Friday, July 31, 2009

Almost a Canoe (7/21/09)

From Karlovac


They apparently don’t have another name but “wooden boats.” But, they rent them here at Kamp Slapic. So I rented one for an hour. They are kind of like Adirondack Guide Boats – just without the rowing part that makes the Adirondack Guide Boat awesome. So you sit in the back and paddle. It,s like trying to steer a truck by pushing the sides.

I saw the river here. And I got to run one small rapid – Jesse Bear was knocked from his chair (not into the water though)!

Well for self propelled boats I now have:

Dragon Boat;
Rowboat; and,
Croatian Wooden Boat.

From Karlovac


Chasing Waterfalls - not sticking to rivers or lakes that I'm used to (7/19/09)

Plitvicka Jezera National Park

From Plitvicka Jezera

Plitvicka Jezera National Park, Croatia
Trip: AutoCamp Korana – Plitvicka Jezera National Park
Cycling: 8 miles
Hiking: 4 hours
Rowboat: 1 hour
Cycling in Croatia: 392 miles
Cycling on Bikespedition-2009: 1302 miles

As I took the tourist boat along the largest lake in the park, all I could think was “Wow this would be cool to travel on kayak.” Along the edges of the lake there were a great many waterfalls, as the water from the higher lakes came down to this one. However, the tourist boat didn’t get real close to them.

When I got to the other side of the lake, I saw that they did rent boats. They were rowboats! Now, if you have seen the guys in the shells on the Charles, rowing looks like hard work but it doesn’t look like the actual process is hard. Well, you’d be wrong. I got an hour on the rowboat for 50 kuna (€7, $10). What I really got was about 40 minutes as it took me 20 minutes to figure out how to begin to do it. (kept going in circles and almost dropping the oars). Once I did get it, it was great. Now, I won’t be trading in the UNS Aral Sea for a rowboat anytime soon, but still.

Plitvicka Jezera is a series of 14 or so lakes in the mountains of Croatia. The Korana River runs into these lakes at around 550 meters above sea level and then drops over beautiful waterfalls into the next, until you get to the last lake which is like 300 meters above sea level. These waterfalls create travertine build ups as the limestone and dolomite react with water and carbon dioxide. This means that the waterfalls are dynamic, constantly drying up and creating new falls. I’m a waterfall fanatic; Plitvicka is to that what Hawaii is to surfers.

I got out of Camp Korana by 9:30, as I had planned and a short bike ride took me to Ulaz 1 (entrance 1). I got in line to get into the park at 10:15. I got into the park at 11:05. Now, I’m pretty sure what took so long was people’s stupidity. There were two signs while we were in line that boiled down to: “Kuna only, no Euros” in four languages Croatian, English, Italian and German. The French in front of me apparently ignored the signs or couldn’t make out the Italian well enough. Because they kept trying to pay in euros! It took the Italian family behind me 2 or 3 minutes of yelling at the French family in Italio-franglais to move out of the way for those of us who had brought Kuna while the husband was going to the exchange counter.

Well, once in it was worth the long wait. The park has set up “itineraries” for the park. So from Ulaz 1 if you take Itinerary C you can see all the lakes and most of the waterfalls. I hiked along “C” from the Ulaz to the port from the Electric tourist boat that takes you across the largest lake. Then, I went up a smaller trail above the falls from some great views down into the canyon.

I then retraced my steps to the port. There I got a beer and some French fries to go with one of the sandwiches I’d brought. At the next table, I ran into the German family, with whom I’d toured Barac’s Caves two days before. They too had stayed an extra day when it rained on the day between.

Then it was time for my trip across the lake. It’s quite odd; I haven’t been on a boat that wasn’t a kayak in years – other than that ferry over Lake Konstantz, but I come to Europe and I’ve taken the ferry from Killini to Kefalonia, Argostoli-Luxori and back, Kefalonia to Patra, Patra to Ancona, Ancona to Split and Skradin to Skradinski Buk; and now number 8 (“There is now a ferry involved.”). When I saw people in rowboats I took a ninth across to Ulaz 2 where they rented the rowboats and a tenth to get back on Itinerary C.

