Caitlin joined Erika, Yelena and Kelsey for a morning at the beach. The rest of us headed to Fira. I had asked Poppy at the front desk where we should ride donkeys and where we could get tickets for a boat ride Friday. The answer for both: Blue Star Ferries.
Since we took a plane there, we didn't really get to see the sea. Most people take a ferry to the islands, but a plane saved us about three hours and didn't cost that much more. However, when locals in Athens and Santorini heard that we weren't going on the ferry, they urged us to at least take a boat ride.
We parked our ATVs at the rental place, and walked up the hill to Blue Star. They told us where the donkeys were, but unfortunately they didn't have any boat rides available for Friday. Thankfully, a woman down the counter told us to wait a second and called another agency. We were in luck! We could buy tickets down the block for an 11 a.m. boat on Friday.
I made a mental note of the place, wanting to wait until the other girls were there so we could decide how many tickets we needed. And it was off to see the donkeys!
We walked through rows of shops trying to find donkeys. We weren't sure if we were in the right place until a short man wearing a blue cap looked at us and simply said, "donkey?"
"Yes! Donkey! Donkey!"
We all started getting our money together, but I remembered Poppy recommending we only go up the hill. She said down is significantly scarier, and the donkeys tend to slip more. I asked if we could just go up, but he didn't understand. He just kept telling us we could go down and up for €15.
We gave up and handed him money for the ride down. But we still hadn't seen any donkeys. We followed him around the corner to see them lined up along the path.
We walked toward them, and he literally started throwing us on top of donkeys. He'd just point, let us put one foot in, then he'd take care of the rest. Bethany, Kate and Amy disappeared around the first corner as Jessica and I were getting situated. He tied three donkeys together in a row — Jessica, me and a donkey without a rider — and started leading us down the path without a word.
I don't know what I was expecting out of the ride; I just new it was a must-do if I was in Santorini. I'll say this much: it was an experience. As soon as we rounded the first bend, I started getting nervous. To my left was a short ledge and beyond it? I had no idea. But I knew it would be an unpleasant drop. We traversed back and forth and I shifted from left to right as to not look at or be anywhere near that ledge.
I was jarred forward every time my donkey missed a step or slipped on the path. Every jolt only terrified me more. I could jump off a cliff in Switzerland without a care in the world but a 15-minute donkey ride was horrific. It still makes no sense to me.
My entire body was tense, and I tried unsuccessfully to think of something other than donkeys. As I bounced down behind Jessica, I started to feel bad for the animals. How sad would it be if your sole purpose in life was to haul humans up and down a steep, winding path purely for their entertainment?
We eventually reached the bottom, and I started to relax as soon as I hopped off. I saw the donkeys feeding in a small patch of grass, and a few of them were meandering up and down on their own. They didn't seem terribly unhappy. And we made it down safe and sound. All right. That wasn't the worse thing in the world, I thought to myself.
No. No it wasn't. Getting back up was.
I knew going into the donkey ride I was likely allergic to them. I'm allergic to just about anything with four legs and fur, but I figured I'd just get some puffy eyes and a runny nose, which I can handle. I spend most of the year rocking that look. It turns out my allergic reaction to donkeys is similar to that of cats: a no-holds-barred attack on my lungs.
My throat started to swell as I walked back up the path. I had to stop way too often to catch my breath. The rest of the girls were at the top for at least 15 minutes before I joined them, panting as if I had just ran a marathon. It didn't help that the only way up was polluted with donkey cooties (a very scientific term). I sat for a few minutes in silence before we move on. It still took me half the day to regain a normal breathing pattern.
It was an experience.
We walked around for a little bit and took some pictures. I absolutely love how blue and white everything is. I felt like water and paint were competing for "prettiest blue." They tied.
We worked our way back toward the ATV place. When we first arrived there Wednesday, they recommended a restaurant next door. We decided to try out their rooftop garden for lunch. It was more of a porch, and it was really quite cold, but we pretended it wasn't and enjoyed our meal.
I'm not sure why, but I ended up getting pasta. I wasn't ready for Italian food again and pushed it around on my plate until it was cold. But hey, I'm in Greece. No complaining.
I feel like after every meal in Greece we got something free. Usually it was dessert, but here we got free shots of Ouzo. I think Amy was the only one to take hers.
We paid and left to meet the rest of the girls. They grabbed gyros at a small shop while we pooled money to buy six tickets for the boat Friday.
We got ourselves organized, I asked for directions and we were off to Oia!
We drove along a long curvy road that hugged the base of two mountains. Some of the sharper turns made me nervous. If I took them too hard I feared I would be plummeting toward the vast sea that stretched to the horizon to our right. I figured we'd end up in there one way or the other. If it wasn't my driving, the wind would just lift us up and drop us into the water.
