Tuesday, 10 April 2018


TRANS-ATLANTIC CRUISE – PART 4

From Lanzerote Island, we sailed west to Agadir, a major city in southern Morocco.  Our first impression of the country, gained from a one-day visit to the Mediterranean port of Tangier in 2015 years ago, had been rather negative.  We hoped for better.

We learned that Agadir was rebuilt following a major earthquake in 1960 that killed one third of its residents.  It is now the largest seaside resort in Morocco.  We strolled along the broad seaside promenade and the beautiful white sand beach.  The contrast between locals dressed in traditional Muslim garb and scantily-clad tourists and beachgoers was interesting to see.  Men wearing Berber blue and sporting colourful turbans trotted up and down the beach offering camel rides.

Elva and I had decided it was time to start getting back in shape, so we walked up the steep, winding road to the Casbah (castle), originally built in 1572 to guard the harbour.  Buses and taxis bearing fellow passengers rumbled past us on the way up and down.  They must have thought we were nuts!  From the top, we enjoyed the same views of the city and the Atlas Mountains as they did and were the better for the hike.

An overnight sail landed us in the port city of Casablanca, famous for the 1942 Humphrey Bogart movie of the same name.  As well as being the largest city in Morocco, Casablanca is one of the most important cities in Africa, both economically and demographically.  From the ship, the port looked as big as any we’d ever seen.

We’d decided to do something a little different; find our way to the train station and travel to the capital city of Rabat on our own.  Rather than wait for the ship’s shuttle to take us there, we set out on foot.  Twenty minutes later, we were on our way, enjoying views of the verdant countryside between the two cities on the ninety-minute trip.  I love train travel; there’s just something about it…

A major shortcoming of every city we’ve visited in Africa is the absence of reliable tourist information services.  There was no city map to be found at the Rabat train station, so we headed in the direction of the nearest mosque and just followed our noses.  Elva stopped to take a photo of an orange tree and was warned by a gun-toting soldier to cease and desist.  Apparently, his job was to guard some government building from dangerous camera-wielding Canadian tourists.

We walked past the Palais Royal and up toward a gate that circles the old part of the city.  Jackpot!  Just across the intersection stood the Chellah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the time of the Phoenicians, occupied later by the Romans and, finally, chosen by Muslim rulers in the thirteenth century as their sacred necropolis (burying place).  Next challenge: get across the frantic intersection without ending up on the hood of a car or the front wheel of a motorcycle.  After a couple of close calls, we crossed the threshold of the fortress and entered a peaceful refuge featuring beautiful gardens, interesting archaeological digs and, best of all, nesting storks.  Dozens of them!

We spent barely two hours in Rabat before taking the train back to Casablanca, but it was worth the journey.  While Moroccan trains are not on par with their European counterparts when it comes to cleanliness, they do run on time and are cheap.  The return trip cost less than $25 CDN for the two of us.

Good thing we ventured outside Casablanca, as it turned out.  The city has some interesting attractions, including the magnificent Hassan II Mosque, second-largest in the world after Mecca’s, but isn’t our kind of place.  It’s frantic, dirty and loud.  Many people are downright obnoxious, especially those trying to sell you something (which includes most of them).  The contrast between the conspicuous wealth of the religious site and the filth of nearby garbage-strewn lots really turned us off.  As has become our habit in a city that doesn’t suit us, we located the best hotel — the Hyatt Regency — marched in like we owned the place and had a beverage, relishing the atmosphere and taking our sweet time.  Accomplishment of the day: 28,000 steps!
Early next afternoon, the Rotterdam docked in Gibraltar.  It was nice to be back on European soil again and to encounter that most essential of visitor services: the tourist information bureau!  There’s no such thing in Africa.  Result: you’re at the mercy of guides, hustlers and crooked taxi drivers.  Why their dim-witted tourism agencies don’t understand this basic need of the independent traveller remains beyond us.

Armed with a good map and all the tips required for a productive visit, we set out on foot.  Our objective, as it had been on our first visit to Gibraltar three years ago, was to climb to the top of the Rock, 1,400 feet above sea level.  It took us an hour to get there, following the switchback road and navigating the steps that take you through the domain of resident Barbary apes.  It was a clear day and the view from the top was amazing.  Again, we waved to curious Prinsendam passengers as they drove by.  Back down in the main town, we hopped on a bus and went out to Europa Point, the southernmost extension of the peninsula.  From there, we had a clear view across the strait to Africa.  Another great day!


