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May 10th 2014
Published: May 22nd 2014
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We woke up to the ship positioning in the caldera of a volcano today! We are in the centre of a small group of Greek islands that make up the ancient volcano of Thira. Once it was a towering mountain with the classic cone shape of a volcano but back around 1600BC it exploded blowing the top of the mountain off. The ash cloud reached Constantinople, modern day Istanbul and the tsunami devastated all the surrounding islands as far afield as Crete. Following the eruption, the sea rushed into the enormous void creating the ring of islands we now see, one of which is Santorini.

The interior of each of the ring islands is a steep cliff roughly 3-400 metres high. The steep cliffs don’t stop at the water’s edge either. Dropping sharply to around 350 and up to 420 metres deep in places, it is so deep that the cruise boats can’t anchor and have to maintain their position actively (engines and thrusters) as there is no dock large enough to accept them. The volcano is classed as dormant but could become active at any time. In the centre is another island, called the Burnt Island, which is mostly just broken volcanic rock with some tough grasses and no trees whatsoever. It is actually the central dome of the volcano growing back, complete with hot springs and a crater rim. All is quiet at the moment but the potential is certainly still there.

Each village sits perched atop the cliffs and has its own little port at the base with a zig-zag pathway climbing the cliff face. The largest village is on Santorini, Fira and together with Kavela and Oia are the postcard villages with the white buildings and blue-domed churches. Our tender boat dropped us at the pier below Fira and there are four options to get to the top. First choice for most of the cruise population is the cable car – fast easy and comfortable right into the centre of town. Another easy option, although more expensive, is a speedboat ride to nearby Oia which has a switchback road from the wharf to the village above and runs minivans to the top. The other two options follow the same route up the steep zigzag footpath either by riding a donkey or walking. Dodging the donkeys and their droppings up a 400m high cliff is not my idea of fun so we chose to ride the donkey instead. There are hundreds of the beasts all lined up ready for when the cruise ships come in. Em had a ball riding with mum, yelling “YAH” and trying to race her donkey to the top! Something to note – they are not led on the upward trip. The Greek guy at the bottom just chucks you on the back and smacks its bum and off you go on your own! Fortunately the downward trip is guided so they don’t go too fast.

At the top, Fira is a real tourist town – mostly hotels and souvenir shops. We walked through this area and down the back side of the island which slopes more gently down to the sea. The real village sprawls down this back slope, complete with a few narrow roads and many tiny alleyways which run between the houses in a haphazard sort of way that has grown organically with the village. Santorini is all hills and steps so it’s not exactly easy going, especially carrying a three year old, but we made it back up to the rim and walked right up to the next village, Kavela, which is sort of an extension of the town of Fira. Apparently Oia is the postcard town and that is where all the boat tours went but Kavela is just as picturesque with its whitewashed buildings and blue accents. We spent the whole morning wandering and eventually made our way back to Fira along the cliff edge. Em enjoyed the donkey ride up so much that we decided to ride back down too. I’m not sure that was the right decision as the ride is pretty rough going down – I have blisters on my tailbone from the rubbing!

Back on the boat we had a great view of the islands as we sailed out of the caldera bound for Argostoli on the island of Kefalonia in western Greece.

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