SILVER WIND– CRUISES 2406, 2407 AND 2408
CAPE TOWN TO BARCELONA,
27 FEBRUARY TO 5 APRIL 2014
PART 1 WEST AFRICAN WANDERINGS
Review of the ship for all three cruises and the ports visited during Cruise 2406 from Cape Town, South Africa to Tema, Ghana
Silversea revised its passenger documentation arrangements around the start of 2014. Out went the large document wallet, that few used, and luggage tags; in came a smaller silver box containing a booklet, which included the cruise tickets, and itinerary notes. Whereas we previously got our silver box three weeks or so prior to departure, this time our pack came only a couple of days before we left for Cape Town, the pack being produced in Italy. The reason being our third and final leg from Las Palmas to Barcelona had not been printed. Beware world cruisers!
Whilst waiting to embark Silver Wind in Cape Town on 27 February, we were talking to Asta, the Future Cruise Consultant and Venetian Society hostess when we noticed her gaze looking beyond us. We turned to see our old friend, Captain Gennaro Arma, in civilian clothes and looking for the opportunity to renew our acquaintance. He had flown in from Valparaiso two days’ previously, having left Silver Spirit and was taking over command of the Wind. After some pleasantries, we embarked.
After our photo was taken at Reception, we were met by Cruise Director, Colin Brown, who was sadly disembarking for a well-earned holiday. After a quick exchange of news we sought a warm, shady table outside the pool bar for our introductory Pimms. Passengers came and went but we were in no rush to get into cabin 718.
About 3pm, Captain Arma came along his well-trodden route around the port side of the pool. Dressed in uniform, he came to our table, leaned over and whispered ‘I’m in charge now!’ He asked if he could join us for a coffee and this gave us a better chance to catch up on his news. 45 minutes later, the queue of staff wanting his attention meant that he had to go and so did we, to see whether our cases had arrived and unpacking could begin.
The ship was full, with 270 passengers, of which about 15 were travelling solo. There were two party bookings. One was a group of around 50 from Hawaii, who were not actually travelling as a unified party. The other group of about 30 were all followers of an American radio broadcaster. We kept getting different explanations about this guy, who seemed to be ultra-conservative, embrace Jews and Christians and boasted he was now on his third wife. They had events some nights, which closed off venues to other passengers, but were otherwise unobtrusive. These parties serve as a warning about how a large party could (and have) effectively dominated a small ship.
Cape Town’s wind had abated on the 27th after several days, and we set sail in fine weather. Next day was at sea but that night we ran into fog as we headed for Luderitz. Reviews of the ports will be dealt with later in this document. A number of these were first calls for a ‘standard’ Silversea ship and this explains why the voyage sold out so quickly after bookings opened. Everyone without exception that we spoke to said they had booked because of the itinerary.
Sadly, some passengers seemed to think the ports we visited would mirror the Italian or French Riviera. Luanda in Angola was far from the poorest place we visited, being the capital of an oil-rich country, yet one passenger berated the Tours Manager that she should not have been taken there.
Cotonou, Benin, was deck barbecue night and it proved to be a hot, humid tropical evening. By 10pm, several people were in the pool, cooling off after exuberant dancing.
Meanwhile, Captain Arma was clearly not happy with the state of Silver Wind, as inherited from his predecessor, who we shall refrain from naming. Several members of the crew described his predecessor as ‘lazy’. Most noticeable to us was the work he put in train around the swimming pool and wet areas. Subtle, largely un-noticed other upgrading was progressed but there was a limit to the resources available to the onboard team; more extensive work would require a dry dock visit.
Talking of which, we love Silver Wind; it’s our favourite ship, maybe because it was our first Silversea ship. We accept that it is far from new and getting tired in some areas. We heard that, in very heavy seas which we encountered, the windows in the Deck 4 cabins leaked, whilst water came through some Deck 5 balcony doors.
During packing in Barcelona, we were concerned to find many of our clothes coated in dust and small hairs, far more in fact, than we found in our home on return after six weeks! This most probably came from the air conditioning but our butler was dismissive about it, so had a vacuum cleaner sprayed the dust accidentally in the wardrobe?
One of our cabin chairs resembled a rocking chair and did not stand as stable as it should have done, whilst the sofa was badly worn. The dark brown wood and marble in the bathroom looks dated and should be changed, and the wash basin taps are now legendary and spray water everywhere! In the tropics, the air conditioning in the cabin opposite was excessively cold, yet ours struggled to cool our cabin at all, and we hate a/c! In fact turning the dial either way seemed to make no difference. The seal on our balcony door was ill fitting, and the paintwork on the outside was virtually non existent, with a screw missing from the handle. Taken together with the leakage on balcony doors and windows, the suites need significant expenditure to bring them up to 5* standard.
