After hitchhiking from Amsterdam to Athens twice, in winter 2016/2017 and summer of 2017, it was time for stage 3 of my journey. After a four-week break in the Netherlands in September and October, this new stage would be: take a flight to Athens, visit Greek islands on the route to Turkey, go to Istanbul and hitchhike back north from there.
I felt like an experienced traveller, having hitchhiked 9,000 kilometres in less than one year. And having lost part of my luggage in Salzburg and my backpack in Athens, I had learned to travel light, with minimum equipment. On Wednesday 11th of October, I flew to Athens with only my leather bag and a small suitcase.
From Athens, I would take the ferry to the first island on my wish list, Santorini. Still, on a minimal budget, when I flew from Amsterdam I had no plan how to travel the Greek islands. Would it be possible to find people who sailed the islands and ask them if I could come along? Maybe a cargo ship? Would hitchhiking over sea be possible?
I took it one step at a time, start with what I know. In Athens, I returned to what was familiar, ‘my’ park in the centre of Athens and the Athens University of Economics and Business, my regular working location. From there, I trusted that my new adventure would just enrol itself.
I got stuck on Santorini, in the most pleasant way. My original plan when I arrived in the last week of October was to stay for a week or two, then have a trip to Amorgos to visit a friend and return to Santorini. From Santorini, travel to Rhodes, Kos and go ashore in Turkey. This all would take a month, five weeks at most, I thought.
It started well when I arrived on Santorini. The trip to Amorgos got delayed until end of November and when I returned to Santorini from a week on Amorgos, it suddenly had become close to Christmas. This meant it was time to prepare my return to Athens and flight back to Amsterdam for the holidays. Long story short, staying on Santorini eventually ran to six weeks in total.
The moment I had picked up the idea to visit Santorini and talked others about it, the most common reaction was characterizing Santorini as a touristic, expensive, ’jet set’ island. This stirred up my desire to see Santorini with my own eyes even more.
After my first week on Santorini and walking from ExoGialos to Fira and back each day, I noticed that the island had two faces. Yes, it was touristic and yes, it was expensive. The west side was touristic, with white apartments, lots of hotels and restaurants where people had a beautiful view on the sea, the caldera and other parts of the volcano. It was this west side where people enjoyed the famous sunset.
Yes, this was the area for people with lots of money and for the jet set. Thousands of pictures of this side of Santorini were on Facebook, Instagram, travel sites and blogs like ‘The 10 most beautiful Sunsets in the World’ and attracted hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world.
The other side of Santorini, the east side was more like what must have been traditional Greece. Small villages, traditional houses and farms scattered over the area. Small plots of land, vineyards and winding old roads.
Transportation with trucks, pick-ups, mopeds, donkeys and horses. And lots of dogs in this area, guard dogs barking from early morning till late at night, solo or in groups.
I slept in the traditional part of Santorini, on the beach near the hamlet ExoGialos. Every morning, after meditation and a refreshing swim, I walked towards the luxury part of Santorini. Arriving there after an hour or so, I started with an espresso in the Magma café or in the Pelican Kipos wine bar. And I started my working day routine, doing a first shift of one and a half to two hours.
Then I walked to the supermarket and had lunch. After lunch, I went to the west side to enjoy the sunny weather. From the center of Fira town I started my daily part of the Fira-Oia hiking trail. This was the perfect alternation with the ‘office’ work.
I scheduled each day in seven parts. Firstly, the walk to Fira, second the work shift with coffee, third was lunch and first hike, fourth was an afternoon work shift with a glass of wine, fifth was a second hike and dinner, sixth was an evening work shift and seventh was walking down to the beach to ExoGialos.
The evenings were magnificent. I ended in the Pelican Kipos wine bar, to finish the day. Sometimes I had dinner, but for sure I had a glass of wine every day. Drinking a wine or a coffee was like an entrance ticket to a pleasant working space. After working on my laptop intensively, walking back down to the beach was very relaxing, it cleared my head from all impressions of the day.
I looked at the stars and the sea in front of me, most of the times lit by moonlight. I always felt happy when I reached the Aghios Nicolaos church, bathing in full light. A beacon that confirmed I was home and could close another beautiful day.
The days were a physical challenge for sure. The first week I had sour muscles at the end of each day and started each day with stiffness and pain, which disappeared after walking for half an hour. The second week I got used to the drill and I gradually felt my physics getting stronger and my health and condition improve. But surely there were mornings I cursed the four kilometres up the hill that I had to overcome before first coffee, especially on hot days and after days I had hiked too far or worked too hard.
