Recently I visited the Greek island of Santorini – one of the most popular places in the world for tourists who hunt for beauty, the world Mecca for fans of aesthetics – Instagram divas, beauty bloggers, newlyweds, people who love beauty, sunsets, islands, cliffs, beaches, landscapes, volcanic space traces. Every day thousands of tourists take millions of photos in the town of Thira, wear the best dresses, apply the highest-quality makeup, walk around the long-awaited places and watch the sunset in the town of Oia. The local sunset is described by the best epithets in all languages because it is really magical, similar by colors to the eruption of a volcano.
But I looked on the other side of this island praised by millions of the most enthusiastic reviews. I walked the half marathon from the East Bank of Santorini to its West Bank. From the town of Perissa to the Red Beach. More than ten kilometers in one direction, and about the same distance in the opposite. Twenty-one kilometers of heat, sweat, calluses, slums, barren land, rocks, dust, wind, churches, lizards, cliffs…
I tried to feel how the Greeks lived here in ancient times, long before the island became a place of world beauty pilgrimage.
Throughout my march, I recorded my impressions. I came up with a field diary of a small exhausting trip.
On the first kilometer of my way, still in the town, I was nearly hit by a bus. It passed me ten centimeters away from my shoulder. It didn’t even slow down. The force of the wind almost got me under its wheels. In Greece, drivers are crazy, the island is very serpentine. Yesterday, a local Georgian told me that motorcyclists are often blown into the abyss by a gust of wind.
The driver signaled to me after the bus passed me. I looked around in with caution and stopped. Fascinated by the beauty that suddenly appeared in front of my eyes. From the hill, which I climbed on for fifteen minutes, the town of Perissa spread out with its houses, hotels, swimming pools, roads, a huge high mountain on the left and the endless sea ahead. I finished my whole water supply and went on.
There was a signal on one of the turns – 1.9 km to the Southern beach Eros. I have to go in the opposite direction of Eros. Here, on the Cyclades, there are a lot of names associated with ancient Greek myths – Zeus Horus, the temple of Apollo, the temple of Dionysus. They are intertwined with the modern world. The Greeks are Orthodox proud of their pagan myths.
I didn’t learn what Eros was. But I learned just before what Vlichada beach was. One of the best I’ve ever seen. It is a journey to another planet – the cosmic rocks on the beach as if you went out of Santorini into another galaxy. If you can’t fly into space, then go to Vlichada, or google it.
I go on. The sun is quite burning, it blinds my eyes, I want to drink. The paved road became unpaved. And immediately the surroundings changed as well. Big stones instead of houses at the road, two white horses behind a fence instead of cars.
Everything here belongs to them, they can run around their whole land in a day. The town turned subtly into the field. Gardens are bordered by a straight line of stones. In Ukraine it is impossible. We use a plow. And here the border would break it. Here is impossible to use it, because the soil is so hard you can’t cultivate it – there are sand and stones. Sometimes there’s not a single drop of rain for two or three months. And strong winds in winter. But the Georgian said that when it is storming, the landslide and the mudflow take everything from the mountains into the valley, into the city. Once all the cars were blown away by the flow of water and it took them all the way down to the airport. The ancient Greek gods were probably afraid that people will steal a scenery of divine beauty for themselves, so they created an island with extremely complicated natural conditions.
There are several churches on the way, some are quite small. There is a red Roadster near a lonely church. I notice a lot of flattened vineyards, munchies for local slums. There is practically no other vegetation. And a lot of construction sites. A cement mixer on the way out of the yard. A spray gun lying in the middle of the road. Far away in a little country hut shadow, Greek shout something. The heat builds up. Not a soul in the sun but me.
On the fourth kilometer – when it starts to be unbearably hot, when black sneakers turn into gray sneakers, when I reach the top and can see the sea from all four sides of the world, I understand that Santorini is the end of the earth. Further South, far beyond the horizon, there is only Crete island, and even further, behind the Mediterranean Sea – Africa. Ukraine in harvest looks the same as this end of the Earth.
Then I go down. But it’s getting harder. The dirt road becomes a dipped path, and thick tearing bushes grow on both sides. You need to literally wade through them. The path is paved with stones, I slipped and almost fell several times. The sun is at its zenith, my head squeals. There is no Internet connection, my phone is almost dead. If I fall here, hit my head on a rock, lose consciousness, who will save me and when? Does anyone even ever walk here but me?
My eyes get salty from sweat and I am hallucinating. I confuse a stick with a snake, I’m afraid it will bite me. But I scare a bird and it flies out of its nest and somewhere over the Aegean Sea. And I confuse dry leaves that are rustling here and there with lizards. The island is crawling with lizards.
I never thought I’d leave the town into such a wild world. Skin torn, mouth dry, head throbbing, feet tired. This is the real world, not the Instagram world, as it was in the times of Zeus. By the way, Zeus grew up on the neighboring island of Naxos. Athena and Apollo were born nearby on the island of Delos. Venus de Milo was found on another nearby island of Milos. The islands are full of myths.
