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Next Stop Paros

Accompanied by a declining sun on a blushing sky, people flock to the harbor in Parikia to experience Highspeed 4, either as expensively paying passengers or just to admire the huge catamaran.

Parikia is the capital of the Greek island of Paros. Its port, the busiest one in the Cyclades, is dominating both physically and mentally. Although the ships arrive like pearls on a string, each arrival is something special. It confirms the town's position, and everyone is happy that things went smoothly, bearing in mind what happened in September 2000: the ferry Express Samina sank right before entering Parikia and 82 souls were lost.

Early Season

Parikia is fresh and refurbished. Judging from the flourishing flowers and trees, the winter and spring were rainy. The thatched old windmill in the harbor traffic circle shines whitewashed, exactly like the nearby Agios Nicolaos Church, whose tiny dome is glowing in quite another color: bright blue. Paros Corner is well-stocked with beer and soft drinks, and so are the other cafes. Hotel rooms and private rooms have been smartened up, their pictures taken and ready to be used as tourist bait in the harbor, which has been extended, admitting even more and larger ferries than last year.

Highspeed 4 is expected to berth at 20.40. If the port police had their way, travelers should appear half an hour before, but now a quarter before, the inrush continues unabated. The policemen rush back and forth in white uniforms, answering questions and directing cars into two rows on the new quay. The command is soon taken over by a white little dog arriving in the basket of a moped. Hysterically barking, it throws itself on four-footed colleagues, turning the harbor into a dog circus.

Rose in Red Shoes

Since the Piraeus waiting bay is already completely packed, travelers are crowding into the rotary where also minibusses continue to roll in, carefully though, to unload tourists and rucksacks. Those without a ticket are queuing in front of the travel agencies, others get their belongings from the Luggage Deposit, and many pass the waiting time with a coffee or inform friends via mobile phone that they are en route.

In the middle of this travel chaos, a slim and sunburnt lady is bustling about, gaily dressed and sparkling with high spirits, reminding us that traveling is supposed to be fun. She wears a large-flowered trouser suit in red and white plus a big hat in the same material. The finishing touch is red stilettos making her look like a walking red rose, aging but still in full flower.

Hoteliers and owners of private rooms are in place, armed with signs and vividly colored brochures. A couple of them have come all the way from Naoussa and Antiparos. They are chatting among themselves, in cliques. Most of them are men, comparatively young, some reserved, others parading swelling muscles and a forceful voice. The rooms market is a free-for-all, and at this time of year, tourists are in short supply, so the owners are constantly inventing new tricks to trap them.


On Time

The very moment Highspeed appears on the horizon, a joyful restlessness spreads throughout the harbor. The sun has only just time to greet her, and in this romantic light, even the Highspeed catamaran is beautiful although her nose is missing. While heading direct for Parikia, she seems to be posing, by letting us see straight through her, between the two keels.

She slows down gradually, then turns around to land with the stern, maneuvring easily despite her considerable dimensions. Actually, she looks the best from the side: blue at the bottom, otherwise white, apart from one single red decorative stripe and a gigantic number 4. A Seajet catamaran arrives simultaneously, demonstrating through her smallness how big and superior Highspeed is.

With a splash, she drops anchor and approaches the quay, very slowly yet noisily, wrapped up in white foam. The rear gate, opening in jerks, lowers hesitantly onto the cement, and without delay, impatient cars start rolling ashore. Two gangways, on either side of the gate, are tilted down, allowing the passengers to swarm out, not an overwhelming number, though. The landlords, at this point frenziedly gum chewing, can hardly wait to attack them.

Encore

At long last, the police open the gates. People rush forward; nervous in case Highspeed should leave without them. The outermost row of cars gets a green light, which makes the driver in the third car, a fossil of a mini truck, so surprised that he drives on board with his windscreen wipers on. Everything is done in no time, and after the police blow the final whistle, Highspeed raises her gate and gangways immediately, mobilizes her horsepower and roars off in a wake of foam.

All of a sudden, she changes her mind and not only stops, but reverses. Scattered cheers can be heard as she lowers one gangway in honor of a belated moped rider and a backpacker. Subsequently, Highspeed determinedly makes haste for Piraeus, with her bow in the air and a tail of diesel fumes as farewell greeting. The sea quickly regains its calm, just in time for the final act - in which the sun eventually sinks into the sea, while the landlords put their faith in the next arrival.