I want to start the new year with a funny story (might not have been funny at the time depending on who you were) about my donkey ride up in Santorini. For new readers, I am a huge fan of donkeys and English Bulldogs -- Perhaps my stubbornness streak is showing.
Santorini can be approached by boat and plane. If you come by boat, like I did, you have to make you way up. You can do it in 3 ways. Walk up the 600 steps, take the cable car (ski gondolas) or ride the donkeys.
When you get off the boat, you are intercepted by a really tanned shepherd guy who is kind of shouting at you to take the donkey ride up, "only 10 min to the top". Later you find out it costs 5 euro, just slightly more than the one way cable car ride fare.
So those who are game are pointed in the direction of a fairly narrow alley whereby all of a sudden you see the donkeys and other shepherds in a tight little space. As no one volunteers to speak in English, you just stand there until you hear someone shout "up! up! up!".
I didn't know they were talking to me because they were a bit ahead and I had no one else to talk to about this. I thought that was the way they call the donkeys...It was too late to bring out the Greek language cheat sheet out of my purse.
After the embarrassment I walked over and stood there on the ledge. The donkey stirrup was 3 feet away and neither it or the shepherd were going to maneuver any closer. I'm not tall but I am flexible so a mini splits later, I clambered on the donkey wondering what I've gotten myself into.
When you go on a trail ride say in Arizona, you are given helmets, some instruction and a waiver to sign. Afterwards you are grouped together and led from the front and back by experienced guides.
In Santorini, the donkey gets a pat on its behind and off you go, with no way to steer, no helmet, no waiver and no guide or direction. Nor do your stirrups get adjusted if one is longer than the other.
Shortly after departing upon rounding a corner, I saw my first donkey rider. She was at a complete stop and was trying to convince her donkey to start walking. She had been stopped for about 10 min, the time it was supposed have taken to get to the top. The donkey didn't appear to understand English.
She turns around and said that she hopes her donkey will start up if it sees my donkey. Meanwhile, I'm hoping my donkey wouldn't decide to stop alongside her donkey. Luckily mine kept going and hers did start up for a couple of steps before stopping again.
A few turns later, I meet up with the lady's husband who is stopped on his donkey. We both decided that this ride was going to take much longer than the 10 min advertised. We ended up riding up the rest of the way together as his donkey seemed to like walking with mine.
The thought came across my mind that should I fall off the donkey, I wasn't sure if I'd attempt to stop my donkey and climb back on. We decided that we'd cross that bridge should we get there and hopefully if we did fall off, it was towards the rock wall side and not the cliff side. And he would deal with his wife being near the bottom of the steps later.
I'm not sure if it was a deliberate donkey thing or maybe donkeys do not have a good 3D sense but my donkey started to walk really close to the edge and very close to the rock wall. I had a time ducking under trees, rocks out juts and having my stirrup leg and ankle scrape along the rock. A few times I had to lift my leg out altogether.
It was closer to 30 min by the time we sort of got to the top. The donkeys suddenly slowed down and diagonally parked themselves against the wall. I think they had their own parking spots! So here we are sardined amongst other donkeys that were already parked. How to get off when you barely have 1 ft of space between donkeys.
I waited for about a minute and decided I just had to get off and squeezed my way down between donkey bodies and hope I wouldn't get kicked. It was fine. It was the first time I really got a good look at them.
I was worried that I would find donkeys not in great shape and overworked. To my surprise they were all looking very healthy, good coats and not exhausted. They work all year and Santorini is hot in the summers.
We had to walk up a little ways to get to the top and a bit more to get to the center of town. On the way, I saw a couple of women who decided to take a donkey ride down. They were screaming in fear. Hope they made out alright. I never did get to say goodbye to the fellow I rode up with as he went in search of his wife.