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.

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