Travel gives you not only new landscapes but new eyes. Immerse yourself in different cultures and you cannot help but see things differently. This is blog not only about the places we visit and the cultures we experience but also about the good, bad and ugly we find along the way………
I was ripped from the Land of My Mother’s (Wales) at age three and dragged halfway across the world at age 3 months. This formative experience and 16 subsequent years moving from Thailand to Egypt to Iran to South Africa marked me for life – creating a never ending itinerant who has spent much of his life endlessly roaming from country to country and job to job.
â€œThe real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,â€ according to Proust.
This blog is about those places, the travels and the people in those countries. It’s also about the anecdotes, the trials, the tribulations, the disasters. It’s also about the beauty of the places and people and the experiences of those places. The name of the blog comes from idiotic things that happen, the situations that people, both myself and others get themselves into.
In this blog you can find anecdotes, poetry, stories about trips, people and places, about culture, society, the environment including:
The group which will travel across southern Africa, together, has met up in the hostel the previous night and we now decamp, immediately after breakfast , stopping along the way on the northern beaches, just out of Cape Town, where we pose on the beach for our departure photos and for a final view of Table Mountain across the bay. From here we head north across the Western Cape to Cederberg.
Cederberg is a gentle introduction to the trip. A pleasant green lawn to camp on, bar and pool. It is here that Jeff discovers his fate which is to share a tent with me for the rest of the trip. No amount of cool will save him from this fate.
We receive instruction on tent erection, which Jeff and I manage not to hear properly thus taking twice as long as anyone else to erect our tent. There are no particular disasters on this day but instead I receive a bonus of free and cheese tasting for some unknown reason related to my bookings having been changed to a different date than those I originally booked.
The main events are swimming and wine tasting events which, when taken together, can often have a mixture of hilarious and disastrous results. In our case, aside from being regaled with tales of naked swimming by previous visitors, which seems to have provided a degree of voyeuristic pleasure to the owners and seems to be aimed at persuading us, without success, to do the same, the evening passes uneventfully, if pleasantly, in a haze of sunshine, wine and food.
Day two brings us to theOrange River. named after the Dutch royal family (the House of Orange). It’s the longest river in South Africa and a key provider of electricity via its hydro station. On the other side is Namibia. The main activity here is swimming the river and illegally entering Namibia though, for anyone other than committed drug smugglers or poachers, it might be a long walk to the nearest town.
The river and associated campsite is quite a beautiful spot especially in the soft morning and evening light and we collectively add to the several million photos that must have been take of the river since the advent of digital cameras. We are treated to an ongoing display of swimming and fishing virtuosity by a resident darter bird.
In the morning a committed few take a kayaking trip on the flat water. There are seven of us who go, myself, Hannah, Mike and Kerry, Ceci and Nico and Sonya.
This is a good opportunity for anyone to argue over ownership of the Malvinas or how long it will take the UK to become a fifth rate country, once it leaves the EU and has to survive on its own, and confront Iceland over fishing in Icelandic waters.
Fortunately, Mike and Kerry have approximately the same levels of kayaking skills asEddie the Eagle had ski jumping skills and were so far behind the rest of us that the second Malvinas war was avoided. Rumour has it that they were still on the river the following morning and had to be rescued by Gift in order to ensure that we left on time. Indeed such was the stress of their paddling feats that they strained their only paddling muscle and were unable to wash up for a week.
The rest of us had a pleasant paddle, though Sonja, my paddling partner, was more interested in adding to her portrait portfolio than paddling. Hannah, according to our river guide, did not paddle at all and was fortunate to be saved, according to the guide, by his innate grace. So far as we can tell, however, it was that guide who fortunate to survive the trip such was his level of sexist bravado. Beyond that the main complaint was from the local narcissists (Hannah, Ceci and Nico) who having posed for photos then complained that they weren’t shown at their best.
Day 3 and we were headed for theFish River Canyon which is claimed to to be the world’s second largest canyon after the Grand Canyon, although like all these things it depends how you measure it. For example the The Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon,along the Yarlung Tsangpo River in Tibet, is regarded by some as the deepest canyon in the world at 5,500 m (18,000 ft). It is slightly longer than the Grand Canyon in the United States.
First though, we have to cross the border into Namibia which, like all border crossings, is an exercise of mixed bureaucracy and futility in which we are all required to disembark for the bus to be searched and to pass through a border post in which a few border inspectors seem to inspect our passports with an overwhelming sense of disinterest.
The roads through the Western Cape and Eastern Namibia are long and dusty but the scenery is spectacular, a cross between the Dakota Badlands and the central Australian deserts around Tennant Creek.
En route we pass Aussenkehr the main Namibian table grape growing area – which thrives for three reasons, the water of the Orange River, the climate which allows grapes to reach the European market more than six weeks earlier than those from anywhere else, and the cheap labour.
The day is hot, dusty, windy and long and the tedium encourages various tour members (mainly Rie) to spend half the day leaning out of the window in an attempt to entertain passing elephants or anything else she thinks she might encounter. Being Rie, it is entirely unclear what is on her mind. Perhaps the company has driven her to suicidal thoughts or, possibly, she is merely trying to have random protein intake by catching a local fly?
As we approach the Fish River Canyon we encounter the aftermath of the rains that preceded us and have turned the Victoria Falls, as we later discovered, from a trickle into a seething torrent. As a result the camp at which we were supposed to be staying was closed and the staff appear to have moved almost the entire contents of the accommodation out into the sun to dry.
All is not lost however, as the owners have assembled a classic collection of vintage cars which allows those of us that are 65 going on 16 to spend a few minutes reliving our driving experiences as 14 year olds. Nico is especially at home as he gears up for his starring role in Blues Brothers II.
The alternative accomodation turns out to be a more upmarket resort where, to our great pleasure, we are allocated very comfortable resort style rooms instead of the campground and have pretty much sole use of a good swimming pool. We don’t even have to carry our own luggage which is delivered to our rooms, all of 100 metres away, by donkey cart. Everyone is happy.
Before dinner we take a drive to see the Fish River Canyon which is, indeed, very impressive and much more so illuminated by the setting sun. The shadows of the evening sun provides 3D relief to the Canyon which at the height of the day is “flattened” when the sun is overhead.
We are warned by an adjacent sign not to hike down into the Canyon, something that precisely no one seems inclined to want to do, even if the time permitted.
Apart from the statutory requirement to take 20 photos of the canyon each, a further 20 selfies, and group photos, we are mainly entertained by the resident and extremely photogenic local lizard.
Here, we are treated to the first exhibition of drone flying by Rie, which involves repeatedly obeying Rie’s instructions to look at and wave at her drone, as we collectively pose for drone photos, and fervently hoping that the drone doesn’t crash into and kill any of us since it is, apparently, not functioning as it should.
We are travelling in the famed Rainbow bus, which is actually a truck with a bus body on a flatbed. It rattles its way across the landscape and we rattle with it. Whoever built and maintained it clearly has a sense of humour, since they fixed some seats far enough apart that you could be a giraffe and still have plenty of legroom whereas a couple of the seats are clearly designed for midgets or for Hannah/Rie who are the closest thing to midgets that we have.
To compound it someone thought it would be funny to have one seat which was screwed to the floor at an angle of about 75° so that one person has twice the legroom than the person next to them.
