topics: Bekri meze (food), schoolchildren, Greek playground games, parasailing; jump to dispatch

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Rider Notes: March 30, 1998

Food of the Day: Bekri meze (bekri meze, in Greek)

"Bekri meze" literally translated means "Drunk Man's meze" (appetizer). We're not sure why it's called this, and after a few drinks we didn't care, but we were enchanted by this concoction of shredded cooked beef in a tomato-and-onion-based sauce.

Person of the Day: Children of Konitsa

Along our journey, we've given presentations to thousands of schoolchildren. However, until Konitsa, we could never boast of having given a presentation to almost every kid in any given town. With one more day, we would have managed to do just that.

Between the two primary schools, #1 and #3, and our presentation at the town hall, we felt we knew practically every kid in town. Or at least they knew us. Everywhere we went, we kept running into children we recognized. And we were always greeted with a smile and a wave.

Perhaps because they rarely have visitors, or at least visitors who are interested in learning things about them, all of Konitsa's students gave us overwhelmingly enthusiastic receptions. A few of them practically broke their arms trying to be picked as the ones to share information about their favorite games, their school, or their town. Even the most shy jumped up to sing us a song or to show us their art works.

But we pick the children of Konitsa as our persons of the day because this is our chance to explain that kids have been one of the highlights of our trip. The kids in Konitsa, like the kids elsewhere around the Mediterranean, always brighten our days. Whether we encounter them in a classroom, a shop, or just standing on the side of the road as we bike by, the children have always impressed us with their curiosity, their excitement, and their friendliness. Even those children who are only too aware of the political and cultural barriers that separate countries and people try not to care much about such divisions. Likewise, kids know about social difficulties and differences but they don't let these problems detract from their enjoyment of the moment. They just want to have fun, with anyone and everyone, including the BikeAbouters. For the joy the kids take in our visits, and that they give back to us, we proclaim the children of Konitsa, as representatives of the children of the whole Mediterranean, our persons of the day.

Place of the Day: Primary School #3

Our visit to Primary School #1 and our well-attended presentation in the Town Hall auditorium on Friday proved so popular, Primary Schools #2 and #3 immediately clamored for a presentation from us as well. Well, when difficulties getting through to our Albanian contacts delayed our departure, we took the opportunity to give one more presentation. The lucky school was Konitsa's newest and biggest primary school, Primary School #3.

Upon or arrival, the whole school massed in the auditorium to hear a little about our project. George, who was practically a full fledged BikeAbouter by that time, translated. The students, their attention divided between George and the rest of the BikeAbout group click to view a photograph then did their best to answer our questions about their favorite foods and activities.

In particular, they volunteered to show us some of their special local games, on which they were proud to be local experts. Some of the games were familiar, such as "Mila" (or "Apples" in English), which is a version of American dodge ball. Or "Kaligeros" which is very similar to hopscotch. There is also a variation of this called "Salighkaros' (or the "Snail game" in English), which is like hopscotch but instead of hopping on squares, you hop around a spiral that looks like a snail. But there were other games that were a bit different. With some urging, a group of girls came forward to play the "Mary Game." A number of girls held hands in a circle while one girl stood outside. The girls in the middle sang and walked in a clockwise motion while the girl outside stayed silent and walked in the opposite direction. Once the girls inside stopped singing and walking, the girl outside continued walking and sang a verse on her own. At the end of her verse, she chose one of the girls in the circle to stand outside with her. This continued until only one girl was left inside. Here's a little bit of what the game sounded like. click to hear an audio clip

Then some students drafted Ethan (who was easily convinced) to take part in another game they translated as "the long donkey." Um, we assumed Ethan represented the head of the donkey, but we didn't want to ask. Anyway, a group of children lined up, leaning over and tucking their heads safely out of the way while they placed their shoulders against the hips of the person in front and grasped hold too. This all happened with our fearless leader at the front like so click to view a photograph. When enough children were lined up, another child ran and leapfrogged as far as possible down the backs of his classmates towards Ethan.

Once the presentation was over, the whole school posed for a picture. click to view a photograph Then, eager to show us they were familiar with American games as well, the students began choosing sides for a baseball game. Sensing Padraic's greater athletic ability and sportsmanship, Nikos, the young captain of one of the sides, chose Padraic for his team, leaving the captain of the other team stuck with Anthony and Ethan. Padraic responded by helping Nikos and his side thrash Anthony and Ethan's team. Well, maybe the lopsided score had something to do with the other team never getting up to bat.

Regardless, the game wasn't quite baseball as it is played in America and elsewhere around the world. Instead, it was sort of a mixture of cricket and baseball - closest to what is called "rounders" in the U.K. The bat was an adapted cricket bat, with two flat sides; the bases were arranged in a square rather than a diamond; and the pitcher tossed the ball underhanded from just a couple feet away from the batter. If the batter hit the ball and made it all the way around the four bases before the ball was returned to the pitcher, that was a home run. Or the batter could stay on one of the bases (like in baseball) and hope the next batter would hit the ball far enough to bring him home. Batters were out if they hit a ball that was caught by the opposing side, or if they didn't safely make it to a base before the hit ball was returned to the pitcher. An inning ended only when everyone on one team was out. During our game, the Nikos/Padraic side was so strong, very few of its players were put out. It was still batting when break time had ended.

