South Africa & Namibia

18.02.2023 Amsterdam, Netherlands

After a long flight from St. Martin, we arrived at Schiphol. There was no possibility of an upgrade for me, but H was back in Business for the next long flight to Cape Town. H made enough fuss to get me in the KLM lounge for breakfast. Our bags arrived at Cape Town, and we got a crew transfer van to the SunSquare hotel arriving very late in the evening.  

19.02.2023 Cape Town, South Africa

Taxi to AIDAaura at Duncan Dock. We had a quick look at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Jetlag kicked in.

Coincidentally, on 10th July 1901, my then 19-year-old great-grandfather, Joseph Herberts, also arrived at Cape Town. He came from Southampton aboard the SS Bavarian along with 26 officers and 779 other men of the Volunteer 5th Bn. Manchester Regiment. Joseph was a Mounted Infantry Scout tasked with guarding the Bloemfontein-Pretoria railway near the town of Winburg in the Orange Free State. The 2nd Boer War was by then in its later guerrilla stage when the fragmented raiding forces of the Transvaal and Free State were being contained by Kitchener’s blockhouse system. Joseph was taken prisoner-of-war by the Boers during late 1901. Joseph survived the Boers only to be killed by Turks near Baghdad in 1917. Amazing that he had any descendants, really.     

20.02.2023 Cape Town, South Africa

Daniela and Dieter arrived from Schulzendorf. We had a coffee together in the V&A Waterfront. AIDAaura left Cape Town at 19:00 UTC running in to a very rough sea. We rounded the Cape of Good Hope three hours later.

There were Carnival celebrations at sea on the windy deck the following evening.

22.02.2023 East London, South Africa

We tried and failed to get an official shuttlebus to see some monument to the areas German settlers. It was widely rumoured that anyone on foot here would almost certainly be robbed at knife-point. We had been having discussions with a former colleague of H’s called Jenny, who is now a local tour operator, about some upcoming Boer & Zulu War side trips for me. Jenny and her partner Stuart were working on the dockside and offered to give us a ride to Nahoon Beach. It is a very big beach with giant sand dunes and crashing surf. There were some very large paw-prints in the sand which we only half-jokingly said were from lions chasing tourists. We got an Uber back to the ship.    

23.02.2023 Durban, South Africa

The excursion today was a bus trip for H, Daniela, Dieter and me around Durban. The usual sights. A stop at the Victoria Street Market got me a set of camel-bone spoons which are ideal for caviar. I almost got my first Bunny Chow but it would have been anti-social on the bus. Bunny Chow is uniquely Durban. It is a south Indian-style curry inside half a loaf of bread. H got the usual African tourist tat. Then we went to the Botanical Gardens where I tracked down their Cycad collection. These are ancient, endangered, and now highly protected plants that superficially resemble palm trees. Each plant can live for up to 2,000 years apparently.

25.02.2023 Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Safari tour to Kwantu Private Game Reserve. Elephant, springbok, impala, zebra etc. with lions to keep them from over-population.

26.02.2023 Port Elizabeth, Durban, South Africa

Safari tour in Addo Elephant Park with H, Daniela and Dieter. A huge landscape stuffed with elephants and other creatures seen from the back of a safari truck.

Then an adventure on my own starting with a flight to Durban and an overnight stay at Salt Rock Hotel.

27.02.2023 Durban, Ladysmith, Dundee, South Africa

I was met by Shelldon Wells, a wildlife and battlefield tour guide, and driven to Ladysmith where we met up with Pat Rundgren, another battlefield expert. We drove on rough roads to Spion Kop, one of the more famous 2nd Boer War battlefield sites. This was a kind of family history tour covering the early life of my great-grandfather. He wasn’t at Spion Kop but there is nothing notable where he actually was. Spion Kop was a famous disaster of 23-24th January 1900 with many dead on a tiny steep-sided hilltop during the attempt to relieve the siege of Ladysmith. It was a sad place with many memorials and long mass graves made from filled in shallow trenches. The hill gave its name to the terraces, originally a banking, at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium and other football grounds.

