Our third and final Cretan destination was Elafonisi, a small town located in the island’s south western corner. With our location change came a much appreciated change in lifestyle. Our group took over a small apartment complex just two miles down the road from Pink Beach, one of the island’s most treasured pieces of coast line. After living in ten crowded hotels over seven weeks, these new temporary homes felt like palaces. I didn’t realize how much I missed simple things like couches and tables. Most exciting of all, we had kitchens! This enabled us to make home cooked food for the first time in 143 meals. To celebrate, the group decided to cook one large, family-style dinner. Each of the four apartments concocted a particular portion of the meal. The men, of course, insisted on making the meat. One group of girls made the sides and salads, another various pasta dishes, and the final dessert. Our eyes must have been far bigger than our stomachs while grocery shopping because the resulting feast lasted three meals. Even day old, steak, chicken, penne alfredo, veggie pasta, garlic bread, fruit salad, beet salad, cookies, caramel brownies, and ice cream have never tasted so good.
We’ve planned some big ideas for our art exhibition to the Principia community upon our return to Elsah, but as we learned last Friday night, sometimes gallery openings can be simple and sweet.
During our time in Elafonisi, we stayed in condos, with four to five students in each. They were our homes and studio spaces for the week. Last Friday night, every condo put on an art exhibit for the rest of the abroad.
After dinner Nadine, Lauren, Thanda, Molly and I scrambled to clean our house. All our art supplies were tucked away, the floor was swept, candles were lit, and a plate of cookies, bought at the mini-market down the street, were laid out. Each of us chose two of our most recent pieces and in addition, selected what we felt was our worst. Our theme was “Before and After: the art of progress”. Progress was certainly evident. Since our first painting to our last, we have become such talented artists. The improvement was tremendous.
We had so much fun viewing every condo’s exhibit. The condo owner came as well, and even the shop keeper from the mini-market. Although it was small, I certainly got excited to produce our final show. I’ve already had a preview, so trust me, it’ll be worth seeing.
Yesterday was one of my favorite days of the abroad so far. We woke up around 4:45 and had breakfast at 5. George, the sweet man that owns our hotel here in Chania, had made us a cake the night before, and our groggy selves were so grateful for it for breakfast! After that we got on a bus with our guide, Thomas, headed to the Samaria Gorge. The Samaria is the largest gorge in Europe, and 16km long (a little under 10 miles). Thomas had a whole speech about the hike and the three main checkpoints that we needed to leave by a certain time. Finally we arrived at the top, a little after sunrise. We began hiking around 8, and it was absolutely beautiful. We didn’t have to hike in a big group which was nice because everyone ended up in small groups based on their pace. I loved the hike because the scenery kept changing so much. We would go from a forest area to a giant opening with tons of rocks and cliffs, almost like some sort of rocky desert. Then we would pass through some cool trees before seeing giant pools or a stream of crystal clear water, all before hitting a forest area again. It was hard to believe that we were hiking in Crete, however. Looking at a map, we’re incredibly close to Africa, but the hike looked so familiar, like something I would do in the Pacific Northwest.
We stopped for lunch around the halfway point, where there were Kri Kri (Greek for wild goats) everywhere. They were so curious yet shy. We fed them snacks and they started following us to where we were eating. They nibbled out of our hands. One jumped up on his hind legs to get a cracker, and another pushed my backpack, like he was demanding more food. They were so funny!
The hike took about 6 hours for my little group, but we took a few stops to eat and sketch. At the bottom, most of our group ended up swimming in the Libyan/Mediterranean Sea. It was perfect weather for such a gorge-ous hike!
– Emily Swanson
I really got to experience Santorini’s beauty when the entire group embarked on the journey to ride pirate ships and donkeys. It was a beautiful day everyone looked forward to. We drove to Fira and walked about 500 stairs down to board our pirate ship. The ship took us to the island (which is made of lava left from the volcanic eruption from many years ago) from there we continued to another small island where we swam around for a while before returning to the docks. We then rode donkeys back up the 500 and something stairs to the top of the island. It was a very fun packed and relaxing ride.
It was around 4 in the afternoon we felt we had done a lot but the day was not over yet. Later that afternoon we drove to Oia which was a 30 minute drive from Fira. Oia was absolutely beautiful. Majority of the buildings are painted white with blue windows and some have domes. From afar they all looked like they had been carefully stacked on top of each other at the top edge of an island. To add to that beauty was the sunset. Apparently the sunset in Santorini is a very big deal and attracts many tourists. People sailed on pirate ships, tour buses and others drove just to come and watch the sunset. It was absolutely beautiful; the colors from the sunset over the water and against the white domed buildings and blue windows just made the entire city look magical. We ended the day with dinner (good food) over another gorgeous view from the roof top of the restaurant.
Santorini is truly a city of love and I am glad I got the chance to experience it with my fellow travelers.
We’ve done a good bit of rigorous hiking on the trip thus far. Most of it has involved mountains, gorges, caves, and hidden beaches. Our most recent escapade, however, introduced an entirely new level of challenge, obstacle, and hilarity to our hiking schema. Instead of a mountain, we descended steep switchbacks consisting of 582 slanted cobblestone steps, each freshly slickened with the manure of 50 donkeys.
Though we reached the bottom with quivering legs and poop covered chacos, it was unquestionably worth it. We had reached the bay of Fira, Santorini, where we boarded a ship fit for Jack Sparrow. The boat took us to the center of the island’s active volcano, where we scrambled over hardened magma and enjoyed the “lovely” aroma of sulfur as it escaped from below as green steam. On our way back to the mainland, we made a pit stop at a volcanic hot spring. The warm water, saturated with minerals, was eerily opaque and rust orange in color.
