On the afternoon of my third day in Athens, I stared in horror at the 5am plane ticket I had booked to Santorini a few months prior. Some twelve seconds passed before I remembered that past Cory thought it would be nice to arrive on the island at dawn and use his boundless energy to hike across it with a full backpack. Present Cory was not pleased.
To further entrench myself in unintentional masochism, I decided that a place to sleep for the night before this flight was an unnecessary expense; I’d simply stay out a bit later and sleep in the airport if I had to. I landed on the island at 6am with worryingly bloodshot eyes and followed Google Maps to a steep dirt road that my hostel was supposedly at the top of. I had taken two steps up the hill when I felt a primal instinct to turn my head left. Out of the abyss of a shaded, tin-roofed shed stared two piercing, angry eyes locked with mine.
Now, I often hear from pitbull owners that the breed is misunderstood. I don’t doubt them, but this particular pitbull was very well understood. The next few moments were straight out of a movie: dog violently barks, growls, and charges, I frantically bolt in the opposite direction and trip, dog gets clotheslined by his chained collar, and I hyperventilate with my face in the dirt.
Nobody was around to calm the poor dog or further secure whatever it was protecting, so that was the end of that event. I took the next street over and trudged into the garden of my hostel, covered in dust and thorns. Having spent the past thirty hours awake, I spent the majority of the next thirty asleep.
I was more than happy to embrace the breezy spirit of the island when I finally recovered. I’ve mulled it over for a few weeks now, and I’ve concluded that Santorini is hardly the type of place to draw thematic conclusions from; it’s best to simply enjoy its unmatched beauty. Unfortunately, this may be at the expense of the locals, as the island was quite clearly overrun by tourists like myself. The best I could do for them since I was already there was contribute to the economy, which (I suppose deservedly) siphoned an alarming sum from my budget.
The first memory that sticks out in my memory of Santorini is the sunset. The town of Oia is considered the best place to watch it, so I took the bus there with a friend from the hostel, climbed atop some ruins, and watched the shimmering orb descend into the sea. For me, the human spectacle was just as interesting as the setting sun. Every day, thousands of visitors line up along the winding, cliffside streets, watch the sunset, and then clap when it’s over as if they’d just watched a play.
The next notable experience was the ATV. I rented a four-wheeler for two days so that I could easily get to the distant beaches, but throttling the thing across the island’s scenic roads proved much more enjoyable than sticking around at the destinations. I opted to spend the better part of those days riding back and forth across Santorini, stopping briefly at lookouts and cafes along the way.
Finally, I dove head-first into Santorini’s unique opportunities for outdoor adventuring. One evening, I walked out to what I would later learn was Skaros Rock, intending to climb it. I saw no clear path to the summit as I walked around the base, but then a woman appeared scaling down the side of the rock in flip flops. She showed me where the footholds were, and warned me that it was difficult. I warily climbed the mountain face, fueled by my heavily-engaged fear of death. The views (perhaps enhanced by a hefty dose of adrenaline) were well worth it.
Another day, I trekked to a swimming spot below Oia, where I was told there was a popular cliff to jump off of. A friendly Italian immediately invited me to jump with him when I asked if he had already done it. We swam across a small channel and climbed to the top of the cliff, where he assured me that the clearly visible rocks in our landing spot were well below the surface. I followed his impressive dive with a not-so-impressive jump off the cliff.
I unfortunately had few experiences with locals, but those that I did were valuable. One day, when I acccidentily walked way farther than I wish I had without any bus money, I gave hitchhiking a go. A Greek-American expat picked me up and introduced me to his friends with whom we relaxed on the beach for a while. He told me about his honey business and hidden gems on the island before dropping me off at my hostel. Another time, I entered an art gallery and was immediately offered a free tour and a 5€ wine-tasting, where I learned about the island’s lauded Vinsanto wine. I also became a temporary regular at FalafeLAND, a tiny operation that served up perfectly crunchy falafel, always with a smile.
The contrast between the prestigious history of Athens and the tropical bohemia of Santorini imbued some balance to my time in Greece. Climbing the rocks, jumping into the sea, and simply taking in the picturesque caldera revitalized my body as the storied Athenian legacy had rejuvenated my mind. Perhaps the entree of the mainland Is best served with a generous dollop of adventure and natural wonder on the islands.