Having completed my Corfu hike I took the ferry from Kerkiras harbour for the Greek mainland. We thread our way through the fleet of cruise boats - Norwegian Jade, Costa Deliziosa, Silver Wind and Splendour of the Seas. The wharves are busy with taxis, crowds, tour buses and ... wheelchairs. Well, it's good they are out and about. Little did I know....
Transferring by bus up to Ioannina - a handsome regional town set on a lake surrounded by dramatic mountains. The Ottomans were here for centuries and the Ali Pasha mosque is a fine building dating from the early 17th century. It's now part of the Byzantine museum complex.
There is an impressive modern sculpture by the lake.
Then on to the guesthouse in Kapesovo, a village near the Vikos Gorge and starting point for my next walk.
My host is Elli Papageorgiou and her sister and father. Fabulous home cooking: stuffed capsicums etc.
The first day is a circular walk out of the village, up the Vradheto stairs which you can just make out in the photo below.
A long steep climb - great engineering.
And then on over to the Beloi viewpoint over the gorge.
At this point the gorge is about 1.3k deep and is in the Guinness Book as the deepest in the world. But there are definitional controversies about "depth", for example, where is the top?
The next day is from Kapesovo to overnight in accommodation in Monodendri before the gorge walk the following day. This starts as a nice ramble through fruiting oak forest.
Then a steep descent to a gully floor. Disaster! In an instant, I have slipped and fallen, twisting my left ankle.
Having fallen and then rested in some shock I realised my ankle was at least very badly sprained. I lifted my leg with my hands to assess the damage - the foot just dangled and waggled like a loosely tied cow bell.
Luckily I was in phone range and my host Elli and her father quickly came to my assistance. Off to the Ioannina University Hospital some 40k away.
Apparently the hospital is well regarded and people come from all over northern Greece and Albania for treatment here. I am assessed by 2 young doctors who tell me they believe the leg is broken - x-ray, yes, broken in 2 places, it's a Maissoneuve fracture they explain - that's cool, they know their stuff!
I’m transferred to a ward and the consultant arrives, Zorba, shall we say. He is a real alpha male surrounded by a group of largely mute juniors. Mute in awe or fear is difficult to say. Zorba is self assured and, in Greek, explains to the assembled group what he is going to do with pointing, cutting, screwing, squeezing motions. They nod.
He then explains to me in English - a good explanation not over simplified but clear. He answers my questions directly. I am reassured. But the op can't be done that night - has to wait till the next day.
Next day prepping for theatre involves the usual tests and I am required to dress in a gossamer thin see-through gown and undies. Very comely! The supine ride to theatre on a wheeled bed is a little disturbing. Many ceiling tiles are missing, broken or stained. There are pipes and wires coming from and going nowhere protruding, hanging. The Greek Treasury is very empty.
Theatre itself is crowded with people all in green. Zorba is there too, all dressed up. I am on a flat hard bench with arms spread-eagled either side crucifix style. Very busy, wires, tubes all over the place. A voice says "now you will go to sleep" - and I do. Almost exactly 24 hours after accident.
I woke up in the ward being watched over.
I have been gone 3 hours. My foot is screwed together.
My rescuer Elli is there too, waiting - what an angel. She has brought food, toilet paper (!) and is a reassuring presence.
My ward mate is Vasilis who has broken his wrist falling off a ladder. He was in the army for 38 years and flew helicopters before joining the general staff and spending 3 years in Brussels with Nato. Retired, he now paints religious iconography in traditional style and shows me photos. They are very good. I retaliate with my bird and fish photos and he seems to approve. But it is a long way from Orthodox Church iconography to mid century design. We get on well. His wife and her brother are there for most of the day as well as his son.
All the wards open up to a common verandah which runs the length of the building. The rellies and patients go onto the verandah for a smoke, to eat, gossip etc. There is a constant coming and going of people with animated conversations. It's just like the village square relocated. Cigarette smoke drifts freely through the wards. Around 11pm activity subsides but low conversation from the verandah continues.
The next day passes slowly. Everyone's rellies are back, Vasilis' too - they bring me good coffee – aah, so good! And Greek sweets - nice. It seems to be accepted you bring your own food and towels and toilet paper and soap so all these are generously offered and gratefully accepted by the unfortunate stranger whose family are nowhere to be seen! I am frequently asked "where is your family" and "when are they coming"?
Sleep at night is difficult for both Vasilis and me - we are used to being active and going to bed tired. And with leg and arm splints (mine is full leg) it's awkward to be comfortable.
The next day starts with a bang as Zorba and retinue burst in to tell Vasilis he can go home and come back in a few weeks to see whether an op is necessary. I am stripped of my leg bandages and the wounds are closely examined. They look good, quite small and surgically precise. A new leg splint is fabricated on the spot with Zorba wielding his surgical angle grinder (or is it a Bamix?) like a Jedi Knight slashes with his light sabre - what a warrior! This time the splint is from just below the knee which is much more comfortable. He says I can return to Berlin tomorrow. But to ward off DVT I must inject blood thinner directly into my belly. The injection must be into fat, not muscle - no problem there.
Vasilis has gone and things are quiet for a few hours. Now another family has arrived with portable TV, eskies, 2 lilos, bags of food, bottles of water and sundry supplies. Paul, aged about 40, has arrived from theatre having had back surgery. I tell him I have a brother Paul and so we are brothers – yes, he says, we are brothers.
Paul’s Mama and sister and divers others are all here. Mama and Sis are staying the night on the lilos which are set up on the floor!. I am taken into the family and pressed with coffee, more sweets etc. We adjourn to the verandah for some limited conversation - Paul is left alone, supine and immobilised. Others visit and there are impassioned conversations in rapid fire Greek. In the background there is a constant political debate on the TV - an election looms in a few days.
The day passes into night. Both Paul and Mama are snorers - loud, wet, meaty, flabby snores punctuated by whistles and squeaks. Sleep is impossible. It is about 1.30am and I am finally drifting off to sleep when there is a loud crash and a shriek. A light is turned on. Oh no! Mama's lilo has collapsed. A nurse rushes in and, on seeing Mama spreadeagled on the floor, instinctively crosses herself. Many people, patients and visitors, crowd in. Sis apologises to me for the disturbance but, hey, this is fun.
It transpires Mama is not hurt and general laughter breaks out. It is hot. Somewhere down the corridor someone is moaning. Mosquitoes and cigarette smoke drift in through the open verandah door. Outside, a dog fight has erupted. My god! What kind of country is this? Welcome to beautiful Greece.
Day arrives and I have had a couple of hours sleep. I need to get to Corfu airport for my Berlin flight. This is by no means straightforward but luckily my friend Kostas is in charge of transport. Various bureaucratic dramas of a Catch-22 nature ensue – both at the hospital and the airport. These are deftly overcome by Kostas.
I arrive at the Berlin apartment at midnight, utterly exhausted and immediately fall into a solid unbroken 8 hour sleep.
Next morning I am greatly refreshed. A couple of hours later Antoinette and baby arrive.
What a joy it is!