It’s a Long Way Home

We were up and out of cabin 4130 at 7.30pm, for the start of what would be a very long 30 hour journey back home.

We went to the Veranda Café for our breakfast and sat with Beryl and Sue.  Once we’d finished, we just had to make ourselves comfortable until we were called to disembark.  So we went and sat out in the sunshine at the pool deck, our carry-on luggage at our sides.

At about 9.30am we were called to disembark.  We went to the terminal building and identified our suitcases, which were then loaded on the bus for the ride to the airport.

Once we arrived, we made our way to the Emirates check-in desk and booked our bags all the way to Newcastle.  We had about a four-hour wait until the first leg of the journey, a flight to Dubai.  There wasn’t anything I wanted to buy in the duty free shop, so we just decided to go straight to the executive lounge.

The Bidvest lounge was very pleasant.  There were comfortable chairs and lots of different types of snacks and drinks.  There was also free wi-fi so we were able to check our emails and our on-line bank account.  We enjoyed quite a few drinks and partook of some of the food.  There isn’t really much else to do waiting in airports, but at least it was more comfortable than the standard departure lounges and the food and drinks were free!   🙂

Soon it was time for us to go to the departure gate for our flight, where boarding started soon afterwards.  We had a 9½ hour flight to Dubai.  I had the window seat and Trevor was next to me, then there was another guy, who worked for Microsoft, in the aisle.  He was Portuguese and he was on his way to Dubai for a job interview with Microsoft there.

The flight was fairly boring and uneventful.  As ever on Emirates, the in-flight meals were massive, and they kept coming around asking if we wanted more wine.  The entertainment consoles were very sophisticated as well, and Trevor was able to watch a live English Premiership football game at 35,000 feet.  I just watched the skymap and waited for the time to pass (slowly) as I found it impossible to get any sleep.

We eventually arrived in Dubai; it was about 1.00am as we had to put our watches forward two hours from Cape Town time.  We had another six hours to wait here, so we hoped the VIP lounge would be comfortable and perhaps allow us to snatch some sleep.

 

Sunday, 18th January 2015

The airport at Dubai is massive; it must be one of the biggest airports we’ve ever been to.  After disembarking the aircraft we walked through the concourse which was bustling with life and crowds, despite the hour.  I bought some L’Oréal anti-wrinkle serum in the duty free shop, then we went along to the VIP lounge.

The lounge was very big and was quite crowded.  There were tables at which people were sitting using their laptops, and also armchairs and coffee tables.  The food and drink area was like that in a staff canteen; hot meals as well as cold, and a bar at the end where some people were perching on stools.

We also saw a ‘quiet’ area which consisted of loungers, each containing reclining bodies hoping for some sleep.  They were all occupied so there was no chance of us having any.  We had no option but to just wait it out.

The time passed slowly.  I hate this part; once your holiday is over you just want to get home and the long journey back is just so tedious.  It is also quite a test of endurance to do two long-haul flights back to back; I can understand why some people avoid flying where possible as it is uncomfortable, but unfortunately airport lounges are a fact of life if, like us, you want to go to these far-flung exotic locations.

We enjoyed the drinks and some of the snacks and eventually the morning came, and it was time for us to make our way to the departure gate for the second Boeing 777 aeroplane.  Tiredness was catching up with us and we felt grubby and disorientated.   😦

We boarded the plane and found we had been allocated the middle two seats in the middle section of four, neither window or aisle.  I knew then there was no chance of any sleep as I didn’t have anywhere to rest my head.  It was going to be an uncomfortable flight home.  Flight time was given as 7 hours 40 minutes back to Newcastle.

The plane started taxi-ing to the runway.  It took absolutely ages because Dubai airport is so big.  However, we were jolted wide awake from our semi-somnolent state by the captain’s voice coming over the intercom, telling us that, unfortunately, we were going to have to return to the terminal as there was a passenger on board who was being extremely unco-operative regarding his baggage blocking the emergency exit.  So he was going to be removed from the plane!  It gave me a fright when the captain started telling us this, because I wondered just what he was going to say.

So he aircraft trundled its way back to the terminal and, once the doors were opened, four armed security guards boarded the plane and went back to where the recalcitrant passenger was sitting.  He was escorted off the plane; two security guards in front of him and two behind.  We then had to wait, of course, for his bags to be offloaded.  It did make me nervous though and my already-overactive imagination went into overdrive with thoughts of terrorists and bombs and stuff.   😦

Eventually the aircraft doors were closed again, the plane taxied to the runway and finally we were airborne – two hours late.  The cabin crew brought round the inevitable drinks and meals and Trevor and I commented that we’d done nothing but sit around and eat and drink since leaving the Voyager – and it wasn’t over yet.

So there’s not really a lot more to say.  Just boring, boring, boring.

Finally we landed at Newcastle International Airport at 1.00pm, British time.  The weather was a bit of a shock to the system as there was a dusting of snow.  A bit different from the 35°C we’d experienced in Réunion!

Once we’d collected our cases from the carousel and got through passport control, we made our way to the Metro station for the journey to Newcastle central railway station, where the train for Durham was already in.  Twelve minutes later we saw the dearly familiar silhouette of Durham Cathedral as we alighted from the train.

A 10-minute taxi ride and we were back in the house again.  Another superb holiday was at an end.

Cable up the Table

We were woken this morning by Captain Tkachuk’s voice booming over the tannoy to say that the Voyager would be moored up in a temporary berth until the MSC Opera left at 5.00pm, in which case we would move into that berth and remain there overnight.  Apparently it was due to a cargo ship which was having difficulties and was late into port, creating a ‘queue’ of ships behind it waiting to get in.

We had our breakfast in the Discovery Restaurant then went into the Darwin Lounge to await the call for our excursion, which would take us on a city tour as well as a visit to the top of that most famous of Cape Town landmarks, Table Mountain.

We disembarked the ship at 8.30am and made our way to the waiting bus.  The weather was pleasant, about 23°C and there wasn’t too much cloud.  Now that we are well out of the tropics at 33° south, the weather is not as hot and sultry as it was in say, Madagascar.

We set off along the fabulous waterfront with the flat-topped summit of Table Mountain forming the backdrop.  Table Mountain is about 3,300 feet and is flanked at each end by with Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head on either side.  A thin strip of cloud, known colloquially as the “tablecloth”, sometimes forms on top of the mountain, but today it looked fairly clear, which is just what we needed as we didn’t want to miss the view from the top.

Cape Town looked to be a bustling, exciting modern city.  As of 2014 it is the 10th most populous city in Africa and home to 64% of the Western Cape’s population. It is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, reflecting its role as a major destination for immigrants and expatriates to South Africa. The city was named the World Design Capital for 2014 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design. In 2014, Cape Town was named the best place in the world to visit by both The New York Times and The Telegraph.

As we drove through the busy Friday morning streets we passed the Town Hall with its amazingly-intricate Edwardian architecture (built in 1905) as well as more modern high-rise buildings.  One of them, the Civic Centre, had an interesting external effect – as you approached the building and moved round it the vertical slats decorating the outside slowly came into focus as Nelson Mandela’s face.

Our coach ride took us along the coastline and we passed many colourful wooden dwellings which housed the Indian Quarter.  Some of the houses were up for short-term rental if someone wanted to spend a holiday here.  We also saw the distinctive football stadium which was opened in December 2009 in time for the 2010 World Cup.

Presently the bus started to wend its way up the gently zig-zagging road leading to Table Mountain.  This afforded us fantastic views over the whole of the city and the sparkling Atlantic fringed by golden beaches.  We could see the Voyager moored up in the distance, her white paintwork gleaming in the sun.

Eventually the bus parked up and we were all given our tickets for the cable car.  We walked a short way to join the queue and put on our jackets, as the temperature was noticeably cooler up here.  We had to get into a lift to go up to the next stage, where the Aerial Cableway started.  The cableway is one of Cape Town’s most popular tourist features and receives around 800,000 visitors a year.  The queue, however, was not too long and it was only a matter of minutes before we boarded the car, which is designed to hold 65 passengers, standing room only.

