March – April 2023
September – November 2019
November – January 2019
January – February 2019
June – July 2019
March – April 2023
September – November 2019
November – January 2019
January – February 2019
June – July 2019
Day 21 – at sea – Routine back in full power, together with satisfying work on my writing project. After dinner, tablemate Elaine and I ran to the cinema, from one end of the ship to the other. I was wearing one of my excellent wraps (gifted to me as Kate Winslet cosplay) which I held flying behind me like a cape. It was glorious and funny and, as we pounded through the plush carpet of the grand foyer, I began to hum the old tv theme from Batman between chortling gasps. Our fellow cruisers, some leaning on their walking sticks, looked on with approval. Flying within the QM2. Speaking of flying, you may be interested to learn that airlines are expecting a much greater profit this year. How are you travelling?
Arriving just in time, we watched a film set in Port Isaac where I had a WorkAway booked in a month. My tablemate, Elaine, had been there recently. Her photos, showing locations we’d just seen in the silly film, brought my future into sharp existence. There would be an end to this cruise, and I would be there, in Cornwall, in the film, with rugged coastline and cold outcrop of hard buildings nuzzling into cliff-edged harbour. The port featured one of those constructed sea wall barriers that must have been an engineering marvel in its conception, just as surely as it must have killed a percentage of its builders. What with Doc Martin and the Fishermen’s Friends, there’ll be tourists in them there hills. Reassuringly, Elaine seemed to have enjoyed her experience there. And there’d be Cornish pasties.
There was sea to cover. Tomorrow would be an early start. Up, dressed, coffee, breakfast at 05:50, meeting at Royal Court Theatre to read my book while we wait in a queue before we landed in
– a place I never imagined I’d ever go.
DAY 22 – DURBAN
Woke as we began to enter the harbour around 03:00. Finished reading Donna Leon and began to prepare. From the ship the city looked big (4.3 million souls). The large office buildings looked like big black flags as we entered the harbour in the early morning darkness. They did not have their lights switched on. There was a deep red smear across the sky which warned of rain – I considered my raincape, but we were only out for the morning. Cruise passengers wouldn’t have to worry about the weather. Expected 29 degrees.
Litter lay like crocodile skin on the water.
Very grateful kitchen opened for toast and marmalade. Waited in quiet theatre with murmuring ‘guests’ in comfy seats waiting, waiting, waiting, for Border Control.
Once in our bus, we drove through the port of Durban. The streets were littered and the buildings were covered in scraps and the bus shelters were enormous and littered. People were everywhere, ignoring the litter. Our tour guide, white and elderly, had splendid memories of the old days when everything was great. He said he tried hard to avoid speaking of politics but could not help veering back into his opinions about corruption in government: from road builders right up to international policy. He would start talking about educational progress and swerve right into his strong opinions again. He was a real downer. Perhaps that is South African life.
Trevor Noah billboards grinned from the tall sides of buildings. Could his show cheer folk up?
I felt some cynicism regarding my game reserve Shore Experience, perhaps influenced by this guide. There’d be two more tours going to the same place later in the day. Would it just be a photo opportunity to see a wild animal in a farm? Well, yes. But how could I say I’d been to South Africa and not seen a beast?
We arrived and piled into ‘jeeps’. Tala Wildlife Reserve was a sort of open plains zoo where herds of zebra and wildebeest roamed together with impala and rhinos (with sawn off horns to prevent poaching).
And then there were giraffes. They came quietly, elegantly, down the hill towards us. Like goddesses or spirits, swaying forwards and backwards as they roamed.
What beautiful creatures. Beautiful.
The giraffes decided to keep going, bypassing their optimal viewing station, so our driver stopped the truck, got out to run down to the river and flush them up to us tourists. Only, he left our open-sided jeep running and the fumes (you’d think we’d be used to diesel fumes, wouldn’t you), started to annoy some of our more sensitive ‘guests’. He was gone for quite a while and soon people began to stand and worry and debate and eventually moved to turn the engine off. These ‘jeeps’ are built on the bed of a five-ton truck. We sat in silence and watched the chased giraffes run back and mingle where they ought and the other jeeps were afforded good picture opportunities as well.
Sadly, on his return, our driver knew right away he would have to push the sturdy vehicle to get it started. And, after turning on the key, being a valiant fellow, he began to heave. Only the heavy machine rolled back into a muddy puddle. A muttering became consensus and all the blokes leapt to their feet. (Some of the men got to their feet.) Some of the wives gave their fellows an elbow in the ribs. Many of the males made it outside to give an old heave ho. I will tell you I had my pack wrapped around my legs so it wouldn’t fall out of the open sided ‘jeep’. I promise you I was trying to disentangle the awkward macrame so I could get out and be useful too, struggling with my knotted legs and climb over the American bird lover beside me, when all of a sudden, the engine roared and the gents clambered back on board to get a pat on the knee from their admiring partners. I really would have helped …
As cameras clicked and jaws slackened, the driver climbed out of his cabin and made his way around the outside of the cage, leaning up against where I sat. I asked him if these were the sort of animals that might have lived in this area before white invasion? Oh, yes, absolutely. We could see the large chicken farm across the road. I meant to ask him about indigenous plants and grasses – given this had been cattle producing farmland only a few years before – but we had to move on. There were small acacias around the hippo pool. I think I saw some hippo eyes, but the sea eagle distracted me.
Our continually depressing drive through the outskirts of the city back to port took us past many low chicken farms. I saw no solar panels and no wind turbines visible from the bus windows. Our guide said much of the electricity came from diesel generators.
DAY 23 – at sea – When life stays at the same ship’s time, the gym is almost empty on opening, also a bonus for my ‘office’ (the Chart Room with no charts) and my morning routine went along as normal until I signed up for the Galley Tour with Executive Chef James Abhilash.
A few hundred ‘guests’ sat in the dining room, waiting, waiting, for the chef’s talk and then, divided into smaller groups, paraded single file through the Britannia kitchen rotating doors with cameras/phones at the ready.
On board the QM2 there’s the Queens and Princess Grills and King’s Court, the Steakhouse, Room Service and the Crew Galley as well as the Boardwalk, a little burger/hot dog joint up on the sports deck. The Britannia kitchen is huge, stainless steel and spotless. There’s hundreds of staff walking around: major cleaning happens overnight with constant clean-ups through the day, plus the more picturesque chopping, stirring, plating, serving and then more cleaning. Nothing is left to chance. The orders are supervised to the last minute to avoid waste.
Potable water is created by 3 huge salt water plate evaporators. They process around 1900 tons of water for crew and guest showers plus all the drinks. The water is treated and filtered numerous times, especially by the time they arrive in the drink machines in the restaurants.
There are 157 chefs on board of different ranks and specialities, and there’s 85 support staff such as dishwashers and cleaners under the supervision of the Galley Manager. Plus there’s 13 strong Provision Team headed by the Inventory Manager. There’s 21 refrigerated and frozen rooms for storage. About 16,000 meals are eaten every day – with attendant plates, cutlery and linen to be washed.
For us passengers, there’s only entertainment. Sadly, 680dotcom’s first attempt to try shuffleboard was cancelled due to wind. Tried afternoon Trivia but remembered nothing. Back to work. Then decided to try the plant-based option in the room service menu. Fast and delicious. Watched a movie about Val Kilmer. Persistence. Serious intense man with throat cancer – continuing to strive.
DAY 24 – PORT ELIZABETH
Woke at 05:00, pleasant routine before enjoying breakfast. Supposed to be reading in the theatre at 07:00 but accidently late – no matter – we weren’t called ‘til 07:30.
Fifteen of us piled on to a little bus and off we went with guide Siswayle – a smart urbane young man with beautiful leather shoes and cool trousers.
During our drive through grey, littered city streets, into orange farmland, I sat next to Melanie, who turned out to be a mum of a 27-year-old man (snap!), divorced, and having herself a surprise cruise romance. She was trying to remain positive despite her qualms. During our chat, I couldn’t help noticing our bus was lost – more than once. The guide and the driver had several urgent discussions, telephone calls, and changes of direction. I surmised our team had not been to our destination before. The final phone call resulted in our arrival at a walled compound. The wall had electric wire along the top.
Here was Criss-Cross Adventures and we were allowed toilet-time before entering the ‘jeeps’ – and the gates opened into our new riverside experience. I had expected safe nana-rafts, but no, the six canoes on the back of our ‘jeep’ were fully big, two-person, solid canoes. I’d be up a river with a proper paddle. Gulp.
