Greece part 1 (the late great Lape)

Herbert Newton Lape. He was my grandfather, father of 6 children (including my dad) countless grandchildren and great grandchildren, a legend among anyone that knew him, and an incredible inspiration on my current life. He would attack life as if it were a game set up specifically for him, strategically putting him in the position of happiness. He was funny, loved his family and close friends, and sprinkled in just the right amount of asshole to balance everything out. When I decided to thru hike the appalachian trail it was his idea that I borrowed. (See my post titled ‘Inspiration’) He has traveled around the world to some his favorite places on earth and even managed to choreograph a family reunion every three years in a different place around the u.s. The love story of his wife and him is unmatched. He worked with THE ohio state university, flew small airplanes, and even ran for mayor of Bexley, Ohio. I can still picture him and I in his car as he bounces his elbows to bluegrass music and simultaneously slaps my leg as he says with great enthusiasm, “what do ya think jase?!” … I loved him. On July 17, 2016 he passed away at the age of 90.

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Herbert Newton Lape on top of the great pyramid

 

 

I had found myself yet again ahead of Josh as I came to a road crossing in greece. It was about 11 in the morning and conveniently placed at the crossroads was a shady little resteraunt with meat dripping on a spit filling the air with gorgeous smells of Greek food. I felt I deserved a meal and a cold can of coke while I waited for my buddy as well as to route our next move. I ordered a healthy portion of lamb meat with a side of potatoes. As I turned on the wifi, messages started to pop up on my screen. “I miss the way he laughed” “he was a great man that loved his family”
No. I thought, hoping to hide the unavoidable thoughts that were creeping into my head. I knew it would likely happen as i was traveling but still wasnt ready. The tears started as i continued to read. A young bearded man brought me my food as I threw my sunglasses on trying to keep it together. The food was incredible and only appropriate considering my grandfather’s go to meal was usually some kind of Greek food at a place called “the easy street café” in Columbus, Ohio. As josh leaned his bike against the wall and walked up to my table he saw that I was crying.
“Whoa dude, you okay?”
“Yea man, this food is just incredible” I said as I shoved another bite of food into my mouth trying to mask the sadness.
“I’ll have whatever he ordered” he told the waiter.

I thought about him a lot the next few days, imagining him hiking the mountains around us, or having a glass of wine in some of the cafes we visited. Josh and I had slowed down a bit in greece not only to enjoy the beautiful scenery of mountains and cliffs but also because we were ahead of time and would have to wait for our packages if we made it to athens too early. While taking a lunch break at a bus stop (our favorite place to eat lunch because of the shade and a place to sit) a tiny kitten ran across the road fearing his life. I was making a makeshift gyro out of thin pita bread, fresh tomatoes, feta cheese, and tzaziki sauce when I saw the little furball. It was terrified yet curious and I thought the only humane thing to do at this time would be to offer him some water and maybe a bit of cheese. Everytime I came near he would sprint behind a bush behind the bus stop so I left a small kitten size portion of feta on the ground in front of him and a puddle of water in the lid of my container. After eating it quickly i offered up some stale bread or croutons and Josh threw in some old bananas which this little guy ate. After Josh fell asleep on the bench I made it my goal to get closer to this cat through love and food and after about an hour of slow movements and more food this guy let me pet him and eventually pick him up purring as I stroked his fur. (Probably had never felt love or the touch of a human before)
“Josh, wake up” I said
“Haha! What? You trained the cat?”

I wanted to take him with me, imagining people seeing the cat hanging on the back of the bike and referring to me as that dude that bikes with a cat. After a few trial runs with my new friend on the back of the bike I snapped out of this love affair with the kitten and realized the only logical thing to do is to leave the cat behind. With a slight sadness and a heavy heart we biked off after filling his water dish and leaving a few more peices of bread and cheese. I named him Ferbert Crouton Lape. Ferbie for short.