Our next stop, Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city, is a mix of classic and modern Europe.  The Ciutat Vella, old city, contains the fifteenth-century Lonja de la Seda (silk Market), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mercado Central, several expansive plazas, and a variety of interesting churches and towers.  We strolled on marble sidewalks on spotless streets in the old city, enjoying the sights and exploring historic buildings.  Then we hopped on a bus and explored the impressive Ciudad de las Artes y Ciensias, the City of Arts and Sciences, a post-modern assemblage of incredible buildings including opera house, science centre, and aquarium.  One day in Valencia was just enough to whet the appetite; definitely a city worth revisiting.


Too soon, the Rotterdam docked in Barcelona, last stop for us and the halfway point for those staying for the Mediterranean loop before heading back across the Atlantic to end the voyage in Fort Lauderdale.  It was our third visit to Spain’s second-largest city and the center of the Catalan independence movement.  Fortunately, there was no sign of unrest as we strolled with the Sunday crowds on Las Ramblas; all was quiet.

After getting kicked off the ship, we made our way to the Hotel Guell for a two-night stay.  Having seen most of the city sights on previous visits, we didn’t feel pressured to hustle.  Elva did some shopping and I took it easy.  The one attraction on our list was the magnificent Sagrada Familia.  We’d bought tickets well in advance and enjoyed a guided tour of this unique world-class building.  There’s nothing like it anywhere.  Of all the magnificent structures we've seen in our travels, it's one of my favourites.  The first image is taken from the centre of the church, looking straight up.  The second shows the exterior, still under construction.  It will be completed in 2026, the hundredth anniversary of architect Antoni Gaudi's death.  The central tower will rise to 172.5 metres, making it the tallest church in the world!

We enjoyed our 28-day cruise aboard the MS Prinsendam.  The voyage enabled us to see new places and experience new adventures.  Elva and I travel best together when there’s just the two of us; no pressure, just the unbridled (and unguided) joy of discovery.  For the first time in five cruises, we didn’t take one Holland America excursion.  With rare exceptions, they just don’t suit us.  And we enjoyed renting a car to explore a couple of islands in the Canaries.

As for fellow passengers, we learned that the Prinsendam enjoys a sort of ‘cult’ following — guests who love the ship and sail on her and her only.  Some have been sailing together as a group for many years.  Many love the ship so much they don’t even bother getting off when she reaches a new port!  As for the age of this particular crop, we estimate it to be in the very high 70s, if not 80.  Many were over 90.  One man was a World War II veteran.  A couple celebrated their seventy-second wedding anniversary during the voyage!

We’ll sail with Holland America again, for sure.  Their itineraries, level of service, and value for money all suit us.  We’ve learned how to make the most of the ports of call by travelling independently, sometimes with another couple when the situation calls for it.  As for the age of passengers, not to sound ageist, but a little younger would be just fine.

In the short time we were away, two members of our immediate family suffered serious health setbacks.  All the more reason to begin planning the next cruise, maybe in the fall of 2019.  There are so many places we still want to see…  And we have much to be thankful for.  Time to go home, reconnect with family and friends, sweep the snow off the car, grease the bike chain, and dust off the ole fishin’ pole.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018


TRANS-ATLANTIC CRUISE – PART 3


Although the archipelago lies barely 60 kilometres off the west coast of the continent, the contrast between Africa and the Canary Islands could not be more pronounced.  The Islas Canarias cover an area slightly larger than Prince Edward Island but with a population of over 2 million (over 150,000 people lived on the Canaries in 1768!).  They constitute an autonomous community, similar to a province in Canada, with their own elected parliament.  Over 12 million visit the islands each year, making tourism the number one industry. 

Arriving in our first port of call, Santa Cruz de la Palma, we recognized immediately that we were in Europe.  Santa Cruz is the islands’ second-largest city and rises into the hills from a beautiful harbour.  As soon as you set foot on land, you realize that the island is volcanic in origin from the steepness of the terrain and the character of the rocks.  In fact, the seven main islands in the Canaries archipelago are all volcanic in origin.  The only thing that distinguishes them, besides their size, is their age.  The younger ones are more mountainous; the older ones feature more gentle, eroded  terrain.

