SILVER WIND– CRUISES 2406, 2407 AND 2408
CAPE TOWN TO BARCELONA,
27 FEBRUARY TO 5 APRIL 2014
PART 2 AMAZING AFRICAN ADVENTURE
Review of the ports visited during Cruise 2407 from Tema, Ghana to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands
The review of the cruise on Silver Wind can be found under our posting entitled “West African Wanderings”. What follows is a review of the ports visited on the subsequent cruise from Tema to Las Palmas.
TAKORADI, GHANA 14 MARCH 2014
We had to pay $50 for the privilege of a visa to enter Ghana, but the greedy so and so's charged us this amount twice, once each for the two ports, Tema and Takoradi!
Takoradi is half of a twin city, the other being Sekondi. It is in fact famous for being Ghana's first deepwater harbour, built in 1928, and is the region's largest city, Takoradi being the smaller. The twin towns of Sekondi-Takoradi are together known as the Twin City. In reality they should be known as the triplets, as Takoradi is split into two separate areas, a beachside area with hotels and restaurants, and a couple of miles inland the hub of city life, with its dominant centrepiece, the noisy and bustling Circular Market.
Fortunately once again, Silversea provided us with a complimentary shuttle bus service which dropped us only yards away from this market. Despite the 8.00 am arrival at the container port, we did not rush ashore, and we arrived at the Circular Market around 10.00 am. Takoradi is very similar to the port of Tema we had left yesterday, a higgledy piggledy jumble of small dwellings, interspersed with small shops and potholed streets.
The market was incredible, completely circular, with shops on the outside facing the road, and a maze of stalls on the inside. The stall holders were predominately female, ranging in age from old ladies to young girls, with many women feeding their infants sitting on tiny stools, with only a small minority of men fronting some stalls. Once inside this maze of alleyways, all sense of direction is lost, and it appears that the alleys are getting narrower, and it becomes a real labyrinth. The merchandise seems to overflow onto the paths, and the further into the heart of this teeming mass you venture, the corrugated iron roofs seem to become more oppressive and no daylight penetrated into this area at all. To offset this, many had kerosene lamps hanging from the roof. The goods on sale were so diverse, ranging from food, chicken, fish, both fresh and smoked, almost completely covered with flies, to herbs and spices, both fresh and dried, and clothes, from bras to football shirts and hats! We remarked that their constitution must be so good, if they eat all this produce, after all the flies had sampled it first!
Exterior of the Takoradi Central (Circular) market on the left; note the businesses on the upper floor.
Running through this market, were deep drain-like channels, some of which carried water as well as all sorts of flotsam and jetsam. Indeed outside the market maze, but within the circle, was a huge three foot wide drain, much deeper than that on the inside, which seemed to be used as a general garbage dumping ground, and you can imagine the smells which emanated from this area! On the perimeter were various trucks, one of which was crammed full of boxes of tomatoes, around which were a throng of both sexes bidding for the fruit. These looked really ripe and by the crowds massing around, they thought so too. However, we were not tempted to buy anything from the market, and we decided to get a taxi to visit Sekondi.
The setup was very efficient. Next to the shuttle bus was a guy named Elvis (yes really) who appeared to "run" the taxis. He asked you where you wanted to go, and for how long. He then called over waiting taxis from the other side of the road, took their name, their registration number and their cell phone number, all of which he wrote down, and off we went. By this means I think they got far more custom, as passengers felt it was regulated and therefore safer.
We wanted to see two things for which Sekondi is known. One was the fishing village and the other was the colonial-era railway station building.
