A Travellerspoint blog


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.

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.


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.

The MS Westerdam in Santa Cruz harbour

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


When I had gone to sleep, we were docked on the far side of the harbour and just a couple of dozen passengers seemed to be waiting to board. By the time I went to breakfast at 8am, we had moved docks to the main central location, the other 3 cruise ships had all departed, 2 new ones had arrived, and we seemed totally overrun. There had been less than a hundred passengers onboard last night – now there seemed to be several hundred. A huge influx of mostly elderly Germans had joined and were milling around. I queued 20minutes to get some food.

Although the Westerdam does not arrive for 12hours, I suspect that the real charter starts here – Mallorca has long been a favourite for German holidaymakers, and assume that most people who will be joining the ship and all charter flights will come through Mallorca. And as they have a ship here, they may as well let people board to make use of the free food and rest in their cabins if they wish, rather than stay ashore.

For me, it gave me a previously unexpected opportunity to get out and explore a bit of Palma, somewhere I never expected to visit in my life. Now, all of a sudden, I had a full day. And I must admit, Palma kind of worked for me. I would have loved to have had a bike and gone for a ride inland or explore on my own, but the only easy option was a free coach tour (in German) being offered, which I declined. Which left me with just Palma's town to peruse. It was a long walk into town, but not an unpleasant one: along the harbourside, past rows and rows of yachts (2 or 3 of which were of the ridiculous yacht type, those barely smaller than our cruiseship) plus heavy sprinklings of British, German and Swiss number plates in the cars parked in the port.

The old town was much nicer than I had expected, and I was happy wandering it's bustling old streets. Though only late May, it was already heaving with tourists, and I suspect it would be a miserable place in a few weeks time when the real crowds start to hit. It is a standard problem, and one increasingly hard to solve: finding somewhere nice that everybody else hasn't already found, and where you can still enjoy without the hoardes of other visitors and 'tourist' prices.

With my understanding of the ship and it's facilities now slightly better, I took advantage of a local supermarket and stocked up on cordial, coke and nibbles. Then, went for something to eat. Admittedly, if I had wanted to, I could have brought enough stuff from the ship to eat, or returned there, thus saving money, but it was definitely Paella time. I love a good Paella. To be fair, even an average one is normally pretty good in my eyes. I had planned to have one in Barcelona, but eventually decided to save money. I was not about to let another opportunity slide.

Two hours, one large seafood paella, 3 beers and one almighty rainstorm later, I happily started ambling back to the ship.

Posted by Gelli 05:32 Archived in Spain Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Suddenly, it starts to clear. And I don't like what i see

Once at sea, a few things started to become clear, and not always in a good way. There were 120passengers onboard, and we were to transfer to the Westerdam the following evening after 24hours berthed in Palma de Mallorca. A total of only 900 passengers would then continue to Cape Town (which as the 2 ships can take almost 4000, explains why we had been merged into one ship). The majority of the passengers, all the information and entertainment would be in German. We slowly managed to train the crew into making bilingual announcements, and providing English information to our cabins. One of which, a translation of a long letter from the captain, explained the complicated transfer mechanism that was in place, and that as an apology for inconvenience we would receive a free tour of a Mallorca (yay! A German tour with lots of old people!) and 100usd onboard credit. Which was just as well, as the cruise was definitely not all inclusive.

Yes, the food was included, but 2 of the eateries had supplements of 20usd to visit, and several of them – including the main dinning area – had dress codes which include items of clothing I don't even own, let alone have with me. At the end of the day, i'm a backpacker going to watch a sporting event, not a rich retired couple who enjoy dressing up. I worked out I was pretty much going to be constrained, at least in the evening, to the 'casual' dining area. In addition, despite having emails saying otherwise, alcohol and most drinks were extras. The price list showed a can of coke to be 2usd, 1litre of water 3usd and a 330ml can of domestic beer to be 4.75usd. On an American ship and with an increasingly strong dollar, that means i'm paying well over 3gbp for a small can of Budweiser or Coors Light. A small selection of 'Imported' beer (including, erm, Spanish beer in Spain) was 5usd. Not an enticing proposition. Worse still, in small print at the bottom it said that a 15% service charge is automatically added to all beverage purchases.

Bottom line: A 330ml can of Amstel will cost me 4gbp, over 3times what I paid on the RMS. St. Helena, and almost double that of a London pub, somewhere not renowned as a cheap drinking destination. In a supermarket in Barcelona for the same price, I could have bought about 15cans.

