As I drove home from work last night I stopped to fill up the petrol; Dan had deliberately let it go below three quarters, then half way, and then a quarter tank. It was onto the tiny vertical stripes section, which indicate near death. The standard fuel option was “unavailable” (it never seems to be available, perhaps is deceptive marketing) so I selected the next nozzle along, checking it wasn’t diesel. As I walked up to the counter to pay my phone alerted an SMS text message: CX170/1 Aug from PER will depart at 06:55, 02 Aug (7 hours late)… If I were superstitious I’d think I wasn’t meant to return to Hong Kong; last year Dan broke his patella 3 days before we flew out and now our overnight flight was delayed all night. I was glad I gave myself a travel day before the 2-day breast MRI course, or else I’d have missed the first day. We got to Perth International Airport at 5 am, expecting at least a half an hour security queue. Since some idiots in Sydney caused a fuss on the weekend there’s been an inflammatory response of “heightened security”, causing massive delays. We were through to duty free within 5 minutes. I bought gin.
If the Greek islands are to Europe as Bali is to Australia then Santorini is Kuta; Oia is a tourist destination, crowded with souvenir shops, photo opportunities and sunburnt foreigners ambling all over the place. We stayed in the middle of Santorini, up a hill in Pyrgos. Oia, Fira, Firastefano and the other one up the hill were just quiet glimmering lights in the landscape at night, looking out over the infinity pool in the cool summer’s breeze. Daniel and I preferred Mykonos, and not just because of all the meat there. We filled our 44 hours in Santorini with a bit of walking, a bit of lazing about in the villa and a 7-hour day trip on a catameran that took us to Red Beach, White Beach, the volcanic warm spring and to watch the sun set floating in the caldera next to Oia. We made the mistake of taking a minivan the 14 km return journey to Pyrgos, a trip that took 90 minutes. It’s time to go home and I’m glad for it.
When I searched online for accomodation in Santorini I’d been recommended to stay in Oia, right in the heart of the tourist-centric hub. I couldn’t imagine anything worse. I hate crowds. When we stayed in Times Square in New York it was awful, flashing lights, swarms of other tourists and endless distracting noise. I found a beautifully appointed luxury villa instead in Pyrgos – a hill in the centre of the reverse-C-shaped island. It was expensive but worth the isolation and privacy. Walking through Firastefano and Oia you could literally touch people in their hot tubs, or look down on them in their infinity pools. In ours we could skinny dip. So we did.
The transfer car picked us up at 14:15. We arrived a jetty, as the morning catamaran tours returned and sunburnt multinationals staggered off, the Americans in the groups loudly (why must so many travelling Americans always talk at such overly loud volumes!?) shouted, “So GOOD TO MEET YOU!” at the rest of their group. On the other side of us a man operated a machine that was dredging the bay. It looked like so much fun. Why couldn’t they open that as a tourist experience? I’d pay to play on an oversized version of the thing I excavated with in the sandpit when I was five. I had looked forward to growing up and being able to use a bigger machine but my step grandparents insisted I should become a doctor instead, and look after them. At least I did the first part.
We had booked last-minute tickets on a private boat that had been opened to semi-private bookings in the afternoon. It still had about 12 guests on board. Anna and Daniel were the only non-Asians. It was an interesting contrast to the American tourists on the jetty to observe the mainland Chinese tourists, who mainly whispered amongst themselves, didn’t make eye contact and ignored the briefing (they spoke English, but just didn’t bother to reply when the Captain asked if everybody understood English). Consequently the seasick woman was offered a chewing gum by the captain and promptly swallowed it. I felt bad laughing so loudly at her but she had plaintively complete ignored the repeated explanation from the Captain to not swallow the chewing gum when he’d briefed us earlier. I got out some ginger tablets from my bag to offer her but the gum was also ginger so it was a bit pointless.
