Our last stop of the day was Oia. The most famous of the Santorini villages and now I know why. There are no words for this village. All the Instagram and Pinterest pictures do not compare to seeing it in Person. It is beautiful and white yet so colorful, it draws one in to the point of wanting to stay forever. I would live here forever if I had the chance. I would move my kids and my family here and stay forever.
This is where I had my TRUE encounter with the donkeys. I had seen them in other villages but this was the true experience and I will never forget it. It pulled at my heartstrings for more than one reason and my perspective is forever changed.
There are about 300 gigantic steps from the bottom of the Caldera to the village. It is a massive and tiring hike and the hot sun doesn’t help matters.
At first, we were amused at the number of donkeys waiting to be at our service, to carry humans up the 300 steps. Some of us said oh, it’s only 300, we can pace it and it won’t be that bad.
It was that bad.
Part of me wishes I had hopped onto a donkey, and the other part of me is proud that I made it up on my own and spared a donkey the exhaustion and labor of carrying my fat self up the volcano. The donkeys were tired. They kept wanting to stop, and then their handlers would whip them with their big sticks to keep them going. I wanted to cry. I understand that this is their livelihood, their means of providing for their families. Tourism is what supports them. They are utilizing resources. However, those poor donkeys just don’t need to be hit. And give the poor babies some water. I imagine they were laboring twice as hard as I was, having to carry themselves and a person, sometimes two people, as there were children on the tour. It felt inhumane to me, although I do understand that the donkeys are their tools. I get it. I just have a hard time with it.
The steps were hard. There wasn’t really any shade, but if you lean against the rock wall it’s quite cool and it helped me to keep from passing out.
I went slow. I am asthmatic so between my lungs and the heat I was having a rough time. The rest of the group had long passed me, except for one elderly lady and her daughter, who were a bit behind me. Tianna had gone ahead, I wasn’t about to make her wait for me since I knew I would take a long time. I took it 3 steps at a time and then a break. I was about 45 minutes behind.
They donkeys that were carrying people had gone all the way up already and were starting to now come down. I remembered what the tour guide said and stayed on the side of the steps next to the walls. They say to do this because the donkeys will sometimes squish people against the walls, which is better than being pushed over the ledges and falling. A few donkeys had come down and paid me no mind, so I kept going. Then a few more, and a few more, then suddenly there was a stampede of about 20 donkeys RUNNING down the steps. Several almost crushed me against the wall. These donkeys are huge, and once they are pressed up against you there’s no place to breathe. One stopped and kept pushing me against the wall until I almost couldn’t breathe, then luckily the handler came down and used his stick to get the donkey off of me. I was completely terrified at this point. I cried a little. I finally pulled it together and started up the steps again. I was so rattled, and between my tears and my sweat and my lungs, I forgot to stay close to the wall. Then I saw 3 more donkeys coming down around the corner. I had no time to move next to the wall and next thing I knew there were 3 donkeys between me and the wall. I inched over to the ledge and prayed that they wouldn’t push me over. It wasn’t a straight drop so I wouldn’t have fallen to my death, but still. Then all of a sudden one of the donkeys started nudging at me and getting closer and closer. Another handler came around the corner in the nick of time. I was sitting on the ledge at this point almost ready to just climb over. He used the stick to get the donkeys going again.
And yelled at me to stay by the wall.
More tears. I wanted this to be over. I wanted to get to the village and see the sunset and shop, and eat, and find Tianna.
The steps felt never-ending. My legs were like jello, and throbbing, and sunburned. My face was burning and my hair was just doing its own thing at this point. My sweat on my back was leaking into my backpack, and I needed to pee. And I was almost out of water.
Then I started to pass a restaurant here, and home there, a hotel or 2, then I could see the village. I was almost there.
When I finally go to the top, I saw what all the blogs and vlogs rave about. Oia…
…And Tianna was waiting for me. I have never been so glad to see someone I barely know!