Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Day 7 (27/01/2012)

We slept well, must once again have been the bananagram playing before bed, although possibly it’s just because we’ve got used to this creaking of containers and the rocking motion now. The weather is still like a British summertime, the front of the ship threatens to disappear into fog. It’s hard to tell whether the waves are any higher, it feels like they might be, but with the horizon so close we can’t really tell how much we’re moving from side to side.

I breakfasted on cornflakes and a bit of bread, while Jenny had the eggs again. After breakfast to the ping pong, book reading and bananagram playing. Potato crochettes, vegetables and watermelon were for lunch. We then read, Jenny probably played some game on her computer and then it was time to tackle the task of the week- doing our laundry, between eating ginger cookies, ginger sweets and taking sips of the Piggly Wiggly cola to keep under check the queasiness from the ever increasing waves.

Our afternoon and evening’s excitement was as follows: Down 86 steps to the laundry room, up 44 to the gym, played ping pong, up 42 to our room, read, Jenny played on computer, down 86 steps to transfer washing to drier, up 86 steps to our room, wrote blog, Jenny played on computer, down 86 steps to collect the washing which wasn’t yet dry, back up the 30 steps to the officer’s mess room for dinner of mashed potato, cauliflower and the delicious red cabbage salad, back down the 30 steps to the drier- clothes still not dry, up the 114 steps to the bridge to see some large waves and the pitching of the ship, back down 28 steps to our room, played bananagrams, hung around, went down the 86 steps to the laundry room again and then back up the 86 steps to our room where we can finally retire for the night. That’s a total of 998 steps today. Who says you don’t get any exercise on a cargo ship? Can definitely see why they want your doctor to sign the form saying you are capable of walking up stairs.

Day 6 (26/01/2012)

I slept pretty soundly, at last! It was a hardship to get up though, but at least with the system here the time doesn’t change in the night. I breakfasted on bread and toast, Jenny on cornflakes, there was some drink masquerading as pineapple juice. At 8.00a.m. the clocks changed to 9.00a.m. Outside it’s foggy, rainy and pretty wet. This is not at all discouraging, it just shows we’re getting closer to England. In our mad way we’ve missed this quintessentially English weather.

After breakfast we once again played ping pong. The crew have also been sanding and painting red parts of the swimming pool too, which hadn’t been filled for ten years until the Swiss requested to have it filled. I’m not sure of the reliability of this information.

Despite getting the ever busy steward to give us some washing powder, we never actually got round to making it to the laundry room, but tomorrow is another day to be filled. I busied myself making heads of felt animals, which I will at some point turn into Christmas decorations when I’m home (I guess I’ve got a while..). Jenny was reading her Harry Potter book again. And at some point we watched ‘Ueberleben auf hoher See’, just incase a bit of information might save our lives in a rough sea. We are now in possession of a fair bit of knowledge regarding lifeboats and flotation devices. The best lifeboats it seems are freefall lifeboats stowed on a ramp from which they are released and nose dive into the sea. Although they would be much safer than standard lifeboats, companies haven't been adopting them, perhaps due to cost, but also due to space constraints. Bobbing about in a lifeboat in high waves looks like a hellish experience.

I don’t think I’m the kind that gets bored too easily, but I’m really getting a sense of boredom here now. My obsession is counting the days we’ve got left till we get off the boat. It’s not that I haven’t anything to do, I could continue making felt animals, read one of the four books I’ve got or Jenny’s Harry Potter book, watch some films or write some more job applications. But I’m not in the mood, I just want to get to England really. Why does the Atlantic have to be so wide?

There are no whales here, well it’d be very hard to see them with the fog and cresting waves. The Pacific, partly because it was summer, just seemed a lot more exciting. It is beyond my comprehension as to why you would willingly go on a cruise here for 49 days. Beatrice and Heinz Peter are here to get away from it all, in particular the winter. At least they’re not flying to some distant land, but I can’t really see the attraction of being on this moving prison for so long. It’s not cheap either… each to their own… Obviously I’m still pleased that we haven’t flown across the Atlantic (and encourage you all to take a freighter rather than a plane!!) and of course very happy that we haven’t been bathing in our own sick for the past few days. I’m just eager to get to England. I can only be thankful that it’s not like going across the Pacific where we had one day twice. Having to live through that when having each day once seems like an eternity would be the icing on the cake!

Lunch was asparagus soup (some soup base with bits of asparagus put in it), potato, spinach and some other vegetables, followed with three scoops of ice cream and a wafer. The afternoon was spent reading, computing and watching Mare TV’s documentary on the Oslo fjord and some canal also in Sweden. Before dinner we took a walk up to the bridge where our fellow passengers were found. We still haven’t left North America all that far behind. The Flaminia is due at the moment to arrive in Antwerpen towards midday on the 31st, the journey down the river after the pilot has come on board will take 8hrs to the port.

