Back to earth with a bang. ‘It’s good to be back in civilisation’ is a maxim not in my lexicon.
Boarding the bus from Lafkada to Igoumenitsa, the driver enquired as I boarded whether I was going to the ‘terminal’ or the ‘port’. I assumed that the port was the same as the ferry terminal so I replied ‘port’ and for good measure threw in as rapidly as he threw my backpack into the bus, ‘ferry’. This pointed conversation proved rather pointless as the bus drew up at the bus terminal and it was immediately and obviously the first, last and only stop! I asked about the ferry terminal to Brindisi as I alighted and he gestured predictably towards the sea. He smoked continuously as he drove. I feel a letter coming on.
The road to Igoumenitsa hugs the coast and was quite delightful in some ways the Greek equivalent to our Great Ocean Road although not as scenically spectacular. Rolling hills and mountains drop down to the coast, the vegetation being being rather scrub like with an occasional pencil pine lots of olive trees and even a number of recognisable eucalypts. The roadsides are planted with never ending oleander shrubs which compete with wild olive trees, tall suffocating clumps of what appears to be bamboo and all fighting for survival from dense suffocating overgrowing weeds.
Forlorn groves of very old olive trees are unkempt and what were once majestic trees with huge trunks and graceful branches have all been unprofessionally severely lopped and so the overall appearance is of oxymoronic life size bonsai! It was explained to me that over the past few years the cost of heating oil has sky-rocketed so the trees have been plundered to provide firewood. Which reminds me that at medical school we we taught that a good method to assess immediate recall was to ask your patient to repeat after me the sentence : ‘One thing a nation needs to be rich and powerful is a large and plentiful supply of firewood’….. And so 40 years later here I am in Greece with an undeniable supply of firewood but devoid of wealth.
Amongst these olive groves are wild sown fig and pomegranate trees. I think I should plant a pomegranate when I return.
Most Greek towns and cities are dirty, dusty and half finished. Paved footpaths peter out into weed infested stoney gravel, rusty steel reinforced concrete columns loom like skeletons suffocated to death by the weeds and plastic. One could be forgiven for thinking that the Greeks had run out of money? Yet the bars and taverna spring to life after 8:30pm and money is tossed around as freely as the cigarettes and alcohol.
I wander aimlessly along the docks as ferries arrive and depart, waiting for my ferry which leaves at 1 am and as I do, I reminisce that I was about to embark upon this same ferry journey from Greece to Brindisi 40 years go. On that occasion I was violently seasick.
Suddenly the night sky becomes a monstrous disco light of soundless lightning. After about half an hour ominous thunder heralds the approaching storm, then an eerie silent pregnant pause. One huge drop of rain splatters on my head then another and like a woman in labour the ‘waters break’ and in less than a minute I am delivered to the terminus saturated.
It is 1am Monday morning. The dock has an eerie blackness yet huge floodlights tower over the port and cast dancing glistening shadows on the wet oily tarmac and the pools of freshwater from the now passed deluge. It’s like a scene out of a 1950 s black and white gangster picture and I mean ‘picture’ because they were pictures then and certainly not movies!
I watch fascinated as the huge lorries of which there seems to be hundreds are skillfully reversed into the seemingly insatiable cargo bays. I try to stay awake till the ferry is ready to depart but it is a losing battle and I return to my cabin and am sound asleep within minutes waking as sunlight pours through the porthole around 7:30am. Such a diametrically different experience to the first time I travelled.
I am told that my cabin ticket entitles me to a ‘Business Breakfast’. Devoid of money I choose my usual mouse like menu of yoghurt, a soggy, saggy croissant, one fried egg on which the sun has never sided up or sided down and a rasher of greasy bacon. To my shock the cashier demands money! The bacon and egg combo is not included. I have no cash on me I explain and he waves me through as there is rapidly building up behind me a queue of morbidly obese Koreans. They are like tubs of Flora Margarine.
The European plug with integrated 4 USB charging ports, purchased in Australia has died! I am literally and figuratively powerless and in the next few hours will have a dead iPhone. This impeding catastrophe is worse than withdrawing from heroin addiction and going cold turkey to boot.