I stayed the night in a B&B called Sneezewood, near Dundee. A farmhouse where from my room I could see kudu antelope in the fields and yellow and red weaver birds in the trees. I also experienced my first South African “load shedding” where they turn the power off at the exact time you need it.

28.02.2023 Isandlwana, Rourke’s Drift, Kwazulu-Natal

Drove with Pat and Shelldon to Isandlwana. The bushveldt landscape is enormous with endless bright green grassland and rocky hills. Isandlwana, in Zululand, is a distinctively shaped mountain whose very name sent shudders through the Victorian-age British Empire after the disaster of 22nd January 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War. Almost all the British troops, over 1,300, were killed.

We also visited Rourke’s Drift which was attacked later the same day in a fit of over-enthusiasm. The results were very different as defensive structures could be prepared at Rourke’s Drift in time and the Zulus were eventually forced to retreat. Both battles have been made into movies. According to my hired experts, there are a good many historical errors and ongoing debate, nevertheless they are ripping yarns.

Overnight again at Sneezewood. There were more load-shedding events but Paul, the farm B&B owner, let me tap into the UPS battery.

01.03.2023 Durban to Johannesburg, SA

Return drive to Durban with Shelldon. We had an iconic Bunny Chow curry for lunch in Durban and then on to King Shaka International Airport. The downside of an airport lounge pass and three hours to kill is that one tends to eat too many bags of crisps and pour drinkies of a size that are less than sensible. Flight to Johannesburg and hotel overnight.

02.03.2023 Johannesburg SA to Walvis Bay, Namibia

Up early and breakfast in an airport lounge. I bought some impala and wildebeest biltong for the journey. The flight across the red Namib Desert was like flying across the surface of Mars. I was met at Walvis Bay airport by H and we went on a quick taxi sightsee to see a bunch of pink stuff. Pink flamingos and a pink lake and a pinkish Dune 7.

I went back to AIDAaura to drop my bags and almost immediately joined a 4×4 expedition into the Namib-Naukluft National Park. We stopped again to see more flamingos. About 80 percent of southern Africa’s flamingos paddle here. We stopped again at the famous Dune 7 which is just one of hundreds of dunes along the coast. Then it was into a sandy, dusty and rocky, park bouncing along on rough roads. 

05.-06.03.2023 Cape Town, South Africa

H and I got a rental car for the next two days. We had tickets for the cable-car up Table Mountain, but the weather was bad with lots rain so we scrapped that idea and drove off down the Cape Peninsular with Daniela and Dieter. First stop was Boulders Beach to see the African Penguins doing their smelly thing. There was no need to buy a souvenir furry penguin as we already have a very similar furry Magellanic Penguin from the other cape in South America.

Onward to see the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point Lighthouse. Both were crowded and rainy. There were a few Ostriches wandering about. They might be native, but they seemed out of place in this windswept place.

Then back to Cape Town for some food. I tried to get a table at the venerable Mount Nelson Hotel, but I was told they were fully booked. We went anyway and H did her usual thing of persuading them to find a table regardless. I think it is the steadily increasing volume of voice that does the trick. We had afternoon tea with sandwiches, cakes, and scones. I was expected to explain the etiquette of all this to my German companions but really, it’s all a mystery to me as well. Mount Nelson Hotel dates back to before the Boer War and was for a time the British Army HQ. Lords Roberts and Kitchener, General Redvers Buller and a young Winston Churchill all passed through the place. The hotel itself is very large and painted pink. The pink paint was allegedly in celebration of the end of WW1.  Other notable guests, besides us, have included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and John Lennon.

