2000 Meters Above the Sea

Since moving to Vancouver Island three years ago I’ve heard legends of Mount Albert Edward’s epic alpine views. To be honest, I didn’t take them too seriously. What does an island dweller know about scaling glaciers and taking peak selfies? Sure, I’ll trust their opinions on organic beer and bike lanes. But mountains? Please, I’m a northern girl.

So a couple of weekends ago, I set off for what I was sure would be the most disappointing hike of my life. At least I was going with one of my favourite people: novice mountaineer, master Dutch Blitz player, part-time MEC employee, and full-time cat mom—Bonnie Sawyer.

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Day One:

We left Victoria around 1 pm on Friday. After a three hour Taylor Swift and Rhianna marathon, we found ourselves about 1000 meters above sea level at the Raven Lodge parking lot near Mount Washington Ski Resort. We put our collective Geography receptionist and soon-to-be Social Studies teacher skills to work to assess the park map:
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We decided that we would stay to the right, passing along Lake Helen McKenzie and the Ranger station, and taking what appeared to be the most direct route to Kwai Lake—our destination for the day.

About 3km and 2 renditions of our hit single “Wilderness Woman” later, we realized we had taken a wrong turn and were somewhere along Battleship lake, and headed towards Lady Lake, Croteau Lake, and Murray Meadows.

Bonnie wasn’t complaining because she’s all about the lakes and meadows. I was pretty content too because I found some alpine blueberries.


Thanks to the frequent boardwalks and beautiful lake views, the 7.5km hike to Kwai Lake flew by. We arrived at camp hungry but happy, about 2.5 hours after leaving the parking lot.

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Our campsite was arguably one of the best in the park, perched on the edge of Kwai lake and just the right distance from the outhouse. Our day ended with chewy rice, Toblerone chocolate, and a few obligatory rounds of Dutch Blitz.

This is when I made two important discoveries. First, our tent spot was beautiful, but certainly not level or root-free. Second, my sleeping bag had a temperature rating of 13 degrees. Bonnie freaked out, “Meghan, the HIGH is thirteen degrees!”
“I’m a northern girl!” I explained with false confidence.

As I tried to fall asleep, I used my elbows to anchor my body against the sloping terrain and juggled a small heat pack between my fingers and toes. Midnight came and went and my brain was still more committed to checking my limbs for frostbite than to falling asleep. I spent the next early morning hour debating the merits of unzipping at least five zippers, risking bear attack, and loosing my precious heat pockets, in exchange for bladder relief. Finally, I went for it. No regrets.

Day 2

Our second day started off with more blueberries!! After a rough night, this cheerful bowl
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and this cheerful face:

(Okay there would be a picture of Bonnie here. But she has a strict “no camping selfies” rule.)

was all I needed to motivate me for a full day of hiking. We got a late start, leaving Kwai around 9:30 am and arriving at Circlet lake about 1.5 hours later. The legendary pristine Circlet lake! We hastily snapped some photos…it was nice, but kinda just an average smallish lake…if we were being honest.

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This is when dudes with day packs started showing up. Yup people do this entire 32km round-trip hike in ONE DAY. We were so overwhelmed with disbelief that we missed the turn off for the Circlet Lake campground and started trekking up the steepest section of the trail with our full overnight packs. We didn’t get far before we noticed our mistake and back tracked. Also it turns out, the lake we had spotted was not Circlet lake at all. We checked the map.
“It’s called Duck Pond.” “Duck Pond?” “Ya it’s not even a lake.”

It turns out Circlet lake is a few hundred meters off of the main trail. It’s also much more impressive than Duck Pond. By the time we showed up, the campground was already teeming with weekend backpacking traffic. We quickly picked one of the remaining sites with a decent lake view, set up camp, and scarfed down lunch.

The next hour of hiking was an intense ascent into alpine with Mount Washington Ski Hill at our backs and the imposing Castle Craig ahead.

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Finally, the steep switchbacks and scrambly trail broke out into a breathtaking alpine meadow. We caught our first glimpse of a snowy ridge, but Albert Edward was still nowhere in sight.
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The next kilometer was a welcome break. The trail flattened out, meandering through dried up creek beds and stunted evergreens. We scrambled up the final steep incline, and found ourselves finally on top of the ridge where we caught our first glimpses of the magnificent, Mount Albert Edward.
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The peak appeared impossibly far. As my optimism began to wane, Bonnie’s heels began to blister, and I started looking for viewpoints that might offer a rewarding substitute for the summit. But of course, we’re both too competitive to quit.