While the whole park is absolutely beautiful, it is the winding boardwalk trail through this middle section that takes the cake. Amongst old trees, waterfalls that look like something on a Hollywood soundstage appear. Each one you think is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, until you see the next one.

The itinerary winds up with a trip through the woods on the panoramic train/bus. It’s a bus with little cars like a train and 360 degrees of windows. Unfortunately, it’s similar to taking the Greyhound through the hills of Western Pennsylvania – just trees. How can you keep them on the farm, when they’ve seen Paris?

I hopped on to Schwarzfahrer and went back to the AutoCamp. I then planned to upload pictures at the internet café, only to run into some Croatians who wanted to discuss America and Iraq. The beers flowed for a while, then there was the rakia – but that’s a whole other story.

Tino Pai!


From Plitvicka Jezera

From Plitvicka Jezera

Krka Loop (7/10/09)

From Krka

Location: Krka National Park, Croatia
Distance: 38.6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate/Hard
Sights: Krka National Park

Upon return, I called it the most beautiful place, I’d ever seen in my life. From Cikada Camp it is an easy ride to Skradin. Just a few miles down the road. But just before Skradin, the road drops into the canyon. In the next one mile you lose about 200 meters down a hair-raising hair-pinned cutback road.

Now in Skradin there are two ways to the first set of waterfalls – Skradinski Buk. The first way is a beautiful 3 km bike trail that follows the canyon up to the falls. The other is the free boat. While a pure bikespeditioner maybe should have taken the former, I chose the latter. The boat is a peaceful churning up the Krka River. While it was packed and some of them what can best be described as drunk shirtless Croatian white-hats (I believe the Brits call them chaves) complete with the one fat friend who should have worn his shirt, it was still gorges!

From Krka

The boat lets you off in Skradinski Buk (really fun to say: just like it’s spelled). You walk through some beautiful pines and open onto the falls. And, as Paula from Cikada described, you can swim in the wash of the falls. On one end of the swimming area are smaller falls where you can stand.

From Krka

Afterwards, I took the “educational trail” around the falls. It leads you past the original hydro-electric station (started only 2 days after Tesla’s at Niagara). This station made Sibenik one of the first electrified cities in Europe. There is also a working mill – unfortunately they didn’t hand out axes like the guy at Palmer State Forest did.

After the trail, I walked back to Skradin along the bike trail. Then it was off to the upper falls – Roski Slap (equally fun to say). These falls were not as big, but I think there was a larger drop in its largest falls.

From Krka

I then continued along the roads shown to me by the Polish guy at Cikada Kamp. The road down into Kljucica is especially exciting. It is one mile of 10% grade. I reached the top speed of 37.5 mph (the fastest Schwarzfahrer has ever gone), only to have to slow to 13 to make a hair-pin turn. Unfortunately, now you have to do the same up!

On my return trip I topped 1000 miles for Bikespedition-2009!

Josko and Paula and those who are in the apartments at Cikada met me on my return. (I was the only camper). Josko had a special order for me – Croatian stuffed peppers. I don’t know what’s in the spices but… mmm…mmm…mmm!

Tino Pai!


Sami Hiking Trail (7/6/09)

Location: Sami, Kefalonia, Greece

From Sami

I had an excellent idea to get up early and go on the Ithaca Ferry to find out more about the archeology around Odysseus.

I slept through the boat.

So I rode out through the port of Sami to the edge of town to take the hiking trail. The trail led out through from the town and up into the hills outside. At the top there was a beautiful old monastery that was built in the 15th Century and had survived the Venetians, the Turks, the Italians and the Nazis only to be completely destroyed by the 1953 earthquake.

Further down is the ruins of the old chapel to Saint Nicholas and the old fountain used by the monastery. The chapel is cool.

From Sami

I then rode back to the campground and rested for my long cruise to Croatia.

Tino Pai!


