Welcome to Greece, the land of goat milk and honey, and gymnastic, overhanging tufa climbing. Vacation, we vowed. We’re actually going to treat this like a vacation. We’ll eat, drink, relax and enjoy the culture. And we’ll go rock climbing.
The events leading up to being here did not bode well for our relaxation plan. I’d made reservations for a studio months ago, but had emailed in recent weeks to confirm it with no response. We weren’t sure we had a place to stay, which normally wouldn’t matter during the low season, but we’re totally off season and arriving late at night. The first three of our four flights involved rushing through airports. Charlie likes schedules, but when he creates them he allows for everything to take twice as long as most people think it will. Delta and Alitalia do not. We had to whisk ourselves from gate to gate, passing through security again with each transfer. Customs in Rome was so disorganized and so many people (us included) were moving through on short layovers that the stress level in the line was tangible. No one was even really certain whether they were in the proper queue or not. Every airport staffer attempting to walk past was stopped by passengers asking if they could be moved ahead because they were afraid they would miss their flight. We were recognized as Americans (is this good or bad?) and directed to a different, shorter line because we didn’t need visas. I think I heard Charlie yoga breathing. We didn’t miss our flight, and a long layover in Athens allowed us to decompress and press the travel reset button. Whew.
Once you get to Kos, logistics can become a bit murky. I’d read that the ferry isn’t always reliable this time of year due to high winds and/or storms, so I called the company using an app on my iPad. “No ferries today. Maybe later. Call back after five or five-thirty.” When I called back after the time indicated, it had been decided that the 9pm ferry, the last of the day, would run. As long as our 45 minute island-hopper from Athens to Kos was on time, we would make it.
The Kos airport is so small that you deplane directly outside the baggage claim. We grabbed our bags and a cab to take us to the dock in Mastachari. We bought our tickets (7.5 euros each) and lugged our stuff to the ferry. The boat was rocking so violently in the surf that one of the ferrymen had to take our big expedition bags so we could run across the bucking gangplank quickly enough to avoid being thrown into the water. We piled our stuff outside the cabin, nodded at the smokers lined up outside the door, went in and sat down. A Greek game show was on the two tv screens mounted on the front wall behind the cockpit. We were so tired that the motion of the boat beckoned us to sleep, but the engine started and sleep didn’t seem like a very safe choice. The water at Pothia, the port of Kalymnos, was a bit calmer, but still active enough to cause a woman next to me to lose her balance as she got up to disembark. She laughed and said something to me in Greek and I just smiled and laughed with her, but she kept talking until I guiltily said, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand Greek.” She touched my arm and said, “Oh! I thought you were Greek!” I’m pretty sure it was the curly hair. I finally feel like I fit in somewhere.
We retrieved our saltwater-soaked baggage and stood once again on solid ground. Even though it’s the slow season, there were a couple taxis waiting. We were immediately greeted and ushered into one, the driver happily announcing that it was a new car and we its first passengers. After telling him our destination and ascertaining that he knew where Sakis Studios was, we sank into our seats and hoped someone would be expecting us. No such luck. The place and its surroundings were pitch dark, without any signs of recent life. Our driver honked the horn and yelled for Sakis, because apparently that’s what they do here, but no answer. He stopped a guy outside a shop just down the road, who told us that Sakis was in Australia. Yes, Australia. We got back in the brand new taxi and began the search for alternate lodging at 11pm on a Thursday night during the off-season. Our arrival on Kalymnos was announced all through the streets of Masouri and Myrties by the voice of the Toyota sedan as the driver stopped in front of apartments and leaned on the horn. And this is where it seems appropriate to just copy and paste from my journal…
Wednesday, February 15th (9:05am SLC time) – Thursday, Feb 16th (11pm Kalymnos time)
Four planes and a ferry to get to Kalymnos…and Sakis is in Australia. Taxi driver honked at every place we drove by to see if anyone was there. His eyes lit up as we came to Babis Bar, and he leaned on the noisemaker. Lights, and movement. Charlie went to the door to ask about a room…yes! Poor Babis was just getting things ready to open the bar for the season and had stayed late to watch a pay-per-view football game, only to be interrupted by a crazy Greek honking a horn outside his windows with two travel-weary homeless Americans. He had a room for us, a suite for four for the night because a smaller apartment wasn’t ready, but we would move in the morning. He loaded us up with blankets because the heater hadn’t been turned on at all yet. We were freezing, but so exhausted it didn’t really matter.