Suite doors are also poor at suppressing corridor noise. Lady butlers seemingly cannot carry trays as heavy as their male counterparts, and are therefore provided with trolleys as an alternative. These trolleys rattle noisily and from 6am there was a regular ‘run’ by the butlers, taking room service breakfast to the (typically) half dozen suites who were early risers. Silent trolleys need substituting and cabin door insulation upgrading, to stop passengers being woken by butlers servicing those passengers who wish to rise at 6.00am.
The first cruise Voyage 2406 ended in Accra Ghana; actually Tema, Accra’s port. The weather began to change as we sailed north from the Ivory Coast. Banjul had been chosen for the deck barbecue and at 5.30pm the ship reported the temperature as 99.7’F! Once the sun set, the cold wind put a different complexion on things. The dining room had been set up with just two waiter stations on the expectation most would dine on deck. The cold wind, however, brought a steady stream of passengers into the dining room and the ship’s managers had to begin moving waiters from the deck barbecue to the dining room to cope. When we went out on deck at 9.30 pm, there were hardly any passengers and large quantities of untouched food was being taken away.
In our experience, the deck barbecue is always a hit-or miss affair due to the weather. It also brings out the worst behaviour among some passengers, who push and shove others, and we have said many times the work and effort by the crew is just not worth it. Have a post-dinner deck party but scrap the food aspect.
The strong, cold wind that blighted the Banjul deck barbeque continued to plague us. After the next turn-round day in Las Palmas, came Arrecife, Lanzarote, also part of the Canaries. Leaving here, the Captain’s welcome cocktail party was cancelled due to the motion of the ship caused by the strong wind. Only 75 out of around 230 passengers made it to dinner that night, the rest presumably remained in their cabins. Chairs, with passengers on them, slid around the wooden floor in the dining room!
Pity the poor crew, who could not retire to their cabins, but had to keep the ship fully functioning, and not just on that evening. Even in the Mediterranean, leaving Cartagena (our final port), the Captain announced he had revised his navigation to hug the coast. The last 12 hours before Barcelona, however, found us again encountering very rough seas due to the wind. By now, the crew looked really worn out by the effects of the high seas, and many had to resort to pills for seasickness.
The weather’s impact caused us to miss Agadir, Morocco. Leaving Madeira, the Captain explained that a complex low pressure was forming in the vicinity, whilst there was high pressure over Morocco. He had been advised that, even if he managed to get into the port of Agadir, he would not be able to get out. He therefore headed at full speed for Casablanca, where we stayed for two days, instead of the planned one. For some passengers, this was a good outcome as they could visit both Marrakesh and Rabat should they wish. Unfortunately for us who have visited Casablanca on many occasions and seen most of what she has to offer, it was a huge disappointment not to land in Agadir as it would have been a first!
By virtue of the overnight stay in Casablanca, the deck barbeque for this cruise was moved from the night we were due to be in Malaga, to Casablanca. The reason was because the weather prospects for Malaga were not good, and at least it was forecast to be only showery in Casablanca. As a precaution, only half the usual number of tables were set up on deck, and the dining room staffed for half capacity. This proved to be well judged in terms of passenger preferences, but a (personally) surprising number of hardy souls braved the cold evening air to dine on deck.
The Executive Chef changed in Arrecife, Chris replacing Anne-Marie. The latter had included Oriental items at meal times to cater for the handful of Chinese passengers on board and we enjoyed these dishes, and some menus included specific African dishes. We were less pleased with the dinner menus after Arrecife. English pub lunch was the day after Gibraltar, when we were in Malaga Spain. Despite three calls in Spanish ports, tapas dishes were never offered at either lunch or dinner. This was a surprise, not least as Silversea states that menus featuring regional specialities unique to the voyage destination are routinely offered. Baked Alaska, specially requested for a private party of eight, was botched. The ship also had no mandarin liqueur to make a proper crepe suzette. Cooked shellfish, especially lobster, was always salted to excess, a trait about which we have complained on other Silversea cruises. The menu in Le Champagne had seemingly not changed since we were on Silver Spirit last April. Despite the specifics mentioned, the food was of a generally high standard which we now expect from Silversea.