The journey with John, our taxi driver, in a car which though not pristine, was in not too bad a shape, took only about 15 minutes. Arriving in Sekondi, with the ocean on our right, after a drive through lush greenery it was pretty evident that this was the older town. Nearly all the buildings were run down, in a very bad state of disrepair and along the oceanside were little stalls and wooden shacks that had such an air of desolation and poverty, it was quite depressing. Turning off this road, we drove inland, through equally dismal buildings until we came to the fishing village. This was incredible as we drove through a parking area, with many trucks and old vehicles, the former obviously used to transport the fish to market. Getting out, we were led down to the waters edge where there must have been over 50 battered fishing boats, not much more than canoes, as far as the eye could see, some of which were beached. Many had planks of wood missing, and one wondered if indeed they were seaworthy! This area was very muddy, presumably as the tide was out. There were several women selling the fish, surprisingly enough, some of the fish were alive, and there were a few crabs trying to make a bolt for freedom out of the bowl in which they had been placed. One lady motioned to her purse round her waist and wanted to sell me a fish, which was the size of a sprat. We were surprised that she obviously spoke no English, hence the sign language. It was also a surprise to note that there were no big fish on sale, and we wondered if those had already been sold or taken to market. Just above the water level were many tiny shacks, one of which said "Sea View Cafe" whose owner was a very large lady with tinted red hair, she spoke to us and hoped we would partake of whatever drinks she sold. However John asked her where the railway station was, and a guy appeared and got into our taxi, presumably to direct our taxi driver.
Sekondi Fishing fleet
We left the fish market area and drove round a few side streets, but it was plain that neither knew where this building was. Jessie - the "invited" guide then said he would take us on foot. We came to a clearing with the Ghanaian flag flying on a small flagpole, and facing what looked like a freshly constructed ramp and newly placed ballast. To the left on a raised platform was a length of rails laid on ballast, which had obviously been preserved for posterity, but there was no sign of any railway building, so it must have been demolished. The clearance of the site must have been recent because no vegetation had yet started to grow.
The railway station is a well-known feature in Sekondi and all ship's tours were taken to this location, so it was evident that the ship's agents were unaware of its recent demolition and the abandonment of passenger services to the town. Sadly this was not the only colonial building whose use had come to an end, because we drove past the former post office which had clearly been out of use for some time and was derelict.
ABIDJAN COTE D'IVOIRE 15 MARCH 2014
Abidjan is the former capital city of the Ivory Coast, and currently the economic capital. it is the largest city in the nation and is the third largest French speaking city in the world after Paris and Kinshasa. It is a unique city in West Africa and its nicknames, Manhattan of the Tropics, Small Manhattan, or Pearl of the Lagoons, explains the city's topography. It also has lovely beaches around the lagoon.
Docking promptly at 8.00 am, we aimed to do the one and only trip offered by Silversea. This was a full day tour incorporating lunch at a local hotel in Grand Bassam. We left the port in convoy of four coaches preceded by an official port authority vehicle, with four uniformed men. We were not only in the leading coach, but also sitting in the front seat and therefore had a marvellous view of what was going on.
Probably because there were three other coaches behind us, we left at a snail's pace, which was actually helpful for taking photos. The streets were wide, with very much of a French influence, and the road out of the port led up a fairly steep hill. We continued at this snail's pace until both our guide and the driver gestured to the port authority guys, to "plus vite", in other words, get a move on, which they did, but only marginally!
One wonders how well they knew their town, as driving down a dual carriageway; we suddenly crossed the road and returned the way we had just come! Finally on the outskirts of town, we actually drove at probably the speed limit. The scenery as we passed became less town and more little individual clusters of habitation, little more than small shacks, interspersed with shops selling a variety of different goods and offering many different services from tyres and car components to clothes. Passing a large group of people all milling round, our guide told us that this was virtually a refugee area, where many people who had come from Niger, Mali, and many other neighbouring countries, lived apparently reasonably harmoniously and that they all managed to scratch a living.
Turning off the highway by what appeared to be an unorthodox route as the surface of the road was unmetalled we were confronted by two obstacles. First a funeral cortege was heading along the narrow road that we needed to traverse, with all the mourners, about 50, walking on foot at a slow pace. Once they had passed, there was a low hanging telegraph cable which was too low for our coach to pass under. Eventually someone found a pole long enough to raise the cable, so the coaches could pass underneath!
Our first stop was at the centre “Artisanal de Abidjan”, a small cooperative which was housed in a very small clearing by the side of the river, covered with bits of corrugated roofing. There were a few workers showing how they made the metalwork, and various men actually carving objects. All very fundamental, but on sale at quite inflated prices, but a few passengers did buy the various items on offer.