Wine and spirit prices are not worth looking at, and I suspect I will detox on this trip, not that I really need to as i've barely drunk anything in the last few months. There was also no information about services etc in the cabin, but I eventually discovered there was no self service laundrette on board: only a fee paying service (no price list, so I guess hideous), or hand washing in the sink which is what I will do. There is also no kettle, meaning that if I want a cup of tea, I have to travel half way down the ship and up 6floors to get it. Coffee is machine based, and very definitely designed for the American market: It's weak, revolting gnats piss. There is a proper coffee place as well, but that's 3usd a cup, plus the 15%. There are no true non-smoking cabins, which now the 'cleaning' smell has worn off, I get a big whiff of stale smoke whenever I enter my cabin.

Due probably to the small number of passengers, you notice the ridiculous numbers of staff trying to help you do pretty much everything even more than you normally would. Yet they are mostly Indonesian and speak limited English and little of no German, and even with so few passengers on board, they just get in the way and slow up even the most basic tasks. Like pouring coffee. I have yet to brave a 'communal' toilet, for fear that one will be offering to wipe my arse.

The entertainment includes films, including one – Invictus – that I really want to see, but it is the dubbed German version only. Most of the rest of the entertainment, I have been told, will be mostly 'big German names'. I have a TV, which at least gives BBC news and some basic American channels (such as CNN and ESPN which is mostly showing either drug-ball or rounders...), but is mostly German channels. And German TV is always dubbed, never subtitled. I can watch bits – my German is not fluent, but is ok, and there is a certain comedy value to see something like Friends or the Simpsons in German, with the different accents – but the novelty tends to wear off rapidly. There are also several in-ship channels, including one which gives voyage information, which which helpfully informs us in text and on a map that our location is Barcelona, despite the fact we sailed for 7hours and have been in port in Palma de Mallorca for a couple of hours by now...

I must admit that i'm starting to get a sinking feeling (metaphorically, not actually. There are no icebergs in Palma harbour), and have a deep longing to be back on my Polish cargoboat, or the RMS St. Helena. This is my first time onboard a cruise ship, and not one which is working for me to this point, although to be fair, I am in no way the typical passenger/target audience, and the fact that it is a German charter mean't I was expecting large numbers of elderly Germans and that tours/events/entertainment would be targeted towards them.

And things may yet change once we are settled aboard the Westerdam and out at sea with everything in place. For now, I am forgoing the free tour, and going to go and explore Palma for a few hours. I have never been here, and never expected to, and am sure there are things to see. Besides, whilst probably against ship rules, I can stock up on a few supplies and have a cheap beer ashore...

Posted by Gelli 14:08 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Piss-up and brewery

As I might have mentioned previously, it was 07:06 on the morning of May 27th . I had left at 6, gone to the closest metro and walked the 3km to the dock with all my stuff. The bus service did not run to a timetable, and I didn't want to spent 10euro on a taxi. Luckily it was reasonably cool at that time of day, and I like walking.

With no other passengers seemingly trying to board, I plonked myself down on kerb and just watched the existing passengers slowly disembark. Most seemed to be middle-old aged Americans, generally very loud, and some incredibly stupid sounding. The only other waiting people had been met by a staff member (Daddy! Daddy!) and taken to the ship through a crew entrance. A few other crew members turned up and went through, and all I could do was sit and wait. By this time I had been up for 4hours and a coffee and a shit would have been nice, ditto some proper food, but none was available. Eventually, a trickle of other passengers began to appear, firstly an elderly South African couple, so I just watched them to see what happened. Almost another hour later, and we they were allowed to go through security (but no immigration control anywhere – I wonder what non EU passport holders did?), and, happily there was an open cafe and toilets to use. Passengers numbered under 30, and most of us didn't speak any/fluent German, which confused the poor Spanish terminal staff who were handing out forms for us all to fill, in German only. Confusion reigneth.

Another half hour later (but with at least my toilet and caffeine requirements fulfilled) and check-in opened. The staff were obviously not used to it. It took 20minutes to process me, as the woman dealing with me seemed to have never used a keyboard before and inputting my name/address/contact details took 10minutes. And yes, these are the same details I had already submitted electronically, that they had posted/emailed stuff to and which I had been contained on the 2 of the forms I had just filled in. She had also obviously never swiped a passport before, or, it seems, even seen one. And judging by the conversations at parallel desks, I was not the only person struggling. But eventually, I was registered, and had my keycard and went to wait. An efficient American woman then told me boarding would start shortly, rooms were ready, and gave me a 35page closely typed document of the cruise lines terms and conditions and legal bits, for my information. You could tell that the cruise company was American...

A few minutes later, boarding began. With nothing else to do, I was first on-board and headed straight to my cabin, only to discover my keycard did not work. Finding my way down to the front desk, I was told they would only be ready in an hour, but I could I fill out some forms... After declining the generous offer to refill the same forms as i'd just filled onshore, I gave in and took my bags and went out onto deck to wait in the sun and watch Barcelona. For what was a German cruise charter on an American ship, the whole episode had been an absolute shambles. I have honestly seen greater speed, and significantly more organisation in the average African city minibus terminal, and for those that truly understand what that means, you comprehend just how pathetic the whole episode had been. The really could not organise a pissup in a brewery. It was so bad that it was funny (though had I not been of a laid-back and patient temperament, things could have been very different) and I would not have been surprised it the German equivalent of Jeremy Beadle had suddenly appeared.

