Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mr Trump! This blog's for you!

"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”, 

While attending Public School 97 in the Bronx, Ms. Pagano would ask all her third graders to stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. This is how our day of learning the "Three R's" began.  We'd face a limp American flag, with our right hands covering our hearts and drone out this long sentence in a chorus of squeaky voices. We were young and probably weren't aware of it's true meaning.

Now I'm older and I get it. Sure it's an idealized notion of what America is all about, but hey, it's a grand goal to strive for.

I'm a first generation American.

My parents escaped a tyrannical maniac who captured a large sphere of influence. That bad hombre vowed to make his nation great again. He too, utilized a religious group as scapegoats for all the world's ills. He too, singled out others for special treatment I.E. Gays, Gypsies, Political Opponents, Jehovah's Witnesses and Jews. He too, spoke about "Roundups."

 Unfortunately, Mr. Hitler's rants became deeds. 

My parents barely got out. Clara and Sid met, married and raised three sons. My parents learned English, worked hard, paid taxes and stayed out of trouble. They fulfilled the American Dream. I believe they were model citizens.

Mr. Trump, my humble, middle-class parents would have been appalled at your candidacy. They fled the Old World on a slow boat to the New World to get away from leaders like you. 

Now you are making headlines by saying you will not accept November 8th election results if you lose. You claim the election is "rigged" without showing any evidence. 

True, we live in a country which guarantees the freedom of speech. But there's limits to this right. Your incendiary comments are the equivalent of screaming "Fire! Fire!" in a crowded movie theater when there is no clear or present danger. This is Irresponsible and unprecedented in a presidential campaign.

Mr. Trump, the U.S. usually has a relatively smooth transitions of power. There's a political tradition of the losing candidate conceding the election and bowing out gracefully. 

This election has been nothing like the usual. Basic civility has been jettisoned. The 2016 presidential election has made an episode of the Jerry Springer show look as docile as a Red Hat Society tea party. 

Mr. Trump, take the high road if this election doesn't go your way. This election is bigger than you;  it's 240 years of democracy at stake. Pay attention to these words spoken by another fellow Republican named Abraham Lincoln.

From Abe's Gettysburg Address: 

"and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." 

If Mr. Lincoln wasn't right, then all those brave men and women interred in our National Cemeteries died in vain. 

Mr. Trump, please think about this...

To my other readers: 
If you like the ideas behind this blog, feel free to share it.
If you don't, feel free to delete it.

Please vote responsibly,

PS. I'll end this post with a recent quote from Senator John McCain. 

"I didn’t like the outcome of the 2008 election. But I had a duty to concede, and I did so without reluctance,” he said. “Free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power are the pride of our country, and the envy of much of the world because they are the means to protecting our most cherished values, the right to liberty and equal justice.”

BTW: Senator McCain is a true American Hero. Everyone who serves in our Nation's Military is a hero, whether they were a POW or not. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My Big Fat Greek...


"You can observe a lot by just watching."
Yogi Berra

My trip to the Hellenic Republic was like no other. I arrived with a minimum amount of preparation and very few expectations. It was sort of like traveling in a jam session. I wasn't sure how or where this overseas session would end.

I'm happy to report, it all worked out.

During my time on the island of Naxos, the Big Mac-sized island of Crete and the capital city of Athens, I took mental notes and often Googled to learn more about the people of Greece.

Here's some facts and personal observations:

There's 10.9 million Greeks. In 2015, those nice Greeks entertained an amazing 26.5 million visitors. (I began to refer to Greece as the Mexico of the Mediterranean). Tourism contributes 18% to this economically hurting nation's Gross Domestic Product. Yet, unemployment is the highest in the Eurozone at 23%.

Greeks also score the highest in smoking rates in Europe and the rest of the world. Over 40% inhale cancer sticks. Ashtrays are as prevalent as Sagebrush in the Western US. The Greeks flick ash at the concept of non-smoking areas. 

For a people who introduced the World to two major athletic events (the Marathon and the Olympics), they now abhor exercise. I rarely met locals on my many trail meanderings. My Greek Guide Anastasia summed it up this way, "Greeks will only walk if there's a coffee house as the destination." They pace themselves well.

Greeks don't move too fast, except when they get behind the wheel of their tiny sedans. Then these laid back, Raki drinking, olive eating people become the reincarnation of Dale (the Intimidator) Earnhardt. Competitive tailgating seems to be a major sport. Yes, the Greeks lead the Eurozone in accident rates too. In 2015, 1600 citizens lost their lives playing the ultimate game of "Chicken." 

But Hey! Nobody's Perfect! I found the Greeks to be friendly, generous and helpful, even though their language was Greek to me! Many speak a passable form of English. They have to. The Greek language and alphabet probably isn't taught in many other countries. 

