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World Cruise 2013 - part 4
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The weather gradually improved and it was very relaxing - gym before a breakfast largely of fresh fruit, a few hours reading by a pool in the sun, perhaps a lecture or a visit to the planetarium. It was a time of almost daily changes in the time as we transitted from time zone to time zone - and all in the right direction so we had an extra hour in bed before our visits to the gym. Lunch tended to be in the Kings Court self service where one could moderate the amount of food although there were always temptations, especially the various specialities cooked in front of one by the chef including some amazing Thai spiced prawns, a Laski and the ice cream splits were too much too resist.
Easter Sunday had a large display of easter eggs and related set pieces, unfortunately there were no samples.
In the afternoon there were often concerts and off course the formal teas with white glove service and music from the harpist or string quartet in the Queens room. There are lots of delicate sandwiches, tempting cakes and, of course, the scones with strawberry jam and cream. We try not to go too often but unfortunately they also serve the best coffee and having got the coffee it is very tempting to have just a small.....
Mostly in the evening we eat in the main restaurant although we have had a special Wine Tasting dinner in Todd English and we usually try to sample the various alternate dining options in the Kings Court once per cruise. These are fully served and there is a fairly nominal additional charge and the three options - Lotus, Coriander and Italian are provided in a cycle with three days of each. This evening we went to Lotus, a fusion of Asian cooking where you get samples of many different dishes. It comes as 5 courses each with three or so different small dishes. They had just changed the menu so it was different to what we remembered and very good. It makes a very pleasant change.
We have moved table in the restaurant - we had a nice table for two with excellent service but we had gained a large lively group occupying a couple of tables adjacent to us so we took up an option of a table on the upper level close to the music which normally plays for the first hour - either the harp or the string quartet. It was close to where we had originally requested but had been occupied when we came on board by 'round the world' travellers.
We have now reached the point on the cruise where we are back on familiar ground - we did the 'liner run' from Southampton down to Cape Town and on round to Mauritius on the QE2 in 2002 and had a similar routing home from Mauritius on the QE2's Silver Jubilee World cruise in 2007. We were moored in the same place in Port Louis just across from the main town and waterfront but the port seemed different. It was full of large and very scruffy looking fishing boats with names in what looked like Chinese although we understand they were all from Taiwan which has taken over most of the fish rights in the area.
Port Louis, named after the french king Louis XV, is the capital and major port on the island of Mauritius, which has one of the highest population densities in the world and a total population of 1.2 million. The city was established by the French in 1735 and grew as a major deep water port between Europe and Asia until the Suez canal opened in 1869. It became independent in 1968. Mauritius drives on the English side of the road and English is the first language at school, although all the shops are labelled in french. Locals have to speak French and English, as well as their local dialect.
The town had suffered a huge storm two days before our arrival and we were warned that the roads were not in good condition as there had been big mud slides and the town had been seriously flooded with ten people drowned in underpasses in the town and a few more in underground car parks. The town was not easily accessed from where the ship was moored and there was a shuttle bus to the Le Caudan Waterfront area - the water taxi we had used last time was not running. The shuttle bus stopped outside the Blue Penny Museum of Mauritius History and Art which is named after the famous two pence stamp, at the end of the Mall. We walked back from there towards the main square and the main part of town which was the otherside of a road which was described as a motorway; it would normally be crossed using the flooded underpasses which were still being cleared while crowds watched and placed floral tributes. We eventually made our way across at a junction which was under police control as much of the power was off and the traffic lights were out of action. Even the McDonalds on the corner was closed because of the damage, and all the shops had security guards outside - we presumed to prevent looting during the clear-up operation.
