In the north west territory, we passed through a labyrinth of lush green trees and vines yielding fruits of all kinds, particularly oranges and stone fruits, most ready for picking any day soon. We had marked a campsite that we were heading to, set at the end of a peninsula and alongside a long stretch of sandy beach, our plan had been to take a few days off the bikes and rest. Approaching the campsite, the beach bars were pumping out the tunes and there were a lot of youngsters on motorbikes revving their engines and racing up and down the strip alongside the beach, helmets swinging off their arms and many tentatively trying to keep their beer in the glass on the back of their bikes. The fine white sand and turquoise water was a nice surprise and the row of trees between the road and the beach would make for perfect camping. There were also beach showers available too, which is always a bonus and saves the need to hit the campsite! We pulled up to check it all out and noticed the GB motorhome. Catching the last of the afternoon sun, Julie and Bob from Manchester invited us over and informed us that this weekend the campsite was hosting a huge motorbike convention, there would be over a 1000 bikes and there is no way we would get anywhere near to the campsite. For that reason, the police were allowing the campers to overspill on the beach and wild camping wouldn't be a problem, except the noise!
With the pace picking up on the 'drag strip', we decided that a safer position for our tent would be in front of Julie and Bob's motorhome, idyllically situated with sunset views! We shared a few beers and shouted over the top of the racket and Julie fussed around inside the camper van making us cups of soup and hot drinks. Every time we meet people such as Julie and Bob, I wish my own parents would hurry up and choose themselves a motor home and get on the road to start living the dream!
In 2005, I (Holly) left the UK to take up my first seasonal position overseas working as a water sports instructor for a British company called Sunsail. During my first season with Sunsail I spent 9 months at their resort in Greece, near the village of Paleros, approximately 200 km south of our current position. I knew we would be able to get everything we needed at the hotel and I also knew there was a very good camping beach just 10 minutes walk away outside the staff accommodation! It would also be great to revisit 9 years later!
We decided it would be worth putting the hard yards in and knocking this distance out in a day. There was still an hour or two of daylight and there was also a tough section of mountains to get through before we would descend into the village of Parga. The great idea was to get this over and done with tonight, find ourselves a mountain top camp with sensational views, get a good nights sleep in and be up to crunch some miles before the sun became too intense in the morning, starting the day with a refreshing downhill into Parga where we should arrive just in time for the bakery to open for breakfast. The idea went nearly to plan..
Even as the sun dropped away, the humidity was high and it would take a long time for the ground to loose the heat. Again, it was a beautiful but slow ride, grinding our way around each rising bend and scanning the terrain for a suitable camp. There were acres and acres of perfect ground under the shade of the olive grooves, but up here, everything was fenced off and the nets were out ready to catch the first falling olives. Then we saw our spot, a perfect plateau with views through the valleys. We pulled across the road and were then hit with that familiar stench. Flies buzzed around our ankles and we knew in an instant what would come next. Rubbish of every kind tumbled down the drop on the other side. It was not officially a rubbish tip, but obviously people like to have a good view when they go to the efforts of bringing their waste half way up a mountain, so this was ideal.
The next part went to plan, a wonderful downhill with the road all to ourselves and the cool, pre-dawn air filling our lungs and tricking our senses into a feeling of alertness. The smells wafted from the bakery and our bikes knew exactly where they were going. The rest of the village was still sleeping. Coffee and patisserie was a calming antidote from a tense night and the needed stimulant to get me up the next lot of hills.