As the cable car slowly started to ascend, we were surprised and delighted by the fact that the floor started to revolve. This allowed everyone, no matter where they were standing, to have a 360° view, from the mountain face to the bay and everything in between.  It was great!   🙂

Once we got to the top we wandered around admiring the spectacular views.  There was a group of intrepid people getting a briefing before deciding to abseil down the mountain!  I think I’ll stick to the cable car.  🙂

There was quite a cold wind blowing and, after using the toilet facilities, Trevor and I decided to go into the café and have a hot cup of coffee and a snack.  When we paid for the coffee at the counter, we were given a plastic disc and told to take it to our table; when the disc started flashing with green lights it meant your coffee was ready and you went to the counter to collect it.  Unusual I suppose, but effective.

After we’d had our coffee we went into the “Shop at the Top” and browsed the various over-priced holiday souvenirs, such as t-shirts, mugs, soft toys and various other tat.  Then we had another wander round before deciding to make our way back to the cable car; we had to be back at the bus for 12.30pm and we didn’t know how big a queue there was going to be.

We boarded the cable car straight away and had another brilliant revolving ride back down.  Then we walked back to the bus and took our seats for the return journey back to the Voyager.

Back on board we enjoyed our lunch on the open rear decks, which were understandably fairly empty.  We then had to go back to cabin 4130 and do the majority of our packing, until it was time to go to the afternoon trivia at 4.45pm.  We were on our own this time, however, as Beryl and Sue were on a trip somewhere.  There weren’t many people doing the quiz, but we only got 14/20 and didn’t win.  We saw Roger the friendly barman, and gave him an envelope containing a generous tip because he’d been so good to us.   😉

At 5.00pm we felt the increased vibrations of the Voyager’s engines as she was due to move across to the berth recently vacated by the MSC Opera.  We went up to the topmost deck to watch as she made her way slowly across the bay, turning around as she did so.  The guys ashore deftly caught the ropes that were thrown across and made them fast, as the guys on board got the gangplank ready.

Once Voyager was settled, we’d decided we’d go back ashore again, have a look around, spend our remaining rands as we were due to fly home tomorrow.  😦    We’d already been told it was about a mile to walk into the town but we felt we could do with the exercise.

Disembarking the Voyager, we set off into the main town, where there were lots of lively bars and restaurants along the waterfront.  We hoped we’d be able to find a place like Jack’s Bar, that we’d enjoyed in Richards Bay.  But as I was walking along, I stumbled slightly on the pavement and this was enough to break the thong part of my wedge flip-flop on my right foot.  There was no way I could repair it, but there was equally no way I could walk around Cape Town with only one shoe!  So there was nothing else for it – we had to find somewhere selling cheapy flip-flops or other light shoes/sandals.

Because Cape Town is more of a fashionable, affluent area however, frequented by cruise ship passengers, we noticed that the prices were quite a lot higher than those we’d seen elsewhere in South Africa.  After looking at various items of footwear I settled on a pair of red patterned canvas pumps that cost 300 rands, or £16.67.  I then dumped my broken sandals into a nearby bin.

We then went into an indoor market that had all sorts of hot and cold food stalls, fruit, vegetables, meats and fish as well as clothing and household items. On the mezzanine floor upstairs we noticed a sign saying “Bar” so up we went for a beer.  There were a few wooden tables and benches around, and one or two customers.  We went to the bar and asked to try the beer sampler, which consisted of four different 250ml glasses of beer for 30 rands.  We ordered one between us and enjoyed the beers, but it looked as if the market was emptying out and getting ready to close, so we decided to go and try elsewhere.

We’d already noticed a big ferris wheel lighting up the sky, and our meanderings took us right up to it.  On impulse I said to Trevor, “Let’s have a go on it.”  It cost 100 rands per person (just under six quid) but there was a sign up that said “Cruise Passengers Half Price” on production of your cruise card.  Even better, as Trevor is over 60, he got half the “seniors” price.  So I got it for 50 rands and Trevor for 30.  For that you got 12 minutes or four revolutions.

We had a car all to ourselves and it was like being a little kid again; it’s decades since I’ve been on a “big wheel”.  It was really great slowly ascending in the gathering dusk, looking at the city lights spread out below us.  After five revolutions there was still no sign of us stopping, and we’d just started our sixth time round when the guy controlling the wheel put it into reverse, allowing us to get slowly back to the exiting point.  A nice little interlude that we really enjoyed.  🙂

We were ready to have a drink now.  We had a look around the fashionable eateries and bars and eventually settled on a large “fish market” that was both a restaurant and cocktail bar.  We opted to sit outside and Trevor enjoyed a beer while I tried a very pleasant South African white wine.  Time was getting on now, and we knew if we didn’t get back to the Voyager before 9.30pm, we’d miss our dinner.

We took a stroll back to the ship and arrived back at 8.45pm.  We decided we’d better go straight to the Veranda Café to have our meal, then we’d manage to get into the Darwin Lounge in time for the show at half-nine.  Tonight was a Variety Show, performing the most popular pieces that we’d seen in the cruise so far.

As we entered the Darwin Lounge and made our way to our ‘usual’ seats, we were met by Roger, our favourite barman, who advised Trevor he’d been looking for us.  Apparently we were conspicuous by our absence for the evening quiz and the reason was because…  we’d won the charity raffle!  Yes!  That fabulous hand-painted ship’s navigational chart was ours!  I couldn’t believe it.  It’s an amazing and unique work of art, a proper collector’s item… and it was ours!   🙂

Apparently Gerry Atkins, the cruise director, had brought the chart up to the Sunset Club earlier on, knowing we were always up there for the quiz.  She’d intended making a formal presentation to us.  But we weren’t there!  Trevor went off, with Roger, to the purser’s desk where the chart was carefully rolled up and put into a robust cardboard tube, so we’d be able to get it home safely.  How totally brilliant – I was dead excited.

Tonight’s show was the best it had been all cruise, the highlight being the Voyager Duo (the classical guys) giving a fantastic performance.  Then we took the tube containing the fabulous chart back to our cabin, and only just got it to fit in the largest case, packing our clothing and other stuff around it.  I was trying not to get too despondent at the fact that our holiday was just about over, and tomorrow we’d be flying home.   😦

We finished the evening off by going up to the Sunset Club. where we enjoyed a few more drinks and a bit of a sing and a dance. There weren’t many people up there (no doubt they were all packing) but we didn’t want to go back as it would mean the official end of our cruise.  So we stayed until midnight, when we were the last to leave.

Back in our cabin we put the cases outside for collection and retired for the night.  We had to be up at 7.00am and out of our cabins by half-past, so we wanted to get a good night’s sleep.

Indian Ocean meets Atlantic Ocean

We didn’t really do a lot today.  Got up about 8.45am and went up, as usual to have our breakfast in the Veranda Café.  Then we just spent time pottering around the ship before going into Scott’s Lounge to watch a towel folding demonstration by the cabin stewards.

As with napkins, you can (with a little imagination and creativity) fold towels into different shapes and examples of these were usually found around the edge of the pool every day.  There were swans, tortoises and a fabulous crocodile, but today we learned how to make a frog and a dog, and something else that I’ve forgotten.  My finished articles bore no resemblance to what they were supposed to be!   🙂

Afterwards we went up on deck and sat in the sun enjoying a pre-luncheon drink.  We had a good wander around the vessel and I took lots of photos to put on my web site.  We noticed that there was a good sea swell of at least 12′ and the ship was rolling quite a bit; I think we were not far from the Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet.

Lunch, once again, was a delicious barbecue by the pool with a good selection of meats and salads.

After lunch I went back to the cabin and washed, blow-dried and styled my hair ready for tonight, which was formal night once again and the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party.

