Sailing to the Bay of Islands (NZ)

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 14, 2019 by David Palmer

On the 11th Feb we passed the International Date Line and magically the 12th disappeared in a flash to be instantly replaced by the 13th, tough luck on those that had a birthday or other celebration I thought, but we did celebrate Valentines Day as recompense the following day. All the activities and meals had the theme of love somewhere buried within them, but there were few other outward exhibitions of romance by our fellow passengers, though I did watch a few fellow males look briefly at the heart shaped boxes of chocolates for sale, before hurrying on to what ever diversion was more important.

Worthy of mention was a production of the ‘Phantom of the Opera’, absolutely fabulous and though reduced down to just an hour, it kept faithful to the plot. Unbelievable vocals and brilliantly acted, not surprisingly the cast received a standing ovation. The memory will last for a long time.

Life on board ship

I had decided at the beginning of this cruise that I wouldn’t comment on what we, the crew and passengers got up to each day, other than the unusual and perhaps the odd incident worthy of comment, otherwise this blog would soon become tedious to write and even more so to read, not forgetting it is the destinations which provide the experiences that are interesting. These blog pages were created to inform family members of what each of us got up to, principally as a diary of the Palmer’s activities, to be read in our dotage as a reminder, when memories grow dim and we become even more sedantry. However, with so many sea days behind us and more to come I shall fill some spare sea time into describing life on ‘our’ Columbus.

In an enclosed environment, where a large group of people are in close proximity to each other it is inevitable that bugs will easily pass between individuals, despite the crew constantly squirting antibiotic gel onto outstretched hands, gel dispensers being available everywhere, constant reminders to wash hands, all surfaces and hand rails being regularly wiped over with strong and pungent chemicals, if every individual doesn’t play ball and be equally scrupulous with hygiene, then infection is going to spread. The ship suffers from what has been termed the ‘Columbus cough’. As this is a world cruise, bugs have the opportunity to really exploit the situation as the length of time to find a foothold is that much greater. As in cruises of 7 or 14 days, bugs are not being disembarked to home ports, but at every port we spend some dollars in. As hosts we do a very good job of permitting bugs to jump ship and no doubt wreke havoc on unsuspecting natives. Wasn’t it the first Spanish ‘cruise galleon’ captained by Cortez that saw off the Mayan with European diseases?

Every where we go, we hear the detonations of sneezes, coughs and the the rasping of noses into tissue (if lucky), very few, if any, have been spared the ‘Columbus cough’. Sue and I are presently getting over our second bout of annoying runny noses and tickly throat. We have been touched very lightly by this malady but others have not been so fortunate. As with germs, rumours spread rapidly, and as with ‘Chinese whispers’ it is impossible to say what we hear is true. The ship’s hospital IS full, that we know from people who have been interred in it for a few days to recover. Either, 11, 8, 5 or none have died on board through its presence, though my guess is none as there have been no ambulances waiting at the ports that we have called at and the last incidence of canabalism on the Polynesian islands was in the 1916.

The bulk of the passengers are in excess of 50 yrs. of age so it is appropriate that many of the deck and pool activities that happen through the day pander to their tastes and experience. Many of the TV shows of the 60’s and 70’s are re-enacted; Blankety Blank, Mr & Mrs, Call my Bluff, Family Fortunes, etc. etc. But, the most popular (and least active) that take place morning, afternoon, eve and night are the quizzes at various locations around the ship. They are always well attended and hotly contested, I can’t imagine a ship load of 18-30 year olds putting this high on their agenda. Sue and I prefer to play as a pair but, most play in teams of 6 to 12, so we treat it as an important brain stimulant and we try to improve on our previous scores. It is well known (and discussed) that one team of 11 each fill their own sheets in and when the answers are given out, if one of them has the right answer, it is written into their team sheet. Yes, it is team play, but I think that is not quite in the spirit of a team quiz. They win quite a often.

The more active groups include the ship’s choir who have met for daily practice since the start of the cruise and recently gave us a performance of the songs that they had learnt. Likewise, there is an amateur dramatics group who have put on a performance of ‘Snow White’, it was about as amateurish as you could possibly get, but it was tearfully funny because of it. Another group is the large ukelele group, who have also performed for the other passengers and were surprisingly good, it is quite novel seeing a herd of (I don’t now the collective noun), strumming tiny guitars and singing cowboy songs and sea shanties, they do ever so well.

As always there is a large Bridge playing group who meet each day in the dedicated games room, Sue and I on occasions have joined them when it is too hot to play our games of scrabble on the deck. Bridge is not a game we care to learn to play as the members never seem to be enjoying themselves and often make quite scathing comments on those players that don’t seem to be playing well. Besides a dedicated library there is also a popular jigsaw room containing half a dozen on the go at a time to be worked on by anyone who wishes to.

It is our habit to play a game of shuttle board on deck seven in the late afternoon, until the heat and humidity get too much for us, Sue is often seen playing a variety of other games involving throwing or sliding objects into or onto a variety of equipment with what appears to be a dedicated group of players.

Of course I could attempt to divide the passengers into groups: those that spend all day sunbathing, reading, involved in activities, sitting chatting and drinking or continually eating, but apart from sunbathing most seem to dip in and sample all the delights on offer.

Films are shown during the day below decks in the Palladium and at night under the stars on the top deck on a huge screen, sea conditions permitting. There is also a casino, but I believe that it isn’t used much by the present passengers, it may be used better when we pick up more in Australian and New Zealand. There is disco which is used until the wee small hours, and by the look of some of our fellow guests at breakfast it is well patronised.