Would I go back to this country of blue skies, white-washed painted villages, warm temperatures and sandy beaches? Heck yes! Although it would be better to arrive as a couple instead of a solo traveler. Towards the end of my trip, I got tired of eating my Greek Salads alone. Greece is a couples destination similar to Hawaii. Singles are as rare as a jogging Greek.

I just wish the locals could do something about all those elderly, overweight, naked German invaders. It's very unsightly. 

I'm back in Colorado, (land of good beer, coffee and great friends and family members)

In case you missed my other Greek posts:

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Day in Athens...

Of course I visited the Parthenon! 

Every human regardless of race, creed, religion or color goes there while in the Hellenic Republic. 

It's an old amazing place. This civic works project began in 447 BC in tribute to the Goddess Athena. When I saw the relics, I realized those workers weren't paid on a Union scale. It took a lot of effort to move those marble Doric columns. 

The Parthenon has a complicated history (like Greece). There were the ancient Greeks,  of course. Then came the Persians, Venetians, Romans, Franks, Visigoths, folks from the Ottoman Empire and a few impact players from the United Kingdom. And not necessarily in that order. Yes, there was heaps of plundering and destruction. (It's always a bad day when those Visigoths turn up unannounced.) 

Now the invasion force arrives from all over Planet Earth. Regardless of the human's origins, everyone shells out €20 for the privilege to invade the site. There weren't many complaints. 

Here's heaps of photos. Including a tourist posing in front of the Ancient Temple of Selfie Sticks. AKA the Temple of Narcissism. 

In the last two pix is a comparison of my trail companions within a 48 hour span. 
Yes, the number of two legged animals have been sort of overwhelming. 

"Back to the US! Back to the US!" Manana.
A paraphrase from the Beatles,

It's been fun!

Monday, October 10, 2016

I got parboiled on Crete...

while hiking a teenie weenie bit of the ultra-long distance E4 trail. For those unfamiliar with the E4 (like me before I arrived on Crete), it's a 10,000 plus kilometers jaunt from Portugal through lots of other European countries culminating on the Greek Island of Cypress. In other words, it's longer than America's Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail combined! 

I think you would need more than one pair of trail runners to complete it.

I asked a few locals their opinion on attempting to hike 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) in one day. They then looked at me in a funnier way than usual. 

One helpful man said, "That's a two day hike! It's hot and there's little drinking water along the way. The trail is rocky too." 
This man was correct on all counts.

Here's the trail description from Wikipedia: 

"A walk can take longer than anticipated because of poor way marking, or because paths are blocked, or dangerously eroded. Walkers should therefore be prepared for long diversions, and never presume that you will reach the intended destination, including the final one, on time, or on a specific day."

In an olive nutshell, the trail stinks on ice! Although today, a chunk of frozen water would have been received as a gift from the Greek Gods. 

Plus! There were heaps of naked elderly German couples along the E4's beaches and coves. I strode past one group in the morning. They were still sunning their sexual organs four hours later! They hadn't moved or even twitched. How much vitamin D does a body need?  

It was so hot, I decided to take a dip in the Libyan Sea. I went in naked as the morning Clara Sambur gave birth to me. I found a pocket of isolation to partake in my birthday suit ablution. The water sizzled as I submerged myself. Let me tell you, I was HOT! 

Look at the photos: the scenery is reminiscent of a seaside Death Valley National Park. Pretty stark. 

I'm working on chugging the second gallon of water for the day. It's Happy Hour so I'm mixing the H2O with a dark lager. 

Hydration is the key to health and survival.

From Hora Station,

From the last photo: check out the trail's designers. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Samaria National Park Incorporated ...

It's all about the Euros. 

When I was Googling places to hike on Crete, this Greek National Park rose to the top of the search engine. Many websites announced it to be a "must see" destination. How could I resist? 

So... I pointed my battered and gutless rental car to this splotch of green displayed on my Crete map. Little did I know a multitude of tour buses occupied by Wannabe Wilderness Warriors would be converging there at the same time.

I consider myself to be a connoisseur of quiet pretty places. I spent last summer gliding along on many earthy trails. I saw beauty all around me. I felt so at ease, I was even sleeping peacefully. All was good in my world.

I tried my luck in the Hellenic Republican. On this hike, the Greek Gods weren't handing me their blessings. This might be the reason.

The country of Greece is undergoing a financial crisis. Unemployment is running at an unfathomable 23.2%. This is the highest jobless rate in the Euro Zone. Tourism is a major industry. It creates service jobs and brings in a year round influx of cash. Making Euros off of hikers is one way to stimulate the economy. 

