Freighter Travelling Between Six Continents

by Matz Lonnedal Risberg, Oslo, Norway

 

So far I’ve travelled by freighters eight times (then I don’t count the trip by a little cargo dhow from Zanzibar to Mombasa in 2001). I’ve used four different agents so far, with various experience. The first one was Hamburg Süd in Hamburg, which I came in contact with in the following way:

 

I love to travel, but to me flying has nothing to do with travelling. For as long as I can remember, I have had six journeys I’ve always dreamt of. The first one was to go by the TransSiberian Railway to Vladivostok and from there by ship to Japan. The second one was to go to North America by ship and by the “Canadian” all the way from Toronto to Vancouver. The third one was to go to and through China all the way to Hong Kong, through Mongolia one way and Manchuria the other. The fourth one was to go all the way through Africa from Cairo down to Cape Town, including riding the famous “Blue Train”. The fifth one was to go to Alaska and the sixth one was to go to Singapore overland and back by ship from there to Hong Kong and then home again.

 

The second one of those became the first one I actually made, in 1992, by the “Queen Elizabeth II” from Cherbourg to New York, then not only the “Canadian” from Toronto to Vancouver but by Amtrak trains all over the United States and then by the QE2 back again to Southampton. The third one became the second one I made, in 1994, and not only straight to Hong Kong but with stops in Irkutsk, the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar, train riding all around China, a marvellously spectacular river boat ride on the Chang Jiang (Yangtzekiang) from Chongqing to Hankou and the through train from Beijing to Moscow via Manchuria. When I in 1995 made the first of my dream journeys, thereby being the third one I made, by the train “Rossiya” from Moscow o Vladivostok, the passenger ship Antonina Nezhdanova to Niigata, by trains and ferry around in Japan, the ro/pax ship Xin Jian Zhen” from Kobe to Shanghai, trains and canal barge in Eastern China and by the through Beijing-Moscow train through Mongolia back, I believed that I was making the last of my Trans Continental dream journeys. It has never been possible to go overland from Cairo to Cape Town by public transport in my lifetime, especially going through Sudan and from Sudan to Uganda has been and is still extremely difficult. The railway from China to Viet Nam had been closed for decades, going through Laos as well as through Cambodia seemed impossible at the time and the passenger ship service between Hong Kong and Singapore had been closed as well. Finally I regarded the Alaska journey as to time consuming and expensive to fulfil.

 

But it was on the return journey back from my Japan voyage that I on the Beijing-Moscow train met an American who travelled by freighters, and he gave me an address to a ships agent in Pasadena. They gave me, because I’m European, the address to Hamburg Süd. Getting their catalogue a completely new world opened up to me. Suddenly my three remaining dream journeys could be made after all, though in a different way. The first one I wanted to try was the Singapore journey, and in January 1996 I booked a voyage in December that year from Hamburg to Singapore by the m.v. Maersk Hongkong and back again by the same ship in January 1997, which would have given me three weeks in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand while the ship was sailing to South Korea and China. I never made that trip. The ship was calling Jiddah on the eastbound tour and when I told Hamburg Süd that I didn’t manage to get a Saudi Arabian visa they most unprofessionally cancelled my tour and kept some US$ 50.- of my prepaid booking fee. As the ship though was not calling Saudi Arabia on the westbound tour, I asked them not to cancel my return voyage and send me any money back. In the meantime, between my booking and the cancellation by Hamburg Süd, the railway connection between China and Viet Nam reopened, in February 1996. In June 1992 a new railway along the Silk Road between Kazakstan and Northwest China had opened and in June 1996 a railway link between Iran and Turkmenistan. I now tried to make the overland journey to Singapore after all, and finally the German travel agency Travel Service Asia in Riedlingen managed to book me a train journey from Tallinn in Estonia, via Moscow, Almaty, Ürümqi, Turpan, Lanzhou, Chengdu, Kunming, Guilin and Nanning to Ha Nôi and a car from Ha Nôi to the Laotian border. Through a tourist bureau in Vientiane I managed to book a car from the Vietnamese border to Vientiane, which is only a 25 km taxi ride from the Thai border. (The Istanbul-Tehran-Mashhad-Samarqand-Toshkent part of the journey I had to give up though; by the time there were no trains from Istanbul to Tehran and there still are no trains from Iran to Ozbekiston through Turkmenistan – not until 2002 did I manage to go to Tehran and Mashhad by train and I still haven’t managed to continue to Bukhara, Samarqand and Toshkent.) When all this was booked and I confirmed that I still wanted the sea voyage from Singapore to Hamburg, Hamburg Süd had sold my booked cabin to someone else!!