The crew are from all four corners of the Earth, but there does appear to be a theme among them. Like many, our cabin steward is from Kerala in India and along with the Phillipines they seem to be allocated this job on board. Our table waiter is from Myanmar and surprisingly there are fifteen more of them, but the bulk of the dining staff are also from the Phillipines. Below decks, the engine room and maintenance seems to be comprised mostly of Russians and Ukranians (not sure how that mix works!) with many Eastern Europeans being in the service sector (shops, spa, reception etc.). The chefs are mostly indian and the captain is Greek. The entertainment team and lecturers are mostly made up of British though they don’t appear anywhere else on the ship’s rosta.

On Valentines Day we had a special meal.

Three Sea Days to Tonga (or perhaps not!)

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 11, 2019 by David Palmer

On our second sea day we had passed over another time zone so enjoyed another hour in bed, making 11 changes so far, we could see from the comfort of our bed that the bow camera was displaying running water across its lens indicating heavy rain. We have enjoyed excellent sea and weather conditions up till now so I guess it was to be expected sometime. By the time we had emerged from breakfast the sky had brightened and the rain had disappeared, but up on deck it felt quite clammy. We made the decision to deviate from our regular timetable of events and play table tennis up on deck 13 in possibly the coolest room on the ship. That was the plan, but we were eventually scuppered by what appears to be an inbred national trait that I am sure has on occasion led to conflict.

We first checked that the room was not being used and then visited reception to pick up the bats and ball necessary to play the game. However, they had been taken, so returning to the table tennis room we expected to discover people starting their game. It was still empty. We waited awhile and eventually returning to reception to be informed that the bats had been picked up at 9am, which was just before we attempted to collect them. After several repeated visits between reception and the room, and phone calls by the staff to the rooms of the miscreants, still no one by had appeared to play. Eventually at 11.20am we came across the culprits. There was seven of them, four playing doubles and three waiting to play. It was no surprise to seasoned Brits as ourselves, and witnesses to many hotel pools with towels draped over the surrounding empty sun loungers placed there the previous night, that they were German. To be fair, I was surprised that they had branched out into this previously unknown area of spiteful annoyance, but it did not prevent me from providing them with the benefit of what I consider as good sound advice. We left in silence, with the point made.

We had noted during the morning news update from the bridge that there seemed a little hesitancy in the weather report and this gave rise to the thought that not all was well. That evening during a formal dinner, we had our meal disturbed by an announcement over the PA system from the captain informing us that there was a storm on our route to Tonga and this would make docking at the port too dangerous. We would be carrying on to New Zealand and calling in at the Bay of Islands as an alternative. It’s a very pretty part of NZ, Jamie and I visited it on our road trip to the North Island. We shall wait and see if there are any excursions organised, or if this is a ‘DIY’ stop.

From the information displayed on our cabin TV we could see our change of course to avoid the weather system causing problems and it looks like we have quite a few more sea days ahead before NZ. There was a noticeable increase in the swell over night causing the ship to roll but not enough to cause concern when walking around the decks, pleasingly Sue is not suffering from the usual sea sickness of past cruises, she seems to have acquired a pair of sea legs at last. As with missing out on Nuku Hiva it is a disappointment, but as the captain said, our safety is paramount and we can always come back. That Tongan rugby shirt I was hoping to buy will just have to wait, there are greater hardships in life than missing out on a shopping trip!

Then sun is out, the sea is blue, the entertainment team are top notch and the food is first class, so what’s to moan about?

Bora Bora

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 10, 2019 by David Palmer

Over the years I have heard wonderful things about this island from other travellers and it has been firmly on my sceptic tick list to check out if any of the superlatives used, apply. We arrived just a little before breakfast time, but there was no chance of sleeping through this arrival as though the ship silently eased its way through the opening in the surrounding reef this was to be a tendered anchorage within one of the flooded volcanic craters and when the anchor chain is released from its shackles, the ship shakes!

Emerging onto the pool deck to take the short walk across to the Plantation restaurant for breakfast, I was pleased to see Mount Ohue and Mount Pahia splashed throughout much of the tourist literature seemingly bursting from the lagoon just a few hundred metres from the bow of the Columbus, that’s a good start I thought, then it started to drizzle!

Returning to the upper deck after a rather full breakfast we were pleased to see that all precipitation had disappeared and only clear skies and white clouds could be seen as far as the horizon. We could see that the Columbus was in the center of a large lagoon, with the largest island to the port side sweeping around 180 degrees, the rest of the compass being completed by coral reef and a few much smaller isolated islands, seemingly occupied by upmarket hotels. The small port of Viatape and the islands’ only town could easily be seen, seemingly busying itself for an onslaught of dollar carrying cruisers. We watched one of the tenders motor off towards the small dock, no doubt carrying sufficient crew to ease the transfer of 1200 passengers and those crew members who had a few hours respite from their duties and wished to go ashore. Shaji, our cabin steward was planning a couple of hours on one of the beaches, he has been here four times!

We had booked a tour on a truck that would follow the road around the island, stopping at many points along the route for photo opportunities and explanations of what we were looking at. Yet again we were to be fortunate with an excellent local guide who brought to life the history, culture and geography of the island for us and he also played the ukelele and sang well (it seems that most male Polynesians can play this instrument). It is an excellent way to discover this island on a limited timetable.

