Monday, June 16, 2003

Sea Malta

Last I wrote I had just been to the Collosseum and Vatican City. Three things I can say about those places:

1) Breathtaking (seriously, I haven't breathed in like 5 days).
2) Big (really really really big).
3) Germans! (Soooooo many Germans).

I'm summarizing of course. I'll just have to share the pictures and tales in detail when I get home. Where is home, anyway? I was thinking about this. I have no place to live, no job, nothing tying me to anywhere. Maybe I'll flip a coin and pick a city when I get back to the States. But anyway, back to Italy...

I was gonna scrap my plans to see Malta the day I left Rome, but then I got an e-mail from my friend Nick, who was down there, so I decided to check it out.

Well, that was the easy part.

First, I decided to buy a train ticket to Reggio di Calabria, in the very south of Italy. It seemed like a port city and was about as close to Malta as I could get. There were many trains leaving, but most of them arrived late at night. So I decided to take an overnight train and get there in the morning.

Leaving me with 10 hours more in Rome.

Oh, but first things first---I couldn't use my ATM Visa card at the train station. Turns out there was a fraud alert placed on it. Apparently a sudden 2-Euro purchase at a grocery store in Rome causes some alarm. So I got that straightened out first.

I ran into a tourist office employee named Amadeo, who offered to show me some more sights. I'm pretty sure this was not part of his job; I suspect he may have been hitting on me under the guise of "helpful tourist office employee," but he wasn't imposing or shifty or anything. So I took a crazy busride with him to the Fountain at Trevi, The Spanish Steps, a charming little square called Campo di Fiori, and the Pantheon.

I really don't think I can describe accurately how enchanting it felt to be amidst so much history. So, so, so beautiful. Like I said, we'll have to talk over a slide show in the future.

But right across from the Pantheon, in the same little square, sits a McDonald's. Sick. Really sick. But I peaked in at the menu and saw a colorful picture of a salad with ripe red Roma tomatoes and chunks of Mozzarella cheese on it. When in Rome...I guess.

Amadeo (along with every guidebook I'd consulted) warned me not to fall asleep on the train if I wanted to have my luggage in the morning. Ok. I lucked out an ended up in a car with 4 natives of Reggio di Calabria--one young girl, one crazy old man (I'm not just saying that--even the other Italians exchanged "this old guy is crazy" looks. I had to pay close attention to these things because I was now entering the region of Italian-only speakers--body language is everything. That and cherades.), and one young married couple. None of them seemed eager to rob anybody, and I was sitting far from the passageway (where the thieves roam, I suppose), so I felt safe.

The young married couple was in a fight all night, though, which made me a little sad and uncomfortable. See, it wasn't a vocal, let's-have-it-out-and-be-done-with-it fight. I mean, it couldn't be: there were four other people in the room. It was a slow, quiet, awkward, man-touches-knee-of-woman (apologizing and speaking in hushed tones), woman-gives-man-the-cold-shoulder-and-faces-the-window, man-gets-up-and-paces, woman-pretends-she's-asleep, man-comes-back-to-seat-and-tries-again, woman-gives-the-evil-eye, etc., etc. kind of fight. They were friends again by the time we stepped off the train, but still, I was feeling for both of them for the first 6 hours of the ride.

So then. 7:00 a.m. Saturday. Reggio di Calabria. I asked a woman at the train station how to get to Malta (figuring people there must go to Malta all the time), and she sold me another train ticket. I figured this train must go to the port (the ticket was only 1Euro).

I was wrong.

When I figured out I was wrong (luckily, before I actually boarded the train--turns out there's a very nearby town called Malta), I asked her how people get to Malta, the country. She referred me to the travel agency.

Closed. It was Saturday--who would be traveling or making plans to travel on a Saturday? Lesson 1 regarding the south of Italy.

But Reggio was quiet and wonderful, so I wouldn't have minded staying at all. I did want to get to the port, though, just to know what my options were.

And here's where it gets interesting...

I found the bus to the port, which looks nothing like the kind of port where anything other that huge containers of things would be shipped from. I certainly didn't see any family members waiting around to greet arriving passengers. It was something like Long Beach Harbor, but smaller.

There I was referred to a dim, dingy little office where the man in charge of "Sea Malta" was sitting, smoking a cigar. I know, it sounds like a movie, but this whole sequence felt that way for me, so it's fitting.

He told me that "Sea Malta" was a cargo ship, and that I could maybe take it to Malta, but that the priority passengers were Maltese truck drivers and the space was limited.

Don't freak out, Ma. I promise it all turned out well.

He said to come back at 1:00 in the afternoon to find out if there was room for me. The other option was to take a passenger ship the next day that arrived in Malta at 2 in the morning. Whatta dilemma!

I spent a few hours roaming around and trying to communicate with the incredibly friendly people of Reggio di Calabria. Then back to the port.

The man said that there was room, and he took my 55 Euros (roughly 75 dollars or so), along with my passport. He made a copy of the passport, but when I asked for it back, he said I'd get it back later. I squinted and thought about it, and when no female intuition alarms went off, I said "ok," and left. The boat was leaving at 7, and he said to be back by 5. So I went back into town and drank some sort of coconut drink, wrote a quick e-mail to Nick, and went back to the port.

At 3:30 I went back to the office, which was then closed. I wasn't that surprise, since he had told me to go directly to the ship, but this was a crucial sort of moment.

Here I was, walking along this port with my big backpack, sweating like a madwoman. These were my thoughts:

Random American girl, really out-of-place in a quiet cargo port.
Extreme south of Italy.
Speaks no Italian.
Gave a stranger her passport and 55 Euros.
Trusts that the man really does have something to do with this ship.
Trusts the ship really is going to Malta that evening.
Trusts they'll let her on the ship.
Trusts nothing bad will happen to her on the ship.
Trusts she'll get her passport back.

Needless to say, I felt a little apprehensive.

When I got to the ship, there were nothing but men standing around all over the place. They looked at me like I was a leprechaun. I suppose I seemed a little out-of-place to them, too. I picked the one who looked closest to my age and asked him what to do (hand motioned, really) if I was supposed to take that ship. He pointed to the steps and told me to get aboard.

"Okaaaaay. Grazie." (Said, turning slowly toward the ship with raised eyebrow)

Imagine my relief when, walking up the rickety steps, I noticed a 40's-something blonde woman on board. I spoke to her and her husband, and all my fears dissolved instantly. She was from Sweden and her husband from Malta, and their 18-year-old son was there, too. She said they take the boat all the time, and that it's very safe and I'd have my own sleeper room with a lock and the use of a shower, dinner provided, and breakfast in the morning.

It was all true.

There were only 3 actual truckers on board, and they were the friendliest people I'd met so far. We all (the truckers and the family and I) had dinner together (pasta, the best food I'd eaten since I arrived), drank wine, and told stories (they all spoke English--English is one of the two official languages of Malta), and I had the soundest sleep I'd had in a week. It was a random, rare, and beautiful experience.

The Mediterranean, glowing under the light of a near-full moon--just imagine.

And it turns out they needed to hold onto the passport for the Maltese customs agents to have a gander at when we arrived.

So, like I said... Hi. I'm in Malta.

And more on Malta later.

For now I'll just say that everybody should try to make it here at some point. It's a gem of a place, and a pretty well-kept secret (except from the Germans--they seem to have found out about it :)

I'm off to collect my laundry, and then to the beach.

Greetings to all my friends and family. I miss and love you all. And I'm still the happiest girl in the world :)

No comments: