Person of the Day: Elpinike Pappous, originally from San Jose, California, and now of Konitsa!Niki is one of the English speakers we were introduced to at the Town Hall, where she works as a civil engineer specializing in seismology. Elpinike Pappous came to work in Konitsa after earthquakes shook the town to pieces. Because her mother was born and raised in Konitsa, she felt a special desire to help out and to do it from somewhere closer than California. So she brought herself over with some important seismographic technology, as well as an understanding of building techniques and other safety precautions that have been necessary in the rebuilding process. With her advice and guidance, Konitsa will soon be 100% back on its feet.
For Niki, being the only American in town has had its ups and downs. Very early on, the entire town knew her name and nearly everything about her, as she now lives in the home where her mother grew up. But such familiarity has also been comforting... and helpful. While her parents spoke some Greek in the house when she was growing up, Niki has certainly sharpened her language skills since as a result of frequent interviews with locals. Her vocabulary and grasp of the language has been improving dramatically lately.
All of which was very helpful to us. On the sad day after George left, we found ourselves in a position of needing to communicate some important information to non-English-speaking friends. Niki was there to help us when we needed it most. But we also enjoyed time with her when we all spoke English and learned and shared about one another. We wish Niki the best and hope that she gets email soon so that we can stay in touch!
Place of the Day: The Sky
All right boys and girls, like it or not, it's philosophy time once again. Corinne spent so much time in the air today that she just can't help but get all cerebral about it. (Maybe she's simply delirious and suffering from exposure, but...) There's just something very satisfying about paying respect to Mother Nature and the Elements, especially when they are so good to you. So this one will be short and sweet; we're sure you understand.
The Sky is the Place of the Day today because it presents infinite possibilities. The horizon never really stops, and the sky is ever changing. We don't often have a reason to talk about the day or night sky in our dispatches, but the way the sun, the stars and the moon have changed all around us as we travel has been a security of some sort - the familiar with a twist, wherever we may be. In Konitsa we finally had some sun during the day and we had a new moon (no moon at all) at night, which let all the stars sit and shine in the expansive heavens, surrounded by the mountains as the clouds came and went.
Floating through the day-time sky during her first parachute experience, Corinne couldn't help but appreciate it, the sound of the wind, and the new perspective she was getting from such great heights. We spend so much of our time so close to the ground and on our bikes - which is a Very Good Thing - but this new angle was more than welcome.
Watching the large buildings and trees become smaller and smaller, Corinne felt that her brief visit to the sky was yet another time during which she became tiny compared to the enormity of life. Having something as broad as the sky all around you drives that message home.
Needless to say, hanging out in the sky was a lot of fun, and well worth it. We would highly recommend a visit to the sky if you get the chance, to see what you get out of it!
Tech Fact of the Day: Thermals
Thermals are columns of hot air caused by any number of natural phenomena, like the reflection of the sun off of a hillside, or warmer air as part of a shifting weather front. Because heat causes air molecules to move faster, and we all know that heat rises, thermals are a kind of isolated breeze that pushes upward and helps flying objects gain altitude. Sometimes we see birds turning in broad circles in the sky, either holding their position or effortlessly rising. They are using a "thermal" to their advantage, cupping their wings to catch and hold the rising warm air.
Group Dispatch, March 29
Despite the bright and inviting sunshine outside, the whole house overslept (window shutters are dangerous and wonderful that way)! It was apparent that our late night last night had taken its toll. But our tardy start today meant that we plunged straight away into the unexpected warmth of balmy noonday temperatures, a welcome relief after over 2 weeks of less than desirable weather.
The first item on the day's list was to get email, to see what arrangements - if any - awaited us in Albania. Unfortunately there had been no news yet, which was beginning to make us plenty nervous, but we remained hopeful. With Nikos' permission, we went off to his Paddler offices and logged on. Then it was off to collect the group and head up the hill to... yes, get in some air time!
With the trunk full of parasailing gear, the whole group drove up a harrowing narrow passage to the top of a hill overlooking Konitsa and the point from which all the parasailing pilots take off. On this hilltop, there is a church and pavilion (not to mention some radio towers) where several times a year, festivals for saints take place. Regular services are also held in this church in the early morning on Sundays, as are weddings and funerals. We were lucky though, and there was no traffic.
The stunning view from the breezy and much cooler hilltop presented the whole expanse of another valley on the other side of the hill where Konitsa sits. The Kleftis and Smolikas Mountains in that opposite direction were snowcapped and imposing, and we took in the now-familiar view of the towering Aoös River gorge walls nearby, as well as the ever-present horizon of the Kousokrana Mountains in the distance. But the view was not our point of business; flying was!
For some reason or another (probably having to do with an absence of alternatives), George trusted all of us to assist him in the take off. He instructed us in spreading out the parasail and untangling the strings, and showed us the best angle for it on the hillside. Corinne was suited up and lectured on how to gauge the best direction and strength for the wind most suited for a takeoff. George demonstrated this by showing us all how when you hear the same rush-of-air sound in both ears, you are facing the exact direction of the wind. "That's where we run to for a takeoff," he said, "and don't stop running even if it feels like we're already up in the air."
An obedient student, Corinne listened and nodded repeatedly as George made sure all the straps and harnesses were attached and secure. The waist harness almost felt like a folding chair; Corinne compared it to walking around with a chair's armrests over her shoulders. Then George tested Corinne's strength for pulling the chute behind her and into the wind, reminding her to run with chest forward and feet behind. As a wise safety precaution, he asked Anthony to grab hold of Corinne's harness just in case there was a faulty take off and her running needed to be stopped, or there was a gust of wind and she and George would need extra help. Then Corinne was given the video camera which she just left on "record" to document what should have been an 8-minute flight. Or so they thought.
