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Rain, Wind and Sun in Santorini

Thira, Greece

The ferry pulled into the main port on the island of Santorini (also known as Thira) in the dark. The setting is surreal: a small port surrounded by a dozen or so shops and cafes at the bottom of a dramatic cliff face and accessible from the land only by a small winding road. The cliff was lit up by the lights from the port and a few hoteliers and taxi-drivers were loitering where we disembarked in the hope of catching some extra business. The hostel owners had promised to meet me to save a taxi fare, and I was expecting the usual custom of a piece of paper bearing my name so we could identify each other. I waited for some minutes before realising that this was obviously not the method used here. Eventually I saw a man in the distance holding a sign with the hostel's name and ran to meet him before he gave up and turned around.

We drove through the winding lanes and over the rocky landscape to the town of Perissa on the other side of the island. All I could really see, however, were the lights of the few and sparsely placed dwellings. The hostel was much what I had expected for the small price I was paying: clean, full, but nothing special. In fact, we were on the ground floor with a door opening to the outside seating area and as the temperature quickly dropped outside, so it did in the dorm. I met my room-mates and settled in for an early night.

The next morning promised a wasted day - heavy rain set in, making any efforts at sightseeing doomed to failure. This is the main problem with the smaller Greek islands as opposed to cities: enjoyment is heavily reliant on good weather. However, I met some new people, ate and drank in a couple of nice cafes and watched films and read. It was the first day of the trip so far in which I did not take a single photograph, but I needed to catchup on some relaxation and it served that purpose.

The next day the weather was a little better. Frustrated by both the rain and my inactivity on the previous day, I probably over-reacted on both counts and decided to head up a mountain ... in shorts and flip-flops. The inappropriate nature of my dress didn't hit me until I was a quarter of the way up and by this stage I refused my better judgment of going back. It was still drizzly and every few minutes the wind would surge round the bend of the mountain and make walking the delicate path almost impossible. But it was worth it: the views over the town towards the sea, the beautiful flora and the rocky crags were so wild and unspoilt. I reached the top, but didn't hang around as the wind was picking up and nearly swept me off - literally! The weather gradually improved throughout the day, which I spent a little more sedately. I went a number of times to an internet cafe to plan the next leg of my journey, upload photos and catch up with friends, but the wind was still intermittently strong and every time I went there was a power-cut. Indeed, so synchronised were my arrivals and the losses of power that the owner started to think I was an unlucky omen and laughingly nearly refused me entry towards the end of the day.

In the evening, I went to the bar opposite the hostel and met some of the 'locals'. In the summer, these are mostly made up of Britons and other English-speakers who head to the island to get work. The holiday season, I discovered, did not start for another week or so, and nearly everyone in the hostel was planning on remaining on the island until September and looking for more permanent accommodation. As such, the place has a real community atmosphere, but I also realised that not being part of this group I was effectively an outsider; a tourist. This may be something to do one summer, I thought.

On the final full day, I had intended to be a little more adventurous. Cycling was futile because of the terrain, however, and quading or motorbiking was probably a little too adventurous given the local drivers and the unpredictability of the roads. I therefore planned a day lying in the sun, and headed down to the black beach, where the sand is thick, dark and consequently keeps warm all day. The weather was some of the best I have had yet, and almost made it worth enduring the rain of two days before. I lay out on the beach into the evening hours and finally headed in for bed.

The next day I was due to leave for Athens, but my ferry did not depart until midnight. I spent the greater part of the day reading on the beach again and walking around the town. In the afternoon I had wanted to leave for Fira, the capital of the island, so I could see some variation. However, the timing did not work out and by the time I got to Fira by bus, it was time to get a taxi to the port. At the port I ate in a cafe full of locals watching Chelsea play Barcelona, and was eventually able to board the ferry, take my seat, and try to sleep.

permalink written by  BenWH on May 4, 2009 from Thira, Greece
from the travel blog: Gap Year Odyssey
tagged Greece

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