Friday, February 17th
Moved to the smaller studio. It’s about 14 times the size of Alexander Superscamp, our normal home. Still freezing. Coffee with Babis downstairs in the bar. Charlie drank Nescafé and ate cookies. Me too, but that news isn’t quite as earth shattering. Babis talked about Donald Trump (it seems a lot of Greeks actually like him!?). And how so many people say they don’t like Americans, but they like American money. And about atheists and religious holidays. And CNN Travel (he was #5 on their list of 50 best beach bars). We went to the supermarket, which is really a very small, but well-stocked grocery store, across the street. Got tons of fresh-frozen fish for 6 euros. The tap water here is not safe to drink, so we got a few big bottles we can refill from the machines or springs. Ate half a loaf of bread and a bunch of feta. Made a recon hike to the Ourania sector. Long hike up a very steep hill. Think we’ll try something closer. Fish for dinner with bread and Manouri cheese. Still exhausted, but experiencing the jet lag wired-in-the-middle-of-the-night thing.
Saturday, February 18th
Apparently it’s mosquito season. Woke up with several bites…on my face. I am allergic, itching like mad, and I look funnier than normal. Supermarket run. Charlie ate bread toasts. Another long hike up a steep hill, this time to actually climb at Gerakios Upper cave. Great view. In the spirit of vacation, we started on a 5b…don’t even know what YDS grade that translates to, maybe 5.9? Next was a 6b (10c) that just looked fun, then a 7b (5.12b) that Charlie onsighted and I had to get on a second time to send (story of my life). Charlie got on another 7b that he did second go, but I was done for the day at that point. Came back “home” to greek biscotti that Babis left on the breakfast bar in the studio for us. We ate most of them before our egg sandwich dinner, then polished off the rest. Our vacation diet plan is in full swing. Training weight.
Sunday, February 19th
Rest day. Days it took to see someone we know: 3
15 mosquito bites…on my face. My right eye is practically swollen shut because of the two bites on my eyelid. I now have a runny nose and sore throat. Soft-boiled eggs on toast, feta, olives for breakfast. Filled bottles at water machine (it doesn’t taste very good). Hiked toward Masouri to see how long it might take to get to the Grande Grotta, Spartacus, etc. Not long, about 20 minutes. Everything is closed…everything. The climbing shops have signs that say they’ll open March 1st and to call if you need anything before then. Ran into The Naked German (Kevin Fischer) and his climbing partner Micha on the road to Masouri. Kevin spent about a year in the States, studying at Weber State in Ogden. He used to come into The Front (Climbing Gym) when I worked there, and even came to one or two of my yoga classes. It seemed crazy and totally logical all at the same time to see him here. They were headed up to the Grande Grotta, so we continued that way together. Once we saw the cave we were inspired to hike all the way up. The shear magnitude of the routes is inspiring and intimidating. The three dimensional features beg to be hugged and squeezed and sat upon and kneebarred against. We checked out Spartacus as well, but may just get right to it in the Grotta tomorrow. Found the springs in Masouri…the water is wayyyy better, so we’ll fill up on our way to and from the crag. We can’t stop eating bread. Lots of bread.