Enrichment and port information was clearly delineated between the two cruises from Cape Town to Las Palmas and the final cruise thereafter to Barcelona. During the first two, we had ‘enrichment’ speakers on different aspects of Africa. One disembarked in Accra and was replaced by another enrichment speaker, who discussed world security issues. All three were very interesting and informative. The Shore Concierge Manager described the ports in her presentations about the trips offered by Silversea.
From Las Palmas we had Corey Sandler as a ‘destination expert’. Corey is a nice guy, whom we have sailed with previously, but he is/was a journalist and was no more an expert on the ports being visited than we were, as a result of our in-depth research. We know Madeira much better than he and picked up errors and omissions during his presentation. He tries to give the proper pronunciation for the country being visited, in this case, Spain and Portugal. However he has the infuriating habit of using American pronunciation for place names, such as “Lanzer Wrote” for Lanzarote, not pronouncing the “e”, which helps no one to learn the correct name of the place. He also referred to the “Aye Zores”, which as an American, is the way they say it. If he wishes his listeners to learn the correct way to say a place name, this being Portuguese, it should be pronounced “Az-or-esh”. After all, the passengers didn’t all come from the US!
As always, the crew worked really hard to deliver the Silversea standard and to meet personal expectations. Our butler had 13 cabins and her hours were from 6,00am till 12.00 noon and 400 pm to 10pm, seven days a week for eight months! Some of the idle, benefit-addicted unemployed in the UK and US should do a spell on a cruise ship and then they would know what work really means! The butlers are not alone on this regime, dining room and bar staff work to a similar routine.
Captain Arma had referred to the voyage from Cape Town being an “adventure” and we suggested to the Hotel Director, Flavio, that the Captain might like to host a cocktail party for the 37 “doughty” adventurers, who were sailing from Cape Town all the way to Barcelona. He thought it was a good idea, but in the event the Hotel Director and the Cruise Director were the hosts, as unfortunately it coincided with our arrival into Gibraltar, and Captain Arma remained on the Bridge. A nice touch was that we were all given a “certificate of recognition” that “we had sailed through the pirate infested waters of West Africa/Nigeria from Cape Town to Barcelona”. We realised that we may have been the adventurers; but it was left to the Captain and his team to safely steer us through these difficult waters and the challenges they faced in dealing with the different countries’ immigration authorities and potential stowaways, which was handled with the utmost tact and diplomacy.
We have booked to travel on Silver Wind again because many aspects suit our lifestyle and preferences. The onboard service is more intimate than on the larger Silversea ships and the staff get to know passengers and their preferences more quickly and so give better service. We just hope that when we travel again on the Wind in March 2015, she will not be looking as “tired” as she was this time when we boarded in Cape Town.
LUDERITZ, NAMIBIA SATURDAY 1 MARCH 2014
Silver Wind docked at 08.00 and all passengers were mandatorily required to attend a face to face inspection, before proceeding ashore. The Immigration officials were due on board at 8.15am. However it was 9.15am before two arrived, with another two following behind, and it was 10.15am before we were cleared to leave the ship!!
The Silversea shuttle bus dropped us off right at the beginning of the Main Street, which was only five minutes from the container terminal at which we had docked. In the near distance it was just possible to discern the end of the tarmac which demarcated the end of the town! So after a ten minute walk we had seen the highlights of Luderitz and spent the rest of our stay wandering around the lowlights!
In a manner reminiscent of what I had been told, each of the two banks had a queue of people outside. Seemingly in Southern Africa, it had occurred when I was in Jo'burg, people were only admitted inside when there was a teller to serve them, otherwise they waited outside.
We inspected the merchandise in the pharmacy, which was quite “old fashioned” in its way, but not so marked as two pharmacies found in Spain! A fellow passenger from Australia bought some mothballs, something that is unavailable in both Oz and the UK. A twelve hour flight from home still seems to transport you back 50 years! The cashier never batted an eyelid when we proffered South African Rand to pay for the antibiotics, and we were in fact a few cents missing.
On leaving the pharmacy, we continued our walk up the main street and found the long abandoned railway station, which still sported a rotting sign board displaying the name of the town.
Luderitz railway station site adjacent to the town’s main street
Despite being down at heel the town was generally clean, with no litter in the streets. As is customary in many countries, the church was on the highest point in the town, reached by a sand strewn road which was fairly steep and quite slippery because of the amount of sand which had blown onto the road. Like many other churches in this region, it was a simple Lutheran building, with a couple of lovely stained glass windows. The view of the coast from outside the church was quite stunning and you could see for miles.