The rest of the afternoon I just spent reading, doing my kumihimo and taking part in the afternoon quiz.  Then, at 5.00pm, I started getting ready in my glad-rags; I wore a long, plum-coloured dress with a sequinned bodice and matching sequinned lace jacket.  I pinned my hair up using the hair-piece to give myself a glamorous chignon.

Then off we went to the Darwin Lounge, once again positioning ourselves at the end of the row to make the most of the free champers.  The motion of the Voyager was really noticeable and the entertainment staff advised all those standing (particularly the ladies in their high heels) to take a seat.

We enjoyed about three glasses of the free fizz, and we noticed that the waiters were replenishing their trays from the nearby Lookout Lounge bar, as there isn’t a bar in the Darwin Lounge.  Trevor therefore went along to have a look, and came back with another couple of free glasses of plonk.  So we didn’t do so badly today.   🙂

We went into the Discovery Restaurant about 7.00pm and enjoyed a scrumptious dinner of lobster thermidor spent in the good company of our fellow diners.

For some reason tonight the quiz was in the Darwin Lounge instead of the usual venue; we were joined once again by Beryl and Sue and we only missed out by a point.  We decided to stay afterwards for Evening Showtime, which was the Voyager Theatre Company’s tribute to Noël Coward.  We didn’t enjoy the show; we thought it was boring and the singing and acting were pretty amateurish.  We were pleased when it was over!   😦

We finished the evening off as we did every night; went up to the Sunset Club, had a few more drinks served by the irrepressible Roger, who dragged me up onto the dance floor a couple of times.

We returned to cabin 4130 around midnight to settle down for the night.  Tomorrow we were due to reach our final port of call, Cape Town.

Elizabeth and Elephants

When we woke up this morning we were in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Once again we had to be up bright and early as we were due to leave for our tour at 8.15am. Today we were going to the Addo Elephant National Park, which is the third largest conservation park in South Africa, next to the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

The hour-long coach ride to the park took us through Port Elizabeth and its surroundings, including the Township shanty-towns.  Townships are the communities in which most of the diverse South African population lives. Stemming out of the oppressive era of Apartheid, when black, coloured and Indian residents were prohibited from living within the suburbs, townships earned the reputation of being poverty-stricken areas where clean amenities and facilities were lacking. However, over the past few years, townships have emerged from these challenges as a culture-rich environment, home to a large spectrum of this Rainbow Nation.

Most of the townships, particularly in Port Elizabeth, are still made up largely of shacks – homes made by the inhabitants out of corrugated iron, wooden pallets, even paper and cardboard. Clearly, there remain economic challenges within these areas, which are usually located on the outskirts of a city’s commercial and suburban centre. Like the favelas in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, these less-than-salubrious areas contrasted sharply with the modern commercial buildings and up-market residential homes.

As Africa is so famous for its diverse wildlife, in particular the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard), we were looking forward to visiting the Addo Elephant Park. The park was founded in 1931 by the South African naturalist and entomologist Sydney Skaife, in order to provide a sanctuary for the eleven remaining elephants in the area. The park has proved to be very successful and currently houses more than 600 elephants and a large number of other mammals, including wildebeest, lions, warthogs, zebra, kudu and hartebeest. It is also a place of haven for the protected dung beetle species (Circellium bacchus) and we saw signs along the roads in the park which said Dung beetles have right of way.

Once we entered the park the bus went along at a sedate pace in order to maximise our chances of seeing anything. We kept our eyes peeled and soon spotted some families of warthogs and, a bit further along, some zebra. It was pleasant driving along in the rich African landscape but the air conditioning on the bus was on a bit high, and I was constantly blasted with cold air which was not very comfortable. We had driven for quite a while and still not seen any elephants.

Our guide told us we would go to one of the main watering holes, where we had more of a chance of seeing the elephants. As we headed up a slight incline, we could already see a herd of elephants in the distance so we eagerly craned our necks to get a better view.

The bus pulled up at the watering hole with the elephants on the right side. Of course Trevor and I were on the left-hand side of the bus and we worried about our view being impeded by the camera-waving people on the right-hand side. The driver told us not to worry; after a while he would turn the bus around so that the people of both sides would get a good view.

There were loads of elephants; about 70. There were the big bull elephants with their long, curving tusks, and mothers with babies. The elephants were going in and out of the watering hole which must have been quite deep, as they could submerge themselves, using their trunks as ‘periscopes’. Some of the elephants were frisking about in the water and getting themselves totally wet in order to keep themselves cool. It was fascinating watching them; in a large herd the oldest female is the matriarch, and you could see that the females were protective of their young, who stayed close by their mother’s side.

As we watched the group by the watering hole, another herd came towards us from the left-hand side, crossing the road in front of us to join the others. Once again there were some babies with them; they were very cute.

We stayed watching the elephants for about an hour and got loads of great photos. Then it was time to start making our way back as time in the park has to be limited for obvious reasons. The bus made its way back to the entrance of the park, where there were shops and toilet facilities for those who wanted them.

We arrived back on the Voyager about 1.00pm and had our lunch. Then we went and sat out at the pool deck for a short while and enjoyed a couple of drinks. There didn’t seem to be a lot ashore in the immediate vicinity, so we just decided we’d stay on the ship for the rest of the day.

At 4.30pm we went along to Scott’s Lounge in time for the afternoon trivia. While we were in there, we saw an easel displaying a large, interesting-looking painting. A closer look showed it was the Voyager‘s navigational chart for this cruise, showing all our ports of call and the route taken, but one of the ship’ crew, who is obviously a very talented watercolour artist, had painted over the chart in a theme from the cruise. So there was a picture of the Voyager, as well as some of the more famous landmarks and pictures of elephants and lions. It was an absolute work of art and a complete one-off and it was up for raffle! The tickets were £2.00 each or three for £5.00, so I went along to reception and bought a fiver’s worth. The money raised would go to charity.

We took part in the quiz with Beryl and Sue as usual, and despite scoring 17/20 we were beaten by the winners who scored 18. So we weren’t about to get our hat-trick then.

After the quiz I went back to the cabin and got showered and changed in time for dinner. We went up to the Explorer Restaurant, which we hadn’t tried before, and shared our table and some pleasant conversation with another three people.

Tonight there was a bit of variety on the entertainment programme for a change. After the quiz in the Sunset Club (nope, we didn’t win) we took our seats in the Darwin Lounge for tonight’s ‘main’ show, which featured Kirsty Fuller, one of the singers, doing her tribute to some of the well-known female icons. The trouble is with singing some of the really big songs is that they are doomed to failure if you don’t have the big voice to match, and this was the case here.

After Kirsty had left the stage, we looked forward to the next show which was called “Parade of Chefs” and featured the Executive Chef and his “Zulu Warriors”. It was quite amusing. The chefs all came out in their uniforms and tall hats, and they’d made ‘shields’ out of serving trays and ‘spears’ out of broom handles. They had learned some Zulu words and chants especially as they did their parade, so at least it made their efforts original and allowed the audience to show their appreciation for the delicious meals we’d enjoyed so far on this voyage.

The final entertainment for this evening was the traditional Filipino Folkloric Show that is an essential feature of every cruise. A lot of people commented that some of the crew singers and dancers were more entertaining than the professional entertainers! It was a coloutful and interesting 45 minutes.

At the end of the show as the passengers in the Darwin Lounge drifted away we just returned to Scott’s Lounge as there was nothing on in the Sunset Club tonight. So we just enjoyed a couple more drinks and listened to the cocktail pianist whilst partaking some of the late-night snacks, before returning to our cabin about midnight. We had a day at sea to look forward to tomorrow.

A Smashing Time in the Indian Ocean

I woke up in the middle of the night – I think it was about 3.00am – to go to the toilet, and I noticed that the Voyager was at sea once again, but I don’t know what time she eventually left port. The creaking and rattling noises around the cabin indicated that the sea was quite rough, and I had to put my earplugs in before I could go back to sleep.

