3 Months Down, 3 to Go

Day 92 – Cruising the Indian Ocean – Find Insignia on CruiseMapper

It’s all downhill from here.

Three months after Partout sailed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, we have passed the halfway mark on both the calendar and our round-the-world itinerary. We are officially homeward bound, albeit with nearly three months and 16 countries (inshallah) yet to go.

As we did at the previous month-markers, we dedicate this edition of Partout to five observations and three surprises. This time we illustrate our reflections with random friendly faces from our first three months on the high seas, courtesy of Louis’s lenses. The shots were taken on a beach in Côte d’Ivoire and a market in Mexico, in a Zulu village in South Africa and on a street in Senegal, wherever people live, work, play and, often, smile.

5 Observations

#1 – A cruise is a fluid road trip.

For the record, the trip continues to exceed expectations and puts smiles on our faces every single day. As we have analyzed our continuing delight, we’ve decided a cruise like this offers some of the attractions we like most about road trips. It is spectacularly panoramic. It offers new scenes and discoveries nearly every click of the way. Physically, it has a soothing, rhythmic quality. And it allows us to cover great distances with our home on our backs.

This is not to say someone who loves or hates road trips (you know who you are!) would feel the same way about a world cruise, just that the two feel weirdly similar in the best of ways.

#2 – A cruise ship is a small town.

On a six-month cruise where 400 of the same people eat, sleep and play together around the clock, not much goes unnoticed or unremarked. The ship’s general manager calls this characteristic “Radio Insignia.”

At its worst, Radio Insignia replicates the childhood game of gossip where everyone sat in a circle and whispered a message to the next person until the words got back to the first person, who spoke them out loud and everyone laughed at how badly they had been mangled.

At its best, the enforced intimacy creates a community where people take a genuine interest in one another’s stories and welfare and reach out to help, sympathize and admire. When Louis and Doris emerged from covid quarantine, people we had never even talked to before welcomed us back. People brought us get-well gifts. It felt a bit like being home in Sandpoint.

The latest Radio Insignia broadcast brought sadder news. It is not uncommon for people to die on cruise ships, and Insignia experienced one such death this week. It took only a few hours from the Code Mike/medical emergency announcement for the victim’s identity to spread among the passengers and the cause of death to circulate. A cruise ship is a small town.

#3 – We are having a charmed cruise.

Our weather has been mild, and our seas have been smooth. We have not been rained upon a single day onshore. We have no disruptive mechanical failures. We will end up missing a couple destinations because of political conditions on land, but the world is almost universally open for business, and we have not been weathered out of a single port. We were not boarded by pirates nor have we been confined by a ship-wide epidemic.

Yes, Louis and Doris missed Namibia, and Radio Insignia reports that our three days in Burma/Myanmar will be cancelled because of the violence there, but these are minor dings in a 180-day cruise.

Doris has asked the cruise director if the combination of fine weather, technical reliability and overall esprit de corps among the passengers is about as good as it gets for a cruise. He indicated without a flat “yes” or “no” that the fates are indeed smiling on us.

#4 – The Chinese are buying friends and markets everywhere.

From a national library in El Salvador to a national monument in Benin, a bridge in Mozambique to the geegaws hawked on blankets the world over, the Chinese are building, buying and selling everything in sight on every continent. What this portends for the cultures and debtors of these countries and for the world at large is beyond the powers of Partout, but portend something it surely does. Whatever that might turn out to be, observing the campaign on the ground around the world is fascinating.

#5 – Globalization homogenizes.

The global economy is at least a thousand years old, thank you Sig. Marco Polo. Those European monarchs who financed the golden age of world exploration and their captains of fortune were not in the game for the love of learning. Today’s Chinese investors are but the latest in a long tradition of economic adventurers.

That said, visiting a succession of developing countries in quick succession can be disorienting. European economic colonialism produced French outposts hung with wrought iron balconies, Spanish settlements built around central plazas, Portuguese cities sprinkled with Manuelline fantasies, Dutch communities whose scalloped rooftops still scream Amsterdam and British towns rife with Victoriana. We could parachute into any of these cities today and know exactly which Western country invaded. By contrast, today’s new cities all look pretty much the same, all filled with concrete-box buildings, many of the buildings already decaying in tropical conditions. There’s no telling who built them and no clue to what local traditions they replaced.

Only in two locations – in Zulu South Africa and on Madagascar – have we seen anything resembling traditional architectural styles still being built, maintained and used for everyday life. Rural, interior locations probably look more like they did historically, but the recent urban centers all tend to look alike in dispiriting ways.  

3 Surprises

#1 – Pirates. We had no clue we were sailing into pirate waters until the night before Insignia reached the high-risk area of the Gulf of Guinea. The piracy risk for a cruise ship appears to have been low and the precautions high, but nonetheless: We were surprised.

#2 – Religious routes. Likewise, we had no clue that Christianity had spread through Africa by sea and Islam by land. Upon reflection, it makes perfect sense because Europeans were arriving in places like West Africa by sea and Muslims were mostly coming overland from the Arabian Peninsula. Still, it has been startling to see how common it is for the coastal cities to be dominated by Christian populations while the inland regions are dominated by Muslims.

What has been almost as startling is that, wherever we have had local sources to question, we have been told there is no warring among the religions. Tolerance is the norm.

#3 – Taking a world cruise is really, really, REALLY fun. Of course, we expected – or at least fervently hoped – to enjoy cruising around the world, but the reality has more than that. The experience is just plain fun, full of novel experiences, stimulating people, belly laughs beyond number. It feels like being at summer camp for six months but with alcohol and no curfews.

Another Question Answered

Many people have asked (and guessed) what Louis might have overpacked as reported in a previous Partout. Since not even a fraction of the stash has yet been used, the moment of truth is here. (Drum roll.)

Skin cream.

After a last-minute dermatology appointment in San Diego to investigate the source of an itchy arm, we set sail with a 1-pound jar of prescription skin cream, a 1-pound box of skin lotion samples from the derm, 10 ounces of OTC Aquaphor “healing ointment,” 10 ounces of OTC antifungals in case of itchy foot and 6 containers of assorted hotel-issue body lotions and other airline-friendly creams. Something approaching 5 pounds of which only a few ounces have been used to date, the itch having disappeared almost as fast as the California coastline.

No wonder we are having such a smooth cruise.

Where’s Snowy?

Besides shopping for pisco in Chile?

Coming Soon!

Our Small-Game Safaris

12 thoughts on “3 Months Down, 3 to Go

  1. Your writing is so amazing! I am savoring every word! What an adventure. Thrilled that you get to experience this. Can’t wait to hear more! ❤️😘😘


  2. I am so enjoying sharing this trip with you and Louis! The exemplary photos add so much—a picture is indeed worth a thousand words or more.
    Reading your entries, probably called blogs, but I don’t like that word, is like reading a good book in short gulps.
    Would you sometime write about the “wish I hads” such as wish I had brought this, wish I hadn’t brought this—you get the drift. Also, grim as it sounds, do they do a burial at sea as in the movies or???
    I already look forward to the next chapter. ~Polly~


  3. Hi Doris and Louis, I have been eagerly reading these reports, and looking at the beautiful photos. Wonderful writing and viewing for me.

    Please go on. (In today’s report about religion, was there a “not” missing in the sentence before the praise of tolerance? Something not quite right there?) But this was really interesting and lively report.

    All best and hugs, Sharon


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