I make my way up north towards Larissa. I’m meeting up with a friend of a friend, Dimitris. He’s a general internist (doctor) and we met a few times when he was visiting Belgium. But I haven’t seen him in six years. I know he’s also a motorcycle enthusiast and we want to do a short ride together. He tips me about a beautiful road to Larissa I definitely have to take.
The road goes through the mountainous outback of the Greek mainland. I’ almost 50 km to the north of Nafpaktos (a city at north coast of the gulf of Corinth) when big drops of rain start to fall. After only 15 minutes I’m completely soaked. I must admit that rain was the last thing on my mind when I thought about my ride through Greece. I got lucky before and passed most African countries without any drop (apart from one miserable day in Kenya when I was hunted down by dark clouds).
I’m driving into the mountains and the rain starts turning into snow. To make matters worse, the road I’m following turns into a rocky dirt road that continuous up into the misty, snowy mountains. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, which doesn’t surprise me because the Greek signposts look more like Chinese to me. I had a two years of Greek in highschool but after 15 years I can solemnly swear that not much knowledge about the language of Plato is left in my brain. It’s just too difficult to transform and process all the letters in time when you drive by at a certain speed. That’s why I end up literally in what must have been the hole of Pluto (In Greece rather Hades hole). After slipping for two long hours over mountain passes and through snowy valleys I finally encounter the tarmac road I should have been on in the first place.
It continues to snow and rain and it’s already dark when I reach the city of Lamia. Larissa is still a two-hour drive away. So I decide to set up camp in the beautiful city of Lamia. I actually have no idea if it’s beautiful. I’m so soaked and cold that I decide to take the first hotel room that comes my way. Without any price negotiation I take their first offer and take a long hot shower. After munching some food of my favourite Greek fastfood joint, I’m ready for my bed. The city is clearly in some sort of carnival mood, but I’m too tired to be bothered with such trivialities and I slip into a deep sleep.
I leave Lamia quite early in the morning. I didn’t have the chance to see anything of this city. Dimitris sounded a bit disappointed that I couldn’t make it to Larissa on Saturday night. I apparently missed out on a big party. So I decide there’s no time to loose and skip my touristic tour of Lamia. Dimitris and I meet up in coffee bar “Las Ramblas”. Unfortunately it turns out there are two places with the same name: one in the city centre and one very close to Dimitris’ apartment.
Off course I order my first coffee in the wrong one. After a lot of messages and confusing calls we meet each other. Apart from the fact that the length of his hair went from metalhead long to perfect-son-in-law short, Dimitris didn’t really change. We pass by his apartment, which used to be his granddads, to drop off my stuff. It still has some of the grand parents vibe to it but I could see that thanks to the hand of his girlfriend, Villy, small thing were starting to transform it into a more modern place.
Dimitris lets me taste his Tzatziki (garlic, cucumber, yogurt dip sauce) and some local cheese and a little glass of Tsipouro (a strong liquor made from the residue of the wine press). But we have to drink and eat fast because Dimitris has big plans for us. We are going to join is girlfriend, Villy, and his friends in Tyrnavos, where the big annual carnival festival is going on. We take his car, because drinking and driving a motorcycle doesn’t really match. Driving on four wheels and drinking doesn’t seem to be a big problem. It’s a four-wheel drive so you can get out of any ditch you drive yourself into anyways.
We drive around 40 km to the West of Larissa when we arrive in a medium sized town. It’s clear that something is going on. People are all dressed up and there is, despite the sad weather, a very cheerful atmosphere.
Everything looks fine until a wooden phallus is shoved up in my face, behind it, two grinning faces. ‘Kiss it’ the two men shout at me in a demanding tone. I look to Dimitris and he nods. I kiss the wooden dildo and everybody around me starts to cheer.
I had no idea that I could get people that ecstatic by kissing a wooden dick. It was a first timer for me but maybe I do have a hidden talent for male oral sex? I just finished this slightly confusing thought when all of a sudden the two guys lift me up with the wooden penis between my legs. I got my initiation.
A bit later Dimitris friends push the same wooden fallus in the face of a woman that could be their grandmother. Opposite to what I expect, she grabs the wooden cock with determination and starts to lick it with such dedication that it seems she still practices a lot. The guys are also a bit baffled but then everybody starts to cheer. Me too! It’s contagious! It seems that all the boundaries have fallen away.
It must be said that the huge amounts of Tsipouro (local liquor) that are consumed on this day, play a big role in this licentious behaviour. Dimitris friends and his girlfriend are all seated in front of a bar. It’s clear that they have been drinking several bottles of Tsipouro. The proof of that is on display on the table in front of them. The one thing I mostly appreciate is the fact that Greeks are absolutely convinced of the fact that drinking and eating must go together. That’s why that same table is also filled with different small, delicious, Greek dishes.
I can hear the echo of beautiful traditional music from inside the bar . Villy, Dimitris’ girlfriend starts translating some of the lyrics. Let’s say that the lyrics are definitely not suitable for children’s ears.
‘the sore fact of having blue balls, the beauty of female genitals and the joy of having sex in the open nature’ are just a few themes of these songs.
