My love letter to Santorini, in five rose-tinted moments.
Moment #1: the climb
The dark sand clings to my wet torso like iron fillings to a magnet as I scrape the side of the volcanic rock. My next potential handhold disintegrates into powdery specks. It looked decidedly more solid from the water. As each pivot places me in a more precarious balance, I find myself wondering how I’ll get down again. This tiny Matterhorn-shaped island was far too appealing for a compulsive climber like me, even an out-of-practice one.
After a strenuous ten-whole-minute ascent, I am Edmund Hillary and my mountain is conquered. From this vantage point, I can see most of Santorini, from Oia directly above the cliffs, to Fira, to the villages at the other end of the island and the volcano in the centre of the crescent.
Moment #2: the roof
Contentment. I’m sliding chairs around and opening two different kinds of cheese. Kat is carrying an assortment of useful objects from the kitchen downstairs. Wes is slicing fresh bread. Matt offers me a glass of rosé.
After we gorge ourselves, we pour another glass and deal a few rounds of cards. My chair is facing in the wrong direction, which makes it even more staggering when I turn around every few minutes to see the sunset. It’s an event here in Santorini. But I’ve never found anywhere more magnificent to watch it than that unassuming rooftop, away from the crowd of cruise ship day trippers.
After darkness fell, the cheering tourists had departed, and my pitiful score had placed me dead last in our game of five crowns, we took our shoes off. Matt and Wes taught us the first half hour of Rocky Horror from memory, right there on the rooftop. Contentment.
Moment #3: the ride
“Which way?” Matt shouts to be heard above the throb of the engine. “You’re the driver, you choose!” I shout back. We’ve been taking turns in the driver’s seat of the quad bike. Matt swerves left, trading asphalt for thick red dust to explore an unpaved trail. Kat and Wes slow down a little, just far enough behind us to avoid the dust we’re now spitting into the air.
I half expect to spot a coyote; the road resembles an Arizona film set. Like most roads on this island, it eventually reaches a dead end in the form of a beach parking lot. Within minutes, we’re in the water creating our own clouds of red dust as the waves remove every trace of our dirty travels.
Moment #4: the night
The only light is coming from the moon, but my eyes have adjusted. I find myself wondering what kind of sea creatures explore these waters at night as I dip a toe in. This seemed like such a good idea half an hour ago when we were warm in the village at the top of the hill. Before the steep descent, before slipping past the bartenders finally departing their fishing village restaurants after they closed an hour ago at midnight, and before the rocks that we had clambered over so deftly when it was light.
But we’re here now, and my streak of determination is starting to show. I lower myself onto a submerged rock, trying not to slip. I leap forward less gracefully than intended, and find myself submerged in the Aegean. From this vantage point, the lights of the village at the top of the hill are enchanting. The moon, too, is drawing a shimmering line to me. And even the water itself is lighting up in tiny bioluminescent bursts. It’s magical. But we have a goal.
We swim to the tiny island. We pull ourselves up from the water using a conveniently placed piece of rope, and then climb the steps to the ruined church. The old tiles look like something from Indiana Jones in the moonlight. We walk to the edge, and we leap.
Moment #5: the dawn
I’m alone. I haven’t felt this alone in a long while. Melancholy after the departure of my travel buddies just before dawn, I couldn’t sleep and decided instead to go for a walk around the town of Oia and explore some of the small alleyways we hadn’t yet been down. This is my last day in Europe, for the time being, and I want to make it worth remembering. I pull myself up onto a white wall where I have a good vantage point to see the sun rise, and I just sit there wordlessly for almost an hour, trying to soak in the smell of salt, and the sandpaper feeling of the cat’s tongue on my hand after it discovered me.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a very stressful travel day ahead of me with multiple almost-missed connections. This moment was the eye of the storm, and I’m grateful I savoured it.