 

I was devastated. When I cancelled the eastbound overland journey Travel Service Asia asked me why, and when they heard the reason, answered “there are other freight ships agents” and booked me on the m.v. Maersk Colombo through Kapitän Peter Zylmann in Maasholm, Germany. So, after a most wonderful six weeks overland journey, by trains all the way from Tallinn to Ha Nôi and from Nongkai in Thailand via Ayutthaya, Chiangmai, Bangkok, Butterworth and Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, with a car ride from Ha Nôi to Vientiane and Nongkai and some bus, river boat and elephant riding in the “Golden Triangle”, I could embark the m.v. Maersk Colombo” Tuesday evening 7th January 1997. She was the largest freighter I have travelled by so far, about 300 metres long, and the fastest, sailing by 23 knots when the captain became homesick on the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The Maersk agent in Singapore had been very helpful, collecting my passport in the morning and then fetching me in the evening, bringing me to the ship. The captain was a very nice East German of my age. All the other officers were German too, the Chief Engineer and Electrician West German, the others East German. Most of them were nice, apart from the 3rd Officer, who was a nasty bastard, belonging to the worst post-war generation in Europe; those born in the GDR in the 60’s. The crew was from the Pacific island Kiribati. The steward was very nice and the chef quite good, but as the ship was German, we got very heavy German food in the Tropic climate, and I missed the delicious Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai cuisines. Twice we had barbecue on the aft deck, and the Kiribati crew sang marvellously. The ship was owned by Leonhard & Blumberg and chartered to Maersk Line.

 

There were three fellow passengers on board, a Dutch-American couple, rather dull, and a chef from Karlsruhe in Germany. They had all three left Felixstowe and Hamburg respectively by the same time I left Oslo by train and made the round trip. To their satisfaction Jiddah had been cancelled (but it was rubbish by Hamburg Süd to cancel my original journey because of my lack of a Saudi visa – none of the three had neither had that) but to their disappointment Shanghai had been cancelled as well.

 

We sailed off from Singapore in the sunrise at 6 a.m. the next morning. Going very fast through the Malacca Strait with closed doors to the superstructure and the lights on, on the deck, due to several pirate warnings, we reached the Indian Ocean after a couple of days. Tuesday after a week’s sailing, I could see the Somalian coast (African Horn) and the next two days we spent on the Red Sea, anchoring at El Suweis (Suez) Thursday night. Friday we were the first ship in a long colonel to pass the Suez Canal. Ships cannot meet in the Canal, so all the southbound vessels laid in the El Buhairat el Murra el Kumbra (Great Bitter Lake) waiting. The Egyptian pilot on board was somewhat ill tempered, due to the Ramadan. We reached the Mediterranean through a short cut just east of Bur Sa´id (Port Said) in the evening, and got rid of the half a dozen Egyptian crew, whom every ship sailing through the Suez Canal has to have on board during the passage, for which purpose there are special cabins with doors only to the deck and not into the rest of the superstructure. They do have a task, especially during the night sailings, but on this tour they did nothing but sold souvenirs.

 

We spent Saturday and Sunday on the Mediterranean and docked in the Spanish port of Algeciras Monday 20th January. I spent the day visiting Gibraltar. (Did everybody know that they drive on the right hand side in Gibraltar?)

 

Tuesday we rounded Portugal, spent Wednesday on a totally calm Biscaya in spite of the season, Thursday in the English Channel, where it was so foggy I didn’t se one single ferry and on Friday we approached the Europoort Container Harbour. (They call it Rotterdam, but Europoort was a 250.- Gld (US$ ~125.-) taxi ride from the nearest underground station!) Here the chef from Karlsruhe disembarked. Saturday we left Europoort and entered the mouth of river Elbe, and Sunday morning I disembarked the ship at Hamburg Buchardtkai, while the two remaining passengers continued to Felixstowe.

 

The next freighter voyage I booked was a journey all the way from Antwerp to Manaus in the middle of Brazil on the Amazon, a sailing I had found in the prospect of Kapitän Peter Zylmann. Six days before I was to leave Oslo for Antwerp, in the end of February 1999, I got the message that when the ship would dock in Antwerp the charter would not be prolonged, i.e. no more sailings to Manaus! That made me book a round trip to Valparaiso in Chile, as sailing through the Panama Canal now became a substitute for both the Amazon voyage as well as for my dream journey to Alaska. Having done that a friend of mine paid my attention to the fact that South America isn’t all that broad between the Chilean Pacific and the Argentine Atlantic coast. So I asked Kapitän Peter Zylmann if they could offer me a freighter voyage from Buenos Aires to Europe and if so, rebook my Valparaiso round trip to a one way ticket. They could. That voyage, however, nearly made me crazy. I got so many messages back and forth about by which ship I was supposed to sail with and when, but Frachtschiff-Touristik Kapitän Peter Zylmann never came with this information spontaneously, only when I asked them to confirm what I now believed was the final bid, and then it wasn’t, but always something worse. I nearly considered to cancel the entire trip, but then it was the trouble making ships company Rickmers who refused to cancel while the Oltmann company, who owned the ship I was to sail by from Buenos Aires, accepted a cancellation without any payment. Furthermore Rickmers demanded that I in addition to the normal contract between the passenger and the ship’s owner should sign a declaration, with a whole lot of acceptations on my behalf without any extra obligations on their behalf. I refused, and I think I will try to avoid going by a Rickmers ship once more. Finally my port of departure changed from Hamburg to Rotterdam, to save some time, and at least they paid the train ticket from Hamburg to Rotterdam.

 

The m.v. “CCNI Angol departed Wednesday 20th October (I had embarked Monday evening the 18th). The ship was brand new, but with a speed limit of 17 knots, while the company making the sailing lists obviously believed she could run at 21 knots. As she was not a pure container ship we were not allowed into the container harbours but had to use the bulk quays, with the normal port cranes, much slower when you load containers, as it is difficult to fix the position. In some ports we even had to use the ship’s cranes. We were supposed to arrive at Valparaiso Friday 12th November.

