Sunday, September 14, 2008


So Blair and I arrived in Athens and she thought it was ugly and noisy and congested and not at all like the pictures of Greece with white houses and blue domes and crystal clear water upon which she made her choice for her father-daughter trip. She thought she had made a horrible mistake. Our contacts had advised us not to go to any islands in March because they would be closed, it would be cold and rainy and the boat ride would be rough, if not canceled, due to high winds. But the weather was glorious and Athens was not, so we boarded a ferry to Santorini.

Santorini is the most picturesque of the Cyclades and about ten hours by ferry southeast of Athens. It is halfway to Turkey, and a stop on the ten-year voyage of Odysseus back from the Trojan War when Poseidon was pissed and kept blowing him around the Aegean Sea.  It was called Thirasia then, for its primary town of Thira.

We decided to get a cabin and take an overnight ride, arriving at 5:30 am. Due to age, crankiness, my new time zone and the boat's many stops, I didn't sleep and had not slept much in Athens either. When I finally dozed off, the purser banged on the door shouting "Santorini," which surprised me since it was 4am. He wanted us to have an hour and a half to disembark, I suppose.  

Once the businesses opened, we rented a car, and toured the island including several villages and breathtaking views in all directions.  The beauty soon became monotonous, and I was determined to force-feed Blair a classical education in nine days, so I searched the map for archeological sites, and found a mark in the middle of the island for the ancient city of Thira

We made a number of turns and found a sign for "Thira," then a smaller sign, then another old, small, rusted sign, pointing up a dirt road to the site, surrounded by tall mountains. The final sign pointed to a trail, and there was a donkey standing nearby. We thought it was odd, and the donkey thought we were odd, and we started walking up the trail. Blair was wearing American Indian beaded moccasins, having obstinately refused to bring any other shoes, then agreeing to bring them, and then forgetting. Here's the donkey.

We walked for fifteen minutes, and it was warm and sunny, and we kept expecting to arrive at the site around the next bend, then over the next hill, then beyond the next boulder. But the trail was steep and I was fat, and breathing hard, and expressing concern for Blair's Indian feet and wondering whether we should turn back. Blair was fine and I was proud so we went on.

After thirty minutes I was winded and predicting...three words at time...huff huff...that it we should be there soon. The car was a speck of white far below and the donkey couldn't be seen, but we heard his haw echoing through the canyon sporadically. We were halfway up the mountain, and it seemed a shame to turn back now, so on we pushed, with me surging ahead with my second wind. 

Thirty minutes later I felt a sudden surge of gravity and collapsed, astonished we weren't there yet. I wiped the salty sweat from my eyes and looked around, and it appeared we were still only halfway there. As with Odysseus, the gods were jerking me around. Blair waited patiently for me to recover. 

An hour later, two and a half after we began, we approached the summit. The winds were howling, and the view was impressive. Gazing around me, I wondered why in the world the ancient Greeks would not have built their town at sea level.  I then spotted another donkey standing in the shade of a boulder, looking at us curiously.  We pressed on ten more yards straight up to the peak. 

Topping the crest, looking for an exotic, rarely seen archeological ruin of the ancient city, I was amazed to see the most beautiful, clean, new … parking lot. A guard approached, looked at us, looked down the mountain, and said, "You take the trail? Why you take the trail? We have new road here. 

Disgusted and disheveled, we entered the site, looked around, and in ten minutes concluded it was a bunch of old rocks. Six workers were digging and moving dirt. We were the only visitors. Blair needed a bathroom and the guard declared there was none.

I advised Blair she could do what the ancient Greeks did, or sit and wait, and I would go get the car, and drive to the other side and up the new road to get her, but it would take a long time to get down, and then drive around the base of the mountains to the other side and then up. So we both started down.

She then confided that her knee was swelling (soccer injury), and her feet hurt (moccasins), and I knew it would be worse going down than coming up. Trying to find a solution, I looked around, and my gaze wandered to the boulder, and the shade, and the donkey. I decided to borrow the burro.

As I approached the beast, he turned and moved slowly away, stopping perpendicular to the trail, head pointed down the mountain toward the switchback below (significant fact), eating weeds. He had a saddle, with the stirrups thrown over the top.  Wisely, I pulled the stirrups down, put my foot in one and like the experienced horseman I am, ascended my mount. He stopped eating, and turned his head to look at me, with grass sticking out and said "Do you have any idea what you're doing?" I did not respond since I don’t generally talk to burros.

I urged Blair to climb up behind me, but she was appalled at the entire concept and was begging me to stop, come down, it belongs to the guard, or one of the workers, we’ll be arrested, I'll just walk while you ride...  Finally, I persuaded her to try, but I had not tightened the saddle belt, and when she stepped into the stirrup, the saddle and I suddenly rotated toward her around the donkey's axis. She jumped down; I stayed on; the burro looked concerned.

Blair tried two more times to climb on behind me, but the second time, but donkey seemed to lean forward down the mountain, as if to dive into a pool. I thought this was strange, but expected that once she was on, he would cooperate, and turn down the trail and take us for a luxurious ride down the mountain.  This was probably what the burro was there for anyway, they do it at the Grand Canyon, and even if it were theft, it was only temporary, and my daughter had swollen knees, thin moccassins and a full bladder.

Against her will, Blair stood up in the stirrup one more time; I leaned away from her to keep the saddle upright. As she started to throw her leg across, we both felt the donkey leaning treacherously forward, over the edge of the trail, toward the switchback five feet below. Sensing danger, Blair jumped off as the donkey just before the mule and I became airborne. I briefly thought of the animated film, Dumbo, from my childhood, when the baby elephant spread his ears and flew, only the donkey and I did not. We plummeted hard for a very short flight to the trail below. Fortunately, he landed on his four feet, and I'm proud to say I stayed in the saddle. My steed and I stared at each other in disbelief, saying in unison, "What the hell was that about?!!"

Blair came running down the trail, pointing and shouting, "Dad, Dad, the donkey has his feet tied together!" I jumped off and sharply observed that he was in fact, hobbled, apparently to keep him from running away, thereby explaining his unwillingness to carry us down the trail, or even shift his footing, except in mid-air. I briefly considered unhobbling him and continuing the plan, but this seemed to enhance the premeditation, we had made quite a commotion, the guard and workers were within earshot, and Blair was begging me to run for it.  I patted my burro on the neck, apologized profusely, and fled the scene.

Partners in crime.