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Friday, May 29, 2015

Entry 9: YOLO in Volos

YOLO in Volos

Yolo στο Βόλο 

(using yolo ironically, ok? (and now I'm saying that I'm using yolo ironically, ironically))

I returned from my disorganized island adventure on Skiathos to the city of Volos where I couchsurfed again with Christina.

Somewhere around Sunday May tenth...

Christina, her boyfriend Christophe, and I hiked around Mount Olympus. Not up. Just around. For six hours. With a group hiking tour along with dozens of old people, some around 80 years and counting, they climbed faster than me. Unfortunately knees were in immense pain despite carrying just my water; there's no way I could climb the whole mountain. Thankfully one of the older hikers loaned me his carbon fiber hiking poles after I collapsed a third of the way through desperate to rest my knees.

You see, when I left America six months ago I overpacked, bringing everything from a rechargeable ultraviolet water purifier and three water bottles/camelbaks to heavy pocket knives and plastic bowls to camping gear like rope, matches, a bivouac sack, and tarp. I've only had to use my sleeping bag once so far, on the beach of Eilat, Israel.  While I only carry around my huge 95 liter Whitney (brand) backpack from Gregory (company name) once or twice a week at most, its immense weight had been aggravating my knees more and more over the past six months. The Olympus knee disaster was the final straw, so at this point given my painful joints at just 25 years of age I figured it's best to ditch half my stuff. I mailed home almost five kilos, and might mail home more. 

Why did I have all that? Because in my mind at the time, leaving the country with just over a thousand dollars to travel for a year meant survival mode: living on the edge, the peak of supposed masculinity, foraging and hunting for survival -- none of which I had to do at all. My individualistic perspective was shattered by the collective hospitality I've experienced, helping me along from the roads to the cities. Being a white, male, American, English speaker got me this far with so little money too. Privilege is never talked about on those "How to travel the world for free" books and videos but is without a doubt a huge factor that cannot be ignored. One day I will dedicate an entire blog entry to this subject. You'll get a taste of that here but there's too much to talk about overall.

Fri 5/16
I went to the synagogue in Volos again this time bringing Christina along given her fascination with Jews and Israel. Getting free food at Shabbat dinner is a huge plus, I plan to visit synagogues wherever I go just for this, not to mention the interesting people I meet.

At 90 years old with the tattoo on his arm still visible, I met the last Holocaust survivor of Volos, who might be among eight or nine remaining Holocaust survivors of Greece. He struggles to walk and talk, drooling slurred Hebrew at me when I said "Shalom," but still makes it to Shabbat services and dinner.

With a hearty loaf of challah bread I left with an invitation to return next week.

I suddenly had a slew of couchsurfing hosts cancel on me, so in urgency that weekend I used AirBnb for the first time paying just nine euro for three nights. Since the guy was new to airbnb like me we both wanted to try it out with little money -- and blowing up condoms to the size of a person with a hair dryer (video:

Thanks to sheer luck, people I met at parties offered to host me through the next week, like Kostas who fed me delicious Greek meals and then his friend Serhat, a Turkish speaking Kurd from Istanbul studying in Greece. I beat him at his own game of backgammon and learned a lot from him from the PKK ( to revolutionary Rojava (, so I must visit Kurdistan eventually.

Fri 5/22
The synagogue had invited me back this weekend, so figured it was ok to bring a different guest this time now with Serhat. Big mistake. While the police guard who is always there let us in after checking his passport and my American driver's license, he ended up calling in backup police after half an hour through our dinner. In plain clothes they escorted us out and told us they would take us briefly to the station that was close by -- utterly false. Twenty minutes later we arrived, ears still buzzing from the constant interrogation on the way there. They told us that to enter a synagogue we needed State approval (which Christina later told me was bullshit), so this means the the guard lied to us to lure us into a trap, or they made up some law for their enjoyment.