 

The responsibility for the sailing was widely spread, to say it the least. Rickmers owned the ship, another German company hired the German officers, a third company hired the East European officers, a fourth company hired the Filipinos, a fifth company based on the tax free isle of Man obviously had the management – probably being the ones who believed the ship could sail by 21 knots – and finally the ship was chartered to the Chilean CCNI company. I had the impression that nobody actually knew who had the last word on board. The officers were pretty frustrated and only got less than half of the money that the management paid their employers. The captain and 1st officer were East German, the chief engineer West German and the electrician Romanian. All the others were Filipino. The steward was the nicest steward I have had on a freighter and the chef really good. However they didn’t get along with the captain, who was a strange fellow. Unfortunately he didn’t let me and my fellow passenger, Wilhelm from Bonn, be on the bridge when we had pilot on board, which meant in every port and above all the Panama Canal.

 

The ship behaved like an egg in the sea, and more than once I was attacked by the interior of my cabin, which was smaller but better than the one I had had on the m.v. Maersk Colombo.

 

First port of call was Bilbao, Spain, outside which port we had to wait a full day. In Bilbao I took the commuter train to the new Guggenheim museum. Bad news in Bilbao: We were to call Kingston, Jamaica as well, another delay. Next port of call was San Juan in Puerto Rico, nearly two weeks after the departure from Rotterdam. In San Juan the pilot arrived several hours late when we were leaving, which caused me and my fellow passenger not to have the time to see neither Kingston nor Cartagena and the ship nearly to miss the pre-booked passage of the Panama canal, causing us to run on higher speed than what the machine actually was supposed to from Cartagena to the canal.

 

Anyway, we called Kingston in the night and arrived the beautiful city of Cartagena, Columbia, late on a Saturday afternoon, so it was already dark when we were through the immigration control. My fellow passenger and I booked a taxi for the next morning, a taxi we never took, as the ship’s company now had panicked and hired three loading teams, because if we hadn’t reached our pre-booked canal passage, the company would have had to pay it anyway, then the ship would have to queue for two days and then pay the passage again.

 

The passage of the Panama canal took place Monday 8th November and was very  fascinating, although the rain was pouring down, which added to the rain forest feeling. This was the last year the US Americans still ran the canal. I took a lot of pictures, in the locks, where the ships are pulled by electric locomotives, as well as in the canal. It took us from 5 in the morning to 9 in the evening to go from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific, however five hours we laid in Lake Gatun, just above the locks on the Atlantic side.

 

The next port of call was Buenaventura, probably the ugliest city I have ever seen. To escort us the four hours between the pilot station and the port both ways we had twelve heavily armed guards on board. Also in the port heavily armed men was guarding, as in Guayaquil in Ecuador and Callao in Peru.

 

Surprisingly it was only 20 degrees Centigrade when we passed the Equator. In Guayaquil, which is a heavy pirate area (I didn’t know that before the Chief Engineer on the ship from Buenos Aires told me that), my fellow passenger and I took a taxi in to the city centre. The taxi driver then followed us, and we found out maybe it could be just as well to have him as our guide and body guard. This was however Friday 12th November, when we were supposed to have arrived Valparaiso already! Sunday the 14th we called Callao, where we did not have the time to go to Lima and where we were warned against leaving the port area, even the sailors hired bodyguards in Callao! By now I had decided to leave the ship at the very first Chilean port. It was supposed to be Iquique, but we got messages about strikes in the port. But we came in to Iquique and I could disembark Wednesday 17th November. After some hours waiting the port agent came back with my passport and drove me to the hotel I wanted.

 

Then followed 1800 kilometres of bus riding to Santiago, a most charming train with sleeping cars from 1929 and 1930 to Temuco and more bus riding all the way through Argentine Patagonia to Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, from where I took the ferry to Puerto Montt. From there I went to San Carlos de Bariloche by four buses and three boats, through two National parks, but then it was mainly train travelling from Bariloche to Buenos Aires, with the exception of the bus ride from Viedma to Bahia Blanca.

 

Coming back to Buenos Aires from Montevideo by a fast ferry late in the evening Monday 6th December there was a message for me from Kapitän Peter Zylmann, that I probably should board my freighter for Europe the very same afternoon (!) and from the port agent that he had tried to reach me twice. No worry, the latter just wanted to tell me he would fetch me at 11 a.m. the next day.

 

Embarking the m.v. MontebelloI was asked to pay the captain a visit. He had very good news, compared to the information I had got earlier. We were to call both Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro, in addition to Itajai and Santos. And Rotterdam to this ship meant the very same inner docks, from which the “CCNI Angolhad left, and not, as I had feared, Europoort, from where it is impossible to leave by any public transport. So I decided to disembark in Rotterdam instead of Tilbury, as originally planned, thereby saving several days.

 

This ship was in a way the opposite of the “CCNI Angol. The m.v. Montebello belonged to a family owned German ships company, was Antigua-registered and chartered to the Uruguayan Montemar. The East German captain, Herr Wolf, was really nice, as was the Austrian chief engineer. Two of the officers were Romanian, one was West German and the electrician was Polish. All the others were Filipino. The cabin was a very nice cabin in the aft, a nicer one than the one I actually had booked and paid for. The chef wasn’t too good though, and the steward not the brightest. There were no other passengers on this voyage.