Supper was carrots, cauliflower, beans, peas, French fries, a very miniute helping of salad and chocolate cake. Today unlike yesterday I feel full, actually more than full, possibly fit to burst. I’ll be requesting just salad tomorrow night I think.

With the gloomy weather outside we are, according to Heinz Peter and Beatrice, already in the bad weather. We are of a different opinion, there still aren’t crazy waves, so as far as we’re concerned the weather is good.

Day 5 (25/01/2012)

Last night we watched Mamma Mia, found hidden between all the largest ships of the world and Mare TV documentaries in the recreation room. I was then quite unwilling to go to sleep at 8.00p.m., when Jenny decided it was time for lights out, this may possibly have been due to the one too many pieces of chocolate I had decided to consume earlier or that it was only 8 o’clock (6 o’clock two days ago!). I lay awake for hours with the ship rocking quite a bit, but not overly so.

In the post breakfast ping pong session it was evident that I was sleep deprived, receiving quite a thrashing from Jenny (or that's the excuse I like to go by). Apparently she never really tries though. She doesn’t like playing ping pong and as soon as we finish a game she’s over at the shelf putting her bat away before I can even blink. Sometimes I do not understand her at all. But I’m very grateful she is here putting up with my not flying notion and accompanying me on this ship. For breakfast Jenny had had the eggs and cucumber, I had just bread. Bread, we were told last time is good for the seasick stomach, although the waves weren’t really high enough to need it.

In the cabin Jenny devoured some of the making of Harry Potter book that we had to go out of our way to buy in Charleston, while I tried to sort some things out on my computer and do some blog catching up. For lunch we had minestrone soup, a potato with sauerkraut, which Jenny had to smother with ketchup and a pear for dessert. The big storm is already hitting England and all the way to Spain, we’ve at least escaped that one. The waves still aren’t too bad, hopefully nothing too awful will materialise behind us. Despite the Swiss lady’s shock at us playing ping pong straight after eating, we went and played anyway. Melanie who was in our cabin when they came across the Atlantic to America used to play ‘squash’ inside the empty swimming pool. Hopefully Jenny won’t get ideas and stop playing ping pong with me. The remainder of our afternoon was spent with me trying to make the beginnings of a felt giraffe, Jenny reading and then both of us going for a walk outside and then to the bridge. On the starboard side we were lucky to not get soaked in the spray. The crew are still working on sanding the rust and painting the holes red. We’re near Newfoundland now and there have been lots of birds flying around the ship.

Our evening meal was lettuce, red cabbage salad and bread, along with a sip of tomato juice. Heinz Peter was absolutely delighted to be eating calemares and had to go to the kitchen to request seconds. A ping pong session followed, then watching of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Despite lying in bed early we had to play some bananagrams to activate and tire our brains a little.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Day 4 (24/01/2012)

We slept well and long, although sharing the child size duvet is still a bit of a problem. Luckily in these overheated temperatures it’s not really a necessity. We could ask the steward for another cover, but he seems to be pretty busy trying to fit all his work into the shortened days. As soon as breakfast is over it’s the new nine o’clock. Once again we had fried eggs, cucumber slices and bread. Tomorrow I’m just having cereal or toast. I don’t like eating all these eggs, especially since this cook doesn’t seem to do as many inventive things with them like the one on the Hanjin Yantian. The grapefruit juice was still present.

Jenny and I then played some post breakfast ping pong, she must have been practicing in Vancouver, although she assures me that she hasn’t. I had to venture down the ladder into the now empty swimming pool to retrieve the ball at one point. Our longest rally is now 50, so we have to try and beat that.

We then waited around in our room till just after 10.20a.m. when the alarm sounded for the practice evacuation to the muster station. Gathering our immersion suits and lifejackets we went down the outside steps on the starboard (this is the right-hand) side to the muster station on deck A. Oddly everyone seemed to be there already, as though we should have gone before the alarm sounded, and as we found everyone in their orange hardhats realised we should have taken them out of the cupboard too and put them on before our descent. The assembled crew was much akin to a bunch of disorganised school kids. The second officer (in charge of safety) was meant to have thought up a scenario about a fire in the engine room, but claimed to have not have had the time to do so. No-one seemed too certain of their duties, although the steward was quite aware that he was meant to be looking after the passengers. The crew and passengers fumbled with the lights on their lifejackets, I don’t think I really got to the stage of understanding how to switch it on. It did not help matters that there are so many different nationalities on board and they all seem to have trouble understanding one another. I’m really hoping we won’t be having to evacuate the Flaminia for real.

