At the edge of the caldera, in the tiny town of Fira, on Santorini, my sister, Susan, and I peered out at the Agean Sea, marveling at a blue they created just for Greece. Our eyes traveled to donkeys ferrying people and things up from the boats docked at the old port below.
I don’t remember which of us thought it would be fun to hike the zigzagged path to the port, then ride a donkey back up, but it was a terrible, scary, asinine, stupid idea.
It was still fairly early in the morning when we started down the thousands of wide, uneven, cobblestone, horror-movie steps. But the sun that beat on the island in August didn't have a clock. We'd finished our water and worked up a sweat before we hit the half-way point.
At the port we poked into gift shops, bought a couple of trinkets and drank more water before seeking out our animal transport. We climbed a few steps, handed over our money and sat down on the next donkey that waited beside the top step.
A mother and her two teenage sons from Germany led our group, next Susan climbed aboard her ride. Our guide, a loose term since the donkeys all seemed to know the way to the top, would follow me. I watched Susan and the German family amble away as I sat down on the donkey from hell.
Before I could get a grip on the saddle horn, my donkey launched himself like a rocket. He aimed for the first zig in the zigzag path, slammed to a stop at the knee-high-to-a-donkey wall that bordered the path, hung his head over the wall giving me a donkey's-eye view of the edge of world, then turned sharply as if to scrape me off his back along the cliff, and raced to the next zag in the path. I clutched the saddle horn, my water bottle and my camera, with which I’d assumed I would take pictures from the back of the donkey, with one hand. The other hand held my hat on my head.
Moving at a gallop, we passed Susan on the second straight stretch. Her donkey strolled at a pace that allowed her to take pictures, enjoy the view, sip from her water bottle and laugh as I flew by on the demon. Once again, as he did at every zigzag in the path, the donkey stepped on the brakes with such force that I thought I’d be pitched over his head and crash to the rocks below.
On the third straightaway we passed the German family, who turned completely around on their nice, calm donkeys to point and laugh as the demon and I barreled by, doing what for a donkey must have been Mach 1.
Susan shouted from miles behind, “Take my picture. Turn around and take my picture.” Then she cackled, knowing there would be no turning around, no pictures on her placid critter as a reminder of how she’d lost her only sister in Greece: Death by donkey.
The demon slammed to its final (for my ride anyway. Despite its many attempts, it didn’t kill itself.) halt at the top of the path long before anyone else in our group rounded the last turn.
The Greek “guide” began to scream at me as he turned the final corner. I believe he was telling me to get off the donkey, but he was screaming in Greek, so I wasn't sure. And it didn’t matter. I couldn’t move. Somewhere around the fifth zig or zag, I had become one with the creature.
I sat, facing the cliff wall, trying to remember how to breathe, as Susan joined the yelling of the donkey man. “Take my picture, now. You’re sitting still, take it now.”
I managed to let go of my hat, grab the water bottle and saddle horn with one hand, my camera with the other and do as she asked. But I couldn’t turn. It was as if my butt was glued to that donkey. I aimed the camera behind me and without looking I took this awful picture.
Serves her right for laughing at my donkey with a death wish.
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