A Travellerspoint blog

EPISODE NINE: Life on Board

Our Home Away from Home
Man over board - Just kidding
Goodbye_Cape_Town.jpgGood bye Cape Town
Captain's Gala dinner - with my own Capt in tow!
Soaking up the sea and sun
Lunch time AGAIN!
Jacuzzi time!
Music Music Music
Anna fro the Ukraine: With our cocktail of the day - COCO LOCO
Stairs to Heaven....... or the next quiz/show/bingo or paste extravaganza
The forward deck - the next destination THE EQUATOR!
Crossing the Equator Ceremony

Posted by L and H 06:45 Comments (0)

EPISODE EIGHT: St Helena Island

Why visit St Helena Island? As I indicated in the preamble it was one of the reasons for embarking on this journey in the first place. The actual reasons might be even too complicated for me to understand. There is its history as a place of exile. First it was Napoleon who was send there and also found his last resting place on the island , his tomb bearing evidence of that in the beautiful Sane Valley. Having studied the French Revolution at school, the island became a place of mystery and intrigue.

Secondly from our own history there is the sad exile of 6000 or so Boer soldiers send to St Helena during the Anglo –Boer war. Another history lesson that left a unique impression of the Island. Lastly and probably what it all boils down to: it is one of the remotest places on earth, but possibly one of the most extraordinary places you can visit. This tugs at the explorer and traveller in us and leaves us with a sense of great excitement as we spot the island for the first time from the ship.
It looks pretty impressive, with sheer rock cliffs protruding from the ocean. A dramatic sight with the highest point at 820m. The barren cliffs are intersected with deep valleys which slope steeply from the central ridges. The ocean is a clear cobalt blue with excellent visibility and it is a shame that there are no sandy beaches and very little flat land on the island
We arrive at the port of Jamestown (the capitol) via tender boats as our vessel is too big to dock in the shallow harbour. Various catamarans and sail yachts however bob up and down in the slight current; we spot a young boy and girl with their cat on the deck of one. The stories they must be able to tell of life at sea!

Jamestown is a narrow stretch of buildings dotted around the main street. Situated in a deep valley with steep cliffs on either side there is a carnival atmosphere to greet us. With only 4000 inhabitants on the whole island and about 840 of them in the capitol we will be doubling their town population today. We collect our hired car at the tourism office (it was fairly easy with the help of Facebook and email to reserve it, and probably the best way to see the island)
Highlights of the island are abundant and to just have one day to explore is not fully doing justice to it. In Jamestown a must see, is the well-advertised Jacob’s ladder. Built in 1829 as an inclined plane, which was used to haul manure up from town and send goods down. The ladder is 180m high and has 699 steps angled at nearly 180 degrees. If you complete the ladder you get a souvenir certificate from the St Helena Museum. Needless to say no certificates was issued to us…..
The St James Church is the oldest Anglican Church in the southern hemisphere and we go in to light a candle as is our practice in churches the world over. The post office is a popular destination with the rare stamps of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha for sale .A philatelist’s dream but today we have bigger fish to fry.

St Helena is a British Overseas Territory and the local people are schooled in the British curriculum. St Helenians are extremely friendly and accommodating individuals, speaking with a unique English accent that seems very foreign on the ear. Where ever we go people go out of their way to point us in the right direction, share a piece of personal information and even invite us to join a wedding!

As South African we cannot visit the Island without paying respects to the existing Boer heritage. With our Suzuki Grand Vitara we head off to the Boer cemetery, now a well-kept memorial sight. The roads winds up and down and up and down again, in most places narrowing down to a single lane. What we see around us is magnificent though. Green semi tropical valleys with beautiful trees that canopies across the road. The grass is a brilliant green and gate posts and out buildings date back hundreds of years. Yet the island feels alive and breathing with a magical charmed energy and surprises around every corner. Surely fairies must live here.
The thing that is most striking of the Boer graves is the ages of those buried there. Seventeen year olds, twenty four year olds, and a lot of men in their thirties: a common denominator in wars, if you are old enough to hold a rifle you can be a soldier. The cemetery is overlooked by a serene little old Baptist church. It is quiet and peaceful around us; the spot almost seems to have stood still in time.
Off to another church we go- St Paul’s Cathedral. One of the local firemen is getting married and we are just in time to see the wedding party leave with great fanfare on the fire truck! The Cathedral built in 1851 is surrounded by graves dating back hundreds of years, housing the remains of past Governors, Bishops and Saints.
Leaving the cathedral we see the remains of High Knoll Fort towering over the island, views from there is said to be some of the best you could get on the island. Another spectacular spot for panoramic views is Ladder Hill (the top point of Jacob’s Ladder). The surrounding area is called Half Tree Hollow and we see some construction vehicles from a South African company (Basil Read) driving around.

