Marco Polo – South American Treasures, 5th January 2016

by CMV Passenger John Wilkes


The cruise was due to start from Avonmouth but inclement weather on the previous cruise resulted in Southampton being the port of embarkation. Comfortable coaches took us there from our initial gathering place at Avonmouth cruise terminal. Aboard my coach, good conversations were enjoyed; and packed lunches were supplied. I was on board Marco Polo before 4pm and was escorted to my ocean view cabin on Atlantic Deck 6. The pleasantly warm and quiet air-conditioned cabin was kept scrupulously clean and well stocked for the entire voyage. The mattress was very comfortable. The washroom had a shower compartment but no bath. I had two round portholes. After unpacking and some refreshment in the Bistro, I attended the mandatory Safety Drill. We left the port before 9pm seeing two other cruise liners, Boudicca and Queen Elizabeth, in the Solent. The Welcome Show in the Show Lounge was enjoyable.

A full day at sea followed; the ABBA tribute show entertained. Clocks were put forward an hour. Swells as in the Bay of Biscay were not too pleasant. Midday on Day 3, we arrived at La Coruna, Spain. It was raining but I still enjoyed a seafront walk to view the spherical San Pedro glazed elevator and beach-front art works. That evening UK guest act, comedian Andy Leach cheered us all up with his humour. He also performed the following evening, incorporating some magic into his act. Earlier Dr Clive Leatherdale had given the first of his excellent geo-political talks: ‘Introducton to South America’. There was also a Port excursions talk by the Shore Excursions team; and a talk on photography by John Riley ably assisted by his wife Linda.

Day 5 was spent at sea. Bird and wildlife expert Sue Walsh gave the first of her many excellent talks – this time about Albatrosses. There was a get-together for solo travellers. Forty people attended. Later a talk on Landscape Photography. Then our first formal night – Captain’s Cocktail Party followed by dinner. I chose delicious lamb shank for the main course. ‘The Magic of the Musicals’ was the show. Clocks were put back one hour; and, at last, the porthole covers were opened in my cabin.

Sunday: sunny at last. A few glorious hours at Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. I walked to the surfing beach then took ‘bendy-bus’ 17 to the Santa Ana Cathedral area. Old Town was beautiful. I met some fellow passengers there enjoying a coffee. That evening the show team including the very versatile Cruise Director, Ross Roberts, performed a pantomime – loosely based on the Cinderella story. Some folks found it hilarious.

Next day was spent at sea, heading south. A talk on bird migration; games of Scrabble with a friend; an architecture photography talk; and the ‘We Will Rock You’ show made for an enjoyable day. Good meals all the while, of course.

Day 8 was much the same. The Marco Polo Orchestra entertained after an ‘Italian Night’ dinner. Clocks back. Thence to Mindelo on the Cape Verde island of St. Vincent. I took the ‘Glimpse of Island’ excursion. Coach to the fish market and viewpoint looking back at Marco Polo. Then part way up Mount Verde and down into the seaside village of Catfish Bay. Back in Mindelo we were treated to refreshments and a display of local dancing outside a very modern venue. Thence to the African Market and Town Hall area. Later that afternoon, friends and I walked to the town’s beach. We chatted to the crews of super-yacht Australis and research vessel James Cook on our walk back to Marco Polo.

Thursday 14th January we were crossing the Atlantic. We enjoyed more interesting talks and a solo travellers’ lunch in the Waldorf restaurant. We had to submit our passports to Reception and did not retrieve them until after we left South America. UK guest act Steve Terry entertained with singing and comedy. Clocks back. Friday, Saturday and Sunday were also at sea. Crossing the Line occurred on Saturday. Neptune made his customary appearance and the usual rituals were performed. The Captain welcomed us to the Southern Hemisphere and the ship’s horn blared out in triumph. ‘Out of Africa’ was the show that night. Sunday – more talks; jacuzzi; solos’ cocktail party; a poolside deck party with dancing. All good fun; clocks back.

We eventually arrived in South America on Day 14 of the cruise. We berthed at Recife, Brazil to the accompaniment of a brass band. I performed a little celebratory dance with one of the Shore Excursions team as we exited the terminal to meet the waiting coaches. The excursion took us to beautiful Olinda then to the city of and beach at Recife. Steve Terry put on another excellent and entertaining show that night. There followed another full day at sea before we arrived at Ilheus. There I walked the beach front and old town. Firecrackers exploded along the roof parapet of the Cathedral. This was a funeral – Brazilian style. MSC’s Splendida was in port. Clocks forward. Day 17 was at sea. Over two nights actress Pauline Daniels performed her ‘Shirley Valentine’ monologue to much acclaim.

