From the MS Rotterdam, mid-ships on deck 5, mid -atlantic
Mindelo, Sao Vincent, Cape Verde - somewhere west of Senegal, Africa. We were escorted into the archipelago this morning by a school of flying fish and a secondary school of porpoises. In both cases "escorted" included a fair amount of jumping out of the water and showing themselves. It was very beautiful. We cruised past the murky island of Santo Ant„o, accompanied by the fish, then lost them as we turned toward the port of Mindelo on Sao Vicente. Unfortunately the fascinating port town of Mindelo didnít live up to the promise perceived in the joy of the fish.
Not that the natives werenít glad to see us. They were. But they saw us as walking "loose change." The one thing that most of the people we encountered seemed to be able to say in English was one variation or another of "Give us all your money." The poverty level here is very high, apparently, and the new drive in these islands to develop as a tourist destination has created a major market in identical souvenir shops. It is hard to find something interesting, authentic or worth the minimal escudos they cost. We did find a new bathing suit for Bob, a scarf for me and some material for our friend Jude Patoka, the quilter. We were trying, at one point, to find a market indicated on the map of Mindelo and I went into a shop to inquire the way. It was quite clear that no one in that store had ever seen a map of their own town before. They sent us the wrong way.
This is the cultural capital of the islands. We found a small theater and photographed their poster. We also saw the former palace, now a courthouse. There were no tours arranged here - no local promoter available to create one - so we just walked about for an hour or two, then headed back to the ship where we remained all day. Volcanic islands in the Atlantic all share a basic topography and itís interesting to see and compile the similarities and the differences. At least the shops here took dollars and returned the change in a combination of dollars and escudos, all of which latter I hope to spend tomorrow in Praia, the capital of the island of Santiago in the southern stretch of the islands. Weíre there all day long. (Note: A shopping square in Mindelo; click to see it large.)
Best dinner weíve had aboard. I had seabream. Tonightís show was a tribute to the music of the 1950s, Ď60s and Ď70s, fifty minutes of non-stop singing and dancing which left us weak. Itís off to bed in preparation for another day of frantic shopping and avoiding the "Give us your money" shore crew.
Praia. What a disappointment. Weíre here on a Sunday and itís a pretty looking place from the shipís deck, but the city itself is poverty-stricken, religious and military. We went in on an early bus, walked around, listened to a church service with some beautiful singing and photographed buildings and views, but nothing was open and nothing would open. Information from the ship and the tour packagers was inaccurate and incomplete. We came back after an hour having learned about the scarcity of all things in this African-based nation. I now possess 400 escudos that Iíll never be able to spend.
The day on board was productive and restful. We have three days at sea ahead and I have a play to write. That should make the trip very worthwhile.
A typical day at sea for me. Up by 6:30, dressed and out on deck for a mile and a half walk around the promenade (four and a half full laps). Then juice and coffee in the Lido. Back to the cabin for my book and a lounge chair on deck until 8:00. Back to the cabin to collect Bob for breakfast. Then finding a quiet place to work in one of the lounges. Write until lunch. Partake of the generous menu with new friends, then back to work for an hour or so. Then a lecture or a film. Off to the Thermal Suite Spa for a relaxing 70 minutes in the late afternoon, then a nap in the cabin before cocktails at 6:30. Dinner at 8:30, then a show at 10:30, a stroll around the promenade and off to bed where I can read or listen to music. Itís a lovely way of life. I adore it. Now if the dining room air conditioning was working, and if the toilet in our cabin was flushing properly and if the incessant work on the ship during this repositioning cruise was a bit less intense it would be a perfect life. But what is perfection? Not something to anticipate, I find, on this cruise.
Wrote a poem this morning (as well as working on the play) and will include it below.
As the ship plows it deep furrows into the southern reaches of the north Atlantic and the bow rises slowly, sinks fast, rises faster, the boundless gray horizon, its billows shadowed by cloud-cloaked sun, ripple slightly against the strain of the wakening wake we leave to each side.
Nothing grows in the course behind us. Its width is our own; its length twice our size. Perhaps the endless stream of disturbed nature never closes over, resists the urge to resume its rightful place.
Perhaps the sea can never restore itself, unsettled for eternity, and no marine life ever thrives again where we have passed. Still the massive ocean liner complacently proceeds across the vast expanse of limitless sea, weather changing abruptly, water from above to water below, sunlight decanting downward and purging the mists that rise from the stirred, shaken depths.
No longer alive, the level space behind us urged to restore itself drips away from us in retreat seeking beneficent sources. What life there is in salt spray matter sings internally to the weathered losses and porpoises purposely disport in the distant past. Space, not time, creates renewal in nature and the oceanís spread, vast and plane, sanctions a second chance...each time we pass.
Aboard the MS Rotterdam, Tropic of Cancer November 13, 2006
More to come in a few days. Brazil is our next stop: Recife, then Salvador, then Rio.