I am not scared anymore.
We take it for granted, not being scared at a new place, alone. But picture yourself when you first started traveling, the nerves, the fear, the anxiety. I like doing this, to look back and see how much things have changed, to be happy where I am now.
When I first started traveling, I was still struggling with major OCD issues. I still do sometimes, but nothing like that level. Once my packing was finished, I would get concerned about missing something, so I would unpack everything, only to find that nothing was missing, and then repeat about 5 times. I used to have major germophobia, if I was sitting in a bus and someone’s foot touched any part of my body, that was the end of the day. Nothing short of a full-bath and a change of clothes would do. Being able to wash your hands about 30 times a day is not a luxury you have on the road either.
And these were just the more obvious issues. My reason for travel is to get to meet new people, to see new places, to have new experiences. To be able to enjoy new experiences, you need to be calm, in the moment, aware of your surroundings. My brain used to be on a constant loop of what had gone wrong, what was going to go wrong, and why did I have to do this to myself.
When I got off the train at Liverpool, I was aware of the fact that I was at a place I’d never been before, alone, and I was at peace.
It was raining, of course.
I love England for the people, they are clean, polite, and keep to themselves. The land is beautiful, but the weather is total, absolute shit. One of the first people I met here was a taxi driver from Ghana, he described UK as “A cold, wet, miserable island”. Liverpool lived up to the definition.
It’s not just the more or less constant rain, it’s the wind as well. Usually, it feels like you are being followed by a bunch of people holding an industrial-sized fan. This means that umbrellas are meant only to be bought and then destroyed the instant you dare open them.
The further north you go, the more beautiful the land becomes, and the faster the wind blows. I hadn’t experienced this level of wind force in my life, the only reason I didn’t fall over multiple times was the Lannister in my bag. A 15 kg backpack keeps you steady like a rock.
As expected, even with the 1 hour train delay, I had some 4 hours to go before the ferry to Isle of Man. Open phone, start Google Maps, and there was a choice to be made, World Museum, or Walker Art Gallery. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, to the art gallery we shall go.
There was a time when I used to think people who stare at paintings are weird snobs, now I am one of them. My interest in art grew after I saw my wife paint, that is one skill that I don’t have the patience or the strength for. If I ever painted, the painting would never be finished, and there would only be one.
I have read about a lot of painters, but I only recognize the names of a few popular ones, and the paintings of even fewer. I can, for example, easily identify a Van Gogh, but Monet confuses me, as I guess is the case with any 6 year old. Joseph Wright, JMW Turner, and John Constable’s work is what looks the most beautiful to me, but my knowledge of art is comparable to Hitler’s.
I spent 3 hours inside the gallery. The museum people thankfully gave me a place to keep my backpack, although I guess that had more to do with me walking around and damaging priceless pieces of self-expression, rather than my charm.
I was out again, and this time there was only wind, but this time it felt like I standing directly behind a jet engine. I saw people holding on to street lights for the first time in my life, and I almost tripped over a few times. But the wind was the least of my problems, I was hungry.
Most museums and galleries have food that tastes like it was made by child laborers in a damp, dark and depressing basement, and then left on some ice for about a century. I had to find some human eatable food, and find it fast. The only problem was the part of Liverpool I found myself in had only 2 options that I could see, 5-star restaurants, or McDonald’s. I didn’t have the money for the first, and the taste for the second, so what was supposed to be a short food hunting mission turned into a marathon around Liverpool, my face smushed against the glass doors of restaurants, ready to lick the menus, creeping everybody out.
I finally saw the board for a cafe, and by this time I was ready to eat literally anything. The staff were preparing to close the place for lunch break, which I found to be a bit weird, a business that serves food to people was closing down when people want to eat food, so that the people who serve the food could eat food. I was told to go upstairs, the place below was shut till the night.
I went upstairs, and was greeted by one of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen. It was not the way she looked, it was her smile and the way she talked.
“Hi, I was told I could grab something to eat here?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, we only have drinks out here, no food.”
“Aah, of course.”
I did forget about my hunger for a few minutes after meeting her, but attractiveness cannot power the mitochondria.
The first thing I saw when I came outside was the Museum of Liverpool, and I knew that was my only option. My lunch was orange juice with chocolate cake. They waited for me to finish and then shut shop as well.
Liverpool hates afternoons.
It’s easy to find the Steam Packet ferry office, look for the place with a bunch of bikes parked in front it, and you are there. I went inside the office, opened my bag, gathered my ticket, passport, and BRP, and went to the counter. They took my ticket, and nothing else. I was given another ticket, and told that once I enter the waiting area I won’t be allowed to go out again, and there’s no smoking inside. I should’ve proudly told her that I smoke about once a year, but I don’t think that would’ve helped my charisma, and it needs all the help it can get.
Between the office and the waiting area there is a small security check. They took my ticket and told me to move forward. I, being an Indian, assumed there would be a bag check, and went to the nearest table and started opening my bag. The security lady was almost offended.
“What are you doing?”
“You don’t need to check this?”
“No, go to the waiting area.”
