I didn’t travel to Santorini by mistake but there was a touch of “How did I get here ?” about my journey there. I had arrived in Athens after 3 days on a not-so magic bus from London (no, never again). My travelling companions included 2 young American men & 2 Australian sisters box fresh & wide-eyed on their first international adventure. It seemed wrong to abandon these puppies to the bustle & hustlers of Omonoia Square. Instead of saying good luck & goodbye I suggested that they could follow me in search of somewhere to hang their backpacks. It was more luck than judgement that only 10 minutes later found us checked into just the kind of cheap & friendly hostel we were looking for. When we were offered the flat roof space I bit off their hand. That first warm night, under a clear starlit sky they (& I) were excited to be where they were. That guy who had walked it like he talked it, that would be me then.
During the days I pointed them in the right directions for the Acropolis, the National Archaeological Museum, tourist sites maybe but world-class sights & memories. I went off to revisit favourite cafes, that place in Monastiraki with the stacks of old film stills, ill-lit, dusty basements where you could probably buy a Gremlin. In the evenings we joined the cosmopolitan Athenian street-life, hit bars where the simple trick of being able to say in Greek “Hi, good evening. I’m good & how are you ? Good, I would like 5 beers please” got you off the tourist tariff & paying local prices. At the end of the week my new friends asked if I would join them on their trip to Santorini. I was here for the summer, the plan was that there was no plan & these good people were insistent so, why not ? Let go into the mystery.
Santorini (Thera) is a volcanic outcrop in the Aegean Sea. 4,000 years ago, while we were still banging rocks together, they had got it going on as part of the Minoan civilisation based in Crete. Ideally placed between Greece, Egypt, Turkey & Palestine these traders were doing very well until one of the largest eruptions in history blasted much of the place to the sea bed & covered what remained in 200 feet of ash. The mythical submerged city of Atlantis, first mentioned by Plato, well, this must be the place. After a night ferry from Piraeus, low sleep, hi-jinks, we waited in the morning sunlight to enter the harbour. I listened to Van Morrison’s “Poetic Champions Compose”, his positive, calming collection from 1987. Now I’m not the world’s most spiritual man but there could not have been a better soundtrack to this moment. “I saw the light of Ancient Greece towards the One. I saw us standing within reach of the sun. Let go into the mystery of life”. Just as soon as I get off this boat.
We headed for Perissa, a black sand beach on the Eastern side of the island. When I joined my friends for the evening they had hooked up with 4 Italian men so obviously our table was the loudest at the beachside taverna. It was an enjoyable night, I have always found the food on the islands to be better than in Athens. Good company too, the US college boys were a little thrown by the brashness of these guys, their talk of sex, drugs, rock & roll, football & Ferraris. I liked their liveliness. They said that tomorrow night was a full moon (don’t ask me) & that we should return to this friendly place to celebrate it. I guess that I could re-organise my diary for that.
To help my summer along I had brought along a small bag of magic mushrooms. Hey, no TV for 3 months, a man’s got to have something to look at. I liked the Italians & the next night offered around the “funghi magici” as a digestivo after our meal. 30 minutes later we were either hovering above or rolling around on the beach, shouting & laughing fit to bust, the speakers rocking to REM’s “Reckoning”, another record I really could not be without for the summer. Was that the night we made it to a noisy bar ? I don’t remember too good (but I think John Lennon was in it !). I lost the ragazzi & spent the last hours of the trip back on the beach happily breathing in synch with the sand, the sea, the cliffs & the moon. A sunrise would have been the perfect finale but I passed out before then…another time yeah. The others must have enjoyed themselves. When I caught up with them the next afternoon they stood & applauded my arrival on the beach ! Y’know that could happen a little more often.
It was a good week but… I had not come to these beautiful islands to party. I had seen Mykonos & Ios, true party islands back then. Santorini’s Eurotrash seemed provincial, even a little desperate. The hedonism in London was more to my taste. It was time to leave, find a smaller island, a little bit of Greek peace. I said goodbye to the young Aussies & Americans & thanked them for their company. I exchanged addresses with the Milanese, a football game at the San Siro as part of a weekend away could be a good time. My final day on Santorini was spent checking beautiful frescoes & late-Cycladic ceramics preserved by the volcanic dust then a meal at a cliff-top taverna with the greatest sea view. You should go.
I was back at the port at Athinios, away from the town, my ticket for the ferry to Folegandros, an island I knew nothing about but I liked the name, in my pocket. I had intended to travel alone for a couple of months, had gone with the flow of other people & now I could get right down to the real nitty gritty. Time for a cold beer (or three) & another shot of Van the Man. Oh my, “If my heart could do my thinking & my head begin to feel. I would look upon the world anew & know what’s truly real”. I loved living in London, loved my friends there. Taking time away from the city, time by myself in such peaceful & vibrant surroundings was a re-charge, an opportunity to get things straight so that I was ready for whatever came my way.
From the bar I saw a familiar figure walking past about 30 yards away. It was Luca, one of the men from Milan, he was supposed to be on the other side of the island. I ran over to him & asked about his business. “I’m coming with you” was his surprising reply. “Well…you’re gonna need a ticket for the ferry” , what a practical fellow I am ! “I’ve got it” he said. OK…I honestly never thought that it would have been nice if he had asked, nor that it was odd that he would leave his friends on Santorini. He was a good guy, as good as any to share adventures & experiences with. Whatever came my way eh ? The lone traveller, what ? Come on Luca, I’ll buy you a beer & let’s see what the night has in store for us both.