Spring Break in Santorini: The Time I Had Ouzo with Chuck Norris
Updated: 6 days ago
There are proud moments in every person's life - acing an exam, getting published for the first time, having a baby that isn't an uggo...all proud moments. This story is not one of those moments.
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"It's like vodka!",
the gyro shop owner at Lucky's Souvlakis in Santorini encouraged me, as he poured another long shot out of a tiny clear pitcher of liquid. Assured by the news that it was not in fact the dreaded ouzo I knew better to avoid, I confidently accepted the shot and chased it down with a local beer. It was Spring Break, 2007 or 2008, and I had journeyed to meet friends in Greece who had been studying abroad that semester in Spain. They'd arranged everything - the endless ferry from Athens, the adventures on the island, and all the fun events. Being March, we were visiting Greece's gem of an island in the off-season, but we weren't expecting to be met by empty streets and restaurants. The souvenir shops were operating in slim numbers, the tours were sparsely occupied, and it wasn't exactly beach weather. No matter the event we embarked on, it seemed like we kept coming up short - at least by my account. Every day held a misadventure that would come to live in infamy when I share my stories at parties or over dinner with friends.
Let me begin by illustrating that I am a fairly sedentary traveler. I'm not an adrenaline seeker, I don't enjoy long hikes, and I would prefer to spend my time in wineries, scenic drives, and long lingering lunches. This was not this trip. Paired with go getters and student budget travelers, I soon found myself in many scenarios I probably wouldn't have sought out otherwise.
Day One: The Sunset Hike to Oia
Oia (ee-ah) is a famous point of the island for seeing stunning sunset views, so we set out to hike there from the main town of Fira, where we were staying. Honestly this bunch of kids was way more into active pursuits than me, but I did my best to slog along the 10km, 2+ hour hike along the mountainous highway leading to the sunset spot. I welped in agony as half of their friend group from Spain (who had chosen to fly instead of the long ferry from Athens) smartly blew past us in a rental car for their comfortable 20 minute journey to Oia. Wishing I'd joined them instead, I imagined they had beautiful sundown views accompanied by a Mythos beer
and a feeling of accomplishment after their brief and not at all leg busting trip up the mountain. Brought back to Earth, I continued to march on in our uphill battle, ruing the day someone decided this would be fun. Alas we limped into Oia, but the sun had already set 45 minutes earlier. We missed our moment.
We asked the only storefront open about a bus or taxi to get us back down the hill, but buses were running only every couple hours. Perhaps the trek's bland end could be recovered with a pint of local beer at a quaint eatery? No, no such luck. So there we sat, tormented and defeated in a one horse saloon, so to speak, with a couple rag tag locals sipping on crappy drinks and wishing we'd just saved ourselves the last 4 hours of our lives. The next day, perhaps would bring greater fortune.
Day Two: The Near Fatal Swim to the Hot Springs
Ok, keep in mind the air temperature in March is hovering around 50-60 degrees (Fahrenheit), so in my adulthood it wouldn't cross my mind even for an instant that I should lob myself over the side of a sailing vessel into the frigid Mediterranean waters below, even if there was promise of a hot spring a 100 meter lap swim away. But hey, it's spring break bitches and I guess I'm a follower on spring break, because we sailed the straits around the island amongst blanket wearing, down clad sane adults on a touring ship wearing just our bikinis and a lack of inhibitions. We reached the hot springs - an outcrop from the shoreline, a good swim away through pretty rough waters. Onlookers stared at us as if we were the stupidest humans alive, I felt like the stupidest human alive. I'm not a strong swimmer. I can barely doggy swim. I prefer a casual pool float or knee high ocean surf splash. This was real, rugged activity and I needed to step up my game, pronto. I leapt off the ship into the water, icy cold pins and needles stabbing at my flesh. It took all I could to "just. keep. swimming.", as Finding Nemo's Dory would say. I could feel my body shutting down on me, as I was being pounded by two or three foot waves of water in the face. My salvation was that the hot springs were indeed hot, and provided a welcome relief and revival of blood flow, once I'd made the journey. I wish I could have stayed there all day, but I had to make the same swim back to the boat in return. Again, waves pounded me, cold and dreadful. I wanted to give up. I saw my friends boarding the ladder on the side of the wooden paneled ship, their adventure complete. They were smiling and had a great time. Meanwhile, my body seized and I couldn't swim any more. I was exhausted, freezing, and couldn't do it. A near pass out moment for me, I blurred in and out of reality as a face and and an arm came at me all at once. It was Ricardo, one of our journey mates. He was a strong swimmer and noticed my struggle. He jumped back in and ushered me back to the boat. I was so grateful and so ashamed, but no one seemed to notice my misery. Onboard I struggled to find warmth. My jacket was soaked over my bathingsuit and we had no towels. My nips were sharp as razor blades, my face pale and devoid of color. I held myself, rocking back and forth until the return to shore. Half our crew ventured on, up the side of the mountain on donkey-back, but I was resolved to take the comfortable enclosed tram car back up. To this day, I don't think I have ever been colder in my life.
