OT: Misc. notes from a nomad

So here we are at JFK airport looking into the mists of the next six months of wandering.

While many wore masks to mitigate the spread of COVID aboard the plane, we seemed to be the only ones in the airport wearing masks and we saw no one in San Francisco wearing one.

And now, in a reflection of last year’s chopping of our Russian stops due to the Ukraine conflict, I am becoming more doubtful that we will dock at Peru, due to the growing degree of social unrest there.

sit, in JFK airport, waiting for our ship (OK – airplane) to come in for the flight to San Francisco. This is the fourth plane we have been scheduled on for the flight. The first flight (on American Airlines) was canceled and they put us on a flight leaving at 6AM in the morning. We changed that to an afternoon flight, which they canceled and put us on a late evening flight. So, we canceled that and used our points to buy tickets on a mid-day Jet Blue flight.

The cruise itinerary has been equally annoying. Firstly, the direction is mainly west-to-east, which means lots of 23 hour days as we enter new time zones (east-to-west travel yields lots of 25 hour days and some extra sleep). Then, just a few days before departure, a series of emails were received from the cruise company (Oceania Cruise Lines) indicating that they were shaving an hour or two off of the shore-stay time of dozens of ports – totaling over 50 hours – with the following “explanation”:

“Our company is committed to driving a positive impact on society and the environment. As part of our global sustainability program, Sail & Sustain, we are continually seeking opportunities to reduce our overall carbon footprint, and recently committed to pursuing net zero greenhouse gas emissions across our operations and value chain by 2050.

To support this mission, we have optimized our arrival and departure times. This revision will not impact any shore excursion operations.”

Which, of course, is utter nonsense – it allows the ships to run at a slower speed between ports, thus using less fuel and saving money for the cruise line, but does nothing to improve their carbon foot-print towards a goal nearly three decades away. And, while their ship sponsored tours won’t be affected, it reduces our independent explorations by a matter of a few days in-total – and reduces the time available when we maintain the buffer of safety we require to make sure we don’t miss the ship. (But, of course, independent travel does not enhance their bottom line). The action has caused me to seriously reevaluate

my future attitude towards the line as well as doubt the credibility of any schedule they may publish for future cruises.

Add to this annoyance the recent (a week ago) massive rains which flooded San Francisco (and its raining again today) as well as the complete shut-down of the US’s air transport system a couple of days ago and there is a bit of additional subconscious stress added as well.

Anyhow, we feel we have planned as well as possible

The cruise line has booked us for the night at the ritzy Fairmont – San Francisco. The Fairmont chain of luxury North American hotels (along with Raffles, a Southeast Asian luxury line which they merged with) has been acquired by the massive French hotel conglomerate Accor. I tried to get a credit for the stay so that I could choose my own hotel (and maybe pocket the difference in price), but they said they wouldn’t credit the “free” night. The hotel, located in the posh Nob Hill section, has a lovely lobby and our (small as a cruise ship cabin – but what did we expect for “free”) room appears newly renovated. It was stripped of all toilet amenities other than a bar of soap and some squirt bottles of shampoo, conditioner, etc. and we had to ask at the front desk for Q-tips, make-up removal pads, a shower cap and containers of water – not what we would have expected in a hotel of this class, but I guess they now have MBA’s running the business.

We walked a few blocks to Uncle Vito’s Pizza (800 Bush Street). The term “a few blocks” in San Francisco refers to what it looks like on a map, but the city adds another dimension which doesn’t show on most maps – vertical distance. Nob Hill is called that because, well, it’s high up on a steep hill – and the restaurant is at the bottom. So, to get to the restaurant, one has to (dodging the occasional street car) walk down a significant slope (and climb back up afterwards).

The pizza was reasonably priced, the fillings of the calzone and toppings on the pizza were good, but the dough was a little “looser” than we expect in NYC (as if they used all-purpose flour instead of bread flour to make it), but still acceptable. Assuming the walk doesn’t bother you (and, of course, there is always the option of Uber or a taxi), this is a reasonable alternative to the expensive food served at the hotel.

Breakfast was relatively expensive, but extremely delicious. I should have realized that, if I asked the concierge where to have breakfast outside the hotel, their suggestion was unlikely to net a savings.

It was served by a bevy of very accommodating Thai waitresses, at Mymy Coffee shop (1500 California Avenue). While I can’t put my finger on what was so special, it actually was a memorably delicious meal. Fortunately, we came early (that jetlag thing) as a considerably long line of locals waiting to eat had accumulated by the time we finished. Like the pizza joint, it was down (and up upon the return) a steep hill. There is a Trader Joe’s across the street for those picking up wine for a cruise.

Once aboard the ship, the search for a bridge partner began. I am of the opinion hat there are maybe 15-20 thousand people who frequently take cruises of a month or more on English-speaking and when you pluck out a few hundred at a time, the probability of knowing someone aboard is a near-certainty. This cruise is no exception and while I was offered a partner by another passenger I knew, I chose one who I had played with on occasion in the past. After an initial “very interesting” shakedown game (57%, but not in the money) we have gravitated to a loftier position.