We’re fortunate in that a bus designed for 22 (11 bench seats), has only 12 people on board, including Gift, meaning eight of us have a seat each, the two couples each share one and there is a seat spare for extra luggage.
The extra space makes it much more tolerable, with the main issue being that, for reasons known only to the safari company, they have decided to have a bus equipped with curtain hangers but no curtains. So if you are on the sunny side of the bus you can use the wires to hang your favourite sarong and give you shade but, if you leave the windows open, you risk having it sucked out never to be seen again.
While we may have “A” class guides we are definitely in the “B” class transport, as we note whenever we are passed by the air conditioned G Spot buses. On the other hand the cost on G-Spot – an 18 day trip is AUD3739 compared to our 21 day trip for AUD2000 however – is twice the cost. Beggars can, indeed, not be choosers.
We arrive in Sesriem in the early afternoon. Here we are surrounded by endless skies, endless mountains and mountainous dune systems. The light is translucent, much like Australian and South African light. There is something about the light of the southern hemisphere at around 35° south that has a different quality to almost anywhere else on earth, in my experience.
Aside from the views the principal points of interest are the swimming pool and its attendant wildebeest mother and calf. Given what we will see later in the trip, the presence of a mere two wild wildebeest generates an amazing degree of excitement, somewhat akin to someone from the desert seeing the ocean for the first time.
Consequently we have a “who can pose best with the wildebeest” competition, like a sort of wildebeest beauty competition, one won by Hannah and Rie who, if it were possible to be orgasmic over a couple of wildebeest, certainly approached that state of excitement. The ageing cynics and grinches on the other hand were largely unmoved.
Now it is almost impossible for most normal people to injure themselves severely on an entirely flat piece of sandy ground, absent any rocks or obstructions but I am pleased to report that yours truly, aka “The Idiot Traveller” succeeded in doing exactly that.
Proceeding in a leisurely fashion towards the washing line, in the near dark, I succeeded in tripping over the wires, cunningly placed by the campground management, and designed to trap the clumsy and unobservant, namely your humble servant.
It later turned out that numerous people, including Munya, had succeeded, historically, in tripping over those wires (revenge on the white man??) but none had succeeded in ripping off half their shin, and then nearly amputating their following foot. Yes, another first for the Idiot Traveller.
This relatively minor accident had consequences, for most people on the trip, extending over most of the next week or more. Initially it was the litre or so of blood that I lost through tearing off about 15 cms of skin on my left leg that concerned me but by the morning my right foot was so swollen that it was painful to walk. Worse to come.
Dawn sees us assembled and ready to roll in the dark. We take the Rainbow Bus through the mountainous dunes. For Australians they are reminiscent of the Simpson Desert, though with less vegetation and more irregular in shape and size. As the sun rises the dunes turn from deep red to orange, in parts, and to pinks and whites and a sort of shimmery silver in others and, in shape, like giant sails of sand.
We and then transfer onto smaller four wheel drive transport for another 20 minutes deeper into the sand country to get to the Sossusvlei, which is a salt and clay pan surrounded by high red dunes, located in the southern part of the Namib Desert, within the Namib-Naukluft National Park of Namibia.
The name “Sossusvlei” is often used in an extended meaning to refer to the surrounding area, which is one of the major visitor attractions of Namibia. Specifically though, “Sossusvlei” roughly means “dead-end marsh”. Vlei is the Afrikaans word for “marsh”, while “sossus” is Nama for “no return” or “dead end”. Sossusvlei owes this name to the fact that it is an endorheicdrainage basin (i.e., a drainage basin without outflows) for the ephemeral Tsauchab River
The Sossusvlei area belongs to a wider region of southern Namib extending over about 32.000 km²) between the rivers Koichab and Kuiseb. It’s characterized by high sand dunes of vivid pink-to-orange color, an indication of a high concentration of iron in the sand and consequent oxidation processes. The oldest dunes are those of a more intense reddish color. The dunes, in the Sossusvlei area, are among the highest in the world; many of them are above 200 metres, the highest being the one nicknamed Big Daddy, about 325 metres high. The highest dune, elsewhere in the Namib Desert, Dune 7, is about 388 metres high (source: Wikipedia).
The walk into the Sossusvlei is the first tests of my injured leg (foot in particular) and it’s not pleasant so, rather than walking around the salt pan I sit and watch which, in some ways is better since you get a birds eye view of the scale of the area in contrast with all the little figures walking around below.
The bigger challenge, however, is on the return where we stop to climb Dune 45 where even the idea of the view from the top is not sufficient to overcome the idea of a dragging painful foot up 145 metres of sand dune. I am joined in my idleness by Hannah.
We return to camp where, we find, our camp ground has been invaded by a group of G-Spotters. Talk turns to what degrees of sabotage we should inflict on their tents, bus in response to them spurning Yvonne, etc but we refrain from taking revenge.
The following day is the “longest” day. A hot bone jarring drive across the deserts to Swakopmund via Walvis Bay. The passengers are pummelled into a stupor by heat, a burning wind, the sound of the engine and the jolting of the bus. The discomfort is not assisted by the fact that I can no longer sit for long periods with my foot at ground level without intense pain and so everyone has to put up with my right foot poking over the top of their seat or resting on the arm of their chair.
We stop several times en route to take in the Mad Max type scenery and, in true tourist style, to take a picture of the sign announcing that we are crossing the Tropic of Capricorn. Hence I am able to capture the archetypal cliched shot of a group of 20 and 30 year olds, of the Instagram generation, staring longingly at a rusty battered sign in the middle of nowhere (with apologies to Ceci who is not really of the Instagram generation and who, I know, was just supervising the children).
En route to Swakopmund we also pass through Walvis Bay which had been planned as a 30 minute stop to take in the pink flamingos in the Walvis Bay lagoon and to pick up lunch. But I have been to Walvis Bay before en route to Cape Town by ship and I know that the Slowtown Coffee Roasters is the only decent cup of coffee within 1000 kilometres, leaving aside the fact that it sells a mean cheesecake.
As anyone knows one should never stand between the Idiot Traveller and a good coffee/cheesecake, so I suggest a diversion to stop for good coffee and cake. Gift is reluctant. Apparently on previous trips he has made changes to the itinerary, to meet the requests of punters, only for some other whining bastard to complain about those changes. Hence he requires an unanimous agreement to divert.
There is no hesitation from the crew and especially not from Rie who sees her opportunity to consume sufficient calories to maintain her normal muscle mass.
Walvis Bay is a slightly bipolar town that doesn’t really know if it wants to be an industrial/port centre or a tourist town. It’s stuck in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the South Atlantic on one side and by deserts on all other sides with the nearest town of any size being the Namibian capital Windhoek, 400 kilometres away across the Namib desert.
It’s the major port for a large part of southern Africa including Botswana, Congo and Zambia but is also a tourist destination with the port having a cruise ship terminal. So it’s a mixture of very ugly practical buildings but with an entire marina, and surrounds, with seafood restaurants dedicated to the tourist trade, most of which is focused on visiting the surrounding deserts.
After our brief tourist stop to see pink flamingos, coffee and cake, we press on to Swakopmund, Namibia’s principal resort town. Like most of Namibia it has a strong German influence, so Marlou and Sonja feel right at home. Except of course we are not really sure if Marlou is German since her home town never existed.
