|Gordon and Laura
pause for a souvenir photo
with pianist Walter Ahart in the ship’s cocktail bar.
Around the World
in 127 Days
Travel writer / broadcaster Gordon Garrison visits exciting
and isolated ports on a global voyage from Athens to Antartica and
Text by Gordon Garrison. Photos by Laura Garrison.
Home at last! What a wonderful feeling to be greeted by family;
to fall asleep in your own bed again; to have friends calling to
ask, "How was your trip?"
Our trip was fantastic, thank you! We were away from home for four
months: 127 days to be exact. We had always wanted to sail around
the world. When we heard about this around-the-world cruise that
was planning to call at out of the way, exotic ports - more than
any we had ever seen on other itineraries - we said, "This is it"!
My wife and I have had the good fortune to be able to travel. During
the past forty years we've set foot on all seven continents and
many islands. But it's a big world out there. Many places are positioned
where the term isolated is an understatement. But here they were:
34 ports of call with no fewer than 23 brand new out of the way
experiences waiting for us.
How did we plan for such a venture? Fortunately we had several
months to prepare. The brochure stated that informality would be
the custom on board. Great! That meant no tuxedo, only one jacket
with trousers, a couple of sweaters, the necessary unmentionables,
and comfortable footwear. We were bound to pick up T-shirts en route.
For these, plus souvenirs and gifts for the grandchildren, we took
along a couple of empty sports bags.
On November 16th, we flew to Athens, where our ship the Ocean Explorer
1 was waiting. After a couple of days of renewing our love affair
with the ancient city, we presented ourselves at shipside in the
port of Piraeus.
|An artists’ colony
in Sidi Bou Said overlooks
a magnificent Mediterranean seascape.
We were not alone. Some 600 other travelers, off to see the world,
were congregating, having their credentials checked, their baggage
taken aboard. We wondered: Who are these people? Would we like them?
What reasons did they have to cruise the globe? Did they do their
The cruise organizers had made learning easy. Long before departure
they sent us a binder covering every stop along the way. It contained
geographic, historic, political, and generic information, preparing
us well for our adventure. Once on board we were presented with
a curriculum binder. Our itinerary was divided into regions with
a schedule of lectures given for each segment. Whether you purchased
shore excursions from them or not, the ship's tour office gave detailed
advice on conditions, money exchange, weather, and customs in each
port. No one needed to venture ashore without some local knowledge.
Our questions about fellow passengers were answered rather quickly.
A large percentage was obviously retired. Most men had gray or white
hair if they had any at all. The ladies ranged from white to gray
to blondish to auburn to quite dark. Only their hairdressers knew
for sure. We learned that nearly forty passengers had been medical
practitioners, and there were many former nurses. There were several
ex-lawyers and a sprinkling of civil servants, recently retired
businessmen, the occasional ex-serviceman and quite a few teachers,
male and female. About 70% were American, 15% Canadian. There were
several from Japan, some from Israel, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Every one of them, it seemed, had an insatiable thirst for knowledge.
The ship's faculty obliged. Led by former Carlton University professor,
Stephen Richer, specialists gave papers on oceanography, wildlife,
biology, anthropology, history, business, the arts, even astronomy.
Everything from the depths of the seas to the heavens, all of which
changed as we moved from ocean to ocean, continent to continent,
hemisphere to hemisphere. Now at home, reflecting on the voyage,
it's hard to imagine that we experienced so much in what, in retrospect,
was such a short time. Here's a mere thumbnail sketch of these experiences.
Our first stop was Tunis, where we stood on the ruins of ancient
Carthage, wandered through a labyrinth of souks, marveled at Sidi
Bou Said, a white and blue hilltop village overlooking a magnificent
Mediterranean seascape. Cameras clicked and hummed as the Ocean
Explorer slowly navigated the strait of Gibraltar. Arriving at Casablanca
(after seeing the movie in the ship's cinema) some passengers found
their way to the American Bar, bringing their own "Sam" to play
it again. Walter Ahart, full time entertainer in the Explorer's
Schooner Bar looked and sounded the part. Some passengers opted
for a daylong journey to the caravan city of Marrakech. The name,
translated from Arabic means 'come early, leave soon' We did, after
dropping a few dinars to the snake charmers, magicians and other
entertainers in the main square.
Still African by geography, the Canary Islands presented a completely
different atmosphere - part Spanish, part British through tourism.
