Part 2 - The journey to Leros begins
Picture Sydney airport at 3pm on a Friday afternoon, completely empty. A few staff and maybe 5 flights on the board and the Qantas lounges are all closed. It would not have surprised me had a tumble weed rolled through the place.
Where are the tumble weeds??
I don’t recall the reason now but we ended up having to fly via Melbourne to pick up our Emirates flight to Dubai, so here we are checking in for an international flight at the Qantas domestic terminal. We had all of our documentation at the ready, including our Victorian transit border pass (please attach to the windscreen…) We knew we had ticked all of the boxes to be able to depart, including a rationale for not having a return ticket, as well as all of the entry requirements for Greece and UAE. Qantas had other ideas though – their computer said no! Despite what was clearly outlined on the Emirates website Q insisted we have a negative Covid PCR test before they will check us in saying it is required for UAE!
Its difficult to argue with the person with the power to let you on that flight that you are so desperate to board. So we have to hot foot it over to the international terminal in a taxi with all our luggage, get at test, fork out $300 (plus taxi fare) and get back to the domestic terminal. Luckily we had given ourselves plenty of time. The flight to Melbourne was not that full and thankfully uneventful but our arrival was anything but! We were greeted by “officials” in full PPE who turned on the theatre for us. We were pretty much frog marched from the domestic terminal to the international terminal and they waited for us at the Emirates desk to change our seats before escorting us to the departure gates. Important to make sure we left the country, did not pass GO and did not enter Victoria. Wow! I only wish I could have taken a photo of the last minute message on the passport scanner – words to the effect that returning to Australia these days was rather difficult and expensive, in case having come this far you wanted to change your mind!
OMG you should see how empty the plane to Dubai is! Which empty row am I going to lie down and sleep in??? Who needs business class! Finally the plane doors close and we can heave a sigh of relief. We are on our way. Oh and by the way UAE did not require a Covid test from anyone coming from Australia, and even if they did, free testing is offered by Emirates on arrival! Thanks Qantas!
At least my Q Club membership had been extended long enough to get me into the Emirates lounge for a shower and to start feeling human again. Due to dry July I did resist the Moet bar at 10am (Keith didn’t). The plane to Athens was a different story, packed to the rafters with obnoxious holiday makers. We had planned our arrival carefully to connect with the overnight ferry direct to Leros, but dang! no cabins available, so we decided to stay a couple of nights in Pireaus and catch the “fast” day ferry. There is a VIP lounge with its own toilets and canteen so we could isolate somewhat from the masses.
The highspeed ferry stopped at a few places along the way, including Ikara, Mykonos, Patmos and some other place I cant remember now. Its incredible to watch these huge car ferries manoeuvre. They charge into a tiny little island port, turn on a dime and go stern to a concrete dock. Sometimes they will drop and anchor and med moor, but more often than not they hold it on stern lines and engines as people, cars and trucks pour on and off.
Finally the next stop is Leros, a slower than normal trip due to Meltemi and the chop and someone forgetting to get off at Mykonos! Keith got chatting to one of the officers and we got invited up to visit the bridge so we enjoyed watching the entry into Lakki (Leros) harbour from there before hot footing it down to get our bags and get off quickly as they don’t stop for very long. The lovely Mrs & Mr Pagonis were waiting with our car, we managed to take the scenic route back to their shop, stopped by the supermarket on the way and arrived at Artemis Boatyard at sunset. We got an enthusiastic greeting from the nightwatchman who had clearly missed all his Aussie and Kiwi catamaran friends. And there she was! Our home, our beloved ITIKI! Oh the dirt, dust and rust! But what a sight for sore eyes. It was all we could do to hoist our suitcases up the ladder, make up the bed and collapse. Check out the video below to see the final leg of our journey!
Part 1 – Escaping the Hermit Kingdom
“Oh, you’re Australian! How did you get out??!” The German gentleman of a certain age asks incredulously. Perhaps his mind drifts back to pre-’89 GDR, Checkpoint Charlie, the famed and ingenious escapes in secret compartments of VWs that have gone down in history.
Well how do you go about getting out of a country that is determined to keep its citizens both locked in, and locked out. For our own good of course. Well that in itself is a bit of a feat, but first let’s wind the clock back to a time when life as we know it was very different. When we were oblivious to a deadly virus that was already circulating in its place of origin. New Year’s eve 2019, the date of the first case report of Covid-19 to WHO. We had been back in Australia just on 2 months and were looking forward to our trip to Antarctica in late February, before heading back to ITIKI towards the end of April. How did you spend NYE 2019? Who would have imagined what was brewing.
Well as you know we made it out of South America just days before borders began slamming shut. We cancelled our return to Greece, and waited… and waited. We optimistically applied for an exemption to leave the country around July/August 2020, and it was granted on the grounds of us having spent more time out of Oz than in, over the last 2 year. Hope of a return for a short, late 2020 season faded, as the pandemic did the opposite. There were so many Aussies who could not get back home, we did not want to join them and end up wintering aboard, locked down in some foreign port.
Plotting to depart and making it happen
As much as we didn’t want to be there, we made the most of our time in Sydney, catching up with friends when we could, renovating our Cammeray apartment and visiting some far flung locations in NSW that had always been on our “list” – The Waterfall Way, Gloucester Tops, Broken Hill/Silverton/Menindee lakes- but we were just marking time as we really wanted to be on ITIKI. Being vaccinated before travelling was a must do for us. As vaccines started rolling out overseas it was clear it would eventually become a “requirement” in order to move freely, avoid quarantine etc and we wanted to protect ourselves and others as well. Hopes were raised and then dashed as the “it’s not a race” world’s slowest vaccination “stroll out” schedule was announced and then failed to materialise. At 3 months, the timeframe between jabs for AZ was half a cruising season, and at one point availability for me was looking like October! We started investigating ways to get vaccinated in the UK or even the US. I was getting bored and frustrated and even started a 4 month work contract. Then literally overnight things changed. We could get our first dose so we signed up immediately! I have never been so relieved to have a needle in my deltoid. We had a timeline, the countdown had started. Now just a small matter of some open heart surgery for my mum, finish up my contract work and off we could go! Friday 9th of July was set as our D-Day!
The good news was our original exemption to leave had no time limit but to be sure, to be sure, we re-applied with stat decs, Covid vaccine certificates and a huge pile of boat related documents. It was a relief to find out that we were still classified as “normally resident of a country other than Australia” and allowed to depart.
Everything was going smoothly and according to plan, but still there was a sense of nervous anticipation as the world had changed. We got our second shots of AZ, Mum’s op went well and I headed up to SWR to spend time with her. Keith stayed in Sydney to pack up the apartment, re-sell all our Gumtree furniture and clean up ready for the tenant to move in. And then Covid raises its ugly head again! Sydney goes into lockdown, making it super-hard to offload the last few items of furniture. Fortunately, thanks to the exceptional sales skills of Mr Logan, some of our buyers left with more than they intended and finally the place was empty. Keith spent the last couple of nights sleeping on a collection of cushions, pillows and mattress protectors and cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning! As we were technically in the process of permanently relocating Keith was “allowed” to leave the Sydney hotzone to come to SWR for a few days before our departure. Just to be on the safe side though he had a precautionary brain biopsy (aka Covid swab - negative) the day before driving up. I worked up until the day before departure and dropped my laptop back in to the office on the way to the airport! We are on our way...
Lynda is slowly getting used to the transition from working to not working and racing to cruising.