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
There’s a twist to this story about half a world cruise on Queen Mary 2. Find part 1: leaving Sydney, part 2: cruising around south Oz, part 3: sea to island hopping and part 4: South Africa and UP and now read the rest …
Taking time to travel gives the traveller a perspective on distance. This journey, literally crossing the globe in a pointy tin can, twenty times longer than a flight, offered wide horizons of land and sea, and the realisation that human beings are miniscule in the face of wind, water and rocks. What do the planet and the atmosphere have to do with homosapiens? Weather in one land goes unnoticed in another. We know of terrible floods causing huge human loss. Sometimes fire, flood and hail combine in one country. Sometimes extreme weather conditions (such as the heavy rainfall in late August which caused a huge rockslide in the Maurienne Valley to close train links between France and Italy) merely derail plans. Some of us, who held a defunct train ticket from Paris to Milan, had to make quick decisions. Bus? Blablacar? PLANE??? … a tiny blip in the global weather crisis but a personal philosophical dilemma. Read on.
Back to the QM2!
DAY 30 – AT SEA
There was a devil sitting in the jacuzzi on Deck 6. When the red lights changed to lime he became a laughing stock; an ordinary man bathed in extreme green.
On we go.
DAY 31 – AT SEA
Finally, I was invited to a cocktail party! Where would that elusive Engineer be? We formed the obligatory Cruisers’ queue across the dining room for entry. Sauntered past ‘The Selfie with the Captain’ queue and made a beeline for the first uniform. Turned out to be Head of Provisioning. Don’t think he was called the Quartermaster but that’s sort of the thing he claimed to do. I asked him about sulphites. Many of the dishes on offer in the Kings Court were labelled with potential allergens. Milk and eggs, obviously, gluten sometimes and, very often, sulphites. I’m prone to react with too much sulphur, so I asked why there were so many treated dried fruits and nuts in the displays. He didn’t know anything about that label. Whaaaaaaa … ?
He couldn’t immediately see an Engineer on display, so I went to join my tablemates who were clustered around the Head of Security, a large, cheerful, retired police officer. Given my experience on the container ship, I asked what arms there were on board. (The Captain of my first container ship admitted to having tazers, handcuffs, and a lockup on board.) QM2’s Security denied having a tazer or even a baton. Pirates are not an issue for a ship the height of QM2. Due to the outward curve of the hull there’s nowhere pirates can attach. When the ship travelled into areas of heighted tensions, such as Yemen, Sudan or through the Suez, a specialist squad of trained mercenaries would be in attendance – so not on this stretch. The ship preferred to stay well away from trouble and the Head of Security preferred to play down any threats.
Head of Security couldn’t find an engineer either, but pointed towards Matt, the Deputy Captain. Tablemate Andrew, a retired teacher, who kept referring to this pleasant young man as the Vice Captain, asked for a definitive statement about the different colours of the ocean. Matt agreed, the colours of the waters did indeed change with depths, algae, and weather. He admitted there were no engineers in attendance at the party. What? None at all?
I commended the fantastical 180 twist on the spot and the hypnotic journey out of Walvis Bay and, happy with this subtle flattery of his driving, the Deputy Captain was happy to answer questions about the pods (see previous posts) and the stabilisers – those wings that fold into the hull of the ship when not in use. I’d been trying to find them from the deck when we went into choppy waters. He said they were far too deep to see but there were photos on display. Click here to see that they’re more like wings of a glider, thinner and more shapely than a stout plane wing. Depending on the roll, they might use one or two and rarely have all four out at once.
DAY 32 – AT SEA
The Captain’s report announced we were off the coast of Gabon and close to Ascension Island. We could see sea.
Tonight’s cinematic offering was ‘The Whale’ directed by Darren Aronofsky, adapted from a play. (Not about the ocean.) It was an erudite work, peppered with allusions and anger. It was impossible to trust the characters, they sprang from ledges of kindness like wild cats. I wondered what the playwright thought of the film. Would they prefer the live emotional vibrations, which would demand so much more of the audience, or this version, with realistic prosthetic armour pasted around the man?
Such a thought-provoking day began as usual in the gym, breakfast, Italian homework and then, still in my Chart Room office, I was able to have a friendly ‘off the record’ chat with staff. I feel honour bound to share with you some of our discussion which leads back to the question: fly or ship?
We agree that cruise ships have a bad reputation in terms of pollution, especially as they’ve grown physically bigger and need more people to operate. They travel around the world’s oceans, filled with pleasure seekers and bacchanalia, often with more than 4,000 paying customers and 2,000 staff. The fuel used to power these juggernauts is filthy – their emissions as bad as a city full of cars – and the ‘guests’ excrete continuously. Not only biological waste but there is also plastic, paper, and glass to be considered. So, what are customers paying for? They would say luxury experience, but think of this, they are manufacturing a product and that product is their waste. Someone buys it. The waste industry is a serious business.
Cruise companies influence the global waste industry. Clearly, major ports such as Amsterdam, Venice and Barcelona adjust for disruption to locals. But in other places, where the environmental laws are not as strict, Carnival (owners of Cunard and P&O) would say theirs is an educational role. They have to after their 2017 conviction for dumping oil at sea and fine of $40 million.
Say you are a recycling company in a port of Africa, or Indonesia, or the Philippines perhaps, you must uphold your side of the bargain. There is good reason to clean the port – pleasure seekers don’t like to see refuse floating outside their expensive bedrooms. More importantly, you must actually do what you say you will, really recycle that glass, which is carefully sorted on board ship, crushed into portable bales, and carefully delivered onshore. The collection trucks are observed from the ship and if any irregularity is noticed, say paper is seen to mix with plastic, questions will be asked, flags will be raised, and warning notices will be issued. If fault continues to be found by regular inspections, the contract will pass to another, more obedient company. Money is an incentive to good environmental behaviour. And Carnival wants a good environmental reputation. There are no plastic straws on board this little black ocean liner!
It is still a mystery to me as to how we calculate the difference between flying and shipping. This article states: “A return flight from London to Cape Town generates roughly the same amount of C02 emissions, per passenger, as it would take to heat the average home for a year. On a Boeing 777, as used by British Airways for the route, that’s 396 passengers or the greenhouse gas output of 396 houses.” And this article says: Flights account for around 2.5% of global carbon dioxide production at the moment, but the industry is expanding. And because planes fly high in the atmosphere, the greenhouse gases they emit do more damage than on the ground.
Cunard and P&O are under the control of Carnival. Here is their sustainability webpage. Two of their latest P&O ships, Iona and Arvia, are both bigger and gas powered. No need to scrub emissions. Next ships should be hydrogen – that will be the big step for humanity – when you can drink the water that is emitted from the engine. What is hydrogen energy and how to make it?
https://www.imo.org/ International Maritime Regulations are created by the International Maritime Organisation – 1973 – part of the UN. Most countries are signatories. Not all. Signatories are bound to follow regulations but recently, they have been found difficult to enforce. Regulations are continually evolving. Next focus will be gray water which will probably will need to be treated before discharge.
QM2 can’t carry enough fresh water so it has to be created on the go. There are three ways to create fresh water from the sea. First, using the exhaust gas boiler where the engines create heat that boils the sea water and the steam is caught to create potable water. This is the cheaper option as the engines are already in action.
Finally, gas fuel boilers boiling water using fuel only for this purpose is clearly the most expensive method and used in a last resort.
QM2 uses two types of fresh water – potable for drinking and washing – and technical which is less pure, used to wash down the ship. Technical uses less energy because there’s less filtration.
Heavy fuel oil (heavy black oil, looks like crude) has to be heated it to liquify it. It’s the leftovers after the first fractioning operation to get cleaner fuels. Think clean fuel (diesel) as virgin olive oil and next press as heavy scum – still oil. The four diesel engines on board QM2 can use both heavy and diesel. Heavy is cheapest. And more dirty.
Marine gas oil is used by the two gas turbines on the top floor for turbo charging in serious weather.
International fuel regulations allow heavy oil to be burned in the middle of the sea. Sulphur in fuel is one of the leading causes of climate change. QM2 can’t use fuel containing more than 3 and a half percent sulphur. They simply can’t buy it if it exceeds this amount. International Regulations mean fumes can’t have more than half a percent of sulphur content. The smoke has to be cleaned on the way out of the chimney. Literally scrubbed.
On board QM2, scrubbing is the action of spraying sea water into the fumes in a chamber of the chimney. The engine exhaust is a gas which includes sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon. The gasses dissolve into the water resulting in clear water (with no visible particles) which is then directed back into the sea. It is a form of carbon capture. Nobody scrubs the lighter diesel. It’s pointless as it normally has a content of less than point one percent – almost nothing. There are different ways of scrubbing – Cunard uses open loop exhaust gas clean systems or advanced air quality systems which means dirty seawater is discharged back into the ocean. But the air is a bit cleaner.