As is our habit, we made a beeline to the tourist information centre soon after getting off the ship.  The young man there told us all we needed to know for a full day on the island.  “Take the bus to La Caldera de Taburiente National Park Visitor Centre and, from there, a taxi will drive you to the caldera itself.”  And that’s what we did.  Fellow Prinsendam passengers, Dianne and Paul from Homer, Alaska, were sitting in the front seat when we boarded, heading to the same place we were.  It rained all the way as the bus made its way up and over the mountain but, as soon as we hit the west side, the sky was a clear blue.  From the Visitor Centre, we watched snow-white clouds spill over the montain like water spilling over Niagara Falls.  It was magical!


The caldera — essentially the inside of an extinct volcano — has a circumference of 27 kilometres and is almost 1 kilometre deep.  Peeking through lush pine forests, we were treated to spectacular views of the caldera.  We walked along the path for a half hour or so and returned to Santa Cruz by taxi and bus.  The whole trip cost about $25 for the two of us.  A similar tour with Holland America would have cost over $200 and wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.


It being Good Friday, not many stores were open in the city but we strolled through the streets for the rest of the afternoon and took advantage of wifi to stay in touch with family and friends.

Next morning, we docked in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the largest city in the Canary Islands.  Again, we headed straight for the tourist information office and were given great advice and assistance from the young woman who served us.  She booked a rental car for us and bought us tickets for the gondola ride up Monte Teide.

Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands and is the most densely populated, with some 900,000 inhabitants.  I first heard of Tenerife in 1977.  Its airport was the site of the worst air disaster in the history of aviation when two Boeing 747s collided, killing 583 people.

With map in hand, we found our way out of the centre of the city and climbed along the motorway toward the day’s first destination, San Cristobal de La Laguna.  The centro historico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, features eighteenth-century buildings and cobbled streets and was a relaxing place for a stroll.


The next challenge was to find the road to the town of La Esperanza and, from there, to make our way up the winding road to Parque Nacional Del Teide.  We took our time driving through the magnificent pine forests, stopping several times to take in the panoramic views of the coastline and valleys far below.  The world’s third-highest volcano (measured from its base on the ocean floor to 3,718 metres or 12,200 feet above sea level) towers over the centre of the island and can be seen on a clear day from all of the islands.  We got our first glimpse of the snow-covered summit of Monte Teide, also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and stopped for a bite, taking time to admire the view.


The transition from dense pine forest to barren landscape takes place rather abruptly.  The vegetation gets smaller and scrubbier before it finally disappears altogether.  Next thing you know, it looks like you’re on another planet, one that couldn’t support any kind of life.  From our vantage point near a group of observatories, we could see the top of the nearby island of Gran Canaria sticking up above the clouds.


The mountain dominates every view and the volcanic rocks come in many colours: reds, browns, yellows, and dark greys.  We stopped several times and hiked along well-marked trails.  People are everywhere, many of them locals, taking advantage of the long weekend and the beautiful day to get some fresh air.  Some even tried paragliding!
 


As we neared the highest point of the highway, above 2,400 metres, we felt the air getting thinner.  We walked up the steep incline to the gondola station and waited for ours to arrive.  Thirty minutes later, they announced that the Teleférico del Teide would not carry us up to get a closer look at the summit of the mountain because of a mechanical problem.  “Better to be at the bottom than stuck at the top, or somewhere in between,” we said to one another.  Back in the city, we wandered through narrow streets and finally found a place to park our rental.  A fitting end to one hell of a day!



Day 2 in Santa Cruz de Tenerife was Easter Sunday.  We decided to spend it wandering around the city centre, watching the crowds and taking in the festivities.  We attended Mass at Iglesia de San Francisco and observed the impressive parade as a huge and ornate wheeled structure rolled down the aisle, out the front door of the church and into the street, followed by the priest and a marching band.  I felt for the poor guy sitting inside the silver and gold-plated monstrosity as he blindly steered and braked the thing.


Our last port of call on the Canary Islands was Arrecife, largest city on the island of Lanzerote.  We’d been told that a rented car was the best way to see the island, so we walked to the tourist information centre and found the rental agency.  Armed with a suggested itinerary provided by yet another excellent guide, we drove blindly through the city and eventually found the road leading west toward Yaiza and the tunoff to Parque Nacional de Timanfaya, home of the Mountains of Fire.  Elva insisted on getting a picture of the camels that visitors ride on a tour of the volcano’s slopes.


The Montanas del Fuego is a broad area affected by the island’s last major eruption that started in 1730 and lasted six years.  We parked at the Islote de Hilario visitor centre and boarded a bus that took us across the impressive lava fields.


