25.05.2010 - 26.05.2010
It's 07:06 on the morning of May 27th . My single biggest fear (that the ship would not actually exist) has happily proved unfounded. But all is not quite well. Though boasting a passenger capacity of almost 2,000, there is only one other party of passengers – a woman with her 3 young children – who seem in anyway interested in boarding the ship. There is also nobody seeming to work or show any interest in me, and the only official looking people I can find don't admit to speaking a single word of any language that I do. It is one of those few moments of my life when I actively wished that my knowledge of the Spanish language went slightly beyond 'Hola', 'Paella' and 'Cerveza'...
Oddly enough, it had all started out pretty well. It couldn't last. I had worked Tuesday morning, and magically managed to get everything that I needed to, done. After lots of hard work and late nights for months our bit of the project magically looked like it would just about be completed on time. Having seen the situation a few months previously and all the chaos since, that in itself was pretty much miraculous. Unusually, I wasn't strip searched at St. Pancras, also also didn't have to contend with hoardes of frustrated BA passengers or ash cloud refugees (it's actually quite amazing. Everybody looks at you strangely for 15years for not flying, then a volcano goes off 2000miles away and all of a sudden you are a frickin visionary genius) and had an uneventful trip on Eurostar (there was no snow this time – last time had not been as smooth...). On reaching Paris, I discovered that, most unusually, the French were not even on strike. With that it was a quick transfer to Austerlitz for a bite and drink with some friends before the night train to Barcelona.
A pleasant evening in company of a non-flying Irishman, an Alsatian (person from Alsace, not a dog) and two Japanese followed, though I admit fearing the worst when being given a beer with green mould growing all around the rim.... All were impressed by my upcoming voyage, and all had stories of their own to tell. Sure, we were a couple of hours late into Barcelona, but I pretty much had a free day anyway, so no trouble. Checked into the hostel without problem, and then started my only chore for the day.
I was in Barcelona for only one reason: to board a ship to Cape Town, and the World Cup. Not this time a small personal type of ship like the RMS St. Helena or a cargo ship the MV Green Cape. Instead I was going south on a ridiculously swanky Cruise Ship, the MS Noordam. This was not the original plan (which was a Polish cargo ship), but instead a late change to enable me to work an extra 3.5weeks on the project. Though it mean't I lost out on several weeks of holiday and had to change/drop a number of plans/ideas, after it was agreed that my costs would be covered, in good conscious I couldn't drop my colleagues in it after I had finally worked out how to book the Noordam. The Noordam was one of 2 cruise ships which I had long known were heading down to South Africa to be used as extra accommodation for fans during the World Cup, but as charters, had proven incredibly tricky to track down and book. Indeed, I had already booked my return on the sister ship Westerdam, but even that had taken months to find, and even they couldn't tell me anything about how to arrange the voyage down.
But, eventually, and going through any number of contacts and middle companies, I had found it, and managed to book without problem. The voyage was paid (and cheap: my return fare turned out to be 1700euros, less than one way on a cargo ship, and had I taken the lowest class of accommodation on both voyages and been travelling with a friend, I could have done the return for under 900euros. Which for 28Days accommodation, food, booze and transport is fantastic), and I had receipts, but precious little in the way of other information. The documentation I had for my voyage just told me to go to Barcelona port, the name of the ship and the time/date. However, Barcelona port is not small, and nowhere did it mention where exactly I should be. Two different documents gave 2 different times, and the charter company had stopped responding to all communications over a week previously. Worse still, their website had essentially closed down, with just a holding note saying that sadly all accommodation in South Africa had been cancelled but that the voyages down and back remained unaffected.
With no information forthcoming from the charter company or cruise line, and agent/cruise issues meaning that online check-in was not possible, I had done some research of my own. I had worked my way through the databases available on the Port of Barcelona webpage, and found a dock number (but not terminal number), with, naturally, a port time differing to the two I already had.
And so on the previous day, I had gone for a walk around the port. Barcelona port is big. Even ignoring the cargo areas, there were 5 different docks used by ferries and a further 7 for cruise ships, spread over almost 3km. Naturally, the suspected one (D) was the furthest away. The walk was not the most exciting, and not really designed for walking. A trek over a large bridge and 30degree heat did not help. At the port control, they had no idea at all. At Dock D, the only person there was a window cleaner. The only one with any activity was Dock B, where masses of screaming kids were boarding a huge Disney cruise ship. But even the staff there had no idea. I had pretty much given up when my phone rang. An excitable German lady who seemed surprised that I was not fluent in German (and who's English was lacking) from the charter company was phoning up to ensure I had a return ticket from SA. Apparently they were mean't to check that a month previously and had forgotten. I reassured her that I did, and asked where and when in Barcelona the ship was departing. She said she had no idea, put me on hold for 5minutes, then took my email address (which they had previously used to send a dozen or so emails to), and promised to email me within the hour, and hung up. Realising I could do no more, I decided to enjoy Barcelona for the afternoon, met up with a couple of friends for a bit and relaxed. Checking my emails that night, I had a one line message confirming it was from Dock D, but no boarding or departure time.
At that, I resigned myself to an early morning, and started on the sangria.