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We had to wake relatively early in order to board our bus at 10:20 a.m. We slept quite late the day before as we recuperated from the long travel day to Santorini. We booked a tour that would take us to the volcanic center of the Santorini Island system, hot springs near the volcanic center, a smaller Island within the system called, Therasia and finally an evening in Oia (pronounced Ee-ah) where we would be able to see a sunset from the best viewing location on the island. We arose at 9:30 a.m. and made our preparations to depart. We stopped at the main office of our hotel to pay for our tour and then proceeded to the bus stop. This was the same bus stop at which we waited for an hour the day before only to give up before any bus arrived. We hoped that things would be different since this was a tour bus looking for us specifically.
Only ten minutes had expired when a bus pulled up and stopped right in front of us. We showed our form to the driver and he welcomed us with a friendly smile. From there, we proceeded to the center of Fira, disembarked from our first bus and boarded a second bus. The bus filled quickly and before we knew it, we were on our way to the port where a boat was prepared to take us to the volcano and Therasia.
At the dock, we joined another busload of people resulting in a day on a boat with 125 of our closest, new friends. It was very overcast, chilly and windy at the dock. Before we boarded the boat, it began to sprinkle for a few minutes. It seemed quite clear that we were going to get wet at some point during the day. While we were waiting for the departure, I noticed two familiar faces. It was the couple next to whom I sat on the airplane trip to Santorini and that I had seen the day before as we explored the city of Fira.
We had two guides with us on the boat. A gentleman in his late 20s spoke first in what appeared to be Greek. He spoke for a few minutes, obviously describing what was going to happen during our tour. Next, he spoke in English, which made definite our assertion that he was describing our trip. Before he was finished, he describe the tour plans in six languages. There was one other language that he started but no one responded so he did not continue. I could not make out the seventh language and wondered if he made it up to show off. Either way, I was impressed. The lady only spoke Greek, French and English. She was hardly worth mentioning. Hmm, I can hardly handle English.
Our first stop on the tour was the volcano of Santorini. The entire island is the top of a volcano that grew out of the ocean within the last several thousand years. The volcano we visited was in the center of this larger island system and last erupted in the 1950s. They have evidence of a civilization that lived there a few thousand years ago. The guide presented how descriptions of Atlantis were consistent with ancient Santorini and argued that the two were one in the same. It was a compelling case but I am sticking with the version that the Ancient Atlantians were from earth and traveled back and forth to the Pegasus Galaxy through the Stargate system.
There was a heavy mist when we arrived on the central volcanic island. There was a dock there and a number of boats similar to ours had already dropped off their load of tourists. We walked up to the rim of the crater some 500 feet above sea level along a one-mile trail. It was a bit strenuous for Mandy but she did very well and felt victorious when she reached the rim. At the rim, there was an area where the volcano was venting steam from boiling seawater. In another area, it was venting sulfur-containing gases that left yellow residues on the igneous rock.
After some pictures we returned to the boat along the same trail. Off and on throughout the journey, there were periods of light rain. As we approached the boat, the light rain turned heavy so we boarded the boat for protection from the elements. Most of the 125 people packed into a space designed for about half that number since the upper deck was open and exposed to the elements. It was a bit crowded for me so I went back outside to do some exploring. There was a pavilion adjacent to the dock that provided some protection from the rain. As the rain eased up slightly, I took short excursions to explore the rocks and the sea. After about 30 minutes, I boarded the boat for our trip to the hot springs. When we arrived, A few people jumped into the cold sea and swam to the warmer hot springs. I thought about it but since I did not have a change of clothes, I decided it was best not to get into the water completely.
From the hot springs, we made our way to the island of Therasia. It had limited tourist activity because it was difficult to compete with the main island of Santorini. We climbed the long staircase to the top of the Therasian caldera and explored the town.
After returning to the boat, we headed away from the island of Therasia to the city of Oia at the tip of Santorini. My favorite phrase of the day had been, “It should be a great sunset.” As we rounded the edge of Therasia and could view the open sea, I noticed a dark cloud that was dumping rain into the ocean. After careful observation, I concluded that the heavy downpour was heading toward Oia (Eeeee yeh). Not only was it not going to be a very good sunset, there was a good chance that we were going to get very wet. The guide informed us that our bus would pick us up at the public parking lot at 9:00 p.m. At the time of his explanation, it was 3:30 p.m. We were sitting next to a group of college students who had just finished their school year. They were supposed to go to Oia with our group but opted to stay on the boat with a group that was simply returning to the dock where we began our tour. There was an extra fee to enjoy the sunset, which we paid. I was looking forward to getting my money’s worth.
The dock was at sea level but the city was 400 feet up a long set of stone stairs. The only way to the top was by walking or riding a donkey. Mandy and I made our way to the exit point on the boat so that we could be among of the first to disembark. Most of the people were studying the sky and wondering what to do as we slipped by and were the first off of the boat. We headed for the stairway and began our climb to the top.
