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A Tropical Cruise – Two Dislocated Hippies Relocate

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The great day of our departure sprung upon us, and we sprang back and embraced it, wrestled it to the bed, tickled it and left it lying there panting as we packed our bags.  Two weeks sailing through the tropics from Sydney to Singapore!  Romantic?  Mais Oui Mon Chers!

We hustled down to Circular Quay, with darling Wally at the wheel, suitcases trundling along the pier, smiling crew with snow white uniforms disabused us of our belongings, took our mug shots, lanyards were hung around our necks and we wheeled past an underwhelmed line of customs officials, round the bend, up an escalator than a lift, onto the gangplank and aboard the splendid Voyager of the Seas.  Hurray!

What joy it was to be alive and to be on this gleaming 15 story floating skyscraper.  Scuttled below to inspect our sweet little port-holed cabin, our home for the next two weeks, 

Gazed through the porthole at our beloved Opera House,

turned on all the taps, fiddled with knobs and cupboards and doors, admired the artfully folded towels, 

opened cruise-goody-packs, then frolicked and frisked around the boat, which has a steam room AND a sauna, a gym, theatre, ice rink, cafes, shops and bars, restaurants, non stop beautifully played cheesy but delectable music, a lovely crew, a soft serve ice cream dispenser, and a strong feeling that a good time was being had by all.

One of our greatest delights on board was noting that (admittedly not in the first bloom of our youth) we were amongst the youngsters on this geriatric floating fun palace.

Tugboats roped and tugged and tooted and the ship slid off the quay into the harbor where the sun was setting over the Bridge and Opera House and the whole damnably beautiful Emerald City.  We sailed on a moonlit sea passed the OH,

The eastern suburbs, with their little beaches and stately mansions winking and blinking goodbye, blew kisses to Tom and Brian at Elizabeth Bay, through the heads, turned left and proceeded in a stately but clearly overexcited fashion northwards towards Asia.

We took on a reef pilot at Brisbane to steer us through the Great Barrier Reef and he provided a tremendous commentary, pointing out Lizard Island where, evidently, Cook stood in 1770 looking for a passage out after the Endeavour had run aground. Just a little further north was Restoration Island where Bligh and his fellow survivors from the Bounty came ashore in 1791.

Skimming through the Coral Sea, watching the waves speed by our window. 

We can see why some wealthy widows choose to spend their lives on cruise ships. It is delightful. The art for sale on board really is something. Not as classy as crying clowns or dogs playing poker on black velvet – more the sort of lurid stuff that used to be mass produced by drug-addled Picasso wannabees and sold door to door by gypsies. But the other punters are lapping it up and who’s to say they’re wrong? Not we.

Must slip into our cummerbund and cocktail dress for the formal night in the Sapphire Room tonight then onto the Star Bar for a drink and some very entertaining cabaret. 

Ohh, forgot to mention the Ice Spectacular this afternoon. A dozen young skaters in brilliant costumes and sets speeding around a rink the size of a tennis court…on a ship….in the middle of the Coral Sea !!! It’s all kind of surreal, and very pleasantly so.  (To enhance this feeling there’s a lot of “Dali” at the art auction) We wondered what became of demonstration ice skaters once their thews and sinews stopped letting them leap onto each other’s shoulders whilst skating at full pelt around a rink.

Paused at  Airlie Beach, the landscape is beautiful, little Islands sticking up out of the Coral Sea, misty mountains, rainbows, friendly people.

Cairns was lovely with crabs, mudflats, and Pelicans. The Cairns Gallery which is in a beautiful old building had an extraordinary exhibition of Fred Williams’ Weipa Series.  Things are starting to feel like the tropics and Asia, food carts on the street and blistering heat.

Soon we sailed, carelessly, and with never a thought for tomorrow.