Once docked, we opted out of hiking back up the dreaded staircase and instead rented a troop of donkeys for the return journey. Though herded up the hill, the donkeys certainly expressed bursts of free will along the way. Some liked to zigzag across the steps, angering their coworkers as they repeatedly cut them off. Others liked stop in their tracks and then sprint ahead of the whole pack. Andrew’s donkey seemed to prefer walking down instead of up, while mine had a particular affinity for rubbing against lamp posts and brick walls.
After dismounting, we took quick stock and realized our feet, now sporting manure, volcanic ash, and mineral residue, told the story of our adventure a bit too clearly. A group of us decided to try out one of the many “kissing fish” pedicure salons in town. In other words, we paid to let little fish eat the dead skin off our feet. After 15 minutes of ticklish squealing (mostly by the boys), we emerged from the salon with clean, soft feet.
The day concluded in Oia, the quintessential town depicted on every Greek postcard and calendar. We sketched the famous blue roofs with the sunset as our backdrop. It felt like a day of unbeatable adventure, but we’ve said that enough to know the next best day is just around the corner.
If you thought Americans were crazy drivers, think again. If you thought there were too many tight or unseen corners and mopeds to barely miss, think yet again. The most unpredictable and speedy award goes to the Greeks. The drivers of this island know how to navigate the winding, bumpy, slow-to-fast-back-to-slow-again roads because of the mere geography of the island. Anywhere you go, you’ll find a plummeting drop down into a gorge or a steep hill that seems to lead up to who knows where. The small cobblestone roads that wind in and out of buildings make passing on your left your worst nightmare – you have NO idea who is coming toward you. But perhaps that’s part of the thrill? And be prepared to climb that steep mountain in your car with a stick shift that, when the pedal is literally to the floor, goes about 5 miles an hour and sounds like its about to break from underneath you. Don’t worry though, you’ll get to the top as long as you take note of the missing guard rails and you don’t take that curve to sharply! And speed limits? Who really pays attention to those, I mean honestly? No one wants to creep along that roadway with cars whooshing by, they want to blaze along it like they’re in the Indy 500 so that when they get to pass the slow-pokes in front of them the thrill of seeing the oncoming traffic getting closer and closer is enough to make your heart stop. Nevertheless, they make it with a few hairs left on their heads. The best drives you can take though are the ones where you know you’re about to go to some amazing little town somewhere, so those twists and turns, road bumps, speedy little guys on mopeds, unforeseen buildings or pedestrians, bikers, and children sprinting across the street from school make it all the more worthwhile. You get there, thank God you’re still alive, get out of the car and walk around. And you try not to get hit by that crazy Greek driver coming really quickly towards you.
Every building on Santorini is white with rounded curves, archways, and balconies that look out over a beautiful vista of the sea. There are no trees, or green things to speak of, and one can’t walk 30 Meters without running into a building, completed or not. Poverty has taken its toll on most of the inhabitants and made the economy solely based on tourism. During the winter months, the people who stay sit around, watch movies and complain about how bad the tourist season was. There’s nothing to export, nothing to do, no work to be done. Many buildings are abandoned or were never completed in the first place. Fantastic concrete structures with arches and columns dot the landscape collecting vines and brown grass and graffiti. The towns however, are magnificent. Old streets collide with new construction and create an intricate network of houses, shops, hotels, churches and restaurants all set on an intense incline leading to the sea. The short animated film Octopodi made in 2007 is more accurate in depicting the sprawling cityscape on Santorini than most would think. The pools stack almost completely on top of each other and stick out into the sea trying to provide the most incredible pool experience possible. At night, the restaurants beckon with soft greek music and fine cuisine. But the prices are unreal, meant only to be a trap for tourists.
I look forward to our next destination, Crete.
– Andrew Briggs
Now, on a typical work day as today has been, I have nothing better to tell you than the fact that I am doing art, but today…today was a game changer. Today the simple satisfaction of smell was what brought a smile to my face. After working out, breakfast, and metaphysical, I knew it was time.
So off I went a mile down the hill in flip-flops fully accessorized in my brother’s old hiking backpack with seven euros in my pocket. After about a twenty-five minute walk, I made it. With a smile on my face I skipped into the door, and as I opened this beast, a wave of excitement came over me. I scavenged for the change in my pocket, and put it in the slots as little Devon did ten years ago to get the toy out of the vending machine, but what I received an hour and a half later was so much better than any fake tattoo or sticky hand. Yes, clean laundry at last.
Now to the convenienced folk sitting at home this sense of satisfaction over soapy clothes seems petty, but to the Greece abroad traveler who has been miserably failing at washing clothes in a bucket of water in the shower, this sort of technology is like Einstein discovering electricity; a mere moment in history forever to be remembered by this hopeless abroad student. Never have I ever been so excited to wait an hour and a half to fold clothes. Just to breath in a good smelling item gave me so much delight. If ever in doubt of knowing whether or not you take something for granted, try living without that item for a month, then reevaluate the situation.
I realize this moment of having fresh clothes is to be short lived as abroad life of adventuring and painting gets pretty messy, but everything about this laundry adventure was so worth it; even the thirty minute hike back up the hill, which was occupied by my thoughts of how to relay this wonderful moment in history to you. Word of advice: If you Cheer©fully let the Tide© Whisk© you away by the All Mighty© Borax© guy, you may Gain© a Bounce©y and Snugge©ly view on life. I hope you have a clean, dry, lint- free day permanently pressed in delicate colors. Alright, I am done with laundry puns.
– Devon Baggs