Luckily, as a single, I was able to sit next to the driver, the manager of the business, an intelligent young woman who agreed our bus driver and tour guide had not visited Criss-Cross before. She was frustrated by the system which meant every day she had to guide the guides as well as the tourists. She’d been brought up both in South Africa and England and spoke four languages fluently. Lucky Criss-Cross.
After parking, we watched the three workers manhandle the ships towards the river. I meandered outside cruise control which allowed me to be allotted Andrea, a German tourist not on QM2, for a partner. I don’t speak German and their English wasn’t great, but I saw he and his girlfriend were wearing actual boatie canoe shoes and I understood they were both super experienced. His girlfriend was partnering her friend and there were two others in another boat. So, their party of five got a Reluctant Cruiser as a plus one.
Most of the time the current floated us gently along the khaki-coloured water with Andrea acting as engine while I coasted along gaping at the surroundings. How fantastic, to be in South Africa, on a river, in the fresh air, using muscles. Well, sort of.
Under a brilliant blue sky, we paddled down the brown, lazy river, looking up at eucalyptus hanging hot above sandy cliffs rising over the rushes and bamboo. Is everything introduced? A good example of the mixing of plants around the world. The guide shouted clear instructions and safety warnings for a couple of reasonable white-water encounters. We took turns to get through tricky bits, calling out that yes, we were safe, before the next vessel started off. Andrea told me to leave it to him, but I suspect it was my cleverly placed and strong paddle strokes that helped us get through unscathed. We got on well, especially after his girlfriend, in another craft, was stung by some wild unnamed South African beast. There were screams and fears of every wild animal, caught in hair and nibbling on soft white tourist flesh. We made our way over the water to the panicked duo, and I applied my best motherly soothing queries to the trouble. As I mentioned, my bag was in their canoe waterproof container, and I encouraged them to open the outside pocket and give me the small white spray bottle they would find therein. STINGOES! As every Australian knows, with one spray, you’re away. Within five minutes the pain and terror had subsided, my bag was reinstated into waterproof container, and I had five new German friends. Who says language is key to communication?
We saw a bee-eater and the most extraordinary Goliath heron, huge, like a brolga, with a massive knife-sharp beak. We saw a malachite kingfisher, lots of African darters, crows, and a magnificent fish eagle. There was a section of the river where weaver birds had created little lantern nests. They dangled from the bank of the river swinging from bamboo stalks as if lighting a parade. The poor male must build, weave, and knit grasses into clever designs to attract a mate. But if she’s not impressed, she nips off the endeavour and it lands on the ground, never to be any baby’s home. All or nothing for the weaver bird.
We were invited to park up and take a break at a twist in the river: juice or beer, snacks and chips, and a good dousing of mud for our shoes as we climbed in and out of the canoes. Back in the boat, with his long legs, Andrea artistically swooshed his little canoe shoes in the water to rinse them as we pottered downstream. This was not an option for my heavier boots and the fact I was cornered in the bow. Back on the land, we waited while the workers loaded up the heavy canoes. This was not a job for a weak person and presumably it would only be possible to do it for a limited time. Our guide admitted that he would be doing a National Park tour that afternoon so perhaps he was transitioning to an easier life.
We were returned to base where everyone rushed to the toilet, then connected with wifi and rang up their families. I said goodbye to my new German friends, asked to scrape off the worst of the mud from my boots, and rejoined cruise life. The next instalment of our shore experience was the Braai – a South African barbecue.
Our busload of hungry cruisers lined up at a long table by a huge fireplace while the drivers and guides prepared our food. I was offered a huge plate of salad and steamed veg while the carnists scored toasted cheese sandwiches and salad, sausages, and IMPALA.
As he gnawed on his impala chunks, fellow cruiser Mark shared information about the ship’s engines gleaned from an article: beyondships.com, Nov 2009. Inside view: “What makes QM2 go? A conversation with QM2 Chief Engineer Brian Watling”, by Richard H. Wagner.
In short, Mark told me, QM2 has four enormous engines in the depths of the ship’s hull using diesel, or heavy oil. Two turbo engines are on the top of the ship, behind the Queen Mary 2 sign, using the equivalent of expensive aviation gas. They’re designed for extra boost power through rough weather or to make up time. Most of the time the ship is running on diesel.
The four Wartsila engines can each burn 3.1 tons of heavy fuel oil per hour at 100 % load. The two General Electric turbos can each burn 6.1 tons of light oil per hour at 100% load. That’s a lot of tons of oil on board. You can read that again.
There are no drive shafts turning propellers, taking up massive space inside the ship. Instead, there are four Rolls Royce Mermaid Pods weighing 260 tons each, suspended under the ship. These tractor units – like propellers but backwards – they pull the ship through the water – are powered by electric engines. Two of these azimuthing pods (azipods), used as rudders, can rotate 360 degrees, which explains the ease of manoeuvring the ship into tight spaces. Two are fixed in position. There are also three bow thrusters that help move the ship sideways.
Electricity is generated by both the diesel and gas turbines. The biggest user of electricity are the azipods but air-co, refrigeration and heating – everything – is distributed by a main switchboard.
I thanked Mark. This information would be invaluable when I found an engineer to (interrogate) talk to – at a cocktail party – or somewhere!
Us cruisers finished our lunch, the workers thanking us even more than we thanked them, and I climbed back onto the bus to hear Melanie’s tale of woe. An experienced canoeist, she had partnered with our smart young tour-guide, Siswayle, a surprise learner. I had noted his beautiful shoes were covered in mud when we’d reconvened. Melanie was able to debrief after her near-death white-water troubles. Siswayle agreed. He had not enjoyed canoeing up the river. He prayed more than he listened to his partner. And his trousers were ruined. Melanie would also need time to recover.
Glossy green leaves of citrus trees contrasted with the orange dirt. Piles of oranges and lemons at the corners of the farms. Pickers at lunch or gone home by the time we’d finished. A warthog ran out in front of us, and the driver barely slowed down enough not to clip it. The poor thing ran in front of us for 100m or so and finally decided to swerve for the verge. No roadkill in evidence, unlike Kangaroo Island.
Many people hitchhiking, the public transport unpredictable at best and non-existent the rest of the time. Some folk didn’t bother looking both ways, taking their lives in their hands and striding across the road. As with the warthog, the driver barely slowed but we all survived.
On the way back to the port, us cruisers fell silent as we drove through the townships. Siswayle explained they normally avoid that route because there are often protests, burning piles of tyres and throwing bricks. But today everyone was calm and, in his words, minding their own business.
Dramatic contrast between rich and poor areas – Siswayle called the poorer suburb, ‘Get up and Go’ or ‘Move Up’, perhaps rephrased as start small and succeed. He used to live in these shanty towns and, as he grew up, moved to the cleaner, tidy suburbs. We passed his old school and wondered at his determination and the power of prayer. He would have to buy new shoes.
Survival as seen from the windows of a tour bus.
Then there were cars, manufactured here in South Africa and positioned to load into car transport ships.
Full moon already? Couldn’t it wait for Easter?
DAY 25 – at sea – passing Cape Aghulas, the most southerly point of the continent of Africa.
Met Jane at the bow deck. We watched a trio of white birds suspected of being gannets. When one flew sideways, she named it a Cape Gannet with the aid of her trusty bird ID app. She’d been initially undecided as they looked small, and she’d thought perhaps shearwaters or petrel.
The library has no book on seabirds – not even a poster – and it wouldn’t really matter because of the dearth of wildlife so far.
Sir Bob Geldorf is offered up as enrichment for the ‘guests’. He appeared in the Royal Court Theatre clad in a crumpled white suit, lounging louche low in his chair. His talk was livestreamed to the cinema next door and to the internal tv system. I chose to skip art class and watch the speech from the comfort of my own cabin. I was impressed by Neil, the Entertainment Director’s interview skills. He welcomed the knight, asked him ‘How did it all begin?’ and sat back to let the great man answer, only coming in at the end to admonish the speaker’s spicy language.
Sir Bob spoke with eloquence, learning and prescience. He feels the problems of the world: climate change, nuclear proliferation, economy, are global. Current UK and USA leaders are nationalistic, and, amongst his other aims, Putin is trying to destabilise the EU.
