Another day at sea. Sydney marked the end of one leg of the journey and the start of another, and as with every new leg, we have a whole new group of passengers. Many of them are only on from Sydney to South Africa, which is about three weeks. It’s always fun watching the new passengers wandering around the ship, trying to get their bearings. Awwww…remember when that was us? It seems like so long ago.
Today was also the day we dragged every souvenir we’ve bought since Stonehenge out from under the bed where we’ve been storing them, and packed them into the new luggage. We realized that, because we’ve also bought ourselves a bunch of things that we’re still using (mainly new clothes), that we couldn’t fit everything, even in these giant new suitcases. We decided to ship all the textiles (clothes, dish towels, etc.) and books (OMG, did I ever buy a lot of books). We packed it all up and, since we didn’t have anything planned for Melbourne (we land tomorrow), our adventure will include THE POST OFFICE!
Today was our first of two in Sydney. We had an objective: we needed to buy a couple more suitcases, as we’ve bought so many souvenirs and gifts for the folks back home that there’s no way they’re fitting into the luggage we brought.
Luckily, the couple who’d had the table next to ours at dinner for the last leg of the trip was from Australia, and gave us some great guidance about where to find reasonably priced luggage, and how to get there. It turns out, Sydney public transportation is really easy to use, and there’s a big station at the quayside.
The downtown shopping district is interesting – there’s not really any traffic on the main street with all the shops, because it’s taken up by the light rail line. Cars can drive on it, but they mainly go from hotel driveways to the nearest cross street. There are also quite a few pedestrian arcades, so walking around was easy and enjoyable.
Sure enough, we found the department store with reasonably priced luggage, and to make it even better, they were having a one-day-only 40% off sale. SCORE! Although it meant that for the rest of the afternoon, we had to roll two huge suitcases all over town with us. Luckily, there were lots of people who had taken advantage of the sale and were doing the same.
That evening, we had tickets to the opera. The Sydney Opera House is right on the waterfront, so the only traveling we had to do was from the ship at anchor in the harbor on a tender to the quayside. It was kind of nice traveling with a little boat full of people all dressed up for the opera.
Everyone has seen pictures of the outside of the Sydney Opera House, but very few people have seen pictures of the inside. The two surprising things: it’s smaller than you’d think, and it’s done in that kind of “we can make concrete look decorative” style popular in the 1970s. But the opera itself was excellent, and we had a really wonderful evening.
Our second day in Sydney. We went into town again, this time all the way to Town Hall, right next to Saint Andrews Cathedral, a beautiful Gothic Revival church. The bells were ringing for the service as we got off the train, and it was lovely to just stand there on a lovely morning in early autumn, listening to them.
Yesterday, we had the first decent Mexican food we’d had in 2 ½ months. There’s no way you’re getting decent Mexican food on a ship that offers “avocado chutney,” and hates any kind of condiment that might accidentally add flavor. The place in Sydney was a chain called “Mad Mex,” and in addition to decent food, they offered a fun mix of covers of popular music from the 1980s and 1990s – a dubstep version of the Men at Work song “Down Under,” a fun cover of the Eiffel 65 song “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” – stuff like that. So of course, not knowing the next time we’d see Mexican food, we had to have it for lunch again.
Later, we went to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Australia is great about acknowledging the indigenous people’s claims to the land, and celebrating their culture. Then again, there are an awful lot of white people making an awful lot of money on it, mostly by being the ones doing the selling of indigenous art. The MOCA is mostly indigenous art, and it was great fun.
We came back to the ship just as it started to sprinkle, and decided to have dinner on the balcony of our room. We sat there, eating our dinner and waving at people going by on ferries, who waved back. Just as the sun was going down, flying foxes (a large species of bat) flew past the ship. I’ve only ever seen pictures of them, so was delighted to see them in person. They’re HUGE! (Okay, huge for bats.) There they went, off to hunt some elusive wild fruit.
For the second time inside a week, there was a medical evacuation. This time, the person was in their cabin, rather than one of the bars, but it’s the same drill – don’t leave your room until the evacuation is over and keep your balcony door closed.
The last time it happened, the Pirate and I were walking down the hall during the evacuation and heard the telltale whistle that means a cabin has its outside door open. There’s always that one person, isn’t there?