Black soot accumulates on the inside of the chimney. ‘Soot Blowing’ – couple of times a week – sends pressurised air up the funnel – such high pressure blows up into the sky and blows over into the sea. Normally done overnight – when there’s no one on deck to get sprinkled with soot.
They don’t burn heavy fuel oil in a small, enclosed port or fiord where they can’t discharge scrubbing water. In an enclosed area the contaminants would build up over time. It is different in open sea and apparently does not affect fish in such an ever-changing environment. We hope.
Fuel must come from trustworthy sources. Two-way certificate of analysis – sales company comes up with their own results while Carnival sends samples to another lab to confirm. QM2 has refused to bunker oil if it’s over point one percent. An onshore team – The Fuel Ops Team – sources fuel full-time.
They have more than enough fuel on board at anytime.
GREY WATER (click here: sink, shower, washing machine) is discharged straight into sea. All ships must follow International Maritime Regulations – any where, any harbour, any time. But is that enough? There’s pressure for grey water to be more regulated. Not before time.
Carnival won’t discharge grey water inside territorial waters within 12 nautical miles of land. It could accumulate. They release dirty water only in open sea where there’s no obvious effect and of course, no filtration or treatment.
SEWAGE (black water)
Treated to a much higher standard on board ship than land-based treatment plants resulting in possibly cleaner water, including less microplastics and chemicals, than gray water.
Biological treatment (ballast water also ‘killed’ with biological treatment) is filtered and only a clear liquid is discharged into the open sea. Solid waste resulting from filtering could be sent ashore for disposal or burnt. Water resulting is randomly tested to make sure there’s nothing nasty going overboard.
There are two incinerators on board. The emissions are not scrubbed because the incinerators work at such high temps – 850 – 900 degrees Celsius. (Note a crematorium burns around 1200). Apparently this heat destroys anything harmful – even heavy metals – and leaves no trace – all fumes well within acceptable limits – following the regulations again. But does it harm the environment?
High focus on segregating – only one bin in cabin – stewards sort rubbish as they remove it – paper, tin, soft/hard plastics/, glass, cans. There’s a recycling centre down below where glass is crushed, hard plastic is shredded, paper is baled up, tin is pressed. First for storage – need for volume reduction in limited space, secondly for the recycling, for example, glass is preferred to be pre-crushed to make it easier for waste vendors on shore.
General waste, like contaminated paper and disposable items like rubber gloves, all gets burnt. Soft plastic is burnt – very high temp gets rid of dioxins and other nasties.
QM2 provides in-service environmental training for their international crew. Many of the crew have never thought of environmental actions and, after working for Carnival, those workers might influence their kids, local governments or even politicians.
Crew trainings begin with ‘Do you have kids? Do you want them to have clean air and water in the future?’ The crew are reminded that it doesn’t matter how many times you go to the gym or fuss about food – if your air is contaminated or your food is grown in contaminated soil – you won’t be able to control your health.
Are financial carrots the answer? If the ship uses less fuel, the crew get a financial bonus at the end of the year. And there’ve been quick results as people want to switch off the lights and turn off the unused freezers. Money is an incentive for everyone and in the end the environment is the winner. Apparently.
An environmental team of four Carnival UK people work full time across all ships – even something as small as stopping the use of plastic straws can make a difference. Cleaner water all around the world as a result of better sewage treatment might be a bigger improvement.
Read more about Carnival’s sustainability goals here.
DAY 33 – AT SEA
EQUATOR – King Neptune came on board as divine realm border control. It wasn’t very exciting.
Neptune was not Godly nor Regal nor impressive in any way. A little parade of dressed-up staff awkwardly read doggerel while some team ‘pirate’ sports took place with shy performers sniggering around the edges. First-time equator travellers, (pollywogs) volunteered to have disgusting foodstuffs provided by the chefs – mainly pasta and fish – thrown (gunged) upon them before they climbed into the pool on Deck 8 to get washed down. There were not enough seats for the crowd who wanted to witness this strange, half-baked production. One of my 680dotcom put on a brave face but I’m not sure it was in any way good. The pool had to be closed, emptied, and cleaned as a result.
DAY 34 – AT SEA – WORLD ART DAY
Still in the Adriatic with Liberia to starboard and Brazil (a little way off!!) to port. Usual morning activities slightly heightened by mild Art Day celebrations in the watercolour class. Yes, we painted bookmarks to be sold in the fundraising Fair in a few days. The best (or the first hundred?) would be signed by the Captain. Excitement ensued.
Attended enriching talk about seabed techtonic plates and mountains. An approachable introduction to continental drift. The poor scientist, Alfred Wegnener, who came up with the theory was rubbished for it in 1915 and it took 50 years to prove him right. Now he’s got a school of geography named after him.
Cinema gave a filmed ‘As You Like It’ by the RSC because the touring group were on board. Directed by Kimberly Sykes, it was fast paced and funny with splendid ensemble performances. As usual, I wished the camera angles had been locked off – zooming and reframing to suit cinematic tastes do nothing to enhance stage presentation of voice and attitudes.
Dinner ended with us all pressed against the windows looking out at the water. Andrew had sighted ‘Green stuff!’ What could it be? Chunks of bright green blobs floated haphazardly in and out of view. Was it some disgusting discharge from the ship? Some horrid pollution from a vile factory? Some dumped rubbish? Or could it be entirely natural? We trooped up on deck, mobilised, and excited by the mystery. Finally, we agreed, it must be a seaweed. There was too much of it and too far away for it to be caused by us!
DAY 35 – AT SEA
Near Sierra Leone, Guinea and Guinea Bissou, we’re headed around West Africa – turned the corner if you like. Or gone round the bend. One week to go. Hard to imagine re-entry into real life. Whatever that means!
The Country Fayre (Or Sea Fair): Action and excitement in the Ballroom as staff and volunteer guests prepared games and stalls for the throngs to play skittles, buy art work (so many bookmarks!), second-hand ballgowns and the medical team explained first aid and emergency care on board. They seemed very capable. I arrived just at closing, enjoyed a one minute massage and played Live Fruit Machine, where three staff members sat in separate booths with a bowl of fruit. On a signal given by their whistling attendant, the three lifted their choice of fruit in unison. Obviously, if all three chose an apple, prizes were on offer. I was faced with an orange, a kiwi and an apple. De dah.
And guess what I found on the way out? I found the ENGINEER’S display as they were packing up. No time for piercing questions. Grrrrr.
DAY 36 – AT SEA
Usual day, topped by Enriching Informative Talk given by the designer of the QM2, Stephen Payne. A nautical architect, he presented a well-worn speech beginning with his early childhood Blue Peter experience. A personal connection that drove the narrative of his address in a heartfelt manner.
QM2 evolved in our minds as his life’s work. She is the Only Ocean Liner at work today on the world’s oceans. The best ship ever. Unless, he quipped, someone in the (captive) audience has two billion handy and he’ll make another even better.
My heart sank when he said the four pods were equivalent to four jumbo jet engines. One jet has four engines. Jumbos can carry 366 passengers. Let’s say 8 jumbo jets to carry 3000 people from Sydney to Southhampton in, say, 24 hours – ish. (Interestingly, during the airport strikes in the UK, I took the Eurostar from London to Paris and asked how many passengers they usually carried. The staff member I spoke to said between 650 and 800 people – approximately double the amount on a plane. So that has to be less emissions per person.)
SIDE NOTE: Hearsay from a Chinook pilot. It takes one ton of av gas to get a Chinook helicopter (flown by British airforce) into the air. Then it takes a ton of av gas to fly one mile. It makes sense that a ship is lifted up by the water upon which it travels, while a plane has to blast off before it is cruising.
Check out interesting infographic here.
I don’t know. YOU do the math. If a vehicle stays on the ground it will use less fuel. That much we know.
We passed between the cape Verde Islands to port and the coast of Senegal (capital city Dakar) and Mauritania to starboard, the Westernmost point of continental Africa. Then, altering course past Cap Blanc, only around 20 nautical miles to starboard.
DAY 37 – AT SEA
Dolphins rolling through the waves – I watched them as I cleaned my teeth. At least a dozen, curving lazy through the unctuous waters. No rush. Such a contrast to the ebullience of the wild splashing NZ crowd seen from the train near Kaikura!
Stephen Payne OBE, the QM2 designer, enriched us with a talk about airships, another of his passions. Once again, the magic of hydrogen power is seen as our saviour. New airships recently developed seem incongruous at best. How can they possibly be economic or sustainable? Although he described clearly power needed to lift balloons and the shape of the craft and their purpose, I did not understand what caused their direction shifts. Surely to alter the course of such a vehicle would take energy? Where does that come from, then?
Sat through the credits of ‘Wakanda Forever’ in awe of the amount of CGI and VFX firms from around the world involved. After ‘The Woman King’, another solid empowerment film, I think Wakanda advocates for nobility and peace, but I can’t be sure due to the amount of spectacular fight scenes. Lots. I mean, LOTS. I did wonder what James Cameron thought of the Blue Warriors? They weren’t really blue – more pale and watery. And scary. Nice origin stories and an heir to the throne to take the pressure of the Princess. Interested to see what will happen next. Their work is done.