We have our second non-camping stop and are housed in the cabins of the “Adventure Village ” and adjacent adventure travel centre through which we will book our activities of which there are many options including balloon rides, skydiving, quad biking, marine cruises, skydiving and sandboarding or, if you are Hannah, you can commune with parrots.
Five of us, Rie, Ceci, Nico, Jeff and I choose to go sandboarding. This is a great choice for me since I haven’t done anything remotely similar, apart from a bit of surfing, since 1980 when I ripped my ACL in two skiing, and, as well, I have a swollen foot to squeeze into a boarding boot.
In addition one has to climb some of the world’s highest dunes in the heat of the day and no one over the age of 40-odd seems to think it’s a good idea – it’s just me and mostly 20 year olds. But I am never one to be deterred by common sense.
By the time we have climbed the dunes about 4 times I am pretty much rooted and labouring with an increasingly sore foot. I hand over my board to the Danish Amazon to carry for me.
Rie is undeterred by carrying two boards and, it seems, doesn’t realise that it involves physical effort to climb up the dunes. I whine and moan about being too old and unfit but Rie, nicely, points out that half of the big group of Swedes, who are all about 40 years younger than me, gave up long before me. Which makes me feel better even if it doesn’t improve my sand boarding skills.
We return to base. By the time we are due to go out for dinner I am hobbling like a 90 year old. Swakopmund marks, pretty much, the end of the desert section of our trip. Tomorrow we will have one more stop in the desert, at Brandburg, where we will visit the cave paintings and then it’s on to the game parks.
PART 1 – THE CREW – this is the first part of a three posts about a 21 day trip across South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
NOTE: this post is about the people on our trip…if that doesn’t interest you and you want to read about the places…wait for parts 2 and 3.
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride! (Hunter S Thompson – author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)
We were 11 strangers if you don’t count the two couples and the Lesotho Ladyboy group ¹, (namely: Hannah, Marlou, Jeff and Rie).
Then there were our guide, cook and driver (the three wise men). The three of them Gift, Bheki and Munya, were tasked with the mission of getting us safely across 5000 kilometres of Africa. One should be clear who was in charge, at all times, and it definitely wasn’t the punters²
Our first introduction is the 5 pm briefing on the day before we leave. I am 30 minutes late as my phone, for some reason known only to itself, has decided to revert to Antwerp time and is thus telling me that it is 3.30 when it is 5.30 pm. This explains why all the shops that should be open until five are closed at 3.30pm but apparently this fact didn’t alert me to the phone malfunction.
Consequently, I arrive half an hour late for the briefing, apologetic and hot. No one seems to care which is a good sign. We introduce ourselves and our status. For the purpose of the trip we are all single except for Cecelia (Ceci) and Nicolas (Nico) and Mike and Kerry. Gift does, however, try and persuade Marlou and Jeff, who are sitting next to each other, that they might be a couple. They both hastily decline the offer.
The group is diverse. The Lesotho Ladyboy Group are, themselves, diverse and are a self-selected group from our hostel, who got together to travel to Lesotho in a hire car. Under normal circumstances they wouldn’t necessarily have anything in common.
First Hannah, also known by me as the Evil Princess. You may understand my relationship with Hannah by reading this book.
Hannah is a twenty something year old from Bury St Edmunds in England. Being from Bury St Edmunds says a lot, of course. The website “I Live Here” describes Bury as “your idyllic, middle class, low crime rate, small minded, boring Suffolk town. Otherwise known as the ‘Bury Bubble.’ It is known as this because it is a town so protected in its middle class bubble wrap, the people that live here grow to become clones of each other, having the same aspirations, hobbies and careers.
The inhabitants are described as “pretentious indie kids who all collectively wear the same clothes from Topman and listen to the same Mumford and Sons songs and go to Latitude or Reading Festival without fail each year. We would not, of course, describe Hannah that way for fear of an early death. On the other hand, Bury has recently been voted as ‘Happiest Place to live in the East of England’ by Rightmove, whatever Rightmove happens to be.
Then there are Jeff and Marlou. Jeff and Marlou are sort of clones except that, relatively speaking, Jeff is at nearly pensionable age whereas Marlou is just a baby, chronologically speaking. Both Jeff and Marlou are super cool, the differences being that Jeff is from the US and Marlou is from Bielefeld in Germany and, by definition, anyone from Europe is cooler than anyone from the US.
Marlou’s disadvantage is that Bielefeld is sort of the German equivalent of Bury St Edmunds. So much so that she was forced to move to Switzerland. There is an added disadvantage that Bielefeld doesn’t apparently exist
Marlou also has the advantage that she doesn’t realise she is super cool or, if she does, she manages to carry it off with such ‘sang froid’ that no one really notices the effort.
Jeff, on the other hand, is cool but manages to be cool in a way that says to everyone “see I am cool”. He’s not pretentious about it but you can see certain signs, such as the fact that he is psychologically incapable of showing any interest in social media. He will generally only engage with anything that involves the internet (such as uploading photos) about two years after the event occurred. By which time everyone has lost interest. Which is cool.
Jeff, as the cool style-meister of the trip, invariably looks like he just stepped out of his dressing room. He is the only person I know who carries an iron with him on a camping trip in order to iron his silk pyjamas before bed. But he swears me to silence on this issue by threatening to record aBanhee wail and claim it was my snoring.
Finally there is Rie, the fourth member of the Lesotho Ladyboys. Rie is Danish. No one really knows anything about Denmark, apart from knowing that Copenhagen exists, the fact that several thousands Danes get murdered every year on the “the Bridge” and that the Vikings came from there. This latter fact explains a lot about Rie.
Rie is principally responsible for consuming most of Africa’s food resources. She is a sort of Danish Amazon, covered in tattoos on one leg, who thinks nothing of eating the amount of food consumed during “La Grande Bouffe“, by herself, in one sitting.
From the Lesotho Ladyboy Group we can ascend up to the higher echelons of the trip participants. We have Mike and Kerry and Nico and Ceci. This is of course always potentially dangerous since Mike and Kerry are British and Ceci and Nico are Argentinian. Combining long historical memories about the “Hand of God” (aka Maradona’s) victory in the 1986 world cup and the Malvinas war can always be potentially dangerous.
Fortunately Nico and Ceci live, these days, in Canada, known for its relatively peaceful approach to world affairs and Ceci and Nico don’t really know, any longer, if they are Canadian or Argentinian. Mike and Kerry, on the other hand couldn’t be more archetypally British and so there is always a risk that they believe things that are typically British and absurd. Like thinking that to leaving the EU is a good idea or thinking they can win the World Cup again (1966 having been the last and only time for those who don’t know their soccer history). Or that the best way to beat Coronavirus is by all going to Spain for the summer holidays and having group sex.
Then there are the three solo travellers, if we count the Ladyboys as a sort of group. That’s me, Yvonne and Sonja.
Chris with the real (non-Jeff)epitomy of cool in the background
Yvonne is Canadian but lives with her husband in the Ukraine. Yvonne introduces herself as working in the oil industry and asks that she not be hated for that. Which is possibly not the way her PR Manager would suggest doing it. While it is true that she is going to be, almost single handedly, responsible for the end of the world we try not to hold that against her. And she is the ultimate team player – always pitching in to help out – mainly to replace me as I am forced to sit idly by (see – unable to wash up with injured foot. It’s a known medical condition).