Later, we were sitting at lunch in the only big open space on the upper decks we knew of. There are higher decks on either side, and there are wires going from one railing to another over the open space. Before this, I thought that’s where the helicopter would have landed, but realized that couldn’t be it. After dinner, we went for a walk up on deck and realized that there’s an area on the upper deck dedicated to sports – shuffleboard, basketball, putting green (these last two encased in nets). And right in the middle, a gigantic green circle that is doubtless the landing pad. Mystery solved!
Last night, we got surveys in our mail slot. The cruise company asked us to rate the entertainment, the food, the service, etc. The service, the cleanliness, the staff at the bars and lounges all got high marks.
Then there was our assessment of their onboard app. It seems like everything has to have an app nowadays, and on the Cunard app, you’re supposed to be able to see the itinerary for your entire cruise, all your port excursions, and the schedule for the entertainment on board. You’re also supposed to be able to book spa appointments, alternative dining, and port excursions. NOPE. The Pirate and I can’t do any of that. The only thing we’ve been able to do is see the .pdf of each day’s Daily Programme (which is also delivered in paper form to our cabin each night for the next day). And because the ship’s internet is so awful, even that doesn’t load right half the time.
But what I really lit into them about was the food. The Pirate is vegan, and on a normal day, there is precious little for him to eat. At breakfast they have vegetarian sausages and bacon, but they are so overcooked that they’re inedible. At lunch, even things that should be vegetarian often have gratuitous pork in them. They label everything that has gluten, dairy, shellfish – even celery! But they don’t label anything with meat. And if you don’t spot it, or don’t know their jargon for it, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. They also seem to think that “vegetarian” and “vegan” are interchangeable.
Nearly all the baked goods are stale, as though they were loaded onto the ship at the beginning of the voyage and have sat uncovered and unrefrigerated for the last two and a bit months. The sushi’s also got that dry crunchiness that means it’s not fresh. Honestly, all those people who said they gained weight on this ship make me think that their culinary standards are pretty low.
I don’t expect anything to come of it, but we’ll see.
We’re in Brisbane today, and our port adventure was a trip to the Brisbane Zoo. I LOVE zoos. Where I grew up, we were within walking distance of the Phoenx Zoo, which, now that I have been to a few zoos, I can see is large and diverse compared to a lot of others.
It its favor, the Brisbane zoo has tons of animals unique to Australia. We saw koalas (smaller than I thought they would be), echidnas, lots of snakes and lizards, the tallest giraffe in the world, and kangaroos and wallabies. We avoided the famous crocodile show because we’re just not comfortable with animals being made to perform for humans. It feels gross.
The enclosure with the kangaroos and wallabies is huge, and rather than having them in cages, they’re just wandering around. You can buy food for them (it’s those pellets you feed rabbits, plus some corn) and then go into the enclosure and feed them.
First, you have to get their attention. Using the same logic that allows your pet to come running when they hear the can opener, we tried rustling the bags, but that didn’t work. Then we tried putting the food into our hands and holding them out to the animals. That got their attention, but they wouldn’t approach us because these are prima donna kangaroos and wallabies. They didn’t come to us – we had to go to them. Finally, we were able to get them to eat out of our hands.
The Pirate fed the kangaroos, and he looked delighted! Their heads are tiny compared to their bodies, and they look almost like deer heads, with the same kind of long noses, big ears, and long eyelashes. At one point, one of the kangaroos was so excited, it grabbed the Pirate’s hand and held it still, afraid he might take it away. A couple of the kangaroos pooped while he was feeding them, as if they needed to make room so they could eat more. They’re all about efficiency.
I fed exactly one wallaby. It ate a whole bunch of pellets out of my hand while I talked to it about how its ear got split, and how the food it was eating kind of looked like that organic cat litter stuff. It would eat, look away, sniff, eat some more. Every time it looked away, I assumed it was done and went to take my hand away, but then it would turn back to me, so I fed it more. Then it started doing a thing that every cat or dog owner in the world recognizes – the horking and jerking that means an animal is about to throw up. Sure enough, a disgusting gruel of corn and pellets oozed to the ground. Then, like any pet I’ve ever owned, it proceeded to eat that, too. I decided I was done feeding things. And now I can cross “make a wallaby barf” off my bucket list.
A lot of the animals (the wombats, the dingoes, the echidnas, the red pandas) were asleep. I came up with three reasons for this:
It was beastly hot and humid, so they were sleeping through the heat of the day.
There is nothing good on daytime television in Australia.