 

We arrived Montevideo Wednesday morning, and as I had seen the city, I spent the time taking the train to Canelones, on the last remaining Uruguayan railway line with passenger traffic. Saturday I paid my first visit ever to Brazil, the sleepy little town of Itajai. Sunday evening we called Santos and midnight between Monday and Tuesday we arrived Rio de Janeiro. However the tide wasn’t such that we could enter then, so we left the coast to avoid pirates, and went in Tuesday morning. The captain arranged a trustworthy taxi for me and I went on a sightseeing in this fascinating city. Of course I took the train up to Corcovado as well as the cable car to Pao de Acuçar. Nobody went bathing from Copacabana, as the water around Rio de Janeiro is so polluted you cannot bathe there.

 

From Rio we went straight home to Europe, between the Tenerife and Gran Canaria islands and celebrated Yule in the heavy storms of Biscaya, with 8 metres high waves. Christmas Eve my dinner plate landed twice upside-down on the floor before I had managed to eat anything of what was on it. Eating dinner Christmas day I suddenly sat two metres to the right of where my plate was. I moved back, just suddenly to sit two metres left of the place.

 

Outside Rotterdam the pilot tried to board us from a helicopter, but had to give up. After finally having managed to get a pilot on board from a pilot boat we entered Rotterdam 26th December.

 

In the prospect of Frachtschiff-Touristik Kapitän Peter Zylmann there was a sailing from Europe to Mombasa and Dar-es-Salaam. As there at the moment were no train connection any longer between Kenya and Tanzania I planned to make a freighter journey from Europe to Dar-es-Salaam in Spring 2001, then go by train all the way to Cape Town, and home by another freighter from there. Kapitän Peter Zylmann then told me that on the East African voyage only round trips were sold, possibly with the exception of to Mombasa, as correct papers were no guarantee for being allowed to disembark in Dar. So instead I booked one freight ship journey straight from Antwerp to Port Elizabeth and another voyage back from Cape Town to Valencia via Abidjan and Dakar. That would have allowed me to make a rather reduced trip in comparison with train travelling all the way from Dar-es-Salaam; from Cape Town to the Victoria Falls and back again. Kapitän Peter Zylmann could confirm the onward journey but not the return already then. That made me try to find a ship from East Africa again. After all, coming to Dar-es-Salaam and being refused to embark a freighter would not have been the same disaster as coming by freighter from Europe and being refused to disembark. Finally, after a lot of surfing on the Internet, the German ships company NSB told me that the “WEC Rotterdammaybe would call Dar-es-Salaam on its way to Europe in June 2001. However time passed without any confirmations. In the meantime I got a new issue of the Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable, where it looked as if it was possible to go by train from Dar to Mwanza at the Victoria Lake, by passenger boat to Kenyan Kisumu and by train from there to Nairobi and Mombasa. And the NSB had a freighter from Mombasa to Marseille in June 2001, which they could confirm at once. So I booked a cabin in that one. Later it turned out that neither were there any passenger boat from Mwanza to Kisumu nor passenger trains between Kisumu and Nairobi, due to several rail accidents on the line, in 2001! In the meantime the schedule of my Antwerp-Port Elizabeth ship changed; it now called Lisbon and Walvis Bay between Antwerp and Cape Town but seldom Port Elizabeth on its way from Cape Town to Durban. So I changed my booking to a Lisbon-Cape Town voyage.

 

However Kapitän Peter Zylmann nearly ruined my journey, as they booked me on a ship leaving Lisbon 18th April and scheduled to arrive Cape Town approximately at 3rd or 4th May, and not telling me until very late, although I one year in advance had told them I absolutely had to be in Cape Town not later than 5th May. The thing was that I had booked a “Blue Train” departure from Cape Town 7th May one year in advance! Luckily enough the passenger (owner’s) cabin on the ship ahead was free and I could embark the m.v. “Grey Fox” in Lisbon 4th April. The ship I originally was booked on, the “Amber Lagoon”, was late and did not arrive to Cape Town before I left by “The Blue Train” 7th May!!

 

My train trip from Oslo to Lisbon was my first journey ever from the Scandinavian peninsular to the Continent of Europe without using a ferry on any part. Ten years earlier I could have travelled by train from Oslo to Lisbon only changing trains in Copenhagen and Paris. But that journey would have lasted four nights and three days. Now I had to change at seven stations; Hallsberg, Mjölby, Malmö, Copenhagen, Cologne, Paris and Irun, but was able to make the trip in 52 hours.

 

The embarkation in Lisbon wasn’t all that comfortable, due to the port agent Mr. Oliveiro. The m.v. “Grey Fox” belonged to a German family owned ships company called macs, was Chinese built and Liberia-registered. The journey was the most enjoyable freight ship journey I have made so far; the cabin being the biggest and nicest I’ve ever had on a ship and the Polish captain and crew extremely nice and friendly and the chef cooking excellently. Only the electrician was not Polish – he was from Lübeck in Germany. On board we celebrated Polish Easter, which is nearly as special as Scandinavian Yule.