It was about to get worse.

A few others started to appear and I fell into conversation with 2 older Germans living in South Africa, during which, I discovered, that they had been given different information regarding ports of call and timings (inc departure), that we would arrive in Cape Town on a different date, and most astonishingly, that apparently we would be changing ships en route. Where, when and why were unknown.

This seemed to be confirmed by the next person I spoke to, a Portuguese-South African, Jose, who was the only other passenger I had seen who was not old enough to be one of my grandparents. Jose is a travel agent, but even he had only discovered this voyage a few weeks beforehand. He had been told a week previously that we would be changing vessels in Palma, where instead of the 4hours timetabled that I had known about, apparently we would have over 30hours – a full 24hours, followed by cross ship transfer to the Westerdam (the ship I am due to return on), and 3am departure. But despite departing over 24hours later than I knew about and with no change to ports of call, we seem to be due in Cape Town a day earlier... Work that one out. He had been told boarding began at 10am (better), but had been sent to the wrong dock and had done the same walk as me, but only in much hotter temperatures.

At the appointed time, I went back to to front desk, had the ship transfer confirmed (and was told I should have already been told about it) and finally got access to my cabin, where I dropped my stuff, had a well needed shower and then went to find food.

A long announcement was made in German, a few minutes after I was then yanked out of the dining room and told I was supposed to be on Deck 3 for a lifeboat demonstration. I arrived in time to see the few passengers disperse, but got talking to a handful of passengers and Dutch crewman, who then passed the word that at least half of the few passengers on-board were not German and might appreciate English information in future, and told us that they were expecting only 150passengers - 50 of whom had yet to turn up and we were thus randomly waiting for. I had been told it was a 10am sailing and Jose that it was midday, but it was gone 13.30 before we slowly headed out to sea, and rapidly left Barcelona behind.

Posted by Gelli 02:01 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

WooHoo. After the hard bit, NOW i get stuck. Typical

And with that, I was in Spain, on dry (well, dry-ish) land, and sadly needing to leave fairly quickly.

But it was not that easy.

Spain, I rapidly discovered, was shut. Apparently both the previous day and next day were holidays in Spain, and with yesterday being a Sunday, today had been turned into one as well. And Spain was essentially a ghost country. Walking along the main street of Vigo at 11.30am, I saw one vehicle and one other pedestrian. Nothing was open, not even McDonalds, which did not bode well as I had no food or supplies. I was in a bit of a pickle.

I had gone to the railway station, planning to catch the 13.33, only to be rapidly laughed down. Attempts for 2 later trains also failed. Apparently, there was no space on any eastbound train today, full stop. Hmmmm. Buses, I thought? Erm. No. No space. Well, I thought, it might be more expensive but surely i can hire a car and drive to the border. Nope: none of the 3 rental offices were open either. Feck.

Eventually, I managed to get a ticket – the sole remaining ticket – Eastbound for the following day. It will be a long day of many changes and will delay me a while, but i have no choice. So i paid up, took the ticket and then went to find somewhere to stay. It was empty outside, overcast and gloomy, if not that cold. The one hotel whose name i had noted down weeks ago in case i did need to stay turned out to be full, so i started looking at random. The next two were also full. I decided there and then to double my budget and take the first bed I could find at 50euro or less. The next place offered me a holiday special price which turned out to be 198euro. Erm. Thanks but no thanks. At least for now. The next one was 20euros, and i accepted without even bothering to look at the room.

And with a ticket out and somewhere to stay, there was nothing for it except to explore the ghost town of Vigo. I went around the harbour and watched some of the unloading of the Green Cape from a distance, strolled around the Marina and wandered around the old town. Though much of the city is not desperately exciting, the old town at least still retains hints of its old seafaring past: Jules Verne had once visited, and Vigo is even mentioned in a couple of his books. The old parts are quite nice indeed, and even the main street is not too bad. I decided fairly early on that I would like to see the city again (a) on a nice sunny day and (b) open.

But I had also forgotten that this was Spain, and they do things different on holiday: by midday, cafes and restaurants started to open. Pockets of groups of tourists could be found around the old town and harbour. By 7pm, the town was full of wandering locals out taking a stroll, and every restaurant and cafe was packed. Now, i wouldn't starve through lack of open establishments: Just a lack of a reservation.

Yup, Welcome back to Europe.

Posted by Gelli 05:02 Archived in Spain Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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