After a few days aboard, the crew has started wearing masks (which means that over 3% of the passengers/crew are COVID positive). While I took two days fighting off a upper-respiratory thing picked up from another passenger, both a flu test and a PCR test are negative and that episode is now in the past.

Manzanillo, Mexico

Manzanillo is a Pacific Ocean port city and resort in the Mexican state of Colima. It’s the site of 2 bays, Bahía de Manzanillo and Bahía de Santiago. The latter is known for beaches such as Playa La Audiencia, with calm surf for water sports.

The waters off the coast have numerous coral reefs, shipwrecks and other dive sites. With a high concentration of marlin, the area is also known for deep-sea sportfishing. A good choice of a charter boat is the “Luckiest II” (www.manzanilloluckiestfishing).

Manzanillo has a dual identity. It is Mexico’s busiest commercial seaport the trade route between here and Spain dates back as far as 1531. It is also pitched as a beach-lover’s paradise with 350 days of sunshine annually and a wide range of stunning beaches. One of the Mexican Pacific’s major seaports; tourism takes second place. The beaches are none too clean, and since the more desirable ones, such as Playa Olas Altas, are 20km from the old town it is a drag to get around without a car.

Large-scale investment in tourist areas has added a bit to the town’s appeal, though you’ll still see the shops reflecting a Mexican life-style if you venture into the town center.

One walks from the pier towards a huge blue sculpture on the waterside plaza, a nod to Manzanillo’s self-proclaimed status as ‘Sailfish Capital of the World’, flanked by a huge Mexican flag – about the size of half a football field.

Across the street, is a venire of relatively modern buildings hosting modest shops, a parking lot, a couple of small Oxo grocery stores (heavily stocked with the junk food that cruise ship crews seem to prefer), a bank, “very Mexican” restaurants and so on. Once you move behind that row of modern buildings, you move directly into the old town, the most “atmospheric” (Mexican) area.

Visit between December and April and you’re likely to see whales swimming in Manzanillo Bay.

Outside of the town, Playa La Boquita is a beach with calm waters at the mouth of a lagoon where fishermen lay out their nets to dry by day, and shove off by night. The beach is lined with seafood restaurants where you can hang out for the day. A shipwreck just offshore makes this a popular snorkeling spot.

Boasting the best surfing and bodysurfing waves in the area, the long and beautiful Playa Miramar is an ideal place to take the plunge and rent a surfboard from a beach shack. Catch a bus marked ‘Miramar’ to get here.

Playa Azul is a 6km-long, curving strip of sand is rather steep and buffeted by Pacific surf, so it’s better for sunbathing and walking than swimming. It stretches northwest from Playa Las Brisas to the Península de Santiago.

Other potentially interesting activities include taking photos of iguanas in a public park, photographing the interesting graffiti covering many of the walls of the downtown area ana swimming with the sea turtles.

Zihuatanejo (Ixtapa), Mexico

Zihuatanejo, is the fourth-largest city in the Mexican state of Guerrero. The area is now the third most-visited area in Mexico, after Cancún and Puerto Vallarta, and the most popular for sports fishermen. The center of town, including streets radiating out from Av. Cinco de Mayo, have been cleaned and host a wide variety of shops and restaurants line them. A shop of note, which sells a wide variety bof artifacts from around Mexico (many of which might be too fragile to ship is the Suazo Art Gallkery (Calle Cuauhtemoc #16, Col Centro, www.suazoartgallery.com.mx).

Ixtapa is a nearly adjacent Pacific Coast beach resort in the Mexican state of Guerrero. Curving El Palmar Beach is lined with high-rise hotels, bars and restaurants. Fishing boats leave from Ixtapa Marina, next to a world-class golf course and lit tennis courts. The granite rocks of Los Morros de Potosí are a popular dive site, while the Delfiniti dolphinarium offers the chance to swim with dolphins.

Horses are available for beach rides in Playa La Ropa and Playa Linda. To really get away from it all, visit the fishing settlement of Barra de Patosi.

A few places to consider for lunch, or maybe just a wonderfully fresh guacamole and a margarita:

Bandido´s Restaurant Bar (Av 5 de Mayo 8)

Cuattro Cycle Coffee & Tea (Ignacio M. Altamirano 19)

Palma Grande (Ejido 24-departamento #2)

Coconuts Restaurant & Bar (Agustín Ramírez 1)

For good Mexican food, La Terracita (Calle Adelita, P.º del Pescador S/N, entre Playa la Madera)


@OrmontUS have a safe, enjoyable and interesting trip!


I’ve seen this kind of statement by cargo ships as well. I think going slower results in less overall fuel consumed. Hence the savings (of both money and carbon emissions).

Have a great trip!!!


Masks are few and far between in Porto, even pharmacies no longer require them. Porto is back to normal!

There is an optimum speed for maximum fuel economy. Saving the world from Climate Crisis is just a Davos selling point.

I am becoming more doubtful that we will dock at Peru, due to the growing degree of social unrest there.

During yesterday’s walk I met a young Brazilian while waiting for the 500 autocarro (bus) to take us to the São Bento Metro station. I told him about my visit to Rio de Janeiro decades ago. He said that he avoids Rio at all costs on account of the high crime rate while mimicking shooting a handgun.

Happy Voyaging!