Next, we drove through the valley of La Geria, an area of incredible natural beauty that features an unusual method of wine grape cultivation.  A semi-circular coal-black stone wall shelters a single vine from blistering winds, an ingenious agronomic innovation that is surely unique to the island.  From a distance, the pattern of shelters looks like so many fish scales.


Our next stop along the central highway was the pretty village of Teguise, former capital of Lanzarote.  We admired the white stucco buildings and the beautiful church.  Since we had time, we drove to the northeastern tip of the island and visited the small port town of Orzola.  Along the way, we passed dozens of cyclists.  I was jealous.  We stopped briefly at an aloe vera farm and headed back toward the ship. 




Near Tahiche, we visited the Volcano House, a one-of-a-kind structure built by renowned island artist and architect, César Manrique, whose œuvre reminds me of Salvador Dali.  He interconnected five contiguous volcanic bubbles and made them into rooms.  Huge windows integrate the home into the surrounding tongue of hardened lava, merging volcano and habitation in a very harmonious way.



The Canary Islands have been, hands down, the highlight of this cruise.  The diverse landscapes are a delight to the eye and provide such a variety of experiences for the visitor; everything here is modern and up to date; the people are friendly; and the tourism industry has attained a level of maturity not that common in other we’ve visited.

Friday, 30 March 2018


TRANS-ATLANTIC CRUISE – PART 2

I’ve always had a passion for geography.  Wellington, the village where I grew up, had a two-room school: Grades 1 to 4 were la petite école and 5 to 7 la grande école.  My first geography book opened the world to me and vice versa.  When she was teaching another grade and I’d finished my assignment, Madame Orella would give me permission to pull down one of the two maps at the front of the room: the map of Canada and the map of the World.  I spent hours learning the names of countries and their capitals.  This curiosity remains as fresh as it was in 1961 when I made the big move to la grande école.

One of the attractions of this cruise was the opportunity to visit three African countries not normally part of cruise or land tour itineraries: Cabo Verde, Gambia, and Senegal.  We’ve only set foot on the African continent twice before: in Tangiers, Morocco, and on a visit to the Valley of the Kings and the temples of Luxor and Karnak along the Nile River in Egypt.

The African continent has a land area three times the size of Canada and is divided into 48 countries.  Adding the six offshore nations of Cabo Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Comoros, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Madagascar brings the total number of ‘African’ countries to 54.  But two political entities further complicate the political geography of continental Africa.  The territory known as Western Sahara, wedged between Mauritania and Morocco, is administered by Morocco but doesn’t really ‘belong’ to any one country.  Somaliland, formerly British Somaliland, declared its independence in 1991, but its sovereignty is not recognized by other nations.  So, the correct answer to the trivia question “How many countries are there in Africa?” is “It depends!”

As interesting as Africa might be to an outsider like me, I doubt I’ll ever visit many of its countries, simply because many are too poor, too remote, or too unstable politically.  In many cases, all three limitations apply.  It’s a shame because there are so many interesting places to visit and so much important history here, including the fact that our ancestors came out of Africa many thousands of years ago, making it the cradle of the human race.

After spending a couple of days in the port city of Mindelo in Cabo Verde, we set sail for the capital city of Praia on the island of Santiago.  We’d been told that this island, further to the southeast was one of the leeward islands in the Cape Verde archipelago — leeward meaning sheltered.  Alas, it was anything but when we arrived at the entrance to the harbour of Praia.  The wind was howling at 80 km/hr or so and the captain decided not to chance the tricky backward entry through a very narrow channel.  And so ended our brief visit to another interesting country.
 
We set sail for Banjul, capital city of Gambia, where we were to spend a day and a half.  Gambia is the smallest nation by land area on the African continent, about twice the size of Prince Edward Island.  It was colonized by the British and used by them as a base for capturing and transporting slaves during that terrible period of human history.  According to the classic tale Roots, written by American author Alex Haley, Gambia is the ancestral home of Kunta Kinteh. 

The nation gained its independence in 1965 and has a population of 1.9 million.  It’s extremely poor, with an ANNUAL per capita income of $1,900 US.  To put that into perspective, if Carey Price played every one of the 84 NHL regular season games with the Montréal Canadiens, he’d make that much standing in his crease for one single MINUTE!
The market we visited on Day 1 in Banjul was as poor as we’d seen anywhere, a rabbit warren of stalls featuring high-pressure sellers of all manner of goods.  The smells in the food area were overpowering, enough to “knock a dog off a gut wagon”.  We wished the shuttle had taken us to a better part of town, one that might have left us with a better first impression of the place.  I blame Holland America for that.  That, and for not telling us in advance about the $100 US per person Visa fee!
On Day 2, we teamed up with fellow world travellers Olga and Yan from Ottawa.  As a visitor to a country like Gambia, you’re torn between two options: take the outrageously-priced Holland America shore excursion, or strike out on your own and try to create your own interesting itinerary without getting ripped off or kidnapped by the locals.  We’ve learned through experience that the ship’s excursions are superficial and sanitized; that they don’t always give you a true picture of the location you’re visiting.  Independent travel is usually better.

