In Greece, I met 24-year old Sara, a Singaporean who has traveled many times more than I have. Despite our age difference, we instantly bonded and could not stop chatting. She was heading to Santorini after spending a few days in Athens. In Athens, I was willing to play it by the ear. One night right before falling asleep, she was perched on the bunk bed above mine.
"Where are you headed tomorrow?" she asked.
"Hydra", I lied, not sure if I was going to Hydra after all. "And you?"
"Good night Sara."
"Good night sunshine."
I woke up to the creaking sound of the bunk bed above me, seeing her perched the same way again.
"Do you want to go to Hydra together?" she asked me enthusiastically. It was past 8 am and the ferry left at 10. If we were to make it to the ferry, we had to leave in 5 minutes. So we did, both jumping out of our beds. The hostel had arrangements for an elaborate Greek breakfast. Fruits, milk, cereals, feta cheese, sausages, salads, bread, eggs, juice, Greek yogurt, and what not. Being the religious breakfast eater that I am, I was not going to miss this feast for anything. The good thing about like-minded travelers like us is, none of us cared for preening and makeup. We had our priorities right. Food. Metro. Ferry. Hydra. So we ate in hurry, each grabbing an apple, and took the green line to the Piraeus port. Thankfully, we got a seat.
We arrived at the Piraeus port and ran like crazy, arriving four minutes prior to the ferry departing. It was an expensive 58 € round trip ride, an hour and half each way. We had no idea why Hellenic Seaways (Flying Cat) was charging us an arm and a leg and a few kidneys for this trip. Oh, well!
The ride was beautiful and the ferry stopped at several islands. Ours was the second. I fell in love with Hydra (enunciated as ee-dra) at first sight. The best thing about this island is that it is completely free of cars, bikes, and any mode of transportation other than walking or riding horses. This place is completely pollution free. The air was so fresh, and the water crystal clear. We walked around the island for a while. Most of the houses and streets were painted white. On a sunny day like this, the white reflected sunlight and caused a lot of glare. We were kind of done with touristy things. So we decided to follow the signs of a trail and go hiking up a lighthouse that was supposed to have amazing views of the sea.
Huffing and puffing, we set off after getting a map. It wasn't that bad, maybe an hour and half each way. We passed by beautiful homes with painted doors leading up to farms with roosters and orange and lemon trees in people's backyards. I wonder how expensive buying property in this place would be. Occasionally, horses and mules carrying passengers and their luggage went past us. The sun was rising higher, and we were beginning to feel the heat. Panting with our tongues hanging out, we hiked for an hour, sweating like pigs and looking forward to a promising view of the sea. The sea was just beginning to show amid a mesh of electrical wires from the poles. I did not want to pull out my camera yet. We could go a little higher and then take pictures.
The dirt road forked like a "Y" at one point. On the left seemed like a possibility to get to the lighthouse. On the right stood a donkey, a bell around its neck, on a leash in front of the only house. We paused. The donkey raised its head. Sara was behind me. As a leader, I decided to ignore the donkey and take the left fork. Maybe this was a sign that we do indeed need to go left. I don't know.
As we started to inch forward, the donkey started to walk towards us, the bell making a sound. It was still tied on a leash, so it could only go so far, stupid donkey. My job was to make my team avoid the donkey and take the left road. As the donkey walked towards us some more, I realized with a sinking feeling in my stomach (like the ones I get during airplane rides, especially during turbulent weather) that the donkey was not tied to the leash after all. The rope hung loose round its neck. And now, it started walking towards us quite fast.
Fight or flight? Fight or flight?
Lighthouse or death house? Lighthouse or death house?
"Shit! Run Sara, run!" I screamed.
We turned back and scrambled downhill. I was hoping that the donkey would stop in a little bit. But it charged us full on, the bell a warning that it is moving fast now, perhaps a death knell and not a bell. I am running, and I am thinking. Do I need to run faster than the donkey? Or do I just need to run faster than Sara? Or do I just need to think fast for an alternate strategy to outsmart a donkey?
Involuntarily, I stopped and picked a stone.
"No don't threaten the donkey" Sara screamed. "Don't make it angry."
She made sense.
Sara was getting out of breath. But I had no time to catch my breath. The worst that could happen to me is death by a donkey. If it kicked me, I'd be rolling down the hills. I'd die instantly. What if it was a friendly donkey and just wanted to be petted? What's wrong with you sunshine, it's a donkey, not a dog. It was making weird sounds from its nostrils. Even if my theory was true, I'd die of trauma anyway if the donkey came and licked me. If it bit me, would I get rabies? Kick, lick, bite. I did not want to choose anyone. I did not rise up to the highest position in the evolutionary tree to be trampled over by an equine. For all the hullabaloo I make about not liking running, I have never run faster in my life, my sympathetic nervous system on full throttle.
We ran for a lifetime, billowing white dirt on the dusty trail. We could still hear the bell which means it was still running after us. What took us the last 20 minutes to climb, we were back there in less than five minutes. I mentally thanked God that we were running downhill and not uphill. I mentally also made a note of losing 50 pounds, in case I had to run for my life uphill in the future.
We stopped at one point when I was convinced that the donkey was far enough. Terrified, we looked behind us. The donkey was standing there, right at the entrance of the road, guarding it and daring us to cross the entrance again. I had no desire to test my luck again.
I was really angry by this time. Look at Shrek's donkey, it was anything but lethal. There was no way I was going back that way again. We met a few fellow hikers coming down a different direction. We asked them how far they hiked.
"Two hours from here."
"Did you get a good view?" I asked, still hopeful.
"Yeah, lots of ruins."
There was no way I was hiking 2 more hours in the scorching heat to see some ruins instead of a breathtaking view of the sea. We decided to head back. We were supposed to finish our hike and eat the apples from the breakfast. Instead, we went down to the foothill where all the shops were and ended up binging on the not so healthy ice creams and yogurt with fruits and nuts. My heart was somehow beating normally again. I was not going to risk being killed by a stupid donkey.
Instead, we sat by the water like two retired people, waiting for the ferry. We settled for looking at the birds and the bees and the half-naked Greek Gods with sculpted bodies jumping into the nearby pools. The sight of those rippling muscles and toned abs managed to transform me to the days of reading Mills & Boon. Perhaps there was no lighthouse for me that day, but there was definitely some light at the end of the tunnel.
We took the ferry and came back to Athens. Sara got off to see the Acropolis. I had no more energy to see the ruins. So I came back to the hostel for a power nap.