Group Dispatch, March 30
picture of Padraic

In a vain attempt to accomplish everything in a few short hours, we woke early and made our appearance at Primary School #3, our Place of the Day. Then, while Anthony and Corinne sent dispatches and received email at Nikos' Paddler office office, George took Padraic and Ethan up the side of the mountain to attempt another tandem parasailing flight. This time the lucky co-flier was Padraic, who, unlike Ethan or Anthony had never before had the chance to go parasailing. Unlike the previous evening, the conditions were right for sailing - the winds were blowing from the right direction, right up the side of the mountain. George promptly set up the sail, strapped Padraic and himself in and prepared for takeoff.

The first attempt aborted abruptly as gusty winds pulled them back to earth, but the second time proved the charm. They soared off the cliff and into the open air, Padraic doing as he had been told to do, kicking his feet in a desperate search for ground on which to run, even when they were in the air. Telling Padraic that he could actually stop trying to run and just relax, George piloted the parasail up and down the length of the ridge searching for thermals - updrafts of warm air - to take them above the ridge. He found a few and for the next 15 minutes or so they circled above the ridge searching for even more warm air to prolong their flight.

As they circled, Padraic tried to figure out how to hold on to the sail and work the Casio digital camera at the same time. He never really figured it out. His attempt to photograph the sail found the sun. click to view a photograph His attempt to catch the ground over his shoulder found his face (ugh). click to view a photograph Finally, he just gave up on hanging on, which enabled him to take this portrait of pilot and passenger. click to view a photograph Padraic had a little more luck taking pictures of the ground in front of him. Here's the takeoff point from above click to view a photograph, the mountains behind the takeoff spot click to view a photograph, and a new perspective on the lovely town of Konitsa. click to view a photograph

When George couldn't find any more thermals, he reluctantly steered the sail slowly downward over the town. At this point, Padraic managed to get a shot of their shadow as it got increasingly larger underneath them. click to view a photograph An experienced pilot, George soon realized that they hadn't enough height to make it over the highway to the projected landing area. Not worried, he simply circled a few times and found a perfectly suitable field closer to town. "You see," he said as he set them down as softly as a feather in the field of a surprised farmer, "landing is easy." Once they were safely back on earth, Padraic excitedly grabbed George and said, "Let's go up again!" Padraic sort of liked it.

Once Ethan had found the landing zone and picked up George and Padraic, they all drove back up to the town center to meet up with Anthony and Corinne for George's farewell lunch. Having already delayed his return by more than 24 hours, George finally had to head off if he hoped to make it home to Thessonaliki before dark. After a week of fun, we could scarcely believe that George, our white knight, was leaving. And we can never thank him enough for his friendship and his help - for arranging our visit, for acting as translator, for taking us hiking and parasailing, for chauffeuring us around... in sum, for everything. Greece would be have been a much less pleasurable experience without him. Indeed, the rest of the Mediterranean will be a less pleasurable experience without him.

We returned to our favorite spot, Sourloukas Tavern, for lunch. There we bumped into the owner of our guesthouse (Konstantinos Housos), who insisted on treating us to drinks. Then, as we pondered aloud how we were going to get to Ioannina to catch the early morning bus to Albania the next day, the restaurant owner, Kostas Sourloukas, came forward with an offer to drive us there beginning at the outrageously early hour of 5 a.m. Konitsa's hospitality goes on and on. We sealed the deal by taking everyone outside for a final picture. click to view a photograph

After George's departure, Corinne and Ethan returned to work on their dispatches at the guesthouse, while Anthony and Padraic lounged around the town center, enjoying a frappé and the late afternoon sun in the company of a couple of Konitsa students. The students had clued the boys into the hot spot for local teens, a small café just off the main square. Despite their advanced age (Padraic, whose memory is already fading, can barely even recall his teen years, and Anthony went straight from adolescence to "adulthood"), they were able to order drinks. But they had to drink then outside at the grown-up table.

That evening the group reconvened at the Sourloukas Tavern for a delicious dinner in the company of their Greek-American friend Niki. There they rubbed shoulders with some more of the many people they've had the pleasure to meet in Konitsa. The Mayor stopped by to thank us for visiting and to wish us a happy journey onwards. Tom, the president of the local hunting club (and reigning local character) whom we met our first night here, joined us for dinner and regaled us further with his exploits. He returned later with his wife (a regional official whom, it turns out, we had met earlier at the Hotel Xenia in Ioannina) who set the record straight where we thought the record might have gone askew.

After we could eat no more, we said our farewells to everyone (except to Kostas whom we would see the next morning) and started towards the guesthouse. We had made it only a few yards when we decided that we could not go home before accompanying Niki to a local establishment for a toast to Konitsa one last time. There would be time for sleeping once we had left Konitsa!

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