‘Steward’ then proceeded to lead us up the seven flights of stairs to the bridge where the passengers were to hang around until the crew had completed all their procedures, including a boarding of the lifeboat, which we decided to decline the offer to participate in. From the charts it looks like the cold front is coming ever closer, and is occupying a large portion of the North Atlantic, the South of which Captain Czerwinski doesn’t seem to want to tell us that we’re heading into, he’s not denying it though. Perhaps it will be time to crack open the Piggly Wiggly cola soon and locate our sea sickness bands.

The Captain seems quite jovial and definitely not as scary as the Hanjin Yantian’s captain, despite being equally tall. While talking to us he was also keeping an eye on the ship and giving directions down his radio to the second officer regarding the evacuation drill. At one point he told the second officer he was busy with ‘passenger familiarisation’, but turned to us saying that he couldn’t really tell them he was drinking coffee. His daughter in Australia is a vegan, and he has tried being a vegetarian himself aboard a ship, but he seems to think it is very difficult. For some reason he seems to thinks that vegans need to eat six meals a day. Eating three alone seems to take up most of our time on the ship!

On the horizon an oil freighter was moving in front of us from right to left. They were trying to contact the MSC Flaminia with some instructions to keep a certain distance away. The captain did not seem to be too keen to converse to them, saying you don’t talk to every car you meet on the street and that the same principle should be applied to shipping. Before we knew it, it was lunchtime already.

There was noodle soup, followed by a potato with cabbage and onion, all rounded off with an orange. Grapefruit juice has been replaced with ‘all natural orange juice’, which appears to be from Cyprus. NSB must have an interesting buying policy. It tastes too good to be a just from concentrate juice, but since we never did master Cyrillic and never even thought about Cypriatic, we can’t be sure. I told the steward we could just eat bread and salad in the evening, I don’t think they need to go to all this effort for us.

More ping pong followed lunch. I got bored of bouncing the ball on the bat once I got to 322. Back in our room we had to try on our immersion suits, because the captain thinks they are probably too big. They did seem big and I felt rather clumsy in it, but we have no clue whether they are really too big or not. I think they seem o.k., the small Filipino’s have to wear these ones too, so I don’t see why we should be privileged with getting smaller ones. After the excitement of the immersion suits we managed to entertain ourselves for at least five minutes with counting our ginger cookies (Jenny says they’re biscuits but they’re Canadian so clearly they are cookies) and discussing how many we can eat each day. We have about seven days left and 34 cookies (they’re pretty small).

At some point we finally left for a wander around the deck. We are never really sure where to walk, because they seem to be working somewhere all the time. Taking a walk around 3.00 p.m., or 10.00a.m. is the best bet though, because that’s when they down tools and go in for tea break. They seem to be smoothing rust holes on the deck and proceeding to paint over them with red paint, followed by grey. This is being done at both ends of the ship. This arduous task didn’t seem to be necessary on the Yantian, because the rust hadn’t yet set in. The waves didn’t seem very high, but it still looks like we won’t be seeing any whales or dolphins with all these crests. In the distance we saw a seabird and yesterday a few gannets, but it just doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot out there. So then we went back to our room, Jenny reading and me writing. I have come to the conclusion that after my practice on Hornby Island I could do as good or better a job of the tiling in our cabin’s bathroom. I also can’t help wondering why the MSC Flaminia is a ‘she’ in English and a ‘he’ in German.

For supper we ate our salad and I had some quite delicious dill cream cheese from Houston on my German sourdough bread. The rest of the diners were having some spaghetti with a shrimp sauce, the spaghetti didn’t look like the extremely slippery kind we’d had on the Yantian. The captain was requesting more dill from cookie, before discussing something to do with the swimming pool with the Russian chief mate. It seems the poor man has to sit at the table with all the Poles while they talk Polish most meals. In addition to them there are I think three Germans and a Swede. As we ate we could hear the wind starting to batter the containers and feel the ship sway a bit more. Apparently the worst of the storms is moving at a faster speed than us towards Europe. That’s reassuring. But then there are another two…

Day (23/01/2012)

Again I felt like I didn’t sleep much, but despite waking up numerous times, going to bed at 8.00p.m. would surely have ensured I slept enough. As we lay in bed it really felt like the ship was rolling quite a lot and every now and then we’d hit a big wave and roll slightly more. In the morning though the sea was flat and we were scarcely rolling at all, perhaps we'd just imagined all that movement in the night. For breakfast we had our eggs with cucumber, with the little addition of tomato. There was grapefruit juice too; the juice has just started appearing at our breakfast table, Heinz Peter is grateful that we’re here. Apparently we’ve hit the Gulf Stream and the water temperature last night was a crazy 24’C. The Swiss couple are getting the swimming pool filled. Sailing in the Gulf Stream also pushes us along a bit.

The steward was reprimanded by the captain for not having put the clock change sign on the door before breakfast. He hadn’t realised it was clock change day, so the captain led him to the calendar and circled all the dates the clock is changing with a thick red pen. Any confusion is to be blamed on the calendar, because it’s German. We’ve got just another five clock changes to go after today’s (and then we’ll have to regain one of the hours when we go back to England).