Nevertheless, we were up at 8.10am as usual, and we changed and went up to the Lookout Lounge for our Sea Stretch session. The ship’s movement was very obvious and we had to do some of the leg stretches whilst sitting in a chair, as the instructor didn’t want to risk anyone losing their balance and falling over.

After Sea Stretch we went up to the Veranda Café for our breakfast and went to eat it outside as usual, but it was a bit windy so I had to tie my hair back so as to avoid it blowing across my face and into my mouth as I was trying to eat. I was glad to get back inside again!  🙂

Looking at today’s programme of activities there wasn’t really a great deal of stuff I fancied doing, so after breakfast Trevor got his book and I took my laptop to do some of this blog, and we went back into the Lookout Lounge, which (as its name suggests) has sweeping panoramic windows overlooking the ship’s bow.

We could see lots of white horses on the sea and a large swell. Watching the continuous rising and falling of the Voyager‘s bow was almost hypnotic, broken only when a huge wave or shower of sea spray crashed off our window.
When we emerged from the lounge I noticed that the shop was having a sale, so I went in to have a browse and came out with a colourful chiffon top with complementary necklace for only £25.00. The top could be worn either over a camisole with a pair of black trousers, or over a swimsuit as a poolside or beach cover up.

Around lunchtime we noticed that, although the sea still looked very lively, there were patches of blue in the sky and here and there the sun was peeping out of the clouds. As we knew they were setting up a stir-fry station on the pool deck, we thought we’d go up, have a pre-luncheon beer, and see what was on offer.

I managed to find a table on the lee side of the ship (portside) and sat down, while Trevor went up to get his stir-fry. The Voyager was still going up and down, up and down on the waves but it was still very pleasant sitting out in the sun, and in any case we are never affected by rough weather; as far as I’m concerned it’s all part of the fun of being at sea.

Just then, the Voyager felt as if she was dropping into a trough and an enormous wave hit the side of the vessel, resulting in a large, graceful arc of sea spray coming right up and over the top of Deck 8 (the deck above us), and cascading down over me, and a lot of other passengers, like a shower of rain. A few seconds later there was an almighty bang followed by a loud crash of crockery and glassware shattering. Over where the stir-fry station was set up, one of the tables had collapsed and everything on it, including the metal covered food warmers containing the rice for the stir-fry and stacks of plates, crashed to the decks. Officers and deck crew rushed over from all directions to make sure no passengers had been hurt. There was a hell of a mess with rice all over the deck, bits of broken crockery, and of course the table whose leg had buckled. As one of the chefs said as he cleared up the mess, “The show must go on”. Presently everything was cleared up, the table reset and everything back in its place again. I should imagine that, one a seagoing ship, this sort of mishap would be a regular occurrence, and the staff all took it in their stride.

We sat out for a while longer and pottered around for a bit before going into Scott’s Lounge for the afternoon trivia. We were joined once again by Beryl and Sue, the two ladies who had previously joined quizzing ranks with us. This time we got 18/20 and we won! Yes, we had finally won the Voyager trivia. Our prize was a neat little Voyages of Discovery notepad each. These would be handy for keeping by the phone or carrying in your handbag, as you’d never know when you needed to jot something down. In any case, we were more interested in the ‘bragging rights’ than the quality of the prizes.  🙂

After the quiz we went into the Darwin Lounge to listen to Peter Snow’s lecture, called The World’s Greatest 20th Century Battle Fields which also formed the basis of a series of BBC programmes he had broadcast in conjunction with his son Dan Snow, who is also a TV presenter. As ever, Peter’s talk was very stimulating and interesting; he certainly is a natural speaker and, combined with his cut-glass English accent, you can see why he was successful as a TV broadcaster.

After Peter’s talk it was time for us to get washed and changed and ready for dinner, which we enjoyed up in the Veranda Café. The wind had dropped by now and the Indian Ocean was much calmer.

As usual, dinner was followed by a visit to the Sunset Club for the evening quiz. Once again we were joined by Beryl and Sue. When the papers were marked we were joint top with another team so it went to the tie-breaker. Both teams got the answer wrong, so it went to a second tie-breaker. This time both teams were right! I suggested to cruise director Gerry, who was hosting the quiz, that if we were still tied after a third tie-breaker then both teams deserved to win and she agreed. It never came to that though, because I correctly said that the old sixpenny piece (worth 2.5p today) was withdrawn as legal tender in 1980, nine years after Britain’s currency was decimalised. So we’d won the quiz again! Twice in one day.   🙂

The show tonight was one of the male singers doing 45 minutes of Michael Bublé classics. OK, but nothing earth-shatteringly exciting. Likewise, up in the Sunset Club later on, Paul Burley (who is a dancer rather than a singer) did his usual karaoke impression; one of them was Status Quo’s Rockin’ All Over The World, and it was obvious that Paul didn’t really know the song because not only was he blatantly reading the lyrics from his iPad screen, but he was singing completely out of time. It was just as well people were more interested than getting up to bop about and weren’t really listening to Paul’s singing.

We stayed for one more drink, then went back to our cabin in good time tonight, as we had to be up at 7.30am tomorrow ready for our excursion in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

From Durham to Durban

From Durham in north-east England (where we live) to Durban, South Africa – it could hardly be more different. So we woke up with pleasant anticipation of our city tour around this very interesting place.

After breakfast we assembled in the Darwin Lounge, waiting to be called to disembark for our half-day tour. The sky was cloudy but here and there we could see patches of blue sky and the temperature was already very warm.

As we left the Voyager and walked to our tour bus, we noticed that we were mainly in an industrial port, with many containers, cranes and official-looking buildings. There didn’t seem to be any bars or restaurants in the immediate vicinity, as as the ship wasn’t due to leave until 11.00pm, it meant we’d have to have a taxi ride into town if we wanted to go out on our own to explore later on.

The bus made its way through the bustling city streets and our guide explained we would be making a stop, for an hour, at the Indian indoor market. Apparently Durban has the greatest population of Indian people outside India; this came about because of the Indian immigrants who had come to South Africa to work on the sugar cane plantations.

We arrived at the market and went inside, which afforded a respite from the heat of the day. The indoor market was very large and was spread across two storeys. The different shops and stalls were fascinating and sold everything you could think of; clothing, jewellery, handicrafts, household items and, of course, herbs, spices and ingredients for tasty hot Indian dishes. The spice stalls were amazing; they had large drums of ground spices with samples placed out in bowls; they were very aromatic. Some of the hot chilli powders had interesting names; there was “Hell’s Fire” and “Mother-in-Law Exterminator”. I was tempted to buy some of the hot chilli because I love Indian food and really enjoy the hot dishes like jalfreizi and vindaloo and even, once or twice, a phal if I’m feeling particularly brave.  🙂 Trevor, however, doesn’t like the hot dishes so I refrained from getting any of the chilli.

Outside one of the shops I spotted some nail polishes and other cosmetics and went inside to have a browse. At first I wasn’t sure of what I was looking at; there were large polythese bags filled with colours and it was only when I looked closer I realised I was in a bead shop! This was great because I make beaded jewellery as a hobby, so I happily spent some time browsing the shop before buying a big bag of coloured glass seed beads, some strings of Chinese crystals and some packs of wooden beads from which I’d be able to make some ethnic-style necklaces.

As we moved around the shop I noticed there were some ready-made necklaces hanging up; one of them contained blue stones and lots of chains and was what you’d call a ‘statement’ necklace. It was 55 rands which is just over three pounds! How cheap was that?! I had to get it.

The whole lot cost 178 rands, less than a tenner! So definitely a bargain, I left the shop very happy with my purchases.

Next we came to a shoe shop selling a huge selection of hand-made soft Indian shoes. They were made of canvas and contained lots of colourful embroidery. I saw a cute little pair of flat Mary Jane style shoes in shades of blue, green and red and they were only 150 rands (less than nine pounds) so I had to try some on. They were very comfortable and so unusual; once again I came away with a bargain.

