Ithaca Island, Greece

Up Up Up.

The challenge was set, 550m up up up to the top of a peak which offered stunning views of the island and, a chocolate cake for anyone who could get there in under one hour. There was two ways up, minibus or, pedal power, with only pedal power getting you the chocolate cake. The ones with big egos in the group were keen to pedal, naturally this included me! However, I knew I wasn’t the fittest in the group and that my stubbornness had got me a large part of the way during the trip so far. I therefore feared the pain I would suffer if I attempted the challenge the next morning. So, I did what I always do in times of predicament, I had several beers. Fantastically we ended up at someone’s hen party. It was all very confusing to begin with. There were two bars side by side. One was rammed full of football fans watching football. The other was empty except for a few camp looking guys, lots of balloons in the shape of willies and a chalk board saying ‘Bachelor party’. The barmen were happy to serve us and so we took up residence and discussed who this party could be for. Many beers later, questions from our discussion were answered as a stream of women rolled into the bar and the party began with us continuing to gate crash unnoticed. I had gone to the bar with the intention of hauling my **** up a 550m mountain with a bicycle up my **** and, I woke the next morning with absolutely no intention of doing it. I was disappointed with myself for about twenty minutes until we drove past the fittest 4 people in the group hauling themselves up the mountain for a challenge that seemed impossible. As it turned out it was, as they missed the turn and went around the peak instead of up it! Good effort all the same.

Our second and final night of camping was hosted by a beach in a wonderful secluded bay. Nearly every bay in the Ionian islands is secluded and beautiful but this one would be home for the night. We could set up our tents anywhere we wanted. On arrival I decided to jump in the sea and people watch before deciding where to put my tent. The married German couple went as far away as possible while the rest of the group set up camp on pretty much the first flat bit of ground they saw, around some trees, away from the sea. I on the other hand wanted a *****in sea view and banged up my tent right on the beach. A prime location for blog inspiration (see final paragraph!) and an even better location for a morning wake up call. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing, eating bbq and, watching the sky show off the Milky Way and, some strange lights that drifted overhead which we concluded were planes or, UFO’s or, satellites or, intercontinental ballistic missiles being exchanged between America and Russia. Either way we didn’t care as we enjoyed being away from reality. As proven again, with travelling you can not force the perfect sun rise, the perfect sun set, the perfect photo. They will come to you when good and ready. The following morning was the perfect example when I woke up, looked out of the tent and watched a gorgeous sunrise over the bay. It wasn’t planned, it just happened with no need of getting up at 2am in the morning to trek up a volcano or mountain and no hoards of tourists trying to do the same thing. I just woke up, rubbed my eyes, and there it was. Lovely jubbley.

Our tour was summed up pretty damn nicely at the top our a final ascent before our final bike ride down to the ferry. After cycling approximately 150km and hiking 60km throughout the week, we sat by the side of the road with a refreshing gin and tonic provided by the newly married Aussie couple on our tour. I suppose I should also probably mention that on the following day when we were returning to Zakynthos, I managed to miss one of the ferries! A gem of a moment where the group got off the ferry, turned right and got immediately onto another ferry with all their bikes. I, in my wisdom, failing to acknowledge the need to move my ****, wondered off the ferry last, looked for the group and their bikes, saw no one, pedalled around the entire harbour, and then heard my name shouted from the group on the ferry that was promptly disappearing out of the harbour!

Greece has been an incredible place to visit. The Greeks have been fantastic. As I’ve discussed, whether it is because they simply cannot be bothered or because it was the end of the tourist season or, maybe a bit of both, they just don’t harass you. They just allow you to relax. Although, there was a moment where one of our Greek hosts whipped out his shot gun and fired off a few rounds into the air one evening! We were camping on his land, with his permission and he didn’t speak a word of English. That didn’t stop him from spending the entire evening with us and trying to dance with as many of the ladies as possible. Which reminds me, a couple came down from the village with some instruments and played some tunes while the group danced in the road. This is what got our campsite host so excited that he felt the need to let off two rounds of his shot gun! Usually after such an event (the music, not the shooting!), a tip is demanded but, not in Greece. I can only assume it was taken care of by our tour leader. Whatever the instance, it was nice to not have 15 drunk people fumbling around for a tip!

This tour has cemented itself as my third favourite tour of all time. How can I be so sure?
Simple. If it wasn’t for my tours in East and West Africa, then the Greece tour would be my favourite of all time to date. East Africa has always set the standard because of the people in the group, the tour leaders, the countries and, the activities. The Greece tour has been up there on all those standard markers. As discussed previously the Ionian islands are stunning. Our tour guide has been fantastic. I chose the tour because I wanted to do more activities. I love being out and about and this tour ticked all the boxes and more. I’m glad I started to get fit when I did because it made this trip far easier as there has been a lot more hiking and cycling then I was expecting. I mean we have spent no more than ninety minutes in a bus or taxi across the entire tour. We have been almost everywhere under our own steam except for transferring islands. I have felt bloody great. It makes a refreshing change from sitting on a bus for hours at a time going from one tourist attraction to another. Fifteen people from 7 nationalities have had a ball of a time. Some people have been fitter than others but the group has always stuck together, had a laugh and, never complained once about anything. It’s unbelievable. There have been some long ass steep hills to ascend, rough waters to kayak across and late evenings but I have not heard a single complaint. All I have heard is how much people are enjoying it all. Every person has pushed through and shown a passion and determination to complete every activity and after that, we have all sat together and enjoyed a beer or two and amazing food. My roommate adopted some mega blisters on the sole of his foot half way through the trip. When I asked him the next day how they were when we were hiking he simply replied that it hurts like hell but he can complain about it when he goes home, not now. One of the girls on the trip wasn’t a natural on a bike and tended to lag behind and on more than one occasion got lost! But she didn’t give a damn, we would track her down and she would be happily taking photos or slowly catching up. And, on no occasion has the group sat for a meal or a beer and spent the majority of their time on the Wi-Fi. Amazeballs! It is this that defines an epic trip; surrounding yourself with awesome, like-mined people that, make the most of every moment that comes their way, in a country intent on making you smile at every turn.

Next stop, Philippines in November.

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