“Sir you are on the wrong ship!” declared the young attendant crisply.
“What do you mean wrong ship? We have tickets for the Sea Jets ship and this is a Sea Jets ship if I am not mistaken…” I retaliated, slightly annoyed with his attitude.
“This company has a dozen different types of ships, this is a ChampionJet – and your tickets are for the smaller SuperJet” responded the attendant chewing each word in his thick Greek accent. He was wearing a blue uniform with the company logo on his shirt. I looked at the tickets again and my expression changed from anger to disbelief to frustration.
It was a hot humid weekend in August, the busiest time of the year for tourists headed to the beautiful Greek islands. We were trying to get to Mykonos from Santorini. It would have been a very short flight if we had flown, but it was hard to get a flight. A two and a half hour journey by ship with stunning views of the deep blue waters of the Aegean sea, seemed like a great idea.
I looked around the ship for the first time, it was indeed very big. It could easily seat a thousand passengers, more than twice the number that would fit in the smaller ships. Apparently our ship was running late and this one came exactly at the time our ship was supposed to depart. Some kind of announcement would have helped, I thought to myself. Not to mention that the staff checking our tickets downstairs at the car deck could have done a better job of really checking our tickets before letting us in. I guess they were running late so they just wanted to board everyone quickly.
At the lower deck, passengers were falling over each other trying to place their luggage on the racks. We had our share of challenges with putting the luggage. Someone had put luggage on the wrong rack meant for Athens instead of the one for Mykonos and then had to pull the luggage back and put it in the right rack. Not to mention that pulling luggage out when others are still trying to push their luggage into the rack - is tricky business.
We were not the only ones confused with our tickets, there were other passengers as well who could not find their seats. The scene was starting to look like a chaotic fish market. Finally a senior staff member came and asked everyone to take a seat, irrespective of their seat numbers.
I looked out of the large glass windows at the beautiful Aegean Sea. The view was quite stunning. And then I realized that we were already sailing. Right ship or wrong ship, there was no getting off this one! I heaved a sigh of relief and settled into my seat for a bit of rest. Only to be bombarded within thirty seconds with juvenile requests to buy pizza from the pantry shop.
It had been a hectic three days in Santorini - an island south of mainland Greece. Santorini is actually part of an archipelago and the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions that occurred 3,600 years ago and destroyed a prehistoric civilization. A large eruption happened in 1650. Although the most recent volcanic activity happened in 1950, there could be another eruption anytime - it is still an active volcano and perhaps the only volcano in the world with its crater in the sea!
The islands in the archipelago came into existence as a result of a dozen violent volcanic eruptions, so the whole area is a natural geological museum.
Our hotel in Santorini (Mediterranean Royal) had a private sand beach and was a short ride from the main town of Fira. A cable car runs from a high point in Fira connecting it to the port below. There was a long queue of tourists standing in the hot sun trying to get into the cable cars. We decided to visit the nearby archaeological museum instead, and were amazed by the collection of prehistoric red and black vases that date back to 20th century BC.
Later when we came back to the cable cars the queue had reduced significantly. It was a short but very scenic 3 min ride down the steep rocks to the port below. A host of busy shops along the port catered to the crowds of tourists. One could just sit there the whole day gazing at the ships and the blue sea. Appropriate head gear and sun lotion was absolutely needed if one ventured to walk in the sun.
It was late afternoon when we tried to get a transfer by boat to Oia which is famous for sunset views, but were told there were no more transfers that day. The only way was to go back up to Fira and go by bus or taxi. We looked at the long queue of tourists waiting in the sun trying to get into the cable cars that would bring us back up to town.
Was there no other option?
I remembered seeing steps while we were coming down. What if we took the steps to climb up to town? But where was the entrance to the steps…
The entrance to the steps was full of people waiting to get on donkeys that would take them up the steps. These were large donkeys the size of horses and were not looking very disciplined. Perhaps not very well fed either. While my family members decided to ride the donkeys, I didn’t quite like the idea of punishing an animal in this deadly heat. I decided to climb up the 500 odd steps.
The gym at the hotel did not have a treadmill. So I thought this would be a good way to get my workout for the day. The cobbled steps went in a zig zag manner along the rocky mountain. I raced up the first flight of steps. I had climbed just a couple of flights of steps and the reward was immediate. A gorgeous view of the deep blue shining sea. Out came the iPhone from my pocket. Click! Click!
What a beautiful sight indeed. I opened my eyes wide to take in all the beauty of nature. And then I closed my eyes to rest for a few seconds. A moment of calm solitude. A drop of time to connect with one’s inner self. Ah – this was the vacation moment I had been dreaming about.
And then reality hit hard…
A sudden blast of dust and a very pungent smell caught my senses totally unawares. It was the smell of donkey excrement. There was a loud noise of stones clattering down the slippery steps.
A herd of donkeys was racing down the steps at breakneck speed!
I moved quickly to the side to avoid getting run over by the donkeys. There was no handrail. It was a precarious moment. Dust filled the air. I couldn’t see anything for a few seconds. Santorini was undoubtedly beautiful - but I had no intentions of dying there, getting kicked down the steps by a charging donkey.
It was hot, humid and I was sweating profusely from the exercise. My heart was pounding perhaps in anticipation of getting kicked to death by a wild donkey or perhaps it was merely the reaction of my senses to the strong smell of donkey excreta.
After a few moments of uneasy existence I realized that with the immense grace of the almighty, the donkeys had fortunately just grazed past me and except for some mud on my clothes I had survived the attack. The dust and the smell subsided after a few minutes.
I started climbing up again. And started looking for another spot to take in the breathtaking views.
It was 588 steps to the top. And every step was worth taking.