The Earth is a shrinking planet. Everyday it grows smaller and as I grow older, the world becomes a more familiar place: the same airports, the same global brands, the same fashions and even the same language. Where do you go to escape the mind-numbing homogeny of our cities, transit lounges and cookie-cutter hotels?
Expedition cruising is my escape. Small ships heading to unheard-of locations in places only Google Earth can reveal. While the rest of the cruising world seems to be heading to the largest ships ever to float, I couldn’t think of anything less appealing. Midnight buffets, slot machines and Las Vegas style shows with 3000 of your closest friends. No thanks.
Give me a challenge. Unsettle my preconceptions of travel and butt-kick me out of my comfort zone.
Once upon a time an Antarctic cruise was the epitome of adventure. Now more than 20 years of commercial tourism later, it’s almost passé. The Amazon too is a doddle and the once daunting Northwest Passage can be traversed in a blow-up kayak.
So the ball is now firmly in the court of adventure travel companies and the race is on to find the last true frontier experiences for world-weary travellers and been-there-done-that dilettantes.
Enter West Africa. The once forbidden, war-ravaged western coast of the great ‘dark continent’ is now slowly opening up to broad-minded, hopelessly inquisitive modern explorers. Sure, the lumbering overland truck odyssey has been with us ever since Alby Mangels took us on his famous World Safari, but the intricate coastal route from Cape Town to Marrakech is a very modern phenomenon.
Here you will see a very small sample of images taken during my whirlwind, three-week adventure aboard MS Expedition, a journey that truly put the ‘X’ back in ‘expediton’.
The MS Expedition is a typical adventure ship. Built for the oceans’ harshest conditions, you won’t find dancing girls or roulette tables on this vessel.
James Island of the coast of Gambia is one of many slave-era sites encountered west from the Gulf of Guinea. It was renamed in 2011 to Kunta Kinteh Island to restore some Gambian heritage and align it with the famous US ‘Roots’ TV mini-series from the 1970s. The island and related sites were inscribed by UNESCO in 2003.
Out along the Gambia River birdwatching, we came upon these chaps collecting firewood. Unscheduled encounters is a hallmark of expedition cruising and the sturdy Zodiac inflatable runabouts are the mainstay of the exploration fleet.
Retail African style. Every port and city along the African coast has a market of some sort. Varying in sophistication from air-conditioned shopping mall to a few sticks and old tarps on a jungle track somewhere, these stalls fed our insatiable shopping urge. By journey’s end, we were pretty good at the vigorous negotiation that is part and parcel with trinket shopping. The masks you see on the wall at this Banjul (Gambia) trader are indicative of the styles you’ll find all along the west coast.
Snack time. These chimpanzees at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary enjoy a relaxed mango break. At this “refugee camp” for orphaned and abandoned chimpanzees in the hills behind Freetown, Sierra Leone, animals are fed and their health monitored. Enclosures are large with a lot of natural foliage with the aim to re-release them back to the wild. Realistically this is rarely possible as the rate of deforestation means there is no more wild to release them to.
Silent guns now overlook the parking lot at Elmina Castle, Ghana. One of the most significant of the UNESCO-listed African slave trade sites, Elmina Castle has a dark and tragic history. Thousands upon thousands of negro slaves left from castles like this on fetid ships to ports in the Americas to be resold as farm labourers and domestic hands. The lucky ones anyway.
Table Mountain looms above the port at Cape Town sending us off in spectacular fashion. We’d read all the trip notes and Rough Guides, but truthfully had no idea what to expect. That’s adventure.
The crumbling former diamond town of Kolmanskop, Namibia serves as a salient reminder to the folly of early 20th century Europeans in Africa. The hardships and privations these mainly German settlers were prepared to endure for the sake of sparkling stones still boggles my mind.
One of those ‘wow’ moments. I caught a glimpse of something through the undergrowth that looked like ruins. I was right. I pleaded with the Zodiac skipper to let me go ashore to investigate and this is what I found – the ruins of what I later discovered to be a 15th century church dating back to the first Europeans to visit the tiny island of Principe. And to think I almost couldn’t be bothered getting in that Zodiac.
Roderick Eime has spent his whole life getting lost – and the last two decades doing it professionally. From 4WD journeys across Australia to icebreakers in the polar seas, Rod isn’t happy unless he’s wondering where he is. In his quest to find oblivion, he’s sailed all five oceans and many of the great rivers reporting for magazines and newspapers but has yet to fall off the edge of the world. In real life, Rod is the editor of expeditioncruising.com and The Adventure Cruise Guide (this site is under re-build but will be refreshed in next few weeks).