Sir Bob admitted to being a pattern-seeker, and feels we are on the brink of some great thing. He noted the build-up to WW1 began with new technology leading to a new economy and the old guard resisting. He pointed out WW2 only finished when the Berlin wall came down and the internet was invented. Now there’s a new global economy and the old guard is resisting strongly. Change is coming. What will it be? How will your grandchildren survive? Can they?
His advice to cruisers was to put the news away, talk to children and try to avoid shouting at each other. He shook his hairy grey tired head and said,
‘Just be kind.’
DAY 26 – CAPE TOWN
It was rainy and our guide was strict and stressed. Kaaaren loved to count. Unfortunately for her, this group of cruisers preferred to look at things like adults and didn’t like to be counted. A group of elegant ladies up the back of the bus began to giggle early on and eventually reverted to sixteen-year-olds running away from the big, bad teacher. We would have preferred Kaaaren to count us at the beginning and end of the excursion and not during. She liked to gather the group together and count whenever she could, and her strategy failed early leading her to further stress. As we approached, she thought the Fort was shut, but some of the naughty girls had run on ahead, returning to report that it was in fact open, so Kaaaren had to get marching and do some organising. She found a young guide who could recite his lessons very fast with some panache.
It was a typical military place, with grounds and pleasantly furnished buildings for officers and less comfortable spaces for soldiers, and even a torture chamber for naughty people with a cat o nine tails. Not even that threat could stop our well-dressed ladies sniggering.
Kaaren invited our busload to walk through the oldest garden in South Africa, the Company Gardens, with her in the light drizzle but also pointed out the museum and the gallery. Given the inclement conditions I chose the South African National Art Gallery and loved the mashup of old and new. I found some of the work, and some of the juxtapositions inspiring, passionate, and provocative.
Due to the rain and mist Signal Hill had limited sightseeing opportunities, like to about three metres. Kaaren would have liked us to stay on the bus and get counted, but the gang piled out and milled around regardless. She only began to relax when she realised she’d not lost anyone and it was time to go home.
Two of our 680dotcom team, Andrew and Ray, endured their own thwarted bus tour due to the mist. They drove all the way up Table Mountain and could see nothing. Apparently the cloud is common and known as The Table Cloth. On their return to the bus, their guided counted, recounted and and recounted in vain. Someone was AWOL. Due to the clash of the numbers, they waited for the missing person to return. And waited. Had the person become lost? Fallen off the Table? There was no return and it took an hour of waiting before they were informed the missing person had returned to ship on another bus.
I suppose the paper ticket system has been going for years but, as all the information is on electronic record, it should be a simple matter for each guide to have an ipad with a list of their class. Why, it could even include notes about naughty children!
On our return to ship, I jumped straight on the shuttle bus to a big waterside shopping centre near the port. It was a mall offering all sorts of restaurants, supermarkets, and specialty shops but no postoffice. Given it was Easter holidays it was packed. Found lots of snacks.
In food notes: speaking with Richard, our Head Waiter, I mentioned my minor disappointment I would miss a hotcross bun as they contained cow and egg wash. He said he would place a special order for me. When would I like it? I didn’t like to be a trouble. He said, nonsense. Would I like it tomorrow? On consideration, given I was only having the one, I felt I should abide by tradition and said the Sunday breakfast would be ideal. He was only too happy to organise it for Ms Osborne, the only vegan in the village. (He didn’t say that.)
DAY 27 – CAPE TOWN
Major excursion day to Cape Point. And the Cape of Good Hope. And MORE!
Warning. The Cape of Good Hope does not have a lighthouse or tourist facilities. It’s just a car park and a rocky outcrop.
All in all, it was a pleasant, traditional bus tour with entertaining guide PLUS a fantastic meal overlooking the water. Tofu ‘fish’ slabs with chips and salad. A berry fruit salad that made all the bored ice-cream eating carnists sit up and pay attention. They began to look around and cry out that indeed, they were vegan too! Too late, flesh munchers!
At the Royal Court Theatre that night saw a 23-year-old ventriloquist called Max Fullham with good puppetry skills and lots of cute in-jokes. But, notes, Max: not enough delineation between the characters. Need to be strict about what each character knows. If your main gag is that puppet ears can hear and puppet eyes can see, then a bare puppet head won’t have those abilities until their ears and eyes are available. But a youngster holding the attention of people older than his grandparents, that’s an achievement.
DAY 28 – at sea – left SA very late. I was awake to watch the delicate manoeuvres, reversing and exiting a slim margin into potentially dangerous winds. Because the side of the ship is so wide it can catch the wind and cause all sorts of trouble. We were five hours late and all safe.
Very strange to leave the cinema where I’d been immersed Benin’s landscape with Viola Davis in The Woman King – absorbed – beautiful moments – full on violence. I feel a sequel coming on. As I stood up to go, an elderly lady wearing a necklace of glittering stones behind me, the only other in the room, asked what the film had been as she’d been late. I told her and made admiring comments about the performances and story matter. She said it sounded interesting and thought she might like to stay for the second sitting. Did I think she’d like it? I asked if she liked violence? She said, ‘Oh no, not at all.’ I told her I didn’t think The Woman King was for her.
I listened to more of my talking book, Les Mis. So much information about Cosette’s nunnery. He bangs on, does our Victor. An info dump is still an info dump even if your book is a classic. At least I got through the battle of Waterloo – almost my Waterloo really. But the story of Cosette’s rescue is riveting. The greedy innkeeper vile, stubborn and persistent.
Richard saw me coming and sped off to fetch the hotcross bun. After some time, lucky Ann was there to chat with, he rushed up with two buns! I can’t really comment on the quality. The thought counted.
On the way to Namibia. It is surreal.
DAY 29 – NAMIBIA – WALVIS BAY – Africaan for Whale Bay
The port is the centrepiece of heavy industry. Surrounding that are new suburban estates and further out are sandy buildings and then there’s sand dunes and the desert.
Very nice to begin our tour with striding flamingos in a lagoon. From tidal flats we were then taken to a dry dune. The specific tourist dune was closed for some anti-tourist reason so this one was given as our option, a popular destination for dune buggies, dune bikes and short walks. Our guide was more about the fun than the facts. She said it was her birthday. Was that fun enough for you? We dutifully clambered up the dune.
I wondered about some little marks I’d seen on the sand – away from the tracks and foot prints. The guide thought it could have been side winder snakes, black widow spiders or scorpions? If creatures live in the dunes should people be riding rough shod quad bikes over them? I guess where we walked in our little bare feet the scorpions would have been long squashed.
Then we were driven to a suburb organised by German settlers. Of course, as part of history they’re no longer allowed to alter colour or shape but Germans still pay a large part in education and development of Walvis Bay. We parked opposite an open air market where trinkets and fabrics could be bought from apparently authentically dressed tribal people. But if you went anywhere near, to pass to the museum, for instance, you were swamped by blokes crowding and pushing stuff at you and making continual suggestions about the provenance and quality of their wares, and, as a single female, I found it overwhelming enough to bypass entirely.
The museum was mildly interesting.
Ended up in a quiet, clean, touristy Made in Namibia shop. Paid top dollar for some hand printed cushion covers as a gift for son in Australia. Had delightful chat with woman behind till with long fingernails. She’d also enjoyed watching The Woman King and would love to work in the movies. I encouraged her to find out where the sure to be sequel would be made and, keen as, she put her long-nailed hand up. She would do it! She would even learn karate!
I have no idea why I chose that shore experience. I even forgot to mention the crystal museum – essentially a rock/gem shop – very boring but nice rocks. Avoid.
Elaine, one of our 680dotcom team, had chosen to visit a community where everyone lived in tiny tin and cardboard shacks. Andrew had been taken to a desert where a strange looking plant with only two leaves lived for hundreds of years. I went to a shopping centre and a museum with a fun guide. She did drop us off at the beach and encouraged us to photograph the sand. Then when we returned to the beach we enlarged the image to reveal hundreds of different minerals and coloured stones in the sand. She also pointed out the massive offshore ship repair unit. It looked like an oil rig from the distance, but apparently Namibia is known for the ability to run repairs on fishing vessels without them having to go into drydock.
Namibia is also known for working with Sea Shepherd. Recently Walvis Bay was the scene of a dramatic search and seizure of shark fins.
The container cranes near our ship were lit with bright green. They look like Christmas dinosaurs with red eyes.