Thence to a true highlight of the cruise – Rio de Janeiro for two full days. First day was dull and cloudy. I took the rack railway excursion up Mount Corcovado to view the Christ the Redeemer statue. We skirted the beaches at Ipenema and Copacabana on the way there and saw rowers training for the Olympics on The Lagoon. I walked to view the Favelas area in the afternoon. Back on board ‘Bridge of Spies’ was screened in the Show Lounge. After Friday’s cloud and rain, Saturday was sunny and clear. I took the excursion up Sugar Loaf mountain by two-stage cable car. Breathtaking views. Back in the city we stopped by the concrete cone-shaped cathedral. Back aboard Marco Polo there was a sail-away party and marvellous views of the receding city and landscape at midnight. The floodlit Christ the Redeemer statue seemed to float high above us in the night sky.

Three days at sea before landfall in Argentina. More interesting talks and great food and entertainment. It was warm enough to enjoy the aft deck swimming pool. Buenos Aires in Argentina was magnificent. I took the excursion that visited Eva Peron’s tomb; the central city squares; and the Boca Artist’s quarter. I felt confident to venture back out into the city on my own in the afternoon. One always bumps into fellow passengers on such jaunts. The City is like Paris or Berlin in the Southern Hemisphere and is well worth a visit.

One cannot travel directly from there to the Falklands for political reasons. Montevideo in Uruguay was our next ‘port of call’. Another treat. I walked round the city and enjoyed the variety of architecture and the beauty and magnificence of the public open spaces. I walked to the beach; and to Plaza Independence where there were police on segways. Next day we had a full day at sea with glimpses of albatrosses, flying fish, dolphins and the occasional whale. We enjoyed a very special Columbus Club cocktail party high up on the bridge wing of the ship. Also that night I had, with five other passengers, an exclusive invitation to dine with the Captain and the Hotel Director. Beef Wellington and red wine – all good. Later on the ‘Rat Pack’ show entertained. Next day was a full day at sea.

On Sunday, 31st January we arrived at the Falkland Islands. Fairly calm sea conditions allowed us to tender in from our anchorage in Port William Bay to the jetty at Port Stanley. I walked to the Cathedral, Governor’s House and War Memorials before sending a postcard from the Post Office. Bishop Nigel Stock from Suffolk was in the Cathedral and local TV had been recording the morning service. It was a beautiful sunny day and I walked to Gypsy Cove to see the penguins. On the way, I saw the hulk of the 19th C ship Lady Elizabeth. Reportedly the SAS were secretly holed up in there during the 1982 conflict. There is no access to the beach at Gypsy Cove because of the fear of mines being washed ashore. Locals offered me a lift back from Gypsy Cove to ‘town’. They had emigrated from New Zealand twenty years ago. They also took me on a drive right up to the far end of Stanley Harbour to view the remains of the Marines’ base where the hovercraft were launched in the War.

February 1st was an extraordinary day when to the delight of the many birdwatchers on the ship, hundreds of albatrosses followed and winged their way round the ship for hour after hour. A stunning sight that nobody will ever forget. The ‘From Russia with Love’ show that night was greatly enjoyed.

Thence into the Strait of Magellan in Tierra del Fuego. Too rough to either berth or tender at Punta Arenas, Chile so we proceeded on into the Chilean Fjords. For a full ten hours from 11am till 9 pm we enjoyed breathtaking scenery, jagged peaks, untamed wilderness and deep sea inlets. We passed P&O Arcadia coming the other way in the evening. The bigger ship saluted us with three blaring toots on the horn. The sound echoed off the steep slopes of the Fuegan Andes. We had glimpses of the Pacific Ocean as our Chilean pilot expertly assisted our captain on threading our way through narrow passages to access the Beagle Channel. It was dull and wet the following day in Ushuaia, Argentina. Some of us took an excursion to the Tierra del Fuego National Park. The scenery was not as good as we had seen the previous day but there was a nice stop for coffee at the Visitors’ Centre. There were calm tree-lined lakes and ‘End of the World’ sea inlets and beaches to visit. From Ushuaia, ships take cruisers and adventurers down to Antarctica. We saw the ships Plancius’and Stella Australis in port. The following day we forged south to view Cape Horn which lived up to its reputation with high and turbulent seas. A square-rigger crested the horizon. We could make out the Chilean flag on a rocky outcrop on Hornes Island. We had voyaged some 8,600 nautical miles from the UK. Time to head for home!

