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40 miles - Friday, October 28
The bathroom block is disgusting. It's like nothing I've ever seen before: leaf clogged sinks, unflushable toilets, pools of dirty water in shower drains. Andy decides against using the facilities, but I can't take my sticky body. I wear flip flops and perch on the raised cement edge in the shower stall, clear of the muck. I quickly bathe in cold water then we clear out of the campground, wondering what awaits us at the next place.
We leave Patras behind, pedaling on the Old National Road eastward along the Kolpos (gulf) of Korinthos. It's a quiet, roller coaster ride through small towns and lemon or olive orchards. Like southern Italy, there is the ubiquitous trash in the gutters, but it's easy to overlook. The clear Aegean shores are only a few feet below us while the bulk of traffic traverses further up the hillside on a newer highway.
We glide along, enjoying the sunshine, the camaraderie of men clustered around small tables, outside stores and restaurants, waving and smiling. It's their independence holiday – National Day – to be celebrated in leisure. In more recent history, as explained to us, Hitler told Mussolini to invade Greece and conquer them in two days. After 40 days the Italian army still had not succeeded so the Nazi army took over, brutalizing Greek citizens. Many Greeks still harbor these memories.
By 2:30 p.m. the aqua waters beckon us. Andy and I discover a deserted campground perched on a short bluff, pointing westward down the gulf. After inspecting the facilities and the beach, and confirming it's fine to stay, the proprietor says to make him an offer. It's too good to be true. He accepts our 1000 drachmas. “Pay in the morning. No problem.” However, we insist on settling beforehand. We refused to repeat the morning's episode, waking the owner at 9 a.m. to retrieve our passports.
Within minutes, we are swimming in the salty Aegean Sea. It's just warm enough to be refreshing, and what we needed to raise our spirits toward Grecian camping standards. I stay in the clear water longer than Andy does, relishing the weightless exercise, eventually scrambling out onto the pebbled beach to dry in the sun.
In the evening we walk further down the road, by a lemon grove and small vineyard. Excited to sample a black olive, I pluck one from a tree and bite into it. It's bitter. I immediately spit it out. My mouth tastes awful for the remainder of the walk. Later, the campground proprietor explains that olives must be soaked three times in salt water before they're ready to eat.
After dark in our golden dome, the candle lantern flickers, projecting giant-like shadows of ourselves on the interior, like a planetarium. It's peaceful.Trains have stopped. Crickets talk and the sound of tiny waves rhythmically trickle on the shoreline. Beside me Andy is on his stomach, arms folded beneath his head. He insists he is only resting, but I know better. It is his last position before turning to his back and falling asleep.