After a moment's pause, the nearby windsock and George's keen senses signaled that the right breeze was upon us. Very suddenly George shouted, "Run-run-run!" And they did. Corinne's feet pedaled an invisible bicycle in the air as the parasail shot upwards , catching the breeze that swept up the hillside... and carried them into the air.
As we rose into the air and George yipped and yee-hawed, the trees and shrubs beneath our feet shrank, as did the boys and the takeoff spot, all sinking below. Sooner than expected, we were able to turn around and fly over them again and again, the radio towers not even posing a threat. In fact, Corinne wasn't at all aware how quickly or how high parasails usually went, because as far as she knew parachutes are usually used for descents, not climbs. When she asked if it was normal that they were going up, George laughed. Of course, his expressive enjoyment of the flight kept everything funny, especially when he would say "Oops...Uh-oh..." just to make Corinne's hair stand up under her helmet...
Spinning like an eagle , George taught Corinne how to lean into the turn and use the hand controls to catch the wind, the lift, and the warm air pockets called thermals. He shouted directions and described important terms along the way. See the Word of the Day and the Tech Fact of the Day for some of the helpful tips George shared with her.
As the minutes passed, We climbed and climbed and climbed and the altimeter strapped to George's thigh beeped. Although later it sort of honked instead when we started to descend.
For more of Corinne's thoughts on being airborne, see the Place of the Day.
Soon enough, the boys piled into the car and headed down the hillside to meet us in the valley below. For a while we watched the car meander down the road, come around the bends and through the town. But then a surprise gust carried us over the gorge between the mountains, and to vistas of still more snow peaks visible in the far distance. It was hard for Corinne to decide whether to shoot this, or the forest and Aoös River Gorge. She figured that her 8 minutes were probably almost up, and shooting during flight was a new one on her.
Once we were high enough and there wasn't much left to shoot that hadn't already been shot, George asked Corinne to take the video camera off her shoulder and wrap it around her wrist for an in-flight video self portrait. When Corinne finally thought to ask how long she'd been in the air and found it'd been 30 minutes already, she decided to shoot some more video, as it was a gravitational challenge. Naturally, though, this made her dizzy, just like watching an OmniMax film can make you lose your bearings. George suggested she sit back in the seat and breathe deeply, keeping her eyes either closed or fixed on the far, far distance. About 20 seconds later, he started giving her landing instructions. Ready or not.
We swooped around and over the farm areas, trying to choose a field on which to land. The technical decision was made something like this: "Maybe that one - whoops, no the wind is too strong. How about - nope, if we miss it we'll either land in the trees or the rusty abandoned truck heap..." Making one big 's' after another over the flat countryside, looking for a field without a barbed wire fence, we finally chose an empty lot of dirt, and watched a shepherd escort his flock up the road, hoping they wouldn't stop soon.
The actual landing came sooner than expected, coinciding perfectly with the schedule of the sheep, as we flew low and directly over them, reaching with our toes toward the ground as the wooden fence at the end of the pasture quickly approached. Just before we would have landed, about 10 meters (33 ft) from the fence, a soft breeze caught the parachute and set us on the ground with a sigh.
Corinne's knees gave out on the landing though, and we sat directly on the dirt instead of walking more toward the fence to unlatch the harnesses while still standing. The annoyed sheep in the road had stopped to stare at this oddity, and we laughed as they almost said with their serious faces "Hey, we were WALKING here!"
Corinne lay on her back, using her helmet as a pillow, and looked up into the sky from which she had just descended, laughing and thinking about how it all seemed too easy. Once the sheep moved on, we began taking off all the gear, wondering if the boys had seen where we landed.
As we stacked the gear, the boys arrived in George's car with Anthony behind the wheel. They helped fold and pack up the parasail and we headed up the mountain again, this time with Corinne in the driver's seat , thus giving George a rest and letting Corinne enjoy the give of the clutch and rev of stick shift driving.
At the hilltop, however, George expressed concern that the wind had changed direction. Still, everyone optimistically set about preparing for the next flight. As Anthony and Ethan had each tried parasailing before, it was now Padraic's turn to get suited up.
We laid out the parachute, but had to keep it from turning over as the wind was coming over the hilltop from the wrong direction. We watched the windsock and hoped that the wind would change back again.
Sitting in the partly sunny late afternoon, we thought we could wait out the wind, but had no such luck.
Corinne drove us all back into town again, feeling guilty about having been the only one able to fly that day. However, at a late lunch some authentic retsina (local wine) brought all our spirits back.
The rest of the evening was for working at the apartment, and trying to make decisions based on a lack of information. We had not received any email from our friends in Albania and were at a loss about how to proceed. So, unable to wait much longer in Greece and, as an emergency, having been able to contact a friend of a friend in Tirana, a decision was made that on Tuesday we would take a bus straight through to Tirana, and skip trying to cycle through southern Albania. This was the safer course, to be sure, which put all of our minds at rest, but it was disappointing that we knew we would be missing out on the nicest part of the Albanian coast.
While Ethan and Corinne spent the evening indoors, finishing up some work, Anthony and Padraic were invited to a late dinner - again with George and the Mayor. The dinner was a special treat and revolved around a delicious provatina. Eager to make sure that this specialty of the region was being properly cooked, the Mayor himself went into the kitchen of the Louloumbas Taverna and oversaw the preparation. It was another in a string of excellent late nights that continued the pleasurable stay-up-late and sleep-in-late routine into which we seem to have fallen since we arrived in Konitsa.
Questions? Ask Corinne !
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