A path is becoming more visible and I notice a huge inflatable ball on it. It is round, filled with air, the sun has not yet extinguished its volume. So, it just got here, probably today. Like me. And the breeze swings it around the path. For a while the ball accompanies me, and then it gets helplessly stuck between the stones.
And even further, to the right of the path, in the abyss, I see a broken red car, moved here by someone. Only the red cars that stand next to churches, not in nature, survive here.
I go on. I feel that a vein in my leg took a wrong position, I fixed it. A tendon hurts somewhere under my foot, I massage it. Everything is at its place, it’s ok. I just need to make a necessary minimum of movements.
A path turns into the road of white sand, and my feet get a few inches stuck in it. The wind sharply beats the dust in my face. Deep horse tracks are seen. Electric wires buzz just like in the Ukrainian steppes. If it hadn’t been for the wind in the morning, I wouldn’t have gone on this hike. The wind dries the sweat. The wind moves the surrounding entropy.
In the distance, one can see the beach, and I am going there. There are eight kilometres of wild heat behind. I imagine the sea, to which I am going. It must be black, and it is not the pitch darkness of the depth, it is black as arable land, as black soil, a large volcanic rock. And the beach itself is red and black with patches of white marble stones. There is already no sense to wipe the sweat off my eyes, and through this liquidity of space, I see the yachts in the sea. I think every of them just stands on the tips of those huge underwater shaves.
Three and a half thousand years ago, here on Santorini, there was one of the largest volcanic eruptions in Europe. A two hundred meters high tsunami reached Crete and destroyed the first European civilization – Minoan. The height of the gas-ash eruption reached forty kilometers, the middle of the stratosphere. The explosion was equal in power to the explosion of approximately two hundred thousand atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima. Hellish streams of magma flowed here, just where I walk today, where lizards prowl.
I move on, my legs begin to ache, my face shrinks from dried sweat and the burning sun. I look at the beach far below and imagine how I will soon dive into the sea, swim far from the beach, look at the rock – high, swift, black volcanic rocks turn into red, and in the distance, you can see white ones.
I’ll swim, look at the rock from the sea, overshadow my eyes, recollect the contours and color of the rock in imagination. I will open my eyes and close them again to repeat the procedure of recollecting several times, for several lifetimes. I’ll leave this beach, this rock, this island with me forever.
Suddenly the white dragging sand turns black and rustling. Perhaps this was the boundary of the volcano. And now people grow grapes and olives here, collect honey from white hives.
A brochure flew by, I noticed that it was a manual for using the washing machine. I tried to stoop for it, but my legs buckled. So, I straightened up and moved on. I imagined how I would soon plunge into the salty water which would push my body up a little, I would swim easily and finally, it will become cool.
My throat is dry, I think I’m going to start eating sand. Drinking sand. My head throbs even harder. Soon I will reach the beach. I feel something aching and burning under my foot. Calluses emerged.
I tripped, it’s asphalt! I am on a flat road! I already forgot how it was like to walk on asphalt… Every step is easier and easier. Solid, without sharp points, without stones. Smooth and dear, like the floor in my apartment. It’s so quiet to walk on. It’s a beautiful asphalt! So exquisite, so tender. I want to lean my cheek against it.
The last kilometer. Finally, I saw a few other people. Pedestrians. Are those even pedestrians?! They are walking on asphalt road! But what can they say about their walking? What type of pedestrians are they? What have they achieved as pedestrians? Let them first learn to walk through these thickets, as people did in the times of Zeus, and then I will call them pedestrians!
I pass a turn. There is a barrier on the road to the left. This is the entrance to the excavations of the ancient city of Akrotiri. The road to history is closed. And I don’t need to go there. I’ve already explored this island.
The last turn before the beach. I notice a few mopedists. Mopedists, your transport closes you in your civilization, does not allow to penetrate the previous ones. Anyways, you’ll have to walk to the beach on an impassable path of volcanic rock, trodden by men whose feet went down there for centuries.
Mopedists, I hate you! Sneakers, I love you!
I stepped out onto the path. Suddenly I went into the crowd of tourists, who also go down to the beach. Wearing swimwear, with bags, ice cream, they go in an unhurried pace, the Italians and the French with cellphones with cameras in their hands, just from the transport, they are smiling.
I keep walking past them, fast, not slowing down the pace I’ve been used to for the last ten kilometers. People part in surprise and stare at me – a tanned guy in shoes gray from dust, knees, and ankles dirty from dust, gasping, with face flushed from the heat, with drops of sweat all over the face, with torn shoulders, hawkish look, with dried and rough lizard tongue…
Who are you, people? What do you know about genuine diving into the spirit of the terrain? What do you know about the enjoyment of leisure mining? What do you know about the real pilgrimage to beauty?
I undressed and went into the sea. It’s quiet here. I’ll swim slowly, will save my powers. Because my way back is still ahead.
The sea washes away the dust and I notice that I now have small chips instead of skin.
I turned into a lizard.