Wednesday, August 09, 2006

No Way Out

With no trains, buses or cars leaving Dubrovnik, Jeff and I were stranded and didn't know how we were going to get back to Switzerland and France, respectively. I was pretty stressed out, to say the least. Not so much because I was worried about missing any school, but because I was running out of money and there wasn’t an easy way to communicate with those outside of the country. Calling my host family in Chambery, or my real family in Colorado, to let them know what was happening was not an easy or inexpensive thing to do.

Then Jeff had a brilliant idea. The harbor. Not the old harbor in the walled city, but the real port harbor that we would see when we walked down the hill from Sandy and Grandpapa’s. It was worth a shot. We trudged over to the docks.

I wish I could adequately express how absolutely surreal it was as Jeff and I (and a few other European tourists) were hanging out with the Slavic longshoremen in the Port of Dubrovnik trying to hop a ride up the Adriatic. I guess I had hoped that the Love Boat would be docked there and Captain Stubing would invite us on board for some shuffle board and drinks with little umbrellas in them (again, that American hubris rearing its ugly head). Instead, this was a huge, dirty, smelly real-world harbor with big ships stacked full of big, metal boxes of cargo being loaded and unloaded with rickety, loud cranes. There were lots of scary looking men working hard and they were not overly kind to the ridiculous tourists who would nervously approach them and start to speak English.

Log’s brilliant idea was beginning to lose some of its luster.

One guy took pity on us and said something that we assumed was “wait here”. He disappeared and came back in a few minutes with another man wearing a uniform. The Captain. One of the other tourists we were with did the communicating and it turns out that this ship was going up the coast to Split and we could go that far with them. Again, it’s a million wonders any of us survived unscathed from our gullible stupidity, but our rag-tag little gypsy group walked the narrow plank onto this huge cargo ship and followed the captain as he took as up a numerous flights of really narrow stairs to the very top deck. And weirdly, he didn’t ask us for a penny. He could have asked for a king’s ransom because it was pretty clear we were stuck – but he just guided us on board, then turned around and left. We were on the top deck of a Yugoslavian cargo ship, which we dubbed the U.S.S. Yugo.

We were in open air. There were no “seats” anywhere. This was strictly a cargo ship, not built for passengers, so we just leaned against the rail or sat on the cement flooring. After waiting for what seemed like three days, late that afternoon the big ship horn finally blasted and slowly, slowly, slowly we pulled away from Port. When we were free from the port we picked up speed and the view was lovely. Seeing Dubrovnik disappear behind us, seeing the beautiful terrain on the sea side and, best of all, seeing the dolphins swim and jump along side the ship was really stunning. We finally pulled totally away from shore into deep water and we just settled in and waited to see what happened. Again, for a little while I felt that fearful place inside me that said we were fools and what if something happened to us when no one knows where we are. I learned a lot about myself during my trip to Yugoslavia – and one thing I learned is that spontaneity stresses me out. I do better with a plan.

Occasionally, members of the crew would come up and check us out. Some of these guys were pretty lewd, so we all stuck together. Safety in numbers, I guess. One nice guy brought us some tea at one point. But mostly, we just quietly sat and gazed at the water.

At one point when we passed through a narrow channel near some small port town we were moving very slowly as we went right by a gigantic Russian freighter. I was awestruck because it has the big “U.S.S.R.” on the side and it was flying the red flag with the gold hand and sickle. I was 100 yards away from Ruskies! The feared enemy! We did that thing that people often do when they are on water and they pass other people – we started waiving like crazy at the crew on the Russian ship. And some of them waived back. Oh my God, Russian commies were waiving at me! It was strange.

The sun set that night was amazing.

But then it was dark. Really dark. And that was surreal.

The entire ride took about 10 hours. We were sunburned and hungry and unsure of our next steps, but at least we had made it out of Dubrovnik. Pulling in to the harbor in Split was really interesting because it was dark outside except for two things – the lights of the harbor and the GIGANTIC silhouette head of Tito that was outlined in white lights blazing brightly on the hillside just above the docks. Imagine the “Hollywood” sign in size, but it’s someone’s head. We didn’t actually know it was Tito at the time, which made the whole scene even more bazaar.

Thankfully someone came and got us and lead us off of the boat. We never saw the captain again – I hope he knew how much we appreciated his help. So there we were at midnight, on the docks of Split, Yugoslavia with absolutely no idea of what to do next.


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