I truly didn’t know what I was in for when I rode the bus to the ferry terminal in Brindisi, Italy. I had a reservation and knew the time of departure and the destination. Patras, Greece.
The ferry terminal is surrounded by a large industrial zone, and all I could see when I got off the bus were lots of semi-trailer trucks, very large semi-trailer trucks. Hundreds of them. I couldn’t see any passenger terminal. I was the only passenger on the bus and I wondered if he’d dropped me off at the wrong location.
I found a security guard and asked him “Grimaldi?” as clearly as I could. Grimaldi is the name of the ferry company. Late afternoon in southern Italy is hot and everyone takes a siesta. I was lucky to find the security guard. He pointed in one direction so I started walking. Lots and lots of pavement and enough semi-trailer trucks to fill many football fields several times over.
Well, the reason I didn’t spot the passenger terminal when the bus driver dropped me off is because I’m short and semi-trailers are tall. I couldn’t see past them, but indeed there was a passenger terminal off in the distance. (Why didn’t the bus driver drop me off over there?)
There were a few other passengers inside the terminal, mostly Italians I think. And a couple of families. We were allowed to embark at 6 pm. I asked the clerk where to find the ferry because I hadn’t seen it in my hike across the sea of semi-trailers. He smiled, and spoke good English, and said “It’s the only boat out there, and it’s really, really big. You won’t miss it.”
Again, it’s all a matter of perspective. If you’re a small woman, and everything around you are tall trucks, you won’t see the horizon or any large boats.
Maybe I should have just waited for the handful of other passengers and followed them. But they seemed to be more interested in sitting and talking (Italian? Greek?) so I started walking again in the direction of the water. The ferry had to be somewhere near the water.
After passing a row of semi-trailers, I spotted the water and the ferry, the very large ferry. It was gleaming white and I counted 6 or 7 floors (or decks). How could I have missed it? It was huge. As I got closer, the ferry got larger and larger, and noiser and noiser. I found my way onboard all by myself. The other passengers were still in the terminal I guess. I was directed to the 6th level up an elevator, and put my suitcase against the wall. Then I went out on deck. (I never leave my backpack anywhere …. that stays with me!)
For the next 3 hours, I watched the crew direct traffic, loading the semi-trailers onboard one-by-one. It was carefully choreographed, each driver following directions from the crew, except for one who wanted to cut in and promptly got chewed out. They were very tightly packed together. It was amazing to see.
The passengers watched on deck with me but shortly after we got underway at 9:30 pm, most of the passengers disappeared. Undoubtedly, they had reserved cabins. I peaked inside one of those cabins — pretty swanky furniture and beds.
I’m traveling on a shoestring (a single shoestring) and there are no cabins in my budget. I went to the bar and found many of the truck drivers. These guys come in all sizes, but mostly large, like their semi-trailers. Loud voices, Italian and Greek I suspect. Gruff appearance but acting like big teddy bears. And most of them were glued to the soccer game (futbol) on the television on the wall.
I took out my book (Carlo Levi’s “Christ Stopped at Eboli”) and started reading. There were a couple of other women in the sea of men, but they looked like wives or girlfriends of the truckers and no one was speaking English. I was definitely a fish out of this water, but I enjoyed the sense of camaraderie and cheering. Their team was doing well.
About 11:00 pm I went up to the bar, waiting for my turn to buy a beer. I asked the trucker next to me “How much?” … not sure if he would understand me. He spoke broken English, offered to buy me a beer because truck drivers get a good discount on the ferry. I thanked him and we clinked our bottles with a “salud” before retreating to our chairs.
Ferries aren’t the best place to sleep, unless perhaps you have a cabin. I dozed off in my lounge chair for about 4 hours until the loudspeaker announced at 4 am that we were arriving in Igoumenitsa, Greece. I went out on the deck and watched the activities as the ferry came into dock. Some motorcyclists and trucks disembarked, along with a few of the passengers.
I suspect one of the truckers overslept because they kept announcing his name over the loudspeaker and telling him to go to his truck immediately. (In 4 or 5 different languages!)
We arrived in the port of Patras, Greece about 4 PM Sunday afternoon. Very hot and bright, bright light. I disembarked from the garage level along with the semi-trailers, a very intimidating experience. I walked alone across a sea of pavement again until I arrived at the passenger terminal. (They really should designate a pedestrian path to the terminal at least instead of making us compete with the semi-trailers.) I wouldn’t be surprised to learn about pedestrian fatalities at these ferry ports.
Outside, sitting at the bus stop with two young men (an Italian and an Iranian), I saw a group of 4 or 5 young men run past. They were very thin, drenched in sweat, looking in every direction as they ran across the yard in front of the terminal. A few minutes later, I saw another group run across. My companions at the bus stop confirmed for me, they were Syrian refugees hoping to find a way onto the ferry.
Within 15 minutes of landing in Greece, I’d met my first refugees.