For the next hour, we picked our way over the otherworldly landscape, finding and losing the path with every step. One misdirection brought us to the edge of a steep crevasse.

The views were increasingly breathtaking (in more ways than one).

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Of course, the plan to reward ourselves with treats at the top broke down about 200 metres from the summit. Time for a snack break.
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I’d like to say that our final push to the top was self-motivated, but really it had more to do with the sight of other backpackers scurrying along the ant trail below. No way were they going to beat us to the top.

Most mountains have a false summit. You know that rise before the peak that you think is the top, so you pace your energy and willpower to reach that point, only to fall into tears of despair when you realize that the peak is still out of reach? Well Mount Albert Edward is NOT like that. Mount Albert Edward has an honest summit. So when we reached the top, the first words out of my mouth were: “Is that it?” Which mostly just confirmed that I am a total mountain snob.

Bonnie gave me this face:
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But in all seriousness, the view was undeniably worth it.

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The Strathcona mountains spread out before us. Who knew an island could have such big mountains?!

We had the peak to ourselves for a good fifteen minutes before some one showed up to take our mandatory summit photo. We’re both no good at selfies.
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Then it was time for the long trek down. There was less water along than trail than I had been expecting, which is probably usual for late summer, but my miscalculation meant I had to carefully ration my water intake until we made it back to the tree line. We hit snow before we hit water and I tried to convince Bonnie that I had found a short cut down the mountain. She insisted that I return to the trail.
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The descent was not as quick as we had expected. Finding footing on the rocky mountain ridge was almost as slow going down as going up, and several sections of the subalpine trail were a bit too steep for carefree hiking. By the time we reached Circlet lake, the sun was too low in the sky for the lake dip we had been planning. Bonnie’s blisters had worsened and if that wasn’t bad enough, she was also developing the early stages of a cold. So we whipped up some Pad Thai in a bag and tucked ourselves in for a much comfier camping situation, thanks to the wooden tent pad.
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Day 3:

We woke up to the sounds of hungover backpackers eating porridge and bickering over dish duty. Bonnie and I took it easy. We had planned on exploring Circlet lake a little before hiking the measly 11km back to our car. But our timing couldn’t have been worse. The sky had gone to bed as summer and woken up as fall. Thick fog blanketed the lake and the mountains were no where to be seen. Bonnie’s cold had worsened too. Little did I know, but she had been up all night coughing. Still, we’re type A people, so as scheduled we pulled out Dutch Blitz and enjoyed some time in our tent by the lake side.

The rain started as a gentle pitter patter on our tent.
“It’s one of my favourite sounds,” I confessed whimsically.
As the rain got heavier we agreed to make a run for it. We packed our bags and forwent the departing selfie since we were both looking a little worse-for-wear. This time, we took the trail we had intended to take the first day. At Kwai Lake we stayed at the junction and traveled between Mount Brooks and Lake Helen McKenzie. Big mistake. The Lakes and Meadows route had been full of boardwalks and berries. This trail was all roots and hills buried in dark cedar forests. On a sunnier day we may have been able to appreciate it.

“At least I get to use my rain gear and gortex!” exclaimed Bonnie, ever the optimist.
I grimaced, too scared to admit that my aqua rain coat was more fashion than function.

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I thought we might find respite from the gusting wind and sideways rain at the Ranger Station, but the door was locked. Instead we scrambled up an rickety plank and perched ourselves in the covered firewood alcove at the back of the building. I’ve never felt more like an owl in my life.

By the time we reached the car, I was soaked through to my underwear and Bonnie had developed new foot injuries to balance out her blisters…not to mention her cold had intensified. I couldn’t have been more thankful for heated seats and that sweater Jakob keeps forgetting to take out of the car.

The best decision of the day was to stop for hot apple cider on the way home. Without the Bayside Cafe in Courtney, who knows if Bonnie and I would still be friends…but you know what they say: friends who hike Mount Albert Edward together stay together.