Yvonne is not supposed to be on our trip since she booked on G Adventures (forever to be known as G Spot Adventures by our trip). She is somewhat pissed off that she attempted to join another tour but was refused on the basis of being too old. It’s not too clear whether she failed to read the literature saying that around 30 was the upper age limit or whether, like myself, she imagines herself to still be around 25. Yvonne’s disappointment was probably tempered somewhat when we found ourselves sharing a camp with the G Spot bus which was entirely populated with a group of 20 year olds. We, on the other hand, are not too old but are perfectly aged like good wine. From Marlou, the baby, aged 22, to me aged 64.
Sonja: Now Sonja has taken her life in her hands and leapt into the unknown having, allegedly, never done anything like this before and because her English is not as good as she would like it to be. Sonja is German and lives in Germany even though her Facebook profile says she lives in Alaska, Michigan. Sonja would be what we would call the “dark horse” of the trip, who comes across as a little naive and innocent but is far from it.
Of the punters, there are two ‘Johnny Come Lateleys’, who joined the tour in Windhoek. This is announced to us in Swakopmund. We receive the news with protests fearful it will disrupt the balance of the trip which has been largely sweetness and light. And that we will need to share our seats more often. As it turns out Mark and Kirsty, despite suffering the burden of being from the fallen Empire fit in well and are quickly accepted as part of our group.
Then there are the three Zimbabweans. At least I think they are all from Zimbabwe – at least they live there even if they are from somewhere else originally. Bheki is from EMakhandeni a suburb of Bulaweyo, while Gift is from Victoria Falls but lives in Cape Town. Then there is Munya who runs the kitchen and about whom I have little information other than he lives out bush somewhere in Zimbabwe even though originally he’s from Victoria Falls. These are three wise men of the trip and they coming bringing all the necessary gifts, good food, good driving and good information, as well as good humour and company.
Gift runs the trip with an iron fist and everyone obeys, except possibly Bheki and Munya both of whom are their own masters. But the whitefellas obey orders, as they should, arising on time, doing their chores and, generally, being obedient. Bheki’s two roles are driving and flirting, where Munya, largely, just smiles benignly and keeps his counsel.
We leave Cape Town on a fine sunny day. Essentially the first day of a trip like this is a form of polyamorous platonic flirting where everyone is trying to work out which if they can stand all the other people or if one or more of the punters will end up in a shallow grave somewhere in the Namibian desert.
Fortunately we find that there are no whining pains in the arse on our trip. However, the Evil Princess, Hannah, will, later, only just avoid an early death, since she chooses, to torment me for my incapacities, of which more in later parts of this trip blog
I wrote this sitting in the kitchen at my Mum’s house, in Wales. If we see our parents or grandparents, regularly, this is something we must all endure; seeing vigorous, energetic people gradually fading away, the sound of shuffling steps rather than strides, the laboured breathing, the struggle to get out of the chair, each day a little harder, each year the memory a little foggier.
I find this a hard thing to see, especially when I realise that there have been so many missed opportunities to get to know my Mum better, so many things I haven’t asked that she now can no longer remember and that there is nothing that can be done to undo any of these things.
We must all just slowly watch those we love fade away.
The Ebb of Life (Fading away)
I watch you there,
Over by the sink
Or climbing the stair
A little more bent,
A little less certain
About what is meant
Each year more frail
Your steps slower
Your recollections fail
Living slowly somehow
Your strength ebbing,
Everything hard now
In the grey zone
Between life and death,
A life now on loan
My heart breaks
To see you so,
My soul aches
As you fade more
Each passing year,
Your old bones sore
I know you so well
And at once so little
At the tolling bell
The missing years
The untold stories
The unknown fears
I want to hang on so
To what is left
But I must let go
We must all depart
Before anyone’s ready
Torn heart from heart
These are a few random scribblings from long ago. I wrote a few verses about life back in the 1980s when I was travelling a lot in Australia and Asia. Most I disliked so much that they were consigned to the funeral pyre. A few survived for various reasons and this is a small selection of those
A dream, two women, a blurred vision
My dream a moment of indecision
One woman, smaller, walks up the hill.
She turns, looks, her face and eyes still
Staring at the beach, the lulling ocean
She appears to me as a faint image
A memory of some pain of past damage
In a side room of my consciousness
The second woman calls “Rebecca!
In my mind images of the past flicker
She follows Rebecca up the hill
The entire scene frozen, still
I rise and follow them then
Despite the warning I cannot resist
A primal force pulls me, insists
I wake. The moment, the image is gone.
Leaving only a sharp pain of memories past
THIS WAS A RECOLLECTION OF A RECURRENT DREAM. NOT ALWAYS IDENTICAL BUT ALWAYS FEATURING THESE SAME TWO WOMEN (WHOM I NEVER RECOGNISED) AND ALWAYS IN AN UNKNOWN BEACH LOCATION. IT HAS NO SPECIFIC MEANING OR SIGNIFICANCE, SO FAR AS I CAN TELL
I lie awake under the vast silent sky
The stars stare down unsleeping
Like the bright eyes of yesterday’s Gods
Or the dreaming millions of tomorrow’s spirits
The false security of sleep creeps
Your ethereal body approaches
Moving close on mists of dreams
You half smile, gently, secretly
I reach out to caress your naked body
But as I touch your misty vision
You move away, knowing, smiling still
Always keeping just beyond reach
I touch only empty space
Once there was something solid
I wake again in the cold night
Under the bright eyes of the Gods
On the wall your picture hangs
As if cruelly taunting my soul
I try reading your mind across space
My mind whispers to you gently
“Do not abandon me”.
THIS IS ABOUT THE UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE OF ABANDONMENT, OF UNREQUITED LOVE, OF GRIEF, EMPTINESS, DESIRE.
Grain of Sand
Like the Grain of Sand in the oyster
Where the pain produces a pearl
So it is with love, laughter, pain
We hold the pain of sorrow
Of bereavement, of abandonment
The hurt of failed love, fallen hope
Holding them like a kernel in our heart
The kernel of pain brings memory
Of what was and will be again
Shared passion, joy, laughter, love, life
With the pain comes the scarring
Cut deep in each soul
To help us remember the good
To keep us searching for the seed
For new hope, the dawn that never fades
Without pain we are diminished
The compassion, less strong
The hope, less enduring
The pleasure, love, diminished
REMEMBERING THAT PAIN AND PLEASURE, JOY AND HURT, LOVE AND ABANDONMENT, CRUELTY AND KINDNESS ARE ALL TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN. YOU CANNOT KNOW OR UNDERSTAND ONE WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING AND, POSSIBLY, KNOWING THE OTHER.
Everything in nature is built on ritual, regularity; something that is increasingly absent from our fragmented society and broken communities
Whether it be tides, waves, seasons, winds, everything moves with a beat, a regularity which is duplicated in our own bodies; the beating of our hearts, the murmur of blood in our veins, the rhythm of sleep.
We need to re-establish these rituals in some way, to get back in tune with the giant tick of the planet. The bigger and more important the event the more regular and patterned; the earth around the sun, the tides, the waves, Everything moves in a pattern, a beat.
Everything important has a beat, a rhythm. We need a return to ritual, a return to the seasons.
