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Friday, October 28, 2016

10/16: Cruise around Santorini: Super Volcano, Donkeys & Magical Oia

We had seen signs in Fira yesterday advertising day-long boat trips at a reasonable cost so Steven popped over to the little travel agency that was just a few minutes away and bought the tickets for the morning departure. He also picked up for breakfast some yummy pastries that the Greeks seem to do so well.
There were three bakeries within 100 yards of each other in the small part of the town of Karterados where we happened to be staying and many others a little further away too. Perfect for those of us who have a sweet tooth but not so good if one has little willpower and had visions of watching my weight. Oh well, I guess I can ‘watch’ my weight at home!
This one bakery in Karterados was open 24 hours a day. I rather liked their chocolate croissants that just oozed chocolate. With practice, I got quite adept at eating them without the chocolate dripping onto my clothes. A couple of times, Steven had to point out where I still had traces of chocolate on my face, though!

Our day tour started with a whirlwind bus tour of part of the island as the bus picked up passengers from other hotels. Photos from the bus:

The largest contingent of passengers had been staying in Pyrgos, a medieval town that suffered, in 1956, the biggest earthquake to hit Greece in the 20th century. Tanya, the guide, explained that most of the settlements around Pyrgos were affected and many people lost their lives. The super volcano as it was called changed the climate of the world.
Field hands tending to the same type of scrub-looking bushes we saw yesterday:

We were heading to the New Port, as opposed to the Old Port where we had begun walking down the steps yesterday and had encountered the donkeys.
Five islands make up Santorini, an Italian name derived from St. Irena. Thira, the main island and the one everyone thinks of when you read about Santorini, was settled in the 8th century BC by Spartans and then by the Turks. In 1207 AD at the end of the fourth crusade, Thira was inhabited by Venetians who built six castles on it. Thira’s population is only about 14,000 people. 
At 10:30, we boarded King Thiras, what Tanya described as a traditional boat. Our first stop would be in about an hour, she explained. I was amazed by her fluency with languages: she spoke Greek first and then repeated everything in English and then German with nary a pause in between jumping from one language to another. And, by the way, she was from Ukraine so no doubt spoke at least a smattering of Russian on top of Ukrainian too!

Thira's largest town, Fira, in the background:

It was breezy but we had mostly clear skies. The ticket agent had told Steven earlier that this would be the last day for the day-long cruise for several days because of high winds forecast so we were fortunate that we hadn’t planned to go on the cruise the following day.

Black lava rock cones: It was all so very stark, it was attractive in a unique way.
Approaching the islet of Nea Kameni famous for its National Geological Park:
The water in the cove was much greener than it had been in the open bay.

Once we reached Nea Kameni, Tanya cautioned everyone to stay with the group as it was so easy to get lost on the big mountain hiking to the volcano. A super volcano doesn’t mean it’s huge but that the volcanic dust couldn’t penetrate the sun’s rays and that’s why the climate was affected. 

Nea Kameni is 6,000 years old and the youngest independent Greek island, she said. There are more than 6,000 islands in the country but only 227 are officially inhabited. The Center of Seismology in Fira observes the volcano islands and doesn’t predict another volcanic eruption for several centuries. Tanya assured us that they are able to predict a volcano months ahead. We would be seeing steam and magma chambers but that didn’t mean we were in any danger.

The most dangerous volcanoes, she said, are Mauna Loi in Hawaii and Yellowstone. There was also a volcano discovered in Japan in 2013 and that has been determined to be the biggest one.

On her first visit to Nea Kameni 12 years ago, a team from National Geographic photographers was here, Tanya said, shooting a documentary. 
To make sure the group could always see her, Tanya carried this flag as there were a number of other groups on the island too. She kept referring to our group as 'Adventure Seekers' when she needed to get our attention. With prior tours, she had told the 'Boys and Girls' to come here, go there, etc. But she had read a comment someone had posted on Trip Advisor who had not liked being referred to that way and thus the name change. I much preferred the term Advenure Seekers too!
We were onto the rim of the main volcano next.
We could see the steam rising from the volcano which meant the temperature there was already 100 degrees Celsius. One meter, or about three feet deeper, the temperature goes up to 400 degrees. The temperature in the magma chamber is a whopping 1250 degrees. 

When she dug down a few inches, I could already feel how very hot the earth was compared to what we were walking on. 

This was the highest point of the island and it was formed by eruptions that took place between 1866 and 1870.
I was standing on the edge of the volcano. The gray lava was from the 1866-1870 eruption and the black lava was from 1941 eruption.
In 1625 BC, there was the strongest eruption from this volcano in the world which produced massive tidal waves. Jacques Cousteau came here to Nea Kameni in the 1970s hoping to find the lost city of Atlantis. Obviously, he was unsuccessful!