Back on the bus we had to wait for about 20 minutes as one of our party was missing. There was no sign of them despite the guide going into the market, holding up the bus sign and looking for the person. So it was then decided we’d have to go; either the guide had miscounted or the missing person would have to make their own way back to the port.

Our next stop was to the botanical gardens. We walked along the pleasantly-shaded paths and looked at the trees and plants, with their colourful butterflies and small birds. Occasionally we saw monkeys in the trees. There was also a large pond which had lots of lily pads and distinctive, pink lotus flowers growing. We spent about an hour in the gardens before making our way back to the bus.

Driving through the city streets we came to the well-known football stadium (Moses Mabhida Stadium) which was used for some of the games during the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa. We also passed the Durban Sharks stadium, where the local rugby team plays.

Continuing on our way, the bus drove along the Golden Mile, a stretch of shore with a fantastic sandy beach and great waves for surfing. The shoreline was fronted by the up-market hotels and apartments. Along the sea-shore were many stalls selling the usual holiday ‘tat’, and we also saw the rickshaw drivers who were dressed in very flamboyant, colourful styles. This is a very popular place for holiday-makers, as January is the height of summer in the southern hemisphere.

Afterwards we made our way back to the Voyager in time for lunch, which we ate out on the aft decks. The ship was fairly quiet as most people were ashore, so we just enjoyed sitting out in the sun, wandering about the decks, and enjoying a drink or two.

At 4.45pm we went along to Scott’s Lounge for the quiz, as usual, and we were joined by a couple of ladies with whom we’d formed a team before. We got 17/20, a respectable score but not enough to win; the winners got 18. Our team was good because the ladies knew a lot about literature and the arts, Trevor has his sporting knowledge and I am good with 70s/80s music or any computer questions.

After pottering around the ship for a while, we got ready, went for dinner, then went up to the Sunset Club for another quiz. As the Voyager was still in port there were not many people there. Needless to say, we didn’t win.

Afterwards we repaired to the Darwin Lounge for tonight’s show, which was called “Highly Strung” and featured Ciprian, the talented violinist we’d seen earlier in the cruise, as well as the ship’s dancers. Ciprian played all sorts of music, from Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, to Flight of the Bumble Bee (Rimsky Korsakov) to gypsy melodies to Irish dancing. The dancers accompanied him and the whole show was excellent – by far the best we’d seen all cruise.

We finished off the evening by going up to the Sunset Club where one of the female singers was doing some ballads. It was a bit boring to be honest. What was worse, however, was the fact that once the singer had finished and the disco was due to come on, they carried on in the ‘ballad’ theme and played all the slow songs that no-one could get up and dance to. So the Sunset Club rapidly emptied until there was only about half a dozen of us left, and we were all complaining about the dreary music.

Coming out of the Sunset Club about 11.45pm, we noticed that the Voyager was still tied up alongside; she was supposed to have set sail again at 11.00pm. So we decided to go up on the topmost deck and have a wander about.
Once up there, we noticed that the ship was still bunkering fuel from the refuelling vessel immediately alongside. We could see a few men wandering around the vessel in overalls and hard-hats; one of them spotted us looking down and gave us a wave. We watched the proceedings for a while but nothing much was happening, and Voyager definitely wasn’t ready to leave yet, so we went back to cabin 4130 and settled down for the night.

Cocktails at Jack’s

After a good night’s sleep we woke up at 8.00am and went up for our Sea Stretch session before enjoying an al fresco breakfast. We then wandered around on deck, looking at our surroundings and decided what to do. We had the whole day to explore at our leisure and do whatever we wanted, when we wanted – great.

We then went back to our cabin and got ourselves sorted out for going ashore. We thought we’d get some exercise by walking along past the marina, shops and bars and making our way to the attractive little sandy beach we could see, which already had one or two people swimming and strolling along in the sand. In any case, we wanted to find somewhere to write out the postcards we’d bought yesterday.

I made sure I put on plenty of suntan cream and off we went. Although there was a refreshing sea breeze, the sun was already very hot. We just took our time ambling along, stopping to look at the pleasure craft in the marina, and looking at the waterfront restaurants and bars, whose owners were trying to tempt us to come inside.

Walking along the boardwalk, we soon came to some steps leading down into the golden sandy beach. I kicked off my flip-flops and walked barefoot in the soft sand along the edge of the shore, allowing the small waves to lap around my ankles. Several families of local people were out fishing, walking their dogs, swimming or paddling in the sea – what a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning.

As we walked back again we tried, where possible, to walk in the shade of the trees as the sun was very hot. Eventually we arrived back to the shops, and we went into a small corner store for a refreshing orange ice-lolly.
We then decided to go to one of the bars, have a cold beer, and write out the postcards. One of the little bars, simply called “Jack’s Bar” had a number of high tables and stools outside, and looked inviting. The price list proclaimed the Castle beer to be 10 rands a bottle (about 60 pence!) so in we went.

We sat on a stool at a high table and ordered our beers, which were cold, foamy and very refreshing. I wrote out the postcards as we drank them. I then spotted the cocktail list and ordered myself a mojito while Trevor had another beer. The barman, who introduced himseld as Dion, was very friendly.

The mojito was lovely and was cheap, only about £2.00 compared to the £4.30 charged on the Voyager for a far inferior version. As we had nothing to do and all day to do it in, we decided to stay for another. This time I chose a drink called “Liquid Cocaine” which came in 4 shot glasses and only cost 15 rands or 85p! Cheap or what!

Sitting here in Jack’s Bar was just a great way to pass the time. Trevor stuck to drinking beer but I was determined to try some more of the interesting-sounding cocktails and shooters. The next one I tried (also 15 rands) was called “Snail Trail”. It was an intriguing selection of drinks served on an escargot plate, and consisted of black Sambuca, green Sambuca, tequila, Stroh rum and a sort of cream liqueur like Bailey’s. I was given a straw through which to taste the various samples.

What a concoction! The neat tequila was strong, but the Stroh rum nearly took my breath away. It was very fiery and medicinal-tasting. Dion saw my reaction and brought over the bottle to show me; it was 120 proof (60% alcohol) and is the strongest spirit they are legally allowed to sell in South Africa. It was just as well it was followed by the creamy liqueur!

After the challenge of the Snail Trail I decided to have another mojito which was cold and thirst quenching. We decided to make this our last one for now, as we’d already spent a couple of hours in Jack’s Bar and were ready to go back to the Voyager for our lunch. After we’d finished our drinks, we asked Dion for the bill and it came to 190 rands – just over £10.00 for five drinks each!!

We’d already made our minds up we would come back here tonight for a couple of hours after dinner, because the Voyager wasn’t scheduled to sail until 10.30pm.

Back on board we had a light lunch then went and sat out up at the pool deck for a short while, before going back to our cabin for a drink-induced nap for an hour.  🙂

Then we got ready and went along to Scott’s Lounge for the afternoon quiz which we didn’t win once again.

After getting changed and freshened up we went up to the self-service restaurant for our dinner before disembarking the Voyager and making our way to Jack’s Bar once again. There were quite a few people in there as they were showing the Manchester United v Southampton match. We sat on stools at the bar and Trevor had a Castle beer while I ordered the “Liquid Cocaine” again, which contains vodka and Blue Curaçao amongst other things. Then I had a really good margarita, sitting there enjoying the ambience of the bar which had a sign on the wall saying There are no strangers here, only friends we haven’t yet met.