Seeing as it was calm and sunny we headed up to the bridge, discovered we were off the coast of Washington and stood outside. We then went to the ship’s front; sat around a bit and reconfirmed that it just isn’t as good for whale watching as the Hanjin Yantian. The view is obstructed by walls, but at least because it’s covered it’s not so windy. We also can’t see the bow, so there’s no potential for seeing dolphins riding on the bow wave. At the back of the boat there were hoses everywhere and we didn’t want to get in the way, so we headed to the officer’s recreation room to examine the DVD collection- lots of copies of films and documentaries in German, concerning themselves mostly with the largest ships of the world.

Lunch was a potato, some brussel sprouts, a crown shaped cucumber piece atop a slice of tomato and almost the same vegetables as yesterday- celery and leek with sesame seeds. Beatrice, was really hot after eating her soup, she has a point-it is very hot inside this ship, must be Filipino temperatures. Apple pie provided a very nice dessert.

Before dinner we played ping pong, went outside again and lazed. There is a dart board in the gym room, I imagine it must be really hard to hit the bull’s eye in a heavy seaway not to mention dangerous. I dread to think where the dart would end up if Valerie (my fellow volunteer in Churchill) were here. The evening’s meal was three blobs of mashed potato and bits of cauliflower, French beans, peas, carrots and a yellow vegetable, we added some tasty red cabbage salad. I thought it was high time in life to try some brown sauce, I wasn’t expecting it to be so much like Branston pickle. Small chunks of watermelon were a very nice dessert.

We wanted to go and play ping pong but we thought someone was getting changed for the swimming pool, so instead we retired to our room to watch NDF’s ‘Mare TV’, the main documentary we found in our rummaging through the officer’s recreation room. I revisited St. Petersburg and California, but it was a bit too sea-rich. You would think that being at sea all the time they’d want to watch something about the land. People in California are crazy, there is a restaurant that serves food for dogs and strange people who push their dogs around in pushchairs, whatever happened to taking the dog for a walk?! It’s about 8.00p.m. and time for bed. This is allowed because of all the time changes to come, in Antwerp it would currently be 1.00a.m.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Day 2 (22/01/2012)

I didn’t sleep much, not because I couldn’t have, but because I urgently needed to see what was happening outside our window. The containers were slowly being moved aboard. The crane seemed highly inefficient, since almost every container would be dropped down onto the others, but wouldn’t click in place properly, so was then lifted back up before finally being put into the correct position. Sometimes this process would have to be repeated multiple times. As the night drew on the cranes moved closer to the living quarters and the containers began to fill the gaping hole right in front of us. There was quite a lot of clanking and shouting. Fortunately they aren’t piled high enough as to obstruct our view completely.

Having set the alarm for 5.30 a.m., we awoke in anticipation of our departure. There was still a crane hovering around, but by six the cranes were all in upright position, the lights at the dockside out and the engines rolling. Tugboats slowly turned the boat and we were then pushed relatively quickly under the bridge we’d driven over on the bus last night and on past the lights of Charleston. It was hard to work out where anything was with the darkness and fast encroaching fog.

At 7.45a.m. we emerged for breakfast, the boat still being piloted, with frequently sounding foghorn as background music. At the table we met the other passengers, who immediately wanted to know if we spoke French. They are a retired couple- Beatrice and Heinz Peter, from Aigle, near Geneva, and are now pretty settled into ship life, having been on-board for five weeks, coming across the Atlantic, to all the East coast ports here twice, to New Orleans, Houston and Mexico. Previously they have taken four cargo ship ‘cruises’ around Europe, across the Atlantic and to Hong Kong. The sea has apparently only been pretty choppy for two days on this trip so far, but of course the captain dismissed it as nothing. Other passengers have come and gone, one of them it seems was on her way home to New Zealand from a year in England, and didn’t want to fly.

Breakfast consisted of two fried eggs each and a few slices of cucumber. We also had a slice of bread and a sip of some Russian-looking fruit drink, tasting of mango and peaches, but seeming a bit oily. We passengers won’t be participating in the morning and afternoon coffee breaks, the Swiss couple seem to be coffeed out and we don’t drink normal tea or coffee.

After breakfast I read and wrote, while Jenny did something or other on the computer. At some point the phone rung rather loudly, when I’d finally managed to pick it up we learnt that we were to go down to the A-deck for our safety briefing. I jumped at the chance (hopefully the only one) to see inside the lifeboat, it seems quite spacious. I wasn’t imagining it to have a roof for some reason or seatbelts. Tomorrow there is likely to be a practice at responding to the alarm, when we’ll have to go with our immersion suits and life jackets to the muster station on deck A.

