The following travelogue was written in 2014 by Captain Andy Adams during his eventful Amazonian voyage.
Day 1 – 05 Jan 2014
Picked up by my driver from home then a good run down to Tilbury. Unfortunately, Tilbury is just as I remembered it – will it ever improve?. At the Terminal the whole operation was very slick; my baggage was collected from the cab in seconds, and it turned up outside the cabin in just over an hour. The Terminal has definitely seen better days, however, and is in need of a major revamp. The embarkation process, nevertheless, was polished as was the reception on board, including a stewardess to escort me to my cabin. The cabin not as large as I imagined but perfectly adequate, and I have two windows which is very nice. During the overnight passage to Amsterdam it got a bit lumpy.
Day 2 – 06 Jan 2014
A pilot was needed to take the Marco Polo into Amsterdam but the weather was too bad to embark the pilot by boat. Our Captain decided to anchor until daylight when the weather was expected to ease, the pilot then embarked by helicopter. As a result, we arrived 3 hours late into Amsterdam. It was a grey & windy day, so I did not bother to go ashore, although we were not far from the ‘red lights’.
Day 3 – 07 Jan 2014
Departure from Amsterdam was at 2am, long after additional passengers had joined the ship. They were mainly Dutch couples, one East German guy from Dresden, and two South African ladies. After clearing Ijmuiden lock and returning to the North Sea, we set passage for Lisbon.
The weather could only be described as boisterous; Force 8+ until we neared Finisterre when wind eased and the vessel was able to increase speed. Our activities host, Sheena, is organising things for the Solo travellers including an introductory lunch which will probably be between Cabo Verde and Brasil. I’m trying to arrange to sit with the South Africans!!
Day 6 – 10 Jan 2014
We arrived at Lisbon mid morning. I took a coach trip into Estoril, which was the home of exiled European monarchs and a hotbed of spies in WWII. I also learned that a Portuguese king had sired three sons via a Mother Superior! Back at sea, and the weather is getting warmer as we head South. We’re approx. 30 hours from Funchal, which I last visited 50 years ago. The memory remains strong.
Day 7 – 11 Jan 2014
Day 7 and a calm sea with low ocean swell, the sky was cloudy but some sun was streaming through, at last we are away from the greyness of Northern Europe. Watching the evolving dynamics amongst my fellow passengers is quite amusing to a seasoned people watcher such as myself. Women range from Chav Sheila’s to Hyacinth Bucket’s and all in between, each one trying to outdo each other with tales of their last cruise and of the places they have visited. A poor sailor feels quite humbled in such an august presence. The ‘Introductory Solo travellers Lunch’ is today at 1215, and not as expected after Cabo Verde; we’ll see how that goes.
Day 8 – 12 Jan 2014 Funchal.
We arrived before daybreak so photo opportunities minimal. Coach trip organised with opportunity to take photos of the harbour from a place called Barcelos. Afterwards to Reids Hotel for tea and sandwiches. These are by far the most expensive sandwiches I have ever eaten but the gardens are lovely, the hotel world renowned and the experience capped by photographs of our great leader WS C and Lady C in the lobby. I managed to liberate a small pot of Prickly Pear jam especially made for Reids. Back to the ship for a late lunch, departure at 1400 for Cabo Verde. This is the transcript of a conversation I overhead on the afternoon we left Funchal between two ladies of a certain age, one of whom was certainly a Chav, probably came from bleeding Romford:
“Do you think it will be hot in the Amazon?”,
“Do you think it will be hot in the W Indies?”
‘Don’t know, shouldn’t think so’.
Listen darlings, the Amazon is on the Equator, the W Indies are south of 23 degrees north, that is they are in the tropics. The chances of frozen seas or being given the opportunity to observe ‘calving’ bergs from the Greenland glaciers are absolute zero. Stupid people like this should not be allowed to travel, no take that back, they should be allowed a one way trip; transportation to a penal colony, why don’t we still do that?
Day 9 – 13 Jan 2014 At Sea.
Just over 24 hours since departing Funchal. Running before the NE trades with wind Force 4-5 so minimal wind across the deck, large numbers of passengers sitting out on deck but high cloud obscuring the sun. Many games in progress including quoits and a grown up version of ‘shove ha’penny’. Choir convenes shortly, so much to do! For the seasoned observer of the human condition the enclosed society aboard ship provides rich pickings as groups and cliques combine, unite or coalesce then break up and form new alliances. Snobbery abounds, principally to do with cruises undertaken in the past with lots of people trying to ‘big up’ their experiences. Like the Pongos in the Falkland Islands who were referred to by the Islanders as whennies (in retaliation for them being called Bennies by the Pongos), when I was in Bosnia, when I was in Iraq etc, the seasoned cruiser never tires of telling when I was on QM2, when I was on Arcadia, when I was on Splendour of the Seas, Fred Olsen run things so much better da-da-de-da. Some professional complainers who can’t conceive of the operational difficulties of running a 50 year old ship with facilities largely conceived in the mid part of the 20th century. ‘Foods no good’ well it seems all right to me. When I was on the B—— they had a commis waiter to clear the tables, why cant they have one here.
