Black Sand & the Voyage to Mt Doom – Nea Kameni

30th June 2006

Today I got up really early and got a cab to Akrotiri, yet another white-knuckle ride and an expensive one at that. To my horror the Akrotiri excavation was closed. I soon bucked up and realised there were many reasons I had come to this island, and I would do something else I thought I was going to miss, like standing on that black sand. So, I asked the driver to take me to Black Beach, which was quite close to where I was now.

Once there I ran out onto the flat beach and took my shoes off and stood on the coarse black sand of Santorini. After all that had gone on, I had finally managed it, this was a dream of mine, and I was doing it. I sun baked on the deserted beach at 7am for a while and went for a quick dip in the sea. I also gathered up some of the volcanic sand in my coin purse to add to the collection, along with the sand from Giza in Egypt.

When I decided to walk back to the small village nearby, I realised that getting a cab back was not going to be easy and began walking towards the town. Before I knew it, I had walked all the way to Megalachora, which is halfway up the island to Fira! Just after Megalachora I managed to get a cab by jumping out in front of it, as I had seen the locals do and making a Stop signal with my hand. I got in with two other people and I was dropped at the town on the way to the airport. I got out and hurriedly went back to the hotel and then out again to catch my volcano tour. All up I had walked 10km about the equivalent of walking from Oakhurst to Blacktown.

Black Beach - Santorini
Standing on Black Beach

I raced back up to the main town and raced down the side of the crater to catch my tour. Although very pretty, it was very hot, and I dry wretched a couple of time because of the sickening smell of donkey poo. I finally got to the old wharf and bingo, the boat I was getting on was none other than the big ol’ pirate looking ship I had seen sailing around the crater the night before. I handed my ticket to the attendant and climbed aboard, listening to the Greek music that was playing. Our first stop was the volcano in the centre of the caldera, we sailed inwards for about fifteen minutes and docked at the deadest place I had ever seen.

The water we had pulled up in was a sulphurous yellow and the land we disembarked on was grey and the ground was loose, and nothing grew, anywhere. There were three volcano craters on this island, and one was still active. I hiked up the first one and let me just say, that hiking up a volcano is a whole new breed of difficult. I was already tired, and my legs ached from my 10km walk earlier in the morning and now I was having trouble keeping my feet.

Nothing grew here and there was nothing to hold the loose dead Earth and rocks together, so I stopped, slipped and fell down more times than I could count. I had to keep saying “Come on Kristina, you can do this, just put one foot in front of the other”. Visions of Frodo and Sam clambering up the slopes of Mt. Doom in The Lord of the Rings movie flashed before my eyes, I’ll never call them woosy Hobbits again I thought to myself.

I finally reached the active crater, which I found especially fascinating as I hadn’t previously known that any part of this volcano was still active, I had been led to believe that it was all dormant or sleeping. In the pit of the crater, I could see a yellow sulphurous substance and the vents around it spewed hot gases. I placed my hand to the ground only to feel that it was scorching hot, from what lay beneath the surface. I found this really exciting despite how tired I was and even managed to climb down a little inside the crater, because of which, I was immediately yelled at by people supervising the area. I raced down the slopes back to the ship, feeling exhilarated and not worrying if I slipped, everyone else still seemed to be trudging. I was more tired than I had ever been in my life and when I got back to the ship, I realised it. Every muscle in my body ached, my back and my legs were agony.

I was determined not to let the desolate fiery mountain beat me. We sailed to Pea Kamea the second of Santorini’s volcanic islands to visit its hot springs. As this island is uninhabited there is no dock, so the ship was anchored about 50m from the shore and if we wanted to swim in the hot springs, we had to jump overboard and swim for it. Needless to say, not everyone was up for this, I was not one of those people. I stripped down to my bikini and noticed that a few people were looking at me in horror. I looked at my exposed skin to find that my dreadful sunburn had finally started to blister and looked monstrous. I quickly, rubbed myself down with a towel popping all the blisters and lined up to take the plunge, and what a plunge it was. I was on a big boat, and I hadn’t realised how far down it would be. I watched the other tourists, jump and belly flop off the edge of the boat and when it got to my turn I thought, look at me…I’m standing on a plank on a ship that looks like a pirate ship about to jump overboard into a volcano! Off I went, I actually managed to do a perfect racing dive, despite my fatigue and when I came up for air, I heard someone yell “Show off!”