Independence Day Ride (7-4-09)

Krani Walls

Ride: Argostoli Beach – Krani
Distance: 13 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Sights: Cute towns, Cyclopedean Walls of Krani

From Krani and Enos

As I filled my water at the bubbler in the small town, I realized I might not actually be on the Argostoli – Sami road. Fortunately, the guy who was helping his son build a new house spoke great English. It turned out that after the Earthquake of ’53, he moved to Albany, NY and had lived in Albany and Brooklyn until 5 years ago. He gave me great directions back to Razata and the Walls.

I followed his terrific directions down the dirt roads of Kefalonian back-country to find the ancient Mycenaean structures over the ridge line. The walls were made of giant slabs of the local hard rock. The Classical era City-State of Krani had built these walls. They were amazing. They definitely would have kept me out.

Into the Clouds
Mount Ainos (Enos) 1628m (5324 ft)

Trip: cycle- Krani to the Enos Turnoff; hitchhike- to the National Park; hike- up the Mountain; hitch- back to my bike; cycle- back to Argostoli
Distance: Cycling – 15 miles , hiking – 5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
Sites: Not much, cloudy

From Krani and Enos

After Ariel Damien and I had failed so miserably at climbing to the top of the Mountain, it became a mission for me.

So, I left the walls at Krani and cycled my way up the Argostoli-Sami Road. A woman at the Mini-Mart told me, “you have a long way to go.” Sure enough there were two excruciatingly long hills of more than two miles to get to the turn off to the Enos national Park.

I locked my bike to the sign for Argostoli and started hitching toward the National Park. I got a ride to the turn off for Poros and then another from a Athenian family who was vacationing on the island. I started on the main park road from the ranger station (1130 meters). After an hour, I found the summit trail. The summit trail was quite quick from the road (20 minutes). But it took you through the black pines that used to cover the island.

Then I cleared the tree line. There was little view and it was hard to make out the summit as the clouds had descended upon the summit. Through the rockiness of the top I scrambled to the top of the mountain.

I let out a huge roar of “JAMMING ON THE ONE!” that echoed through the mists and clouds. Only to hear “Ya sas (hello)” returned from the peak next me. Then, the mists cleared a minute: “oh, you are higher!” the other peak said. And I watched as two young Greek kids descended their peak and climbed mine.

After some fist pumps for making the peak, we each went our separate ways. I walked back down to the Ranger station. I then got a lift almost all the way back to my bike from a Czech family that was on vacation.

Additionally, I did almost no pedaling all the way back to Argostoli as I got to go down those two long hills.

On the Trail of Odysseus (6/28/09)

Ride: Mavarata – Poros – Skala – Mavrata, Kefalonia, Greece
Distance: 27 miles
Difficulty: Medium (three large hills)
Sights: Tholos Tombs in Tzanata, Hercules Statue in Agia Irini, Memorial to the HMS Prometheus in Poros, Ancient Temple and Roman Villa in Skala

From On the Trail of Odysseus

Homer describes Ithaca as “mountainous” and “rugged.”

In the Odyssey, Telemachus tells Menelaus, “Horses I will not take to Ithaca. . . [I]n Ithaca there is no room for horses to run, nor any meadows at all. It is a pasture land for goats and more attractive to my eyes than the sort of land where horses thrive.” The modern island Ithaki, which is a stones throw from Kefalonia, indeed fits this description.

When Odysseus is returned to Ithaca by the Phaeacians, Homer describes the harbor onto which they landed on the island. “Now in that island there is a cove named after Forcys, the Old Man of the Sea, with two projecting headlands sheer to seaward but sloping down towards the side on the harbor.” Up from the cove there is a cave that the Nymphs enjoyed.

On Ithaki, you can find a Bay of Forcys that closely resembles Homer’s description. Additionally, there is a cave known as the Cave of Nymphs that overlooks the bay. As my friend Manu said, it would seem to make sense that modern Ithaki is Homer’s Ithaca.

Yet, there is a problem with this assumption - there is no archeological evidence of a centralized Mycenaean era state on Ithaki. Schliemann thought it to be on Ithaki at the hill of Alalkomenes. However, he found nothing in the way of Mycenaean era settlement.

Some have argued that the Lixouri peninsula is Homer’s Ithaca. And, that the peninsula was once an island and now joined with the rest of Kefalonia. (This argument comes mostly from Lixourians.) People from Lefkada argue that their island is Homer’s Ithaca.

