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The Spanish ports (again)
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Wed 8 Jan ’14 – day 25   La Palma

It was a very calm overnight passage down to Santa Cruz on the island of La Palma which was the first of what will be five consecutive port days as Oriana made her way around the Canary Islands.

We were scheduled to make a later (10:00 hours) than normal (08:00 hours) arrival, but would not leave until midnight as the distance between the islands is relatively short.  In the event the ship was alongside, moored up and had clearance from the local authorities by 09:45 hours, so all ashore.

For the first time on this cruise the sun was shining, there was little or no breeze and the forecast was good, at least until late evening.

The most noticeable thing during Oriana’s approach to Santa Cruz was the large caldera directly behind the port.  The seaward side had collapsed at some time in the distant past, but it was still an impressive sight.

Walking passed reception I noticed that Andrew Watt has boarded the ship and is now the Passenger Services Manager.  I spent a very entertaining afternoon with him in Kusadasi when Adonia called there in early 2012 and we, along with the Chief Engineer Sinclair Ross, were taken to a Turkish Barbers by the Executive Purser Michael Labon.  This was the only time that I had ever been given a beer before sitting down in the barber’s chair; we all got the full works – hair cut, shave, head massage, eyebrows trimmed, ears waxed with nostril hair burnt off and together with a couple of beer’s we each paid less than €20, a bargain. .This was followed by a tremendous fish lunch.

As La Palma is a volcanic island the deep water channel runs almost up to the port, so there was no need for the pilot to come out until the ship was fairly close inshore.

In the harbour already was another of the ADIA ships, so there will be plenty of passengers walking around the small (ish) town today.

Although a shuttle bus had been laid on to take people from the ship to the port entrance, as it was not very far and the weather was excellent the vast majority of people decided to walk so that they could get some ‘rays’.

A number of the crew were amongst some of the first people off the ship and they made a bee-line to the shops at the edge of the marina where there was a Wi-Fi hotspot; so they are sat in the sun with their laptops open, or on their IPhones (or similar) talking to friends and relatives on the other side of the world.  During their nine month contracts this is the only contact that they have with their families and so they make the most of every opportunity.

Having packed my rucksack I walked the short distance from the ship passed the terminal building, marina (which included a Spar shop) and then the MacDonald’s before crossing the main road and arriving in the principle shopping area which had been made a pedestrian precinct.

As it would have been difficult for anyone to walk fast due to the crowds, I just strolled along the main street taking pictures of things that caught my eye.  There were few modern buildings in the centre of Santa Cruz and so this gave the streets a very pleasant feel.  Bar and café owners had put their tables and chairs out in the street and most of the seats were occupied with people having an early morning coffee, or even something stronger.

     

The design of the balconies was typically Iberian and is something that I find quite attractive.

   

Having walked to the far end of the main street where the naval museum was situated I turned around and then walked down to the waterfront so that I was in the sunshine – time for dark glasses and my Lake Baikal baseball cap to keep what was a very bright light out of my eyes.

Having bought an English newspaper I found a café and sat down to have a glass or two of the local beer and a rather nice ham, cheese and chicken baguette.  Very tasty.

Having done and seen all that I wanted to do ashore it was time to return to the ship and spend the rest of the afternoon writing the postcards that I had bought in the town and while sitting out in the sun by the Terrace Bar at the aft end of deck 12.  There were many people making the best of what was the first decent day’s weather of this cruise, although I did hear some people ashore complaining that it was too hot!!

As the old saying goes “There now’t as queer as folk”.

It was yet another poor day at the individual quiz as I barely got into double figures, but I enjoyed taking part as most of the questions are concerned with trivia.  Plus I got a chance to drink a cup of cappuccino which had become my treat of the day.

My table companions and I spent some chatting at the end of dinner and so had to rush to get to the Theatre Royal to watch the Headliners perform another of their excellent shows; as the ship was still in harbour and there was no motion, the dancers could do some high kicking routines which they would normally tone down if we were at sea.

While I was having a nightcap in the Crow’s Nest bar the heavens opened and the rain was so heavy that the visibility out of the front windows was significantly reduced and all this at the same time as the ship was getting ready to sail.

 

Thu 9 Jan ’14 – day 26   La Gomera

Although La Gomera is roughly thirty miles south-east of La Palma we probably went well out to sea to discharge any waste matter that could be pumped overboard.  There had been a skip alongside yesterday and I watched the crew filling it with bundles of cardboard for disposal by an approved local contractor.  P&O are signatories to the MARPOL agreement which sets stringent standards for all vessels in order to prevent marine pollution.

