MAGMA MIXING MEMORIES 2002

SANTORINI, OCTOBER 2002

This was our first trip with the European Branch of OUGS and we knew none of our fellow travellers, so had to rely on our instructions, “Meet at Athens airport at Olympic Airlines check-in”, which had seemed simple enough when reading it back in England. Now, standing in the crowded airport, just one small problem was evident. There were over 50 Olympic check-in desks, stretching the half-mile length of Athens airport and all identical. And my husband was no help. He was already in geologist mode, walking along with eyes glued to the floor, “Have you seen this marble, its fabulous”. (Well that’s great, but where are our fellow travellers!). But I had forgotten that geologists have a highly visible unique appendage. And sure enough, I spotted one, The Yellow Helmet, hanging off the back of a luggage trolley. We advanced cautiously and saw a compass/clinometer hanging from the neck of one of the group. We had found Annette, our leader for the week. There was also a lady from Oslo and another from Vienna, Annette with her non-geological husband from Zurich, three men from the UK, all travelling alone, my husband and me. Fortunately for me, English was the common language.

The flight to Santorini was a back-to-basics experience in a ‘twin-prop’. It was dark when we landed and dragged our bags outside to find our hire cars. At this point we mistakenly tried to take the car keys and drive off before the cars were officially handed over to us - I knew a smattering of Greek would have been useful! Two local men loaded our luggage into a mini-bus with five of us, whilst four got into a (small) Hyundai Accent coupe and we headed to Fira (Thera) to drop off the Greek drivers and sign hire papers. It was only when the legal niceties were completed and the Greeks swapped the minibus for another Accent that we realised just how intimately we would be getting to know each other, as we shoehorned ourselves and our luggage into those sardine tins. We headed into the night, our driver enthusiastically muttering, “Lets head north, we need to go south.” Navigating from behind the suitcases may account for the unexpected tour of the seafront, twice, (an inauspicious start), but we eventually arrived at the superb Appartments Smaragdi on Perivolos Beach. An inspired choice by our leader.

Being the end of the season Smaragdi was deserted apart from our small party and we enjoyed the entire complex to ourselves all week. We breakfasted together each morning by the pool, two of the party going off for provisions, whilst those remaining boiled water for the tea. Sounds simple? How long would you wait for the water to boil in the microwave oven? We thought we were intelligent people but it took us two mornings to work out that the microwave ovens weren’t microwaves at all!

Each evening we braved the unheated pool and then toured the neighbourhood looking for tavernas, (our two drivers did a sterling job all week and definitely drew the short straw because they had to stay sober. Enormous thanks to both of them.) And we had some memorable meals, especially at Restaurant Forum where the owner, Dimitris (a vet), sat with us playing his accordion and singing traditional Greek music whilst his beautiful young daughter clapped to her Daddy’s playing, mesmerised by the music.

So what about the geology? Well, I’m not a geologist, I’m the wife of a geology student. I went along for the holiday! But I never once felt intimidated by my lack of knowledge. Everyone answered my elementary questions and I soon learned that there is no definitive answer to anything, just a lively debate on ‘what might have happened’.

Our first day was promoted as a relaxing trip to Ancient Thira, south of Kamari, although I didn’t feel very relaxed by the time we got to the top of the mountain via the hairpin bends. We back-seat passengers hung precariously over the edge of the narrow road, pretending to admire the scenery, but really too terrified to speak. The ancient ruins were fabulous, I spent ages roaming through them, whilst the geologists compared ‘bomb’ sizes and trajectories and found olivine. The largest bomb we saw here was about 1 metre diameter.

We lunched back in Kamari then went to Fira where we watched the dramatic sunset before heading back to Smaragdi for supper and a briefing, during which Annette reminded us about teamwork being the key to success this week.

