I had lost count of the number of times I had to brace myself that night as our ferry scaled yet another treacherously high wave. My heart plummeted into sickening free-fall. I was sure I would vomit. Our vessel felt as secure as a tiny paper boat in a hurricane. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to focus on my Hail Mary’s, but the image of drowning in the Aegean Sea kept interrupting my prayers.
My only source of comfort — my more optimistic half, was seated beside me holding up my sick bag. I could sense how much K wanted to stay calm for me, but his furrowed brow and clenched jaw betrayed his anxiety. My and other passenger’s panic escalated when seawater began surging its way into the hypothetically sealed vessel. There were shouts and pleas to be let off the boat — when everyone had been so eager to board just less than an hour ago.
After two wonderful days on Santorini, my partner and I arrived at Thira port to hear that our ferry to Milos had been delayed indefinitely due to bad weather at sea. We spent the next eight hours twiddling thumbs at a café and waiting for updates from the ferry operator. Dusk was approaching when an announcement confirmed that the Piraeus (Athens)-bound ferry would be skipping Milos, but affected ticket holders had the option to drop off at Folegandros on the way to Athens.
‘Fole.. what?’ K asked me.
“I have no idea,” I said.
‘Is it safe there?’ A man called out. There was no answer.
It was getting late, and I was tired of being stuck on Santorini , so we decided to take a chance on an island about which we knew nothing. We were not the only ones who wanted to leave. Another man shared that he had been desperate to get on that boat to Athens in order to catch his international flight home. Amidst the slightly chaotic post-announcement situation, I decided to check my usual hotel booking site for a Folegandros listing. The room I booked wasn’t cheap but I would thank myself later.
When the ferry finally slowed to dock in Folegrandos, a young boy seated behind me said, ‘That was soooo cool!’ I was stunned. Although Folegrandos was only about an hour away from Santorini, it had felt like the longest and most terrifying rollercoaster ride of my life. The gravity of the situation had been completely lost on a seven-year-old. Maybe it was the incongruence of the remark or the immense relief at being alive, but despite the somber atmosphere, I found myself smiling.
We disembarked. The skies were already dark and a gale was in full force, whipping sand into our faces. We walked (despite weak knees) to the hotel, and were greeted by the sight of disheveled-looking tourists camped out in the reception area alongside their luggage. As we were led to our room, the staff explained that with the sudden influx of stranded passengers to this little island, what few accommodation options available had quickly been snapped up.
I replied with a sympathetic nod but was secretly comforted by the knowledge that I did not have to spend the remainder of that night on a cold hard floor. Later, even after a long hot shower, my stomach continued to churn. Sleep did not come easily that night. I remember gazing out the window at the seaside trees swaying in the howling wind, wondering about the fate of the boat and whether the frightened passenger would survive the six-hour journey to Athens to catch his international flight.
The next day, we explored the island, then wandered into what must have been the Folegrandos’ most popular café. There we had a chance reunion with familiar people from the night before and a bonding session over mutual “ferry” tales. I had come to realize that my most memorable travel experiences were often unplanned and uncalculated.
Thirty-six hours after K and I crawled off the ferry swearing off all sea activities, we were back on another boat. This time, we were headed home — and our trip was easy.