Mavis finds crew members worse for wear

INTREPID Evening Star reader Mavis Bensley is nearing the end of her round-the-world cruise on the QE2. In India this week, she saw some crew return to the ship drunk, endured a hair-raising taxi ride, and saw saris unravelling at an onboard cocktail party.

INTREPID Evening Star reader Mavis Bensley is nearing the end of her round-the-world cruise on the QE2. In India this week, she saw some crew return to the ship drunk, endured a hair-raising taxi ride, and saw saris unravelling at an onboard cocktail party.

I ARRIVED in Goa to see a working port where everything looked red - the colour of rust, red rock, sand, dust, lots of barges carrying coal and gravel, rust buckets of tankers, lots of rubbish and mangy dogs.

A gang of us beat a hasty exit to find a taxi to the beach at Bogmalo. The usual beach sellers came around and wizened women with babies strapped on their back, begged for rupees with the persistence of superglue! If you gave them something, three more appeared over the dunes as if by magic.

I felt ashamed, embarrassed and annoyed all at the same time.

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Some of the crew had shore leave and two in particular overindulged at one of the many bars, and paid the price of too much alcohol under a blazing hot sun. One spent two hours in the recovery position and had to be stretchered back to the ship. He spent the night in sick-quarters and left the ship in Mumbai. Silly lad! Letting the ship down in front of passengers does not fit the code of behaviour set by Cunard.

In Mumbai - the older citizens still call it Bombay - I toured the city with three American fellow passengers. One place which was not open to the public intrigued me was the Dokhmas Towers or Tower of Silence - an eerie name and even more eerie function. The dead bodies of the parsea religion are literally hung here because their faith prevents them from polluting the earth (so no burial), or the air (so no cremation). Instead they are left in a tower with grilles on the large windows so that vultures may gorge themselves at will. The sky was full of these evil looking birds, circling and waiting to devour their next banquet.

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Another incredible sight was the dohbi ghatt - an open-air laundry stretching for a couple of acres. Men and boys were flailing bundles of clothes, sheets, towels etc, against stone slabs. How they got them clean I'll never know because the water was filthy and not a sudsy bubble in sight. Sparkling white shirts and sheets were drying on lines no doubt bleached by the sun.

Alongside the laundry was a railway line and there were no doors on the train carriages so passengers were hanging out of them to catch the breeze. It looked very dangerous to me but no doubt they were warned to “mind the gap”.

We ended our long day in Mumbai with afternoon tea at the Taj Mahal Hotel. It was like tea at the Ritz in very elegant surroundings. Yet my lasting memory of Mumbai was not of the beautiful buildings, the enormous billboards advertising Bollywood blockbusters, the crowds of people spilling on to the pavements, not even the cows roaming the streets or the numbers of beggars and hawkers.

It is the sound of 70,000 taxis hustling, bustling, bobbing and weaving, jockeying for position and constantly honking their horns. Our taxi was rusting, battled scarred and dropping to bits. We took sharp intakes of breath on more than one occasion but the driver remained unconcerned. A sign on a roundabout said “no horns” so he honked anyway. Another sign read “zero tolerance” but no explanation of what and to whom!

Safely back on board, I attended another cocktail party given by Martyn Moss the cruise director, which I enjoyed very much because I know most of the officers by now and can chat and joke with them instead of the rather stilted parties at the early days of cruising.

Later in the evening was the Raj Ball and many of the ladies had brought saris. There had been an instruction class on how to tie the seven metres of material. I think a couple of ladies didn't listen hard enough as their saris began to unravel and they had to beat a hasty retreat.

The Indian passengers looked very elegant and striking in their silk jackets. Western men wore turbans or other ornate headdresses of the Raj. One guy wore dohti pants - like a big nappy and a sheet so he looked like Gandhi.

On April 1 we anchored out of Port Victoria on Mahe, one of the larger Seychelles islands.

When I switched on my TV to check the view from the ship's bridge, I saw waves washing over the prow. Strange, I thought, then the penny dropped - April Fool - nice one Captain.

My dining companions had agreed to hike to a small-secluded beach, “only one and a half km and we'll get a bus back”. I liked the idea. One and a half kilometres didn't sound too bad - wrong!

After leaving the taxi we had two and a half kilometres to walk on an old winding, hilly, pirate trail. We had to scramble up and down uneven rocks, catch tree roots for support, navigate slippery slopes and stay away from steep drops and narrow ledges. Two people turned back, but I hate to be seen to give up, so cut, scraped, battered and bruised I forged ahead. There was hardly any shade or respite from the blazing sun.

I was so thankful to finally reach the lovely secluded cove with a sandy beach shaded by palm trees, warm turquoise water, fish round our feet, sand crabs scuttling along the shoreline. I didn't care if a coconut dropped. I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway.

I realised I wouldn't make the trek back, I was so exhausted. We took a local bus to town, a taxi to the port and the tender boat back to the ship where I downed a glass of water and two cups of tea in rapid succession.

If I had laid on the bed I wouldn't have risen until dawn but I had places to go, people to see, so I dolled myself up and made it to the bridge to answer an invite from Captain David Perkins - a giant of a man.

I was introduced to the other guests on the bridge of the ship as “a well-known on board celebrity guest”. My flabber was gasted!

The pilot took us out and under a gorgeous full moon we left the Seychelles and headed for Mauritius.

Tonight I think I will put out my “do not disturb” sign and sleep until noon.

Simon the QE2's sports director is a handsome, bronzed athletic 25-year-old who used to be a pro footballer with Nottingham Forest until injury to his leg curtailed his career.

He spends a couple of hours each morning and afternoon coaching or supervising tournaments - paddle tennis, shuffle board, golf, quoits etc. Usually the same group of people turn up every day. It is amazing how competitive they become, reverting back to school playground behaviour.

Green vouchers are given as prizes, to be exchanged for gifts or cash discounts in the ship's shop. There would be a mutiny if this system was scrapped.

Simon is the envy of all his friends back in Leicester, but he does realise that this life isn't reality and misses his family back home.

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