So much of the world has been scoured in search of lost, mysterious places but nothing has brought as much drama to man's imagination as the mythical lost city of Atlantis. Among the many possible sites - no, not that one in the Bahamas - plenty of fingers point to the volcanic island of Santorini.
Whether this is true or not, I decided on joining a boat tour around the islands. If the Greek philosopher Plato was indeed prodded to write about Atlantis on accounts of a catastrophic volcanic eruption in Thera (or Santorini), then the least I could do is visit the islands which pretty much are the remains of a volcano.
There are daily boat tours departing from both Fira and Oia with varying costs depending on length and inclusions. Since I was staying at the Oia Mare Villas, I decided to book with their agency since the price for a 6-hour tour was the same as elsewhere - at €30 it's really pricey but this is Europe anyway.
|Port of Ammoudi just below Oia|
The tour was to start at 10:00 AM from the port in Ammoudi which was literally below where I was staying. After enjoying a hearty free breakfast at the hotel, I told the very friendly manager about my flight back to Athens that evening. "No worries", she said "we'll have your bag sent up to where you checked in yesterday". She obviously meant the travel agency that handles their reservations - conveniently just next to the bus terminal.
With the check-out formalities out of the way, I headed down the steep switchback leading to the port. There was already a queue of passengers in front of the schooner. On an open deck I sat along with the others, merrily taking in the breeze and the view as the boat sailed away promptly from the port. It's a perfect day for sailing.
The surreal beauty of the caldera topped with white-washed cubic houses is simply spectacular from sea level - something completely different from what one sees from its vertiginous cliffs. Even the walls of the caldera look higher than its actual 300-meter height.
We sailed along parallel the walls and stopped at the port in Fira to pick up more passengers. As we continued sailing, our female tour guide began her spiel "Underneath the blue Aegean sea was once part of a volcano, now submerged". We were heading towards Nea Kameni. We're walking up this little monster.
|Hiking up Nea Kameni|
|The volcanic crater|
Nea Kameni is an uninhabited island which is at the center of the caldera and the very heart of volcanic activity. Its last eruption was in 1950. Walking up this rough terrain on a sunny day is not fun unless one came prepared with sunscreen, sunglasses, hat and proper shoes. Plenty of other visitors however came in flip flops!
After about half an hour walking, we reached the main volcanic crater. Vents emitting sulfur gases can be seen, the fumes of which are odorous enough to make one not linger longer. We were given an hour to explore on our own so I walked further, past a monitoring device kept by scientists watching for signs of impending doom.
|Hot & cold|
|Soaking up more on sun|
Once everyone was back at the boat, we continued sailing to nearby Palea Kameni. The main draw here is the 'hot springs' which is accessed only by swimming directly from the boat and into a secluded cove where temperatures have warmed the water considerably. It's a weird sensation to swim initially on cold waters before getting into a shallow shore with warm water temperature - only to swim back to the boat where the water is cold again.
It was almost 2 PM and everyone on the boat was starving. The next stop thankfully was the island of Therassia which has served hungry mouths over the years. It's the second biggest island in this little archipelago. There's a donkey trail zigzagging up the cliff leading to a small village but I wasn't sure if 2 hours in the island was enough to go up there so I merely stayed on the shore and headed out to one of the beach-side tavernas.
This being so close to the sea, what else would I be eating but seafood? I spotted an old man grilling octopus, squid and fish which gave off enough aroma to convince my nose this has to be my lunch. An old lady showed me to my table and in no time, I was feasting on a plateful of grilled seafood. To round up this excellent meal, I ordered baklava - sweet and decadent.
About two hours and a half later, we made it back to Ammoudi port just below Oia. Instead of hiking up, I took it easy this time and rode on the free transport to the bus terminal. After getting my bags back, I waited for the bus bound for Fira. Soon enough I heard a familiar language - some Pinoys were waiting for the bus as well!
|Hello deja vu|
It turns out, they were crew members of a cruise ship. They were in Oia for a quick relaxation away from the pressures of a demanding work. Though our meeting was brief and unexpected, I felt at ease with them, something which I suppose is quite natural among Pinoys.
While they made their way back to their ship, I went into the airport to await my evening flight to Athens. Meeting these hardworking Pinoys brought me back to my days as an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker). Ahhh...those years. An old part of me came surfacing again. Just like a long lost city.