Also, as we in the QM2 go further North into the Atlantic Sea (where they’re apparently searching for vibranium) there is a bit more movement from our ship. Looking forward to some land.
DAY 38 – MY BIRTHDAY IN TENERIFE! (which, as I write, is under threat of wildfire)
Long bus ride up to the base of Mount Teide, the feature volcano in a ring of them around a caldera (geographical cauldron or bowl). Mount Teide is 7,300m above sea level and is the third largest volcanic mountain in the world. Bar the two in Hawaii.
We were amazed by the dramatic arid outcrops reaching up to the iridescent blue skies over us. This extreme environment is home to a large Astro-physics observatory and science hub. Brian May (scientist and guitarist) wants his ashes there. The landscape, standing in for the wild west, alien landscapes and fast roads, plays host to many ads and films. Rachel Welsh filmed 1,000,000 years BC, while some of you may have seen The Clash of the Titans and there’s a recent Amazon blockbuster to look forward to.
A loud American lady took our guide to task for only giving us twenty minutes to see the dramatic lava film location sites while we were parked in by two other buses. What was the rush? She was quite right, we could have had more free time to galumph in the bumpy laval terrain but the driver was trying to work to a timetable. Could he have predicated the amount of buses surrounding us? How often does the QM2 come up the hill?
On the way up we stopped at Bambi Café, (totally suitable name, don’t you think?) and on the way down we were released from the bus to gaze upon ‘La Torta’, a mini-flysh, an uprising of geological layer cake.
Drove back down the mountain through pine forests reminiscent of the those around Rocio in Andalucia. Winding roads gliding down from the pristine clear oxygen less air, looking down on the carpet of clouds, and down through the misty clouds themselves and down to the city scape hugging the coast and then into the roads and buildings of the city.
The centre of town was very like the traffic free areas of Sevilla. I felt right at home, walking across the bridge and straight into the Correos. Posted a handful of postie cards and had my usual charming chatter with kind staff. Found tourist info in a graceful old castle. I wish I’d examined that building more closely but I was hungry. My sister had kindly given me some euros for birthday lunch and snack purchasing but I was interested in exchanging my rand/rupees. I was directed to a Rock and Roll Tee Shirt Shop that would have happily taken my American dollars but that was as foreign as the currency was allowed.
I was very happy strolling around the food department at Corte d’Inglis. I used to live next to this department store in the middle of Oveido – there’s at least one in every Spanish city – and they sell exactly the same stuff.
On return to QM2 the Captain’s report included reassuring remarks about the light smoke discovered in the Princess Grill area. The fault had been isolated and the first response teams could stand down. The ship’s company was also allowed to stand down. The guests who had been dining in the Grill were evacuated so I suppose they had been lightly smoked as well.
I received a large birthday card from Cunard. If there are 2,100 passengers plus 1500 staff aboard on this day (we have been shrinking in number since Sydney), one twelfth of that is about 2,225 so there could be at least seventy people sharing my birthday. I was worried Richard, the caring Head Waiter would come at me with concern about lack of vegan cake but he didn’t.
I suppose the food has to have economy of scale but considering the cost of the meat/fish plates, you’d think a vegan spread could be quite easy to get right. Tonight there was quite a nice cucumber/radish/endamame salad: 4 strips of cuc, 3 bits of beet garnished with 3 beans. Then, a mushroom stroganoff, clearly mushroom soup with rough bits on the shrooms and nothing else. Luckily there was some rice. No leaf, no sprinkle, just lumpy soup. HOWEVER, there was a pleasant vanilla slice. Glad I found a jolly pasta place for lunch in Tenerife!
DAY 39 – AT SEA
Near Madeira and Portugal.
I’ve visited the most Westerly point of the Iberian Peninsula on foot and now I could see it from the sea. Another brilliantly sunny day – the Captain reported it would be our last. Also, at sunrise, a lattice of contrails became apparent. Constant stripes across the sky all day.
I was really looking forward to speaking to my son Felix for his birthday. Trying to calculate the best time. 22:30 would be either his 07:30 or 08:30 depending on the ship’s variable time. Either would be within reason, unless he’d had a heavy night before …
I took the opportunity to indulge in a birthday massage. My lovely Melbourne friends had gifted me some cash before I left, exhorting me to spend it on something I would not normally buy. So a Wellness-Centre Massage in an ocean liner seemed to fit that bill. The masseuse told me she was on duty from 07:30 to 21:30 with one hour off for lunch and another for dinner. She will have three months off beginning in July. She says she spends the first three weeks trying to sleep but her sons don’t let her. I met my steward Roy afterwards and asked about his holiday rota. He told me he will have to undergo further training during his three months off back home in the Philippines. So not all R&R.
Although my masseuse was very kind she was also a strong salesperson and tried very hard to upsell me from the basic US$125 but I thought that was enough use of the Frag money at this stage. I’m still looking for the other half of their gift. So generous of them. Grazie mille, Gals!
The masseuse came from Bali. Her two sons were at home with dad. Both her parents died of Covid. I didn’t ask about her husband’s parents. Too sad. A sombre heart note to the proceedings.
For the rest of the birthday I planned more work on my project, dinner, perhaps jazz in the Chart Room that has no charts and, exceptional, stargazing. There was an astronomer on board!
I went down to the purser’s office to talk to Solomon who had initially suggested I bring my devices and chargers down and he’d set me up with ship’s internet access. Although there are people working remotely using daily internet as a matter of course, I considered it a luxury, tantamount to an expensive massage, though I’m sure it was cheaper than that. But when he heard my birthday story, Solomon picked up the purser’s phone and dialed right through to Australia. So I stood at the purser’s desk and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to my son Felix in the Grand Lobby.
I popped up to stargaze and found the Southern Cross absent. Slight pause while a volunteer went to ask the officers if they could turn off the bright lighting around Deck 13. The astronomer and his wife made an informative team as a small crowd in evening dress clustered around the official ship’s telescope. Venus was burning bright. Apparently, a few weeks ago we were in opposition to Mars. I’m not sure how that worked. Would Mars have been in transit across the sun? Another missed rare phenomenon.
It was very strange being up late at night surrounded by the legs of dinner suits and swirls of ball gown skirts around me. I was looking up at them. I was just wearing warm clothes and a beanie so decided to sit down and lean back on my hands to see the stars without breaking my neck. Another moment of perspective.
On this night, one hundred years ago, the first Cunard Ocean Liner, RMS Laconia, completed a World Voyage.
DAY 40 – AT SEA
Still Felix’s birthday all day. Not sure the internet was working as I attempted further communication but I’d sent physical things – hopefully he will feel I’d made connections.
The Queen Mary 2 passed the Queen Victoria today. We were just past Finisterre. The captain and crew got overexcited. As my sister said, ‘Boys toys.’ We were romping along at 23 knots while Queen Vic dragged along at 16. The ship’s company lined up to give three hearty cheers (we weren’t organised to do that) and both Queens made noises of different tones. There was a great parping of horns – they call them whistles. I was leaning on the handrail at the prow – or as close to the bow as we can get by the waterbreak – and the sound of the whistles went right into my skeleton. My chest shook with the vibrations. Even though I’d stuffed my ears with screwed up tissues it was still bloody loud.
Mind you, directly after the tooting and waving, QM2 slowed down considerably as we entered the major shipping channels leading to the UK.
Day 41 – ENGLISH CHANNEL
When I walked into the nippy weather, heading towards breakfast, I saw a swallow flipping and zipping around the stern of the ship. Out over the pool and surrounds it cavorted, then into the covered walkway by deck 7. I followed but too slowly to see where it went. Later I thought I saw it again by the pool but perhaps I imagined it.
The pools were drained. There was not much point in putting out the sun loungers. I did see one lady, wrapped up in towels like a mummy, watching the horizon from one of the big wooden chairs.
I put the final stitch into my sea tapestry – only ever sewn on board ships. And I finished my last library book to deliver to the library fifteen minutes late.
Although I had paid the automatic gratuities Cunard garnishes from their guests shipboard account, I presented super waiters Arnold and Chester with their cards (boy, would they be happy with my amateur water colour efforts – perhaps appeased by useful though small UK note attached). Richard accepted his gratefully, and later remarked the painting must have taken some time which was pleasant validation. Steward Roy also appeared to like his card. I had previously discovered the Pursers Desk provided report cards where you could commend staff for their excellence. I set about reporting my valuable helpers’ exemplary work in the hope they would get some kind of bonus. I believe it had something to do with badges but hoped it was a pay rise.
Early arrival in Southhampton expected at 10pm due to a technical issue. Apparently there was a problem on board – one assumes it might have had something to do with the light smoke in the airconditioning system that caused the Princess Grill to be evacuated – and the Captain felt it better to get to port ASAP.
