Catching up from Casablanca to Dakar

Trip Start Nov 02, 2010
Trip End Feb 04, 2011

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Thursday, November 25, 2010


We are about to land in Dakar. Our internet access has been VERY slow so I haven't wanted to post a blog. 

So now a bit of catching up.  We spent a day in Casablanca but really didn’t do much:  Casablanca itself doesn’t have that much of interest to us and we decided we could skip the gigantic mosque.  So instead we simply went to a local seafood restaurant and had a very nice meal with small shrimp in a tomato sauce, fresh calamari and two kinds of grilled fish.  The restaurant was busy and smoky upstairs so we ate downstairs….and fairly soon it was busy and smoky downstairs as well.  Just really can’t visit places that continue to permit smoking in their restaurants!  Oh well.

During the at-sea day among other things the Captain gave a talk about pirates.  This particular ship, with this captain, was attacked by pirates off the coast of Africa, near Somalia about two years ago.  It was on a cruise from Singapore to Dubai.  It’s all kind of surreal….the pirates approached in what looked a lot like an open fishing boat and shot at the ship.  The captain announced that all passengers should stay inside, etc.  They turned off the air conditioning etc so full power could be used to move out of the way of the pirates….and they did.  So not much really happened.    Quite a few of the passengers who were on what they fondly call the "pirate cruise" are on this cruise as well….From what the captain said, our type of ship is not the kind the pirates would normally go after for several reasons including that we are really tall from the sea to the first deck where they could climb onto the ship.  We’ve heard differing stories about why there is so much pirate activity.  Some say it’s because the Somalis can no longer support themselves fishing because other countries have sucked all the fish out and the pirates are really making a political statement trying to get the world’s attention regarding their plight; some say it has more to do with the lack of a government in Somalia so there is no way for people to support themselves.  If they are making a political statement it certainly hasn’t been very effective:  virtually no one seems to be calling it that.  One thing seems to be true:  the activity is increasing, it is a major source of income for many Somalis, and generally they go after cargo ships. 

There is pirate activity throughout the seas, and it’s increasing,  but the biggest concentration is the area south of the Red Sea where our ship, the Nautica, was attacked two years ago.  There is a little bit off the coast of West Africa, mostly off the coast of Nigeria which probably explains one reason why we are not stopping in Nigeria.   There’s also activity in SE Asia near Singapore.  The amount of pirate activity is the reason we were provided for a change in the itinerary in the second leg of our cruise from Cape Town to Singapore.  Instead of East Africa we are going to Mauritius, Reunion and an additional island in the Seychelles.  Would not have been our choice of destinations but so be it…I’m actually curious about Mauritius.   Apparently we have taken on several Israeli guards who will be with us until we are totally out of pirate territory….not sure where that is. 

When I wasn’t listening to stories about pirates, or a talk by our primary lecturer about history, I was reading or writing.  I LOVED the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  Fascinating disturbing story about medicine, being poor and black in the US, corporate involvement in science….etc etc.  She is an excellent writer, tells a compelling personal story interwoven with the science, and then ends with a good discussion of the complexity of the legal and ethical issues involved in genetic research. 

From Casablanca we went to Tenerife in the Canary Islands.  I had arranged to rent a car, which we did.  Our ship-board friends Don and Betty from San Francisco joined us.  Rex drove.  We enjoyed it but were not enchanted with the island. It is unbelievably congested and felt quite crowded to us.  From what we read there are about 750,000 people who live there but another 10 million visitors annually.  The island is very mountainous so the houses are crowded up against each other and the hillsides.  It’s very beautiful, no doubt about it, but somehow it all felt quite squished together.  And it was VERY easy to make one wrong turn and then it would take 15 minutes to correct it…….We originally were going to drive up to the top of a volcano but it was foggy and a winding road so we headed instead to the northern coast of the island.  By the time we got there it was time for a Canarian lunch which was lovely:  sitting outdoors abutting a plaza in front of an old church.  We had fish croquettes, potatoes boiled in salt water that are served with a local sauce, rabbit, some type of meat in a similar sauce.  Rex had fish made without salt….we really have not had difficulty with that while traveling.  Amazing, actually.    We did go and see a 1000 year old drago palm, tried to go to a ceramics museum but it was closed because it was Monday, a wine museum…also closed.  Somehow we have managed to hit a lot of places on days when the museums are closed or, if not closed because it is Monday, are under renovation.  Too bad since seeing the museums is such a high priority for us. 

We have two days at sea before arriving, finally, in West Africa.  Lots going on, as usual:  a talk by the ship’s engineer was interesting:  we purify a lot of our own water….evaporation creating distilled water that needs to be treated to be really potable; we process a lot of the waste before it is discharged and carry a lot of waste to be carted away.  Quite an amazing system, really.  It is clear that Oceania hires very experienced people…..On the subject of hiring people, the speakers are paid as well.  On Celebrity we learned that the primary speaker paid his own way and what the cruise line provided was reduced fair.  Not surprisingly, the speakers we have had are MUCH better than the one we had on Celebrity.  We have one speaker, a Brit, who is with us all the way from Istanbul to Cape Town and he mostly gives history talks pertinent to the areas we are visiting.  Gave one about slavery the other day, for example.  Our new American speaker is a former AB C news person who spoke the other  day about how to take good photographs.  Nothing really new but I thought he did a good job….Not sure what he will be talking about later on.  Some people we have met are spending a lot of time on bridge:  there are lessons and games; some are spending time in the casino.  Rex has spent a little time in the casino, being fairly successful with blackjack, not at all with a couple of Texas hold’em contests but overall—he’s ahead.  It’s actually quite amazing how the time slips by.  We are half way through the first leg of the cruise already. 

