|Coming into port at Vitoria, Brazil, under a concrete bridge.|
|We spied a photography session of a wedding couple on the banks of the river.|
|Looking ahead into the port, up the river.|
|Looking back, the way we came.|
|Looking back, there's the bridge we came in under.|
|Tiny glow of sunset.|
|Panorama of the port of Vitoria, Brazil.|
|And the two sides of the city, at night. There is a taxi boat but we took a cab across a bridge.|
|Some of the crew taking a break ashore.|
|Some more crew letting off steam/chillin. The dang naked mermaid on the wall was my view for a long time.|
That night was special despite a slight feeling of not belonging that I couldn’t shake. Many rounds of beer were ordered, deals were made with the establishment’s Madame, and many cigarettes smoked, the Italians pulling from each other’s packs one after another. The spirit was lively and became even livelier when the next round of crew got off their shift and rolled up, still donning their blue and silver reflective jumpsuits emblazoned with the Grimaldi logo. More rounds of beer, more packs of cigarettes flung open for all to partake, and the chief mate had even brought his walkie-talkie and flashlight, which he turned to strobe and shone in people’s faces to annoy them as his loud voice exclaimed in Italian inflection above the din of the celebration. There was an air of frenetic energy and liveliness punctuated by yelps and responses in high pitched Italian, and the famous Italian inflection wrung clearly throughout the whole neighborhood. The steward chaperoned me back to the ship around the time the party was really getting going, but that was fine with me. The crew had welcomed me as one of their own for a few hours despite the fact I could barely communicate with them; I had drank a few beers and my feet had traveled on solid ground. It had been a good night.
I suppose this evening embodies the answer to the question I keep getting: why travel alone on a cargo ship all this way, for all this time—why not fly in an airplane or at least take a passenger ship? Traveling by any other method would not have opened up this slice of life to me: one night of freedom before 6 or 7 days surrounded by water for a group of men (and one woman) who make their life at sea. Usually: 4 months on, 2 months off the ship. As conversations with crew members have revealed over time, this is a type of work that is skilled, offers channels for promotion, yet also consumes the laborer whole. When they are in port, it’s work, work, work nonstop, which is especially exhausting to the older crew members. The majority of the Italian crew seems young, in their 20s or early 30s (I imagine them as children at their parents’ dinner table when forced to eat with the captain), and for them, there may not seem like much alternative at the moment. Put in the context of Italy’s current economic status (worse off than what we hear about the U.S.’s unsavory job market), they perhaps feel locked in, like this is as good as it gets at the moment.
Some—no, many—get out after a few years, judging from the overwhelmingly young crew. However, I had the pleasure of hearing the oldest crew member (besides the cook, who is retiring once this tour concludes in Antwerp) complain about his salary. He is Italian contracted, and receives gross monthly income of 3,500€ (net: 4,800€; apparently the Italian government eats up 1,300€ in taxes, which is a 27.1% tax rate). Considering the grueling nature of the work, he was not satisfied with this salary. By contrast, the Indian workers on the ship have a different contract, and are paid in US Dollars: $6,000/month. One Indian I spoke to is on a 8 month contract. Can you imagine spending July – March nonstop working on a cargo ship, but at the end you have a cool $48,000 waiting for you. Without a family to support, or assets like real estate to maintain, that’s pretty good money—take the cash and hit the road for a 4 month vacation, or rent a short term lodging in your hometown, enjoying a leisurely 4 months of hanging out with friends and bumming around, or perhaps working on a pet project or hobby. But, for the older crew members, or ones with a family, I can see how that money would get eaten up fast when a house, car, and children are taken into account.
|This is part of a series called Photoshoot with myself at sunset on the deck.|