It started in 2011 in Canada but we didn’t cement this pattern until 2013 in the Philippines.
We grew up together since grade 5 but life had taken us in different directions and to different continents. She went to school in Europe when I was in Asia and I left for North America when she returned to Asia. We’ve now settled exactly half a world from each other but the occasional rendezvous we’re organizing is how we’re making our friendship work.
Even though we were in Santorini, we weren’t interested in the high-end shopping, seaside resorts and lavish cruise tours so often advertised. And being jet-lagged, neither of us was in a get-drunk-and-go-crazy mood so we opted for quieter activities. One of my favourites was our day hike from Fira to Oía and back. Here was how that day-hike went:
- 7.30AM – Getting dressed, getting started
- 8 AM – Three Bells of Fira
- 9 AM – Imerovigli
- 10 AM – Ekklisia Profitis Ilias
- 11.30AM – Donkey path and snack break
- 12.30PM – Exploring Oía
- 3 PM – Going for a swim
- 4 PM – Hike back
- 7.30PM – Sunset
My friend and I were determined to start hiking as the sun comes up. We learned from our days in Athens that the sun was scorching by mid-day this time of the year so we wanted to make sure we arrive in Oía by noon, get lunch and hide under a parasol.
Even though it was August, Santorini still had its chilly moments, mostly before the sunrise and after the sunset. Having developed a tolerance to the cold and anticipating the hot weather later, I opted for shorts and a tank top. She had caught a mild cold from jumping into the Mediterranean sea the previous day so her outfit was a bit more covered. That and also because she’s always been more prone to sunburns.
The first bit of the hike was similar to the walks we’ve done previous days. We followed the main path, in the opposite direction of Fira Main Square, and zigzagged through closed stores and quiet hotels and resorts.
Like I mentioned in my previous post on early morning in Fira, if you’re lucky at this time in the morning, a crepe store would be open on the way. I didn’t want to take my chances so I packed granolas and fresh pistachios in my bag. “That’s the Hang I know” (Đúng là Hằng có khác) kind of her way of saying that I’m such a mom but also how she recognizes that I’m a reliable and prepared travel buddy.
After 2 days in Santorini, we still haven’t had a chance to find a good view of the iconic blue dome. That morning, as we passed by the church, she stopped and took a moment to read the sign on the gate while I was just ramming ahead, too eager to get to the challenging part of the hike.
She convinced me to take a quick detour to get that view of Three Bells of Fira. We circled behind the church, deciphered some signs leading up a hill to what looks like a parking lot. I’m glad I had an observant companion because this is the view we almost missed out on.
The further we continued on, the more expensive the hotels and resorts were. We took a quick break to apply sunscreen and make some jokes. A hotel staff passing by obviously did not find them funny: 8.30AM was still way too early to laugh out loud and the hotel rooms nearby were not soundproof.
It took us a while to realize we’ve reached Imerovigli. If like us, you’re not sure whether it’s still Fira or Imerovigli, just look at the sea. If there’s a huge flat-topped rock blocking your view, that means you’re in Imerovigli. The rock is Skaros, an old fortified settlement that dates back to medieval time. There is also a hiking trail to it but we chose to stay on track to our destination, this was too big of a detour.
By this point, the obvious choice was to continue on by the highway but I find it too dangerous for pedestrians while trucks and cars pass by at high speed. I also didn’t want to miss out on the view and I’ve read online that it is possible zigzag through the hotels and stay by the coast.
She supported my decision of staying in the maze of resorts and try any alley we could leading in the general direction of Oía. After getting lost, almost trespassing private properties and asking a few hotel staff around for directions, we found some signs and continued on that path.
Further on, we passed by some isolated high-end resorts with asphalt-paved driveways. Occasionally, we would have to share the driveway with a car or a motorcycle but for the majority of the time, the entire road was ours.
Finally, we arrived at the top of a hill, in front of the Church of Profitis Elias. Here, you could see both sides of the island, the one sitting on top of the cliff and the flat land to the East. I’m glad we both persisted with staying as close as we could to the coast otherwise, we would’ve missed this landmark and view.