Service seems OK to me; the hotel staff (from close on 20 nationalities) are courteous, attentive and work incredibly hard for up to 16 hours a day. Another ‘whennie’; when I was on a world cruise on B——- we did, they did so and so. Price paid for the world cruise of 3 months duration £28000 so 6 weeks should equate to £14000 on MP. Actual price paid £4500; years ago at sea we used to have an expression which I have paraphrased. “Looking for a $20 hooker but only had a $10 sub”. This seems to be the same principle to me.
Day 10 – 14 Jan 2014
Watched a film last night the ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ quite different from my expectation but very enjoyable none the less. At noon we had 600 miles to run to Cabo Verde. Characters, if that’s the right term are or have emerged. One guy, an Orcadian who has lived in Essex since 1944 appears each day in a different kilt. None of the tartans are his own. He even has a Cornish and Breton tartan besides the Welsh and Irish, may even have a Galician. Not sure of the size of his baggage train to Tilbury but the Isle of Harris must have worked overtime to produce all that cloth. It remains to be seen whether he can keep ringing the changes up to the 42nd day. Looking for a companion which he has never had before, surely the daily wearing of the tartan should give someone a clue. Been a teacher for the whole of his career (maths), definitely lacking in the people skills department. Second character definitely gets the major league award for ‘pisshead’; on sea days he is usually out of the game by early evening, if he is still upright he is certainly incoherent. On port days he manages to smuggle on board large quantities of grog, on these occasions he is hors de combat by mid afternoon and repairs to his cabin. He has spent a lot of money on the trip but the general atmosphere on the ship passes him by.
In the early 70’s I served with a Captain who had a similar problem. We used to have every second weekend in Ayr and Capt M would hire a car and disappear to a country hotel in the Borders where he got blotto, returning to the ship on Monday morning, suitably refreshed.
My thoughts were that the resident ‘pisshead’ could have done the same thing, it would be a damn sight cheaper than the £7000 he has spent for this trip. Lunch beckons, I may write more later. We passed south of 23.5N around 0200. Expected wind to ease but at daybreak still in NE Trades. Moaners again; late breakfast finishes at 1000, morning tea and coffee around. 1030, with some 400 cups to clear away wash and return by 1030 it was inevitable that there was going to be a delay despite the best efforts of the girls running in with 30 cups at a time: quotes from whennies, there always running out of things, it wasnt like this on the “—-“ pick the name of any bloody cruise liner other than this one.
I was indulging in post prandial drinks this evening when retired Govt official leant across Mata Hari and drew my attention to the similarity of the neck and head of the “pisshead” to a Galapagos tortoise. Straight-away I decided to rename him Lonesome George. Late evening met with a retired Grimsby trawler skipper. Lamps swinging, bloody good bloke, I think we have a few more anchors to drop. He’s a big fella like me, around 75 years, very slim Glaswegian wife of 59; there’s still hope I guess.
Day 11 – 15 Jan 2014
Alongside in Mindelo at 0800. Leisurely breakfast and then down to the gangway to get the shuttle bus to town. Intention was to have a quick squint around the gaff and then hire a taxi. Getting out of the shuttle bus I was approached by a young black guy who put his minibus at my disposal for a two hour trip around the island including a stop at the pharmacy, for less than the price of the scheduled tour, seemed like a good deal so I accepted. Terrific poverty everywhere, in the campanha subsistence level farming, properties where construction had commenced but then been abandoned due to the drying up of remittances from overseas. Beautiful beach to the north, much favoured by North European ex-pats, very limited facilities, have to drive 8 miles into Mindelo for groceries. Huge sand dunes, none of which occur naturally but are the result of wind blown sand from the Sahara. Sahara dust affects the clarity of photographs. Fresh fish available, caught off the beach and ready for the barbecue.Back to town and a brief stop at the Farmacia (no these pills were white not blue}.
Departed Mindelo 1800, we now have five days across the Atlantic at 18+ knots.
I don’t think I mentioned the next table to us in the dining room. These are the worst kind of Home Counties people; three men, five women. One women; ‘Well I’m on my own now, I’m 52 I don’t think I will be able to afford another house in Princes Risborough, (or whatever Buckinghamshire town it was) I’ve had to settle for an ex council semi for £250,000’. Thank your lucky stars that you have a house built to such exacting standards and that your ex husband, partner whatever was able to buy it outright for you. Lots of screeching and female cackling. The worst one is a widowed nurse who could easily stand in for Sybil Fawlty, gets more raucous by the bottle. She keeps looking across at our table: RCS, Mata Hari and myself and I am sure is constantly trying to figure out who is enjoying Mata Hari’s favours. Not me guv.
Day 16 – 20th Jan 2014
Crossed the Equator at about 0900 UTC (0600 Local), loads of people got up for it, not this little Black Duck. There is no line in the water, you can’t see anything. At 0700 local anchored off Macapa at the entrance to the Amazon just 4 miles south of the equator, here the vessel is undergoing immigration checks and an inspection by port state control of all of the vessels safety equipment etc.
The sky is overcast and land, as is to be expected, is all low lying. Next to Macapa is the Fazendinha Pilot Station where our pilot will come from on completion of all formalities. There is no sun but people are still laid out along the decks on sun beds. On completion of formalities and with pilot embarked we will make our way upriver to Santarem where I have arranged to go on a long boat trip through the jungle and also engage in a little piranha fishing. Weighed anchor and turned short round heading out NE and then E before slowing turning to the south and then SW on our passage to Santarem with approximately 320 miles to run.