Arriving in Grand Bassam, the old French colonial capital city from 1893 to 1896, we stopped for a visit at the National Costume Museum. This was packed with several groups of children in school uniform, early teens, who were obviously on a school visit, and many of them were kneeling on the floor in front of the exhibits making notes. They were quite boisterous and friendly and answered our greetings in French both verbally and with big grins. Some of them were lined up outside in the grounds, obviously taking it in turns to gain entry into the building. Inside the unlit rooms were various figures of the inhabitants of the past centuries wearing the costumes of the period. These also included fetishes and masks. In the grounds behind the building there was a ”sales opportunity” with a variety of objects, some of which included extremely large carvings of elephants and other animals which no passenger could possibly hope to transport abroad unless by sea.
After a stop of about half an hour here, we drove through the town of Grand Bassam which runs parallel to the ocean, to our hotel for lunch, the Etoile du Sud. They had set out tables on a terrace, with the overload seated on chairs on the sand covered by an awning literally yards from the beach, which was pristine, with beautiful surf rolling in. There were quite a few locals swimming, surfing and walking along the beach. We suspect that many were staying in the hotel. The lunch consisted of various dishes both hot and cold, from beef, chicken to salads and vegetables. It was very well organised and we thoroughly enjoyed it. As usual, some passengers moaned that wine was not included with the lunch and that the food was not ready and waiting for them, as if they had not eaten for weeks! In view of the number for which the hotel had to cater, we felt they did a brilliant job. The planned shopping stop at the market on the way back was cancelled on a majority vote.
Abidjan outer suburban market and basic housing seen from a highly-congested principal highway
The highlight of the return journey was the amazing traffic which had built up in the intervening hours - it was only about 3.00 pm, but it was virtually nose to tail. Once again our port authority vehicle, with its four occupants headed the convoy. As the traffic increased, one of them, kept shooting his arm out of the window and gesticulated at the car drivers to move out of our way - indeed throughout the whole journey, should any car get in front of us, the police gestured frantically for them to get out of our path. Finally the traffic ground to a complete halt, so two of them got out and told whoever the driver was, be it car or truck to move. Finding it virtually impossible to move the traffic which surrounded us, they decided to drive onto the other carriage way facing the fast driving oncoming traffic, thinking this would be the solution!! When it became completely gridlocked, the remaining two occupants of our port authority vehicle, carrying AK 47s, got out and waved their weapons at the oncoming traffic!! Miraculously the traffic melted away and we drove off at a merry pace. As the guide said - we were VIPs’ and were treated royally. We all remarked that we wished we could do the same back home! With their help we finally arrived back at the port and home. We had thoroughly enjoyed our day, and not least the hair-raising journey home!!
BANJUL, GAMBIA 18 MARCH 2014
This country was made well-known to the world thanks to Alex Haley and his book “Roots” which was made into a television series, and tells the story of a native of The Gambia who is captured as a slave and sent to Virginia in the USA and the trials and tribulations of his life.
Gambia which is only 4,360 square miles is the smallest country on the continent, and has a cooperative relationship with its neighbour Senegal, despite having separated from the federation of Senegambia in the early 1990's. Its first historical accounts come from the Arab traders in the 9th and 10th centuries, it was then taken over by the Portuguese who subsequently sold the trade rights to the British, becoming a colony in 1899, before finally becoming independent in February 1965.
We didn’t dock until around 11.00 am, so had a leisurely breakfast and a good sail in up The Gambia river. The shuttle bus service dropped us off in the city centre, at the Albert Market, where we went inside the market itself. This was almost a repeat of the other markets we had seen, particularly in Takoradi, and had the same produce as in Ghana.
