16 October 2013

Meeting a stubborn Donkey in Santorini

If you have read my previous post, you’ll know that there was a bit of a funny story to go with the donkey ride up to Fira from the Old Port in Santorini...

I’d woken up to another gorgeous day in Santorini, the air was warm, the sky was a cloudless blue and I felt well and truly relaxed, so much so that I’d forgotten what day it was. I couldn’t remember the last time that had happened! I slipped into a summer dress and decided to keep the day simple. I would just meander and see where that took me. My wanderings led me to the donkey station at the base of the Old Port in Fira. I did not want to climb the stairs back up to Fira, in sandals, whilst trying to avoid donkey-doo the whole way, plus, I was amused by the novelty of it.

I was standing in line at the "Donkey Station"*, watching some other girls helped up on to their rides and waiting for my own colourful donkey when I realised that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t the best idea to get on a donkey wearing a short dress, in fact I couldn’t think of a lady-like way of getting on without exposing more leg than I cared to expose. Too late to back out I was helped up and before I could get a grip, my donkey set off after the other girls. A wriggle or two and a couple of yanks on the hem of my skirt and I was OK.

My donkey seemed to know his way just like the others that had gone ahead and was taking a leisurely stroll up the path when suddenly, just around the first bend, he stopped. Ah…donkey what are you doing? I tried coaxing him to keep moving “Come on, let’s go” I said patting him on the side of the neck. Know what he did? He shook his head at me, literally. “Come on” I said and tried flicking the reigns a bit; I just got more head shaking. What was the word for “Go” in Greek again? Damn my useless language skills. I tried a slight squeeze of his belly (I didn’t want to use any force) but it resulted in the same head shake. Uh- oh…

I looked around to see if there was a donkey handler or someone who could help nearby. There was not a single soul in sight…just great. I have heard that donkeys can be seriously stubborn creatures and mine was living up to that reputation. I looked down thinking maybe I could get off and walk back but right where I'd need to step was covered in greenish brown donkey-doo. At that point I had to laugh out loud. Great. Perfect. Maybe I’ll just stay on the donkey forever. At least he came with a sea view.

As I sat there, partly thinking about how to get out of my predicament and partly hoping he’d move along on his own, I spotted a couple ahead. As they got closer I could see they were chuckling. “Um, hi, I’m a bit stuck, would you mind telling the handlers at the bottom?” I said my face flushing the same colour as my dress. The girl agreed, stepped over some patties and continued down the path. As if my donkey knew he’d soon be in trouble, he started walking again! I was over the moon! Great! Brilliant…oh bugger! He stopped again after only going about 20 meters. He was toying with me. I could almost see a cheeky grin on his face.

Luckily only a few minutes passed before I saw a line of donkeys coming up the path along with a handler. Finally! I could have kissed the handlers whiskery cheek I was so glad to see him! But my donkey had other plans. His ears swivelled back and some sound let him know the handler and a drove of donkeys were behind him and he started moving again. When we turned the corner I saw the girls who had left way ahead of me waiting up ahead. I realised that the donkey was simply waiting for the rest of the herd to show up and not just being stubborn. Boy did I feel sheepish.

The donkey was now more than happy to clip along and energetically try to overtake those in front of us. Who cares if he had to terrify his rider in the process? Who cares if he went so close to the wall when turning corners that I was in perpetual expectation of him walking right into them or scraping my knee? Not my donkey that’s for sure!

We continued up the path and aside from him almost knocking another girl off her donkey he didn’t stop once. All the donkeys had a unique way of zigzagging up the path that prevented them from slipping backwards. It actually took a lot longer to get to the top than I thought so there was plenty of time to take in the view. By the time we reached the top I was glad I rode up instead of walking and gave my smart, stubborn donkey an affectionate pat before heading into the maze of Fira streets.

*Please note: These donkeys are looked after by two animal welfare agencies GAWF and SAWA. They are fed, watered, sheltered undergo regular health checks and are well looked after. No injured or sick donkey is allowed to work and they only make a 2-3 round trips a day. I do not like seeing animals mistreated and would not have done this had i thought they were.

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