Basil Read got the contract to build an airport for the island that will be serviced with flights from South Africa. The islanders have mixed feelings about it, but there is no doubt that it is going to revolutionise St Helena, hence the big placard in Main Street counting down: 45 months to go!
Our time on the island is too short and we end of with a quick stroll down Main street , pop in at the Castle gardens , have a beer at the Consulate Bar, chat with the local Police detective and buy some Tungi spirit ( locally made at the distillery) from the Star shopping store.
There are large parts of this beautiful island that we still have to see. That just means we will have to make a plan to visit when the airport is up and running in 2015!

Posted by L and H 05:38 Comments (0)

EPISODE SEVEN: Dare Devil Adventures

We have docked a little late in the port of Walvis Bay, Namibia. Our first disembarkation seems to occur with a hint of organized chaos. Eventually we are on solid ground and on our way to the Namib dunes. There are only a handful of us that has been brave enough or possibly able bodied enough to partake in this chosen activity. Both of us have been to the quiet harbour town of Walvis Bay and its more vibrant neighbour Swakopmund before. Therefor we opted to go play in the sand today.DSCN1034.jpg

The stretch of road that separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Namib Desert is both spectacular and intriguing. On the one side you have the dark blue cold mass of water and on the other dune upon dune of scorching hot powdered sand .A short bus trip later and we have arrived at our playing field for the morning. Our chariots await.

Now here I need to state that even though I have a great sense of adventure I am a whimp at heart and whenever any physical challenges present themselves I defer to my husband, who is not only fearless but as strong as an ox! So I opt to piggy back on the back of his quad bike (four wheeler) for our guided trip onto the desert dunes. DSCN1039.jpg

The guide promptly divides us into a fast driving and slow going group. Apparently we look professional enough to end up in the fast group. We get a slightly bigger vehicle to accommodate us both. Away we go. With the lead guide in front and the backup guide taking the rear , about 10 bikes snake through the dunes like a centipede with overgrown feet.
The dunes are a magnificent sight. Breathtakingly beautiful, we are soon in the midst of a 360 degree sand view. It is at this point that the travel angels decide to intervene again. Just before we are about to descend the infamous spot called ”Long drop” our four-wheeler decides to retire. Now we don’t know if it was a bit phobic or has had previous traumatic experiences with heights but it refuses to drive any further, actually completely in refusal to even start its engine again.
Everybody tries to lend a hand, to no avail. We are stuck in the middle of the Namib Desert. The rest of the group decides to go on and abandon us with the backup guide as our only hope. He phones’ for a replacement vehicle and now we wait. Waylon, our guide, has been with the company about 3 months we learn and is originally from Windhoek ( the capitol or gangsters paradise a la Waylon) .After an “personal crisis’’ he chose to come work in the very remote area.

It is always amazingly interesting to see how much you can learn about a person in a very short time, if you ask the right questions. The 19 year old seems to have had a challenging youth moving between 7 or 8 different schools. Currently his biggest ambition is to grow some dreadlocks and become a professional DJ; he even has a stage name for himself: DJ FLEB (Fastest Larny Ever Born).
For us Waylon becomes a personal guide. When the replacement vehicle comes we are too far behind the group to catch up and with Waylon in front we get a very personalized exclusive excursion. We get ample opportunity to stop and see the more hidden secrets of the desert. Like the burned out land cruiser that lies buried in its sandy grave. The product of inexperienced city dwellers trying to tame the dunes. We get ample photo opportunities, especially at dune 45 (named for the angle it slopes in degrees).DSCN1052.jpg

We have a brilliant experience and as we head back Waylon stops unexpectedly in a valley. He digs around in the sand and runs up to me: “Madam I present all the ladies on my tours with a special souvenir” He places a perfectly preserved cone shaped shell in my hand. Thank you Waylon we hope to see you make all your dreams come true!

