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4.2 Wake-up Call in Thessaloniki

Updated: Apr 2

The first morning in Greece is promising. Finally, bright sunshine and temperatures of around 20 degrees. After more than ten days travelling south, this is finally the ray of hope we've been wishing for since we got to Ticino. On today's route towards the Turkish border, we plan a precautionary pit stop at what is probably the only qualified Unimog garage in the entire south-eastern corner of Europe. Our concern centres around the old quirk that we experienced last winter in the High Atlas. At low temperatures, we suddenly lose the air pressure needed for shifting and braking when we shift down from fifth gear (the high circuit) to fourth (the low circuit). Forgive me for the unprofessional use of the terms, because I am an absolute car tech layman! This is precisely why we prefer to make a precautionary garage stop in Thessaloniki at the last Unimog specialist workshop before we leave Europe for Asia.

Arnakis from analyses

It's a bit like going to the dentist. The day it's finally your turn, your toothache is gone. Do you know the feeling? That's how our FRAME is feeling today. But it's hardly surprising, because today we have warm summer temperatures again and he only has his shifting quirks when it's really cold. Without tangible symptoms, the mechanic can't do anything. That was already the case in Switzerland, where we reported the same problem to our service garage. However, I take the opportunity to have my operating fluids checked at the same time. The primary reduction gears of the portal axles are due again soon anyway. And lo and behold, Arnakis, our new Greek friend from the unmistakable Unimog workshop, finds only about half a litre of oil in the rear axle differential instead of the two and a half litres that are supposed to be there. Alarm bells are ringing! That could have ended badly. A differential without lubrication is like an aeroplane without wings. Fortunately, we were able to avoid a "mayday" with this precautionary check. But we don't know where the missing two litres went. I've been keeping a close eye on my "old friend" since day one. He has never dripped. At best, it sweats a little, but it seems to me that oil loss to the outside is actually impossible. Differential oil can also escape into the primary reduction gears, but two litres is far too much to drain there unnoticed. But there is worse to come.

The actual compressed air problem remains unsolved, but we have now got a new, potentially more acute one with the almost empty rear axle. Well done, that increases the excitement.

above: Parked for inspection in the midst of Greek Unimogs

bottom left: Greek snacks included

bottom right: All kinds of treasures in the courtyard

After this wake-up call in Thessaloniki, we just manage to make it to the beach at Stavros before it gets dark. It was a nerve-wracking day in the Unimog garage and we are rewarded with a lovely spot on a small tarmac platform built into the sea. The surf is close enough to touch and as we love the sea more than anything, it feels only right to spend the night here. We are fast asleep when suddenly, around five o'clock in the morning, a combination of southerly wind and high tide sends the first waves crashing against the vehicle. We get out of our pyjamas and into our trucker boots. As always, the escape route is well planned and can therefore be tackled in the dark without any problems. Uff, that wasn't dangerous, but rather embarrassingly close to the water.

Above & below: Close enough to touch the waves in Stavros

Today we are travelling across the Turkish border to finally arrive in Istanbul tomorrow. An EHL school friend is already waiting for us in the Turkish metropolis and we are looking forward to seeing her again after decades. But today also turns out differently than we think. A strong storm is building up in the far west of Turkey. I've been monitoring this weather situation since yesterday and it seems to be intensifying. As I'm not sure how steep and how well maintained the roads up to the Turkish border are, I decide to pull the ripcord after 120 kilometres, which means ending the stage early. This is not exactly met with enthusiasm by the crew, i.e. Brigitte. She wants to leave the winter behind her as quickly as possible and not be slowed down by it. She has also been looking forward to Istanbul for a long time. But we have an agreement between us: if one of us has a bad gut feeling, the other has to give in. It doesn't matter whether it's for safety reasons, if the fridge is about to run empty or because of the weather. I prefer not to drive into blizzard-like storms and instead sit out the storm in a large shopping centre car park. The night is accordingly a bit shaky and bitterly cold, outside well understood. ;-). When we wake up, however, we don't yet realise how good our decision was, as there has been virtually no snow here in the far east of northern Greece. We set off and only gradually realise that the short wait was really worth it.

We also change our route to suit the circumstances. In this cold and bad weather, it makes no sense for us to go on a city stroll in Istanbul. There are also scheduling conflicts on the part of our host due to our delay. The new course now takes us a little further south via the Dardanelles instead of the Bosphorus. Istanbul is being postponed, not cancelled!

