The Grand Africa Voyage on the Holland American M/S Prinsendam
March thru May 2008
Our "Grand Voyage" departed from Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and after a brief Caribbean visit, crossed the Atlantic to Africa. It then traveled down the west coast, around the Cape of Good Hope, up the east coast, through the Suez Canal, finally ending at Lisbon, Portugal. There were 29 ports during the 73 day voyage which covered 20,412 nm. Several special inducements were offered for signing up early and taking one of the veranda suites. We received limo transfers from the Florida hotel to the ship and from the ship to the Lisbon airport and prepaid staff gratuities. Our luggage was transferred from home to the ship via FedEx and from the ship in Lisbon to home via DHL. There was also a four bottle liquor set-up in the cabin after we arrived on the ship. We were promised first class air however Holland American failed to deliver that on our return flight. I was never able to get any explanation as to why they broke their contract.
One of the traditions of a grand voyage seemed to be being showered with little gifts. We each received during the course of the voyage a large tote bag, a day runner keyed to the voyage, a note pad, ball-point pen, long-handled shoe horn, numerous stuffed animals, two small Delft plates, a large Delft platter, a "unique" Rosenthal city coffee cup, a DVD about the construction of the Suez Canal, an animal game, a luggage tag and strap, and a large, wheeled duffle bag to pack in. There was also a Nelson Mandela book and 2 National Geographic Africa maps and an Africa photo coffee table book. All but the animals, book, games, and ceramics were orange.
This eventful day began when we arose at 3 am. As promised, Super Shuttle picked us up around 4 and whisked us to LAX. We checked into American Airlines after standing in a nonexistent line waiting for them to open. Since we had no luggage the check-in went quickly. Then we went to security where we again were allowed to wait while they decided to start work. Eventually they turned on their machines and let us pass through.
We reached the gate with only an hour and a half to wait. Even though we were flying first class on American this does not qualify for entry into their lounge. We were still not hungry so I purchased a $2 cup of Starbucks coffee, secure in the knowledge that we would be fed breakfast on the plane.
Eventually the gate staff arrived and we boarded and settled into our seats. At 6:30 am we were served a small glass of champagne. Departure time came and went but we didn't go. The captain announced that the first officer's microphone was stuck in the ON state but skilled techs were working on it. Finally he announced that they had isolated the problem and were looking for the replacement part. Almost immediately the gate agent told us to leave the plane since locating the part would take hours.
We picked up our stuff and filed out and almost immediately were told that a replacement plane would be brought from the hanger and we should go to another gate. By this time we were quite hungry so Jodie got breakfast at Burger King. It tasted quite good since our only nourishment so far had been the champagne.
The replacement did arrive and we departed the gate, over 2 hours late. As we neared the end of the taxiway where we should have turned onto the runway we suddenly turned and began to taxi the other way, then stopped. The captain announced that they didn't have the final weight and balance figures but would soon receive them, which they did. We took off 2½ hours late and arrived at Ft. Lauderdale around 5 pm.
The red-coated Holland-American staff were waiting at baggage claim and eventually took a crowd of us out to the parking lot where we were loaded into stretch limos, much to my surprise. We were carried off to the Hilton located on 1A1 in the heart of the Spring Break crowd.
Holland American sent us to Ft. Lauderdale a day early and provided the hotel room. Since my niece, Debbie Daley, lives in nearby Margate, this gave us an opportunity for a rare visit. After we reached our room I called the Daley house. The sitter told me that Debbie and Don had already left to meet us and gave me Debbie's cell phone number. I called her so that she would know we had actually arrived. After they arrived we walked to Don Shula's restaurant for dinner and enjoyable conversation.
After a delightful full night's sleep we showered and had breakfast then set off to find a promised near-by 7-11 to get some wine to take on board. It was about a 15 minute walk to the store where we found a small selection of inexpensive wine. We got 7 bottles for $52.
We packed our carry-ons and went down to the lobby at noon. Shortly we were loaded again into a stretch limo and driven to the ship. There was a rather long but fast moving line of passengers. We and our carry-ons had to pass through a token security check with bags being x-rayed and we passing through a metal detector. Then we entered a big hall set up with many chairs and were given a questionnaire that asked if we had been sick or if we had been with anyone who had been sick. We filled it out then found that we were to see a woman sitting in one of the chairs who looked at the questionnaire and checked our yellow fever cards then let us stand in line to check in. We surrendered our passports, had our pictures taken, and were given our cruise cards. Finally we were allowed to enter the "elegant" M/S Prinsendam.
Once on board we were directed to the Lido Grill on deck 11 since our cabins weren't ready. We had lunch and then were allowed to go to our cabin, 149 on deck 9. Our luggage, which had been shipped by FedEx, hadn't arrived in the room yet so we unpacked our carry-ons and tried to figure out where the rest of our clothes could go. The walk-in closet is quite small - only one person could be in it at a time. The bed is queen-sized, made by pushing two single beds together. There is a narrow desk with bench seat on one wall with four shallow drawers. Two electrical outlets, one 120 v 60 Hz, one 240 v 50 Hz, are above the desk. There are no electrical outlets in the bathroom. A corner cabinet holds a small flat screen TV and DVD player, shelves, and a small refrigerator. The balcony is generously sized with nice, comfortable wicker furniture. There is a couch, table, and one chair in the room. The bathroom has a plastic tub and a feeble shower, and a fair amount of shelf space under the sink plus two small shelves beside the mirror. The whole cabin, including the shower, is extensively provided with mirrors. This is probably to make it appear to be larger.
One nice thing, the ship has an extensive library of fiction, non fiction, and reference. This is the best shipboard library I have ever experienced. There is also a rather large selection of DVDs for which a rental fee is charged.
Although a generous amount of water issues from the tub faucet, when the flow is turned to the shower head it is a different story. The flow restrictor on the shower head is so aggressive that at times no water comes from the head. When working "properly" there is a feeble dribble that is barely adequate to rinse the soap from your body.
Two pieces of luggage arrived before the mandatory lifeboat drill and the other two afterwards. The drill was worthwhile only because it showed us where our station was however all of the announcements were wasted because of the noise of the dock-side activity loading the ship. We succeeded in unpacking at the expense of missing the sail away party. The party was held as scheduled although the ship was still firmly tied to the wharf. The loading took longer than expected.
Finally around 6:30 the ship edged away from the wharf. We sat on our balcony enjoying our complementary champagne as the ship backed into the turning basin, turned, and headed out to sea.
At 8:15 we headed to the dining room to see who our four table mates would be. There was one man, Joe, sitting at the table. His lady friend had to drop out at the last minute. We don't know if anyone else will be joining us.
This was a day at sea with many lectures and planned activities. Jodie checked out the watercolor class. It also was our first formal night. Joe has acquired a lively companion, Denise, a merry widow from Canada.
3/13. Turks & Caicos
We had our first breakfast in the room since we scheduled a snorkeling trip leaving at 8:30. The meal arrived promptly however there was no attempt to serve it as is done on Regent. The tray was just deposited on the table leaving us to set it up. The food was well prepared.
We made two stops for snorkeling. The first was at the edge of a drop-off and the water was a bit murky. There were just a few fish. The second location was much better. The water was clear, there were many fish, and the Sun came out allowing much better viewing.
Internet access has been problematical. The MTN representative on board, Koos, says that HAL hasn't bought enough satellite bandwidth. I suspect that they bought enough however apportioned the majority for the ship and not much for the passengers. I have not been able to access e-mail with any dependability. I think the Flat Stanley letters will have to wait until we get home. (After returning home I learned that many of my e-mails never arrived.)
We have also found that the wines are grossly overpriced but to compensate they add a 15% service charge!
3/14. Puerto Rico.
Since we spent a day at a non-US location we had to clear US immigration as soon as we arrived in port. So a little bit before 2 pm we lined up outside the Queens Lounge, collected our passports and marched past two inspectors and then turned in our passports again, receiving a little paper slip stating that we had been cleared. Then we left the ship for our Rain Forest tour. As we left the ship we had to surrender our little slips of paper.
The tour consisted of about an hour drive up into the nearby forested mountains. The north-east side of the island receives the trade winds and therefore the rain. Conversely, the south-west side is very dry. We had a short hike and also climbed an observation tower from which there was little to observe. The forest was nice and green, decorated by masses of inpatients. There were also some African tulip trees in flower. We also saw a nearly dry waterfall and some giant snails.
There was a potty stop at a very poor quality souvenirs stand that featured junk made someplace other than Puerto Rico.
3/15. St. Maarten
This island holds the distinction of being the smallest island controlled by two separate countries. France controls half while Holland controls the other. We landed a bit after 10 am in the Dutch half and ventured out to the shops at the terminal. There are reputed to be topless and clothing-optional beaches in the French half. I have no personal knowledge of this.
Our table of 6 is now fully populated. A third couple who had been mistakenly assigned to early seating have moved. They are Virginia and Roy who live on Hawaii. Roy is 82 and rather feeble but mentally sharp. Virginia is 63 and just seems to be a good friend who has known Roy for a long time. We all have moved to a different table in the corner of the dining room, which is slightly more quiet.