The Captain’s report on departure mentioned an almost 360 degree turn. It was certainly a remarkable thing to witness. I went up to the Observatory to stand directly over the bow as we proceeded out of the long, thin (130 metres across) shipping lane to get out of the bay. Taken slow and quiet on smooth waters, the journey was hypnotic and some of the buoys went by very close.
The next eight days would be all at sea.
You may be wondering about my choices. You’re not alone.
Now known as “Most Unlikely Cruiser”, I still ask myself every day: is cruising on the QM2 really more sustainable than flying? When I looked up at the Cunard red funnel, I saw smoke. Sometimes it was white-ish (mainly in port) while most of the time (at sea) there was a tinge of brown or orange. The funnel was designed to shoot emissions up and over to one side, avoiding sunbaking walruses on the pool decks. However, that depends on the wind. Sooner or later emissions creep around and smell like big old diesel trucks driving by. A sign on my cabin sliding door requested the door be kept closed to protect the interior atmosphere. Remember, we were in a floating grand hotel. Of course there’s airco. Remember, that’s generated by diesel, or as we call it at sea, heavy oil. All the power on board is generated by fossil fuel. From air, light, water, to exercise bikes and mobile phones.
My previous trips on container ships are not a fair comparison. Obviously, a container ship is going that way anyway and one passenger makes little difference to the trip. If you read those posts, you’ll find that I tend to cast aspersions on waste problems in the cruise industry. Now, I am one of two-and a-half-thousand passengers on a ship built entirely for comfort and entertainment, together with fifteen hundred staff consuming food, opening stuff wrapped in plastic and glass, and using the toilet? How could I justify this?
Haven’t worked it out yet. Can you think of a mathematical formula? Let me know in the comments.
While we contemplate modern travel, check out this link to an interesting country comparison – how are your people doing on climate change?
Day 11 – at sea – woke too early. Tried to sleep more. Not possible. Made bleary way to gym. Ship’s clock said 05:20. Although time had slipped, the gym (strict opening hour 06:30) was already humming. My bike of choice offered not only solitaire, but also backgammon, to while away more time. Shower, brekkie, Italian, tapestry, art class …
Then another embarrassing attempt to find more than salad and baked potato for lunch. The noodles were worth exploring but the veg were stir-fried in the same wok as the meats, placed next to each other and served with the same spoons. The curries, marked ‘V’ for vegetarian, contained ghee.
After some faffing around, Richard, my kind Head Waiter, revealed there would be vegan pizza at dinner. Felt miserable, self-conscious, and low. He told me, again, I should really sign up for The Special Menu list. I’d previously refused because I hate to discuss what to me is normal food. We’re talking vegetables, grains, and seeds. Not ‘special’ weird food – just food!
How can I describe the swirl of humanity that hunts and gathers in the King’s Court luncheon arrangement? A central buffet of ship-baked bread (most are vegan) and biscuits (cow), cheeses (obviously cow), and assorted desserts (including plain fruit salad), is well attended. The smiling chefs wait with their tongs, ready to plonk stuff on your plate as requested. This central display is surrounded by queuing humans holding plates.
On one side of the room you find salads (individual veg/pickles and mixed – latter normally dressed with egg and/or cow), cold cuts, fishy sushi, smoked salmon and on the other side is hot food – you name it – it’s there – from roasts, stews and pies to fish and chips – all the varieties of edible animals in popular recipes, all scooped up by willing chefs and served onto your plate. Yes! Chips!
In the Chef’s Galley – my happy breakfast place – lunch devolved into hamburgers and hotdogs, pasta and pizza. All of which contained cow or pig, and attracted a drooling queue. Let’s say half of 2,500 ‘guests’ onboard might be seated in different restaurants/bars upstairs or down, while the Food Court probably feeds a thousand over the lunch hours.
Vegan update October 2023 – Carnival Cruise Lines introduce plant-based menu in all dining areas!
All types of human-powered and battery-operated conveyances putter through the aisles. Staff flit between tables taking drink orders while others dart around collecting used dishes to stack on their clattering trolleys steering dangerously close to wheelchairs and zimmer frames. Most drivers have partners, who race to ‘book’ by placing bags on a table handy to the aisle and then scarper off to gather the meals. More than once I heard a partner, indicating a handbag, ask a staff member to tell their husband this would be their table. The waiter would smile and nod, having no idea who the husband was.
The service is smooth and seems unending. Staff are supervised, and the superiors don’t wait long before leaping in to find out what is holding a servery up, perhaps chef had to refill the tomatoes, or cook more noodles, and two ‘guests’ might be waiting with their salad plates cooling. Some guests prefer to heap up their plates and take them away to their cabin. There is room service, of course, but limited choice.
After lunch I handed in paperwork for our future arrival into Mauritius. That task complete, I wandered up to the Wellness Centre (Mareel Spa and Salon) on Deck 7 – near the gym at the bow, to see if they could cheer me up. The ladies on the desk were hilarious, personable, and charming. They offered me their best idea, a special seaweed massage treatment for US $225. That did cheer me up immensely and I laughed all the way back to my cabin where I concentrated well on my writing project for the rest of the day!
Popped into the King’s Court for dinner and the promised vegan pizza. Shock reverberated around the staff. You mean, all vegan? Just vegetables? The result took ages and I suspect the dough was made from scratch with an odd assortment of veg (yes, including pineapple) scattered thereon. Yeah. Nah. That was the last time, but I did try it once, Jane! I really wished I could have cooked my own dinner.
DAY 12 – at sea – only 30 more days to go – managed to beat the bike’s backgammon game. Collected a paper cup of filtered water from the gym, water to clean teeth, and cup to dispose of used coffee grounds resulting from my sister’s generous gift of a plunger and decent coffee in my cabin, assuming the grey water system wouldn’t like the hard material.
A word here about the coffee on board. Yeah. Nah. In the course of a month I found two espresso coffee machines on board, one in Sir Samuel’s café (a tea-room environment with cute little cakes – nothing plant-based) and the other in the Carinthia Lounge (a pleasant comfortable bar featuring live music at night – a couple of plant based smoothies).
There may have been other machines out of my orbit. The coffee was okay but, unfortunately for me, the two baristas I encountered were not familiar with plant milk, so in both venues my oat lattes were one-try-only, I’m afraid. Just as well, for, of course, you must pay extra for this service. Back to basic cuppa-joe for my public appearances while my sister solved my private cabin arrangements. Rumour had it there were guests who brought their own espresso machines – remember – there’s no baggage limit on a ship, especially if you’re going back from whence you began. As well as full wardrobes, I know some people bought bikes – both pedal and motor – stored in a cabin.
Today the Captain’s noon address contained a lengthy explanation of the Great Circle Navigation System relating to measuring the distance between two points on a curve (ie the planet Earth). The system came about with steamers, as sailing ships cannot attempt a ‘straight’ line. Steamers needed the fuel conservation the shortest distance offered. Plus, we go back another hour. Good to be en guarde with the ship’s time, especially first thing in the gym.
After dinner I joined some of 680dotcom at the Symphony Show in the Royal Court Theatre, where the (great) band was backed up by a recording of a larger orchestra. There were singers. There are sightline problems with that theatre.
I went along to the Golden Lion Pub for an evening trivia – part of my Try-Everything-on-the-Activity-List-Challenge. One of Maureen and Andrew’s chums wanted me to take my facemask off and I met one of the first female deputy sheriffs ever employed in the USA. It was a pub that smelled of booze. I went back to my comfort zone. I live like a child. Early to bed, early to rise, and alcohol free. What’s wrong with that, then?
DAY 13 – at sea – Captain’s noon broadcast revealed we were now over a thousand miles from the coast of Australia. My routine, smooth and efficient. Won backgammon convincingly but, as I left my weights bench to look for a yoga mat, there was a thump, a bump, and a shout of alarm. I noticed a goodly swarm of interested folk bending over a fallen hero and, as there were many helpers, decided to leave. Not sure why everyone’s decided first thing in the morning is gym time. Sheeple? Like the Deck 7 promenaders who all go anti-clockwise – no matter what I do. I hope the woman who fell off the treadmill is okay. Six doctors are on board. I haven’t heard how many nurses. And a paramedic. She’ll be fine.
DAY 14 – at sea – 11:00 – halfway across the ocean between Oz and Africa. Flat sea and flat mood. Missed my games bike. Felt stymied and off course. Amazing how quickly a habit develops. My writing project took a hit from my mood but realised, a Gala night tomorrow might provide an excellent laundry diversion.
