West Africa: In Pirate Waters

Day 66 – En route to the Ivory Coast – Find Insignia on CruiseMapper

If you have looked for Insignia recently on CruiseMapper, you have seen something like this.

In a word, you have seen an absolute scrum of cruises crammed into the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas, streams of them around South America and only one ship making its way down the coast of West Africa. That would be us.

We can explain.

Piracy Alert

The night before we reached the mainland of West Africa, an unprecedented letter from the captain with an unprecedented warning was waiting in our stateroom after dinner.

The letter instructed passengers to use cabin lights only when necessary during hours of darkness and to keep our curtains closed at night. We were also given instructions should “evasive maneuverings to avoid contract with a suspicious boat” become necessary.

Four security guards – three former Navy SEALS and one former US Marine – boarded the ship in Dakar, Senegal, for the duration of our transit, which plows right through the heart of the West Africa HRA. The muscle reportedly is delighted to be chowing down on a luxury cruise ship instead of on the more typical tanker or cargo carrier.

Doris promptly penned “Shiver me timbers!” on the whiteboard on our stateroom door, but piracy is no laughing matter in these parts.

At least once in its history, we learned later, our ship has been fired upon by pirates. The historian who is our current guest lecturer has been on ships fired upon off Somalia on two occasions. The assaults were serious enough that passengers huddled behind the waterproof doors in the boat’s bowels. Our State Department friend Michelle texted simply, “Piracy as real.” That was the golden last word for us.

Soooo . . . What Are We Doing Out Here?

The evening before docking in Dakar, the cruise director described a few bureaucratic acts of piracy the ship was expecting in West Africa that might delay our disembarkments, e.g., shakedowns for cash by port authorities, requirements that every crew member produce a passport, demands for tours of the food stores during which some of said stores vanish.  

“West Africa is a challenge,” he told the ship’s team trivia players, a merry cohort of nearly 100 passengers who act as deputized rumormongers to circulate ship intel before it shows up in official communications. “But Oceania comes here anyway because it’s special.”

Your merry Partout team agrees and so do a lot of other passengers. Almost 200 people boarded the ship in Rio for the express purpose of visiting Northeast Brazil and West Africa. West Africa is not an easy part of the world to reach or, necessarily, to spend much time in. It is impoverished, dusty and disorganized. If we didn’t know this already, the ship’s communications are delivered to our door to remind us.

But the west African subregion contains 16 of the continent’s 54 countries – more than one-quarter of them – and countless tribes living in one-time colonies of Portugal, France, Britain and Germany with all their European detritus. For black Americans, it is the equivalent of Scotland or Sweden and all the other origins of white Americans. In a circumnavigation of the globe, skipping it would be an oversight, at best. Bravo to Oceania for its willingness. Pirates be damned! Full speed ahead!

Redeeming Features

Two of the countries are behind us now: Senegal and The Gambia.

Splitting up for the day to double our experience in Dakar, Louis found the colonial streets of offshore Goree Island charming despite the island’s grisly history as the port where enslaved Africans were shipped to the New World, never to see their homeland again.

On the mainland, Doris found the chaotic jumble of modern and basic – the goats crossing the road in front of Land Cruisers, the horse-drawn carts trying to evade local buses – equally fascinating albeit less scenic.

The next day, we both were relaxed on a four-hour float in a handmade wooden boat through the mangrove swamps of The Gambia’s namesake Gambia River. The guide told us the country is THE Gambia because it was named for the Gambia River.We are pretty sure the glowing charcoal fires over which our onboard lunch was cooked would not have made it past OSHA, but OSHA exists in a universe far, far away, and a good and safe time was had by all.

It is night now. Outside, the smokestack’s big O for Oceania is dark, and the normal illumination of the ship’s rigging has been extinguished. The doors to the outside decks have been secured, purportedly for “adverse weather” although there is not a cloud in the sky nor a ripple on the water. We have been tucked in, and locked in, for the night.

We fully expect to emerge from the West Africa HRA unscathed, but we will keep our lights low and our curtains drawn until then. Piracy is real.

Another Question Answered

Elizabeth wrote, “Your schedule seems so full of sightseeing, socializing and eating (and drinking wine!). When do you find the time to write these blog posts a few times a week?”

Since few people know my work habits better than Elizabeth (who succeeded me in my final pre-retirement job), she will not be surprised by the answer: I get up as early as it takes! There have been a couple days that found me in the ship’s insomniac hideaway (a lounge with a 24/7 coffee machine) at 4 am, but that is rare. On blog days, I usually start caffeinating myself around 5 am and try to get all the “work” done before Louis wakes up, and our day starts in earnest.

The bigger hurdle, actually is the famously wimpy shipboard internet. When docked, we can use our trusty TMobile as a hotlink to the www but, when docked, we typically want to be off the boat, not at a computer on it. So, when you go days without hearing from us? It’s typically because we don’t have enough juice to reach out to you.

Coming Soon!

West Africa: Four Days, Four Countries

Fitness Afloat

5 thoughts on “West Africa: In Pirate Waters

  1. Bravo to Oceana for making it through a HRA- but whoa! You have gotten your readers (at least this reader) in a high anxiety state while laughing to “shiver me Timbers!” Fantastic reporting. Looking forward to the next one!


  2. Doris, Louis, I have thoroughly enjoyed following your adventures. Thank you for sharing with us. Stay safe! Erin


  3. I love that Cruise Mapper shows your current destination as “Armed Guard on Board”. I remember those good old pirate days aboard Regent Seven Seas’ Mariner when we went from Tel-Aviv to Dubai with four retired Israeli soldiers. On their last day on board they had dinner in one the specialized restaurants and Nevil and I had a chat with them for a good half hour.


  4. I am so enjoying reading about your adventures, but this one with the pirates, while exciting, leaves me a bit anxious. Your positive outlook always impresses me, Doris, but I wonder if you ever have an uh-oh moment. Enjoy! Be safe! I’ll be thinking of you and Louis. Polly (Ecuador trip. AH!)


  5. Remarkable reporting! Thank you. May the pirates not notice the giant white ship with its lights off. And may the Muscle enjoy their shipboard cuisine.


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