Mavis: The African queen

In her latest despatch from the high seas, Mavis Bensley heads down the Madagascan coast, and begins to explore Africa.

I HAVE been presented with another bottle of French champagne. Cunard must think I am some kind of a lush or something.

We headed further south down the Madagascan coast and into the Mozambique channel where it is much cooler, cloudy with some rain.

The highlight of the evening was the Out of Africa ball. The Queen's Room was suitably decorated with pseudo palm trees, banana leaves, balloons marked with zebra or tiger stripes, others with leopard or cheetah spots. Zulu shields and spears adorned the walls whilst tribal masks, monkeys and parrots hung from the ceiling.

Thomas the compere was attired in a tiger skin and stood against a backdrop of Africa with the words “Dr Livingstone I presume! Emblazoned across it. The QE2 dancers and singers performed “The Circle of Light” dressed as Zulu warriors.

We were welcomed to Durban by authentic Kwazulu warriors on the quayside with throbbing drums, chanting, dancing and stamping of feet rhythmically, advancing and retreating, dressed in traditional headdress and loin cloths carrying assegai weapons and giving acrobatic performances.

And all this at 7am! Passengers were repeatedly warned not to go into Durban alone. There is a very high crime rate and tourists are easy targets, “take your rings off, if they can't pull it off they'll take your finger”. Fortunately, I was on a tour bus but even these have been targeted in the past.

Most Read

My tour was to the Tala - meaning “plentiful” - Game Reserve, an area of 7,000 sq kms of bush, grassland, lakes, hills, dusty tracks and rutted roads. Being driven through the reserve in a canvas covered jeep felt like taking part in a wildlife documentary. There were ostriches, zebras, rhinos, hippos, wildebeest, water buffalo, many species of antelope and the gentle giant giraffes whose back kick could take off the head of a lion. Four hours disappeared in a flash. It was exhilarating yet tranquil, good to smell the scent of the earth, air and flowers, walk on grass, feel the cool breeze and appreciate the peacefulness. No crowds, no litter, just animals living in total harmony.

In the distance at one point a group of low-rise buildings stood out. This was the Aids Orphanage sponsored by Oprah Winfrey.

Capetown - The Easter weekend is upon us. We had hot cross buns on Good Friday (and Saturday, Sunday and Monday) and chocolate Easter bunnies and eggs on Sunday. The restaurants were decked with balloons, chickens, eggs, rabbits etc even an Easter egg hunt.

My friend Gay and I went ashore in a shuttle bus and we were warned that it was not safe to walk in certain areas.

The Victoria and Alfred (her second son) Quayside was very interesting with holiday street entertainers, bars, restaurants and shops. We soon worked up a thirst in the heat so we sat in an open-air bar with a couple of friends and had a beer. In the afternoon I went on tour to Table Mountain, which right in the centre of Capetown and towers above everything. The cable car took about five minutes to reach the top, 1086 metres. It was a fearsome ride with the floor revolving 360 degrees so we got an all round view. The steep side of the mountain seemed awfully close during the ascent. We had taken sweaters because of the cold winds at the plateau but didn't need them, it was gloriously warm and sunny and seemed to be on top of the world.

Our guide told the story of sailors having mal de me (or mal de mare in old speech) so they sailed away with barrels of fresh oranges covered in water and sugar to keep them fresh on board. As the water evaporated the fruit became squashy and syrupy and hence the name marmalade - a kind of anagram - I never knew that before!

Easter Monday started and ended in mist but lovely sunshine in between. I went on a hop on hop off bus tour which took in sights of Capetown, the other side of Table Mountain the “formerly disadvantaged” townships, botanical gardens, bird sanctuary, a factory which turned tea bags into dishes, boxes, trays, table mats etc, a mariners' wharf, an exclusive, expensive development of luxury residences - one of which has been bought by David Beckham, an aquarium and a beach.

The manager of the spa, hairdressing salon and the gym is from South Africa called Karin.

There are three fitness staff, five hairdressers, two receptionists plus massage and beauty therapists. Each day there are 40-50 hair appointments. Most spa clients have a package deal of massages face, shoulders, feet, back, hot stones etc. There is an ionothermic pool for relaxation and massage with jets, a swimming pool in the gym, the usual array of machines where passengers can enjoy torturing themselves and a selection of classes for fitness such as aerobics, yoga, weight training and even the services of a personal trainer.

Most days the gym is busy from 8am to 8pm. The clients range from the superfit, well kitted out devotees to the overweight, out of condition irregular users, like me trying without much success to lose the pounds gained by overindulgence.

Tuesday, April 10 Day 96

We are now sailing towards Namibia, strangely the temperature is cool, the decks are wet and the sky is hung with low cloud. Passengers are sitting quietly reading, snoozing or gossiping.

I have come to realise, finally, why people cruise so often or for so long. It's not the fantastic ports we visit, not the wonderful choice or quality of the food we eat, not just being waited on hand and foot or to get away from it all as many people will claim, but the gossip. I cannot count the number of times people have said to me “Have you heard…?” “Did you see…?” “Be discreet” “Don't tell anyone but…” “Do you know…?” “Wasn't it awful that…” such confidences are passed around the same stories are embellished every time you hear them. I must admit I love it as much as anyone else. It's the main activity on the ship.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter