Have Vehicles Destroyed Small Islands?

Photo by Michael “Mike” L. Baird

Have motorised vehicles destroyed some of the most beautiful small islands of this world? Yes. That is my conclusion after spending two weeks in Santorini, Greece…

Santorini is a unique island that draws vast numbers of tourists from all over the world. Its white washed buildings hug the cliffs of the Caldera and its sunsets are awe-inspiring. Looking out across the Aegean as the sun drops in to the sea, you could almost be in a pastel-shaded paradise.

Almost.

Sadly, somewhere not far behind you, the loud thrum of a single-cylinder quad-bike shatters the peace as it tears through Oia. Its followed by an even louder, and more annoying pitch of a moped engine starved of oil for the past three summers. It’s like a rowdy group of drunk flies caught in a empty can of baked beans. Ugh. Time to leave and head back to my hotel that backs conveniently on to a road. A rather busy road. One that feels great when you’re tearing down it at maximum revs in your single-speed 125cc. Best keep the hotel windows closed then, and ramp up the A/C that chills the sweat on your balls.

Leaving means getting a local bus, or a taxi. Through the tiny, almost single carriageway of Oia’s main road, busses heading in both directions will occasionally meet. When they do, chaos ensues. One driver will have to back up. Behind each bus sits ten or more taxis with over-perspiring drivers and lobster-faced passengers. The Highway Code in Santorini must read something like ‘If you encounter traffic, the best remedy is the repeatedly press your horn until the situation resolves itself naturally.’ It doesn’t.

Suffice to say, it’s not at all peaceful in Oia. I can see why ATVs make up the bulk of tourist rentals. You can simply mount the pavement, swerve around the annoying tourists (Im not one, obviously) and head off on whatever side of the road seems the most clear at the time.

“If you encounter traffic, the best remedy is the repeatedly press your horn until the situation resolves itself naturally”

Ouch.

What on earth have we done? We have destroyed the beauty of such an island with a combustion engine. Well, several thousand combustion engines to be precise. Some sit rotting away, abandoned, at the sides of roads. Most just idle in traffic all day. From the airport to our hotel, a 25 minute drive, we pass three gas stations. In total there are twelve on the island. Twelve. An island of only 35 square miles. How’s that for a postcard view.

I ignore all this and immerse myself in the local traditions. I eat the freshest seafood I’ve ever tried and I decide to ride a donkey a small distance. The five euros paid help keep local trade alive and well and the donkeys fed and in business. However, the glances I receive from other tourists almost make me cry. By the end of my five or six-minute ride, I feel as if I have smothered a kitten in front of its siblings. I walk away, throughly ashamed of myself.

What I should have done is hired a minibus for two people and had it sat idling away in a never-ending line of other idling diesel engines. Yes, that would have been nicer to the world, suffocate the donkeys with fumes by all means, but don’t even think about mounting one to support local trade and have a zero-emission journey. Unless methane counts, obviously.

Now, hurry along to your taxi, your hour-long traffic adventure awaits, but don’t worry, your cruise ship won’t leave without you, its been sitting just off the coast idling away all day keeping your cabin nice and cool for when you return. In fact, whilst your stuck in traffic, get your binoculars out and you might almost be able to see your ship.. that’s the one, just over there through the smog..

Electric cars will hopefully change  some of this. Electric cruise ships would also certainly help. Electric donkeys? Why not?

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