The farewells were not all one way. Anne gave me the cutest little elephant. She had found some yarn in her wardrobe and, being a potter, painter and crochet artist, set about making everyone presents. It is a treasure. Her Ode to Table 680 was warmly received at the last committee meeting. She is a brilliant soul.
For the last dinner Cunard Tradition demands The Parade of the Chefs. Someone made a speech introducing the luminaries of the kitchen but the speakers were broken upstairs so only the downstairs centre of the Great Hall could hear. But we all applauded and waved our table napkins with gusto as the white uniforms marched past – we had the final revolving door so saw them all disappear back work. It seemed suitable for our 680 committee to applaud Chester and Arnold and our sommelier (I don’t drink wine so I’m not sure of his name) personally.
Stood for a good hour and a half on the observation deck watching as we came through the Solent and into port. Dressed warmly with rain poncho acting as windbreaker. Man next to me on the phone, spoke with his son on shore, who was sending photos of the approaching ship from the outside looking in. My fellow passenger was excited, after three and a half months away, to see his 4-year-old grandson. The family chattered together on the mobile and then they could see the light of each other’s torches and then they were all talking and the 4-year-old was thrilled and they would see each other first thing tomorrow! Bye bye!
Suitcases lined the hallways and sweaty workers piled them onto trolleys filling up quickly by the lift wells.
Intensely grateful to have booked a large table so I didn’t have to spend 41 nights reading a book whilst munching. There’s nothing wrong with reading a book and eating but I did that at breakfast and lunchtime and variety is the spice and so forth. Lucky escape! Thanks, table 680!
DAY 42 – DISEMBARK
Normal routine finished – obviously. Had quick brekkie and Watching the booze, fruit and veg deliveries for QM2 pile up on the dock. The ship had to be repaired and then head to NY the next morning. More and more deliveries arrived.
I took my pack and went to find my tablemates clustered in the Grand lobby. We’d been given a staggered time to leave but decided we would stagger out in our own sweet time. Following the tide of ‘guests’ I arrived in a cavernous luggage hall arranged in a colour-coded grid. This is where the extraordinary amount of matching expensive luggage simply took my breath away. People had brought a fantastic amount of suitcases. I found my little one-way roller and, together with my two packs, front and back, marched away from my QM2 home of six weeks and out into Southhampton streets. There were the ancient city walls. Here was a blue plaque stating Jane Austen used to live here. And my little modern hotel right next to the Carnival building.
I stood in the queue, expecting to store my bag until my room was ready, and listened to the woes of the people in front of me. Here were QM2 ‘guests’ who had just been notified the ship’s technical problems had proved insurmountable and their ocean cruise to NY would not proceed. The hotel staff told me they had many customers trying to extend their stay as a result. I thought of all those NY Round-the-World ‘guests’ who would have to find their own way home after four months at sea. They would miss that final dramatic flourish of sailing into NY at dawn.
I thought of the pallets of fresh fruit and veg that would not be going to NY – I suppose they would be redistributed to the rest of the fleet? I hoped the staff’s jobs would be safe. I assume Carnival have a system to protect jobs in the event of a distruption to sailing?
Further away, in the Honiton train station waiting room the next day, while waiting for my WorkAway chum, I befriended a couple who had tickets to NY on the QM2. They were enquiring about tickets to Gatwick. They were really annoyed, not necessarily because their cruise was cancelled, but because Carnival had also cancelled the accompanying flights home. Everything to do with the cruise would be reimbursed. However, the flights had been booked months in advance at a suitably economical price. Now, at the last minute, this couple were looking at three times the original price.
Things go wrong …
What happened in August when the mountain came down over the alpine railway tracks? I caught a plane. Ridiculously, a stopover, so two planes. Metro, RER, bus, plane, plane – shame. I felt such a failure. There was a time constraint, of course. Time, money and emissions.
I can’t remember if I said I’d never fly again. Did I swear I never would?
Who said, ‘When people ask “Why do you care about the environment?” I tell them, ‘Because I live there.'” ???
All the queuing involved in cruise ship pales into insignificance when the ridiculous panic of airport border control – stripping, emptying, untying, repacking all in a thrice – only to sit for hours while people organise the plane. Miles of walking and I saw people running, awkward, pained, between far distant terminals – some with babies and desperation. Why is it so urgent? So they can make more money for the shareholders?
People in the UK say, ‘It is what it is’.
But it’s not. The air industry keeps growing. Of course we all offset, (here’s what The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says about that) but mitigation isn’t enough. We have to stop emissions. Who is willing to change? As I flew in circles over Europe, I despaired.
I made it to work on time. What does that matter in the face of the Libyan floods?
We live in a changing world. See how that works right now.
Who cares? When I bought that ticket, I felt defeated.
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 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.
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
We’re not in Melbourne anymore
DAY 4 – at sea – 3m swell in languid sea – cool
First challenge of day – laundromat. I hastened a few doors down the corridor from me, after the gym, to beat the early worms. Strangely, although the sign says open at 07:30, I found some washing already in progress. It is possible it had been left at lock-up at 21:30 and it’s equally possible I hadn’t checked the ship’s time. (We regularly lost hours as we travelled back through the latitudes.)
There’s nothing wrong with the laundromats per se. On deck 8, there were two machines, two dryers and one ironing board. On my deck 6, a small thin area held four washers and four driers against one wall and, here’s where it gets interesting, usually about three humans squashed in beside two ironing boards. Waiting. Watching. Arms folded across chests. Guarding. Judging.
There was palpable tension one day I visited when a young woman had been found guilty of emptying a finished machine into ‘dirty’, ‘greasy’ (not as far as I could tell) baskets. Bright and breezy, I liked to enter, check times on the machines, and engage the watchers with cheery chat, effectively clearing out ‘guests’ with my gusto, and then to engage remaining fellow ‘guests’ in fantasies about what we would like to see in improved laundrettes. Space, obviously. One passenger hoped for a kitchen table, where people could sit in comfort. There was a magazine rack in the gym – could that be replicated? Surely tea and coffee making facilities were possible? Why not take out a neighbouring cabin (oh, really, take out more potential income? What about one used as a wardrobe?)
One passenger surmised Cunard hoped folk would purchase the laundry service on offer from the staff (for extra money). I don’t want to repeat other rumours – other than to say it’s possible fellow ‘guests’ may not behave in a ‘guestly’ manner when their undies are threatened! Perhaps you might like to spill the tea in the comments? However, let us not dwell on dirty washing. Let’s go out on deck, breath in sea air, raise our eyes towards the horizon and think of the future. Where are we bound?
Every day the Captain gave us navigational updates in his noon broadcast. You could opt in if you were in your cabin, by tuning in to the correct tv channel, otherwise you could pop out on deck or into one of the public bars or spaces to listen to his dulcet English tones. He told us where we were, where we were heading, and the weather. He would add an intriguing piece of seafaring information, such as the origins of port and starboard, or the reasons a ship’s speed is measured in knots.
There were regular presentations in the Illuminations Cinema/Planetarium/Lecture Hall about upcoming destinations. After Melbourne, our next port of call was Kangaroo Island in South Australia. We were lucky to have a talk from Professor Dennis Foley (who did not look much like Professor Gary but maybe … ) He sped through a series of intriguing stories that only left me wanting more. Luckily each talk is replayed on the internal tv system so you can catch repeats at your leisure.
He told us the Aboriginal history of the island is unclear. The First Nation name is Karta Pintingga, ‘Island of the dead’. When white settlers, sealers and whalers, arrived two hundred plus years ago, they reported they never saw people there. Well, they would, wouldn’t they. But middens suggest there were people living on Karta Pintingga 16,000 years ago and later evidence suggests there might have been people there 2,000 years ago but no one knows why they left. There’s a dreaming story of a powerful man who mistreated his wives so badly they ran away. He was so powerful he was able to cause the waters to rise enough to split the island away from the mainland and turn the poor fleeing women to stone. You can still see them as islands named, ‘The Pages’, in 1802 by explorer Matthew Flinders.
Unfortunately, American and European sealers and whalers kidnapped indigenous women from the mainland. Apparently, many of the Kangaroo Island landmarks are named after those first women. Not Nobby’s Head, I’m guessing.
DAY 5 – sunny and gusty – we anchored off the island (KI) early
On ‘Shore Days’ the Kings Buffet opened early for toast and coffee type breakfasts. I was due to report for my Group 4 tour at 07:15. I ate as much as I could because Australia has strict Border Controls – especially regarding fruit flies – and I couldn’t take food off the ship.