A different approach to Health & Safety
All the time at Harwich Haven Authority we were constantly bombarded with the need/requirement to wear safety equipment. Thought you might be interested in this shot of a Brazilian Pilot in short sleeves, no lifejacket etc. Perhaps there is a clue in the name of the pilot boat.
Day 17 – 21st Jan 2014
Arrived in Santarem about 300 miles upstream from the pilot station. Took a boat trip to Lake Maica, en route observed the joining of the waters. Two rivers the Tajapos and the Amazon join off Santarem. The Tajapos is very dark and the two run side by side until finally mingling some 4km downstream. On the Lake observed various Indigeno smallholdings, pretty ramshackle. A few chickens, the odd pig and a few cows, principal source of food is lake caught fish and manioc flour which is highly prized and quite often is used instead of money. Stopped for a while to indulge in piranha fishing, our boat caught five of which my own contribution was nil. Fish given to boat crew. Saw two sloths and an iguana, also fancied I saw a pink river dolphin. Saw ZAP twice today, once when she was lining up for one of the excursions, the second time when she wsa heading for town. Very difficult to pin this girl down as she rarely appears in the public rooms.
Last night it was very pleasant at dinner, Sybil Fawlty had decided to stay away along with the other raucous lady. Believe me the silence was deafening. I was not however prepared for what happened later. Round about 2359 Lonesome George lurched into the Show Lounge staggering and incoherent. He slumped down at the next chair. Gradually during the next 30 minutes he became steadily more and more aggressive attacking me verbally with extreme Anglo Saxon expletives. He attempted to assault RCS, a man of some 75 years, he then started to attack me again verbally as well as trying to provoke a physical confrontation. My dinner companions urged caution a course of action which I heeded.
Security was called but the poor little Indian guy who was sent was not up to the task. All the time I was resisting the urge to beat the crap out of him (Lonesome George that is), it would have been an easy task as he was barely able to stand, this would more than have made up for my temporary infirmity. Eventually the Staff Captain was called to intercede and the miscreant was led off to his cabin. The Staff Captain came to talk to RCS and myself and asked that we render a statement in the morning. Mata Hari had in the meantime gone to her cabin quite rightly fearing any form of physical confrontation.
Day 18 – 22 Jan 2014
We are anchored off Boca de Valeria. Steep red cliffs covered in vegetation just downstream of the ship, immediately in front of us the village that the crew of the Marco Polo supports. Decided not to go ashore as ground conditions are a little heavy, overnight rain and thick heavy red soil would mean that I would struggle walking. The inhabitants here, especially the kids are supported by Marco Polo with gifts of writing materials, paper, in fact anything useful for education as well as sweets and small amounts of money.
This in attempt to wean them away from begging. It is slightly reminiscent of the cargo cult in the Solomon Islands in WWII where the arrival of a US cargo ship would produce an untold upgrade in the wealth of the islanders. The ending of the war and the fact that ships no longer called led the islanders to believe that they had offended the god ‘John Frum’ (John from America). To this day they still climb the highest point once a year and gaze eastwards in the hope that John Frum will favour them again. Guess its a little bit like that here. Made a small contribution to the kids with two QANTAS toilet/accessory bags and a few dollars. Ships tenders running backwards and forwards all day with passengers wanting to meet the villagers, Australian lady I speak to regularly said she found the whole process slightly tacky, she took off into the forest along a defined trail. She said that the creatures and the foliage were stunning, more particularly she enjoyed the silence.
When we arrived at Boca de Valeria the sky was overcast and heavy rain showers had only just stopped, now around 1330 local the sun is shining and the whole place looks very pleasant. Thinking about having another beer then late lunch. I will take some photographs before departure which is scheduled for around 1500. During the forenoon I rendered my statement to the Staff Captain, as did RCS. I have to be honest I shit-bagged him (Lonesome George that is). This is the man that brings large quantities of grog on board, spends all day in his cabin drinking it and then stumbles and or lurches into the public rooms where he endeavours to provoke a confrontation with whomsoever. No, last night was not an isolated incident. The staff are quite tired of him and regularly are the subject of his drunken tirades. I could not put up with the prospect of this over the next 3 weeks, it would be easier to go to The New Bell and listen to the Goat everyday.
The word at the reception desk is that he will be asked to leave and sent home, at this stage I have yet to hear from the Staff Captain. A similar incident involving a Dutch national shortly after leaving Amsterdam resulted in him being refused entry to any bar and also denied the opportunity to buy drink. Whether he obtains that ashore is another matter. Tonight in the Show Lounge is a tribute to Nat King Cole, will give that a look after dinner. Keen to know what’s happening with Lonesome George. Info desk tells me (unofficially) that he will stay but he will be denied access to alcohol, interesting to see how that works out. I am waiting for an official response from the Staff Captain. At dinner there are only 4 instead of 8 on the next table, goes without saying that Sybil was there with her raucous friend. Dear Sybil, voice as mellifluous as a corncrake. Forgot to mention an incident on the evening before we arrived at the pilot station. The three of us are in the late bar. Mata Hari: I think I’ll go out on deck. Me: OK. A few seconds later Mata Hari reappears.
Me: I thought you were going out on deck? MH: It’s raining. Me: Oh. MH: (This time with emphasis). But it shouldn’t be raining we’re meant to be in the good weather. Me: We’re in a tropical rain forest, the clues in the name darling, tropical RAIN forest. MH: OH!!
