I just stepped off the ferry from Santorini and into the island of Crete. My time in Santorini is still so fresh in my mind so not sharing it with you now would be a complete waste of the high that I’m still on from those amazing five days. To my Ios friends, don’t fret! I will be posting about my time there soon and the bonds we shared while on the island of wild nights. Hang on tight, this is going to be a long post but you won’t want to miss a single word!
I had looked forward to Santorini from the minute I arrived in Athens. From the photos that I saw, the movies that I watched and the constant praise from fellow travellers, I knew that this was where I would find the Greece in everyone’s dreams. This is the place that our mind jumps to when we think of a Greek paradise. Here, I would find the blue and white shops and homes no matter where I went. A true traditional feel would fill the air and the cobblestone streets would take me from one place to the next. When my boat pulled up to this island, I knew that I wouldn’t be let down. I cranked my head upward from the port to see a huge cliff towering above me and tiny, white houses lining the top. I had no idea that Santorini was built on top of a cliff. Several of them surround a volcanic caldera which last erupted in 1950 and hasn’t been active since. This island was what remained after one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history. It seemed to be rooted in a really interesting past.
I’m not sure when I stopped booking places to stay the night before. I think it began when I had my experience in Amalfi and became addicted to the thrill of not knowing. I figured it would be fun to live on the edge a bit and find a place to stay while there. On the plus side, these islands don’t make it very difficult. There are often several people holding up signs and promoting their hostels and hotels. I spotted a man holding a sign that said Youth Hostel and ran to him immediately asking for a space to which he replied, “we always have space.” Which could have been a really bad thing if I thought about it more but I wasn’t going to complain about a cheap bed to sleep in.
Shortly after we spoke, I found myself in the hostel van traveling up the massive cliff and dozing off very quickly. I had gotten two hours of sleep the night before and was definitely ready for a bit of a nap. Every once in a while, I don’t feel the slightest bit of guilt taking a few hours to sleep during the day.
After I checked in and found my room in what looked to be a well kept and fun place to stay, I kicked off my shoes and crashed. I’m not sure what time it was when I woke up but I stumbled out of my room, groggy eyed and headed into the town of Fira for a bite to eat. It was still early, so I was the only one sitting in the tavern dining room. The man who served me watched from afar as I slowly sipped my water, still trying to adjust to the light. He soon walked over to me and said, “why do I get the feeling that you’re feeling very, very lonely?” I explained that I had just woken up from a deep sleep and was only half awake but the truth was, I had just left a family of friends in Ios and this mood seems to hit me every time I move from one place to the next. Maybe I was feeling just a little lonely in that moment. It only lasts a few hours, just during that time where I’m alone again and feeling ripped away from people I was just getting to know. It’s the hard truth about backpacking, but that’s just the reality of it. It’s all about feeling grateful that they’re in your lives now and keeping in touch for next time. There usually is a next time. Travelers tend to find each other again and again.
Just as if someone had heard my call for help, Grace and Kirsty made their way into my journey almost effortlessly. When I arrived back at the hostel, they were sitting on the table beside me writing in their journals as I was writing in mine. We eyed each other a bit until we all headed into the same dorm and introduced ourselves. Grace is from New Zealand and Kirsty from South Africa. The two of them work at a school together in London which is how they met. I can’t even remember the details of our introduction or how we instantly became the best of friends. It was as if we had known each other for years. Grace and I bonded over our love for the pastry Baklava and unanimously agreed to head to town to grab some together. The three of us set out, only to realize that there had been some pretty serious power outages happening over the past few days. As bad as that is for the local businesses, it was such a cool experience for us to walk through the tiny streets of Fira lit up by candle light. I felt like we were transported back in time. We got our dessert and sat in the square watching the busy city bustling in the dark. Shop owners were still promoting, restaurants were still dragging people in and generators buzzed. About twenty minutes later, the power flickered on and everybody clapped and cheered. It was a really cool moment. Even cooler that I was able to spend it getting to know these girls. They were both so down to earth and our conversations were so easy, our silences far from uncomfortable. Just like Grace pointed out before we parted, the second we met, I knew I had found friends for life. The night ended with a late swim and I went to bed so happy. I knew right away that this was going to be a great few days.
My next day was spent exploring the town, as I usually do. I wanted to take a hike and was told that the walk from Fira to Oia, as long and hot as it may be, was entirely worth it. I didn’t think twice, grabbed my backpack and headed in the direction of what I was told would be the most beautiful village on the island. The walk should have taken me about three hours but by the time I got to Oia it had been four. I got really caught up photographing along the way. There were a lot of donkeys and horses that were far from camera shy and a constant view of the sea on my right hand side. Not once did I feel tired or tempted to get into one of the several cars that asked if I needed a ride. Doesn’t anybody just hike for fun anymore? It was calm and serene and with a camera in hand, I was as content as I could ever be.
