When people think of Oía, they think of sunsets.
The Greek island plays host to many newlyweds and honeymooners in the summer, who each afternoon scrabble to its northernmost tip to a cliff-town of jumbled white houses and blue rooftops called Oía. Here, they hope to catch a glimpse of what is considered one of the most romantic sunsets in the world.
Unfortunately, because of Oía’s quintessential-ness as the place for sunsets, taxis there are nearly impossible to book by late afternoon.
When my mom and I arrived to Santorini by plane a late August morning, we figured we would get a taxi to Oía right before sunset and asked our concierge to make arrangements.
But when we returned from the Santorini’s Red Beach, our concierge told us that no taxi driver he knew could take us to Oía. I didn’t want to believe it. I kept thinking: How could we visit Santorini and not see the sunset at Oía? It would be like going to Berlin and bypassing the wall or visiting London and missing Big Ben. Or so I thought.
As our concierge (bless his heart) started calling everyone he knew who had a car, I felt my hopes of getting a ride to Oía sink with the sun. My sun-kissed skin chilled with goose bumps as we waited silently in the ever-darkening lobby.
“I’d take you myself, but I must work the front desk,” the concierge told us apologetically after pouring me a seltzer and my mom a glass of red wine.
After about twenty minutes of fidgeting and listening to telephone call after telephone call in Greek, our concierge told us that his friend who owned the rent-a-car company across the street offered to drive us to the lighthouse at the southern end of Santorini in his car. It was closer, less crowded, and gave you a better view of the volcanic islands of Nea Kameni and Palea Karmeni that lie inside the caldera than Oía, he said.
We arrived at the rent-a-car shop, there was an older Greek man (who would soon be our driver) “shooting the bull” with a customer. We waited patiently in his shop, despite the bleeding colors of the sky starting to peek around us. While I was grateful for this man’s offer to drive us, the man didn’t seem to understand or care that we were in a hurry. I didn’t think we would ever leave.
Finally, we piled into the man’s tiny car. He hummed almost in sync with the wind along the beautiful pastoral drive, speaking amiably about his son who was leaving soon to study music at a university in the United States.
Half of the way to the lighthouse, he suddenly stopped the car and opened the door. My mom and I exchanged nervous glances as he ran into a field of white lilies without explanation. He searched for a minute, cut the stem off a bunch of white Madonna’s with a multi-purpose knife, looked at them and then seemingly satisfied ran back to the car.
“I don’t know the English word for these flowers, but in Greek they are called krínos. They have been growing here for centuries, but of course, you and your mother are more beautiful,” he said, giving me the lilies to hold.
White lily or “Krínos”
We drove to the lighthouse the rest of the way talking about the lilies. The white Madonna lily is one of the oldest flowers growing in Santorini. In ancient times, it was believed to have grown out of the milk of the goddess Hera.
When we arrived at the lighthouse we thanked our new friend, who told us that either he or his son would be back at sundown to pick us up. He wouldn’t accept any money from us until someone returned.
The Greeks have a term for hospitality like this with which they so generously treat tourists. The word “Filoxenia” is rooted in mythology and it means “friends to foreigners.”
It is said that Zeus would dress in rags and visit Greek homes to see how they treated strangers, only revealing himself afterward, teaching people to cater to their guests, for they could turn out to be gods.
Like in the ancient myth, we didn’t have much to offer the man besides euro for his trouble and gas. As we sat with an intimate crowd on the steep and rocky cliff surrounding the lighthouse, the silence of Santorini blessed the kindness that had just touched us, as the sky slowly dip-dyed from yellow to orange to pink and finally to red.
Article written by Courtney Pruitt.