Reaching Malta - patchwork nation
"Gunhilde Maersk" - passenger no 1!
The ships agent of the 367 m (1,204 ft) long containership rushed me onboard a day before departure. That threw a lot of my last minute planning sideways, however it ensured that I came onboard in time. These huge ships are effected by so many outside parameters: high tide, low tide, crane failure, pilots, congestion, late deliveries, weather and so much more. In my personal experience I find that the ships are almost never at fault when they are behind schedule - it's always something else...
I wasn't that "something else" as the agent picked me up and drove me to the immigration office. A few crew members were disembarking from "Gunhilde Maersk" and we met in passing and exchanged a few kind words. It was already dark outside. The agent was tired. It had been a long day and he couldn't go back to the office before he had dropped me off. After clearing immigration and officially exiting Egypt the agent and I got back into his car and drove onboard a small ferry which brought us to an industrial island in the Suez Canal. We proceeded to drive across the small island while small talking about things long forgotten. As we reached the water on the far side of the island the agent pointed at a motorboat and said: "I'll leave you here and head back to the office. Just throw your bags onboard and go inside. They will bring you to the ship".
Coming along side of "Gunhilde Maersk".
There is something "secret agent like" about meeting a couple of Arabic sailors on a dark night and boating into the unknown. So while feeling (slightly) like Jason Bourne we tugged away across the black water. After 15-20 minutes we came along side of the majestic and absolutely gigantic ship. Gunhilde was still along side being loaded with containers. To my surprise we didn't go along side to the quay so I could embark the ship from there. No, my Jason Bourne skills were tested as we went along side the ship in open water. A long gangway ran from the ship's deck and directly towards the water, where I climbed onboard and began to make my way up. The boat that brought me there disappeared back to where it came from as I stepped onboard a shook hands with a seaman who brought me to the deck office. Sivan, the chief officer, greeted me warmly and explained that the Master (captain) had already gone to bed but I would meet him the following day. Sivan then instructed the seaman to show me to my cabin. We took the elevator up and I was shown to the "Pilot's cabin" which is a cabin inbetween the Master and the Chief Engineer's cabins. What a luxury!
Perfect accomodation! Couldn't be happier :)
A ship like Gunhilde can carry more than 9,000 x 20' containers. A truck can load 2 x 20' containers so think: 4,500 trucks! Or how about this; these ships are fueled by something called "bunker", which along with the cargo brings the ships weight up to about 160,000 tons. Now picture the ship unloaded and unfueled...that would weigh approximately the same as 20,000 elephants! Yup! It's a pretty sizable workplace.
The following day I met Captain Meinhard Jacobsen, who is Faroese and has been sailing for many years. The Faroe Islands (which are counted as a country within the Saga) are a part of the Danish Kingdom so he spoke Danish as well as Faroese and English. I met Meinhard as he was working behind his desk in his office. Being at port is often the busiest time onboard and the days when seamen would explore each port, the nightlife and its social creatures are mostly over. In many cases the seamen never leave the ship before they go home. Meinhard had kind eyes and a firm handshake: "Welcome onboard!"
Breakfast with a view of Denmark.
With the crossover from Egypt to Malta it became my 10th passage onboard a container ship. That might sound like a lot but it really isn't compared to 3.6 years of traveling across 128 countries on 4 continents. We've passed 170,000 km (105,633 mi) now. I would estimate I have spent less than 2 months onboard containerships which equals 40 months not spent onboard containerships.
Chief Engineer T. Simun Nielsen in front of the 4 storeys tall engine!
A clean engine room may sound like an oxymoron - however not on this ship.
Maersk Line invited me onboard and what an honor!! Taking passengers onboard such ships is mostly unheard of. Your chances are slim to none. So I am quite privileged to be in such good company. A while ago Niall Doherty wrote an excellent blog on containership travel based on his own experiences, where he also asked me about a few things: http://www.ndoherty.com/cargo-ship-tr
Great crew! :)
Captain Meinhard has a spectacular crew onboard the Gunhilde Maersk. Too often I have heard about how the social aspect of life onboard is rapidly fading away. I personally believe the decline in social life onboard must have come with the advance within personal laptops. When the laptops became capable of showing movies many seamen decided to watch whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to. Now wifi is also making its way onboard the ships and with that I have seen social interactions fading away in the flesh. That is not at all the case onboard Gunhilde, where the seamen speak with each other during meals, briefly meet up for coffee in the morning and afternoon, watch a movie together after dinner and play games and get this: we even managed a BBQ accompanied with (nonalcoholic) beer!
My theory is that if the crew is well balanced and the ship runs well, it's because the top dog knows what he is doing. Well done Captain Meinhard Jacobsen.
As I have referenced many times before these ships are workplaces with strict routines. The economy within shipping has been going through some very tough times in recent years and competition is fierce! The men onboard these ships are hard working. They get up early, follow their routine, go to sleep and start all over the next day. It's a workplace - not a cruise. For me it was also a workplace. I got to close my door and sit down at my desk for a few days. While onboard I managed to write the "always present stories" from my visit at both Eritrea Red Cross and the Egyptian Red Crescent. I also replied to most of all the emails which had been building up in my inbox. I got to do laundry, edit photos, repair equipment and best of all: I slept in a great bed, had plenty of food and I could take long warm showers without feeling guilty about the environment (the ship desalinates seawater).
