropped in awe of the constant surprises of kindness we find together.
Walking Together…For Now
Having separated in April and part of May to experience the last weeks of our Turkish leg in individual ways that were truer to each of our intentions, Lluís and I met up and crossed into Greece together.
Now, we are trying different ways to manage the ever-changing day-to-day expectations of walking together and living together as a couple in always-on travel mode. We sometimes joke that whatever we did for the 10 years we were together before this walk could now be classified as co-habitating. These last 2.5 years of constant togetherness keeps teaching us what it means to really live with someone and see where and how personal needs and wants merge or collide within the confines of couplehood.
One of the new middle ground approaches we are experimenting with in Europe, for instance, is not setting a daily kilometer distance.
In many parts of Asia, visa limitations forced us to walk an average of 27 kilometers a day, a distance I frequently found exhausting and dreadful. Besides the physical pain and mental anguish I felt after (usually) the 23rd kilometer, I felt having a rigid milestone goal was too constricting and closed us off to opportunities where lingering a few days longer would have enriched our overall experience. In Europe, where we have the good fortune to move about as European citizens, there is no clock ticking against us as we make our way towards borders. We have won back our advantage of being rich in time; we often say we are not rich with money, but our self-created free time has made us super wealthy.
We will also have more alternatives to where we walk. Instead of being relegated to mostly main roads, as we were through many parts of south and central Asia, we can choose small, winding secondary roads that are all but forgotten in the shadow of the fast-moving freeways and multi-lane highways. We’ll have long-distance cycling routes that connect us to towns without car traffic, and trekking routes that invite us to spend more time in nature, something that has become vastly more important to me over the last few years of living outdoors.
We still have issues to iron out. We are wrangling with questions like: Is one day a week of rest enough? How many nights do we camp? How many days before I can take a real shower and not just wash the “important parts” at a gas station bathroom? Will European pensions, guesthouses and hotels be too expensive for our budget? Will we be requesting more stays with CouchSurfing hosts willing to offer travelers a room or a sofa in their homes and trade off the few hours of privacy and much-need personal space guesthouses offer to save money for the months ahead? Will our personal intentions about what we want this walk to be meld or will we each need time alone to shape the journey to our hearts’ content?
We have plenty of time to ponder these things as we walk. And, if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to invent new solutions to our biggest dilemmas over a bag of just-picked cherries.
The Cherry on Top
It’s cherry season in the Macedonia-Thrace part of Greece.
We have seen very few cherry trees alongside the long stretches of wheat fields we have passed, but we know it’s harvest time.
One guy at a gas station puts a crate of cherries he picked that morning in front of us. “Take some,” he offers. We drool when we see their deep red perfection. We would eat the entire crate if we weren’t worried about being polite.
Further down the road, another guy at a gas station, where we use the toilet and refill our water bottles, gives us a bag of cherries to take with us. “Energy for your walk, ” he says. We eat most of them walking in the hot sun because we don’t want to squish them in our backpacks.
Another bag of cherries is gifted to us by a woman and her daughter passing by, yes, another gas station. “From my garden,” she says, happy to share the fruit of her labor. We find a shady spot to savor each one of these unexpected delicacies.
Time is on our side. Life unfolds in between our footsteps, and this is a moment worth treasuring. It is, in every way, the cherry on top of a journey being defined by equal parts discomfort and serendipity, compromise and freedom, and uncertainty and wonder.
I pop another cherry in my mouth, and chew it slowly, letting its juice stain my teeth. I wish for more moments just like this one.