After a few days on the ship I think I can comment on the food. We generally eat breakfast and lunch at the Lido which is a buffet. Although we have had breakfast in the dining room for the last two mornings. The food quantities at dinner are too large; the quality average.
3/16. At Sea
We have set off on our 6-day crossing of the Atlantic. Our last view of land occurred around 6 pm last night. Now the staff must fill our days with fun and games.
Now would be a good time to discuss the entertainment at night. Last night we had a Neil Diamond imitator. Prior to that we saw Lorna Luft, Judy Garland's younger daughter, and a whistler and a "comic" magician. Tonight was supposed to be the first big production show however the star developed laryngitis after last night's rehearsal so we will see Larry "Link" Linkin, a "World Renown" clarinetist. (We learned that Link was born and raised in Burlington, Iowa and attended or graduated from the U of I. He was there in ‘57 which was the year I graduated.)
3/17. At Sea
We continue our crossing of the Atlantic on a course of 670 at a speed of approximately 21 mph. Each day we cross one time zone. Rather than advancing the clocks at night, thereby depriving us of sleep we advance at noon. When the captain makes his noon announcement everyone resets their watch.
We continue to be unsuccessful in the daily team Trivia game. Our closest came yesterday when we tied for first however lost the tie-breaker.
Each day while not making a port stop we have walked two miles around the ship on the lower promenade deck. We can't walk around the promenade deck since it has no promenade area.
The TravLtips cocktail party was tonight in the Crow's Nest. We booked the trip through TravLtips which is a travel magazine and travel agency.
At the party we encountered a couple who have no home. They spend all their time on various ships. Traveling with them are a couple who have been traveling for several months. They, however, still have a home. There are a surprising number of people who seem to travel extensively and exclusively on HAL. So far the ship compares poorly to Regent.
The vast majority of the hotel staff comes from Indonesia, although the bar staff comes from the Philippines. (The religion of most Indonesians forbids use of alcohol. I guess this includes serving it. Most of the Filipinos are Catholic and don't mind alcohol.) The presence of the Indonesians shouldn't be a surprise, given the long term relationship between Holland and Indonesia. Our room steward, Tony, is married, has one son, and lives in Jakarta. His contract runs 10 months and then he will have 4 months off. He has worked on ships for 10 years.
Entertainment this evening was a banjo player who was pretty good.
Our lack of success in trivia continues, however we have done better on the daily quiz.
This was our last day of the 6-day Atlantic crossing. My complaint about the extremely high cost of wine was met with disinterest. The wine list is of moderate to low-cost wine but priced at a 4 to 5 times markup. An added insult is the 15% service charge which is added to the bill. In fact, almost everything on the ship costs extra. (That really isn't true. There are free lectures and the meals in the main dining room and the Lido are free.) If we want to dine in the Pinnacle Room, however, there is a $15 cover charge, each, for lunch and a $30 cover charge for dinner. We were also given four bottles of room booze when we boarded. We can bring wine on board and consume it, but not hard liquor. If we take it into the dining room there is a $15 corkage fee.
I keep forgetting to mention the various freebies we have received. We each have received a daily planner in which to track the voyage, a big tote bag, and National Geographic maps of Africa. The planners and the tote bags are the voyage color, orange.
One member of our so-far unsuccessful trivia team must leave the ship tomorrow. His mother in England has died. He may rejoin after a few days.
3-22. Funchal, Madeira
We ended our six-day Atlantic crossing today at Funchal. This is an island of volcanic origin with very steep cliffs and deep valleys. There is almost no flat land. The hills were extensively terraced to allow agriculture. Part of the airport runway is built on bridges over valleys and highways, the only way to get sufficient length.
We walked into town in the morning and had a tour in the afternoon. The town is quite pretty with winding, narrow streets climbing up from the water front. The hills are covered with houses, some closely spaced and a few with some terraced crop land.
We shopped but didn't buy anything since the Bush dollar has faired quite poorly against the Euro. We just couldn't bring ourselves to pay the asking prices. One of the merchants told Jodie that their business has almost collapsed with the collapse of the US economy.
There were seven shipping containers waiting of the wharf for the ship, three with frozen food. We saw inside of one as we were returning to the ship. It had many, many gallons of ice cream. There was also a lot of fresh fruit, bananas, strawberries, etc.
The other news is that our room steward has come down with chicken pox.
Dinner tonight was an extremely poor bar-b-que on the pool deck. This was an early dinner because there is supposed to be local entertainment that has to perform and get off of the ship before we leave. The dinner was poor since they ran out of most BBQ and people had to wait for a long time before more arrived. I consumed my entire meal while Jodie was waiting for the promised ribs to arrive. When they did they were undercooked. Crowd control was also poor. The sad news is that we later learned that the dining room was open and we could have eaten there.
The local group showed up as promised and weren't too bad. It consisted of several couples and some singers and musicians. In "native costume" they performed several dances that all seemed quite similar however they all seemed to be having a good time. As is usual in these things they eventually drew in several of the passengers.
Since we came in late, or actually early but too late to get a good seat, Jodie was sitting on the floor of the aisle to take photos and got trampled a bit with the gang march around the room.
3-23. At Sea.
About the only excitement was the night's show. The late dinner folk had the show early since some people had to leave the ship early the next morning for the long tours to Rabat and Marrakech. The show was quite good, two pianists playing one grand piano. It was a mix of virtuoso musicianship and comedy. These two Brits joined the ship yesterday and will leave it for another ship in Casablanca.
Some tours left the ship at a very early hour. We, however, departed on our city tour at the more civilized hour of 9. Casablanca is nothing like what is portrayed in the movies. It is a vibrant commercial center with some old buildings sprinkled around. Our first visit was to a market which held a fascinating display of fruits, vegetables, local fish, and meats. All, except for the meats, were beautifully displayed.
The city retains strong French influences, given their long presence here. French is the official language. The manner of dress on the streets ranges from traditional to modern. Women attired in the latest fashions stroll alongside fully enveloped Moslem women.
One other example of modernity is the profusion of satellite dishes adorning the roof lines.
Traffic is quite heavy with frequent stoppages. Police and security personnel are in evidence throughout the city. Some of the congested intersections are manned by two or three police who occasionally will attempt to clear some of the congestion.
We also visited Notre Dame de Lordes Catholic church which has an unimpressive cement exterior but displays beautiful, unique stained glass windows when viewed from inside. Another impressive building was the City Hall which features the typical Moslem intricately carved stone work; of course none depicting living things.
I had always felt that olives came in two colors, green and black. We visited a small olive market and saw stacks of many colored olives, many already seasoned with herbs, and also barrels of olive oil. We also wandered around another market then went to Ain Diab resort for some mint tea. The final adventure was an opportunity to shop at one store downtown.
At 5 pm we had another on-board local entertainment. This was three groups of very enthusiastic performers representing three regions of the country. There was a lot of very loud drumming and screeching instruments, much vigorous dancing, and audience participation. The last group included some women. The finale was all three groups sort of all playing in their own style which didn't always match. It reminded me a bit of a jazz concert in the style of Jazz at the Phil. Although I sound critical it was quite enjoyable.
The late show was an English singer.
3-25. Agadir, Morocco
After a morning at sea we arrived in Agadir about noon. The ship made a 90o turn in place and sidled up to the pier. The completely artificial harbor is moderately large and holds a very large fishing fleet. At 1:45 we left on a town tour.
The old town, which was on top of a hill, was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1960 with great loss of life. It has been rebuilt on the flats using modern, earthquake-resistant techniques. Our first stop was an overlook in the center of the old town. All that remains are the walls of the Casbah. We then drove to the town market and had a fairly rushed tour through its maze. As usual, the variety of food and goods displayed was fascinating. All of the produce was locally grown although in our bus ride we saw nothing but very dry, desert terrain. I don't know where the orchards are however we saw great mounds of oranges and similar mounds of fresh tomatoes.
Food was not the only thing sold in the market. We saw carpenters making furniture and welders assembling metal racks and grills. There were also booths selling TVs and appliances, clothing, and shoes.
The rest of the tour was pretty much a downer. There was a visit to an aroma therapy shop and then the usual captive souvenirs shop.
Tonight's entertainment was David Copperfield - no not that David Copperfield. This one was an English or Irish singer, ventriloquist, comedian.
I need to mention the continual extensive decoration of the interiors of the ship, especially in and around the dining room. For St. Patricks Day, of course, everything was green and the staff dressed as leprechauns. The first day of Spring brought forth spring colors and the staff dressed as bees. The colors changed a bit for Easter and only some of the staff dressed as rabbits. This evening was Moroccan night so all were dressed in d'jublas, fezzes, etc. In addition to the costumes and appropriate decorations, the stairwells and dining room ceilings and walls were festooned with hundreds of yards of colored material which would appear in the morning and disappear by the next morning as if by magic. I don't know where all this stuff was stored. One bad thing about the theme nights was that the foyer outside the dining room was always jammed with people taking pictures.
Our room steward has reappeared. He did not have chicken pox: he had an adverse reaction to some medicine provided by the ship's doctor who had also diagnosed him as having chicken pox.