It is estimated that six tons of rock are taken by visitors each year from Nea Kameni. If that continues, she joked that in 50-60 years, she’ll lose her job!
The only tree on the island that I saw:
Hiking 430 feet to the top of the live and still smoldering volcano and walking around the edge of the crater had been interesting even though I am not a science buff.
Back on the boat for a 20 minute ride to our next stop where the boat would be moored in a small bay where we could go swimming in hot springs, Tanya said, if we liked. 
The water temperature would be 35 degrees which sounded lovely and warm and very inviting to me. Steven decided to stay aboard but I wanted to see what the water was like. Pockets of water were warm but nothing I would have thought akin to hot springs. 
I hadn’t been swimming in open water for a good while so I took it easy, not wanting to tax myself, especially since the boat wasn’t in view as I swam into the cove.  I kept thinking of my friends back home in the water aerobics class. They were starting up classes again the next day after a long hiatus with Judy, the great instructor, at Lilley Gulch Recreation Center. This was for you, ladies! 
The other 'Adventure Seekers' and I swam beyond this boat to the far end of the cove around the rocky area on the right you can see below. It was quite a distance. The smell of sulphur was pretty strong. 
Once I was right in the cove, I was able to stand up in very soft black dirt that my feet just sank into. The swim back to the boat was harder as the current was stronger then and I was tireder then too! 

I was glad to get back on board and warm up. Unfortunately, one man had dislocated his shoulder when he jumped in the water so the boat had to return to the port so he could seek medical attention.

Our next stop was Thirasia Island where we arrived at 2:15. There were a few small restaurants along the ‘beach.’ Steven described it more bluntly than I would as a dinky, nothing of a place with a very rocky shoreline. We had no clue why the boat decided to stop here for a couple of hours as there was no beach – it was like they had to waste a couple of hours somewhere and this was the only option.
We could have walked to the top of the hill but Tanya assured us there was nothing of interest there so we decided to just walk along the shoreline.

There were a large number of domed structures that looked like bunkers.

We left at 4:15 for the short trip to Oia, the island’s second largest town located on the northern part of the island and the Aegean’s most photographed village. Every evening, travelers from all over the world congregate at the caldera’s rim, each looking out to sea in anticipation of the perfect sunset.

The 1956 earthquake that hit Santorini left 48 residents dead, hundreds injured and 2,000 houses toppled. Santorini’s west side, especially Oia, until then the largest town, was badly affected. As a result, many residents decided to emigrate to Australia and the US. Fira was also damaged but it rebuilt rapidly. A couple of views of Oia from our boat: 
Oia proceeded slowly, sticking to the original architectural style. In 1900, Oia had nearly 9,000 inhabitants, mostly mariners who owned 163 seafaring vessels and seven shipyards. Now there are about 500 permanent residents and more than 100 boats. 

The views from the boat were indeed stunning but, in order to actually see Oia, we had to climb a gazillion steps!
Tanya, our unforgettable guide!
Tanya told us that we needed to be careful climbing up the steep steps to the town from the port and to make sure we kept our backs to the wall to allow the donkeys to pass and not push us. Good advice to heed, we thought!

She joked that nobody had been hurt yet by the donkeys and she wanted that record to continue. Everybody was here in Oia like us to see the sunset but there was only one street in Oia and only one sun on the planet and the sunset would be beautiful anywhere we chose. We sure couldn't argue with that logic!

It was hot, the hike was steep and his backpack was heavy but he was still smiling!
Tanya's last piece of advice: In order to see the sunset, she said, we just needed to ‘follow the zombies’ down the one road to the sun! 

The sun set very early, about 6:40, so we had time to walk up and down the most picture perfect town I have ever seen in my life. The street had white marble slabs instead of pavement; the stores were magnificent, the small boutique hotels looked like they were idyllic places to honeymoon or just to get away from it all as long as you had plenty of money and the views at every turn were simply stupendous.

We had walked to this church but we couldn’t enter as a boy was being baptized.

I had fun exploring some of the souvenir shops and galleries while Steven waited patiently for me while watching the world go by.

How nice to see the no drone signs all over Oia after being bothered by the one in Corfu. Another town ordinance stated no music can be played that can be heard on the street.

Remember my mentioning in my last post about the donkey motif all over the island?

Because it was hazy, it was one of the more disappointing sunsets we’ve seen but the festive atmosphere made up for the sunset itself.

Many boats also lined up for the sunset.

The whole scene was straight out of a travel magazine: the blue-domed churches and white and pastel-colored houses with red pebble walls that clung to the cliff face. We have been to countless gorgeous places in the last four years but I really think Oia took the cake in terms of sheer beauty.

Posted from Manama, Bahrain on October 28th, 2016.


  1. Sure does look nice! You guys! I'm in Zagreb for a few more days after a conference and then, basically it's Berlin for a couple of months. Zagreb is lovely too! Proud and dignified people!

  2. Lovely last photo. So peaceful. Lil Red

    1. Agree with Lil Red ! xo Lina


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