Up on Matador Trips today, I’m talking about what the guidebooks might tell you to do in Santorini, and what I suggest you do instead.
Photo by Joye~
Up on Matador Trips today, I’m talking about what the guidebooks might tell you to do in Santorini, and what I suggest you do instead.
Photo by Joye~
I have fixated on these photos of donkeys. They’re such photogenic critters, look at them. They manage, with one bored flick of the eyeball at the camera, to look as if they are possessed of ancient (biblical?) wisdom, are completely disinterested in your presence, yet possibly vaguely amused by it and as if, should they be able to talk, they have a thousands stories they’d like to share over a cup of tea. San Diego based photographer, Pierre-Olivier Briglio snapped these guys over the summer, when he was visiting Santorini (where I met him; funny story, involved a wayward scooter and a very sore toe) shooting a wedding. Tough gig, I know. Hand me a camera Pierre, I want your job. The full album is over here, on Trespass, but these are my favourites. Just look at this guy…
A couple of villages on from Perissa, where I lived, is the red beach. And it is red, ruby red, the water an unbelievable colour in contrast. Akrotiri is the village that plays home to this semi circle of vibrant colour (and, more often than not, gusty winds) and it’s a peaceful little place, catering to a quieter tourist than other villages. It’s also home to ancient ruins which have been closed for safety reasons (and, dare I be presumptuous as to say) maintenance issues.
The waterfront of Akrotiri is one of my favourite spots on the island. It’s tiny. There are several restaurants, all jostling next to one another, and a little pier. Pick a taverna, order a caraffe of wine and gaze.
For those who partake (guiltily, of course) in the viewing of ‘chick flicks’ and who may have enjoyed Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 1 and/or 2, this locale will seem familiar. Tiny and sparkling, the bay is carved out of red rock, directly below Oia. Around the cliff winds a path (which, when I was there, was obliterated bya landslide … another story for another day) which takes you to a rock jumping spot. The water is so clear you can see the huge rocks jutting out from the bottom – rocks you’ll never hit, but which make the 6 metre descent all the more nail biting …
* An album will be up on Trespass soon.
First published in Trespass Magazine
Santorini can be a strange place. Perhaps it’s something to do with living so close to a volcano – the energy begins to send people slightly mad after a while. Here in Perissa, the village in which I live, people are wonderfully odd and after a while, the pseudo-locals that call it home for the summer, begin to become so as well. Consequently, the people one meets, and the experiences one has, when living on the island for the summer, come to form something of a hyper-reality. A hyper-reality that is very difficult to describe without lapsing into an episodic type of story-telling.
The other day I was sitting at the bar with my friend Steve telling him a story (that, previously, when I had told another friend, had made me laugh so hard I’d lost control of my nasal passages) and he said to me, ‘you should put that in your column.’ To which I responded with the old ‘angle’ lament – a series of anecdotes is not suffice, a thread is needed to stitch them all together. Well, ideally anyway; I cannot profess to always achieving such a thing, but I do try. Steve shrugged and suggested I do a ‘day in the life of’ style piece in which I could include all the completely bizarre moments that form my waking hours – that form the waking hours of anyone who lives in this strange little village. And so I have decided to buck the standards required to make a good column and indulge in the cardinal writing sin of a series of anecdotes with no real thread, other than that of being a little left of centre.
As you all know I have moved house a couple of times in the last fortnight, which has involved hefting a rather large bag (and several small bags) using a car, a scooter and the kindness of a very tall, rather vast Polish man who we shall call Savas. Savas runs the camping ground in Perissa and inexplicably has a large collection of road and water vehicles. He drove me to the cave house and when the time came to leave the cave house and return to the village I work in, he transported my things back down. Both journeys were accompanied by a soundtrack of very loud techno music (incongruous with the vehicle and my driver) and it was on the trip back Savas surprised me with a little treat of the beverage variety. Allow me at set the scene. It was twilight. We had parked outside the cave house overlooking the twinkling villages of Perissa, Perivolos and Emporio. Techno was playing softly in the background. Once we had shoved my bag into the boot and climbed back into the car, Savas turned to me and said, ’and now, I have something for you.’ It was then I noticed two plastic cups sitting on the dash. The techno pulsed on. He reached behind my chair and rummaged momentarily before producing, with a flourish, a carton of chocolate milk. I verbalised my delight (surprise) at the choice of beverage and we drank largely in a language-barrier-induced silence, Savas occasionally commenting on his love for chocolate milk and its superiority over more traditionally romantic drinks, like wine. And then we drove home, chocolate milk vessels rattling around on the back seat.
