Our series on thoroughbred horses is galloping toward the finish line, which is the perfect spot to see how hard these horses work. American Pharaoh, living in luxurious stables and spending his days making whoopee is the equine dream, but the reality for most thoroughbreds is day after day of hard work.
Seeing these thoroughbreds training and racing inspired a conversation about animals that actually work for a living. And the hardest working animals that we’ve seen were the genetic cousins of Kentucky’s racehorses; the donkeys who labor day-to-day on the island of Santorini in Greece.
Santorini’s two main tourist villages, Thira and Oia, are perched on the precipitous edge of a huge collapsed volcanic caldera (and a still-active volcano). The backsides of both of these villages are on the steep slope leading up to the caldera, but many of the cities’ buildings are clinging to the cliffs on the nearly vertical drop to the sea.
This incredibly scenic combination of topography and architecture has drawn tourists for decades, and while it’s breathtaking to see, it presents certain challenges when it comes to day-to-day living.
We visited Santorini in late November, which is their tourist low season. And because the island is so dependent on income from tourism, this is the time of year when much of the building repair and renovation takes place.
Modern, paved roads only go so far up the backside of the caldera hill, and then the steep, narrow, cobbled stairs and paths begin snaking their way down into the caldera. So if you’re renovating a small home on the escarpment, how are construction debris and building materials moved without vehicles? This is where the incredibly hard-working donkeys take over.
Time and again on our walks, we had to duck off the path to give way to a mini-caravan of overloaded donkeys clip-clopping up the hill. Normally their driver was in the rear shouting orders, and the obedient donkeys (which understand more Greek than I do) wind their way through the maze of paths loaded with sand, rocks, and construction debris.
For the farm-raised folks out there, this may not seem unusual at all, but for folks who are accustomed to gas-powered vehicles, it’s unusual to see domestic animals truly work for a living. We slogged up these same paths, and it’s hard to imagine how difficult it must be doing it on a daily basis and loaded with hefty bags of concrete.
It’s easy to judge, but ultimately, it’s hard to argue with a system that has worked effectively for decades. The drivers aren’t cruel, and the donkeys are well fed and cared for. Essentially, they’re an old-fashioned solution to a modern problem.
James & Terri
3. Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia Commons
5. The Santorini Experience