Best show I’ve seen so far, Big Russell Harrison, six foot seven inches tenor from NZ. Nice line of amusing patter and the audience was very ready to be amused.
DAY 15 – at sea – middle of the Indian Ocean. Much debate at 680dotcom about the different colours of the oceans. There’s a lot of vibrant indigo sea out of the window. Weather – especially cloud cover – can cause sea colours to vary, as can depth, mineral salts, algae etc. Another of our party maintains it’s the actual physical water itself in each place. Debate continues.
Rain gathered on the horizon but only a few spots landed on deck.
Tapestry coming along – I only stitch it at sea. I bought the (plant-based) ingredients from a cute craft shop in Totnes, UK in 2019. The design and first stitches on container ship CC Coral, the next took place on the NZ inter-island ferry and then the Ontario II, before QM2. Hopefully I could finish it on water.
Decided it’s better to eat dinner with 680dotcom and make a tiny effort in honour of the Gala. Thank goodness for the delightful swathes and scarf donated to the cause by good friends as leaving presents. I wore them with much gratitude and skipped the ballroom dancing. (I did pop in to watch Elaine at her glamorous best – and was extremely impressed!)
Day 16 – at sea – ocean pulsating, smooth and unctuous, as we sail into the tropics. Almost violet at the horizon and soft lilac grey where the clouds prevent the sun from striking the water. A trace of tiny dancing stars scatter like fairies as the sun sparks each peak.
Good bike day. Anne came to visit my gym domain this morning and discovered her bike could take her on magic video ride on a mountain road. It was her first time in the gym and I think she enjoyed it although later she mentioned her knees were complaining while in art class.
We were able to retrieve our passport before entry into Mauritius. How very odd it feels to think of visiting such a mythical place.
DAY 16 – only used the bike this morning – too many people in the gym. Long chat with man standing at the bow about his dog park in Perth where everyone walked anti-clockwise. I tried to remember walking with our little dog Tracey around our park in Yarraville, Melbourne. It was easier to let her decide what she wanted to do. I don’t think she had a preference. Really mixed it up today. Not. Gym, yoga, shower, brekkie, Italian, tapestry, art – crowded so did a bit before Zumba – which I really enjoyed. Body memories kicked in – blood circulated. Too many peeps for me to get on the actual dance floor. Tried it once!
Thought I’d try to join the sunbakers – tough-skinned crocodiles in the main. My end of row cabin meant I could pop into swimming costume (cozzie, swimmers, togs), flip flops (thongs, jandals, slops, plakkies), keycard in lanyard, to arrive at Deck 6 pool unnoticed. Flung open cabin door and, instead of empty hall and easy dash to door, found half a dozen serious, formal-white-dress-uniform waiters wrestling with extra-large tables for some smart event (weddings/parties can be arranged while at sea). I froze, half in and out of my room door, dripping wet from my pre-swimming rinse in my bathroom, as the waiters gradually realised I was there. They looked me up and down, taking in my fetching speedos and dripping hair, and let me go through, which I did super quick like an eel. Drama on Deck 6. Is that as terrible as it gets?
Anne told me, after the gym where she cycled along scenic roads for precisely ten minutes, she got into the lift and pressed 7 and nothing happened. She pressed 7 again and waited. Lifts on board ships are notoriously difficult as they are effectively tubes in a moving machine. Things can go wrong and very often an engineer can be seen with a big tool kit hovering nearby. However, it took Anne three goes to realise she was already on level 7. We’ve all done it. Both Anne and I normally walked the steps – her knees must have been bothering her after the biking.
I had no idea what my ‘Shore Experience’ tomorrow would be. Something about an island? I should have done some research. Not sure what happened to the informative talks – I must have gone to art class instead. According to the United Nations there are fifty-four countries in Africa – one of them is Mauritius. In contrast, there may have been four hundred different countries in Australia before white invasion.
Security lights snapped on around 03:00 for pilot. Listened to talking book until 05:00 when tugs lined up and yellow security tape barely visible on the dock.
I always remember my father telling me to watch the work involved in docking a ship. It’s a magic process as we leave sea and, with human help, become part of land. In Fremantle the ship’s crew dropped the heavy ropes into a little open boat and a wharfie drove them over to the three workers on the shore. Here in Port Louis, they threw the handline over to one guy with big biceps and he hauled up good amounts of bulky, wet rope by himself before tying it on to a shiny new ute. The driver drove the rope backwards along the dock, parked, and shouted at the security officers to move the yellow tape fences. Woefully misjudged, the length of the secure area was roughly a quarter of the length of the ship (345 meters). More shouting. Finally, the ship inched backwards, pulled by internal winches and masterful engineering and everyone was happy.
Not a newbie anymore, I always took a book to excursion meeting points and queues to sign out – robotic voice telling us ‘Good bye’, while the security staff tried to stay awake and smiling – to the gangplank walk. On the bus, Helen was our guide and Rajeesh our driver. I drew the curtains against the sun. It was only expected to be 29 degrees but at 08:00 it already felt hot. Still no idea what this excursion entailed (purchased the shore experience months ago) I had emergency food from the ship, bagel plus apple, kindly prepared by obliging chef in Galley, AND I had a few rupees at ready for postcards.
Very excited to be in Mauritius – only for a day trip but still – imagine! Epitome of man’s relationship to nature – land of the dodo – see it, pat it, kill it, and watch your pets destroy nests and the habitat. Dodo didn’t even taste nice. They were a type of pigeon. Took eighty years from sailors first discovery to extinction.
We drove to the other side of the island to a LAGOON, at Mahebourg Bay. Bleary eyed passengers clambered down the steps of the bus in wonder, looking about them, amazed at the environment – just stunning in gorgeous sunny weather.
A resort to our left overlooked a magnificent view to edge of reef and frilly surf while the small island ahead of us promised cool greenery. It was unthinkable that such a beautiful place had suffered a terrible oil spill in 2020 from a Japanese tanker. The environment was still under observation to make sure it would thrive after dramatic clean-up operations.
Our destination was the Isle de Aigrettes – Island of the egrets – a coral island populated by ten biologists, some labourers and visited by enthusiastic tour guides. Their work, to protect living species – forget the dodo and the egrets – move on, rewild, and create habitat for the non-indigenous but useful Giant Tortoise, as well as birds: a species of kestrel and the pink pigeon. There are only nine endemic bird species left in Mauritius, found only on the small islands around the edges of the island. This little coralline limestone island was vulnerable in many ways – notably feral monkeys and rats swimming over to raid new eggs. We were loaded into a little boat and puttered off in a very relaxed manner to meander around the native plants and tour around their work.
We didn’t meet a biologist but the guide was informative and passionate. She demonstrated the effects of a gentle back massage on a Giant Tortoise. I had no idea the shell was so thin, attached directly to the spine, and therefore, the entire nervous system. We’ve all seen pictures of humans sitting on the backs of these extraordinary creatures. Please avoid doing so in the future.
I think our whole bus would have been happy to hang out in this idyllic lagoon all day. All the water sports were in evidence in these turquoise dream waters, but this tour was not just a scenic visit. Oh no, and soon we were back on the bus to learn more about Mauritius. We were taken to a beautiful church full of angels hanging out over us.
Back on the bus, Helen spouted facts, historical and statistical. The first discoveries were by the Moors in the sixteenth century. The Mascarene islands (Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues) were apparently uninhabited, and colonised in turn by Dutch, French and English. Mauritius became independent in 1968. A fountain of facts sprayed forth, taking us on from the Isle to the Lavior – a giant, organised, open-air washing facility where women struggled to get French soldiers’ uniforms washed, neat and pressed in the 19th century. How wonderful to see women’s work upheld as something to be admired and considered in history. The ground spring water, although close to a river, has now dried.
But this tour was not over yet, oh no, no, no, not by a long shot. Helen tipped us out at a museum, an elegant old building already full of tourists. We must wander in the garden and admire birds, bats, and jungle plants. Loved the strangler vines climbing up trees.
A strange collection of prints, maps and furniture was brought into focus by a miniature Mauritian flag that was delivered back to the people by Nixon after it had been taken to the moon.
We were also treated to an exhibition of up and coming young artists.