After asking a couple of locals, we found a Wi-Fi cafe, and were directed to sit on a little dais with two armchairs. This was all very comfortable and we enjoyed a local ginger beer whilst checking emails. Our sightseeing over, we caught the shuttle bus back to the ship.
WALVIS BAY, NAMIBIA SUNDAY 2 MARCH 2014
Being of course of a Germanic background, this place's name is pronounced "Valvish By" (the Afrikaans spelling being Baai).
The port authorities were being particularly awkward concerning tour bus and coach access into the dock area, and it appeared they were only allowing so many vehicles in at a time, the upshot being that we were all congregated on the quayside, with no one knowing which vehicle they were supposed to get into. We were doing a 4 x 4 trip and some of the vehicles appeared to be based on a Land Rover, but one of the first produced in the 30's! Luckily the one we had was at least a fairly modern and comfortable, long wheel base 4 wheel drive vehicle. There were five of us, David being the only man, apart from Lawrence, the guide. He was an ex South African from Pretoria, who had been a clinical psychologist who had come to Namibia for a better life and to escape the rat race. Leaving in a convoy of three, there were only about 14 passengers doing this trip, which was called the Treasures of Namibia.
We left the container port finally and made our way through the streets of the town, deserted, being a Sunday. First impressions were of low rise houses, in neat rows, with clean un-littered streets; the population is about 60,000. We left Walvis Bay and drove along the coast to Swakopmund, about 170 miles from the capital, Windhoek. Smaller in population by about 10,000, to Walvis Bay, there appeared to be one long Main Street lined with shops. Swakopmund is a beach town, but maybe because it was a Sunday, it seemed like a ghost town, with few people in the main street and little activity in the surrounding ones. We then turned inland, roughly following the course of the Swakop River, before turning off and heading into the gravel desert. We then drove along the dried up river bed for some few kilometres. The landscape changed from lunar, to flat, to valley as we progressed through the desert. We stopped in various places along the way where the guides showed us various plants, one of which resembled a succulent from which he obtained a great deal of water, proving that you wouldn’t die of thirst in this desert! We also saw a springbok in the distance and the famous Welwitschia plant, endemic to this area, and truly unique. Really weird looking, it consists of two leaves, a stem base and roots and that’s it! The two initial leaves are never shed and continue to grow and become tatty, torn and bedraggled with age and can grow to about 20 inches. It is said by some that it resembles a collapsed octopus which in fact is quite apt! Many of these plants are hundreds of years old, and are both male and female.
We stopped in the middle of the bush at the Goanikontes Oasis which is residential and offers both camping, with bungalows and chalets, where we were offered a drink of champagne - actually a cheap moussec which was quite sweet but nicely chilled. Leaving here we drove back onto the road and went to Dune 7 so named as it is one of seven. It is the nearest to the airport and is therefore the one that everyone visits, although it is certainly not the tallest. It was very windy when we reached here and one guy actually from our party ventured to the top and came down sliding on his bottom. We then returned to the ship and subjected to a final face to face exit interview with immigration, so that the ship could leave the country in the sure knowledge no one was trying to remain in the country!
LUANDA, ANGOLA 5 MARCH 2014
Arriving around 8.00 am we entered the large bay and docked in the container port. We caught the shuttle to the central square, which was only a short distance from the port entrance, and walked across the road to the President Hotel in the hope of using the internet. We were directed to the top floor café but our hopes were dashed when the staff member there asked for our room number.
There followed a fruitless search along the Marginal, Luanda’s palm tree lined road running along the Bay for any cafe or internet facility. This road unfortunately appeared to house only banks and government offices with never a decent cafe or restaurant in sight. After a 15 minute walk we gave up and retraced our steps to where we had left the shuttle bus, this time walking along the sea side of the Marginal. The Marginal has obviously been upgraded recently with a play area set aside for children and landscaping with various trees and plants and we met others from the ship, similarly promenading
Our ship’s tour left early afternoon, and we passed the Marginal and the Baixa district and headed to the Cidade Alta area, as its name implies, which is the upper part of town. The traffic was heavy and we first stopped at the cathedral, which was nothing special, and thence to an anthropological museum with a variety of old figures and musical instruments which was quite interesting. The highlight came last when our coach swept in to the São Miguel fort, once the home of the Governor and built by the Portuguese in 1576. This stands on an imposing site, high on a hill with a lovely view of the ocean on one side, and the urban area on the other.
