Slow Sailing

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Settling In To A New Continent

11 March 2016 | Lavrio, Greece
Heather
I'm getting a pile-up of thoughts I want to write about in this blog but we've been busy and I haven't had time to actually blurt it out on a keyboard. My mind is full of images of Greek food, pastries, the music that we frequently hear and Greek suffixes even! You know the Greek endings like opolis and os? We are having a great time here and it's just what we needed. I keep having to hand Jon the make believe microphone (we do this when the other person is going on & on about something they're really excited about) because he keeps saying "I love Lavrio" and telling me all of the reasons as if I don't feel them myself. While this town pier isn't as totally protected as we would like it to be, it is working out well and it is quite a bargain. Everything we need is a few footsteps away since we're right in town. The other side of it is we are right in town- lots of people stroll the pier and witness our life aboard as we do things like hang laundry out to dry. But we were emailed the other day by a local couple who walked by and saw the boat and then looked us up. They have dreams of buying a boat and setting off and they wanted to talk with us about ours. So the man, Dio, came over last evening for a couple of hours which was so nice. We got to talking about Greek food and I mentioned that I make pastitisio and Dio said we have to try his mother's recipe. So he calls her up right then and asks her to make a pan of it for us for the following day. Well doesn't he show up today with his wife, Helena and his son Theodore and with a huge pan of homemade pastitisio- still hot! It was delicious and we have a lot of leftovers! It's funny because we had just remarked that we haven't seen any Greek flags in our sailing travels. I hope they make it out cruising. Our boat looks a little bit like a jewel here because there aren't many sailboats in the water on our side of the pier yet and the ones that are near us are the coast guard boats and a larger power yacht.

The really long walks we've been taking are addictive. We are feeling more rested now and are about ready to start running for some of them. The hillsides & wildflowers go on & on. There are red poppies everywhere. The other day we happened upon a man doing his exercise walk and he insisted on showing us some ruin sites on & off the path. Lavrio was a huge lead & silver mine that started thousands of years ago. Some of the silver that went to coin currency to pay for the Acropolis came from Lavrio too. We ended up spending a couple of hours with this funny guy speedwalking from one ruin site to another, at one point through a rain shower (he paid no mind to it) and we even scooted through a "local's" break in the fence to a closed outdoor archaeological site that claimed to have the first "washing machine" for the metals. It was a series of stone pathways leading from one pool to another where the metals could apparently sink down into. On another day, as we were working our way through the town to get to the hillsides, we saw two teens getting set for a moped drag race. This town reminds me of Whangarei in NZ where there was always someone in the distance goosing their hot rod or doing a burn out and it is no different here except it isn't limited to cars.

The Thursday market surprised us with all the plenty it had and our fridge is full of good stuff. I have my chef back since Jon has rediscovered the galley now that he's not so hot. He loves produce markets and came home with a large bunch of fresh beets. He cooked up a big pot of beet greens and even made a big tomato salad for lunch! Who's to complain? He also made a wonderful chicken soup that I could've used an infusion of in India. Lonely Planet says the Greeks have a passionate, fiery way of speaking and we witnessed this at the produce market. High volume advertising of what you've got for sale is the way. Even passing by people's windows in town and hearing people converse can make you think they are in an argument but that is just how they speak. And we've benefited from Greek filoxenia- hospitality- we read about this. We were wandering around town looking for a laundry when we stumbled upon a butcher shop where the father & son owners had just finished making sausage links and were cooking up some leftovers for themselves on a little grill. They called us in right away to try some. We talked for a bit and the next thing you know the son takes down a big section from a hanging rope and hands it over saying it is their gift to us as a welcome. I guess we've found our butcher shop!
From Greece
From Greece