After transiting by tender to the dock we boarded our naturally air conditioned truck (there was no glass in the windows), sitting on securely fixed primary school plastic chairs, luxuriously upholstered by a thin cushion. Brilliant, its the only way to travel, we felt part of this island and not isolated in the sanitised metal cocoons that tour operators often shield their customers in.

First stop was the famous Bloody Mary’s Bar and restaurant, it was the first one on the the Island in 1976, there was an opportunity to have a drink, some did, though the little counter selling t-shirts and baseball caps did a better trade. There were many more stops for short walks, explanations and more photos, but the next iconic pause in the schedule was at Matira beach on the southern tip of the island, supposedly listed in the top ten of world beaches and thought by some to be number one. Very beautiful indeed and I would put it in my top ten, but I would hate to choose between any on my list as to which is the best, they are so different for many reasons and the surrounding scenery is just one.

With just the one road to follow, it is inevitable that you will come across sights that do not appear in the brochure, one such sight was passing the Island refuse dump and reclamation centre. Not a pretty sight but the information and humour provided by our jovial local guide made it interesting. Plastic and other recyclable stuff is collected and sent by ship to Tahiti for further processing, but he is sceptical about what they do with it, the rest is disposed of by a process developed and built by an Australian company and seems to be quite efficient. The Island was hit badly by the 2008-10 world recession and several of the large and most luxurious hotels foundered and are now derelict, in this climate, decay soon takes hold.

We passed along a section of road where the rich and famous used to and probably still do, own properties. Names such as Cliff Richard, Tom Cruise and Piers Brosnan were just two on the list that I remember, space is limited so the buildings themselves were not the grand mansions that you may imagine but were more a reasonably sized three bedroom bungalow.

There was much evidence of American occupation during WW2, besides the offshore runway, slipways and battery emplacements, there are the occasional blonde haired, blue eyed natives. Bora Bora was an important supply base for the Pacific conflict. It closed in 1946, but many Americans chose to remain, I can see why.

We finished off our tour with a visit to Mamma Edna’s ‘tie and dye’ business. We were treated to a demonstration on how this is done and of course there is the opportunity to purchase, if you believe that the colours don’t run in the wash. For two ex-Primary teachers who have done this many times in the classroom, we know that they do.

Returning to the dock we didn’t take the option to catch a tender back to the ship, we remained on shore and chose to explore the small town. It has a few restaurants and retail outlets, equally split between those obviously for the holiday makers and those for the locals and there is a small market next to the dock that is also convenient for those coming in from the other islands. We visited them all and made a few purchases to bolster the local economy. Prices are as expensive as expected for such a remote location but not quite as eye-watering as in Tahiti.

It was my intention to have swim before returning to the Columbus but I found the combination of heat and shopping too exhausting and craved the relief of ship aircon and cold, cold drinks. Back on board we cooled off, visited the burger bar and sat and watched the tenders ferrying the last of the passengers back on board. Later, we stood on the bow watching the anchor lifted from what must have been some depth as the huge links were wound seemingly endlessly into some huge dark internal recess. It took an age to accomplish but was fascinating throughout, it seemed that towards the end they had some sort of difficulty as they reversed the motion several times. I suggested that perhaps they had caught a whale and were playing it, but no one around me saw the joke, that’s foreigners for you!

We remained on deck as we glided out of the lagoon and out through the break in the reef with an orange sun setting over a distant rapidly greying island, very romantic, but not for one lone canoeist who frantically paddled his way across our bow while the Columbus’s captain gave him a a loud blast on the horn to get out the way. If he wanted an adrenalin rush, he got in ship loads.

We now have three more sea days before next landfall, Tonga.

Would I return to Bora Bora? Yes I would, a stunningly beautiful island, as Charlotte suggested, Maldives with mountains. As with those atolls, you need to love being in or under the water or at the very least enjoy reading under a palm tree tree in the heat and that describes both Sue and I.

Tahiti

Posted in Uncategorized on Feb 8, 2019 by David Palmer

(6 -7th Feb.)

After the disappointment of missing out on Nuku Hiva everyone on board was looking forward to setting foot on Terra Firma and much of the talk was concerned with what people were going to do when/if we docked.

For once we didn’t arrive at breakfast time, this was a full day of cruising with the excitement of a sunset arrival. We passed its smaller sister island Moorea, just a few miles from the port and capital Papeete of Tahiti, a name that in my youth conjured up visions of the exotic. At first sight Moorea looked the more spectacular, sharp mountains thrusting up from sea level to dizzying heights, Tahiti in comparison certainly has the higher topography but certainly its sister steals the show for wow factor. We eased into a very convenient berth close to the city and opposite a very classy, ultra-modern ship the Wind Spirit. It had three automatic sails and beautiful lines, I take my hat off to who ever designed this beauty.

By the time we had completed mooring and I guess the necessary paper work, most of the passengers like us had taken an early evening meal and were eager to sample the delights of those alluring twinkling lights, visible from our perch high up through the restaurant windows. We joined a long line, down the gangway, along the quay and into the busy traffic of Papeete. It was sweltering hot.

Along with others we soon discovered Macdonald’s, but were disappointed that the expected free WiFi didn’t exist here (memo to Ronald), it is the first duty of all hardened cruisers’ to seek out free WiFi whenever in port and this fast food chain is usually reliable. Sue and I set off to immerse ourselves in the Tahitian night life, but though the traffic was as good as a Saturday night on Oxford Street, the shops were shut, though the bars and restaurants were open. We did discover the pretty yellow Catholic Cathedral and on entering were pleased to discover that it wasn’t dripping with gold leaf but quite plain and simple. There were a few ‘down and outs’ fast asleep on the pews and with 25% unemployment on this island we were to discover many others asleep in doorways.