3-26. At Sea
Attended a wine tasting in the Pinnacle Grill in the afternoon. It was supposed to cost $29 each however it may have been free as a result of our complaints about the very high cost of wine on the ship. (We have given up having wine with dinner.) As a result of the tasting we signed up for the Sommelier Dinner on the 30th at a cost of $75 each. Normally the cover charge for the grill is $30 each which doesn't include wine. Having an exclusive restaurant at added cost implies that the passengers are receiving second-rate service and food in the normal (free) dining room. Both the dining room and the grill share the same kitchen although the grill is served from a separate area of the kitchen.
Entertainment was an early show which included a very short, very fast paced enjoyable production by the staff singers and dancers loosely based on the Lion King, and then an overly long performance by an English singer-magician-juggler-comic. We have now seen two straight-jacket escapes in the course of the voyage by different performers. All of the performers, with five exceptions, have been English. They come on the ship for around a week or so and present one show and perhaps a second with the rest of the current batch of performers still on board. Then they leave to join another ship. These has-been and never-been entertainers must lead a very nomadic life. The size of the cruise industry must have resurrected the music hall or vaudeville profession.
3-28. Dakar, Senegal
We arose early to watch the entry into the Dakar harbor. Although it was not quite fully light we were able to photograph the infamous Ile de Gorée which was the way station in the slave trade established by the Portugese. There was a very strong wind blowing, the Harmattan, which I thought would dissipate the fog however the fog was actually dust and it grew worse throughout the day.
After breakfast we ventured off of the ship and shopped among the venders whom had set up on the wharf. The goods offered were mostly carved wood, carved bone, brightly colored garments, and leather items. Jodie successfully bargained however was somewhat hampered since she wanted to use the valueless Bush dollar while the vendors wanted Euros.
Our afternoon town tour was mostly on a bus with a few opportunities to debark. One of these stops was at a YMCA where we saw a demonstration of sand painting. The artist paints an area with a natural adhesive in the shape he wishes to add to the painting and then sprinkles it with colored sand. This process continues until a painting is completed. The sand colors varied from yellow to brown to black. Women with continental hips and prehensile nipples were frequent subjects.
The Central African Franc is the medium of exchange here, and in 7 other Central African countries. I think the central bank for this currency is in Dakar.
The streets were full of people. Most of the women were wearing vividly colored caftans frequently with matching head dress. Of course, there were also some wearing blue jeans. Most of the men were not wearing caftans. Almost any kind of merchandise (food, clothing, hardware, etc.) was offered for sale at sidewalk booths or very small shops.
Since this was Friday there were extensive ranks of men on prayer rugs outside of every mosque waiting for services to begin. The country is 90% Moslem. There were no women since women of child bearing age are not allowed to join the worship - they are too distracting. A man may have up to four wives. The first must approve of the next one, and so on. (I wonder if that is really how it works.)
Senegal was a French possession for 300 years before independence in 1960. French is the official language. It is now a democracy with over 150 political parties. The per capita income is quite low, around $300 a year. Dakar is the capital and seems more prosperous than that. There are, however, a large number of men just hanging out on the streets. We also saw substandard housing.
Part of our tour was a stop at a handicraft "village." We wended our way through the narrow passageways having to resist the entreaties to "just come and look." One vendor tried to trade a small carved hippo for my hat. I must admit that the carved wooden objects are beautiful however I wasn't tempted to part with my hat. It was a very poor but very expensive tour.
I must mention how wooden handicraft items are processed by the ship since most probably contain bugs. Immediately after boarding you surrender the wooden objects at a special desk. They are tagged, wrapped in plastic, and placed in the freezer for 24 hours. This kills the bugs. One passenger found several dead bugs inside the wrapping when her object was returned.
(We found out later that several crew and at least one passenger were attacked in town. We were warned to not explore on our own. A tourist must be a tempting target when he is carrying a camera that costs more than some residents make in several years of hard work.)
3-29. Banjul, The Gambia
The Gambia is a strange little country, the smallest in Africa. Its 4,613 square miles are spread along the Gambia River and are a result of a colonial struggle between Britain and France. Britain established the settlement to oppose the French and to prevent the traffic in slaves. At its widest point it is 30 miles wide.
Today it seems to be a democracy after a bloodless coup in 1994. The country seems poorer than Senegal, in which it is embedded however it also seems cleaner. Dakar was covered with trash with even the trees festooned with black plastic bags. The last Saturday of every month in Senegal has been designated as clean-up day and everyone is supposed to be cleaning up. Since we were there on the last Saturday of March we did see extensive clean-up efforts and government trash trucks picking up the results.
The haze or dust that filled the air in Dakar yesterday remains but without the strong wind. This wind, the Harmattan, brings fine sand from the Sahara and is sometimes strong enough to carry the sand to the Americas. The exterior of the ship is quite dusty however there is not enough "technical water" to hose it off. This water is the condensate from the air conditioning system and apparently not enough is produced while the ship is in port - why?
We left the ship at 8 am to visit the Abuko Nature Reserve. We rode in a minibus out through town and then the country, eventually reaching the 180 acre reserve. There were lots of monkeys, some very bold, many birds, some crocs, and a extremely poor zoo facility in the center. It was an enjoyable but warm stroll.
When we returned to the ship we found that the souvenir sellers had populated to wharf. We were able to fight our way through them and board the ship, only by promising to return and shop in the afternoon. Jodie did, I napped. Another problem with the Bush dollar cropped up here. The central bank will not take any bill less than a $20 to exchange. Jodie exchanged several $1 for some $20s in addition to doing some shopping. The ship was also changing money for the vendors.
3-30. At Sea
About the only excitement today was the wine tasting dinner in the Pinnacle Grill. It was a very good multicourse meal, each accompanied by an appropriate wine. The cost was $75 each which may account for the attendance of only 12 people.
The first course was Amuse Bouche, a dab of liver pate', accompanied by Tattinger Prestige Rose'. The Champagne was quite nice, pleasant fruit with little sweetness. Second course was a tower of crab and shrimp tartare with avocado, complimented with Sevruga caviar. The wine was Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc 2006, Marlborough, N.Z. Both food items were quite small, little more than one bite which is what you would want for an 8 course meal.
Essence of pheasant with mushroom ravioli was served next with some Tio Pepe dry Sherry. During our visit to this winery last year I found that I didn't care for dry Sherry. When accompanied with food it is better however this was the only wine that I refused seconds of.
The fish course was Sole roulade Veronique accompanied by Domaine la Roche Chablis premier Cru 2003, France. We then cleansed our pallets with a Lime Spoon which was lime sherbet served in a Champagne glass with some Moet Et Chandon Champagne.
The main course was a magnificent filet mignon which was orders of magnitude better than the one I had in the main dining room. It was accompanied by a California Cabernet, Heitz Cellers, Trailside Vineyards.
Stilton Cheese served with Graham' LBV Port, 2001 was next followed by Gateaux Frasier, a kind of strawberry shortcake, and a sauterne. It was well worth the $75 per person.
3-31. At Sea
Got up and did our 2 miles around the deck. Lost at Trivia again. The show was a very vigorous singing and dancing performance from the staff performers. The quality of the staff shows is excellent.
4-1. At Sea.
Two miles on deck, lost at Trivia. There was a brief thunderstorm during dinner. The benefit is that it washed the sand and dust from the Harmattan winds off of the ship.
4-2. Takorandi, Ghana
We've now rounded the big bump on the West coast of Africa and sailed in a easterly direction across the Gulf of Guinea. Takorandi is reputed to be a major port however there seemed to be very few ships present. There were, however, a large number of shipping containers that apparently were used as a security barrier.
What to say about our first visit to Ghana? It seems to be a orderly place with a high (40%) unemployment level. The houses seem to be neat but very small. Most have electricity and some have running water. In the country cooking is done over wood fires. I saw trucks loaded with propane bottles in town so I suspect that is the fuel source there. At least 80% of the electricity is hydro but during last year's drought they had rolling black-outs. Kaiser has a large aluminum smelter here which required building dams. In addition to bauxite they have gold, some diamonds, and copper. The agriculture is mostly sustenance however they are the second largest producer of coco after Brazil. Their coco is highly prized since it is sun dried rather than kiln dried.
In addition to exporting coco they also export palm oil and coconut oil but must import rice.
We went to the Kakum National Park for the rain forest canopy eco-experience. It was not an eco-experience The 1½ hour bus ride either way was much more worthwhile. The bus was escorted by two motorcycle cops who waved all traffic aside until we were well out of the traffic of town. Then it was just a succession of small villages all with bustling markets.
It was a short, difficult hike through the forest to the catwalks which passed through the canopy. We saw exactly nothing other than green leaves while walking on the catwalks. The catwalks are aluminum ladders laying flat and supported by ropes and nets. Planks were laid on the ladders to provide a walking surface.
The economy of Ghana seems to be based on individuals selling their produce or goods to others. We occasionally saw some sugar cane which was being processed into molasses in small, crude facilities. This would then be further processed into a 70% alcohol
On our return trip in the afternoon we saw many school kids returning home, all in uniforms. Education is free but not all can afford the cost of uniforms, supplies, and meals away from home.
