13TH January –11TH February 2009
Well the day has finally arrived and we are on our way home with mixed feelings – sorry to be at the end of the trip but looking forward to seeing family, friends and our home again and wondering how we will settle down to ‘normal’ life or how quickly we will be back on the road again.
We had been told that there would be only two other passengers on the ship so were surprised to meet Arno a biker from Germany going home, Brian and Mari a couple of bikers from Canada continuing their round the world trip www.2uprtw.co.uk - from here to Europe, Asia and India and surprise, surprise “The Travelling Loo Man” – Jeff and his wife Jean, who, on this trip had been travelling through South America. Jeff and Jean’s vehicle was also prepared by Footloose 4 x 4 and JC had spent many happy hours, before we left on our trip, reading their website http://www.gonewandering.co.uk so he felt like he had known them for years having followed their other trips on line.
Signor Orsini, the shipping agent made easy work of the customs and immigration documents and, aside from a strange shadow on the X ray of Jeff’s vehicle which held us up, whilst they all stood around scratching their heads trying to think what it could be until Jean remembered an addititive that they had used – you can always rely on the ladies memories, we were on board fairly quickly.
Pleased with our cabin, we settled in and headed to the deck where we met the other two passengers, Susannah from Holland and Jean Marie from France who, travelling separately, were both doing a round trip journey from Europe to South America and back again.
It’s interesting that all of the passengers had travelled a lot in their lifetimes and many had spent time living outside of their homeland. This type of journey obviously attracts people of a similar nature and we were looking forward to listening to all of their “Travellers Tales”.
The vessel is huge with the people on the dock looking like small ants loading and off loading from the cargo deck. To JCs delight there were many New Holland tractors and combines on board. Apart from the size of the vessel he could have been back on North Sea Ferries – he is going to have a good time on here watching the freight on and off at the various ports along the way.
The crew is a mix of nationalities, mainly Italian and Indian but the second officer is Rumanian and speaks several languages. The Captain calls him the “Hotel Manager” – he keeps us entertained and updated on the schedule. The security and safety briefings were difficult to understand – bit like a Peter Seller’s sketch - but we all got the gist of the messages and had the chance to practice them with the crew on a safety drill later in the trip.
LIFE ON BOARD
We are definitely not on a cruise ship and have to fit in with the crew for meal times which means breakfast 07:30 to 09:00, lunch at 11:00 and dinner at 18:00. Very strange, particularly after our days in South America where people don’t even come out for dinner until 22:00! No bar on board and only non-alcoholic beer! JC’s face was a picture when he received that information I thought he was going to swim ashore!! We were, however, all allowed one third of a bottle of wine per day so he quickly developed a taste for that until we got to Santos where we took on supplies and he now has one can of beer per day. The small bottles of wine ran out and the chef brought on Brazilian wine in Rio de Janeiro – absolutely disgusting – you could probably take the paint off the outside of the ship with it, so now aside from JCs one can of beer, we are all being tea total – oh for a lovely cold Margarita!!
The days on board are long but strangely we all seem to fill them one way or another, reading, chatting, watching the flying fish from the deck, simply watching the sea go by, visiting the engine room and the bridge and keeping up the “siesta” tradition. JC has even been coaxed into training in the small gym each day with Jeff and is really enjoying it!
En route we had scheduled stops to tip and re-load cargo. At Paranagua and Santos we just stayed on board, mainly because unlike cruise ships the cargo vessels dock farther away from the town making it necessary to take either a boat or taxi to get into the main town areas. However coming into Rio de Janeiro with the view of Copacabana, Ipenema, Sugar Loaf Mountain and the magnificent Corcovada towering above them all, we decided to go off that night and have a beer or two. Five of us went ashore and finally made it into town after a taking a port bus to the entry of the port and a taxi to Copacabana where we spent a pleasant couple of hours drinking beer, watching the hookers plying their trade along the sea front and listening to music. I had forgotten how openly these ladies look for business amongst the bars and restaurants of the large hotels overlooking Copacabana beach. Arno, the only single guy in our group sat there most of the night with his mouth hanging open and didn’t hardly say a word so taken was he by the girls of all shapes and sizes wearing very little.