A SHORT OBSERVATION WRITTEN DURING AN EXTENDED STAY, LIVING ON THE BLOOMFIELD RIVER IN FAR NORTH QUEENSLAND DURING 1990 WHEN I HOUSESAT FOR MY FRIENDS DERMOT SMYTH AND CHRISTINA BAHRDT. ALMOST TOTALLY ALONE FOR FIVE MONTHS OUT THE SIX YOU START TO LIVE YOUR LIFE ACCORDING TO THE RYTHYM OF THE EARTH, THE RISE AND FALL OF THE RIVER, SUNRISE, SUNSET. YOUR.BODY, SLEEP AND LIFE TAKES ON A RYTHYM IN TIME TO THE EARTH – SOMETHING WHICH IS LARGELY ABSENT IN THE ARTIFICIAL WORLD OF OUR CITIES.
Traveling your cold waters
A journey much like life
With no turning back
Just one destination
Accepting all your moods
Like vagaries of life
Smooth placid reaches
Deep black gorges
All through the journey
No escaping contact
Swept along relentlessly
Hit, dumped, damaged
At your whim
And when nerve fails
Faced by brute force
Clinging to the side
Avoiding that slip
Waiting for better times
So to glide serenely
Enjoying the life force
Immersed in beauty
Watch the myriad turns
Water slides over rock
Swaying Huon fronds
Timeless dark pools
Fearing only fear
Like the life force itself
The pleasures, pains
Events beyond control
Waiting journey’s end
Later or sooner?
We have so little control
One immutable truth
The journey like life itself
WRITTEN IN 1983 SHORTLY AFTER A TRIP ON THE JANE RIVER IN SOUTH WEST TASMANIA, THIS IS SIMPLY A REFLECTION ON THE BEAUFY OF RIVER TRIPS IN REMOVE PLACES – AND THEIR SIMILARITY TO LIFE. YOU GET ON AT A FIXED PLACE, YOU TRAVEL ONWARDS BE IT ON A RIVER OR IN LIFE, WITH LIMITED MEANS TO CONTROL YOUR DESTINY AND YOU CAN ONLY GET OFF AT THE VERY END.
Moving through life like a zephyr
Stirring emotions like eddying leaves
Tantalising, impossible to catch
What driving force moves you on
Stepping close disturbs the calm
Altering the balance between us
And then you’ll disappear again
To rise again elsewhere, more distant
So I keep you at arms length
Measuring the safe distance
Feeling the gusts of your presence
The whirling leaves of emotions
I try catching them gently
Movement makes them fall
It’s dangerous to get too close
Winds, strongest in the centre
Like a cyclone, unpredictable
Is there calm in your storm?
Is it possible to know?
The path to safety not clear
All fates are unknown
But one thing we known
All like to walk in the wind
Feeling your cool breath
Not knowing where you go
Only that like the wind
You will change direction
And pass out of each life
You cannot be held
And so no one will not try
Not knowing the damage
You may leave behind
But when you smile
And you turn your gaze
Then the pain is worthwhile
For a brief moment of warmth
WRITTEN DURING A TEMPESTUOUS RELATIONSHIP WHERE THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION WAS ONE MINUTE KEEN AND THE NEXT VERY DISTANT – IT’S A NOT UNCOMMON EXPERIENCE, BUT A HIGHLY CONFUSING ONE – AT THE CORE OF WHICH ARE EMOTIONS THAT CHANGE LIKE THE WIND.
A land of wild rivers
Of icy blasts in summer
A drop of green and blue
In a continent of red
Like the colour of blood
From below the broken crust
We strive to save this land
To understand its meaning
Wordlessly calling ones soul
With scenes of harsh beauty
The strange calm
Of an empty land
Providing the meaning
The human world cannot
Binding emotional cracks
Filling our bleeding souls
WRITTEN IN 1985 DURING AN EXTENDED WALKING TRIP IN SOUTH WEST TASMANIA, SHORTLY AFTER THE END OF THE SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN TO SAVE THE FRANKLIN RIVER
2020 – “Scribblings from a Trip”. These are rather sombre reflections on the increasing disintegration of the natural environment that we see all around us, plus a few random thoughts on other issues. They were written in the space of a couple of months between January and March 2020
Each “scribble” has a note attached about the context or background.
JUDGEMENT DAY WILL COME
I see the fires’s dull dangerous glow
It flickers like the anger in my soul
A burning rage at the failed leaders
The tentacles of grief grasp our hearts
For the destruction of our olive land
Like the wreathes of smoke curling up
Each fire the death of a thousand animals
Murdered on the killing fields of climate
A bloody plain of lies, greed and deceit
Thirty years of our hopes denied
By the grasping men in grey suits
Their souls stained with blood coal
Their pockets lined by fossil bribes.
The rising water and drowning islands
Just small talk for men with no morals
Each meaningless marketing mantra
Every empty slogan, a death warrant
How good does it get for the dead?
Victims of Morrison’s moral vacuum
Everywhere the skeletons of houses
Like some warning of apocalypse
Scar the blackened smoking hills
Each one a mark on someone’s soul
Seared by an uncaring Government
In the graveyards the families gather
To farewell the needlessly dead
Murdered by the Captains of industry
Condemned by Murdoch’s mendacity
Abandoned by a cabinet of criminals
In the minds of the bitter people
A vision of the judgement day
When the guilt of the climate criminals
Burdened by the souls of a million dead
Drags them down to a hell of torment
As the flames of a thousand fires
Sears their empty blackened souls
And the screams of burning victims
Asking, for them, the never ending eternity
Promised by their vacuous religions
WRITTEN DURING THE BUSHFIRES OF SUMMER 2019/20 IT REFLECTS MY VIEWS ON THE CRIMINAL CULPABILITY OF OUR POLITICAL LEADERS
You have poisoned our land with lies Taking their money and selling our soil Our beaches swept before your rising seas The forests laid waste by your mines
The farmlands poisoned by gas wells Our rivers become ditches of brown Lifeless channels devoid of great fish The water sold to friends for a fee
You talk of freedom and of values But you give us a brave new world Places of razor wire, damaged souls Whose hearts blow away on the wind
Hope crushed like refugees on our shore Smashed in the face of lust for power Far from the guns from which they fled Dreams lie broken, scattered on the wire
Your corruption seeps like acid on skin Burning up the people we wished to be Eating the very soul of this sacred place So that the red heart has but a faint beat
Art is pillaged and culture condemned We are blackened by your casual evil The fair go lies broken on the ground Your fires char our people’s birthright
The ghost of the 1940s walks this land First peoples abandoned, ignored, cheated Everything you touch sickens like the plague Greed like gangrene eats our country’s flesh
You speak of the bush but steal its life A billion dead creatures your legacy Their dying screams scar our souls Innocence destroyed by your half truths
You talk of God but worship Mammon Know the cost of all but value of nothing You talk of family with serpent tongues Hypocrisy so thick God would choke
We await the day of final retribution Where the powerful will meet judgement Where the deniers and climate criminals Will burn for their sins in the fires of hell
A REFLECTION ON THE CULPABILITY OF POLITICAL LEADERS AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR ACTIONS AND/OR INACTION
THE OCEAN’S DEATH
The azure line marks our path Human lines on the lifeless ocean Empty horizons in the lifeless sky Liquid deserts to the eye’s limit
Above in the blue bowl clouds scurry Witness to the innocents slaughtered In my minds eye the teeming ocean A vision of our planet’s recent past
The last albatross has flown to its grave Just a memory of the ancient mariner The frenzy of tuna only now a picture The frigate bird sails the sky no longer
Now we count just the floating plastic Below the limitless marching waves The bleached skeleton of a dying reef The whale turns its accusing eye to us
The agony of the acid polluted seas Eats the very foundation of all life When the great seas are lifeless now And all its living creatures dead
We will look upon the great blue grave And we will know the cost of our greed As we walk our lifeless empty planet And our souls weep for all we have lost
THIS WAS WRITTEN DURING A TRIP BY CARGO TRIP FROM ANTWERP TO CAPE TOWN IN FEBRUARY 2020. I WROTE IT AFTER DISCUSSIONS WITH SOME OF THE CREW WHO REFLECTED ON THE COMPLETE ABSENCE OF ALBATROSS AND FRIGATE BIRDS BOTH OF WHICH WERE ONCE COMMON ON THAT TRIP – AS WELL AS THE REDUCTION IN OTHER SPECIES.
