Sunday, 6 January 2013

Cruise Part II

First glimpse of Madagascar  
It promised to be a sweltering hot day on the morning of the 31st when we cruised into the harbour of Madagascar’s Fort Dauphine (named after the 6 year old French prince who would later become Louis XIV, the Sun King of France).

View of Sinfonia - lens misted up due to high humidity
New harbour built by Rio Tinto

 I do not think I would have been able to get Hennie on deck that early if it was not that the competition of the company he works for had a big ilmenite mine there and was actually responsible for building the port where we would dock.  In the past passengers were ferried by means of dinghies to the shore, but thanks to Rio Tinto we could now disembark with dry feet on the newly built ore export port.

Bay of Galleons

Market in Fort Dauphin

Baguettes - previously a french colony

 Madagascar, though rich in biodiversity, is quite a poor country with approximately 90% of its 22 million inhabitants living on less than 2 dollars a day.  The arrival of the cruise boats is thus a big event and you could see the cars streaming to the port to do business as we were still trying to manoeuver into the single berth.  Lots of people became impromptu guides for the day. 

T-bone for anyone?

We did a quick tour of the city.  It was quite dilapidated with pot-holed streets and shacks abound.  We drove through a typical African market and it was amazing to see all the different types of grains and rice on offer.   

Village life

Mr Crocodile

King Julien - ring tail lemur


Afterwards we paid a visit to a botanical garden - a virtual Garden of Eden.  Beautiful!  The variety of fauna and flora was spectacular and also saw some of the flesh-eating plants that are endemic to the area.  We were lucky to see two different types of lemurs, out of the more than 100 different species, including King Julien XIII of the Madagascar Movie fame (ring tail lemur).  The beaches of southern Madagascar are not called the Cote d’Azur of the south for nothing.  The finest sand draws you to the clear blue warm water of the Indian Ocean at the Bay of the Galleons.  After a quick stop to buy vanilla pods we were on our way back to the boat for an afternoon nap and necessary "charging of the batteries" for the New Year's party(ies).

Get the party going

Bread sculptures

Food, glorious food

No, he has not yet drank anything!

Count-down to NY!
The New Year’s Eve party was a blast.  We sipped on our bottle of Pongraz, which by the way probable cost close to what you would be paying for a bottle of Dom or Veuve in France.  Since Madagascar is 1 hour ahead of South Africa, we celebrated Madagascar New Year at 24h00, then South African New Year at 01h00, but I am sad to report by the time they celebrated New Year in Italy (02h00) Hennie and I were safely tucked up in bed.

24h00 - 2013 in Madagascar
01h00 - 2013 in South Africa
Going back the ship was going much slower, and it was either that or some kind of tropical storm around Mauritius that caused the swells to grow bigger and everyone, sober or not, developing a silly little side-step.  Sleeping felt like being in a rocking chair.  Obviously the movement of the boat instantly turned the pool into a Lost City Wave pool to the utmost delight of the kids.  I think you would have been able to surf in the pool.  As the cruise director said, “we must be getting closer to South Africa, thus the increase in the number of potholes we are striking”.

Disembarkation was a picture of efficiency, and because we have booked a shuttle to the airport, we were issued light blue labels for our luggage, thus allowing us to be some of the first people off the ship.  By 08h00 the morning we were already at the airport, and met sis and family for brunch before catching the flight home!  It was fun, but “been there, done that!”.


Cruise Part I

MSC Sinfonia
With the wonderful knowledge that only the internet can bring, we headed for the airport knowing that parking in the carport parking lot will cost us slightly less than using the Gautrain – even with the Gautrain’s R1/day parking special for airport users.  Thus being afforded an additional 30 minutes of valuable sleep we set off to OR Tambo for our Second Holiday.  A cruise - something we promised ourselves we will never do!
In comparison with all the tales we heard we did well by only spending one hour in the queue to board the ship, starting to feel the excitement building.  Linked to my extreme claustrophobia and a lack of money we settled for a sea-view suite – unfortunately not a veranda but at least being able to tell night or day without having to leave the room.  It was more spacious than I expected, with lots of small spaces to pack things away. 