Luckily, people of Santorini knew the concept of hitchhiking and were friendly and generous. On the mornings I was unhappy with the physical challenge, I raised my thumb when cars approached and practically each time I did this, I eventually got a ride. This way I got to know some of the locals.
George, a former restaurant owner who drove a cute Smart, the board computer beeping the whole way because he refused to put on his seat belt. The owner of Blue Suite hotels, one of the most luxury hotels on the east side of Fira, driving up to his hotel each day. Costas, a graphical artist from ExoGialos who owned a T-shirt workshop and sold the T-shirts in the tourist shops. Nick the Greek, who worked as a waiter in one of the luxury restaurants. Jan, who was a Miele service manager and maintained all laundry machines in the numerous launderettes on the island.
I drove with one of the two mailmen on Santorini, the one delivering mail and packages to the northern part of the island. And the owner of one of the vineyards I passed on my way up, he was very knowledgeable about vineyards and the history of wines of Santorini. And I met Chris and Ida, he was Greek, she from Denmark originally. Together they owned and rented out some of the luxury apartments in Fira.
I drove with the shuttle van from the Porto Castello hotel to Fira town, two or three times. And I arrived to the central square of Fira on the back of a moped and a motorcycle several times as well. These were encounters with locals, a way in which I got to know a lot of Santorini and its history.
On my afternoon hikes, I got connected to a bunch of tourists as well, some of which have become long-lasting connections. Especially on the days I addressed people to ask for one or two euro, to help me with my journey by funding my ferry ticket, I got to know people from all corners of the world.
Lots of Chinese people, people from Slovenia, Poland and South-American countries like Colombia and Chile. On some days, enormous cruise ships docked, alternately with people from German-speaking countries and English-speaking, with people from Canada and United States. A remarkable number of people from Singapore, like Shiv and his girlfriend and Francis and Linda, both working in media and film production.
Francis and Linda were particularly interested in the work I did, building a media network, the reason why I started travelling in the first place. Frances first generously handed me 10 euro’s and after ten minutes in the small streets of Fira, we decided to have a coffee. When we said goodbye and went separate ways, Frances gave me even 50 euro’s more, which covered my ticket to Amorgos.
Some of the people I met, worked in the local shops and bazars, like Jelena. Jelena was originally from Serbia and lived and worked on Santorini for many years.
On the afternoon trail I had regular stops. There were some magnificent viewpoints, where I stopped to take a break, to rest, to smoke a cigarette, to write or to simply enjoy the view. One of the activities I got used to do on the trail was repairing the stitching of my leather bag. A job that took a lot of hours and patience, and doing this in the warm sun with a view on the caldera turned this into a pleasant pastime, while watching and greeting passers-by. These were the moments I felt almost like a local craftsman, my skin color turning dark brown highly contributed to this feeling.
Late one afternoon I sat at the end of my daily part of the trail, repairing the last stitches of my bag. A woman with blond hair came walking up and greeted me. I had not seen her before, but she told me she was a close friend of Jelena’s and when Jelena told her about me, she wanted to meet me.
Ana was originally from Serbia and had moved to Crete, where she worked. She was visiting Santorini for holidays for a week or two. And after short chitchat, we went in depth very quickly. This was a case of seeing someone for the first time and getting the feeling this was not the first time we met. After just minutes of speaking with each other, I had the feeling that this was a progression of earlier encounters.
I loved to talk to Ana, not in the least because she was beautiful. And smart and wise person, obviously, with an interesting history. After like an hour, Ana decided to return to Fira. I stayed behind and finished my trail for the day.
In the days thereafter, Ana and I ran into each other several times. On one evening, she was with Jelena, enjoying the sunset. We took pictures and Ana and I said goodbye, as she would go back to Crete the next day.
The day before, I saw Ana half way the trail. Sitting in the sun, with a song on her smartphone and singing along. The song surely must have been beautiful, but what Ana reproduced sounded completely off-tune. I could not help but filming this sketch, hardly keeping myself from laughing out loud.
Ana told me she loved the song very much and handed me the smartphone, so I could enjoy it as well. I did, and since then, playing the song reminds me of Ana, our encounter and the hiking trail from Fira to Oia.
The song is performed by Greek artist Master Tempo with the female singer Zoi Christou, singing their 2016 summer hit: ‘Mi Gyriseis Ksana’. This means so much as ‘Do Not Come Back Again’.