Lunch was trouble free, minestrone soup (Jenny thought he said soap) followed by a vegetable medley and ‘French fries’ (last night I thought he said French rice), rounded off with enough ice cream to cost you well over $5 on the streets of Charleston. The captain and three others seem to sit at one table and converse in Russian or Polish, while the remaining European crew sit at another table and don’t seem to converse at all. It does seem rather segregated, like there is a bit of a Poles only club here. I can just imagine the complaints the second engineer on the Hanjin Yantian would have about the downfall of NSB and it no longer being the German institution it used to be. Once again the Filipinos eat in their crew mess room on the other side of the kitchen.

Post lunch we donned our winter coats and took a walk around outside. Even if the waves were co-operative for whale watching, the MSC Flaminia does not seem to be ideal for the task since the front of the boat is covered and hard to see out of. We weren’t even sure if we were allowed to be there since there were signs saying that you have to wear hardhats. The rest of the time before dinner Jenny once again sat before her computer watching something while I finished reading ‘A narrative by Frederick Douglass’, an account by a former slave in Maryland and all the terrible things he witnessed and was subjected to. I also fitted in a short nap (staying up last night has made me exceedingly sleepy) and some more blog writing. We’re leaving the excitement of visiting the bridge for tomorrow, you can’t do everything in one day, otherwise there’ll be nothing left to do.
Supper was a bread, salad, egg and egg and salad in a decidedly American burger bap affair. Heinz-Peter tells us that the waves are around 3m now, but there’s a cold front coming and the conditions won’t be quite so peachy soon. At the moment the ship is scarcely rolling and the horizon pretty horizontal. We’ve just played our first spot of ping pong, realised that our legs are too short for the exercise bike and now we’ll settle in for an evening’s film watching. Hopefully we can get to bed early, the changing of the clocks starts tomorrow morning when we’ll lose our first hour. Fortunately on this ship we lose the hour after breakfast, so we don’t have to get up any earlier, the day will just be shorter!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Day 1 aboard the MSC Flaminia (21/01/12)

We’re finally aboard the MSC Flaminia, ‘she’s’ sitting in the Waldo Port in Charleston while they load the mostly yellow MSC containers (interspersed with a few greens, blues, oranges, reds and whites) in a very slow American fashion. We were told on our last trip that the Americans are very inefficient at loading in comparison to the Europeans and Chinese. And from what we can see occurring outside the window we’d have to agree.

Today has been a long day and it’s great to be here and one step closer to Europe. It’s nice to be in the familiar territory of a cargo ship, although everything seems a lot smaller and back to front compared to the Hanjin Yantian.
Our room is similarly grand to the one on the Yantian, although I did prefer the orange plastic flower bouquet to these planters overflowing with plastic greenery (and dead real plants). Jenny has already ensconced herself before the television with its DVD, video player and USB connection. We’ve also got some form of CD player. There are two paintings on the wall, one with colourful swirls and the other is Dutch with tulip stamps, coloured blocks and Friesian cows. The steward has stocked our fridge with some water, coca cola, sprite and some small bottles of German wine. We have a clock on the wall. This will be handy since Jenny’s watch has been out of action for a while now, so I’ll be glad to be no longer solely responsible for time keeping. However we might bump into problems there when we have to start changing the time on it.

Somewhat disconcerting is ‘Water Words, Sea Readings for the People of the Sea’ which lies on the desk. Perhaps it is obligatory to have this on display when leaving from America’s bible belt, I only hope our safety will be guaranteed without thanking God for safe passages or singing ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’ on page 3.

The bathroom and bedroom are in a separate section to the main room. The bathroom is clean, but more grubby looking than on our trans-Pacific freighter. We guess that’s because they take a lot more passengers across the Atlantic than the Pacific, but it’s also because the Flaminia is seven years older than the other ship. The bedroom is nice and dark, but there is only one covered duvet which is just big enough for a small child. We’re not too sure what to do about this yet.

For most of the morning, and the afternoon for that matter, we were labouring over Jenny’s application for a script supervising traineeship. This gave me ample time to worry about not getting to the freighter in time (which was in reality highly unlikely) and to get the sick feeling so familiar to me throughout my childhood. This same feeling I used to get when going to Holland or Switzerland, when I would be ready and nobody else would be and we would become increasingly likely to miss our boat or plane or whatever. I haven’t had this feeling for quite a while now and perhaps it’s been because we’ve left to catch transport in the morning straight after getting up or I’ve been too busy doing other things like picking apples/blueberries or learning how to crochet that I haven’t had time to start worrying.