We are privileged travellers. We snorkelled in the cool water, cool enough to brace you when you jumped in but warm enough to be comfortable (it is a volcanic area). It was clear enough to see 3 metres to the sand at the floor, looking much closer than it was. But, unlike the Galapagos there were only a few small fish, minimal variety in appearance and no other types of creature. By the time we stopped for dinner, all the other boats also barbecuing on barbecue coals, polluting the air with a mixture of chemical smoke and charred meat, I began to felt seasick and wondered what the hell happened to my resolve in Exmouth just last month of NO MORE BOAT TOURS BECAUSE I GET SEASICK EVERY BLOODY TIME? I took another ginger tablet, stopped eating and tried to stop thinking about how I wanted to hurl up my chewed bits of charred pork onto the tiny fish below.
The warm spring has sulfur and other chemicals that stain the white boat exterior or any white in your fabric. I was not going to wear my new expensive bathing suit that I’ve worn all weekend and is mostly white. I already threw out my last bathing suit, still stained red from the Western Australian Pilbara because the stained red wouldn’t come out.
Suddenly our week-long Greek island holiday was over. We departed ways at Athens airport; Dan and I had a quick transfer to Abu Dhabi, Anna had to wait several hours to check-in for her flight to Dubai. Back to work Friday, bright and early.
I’d been warned to have low expectations catching a boat from Mykonos to Santorini: Lauren, the second-most-travelled-radiographer I’ve ever met (Giz would have to be the first), warned to be prepared for delays, cancellation and just relax to know that you’ll reach your destination, eventually. This was good advice. Having spent the weekend relaxing in Mykonos at the beach and not particularly caring whether we made it to Santorini today, or tomorrow, or never, also helped.
We arrived at the New Port at the end of a very long queue of taxi cabs and hotel cars. Our drive shook our hands and wished us well. We walked off, dragging our wheeled luggage over the cobbled stone path and wondered whether we were meant to tip the driver. The sun was bright and it was getting warm. Luggage haphazardly formed obstacles across the path.
A queue had formed leading towards the jetty margin, where only one boat was docked. No other boat had arrived. We joined the queue. Like at Ann Frank House, the individuals unthinkingly standing behind the last in queue had deviated the line across a clearly marked border between road and not-road. At Ann Frank House the stupid tourists had queued across the narrow street and down the road, until we’d arrived. I had felt particularly assertive that morning and walked up to the people standing in the middle of the street and pretended to be an authority. I spread my arms wide and gestured for the queue to turn the corner (what a revelation!) and confirm to the footpath around the corner. Everybody moved, like sheep. So, this morning as Daniel and I joined the queue, but standing back onto the pedestrian side, more people tried to queue behind the woman and man sitting on a traffic bollard on the road. A warden whistled and moved them back, towards us. Anna returned from the toilet and announced, “This queue is not a real queue!” Around the corner the forming queue melted into a rabble of people and luggage, without a front or an end. We bravely left the queue, the gap quickly closing. I was resistant to leaving the queue at first, not wanting to “lose my spot” – just like the patients in the waiting room refusing to evacuate when the fire alarm in Bunbury Regional Hospital sounded and all staff and patients began to evacuate the building. I tried to get them to move from their seats in the waiting room but they refused; they didn’t want to lose their spot. Irrelevant that the staff had all left and were all standing outside in the sun. We left the queue to nowhere and sat in the shade inside.
The boat was about 20 minutes late but it arrived. Masses of people disembarked. We joined the developing queue to board, which quickly became a crowd of people pushing to get on as tourists from countries that don’t queue (I’ve been to some and learned not to queue because you get pushed backwards and never get anywhere) filled in from the sides. I took a breath and filled the gap between myself and the person in front. After travelling in India I became comfortable with queueing so close the person in front that your bodies are almost touching, because otherwise somebody would squeeze into the gap. It’s the opposite taking the elevator at the private hospital in Perth; six people uncomfortably fill the elevator oscillating at maximal distance between all other like-charged particles and looking pissed off at the sad faces looking in from outside the doors at the “full” lift, which is only 50% of the suggested capacity. Usually somebody on crutches or equally limited mobility has stood right in front of the buttons to select a floor, blocking anybody from pressing a button. I sometimes take the stairs in frustration.
