Maybe that’s an American thing, and maybe we are spoiled that way, but we do like our cars and the freedom they represent.
So, renting a car can be a guilty travel pleasure, and one that we have done now three times on this trip. And having a car has really enhanced our stops in Buenos Aires, Australia and now Santorini, Greece. But since Grandpa and Grandma came to join us for a week, we had to get a 7-passenger mini-van to haul us all. I was worried about the size of some of the larger vans we have see so far as the roads are very narrow on this island, but luckily, our Fiat SUV was small. And ugly.
Perhaps the worst looking car on the entire island. Plus, it was a few years old and with 60,000 miles on it, but very cheap, so we took our chances. Almost too many chances...
Now, driving a manual transmission (or “stick” as we Yanks say) on the steep hills with narrow two-way roads was a bit challenging, but we had now switched back to left-hand steering and right-side lanes just like back home, so it wasn’t too bad at all. And with three drivers who can shift on hills, we had our freedom – and a blast!
That is until I had to drive up one the most frightening hills on the planet to get to the top of the ruins of Thera. It was a steep set of 14-hairpins turns with no guard-rails and 500-ft. sheer drops. See the picture below – those lines are not agricultural terraces but the very narrow road I had to navigate; slowly, very slowly…with other cars occasionally passing in the other direction.
Look closely and find the teeny, weenie car in the photo for scale.
I am sure there are roads just like this, and maybe worse, all over the world, and I have driven some pretty treacherous ones in California, Canada and Colorado before, but this one felt the most challenging, and the scariest to me. Was it the fact that I had all my immediate family that I love so much in the car? And, my wife’s parents? All just one brake, clutch, tire failure away from a plunge? Is it my age and I am getting more cautious and protective? My fear of heights? I’m not sure, but those were 20-long minutes up and down and I am so, so, so glad nothing happened.
It is making me think about how we will drive through the Alps in five days…perhaps there is a flatter, safer route to get from Germany to Italy? Perhaps I am making too much of it. Either way, I think being afraid and overly cautious was a better way when driving a car that is not your own, on steep roads where every curve is new. The cargo was just too precious to take it lightly.
However, once we got to the top of the road, you had to walk another 20-30 minutes to get to the actual top of the hill to see the ruins of the original village of Thera (now Santorini). The views were spectacular and you could make out the foundations of all of the original buildings that made up the town. How the locals ever survived with carrying water and supplies up that far is amazing. They must have been a lot tougher than me - probably riding donkeys up dirt paths and not thinking twice about the steep cliffs.
P.S. Watching some of the young, un-helmeted couples come up that same road on dinged-up and dirty rental scooters made me afraid for them, too. Yikes! Maybe I am getting old?!?