Tuesday, 28 June 2011

On the Olympus

Location: 200m below Mytikas summit, Olympus Mountain, Greece
Altitude: 2,800m
Day: 64
Total distance: 5003 miles

I’m stuck. I can’t climb any further. I’m trapped in a narrow rock chimney, vertical, scrambling my way up to Mytikas summit. My right hand is jammed in a small crag, my left arm is stretched sideway, pressing against the rock for balance. I must find a good hold for my legs, quickly, as my heavy rucksack is dragging me down.

And it’s heavy indeed: 3 days worth of supplies; food, water, warm clothes, waterproofs – enough to get both of us up and down the Olympus mount, ‘the Home of Gods’ and the highest peak in Greece. Crackling shoulders, rapid heartbeats, heavy sweating, extreme pulse, aching muscles; I must find the strength to push upwards.

I’m taking a deep breath and looking down for a short moment. 20m below me the mist is hiding the bottom – mystical and terrifying. I’m trying to work out what will happen if I’d lose my hold, say, lift my hand for a second – how long will it take before I’d hit the ground below?

It looks like a long way. Down there somewhere there’s the footpath. We climbed at least 150m since we left it. Even the footpath, though, won’t stop me. It’s too steep. I’d probably roll over it and shoot straight down a few hundred meters through the cliff. That would be a mess.

a day earlier
25 minutes earlier

I’m completely alone now; Jens’ sweet tuchas has disappeared more than 5 minutes ago above the overhanging boulders. She’s agile and fast on those rocks and always preferred to scramble than walk. Sexy. I’d love to open the straps and let the rucksack slip down, but we cannot afford losing the Nutella. Tough.

It’s not too bad being stuck here, though. I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to answer some of the most frequent questions we’ve been asked during our journey and since I’m not going anywhere, why won’t you just sit comfortably while I tell about the two most basic elements of our voyage: accommodation and food.


We love Boudicca, our mighty Land Rover, and I would be singing a love song to her right now if I wasn’t short of breath. Until now she’s been an excellent vehicle (touch rock) and a cosy home. We have spent most of our 64 nights sleeping inside her snug interior.


Well, when you get a chance, have a look into a Discovery 3. Imagine it without the middle seats and with a risen wood platform on the floor instead. You’d spot a bed shape and it’s indeed one of the best places in the world to position a bed.

Before we left England Jen made curtains and I built hidden compartments in the wooden platform. We placed our old futon on it, packed 2 sets of bed linen and hung a photo of the queen on the ceiling. Bedroom’s ready.

(*) Since we’re already in the mood for technical details, here are other essential facilities:
  • ·        Shower: 25L water tank on the roof and a hose attached to a shower head
  • ·        DJ desk: Sony Walkman plugged to external HD with 1T of music
  • ·        Electricity connection: 12v – 240w converter with UK/EU/US adapters sockets
  • ·        Kitchen kit: 2 gas stove burners, a set of pans & pots and utensils packed in a large Stanley tool box   

Now, we’re completely self-sufficient, we can camp nearly everywhere: on mountain tops, in flat fields, along rivers, by the sea, in hidden forests or truly innocent, in town centres. Boudicca, the glorious machine, is the key to our freedom. Example:

Day 47, Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

Planning to drive through Macedonia in a day, we stopped by Lake Orhid for a quick picture. A cliff above the clear lake, a bed of flowers and a secluded little beach – the deepest, oldest and biggest lake in Europe is also a pretty one and we decided that despite the early hour of the day this is where we shall spend the night. Easily done with Boudicca.

In the morning we went for a swim. In noon we hiked around the hills and by evening we found a little fishermen village with a small Taverna. Then other travellers joined to the cliff community so started a traveller’s party.

Eventually we stayed on the cliff above Lake Orhid for a week. – Freedom.

