Our final day on Santorini, the second stop on our island-hopping Greek vacation, came all too quickly, but we had decided to do something really special. We bought tickets to sail on a two-masted schooner around the caldera created by the volcanic eruption on Santorini.
Our first stop was to be the still-active volcanic island of Nea Kameni where we would leave the ship and climb to the top of the volcano.
At our second stop on the smaller island, Palea Kameni, we would swim to shore to bathe in natural hot springs, then swim back to the boat. Our third, and final stop, was to the island of Thirassia where we would anchor and take a short plunge once again into the Aegean, then back onto the boat for dinner and the sunset.
“The island group of Santorini- Thira, Thirasia and Aspronisi-is what was left over from the last major volcanic eruption 3,600 years ago. The volcano erupted at a time when the island was inhabited by a prosperous civilisation similar to that on Minoan Crete. The island inhabited during the late Bronze Age…formed a solid (rounded) mass from Faros to Aspronisi. From a small opening between Faros and Aspronisis, the sea flowed into an inner caldera at whose centre the peak of an underwater volcano similar to that of today’s Palea and Nea Kameni jutted out….
Between 1600 BC and 197 BC a series of periodic submarine effusions led to the creation of a large underwater volcano whose peaks are the Palea and New Kameni islets. the first emergence of an island from the sea was documented in 197 BC by the great Greek geographer Strabo.
Eight more eruptions have been documented from then till today…which formed the Palea and Nea Kameni islets, the youngest landform in the eastern Mediterranean. After the last eruption of Nea Kameni in 1950, the Santorini volcano remains dormant till today.” (This information was taken from ‘Geothira’ a guide to the National Geological Park of Nea Kameni.)
This excursion to Santorini’s nearby volcanic islands was the highlight of our stay on Santorini. The guidebooks are not always right, but this was a highly recommended activity and we were so excited about it both before and after the experience. The boat itself was a beauty, made of wood, large enough to contain approximately 50 people on deck, and fully loaded with sails and all the pulleys and ropes you might expect would be needed to sail a boat of this size. Everyone got on board, found a perch and settled in for a beautiful afternoon.
At our first stop, we were greeted by the sight of a pure black, lava-rock landscape. The path we were to follow went straight up the volcano.
I had my doubts as to whether I could climb to the top, and the continuing heat did not help my cause. Most of the people on our boat had already set out for the top as I lingered behind. I encouraged my daughter to continue without me, as I stopped for a breather on a small bench with a kooky palm-tree umbrella providing the shade. I chatted with a French woman (in French) for about ten minutes, then decided I really did not want to miss the opportunity to climb the volcano, so off I went. I climbed slowly but steadily, knowing I had to get to the top before the group decided to come down. We had a deadline to meet back at the bottom of the trail to reboard our schooner.
As I took my final steps to the top, I spotted my daughter and waved to her. She joined me and we quickly circled the perimeter of the top of the volcano, stopping to enjoy the magnificent views of the Aegean, and to examine the volcano-monitoring equipment perched at various spots on the volcano.
We also saw the sulfurous fumes emerging from fissures in the lava indicating that this volcano is still alive and kicking. The predication is that it may become active again in about 20 years!
We quickly descended the trail and made it back to the boat with plenty of time. I felt very proud of myself, indeed.
Next we sailed to our first swimming spot; a natural hot springs at the foot of another volcanic island. The ship could not get very close to the beach due to the rocky shore, so our only option was to climb the boat ladder and push off into the sea, or dive from the boat. Again…I wasn’t sure if I was really up to the task. We had been warned that the currents were very strong and that only people who knew how to swim would be encouraged to swim to shore. We were each provided with an Aegean-blue colored “noodle” to help buoy us in the water.
I stepped off the ladder and plunged into the sea, not expecting to go under but I did. I popped up gasping and tasting the very salty water and began paddling as fast as I could toward shore. All around me the ship’s passengers were bobbing up and down in the sea on their noodles. When we reached the rocks, we had to crab-crawl over them using our hands and walking very slowly because they were very uneven and slippery. At that point I noticed big smiles on everyone’s faces as they crawled over the rocks.
Then I spotted my daughter who had already made it to shore, covered with mud from head to toe from the natural hot spring! I really wished I had a camera to capture that moment. Everyone was rolling around in the mud, smearing it on their bodies, and laughing. Then we all kinda’ reversed our direction to crawl back over the rocks and out to sea to rejoin the boat. The swim was not easy! I don’t think I would have made it without the noodle, for sure. But again, I felt very proud of myself for having succeeded at this second challenge at my delicate age.
We headed toward our final stop, a small picturesque port nearby. We anchored a bit offshore and were permitted to get back into the water to swim around the boat while the crew began to prepare our dinner. They fired up the portable grills and we jumped back into the water which was crystal clear, and surprisingly devoid of any sign of life beneath the surface. My daughter wore her goggles so she could spot some local fish…but there was nothing.
Back up the boat ladder, with the gorgeously tanned captain helping each of us ladies back on board. Everyone went back to their original spot and began changing out of their bathing suits for dinner. Watching everyone change behind towels was very amusing, and there was a general vibe of goodwill spreading throughout the ship.
We lined up for our grub which included chicken or pork kebabs, many kinds of salads, pita bread, dips, olives and Greek wine. Hungry after our adventures, everyone eagerly devoured the delicious food and settled in to watch the legendary sunset over the island of Santori.
Suddenly, the sound of live music wafted over the deck and we saw one of the crew members standing in the middle of the ship, playing some beautifully mellow jazz tunes on his saxophone.
The captain suddenly appeared to let down the sails since a breeze had suddenly arrived.
As the sun went down everyone became silent as they lapsed into private daydreams about the incredible day we had all shared on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
As we headed back to port, the lights began to twinkle on top of Santorini until the island appeared to be covered with sparkling jewels above us.
The sun had set, the breeze was soft and warm, and our final excursion from the island of Santorini had been perfect.