The large courtyard had an array of heavy weapons used in the struggle for independence which included a "shot down” Puma helicopter and a Mirage jet, both of which were little more than twisted pieces of metal. Entering inside one of the rooms we were surprised to see all the walls were covered in azulejos (the Portuguese blue and white ceramic tiles) but depicted African wild animals rather than the pastoral agricultural scenes found in mainland Portugal.
Unfortunately there was not a "shopping opportunity”' and indeed the Alta area appeared just as run down as that we had seen in the morning. We were obviously not taken to the Luandan upmarket shops where jeans cost £000's!
Our final stop was to the President's mausoleum housed in huge grounds with some marble statuary. This covers three floors and we were taken up in the lift, and unfortunately all the floors were polished marble and extremely slippery, and it was very difficult to keep your footing, so we tiptoed very carefully round the exhibits. The top floor was open to the elements and apparently President Agostinho Neto's favourite flower was the Welwitschia which was carved out in marble on the floor. We remained here for about ten minutes and then returned to the ship.
An interesting codicil to our visit to Luanda; we not only had a police escort, but also an ambulance equipped with the latest apparatus and staffed with both doctors and nurses. Apparently this was due to the fact that should any passenger be taken ill, they would probably not survive, should they need to wait for medical help due to the horrendous traffic! This also probably accounts for the very high cost of the shore excursion
SÃO TOMÉ & PRÍNCIPE 7 MARCH 2014
The first weather-related casualty of the day was the crossing the line ceremony due to be held at 11.30 am, a great disappointment to me as I was going to be one of the "victims". The reason was a very violent thunderstorm and torrential rain. We were due to anchor at 1pm and tender ashore but unfortunately the weather had caused a poor sea state. Despite waiting for a period of time for the sea to calm, Captain Gennaro that the authorities in São Tomé reluctantly decided that it was too dangerous to lower the boats. With nowhere else to go, we spent the rest of the day sailing round the island!
BOM BOM ISLAND 8 MARCH 2014
With a little bit of fear and trepidation, we awoke early in the hope that the weather had improved and that our visit here would not be aborted, as this too was a tender port. Luck was with us and the tender boats were lowered around 8.00am and as this was a free shorex, almost everyone went ashore.
Our destination was a private resort on the island, which lies a few miles off Príncipe. Portuguese speaking, these two islands, Sao Tome and Principe lie around 140 miles off the northwest coast of Gabon. We came ashore at a small jetty, close to the resort’s restaurant. From here the main part of the resort was reached a fairly long wooden walkway. As you would expect, very lush foliage and plants cover this small island. Guests staying here are accommodated in chalets dotted round the resort. There are several little coves as you walk round and many passengers swam in the sea. We had considered taking a towel, but decided against it. We were very pleased we had not ventured into the water, as one of our quiz team members had seen a six foot sea snake lying asleep on the sand in knee deep water and had very nearly disturbed it Being an Aussie, she was only too aware that it was highly poisonous!
Bom Bom island, with Silver Wind at anchor and one of the resort’s chalet’s on the left.
There was the option of a "city" tour in a safari type vehicle to the town centre at a cost of 20 dollars each, which we thought was expensive, considering it was not very far. Those that did, said the town consisted of a few dilapidated buildings, so we were glad we hadn't gone.
The resort has a quite small swimming pool. The reception hut had free Wi-Fi and a few expensive souvenirs and we did make use of the internet service which was surprisingly fast.
After a short walk round the perimeter of the resort, we returned to the ship by tender for a deck barbecue, which on a previous visit had been held on the Island, when everything from food to cutlery had been taken ashore. There were various speculations as to why this had not taken place this time, from the resort's management not wishing us to do so, to the expense and logistics being too difficult. In the event, Anne-Marie and her team surpassed themselves with lobster and crab claws on the ship’s pool deck. Silversea gave us a 50 dollar per head credit for the "disappointment" of the barbeque not being held ashore.
LIMBE, CAMEROON SUNDAY 9 MARCH 2014
We arrived in the very large bay of Limbe where there were several oil drilling platforms and a backdrop of the mountain range, at around 8.00am, from where we tendered ashore. We were so fortunate with our Captain, as on initial contact with the Cameroon authorities, they wanted us to anchor much further out in the Bay, which would have meant a 15 mile trip to tender to the shore! Luckily, he insisted that he was not a container ship, and proceeded further inshore to where he thought we should be, and dropped anchor!
