Archive for January, 2015

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Motion of the Ocean

We got up this morning at 8.00am, then got ready and went along to the Lookout Lounge for another session of Sea Stretch. This time, however, we didn’t do the balancing-on-one-leg type exercises because of the motion of the Voyager on the Indian Ocean waves, which was quite noticeable. Instead we sat on chairs for those exercises.

Afterwards we once again went to the Veranda Café and enjoyed an el fresco light breakfast.

As tonight is formal night, I therefore went back to the cabin to colour my hair and get it washed and blow-dried so I wouldn’t have to faff about with it tonight. Trevor spent the time attenting a lecture given about the differences between the Anglophone and Francophone islands of the Indian Ocean.

Once my hair was done it was then time to attend a second lecture about the 1810 capture of Mauritius. I took along my kumihimo to do during the lecture, which was actually very interesting. One thing about these cruises is you always learn something new, whether it’s history, geography or different cultures.

Lunch today was in the form of a delicious barbecue served out by the pool deck. There was pork, beef, chicken and tasty grilled vegetables and jacket potatoes. As it was a bit windy, we took it into the Veranda Café to eat, washed down with a chilled glass of rosé wine.

We didn’t really do a lot after lunch. Just wandered about the ship, relaxed in the sun and took part in the 2.30pm quiz in Scott’s Lounge. Once again we did appallingly; they must think all the passengers are Mastermind champions or something, because all the questions were fairly obscure.

While taking part in the quiz I enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine while Trevor had a pint of Stella Artois. Once the quiz was finished, we got talking to another couple and, just then, the friendly barman Roger appeared with another glass of wine for me and a half-pint of Stella for Trevor. I was just about to comment that we hadn’t ordered them, when the barman gave us a wink and a smile, then high-fived us and walked away. We were the lucky recipients of a couple of freebies!   🙂

Afterwards it was time to start getting ready and dressed in our glad-rags, because tonight was formal night and the Captain’s Cocktail Party. I didn’t go to the hair salon this time, as I’d brought a hairpiece with me which made it look as though I had my hair up in an elegant bun. Then I put on a long, black velvet dress and Trevor looked very smart in his dinner suit with dark blue bow-tie and cummerbund, then off we went to the Darwin Lounge, where we strategically placed ourselves at the end of the row near the aisle, so we could grab the free glasses of “champagne” as the waiters walked past with their trays.   😉

Then Captain Alex Tkachuk did his little speech and introduced all his senior officers, during which time we managed to have three refills of our glasses and enjoy a couple of tasty canapés.

By this time it was time to go along for our dinner. We were placed on a table with another two couples, and enjoyed a scrumptious meal washed down by some more of the sparkling hock. When I ordered a second glass, the cheerful barman Roger brought it, but said it was “courtesy of the captain” and didn’t charge for it! I think Roger is fast becoming our favourite barman on this cruise!   😉

The show tonight was called “American Bandstand” and featured the ship’s production company. It was very good, but all the music was canned and the ship’s orchestra, consisting of piano, guitar and drums, only put in one appearance. This, to me, made the performance seem a bit flat, and we couldn’t help comparing it to that on our last cruise, on Fred Olsen’s Boudicca, where all the shows, and the orchestra, were superb.

We finished off the evening by going to the Sunset Club where one of the singers was doing a pretty mediocre rendition of James Bond themes. There weren’t really very many in the Sunset Club; the most prominent feature was the number of empty chairs.

Roger came over and took our drinks orders and chatted to us for a while, and we sat in the corner and listened to the music and chatted to nearby fellow passengers. But the place emptied out around 11.30pm, so we went back to cabin 4130 to settle down for the night.

Tomorrow we’d be visiting our 77th country – Madagascar, and it was with this pleasant thought that we drifted off to sleep on the ocean waves.

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This morning we woke up to find we were docked in Réunion Island, one of the French overseas départements. We were up at 7.25 this morning and ready to go our on organised tour, called “Tropical Réunion and the Wild South”, which would take up most of the day.

As we disembarked the ship we quickly had to don our cagoules, as there was a short, but heavy tropical shower. We could see the clouds low down on the distant mountain tops, but here and there we spotted patches of blue sky, and the temperature was already very hot and sultry.

As we were boarding the bus we saw that we had Peter Snow as our courier for the day. People of a certain age will remember Peter Snow from his days as an ITN (and later BBC) news reporter. He was travelling on the Voyager to give us some presentations about his many experiences, but today he’d been pressed into service as our tour courier.  Our local guide for today was a cheerful young man called Sully, whose English was very good.