And still there was more to see. Another stop, more ruins and another small explanatory museum. This time we listened to an enthusiastic archaeologist who hadn’t been informed that Helen had already stuffed us full of Mauritian history, so the unsuspecting expert began to feed us details from way back in time to give us the full story. Our group was SO over it and her audience began to drift away, in twos and threes and tens … Everyone was so weary and hungry they could barely speak. Cruise people must eat every two hours, or they go into a torpor and fall over.
Before defib was required we were taken to a gorgeous restaurant overlooking water and hills, and they knew there was a vegan coming and I was fed food! My fellow diner said, there’s something crunchy in it, what is it? I kept telling her it was the passionfruit. It’s very nice, but it’s crunchy. What could that be? It’s the passionfruit. I don’t know what makes it crunchy. It’s the passionfruit. The seeds, you know, passionfruit? She just shook her head, mystified. Maybe American passionfruit don’t have seeds?
I thought I’d ‘done’ Mauritius but, on returning to 680dotcom, we discovered that our team had enjoyed completely different experiences. Elaine and David had had their feet nibbled by podiatry piscis and seen many Gods at a sea-side temple. Anne and Ray had done another tour, on separate buses, seeing mountains and a botanical garden, but in opposite directions. Wandering free, Andrew bought postcards.
In the Royal Court Theatre we watched clarinet player Kenny Martyn fire up the resident band. He looked like Dudley Moore, with a show-biz jacket a couple of sizes too big. He recently got the rights to the Benny Goodman original charts. He told us about the thrill of unpacking them to find not ‘Trumpet One’ or ‘Guitar’ written at the top, but the original players’ names, Count Basie, Lester Young … His little history lesson found some real afficionados in the audience. When he drifted into Acker Bilk’s classic, I remembered seeing Mr Bilk in the Regent, Dunedin, NZ. My chum Michael wandered down the aisle to sit on the floor right in front of the stage and, looking down at him, an amused Bilk introduced his big hit as, ‘Stranger on the Floor’.
Overnight distance from Port Louis to Le Port, near Saint-Denis, 228 km. Apart from the hovering tugs there appeared to be a port supervisor guarding the proceedings from a sharp blue and white boat as the huge ship manoeuvred back and forward and positioned without external assistance.
Our parking spot really didn’t look possible but the pilot, the captain, and the four engines under the ship, together with two thrusters managed perfectly.
I noticed smoke pouring out of one of the smaller chimneys where I’d not seen any emissions before. I was beginning to feel a sense of urgency around my need to chat to an engineer. I’d thought I’d accidentally bump into one – after my time on the container ships where I was free to ask any old question whenever – the separation between officer and ‘guest’ was clear. I asked at the purser’s desk, and they told me my best chance would be at a cocktail party. Groan. All I had to do was wait for my invitation. But I don’t like cocktails.
Today’s Reunion bus guide was Matteu, trainee guide Pauline, driver Christian and we had a ship’s representative, Monica. Mercifully our bus ride (fact fountain) was only half an hour to St Leu. This island was uninhabited when it was taken by the French and is still under French control. Euros here. St Leu was a quaint coastal town (I suppose anywhere is coastal!) The town hall and exhibition building were directly from French Town style. A statue reminded of a famous and tragic slave revolt.
We were shown a church where an enthusiastic local woman shouted surprising comments at us in French. Pauline took her aside to engage her in soothing conversation so that Matteu could fulfil his obligations in facts, stories and entertainment. In this very church the priest, from France, saved his congregation from a cholera pandemic by building a small chapel further up the hill. With a great sense of drama, Matteu listed several miracles which recently led a family to pay for a fenced pathway to the chapel.
We were taken to a craft market where I bought some pretty postcards and found a healthy salad bar where I bought some ‘detox’ water with fresh ginger, mint and lemon in it. The staff were able to chat in English and were fascinated by the cruise ship. Yes, she was big. Other ‘guests’ found baguettes, macaroons and French chocolates. Ooooh la la!
Finally earlier tourists left our main event, and it was our turn to troop into Kelonia, the Turtle Sanctuary. Originally a farm, as it’s now illegal to sell turtle meat, like Madonna, Kelonia reinvented itself.
Now, the turtles swimming in the big tanks are rescues that could not survive in the wild, and the smaller tanks hold convalescent injured under repair with a view to release. There is also a system of egg collection that allows biologists to monitor endangered hatchlings back into the ocean with minimal disruption and maximum survival. Much of the displays are about the hazard of plastics in the ocean. Many of the dead turtles autopsied have stomachs full of plastic pieces. Heed the call to avoid plastic! Make the change today!
DAY 19 – back at sea – you know the routine by now.
More food commentary. Last night I enjoyed an excellent coconut panacotta with baby lychees. These little sweet bubbles pop in the mouth like miniature water balloons. I’ve never seen anything like them – like teeny tiny grapes but much nicer. They’re not miniature grapes – they came later.
Since Carol left us in Fremantle we’re down one in 680dotcom and Maureen leads a social lifestyle and her presence is irregular. It’s much easier for me to eat at the high table because I no longer explain to Chester and Arnold my food foibles. These two excellent professionals are solicitous to a fault. They have escalators hidden behind the stainless steel revolving doors and they have to march the meals up from the depths of the kitchen to our mezzanine floor. The plates are covered with plastic belljars, stacked one on top of the other like a juggling act.
Generally, the vegan menu items are decorative and slight. An entree/appetiser might be a watermelon salad (perhaps with feta removed), a slim rectangle of watermelon decorated with two chopped cherry tomatoes and a light vinegrette. Or there might be cubes of melon with some attractive cucumber chunks. For main I might get some pieces of roast capsicum on a bed of wild rice and a dab of coloured sauce – was it pumpkin? If the dish is hot, it arrives on a hot plate, and any salad weeps its life away stuck to china.
My alternative is Kings Court (unless I want to pay more money and explain to a new set of staff) where I repeat lunch with salad and bread/rice/spud. I do have survival snacks in my cabin – rice cakes, dried fruit and nuts, and biscuits – and the waiters have found a chef who creates vegan chocolate blobs for me. I’ve got a store of those because Arnold makes me take extra!
Tonight the menu had no vegan main option so Chester improvised with steamed veg and soup. Try to understand what head waiter Richard has been trying to sell me for weeks. Surely life on a luxury liner must be better than this. Tick the list of ‘Special Vegan’ offerings – my homework – properly designed nutrious meals. I will be able to get a curry with pappadums the next day. 16 day repeat menu.
More discussion about gratuities – wanted to ask the staff but felt that would put them in a difficult situation. One of our number pays his steward Aus $20 a fortnight. That’s only $60 in total and a fraction of the automatic deduction from our credit card. Hmmm.
Watched a strange arty film, The Burnt Orange Heresy on the telly in my cabin with Jagger playing a right greedy bastard art dealer getting an old artist to spit out one last painting for the fortune. Donald Sutherland spooky as normal. Jagger’s last line is worth the whole film.
Making plans for Cape Town. Post office?
DAY 20 – busy at sea between Madagascar and South Africa – HALFWAY POINT of cruise.
Woke too early and read Donna Leon detective novel (Italian research) before gym and routine took over. Have slippy towel to do morning yoga in private. Wrote postcards with aim of posting in Capetown.
Have found no other climate activists on board.
It will be Easter. All the post offices will be shut.
I can’t party
I’ve just been swimming in a chemically-treated, lightly-perfumed, over-lit indoor pool in Oviedo, Asturias, Spain. I loved it. On my way to the pool I pass this fountain.
It’s the centre piece of a roundabout which illustrates the cycle of water showering through it every minute. Round and round we go. Up and down, through the pipes, over and over again. Humans have used water, in more or less elaborate ways, to enhance our lives as long as we’ve been drinking liquid to survive. You do know you’re soaking in it? In my time in Spain I’ve seen fountains in plazas, roundabouts and parks. I’ve also seen viaducts.
As I’ve said before, imagine having to work in a frock and sandals to make this big old drain run from mountain to castle for your Roman leaders.
There’s plenty of sculptures too, like this one in the city of Valencia, remembering the river that used to run through it.
One of the most amazing things about Valencia is that for the last thousand years a group of Spanish farmers, or their representatives, meet, every week, on the steps of the Valencia Cathedral; the tribunal de las aguas. They’re there to debate water; who gets how much, when. You can see them on a Thursday. They don’t keep records and their decisions are final.