Monday, February 20th
9:30am start after killing many mosquitos. Now up to 16 bites…on my face. It’s not pretty. Hiked out to the Grande Grotta. Kevin and Micha were camped out just above the Hotel Philoxenia. Not sure that’s kosher. Actually, I’m sure it’s not, but there’s no one around to care yet. Busy day in the cave, us and six Germans. We warmed up on a 6a+ (10b) on the more vertical right side, then decided to try one of the shorter routes on the steeper left side. We climbed Ivi (7b/12b) and then, feeling better warmed up, Charlie onsighted Priapos (7c/12d). Not bad for an old guy. He was on the route for 40 minutes, which seemed pretty normal to me but made an impression on the Germans. Finished off the day with a really fun 7a (11d), DNA, which will likely become our warm-up. It’s at a good angle to get the muscles firing for the longer steep routes, and it has enough kneebars to warm up the legs, too. We continue to eat all the bread. Saw a picture of Frankie (dog #1) cozied up in her bed that Heather (friend) posted on Instagram, so I know she’s doing alright. We’ve scheduled our first (and possibly only) social engagement in Greece: dinner with Germans tomorrow evening.
Tuesday, February 21st
Rest day. My face is still bizarrely swollen. I’m sick of blowing my nose. We’ve managed to decimate most of the mosquito population, so I’m not getting a lot of new bites, which is fantastic. Breakfast, grocery store run (baking soda for the bites), yoga, dinner with Germans: Kevin, Micha, Jakob, and Stefan. There’s a cluster of stuff that’s open- restaurants, bakery, pharmacy- about a half mile up the hill from us in Elies. There’s also a large supermarket. We ate at Il Posto, which offered everything from traditional Greek to pasta to schnitzel to hamburgers, but no pastitsio. In the spirit of our Greek vacation, I had moussaka and a glass of wine. Charlie had chicken and a beer. Got some afterbite at the pharmacy, hoping it will be more effective than the baking soda.
P.S. Also bought halva at the market this morning. It’s one of my favorite treats from my childhood.
Wednesday, February 22nd
Slightly earlier start because of warmer temps. Face is de-puffing. We did the same 6a+ as Monday and then Trela, the 7a (11d) next to it for our warm-up. Charlie onsighted Tufantastic (7b+/12c), which I had no desire to try due to the scary slab section in the middle of it. He was done after that because the sun hit the left side of the cave, which is where he really wanted to climb. I should have been done, too, but was stupid enough to get on Priapos to try to start working out moves. Stupid because it, too, was in the sun and consequently the holds felt literally like soap. I now understand what people mean when they talk about “soapy” limestone. Slippery, slippery soap. Impossible. We need to leave even earlier on Friday, or climb somewhere shady. My 8a score is not improving. ;-P
Thursday, February 23rd
Resty rest day: no hiking up to check anything out or go to dinner, hardly any walking at all. Water machine, grocery store, reading, lunch on the patio, yoga on the balcony, chicken for dinner, and of course, bread. Otherwise, totally uneventful. Messaged Shad (friend) in Utah only to find out that Lola (dog #2) has not escaped, but she’s peed and pooped all over his hardwood floors. Uh-oh.
Friday, February 24th
The mosquito thing is somewhat under control and my face and respiratory system are almost normal. Back to the Grotta. Us, Jakob and Stefan, Greek Guy and Slovenian Guy. I did a halfway run on Priapos while Charlie waited for Stefan to climb on Aegialis, the classic 7c (12d) that has had more photos taken of it than the number of times Sean Spicer has lied, then Charlie got on it and continued his onsight onslaught. Yay! I got back on Priapos and went to the chains.
Charlie says I took 2 hours and 17 minutes, although I’m not sure whether that was from when I left the ground or from when he came down. Either way, it took for-effing-ever. If I can remember what I did, I think I can pull it off in a few more tries. Hopefully not too many because it’s so, so, SO long. It makes my toes hurt. A hunk of bread and some haloumi cheese will make them feel better.