Since being here we've taken up smoking. Second hand smoking that is. Fortunately, we are still interested in holing up on the boat for meals other than gyros eaten outside because despite the economic crisis, we don't see any space in the hundreds of restaurants everywhere and we can hardly see into them anyway for all the smoke. And by the way, it is technically illegal to smoke in restaurants but the citizens have made their decision. But then we also see tons of people playing backgammon everywhere which is interesting. We want to learn how to play ourselves. Every restaurant has it's own set of dogs & cats as ambassadors and we can see people slipping plenty of food to these beggars. We haven't seen any ribs on any animals since we've been here. The coast guard boat moors right next to us and it has two resident dogs. One spends most of his time onboard when the boat is in port and the other stays on the dock. We adopted this one for a few days while the boat was out on patrol and fed it canned fish from Fiji until the boat returned and it moved over to hang out with the coastie guys. She was just using us! But there are too many furry faces around really. There is also too much graffiti. We just came back from a few days in Athens and good grief, I think it was a record. But there is plenty here. We don't really understand it. We do know from the people we've talked to that the tough economic times have taken their toll on people although things are getting better slowly. At one point a couple of years ago, Jon read that Lavrio had a 75% unemployment rate because there were several factories that shut down all at once. This may be when the graffiti picked up?? The funny thing is while we were walking up in the hills one day, there was this lovely ridge with gorgeous, smooth rock formations and billions of wildflowers and there was very old stone carved graffiti there, like from the early 1900's. This didn't bother us at all. But the spraypaint can does... We also see loads of tortoises up in the hills. Their mouths are usually full of bright green grass.
From Greece

When we were filling up the rental car with gas before returning it last week, the attendant asked us where we were from. When we said the USA he got this big smile on his face and all these words came out with rapid fire just like this: "The US? Oh... I LOVE the US! I love Obama, I love NY, Las Vegas, Chicago, I love Harley Davidson & limousines, I love Sylvester Stallone & Arnold Schwarzenhager"! It isn't uncommon to have people list out things they associate with the US but this guy was so funny because it was so fast & organized. And he said it passionately!

From Greece

We just returned from a long weekend in Athens. You can take a direct bus from Lavrio (this port town is popular with Athenians on weekends too) and it's only 1 1/2 hrs away. Jon found us a great little apartment on Air B&B for cheap, perfectly located. If we looked out the window of this top floor apt with one eye, pressed perpendicular to the glass, we could see the Acropolis from the bedroom! The only thing that was strange about it was that we kind of lived on the floor. The chairs were beanbags and the bed was a low futon. We were always either flopping down or struggling to get upright. We made big greek salads each night with bakery bread and local wine. We were engrossed in the subject of ruins for 3 days while visiting spectacular sites, museums and just strolling through the city scene that is so different than any other cities we've been. You can't really say that the skyline is particularly beautiful in our opinion given that the newer Greek architecture isn't like the old, but the narrow streets, pedestrian promenade, all of the ancient ruin sites and the old churches make for some really interesting viewpoints. There is even a little blue & white residential area with tiny little passageways perched on the side of the Acropolis like you see in pictures. Can't recall the name of the island that's famous for this but I know we will visit it soon. We learned a lot and walking up on top of the Acropolis was something we've been hoping to do for years. I mean, being in Europe was something we've been putting off for years and now we are finally seeing it. Now one thing was that the Parthenon originally held a huge statue of Athena but of course that is gone now. But over happy hour slunched in our beanbags the evening after visiting it, Jon pulled up a Discovery Channel episode on Youtube on the Acropolis and we learned something very interesting! There is another Parthenon complete with huge statue of Athena... in Nashville, good ol' USA! We think we might just make a pass at this next visit home and do a comparison.....

Some people have told us that coming to the Med would be all "first world" and I was feeling a little mixed on whether it would mean that everything would be too modern and homogenized. Well, we have our answer for the time being- NOT! We have seen so many funny things or things that make us shake our heads just like we did throughout this cruise. Being here feels to us once again like a culture that is stuck in the middle between old & new albeit further along than other spots we've been. Yesterday we walked past this little shopping center late in the day and there was a donkey tied up to the railing. He started hee-hawing very loudly and pacing back & forth. He had hay & water and it looked like he spent a fair amount of time there in the parking lot right out front. Who knows what is going on there.

