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World Cruise 2013 - part 6
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Walvis Bay is Namibia's biggest harbour town, and the only sheltered deep-water port on this coast. Namibia declared independence from South Africa in 1990 but this did not include Walvis Bay, and it was only in 1994 that it became part of Namibia. The town has 50,000 residents, and the bay and its associated lagoon is an important coastal wetland. The bay is 40 kms long and is a major fish processing and export harbour. It was once famous for its whales, and Walvis is the Dutch word for whale. We did not want to repeat our tour in 2002 to the Oyster Farm and Salt works, and had decided to just walk around the town and go down to the lagoon.
QM2 is a large ship and Walvis Bay is a commercial port. The dock area had a number of hazards, with stacks of containers and railway tracks everywhere, and it was not clear how to exit on foot so we caught a shuttle bus, which was almost ready to depart, to the commercial district. Outside the dock gates was the local craft market. There were lots of wooden pieces, including some nice carved chairs and giraffes and hippos of all sizes. Last time we admired the plump hippos, and wondered whether to purchase one at $10. This time we were rushed past on the shuttle but planned to stop and look on the way back. From the dock gate it was not far along 13th street, then along Nangolo Mbumba Drive, passing the Library and Civic Centre, and parking in front of the Pick n Pay supermarket in Theo Ben Guirab Street. Avoiding the friendly taxi drivers we turned north, towards the Lagoon. The town is laid out in a grid pattern, with numbered streets parallel to the coast and orthogonal to numbered roads, so it was easy to follow our progress on the map. The central shopping area had wide streets, few vehicles, and people were friendly. We said "Good morning" to everyone we passed and always got a friendly "Hello" or "Welcome to Namibia" in return.
Large numbers of birds use the wetlands as feeding and resting grounds. We knew from our previous visit that we would find thousands of flamingos feeding on the mud flats, and it is a spectacular sight. Some 80% to 90% of the southern African sub-region's flamingos have been found to winter here. We also hoped to see pelicans. There is a footpath along the lagoon and the local houses are very nice, usually single story and sometimes with a thatched roof. Everything was clean, the grass was mown, and new houses were being built. We walked along the lagoon passing thousands of pink and gray flamingos. Some were flying in a line, others were stamping their feet in a group and seemed to move like a liquid.
We turned the corner where a trickle of fresh water entered the lagoon, next to the information centre. The footpath ended at the main road from the Salt works to the port, and although it was Saturday lorries full of salt passed us in one direction, returning empty. The Salt works covers 2800 hectares of the wetlands and supply most of South Africa's salt. We continued for another 3 kms until we were close enough to the Salt works to take a photo, then turned back.
We had spare time so walked all the way along the Esplanade to the Protea Hotel and the Yacht Club, and saw just one pelican. On our last visit there were two pelicans in the same place. The other side of the entry to the lagoon is Pelican Point, so that must be their home.
Instead of catching the shuttle bus we decided to walk back to the ship. There was a choice of route but Fifth Street ran alongside the dock area, with nice bungalows on one side, and was most direct. We glimpsed the QM2 the other side of the fence and beyond the railway wagons. Pauline stopped at the African Market but the large chairs had been sold and there were no postcards or T-shirts. Foreign currency is accepted, but only US Dollars, Euros and Sterling. People were negotiating hard for bargains everywhere, and almost everyone seemed to have two or three giraffes under their arm when they got back on board. We were back for a late lunch after a total walk of about ten miles (on top of Pete's hour on the cross trainer before breakfast), and were too tired to go out again for just souvenir shopping as all the proper shops close at 1300 on a Saturday.
Todd English is an award winning celebrity chef with a number of respected restaurants in America and he is the author of several cookbooks. His first venture at sea was in 2004 on the QM2, and the alternative dining restaurant on the Queen Victoria is his second Todd English restaurant at sea although we understand there are plans to replace it with Zimmermann's Verandah restaurant as on the Queen Elizabeth. Todd English has "a contemporary and innovative approach to Mediterranean-inspired fare that combines comfort-food with a deliberate sense of style". When the Queen Victoria made her maiden visit to Boston he came on board; unfortunately we were off sightseeing so did not see him. One of his restaurants is at the Faneuil Hall in Boston.
