No-Man’s Lands: One Man’s Odyssey through The Odyssey
Excerpt from Chapter 8
AS A SOLITARY TRAVELER, WITH A BACKPACK AND NO SET PLANS, you place your trust in help – from other travelers, from locals, from the gods.
“It doesn’t matter,” you say to yourself. “There’s always room for one more – no matter how busy the town, how crowded the resort, how inauspicious the time of year, how late or unexpected my arrival, there will always be one more room for me, and I will always manage to find it.”
If you think about it, you are also saying “The room will cost a price I am willing to pay and will be in an area I consider at least minimally safe.” You probably make several dozen other presumptions, growing increasingly specific, and if you thought it through, the prospect of finding an acceptable room might turn daunting.
Thus you don’t think it through – you show up, with your backpack and your guidebooks; you walk the streets and hope to find the tourist office; you discuss the destination with your fellow travelers aboard train and bus and ferry. Above all, you trust: there’s always room for one more. And usually there is.
So when I took the train from Trapani [toward the Aeolian islands] it didn’t worry me that I hadn’t lined up a place to stay. In fact, I had not yet even chosen which island to visit, so my research inconclusively filled a couple hours as the north coast of Sicily slid by the train windows: cedars, apartments, blue and white fishing boats pulled up on rocky shores, and an occasional smattering of palm umbrellas.
By the time I started seeing the Aeolians offshore I was still considering the archipelago, weighing various options; I had made no decision when I got off the train in Milazzo, the port city on the northeast-Sicilian shore, visited almost exclusively by people catching ferries.
The train dumped me into a madhouse of red-faced, shouting Italians pulling huge suitcases behind them and carrying snorkeling gear. This was July, high season. Like most Europeans, Italians take their vacation time seriously, and island beaches are just as attractive to them as to anyone else. Even Mediterraneans like a Mediterranean vacation.
Different companies sell tickets out of different offices to different ferries, which depart for different islands from different piers, according to sometimes-accurate schedules that are sometimes posted in sometimes easily viewed places in offices that are always about to close. Thus when I tumbled off the train I joined a noisy throng, fighting for positions on shuttle buses, from there rushing to the waterfront en masse, crashing like waves against the doors of various ferry offices, some of which closed for lunch in our faces.
The time for choice had arrived, and in the crush I made it fast. I chose the first ferry out.
I emerged from the madness with a ticket to the closest island, and after an hour aboard a hydrofoil arrived on the tiny quay of Vulcano, just after noon on a Saturday in late July. I was again surrounded by tourists, squinting into the sun, dragging their luggage and scanning for signs for their hotels.
The wall I sat upon girded a little sparsely trafficked circle, in the middle of which was a low, dark statue – of Aeolus, represented drawing the winds around him like a cloak. Great: I had found Aeolus, but I still had no place to sleep. Considering what came next, this could not have been more appropriate.
Not a Strong Start
So far Odysseus has been away from Troy barely a month – a couple weeks dithering around leaving Troy, a week or so getting blown across the Mediterranean, a couple days apiece with the Cyclops and Cicones, an afternoon with the Lotus Eaters. And in that month he has managed to not only annoy, with the rest of the Greeks, his patron goddess Athena, but to massively offend her even more powerful uncle, Poseidon.
He asks for directions.
Heading towards a beach camping area that I thought might provide at least some shade and perhaps a public toilet, I passed a wooden post outside a little tiki-hut shop that rented scooters and bicycles.
On it I saw the little white “i” on a blue field that is the international symbol for information, and the words “English! Deutsch! Francais!,” all with happy little exclamation points.
It was, literally, a sign. Sweating, miserable, and at wit’s end, I followed Odysseus’s model. I walked in, dropped my pack in front of the table that served as a counter, and spoke a single word: “Help.”
“I’m not really looking for a scooter,” I said. “Just a room for the night.”
She brightened. “Oh! Like a bed and breakfast!” she said. “Would that be okay?”
Buy this book from Amazon No-Man's Lands: One Man's Odyssey Through The Odyssey
Scott Huler has written on everything from the death penalty to bikini waxing, from NASCAR racing to the stealth bomber, for such newspapers as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Los Angeles Times and such magazines as Backpacker, Fortune, and Child. His award-winning radio work has been heard on "All Things Considered" and "Day to Day" on National Public Radio and on "Marketplace" and "Splendid Table" on American Public Media.
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