This story is based on real events and expresses my own views and personal experiences. Publishing something personal isn’t easy so please be kind.
-M A R I N A
The wind blowing my hair on Bennett’s face, bugs smashing onto my face and getting in my eyes, don’t you just love ATV rides?
July 2016, Santorini island, Greece. My second time on this island, but more special than the first. I get to show Bennett, my boyfriend, the beauty of my country. It’s always fun traveling with him. To be honest, there’s no one else I’d rather go on a trip with. But this vacation is different. I am not a tourist like him, I am the host. There’s some sort of pressure… everything I plan for this trip will determine how he feels about my country. He needs to go back home and tell people it’s amazing. I need to make it amazing.
I picked the destination wisely. For starters, I’ve been there before so I know my way around the island pretty well. I’m not from there, I’m not from an island, but I’m familiar enough with the place to host someone on it. Santorini is considered one of the wonders of the world. The views are breathtaking, you’ve never seen anything like it.
I’m thinking to myself, Bennett will definitely love it.
The island is relatively small, but renting a car is strongly recommended. The driving age in Greece is 18 and the process for getting a driver’s license is tedious. Because I’m studying in the US I never have enough time to go through the process, I’m never home for that long. Santorini is the one place where not having a license does not limit me at all. I managed to rent an ATV last time I was here by simply telling them I forgot my license at home. This time Bennett has an American one so we should be fine. The man from the car rental place approaches us to ask us what we’re looking for. ATVs are more fun and with one it’s easier to find parking, so I tell him that. He looks at me and asks for my license, I tell him I don’t have one and Bennett hands over his. The man looks at it, turns to me and says,
“This is American.”
“I know,” I tell him.
They get a lot of tourists so the foreign license is definitely not the problem. He pulls me to the side and says, “I will put the Americans license on file, but I’d rather you drive.”
You see, Greeks are crazy drivers. There’s never any police around so people don’t necessarily follow rules or speed limits. This makes for dangerous driving, but it also makes for more capable drivers. Americans get scared on Greek roads and tend to cause more accidents in touristy places. I smile and say “sure.”
Out of all the couples renting ATVs we are by far the youngest. This immediately puts us at a disadvantage. The man gives me the keys to a very old, very small, blue ATV. Bennett and I look at each other, and laugh. We’re both thinking, that should be fine, right? There’s this seafood tavern I want to take him to at Akrotiri. It’s about a 20-minute ride from our hotel. We hop on our ATV, put our goofy looking helmets on, and head off.
There is one main road that crosses the entire island. Santorini was created due to a volcano eruption that sunk the entire middle part of the island leaving a crater in the middle and a half moon shaped piece of land. The entire island is built on cliffs and thus the roads are extremely winding with lots of steep hills and tight turns.
It’s all downhill to where we’re going and our old ATV seems to be doing fine. I’m driving the speed limit, and a little faster than that. Bennett is sitting behind me holding my waist tightly. I feel bad because he’s basically eating all my wind-blown hair. We arrive at our destination in less than 20 minutes and sit down for lunch.
There’s plenty of things to do down at Akrotiri, so I decide that it’s a good idea for us to stay there until nighttime. There is a lighthouse at the tip of the island that people go to watch the sunset. Sundown begins around 9:15pm and we’re still not at the lighthouse yet. I’m trying to go as fast as I can, but our vehicle won’t allow it.
We’re laughing and yelling at the sunset to wait for us.
We can still see it happening, we’re just not at the spot we had planned to be. Sunset is complete by 9:30pm and we have not made it to the lighthouse so we decide to turn around and head home. This time the way back is all uphill. I see the speed on the ATVs speedometer drop from 30 km an hour to 20 km/h. It’s either not strong enough to go up hill or we’re running out of gas. I start driving on the side of the road and pull up at a gas station. We should be good to get home. We are now going 25 km/h. Not great, but still better than before. At some point, I see a sign to an exit that will take us to our hotel. I turn left and find myself on a very steep hill.
The speedometer drops to 14 km/h. The road is very narrow and there are a bunch of cars lined up behind me. They will just have to be patient because there is nothing I can do. Once off the steep hill, I make a left. I am now going downhill which is definitely not the right way to the hotel.
“You should’ve gone right,” says Bennett.
I just have to get back on the road I was on before and take the same exit but turn right at the top of the hill.
Second time around is not going as well as the first. I turn left on the steep hill. The speedometer drops to 14 km/h, 10 km/h, 5 km/h. I start yelling “Bennett get off we need to push.” There are even more cars behind us than there were before! I feel so bad, they’re basically stopped and not only am I not going forward I start rolling backward. 2 km/h. I jump off and start pushing the ATV to the side of the road. All the cars start passing us and are waving at us. Bennett and I begin to push the ATV up the hill. We keep pushing until the right turn. We’re about 2 minutes away from our hotel. Let’s try this again. I get on the vehicle, and Bennett begins to push. I start accelerating and the speedometer is going from 14 km/h to 35 km/h, to 40 km/h. Wow, we weren’t even going 40 km/h when going downhill! I get to the hotel, Bennett running behind me. I park and decide to ask for a stronger ATV in the morning, because apparently both of us are too heavy for the little blue one.
It’s been a long day.
“I had fun today,” says Bennett as we’re getting ready for bed.
“I’m glad you did,” I reply.
I’m smiling, because it’s day one out of seven and we’re off to a good start. I’m not nervous anymore, Bennett will definitely love this trip and my country. This day was perfect. The food was great, the sunset was beautiful, and the ATV ride was loads of fun. I feel less pressure as a host now.
“I’m glad I’m here with you,” he says and kisses me.
“I love you.”
by Marina Gkritzioudi