“Ooh, it’s not what I had in mind, I must say.” The woman in the aggressively floral dress and matching cardian says, screwing up her face and clamping down her fuschia hat in the breeze with a chubby paw. The cruise ship she’s looking at is large and rusting. It doesn’t look the least bit seaworthy. The glamorous, shiny cruiser next to it, The Elysium, looks heavenly by comparison. No wonder this trip was such a bargain – it’s the last time I book anything I find in the back of a poorly circulated newspaper.
People are boarding so I follow fuschia hat lady and her skinny husband who’s struggling with their suitcases onto the gangplank. A steward shows me to my cabin. It’s surprisingly clean but very sparse. I’ve even got a porthole but, actually the view isn’t very nice – this side of the ship seems to be covered in mud – or possibly sewage – and there’s a strange brackish smell. It looks rather incongruous against the beautiful blue-green waters. This is just our transfer from mainland Greece, thankfully, so at least our trip on this muddy liner won’t last long. I’m looking forward to being cosily ensconced in a pretty taverna with a glass of retsina.
Once unpacked, I go up on deck in search of a gin and tonic. Lots of people have evidently had the same idea, the place is bursting. Suddenly the tannoy crackles into life.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman. This is Captain Charon.” His accent is hard to place, I think idly as I lean over the railings and look across the water. “I hope you will enjoy your travel with us. You should find every last earthly comfort on the ship – our staff are happy to serve you anything you need.” He sounds very jolly. “Now, I’m afraid, to some housekeeping. You have all paid a deposit but now it’s time to make payment in full. I am located at the stern. Please come and pay your fares – cash only, thank you.”
There is a queue to pay Captain Charon so I have plenty of time to look at our surroundings. We are in much deeper waters here and the mainland is completely out of sight. I wasn’t expecting that to happen quite so quickly.
I peer around the heads and shoulders in front of me. Captain Charon is quite a little man, with a great big beard and strikingly blue eyes. Not at all how I imagined him from his booming, jovial voice. He looks a little fierce actually.
As the ship ploughs on, the water darkens and starts to smell salty and stagnant, like an ancient marsh. For a second, I think that someone has fallen overboard, I could swear I saw an arm sticking out of the waves. But when I look again there’s nothing there. A trick of the light. All the same, it makes me shiver.
There seems to be land ahead. The horizon’s dark, it’s hard to make anything out but it seems like there’s an enormous statue of a dog rising out of the shallows. Wow! I knew the Greeks were keen on sculpture but I didn’t see anything like this on the mainland. It looks from here like it’s nearly as big as the ship and it’s got at least two heads, maybe three. Probably something to do with one of the gods. I looked up all the places the tour’s going to in the Lonely Planet before I came but I don’t recall any mention of this spectacular statue – he’s so lifelike I could swear he moved just then. What’s this island we’re heading to called? I fish out the itinerary from my handbag. That’s it, yep, Hades. Never heard of it – I guess that’s because it’s not one of the party islands like Crete or Kos. Good, I’m not keen on the touristy destinations – I like the more out of the way places.