Good morning Dar

Wilf may be getting tired of me saying ‘well, this is a place I never expected to be.’ But really – Dar Es Salam! After the rather depressed feeling of Maputo, Dar was an explosion of energy. I’m sure life is difficult, but the sense is one of energy. The city has a modern skyline

At street level it has a very entrepreneurial air – lots of little booths selling all sorts of things (and if you ever wondered where your donated clothes wind up – I have an idea about that)

We took a bus tour of the city, which started at a village museum. It had many examples of traditional huts and houses throughout the country. And a performance, of course.

We visited a marketplace where the artisans worked with the ebony – this piece is a work of four years:

I met Mariane, who sold me a dress and sent me on my way with many blessings.

For lunch we were taken to a beach resort for a very nice lunch. And beer. To say it was hot doesn’t even begin to describe the situation. The scenery was lovely.

The downside was that the big wide exposed foreshore – well, it smelled very bad. I suspect the seaweed cooking in the sun was probably part of it, but we were suspicious of the sewage system. The fishermen didn’t seem concerned. There was a pool to use, but it that means one has to deal with the issue of getting ones sweaty self into and out of a swimsuit. That usually includes unseemly grunting, cursing and the risk of a dislocated shoulder. The discussion on the bus was that perhaps this was an occasion for the North American ladies to abandon their modest one piece suits and join our European sisters with their two piece suits.

How do you say that?

Our last stop in South Africa was the port of Richard’s Bay. It is a relatively new city, created in the 1960’s to be another deep water port. We did not see the city, just the port area. Which is surrounded by a very impressive industrial area. In fact they’re working on ‘industrial tourism’ to allow people to see the plants – mining, wood products, agricultural. It would be a little more impressive if it weren’t so clear that the benefits of this activity was all going offshore and not befitting the country.

That’s not why we were there, though. We were scheduled to go to the Hluhluwe national park. My first question to the driver was ‘how do you pronounce the park name? Turns out it is ‘Shlushluey’. Big park with more animals! Let’s go!

First – our guide and our truck.

We had arranged a private tour, which was nice because we could stop where and when we wanted. Like when we saw Mr Rhinoceros and his lady friend. We could sit and watch them as they came right up to us. They seemed quite unconcerned. We could hear them breathing and the sound they made as they chewed the grass.

We saw giraffes in most of the parks we visited, but never close up. Usually they just stand like statues but these ones were goofing off a bit.

There were usually zebras around and this is how they presented themselves:

Our guide ‘spoke’ zebra and after a series of scuffy sounding grunts and barks from him they got curious and turned around

And of course, elephants. Here Momma is coming to investigate us.

But then she decided we weren’t really very interesting.

This big guy kept a close eye on us.

It was a wonderful day.

The tale of the salt and pepper shakers

There are about 680 passengers on board the Insignia, along with around 400 crew. While we are on the Cape Town to Singapore leg, there is a larger program afoot. To celebrate 15 years in business the Insignia is doing a 180 days around the world cruise, departing Miami January of 2018 and ending up back in Miami in July. There are about 130 passengers doing the whole program.

Of course we are all here to have a good time. But a major concern is keeping us all healthy. Oceania is always meticulously, scrupulously ship shape and proper – every detail attended to and very precise in their food handling. No pawing at the buffet on this ship! We noticed that there were no salt and pepper shakers on the tables- rather a saucer with paper packets. Okay.

A few days in and things began to change – 10 people were sick and ‘the plan’ was in place. The elevator buttons were covered with a large sheet of plastic – everyone has to touch it and it is easier to wipe down than clean each button. The laundrettes closed. The doors to the washrooms in public areas were propped open (so no one had to touch the door handles). One day between breakfast and lunch – whoosh no more table clothes or place mats. No place settings- when we sat down they would bring only the glasses and service ware required. At dinner this included a large table napkin wrapped around all the cutlery we might require – 9 different knives/forks/spoons – the darn thing weighed about 5 pounds.

When 13 people were sick more things disappeared – no more salt and pepper packets. If you wanted sugar they would bring the little container and hand you the packet – no rummaging around. Want ketchup? The waiter would bring the bottle and put some on the plate. We could have whatever we want, just had to ask. Eventually after each group left the table the table would be disinfected and a little sign left with the time when the table could be used after the disinfectant had dried.

In addition to all of this in the dining areas other staff were cleaning everything. Anything that might be casually touched – hand rails, service counters, wall panels – was being washed with disinfectant. For us it was a matter of lots of hand washing and hand sanitizers. But for the crew and staff? So. Much. Work. They work such long hours and now they had all these extra jobs to do.