We returned to the ship so late that we almost missed any lunch service which continues until 5 pm on the pool deck. We complained to the tour desk about the lack of any natural experience and the late return and were met with indifference. (Reminded me of the indifference evidenced by Koos the internet expert. Must be a standard Holland American reaction to criticism.)
4-3. Tema, Ghana
It was an arduous journey of 100 miles or so from Takoradi to Tema. This is the port city for Accra, the capital. Our leisurely 9:30 departure on tour was delayed even more since the port authorities wouldn't allow all of the buses on the wharf at the same time. Finally we left on our tour, Healing Herbs on the Hills. It was a long, twisting journey just to get out of the dockyard and then 1½ hours up into the Akwapim Ridge.
Although Accra is quite cosmopolitan (it even has a large shopping mall) we eventually got out into the country and found the typical crowded market places. Accra is quite different from Takordi. There is obviously more wealth in Accra as evidenced by tracts of large homes. Although some shacks are constructed of almost anything, most houses are cast-in-place concrete or built from solid concrete blocks. There are many occupied and unoccupied partially finished houses. People build until they run out of money and stop until they can afford more construction, sometimes going to another country to earn money.
Christians comprise 60% of the population while 15% are Muslim. The Christians seem to be of the fundamentalist bent, judging by the mottos on vehicles and the names of businesses, such as "Blessed Tire Repair," and "God's Best Food." Although government education is free from primary through junior high there are a number of church-related schools.
Based on the tour description, we were surprised to arrive at the Center for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine on the Akwapim Ridge, a cool 2,000 feet above sea level. There was no mention of this place in the tour description. It was established in 1975 by the Ministry of Health because 70% of the citizens depend on traditional medicine. We were briefed by Osafo-Mensah-S, a pharmacologist who is the director of communications.
There is 1 traditional practitioner for every 1000 patients while there is 1 MD for every 10,000. Traditional practitioners include shamans, herbalists, midwives, bone setters, and massage specialists. The center first determined that over 1,000 medicinal plants are employed by the practitioners. From this point they determined the efficacy of the plants and their sustainability. Their approach is two-pronged, research into the medical affect and treatment. They have concentrated on diabetes, high blood pressure, malaria, HIV, and also asthma.
Treatment is provided by MDs who have been trained in herbal medicine. There is a staff of 160 with about devoted to R&D. The rest are support staff and farmers. Plants are started from their seed stock and then given to local farmers to raise. We even bought a couple of the products.
After the center we went to Aburi Botanical Garden which was started by the British. After that we had a handcraft shopping opportunity and then drove back into the city. Although we returned well after lunch we learned our lesson yesterday and took sandwiches we prepared at breakfast. We have been surprised that HAL doesn't provide a sack lunch for these long tours that don't include lunch. This was a really good tour.
4-4. Lomé, Togo
Togo is now half of what it once was. This one-time German possession was split between France and Great Britain after WWI. The British half became part of Ghana while the French half became Togo upon independence. Since then there has been a succession of coups d'etat and dictators. The current ruler is the son of the previous dictator.
The usual folk group was performing as the ship docked. Although the drums were the same as previous groups, the dancers were quite different, including several stilt walkers. These stilts were 10 to 15 feet long! One of the stilt walkers fell and was hauled off in an ambulance.
This tiny country doesn't seem very prosperous however the port is filled with shipping containers, some for adjacent, inland countries. Commerce within the populace is similar to what we have seen - many, many individual entrepreneurs with little booths, or open-air temporary stalls, or even people just strolling around offering items for sale.
We took a brief bus tour that started at the local fishing harbor. Most of the boats had come in and had sold their product. Many of the boats have Christian names, such as "23rd Psalm." Our two guides explained that some fish were sold fresh, some smoked or otherwise cooked, and some frozen. There were a number of pigs of various ages around the entrance of the harbor. The guides also explained that the boats were not all from Togo. Many are from other countries and follow the catch. The boats all seemed to be very long dug-outs that used both sails and motors.
Our two guides eschewed use of the PA in the bus and instead stood in the middle and shouted at us. They functioned as sort of a tag-team. One said he was working toward a PhD in English. His understanding of English was fair but he had a thick accent. One interesting addition to the bus was a young woman who the guides said was responsible for security. She looked too small and obviously carried no radio or weapons, and never left the bus so I don't think she was there for our security. I believe she was along to make sure the guides said nothing out of line.
After the fish harbor we had a long drive through increasingly congested roads along the ocean to the border with Ghana. The border area was incredibly crowded. With some difficulty the bus reversed course and we returned to town and to Independence Square and its giant monument to freedom. We then paid a short visit to the nearby museum. Although small it had some interesting displays and also a welcome rest room.
By this time we were running late so we paid an all too short visit to a handicraft center and then off to the voodoo market. Along the way we picked up the passengers from another tour bus that had broken down. Most of the merchandise at the market was covered up in anticipation of rain. There were, however many eager vendors attempting to sell us some voodoo figures. Jodie bought a male and female figure, so beware!
Our supply of ship-provided goodies continues to grow. We have received two long-handled shoe horns and two card cases with small ball-point pens.
4-5. At Sea
Today at exactly 1350:42 the ship reached the 0o/0o point. That is the place where the Prime Meridian crosses the Equator. (That time, of course, is GMT.) The elegant Prinsendam didn't pause or even slow down. She plowed on relentlessly toward Walvis Bay. I diligently searched over the side for the continuation of the brass line that marks the Prime Meridian in Greenwich however I was unable to spot it, perhaps because the depth of water here is 10,017 feet. One passenger reportedly took a picture of the ocean surface. I just took a picture of my GPS when the ship's whistle blew.
In the ancient mariner tradition, the entertainment staff held an initiation ceremony for the pollywogs on board, turning them into shell-backs. This was held on the pool deck in a light rain. Everyone enjoyed it except the pollywogs. This was the most elaborate equator crossing ceremony I have witnessed.
4-7. At Sea.
The only significant event yesterday was the chocolate extravaganza at 10:30 pm. Actually it wasn't all chocolate but just a wasteful, massive display of desserts in the Lido. This was scheduled for the benefit of the first dinner sitting since they had eaten and had the evening show. We could choose to attend this or the late show. We took some photos and then went to the show which was some brassy female singer.
During the afternoon there was a "coffee chat" with Capt. Christopher Turner wherein he presented a brief bio and then answered questions from the passengers. Several centered on security since there has been a pirate take-over of a French yacht. (There has been almost no information about this except some brief bits on CNN. We later learned that it was not a yacht, it was Le Ponnant, a ship we have traveled on twice.) He professed to know nothing about it. When questioned further about piracy he said the ship security staff has secret plans to prevent and deal with pirates. He also said big cruse ship are in no danger from pirates, conveniently forgetting the Aquili Lauro, and the Seabourn Spirt that was fired on by pirates November, 2005.
Today we attended a presentation by the ship environmental officer. Carnival Cruises paid a heavy fine a few years ago for concealing the illegal discharge of oil into the ocean. As a part of the settlement, they had to embrace an aggressive policy of environmental control. Part of this program is the presence of an environmental officer on every ship. He presented a video which described the measures taken to control pollution on the ships and how they handle waste.
Sewage, for example, is held in a tank where bacteria gobble away at it. Filtration removes indigestible solids. The effluent is irradiated by UV and then chlorinated before being discharged.
We learned, incidentally, that the food budget for grand voyages is higher than for ordinary trips!
4-9. Walvis Bay, Namibia
We scheduled no tours here so after a leisurely breakfast we strolled into town. The town center was a typical business area with typical stores, not tourist places. We shopped at a stationary store and a supermarket. The most exciting thing was that I came close to being run over by a police man who was making a very fast left turn while we were crossing the street with a green light. Apparently pedestrians have no rights in Namibia.
There was a very good performance late in the afternoon by some young adults. First was a group of female dancers, then a incredibly good marimba band, then a youth chorus.
In the evening the various bands from the ship presented a concert.
4-10. Luderitz, Namibia
The ship just "jumped" down the coast a bit to Luderitz. It was originally settled by the Germans who were drawn to the area by the diamond deposits. The diamonds seemed to be scattered at random about the area. Until recently it was against the law to own an uncut diamond in Namibia. The country-side was lava interspersed with desert sand.
There are apparently extensive diamond deposits in the ocean along the coast. In fact, 60% of DeBeers Namibian production is from marine deposits. There were several small dredge boats anchored in the harbor. I don't know if they were independent or owned by DeBeers.
We had a short tour of Kolmanskop, a deserted mining town. This was a complete, functioning town with electrical generation, an ice plant, bowling alley, and residences, all to support diamond harvesting. Some were picked up off of the surface with tweezers. The laborers were required to wear face masks so that they couldn't swallow the diamonds. The hospital had the first x-ray machine in the country, not for treatment but to detect swallowed diamonds.