The Captain

1 Like

My daughter was in Rio a few years ago and she told me the advisors in her group told them to not carry phones, jewelry or anything valuable because you would be robbed on the street…doc

This week’s travel takes us to the former Portuguese colony of Sao Tome and Principe as well as Namibia (with a complex German, English and South African colonial heritage).

We have traveled far enough east that the time stamps on my emails are beginning to seem like they will arrive before they were sent😊. (I keep my laptop on NYC time so my Outlook calendar doesn’t freak out by compensating and changing dates/times).

As we travel south, my informal alarm clock of leaving the room’s blackout curtains parted a bit so I can check if the sun has risen, has begun to drift about an hour into the red. In addition, the weather has grown noticeably cooler with multiple layers or jackets required during the morning hours in Namibia.

Over the past week, there has apparently been an outbreak of GI norovirus and alcohol sanitizers are in obvious increased use. While some precautions have been taken, such as locking the library, curiously duplicate bridge is still being played (with a nod to the problem that bidding boxes are not being used). It seems that the ship-run excursions are more frequently involving a meal (as that significantly increases their price) and I’m guessing this is the result of one of the West African meal venues improperly handling the food.

The seas have kicked up a bit for the first time this trip and people are weaving around like drunkards, hearing their Sea-Band anti-seasick bracelets and some are beginning to look longingly at the barf-bags sprinkled liberally at strategic locations.

For the last week or so, we’ve had a very bored looking handful of characters who boarded with bags and boxes that were large enough to carry long-arms. They are in their thirties, proudly display an array of tattoos (one wears an eye patch) and presumably are supposed to protect us from pirates (but seem to prefer to sit in the espresso bar showing each other videos on their mobile phones). Just two days ago, a Danish merchant vessel was boarded by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, so maybe these guys are not a bad idea after all.

Cool security tip: Think about carrying a large light-weight aluminum carabiner (a type of lockable loop type of clip used in mountain climbing) to loop around a table or chair leg (or other thin item on restaurant furniture) and the strap of your carry bag. A simpler alternative is to unsnap the strap from the bag, wrap it around the furniture and snap it back.

The “average” passenger aboard the ship is significantly different from the general population. They tend to be older (I’d say the median age is well over 70), they tend to be affluent (a 180 day cruise on a luxury cruise ship ain’t cheap), they tend to be, on average, highly educated and many have had interesting pre-retirement backgrounds. On average, the men seem to be taller than the general population which parallels the findings that CEO’s, generals and other leaders tend to be taller than the general population.

Life aboard of ship for a few months with a couple of hundred of the same passengers which, every few weeks has an equal number of short-term transients sets up interesting social patterns. Cliques form, likes and dislikes become apparent and the ship begins to resemble a kindergarten.


São Tomé and Príncipe

“You do not choose the day you enter the world and you do not chose the day you leave. It is what you do in between that makes all the difference.” – Anita Septimus

The island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe is Africa’s second smallest country and among its most isolated. Located on the Equator, the country is formed by rocky archipelagoes surrounding two larger islands. Measuring 50 by 30 kilometers, São Tomé Island is 200 kilometers west of Gabon and geologically part of a massive shield volcano rising 3000 meters above the ocean floor. About 140 kilometers to the northeast is the smaller island of Príncipe.

São Tomé (named in honor of Saint Thomas by Portuguese explorers) and Príncipe is a Portuguese-speaking island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Africa. It consists of two islands: São Tomé and Príncipe, located about 87 miles (140 kilometers) apart, off the northwestern coast of Gabon. This was one of the chain of Portuguese settlements built to support their explorers and traders as they circled Africa for the Asian trade.

Originally uninhabited, the Portuguese brought workers from Africa to work as slaves on their plantations and since the 19th century, the economy of São Tomé and Príncipe has been based on plantation agriculture – first sugar and afterwards cocoa which currently represents about 95% of its agricultural exports. Other export crops include copra, palm kernels, and coffee. At the time of independence, Portuguese-owned plantations occupied 90% of the cultivated area.

After independence, control of these plantations passed to various state-owned agricultural enterprises. Roughly 99% of the population is ethnically African and while a small minority practice Christianity, most practice traditional local traditional religions (which some in the West might call Voodoo).

With a 2017 per capita gross domestic product of just $1,900, a significant part of the population lives below the poverty line. Isolation and the absence of economic diversification contribute to the country’s standing as among the world’s largest per capita recipients of foreign aid. With no minimum age for working, child labor is widespread. Educational attainment is a symbol of status leading families with the financial means to send children to live with relatives in São Tomé City where they can attend a secondary school.

São Tomé seems to embody a kind of lush tropical paradise usually associated with the South Pacific. The atmosphere here is palpably luxurious and has an intoxicating blend of sunlight, sea, air and fantastically abundant vegetation.

Yeah, well that’s the propaganda at least. This place, while covered with rain forests and plantations exhibits the worst of African conditions. The unemployed male population lounges everywhere, garbage is stacked and while the streets are lined with yellow painted taxis, there are few which look in a condition to travel even short distances.

