As the rocky black and red volcanic islands rise from the shimmering Aegean sea I feel like all my senses have been roused from slumber like sleeping dogs stirred by the scent of sustenance. I have arrived home, to Santorini of my soul and now my story has come full circle and is complete.
We rush breathlessly off the ferry before it returns to Athens and are greeted by a tall blond smiling Romanian young man who whisks us off in a van and climbs the 200 metres above sea level, up and around a hair-raising, breathtaking, snaking, winding road to Oia some 20 kilometeres away at the other end of this crescent/croissant shaped Island. He drops us off at the Oia tourist terminal and bus stop where we are treated to a delightfully entertaining spiel about the volcano tour by our lovely Bulgarian tourist guide. Then we are told we would walk to the Villas!!! Another lovely Romanian boy took my luggage and told us to follow him for the 10 min walk up and down rocky paths to the tip of Oia where the Oia Mare Villas clung to the cliff face some 200 metres above sea level. I’m amazed at his stamina as he returns to get my huge suitcase and carries it back to me on his shoulders!
I look around: take in the inky indigo depths of the Aegean; black Thirassia rising up before me: rocky, crumbling Oia on my left and our beautiful blue and white cave villa clinging to the edge of Oia and I breathe out, I am home….
I feel dizzy, suspended between earth and sky, between impossible depths of blue, between being and not being, between losing myself and finding myself; so powerful is the pull of this Island, this Island is a land of contrasts, of impossiblities, clashing laws of nature and science which produce magic…anything is possible here…
I wake every morning at 5am, although I must wait patiently on my balcony overlooking the Caldera and Thirassia in the west for over 2 hours to witness the soft unfurling of the day tucked away behind the castle walls on top of the mountain to the east. I watch the porter begin his day of endless trips up and down hundred of steps as I begin my writing day.
I sit outside on my balcony and watch the OIa Mare Villa world pass by: a steady stream of life; a nod, a smile, a wink , an acknowledgement of our shared history, our humanity.
As soft, pink puffs of cloud and early morning golden light slowly suffuse the rocks with a glow I see abandoned houses, rolling, crumbling bricks down the cliff and think to myself the remains are like abandoned lovers, slowly rolling away down the mountain into the sea, swallowed up by the sea like tears from an unrequited lover, no longer wanted, no longer needed, just withering away…
Opposite the edge of my world in Oia, Thirassia stands lonely but resolute. A lover left long ago but refusing to crumble away into the sea. Elusive birds of Santorini, the swallows, constantly circle above, searching and calling out for their mate.
The Aegean sea keeps rolling in ever so gently and imperceptably like shimmering liquid lips unable to stop kissing the languid land of the mainland. Thirassia stands silent, the distance over the strait, vast and lonely.
The donkey-soiled path leading to Ammoudi port snakes down the cliff before me, some 200 steep steps, which later I will learn, enable me to hear my heart bursting in my head and have me saying my farewells.
At Ammoudi I will come periously close to slipping into the aquamarine water and letting the sea claim me, take me, change me, make me… The impulse to slip into the transformative waters is so strong, the pull so powerful it takes all my will to fight the natural urge to dive in fully clothed. Later I will walk along the dangerous path to St Nikolas church in the sea dodging an avalance of red rocks, a crumbling cliff face. All the time I will smile: through the pain, the fear, the terror because Ive never felt more alive when faced with all this danger and the possibility of such a dramatic death.
Breakfasts are buffets of eggs, hams, breads, and huge blobs of the thickest Greek yoghurt drizzled with Thymian honey you will ever find anywhere! It’s food of the Gods and I’m grateful for these simple pleasures, nature’s gifts.
Beautiful blue-eyed blond Romanian housemaids Lydia and Magda smile, giggle, wink and laugh with me despite working long hours to save money to take back home to their families. They pamper me and I’m not used to this treatment so I take off my jewellery they admire and gift it to them. Now they have a memento of our shared time here and a little piece of me and Australia with them.
The days blend into each other: leisurely breakfast by the pool, overlooking the caldera, then writing on the balcony under the umbrella, walk to Oia to shop, run errands and visit friends I’ve made with local shopkeepers; lunch, coffee, another discovery, research, an excursion, an adventure…then back to the villa for dinner at nearby Kastro to watch the legendary sunset for which the whole Island gathers on top of the old Venetian castle walls to watch, photograph then applaud. I never tire of the glorious sunsets in Oia nor the cheerful, grateful applause. Every evening I raise my wine glass and I smile with satisfaction at dusk’s gift.
The daily procession of brides does not move me anymore. The Santorini Bride has become a cliche or have I become blase, jaded, a luxury afforded to the locals? That was me 15 years ago, wanting to elope and have a simple ceremony on one of the most beautiful Islands in the world but these productions are too contrived for my liking. The endless commercialism and stock standard Asian brides in cream wearing army boots, following a photographer around for photo shoots has lost its innocence, its romance, its allure.
Walking through the streets of Oia in full tourist traffic is unavoidable even so late in the season. I jostle with the snappers too, searching for their muse, a new angle, a new way of seeing and being seen in this most famous, most photographed Island in the world.
The Europeans invade my space – it’s OUR EU space ok? The haughty, heavy- lidded Russians drawl, “darrrrllllink”, and lure me into their stores to try on their treasures. The efficient Germans with upturned noses pass me with an air of superiority, as if they own the place, and they probably do. The French glide by with flair and so much panache that when a women enters my orbit, her hands all over me, she embraces me as she passes by and this encounter is not an invasion but rather a rendevous.
I meld into this European melting pot that is a sea of human traffic on cobblestoned alleyways each offering a new discovery, a serendipitous path, an enticing european adventure.