The Columbus had disgorged enough of its human content to swamp the local inhabitants in the bars and we joined them in a bar across a busy road from the berth of the Wind Spirit, lit up like a fairy castle. We took opportunity of the WiFi and Sue chatted to Sarah and Charlotte on messenger. It was here that we had our first introduction to how expensive Tahiti is, three drinks cost $25. That appears to be the problem, they only attract 200 000 visitors a year compared to the Cook Islands 1 million, which apparently is much cheaper to visit.

The following day we we had opted for an organised trip, fortunately it took place in the morning during the coolest part of the day. Our West Coast Tour took us around the half of the island that attracted the least amount of annual rainfall at 1500cm, the other half gets deluged with 8m (yes, that was 8m!) and accounts why that coast is riddled with ravines and does not possess any coral reefs as the surrounding sea is diluted with fresh water run off from the mountains. Coral hates fresh water.

There is really only one proper road on the island and this follows the coast, the others branch like spokes on a wheel into the rugged interior. Ninety percent live long this coast road, with most being close to Papeete. We went west with the first stop being at some caverns, once volcanic tunnels and now filled with water. Very pretty and lush, and refreshingly cool to stand in. Our next port of call was a very pretty and watery tropical garden. The many plants here attained giant size and were festooned with equally large and colourful blooms.

We had a brief photo stop on one of the coral lagoons that appeared to be popular with surfers. I would have loved to have cooled off with a swim but that is the drawback of an organised tour, the time isn’t just yours. Our final stop before returning to the Columbus was at one of the better preserved Marae. These are ancient ceremonial platforms that fell into disuse when Christianity arrived. They were also the location of cannabalistic practises. It was close to this location that the French painter Paul Gaugin lived. Though his house has long since disappeared, during his stays on the island not only did he paint over 70 canvasses, he spread his genes around quite liberally and many of the locals can trace their roots back to him.

Arriving back at the ship we had a late lunch and again ventured out into the city. It was very hot so the side of the street in shade was favoured. The local market was interesting, and as you would expect, full of fellow cruisers, some engaged in purchasing souvenirs of their visit to this Polynesian island. We finished off our afternoon with a walk through the gardens alongside the harbour. I ventured briefly into the water on a very small sand and rock beach to cool off my feet.

We were keen to be back on board by 5pm to catch a show by a Tahitian dance troupe and what a show it turned out to be. Colourful, expressive, seductive, high energy and brilliant. If they had done two shows I would have watched them both. If they were reasonably priced I would have had a private performance, but then again this is Tahiti and nothing comes cheap.

We sailed at 8pm for our next destination, Bora Bora.

What do I think of Tahiti? They say it is paradise, but to achieve that accolade it is my opinion that the locals will have to drive on the opposite side of the road and speak English. It would help if it was 5 degrees cooler and it rained (a lot) less. Then perhaps it could be paradise, but it is my experience that there are a lot contenders for that title. The people are friendly (very little crime), and the women can’t half shake their hips, making those grass skirts dance in such a seductive way. I think I know what Sue may be getting for next years Christmas present.

Across the Pacific to Nuku Hiva (or perhaps not!)

Posted in Uncategorized on Jan 30, 2019 by David Palmer

(28th Jan – 6th Feb)

This run of sea days didn’t start well for me. I visit the gym each day in an effort to waste a few of the enormous number of calories that you inevitable consume on a cruise (it takes a will stronger than mine not to do so) and though I don’t exert myself as much as in my younger days, I ricked my knee whilst on the running machine. Annoyingly, I now have to rest it for a few days and watch what I eat. Fingers crossed on that!

On the Columbus we see more of the captain than on any other ship we have been on. He is often seen at all times throughout the day and evenings at various locations around the ship, chatting amiably to passengers and crew alike, noticeably keeping an eye on things. It keeps the crew on their toes and displays good leadership to all onboard. I think, unlike the captain of the Costa Concordia, this captain will be the last to leave a sinking ship, not the first. As an example of how tight a ship he runs, on the 31st we had our third life-boat drill of the voyage.

It was in the afternoon that I managed to get on line to discover that Sarah and Lee had exchanged contracts on their new house and had started to move in. A great relief for them as it was looking quite likely that their chain would fall apart at the last minute. I think moving on the coldest day of the year so far was the least of their worries! It has been difficult keeping up with family news and uploading blogs as WiFi is pretty poor out in the Pacific. The speed is very slow and is quite random, but then I guess seabirds, turtles and flying fish don’t have much use for the technology. On a positive note, I am back in the gym, fighting the flab, though the running machine is being avoided.

Quite appropriately we crossed the Equator on the 1st February. This is not much of an event when flying, but on board a cruise ship it is an excuse for frivolities. On other ships we have been on there has been a party, preceded by a short ceremony where King Neptune (a suitably costumed crew member) welcomes everybody to his kingdom and it is usually finished by an extremely long ‘conga’ around the various outside and inside decks. The Columbus does it differently, Neptune still takes centre stage but he has supporting characters; pirates, mermaids and doctors. Crew members (4) who have yet to cross this line on the globe are held prisoner by the pirates and then subjected to a trial where amusing trumped up charges are brought. After being found guilt they are required to kiss an enormous fish (fresh from the kitchen), before being placed on the operating table where their punishment was to be covered in; eggs, ice cubes, baked beans, flour and lastly milk. Suitably humiliated they are then dumped into one of the ship’s swimming pools. Afterwards it had to be emptied, cleaned and refilled, it took most of the day. A very funny way to mark what I suppose is an important landmark in the careers of the unfortunate participants.

