Friday, September 7: Today I take a traditional boat to visit the two active volcanoes at Santorini. Before that though, I head to Fira, where I finally, 8 days into my trip, buy a SIM card for my phone. This will make things easier here, say, when I get lost or when I need to arrange tours or transportation or accommodation. Finally, I feel like I’m a local! I also buy a new camera card, because I’m so worried something will happen to my camera and I will lose all my pictures. I have decided I will divide my pictures between 2 cards. If I lose my camera, or drop it by accident into the sea, then at least I’ll have half of my pictures. You can see what a worrier I am sometimes. I also stopped in my favorite internet cafe in Fira to reserve a room near the Piraeus port, where my speed ferry will arrive close to 11:30 p.m. tomorrow night.
I take the cable car down to the old port, where tourists of all nationalities pile into a traditional boat which takes us to Nea Kameni. Nea Kameni and Palia Kameni (the new and old burnt islands) were formed over the past two millennia by repeated eruptions of lava and ash (Wikipedia). Major eruptions over the past 300 years took place in 1707–1712, 1866–1870, 1925–1928, and 1939-1941. The last small eruption happened in 1950. Santorini is essentially what remains after an enormous volcanic explosion that destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single island, and created the current geological caldera.
We’re quite a colorful assortment on this lovely traditional boat. I love the feeling of being on a boat, bobbing over the waves with the smell of salt in the air. It’s fun to see Santorini’s caldera from the water, with its white villages of Fira and Oia perched on the cliff edges. We arrive at Nea Kameni, climb over 5 other traditional boats at the dock and then up a gravelly path toward the first of three craters.
The first and second craters we see are not active, but the third one, called King George III, is. There is a small sulfur vent near the top of the crater that our guide tells us to put our hands over, to feel the steam.
Our guide tells us that geologists have instruments set up all over the volcano, which is a protected scientific site. They can predict when the volcano will erupt, but not how big the eruption will be. She says, however, that a greater threat is the volcano of Columbo, about 7 km off the coast of Oia; it lies submerged 16 meters under the sea. Because this volcano is unable to release its steam, scientists are more worried about what this volcano might do.
Our guide tells us that Santorini is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history: the Minoan eruption, which occurred some 3600 years ago at the height of the Minoan civilization. The eruption left a large caldera surrounded by volcanic ash deposits hundreds of meters deep.
She also tells us the Minoans knew there was going to be a volcanic eruption from the frequent earthquakes, so they tried to escape. However, the theory is that a big tsunami killed them all either on their way to Crete or when they arrived in Crete. They believe this because, though many ancient ruins are found on Santorini, no skeletal remains have been found.
After our tour of Nea Kameni, we climb on the boat again and head to Palia Kameni. Here there are “hot springs” where we can swim. It’s not actually that hot, only 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit) versus a temperature of 20 degrees (68 F) in the sea. It’s basically just a small cove. We all jump off the boat into the sea and swim into the cove, where the “warmth” is barely noticeable. It is a lot of fun, though! And refreshing after our hot trek up to the craters of Nea Kameni.
After our swim, the boat heads back to the old port of Fira. The wind has become fierce and the waves much more choppy since we departed this morning. We lurch over the waves until we finally disembark at the port.
Going to see the volcanoes, I can’t help thinking of the lyrics of Jimmy Buffet’s “Volcano.”
But I don’t want to land in the New York City
I don’t want to land in Mexico
I don’t want to land on no Three Mile Island
I don’t want to see my skin aglow
I don’t want to land in Comanche sky park
Or in Nashville, Tennessee
I don’t want to land in no San Juan airport
Or in Yukon Territory
I don’t want to land in no San Diego
I don’t want to land in no Buzzard’s Bay
I don’t want to land on no ayatollah
I got nothing more to say
I don’t know
I don’t know
I don’t know where I’m a-gonna go when the volcano blows
I do know where I’m a-gonna go after this volcano trip. I’m going back into Fira for a gyro sandwich filled with veggies and cold French fries and a Coke Zero, and then I’m a-gonna head back to Villa Galinia to relax by the pool.