Within about five minutes, the skies opened up. We were unprepared for this type of weather. For nearly every other trip I have taken, I have packed some form of raingear. Even this time, I packed my great, waterproof hat. In fact, I carried it with me for the first two days in Santorini. I decided not to bring it on the boat tour for fear that I might lose it. As the deluge continued, I reconsidered the wisdom of that decision. I did my best to hold my coat up over both of our heads to project us from the worst part of the rain and wind. It was not long before my coat was soaked through and did nothing to help keep us dry. As futile as it was to use the coat as a rain guard, I felt compelled to stay in the battle in some fashion, so I continued holding my coat over our heads. At one point, we came to a place where there was a bit of an outcropping that actually protected us from the worst of the rain. We huddled together as close to the rocks as possible and accepted what little relief from the storm the outcropping offered. After about five minutes we ventured on. I am not sure if it was that we felt that the rain had eased up somewhat or if we figured that we should find some more effective shelter at the top of the caldera. In either case we restarted our quest to reach the top.
The day before our tour, we took our first trip down the stairs in Fira. We noticed evidence that donkeys frequented the area. While there was a significant amount of fecal material along the stairway, it was much less than we expected considering the number of donkeys that spent each day taking trips up and down the side of the caldera. We wondered who had the privilege of cleaning up after the donkeys. I postulated that if it rained hard enough, the rain would create a river as the water rushed down the caldera and found the nice channel created by the staircase.
Well, we were in the midst of a heavy rain and evidence to support my theory was easily observed. We were about 2/3 of the way up the caldera when we became uncomfortable with the amount of water rushing past our feet. The water level was well above our ankles and rushing at great speed down the stairs. There was a myriad of fast-moving waterfalls flowing over every step. There was between four and eight feet separating each step on the way up the side of the caldera. In between steps, it was as though we were walking up a swift stream.
The pace of our accent was quite speedy as we attempted to find some effective shelter from the elements. The elements and the pace of our climb took their toll on Mandy. Her heart became very irregular and she made comments about not making it off of the island. Eventually, however, we did make it to the top where we joined a number of people under a human-made, covered area that was part of a restaurant. The shelter was not a roof but was constructed from a series tarps strewn over a wooden skeleton. On any other day, we would probably have felt uncomfortable with how wet we were getting under the make-shift shelter, but at that time, it was nothing compared to the soaking we received while climbing the last section of stairs.
While we were standing there, we noticed that the couple next to us was the same couple that sat next to me on the plane and that we saw the day before in Fira. I mentioned that I remembered them from the plane and we began to have a discussion. There were from Australia but the man had spent some of his early years in Greece. They were finishing up a two-week trip with some time in Santorini followed by some time in Crete. After awhile, the rain transitioned from torrential downpour to heavy precipitation. We decided to move on to see if we could find some shelter inside of an actual building. A short distance away, we joined some people in a store and waited until the rain changed to light precipitation. We walked along a few streets and finally found a restaurant where we decided to get something to eat.
The couple from the airplane followed us into the restaurant and sat at the table next to us. They ordered some desserts and drinks while we ordered an entire meal. It tasted very good but was a bit on the pricey side. After we finished eating, we chatted with our new friends and discussed our lives, especially the events of the day. Every once in awhile, I would blurt out, “It should be a great sunset.” The first five or six times were funny. After that, well, I kept saying it anyway.
Eventually, the rain stopped and we began to explore Oai. Most of the shops were closed and the streets were un-crowded. I deduced that it might have had something to do with the rain. Even though the sunset options did not appear to be very promising, Mandy and I decided to locate the castle and windmills where she learned from her extensive pre-trip research that the best views were supposed to be. Our new friends had had enough and were going to head to the parking lot and wait for the bus. We departed company at about 6:00 p.m.
After about 30 minutes of exploration we found a nice spot where some other people had gathered. Mandy stayed there whilst I continued my explorations of the higher points of the city. While I was exploring, I noticed a few pieces of blue sky breaking through the clouds. I wondered if, maybe, just maybe, there would be a sunset that night. I discovered a nice road that would take us easily to the windmill and noted that it provided a wonderful view of the caldera. I retuned to Mandy and coaxed her into joining me on a trip to the windmill. She reluctantly agreed, having mostly recovered from the push up the mountainside during the rain. On the way back from the windmill we noticed a few people gathering some distance away at what was obviously the old castle, and according to Mandy’s research, the best location for viewing a Santorini sunset. It was now quite evident that enough clouds were moving out of the area to provide us with an opportunity to enjoy some form of a sunset.
We made our way to the old castle and claimed our little territory from where we would view the sunset. A number of dogs were scurrying around and, of course, Mandy made friends with some of them. We enjoyed the sunset and then made our way to the bus that would take us back to Villas Manos. When we arrived at the bus departure center, we located our new friends and asked them if they had seen the sunset. Unfortunately, they had missed it. The bus station was some distance below the caldera rim. From the vantage point of the bus station, it still appeared to be very overcast. They did not realize that it was a nice evening at the top where we overlooked the Aegean Sea.
The bus trip back was very winding. Fortunately, it was dark so that Mandy did not get nervous about the heights and steep cliffs adjacent to the roadway. She preferred not experiencing what she called the, “Mount Washington Effect.” Unfortunately, it was dark so that I did not have the opportunity to stare down the cliffs and marvel at the majesty of the natural wonder.
We made it back to our hotel and enjoyed some of our newly discovered cookies before turning in for a much-needed night of slumber.
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