Yet still, tomorrow came. A tremendous multicultural Anzac Day Dawn Service on board as the sun rose and Darwin appeared, with a Mexican MC, a Spanish priest and a Ukrainian bugler from the ship’s band (who gave the Last Post a tiny touch of Tijuana Brass).  It may have been the earliness of the hour but as some little Aussie chap was winding up proceedings and thanking everyone he thanked the Captain and just at that exact moment the ships horn let out a long blast. “Pardon me !” Said the little fellow to general hilarity.

We popped off the ship in Darwin just in time for the flyover and march past. Very impressive group of heavily bemedalled women and men with chinooks and Jets zooming above. The pubs were chock as expected but we squeezed in, drank some beer, bit a crocodile (strangely delicious) and remounted our watery steed.

We’re not sure if they put something in the prodigious amounts of food they feed you but we have never met a happier or more contented group of people than our fellow travelers.  Smiling and nodding is the order of the day, delightful languorous chats with equally blissed-out complete strangers who seem, for all of half an hour, to be your best friends.  

The Sea has changed from the Coral to the Arafura and is morphing colors every hour or so from Quink to turquoise and everything in between, 1000 shades of blue and green.

There are some wonderful musicians on board and several terrific dancers among our fellow passengers. 

One old fellow looks like Keith Richard with a bandana around his head and his wife, with whom he dances rock n roll style and who must be 80 if she’s a day, dressed in a sort of Minnie Mouse outfit. Just last night we watched her spin around and around for over a minute to the sounds of the Ukrainian, Chinese and Polish jazz band.

Alongside them are elderly Chinese couples in red satin cummerbunds and flamenco dresses high stepping, pirouetting and cutting a very fine rug. All in all its most entertaining.

The very next day we were loitering on the Starboard bow ( aargh me hearties & etc) when a rather huge turtle ( smaller than a Volkswagen but bigger than a breadboard) finned (or flippered) past. No turtle soup that night, (unless it was restricted to the Captain’s table).

Later that same day we were trying to walk off some of the 3-course breakfasts, luncheons & dinners with a waddle around the ship when we discovered the aft was roped off due to a funeral service. Speculation was rife. It seems there is a morgue (and a gaol) below decks. Burial at sea quite a good option when we thought about it, no chance of being dug up and evicted.

Anyhoo the aft rails were littered with suspicious looking ashes for a couple of days so we very reverently refrained from leaning on them.

There were Sea snakes and Silvery flying fish skipping over the waves and the Timor and Arafura seas continued to be the perfect seas from central casting, endless sheets of exquisite blue and green silk shot through with undulations and gentle ripples.

On the 2nd last night we sailed in between Bali and Lombok, many of the crew hanging over the railing looking longingly at their home islands. A long, long, long (seriously it went for many miles) line of lights appeared which looked like an enormous runway or highway but were, evidently, squid boats. It seems the bright lights attract the squid. There had been speculation on board that this marked the equator so were disappointed to find out that there is no long ribbon, dotted line, lights OR buoy to note this and made a mental note to write to the UN suggesting that this shocking oversight is corrected.

The “Crossing the Equator” ceremony was held on deck in the scorching heat, with awestruck virgins kneeling before King Neptune and his harem of beautiful mermaids, then bowing low and kissing a fish at his feet.

The Rock and roll dancing Keith Richards look-alike mentioned in an earlier mail turned out to be wearing a hair hat, a shock of grey hair stitched onto a headband. Is anything as it appears to be we wondered? He and his octogenarian Minnie Mouse inspired dancing partner were shaking their elderly but very spry booties to a pianist playing the hits, among which was Smokies ” Living next door to Alice”. I’ve lived a very sheltered life and wasn’t aware of the crowd response in that tune. “Alice? Who the fuck is Alice?”

So to Singapore, the Merlion City, where we stood on the deck for the last time, watching Singapore loom into sight as the red ball of the sun rose on our right and a waxy yellow full moon set on our left. Magical signs?  Good omens?  You bet!

Sad to leave the boat. Everybody was so damned friendly and happy. All emotions and feelings were reduced to only the two, sleepy and/or hungry. Brilliant entertainment, great food, do please go on a cruise, we loved it dearly and think you’d love it too.

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