Why climb an active volcano? Because it’s there!

September 02, 2008

Part of the islands surrounding Santorini is Nea Kameni, an active volcano that is literally a barren mountain of pitch-black lava rock. Nea Kameni is host to thousands of walkers who brave the trek to the top. We decide to enlist.

On this morning, we board a sailing boat with our friends, Trevor Birmingham and Jennifer Langley. The first stop on our excursion is the hot springs and mud bath. The boat drops anchor about 40 metres from the hot springs, and we must swim on our own to get to the warm waters of the small cove. Getting there is easy. We spend a luxurious few minutes basking in the tub-like waters and covering ourselves with natural mud. Suddenly, the boat’s horn bellows and we quickly start making our way back–against the current. After a few anxious moments and several mouthfuls of salt water, all passengers are safely on board, and we are heading towards Nea Kameni.

At the bottom of the volcano, the walkers gather to listen to our guide, He warns that we must have plenty of water for the hour-long walk ahead of us. I look at the trail winding up the side of the volcano and observe the walkers who are slowly, methodically trudging along. I am having a rethink. Hot sun. Black rock. Sixty minute walk. Are we crazy?

Nevertheless, we follow the others and climb the volcano. At one point, our guide stops and clears away a small area of dirt. He invites us to place our hands as close to it as possible. It feels like sticking one’s hand directly into an oven. No one can touch it. The purpose of this exercise is to prove to us that this volcano is still active, and is still a threat to Santorini. Yet, we carry on. Apparently, our guide is confident that Nea Kameni won’t blow her top today.

After the volcano walk, we make our way down and back to our ship, our water bottles long empty. Hunger is setting in, and we are thinking about lunch at our next stop – the island of Thirasia. On land, we walk right past a little open air taverna with an outdoor grill piled high with octopi and huge seafood kabobs, and a clay oven filled with individual dishes of moussakas and lamb stew. Tired and hungry, the four of us decide to settle in right here. We are hooked.

Lunch is quite delicious, although slow to arrive. As we are leaving to head back to the ship, we spot the kitchen staff hastily washing the lunch dishes – in a basin of water, outside! I suppose the health authorities don’t make regular trips to the island of Thirasia. I secretly hope that this lunch doesn’t come back to haunt us. Thankfully, all four of us are perfectly fine. And we have another story to enrich our account of our wonderful Greek holiday.

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