I’ve had this piece shuffled away for such a long time, 3 months in fact.
Three months where I should’ve been doing something, speaking out. So many of us come and go on these subjects and I’m not going to be one of those people anymore. If you see something, say something.
I visited Santorini on Friday the 22nd of July 2016, it is a date embedded in my brain. Not only because I had an awful start to my nightmare holiday but it continued on a roller coaster of emotions, losing my luggage. Losing a ring, damaging the nerves in my finger (long story) and then, the worst of all.
My holiday nightmare was written up last week. After spending weeks documenting it I finally shared how awful it was (part 1 & 2) but I purposely left out Santorini. It was a whole story in itself and, even here, you may already have your assumptions as to what it was that shocked me so much.
I don’t want to get straight into why, I won’t blurt it out as it might make you switch off and ignore the real message. First, I want to explain why I felt the way I did and what the experience did to me that day.
My dream holiday
It was a destination we had been speaking about for months, everyone we had spoken to had picked out Santorini as the highlight of our cruise. “You’ll love it” “It’s beautiful there, really breathtaking”, Words I won’t forget.
They were right, it really was ‘breathtaking’ but not in the way I was expecting.
I am not a huge animal lover, (well I wasn’t but have since gone vegan) I love cats and dogs and hamsters but anything larger or smaller than that and I am a total mess. I have a huge fear of horses and cows, it’s a long story but I had an awful experience with a horse when I was around 10 and it really scared me emotionally for life. I can’t look at a horse or cow without being anxious that it wants to chase me! Essentially anything that can kick me and kill me I’m petrified of. You know, rational fears. So donkey’s have never been top of my list of animals I love.
Santorini changed my mind.
Like I said, we were super excited to get to Santorini. Friends and family had hyped it up and at this point, we finally had some clean clothes and felt comfortable enough to just relax for the day. So we packed our backpacks, water and some spending money and we set off on our adventure for the day. Tom was on a mission to find the blue roofs but we really struggled, the buildings are not like they are in the magazines! There were only 3 buildings on the whole top of the island with blue roofs!
We were advised by the cruise director that if we wanted to climb ‘the donkey trail’ there were 600 of them and being the active couple we are we decided it was the best way to get an authentic experience of Santorini.
We were stood in the crowd. Possibly 200+ people, with more boats pulling up every 10 seconds. We were squeezed into the small dock where the tendered boats from 3 cruises had dropped off their passengers, each wanting to get somewhere. There were queues for the cable carts to the top or ques for the donkeys, such long ques for the donkeys. It would never have been an option, not for me. Mostly because of my fear but secondly because I think it’s just morally wrong anyway.
The first 200 steps were horrendous.
The stench from the donkey’s ‘droppings’ was filling the air, you couldn’t breathe down there. Not only that, you couldn’t move for donkey’s moving past you. Trying to get to the top of the steps with the ten-tonne man clinging on to his half drunken sprite and Cannon-whatever digital camera. Not only were there donkey’s pushing past us on the way up these thigh-master steps, there were also thunderous swarms of donkey’s rushing down the path too. Hurrying to get back down, knowing if they slowed down they would fall or stumble. Their only choice on the narrow steps was to rush down.
Half way up I had lost control, I was physically shaking and unable to breathe.
Tom managed to pull me to one side, where the steps had given way to the cliff and a small clearing had formed. He sat me down and I got my breath back. It wasn’t the donkey’s that had made me unnerved, it was the lack of empathy for them that had shaken me to my core.
A mixture of exhaustion from the steps, the horrifying thunderous roar of the donkey’s rushing to get past the tourists and the poor donkey’s left behind. The ones that walked up at our pace, barely making it up the steep hil, bones protruding and the look of hopelessness in their eyes. One specific donkey is the key to my breakdown. It was only a few years old, I imagine, it was very small, something even a child would look out of place on. A grown man was hunched over this small donkey. He was obscenely obese, perhaps 260lbs, it had a patterned blanket over it’s back, was that cushioning for where this man’s arse was plopped? Little did the blanket help, I could still see it’s ribs sticking out from beneath.
That was it, I just broke into a fit of breathlessness – panic and emotion took over me. I looked out to the ocean, our cruise ship was on the horizon. All I could think about was the privilege I had seen over the past few days on that ship and all that those poor donkey’s had seen in that same period of time. – I know humans and donkeys are not the same. I get it, but we have made it that way. We took over control of another being, it’s sickening.
Each owner would push their donkey’s back to the front of the line, even the ones who were just getting back from the top. They were next in line, another meal ticket for their masters to cash-in on. $10 Euros a time but is that enough to rid you of your guilt?
Who are we as humans to create such an awful circus of abuse?
You may have had wonderful experiences of Santorini and I honestly
hope I haven’t ruined those for you wish you could have been in my shoes, felt what I felt and experienced what I did. But you didn’t
If that was a child. Barely standing in the mid-day heat, ribs showing and feet uncared for, no access to food or water until they’re done for the day. Walking in faeces, carrying more than their poor back can cope with. Taking each step with care, hoping not to slip on the worn out
shit covered steps they’ve climbed up every day, for the past few years. If it was a group of children huddled together, shouted at, forced, to move back down the steep slope they’ve just endured. No rest for the wicked – but what a wicked world where we punish the vulnerable. Would you speak up?
I am just trying to make people aware of the awful circumstances in which Santorini creates trade.
I’m not trying to shame you for feeling bad about going or make you stress about what’s happening there, just informing you so we can all make a positive difference. The issue is, my experience wasn’t unique to me. It is something that hundreds of tourists experience every day. Donkeys are used as ‘people’ carriers and this has been happening for years. Around 360 donkey’s are used to carry people to up and down the steep Santorini steps, these animals are abused daily. Whilst writing this for you, I have since found that a donkey, who broke free of it’s
abuser owner, knocked over and subsequently trampled on a 67-year-old woman, causing her death.
We’ve all seen the adverts, billy the donkey is carrying the world on his shoulders and works day-in-day-out without proper care. I’ve known that this goes on and yet I’ve never considered doing something about it. This is my platform, I don’t earn anything from this site, perhaps a collaborative post every three months (but that’s another story). So to be able to use this platform to actually make a difference, to stand up for a cause. That’s what I have built this up to be.
Santorini was beautiful but their traditions and work ethics are not something I can idly stand by and accept.
It’s all Greek to me.