Santorini was the first stop of the pre-Norwich vacation and the first time I’d ever stayed in a hostel. There were no lockers in the rooms, no locks on the dorm doors. We wondered—and often complained half-heartedly—at the breakfast of three slices of bread, a slab of coffee cake, and watered-down orange juice, served with the choice of coffee or tea. We found a mysterious cockroach/beetle by the toilet within the first hour. I pushed through by reminding myself that my cousin had lived alongside cockroaches for two months in her Ottawa apartment. Cockroaches happen. You know, life goes on and all that jazz.
Most of the people milling around Oia’s narrow and winding starch-white pathways are tourists—perhaps just up for the day on a bus tour or one of those lucky folk staying in a cave hotel. (One day, guys, one day…) On another occasion I would make some obnoxious statement about how I’d rather be where the locals are, roll my eyes at overpriced pasta, be a general ass, but to be honest it was a really nice way to start the trip. Maybe the true way to travel is by meandering, meeting locals by getting lost and asking for directions, stumbling upon restaurants that don’t split the menu between English and the local tongue—maybe that is the only way to get “real experiences”. But Oia is contained; there are only so many paths to stray from. I got to know my way around the uneven stones, getting comfortable prancing through at all hours of the day, ducking in and out of shops, finding where to get the cheapest gyros (and learning how to pronounce it properly). It felt safe, not only in a lack-of-danger sense, but that I was safe to relax, let my judgement-guard down, go into vacation mode. There were certainly day treks to be had elsewhere on the island, but in Oia I was free to climb down the 300 steps to the rocky beach, lounge about on the hostel’s roof deck, browse through postcards and knick knack shops. I was allowed to not feel like I had to be anywhere or do anything other than relax the way I was relaxing.
I was skimming the Internet the other day and stumbled across the Facebook page for the Youth Hostel Oia. The latest post was a photo of the setting sun with the following words in a curly font: memories last even when the time is past! (Meaning when the time is in the past? When time has passed? Who knows.) When I stayed there (nearly two years ago now—haho remember when this blog was relevant?), the owner had told a group of us that he was planning on closing it soon. It felt like we were being let in on a deep secret; that, out of the hundreds of people who dragged their luggage through the town, down the narrow path, and through the gate each month, we alone had earned his trust with this exclusive information. But he has also just finished regaling us with a tale of the time he’d met Angelina Jolie when she was filming Tombraider on the island, pointing to the room she used for a make-up trailer. If it hadn’t already been obvious by the autographed pictures displayed in the bar, the bored mutters from fellow patrons would’ve been enough to tip me off that this was nothing new. This was the kind of story he told night after night in case of a new guest. But there was just something about the low light of the evening, sipping on drinks and gathered around the plastic deck table. We might’ve been special.
I don’t think I’ve told anyone about my favourite night in Santorini. Or if I did, I might’ve paraphrased, mentioning a late dinner down in Fira, how we almost ran out of gas on the way back. A few of the other hostel guests had rented a car for the day, and on my penultimate night on the island, one of the ladies at our hostel had to be dropped off in Fira, and the group invited me to come along. I mean, when else was I going to get to take a nighttime car ride down the island? The four of us crammed into the tiny car and sped off. I was glad that the responsibility for maneuvering our little box on wheels around the cliff edges, skirting around cars and letting motorbikes pass, wasn’t on my shoulders. At least if we crashed or were driven off the road, I could safely plead innocence as we plummeted towards the Mediterranean Sea. Up until then, I had been careful with spending my money on food—nothing too extravagant. That night, though, we shared dishes and indulged in the specials. After dropping our friend off at her hotel, we began the drive back north. To put it simply, we almost ran out of gas but then we didn’t. We couldn’t figure out how to pump the gas but then we did. We were almost stranded late at night in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but this lonely gas station as far as we could see, but we weren’t. We got back safely, I crawled into bed, and woke up the next day. You can have grand, adventurous, seemingly momentous nights, but life, it seems, goes on.