Yet, there is archaeological evidence that gives some credence to the idea that “Ithaca” is actually Kefalonia. In Mazarakata, there is a cemetery from the Mycenaean era. It easily fits a place where rich commoners or some noblemen may have been buried. However, it does not match the “Treasury of Atreus” at Mycenae. So it does not appear that it would be a place where the wanax, or king, would be buried. In Krani there are Cyclopedean walls that are said to echo the huge stones of Mycenae and Tyrins. (I have yet to see these walls for myself.)

Recently, there has been another find. They have found a tholos tomb – like that of the Treasury of Atreus (not a treasury, at all – stupid Pausinas). The tholos is in Tzanata, about 4 km up the hill from the port town of Poros. On my off day from turtle tracking, I decided to ride to Poros and see it for myself.

At 1:30 I left Mavrata along the Argostoli Road. Then I made the right to ride along the Argostoli – Poros Road. The Carpenter Man (the one who helped us with the “Honey Man”) told Damien that this was the prettiest road on Kefalonia. And for 12 miles I wound my way along the ridge to through picturesque villages that were perched on the edge that they may tumble down toward Katelios and the sea. At Markopoulo I saw the bell tower where the snakes come (like the swallows of Capistrano) around the feast day of St. Gerasimos – the patron saint of Kefalonia. And, at Agia Irini, I stopped for a minute to look at the new statue of Heracles fighting the lion.

My next stop was Tzanata and the main point of my trip my trip. As, you walk up the small hill upon which the tholos is located, a visitor to Mycenae would quickly see the resemblance. There is a cylindrical building of large stones built into the hillside. About 20 feet above the grave line the walls begin to curve up into its lintel. The majority of the lintel and its possible supporting triangle are lost. However, it is without a doubt tholoi tombs of wanaxes.

After leaving the tomb, I got back onto the road to Poros as it led through the gorge into the town. To the right was the road to the currently closed off Cave of Drakena. A quick look at the harbor shows a calm area surrounded by two large hills that are nearly shear seaward but more gently sloping into the town.

Perhaps the Cave of Drakena is the Nymphs’ cave where Odysseus hid the gifts of the Phaeacians? Perhaps Poros is Forcys? A man from Pastra from whom I received a hitch earlier in the week told me that archeologists from the University of Vancouver are returning this summer to do more digging in the hills above Poros. Maybe they will find the Mycenaean palace of Odysseus there . . . hmmm.

After Poros, I rode into Skala and saw the remains of the Ancient temple – to whom nobody seems to know. It is little more than the foundation of the temple – next to a modern Orthodox Church. I tried to make the Roman Villa, but it had already closed. I saw a bit climbing on top of the fence; alas, another time.

From On the Trail of Odysseus

To the Western Beaches (6/27/09)

Trip – Koroni Beach-Stella’s Vineyard Beach, Kefalonia, Greece
Distance – 10 km
Difficulty – Medium

From Western Beaches

Every morning two volunteers from Team Turtle ride to the old road to Koroni. They then kayak to Lefkas – checking each beach for turtle nests. Saturday, however, Manu (director of the volunteer program here at Katelios) and I were assigned to the Koroni run – of course, Manu makes the schedule.

Manu said he wanted to check out more of the beaches to the west for possible turtle nests. So our kayaking was 4 times the distance that it normally is, but we didn’t have to bike or hike the old Koroni Road.

We found no nests or tracks (the storm that had settled on the Ionians for the past week could easily have erased any sign of nesting turtles). But we did have a good day where I explored near reaches of Kefalonia through the unexpectedly choppy waves.

Three Saints and a Cemetery (6/22/09)

Trip: Mavrata – Kastro – Mavrata
Difficulty: Easy/Medium
Sights: St. George’s Castle, St. Theodore’s Church, Mycenaean Cemetery and Ecclesiastical Museum (St. Andrew’s Church)

The road to St. George’s Castle and the town of Kastro, Kefalonia was not as hard as Akrokorinthos or even the road to Mavrata. But, I still would have liked to avoid it – if I’d known that Agios Georgios Castle was closed until July. I mean people had been there from my group and not mentioned it to me.