Compare that to negotiations around the Murray Darling basin in Australia. Irrigation is the largest user of water from the Murray/Darling rivers. Admittedly white farmers haven’t been there for a thousand years yet but they are certainly having trouble working out equitable ways to share the water and keep a healthy river. Couple of Aussie blokes made a tv series about it, if you’re inclined to view a cruise down a river?
The farmers downstream in South Australia do not stand a chance against the farmers upstream in New South Wales and Victoria. There are regular scandals on the border of Queensland and NSW.
Cubbie Station, a Japanese and Chinese owned cotton empire, has a dam described as the same size as Sydney Harbour. Down the other end of the river in SA, Goolwa’s water sometimes slows to a trickle. There’s no regular meeting to solve this ongoing crisis. Just earnest attempts, bitter blaming and ecological desperation.
Back in Spain, Valencia went so far as to move their river away from the city.
Now a lovely park featuring running tracks, modern architecture and playgrounds, the river bed flooded too often and the civic powers showed the flow who was boss and shoved it out the back somewhere.
The same thing happened in Seville. The Gualdaquiver, once a bustling shipping artery, was split to control potential flooding.
I suppose in Spain climate change may be working for humans because there’s been less rain than normal for many years.
On the other side of the Iberian Peninsula, I lived last year on the border of two provinces, Barcelona and Girona, in Catalunya. The border was a river, La Tordera.
In the summer La Tordera dried up. You could walk across it. In the winter it was a full, flowing river. I used to take a photo every time I walked home. There’s no sound track on the following slide show. Do you want to listen to Al Green while you check out the pretty Spanish river?
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In the beginning of my little compilation, you can see the mouth of the river at Blanes beach. In the summer, the mouth is closed. As the waters build up through the cooler months, they breach the sand. Water will find a way.
Also, the nearby city of Girona features a river bed dry and bare in the summer. The winter rains and their outpourings created marvellous reflections for tourist photos.
This year I work in the Valle de Nalón in Asturias. When I arrived, El Rio Nalón was a mere trickle.
Now spring is here and the snows are melting in the nearby mountains.
Churning white waters fleck the brown flood that chunders down the river bed.
Rivers come and go as seen in two stories in the Guardian today. When Nature’s had enough https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/01/argentina-new-river-soya-beans and farmers have taken all the deep-rooted trees away from the water table, is it surprising that nature will take her own course?
But more achingly important is this story about giving nature a right to exist; https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/apr/01/its-only-natural-the-push-to-give-rivers-mountains-and-forests-legal-rights
The idea of giving a river legal personhood is pleasantly close to finding Naiad or a River God swimming along the Yarra, or the Thames or the Seine. But remember, “No river, no people, no life.”
They know that in Cape Town, they know it in Los Angeles. Around the world it’s estimated 1.1 billion people don’t have access to clean water.
I don’t have to tell you, do I, that we’re all part of nature!
When I stayed near Auberive, Champagne-Ardenne, France, I was fortunate to visit the Source of the river Aube, set in mysterious forest and retaining an atmosphere of magic. For about twenty metres around this area, the ground is wet and the steady seepage from below begins a flow that ends up joining the Seine. Here was a place it was easy to imagine a Naiad living.
Would we be more interested in protecting water if we returned to the days of worshipping? Would that be enough for us to form a human shield against the likes of Nestlé and Coca Cola? Remembering corporations already carry their own personhood, like Deities!
Meanwhile, in New Zealand, hydro-electricity is looking a lot greener these days. And rivers are so beautiful that Don McGlashan wrote a song about them. Made famous by singer Hollie Smith, here’s a version featuring the composer, a casual rehearsal to swim in.
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Thanks for getting into this river of thought. What, and where, are your favourite rivers? Have you been involved in any water charities? Let me know in the comments section below!
Oh, darn. We live in interesting times. Like all of us plugged in to the internet I receive international news and views and I struggle to digest the world’s currents and tides. While history is marked up for a hefty new chapter, I live my peaceful Spanish existence in my little flat on the Costa Brava and mull over my small preoccupations. I’ve got a few things to consider. Like when I’m walking home from work I can’t help but notice how humans feel about their habitat. Respect isn’t the word.
As I walk, I sometimes listen to narrated books. Currently I’m listening to Scott Aiello read a pretty tough book called Getting to Green by Frederic C. Rich. It’s been Getting Me Down. (I’m doing it so you don’t have to.)
Fredric C. Rich thinks the Green movement has failed on a number of fronts, particularly on preventing Climate Change, and they ought to do better. He’s got some ideas.
The book holds many delights, the historical perspective, for one. Republican Teddy Roosevelt’s heart-felt belief that at least some of the Nation’s assets lay in lands and waters that needed protection for future generations (ie conservation AND capitalism). This philosophy is alive and well in successful Land Conservation Trusts where grassroots folk around the world have saved beloved pieces of land, even if those lands remain in private hands – not part of Government.
Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson was famous for his Natural Beauty Message; ‘For centuries, Americans have drawn strength and inspiration from the beauty of our country.’
Surprisingly, Republicans used to be proud of their deep and loving relationship with the land that is America. And it was Richard Nixon who established the much maligned EPA.
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Back in the sixties, when Rachel Carson sounded the alarm, rivers were burning. Air was unbreathable. Birds were falling out of the sky. You could see the problem. Industry was rampantly careless about their waste. Nixon’s admin had to act because that’s what everyone wanted. Twenty million people marched on the first Earth Day in 1970 and extensive clean-up programs sprang into being.
Today’s problems are fuzzy. You can’t see the climate change. Environmentalists turn into communist the-end-is-nigh-fearmongers. It snows when Obama worries about global warming. George Marshall calls climate change the Wicked Problem. Unless you happen to be in the way of one of those worst storms ever seen. Even then you’re only going to want to get straight back to normal, not cope with terrifying scientific mumbo-jumbo.
Please note Getting to Green’s subtitle; Saving Nature; a Bipartisan Solution. Okay. I’m all for getting to Green. I’d even like to save Nature. But, can we talk about this Bipartisan thing? Mr Rich describes the Great Estrangement (abyss) between the Republican Party and the Democrats. He’s not alone in noticing this, of course. The Guardian talks about The Age of Anger. The magnificent Van Jones tries to listen to the opposition. George Monbiot pulls the curtain aside to reveal the gold paying the piper. Someone’s comments lead me to watch George Lakoff talking about framing. Speaking to a clearly Democrat audience, Lakoff looks at political dualism in terms of the American Family; the strict father vs the nurturing parent. The Democrats want all the nuturing for themselves. The strict father believes in tough love. If the kids can’t succeed on their own, tough. And the GOP want the message out there, training leaders and getting Think Tanks organised. A lot.
When I was at university in New Zealand we joined protests about apartheid in South Africa. Hundreds of miles away, the plight of Africans captured our compassion. But the opposition, in government, community and student flats, wanted the chance to watch a good game of rugby. The rights of the individual sports fan against the rights of the many oppressed. Either/or. Versus. Wrong against Right. Left against Right. Communists against Capitalists.
Mr Rich thinks the Greens need to pull in their heads regarding negative comments about capitalism. The NSW Greens of Australia are struggling with this emotive debate right now. Mr Rich fears Naomi Klein is not helping matters. Mr Rich worries some Deep Green thinkers would even like nature to overwhelm humans. (Hmmmm … ) If only it were this simple.
When I did economics at school I was a bad student. I worked hard to disrupt the class and annoy the teacher. But she persevered and I think I remember learning something about cycles. (This may have been Biology?) However, to persevere, does not an industry grow from a seed? If looked after, it may prosper and live a long and happy life. It sustains itself and the humans that work within. For a time. If it is sustainable. If not, it withers and dies. Like a rock and roll band. (Shit, maybe it was music?)
Clearly there’s a few nuances I missed because I don’t understand how capitalism can keep propping up coal power stations. Visibly polluting, getting older and not part of a clean energy future, how can capitalists possibly back coal? Is not capitalism about buying low, encouraging start-up and making the most of growth? Van Jones’s book, The Green Collar Economy, points out just how many valuable jobs could arise from forward thinking business minds. Corporate, capitalist interests are supposedly represented by the right, the GOP. But, it seems the Republicans’ big ol’ Tea Party is a little out of control. The heavy-weight CEOs now in charge have tremendous power. They can do anything they like. They can even change the rules to get more power! To what end? Interesting times indeed.