We took the ship’s shuttle to town and then searched out the Municipal Market (Mercado da Cidade). We have been in many markets over the years, but I cannot remember ever being in one with such narrow aisles between the food vendors – or one with such an assortment of unrefrigerated fish and meat that the stench and the flies made a penetration of more than thirty or forty meters intolerable. The vendors seemed to resent our intrusion and yelled, clutched at our hands and made us feel very uncomfortable to be in the enclosed building. The surrounding streets are lined with small stands primarily selling a variety of used clothing, used shoes, used flip-flops and such, occasionally punctuated with stationary “shops” displaying a few pads of paper and a handful of cheap ball-point pens, mobile phone repair specialists and other assorted non-clothing purveyors.

A few minutes’ walk from the shuttle drop-off point is the Presidential Palace (tours not available). About a mile further is the National Museum followed by the lighthouse.

Nearby, we entered a church with centuries old blue Portuguese tiles set in the walls portraying the Stations of the Cross. This turned out to be the Catedral de São Tomé, built in the 16th century. As we left the church, we were accosted by a young man who made it clear that he was a cab driver and, with a bit of difficulty because he only spoke heavily accented Portuguese, I asked the price to go to a tall waterfall in the dense forest at the center of the island – the Cascata de São Nicolau.

Most of the cabs here are wrecks (though easily recognizable by being painted bright yellow) and, since we were with another couple, I told them that if I did not think the cab would make it, we’d keep walking. After a walk of about half a kilometer, we came to his cab in a lot with quite a few others. It seemed in better shape than most (though it turned out to have almost 400,000 km on the odometer – assuming this was the first turn of the dials – I guess if you change the oil regularly on a Toyota, it will last forever). We then held a multi-sided price negotiation, with others giving him advice and still other cab drivers trying to steal his fare. The final settlement was $20US for the 40km round trip ride to the falls. When I put on my seat belt, the other cab drivers made jokes about it (and the seat belt left a path of dirt diagonally across my shirt, making me look like a shmutzy Ms. Congeniality – I guess it was the first time it had been used in years).

It turns out that, when we entered the national park, around 2/3 of the way there, the road turned from asphalt to a dirt road filled with rocks and potholes, but while rattling, the tough Toyota cab survived the experience. I guess, since the price was so cheap for the four of us, it made sense to see the waterfall (though I’ve seen many which were more impressive in other parts of the world).

Outside cacao production, the country has few economic activities for generating hard currency.

The islands’ best-known producer of organically grown cacao is Claudio Corallo, an Italian businessman and farmer who purchased a 120 hectare roça in 1997 called Terreiro Velha. Along with overseeing cacao production on his plantation, Corallo gives demonstrations at his laboratory and chocolate factory in São Tomé City (Rua do Município (Av. Marginal 12 de Julho) nº 978, Phone: +239 991 6815). Call before noon to set up a factory tour at 4PM. There is an expensive factory tour and the products are available on their web site (https://www.claudiocorallo.com/), but are also available at less than half-price at the Super CKDO supermarket (the long blue building on the opposite side of the bay, about 2 miles from the shuttle drop-off).

Courtesy of a fellow passenger who was familiar with a recent doctoral dissertation, we learned the story of the “Lost Boys of São Tomé”. During the Spanish inquisition at the end of the 15th century, many Jews paid to enter Portugal, eventually founding the first synagogues in the New World – both in Portuguese colonies and, by way of Amsterdam, in Dutch ones (Recife Brazil, Curacao and New Amsterdam for example). Anyhow, during the time that these refugees spent in Portugal, a large number of their children were kidnapped and shipped off to São Tomé as well as the Cape Verde Islands to work as slaves and forced to convert to Christianity.

To be honest, this island holds little of interest to most tourists (though I did hear that there is good bird-watching near the waterfall) and should only be sought out by those who collect visits to new countries in the fashion that philatelists collect stamps. It is not my style to keep track of countries for this purpose (but rather to simply try to see parts of the world we have never been to – whether in a new country or one we have already visited), but there are some who place importance on trying to hit the maximum number of them.

Walvis Bay, Namibia

“I travel light. But not at the same speed.:slight_smile: ― Jarod Kintz, The Days of Yay are Here! Wake Me Up When They’re Over.

Miles from the Namibian coast, the ship was surrounded by swimming small seals “porpoising” and feeding.

Namibia has been called “The Land God Made in Anger” because of its stark, surreal landscapes, untamed wilderness, and harsh environment. Walvis (or “Whale”) Bay, as a natural deep harbor on the way to Cape Town, has had a complex political history as a British/South African enclave in the midst of (pre-World War I) German Southwest Africa. The major industry was originally guano collection and salt production but, as the terminus of the Namib Railroad, it played an important role in trade and shipping of goods from throughout the country (and the Namibian terminus of the Shongololo train we took a few years ago).

Formerly a whaling station, Walvis Bay has become the principal port of entry into Namibia. When Namibia gained independence from South Africa in 1990, Walvis Bay and the surrounding enclave remained part of South Africa until February 28, 1994. On this date, the enclave was transferred to Namibian control, ending a long disputed claim between the two countries.

