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 interesting country comparison – how are your people doing on climate change?
AND SO IT GOES …
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.
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.
DAY 17 – MAURITIUS!!!!
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’.
DAY 18 – my parent’s wedding anniversary and it was REUNION!
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