I hurried up to wait in a Cruise Queue for the tender to the beach. The island itself looked green and flat and far away. The sea looked sparkly and big. When you see a picture of Queen Mary 2, the small orange ships tied up neatly between Deck 7 and Deck 8 are the tenders. Apparently they can hold over a hundred people each. Gulp. (NB they are not the lifeboats.) There is a 1.5m mark on the floor as the passengers approach the portal to the tender. Staff are assigned to make sure each ‘guest’ can easily step over this space as the gap between wharf and tender can be problematic for those with mobility issues. Safety is a serious business for ‘guests’ and staff. Bonus, if you can’t get to shore, great time to get your washing done.
There was a technical hitch even at that early stage but finally we were loaded onto the boats and began to putter away from our Mother ship, The Queen. Straightaway, we sideswiped the landing deck, and no one was laughing, especially not the crew or the observing officers. But we got under way, and I was up on the roof, hanging onto a guard rail and enjoying myself immensely in the rolling waters. The young skipper had to make a large circle around the beach to avoid the swells.
We eventually landed at the wharf, piled onto our jolly tour bus, and headed off for a very long drive to see The Remarkable Rocks. The driver pointed to his two reserved front seats and asked if anyone wanted to move forward? Of course, I wanted to sit in the front.
As did, let’s call her Callie from California, a woman who warned, when she came to sit beside me, she had a chronic cough, and she did. She assured me she did not have Covid. She’d had this cough for years and she’d seen hundreds of doctors. Over time she’d discovered drinking carbonated drinks helped. The poor woman spent the entire trip drinking litres of the stuff. If she wasn’t coughing her lungs out, wracking her body into exhaustion, she was drinking, or eating chips, ice-cream, chewing gum … She was reasonably thin for the amount of cola and ginger beer she put away – an indication of the energy taken by her coughing. It wasn’t restful for either of us.
After a long and winding road, we saw them. Beautiful, twisted rocks carved out over thousands of years stood at the edge of the island. Remarkable. I wonder if Dame Barbara Hepworth ever visited? She probably would have gone even bigger if she had! Paying attention to Gary’s severe safety warnings, Group 4 wandered through these elemental sculptures and the air became redolent with some sweet succulent from this coastal world.
We were then driven by jolly Gary ‘boom-boom’ to Admiral Arch, another natural wonder, a gateway for seals to enjoy a series of flat bathing rocks. The sun glinted from sea and seal alike. The smooth beasts relaxed and flapped and splashed in ideal landscapes. One large fellow flung his head back as he lounged on an outcrop in the middle of one of these pools, looking as carved and solid as a feature fountain.
As we made our way to the camping ground for our lunch stop, Gary, in more serious mode, related some of the awful fire tales of 2020, with extreme wild-life disappearances and injuries, and extensive bush damage. Over half the island burned. Most of the Flinders Chase National Park, 96%, was affected. The fire burned for weeks. The evidence grim, obvious all around us, the abundant new growth in stark contrast to the ghostly remaining stick gums.
I wandered into the camping shop for a decent coffee as Gary handed out the lunch packs, for I suspected there would be nothing there for me. When he too came in for a cappuccino, I plucked up the courage to remind him how, at the start of our trip, he’d interrogated the bus about the gluten free ‘guest’ – acknowledged with a squeaky yes – and he’d nodded, said, ‘That’s all I need to know’ – and ducked off before there was any mention of the only vegan in the village? Yes, he remembered and once more I experienced that sinking feeling as I realised that telling the booking office when I initially bought my fare, the Maitre d’, Richard, my Head Waiter, Arnold and Chester, the excellent waiters at my table, and assorted chefs in the King’s Court was not enough. (There’s 157 chefs on board as well as all the other kitchen staff). I’d assumed that there’d be a ‘V’ on my name come up on a screen where-ever I was, especially when Cunard say all dietary requirements would be catered for. BUT. You just have to keep telling people. NB: Once I got back on board, I was able to visit the ‘Shore Experience’ Tour Office to put suitable notes on my future bookings. However, here and now at the Kangaroo Island Camping Shop, we were faced with an embarrassing situation.
Gary left me in the capable hands of the couple who ran the place – they’d charge any food to the ship. I tried to avoid being a burden, shrinking behind the shelves as the lovely woman marched around, reading labels – so sorry, deliveries would be coming tomorrow – while in self-conscious panic I grabbed a packet of seaweed flavoured rice-cakes, a tomato, and an avocado – easy once the food discussions stopped.
Gary did not have a trusty assistant to help him look after the needs of forty-four ‘guests’. He was driver and tour guide, first aider, comedian, and he had to do all the dishes. I’m not sure why Cunard can’t supply electronic ‘guest’ lists including any special notes for each bus but that would make it too easy, I suppose.
For the Americans (Yanks or Septic Tanks to us Aussies) and the British (Brits or Poms), there was a lone koala up a slender gum tree in the middle of the caravan park common area. Soft, fluffy, and backlit, it looked very pretty against the bright new growth of the tree. Koalas are contentious on Kangaroo Island, regarded as introduced pests before the disaster, the locals feel their greatly reduced numbers after the fires are now sustainable. The camping ground facilities had been totally rebuilt with insurance money resulting from the fires. Gary pointed out dark patches on the road where the fire had been hot enough to melt the metal. He also pointed out ample roadkill. Could they invest in some wildlife bridges or tunnels, especially as they’re currently digging up the place for piping from the new desalination plant?
After lunch we visited dreamy Vivonne Bay, a lagoon with gorgeous turquoise water softly lapping white sands, right next to the surf beach and, over in the distance, Nobby’s Head where we were headed next. Honestly, Nobby’s?
The logistics around forty-four tourists visiting Seal Bay Conservation Park were intense. The humans needed to stay obediently clustered together ten metres away from the animals. The sea lions were ivory white, hairy, stretched out equidistantly along the perfect soft sand beach, completely ignoring the snapping cameras. The humanity stood in full sun and watched a sea lion bodysurf to shore, slide out of the water, and then galumph up the beach. Some did that yoga head-flung-back digestion pose when they arrived, while another, smaller, plopped on top of a parent.
As the guide spoke to one half of the group, and Gary, driver/guide/biologist, to the other half, a woman reached out and tapped her (presumably) partner on the arm and said, ‘Don’t you ever do that to me again.’ And instead of just saying, ‘Sorry, dear, of course not, what was I thinking,’ he came back at her in a belligerent tone. I backed away, thinking further than ten metres away from any animal is a fine idea. And, because I’d distanced myself from the scene, I can’t be sure if it was the same woman who then sank to the sand, gripping a man firmly enough to pull him off balance. I would make a poor witness. The lady stayed on the ground even as two men heaved on her arms to get her to stand. It became clear she was down and not because she’d fallen or twisted her ankle but for some more serious reason. Her head was visible through her hair parting and appeared red. Many of our Group 4 ‘guests’ had eschewed hats. Gary snapped into first aider mode and assistants were radio/walkie-talkied to help her up the boardwalk stairs to the shade of the information centre. I noticed the Defibrillator on the way back. With tours like ours, I bet it gets regular use. I don’t know how she was delivered back to the Mother ship, but I hope she recovered quickly.
Next stop was the Eucalyptus Distillery where we could watch an informative video about a plucky Australian family who pulled themselves up by the gum leaves and Gary could get another cappuccino while the ‘guests’ bought soap, oil, and other eucalyptus trinkets on sale.
By the time we’d seen our last surf beach, and arrived back at the wharf, the sea was undoubtedly rough. I waited back and watched two weighed-down tenders, one with eighty-four and the next with eighty-six, go up and down. And then there was us. I noticed the empty tenders rocked and rolled on the top of the choppy swell, any which way they were thrown, and yet the sea stayed blue and sparkly and cheerful, that deceptive sea. No-one was riding on the roof.
I came in with security staff and crew. Sitting up the front, with presumably more elbow room than the previous ‘guests’, managed to chat with one of the deck crew. He told me they eat well, he liked the fried chicken best, and the salary was good. His English was impeccable. He told me there’s a good industry program in the Philipines. I hope he gets to train as an officer.
Made it in time for dinner to hear some of our passengers had not made it to shore at all, the tenders having ceased running by mid-day because of rough conditions. The crew wisely saved their strength to bring home all the ‘guests’ out on tours.
DAY SIX – Adelaide. Sister! Family! Civilisation! Proper coffee!
I woke early and, after visiting the gym, messaged my sister hows, wheres and whyfores of our family day. I had plenty of time to breakfast and get ready.
Caught the Cunard-supplied shuttle bus into town, met my sister and went about seeing relatives and catching up with more last-minute Things to Do. It was lovely and relaxing with minimal tourism.
Jane supplied me with a coffee plunger and decent coffee and looked at the QM2 daily bulletin I’d brought to show her. She challenged me to try to do all the activities on offer in one day. My eyes ran down the formidable list with a sinking feeling. From Zumba to choir, to learning bridge, cha cha and French conversation, water colours and informative talks – that’s just the morning – I blinked hard. It was impossible. But I did report the challenge to my table-mates and they LOVED it! Accepted! Much debate ensued. One person could not do everything. But could we each take on a task and share the challenge? Or could we try each thing across our weeks at sea?