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Ferbert Crouton Lape on top of my bike

After waking up early, sweating with the morning sun burning through my tent we packed up our things and were on the road. After 20 miles or so of beautiful curvy roads sandwiched between smaller mountains and the sea we came to a resteraunt hidden under a large canopy of vines and trees. There was plenty of shade and friendly faces inside so the only thing left to ask was if there was wifi. There was, so we ordered a coke and some water.
“You eat Greek food!” Our young waitress said to us. So we ordered some meat and potatoes to go with our beverages refusing the salad and about 3 others things this young waitress/salesman was offering. As we sat there longer than the average person, watching locals come and go, our waitress who was fascinated with our bikes and the fact that we were biking around the world, offered us a place to camp next to the resteraunt.
“How will you get across the oceans?” She said.
“Swim” we said while making swimming hand motions.

Later that night we met Niko who was the son of the owner. It seemed that everyone in the family had a role at this resteraunt including Niko (10 years old) who would bring us more food and beers and his two younger brothers Billy (8) and George (6). I taught them magic tricks with the playing cards they had and made stupid noises with my hands which they thought was the absolute funniest thing they had ever seen. They sat at our table while we ate and did funny tricks trying to make them laugh. We looked around at the other people sitting enjoying the Greek music playing over the speakers and eating their meals and wondered what they must think of these two American boys with bicycles and tents set up next to the resturaunt. After a few hours of games well past our usual bedtime as the sun sets, Josh and i were exhausted. “What time do you go to bed?” I asked niko. “Around 3” he replied. I decided a rowdy game of basketball on the dusty patch next to my tent might tire these kids out and we could go to bed. It didn’t work so finally around midnight, now exhausted from basketball, i told them we were going to sleep and we’d see them in the morning. After climbing into my tent and about 9-10 “good nights” from George, the youngest brother, we went to sleep. He even came back after what we thought was the last one 10 minutes later and whispered “goodnight” thru my thin tent. Josh and I laughed and my last thoughts before shutting my eyes were how lucky we are to be in the position we were with great food, great music, and great friends around the world.

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Stuck in Athens

I don’t move from this chair and am quite proud of myself for it. Kids walk in through the steel green door at the end of the skinny partially outdoor hallway and I stare up from my phone screen at them. I give everyone a well pronounced, “hello” and listen back, part of me hoping for an American (or Australian) accent.

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Today is day 7 at this cheap hostel. The excitement of being around other young travellers has begun to taper off. There have been several days blending together of unlabeled wine in plastic bottles bought from kiosks and buckets of expensive American fried chicken. We’ve danced in the kitchen while pasta overcooks on the flimsy gas stove and I have been scolded by the owner of the building for venturing up a ladder to a dark hallway full of old carpet and dusty torsos of forgotten mannequins.  I joke that perhaps I’ve fallen in love everyday at this place.

A Greek voice comes over an intercom,

“have some respect!, It is quite hours.”

“fuck that its happy hour in America”, says one my new friends. It is 3pm, siesta time in Athens and here we are sitting with 2 liter bottles of Bulgarian wine and two out of tune guitars playing alongside a bluetooth speaker. As terrified as I am about insulting a cultural norm I do end up telling myself “well I did pay for this place.” The woman who runs the hostel says to me every night, “you leave tomorrow Joshua”. Her tone is authoritative but I have come to the conclusion that she is simply asking me a question. Maybe I live here now.

The format of every new hostel conversation has become stale. I crave consistency and even found some with a few rowdy Americans from New Jersey and also with a trio of lovely Australian girls.The problem is I have spent an unordinary amount of time in a place that is intended for brief stays. A group will form here and then fizzle away as everyone moves along with their trips. But I am left in this chair with no energy to be part of a new nightly party crowd.

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Same chair moved to different spot

Jason has followed the Australians to the islands until Tuesday and yesterday I broke my self-imposed rule to never leave the hostel. I figured I would go mad if I sat in the chair much longer obsessing over shallow analogies of what it means to exist at this cluttered corner table. A girl gave me a ticket to the Acropolis (20 euro value). I walked the 3km up the hill to the main entrance of the site. It felt like a theme park. At the gate a woman scanned my ticket and said, “no good”. It seems the ticket had been used and would not scan. I argued with her for several minutes and went as far as to cook up a story about how I bought the ticket yesterday but had to help a friend to the hospital who had slipped on the steep marble leading up to the gate. She just said, “ok, still no good.” Behind me was a ticket office and a line with hundreds of people fanning themselves and drinking yellow slushies in a miserable manner. I walked around aimlessly listening to Tom Waits on my headphones. Forty feet to the left of the entrance was a stroller storage room and a fence. I figured the risk of being escorted away by Greek police officers was certainly worth the 20 euro and time standing cattle-like in a line. So I hopped the fence. Many people waiting in line saw me do this and as I glanced back I could notice people talking in a revolutionary tone. Maybe I would look towards the crowd on my way up the mountain and there would be a crowd of families shoving their kids over the fence, tumbling over clunky dslr cameras and then scattering into the crowd on the steps. But no one seemed to care about me so I went along exploring the ancient structures at the top.

