From Lisbon to Cape Verde…on MS Marina

Yesterday I changed status from a polliwog to a shellback, ie I crossed the equator at sea for the first time. On board, the MS Marina that event involved King Neptune dressed in a green wig, false boobs and lots of ice-cream liquefying under a beating sun, but it hasn’t always been like this….

When we boarded our floating planet of heavenly gluttony, it was amid the austerity of torrential rain in Lisbon. Even in Cadiz – the wholly charming oldest city in Europe, we were swathed in scarves as we polished off a bottle of red in the piazza after inspecting every one of the 18 or so chapels in the city’s cathedral. With dozens of small grocers and hardware shops Cadiz doesn’t feel touristy, and the cathedral is positively dynamic in an 18th century way. You get the feeling you could quite easily arrange for Saint Basil’s holy tableau to be scrapped and replaced with a haloed image of your pussy cat if you made the right offer… and it would all feel religiously valid.

Tangier though was Baltic and after combatting North Africa’s determination to sell us packets of chewing gum and fridge magnets, we shivered round the Casbah, recoiled at the discovery that every  6 year old Tangian boy is, to this day, circumcised by an Imam at home without anaesthetic (why are we only exercised by female genital mutilation?), and were, in short, quite pleased to leave.

Without doubt Mike’s endlessly changing catering requests now appear in Oceana Cruiselines’ induction video sending most potential crew members back to reappreciate the demands of subsistence farming in the high sierras – but the current crew all still look perpetually delighted to see us, a great testament to Oceana’s training.

Tenerife was…Tenerife, I bought some sunglasses, then it was on to the fascinating 10 leeward and windward Cape Verde islands. These provided shelter for the slave traders and now for thousands of yachties who ’hole up’ there on their way to and from Europe and the Caribbean.

We called into Mindelo on Sao Vincent and immediately understood that although they secured independence from Portugal in 1975 Cape Verde is very much an African society. They’ve made the most progress of any African state on the UN’s Millennium poverty reduction targets, but still the fish is dried on rocks amid a haze of flies and industry is focused on selling a shirt or transistor radio to a neighbour.

It was though , mesmerizing, and after three or four beers with the ocean-going community at the marina’s floating bar, Mike and I decided to buy a boat and join them, although openly admitting we’d probably just sleep on it in between drinking at the bar.

Ever onward, we’ve sailed for three more days since then and contracted the most awful cold virus. I’d really like to get some sympathy from my fellow travellers but news of your contagious condition is a difficult subject to raise in the airless lift of a cruise liner.

Tomorrow…… Brazilia

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