This last week has been an eventful one. I’ve been in full wandering mode, travelling far and stopping in places for only a few days. My route has been decided by other wandering friends, and I have had the pleasure of seeing familiar faces in new surroundings.
From Mamaris I caught the high speed (and ridiculously over priced) catamaran to Rhodes Island, Greece. The other passengers were mostly day trippers returning to Rhodos – both cities offer day trips to the Greek and Turkish coasts.
I was totally unprepared for the crowds of tourists thronging the old city. I arrived in Greece slap bang in the middle of peak holiday season, as well as a significant religious holiday. I had thought it would be easy to find couchsurfing hosts, but alas not – it is a very busy time on the island. Luckily I could stay with a host, an Italian who had been living on the island for years, and his other surfers (one French guy on holiday and a backpacking Japanese dude) in a village about a 45 minute bus ride from Rhodos.
After dumping my backpack at the information centre I spent the evening walking through the narrow, cobblestone streets of the medieval city. Some alleyways and squares are packed with restaurants, shops and tourists, but others – the ones on which locals still live – are quiet and dim, alluding to the centuries of history they have witnessed.
One night of seeing the sights was enough for me, and the following day I was more than happy to visit the beach with my host. One of the best things about couchsurfing is seeing a place from a local’s perspective – and visiting gems of beaches that are not overrun with tourists. Now this is what I came to the Mediterranean to enjoy!
I had actually come to Rhodes to find Kostas, a friend from Athens who crept into my heart with his jokes and easy going way. And find him I did! His beard has gotten longer over the last two years, but his hugs have remained full of genuine goodness.
Kostas is the one with the impressive beard.
From one friend to another, I hopped on another ferry (paying more for the ticket than I had spent in three days) to Santorini. I wasn’t all that keen to find myself in another tourist hotspot, but I was going to meet Vanja and Robyn, friends from Johannesburg who have been backpacking around Eastern Europe for the last three months. This was the best idea!
The last time I was on Santorini it was early winter and cold. The wind blew madly all day and there were almost no visitors. I felt like I had the island to myself, and I walked and walked, allowing the wind to blow away the cobwebs in my mind. It was exhilarating. This time around it was hot, so very hot, and busy – lines of rented cars, scooters and four wheelers creating traffic jams on the winding roads – but I felt my heart swell at being there.
I had travelled there with Touch, the Japanese backpacker from Rhodes, and we decided to stick together. Santorini’s harbour is at the bottom of a very steep mountainside – the sides of the volcano caldera – and to get to the top you need a ride. I was heading to Perissa, a beach on the other side of the island, to find the girls. This would require some work as the ferry arrived at 1am and there was only a bus to the main town of Fira.
But Lady Luck was on my side. I spotted the pick up shuttle from the girls’ hostel and managed to wangle a ride, despite not having a booking. Once there Touch and I found the beach and spent the night huddled up on beach loungers while the wind raged off the sea. And in the morning I crept into dorm room two, to the back bunk bed and tapped Vanja on the arm. She opened her arms and greeted me with a smile and warm hug.
Spending the next two days with Vanja and Robyn was the greatest pleasure. We wandered around Fira, on the hunt for lunch, but mostly stopping every few metres to take photographs of the incredible views of the whitewashed buildings clinging to the sides of the steep cliff. One day, when I’m grown up with cash to flash, I would like to stay in a fancy hotel here, one right on the edge of the caldera with a swimming pool offering unobstructed views of the bay.
We found lunch – gyros for €1.50 – and then stuck out our thumbs for another beach. It’s a strange thing, but tourists don’t stop for hitchhikers. All the rides we got were from locals. We made it to a beautiful beach and swam and napped on the blazing hot black sand, and later had a picnic of tomotoes, cucumber, feta, olives, bread and wine for dinner.
Being the scallywag traveller that I am I had no intention of paying to sleep somewhere. The beach would have been a fine place to spend another night, but the girls snuck me into the dorm and I cuddled Vanja on the bottom bunk.
Since being on Ali’s farm in Turkey I have become a fig fiend/ thief/ repossesser. I scan each tree I pass, looking for ripe fruit. I found a massive tree on the beach road, and in the still of the early morning, filled my hat with juicy black figs. A royal breakfast for us ladies!
Robyn and Vanja were heading off to Ios island, on their way to Athens and then Romania, and it was with some sadness that we said our goodbyes. It would have been a great adventure to travel some more with them. Thank you, Vanja and Robyn, for a most wonderful time on Santorini!