Lunch is a simple three course meal. It begins well, with a selection of breads and tapanades. Service is always good on Cunard ships but it is exceptional in Todd English, to the standard of the Grills. Unfortunately some of our favourite starters such as the signature Maine crab cake is now only available on the Evening menu as is the Mediterranean paella which is full of mussels, clams, giant prawns, a little lobster tail and a chicken leg, all on top of spicy rice with chorizo sausage. The signature Chocolate Fallen Cake is still available but is now a very dark chocolate which Pete does not like rather than the white chocolate fallen cake with bitter chocolate mousse and raspberry ice cream which used to be available. Pauline however is an even greater fan and has it every time whilst the Fresh Blueberry Cobbler Pete finds excellent.The pictures below show our choices in a meal on the last World Cruise.
The "Crossing the Line Ceremony" dates back to the 13th century. The excitement of sailing into the southern part of the world became a special event, commemorated in a quasi-religious mythological play involving King Neptune and his court judging those who were "crossing the line" for the first time. The Cunard modern day ceremony contains a speech by King Neptune which was originally made in 1393 and the Captain, Hotel manager and senior staff always take part.
These initiations take Pollywogs and initiate them as Shellbacks. The applicants are called forward from a roll and accused of various crimes and, in the past, passengers who are Pollywogs are usually just invited to kiss the fish ( a large Yellowtail Tuna or sometimes a Salmon) and then step into the swimming pool. They are then Shellbacks. Staff are dealt with differently, involving spaghetti and coloured sauces, as well as kissing the fish. This time most passengers had the full treatment. Highlights of the staff in 2013 included the new junior Doctor who had turned up in his full uniform to watch being instructed by the senior doctor to take part - he did manage to get his white shoes off and his stripes were removed at the last minute before he was given an extra thorough dousing and the fish inserted into his clothing.
This is always one of the big events during the world cruise. There are usually three classes, Male, Female and mixed but in this case there was a shortage of females so a few ladyboys seem to have been tolerated, perhaps even encouraged!. The other feature is that teams in fancy dress are also encouraged and separately judged on dress. Historically the strongest teams have always been from the engineers but on the Queen Mary 2 the Entertainment Staff and Waiters have done well in recent years. Our waiter in dinner stands 6' 6" and is a key member of the waiter's team and another waiter we know from King's Court and also in the team is even taller at 6' 8" so our support was obvious. The engineers were knocked out by the entertainment staff, somewhat to our surprise but the waiters prevailed in the final and took first place for the third year running and were awarded a specially prepared plaque. It was unfortunately a very windy day so the attendance was not as high as usual but it did give us a chance to get some interesting pictures for our team and a few character shots which follow.
During the days at sea there are often specialty areas set up by the chefs which often prepare food on the spot. Crepes, Banana Ice-cream specialties, Crispy Spiced Prawns, Cup Cake extravaganzas, Chocolate Extravaganzas with chocolate fountains and most recently a Cheese Cake Factory surrounded by ice carvings.
"An afternoon of fun and frivolity as the Queens Room is converted into a Traditional Country Fayre" in support of the charities the QM2 supports. The Fayre was opened by the Captain Kevin Oprey with a performance from the QM2 choir mostly comprised of passengers. There were many traditional Fairground games including slicing carrots dropped down an angled tube with a large cook's knife, Skittles and hoopla over Champaign bottles. The Bridge team was present to explain the arcane arts of navigation using sextant, telescope and chart but most came for bargains on the second hand clothing rails where passengers had given up on ever stretching the cloths to fit - all cloths shrink at an alarming rate on Cunard cruises. The afternoon teas normally served in the Queens room only occupied a small area and had a $3 surcharge to charity.
We had an excursion to visit the Angostura Valley and the Bandama crater on our first visit so we decided to walk round the old part of the town round the Cathedral of Santa Ana as we had done last time, the only difference being we decided to catch the local Bus (Line 1) rather than have the one and a half hour walk as it was very hot already when we got off the ship. The QM2 moored at the Cruise Terminal at the Muelle Santa Catalina and the port is at the northern end of Las Palmas, a long straggling town. The port is quite close to the Playa de Las Canteras across a narrow peninsula. The Playa de Las Canteras is probably the best of the local beaches as is protected by a coral reef which protects it from the surf and provides safe swimming. The mile and a half long beach is lined by a wide promenade with many cafes and bars - a favourite of the staff we understand, especially a Chinese Restaurant providing an unlimited buffet.
