… slowing down


his afternoon I arrived in Ouranoupoli, the gateway to Mount Athos, and have fallen into a communications black hole. Seems there’s only one internet cafe in town and to get onto its only computer you have to wait until the local guy finishes playing online Solitaire. And it’s a cleverly disguised internet provider, tucked away as it is in the back of a bar that evidently saw its best days a quarter century ago.

I had hoped there might be wifi where I’m staying but Hotel Athos is run by an endearing couple who look like they were young when the telephone was invented. And their own phone – in the sitting area outside my room – has been ripped out of the wall. Since they have their own communication problem – he keeps hollering at her and she keeps replying “huh” at full volume – I haven’t yet inquired whether they have a wireless network. Perhaps I’ll ask later. Perhaps I’ll skip it… after all, how much can you expect for $25 a night?

And the communications woes continue elsewhere. I’ve repeatedly called to book a spot on the ferry that will take me to the Mount tomorrow. Nothing. I’ve also called six or so of the monasteries on the peninsula because you must make a reservation to stay at any of them for the night. So far only one call was answered by a person. Our chat was succinct. “Do you have space tomorrow night?” I asked. “No”. Click.

Another monastery had a recording that told me they were full until June. The rest didn’t answer at all. I guess for a place that has existed for over 1,000 years, most of that time without phone, fax or email, it’s probably not surprising that they haven’t been early adopters of technology. But then again, how did pilgrims “call ahead” back in 1586?

Well, I’m sure I can wiggle onto the ferry in the morning without a reservation. Finding a place to lay my head tomorrow might be tougher. In the worst case, I’m sure I won’t be the first pilgrim to spend the night sleeping under a tree… and who knows, maybe I’ll find an empty hermits cave.

If I do have to sleep outside tomorrow night I now wish I hadn’t read the part in the guide book about the three kinds of poisonous snakes indigenous to Mount Athos. Hmmm… If this site isn’t updated for awhile it means I managed to get onto Athos and either got bitten by a viper or successfully threw myself upon the hospitality of one of the monasteries.

More to come… sometime.