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Published: March 4th 2010
29th May ‘09:
Finding a football stadium without a map is reasonably simple. A DAF garage on Thrakis Street, Patras, however, is quite another matter. Spaznavs and Autoroute 2007 are next to useless down here; one has to use “the force” instead. Or buy a map. Although a map is a sensible, well-founded notion in, say London or Berlin, this is Greece - and they use funny letters to confound us. A Patras map does exist - with streets marked in the Roman alphabet - but the index is in Greek. We’re stumped. Patras is not a small hamlet of half a dozen avenues.
The solution, then, is for Little Dick to scout ahead, paying a taxi driver to lead the way, and to call me with garbled directions. Voila, Namibian and I arrive with a minimum of fuss. All three of us are having our air-conditioning fixed - it is becoming warm in the Mediterranean now - and we're in a hurry. We've a boat to catch. Immediately grasping the need for haste, the mechanics make coffee and we all sit down for a little chat before fixing those nasty, dirty lorries.
Two technicians - the colour
of spanked walnuts, if such things existed - squabble obstreperously. The shorter of the two is wearing a white apron, looking a little like an ice-cream vendor. They size each other up, which is funny because even drawn up to their full height, and shod in heels, neither of them reach my chin. Gimlet-eyed, with deeply tanned brows, they continue to bicker and I wonder if there's any chance somebody might run a retina over my truck this morning. This isn't a social call.
Finally we’re away, filling up with cheap diesel and weaving an unconventional route to Patras docks. Organ donors (motorcyclists without helmets) buzz around, making a nuisance of themselves as we follow a tortuous route to the ferry. Namibian lets rip with some pretty colourful street vocabulary over the radio, which surprises me as he's filming this part of the journey for his parents. 'I pressed pause,' he explains.
The port is pandemonium. What a frightful system they have in place for booking onto a boat! Perhaps it would be simpler if we were boarding a domestic ferry over to one of the Greek islands. But no, we’re long-distance, rock and roll sort of chaps,
so it’s a twenty-one hour journey to Italy for us. And check-in, of course, is dripping with inconvenience.
We drive into the port and park. Even this bit isn’t blindingly obvious; an awful lot of ships seem to be knocking about here - or moored, I suppose one should say. But the nice thing about bumbling along near the back of the fleet is that there are generally at least a dozen black trucks to look out for. Aha, there they are! Right, now we have to walk about a mile - it is only a hundred yards as the crow flies - to the booking office, shadowing interminable wire fences. Cor, Namibian is peeved, to say the least - this is some serious walking in his book, and the word ‘taxi’ is being bandied about for the return journey.
When we return, we’re advised to check underneath and inside our trailers, and on the roofs of our trucks. This is a port renowned for lurking Albanians, hitching clandestinely and routinely. So, vigilantly, Namibian takes a look round my truck for me - Wrecker Jon and I are in the middle of an important chat about the rigours
of our Russian adventure in 2001. In short, I’m kinda busy.
Ah, travelling to Italy by sea: heavenly. Tour truckers lounge on the top deck, admiring Namibian’s backstroke technique in the swimming pool. It is puerile, of course, to yell 'tsunami' as he bellyflops into the water, but funny nonetheless. In fact, I’m still chuckling as I type. But onto a serious note: lounging with beers, and a topless Namibian, we make plans for a 7pm dinner. However, nobody knows whether the ship is on Greek or Italian time.
To compound the confusion, some drivers are still on British time, and Jon and I bemoan our jetlag from the forty-minute flight yesterday. And as we dock temporarily in Igoumenitsa on Greece’s west coast, I receive two startling text messages: ‘Welcome to Albania' and 'Welcome to Iceland'. What’s going on?
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