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  • Jane Wheeler

The Donkeys of Santorini Greece

“You go over to the right” the bus driver said waving his “left” hand.

I questioned him again pointing left but saying “go right?” He shook his head that this was correct.

All seventeen of us got off the tour bus in the middle of nowhere and looked both right and left. The town in the distance seemed to only be the only one visible and it was on the right hand side even though we were waved to go left.

We all decided to head right as the hot afternoon sun beat down upon us. We eventually got to the town of Oia in Santorini Greece. A stunningly beautiful place, encompassed by Mediterranean waters all along the coastline. The town and buildings were painted white and set a stark contrast to the cerulean blue sky and waters.

We walked and walked and walked, we could see the ocean from a distance but it was very far away and very far below us. We could find no one to talk to and realized we had been let off in “siesta time" and everyone was inside out of the heat. We continued to walk. We had paid “extra” for the tour to take us by speed boat back to our cruise ship, but there was no water around us at the moment. The only way down to the three cruise ships docked 250 meters below us was by gondola or walk down the 291 stairs in the hot afternoon sun.

We had been warned that late in the day the gondola line up would be long and could take 2-3 hours to get to the harbor below where you could catch a speed boat to take you out to your cruise ship. Our cruise ship had an “all aboard” in one hours’ time. We found the gondola line up and tried to follow it to the end but came to a sign saying “one hour wait from this point” and the lineup continued for as far as we could see.

The only thing we could do was to go down the 291 stairs to the harbor below. The stairs were very steep complete with right angle turns, they had been used so much that they were polished shiny and smooth. There were people coming up and going down. You could hire a donkey to take you down and these donkeys ran freely up and down the stairs on their own volition. They sometimes had a master but often we came across them on their own and we noticed that sometimes they liked people and sometimes they did not. When you came across a donkey you gave it a wide berth.

We started down the stairs amid the hum of thousands of others, me in my open toed sandals and my friend in her running shoes. The polished stones worked with the rubber on her shoes to give her traction but the plastic type sole of my sandals only made my journey rather like ice skates atop of fresh, clean, polished ice. I would skid around the corners yelling “sorry” as I crashed into people or tried to hang onto the wall as I spun out of control down the stairs trying to avoid people and donkeys.

I realized very soon into this slippery adventure that the donkeys used the stairs most of the day which meant that the donkeys relieved themselves on the same said stairs that I was sliding down in my open toed shoes. That is correct – I slid through enough donkey poop and urine to fill my nostrils with the smell for years to come in fact I did not wear those shoes again since the smell of donkey excrement was over whelming.

Hot, bruised, frustrated and stinky was how we arrived at the bottom of the stairs into the little harbor where we caught a boat over to our cruise ship. It could have been my imagination but people seemed to move away from us in the little boat – could have been a “smell” issue.

We were angry that we had “paid extra” to avoid this hot and smelly stair adventure – but at the time we sarcastically joked that probably it would be one of the things we would most remember about our trip to Santorini and you know we were right.

In hindsight, we would not have changed a thing (well we might have tried riding the donkeys).

Is this not how life works.... the things you remember and that stick out in your mind as "adventures" are the very things we probably tried to avoid.

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