Flying off Mount Olympus
By 1am, I was the first of roughly 25 people passed out in a house in a village near the base of Mount Olympus. Not the most epic beginning for story…but I was the only Canadian, amongst 25 Greeks. Tsipouro, which is basically Greek moonshine, distilled in backyard distileries and served in plastic bottles along with homemade wine flowed heavily through the night. The room bustled with paragliders, old greek cowboys, climbers, children and dogs. Bouzouki, a traditional Greek instrument, echoed through the house while men sang along, swishing back wine and tsipouro. Myself, the only Canadian basically drank the homemade concoctions endlessly until I went (stumbled) off to bed because I could no longer walk. My most vivid memory is of an older, bearded man yelling, “Yamas” (Greek for cheers) about a thousand times and never leaving my glass empty for more than 5 seconds. Most of the characters spoke limited english but I applaud their effort at making conversation and getting the only foreigner hammered before dinner (which was served at 130am…).
I was startled awake by the 5 or 6 people that shared our room, tasting tsipouro burps and wondering why the hell we were up so early. With groggy eyes, I packed my bags and got in the old, custom painted van, hoping to squeeze in a nap before the trek began. I was mistaken, as the unpaved road was basically a mountainside ledge that snaked up the mountain. The drive was breathtaking. Wild horses and goats lined the cliffsides alongside crumbling farmhouses.
The trek started from an old alpine refuge hut in the middle of no where. I hiked light, alongside the paragliders, who carried roughly 30 kilos of gear so they could, literally, fly off the mountain. A few of us opted to make the summit of Greece’s highest peak, Mount Olympus. It is a technical scramble, with a bolted, rope option but since we didn’t have a rope…we did it anyways. We scrambled to the summit and enjoyed the 360 views of where the Greek Gods were said to have roamed. A more technical route down led to another alpine hut where we met with the others for lunch. Donkeys supply the huts with everything from Spaghetti, to cold beer which is served at a reasonable price. It was absurd to me that you could hike a strenuous 4-5 hours, into the mountains and could get your hands on cold beer and hot food…something we need to work on in Canada. Unfortunately, I was still so hungover I didn’t indulge.
The paragliders suited up and a crowd formed in curiosity and speculation. Our first teammate launched successfully into the abyss, making his way to a small village near the sea, about a 35 minute flight away. As the others took off, we turned to make the not-as-thrilling down climb back. We managed to make it back in time for some wild pig the villagers had been preparing through the day in the outdoor clay oven.
I wasn’t able to explore the picturesque islands of southern Greece but experiencing some real Greek mountain culture was irreplaceable. Thanks to all my new friends for their hospitality and putting up with my lack of Greek. I look forward to skiing down the same peaks someday soon!