Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An Indian Ocean Adventure and a Few Maltese Moments - Cathedrals, Cappuccinos, and Cats.

An Indian Ocean Adventure

Did we really interrupt our safari in Africa for a 35-day Indian Ocean Cruise?
Yes, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed the cruising part of the cruise. We got the urge to book the cruise for the ports-- places we had never been; Reunion, Mauritius, Seychelles, Nosy Be Madagascar, Oman, Dubai, Suez Canal, Malta. But it turned out I loved the sea days almost as much.  We were truly sorry to leave the comfort, routine, and companions on board "The Beautiful Ocean Princess" as the Officer on watch called her each noon after he reported where we were in the world (latitude and longitude), how fast we were traveling (in knots and miles), and the current weather (Fahrenheit and Celsius). Scott and I were always well aware of the weather because we spent most of our time reading outside on teak loungers on deck 5. In 33 days, Scott read more than 20 books  from the ship's library on Deck 9. Up and down the stairs we went every day, from library to deck chair, stopping in at the fan tail buffet for chocolate chip cookies or an Arnold Palmer. I read a few Tony Park books which I had brought along with me to remind me of Africa, and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, and I went for the peanut butter cookies and straight ice tea or lemonade instead of the Palmers.

I loved our little nest, our cabin.  Way down on Deck 4 and in the bow, we were the first to feel the "motion in the ocean" in the Gulf of Aden and in the Mediterranean Sea. The cabin was tiny but I had fewer clothes and shoes than the 12-year-old girl on board so it was just the right size for us. We even had empty drawers! I can hear my cruising friends gasp in disbelief, but it's true.

 Routine can be lovely. 

Every morning at 7:30 AM, a carafe of boiling water was delivered to our cabin. With a French Press from Ndoto, and our own strong coffee, we started each day off with a familiar jolt.  I had homey touches around the cabin too. On Reunion Island, I bought two bouquets of flowers which lasted for 30 days.

We did walking laps around the jogging track each sunset and struggled each morning to see the sun rise from the highest deck. We love being a-sea. Not witnessing the beginning and ending of each day would have seemed ungrateful.

We attended lectures on most days at sea. Our favorite talks were about the history of the automobile and all the characters involved (Ford, Dodge, Edsel...) given by a man who wore a Kaiser Mustache like no other. Mike's talks always gave us a hankering for a bratwurst, which we could get just off the grill next to the pool.
We didn't just eat on the ship. We had camel in Oman and zebu (a Malagasy beast of burden) in Nosy Be Madagascar. The white strands you see hanging from a line in the third photo below are pure camel fat, a delicacy for some.

We became friends with the six others at our dining table, and were served by waiters extraordinaire- Ferdinand from the Philippines, and Jefferey from Indonesia. Extraordinary because no matter what we asked for; extra platters of steamed veggies each night or fresh fruits and berries, they always seemed to find one more papaya or sweet potato. Even hoarding moist dark meat on Thanksgiving for us.

We used 3:30 tea time to eat some more and to spend time with nice folk we met who were not seated at our regular table, Late Seating, Table 63. Tea Time was where we learned about the love affair on board, and that if you go to the Captains cocktail party you can decline the fru fru umbrella drinks and order a double G and T, and that what ailed the passenger who was taken off the ship and transported by a small boat manned by an inept crew to Egypt at the mouth of the Suez was not as serious as thought. When the line holding the boat to the ship snapped and the gunwale on the smaller boat cracked up and fell into the water during the patient transfer Scott said, "Remind me never to get sick aboard ship."

Glad I went. 

Cape Town, where we embarked, did not disappoint. The Waterfront provided us an opportunity to buy "cruise clothes" and her foggy tablecloth was laid over Table Mountain as we sailed away.

I'll remember Oman for the friendly people, tasty camel meat, and for our cab driver Muhammad who was the happiest person in Oman. He especially liked to sing and dance with his hands in the air while driving. He showed us the sap from the frankincense tree and treated us to rich coconut meat and juice at a roadside stall.

-Reunion, for its sublime Frenchness, exotic flowers, charming shoppers of all ages in the local markets, good Creole food, and for the people who rowed out in canoes as we anchored to try and get the crew on board to buy their fresh produce. And for the Reunion Immigration entourage who took selfies on deck and who left the ship with tighter skirts and trousers after spending 7 hours in or near the ship's buffet.

-Nosy Be Madagascar for women carrying Africa on their heads, colorful markets, the zebu (raw and cooked), and the old Renault cab we hired. The gas tank was an old Palm Oil container that sat in the passenger foot well and was attached to the engine via surgical tubing. The door hinges were leather, and each time the car was started it had to be hot-wired.

-Seychelles for spectacular beach vistas, the boy scout founder memorialized in stained glass in a tiny church, the fish market, our cab driver's dash board bumper sticker, and political pamphlets. Elections, which will possibly replace the man who has been in power for 42 years, are about to take place.

 (Coincidentally, the sailboat in the foreground is a longer version of the 40 foot Wharram Scott, I and his brother sailed to Hawaii from Santa Cruz in 1983)

-Dubai for the architecture, dressing modestly with my head covered, eating fabulous Lebanese food at Ab del Wahab overlooking fountains that dance to music (ala Bellagio in Vegas) with the tallest building in the world in the background, excess, sandy air, and getting a chance to have dinner with the son of a close friend.

-Suez Canal for sand, dove cotes and calls to prayer from minarets in passing villages, convoys of massive ships, guard towers, and almost every person on shore or in small fishing canoes waving and smiling, wanting to connect in some way.

I'll remember too that in Mauritius and in Oman, when we told our drivers we wanted to eat some local food for lunch they both first suggested McDonalds.

We disembarked from the ship after 33 days, two days early, in Malta instead of Rome. We've never been to Malta and there is a lot to see: 313 churches (about 1 every square kilometer), a lot to eat: rabbit stew, ricotta pies, pea cakes, and gelato and a lot to do: watch a dapper gent fire a canon over the ramparts of the old walled city daily at 4PM while we chase after and try to pet the many aloof, chubby cats that waddle through Upper Barracca Gardens. The blast of the canon seems to be their signal to feed because after the boom, all the carb-loading cats make there way to a nearby pastry stall.  

Malta is the land of honey and bunny (rabbit stew). It's the ninth smallest country in the world and it consists mostly of cathedrals, cappuccinos, and cats. We can see almost all 300 church spires, domes, or pediments from the rooftop patio of the small apartment we have rented for a week. I feel very comfortable here. Malta reminds me of Santiago in Spain, for the sandstone streets and buildings and churches, and it reminds me of San Francisco for the narrow hilly streets leading to the sea. I could spend a lot more time here. Today we took a local bus to see the Tarxien Temples, ruins that date to 3150 BC, older than the pyramids in Egypt, but it was closed for restoration. We saw symbols for the Camino de Santiago, and we paired the best gelato with the best cappuccino. We have yet to visit St John's Cathedral or the historic town of Mdina where the apostle Paul is thought to have lived. There is a lot packed into these 122 square miles. So much more to see, do, and eat.

Africa is missed, not forgotten. We'll be back to Africa when the heat breaks and the rains are finished (if they come at all.) Inspired and refreshed, we'll drive through Kruger Park again before heading for points West and North.

I so love seeing the world but as always, I miss home and wish those I love were here with me.

Valletta, Malta
December 1, 2015