The bus set off and made its way through the town and along the coastline, before entering a large tunnel. The traffic then crawled to a standstill but we couldn’t see what was causing the tailback. It took about 20 minutes to emerge from the tunnel, when everything became clear; a three-car accident completely blocking our lane; we had to wait for the policeman to direct the coach through.

Once on our way again, we travelled through the lush countryside, the journey punctuated by sudden heavy showers. Sully gave us a running commentary on the history and geography of Réunion, which rises up out of a bed of volcanic lava approximately 500 miles east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

Réunion has a multiracial population numbering 820,000 spread over its total area of 970 square miles. Its lovely coastal forests border a very mountainous interior, where three immense volcanic craters have formed lush valley basins, or cirques. A very active volcano La Fournaise (literally The Furnace) provides an impressive backdrop and from time to time it pours more lava down its sides to add more to the island’s area.

We marvelled at the diverse landscape as we made our way to our first photo stop at Saint-Denis, where there was an unusual church in addition to a toilet stop for those that wanted it. As it was still raining quite heavily, however, we just stayed on the coach.

Our next stop was to Piton Sainte-Rose, where Sully explained to us that the local church, Notre-Dame des Laves, was believed to be the site of a miracle, because when La Fournaise erupted in 1977 the lava swept away everything in its path, but stopped right up at the door of the church. We alighted from the bus at this point and went inside the church; it was amazing to see the lava rocks directly outside and up to the church walls and door at the front.

As we continued on our way along the main road (which was very good) we noticed that the vehicles all had French number plates with the EU logo and an “F” denoting France. We were fascinated at the volcanic landscape and eventually pulled up for another photo stop to allow us to climb up some man-made steps and take pictures of the amazing lava-created landscape. A little concession stand across the road was doing a roaring trade from the bus passengers selling cold drinks, fresh fruit and little hand-made trinkets and souvenirs.

It was roasting hot standing in the sun, even for a few minutes, and when we got back onto the air-conditioned bus we saw that the temperature readout displayed 35ºC – phew! A tad too hot for our British skin.

As we continued our journey it was fascinating to see where the lava had flowed down the sides of the volcanoes, all the way to the sea. You could see the various branches, forks and channels and you could almost imagine the bright red glow of the fiery river as it poured relentlessly down the mountainside, devouring everything in its path.

After another 20 minutes or so, we arrived at our next destination, which was the Garden of Perfumes and Spices. It was an amazing cultivated tropical garden, containing indigenous plants and flowers as well as the more exotic kind, which had been introduced into Réunion. Some of the leaves and flowers were grown for their essential oils which are used in perfumes, and others for their medicinal properties or their seeds, flowers, leaves or bark which are ground into the spices we know and love, such as cinnamon, cloves and vanilla. We also saw exotic fruits growing on the trees, including avocado, grapefruit and lychees.

The visit to the gardens was very interesting and would have been a more enjoyable experience had it not been for the persistent attacks by mosquitoes and other flying, biting bugs. I was wearing cropped linen trousers with thong sandals, and my lower bare legs were a veritable target for the little blighters, which kept biting every chance they had. My lower legs felt as though they were on fire, and it was very difficult to resist giving them a good scratch, something which often exacerbates insect bites. When we eventually got back on the bus I saw that my legs were a myriad of red bumps. Nasty! The first thing I am going to buy is some insect repellent spray. Thank goodness also for our malaria tablets, which we’d started to take this morning in readiness for our trip to Madagascar.

Once we got back into the air-conditioned bliss of our bus, we had a 10 minute ride to our final stop of the day, which was to a restaurant called the “Étoile de Mer” (Starfish) where we were booked in for a three-course Creole lunch. We were looking forward to it as we were good and hungry (not to mention thirsty) by now.

We all sat at long wooden tables and didn’t have long to wait before they brought us all a cool glass of local rum punch which was thirst-quenching and delicious. Then they came round with a fresh mixed salad served with crusty bread, and some jugs of cold water.

The next course consisted of rice, fried chicken pieces and a delicious prawn dish served with onions, peppers and pineapple. We were also pleased to see that there were complimentary bottles of wine, and we enjoyed a couple of glasses of not-too-bad rosé. Well, it was French after all, so it was bound to be decent.

