Indian Islands Cruise 2010 - diary

Thursday April 18th

Adelle and Ryan took us to Durban harbour – stopping off at the Pavillion Shopping Mall on the way to get some motion sickness tablets for Kev.  Drizzling when we left Richmond but the sun was out in Durban.  We arrived at the harbour just before 10.30am, Kev got in the queue for handing in bags while I went to the reception area to pick up our tickets, a good move as, on the way, I was able to collect our boarding number (244).  By the time I got back Kev was quite near the front of the queue so it wasn't’t too long before we put our 2 main bags through the scanners.  Then it was on to the main reception area where we managed to find a couple of chairs and sat down to wait for our number – they were on numbers up to 100 when we sat down and were calling people in groups of 50.  Soon after 12pm they called for numbers up to 250 so we joined the slow moving queue.  Once through the first part it was much quicker than last year and we were on the ship by 12.45pm, the only hitch being at passport control where the number they typed in from my permit came up with someone else’s name!  The guy checked the number and then got a colleague to check as well – still the wrong name, so he then simply changed to my name and that was it....
One of our bags was already at our cabin door when we arrived, a decent sized room with a large double bed, a wardrobe, small table, fridge (mini-bar) and bathroom. 

The ship is huge – there are 12 decks!  On this cruise there are about 1600 passengers but it can accommodate 2400!

We decided to have lunch – the ship wasn’t due to leave until about 2pm.  There were 2 options, a buffet or restaurant meal, we chose the restaurant.  Lots of choice with 6 course to choose from but we just each had a starter (calamari and a ham salad) then shared a main course (fish kebab) followed by cheese.  All the portions were quite small so it was just right for us. After lunch we had a stroll around the ship, trying to get our bearings. 

The ship offices, reception, shops, restaurants, the casino, bars and the theatre are on decks 5 and 6.  Most of the accommodation is on decks 8, 9 and 10 and then decks 11 and 12 are outside.

The ship is over 250m long so we should get plenty of exercise.

At 3pm there were still a few passengers arriving so we didn’t leave port until shortly before 4pm.  As soon as we were out of the harbour Kev started to feel a bit queasy so he took a pill which seemed to work.  At 4pm there as a ‘Welcome’ meeting in the theatre, where we given information about the cruise by Steven, the entertainment manager.
At 5pm there was an emergency drill – get your life jackets from your cabin and go to your muster station.

We’d decided to eat at the second sitting for the evening meal, not until 8.30pm so spent the early evening having a look at the shops – mostly expensive jewellery, watches, perfume etc - in a couple of bars (there are about 10 of them altogether...) or in our cabin. We were at a table with 6 others, all interesting people, taking nearly 2 hours over our meal.  7 courses available but we limited ourselves to a starter, main course and desert.
After dinner we went to the evening Show in the theatre, mostly singing dancing plus an aerial artist.  We then went to the casino but, as the blackjack table was full, we just watched.

Friday March 19th

We went to the presentation about Mauritius and Reunion, very well delivered by Steven.  Plenty of information about the excursions on offer but also a historical background of the discovery of the islands which was very interesting.

By 11am all the chairs in the shade around the pool were taken but we managed to put up a couple of more chairs in a shady corner.  Had a swim in one of the pools, a walk around the decks and then a bit of reading.
There were long queues at the 4 buffet areas so we had lunch in the restaurant and then spent the rest of the afternoon in the shade on the sundeck. 

Tonight was the Captain’s Cocktail Party an hour before diner.  The queue to get into the Theatre was half way down the ship and we were considering giving it a miss but then started chatting to the couple behind us who are from Huddersfield (Kev recognised the Yorkshire accent) so we stayed put.  Had loads of photos taken, together, individual and one with the captain – but I doubt if we’ll buy any of them!  Sat and chatted with the Huddersfield couple, Pat and David.  Pat’s sister lives in Hillcrest, which is the next town to Waterfall where Pat and Colin used to live before they moved to Richmond.
After dinner – sat with the same very friendly crowd as yesterday for dinner, Colin & Elsa, Andy & Margie, Hennie and Ena and once again were there for a couple of hours – we went to the evening magic show which was very entertaining but quite short, only about ½ hour.  Then we spent a bit of time in the casino watching the blackjack and roulette – once again the blackjack table was full so Kev still has some dollars in his pocket!