Cape Verde, different again, showed us many smiling faces even though
the overwhelming picture was one of poverty. "Don't worry, be happy!"
Brazil was music: to our ears, to our eyes, to our hearts. Salvador
da Bahia showed us how life was lived through many centuries. Rio
was Rio, at once reverent and irreverent, shady and beautiful. Our
stop here gave us a chance to revisit one of those wonderful churascarias
for a never-ending Sunday brunch. Buenos Aires was music too. Tango
music, at tango clubs. with tango dancers - stern of face, sure
of foot; sounds vibrating to the heartbeat of the country.
Soon we were in what the Argentineans call the Malvinas. The local
inhabitants refer to them as the Falkland Islands. Signs of the
1982 conflict are still evident, but life goes happily along, with
pub lunches and tea at four. One seventy year old had a huge Union
Jack painted on her roof after the Argentine forces had withdrawn.
In the Antarctica we discovered there is no culture, no heritage,
and a history that goes back a mere hundred years. We had visited
the white continent before and it literally shouted to us to return.
For a place with no population it beckons for all to come, admire
its wilderness, its outstanding winterine beauty. Again we were
We berthed at two South American ports that vie for the title of
"world's southernmost". Ushuaia in Argentina wins as southernmost
city; Punta Arenas claims the title southernmost town. Both are
worthy of a visit, if only as a jumping off spot to Antarctica,
or Patagonia, a region shared by both countries.
A bumpy ride over heaving seas in the Humboldt Current brought
us to Easter Island, which is still part of Chile, but a world apart.
The Moais, those incredible stone figures, stare endlessly, challenging
imagination. Why were they sculpted? What did they represent? How
were they moved? Why were they eventually pushed over? Only recently
have a few of the nearly 1000 gigantic figures been set back on
their ahu or platforms. The ship's lecturers taught us a great deal,
but we came away with more questions than answers.
|"Bora Bora is still
the most beautiful island in the world."
We had more answers at Pitcairn. In fact we met most of the 44
remaining residents who inhabit this mid-Pacific refuge for mutineer
Fletcher Christian. Nearly all were descendants of Christian and
his fellow defectors. The Bounty itself was scuttled here at Bounty
Bay to prevent detection by the British Navy. Only the anchor remains,
salvaged from the sea as recently as 1957. It occupies a proud place
in Adamstown's square.
Epic tales of the sea and seafaring followed us to Fiji where we
watched a fire walking ceremony. Then on to Tahiti, which we found
still lovely, though far more commercial than it was on our first
visit in 1970. Back then, Quinn's waterfront saloon had not yet
burned down. Smoky and foul smelling, it had given Papeete a romantic,
Bogart-like atmosphere. We missed it, and other portside structures
which had been replaced by modern jewelry shops, office buildings,
and fast food outlets. But Hallelujah! The market was still there
with fish smells and flower smells perfuming the air. Long may it
last! Bora Bora has a few more hotels now, but nothing obtrusive.
It is still the most beautiful island in the world.
Not many realized that New Caledonia is a French province. Noumea,
the capital, is a clean, modern city that welcomes visitors from
nearby New Zealand and Australia, but would love to see more North
Americans. The Loyalty Islands are an interesting mixture of European
French, Tahitians, Asians, Kanaks and a smattering of other indigenous
peoples. With the addition of its wildlife, nightlife and beach
life, we figured, as the song says: Who could ask for anything more?
The Ocean Explorer 1 made two ports in Australia: Cairns, the gateway
to the Great Barrier Reef, and Darwin, which was rebuilt following
a devastating hurricane in 1975. Some passengers did the overland
thing, leaving the ship at Cairns and experiencing the outback en
route to Darwin, where they met the ship five days later.
We found that Bali, Indonesia's best-known island, has everything:
tradition, music, dance, history, postcard scenery with volcanic
mountains and sandy beaches, shops with reasonable prices, and nasi
goreng. Especially nasi goreng! Try it. You'll like it. Then have
it again in Java.
Ocean Explorer 1 anchored at Samarang, where a group of costumed
ladies danced to a gamelan orchestra. Their upturned fingers with
exaggerated nails told stories as old as the country itself. Buddha
is worshipped here. There are 72 Buddha images on the top tier of
one of the world's true marvels. Borabudur is a long drive from
Samarang, but a definite must see.
at Kenya’s Shimba Hills National Park,
south of Mombasa.