At midday I phoned David at the port for the latest news on the Flaminia’s arrival. He informed me or ‘Ma’am’ that ‘she’ would be due to arrive at 5.30p.m., with departure tomorrow morning at 5.00a.m. We could arrive at the port via TWIC certified taxi anytime we wanted. Jenny researched which buses would get us closest to the Wando terminal, the no.40, followed by the 401. This would get us to within 2 miles of the port. I phoned up the taxi company closest to this point and was told it would cost $25! We decided to leave booking the taxi till later…

With the application finally finished and the Flaminia already being guided by the pilot in through the estuary we headed off to the waterfront to try and see the ship’s arrival. Unfortunately we got there too late, seeing the ship already docked in the distance. As a consolation there were yet more dolphins very close to the water’s edge.

After a mad dash between the two buses to Wholefoods market where I got to make my very last purchase of Celestial Seasoning’s very fine peach tea, we drove off through the vast expanse of big box stores. So many American streets are badly lit, which is good environmentally speaking, although sadly the reason for that is that no-one walks these streets and these areas are just the domain of the car. Our bus driver was full of praise (giving Jenny two rounds of applause) for our forward planning, in that we were taking a bus instead of a taxi out of Charleston and because Jenny knew where we had to get off.

Dropped in a non-descript shopping area, with pizza hut, subway, pub, closed supermarket by the name of Food Lion, hobby shop, dog spa and liquor store, with two petrol stations and a drive through hamburger place, we trundled around with all our possessions in search of a phone to call a taxi. The gas station (I really have to make sure I start using proper English words pronto.) had two payphones in varying states of decay. Outside subway two friendly ladies were intrigued by us and our backpacks, wanting to know what adventure we were on. They very kindly offered to drive us to the port, but we had to decline because you have to go in a taxi through the port gates and right up to the ship. We could probably have asked them to borrow their phone though.

Thankfully, another nice lady, working at the other petrol station let me use her phone where I learnt that a ‘Yellow Cab’ would cost us only around $7.00. Returning to the spot I’d requested to be picked up at outside pizza hut I realised I’d given the wrong address, so then had to find another phone to make sure the taxi would be coming to the right place. It began to rain torrentially and huge streaks of lightening made their way across the sky. This certainly was a grand finale to the ‘it always starts raining when we leave’ phenomenon we have been experiencing throughout our travels.

Drenched like a drowned rat I ran to the hobby shop where the man let me call the taxi company again, he also offered that we could sit on the chairs at the back of the store to dry off and produced a roll of kitchen paper for me to dry my face. Waiting outside we encountered many generous people offering rides and interested in our journey. It is probably not often that two heavily laden European tourists can be found at the shops of 601 (or thereabouts, never really worked it out) Long Point Road.

The yellow cab driver was chatty and he drove us swiftly to the port entrance where we had to show ID and he then had to fill in some forms. He told us about the qualification he had to take to become TWIC certified, so that he can drive within the port. Obviously the big trucks with the containers on the back of them have the right of way. As every row of containers finished he would stop, look very carefully both ways and cautiously continue. The MSC Flaminia was straight ahead of us. We were dropped off across a large expanse of tarmac buzzing with lorries from the ship. Not being too sure what to do, we looked into the offices right next to us which turned out to be dark and smelly toilets. Upstairs was another ‘office’ which we knocked on, only to realise we’d just woken some sleeping seamen, who didn’t even have any advice for us.

We ran for it, climbed the slippery gangway (those things really scare me, one slip and I don’t like to think what would happen), signed in, got shown to the ship’s office, introduced to the steward, taken to our room by the steward, introduced to the cook, discussed our vegetarian eating requirements (not sure if they understand) and were shown which seats at the table we’ll be sitting at. Unlike the Hanjin Yantian there is no big table where the captain and crew sit, but instead three round tables, each one seating four people. We’ll be sitting at the table with the other two passengers who we are yet to meet. We did go into the corridor to introduce ourselves to them, but they didn’t seem to hear us and shut their door. Perhaps they are old fogies after all, but their flip-flops in the corridor would suggest otherwise.

Unfortunately we forgot to ask whether we can go up to the bridge and see the action as we leave dock tomorrow morning. It will be dark, but nonetheless it would be interesting to see the bright (or not all that bright) lights of Charleston floating by.

Florida, charleston


Wildlife of the everglades

Trips into the everglades

Crystal River and Miami

The greyhound arrived among the palm trees and never ending highways of Miami early in the morning. In order to purchase a day ticket for the bus we had to navigate our way to the airport (can’t get away from them), getting advice from a bus driver we took his bus to somewhere where we could cross the road, so that we could take a bus back the way we came and on to the airport. Once we had the tickets we piled ourselves, our backpacks and our ever increasing number of additional bags onto the express bus to Miami Beach. In sweltering heat we trudged from one bench to another hauling our packs off at every opportunity.

There were cargo ships, cruiseships, skyscrapers, more palm trees, skimmers, gulls, numerous parading peoples, a troupe of brightly coloured youth practicing dance moves, baking bodies on the beach, baking lizards on the rocks, children playing in the park and two weary travellers, not used to such warm climes. Reassuringly the Atlantic was looking relatively calm and quite different to the Atlantic we know, with very blue water and white fragmented shell beach.