The Captain told us later, that he had been trying from 6.00 am to raise someone onshore, and having heard nothing, he sent a tender ashore at 8.00 am, to try and find the immigration authorities. They found 15 officials waiting to come on board to conduct immigration and inspection. Therefore the ship was not cleared until later than intended.
We eventually touched land, after about a ten minute journey on the tender. The jetty, along with the whole of this small, unmodernised, port was dilapidated. From here, the Silversea shuttle took us on a five-minute drive to the edge of Limbe and we were dropped opposite the Presbyterian church.
The streets were paved, just (see photo below), and deserted, it being a Sunday. However this proved to be an advantage to us. We went across the road to look in the church, which was fu and a service in progress. We then walked up the street after asking where the market was, and after a few blocks turned left, away from the coast and up towards the hills. We dubbed this street Church Street. Along both sides of the street church services were in progress, with various different denominations. These were being held, not in churches as we would know them, but in ramshackle warehouse-type buildings. In one the sermon was in English with another man translating into the local patois. There had been a very bad thunderstorm the night before and the streets were very muddy, wet and potholed, but despite this, as usual, everyone was dressed in their Sunday best. It was nice to see little boys in crisp white long sleeved shirts, little waistcoats and long trousers, and their sisters attired in pretty, elaborate dresses. Along this short stretch of road there must have been about a dozen services taking place.
Limbe main street, with Sunday producing only a few market stalls; note the state of the pavement!
We continued to the "market", consisting of what were a few street-facing stalls, selling a variety of goods from screwdrivers to soap, to vegetables. We could see other small stalls disappearing into narrow mud alleys, but because of the terrain we did not proceed any further. Retracing our steps down "Church Street", we continued straight down from where we had turned left, and came to a little bay and the ocean, with the tide coming in. The sand was dark, although not black, and there were a few people walking about. We sat on a little bench for a short while, and then went back to our shuttle bus pick up.
Impressions were of a very run down town, with few "good" buildings, enhanced by the absence of much traffic and no hustle and bustle because of the day of the week. However there were a few large SUV vehicles, so there obviously is some money in the town. We felt fortunate that we had seen a different aspect of Limbe to that which we would have seen had it been a weekday. On arrival back at the jetty, there was a very small boat, not much bigger than a canoe, where men were loading hand over hand, cardboard boxes labelled "Vin rouge". On enquiring, I was told that it was indeed red wine, and its destination was Nigeria!
In conclusion, it was interesting to hear from Captain Arma privately that he was more concerned with stowaways than he was with pirates, and indeed in all these African ports he deputed boats when the ship was at anchor and look-outs when tied alongside a quay to check that no one could gain unauthorised access onto the ship. Leaving here Captain Arma planned a wide berth out into the Gulf of Guinea to avoid too close a proximity to the area frequented by pirates to reach our next country, Benin which lies on the other side of Nigeria to Cameroon..
COTONOU, BENIN TUESDAY 11 MARCH 2014
Docking at around 8.00 am at the above port, the largest city and economic centre of Benin, although the capital is Porto Novo, we arrived into a very big container terminal with much activity. Mustering as usual on the quayside ten minutes before the departure time for our shorex to the Ganvie Stilt Village, we set off around 9.00 am for the drive to the south east and Lake Nokoue, passing through the city of Cotonou. This country still practices voodoo, and there are many markets selling fetishes together with all its associated paraphernalia.
This was altogether a different kettle of fish to that of our previous port in Cameroon, with many 4 x 4 wheeled cars, and a general ambience of more money and a greater French influence. The roads were busy and there was a lot of traffic. Turning off the main highway, built by the Chinese, we came to the Lake where we left our coaches to board small "pirogues" basically dug out canoes, for the trip on the Lake.
I was fortunate, by waiting until most of the passengers had streamed down the purpose built steps to get in their boats, as ours only had about 6 passengers which included one of the ship's company accompanying the tour. We had been led to believe that to reach these little boats would be a hazardous trip down rickety stairs. In the event this was a complete and pleasant surprise. The sturdy construction was a broad wooden jetty with hand rails on both sides, and wide wooden steps leading down to the boats. The lake is so reminiscent of the sail up the Saigon River from Phu My in Vietnam, although this is much narrower. There are areas on both sides roped off for fishing, and also lots of plant life floating by, with many boats similar to ours packed with goods and people sailing back to sell their wares at the watery market from where we had embarked. We had a mixed reception from these boat people who were all ages, from young kids to large ladies expertly manoeuvring their boats within the crowded channel. Some were very friendly and replied to my greeting in French, but others hid their faces, and scowled as we went by. Some were openly belligerent, regardless of whether it was a wave of the hand or a verbal exchange. I can understand that they do not like having their picture taken, and it would not have been possible to ask permission whilst passing, but the reactions of some of the people were surprising, considering we had no cameras in our hand. The only conclusion we could come to was apart from the picture taking, we may be, in some way, disrupting their normal everyday lives, and perhaps churning up the waters by using the number of boats which constituted our party.