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Bulkley Valley

I come from a place
where weddings are in country halls,
grocery stores are attached to ever changing shopping malls,
and the mountain views footnote our conversations
because if you mention them you’re obviously not from here.
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Where each house, each party, each vacation spot
is somewhere down a dirt road or just past a parking lot.
Each lake day, each drive way, each high school play
is filled with some face you know.
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Where the grade twelve grads can’t wait to leave
and those with degrees, or diplomas,
or with moms who are now grandmas
can’t return soon enough

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As if when we were born beneath the gaze of a glacier,
our hearts came out as compasses set to here.
East of the ocean, west of the Rockies,
south of the wilderness, and north of the cities.
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Here where the mountains begin
and the rivers meet,
where the pine beetle stops
and the winters rarely retreat.
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Here we disagree on pipelines, and gender neutral signs,
on homelessness and broken promises,
on downtown cans and traditional lands,
but somehow we always choose the same MP
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Around fire pits and hockey sticks
these differences somehow fade
they’re still close to our hearts
but most of all we’re just proud to be from this place.
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Camino Family

How often do you know the exact condition of your friends’ feet?

Well I do.
Louise has three blisters on one big toe and a few on the rest.
Dave has a couple of blisters that keep coming back because he always cuts the badges too small.
Marg is blister free (and we hate her for it).
Anita’s got a few sore spots, but she has magic foot wool that keeps the blisters at bay.
Jakob has cracks in his heels..

My feet are scarred too. The topmost layer of skin on my back left heel is replaced with silicone. My big left toe has erected a temporary wall in attempts to resolve recent conflicts with my second toe and my big right toe has seen more needle punctures than a puppy with a porcupine habit. So why the battered feet?

About a week ago, Jakob and I started a pilgrimage, so our feet are showing the natural wear and tear of about 163km of walking. We started our trek in the picturesque village of St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in the foothills of the French Pyrennes.

I have to admit, 163km ago I didn’t have the best attitude. I was pretty certain of 4 things: (1) the trail would be too busy, (2) I would make few genuine friends, (3) I would grow weary of touristy misrepresentations of medieval life, and (4) I would overall find the experience bearable, but certainly not life changing. Jakob would call me a pessimist. Of course, I know that I’m just a realist. Now after a week on the trail, I am reporting the very real fact that I was wrong on 3 of my 4 predictions. Let’s see if you can guess which ones.

No more than a few kms from the start, Jakob and I trekked past a group of three pilgrims. They were blaring music out of their compact speaker and struggling a bit with the steep incline. Just out of earshot we began a somewhat self-righteous critique of “those people.” “Why not just talk to each other?” “Who gives you the right to set the soundtrack for everyone?” “Why can’t you just wear headphones?” We quickly forgot their faces and remembered only the stereotype.

A few kms later, another group of three pilgrims passed us as we sipped water. We chatted briefly. Aussie? Kiwi? Jakob was sure they were from New Zealand. I shrugged my shoulders. A few more kms and they were snacking as we passed. A few more and we were waving at their familiar faces once more and commenting on the beautiful views over the valley bottom.
“Where are you staying tonight?”
“Orisson.”
“Us too!”
“See you at supper then.”
“Yes, see you at supper!”
And just like that, we had our first pilgrim date!