In 1956 production diminished and a new mine was discovered 30 km away. The town was abandoned to the desert sands. When it was decided recently to restore it as a tourist attraction it was necessary to excavate the sand from the buildings. There is still active diamond mining in the area and many of the areas around the town site are off limits.
4-11. At Sea.
4-12. Cape Town
We arose early to watch the entrance into spectacular Cape Town harbor. When we looked out we saw the ship was approaching but with more and more hesitation. We dressed and rushed up to the Lido with cameras to breakfast quickly while taking photos. Our first tour was scheduled to leave at 8.
It became apparent that we weren't entering the harbor but just sort of hanging around. Finally the captain announced that the 30 kt winds blowing across the harbor entrance had closed the harbor to all high-profile ships. The ship tried anchoring to wait for the winds to lessen however the anchor drug so we moved to a more sheltered anchorage where we waited until after noon. A brave pilot decided he could take us in with the aid of two tugs, one at the bow and one at the stern. We made it through the rather narrow entrance and tied up with no difficulty.
The ship is sharing a pier with a cable-laying ship from Mauritius.
Our 2 pm tour of Table Mountain left at 3 pm and didn't go to Table Mountain. The tram to the top was closed because of the high winds. The glove of clouds seeping over the mountain, called the Table Cloth, was spectacularly persistent all day. Instead we went to Signal Hill, so named because in the early days a lookout stationed there would fire a cannon to signal the arrival of a ship in the harbor. Then the farmers would bring their produce to the harbor to sell to the ship.
When we returned to the ship we hurried to the nearby shopping center to get some wine only to learn that all wine sales ended at 5 pm and wouldn't resume until Monday.
4-13. Still in Capetown.
We did a long, scenic tour to the Cape of Good Hope, which is not the southernmost point on the continent. That point is just a few miles away. There was a long, scenic bus ride along the twisting road that followed the coast. Along the way we were serenaded by the constant sound of Jodie's camera shutter. The waves were spectacular as they crashed against the shore.
When we reached the cape we rode a tram to a landing where we found a souvenir shop and a lighthouse atop a promontory. A circular staircase led to the top of the lighthouse. There some ostriches and a kudu wandering about in the grasslands below. After viewing things we moved down to the shore so we could have our pictures taken by a sign identifying the place.
Lunch was at a restaurant surrounded by baboons. They tried to join us however the staff prevented it. The meal was a delicious selection of fried sea food, with beer and wine included.
On the way back into town we visited a Magellanic penguin rookery and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.
When we returned to the ship we hurriedly packed for our three day trip off of the ship to Victoria Falls.
4-14. Off to Victoria Falls
We arose at 3:30 am and had a cold breakfast in the room at 4, then went to the lounge and thence to the bus for a half hour ride to the airport. After some confusion, and a long line we succeeded in checking our luggage to Johannesburg, although we are going to Victoria Falls. The Abercrombie & Kent guide stressed that we should only check through to the first city. (Holland American recently contracted with A&K for all African tours. Their tour company is knows as Akorn.)
We squeezed into the allotted seats in the rear of a British Airways (operated by Comair) 737-400 and "enjoyed" a somewhat hot breakfast. When we arrived in Johannesburg we were met by another A&K rep who was quite upset that we hadn't checked our bags all the way and led us up and down and around and eventually through the parking structure to the international terminal where we rechecked our bags.
The next step was passport control since the falls are in Zimbabwe. A Moslem and, I presume, his four wives were behind me in the serpentine line. I tried to see the passport of the women behind me to see if there was a photo but I couldn't. (I later learned that the passport official made the women remove their veils before they could pass.) Security followed and then it was another very long walk to the gate.
We boarded another 737 but this time Jodie and I were separated. We had a lunch on the plane.
When we arrived in Zimbabwe we found a disorganized crowd in the tiny terminal trying to buy entry visas at $30, cash, each. Eventually we reached the front of the line and shelled out our money and passed. The little tour vans picked us up, along with our luggage and hauled us off to the Stanley and Livingston at Victoria Falls lodge, most of the way on rough, dirt roads. We arrived about 3 PM.
Our miserable day became wondrous immediately. It is a small, beautiful place with thatched roof buildings with beautifully landscaped grounds. The 27 members of our group completely filled it.
Its backyard is a private nature reserve. While we were waiting to check in, a herd of cape buffalo wandered through.
Our facilities consisted of a living room with desk, couch, chairs, and TV with DVD; a bedroom with king-sized bed and TV; and a bathroom that was larger than our cabin on the ship. It held a large shower, a free-standing, claw-footed bath tub, twin sinks, a toilet, and a bidet. All the fixtures were gold colored.
After a late lunch we set off to the Zambezi river for a sunset cruise. On the way we encountered some elephants grazing next to the road. The cruise was on a pontoon boat and included an open bar. In addition to the sunset we saw a hippo, a couple of crocs, a feeding elephant, and several birds.
After sunset we went back to the lodge and eventually had dinner with included wine. This made our 5th meal of the day, not counting the snacks on the cruise.
After breakfast we set off to "do" the falls.
Since we had visited Iguazu Falls we were prepared for the wet however many of our companions were not. Again the ship's tour office failed to provide adequate advice and most were not prepared, especially in the shoe department. The tour operator provided nylon ponchos and we took several umbrellas from the lodge.
The falls were described as being the largest in the World, but by what measurement? Niagara Falls have a greater year-round volume of water; Angel Falls are higher; and Iguazu Falls are wider. They were loud, spectacular, and mostly concealed by mist. The wind would frequently blow the mist away, allowing some photography. We walked along a path that ran on one side of the falls and finally reached the point where they were not visible but continued on to the bridge across the river where there were beautiful rainbows. The mist condensed into a steady rain in some locations. We were told that this was the heaviest flow in many, many years.
At the end of the hike, completely soaked, we returned to the bus parking lot. While we were waiting for the stragglers, Jodie did some shopping through the fence surrounding the national park.
Several optional activities were offered in the afternoon, all at extra cost. In another significant failure by the ship's tour office, we belatedly learned that the operators would not accept credit cards since they would be paid in the worthless Zimbabwean currency. All that they would accept was US dollars or South African rands.
We chose to hang around the lodge. After my nap we wandered around the grounds and then sat on a padded bench over-looking the meadow, enjoying the bird and bug sounds. As dusk approached a solitary cape buffalo wandered out of the bush, then an impala, then a kudu. They grazed placidly. While we were enjoying the sights the bartender came out and offered us a refreshing drink. So we had some good wine. Then the whole buffalo herd came out complete with some playful calves. We watched them until it became too dark to see and the rain started.
Another miserable travel day. After breakfast we packed and checked out of the room around 10:30 and moved to the balcony. All was quiet until a bull impala moved out of the bush, then his whole herd.
Finally it was time to go to the tiny airport where we found an uncontrolled mob scene trying to check in. We were finally directed to a special desk for our flight, again advised to not check our bags thru to Durban, where the ship had moved in our absence. After receiving our boarding passes we moved to another line to have our entry visas cancelled. Since it was now departure time, someone from the airline finally created a priority line for us. Then we went through security where we had to remove shoes and belts. The plane arrived late and we eventually boarded.
The flight back to Johannesburg was on another crowded 737. Lunch was the same lasagna as we had previously. Mine was better prepared so I ate it.
Wonder of wonders, we actually had a boarding ramp to deplane. We found another totally unorganized crowd scene when we arrived at passport control but eventually passed through. Our checked luggage had not yet arrived and we were advised to go to several different carousels. Eventually most of the bags arrived however 6 didn't. The explanation we received was that there was one luggage cart that the ground crew lost. After more than an hour those whose luggage hadn't arrived started filling out the lost luggage claim forms. Suddenly the lost bags materialized on one of the carousels and we rushed off to the domestic terminal following the A&K guide.
It was a repeat of the previous journey through the airport, eventually arriving at a ticketing counter. The guide arranged for a special check-in and then we joined the fast moving security line. Again we had to descend several flights to ground level and wait for boarding. The waiting area had insufficient seats so we had to stand around for an hour before being allowed to board the bus. We boarded an antique 737 and found our seats in the very last row.
The old plane had the original engines with which the first 737s were equipped. I thought we would have permanent hearing damage from the take-off sound levels. Fortunately the flight was only 55 minutes, during which the cabin crew served meals to all of the steerage passengers along with wine. We chose not to have the offered lasagna.
We arrived in Durban, the third largest city in South Africa and found a terminal with no boarding ramps but so small that no buses are needed. We strolled across the tarmac and into the terminal. The luggage arrived promptly - no lost luggage - and we bussed off to the ship. We arrived in time for our regular dinner.
4-17. Richards Bay.
This was our first full day back on the ship after a 3-day trip to Victoria Falls. We did nothing here other than take the shuttle into town to a modern shopping center where we spent a lot of time in a modern grocery store, eventually buying 13 bottles of wine plus a 3 liter box. Hopefully we are provisioned for the remainder of the voyage.
After we returned to the ship Jodie hit the dock-side Zulu vendors. One thanked her for making his day with the purchase of his hand-made chess set. The pieces are in the form of animals.
Other noteworthy events - we finally won at trivia - and - anti-pirate intense sound projectors have been added under the bridge wings on either side.