With Walvis Bay under British control, the German authorities during the early 20th century tried to develop their own interests by establishing Swakopmund as a port. It was under German domination until 1915 (when German West Africa was turned over to joint British and South African control. Now a resort town, Swakopmund lies 24 miles (38 km) north of Walvis Bay. Before independence, Afrikaans, English and German were the official languages. Following independence, English became the official language, with Bantu and Khoi-San the main ethnic language groups.

Walvis Bay is a good starting point for excursions into the desert and dune regions, but the town is of limited interest as the majority of shops cater to local clientele. The local currency is the Namibian dollar; most vendors generally accept South African Rand (which shares the same value as the Namibian dollar). As Namibian dollars are only good here, but South African Rand can be used in a number of African countries, make sure to ask for any change in SA Rand.

Interestingly, while the people in the markets would accept US dollars (and Euros) without problem, some shops would not take $1US bills (though would accept the larger denominations) and other shops would only accept “African” (meaning Namibian and South African) currency. MasterCard and Visa (but not American Express) credit cards are accepted by almost all shops and, if you have selected a version without a foreign conversion fee, this may be the easiest way to pay in any restaurants or shops. Taxi drivers will take Rand, US Dollars or Euros, but at the rate of 10 Namibian dollars to either a US buck or a Euro (so you are better off paying in local or South African currency. Some shops posted rates as poor as only 9 Namibian dollars per US dollar.

When we visited in 2023, the ship’s shuttle bas dropped us at the Dunes Mall, a modern, clean, rather large mall with all of the common stores found in South African malls - Pic-n-Pay supermarket, Cape Union, Woolworth department store, etc. – and the Pic-n-Pay liquor department has a broad selection of inexpensive name-brand South African wines.

The streets of the downtown area are extremely neat and clean, almost completely deserted and the stores/shops are far from dense, indicating that people use cars a lot. The prices in the supermarket for fruits are very reasonable, meat is reasonably priced compared to the US (with an emphasis on large cuts of beef), but the cuts showed nearly no fat or “marbling with fat. The “townships” are far more crowded and it is important to hire a local experienced guide if considering going into them.

My wife had her hair expertly and inexpensively done at Isabel’s Place (2GX7+GQ6 Moses Goreb Street, 11th Street & 17th Road, +264 813089269). This is a clean and modern place. After a couple of aggressive drivers offered to take us (what turned out to be a 2 km ride) for $10USD each, we went with a mall security guard to the mall’s taxi line and took a taxi for 50 Rand to the salon. While the driver claimed to know how to get there, it turned out he was from Angola and was clueless, but a couple of telephone calls to thee hairdresser helped him zero in. We took the driver’s phone number and called him when it was time to return to the mall (for another 50 Rand).

I had done a “bit” of research so I had a route in mind. The only thing lacking was transportation and people to share it with. Part of the challenge in a new port is to try to ascertain what the cost of transportation/touring should be, rather than the very inflated prices that the waiting drivers propose. They will try to charge by the person and I always like to negotiate by the vehicle. I always assume that about (the equivalent of) one US dollar per kilometer is a fair price for a “legal” (licensed and insured for tourism) taxi or van and bargain accordingly (since the drivers invariably start much higher, I obviously start much lower so that we hopefully compromise at a reasonable price. This process frequently upsets other Westerners as they think I am being cheap or trying to take advantage of poor downtrodden people.

I take the attitude that their initial prices were chosen to be ridiculously high and, if accepted, would not only brand me an idiot in their eyes, but make things more difficult or the next tourist to come along. There are many places in the world where, because of tourists habitually not following the local customs of bargaining, all tourists are now treated as fools. Anyhow, with a bit of spirited negotiation (culminating in my pulling passengers off the ship’s shuttle bus to town where their boarding was the equivalent of “walking out of the shop”) a rate for a 13 passenger tourist van for a full day of sightseeing divided out (for the 12 passengers who ended up joining) to a choice of 130 South African rand or $13US (or any mixture) per person (which was exactly 1/10 what the ship charged for the same trip – at $129 per person).

Round-trip to Swakopmund with waiting for sightseeing time there costs around 400 Rand per cab (or about $10US a person for a pair of couples).

Namibian citizens (similar to South Africans) generally fall into three racial groups. The Blacks make up about 75% of Namibia’s population. Whites make up about 6% and “Colored” makes up most of the balance (“Colored” being described here as mixed race in a fashion the Mestizo or Creole might be used elsewhere). Our rather light skinned and somewhat European featured driver was a member of this third group and explained that when South Africa was administering the country (which was previously German West Africa, but was subsequently called South-West Africa) he was too Black to be admitted to the upper echelons of society, but after Namibia’s independence he is too White to do so.

He and his son own a couple of vans which they use to provide tourist transport, but he says there has been a steady increase in small Chinese businesses opening up ever since Chinese companies started buying mineral resource companies and rights. He also said that cheap Chinese labor had been imported recently to work on projects sponsored with Chinese aid. Many of the larger indigenous companies are owned and managed by South Africans.

The tour route took us first to see large flocks of pink flamingos standing in the nearby shallows (better during low tide). Then it was off to see the “salt mines” (actually a plant for commercially processing sea salt). Flocks of flamingos and pelicans feed here in the nutrient-rich water. The lagoon also supports an important salt industry and, from our cabin, we can see bulldozers playing in mountains of white salt sparkling in the sun.

