Embarkation Day to Walvis Bay - fun in the dunes!

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May 8th 2016
Published: June 26th 2017
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Cape Town to Walvis Bay

It had been blowing a gale all night so it was no surprise when we went down for breakfast that the terrace where we had breakfasted the previous two days was closed and all the residents were enjoying their repast inside. This freak of nature is what is referred to as the sou'wester. The phenomenon is that the winds are not constant. There is calm before a gust of wind suddenly catches you off guard and it's then a case of 'hold on to your toupee!!' These gusts can be anything up to 50 or 60 mph.

We settled the hotel bill and ordered a taxi to take us to the cruise terminal. 15 minutes later and £3.80 paid to the taxi driver we arrived at the departure lounge. The wind was still coming and going. The table cloth was slowly moving across Table Mountain so any further trips to the summit at this moment in time would be suspended.

The commotion outside the terminal building was chaos, and not the organised type either!! Clusters of bags were strewn around the entrance. We could only see one MSC rep on duty outside the departure hall. Several people were completing some paper work so, pushing my way to the front of the crowd I managed to secure an extra label for our luggage and a couple of the forms that everyone seemed to be completing. These where departure forms that had to be passed to immigration before boarding the ship. I overheard one of the other passengers told to leave their luggage with a batch of other bags and cases that were now starting to be moved by an army of porters. We followed suit and dropped out luggage off at this point.

There was a long queue of several hundred eager passengers that was six or seven deep waiting in line for check in. This is when I decided to pull rank. I asked one of the MSC reps who had just appeared where the priority boarding for Black card holders was. She told us to move one of the crowd control barriers and pointed to another door. This took us to a separate line. Beckoned to the next available check in counter, there then followed the usual procedures: photo, passport, immigration, security and we were finally on board. The whole process had taken less than 10 minutes. Apartheid is all but a distant memory in these parts however, this is one occasion when ‘black' segregation has its benefits!!

On boarding the ship we were greeted by that familiar MSC smell!! There is a very distinct, not unpleasant odour that lingers in the ether aboard all MSC ships. This is their own special blend known as Med by MSC. They gently infuse their lounges, linen and wash room soaps with what they refer to as the wonderful smell of the Mediterranean. The aroma can only be described as a mix of fresh and fruity with a hint of almond and fig that goes to create their own special fragrance. Givenchy it's not, but it certainly makes our return to an MSC ship feel like we're home!!

After the traditional welcome aboard photo which we couldn't dip out of, we passed some temporary desks that had been set up by which members of the Lotus Spa, excursions desk, drinks and beverages team where on hand should we wish to book a Bali massage, a drinks package or official trip at one of the ports of call. We had decided to book three excursions on this voyage:
Welcome to the Namib Dunes 2016!Welcome to the Namib Dunes 2016!Welcome to the Namib Dunes 2016!

These were collected iron deposits mixed in the sand and then used to write messages.
Gorée Island in Dakar, Senegal. This is an island off the coast of Dakar which was the processing point for slaves before they were dispersed to the New World. Normally we would not hesitate to do this trip under our own steam but I don't know enough about the efficiency of the Senegalese transport system to trust them with getting us to and from the island. Furthermore, I hear from friends who have been there tell us that tourists are easy targets for hawkers and con men, taxi drivers and generally those who want your money! We plan on a trip in Malta. Roisin has not been to this Mediterranean island before and there is a three centre tour which will give her a good perspective of island life. As we are in port for some time we can still spend the afternoon exploring the delights of Valetta, Malta's capital city. But our first excursion will be in a few days time in our initial port of call, Walvis Bay, Namibia where we plan to go quad biking!!

MSC ships are all themed in as much as the names of the decks reflect the ships name. For example, the MSC Sinfonia (Symphony in Italian) has deck names of classical composers who have at least one symphony to their name. Decks are named: Sibelius, Mozart, Bach, Debussy etc… The MSC Opera: Verdi deck, Puccini deck, Mozart (again – he was very versatile!) deck, Bizet deck. MSC Poesia (Poetry) have the names of poets. You get the picture?

