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AN AFRICA CIRCUMNAVIGATION CRUISE, PART I:
CASABLANCA, MOROCCO TO CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
by Ted Cookson
Published in November 2008
Local musicians perform on Prinsendam while docked at Casablanca, Morocco, 49-second video clip
Local dancers perform on Prinsendam while docked at Casablanca, Morocco, 59-second video clip
Local "grass dancer" performs on the dock in Banjul, The Gambia, 32-second video clip
Local musicians perform on the dock in Banjul, The Gambia, 42-second video clip
Local dancers perform on the dock in Tema (Accra), Ghana, 33-second video clip
Prinsendam and surrounding seas at 00' 00" (at equator and Greenwich or Prime Meridian) south of Ghana, 16-second video clip
Local youth band performs on Prinsendam while docked at Walvis Bay, Namibia, 46-second video clip
Local youth choir performs an entire song on Prinsendam while docked at Walvis Bay, Namibia, 246-second video clip
Birds on boat in harbor in Luderitz, Namibia, 35-second video clip
Sailaway from Luderitz, Namibia, 50-second video clip
Sailing into Cape Town, South Africa, 44-second video clip
Seal on pod of Prinsendam in harbor at Cape Town, South Africa, 22-second video clip
Seals frolicking in harbor at Cape Town, South Africa, 62-second video clip
Table Mountain and the Waterfront from Prinsendam docked in Cape Town, South Africa, 46-second video clip
Baboon on roadside at Stellenbosch near Cape Town, South Africa, 17-second video clip
Local penny whistle player performs on Prinsendam while docked at Cape Town, South Africa, 46-second video clip
Local band and dancers perform on Prinsendam while docked at Cape Town, South Africa, 69-second video clip
Sailaway from Cape Town, South Africa, 35-second video clip
I was fortunate to be able to take a once-in-a-lifetime 73-day Africa circumnavigation cruise with my fiancé Barbara and a number of friends between 11 March and 23 May 2008. Our cruise, on Holland America's elegant 48,000-ton, 793-passenger Prinsendam, began in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and ended in Lisbon, Portugal. The itinerary included Cape Town, South Africa and the Suez Canal. En route the Prinsendam called at a total of 28 ports in 20 countries. Of the ports, 16 were in ten different African states.
This three-part article is adapted from the notes I took during the cruise. The first part will include the ten ports from Casablanca to Cape Town. Part two will deal with the remainder of the African and Indian Ocean ports from Durban, South Africa all the way up to Gabes, Tunisia. Part three will cover the anti-piracy precautions that were taken by our cruise ship while off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden.
The Prinsendam arrived in Casablanca, Morocco's largest city and our first African port of call, on the fourteenth day of the cruise, after an 8 ˝-day transatlantic crossing from the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. The crossing involved six consecutive days at sea followed by a 14-hour port call at Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira, and then a final sea day prior to our arrival in Africa.
In Casablanca Barbara and I visited the magnificent 15-year-old Hassan II Mosque with its retractable roof. This is the world's largest mosque, and it boasts the highest minaret in the world, at 168 meters (551 feet). We also walked in the city center and explored the crowded medina after spending a couple of hours online. Interestingly, internet access in downtown Casablanca cost only US$0.81 an hour compared to the sky-high price of US$0.36 a minute on board the Prinsendam! Some passengers enjoyed a long but interesting 12-hour coach tour to fascinating Fes, Morocco during our port call in Casablanca while others visited exotic Marrakesh and joined the ship the following afternoon at Agadir.
Situated in southern Morocco, Agadir, with its beautiful beaches, has been almost completely rebuilt since the 1960 earthquake which killed 15,000 inhabitants. Since Barbara and I aren't beach bums and since we had already visited Agadir once before, we elected to join a coach tour to the town of Taroudant in the interior this time. While we didn't find much of interest in that oasis, we did enjoy seeing the goats in the trees along the highway. No, the photo that accompanies this article is not "Photoshopped." These goats have learned to climb the local argan trees in order to eat the tasty berries. Weirder still, locals retrieve the resulting goat manure, wash out the undigested argan berry kernels, and grind them down to make an oil which is used as a food additive and applied to the skin!
In cosmopolitan and expensive Dakar, Senegal, built near Africa's westernmost point, Barbara and I shopped both at the artisans' market downtown and on the dock. Unfortunately a big dust storm blew up in the afternoon. In fact, by late in the day it was no longer possible to see the nearby city center from the ship; and on the sail away I could not even see Goree Island as we passed right by it. Once-fortified Goree was where slaves had been imprisoned prior to being loaded onto boats bound for the New World. Nowadays a historical museum on the island traces the history of the practice of slavery. Today some passengers took tours of Goree Island and of modern Dakar.
Laid out in a grid pattern, sleepy Banjul is the capital of Africa's smallest nation. Completely surrounded by Senegal except on its short Atlantic coastline, The Gambia consists of only a narrow strip of land on either side of the Gambia River. Some very colorful and unique dancers and musicians serenaded us at the dock in Banjul as we disembarked. When Barbara and I had arrived in Banjul during a Muslim eid on another cruise in the fall of 2006, the city was quite empty. Consequently the market scene appeared much different this visit. Barbara shopped for African dresses in the quaint Banjul souk.