For the second day in Cape Town, we attempted to do the cable car up Table Mountain but had no great expectations as it was still raining with strong winds forecast. We drove up to the lower cable car station but, as expected, were told it would be closed all day. Plan-B was to drive to Stellenbosch to look at some wineries with a side trip to see some giraffes. The Giraffe House was OK as zoos go. They had giraffes and other animals and birds but there was no sense of stumbling across them in the wild and it was very much a zoo. We drove onward through the very pleasant, mountainous, Stellenbosch area to a winery called Boschendal where we had lunch. I had a Bobotie which is a beef curry with an egg quiche-like topping. Others had chicken dishes, but as the outdoor table had live chickens running under the table it all seemed a bit cruel. Then it was a dash back to Cape Town as Daniela and Dieter had to fly back to Berlin. The rain had cleared but Table Mountain still had its thick “tablecloth” cloud cover, and the wind was very strong. I had a final roam around the V&A Waterfront and said goodbyes to the smelly fur seals lounging on the dockside. I failed to buy any tourist tat even though I tried to. Some ostrich eggs and a zebra skin came close. Most things you buy in Africa can’t be taken to Europe anyway. There was a final Immigration “face-check” in the terminal building. Due to the tidal situation and the height of the dock, boarding was via the “chicken ladder”. This is steep gangway that runs directly up to Deck 6. For the “face-check” the entire complement of passengers had to climb down and then up these steps. Possibly twice for those that had left their passports in their cabin, like me. The pace of movement on the ladder was at the speed of the slowest which was very very slow.  

08.03.2023 Lüderitz, Namibia

I took a walk from the port to Shark Island. Shark Island is next to the port and is no longer an island. Unknown, I think, to almost all Germans on the ship is that Shark Island was the site of an infamous “prisoner of war” camp set up by the German Empire to hold Nama and Herero men, women, and children while they were being starved and worked to death during the conflict in German Southwest Africa 1904-1907. About 3,000 people are estimated to have died within a couple of hundred metres of where our German cruise ship is currently tied up. It is thought to be the template for Nazi atrocities almost 40 years later. I make no connection between modern Germans and these events, but this kind of thing needs to be remembered to avoid repetition. There is no significant monument on this island except for one modest stone dedicated to a Nama leader, Cornelius Fredericks. Even this stone is upstaged by a plaque noting the first single-handed rowing of the south Atlantic by a Brazilian. Much of this small rocky island is now a RV campground which, for me, is a bit like camping in Dachau.

In the afternoon, H and I got a taxi out to Kolmanskop which is a former wealthy diamond mining town, now ghost town, in the desert. Abandoned German houses dating from the early part of the 20th century are slowly being covered by sand dunes.        

09.03.2023 Walvis Bay, Namibia

In the morning we went with the ship’s captain and doctor to quad bike for a few hours in the extensive dunes near Swakopmund. An experience.

In the afternoon H and I got a 4WD taxi to take us to Sandwich Harbour south of Walvis Bay. Sandwich Harbour is a very remote area where the dune field of the Namib Desert meets the South Atlantic. This was about as surreal a trip as we have ever had. The driver deflated his tyres for the sand, and we set off past the pink lakes of the saltworks and thousands of wading flamingos. We drove for many miles down an empty beach with big waves crashing next to us. Then a thick fog rolled in. Our driver was a bit panicky saying he might not have a permit for the area and given the visibility, we abandoned the trip and retraced our steps. Strangely, there were dozens of dead fur seals on the beach.

The entrance to the port was lined with the usual tourist tat peddlers. Many were large Himba women with ochre-covered skin, braided hair and boobs out. I used to think that was something only seen in 1970’s National Geographic Magazine.

This voyage from Cape Town back to England was also made almost 121 years ago at the end of the 2nd Boer War by my great-grandfather on the Union-Castle Line Royal Mail SS Briton.  They took 22 days. We are expecting to take 25 days, but we are stopping sometimes on the way.

Five days out of Walvis Bay we crossed the Equator about 300NM off the coast of Liberia. My alter-ego, King Neptune, along with Queen Amphitrite appeared near the crew pool and initiated a few hundred crew into the mysteries of the deep with the aid of a bucket of water and a toilet brush. A pod of humpback whales passed close to the ship during the ceremonies. Summoned by the sea-gods, one supposes.  

18.03.2023 Praia, Cape Verde

We got the bus into town and made our way to the Sucupira market for H to get a few things. Then we went for lunch at the O Poeta Lounge where we had enormous pink gins and a seafood plate.

19.03.2023 Mindelo, Cape Verde

This was our third visit to Mindelo by cruise ship. The last time others reported good swimming with loggerhead turtles at Praia Sao Pedro so that is where we headed. Slightly messing up the taxi negotiations, we ended up on the back of an open truck going across the island to the beach. At the beach, a dozen natives launched our colourful boat into the waves. It was a short trip and we climbed off the boat into a crystal -clear sea teeming with turtles and stingrays. Naturally there was another market stop on the way back to the ship.