Progress was slow and after lots of sitting down and not all that much walking we decided we'd head to the wholefoods market. But it wasn't where we thought it was, so then we had to wait about an hour until the bus that would actually take us to it came. We did spot some cattle egrets though, hopping through the hedge in the middle of the road and skirting their ways around the parked cars like pros. By the time we'd toured around the shop with our backpacks in the trolley and got a few things to eat it was already 4.00p.m. With the skies threating to rain properly on us for the first time since leaving Canada we found ourselves waiting at another bus stop. The rain didn't really materialise though, just a few spots of it, but enough for me to stretch my arms out and embrace it. A man waiting told us that it would be getting 'cold' over the next few days and he'd just been out to buy a sweater, because he didn't have one. What a foreign concept.

Florida 1

An account of our work at the Everglades hostel..


more to come..

Sunday, 8 January 2012

California Characters

Here follows a (very long) study of a few characters observed at the Monterey, Santa Cruz and Pigeon Point HI hostels:

1. First up is the little imp of a man with a silky red Christmas scarf hanging round his neck, somewhat similar to Mr. Tumnus in the tales of Narnia. Brimming full of Christmas spirit he had a knack for getting in everyones way and business. He appears to spend most Christmases in residence at the Monterey hostel. He was all about sharing and was forever cooking up concoctions in the kitchen for everyone to eat. There was a vegetable soup, fish, cookies with 'real butter' and a cake with 'real butter'. Sadly there didn't seem to be many takers.

I got the feeling he thought he was the only person left in the world who cooks dinner from scratch. We seemed to disappoint him because we had bought all our Christmas food and were proceeding to cook proper meals and some bread. On Christmas when we were cooking our $11.25 brussel sprouts he swanned into the dining area and announced that our sprouts and food were free for all 'There's still more food to come from the oven and there are more sprouts in the kitchen'.

I found it more difficult than normal to communicate with Mr. Tumnus. Conversation examples:
'Is that egg bread?'..'No it's a Swiss Sunday bread'..'No, but does it have eggs in it'.
On Christmas day we're shouting down the computer on skype to the deaf 99 year old grandma. Across the room he asks 'Are you aupair?'. 'A what?'-'An aupair, it's just that you seem to be talking to a small child and you were making Swiss bread'. Aaah, Bless as they would say...

2. Character number two was the lady staying in our dorm room for a few nights. The clam chowder was a really good deal down at the wharf (people round California have got a big obsession with clam chowder) and she did have a couple of margaritas. Anyway, in the morning I thought I smelt really bad and Jenny thought she smelt really bad. Turned out the margarita lady had been sick and had left it festering by the bedside. The Canadian lady in our room managed to make an escape to a different room, but we were left going to sleep with noses cloaked with paper towels smeared in organic hand soap.

3. The third, although we met him second was the man who ran the Santa Cruz hostel. He was though almost not characterful enough to deserve a place in the California characters shortlist. He was very much involved in the local hosteling movement, having set this hostel and the Monterey hostel up. In his youth Peter had traveled all over England and Scotland, proceeding to tell us all the hostels he had ever stayed at over there. We had never heard of most of the places (I probably have a better knowledge of North America than England). He was also keen to tell us about the great railways he had seen and of his admiration for Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He was greatly disappointed that we didn't want to come and watch the X-factor with him in the TV room, featuring a singer from Santa Cruz. The following night it seemed he repeated his tales of the railways and the hostels of the United Kingdom to a less than impressed Matt, an Englishman living in Canada holidaying in California and frequenting the same last three hostels as us.

4. Yo, an elderly lady who was freezing cold stayed in our dorm room. She was so cold despite the heating being put on full pelt. Shivering in her bed Sarah from Hawaii crept over to cover her in additional blanket. She was in Santa Cruz revisiting places she'd been with her mother and catching up with friends. Someone 'incredibly sweet' had given her some cookies wrapped with a bow and cellophane, which she eagerly showed us. When we left it was all about 'happy holidays' and 'Lord be with you'. She looked almost tearful, gave me a hug and told me purple was her favourite colour.

5. At the Pigeon Point Lighthouse we came across a hilarious man who was holidaying with his family and friends. He thought he could definitely see the Ano nuevo elephant seals without paying. In the evening he came into our building baring a plate of food for Matt and later a chocolate Brownie for us, which his daughters and friends had just baked, and 'definitely didn't contain anything dodgy'. After I played the piano he couldn't wait to tell me that his twelve year old daughter plays 'Ode to Joy' and not very well. His biggest problem of the evening was regarding his visitation to the hot tub. Should he get changed into his trunks, wear his towel there and freeze on the way, or should he go in his clothes and change there. Dilemmas. When he came back he was full of tales of how he had stayed in for just a little bit longer and was getting changed when the next group made an appearance. Anyway, his enactment was pretty funny.