Turkish gigantism impresses us from the very first minute at the Greek-Turkish border crossing at Ipsala. Actually, there is not one, but three. Three monumental buildings a few hundred metres apart give you the feeling that you are travelling to a big, very big neighbour. However, entering the country hardly takes any longer than anywhere else. It's not our vehicle, but rather our bicycles that are scrutinised. They seem to be obsessed with motorbikes. "Our fatbikes may look as they please", dear Mr Border Guard, "they are no motorbikes". After a few sentences of protestation, this was finally accepted, albeit reluctantly, and noted accordingly. We feel a certain sense of relief, after all we are now only one country away from our destination Cyprus.

3. Border: We made it!

Large and empty: the link across the Dardanelles

The road towards the Dardanelles reminds me of the extremely generously built connection between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the 90s. Back then, the six-lane motorways were (still) completely empty. Today they are jam-packed every day. Mr Erdogan probably has a similar vision for this road to Asia. It is yawningly empty today, as is the "1915 Canakkale Bridge", supposedly the longest suspension bridge in the world! With an average span of 2023 metres and a total length of over four and a half kilometres, it has held this world record since it was built almost two years ago. The rather meagre utilisation is therefore by no means due to the gigantic attraction, but presumably rather to the road toll, which is not so easy for the locals to cope with.

The "1915 Canakkale Bridge" connects Europe with Asia

We have now arrived in Asia. The area seems to be literally drowning in snow. Only now do we realise that our perseverance before the storm was absolutely right. There is about half a metre of snow here in the meantime. Even though the roads have been cleared again today, it was certainly not so cosy yesterday during the storm. Despite the nasty conditions, some people are wearing shoes that are far too light as they struggle over the piles of snow on the pavements. Obviously, people here are not used to the cold or snow in such quantities.

A first attempt to buy a local SIM card fails. But the waiting time is traditionally shortened with hot tea in the unheated Turkcell shop. We then have trouble connecting. The next day we realise that the problem was due to the fact that we entered the country with our personal ID and not our passport and were registered accordingly in the national system. We are not surprised that all telecoms providers, including private ones, are working hand in hand with the state to synchronise data. Lesson learnt!

above: In search of warmth, we find only cold and snow in Turkey

below: Pitch at Lake Göbasi after Bursa

Since Thessaloniki, I have been regularly checking the oil level in the now refilled rear axle. On the second day there is already room for another litre. Another litre on the fourth. We are now in the deepest Turkish outback somewhere on the massive plateau between Eskisehir and Konya and are still battling against snowfall and wind. Our journey south feels currently like travelling to the North Pole.

Winter just won't let us go

Genuinly helpful and always exceeding expectations

In the meantime, we also got ourselves a suitable Allen key so that we could open and close the differential more easily. Even though our worries about the oil level in FRAME's rear legs never let us go, the friendly Turks always manage to cheer us up with humour and charm. Wherever we ask for help, we are given more than we could have hoped for. The Turks are also a true model of hospitality.

We are now also in active contact with our technically savvy friends in Switzerland and What'sApp help groups to better assess the problem and the risk of an empty rear axle. Do we need to go to the very first truck garage here in Turkey or can we make it to Cyprus, where Arnakis has recommended a workshop? We drive on, check the oil level, worry and drive.

Daily oil check is becoming routine

In the Eber swamp area north-east of Cay, we are completely in the dry

The traffic flow through Turkey's major cities is also incredibly smooth. Whether Bursa, Eskisehir or Konya, we traverse all these cities of millions without a traffic light, stop or roundabout. The transit roads run right through the city and flow smoothly thanks to the respectful driving style of everyone involved. Only a few wild motorcyclists stand out in the opposite way. They roar through the cosy city traffic on their heavy machines at well over 100 km/h and seem to be in a hurry to get to heaven at a young age.

We make good progress. At almost 300 kilometres a day, we are now on our fourth day in Turkey, the last two on this huge plateau over 1,000 metres above sea level. It's hard to believe that tomorrow we should already be at the port of Tasucu and that from there we are only a short ferry ride away from our destination of Cyprus. It's hard to believe, because tonight the thermometer is still showing a whopping minus eight degrees and in Cyprus we're hoping for a cosy 20 degrees.

