Thursday, 23 August 2012

commando camping

The ferry from Stockholm leaves at the end of the afternoon.  We are allotted our own car lane to board the ship and discover why when we disembark - we're the only ones getting off at Mariehamn in the Åland islands.  The boat is continuing on to Helsinki with everyone else.  Arrival time is scheduled for midnight but Frederik assures us Mariehamn's a village and we feel sure we'll find a place to pitch the tent quite easily. 

The ferry is a ten-deck ship with no seats.  It's mostly cabins or you can sit in the cafe or restaurant or bar or casino or basically anywhere where you might want to spend some money.  I'm wondering if I could spend 8 hours sat on the toilet.   We check at the Information Desk (deck 6) - are there really no seats on this boat?  We are directed to a room on deck 8 next to the Conference Room.   The room is 2 metres by 5 and has no furniture.  There are six other travellers lying on the floor with their bags.  We sit down next to a plug and check if there's a wi-fi signal for the netbook.  We've got eight hours on a ship full of Swedes, Finns and Russians who might be tempted to have a duty-free drink or two, but this room is a refuge from the on board madness.  Success! A wi-fi signal.  Well, sort of.    It ' s     v e  r   y              s  l   o         w          .

As we sail out along the coast and through the maze of islands that surround Sweden we try and get a street view on Googlemaps of Mariehamn to check for potential camping spots.  I find a little park at the end of a street near to the port here.  Fantastic - this will do us for the night.  I can't get the full 360 degree view because the connection is so slow.  Never mind.

On a walk around I discover there's hot water available in the cafe and if it's very busy in the cafe and you can't pay the 50 pence a cup price because none of the other passengers will let you in the queue to the till, then no matter.  I take enough water to brew up in our furniture-less safe haven.

Sitting next to us is Ali, an Iraqi whose mother is Spanish, and Adell, an academic from Tehran.  They chat in a little Arabic and some English and we tell Adell how much we enjoyed travelling in Iran and how we hope to visit again.  In the far corner is a loud Austrian couple and a young American who tries too hard to show he's not stupid by telling the Austrians lots of things they didn't know about lots of places he hasn't been to.  Ultimately, he fails in his efforts.  Sleeping in the middle is a young Japanese man and a young African woman.  Outside this room the Nordics and Slavs are getting rowdy and raucously drunk in a nautical bacchanalian frenzy.

'round midnight there's an announcement. We look out at the lights of the port and hurriedly say our farewells.  Along the corridors, and down five flights of stairs.  On the car deck there is no-one but us.  We are surrounded by trucks and buses, penned in at the back and there's an awful grinding noise from the keel below us. It's hot.  There's no crew in sight.  The announcement had said only a 5 minute stop.  What's going on?   Finally we clamber back up the stairs to the information desk (deck 6).   The woman looks alarmed and tells us to hurry back down.  We must disembark immediately!  We run back down and through the identical corridors of cabins - it's a nightmare scenario.  Back on the hot and claustrophobic car deck with our bicycles we are alone again.  The loud grinding noise is worse than before.  Surely, something is wrong?  The ship has run aground.  But no. Two crew finally appear and signal us to the ramp.  They lower it and we are released from our temporary hell.

The dockside is empty and a man in dayglow overalls points us to the exit.  We cycle away through the port and out through a wide gateway.  Now, all we need to do is find that little park........Hang on a minute.  This is it.  The park is at the port.  It's next to the ferry terminal carpark.  It's in full view of every bugger that drives in here.  We hesitate for two seconds before quickly putting the tent up behind the column of stones in the middle.  Inside we nod off immediately.  What a great way to arrive in a new country.

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