After hours, these animals like to party. They’re resting up from last night’s festivities in preparation for tonight’s.
Those are the only explanations.
Also, I have decided that Australians are both friendly and not quiet about it, so they’re like aggressive Canadians.
Today we’re at Whitsunday Island. We didn’t have a port adventure, and the only things within walking distance of the ship are fancy resorts, which aren’t really our scene, so we didn’t get off the ship.
I ended up contemplating the emergency poster on the back of our cabin door. There are two figures on this poster – a guy who looks like an escaped convict, and a person of indeterminate gender. I have to admit, I am far too fascinated with the pictures to have any idea what the poster says.
Another day at sea, where the most exciting thing that happened to me was finally getting to work more on my own writing, now that NonBinary Review is all done. YAY!
We’re halfway through our journey. There are a few indicators – I had packed my pills in four zipper bags of 30 doses each, and I finished the second one. The list we’d been given of all the ports flipped over to the second page. We’re sick and tired of everything on the ship. Luckily, for most of the rest of the trip, we don’t have very many at sea days in between ports. We’ll be circumnavigating Australia, so it’s only a day or two between each stop.
Well, the pizza was delicious, but I spent most of the day in some pretty severe intestinal distress. Funny – I’ve eaten and drunk in places where other folks have turned their noses up at the food, expressing a certainty that we’d get sick, and it never happened. But in Australia – bingo.
We ended up talking to the couple next to us at dinner about food. When we first got here, several people remarked at the fact that they had gained weight while on the ship. I expected the food on this cruise to be a non-stop parade of deliciousness, but…it’s not. Much of the food here is laced with some variety of pork – ham in the potato salad, pork in the stir fry, sausages and bacon and pork roast at breakfast. Since I don’t eat pork, beef, or lamb, my lunch and dinner choices are much more limited than other people’s.
The food is definitely geared toward not just British tastes, but the tastes of older people. Nothing is highly spiced or very well salted, and because they have to feed 2700 people three times a day, some of their practices (like putting out sliced bread and then leaving it out all day) mean that the food isn’t as fresh as one might hope.
We gave our dinner companions the benefit of our discoveries – like the fact that the coffee bar serves kedgeree (rice, smoked haddock, and hard boiled egg with curry and butter) at breakfast, but the main dining room doesn’t. We also discovered that you can’t get decent coffee or tea at the breakfast buffet, and that the lunch in the pub is better than up in the dining room. So now you know too.
For the second time on this trip, there was a medical emergency that necessitated a helicopter evacuation. Early on, I met a couple who had been on several Cunard cruises, and they pointed out that the demographic on these cruises made it inevitable. They said that they always saw at least one ambulance at every port, waiting for someone on the ship. And now I have seen at least one ambulance at every port, waiting for someone.
This is why you have to have travel insurance. The cruise line isn’t going to reimburse you for the rest of the trip you booked, and on a 4-month trip, that can run into a lot of money. But I wonder whether the cruise line has some kind of waiting list so that they can fill the room of the person who’s been evacuated.
Because we missed out on Bali, we spent two days in Darwin, capital of the Northern Territories. The first thing we saw is that it was only a fifteen-minute walk from the ship to the prominently-labeled CBD. Back home, CBD is something you get from a cannabis dispensary, and is good for alleviating pain, helping with sleep, etc. We guessed this wasn’t that. In Australia, CBD is “central business district,” or city center.
The small amount of Darwin we saw was lovely. Lots of parks, everything very pedestrian-friendly. One of the things we found was the grocery store, and guess what? HUMMUS!!! And not just hummus, but vegan yogurt, lunch meat, and cheese. I was looking for some kind of hair glue or styling wax, but there was no such product, although there was an entire shelf with 20 different kinds of dry shampoo. Evidently, Australians are far more concerned with staving off the greasies than with keeping their locks locked down.
We saw a spectacular pair of boots, but they didn’t have them in his size. They did, however, have them in another store and could have them sent. Just not by tomorrow. Not to worry – they have several stores in Syndey, so they can be sent there. So now we have at least one objective during our time in Sydney – find the store where the boots were shipped and pick them up.
Yesterday, on our walk to town, we’d seen a Mexican restaurant near the beach. The Pirate and I have been dying for Mexican food. I think this is probably the longest I’ve gone without Mexican food in my entire life. We also saw a sign pointing toward something called “WWII Oil Tunnels.” We decided we’d kill two birds with one stone and go have Mexican food for lunch, then check out the tunnels.
