As the plane came in to land at Santorini Thira international airport, I was struck by the dry monochromatic landscape. A mountainous rock stood proud and bleak while fields in shades of brown separated by tawny privet hedges sloped gradually down to the shoreline of rocky ridges and black sandy beaches. The airport is small and serves both as civil and military and John told me that if a military crisis occurred, the armed forces would take priority and we could be stuck on the island. As I think half the time we’re on the verge on World War 3, it freaked me out a little! It’s a great island and it produces delicious products like tomatoes, olives, fava beans and of course fish, but its resources are limited and it relies heavily on imports for its infrastructure and business. The volcanic explosion of 1600BC left behind a mixture of volcanic ash, pumice stone and pieces of solidified lava and sand and given the lack of rain and cold night-time temperatures, cultivating the land is a challenge. Hence the vines of Santorini are woven into continuous circles to form a basket of protection against harsh winds and the hot sun.
Anyway, we took this trip with a couple of friends and stayed for a week in a self-catering family-run villa in Perissa village. Typical of the style, it was white painted concrete with columns and arches and a bright green tiled roof. Many of the items there such as beds, chairs and outdoor decorative ornaments were recycled from pieces of rock and other raw materials that lie around the beaches. The family were warm and welcoming and owned two dogs that were both rescued. Bubis is a cheerful boy who was dumped in the field opposite where he lived for a few months before they gave him a home and Sissy is a very grumpy girl who can only be approached by the family but considering what she’s been through, I don’t blame her. There was also a rather handsome ginger cat with all areas in tact if you get my drift. One of our friends is on a mission to neuter as many strays as possible as a humane way to control street populations and when she saw this boy, it was on! A few days later he returned from the vets a little lighter and looking much better, having received treatment for his snotty nose and wheezy chest in the bargain. She named him Mr Olympos and although I liked him, I felt he was showing me up, sitting on peoples’ laps and being all lovable!
Santorini consists of a semi-circular chain of volcanic islands in the Southern Aegean Sea with a lagoon of water at its centre which is the only sunken caldera in the world. I didn’t know what a caldera was either until this trip but it’s a volcanic crater formed by a major eruption leading to the collapse of the mouth of the volcano. Indeed the island is subject to volcanic activity, another piece of news that freaked me out a little. But people still live their lives here, running their businesses and having families, many relying on the tourist trade for their income. Like Hara’s pet shop in Mesaria village who deserve a special mention for going above and beyond the call of duty to help the animals. The owner regularly has animals dumped on her doorstep or finds them in or around the bins across the street, often whole litters of puppies and kittens. She told us she finds it emotionally disheartening and a financial burden but instead of turning a blind eye, she cares for them and finds them homes, often working with the local charities Santorini Animal Welfare Association and Sterila cats but occasionally keeping one or two for herself. Like the scruffy old white Persians in the picture who now spend their days greeting customers, getting chin tickles or poking around in the fish tank when she isn’t looking. Don’t worry, the fish are safe! If you’re wondering about the quad bikes in the picture, these are what we used to bomb around the island and they are great fun. The locals use quads or scooters to travel and we often saw the inhabitants driving down the road with a coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I know, don’t ask!