We then decided to stroll around the surrounding streets and we very shortly gained a "minder", who started to point out various buildings, as I was photographing. We had been warned by the ship that informal guides known as "bumsters" abound. Initially we ignored him, but when it became too problematic, I told him to go away in Arabic, which not only surprised him, but also did the trick, and he melted away into the crowd. We then picked up yet another, who purported to be from "the security" force (which he wasn’t); he had a badge round his neck to confirm it! He also proved a pain, and we stopped at some genuine police in the streets to ask the location of the internet café for which we were looking. Having made certain we were on the right track, we tried to ignore Mr. minder No. 2 only to find the original guy several paces ahead. So we then had two “minders” to ignore!
Off the main thoroughfare, the streets were rubbish-strewn and potholed. Even though we were the only white people, we did not feel threatened because there were plenty of locals around.
Banjul’s market on right
We eventually came to the Internet cafe and ascertained it would be US$1 for an hour. As the internet speed was really slow, and after checking there were no urgent emails, we left after 20 minutes, thereby fooling our two minders who may have been waiting outside when the hour had elapsed. On arrival back at the ship there were many stall holders displaying their wares on the quayside and I was tempted and bought a scarf.
At 5.30pm in the evening the ship recorded the shade temperature as 99.7 F, - 38C. However several hours later for deck barbecue, many people repaired to the dining room because of the very cold wind across the open decks, and the residual dining room staff had to be augmented by pool deck staff.
DAKAR, SENEGAL 19 MARCH 2014
Senegal is the western most nation in Africa, which stretches out into the Atlantic and is bordered to the north by Mauretania, Mali to the East, and Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to the south.
We docked early at 7.00 am and got the shuttle bus into the main square. We were looking for artisanal shops, but most of the buildings nearby were office and banks. As we had visited Dakar previously and didn’t feel like wandering too far without a good map, we just walked round the square and then returned to the ship. Unfortunately as we were leaving at 1.00 pm, this didn’t give us very long to go further afield.
Docking as one seems to do everywhere these days, despite the size of your ship, in a large container port, facilities for merchants to display their wares are minimal on the quayside and here was no exception. We were looking for a postcard for our butler, which we had been doing in all ports where we could find any, and the few stalls that had been set up were uninteresting and not one offered postcards.
When we arrived Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner was in the dock across from ours, and we guessed there would be more local vendors in view of the size of their ship. Despite being so near us, by the time we had negotiated round the many wharves and cranes, it was just over a ten minute walk away. We were correct in our assumption, with not only many more vendors, but a postcard seller too, who was asking for one US dollar per postcard which included a stamp. I picked up two cards and gave him one dollar and said I didn’t need the stamp, he didn’t demur! We learned that Ray Solaire, a cruise director ex Silversea and Oceania, was now with Regent on its Seven Seas Navigator.
Dakar central square
Having completed our mission, we walked back round to the Silver Wind and back on board before sailing.
On leaving Dakar, the wind which had started when we left Gambia, increased and this was to dog us and cause a problem until we arrived in Barcelona on 5 April.
PRAIA, CAPE VERDE 20 MARCH 2014
In common with nearly all the West African countries visited so far, who charged for visas, Praia is no exception. We felt that it was exorbitant to charge a visa fee of 32 Euros, should one wish to go ashore. Based on reports we had found on the internet that were uncomplimentary about Praia, we were unsure whether to bother but we were glad that we did.
The shuttle bus dropped us off only yards from the main square, which was very pretty, clean and so reminiscent of rural Portugal.
Praia central square
We wanted to go to the island’s Cidade Velha which is the old city and about a 20 minute drive away and a tour which was offered by the ship, but we felt that we would be able to do it more cheaply, without all the extra entrances into museums etc. It was only a few minutes walk to pick up a taxi by the church, and we negotiated a lower price to that for which we were asked, but it was slightly easier for us with our basic Portuguese. We agreed 30 Euros, which we thought was quite expensive, but felt that there were not many taxis available and if we went to find someone else the price could well be the same.