Once everyone was fed and watered, we boarded the bus once again for the return journey, which was due to take about an hour and 45 minutes. However, we hadn’t got very far when we once again came across a traffic jam. The people in the car in front of us were just standing around, and they advised our driver that there had been a rock fall from one of the many cliffs and mountains, so we had to wait until the blockage was cleared. This, thankfully, only took about 15 minutes, then we were on our way once again. Due to all the wine and rum punch people had consumed, it was very quiet on the bus coming back, and a lot of people (including me) enjoyed a little wine-induced nap to while away part of the journey.

We arrived back at the Voyager about 4.30pm and went back to our cabin, where we promptly fell asleep for an hour or so.

Then, after getting a wash and brush up, we went up to the pool deck and enjoyed a pre-dinner drink before making our way to the Veranda Café for our dinner. Because we’d enjoyed a large lunch, we didn’t really have all that much to eat; just some salad and cold meats for me.

Afterwards we went up to the Sunset Club to take part in the quiz. A couple of ladies sitting nearby asked if they could join us to make up a team of four (the maximum size). The quiz mistress explained there would be 15 questions and the lucky winners would get a Voyager pen each. Whoo-pee-doo! A free pen! Don’t push the boat out will you?!

The quiz was mega-hard. In fact, just how hard it was was reflected in people’s scores. The winning team only got 10/15 and we managed a cringeable 4/15 – the absolute worst we’d ever done. Everyone moaned to the quiz mistress that the questions were far too hard.   😦

Then it was off to the Darwin Lounge for tonight’s main cabaret, which was the classical duo we’d had a brief glimpse of yesterday. There is a guy on the piano and one on the violin, and they were brilliant – they did a terrific rendition of Vivaldi’s Spring from The Four Seasons as well as some lesser-known, but equally good, other pieces. We enjoyed their performance a lot.

Afterwards it was back to the Sunset Club where, once again, the female singer Kirsty Fuller sounded as though she was doing karaoke as she sang some of the well-known songs from the 60s and 70s.

We had a couple of drinks then went back to our cabin about midnight. Tomorrow we had a full day at sea to look forward to, so a nice lie-in in the morning then.

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Voyage on the Voyager

We awoke just after 8.00am, despite the four-hour time difference. Donning our exercise gear, we went to the Lookout Lounge for 8.30am, where one of the entertainment team was holding a “Wake Up and Stretch” gentle exercise session.

There weren’t too many of us there; about five women and two men. The instructor put on some ambient music (starting off with Enya’s Orinoco Flow) and the exercises just focused on stretching and breathing. The class only lasted about 20 minutes, which was enough to wake us up and put us in a positive frame of mind for the day.

Afterwards we went to the self-service Veranda Café on the aft decks, and enjoyed a light breakfast in the tropical, sultry air. Although it wasn’t quite nine o’clock the day already looked as if it would be a scorcher.

After breakfast we wandered around the ship, taking in our surroundings and deciding what to do. We hadn’t booked any excursions today as we didn’t know how much the jet-lag would be affecting us and we didn’t want to have to stick to a timetable.

As Voyager was docked in what was largely a container port there was nothing very inspiring in our immediate surroundings to whet our appetite to explore, so we went back to the cabin, got changed out of our exercise clothes, gathered together camera, local currency, water bottle etc. and decided to disembark and look for a taxi to take us into town or to the beach – whatever.

As we reached the bottom of the gang plank one of the ladies who’d been in our exercise class asked if we were taking the local water taxi across the bay to where the shops, bars and restaurants were. We hadn’t thought of that, but it seemed a great idea so we made our way to the dock-side, where a couple of motor boats were waiting to take us across.

It cost 70 Mauritius rupees each (about £1.50) and the ride took about 15 minutes. We enjoyed the feel of the sea breeze on our skin; it provided a welcome respite from the sun – it was already 30ºC.

Once we disembarked it was time to explore in earnest. We took a leisurely stroll along the waterfront and were amused seeing the remains of the festive decorations and withered Christmas trees. Mauritius is multi-cultural, with lots of races and religions, including Christian, Muslim, Hindu etc. We could see a lot of Indian influence and many ladies and girls were adorned in pretty saris of many colours.

One of the things we’d already noticed was that the traffic drives on the left as we do in Britain; this harks back to the days when Mauritius was part of the British Commonwealth. Indeed the first language is English, despite a lot of the road and shop signs being in French.

As it was Sunday a lot of the shops, bars and cafés were closed, or were opening later. However, because of the two ships docked in the port, some of the souvenir shops had wisely stayed open, and the shopping centre thronged with passengers from the ships.