 

The weather on the Canary Islands, which we passed between, was surprisingly bad in April. The ship called Walvis Bay in Namibia, where I went off and strolled around and wouldn’t have needed the visa I had got in advance. Wednesday 18th April the ship got an order to call Port Elizabeth after Cape Town, to take some empty containers to Richardsbay. I thought it could be fun to have rounded the Cape of Good Hope and asked if I could prolong my journey. The immigration authorities in South Africa didn’t mind that, however stamped my entrance in Cape Town and regarded the Cape Town - Port Elizabeth journey as a domestic one, and the ships company macs let me continue without extra costs.

 

However we called Cape Town Thursday 19th and I went off with my main luggage and stayed one night at Breakwater Lodge, where I also kept my main luggage during my two weeks round trip in South Africa. I had a lovely Friday on the Table Mountain - impossible to visit when I came back to Cape Town two weeks later. Friday night I went to town together with some of the crew members, and Saturday we left Cape Town for Port Elizabeth, docking Sunday evening. The very nice port agent drove me to a cheap but excellent hotel (hotel standard and eating out turned out to be very good value for money in South Africa).

 

Then I travelled around in South Africa and to Maputo in Mozambique by train, and came back to Cape Town three days before my “Blue Train” left for Pretoria and Victoria Falls. It derailed in Bulawayo, from where I continued by ordinary Zimbabwean night train to Victoria Falls, then by a hired steam train to Livingstone and by ordinary trains to Kapiri Mposhi, Dar-es-Salaam, Mwanza and back again to Dar. From there I took a passenger boat to Zanzibar and found a little cargo dhow, that took me to Mombasa. Waiting for my freighter home to Europe I also had the time for a train journey to Nairobi and back a few days later.

 

Coming back to Mombasa by the train from Nairobi, there was a message from my ships agent NSB that my freighter to Europe now was, not three, but six days delayed. So I had another week at the Oceanic Hotel. I got a very nice picture of my ship the “CMA CGM La Bourdonnais from my balcony when it entered the port Wednesday 27th June. Then I checked out from the hotel and met up at the port agent’s, Mr. Samuel Nzaka, office of CMA-CGM in Mombasa as agreed upon, when he suddenly told me that I couldn’t embark until  Thursday. Before I had asked him more than once if I would need any Kenyan money after I met up at his office for embarkation and he had said only a few Shillings for “the customs fee”. Now, when I sat there with my luggage and had spent my last Kenyan Shillings except 1500 for a customs fee I didn’t understand what was, he also told me I had to pay for my transport to the port. So I had to go back to the hotel, pay them in US dollars as well as the taxis back to the hotel and from the hotel to the port. However, nobody asked for this peculiar customs fee, and I had short and friendly visits to the immigration officers and the customs control and could finally embark the ship Thursday morning. Friday, Mr. useless Samuel Nzaka came on board and wanted my passport to get me exit stamps, whereupon I could tell him that I needed him no more.

 

Fortunately I had two very nice German fellow passengers on the ship, unfortunately the German officers tried to pretend there were no passengers on board the “CMA CGM La Bourdonnais. The first time the captain spoke to me, was after six days when he needed my passport and health declaration for the Egyptian authorities!  The Filipino chef was very good at cooking birds, even turkey he made juicy, but all other attempts on his behalf to try to cook European food was disastrous. Beef was like leather and he had the funniest names of the dishes; “potato invisible” was first baked potato but then suddenly fried potato and “Toast Roquefort” was nothing with blue cheese but toast with pineapple, ordinary cheese and jam! And that you got for breakfast! I had a nice cabin just under the bridge.

 

We left Mombasa Friday 29th June, passed the Gulf of Aden, where we heard two other ships talking to eachother about being attacked by pirates, and reached El Suweis Friday 6th July. Saturday we went through the Canal - two bridges had been or was being built since I passed through four years earlier - and in the evening we were put to anchor in the port of Bur Sa´id. Next morning we docked, and the captain was furious about all the Marlboro cigarettes he had to bribe everybody with, just to dock. He got even more furious when we left. At least my fellow passengers and I could spend a lovely Sunday in Bur Sa´id.

 

Monday I got the message that I hadn’t made the final 75% payment for the voyage. It turned out, when I returned home, that my transfer order to my bank, which I mailed as I left Oslo for Lisbon, hadn’t reached them. Fortunately that didn’t make the NSB to cancel my journey!

 

Wednesday morning we got the message that there was a strike in the port of Marseille, our destination, so we had to go to Fos-sur-Mer, 50 km west of Marseille. The captain told my fellow passengers that there was “surely buses from Fos to Marseille” and gave them also a road map, as they brought cycles with them (they had cycled all the way from Germany to Egypt, then from Nairobi to the Tanzanian border and finally around in Malawi). But I read my ticket, which said that the ships company was responsible for the transport from actual port of disembarkation to the port of disembarkation on the ticket, by the means of transport the company chose, and they paid for my taxi to Marseille (FF 900.-!). It was 50 km of industrial area and motor highways, and I never saw my fellow passengers again, although we had said “See you on the Marseille railway station” when they left. I got on a through high speed train from Marseille to Brussels, travelling in up to 300 km/h on a brand new railway line and only using 5¼ hours on the distance. Unfortunately the high speed train from Brussels to Cologne enabling me to reach the night train for Copenhagen was fully booked, so I had to take the night train to Hamburg. Now, there are worse places than Brussels to spend a Friday evening with all the restaurants in the city!