We now have three days at sea.
4-20. At Sea.
We have been working our way around Madagascar for the past couple days and will arrive in Réunion tomorrow. During our time at sea we have added to our stuffed animal menagerie. We now have some zebras. We also won at team trivia a second time and have now won 7 daily quizzes and have worked our way up to an umbrella as a prize.
4-21. La Possession, Réunion
In typical French fashion, an impromptu strike by the taxi drivers blockaded our port exit so that all tours were two hours late. In addition, not all of the buses showed up so those that did were very crowded. The taxi drivers were striking because they were not allowed access to the pier. The only reason that they were denied access is that they had failed to request access.
Our tour went to St. Denis which is the capital of this French Department. We found the island uninteresting and unfriendly. Certainly not worth this visit and someplace to be avoided.
4-22. Port Louis, Mauritius
We spent a nice day in Mauritius after wasting a day on Réunion. Mauritius was beautiful and friendly. We booked no tour so we took the shuttle to a shopping center that was just across the channel from where the ship was moored, however a rather lengthily drive through the interesting town. Shopping was pleasant as were the shop keepers. The island is beautiful and has the highest per capita income in Africa, apparently because of their sugar and molasses exports.
4-25. Victoria, Mahé, Seychelles Islands
After two days at sea we arrived at the Victoria harbor in the rain. Although we have been in this harbor twice, nothing looks familiar.
The showers came and went all morning and then seemed to clear up after lunch so we set out to walk the short distance to town. The skies opened up when we were about half way there but we continued on, bought some wine and then returned to the ship.
Of significance for the days at sea, we won the daily quiz two days in a row and are now up to 9 wins. Our prizes were a picture frame and a Maglight. Jodie won another, nicer picture frame plus a photographic portrait last night at the Out of Africa thing.
One of the things we did to occupy ourselves in the morning was the daily quiz, subject Madagascar. We won for the 10th time, third in a row!
4-28. Mombasa, Kenya
There was a lovely sight moored at the wharf as the Prinsendam approached in the rain. A beautiful, all-grey, Dutch missile frigate, the HNLMS Evertsen, a 6,050 ton ship built in 2005. She is here to support the UN food relief program for Somalia. The Somalian pirates have sunk so low that they hi-jack the ships carrying donated food intended for the starving people in their country. This is an interesting commentary on tribalism and savagery. The freighter the Evertsen is to escort is not yet ready so she will escort us past the pirate-prone waters. In addition to a 127 mm deck gun she carries several different types of guided missiles, a helicopter, and a squad of marines who are trained to board hostile ships.
4-28 thru 4-30.
The Prinsendam spent two nights in squalid Mombasa so that passengers could take various tours or safaris into the national parks of Kenya. We chose a two-night, three-day trip to the Masai Mara.
There is an interesting approach to security at the Mombasa airport. All luggage, checked or carry-on was x-rayed when we entered and we passed through a metal detector. We had moved all items forbidden in carry-on into our checked bag however there was no problem with it. The defanged finger nail clipper in my Doppkit caused a problem until the inspector found that its nailfile had already been removed. The knife in the bag intended for checking caused no problem.
We quickly checked in the one bag. The boarding passes had been issued while we were still on the bus so we headed to the gate, only to find a second security station where our carry-ons were again x-rayed and we passed through another metal detector. Finally we were free to board however by this time the rain had returned so we had to hike a long distance across the tarmac, two of us to one umbrella. In spite of the umbrella we were wet by the time we reached the Dash 8 operated by fly540.com airlines. This seems to be a very local airline.
The flight to the dirt strip at the Masai Mara took about 1½ hours and passed by Mt. Kenya on one side and Mt. Kilimanjaro on the other. We were met by a number of Land Rovers and guides who also unloaded the luggage from the plane. The crew never emerged from the plane and they kept one engine running. As soon as we and our luggage were unloaded they restarted the port-side engine and took off in a cloud of dust.
When I had a chance to look around I found that I had inadequate words to describe the Masai Mara. It is an expansive sweep of land and sky with a heavy scattering of acacia trees which look like umbrellas, their trunks having been trimmed to a uniform height by the elephants and giraffes. The area is so vast and so beautiful that its almost impossible to comprehend.
Our itinerary said that we would have a game drive on our way to the Kichwa Tembo lodge. I assumed that this meant we would drive to the lodge immediately. The 35 members of the tour spread themselves among the 7-passenger Land Rovers and climbed aboard. One passenger sat by the driver while the remaining 6 sat in three rows of stair-stepped seats. The sides were open and the top was covered with canvas. There were "gates" to keep you from falling out.
The vehicles filed out of the parking area and started down the road, as I had expected. Suddenly, one by one they peeled off into the grassland and our adventure began. Almost immediately we spotted animals. This was like the San Diego Wild Animal Park but thousands of times bigger, and on steroids!
The guides were in radio contact with each other so that they knew if something extraordinary was spotted. There was, however, never any crowd around a find. In this vast plain, animals were everywhere, not evenly distributed but in clusters. Sometimes a herd of a single species and sometimes intermixed. For example, there might be a herd of impala, 30 or more females and one dominant male. Then there were Thompson's gazelles, impala, water bucks, bush bucks, topi, and cape buffalo grazing together, along with ostriches and warthogs. If they sensed a predator nearby the whole group would stand facing it, watching for any movement. I don't know why they just didn't move away.
We eventually reached the lodge around noon and found it to be a very pleasant place, located in a dense wood and surrounded by an electric fence. The only animals inside were some wart hogs and some monkeys. (We had to tie the zippers on our tent flaps to keep the monkeys out.) The permanent buildings were made of stone and wood with thatched roofs. There were no doors or closed walls. Our tent was approximately 12' x 25' and contained a flush toilet, sink, and shower with hot and cold running water. There were also electric lights but they did little to illuminate. The generator was turned off for a few hours in the wee hours.
After lunch we unpacked and then set out on another game drive with Willy. We saw zebras, cheetahs, elephants, and a black rhino. When we returned to the lodge around 7 we found that a group of Masai warriors were going to perform just before dinner. After their performance and a good dinner we tumbled into bed since we were being awakened at 6 the next morning for a game drive before breakfast.
During this early morning drive we again saw the vast array of animals including a lion pair mating. We stopped around 8:30 at an overlook where we could see hippos and had our sack breakfast. We also saw the river crossing made famous in nature films where the migratory zebras and wildebeests must brave the crocodile gauntlet. The migration had not yet started however the crocs are there, waiting. We were told that some eat only during the crossing.
In addition to the animals we saw some spectacular birds; lilac breasted roller, secretary bird, crown crested cranes and several varieties of eagles.
Then we searched for more animals, returning to the lodge around 10:30. Those who wished visited a Masai village, leaving at 11:30 and returned about 2.
While Dale napped I went to the near by Maisi village which was about a 20 minute drive with about 8 others from our group. We were warmly greeted by the chief, his oldest son and the herd of calves who spend the day by the village. The calves are allowed to nurse in the morning before the adult herd is taken to a remote pasture by some tribal members. The cows are milked at the end of the day before they are reunited with the calves for the evening. All spend the night in the fenced compound in their corral. The goats also have a corral inside the fenced area., The fence is a thick intertwined affair of branches which surrounds the entire village. It has one narrow entrance which is open during the day, but closed off at night with a piece of sheet metal and more branches. The metal is used so they would hear if something were disturbing it. They lost a goat to a leopard the day before we arrived.
Cattle are their form of money and their chief food source. They drink the blood and milk and on special occasions such as weddings, funerals and circumcisions will slaughter one. The same is true for the goats to a lesser extent. I don't recall seeing any chickens. They now also trade with other tribes for maize to supplement their diet.
The chief's son spoke very good English and the chief spoke some. They explained that the $20 per person they charged to come to the village went into a special account–I believe their only account– to pay for the school which they built so their children would not ha ve to walk so far to get an education. They are also drilling a well so they will not have to walk a long way to the stream to get water. Tribal members who have gone away to school have returned to the village to teach in the school. They have also built special mud dorms for the school age children to sleep in so they don't have to breathe as much smoke. There is no electricity. I did not see any out house looking buildings and did not ask about sanitation. They start their fires each night in the traditional friction and rolling stick method and were very good at it. In their demonstration they had a fire going in a couple minutes. Certainly better than I ever did in my Scouting days.
The mud hut houses were round with thatched roofs. They consisted of an entrance way and 4 very small rooms. Two were used as bedrooms, there was a cooking area but I did not see a vent hole for the wood fire and a living area. There were small windows with twigs embedded so that not much light nor I assume air passed through. There was no furniture as we know it. The small sleeping area was raised and covered with animal hides. It was very dark inside. They spend much time outside during the day. When someone decides to marry he must first build a house.
I believe there were about 120 people in the village. More than half of them were up to elementary age children. All seemed very happy.. The women performed a welcome dance for us clad in their traditional red with elaborate beaded collars, necklaces and bracelets. They use a lot of seed beads which they obtain by trading. At the end of our visit they had a display of crafts for sale. There was much beautiful bead work, jewelry made from bone, spears, shields, and some wood carvings, but not as well done as other places. I bought some quill bracelets, bone jewelry and a beaded belt. I am already wishing I had bought more–not so much because I want or need it, but they could certainly use the cash.
