Cruising with my brighter half to the islands

Whoever said “Cruising is like a bad play surrounded by water” either had jaundice on the voyage or else knew someone aboard the Titanic.

We are home from a seven-night trip on the MSC Sinfonia sailing from Durban to the islands of Inhaca and Ihla de Mozambique and all very pleasant it was too. Calm seas. Compact cabin with all mod cons deftly squeezed into a tiny space. Food available 24 hours a day which in two self-service buffets was often piled disgustingly high on plates and left uneaten, which irked my Scottish detestation of waste no end.

The main reason we took the trip was that my Brighter Half (well usually…more anon) wished to show me the islands off the coast of Mozambique which he visited in 1966 with Chris Hood and Brian Hoskyn, (both alas dead), when they sailed to the unspoiled Seychelles in a 33 ft. yacht called “Windsong”.

Two years ago we flew to the now highly touristy Seychelles to see all the places the trio had visited 50 years ago. The cruise to the two former Portuguese islands was to complete my education of their long ago adventures.
Neither of the islands have a port big enough for 2679 passengers and a crew of 721, so getting off the Sinfonia into tenders holding about 40 people was quite an adventure. Then followed an exhilarating ride in fast boats to the shore to explore new horizons.

On both islands we had a local guide. On Inhaca Fernandez showed us around the mini-kingdom with its seafood restaurants, bars and curio stalls and rich bird life – we were thrilled to hear a Coucal far from Tokai’s Keyser River cycle path. However, the small shabby buildings and weeds in open spaces suggested that the island had taken a downward turn since the closure two years ago of the once grand thatched hotel on the beach.

We peered through the still-curtained windows and saw a vast entertainment area for dances or big parties with chairs stacked at one end. Significantly nobody had ransacked the hotel or removed windows or doors which spoke volumes about the village of 6 000 honest souls.

“There is no crime here,” said Fernandez with dignity. “We know each other….” And I can confirm these islanders serve absolutely delicious prawns!

A multilingual guide called Harry Potter

On our fifth sailing day we reached Isla de Mozambique, where the big surprise was to run into Harry Potter. That was the preferred name of our knowledgeable, dread-locked guide instead of his original Genito Molava.

His home language was Macau, a mix of Arabic and Portuguese, but being keen to learn English, he’d found a copy of JK Rowling’s famous orphaned wizard and had written out the text, page after page without understanding a word. Being bright and determined, he’d found people who explained the strange words and slowly but surely, he had learnt English well enough to become in 2008 an official UNESCO-trained guide.

Not only does he speak Portuguese, Italian, French and Spanish but runs his own small tourist business offering everything from dhow boat trips with snorkelling, to camps on deserted beaches. He proved an amusing and informed guide around the famous impregnable fortress of San Sabastian which for centuries guarded Isla da Mozambique. This tiny island for years was the capital of Mozambique, eventually to be moved to Lourenço Marques which, after independence, was renamed Maputo, the City of Acacias.

The fortress, the oldest in Sub-Saharan Africa, was begun soon after the Portuguese arrived on the island in 1498. Harry Potter spoke of the thousands of slaves who died during the 65 years to build the famous star-shaped fort which withstood even that determined effort by the Dutch to storm and so conquer the island and the country of Mozambique.
The fort’s design was the inspiration for our Castle of Good Hope, that pentagonal fortress of stone built by the Dutch in 1664 when tensions between Britain and the Netherlands rose amid rumours of war.

The stress of travelling

Cruising may broaden the mind as well as the waistline but it is not without stress. Last year when we sailed from Cape Town to Venice in the MSC Opera David left his EU passport at home resulting in a mad panic to get it fetched from Tokai before the ship sailed and I travelled on alone to Italy.

This trip he could have had us arrested as a pair of elderly terrorists. At Cape Town airport’s security check before our flight to Durban, the metal detector went off with a ping.

“Oh it’s my new knee,” he explained to the security guard who immediately asked to search his hand luggage. To my horror out of the little ditty bag in which he keeps his electric razor, she found a Swiss knife, screw driver and small pen knife! All forbidden items were confiscated but fortunately she accepted his explanation that these DIY tools go everywhere with him for our weekends at Langebaan.

Phew! What an experience… but marginally better than the carving knife needed for biltong which once found its way into his hand luggage before a flight to London.

Walking keeps us fit

We didn’t feel the need to join the gym. Walking to our cabin on the 9th deck was exercise enough – particularly when the 274-metre ship was rolling.

Last year, an extra 24 metres was added when the Sinfonia was cut in half during the remarkable 10-week Renaissance Programme and a new pre-built mid-section was floated to the Fincantier shipyard in Palermo. This created space for 192 extra cabins plus more dining and sitting rooms for the additional passengers.

We had a lot of fun walking along the never-ending green passage carpet to our cabin trying to feel underfoot where the new section had been joined. Eventually we found a slight bump. Victory was pleasant.

Sick joke

What’s the difference between bird flu and swine flu? One requires tweetment and the other oinkment.

fionachisholm@iafrica.com