 

My 50th anniversary I had decided to celebrate on a tour to Timbuktu or Tom­bouctou (the accurate name is actually Tinbitku, which means the woman with the big navel), one of the world’s oldest cities, the old meeting point between the caravans of the Sahara desert and the “green” Africa (often called “Black Africa”, after its people but should rather be called “Red Africa”, as the soil of the entire Africa south of Sahara really is bright red).

 

So how do you get to Timbuktu, one of the most remote places of the world? By ship to Dakar, railway to Bamako and river boat from there. Through Internaves I got prospects of the Italian Grimaldi Lines, which have several car- & container transporters from Europe to West Africa. Unusually for freighters most of the cabins are inside cabins, which is horrible on a several days journey, and the prices are comparatively high but the good thing is that their service is very frequent. So I booked a trip Antwerp-Dakar and Dakar-Rotterdam via Cameroon six weeks later, as the ships do not call Dakar on the northbound tour. According to the prospect of Grimaldi Lines it is however fully possible to go from Dakar all the way to Cameroon and stay on until the ship is back in Europe. That is according to the prospect, which has nothing to do with reality. I got the uttermost stupid answer that I could not embark in Dakar but in Douala. Sure, and how was I supposed to get from Timbuktu or Dakar to Douala?!?!? However, my “old” ship’s agent Kapitän Peter Zylmann had a journey from Dakar via South America to Europe, not using longer time, 34 days, than what Grimaldi Lines would have used via Cameroon, and supposedly being unusually punctual. The departure was supposed to be 2nd December, which was perfect for my journey.

 

When you book a freight ship journey you normally pay 25% and then get your ticket contract from the ship’s agent. Finally you pay the final 75% not later than four weeks before departure. Not so by Grimaldi Lines! They demand full payment before they issue the tickets, and not even then the passenger get it ¾ in my case my agent Christina Horn had to remind them three or four times during five weeks before I got it. Monday 6th October 2003 I boarded the m.v. Grande Argentina, actually owned by the Swedish daughter company ACL and thereby Swedish registered with Gothenburg as home port. My inside cabin didn’t even have a refrigerator. Most of the officers and some of the crew were Swedish, the rest Filipinos. The captain was a strange fellow but the rest of the officers and crew very nice and the chef absolutely excellent. Saturdays the typically Swedish “smörgåsbord” was served with Danish and Norwegian aqua vitæ. The loading of second-hand cars in Antwerp was pretty “wild”, with “burnouts” on the ramps between the car decks. We left Antwerp Tuesday at 3 a.m. in pretty bad weather and arrived Le Havre Wednesday afternoon, but had to wait outside as the sister ship Grande Francia was occupying our dock. At five we passed through the écluse Francois 1ere. The loading in Le Havre was extremely non-efficient and time consuming - the night between Thursday and Friday nothing at all happened - and not until late Friday evening could we leave Le Havre. From there three fellow passengers were on board; two Swiss artists on an exchange tour to Mali and a man with both Swiss and Senegalese citizenship, having run hotels and restaurants in Senegal for a long time but now on holiday only, taking his private car with him. We did not call Lisbon but arrived Dakar Thursday 16th. The crew were denied shore leave by the port police. The fellow with double citizenship and I stayed on board till Friday morning as it anyway was too late to exchange currency (in his case as he didn’t want to drive to his place after sunset). We had to disembark through the engine room!!

 

From Dakar I took the then only weekly train, the most horrible night train I have ever travelled by - and I have travelled by train in 67 counntries all around the world - Sunday afternoon, arriving Bamako Tuesday noon. I could have continued to Kabara (the port of Timbuktu) already the same day, but then in a four berth cabin only. As I preferred “de luxe cabin” (cabin with A/C, apart from that power is cut between 8 a.m. & 11 a.m. and between 3 a.m. & sunset, and toilet/shower, where you have water only about three unpredictable times a day and maybe only in the shower) I had to wait one week in Bamako for the departure of the m.v. General A. Soumare. Then I stayed a week in Timbuktu, continued by the m.v. Tombouctou to Gao, stayed there from Tuesday to Thursday, when I went back by the m.v. Tombouctou to Mopti, arriving Tuesday 18th November. By that time the water level in the river Niger was so low, that after a visit to Mopti and Djenné it was no longer possible to go back to Koulikoro (the port of Bamako) by river boat, and I went to Bamako by car, with a four days stop in Ségou. I arrived Bamako Friday 28th and left for Dakar by train Wednesday 3rd December, arriving Dakar midnight between Thursday and Friday.

 

The unusually punctual ship Wiking was 17 days delayed already before I left Europe. In Ségou I had got the message that it wouldn’t even leave 19th but approximately 22nd December. So I had to stay in Dakar and wait for three weeks. I tried to get some information about possible excursions around in the area, but the local tour operators weren’t particularly interested in giving information nor suggestions.  The ship finally arrived 25th December late in the evening. They then had had a bad storm, forcing them to call Antwerp after Le Havre, and a broken engine cylinder, which had to be repaired in Antwerp. They didn’t call Las Palmas, where one of the fellow passengers was supposed to embark, so he had had to fly back to Munich and from there to Antwerp. The ship’s agent in Dakar fetched me the evening of 25th and we went to the port police, who refused to give me an exit stamp! I could not leave Senegal on a consulate visa by freighter, although I had arrived the country that way!! So I had to go back to the hotel, the agent had to spend much of the forenoon of Friday 26th corresponding with the Interior Ministry and again we called the port police at 11.30 a.m. The ship was supposed to sail at noon. No, the police would still not let me out that way. For two and a half hours we sat at the port police station before they finally stamped my passport and I could board the waiting ship.

