Once part of the Minoan empire and known as Thera to the ancient Greeks, the island of Santorini once suffered perhaps the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history.
100 times more powerful than the eruption that destroyed Pompeii (or the equivalent of 40 atomic bombs, if local rumour is to be believed), the eruption basically blew the island apart and sent out a cloud of ash and debris that rained down on the surrounding islands. It also caused a giant tsunami that devastated the northern coast of Crete, possibly dooming Minoan society and rocking what was the centre of western civilisation to its very core.
To the people back then it must have seemed like the end of the world, and for many of them it was…
Yet yesterday, wearing nothing but a pair of running shoes, a Panama hat acquired from a beachside shop a day earlier, and a pair of very dodgy, reproductive-threatening sunglasses, I set out for what became of that volcano …
Though the journey was set to be quite a gruelling trek in outrageously unnecessary heat, I decided against packing essential supplies like food and water, and survive off the land like the hero adventurers of old (which certainly had nothing to do with modern life leaving me unable to anticipate the requirements of such a journey).
Alongside me was my old man, two sisters, their better halves, one niece, and a boatful of tourists I’ve never met before; a veritable bag of ages, nationalities and creeds.
It took a boat to reach the site, making a stop for swimming at a hot spring along the way. Then we climbed that volcano together, some faster than others. We took in the sights (think Mordor with less vegetation), nodded knowledgeably at our guide’s description of the island’s history, all the while sweating and heaving our way to the top. It was almost like torture. And we paid around €30 a head for the privilege.
So as I stood atop the volcano island, Nea Kameni, looking at the small patch of charred rock beneath which the volcano still lives, I found myself reflecting on the power of nature and the resilience of the human spirit.
While some believe the eruption brought about the end of the Minoan civilisation, from the ashes rose a new civilisation, spreading its wings over Western Europe to help create the world we live in today. These days people like myself spend €30 a piece for the chance to climb a near-barren rock and look at some craters in the hope it offers a window into history.
This trip has taught me that nature is a serious beast that should never be taken lightly… and that someone, somewhere will always have the nouse to profit from disaster.
The island of Santorini is now a tourist’s paradise – at least for the 7 month window scientists can predict it won’t erupt. Yet, if you get chance, I do recommend paying a visit to that barren rock.
You’ll find yourself thinking about that eruption 3500 years ago and how it reshaped the world. With today’s society living on the brink, where nature seems a ticking time bomb ready to snap back after decades of abuse, Santorini offers a warning of what could happen if we ignore something as significant as climate change… but also a message of hope. Sometimes the world throws the worst at us and all we can do is bounce back, better and stronger than ever before.
Of course, voting in profiteers like Donald Trump and Boris F***ing Johnson won’t help, but it’s never too late to turn it around!
2nd September 2019