Then there was the time I found an unconscious man belted into his car in the car-park of one of the bars. At first my friend and I were concerned at his obvious intentions to drive at some point and so, in our wine-haze, we knocked politely on the door to wake him up and tell him not to. The fact he physically couldn’t drive was lost on us and our Good Samaritan cause. He awoke with a jolt and opened the door, mumbling something in Greek; the intonation suggested it was along the lines of ’I’m fine, leave me alone.’ Which we did, but not before noticing he was completely nude. Not a stitch on, bar his seat belt. My friend, whose Broadway baritone is not capable of a lower volume, turned to me and boomed, ‘is he naked?’ and promptly shut the door on his face. On it.
Chocolate milk moments have abounded this summer. In one particularly jam-packed day, I jumped off a 6 metre pile of rocks into water so clear you could see all the way to the bottom, watched an Italian scoot into a line of quad bikes (and nearly off the edge) then into a car (with my friend’s leg as an unwitting buffer) and gave myself such bad sunstroke quad biking home, I got the flu the next day. The other morning, a friend burst into our room and announced, in reference to two fellow workers who had embarked upon a romance, ‘so … they are officially on the run’ before pressing her face into a cold towel and slumping on the bed. And last night, one-toothed Dimitris motioned to a bar patron and said to me, ‘he tell me not to look his girlfriend. Malaka. I am man, I have dick.’
As the summer comes to a close, it has become apparent no one is really themselves on the island anymore. I’m not. We’ve all gone a little mad, subject to the whims of the winds and the volcano, mixed with alcohol and the sun and the unavoidable machinations of small-village life. We’re versions of ourselves. Everything here is so intense and so off-kilter, it’s difficult to keep a grip on oneself. But perhaps that’s the whole point. You have to let yourself go (really … go) in order to learn something new. When I figure out what it is – or, more aptly, when I figure out everything – this summer has taught me, I’ll let you know. And it will be more than the simple fact that men have penises.
When travelling, there is one phrase you hear so often it almost becomes as part conversational structure as a greeting, or an enquiry into your wellbeing; ‘you’re so lucky.’ It’s usually followed by ‘I wish I could do what you’re doing, instead I’m stuck in (insert name) being boring.’ To this I usually respond, internally, that you can do what I’m doing, just do it. Sacrifice and compromise what you must in order to do it, and then just do it. But that’s another vent for another day. When one is living/working on a Greek Island, the ‘you’re so lucky’ phrase increases in frequency and, yes, largely for good reason. But nothing is ever perfect, and whilst from the outside looking in, travelling looks like a permanent fairy tale, here’s a little secret; it isn’t.
Travel is thrilling but it’s also exhausting. It’s permanently extraordinary but it’s also scary. You make friends you will never forget, but there are also times of loneliness. It’s one glorious shock to the system after another and that can be overwhelming. You get sick. You get scared. You do stupid things. You miss home. Travel is something you do because you want to. Because you choose to. Yes, the luck of being able to is involved – physically and financially able, although the latter takes discipline and sacrifice to achieve – but ultimately, paradise is only ever found if it is sought. And it is the seeking that is the challenge you take up when you buy that plane ticket, pack that bag, wave goodbye to your family and friends for an indefinite period of time and start to write your own fairy tale.
The Santorini police station is a small, whitewashed building with one computer, one fax/printer and a rather large wall of haphazardly arranged folders. Next to the station is the ‘secretary’ room – two desks and a couch. I know this because last week I spent a morning there after my room was broken into and camera and phone stolen. Two nights later, after breaking into a friend’s house in a neighbouring village, they tried to get back into mine. And so I found myself standing in front of two retro-uniformed officers who, between them, spoke ten words of English, and we all know what my Greek is like. An incredibly serious Chief, who gave deep thought to every word he spoke (which may be because he couldn‘t speak English and I can‘t speak Greek) dictated the (handwritten) report whilst gazing pensively out of the window, one hand behind his back. The young whippersnapper (rather strapping whippersnapper, actually) to whom he dictated, scribed with diligence whilst translating what he could to me. Following the half page report being finished and me signing a form I understood nothing of, relying on the whippersnapper’s translation (‘were you birthed in Sydney?’) I was told to return in 7 days, when my report would be ready. Presumably the report is rewritten in the secretary’s room by one flustered ‘secretary’. I presume this because, when I returned after 7 days, my report was unprocessed and the secretary (male, no English) was flustered. I have since collected the report (no ID necessary) and begun the tedious process of lodging a claim and finding a new place to live.
