creative ramblings & reverie

Friday, July 13, 2012

Notes on Santorini

When you're standing at a high point on Santorini looking out (which is what you're almost always doing there), the magnitude and consequences of the volcanic explosion four thousand years ago become clear.  You see at once what's there and what isn't and why; the blackened bones.  What is now called Santorini consists of five broken islands circling 84 "square" kilometers of sea which was once solid land.  This is the caldera of the volcano.  It is so deep—as much as a mile—immediately offshore, that no ships can anchor.

The two bits of land in the middle are called the burned islands, and were formed by lava in 1508 and from 1707-1928.  The largest, the New Burned Island, holds the crater of the still-active volcano.  We went over by boat and climbed it:  a strange, bright procession streaming up the black mountain.  No molten lava is in evidence, just a few steaming sulphurous patches and heat coming up through your shoes.

There is room for only one boat to dock at the volcano, so the three or four that came after just tied up to the first and we disembarked by being handed across all the boats in turn—a bridge of boats.

After climbing we sailed around to the other side of the New Burned Island and went swimming off the boat, in thermal waters.  There was a small white church in the cove, and above it a cave with an outhouse in it overrun with goats.

Boats only run from Crete to Santorini if there is no wind.  The hydrofoil goes once on Fridays, at 8 in the morning.  If there is wind, it doesn't go again until Sunday.  The ferry, on the other hand, which costs less but takes half an hour longer, runs on windless Saturdays, but not Fridays of any complexion.  This might be a problem if you've already paid for a room on Santorini for Friday night.  When you ask the ticket sellers whether it's usually windy once a week, or only once a summer, you're answered by a shrug.

The crossing is monstrously rough, even without wind.  Everyone gets seasick on that passage, including Theseus and Zorba!  Several people on our (Friday) hydrofoil were deathly ill.  But dolphins accompanied us alongside, and with the elastic wristbands I felt strangely well, blithely writing and drinking black Greek coffee (the boatman, who looked like Gene Wilder, taught me to say "without sugar" in Greek when he wasn't collecting seasick bags), and sympathizing with those who felt as awful as I normally do.

Planes may or may not fly to the island when it's windy.  They are little prop jets (baggage claim is a hand-lettered sign stuck in the earth outside by the exit gate), and nearly as rough as the boat.  A big, strapping young man practically had to be carried off feet first when we landed in Athens.

The Santorini airport ambiance is casual.  We waited twenty minutes in the Olympic Airlines "Check In" line while the single attendant helped wash the windows behind the desk.  (Cleanliness is important in an airline, don't you think?)  When the building was entirely filled up with waiting passengers, they sent some of us outside to wait.

Nor are taxis entirely to be depended on, though that was the only way to get to our hotel outside of town.  If the drivers don't feel like going where you do, they won't.  At the taxi stand in town everyone stands around calling out their various destinations, and should one of the drivers hear one that catches his fancy, he'll whisk up that fortunate passenger while those who have been waiting maybe hours longer glare or call out nasty things in Greek or German because they figure you've slipped him a thousand-drachma note or something.  Luckily we were a hot commodity with taxi drivers, since they could make lots of money off us and be back in no time to (not) pick up someone else.

Just past the taxi stand was a run-down carnival featuring a "German Animal Show."  We passed it a dozen times in our cabs.  The evening we left we saw that they had covered the bumper cars, as if they too were leaving.

(July 1993)

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