6. Carl the near to retiring coastguard from Florida was searching for somewhere to settle down. It was a toss up between somewhere in Florida and Monterey, which is why he was visiting Monterey (although in the morning he had forgotten he was in Monterey). It definitely had to be somewhere near the coast, because having spent his entire working life as a coastguard, he gets sick when he leaves it. As a child he had lived in Norfolk and attended day school in Sheringham. One day he got two questions wrong in a test and laughed when he got the results back, which in turn resulted in a beating from his teacher. Steaming he went home and plotted. The next day he got questions wrong again, laughed and got beaten. In response he took the whip and beat his teacher. And told her never to beat any of his classmates. Carl then had to go to the headmaster who gave him a beating, and in response Carl beat him back. Strangely no letter arrived for his mum and no-one heard about it at home. His classmates never got another beating. Apparently it was all because his mum paid the school in cash, and she was too good a customer to lose.

7. But the creme of the crop, the greatest fodder for any conniseur of human folly was who I now call the peacock lady. For the second time in the Monterey hostel it turned out that I was not just cooking our own meal but someone else's at the same time. Turning the heat down on the French girl's pasta was small fry in comparison.

The curly haired lady with slight limp in her step had no reservations in asking for help, or in holding back her complaints. She had some frozen prawns, but they were too frozen she ascertained by squidging them around, so she'd have to cook them. She kept telling me to tell her to 'slow down and take it easy' as she was very tired and apparently might cut herself while playing around with her prawns. No stovetop, no electric pots, is there no frying pan?, no that one's too big, no that one's too big, can't I use that one hun? (no I'm using it, how about this one..[and the one you just didn't want to use is exactly the same size]. Once she'd decided on a pan, I had to move it for her, plug it in for her, turn it on for her, almost wash her feet for her. Then it wasn't heating up quick enough, was it on? yes it was on. Tom....(the poor man working at the front desk) is it on? can you check it's on? Why isn't it heating up quickly? Poor Tom, I'd got him into the kitchen to open the beans with the broken tin openers and now there was no escaping for him either. Tom why don't you have hobs? Tom can't we put it in the oven (yes we can broil it)? Tom will you put it in the oven for me- I don't know how. Everytime Tom would inch out the door, there would come the inevitable... Tom, and he'd have to spring back into the kitchen. I was at least very grateful that Tom could provide a diversion, albeit briefly and stop the demands flowing in my direction.

Finally when the tins had been opened (Tom had searched the entire kitchen, managed with difficulty to open one of the tins and then a lady travelling with her sister and three dogs in the car, as well as a tin opener, opened the other for me) we sat down to eat our top cuisine of pasta and beans. The peacock lady came and sat herself next to us. She was keen for us to go in the morning to a danish pastry shop with her, but we wouldn't have had time. One little habit she had that was immediately observable to the discerning vegetarian was that she would squeeze her prawns, pop them into her mouth and then with her juicy fingers grab at my sleeve to get my attention (as if she didn't have it already!). Never has there been such competition as to who is going to wash the dishes. I left Jenny at the phrase 'so tell me about your dog'.

In the evening as we were packing our bags in the living room conversation turned to the lady who had been sick and in whose bed the peacock lady had now taken up residence. Naturally she was worried to possibly be sleeping in that bed, but Jenny assured her it was nothing she could catch, just a case of one too many tipples. Sleeping soundly in my bed I was awoken at 4a.m. by a persistent tapping sound, which I then noted was coming from the door. I couldn't understand why the peacock lady wasn't getting up to open it, before it dawned on me how stupid I was being and that it would actually be her at the door.

In the morning as I was getting up the peacock lady snuck up on me and thanked me for my help and understanding, before requesting that we take her to the bus station when we left. Seeing no way out we got ourselves ready while she practiced yoga on the sick patch. While Jenny skyped home the lady told me about her mission. Apparently we were on a mission to get away from it all, whereas she was on a mission to find herself a husband. Clipping her curls up high on her head she declared that she had to make herself look like a peacock to attract a husband. Her plan was to buy herself some golf balls, go to a Pebble Beach golf course (where the rich people hang out), and (without knowing how to play golf) pitch a few balls and stumble across a nice gentleman of similar age. Although she had already got her Amtrak ticket home, she was hoping that she'd have to postpone it.

She then went on to tell me about her 'child'/kitten, who was emptying its cat litter right now and how it should really have a friend when she goes away, but she can't really afford one. I was torn away from this most interesting conversation and sleeve tugging (at least the fingers were no longer coated in prawn) by mum who it seemed 'desperately' had to talk to me on skype.