Monday dawned bright, like all the days. We drove to the highest point of the island and beheld a superb view, only to be disappointed by the ‘no photography’ sign on the mountain-top military establishment. In view of the recent British plane-spotters experience in Greece, we decided collectively to forgo the ultimate picture postcard photograph as a small price to pay for our continued freedom! Instead, a capuccino break later, we found ourselves combing a pebble beach. After spending an hour doing so we regrouped and then my husband realised he had lost his glasses. That sinking feeling followed – the beach was wide and long. Not a chance of seeing them. But then that teamwork Annette had promoted the previous evening came into its own as the nine of us flanked the beach and did the ‘police search’ bit. And, leaders perogotive, Annette found them! To celebrate, we headed off to find a limestone outcrop by the roadside (geologists celebrate in the strangest ways) and stumbled on a clifftop winery (that’s more like it), where we felt compelled to have a glass of wine and admire a superb view of the caldera.

A volcanic rock from Santorini
A volcanic rock from Santorini

Our first day was promoted as a relaxing trip to Ancient Thira, south of Kamari, although I didn’t feel very relaxed by the time we got to the top of the mountain via the hairpin bends. We back-seat passengers hung precariously over the edge of the narrow road, pretending to admire the scenery, but really too terrified to speak. The ancient ruins were fabulous, I spent ages roaming through them, whilst the geologists compared ‘bomb’ sizes and trajectories and found olivine. The largest bomb we saw here was about 1 metre diameter.

We lunched back in Kamari then went to Fira where we watched the dramatic sunset before heading back to Smaragdi for supper and a briefing, during which Annette reminded us about teamwork being the key to success this week.

View from a clifftop winery
View from a clifftop winery

Monday dawned bright, like all the days. We drove to the highest point of the island and beheld a superb view, only to be disappointed by the ‘no photography’ sign on the mountain-top military establishment. In view of the recent British plane-spotters experience in Greece, we decided collectively to forgo the ultimate picture postcard photograph as a small price to pay for our continued freedom! Instead, a capuccino break later, we found ourselves combing a pebble beach. After spending an hour doing so we regrouped and then my husband realised he had lost his glasses. That sinking feeling followed – the beach was wide and long. Not a chance of seeing them. But then that teamwork Annette had promoted the previous evening came into its own as the nine of us flanked the beach and did the ‘police search’ bit. And, leaders perogotive, Annette found them! To celebrate, we headed off to find a limestone outcrop by the roadside (geologists celebrate in the strangest ways) and stumbled on a clifftop winery (that’s more like it), where we felt compelled to have a glass of wine and admire a superb view of the caldera.

Little church on the top of a public rock face
Little church on the top of a rock face

Sipping wine is a strenuous activity so afterwards we took the cliff road down to Athinios Port and had a capuccino whilst a horse licked our feet (honestly) and it was here that I saw my only fossil of the week – a dog paw in the concrete! Tuesday found us exploring Cape Plaka (36 22 31N, 025 25 34E, 2m above sea level ), approached via an exhilerating hike down the cliff path, the cliff made of pumice weathered into strange and fascinating shapes, whilst a tiny church perched on the rock face.

Capuccin stop
Capuccin stop

 We had lunch with the warm Mediterranean sea lapping at our feet, sitting on the patio of an unoccupied house built at the base of the cliff, on an outcrop of greenschist (so I was told).

It was an idyllic location on a balmy autumn day although the exhausting drag back up the cliff (36 22 24N, 025 25 42E, 210m) was not so exciting and called for a capuccin stop at the nearest taverna before we went on to Pharos Lighthouse (36 21 20N, 025 21 36E, 99m), where we looked for sponges in the rocks. We took some interesting photographs of shapes in rocks but I struggled to seem them as sponges! The evening was spent at a Mexican restaurant watching another superb sunset, although the best views were actually after sundown.

