Getting Over to Chios

Trip Start Feb 08, 2008
Trip End Sep 11, 2009

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Flag of Turkey  , Izmir,
Monday, February 9, 2009

This entry may be boring to those not interested in the mundane, nitty gritty, just nuts and bolts of travel stuff. But, actually, there is a lot: travel, coincidences, harried timing, crossing the sea and a border. A Day in the Life.

On Sunday, February 8th, I took an over-night train to return to Izmir after  a couple of weeks on a "side trip" to Ankara. I needed to leave Turkey by Tuesday the 10th as my 90-day Tourist Visa was to expire on that date. One merely needs to leave the country in order to come back across the border for another visa. In this case I was going to cross to the near Greek island of Chios.

To make  it quick and simple I checked into a “low budget” hotel one block from the Izmire Basmane Train Station. Belying my initial perception, it actually is a nice place. Nice enough itself and its location. It was a Monday and I was just thinking, “Oh, I’ll take the boat over to Chios on Tuesday.”  Some experienced traveler I am.

I got to the hotel before noon and intended to take a nap before anything else. Those train seats don’t afford the most comfortable and restful sleep. (Why hasn’t some ergonomic genious been able to design a public transportaton seat that can serve both sitting and sleeping in comfort? Or, comfort for one or the other, for that matter.)

But I wasn’t that sleepy after all, and turned to reading in my Lonely Planet book about the details of “Getting Away” from Izmir to Chios. My most recent edition said the boat, in the off season, left at 9:30am on Tuesdays. I doubted my ability to get up in Izmir and and to Çesme by that time the next morning. I didn’t yet know the transportation routine of getting to Çesme from Izmir, but it is 90 kilometers (about 55miles) to the west. I also didn’t  know the penalty for exceeding one’s visa period. (I later learned, by one who experienced it--by missing a boat trip due to bad weather; no excuses accepted--the penalty to be around US$50). So I decided that I best go this same day to Çesme, check into a hotel there, and then just be there early enough the next morning, the day of the boat crossing. I also thought that since I had just checked into the Izmir hotel, washed my hands and used a towel, then laid on the bed, that I’d just have to keep the room, and “eat” the bill for my two nights away.

I went  down to the lobby to try to explain to the Turkish minding crew what I was up to; that I wouldn’t be returning that evening, or the next, though I would be keeping the room. Odd behavior, I know. But even at this age and experience I’m still kind of dumbly naive in a lot of respects.

Well, just at that moment (coincidentally!) attending the front desk was a young woman speaking English to a young traveler. When he departed I said to her I was glad to be able to speak English to someone to explain my situation. She introduced herself as the hotel owner and manager.

She turned to the internet to check on the boat schedule. Not Tuesday, the next day, but the boat was going that very afternoon (Monday) at 5:30. And it would return on Wednesday, not the following day. It just made the trip every other day--in the "off season," presumably.

Somewhat flustered, I explained about having just checked in to her hotel, and that I was planning on leaving my large pack in the room during my absence. But she offered to allow me to check out of the room without charge, with the idea (not a promise, necessarily) of returning to the same hotel upon my return from Chios. (Where else but Turkey would you be treated so kindly? Certainly not in the U.S.) She then gave me instructions on which bus to take to the mini-bus station at the edge of town for the connecting mini-bus to Çesme. And, off I went.

So I got to Çesme in plenty of time. I found a ticketing agency for the boat trip. Then I misunderstood that I had to pay in euros as they would not accept my bank card. So I spent considerable time walking the streets of Çesme, first looking for an internet cafe to transfer funds to my checking account, then to find an ATM machine that provided the option of dispensing Turkish lira or western European euros. None gave the euro option.

So, with lira I returned (the boat departure time now growing nervously closer) to the ticket agency. There to learn that, no, they accepted payment in Turkish lira. So all this to within a half hour of the boat departure. And I still had to walk to the customs station on the warf. Nervously, it looked farther than it was.

And even then, with about 300 yards to go a fellow stopped to offer me a ride.

As we pulled up to the customs house he said he worked there. I asked him if the Turkish visa was still 15 euros for an American. He said he didn’t know; and with a slight smile said, “I work narcotics.” I laughed and said, “Do you want to check my bags? I only have asprin.” No.

So, the little boat was boarded, after all, in plenty of time before cast-off.

Chilly as the crossing was, I stayed out on deck. A little over half way across a fellow standing next to me (the guy sitting in the lower right of the accompanying picture) asked me if I was American. He said that he was too; though he was living now for several years in southern Italy. He said, unpretentiously, that he lived in one of the old, stone beehive houses. I said that I had read of them. And thus our conversation was underway.

He was 70 years old, and was traveling with his Italian friend (“girlfriend”?); anyway, younger woman companion. And by the way, she had been--I think--giving me the eye with a very toothy grin. After the first look I tried to consciously ignore making eye contact with her.

Well, by the time we arrived at the Chios harbor we had become well enough acquainted. He had even lived a couple of years in Eugene, Oregon in a somewhat peripetetic life. And, as they had three hours to wait for their on-going ferry to Athens and then Italy, I suggested that we have a dinner together after I found lodging in a pension. And thus we did, Rita, Bob and I.

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