I knew I had arrived in Oia without a sign to tell me so. It was my favourite place from the second I stepped into the centre. I walked through the narrow streets and took in the feel of the Greek life. When I got there, it wasn’t overly touristy at all. Although I didn’t seem to see any locals, it was pretty low key and looked entirely untouched. That was the beauty of it, nothing had been changed. The history was still lingering there and nobody seemed pushy for business or in a hurry to get anywhere. They were just living their lives. A nice lady in a photography studio pointed me in the direction of the castle, also known as the famous sunset point. I had walked straight into the shop, pointed to a photo and asked, “where can I find that view?” The remnence of what used to be a castle wasn’t hard to find at all. Oia is a very tiny village and you could spot it from almost anywhere. I walked up the stone steps to the top and looked out. There it was. A breath taking panoramic view of Greece stared back at me. I suddenly found myself crying. Tears began to run down my cheeks as I realized that this had been the exact view I posted on my wall of dreams for the past few years. This exact landscape had been just a mere idea in my mind and now here it was, a reality. What an overwhelming feeling. When the things you’ve been dreaming of are right there in front of you. I sat there for quite some time, staring out and admiring how all the buildings seemed to fit together perfectly like a mosaic. I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life.
I had a lovely dinner overlooking the village and this amazing strudel (of course) at a pastry shop nearby. As if it couldn’t get any better, I stayed for the sunset.
Okay, so this is where all the tourists emerged. The sunset point is incredibly famous and after seeing it for myself, I knew why. It sets over the incredible sea surrounded by cliffs on one side and the view on the other. There is nothing around the sun to distract from its beauty and little sail boats float under its setting rays. It was really nice seeing all the people crowding around to watch something so natural and simple. I’m not exaggerating one bit when I say it was perfect.
I arrived back at the hostel to find the girls sitting at the hostel bar. They introduced me to Charlie who is the cook at the hostel and is often hanging around the bar with Constantine, the bartender, who I was told made one hell of a good milkshake. Fast forward: he totally does. These two gentlemen made our nights, laughing at our silly conversations and mixing us up specialty cocktails. Grace’s birthday was on Monday and I had only booked two nights at this point to stay in Santorini. After our first night together and my visit to Oia, I walked into reception and asked to say until Tuesday morning. How could I not? Even now, I wish I had stayed even longer.
The girls and I went on a boat tour the next day. I’m not usually one for tours, but to get to these two locations it had to be done. This traditional boat took us to the volcano site and the famous hot springs. The volcanic caldera was a great experience. It was more of a hike than we realized and we were led up the rocky path to the very top by our wacky tour guide. What struck me was the view on all sides. Looking around, you were able to see each little village located across the never ending sea and the tiny houses that took up such a small portion of the massive cliff it sat upon. You were completely isolated in the centre of this landmark. It was also crazy to think that this thing had erupted at one point in time, as recent as 63 years ago. The three of us broke away from our tour guide and explored the site on our own. I couldn’t even explain to you how odd this guide was. He was stuck in his own little world for the whole tour. It provided some added entertainment if anything…
The Hot Springs was my favourite of the two. The water temperature reaches 33 degrees celcius and is a mucky red due to the fallen pieces of volcanic rock. The floor towards the shore is made of a muddy clay that has a high sulfur content. After emerging our entire bodies in the all natural exfoliant, our skin was the smoothest it will ever be. I’m sure we just saved hundreds of dollars doing that there than in a fancy spa. All in all, each location was really memorable in its own way.
Close to the shore, you can see the separation between the blue and the red sea
The boat dropped us off alone at Oia while the rest headed to Fira. There were a group of donkeys waiting at the bottom of a very steep set of stairs up to the main village. There was no way I was leaving Greece without a donkey ride so I eagerly approached the man in charge. I was so happy that we had stopped off at the island before the rest of the tourists arrived. This donkey ride seemed like it was for me and me alone. Grace and Kirsty walked behind since they had already done it and I felt like i was the only one on the island. The man and I rode up the steps and overlooked the view on the backs of our strong friends. I don’t know how the poor little guys do it but they can carry one fifth of their body weight! The sounds of Greek commands to the donkeys echoed off the walls and the ocean roared below me. Once again, a moment in time that will forever stick out as something so special to me.