The late afternoon drive left at 4 pm. As we left the lodge Willy announced that we were off to see a leopard. We eventually reached a tree alongside the road with a freshly killed impala stored in the branches. Some jackals were patrolling at the base of the tree. This was a leopard kill and the leopard must be nearby! The Land Rovers fanned out into the 4 foot high grass. Eventually Willy spotted movement in the grass and suddenly the leopard broke cover in a burst and moved behind a bush. The vehicles approached closer, always leaving an escape path for the animal. The animal suddenly took off, allowing a glimpse of its back and tail. It was quite thrilling!
We spent the remainder of the drive viewing giraffes and elephants.
On our final day we were awakened at 4:30 since we opted for a hot-air balloon ride. The driver picked us up around 5 and drove over an hour to the launch point, encountering many animals standing on or beside the road, including a pride of lions with cubs. The route took us past the tree with the leopard kill which was surrounded by jackals and hyenas, hoping that the leopard would drop some pieces. As we were trying to see the leopard, it suddenly leapt down and disappeared into the tall grass.
We reached the launch site just at dawn and boarded the basket which immediately lifted off. The wind was light and generally to the west. We had quite a view of the animals from our vantage point. After about an hour we landed. The driver picked us up and we drove off to the location of our breakfast. It was set-up on a knoll and included, besides the traditional champagne, freshly prepared crepes, omelets elegantly prepared to order, fruit, pastries.
In the course of our trip we also saw many baboons, jackals, hyenas, and mere cats.
The trip back to the lodge included a lengthily stop at the luxurious Serena Resort. We returned to our camp in time to pack and have lunch then we drove back to the airstrip. The flight back was uneventful except that the views of Mt. Kilimjaro were better than on the flight out. The landing was one of the roughest I've ever experienced however we survived.
In case you weren't keeping count, we did see THE BIG FIVE!
5-1. At Sea.
We departed Mombasa last night. When I awoke this morning I stepped out onto our balcony and found the Evertsen following at a discrete distance on the starboard side. This was a very reassuring sight.
A simulated evacuation exercise was conducted between the Prinsendam and the Evertsen this afternoon. The Evertsen moved up to run parallel with us and launched her helicopter. The helicopter came over and lowered a paramedic onto the bow. Then the heli flew away for a bit then came back and picked up the medic.
We left Somali waters today. Our escort, the Dutch ship HNLMS Evertsen, put on a bit of a show this afternoon. She normally runs on two Diesel engines which are adequate to match our 16 to 17 kt speed. However she also has two supplemental gas turbines which can boost her speed to 26 kts. She used these this afternoon to join up with us. She was a thrilling sight, throwing up a foaming white bow wave as she approached and then matching our speed at about 50 yards off of our port side. Then she launched her helicopter which flew around both ships taking photos which will be available for purchase from the photo shop. Finally the turbines spooled up and she pulled away in a wide, sweeping turn and went back to her position astern.
The grain ship that she was to escort from Mombasa to Somali was still not loaded so her leaving was delayed. (This grain is for starving Somalians in UN refuge camps. The Somali bandits want to steal it and make money from it rather than let it go to their starving fellow countrymen.) We were over 200 nm off of the Somali coast at noon. Since the U.S. Navy fired two Tomahawk missiles into Somali a day or two ago I was glad we weren't closer.
5-5. Salalah, Oman
Since we had been here before, we choose to stay on the ship rather than touring. It was hot, humid, and dusty, a strange combination. Many passengers have developed a cough which may have been caused by the dust on the Kenyan safari.
Our quiet and restful day was enhanced first by winning at trivia with a pick-up team of 4 and then later by winning the daily quiz. This was our 11th win and rates a bottle of champagne. If we win again we revert to the bottom and have to work our way up again.
The ship departed in late afternoon and ran with a darkened exterior at night back southwest along the coast toward the entrance of the Red Sea. Only the hull below the promenade deck is illuminated so that the security people can see potential boarders but not be seen. The passengers have been requested to remain inside as much as possible, both during the day and at night. The purpose is so that if it becomes necessary to use the LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) no one will be on deck to have their hearing damaged. If the ship is attacked it may also maneuver rapidly.
The LRAD costs approximately $20,000 and is most intense at a range of 75 m and below. Its beam-width at 2.5 kHz is around 30o and outputs a sound pressure level of 146 db which is above the threshold of pain. Its effect, however, can be minimized by ear protection. It also has the capability of radiating verbal warnings.
5-6. At Sea.
The ship has been running at high speed all day - 20 kts. Most of the day was spent off the coast of Yemen.
5-8. At Sea.
The ship continued to run at full speed to get out of the danger area. We entered the Red Sea at around 5:30 yesterday morning through the Bab al Mandab which is a 12 mile wide passage between Yemen and Djibouti and marks the transition from the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea. We continued to run at full speed until around noon when we were beyond Yemen. Capt. Turner announced that we were slowing down and the decks were again available. The slow-down allowed shutting down two or three engines! The speed is now more like 9 kts.
The Capt. and Cruise Director Thom Faulkner had a little chat this morning. Among other things he stated was that the port fees in Mombasa, the only place where he had knowledge of them, were $45,000. As in all ports, this included two tugs even though they are not used. It also includes pilotage fees, immigration inspectors, and an immigration doctor.
5-10. Safaga, Egypt
This is a small port on the Red Sea that is close to Luxor. Therefore, 12 buses took passengers to Luxor for a tour. An additional 20 passengers left the ship for four days to tour all the pharonic sites. We took the shuttle in to the Holiday Inn which wouldn't allow entry, even to look around, unless you paid 10 euros. There were a number of shops around the place, all selling junk.
We originally thought we could arrange a snorkeling trip but found out that the good snorkeling is on the other coast of the Red Sea or on off-shore islands which would have required a full day. Later we learned that the water is uncomfortably cold.
5-11. Port Suez
We approached the southern end of the Suez Canal in late afternoon, going slower and slower as we approached. Eventually we anchored among the ships comprising the north-bound convoy of which we would be a member the next day. Eventually an official-looking orange boat came out but only for its passengers to shout and whistle at us. They were joined by a second orange boat, then an official white boat that seemed intent on keeping the orange boats away from us.
The white boat finally moved in and allowed one of its passengers to board. After a bit he departed and the other boats left. Sometime later the crew decided to lower one of the ship's tenders. Another white boat approached and one of the people on board shouted at the tender that such an activity is illegal and, "Return to the boat." He was ignored.
The white boat was joined by a couple of aqua-colored boats then the ship engines started. While all of the boats watched the crew spent a very long time trying to get the tender back onto the ship. Finally they succeeded and the ship moved to a second anchorage, closer to the canal entrance where it anchored for the night. This was unfortunately near a refinery and the fumes permeated the ship all night.
5-12. The Canal
When the engines are running on the ship, even though it isn't moving, the ship pulses up and down. I was awakened by this action at 3:30. Our transit wasn't scheduled until 6 so I ignored it. Finally I got up at 5:30 and found that we were already in the canal. (We later learned that since the convoy was over 40 ships the authority told us to start early but proceed slowly so that the ships could form up behind us.)
Jodie and I spent the whole passage in the Crow's Nest Lounge above the bridge. The ship exited the canal around 3 pm and headed to Alexandra.
We did the city tour which was to include two of the Ancient Seven Wonders of the World!
Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Our first stop was the Faros Lighthouse. It wasn't there. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 700 AD. In its place there is a very attractive fort, Ft. Qait. It was built in the 1480s on the assumed site of the lighthouse and is made of sandstone. It is a pretty golden brown in the bright Sun.
The next stop was a Roman Amphitheater which was discovered buried in the center of the city. In addition to the ruins, there are a number of statues and other stone objects that have been recovered from the ocean off of Ft. Qait. Some may have come from the Faros Lighthouse.
Finally the other Wonder - the Library at Alexandra - founded in 3rd century BC and home to thousands and thousands of papyruses: all of the World's knowledge stored in one magnificent structure! Wouldn't you know, the Roman Legion burned it to the ground in 48 BC.
In its place is the Biblotheca Alexandrina, a beautiful, modern library with 2000 study tables and shelves intended to hold an eventual 8,000,000 books, stair-stepped from below ground level to soaring heights. It was built at a cost of $220 million, $120 million provided by the Egyptian government. In addition to one of the World's largest collection of modern books, it also has free Internet access. It also houses "Espresso," a digital printing machine which can print a stored book in 20 minutes.
The building is oriented NW-SE so that no direct Sunlight falls inside however the interior is continuously lit when the sun is up. A stone facade covers one end while the shiny metal roof slants to the ground from the facade. The facade is engraved with 4,200 characters from 120 alphabets of the World.