It was still dark when Oriana went stern first into her berth in the harbour at San Sebastián, the capital of La Gomera, and I watched the lines go ashore so that we were soon moored fast.  I had risen early so that I could put some washing in as soon as the laundry opened and once this had been accomplished, a walk around the rather wet and empty aft deck allowed me to breathe some good clean (although salty) fresh air.

The departure of the fast ferry to Tenerife, a Fred Olsen trimaran, was slightly delayed by our arrival, but once we were alongside its powerful engines created significant turbulence as it made its way out of the harbour where it turned to port and then increased to top speed as it headed off into the rising sun.

The weather forecast must have been good as the deck crew took the safety net off the Terrace Pool and then removed a few bits of rubbish that had blown into the water; so it’s now all ready for someone to take a plunge.

Having moved my laundry from the washing machine to the tumble dryer it was time to prepare for my trip ashore, but first the ironing had to be completed.

With the tours having departed the queues to exit the ship had reduced significantly and although it was overcast, it still felt warm so a polo shirt was the order of the day.

The deckhands were doing routine maintenance at the stern of the ship.

This is a volcanic island and is almost circular in shape; at the front of the ship the sea cliffs are basalt rock and by the entrance to the port the local authority has rigged netting across the rock face to prevent any boulders from coming down on to the houses and roads below.

The rocky coastline and lack of any sandy beaches has tended to preclude package tourists and as there is no airport on the island all visitors have to come by ship (cruise or sailing) or on the ferry.  The absence of mass tourism has helped keep the island peaceful and there is little to do except enjoy the scenery, walk or bird watch.

The beach at the edge of the town comprised of rough black volcanic ash and is not somewhere that would be very comfortable for sunbathing, that is unless you were lying on a lounger and there were none of these to be seen.  There was a trim park by the side of the beach, but it didn’t look particularly well used.

There was little to see in San Sebastián and the harbour was more famous 500 years ago than it is now.  As it was the last stop for all ships heading west to the Americas, everyone from Columbus onwards called here to stock up with fresh food and water.

I had a gentle stroll around the town, took some photos of the main church, an alley and the Torre del Conde which is reputed to be the oldest building in the whole of the Canary Islands and then bought my daily batch of postcards.

Today even the passengers were stood outside the Wi-Fi hotspot texting or phoning people back in the UK.  I really can’t understand the need to constantly keep calling relatives and friends on a daily basis and you sometimes hear people complaining that they can’t get a signal when the ship is out at sea!!

A sudden sharp rainstorm had everyone running for cover, but it soon passed and as the afternoon progressed the weather got better and better, so with the sun out it was quite warm on deck.

A few yachts came and went from the small marina and just as it was all those years ago, this is still the last port of call for the vast majority of sailing craft heading towards the Caribbean.

The individual quiz today was a repeat of one on the last cruise, but I still didn’t get all the answers correct.  However the cappuccino was nice.

As we departed Mount Teide on Tenerife was visible on the port quarter with its 12198 foot summit covered in a fresh fall of snow, a tremendous sight.

The lights along the coast of Tenerife were shining brightly as we sailed passed on our way to Gran Canaria.

Another small dinner was followed by a trip to the theatre and then a last drink of the day in the Crow’s Nest.

 

Fri 10 Jan ’14 – day 27   Gran Canaria

This was another scheduled long stop with a 08:00 hours arrival and a midnight departure and once we had moored up in Las Palmas, I soon realised that it had been ten years since I was last here.  That was on the previous Adonia on my Christmas & New Year’s cruise in 2003 / 04 when we sailed right down to the Cape Verde Islands.  The weather when we crossed the Bay of Biscay southbound on that cruise was worse than the conditions that we have endured this year and things were so bad that on the second night out I was thrown from my bed as the ship lurched around.  However once the conditions improved the rest of the trip was fantastic and I have always wondered why P&O have never scheduled a Christmas cruise there since.

I was also here in 1997 when Canberra made her very last call before she was decommissioned; it was a Sunday and it was later estimated that about 1/3 of the islands population came to the harbour to see us sail out.  The event was shown live on local TV as we were escorted out to sea by ships from the Spanish Navy and through a water arch produced by the fire tugs; a spectacular sent off.

We had arrived the capital of Gran Canaria before it was fully light, but as the sun came up and the last vestiges of night disappeared it promised to be a very fine day.

This island, like La Gomera, is almost circular in shape with Los Pechos, the central peak, 6400 feet high.