The end of our first day’s hike came quickly and before long, Jakob and I were huddled at a rough wooden table dealing cards and rehashing our day. A short woman with a purposeful walk entered the common space of our hostel/cabin.
“We need to build fire,” she stated sternly.
Jakob and I glanced at each other. Usually we are quick to claim that we are capable Canadians, but at the moment neither of us felt compelled to chop damp wood and kindle reluctant flames. We played dumb and continued our card game. The woman left, apparently deterred by our disinterest. To our surprise, she returned moments later with an armload of wood and explained that she found it under a shelter, protected from the rain. Dropping the logs on the floor, she looked expectantly at Jakob, the only man in the room. Jakob sighed and set down his cards.
“There’s no hatchet. No axe,” he gestured a swinging motion to add emphasis.
“We cut with knife,” the woman explain, hurrying to the kitchen.
I followed, surely she couldn’t be serious. The elderly woman examined the knife drawer with a practiced eye. She selected a large cleaver and handed it to Jakob. His face gave away only the briefest moment of confusion before he got to work peeling thin layers of wood fibres away from the log. The woman shook her head and demonstrated. Smaller strips. She got to work immediately emptying the ash from the fireplace while I hovered helplessly. An elderly German man entered the room, taking in the scene, he dropped his pack and offered his fireplace expertise. Half an hour later, Jakob and the German fellow were busy building an elaborate flammable structure. There were few words exchanged, but a clear master and apprentice hierarchy emerged instantly, with Jakob seeking a nod of approval before placing most of his pieces. I sat at the long wooden table with the project foreman, Lubmila from Latvia.
“I grew up under the Soviet Union,” she explained seriously, “I was taught that when you see an opportunity to improve your life, you must take it.”
I nodded gravely.
“Here I saw opportunity,” she cracked a smile and we both began to laugh.
A few long minutes later, the fire was roaring and we all cheered. The German gentlemen stood up, brushed of his hands, and summarized succinctly:
“Now women happy.”
Jakob nodded in agreement and the French pilgrims upstairs shuffled down towards the glowing common room, bringing all of their socks and laundry to dry by the flames.
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That evening we walked the 1km up to the next hostel for dinner. After a quick scan of the dinning hall we spotted a few familiar faces and invited ourselves to join them. Marg, Dave, and Anita introduced themselves. Yes Jakob was right, they were from New Zealand. After some friendly interrogations we found out that Marg and Dave are on a year long trip around the world, celebrating a “significant birthday” and enjoying some empty-nester freedom. Anita is an Aussie turned Kiwi and a close friend of theirs with an equally bold sense of adventure.

That first night, we probably should have given them fair warning: you won’t be able to shake us off. We should have told them that we would likely interrupt our travel schedule if it meant staying on the same itinerary as them. We might even slow our pace or delay a departure. Upon arriving in a new village we might even ask anxiously if any other pilgrims have seen three Kiwis looking somewhat lost or lonely.
“Oh you’ve seen them?” we might say, “yes, they are looking so sad because they have misplaced their Canadians.”

On our second day on the trail we traversed the Pyrenees and rescued a damsel in distress or a jomfru i nød (a mermaid in need). We had just made the steep descent into Spain and were dusty and exhausted, waiting to check-in to the hostel. A lone pilgrim ahead of us seemed to be having some trouble. She had no cash and there was no ATM in town.
“This is going to be a problem,” she mumbled under her breath.
The clerk looked sympathetic, but remained resolute. He suggested that she begin the 4km walk to the next town.
Jakob leaned over and whispered, “we should pay for her.”
I gave him a skeptical look. Twelve euros is a lot to just throw around. Jakob ignored my hesitation and marched towards the counter.
“We’ll cover her stay,” he offered nonchalantly.
She spun around, surprise and gratitude written across her face.
“You need dinner too don’t you?”
She hesitated and looked down, “yah.”
“No worries! We got this.”

Her name is Louise, she is 24 years old, she is from Denmark, she’s got a crazy sense of humour, she’s served in Afghanistan, and she’s barely left our side for the last five days. For the first few kilometres there were some indentured servitude jokes, but even after the money was settled up, we still couldn’t seem to part ways. At this point we rarely make decisions around food, accommodation, foot care, or travel without consulting her. The deal works something like this: Louise makes sure we don’t starve, Jakob makes sure we don’t get lost, and I keep everyone well informed with useless facts and inspirational quotes from the guide book. Needless to say, we are all quite content with the arrangement.
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A couple of days ago our camino family, Dave, Marg, Anita, Louise, Jakob, and I were inching past the 20km mark for the day when Dave pulled out a compact bluetooth stereo and offered to lift our spirits with a little country music and rock and roll. My eyes widened as I put it all together. Those hooligans blaring music the first day were our beloved Kiwis. We laughed awkwardly and admitted to our snobby prejudice that first day. The Kiwis seemed pleased to have rocked our boat a little. So we turned up the volume, picked up our tired feet, and sang along to George Ezra’s “Barcelona.”

