For my regular readers, accustomed to a more gritty travel reportage, I will say that I began this journey at the Cape Town Backpackers Lodge, where I tend to stay whenever I am in Cape Town, so there was a certain amount of authenticity to begin with, but things got very weird very quickly.
My journey this time was as a guest lecturer on the Seabourn Sojourn. I accept the commission really as a way of getting a little bit of exposure, giving very little thought to what it might practically represent. Seabourn is regarded as being a seven star line, and while one might ponder that in an abstract sense, in particular if you have no point of reference, what it actually means is something quite different. The Seabourn Sojourn is like nothing that I have ever witnessed or experienced before.
My friend Anne and I arrived in Cape Town a few days early, of course, and we enjoyed the usual sights and sounds of this wonderful city, noticing on a quick trip around the peninsular on the hop-on-hop-off red bus tour that a rather elegant looking ship had sailed into Cape Town harbor, and there she lay at anchor. Such was our first glimpse of the Sojourn.
Embarkation followed the usual procedure, with the only addition being an extra layer of customer care that one would somewhat expect from a vessel of this caliber, and soon enough Anne and I were seated on the rear deck dining room enjoying a complimentary glass of South African white wine and a simple but delicious buffet, which boded very well indeed.
The announcement came through the intercom at about 13h30 that the suites were ready, after which Anne and I made our way down a few decks towards what might be regarded as steerage in the Seabourn lexicon, but which revealed itself in fact to be a compact but beautifully appointed cabin, with a bottle of champagne on ice awaiting our attention, a marble clad bathroom and a queen size bed with a downy embrace that promised much.
That evening we ate dinner on the rear deck in a somewhat simpler style than is typically offered in one or other of the interior dining rooms, but it suited our mood of the moment. We were offered a variety of excellent South African wines by a staff that could hardly have been more attentive. This level of professional service certainly was exceptional, and it would get better.
I ordered tamarind sautéed giant shrimp with a light salad and a small piece of sweet corn which was delicious to say the least, although sadly, when I bit into the sweet corn it dislodged a crown that had been threatening mutiny for weeks, and decided at that moment to rebel.
I spat it into out my hand in utter dismay. I had nine presentations to deliver, and with a significant gap in my smile, and whistling delivery of my very fine vocabulary, it was an utter disaster. Something had to be done.
It is at times like this that you realize where you are, and who is in control. My instincts were to try and reach shore and organize a dentist in the few hours that would be available the following day, however my friend Anne suggested that I contact the medical office, which seemed counter-intuitive since I doubted if there was a dentist on board, but I did as I was advised.
At the moment that the call was made the ships staff mobilized, and within an hour I was en-route by courier to a Cape Town dentist who performed the necessary procedure to fit my tooth back in my head, just in time for lunch.
On first impression the Sojourn offers not only a level of luxury almost unimaginable for a man like myself, with an established history of rough travel, but that is only the first layer. Beneath it lies an impressive degree of professionalism that you do not encounter every day, and this little incident was instructive at the very least.
In the meanwhile, and as I think as is often the case, the staff on board represent a wide global demographic, with everyone from Finns to Serbs, Frenchmen to Brazilians, Poles to Icelanders. The cruise director was South African, the Captain British and the waiting and hospitality staff representing all the rest of the world – although the blue collar and technical staff, as well as the lower level service staff, tend on the whole to be Filipino, which I am also beginning to notice is pretty standard in the cruise industry.
Amongst my peers there were a selection of experts, discoursuing on subjects as diverse as wine and economics, with the first lecture being delivered by the very august personality of Daniel Silke, South African economic consultant and keynote speaker, who presented a very sophisticated and accurate synopsis of the evolution of modern South Africa.
I feel that as one undertakes a critique of anything, a certain amount of criticism is expected, but I confess I have not so far been able to put my finger on anything so far that might be regarded as a genuine failure, not so far anyway.
This, however, is only the first leg of the journey, which at the moment is mooted to end in Singapore, but maybe Colombo, I have not decided yet, but either way we have a ways to go, and plenty of time yet to find fault with these buggers who just seem to damned perfect to be true…!