So we've done some touring around; we drove over to the Corinth Canal which is a narrow cut that separates the Ionian & Aegean seas built back in 1883. I'd seen pictures of it and our friend Tim on Slick motored through it which we will probably do too at some point since it saves a fair amount of sailing. It was interesting but we were expecting nice grounds around it like most US canals have and this didn't have any. We've also been spending time just in town and on the boat doing projects. Jon replaced all the zippers on the bimini yesterday since everything has corroded shut from the sun & salt and I recaulked the toerail. We got this interesting caulking in NZ that turns to powder on the outside while remaining wet & sticky on the inside so all of this needs to come off and be re-done. With the drier air, the teak wood is shrinking. So that means the varnish is shrinking too and seams are loosening up. Everything it seems needs coating again. There is always so much work to do.

Now a little about Nepal & India.....

From Nepal
From Nepal

Once our boat was loaded in its cradle, we had the rest of the day on the ship to wait till everyone else was settled onboard but at least we could make tickets to leave Phuket and head to Nepal. We had to leave an extra day in between to get our passports back from the agent who also had to post a bond for us since we had come in to Thailand this second time with a visa on arrival rather than an advance visa. There is some ridiculous Thai law that says if you come in this way you have to post a bond when you leave ($750pp) to make sure you leave, but the only way to get your money back is to come back to Thailand & collect it! Or you can hire an agent to post the bond for you. We had to do this because we had no boat to come back to and no intention of coming back to Thailand. Makes perfect sense. We left the following morning on my birthday. My present was the flight attendant offered us exit row seats so we had plenty of leg room.

It took most of the day to get to Kathmandu. When we arrived at the airport, the immigration staff were kind of gruff, the sun was just setting, the temperature was plummeting, we had to get a phone chip, cash and call the hotel for the shuttle pick-up, all in a very grungy, open air airport with cabbies breathing down our necks for business & everyone coughing. The air quality in the parts of Nepal that we saw is pretty bad unless you are are higher elevations. The cabbies just wouldn't leave us alone. At that point I was ready to hop back on a plane and get outta there! When we got to our hotel, we realized that Kathmandu spends most of its time without electricity and under a skeleton of lights run by a generator and most everyone lives without heat and we would be too. I'm sure some of the fancy hotels have heat but ours didn't! We got in to bed and snuggled to share heat for the first time since ??? Suddenly we weren't boiling hot anymore! That night laying there in bed not sleeping we could hear people expectorating loudly and we would soon come to know that it is a cultural thing- like everybody does it all the time! We were also right next to a little temple where people came at all hours to make offerings. They would ring the bell to wake the gods up and of course it worked to wake us from our semi conscious state as well. But the next morning we got a hot shower and filled up on a nice breakfast at the hotel and were feeling better, ready to explore Kathmandu and make arrangements for a trek. We didn't have much time to waste since the ship was due to arrive in Greece on March 1st or so and we knew we wanted to visit India as well.


The old streets of Kathmandu were something out of another world. They are narrow, filled with little shops selling lots of outdoor gear for the hikers, but also wares for the locals. There are people propping themselves up on doorjams drinking tea, horse drawn carriages, pedal carts, bikes, mopeds, pedestrians & cars all trying to cram into tiny spaces. The air smells of exhaust, incense and there is a dusty haze that permeates everything. It lent a mystical feel to it somehow and it is burned into our brains. We struck up a conversation with a local guy in a hiking shop and he was trying to explain to us how to get to the old town market area. Finally, he offered to just show us where it was. We ended up spending much of the day with him since we got along well and we walked all over the city visiting some of the largest temples, the market, parks and a couple of shops. It was a great day. It left us a little rushed though to make a decision on which hike we were going to do but when we get back to our hotel, we got something planned through a trekking agency called Funny Nepal Treks. We would be doing the Poon Hill Circuit with an added day for a hot spring making a 6 day trek with 2 travel days to get to the town of Pokhara. We didn't really have enough days to do anything longer and the time of year coupled with our lack of time to really research things meant we would be doing this on the fly.
From Nepal
From Nepal