Day top on the boat
Day top on the boat

The next day we parked at Cape Mavrorrachidi wondering about the ‘peutical’ water and walked round the headland to the Red Beach, (36 20 42N, 025 23 53E, 27m) and the cliffs and beach clearly graduated from red, through black, to white pumice. The geologists talked about oxidisation, scoria beds and rhyolite deposits. I admired the majesty of it all. Then on to Mesa Pigadia – the pumice beach - where nobody could resist collecting oodles of pumice pebbles. After all they weigh so little in the baggage allowance. And I found one of my prize rocks of the week, a grey stone that looks as if it is made of stretched toffee. Then on again, to a red cliff by the roadside, ash deposits (36 27 47N, 025 24 19E, 200m) and, not far away, scoria cliffs at the road side, (36 27 48N, 025 24 52E, 208m) where there was a clear contact between the black and the white pumice. We ended the day with a walk on Scaros along a bridlepath where we met an old man riding sidesaddle on his donkey, found a cave dwelling pig, stood dwarfed by a huge bomb, 2.5m high (36 26 20N, 025 25 41E, 208m) and saw the fault lines at the top end of the island.

We got up early on Thursday to get to Fira and took the cable car to the beach to catch our boat, Calypso. Annette had arranged a day trip for us. First stop was Nea Kameni, the island growing in the middle of the caldera. We staggered to the top passing impressive lava flows, which looked like lumpy black treacle, and smelled the active fumeroles of Ag. Georgios and Cratiras Nikis, (36 24 07N, 025 23 56E, 131m). For me this was the moment when I realised just how vulnerable Santorini is. Next stop was Palia Kameni where the boat anchored. Some of us jumped into the wonderfully cool water and swam into the Red Bay where tiny hot springs bubbled up around us. As we got closer to the rocks we stirred up iron stained deposits which left us tinged red for the rest of the day. All too soon the boat called us back and we clambered aboard before heading to Port Korfos on Thirasia, where we disembarked for lunch. The usual Greek cats were present, and as always, looked so attractive against the white painted stonework of the houses. Back on the boat, the captain ‘parked’ over a subterranean cliff whilst we peered into the deep blue chasm of the caldera. Then on to Oia. Approaching this town by boat is the perfect way to see the dramatic cliffs, multi-coloured and beautiful.

Houses on top of beds of punice
Houses on top of beds of punice

The delicate white houses perched on the cliff-top looked as if a puff of wind would blow them away. And they are all built on a bed of white pumice so it looks as if they are built on snow. Having just left active Nea Kameni, the folly of building here seems obvious, even to me! The boat took us back to Fira where the more adventureous (or foolhardy) amongst us decided to take the donkey ride up the hill rather than the cable car. What Fun! We stayed in Fira for dinner and had the first fish of the week, which seems incredible on an island in the middle of the mediterranean.

Cauliflower rock specimen
Cauliflower rock specimen

I began the last day by wondering how I was going to keep myself entertained in a very large quarry, (36 24 21N, 025 26 10E). But this rock-hunting stuff is infectious. We parked and extracted ourselves from the cars, (don’t forget we had spent the week sardined together). Our leader gave us hints about what we might find, casually mentioning ‘magmamixing’ as we scattered. We regrouped for lunch, and then I found it! (36 24 30N, 025 25 55E, 174m) My rock of the week. A cauliflower like appearance on one surface with a different coloured swirl of rock mixed through it, rather like a marble cake, and containing small xenoliths - see, I am picking up the jargon! Everybody photographed it and we puzzled over it. I’m convinced it’s magma-mixing but I hear some doubt is being cast on my specimen. However, I found a space in my suitcase for ‘just one more rock’ and if anyone wants to confirm what I have I would be delighted to show them it. If its not magma mixing then what is it?

As you can guess I am hooked on these trips. The geologists even found me a job - I became the scale-bar, (glamorous or what!) clambering over the terrain to stand next to that ‘must photograph’ geological feature. The week was loads of fun and if you are reticent about joining your partner on the next one, take the plunge. You won’t feel left out.

And guess who brought more rocks home in their suitcase than anyone else? I already have my name down for the next post-exam week trip – and I don’t even know the destination yet.

Sue Hart

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