I just kind of rolled into Crete having departed Athens on a whim and a prayer. A bunch of us had spent the previous few months ‘ running the trains’ for the Hostels of Athens and were experiencing rather a lot of hallucinations and desolation in our souls. A late night meeting with the mysterious Dimitris was to furnish us with enough information to plan a trip.
We all emerged from the Athens Metro at Piraeus, sweating madly, temperatures in Athens had been in the 40’s for two months now.
We charged on board and straight up onto the top deck. We found an unoccupied corner and threw our bags down on top of five or six scattered sleeping-bags. A collective sigh was issued and all was well for a brief minute. Lethargy didn’t have a chance to take hold as we greedily popped tops of great bottles of Metaxa brandy and slugged beauteous swigs in defiance of order. Julie and Nikkie were bickering about a pair of shoes that had been left behind, but apart from that sweetness was on our tongues and all around. Andy and Ian were preparing sandwiches for all, carving hunks of cheese onto thick slices of bread. We would eat well. Julie decided that it was pondo time. We all grunted in agreement.
Around three and a half bottles of brandy had gone down by 10pm .The sun had long set , I stood staring out at the black sea with wonder. The lights of Athens had receded, giving the stars a chance to breathe. Vast stretches of sparkling imagery cascaded upon the surface of the Aegean on that moonless night . I swayed over the boat’s rails and laughed out loud. All was so fucking beautiful . I had tears flooding my eyes and I loved it. Nikkie and Andy had rigged up a walkman to two small speakers and Simple Minds was warbling out: We’re on the road to nowhere…. , we sang. The trouble was that we sang it a hundred times in the next hour. We didn’t care. Julie had shared out the pondoes. These were slimming pills, easily available in Greece, which consisted of nearly pure amphetamine. We loved it, I mean , we didn’t really need it, but it just kind of gave us that extra kick , and it did…
And we sang our way through all the ‘lost’ anthems of our time, and of any time for that matter. Adam reeled, drunk before his time. We wrapped him in his sleeping bag and laughed as he fell asleep, mumbling. Andy disappeared with a young Greek girl.
We’re on the road to nowhere… , we sang. And it was beautiful as the stars and moon held their own as we shunted through the surf. Julie turned to me and smiled the big ‘cheshire cat’ grin which showed that the drugs and drink were kicking in.
wonder what Julian and Joe are up to now?
Julian and Joe had been with us last Saturday at the Daphni Wine Festival. Their day had started with the slipping of a note under a door which read: Senoritas , please come with us to vino festibal tonight por fabor . The two Spanish recipients had gone with them and had duly gotten drunk and intimate. The next morning Joe and Julian, who I counted as my best friends in Athens, had taken the metro with their senoritas to the port to wave goodbye. Now these Auzzies were well into the leap of absurdity which we all held so dear. Hence I was not too surprised to receive a call one day from Spiros, boss of the hotel in which they worked.
Eh, Som, Julian is with you? , a worried Spiros ventured.
No, I haven’t seen him since last night , I replied.
It transpired that Joe and Julian had hysterically leapt on board the departing boat. The two Spanish girls had been both shocked and flattered at the sight of two shoeless and penniless madmen following them onto the boat. A search the next day had confirmed the fact that they had left with nothing. Those of us who knew them were not too surprised. They came back three weeks later ; still shoeless and newly jobless.
Now it was a mad time in Athens those days. About 13 youth-hostels vied for the trade of maybe 3000 travellers a day. These tourists entered Greece by bus, boat and train. The vast majority were on some sort of Euro-rail or Inter-rail ticket by which means one could enjoy unlimited train travel throughout Europe for a specified amount of time. Trains left Munich and Venice daily for the 36hour trip to Athens. The trains were hot, crowded and stinking. Around an hour outside Athens the bedraggled travellers would be assailed by us. We, on behalf of our very unofficial Youth-hostels would have spent some time and effort in preparation.
Perhaps twenty assorted nationalities would catch the train an hour north from Athens. It was a beautiful ride; the train snaking through steep, pine-strewn gorges before spitting us out at Oinoi station. Here we would sit out back and drink. Man we would pour vast quantities of wine and beer down our throats. It was fucking great there. It was, and probably still is, a real hick backwater kind of cowboy village. The village had its raison d’être in its station. As the modern express trains from Europe’s heartland pulled in to its revamped, we would be sittin drinking Retsina and munching on simple salads round the back. Farmers, heavy lidded characters, gruffly pulling on tarry cigarettes, barely acknowledged us as we shot ‘quarters’ into glasses and drunk some more. Stephan from Sweden would pull out his guitar and sing an old jail blues number from his past. This was maybe as close as anyone of us got to each other’s pasts. We just sort of accepted each other as companions without further ado. Looking back we were all lost; from the Army deserter from Germany, to the drunk from Milwaukee to the soon to be student in myself-we were each lost in our own way and we made a living guiding all these very together people about-crazy really.
Anyway we were out of town and all was sweet. The sun had long disappeared under the sea and I made my way along the deck in a kind of happy-fool way. I stumbled upon a crowd of soldiers. In Greece they still have conscripts and hence the army is a rather different prospect than that of the rest of the civilised road. They skank and laugh, just like real people; yet always they are a little sad- they miss their mothers,; they miss their villages and they miss the post-pubescent girls with whom they grew up. All that aside they are good company and I eagerly swigged at their bottle and laughed with them a while.
By now the wind was whipping up and the sea sparkled with stars sparkled with a benign merriment. It was time for a snooze. I staggered along the deck and crashed.
I awoke with a start. Someone was tonguing my ear. arrgh, fuck off Andy I muttered
My mouth felt as if someone had taken a shit in it. So I wandered along the deck in the half-light and managed to find toothbrush and paste in my bags. The toilet reeked of a very bad sort of crap and I nearly retched as I swilled my mouth out. Out on deck the night was still black. The ferry belched out huge vibrations into the darkness. A noticeable change of the engine noise was discernable. Looking out into the night I made out small lights. These lights grew in size and brightness as we chugged on. The night air took on a sudden chill. Soon we had passed into the loving arms of the harbour walls and the world woke up. A final blast of the ship’s horn echoed back from the island and myriad dockworkers ran and shouted and flung stuff around. All seemed to be going according to plan. Thick wet ropes creaked and sprayed out water as they took the strain. The car deck’s gangway was lowered, and finally the gangplank. Almost immediately a deluge of feet and tyres hit the shore. I shouted to Julie to gather the posse. All present and accounted for. We disembarked.
20 minutes later you will find us in a café. The last trucks continue to trundle past from the boat. It seems that the temperature has risen 20’ in the last half hour.
The phrase: what’s it going to be then, eh? came to mind. We had made it this far; plan-less, yet vital.