I have recently fulfilled a rather strange ambition; I have stood on the edge of the crater of an active volcano.
To be honest, it wasn’t really an ambition – it’s just something I have never done before – and I didn’t really plan to do it.
It was an accident.
This rare episode occurred in Santorini, a most beautiful Greek island, which was formed as the result of an enormous volcanic eruption thousands of years ago and is thought to have contributed to the demise of the Minoan civilisation on the nearby island of Crete. Basically Santorini is what’s left of the island of Thera, a much bigger island that was devastated by the eruption.
Our initial plan was to visit the old port of Fira and take a boat trip around the small uninhabited volcanic island of Nea Kameni and then take a dip in some hot springs. Sadly, our plans went awry, when a small in a boat tried to charge us 200 Euros. In the end we went with the tourists on a packed boat, for the princely sum of 15 Euros each.
To our surprise, the boat arrived at Nea Kameni, and we were treated to a stroll up to the active crater at the top of the island. I was totally unprepared for the hike, wearing beach sandals instead of half decent trainers. Mrs PM and I also had very little water and the temperature was fairly high.
The walk was relatively easy but the temperature and the ground made it tricky for me, not because I am so unfit that I can’t climb what was effectively a small hill; my sandals were constantly filling up with tiny bits of volcanic rock, which felt the need to glue themselves to my sweating feet and irritating the skin.
I moaned to Mrs PM about my choice of footwear. As we climbed, we saw a lot of signs warning us not to take samples of the rocks.
“So will they check my feet and sandals?” I quipped. “I’ve probably acquired a couple of pounds of volcano in my sandals; my feet will look like The Thing's from the Fantastic Four - only black.
We were accompanied by a polyglot guide, who spoke in Greek, Spanish, English and Italian. Not only was his knowledge of the volcano exceptional, his command of language was terrific.
At the peak, we stood next to a still active crater, complete with smoking rocks and the distinctive smell of sulphur and enjoyed an incredible view of Santorini and the surrounding islands.
We returned to the boat, whereupon I spent half an hour chipping volcanic rock from my disgustingly sweaty feet. The boat continued to the hot springs on the smaller island of Palia Kameni and we were told that we had to swim 50 or 60 yards to reach the spring.
“It is best to jump off the boat,” said our guide. “But you can climb down the ladder if you wish.”
I read that as “you can climb down the ladder if you a GREAT BIG COWARD AND TOO SCARED TO JUMP IN THE WATER.”
The captain of the boat had a magnificent huge white beard and was also an impressive polyglot. As we queued for the ladder, he was challenging people to just leap from the side of the boat. The captain urged a Spanish guy in front of me to leap into the sea and he duly obliged. His girlfriend was less keen and under duress was persuaded by the captain, now speaking fluent Spanish, to follow her boyfriend’s lead. She reluctantly climbed over the side and clung to the captain.
“No es frio,” said her boyfriend now treading water. “It isn’t cold.”
After an eternity she finally leapt in.
The captain looked at me and smiled. “Your turn,” he said in perfect English.
I asked myself how he knew I was English, but perhaps my light hair, pale skin and general demeanour told him my nationality. Actually, bizarrely, I am usually mistaken for a German and I often find random Germans picking me out from a crowd as the obvious German. Why? I have no idea but it happens a lot. For example, last year we flew to Hong Kong on Lufthansa, and the stewardess welcomed Mrs PM on board the plane with a very friendly “Hello and welcome to our flight.” I was behind Mrs PM and the same stewardess said to me “Guten Tag und willkommen auf unserem Flug”.
Anyway, the captain looked at me as if to say “Are you going to jump – or are you CHICKEN?”
In typical Marty McFly fashion I said “Of course I’m going to jump!”
And I did. And it was fantastic.
We swam slowly to the hot springs on the rocky shoreline of the tiny island and as we approached we could feel the difference in temperature as the water became hotter and more yellow; you could see the brown and yellow particles in the water. It was wonderful.
Sadly, when I finally got back to the hotel and had a shower, I realised that I needed to take two showers to remove the residue of the hot springs. After my first shower, I towelled myself down on the pristine perfectly white fluffy hotel towels and realised with horror that I wasn’t quite clean enough – the towels where filthy , now coloured with a revolting and highly suspect browny yellow colour.
I think, for a while, I must have looked like I had a proper suntan.
I have to admit that Santorini is my favourite Greek island so far. The views over the caldera are stunning, particularly when the sun sets in the evening. It is definitely worth paying a little bit extra for a cold beer while watching wonderful sunset.
Another surprising thing about the island is the varied nationalities of tourists. On past visits to Greece, I have usually only encountered Greeks (obviously), Germans and British people. On this trip we encountered Russians, Americans, South Africans, Spaniards, French, Germans, Italians, British, Australians, Chinese and Japanese as well as a family from Venezuela and even Greek tourists from the other islands – a truly cosmopolitan tourist venue.
I’ll leave you with a few photos of this beautiful place – I hope you agree.
|Another beautiful sunset|
|The town of Oia|
|Another view of Oia|
|The hotel's cat trying to drink the swimming pool. We christened her "Pussaka"!|
|This is where Dave took on the volcano with sandals full of volcanic boulders!|
|View of Palia Kameni and Aspronisi from Nea Kameni.|