It didn't take long for the temperatures to soar into the mid-thirties and we really began to appreciate how much harder it is riding in the heat. We carry 3 litres of water each and this is topped up throughout the day. Up until midday, there was no breeze either and on the uphills, you find yourself searching for the next tree to dive under. Still following the coastal road, we took the opportunity to jump in the sea when we could, paradise. Eventually approaching the city of Preveza, we were getting excited. It couldn't be far to the Sunsail resort now, I remember it only taking 20 minutes to drive from the airport to the hotel. We bypassed the signs for the city and cycled towards what we thought was a bridge on our map. As we approached our crossing, we took a guess as to which way the large warning signs prohibiting cyclists and pedestrians to continue was referring to. We hesitantly cycled on debating which road it was supposed to be, when we arrived at the entrance to a huge tunnel. At 1500M in length and around 50 metres deep, there was no way we could proceed by bike. We glanced at the map and realised we had made a huge mistake. Preveza actually sits at the end of a peninsula and the Ambracian Gulf cuts it off from Aktion on the opposite peninsula. It would take at least a day to back track and pass around the entire gulf to get to the other side which was just a stones throw away from where we stood utterly disheartened. We pulled up and had a think about it, it was time to stick our thumbs up and get a ride. And at this moment, as if we had been heard, two patrol vehicles pulled up to take us across. Apparently there were cameras back at the signs and we were prohibited to travel beyond that point, but the guys were very friendly and drove us to the other side free of charge, awesome service!
So far I couldn't see any sailing boats, we had reached the pin I had dropped on the map and attempted to ask for directions to Sunsail Vounaki, the locals looked at us blankly, they had never heard of it. It seemed strange as Sunsail is one of the best sources of business for the locals in Paleros, they all know Sunsail and can mostly speak English too. No one could speak English where we were!
Eventually, our coastal road came to an end and our only option was the steep and narrow backroad into the mountain. We gave it a shot, at least if we got up high we would definitely be able to locate the sailing area then! The road was like a roller coaster and the inclines were epic. Nothing looked familiar. Cows with bells wondered carelessly on the road and nifty goats scaled the rocky terrain and along the branches of the fig trees. This was an old road and stinking hot. Believing that we had only been minutes away from our destination, we had stupidly passed on the opportunity to grab supplies and extra water in the last village and were now totally out of water. The hills kept coming and we were desperately thirsty, it was also a possibility that we would have to camp up here and find our way out tomorrow. Throughout the trip we have been cursing at the amount of water wastage leaking out of pipes running alongside the roads. Now we were scanning the edges and the fields for such leaks. Nothing. The animal troughs were mostly full and we were just at the point of pulling the MSR water filter out when we came across a shepherd outside his dwelling. Sometimes it is obvious what you are trying to say, you do not need to speak the same language, but the man did not have any running water. He directed us instead to a fresh water spring that used to belong to an ancient village 500M ahead. The village had been destroyed by a major earthquake that struck this part of Greece in 1953 and was never rebuilt.
We dumped our bikes and scurried down the bank to the water tap. The water was cold and fresh from the mountain, as good as you'll ever get. We threw water over our heads, cooled our wrists and soaked our helmets. As I filled our drinks bottles from the tap, David cupped his hands and slurped the water from a larger open pipe just next to us. It looked and tasted good too, but it may have been a bad call. Nonetheless, at that moment, we were rehydrated and refreshed and it gave us a boost to get over this pass and where we were going. There was a little further to go, but eventually, Dave spotted it, lots of little sails in a cluster on the far side of the bay. My eyes scanned along the water and onto the land where I could just about make out Sunsail Vounaki.
It was downhill from here, which was just as well to make it past the prowling farm dogs but the fun was not over yet. Dramatic storm clouds were building over the mountain behind Paleros and the skies were looking intense. Ironically, I have always sworn that the best storms I have ever witnessed in all my years of sailing have been here in Paleros and I have certainly never seen electrical storms that have equalled these spectacular displays anywhere else. And now, as we looked across the bay to Paleros on the other side, the scene was a familiar one. David legged it ahead, I took the risk and stopped for a photo, I had to get a photo! To my right, a shepherd sat totally chilled out as his goats scratched around in the long grasses along the beach. I took heed in the fact that if anyone can judge the local weather patterns, the local goat herder would be totally in tune and he was certainly in no panic. I relaxed and carried on snapping a few pictures before the first rumble of thunder. I caught up with David who was not happy and we went like the clappers to get to the village..