Saturday March 20th

There was a second briefing about the places that we’ll be visiting during the second week, Madagascar and Maputo.  Once again Steven gave interesting as well as factual information.  As yet we haven’t decided which excursions to take, not sure whether we’re better off going on one of the trips on offer or getting a taxi into St Louis and doing our own thing.

Much windier today so it wasn’t so crowded on the sun deck where we stayed until lunch time.  We ate in the restaurant and met an interesting couple from Cape Town – Kev recognised that they’d won the Geography quiz yesterday.  Quite a few people that we’ve met have been on a variety of cruises but, so far, we haven’t met anyone who’s done the St Helena trip.

During the day we could see the south coast of Madagascar in the distance In the afternoon we went to Steven’s talk about Greek mythology which was interesting.  We both knew quite a few of the stories but he put them in order and showed how they linked together. The theatre has got tiered seating and has room for getting on for 1000 people.  In the evenings they do the shows twice, at 9pm and 10.45pm.

After dinner, at 10pm,  we went up onto the top deck for the Stargazing chat.  Just the basic ones this evening, Mars, Saturn, the Southern Cross and Orion.  Although they switched off the nearby deck lights they overhead string of lights along the pool deck were still on so it wasn’t all that clear.

Spent the rest of the night in the ‘Irish’ pub (which doesn’t sell Guinness!!) chatting with Alan and Maggie.

Sunday March 21st

Our third day at sea.  We lost another hour overnight so didn’t get to bed until 2.15am.  I got up at 9.30 but Kev stayed in bed until 10.30.  I watched the ‘Crossing Capricorn’ ceremony on the pool deck.  Around 80 people took part and after getting water poured over them they had to kiss ‘Neptuni’ (a fish) and then had an egg cracked over their hair.  They then all sat round the pool while they had flour, tomato paste etc poured over them.  Once it was all over they had to drain the pool as it was filthy.

Had an early lunch in the restaurant and sat with Brenda and Andre again – they live in Kempton Park on the outskirts of Jo’burg.  Quite a busy afternoon as we went to watch the ‘Married Couples’ show which was great fun.  They, quite easily, got 4 couple to volunteer to take part and then asked the women questions about their partners followed by asking the guys about their wives.  Steven was an excellent game show host, very quick on the uptake from the answers that were given. Later we took part in the afternoon quiz and then bingo.

The dinners reflect a different culture each evening, but also offers ‘ordinary’ meals, tonight it was Indian cuisine.  The food has, on the whole, been good.  We both enjoyed the tandori chicken tonight.
The evening show was a hypnotist – excellent entertainment.  Lots of volunteers and of the 11 ‘victims’ 7 of them were successfully hypnotized and then did a variety of tasks ranging from ‘playing the piano to ballet dancing – great fun.

Monday March 22nd

We’d booked to go on a half day (4 hour) panoramic tour of the island which was to meet at 9.15am in the theatre so after a bit of breakfast we were there soon after 9am and received our bus number – 23.  We then had to wait for ages as the Mauritius authorities were taking their time over passport control so we didn’t get on the bus until 11am!!  The tour was interesting with several stopping off points. 

Mauritius is a volcanic island and our first stop was at the extinct volcano, Trou Aux Cerf,  nowadays full of vegetation with a lake in the bottom.  We then continued through narrow lanes to Curepipe.  Mauritius produces lots of clothes for famous fashion lines – Polo, Lacoste etc and much of it is made in the Curepipe area where there’s a factory outlet shop with a shop next door that makes model wooden ships – we spend all the time in the model shop which had ship in a wide range of sizes – and prices.  We were able to go upstairs to the workshop to watch them being made – fascinating, a pity that we only had a ½ hour stop.

