A Travellerspoint blog

July 2010

My brief interlude with Botswana

Because of my change of plans and 3 week later arrival, all my plans were up in the air. Some things i'd had to cancel, some rearrange. Something that I hadn't been able to change except to delay it was an appointment in Gaborone. The problem was that I needed to be in Johannesburg on Saturday night and it was now Wednesday evening. So it was that I picked up a hire-car as early as possible on Thursday morning, and set off immediately. 1007km (generally very pretty, if empty km, which I would love to have more time enjoy properly) later, I stopped for the night. A 6am departure followed by another 800km followed, and I made it to my appointment in Gabs with 30mins to spare.

It was my first time in Botswana, but I barely saw anything and am not counting it as somewhere I have been. Originally I was going to have a couple of weeks to enjoy it. Instead, it was barely 30hours, and most of that work-related. I had also only expected to be needed Friday afternoon, not most of Saturday as well. Thus, by the time I was able to leave, it was gone 4pm on Saturday, the sun was going (and chilly – it had got down to -3 the previous night, and had been raining in the morning. Yup, it's definitely winter), I had no where to stay – my original plan depended on arriving much earlier - and I still had close to 500km to drive. In addition, the World Cup was well underway, and I had only managed to catch one full game in the first 2 days.

There was a slight problem crossing the border which delayed me further – the only time in my entire life I haven't instantly checked my passport after it had been stamped, and then discovered they had put the wrong stamp on. By the time I was in South Africa, it was dark. I decided to avoid the main N2, both because of the numerous tolls, and the fact it goes past Rustenberg where USA and England were due to kick off in a few hours, and instead cut through. The folly of that was only discovered much later when I spent over an hour sat waiting for traffic lights at major roadworks.

With other options expired, I had managed to convince a friend of a friend to let me crash in Joburg, and somehow managed to find his house without a map or too much problem. At least my worries about driving around Jo'burg alone, at night, and lost, had come to nothing. But it was gone 22:30 by the time I got to Glen's, after basically driving 2300km in 2.5days. But i'd made it. The England game had even finished, though, sadly, despite Robert Green's best efforts, without England loosing. Damned it!

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Always a good thing to know in advance. No guard docs in Botswana, just guard Crocs

Posted by Gelli 05:50 Archived in Botswana Tagged events Comments (0)

Cape arrival

Fourteen days later, and with only hours to go, Table Mountain slowly began to loom out of the sea ahead. Covered in cloud to be sure, but still an amazing sight, and one I never really expected to see. Stunningly, our aborted Luderitz stop mean't we were actually early arriving, whilst the weather (which had sounded dodgy at best) had suddenly brightened dramatically – decent heat, lots of sun and blue sky's, albeit with cloud on the table, made for a great arrival.

And just like that, it was over, and I left my home for the previous 2weeks. And which will be my home again in a month's time. Immigration and customs were no problem, and I was back in Africa. A free shuttle took me to the waterfront, and from there on, I was back on known ground. In Cape Town, the atmosphere was electric. National shirts, flags and colourful hats were all around. Fans of all nationalities were singing, dancing, cheering and laughing. It was great. The town was pretty much one large party zone, and at least half the population seemed to be blowing vuvuzela's at every opportunity. Just walking into town to collect my tickets was enough for me to be sick of them and their monotonous droning noise, to the point where I started fantasising about turning one into a way of blowing out poisonous darts, which I could use to subdue all other vuvuzela blowers. The problem is, I would probably need to carry several tons worth of darts, which is just not practical...

Instead, i'll just enjoy the atmosphere for the evening, and then leave sharpish to get myself into position. The opening game is 48hours away, but the fun starts here.

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Posted by Gelli 00:46 Archived in South Africa Tagged events Comments (0)

And on.