It is lovely to have conversation slide easily around the big round table. No-one keen to impress or show off and there’s a nice line in teasing banter developing. We agreed we could continue this activity challenge debate at Afternoon Tea the next day.
DAY 7 – at sea – blustery conditions
I clung to Deck 7 handrails to get to the gym entrance at the bow. The wind caused many of the main doors to be closed and I had to duck under a warning barrier belt to get inside. Normally quiet first thing, the gym is quite a pleasant place to be unless everyone else wants to be there.
Today I sat outside the laundrette waiting for it to be unlocked. I managed to start a load before heading off to the Britannia for a bowl of porridge. When I returned, Callie from California had moved my stuff to a ‘greasy’ basket! Then a helpful mansplainer came to tell me how to use the drier. I took advice from a steward who told me shore days were best to use the laundrettes, and failing that, afternoons – now you know.
My activity level needed lifting, so I attended the informative talk by Professor Dennis Foley about Busselton, another tender port, but apparently more sheltered waters. The Aboriginal name for Busselton is Undalup, after the warrior and leader, Undal. It is in Wadandi Boodja, the country of the Wadandi, saltwater people, who have been there for at least 40,000 years. The suffix, ‘– up’, means place: place of Undal-up, Yallingup, where we’d be visiting a cave, is place of holes, Meelup is place of eyes.
Later in the day, I met my tablemates for the important Queen Mary 2 afternoon tea. Together with the Gala Nights, this ceremony rates highly on the reasons passengers book time and time again to cruise with Cunard. We sat up nicely in the ballroom, with a skilled pianist colouring the atmosphere, and suddenly there was a burst of applause. Tradition demands the waiters are greeted with thunderous clapping as they process into the room with the hot teapots. It happens every sea day. I didn’t ask if the sandwiches and cakes had any vegan options. Nice cuppa, though.
During this social event, our table formed a Committee. We nicknamed ourselves 680dotcom (because our table number was 680 if you must know) and I was named head of HR. We enjoyed a long debate about the additional fees for gratuities which are added to our bill. In Australian money it’s about $11 a day and adds up quickly. One of our 680dotcom thought the money was a ruse and went straight to the corporation (Carnival). Later I asked one of the pursers who told me the total is shared out equally with the crew and staff at the end of the cruise section. Another reason I wouldn’t get much change out of my total of Aust $20,000. Some people request the fee be removed, preferring to give their stewards and waiters tips personally. At the end of my six weeks, I did provide my favourites a small sum inside a priceless hand-painted card (made in art class!) but I kept paying the fee. What would you do?
DAY 8 – at sea – tried to set my routine
Gym, shower, breakfast, Italian practice, tapestry, lunch, reading, typing, dinner …
Began to notice … not much wildlife. Lots of sky. Lots of sea. No birds. Although, one of my table-mates reported seeing a distant whale and another had seen a gang of dolphins and two flying fish.
DAY 9 – Busselton – anchored very far away
The Captain announced the winds would rise after 15:00, in fact, I told my neighbour to remember that as we bounced on our way to the long Busselton Jetty. It was once the longest jetty in the world. We didn’t hang around there but piled into tour buses.
We drove to Cape Naturaliste, the point where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian with a swirl of currents and shipwrecks. There was not one wreck after they built the lighthouse. We then proceeded to Ngilgi Cave: still, twisty and curvy. Lit with natural colours, thankfully. Don’t you hate caves lit with lime green and pink spots? This isn’t one of those. Enjoyable apart from the other people. I’ve got enough inanity of my own running through my head without having to listen to more!
On our own Free Time, back in town, made my way to seek food. Not one mention on Happy Cow but found a café with salad and chips. The waiter told me to go and sit near the couch. Just as I arrived to the chair next to the couch, a man put his paper and keys on the table. I asked if I could share the table? I thought there was plenty of room and he muttered something so I sat down and began to get comfy. Wrong. He gave me a serve. Swearing unhappy. Wouldn’t listen to me at all. I’m apologising, getting up, backing away, but no, he leaves the café entirely. So I look around and think, okay, he’s gone, coast’s clear, that’s where the waiter told me to be … so I sit down. And he’s back, barking at me like a wounded terrier! I’m the reason everything is gone to shit in this country, it’s people like me who ruin it for everyone else. I can only stare at him, my fork halfway to my open mouth. Lots of troubles in his house. Ate all the salad and chips.
Back to long jetty. I looked at the enormous line of people baking in the full sun along the long jetty at 15:00, wandered away for a cold ginger ale in a pub – forgot the Captain’s warning – and the wind rose. Got back at 17:00 and we all got a splashed in the half an hour ride back to the Mother ship. Lucky it was a warm day.
One of 680dotcom had been on the Back of House tour (US$120 – limited numbers) and, over dinner, he gave us a detailed report, speaking clearly from excellent notes. Apart from a tour of the kitchens (which would happen again – see upcoming installment) he also visited the medical centre, and the waste department where recycling is separated and crushed (more soon), the staff quarters and the actual bridge plus a photo op and champagne. Another of our party was about to leave us in Perth the next day so we had speeches and I’d made a card in art class! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and went off to see the show. It was split between the Royal Court Ensemble – sort of energetic Kenny Everett dancers and some enthusiastic young singers – plus cheerful headliner, Belinda Adams – fun in a frock – with some old time crowd-pleasing melodies. Best show I’d seen so far.
DAY 10 – Actual docking alongside Fremantle (Freo to the locals)
Instead of sightseeing, it was a personal, magic day of three meetings, one after the other, in three different locations from Freo to Perth and back again, catching up with three inspirational women, each with very different lives. Thank you for a brilliant send off!
One of our 680dotcom, Andrew, reminded me that the Captain interrupted our dinner to make a little speech. He referred to to the significance of leaving that port almost exactly three years to the day after the abrupt cancellation of the QM2’s 2020 cruise due to Covid. Andrew and his wife were among the passengers turned away. This the first time the QM2 had retraced the intended 2020 route. For reasons Andrew couldn’t really understand, he felt a curious compulsion to complete it. Unfinished business. So, for Andrew, the departure that night was very moving – and made more so by all the people along the shoreline waving their mobile phone lights in the growing dark. Andrew was surprised to encounter many other passengers who were in the same situation and felt the same way.
And later, we watched the coast of Australia disappear. Cheerio, Oz.
There was a full moon on Wednesday 8th of March when I moved into the Alto-Eco Hotel on Bourke Street, across from Spenser Street Station, sorry, Southern Cross Station, in Melbourne, Australia. The Southern Cross, a pattern of stars, is not a sight often seen when living in the city. The street lights, the haze of traffic and being in the great indoors prevent seeing even the brightest stars, and very often, even the light of the silvery moon. And of course, that Southern constellation would not be possible to see in the Northern Hemisphere at all. But you can see the train station any time you like, if you’re in Melbourne. Which I was. And I had to get to Sydney to board my ship.
The next day, Thursday 9th March, was my first official day of travel. As usual, two questions, ‘Why do I have so much luggage?’ And, ‘Why is the train so full?’ Two big blokes, packs, bags, and me, all squished into our Daysitter cabin.
Survived, and arrived for a few days to visit wonderful friends and think another common question, ‘How can Sydney be so beautiful?
As I made my way by train across Sydney Harbour Bridge, I caught a glimpse of the Queen Mary 2 floating in the middle of bright blue waters. Immediately recognisable, a pyramid cake topped with the Cunard red funnel, her white stack of decks curved up elegantly, and the dark navy keel smoothly concave down to the red plimsoll line. She was waiting to dock at the Ocean terminal, proudly showing off to Sydney’s ocean-loving populace, half-way through the Centenary World Cruise 2023.
On 12th March, I would be joining her company of nearly two and a half thousand ‘guests’ on a Centennial World Voyage. When I arrived at the wharf, weighed down with two packs and a rolling suitcase, I was transfixed by the great height of the ship. It’s not possible to see the beginning and end of her length while standing, human-size, at dock height. She was daunting. Scary. Beautiful. What the heck was I doing? Commuting to the UK, of course.
Turned out I was one of the later arrivals and marched through what could have been queues, but knowing no different, and having no staff left to welcome me, I remained ignorant. I handed over the suitcase to underlings and climbed the escalator. We’d been sternly informed we must present a photo of a negative RAT taken within 24 hours, showing the time and date.
This duly accomplished, the security staff informed me they’d had to institute this system due to some folk bringing their actual test, naked and unbound, spittle there for all to see and breathe. Poor security staff. After passport control, (yes, leaving on the NZ, traveling on the UK), more staff waved me onboard the second Queen Mary. I had no idea where I was.
