Emilee Cantieri
Gerald Liedl
Nov 28 to Dec 25, 2019
Vasco de Gama trip Lisbon to Cape Town

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Reflections on our 2018 West African cruise –
following the Vasco de Gamma route - by Emilee Cantieri

After a night in Lisbon, we boarded Regents Explorer ship, only two years old and elegantly decorated. All the cabins have a balcony so ours did as well, although it was long and skinny, ceramic bath, walk-in closet, king-size bed, sofa and a desk that was big enough for my laptop, so I got some dictation done.

On days at sea, we had interesting lectures by Andy Jampoler on African history, and famous people who had explored or traveled there: Henry Morton Stanley, of course, Joseph Conrad to the Congo, and to my surprise Doyle who wrote the Sherlock Holmes books who went four times as a ship's doctor to West Africa.


Payment included everything, food, beverage, Wi-Fi, tips and excursions. The food was excellent and I had lobster at least half the nights, starting with lobster nachos, which was not a good idea. I ate the lobster and left the chips.

Our first stop was Madeira, a beautiful island, but foggy. We ate two kinds of Christmas cake, sampled two kinds of wine, and I bought a cork purse. On Tenerife we went to an extinct volcano, walking in the cold and wind, but after that the temperature gradually got warmer as we headed toward the equator. Cape Verde was dry and brown, but with spectacular mountain scenery and a winding road to the very top of the ridge. Fishing supported the country, and some corrupt president of the country made a deal with the Chinese to give them fishing rights for five years, and they send big ships with vast nets and take away the fish so that the local fisherman catch almost nothing anymore.

We avoided daylong tours, as we had found out on previous trips that they were very exhausting. At Senegal instead of taking an excursion we got on the shuttle bus to go into town, avoiding a very pushy and a little bit upsetting taxi driver who all but pulled us into his taxi at the pier. There were only three of us on the shuttle bus, and when we stopped in town and got off, we were besieged by locals wanting to be our guide to walk around with us and show us the sites. I felt a little overwhelmed and suggested that we just wait on the bus for the half-hour before it would return to the ship. To our surprise instead of just sitting there the driver drove us all around the city so we got to have a tour anyway, and then he took us back to the ship, naturally he got a tip.

Gambia is a small country, once British, and we were told it would be hot and humid. I wore shorts and a short-sleeved T-shirt, the bus was air-conditioned to the point that I got goosebumps all over, so when we got off, I saw vendors selling dresses. I picked out a gold one with a nice pattern around the neckline and on the sleeves, and bargained for it, ending up paying $12. I pulled it on over my shorts and top and it felt good. That day we went to the crocodile farm and Jerry got a picture of me touching a crocodile while three others crawled around at my feet. And I was wearing the dress I just bought so it made a colorful picture. The crocodiles had just been fed, so they made no movements toward attacking us.

In Ghana our bus took us through a lot of countryside to a fishing village, and announced that the walking might be a bit rugged, so two other women and I stayed on the bus and had a good chat. Jerry went, and wished he'd stayed on the bus. The walking was on a narrow rocky hillside and the view of the village was nothing special. On the way down a local snatched a man's cell phone right out of his hand and another tourist body blocked him and got the phone back. Our guide said he would not bother to report it to the police, since it would mean he'd have to stay the rest of the afternoon giving information. We next went to a hotel which served us drinks and dancers and drummers performed for us.

We skipped the excursion for Ivory Coast since the only available ones were seven and eight hours long. There was a special ceremony when we crossed the equator, and everybody got her certificate. We were suntanning on the upper deck and just looked down on the ceremony, which was fairly silly. It included breaking an egg over the head of each person who came forward to admit they had not yet crossed the equator. Flour went on after the egg with them kissing the fish. Then they had to jump in the swimming pool, which had to be cleaned drained and cleaned. We got another certificate when we were at zero longitude zero latitude.

I had been looking forward to going to Togo, partly because the name sounds so interesting, but mainly because our excursion, for which we had to pay a little extra, included a visit to the royal palace and a meeting with the King. Unfortunately, the night before, the Capt. announced that because of political problems in Togo and violence on the streets, we were not going ashore. The next stop, Sao Tome, had few excursions that interested us, so we took the shuttle bus into town and walked around, encountering several of the tour groups who were also doing a walking tour. It was a fairly attractive island, but had deteriorated since its colonial days: streets were potholed and sidewalks cracked up so I had to look down very carefully where I walked. We skipped Walvis Namibia, since we had been all over Namibia on Safari two years ago.

Soon we came into view of Cape Town's Table Mountain. That afternoon we went ashore and boarded buses that took us to the gondola that go to Table Mountain. Alas, December is school holiday all over South Africa, and thousands of parents, children and tourists inched our way along in line for the gondola it supposedly has spectacular views, but the gondola was so crowded that we could barely see out and Jerry was unable to take good photos. When we got to the top, we saw that the line to go down was almost as long as the one to come up so after a few minutes we got in the down line and again inched our way forward to the gondola.

The next morning, we disembarked chaotically. We had been told about a week ahead which group we would depart in and which bus we would get on, but we still all had to go into the theater with carry-ons and go out as our group was called. At the dock we scrambled around looking for the luggage which was arranged haphazardly, leave it at a check off point and board the bus which took us on tour. Again, it was overcrowded with people including our six bus busloads from the ship. Jerry and I didn't even bother going up. I had gone up twice before. Next, we went to a penguin area, and then were taken to the hotel to check-in, all six busloads at once. It was a madhouse. It was 3 PM by the time we got checked in and sat down for lunch.

The next day we toured part of Cape Province, including a lovely clean little town (Franschhoek), and a winery which had a very bountiful picnic box for each couple, five kinds of wine for us to sample, and a string trio playing music for us while we ate in the shade of a tree.

The following day we went up into the mountains to the desert to visit an animal reserve, which was probably the best thing we saw on the trip: elephants, hippos, rhinos, ostriches, antelope, and even lions (locked into their own fenced mountain area).

That evening, Christmas Eve, we boarded KLM for our overnight flight to Amsterdam, arriving 11 in the morning on Christmas day after a 12-hour flight. From there we flew to Atlanta and had a five-hour layover before our flight to Asheville.

Some comments: our captain was a woman, whose name I never. She made announcements every noon with a very strong accent, but she could handle the ship, and she made her way around during the voyage speaking to various people. The cruise director was also a woman and did a good job arranging all the programs we had. There were only two that we walked out on because they were loud shows. We really enjoyed the violinist, a lovely young lady who played two nights. A flutist played one night, a pianist two nights and a soloist sang two nights. We also enjoyed the comedian.

We both came home with a good tan and several extra pounds. Were glad we went on this cruise, but also glad to be home as the children's book says, “in our own good bed.”