Knowing what to do in an emergency is vital to safety. The crew was kept up to date with a drill while I was onboard.
I got my laundry done too :)
Overall the crossing between Port Said in Egypt and Marsaxlokk in Malta reached a distance of about 1,730 km (1,075 mi) and took about 48 hours. I had 3 memorable nights onboard. We reached Malta on time but couldn't come along side because another ship was in our space. So we ended up waiting outside the port for several hours. As I said; these ships themselves are usually not at fault when delays occur. The sun was setting as we finally came along side and once the agent finally arrived, Captain Meinhard handed me my passport and we said farewell. It was a great pleasure for me to be onboard with such fine company. It is with great appreciation that I say thank you to everyone onboard and everyone involved.
Now, that's how we reached Malta. What happened next was that the kind ship's agent gave me a ride from Gunhilde to the gates, where my father was waiving a large Danish flag! We hugged in what was our first reunion since I entered Africa more than 2 years earlier. Back then he declared that whenever I reached Malta he would come to visit. And he kept that promise. A taxi brought us to Gzira which is a stone's throw away from Malta's capital Valletta. He had arranged for rooms for us and as soon soon as I had dropped my bags at the hotel we headed out for dinner. I had 3 beers that night and an Irish coffee, which combined might be more alcohol than what I've had throughout 2017! My dad's a businessman and 69 years old. He's used to it...me not so much.
Valletta has had many years to build up its excessive charm. Well done!
The next morning we got up early, had breakfast and headed out to see a little bit of Malta. It's an absolutely picturesque country with a lot to see and do. We walked around the narrow streets of Valletta as I got to know my new surroundings. I've come to the conclusion that if you do not speak at least 2 languages then you're probably not Maltese. People joke a lot about there being more cars than people. It's not quite true but a solid estimate is that there might be more cars than people with drivers' licenses. If Malta is anything then it is certainly desirable. History has proven that over and over again. Throughout thousands of years the governance has changed hands and here's a brief overview of how colorful the history has been: colonized by Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans. It became involved in the Muslim–Byzantine War, was invaded by the Normans shortly after their invasion of England, was absorbed by the Holy Roman Empire, then Anjou (France), then Spain, then France again. It was home to the Knights Hospitaller, starting in 1099, the world's oldest surviving chivalric order. And with compliments to the Brits the many Maltese registered vehicles battle traffic driving on the left side of the road. Not the RIGHT side of the road ;)
This looks like the Danish flag. However it's the St. John's flag (The Knight). I just pretend Malta is crazy about Denmark ;)
My father stops to see what I mean photographing :)
I managed to have about 36 hours with my father before he flew back home. It was great to see him and talk through life and everything which has happened since we last met. On our 2nd day together I had a glass of wine, then half a bottle of wine and finally an Irish coffee. That was all accompanied by his great company and lots of delicious food. He got up early Monday morning and headed to the airport. I was then on my own again. Fortunately Johnny Haarup, who's been following the Saga from the very beginning, got me in touch with a couple of his friends, who live in Malta. So after checking out of the hotel I wandered off to find Dave and Alex in St. Julian. You never really know what to expect the first time you meet strangers? Dave and Alex had invited me to come and stay in a spare room in their apartment. I knocked on the door and was greeted by Alex' beautiful smile: "Come on inside!" After a while of speaking English she revealed that she speaks Danish too! :) Her father is from the USA and her mother is Danish so she got the best of both countries. Dave came home and introduced himself in a perfect British accent. A solid giveaway that he's from the U.K. However they both once lived in Denmark so he also speaks that mystical language to some degree.
Alex isn't just an excellent cook. She is absolutely brilliant! :)
These are two great people! Easy to talk to, fun to be around and they both love food. "Foodies" as they call themselves. When people ask me if there's anything I don't eat I usually reply by saying no. I've had crocodile, snake, bashed goats brain, cow skin, various insects, cows tits and lots of other stuff I don't even know. So I usually come out quite superior. When seated with Dave and Alex I'm quite inferior! I suspect there is nothing those two wouldn't eat! However most of all they are into good food and there has been plenty of it. You'll hear more about them next week.
Malta is currently undergoing some kind of economic building boom. Cranes are everywhere.
We are left with 3 more countries to visit in Africa before we can move on. Those 3 continue to be Libya, Tunisia and Algeria. Tunisia is likely to be next but it will depend on planning and opportunity. Algeria is likely to be the last. It's possible to take a ferry from Malta to Sicily and another ferry from Sicily to Tunisia. However there are also ships which go straight. In either case I have a lot of logistics to work on these days to find out how it will all work out. Visas and travel routes are the main issues here. The crowdfunding campaign which we have been working on throughout the year is coming closer to being a reality. Hopefully it can be launched in about a month. The Saga has been without financial sponsorship since March 2015 so it's about time.
Malta Red Cross training exercise. This is an extraordinary National Society: www.redcrossmalta.org.mt/
I'm tired. Both physically and mentally. However I'm surrounded by great people and lots of opportunity. Several Maltese have been reaching out to meet me and to show me Malta. Dave and Alex have "adopted" me. The Saga has reached its country number 128 and I'm in touch with the Maltese Red Cross. The Saga is on track. Let's keep on keeping on ;)
Highly relavant slogan ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - keeping on!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga