Monday, November 16, 2015

Banjul Gambia

In Banjul, we were very late docking because our space was blocked by some leaky bucket in the wrong slot. Seven of us traveled together and we found our guide, arranged by Abdul, with whom I'd been communicating for several months. Our guide and driver were great and they had to rush us through our agenda, skipping large chunks of it in order to get us back to the boat on time.

We started out at the most horrible alligator lake. Small alligators, well fed and virtually tame, occupy a scum covered pond. The big thing to do was to pat one of them which we did. Ugh. 

We drove quickly through Banjul and another town nearby and saw the extremely crowded markets, full of hustle and bustle. Carts and horses are still widely used as a means of transport. The Gambia is suffering greatly under the new regime...which took power via military coup. An uneducated 49 year old minor officer in the army orchestrated it and became President. Things have deteriorated badly under his hard hand....his ministers are his cronies from the army and know nothing about running a country. As our guide the west, the leaders fear the people who have the power to throw them out. In Africa, it's the reverse. The current leader could be in place for decades, making one stupid mistake after another.

Unlike Dakar and environs, Banjul and The Gambia are verdant and forested. Riding through the country side was lovely with peanuts, the major crop, aplenty. We would drive through bands of different peanut aromas - peanut oil, peanuts being ground, peanuts being roasted. Mammoth mango trees were everywhere.

A stop at the cattle and goat auction was interesting and non-touristy. We could peek into the abbatoir if we wished, but everyone passed. They seemed to be treating the animals humanely; there is a veternarian in residence to assure that the animals are healthy before slaughtering and we couldn't believe that some of the animal handlers were dressed entirely in white. And they looked spotless. 

Lunch followed at Paradise Beach...fried fish, french fries, rice, fried rice (with tomato paste and onions), fried chicken. They did their best and for on the beach in The Gambia, it was surprisingly good. The beach is nothing short of spectacular with huge intact shells washing up on it. Brits come down for the winter months but during our short visit it was blissfully quiet and the beach was empty.

Our last stop was the smoked fish operation. A fairly small yellow mullet is smoked for 4 days to produce a product very popular in The Gambia. The beach outside the smoke houses teems with being delivered to the smokers in huge nets, boats being painted and repaired, people purchasing fish for resale or for thier own use. A wonderful bustling sight. 

Here's one of the beautiful women of Gambia elegantly dressed and in full anti-tourist posture, yelling obscenties as we drove by. Can you imagine all of us, screaming at photographers at the Avocado Festival? 

There's a long, story...a myth really about these alligators and why they are so passive. Personally Ithink there's  probably some kind of soporific effect from the dense growth of algae in their pond of residence. They reminded me of koalas, drunk on eucalyptus trees. All the tourists are herded to this place where the alligators apparently like us but the women hate us with a passion. I would much rather have posed with one of the beautifully dressed women, but that doesn't happen. 

We visited a cattle and goat auction. These two fellows did not mind having their photo taken. The goats didn't give a damn. 

A partially wrecked fishing boat, sketchified. 

Fish in one of the smoking stages. They call this "million bone" fish and warn tourists against even trying to eat it. Too dangerous.

Fishing boats.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cape Verde

Our day in the port at Cape Verde was splendid. Jocelyn, our guide, met us at the port entrance and swept us away in a van which could seat 12. With only four of us, plus her and the driver, we had plenty of room and it was easy to get on and off. Our tour companions are fit and no special problems to deal with.

We stopped at a couple of beautiful beaches, drove to the top of the island for the view and then had lunch in a Cape Verdian home. The idea of lunch in a private home was bothering us a bit, as we didn't know what to expect, but it turned out to be fine. The hostess prepared a kind of stew, the national dish, made from pork, fish, manioc, carrots and peppers. 

Cape Verde is very dry and little grows there. They plant corn and hope for rain. This year, it didn't look like they were going to get much. There's no industry in the country and little opportunity for the young and ambitious; most of them leave for education and work in Europe. About 50% unemployment means a lot of people just sit around, according to our guide. The little business being conducted is done by the Chinese or West Africans. The place has a laid back feel like the Caribbean. 

Main city, Mindelo on Sao Vicente.
Poncho, the local drink, made of a kind of rum and fruit juice. They pour into emply bottles and sell it in the markets. 

Jewelry made from Nespresso pods. 

Lovely beach in front of condos, virtually empty of occupants. 
Lunch in the Cape Verdian home.

Eels and flies in the fish market. 

Monday, November 09, 2015

A Day At Sea

Second sea day today. The ocean is calm and the weather warm. The fan tail of the ship is set up for dining and the serious sun lovers crowd in there, enjoying breakfast and baking themselves at the same time. On sea days, lectures are scheduled and we've heard a couple of decent ones. Yesterday a retired coast guard officer talked about the technical aspects of the ships steering, communication, port activities etc. and spouted the stats about how much water we use, how much food is handled daily, what kind of emergency preparedness is on-going. 

We walked a couple of miles on the course they have laid out for exercise, read a bit, gabbed with people and generally enjoyed the day pottering around.

We had reservations at the Toscana specialty restaurant on the ship for the evening. Our meal service was cannot fault it on this ship. At our table for six, everyone was pleased with their choices. I was seated next to a character from Texas who sported a mustache with long twirled points on the sides and a dazzling array of Disney decorations all over his person. His glasses had Mickeys on them and he wore a gold bracelet loaded with Disney charms. He was wearing D pins on his jacket and a Mickey necklace carved out of Formica. Even his wedding ring was a diamond Mickey on onyx. He regaled me with stories about his unicycle riding, juggling routine and his career as an accountant! An accountant! That was a surprise. This man and his wife travel all the time and like many others we've met, do a lot of cruising. By the end of the meal, we were comparing hearing aids and he had his out of his ears, disassembled on the table, showing me some of the finer points of his set. Ah, the joys of old least he didn't take his teeth out!

I have no photos of the day yesterday...instead this is a shot taken from the edge of a cliff on Madeira a few days ago. Richard took it leaning way over a rail. Down at the bottom you can see plots of land under cultivation. 

Friday, November 06, 2015

Santa Cruz de la Palma, Spain

Balconies are beautiful on the Isla de las Palma. Most are covered with cascading vines and trailing plants. It's lovely to think about sitting on them back in the 16th century enjoying the breeze coming off the ocean. Lovely, until you read that there was a little walled off bit at the end of the balcony that was used as a bathroom. Waste dropped out from the bottom into the street. Yuck.
This is a modern balcony without a bathroom.

A walk through the mercado.

This woman was roasting hominy and she apparently hated her hat! And look...she's wearing a Canadian flag pin. Maybe she's a Canadian tourist who was kidnapped and forced into slave labor:) :)

Not a happy person. 

Massive ferns take the place of fountains in many of the squares.

Tomorrow, our port is Tenarife.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Funchal, Madeira

First stop on this cruise was Funchal, Madeira. A beautiful island with terraces running up the hills; every square inch covered with something but principally grape vines and bananas.  Mist and clouds swirled around the mountain peaks giving the place a Shangri La like feeling. We'd come back and stay awhile.

Plastic baby Jesus' are very popular. Three types were widely found : Jesus, shrink-wrapped on a cradle made of grain, Jesus with his hands wrapped in plastic, like boxing gloves (I guess the hands break off easily) and Jesus with no plastic wrap and no diapers but with the price tags on his privates, for modesty. All the plastic Jesus' had Fonzi hair styles with that curl-thing in the front.
Finally, a Madeira tasting couldn't be passed up.