Day 19 – 23 Jan 2014
Steadily progressing up river, I expect to be in Manaus around noon local time. As we near Manaus we see rock outcrops along the northern shore. Not certain but I think this rock formation stretches north-westwards to Venezuela and is part of the same formation that creates the Angel Falls. Usual late breakfast, stepping out of the lift I am confronted by McT sporting a very bright, almost orange shirt accompanied by another bumbee tartan. This time his outfit is completed by trainers and socks. The most interesting point was that he was clutching a large white teapot. I doze off around lunchtime, obviously due to the stress of cruising, and am too late for lunch. I resolve to partake of afternoon tea instead. Before I set off I receive a phone call from Olga the Guest Service Manager. She tells me that Lonesome George has been cautioned by the Staff Captain with regard to his behaviour, LG has promised to behave better (lets wait and see). Olga goes on to thank me for my cooperation and restraint, I detected a nervousness on her part as if she was expecting that I wouldn’t be satisfied with the action taken.
Anyway, off to afternoon tea, which is a first for me. Lunch finishes at 1500, tea is between 1530-1630, thereafter early dinner in the Bistro is 1730 but tonight due to the Cayman spotting exhibition is 1700. So much food, so little time to cram it in. The people I see at tea are the same as I normally see at around 1330 having lunch. They must have permanently reserved seats. At the next table a party of four are discussing meal arrangements for the evening as they are off on a Cayman seeking expedition. Having had breakfast at 0900, lunch at 1300, afternoon tea at 1530 they are now contemplating an early dinner at 1730. Don’t think they would do that at home but there you go. Whilst gently sipping my cup of Earl Grey I spot McT at one of the tables out on the open deck. There, in the centre of his table, plainly enjoying pride of place, is the large white tea pot. He scoops up his belongings, which obviously include said teapot, then stops off at a table to regale a couple of his experiences during the early afternoon trip ashore where he witnessed a shoot out between the cops and a suspected felon. Moreover, he has video evidence gathered on his camera which he proceeds to show to the less than enthusiastic couple, this was a real gun with real bullets he emphasises. Well Manaus isn’t Ealing Studios. He leaves the Bistro clinging grimly to his teapot.
Returning to my cabin, I meet RCS and tell him about the phone call from Olga. We resolve to eat ashore this evening; Mata Hari is busy chasing Cayman, I think that’s what she said his name was. What an interesting evening: RCS’s tour guide of this morning has promised to return and collect us at 2000 for a sweeping tour of Manaus which includes the façade of the Teatro Amazonas and the newly built football stadium for the World Cup. We arrive at a restaurant, some 23km from the wharf, where we partake of Oxtail from the Matto Grosso region, followed by Stingray, Piranacu (a giant 3m Amazon fish), turtle and cayman. Cayman is a bit like chewy chicken. Best event of the meal was the ordering of a bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon from the Maipo valley, it puts our ship bought wine from Italy in the shade. The meal, including some really good wine, comes to £25 per head.
Back at the Ferry Terminal waiting for the shuttle bus, I spot Sybil and her raucous friend. Shortly later, I espy LG clutching a can of Coke. It is clear from his demeanour that the can does not contain Coke; more likely to be Cachaca. I decide to wait for the next bus to give Sybil and LG a wide berth. Back on board RCS and I head to the late bar, where shortly we are joined by MH who regales us with stories of her Cayman hunt. Sounds beastly, I know, but we had to tell her that we had been scoffing Cayman. Returning to my cabin I pass by the reception desk, a beautiful young East European lady calls me over to tell me that LG has been reprimanded, that booze was denied him in the bars and that further transgressions would result in him being taken off the ship, but there may be a complication in that he does not have sufficient funds to fly home. Receptionist then goes on to tell me that she had seen LG that evening at around 2200 and states that he was completely sober. This does not square with the character I saw a few minutes earlier. Sorry darling I have spent 50 years spotting “p*heads”, and you, my dear, want to believe in the best. Believe me, before we depart our final W Indian island, he will be seriously pissed again – if not before. My guess is that the ship staff is waiting until we get to the first of the British islands where it will be easier and cheaper to give him the gooner. Thus ends my day, free internet at the ferry terminal in the morning, hoping to get loads of messages off. And so to bed.
Day 20 – 24 Jan 2014
Day begins well, overcast with occasional showers. MH and RCS are off on an excursion which I think involves a boat trip, and wont be back before lunch. My usual late breakfast and review of blog. Lots of people must have gone on trips as everywhere is quite empty. The inspection that all the crew was dreading was passed satisfactorily, however some of the crew harbour the suspicion that a brown envelope had changed hands in order to ensure passing, which, in their view, negated all of the previous six days hard work. This coupled with restrictions on shore leave has created resentment. Three percent (3%) of each department must remain on board for ship-keeping purposes.
The remainder were granted shore leave until 0300, but, and here’s the big but; bar staff were required to work their normal hours which means the earliest they can get off is 0030. Couple this with the fact that some of them, team leaders in particular, were required to be on duty again at 0600 does not make this a very attractive prospect. Quite frankly I am astonished at the general attitude of the crew; which is to grin and bear it. Couldn’t see that happening with a Pommy or Digger crowd! I will watch the situation throughout the day.
