My first cruise was on the MS Odysseus that cruised out of Durban, South Africa on a 21 day itinerary up through the Mozambique Channel with visits to the Seychelles and the Comores Islands. Wow – that sounds adventurous for a first time cruise – but I was pretty blase about it. After all I had lived in South Africa for most of my life, had camped in the middle of game reserves, sailed a small dinghy in crocodile infested waters – Meh … what was there to worry about?
Now don’t get the wrong impression of me. I am certainly not an intrepid adventurer type of person and many of the above activities were performed with a racing pulse and a will to survive. I have told you before of my camping adventures in the middle of a pack of hungry hyenas. For the sailors out there our small two man (well one man one woman) dinghy was a Fireball – a feisty little thing with a “nappy” or harness for the number 2 (me) to put on and hang out over the side as ballast while zipping along on the water. Well I have to admit I did get quite a kick out of that. The problem was that when things became very tippy it was important to get that baby upright and sailing because we knew that the lake where we sailed was pretty full of crocs. Luckily they don’t often come out into the middle of the lake where it is deep but woe is you if you happen to drift into the shallows at the side. You certainly don’t want to be caught there.
So we thought it was time to go on a cruise. It was 1989 and it was a Christmas New Year cruise. I don’t quite know what I imagined but I was excited in our Durban hotel looking out of the window to see when the ship would arrive to make its way to the port. Eventually my husband said “there it is!”. I looked around and all I could see was this very small slightly rusty ship coming into port. “That’s not it!” I said, indignantly.
But, shame (as South Africans say), I grew fond of the old girl. And old she was – built in 1961 at just under 10.000 tons and used to cruise in South America. At just 480 passengers it just about disappears when compared to the giant ships today with over 6000 passengers. You can imagine on a 3 week cruise everyone got to know everyone else very well.
On her long career she had many names, at one time known as the MTS Marco Polo doing cruises from Australia into the South Pacific, famously being caught at sea for 5 days in a typhoon that resulted in many passengers being taken to hospital for their injuries when she finally docked in Hong Kong. She was much loved and even when she was sold and renamed the MS Aquamarine she had her fans following her. In the ’80s she was sold to Epirotiki Line and became Odysseus II. So this lady had been around the block a few times when we boarded her in 1989.
But it was our first cruise – what did we know? And it was magical. We got to visit Aldabra Island – Aldabra is the world’s second-largest coral atoll. It is situated in the Aldabra Group of islands in the Indian Ocean that are part of the Outer Islands of the Seychelles. This is the home of the giant tortoise – and we were the only people there! Wow.
One incredible “stop” was really just a slow down at the Bassas da India – this giant coral atol which is often covered by the seas is a danger to shipping and absolutely full of sharks which scuba divers seem to love for some reason. The Captain did not like this place one bit – said that the currents were too dangerous to be close. Instead he ordered a drink for everyone on board and we toasted the brave sailors who had lost their lives on this reef.
You can see that we had fun. It didn’t matter that the ship ran out of South African beer after 10 days, the menu on board became a little more limited or that the band only knew 6 songs in total. We went to places where tourists didn’t go, where cars were not allowed and when docked in Madagascar where locals were trading lemurs for whatever they could get, often throwing them up to the higher decks into the arms of waiting passengers. The Captain soon put a stop to that and ordered all lemurs returned to the island before pulling anchor and leaving.
On our way back to Durban we went back through the Mozambique Channel and hit a fierce storm that went on all day and all night. Those who could congregated in the main dining room and sat on the floor while they dished out bowls of spaghetti. For those who couldn’t make it the staff took dry toast and chicken broth to their cabins.
We arrived back in Durban tanned and full of lifetime memories. My youngest who learnt to walk on board decided that the world was far too tipsy turvy and promptly sat down on the ground when we disembarked. He just couldn’t quite get the knack of walking without the roll of the seas.
Since then I was hooked!