 

The ship was Antigua-registered but still with Hamburg as home port!! I had a very nice and large cabin on the 4th deck. There were five fellow passengers on board; the Munich guy who was supposed to board in Las Palmas and was going to Rio de Janeiro and four round trip passengers; a Bavarian couple and two Swiss men, sharing cabin. The four performed as a very closed and excluding group. The captain and chief was East German, the 2nd engineer Romanian and all the others Filipino ¾ all very nice except the 1st officer who obviously didn’t like passengers.

 

After Dakar we called Abidjan on the Ivory Coast and arrived Monday. To me and the Swiss men Kapitän Zylmann had said that we could not go ashore in Abidjan so we had no visa. I thereby saved a lot of money, as my travel insurance company would have demanded war risk supplement on a day-by-day basis, had I had the opportunity to go ashore. The Swiss were however very disappointed. The Germans had visas. The Bavarian couple made a most unsuccessful sightseeing. The Munich guy tried to fly to Brazil from Abidjan, because the ship was so very delayed, but didn’t find any suitable flights. We were supposed to dock in Abidjan during the day only but couldn’t leave until afternoon New Years Eve. Shortly after the departure a fuel pipe broke and the engine stopped, however was repaired after one hour. Sylvester was celebrated in the Atlantic. 1st January four blind passengers were discovered. Two claimed to be from Sierra Leone and two from Nigeria. 2nd January three more were found. Now suddenly nobody was from Sierra Leone but three from Nigeria, three from Ivory Coast and one from Ghana. They had no shoes and very little clothes. They were locked in to a cabin. Arriving Zarate in Argentina Friday 9th they were questioned by the police and now all seven were from Nigeria. The Argentines didn’t let them disembark but their police escorted them to Uruguay, where Uruguayan police took over. In Uruguay none of them could speak English any longer, only French!

 

The ride up the narrow Rio Parana de Las Palmas from Rio de La Plata to Zarate was spectacular. I intended to disembark in Zarate to take a bus up to the Iguacu Falls and then embark again in Rio de Janeiro, but the buses from Zarate to Puerto Iguazu were full that day and the next, and later I could not go if wanted to catch the ship again.

 

A rainy Saturday afternoon we arrived Montevideo. As I had seen the city before I did not go ashore. We were supposed to leave in the night, but 11 p.m. our blind passengers hit and injured one of the watching Uruguayan policemen and fled the ship. The captain had to meet at court Sunday. Five were found, one slightly injured in the leg. One of the five was under fifteen, the other four were brought back to the ship, not without some beating (don’t hit a South American policeman!). Now they were locked in to a much more escape safe store room. The charterer CSAV had agreed with the Brazilian authorities that they could disembark in our first Brazilian port of call; Rio Grande. At one point the captain feared that we would have to wait for ten days in quarantine, because the blind passengers had no yellow fever vaccine! We later heard that one of the two blind passengers not found after two days was found drowned in the harbour of Montevideo.

 

We called Rio Grande Monday evening. The four blind passengers were collected by police pick ups and chained to the loading space and we never saw them again. Rio Grande was a sleepy but charming little town. We left in the night and arrived Santos Wednesday afternoon. I made a tour by a veteran tramway, together with the Swiss passengers.

 

Thursday afternoon we arrived Rio de Janeiro. I went to the “Bodinho”, a most charming metre gauge, very steep tramway climbing up to Santa Theresa. Than I strolled around downtown, before entering the ship again. We left during the night and arrived Fortaleza Monday 18th January. Here I visited an Internet café to find out about train and ferry schedules for my return trip from Rotterdam to Oslo and had a nice meal at a beach restaurant. Again we left during the night. From Fortaleza we had a special Brazilian guy on board, responsible for the cargo in all  the thermo containers.

 

We passed Madeira the night between Sunday and Monday and arrived Rotterdam Thursday 29th. In the morning the weather in the Channel was bright and the cliffs of Dover and the coast of France could be seen at the same time. We got the pilot by helicopter and docked at 7.45 p.m. I had one and a half hour to catch a train to Brussels, enabling me to reach the Oslo ferry from Copenhagen next evening. Now the Dutch customs decided to perform a total customs control of the entire ship and its crew and passengers. They couldn’t care less if I and the Swiss, who also had decided to disembark in Rotterdam, would catch our night trains or not. Just twenty minutes before departure I arrived Rotterdam Centraalstation without any ticket, and could get ticket no longer further than to Brussels that late. With only ten minutes margin in Brussels, due to train delay I caught the night train to Hamburg, and continued to Copenhagen in the morning and by the ferry to Oslo Friday evening.

 

During four months, from November 2005 to March 2006 I travelled around the World, overland and on the seas. The journey was mainly made by train from Norway through Sweden, Finland, Russia, China, Viet Nam, Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore (although the Sai Gon - Bangkok part through Cambodia had to be done by boats and buses) and the passenger ship "Silver Shadow" brought me from Singapore to Sydney, calling one Indonesian and several other Australian ports. I then travelled around in Australia for nearly six weeks, mainly by trains and ferries.