Collecting the Pilot
I can also now understand when people say they get lost on the ships.  There are a myriad of lifts and stairs, some taking you exactly where you planned to go, whilst others take you exactly where you do NOT want to go.

After participating in the obligatory emergency lifeboat drill, the ships horn sounded a few frightful blasts and we set off into the sunset.  Well, not quite, it was three o’clock in the afternoon, the sun was still high.  There were no streamers and no crowds with handkerchiefs wiping away tears on the pier, as I remembered from the scenes of the TV show “The Love Boat” (oops, giving my age away).
Fruit sculptures
After recovering from the shock of the price of a cocktail we promptly opened the tab with a “tequila sunrise” and “pink mojito”.  After a few of those we must have sailed into choppy waters as it suddenly became much more difficult to walk a straight line…
With no room to negotiate we have been placed in the second dinner seating, meaning we could only enter the dining room at 20h45.  When you normally have dinner around 18h30 this was quite a long wait.  Looking forward to make new friends and meeting new people at the dinner table, Hennie and I spent a miserable dinner alone at our table for eight.  Whilst next door 4 couples having just met was having a swell time.  Story of our lives...  Seems the second seating was too late for our dinner mates, and they decided to have the buffet, raid the pizza station or settle for room service.
Crew performing a scene from "Ghost" for the Movie Quizz
Spectators to the medical airlift
Next morning Hennie and I were having a bit of debate on where the sun rises as I seem to have too good a sleep and not realising its strange to have the sun hanging low on the western horizon at 08h00 in the morning.  Our puzzlement were soon resolved when an announcement was made that the end of the world is still not nigh but that we have turned around late last night and is now heading back to Richards Bay.  This was not happening to me!!!!.  Well, I could count my blessings when we heard that there was a medical emergency on board that required immediate hospital care and that we are heading for the coast on order to have someone airlifted of the boat, and it was not one of us.  This helicopter evacuation was planned to happen at around 11h00 that morning, and there after we will turn around and make like a speadboat to Madagascar to still make our rendezvous there for the morning of the 31st.  
The airlift created quite a spectacle and raised the excitement levels.  Strange how we crave sensation as everyone was on deck to watch and take pictures, moi included.  Had a bit of a chuckle when I heard some women wisely telling her companion that it was lucky that we already had a practice drill for a helicopter airlift shortly after the boat departed – obviously not knowing that was when they picked up the pilot when we left the harbour. 
Country line dance lesson
They day was spent in the sun next to the pool as we were not up early enough to reserve a lounger in the shade.  Due to the speed we were travelling at there was quite a breeze and it did not feel that hot.  Both Hennie and I was covered in 40+ sunblock but still managed to get sunburnt.  But compared to the other lobsters running around we did well and the ship shop was doing a brisk trade in after-sun lotion.

Blue-blue sea
That evening Hennie reluctantly agreed that we can go to the Bingo.   And so a Bingo monster was born.  Hennie absolutely loved it, and it was a fun way to while the time until our dinner seating.  Speaking of which, the second night at our dinner table we met two very young, beautiful, 24 year old women.  We must have been a bit of a disappointment for them as they were hoping for a ship full of eligible bachelors wanting to have fun with them.  I must admit it was a bit of a disappointment for us as well.  There was virtually no topic that we could converse on and after hearing the tale on how the blonde bombshell burst out in tears because on their recent trip to Europe the ugly flight attendants told her her hand luggage was too big for the cabin, and had to be stored in the hold.  But her very previous make-up and hair straightener is in the bag and she would not be who she is without it.  After a lot of tears, and the male flight attendant scolding her for ruining her make-up, they made a plan to keep her and her bag in the same cabin and she could relax.