I see some parents who push a wooden cock in hand of their five-year-old son. They start taking pictures. The whole family watches and laughs. The kid seems a bit less sure about the whole thing. The laughter becomes even louder when his mother (or that’s what I hope at least) puts the wooden phallus in his pants. I make a small mental consideration about what my friends from Child protection at Save the Children in Athens would think about all this. But you can feel that it’s just a centuries long tradition.
Dimitris takes me for a walk around the town square. In the middle stands a tent with a big kettle. “They’re brewing a soup in that kettle” Dimitris tells me, “It’s some kind of bean soup, but there’s also a very special, ‘spicy’ ingredient they add to it. When the soup is almost ready all the women of the town are invited to walk over the kettle and to shake there ass, so they ‘add’ some of their precious body fluids to the soup.” Dimitris laughs. (it’s obviously just symbolic)
From Rio to Reykjavik, Carnival is in many places around the world still a day people will go completely bananas. But this place is definitely the most crazy place.
Dimitris takes me to a band that’s playing live music. It’s traditional music, but what strikes me is that literally everybody is dancing. All ages are united and dance all together different traditional dances. Even I participate for a while, but it’s clear that you need to be or very skilled at dancing or that you must have grown up with these dances, to not make a complete fool out of yourself. I make definitely a complete fool out of myself.
Long after sundown we drive back to Larissa in Dimitris little 4 WD. He’s definitely theoretically too drunk to drive, but in practise he keeps a fairly straight line and we arrive safely in Larissa. His brother, Vasili, has joined us and we all go for a last drink in Dimitris favorite, local bar. Dimitris has to work the next day, wake up time around 7 o ‘clock, but it’s three in the morning when we walk out of the bar, way too drunk. In a stroke of insanity I find four Chimay beers in a local snack bar that’s still open. We will never consume them. They will end up as a gift for my hosts. The next thing I know I’m lying completely drunk on a sofa. The world is turning around me.
Dimitris who’s leaving for work awakes me to say goodbye. I won’t see him anymore because he’s going for a 24 hour shift in the hospital. I smell my own alcohol breath and I wonder if Dimitris breath smells any better. “Respect” I mumble to him while he shuts the door and I turn myself around once more.
I wake up and take a shower. In the mean time Villy has prepared a nice little breakfast. We go out to town for a coffee and I spend a lovely day in the presence of Villy and some of her friends. It strikes me how hospitable the Greeks are. In the evening we go to a concert of the same band as the day before. It’s a little crowed bar and there is not much space for dancing, but even there the Greeks find a little spot to do their circular dances.
Sitting in front of me is another Dimitris, he’s doctor Dimitris’ best friend. His nickname is “the killer”. He seems a bit like a surly guy. He looks like he walked away from the set of a world war II movie. He’s like the typical rigid Greek fisherman who’s the contact person of some resistance organisation. It turns out he’s not a killer and even a very nice guy, although I would never want to cross swords with him. The night is amazing: good food, and very good company.
The next morning is already the last one I spend in Larissa. The road is calling me, actually my ship that leaves for Italy that night in Igoumenitsa (in the west of Greece) is calling me. Villy is a very sweet woman. In contrast with Dimitris she doesn’t talk that much. She’s definitely an artistic spirit. She shows me some of her amazing work at breakfast. She’s got heaps of talent but in modern day Greece being an artist isn’t easy. She has set up a small business to make clothes and she does the housekeeping.
Villy helps me to bring all my luggage downstairs from their apartment. When we bring down the last case, she taps her head. “I’ve let the key on the door!” That means that she can’t go in. Dimitris still has to work until late that night, so she can’t get in. I make a quick decisions and propose to give her a ride to the hospital to retrieve the key from Dimitris. That’s the least I can do for my hosts and it gives me the possibility to say a proper good bye to Dimitris, apart from that long moan I gave him the morning before.
Furthermore, it’s my job to give people rides. Like most Greeks Villy prefers not to put on my shabby Rwandan helmet. I can’t blame her, god knows what kind of organism are living in that helmet by now. We ride to Dimitris’ hospital.
We retrieve the key. It strikes me how serious he has become. He’s the complete opposite of Dimitirs at the carnival. I assume that’s quite normal when you’re a doctor. I bring Villy back to their apartment. Before I leave she tells me I should definitely visit Joannina. It’s on my way to the west and she studied there for several years.
The rest of the day I spend driving and visiting places. I stop at the amazing meteora monasteries. The ancient buildings that are balancing on rocks that look too strange to be part of this earth. I have a supermarket lunch (bread, cheese and some cold cuts) with a view on this strange scenery. I press forward towards Joannina but some rainy clouds have caught up with me. What should be an amazing, flourishing student town at the bank of a big lake, looks a bit death and misty to me.
I continue in the rain towards Igoumenitsa. It literally took me several hours of practising on my motorbike to finally memorize the name of this place. The past two weeks I’ve always just referred to it as “the place in the west where I will take my boat to Italy”. I finally reach it and I’m able to pronounce ànd remember the name. My boat leaves at midnight, I spend the rest of the evening drinking coffee and eating. A lady at customs follows my motorcycle almost on board to make sure that I don’t leave it in Greece. I have no idea if they will ask for some kind of paper in Italy. It’s still raining when the boat leaves the port at midnight.