Well, it would seem I spoke too soon and/or jinxed our string of good luck by declaring it publicly, because it all went south, and quickly. After leaving lovely Croatia, we spent a few quick days in Montenegro, driving through the beautiful Kotor fjord and then settling in the green expanse of the Durmitor National Park for a few nights. There we were able to do some great hikes that afforded insane views over the Tara River canyon as well as fit in a slow, easygoing, albeit fun raft trip. Not quite the thrilling, white knuckled trip our guidebook promised, but I guess we'll have to come back in May for that experience.
We bombed through the SW corner of Serbia, free-camped for one quick night on a random street in Skopje, Macedonia, and then arrived in Greece. This is where it all fell apart. Greece had it out for us! First we ran out of gas. Jer had been somewhat desperately searching for a gas station, none of which had appeared for over 50 miles, and so we hit the skids. No problem, we have a gas can with a few spare liters that should buy us about 50km. Well that lasted about 10km instead, and again we found ourselves stranded on the highway. Luckily there was a small construction site just a short ways up the highway, where Jer was able to coax one of the guys to run him to the gas station and back. This meant he got to ride in the owner's brand new Audi wagon (the car Jeremy has been drooling over since we arrived in Europe). He said they hit 200km (that's about 120mph) and it felt like butter.
We went limping into a gas station in some unknown town in northern Greece, popped the hatch, and discovered the problem. One of the fuel lines had cracked and was dumping gas as we drove. We found a small garage that could fix the problem for us in the morning. Unfortunately this meant bedding down in a somewhat frightening campground in this town that we still don't know the name of. A hot shower would at least wash our woes away....nope, keep dreaming. Is it too much to ask for a nice warm shower after a hellish day? Why yes, yes it is. And first you'll have to kill 8 good sized spiders on the shower floor before dousing yourself with ice water.
The garage was able to replace the fuel line in a few short hours, and with a mere 120 euro missing (which seemed very reasonable), we were off again. But only temporarily. We came to a screeching halt once again, this time because the water light started flashing and then the temperature gauge immediately hit crucial levels. Pop the hatch again, and this time we find a radiator hose sheered off. It was old and brittle and had just had enough. A road assistance van pulled over and I watched as Jer and the guy played a game of charades to work through the issue, since the guy spoke zero English, and well, our Greek is limited to reading the alphabet letters (and then only the ones in caps!). Together they were able to cut the dead end off the hose and by warming it with a lighter and stretching it profusely, get it to fit back onto the such and such part. Yeah, I know, I shouldn't be the one reporting on car stuff, so bear with me.
This same scenario played out another 3 times, and each time it was increasingly difficult for Jer to get the hose to stretch and refit. He was covered in black diesel grime and sweat, and up to the gills with frustration and despair. Not only that, our water tank was depleted from refilling the radiator, so if this happened again before we could find water, we were really going to be in trouble. Can you say S-T-R-E-S-S-I-N!!
We finally landed in Athens and at this point we were just desperate to find a campground for the night and worry about the fixes the next day. It was getting late and all tourist information booths were closed at that point. Between our two guidebooks (we pilfered a second one back at a Venician campground) and the GPS, (which is loaded with lodging options and is usually how we find a campground), we could not come up with a single thing. In a huge city like Athens! We drove around and around 2 different places that were listed but didn't seem to exist at all. We paid tolls to get off an exit, drive around aimlessly, and then pay the toll again to re-enter the highway. We finally decided to try our luck by heading into the busy part of the city to find an internet cafe to look up a place to stay, only to break down just before a very busy intersection. Guess how many people pulled over to help us? Nada. Nada single one.
We hadn't eaten or had any water for ourselves to drink since breakfast, so the glow of that McDonald's sign was like a gift from the heavens. Feeling a little refreshed, we found an internet cafe. We easily mapped one of the campgrounds we'd been searching for when Jer decided to run back out to the van to grab the GPS so we could plug in the coordinates and find this effing place once and for all. We hadn't been away for more than 10 minutes at that point. He comes back and says we need to go. The van has been broken into and our laptop was gone. The quiet, calm way he relayed this info was actually kinda creepy. I think he was just out of reserves at that point and had nothing left to even get mad.
Someone had used a screwdriver or something similar to jam the driver's side lock because it was unlocked when Jeremy went back and we haven't been able to unlock it with the key since. That's still on the list to get fixed. It seems to have been a mad dash to grab whatever they could find because as far as we can tell, only the laptop was taken. Our ipods, our hard drive with all our pictures (WHEW!), the GPS, all still there. Granted they were hidden away and would've taken some searching, but all the doors and hinges were open so it seemed like they went through things, at least briefly. The biggest punch to the stomach was that in that 10 minutes of internet time, I read an email from my boss, breaking the news that my job wouldn't be available for me to go back to. Yep, my dream job that you've all heard me rave about time and again, working for the most amazing people and doing work I actually enjoyed....the perfect fit I've always searched for. Yep, no more. It was all just too much to take in and we were both stunned, exhausted, and totally bummed out. We didn't even talk about it much. The day had just zapped us into empty little shells with Filet o' fish in our bellies.