We left the ship and walked to the restaurant, only to find it closed. Disappointing, but not terribly surprising. About half the businesses near the beach have signs saying that they’ve closed due to staffing shortages. It’s the end of the summer here, so lots of the kinds of people who would normally be staffing the restaurants and shops near the beach (students and tourists on 6-month work visas) have already left.
We opted for the Italian place next door, where we had decent pizza. The pizza on the ship is disappointing – made from frozen, industrial crust that’s not baked long enough, and with sauce that lacks flavor. This pizza was just beautiful, and I had plenty left over for dinner.
After lunch, we walked to the oil tunnels and had our second disappointment of the day: they were only open from 9am – 1pm. If we’d gone there before lunch, we’d have seen them. Oh well. We went back to the ship, happy that at least we’d had a nice walk around.
The most charming thing, though, was that by the time we were preparing the leave, a crowd had gathered on the sea wall to watch us pull away. As we started away, the people on shore waved, and we all waved back.
Today was the day we had our Crossing the Line Ceremony. It had been hyped up in the noon announcements the Captain always makes, so we knew there’d be a crowd to witness it. We’d been told it would be messy, so not to wear anything we were “too precious about.” Like anyone brought their gardening clothes with them. I wore my bathing suit and shower sandals, and most of the others in the group of about 50 wore something similar.
There were two main groups: the group of people who were only kissing the fish, and the group of people doing the whole ceremony. The fish-kissers went first, and the rest of us waited in a stairwell, so we couldn’t see what was going on. All we could hear was the announcer talking about how this is an old ceremony, where people who have never crossed the equator, nicknamed Pollywogs, must ask permission from King Neptune to cross the equator. King Neptune sets them an ordeal, and once it’s done, they go from Pollywogs to Shellbacks.
Once the fish-kissers were done, it was our turn. The Pirate and I were in the first group of ten to go out, and there was a crowd of several hundred people around the pool and arranged on all the decks above, cheering us on. We came out to see tables holding huge vats of kitchen refuse, colored blue and green and pink. The reassuring colors were nice, until the smell hit. This was actual leftover food from the last day, mixed into huge tubs. We sat down in chairs with our backs to the tables of slops, a person dressed as a judge asked the crowd whether we were innocent or guilty (although I have no idea what of), and when the crowd yelled “guilty!” the crew at the tables behind us took huge handfuls of the various colors of goo and rubbed it into our hair, backs, shoulders, necks. It was disconcertingly warm, smelled awful, but (and this might be the worst part) felt kind of soothing.
Once we were all slopped up, another crew member came along with what I think was a fair-sized trout. He held it out to each of us, and we had to kiss it on its nonexistent lips. Luckily, the trout was fresh and didn’t smell – it would have been much worse if it had been as old as the food covering my upper body. Even the fish kissing wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated – I’d been envisioning something with huge rubbery lips, and a crew member sticking a finger through the gills and out the mouth as I kissed it.
After the fish-kissing, we were allowed to jump into the pool to rinse all the slop off. I could see chunks floating away from me as I surfaced, and realized how lucky I was to be in the first group. There were three more groups of ten after us, then the crew, and lastly the officers, who were laid down on a table and covered head to toe with all the rest of the slops in the buckets. By the time they jumped into the pool, it wasn’t clear whether they were getting any cleaner in that disgusting water.
The Pirate and I are now considering designs for the tattoos we’re going to get to commemorate our becoming Shellbacks.
Another day of not much going on, mostly because I’m working like crazy to get NonBinary Review out the door on time. When I first proposed leaving for four months, my biggest worry was getting the March issue out on time.
There have been two main issues: internet, and staff engagement.
Before I left, I had looked into the internet situation and thought that I could purchase the standard internet package and be able to do all my online stuff. The way it was described, standard internet would work fine for email and regular web browsing, but if you wanted to stream video, you’d need the premium package. The reality is a little more nuanced.
In reality, there are lots of days when the internet doesn’t work – when we’re in port, when the weather is bad, when everyone on the ship is online at the same time. Even when the internet works, it never works well. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been working on something, only to not have my work save, or to get unexpected results because the lag means I was clicking things I hadn’t intended. And, just to make life extra exciting, the internet here kicks you off after two hours. I’m normally so heads-down in work that I don’t even realize it’s gone until I get a message saying “You’re no longer online – keep working?”