I had breakfast for the first time since we left Southampton and then took some photos of the German Navy’s sail training ship which was moored in the Spanish Armada (Navy) dockyard next to one of their latest frigates.  Oriana was the only cruise ship in port and so we had the prime berth from where it was just a short walk into town.

As I set off the ship was being bunkered and so the port side promenade on deck 7 was cordoned off and smoking banned on that side of the ship for the duration of the refuelling.

The breeze was just sufficient to make walking a pleasant experience as the sun was now beating down and the temperature had risen to the low 20’s C.

The extension to the shopping mall at the entrance had not been completed and with the current economic situation is probably like to remain so for many years to come.

It was just a short walk through the streets and across the isthmus to Playa de las Canteras which is one of the longest city beaches in the world.  The long promenade has bars, cafes and restaurants all along its length.

It was warm enough for people to be sunbathing and the restaurants had menus displayed in most of the northern European languages.  However the Euro crisis has had an impact here as there were many empty chairs outside the various bars and cafes, so the numbers of visitors was not as high as the locals would have liked.

Oriana’s passengers seemed to be content to just stroll around or give a small boost to the local economy by using the tourist bus, having a coffee and cake, or maybe a beer or two.  It would be interesting to know just how much money a visit by a ship the size of Oriana puts into the local coffers and I would suggest that in the current climate even a small amount was most welcome.

I did my bit by having a cappuccino and toasted baguette in a café while reading today’s English newspapers.

The afternoon was spend sat in the sun trying to do the ‘diabolical’ Sudoku in the Daily Telegraph and despite my best efforts I was unable to complete it.

It was no better at the individual quiz where I did well in the first part, 9 out of 10 correct, and then failed miserably in the second half getting just four answers right.  Never mind there is always a chance to do better tomorrow.

When the sun disappeared behind the mountains it got noticeably cooler, but was still pleasant enough for me to sit out by the Terrace Bar having a beer as it got dark.

Following dinner I went to the Crow’s Nest Bar as the Oriana orchestra were playing jazz, so I just sat and read my book while listening to the music.  The bar was packed and there was great applause after each piece.

 

Sat 11 Jan ’14 – day 28   Tenerife

Another day and yet another (Spanish) port.

Having risen and had a shower I went on deck while Sailesh sorted out my cabin as he does twice a day.

The Fred Olsen Express ferry departed on its way to Gran Canaria.

The ship was in the harbour at Santa Cruz and moored against the outer breakwater and behind us was the ADIA ship that had been in Madeira.  The tour buses were loading passengers before departing for their organised tours.  Having been to the vast majority of ports before, I am now quite happy to do my own thing and this generally involves walking around the city centre while taking in the local ambience.

The weather is fine and sunny once again, so it will ideal for just strolling.

As there is no point in going ashore until the shops open at about 10:00 hours, I decided to have a bowl of fruit and a couple of glasses of orange juice for breakfast; sitting in the sun by the Terrace Bar outside the Conservatory while eating the food was a great way to start the day.

There was a queue for the shuttle bus, but it was not a long wait as there were four coaches zipping between the ship and the drop off point from where we could walk into town.  I still heard some moans about the delay and so I wonder if those people were in such a rush why didn’t they get a taxi.  And I already know the answer, because they wouldn’t be prepared to pay.

Santa Cruz is one of the least attractive capitals in the Canary Islands as it pretty much a concrete jungle with very few old or attractive buildings.  As I am not one for visiting museums, I just strolled up and down a couple of the main shopping streets where there was some old and new sculptures and I then waited from the tram to pass before going over a bridge across one of the watercourses that channel the rainfall from the mountains down to the sea.  It was bone dry, but I expect that it would turn into a ranging torrent when the snow on Mount Teide melts.

 

 

 

I was heading Mercado de Nuestra Señora de Africa, the city’s main market; this was built in 1944 on the orders of the islands Governor in order to better establish Santa Cruz as the main shopping centre on the island.

Outside were two sculptures depicting people at work.

 

 

 

 

The market was built around a central courtyard, so back of the majority of the shops are part of outer walls.  The entrance was lined with flower stalls and these had a number of what to British eyes were quite exotic blooms – the fragrance was wonderful.

If I thought that the flowers had a powerful smell, it was like nothing compared to that emitting from the spice stalls.  This was fantastic and every so often a fresh and pungent blast was emitted as a spice was pounded up.  There were crowds of shoppers stocking up with fresh produce for the weekend’s meals and the ambience of the market was far superior to that in any supermarket in the UK.