The stone drops
The circle spreads
The heart is broken
I WATCHED MULTIPLES RIPPLES ON WATER SPREADING FROM A STONE FALLING INTO IT – MULTIPLE CONSEQUENCES OF A SMALL EVENT – MUCH LIKE A HEART CAN BE BROKEN BY ONE SMALL ACTION.
Lament for a lost home
I crossed the dry dusty street Following behind my feet. I touched down yesterday I walked the dry roadway
Landing then from overseas Took the bus past old Ramses Now living by a six lane highway Must be his last indignity
It’s been fifteen years this year Since we last lived and played When we all were then just children In this, Pharoah’s city of legend.
Passing the old Baron’s Palace Provides some small passing solace For broken memories of home. Of the broken stones of Fayoum
Only the corner flat still stands Of our precious childish heartlands Where our games we fought and played The street where our family stayed.
I hear the cidadas frenzy The wailing of the muezzins plea The bougainvilleas colour Smell the rich Cairean odour
I walk down the street where we ran Crossing the road past the old tram Standing by the first mango stand With juice running all down my hand
Past my favourite pastry shop In the shade where we’d always stop For a millefeuille each all around With the teeming street’s raucous sound
Every bit has all gone now Sent to oblivion somehow They’ve taken all my memories Buried the place of my stories
The distant pyramids still stand In this ancient mystical land But the place I now can recall Is just a faded print on a wall
THE RAMPANT DEVELOPMENT AROUND THE WORLD INVOLVES NOT JUST THE DESTRUCTION OF THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT BUT ALSO OF MUCH OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT MANY OF US GREW UP WITH. CAIRO AND, MORE SPECIFICALLY, HELIOPOLIS, WAS MY CHILDHOOD HOME BETWEEN 1960 AND 1965. I VISITED IT AGAIN IN 1980 AND 2013 AND THIS POEM LAMENTS THE DESTRUCTION OF MUCH OF WHAT I LOVED ABOUT THIS GREAT CITY
Your long auburn hair has turned grey
I see the pain in your soft brown eyes
Your soul burns gently behind them
I’m sorry, my love, for all the pain
I treated you so carelessly each day
Pushing you away each painful hour
I did not understand my cruelty
I did not see your bleeding wounds
Arms at length are not arms at all
All you asked was a gently embrace
Some help to soothe the lifelong pain
Something words cannot contain
You gave me your skin, your soul
In return nothing but my hard heart
Cutting you with only lust and logic
Two years of longing cruelly denied
Two years of loving harshly replied
Nothing but rejection and more pain
No apology can soothe the wounds
No penance can bind the damaged soul
Maybe time will heal burning hurt
I wish I could undo the hurtful words
If only I could unmake the hurtful acts
So many years, so many regrets
THERE ARE TIMES IN LIFE WHERE WE CARELESSLY HURT PEOPLE WITHOUT EVEN MEANING TO DO SO. UNTHINKINGLY, UNCARINGLY AND SOMETIMES CRUELLY. IT TOOK ME A LONG TIME TO UNDERSTAND THAT KEEPING LOVERS AT ARMS LENGTH OSTENSIBLY TO PROTECT THEM FROM SOME FUTURE HURT WAS DOUBLY HURTFUL. THEY ARE NOT ONLY HURT BY THE END OF THE RELATIONSHIP, WHEN IT HAPPENS, BUT ALSO DENIED YEARS OF AFFECTION AND INTIMACY.
I call these “Scribblings from a Trip”. They are, essentially, thoughts and observations that occurred while travelling around Europe in 2016, by train.
They reflect my thoughts about our the planet, the past or about life, generally, or they reflect on something that I saw or that happened in a specific moment during those hours or days of travel. As such they are written “immediately” unedited and unrevised.
Each “scribble” has a note attached about the context or background.
The Steel Line
I travel the steel line
Rhythm beneath like time lost
The wastelands of the mind
Littered with lost hope of youth
The steel whispers to me
Of all the melancholy days
Of the great dying to come
The bitter taste of hate
Survival a matter of mere fate
This was written on the train across Serbia. The endless empty factories, the abandoned houses and buildings made me reflect on the wastelands into which we threaten to turn our earth and the “dying” which will arrive in those times. A dying brought on by hate and greed.
Like the detritus of the soul
In grey Croatian mountains.
Empty windows, lost hopes
Building shells slip past
Today’s reflections of tomorrow
Of the coming fires of hell
The remnants of yesterday
Reminders of our sins
Of our inferno of greed
Written on the train in Croatia; it reflected the feeling of emptiness created by the wastelands of the ex-Jugoslavia
I watch from a distant hill,
Turtles swim the azure sea
Landing on the burning beach
Life still beats its wounded heart
These greats beasts of hope
Older than the human soul
Harbingers of a future world
Of a place free from greed
They swim the waters still
On a journey from fear to hope
The human race is dead and gone
But the turtles pay no heed
Their vision is of a former world
Devoid of doom, strife and fire
When albatross bestrode the sky
And tigers still roamed the hills
This is an interpretation of a dream which I had repeatedly for about 20 years, up until about 5 years ago. In that dream which I had several dozen times a year, these giant turtles would swim below. In the dream the turtles themselves imagine a world long ago before mass extinctions bought on by climate change and a future where the world is whole again.
Hopes and dreams
The fading picture
A single drop of hope
Your words pierce my soul
Your hands pierce my skin
Written after a partially unrequited relationship where promises, made at one time, offered me hope only to be later dashed but where, in my memories the thoughts of her hands and words pierced my heart.
The Great Empty
When the great fish no longer swim
The steely blue oceans now empty
The Forests dead, dying grey brown
Speak of a life long ago gone
I swim the white reefs, now lifeless
The shadows of sharks long absent
The presence of the great turtles
Now just memories of the past
You can walk the trails you walked
Where giant eucalypts once lived
Before the climate fires took them
Now just the charred stumps stand
Pointing lifeless to the blue sky
Like accusing fingers of scorn
You can stand on the eastern point
But the leaping whales leap no more
Since acid waters took the krill
Just celluloid memories left
And the bitter tears run freely
This reflects my experience of diving on the world’s reefs over a period of 34 years and walking in some of the world’s great forest lands; in which places I viewed the destruction wrought by our species.