I spotted a nice place to pull over and take some pictures. I watched as four ATVs pulled in behind me. We felt like a gang. It's funny because leading the group, I felt like such a badass speeding along. With no one in front of me, I can't see what we look like. But I know from how much I laughed at Mario Kart Jess and Kate.
It was time for a group picture. Nine girls. Five ATVs. One fantastically hilarious frame-worthy picture.
We kept going, but eventually reached Oia! When someone mentions Santorini, this is the town that immediately comes to mind. It's iconic.
As soon as we saw civilization and enough space to park all five vehicles, we hopped off and practically ran to see the view.
I wouldn't mind having that swimming pool/hottub. The water looked painted. We sat around there for a while and made friends with a cat. But we soon decided we hadn't quite made it to the heart of the city.
We drove another few minutes, walked up a small hill and walked into the setting for "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants."
We explored for a while. The streets were so narrow, but I could probably count on one hand how many people we passed at this point. I know we had a very different experience in Santorini because it was off-season, I think there was something magical about having the place practically to ourselves. I can't imagine pushing through crowds here. It would be a nightmare.
I bought some more souvenirs — I definitely went knickknack happy in Greece. I also bought some worry beads made from volcanic stone. It's a string of beads used to pass time and relieve stress. The idea is to keep the fingers and hands occupied when one is anxious or worried. There isn't any religious or ceremonial purpose — it's just to relax. Being a naturally fidgety person, I thought they would be perfect for me.
I asked the woman who sold me the beads where we should go for the sunset. She said although everyone usually goes to the windmill, she recommends the castle. So to the castle we went. The view was surreal.
We were sitting around enjoying our solitude when a couple of dogs came bounding down the stairs. A couple of American girls followed them.
They told us the dogs had been following them around for a while. Turns out they liked us better, because when we left shortly after to walk around some more, the dogs trotted up the stairs behind us, tails wagging.
We were supposed to meet Jess and Kate at the windmill. I'm not sure what they went off looking for, but we sat there with our new dogs for a while. Eventually we got tired of waiting, and we started walking. I got one of the dogs, who we named Maximus, got a little too excited as a ran off and he jumped up and bit my hand.
It wasn't too hard or anything, but I was startled.
The dogs led us to an old abandoned home. We decided it must be where they live.
They weaved through the empty streets with us as we half-heartedly looked for Jess and Kate. We weren't really concerned. We stopped to buy some souvenirs. I found a little turtle figurine to buy. I have quite the collection of them at home. I'm surprised I haven't tried to find more until then.
Just as I was getting used to having the place practically to ourselves, I rounded the corner and faced a wall of people. Erika told me it was their Bus2Alps travel-mates they're oh so fond of.
In the three minutes it took me to push through them I was already annoyed with their topics. It felt like I walked into a crappy MTV reality show. "She said what?!?"
"Nice, brah!" "Greeks are so gay."
What? I told Erika I sympathized with her for being surrounded with these idiots a little too loud, and we ran off — and right into Kate and Jess.
Reunited, we looped back around to the castle. The Bus2Alps crew had beat us there, but we still found places to sit and watch the sunset. I listened to the ridiculous conversations around me and watched the city and sky change colors together.
We left right before the sun slipped into the sea to beat the crowd out of there, and walked back in fading light to a restaurant where we had made reservations earlier.
We had lost one of our dogs to the crowds, but Maximus was surprisingly still with us. He followed us into the restaurant and out onto the patio overlooking the city where we ate. He curled up under our table by Kate's feet and ate the scraps we gave him.
The chef came out to talk to us. He ran his finger down the menu explaining what each dish was and which ones he had run out of. It was really helpful. He mentioned some sort of egg dish that Erika and I had settled on splitting, but when I ordered he said it was only for breakfast. I was confused as to why he even brought it up, but whatever. I moved onto option two: spaghetti with pesto. He's out.
Panicked, I ordered some sort of warm spinach and feta salad and handed back my menu. Then Kelsey ordered spaghetti. Turns out he was out of pesto, not the pasta. I misheard him.
I was disappointed until I took my first bite. I wish I paid more attention to the name so I could figure out how to recreate this masterpiece. It was one of the best foods I had in Greece if not in Europe. Yum. Yum. Yum.
Editor’s note: Former Grand Haven Tribune intern Lydia Coutré is spending a semester in Italy. She is a junior at Kent State University, studying journalism. Her blogs during her stay in Italy will be posted here and at http://lydiaislost.blogspot.com. All photos by Lydia Coutré.