Null Island Monday, Apr 29 2019 

Null Island

Null Island

Today is another special day on this world cruise because we crossed the equator and prime meridian or 0-degree North and 0-degree East longitude. Known as Null Island, far from African shores in the Gulf of Guinea, we approached an unassuming weather buoy operated jointly by the United States, France, and Brazil that is anchored at a depth of 16, 210 feet. The mathematical term “null” denotes zero, thereby marking the geographical point from which all navigational measurements are drawn. Eight chess players, none from this latest segment, showed up on Friday, day 113, for play and instruction. George Sranko shared his stunning photographs and videos of “African Wildlife Up Close & Personal.” Our trivia team scored 11 points while four teams tied for first with 12. After seeing the null buoy, a ceremony for those crossing the equator first time was held. The pollywogs appeared before Aegir, Norse God of the Seas, kissed a fish, and took the plunge in order to become shellbacks. The evening entertainment saw the return of pianist Adam Johnson. This time he played movie theme songs along with the Viking Band.

Aegir & Viking Cohorts

Aegir & Viking Cohorts

Six chess players showed up on Saturday, day 114. Our trivia team tied for second with 12 points. We have now finished first 8 times and second 13 times in competition with more than thirty teams. In the afternoon we watched “An American in Paris” (2018) in the Star Theater. In the evening we used our interactive television to watch “Arctic,” a 2018 film with little dialogue filmed in Iceland, and “A United Kingdom,” based on the marriage of King Seretse Khama of what would become Botswana to a white woman. The interactive tv has an excellent selection of classic and contemporary films as well as a depository for the port talks and enrichment lectures.

Only four chess players showed up on Sunday, day 115, but exciting games took place. The port talk on Dakar prepared us for our visit in two days. Our trivia team was held to 11 points, while two teams with 13 points used a tie breaker for first and second. We attended a sobering lecture by Peter Hawthorne on “400 Years of Slavery – The Trade in Human Souls out of Africa.”

Six chess players visited the Explorers’ Lounge on Monday, day 116, for tough matches.  Mark Callaghan presented an informative lecture on the “History of West Africa.” Edward Lynch prepared us for our upcoming port by discussing “Senegal Weathers the Storms.” Our trivia team finished with 12 points, while one team had 14. R. Hunt Davis gave an overview of “Dakar – From Colonial City to Modern African Metropolis.” Peter Hawthorne presented “The Scramble for Africa.” Daniel Zafrani is a wonderful mime. I especially liked the way he used a foot as a face. The end of several sea days.

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Walvis Bay, Namibia Thursday, Apr 25 2019 

Dune 7

Dune 7

We docked in Walvis Bay, Namibia, on Monday, day 109. Named for the whales that fed in its plankton-rich waters, Walvis Bay, or “Whale Bay” in Afrikaans, enjoys a deep harbor. The British occupied it by 1884 and eventually incorporated it into their Cape Colony. In 1884 the German Empire established rule over the territory known as German South-West Africa. During World War I South African troops deposed the German colonial administration. After that war, South Africa annexed South West Africa. The Republic of Namibia became independent in 1990, although it wasn’t until 1994 that South Africa relinquished Walvis Bay. The coast is awash in golden dunes spilling over the Namib Desert. The Namib, which means “vast place,” stretches 1,200 miles along the Atlantic coasts of Angola, Namibia, and South Africa. Annual precipitation ranges from 0.079 inches in the most arid regions to 7.9 inches. Plants have adapted by extracting moisture from fog. Our bus tour stopped at Dune 7, the region’s tallest at about 1,250 feet, where many of our fellow travelers climbed to the top of this sand sea. Viking Sun bar staff created an oasis for us with drinks and snacks.

White Pelican

White Pelican

We then headed to Walvis Bay’s other attraction, a shallow lagoon that attracts coastal water birds such as penguins and enormous flocks of lesser and greater flamingos. We were impressed with the homes on Kovambo Nujoma Drive, opposite the lagoon. After lunch on the ship, we took a shuttle back to the lagoon where we discovered a larger flock of flamingos than we saw on our earlier visit and spent time watching a pair of white pelicans. Seals frolicked around the Raft Restaurant which was built on stilts just off the promenade. Those of us returning to the ship needed to try and remove the coal dust from the bottom of our shoes. The evening entertainment featured pianist Adam Johnson. The technical crew excelled by using an overhead camera that projected his piano hands on the large screen behind him.

Five chess players showed up at the Explorers’ Lounge on Tuesday, day 110. We attended a lecture by Edward Lynch on “Angola Comes Back from the Brink.” Our trivia team tied for second with 12 points while the winning team had 13. That now gives us 8 first place finishes and 12 times in second place. George Sranko gave an interesting lecture on the “Namib & Kalahari Deserts.” He included some interesting videos including one showing the dance of a flamingo using its feet to bring up food. I didn’t know that some of the 1980 film “The Gods Must Be Crazy” was filmed in Namibia. Peter Hawthorne gave us a fuller biography of “Cecil John Rhodes.” Tonight, in the World Café we celebrated Africa through food and fashion. Afterwards we enjoyed the Viking Band on the pool deck for “Dancing Under the Stars.”

