5 AM by Glenn R. Steiner
The sounds of animals wake me at Pension Annas. I let the soft mornings light guide me to the door, drawing me gently from the warmth of my bed. Always, the roosters rise first, then the dogs calling to each other, followed by the soft braying of the old donkeys yee-haw, yee-haw, yee-haaaaw, making me smile. Lastly, it is the chirping of sparrows and other small birds searching for their breakfast, hopping from the branches of the olive trees to the dusky low grape vines below.
The immortal Greek sky starts to brighten, first dark turning to silver, and then the light, the Greek light as Helios starts his ride and begins his day, pushing through the morning clouds, rising abruptly from the sea off Anafi.
A soft crunching, the old feet of a Santorian man well past his retirement, walking through volcanic fields, follows an old track, past the newly planted grape vines that hug the earth so closely here. It was an old path, even back when he was young. He disappears into a small ravine.
Below me, the earth is white ash and pumice, and intermixed with white and startling black volcanic stone. The light begins to play upon the golden fields of this land without much water. The soft crunching of his old feet is heard long after the old Greek has disappeared.
The sounds of morning are in full concert now in KontoChora, a natural symphony. The Greek sun warms my shared balcony here at Pension Anna, but the air is cold and fresh. Dressed in long pants which have seen better days, an old worn sweater, and a dusty dark cap, the old Greek returns from the arroyo, leading his team of donkeys past the cubistic white buildings to my right. I hear the clip-clop, clip-clop recede into the distance, back towards Fira.
A breath of soft warm wind pushes its way from the south. A catabolic wind born of Africa, this Sirocco brings with it a sudden moisture, driving away the mosquitoes which be me no good will, save the parting a few nightly pints of blood. Small ants scurry beneath my feet, but do not bite.
The island of Anafi, which lies 80 degrees East of Kontachora, seems to disappear into the now golden seas, and then, reappear suddenly, as if pulled down and then pushed up by the hand of Poseidon, the old Greek god of ancient mythos.
Soft striations of wispy clouds reach out and grasp the morning light. Echoing Homers rosy fingers of dawn, they turn from soft chartreuse to pink to deep salmon.
I am surrounded by flocks of small birds. I want nothing else than to reach out and fly with them.
Hunger suddenly gives wings to my feet.
I strap on my sandals and walk quietly past the doors of teenagers that have burnt the midnight oil, and consumed most of the wick as well.
I try once again begin the familiar ritual of starting my old motor scooters ancient two-stroke engine. My mechanical steed has its quirks. This morning, the old motorbike would give an old donkey pause to wonder. I try the kick-start pedal while sitting on the bike. This is how I begin the ritual. Kick, kick, kick. Nothing. Silence is my reward. Kick, kick, kick. I dismount. Standing by the bike, I place my right foot on the pedal. Kick, kick, kick. Nothing! Somehow, without explanation, it is always my left foot, and only while dismounted, that starts the engine. One push and the old engine catches, and then revs highly beyond reason, catching up for lost time. Holding onto the gnarly handlebars, I steady the bike. I imagine that the resulting cacophony can be heard for miles, echoing down corridors of igneous rock, far out to the sea. Climbing upon my mechanical steed, I slip the moped into gear. It jolts ahead with a mind of its own, carrying me down the bumpy road toward Theotokopoulos Square and the promise of strong coffee.
Modern Adventures of Odysseus
Deep within a canyon shaped by wind and stone lies a village carved from pumice. Those of Vathonos live within caves, as they have for many centuries. The benefits? The temperature remains constant, and the environment is dry. Little rain falls in Santorini. I do however have my doubts about living in an arroyo. Apparently, flash flooding happens infrequently.
Walking from the lip of the canyon, I descended down the stone pathway, passing layer upon layer of volcanic pumice. These layers changed in color from white, to deep red and finally black, reflecting the many eruptions in millennia past that have shaped Santorini.
Many old ruins remain here untended. Sometimes, one sees just a door and windows stuck into the cliff. Other times, a stately mansion juts out from the steep canyon wall, its courtyard filled with jasmine, geranium and bougainvilleas. A road runs up the middle of the canyon, providing access to numerous churches and schools. The effect was primitive, fascinating, if not a touch claustrophobic. Should a flash flood happen, the water would sweep all in the narrow roadway out to sea.
Santorini was and is a world of stone, and Vathonos has textures beyond belief, a photographers delight.
Later in the day, I sped up to Oia at the northeast side of the island, and then, down alongside the southeast coast. A little village called Paradis would be paradise by any other name. I have visited a little skeleton of a house just outside of Paradis for many years. The owner has now just finished the walls. This little 600 sq foot stone house faces the ocean and the meltemi winds proudly. Some enterprising Greek has just finished building a new port near the base of the house. I cold not help but park and stroll about the premises. Sun, water, a house facing the quintessential deserted islands of Sikinos and Folegandros far off to the northeast, and a place for my boat. Sigh!
Along the road back to Fira, I chanced upon a dirt road to the left, and for no other good reason, decided to take it to see where it went. The small sign written, to hand painted onto a road said Exo Gonia. There, I found an old deserted factory, long abandoned with huge stonewalls and great textured windows. A huge run down facility, this might one day be a school to teach art and photography. Within islands, that I take pride in knowing, I still find many treasures undiscovered. This was no exception. He, who takes not the old road, discovers not, never realizing the true delights of new places, new sights, and smells.
I ate dinner at Senior Zorbas, which is run by a lady from Colorado named Mary and her husband Giannis. The sun had disappeared behind the clouds and the wind had picked up tremendously. In the middle of a cold meltemi, I sat by the edge of the crater, freezing my ass off drinking a perfectly frozen margarita with guacamole, chips and salsa. You can take the boy away from San Diego, but one cannot take the San Diegan out of the boy. Mary pours a mean margarita, and I would heartily recommend this establishment to any and all as the best Mexican restaurant in Greece, and Europe to my knowledge. I chanced to meet four ladies at Senior Zorbas. One knew of a place for sale just out of Fira town in a little place called Imerovigli.
Today, I decided to visit the charming German couple named Heiner and Josefa, who own the house. (Are all houses in Fira carved out of stone?) This was yet another cave dwelling set deep within the mountainside. Their view faced toward Mt. Profitis Illias. Their courtyard was well protected from the meltemis. Within were two separate dwellings set perpendicular to each other. Each consisted of two rooms in tandem with a bathroom. On top of the stone cave houses was a small desk to better view the rising sun as it emerges from the morning sea. Could this be the place? One would be hard pressed to find a better darkroom that a cave.
After our meeting, a short walk carried me to the top of Imerovigli. I chanced to walk in the wrong direction, which is incredible easy given the scenic circumstance and beauty facing the caldera. I ended up at an upscale hotel run by a father and son named Spiro and Mikalis. These rooms were first rate, and quite pricey. But the view! Ahhhhhhhhthe view! One looks down at the volcano to the immensity of the water filled crater. To the left lies Nea and Palea Kameni, and to the right, Oia, backed by the islands of Folegandros and Sikinos. Thus invited I sat at their pool and enjoyed a cold Stella Artois, drenched in sunshine, seven hundred feet above the blue waters.
Tonight I shall have an inexpensive meal at Dionysus Taverna in Fira. Who knows what yet may come? I shall stay here to write for two more days, and then move onwards to Paros, and then points completely unknown to me. Perhaps, Sikinos or Folegandros?
"Μονο ο Θεος Ξερει." Mono Theos xerei ...Only God knows.