The fact that we are clear of the inspection phase should ease tensions. I expect to see those whennies who gave gone ashore this morning to be back for lunch, why buy ashore when you have already bought on board? We’d rather bugger up our day and come back early. Departure is scheduled for 1730, the next port Parentins which is down river and will be an anchor port with ships’ tenders. At Manaus the turnaround port on the voyage we have racked up 5555 nautical miles. Significant notice in today’s Daily Orders:
The well being of our passengers is paramount to the success of our cruise. If any passengers behaviour is seen to be causing or is likely to cause distress, danger or annoyance to any of our other guests, we reserve the right to terminate their booking arrangements with us.
This clearly refers to LG about whom my comments of yesterday stand. I went ashore to the terminal where, in the ‘hospitality tent’, canvas roof, no sides, you are able to enjoy free WiFi. Big waste of time, with 35-40 individuals all trying to make contact with home getting a connection proved to be difficult if not impossible. Took me 90 minutes to send off three e mails. Gave up and caught the shuttle bus back to the ship. Whilst waiting for the bus I spoke to a Scottish couple who said that there had been quite a clamour for a Burns Night, this apparently was now going ahead, Chef is scratching his head about the requirement for a haggis, the ship being a bit short on sheep’s stomachs. Thoughts tend towards a ceremonial (not a “for consumption” version in a condom). Wife of Scottish pair is given the task of downloading the poetry.
Couple of beers and a late lunch. Whilst I am consuming my first beer in comes McT, two glasses of ice water required. Couldn’t conceive why he would want two, unless one is the basis for something of a more spirituous nature. What an unkind thought!! More importantly he had not an inch of Caledonian clothing. I finish lunch at 1455 just in time to see the fancy sandwiches and confections being wheeled in for afternoon tea which starts at 1530. Already the punters are massing at the doors of the Bistro and I am drawn to make a comparison with them and Theodoric’s barbarian hordes pressing at the gates of Rome. The Master had obviously relaxed the rules for shore leave for the crew and those who were not required for immediate duty were allowed to stay ashore until 1430 (passengers aboard at 1700). That said one of our barman has doubly transgressed, being late on board for the 0300 and late again for the 1430 after he had gone ashore a second time in an effort to restate his virility.
I can remember our old Bosun giving me a warning that it would draw you farther than gunpowder would blow you. Obviously right in this case. Departed Manaus promptly at 1730, not expecting great things for the blog but we still have dinner, a show and the late bar to produce some gems. We can always rely on Sybil for a MarcoPoloball.
Day 21 – 25 Jan 2014 River Amazon.
Running down to Parintins where there is a Boi Bumba ceremony for the rubberneckers. Around 0800 we’re in the centre of a fierce thunderstorm and it’s still raining when we arrive at the anchorage around 1030. Intention is to disembark any passengers for the excursion first, using 4 tenders. In the event the current proved too strong for the smaller boats and they had to be withdrawn. Priority for Boi Bumba, apologies from Olga, I tried to get a shore tender but this couldn’t be organised at short notice. Great uproar from shellback cruisers (those who were just Lookenpeepin), should have arranged it yesterday. Oh Yes, when we didn’t know the increased strength of the current due to the overnight thunderstorm. Probably would have done it if we had been travelling on “B——-“.
Captain has extended latest aboard time by one hour so that kept some of the shites quiet. Poor shore-goers, didn’t know whether to have lunch before they went ashore (early lunch arranged for 1100.) “What if I’m eating and they call my turn for the tender and I have to leave my food behind?” “What if I miss lunch and then because things are running late I miss afternoon tea?” There hasn’t been a disaster of this magnitude since Noah’s Flood. Afternoon tea; the barbarian host threatens. When the gate is forced, plates are piled high like mini volcanoes. In the midst of the throng I spot McT, a vision in lime green including tartan, still gripping his teapot tightly. LG makes an appearance, grabs a plate of food and scuttles off to his cabin, still looks pissed; wonder where he is getting his grog? I try to take a discreet photo but my phone is showing low battery.
Poor little dears returning late from shore, the press at the Bistro door is such that afternoon tea is extended to 1650. A good job too, some of them may have fainted with hunger. Finally, all are safely aboard and we’re underway downstream. At dinner I note that Sybil and her companion are absent, makes the dining experience so much better. Tonight is Burns Night. Haggis in a condom is duly dispatched by Katy (Performance Host from Glasgow), there then follows an orgy of Scottish dancing. To be honest, it was real good fun to watch. The Late Bar is packed but only 20% of the audience is drinking. At the commencement of the Gay Gordons I spy McT dancing with a lady who might be described as Joyce Grenfells dancing companion (as Stately as a Galleon!!). The lime green ensemble has now given way to Cornish Blue (kilt to match the blue not the Cornish tartan), note he has no dagger, his carer won’t let him have anything sharp. Several gentlemen properly dressed in kilts, with dirk. As soon as the live music/entertainment ends the audience evaporates leaving the hard core of inebriates. A tough job but somebody has to do it. Large Bushmills and then bed.