The only prejudicial assumption we regretted more was the time we ran into our Latvian grandma again and she gave us another one of her classic bossy pieces of advice.
“You must skip down the hills,” she stepped one foot in front of the other and demonstrated an awkward lope.
We smiled and laughed, immediately dismissing her suggestion as the crazy ramblings of an exhausted pilgrim.
“No, no,” she insisted, “I am not joking. It is really better to skip. I fly down the hills. Passing everyone and they ask me how I do it. I tell them I skip down the hills.”
The next time our knees were straining and our shins were aching from a restrained downward descent, we heard Lubmila’s stern words in our heads and decided that if anyone knew how to ease suffering, it would be someone who survived the Soviet Union. So we gave it a shot. Louise tried it first. Then Jakob. Then I joined in. We’re now known as the crazy pilgrims who run down all the hills and I have no doubt everyone else secretly wishes we would fall flat on our faces. Still, at every opportunity we try to convince others to convert to our skipping ways. Dave and Marg are the most recent converts. Anita is next.

While our camino family is pretty tight (Jakob and Dave bought matching shirts and have been known to call each other “young bull” and “papa bull,” we do have room for a few extended family members including a couple of Britts, a few other Canadians, and some Aussies. We call it the Commonwealth plus Denmark. In a typical day we each leave at our own pace. Jakob, Louise, and I get up at the crack of dawn and usually stop for breakfast about 5km down the road. Just as we are finishing our café con leches and hot chocolate, a couple other Commonwealth pilgrims are bound to stumble in. Of course, we stay and chat and just as we are finally strapping our backpacks on a few more familiar pasty faces will likely find their way to our table. It is in this rhythm of ‘hello’s and ‘see you later’s that we pass most of our days. In the evening we track each other down in some sort of central square, bring out the wine, and munch on pinxos (basque version of tapas). Even the bustling city of Pamplona started to feel like a small town when we strolled past bars full of familiar looking pilgrims and eventually managed to gather the whole Commonwealth gang together.


Each morning when we head out there is a brief moment of tension. How far are we going? Where will we be stopping? What if we loose track of each other? But I have to believe that our paths crossed for a reason, and they are going to stay entangled for as long as they need to be. By the time we do say “good-bye” it will most certainly be a “see you later.”
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15 Things that Made Italy Unforgettable

March 2-12

  1. Trying to align my hunger with the late Italian dinner hour….well if I have one lunch at 11:30, and another lunch around 3, maybe a snack at 5:30, then by 8 I should be the right amount of hungry to eat my weight in pasta.

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    A strategic afternoon snack

  2. The pervasive national passion for houseplants.
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  3. The way the ticket machine at the railway station yells “PICK OUT YOUR CARD” once the transaction is over. Only about 30 seconds after an equally loud announcement to avoid pickpocketers…maybe if they didn’t announce that my card was available for the taking, it wouldn’t be a problem!
  4. Trying to choose a pizza.
  5. Air drying socks, no better way to start a day than slipping on some cardboard booties.
  6. The sound of Italian spoken quickly, which can only be described as staccato.
  7. The effort to make sure no two houses have exactly the same hue of peachy yellow.
  8. BASIL…PESTO….BASIL ON PESTO.
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  10. Pondering why anyone would say “arrivederci” when you can say “ciao”…Who has time for 5 syllables!?! I ran into so many doors craning my neck around trying to stutter out the last few consonants. Just say “ciao.” For your personal safety.
  11. The series of hand gestures I exchanged with a Pharmacist in attempts to get some sort of cream for Jakob’s chaffing.
  12. Seriously considering the necessary logistics to steal a little cash from the Trevi fountain.IMG_6220
  13. Adding “i,” “a,” or “o” to the ends of English words and hoping they come out Italian…ya I told someone “una momento” is that even Italian?
  14. Tomato Basil potato chips that answered the nagging question: What would happen if ketchup chips and all dressed chips made a baby?
  15. Cinque Terre (yes this post is really just a shameless excuse to throw all of these gorgeous pictures online, because Instagram couldn’t even handle them). After two months on the road, it’s the most beautiful sight we have seen.
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    First sight after stepping out of the train station in Monterosso

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    The hiking begins!

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    First glimpse of Vernazza

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    sooo many stairs

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    Manarola!

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    An Australian couple on the trail told us about this great café. Jakob declared it the best dinner of the trip!

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    Stairs!

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    STAIRS!