I know you’re all waiting for me to get to the part about happy endings. To get to the assurances that as difficult as it is sometimes, travel is the best thing you will ever do. So here we are. My happy ending in this particular little plot-twist is I am moving into a beautiful old cave house covered in bougainvillea, in another village, with a view over the whole of Perissa and Perivolos. I’m moving in with excellent new friends, the kind you travel to make. I’m experiencing a new village and I’m getting a quad bike. It’s a new adventure, and that’s my happy ending. For now.
Ultimately, you learn to take the good with the bad. The lost with the found. You learn that even living on a Greek island isn’t endlessly idyllic. And you learn that travel isn’t purely a fairy tale – it’s more of a genre mash-up; adventure, occasional horror, comedy and a touch of romance thrown in for good measure. And you wouldn’t have it any other way.
It is difficult to know where to start. In fact, despite being here with ample time to gaze into the distance and with ample inspiration to be struck by whilst gazing, I have been putting off writing this column with a uni-student-esque ignorance of deadlines. And it’s not because I don’t have anything to say – quite the opposite. I have too much to say; too many colours and characters and languages swirling around my sun-warmed head, to even know what words to pluck out of the bubbling mixture, in order to begin my story.
I first came to Santorini three years ago, as part of a round-the-world trip. We chose Santorini as the island to visit because we were fairly certain it was home to the famous white houses gripping the cliff faces, hanging on for dear life. We stayed for a week, most of which flowed by in a pleasant cocktail haze, and befriended an English lady who had recently bought a bar in Perissa (the village in which we were staying). We left with the offer of a job if we ever wanted to return to the island for the summer. I did. The following year. I worked a season in the bar and wrote a novel manuscript as part of my MA I was undertaking at the time – and it was one of the most brilliant periods of my life. I tripped and fell face first in love with everything about the island – the people, the food, the sun, the way of life.
So now I’m back. You always come back. You cannot leave this island not wanting to come back. Santorini casts a sun-drenched spell on most who come to watch its famous sunsets, swim in its black, red or white sand beaches. Things work at their own pace – if they ever work at all. It’s always sunny – a cloud in the sky warrants comment – and if something doesn’t get done, well, there’s always tomorrow.
Perissa, the village in which I lived last time and am, once again, living in now, is the black sand beach village, down the bottom of the island. It’s small and dusty with one long main road that runs down the middle, and a beach front road that runs parallel. A huge rock with a tiny church perched on it, separates Perissa from Kamari, the neighbouring white sand beach. You can reach Kamari by a rickety looking boat that leaves throughout the day and requires one getting very wet to hop on board. In Perissa, everybody knows everybody. Everybody knows everything. Nobody ever forgets. You learn, as I did the last summer I was here, to avoid drama – although, in Greece, nay, in a small Greek village, that can be incredibly challenging; if no drama exists to dissect over frappes, then some shall simply be created. Conversation fodder is as important as the air you breathe.
As much as it is the beauty and simple, slow motion lifestyle of Santorini I love and revel in when I’m here, it is the people I keep coming back for. The layers of inhabitants work something like this; true locals who live on the island year-round, season-locals who come out from May until October, spending Winter in Athens or other places and then the travelling workers. Within the travelling workers, there are the young ones who exist to get drunk every single night (not hard in the land of the free-pour and non existent RSA) the slightly older ones who don’t get drunk as often and are usually working to sustain a trip or save up for the next one, and then there are the ones who have worked so many summers, they are essentially locals – their Greek a little stilted – but their knowledge of the island and the mercurial way people work, thorough and borne of experience.
So, welcome to the island. I’ll be here for a little while, sitting at the bar with Dimitris (one tooth, a smoker’s laugh and a vast array of Hawaiian shirts) watching Santorini go by. There will be sunsets and midnight swims, plenty of food and a cast of characters that may have to be met to be believed. And if that means a trip to Santorini, don’t say I didn’t warn you. You won’t want to leave.
So I’m back on the island. It’s hot, the same white, arched buildings that were unfinished two years ago are still unfinished (the builders are too busy drinking frappes) and I haven’t been this happy in a long time.
I have so much to tell you all – well, more that I have so many characters to introduce you to before this story can truly begin – but it will have to wait just a little while longer. A large slice of Spanikopita is calling my name and as appealing as poolside writing is, there is the tiny inconvenience of batteries running out. So I shall leave you with the photo below – because I think it says enough.
I’ll be back.