And then there were two

16 June 2011

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We drove out of Thessaloniki early Wednesday morning searching for a mechanic’s station with a jack big and strong enough to lift the bus. We needed to change the seal on the inner workings of the back right wheel so that it would stop leaking gear oil. Just outside the city proper, we found a dusty old mechanic’s yard where there was room to work and a tractor mechanic who let us use some tools.

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He was a very sweet man and we were intrigued by the fact that he kept a parrot and two love birds in his shop. The parrot was green and funny, chanting words in Greek and spending time on a wooden bar that that mechanic had set up for him on a rolling cart so he could not only see what was going on, but move around to be close to the action.

The mechanic spoke English so we chatted with him about his birds. It turned out that at home he had over 20 birds as well as a dog and a few cats. We decided to take his photo with the Afghan camera along with the parrot.

It was late afternoon when we finally got on our way. The highway was almost deserted by early evening, a smooth, wide, and curvy road that led straight up into the mountains and then over green, lovely plateaus.

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We passed many mid sized towns, tucked into the hills or on high altitude plains at the foot of even higher peaks. The road passed through tunnel after tunnel burrowing deeply into the mountains. There were an amazing number of nuclear power stations and huge high tension electrical wires but very few houses or building using the power.

A few hours beyond, tired from so many hours of travel, we searched in the dark for somewhere to sleep. We figured we were a few hours from the Albanian border, which we were hoping to cross the following day. By that time, the road was so empty of people and cars that it began to feel eerie. We ducked off an exit to try to find a village that might have a small restaurant or a church we could park in front of. We were met at the end of the off ramp by a choice of a few roads—there were street lamps to light the signs (in Greek) that pointed in various directions announcing the name of villages, but beyond those lights was total darkness. Not a building or a person in sight.

We followed one way for a good 10 km, winding up and around the hills, but found nothing. It was starting to feel spooky and weird, what had been beautiful pristine countryside in the light of the afternoon was chillingly empty, almost creepy in the dark. In Turkey and when we were three, we often looked for places far from people to set up camp and to enjoy the feeling of being way out in the countryside. Maybe it was because we were missing Diego, or maybe Greece was giving us a different signal as to the safety of being alone, but it seemed safer to be where people were, to sleep in the bus parked in a same town or village. We retraced our way back to the highway but found that the exit we had used was only that, there was no on ramp to return to the highway. Suddenly it seemed we were in a bad movie. We debated the idea of driving along the exit ramp and then taking a hard right turn back onto the highway. Finally we agreed to follow the road that pointed in the direction of the next town along the highway in the hope that there would either be a real or an on ramp that would take us far away from this freaky place.

After 20 km of hairpin turns and steep ups and downs (with the highway coming in and out of view along the way), we finally arrived at a lit area with a 24 hour gas station. The sight of another person (the gas station attendant) was a relief, enough to persuade us to park the bus, move a bunch of paintings and other random items from the back to the front seat and squeeze out a space for us to sleep inside.

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In the morning we discovered we were only 50 kilometers from the border of Albania. Everything looked more welcoming in the daylight. The landscape had rearranged itself back to its daytime position of uninterrupted nature.

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We followed the highway, down, down, down out of the mountains and into the main port town in north west region of Greece, Igomenitsa. We found it lively and full of people drinking coffees and walking enjoying the beautiful day.

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In the same country - Greece