View from our cliff-site 1
Our cliff-site

View from our cliff-site 2

I’m finally able to place the tip of my toe on the rock. I’m pushing my body upwards. I’m swinging my left hand up and reaching a tiny angled stone on the rock face – but the stone is loose and I’m losing my hold. The rucksack is too heavy, I can’t find the point of balance around my mid body and I’m slipping.

The jam in my right hand is opening up. I’m losing the lock. I’m now hanging in the air. Only two fingers are stopping me from falling and I’m thinking about food.


Food and travelling always work together. The equation is simple: We love food; we love any opportunity to try good food and there are many opportunities to try good food when travelling, therefore, we love travelling.

Candy stand in Istanbul

Good food can be found nearly anywhere; we just need to know how to find it and where to search for it. The most important ingredient is Freshness. Let it be fresh.

This is how we keep it fresh. During the day we hunt for farmers markets, stands by the side of the roads, bakeries in little villages and stalls in big cities. The treasures are priceless: Tomatoes, carrots, apples, cherries, peaches, lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, bread, cheese, ham (for me), fish (for me too), nuts, dried apricots (fresh?), dried figs, pickled berries, garlic, honey, oranges for juice, lemons for salads, cookies, spices, olive oil, pasta, herbs, wine, coffee, little bitter unknown green thingies or whatever else is in season. Only the nutella must be bought in a supermarket (and brought up a mountain in a heavy glass jar).
The whole lot is snacked throughout the day or cooked in the evening.

Occasionally we will spy a hungry-looking local and follow him (or her) until they lead us to their local eateries. Also here the discoveries are endless: pizza, Slovaki, Burek, traditional veggie pot, shishliq kebbab, goat steak, lamb steak, beef steak, musaka, ravioli, local wine, local cheese plate and the expected-but-welcomed local salad. No matter where we are, geographically or topographically, there will be good food in there. Example #2:

Street coffee in N. Italy

Day 42, somewhere in north Albania

It was out of nowhere, night time, when we saw that place. It didn’t seem like the kind of a place we should stop at. It definitely didn’t seem like the kind of a place we’d want to eat in. In fact, in any other night we wouldn’t even spare an inch of attention on that place, but that night we were in the most lethal state: tiredness and hunger. So we stopped and walked in.

We ordered everything from the menu – namely, oriental soup, local salad and pilau rice – and waited apathetically to see – and probably taste – our poor catch of today.

We waited for an hour before food was finally served.

The soup was rich. It’s been cooked in various fresh roots and unidentified spices. A small dash of chilli perhaps, complimented with cream or yogurt. The salad was simple: chopped tomatoes, garlic and herbs, served with crusty bread and olive oil. The rice was pure white, escorted by a lemon and green onion. It was divine.

Locals joined us and we all cheered (and then cried) Manchester United playing the European Championship final. We stayed in there, camping in the back garden, just so we can have breakfast in that unexpected place too.

let it be fresh

(*) The Special Chef Award goes to Neil and Lucy from the Backpackers hostel, Berat, Albania, for feeding us so well while we were waiting for the Russian Letter of Invitation (and been the best friends we could have hoped for!). Guys, we still have enough space for you.
(**) Jade & Andie, we love you too - learn how to cook!


Still on the rock, but I’m feeling a lot more energetic now. Stretching my left leg, I’m placing my weight on the crag and securing my right hand. Lifting, switching balance, securing and lifting again; rucksack is feeling free. I like it. Repeating. There are good holds here. Repeating. I’m moving fast again, enjoying the rhythm. I got it. Now it’s easy.

Higher and higher, another several moves and the rock face becomes wider, gentler and flatter. And here’s a cone – a pile of stones, marking the summit. Summit! Jen is here, sitting, observing, resting on the highest rock in Greece, waiting for me.

Next on our journey: rafting, trekking and chilling out in Yusufeli, Turkey, before taking the (illusive?) ferry to Sochi, Russia: possibly the most challenging border crossing in our journey  

Jen & Noam



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