We went ashore as soon as the ship had cleared immigration facilities and started off walking across to the bus station which is just passed the Technical Museum and caught it to 'Teatro' which is on the edge of the old Vegueta district which has the Cathedral and Museums. We passed the lush semi-tropical grounds where we had taken pictures of a nice looking hotel, the Hotel Catalina, for a possible future visit and then passed the San Telmo Park with its novel kiosks which is adjacent to the bus station where we planned to pick up the bus on our return. We walked up from the Teatre Perez Galdos, the bus terminus, to the old Vegueta district.
We started off at the Cathedral de Santa Ana which was open and mass was almost finished so we stood at the back - a sung service is rare these days. The cathedral was started in 1500 and took 4 centuries to complete which has led to it having three distinct architectural styles as well as many other variations as it progressed. Last visit one of the Bishops is the process of fast track beatification (being given the status of a Saint) - his body is remarkably well preserved and is on display in a glass paneled coffin in a side chapel but this time there was no sign so presumably it has been achieved although we could find nothing on the internet. We found the associated museum was also interesting last time and during week days the only way into the Cathedral seems to be to pay the €3 each for the museum.
We walked round the area in particular, admiring the Andalusian style balconies on the old buildings. We walked through the Plaza Santa Ana where we saw the Bishop's House and the birthplace of Don Jose de Viera y Clavijo. The town hall is at one end and the cathedral at the other. There are two sets of bronze dogs at the Cathedral end which have been turned green since our last visit; these 'canes' gave their name to the Canary Islands.
We walked a short distance down the road to visit the Museo Canaria, 4 and 2 euros each but well worth it. There are many exhibits covering the early inhabitants of the Canaries including models of there dwellings made of stone without mortar and roofs made of stone slabs and soil - a cross between a house and a cave. Perhaps the most memorable and famous exhibits are of mummies. The ancient Canarians preserved their dead by desiccation followed by wrapping of the body in a shroud made of layers of rush matting and pelts. A number of remarkably well preserved corpses are on display in a room also walled with cabinets holding thousands of sculls. There are x-ray pictures of the 'mummies' showing details of the bone structure indicating the age and often causes of death. There are also models reproducing the burial mounds and burial caves. When they are viewed the lights in the room are dimmed to increase the realism.
We continued past the small chapel of San Antonio Abad where Columbus heard mass before continuing to discover America and again a mass was just completing so we were able to slip in and take a few pictures - it was closed on our last visit.
The next visit was to the Casa de Colon which includes the original Governor's House where Columbus stayed when he put into port to repair one of his ships on his way to The New World. There are enclosed courtyards and over a dozen rooms of exhibitions including details of all Columbus's journeys to The Americas which all stopped at the Canaries as a staging point for provisions and water. The archipelago is ideally sited for navigation to the west because of Trade Winds and favourable currents making it also a market for goods and a source of emigrants. It took us a while to look round as there are not only the two floors round the courtyard but also a large crypt which also seems to be the home of two huge parrots which are known for their trick of sliding down the banisters. Entry was reasonable for old people and students such as Pauline at 2 euro although they did protest students were supposed to be younger but gave in when they were told it was a law degree!
We walked back to the San Telmo Park to the bus station. We got off the bus as it came close to the Playa Las Canteras and had a quick walk along the promenade - it was a bit late for a swim. It looked very pleasant with a long and broad stretch of fine yellow sand with a reef visible close inshore to protect it from the surf. There were plenty of pleasant looking bars and restaurants on the promenade with outside tables overlooking the beach. The beach, this time, was very full it being a hot weekend but we spent an hour on the sands to give Pete time for a swim then walked along the promenade to the end to get some pictures back along the beach before returning to the ship at about 1630. The big display thermometer had read 37 degrees so we were quite glad to cool down.
The story is now almost over and the last part will cover Funchal in Madeira and Vigo in Spain both destinations we have been to many times before.