To my mind, this Estrangement is not only about two parties. It’s also about the missing middle. That’s three sides. At least. A bipartisan schism would be an obvious diagnosis if everyone voted and there were only two parties. 9% of enrolled Australians didn’t turn up to the latest election and it’s compulsory to vote in Australia. In the UK 72.2% of voters turned out to chose whether to stay or leave the European Union, missing over a quarter of the eligible voting population. In the States, only 55% of the population turned up. What was the other 45% thinking? There’s obviously more than two sides to every story. Maybe there are fifty shades of red? Blue? Purple? Green? Sounds like a bruise, doesn’t it.
At the risk of sounding naive, what if we act like King Arthur and bring in a Round Table? Instead of the oppositional parliamentary system Australia and NZ inherited from Britain, what about everyone coming to the table with no head? What if parliament was reconfigured (the UN is a semi-circle – that’s a start) and representatives worked together to solve problems? What if there was no dualism but only folk bringing information to help find effective solutions for the greatest number of people?
The Gandhi Experiment is a new initiative for Peace. Does a debate need cutting, slashing argument? Winner takes all? Or could teams work, not in opposition, but together, towards a solution?
There is one sure way of uniting people. Bring in a common enemy. When the new administration in the USA threatened to sell off 3.3 million acres of public land, environmentalists were joined by hunters and fishers who fiercely lobbied to protect their common lands.
Can you imagine caring for your local lands so much you’d fight for them? Clean them up? Enjoy their beauty? Regard them as a Natural Asset? Guess I might just have to get involved. Suppose I could take along a rubbish bag and some gloves on my next walk home. Big job. Someone’s got to do it. Take a look at Walkers Against Waste. I think it’s up to us. It’d be easier with friends, of course. I’d better find some like-minded people!
Finally, in case you haven’t seen Valarie Kaur yet, can you imagine the light at the end of the tunnel?
(All three of these links are to a speech delivered by Valarie Kaur. I hope it works for you.)
Such trouble when they are released into the atmosphere. They eventually fall down, perhaps whole or in pieces. They can end up on land or in oceans. They might get eaten by a bird or by a fish fooled into thinking it looks like a jelly fish. They might trap a bird and strangle it.
Keep Australia Beautiful considers balloons litter. Some councils in Queensland are trying to ban mass helium balloon releases. Sunshine Coast Council banned the release of balloons into the atmosphere about five years ago.
And there is some debate about helium. Perhaps it is a scarce precious element. Perhaps it is running out. Perhaps it is not. Some say there should be reserves (which there are around the world but the US Government sold theirs off too soon and too cheaply!) Some say it may be a renewable resource and it doesn’t matter anyway because there’s just tons of it around anyway. Some point out that as the planet/universe is finite, so any minerals by definitions must be finite too.
Helium is used by humans for many interesting things, not just party balloons. Welding, medicine (cooling MRI machines) and testing for leaks in containers are quite important activities that may or may not be able to use another gas in helium’s place should the unthinkable happen. Is it too valuable to use in trivial party balloons? Or do balloons only use a tiny percentage of low quality helium? As opposed to the 30% used in scuba tanks!
Maybe we can err on the side of the environment. What no balloons? Oh, Good Grief! Why are all greenies such party-poopers? The British Marine Conservation Society has some ideas which they’ve gathered together under the title ‘Don’t let go.’ Why not consider lighting candles or planting trees or bubbles or kites or …
Butterflies! Nope. Don’t use butterflies, you’re endangering local populations with diseases, parasites and possibly altering local ecology. And apparently wedding planners don’t like them because they tend to turn up dead on arrival!
Why not chuck some rose petals around – left over roses from the florist might even be a bargain!
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Subtitled What Animals can Teach us about the Origins of Good and Evil, Beasts explores what humans have in common with animals, myths about the relationship between humans and animals and starts to suggest what might be a way forward.
The passage about bullfighting that Jenny alludes to describes the way the beasts are prepared for the ‘fight’.
‘To create the show of a fight, the bull is wounded and disabled before entering the ring, and is given large amounts of salt to make sure he drinks to the point of being bloated and will move slowly. On the day of the “fight”, Vaseline is rubbed into his eyes so he cannot see clearly, and newspaper is stuffed into his ears so he cannot hear properly. Horns are shaved to make them less dangerous and to throw the bull off balance. The muscles in his neck are cut so that he cannot raise his head in a normal fashion, wich would allow him to see his adversary. His kidneys and testicles are beaten. He is given laxatives, tranquilizers and drugs to induce paralysis, and other drugs to disorientate him. He is kept in a tiny cell for at least twenty-four hours, dazed and confused, without food or water (except sulphates, which give him severe diarrhea).’ pg 71
As readers of the previous blog may note, the book that inspired that post, Death in the Sun by Edward Lewine, corrects our notion of the bullfight. Clearly the bull has no chance. It’s not a fight in Spanish eyes. In that book, Lewine denigrates horn shaving, as casting aspersions on the skills of the toredor, and I wonder if this sort of bull tampering is done in less salubrious places where the condition of the bull is not so closely examined as it was in the corridas of the famous bullfighter, Francisco Rivera Ordonez, featured in the book. There’s nothing in the Appendices or notes of Beasts to say from where this information was gathered so I’m assuming it’s not commonplace – I may be wrong.
Doesn’t matter, really, does it? The bull suffers. Lots of animals (billions … ?) suffer at the hands of humans. But that’s a taste of Beasts, provoking and sometimes untrackable. Luckily, there is plenty of thoughtful, attributed information to consider.
The preface kicks off with a quote from Stephen Hawking, ‘We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.’
Masson returns again and again to the self-destructive violent behaviour of humans. Why are humans so keen to find ‘the other’ in our own species and kill it? He points out that although there might be evidence of other species (chimpanzees, elephants, wolves… ) attacking one another, those examples are generally proven to be in the context of human-induced stresses (capture, torture, loss of habitat, interference in food resources, pollution etc etc) Even Jane Goodall admits that fighting and battles she witnessed amongst chimps may have started when her staff set up a banana feeding station. (pg 60)
So why did humans start their own violence against each other? Perhaps because they interfered with their own lives when they stopped being nomadic and started agriculture? In the notes (pg 188) Jeffery Moussaieff Masson says,
‘My friend Sherry Colb reminds me that Plato predicted this in The Republic, where Socrates responds to Glaucon’s insistence that the ruling class must eat animals. Then, said Socrates, there would have to be armies, to guard the large amount of land needed for livestock, and the lawyers for disputes surrounding land boundaries, and the doctors to handle the sickness that comes from eating that way!’
Good old Plato! And so it seems that what we gained when we stopped being hunter-gatherers was violence, disease and suffering. Not only for humans, but also all the other species. GREAT!!
Jeffery’s Appendices are informative. Human traits unique to us include: animal sacrifices, blood feuds, unbridled greed, mass murder, suicide and threatening the survival of all life on earth. (pg 163) Traits humans have in common with animals (pg 169) include: sexual infidelity, compassion, dignity, gentleness, protectiveness of young, yearning for freedom.
Many times throughout the book Masson states that predators do not choose to hate, hunt or hurt humans (unless as previously stated, stressed/maddened by us). But what do humans do to animals? (pg 174)
We raise them for food.
We experiment on them.
We use their fur and skin.
We take their eggs.
We take their children.
We use their milk.
We hunt them.
We lock them into cages.
Let’s add, we use them for entertainment. The chapter on ‘Hatred’ begins with this quote: ‘I couldn’t possibly write Jaws today. The notion of demonizing a fish strikes me as insane.’ Peter Benchley.
Sharks don’t hate people, they don’t even particularly like people, especially if wrapped in neoprene. Scientists surmise sharks mistake people for seals.
But in their turn, how many sharks are killed by people?
How many other animals? Cows? Pigs? Sheep? Is any of this killing necessary? Jeffery says,
‘My position is that we no longer need to kill animals at all, whether for food or for any other reason. Today we can recognise that whether we kill with reverence or with indifference, the result to the animal is the same. In the past we would justify this killing as necessary for our survival. No longer.’ pg 101
So in conclusion, I think Jeffery Moussaieff Masson in Beasts is telling us that animals are not moral creatures. They do what has to be done, mostly avoiding human contact when they can, not seeing good or bad in killing for food or protecting territory. Humans, it seems, have come up with evil all by ourselves.