Day 22 – 26 Jan 2014
After a slow passage down river we anchor off Alter de Chao in the Tapajos River. Just up river is Belterra, the rubber plantation founded by Henry Ford and subsequently abandoned when the British commenced rubber production in Malaya. Downstream and round into the Amazon is Santarem, which was our first stop on the way to Manaus. This place has one of the few sandy beaches in the Amazon and a lively beach community has grown up, lets say a Goa in microcosm. Ship is tendering ashore, situation quite changed from yesterday, the current has eased significantly and the wind which was around Force 4 is now a gentle zephyr. Typical of most of our time in the Amazon the sky is overcast with showers, tends to improve in the afternoon, at least thats what Mata Hari is hoping. She’s busy at the moment looking at all those boys on the beach, probably working up some kind of appetite. Run ashore is of short duration, underway just after 1430. Expecting large numbers of Goths in the Bistro, embarkation is Deck 5 the restaurant is Deck 6, hopefully they will go into the restaurant and leave the Bistro for me. Disappointed of course; when I went to lunch the place was heaving. I observed USA/Canada guy with his second plated volcano of the day.
As there is portion control in the restaurant suspect he dines in the Bistro and is thus able to enjoy volcano 3, it probably takes too much effort to change out of his scuzzy shorts as I have never seen him in the restaurant. Getting ready for dinner and the show. Advised that dress this evening is Casual. Even that would be too much for North American man (it involves trousers, shoes and a decent shirt). Bog standard evening, serenaded by a brace of corncrackers but otherwise OK
Day 23 – 27 Jan 2014
Arrived at Santana a little before midday. Place is just two berths, one tanker, one bauxite with specialised shore loader. Not the sort of place you expect a cruise liner to go. Shore excursions arranged for Macapa an old colonial fort right on the Equator, I would have gone but it is a 20 mile+ ride in non air conditioned bus over unmade roads. RCS is going and will check out whether there is a suitable restaurant close by (Santana). Early lunch today (not for me). Usual press at the door with elbows suitably sharpened; with over half the passengers away on excursions the ship is remarkably quiet. Aware that there is lots of activity among the hotel staff, namely deep cleansing routines. Had agreed with RCS to RV at 1900 in case had found a suitable venue ashore, in the event this proved not to be the case and we dined on board. Whilst enjoying pre dinner drinks observed LG wander into the bar, he sighted us, turned around and left. I noted that he had a very pronounced starboard list and concluded that he was still pissed. Wonder where he’s getting it from. Watched the Show Lounge Divas after dinner. Around midnight joined by the Cruise Staff who had dined in Macapa, transport courtesy of the Agent. Rumours surfacing that there were cases of Novovirus on board, hence the deep cleansing. Last ones standing, bar staff had had a long day and gone to bed.
Day 24 – 28 Jan 2014
Departed Santana as scheduled at 1200, next stop pilot station at Fazendihna. Afterwards we take a left turn past Macapa and 300 miles to Ile de Salut; looking forward to sea breezes after the oppressive heat and humidity of the Amazon. Deep cleaning routines in operation, buffet breakfast/lunch service amended/suspended. Staff only are permitted to handle food to plates, similarly with coffee and tea stations. Expect same routine at lunchtime. Pilot disembarked at 1245, FAOP (Full away on passage) for Papillon Island. Novovirus; rumoured that one passenger had to have intravenous injections, cost £2000. Announcement this morning that any who feels that they are unwell should phone reception and stay in cabin. Medical team will attend cabin, consultation is free. At 1800 announcement to all. MY GOD WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE. Captain announces that tests on stool samples confirm the existence of Novovirus on board Marco Polo. All self service facilities are closed with immediate effect, passengers must use the Waldorf restaurant only, all food being handled to the table only by waiters. Deep cleansing measures continue. All passengers asked to wash hands thoroughly and use sanitizer provided. The most likely cause is some passenger eating or drinking ashore and being less than meticulous with hand cleaning. Listened to late show, usual Bushmills and then bed.
Day 25 – 29 Jan 2014
Hardly surprising that today sees a more subdued mood throughout the ship due to the Novovirus situation. Cleansing that was at a frantic pace yesterday has been further increased. Two new cases confirmed today. The crew are having to work 50% harder, with no additional pay. RCS had to call the nurse during the night as he was displaying symptoms, however nurse confirmed that whilst he was ill he wasn’t contagious. Poor old bloke looked really shaken up. Problems with queuing at breakfast and lunch due to large numbers using the restaurant now that the Bistro is closed. Dinner is fine as we have a reserved table for second sitting, guess the guzzlers all try and rush the first sitting.
Saw LG prowling through the bars today, now looking pretty rough. Also, although not seen for a couple of days, McT makes an appearance in another piece of tartan cloth. Tonight was a first, ZAM and ZAP together watching the cabaret in the late bar. ZAP smiling happily. When the singer had finished they scurried off together out on to the open deck. Don’t think they do night buses but who knows? Devils Island tomorrow. Grey and overcast with rain and poor visibility since we left the Amazon, hoping the weather gets better when we are at the island.
Day 26 – 30 Jan 2014 Ile de Salut:
This morning sees us off Ile de Salut with a tender operation in use to and from the shore. RCS having been confined to his cabin for a period has now emerged looking shaky but much improved, tests having proved to be non contagious. LG spotted ashore consuming and buying grog, no surprise there. McT displaying his wide repertoire of tartans. Subdued air on the ship; the hotel staff working up to 4 additional hours per day on cleaning ops. Toll is beginning to tell. Hopes expressed that crisis has peaked.