With temperatures ranging from 8 to 32 degrees C throughout the trip, many people did suffer from coughs and colds. One also needed to be wary of tripping up on high kerbs or on single steps etc while out in the port cities. And one has to be wary of potential street thieves eager to grab one’s expensive personal possessions.

Another day at sea. As usual I enjoyed an omelette cooked to order at breakfast time in the Bistro. Interesting lectures and amusing quizzes filled the day. UK guest act Gerry Graham had flown in to entertain with his music and comedy shows. Day 33 - 6th February, we visited Puerto Madryn on the Argentine coast. I walked miles to the Punta Cuevas headland. Two more Sea Days before Rio Grande in Brazil. The town seemed deserted – everyone was away at the beach on this public holiday. The highlight of the day was a fabulous Carnival-themed deck party in the evening back aboard Marco Polo. Pancakes were served at the buffet. Much fun was had dancing to ‘Waterloo’, ‘YMCA’, ‘La Bamba’ and more.

A further sea day followed packed with the usual activities. Many ladies attended the craft classes. There was also art, musical theatre and choir sessions and a large group played bridge. There were regular quizzes and games. I played Scrabble with lady friends old and new. A daily news-sheet summary covering World and UK news was available at Reception. The new James Bond film ‘Spectre’ was screened in the Show Lounge. I did not like it much.

Next stop Santos, Brazil. It rained all day – warm rain, mind you. Many high rise buildings lined the sea frontage. One or two 1950s buildings were tilting over slightly due to subsidence. I walked the length of the beach front park. There were sculptures and exotic flora and bird-life. I was wearing my ‘Tilley’ hat; plus a gifted clear plastic mac (from Corcovado) over my clothes. When returning to the shuttle coach at the shopping centre I was informed my mac’s hood was full of rainwater and it would be best to empty it before proceeding. All good fun. The Passenger Talent Show was fabulous that evening.

Onwards north for two days. Splendid ‘masked booby’ birds flew around the ship.. ‘Rock and Roll Dreams’ was the show that Saturday night. Clocks back. Salvador da Bahia was visited next with superb colonial architecture in the old town. After the first course of lunch on the ship I walked 2 miles to a local beach for a swim and caught a free public bus back to enjoy the dessert course before 3.30 pm. Then I walked to the Bahia Marina, palled up with some CMV guests and went by taxi out to the Farrol da Barra lighthouse and beach. We returned in another taxi an hour later.

Another day at Sea, then Natal, Brazil. Shuttle bus to city. Then a two mile walk back to the ship through Old Town with four fellow passengers. Stopped for some street food which was delicious. We sailed out under the Newton Navarro cable-stay suspension bridge at 5 pm. Clocks forward. Then three days at Sea before Praia, Santiago Island, Cape Verde. After a shuttle mini-bus into town I joined two other CMV guests in a taxi out to the Sao Filipe fort built in 1590. Thence to the little fishing village of Cidade Velha. It was warm and sunny. After an hour of strolling along country roads with locals walking by with goods and chattels balanced on their heads, we returned to Praia by taxi.

Two sea days before sunny Funchal. UK Guest act – tenor vocalist Laurence Robinson entertained us with his splendid singing shows. On the island of Madeira, I took the cable car up the mountain and walked down following the famous toboggan route some of the way. In Old Town Funchal there are marvellous public squares and grand buildings. There are also wonderful public parks and botanic gardens. After another sea day (that included the final formal night dinner complete with the Baked Alaska Parade) we enjoyed a full day in Lisbon. Beautiful sunny clear weather. I took the open-topped, hop-on / hop-off, bus and hopped off in the Belem district for a couple of hours. Wonderful architecture old and new – and, of course, the Belem Tower. A revelation was the amazing nearby Centre for the Unimagined. Spectacular modern, all white, architecture. Hopped back on the bus to get back to the ship, then after a late lunch walked up into Old Town on the Tram 28 route by the Cathedral. Marvellous views of our floating hotel berthed on the shore-line of the Tagus River down below. The Crew and Passengers Show that night featured ‘The Choir’; a tap dancing routine; and a tribute to ‘West Side Story’ performed with panache and flair.

Two more Sea Days – a mild swell this time in the Bay of Biscay. Passengers’ Cruise Photos Competition organised and hosted by John Riley. Each of us could submit four in the categories People, Nature, Architecture, Landscape/Seascape. I have never seen my pictures projected that big. Scores of passengers entered. The results show was the following day. The worthy winners and runners up had some wonderful images. Marco Polo arrived back in Avonmouth at 9.15 am on Sunday 28th February after a voyage of 16,595 miles lasting 55 days. I bid my farewells and took a taxi home to Cam, Gloucestershire.