End of January 2006 I embarked the containership "CP Borealis", a ship as big as the locks in the Panama canal allows any ship to be, in Brisbane, Queensland. Her name was "Contship Borealis" when I booked the trip and was to be renamed "Maersk Dayton" shortly after I would disembark in Europe. She belonged to the famous ship company Canadian Pacific, a company that just had been bought by the German Hapag - Lloyd, so I probably sailed on one of the very last journeys under the traditional logo with the red and white CP squares on the funnel. The homeport was London and the officers and crew Indian. I knew that before and hoped that would mean Indian food on board, and I was not disappointed.

First we sailed to Auckland, New Zealand. On this leg I had three fellow passengers; Sigfried and Ulli from Germany, who was sailing from Hamburg to Auckland, and Dave, a young Englishman, who only went the Brisbane - Auckland part of the journey. The Tasman Sea was pretty rough and the ship didn't behave all to well, more like a train on bad tracks than a ship. My hope was to disembark the ship in Auckland and rejoin her in Port Chalmers, to travel by train and ferry Auckland - Christchurch and bus Christchurch - Dunedin, but TranzScenic, the New Zealand train company, hadn't gibven me much hope of getting train tickets, unable as I was to preboook (as you never can rely on freighters' timetables). At 1.45 a.m. Friday 3rd February we docked in Auckland, at 2.30 immigration was performed and at 7.30 a.m. the same morning the "Overlander" left Auckland for Wellington with me on board. The next day I took the ferry to Picton, Sunday I went by the "TranzCoastal" to Christchurch, I even managed to go by the "TranzAlpine" across South Island to Greymouth and back Monday and Tuesday I went by bus to Dunedin to take a taxi to Port Chalmers. I arrived at 2.45 p.m. a couple of hours before shore leave ended. That evening we left the Australian continent to cross the Pacific.

 

 

The Pacific is very calm and peaceful (its name is not "Pacific" for nothing). Wednesday 8th February we had twice, as we passed the date line the night between them. Two weeks after leaving Port Chalmers we arrived at Panama, but had to wait a full day, queing for the canal.

 

The Panama canal this time was passed in a lovely, sunny weather, entirely during daylight time, enabling me to take a lot of photoes (however not digital). In the night we called Manzanillo in Panama. From there the ship headed northwards, between Cuba and Haïti and along the US east coast to Delaware bay, which we entered, and sailed the Delaware River up to Philadelphia. Philadelphia was the darkest container harbour I have seen since Mombasa.


We then used most of the last Sunday in February to sail down
Delaware River out into the North Atlantic. Monday the sea, much warmer than the freezing air, was boiling like a witch kettle, in which the waves went high in the strong wind. Very beautiful indeed. The weather was so bad we changed course twice, to avoid the worst of it.


Due to the extra day before
Panama there was a problem with docking space in Tilbury the first Monday in March, so we went straight up there Sunday instead of calling Zeebrugge first, where I was supposed to disembark. So I disembarked in Tilbury, managed to get to London, in spite of closed railway line from Tilbury that very day, and went home to Oslo by the "Eurostar" to Brussels, night train to Hamburg, train to Copenhagen and finally the ferry from there. Arriving Oslo it was minus 12 degrees Centigrade, the coldest day of my entire Round-the-World journey.

 

The list shows the quality of different aspects of my freighter journeys, where 1st is best and 8th (16th by port agents) worst. The port agents in Singapore, Iquique, Buenos Aires, Port Elizabeth, Dakar for the m.v. Wiking, Rotterdam and Tilbury all were so helpfull I cannot divide them.

 

 


 

 

 

Maersk Colombo

CCNI Angol

Monte-bello

Grey Fox

CMA CGM La Bourdonnaise

Grande Argentina

Wiking

CP Borealis

Captain

3 (German)

7 (German)

2 (German)

1 (Polish)

8 (German)

6 (Swedish)

5 (German)

4 (Indian)

Steward

4 (Kiribati)

2 (Filipino)

7 (Filipino)

3 (Polish)

5 (Filipino)

8 (Filipino)

6 (Filipino)

1 (Indian)

Chef

4 (Kiribati)

2 (Filipino)

7 (Filipino)

3 (Polish)

8 (Filipino)

1 (Swedish)

6 (Filipino)

5 (Indian)

Cabin

7

5

4

1

6

8

3

2

Officers´ dayroom

4

8

3

6

7

1

5

2

Overall impression

4

6

2

1

7

8

5

3

Ships company

6 (German)

7 (German)

3 (German but Antigua flag)

1 (German but Liberian flag)

2 (German)

8 (Italian but Swedish flag)

5 (German but Antigua flag, though with Hamburg as home port!)

4 (Canadian (German) but British flag)

Flag

German

German

Antigua

Liberia

German

Swedish

Antigua (though home port Hamburg!)

British

Port agents

Singapore: 1

Iquique: 1

Buenos Aires: 1

Lisbon: 15

Cape Town: 8

Port Elizabeth: 1

Mombasa: 16

Fos-sur-Mer: 11

Antwerpen: 14

Dakar: 9

Dakar: 1

Zarate: 10

Rotterdam: 1

Brisbane: 12

Port Chalmers: 13

Tilbury: 1