Day 27 – 31 Jan 2014
At Sea: This morning sat at breakfast with a couple who had been confined for 48 hours. They were subsequently given the all clear, just a normal tummy bug. Immodium did the trick for them. During the morning Olga announces that two new cases have been confirmed, and, as a result, all of the public toilet spaces have been closed. The ship is still functioning even though we are in a form of lock-down. Subdued mood continues but people coping well, no fun highlights to blog about. We’re in St Georges, Grenada tomorrow where I am having a trip ashore. The corncrakes continue to trill (?) wish I could say that bird song makes me happy, not these two old birds.
Day 30 – 3rd Feb 2014
In case you were all wondering where I was, I am pleased to announce that I have just been released from solitary confinement. Yes I got the bug, one of the last cases on board. I started feeling unwell on the evening of the 30th after we had left Devils Island, with inflamed muscles, joints etc. I put it down to arthritis and perhaps a shade too much Bushmills. Next day slightly better but developing stomach pains. Went for pre dinner drinks as per normal. At dinner had a salad for starter, still feeling unwell. On the next table Sybil let slip that she lived in Torquay, hmm Sybil, Torquay!! I was pondering where I had those two words closely juxtaposed.
Main course arrived, two mouthfuls, that was it. All public toilet facilities are closed due to the outbreak and I was 4 decks above my cabin, I prayed that the lift came in time. I just made it to the cabin when along comes the inevitable. By now it was gone 2100, what to do? Call the medical centre or wait and see. I chose ‘wait and see.’ I slept ’til about 0600 when I realised that ‘this was it.’ Called the Medical Centre and the nurse arrived in due course. She took my temperature, then asked a few questions. Bingo, I am confined to barracks for 48 hours, Regrettably I had a trip booked for Grenada as well. Nurse then tells me that they thought the virus had declined yesterday and they were looking forward to easing restrictions. I was one about 6 new cases that morning so they were a little glum.
Upshot is I spent some time looking out of my window at Grenada and St Vincent (at least I had a window, a couple at breakfast this morning told me they had done their 48 hours in a windowless room). Arrived at St Lucia this morning (03 Feb), berth changed so that we are right next to the market, trip ashore this afternoon (waiting for team to sanitize my cabin). The nurse said they believe the Norovirus outbreak emanated from a couple who had bought drinks from a roadside seller in Manaus, ice brought up in plastic bags. That was 8 days before I caught it. Barbados tomorrow and perhaps the chance for more MarcoPoloballs.
Day 31 – 4th Feb 2014
In Bridgetown. Two other large cruise liners in port with us, one of them is called the Costa Mediterranean! I had a little run ashore but still not up to much. In the morning we were told that there was another new case of the virus. The intensive cleaning routine continues, the crew are now getting very tired and this is manifested in irritability, especially to those passengers who are demanding that ‘standards must be maintained’. Bunch of a*holes. This evening at dinner the table which yesterday was empty (Sybil and her chums going local) is now full, corncrakes in full flow. Our waiter who was among the grumpy ones this morning is now bright and breezy. A large number of the lads went off to a beach called The Boatyard, an afternoon of sea and sand has obviously improved their spirits. So called ‘sail-away’ party this evening, all of the Show Lounge staff were there and a lot of people up and dancing, in the middle of them all was a happy smiling ZAP but no ZAM. Usual nightcap then bed.
Day 32 – 5th Feb 2014 At Sea.
Left the lights of Bridgetown last night and shaped for the Azores. I had spoken to one of the fitness ladies yesterday evening, she told me that she was all set to lead her class around the deck for the ‘Mile before Breakfast’, I am certain I felt her glide past my window followed by her less than sylph-like charges. This morning the vessel was lifting easily in a North-Easterly swell, partly cloudy but bright. Announcement from Olga that another 6 cases are confirmed, plainly concerned, with the last 4 days in different ports, that some passengers were not as scrupulous as they should have been with regard to hygiene. It was thought that they were not reporting symptoms so that it did not interfere with their sightseeing plans.
This was later confirmed by RCS who had been on an afternoon bus excursion. A lady, not looking good, announced that now she had had her trip she was going to the Medical Centre to report her symptoms. Nice!! Just had the noon announcement. Frankie the cruise Director claims the wind is Force 7. I’m looking out of the window and can’t make it more than 4-5. Suspect that he is looking at the relative wind (30knots minus 15, ships speed, equals 15knots which is a Force 4).
Hotel staff are subdued but seem OK, Maiia one our Ukranian bar waitresses (Degree in Economics) had a beach trip yesterday, I asked if she enjoyed it, “Yes of course” was the reply. Now you are back to normal. I said, her reply in thick Ukrainian accent “Yes but I not want”. Lovely girl. Pirate theme to dinner this evening, Sybil suitably attired with bandana etc. Regaled her dinner companions with tales about her dog and her SW facing house in Torquay. Watched the show (musicals). Usual Bushmills. Bed
Day 33 – 6th Feb 2014
Pressing on at 17.5 knots into low North-Easterly swell. I’m a touch Irritated by the number of people claiming that the ship was ‘rocking’. Rocking occurs when a ship is unstable, we are just pitching gently into a head swell. Sick bags were put out last night, quite what for I am uncertain but the NAROD are now convinced that bad weather is coming. Still didn’t stop them scoffing like pigs at breakfast. Lonesome George; rarely spotted these days but he had been observed buying grog at Iles de Salut as well as St Vincent. The receptionist had seen him late some evening stumbling around in the alleyway with a can, odds are it didn’t contain John Smiths, have my phone with me in case I can grab a quick photo but he seldom comes out in daylight. The main thing is he isn’t in the public rooms making a nuisance of himself. Olga from the Volga comes on the tannoy late morning. No new cases overnight, no new cases this morning.