We had been instructed to take our ship’s life jackets for this trip, as the boats did not carry the requisite number for all our party, but that we did not need to wear them, but just to carry them. You can imagine the chaos that reigned, when despite being told not to, many trailed their belt straps along the ground, making it very dangerous should you happen to be anywhere near them! The trip round the lake took about 45 minutes until we arrived on the outskirts of the stilt village. The village houses were fascinating, were many and varied. Some were little more than pieces of wood, or corrugated iron, with bits of material slung round openings to preserve some privacy, and others were more elaborate affairs more hut like. All had one thing in common, they were on stilts, and in some cases it was difficult to see how they could gain access, as some were very high off the water. Several had washing strung out on makeshift pieces of string and you wondered how they would ever dry in these very hot and humid conditions.
We eventually arrived at the grandest building of them all, complete with no less than four thatched roofs. Here was a small jetty and steps where we disembarked our boats. This was the "Carrefour Hotel" and restaurant, with I think three rooms! This was a square with one side, a door less room with various shopping opportunities, facing three other rooms which could have been the accommodation, but seemed to double up as toilets, of which I did not partake. Next to the little shop, was a small bar, not sure whether it sold alcohol or just soft drinks. We were treated to a band of about 8 musicians and a couple of dancers. We were here for about half an hour or so before returning to the little boats and back to the landing stage and our waiting coaches. Produce was sold not only on the river, but also on the little road leading to the main highway but unfortunately we only saw the colourful fruit and vegetables on offer from our departing coaches.
Artisinat (Artisan market)
From here we returned to town and the Artisinat. This is a large area selling local goods, from paintings to leather goods and basketware, and is the centre for promoting what Cotinou has to offer. On driving in, we saw a sign for an Internet cafe supposedly open from 8 am until midnight, so we decided to come back later as this was the same place that the shuttle dropped off passengers doing their “own thing”. On returning, we were annoyed to be told that the cafe had closed three years previously!! Hadn’t anyone thought to take down the sign? After being directed to another cafe, which surprisingly we managed to find despite the directions, we found that they would only accept CFA (local currency), would not entertain dollars, and that there was a bureau de change down the road where we could change our dollars! We therefore returned to the ship disappointed. This was doubly so because the CDFA price, when converted into US$, worked out at 50 cents for an hour!
We did not sail until 11.00 pm, which enabled Silversea to do their dinner under the stars, which we attended just for the dancing. Surprisingly it didn’t rain, but was exceedingly hot and humid, so much so that several passengers went into the pool to cool down around 23.00.
LOME, TOGO WEDNESDAY 12 MARCH 2014
Here for 13 hours, docking at 7.00, and not sailing until 20.00, Silversea offered two shore trips, neither of which we decided to do. One of the ship's tours was to a voodoo village which included a Zangbeto dance performance which I had initially wanted to see. A cross between a Zulu dance and a whirling dervish, and very African, it is very rhythmic. We were therefore very pleased to be greeted on docking in the above container port by a group of these people, playing instruments and dancing. Fascinating to see were two stilt men. They must have been at least 8ft off the ground, and to adjust the stilts around their legs they sat on the stacked containers lined up on the quayside! These two guys twisted on their stilts, gyrating and appearing to be about to fall. They were performing for about an hour, in tremendous heat, and one wonders why the women were still so large!
Getting the complimentary shuttle bus into town, we were dropped off at the Superamco Supermarket in the city centre. This is, as its name suggested, a retail outlet for the locals and sold mainly food, cosmetics, alcohol and some small electrical goods, so of no interest to us, other than looking at the sort of goods on offer and the prices. For the first time this trip, we encountered Magnum ice creams with a flavour not hitherto seen. Maybe a new variety for sale for the summer of 2014 in Western Europe!?