Alas, had I not gotten up that hill, I would never have seen the old church of St. Theodore’s. The outside walls and a stone piece from the original altar was all that survived other than the belfry with old bells that hung from it.

I rode down the hill back to the Argostoli-Poros road and across it toward Mazarakata. Mazarakata has a surviving Mycenaean era cemetery. While near Poros they have found the tholos type of the wanax or king, this cemetery is made of the pit graves of the commoners. This gives credence to the belief that it wasn’t modern Ithaki, but Kefalonia, that was Odysseus’ Ithaca.

My final stop was at the Milapidia Monastery. The Monastery houses both the church of St. Andrew and an Ecclesiastical Museum. The church is a lovely stone chapel, rebuilt since the earthquake. The museum housed a large number of wooden icons and wooden screens that can be found at the altar of orthodox churches. Some of the icons date from the 15th and 16th Centuries. Upstairs the museum housed the furnishings from the Bishop’s residence at Agios Georgios.

After my trip through Kefalonia’s ecclesiastic history, I returned to Mavrata and Base-station Turtle.

In Search of the Ponies – Mt. Ainos (6/9/09)

From Mt. Ainos

According to the badly written description at the Katelios Environmental Center, the Mt. Ainos ponies are a breed of wee ponies who are wild on the Mountain that dominates the island of Kefalonia. They stand only 12 hands tall and there are only 10 or 14 of them still alive (depending on which part of the badly written description you believe).

After three fruitless night shifts (no turtles, although we had one “false crawl”) Ariel, Damien and I were determined to set out into the mountain in search of the summit and these supposed ponies.

Unfortunately we failed on both counts. My tourist map I bought in Poros, gave us questionable – if not false information to the summit.

Yet, it was still a great day. About an hour and a half into the hike, Damien and I convinced Ariel that it would be better if we climbed one of the gorges to the top.

At first it was rather simple. We hiked up the wide gorge until we got to a small cliff. The small cliff was easy to scale. Atop that we saw another 50 meters to the next cliff and so on.

Unfortunately, it got harder and harder and harder as we went. Several cliffs were in rapid succession. As the legs and arms wearied, the cliffs were even harder. Ariel worried we wouldn’t find the road again. I reassured her that I was positive we would. (Unfortunately, I could not reassure myself.) At one point I did almost slide off the hardest of the cliffs. I went a good 10 feet before catching myself).

Ainos is 1627 meters. At about 1200 meters we found the road again. This was the hardest part of the trip I found. It wasn’t simply a cliff to rock climb (without ropes, anchors or helmets) but a slight incline (slight as in 60 degrees) covered in gravel from the gorge to the road. I got to a place where I could not go any further and the way down was only a 30 meter slide to certain broken bones!

With the help of cooler heads (Damien and Ariel) I was able to scramble the remaining part of the way.

In retrospect I thought Ariel was probably right that we shouldn’t have done that. But, I also agreed with Damien, “It was better to do that 600 meters in altitude than walk the long twisty road that MAY have gotten us to the summit.”

Still no ponies!

Mission: ZAKYNTHOS – training 1 (6/4/09)

Damien questioned the trip more than I did. “So are there any currents out there?”

Manu’s answer was “I don’t know. I didn’t see any from the ferry; and it is a small ferry.”

The mission, should we chose to accept it is to kayak from Katelios Harbor on Kefalonia to Agios Nikolas (St. Nick) on Zakynthos. It is a distance of 18 km over the open Ionian Sea.

Manu and his friend Markus have been quasi-planning this trip for years now. So, it was to come to fruition this year. When I heard about it, I wanted in. This is the perfect excursion for Bikespedition ’09!

Manu has been training for a few weeks for the mission. Thursday was thus the day Damien and I began our training. We met Manu on the beach; he took us out across the Mounda Beach to Mounda Point and around to the rocks that divide Mounda from Skala.

This beautiful early morning trip took us over the beautiful sea and past one of the world’s top beaches – Kamina. We got a good look at the caves around Mounda Point and the beach there.

Total trip was 11km.