The most challenging part of the hike began after this sign: a steep descent on a path with loose gravel. She was ahead of me, comfortably sliding in her Vans and a lot more sure-footed while I was overly precautious, even in my running shoes, almost sliding on my butt instead of my feet. We reached San Antonio hotel at the bottom and continued on the path by the highway, passing CSky Hotel. (Note: this is the only part where you would have to be along the highway)
After ten minutes on the highway, we reached a snack shop (it has pretty decent Google reviews) and a donkey station. We got off the highway and continued hiking along the coast, this time up another steep hill with loose rocks and donkey shit.
She had been annoyed with donkeys almost immediately when we arrived in Fira. Such a beautiful town riddled with donkey shit everywhere and the stench was unbearable. On our first day, when we walked down the slippery stairs to Fira Old Port and almost stepped or fell on the shit, she swore to never spend money on anything donkey related in Santorini.
Although the donkey shit was quite annoying, it proved helpful when hiking up. Wherever the donkeys have been, it’s a sign that those rocks are not loose and so, following the donkey shit helped us avoid tripping and falling.
The great thing about having my best friend as my travel buddy is, we’re good with anything the other person suggests: slight detour? yes; let’s go check that [church, hill, building, structure] out? let’s go; let’s sit here for a bit? ok, find a good spot. Let’s also finish that granola.
We arrived at the gate to Oía and from there is just a gradual descent to the town. By this time, many hikers are going opposite direction. We exchanged information with them on what to expect of the trail and then parted ways.
Since restaurants weren’t open for lunch yet (even though it was 12.30PM), we decided to double our layers of sunscreen and explore Oía while waiting.
The last thing we did in Oía was taking the Residence Resorts Road down to Oía Port for a swim. Of course, there are donkeys on any steep path in Santorini and this one was no different. But by the end, we arrived at a nice and quiet beach.
She’s an avid reader and because of the cold water, she opted to relax on the patio chair and read the copy of the Iliad she just bought at the bookstore. I wanted to jump into the water but kept going in and out whenever it got too cold.
As soon as I got out of the water, we started the trip back to Fira, in time for the sunset. First was up the slippery steps of the Residence Resorts Road to get back to Oía. I could tell she was tired by the time we got to the top of the stairs so I suggested taking the bus shuttle back to Fira instead of hiking but she stubbornly insisted on finishing the hike.
We were hiking at different paces on our way back: I was always ahead whenever it was up a hill. We took several breaks, including one in the shade of the Church of Panagia on top of the hill, where we finished all of the fresh pistachios I had bought earlier in the week in Athens.
She got a cramp by the time we reached the snack shop by the highway so we decided to take a break, buy some snacks and enjoy the view. I brought up the idea of the bus shuttle again but her willpower was still strong, much more so than her physical limit.
By the time we reached Le Ciel Resort and caught a glimpse of a wedding happening as the sun was setting, we decided to take another break. During our entire trip, we were talking about what to do on this vacation, about things we saw in Greece and reminiscing about our childhood but this break was the first time since the beginning of our trip when we sat and talked about life back home. I knew she had just started a business right before taking off to Greece and I knew she would sometimes have to check her email and get things done. But I didn’t know until then about her struggles with starting this business while maintaining the lifestyle she wants or about her competitors “low-balling”. We also talked about my life in Canada, where I was headed with my career and whether my family would choose to settle there for good.
This adult thing isn’t easy.
We finally arrived back in Fira. Exhausted and hungry, we decided to go grab some snacks (gyros and ice cream) before attending a Greek wedding show at The White Door Theatre.
Writing this piece made me reflect a lot on our trip, our friendship and the time we spent together in Greece. Did we have a lot of heart-to-heart conversations about life and such? No. But I don’t think it’s a sign that we’ve grown apart in anyway. If anything, the silent moments we spent together allowed me to see qualities in her that I haven’t noticed before: her stubbornness and willpower, her agility and ease with height, her work ethics verging on workaholism, and her spontaneity and go-with-the-flow attitude. That’s what makes her such an awesome travel buddy 🙂
“Relationships are built in the silences. You spend time with people, you observe them and interact with them, and you come to know them” –Trevor Noah, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.