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    Jakob in his happy place

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    I guess the stairs were worth it

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    Catching the sunset in Riomaggiore

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    Perfect end to what we both agreed was our favourite day of the trip. Yes, we missed one of the 5 villages…but we did that on purpose so that we would have to come back.

Introducing: Helena

February 22-26

If you asked me before we left which part of the trip I was most excited for, I probably told you: Greece. Sure enough, the country of epic poems and heroic legends has not disappointed. In every direction there is an ancient ruin, a turquoise sea, or a snow capped mountain.

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Exploring the ancient theatre at the base of the Acropolis (because it’s free and none of the other ruins are!)

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View of the Aegean from the peak of a mountain in Athens where the muses lived or something

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MOUNTAIN!!

It seems like every highway is sea-to-sky and thanks to our little Helena, we can drive them all.

Introducing Helena:

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A feisty Nissan Micra, who’s overbearing GPS and gutsy first gear has brought us through the mountains of Delphi, to the rocky pillars of Meteora, and to the shores of the Aegean.

We’ve had a lot of fun taking buses, trains, metros, planes, and ferries over the past seven weeks, but there is something irresistibly thrilling about regaining the freedom to depart from the typical tourist track. In fact, no more than four hours after signing the rental car paper work this is where we were:

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Ten kilometres down a dirt road, looking for a cave-shrine dedicated to the Greek god Pan. With only two short sentences in my lonely planet book and a GPS coordinate as our guides, we parked the car in a field and started hiking up a steep set of switch backs. Jakob’s complaints were endless.

“Classic Meghan, ‘Oh I read about this thing, now we have to drive to the middle of nowhere to see if we can find it’.”

Welcome to being married to a Horlings.

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“Onwards and Upwards”

Halfway up the steep incline we realized we probably should have taken our passports and wallets with us…this wasn’t exactly the little roadside pitstop we thought it would be. Another 200m straight up and we were peering over the side of the cliff, hoping that the lonely dirt biker coming down the backroad wasn’t there to break into Helena and take off with our travel documents and potato chips. What were we going to do from up here anyway? Send Pan after him?

Eventually our upward ascent brought us to this:

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A pretty cool cave…until I saw the bats hanging from the walls inside and then I wanted none of it.

Taking a few deep breaths I put my historical logic to work: if people have really been coming here for thousands of years to worship the hoofed god of nature, then these bats are probably pretty well behaved. In we go!

Once inside I wanted to explore every corner and look for signs of the ancient writing mentioned in my guide book. Jakob stood frozen about 10 metres from the cave opening.

“Well this is as far as I go,” he hastily snapped a few GoPro shots and moved back towards the exit.

My suggestion that we explore the dark passageway in the back of the cave was quickly declined.

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Me trying to show how big the cave is, if you can even see me

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The mysterious abyss at the back of the cave

Back out in the fresh mountain air we took a few minutes to take in our surroundings. The snowcapped mountains appeared to run straight into the desert below, as if Pan couldn’t decide if he liked summer or winter better, so decided to do both at the same time.

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The remaining daylight hours were spent navigating windy Greek backroads to Petroto, a tiny village boasting a church, a corner store, and the cheapest Airbnb in all of central Greece!

We had the entire house to our selves, but we didn’t touch most of it…in fact most of it appeared untouched since at least the 1950s. That first night in Petroto was spent in fear that the propane fire place was going to explode with each bang of warping metal. There was also at least one paranoid check for intruders when the wind and window shutters decided to take a midnight tango. Finally, in the morning we were woken by what must have been a military grade loud speaker declaring what we assumed was a hostage or bomb threat situation.

The second night we wore ear plugs and just hoped that the impending furnace explosion wouldn’t be too hot and that the thieves wouldn’t be too loud on their way out with our few belongings. Oh also we took our chances and glanced out the window when we heard the loud speaker…turns out that’s how the local veggie seller gets his produce to his customers. When we listened closer we realized that the aggressive bark was actually an informative song: “Potate, tomate…” Now don’t we look silly peering timidly through the shutters at a truck bed full of cucumbers.