Since I didn't have my passport, I had to wait at the station while they drove Serhat back to his house to get it from inside my backpack. My boring hours with a secretary watching tv didn't hold a candle to Serhat's experience with both policemen interrogating him all the way to his house and back, a forty minute round trip. It was me who left his passport behind, why did he suffer through it? Obviously his Turkish passport and our lack of Greek language tipped them off to his terrorist ways of using me to bomb the synagogue. Or since half of policemen are in Golden Dawn, the Greek Nazi party, they felt like making up a law to uphold their racist beliefs.

After two hours in police custody we were finally let out, thankfully driven to the city pier after midnight. Unfortunately it was too late to go back to the synagogue and apologize to explain what happened, and the police warned us not to go again even though the Jewish community of Volos welcomed us in with open arms.

In a game of backgammon and a round of drinks at a cafe, we vented out our frustration and wondered if this would end up on our records. Hopefully neither of us have to face this at the border as we exit Greece.

I introduced Serhat to CouchSurfing and gave him his first reference to start his own journey. He's disillusioned with university and wants to drop out and travel like me. His English is good enough to get by but his Turkish citizenship and Kurdish background may hold him back. Hopefully one day I will host him in America, and the police will let him be.

Sat 5/23

Mon 5/25
After a month in Volos and Skiathos it was time to leave. I left Serhat's at 7 am, took the bus to Velestino, a small town just outside of Volos by 8:30 AM, and started hitchhiking to Athens right away. Initially it looked hopeful with two rides easily hitched to start my journey down the national highway, even as one warned me it was "zesty" outside, or hot. But the third ride never came after four hours of waiting -- still just a half hour's drive from Volos.

Police abruptly stopped by, scolding me why it's illegal to hitchhike on highways, so I asked them for a ride elsewhere but they replied that they weren't a taxi. My rebuttal? "If your law says this is dangerous then why don't you protect and serve your people and help me get out of here?" Unamused, they drove off. The only thing dangerous about hitchhiking is getting sunburnt while people who think it's dangerous won't pick you up.

After surveying my surroundings for a way off the pavement I walked through the brush alongside the off ramp to a small country road that paralleled the highway. I refilled my water from a nearby farmer, asked the local village of Aerino where the closest bus station was to no luck, and then took off hiking south toward the next town a two hour walk away, Mikrothives, hoping for the best.

Despite my sunscreen and water surplus, thirst and sunburn were unavoidable while hitchhiking all day. Up and down the dirt road the thunder of trucks roared off the highway, mocking my slow pace. At least I got to enjoy the scenery of rolling hills and farmland, as mountains soared in the distance between puffy clouds.

Every so often the dirt road connected to the other side of the highway through a tunnel underneath where I took refuge from the sun to relax in the shade.

Upon cresting the next hill a blue roof glistened in the distance, a sign of shelter and hope alongside the sparsely populated rural coast. As I neared, the smell of only what could be described as a Greek oasis awakes my dormant hunger: a souvlaki and gyro stand in the middle of nowhere. Is it real? "Yasas!" I called out, "Yasoo" replied the large bellied man as he served a customer, one of the many truckers who stop by. I'll have what he's having. Smiling at me with broken English, "Ketchup? Mustard?" Yes. I'll have all of it. Pouring out the coins in my wallet, he gestured that the meal was on him. You tend to learn quickly what gestures mean free food on my travel budget. I thanked him profusely, and ate in a way I haven't ate since I swam two hours daily as a teen. No thinking. Just eating.

I thanked him and trekked onward, satisfied with the extra burst of energy. Despite the few tractors that passed by not acquiescing my thumb the walk felt much shorter.

As my shadows lengthened I neared Mikrothives, where I found people for help. They could barely speak English but gave me iced coffee, chocolate, and cold water until a younger person they called for arrived to help me. It turns out there was a bus stop in that town towards Athens but it was due in the next ten minutes, and walking there would have taken too long, so another guy put me and my backpack on the back of his motorcycle. As we drove off I yelled goodbye and thank you, holding on for dear life. He dropped me off at the bus station with just a few minutes to spare.

Grateful to rest my legs I sat down next to the guy closest to my age, hoping for a good English speaker. To my good fortune we got along very well and he invited me to an unpopulated island with him and his friends for a week of smoked fish and rest under the sun. I'm not sure if I'll have time in my last two weeks of my Greek visa to go but I'll keep this on my mind.

