Exploring Santorini’s volcanic islands by boat

The memory is so unreliable, perhaps this is why I take photographs, to capture and preserve memories that would otherwise be destroyed by the moth eaten fabric of the mind. I find the real world as abstract and surreal as any science fiction novel. Some places I have been and characters I have met could have been plucked straight from the pages of a novel, this was my experience while travelling through Santorini’s volcanic islands by boat.

Normally when I travel I seek adventure. This time, I’d escaped the beginning of my first Northern European winter in Berlin and my intension was simply to relax on a beach in Greece. However, like any good novel, adventure was crucial to the plot and it came without my needing to seek it. 

Our plane touched down in Santorini, the passengers applauded the pilot. We were thankful to have arrived, considering there had been strikes the day before and most outgoing flights between Athens and Santorini had been cancelled. I was conscious of the undertone of Greece’s current financial crisis, but the atmosphere was one of warmth and hospitality. In true Mediterranean spirit, everywhere we went we were treated like family.

The Island itself is a spectacle of crisp white architecture, framed in royal blue trimmings, that gives the impression of holiness. Is this what heaven looks like? I am not religious, but I can see the painterly hand of the patron Catholic Church at work. There were no shadows, the blue sky extended overhead like God’s palm, weaving the land and sky together seamlessly.

We arrived at our accommodation, which hung precariously over a cliffside by the ocean. The whole scene was medieval; the luxurious borders of civilization were met with equal intensity by the rugged landscape. I learned that the volcanic islands that make up Santorini are part of the second largest natural crater on Earth.

On our second day we hired a sailing boat and took to the ocean to explore this beast-like landscape. It was here that our adventure began. The story caught wind and hurled us into strange and unknown parts of the world, portions untouched by the hand of man or even God.

The landscape was pure science fiction; I had travelled to another planet. There were black sand beaches with crimson colored natural hot springs that fizzed and foamed furiously. There were beaches the color of precious stones; Bloodstone, Turquoise and Merlinite, colossal sized rubies.

A giant white rock protruded from the ocean like a shark’s fin, casting a foreboding reflection over the water. The wind was cold and it made goose bumps rise on my skin, I hesitated before plunging into the water. I was afraid of what might lie beneath the surface. What other world was I about to enter? The sea shone like a knife under the sun, casting an annihilating glimmer. The kind you see in the eyes of someone who knows all but does not tell.

Our vessel glided peacefully through the water on our way home, back to civilization. I would miss the untamed beauty out here. I would miss the humility of being confronted by natural phenomenon. Heaven is not a place of order and architecture, of white buildings and luxury accommodation; heaven is folded into the crevices of this fierce and unruly Earth.

I had knelt at one of Mother Nature’s many temples. I had whispered the necessary prayers and fumbled the rosary beads around in my palm. If nature is not my church then I am godless, throw my body to the sharks, light me up in flames and scatter my ashes, return me to the land or sea from where I came and to where I will surely go.

Story and images by Shannon Powell