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Home sweet home

Our nightmares were also terribly misplaced, because Petroto turned out to be a town nearly as charming as Avonlea or Stars Hollow. On our last day in the village, our Airbnb host, Dimi met us just as we were leaving and offered to take us for coffee. How could we decline such a generous invite to bypass the standard tourist experiences and get to know a real local? We eagerly agreed and a few minutes later we were following Dimi into a large cafe filled with mismatched wooden tables and a handful of Greek men enjoying a Sunday morning smoke. Dimi called out to each patron by name, and before long a little receiving line appeared at our table. We shook each large leathery hand, and smiled to convey our gratitude, all the while regretting our failure to learn more Greek. It didn’t take long before each of us around the table held a coffee in one hand and a smart phone in the other. We took turns typing words into google translate.

“car salesman”
“graduate student”
“historian”

It didn’t take much to find out that Dimi’s son also has a graduate degree in history!

Sensing the halting conversation, our server returned to the table. “I work at a hotel in the nearby city, but I come home on weekends to help at my family’s business,” she explained in confident English. Having introduced herself, she began to quiz us: “How old are you?” “Are you together?” “Do you work or are you students.”

She didn’t hold back her own personal details either. “You have watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding?”
“Ya I love that movie!” I responded, eager to make a connection with a local my age.
“Yes, that is my life. That is how life really is in Greece, and that is how my life is. I am 32 and my mom is always yelling at me: ‘get married!’ and my boyfriend is always yelling at me ‘get married!’ and I will always work in my family’s cafe. Just like the movie.”
“Really?” I laughed, unable to believe that she was willing to claim the popular stereotype of her culture.
“Yes,” she insisted, “I am just like that girl in the movie.”

We chatted a bit more and soon the conversation turned from movies to the complexities of politics and the economy.

“Greece is not the problem,” she explained, “Greeks have lots of money, it’s just that Germany is taking it. Everyone around Greece attacks us. They want our money. They are jealous because Greece is in the best location, it’s not so cold, we have the islands, we have the tourism. We are not the problem, they are the problem.”

I was fascinated to hear her perspective on the financial crisis. The last few days we had seen countless boarded up shops in Athens and row upon row of incomplete construction projects in the country side. I wanted to ask the other men sitting around the table what they thought of the situation, but our server, having satisfied her curiosity, had returned to the counter and I was unsure how to discuss an economic recession using largely hand signals and google translate, instead we discussed our previous day’s adventure.

Like every other tourist who forsakes the islands for the Greek interior, our main goal was to visit Meteora. The men at the table nodded. I am sure 500 year old monasteries perched on massive stone pillars aren’t as exciting if you’ve lived in their shadow for most of your life. For me they were the pinnacle of my trip planning, and I enjoyed every minute of exploring their ancient halls and pathways:

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Getting serious about seclusion from the world #monklife

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How amazing is this view?

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This is what a happy church historian and her husband look like

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Check out these two cuties #TooCuteToMonk

The men at the table were more interested in what we did after our visit to the touristy holy sites. Using a combination of google maps, charades, and collaborative story telling, Jakob and I explained that from one of Meteora’s view points we had spotted a dirt road snaking up the opposite side of the valley at an impossible angle. We checked our GPS, and sure enough, it was a real road, with what seemed to be a village(?) at the top. So with some hesitation we left the tourist crowd, crossed a river near this medievalish bridge:

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dodged some road side chickens and some sun bathing farm dogs, and made our way up the windiest road I have ever seen in my life.

In most ways I think my husband is pretty different than my Dad, but seeing the look of thrill and determination on his face as he geared down and coaxed our little car up that mountain, I realized they may not be so different after all.

I quickly slipped into my mom’s role:

“Are you sure it’s not going to over heat?….What is that smell, is that burning? Do I smell burning?”

After twenty-five switch backs, we hit a stretch of road better suited for a 4×4 than a Nissan Micra and we unanimously decided that we had better give Helena the rest of the day off before she declared a strike (she is Greek after all).

The view was decent, despite the clouds rolling in:

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But much greater was the thrill of driving up a road that even the Sunday morning coffee crowd in Petroto would never drive. After recounting our story, Dimi shook his head in dismay.

“Why? I give you map? I show you to go mountains like Switzerland!”

I don’t know what to tell you Dimi. There’s no accounting for the crazy things two small town kids will do after six weeks of living in cities and depending upon public transit.

We tried to explain, but all I could say was,
“We come from the mountains, this feels like home.”