We "enjoy" a North Pole-like night at the almost dry May reservoir

The many different assumptions and recommendations we receive on our social media channels regarding the disappearance of our rear axle oil without a trace almost overwhelm me a bit. I'm being sent instructions on how to dismantle my Unimog into all its individual parts. Hey guys, I'm not a mechanic! If I can really do it, how do I put it all back together again? After all the really well-intentioned expert advice, there's only one solution for us: we have to make it to the recommended garage in Cyprus. So now I'm lying on the frozen floor under my Unimog, even in sub-zero temperatures, to make sure my axle doesn't run dry. We finally decide to reduce our top speed from just over 80km/h to just under 70km/h. The gods know whether this really does any good. As always, the opinions of the Unimog community are diametrically opposed. We do it anyway.

The last stretch to the ferry finally takes us from the frozen and almost dry May Reservoir down to the south coast to Tasucu. The area here is once again very impressive. Huge rock faces tower up next to the motorway-like road. Some of the rock towers soon threaten to fall onto the road, they are so crooked in the landscape. Shortly before our destination, we stop at a lorry garage, which is still open on Sunday, in search of some GL5 axle oil. After topping up the rear axle twice, the reserve we had brought with us for the reduction gears had been used up. The mechanic on duty greets me with his jet-black hands. He seems a little stressed, as an Azerbaijani lorry driver is already waiting impatiently for his truck to be repaired. Instead of explaining in my non-existent Turkish what I actually need, I search through his dusty canisters myself. And sure enough, I find what I'm looking for. At the very back of his mess I find GL5 axle oil, even from a premium manufacturer. Surprisingly, my rear axle doesn't seem to have lost any oil at all today, even though the journey was peppered with quite a lot of height differences, in other words effort for FRAME. So rather than filling the rear axle, he at least fills my empty canister in case I need some more when I arrive in Cyprus. He accepts my bakshish with a wink and wishes us a safe journey.

Impressive panorama from plateau of Karaman to the Mediterranean at Tasucu

We reach the harbour and park our monster where we probably shouldn't have parked it. Necessity is the mother of invention, as we are determined to secure a ferry ticket for tonight. The next one is not until Tuesday. The destination of Cyprus is within our grasp. As expected, the ferry is not fully booked in the current lowTa season. A place tonight is secured. But before we head to the terminal at around 8pm, we treat ourselves to a Turkish dinner in the village. Eating dinner at 6pm is probably highly unusual. But we are ravenous and sit down in an empty restaurant on the beach and enjoy all kinds of delicious Turkish specialities.

top left: At the harbour of Tasucu

top right: For once we let ourselves be spoilt in a restaurant

The long night of waiting for Akgünler

The ferry journey to Girne is an adventure in itself. We stand at the harbour from 8pm until 6am, always on standby so that we can board the ship at any minute. When it finally starts, all the lorries arrive first, exclusively huge five-axle lorries, which disappear into the belly of our Akgünler ferry on a five-minute rhythm. Five minutes per vehicle? We know that from Morocco, England or Ireland, but much quicker. When it's finally our turn, we see the reason for the snail's pace. Each individual vehicle is painstakingly hoisted up to the next deck using a 40-tonne lift. It's almost seven o'clock and we're tired to the point of falling over. Wisely anticipating what could be a tiring crossing, we have booked a cabin in advance. Surprisingly, it is allowed to spend the night in the car here, but it is often very noisy from the ship's engines or the constant wailing of the alarm systems of wobbly cars. As we turn the key to our cabin and enter, equipped with our belongings, it almost hits us. It feels like being in a Siberian prison camp. A bunk bed with an ultra-thin mattress and a dingy sheet to cover us. The porthole is rusted through, the bathroom is barely functional, just don't touch anything because it risks falling to pieces. But the icing on the cake is the loud noise, even though we haven't even set sail yet. We look at each other in horror, then laugh in consternation. No, we're definitely not going to stay here. We quickly return to our luxury room at FRAME and, despite the initial noise, fall asleep within seconds.

We are well prepared for the customs procedure in Northern Cyprus thanks to the information on the Internet. As there are only three tourist vehicles on this ferry, there are no long waiting times. We even get a personal escort from a friendly official who accompanies us from one post to the next. Passport control, vehicle insurance, road tax and temporary vehicle import are the various stops along the route. Although Turkey claims that Northern Cyprus is in fact part of its territory, leaving Turkey and entering Northern Cyprus is more complicated than at most other border crossings. It is already Monday afternoon when we can finally congratulate ourselves with a high-five: We've made it, we're on the Cypriot island.