He brought me into the taxi he got and dropped me off on the metro where I went to my next Couchsurfing host, Elena.

As of now I have two weeks left before leaving for Albania.

Notes: I have a new PayPal account, so if you want to donate to my travels use and I will dedicate a song to you on my ukulele and share you the video.

While in Volos I've hit ten euros an hour on a good day busking with my ukulele. But if I play it a lot, everyday, my wrist starts hurting, so I try to limit myself to a few hours a day every other day.

My initial reaction to both police incidents was positive, thinking they wouldn't be so bad or would help. It was Serhat's experience that opened my eyes to what was really happening. Given my white skin I don't have a that much of a conditioned reaction of anxiety or fear when seeing the police.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Entry 8: Six months

Wed 4/22

Thurs 4/23
Left Garifallia's to head to my next CS host in Volos, a port city on my way to Skiathos, an island I'll volunteer at for a few weeks. After staying up late the previous night writing my blog and procrastinating, I got to the train station at 11am, bought a night train ticket for that night, and walked away immediately regretting that decision. After busking for a couple hours I realized I really, really wanted to try hitchhiking in Greece instead of taking the exhausting night train again so I said to myself, "Fuck it, I'm gonna return this ticket and get a refund." They could only pay me back 90% of the 18 euro ticket but that was fine for me. I bought the next ticket to Oinofyta, a suburb of Athens easier to hitchhike out of for four euro and then jumped on board.

Some nice people helped me when I had to switch trains and told me which stop to get off at, and when I did I had to walk 2km to the on ramp for the highway but hitched a ride halfway there at around 4:30pm thanks to an Albanian guy. Then it took me another half hour to find the next guy, a Romanian with the tips of his fingers cut off from his furniture making work who has a wife and kids here in Greece. He drove me out of his way to a rest stop on the national highway by 6pm where I tried hitchhiking some more. And tried. And tried. And no one came. I had to spend the night there, unpacked my sleeping pad and silk sleep cover to sleep inside the 24/7 cafe. The workers kindly gave me some seasoned bread and pastries, way too many than necessary, and tea for dinner. Greek hospitality isn't as widespread and constant as Palestinian hospitality but when it happens you are overwhelmed with food. Absolute truck loads of it that can sustain you for a week. I'm sure some of this bread will go moldy before I eat it, or perhaps I'll share it with someone else when I get to my CS host in Volos.

Despite the noise of TV European league basketball and cheering, I slept right away when my head hit my sweater turned pillow. At midnight however I awoke to a thunderous yelling, and jolted up to see what was the matter. Expecting the worse that could happen at a rest stop at this time of the night it was just a few excited fans hyper-focused on their blaring basketball game. I guess they're as enthusiastic about their sports teams as many Americans are.

Laughing and relieved at the situation I fell back to my spot in the dark corner of the room under a table and tried to fall asleep again but this time with great difficulty. I definitely remember dreaming in the early hours, as I dreamt of people I haven't seen since I left America. In fact, several times I was caught in that paralyzed state where I'm half-dreaming and half-awake, and I tried moving to avoid the dream's events but couldn't as I found myself paralyzed under the table. It pales in comparison to the night terrors I had as a kid so it wasn't too scary, in retrospect I find it rather interesting.

Fri 4/24
Perhaps it was because of this, the noise and fluorescent lighting that eventually my brain just gave up trying to sleep and I could only relax with my eyes closed until my growling stomach demanded breakfast at 6:30am. Thanks to plenty of bread the staff gave me the prior night I had a gooey, sweet cheesy, flaky cake as well as olive bread before hitting the road. Before 8am another Albanian picked me up and drove me all the way to a rest stop outside Lamia, 2/3rds of the way from Athens to Volos, where I thumb this into my iPhone's notes with Goody's wifi, a Greek burger fast-food chain. All of my rides so far could barely speak English so there wasn't much conversation unfortunately.