Lome street market scene
Leaving this supermarket, we walked down towards the ocean, and the road on which we had come into town. Wide and straight running alongside the ocean, with a central reservation, also built by the Chinese, for all the world like an upmarket Californian beachfront, one end goes to Benin and the other to Ghana. There are a few hotels along this road and we went into one on the corner of the road on which we had left the supermarket. Unlike in Luanda, the business centre not only took foreign currency, but allowed us an hour of internet time for $5. The unfortunate circumstance, being French, the keyboard was completely different, and combined with a not very fast connection was a bit of a nightmare. However we did manage to get one of the documents we had not previously been able to open and printed at a cost of a $1 per page, so the whole episode had cost us $17!
Before returning to the ship, we retraced our steps to the supermarket and the market stalls on both sides of the road. We bought a few postcards, and wandered into the small simple cathedral where a service was in progress. The music and singing appeared to be hymnal but with a strong African beat which was very infectious. We stayed to listen for a few minutes and then we wandered down another few streets with lively vendors selling everything from gold watches to smoked fish, and thence back to the ship via the shuttle bus.
TEMA, GHANA THURSDAY 13 MARCH 2014
This was the turn round port and the end of the first cruise, however roughly 200 passengers were staying on for the next leg to Las Palmas.
Tema is the port used for the city of Accra and lies some 16 miles east of the capital, and the Greenwich Meridian - 0 longitude, passes directly through the city. It was a pity that we were unable to sail out into the Atlantic to 0 degrees longitude and latitude, but Captain Arma told us that it lay some hundreds of miles to the south west, and we had neither the time nor the money to expend on the extra fuel. Tema is nicknamed the "Harbour Town" because of its status as the largest Ghanaian seaport.
Docking on time at 8.00 am once again in a soulless container port, we were fortunately not “shore side”, so had a better view of the town in the distance. We had opted not to do a ship's tour, but fortunately with Silversea, they had provided a complimentary shuttle service. Unfortunately this was not to the town which was some distance away, but merely to the port entrance where taxis would be waiting and the likely cost would be $15 an hour to hire. In the event they had either been misinformed, or inflation had happened very quickly. The first guy we spoke to wanted $25 to which we said we had been told that it was only $15. He didn’t seem interested, so we walked away to another taxi driver who quoted $50, and when we said that was outrageous, he replied that Americans had paid that earlier. We then agreed on $20, realising that no-one would be any cheaper, so we accepted this price and sped off into town.
Fortunately English is the language spoken, although they do have their own patois. Our chap seemed friendly enough and pointed out various things of interest that we passed. His name was David and he chatted as we drove in his un-airconditioned seen better days Nissan Primera!
Leaving the port we drove along the oceanside and then reached the main part of Tema which was very much down at heel with shops and "houses" intermingled, portraying a very bustling scene. It was here we encountered the traffic, virtually nose to tail, with big heavy trucks nearly all of whom had seen better days and appeared to have major bits missing. There were also many small minibus-type vans which were obviously local buses. These also seemed to be old and in a bad state of repair. The road was generally of a good surface, but with a few large potholes, where David was careful in slowing down. The road into Accra ran along the ocean until we reached the outskirts of the capital, where a series of large roundabouts took us inland. Here the buildings were grander and better kept. These buildings included the Old Parliament House, the Supreme Court, and the Central Library.
Arriving in the outskirts of Accra, we made our first brief stop to take a picture of the Independence Arch, followed by a visit to the Accra Sports Stadium and Conference Centre. This holds 40,000 people and covers a wide area with seating at either side. They had just celebrated their Independence Day and chairs and decorations in the country's colours were being stacked away. Having taken some video footage we then went to Nkrumah's mausoleum and Memorial Park. This stands in lovely gardens with a large rectangular lake with fountains and beautifully carved statues. At the end of this lake is the mausoleum in which lies the "great" man. You can walk inside and everything is marble, from the walls to the floor and of course, his coffin. Outside is a headless statue of Nkrumah, with his head on a plinth next to it. Apparently when he was overthrown, his statue was toppled, and his head was recovered by a loyal supporter and hidden until the furore died down, when it was decided to re-erect the two side by side - presumably as a reminder.
Nkrumah's mausoleum, Accra
We retraced our steps to return to Tema and passed by the Arts and Crafts Market, but as time was going on, we decided not to stop here. The journey was quicker on the return drive as David was able to utilise the motorway, something not possible before, due to roadworks. He dropped us back safe and sound to the port gates and was very happy with the extra dollars we gave him.
Part 2 - Tema, Ghana to Las Palmas, Canaries
follows under a separate posting called – Amazing Atlantic Adventures