By the late seventeenth century the region of Ghana in which the port of Takoradi is located was a major slave trading center. We hired a taxi at the port to drive some 32 km (20 miles) west to Fort Metal Cross at Dixcove, a picturesque fishing village. The name of this fort derives from the metal brand used on the slaves which were held there. Fort Metal Cross, built by the British in 1696, is smaller than either Elmina Castle or Cape Coast Castle east of Takoradi. Slaves from Fort Metal Cross were trans-shipped to one of these larger castles before being loaded onto ships bound for the New World. Interestingly, the ancestor of one of the Dutch passengers on the Prinsendam had been the captain of a slaving ship!
During our call at Tema, the port for Accra, Ghana, Barbara and I were treated to lunch at a hotel in downtown Accra by a Ghanaian friend who had served as a diplomat for his country. A Cambridge-trained physicist, during his 16-year diplomatic career our friend was Ghana's ambassador to Cuba, Switzerland and China. We were also introduced to some of his relatives at their homes in Accra and Tema. All in all it was a very "un-touristy" day. Our friend had met such world figures as Fidel Castro, Mao Tse-Tung, Ho Chi Minh and, closer to home, even Malcolm X. I photographed the photos in his living room in Accra where he was pictured with Ho Chi Minh and Malcolm X.
Lome, situated on the border with Ghana, is the capital, chief port and largest city in Togo. The highlight of our visit to Lome was the Musee International du Golfe de Guinee (www.musee-igg.com). This world-class African art museum contains the private collection of Rene David, a Swiss national; and the many artifacts are displayed in his own home which is set up as a museum. Lome is convenient for cruise ship passengers as local vendors are allowed into the port to sell their handicrafts adjacent to the ships. I wound up buying a small carved wooden elephant there.
The afternoon after departing Lome Captain Christopher Turner diverted the Prinsendam 163 km (101 miles) off its charted course in order to cross the 00' 00" line. This is where the prime, or Greenwich, meridian intersects the equator. Not many cruise ships ever venture over to this point south of Ghana. A certificate verifying that we had been at the 00'00" line was prepared and distributed to all passengers.
Upon arrival in Walvis Bay, Namibia Barbara and I shared a van with five other passengers to the seaside resort town of Swakopmund 32 km (20 miles) to the north. In a gift shop there I purchased an interesting trapezoidal lump of malachite roughly 2.5 cm by 2.5 cm by 5 cm (one inch by one inch by two inches) for US$11. My rock is unique because it contains streaks of blue (from copper) in addition to the usual light and dark shades of green that one normally associates with malachite. Large deposits of uranium, copper, tin, lead and silver are found in mineral-rich Namibia.
Later that afternoon back in Walvis Bay I also purchased a painted wooden bird from one of the vendors selling wooden carvings displayed on plastic tarps spread on the ground outside the port gate. Barbara, on the other hand, bought a wooden carving of a mother and baby elephant. As we sailed away from Walvis Bay I spotted a couple of seals swimming parallel to the ship! The cold Benguela Current, which originates in the Antarctic and flows north along the southwestern coast of Africa, is responsible for the desertification of the coastal regions of South Africa and Namibia. The plentiful fish in these cold waters attract seals, African (jackass) penguins and dolphins as well as bird life such as cormorants and flamingos. Crayfish are also caught in Namibian waters.
In the small tidy port of Luderitz, Namibia we enjoyed a stroll. The town contains a number of century-old German imperial style and art nouveau buildings. Luderitz was founded and named for the Bremen merchant who convinced Bismarck to place South West Africa under German protection in 1884. Diamonds were discovered at Kolmanskop, six miles east of Luderitz, in 1908; and mining continued until 1950. When Barbara and I visited Luderitz in 2006 we hired a taxi to go out to tour the now-abandoned but partly-preserved diamond-mining town. Namibia produces about one-third of the world's diamonds.
Beautiful Cape Town, situated under stunning, flat-topped Table Mountain, was our tenth port of call in Africa. The sail into Cape Town's natural harbor is one of the highlights of any cruise. Unfortunately, strong winds forced the closure of the port on the morning of our arrival. This delayed disembarkation at Cape Town by eight hours, until 3 PM.
I had planned to take a taxi out to the Cape Town suburb of Claremont in order to spend a few hours at a stamp dealer there. After Barbara shopped in the morning at downtown Cape Town's open African handicrafts bazaar in Greenmarket Square, we were going to meet at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, South Africa's oldest and largest, which are situated not far from Claremont.
However, because Barbara and I disembarked from the Prinsendam so late in the afternoon, we were forced to abandon our original plans and just hit the ground running. We grabbed a taxi from the Cape Town Waterfront straight to the one-year-old Gold of Africa Museum downtown. From there we walked over to Greenmarket Square where we managed to bargain for a lovely stone bust of an African man and a number of unique handmade wire and bead animals -- now all the rage in South Africa -- as the vendors' stalls were all disassembled around us.
The next day Barbara and I took a coach tour to Boschendal, a wine estate in Stellenbosch dating back to 1685. There the group was offered a private tasting and cellar tour. This was followed by lunch at a restaurant on the Moreson wine farm in historic Franschoek. Later that evening we window shopped in the clothing, home decor and handicraft shops at the Cape Town Waterfront mall.
On our final morning in Cape Town, Barbara revisited Greenmarket Square while I spent some time online. Then we took a taxi to Cape Town's new Holocaust Museum before returning hurriedly to the Waterfront just in time for our noon sailaway from a picture-perfect Cape Town under clear blue skies. It is no wonder that Cape Town is called South Africa's tourist capital!
ABOUT TED COOKSON: Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been
to every country in the world! He has also visited 307 of the 317 destinations
on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit
www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club). A travel agent in Cairo
since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4
Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.
Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at: Tels. 2359-0200,
2358-5880, 2359-1301. Fax 2359-1199. E-mail:
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