As we have been making our way around the globe every few days or so, we have been regularly putting the clock back one hour. So far we have done this 10 times, surprisingly though we gain an extra hour in bed, the following morning we always seem to sleep soundly until our 8am alarm, no matter what time we retire. We have an internal cabin, so when the lights are off, it is quite pitch black and coupled with the gentle (so far) motion of the ship there is no clue for our internal clock to gauge the time, particularly as we hear no sounds other than an occasional random creak as the ship flexes against the swell. However, on the 2nd February we had to put the clocks back 1/2 an hour. Sue had no problem with this, but I was startled when the alarm went off and just couldn’t wake myself up until later in the morning and after several cups of coffee. Just as confusing was a win by England against Ireland, in Ireland, by a 12 point margin! Now who saw that coming?

On the 4th we should have woken to a breakfast, anchored off the small French Polynesian island of Nuku Hiva, but it was not to be. Unknown to the passengers, at 12.30am the ship had received a distress call from the yacht Chismosa out of San Francisco. She had lost her mast, there was an injured person on board and she was running out of fuel in a location way off the normal shipping lanes. The Columbus was the only ship remotely nearby with appropriate facilities to accomplish a rescue. This meant reversing our course and steaming for 10 hours to meet up with the stricken vessel. We passengers slept on, blithely unaware of the drama unfolding. As Sue and I made our way to breakfast, we heard rumours from others that we were still at sea and not anchored off the island as expected.

Venturing on deck it soon became apparent what was going on as we watched one of the ship’s tenders launch and head off in the direction of a little white speck in the distance. The Columbus was now progressing in ‘dead slow’ towards the gradually recognisable shape of a sea vessel. I returned to the cabin for camera and binoculars, through which I could see three people on her deck, the mast clearly missing, the shrouds obviously cut or snapped and the safety rail mangled. I could see one old gentleman with cuts and bruises to one arm sitting quietly in the cockpit coiling ropes, with a younger man at the helm attempting to steer the craft towards the Cruiser and a young woman sitting on the cabin roof looking relieved. The tender didn’t attempt to board the craft or attach a rope to tow, but remained just an few metres away until the Columbus came very close. The yacht had some power and was motored in a growing swell to the small lowerdeck where the port pilots gets on and off the ship. Once alongside, ropes were attached and crew members boarded her.

Lots of discussions took place before barrels of fuel oil were seen to be poured into the yacht’s fuel tank. This took quite a while as the swell meant that the liquid swilled around in the funnel, threatening to spill out over the deck and into the sea. With that task accomplished, crew members were seen to be checking all parts of the boat, I would guess that was to check how sea worthy the craft was. I don’t believe our captain was going to allow her to motor on to the nearest port if she wasn’t. Eventually, all seemed to be in place and everyone satisfied and she was release from her shackles and gently motored aft followed by the shepherding tender. The danger was over for the time being, with a full fuel tank and the injury, not so life threatening as first rumoured, they stood as good a chance as any at making it to safety.

This was not the end of the excitement. Our tender boat still had to be lifted back on board and this proved not so straight forward in a growing swell. Five times they attempted to hook themselves onto the lifting gear without success. In one attempt they manged to successfully engage the two hooks and lift themselves clear of the sea only for the cabling to twist with the motion of the ship and they had to return to the water. On each attempt they had to back away from the ship and then make another run into the lifting zone. It took well over an hour before the craft was safely stored back into its cradle. I think its crew were mightily relieved, though they still had to face the captain, who watched every attempt from his perch on the side of the bridge. I think they may be experiencing some practise lifts when we next make port (when and wherever that is).

As if this incident wasn’t already an exciting enough diversion, as the yacht was approaching the Columbus, with the tender some twenty metres away, I spotted a shape looming up from the deep blue depths to the rear of the tender. As it neared the surface I could see that it was a huge shark, probably inquisitive as to what was happening above and came to have a look. Perhaps in the hope of a tit-bit or two? It was easily half the size of the tender and had a huge head. It’s upper surface was spotted like a leopard, so I am guessing it could have been a leopard shark. As it hit the surface I grabbed my camera and snapped it just as it dived under the boat, but snapped it again as it appeared on the other side. Unfortunately, the photos won’t appear in the blog until I return home as only those taken on my mobile will bluetooth to the tablet I use to write this blog.

Why the yacht lost its mast I have no idea, but it is usually down to poor seamanship or lack of sufficient maintenance. As we have met no poor sea conditions on route, it was suggested by one passenger that it may have been a freak wave. I guess we passengers will never know. However, the effect of this incident is quite profound. The tiny island of Nuku Hiva has taken a big hit to its economy with the loss of our visit and with only 2000 inhabitants, our 1200 passenger ship would have contributed quite a bit. Also, we were disembarking an injured cabin steward who was to return home via the tiny island airstrip, he will now have to wait until Tahiti. Not to mention that some unfortunate insurance company is going to take a big hit in compensating a cruiseship deviating from its course and schedule for over 10 hours.