We are about to arrive in Dakar, Senegal.  I had hoped to meet with someone from Aid to Artisans but it’s not good timing.  But because I kept trying to arrange something through USAID or ATA I never did do the regular tourist stuff.  At the last minute I spoke with some women who had made contact with an American who now lives in Dakar and it looks as though we will attach ourselves to her and visit various artists.  She sounds quite interesting:  An African American woman who has settled in Dakar.  Among other things, she makes drums so depending on our time and energy level we might attend a drumming rehearsal this evening. 

Once again, the national museum is under renovation.   It’s been quite remarkable, really:  under renovation in Crete, closed because it was Monday in Tunis, closed upstairs for renovation in Malta, no museums in Casablanca to speak of, closed because it was Monday in Tenerife, and now closed in Dakar.  We are hoping to go to several other museums along the way…….Hmmmmm….. 

No photos for a while because of the problems I’ve already described posting them.  I’m thinking that in Namibia or South Africa I’ll be able to get off the ship and use a wifi hot spot somewhere to put some photos on the blog…..

Meanwhile, we are doing well.  Rex’s stamina is still pretty low but he’s feeling quite good.  We are keeping things simple and totally enjoying it.  Life aboard the ship continues to be delightful.  The kitchen is very accommodating about special diets so Rex is taking in very little salt and that’s a good thing….and so far it’s not even been a problem while in port.  The restaurants we have found are also amazingly accommodating and since we mostly want to stick with fresh fish while on land, it’s easy.  There is a walking track and he’s gradually increasing the distance he walks each day….so that’s good too.  It’s a struggle for him, however, because the prednisone makes it difficult to build up strength. 

This is such a comfortable and easy way to travel, it’s amazing.  And we are pleasantly surprised to learn that in many of the ports a day feels like enough of a taste to tell us if we would enjoy returning or not.   It’s also interesting to get a concrete sense of the scale of things:  when you fly the distances are not as real.  We continue to meet interesting people – folks attracted to the unusual itinerary.  For some cruising is clearly a way to avoid any real contact with local food, etc; but for others, like us, age etc has made cruising a good way to visit places that might otherwise be extremely difficult to get to.  They remain independent travelers at heart and are striking out in each port on their own.  Some have used a website called “cruise critic” to hook up with each other prior to the cruise and plan some joint activities.  Some couples pretty much stick to eating with each other for every meal; we pretty much always sit at a “sharing” table so we meet new people. 

Sat with various folks last night including Shelby, a rather crusty woman from middle of Alabama with whom we have sat before.  We probably couldn’t be more different in terms of politics, religion, etc.  She’s very involved with the DAR, her church, and hates Obama, blah blah.  But she is also a fiercely independent woman determined to see the world.  She’s visiting Africa now because he husband didn’t want to go and now that he has died, she can go to some new places.  Was talking about her trips to the Antarctic, the Arctic, etc.  She’ll be staying on the ship til Singapore, as will many others but she’s doing a little side trip to Victoria Falls from Cape Town and will rejoin the ship in Durban.  So we agreed to disagree about stuff and to still respect each other.  It really was a relief to just put all that out on the table and muse about how we seem to have lost so much of our ability to do that:  agree to disagree and still have some affection and respect for each other.  I still cringe when I hear certain opinions being spouted and we haven’t totally held our tongues, but there is something about having to live with in what is basically a small town of 680 people that forces a kind of civility.  (Although Shelby says it’s not the case on some of the larger cruises……)  Oceania seems to attract a group of people with whom we share certain basic things:  a desire to see interesting ports, not much desire to dress up (no dress up nights on the ship), and an ability to be entertained relatively easily.  One thing that has surprised us is the number of former teachers we have met. 

There are an amazing number of people marching around with their Kindles, Nooks or Ipads.  Rex thinks Amazon should do a promotional ad on our cruise ship because there are so many Kindles.  Nonetheless, there is still a pretty good ship library and every time I’ve gone by, I see people in there reading. 

We love hearing from you  -- especially by email.  Because I can read email off line that I’ve opened, and can respond off line, I get to have real correspondence. 

Love to all….Elinor & Rex
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Sandy Polishuk on

Hope you enjoy Dakar. My plane to Johannesburg stopped there in the middle of the night and we were not allowed off. Instead we were subjected to a security check--guys came on and tore apart the seats that had been vacated, we had to removed our things from the overhead bins and hold them in our laps while they checked the bins. I took photos of the airport in the dark.

daniel del solar on

i am almost on the trip w you. thank you.

i especially like the fish, and dislike the fact of so many closed museums

nevertheless, i will continue on. HealthFront: jig is up. next stop, metastases in the bones...sometime in the future...could be lucky and have it be months in the future, could be unlucky. going overseas to see it there are any "untapped" remedies. mothers 90 bday part was good, with qualifications, but we survived it. wish you two all the best daniel

Fran on

Hi Elinor and Rex, Could it be that the closure of all these museums could be because the cities have run out of money to support them? Since it's so consistent, seems to be more than just a renovation or monday-closure issue... xo

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