The Running of the Mules
Santorini, Greece – October 10, 2019
We started our morning off with a winding climb up to Fira from the port dock. What we thought would be a nice ascending hike, quickly turned into chaos when men with prickly salt-and-pepper mustaches were whistling angrily, yanking on tangled reigns, yelling in a language unknown to us, and striking at confused carrier mules with wooden paddles and muck-covered steel-toe boots. The massive frustrated mules stampeded toward us from all sides. They prodded up the hill with overweight passengers on their backs, and galloped down the zig-zagged roadway, hastily pushing passerby’s to the side of a shallow cliffside railing. Tourists screamed and frantically took cover as the hoards trampled their way through. All tied together, I was afraid one would lose it’s footing and cause the rest of the bolting beasts to tumble alongside it. A fearful boy almost hopped the cliff as he jumped over the railing for protection. Feet dangling over the edge, his mother fearfully clung to his tiny body under his flailing arms. My entire body was shaking with fear, but we made it out alive with only a couple scraped knees and elbows.
A 6.5-mile hike took us from Fira through several cliff top villages all decked in white. Prickly pears, furry cactus, yellow thistles, and large Capparis Spinosas with fleshy coin-shaped leaves lined the lava-rock walls we walked. In the distance, several other volcanic islands floated somewhere between the sky and the sea. The wind would pick up and all of a sudden, you could feel yourself becoming part of the surrounding blue, forgetting the sound of your tired feet on the ground. The houses were carved into the rocks atop the bluff, with half the house buried in the ground, and the other half protruding for a view. Reminiscing of Pueblo-architecture, the village houses were built with lightweight lava rocks that were almost the only existing geology of the area, covered in mud, and then whitewashed to bounce the sun back toward the abyss. In the distance, the milky villages and linear architecture that carved back and forth down the cliffs looked something like intricate patterns in lace.
Of course, we had to test some traditional food at a family-run restaurant resting out over the sea. The man welcomed us into his “home,” and served us local white wine from a glittering blue glass bottle. We ordered an extra-crunchy Greek salad topped with soft crumbles of feta, pit-in olives, and salty capers; beefy moussaka smothered in ricotta sauce, sour yoghurt and cinnamon; and a baked white-eggplant that was basically a roasted eggplant-boat that was stuffed with other healthy goodness, pink and yellow turnips and fire-blanched tomatoes that would pop and explode when placed in your mouth. Everything was so simple, yet full of life and flavor—Definitely the best Greek food I’ve experienced!
It’s easy to spot the locals because they’re all dressed in white, with leathered skin from the sun, deep-cut smile lines, dark eyes, and a constant lit-cigarette in hand. Tourists too, seem to have gotten the memo to wear all-white, blue, or yellow with stripes or lemon motifs, making for the perfect photo-opp. The evil-eye is widely used here, as Greeks (and myself for that matter) believe negative energy causes physical issues within people. Small shops, built into the Santorini rocks, sell this simple blue-eyed symbol, baked clay figurines, silver and iridescent opal jewelries, high-contrast linen dresses, flouncy sun-hats, abstract ocean paintings, driftwood mobiles, dream catchers, all-white resort wear, and (of course) select “crazy donkey” lines of beers and wines.
I’ll someday return to Santorini as half an “item.” We’ll stay in one of the many private apartments with infinity pools overlooking the array of bright white cliff-hanger houses. Working on my Craigslist personals ad: “27-year-old female ISO someone to feed me dates, pomegranates and olives, massage my feet, drink more fine wine than Dionysus, and fan me with a giant feather while we hang out naked on a shaded daybed by our private pool.” We could learn to squish grapes with our toes, try out all the cute little seaside restaurants, meander arm-in-arm through the layers of light city buildings, get lost in cute little breezy alleyways shaded by fruit vines and bougainvillea, and wind our way down to the small pebbled beaches for a soak in the Aegean Sea. Any takers?!
Alena Netia Horowitz | Miss Potato