   

People were buying the vegetables on offer and were not bothered if they were misshapen, unlike some shoppers at home – all they wanted was fresh produce.

At the small café in the market I had some ice cream, then a local coffee and pastry while stood at the counter, just like the locals, very tasty and cheap compared with some of the prices I saw at cafés in the main shopping area.

 

While I was walking back through the town I saw some trees covered in bright fabric – very strange.

Having bought some postcards and stamps I returned on-board to write the cards as my Mum expects one from every stop I make, no matter where it is in the world.  She has amassed quite a collection over the years and even still has one that I sent from the Polish research station in Antarctica, a place that I visited over Christmas & New Year 2002 / 3.  Now that was a rough passage as we sailed across the Drake Strait that separates South America from the frozen continent.

The early afternoon was spent reading the weekend edition of the Daily Telegraph, the Sudoku was easy today, before I passed the papers on to the ships staff to read.

Then it was time for the second of the sea weed rubs, it feels hot when it is first applied but soon cools and once you have had the green mixture spread all over your body, then you are wrapped in foil and have towels placed on top so that you start to perspire.  Marina massaged my head and then my feet before it was time to have shower to wash the ‘gunk’ off my body.  A full body massage followed and my leg, shoulder and lower back muscles are now much looser; when it was all finished I felt almost as if I was walking on air.

A snooze preceded dinner where the conversation was mainly about places we had visited and having three former servicemen at the table the destinations ranged right across the globe.

I decided that and early night was in order so went straight to bed once dinner had finished.

 

Sun 12 Jan ’14 – day 29   Lanzarote

 Of all the Canary Islands this is the one that shows its volcanic origins the most as there is no earth as such, just black ash and basalt rock.

Oriana is moored in the harbour at Arrecife, the islands capital, with an MSC ship further along the breakwater.

 As soon as the sun rises the temperature started to increase and so it was likely to be a warm and bright day.

From the upper deck there was a good view down the coast where the one tall building, a hotel, spoilt the view.  Apparently the city and island council did not enforce a demolition order, but left the building standing as a reminder to people never to allow such over-powering structures to be erected in the future.

The shuttle bus ride into town took us passed the wreck of a ship that was there went I last came here, ten years ago, and it looks as if little of the wreck has changed

As it is Sunday very few shops are open and those that are have what my Mum would call ‘tourist tat’ for sale.

The promenade was an attractive place to walk with its many weird sculptures; in the waterside café the men of the town were playing dominoes.  The beach had yellow sand but whether this was shipped in I’m not sure.

 

 

I had couple of local beers while I was writing my cards and then it was back to the ship; on the way the landscape was made up just of volcanic dust and rock.

To see any of the attractions you had to either take a P&O organised excursion or a trip in one of the many taxis that are plying for trade.

In the dramatic Timanfaya National Park the remains of six years of volcanic eruptions can be seen; these started in 1730 and eventually covered around two hundred square kilometres causing complete and utter devastation.  The stratified rivers of lava and the more than three hundred volcanic craters have given the whole landscape a rather surreal feelings.

In the hottest parts of the park you have to walk on protected boards otherwise your shoes would start to melt.  Here the ground temperature is 140°C at a depth of only four inches and two feet down it is over 460°C.  A popular demonstration is when a bucket of cold water is poured into a vent and the pourer would jump back as it immediately erupts back in a blast of scalding steam.  Branches or straw placed over a vent take no time whatsoever bursting into flames.

With the sun out people are taking the opportunity to top up their tans.

As this is probably the last time we will see the sun on this cruise, today was the great British Sailaway, when the Entertainment Team gathered by the Terrace Pool to lead the passengers in choruses of all the old British favourite songs.  Quite what the German and Italian passengers on the MSC ship thought as we passed on our way out of the harbour I cannot imagine.

   

I answered 16 questions correctly in the individual quiz, but to no avail as the winner got them all right.

While I was sat in Tiffany’s people were heading for first sitting dinner and I realised that I had not seen the vast majority of them on this cruise.  This only goes to show how easy it is to only get to see those passengers who don’t use the same dining room and bars as yourself; I even met the people in the next cabin to me for the first time today and this is the tenth day of the cruise.

As I was going to dinner there was an envelope in the ‘mailbox’ outside my cabin that requested the Baltic and Ligurian loyalty level passengers to inform reception of their preferred disembarkation time – so the end of the cruise is fast approaching.

A pleasant dinner was followed by a drink in the Crow’s Nest bar listening to the singer perform some numbers that were easy on the ear.

Then it’s time for bed.

I am now into my fifth week on the ship – where have all the days gone?