|With no accommodation booked, we were at the mercy of the touts as we disembarked at the small strip off land they call a port inside the cauldera of Santorini. When the guides tell you that Santorini is the most spectacular of Greece's islands, they are definitely not exagerating. Craggy, barren ciffs erupt into the sky from turquoise seas, forming a magnificent sheltered semi-circle.
The port was swarming with touts as we made our way from the ferry. We rejected one tout, but decided to go with the second one ... because they had a pool. It was cheap and they were giving a free ride to the hotel so we found it hard to refuse. The road from the port rose 1000 ft almost straight up before levelling off at the top of the island. Once we got to the hotel, however, we started to regret it. It wasn't 5 minutes walk, as they had said it was to the main town of Fira, it was more like 20 minutes. The door to our room was f**ked, the floors were dirty and to top it off, the people in the paper thin-walled room next to us were related to the owner and had the TV up so loud it vibrated through the whole place. Bloody noisy bastards.
After settling, we went for the long walk into Fira for a look around. The town is perched right on top of the precipitous cliffs overlooking the cauldera. Fantastic views. Definitely incredibly toruisty. Well-heeled Americans flock here along with dozens of other nationals. Swanky jewellery shops line the winding white-washed little streets and of course so do souvenir shops. Donkeys are made to take tourists up and down a steep path that leads from the old port jetty up to Fira. Poor things. You could smell them before you could see them. Donkey shit on the paths gave them away.
Had Moussaka for dinner, watched the sun set then headed back to the hotel for bed.
The next day we hired a Quadbike from just up the road to get around the island. The traffic was a lot busier than Naxos due to the island's narrowness with one main road. This obviously made for more difficult riding, but we managed to scrape through unscathed.
Rode out to the southern tip of the island to the town of Faros and the Red Beach. Faros is a hilltop village with a characterful run-down castella at the top that overlooks the southern part of Santorini with its many uniquely Greek vineyards. The Greeks don't use wiring or supports for the grapes, they're just left to grow out over the ground. Maybe they do this because it is so windy on the islands.
We walked up Faros' winding little paths to the castella at the top. On the way, we bumped in to a couple of elderly brothers walking their two dogs and one cat. One of them spoke very good english and told us that he and his brother look after 40 stray cats and their two dogs. The one cat that was walking with the dogs was the alpha tomcat of the area and was in good nick. The rest of the cats looked pretty skanky and cat-fluey, but you could tell the brothers were very fond of all the cats. The talkative brother told us he used to be a radio operator in the merchant navy (hence the good English) and had travelled the world (except NZ) before coming back to his family home here in Santorini. Such a lovely old fella. Justine could help crying . He was such a gentle and caring fella.
We carrued on up to the castella where the views were once again spectacular. You could see right along the whole island cauldera to the northern town of Oia. We could also see the gently sloping other side of the island from the cauldera that was covered in vineyards and staple crops. From the main towns and the cauldera you can't imagine what Santorini could have produce to stay in existence before tourism, but from up here to can see all the crop land.
Just along the coast from Faros is the resort beach of Parrissa. It reminds me a lot of Pauanui with its party atmosphere. Young revellers come here from all over the world to party. Most of the tourists and revellers had gone, but you still got that party vibe. We didn't stick around long so it was off to the next village for a little look around.
Megalochori looked deserted except for a few cats and the odd chippy working on someones house. The village is supposed to be some old traditional village, but it looked very similar to most of the other village we'd seen. Maybe we needed to do a tour or something to make the most of it.
It was stinking hot so we headed back to Fira for some lunch and then back to the hotel where Justine wanted a little moi. The All Blacks were playing the Springboks in Pretoria and a café in Fira was showing it live so I left Justine at the hotel and went to watch the game. Very very disappointing. Rodney So'oialo single-handedly lost as the game 21-20. Three major errors handed the Springboks 10 points and cost us 7 points. First mistake was the dumbest telegraphed pass in the history of the game within our own 22 that saw Brian Habana pounce of it to score under the sticks. The second error saw him blatantly take out a defender as Andrew Hore dove under the posts to score a try that was disallowed. The third and most stupid mistake of all was in the last minute of the game when we were up by 20-18. Right in front of the ref, he blatantly came in from the wrong side and took an opposing player out of a ruck 22 metres out from the goal post giving them an easy penalty kick for the win. What a wanker!
While I was watching the game some english twat was whinging to the waitress and his girlfriend that he couldn't watch the England football game because they couldn't get BBC1 on the TV. You wouldn't have been able to watch it anyway you wanker, I was watching the rugby, and there was no way anyone was changing channels to watch f**king soccer.
Anyway, after that I went back to pick Justine up from the hotel and headed out to the other end of the island to watch the famous sunset from the town of Oia. It was f**king windy and cold on the on the winding coastal road out there. We were almost blown off a couple of times. It took us more than half an hour to get out there and the sun had almost set. Finding a park was easier said than done too. It seemed like the whole island was there. We found a park as close as we could and headed quickly for the end of town.
The streets were incredibly narrow and there were heaps of people walking through them. We were beginning to think we might not make it in time. The town was incredibly beautiful but we didn't have the time to enjoy it as we were hurrying to make it for the sunset. As we rounded the last bend ... blam ... hundreds of people were gathered there to experience the beautiful Oia sunset. The colours, ooooh the colours! The white-wash of the buildings brought out an incredible kaleidoscope of reflections keeping everyone transfixed. As the last rays disappeared over the horizon, spontaneous applause broke out from all that had gathered. Aaah, special.
The ride home was freezing in the nightime winds, but we managed to make it back vowing to return to Oia in the morning for a proper look around before the tourists arrived. We called in to a travel agency in Fira before we went back to the hotel to book our onward journey. The only option left to us was a flight to Rhodes for the next day. All the ferry options were ... well ... crap really. €99 each seemed an acceptable cost for avoiding a 10 hour ferry ride.
The next day, as promised, we returned to Oia. This time it was just us and the gattos (cats). Even the locals hadn't risen yet. What a beautiful town, probably the most picturesque we've seen on our travels. The whitewashed bricks and mortar just makes everything look so clean and simple. The dry and warm conditions in Greece keeps it in pristine condition. As they say in the real estate industry, location, location, location. Spectacular views of the cauldera from almost anywhere in the town. If you want to stay there, be prepared to fork out the dolleros for any of the boutique hotels there. There are no budget options.
Reluctantly we had to get back to the hotel as we had arranged with the hotel for them to drop us off at the airport at 12:30pm.
The Santorini airport is a pretty small affair as would be expected, but pretty well kept so there wasn't any cause for anxiety. However, when I saw the plane we were going on (Sky Express), a small knot appeared in my stomach. I don't like flying at the best of times, but a small 12 seater propeller-engine plane in 40 knott winds would send shivers up the most hardened traveller's spine. To make it a bit more nail-biting, there was a baggage weight restriction of 13kg each because any more may prevent the plane from getting airborne. What? Are you saying the plane may not get off the ground? This will be fun ... not!
We had to do a bit of last-minute shuffling around of our luggage to make the weight restriction. We were wearing our heavy clothes even though it was 33ºC outside. The plane was fully booked so weight was at a premium. When we all finally boarded the plane, I was glad to see that one of the passengers hadn't made it. One less person to weigh the plane down. Stink for them, but bugger it ... good for the rest of us.