14.05.2009 25 °C
With our time here in Santorini and Greece drawing to a close we took stock of all the extra’s we accumulated in the last 5 countries and were still hauling with us. It was time to put a package together and send it home. Finding the local post office is way more difficult than emergency medical care and many steps were taken on the Santorini Island before our box could be sent. It is a veiled gift . Our children, to whom this was sent are not allowed to open the box beyond the Nepali veil, covering their Christmas gifts. On the very top is a small clear package which contains 5 pouches, holding the coins of Thailand, Nepal, India, Turkey and Greece, the countries we have traveled in these last weeks.
They have been faithfully collected for our favorite son in law, Mr. Corbitt, and his class at Simon Intermediate school in Conway, Arkansas. While now in Euro land, we have learned that not all Euros are equal as pointed out to us in a small Santorini store where the owner showed us the Greek mark on the coins and maybe after Greece we will no longer see the 1 and 2 Euro cent coins. The Nepali pouch of coins is still the most special to us, partly because of the difficulty in aquiring them. In Nepal, rupee coins are rarely seen and passed and even for the smallest denominations, 1, 2 or 5 rupees, worth pennies each, tattered bills are now much more common which makes it hard to believe that as recent as 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary scaled Mount Everest an 30 extra Sherpa porters hauled the coins needed to pay for his expedition since at that time rupee bills were still unheard of in Nepal . In our Nepal coin bag is a small piece of chocolate. It was the tender rendered for 1 rupee when the store did not have the correct change and seeing the pile of chocolates in the cash register drawer, very acceptable.
We ended our time in Santorini with that we did most of and that was walking. The island invites one to this, blasted as it was to smithereens by volcanic activity it leaves one side with sheer cliffs while on the other side gently sloping back to the sea, allowing black and red sand beaches for the tourists to bake on. Our most favorite walk was the 15km hike from Fira to the town of Oia, built along the rim of the caldera wall and known for a spectacular sunset. Walking through the narrow alleys, terraced on cliffs showed us the roof arches of Santorini, all whitewashed or painted the church blue and there to offset the other Santorini phenomena which is the hidden flat basins each arched roof carries to catch and utilize every raindrop which falls on this extremely dry island. Slightly tilted, each roof has a drain which carries the rare , fresh water to a cistern deep below each house. On top one could also see the stainless steel hot water tanks attached to the solar panels which gave us many good hot showers. It is amazing how an island without fresh water and limited rain days can maintain its greenness, flowers and grape crops for the Santos wine. We mentioned earlier the lowness of the grape bushes, barely 2 feet in height so as to be protected from the Santorini wind which is strong, fierce and as the few trees show, blows from one direction only.
We took the “See Santorini in one day” tour and had a reenergizing blast. The tour involved a visit to the prophet Elias monastery built on the highest point of the island in 1711 AD and of course the view was breathtaking. In the Athinios port we boarded the old King Thiras boat which took us first to the island of Nea Kameni which is still an active volcano and the walk around and on the volcano involves clambering on lava with lots of tourists and not all were sufficiently warned that on this hike no donkeys were available. Afterwards the boat sailed to the small island of Palia Kameni,where we were offered a swim in the green, hot sulfur waters flowing behind the active crater. This became quite comical. The King Thiras boat stopped quite a way back from the island and we were all offered the opportunity to jump in, swim through the very cold , early spring Aegean waters for 15 meters( give or take a couple of 100 meters) before enjoying bathtub warm, orange and white speckled sulfur waters and some of us did. That’s when true bonding starts with your fellow passengers; Chinese, Dutch, Australian, American and Greek all sound alike when only shrieks of pain and moans of joy are heard when the water temperature abruptly changes from 10 to 35 degrees Celsius. The swim back to the King Thiras became a race since only cold water was a certainty on the return. The island of Thirassia was visited next and we hiked up to the village of Manalos and wondered when the tour company will start warning tourists that their day program is quite a work out. In Santorini donkeys are of course ready and willing to take you up the 600 or so vertical steps with at least many more horizontal steps in between but even while knowing how it boosts the Santorini economy, we struggle with having these tiny donkeys carry our big bodies up. Port Athinos was built only 40 years ago when Santorini realized that the port of Fira was not conductive in attracting the tourists, not even the donkeys could carry all the luggage and there was no room for the winding road needed to carry the big buses and their load up which now is in place. It is in Athinios where the big ferries stop. Fira still has its port for the daily cruise ships and some years ago a smart business man built a steep cable car to take the tourist up and down which of course drew the wrath of the donkey owners. Lately a happy compromise has been reached in Santorini, the cable car owner gives twenty percent of his profit back to the donkey owners who sit waiting for the few costumers still wanting the authentic ride up the many steps.
What stands out for us in Santorini is not the sunset we watched in Oia with many others but instead the full moon slowly starting its arch over the Caldera nighttime blue.
It is the time spent in the village of Karterados, walking, waiting for buses, buying bread and seeing the town’s people white washing for the summer to come. It is in the greetings we received and gave back to those who recognized us as travelers who stayed on Santorini for longer than a couple of days.
Santorini is not only a place to live but a place to be and with both fondness and sadness we sailed yesterday back to Athens and spent one more night there, this time on the Southern Athens beach of Glyfada before flying to Austria tomorrow.
Let’s hear if the hills are truly alive with the sound of music.
Yassu and thank you Greece!
Tom and Els