My first impression of the Grand Lobby was that it was just like an Australian RSL (Returned and Services Leagues Club). Big, glitzy, curving staircase, showy floral edifice lit by cheesy pink and lime green spots. I had a cabin number, two backpacks and I asked the wrong staff member where to find my room. He must have been new himself, for he shrugged and directed me to the purser’s office. Like hotel reception, here was my first taste of cruise queues, and I listened to the pokies and the self-playing piano in the centre of the glittering cavern while I stood patiently. It wasn’t long before I became dispirited and turned to chat to my companions. The lady I spoke to swayed a little as she told me she couldn’t remember where her last stop was. She knew she’d started in Southampton but she couldn’t remember where she’d gone after that. She would have got out if she could have but she hated flying so much she just couldn’t. She thought she could but she couldn’t, so she had to stay on for another six weeks. She hated it. I found out she was one of over a thousand people already at home in the floating hotel, some having started in New York, some in Southampton. Other folk in the line could remember they’d been in Brisbane before Sydney, and Darwin before that, and they asked if I was newly arrived. As I had my luggage with me, I assumed they were fairly alert, and asked if they could tell me how to find my room.
Well, they said, you should have asked sooner if that’s all you want! You’re on level two now, the lifts are over there, and just go up to Deck 6 and follow the signs on the walls. Just like a hotel. Easily done.
My cabin was at the end of the corridor, with a sheltered balcony. That means if you sit down you can’t see over the railing but if there’s a wind blasting you can get a breath of fresh air. The room had everything I needed: bathroom, bed, desk, tea and coffee making facilities. Right now, harbour views, close to the Bridge, and I was near a swimming pool!
A card on the bed requested my presence at the Britannia Restaurant on level 3 at 6pm. A brief flurry of unpacking, quick donning of my professional English teacher-on-duty costume, before joining a stream of smartly-dressed humans heading towards staircase B.
When my computer found out I’d booked a sea voyage, I was rewarded by some handy YouTube videos giving me advise on solo cruising. I did take one piece of advice – when travelling alone – book the biggest possible table so that you’ll be able to chat to different people rather than be stuck with just one. Imagine. For six weeks. Be like being married. Phew. Possible disaster averted.
When you enter the giant glittering cavern that is the Britannia Restaurant, you are welcomed by a battalion of perfectly presented waiters in smooth black suits. After a short screen search by the Head Waiter, ever polite and smiling, one waiter peels off the disciplined line and sees you personally to your table, in my case, very far away, up on the mezzanine, beside large windows and by the circular door going to the kitchens. I was greeted by a circle of smiling faces. Once seated by yet another smiling waiter, napkin flapped out over my lap, I discovered all but one of my tablemates was retired, and all were habitual travellers. Two had had previous World Cruises booked but were stymied by the pandemic. Now they were relieved to be here, and the bantering began.
Sydney harbour glinted in the sunshine as the first of my awkward dietary requirement discussions ensued. Suffice to say, most food on board involves some kind of cow secretion and Special Diets are complicated.
I don’t want to go into it. Food was eaten.
After dinner, it was time to leave. The sun went down, the Harbour lit up, folk crowded beside the rails with glasses full, binoculars within grasp to glimpse friends and relatives on shore, calls on phones and shouts as Sydney Harbour presented the Opera House and Bridge in full glamour. Families waved their mobile phone torches on shore and were answered by nans and grandads on board.
Tugs hovered around the Queen Mary 2 manoeuvring around ferries and smaller boats and out towards the Heads. Mild weather kept people chatting by the railings even as we came into open sea and deep night. I looked back toward South Head: Watsons Bay, Vaucluse, Dover Heights and Bondi, suburbs I once knew, slipping into darkness, and the lights signifying the coast of NSW eventually disappeared. We were at sea.
Woke early, no land in sight, and began the ritual march around Deck 7 – the Promenade Deck. Noticed, as I was smiling and nodding at fellow ‘guests’, that I was going in the opposite direction. Bah. I was travelling clockwise. Takes three turns to do a kilometre. Not going to tell you about miles. Get over it.
Went to Meditation and which evolved into a basic Stretch class, included in cost of fare, presented by Gym Guy. Not quite what I’d expected – would be the last. Asked him if it were possible to borrow a yoga mat for my room? No. Only enough for gym and classes. The next class, Yoga, would cost extra money which I figured was too much. I’d already decided I’d paid enough for this commute from Oz to UK. So, how much?
Together with insurance packages and shore experiences, my total fare from Sydney to Southampton (6 weeks in a floating hotel) wouldn’t give me much change from Australian $20,000 (about £10,000). You can get cheaper fares but I wanted the balcony for six weeks. You probably have a car. I don’t. I bought a cruise. Or rather, a commute. I was going to the UK and as you know, I don’t like to fly.
Can you afford the time? I could. I had a project to work on at my desk, I had no pressing engagements and, really, it was equivalent to walking the Camino de Santiago – all I had to do was fall into line with the Deck 7 pilgrims going widdershins. Never, I tell you, never. (Well, once or twice if the sun was on the wrong side … ) I’m a clockwise gal.
Breakfast entailed an introduction to the Kings Court Buffet System. This is a confusing beige world of chefs under pressure preparing and serving a wide array of consumables. I’m guessing it was self-serve before Covid. My embarrassing Special Diet requirements finally led me to a separate Chef’s Galley where all the plant-based, gluten-free, FODMAP weirdos could have some sense of belonging. It was also relatively quiet. My happy place.
It is possible to enjoy breakfast in your own cabin or in your assigned restaurant, in my case the Britannia, where you are seated with new people and, again, must have the awkward Special Dietary conversation. I learned it was much easier to see smiling chef William Angel for a dose of porridge and some basic Filipino lessons.
The wait staff are everywhere, (and from everywhere: Filipino, South African, Ghanian, Zambean, Italian, Serbian … ) smiling, obeisant, bowing to Sir or Madam whatever the request, whatever the accent.
Breakfast accomplished; my next major quest was the search for a power adaptor. Of course, my Australian electrics did not fit the British standard plug. The ship shops are primarily duty free, selling booze and shiny glamour handbags or jewellery boutiques although there is a small ‘Everyday’ section where you can buy tee-shirts, key rings and crisps. Not power adaptors. The bookshop is next to the library on Deck 8, but they sold out of adaptors months ago.
The library is charming, wooden, glass-fronted shelves – deep comfy seats to sink into – right at the front of the ship with large windows. QM2 has an extensive splash zone at the prow – she’s designed for big Atlantic waters necessitating space and fencing when she breaks through heavy waves so the ‘guests’ don’t get washed away, but that does mean you can’t get much closer than aprox 70 metres to the bow.
Back to the purser’s officer to make further enquiries about the adaptor. Such helpful people, these pursers. She reached out, took my phone and cable, and told me to come back later. I would have to buy one when we reached our first port. The next day. (Charging the phone didn’t cost me any extra money.)
Given my morning routine on the container ships, I marched up to find ‘Guests’ are not permitted on the bridge unless you pay extra for a rare tour, but you are allowed to watch the mysterious workers glide through their navigations and raise their bins to the horizon through a Bridge Observation Window. Informative posters name the equipment while celebratory plaques and awards hang around the area. Take no photos. No questions. No knocking on the glass. No distractions. A bit like the gorilla enclosure, really.
Next stop was the Observation Deck – a semi-enclosed veranda wrapped around the Adriatic Room at the front of Deck 11. The Adriatic Room is the special club of the Round the World Voyagers – those who had already been on board for two months – natives of NY or UK –they’d already visited Lisbon, Greece, the Suez Canal, Egypt, Thailand and Darwin. Some of the travellers could remember and loved every minute of the shore experiences and ship life. So Swaying Woman was the exception.
The Observation Deck was closed due to high winds as we proceeded south down the coast of New South Wales (stupid name – nothing like Wales – time to change that one). Didn’t seem that blustery to me but I suppose there was a bit of a roll. Back down to the cabin, popped on the togs and went out to join the sun worshippers on Deck 6. But the sun had gone. Hopped in the bubble bath (jacuzzi). The only other fellow in there seemed to have been there for hours. The air was mild, and the water was warm, and the blue horizon was steady. The pale turquoise water in the pool was not. It sloshed one way and then the other and then gurgled out through the pipes in a friendly manner. Beach towels are supplied and often replenished by deck crew.
It was not only my phone that lost power by this point. After a quick shower I took to my bed for a rest. Lethargy overcame me. I missed lunch. I woke to the alarm I’d set for dinner. I felt good. On the way to the restaurant, I noticed a young couple dressed like movie stars, he in black tie and she in sparkly angel with full make-up. Uh oh! It was the Black and White Gala night! I turned and ran back to my cabin and sat panting on the bed. Yes, there was the invitation I’d ignored, thinking a 6pm dinner wouldn’t be part of the hoo haah gala – frocks, orchestra, ballroom dancing, elegance … ‘Guests’ apparently love the Gala nights – seems there’s one a week. I believe there are folk who book an inside cabin just for their wardrobe and changing room. The hairdressers and make-up artists do a roaring trade, as do the photographers. I went in search of my alternative eating zone – but it was no longer there – that’s only for breakfast – the Kings Court buffet offered me a baked spud and salad. They’d already run out of fruit salad. Or maybe they would replenish later. I made do.