The homes facing the sea shore are quite large, fancy and modern. They belong to various politicians and other wealthy people and sell for $750,000US (+/-30%). Further out of town, but still near the sea, similar homes were in the $250,000US range. The road to Swakopmund takes you past some pretty ritzy houses along the “beach” (the whole bloody country seems to be a beach from the dunes of the Namib Desert to the arid Kalahari Desert in the north). We were told that these cost in the neighborhood of $20,000US and most of the inhabitants were wealthy South Africans (though the market seems to have deteriorated after the Japanese Fukajima disaster brought down the price of uranium).

From there we entered the Namib Desert, heading through a barren landscape worthy of the depths of the Arabian Peninsula, but with the seashore paralleling us. Around a twenty minute drive took us to Dune Number 7, a huge ridge of red sand paralleling the road. It is possible to climb (laboriously) to the top and slide down for seconds of enjoyment as your shoes and clothing fill with sand (been there, done that in Wadi Rum, Jordan last year and do not need to repeat). The road is lined with places which offer ATV quad-biking, sand-boarding, sand-skiing, parasailing, camel riding and other guided adrenaline inducing activities.

We drove another quarter hour and ended up in the very Germanic town of Swakopmund. Swakopmund resembles a small German town somehow transported to the desert. This place is an anomaly in that the population is largely white, the language spoken is German rather than the more usual Afrikaans (a Flemish dialect) spoken by nearly everyone elsewhere and the food rivals that of Bavaria (though oysters are prevalent, as well as cheap here). We had mugs of the local beer (named Windhoek Draught) at a café named Bojo where the free internet is protected by the password “garliclady”) is excellent. This place only accepts rand as cash and the password is different from the last time I had a coffee there. There is also free Wi-Fi available from a bench in front of the hotel across the street from the African Market (no password required).

We spent a bit of time in the Swakopmund Museum (and Sam Cohn Bibliothek) that is worth the two bucks admission (and maybe 45 minutes or so) to see how the population of the town lived during the early 20th century.

We then wandered the palm-lined streets, seaside promenades, art galleries and stores browsing and purchasing a few souvenir knick-knacks. We had lunch in a lovely seafood store/restaurant across from the Pick-N-Pay supermarket and next to an outfit offering air tours of the coast. My oysters were among the best I’ve ever had. We then crossed the street the Pick-N-Pay and picked up a bottle of South African Amarula crème liqueur which we managed to smuggle aboard the ship to share with friends. This elixir is created from a fruit which grows wild in the bush and tastes similar to Baily’s Irish Cream (in my opinion, at least).

A couple of blocks further down the street I ran into a craftsman (wellingtonmushonga@yahoo.com, Tel: +264 813137364) from Zimbabwe who was very skilled in creating the large beaded animals which are typical of South Africa and who is willing to ship abroad.

We wandered around the town for a couple of hours. We were attracted by an outfit named Sossusfly (www.sossufly.com) who offers small plane charters (up to five passengers) at about $150US per person, per hour along the Skeleton Coast and over the moonscape-like sand dunes. In looking for a novel way to fill our upcoming overnight stay, we are considering flights, safaris in the Kalahari Desert (though I suspect we may be at least temporarily safaried out by then) and a couple of other ideas.

There were a couple of crafts markets selling carved wooden models of the “Big Five” animals, animal horns, bracelets and so on. The vendors seem desperate for business, but again vigorous bargaining is required to get rational prices (medium sized wooden animals run about $6-$7 and one meter long oryx horns are about $15). There were also some tribal women who sat naked from the waist up, with their hair held in place by some brown colored material (clay?, dung?). They were selling a variety of hand-made bracelets ($4 for worked copper and $2 for wood after bargaining – with free photo ops thrown in – else they asked $10 for photos, but would settle for a buck.

We were told that the best oysters on the west coast are found in Walvis Bay’s restaurants and hotels, but they seem to cost as much as four times as much as in yesterday’s port of Luderitz. A popular restaurant near the location frequented by the flamingos known as “The Raft” is an inexpensive place to drink and an expensive place to eat. At a future trip, we ate at Anchors Restaurant, near the Yacht Club and the prices were in line with those in Luderitz and everything we ate (or saw) from the menu was great. A good place for breakfast (catering to locals) is the Dolphin Restaurant behind the Protea Hotel.

This morning we are taking an excursion to Pelican Point arranged by a couple of other passengers. Originally they contacted Catamaran Tours (http://namibiancharters.com/, +264 81 129 5393) in Walvis Bay who they had used before, but since they were already booked (by a ship’s excursion), they recommended contacting Laramon Tours (www.laramontours.com, +264 81 128 0635).

Laramon Tours, located at the waterfront within walking distance of the ship (but who supplied a complimentary shuttle service anyway), operates 2 motorized catamarans that can accommodate up to a total of 50 people between them and offer ample space on deck to walk around and enjoy the cruise. They have a private dock located in the Walvis Bay harbor / lagoon area. The cost of the three hour tour is 600 Namibian Dollars per person (SA Rand, or about $42US).