Six chess players faced off on Wednesday, day 111. R. Hunt Davis shared his knowledge about “Africa & the Globalized World.” Our trivia team finished with 12 points while two teams faced off with 13. George Sranko presented some very interesting facts that “The Atlantic Is Alive with the Biggest, Strangest & Brightest.” Who knew divers can remain underwater for more than 22 minutes! Peter Hawthorne informed us about “The Afrikaners – The White Tribe of Africa.” The evening entertainment featured Helen Wilding whose performance was geared more for children than seniors.

Six chess players met again on Thursday, day 112. Edward Lynch provided interesting contrasts between Ghana and the Ivory Coast in “West African Neighbors Take Separate Roads.” Our trivia team was kept to 10 points while one team won with 12. R. Hunt Davis compared “John L. Dube (1871-1946) & Nelson R. Mandela (1918-2013).” Mime Daniel Zafrani combined magic and comedy for this evening’s entertainment.

Cape Town, South Africa Monday, Apr 22 2019 

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

We arrived in Cape Town, South Africa on Thursday, day 105. We had clear, blue skies for our visit to the summit of iconic Table Mountain which has been operating since 1929. In 2004, Table Mountain became a UNESCO World Heritage site and in 2011 it was voted one of the new 7 wonders of nature. It took us about an hour at the KloofNek lower cableway station before we rode in a Rotair cable car which took a 360-degree spin as we ascended 2,300 feet to the Mountain Station. We walked the pink trail and took in views of Lion’s Head, Signal Hill, Devil’s Peak, and the Twelve Apostles. A rock hyrax, also called a rock badger or rock rabbit, was feeding and another was nursing two young. Their closest living relative is the African elephant. Evidence of this can be seen in the similarities in their feet and teeth.

Lion's Head, Signal Hill, Robben Island

Lion’s Head, Signal Hill, Robben Island

Because our morning tour was delayed in returning to the ship, we grabbed a snack at the African National Museum on our “Introduction to Cape Town” bus tour. Then, we strolled through the Company’s Garden surrounded by historic buildings such as the office of the president known as De Tuynhuis or The Garden House and the Houses of Parliament; museums such as the Iziko South Africa National Gallery; and places of worship. After a drive along the Atlantic coastline lined with pricey apartment buildings, we departed the tour at the Victoria and Alfred shopping mall. We enjoyed listening to various musical and dance groups while checking restaurant menus. After dinner on the waterfront, we returned to our ship on a shuttle basking under a full moon.

Cape Point Vista

Cape Point Vista

On Friday, day 106, we took the 8.5-hour Cape Peninsula and Cape Point tour. The narrow, winding Chapman’s Peak road has 114 curves, flanked by the towering mountainside and sheer drops into the Atlantic Ocean below. As we passed through Karbonkelberg in Hout Bay, our guide told us about a castle completed by German owner/builder Reyneir Fritz in 1998 after 12 years of construction. It failed to seal his marriage proposal and was recently sold for 23 million Rand. Although the Flying Dutchman vehicular was not running at Cape Point, I hiked to the old lighthouse. We saw African antelope grazing near Cape Point and wild ostriches on our drive to the Cape of Good Hope.

African Penguin

African Penguin

After lunch at Seaforth Restaurant in Simon’s Town, we walked to the Boulders in Table Mountain National Park and on False Bay to see African penguins. Our last stop for the day was at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, home to 7,000 plant species under cultivation and 450 species of trees. They had a special display of bonsai. We enjoyed taking the Boomslang tree canopy walkway. Our evening entertainment, Eterni Amici, featured soprano Laurie Ashworth and saxophonist/vocalist Spencer Moran.

Six chess players showed up for play or instruction on Saturday, day 107. We attended a lecture by R. Hunt Davis on “Namibia’s German Colonial Past & African Present.” Our trivia team finished with 13 points while three teams had 14. I attended the meeting of travel writers & bloggers. We attended a presentation by Edward Lynch on “Namibia Since Independence.” The port talk on Luderitz, Namibia prepared us for tomorrow’s visit.

Fynbos

Fynbos

Strong winds made it impossible for us to anchor off Luderitz, Namibia and use tenders to visit the city on Easter Sunday, day 108. R. Hunt Davis was called upon to lecture on “Understanding Africa in the Context of World History.” Our trivia team had 11 points while the winning team scored 14. We attended the port talk on Walvis Bay, our next stop. We attended part of Peter Hawthorne’s recollections “Dateline Africa – From a Reporter’s Notebook.”