We spent some time in the colourful market with market halls on both sides of the road. The meat and fish areas were largely empty as it was late in the day but there were still a number of brightly coloured and interestingly shaped fish on display as well as lovely sections of tuna and other game fish. They were definitely for locals with a huge number of brightly coloured stalls of fruits and vegetables with their owners shouting the merits of their produce. The market also had big areas of souvenir and craft work, and local and imported clothes. T-shirts and cotton blouses for sale on the pavement were very cheap, and locally made. We walked back to Government House, HSBC and the Treasury, then inland as far as St Louis Cathedral and St James cathedral, returning down muddy streets where people were still clearing the damage from the floods. It was sad to see piles of damaged books outside schools but thankfully the deluge had been during the holidays. The Company Gardens, somewhere to avoid after dark but full during the day with people eating sandwiches, had suffered too and the lawns were very soft with deep car tracks. One of our objectives was now to find a supermarket as the market did not seemed to have local foods and we like to try local cheeses, wines and other specialities. We eventually found one, "Winners" near the Air Mauritius Centre, which only took local currency so we first had to change some money. The change we found did not charge any commision even on small sums. We bought a couple of bottles of local wine and some local coffee - sadly there was nothing of interest in the cheese on the almost empty shelves after the weekend.
Now weighed down we decided to catch the bus back to the ship to cool down, get some cold drinks and a bite of lunch - we did not want much as we were booked into "Lotus" to dine in the evening.
In the afternoon we took the shuttle bus back to explore more of the waterfront which includes the Customs House, a large granary warehouse and an old windmill, which was free so we walked through. Our main interest was the Aapravasi Ghat, a world heritage site because of its importance in the introduction of indentured labour which largely replaced slave labour throughout the British Empire and the world. We had been ignorant of much of the historical background behind Indenture despite having seen the museums at Bristol and Liverpool covering the slave trade and the Door Without Return in Dakar, Senegal. It therefore seems in order to give some background as Mauritius is where the British Government's "Great Experiment" started.
Mauritius was under French rule for almost a century but the British started expanding their role in the Indian Ocean and in 1810 invaded Port Louis and the French surrendered. Under the British, sugar production increased and trade flourished. The abolition of slavery in 1834, however, posed a major problem for sugar plantations, whose operations were highly dependent on slave labor. There was a demand for cheap intensive labor, as the now emancipated slaves were negotiating for higher wages and better living conditions. As a result, the government of the British Empire conceived of a plan to replace the former enslaved Africans with laborers from other parts of the world. At the time, India was experiencing a depressed economic situation and most of the successful indentured labour was from India. The Great Experiment, as the indentured program came to be known, called for these prospective laborers, under a contract labor scheme, to be transported to plantations across the empire to supply agricultural manpower. This was a system whereby the prospective laborers agreed to work for a determined period of time in return for their cost of passage, basic accommodation and a small wage. Mauritius became the focus of the Great Experiment.
It soon became clear that a permanent depot for immigration was required and the complex now refered to as the Aappravasi (immigrant) Ghat (place where water meets the land) was commenced in 1849 and it was subsequently expanded up to 1857 when all the available land had been occupied. The facility could deal with up to 1000 prospective laborers at any one time. The stay was 2 days to allow checks on suitabiity, medical checks and the carrying out of administrative proceedures including photographing, registering, allocation to estates, checks during their period of work and re-embarkation for return at the end of the period. The contracts were comprehensive and provided details of their terms of employment, general living standards, type of work, wages, working hours, rations, housing and medical care. By the end of indentured immigration an estimated 450,000 indentured laborers from India had passed through the Aapravasi Ghat. The totals were about 2 million world wide of which 1.2 million were from India. The indenture system had served it pupose by the early 1920s, and after 1923 the buildings were put to other uses but little was left by the 1970s. Much has been excavated and preserved, the remaining buildings conserved and rebuilt with traditional materials including a unique lime mortar and there is already quite a lot to see on the site including the hospital block bathing areas privvies etc and the steps through which every labourer arrived and eventually left. We must have spent nearly an hour looking round, reading the comprehensive boards and taking some pictures.
We spent so much time that we could not go back into the old town but we did look inside the Postal Museum which is in the Old Post Office building nearby. Mauritius is famous for its stamps, and the museum was close to the Ghat but was a significant cost to visit and we did not have the time to do it justice.