Life seemed to go surprisingly quickly onboard, though I couldn't say why. I had expected a slow pace of life and the journey to drag on, but it actually seemed to go faster than pretty much every other long sea voyage I have been on. And to be fair, it was fast. I'm used to 14-16knot average speeds. The ms Westerdam on the other hand, was whacking along at an average of almost 23knots, which is somewhat rapid for a large vessel. Add in a 20knot headwind which slowed us a bit, and it all contributed to a very brisk chilly breeze on deck for most of the last week or so.
The Equator was crossed one morning at 3am, and King Neptune made his traditional appearance the following afternoon. It was the ships first crossing, and first for the vast majority of crew and passengers. The crossing the line ceremony was performed, but was fairly tame. Only staff members (who had volunteered) were allowed to take part, and the watching German passengers were almost more bemused than anything else. Being an American owned ship, I later discovered that they are so scared of being sued that they never allow non-crew to take part, and even the crew all have to sign several waivers first. I think it quite sad that a centuries old tradition is now constrained by the threat of legal action.

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Part of the crossing the line ceremony

Only a few days later, and we started to see one or two birds, a few dolphins and then the occasional ship. And just like that, we arrived at Luderitz in Namibia. I was looking forward to a few hours ashore and potential to maybe even catch up briefly with some acquaintances, but the cruises now near-legendary poor organisation and planning kicked in again. We were in anchorage by 6:30am, and they expected the ship to be cleared by the authorities and disembarkation to begin by 7. But this is Africa. And a very small, remote town in Africa without regular international arrivals to boot. I knew there was no way in hell that the authorities would be out to the ship so early, but it was obvious that the crew/etc hadn't realised this. They seemed surprised that nobody came out until 8:30, and the ship was not cleared before 9. But by then, time was short and all shore leave was cancelled. Almost 400 passengers disembarked – many of whom were being bused directly to Windhoek (A good 10hours or so by bus) to fly home that evening, and several of whom did not even previously realise that the ship continued to Cape Town. And were thus understandably annoyed to have missed out on visiting.

A few hours of looking at Namibia later, we laid anchor, and slowly left the anchorage for the blast down to South Africa and our last night onboard.

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Luderitz from anchorage in the early morning

Posted by Gelli 06:31 Archived in Namibia Tagged boating Comments (0)

Time for monotony

With the humdrum tasks out of the way (waiting at ports at odd hours, changing ships, calling at odd Spanish islands: that sort of thing) it was done to the normal job of sitting on a boat at sea. I never go out of my way to come up with a routine, but at sea It just seems to kind of happen.

Though the food is all inclusive, it is not actually all that amazing. Whilst i'm sure that the fancy sit down/dress up food is pretty good – on the couple of occasions that I went, it was good, no doubt – the buffet stuff (which, as somebody with no dress up clothes who has to eat, spent many hours at) is more hit and miss. The eggs at breakfast seem average at best, the bacon has been cold, crispy and streaky, and sausages tend to be a single very small one: Omelettes have also been less than impressive, and the coffee, as previously mentioned, has been absolutely atrocious.

As such, i've tended to generally ignore breakfast. I'll lounge around and go for an early lunch at 11.30 or so: a toastie/sandwich for brunch, followed a couple of hours later by lunch, often from the Asian buffet. An odd if slightly intriguing issue is that all the food portions are quite small. For an all inclusive ship, generally used by (mostly fat, if watching them disembark at Barcelona is in any way typical) Americans, the portions are tiny. Which means pretty much every mealtime, I end up eating two meals. That makes me sound like a fat b*stard, but i've been eating less than normal even with two meals at every meal.

