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 to the 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 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, 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. In Athens, I went back 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, my new adventure would surely enrol itself.
I arrived to Santorini on Thursday 26th of October, early in the morning, in darkness. I hitchhiked from the ferry port to Fira, the main town of Santorini and bought breakfast at the supermarket. It was 8 o ‘clock, I was one of the first the first customers.
After breakfast, my first priority was to find a place where I could sleep, somewhere on the beach would probably be the best. From the square in front of the supermarket, I looked in the direction of the coastline. I estimated that the city was some 100 meters above sea level, providing a free view of the sea, about four to five kilometres from the city.
After breakfast, I walked in the direction of the coastline. I followed a sign ‘camping’, maybe I would find a nice camping site near the beach. I crossed the outskirts of Fira, first old traditional structures, then a small camping site and on the edge of town I passed a neighbourhood under construction, concrete structures in different stages of finalization.
Outside of Fira, I encountered a new road and brand new white pavement, leading down to the coast. After 500 meters, the pavement suddenly ended, the road continued. Then, a junction, left or right, no option to go directly to the beach. I turned left.
Still descending slowly, walking parallel to the coastline now, I noticed that the strip of land between me and the sea was only about one kilometre. As most of the pieces of land were fenced, I saw no possibility to cross the strip and walk to the beach in a straight line.
Santorini was the first Greek island I visited on this new journey and visiting other Greek islands was part of my passage to Turkey. I was uncertain of two things, how long I would stay on Santorini and what the next island would be.
I had discovered Santorini in a strange way. One year before, I saw the name for the first time in my life. The name and pictures of the island seemed to spontaneously pop-up. I looked on Google for a new desktop image and a beautiful night shot of an island with a full moon appeared: Santorini. When I watched video clips on YouTube, some of the clips seemed to urge themselves to my attention. Video clips with people on the beach, surfing and enjoying life: Santorini. Could it be that this island would have more meaning than just passing through and enjoying it for some weeks?
The length of my stay on Santorini was dependent on a visit I would pay to someone who lived close-by. Some weeks before, I discovered that Marjolein, an old friend from Amsterdam lived on an island close to Santorini, Amorgos. Classical story, Marjolein met a Greek man during a summer holiday in 2014, fell in love and moved to Amorgos in 2015.
Being so close to Amorgos called for a visit. Before I took the ferry to Santorini I contacted Marjolein, who was in Amsterdam for some weeks and would return to Amorgos first week of November. So I would be on Santorini for at least two weeks.
I came to an exit, a small dirt road to the right. I noticed the road was only two hundred meters long, but longing to reach the beach I took the shortcut. I passed a landfill, used to dump all sorts of waste, especially car and computer parts. I passed a hamlet with five or six houses, apparently abandoned. The dirt road turned into a winding walking path, leading up a hill. I kept walking in the direction of the sea, as much as I could.
Suddenly I noticed I was followed. I felt something rubbing against my legs, a dog. The dog was with two other dogs and the three of them followed me on my path. When I reached the top of the first hill, I saw more hills and gradually the walking path changed into dry grassland. Climbing and descending the hills, with the three dogs circling around me, I began to feel like an explorer coming to new land.
I climbed a new hill, I suspected this was the last before the coast. I reached the top and finally saw the sea and the beach. At the beachside the hill had a steep cliff, it was impossible to descend there. I walked to a gap between two hills. Together with ‘my’ dogs, I found the safest way to descend the gap to sea level.
To my left, there was a small port and when I passed the port, I came to the entrance of beach club ‘Yalos’, abandoned in this time of year. From the beach club to my left, I found the road leading back to Fira and a small hamlet with one hotel, Porto Castello.
Now that I had found my place to stay on the beach, it was time to check out Fira to organize my daily life. I walked up the hill back to Fira and discovered that my daily commuting traffic would become a challenge each day. After fifteen minutes, the dogs decided to return to where they belonged and I proceeded on my own. It took me one hour to reach Fira and looked for the central square.
From there, I found the Magma café and spent the rest of the day working there, having a lunch, a beer in the afternoon and a wine in the evening. Around eleven, I walked back to the beach and had a hard time to find the right the way back to my village, ExoGialos. This name means ‘down to the seaside’, the perfect name for this spot.
The next morning was sunny and warm. I woke up when I felt something strike my legs. I opened my eyes and saw the three dogs. They had returned to look me up and hung around the whole morning.
They followed me on the way to Fira and after one kilometre I became somewhat worried if they would follow me all the way up to town. A solution presented itself in the form of a car, stopping to take me to Fira. I got in and left the dogs on the road, trusting they would find their way back. I looked back, they returned. This was the last time I saw my three four-legged friends.
This walk to Fira in the morning and walking down to the beach late every evening became a healthy habit. The mornings were the perfect work-out, the evening the best downtime between screen work and sleeping.
I am a big fan of New Order, ever since the early eighties. During my weeks in Santorini, I started each day with one of their songs: True Faith.
But the best song that can be associated with my time on Santorini, is ‘Blue Monday’, a story of a man walking down to the beach, seeing ships in the harbor. Eventually, I stayed on Santorini for six weeks and walked down to the beach over 40 times.
The song ‘Blue Monday’ is known to many people as ‘The Beach’. It was one of the greater new wave hit songs, dating from 1983. Most people know the 1988 remake of the video clip, with one of the main charcters: a beautiful dog ;-)