Of Cliff Sides and Centaurs by Glenn R. Steiner
Procrastination is a fine art. I have honed this fine skill from a Bachelors degree up to a mastery level rarely seen. Call me Doctor Steiner, PhD., from the school of life in procrastination.
The time to leave Thera had come. Once again, I found myself racing back to Annas pension, and then, returning at full gallop with backpack, leaden camera bag and one broken sandal up the steep hill towards Firas bus station. My means of imminent transportation appeared to be a colorful relic from the summer of love in 1968. Throwing caution to the winds, I thrust myself in with the other shoe horned, shell shocked tourists. Off, we jolted, rattling down the road to Athinios Port. None of us needed to hang on to anything, so tightly packed were we, like barbounia in a tin can.
I, for one, was packed in facing the rear of the bus. Thus, for the first time in my life, I had the proud privilege of hindsight, not foresight, one might say.
This proved itself most useful. The bus began the descent down the 300-meter face of the caldera. A quarter of the way down, the bus encountered a small obstruction on the road which might be charitably called a car in certain third world countries. There was no passing route on this one-lane road. The Greek driver of the bus wisely decided to BACK the bus back up the hill, David pushing Goliath, and David once again winning. It was in this way, that I finally became the nervous driver of the bus, until the small obstruction passed us all with a measured sigh of relief.
An excellent view presented itself in glimpses, if I craned my neck just so. Every 20 meters of declination, the bus would dangle itself out and over the caldera. I could see the color of the pumice change from white to red, and finally to black, reflecting the eruptions of Santorinis storied past. This was lost on the German couple next to me, who talked in hushed tones, looking down the cliff to the azure waters far below.
As luck would have it, we finally hit the bottom with a jolt. The unpacking was not an orderly procession. It was more like taking a sardine can and turning it on its end.
I dragged my pack and bag towards the port, when, most suddenly, I became aware of non-human presence beside me. Twisting my body, I saw that a small brown pony had joined in my journey. He stood about shoulder height, dressed in a pretty red rope bridle, garlanded with a couple of yellow flowers. The ownerless pony had also grabbed onto my pack strap with its mouth, merrily chewing away. We walked along together, the horse in tow, up to the ferry ticket window.
I inquired in my best Greek as to whom the owner might be. The wrinkled face in the booth took a drag on his cigarette, and then said Den xero, I dont know. I asked what the price of a ticket for the horse might be. This confounded the Greek. He phoned his supervisor. No one had ever done such a thing! After several minutes of fast, cacophonous jabbering, a decision had been reached. I could not bring the horse on the ferry, and that was that!
Thus emboldened, I walked leading the donkey who I will now call Paniotis, to the ferry waiting area. I dropped my packs and sat down. I swear it must have been true love. Paniotis nudged me with his brown muzzle, and then, before I knew it, began to give me a bath.
I took the licking quite well, I would think. Paniotis pink tongue was huge, about six inches wide and at least an inch thick. He started with my feet, which truly needed cleaning, past my ankles, my knees, my arms, and finally worked his way to my face. He even adjusted my white little mesh hat, lifting it off my head and replacing it at an angle more pleasing to a ponys fashion sense. The other travelers in the waiting terminal had begun to move away from us. The one exception was a small Norwegian child who instinctively knew the meaning of true love, stroking Paniotis neck.
One could see the ferry still several miles distant. I turned and walked to the nearest taverna. Paniotis followed, nudging me in the back. I took a seat near the periphery, with faithful Paniotis by my side, looking more like an overgrown dog, taking an occasional nibble on the well-trimmed bushes that marked the tavernas perimeter.
So it was we finally parted company. The black Stringis ferry Ithyca swung into the small harbor of Athinios, dropping its stern cargo door, with a thud. We began to move as one towards the Ithyca. I gave Paniotis a small hug, and he replied with another lick.
From the stern fantail of the Ithyca, I could see him waiting by the ferry quay, the faithful centaur, as the fully laden produce trucks, nervous Greeks, and anxious tourists passed him by. Paniotis stood there, his head held high, as the ferry pulled away from the concrete quay. Then, he turned, walking back, past the youthful backpackers, the taxis, the ancient buses, the tavernas, to his stone pen, hollowed out of the black pumice cliff side.
Would that I could have kept him. But what would my wife have thought when I brought this special Greek guest home for dinner?