Port Elizabeth, South Africa Saturday, Apr 20 2019 

Donkin Reserve

Donkin Reserve

In 1820, we learned, Port Elizabeth housed British settlers as a way of strengthening the border region between the Cape Colony and the Xhosa people. Our “Snapshots of Port Elizabeth” tour on Tuesday, day 103, introduced us to this “Friendly City.” It’s also a “Windy City” as we discovered when we exited the tour bus at Hobie Beach. Across the street, the impressive Boardwalk Casino & Entertainment World looks out at this famous beach on the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. After driving through the Nelson Mandela University campus, we visited Fort Frederick which was built on a natural vantage point overlooking Algoa Bay to protect the Cape Colony from the French during the Napoleonic wars. We had a photo stop at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, another of the South African soccer stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup. The impressive Donkin Reserve has a Stone Pyramid Monument, 33 feet high with 26-foot sides, erected by Sir Rufane Donkin, acting governor of the Cape, in memory of his late wife, Elizabeth, after whom the city was named. The adjacent Lighthouse was built in 1861 and now houses a tourism office. The walkway features several colorful circular mosaic art pieces.

Prester John Memorial

Prester John Memorial

The Port Elizabeth City Hall, built in Market Square between 1858-1862, was proclaimed a national monument in 1973. The nearby public library is undergoing renovation. We admired the Prester John Memorial consisting of a large Coptic cross and, in the central circle, the figures of Prester John and a Portuguese navigator. Prester John was a legendary king-priest that some Portuguese navigators looked for between the years 1145-1645. In the afternoon we visited two breweries. The Bridge Street Brewery offered four tastes: Valley Light, Celtic Cross, Boars Head, and Black Dragon. When we went back to the tour bus to go to our next venue, we learned that our bus driver, who was resting in a back seat out of sight, had been robbed at gunpoint while waiting in the bus the previous day. South Africa has very high unemployment rates which leads to high levels of crime. The Richmond Hill Brewing Company offered a few of us these selections: Jane Doe, Flowers for Rosa, Coastal Cult, Car Park John, Kas Weiss, and R2 Man. Tasting eleven different beers gives me a positive remembrance of Port Elizabeth.

Seven chess players, none from the new segment, showed up to play chess on Wednesday, day 104. Resident historian Mark Callaghan lectured on the “History of South Africa.” A port talk on Cape Town prepared us for our adventures in our next stop. Our trivia team scored 8 points while the winning team had 11. Sea days can be busy. We attended an enrichment lecture by R. Hunt Davis on “Cape Town – Still the Mother City?” This was followed aby another new lecturer, Edward Lynch, who spoke on “South Africa Deals with the Past and Looks to the Future.” Peter Hawthorne provided personal insights from his journalist background on “Medical Milestone – The Cape Town Human Heart Transplant.” Although we missed the first performance of Michael Falzon, we enjoyed his voice, combining swing and rock for some of his favorite songs

East London, South Africa Thursday, Apr 18 2019 

Nelson Mandela Estate

Nelson Mandela Estate

We arrived in the port of East London, located at the mouth of the Buffalo River, later than anticipated on Monday, day 102. This late arrival impacted our 144-mile, 8.5-hour tour titled “The Life of Nelson Mandela.” The three-hour bus tour allowed us to see the countryside, the larger city of Butterworth, the villages of Dutywa and Mthatha. Our guide shared three of the clicking sounds the locals use in their language. The Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha, designated a national heritage institution, uses pictures on each wall with text in multiple rooms to document the life of Nelson Mandela. He was born to one of his father’s four wives and was a member of the Xhosa tribe. He went to high school at Hearldtown, an elite Methodist mission school. He attended the University of Hare and later the University of Witswatersrand. He joined the African National Conference in 1943 and co-founded its Youth League in 1944. He was committed to overthrowing the Nationalist Party’s apartheid policies. In 1962, after years of protest, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for trying to overthrow the government. Although he served 27 years in prison, he was not a bitter man when he was released. He and F. W. de Clerk received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their efforts to end apartheid. In 1994, he was elected president where he emphasized reconciliation. After our altogether too brief visit of the museum, on our return trip we stopped to take pictures of the Nelson Mandela estate and his burial site. When we stopped for lunch near where he grew up, our bus got stuck in the soft earth. Fortunately, a tractor was able to assist the extraction process and we proceeded back to the ship awaiting to depart East London. For good reason Nelson Mandela is revered in South Africa.

Durban, South Africa Tuesday, Apr 16 2019 

Orchids

Orchids

Durban represented the end of the cruise for some passengers, while new passengers joined our world cruise for its fifth segment. On Palm Sunday, day 101, we took the “Scenes of Durban” bus tour that first stopped at the Currie Road viewpoint for a panoramic look at Durban. We then spent more than an hour at the Durban Botanic Gardens, the oldest surviving botanical garden on the African continent which was originally erected in 1885. We were impressed with the orchid house and were awed by the distinctive trees on the grounds. The colorful Egyptian geese added to the experience. Our final stop featured a stroll along the Golden Mile beachfront. This is another city that merits a return visit, and next time we’ll try a bunny chow.

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose

We attended the port talk for East London in anticipation of our upcoming visit. A new lecturer, George Sranko, spoke about the “Southern Coast of Africa – Where the Sea Saved Humanity.” Another new lecturer, R. Hunt Davis, entitled his lecture “Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela & the Eastern Cape.”  He warned us that it was not going to be a biographical portrait of Mandela, and he kept his word. It was mainly about the Eastern Cape geographical region.

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