Ferry to Africa

Many of the used European vehicles being resold in Northern Africa make their way across the Mediterranean by ropax (roll-on-roll-off passenger) ships. I decided it would only be fitting for my project that I follow suit. So I booked a ticket on the Grimaldi Lines Sorrento, which took me from Civitavecchia (the Port of Rome) to Tunis (with a stop in Palermo, Sicily).

When I bought my “deck passage” ticket, I didn’t realize that it meant I would be sleeping (or trying to) on the seating in the ship’s dining area. A number of nearby passengers were playing Arabic rap music from their cell phones until late in the night. The lack of sleep, however, was definitely worth the excellent people watching. In addition to the many Tunisians heading home, there was a group of Italian tourists who were taking a convoy of campers to Africa. A leader of the group, wearing a yellow rain jacket, was the spitting image of the Gorton’s Fisherman (he seemed jovial, but I didn’t trust him enough to snap a picture).

My closest neighbors were a group of three Algerian men. Working in a team, they made their living transporting cars from Europe to Algeria for resale there, crossing the Mediterranean about twice per month. On this trip, they were taking a Citroën Berlingo from Barcelona by ferry to Tunisia (via Rome), then driving through Tunisia to Algeria. In addition to Arabic and French, one of them spoke Italian, and another one (with whom I chatted) spoke Spanish. They graciously spent a few hours of the twenty-five hour trip teaching me some Arabic phrases (with definitions in Spanish – yes, my travel notebook has entries like “Salaam Aleikum = Hola” and “Chocron = Gracias”) to get me through Tunisia. We also shared meals and Dramamine (though I don’t have a history of seasickness, the trip got pretty choppy). Their hospitality was a great way to start my time in Africa.

I find it striking that less than two months later, a “biblical exodus” traveled in the opposite direction along the same route.

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Pueblo Nuevo Ferry

A highlight of my time in Corozal was a visit to one of the District’s hand-cranked ferries. I was particularly interested in seeing a school bus make the crossing. After talking with some local residents, I understood that the bus from Corozal Town to Copper Bank would leave at 7:00 AM and travel the 5 km to the ferry, from which I could walk back to town. Matthew, a fellow traveler I met in Belize City, and I made it to the town square a bit before 7:00, but the Lino’s Bus we were looking for was nowhere to be found. So we decided to walk out to the ferry.

After we had walked for about half an hour, around the corner ahead of us turned the Lino’s Bus we had been looking for, going the opposite direction into Corozal. I figured it was running late because of muddy roads, and that we would be able to hop on it when it returned to Copper Bank. By 9:15, having endured much mud and little shade, we made it to the Pueblo Nuevo Ferry.

I asked one of the ferry workers who was leaving his shift what time the bus would be returning, and he replied, “about 10:30.” So we decided to wait and watch vehicles cross the river for an hour, during which time we nourished some mosquitoes and helped push a stalled Volkswagen Jetta up onto the ferry.

At 10:30, David, the other ferry worker (who works a twelve hour shift, from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM), came over to us and asked what we were waiting for. I told him about my project and how I wanted to see the Copper Bank bus crossing back over. “You’re going to be waiting a long time; it doesn’t come back until 7:30 tonight,” he responded. He then explained that the Lino’s Bus driver had indeed come back across on the ferry a couple minutes before; unless there was a large crowd needing to get to Copper Bank in the morning, the driver usually left the bus in town and hitchhiked home for lunch.

We laughed at all of the misunderstandings about times, helped crank the ferry back to the Corozal side, and caught a ride back to town in the bed of a pickup truck.

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