We left the next morning bright & early with our packs and headed to the bus for the drive which would take most of the day. Once we got going, we had to stop for an hour to wait to fuel up! We learned that Nepal had just come out from under a 6 month or so fuel blockade with India, who pretty much supplies Nepal with everything important. There was some kind of squabble and India shut off the fuel. Nepal in turn dug in their heels because we were told, that they have such a traditional life that they can pull in and continue on without fuel, they weren't going to be bossed around. Well the fuel had just started flowing within days of us getting there and everyone seemed pretty excited. The amount of trucks on the road and the lines at the "station" which is is just a place for fuel trucks to pull up to, was mind boggling. It was days long! The bus ride was dusty & bumpy and when we got to Pokhara, we thought it didn't look like the tourist pictures. The lake that is supposed to make the town so special was difficult to see for all the smog. Our hotel was fine though and we started our trek the following morning. What is funny about Nepal is the North Face winter wear brand. They have the real thing, perhaps a few authentic pieces here & there and even a true North Face store, but then they are seriously stocked with a counterfeit brand that is widely sold, worn by the locals and sometimes difficult to tell which is which. Everyone, everywhere, that has anything to do with hiking, has North Face on. Our rented sleeping bags were "North Face" and I can tell you there is no way that was the real thing because of the quality of the zippers. But it is funny to see everyone decked out in the brand even if it isn't the right stuff! Jon even bought a NF cap. It is "Gortex" too- since you never know when you might need Gortex on your hat!
From Nepal

We had a great guide named Uttam and he was with us the whole 6 days we were in the Annapurna Range and we really enjoyed his company. He had a nice personality, loved to hike and he took care of every detail for us such as getting all the last minute permits, setting up our rooms at the teahouses, getting our food orders for each meal and of course showing us the way. Plus, he didn't smoke! You don't need to have a guide but we didn't have any idea what to expect of hiking in Nepal and in the end, we enjoyed the experience. We didn't know what to expect from a teahouse either but quickly learned that they are just like mountain guesthouses. Basic but friendly and comfortable enough. We slept in beds with pillows every night in our sleeping bags and had hot showers each night as well, although the last one was a bucket shower with hot water. On two of the nights we had fires to keep us warm in the common area and we sometimes had internet. We could receive updates on the ship and how it was doing and all was going well, ahead of schedule. All meals are included in your trek and we weren't expecting it but the food was great! All of the vegetables are grown right there in the villages and your meal would come out piping hot and piled high on the plate. If you ordered Dal Baht you could have as much as you wanted. The joke is dal baht power for 24 hours. I certainly had my share of it- by choice! You could also drown your aches & pains with the local liquor called Roxy but we didn't get in to it. It didn't hit the spot. Oh and we both got mild colds on the trek so homemade honey ginger lemon tea was the nectar that soothed the throat. They Nepalese keep bee hives for the honey too.
From Nepal
From Nepal
From Nepal
From Nepal
From Nepal
From Nepal