And then, yesterday morning we went to breakfast and saw this:

The salt and pepper shakers had arrived! The table was set! And sure enough. The sick people were getting better and no new cases. Return to normal procedures.

p.s. on the plate? Those are passion fruits. OMG! The best!

Three days on the Cape

Our cruise included a ‘pre’ tour, which turned out to be a good thing. We spent three days traveling around the Cape area, drinking wine and looking at animals.

The wine country north of Cape Town is lovely – not hard to see why everyone wanted to be there. Lots of agricultural opportunity. We visited some of the towns (Franshoeck, Stellenboch) but the highlight was the winery of Boschendal. They’ve been making wine there since 1685! Now they grow their own grapes, grow a huge variety of foodstuffs, make vast quantities of very good wine and buy grapes from the farms round them. Lack of water is an issue everywhere, but there is enough water on the property for them to manage without having to make some of the hard decisions required by other wine producers.

We tasted 5 wines and enjoyed them all.

We’re hoping to track down some of their wines once we return home. The wine tasting was followed by a picnic under a three hundred year old oak tree. It was a spectacular picnic – but after tasting 5 different wines we were pretty merry and tore into the baskets and ate everything – and forgot pictures! Probably just as well as we enjoyed the moment rather than being behind a camera lens.

Another day on the tour was a trip to the Aquila game reserve. It was over the pass from the fertile wine valley, into a dry and shattered landscape. When we get home I’m going to have to read up on the geology of this area.

These were our first animals and we were very excited to see elephants and zebras and giraffes, among others. This would turn out to be the only place we saw lions while in Africa. The Aquila lions are a bittersweet story, though. They are rescue lions. There is a truly revolting business where animals are captured and kept in cages. Wealthy ‘hunters’ then select the ones they want and when they are let out of the cages they shoot them. In order to make them look bigger the lions are fed steroids. The group we saw had been rescued from such a place. They live in their own area within the preserve. They can kill an animal but don’t know how to hunt effectively. The group had been fed recently, after which they usually wander off to rest for several days. The driver was very surprised to find them right beside the road. Dozing in the sun, stuffed after a big meal they were pretty dozy. (A preview of life on a cruise ship? The pool deck looks much the same right now!)

While the first pictures are zoomed in as you can see above they were right beside the truck!

And to finish off? Things are always better with penguins. This colony showed up south of Cape Town, took a look at Boulders Beach, and moved in. The town built boardwalks so visitors could see the birds without bothering them. It’s a pretty cool beach even without the penguins – I would have liked to explore the boulders, though.

Not the happiest of places…

South Africa has long been in the news for its history and politics. Neighbour Mozambique has also had a difficult time – no sooner did they gain independence from Portugal then they were battling opposition forces supported by the countries around them. We were in the capital of Maputo for a short while and took a walking tour in the city centre. It was, of course, terrifically hot, which made it a little more difficult to love the place. But ….. Maputo is having a tough time. Mozambique is having a tough time. They are in a major debt crisis, there are no jobs. It’s probably not wise to make judgements based on a two hour walking tour (although people on bus tours who ranged further afield saw much the same) but – not a happy place.

There was money once upon a time – enough to build this beautiful train station:

At lunch after the tour there were people complaining about the rundown look of the city and the amount of trash laying about. It didn’t seem to occur to them that when people don’t have jobs they don’t pay taxes and when no one pays taxes then their government doesn’t have any money to spend on anything – including garbage removal.

In addition to the train station there was a market still standing from back in the day.

The market was full of stalls of foodstuffs, but around the back was something new to us…..

Yep. Hair. Lots of it. In fact I had seen advertisements for hair – specifying country of origin, along with ads for styles (22″ extensions for the Beyoncé look. A four part set to look like Tyra….) But here is where you could purchase – and have installed – a whole new ‘do. I would have loved to ask questions but general vibe was not particularly welcoming so we moved on. But there were several ‘streets’ within the market all selling hair…..

Best laid plans….

On board the Insignia we have an area called the Artist’s Loft. Suzanne Stohl is the artist in residence and on ‘at sea’ days she presents various classes. Her media is coloured pencils, and in a past life she was a trainer in the corporate world. That means her classes are incredibly well designed and delivered, as well as being fun. As an example for one of her classes she had this drawing of a lemur.

Pretty great, huh?

Suzanne’s picture is, unfortunately, as close as we’re going to get to a lemur. We were scheduled to stop in Madagascar and take a tour to a nature preserve to see some lemurs. Sounded like fun – involved boats and landing on a beach and cute critters. But one thing we’ve learned about cruising is that not much is for sure for sure. We left Mozambique for a two day ride up the Mozambique Channel. It was windy and the current was strong. We could feel the engines working hard. But apparently it wasn’t enough and it became apparent yesterday that we would be so late arriving at Nosy Bey that there wouldn’t be time to get ashore, toured and back on board in time to head off to Tanzania. So – too bad about Madagascar and onward. The good news is that the wind and current have eased and the ocean is like a big bathtub. And we’re not having to pound along. The staff and crew put together a program for an extra at sea day very quickly.

it’s sort of like having a vacation in the middle of our vacation.

