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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  1. […] flight to Europe was to Frankfurt, I decided to fly there, take a train down to Italy, and catch a ferry to Africa. My red-eye flight from Panama City was originally scheduled to land in Frankfurt at 7:00 AM, […]

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