After waiting two hours with no ride I resorted to asking the nearby gas station for cardboard and a marker to make a Βόλος/Volos sign, which worked quickly to catch a car from an English speaking Greek who told me I was in a bad spot for picking up rides. He dumped me off two minutes down the road at a more convenient location where I easily hitched with an English speaking Greek couple on their way to Volos, the last ride I needed. They liked me enough to invite me for drinks and appetizers on them at their favorite cafe/bar in the city with their friend, who then drove me to my next CS host, Christina. Still tipsy from the drinks I updated this diary on my new couch.

After borrowing Christina's bike to tour around Volos, I found a memorial to the Jews who died in the holocaust, checked my map and discovered the synagogue was just a block away, so why not check it out. They gave me dinner and I stayed until services started at 9:30pm where I met an elderly man who as a child was smuggled under a boat deck to escape the Nazis from Greece to Turkey where they were welcomed because his family had Turkish citizenship but were living in Greece. His family had lived in Anatolia (Modern Turkey) since the Spanish Inquisition as the Ottoman Empire welcomed the Jews when they were kicked out of Spain, and as many Sephardic Jews did and still do he also spoke their dialect of Spanish.

I left early to find Christina and her friends at a local bar/cafe.

One of her friends is also distantly related to Apostolos Kaklamanis, my grandmother's famous Greek politician cousin, which in a way makes us very distantly related.

Christina's a really cool urban planning student, lots of similar interests like activism and leftist politics.

Sat 4/25
Busked for over four hours on the boardwalk of Volos, made a record breaking almost thirty euro. I only stopped because after playing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah for the zillionth time a guy in his house-boat across from me called out:
"Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah! [yelling in Greek]" then upon realizing I couldn't understand, "Four hours of playing over and over again please go somewhere else!"
Fine with me but if you had a problem you should've mentioned it earlier. As I packed up and started counting and sorting my coins a younger guy from the same boat walked over and handed me a two euro coin. Thank you. "Paragallo," *your welcome*.

At this point I have three songs memorized, and four more I can play well with sheet music at my feet. The awkward fingering of Blind Melon's "No Rain" has finally gotten easier.

After an authentic Greek yogurt dinner, I joined Christina to a midnight outdoor queer dance party she helped organize at her university. Not unlike most parties I've been to, loud pop music, booze, and strobe lights flooded the thousand person venue. I met Christina's friends and other students like Kostas, another CouchSurfing host who I messaged, many of whom...

Sun 4/26
...  coincidentally found me busking on the seaside walkway the next day. I chatted long with Christina about many shared interests of political views and activism, travels and hitchhiking, and especially Israel and Palestine, which she had a particular fascination for.

Mon 4/27
I left Christina's before she awoke for a ferry ride to Skiathos, an island where I'll spend the next few weeks volunteering. The boat officials wouldn't accept the half-off student discount I bought online but thankfully let me on without paying the full price with a warning not to do it again. Views of the sea, nearby mainland and islands faded in and out with the morning haze as Hellenic mountains appeared for brief hellos only to disappear moments later. Contrasted with such surrounding scenes my two and a half hour boat ride's population within included seasonal workers reclining on the sofas, junk food snack bars, fluttering moths, several TVs playing what looked like a live action Dragonball Z, and a full parking garage in the lower decks that could fit several 18-wheelers.

Soon after arriving at Skiathos I met Stephen who took me to Joyce 'n Fun, the play lounge/day care he owns with his partner Elektra. They have one adorable and energetic five year old, Joyce. I'm volunteering with this family cooking them meals, walking their dog, and occasionally helping out at the daycare. They're very nice and chill people but very disorganized. They're house was a mess as if they've been waiting for me to come and clean it for them. They had no food stocked yet wanted me to cook for them. I didn't know one of them was vegan until hours after I got here (nothing wrong with that, I just like being prepared). I asked for a schedule and they mumbled off and couldn't give me one. They had piles of dishes as if they hadn't washed anything but for days expecting me to come soon and wash everything for them.

Pretty island though and the kids are fun, probably a dozen coming in and out throughout the day. Except for one asshole who hits the others.

Tue 4/28

Wed 4/29
Chasing kids is a question of zone defense or one-on-one defense.

