Voyage to the Cape of Good Hope
In some of our travel articles we make a distinction between the traveller and the tourist. If you are a tourist, this trip is probably not for you. The reasons will become clearer later in the article.
First let's address a concern prevalent among travellers to the African continent. Personal security, particularly in South Africa, is the topic of constant publicity. 50 murders each day (18,000) each year, and a rape every three seconds are said to be validated figures and are far worse than almost anywhere else in the world. Street crime is high, residential property is almost invariably surrounded by a barbed wire enclosure and in some areas the Police are a part of the problem rather than the solution. In South Africa, top this with a government in denial over the lawlessness of their country and you would think that you would be beset by a constant feeling of threat: you are not. As in other parts of the world, the criminal elements are a small percentage of the population; most people are honest and decent, and would like to be hard-working if they had the opportunity.
Now to the journey. Organised by the African Safari Club, the voyage is undertaken on a cruise ship oddity, the MS Royal Star, a vessel with a total capacity of about 250. In modern day cruise ship terms this is a 'yacht' and lacks some of the luxuries enjoyed by the giants of the sea at the other end of the scale. Travellers will love this, tourists probably will not. Significantly, on our journey in January 2007, no fewer than 50 of the 177 passengers were people who had previously undertaken a voyage on this ship; one was there for the 12th time. Repeat business always speaks volumes for any product.
Unfortunately, for most of the passengers, the journey starts with a flight from Gatwick to Mombasa (or Cape Town for the reverse sailing) with African Safari Airways (Swiss registered) on a rather tired Airbus A310. There are three classes of Travel; normal charter style economy, a slightly better premium economy and Royal Safari Class. The latter offers a business class type seat with extra leg-room and, at an upgrade price of £500 is well worth the additional cost. With Ryan Air-like ethics, the airline then charges £20 extra for a guarantee that partners get seats together and an additional fee for pre-booking of seats, a scandal in any language. At Gatwick the check-in is a shambles (not attributable to BAA & Government rules) and the aircraft cabin crew are largely disinterested and bordering on surly. On the inbound journey, the video system in premium economy was not operating, leaving the passengers in that area without a pre-flight safety briefing. This, unfortunately for the Royal Star, is the first and last impression most travellers get of this cruise.
Next stop on the itinerary is Maputo, the capital and principal port of Mozambique. Formerly called Laurenço Marquez, Maputo spent many years under communist rule and was the centre of the well publicised Frelimo guerrilla activity. Reminders of USSR influence abound alongside a wealth of evidence of modernisation. The 'city tour' organised by Royal Star is seriously overpriced, but although there is little in the way of attractions for tourists in this city, the traveller will find great interest in this enigmatic environment.
Happy Children at Khaya La Bantu
Food is served at Khaya La Bantu
Mama Tofu - Matriarch of the Village
Moputo - Tanzania - This iron house was designed by Eiffel - Definitely not cool in summer
Zanzibar - A boat awaiting repair
First South African port of call is Durban, largest sea port on the African continent, where a number of excursions are available. Aside from the helicopter trip to Drakensburg (US$700) the Durban City Tour and the visit to the Valley of 1,000 Hills are priced at US$75 and $80 respectively. Given the worrying security problems in Durban, an organised tour is really the safe option. However, getting together with a couple of other passengers and hiring a local taxi for the day can give much greater flexibility, a similar guarantee of security, and save a lot of dollars.
East London offers the opportunity to visit the Khaya La Bantu Xhosa village and meet the remarkable village matriarch, Mama Tofu. Royal Star passengers will be told that the venture was started by the cruise line - not true - it was a private Canadian business investment in 1995 when the Guest Farm and Xhosa Cultural Village was set up to offer country folk a venue for displaying their rich heritage in music, crafts and the arts as a visitor package. For a full description of this project, please follow this link.
Port Elizabeth and Mossel Bay both offer excellent opportunities to explore the coastal areas, including some excellent game reserves, but at this stage of the voyage most attention is focused on arrival at the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Town.
Arrival in Cape Town is itself a spectacle. Once known as the 'Cape of Storms', the sea area is renowned for being a rough passage. On our arrival it was flat calm and passengers were greeted by brilliant sunshine, high temperatures and the comparative rarity of Table Mountain without a covering of cloud. A number of excursions are available in Cape Town but, unlike some cruise companies, Royal Star staff do not use subterfuge or underhanded practice to sell them. They appreciate that in a city like Cape Town there will be a lot of passengers quite capable of managing their own itineraries. Indeed, most passengers could. Two 'hop-on' - 'hop-off' tour bus routes are operated and, at the equivalent of US$14 per passenger per day, they give access to most of the places in Cape Town that travellers would wish to visit, including Table Mountain. On the Blue route there is the opportunity to arrange a tour of the township at Hout Bay where a guide can meet the bus and shows visitors around part of the settlement where 19,000 inhabitants suffer facilities intended for just 10% of that number.
For travellers, this is a superb trip but, if for you a holiday must include flawless facilities and guaranteed immunity from the realities of third world countries, choose a luxury liner out of Fort Lauderdale. This would be too much of an adventure.
There is always something new out of Africa - Pliny the Elder (Roman Scholar) (AD23-79)