It’s important to point out that UK was on “high-alert” at this time due to a few terrorist incidents in the months before. It was from this point that I started to get an idea of the Isle of Man mindset.
“You’re gonna blow up our ferry? As long as you don’t smoke in the waiting area, go right ahead.”
The waiting area was empty when I went in, because of course I was early. The time was spent looking out to the sea, looking at all the people who came in after me, and reading Wikipedia. I was reading about the ferry that was to take me to the island, I was told by Yubanaswa that it’s an ex-US Navy destroyer, and I had a tough time believing that. Reading this article gave me yet another insight into the mind of the island.
“We want to travel from the mainland UK to the Isle of Man. We must buy an ex-military vehicle that has seen active duty, add some TVs, a bar, and see how that floats.”
It’s hard to overstate just how insane this is. Manannan is not just an ordinary boat, you understand that when you watch it approach the harbor from the waiting area. It looks like something designed for Star Trek. As it comes closer, you start to realize the size of this thing, and when it finally hits the docking area, the impact is like an earthquake.
For someone like me who had never been to a proper ferry before this, the experience was something. Once you get on, it feels like you are in a hotel lobby. As expected, the moment we boarded people were lining up to the bar to get a drink. I lined up too to get some real food, the sandwich is surprisingly good, the coffee helped.
It took about an hour for everything and everyone to be loaded. By that time I had walked up and down the whole thing, out every door that would open, to every place I could enter. There were a few rooms with movies running in them, and that’s what I decided my home would be. I hadn’t quite expected what was to happen next, but that’s a theme running through this entire journey.
“This is the captain, we should reach our destination in about 3 hours. Weather is expected to be good, and we hope your journey goes smoothly.”
When the engines start, you know it. Manannan is not an ordinary boat, rather than use propellers, it uses jets of water. It makes one hell of a noise, especially if you go the rear balcony and watch them from a few feet away, which of course I did.
The speed surprised me as well, boats are supposed to be sluggish and fat, this thing basically felt like a speedboat on Nitrous. The long line of white foam at the back told you a lot about the power, it must be fun to “drive”.
I spent a lot of time outside, on the rear deck, in the balconies, anywhere I could see the sea. An hour later it started to get dark, and I decided to head back in. One of the movie rooms had a film about the TT running on loop, and I made myself comfortable.
That’s when things went wrong.
Either the weather suddenly and unexpectedly went bad, or this was their version of “good” weather, but by the time we were halfway thorough the journey, the ferry was rocking from side to side like we were going over a bunch of tsunamis. Even sitting in a seat I had to hold on to the arm rests or I would’ve been flying.
What surprised me was the fact that there were no announcements of rough weather. If you are in a plane and there’s a little bit of turbulence, the seat belt signs come on, announcements are made, and food is pulled out of your mouth. Here nobody gave a single shit. The bar was still serving drinks, and there were half-drunk people walking through the hallways, hitting one wall and then the next, spilling over most of their beer, but still determined to go to their seats.
It was a bit surreal to find myself inside one of the fastest ferries on the planet, humans bouncing off the walls like a game of Pinball, and rivers of beer flowing down the hall.
Another lesson in the island mindset.
“The weather is bad you say? We must get some beers, try and see how far we can walk from one end of the ferry to the other without smashing our heads through the windows.”
The last hour of the journey was the worst for me, I just couldn’t take the constant rocking anymore. I generally don’t get motion sickness, but this was fucking insane, the boat rocked so much that at one moment the window would be nothing but the sea, and the next moment it would be nothing but the stars. I had expected a bit more beginners luck during my first sea voyage.
I was going to be sick.
There were a bunch of sickness bags lying around, but surprisingly there was no vomit mixed with the beer river. I guess I was the only one on board getting queasy, but it was time to head to the loos.
There was a neat line of people standing outside the door, rocking from side to side as the boat moved, and I wondered what the inside would look like. I was with a bunch of drunk bikers, on a boat that’s trying to shake us off itself like a dog shaking off water, it was logical to expect the washrooms to be a nightmare.
I got in, and locked myself in a booth, and realized that the place was cleaner than most homes in India. English people must hold their liquor very well, I can’t imagine anybody being able to piss in a straight line after downing pints of beer, inside a moving toilet. I, however, didn’t have much time to appreciate the alcoholic skills of Brits, I did not know what was happening to me.
I knew if I vomited, that would take all the energy out of me, and I needed the energy to find a camping spot on the island. It was only about half an hour to go before we would be off, and I tried my best to hold onto my sandwich and coffee.
It wasn’t going to work inside the loo, so I decided to risk going outside and distracting myself with the movie. I couldn’t sit, the moment my ass hit the seat I knew something explosive was going to happen. I was tired, but I held onto the backrest of the last row seat, and tried to forget about the battle for Minas Tirith waging inside me.
I must’ve looked like someone who had a violent sexual encounter with a bear, but I was off the boat. I didn’t look back, it was an experience to be on Manannan, but I would need to grow taller sea legs before I could truly enjoy the experience.
That’s when I remembered, the return journey tomorrow was on the same ferry.