Despite it all, I’ve managed to get this issue out by sheer force of will and willingness to give up sleep, social engagements (okay, not a huge loss) and activities in favor of work. For all the English folks, I’m perpetuating the stereotype of Americans as people who are always working.
We were supposed to be in Bali today, but we’re not. Bali’s port isn’t deep enough for this ship, so we have to anchor out in the harbor and take tenders (little boats) into the port. Sadly, the sea is too rough to make boarding tenders safe, and the captain made the decision to keep everyone on the ship.
Of course, we heard this news while sitting in the main restaurant, where we had gathered in anticipation of boarding the tenders for our planned shore excursions. We were supposed to see Tenganan and the Water Palace and had gotten up early and covered ourselves in sunscreen in anticipation. So now we weren’t just disappointed, but sleepy and sticky as well. I was extra disappointed because the woman who cut my hair had talked nonstop about how great Bali is – culturally vibrant, scenic, friendly. I was really excited to see it all. I guess we’ll have to go back later.
So…back to the room where we spent a lot of the day laying around, napping, playing stupid games, napping, watching movies, napping, eating, and napping.
I was sitting in the pub working and having lunch, and a woman leaned over and said “I like your tattoo. What does it mean?” She meant the tattoo on the side of my head of a giant squid. It covers all of the right side of my head, and its hunting tentacles peek out at my hair line when my hair is longer.
I never know what to say when people ask what my tattoos “mean.” What does your shirt mean? What do your shoes mean? While some of my tattoos commemorate events in my life, others are purely decorative, and it’s only people who have no tattoos of their own who ask what they mean.
I need to come up with a response that isn’t dismissive, sarcastic, or angry. Maybe I should just admit that I don’t understand the question, because not everything in life has to have meaning to be beautiful.
Addendum: a couple of days later, another woman stopped me and asked me about the tattoo on my head in a way that made much more sense. She pointed to it and said “tell me the story behind this.” Now that is the right question!
We’ve been avoiding our regular dining room, because I’m not fond of spending two hours a night on dinner, but we went tonight because the Pirate asked me if I’d like to join him for dinner. So, we ended up on kind of a date. It’s kind of nice, dressing up to go out with the intention of spending time together and having a nice time. And we did.
We’re back in Singapore. Originally, we were going to go ashore and do some shopping, but we were still not over our bout of sickness and didn’t feel like making the trek, coming back and getting ready for the party tonight, then going out again. Then, mid-afternoon, the Pirate succumbed to a migraine and the party itself was off.
I am one of those people whose greatest delight is cancelled plans. It’s like a surprise gift of time. Not that I don’t enjoy being with people and chatting, it’s just that it’s exhausting – more so when some of those people have hard-to-understand accents, doubly so when those people with hard-to-understand accents have had a couple of drinks. I would have been sad had we not already seen the venue – the lovely botanical gardens we’d toured the first time. We knew exactly what we were missing, and weren’t sad about it.
Our decision was vindicated by the fact that Singapore customs had a computer malfunction that meant they couldn’t let anyone off the ship when everyone was due to depart at 5:00pm. Nor at 6:00pm. Finally, at a little after 7pm, people were starting to leave.
By that time, we’d already had dinner and had seen all the folks in the lobby – dressed up, hungry, fuming. I think it explains some of the poor behavior we heard about later – one woman walking by a table, suddenly vomiting right next to the table, then walking off. According to one of the people at the table, it was fast and efficient. And gross. And a lot of people just acting like jackasses. This is why I hate parties.
Another at sea day. My favorite thing on at-sea days is to order breakfast in and hang out in my pajamas until I feel moved to go do something else. Today, that something else was to sign up for the Crossing the Line Ceremony that will happen day after tomorrow. Apparently, the first time a sailor crosses the equator, it’s customary to ask King Neptune for permission, and this involves…well, I am not sure what it involves other than for some reason being covered in some kind of muck that will be supplied by the galley, and then having to kiss a real, actual, in no way pretend dead fish. But then I will be able to claim being a Shellback instead of a Pollywog, so that’s cool.
We also discovered that all the Asian folks who got on the last time we were in Singapore hang out in the bar downstairs to have their lunch. I’d never been at the bar during lunchtime, so I didn’t realize that they put on some very nice-looking fish and chips. The only downside is that the fish is a fillet the size of my forearm, and the chips look to comprise at least 4 potatoes per serving.