Our experiences in Banjul and the nearby cities of Bakau and Serrekunda are hard to describe.  Words fail.  The things we remember are the all-penetrating dust; the primitive infrastructure; the utter chaos of garbage-strewn street scenes; and the overpowering stench of open sewers.  Such a contrast to the friendliness of the people and the beauty of proud women wearing brightly-coloured dresses.  On a five-hour tour with a private guide, we visited a crocodile farm, a monkey sanctuary and a textile market.  For many reasons, Gambia is a challenging place to visit although our guide, Abdul, and driver, Dominique, were both excellent.  The country is clearly not ready to welcome tourists, but we did the best we could.

I love this photo as it shows a typical Gambian scene: woman carrying child on her back with cellphone in hand; men lounging around; dirt street; and souvenir stalls.
 My new BFF, Charlie the Nile Crocodile!
Elva feeding peanuts to her new BFF.

We docked in Dakkar, capital of Senegal, a vibrant country of 13 million people, who seem slightly better off than Gambians, but not by much.  Again, together with Olga and Yan, we hired a taxi to drive us to the Bandia Wildlife Reserve, ninety minutes away.  Our driver turned out to be the worst Elva and I have encountered in all our travels: abusive, aggressive, disrespectful and, worst of all, dishonest. 

Things weren’t much better when we arrived at the Reserve.  Even though we had no difficulty communicating in French, no one seemed willing to serve us.  Our impression throughout was that everyone was intent on cheating us out of every dollar they could.  Fortunately, our 4x4 trek through the Wildlife Reserve, a 3,500-hectare enclosure that’s a cross between a zoo and the wild, offered a great opportunity to see self-sufficient animals up close.  We ended the day with a walk around Dakar’s Independence Square and managed to find a semblance of civilization — and welcome wifi — at the five-star Pullman Hotel.


I wish I had better things to say about Dakar and Senegal, but one bad experience is enough to sour you on a place.  It’s clear from the spanking new international airport and new developments on the outskirts of the capital city that Senegal is a country on the move.  Dakar is positioning itself as the emerging financial and administrative hub of French West Africa.  It may yet achieve that goal.  But until those in the tourist industry begin to understand the meaning of service, they haven’t got a hope.

Thursday, 22 March 2018


TRANS-ATLANTIC CRUISE – PART 1

We felt right at home as soon as we stepped across the gangway and boarded the MS Prinsendam, the fourth ship we’ve sailed on in Holland America’s line.  Our trip to Fort Lauderdale hadn’t happened quite as we’d planned.  We were supposed to leave Charlottetown early Saturday morning, arrive in Florida early afternoon, and spend the weeked with friends Danielle Robert and Serge Martel.  But a snowstorm cancelled our Charlottetown flight, so we had to fly out of Moncton instead, arriving early Sunday morning in Fort Lauderdale, too late to visit our friends.

Dog-tired after eight straight sixteen-hour days spent setting up our new apartment on Allen St., we welcomed a few days’ downtime.  A Sunday visit to downtown Fort Lauderdale was just what the doctor ordered.  Our shitty hotel, the Red Carpet Inn, was hardly the place to spend a warm, sunny day.  We took the city bus and strolled Riverwalk and Los Olas Boulevard, stopping for lunch and coffee along the way. 
Next morning, we stood in line in front of the hotel with other cruisers, waiting for a very disorganized shuttle service to finally take us to Cruiseport.  Note to self: find a better hotel if there is a next time in Fort Lauderdale.

A funny thing happened as we stood in line at the security checkpoint before boarding the ship.  An elderly man, heavy-set in navy blue shorts, was told to do something by one of the security agents.  Probably take off his belt.  Somehow, he understood he was to take off his shorts.  Down they dropped, exposing matching boxers and skinny stovepipe legs.  The agent rushed over and helped him pull up the shorts, she far redder in the face than him.  I watched other agents as they tried in vain to keep straight faces.  The nearby Sheriff’s Deputy buried his face in his hands, shoulders shaking uncontrollably.