As we needed to be back on board for 9.30pm at the latest, we decided we’d stay until nine o’clock, giving us time for just one more drink. So I finished off by having a martini which contained passion fruit liqueur and other things and tasted absolutely delicious. The bill for the three drinks each came to about £6.00, so today it had cost us a total of about 16 quid for eight drinks each, a couple of quid a round. Can’t complain about that!   🙂

We made it back on board the Voyager and went along to the Darwin Lounge for tonight’s show, which was a tribute to the George Gershwin classics. Then it was up to the Sunset Club where the music was a bit more lively and featured disco stuff from the 70s and 80s. I got up to dance quite a lot, and ended up somehow getting everyone doing “Strip the Willow” to Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, if you can imagine such a thing!  🙂

At least there were a few more people in the Sunset Club this time and we could enjoy a dance. We had a couple of drinks each and commented that the two glasses of wine and two beers on the ship cost nearly as much as the 16 drinks we’d had between us in Jack’s Bar had.

It was well after midnight when we returned to cabin 4130 to settle down for the night. Voyager was well underway again and we had Durban to look forward to tomorrow morning.

South Africa – Land of the Zulus

This morning we woke up in Richards Bay, South Africa. Were we half-way through our cruise already? How the time flies. The Voyager would be staying here today and tomorrow, as we were not scheduled to sail until 10.30pm tomorrow night.

After breakfast we went along to the Darwin Lounge to wait to be called for our excursion. Today we were due to spent the whole day exploring the land of the Zulu warriors, so we were really looking forward to it, as we haven’t been to South Africa before.

Once we disembarked the Voyager we looked around at our surroundings with interest. The ship was docked next to a marina and we could see a small sandy beach across the bay. Several local craft vendors had set up their stalls opposite the ship, ready to attract the passengers coming down the gangplank into buying their wares.

We boarded the bus and set off. The landscape was very diverse; we saw fields of sugarcane and other crops, with herds of cattle, lush grassland and mountains in the distance. Once again, we noticed that they drive on the left the same as in Britain.

We enjoyed the passing scenery until, after about an hour and a quarter, we arrived at Shakaland, the traditional village named after the famous Zulu King Shaka (Shaka kaSenzangakhona). This consists of a resort and complex in which visitors can stay in huts similar to those used by Zulus; there was also a large, open-air dining room and a bar. The complex was situated amid tropical trees and plants overlooking a reservoir and was very picturesque. We were greeted by some men dressed in the traditional Zulu warrior constume, consisting of animal skin loin coverings and lower-leg covers, as well as various amulets tied about the upper arms.

In the bar area we were giving a cold glass of guava juice, and we decided to purchase a bottle of the local “Castle” beer each at 18 rand a bottle; about a pound. The beer went down very well in the heat.   🙂

Once we’d had our drinks our Zulu guide introduced himself and we went outside where he took us around the site, explaining to us the Zulu culture and the fact that the men are allowed to have several wives. In the village each kraal (homestead) consisted of the man’s hut with his various wives’ smaller huts in a circle, with the closest huts belonging to the more ‘senior’ wives. There was a scale model of a typical Zulu village constructed to show us how the village would look.

In the various huts we could see some of the traditional crafts such as beadwork, wood carvings and shields and drums make of stretched cow skins as well as the short-handled but fearsome Zulu spears, with long, wicked-looking blades. At one point we were invited to pick up a stone or pebble from the dirt and throw it onto a nearby cairn of stones; if your pebble stayed put it was a good sign, but if your pebble rolled back to the bottom, it meant that the same would happen to you – you’d end up at the bottom. Luckily mine stayed where I threw it.  🙂

Our next stop was to sit in a circle, ladies on the left and men on the right, where a calabash was filled with Zulu ‘beer’ and passed around for us to have a taste. It wasn’t really beer as such, it was a partially-fermented liquor and was not particularly pleasant.

We then went into a small, darkened hut with seats around the perimeter to watch a short film about Shaka, and how he rose from insignificance (indeed he was bullied as a boy) up through the ranks to be a mighty Zulu general, and finally king of his people. In fact, we learned that the film Shaka Zulu had been filmed here in Shakaland; I think I will have to get the DVD as this trip has whet my appetite so far and it was so interesting and fascinating.

Next we were taken along to the Medicine Man’s hut where we learnt about the various plants and herbs from which traditional cures were made. The medicine man’s hut contained an elephant skull as well as other bones and snake-skins adorning the pillars. It was cool and dark in the hut.

Emerging into the sunshine it was time for us to go and see the highlight of this trip; a display of authentic Zulu dancing and singing. We made our way to the Chief’s hut which was very large and contained a couple of rows of terraced seats around the perimeter. The Chief sat in a large high-backed chair, or throne, with his colourfully-dressed maidens on either side of him, and at his feet.

I managed to get the prime viewing seat with an unimpeded view of the area where the dancing and singing would commence. There were no pillars in the way and any photos I took wouldn’t show other people in the background doing the same thing. Often the trouble with being part of a group of tourists is that your photos would contain pictures of other people taking photos; thank goodness for image-editing software.  🙂

We had about 15 minutes to wait for the show to start and, during that time, the Chief’s hut filled up rapidly. Our guide asked us to move to the seats at the back to leave room for the latecomers to sit at the front! No way, José. If I’ve made the effort to be here on time then I get the prime seat, and I’m certainly not going to move for people who’ve arrived late.

The show began with a tremendous beating of drums and the Zulu warriors jumping into the middle with a fierce cry. The first few minutes of the show were spoilt by inconsiderate people arriving late and walking across in front of us to look for a seat. Personally I don’t think anyone should have been allowed into the hut once the show had started.

Nevertheless the dancing and rhythmic drumming and chanting was fantastic. There were dancers of all ages, including some little boys of about eight or nine years of age. There were also ladies dancing, kicking up the dust with the fast rhythm of their feet; they wore anklets made of shells so that these created percussion of their own in time with the dancing.

We were also treated to some African singing, and this really was a treat. Accompanied only by drums the singers’ voices soared in perfect harmony and the effect was truly hypnotic – it was simply beautiful.

The dancing and singing display lasted for half an hour and was absolutely brilliant; well worth coming to see. Everyone left the Chief’s hut on a high, and we had the chance to look at some local handicraft stalls before making our way to the large open-air dining room for our lunch.

Lunch consisted of a selection of salads, and typical African cuisine such as lamb stew and a type of bean casserole, as well as fish and an array of fresh vegetable, including sweet potato. We were also given a couple of complimentary bottles of beer to wash it all down.  🙂

After lunch we just had enough time to go to the curio shop where I bought myself a hand-made ethnic necklace containing oxen bone carved into the shape of elephants, interspersed with beads made from seeds. It looked very African and only cost me about £14.00. We also got some more postcards to send.

The bus-ride back took about an hour and a half, including a short stop to a petrol station with an ATM, as some people hadn’t had the time to get any African rand. Because of the beers a lot of people napped on the coach back to the port. We arrived back at about four o’clock after a great day.

We decided not to go back ashore, as we had all day tomorrow to explore Richards Bay, so instead we got showered and changed, rested a while, then went for dinner.

Tonight the Voyager was hosting a deck party instead of the usual entertainment, so we went along and enjoyed a few drinks in the warm night air, where they had live music and dancing. At one point the Voyager Theatre Company put in a half-hour slot called “Red Hot Country” which was a bit like a hoe-down showdown. Then there was a bit more singing and dancing as we partied under the South African stars until midnight.

Back in our cabin we settled down for the night; as we were in port it was nice and quiet and we were asleep almost immediately.

Flying Fish and Rainbows

We got up this morning at 8.20am and got changed into our fitness wear to go along for the Sea Stretch session. There were quite a lot of others there. We spent 30 minutes or so stretching and doing breathing exercises, ready to face the day and whatever pleasures we had to look forward to.

Then we went along to the aft decks to eat our breakfast at the already-crowded outside tables. We spotted an empty table in the corner and when we sat down, I realised why it was empty – it was out in the bright sunshine instead of the shade. The Indian Ocean all around us rippled, glittered and sparkled in the light, and we enjoyed a gentle breeze.

