They pick our driver up of the floor, dust him down and give him another ouzo and bottle of beer in case he has a sudden attack of sobriety. I ask Dimitri what the Greek is for ‘We have changed our mind. We will sleep on the pile of mule crap outside. Please do not trouble the lorry driver any more.’ but at that moment two and a quarter Germans arrive in the hut. The two are man and wife, the quarter is their four year old son and they have just returned from climbing most of the way up Olympus. The last stretch was too dangerous for the child. They offer us a lift back down the mountain road. we accept. With profuse apologies to our Greek driver who is on the floor again we pile in the back of the German’s camper-van and in an hour we are back at the little hotel we left this morning. I decide that Einstein must have worked out his Theory of Relativity while climbing a Greek mountain. How can it take less than an hour coming down and all day going up?
The landlady laughs at us and gives us our rooms back. She knew we weren’t going to make it. Why didn’t she tell us and save us all that trouble? I notice that she is wearing stockings held up just under the knee by rubber bands and also that she has a hairy mole on her chin. ‘Ha’, I think, ‘I might not be able to climb mountains but at least I don’t have a hairy mole on my chin or wear stockings held up by rubber bands.’
We have some food and go to bed glum deciding that tomorrow we will be real mountaineers and not shnorrer nebbishes who take all day to do the Litahoro Gorge. In the room above mine the Americans who stumbled up the mountain a few days ago on a diet of red wine and marijuana are smoking more dope and drinking more red wine and arguing about which country they are in. They finally decide that they are in Finland. I shout at them to shut up in German and the debate starts all over again.
In the morning the landlady gives us some more pretend orange juice and frozen eggs and we set off again for the mountain. This time we drive to the hut at Paranoia following the hairy mountain road and avoiding the mountains of mule crap that are not marked on the map. We leave the car and gird our loins all three of us in good heart. It is 8.30 and cool, the sun just edging over the rim of the gorge. We fill our water bottles and with good heart and a cheery disposition we enter the forest. Four hours and three thousand feet later we are sitting in the sun on the benches at the mountain refuge. Easy peasy this mountain climbing we decide just over three thousand feet more and we’ll be on the top of Metaxa, the main summit peak of Mt Olympus eating Ambrosia and talking to Zeus and Mrs Zeus and all the other Greek gods.
Danny and Dimitri go for a lie down while I sit in the sun watching climbers come and go. From the mountain refuge you can see all the way back to Litahoro and the coast and all the way up to the serrated ridge of Metaxa which looks, from here, like the fingers of a splayed hand. A group of German blokes arrives very noisy and covered in dust and sweat. I hope they aren’t billeted in our bunk room then find out that they are.
Dinner is good and is cooked on wood fires fuelled by the windfall in the forests.
After dinner we crash ready for the climb ahead. As Danny and I lie on our bunks Dimitri starts to organise his pack, taking (and this is no lie since I timed him) forty five minutes, during which the room is filled with the noises of somebody trying to be quiet and failing miserably. Plastic bags rustle no matter what you do and after forty five minutes of Dimitri and the plastic bags Danny shouts at him in Yiddish and Dimitri gets back into his pit and all is quiet for three minutes.
Then the Germans come to bed. All night the Germans fart and whisper. The whispering is bearable but the farting is quite unbelievable loud and long and widespread, eight Teutonic sphincters in uncoordinated cacophony, and when one of them gets up to go to the toilet lighting his way with a cigarette lighter I half expect the refuge to be blown off the face of the mountain.
I hate bunk houses and lie there sleepless and cursing wondering what the hell I am doing climbing a mountain with a junior rabbi and a Manchester Greek taverna owner. Instead of counting sheep I secretly machine gun the trouser coughers in my imagination and soon the room is littered with the bodies of farting Germans.
The next day’s journal entry reads ‘Vas ein tag! Mein gott in himmel! Up at 5.30 to photograph the sunrise which is quite boring – without cloud the sun has nothing to play on and rises like an unpoetic orange balloon. The farting Germans come out too late and just to get my own back I tell them that it was the best sunrise I have ever seen. They fart some more and then go in to breakfast.
We pack and are off by 7 am. At first our way leads through forest and is a cool dander, then the forest thins out and gives way to rougher stony ground. Ahead of us Olympus beckons. Behind us we can see the Germans, a cluster of tiny farting dots following us up the mountain.