Saturday, February 25th
Rest day. Had breakfast and walked up to Elies, where the restaurants and stores are. Went the wrong way to find the big supermarket and ended up about a half mile out of town before turning back around. Was brave enough to ask direction of the men sitting outside the pharmacy (why am I so shy here?). Went the right way. Got nervous about asking for cheese and halva at the deli counter (see above). I have no idea how much a kilo of cheese actually is. For all I knew, I might have been asking for the entire wheel. Also, when you buy produce or bulk, anything priced by the kilo, you hand it to a person with a scale right there in the middle of everything and they weigh it and put a price sticker on it. I had to observe for a few minutes to figure out exactly what was going on. It was super busy because it’s Saturday, plus Monday is a holiday (Clean Monday). Charlie bought a chocolate bar because it was on sale. That was weird. On the way back we went into the bakery to check for bread and the biscotti-esque things (they’re actually called paximathia)…score! Not on the bread…it was more of a pastry shop. The woman there didn’t speak any English, just Greek and Delicious. She gave us each a small rolled baklava, and we bought some paximathia and baklava. We decided to eat a paximathia each right then and realized they were going to disappear as quickly as the last batch, so we went back in to buy a bunch more and left with our hands full of miniature éclairs, more paximathia and some other kind of cookie, all foisted on us by Mrs. Delicious Pastry Shop Lady. Every time I tried to communicate with her she handed us something else to eat. We decided to call that lunch, and were grateful for the long walk back. The rest of the day was yoga, hand-washing clothes, seafood sausage fried with mushrooms and broccoli for dinner, and more treats. It was a good, albeit high calorie, day. We were going to rest tomorrow, too, but have changed our minds. The tufas are calling!
Sunday, February 26th
Grotta. Us, Jakob and Stefan, Kopa (Greek Guy) and Tania (Greek Girl), the Frenchies (our new neighbors), and a helmet couple. Two runs on DNA to warm up and then Charlie got on Zawinul Syndicate (7c+/13a) for a draw-hanging onsight attempt. He fell fairly high, then pulled back on and worked out beta to the top. Jakob started the send train on Aegialis, Stefan hopped on next, and then I sent Priapos first attempt of the day. Had a bit of a panic near the top when I had absolutely no recollection of what to do since I’d only climbed that section once, and had to return to a rest a couple times to recover my heart rate and sort things out. Yay! And then Charlie did Zawinul Syndicate on his second go…double yay! Was considering checking out the lower portion of Fun de Chichunne (8a/13b), but it looks like there’s some business down pretty low. Better to save it for a fresh day.
Monday, February 27th
Rest day. “Clean Monday”- the first day of Lent. Babis had told us he would be preparing a special meal, so we checked in with him on our way to get water. 1pm. Babis’s place has become a hub of activity. Three more Americans are now staying here in addition to the Frenchies and us, however, we were the only ones invited for the feast, and that made me feel a little bit special. The meal consisted of a tapas of pickles, olives, tomato and roe; octopus, squid (calamari), prawns, and tuna (just for us, as fish seems to be considered meat but other seafood isn’t); fresh chives and rocket from the garden; halva and coffee. All super fresh, and the only questionable item was the octopus (chewy), and the onions (just because I don’t really like them). As lunch (dinner?) was winding down, we were joined by a couple of locals, friends of Babis, who just stopped by to say hi but ended up sitting with us to drink a beer and smoke. Charlie had what he said was one of the best cigarettes he’s ever tasted. We had a good conversation with the guy who owns the hardware store, who is very happy that the Kalymnos airport is planning to be open year-round. He sees that it will increase traffic and bring more money to the island that will help make improvements. After he left, Babis told us that he’s a really good guy, very wealthy and has several homes, but chooses to live with his parents at the age of 46. Funny. After that we went for a short walk down the road that forks toward the sea near the water machine to see what was there, but it’s all hotels and apartments that are still closed. Decided on a double rest day.
Tuesday, February 28th
Second rest day. Good day for it. The sky is totally gray and the air feels wet. Yoga on the patio, reading, mega-relaxing. The sun tried to burn through in the early afternoon but the humidity is hanging heavily. Tomorrow should be better. We’ll need to get an early start to beat the sun to the cave, but that won’t be hard because we’re both psyched to try new routes!