On any other day, to be woken up in the morning by a large Greek man banging on my door, unlocking it with his own key, and yelling in my face to get out of bed, might have caused me some distress. But under the circumstances, I could not have been more grateful for the man’s behavior. The ferry to Paros Island was making its final call to board. There would not be another boat to Paros for a week. And apparently, in order for the “snooze” alarm to work on this particular travel alarm clock, one must physically turn on the snooze function when setting it.
I was on my third day of travel, which started in Buffalo, NY. It wasn’t supposed to take this long, but a March freeze had kept me on the runway in JFK for over 5 hours before the airline released us back into the airport, generously bestowing upon us tiny bags of pretzels and apologizing that there were no more hotel rooms left to give us, as many other flights had also been cancelled. I spent the night trying to find a way to keep warm on the tiled airport floor, but it seemed that no matter how I laid my spare clothes over my body, there was always a small portion of my back or side exposed to the chill of the room. I did not sleep at all.
When McDonald’s opened early in the morning, I got a tea, not so much to drink, but to hold, to warm my body while I sat and waited to be told what to do next. Apparently, chill had been the ONLY thing keeping me awake, because as I sat there with the tea in my hand, I slowly drifted off into a very short-lived sleep. I was jolted awake by a scalding burn of spilt tea all over my lap, and decided that it was perhaps time to find some strong coffee and simply stay awake until I arrived at my destination.
I spent a long day in the airport, mostly waiting in lines. In time, I eventually reached London, and then Athens, Greece. I was ripped off by a taxi driver on my way to the ferry port (some day I will tell you a series of nightmare taxi stories, but not now). And finally, I purchased my ticket to my final island destination and boarded the ferry.
“Welcome to Syros!” the man at the customer service desk said to me with a thickly accented politeness that evening. I was crushed. I watched the ferry I had just gotten off of fade away into the distance, set down the luggage that had been my heavy burden these past two days of travel mishaps, and I started to cry. The man did not know what to do with me.
I had entered the Blue Star building to speak with the customer service representative when my professor had failed to pick me up from the port. This was, of course, before smart phones and easily available international calling plans. These were the days of calling cards and complicated airport pay phones. He knew I was coming, but here I was, alone on the island, and clueless. I did not know where my housing was. I did not know where the school was. I only knew that my professor (whom I had yet to meet in person) was to meet me at the port and to show me where I was to stay while attending the study abroad program on Paros Island. Paros. Not Syros. I guess I didn’t think of ferry rides like busses… having multiple stops. I thought of them more like your typical plane ride: you have a starting point, a destination, and when the boat stops, you get off. In part, I was relieved. I had only gotten off on the wrong island. It could have been worse. The entire study abroad program could have been a scam and I, having already paid my tuition and travelled to Europe, could have found myself in quite a mess. Or worse even, I could have been the victim of some intricate kidnapping scheme, to be picked up on some Greek island and never again heard of from my family again. Scenes from Taken spun through my head as I had stood waiting for my ride. But no, I just got off at the wrong island.
I composed myself for the timid, slightly nervous man behind the counter who had simply stared at me as I cried and unaffectedly stammered something along the lines of: “Please don’t do that.” I asked when the next ferry would be leaving for Paros, and found out that it left first thing in the morning. I used his phone to get in touch with the study abroad program, and had him book me a room nearby. The night was peaceful, uneventful. I had a small balcony overlooking the water and the street below. I slept deeply and morning came quickly. Enter large Greek man and ensuing panic.
I smile to recall the man who grabbed my bags and ushered me out of his small hotel, while explaining that he stayed up most of the night watching movies because he was worried that I would not catch my ferry (I must have had that look about me, that lost bird look). It was almost as if he were mad at me, as if I had offended him, by being so careless as to accidentally sleep-in when he had invested so much of his evening worrying about me.
I did make the ferry, un-showered and just in time. As I stepped onto the boat, the large door began to raise, playing that happy little tune that anyone who has taken a ferry in the Greek Isles knows. I made it to my island, and my professor met me.
We had a nice breakfast and I was brought to my housing. I had my own room, and my own little balcony. I had a lemon tree within arm’s reach, and was allowed to pick from it whenever I wanted. I had many peaceful mornings ahead of me, many long walks, many opportunities to get lost over and over again, or perhaps to accidentally find new places I didn’t know existed, to find longer, more adventurous ways home.
Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.
– Ray Bradbury