We returned to our cabin afterwards to get changed, then we went along to listen to a port lecture about Durban, where we will be visiting later in the cruise. It was all very interesting. We then went along to the pool deck to have a coffee; it was very hot sitting outside and the breeze made it feel cooler than it was, which could easily lull you into a false sense of security.

We decided to do a few laps around the deck to get some exercise. We went up to the topmost deck, where there is a jogging/walking track and we set off, intending to walk about 10 laps. On the way, however, we paused at the railings to look into the sea, which was a clear blue. There was quite a heavy swell and a few white horses on the waves, and every now and again we could feel the sea spray on our faces and taste the salt on our lips. The sun shone through the spray from time to time, creating myriad rainbows which slowly faded until the next wave was created by the ship’s wake.

It really was quite exhilarating standing there, and we were just talking about how we hadn’t seen any flying fish, which are common in the tropical latitudes, when I spotted the familiar silver movement on the surface of the ocean. Then a couple more appeared and, sure enough, we kept seeing these amazing fish which can skim the surface for a surprising distance.

The flying fish jump out of the water and glide for a short while to avoid predators in the water. However, this makes them perfect prey for the predators of the sky – birds.

As we were standing there, we saw Captain Tkachuk on the deck and went over to have a chat with him. He told us he was from the Ukraine and we spent a few minutes discussing the current troubles the country is having with Russian rebels. Presently he bid us good day and went on his way.

We went back to watching the rainbows and the flying fish and soon we saw a lone seabird swooping and wheeling and gliding on the updrafts and, as we watched, it veered off suddenly and went into a steep dive, levelling out as it got to the surface of the sea. He was obviously after the flying fish. After each unsuccessful dive he would flap his wings to gain height again, before circling round and going into another dive. We watched him for quite a while, but he didn’t catch any fish that we could see, although he had several near misses.

We then remembered we were supposed to be walking laps round the deck! We therefore set off once again, in a half-hearted way, stopping to get a beaker of ice cold water from the thoughtfully-placed cooler. As the sun was now very hot and I could feel my arms starting to burn, we decided to abandon our walk and go down to the pool deck to sit in the shade and enjoy a cold beer. Because of the very noticeable ship’s motion, the swimming pool had been drained and the net stretched over it. So there was no chance of a refreshing swim today.

The afternoon passed in its pleasant way, with the trivia quiz followed by another lecture by Peter Snow entitled When Britain Burned the White House. We enjoyed a couple of drinks and sat for a while, before going back to our cabin to get washed and changed for dinner, which we ate up in the Veranda Restaurant at our leisure, rather than the main restaurant.

The main show in the Darwin Lounge tonight was called Café Swing and was the usual somewhat-uninspriring ‘old fart’ music featuring the Voyager Theatre Company. Then we finished off the evening in the Sunset Club where there was a 60s and 70s disco, before going to bed just after midnight.

Friday, 9th January 2015

Another relaxing sea day. After starting the day with our usual session of Sea Stretch, we had our breakfast on the aft decks then hot-footed it along to the Darwin Lounge to listen to a lecture by Brigadier Hugh Willing called “The Hunt for the Warren Hastings”.

It was a fascinating account of a ship that had run aground off the coast of Réunion Island in 1897. The ship was carrying some valuable silver and an expedition of divers returned to the island in 1977 to search for the wreck, and hopefully discover the silver. But although the divers found the front half of the ship almost immediately and certain items were brought to the surface, they didn’t find the rear half of the vessel, and the riches the ship was carrying remain lost. There’s an interesting Wikipedia about the RIMS Warren Hastings, which you can read here.

During the talk and in the interim period before the next talk, I was sitting doing my kumihimo braiding and quite a lot of people came over, out of curiosity, to ask me what I was doing. I ended up giving a couple of my bracelets away, and I wondered at the feasibility of writing to the cruise lines offering to run kumihimo classes on their ships, as it always creates a lot of interest wherever I go.

The next lecture was by Peter Snow and was all about the Duke of Wellington’s role in the Battle of Waterloo. It was very interesting and Peter’s enthusiasm was infectious.

Afterwards I decided to get some exercise and went along to the ship’s gym for a workout. However, it was quite warm in the gym and it soon became uncomfortable; quite simply, they didn’t have the air conditioning on high enough. So after 10 minutes on the cross-trainer and 10 minutes on the treadmill, I’d had enough.

As it was now lunchtime, we went up by the pool deck to enjoy a light lunch and a couple of glasses of ice cold beer. There was some live music and it was very pleasant sitting on the decks. I decided to stay out of the sun today, as my arms and the back of my neck looked quite red.

And so we passed the afternoon in the usual unhurried way, until it was time to go along and do the afternoon quiz. A couple of ladies joined us, and we scored 13/20, only missing winning by one point.

Then I went back to cabin 4130 where I got showered and washed and blow-dried my hair and read my Kindle. I am reading Perfect Poison by M. William Phelps; it is a true story about Kristen Gilbert, a nurse in America who was going round injecting her patients with epinephrine and causing them to go into cardiac arrest or die. One of the world’s (thankfully) rare breed of female serial killers.

After dinner tonight the ‘show’ consisted of a few numbers by Gerry Atkins, the cruise director, in which she sang some musical theatre ballads. She was a decent enough singer I suppose, but once again she performed to ‘canned’ music and the whole effect was a bit bland. We really are disappointed with the entertainment we’ve seen on the Voyager so far.

Then it was up to the Sunset Club for the evening trivia; we were joint winners (wonders will never cease!) but lost out on the tie-breaker. In any case, the prizes are pretty rubbish; you either win a pen or a notebook – wowee!

After the quiz we got talking to another group of people; I think they were solo travellers who had all met up on the cruise. They, like us, thought the entertainment was below par, and this was then emphasised by the re-appearance of “karaoke” singer Paul Burley, who did a few jazz and swing numbers, none of which were lively enough to tempt anyone into getting up and dancing.

Once the singing was over, the disco started and I got up and danced with Roger, our favourite barman.  😉

We then went to bed about midnight, as we were the last ones out of the Sunset Club and the ship was all quiet elsewhere.

Land of the Lemurs

We woke up this morning about 7.00am, to the sound of the captain’s voice coming over the tannoy saying that they would shortly be retracting the ship’s stabilisers as the Voyager made her way into Port d’Ehoala, Madagascar.

We arose at 7.40 and went along to the Discovery Restaurant for our breakfast which we took with our malaria tablet. Madagascar is the one place we are visiting where the malaria-carrying mosquito is rife. We’d also bought some insect repellant cream as I didn’t want a repeat of being eaten alive by other biting insects as we had been in Réunion.

Afterwards we assembled in the Darwin Lounge to await the call for our excursion. Today we were having a tour of Port d’Ehoala and its sourroundings, including a visit to the Saiadi Botanical Gardens.

As we were not allowed to walk about in the port area, we had to wait for a shuttle bus to take us outside the port to where the main buses were waiting. At the bus stand several makeshift stalls were set up, with the vendors selling their wares, including hand-made jewellery, colourful sarongs and woven baskets and mats. Walking from the shuttle bus to the main bus, we were accosted by hawkers and ragged little children, trying to sell us trinkets or just asking for money.

The buses were fairly primitive and we sat in vinyl-covered seats next to the open windows. Once everyone was aboard, we were introduced to Benoit, our guide, and he passed out vouchers to everyone so we could obtain a free cold drink later on in the tour.

The bus set off, and rattled and lurched along the unfinished dirt track, a lot of which was very muddy from the recent heavy rains. Benoit explained that Madagascar gets about two metres of rain a year, and this was evident in the lush greenery we could see, including palm and banana trees, sugarcane and the unripe rice plants growing in the flooded paddy fields.