Next year MSC are launching a new ship called MSC Seaside. I wonder what the decks will be called: Donkey ride deck perhaps; bucket and spade deck maybe; deck chair deck even; how about I've caught crabs in the rock pool but next time I'll be more careful deck??!! The list is endless with many creative possibilities!!

In our cabin we found the welcome edition of the Daily Programme. As the name suggests, this gives us information about the ship, what entertainment is on and also special offers on certain purchases. On the front of the sheet was a notice advising passengers that due to an early departure, embarkation had been moved forward to 10:30am. It was now 12:45. It would have been useful to have had this information prior to embarkation!!

A public address announcement was made to notify all passengers that muster had been delayed from 14:15 to 14:45. Muster is a safety drill which by law must be partaken by ALL passengers who on the sound of seven sharp blasts and one long blast of the ships whistle have to proceed to their muster station carrying a life jacket.

This is not looking good', said Roisin. ‘I can't see us leaving on time as those winds are pretty strong'. All cruise lines have a TV channel dedicated to the position of the ship and other navigational information as well as introducing the senior officers. We refer to it as the captain's blog. The blog currently stated the wind speed to be 53km/h whilst the outside temperature was 23C/73F. Sure enough, a few minutes after muster, the announcement came that due to high winds our departure had been indefinitely delayed. It wasn't the only thing that was delayed. Our luggage didn't make it to our cabin until 6pm.

After a six hour delay, Captain Paolo Russo decided it was safe to set sail at 9pm.Tomorrow is a navigation day, meaning a full day at sea. We are scheduled to arrive in Walvis Bay, Namibia at 9am the day after so we have a full day to make up some time. Full steam ahead, Mr Bo'sun!!

There was no organised entertainment on the first evening. This is not unusual as most of the guests are tired from travelling and anything organised would probably be poorly attended. However, there was still ‘live' music in many of the lounges on board. Having had the pleasure of Bernie Flint and the bearded one from the Tumbleweeds resigned to eking out a living entertaining us on previous cruises, so far none of the advertised acts on this voyage seem to be associated with having been famous in the 70s or indeed any other musical decade which I know will come as a disappointment to at least one reader although I believe we are due for a changeover of artistes around Gran Canaria so read on...

On our first day out from Cape Town we spent the time familiarising ourselves with the lay out of the ship. This was mainly indoor as the temperature only reached 57F (15C) and the pool and sun decks were pretty deserted. Whilst Roisin registered for the series of Arts and Crafts lessons I set about registering for the on board Wi-Fi. I was disappointed that, despite being advertised as Wi-Fi available throughout the ship they forgot to put in the caveat, ‘except cabin 1063!' This was most annoying. I managed to register whilst sat in one of the lounges; a terrible inconvenience. I popped down to customer services to vent my frustration. I was advised that someone will be in touch.

Our first day out from Cape Town and this evening was a Gala Evening. In the Daily programme, the recommended dress code is stated for each evening; from Casual to Informal through to Gala. This is the Tuxedo or dinner jacket evening. It is not compulsory but if you don't wish to ‘play ball' as many don't, the restaurant is out of bounds and dining has to be restricted to the buffet. We understand there will be four Gala evenings on this cruise. It is likely that we probably won't ‘play ball' with at least one of them!! Prior to dinner, we received chocolate covered fruit and a bottle of Prosecco in our cabin. This so happens to be another ‘black' card perk although the gift used to be chocolate covered strawberries and a bottle of champagne. Now we have one chocolate covered strawberry, two pineapple and seven melon pieces. As Roisin doesn't like melon it was up to me to show our appreciation by scoffing the lion's share of these treats!!

Everyone is allocated a table in one of the dining rooms either on first sitting or second sitting. This evening we took our table (of four) in the Il Covo restaurant on the early sitting of 6pm and were shortly joined by Dave and Hanlie. This was the first time we had met them as yesterday we ate in the buffet for convenience. Hanlie is Afrikaans whilst Dave was born in the UK but has lived in South Africa for over forty years. They now live about 100km east of Cape Town and are both retired lecturers. Hanlie's subject is Afrikaans and music and Dave, a history lecturer. We were served by a pleasant and accommodating Indonesian waiter called Agus Putra. What a marvellous name although it sounds like it should belong to a character from Willy Wonka than a waiter on an MSC ship!!

