Trip Start Jun 01, 2006
124Trip End Ongoing
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The first real challenge we found in getting onto our cargo ship in Singapore was getting TO our cargo ship. We knew where it was, we could see the edge of it, but there were customs checkpoints to go through. It turned out, as these things do, that simply having a ticket for a boat and a passport weren't enough to get you onto the boat. Or even past the barrier with the man with a gun stood next to it.
So we had to make about fifteen phone calls, back and forth between shipping agents and their bosses, friends, drivers and all round all-rounders, before finally someone turned up with a mini van and an air of authority
He drove us through the customs point and in no time we were boarding the Theodor Storm, the aforementioned cargo ship on a journey from Europe to Singapore to Australia and back again.
Our first pleasant surprise was the quality of the room - it was clean, for starters. We were expecting a hammock swinging in the engine room just under the oil drip and above the coal furnace, but we actually got two rooms, each with air conditioning and a bathroom. And a little table and a sofa and a desk and a chair. It was like heaven (if heaven is a well furnished room).
Next up we got to meet the captain; a pleasant Ukrainian chap who looked a bit like Benni or Bjorn from Abba. And the chief engineer, a pleasant Ukrainian chap who looked a bit like Bjorn or Benni from Abba.
This was late afternoon, and the boat wasn't sailing for twenty-four hours. We couldn't actually leave the boat now we were on it, as we would have to go through the same fifteen phone calls to get back onto it, so we stayed. And we decided to keep our heads down and stay out of trouble until we got going
The journey was going to last six days, once it actually started. We were given two folders full of copied DVDs by the captain, and a room to watch them in. There was also a "Gymnasium" - which is obviously nautical terminology for a Table Tennis Table. It was going to be a productive week.
The DVD selection of the Ukrainian captain was rather interesting. The first few were staple fare - Troy, I, Robot, Ocean's Twelve, Pirates of the Caribbean - that kind of thing. Then there were the films we expected to find - the Stephen Seagal films when he put on loads of weight and played roles that varied around the theme of 'Ex CIA agent turned environmentalist takes on blank'. Or titles such as Boa Vs Python, one of the best and worst films of all time depending on your point of view. And Dinocroc - a tale of a large crocodile... with a score to settle! But there was the odd curiosity too. The Princess Diaries One and Two, for example. The Bodyguard. Nothing too damning, just enough to raise an eyebrow.
The routine of the day was soon established. We were given three hot meals a day. Not only that, but lunch was three courses. And, every meal had sides of salad, ham, cheese, toast and other niceties. It was quite simply the most food I've ever eaten. It was good fare though - bless the two guys that ran the kitchen, it was different every day, and fresh and tasty.
At no point did we get scurvy.
Once the ship was underway the captain changed into board shorts and a death metal t-shirt, which would be his new 'uniform' for the rest of the week
We were given full run of the ship, which was nice. We were able to wander around the Engine Room, poke around on the Bridge (an exercise in self control as there are so many buttons that scream out to be pressed) and stroll the deck.
We were told that we would be receiving a safety talk but that never happened. So instead we familiarised ourselves with procedures for things like running aground, man overboard, pirate attack and general, all round sinking. The rule of thumb, summed up perfectly in the official guidelines, was "Don't be a hero, because heroes always die!" So no danger there then.
There wasn't much to do, as you might well imagine. We tended to spend an hour or so a day watching the world go by out on deck. We saw a few pods of dolphins, which was good, and a load of flying fish, which was even better. I don't know if you knew this, but flying fish can actually fly - I thought they just jumped out of the water. But they actually have big fins that are used as wings and can fly for quite a long time before they land again... genius. And there were these other big white ones that could fly for HOURS, but I think they were seagulls.
The journey took us through the Indonesian islands and then out into open sea, where it got a little rough but not unpleasantly so. Sleep on certain nights was a challenge, as you had to take your mind off not falling out of bed long enough to doze off, without inadvertently falling out of bed in the process
Also going up stairs was a skill in its own right - if you went up when the boat was going down, you all but floated up. But if you tackled it on a climb it was like wearing a lead hat.
Table Tennis became more difficult too. In fact the table tennis ball was the only thing on the ship that wasn't rocking back and forth. It makes shots difficult when the table moves and you fall into the wall.
But it was good fun. One day we were watching the flying fish at the front of the ship, decided we had had enough, and walked off, only to be soaked through by a mighty wave that crashed over the front of the ship. Amusingly, if we'd still been standing where we had been a few seconds before, we might have drowned! I love a bit of almost-excitement. It's actual excitement you have to look out for.
We arrived in good time, but it was late in the evening so after some negotiations with the captain (who had now changed back into his more generally acceptable captain's uniform) we opted to stay the night on the ship and leave first thing in the morning
Then it was a simple case of charming our way through customs, making light of the fact we were clearly breaking the tobacco limit laws, talk about how strange it was to meet nice and polite (and did we mention handsome) customs officers (to which the reply was "we get that a lot"), and we were here. The customs lady gave us a lift all the way out of the cargo terminal, up the road and deposited us within a ten minute walk of Fremantle centre... now you don't get that level of service very often.
And now here we are. We've just past the five month travel mark. We have been to 21 countries and crossed 34 borders. We haven't worked a day (which is going to change in a shockingly small amount of time) and we have spent the GDP of a small nation. We drank considerably less than my Mother believes, and learnt one or two things about life, the universe and everything while we were at it.
And we're just getting started.