22.03.2023 Arrecife, Lanzarote

Most of the ports in the Canary Islands are familiar to us from previous sailing and cruise ship travels. Arrecife is one of them. I had to check the prices in the marina for a future sailing trip as we are still deciding which island to call home while waiting for hurricanes in the west Atlantic to ease up. Arrecife has a nice modern marina, and it looks promising. Though the volcanic cinder cone landscape of the rest of the island is a bit bleak. I also looked at the small museum in the Castillo de San Gabriel. H and I then had a tapas and sangria lunch at a restaurant overlooking the small boat harbour.

23.-24.03.2023 Santa Cruz de Tenerife

I took a look at the main yacht marina in town and was later joined by H and we had a wander through the food hall of the local El Corte Ingles planning the provisioning for a future Atlantic crossing. We also had a look at the Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África which was unfortunately just about to close for siesta. The fish market looked interesting with fish stalls also serving plates of fish and seafood with wine but it was getting too late for lunch. Sea urchins were on sale as well which would have been a first for me. Not this time though.

26.03.2023 Lisbon, Portugal

A nice day in Lisbon. Cool but sunny and we were back on mainland Europe for the first time since October last year. We walked firstly to the Mercado da Ribeira where I bought half a dozen pasteis de nata, these custard tarts are something I have a lot of trouble resisting, particularly in Portugal. We tried to take the Ascensor da Bica funicular railway up to the Bairro Alto district, but it was too crowded, so we walked up the many steps and went to the Bairro Alto Hotel for lunch on their roof terrace. They have a very good view of the Tagus River. We tried to go back down the hill on the Elevador Santa Justa street lift but the same crowd that we saw going up got in the way again. We walked one more time and H got to go into many more tourist shops on the streets back to the port.

27.03.2023 Leixoes/Porto, Portugal

We took a taxi from the port to Porto and the Ribeira district on the Douro River. Even though it was stuffed with fellow tourists the place is very atmospheric with good quality buskers and a dramatic view of the Ponte Luis bridge and old buildings. The bridge built by a partner of M. Eiffel apparently. We had a good lunch which was mostly, but not entirely, Portuguese as we had port wine, but also Spanish sangria and H freely mixed up her gracias’s and obrigado’s at times.

28.03.2023 Vigo, Spain

A nice little town. There seemed to be a holiday going on as there was traditional dancing in the streets. We lunched in a small Pulperia and had octopus and seafood paella. Vigo is a big fishing port.

29.03.2023 Gijon, Spain

Then it was off to the north coast of Asturian Spain and a bus into town with aim of finding a Sidreria bar where they serve the local cider and food. We found one in the corner of Plaza Mayor called El Centenario and had their cider, with more octopus and clams. They traditionally pour the cider into the glass from a bottle held as high as the waiter can reach. I think it is an attempt to put some bubbles in the cider which is otherwise fairly flat. A lot of cider goes on the floor. We had a look at some monstrous concrete sculpture on top of Cerro de Santa Catalina hill that they are very proud of and then back to the bus with a small supply of cider for later.  

The original landfall of Dover expected on 31.03 was changed to Southampton because of a bad weather forecast. We had planned to have friends, Mike & Jacqui, visit us on board. While we were approaching the coast to the south of the Isle of Wight, Southampton was also called off because of the developing storm named Mathis. We continued down the Channel in foul weather towards the North Sea and Hamburg. We drank the Moët & Chandon we had on ice for our visitors.

02.04.2023 Hamburg, Germany

This has been an epic journey, even for us. It has been 158 days since we began this trip in Hamburg last October. Firstly, it was sailing across the Atlantic to Brazil then southwards around Cape Horn and through the Chilean fjords. By December, we were exploring the Amazon and then continued north to cruise Central America and the islands of the Caribbean. In February we took a long flight to Cape Town for a cruise around the Cape of Good Hope exploring South Africa and Namibia and then a long sail northward, homeward bound, stopping at island groups off West Africa and ports in Portugal and Spain. Worn out now. I know what is coming up soon and it will not be easier.