Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bad Decisions in Greece

We woke up at about 8am with the sun streaming in through the windows of our hotel room. You’d think that, given that this is a vacation, we’d be somewhat better about not doing too much and waking up when we felt like it, but then you wouldn’t have been accounting for how bright the sun is. We made our way over to a continental breakfast at a hotel that wasn’t ours (and thus charged us for the privelige of eating their ham). It’s a pretty good spread, and exactly the same as the one we had at our hotel in Athens. Some ham, some cheese, yogurt and honey, peaches, a choice of corn flakes or granola, orange juice, coffee and a boiled egg. We loaded up, knowing that we wouldn’t be eating for a while and we’d be doing something strenuous.

Andrea had arranged for us to go on a small boat tour, leaving from the old port in Fira, then heading to Nea Kameni to see the active volcano, followed by a swim in the hot springs at Palea Kameni.

Which sounds a lot tamer than it is.

We took a bus driven by some people that work at the hotel up the mountain to Fira. Well, more correctly, most of the rest of the party took the bus up to Fira from the hotel. Marina and I attempted to go to the ATM with 15 minutes before we had to be back to be picked up by the bus, but there are evidently only two ATMs in Kamari (that we ever found) and they’re not exactly right out in the open. By the time we figured out what street to turn down and which square to go to, we were cutting it close, and when you throw in a guy standing in front of the ATM apparently baffled as to how it works, it was hopeless. We gave up and ran back to the hotel to find Jordan outside, with an explanation that the bus had left but that a separate car would take us up to the top (it had always been the plan for the car to take three, and we’d just inadvertently decided that it would be us). The driver was a woman named Diane, the person Andrea had communicated with to set everything about the trip up, who was from Vancouver who’d gone on a Europe trip with a friend roughly thirty years ago and wound up getting a job in Greece.

So that’s fun.

We got to Fira and were dropped off at a steep alleyway with instructions to climb up the hill and follow the signs for the Cable Car. We did and, thankfully, found the rest of the party.

So, the thing about the Cable Car. When I hear the words “Cable Car”, I think of trolleys and the Brooklyn Dodgers and Star Trek IV. This was not the trolley kind of cable car. This was what I’d always thought of as an “incline”, what with the Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines being my only experience with little train that goes up and down the side of a hill. Rather than being a railcar system, it’s sort of an enclosed ski-lift, with gondolas hanging from a cable.

I was not prepared for the cable car.

It’s a smooth enough ride, though there are a few moments where the angle at which the cable is declining changes more drastically than I was expecting, and you do get a pretty good view of the old port.
We got to the bottom and ran to the end of the port and back a few times, looking for our boat, before discovering that it was the pirate ship looking thing that we’d run past when we first got to the port. Everyone boarded and we were off to the central islands.

Upon arriving at Nea Kameni, we were told that we could leave our belongings in the lounge. We got off, and were told that we shouldn’t leave money or cameras on board, but Marina and I somehow didn’t hear this and went up and paid for the privilege of walking up the volcano. There was evidently some confusion among the group and most everyone else stayed back to get our stuff off the boat and wait for the tour to return from the volcano. We later confirmed with the tour guide that they lock the lounge (which is why they directed us to leave our stuff there) and bring a second, smaller expedition back, and that the money-or-cameras thing was mostly given in a sort of “if you’re really paranoid” sense.

I’m glad we’d already paid and were walking up the hill by the time we heard all of this. Not because we were worried, but because I’d hate to have missed out on the volcano.

Tips If You’re Climbing To The Top Of A Volcanic Island

1. Do not wear flip-flops.

Because of the mixup with the ATM, we were unable to go back to our hotel room before getting in the car and jetting off to Fira, so I was still wearing the flip flops that I had on for breakfast as a result of being too lazy to put on real shoes. Which are fine, if you’re walking on a boardwalk or down to the beach, but climbing a hill made entirely of smallish igneous rocks is a bad idea. Most people had more sensible footwear than I (though there were some women in platform sandals) but this was not some leisurely walk up a smooth, slight incline. This was a hike. At noon. In 85°F heat. Being led by a woman who was running. Because she is a cyborg.

Marina charged up the volcano really well, mostly stopping to wait for me as I was doing it essentially barefoot, except with the added pleasure of having a little plastic thing dig into my foot and trying to tear my toe off by sheer force of friction. We eventually caught up to Uncle Eddie, then got overly enthusiastic when we reached the top of the first crater, apparently not understanding that there was a whole lot of Volcano left to climb.

2. Bring loads of water.

We brought some, but I’ll reiterate that it’s a pretty tough hike up a rocky volcano in the middle of the day in the sunniest place that’s ever existed. We took a lot of pictures (mostly of the scenery), but the ones of us mostly look defeated, tired, thirsty and sweaty. I’d say we could have done with more warning about how strenuous the climb would be, but then there’s no real fun in that, is there?

3. To hell with the tour guide. We’ll Wikipedia everything later.

Our boat only had a limited amount of time before it had to be back at the port. Our tour was due to end at 2pm, and another tour started shortly after that, so we were on a tight schedule. The tour guide seemed terrified that we wouldn’t get done in time, so she bolted up the volcano without actually waiting for most people to get off the boat. Our group (myself, Marina and Uncle Eddie) caught up to her at the end of her speech on the third crater, which erupted a few hundred years ago, to distinguish it from the one that exploded in the 17th century BC and created modern Santorini (and also may have destroyed Minoan settlements on the island). Evidently, we could have just hung one tour guide back, as the second guide (along with Andrea, Myles and Andrea’s dad Tim) showed up just as our guide decided to run back down the volcano.

Getting to the top was kind of thrilling in a way that I’m not entirely familiar with. There’s definitely a sense of accomplishment, even if they’re pretty well defined trails that thousands of other tourists have walked up. The view is spectacular, as you can see all of the island of Thira, as well as out into the Aegean Sea, and the communities (like Fira and Oia) dot the cliffs, all over the background of the hills of the volcano you’ve just climbed. Additionally, I’d just done the thing in flip flops, and the overall mood was “jubilant” briefly, then “We-have-to-get-back-to-the-boat-because-I’m-positive-that-woman-will-leave-without-us.” We rushed down the hill, Marina going much faster than I could in pieces of Old Navy foam rubber and made it back to the boat (and everyone else in the group). We boarded and were off to the Hot Springs.

As this post is running long, the hot springs and the rehearsal dinner in Fira will be recapped in the next post.

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