We went into a small shop and got half a dozen postcards and stamps, which cost a total of 180 rupees. Trevor handed over a 200 rupee note, but the lady came back and said they didn’t have any change, and would I like to purchase something else for 20 rupees? I therefore chose a pretty key-ring, but on leaving the shop we wondered whether having “no change” was true or just a ploy to get you to buy more!

We wandered around a bit more, looking at the fresh fruit juice and coconut stalls, with their tables and chairs set outside. There was a slight shower of rain which was actually quite refreshing in the relentless heat, but we decided to go and find a bar that was open, so we could write out the postcards while enjoying a welcome, ice-cold local beer.

We spotted a pub called the “Keg and Marlin” (which amazingly served beer and fish) so in we went and ordered a bottle of “Blue Marlin” beer each, choosing to sit at a table outside in the shade.

It was very pleasant sitting there, drinking the beer and just watching the world go by. The town was getting a little busier now as more of the shops opened up, but we didn’t really want to buy any souvenirs today so, after going to the post-office to post the cards, we slowly made our way back to the landing stage to await the next water taxi.

Back on board the Voyager we were tired, hot and sweaty so we were eager to go and try out the ship’s pool. Therefore, after a light salad lunch we went back to 4130, changed into our swimsuits under our clothes, then went up to the pool deck. It wasn’t too busy as a lot of people were ashore, so we found a table with an umbrella, grabbed a pool towel each, got undressed and slid into the cool water. Bliss!

The pool isn’t very big but there was only Trevor and me in it, and it was certainly enough to have a swim and splash about and wash off the grime of the last 24 hours. We stayed in the pool for about 30 minutes then sat, wrapped in our towels, in the sun to dry off. A nearby ice-cream station was service vanilla, strawberry or rum ‘n’ raisin with various toppings, so we enjoyed a dish of ice-cream each, then I had a frozen margarita.

To be honest, I don’t think too much of the cocktails on this ship so far; they are not a patch on the ones we enjoyed on the Boudicca or the Braemar last year!  😉

Once the drinks were finished, we went back to our cabin and I had a long, hot shower and washed and blow-dried my hair before changing into clean clothes. Then we rested for a short while before going along to Scott’s Lounge for the afternoon quiz. We didn’t do very well – only got 13/20.

We have already noticed that the lounges and decks are all named after explorers: there is the Darwin Lounge and Scott’s Lounge, as well as decks named for Livingstone, Columbus and Raleigh. Quite appropriate really as we are exploring all new ports of call and will be adding another three countries to our world tally. Mauritius makes 76 so far.  🙂

At around half-past five we felt increased vibrations through the floor of our cabin which could only mean one thing – Voyager‘s propellors and engines were revving, and she was getting ready to set sail. We therefore went up on deck to watch the sailaway, and enjoy a couple of drinks.

The impressions we had of our fellow passengers was that most of them were 60+ and, like us, well-travelled. Many chose to advertise how well-travelled they were with the array of t-shirts and baseball caps we saw, proclaiming different destinations and/or cruise lines. So far I have seen t-shirts advertising Sri Lanka, Peru and Singapore, as well as those showing that the passenger had previously cruised with Voyages of Discovery. We also found out through our conversations with other passengers that they, also like us, prefer the smaller ships and choose a cruise based on the destinations, rather than one that boasts climbing walls, skating rinks and Disney parades every day. (Ugh!)

We decided to sit at the pool bar and enjoy a cocktail of the day, called “Bay Breeze”. It contained vodka, pineapple juice and cranberry juice and was nothing to write home about. I think I’ll avoid the cocktails in future and stick to wine or beer. As we sat there, the Voyager gave a single long blast of her foghorn, as our voyage began.

I then noticed a lady next to us order a glass of sparkling wine. This appears on the drinks menu but is only advertised by the bottle; I hadn’t realised they sold it by the glass. I therefore ordered a glass of this German sparkling hock which is a demi-sec and very bubbly and refreshing. I told the lady, who introduced herself as Jean, that I was glad I’d seen her!

We then spent a very interesting hour or so in conversation, each talking about previous voyages we’d been on, and we discovered we both had a love of that little old classic ship Marco Polo. Jean had, like us, been on an unforgettable Antarctic expedition on the Marco Polo and we reminisced and swapped stories, while enjoying a second glass of sparkling wine as the sun went down in a blaze of pinks and oranges over the Indian Ocean.  🙂

Back in our cabin, we got washed and changed and went along to the Discovery Restaurant for our dinner at about 7.00pm. We were shown to table #20 where we shared it with a very pleasant couple called Gerald and Elizabeth. As ever, the conversation was peppered with names of ships and cruises past, present and future, and we enjoyed a convivial dinner spent in their company.