Once on board, we scanned fellow passengers, overwhelmingly white and American.  “Jesus”, I thought, “I’ve never seen so many canes and walkers in my life, outside of a nursing home.”  Many of our fellow travellers are well into their seventies, some in their eighties, and a few in their nineties!  I wonder what motivates them to embark on such an adventure despite obvious physical limitations.  Many will not even be able to go ashore in the ports we’ll visit.  Elva and I talk about whether we’ll travel in ten or fifteen years time.  We conclude that, for those much older than we are, being on this floating hotel constitutes a welcome change of scenery, relief from boredom, and being on the move is better than a lonely room, wherever home may be.  Suddenly, it makes sense.
The Prinsendam is a much smaller ship than we’re used to, tiny compared to the behemoths that ply the seven seas these days, floating cities that carry 4,000 passengers and more.  But she’s got all the amenities and services we’ve come to expect from Holland America.  Being at sea for the first couple of days forces us to relax and wind down.  Cut off from wifi and all but a few TV stations, we find other ways to amuse ourselves.

Our first port of call, San Juan, Puerto Rico, was not a new destination for us.  We called here in 2014 aboard the Zaandam on a ten-day Caribbean cruise.  The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and well worth a visit.  We retraced steps from our last visit, going back to places we’d enjoyed.


Tortola in the British Virgin Islands was to be the second stop on our cruise tour, but the island has yet to recover sufficiently from the ravages of last fall’s Hurricane Irma.  Instead, we sailed into Cruz Bay on St. John Island, one of the US Virgin Islands.  We took the tender into the small harbour, checked things out, and opted for a tour with local Elvis Sprauve, our colourful and informative guide for the next couple of hours.  He showed us the island’s beauty, talked about its history, and explained the impact of the hurricane.  One five-star resort we looked down on from the coast road had been totally destroyed.  Wrecked pleasure boats dotted sheltered coves, waiting for their owners to claim them or for someone to break them up for salvage.

St. John reminded us of other small islands we’ve visited in the Caribbean: Les Saintes, Tobago, Carriacou, Bequia, and Nevis, notably.  They’re unique places inhabited by very special people.  Those that haven’t been spoiled by too much development feature a laid-back atmosphere, one that makes you appreciate that things there really do run on “island time”.


Day 6 of the cruise was the first of five straight days at sea, as we crossed the open Atlantic Ocean from the Carribean to our next stop, due East, the Cape Verde Islands.  The last two days were quite rough, cramping our style somewhat.  Five days may sound like a long time to spend on a ship but the time goes by fast.  We sleep in, take our time at breakfast, walk on the promenade, go to the gym, lay in the sun, get to know fellow passengers, watch a movie, go to a show or a lecture; before you know it, another day has passed. 

We get to know members of the crew and find their life stories just as interesting as those of the passengers.  Indonesians fill restaurant and steward positions, Phillipinos work the kitchens and the bars, and the Dutch, for the most part, run the show.  All are very proficient and professional.  There are married couples among the crew.  Officers are allowed to have their families with them but those who work lower-level jobs are not even allowed to bunk together.  There’s a strict hierarchy on board.

The Cape Verde Islands (officially, Cabo Verde) lie 560 kilometres west of Cap-Vert, Senegal.  It’s one of 56 countries in Africa and only the third we’ve visited (after Morocco and Egypt).  Formerly Portuguese territory, the country gained its independence in 1974 and has a population of 550,000 living on a land area less than half the size of Prince Edward Island.  It’s rated as a low-income country but, by African standards, enjoys high per capita income, life expectancy and literacy rates.   Our first stop was the town of Mindelo on the island of Sao Vicente.  We learned that the islands were discovered in 1456 by the Portuguese navigator, Diego Afonso.  The settlement grew as a provisioning station for slave ships crossing the Atlantic on their way to the Americas.  Fishing and tourism are the mainstays of the nation’s economy.

Our first stop in Cabo Verde was Mindelo, the main town on the island of Sao Vicente.  We walked around the waterfront, and checked the local fish, produce and handcraft markets.  Then we took a local bus along the cobble-stoned main highway across the island to the community of  Calhau.  The wind whipped due west from the African continent and nearly blew us off the rocky beach.  The landscape is very dry and bleak.  On the way back to town, the bus picked up and dropped off school children and their teachers.  What a wonderful way to experience local culture.