We started the tour with a couple of seals jumping from the bay into the boat. A bit later, we were surrounded by bottlenose dolphins jumping and cavorting at the bow and in the boat’s wake. Large pelicans landed on the boat and playfully (?) snapped at the guests. Eventually, after passing huge oyster farms, we reached Pelican Point that is home to tens of thousands (or more?) of Cape Fur Seals. The beach and nearby water was as crowded with testosterone filled males, females and hordes of baby seals as Coney Island’s beach on a hot summer day. On the way back, we found a mala mala (ocean sunfish), a bizarre looking spherical fish, who alternately swam on its side and raised its dorsal fin in the air.

The lunch served during the cruise started with South African sherry, followed by champagne, beer, soda, fresh local oysters and platters of typical local finger food. The trip was made a bit more interesting when one of the local passengers proposed to his girlfriend and yet another set of toasts was hoisted.

This side trip was wonderfully enjoyable and I highly recommend it to any who come here.

In the morning we decided to head to the “Kuisebmond Market Hall” which was mentioned in the ship’s literature as a place to find “vendors offering a variety of traditional crafts, clothing and typical Namibian dishes”. The only transports near the ship were looking for long-haul trips to Swakopmund, 20 mi (32 km) north of Walvis Bay, so we took the ship’s shuttle to town to get a more modest cab. After making my way through the teeming crowd of taxi drivers all vying for our business, I negotiated with one who owned a van (there were, awkwardly, six of us) to 100 Rand.

It’s better to bargain in South African Rand – which are accepted at the rate of one per Namibian Dollar – than in “dollars” which are ambiguous as to whether they are Namibian or American, regardless of what currency you eventually pay in) for 100 Rand to get to Kuisebmond. It turned out there was not anything of interest to a tourist in that town and we paid another 100 Rand to get back. In discussions, the “normal” price for a taxi on that route would have been “10 Namibian Dollars” per person, so for a van we did OK.

For those with the time, the Namib-Naukluft National Park offers the opportunity to do some off-road driving in four wheel drive vehicles. It is probably best to take a guide, water and a GPS so that you return safely. It probably is something that would make sense to do on the first day of an overnight like we have. North from Swakopmund is Namibia’s wildly beautiful coastline, the notorious Skeleton Coast. The Portuguese seafarers who explored this area in the 15th century called this treacherous coast with its cold Benguela current and deadly crosscurrents the “Coast of Death.” Small planes can be chartered to overfly the coast and the dunes of the Namib Desert.

As compared to the non-existent off-ship amenities of a Holland America Line voyage, Oceania Cruise line has invited all the passengers to an evening event (as part of its world cruise itinerary). Tonight’s dinner is a barbeque in the Swakop River Canyon about an hour from the ship, and down a long dirt road in a national park. The view resembled a moonscape with its unusually craggy rock formations and its dry riverbeds, and during sunset, the fading light threw dramatic shadows across the stark landscape.

Some of the items on the menu were smoked oryx tenderloin, “queen sized” black prawns, chicken drumsticks simmered in peanut sauce, Lesotho style oxtail, marrow with green peppers and corn, Egyptian Koshari and so on. The entertainment consisted of African drummers and some fire twirlers, with some of the passengers spontaneously joining in the dancing but the real treat was the surrounding landscape lit by hundreds of large candles.

Namibian immigration authority personnel, typical of others in Africa, spent a lot of time thumbing through my 100-page passport to make sure I had an appropriate entrance stamp before placing an exit stamp to let me out. I learned to put Post-It tabs on the page with the entry stamp to the country I’m in after that experience.

Lüderitz, Namibia

“It sounds so far away and different. I like different places. I like any places that isn’t here.” ― Edna Ferber, Gigolo

This is a bit of a whistle stop. The small diamond-mining and fishing town of Lüderitz is wedged between the Namib Desert dunes and the wild Atlantic seaboard in south-western Africa. Due to its location, Lüderitz is not on many tourist itineraries; a fact that accounts for its relaxed local lifestyle and charm. The recent addition of a new quay has enabled larger fishing vessels and cruise ships to dock here, and it is the second time within a year that we have visited. The town is also attempting to modernize the waterfront area and is encouraging the opening of shops and offices there.

The best way to pick up a free tourist map (extremely detailed/useful) is to drop into “Lüderitz Safaris and Tours” on Bismarck Street (the main street leading up from the port entrance – stay to the left side where the street forks).

Bremen tobacco merchant Adolf Lüderitz founded the settlement in 1884, and it was put under the protection of the German government by Chancellor Bismarck. As a result, Bismarck initiated German control of all of southwest Africa, except for the British enclave of Walvis Bay.

During the 1890s the indigenous tribes settled in German South West Africa (now, Namibia) came under pressure from the growing number of German settlers wanting their land, cattle, and labor. Factors such as loss of property, increasing debt in an attempt to resettle lost herds, low wages on white-owned farms, and racial inequalities intensified the hostility between the Herero and the Germans.

In January 1904, the indigenous Herero people rebelled against German colonial rule and killed over 100 German settlers near the town of Okahandja. Over 15,000 German reinforcements under the command of Lothar Von Trotha defeated the Herero force at the Waterberg River in August 1904.

