The story so far – This column, accompanied by Dimitri and Daniel has just landed at Thessalonika as the joint Lapsed Catholic Comedian / Greek Restaurant Owner / Jewish Student expedition to the summit of Mount Olympus.
Day One – continued
We land at Thessalonika and are met by Tassos who is the brother of Nikos who works for Dimitri in the Manchester Taverna. Nikos has the mien of a young Greek monk and the young Greek monk wants it back.
Tassos takes us to a seafood cafe down by the docks in an old flour mill and treats us to a wonderful meal which includes something called eggplant shoes. How do they get the shoes off the eggplants I wonder? Do the eggplants put up a struggle? Dimitri is driving so doesn’t drink. Danny and I have a couple of circumspect glasses of excellent wine and feel the glow of the holiday suffuse us already – the mists of Manchester are forgotten and we bask in the Greek sunshine, even though we are down the docks under an old grain silo. Tassos and his wife and little daughter wave us off and we leave on our journey into the unknown full to the gills with eggplants shoes and other excellent Bubble nosh (Bubble = Bubble and Squeak – Greek) The Greeks are amazingly hospitable people – like the Irish only with garlic.
We wobble off to our hire car and set off for Litohoro our base for Olympus arriving as the afternoon sun strikes the mountains and from the plain we can see our goal the summit of Olympus, Mitikas – which I have rechristened Metaxa in honour of the Greek brandy of that name and also because I have trouble remembering names. Shakespeare might have had a vocabulary of 400,000 words but what good did it do him? Where is he now I ask? Dead is the answer. The summit is 10,000 ft. above sea level – which is where we are now and we aim to get to it in three days. From where we stand on the plain we can see quite clearly the fragmented summit with its great serried fangs. The temperature here on the plain is 34 centigrade. It’s going to be hot in that gorge – approaching forty.
We plan to walk the gorge to Prinoia and then on to the main refuge on the mountain the first day, spend a rest day on the hill then go for the summit on the third day returning that same day to Prinoia where we can hitch a lift from the roadhead back to Litohoro. Sea level to summit and back in three days – easy peasey.
We check in the hotel have a quick souvlaki then go to sit in the town square with a beer and watch the world go past.
I notice a raddled looking non-Bubble type staggering round the square and go over to talk to him. It turns out that he’s an American just come back from Olympus. Strangely for an American he has bad teeth. In that land of the Orthodontist and the whitewashed gnashers a man with teeth like a mouthful of dimps is as rare as an Eskimo with sunstroke. I ask him how long it took.
‘We were kind of loose man. Took a lot of wine and a lot of grass, We kinda got lost for a while – took us twelve hours to Paranoia (I decide that this is a much better name than Prinoia – and as it turns out much more fitting) and there was no way up or down so we slept out in the open. Like it was miserable man. Then man we walked to the refuge and stayed there two days we were like so out of it. They were so sorry for us they gave us a map for free. Then like we went to the summit.’
I had heard various stories about the extent of exposure on the last pitch to the summit and asked him how it was.
‘Man I held on with everything I had and three, four times I just froze on and prayed. No way am I ever going back up there.’ And he wandered off across the square. I saw him later on the balcony of his hotel with a couple of other Americans smoking rolls of wallpaper and drinking bottles of retsina.
I go back to Dimitri and Dan and take out the guide book. It’s one of the great series of guides published by Cicerone Press and written by Tim Salmon. The last pitch is described as a ‘moderate scramble’. I say nothing to the others and we buy fruit, nuts and bottles of water from a late night store and go to our rooms to pack and make ready for the morn and our assault on the Mountain Of The Gods.
Day 2 Egg Lollies
The man in the next bedroom has been up all night taking showers and turning the television on and off so I emerge red eyed and trembling from my pit at 7 a.m.
The landlady brings breakfast which is some bread and honey, a couple of hard boiled eggs that have been kept in the freezer so that they are now egg lollies and a glass of reconstituted orange juice. And this in a country that is sinking under the weight of its fresh oranges.
I bang on the door of Danny and Dimitri to hear answering grunts. Either they have been eaten by bears or they are not happy campers first thing in the morning.
By 8 they have had their egg lollies, we have paid the landlady, left some kit in storage and set off walking out of Litohoro. We follow the high street out of the village passing the town cemetery where an old lady pulls on a bell rope tolling a dirge as we walk past. I see this as an omen. I am later proved right.
We follow an aqueduct for a while then meet two men on a bridge who tell us to leave this easy route and follow a shepherds’ trail into the forest. The sun is burning down, the temperature already in the mid thirties. Within an hour we have climbed to the summit of an outcrop on the gorge’s flank at 650 metres sweating and breathless and stop to get our breath.
We can see Litohoro and the sea far behind us, before us the gorge and at it’s head the fangs of Metaxa, far distant we can still hear the bells of the cemetery.
Will our heroes get to Paranoia? Will the fangs of Metaxa be too much for them? Tune in next month for another dose of the same……