10pm and the first quiz of the voyage. We were all crammed into the compact area known as the Sinfonia lounge. Roisin and I came join winners with 9/10 and for our trouble won…nada, nowt, bugger all! The quiz master, Brendan, explained that from tomorrow, everyone who wins the quiz will receive a voucher. These will then be able to be exchanged for prizes at the end of the voyage. There will be no tie breaks. Everyone will receive a voucher regardless of the number of winners. With that he was gone.

One of the guests sitting next to me leaned over and with a mild American accent asked us what we won. Introducing Dave and Lynne. Lynne's family are originally from St Helens, 7 miles or so from our own home. Dave is originally from Yonkers in New York City. They both now call home London in the UK. Lynne and Dave scored only one less than us so we invited them to join forces in our quest to win as many cheap ‘ship' prizes as we can over the next three weeks or so!

Tonight the clocks went back one hour so now, despite still being over 5000 miles from home, we are on the same time as the UK.

We were woken just before 8am by an announcement coming from a small speaker located in our cabin. Normally, public announcements are not received in the cabin but on certain occasions (for example muster) which are deemed too important, messages are received direct in to the cabin via a smaller speaker mounted on the deck head (ceiling in land lubber language!!) of the cabin to ensure key messages are not missed: ‘Mike Echo Mike Echo. Medical Team to cabin 8523'. We were both perplexed as to why this announcement was piped in to all cabins. Mike Echo we guessed must stand for Medical Emergency. If the medical team had been called on their walkie-talkie we'd be none the wiser but as we now know there is an ME aboard, we need to know what the problem is. If we are left to speculate then by tonight all sort of rumours will be floating about (quite literally!) I'm happy to start them if required!!

There is only 5mm rainfall per year in Namibia but 188 days of fog. We had arrived on one of those 188 days. On drawing back the curtains we couldn't even see the ocean below. If we hadn't have heard the sloshing of the waves against the hull of the ship and the gentle vibration of the turbines that turned the propellers as it gracefully made its way toward out first port of call, you would think that we drifting aimlessly somewhere south of the equator.

We were due to dock in Walvis Bay at 9am. In the past day and a bit we had gained four hours. We finally tied up alongside at 11am. With the fog now all but cleared, Roisin and I looked out from the balcony. We were facing out toward the open sea and found ourselves staring at 20-30 ships moored offshore. They were in no specific formation or order, like some dishevelled task force waiting for the signal to invade! The last time we saw this spectacle was in the Great Bitter Lake in the Suez Canal where vessels sailing from the North and vessels sailing from the South congregated before continuing on their journey.

Everyone who went ashore today had to personally present themselves to the Namibian Immigration Authority for passport control. Our excursion involved a quad bike and at least two sand dunes!! When I originally saw the advert Fun in the dunes I expected to be handed a bucket and spade and a beach ball. That would have done me. I would have been perfectly happy sitting with my knotted handkerchief on my head building sand castles in the middle of the Namib dessert!

Our guide who met us on the quay was born of German parents, educated in the UK but lived in Namibia which used to be a German colony once upon a time. There were only eight of us signed up for this excursion. Six of them gave the impression that they were adrenalin junkies. We recognised two of the guests as the man and wife acrobats from the previous night's show. I hope they don't start any balancing tricks or chucking juggling skittles to each other whilst on their quad bike. We were escorted to a mini bus and once all aboard set off to the quad bike depot!

Our host was doing her best to tell us a little about the surrounding area of Walvis Bay and Namibia as a country. The Namib dessert is a UNESCO world heritage site. I'm not altogether sure how you can protect a million square miles of sand. As it's always shifting, it's constantly on the move. Our hostess then asked if anyone knew what the name Walvis means? Blank faces stared back at her.

OK, I'll tell you', she said. ‘It has something to do with Whales!!' (or she could have meant Wales – she didn't really clarify!!) And that was it. The extent of her local knowledge. She could have at least made something up!!