Up the Coast to Mexico

Posted in Uncategorized on Jan 29, 2019 by David Palmer

(26th – 27th)

In the last blog I forgot to mention an amusing incident whilst visiting Antigua, we were sat on a bench in the main square, resting our feet, hiding from the heat of the day under a pretty mimosa tree when Sue fancied purchasing some cashew nuts from a passing vendor. She had a few coins of local currency left over from shopping and had just completed negotiations on how many nuts should be put into the little bag (Sue always drives a hard bargain) when she suddenly cried out, “What’s that!” and clutched her hair. With a broad smile on his face the nut seller pointed upwards, there, cooing contentedly above, was a pigeon. He had scored a direct hit. It did at the time pass through my mind that this may have been a trained pigeon, called into action when awkward customers drove too hard a bargain.

It was a sea day and also Australia Day the day after Sue’s encounter with the South American equivalent of the Dam Buster’s. Many of the activities on board had an Aussie theme which also included meal times, lunch was a typical Aussie Barbi held on deck. Sue immersed herself in most of the games and quizzes going on, while I contented myself with sticking to my usual routine, it was a very hot day. I did spend some time ‘up-top’ on the prow of the ship watching the the occasional turtle pass us by, some unfortunately too close and disappeared into the side wash of the ship where I crossed my fingers and hoped they would emerge at the rear of the ship, avoiding the propellers. I hoped.

We arrived In Acapulco (Mexico) as usual during breakfast on the 27th. A very hot day greeted us as we disembarked from our berth which fortunately was directly opposite the fort of Acapulco. We had decided to do our ‘own thing’ today, but the decision was made with some trepidation. Watching the series of ‘El Chapo’ on Netflix prior to this holiday didn’t but me at ease and the on board description of this port, pointed out that this, ‘once popular tourist destination, had suffered from years of Mexico’s on going drug wars and despite frightening homicide statistics the violence was largely confined to gang disputes, but the city remains comparatively safe to visit.’ Very reassuring!

It was evident as we left the ship that the Mexican authorities had taken our safety quite seriously. There were armed police everywhere and these were backed up by patrolling and fully kitted, camouflaged combat troops. Reassuring????

Acapulco was a small fishing village, first discovered by the Spanish during the time of conquest and later by John Wayne and fellow film stars who would jet down from Hollywood to get away from the admiring crowds. They called it their playground, Wayne had purchased a hotel to accommodate his personal guests. The bay is very pretty with its back drop of hills and of course the warmth of both sea and climate is a perfect combination. Today there are high rise hotels and the urban spread has reached into the surrounding hills, but it still has that aura of past glory and undeniably takes a very pleasing photo in every direction.

We had come to tick off one of our bucket list items; cliff diving. After first ignoring the polite taxi drivers touting for trade at the exit to the port, we left the ship and with a few other early disembarkers, strolled along the sea front while trying to make sense of the very inadequate free map we had been given. We were heading for the Hotel Mirador, where on the adjacent cliffs the divers were going to plummet into a narrow water filled ravine. It was hard going under a ferocious sun, walking in the shade became a necessity as there was no breeze to cool our progress. Reaching a point along the coastal road we headed up and over what turned out to be a narrow strip of land between two bays and descended onto a local beach between two cliffs where families seemed to be taking a Sunday stroll. We joined them along a raised cliffs

ide walkway, passing groups of cats clustered around fishermen busy gutting their catch, patiently waiting for the inevitable scraps. Reaching the end of the path we returned to the beach before ascending the road and path on the opposite side.

This route was in full sun, but every 50m along the sidewalk there were large sail shaped signs containing the pictures of past and present Hollywood and Mexican movie stars that had once made this place famous. At the very top, was of course John Wayne, he had been given his own viewpoint with small arena, probably used for local theatre performances and giving the audience a wonderful seascape as a distraction. Here I practised my limited Spanish on a couple sitting and chatting under a covered pergola, asking the way to the Mirador, we discovered that we were just a few hundred metres away.

With perfect timing we arrived at a viewpoint opposite the cliffs just as the divers were climbing, spider like up to the two little blue shrines built into the cliff. Here, they said their prayers before preparing to dive. We watched, photographed and videoed their dives. Two solo dives, then one double dive followed by the finale of a single dive from the highest perch of all. From outstretched arms and launch, the descent into the water was unbelievably quick, the most vivid memory being of the accompanying shadow on the cliff wall as if the soul had departed the body and was chasing its diver down the cliff face, attempting to rejoin before the water’s surface prevented it. A wonderful sight not easily forgot.

After chatting to another couple that had unfortunately arrived a little too late to witness the spectacle we descended down into the ravine to see how deep the water was that the divers were risking their lives by a potential suicidal swan song. From this spot it was obvious that the water was deep, but the ravine was no wider than the width of a king size bed and the cliff itself was scarred with sharp ragged outcrops that would probably make death by drowning irrelevant if you hit it on the way down. Here we came across some more divers that were practising at a lower level and on the opposite side to the main show.

Cliff divers come from three local families, it is a tradition and jealously guarded. They rely on donations from their audience, who stuff dollar notes into their trunks as payment (assuming all goes well and they exit the water). Whether they receive payment from the Hotel Mirador as well, we could not find out. They should do.

We returned to the ship in time for lunch after first visiting the city’s colourful Cathedral, packed with worshippers, then a brief foray into a local market. After a change of T-Shirt and a cold shower we again ventured out into the heat of Acapulco.