The Black Rock Beach
As if nearly dying wasn't enough fun, later that afternoon we decided to check out a black rock beach for some 'sunbathing'. This is no sand beach, it was literally coated in plum sized black rocks all along the coastline. I'd been revived, had a warm shower and felt renewed. We drank putrid Greek wine from the bottle, had sliced sausage meat and
snacks, and enjoyed several local beers. The sun was warmer than it had ever felt, even at 55 degrees, and I was finding peace. We got henna tattoos and had a relaxed afternoon. That is, until we stopped for a quick gyro before heading back to our hotel to call it a day.
The Night I Punched My Best Friend
We took the bus into Fira town and someone suggested we had to try one of "MTV's top 10 eats in Santorini" heralded to have the best souvlaki in Santorini at Lucky's Souvlaki shop. A solid gyro sounded like just the ticket after a long day. We really didn't anticipate what happened next.
As the bearded, forty-something shop owner poured us complimentary shots of clear liquid, I caught a second wind. This guy was pretty handsome, and he seems to like us. Plowing us with round upon round of beer, my booze intake increased, as my right-mindedness did not. One by one, tired friends left after eating their meat filled pita pockets, save for two travelers who graciously stayed to keep me in line.
"Is this ouzo?"
I asked the generous man at the start of it all.
"It's like vodka, it's like vodka!"
as he poured more. I knew ouzo was a anise-forward licorice flavored fire bomb of a liquor, and I'd had the displeasure of trying it in Athens on trips prior, as a casual apertif. Not my taste. But here, I was assured (or so my drunken mind understood) that I was drinking something like vodka, and not ouzo. Good enough for me, pour on!
As he poured on, people poured out, until it was just me, Melissa and Ashley* in the shop. Things were settling down behind the counter too, as the wave of the island's only tourists had already shuffled in and out. A young man wearing a red "Lucky's Souvlaki" shirt turned on 'the game', whatever that may have been for the season, and some locals began to enter.
Greeted warmly, they were all smiles and settled in for what I expect was a long evening of drinking with buddies at their local watering hole. Some of the younger gentlemen boldly came to speak with the three clearly inebriated young American women, and we entertained them with giggles and the like until he came in. There he was, in all his Walker Texas Ranger glory - Chuck Norris. He carried a tiny boom box the size of a shoe and smoked a soggy looking cigarette. His hair was white, his beard was stubbled, and he had about as many teeth as I have toes. Smelling of liquor and nicotine, he breathed heavy in our faces.
"I uh am, I am, Ay Ahm...Chuck Norrrish. Chuck Norris!"
he spat at us drunkenly. We erupted into laughter and confusion. What the f&ck? Who is this guy?
Without invitation he took a stool beside us and promptly whipped out his bifold wallet to show us photos of his family. Meanwhile, more locals piled in, all greeted with cheers as we hoped one of them would steal this drunkard away from us. And they did, in part. We met cousins of the owner, brothers, family and friends. We'd been there for what felt like hours, and we were becoming one of the crew!
After the third or fourth pitcher Melissa and Ashley left to use the restroom in the basement, leaving me alone with the thirsty pool of men, in no shape to stand tall, let alone carry my own. It was during this time that I'd negotiated a closing time visit to the shop owner's house. He offered us weed and more drinks, and I felt like this was a pretty solid offer, being a college kid in my early twenties. I vaguely remember an aproned mama looking super pissed at me through a door frame, waving a broom in my face and telling me to leave before I got myself into trouble. She was a good mama, and I probably should have left. Instead, Melissa and Ashley found me behind the counter, slinging beers to the locals and wearing one of the red Lucky Souvlaki uniform shirts. This all happened in minutes of their departure. In fact, I'd purchased shirts for all of my friends!
I came to learn Ashley had been taking her shots and spitting them into a beer bottle, a la "Coyote Ugly" fame. Smart trick. This trick of course kept her sober enough to see the shit show happening in front of her, and she called it a night on my behalf. As we stumbled side by side towards our hotel, apparently FOMO set in big time. I turned back towards the gyro shop, intent on having that smoke and a beer with my new red shirt friends. Ashley turned me around, back in the direction of slumber and I lunged at her with a floppy armed swing and a miss of a punch. I was intent, I say, intent! I turned toward the gyro shop again. Obstinate, I gave my anger another go. Whif.
I have no memory of this of course, and retell only by Ashley's fond recollection of her best friend attempting to punch her in the face. She regaled me of our friend who tried to suffocate me with a pillow that night in my sleep, as I snore louder than a chainsaw without the proper pre-bedtime meds. All I remember really is waking up in a red "Lucky's Souvlakis" tshirt and wondering where the f&ck it came from. My head pounded as I remembered. Oh yea, "we met Chuck Norris last night!".