The womans voice came over the intercom, “Joshua! You need to pick up the blue telephone”. I realize I have been here long enough to now be receiving phone calls on the landline. It is our mechanic from down the street,

“Yes, Joshua, I have the parts for Jason’s bike, will you come in Tuesday morning at 10?”

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Shame

 

 

 

On the beach

I knew two things about Albania before crossing the border. The first being it was Albania who dropped the first cobalt bomb in Nevil Schute’s nuclear apocalyptic masterpiece “On The Beach” and the second from a touring cyclist’s blog that there were packs of bloodthirsty dogs roaming the Albanian countryside. The one thing I have been dwelling on since leaving Italy is the threat of dogs. It seems every time I hear a sheep’s bell or gaze up a long dirt driveway I am filled with terror. I was chased by three packs of dogs in Albania, the last of which chased us both all the way to the foot of the guard station on the Greek border.

“It must be something about those yellow panniers”, said Jason.

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I considered that as I told him about earlier in the day when a pack of sheepdogs abandoned their flock to come snack on this tasty American. Their collaboration was brilliant. Clearly, the strongest was out in front but I thought for sure he could not make it up the hill leading to the steel highway guard rail. I even slowed down in this confidence. It seems Albanian sheep dogs are not an animal to doubt. This muscular and white boy flesh starved beast raced his way up the hill and began running alongside the guard rail at 30 plus km an hour. The adrenaline allowed me to pump those pedals harder than I thought possible and then even harder with every glance towards my right. In maybe 200 meters I could see the guard rail tapering off and there was a gap in the road where I was certain these dogs would eat me and from the look of the pack leader, possibly the steel frame of my bike as well. I approached the gap and possibly said a quick prayer to something or maybe just cursed loudly. I heard a loud smack and looked over at this poor bored vicious dog 3 feet in the air and doing a sort of corkscrew front flip into the ditch maybe 20 feet below the road. It seems his face caught a piece of steel sticking out of the rail and now his legs were stiff in the air and blood was shooting from between its eyes while it spun the first revolution. I pedaled harder in my victory. It felt like a Bond car chase and I wish so badly I had something witty to tell you I yelled back towards that damn dog, but I kept moving as the rest of the pack was still on its way and there was no telling what they would do to me when they saw what became of their fallen comrade. I rode on feeling quite bad for the little fucker, he may well have killed himself in that chase. For the rest of the afternoon I considered my dog strategy. Perhaps a combination of a big stick, an air horn and a can of pepper spray will be much better than trying to outrun these animals.

“Don’t give them what they want.” I tell myself a few hours later as I’m running for the Greek border guards 100 yards ahead with four Albanian strays barking and nipping at my yellow panniers.

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Last photo I took before dog incident.

There’s a bit of unrest going on in my stomach, it could be from the gas station hose water or the mystery one euro kebab we found on the side of the highway. Anyway, Greece is treating us well and I will tell you what I tell every resident of every country I visit, a thumbs up and a smile paired with “(insert country) is the best!”

Today Jason was taming a street kitten with bits of granola and old bananas at a graffitied country bus stop and I fell asleep. I had a dream we were a few miles up the road in Turkey during the coup detat. We were crossing the bridge into Istanbul and a soldier stopped us and said, “hey look, Josh look!” I woke up from the spider infested bus bench and here was Jason holding this tiny cat in one of his hands and laughing.

“I trained this cat while you were asleep”.

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It was amazing, this brave little Greek cat, no longer afraid of us just because of some old bananas. Jason toyed with the idea of bringing the cat around the world and went as far as to run bungee cords through a cardboard box and ride circles around the highway with the cat and a soaked bandana packed inside the box. It seemed the poor thing would die from the heat in that box so he decided to leave it and we moved along down and further into Greece.

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