Then it was along to the Darwin Lounge for tonight’s show, which was really just an introduction of the entertainment that was to come, with each of the artistes coming on and giving us a taster of their talents. There was a fantastic classical duo as well as a male singer and a sample of the ship’s singing-and-dancing show company.

We finished the evening off by going up to the late-night lounge, the Sunset Club, at the very top of the ship. At first I thought it was karaoke night because a guy was standing with an iPad propped up on a music stand; he was reading the lyrics to the song which was accompanied to a backing track. But no, it was the professional singer Paul Burley. And to be honest, I have actually heard better karaoke singers. Bit of a let-down really, but I suppose he provided a bit of background entertainment.

We just sat at the bar and enjoyed one drink each and watched the dancing in a desultory sort of way, before making our way back to cabin 4130 to enjoy a good night’s sleep, lulled by the gentle motion of the Voyager on the waves.

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Port Louis, Mauritius

Once in the shuttle bus it would take us about 40 minutes to reach the Voyager. En route we were able to get our first impressions of Mauritius, which looked like a typical tropical island, set in the Indian Ocean in the southern hemisphere. We passed through colourful towns and quaint villages, as well as lush greenery with mountains in the background. In the distance we could see the sparkling sea and we looked out eagerly for the first glimpse of our ship.

Finally we arrived. Since leaving home it had been a case of taxi, train, taxi, bus, aeroplane, bus and finally – ship. 🙂

M/V Voyager is only a small ship, around 15,396 tons, and carries approximately 540 passengers. She is one of the ships in the Voyages of Discovery line, which we haven’t tried before. It was the itinerary that attracted us to this particular cruise, as all the ports of call are new to us.

The ship looked tiny next to the massive MSC Opera that was docked in the harbour opposite us. However, she was clean and white and all the public rooms were nicely decorated and furnished and looked very comfortable.

We are in cabin 4130, which is a twin-bedded outside cabin on Deck 4. It’s very clean and the beds are comfortable with crisp white sheets and plump pillows. The bathroom, however, is very small and there is hardly any room in the shower. Also, there was only one small wardrobe in the cabin so hanging a fortnight’s worth of clothes, for two people, was quite a squeeze.

We dumped our bags in the cabin and, as our cases hadn’t arrived yet, we decided to go up to the pool deck in the tropical sunshine and enjoy a freezing cold beer. We ordered a pint of Boddington’s each and sat under the welcome shade of a parasol over our table, looking around us with interest. The pool was circular and not very deep (1.4m) – more of a plunge pool than anything, and we enviously watched people going in for a swim in the gorgeous cool water.

After another drink we went back to cabin 4130 where we found that our suitcases had arrived. After emptying them out we had an hour’s sleep, as we were really shattered after our early start, long journey and the time difference.
Unlike most cruise ships we have been on, there is no set dining tables or times on the Voyager, so we didn’t have to worry about getting ready for dinner at 6.15pm – we could just go when we liked.

So after getting washed and changed, we had a wander around, looking at the different bars and restaurants and walking about on deck finding our way around the ship. We then decided to go for dinner at 6.30pm, but we just went into the self-service buffet rather than the more formal restaurant. I enjoyed some mixed salad and cold meats to start, followed by roast pork and vegetables and finished off with bread and butter pudding and custard, all washed down with a glass of rosé wine. On leaving the table, I regretted the portion of bread and butter pudding! 😦

As we were still half-asleep, we went back to the cabin for a post-prandial nap until about 9.00pm, then we decided we’d go and see what the main show lounge, the Darwin Lounge, was like. There was no entertainment scheduled for tonight as the ship was due to remain in port and a lot of passengers were ashore, but we sat and relaxed and enjoyed a drink whilst listening to the cocktail pianist play a selection of tasteful tunes.

Just then, we spotted a couple that we’d met on our last cruise, to Norway on the Boudicca. We’d discovered at the time we were going to be on the same cruise so we were looking out for them. They are John and Jean Fletcher from the Manchester area. We went over and sat with them and enjoyed their company for an hour or so, before making our way back to our cabin at 11.30pm or thereabouts, for our first night aboard Voyager.

Tomorrow we would have the whole day to explore Port Louis and its surroundings further.

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