PARIS — Nobody would be happier than me if there were direct flights between Bogotá and Athens. As a native Colombian residing in Greece, I have had to make connecting flights between these two homes from time to time. The back-and-forth from the Greek capital to my hometown has landed me in different international airports with layovers of all kinds: Bogotá-Miami-Barcelona-Athens, Athens-Rome-Miami-Bogotá, Bogotá-Miami-Paris-Athens and onward-and-elsewhere.

But for three fellow Colombians (with whom, for the record, I have absolutely no connection), trying to get to Greece turned into a true lost-in-translation odyssey.

The Parthenon in Athens, Greece  —  Juan David Romero

The Parthenon in Athens, Greece — Juan David Romero

The three Colombians (a man named Diego, his girlfriend and her friend) were on their way to Greece for vacation, with a stopover at the Capodichino airport in Naples, Italy. But according to the southern Italian newspaper Gazzetta della Valdagri, the trio was somehow convinced that they had already reached the Greek capital: Atenas, as we say in Spanish, or Atene, as they say in Italian.

They disembarked and merrily began to search for their hotel (who knows, maybe they would catch a view of the Parthenon along the way!). But as Il Messaggero reports, the three wound up on a bus from Naples 142 kilometers southeast to a village called: Atena Lucana. Sure, a few millennia ago, it was a trading town in the Greek empire, but its 3,000 residents today live in what nobody disputes is the country of Italy.

A quick Google Maps search reveals the sheer outlandishness of this tale and leaves us wondering how the trio got so far off their trail. Surely they must have known they had a layover. Surely they must have done some preliminary research and quickly realized Italian is not the official language of Greece. Surely, they could have inquired at the airport.

Perhaps the common olive-scented whiff of the Mediterranean might have thrown them off the trail, but this only makes this story slightly less preposterous than having ended up in a different Athens, like the one in the U.S., in Georgia or Arkansas.

In any case, these three stooges ended up in a lounge bar called Maracanà around 9 p.m., where the owner, Luigi Terruzzi, happened to be hosting an evening of Latin music with Enzo Santoriello, the DJ.

The Map of Naples, Italy — Google Maps

"There are always many people with South American origins for these evenings. Of course, ‘originating from' and not ‘from South America'," Terruzzi recounted. "At first, we did not really understand each other. Those three continued to say ‘Athens, Athens.' And then they asked for the Hotel Museum, which we don't have here."

Indeed, the Hotel Museum is not too far from my house, in Athens. The Athens. Again, to be fair, Athens in Spanish is written Atenas, which obviously sounds the same as Atena — except for the Lucana part. In addition to that, they didn't have a SIM card, so they were unable to use their cell phones and the internet. And it is true that visa-free travel to Europe was granted to Colombians as recently as December of 2018, so it is possible that it was their first time ever in Europe.

Eventually, Santoriello and Terruzzi, good samaritans and lovers of Latin music, helped the Colombians reach a bus station, where they all learned the tickets to Rome cost 70 euros, and the tickets to Greece another 700. "They didn't even want a sandwich," Terruzzi said. "Enzo and I were as surprised as they were. We showed them a map of Atena Lucana. We sat them down because they were no longer able to stand."

To my three fellow Colombians, I feel for you, I know that feeling of being lost. Well, not that lost. In fact, I can assure you that if this story is true, as Luigi and Enzo claim when I reached out to them, most of my compatriatos are not this disoriented. For the moment, I am in Paris (France, not Texas), but when I get back to Athens, you can hire me as your own special Greek tourist guide — from Colombia.

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