We left our luggage downstairs and the boat left, before everybody was even upstairs. I forgot my passport in my carryon and, worried that it might get stolen, ran back to fetch it. I was not allowed back to Daniel and Anna to board the boat at their door, directed to the door behind me. I started to panic. I began to imagine what it must have been like for refugees trying to flee saving any possession or paperwork but not wanting to get split from their family. We were only on a ferry on holiday from one Greek island to another, not fleeing for our lives. I’m not sure how I would survive.
Our seats were ticketed. We had not known but the code “126M” on my ticket, “125M” on Daniel’s and “127M” on Anna’s were assigned seat numbers. A family were sitting around the six-seat table on our seats. They were reluctant to split up and move so we could take our assigned seats. Anna was bravely assertive and stood her ground, when they asked her to sit in their assigned seats – two columns away. We were a group too. It was freezing in the air conditioning.
We visited Elia beach twice: Saturday and Sunday. It was hot on Saturday and we rented a 2-person bed at the front of the rows of fold-out chairs under umbrellas. It was €50 for the day. On Sunday we moved further to the right, down the beach, past the rocky divider and found the rainbow flag marked chairs. The paired chairs must be rented as a pair, so for the three of us we paid €60. The server also expected a minimum €20 per person spend on food/drink. As a cocktail was a €12 minimum that was easily achieved.
Saturday I woke with a headache and every muscle felt knotted. I don’t think I’ll drink champagne-based drinks in future. They dehydrate me. There was a ripped shirtless masseuse behind the rows of chairs and I kept wandering back to check when he might be available. “Later,” was the ambiguous reply. Eventually I pressed for an actual time and was told, “2 o’clock”. Except this was not a booking. At 13:55 somebody else wandered up in front of me, and laid down for an hour. Persistence won out; at 14:55 when yet another person wandered up reaching the masseuse as I was approaching he saw me coming and allowed me to go first. It was the first time I had a massage where I not only had a few knots worked out but I felt relaxed as well. Weirdly, in a hippy yoga mystical energy spiritual sense, I also felt energised and connected and powerful. An odd thing to feel, powerful, but when he had asked me to turn over and had run his thumbs along my facial muscles, midline sagittal from my nasal bridge, over my frontal sinuses towards my coronal suture I contemplated how this probably corresponds to the “third eye” concept I heard of somewhere. I felt like the difference between slouching over and standing up straight, pulling your shoulders back: I was re-aligned present. When the man finished he looked exhausted. “I gave you all my energy!” he explained. I felt guilty, I had felt like a vampire, having selfishly drunk it all in. Well, if that was the mechanism of action then I was thankful. We shook hands. I planned to return.
Sunday we sat at the gay beach, signed by a rainbow flag that was billowing in the strong breeze. The crowd was 90% male, shirtless, with sunglasses and suncream. At least 50% smoking. We took four of the few available fold-out chairs, in the front row. “€60 – you must buy four,” the attendant that had miraculously appeared from nowhere had explained. When we settled in, and started to eat our bakery-bought sandwiches, a very harangued think man in a blue t-shirt, tanned skin and sunglasses approached, the food/drinks attendant. “I have a problem,” he started to whine, “The restaurant wants €20 per person on the front two rows.” We had already paid for the chairs, without having been advised of a minimum spend requirement on food and drinks. Perhaps his problem was not a minimum spend requirement but his minimum purchase sales target. I told him that I did not understand what he meant by having a problem and he walked off. I wanted to clarify if it was a mandatory requirement for us or if it was just a sales target for him. Apparently it was the latter because he then ignored us, thinking that we were not going to buy anything, ever. We spent €75 between the three of us anyway because a drink and a food item each was over €20 per person. The food service was not as good quality as the restaurant servicing the beach area closer to the bus stop.