This all happened on a Friday, and we were stuck in Athens until at least Monday when the garages would re-open. Let me say that Athens is not a city worth more than a day out of your life, and maybe not even then. I'd say skip it all together and fly straight to the islands if you want to visit. The Acropolis/Parthenon was a sight I've always been dying to see but turned out to be very expensive, and shockingly unimpressive. Maybe we've been ruined by the amazing ruins of Rome or Cambodia, but really?? This is the famed Acropolis?? IF you can see it through all the scaffolding....
We tried everything to get out of the doldrums. Treated ourselves to movies, saw our first live futbol game at the Olympic stadium, drowned ourselves in tallboy Mythos beers and countless gyros (the real deal Greek tzaziki is unbeatable). We'd be lifted for a short period and then fall right back down into our bummed out status. This was most disturbing of all because it's so unlike us. We were like a couple of zombies meandering around. We just couldn't manage to cheer up and roll with the punches this time.
Luckily, the VW dealership was able to get a connector part for us for next to nothing, and Jeremy was able to reattach the existing hose. We mad-dashed outta Athens shortly after, catching a ferry to the island of Santorini. We landed and rolled into a primitive campsite a few meters in from the black sand beach on the SE side of the island in Perissa. It was closing for the season in two days but the lady welcomed us to stay as long as we wanted and left the power, and hot (albeit salt water - that was interesting) showers on for us. Things were looking up already. That was, until we checked our email, only to have the same news from Jeremy's company. Skanska is looking at a hiring freeze at best, but more likely to downsize, so bringing Jeremy back on board wouldn't be in the cards until this time next year. On top of that we got news that the company we bought the van from doesn't have funds to buy it back like planned (AGAIN, due to the economy. At this point I'd like to send a shout out to GW and his cronies for the lovely situation they put us in). We'll have to sell it through her on consignment, rather than to her for her own resale. It should sell with no problem, but not until Spring when the season starts up again. Man, when it rains, it pours! I've come to think that's better though - get it all over with at the same time instead of a long, painful, drawn out barrage of bad news.
So, since the funds from selling the van was the chunk of change we were planning to go home with, coupled with our new-found (okay, not so new-found, just permanently-found) umemployed status, we are more than a little stressed about what life will be like when we land home. We are therefore cutting out about a month of the trip, and heading home in time for Thanksgiving. It's a strange dichotomy of emotions at this point, as we're very excited to get home and see everyone, get back to life as we knew it, etc. But at the same time, we've cut out several places (among them Egypt/Jordan, which was my toppity-top destination spot of all), are fast-tracking the drive back to Holland, and are now heading back from this adventure to possibly very stressful and less than ideal circumstances. We won't be able to move back into our house for a few months and will probably be crashing with Jeremy's parents until then. I guess we always said we'd be starting over like we were fresh out of college....just didn't know how literally that would translate!
Thankfully though, just when we thought we couldn't drag our knuckles through the doldrums for one more minute, we stumbled into the Blues Bar in Perissa and met Tony, the Greek/Canadian bartender and owner who literally never wipes the shit eating grin off his face for a minute, not even when it's 5am and he's praying we'll all just get the hell outta his bar. Then there were the British angels: Mike and Julie, and Clive and Elaine, who were all so gregarious and optimistic that it was contagious down to our bones. A few days later the Marin County firefighters rolled in, led by John the big teddy bear. It felt like everyone was a big, happy family, and every single night for a week straight, we'd all congregate at the Blues Bar and hang out until the wee hours. The crew helped us to put things back in perspective. We'd already acknowledged what great luck we'd had all along, and I'd even said I'd been feeling like we were "due" for something unfortunate to happen. It was just our time. We left Santorini revived and refreshed and feeling like ourselves again. Turns out a little beach and boozing time was just what the doctor ordered.
Though the computer held some important documentation (copies of downloaded credit card and bank statements, copies of our tenants' leases, and our huge budgeting spreadsheet), none of it was life threatening to lose. We did have some subsequent fraudulent charges to our bank account that were reversed, but besides a nasty email from our previous tenant, it doesn't seem the thieves have done anything with her personal information. What we miss most is the sentimental information like our travel documentation of where we've been and stayed, videos from our bull fighting experience, and videos we'd created as we were in the midst of putting together a Cribs style video about Floyd the van (which was going to be hilarious!) Ah well. I also had several VERY funny, witty, and extremely well written blogs, FULL of hilarious stories and interesting tidbits waiting to be posted as well. My best work to date, for sure. Maybe they'll get recreated someday. On that note, without the computer, we probably won't be blogging anymore after this. We will continue with the posts and pictures once we're home though, so keep tuning in. We still have so many stories to share, both for your reading enjoyment and our memories, but we can't afford the time and cost of doing it all in internet cafes anymore. We'll keep you posted as to actual landing dates and times, and will VERY much be looking forward to catching up with everyone!