Each day we would hike from teahouse to teahouse through villages, woods, mountains, fields, climbing an inordinate amount of stone steps. I can't even tell you how many steps there were. In the higher elevations we had a little bit of snow on the trail but the whole rest of the time there were wildflowers blooming and we were in short sleeves during the day. On the morning that we left before sunrise to climb to the top of Poon Hill, we climbed a few hundred steps with our headlights on to be there to see the first rays of the sun on the mountains. It was nice to stare at the Himalayas in that peaceful morning light and they were crisp because we were well above the smog layer. There were lots of other hikers there converging from several trails and they even had a stand to get coffee. It was welcome because it was cold! It was only at 3210 meters which is not as high as we've climbed to in the past but then it is still pretty cold at night given the season. We were also early enough in the season that there weren't too many hikers but we were able to meet some in the teahouses and on the trail which was nice. We hung out with a couple of guys from Holland who were traveling the same itinerary as we were and we also met people from Barcelona, Seattle, the UK and Germany. The only thing that I wished was that the hiking days had been longer so that we could've covered more distance and gotten further up into the mountains. If we go back again for another treck, that is what we said we'd do. While the hiking we did didn't seem as spectacular as some we've done in the US, I think mainly because there is more wilderness there, the mountains were really big and beautiful. And seeing the way the Nepalese live was very interesting. Most things are carried in by ponies and we saw lots of pony trains on the trail. You could hear their clinking bells from a long ways away and when they were resting out in the fields we loved to stop and just listen to the bells. The clothing that the Nepalese wear is so colorful and pretty. Heavy sweaters and hats because they basically live outside since there is no heat. When something needs doing in a village such as rebuilding a bridge, one person from each house is responsible to join the group and get the job done. We witnessed about 30 men at least carrying this very, very long heavy bridge cable along the trail as if in a chain gang because that is the only way to get it up into the mountains- by hand. It was quite amazing to see actually. When all is said & done we think we prefer the kind of backpacking we're used to but just like the NZ huts, it is a whole different way of experiencing backpacking and its great to know it. It made it easier too, having the teahouses to stop at.
From Nepal
From Nepal
We had the day after we packed out from the trail to spend in Pokhara and we used it to do laundry, visit the International Mountain Museum in town and sort of take it easy. We also found out that the ship was most certainly going to arrive earlier than planned by about 3 days so we had to change our departure date from Nepal to move it up by a day and then shorten the time spent in India. That night, we had dinner at a restaurant in Pokhara and the chicken I ordered came out quite underdone. I had had a few bites before realizing it which was enough to keep me awake all night thinking my stomach would surely explode and nothing wanted to stay in. Good thing the next day I had an 8 hour bus ride back to Kathmandu to endure. We made it back to the hotel we stayed at the very first night in Kathmandu but this time we upgraded to a room with a real window! We said goodbye to Uttam and strolled around Kathmandu once more before leaving first thing the next morning for New Delhi. We had had a great time even though it was short in relative terms for a place that deserves much more time. Being up in the mountains is lovely and Kathmandu is something to see.
From Nepal

We did not have a positive experience in India. From the moment we left the confines of the lovely airport, we had one frustration after another and we were expecting to have some. It started with us not being able to get a phone chip because there is some rule that you can't get a chip unless you are staying in Delhi overnight. And we already had a place booked in Agra, where the Taj Mahal is. What kind of rule is that? Makes perfect sense. A kind man let us use his wifi so that we could call an Uber cab since we had planned to get to Agra using one but then once we called it and walked out of the terminal, the signal disappeared and we couldn't get the cab because neither of us could tell where we were anymore. Further, we couldn't get back into the terminal because they won't let you in the airport unless you have a paid ticket! And we hadn't gotten any cash yet either! And we were too late in the day for the early morning tourist bus so we knew the bus wasn't going to be an option. So we spent a few hours trying to get sorted out. Meanwhile, I was still ill and had been living on sips of gatorade and juice so was feeling a little weak. Then we get an email that our credit card was charged $21 for the Uber cabbie that we never saw. No problem, we would dispute that later. We managed to take a metro to the train station. The train station was something out of a bad dream because there were some strikes further north and many departures had been cancelled. There were bodies everywhere. The whole area smelled of urine because it is disgusting anyway. Everyone who we came in contact with was trying to extort ridiculous sums of money from us and wouldn't give us a straight answer. We were warned that it would be this way and people we had talked with on the trail as well as some cruising friends, hadn't really had a wonderful time either. We hired a tuk-tuk to take us to the tourist office but he took us to a fake one instead which was full of sleezy men selling tours to whities. In the end, after a few attempts, we paid a different "tourist center" a stupid amount of money to get a dumpy cab with all windows down to Agra, 4 hours away and the cab driver spent more time watching me in the rear view mirror than he did the road. Each time we would close our eyes to rest he would swerve the car and tell us no sleeping because if he had to stay awake to drive then so did we. He then made Jon sit up front with him to keep him awake but when Jon tried to talk with him he scowled and wouldn't answer. He was apparently on some kind of drug as we had to keep taking rest breaks for him to get "chai" & smoke and then he would come back to the car with bulging, watery, eyes. But if you could see where you would be getting out of the cab if you decided to walk, you wouldn't want that either so... What a creep. He got us there but we were frazzled to say the least and it was once again dark. When we got out of the car after having the shit scared out of us he was mad because we didn't give him a tip or enlist his services for a tour the following day. We made a new plan which was we were going to see the Taj first thing in the morning and then arrange a safe cab back to Delhi right afterward so we could leave the country ASAP. Which is what we did after changing the tickets that night to Greece. The ship was definitely coming early and we wanted an extra day in Greece to pick out a marina in person. It couldn't have worked out better, this ship arriving early thing.
From India
From India
From India

