The only ferry trip I took as a kid went from the Berkeley Marina to Angel Island. I must have gone at least 10 times growing up.
Aside from a sad memory of a favorite sweatshirt disappearing into the ferry's wake, what was most memorable about that ferry ride was the destination.
What I remember: the hike to the top of Angel Island, which always seemed like a long way to go before getting lunch (how far could it have been? Five miles at most?). The excitement of going alone with friends in high school, bringing nothing but a ball and a picnic lunch. Packing my lunch for the last class trip of 6th grade. I wished we had some cookies in the house, or something to make that lunch seem more special than the one I usually had. My mom suggested I take a thermos of orange juice, and add sliced strawberries. It was a good suggestion.
For some reason, beyond that slowly disappearing blue sweatshirt and watching out for seagulls overhead, I remember little of the actual ferry ride.
I found myself thinking about ferry trips, unsurprisingly, after my trip to Victoria. At the end of our week we took the ferry from Swartz Bay to Tsawassen, BC. The ferry crosses the Strait of Georgia, winding its way through the Gulf Islands.
A few minutes into our trip Pavel and I sat inside, watching the outline of passing islands (Piers and then Portland Islands to our right, Salt Spring to our left). The colors were all softened by the cold drizzle that had driven us inside. Soft browns, blues, and grays. And then red and gold. And black and silver.
Because suddenly, walking up and down out our window were two Mariachi bands.
It was the juxtaposition, at first, that was so attractive. The bright colors against the muted drizzle. We couldn't hear them talk (sadly, they weren't performing) from our side of the glass. But we could see them. They were smiling, and laughing, and pointing. They broke into smaller groups, 3 or 4 of them leaning over the edge of the ferry. A couple of them walking without conversation, just looking across the water.
Then one walked by, alone, taking pictures.
Soon most of them came inside. One stayed out, in his raincoat, just watching.
I overheard a woman, later, talking to a group of the guys dressed in black and silver. She was asking where they were from. He explained that his was band, Los Arrieros, came from Laredo; Cocula, the red and gold band, came from Jalisco. They had played in Victoria the day before, and were headed to Vancouver for the Mariachi Festival. "It's beautiful here. So different from back home." And he looked back out the window.
Another ferry crossing, more than 30 years ago. I had just arrived in Denmark, where I would spend the next year as an exchange student. We'd flown into Copenhagen, and those of us who wouldn't be living near to Copenhagen, had climbed into two buses. We drove until nearly 1 in the morning (I got off at the last stop), chasing the summer sunset as we drove north. There's a bridge crossing Storebælt now, connecting the islands of Sjælland and Fyn. But that was still nearly 20 years away the evening I crossed.
View Chasing the Sunset in a larger map
Our bus stopped for supper in the port town of Korsør. We all climbed off the bus and sat down at an outdoor cafe. The meal had been ordered ahead for us; many of the kids were not pleased. We started with pickled herring, tasting of sea and onions. Then some veal cutlets, with lemon and capers. Beers too, surprising our group (we ranged in age from 15 to 18). After a short walk along the beach, we got on the ferry.
We were sailing west, towards a sun that didn't seem as if it would ever set. Storebælt is perhaps 20 miles across. I remember standing at the railing, looking ahead to the next island. A girl I hadn't met yet stood next to me. She stood there, silently, for a long time, looking to her right and left. Finally she sighed. "Have you ever seen so much water?"
I later learned she was from Nebraska.
And also that as wonderful as it is to see things for the first time, watching others see things for the first time is just about as wonderful.
I remembered her the first time I drove across North Dakota, and marveled at the endless fields.
And I'll remember the Mariachi bands on my next ferry crossing, whether it's in British Columbia, or crossing the Willamette on the tiny Canby Ferry.