Posted by L and H 04:10 Comments (0)

EPISODE SIX: Captain’s Gala Dinner

We have spent our first night at sea and the wonderful rocking of the waves quickly lulled us to sleep. The Gala dinners on any cruise are always highlights and tonight is no exception with the dinner to top all dinners already this early on in the voyage. It is the Captain’s Dinner and every passenger has received a personal invitation from Master Captain Raffaele Ponti for the black tie affair.

Our table companions at the second dinner setting take the occasion very seriously. Everybody is dressed to the tee, ourselves included. We are surrounded by a miniature gathering of the United Kingdom – well sort off. First there is Beth and Glyn from Wales an endearing couple in their seventies that speak to each other in the gargling Welsh language that is very foreign to our ears.

Beth might be a senior citizen but she still has the heart of a vibrant young maiden and her infectious crystal laugh and excellent sense of humour feeds many a live conversation. Beth is an avid internet fan and found this cruise while surfing the net, she tells us proudly. Glyn a former health inspector, on the other hand is very quiet and soft spoken, allowing his wife to do most off the talking. He struggles to walk and most of the time you will see him sitting around the ship reading from his Kindle which his grandchildren loaded full of Terry Pratchett books. Being a great Pratchett fan as well, I feel a kind of kindred spirit with him. Despite his quiet disposition he makes you think of your favourite cute little grandfather that you just want to pack up and take home.

Then we have Ivanna, a lady of indiscriminate age traveling alone. Ivanna is from Surrey but possibly originally from Jamaica. She makes it very clear that she lives about 10 minutes from Ascot (the racecourse) and 10 minutes from Winsor (the castle). Very posh indeed. She is difficult to follow being heavy accented and complaining about everything. She sends food back left right and centre and pulls up her nose at every second dish. Silently we agree she is possibly best to be avoided for the rest of the journey.

Last but not least there is Ian and Sue from Kent. Ian has a little bit of a Sean Connery feature; it is possibly his quarter Scottish heritage that we glimpse. Delightful people that has travelled the world and are easy to talk to, with many a travel story to share. We like them instantly. Sue has some tell-tale signs that makes the doctor in me itch. Blue lips with dark blue patches under her eyes- Hypoxia. She admits requiring constant oxygen when she flies and sleeps , I suspect she is possibly to proud to admit she could do with some even during the day .My husband feels a special empathy with her , having recently lost a dear friend in a similar position.

These are then the first of our travel companions that we get to know a bit more intimately . Cheers bottoms up!

Posted by L and H 11:32 Comments (0)

EPISODE FIVE: Embarkation

It is a misty morning in Cape Town with the mountain wearing a heavy veil and rain drizzling softly in patches. The time has come; today we are starting our 19 day voyage from the cape of storms to the country of passion and pasta- Italy. Embarkation procedures at the harbour seems an anti-climax to the excitement of the journey ahead, there are forms to fill, queues to stand in and more forms and more queues. The enthusiastic cruise staff do their best to bring some joy to the occasion with photographers and video cameras trying to capture every moment.

At last we are on board and scout out our abode for the next two and a half weeks. The MSC Melody is the smallest vessel in the fleet and can accommodate about 1400 passengers. From what we see we are probably less than a 1000. Weeks ago we started speculating about who our fellow passengers would be. Very few people have nearly 3 weeks to spend on a holiday out of season departing from Africa and leaving for Europe.

Our thought were spot on, 90% of the cruise are retired senior citizens mainly from Europe. Ages seemingly vary from 50 to 105 and this is possibly the largest collection of walkers, canes and hearing aids under one roof outside of retirement centres. We feel positively under aged and marvel at the gumption of our elders to travel so avidly despite physical restrictions. They are an inspiration to us and we feel delighted to be surrounded by all this travel wisdom. Randomly we spot some fellow under 45’s and even a few brave couples with children, but by enlarge the purple rinses and false teeth will rain on this journey.

Language is another large demarcating factor, the Germans seem to be in the majority or maybe that is just because they are the loudest bunch. Then there is the British contingent, already glaring at their nemesis from across the channel -the French. The Italians already feel right at home on a ship from the motherland, were all the officers have to be natives.

Tonight we meet our table companions at dinner. Arriva derci, Ciao bella Africa Sud.

Posted by L and H 11:25 Comments (0)

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