My happiest travel day was…
I never gave much thought to finishing this sentence until I went to the Book Passage Travel Writer’s & Photographer’s Conference last year. I was given a writing assignment to finish this sentence and just keep writing for 10 minutes without stopping. I didn’t know what my happiest day was before that assignment but ever since the timer went off I haven’t been able to forget my day in Santorini, Greece:
My happiest travel day was spent driving four wheelers up and down the island of Santorini. My friends, Liz and Krissy and I found an ATV and moped rental shop up the street from our penzione. I was actually nervous because I had never driven an ATV before. What if I used the wrong break, fumbled with the gas pedal, or collided with another car? I would be a goner. I kept my mouth shout and listened to the instructor and nodded my understanding as if I did this sort of thing all the time. He gave us a map of the island, told us the safest roads to take and which beaches would be great to visit. The three of us set off down the road to fill up our tanks with gas and surprisingly, I made it safely. Granted the gas station was just a few yards down the road but it was something.
Our first stop was a black sandy beach that was completely desolate save for three symmetrical rows of straw umbrellas and a stray dog. While the girls left for a few minutes to find a bathroom, I was all by myself on the beach with the umbrellas and the dog. I had no idea where the dog came from but it just layed down in front of me and would not stop barking. I didn’t know what it wanted or if it would just all of a sudden start attacking me. We fed the dog something probably completely unhealthy and it just drifted away down the beach to go find someone else to talk to.
The girls and I tried to soak up the sun but the sand was whipping our faces, arms, and legs, and no matter how hard we tried to ignore it and just focus on the few rays that were streaming onto our foggy-London-town-white-bodies, we thought it best to pack it up and move on. We could taste the sand grinding in the back molars of our mouths and could feel it building up in the nooks and crannies of our ears.
We drove along dirt roads, our huge wheels leaving clouds of dust behind us. We came to a new part of town, parked our ATVs in a parking lot and stopped at a small restaurant to eat some lunch. I had a gyros – one of many that I was consuming during my two-week stay in Greece. I could eat them all the time and not care how wide I got. The best part besides the warm pita, chicken, tomatoes, lettuce, and tzatziki, were the french fries squished inside. That sandwich always satisfied my starving belly.
After walking around to some of the shops, the girls and I sat down on the pebble beach for a while. Liz put on her ATV helmet and started knocking it with her fist to feel how durable it was. I decided to help her out and started throwing pebbles at her helmet to give its sturdiness a real test. And of course Liz had to start throwing pebbles at her own head. Over the past eight months, the girls and I had many moments where we just broke out into fits of laughter over the stupidest things and this was one of those moments. We laughed so hard and it was the kind of laugh that makes your cheeks hurt and your abs ache but was a much needed breath of fresh air.
With the afternoon almost winding down, we hopped back onto our vehicles and drove the long drive to Oia, the northern-most point on the island of Santorini. The drive along the coast was one of the most breathtakingly beautiful experiences of my trip. We drove in single file line like we had been doing all day. On our right was the ocean with the bluest water and on our left were hills upon rolling hills of green grass with white and blue houses planted here and there. The fact that I could recognize at that moment just how perfect the scenery around me was made it all the more beautiful. As I was driving, the wind was blowing in my face and it felt refreshing. I felt the most euphoric and free that I had ever felt. Nothing could make me feel happier and any trivial situations were long ago in the past.
When we reached Oia, we walked through narrow pathways in between shops and restaurants to make our way to the highest peak in town to watch the famous sunset. The peak was a platform surrounded by four concrete barriers and ledges within for everyone to take a seat. To our right down below was the epitome of a Santorini postcard. The layers of white houses with bright blue roofs resting on the hill was everything I expected them to be. There was a restaurant patio right in the midst of all of the houses with people enjoying early dinners as they watched the sun go down.
I enjoyed my seat with couples and friends around us sharing conversation and laughs just like the three of us girls. I saw a group of college friends who brought a little picnic for themselves with some wine. They looked so relaxed like this was something they did every evening. However, the best company on that platform were the stray dogs. They would sit on the ledges or walk around the barriers and the girls and I were terrified that they would lose their balance and fall down the cliff but they never did. They were watching the sunset too. They looked so stoic with their heads turned towards the radiant sun as if they really knew how to enjoy the view before them and they did.
As the sky grew darker, the crowd congregated closer together and focused on this one sunset – this glow of oranges, blues, reds, and purples. The sight of it hushed everyone until the perfect circle shrunk to a smaller dot and faded into the ocean. Everyone applauded the sun on a job well done.
The ride back to the penzione in the dark was not one without trepidation. It was of course harder to see the roads and any cars that were coming around the curves but we stayed in our single file line and went slowly through the cold night with Liz, our fearless leader, guiding us back to a hot shower and a warm bed. I was relieved to finally be able to wash the sand out from my hair that I had been harboring all day. However, I could never and would never want to wash away any other part of the day.
What was your happiest travel day?