This time we crossed the road by the port exit and climbed up the steps leading to the fort. Surprisingly it seemed slightly cooler than in the morning. Entrance to the fort was $4 each and gave us access to the 11 mini museums inside. The fort is pentagonal in shape, within the various sized rooms there are exhibits displaying different aspects of Acapulco’s and Mexican history. As a life saver there were very efficient air conditioning
units that I didn’t stray far from, while Sue read every available scrap of information on each item. With the internal rooms thoroughly investigated, we moved onto the roof and battlements. The views of the city and bay were excellent, it is a great place to build a defence structure, or at the very least a bakery. The heat generated from the flat roof would easily cook as many loaves as you could wish, but in the absence of dough, Sue and I made a good substitute. Though the views were superb we were glad to get to ground level and into the shade of some trees.

Making our way to the market of the morning we came across a museum housing face masks used in Carnival and local festivals. Some were very old, all were beautifully made though many depicting quite grotesque figures. We watched a colourful video of the Carnival and a short explanation of how the masks are made before moving on.

The abundance of soldiery passed en-route was reassuring but worrying at the same time. In one street we discovered a queue of young men clutching forms, lined up at a desk and fronted by a very official looking officer. We soon worked out that they were being recruited into the army.

In the market Sue abandoned me to the shade of a large tree while she went on the hunt for a dress to buy. Amusingly, I had been sat there on a low stone wall for around 20 minutes, watching the busy goings on of the street market when I caught sight of some movement to my right. To my surprise it was two soldiers standing just a few feet away from me in their camouflage outfit up against the tree foliage. Those drug gangs didn’t stand a chance around this tree, but I guess it might be a different story elsewhere in the city.

Luckily, despite trying on several outfits Sue couldn’t find anything she really liked, so the dollars stayed firmly in my wallet. Disappointingly we returned to the ship and left the traders, soldiers and drug dealers to their own devices.

Acapulco, you are a lovely city with lots to offer, I sincerely hope that you successfully address the faults in your society, I think you are trying hard, I wish you well. We may come back, one day, when you don’t need guns on the streets to keep us safe.

That evening as we sailed away from this iconic playground of the 50’s and 60’s, we partied ‘Mexican style’ on the top deck, safe in our rather large tin can.

Up the coast to Guatemala

Posted in Uncategorized on Jan 26, 2019 by David Palmer

(22nd – 25th)

Now that we are heading north up of the coast of the land mass of Central America we are beginning to see more signs of life in the sea around us. We do come across the occasional frieghter swiftly passing a mile or so away in the opposite direction, something that we did not witness in our crossing of the Antlantic, but the real interest is the appearance of wildlife.

This morning after breakfast (23rd) Sue and I stood on the top deck overlooking the prow of the ship, fascinated to watch the seabirds (no idea what species) using the updraft of the ship to maintain their weaving back and forth flight as they waited patiently for startled flying fish to burst out from the waves. Frightened by the noise and motion of the Columbus they took to the air, fins outstretched, desperate to escape the perceived danger from below, seemingly unaware of the real danger from above. As the fish took to the air, often in groups, the waiting predators reacted instantly, diving as fighter pilots on the tail of their enemy. Those fish that elected to skim at length over the rolling Pacific waves were the most fool hardy, however the spectacle provided the greatest excitement for the ship borne watchers, would the chasing bird catch up before they splashed into the safety of the waves? Even so, sanctuary was not guaranteed, if the bird was close enough, he too would follow into the depths, creating a blurred streak of bubbles within the deep blue. If successful, they would appear again on the surface and remain awhile swallowing the flash of silver gripped firmly in their beaks, otherwise they would instantly take to the air and like a good “Ace” join the combat again.

A little later we were delighted to see two turtles frantically paddling to avoid being sucked into the bow wave of the ship, happily they made it with ease, but it looked a good workout for them.

Onboard there are many daily one-off activities happening to amuse the passengers, as well as the usual quizzes, games, lectures, clubs and film shows, one deserves a mention. Through our daily update magazine the passengers had been invited to submit a structure that would enable an egg from breaking when dropped from Deck 14 onto Deck 12, and be closest to a target. I have a few engineer friends that would have loved such a competition and it appears so did a large number of passengers. It was a hoot. Some of the structures seemed to come straight out of the ‘Whacky Races’ factory and so did their creators, but most worked (in a fashion) and it wasn’t a matter of accuracy but downright luck as to who won. I hope they do this again, I may give it a go.

On one of the sea days, Sue had another story to tell when we met again after separate activities. An elderly Welsh lady in her eighties related to her why she was cruising alone. She should have had the company of a friend who she had paid all the costs for (including insurance and trips), as her friend could not afford to do so herself. However, prior to travelling, her friend had medical problems that meant she couldn’t travel, but on the insurance declaration she hadn’t declared that she had previous medical issues or that she had a scheduled medical appointment. Naturally, the company rejected the claim for compensation of costs. Bad enough you would think, but since the Welsh ladies husband had died in 2000, her friend had also been living with her rent and food free. To make things even worse, she had also just amended her will to state that if she died first, her friend could live in the property rent free until she too passed away, then it would become the property of her own daughter. A very sad state of affairs, particularly as her friend has yet to apologise for the situation and it is quite upsetting for the poor lady. However, she is prepared move on and enjoy her cruise. Good for her, it is literally water under the boat until she returns.

On the 25th we docked in the Puerto Quetzal, the main port on the Pacfic coast of Guatemala at 7.30am. First impressions were not great as this is principally an industrial city and the surrounding landscape was flat, not much to see of interest from the decks, unless you are an industrialist, of course. We were due to arive at a smaller port that was designed to take cruise ships, but recently a large ship containing charcoal had some smashed up the dock and it was being repaired.

