Friday, February 6, 2015

Hitchhiking - Part 2

I feel like the Hobbit who returned from his adventures to sit in his comfortable Hobbit-home and recall the adventures of his younger days… For me, my early travels provided me with perspective and an ability to deal with "whatever came up".…And this was served me my life long.

The Hobbit
I am like the Australians I met; who said that many of their young people go out on an extended once in a life time  “walk about” early in life and them settle down at home for the rest of their lives. Now I am quite content with smaller travels every year or two, just to add a bit of  ‘spice’ to our lives...but I can never be content with the 'usual tours'... Fortunately I married a woman who also enjoys the challenge of occasional good travel experiences.

---  Back to my hitchhiking days... Part 2

The Amphitheater in Delphi - site of presentations of classic Greek dramas
Greece was magnificent! The ancient and the modern blended quite harmoniously.   The land itself is beautiful – the mountains in the north, the broad green planes, and the warm Mediterranean Sea  (it is so blue that it looks like dye).  Athens is a large but navigable city. The hostel there was jovial and alive. In the hostel I met two Canadian women with whom I travelled for some time, making forays to surrounding sites and villagers…visiting such sites as  Olympus, Delphi, and Crete.

This is where the famous oracle of Delpi was housed
Southern Greece, the Peloponnesus, was beautiful but more rural.  I stayed one night in a small village hotel, and woke in the cool fall morning air, hefted my pack onto my back, started walking south, hoping to find a place to sell me breakfast. There was no traffic so I walked…

Before long I passed a small farm with a simple stone hut near the road.  The family was cooking breakfast over an outdoor fire. When they saw on – one of the teen-age boys came over to me and gently took my arm and pulled me off the road toward the family – where they invited me to eat with them.  
Not the exact house - but very similar style
We sat at a rough pine table in the hut and had a memorable breakfast of fried eggs, thick slabs of fresh Greek bread, olives, white goat cheese, and glasses of the pine rosin flavored wine (Retsina)  produced locally.  We couldn't share a word in common but we laughed and both spoke our own language.  On the wall was a magazine picture of a Massey Ferguson Tractor (that they wished for) – and I went to the wall and read them the words in English to their amusement and delight… they sent me on down the road with bread and cheese and olives.  Those people have no idea how their act of generosity has stayed with me my whole life.  All I can do is repay the kindness to another person in the great pool of humanity to which we all belong.
Typical Greek country traffic (they gave me a lift)
After visiting the family of my brother in law (in the region lived in by the
Ancient Spartans) I started on the road back to Athens – again no traffic.  Shortly along came a military convoy – a jeep and a troop carrier.  They stopped and the soldiers motioned for me to climb in – One of the Greek soldiers gave me a jacket and cap to put on so that I wouldn't stand out… we stopped in the next village and they bought fresh hot raisin bread and a bottle of retsina wine… and so we went on down the road having a jolly time.  

Not my truck - but very similar - except everyone was in  uniform ( even me)
After a bit they had to turn off and they let me off… They were on official business to buy wine for the military base and had to go directly to the winery to do their business.   I continued on my way.

Back in Athens I hooked up with a couple of young Germans who along with me planned to go over into Turkey as we continued out travels.  This however turned out to be expensive.  It wasn't hard to take a ferry to Rhodes – but how to get into Turkey?… So in Rhodes we discovered a local merchant who had a good small rough wooden boat with canvas sails – And so as sailors have done for thousands of years we crossed this portion of the Mediterranean sea by sail power.  
Not my boat - but exactly similar size and style
We landed in Marmaris Turkey – and I knew at once that I had entered a different world – We arrived as the muezzin was calling the people to prayer ( "Allah is Allah and Mohammed is his prophet").   I was in an Asian world with everything different!  As luck would have it – we stayed in a small hotel for a night and the next day found a Turkish tramp steamer … the SS Tari – an ancient local steam ship that plied the southern coast stopping at every small town to take on the peanut crop.  It was warm and so we arranged to be transported by deck passage – For 6 nights  we went to sleep in one location, covering ourselves with pieces of ships canvas, travelled at night, and woke the next day in a charming new location.  In those days these villages were isolated since there was not yet a coastal road to connect them with the "outside world".
Not my ship - but similar to the "SS Tari" - it had booms like this to lift cargo from small boats... We had the top deck under the stars every night for a week. and the kitchen crew brought us left-over food, each night,  from the kitchen... delicious!
We hired local fishermen to take us ashore in each village, to explore and see the local life.  This was an anthropologists heaven... the people, the crafts, the animals, the smells and sounds ... I so remember the delicious village restaurant food – vegetable stews with lamb or chicken…and such good bread…

 We entered Syria at Iskenderun – From where it was a short ride into magnificent Aleppo.  First impressions – Arabic writing, men in long white robes and white head scarves, few women visible, Arabic music, Loaded camels and donkeys… navigating was a bit more of a challenge – but I had a map...and I mastered the art of communication by drawing quick pictures.   We travelled by bus or walked...

One of a gazillion shops in "Souk el Zarb" - the covered market
Emperor Saladin's "citadel" - Allepo - 13th century fort
Magnificent historic sites – huge extensive markets inside a labyrinth of dimly lit enclosed stone passageways… There were incredible craftspeople, weaving, melting, carving, butchering, bargaining … all right there… I felt like I had entered  into the Arabian Nights…

More "Souk el Zarb"
the next morning in the hostel we woke to find that there had been a ‘bloodless coup” in the night and that we had to stay put until things calmed down – for the next few days tanks were evident in the streets – but all was calm.  (The current destruction of so much of Syria is so very sad to me - The cities and towns were so beautiful, so historic, and the people were good to us traveling youth.)

Palmira ruins... absolutely open - no one to sell us a ticket - no guards 
When I entered Hama (Hamah) late in the evening I discovered that there was a religious event and no hotel rooms were available – but as I asked around a man said that he was the director or the cities youth program and, if I didn't mind, I could sleep in the simple youth house (one room) – but he would have to lock me in for the night.  First he took me to a restaurant – where he bought me my first hummus and bread … then locked me in for the night…

The water wheels of Hama
The only time in my life I have been “locked up”… Early the next morning he unlocked the door and took me down the street for fresh hot pida bread, goat cheese,  and strong sweet red tea.  This is also the city with the famous creaking wooden water wheels , going back to the 15th century.

Bedouin tent
I boarded a decrepit windowless bus to travel into the desert to visit the ancient ruined city of Tadmore.  To get there the route east wanders through nearly barren desert.   Along the way, we passed several Bedouin encampments with their camels, horses, and goats. Tadmore was a large oasis with many Palm trees watered from the central well, and the extensive ruins of an Alexandrian era trade route city – the modern houses by contrast were made of mud bricks with earthen mortar.  It was a magnificent location to explore…The city of ruins is 'Palmira'.
Bedouin goat herd

Yikes! – I’m not even half way through my travels – so many more stories to tell – on through Syria, Jordan, Israel… then home through Turkey, Italy, Spain, and a bit of North Africa…  and I made it home in time for the spring semester...  
One final note - when evening came on and I was in a smaller place without a youth hostel I would stay in one of the Syrian or Turkish Inns ... I often  used my Hostel muslin sleeping  sack inside of those beds... just because I wasn't sure how often the sheets were changed... 
In my travels, I met so many wonderful people.  Staying in hostels with an international group of young people all traveling in the same manner as me - we would become immediate good friends and both had an opportunity to share and to learn from others.   Thank God I was never bothered in any way or robbed, never got lost ( well, badly anyway)… never sick.  My guardian angel must have been sorely tested at times but I come home thankful and appreciative for my experiences.

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