Riding a donkey up the cliff to Fira

*Picture courtesy Flickr

Greece has always been on my to-visit list. While I don’t have a number of things on my to-do list there, not yet atleast, there is one definite do not do – ride a donkey up the cliff to Fira. Fira is the beautiful capital of the island of Santorini. Getting up there by donkey is a popular tourist attraction.It may be memorable, unusual and picturesque, but it is also cruel, scary and I am sure, uncomfortable. This item was never really on my list, mostly because I didn’t know about it, but now that I know what I know, it never will be. There are other ways to get the top of  the cliff. The easiest and most comfortable would be by cable car.

The donkeys and mules that work as tourist “taxis” on the island are forced to climb up and back down a pathway with around 600 steep steps, making as many as seven trips a day between 9 o’clock in the morning and sunset.  The sun is hot and unforgiving, and the animals often do not get sufficient food, water or rest. Several may be wearing ill-fitting harnesses that inflict cuts and sores on their bodies and carry heavier loads than they should be carrying. Ideal weight for a person riding a donkey would be around 50 kgs and for a person riding a mule would be around 80kgs. Should you ever decide to ride one take a good look at yourself first, and then at the poor beast.

In May 2009, a Code of Conduct was introduced to ensure better working conditions for the animals. The Donkey Sanctuary does attempt to enforce this code, but when they don’t look, the abuse continues. Donkey masters beat the animals. The sticks they use to prod the animals have a removable metal tip, like the end of a nail. The donkey masters put on the end of their stick and jab the animals to keep them moving, and then they put it back in their pocket when they don’t need it. Most riders don’t see this because they’re facing forward, with their backs to donkey men.

Incase you are wondering why I said it’s scary and uncomfortable – it’s a donkey!! A small and smelly beast of burden, how comfortable do you think the ride is going to be?

Scary because there is only one narrow path for the donkeys to go both up and down. Donkeys are not known for their lane discipline, in fact there are no lanes so to speak. This path is also shared with pedestrians. There are lots of donkeys jostling for space on the path. It has been likened by many being in a stampede. Did I mention you are on a cliff?

If you are still not convinced, read  this hilarious post on one such  donkey ride.

**The term donkey has been used interchangeable with mule in this post. Mules are different from donkeys. Donkey is a, well donkey. A mule is a hybrid animal. It is the offspring of a jack (male donkey) and a mare (female horse). A mule has more stamina than a donkey.

If you are wondering what the reciprocal cross of a mule is, it’s a hinny. A hinny is the offspring of a stallion (male horse) and a jenny (female donkey).

* Link to original picture. If this picture belongs to you,please let me know if you have any objections to my using it. If not, thank you for letting me use it.

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