Cruise Africa - and Antarctica
Lars-Eric Lindblad, an adventurous spirit as well as an environmentalist, was the first to take tourists to Antarctica, then the Galápagos and the Amazon River as well as the Arctic regions in the late ’50s on board smaller cruise vessels.
Now these small vessels usually spend the northern summer months in the Mediterranean and the southern summer months in Antarctica or cruising the coastline of Africa. Many of them will leave the Med a little earlier and sail from Spain or Casablanca down the west coast of Africa to Cape Town before crossing the Atlantic to start the summer season in Antarctica. This is a fabulous trip as it shows the diversity on every level of our great continent.
* There are several ports in Morocco and day trips are taken into Rabat and gaudy, colourful Marrakech with its souks and ancient palaces. The next country is Western Sahara, where the desert meets the ocean, the land of the Berber and blue-robed nomads.
* The Canary Islands are next and they are well used to the large cruise ships. The ship will make a call in Dakar, Senegal, where a short ferry ride takes guests to the former slave island of Gorée with its historical Slave House and fortress.
* From here we continue to Sierra Leone and pay a visit to Freetown. In Ghana we usually visit the fortresses of Cape Coast Castle and Elmina from the port of Takoradi, rich in the history of trade in gold, ivory, hardwoods and the slave trade.
* Togo is the Voodoo capital of Africa. The fetish market is one of those horribly fascinating places to visit. Gabon, another equatorial land, rich in oil, is not an easy country to visit but the forests a short distance outside Libreville are wonderful, with a diverse birdlife.
* Angola is a difficult country to visit and doing so by ship makes things easier. Luanda is choked up with traffic and to escape to the Kissama National Park is a treat.
* There will often be an overnight stay in Walvis Bay, with many cultural and wildlife experiences. Finally, after about four weeks, the ship sails into Table Bay.
These cruises are usually divided into two legs with a change-over in Ghana, so you can choose which half you want to do or, if time and money permit, do the whole thing.
Depending on the ship and class of cabin, the cost will range from $14 450 (R144 500) to $30 000 per person for 32 to 35 days. All the excursions with local guides, park entrance fees, transport and meals ashore or on board are included.
James Island or Kunta Kinteh Island, The Gambia
Larger cruise ships now visit a few of the West African countries but a smaller Expedition Ship has the ability to go some distance down the River Gambia. This massive river is about 17km wide at the mouth with the port of Banjul dealing with the ships and no other towns of any significance up river.
Our small expedition ship went 30km up river for our expedition. The anchor went down in muddy turgid waters and our fleet of Zodiacs took us to the improbably tiny James Island, now called Kunta Kinteh Island and a Unesco World Heritage Site.
A small concrete pier made landing an easy affair and we were able to explore this little clump of land with an impressive history.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover the island in 1456 and, although only a bit over 7 hectares in size, it is in a strategic position in the middle of the river.
A fort was built by the Latvian Duke of Courland in 1651 to control the trade in gold and ivory, and later slaves, all coming from the interior.
He soon lost command and the fort was in a constant tug-of-war between the English, Dutch and French, being destroyed and rebuilt many times.
It was completely abandoned in 1829 and the island is slowly eroding away, although some efforts are made to retain the banks.
Now all you see are the crumbling ruins and cannons, all shaded by huge baobab trees, which make for the best roosting sites for a group of pelicans. One time I visited the island there were eight ospreys perched on the bare branches. If you look carefully where the water laps the land, hardly a beach, pottery shards and pieces of old trade beads can be found.
Continuing our expedition that afternoon, our Zodiacs took us into the nearby bolons or mangrove creeks and this presented yet another world as we slowly meandered through the narrow channels in the shade created by the 15-20m-tall mangrove trees.
In a small clearing, groups of local fishermen were trying their luck. Seldom-seen crocodiles and otters lurk in the tangles and the bird life is rich and varied with herons and darters skulking in the undergrowth, feeding off the small fish and crabs.
Then it’s back on board for a sumptuous dinner.