By 8.45am we were seated with others on a small mini-bus for our transfer to a past capital city of the country, Antigua. The country is on the fault line where two techtonic plates collide and is therefore a very volcanic region, it wasn’t long before we began to encounter volcanoes. Most were dormant, but as we began our ascent from sea level to our 5000m destination we passed one that was still spasmodically erupting, evident by regular plumes of dark smoke billowing into the blue sky. It was at this point that we came across very dusty roadworks, slowing our progress to a crawl, giving us time to view the surrounding carnage. Last June, the belching pyramid of rock and ash that we had been blithely approaching had erupted with devastating effect. A pyroplastic cloud had raced down the slope that we were currently traversing and had swept the road away. Horrifically, around us was a scorched landscape of denuded trees, standing stark within a landscape of grey and rubble. On closer examination we could see the tops of buildings and other structures poking out through what is now the surface of the ground, they had been buried in ash. They are still digging out their inhabitants. A sobering moment and a bringing home of reality to those of us fortunate enough to live in more stable parts of this world.

The roads as you would expect are not in great condition and in several locations our vehicle bounced in and out of deep pot holes that not only shook its passengers but we would find out later affected the bus detrimentally.

Our journey to Antigua took 1.5 hours. It is a picturesque town surrounded by three volcanoes and has wholly cobbled streets that require great concentration when moving around due to the great amount of earth movement in this region dislodging the cobbles, even vehicles have to be careful and pedestrians run the risk of a turned ankle or worse.

We had decided to hire a guide for the day to make sure that we saw and understood all that was there to see on such a short visit (5 hours). For $15 each we secured the services of our English speaking guide, along with another couple.

Antigua is hosting a South American Convention at the present and there are many heads of state and diplomats staying in the hotels so the security was pretty obvious. with troops and police (all fully armed witha fearsome array of weaponry) standing on most street corners.

Our first visit was to an ancient monastery that is now the best hotel in the town. It had been destroyed by earthquakes but an entrepeuner saw the opportunity and turned it into a chic hotel, preserved the ruins, created several museums on the site and of course it as also the convention centre and where the heads of state are staying. I am surprised that we could enter the building, but our guide had a word at the entrance and we were nodded through. We have come across South American security before in Cuscos where during a ceremony I was able to stand 2m away from their President and I was carrying a rucksack. Perhaps they think that lots opf guns is enought deterrent? Have they not heard of ISIS?

The hotel/monastery/museum/convention/gardens was given a visit, but as you would expect it is an exceptionally pretty place to spend some time, particulary with a back drop of volcanoes to entice your gaze. We meandered in and out of the various preserved chapels, caught intriguing glimpses into the sumptuous hotel through the open doors, photographed the lovely gardens with fountains and eventually found ourselves back onto the cobbled streets of Antigua.

It is not a large town, so thankfully the sights were only a short walking distance from each other, especially as it was tricky underfoot, you had to be extra wary of the head height balconies that threatened to inflict even greater damage as you hugged the crazily undulating pavement whenever a vehicle rattled and bounced its way down the narrow street.

We passed and photgraphed several other vary ornate Catholic churches, one we entered and investigated the gold covered little chapels within, while the others we satisfied ourselves by standing outside and listening to its history in what ever shade we could find. All had been ruined by earthquakes at one time or another and the local population had rebuilt them, but the one that I found most impressive was just a facade, there was nothing left behind the beautiful frontage.

We stopped next at a small cafe/bar that according to our guide brewed the best Guatemalan coffee in the town. I can’t confirm that his boast was true, but it was tasty and certainly had a kick to it, I had been feeling a little lethargic in the heat, but afterwards I felt quite perky!

We visited a few local markets and Sue took advantage, while my wallet got lighter. The trinkets, clothes and ornaments on display were very bright and colourful and easily catch the eye. A distinct advantage with dour European tourists around.

The central park is the location of more churches, impressive government offices, shops and hotels. It is quite picturesque and obviously as well used by the locals as well as by tourists. School children, smartly dressed in uniform were making their way through the central square as we arrived, the girls attire included a very scottish pleated tartan skirt. There are many shoe-shine stalls and hawkers within the park, but like the rest we had come across in the cobbled streets, they show you their wares, and if you say no or show disinterest they move on with out complaint. They do not follow you, thrusting their trinkets in your face, continually jabbering, “Which do you want?” as they do in the Middle East.

After working our way around the square, learning about the history of its location and that of the surrounding building, we agreed to have 45 minutes roaming time to ourselves before meeting our guide again, to escort us back to the minibus. The other couple went off to find a bar that was playing music and we explored the streets surrounding the square, discovering another market where my wallet grew even lighter and then a chocolate museum where the smell was divine.

Arriving at the location of our minibus we discovered that the earlier potholes had indeed damaged our transport and that it was now broken. A new one had been sent for. However, around twenty minutes later it was announced that the driver had managed to fix the problem, but the airconditioning was now not working. We opted to drive back with the windows open rather than wait for the new bus to arrive. I think we were all of that generation that drove without aircon, we just opened the window, there was no option of a button to press to cool you down. It was the dry season and the journey was a rather dusty affair, but we survived and arrived in time to catch the Columbus before it sailed.

That night, we said goodbye to Guatemala and as it was Burns Night and there are a large number of Scots onboard the passengers and crew of the ship celebrated.