It’s complicated

I’m not sure what to say about South Africa. It’s very old country. It’s a very young country. It has deep wounds. And huge potential. But that potential, for most people will not be realized.

And then there’s the water situation in Cape Town – a city of 4 million and they are weeks away from running out of water. And the distrust of the government is so great that many people don’t believe that there is a problem. I don’t think I would want to be here when the water stops – apparently there are plans to set up water distribution points through the city but it boggles the mind to think of how that would work.

Against the back ground of the water crisis there is the city, which is lovely. Table mountain rises up behind the city, often draped in a tablecloth of fog.

(It is mist rolling down the mountain in the morning that keeps things looking green in spite of the drought. Mist that ever quite becomes rain)

We stayed at the Table Bay Hotel – probably the most beautiful hotel we’ve ever stayed at. It was a great place to catch our breathe after two overnight flights. The mall next door had a restaurant with great Japanese food

And since politics is rarely far from hand – the display from a nearby bookstore.

That’s why we’re here

No trip to the African continent would be complete without animals, and animals we have seen. At our stop in Port Elizabeth, SA we took a tour to Addo Elephant Park. It sure lived up to its name!

Our guide’s name is Xolani and he is Xhosa. They use clicks in their language- the X represents a click. Turns out making that click sound as part of a word is a bit tricky. I managed a sort of version of his name, which made him smile. Given the repertoire of click sounds in the language I was a bit nervous that I might be saying something rude but no diplomatic incident occurred so all good.

Port Elizabeth is the departure city for Addo Park. It’s not quite fully into the Indian Ocean, but things are changing from the Atlantic side. Not quite as dry and rocky as the Cape area. We drove through areas of orange groves. Turns out the elephant park was created when the citrus groves were first planted – the elephants would come and trash the trees to get the fruit. At first they would kill the elephants but eventually they decided to remove the farms and keep the elephants in that area. Now there are some 500 in the park, along with many other animals. It was all very exciting to see and since it was just we three in our van we could sit and watch for long stretches of time.

Elephant on the right is protecting the little one. Elephant on the left was being a bit chippy. Just out of the frame are two patient zebra waiting their turn. While we were watching another Big elephant entered from stage left and everyone got out of the way!

Although this area is suffering from the drought it is not as bad as the Cape area. The water supply is managed – but sometimes things need repair. The work crew is always accompanied by a fellow with a gun – just in case. You can see why when you see these guys staring down a herd of thirsty buffalo. Good thing they are herd animals and one will follow the others. If they ever got themselves organized…. although the males would circle back and stare down the humans just in case that would move things along.

You think you have a tough commute?

Most ports on the world require the use of a local pilot to guide ships through the particulars of their situation. This is true for tanker ships and cruise ships. Sometimes we have seen the pilot arrive at a cruise ship – a bit of a challenging manoeuvre, but the real challenge is probably boarding a big tanker in high seas.

Last night our on board newsletter had a note saying that the pilot for Richard’s Bay would be delivered around 03:30 by helicopter. We tried to decide between us if we had seen a helicopter landing pad on the ship – pretty sure we hadn’t. Would they lower him from the helicopter? I had reason to visit the purser’s office, so I asked them. Sure enough- he would be lowered to the upper deck.

At 03:36 there was a mighty clatter and a light outside. I went to the veranda door – trying to decide if I should go out to look. Just then the helicopter banked away and the prop wash sent a big wash of moisture down the side of the ship. Good thing I wasn’t out there!

So – next time you are moaning about the Colwood Crawl, or lamenting the traffic on the Deerfoot….. at least you don’t get lowered out of the sky onto a ship deck in the middle of the night to start your workday!

Since I don’t have a picture of that event you’ll have to make do with the Valentine’s Day cake on the buffet tonight!

The bakery on board is amazing!

Morning routine

We’re nearing Durban,SA. It’s been a bit rolly, so we went to the gym rather than stagger around the outside deck. After a session on the treadmill my phone was congratulating me on a new personal best 2:02km/min! 9km in 26min! Yeah. There must be a setting somewhere that lets me tell it I’m not moving but the ship is! I think I get extra points for doing lunges when the ground is moving, though.

I made the run for morning coffee and found everything well secured:

The forward lounge has an early breakfast laid out without an attendant – everything is strapped down just in case!