Durban is the main town in Kwazulu-Natal, it was renamed from Natal to reflect the dominance of Zulu people and culture in the region. This is our third visit to Durban, on our first visit in 2002 we saw little of Durban itself as we took a tour to one of the game reserves. The Tala game reserve visit was one of the highlights of that cruise visit and would have been worth repeating but was already heavily booked before we got on board and was in a shortened form. It will be clear at a later point in this write up that we were not very impressed with Durban itself so I have pasted in details of the Tala game reserve from our last visit so readers can see the good side of Durban as a destination as well as the rather disappointing view we present later.We had an excellent 2 hour safari. Much of our visit was on rough dusty tracks, with a few exciting detours across the rough scrubland to get closer to the animals. With dust-filled eyes we bid the place farewell and headed back directly to the ship.
This time we took the Cunard shuttle bus to the uShaka Marine World as the advice on board was that walking through downtown Durban was very risky although the maps indicated we were not far from the waterfront area of the port with its marinas, restaurants, museums and Art Deco buildings. Last visit we had observed groups on corners drinking clear liquid from coke bottles and people sleeping on the grass, combined with very few people walking around tended to confirm the advice that there was a region we did not wish to transit on foot. This time we could not see any obvious way to even leave the port area on foot.
The uShaka Marine World is described as an "African Themed Village offering Free Entrance" which was far from anything a Zulu would recognise and a water based theme park which I suspect could have been anywhere in the world although we have to admit we have never had the urge to visit one anywhere in the world. We walked through the shops past some suited singers and musicians and out to a wide promenade along a fine beach which is known as the Golden Mile although it is actually nearly 6 kms long. It has a number of piers and is a safe feeling area with lots of hotels overlooking it. Construction work at the seafront hospital, and the burnt-out buildings next door, encouraged us not to loiter in that area, but further along the promenade was clean, tidy, and with families out for a stroll. There were areas of beach marked out for swimming with lifeguards and long stretches marked for dedicated use by surfers. There was an area marked off where there was a serious competition under way but we never got to understand the rules.
We were somewhat constrained as we had been told there were exchange facilities at uShaka but they did not exist, perhaps because it was a Saturday when all banks close early. There were plenty of ATM's but again the advice had been to leave all credit cards, expensive jewelry and watches on board so we just had Sterling and Dollars. We walked down the water front for a few kilometers (it is marked up for runners) and came to a second information office where we were first advised to walk back to uShanka to change money. Then after a series of phone calls the suggestion was to take the People Mover bus into the centre where there should be an exchange open. This is where one began to see how friendly people were - we pointed out we had no local money and the girl immediately gave us enough from her own purse and took a lot of convincing to take a generous amount of dollars in exchange. We walked over to the bus stop and again were offered advice and information from what turned out to be one of the bus company inspectors. We enquired about the safety of walking the bus route as it did not look far and he had reservations and pointed out that every bus stop had its own (probably armed) security guard protecting it! He did however tell us of a nearby bottle store which would change money which we walked along the water front to - by the time we got there we found he had driven round to make sure we were safe and had found it. A country, or town anyway, of great contrasts - very friendly yet very dangerous.
Next time we will get straight off the shuttle bus and buy a day pass on the People Mover bus which starts from the drop-off point at uShanka. A day ticket only costs 16 rand, and we can then move easily from safe area to safe area. We regretted not visiting the city centre which has fine municipal buildings and Colonial-style buildings, and the popular Victoria Street Market. The waterfront, also easily accessed by the People Mover buses, had beaches, cafes and gave views of the ship.
Unfortunately it is just too far from Durban to our next port, Port Elizabth, for an overnight voyage, and the Queen Mary 2 chugged along at 11 knots so we had one day at sea. This had an advantage; it was a formal night and the lady winemaker, NAME, from Graham Beck had embarked in Durban and was hosting another special Todd English Wine Dinner. On previous visits we had purchased Cap Classique from South Africa, and Graham Beck is one of the better wine producers and his wines are available in the UK too.
In the next part the journey continues to Port Elizabeth and on to Cape Town, both in South Africa
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