Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Grinch That Stole Snorkelling

Our first full day in Santorini we wanted to cross off the most famous beach, Perissa. Known for black sand and crystal waters, Perissa is a little bit of a tourist trap, but not necessarily in a bad way. It was way less busy than any of the other tourist beaches we had been to such as San Sebastian or Benicassim, well used but not over crowded. It had plenty of the rental loungers we had come to know and love in Benicassim, and for a cheaper price too. Even better than that, these were owned by beachside bars and cafes, so we were served cold beer right to our loungers a metre or two from the waters edge.

The beach is long but narrow so despite being at the waters edge we had a clear view of the bike. It was awesome having the bike with us in Santorini, exploring anywhere we wanted and stopping anytime we wanted. On the way to Perissa we had seen a parking lot with an incredible view of the Caldera so we stopped and took pictures.

We spent the day just generally chilling out, swimming and sunbathing. We read an English newspaper Courts found at a bookstore, bought 5 Euro sunglasses (ours have both died of travel fatigue) from a crazy beach vendor,  said many no’s to crazy Chinese massage people and ate Gyros and Kataifi. I went for a walk at one point and found a dive shop to book snorkeling through and Courts spent a good part of the day trying to talk me into letting him buy a snorkel.

There’s a good reason for us not spending 10 Euro on a snorkel though – we’re well on our way to running out of money. We’re actually only 270 Euros off budget at the moment, which considering how much we blew in Pamplona and our spur of the moment trips to Valencia, is not bad at all. We can catch up on that over the next few weeks no sweat by un-budgeting a few low-interest attractions we budgeted for, and cutting 5 Euro a day from our food budget. That’s easy because we spoil ourselves a bit with eating out and we should really grocery shop more like ‘real’ backpackers anyway.

The reason we’re running out of money is because Kiwibank’s Loaded for Travel card, a prepaid visa you can load several currencies on to, has let us down a wee bit. A first it was awesome and we advocated it to several other people who were about to travel. About half way through our trip we started noticing double transactions on our account, which were reversed, but more worryingly, were amounts we had never spent. For example we might spend 19 Euro at a supermarket but see 19 Euro and then 70 Euro come out, with the 70 Euro reversed. Sure, the issue was fixed but it is still worrying to see it happening with no explanation.

When we got into the home stretch of our 3 weeks in Spain, we stopped at a truck stop for petrol and lunch, paid for separately. Those two transactions were charged three times each, with only one set reversed. Essentially we were double charged, but to have the 16 and 25 Euro transactions fixed up, we would have to pay Kiwibank $NZ15 (7.50 Euro) per transaction. We figured it wasn’t a big amount and we’d deal with it later.

The real issue came when our card was rejected by a Barcelona ATM for no reason at all. We tried again and it worked, but when we checked our bank account both 300 Euro transactions had been deducted from our balance along with two 3 Euro withdrawal fees. This happened again a couple of weeks later, this time with 400 Euros, so we were now down by 706 Euros. What are you supposed to do when you can’t withdraw money or spend it directly off the card for fear of double charges?

For the transactions to be investigated we of course had to pay 15 Euros per transaction, and with such a large amount we decided to sort it sooner rather than later. This was easier said than done as the website instructed us to print out a form and either fax or post it. Not so easy using wifi in a café.

This is what Mum’s are for. Back home, Mum called Kiwibank and with some begging, a kind Kiwibank employee submitted the investigations for the 2 larger sums without us needing to write in. The 2 smaller sums will have to wait until we are home. The downside is the investigation can take 120 days and there’s no guarantee we’ll get any money back unless the foreign banks admit there was a mistake. If we do get the money back, it will be well after our trip ends, so we are going to have to top up our 700 Euros with $NZ1400 from our going-home fund, which is supposed to cover bond for a new house and keep us above water until we have an income.

So, there you have it. The very long story of why Courtney can’t have a snorkel.

He dealt with it, and our day in Perissa was awesome. It felt like a real island holiday, the kind you dream of when you pass travel agents in shopping malls. We went home and checked our emails in the hopes our request for a volcano tour had been granted and they had, which meant a quick trip up the road to pick up tickets for the next day.

When we got into Fira town, only 5 minutes walk from camp, the sun was just setting. We walked to the caldera side of town, through the narrow cobbled streets and followed the signs to the cable car that takes people down the cliff side, just out of curiosity. By doing so we not only saw donkeys carrying people up the path next to the cable car but we stumbled upon one of the views you see on postcards and calendars. There we stopped and watched the famous sunset again and then watched the town below us light up and start sparkling as the last light of the day disappeared.

We wandered the streets looking for dinner and came across a little Mexican restaurant with free wifi and an extremely charismatic Canadian host. We’re loving trying local foods but Mexican is my favourite food so there was no dragging me away, especially when we discovered there was a couch at one of the tables (it has been so  long since we sat on a couch) and that wild kittens roamed under the tables. Dinner was amazing and the host said we could stay and use wifi as long as we wanted without having to buy anything else. Luckily it was a short walk home because with full stomachs and after a full day of swimming, we would have been rolling home if it were any further. Santorini, you treat us well.