Kindness of Strangers
The big adventure of a young backpacker comes to a sudden halt with the last ferry gone for the day
AS A BACKPACKER in my early 20s, I worked in London for a while. During a break, I decided to take a quick solo trip to Europe. I’d stayed with a Spanish friend in the Canary Islands, had an Italian friend show me around her hometown of Verona as well as Venice, and crashed on the hotel couch of some Australian friends in Rome. Now I was en route from Rome to visit my friend Maya in Malta.
In the train carrying me to Sicily, I envisioned myself skipping over to the ferry terminal, timetable in hand, and sailing with the day’s sunset to Malta. The train arrived but the ferry terminal was not where I had assumed it would be. Instead it was about 100km away on the other side of Sicily!
In broken Italian, I convinced a taxi driver to deliver me to the terminal, at a highly discounted price. When I arrived at the terminal, only customs officials were present. The last ferry to Malta had already departed for the day. Apparently I had the winter schedule, the summer schedule having begun the day before. Now a damsel in distress, I did what I thought was highly
appropriate at the time and cried.
The Italian men surrounding me were in a conundrum of what to do with a weeping blonde. However, the head customs official quickly took command and rectified the situation.
He rang my Maltese friend from his mobile and explained the situation. Then he took me home to meet his family. His wife and two teenage daughters took me to a local festival where I was treated to pasta and gelato for dinner. The eldest daughter even gave up her room to me for the night. Her father roused me early in the morning with fresh doughnuts and drove me to the now bustling ferry terminal. He and his work colleagues then bid me farewell and good luck.
I’ve never forgotten the generosity and complete kindness of this Sicilian stranger. I am now pedantic about reading timetables, and often give customs officials a wink when I pass through borders. >>
Plans to take the Italian ferry system for a quick 90-minute jaunt went badly awry