Hopefully we have turned the corner, the hotel staff are desperately in need of a break, the sanitation teams are still at full tilt. Word from the barman is that even if there are no new cases they will probably continue sanitising until Tilbury. Great pity as all the windows are smeared with the sanitising fluid, it would be great to see them shiny after we leave the Azores. The ship had a comedian flown out from the UK to Barbados, makes his first appearance tonight, we’ll see what he is like. Now moved out of the circulatory system, and steadily losing the effect of the North East tradewinds. Swell still about 1m+ but sea fining away all the time, sky blue, suns out, not a recliner to be had on deck. Rumour is that a ‘stiff’ was put ashore in Bridgetown, heart attack.
Day 36 – 9th February 2014
Quiet day, or so we thought. Olga from the Volga announces that we have had no new cases. Captain comes on the PA late afternoon to say that due to a fast moving depression he was increasing speed to make Horta some 4 hours earlier than planned and thus miss the worst effects of the gale. Pretty straightforward evening; at the next table the corncrakes are in full cry. The wife of the Crab, posh voice, lets slip that they hoped that the portholes would be secured for the coming blow. Oh my dear, despite all that posh talk, I find out that you are travelling steerage, well I never. RSC has small camera with him to get a snap of the corncrakes and Lonesome George if he presents himself. Corncrakes keep moving backwards and forwards too much so no shot of them. Africa Night in the Show Lounge.
In the late bar there is a cabaret act followed by a disco, a special event for the cruise director whose birthday it is coupled with which he is leaving in Tilbury to join the Discovery. Mata Hari spots Lonesome George at the far end of the bar, suit and tie but obviously well pissed. Attempts to get a snap of him are foiled as he is sitting next to a large pillar. All the singers and dancers are up on the floor, Mata Hari is persuaded to dance as well, on the way off the floor she is called over to the table of a man sitting drinking a large glass of wine. She sits next to him, long conversation ensues.
When she returns we get the full story: His wife is in their cabin, she had a stroke 12 years ago, so he has been deprived of his ration for that amount of time. He obviously thinks that MH will be the one to restore things for him. Party still going strong with the kids, the guy with the wine drinking more and more, keeps moving across to a closer chair. MH decides she’s had enough absinthe and totters off to bed. Wine guy now gets very bold and comes and sits at the bar next to me. “She’s something else isn’t she?” (meaning MH) he says. I nod in agreement. He makes sweeping gesture with an arm, knocks over his wine, glass breaks on a chair. Wine Guy (WG) tries to pick up the pieces, in the meantime barman has poured another wine. WG badly cuts his hand, blood dripping everywhere. Tries to staunch the bleeding by dipping it in the wine, barman takes wine away claiming health issues. WG demands another glass, barman refuses saying it would be best if he returned to his cabin, WG starts to get belligerent. Security called, cruise director on scene, after about five minutes of delivering verbal abuse WG is led away by the security guys, hardly able to stand. I finish my Bushmills and go to my cabin. A quiet day Hmmmm!!
Day 37 – 10 Feb 2014 Noon berthed Horta, Faial, AzoresWind South-West force 7-8
Get up about 0600; through the window I can see that we are running before a very heavy sea, at least Force 8, so I head back to bed. Later, we are safely berthed in Horta, Azores. Visibility minimal, with no chance of seeing the volcano. After lunch I speak with MH. The cruise director has told her the full story about Wine Guy, but there’s more. His wife had been unwell and the doctor had been called to attend. WG then (apparently) accuses doctor of molesting his wife. This info makes sense of things last night when WG refused to go to the Medical Centre. The cruise staff have had so much trouble with this guy that they tell me they are seriously considering sending him home from Ponta Delgada tomorrow. Horta is a pleasant little place, full of yachts. It is a stopover point for those making the transatlantic crossing. Usual evening, the ship leaves Horta about 2030. I watch the comedian again tonight, only one third of the numbers of his first audience. Better than before but not brilliant. Lonesome George in full flight in the late bar, but studiously avoids getting near, shame because I need to take a photograph.
Day 38 – 11th Feb 2014 Noon berthed Ponta Delgada, AzoresWind South-West Force 5
On arrival at Ponta Delgada found the island shrouded in mist which remained for the whole day and which prevented the viewing of the lakes and volcano from the excursion bus. A quiet day. Dinner, at the next table we had Crab and his missus but none of the others, it was remarkable how quiet and normal they were without Sybil. I suspect tomorrow may be different. Still haven’t figured out what he was, although he mentioned being based at Scampton. She is a services brat, telling me about coming home from Singapore on ss Oxfordshire. All a long time ago. Haven’t spotted Wine Guy but still waiting for Mata Hari to give us the gossip. No sign of Lonesome George, but as we are not sailing until 2300 I suspect that he is getting his jungle juice ashore. Run out of Bushmills, now on Jameson.
Andy’s account ends at this point as the ship had difficulties in heavy seas; Andy had wedged himself in his cabin whilst panic ensued in the public areas. A BBC radio producer attempted to make contact with Andy because of this travelogue but was told he was not available. Given the legal issues, this account remains unfinished and the original blog was pulled from the internet..
Andy did manage one more thing though:
Text & photos © Andy Adams 2014