Thurs 4/30

Fri 5/1
Walked their dog into a house of cats and then a chicken coop. She fucking killed a chicken.

Sat 5/2

Sun 5/3

Mon 5/4

Tue 5/5

Wed 5/6

Thurs 5/7

The past several days have been a blur. Another chicken died thanks to their dog, thousands of steps have been hiked along the island's hills, and many sunsets watched over the water.

My first experience of utter chaos turned out to simply be the island's culture. Stephan and Elektra are super chill and nice, and didn't seem to mind that I only cooked for them once, a huge pot of lentils over saturated with olive oil.

Fri 5/8
After finishing a jar of peanut butter for lunch I left Skiathos after just a week and a half with them and took a boat back to Christina's in Volos.

Sat 5/9
It's been six months since I left America. Christina, me, and another CouchSurfer went to a rooftile and brickworks museum in Volos, touring its once industrial past. While it could've been boring our lovely conversation about Nazi's in Greece made it fun. Did you know that half of every Greek policeman votes for Golden Dawn, their Nazi party?

Notes: Whenever I ask places to fill up my water bottle when I'm on the go they assume I want hot water. Why? I have no idea. And this has been the case since I left America six months ago. In fact, my first day in Europe during a layover in Belgium on my way to Israel a airport worker filled my bottle with boiling hot water only to have it fall all at his feet.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Entry 7: Easter, traditional Greek style

Guess what. I finally realized I could add pictures directly to this blog so I don't have to link to as an image hosting site. You know why I was linking to imgur before? Because I'm so addicted to reddit (a silly social media site that uses imgur) I couldn't think of anything else than to use imgur.

Also warning to those who don't like killing animals for food: this is Easter in Greece where they roast a whole lamb rotating over a fire. I have one video of that included and it grossed me out so much that I would want one of these warnings ahead of time. To see it you have to click on the link so it's easy to avoid.


In the days preceding Easter I stayed with my cousin Dimitri, his wife, their twin babies, and their live-in maid. Grandma also visited daily, helping with the kids as one of them is sick. Here's Penelope!

And her twin brother Yiannis.

Let me pause here and give a description of my family tree. Dimitri is my Dad's second cousin, so his kids Yiannis and Penelope are my third cousins. My Dad's Mom's Mom was was sisters with Dimitri's Dad's Mom. My great-grandmother and little Penelope's great-grandmother were sisters.

How did I find them? Before I left America I visited my Dad's first cousin Manny in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who has lived in Greece for ten years and has extensive knowledge of the family tree. He gave me the contact information of distant cousins in Greece and drew this family tree for me:

Dimitri and his family left Thursday with their live-in maid, so I had their had their house to myself before I left Friday.

Fri 4/10
Six hour bus to Lefkada, the island on the west coast where my family comes from. Cool scenery along the way.

Most surprising were Nazi flags at a toll booth, which the Nazi party Golden Dawn probably used as to hand out pamphlets.

I arrived an hour before sunset and went to their seaside house in the biggest town on the island, also named Lefkada (like how Mexico City is the capital of Mexico, Lefkada is the capital of Lefkada). View of the sea from their house:

While in Lefkada Dimitri stayed with his wife's family in another house while I stayed with Dimitri's brother Christos, his two kids, his mom, and his live-in maid, as well as a few bikes to roam the town with.

Map of Lefkada town

I don't know much about Christianity but I think it was Good Friday, so towards midnight we went to the mainstreet to watch a procession of priests from all the town's churches parade through with coffin like things symbolizing Jesus Christ's death and funeral as the church congregants followed with candels.

Tons of seafood dinner at midnight. This is the start of eating like 2000 calorie meals every few hours for the next five days. It was insane now much food there was, I literally ate enough food to last me a month. And everyone did this like it was no big deal.
Let's see how a panorama picture works if I include it here:
Left to right: My Dad's second cousin Christos, married couple distantly related to me by marriage, Christos' kids Petros and Yiannis, my Dad's second cousin Dimitri and his wife Mina on his right, another distant relative I don't know followed by another, Christos' and Dimitri's mom Marika, another unknown, and finally someone unfortunately got cut off by the camera.