Volcano crater - Santorini
Standing on the edge of the volcano crater

The swim to the hot springs was rather easy and well worthwhile. The hot springs like the water around the dock at the other island were a sulphurous yellow. It felt strange to be swimming in water that colour, which was also really warm. When I got closer to the shore, I could feel the air from the volcanic vents under my feet and when I got closer still I could feel what felt like slimy weed under my feet, which I hate. I realised it couldn’t be weed as nothing would grow in this water and I reached down and pulled up some black volcanic mud. Which I immediately began to smear on myself as I knew volcanic mud was good for the skin, and mine being still very sun burnt. I sat and relaxed in the hot springs for a while before the captain called us all back.

Now that was a hard swim, against the waves back to the boat. I was exhausted and I was determined not to ask for help. The captain yelled out to me to ask if I wanted the life ring thrown to me and I said, “No I’m fine, I’ll make it!” I did make it and collapsed as soon as I climbed up the ladder and back on board.

On the way back to the main island we sailed around Pea Kamea and saw a small monastery apparently dedicated to men’s health, which I thought was strange. We then leisurely sailed back to Fira, with a nice breeze blowing and delightful Greek music playing in the background. Once there we were immediately swamped by locals hawking donkey rides back up the crater. I was tired so I asked how much, remembering the horse and carriage rides in Rome, to my surprise and delight it was only €3.00.

I climbed on my donkey and off we all went. The donkey had a heshen blanket draped over him which was all kinds of oranges, reds and yellows. As the donkeys went up the cobblestone slope, I looked over the edge and realised there were no railings. What if the donkey got spooked? I’d be done for. As we got higher my particular donkey became more and more erratic, he walked to the edge of the path, then back to the middle, almost as if he were drunk, typical, I thought for me to get the troublemaker. I was beginning to get worried when the donkey next to me missed his footing and slipped on the cobblestones, landing on top of the lady he was carrying. It looked like a terrible fall, and I felt very sorry for both of them. My donkey then decided to speed up and ran so close to the donkey in front my knee almost got jammed up the bottom of the other donkey. Now I had been through some truly new and exciting experiences so far, but I can safely say that this was the only time I ever felt real fear on the whole trip. We got to the top of the crater, and I paid the donkey man and had my photo taken on my donkey and patted him on the nose to say thanks for hiking me up the crater.

Donkey ride - Santorini
One of the single most terrifying experiences of my life, riding an unruly donkey up the Santorini caldera

I went back to the marketplace and had some lunch. I went to a beautiful little restaurant, with red and white check tablecloths, overlooking the shops called, Sokrates. It was very cheap, and I ate roast chicken and chips which was lovely. At this point I hadn’t eaten since the dry sandwich I had had the day before around breakfast time. The staff here were very nice and for once in my life I left a tip in a restaurant.

I poked around the shops a little more and decided to use the internet for a while. Now being on an active volcano, that was expensive, two Euros per minute if I remember correctly.

Business Class - Ferry from Santorini to Crete
Living it up in business class on the way to Crete

I decided to pay a quick visit to the Thera Museum, seeing as I had missed the real thing at Akrotiri. It was a lovely cool museum and very cheap to get into. It was nice to stroll around and look at the ancient Minoan and Greek relics out of the intense heat outside, and guess what, my Blue Monkeys were in there and I hadn’t missed them at least.

I slowly walked back to my hotel and collected my luggage and had the clerk call me a cab, I had another, quite expensive white-knuckle ride down to the jetty, where I waited in a large white building with everyone else to catch Flying Cat 4. I was lucky enough to have received a business class ticket for this part of the trip and was escorted upstairs to my seat, which was almost like and armchair. I bought myself a packet of chips and a Jack Daniels and Coke and laid back and enjoyed the ride as the sun was setting over the blue ocean with no landmass to be seen in any direction.

Towards the end of the journey, I could see Crete slowly creeping over the horizon and I could see the beautiful Venetian fortifications around the dock.

I arrived at Heraklion Port and lugged my suitcase off the hydrofoil, the handle broke, and I had to lug it manually, it was very heavy, and this was increasingly difficult. I was met by a nice young man who alleviated the burden of my suitcase from me immediately and bundled me into a waiting cab, which took me to Hotel Castello. I walked into my nice hotel, the desk clerk gave me a load of brochures and a timetable of tours I could book and then took me up to room 305, which was lovely and big and air-conditioned for once. I couldn’t help but think to myself how wonderfully helpful the Cretans had been already, I hadn’t been outside yet but from what I could hear, Iraklio sounded a lot like Bankstown in Australia. All I could hear were screaming tyres and sub-woofers churning out base at their loudest. Despite the noise I slept like a baby.

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