Mauritius had a wide range of religions, one being Hinduism – many Indians were originally brought to the island as slaves.  We visited their most sacred site on the island, Grand Basin, which is a large lake which they believe is linked, underground, to India.  There are several statues in and around the lake plus a temple which we visited – once we’d removed our shoes.

We then traveled further inland to the Black River Gorge where there was a lookout point over the gorge.  The interior of the island is similar to St Helena with tropical vegetation and steep narrow lanes, however Mauritius also has plenty of beautiful sandy beaches and a reef around the island.

Our final stop was at Chamarel in the South West of the island where we saw an waterfall and then an area of barren, multi-coloured earth.  We then traveled back along the West coast to Port Louis.  Altogether the tour actually lasted for 6 hours so we didn’t get back to the ship until just before 5pm and as the it didn’t include lunch (as it was meant to be a half day excursion)everyone was starving!  We got a couple of not very nice rolls just before the tea buffet closed.

Had a drink with Colin and Elsa on the sun deck and then a rest in our cabin before the evening meal.
After dinner we all tried to find a bar with decent music.  We started in the Manhattan bar but the music was very slow so then we went to the Sinfonia Lounge – even worse (and almost empty!), then we tried the Irish pub which was much more lively, the only trouble with it being the fact that it’s the only bar where smoking is allowed.....  however we decided to stay and had a good evening.

Tuesday March 23rd

Another day in Mauritius.  It had rained overnight and there was still a bit of rain in the morning  We’d decided against another tour so after breakfast took the water taxi across the harbour to the town (Port Louis).  Found an ATM and got 1000 Mauritian rupees (about £25).  Wrote some postcards, bought stamps and sent them then wandered around the markets having a look at the goods on offer.  Lots of narrow, crowded alleyways with stallholders offering all sorts of clothing and tourist goods.  Kev bought a shirt and did a good bit of haggling, getting the price down from 1200 rupees to 600 - he enjoys haggling.

Were back on the ship for around 12.30, had lunch in the restaurant and then sat up on the sun deck for the rest of the afternoon. Just after 5pm the ship left Mauritius so we went up onto the top deck to watch our departure.

Another good evening with our dinner friends – comparing trips and market bargains.  The evening show was OK – a comedian/singer impersonator plus his 2 daughters (singing) then we decided on an ‘early’ night (only just after midnight!!).

Wednesday March 24th

Arrived in Le Port, the main port in Reunion, which is a French Departement and certainly reminded us of France.  It’s also a volcanic island but much ‘younger’ than Mauritius’ so more mountainous.  We’d originally booked a day tour (US$ 125 EACH...) as it was suggested during the talk about the island that it was difficult to get around the island otherwise, however yesterday afternoon they offered another option of getting a coach to the nearby fishing and tourist resort of St Gilles for US$ 36 each so we changed to this one.

The coach left at 9.30am and took ¾ hour to get to St Gilles – including the driver being stopped by the gendarmes for 10 minutes.  We passed through a couple of towns and could see that the shops were the same as in France, Super U, M. Bricolage etc etc.

Once in St Gilles we went to the beach which was divided into 2 sections, the part protected by the harbour wall was for swimming and further to the right, where there were plenty of waves, was for surfers.  We went for a swim and found that the beach shelved gently for the first few metres and then suddenly dropped so you were out of your depth, but no longer getting pulled to and fro by the gentle looking but strong waves.

We then were able to leave our bags by the lifeguards hut while we walked into the town where we wandered along the main street having a look in the tourist shops.  Kev bought a colourful Reunion shirt – no haggling here though!  We then bought a baguette for lunch – it actually made a nice change just to have a sandwich! - and then went back to the beach for another swim.  I did a bit on snorkeling but there wasn’t anything but sand and a few rocks. Caught the bus back at 2pm and were on the sun deck an hour later.  The ship left the port at 5pm, once again there were lots of passengers on the outside decks watching it leave.