On the twenty minute drive through the dessert road, there were lots of newly built villas; mainly small detached properties that had been rendered in a sort of dark brown and cream colour. These were holiday home for those who could afford a place by the sea. They didn't look fully occupied at present as there did not appear to be many cars parked in the vicinity.

We arrived at Daredevil Adventures where we met our quad bike instructor. Our Namibian hostess's job was done for the time being; to deliver us safely. That was the easy part. Our new guide had to keep us safe!!

He looked closely at each one of our heads in turn and handed an appropriately sized crash helmet. Spot on every time even with my oversized 7¼ bonce!! He then took us through a series of dos and don‘ts (but mainly don'ts!!) We have to remain in single file about 10 metres apart. No standing whilst driving. No texting whilst driving. No taking selfies whilst driving. No wheelies or doughnuts. At this point I shouted out: ‘What about Eccles cakes??' The guide looked at me and just said quite calmly and with a pan expression: ‘I don't know what that is!!'

The quad bikes were in two rows of four and we were all shown to a specific bike. The guide explained several hand signals and how to start and stop the bike (most important, I thought!) We started up and in single file followed our leader. I was bringing up the rear although it wasn't long before the gap between the bike in front and my quad grew to about 40 metres. If you have ever seen the episode of the Simpsons where they go go-carting. Marge Simpson is tootling along and all the other members of the family are lapping her every few seconds? I was Marge!!

After ten minutes I was starting to get the hang of it so started to accelerate to catch up with the rest of the group. I took the first dune hill like a pro although later I learned that it wasn't classed as a hill at all. We were still on the relative flat. We were then led along the ridges of some sand dunes, perhaps ten metres in height but our instructor/guide ensured that any drop was reasonably gradual although on one occasion I felt like I was on ‘the Big One' at Blackpool pleasure beach!! I was in two minds as to raise my hands above my head in traditional roller coaster style then realised I still had to steer this thing!

The temperature was ideal. Not too hot. It was only about 68F with a slight breeze. However we still had plenty of stops along the route to take photos and admire the view. I couldn't tell if that was Namibian humour or our guide actually thought rolling sand dunes as far as the eye could see (in all directions) painted a pretty picture!!

On our way back. I started to drift apart from the rest of the group again. My back wheel got stuck on more than one occasion as I tried to run the quad bike up hill. Apparently I wasn't giving the machine enough throttle. Something which, I'm sure the guide would have liked to have done to me for delaying the group!!

Roisin's summary: ‘Something different. It's out of our system now. We've done it. We never have to do it again so let's not talk about it ever and leave it at that…Marge!!'

During our time on the bikes, our hostess must had been googling other facts about Namibia as she seemed more confident on our way back to the ship. This part of Namibia used to belong to South Africa. Apparently the Germans tried to sell Namibia to South Africa but the South Africans only decided to take the strip up to Walvis Bay. They thought it was rich in minerals. It wasn't, so South Africa gave it back!!

Later that evening at dinner, Dave told us that three ambulances were waiting on the quayside when we docked this morning and some luggage had been off loaded. This may have been to do with the Medical Emergency announced yesterday. Furthermore, stories were now starting to filter through that two passengers who had decided to walk in to town passed by several taxis and cars that were scattered around outside the port gate. An unknown assailant had jumped out of the back of a car, snatched the camera from one unsuspecting passenger's grasp and stabbed the other. The lady who had received the knife wound was taken to hospital and nothing more has been heard of since.

Now starts the long journey up the West Coast of Africa. Seven continuous days at sea. That leaves us with plenty of stuff not to do and plenty of time in not to do it!!

Additional photos below
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13th May 2016

hey kids - your guide was clearly a bit thick. "Walvis" is the Dutch/Afrikaans for whale, (i.e. whale-fish, say it in dutch with an f for the v...). Anyway, I see the harbour bay is now sadly full of offshore mining and oil crap rather tha
n whales, more's the pity. Enjoy your African oddysey - very jealous! cheers
14th May 2016

love it!!! Total admiration for the quad biking guys: I don't think I could do it!!
14th May 2016

Thanks Claire. Does commenting twice mean you love it twice as much??!!

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