The journey across the island, which was quite undulating and barren with few trees, also ran close to the ocean and we could see little coves. The road was wide with a good surface, with not much traffic. Eventually the road dropped down through very narrow streets and we knew we had finally arrived at Cidade Velha. Parking in a small car park, we got out and walked to the little beach with very black sand and some bathers. Fronting this little cove which was quite rocky, with only a small expanse of sand, was a couple of little cafe/restaurants, and the smell of cooking was quite tantalising. Although the dilapidated typically Portuguese barbecue stood on the beach waiting for the sardines to be brought out of the sea and cooked, there was no sign of it happening anytime soon, otherwise we might have been tempted to stay. One of the restaurants appeared to have been built on the old wall ramparts and there were many diners, and people sitting having drinks, most appeared to be tourists, possibly off the AidaVita which was also docked in Praia.
In the middle of the town was a little square with the pelourinho - originally a whipping post, and a few street vendors selling a variety of different items together with a few paintings and postcards. This was very picturesque and we could have wandered back up towards the town and the fort which towered over this little village, but as the 30 Euros we had paid for the taxi was only for an hour's duration, we got back into the taxi and returned to the modern town of Praia from where we had left. Despite the cost of the visas, we were pleased we had ventured to this island stuck out in the middle of the Atlantic.
The Cidade Velha on Praia
SANTA CRUZ, TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS, 23 MARCH
We arrived around 08.00, about an hour ahead of HAL’s Noordam docking close to the inter-island ferry terminal.
The ship’s shuttle dropped us close to Fundación tram (trolley) stop on the Tranvia metro Tenerife system. Being quite early on a Sunday, everywhere was closed and there was little traffic, though there were maybe 15 other locals waiting for the next outbound tram.
Our destination was La Laguna, conveniently located close to the end of one of the Tranvia’s line at Trinidad. The one-way fare was Euro1.35 and we had taken the precaution of having sufficient coins, judging correctly that the self-service ticket machine would not accept euro notes, although it did give change, so there is no necessity to have the correct amount.
La Laguna claims to be Tenerife’s second most important city, its first capital until 1723 and, from 1999, a UNESCO world heritage site. Its full name is Ciudad de San Cristóbal de la Laguna, which is Saint Christopher's city. It sits at 1,600 feet above sea level but only about five miles from Santa Cruz and the principal streets are largely traffic-free. By virtue of it being Sunday, the main street of La Laguna was virtually dead, with most shops closed. Many of the buildings on the main street date back several hundred years. At the top end lies the cathedral, outside of which were several cafes, which seemed to burst into life once the service in the cathedral was over and people streamed out of the main entrance.
San Cristóbal cathedral and plaza, la Laguna
The weather was cold here, not least because of the height above sea level, rain clouds threatened and, after exploring a few streets off the cathedral square, we patronised a café in the square for two reasonably-priced hot chocolates and an hour’s worth of Wi-Fi. Then we retraced our steps back down the main street to the Trinidad tram terminus and then back to the ship. Even now, retail outlets in Santa Cruz were virtually all still closed.
Considering this port is very tourist orientated, it was very surprising that most places, not only in La Laguna, but also in Santa Cruz resembled a ghost town because it was Sunday. Seemingly gone are the days, when if a cruise ship was in port, shopkeepers would stay open until the ship departed!
LAS PALMAS, GRAN CANARIA, CANARY ISLANDS 24 MARCH 2014
Las Palmas was the end port for cruise 2407 and the start of cruise 2408 and roughly 220 passengers disembarked, whilst 200 embarked. AidaCara was docked on the opposite side of the cruise ship quay and we were told that an Aida ship uses this as its home port to offer sailings round the Canaries.
Main shopping street in Las Palmas old town
We walked to the entrance to the dedicated cruise facility and paid Euro 6.50 for a cab to the old town and walked along the pedestrianised main street, soaking up the atmosphere and admiring the architecture of some of the older buildings. Of note was that maybe 25% of the properties were empty, whilst those still trading offered a wide range of retail outlets, but no food in the remainder; in fact, there were surprisingly few cafes. Roughly a third of the people in this area were clearly tourists. All this provided an interesting insight into this part of Las Palmas, away from the holiday resorts, and after a few hours browsing the area we got a cab to return to the ship.
Part 3 – Las Palmas to Barcelona can be found under a separate posting entitled “The Wind Blown Wind”.