Sat 4/11
Bike ride to sunset. Known for it's windsurfing and beaches, it was super windy as my growing hair blew in my eyes.

At midnight, we gathered outside a church and all held candels, said Christos a nesti (Christ is risen?), and fireworks were launched dangerously close. We didn't even go into a church since my relatives aren't religious, the holiday is just a reason to spend time with family for them.

Dimitri and his wife border the picture, Grandma is in the center, Christos is towards the back with his two kids Yianni (left) and Petros (right). Dimitri's kids are too young and are asleep, and yes Yianni is the name of both Dimitri's son and Christos' son.

The Greek naming tradition works such that every other generation the same names are used for the first born, then the second, and so on. My parents didn't do this for me but if they did I would've been named Speero after my grandfather since I'm the oldest of my siblings. And since my Dad's grandfather was named John my Dad's older brother was also named John.

Given the lack of religiosity among us not many of my relatives actually did the traditional fast of not eating any meat of dairy for the forty days prior to Easter but the break fast dinner was huge anyway. Traditionally, the first meat that's eaten after breaking the fast is a lamb liver soup, which I enjoyed. This dinner was way after midnight by the way, we didn't end until 3 am. While this dinner was exceptionally late it's a cultural standard to eat dinner late in Greece, like towards midnight.

Like my Greek-American Easters we had an egg cracking contest in which we all had an egg to smash against the ends of each other's eggs. The winner was Christos's son Yiannis who saved his egg to use at Easter Sunday dinner the next day. Not that this is tradition but just a clever trick a twelve year old would do. I lost instantly :(

The picture does not do this huge pile of food justice.

Sun 4/12
Left Lefkada at 11 and drove a half hour into the mainland where more distant cousins lived for Easter Dinner (more of a giant lunch at midday). Here's your eye bleach ahead of time: puppies nursing I found in their backyard.

This lamb was maybe fifty meters away from the puppies. No they did not kill it themselves, a professional in the area does that. Video of lamb rotating over fire here:

We were there for a few hours during which I fired a gun into the air, played soccer, and danced to traditional Greek music with distant relatives.
In the late afternoon we drove back to Lefkada, and drove around the west side up through mountains, stopping at the island's monastery with an amazing view.

Went to beach, too cold to swim at this time of year. In the summer my cousins tell me it's very crowded.

In the late afternoon we went to another cafe by another beach, which was very crowded for some reason despite the sweater weather temperatures.
As the sun set we went to Karya, the village of at least the ancestors of my paternal grandmother's family in the center of the island nestled in the mountains and overlooking the valley towards the sea. Christos stopped his car so I could take a picture though I admit I was scared oncomming traffic would knock us over the steep drop down from the sharply curving road.

Graves of Kaklamanis and Ktenas relatives, Christos found for me.

Found other Brocenos graves, ΜΠΟΥΡΣΙΝΟΣ in Greek, but they were not related directly to me to my knowledge. In Greek, to get the "B" sound you combine the "M" and "P" sounds, hence the spelling with the M and then pi. Also men's names end with an "S" sound and women's names end with no "S" hence the sigma at the end of male names.

Found grave of Papa Stathis Ktenas, my grandmother's uncle, a communist priest criminalized by the fascists in the Greek civil war. While famous in Lefkada, which historically has been mostly left leaning politically, I never knew about him until six months ago when my cousin Manny informed me in Cambridge. Here's an article about him in Greek, unfortunately my language capacity doesn't exceed ten Hellenic words.
Translation of the grave's words to English: Fighter of the Greek resistance (against the nazi),  member of the Greek liberation front (organization of local against the nazi)

Afterwards we went to the house some of my ancestors lived in but not inside because nobody is there until the summer.