We have finally arrived in the warmth, but we can't really enjoy it yet without having solved the riddle of our rear axle. The border crossing from the Turkish to the Greek part of Cyprus in Nicosia is quick and uncomplicated. We have the CP5 form issued, which is not automatic. This is a customs confirmation for the temporary import of our vehicle from Northern to Southern Cyprus. Without this form, we could have problems when we leave the country, say those who missed it.

From Nicosia it's a good half hour's drive on the motorway to Kaountas Brothers, the address Arnakis had given us in Thessaloniki in case we had a Unimog problem in Cyprus. Here we are and here we (still) have!

Theodosis and Vasilhs run a small garage here in Kofinou. Their brother Renos Kaountas also runs a workshop for building and repairing typical Greek bouzouki plucked instruments under the same roof. Their father is the good soul in the house and the " go-to guy"

Bouzouki workshop of the Kaountas Brothers

This family business is inconspicuously located in a small side street of the village, surrounded by discarded vehicles, empty oil barrels and the usual junk that is left lying around over the years. As a result of the ferry's long delay, it is already late Monday afternoon and we don't have much time to talk if we want to get to a nice place to spend the night by the sea before dark. We don't set our garage appointment for the following day, but for the day after tomorrow, because we really want to get some rest after our "rush trip" to the south. We've never had a rest day since Venice, because we were so keen for Cyprus.

Above: First relaxation at Mazotos Beach, south coast of Cyprus

below: Waiting for the spare part at nearby Alaminos Beach

Wednesday is therefore a day of investigation. It doesn't take long before we finally find the axle oil, which had supposedly disappeared without a trace, in the push tube. First we drain it and then order the necessary spare part under the guidance of Thessaloniki. It's incredible how well the supply chains work here. Be it for spare parts, a lunch or anything else. Any food and drink is delivered within a few minutes, all directly available spare parts four times a day or anything else imaginable in just a few days. From the kitchen or from the warehouse directly to the door, it works wonderfully here, even without DHL or UPS. We need a new shaft seal to solve our problem. A small ring the size of a hand has caused us so many headaches. It should be here the day after tomorrow, so we'll be at Theodosis and Vasilhs again on Friday.

The old (still fitted on the left) and the new shaft seal (right)

I watch the lifting with the simplest of means with suspicious eyes

In the meantime, I had time to think about this operation on FRAME. Without a lift or workshop pit, how do the brothers manage to do this? There is not even enough room height for my vehicle in his garage, so the whole thing will take place outside on the road. The thought of all those heavy loads without the right infrastructure gives me the shivers. Although that's not entirely true. The guys are otherwise really well equipped with tool cutters, compressed air tools and all sorts of bits and pieces, which turns out to be very helpful during the course of the repair.

Theodosis is in the lead. However, Vasilhs always comes to the rescue when difficulties arise. The two of them always discuss difficult manoeuvres briefly together. I can see that they work with their brains. That increases my confidence.

Theodosis on the left, Vasilhs on the right. Two professionals at work

Even customers who pop in, drop off or pick up their cars or just make an appointment, they all lend a hand, bring a tool from inside or help us move something around. Teamwork at its best.

The big dismantling because of a small part...

We spend almost twelve hours on the forecourt of Kaountas Brothers. Including coffee breaks, breakfast and lunch, of course, we already feel like members of the family. So that's what Cypriot hospitality is all about. Marvellous! Of course, we have plenty of time in between to explore the surroundings, but I keep looking back under the vehicle at Theodosis. I try to get to know my Unimog better this way, even though I could never ever do this kind of operation on my own.

above: Having breakfast together with the three Kaountas Brothers

below: Enough time to discover the surrounding nature

It's already getting dark when we finally start assembling again. Don't rush unnecessarily now. Bolt by bolt, the thrust tube is returned to the axle, the shock absorbers and brake hoses are put back in place. Finally, the rear wheels are refitted and the axle oil topped up. Last but not least, the brake fluid is also refilled and everything is made ready for driving and tested. An Odyssey hopefully comes to an end here. We are infinitely grateful for the support we have received from everyone and especially for the active support of the Kaountas Brothers, as well as the unexpected wake-up call from Arnakis in Thessaloniki when they found out about the problem.

The "miracle" is complete. Thank you Bros!

Next blog 4.3. Akamas Off-road Adventure

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paul nix
paul nix
05 de fev.
Avaliado com 5 de 5 estrelas.

Nicely written thanks and all the best, Paul (Fujairah)

Respondendo a

Many thanks Paul, appreciate!

PS Fujairah ist also on our agenda. We will for sure meet and catch-up!!

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