Last April, my family decided to take a ten-day cruise. Well, it was not exactly a unanimous decision-rather it was more like a dictatorship. My dad had always wanted to take a cruising holiday. Whenever a travel discussion came up at our dinner table, my dad would excitably mention a holiday on a ship. My brother, who has an inherited fear of drowning, was not too keen on the idea of being stuck on a ship for ten days, so on our first day on board, he promptly memorized the location of all the life boats.
My lack of enthusiasm about a cruising holiday stemmed from my idea that a cruise involved people in a comatose fashion blundering around as a result of continuous eating and drinking, with the occasional dip in a crowded pool – and I’m the optimist in the family. For the first couple of days at sea, my analogy was not too far off. By the second day, people were already walking around in a zombie- like state not knowing what to do. I saw a small boy begging his mother to take him back home, and a sixteen-year-old girl crying at the fact that she no longer wanted to be on the ship. My prediction for why this dramatic behaviour was taking place was that our ship was a cross between an RSL club and a nursing home on water.
When you got used to the gaudy décor and the weird lukewarm drinking water, the cruise was not too bad. I managed to finish an entire book by the second day at sea, and I got used to waking up early in order to find the best deck chair, and marking my territory by flicking my belongings all over my designated area.
However, it was the islands that made the trip. I fell in love all over again at each port, and I tried to get down early to get the first tender across to the islands. Mare was our first stop, and we were greeted by crystal clear waters, lined by little stores that the locals had set up. After walking up the main hill and hitching a ride in the back of a Ute, we reached the local water hole which was located down a winding path and in a small cave which was manned by two local women who had set up a light inside the cave and watched from the side as tourists from the boat trickled in and out. I could have spent all day jumping into the cool water, and then scrambling back up the rocks, repeating this over and over.
The cave-jumping was followed by some bush-bashing to reach a secluded beach. We eventually discovered that neither the twigs littered throughout our hair, nor the mud plastered up our legs, was necessary as there was another path leading to our ‘secret beach.’ Well, I thought I was Indiana Jones in the moment. I couldn’t wait to put on the snorkels, which we had brought from home, and dive into the water. It was sad to see that the coral located closest to the wharf was dead, discoloured and fishless. We returned to the boat tired and in need of a shower. I had transported into a portable beach as I just had to hake myself and a lovely pile of sand would appear.
The following day we docked near Mystery Island, and tendered out. The island is uninhabited, as the locals believe that when darkness settles over the island, ghosts and evil spirits come out. Despite this knowledge, the island was abuzz with all sorts of activity set up by locals from a neighbouring island who had set up quite a business venture during the daylight hours. The minute you landed on the island, you could see wooden signs indicating day trips and all sorts of adventures and activities you could pay for. A never-ending market spread across the middle of the island, and there was also a cannibal soup photo opportunity you could pay for. We spent the day sprawled on the beach and getting roasted by the sun. By the end of the day, I officially declared Mystery Island as the unofficial, most beautiful beach in the world.
Back on the ship, we sailed all through the night to our third destination, Lifou Island. The docking at the wharf was not as tropical as our previous stops as we were greeted by concrete. Although we would have liked to have made our own way around the island, this was not possible as the locals were not allowed to run trips independently of the ship. This meant that the only way to get to the beach was by a small white van that was run by the cruise ship. As we headed into the heart of the island, away from the man-made wharf, we passed small blue painted houses, luscious greenery and waves crashing against the rocks at the island’s edge. We spent the day snorkelling and eating fresh fruit bought from the locals. My mum, using her textbook French, was lapping up the compliments from the other tourists who thought it was so good that she could speak to the locals, not knowing that she was butchering the language. The day ended with a huge downpour of rain.
Our final stop before home was Noumea. Here we spent the day grocery shopping and stocking up on bottled water for the trip home.
I don’t think cruising is my thing, but the islands were definitely worth it, and, in our cabin, the towels, that were morphed into a different animal every day, did give the cruise ship some brownie points. I tried stealing the bath-towel frog but ended up needing to dry myself after a shower, and my hand towel was not cutting it as a drying device, so the frog had to go.
I have to say I live under a pretty decent dictatorship of it is mandatory to take a ten-day vacation on a cruise.