Some of these relatives that were born and raised here are still alive like Apostolos Kaklamanis, my grandmother's first cousin who was speaker of the parliament for many years. At almost eighty years old he's only semi-retired and still keeps a busy schedule, so it may prove difficult or impossible to meet him. Everybody I looked at in this town I stared into their face for an uncomfortably long time trying to discern a family resemblence, sometimes which worked. I've seen many people here and in Greece who look similar to the Greek side of my family. Consider my grandmother (who died five years ago) compared with her first cousin politician Apostolos Kaklamanis:

It was getting cold out even with the winter coat a friend gave me, so we went to cafe to relax and drink more tea.

After a long day we drove the winding road back to our house by the sea. Christos invited me out to a nearby Cuban bar with some friends of his though I was way too tired and passed out just before midnight.

Mon 4/13
I slept 12 hours this past night, woke up shortly before noon, then took a bike ride around town. Here's a shot of the beach.
Oh yeah this is their backyard.

At around six pm I returned from my bike ride to Christos saying "Eat now so we can get dinner later." Really? I'm still full from last night's dinner!
He then drove me down the east side of Lefkada and saw tiny islands off coast, one of which was once owned by the rich greek guy who married Jackie Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis.
We later got pizza that night, and then ice cream where I tried a special Greek flavor made from the sap of the native mastic tree.

Tue 4/14
I left Lefkada midday, as Christos drove me to the bus station and said farewell.
On the ride back to Athens I heard a Greek language and female vocal version of Nickelback's "this is how you remind me" on the bus before crossing the canal from the Pelopponnese peninsula back to the mainland close to Athens.
View of canal

On the way back to my cousin's house in Athens I visited the Chabad house (Jewish community center that doubled as a restaurant) again, met two Israelis on vacation, and got hummus on the house.

Wed 4/15
Only thing special about this day is that I made more money busking than ever before, over 15 euro for three or four hours of ukulele playing on Ermou street.

Thurs 4/16
Busked for another two hours and made 8 euro during which a young woman listening to me play Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" asked me to play it a second time! Apparently I'm good enough for encores now. We chatted a bit and discovered we both struggled with depression as she was on her way to her therapist and I recommended to her as a great way to travel.

At six pm there was a gold mining protest I wanted to go to but instead chose to meet up with Mohanad, the guy I CouchSurfed with in Ramallah, Palestine. He was on his way back from Sweden where he was visiting his ex-wife and daughter who live there as refugees but want to come back to Palestine because the life for immigrants in Sweden is very harsh. In town for just one day I toured him around the city. This was the guy who took me to an Irish pub and then a dance club in the West Bank, so while he wanted to go out and party my more reserved self wanted to relax and chill. I asked him about the recent elections in Israel to which he responded that to him and other Palestinians it doesn't matter who wins the Israeli election, it will be the same for them no matter who wins.
View of Athens from hill close to Acropolis

That night I video chatted with my sister Sophia for her birthday, so she could meet her cousins Dimitri and Mina.

Fri 4/17
Last day with my cousins in Athens before I moved to my friend Garifallia's for the next few days with her and her boyfriend. Mina insisted in feeding me dinner one last time before I left at which point I my stomach had expanded into my left leg. Dimitri drove me to the metro and I arrived at Garifallia's an hour before midnight. Lots of their friends came over that night for hanging out, smoking and drinking.

Sat 4/18
At one o'clock pm I left Garifallia's as she and her boyfriend were still asleep and went to a sustainability festival with Elena, another CS person I never surfed with but wanted to meet anyway since we had similar interests in the environment and political activism. She found her friend Harry at the festival who invited us for vegan lunch at his house. You never turn down vegan meals, they all know how to cook like a badass: mouthwatering mushroom rice, homemade wine and halva, delicious greens and farmer's cheese (he didn't eat the cheese but his son did). Coincidentally Harry happened to be friends with Garifallia, so he called her while we were there but she didn't answer.

Harry joined me that night for a talk about the Zapatistas, the revolutionary leftist political and and militant group based in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, at Nosotros, an collective bar in Exarchia, the Greek neighborhood famous for its political activism. The speaker was professor and author George Katsiaficas, who had visited Chiapas for several weeks to learn about the movement and came to Nosotros to tell the story. He spoke in English and a Greek translator sat alonside him for the audience. With rapt attention throughout the talk, I learned a lot and was excited the whole time for what these people were accomplishing.

