Posted by: sibyllemeder | October 4, 2011

Travels in a country in crisis – part 1

It is 10 p.m. and I have been awake for 20 hours, spent 4 of them on a plane with my knees firmly folded up to my ears because stupidly I forgot to reserve extra leg room, and since I arrived in Rhodes I have had more than the yearly frappé intake of the average Greek male.

“No, sorry”, the man behind the reception says and looks at me as if I had lost my marbles. He knows me, I’ve stayed at his hotel more often than I care to remember – and usually the lack of ferry connections has something to do with it. But there will be a ferry tonight, I know that for sure. I’ve got the ticket in my bag.

When I enquire why on earth he can’t call me a taxi to the harbour, he utters: “But, the strike!”

Stupid, really. Every German I met “knew” that the Greeks are on strike “every single day of the year” and that the country is on the verge of collapse – they had seen it all on German TV. I must have forgotten, because people here are going about their normal business, and no one has “I have no health insurance and a pension of 200 euros” written on their forehead – even though it might be true.

It’s 10.30 p.m. by now, my ferry leaves at 11, it’s a half-hour walk to the harbour and I’ve got a suitcase and a bag whose weight has increased with every hour I had to kill, not sleeping. All this means: I panic.

At the sea front parked alongside the restaurant tables is a bus! A regular Rhodes council bus!

Pulling and pushing my luggage, I reach the bus door, panting, and gasp at the man behind the wheel: “Where are you going?”

He shakes his head and motions towards the rear. “Back door, please. You can’t get on here with your bags.”

“Yes, ok, but WHERE ARE YOU GOING?”, I scream.

“You are upset, young lady!”

Hm, how could he tell?

Getting on, I fall over my suitcase in the dimly-lit bus, swear and shout, so that the grandmother in the seat behind me tuts.

“Are you ok, girl?”, the driver shouts. No!

I finally pay my fare and have to shake the driver’s hand, do a high-five and promise, that I will calm down.

“Smile, pretty girl!”, he says. Fortunately, I know better than to snap at him.

Deflated I sit in my seat at the front. I can’t face the lady in the back and her disapproving looks. Now the engine starts up and the driver says: “You want to go to the harbour? I’ll get you there!”

At the last word, he jams his foot on the pedal, the bus lurches forward and we drive at high speed along the winding harbour front of Rhodes medieval town.

“The best bus on Rhodes and the worst driver!”, the man screams through the open window, turns the tape deck on and Greek dance music blasts through the bus. He turns towards me and asks: “Where are you going?”

“Harbour”, I holler over the violins.

“No, which island?”

“Tilos!”

“Ah, I’ve got a friend there!”
Of course!

He turns and hands me his card which identifies him as a fishmonger. The mobile phone number is crossed out and a new one pencilled in. He’d probably continue explaining whom he knows on Tilos if it wasn’t for the other bus coming towards us sounding its horn. Our driver stops abruptly, bags and children tumble through the aisle, and the two drivers have a window-to-window chat.

“Yes, we are running the place now!”, our driver exclaims at the end of the conversation, sounds his own horn and off we go again, winding our way right towards the harbour gate.

I try to stand up and get my luggage, but the driver shrieks: “What are you doing?” and turns at breakneck speed into the harbour areal.

We bump over the dusty pavement towards the dock, past lorries and sleepy dogs. Another blast of the bus horn and at the back of the dock the dark form of the ship Diagoras hovers.

I am still trying to catch my breath and push the record button of the camera as we come to a halt right in front of the ship!

“The best bus on Rhodes!”, the driver yells. As I stumble with my baggage onto the dock, he leans out of his window and asks politely: “You feel better now?”

I’m not sure how I feel – and the bemused seamen to my left and right seem to share the sentiment as we all stand and watch the bus disappear along the dock, sounding the horn once more and vanishing into the night.


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