Sri Lanka was a conundrum: lovely in the countryside, living up
to the translation of its moniker: Beautiful isle. Some sections
of Colombo had not seen a clean-up crew in years. Kandalama Resort
seemed the perfect getaway, set into a mountainside overlooking
a tank, or man made lake. Going to and from Kandalama was hectic.
Try to picture erratic drivers, so-so roads, people and animals
everywhere. Downtown Colombo has fine high-rise office buildings,
set among old colonial style architectural splendors. Several mid-road
armed military stations brought home the reality of today's civil
unrest. One hopes they can resolve their problems and get on with
enjoying life on their beautiful isle.
The Maldives are scattered across hundreds of square kilometers
of Indian Ocean. Mahe, the capital, crowds one of the islands that
make up the republic. The highest point on any island is not more
than three meters above sea level. Diving is the main attraction
here. Distinct from the Maldives, which are coral isles, the Seychelles
are granite. They too, are scattered, their beauty evident above
the sea as well as below. Divers love it, as do birders. It's not
cheap, but you get what you pay for.
Mombasa's Fort Jesus, was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century.
Dhows from Arabia have called here over the centuries, and some,
even today, will take you for a cruise. But this is Kenya, so big
game is the draw. Blessed with a multitude of National Parks, the
country relies heavily upon tourism for its economic growth. Many
passengers left their sea-bound hotel to live in the tented camps
of Serengeti, Masai Mara, or the lodge at Shimba Hills. They spoke
of their experiences for days, as the ship moved past the horn of
Africa into the Red Sea. Our destination: Mit'siwa, Eritrea.
For a while, it was touch and go whether we would call there. However,
conditions in the brand new country (independence came in 1993)
improved and we kept to our itinerary. We found the people smiling,
welcoming. We felt comfortable. There were no hucksters, no peddlers
tugging at our sleeves, no bargaining. School kids were clean, playful,
beautiful by any standard; oblivious to any conditions that had
laid waste much of their small country. Eritrea is a bargain country.
Our lunch for four at a Red Sea resort hotel cost less than US$9.00.
We had 3 pizzas, 1 lamb curry, 3 beers and 2 large mineral waters!
Aqaba, Jordan's sole outlet to the sea, was our gateway to Petra.
The Rose Red City was carved into the sandstone hills of the desert
by Nabateans over a 600-year period, two millennia ago. This ancient
monument ranks with the pyramids in giving new meaning to the word
awesome. The mile long trek through a narrow cleft in the mountains
only added to the wonder.
the water hole, at Shimba Hills Lodge, Kenya
A man-made cleft called the Suez Canal intrigued passengers as
well. The Ocean Explorer 1 was included in a convoy of mostly freighters
on our northbound passage. At Port Said, we dispersed, most heading
for the Pyramids of Giza, where civilization has encroached to the
verge of disappointment. The Sphynx now overlooks dozens of new
apartment blocks, office buildings, hotels and shops. Cairo and
its magnificent museum were impossibly crowded. We were relieved
to hear that a new museum building was underway, and would soon
be able to accept the thousands of antiquities now housed in the
original, wonderful, but woefully inadequate structure.
There is a sharp contrast between Cairo and Tel Aviv. The Israeli
metropolis shined in its newness, but it too, has its crowds. A
visit to the colorful Carmel Market confirmed that. Again, most
passengers opted for the obvious, making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem
and Bethlehem. Some were fortunate enough to see the Pope on his
Santorini was to have been our last port of call, but sea conditions
(according to our Captain) were unfavorable for our tenders to dock.
We had to be content with a cruise around this Mediterranean beauty
spot. Again cameras clicked and camcorders whirred. We spent our
remaining drachmas in Athens.
Twenty-four hours later we were home. Home to our families, our
friends, and our own beds. At last. What a wonderful feeling!
Gordon Garrison, a past Chairman of the Canadian Chapter of the
Society of American Travel Writers, has been writing and broadcasting
travel features for 35 years.
Editor's note: The organizers of this cruise, the World Cruise
Company, just recently ceased operating. Nevermind. Gordon and his
wife were among the lucky travelers to enjoy a splendid global voyage
on the line's last complete cruise. I hope you find pleasure and
inspiration in Gordon's eloquently told story. Future issues of
travelterrific.com will feature vignettes of their favorite ports.