During the afternoon, i wander the ship, stopping every now and again to talk to somebody or watch something, or find a spot to sit and read or work: sunbathing or sitting on the sun deck rapidly became unattractive due to the nature of the cruise – Though it can have it's moments, being surrounded by lots of old, fat, naked German people is not always highest on my list of priorities. I'll have a fajita as a late afternoon snack, sometimes with a few beers. Dinner will either be booked and taken with some South African-Portuguese i've become friends with, or casually in the lido. I'll then generally watch a film or DVD from the ships library before wandering out for the evening. Though there is lots of laid on entertainment, a large chunk of it is obviously orientated to an elderly German audience (and some of the names are/were big in German entertainment) and I have generally foregone it. I'll instead sit in the casino, talking to the ever rotating staff – mostly Eastern European or Filipino – with some others, or wandering into the Sports bar (which has no sports) or Piano bar (where there is, at least, a Piano and player). At the end of the evening, when the Germans are in bed or occupied elsewhere, i'll go on deck – favourite spot is the stern on Deck 3 – and watch the night slide by. Stars in the sky, whispy clouds and relatively cool temperature can make it great.

I've now also got used to the other passengers, and their composition. When I was young, I used to occasionally read or watch of tragedies, which listed nationalities of those on board – a plane, for example would crash killing 100, of whom 80 might be from one country, and 15 from 1 or 2 others, leaving 4 or 5 oddballs from often unlikely and far away parts of the world. As a 10-12year old, I would always have a strange morbid wonder why these sole nationals were there, and what their story was. Now, if, such a tragedy would occur (and obviously if you are reading this, it hasn't, because it wouldn't have been uploaded), I would be the oddball. Out of the 1920 capacity, there are barely passengers 800 on board. Of those, roughly 70 are not German, and as far as I am aware virtually all of whom are South Africans. According to the cruise director, anyway, I am the only Brit. I also lower the average age of the passengers substantially. Of the 800, I would conservatively guess that 750 are at least old enough to be my parents, and probably 730 or so, grandparents. 4 younger German girls i'd come across in Barcelona left at Tenerife, leaving me in the youngest 10 passengers on board.

Basically, there are 4 children with their parents (one of the kids, Fabio, and his parents are ¾ of the aforementioned Portuguese-South African group), 2 German lads who have won a competition to the World Cup, and another ethnically Portuguese guy, Jose, plus myself, and a large German guy with his blonde accomplice who look exactly like you imagine a blinged up drugs baron and his porn star partner would look. Everybody else is significantly older.

Thus I now get a week at sea, with a load of old-age naked sun-bathing foreigners for company. What could be better?

Posted by Gelli 18:30 Tagged boating Comments (0)

Dogs. Or birds, depending on your idea

Two days later, and the Canary Isles loomed up out of the early morning mist. Santa Cruz de Tenerife loomed largest, which is probably a good thing as that was where the port we were due to call at was. On my trip to St. Helena we had originally been scheduled to call at Tenerife, but the plan had changed and we had had to be content with sailing past and watching the evening lights. And with Tenerife not really being on the way to many places by surface, I had never expected to ever visit. But stopping was a small bonus I was not going to complain about.

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Santa Cruz harbour information maps were seemingly of use only to Jesus, or those others able to walk on water...

With stunning inevitability, I had arrived in Spain on a public holiday (as per my last trip north, in Vigo), meaning that Santa Cruz was basically closed. The town was set up with dozens of stages and it looked like a great party was going to occur. Sadly, though, it would be after we departed. Which left me to wander around for a couple of hours: Santa Cruz is a fairly pretty looking town, but not somewhere that really jumped out at me as a must return. I suspect that for Tenerife and the Canaries in general, the place to be is out of the towns, and in the country, up in the mountains and national parks. And that was an option unavailable to me.

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Instead I spent some time sending and downloading emails and wandering through closed streets, before stocking up on some booze supplies which I hoped to smuggle aboard, and then sitting and watching the world with a bocadillo and real coffee (the free coffee on the ship is truly dreadful. It is gnats piss to beat all gnats) and then a beer before ambling back on board, showering and then an hour later watching as Tenerife slowly disappeared into the background: the end to a small diversion from the many days of sea, of which we now have 7.

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The MS Westerdam in Santa Cruz harbour

Posted by Gelli 09:28 Archived in Spain Tagged boating Comments (0)

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