Hence, lots of determined Germans, gossipy French, fashionably dressed Italians, families with dour looking children in tow, two beer guzzling Dudes, and one Wandering Wondering Jew were all forced to occupy the same dicey 16 kilometers (10 mile) descent at the same time. I often said "Excuse Me" as I squeezed by in search of a stretch of solitude. I've seen New York City streets that were less peopled. 

For my fellow trail companions, their amble to the Libyan Sea and village of Agia Roumeli would end with a ferry ride followed by a bus back to their starting point in the city of Chania. A very long drawn out and pricey day.

I decided to spend the night in Agia Roumeli and turn around and hike out the following morning. Sort of a Greek version of a typical Grand Canyon experience. Let me tell you, this seaside village is no Phantom Ranch.

Right away, I noticed a vibe I hadn't experienced before in Greece. Shopkeepers, restaurant owners and even hotel clerks looked upon the worn out trekkers like hyenas circling a maimed gazelle. We were all fresh meat and they were coming in for the economic kill. It turned me off for my stay there. I was fleeced a few times in less than 16 hours. I.E: I was charged €17 for two eggs swimming in an ocean of olive oil, three pieces of stale toast and a cup of tepid coffee. At least the proprietor said "thank you" when I called him on it. (Not all the merchants were like the above description, I just ran into the few bad gyros!) 

I then shouldered my backpack and headed uphill feeling used and violated. After paying €5 to a Park "Warden." I entered the gorge. It was quiet enough to hear my own crunching footsteps. I was enjoying the moment knowing eventually the downhill hiking hordes would appear. I passed rest areas devoid of people. Their empty picnic tables and cigarette ash trays awaited the coming crowds.

I made it 8 kilometers up before I met my first seagoing walkers. I began counting. The result surprised me. In a 8 kilometer (5 mile) survey, I saw 650 humans. (Margin of error plus or minus 3%). Believe it or not, this is the low season for visitation. On a busy day, there's over 1,500 adventurers cramming the trail.

Sadly, the Samaria National Parks administration has lost sight of their own management goals. From the Park's brochure: 

"Visitors have the occasion for a deep, true and meaningful contact with the natural landscape, plants and animals, opening themselves up to nature." 

More like opening up your wallet/purse! 

I understand the Park's plight. Theirs too many jobs and much needed cash on the line. I also know that this incident is the exception instead of the rule. Most of my hikes have been  uncrowded and relaxed. 

For the most part, Greeks are helpful, friendly, honest and generous. They enjoy smiling as much as I do too. 

This by and large has been a really great break from my usual journeys. I've already marked Greece as a return destination one day.

From a seaside village with a name that looks like Hora Station to my Gringo eyes,


About the photo with the ladder on the rock. I suppose you climb there in case of a flash flood. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

More pretty pictures...

From a pretty place.

I'm too BUSY to write new stuff.

The last photo is a typical Greek lunch stop. No one said it was going to be easy.


Tomorrow, I'll be taking a slow boat to Crete. Hope we don't encounter icebergs.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Off season in Greece...

A few weeks ago, a beach towel's worth of space near the Aegean Sea was considered to be prime Fifth Ave real estate. Now the crowds are mostly gone, shops and restaurants are being shuttered and vehicles can make forward progress.

For a non-party animal like me, it's a perfect time to be here. The skies are gentle blue, the temperatures are soothingly pleasant and the vibe is almost Colorado stoner laid back. 

Getting to Athens required a sleepless overnight flight from JFK and moving east through seven time zones. Along the way I picked up a dodgy stomach.  I'm happy to report I'm starting to get back on track. Maybe I'll even sleep tonight.

Sure it's different here, people talk in a tongue, well, that's foreign to my Gringo ears. Luckily, most Greeks know a bit of Anglo. If that doesn't happen, I'll usually smile and point. 

For this stretch of my visit, Im lucky to have a Greek Guide Service. Her name is Anastasia. We met on the Camino de Santiago in 2013. When I'm driving on Naxos, she points and smiles. So far it's been a very workable relationship. 

And the food! Every meal is an adventure. This morning, I smiled and pointed at the veggie omelette on the menu. Little did I know it would come heaped with cold cucumbers and tomato slices. It was splattered with feta cheese.
What no salsa!

The beaches are pristine with mellow waves lapping upon the shores. The water looks clean enough to drink. But I have a question for my readers. Can someone explain to me why elderly German couples bearing too much flesh cover their crimson bodies with too little cloth? Or worse-No cloth at all! That's just wrong! No photo included for the squeamish. 

Other than that, Greece is about perfect.

The final photo is me doing my Adam (of Eve fame) imitation sporting a fig leaf for attire.
The Burro is Barley the Van's Greek replacement.
There's a Fat Greek Wedding going on now. They go all night I'm told.

Eviva! Cheers in Greek