The brisk breeze blowing through the open windows provided a cooling relief from the tropical sun. As we took in our surroundings we passed through small villages consisting of simple wooden huts, some with thatched roofs, and tattered clothing hung out to dry on fences, or makeshift washing lines. Throngs of laughing and chattering children would rush over to wave at the passengers on the bus, and here and there we could see small herds of humped oxen called zebu, as well as flocks of chickens. The evidence of poverty was everywhere, and it seemed as though very large families were living in pitifully small huts.

Nearing our destination, the bus slowed down as it lurched along a tree- and shrub-lined track, some of the branches coming in the windows, on our way into the Saiadi gardens. We parked up and everyone got out, looking around us in anticipation. I was here to see one thing in particular – the famous Madagascar ring-tailed lemurs.

As we walked along a shady path containing many trees and shrubs, our guide pointed into the branches of one of the trees and there they were – a couple of beautiful lemurs making their frisky and agile ways along the branch. I was mesmerised; they looked so cute, like something out of a Disney film. They had cheeky little faces with orange eyes and pointed ears and their long tails, about two feet in length, were deeply striped in black and white. As they picked their way from branch to branch they used their long tails for balance. We saw lots more ring-tailed lemurs, including a mother with her tiny baby; it was a lovely sight to see and I felt privileged to be here in Madagascar, seeing what is probably the country’s most famous symbol.

It was really very pleasant walking along in the beautiful gardens. Despite the hot sun, there were plenty of big, shady trees under which to seek refuge, and there was also a welcome gentle breeze. We saw little lizards darting along tree branches and a couple of gorgeous dragonflies at the edge of a pond; one had a red body and the other a yellow, and when they landed on a leaf their wings glittered in the sun; they looked so perfect they could have been jewelled brooches.

We came to an enclosure which contained caiman crocodiles of varying sizes, basking on the edge of their pond. One of the park’s keepers came along with a basin containing large chunks of raw meat, which he proceeded to toss over the fence into the crocodile enclosure. All at once there was a loud snapping of powerful jaws as the largest and quickest of the crocs got his prize, and as the guy threw more pieces of meat over the fence, other crocs came and joined in the frenzied mêlée, the smaller ones getting trampled in the rush. I couldn’t believe how loudly the jaws snapped shut over the meat (and sometimes other crocodiles) in their quest for blood. An amazing reptile that hasn’t changed since prehistoric times.

Leaving the crocodiles, we wandered further along and saw more ring-tailed lemurs as well as brown lemurs. The lemurs had a single wailing cry, which sounded a little like a cat. When I copied the sound, one of them looked at me and answered back! Some of the lemurs were eating bananas, sitting on their hind legs and holding the fruit in their tiny paws. So cute!

We also saw a pen full of tortoises of all sizes; they were sitting placidly in the sun, slowly eating some leaves and grass.

Further along the path, we spotted a chameleon making his way slowly up a tree trunk and onto a branch. Benoit, our guide, pushed a stick onto the branch to stop the chameleon and let us get good photos of it. It then climbed onto the stick, and Benoit carefully lowered it down so we could see it close up and get some great pictures. He then placed the stick on the ground, allowing the lizard to scamper back into the undergrowth.

In addition to the various creatures we saw many interesting trees and plants, the most fascinating of which were the carnivorous pitcher plants (nepenthes). These grow along the water’s edge and contain cone-shaped flowers with a lid to keep out the rain. They give off a scent that attract the unfortunate insect into the cone, the inside of which is coated in a sticky substance which prevents the insect from crawling back out. The insect is then slowly digested, which provides additional nutrients for the plant.

We spent about an hour and a half in the botanical gardens, then we made our way back to the bus for our tour of the town.

As we rattled our way along the potholed track we came out into the main street and looked around us, agog at the scene. Along the edges of the unfinished road were lots of shacks which served as shops and restaurants. They were all a bit ramshackle and grubby looking. Many of the stalls sold fruit and vegetables, particularly tomatoes and onions as well as melons and what looked like mangoes. There were also shops selling colourful clothing, household items like cooking pots, baskets, mats and bedding, and some selling tools and auto-repair stuff. The streets thronged with people along the roadside, with a few dusty looking cars and pick-up trucks. We didn’t want to get out of the bus here, but it was certainly very different from the comparatively-privileged life we lead back in Britain.

After we’d done a complete tour of the area, the bus set off for our final stop; a beautiful wide sandy beach across the bay from where the Voyager was berthed. Here we could redeem our free drinks vouchers and spend half an hour looking around the local craft shops or, for those who wished to brave the beach and the onslaught of all the local pedlars, go for a brief swim in the sea, which had very lively waves and looked perfect for surfing.

We traded our vouchers for a couple of bottles of cold Fanta and browsed the little shop, which was selling t-shirts, hand-made jewellery, baskets, wooden carvings and items made from local semi-precious stones. We didn’t see anything we wanted to buy.

Outside the shop there were a few tables, chairs and sunloungers, in an area that was fenced off from the beach. It was obvious that the hawkers had been told they were not allowed in this area, as there were a few security guards patrolling the area and the hawkers were all lined up at the fence, putting their arms through the gaps displaying whatever they were selling, from shells to bangles to bundles of vanilla pods. No sooner had you said “no thanks” to one of them, another one would try to get you to buy. We did see a lady from our party venture onto the beach, and she was immediately surrounded by three or four hawkers, one of them even tugging on her sleeve as she walked along.

Once our time was up, the guide rounded us all back up onto the bus, and we set off for the 15 minute ride along the bay back to the ship, in nice time for lunch. As the bus pulled up at the bus stand, we saw the large queue for the shuttle buses back to the Voyager. Of course there were crowds of the local children, all asking for “la monnaie, s’il vous plaît” (spare change, please) and holding our their grubby little hands. There were a couple of young mothers there with their infants, and they would thrust their baby into the arms of the nearest visitor, then ask for money to be photographed. One young woman looked no older than 14 or 15, and tried to get me to hold her baby; her left breast was still hanging out of her dress where she must have been giving the child a feed.

Thankfully a couple of shuttle buses pulled up then, and we quickly boarded and went the few hundred metres back to the Voyager.

Back on board we enjoyed a light lunch, then went back to our cabin for a rest in its welcome coolness. I must have been tired because I slept for a couple of hours. Then I got washed and tidied myself up a bit before we went to do the afternoon quiz. Our favourite barman was there and when we ordered a pint of Stella for Trevor and glass of fizz for me, the receipt he gave us to sign showed he had only charged for the beer.   😉

After the quiz we went up to the topmost deck to watch the ship preparing to sail.

At 6.00pm the Voyager gave several blasts of her foghorn, which echoed back from the distant mountains in the bay. Then we watched as she slowly made her way back from the dockside. We were underway once again.

What an interesting and fabulous experience Madagascar had been!

We decided to go into the Discovery Restaurant for our dinner tonight, and we were placed on table #26 with another two couples. The meal, as ever, was delicious, but I can’t really pretend that I enjoyed the company of the other couples; they were both quite snobby and when we told them we came from the north-east of England (and are proud of the fact) my hackles started to rise as they subtly ran the north-east down. I think they still thought it was like a scene from When The Boat Comes In or something out of an LS Lowry painting. They knocked the shipyards, the coal mines, the steelworks and all the other great industries on which the north-east was built. Luckily the conversation switched to other things before I could think of a withering riposte.

After dinner we did the usual – went up to the Sunset Club for the quiz (nope, we didn’t win) and then along to the Darwin Lounge for tonight’s cabaret, which was a female South African singer called Rachelle Kruger. She started off doing fairly boring contemporary songs but then she got better when she did a couple of classics, such as The Prayer and Time To Say Goodbye. Once again, however, she sang to recorded music; there was no sign of the orchestra which is a shame.

Then we finished off the evening back up in the Sunset Club, where another of the singers did a rendition of Motown hits for half an hour or so.

As usual, the place emptied rapidly after 10.30pm, and only a few stalwarts remained for the disco. We left about midnight and returned to cabin 4130. We had a couple of sea days to look forward to, en route to South Africa.