I tear my heart from its flimsy perch
I offer it to you to break asunder
A heart unbroken
Is like a life unlived
A futile purity
A spirit that has known no night
Like a blue sky
That never saw the gold of cloud
Reflecting on the need to keep loving no matter how many times our hearts are broken
Every second soul carries its secret
Hidden behind the mask
The smile hides the grimace
Lips forming “I’m fine”
As the soul’s jagged edges rips;
We walk among the half-living.
This is about our propensity to be in pain, to be sad, to be angry or bitter but to hide those emotions beneath a false smile and to reject the offers of comfort – so that we consign ourselves to be “half-living”
I think of you gone
Her bed empty and cold
I see her face in the window
The missing smile
I think of me
I stand still on the edge
And I fly
About those who have gone – either through death or through the end of a relationship or change of circumstances, such as when work or life separates two people. In reflecting on the lost of our lives, I also reflected on myself and my dreams (harking back to my repeated dreams of turtles and also another repeated dream – of flying)
Blue blue, blue water
Beneath the yellow sun
Fingers of heat sear in
My skin takes it deep
Earth beneath burns me
Body opens and breathes
About the love of sun, of ocean and of the “forbidden” pleasure of lying in the hot sun as it burns into us
A continent’s history
Written on your streets
On your buildings
Like scars across the wrists
The knives of dictators
The swords of emperors
Your arteries of concrete
Your rivers of blood
With a flag of blue and gold
Staunched with an idea
An idea of shared humanity
History’s sins, six million dead
Washed by a million refugees
Written while walking through Berlin – during the day I had visited the remains of the Berlin Wall, the holocaust museum and the Bundestag – all buildings and places which flew the EU flag – so witnessing the transition from a fascist past to the idea of the EU where diverse people share a common future.
The blood of putrefied corpses
Running deep red upon our soils
Your dread ambition’s deadly end.
Grasping hands reach for power
Tearing live fibres from our being
The camps, your cruel legacy
Where the persecuted lie dying
Abandoned for power’s pursuit
Bloodied hands grasp your razor wire
Death heaped on your hard black heart
The stench of your lies pervades us
Your career’s million stories
Each told by a dead Arab’s corpse
This was a reflection after spending time in the Balkans, visiting the genocide museum in Sarajevo and snipers alley, as well as the fortress above Dubrovnik, as well as a myriad other reminders of the wars and genocides that flowed back and forth across these beautiful lands – and across the Middle East – all largely driven by the ambitions of politicians and the deliberate hatreds they strove to arose in the diverse people.
A Pine Wind
Beneath the casuarina’s whispered breath
Where the wind speaks of aeons past
On the ancient rocks toppling edge
Above the flooded river plains
Ten thousand cicadas calling out
Cascading their flowing sounds of life
And each random flower is a world itself
Here where distance silences a city’s chatter
Every trouble is small besides the whisper breeze
Thoughts of home aroused by the sight of an ancient beachside casuarina tree. For me the casuarina is one of the most evocative of Australian species arousing memories of years spent in the Northern Territory.
We are a ship of Poles. 22 to be precise plus one Ukrainian, 2 Germans and one Australian.
We slip slowly down the river, in the Belgian winter fog, out of Antwerp bound for Cape Town via Porto, Vigo and Wallis Bay. Our ship, the six year old, 200 metre, 30,000 tonne, Blue Master 2.
Loading and leaving Antwerp + Antwerp port wind farm
I board the ship after two days in Antwerp, a fleeting visit to Amsterdam and a two hour pursuit of the immigration office around the port of Antwerp. In keeping with the tradition of something always needing to go wrong on every trip, the agents â€œSlow Travelâ€ despite having to do little other than provide basic information in emails have clearly been unable to check that the immigration office is still at the address they have previously given.
Twas a foggy (and cold morning), leaving port, the pilot etc on the bridge
This, and the fact that they have failed to notify the security office of my passage aboard the ship, thus involving a long delay at the gate, adds $40 to my taxi fare, for which I shall seek my pound of flesh.
I cross the docks playing chicken with 100 tonne cranes, forklifts, trucks and a myriad of utes and other vehicles and board the ship. I am well prepared for my 27 day trip with 10 books loaded on my iPad, miscellaneous ideas for writing and a guitar to be learned (an exercise in wishful thinking judging by past experience). I also have Spanish, French and Italian grammar in case I find myself unable to sleep.
The security officer at the top of the gangplank summons someone to take me to wherever they plan to take me which turns out to be the shipâ€s office. There I am greeted by one of the engineers, who advises the crewman to summon the Captain and the Steward.
Most of the action, for those who are not working, takes place on the so-called â€œPoopâ€ deck.
Aside from providing a degree of childish entertainment to passengers (aside from its English meaning, poop means to fart in German) this deck, one level up from the main deck is where the mess rooms, kitchens, and ships office are located. From here going up itâ€s up past â€œAâ€ and â€œBâ€ decks (crew quarters) and then on up to â€œCâ€ where my cabin in located and â€œDâ€ decks which are both accomodation for officers and elite passengers (Eduard and Renate – my German fellow passengers). Above this is just the bridge.
Further down are the four levels of the engine room and the two levels of holds and at the front the upper deck and the foâ€c’sle.
Two many stairs, fixing the crane, the engine room and the engine
The foâ€c’sle (otherwise known as the forecastle in normal English & formerly crew quarters) is the topmost deck right at the front. There is nothing here except for the structure for the forward radar (there are three radars of which the ship uses just one at sea, normally) and forward lighting structure, plus a few rolls of razor wire which, in certain ports are wrapped around the hawsers to prevent stowaways climbing the ropes.
From my perspective the foâ€c’sle is the most important deck on the ship. Here at the front itâ€s entirely quiet save for the sound of the sea and wind. Itâ€s also the best place for watching for dolphins, whales and flying fish among other things. In good weather one can make like Kate Winslet and stand meditating on the rushing water, wind and waves.
Chris trying to be karmic and the dolphin I summoned
Crossing the equator, there are thousands of flying fish and I also expend a myriad digital images trying to photograph them as they emerge from the water just in front of the bow and flit away across the ocean, effortlessly traversing 200 metres of water in a single flight.
These days, though, the ocean is a sadly empty place. We see just a handful of pilot or other small whales, two pods of dolphin and almost no birds aside from a handful of migratory swallows and a dozen or so terms and other seabirds which I donâ€t recognise.
Of the once mighty great albatross and the frigate birds which once used to haunt the path of all the large ships, there is not a single one. The ocean is a desert.
The ship is like a living, breathing thing. No matter where you are, except right at the bow, you cannot escape the sound or vibration of the engine, seven giant, Japanese made, cylinders powering the single prop. In addition to the engine the ship creaks and groans continually as it labours over the incoming swell.
From stern to bow the ship is 199 metres and to get to the bow one walks along the main deck five metres above water level. For me, at least, this is quite mesmeric; the rushing sound and motion of the passing water and the endless changing patterns and colours, light, dark and foam. Looking down into the water one has the sense as the dark patches swirl past of looking down to the centre of the ocean.
When not in ones cabin, the mess or foâ€csle, the passengers spend most of the time on the bridge or passenger deck (deck D) soaking up the sun or sitting, on the bridge, with the watch officers watching the world go by.
Barbie on the passenger deck, the control panel on bridge, boat training
Our ship of Poles are a friendly bunch although almost all our interaction with the crew is with the Captain, Mariusz and the first (Bogdan), second (Sambor) and third mate (Kamil), the steward (Severin). Suffice to say their last names are unpronounceable, except perhaps to other East Europeans, as are almost all Polish last names. I get the sense that the passengers are tolerated, if relatively normal and not too demanding, as a sort of inconvenient added burden.