5-14. At Sea
The farewell TravLtips cocktail party was held this afternoon at 5 pm in the Crow's Nest. The Capt. made an appearance with his wife. He commented that he had planned to run on only one engine although the chief engineer wanted to use two so as to make more fresh water. The chief engineer got his wish since there was a head wind. I asked if the off-center thrust from only one engine and propeller caused a problem. He didn't quite answer that however he said that the ship as originally built had rudders that didn't align with the props however that has been corrected. He also said that a retractable stern thruster was added.
5-16. Valletta, Malta
The island of Malta has less area than London however it received more tonnage of bombs than London during WWII. The Axis powers wanted to destroy it as a British base since it was capable of blocking supplies from reaching the Africa Corps that were attempting to seize the Suez Canal. There are many epic books and films about life on the island during the war and the desperate attempts at resupply.
As a result of its history, I was expecting that nothing old could have remained. Quite the contrary, there are old fortifications and buildings all over the place. One place we visited was the Church of St. Mary which was built in 1860. It has two claims to fame. It has the fourth largest unsupported dome in the world, and is quite beautiful. Its second fame arose out of WWII. One day, while over 300 people were attending mass, a German 500 pound bomb came through the roof, hit the floor, and didn't explode. With justification, those present considered it a miracle.
We also visited the old city of Medina. It was built on a hilltop in the center of the island for defense against the frequent raiders. It boasts many buildings built in the Moorish style. While there we also visited St. Paul's Cathedral, built in the 17th century.
Malta is heavily Catholic. As a result abortion, divorce, and cremation are banned. Although the churches we visited were filled with tombs, this practice has been banned and all internments must be in cemeteries.
Another regulation requires that all buildings have a cistern underneath into which rain water drains. This is a primary source of water although there are 5 reverse osmosis plants on the island, operated at great expense.
We saw many large gardens and several vineyards. There are some wineries on the island however when we inspected the bottles from some we found that the grapes came from Italy. Jodie eventually succeeded in buying a bottle of Malta-grown wine. They also grow 22 different potato varieties which are exported, mostly to Holland.
The ship was serenaded by a brass band as we left the wharf. As we progressed down the harbor we were saluted by 8 cannons fired one at a time from one of the old forts.
5-17. Gabes, Tunisia
This oasis was actually a rather dirty, smoggy industrial port. (According to a local, an oasis must contain date palms. This one does.) Three tours were offered, two of which included camel rides. We opted instead for the shuttle to the souk in town. It was typical with a profusion of little hole-in-the-wall shops. Spices, henna, and baskets were available. We bought some solid incense, amber, sandalwood, and rose. As is typical, shops selling similar items are clustered. We worked our way down one side of the street, crossed over, and worked our way back through some clothing and fabric shops.
Although the tour office advised that this was a liberal town catering to tourism Jodie felt out of place in shorts and sensed some resentment. One of our table mates encountered real hostility, not because of shorts (she was wearing long pants) but because of where she was from.
The evening's entertainment continued the sorry parade of has-been and never-been entertainers. Stanley Yerlow is a competent pianist, a poor comedian, who also attempted to tap dance. His dubious claim to fame is that he is Regis Philben's pianist or piano teacher.
I think I have failed to mention our John Denver-connected entertainment. We had Jim Leonard who wrote some of John's songs and played on some of the albums and Jim Curry who emulates John. He wears his blond-dyed hair in the same style as John did and also wears granny glasses. He did the singing on the John Denver bio that was on TV. They were, however, a pleasant break from the Brits.
In total, there were 46 different entertainers who showed up during the voyage.
5-20. Málaga, Spain
This stop provided an opportunity to visit the Alhambra in Grenada, a 2 hour bus ride each way. This beautiful complex was built in the 14th century as the Moorish presence was drawing to a close. It was a complete walled town. Only the palaces and walls remain. The buildings are decorated in the Moslem manner with elaborate scroll work. Extensive gardens surround the buildings, some where houses once stood. After touring we had an included lunch at a near-by restaurant.
5-21. Cadiz, Spain
Those of us who took the entire grand voyage were treated to a free tour. Since this tour sounded identical to a disappointing tour we had taken on a previous Regent Seven Seas cruise we weren't very anxious to take this one, however we did and found it to be great.
The busses took us to Jerez and the Gonzales Byass winery. Founded in 1835, they are famous for their Tio Pepe sherry. We had a brief tour of the facility and then an extensive tasting of 9 different sherries, 5 of them over 30 years old! One of the managers led the tasting which was quite interesting - and flavorful. At the end of the tasting some time was offered to visit the souvenir shop. Jodie and I were the only ones who remained behind to finish all of our wine. We even scrounged a couple of untouched glasses of the best 30 year old wine.
Then we went to the Royal Andalusian Horses Art School. After a tour of the coach collection we had lunch seated four to very small tables. The lunch consisted of countless small courses (tapas) and included wine, beer, or soft drinks. After lunch we filed into the 1,600 seat show ring where the regular show was presented for our small group. Although photography was initially prohibited suddenly the prohibition was lifted.
I found it difficult to take pictures since the horses and their performances were so beautiful. They performed singly with a rider, riderless with a standing handler, and in groups. There were also two carriages each drawn by four horses. It was a very enjoyable performance.
5-22. Lisbon, Portugal
During the past few days we have been trying to understand the complex rules for shipping our luggage home. With the gift of the two rolling duffel bags we now have six pieces of luggage. Initially we were told that only clothing and shoes could go in the bags not intended for customs declaration. All of the things bought on the trip were to go in separate bags. Eventually we received some clarification and learned how to fill out the paperwork. This information was all conveyed in individual, time-consuming meetings with the staff. Much could have been related at a group meeting.
So while touring we have also been packing.
It was foggy and overcast as we arrived in Lisbon. Our tour to a winery and the Arrabida Range left at 12:30 so we had an early lunch. The tour wound around town to reach the approach to the suspension bridge across the river. On the other side we stopped at the replica of the Christ of the Andes statue and took some foggy pictures. After a shopping stop in a town where all the stores were closed we went on up into the low mountains, shrouded in clouds.
Finally we reached the winery in Azeitao. This is the winery that produces Lancers wine which the Portugese don't like. It is all exported. We briefly toured the grounds, saw the old barrels in which the wine is aged in the musty, dusty rooms. We then tasted a very dry white wine and a sweet red wine. We didn't care for either. As we drove away from the winery we saw the actual winery in the middle of a vast vineyard. It was surrounded by very large, modern stainless steel tanks.
The tasting room had a modern adaptation to dispense wine for tasting. There are about 24 bottles of wine arrayed around a machine and attached to pumps. The price is displayed for each. 25 ml of sweet wine is dispensed and 50 ml of red. The user inserts a "smart" bank card into the machine and selects the desired wine. It is dispensed and the amount debited from his card.
Our luggage left the ship during the night. We left at 6:30 and found our luggage sitting in the light rain on the wharf. After collecting it on a cart we slowly proceeded through immigration and turned the luggage over to DHL. A Mercedes sedan took us to the airport. There we learned that HAL had changed our reservations without bothering to tell us and we had missed our flight. A very helpful Lufthansa agent enabled us to make it home with little delay. Unfortunately we had to fly United Airlines from Frankfurt to LAX. I won't say the stewardess were old however two had to use walkers to move up and down the aisles.
The final insult was having to be bussed from the United terminal to Bradley terminal to pass through immigration.
* * * * * * Observations * * * * * *
After having toured the circumference of giant Africa I should be qualified to pontificate about the continent and its people. When you are traveling on a large cruise ship and take organized tours ashore you are pretty well isolated from the country being visited. Other than what you can observe out of bus windows, most information comes from tour guides. What we heard from tour guides suggests that the per capita income in many countries is abysmally low. In spite of poverty and substandard living conditions most people appeared clean and neatly dressed. Housing, in general, seemed substandard. We saw many women carrying water.
At the start of this trip I felt that the European powers were responsible for Africa being all chopped up into many strangely shaped countries. I also felt that they upset and destroyed established civilizations. The Europeans didn't help however many country borders follow old tribal boundaries. In addition, intertribal warfare and slavery were quite common before the Europeans. Many countries have exchanged foreign domination for local despotic rule, a very small and not beneficial change.
And now, Holland American Cruise Lines. This company, owned by Carnival Cruises, has a Jekyll and Hyde personality. On one hand we were offered valuable inducements to book this trip; included air fare (the promised first class didn't materialize), limo from the airport to the included hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, limo from the ship to the airport in Lisbon, the shower of goodies on the ship. But on the other hand there was the constant charging for almost everything on the ship and the expensive but useless Internet access. Its as if there is a marketing organization that designs the trips but the ship is separately charged with making a specific profit.
Holland American's failure to notify us about our changed flight reservations in Lisbon plus their failure to provide the promised first class air were major failures on their part. These, in addition to many minor annoyances, would discourage me from traveling with them again. The only exception would be if they offer a unique, outstanding itinerary.
One positive aspect to Holland American is its hotel staff of Indonesian and Filipino men and women. They are hard working, pleasant, well trained, and go about their work day with a smaile.
It was a good, enjoyable trip which I am very glad we took - however - 73 days is a very long time. The stacks of mail when we got home were overwhelming.