Priyadarshini Paitandy treks up to a crater, swims in the Aegean Sea and rides a donkey to the quaint village of Thirassia for a perfect Greek odyssey

“Please don’t let the volcano erupt,” I mutter as we reach Nea Kameni. Not at least while scores of tourists and I are atop it peering into the crater. Treading gingerly, we go around the crater, careful not to push any of the over-enthusiastic who are striking dramatic poses precariously leaning over it. The trek up to the top of this caldera takes an hour. We are a little scared yet we pose for photographs. One of the guides notices our alarmed expression and tells us, “The last explosion took place in 1950. There are equipment and people constantly monitoring the area for any possible signs of quakes or eruption.”

Relieved, we trudge further for a better view of the sea and the islands around. It’s windy at the top and holding onto our hats is an ordeal. Like explorers on the summit of a mountain, numerous travellers stand by the Greek flag with a thumbs-up sign. There are several active sulphur vents here, no wonder certain pockets smell like cigarette smoke.

It’s been a long journey to this point. A ride on a traditional boat from the island of Santorini brings us to the island of Nea Kameni. Around this caldera, the blue water suddenly turns green and the island has fine black lava sand and glistening dark gravel. Our throats are parched; unfortunately, there’s no café here to catch your breath and a quick drink. An hour later we are back at the boat sailing to the hot springs of Palea Kameni. We dream of dipping ourselves in the warm waters. But we are horrified when the boat anchors mid-sea and we are asked to jump out and swim to the springs. Suddenly, the number of hot spring enthusiasts dwindles. There’s a nip in the air and I feel like a super hero as I take the plunge into the biting cold waters of the Aegean Sea. It feels like a million needles poking me. I can barely move for the first few seconds but the promise of the warm water and sulphur that’s supposed to be great for the skin make me swim. Channeling my inner Michael Phelps I soldier on.

Twenty minutes later there’s still no sign of the hot springs. Exhausted, I turn over and float. The sea is obviously deep and there isn’t any place for us to stop. A few people swim to the slimy, red, sulphur-covered rocks on the sides for a breather. I cling on too, till I see a fat yellow-brown snake slither on the adjoining rock. Petrified I almost leap onto an unsuspecting person swimming past. Thankfully, I have her for company after that. As we move further we experience jets of warm and cold water. Hungry and unable to go any further we swim back to the boat. Next stop is the island of Thirassia. It’s an old, run-down village…partly spooky, partly romantic. A steep white zig-zag path leads to the village on top of a hill. For the lazy there’s always the option of riding a donkey to the top. My donkey looks at me disapprovingly, stops and yawns. Forty agonising minutes later I reach the village of Thirassia only to be greeted by the laughter of my friends.

We come back at lunchtime. There are a handful of quaint tavernas by the port. Each open on all sides and surrounded by water and boats. There’s tranquillity amid the chaos of waiters repeating food orders. There’s the delicious whiff of fried calamari, juicy steak and crisp fries. My moussaka arrives, piping hot and delicious…it’s like biting into a piece of cloud. We sit with our feet in the water, and as the gentle waves lap against the taverna, we wonder if heaven feels this way.