By Malin Wiander
The quad is struggling up the hill, the weight of the two of us a bit too much for its engine.
“Are you OK,” my boyfriend asks, watching me in the rear mirror.
Having been hit by a motorcycle a few months earlier, I am quite jumpy in traffic but I feel safe on the roads here. After driving in mainland Greece where the norm is to go at least 40 mph over the speed limit, the relatively sensible drivers in Santorini are a welcome change.
This is the last leg of a month-long journey in south east Europe and our wallets are getting increasingly thin, so our challenge is to experience Santorini on a budget without missing out on anything.
Coming in on the ferry, the first thing I see is the caldera; cliffs almost one thousand feet high made of black, solidified lava. On the top is the capital Fira, overlooking the cliffs and the lagoon that is left after an enormous volcanic eruption. The traditional white houses with the blue roof tops create a stark contrast to the black lava.
Getting on the ferry in Piraeus, I knew we were in for a challenge. Looking at our options before the trip, I realised that if we wanted the Santorini of the brochures and glossy photographs, a hotel with a sea view and dinner on the caldera while we watch the sunset, we would blow our budget after the first day. I quickly realised, however, that by giving up a few small luxuries we could make our money go surprisingly far.
By opting for accommodation a few hundred feet inland we get a room at a four-star hotel for only 50 euro a night. SantoriniPalace in Fira is a typical resort hotel and a bit lacking in character, but clean and comfortable and after spending the last month sleeping in tents and on boat decks, our double bedroom with a large terrace feels like the ultimate luxury.
On the first day of our stay we go to one of the shops renting out scooters and quads. There are more of these shops than tourists on the island, giving us plenty of room to haggle and we end up hiring a quad for three days for 35 euro. We head to the village of Perissa, a favourite amongst backpackers because of its many hostels and mile-long beach.
Lounging in style
Once there I decide to jump in for my first swim. Walking to the water I suddenly realise that the sand is scalding hot. I look around for something to stand on, even a bit of shade to give my burning feet some respite, but the only thing I can do is a mix of running and hopping to get to the water before my feet start to blister. Many of the beaches in Santorini consist of black sand that absorbs the heat, making it impossible to walk on them without some kind of footwear. An investment that even a budget traveller should make is renting a sun lounger for 5 euro a day, as lying on a beach towel on the scorching sand can be quite painful.
We walk past the expensive restaurants on the caldera and before long we stumble on Triana, a traditional-looking tavern with a large terrace on the main street. Sitting above the busy road, we order a bottle of retsina, baked feta cheese steaming in its foil parcel, crispy calamari and Greek salad followed by traditional moussaka. The owner tells us that normally people are queuing for a table there at this time of the year. Tonight, there is just the two of us in the restaurant. The fact that the turnover has gone down has clearly not had an impact on the freshness or quality of the food, and the bill for the two of us is less than 30 euro.
Sitting on a roof top by the parking lot of my hotel, overlooking the caldera with a glass of chilled retsina in my hand, I watch the sky change colours as the sun slowly sets. Looking past the white and blue houses I see a boat hitting the exact spot where the sun is reflected in the water, turning the sea orange. Next time I come here I might do so with a bigger budget and try the Santorini of the glossy photographs, but for now I feel like I have experienced the island without missing out or emptying my wallet too much.