Traveling from the Greek islands by ferry boat should qualify as an extreme sport. I think Ulysses had an easier time making his way to Ithaca. There are probably about 1500 people on the Blue Star Ferry this afternoon returning to Piraeus, the port of Athens. It arrives an hour late from some other island (Rhodes? Cos?) and the throngs of passengers accumulate outside the gates. Motorcycles must be let by. They roll noisily up the plank. We are careful not to be run over. Cars must be let by too. We make our slow ascent on foot.
We have suitcases to roll and Irma (the dog) to watch plus laptops, sleeping bag, whatnot. After I make my way up the stairs, I have to find my seat. Thankfully I have an assigned seat. But finding it is another story. This is a huge boat. There are air seat areas that look like an airplane, cafes where people sprawl, and chairs that passengers grab and set wherever they feel comfortable, inside and out. There are also cabins and luxury cabins. That's what I want! But - alas! - I don't have one. My seat is good though. Maria on the other hand has to stay outside because of Irma.
After settling down with my baggage, I embark on a search for Maria. Up and down the ship I go, in and out. Finally I find her on the upper deck which is in the open, sitting at a big table with a couple of guys and Irma at her side. There is a Pakistani young man and a Bulgarian drinking gin and coke, smoking. Besides her, against a wall, there is a group of gypsies on the floor, adults and children. This is Maria's milieu: she works with refugees, immigrants, and especially gypsies. They like Irma and offer her treats.
The voyage is almost four hours long. I spend some time in my seat daydreaming and then find the "a la carte" restaurant where I indulge on spaghetti bolognese and white wine. Night has fallen. The full moon astonishes us as we sit on the deck with Maria and Irma and, of course, a whole lot of other people. When the annoucement is made that soon we will be arriving to the port the majority of the 1500 people start to walk towards the doors and a crowd forms. A crowd always forms when passengers must disembark in one of these ferries. They can't wait to get out of there and the competition to be first is fierce.
We wait. What's the point? It will take a while, a long while, before everyone has to be off. By the time I make it to the bottom of the stairs a crowd pushing to get in greets me. Wait a minute! Let me off first! Where are these people going? It's 11 pm. It turns out the boat leaves in a half hour for Rhodes. A trip that will last 11, yes eleven, hours. Holy mackerel! I push with suitcase and bag in hand making sure not to lose sight of Maria.
And we are off the boat, on the ground, in the port. Taxis, buses, cars, motorcycles, all around us. We find our ride - Maria's boyfriend - and are able to leave the port fairly quickly. When I get home I am so exhausted I can't even talk. Tired of traveling I long for my home. My bed. My husband.
Traveling sounds better than it is, I think sometimes. Imagining the journey always trumps the reality of it. Or almost always. I like to plan the voyage and imagine where I'll go and what I'll see. I enjoy reliving the voyage when I return and telling friends about it, recalling incidents and episodes. But actually experiencing it is another thing altogether. Why do I do it? To write about it, of course.
It offers me words filled with sounds and colors and tastes and smells. The voyage lives better in the mind.