We got up and walked over to the Taj Mahal which was only a few minutes away. The area around it is really unpleasant. Once inside the gates, it is green and clean. How it can be so different I don't understand. Just like the Acropolis, the building was under renovation but it was still beautiful to behold. This was Jon's bucket list item more than mine, but it was nice to appreciate such elegant carving and all for love, that is nice. We spent the morning there and then went back to our hotel. We had arranged a cab for 2pm. I know it sounds ridiculous but I hadn't eaten much of anything in three days and Jon wasn't in a much better place appetite wise (I think in part from witnessing my illness!) so we looked up a McDonalds and found one a 15 minute tuk-tuk ride away. We had just enough time to go there, eat and get back and that is what we did! Inside, it was spic & span clean and we ate and didn't get sick. It felt good to get some calories in finally.

The cab ride back to New Delhi took forever because the traffic was unbelievable. It is something you have to experience to understand just how chaotic and dirty it can be. This cab car had AC so we could have the windows up and the driver was such a nice man. What a relief. We could actually close our eyes and he didn't get mad. We stayed at a hotel so close to the airport we could have walked if we had to but another nice cab brought us there at 5am and we had trouble sleeping that night because we didn't want to risk missing the plane for any reason! Getting into the terminal with our paid ticket was like a breath of fresh air. Actually, it WAS a breath of fresh air! I can totally see why they would limit the people who can enter as it is a great place to be in relative terms. The immigration officer did a double take on my passport when he saw that I had just arrived less than 2 days prior on a 30 day visa. I had to explain that we just had time for a short visit rather than tell him how visiting there had been unpleasant overall. We had no problem leaving. More than one person had told us that it is better to visit India and then go to Nepal rather than the other way around because once you get to Nepal you can let your guard down and relax and relatively speaking, it will feel calm & quiet. I can clearly see what they mean now.

We had an 8 hour layover in Qatar, which we didn't even know was a country until a couple of years ago! It would be the closest thing we'd ever come to in seeing that part of the world. We missed a free 3 hour city tour by just a few minutes which would have been interesting but in the end we were reluctant to leave the airport anyway. It was such a beautiful airport and had many comfortable seating areas. We used the time to relax in peace for a change before the final trip to Athens. We also did some eating as we were still catching up!

And so that's about it. I'm sure I am leaving a bunch of things out but this is long enough and you are probably bored by now reading it. We filled up the time as best we could and got some interesting experiences along the way. We would go back to Nepal for more hiking and are glad to have seen the Taj. I put a bunch of pictures up in Picasa under a Nepal folder as well as a small India folder. It appears Picasa is going away for pictures and Google Plus is all we'll have. Not sure what that means for our albums or linking through to folders but what can you do? That's progress. You should still be able to click on any of the small pictures in the text and it will bring you to the album where the photo is located.

This is a little video of the clinking bells of the ponies. It is burned in our minds since we heard it so much.



Comments
Vessel Name: EVERGREEN
Vessel Make/Model: Tashiba 40 Hull #158
Hailing Port: E. Thetford Vermont
Crew: Heather and Jon Turgeon
Extra:
Hello! We are Heather & Jon Turgeon of S/V Evergreen. We started sailing in 1994 on our first boat, a Cape Dory 31, then sought out a Tashiba 40 that could take us around the globe. It has been our home for 19 years. We've thoroughly cruised the East coast and Caribbean and just completed our [...]
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