Some highlights: One point he especially wanted to emphasize was that it's not just a bunch of fighters in the jungle like is often considered by foreigners, it's an actual working community that rotates villagers into their government so that everybody gets a chance to participate in decision making in everything from agriculture to healthcare. With a strong sense of community there are five autonomous communities with a central government, symbolic of a shell (Spanish name I forget, not conch but something similar?) that means continuous growth in the indigenous culture. In fact, when George gave a talk there it had to be translated not only into Spanish but also into two other indigenous languages. While there is some currency and market trade there is much democratically distributed throughout the people. 
The importance now is to build the movement slowly and focus on giving to the people rather than urgent revolution as they feel they have plenty of time in their hands since the Mexican government is distracted with other conflicts. Their philosophy is to turn their back to the Mexican government rather than fight it, and it's working.

Some other interesting points: over three hundred European woman have traveled to Chiapas wanting to have Subcommandante Marcos' children.
Second: their government was going to only limit alcohol consumption but the Chiapas women rallied up and demanded an absolute ban on alcohol to prevent domestic abuse, which is in effect so much that some Italians living in Mexico City have got rid of wine from their homes in solidarity.
Another: George said he has asked a 25 year old what his dreams were to which he got as an answer that he was living his dream. His parents had died in the '94 fighting but he survived. At the end of their conversation however George was asked how much a plane ticket to America costs, as if that while he's living a dream there's still something in the back of his mind that craves the American life.
Finally: food there lacks diversity, it's mostly the same daily of corn, tortillas, peppers, beans, and coffee. But the sense of community somehow makes up for it.

Harry left early because there were too many smokers but it was fantastic through the end with a great question and answer session. I befriended the guy I sat next to who also couldn't speak Greek, Nathan, an Australian living in Montreal who also was in the People's Climate March with me and knew about the artist activist collective I volunteered with this past summer, the Beehive Design Collective. He gave me part of his dinner the bar served, we talked a lot after and eventually found a house party at a nearby squat where I met someone who is going to Chiapas in a few weeks and invited me to CouchSurf with them.

Sun 4/19
Went with Garifallia, her boyfriend and another friend to a hill overlooking southeast Athens and then to the sea, which was dirty and chilly but pretty by the water regardless. At dusk we danced and ate at an African festival before finding a bar to stay out late drinking ouzo, which believe it or not was my first time drinking ouzo in Greece despite over a month of time passing here. It's not as popular here as it is among Greek Americans in the States.

Mon 4/20
Busked, made 10 euro after three hours and got slightly sunburnt. Unfortunately it's easier to get noticed in sunlight so there's no shade for street musicians.
As the stars came out that night I walked by an outdoor cafe/bar and a waiter randomly gave me beer on the house. I sat down and started taking to some Welsh speaking Welsh guys on vacation who invited me to visit them in Wales! They bought me another beer and gave me some of their dinner. One of them used to work in Sierra Leone at a British owned iron mine but ebola caused their company to die off. When the ebola virus first started spreading the Sierra Leone government got rid of Facebook to stop media leaks from spreading the news to prevent lost investment. Remember that the Ebola virus was already almost a year into devastating west Africa before the Western media picked it up. So when it hit international news the companies there disintegrated as investors ran away.

Tue 4/21
Got this trimmed down a bit thanks to the wonderful first time haircutting skills of Garifallia and her friend Stellious.
New do (why don't people take mirror selfies from this angle where the cell phone isn't visible?)

That night we watched Into The Wild, which believe it or not was my first time watching it. Before leaving the States a friend of mine made me promise not to do what the main character did in the movie, which I knew about: he went out on his own and died alone in Alaska, and sure of course I won't do that. I would get too lonely, I like having a sense of community too much. Plus, running away from society's problems rather than trying to fix them isn't my style. Nonetheless I did get inspired enough from the movie to randomly video chat with my brother though we didn't have much time to talk.

Notes: I miss reading, or rather having tons of time to read. I miss trees, Vermont, the Appalachians, hiking, camping. Nature is calling.