We made it safely back to the ship that night but sadly the following day, Jean Marie, one of three of our shipmates who went ashore suffered a heart attack and died near to the port. A quiet unassuming man, he had had a great day in town despite the rain with Arno and Susannah. This was a great shock to us all. That morning all nine of us had had breakfast together as usual and by 4pm we were only eight. We spent a lot of time together that evening, trying to comfort Susannah who had been with him and thinking about Jean-Marie’s children and grandchildren receiving the terrible news of his death. With the help of Brian and Mari-France, who are Canadian and fluent French speakers, we put together a letter to Jean-Marie’s family hoping to give them some comfort as we wrote about his last days and his happiness aboard ship. As we left Rio much later it was a very strange feeling leaving one of our shipmates behind.
Our next port would be Dakar, over the Equator and eight days across the Atlantic. With no other ships in sight the engine stopped, apparently with a broken fuel pipe which took around five hours to repair. This happened again before we reached Dakar Imagine the scene, miles of miles of ocean all around you and this enormous vessel just bobbing around like a cork – good job the weather was fine.
Anyone who has ever crossed the Equator by sea will know about the tradition of “crossing the line” which usually involves lots of water. We had been warned that we could get very wet and Brian kept checking his GPS to see when we hit 0 latitude. There was a general air of excitement amongst the crew, buckets of water appeared around the deck and they were using any ruse they could think of to get us passengers outside for a drenching. We thought we had managed to escape until Brian went outside and got a bucketful in his face. JC surrendered and allowed them to hose him down, but the rest of us stayed indoors until after supper. Almost at the end of a great book, I went back to the cabin after supper and didn’t join the others for the usual stroll around the deck. The crew came through the bridge and got everyone else. I was the only one left dry, apart from the Captain that is – nobody dared dampen down his pristine uniform! But, JC came for me and to chants of Denise! Denise! Denise! I went up on deck and was soaked to the skin in minutes. The water was warm but the breeze up there soon cooled it down. Another new experience.
After eight days at sea, we were all looking forward to having some time on land at Dakar and we quickly made our way to through traders around the dock to a local bar where we enjoyed our first beers since Rio! Flag Beer – never hear of it but it was cold and did the job!
Back on board again, our next stop would be Hamburg – nine days away. We were warned then that there was some bad weather up ahead. Three days later the engine stopped and we sheltered behind the Canary Islands, just bobbing around in the water for hours killing time so that we would hopefully miss the worst of the storm. Don’t like to think what the worst of the storm was like – once we were under way again we hit bad weather for twenty hours. Crockery started to clatter in the kitchen, doors and drawers opened and closed and we all wandered around like drunken sailors as the vessel pitched and rolled in the bad weather. Best place for me was lying down out of sight of the horizon with not a lot of food that day. Although the following day was better, we had not seen the last of the storms as we headed for the infamous Bay of Biscay and I spent another day lying flat in the cabin. After another twenty four hours of rocking and rolling we finally got into calmer seas. With the coast of Northern France in our sights it has finally dawned on us that we will be home in a very short time.
As we entered the English Channel and the Straits of Dover, we could see the white cliffs in the distance with the ferries plying backwards and forward. It would have been great to have gone into Dover and been home in around six hours. Instead we have to go first to Hamburg and then into Tilbury, a journey which will take us another six days!
Two days in Hamburg gave all of us a break from ship-board life. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief to be able to wander around town, eat different food, have some decent beer, get some fresh air – albeit much colder than what we have been used to. JC and I went off to visit our old friend Ilse and the rest of the gang went off to sight see, shop and enjoy the break.
In Hamburg Arno left the ship and headed home to Ulm – the first of us to finally be arriving home and Kurt joined the ship. He is just starting his adventure - we remember well the excitement at the beginning of our journey and were happy to share our experiences with him.
The sea journey home was definitely better than just putting the Toyota in a container and taking a plane. However, for me I have to say I would have preferred it to have been shorter. If you are reading this and considering the sea journey, remember it is a cargo ship, your routine is fixed around the needs of the ship and its crew, there is no bar but you can buy the odd can of beer or bottle of wine from the chef, the food is plentiful and well cooked but don’t expect gourmet standards – bring some nibbles, snacks and maybe some wine with you – you will have a fridge in your cabin. If you are a coffee or tea drinker and need to top up with this during the day – bring your flask on board.
As I write we are only one day out of Tilbury. The sea is rough, the weather in the North Sea is cold and windy, and we have been warned about the snow waiting for us but, I for one will be glad to finally see home again, for a while, although I am sure that JC could just keep on traveling.
Finally on 11th February we docked at Tilbury and after some quick good byes we waited for Customs to let us back in to the UK again. It took a couple of hours before we could leave the dock and we were back in the UK after ten months of travelling.
Once again, thanks for all of your messages.