Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Donkey Debacle

In April, as I’ve mentioned briefly, Allie, Aheli, and I took a cruise around the Greek Isles to celebrate the end of the semester. This is the story of the Donkey Debacle of Santorini.

Every night onboard, an information booklet for the next day’s activities and ports is distributed to all the rooms. This is arguably one of my favourite parts, as wannabe travel agent/cruise director. Yes, I am aware that this is slightly ridiculous, but I own it. Anyway, on this particular evening we had received the information for the stop in Santorini which is (one of) the quintessential Greek Island(s – Mykonos also puts in a good showing). Its white buildings, high on the rocky cliff face overlooking the now watery volcano crater, are easily recognizable. For anyone keeping up on their teen girl movies, it is also where the Greek scenes in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants take place.

In order to reach the top of the cliffs to actually enter the town, there are three options. The first is a scenic ride by cable car. The second is to take a deep breath and walk the serpentine path consisting of hundreds of steps. The third is by donkey.

Apparently not up on my Santorini knowledge (or even my SOTTP watching) I was not aware of the donkey option and so seeing it in the evening information booklet I read that option out loud. I should make it clear that I read it out in order to convey my surprise that such an option existed. I did not count on the joyous response I got from Allie and Aheli whose faces lit up as they exclaimed “We’re SO doing that!” I’m sorry, but what?

Because this is how good friends act. They noted my lack of enthusiasm for this response and my glowing endorsement of the cable car…and so took every chance over the course of the night and the morning of the following day to counter it with their own excitement for donkey riding. I quietly did not engage, hoping they would forget. They did not.

We docked in the evening so that we would be able to see sunset from high up in the city and as we waited for our tender (water shuttle) number to be called, we sat up on deck looking out on that windy path up. It was getting close to the moment of truth and Aheli and Allie decided to take control and directly confront me about donkey riding. What they did not realize was that since I had been thinking about it for over a day now, emotions may have been running a tad high and what they got upon asking me why I seemed to be unhappy about the thought of donkey riding, was a giant outpouring of emotion that went something like:

“I just feel really bad for them ok? Imagine being a poor Santorini donkey and all you do all day is go up and down carrying fat tourists. They are so little! And what if because they are primarily for the tourists their owners don’t really care about them! I worry that they don’t get enough food, or time off, or even just love! Just up and down and up and down all day every day with the tourists getting heavier and heavier and their little legs getting more and more tired. Who brushes them? Are they even ever brushed? And what about…”

Well, you get the idea. The tirade lasted for about 5 minutes with less and less coherence as time went on, my voice rising a few octaves and the pace rapidly approaching light speed.

All this time Allie and Aheli had been getting more and more wide eyed both with fear of me and how crazy I may have been (was) looking, and out of sympathy for the donkeys, swayed by my impassioned argument. Score. “We hadn’t thought of that…” they answered.

Within the half hour we had landed on the island and were in the rather long line for the cable car. However, it was not long before I noticed Allie and Aheli looking back at the lack of line for the donkey rides. Wistfully. “Ok FINE,” I said, still crazy, “We can go CHECK to see if the donkeys look happy, healthy, and well cared for. If they are happy healthy donkeys I will CONSIDER riding them. But NO promises!” I grabbed Allie who is an avid horseback rider and off we trotted.

Allie’s expert opinion was that there was one donkey that looked a little rough, but he was clearly tied up off to the side and not being used. The others were glossy and perky and clearly relished their life of tourist lifting. Hmm, not sure I buy THAT exactly, but I couldn’t argue that they looked ok so finally I conceded. We could ride the donkeys. We collected Aheli, paid our 5 Euros, and stood in line to Donkey Up.

Aheli was the first off. She was put on a happy glossy donkey with such enthusiasm that he took the hill at a gallop and was soon gone. Allie expertly hopped on another glossy donkey with perky ears that pranced up the mountain like he was one of her show horses. Ok, this wasn’t so bad.

“Follow me,” the donkey man told me. He walked me around the corner, and there was the smallest, mangiest donkey I have ever seen. Ears askew, dull fur, and calloused bald patches where years of saddle use (I’m guessing) had rubbed just a little too hard. You have GOT to be kidding me.

My Poor Little Donkey

I was picked up and hurled into the saddle with the donkey wavering slightly as he made a rather depressing “Ooof!” sound. Oh boy. I also think he may have been slightly blind, as he was tied to another donkey in order to lead us up the hill. Have I mentioned it was a treacherous CLIFF face I was now maneuvering on a blind donkey?! Every time the donkey we were tied to stopped, we didn’t, and so ran into it. We also lost our footing a few times and nearly tumbled back a few steps, but luckily the lead rope prevented actual falling. Finally we reached the top.

A somewhat smug Allie and Aheli met me, “See? That wasn’t so bad!” they said. “I rode that one,” was all I had to say. Their faces dropped. “Oooooh. Ummm. Well? Ohhhhh” they stuttered sympathetically, although I suspect they were also trying not to laugh. They shuffled me off quickly.

Showing the Donkeys Some Love

Hours later we descended the mountain on foot, me avoiding all mention of donkeys (it was still too soon), and Aheli and Allie walking behind me, now absolutely mocking. It was ok though. It’s now been long enough that this is now one of my favourite stories (even if, as a matter of pride I still have to feign outrage) and anyway, with the three of us, it’s inevitable that one of us will always be doing something a little bit stupid or having a less than proud moment. All I had to do was sit back and wait. It may have been my night to be mocked, but tomorrow is always a new day.

Another new day in Greece.

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