Pacific Dawn Cruise (5-12 Jan 2013)

P&O Pacific Dawn Cruise Route

P&O Pacific Dawn Cruise Route

I’m back from my Xmas and New Year break for a new year. Yay me!

This post is a collection of rather stream of consciousness notes I made during my cruise around New Caledonia and Vanuatu. I’m not promising any depth or profundity – just a bunch of thoughts that struck me at the time and were recorded thanks to the portability of tablet PCs.

Links to photos will be edited in as soon as I can knock them into some kind of shape.

Day One – Leaving Brisbane

Crowds, crowds, customs officers, crowds. I hate crowds. A crowd is a slow-moving, aimless and inherently stupid creature. All crowds should be culled for the benefit of the gene pool.

The cabin is remarkably roomy, well-appointed and comfy. The crew is lovely and terribly attentive. One couldn’t ask for a better hotel room.

Everything on the ship looks like its been painted over to hide the rot. There is a constant battle on board between sun and salt on the one hand and the continuing integrity of the ship on the other. In the end, entropy is destined to win however the valiant but ultimately futile efforts to postpone its victory must be applauded.

There is nothing to be seen from horizon to horizon. We are the only thing in existence. For a 70,000 ton ship, this thing rocks like a roller coaster in slow motion. The sea is calm and blue-grey but the wind is rough as guts.

Day Two – All At Sea

Salt has crystallized on all exposed external surfaces. Early morning crew chores include wiping away this salt crust and picking up empty beer bottles.

I suspect there’s a whole ‘nother cruise going on in the 18-30 age group which is much more like a Carry On movie. Thankfully, my cruise and theirs only intersect on deck around happy hour.

Running around the jogging track is much easier in one direction than the other. The wind has built up sufficient momentum between South America and here and nothing is gonna stand in its way. It’s not a high wind as such but it’s constant and has a mass to it unlike anything I’ve experienced on land.

I’m feeling a little odd. I’m not seasick – I know well what that feels like – but confined. There an undercurrent of waiting, waiting, waiting.

It’s Henry’s birthday. He’s two years old today. He’s packed so much living into twenty-four months and is a real lesson to me in how to live. We’re throwing him a party at lunchtime.

The crew pay Henry much attention, especially those who let slip that their kids are about his age. It’s gotta be tough being away from your family and isolated on the endless ocean for months at a stretch.

As much as I love my nieces and nephews, hell is other people’s children.

In the middle of the ocean, there are more stars in the sky than anywhere else on the planet. I know it’s a cliché but you can almost touch them.

Day Three – Noumea, New Caledonia

Greeted by native dancers at the gate. We could see them from our balcony as the ship was tying up. The checking of credentials and passes to exit the ship and walking off into the middle of an open dockyard immediately struck me as a new way to present Traveller RPG material. Traveller now makes more sense.

Noumea definitely looks French, if you ignore all the palm trees. It has a real French feel to it. Although, I find it surprising that for an island which survives on tourism, the shops still close at 5pm. That’s very French.

Went to the supermarche just on dusk to see what was about. I picked up an issue of Adele Blanc-sec comic. Kathi bought proper drinking chocolate (which does not exist anywhere else in the world but France). We also bought another imagier for Henry to accompany the one bought for him by some French mates. This one is full of sea creatures and their French names.

Nana was minding henry so we had a night to ourselves. Couldn’t find a taxi or a restaurant nearby despite asking a few locals (and having a couple of good conversations with them in French) so we went back on board to the fancy restaurant on deck. Licorice parfait with lime coulis is the yum.

Day Four – Lifou, New Caledonia

Anchored in a beautiful bay. Crystal clear green water hiding a floor of broken coral pieces worn smooth by constant wave action.

Our tropical getaway has been actually rather cool and overcast. Is this normal?

We transferred to Lifou by tender; there’s no dock for us here so we anchoring the bay and use the ships boats.

We jump in minivans and meander through the dodgy island roads to the vanilla drying house. Local animals kept in pens possibly for our benefit only: coconut crabs, snakes, fruit bats (good eating, apparently), and captured wild pigs. The local ladies show us how to make a good trap to capture the pigs. We’re shown the vanilla drying and preparation process before tasting lots of local vanilla cakes and vanilla liquor – a little like cough medicine but very yummy. Henry loves the local vanilla cake – very much like a donut but a stick rather than round.

We had lunch on the beach – sausages and baguette – then went for a swim. Henry dug holes in the beach which filled up when the waves hit. This disconcerted his greatly. I walked up to the church of Notre Dame de la Mare about a mile away. There’s a scary looking native carving of her at the start of the church grounds. She’ll definitely be keeping the evil spirits away.

Met the captain and senior crew at a cocktail reception in the evening. Very enjoyable. Chatted with most of the seniors and their wives. My faux pas for the evening was when it was revealed she was the captains wife – “I thought blokes went to sea to get away from their wives?”

Leaving port. Slow but inexorable progress. 19 knots is approx 35 km/h. Does seems like much until you realize the ship never stops at sea. That means 35km/h is 850-odd km in 24 hours.

Day Five – Vila, Vanuatu

Nana babysitting once more as Kathi and I go snorkeling in a glass bottom boat. The reef in the harbour seems half dead. Lots of fish around the isolated islands of living coral but little anywhere else. We took lots of photos with the underwater camera. My right ear wouldn’t clear when diving down to the bottom, probably around 6m deep. Want to go snorkeling a lot more. It’s great fun. May even go diving again.

Afternoon largely spoilt by the crazy sister-in-law flipping out her paranoid delusions of familial persecution. Henry and me having a snooze. Kathi is sitting on our balcony with the camera. We’re too tired and shook up to take another shore tour.

Feels odd dropping into a port for a dozen or so hours. Not enough time for other than a short walk or taxi trip somewhere. Couldn’t really be bothered.

Vila is a good-looking city, from what I’ve seen. People drive n the right but all the signs re in English. People speak to each other in the local language and/or pidgin. This place is the firs really mixed culture we’ve seen so far. Others were definitely French. Vanuatu is a true cultural melange.

Day Six – At Sea

Bloody hell. The slo-mo roller coaster action is back. Feeling a little wobbly but not as bad as last time. A day of lying around or pottering about.

Captains cocktail reception. Bigger than the previous do with many more people invited. Not sure how the invitations are allocated. Lucky door prizes, etc.

Henry and I went to bed while Kathi went to see a show – just or the costumes she says.

Day Seven – At Sea

Up at 4am local to go or a run and watch the sunrise. Surprised at how well the knee is holding up. Walk 4-5 long circuits and run 3 short circuits (250m long, 160m short for a total of 1500-1750m). May do some more later or may just spend time in the pool.

Not much going on today. Just winding down the clock until we dock tomorrow and can go home. I’m longing to stand on a surface which doesn’t sway under my feet. Room service and merchandising are the order of the day.

Chasing Henry around the deck to wear him out. We both have a good nap afterwards.

Packing up in preparation for tomorrow. All luggage must be collected before 9pm for bulk unloading tomorrow.

Day Eight – Disembarkation

A final breakfast with the family then off the boat. We breeze through customs, pick up the car and head home. Now I start feeling seasick … on dry, solid land. How does that happen?