The night we got back was the night I met Tarlin Saye. We were sitting at the bar and as I walked up to sit beside Kirsty, the first thing she said to me was, “honey, do you want to sit down in that chair before you start drinking?” I was drawn in by her sense of humour and booming personality right away. When I asked her where she was from, she came back with, “a better question is, where am I not from?” She was right about that one. Tarlin has lived in numerous states in America, now has a place in Australia and is currently traveling abroad. I quickly found out that she was a novelist with a published book already out and a series in the making. Interested in her work as a published author, I asked her many questions about the book series she was currently writing. It will be called Diary of a Queen. The four books each feature women who are queens in their own right. The settings range from long ago to modern day and the series has a clever way of tying together in the end. When I asked her what genre the books were, she laughed and listed off several different themes that often capture the attention of readers, all of which she includes in her writing. Death, romance, sex, power. Already I was dying to read a piece of her work. Her love to write has always been present and as an actor and singer along with everything else, she’s a creator at heart. I can’t forget to mention that she also has a degree in Bio Medical Ethics (Theology, Philosophy and Chemistry)…really?! A main character in her book named Aminah is someone she had conjured up at the young age of fifteen and she has been with her ever since. That is why these books will be published on her website by Tarlin herself. She said she wouldn’t dare give away someone so dear to her to a publishing company and I really respected that. What I loved about Tarlin was the fact that you could tell she was a writer solely because she loved it. She told me, “if someone in France is reading my book, that’s enough for me.” She let me read the first page of the book that is soon to be released and something tells me, she’ll have more than one reader abroad. Actually, I’m almost certain she’ll have plenty. It was captivating from the very first sentence, a true giveaway that it’s bound to be a page turner.
The book is planned to be released online mid September. Make sure you check out her website towards that time at http://www.tarlinsaye.com
Tarlin and I had the time of our life sitting at that bar for the night. She made me laugh so hard I almost spit out my cosmopolitan. Her energy beamed and she grabbed the attention of everyone around her, making them laugh too and hardly even realizing it. I can barely explain the unique personality she has that could capture anyone around her and the huge amount confidence she exuberates. The two of us flipped out over our deep love and respect for Meryl Streep and found ourselves already hugging and exchanging praise for each other minutes into meeting. I told her about my work while she told me about hers. While I read her book, she had a look at my photos. As she put it, we already invested ourselves in each others careers. I’ll never forget the moment she sang me a tiny bit of Whitney Houston when I asked to hear her voice. It was sung quietly over the table but the ears of everyone around us perked up right away. Her voice matched her personality incredibly well. Before I knew it, Kirsty and Grace clicked with Tarlin too and the three of us just seemed to work. Our personalities played off each other and I knew we would be having many more nights like this one. Nights where we suddenly get buzzed off wine and laugh until we cry. It was one of my favourites because it was so unplanned. Tarlin (or Natty as she’s also called), believes in the philosophy, “you get what you give” which makes her a true life liver and someone I know I will connect with for years to come.
One minute I’m meeting this girl and the next, we’re riding together on a quad bike through Santorini. Tarlin and I decided to rent a four wheeler for the day and explore some far away towns. We broke all the rules, riding barefoot and inexperienced with hardly a care in the world. It all felt so free. We stopped at the famous black beach and photographed the beautiful churches. We interrupted a session of grape picking, walked through some residential towns on a Sunday that were quiet as mice and discovered an art cafe filled with photographs of people and the best homemade bread and lemonade I had ever tasted. Tarlin was right, the only sound you could hear in these places was the wind through the trees. And then of course our yipees and hollers as we zoomed down the road and broke the silence.
Our day ended with another sunset in Oia but with new friends of Kirsty’s this time who had come to meet her here for a few days. Almost every night, there’s a proposal or a wedding coming through the crowded point. This couple made me smile the entire time so I just had to include a snippet of the happy moment they shared as the sun went down.
Our time together was nearing an end but our final day was Grace’s birthday and the night before, as the clock struck twelve, dear Constantine and Charlie played a happy birthday song over the speaker system and brought out a banana cocktail and an ice-cream sunday, candle and all. While some of the other girls went to visit the red beach in the afternoon, Grace and I spent the day at the black beach, relaxing and chatting together. It had to have been one of my favourite days. The black beach stays true to its name with its super hot, black sand as an attraction. Grace and I had some really wonderful talks, naps, ice-cream and a run in with a stray puppy who needed a home. It’s a shame neither of us could do anything about it but we played with the little guy for a while and it added to the days happiness. When she told me it was exactly how she wanted to spend her birthday, I felt so grateful to have shared the moments of the day with her. Together, we share the exact same mentality about how we want to live our lives and the people we want to be. We even found some of our bigger life experiences to be quite similar. Kirsty is the exact same. She is one of the most genuine people I’ve met and a sweetheart to the core. I don’t think that girl has a bad bone in her body. The three of us agreed that we were always inspired being around each other. Inspired by our optimism and our love for the life around us. It’s amazing that I’ve been able to find people that share those similar views with me on my travels. It seems to happen all the time and I think it just has to do with the mindset of a backpacker. We all share a very common ground. Dinner closed the night and us four musketeers shared one last evening at the bar drinking wine. It was quieter than the first with a hint of lingered sadness from the anticipation of leaving and a ton of gratefulness for the days we all shared.
It may have ben a coincidence or just an act of fate that we all checked out on the exact same day. Needless to say, these friends made such an impact on me. Honestly, this is just a small, short version of how I feel about these beautiful people and these beautiful days. How can I possibly express exactly how I felt while in Santorini? I was inspired by beauty every day, swept away by friendship and surrounded by passion.
I walked away feeling blessed.
I walked away feeling blessed.