Winter came. The clouds sank. A blanket of white, damp fog thrown across the world. This was the moment Autumn ended. I was with Tasos and Di in their home beyond Kozani for two days. In this time, the sun misted over, became a pulsing haze beyond the hills and the cold rains came. There were mountainsides. There were fields. But not as you’d imagine them back home. The colours were unusual, browns and yellows and greys. The fields were just shrublands, rocky like the mountains that grew out of them. The climbs felt more redundant, unhiked, just vast, brown folds.
I spent a morning in a fur factory. I don’t want to go into the ethics of it, my brain was questioning everything I was doing at the time, but it was the business of Tasos and his Dad and one of the reasons they, unlike a lot of Greece, were doing alright for themselves, with a large rural house and summer place on of the Greek Islands. In a small mountain town, after an hours drive into the clouds, past steep Greek villages, we filtered through bags of different coloured furs. I was told they were the furs from voles, farmed in the north of the country primarily for their skins and that the colours were just dyes. Considering I had been given a bed, shower and food, I had no real choice, whether or not I agreed in the production of animals for fur, in offering my help. Nevertheless, a day off the bike, working, in a way, was kind of refreshing and to see the kind of jobs that took place out here was eye-opening. They would still happen whether I disliked them or not.
It rained for the rest of the day and I was grateful to have been dry and warm inside Tasos’ house. My memories of that place are of roaring fires, chestnuts, good food, families, hot tea, and the Honey Tahini I was given by Tasos’ mum. I giant pot of sesame seed paste, a little like peanut butter. I took this, along with my cleaned clothes, a day later, cycling away from Kozani, into the lessening rain. I would miss them all. It was a reminder of all things homely and, in Greece, I got the impression that family were much closer, whether for better or worse. Di would take turns working the family fashion shop in Kozani centre, whilst Tasos helped run his Dad’s business. They all lived together, even at the same ages as myself. I thought of the ten years I had been away from home living. Though Di had plans to study abroad and Tasos had his own bar in the summer, it was almost like they had had no choice right now but to take over these family businesses and it was more apparent, from where I stood, free and cycling away from my own home, that they were restricted. There was talk of major economical crisis in the country and I was sure I’d learn more about it the further in I cycled.
Dogs, Round Two
Mountains appeared from within the fog and I began riding up a neverending series of hairpins, further and further into cloud, ascending into a damp, white world. Orthodox shrines could be seen along the roadside. Candles flcikering. Dogs called out through the valleys. I reached an empty street, lined with closed up restaurants. Like some kind of twisted western film. My bike creaking through it, uphill. From the road side, up ahead, the shapes of dog’s rose up and began to move into the center of the street. I got off the bike. One of the dog’s began to bark wildly. The other’s became restless too, until one of them charged towards me. I turned, jumped on my bike and rolled away for twenty metres. The dog halted and returned to the pack. Again I tried to move up the street, pushing my bike this time. More dogs appeared from the roadsides. For five minutes I stood there, wandering what to do, in a stand off, before a small, old lady swung open a door of one of the houses and screamed at the dogs. She tutted at them as they ran away and then waved me forward ‘No problem. No problem.’
Minutes later I was rushing downwards, through the fog, descending at high speed, towards the valleys beyond. I had no real idea what mountains I had just crossed, what the land aorund them had been like, I couldnt see anything through the clouds. I ended the night beyond a city, away from the highway in a muddy Olive field. All I knew was that I was a days ride from Thessaloniki and from seeing the Mediteranean again.
My laptop charger had blown up back in Macedonia. That was a total of two eighty pound replacements on the trip so far. The problem redirected my whole trip. I entered the Thessaloniki purely just to buy a new one. It was crammed. Streets so tight and narrow, full of shops, market stands, food stalls. But, not winding, just straight and dull. The air was thick and heavy. The traffic congested. Off the centre, out into the steep, hilly suburbs was a small hostel. I stayed for a night before moving on. There’s really not much for me to say about the place. It reminded me of the South American cities that sprawled up the mountainsides, stacked and piled. My main memory is of a German guy who was walking from his home town to Beijing. Just walking. He carried a big stick for the dogs. He was bearded. He was quiet and he smelt. These things I noticed and I knew I was about to start meeting a lot more adventure travellers as I cycled nearer to Istanbul, the supposed crossroads of the world.
I setup some couch surfing of my own. After staying with Tasos, I reaslised that the local way was the way I wanted to go from now on. It was time to grow up, start moving away from hostels and embrace the people I had, kind of, been ignoring so far. I had met a lot of backpackers on my journey so far, this I enjoyed, but I wanted real experience. I also needed to find ways of interacting without having to check into hotels and hostels all the time. I would often visit a city but be too tired to check out its museums, or its harbour sides or really get a taste for it all. With Tasos I had been taken out into the town, enjoyed drinks and food with him and his friends and his family and all the time, whether we had just been relaxing in his home, I had been surrounded by local, authentic people. I cycled away from Thessaloniki, towards new local experiences.
Capturing the World
Sometimes the things I write about or remember most are instance or places I never actually took pictures of. It’s confusing for the journal, when I talk of mountains in fog and there’s only pictures of food on the table. Often, the moment is fleeting or I am just more interested in being there and seeing it than messing around in my bag for a camera. When we travelled to the fur factory there had been a couple of minutes where the landclouds thinned and the sun tried to push through, where the mountainess landscape was a bathed in a yellow haze and I had been in the back of a car, just staring through the window, still tired from the ride a day before, just relaxed, in awe and without a camera.
Some of these moments I wish I could share visually now, but I can’t. Sharing is why I take pictures, why I write at all or doing anything creative at all. I want to tell stories. For a long time I chose the wrong avenues to try and do this and aimed to high too soon. But it wasn’t enough to sit and wait and learn, I had to get out there and be creative now, in whatever form I could at the time. I’m discovering on this trip that I have use whatever tools and skills I have in this moment. I can not shoot films alone at the level I would like just yet, I can not always shoot the pictures I want to make for one reason or another, though I know for both those things I would do a good job given the chance. As it is, I have only words most of the time. I hope this is enough for this journey and it’s story and for you, whoever is reading.