My two German fellow passengers, are Eduard and Renate. They are in their late fifties and make very good and humorous company. Eduard is a failed public servant â€“ in the sense that he worked for the German Government for most of his working life as a senior overseas aid person in various places around the world administering and supervising German aid programs â€“ but now sees all aid programs as largely a racist and paternalistic failure which, far from aiding developing countries actually hinders them.
Renate is a pharmacist and researcher and they are on their way to Namibia (Formerly German SW Africa) to do some research on the German history in Namibia.
The rudder control room, Renate and Eduard relaxing?, engine room
Unlike the entire rest of the world they view Angela Merkel as a German disaster story who is more interested in staying in power than anything else (they quote, for example, her decision to close the German nuclear industry which they say was not driven by good policy but to simply keep the Greens onside and thus keep her position). They think the German energy policy â€œEnergiewende.â€ is a disaster and are climate sceptics.
Inevitably this produces some interesting breakfast and dinner time conversations, as we traverse the fields of politics, climate change, world wars, overseas aid, energy, human development, identity.
Eduard is quite talkative which is fortunate for him because he is able to compete with me while Renate is much quieter. They have an interesting dynamic no doubt developed over 40 or so years. As an example, Eduard, has a habit of saying to Renate at least a couple of times each meal â€œCorrect me if Iâ€m wrongâ€¦.â€ which, of course she does, frequently and with alacrity. This seems to imply that Renate often thinks Eduard to be wrong.
The lifeboat with the 20 metre plunge, fixing the crane, boat drill (if we all stare at the life raft long enough it will leap over the side
Eduard and Renate have three children, Eduard II, Elsa and Marie. Eduard II lives in Luxembourg and is a currency trader or some other such activity designed to produce wealth but with no other discernible benefit to humankind. Apparently like the Americans there is something of an unfortunate tradition, in Germany, to name your first born son after his father.
Iâ€ve always seen this as a very egotistical and patriarchal tradition that, I assumed was restricted to the US, like the vast majority of stupid practices. Leaving aside the questionable ego involved in naming your child after yourself (and the inevitable confusion involved), why does this seem restricted just to men? Why not Renate II?
I guess, once again, women are not so foolish.
Like all the best parents, Eduard and Renate are slum landlords, with an apartment in Berlin for which they extort large sums of money from their two daughters and, presumably, provide no maintenance in return.
The quid pro quo, however, for Eduard in particular, is that his eldest daughter, Elsa, is attempting to re-educate him in an attempt to make him into a good human being instead of a scion of capitalist, conservative, society. As a part of this she buys him books for his birthday which she thinks may improve his understanding of society. Currently he is reading â€œThe Lies that Bindâ€ – rethinking Identity (Creed, Country, Colour, Class, Culture). But it is not clear to me which of Eduardâ€s many failings Elsa is trying to address with this book.
Fortunately both Eduard and Renate appear to understand my sense of humour and Eduard takes the frequent jokes at his expense in good humour. The Polish crew members, on the other hand, seem someone bemused and, when some look a little put out, I have to assure them that I am only joking, it is just Australian humour which, frequently, relies on taking the piss. This seems not to translate well into Polish humour, however, or simply is lost in translation.
Others, less kindly, might simply argue that my humour it is not Australian humour, at all, but simply Chris Harris humour which is understandable to only one person on earth or is, perhaps, just not funny.
Aside from meal time entertainment the trip is largely taken up by sleeping, lying in the sun, reading, taking photos and writing. I started the trip with pretensions to writing for two to four hours daily and to producing, at the end, my best-selling Man Booker prize winning novel. Sadly the first week produces nothing but five or six desultory, five to ten page long first chapters, all of which end in the bin.
Porto street art
On day seven I decide that, given my inordinate success at novel writing, I will gracefully retire to writing my periodic blog based on a series of sequential events over several years. By day ten I suddenly realise this looks more like a memoir than several unconnected blogs and by the end of the second week I have written 50 pages.
Porto street art
From this their emerges, unasked a section which I, realise, would have the good makings of a novel. I then proceed to write an outline including the characters, their stories and the plot lines. Suddenly from nothing I have an accidental memoir and an accidental novel, or, at least, the first twenty pages â€“ which is ten pages longer than I have every succeeded in getting previously. But, I caution myself, completing ten laps of a 100 lap race is no guarantee of finishing.
Aside from this the other events of note are a Saturday barbeque, a tour of the engine room and visits to Porto, in Portugal and Vigo in Spain. We get six hours in Porto which turns out to be sufficient to have a good walk around the old city and find a fine coffee shop and spot for lunch. Porto is a fine city with lots of gracious old buildings, wide streets and interesting old quarters which are decorated with good street art. But despite everyoneâ€s ravings about it I donâ€t find it more or less interesting than a myriad other beautiful old European cities.
Vigo, the northeast most city of Spain, in Galicia, is the reverse. Despite being told itâ€s not very interesting I find it an interesting city of friendly people, wide gracious streets and people friendly boulevards. Importantly I also find a supply of organic crunchy peanut butter and six good avocados to substitute for the sausage breakfast.
Our interesting tour of the engine room simply serves to demonstrate to me my ignorance of all things ship. This starts with the revelation that this ship, along with most large vessels, has a single engine and prop where I had always imagined they would all have twin engines and screws.
The ship, built in China, has a Swiss designed, Japanese made engine and whereas I still had images of a dirty oily edifice, the engine and its surroundings are an immaculately clean and entirely computerised operation comprising its seven cylinder 11620 kw engine which consumes 28000 litres of fuel oil daily, a desalinating plant capable of producing 20,000 litres of drinking water daily, its own air conditioning plant, a workshop than can do pretty much anything other than repair a broken prop or drive shaft and several massive compressors for starting the engines and generators as well as other bits and pieces such as plant for separating oil from water.
The big beast (engine), Renate in engine control room, the air conditioning and the compressors
My cabin is a gracious and comfortable seven metres by six metres with ensuite, desk, table, wardrobe, TV, radio, drinks cabinet, dining table and chairs. This used to be the fourth officerâ€s cabin but like the rest of the transport industry crews have been downsized and have lost fourth officers and radio officers.
There is also a satellite modem connected to a piece of metal whirling around somewhere in the sky. With this I can communicate, via data, with the rest of the world for a cool 150 times what I pay for my internet ashore. So itâ€s limited to WhatsApp and email. A large attachment or photo, if one is so ill advised to download one, can set you back $1 a pop.
The bridge, water patterns, at sea, the crane (again)
One of the downsides of a life at sea, at least for those who are not engaged in the manual labour of constantly maintaining the ship, is that life is almost entirely sedentary with the sole exercise being that involved in climbing the endless flights of stairs between the main deck and the bridge, six floors up.
This lack of exercise is compounded by efforts to feed the entire crew into a stupor with three cooked meals a day. The food is what I would describe as canteen food. As such it is a mixture of the very good (soups for example) and stupendously awful (every third breakfast is a single Polish sausage which both looks and tastes disgusting). If you were a vegan you would surely starve. But given a single person has to cook for 25 people in a single sitting at the same time then it is a noble effort by Robert, the cook.