There was much to learn on the QM2.
Day three was a Most Exciting Day as it was our first Port. Melbourne. Now you may ask why I could not have begun my voyage from Melbourne. I know I did. However, that is Cunard’s way and it may also be the way of the Australian Border Force for all I know. There will be Gala Nights and there will only be certain ports to begin and end your section of travel. As far as I know, this World Centenary Cruise went Southampton to Sydney, Sydney to Fremantle and Fremantle to CapeTown, Capetown to Southampton. I could land in Melbourne, but I could not go through passport control. There you go. I got to be on a crowded train for hours! Yaaay!
I woke at 03:30 – engines slowed – bright security lights to port – I could only see the pilot’s boat if I leaned out over the railing in an uncomfortable manner. I assumed the pilot climbed up a ladder. There are ports where the pilot gets dropped from a helicopter – Melbourne isn’t one of them. Couldn’t sleep again so went for a mysterious middle of the night wander in a ghost ship.
Little bit scary but fun as I inspected the beautiful prints on Deck 11, the paintings along corridors and in stairwells can be fantastic. Cunard has a reputation for their art collection. I explored the sporting area on Deck 13 and found that seeing stars was problematic due to the artificial lighting. You can imagine why the ship would need lighting around any railing area, I suppose.
I found a screen showing where we were in the Deck 12 Pool Room (of course, I found out later, every screen on board has that channel, all the channels, why even the tv in my own cabin that I’d covered up with a scarf!) I made it back to bed for an hour before my alarm woke me at 06:30 to watch the docking.
Very satisfying sunrise and gentle approach into Melbourne, not the most glamorous of ports, is it?
I was really anticipating seeing my beloved son, Felix, in Melbourne, but worried about the phone charge running out again before we could speak. I was late getting off the ship as I didn’t realise we had to queue to scan our voyage cards before leaving. See? The cruise queues. We meet again.
My dreams of casual coffee were dashed as I marched urgently along the Port Melbourne bike path as the 109 trams were incapacitated. Two hours late I met Felix, drank coffee, and charged the phone. And we made plans which included buying a phone adapter!
Melbourne passed in a haze of ticking off Things To Do, fare-welling son, and then back on board for more cruise queues.
This is how to meet people on a cruise. Stand in lines. I discovered quite a few other Melbourne locals who had returned home to finish their cleaning/organising tasks! And the relief at a decent cup of coffee! More on that next time …
And so we left Melbourne. The voyage has begun.
I don’t know how he managed to find container ships after the pandemic – his persistence is extraordinary!
Do homo sapiens have a purpose?
Nik Meergans, a British artist now living in France, once remarked that if we humans have any purpose in life, it is to mix things up. Humans like to take things (plants, minerals, people) from one place, one country, to somewhere else, and stir things up. It’s what we’re good at. Why, I’ve often been called a stirrer. We take minerals from one place and make steel train lines, we take coffee beans, load them on ships and send them off to Melbourne to be pressed into service. The Eden Project explores the idea of mixing to the max: one crop, one exploitation, and one cargo ship at a time.
It was a quiet walk through mist-rain from the YHA down to The Eden Project in Cornwall. Past fruit-flavoured (strawberry, melon, mango, pineapple, lime … ) carparks (they expect a lot of cars!!), past a gorgeous orchard surely older than twenty years (the Project’s age), to join a stream of people arriving into the visitors’ centre. I was one of the first of the day to buy my £35-year-pass. Only, I shan’t be back this way. Is it a little bit expensive for a day trip?
I took the information booklet that acts as an entry pass and went straight away to coffee and cake. (Is it vegan? I think it’s gluten free? Shall we look that up and read out all the ingredients to make sure the customer is well and truly reminded they’re a weirdo?) Once seated and relaxed I perused the information book. It’s so thorough I couldn’t really grasp the concept on one quick read. However, it is a great reminder of what you’ve seen after the event. I dressed in my waterproofs and walked outside into the Eden Project.
Previously, I was under the impression the Project was a glorified botanical garden, and initially I wasn’t impressed as I marched the long way through the Climate System and the incessant light rain (Cornish mizzle – cross between mist and drizzle). I asked a gardener about frogs (silent in the rain) and he said there were lots. They find them in random places, but he dodged the question of them singing. Maybe English frogs are quiet?
Into the Core, where a museum display illustrated big universes and microorganisms, and then I turned a corner and saw ‘Blue’. It’s an 8.5 metre ceramic cyanobacteria, the smallest form of life, emitting random scented smoke rings like a giant hookah-smoking blue peanut. Here art and science began to provoke thoughts.
The smoke forms a perfect O for oxygen, the beginnings of life. There’s an inspiring film about the origins of the sculpture and the international team (Studio SWINE) that created it. I enjoyed watching different people interact with the rings. One boy would make up his mind at the last minute; either smash it or loop it over his arm like a bracelet.
The Core houses a variety of changing exhibitions and displays to inspire and create wonder. The current is ‘Invisible Worlds’.
After examining the inner world, I went outside again to find a biome. Two of these giant bubble shapes nestle into the hillside of what used to be a quarry. Built like insect eyes, in the misty rain of the morning, they appeared ghostly and perfectly suited to their environment.
The Mediterranean Biome is smaller, built up into a cliff, and represents plants and crops found around the Mediterranean, South Africa, and Western Australia. Now, I really was intrigued, as only recently I’d visited both WA and SA on my journey to the UK. Olives, grapes and bougainvillea, oleanders and proteas, fine leafed SA rarities and WA banksias side by side, describing my shore experiences! And if you want good mixers, geraniums and agapanthus, amarylis and gladiolus are all originally South African.
But it was when I entered the Rainforest Biome, probably twice the size as the drier climate, with tall lush canopy trees almost brushing the inside of the dome, walkways through the glossy green treetops and that enormous ocean liner sculpture at the entrance that I began to feel a real affinity with the scope of the Project.
Not only are we treated to a recreation of a rainforest, seeing a collection of plants from four different zones: Southeast Asia, West Africa and Southern and Central America, but also industrial crops such as sugar and coffee, cacao and rubber, palm oil and spices, giving more than a hint of past exploitation and colonial greed. As we travel through the Amazon rainforest photos of indigenous tribal people describe their vulnerability as ongoing destruction continues.
A great, international story unfolds, from seed to plate, soil and microorganisms to tall trees and orangutans. The story is enormous, yet school children run across a rope swing bridge that highlights how a rainforest creates its own rain, screaming cheerfully when the fog cloud is turned on. They don’t get wet, but you can be sure the teacher will expect them to talk about their canopy experience when they get back to school!
You can climb to the very top where the temperature was 31 degrees Centigrade the day I visited. Many clothes are shed in this biome! I noticed a school group participate in the chocolate adventure – one youngster even dressed as a Mayan God. I attended a coffee tasting and discussion as we stood near a group of arabica and robusta bushes. What countries grow coffee successfully? Who is exploited? What happens when the plants escape the farms and invade native forests? I also happened upon a tea tasting – guess the spices – you’ll have to visit yourself; I’m not going to tell you.
The message is clear, your weapon is your wallet. Gentle suggestions encourage consumers to try single origin, certified products. If supported by Fairtrade or the Rainforest Alliance, even better. You’re supporting farmers to grow more sustainably, more intelligently and feed their grandchildren into the future.
For adults in any doubt about climate change, there’s a chance to see some well-presented evidence. If they don’t ‘see’ it, then their children might. There’s a hopeful assumption that we’re all working together to keep fossil fuels in the ground, and we are developing enough new technology to get moving yesterday and there’s more Eden Projects all over the world. Look for them in Hobart and Angelsea in Australia and the redzone in Christchurch, NZ. There a new water project in China, which will also be reflected in Cornwall due to a major destructive earth slide in 2020. There’ll be one in Costa Rica, one in Chad, Northern Ireland, Morcambe, Dundee and Dubai.
The art continues in the extensive gardens and surrounding displays. For locals there are concerts, playgrounds and changing exhibitions. What a wonderful way for us mix-it-up humans to reconnect with history and look at the entire planet as it was and is and how it could be. All this within a few hectares. Travel without travel. But I have traveled; I’ve sailed halfway around the world on a liner. I’ve brought things to the UK: my Taiwanese iodine, my Canadian moisturiser, my Australian metal water bottle, some biscuits from Cape Town.
I docked at Southampton in late April after spending six weeks at sea on The Queen Mary 2, the only ocean liner in active service. She’s not a cruise ship – she’s a liner – due to the deeper keel, higher speeds, greater engine power, the pyramid shape for stability and overall endurance. At least, that’s what the designer, Stephen M. Payne told us in his presentation.
I will be posting about my QM2 adventures soon.
Meanwhile, are you a mixer?