Taking the Ferry

On the road…again!!!
Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek


Taking The Ferry


The wanderlust is real.  The people, the places, and the descriptions have since been painted into memory, starting with the wanderlust of an adolescent and continuing through years of daydreams.  In last night’s dream, the Footloose Forester was exploring for a theme that would indeed validate his self-acknowledged passion to be On the road...again!!!

Riding on a ferry boat might have some elements of adventure, especially when the mode of travel could take you from one country to another.  Traveling over water to reach your destination is, in itself, out of the ordinary for most folks. The sights and the sounds are sometimes routine but most often are not.   Let’s take a quick ferry ride together in this chronicle to re-imagine the sound of the fog horns, the swaying and bumping at the dock and the quickening heartbeat as we launch into the water and leave the dry land behind.

As a young boy the Footloose Forester often imagined what it would be like to take the Staten Island Ferry, the one and only means of conveyance, he presumed, that takes on automobiles as co-passengers and equals with humans.  But it was not until he was a teenager that he got to ride on the Staten Island Ferry.  Nevertheless, it was the sudden thrill of the undocking and the gentle kiss of touching land on the other side, that made a ferry boat ride pretty special.


An older version of the Staten Island Ferry


As usual, there is no chronology in the remembered dreams of adventures on ferry boats, but the Footloose Forester knows that jotting down some notes as they pop into his brain is his tried-and-true method of getting to the heart of some adventures.  In addition, he knows that he will have to look up the spelling of some places, exotic as they were in his travels.  The Footloose Forester might as well start with the most unconventional kind of ferries.

The ocean-going ship that serves as a ferry between Tamil Nadu State in India and the only known ferry-docking port in Sri Lanka used on-board cranes to hoist heavy cargo aboard, and a small sailboat (known as a lighter) to take people from shore to the steamer.  It was indeed a steamer instead of a conventional ferry boat because the distance between ports was practically beyond the range of small ferries and it was as a matter of fact, the Indian Ocean that had to be traversed.

The memories that are sufficiently clear are about the customs station built with floors of sand, used for embarking passengers at Rameshwaram in India and the purposely designed debarkation port at Talaimannar Pier in Sri Lanka.  In between was the 20-minute voyage under open sail from the Indian shore to the steamer that was awaiting in deeper water.   There is a blank in memory about how we transferred from the sailboat lighter to the high decks of the steamer, but it was probably straight up a rope or steel ladder on the side of the steamer.  But the sun was shining brightly, and many Chronicles of a Footloose Forester are framed in sunshine that often dispels obscure shadows.

Another once (or twice) in a lifetime transit in a ferry boat was between the simple shoreline ferry port on the Bafing River in Senegal, to an equally simple docking location on the opposite shore in Mali.  The Bafing River at that point was too wide and too deep for autos to cross.  Scheduled crossings were infrequent (perhaps four times per day) and knowledge of their schedules seemed to have been passed by word of mouth.  Missing the ferry meant a long wait until the next one.  Our safari-bound Land Rovers did not miss the schedules.

On the other hand, the long boats that line the banks of the upper Mekong River between Nakorn Sawan, Thailand and the docking pier adjacent to the Customs Station across the river in Laos, were veritable ferryboats on demand. The boatmen waited for potential customers and competed with ferry services, to be provided immediately whether it was for a small group or a single person.  At this point, the Footloose Forester would be remis if he did not mention that there were no authorities on duty at the Laos Customs Station, but he nevertheless passed through and hitched a ride into Vientiane.  At that stage, he was, DeFacto, an illegal entrant.   In retrospect, it was part of the adventure.

From the infrequent one-passenger water taxi ferries on the Upper Mekong River to the heavily traveled Lower Mekong region in the Mekong Delta of Viet Nam, there was a stark contrast in the number and size of the ferries plying the busy waters of the heavily populated Delta lowlands. Several large ferry boats could be seen on the water at the same time, vying for the opportunity to dock at their designated piers, but presumably without a workable schedule—in light of the need for safety and restraint in proximity to the other near-by ferries. 

The passage on a very large ferry that transited from rural Denmark to Göteborg, Sweden was marred by a long delay of 3 hours when an impatient Italian driver in a sports car cut in front of the Footloose Forester and usurped his position as the last to be boarded on one scheduled departure and doomed him to be the first in line, three hours later.  Bummer!

Finally, tales about ferries, crossing points, and notable episodes regarding ferries ends with warm memories about the chaloupe, the commuter ferry upon which people living on Gorée Island, Senegal depended.  The French word chaloupe literally means “lifeboat” and local people realized that the chaloupe was their lifeboat to employment in the capital city of Dakar, some three miles over water on the mainland.  Who would have guessed that a dirt forester who called himself the Footloose Forester would have a monthly pass for the chaloupe?


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Comments 1

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Dick Pellek on Thursday, 18 April 2024 15:46

The presence of a tag in a previous story performed the service of displaying the actual ferry docking pier at Goree Island in Senegal, as shown here.

The presence of a tag in a previous story performed the service of displaying the actual ferry docking pier at Goree Island in Senegal, as shown here.