Island Adventures

13 Oct

Santorini is one of those places where you see so many beautiful, perfect pictures of the place that you know once you get there you’re going to be let down.  And then you get there, and…you’re not.  In any way, shape, or form.  Instead, you’re snapping tons of photos by the second and getting frustratingly disappointed when your photos don’t do the real thing justice.  Santorini is one of those places that’s better than the storybook fantasy.  Where every nook and cranny is more quaint, picturesque, and breathtaking than the one before it.  Where the people are friendly, the food is delicious, and the views are unbelievable.  The water is clear, the cliffs are overflowing with white and blue churches and homes (with the occasional pink or yellow or green building thrown in for dramatic effect), and the sheer beauty of it all is hard to grasp.  Santorini is one of those places you just have to see in your lifetime, and you’ll get it.

After our rocky arrival to the island, we settled in and set out for dinner, getting willingly lured into an impromptu wine tasting at the back of a small shop along the way.  Our dinner lasted hours…and hours…and hours.  Santorini is famous for its white wine, and so we ordered a liter at dinner.  The wait staff decided that, once we finished that liter, we absolutely needed another one…on the house.  We did not protest.  We finished that liter.  They noticed this, and set another liter down on the table.  “On the house!  Must drink up!”  Hmm, we were pretty full at this point, but who are we to argue over free wine with Greek waiters?  Somehow, we managed to finish this liter, except for a small amount, thinking that we could deceive them into thinking we weren’t yet done, and thus wouldn’t slam down another at our table.  Turns out, these waiters can’t be fooled so easily.  To counter our deception, they poured the rest of that liter into our glasses, and then brought out a fresh liter and distributed that one evenly among us 5 girls.  Suffice it to say I lost track of how many times this ended up happening, but I remember having the urge to pee like I haven’t felt since Oktoberfest 3 beer steins in, and walking back to the hostel delightfully happy to be on this glorious island.  Followed promptly by all five of us splayed out in every which way on the small beds and passing out.

We spent the next 3 days on the island exploring and enjoying the perfect weather (and I have the tan to prove it!).  We picnicked on the famous black sand beach (Santorini is basically one big volcano–it’s an island, duh–that curves around an active volcano), hiked down to a red sand beach, rented a car and somehow managed to stuff 6 of us in, which for a small European car is quite a feat, and drove to the top of the island to see ancient ruins.  The drive up to the ruins consisted of a winding, steep, narrow, zig zag road along the edge of the cliff with no guard rail and only the honking of a horn to alert you to oncoming traffic.  Visions of the car flipping over, flying through the air thousands of feet, and plummeting to the bottom of the Aegean Sea, with the six of us scraping our fingernails helplessly against the windows, made the drive up a little hard to swallow, and when we finally parallel parked at the tip top, I was in disbelief that I had survived.  The ruins were from an ancient civilization that settled atop the island for means of protection (after our trying experience to make it up there in an automobile, it makes sense why nobody ever attacked them), and created an entire city for themselves consisting of churches, a theater, a bath house, social areas, and houses spanning the economic classes.  It was definitely a sight worth seeing, and the view wasn’t too shabby either.  And, as much as I was dreading it, the drive down was much easier than the one up.

Another day, four of us took a ferry tour to the active volcano and walked up to the top, seeing the craters, feeling the heat of the rocks, and smelling the sulfur the whole way up.  Apparently, this volcano’s first eruption caused the entire advanced civilization (complete with modern inventions that our society did not discover for ourselves until thousands of years later) to vanish underwater.  Scientists believe this lost civilization to be Atlantis.  And here I am thinking it was somewhere off in the Caribbean.

Once the ferry took us back to the main island, we docked in the old port and took DONKEYS up to the top (the entire population of Santorini resides atop the cliffed island, and so cable cars, winding taxi or bus rides, or donkeys transport you to the top, unless you’re up for quite a steep hike though donkey shit).  We had been looking forward to the donkey ride since we first planned on visiting Santorini, and so we were more than pumped.  We figured out exactly who should hold each camera based on how we’d be in the line of donkeys, so that each of us could get enough shots of ourselves on our donkeys.  The donkeys had another idea in store for us.  While we assumed that the donkeys would be led by a man in an orderly progression, in reality we were thrown on donkeys, and the donkeys just went on up those steps like it was nobody’s business.  They nonchalantly cut other donkeys off, causing your knee to get awfully close to being wedged right up into that other donkey’s ass, or your foot to kick an oncoming donkey in the face, and couldn’t care less about the people walking down.  I always felt bad when my donkey (who I named Derwood, after Andorra’s nickname for Darren in Bewitched) made a beeline for a pedestrian, but there was really nothing I could do except say sorry and keep trotting along on Derwood’s back.  Though really, I don’t know why anyone would walk up or down those steps.  Going down on a donkey would be terrifying, but that’s exactly why they have cable cars and shuttles.  The entire path of stairs is covered, COVERED, in donkey you-know-what, and it is utterly disgusting (which is why you can understand how fearful one becomes every time there’s a chance of knee-ass interaction).  I loved riding the donkey, Derwood and I grew quite close, and I will forever think fondly of him, but I was quite relieved to jump off and stand on solid, albeit shit-covered, ground.

I also went cliff jumping.  Yes, I know I talked about jumping off a rock into water in a previous post about another island, but now I’m talking actual cliff jumping.  Like 15 feet drop cliff jumping.  It was awesome.  I actually felt suspended in the air for a longer time than I thought I would, and the smack into the water was not what I expected, but it was exhilarating and wonderful.  As we were jumping, these young Albanian guys were also taking the plunge, and a little competition ensued (one that I was NOT a part of…my graceful diving skills are, well, not graceful, nor are they skills, and I did more of a flailing pencil dive than anything else).  Sarah was a diver at Stanford, and so after all these guys figured they were bad-ass, she surprised them with a few flips.  They were impressed, understandably, as were all the other bystanders laying out by the rocks.

After 3 days on Santorini, four of us took a ferry to Ios for the final two nights of our vacation.  Ios is considered the party island of party islands, packed over the summer with smashed Brits and Aussies looking for a good time (and not being disappointed).  Summer season had finished the week before we arrived, and it was dead.  Completely.  But it was nice, really.  It felt like our own secluded island, and we hiked and kayaked to a few hidden beaches and walked through the tiny maze of streets, getting to know all the local characters, including the mangy dogs.  We stayed at the best hostel, not only in terms of personality, but the view was fantastic as well, and met some really cool people from all over.  The first night we stayed out until 5am with 5 guys from Seattle who were staying at our hostel, the British van driver, and the Scottish DJ/bartender from the hostel.  Despite the island being dead, enough people surfaced at night to keep the bars reasonably crowded and full of excitement.  It was a pretty great night, followed by a pretty not-so-great morning, but a day lounging by the sea isn’t a bad way to nurse a hangover brought on by free drinks, so I won’t be one to complain.  I loved Ios, and Sarah and I made a vow to return in the summer and experience the island in all its glory.  We were even considering holing up there for a few weeks in July/August.  Anyone in the market for a few American barmaids?

Tuesday was spent on a 10-hour ferry ride back to Athens, made enjoyable by cramped spaces, hysterical babies, and pubescent girls who, to our delight, have not yet discovered deodorant.  Memories of the Seinfeld B O episode drifted in and out of my mind as I tried to sleep on the rocky boat with my sweatshirt covering my face.  By 2am I was back at my house, and within minutes I was passed out on my bed, clad in the clothing I had been wearing and sweating in all day long.

Such is life.

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