After our 90 minutes in Oia are up, we pile back into the bus. Our tour guide runs on a few minutes later, looking flustered and out-of-breath, and counts us multiple times. We set off for our next destination: Fira, the capital of Santorini.
“The five people on the two-day trip, we will be dropping you off at the Hotel Hellas now,” The guide’s voice buzzes over the PA. I look up, startled, and approach the tour guide.
“I thought we would stay with the main group in Fira and Kamari, and be dropped off in the evening?” I ask. She shakes her head.
“No, you will go to Kamari tomorrow. You have the rest of the day free in Fira,” She explains. I frown. This is not what was written in the tour schedule.
“But what about the tour of the volcano?” I ask. She pauses.
“If you want a tour of the volcano, you will have to go to a travel agency in Fira and book one. Now, here’s your stop. I will see you tomorrow at 3pm in front of the hospital in Fira for pick-up,” She says.
I’m not impressed.
“Madame, wait!” The driver calls after me, opening his window, as I exit the bus. The four other people also on the two-day tour are a family. I look back questioningly. “Are you alone? You’re travelling alone?”
“Yes,” I shout back, mildly annoyed. Is he really holding up traffic for this? He gives me an incredulous look before leaning back inside the bus. The family and I walk off in the direction of the hotel.
The Hotel Hellas is a family owned business, much like the Hotel Handakas. It is a notch above it, however, in terms of size and the quality of the rooms. The owner’s daughter shows me to my relatively spacious room, which has a comfy double bed and a single bed, in addition to a private bathroom and balcony.
I change and immediately head out. Fira has one long, main road but unlike Oia, it has many side roads branching off of it. These side roads create a maze of tourist shops, cafes, and all sorts of clothing, jewelry, and shoe stores. It’s quite busy at most times of the day, but especially leading up to and after sunset.
My first goal in Fira is to get down to the Old Port, which used to be the main port of Santorini but was later replaced by Athinios. One of the cashiers in the tourist shops tells me that there are two main ways to get down there: either descending the approximate 100 stairs, or taking the cable car. I resolve to take whichever path I stumble upon first.
There are signs leading to the cable car, though I end up getting distracted by the prospect of authentic Greek frozen yogurt (one of the best decisions I made!). Instead of heading directly to the cable car, I eat my frozen yogurt while walking along a small path that has fantastic views of the caldera.
Eventually, I come across a small staircase which invites a descent downward. I round the corner and immediately lose all interest in the remains of my frozen yogurt.
“Madame, donkey?” One of the men sitting on a bench calls to me, whip in hand. I hesitate.
“I can’t ride a donkey. No, thank you,” I mutter, heading down past the donkeys. There is manure and dust everywhere, and a rather pungent smell. Again, I round the corner and this time, look down.
I pause. And then toss out my frozen yogurt in the nearest can and head back to the group of men that evidently operate this business. I take out my wallet.
“How much?” I ask. He grins.
Five euros and an aching back later, I can safely say that this is literally the worst idea that I have ever had. And the best.
Now, I’ve ridden horses before. I’ve done some basic dressage. I know how to guide a horse. But I have no idea whatsoever of what I’m doing on a donkey. And my attempts to steer using the “reins” or to pet him and give encouragement go unnoticed. The donkey forges ahead, declaring its own path and not caring what I, its rider, or pedestrians on the path have to say. Especially when there’s another donkey.
“Sorry, no clue what I’m doing,” I shout as my donkey and I barrel past a couple, just barely missing them. All my steed seems to care about is bypassing the other donkey.
“Madame, it’s ok!” I hear a call from behind me. It’s one of the men that train these donkeys. He shouts in Greek and occasionally cracks his whip. At the sound, my donkey jumps forward and slightly to the side, slamming my right leg into the wall. I wince.
As we’re about halfway down, my donkey slows. The rest of the group passes us, including the trainer. They make their way to the bottom of the steps and the donkeys line up. The trainer helps my fellow riders dismount. But my donkey has decided to grind to a halt at the top of the last set of stairs.
“Please, please move. Join your brethren,” I beg him. A mother and her son passing by me chuckle as I look on helplessly. The trainer glances at me from the bottom.
“Madame, it’s ok!” He calls, and then returns his attention to helping the remaining riders. The wind whips at me, blowing dust in my eyes. It takes me a moment to notice that my donkey is turning around.
“Wait. Wait!” I protest, pulling at the rope supposedly acting as a makeshift rein. I had wanted to get off at the Old Port. My donkey’s ears twitch, but he doesn’t stop. I sigh. There’s no question of who has the stronger willpower between us. The men at the top help me dismount. I look down at myself; my white shirt is almost brown with dust and dirt, as are the back of my shorts. My legs are slightly wobbly. Chuckling, I pet the donkey and walk back up, away from the stairs leading to the port.
Look like I’ll be heading to the cable car anyway.