First following a policy of exterminating Herero within the borders of German South West Africa by denying them access to water holes, the colonial authorities shifted to a policy of sweeping the bush clear of Herero – both civilians and rebels – and removing them, either voluntarily or by force, to concentration camps.

Shark Island or “Death Island”, off the coast of Lüderitz, was one of five concentration camps in German South West Africa used by the German Empire during the Herero and Namaqua genocide of 1904–08. Between 1,032 and 3,000 Herero and Namaqua men, women, and children died in the camp between March 1905 and its closing in April 1907.

Southwest Africa remained a German colony until the invasion by South African and British forces during World War I. At the end of the war, the territory was administered by South Africa until 1990, when Namibia achieved its independence. Most people in Namibia speak English and many also speak either/both German and/or Afrikaans.

While we tendered last time we were here, I guess because of the small size of our ship, we were able to dock at the Lüderitz Pier. Lüderitz’s town center can be reached via a 0.3-mile (0.5-kilometre) walk on-foot. While there were a few fancy and expensive excursion type vehicles at the pier for hire, there were quite a few older taxis and private-owned vehicles available for hire just outside the port gate. It is important to establish a price before starting any journey, not to mention giving at least a glance at the condition of the car to see if it would be likely to survive the trip.

The “big” thing to see around here is the ghost town of Kolmanskop which was one of Africa’s richest diamond mining towns during the early 20th century. Situated in the Sperrgebiet, or ‘forbidden territory’, inland from the port of Lüderitz, a diamond discovery in 1908 turned this area into a bustling, and extremely wealthy, diamond hub overnight, but richer diamond deposits found further south turned Kolmanskop into a ghost town within 40 years. The remains of the town fight a constant struggle with the sand dunes of the Namib Desert to keep its head above sand and the restoration of a number of buildings have today made Kolmanskop a tourist attraction. While the ship’s excursion to here was $89US, it costs about $25-$30US for a round trip taxi and the entry into the site, including a guided tour, costs 80 Rand (about $5.50US)

The ghost town has signs painted with German gothic lettering, a bowling alley, a power plant and just about every amenity you might expect one of the wealthiest towns in the world to sport – all antiques.

The ghost town has been kept in pretty good condition by the dry conditions and its biggest treat seems to be that it will be buried under the huge undulating yellow sand dunes which fill the view to the horizon and extend hundreds of miles to Namibia’s borders.

There is not much for the tourist to buy in Lüderitz. It is home to a limited number of boutiques and curio shops offering clothing, handicrafts and woodcarvings from various other African countries, but none that struck me as unique or worth the effort to carry them back.

Many of the goods in the supermarket are imported from South Africa. While the town’s Spar supermarket did not carry the Schweppes Bitter Lemon quinine drink which she enjoys (and is found in South Africa), I was able to pick up a bottle of Mrs. Balls Original Chutney, a condiment which is ubiquitous in South Africa, but difficult to find in the US.

Most of the souvenirs found in the shops and markets of Namibia were crafted in other parts of Africa (typically Zimbabwe, Zambia and Kenya). While I didn’t find anything as nice during our trip to West Africa, I saw a passenger carrying an ebony carving of a group of warriors which she apparently bought in a shop for about $150US which took my breath away. I found out on another trip that the statue was probably from Tanzania and could be purchased there for about $30. You have to sift through lots of chaff, but every now and then you come across something special in African markets and shops. My “big” purchase was three matching sized warthog tusks made into bottle openers. My intention is to saw off the metal opener portion and turn the three into a sort of tripod to hold a decorated ostrich egg we bought on our first trip to South Africa.

Known as the “Felsenkirche” or “Church on the Rocks”, this Evangelical Lutheran Church, built in 1911, is located on Diamond Mountain. The highest-placed building in Lüderitz, this church is highlighted by beautiful stained-glass windows and breath-taking panoramic views overlooking the city and bay. The road leading to the church passes the quaint and colorful houses and shops of the town along streets covered in blowing desert sand.

There are not many choices of restaurants in-town, but the following are likely your best choices (more or less in the order of desirability):

Prospectors Inn Hotel (B4 (Entrance at Trentyre gate)

Barrels Pub & Restaurant (C/o Berg &, Nachtigall St)

Essenzeit (39 Hafen St)

Diaz Coffee Shop and Restaurant (25 Bismarck St, In Guesthouse Krabbenhoft) – far from fancy, but clean tasty food at a very reasonable price.

The Portuguese Fisherman Seafood and Fish (the Museum, Diaz street)

Penguin Restaurant (Diaz Street · In Lüderitz Nest Hotel)

Located east of the jetty, the Lüderitz Waterfront Complex is home to a Café which offers free Wi-Fi if you buy some food or drink.

And then the train came to Lüderitz (in 2015). Not any train, but the first train in 22 years to come down the tracks. There were lines of school children, teachers, parents and shopkeepers to cheer the event. As the train slowly moved down the tracks a team of men with shovels and brooms swept the sands of the Namib Desert off the tracks. This turned out to be used for shipping manganese ore from Chinese-owned mines to load onto bulk vessels. Because of the current lack of depth in the harbor, the ships are only partially loaded here and they are topped off (with presumably more expensive ore) in South African ports.