Thursday March 25th

Nice to have a day at sea so that we could relax!  Had a lie in until 10am – bliss!!  Spent most of the day on the sun deck.  Overcast in the morning (but still very warm) and, as there were no spaces in the shade on the pool deck we sat on the upper deck.  After lunch we managed to find a couple of chairs in the shade – there was much less cloud cover so we needed some shade.

The evening followed the same format as most of them. Around 7pm we went to one of the lounges for a couple of drinks before our evening meal.  Sometimes we’re on our own, sometimes our ‘dinner’ friends join us.  Unfortunately there’s only a couple of bars with live music and they often play the same tunes – OK for a short cruise of 3 or 4 nights (which is what most of them are) but it gets a bit much after 10 days or so....   Dinner starts at 8.45pm and we’re usually there until 10.30pm when we make our way to the theatre for the evening entertainment.  After that we sometimes have another drink but, again, there’s not a lot of choice and the most entertaining bar is the one that allows smoking (the Irish Pub) and after we spent an hour or so there earlier in the cruise I had to wash all our clothes as they stank of smoke so we’ve avoided it since.

Friday March 26th

Madagascar used to be a French colony but is now independent.  It’s the 4th largest island in the world and is over 1500km from North to South.  Nowadays it is a very poor country, partly due to the in-fighting between local tribes – there are 13 different languages on the island as well as French, which is still meant to be the main one.
We arrived in North East Madagascar at a small island called Ile aux Nattes, just south of a much larger island, Ile St Marie.

Ile aux Nattes is only 3km across with no harbours (or roads) so the ship stopped in the bay and we were ferried to shore by rubber zodiacs.  A beautiful island with a reef to the East and amazing turquoise seas. Once ashore we walked along the path by the beach until we got away from the crowds and then went for a swim, after which we had a walk along the narrow beach fringed with coconut trees.  Then it started to rain and after a couple of minutes it was throwing it down so we headed back to our rucksack and clothes – which were soaked by the time we got back, however the rain was warm so we weren’t cold.  Sat under the eaves of a small shop until the rain eased off and then had our lunch – cheese and beef rolls that I’d made at breakfast this morning.

Later, as we were wandering back we stopped at a small bar for a drink.  There were a couple of guys with beers – they were French - so we asked how much in Euros (we’d been told on the ship that they would accept Euros and US dollars).  They called the owner who said $1, trouble was we only had a $5 note and they had no change.  We were just about to leave when one of the French guys said that he’d buy us a beer so we sat down and joined them.  Our French is a bit rusty but we found him quite easy to understand, he said that he’d had a restaurant in the Pyrenees, south of Lourdes, and had retired to Mozambique (couldn’t afford to live on Reunion!).  A little later a couple of gendarmes walked by and he invited them for a drink so it was handshakes all round and they joined us. Once we’d bid our friends goodbye we walked back to the beach where we had landed, found a safe spot for the rucksack and went for a swim – the sea was very shallow there.  I took my snorkel and saw quite a few fish, some of them were quite colourful.

Saturday March 27th

At sea today, sailing from the north of Madagascar to the South so we spent most of the day in the shade on the sun deck.

Sunday March 28th

Arrived at Fort Dauphin in the South of Madagascar.  It’s a very new port that has been built for exporting titanium and the first time the MSC company have used the harbour.  Previously cruise ships had to stay in the bay and ferry passengers ashore but we were told that it’s been 4 years since that happened.  A beautiful sunny morning with lovely views along the coast and of the mountains quite close to the shore.

The tour that we were interested in, to the local botanic gardens where you’re likely to see lemurs, was fully booked but Colin and Elsa had got tickets but weren’t able to go so, yesterday, we bought their tickets for the afternoon tour.  This meant that we were able to have a lie in and missed breakfast – again! 