Further down the beach, over a rocky outcrop you need to clamber up and over, is a small alcove without any business setup. This was about 50% surface area filled with completely naked men getting all-over sun tans. It’s so bizarre seeing random penises jutting out, almost all shaved pubic hair. They are like variable size skin tags that you just want to twist and pull-off.
Tip for catching the bus from town to Elia: sit underneath the open roof window as there’ll be a breeze and it’s slightly less stifling hot.
We resolved to “go out”. We even ate an early dinner and went to bed at 19:00, to allow for a four-hour nap, before taking our booked 23:30 hotel car to the Old Port. We started at a local bar, “XXX” before heading back to the water front at Babylon Bar. We only had five drinks each but they were strong. We all became spectacularly drunk, which meant we were hungover on Sunday. We had expected to have piked at about 01:00 and gone home but instead it was after 04:00 when we realised the crowd had begun to thin and it was time we had left. The DJ at Babylon Bar played some excellent mashups, I wish I’d got his name. I had wanted to see Robin Skouteris play in Greece, but it’s Pride around the world and he was in Paris this weekend.
There were several West Aussies at the conference. It was good to meet up. As with any conference the presentations were of variable quality content for target audience, a wide range of applicability to my practice and experience. The usual celebrity figures were there. The conference dinner was by the sea and we had to sit in several chartered buses for over half an hour to get there. We drank Aperol spritzes before the sun set and the buffet dinner opened. Gone were the formality and politeness and hierarchy of scientific presentations and appeared scenes of any herd of animals at a food source: the chicken disappeared first. Like in any nature documentary those less aggressive at getting access to the resource were left wandering, plates near empty save for a lone bread roll or some of the never-ending pasta dish. They would wander between all three buffet arrangements (duplicate) looking forlorn. The more observant would notice that the kitchen area was still cooking (smoke continued to billow out) and would follow the server carrying a new tray of food out, before massing around it like the vampires killing the audience member in, “Interview With a Vampire”. We ate a lot of chicken. Just like when we visited India soon after the demonetisation and cash was a scarce commodity I found we reverted to securing resources for our group as a priority above worrying about anybody else. There was strength in the pack.
Daniel wanted to see the Antikythera Mechanism, rusted pieces of metal that represent probably some astrological device that is apparently very important and is displayed in the centre of the room in a very pretty case with a video projected presentation. I wandered around and found a few pieces that I recognised from art texts at High School: a Kouros statue and a death mask of Agamemnon. I walked right past the Antikythera Mechanism.
We kept the hire car for a second day and, after Anna and I attended the morning ESGAR 2017 conference sessions we had a cultural afternoon self-directed session driving South towards the coast. We swam in a salt water lake that had those tiny fish that nibble at the dead skin on your feet (I couldn’t stand it and got out). The archaeological site at Sounion Cape was impressive because of its time scale: the current temple is dated to the 4th Century BC, 2400 years ago! My 38 years of life are insignificant by comparison. Vandals over prior centuries scratched their names and dated 1803… We had fun taking panoramic photos, trying to be present at both ends of the image.
Sunday we met up with Anna and toured the Acropolis. It was overcast and intermittently drizzly. We caught a cab from our apartment to the Acropolis Museum, for €5. We had thought this incredibly cheap, being conditioned to accept Australian taxi fares, but later caught a cab across town for twice the distance and duration at a cheaper fare. The museum was full of tourists and sculptures. I was super excited to see the caryatids as well as the new upstairs outdoor indoor display for the bits that are still mostly in museums overseas, yet to be returned to Greece. The awe that I felt standing at the Parthenon was what I’d expected to see at Niagara Falls but hadn’t: finally seeing something in person that I’d read about or studied at school and being amazed to see in reality.