During the morning there was a ‘Crew Drill’ which took well over 1 hour.  To start with they were distributed around the ship at all staircases and corridors then they went to their muster stations and finally disembarked and lined up on the quay.

After an early lunch we left for our visit to the Nahampoano Reserve.  We were taken by a shuttle bus out of the port and then transferred to local buses.  We were on a small minibus, only 12 people.  To start with we traveled along a good tar road between the coast and the mountains but later turned onto a very bumpy track with small villages on either side, mostly consisting of small huts made of reeds and palms, many of them on short ‘stilts’.  Soon we were passing rice fields and thick tropical vegetation.  At the parking place by the reserve there were lots of local people with goods they wanted to sell – necklaces, shells, baskets etc. 

Our local guide spoke some English but it was often difficult to understand what he said.  He took us into the reserve which, I believe, used to be a botanic garden when the French were in charge of the island.  There were avenues of palm trees, bamboos and flowering shrubs.  Our guide took us to an enclosure which had a crocodile in the water – a much narrower snout than the ones that we’ve seen on the mainland.  It was extremely hot and also very humid so soon everyone had wet shirts!  Our guide then showed us the ‘Bamboo Forest,’ which had several different types, one of them was huge with stems over 30cm in diameter and 20m high.   Next we saw a small eucalyptus oil ‘factory’ – a couple of drums where the oil is extracted from the leaves.  After that was the highlight of the tour – a group of lemurs, well hidden in the trees as it was so hot.  They are obviously used to people as they mostly ignored us and carried on eating the small black fruits They were all white except for their black faces – very cute and cuddly looking!

We then made our way back to the minibus, stopping briefly to watch some local dancing and then at a small shop, and were taken back to the ship. Soon after we were back on board we left St Dauphine and were able to watch the sun setting over the island.

Monday March 29th

Another day at sea as we traveled West towards Mozambique.  Spent most of the day on the sun deck – in the shade as it was sunny all day but with a nice sea breeze.  In the morning we went to a talk about African flora and fauna, and particularly birds, which was interesting.
We've been so lucky with our dinner companions, we all get on so well and the couple of hours that we usually spend at the table seems to pass very quickly. The evening show was the best we’ve seen on this trip – 4 Spanish flamenco dancers.

Tuesday March 30th

For the first time on this cruise we saw our entry into a port – Maputo in Mozambique (previously the ship had docked by 6am).
I stood on the top deck from 9am for a couple of hours watching our approach.  There were lots of fishing boats in the bay, small rowing boats, dhows and a few larger fishing vessels.  Once we’d rounded the point and entered the river mouth we could see Catembe, on the left bank, - this is where we’d crossed the river with our truck to get to Maputo nearly 2 years previously.  We saw the ferry, on the Maputo side of the river, loaded with vehicles and soon after we’d passed by it crossed to Catembe.
The ship was only in Maputo for half a day and as it would have cost us UD$50 each for a visa we decided to stay on board (South African citizens didn’t need a visa).  With over half the passengers going into Maputo we had a quiet afternoon in a shady part of the sun deck.

Wednesday March 31st.

The first day that it’s been cloudy and a bit too cold to stay on the outside decks – a pity as we were traveling quite close to the coast for the first part of the journey.  We stayed inside reading and going to some of the on board entertainment – I won the $25 at bingo for the first ‘line’.

Arrived and had docked in Durban by midnight.

Thursday April 1st.

Disembarkation started at 8.15am.  Lots of time sitting around and then queuing but eventually we got off and picked up our bags by 10.30am and were met by Adelle and Ryan who took us back to Richmond via Pietermaritzburg as we'd arranged to pick up our truck from the garage. However when we got there we were told that the engine was overheating.............no NOT an April fool............so it wasn't ready yet - what a disappointment.

 

At sea, on board the MSC SInfonia.

Mauritius.

Reunion.

Ile St-Marie, Madagascar.

Fort Dauphin, Madagascar.

Maputo, Mozambique.

Diary

 

 

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