We arrived in Montevideo sometime overnight, and disembarked earlier today. The Grimaldi agent had already taken our passports, and when we woke up we were told to be ready to disembark at 10.30. Lauren’s first response was we would miss our 11am lunch!
Our passports had been stamped in our absence and after some emotional goodbyes to crew and officers, and lots of wishing of good luck to the other passengers, we simply walked down the ramp and out of the port into Montevideo old town, mingling with the mainly Brazilian tourists who had arrived on a cruise ship docked next door. We got some funny looks with our backpacks.
I honestly have mixed feelings about leaving the Grande Amburgo.
Of course, we have 6 months of amazing adventures awaiting us, and I’m excited to get on with that, but we have almost become institutionalized on board – the initially baffling routines are now ingrained in us, and we’ve got to know the personalities and interests of some of the crew.
Lauren in particular has been made very welcome – I swear most of the crew don’t know my name but they all know Lauren and greet her every time they meet. We were all told the Gelato was finito yesterday (Wednesday is ice cream day normally) but moments after everyone dispersed, muttering that they’d been looking forward to gelato all day, there is Lauren being ushered to the kitchen for the last of the ice cream.
The thought of having to deal with the ‘real world’ again is not attractive. Yes, it will be nice to be able to skype home more easily and eat something green that isn’t ancient lettuce. It will be good to be able to stride out and go somewhere that doesn’t end in a loop back the way we came after 200 yards.
But if I was told we had another month on board, I’d be perfectly happy.
I wanted to do this because I wanted to be ‘at sea’ – I loved the notion of being many hundreds of miles from any other vessel, of seeing sea in every direction. And the choice of cargo ship was because I didn’t want to do a cruise.
And I did love the open sea, although it was surprisingly the smallest proportion of the journey. I did love looking around and seeing nothing but sea and sky (and, often, our resident birds diving and swirling). Seeing dolphins on multiple occasions was fantastic. Even the flying fish I could watch for hours. The sunsets and (occasional) sunrise were often stunning. And yes, shore visits were fun, even the mad dash into Rio.
What I also loved, which was more of a surprise, was the actual cargo aspects – the logistics of loading hundreds of vehicles at top speed; the manoeuvring of enormous containers by cranes that stand many metres above the top deck of a 13-deck vessel; the logic of what is going where; the odd-shaped covered shipments that towered above us as we picked our way through the decks. The camaraderie at port and the autonomy of finding our own way in and out of these enormous places full of heavy machinery. All the different ships and boats, from tankers to canoes. I even loved watching the ramp being lowered and raised each and every time! Turns out, I’m a heavy machinery geek 😊.
I also loved getting to understand a completely different way of life and the social aspects of life at sea. From the Filipinos who send money home to families they see only a couple of times a year, to the young Italians who see going to sea as an only option after a bad school career, to the older and more reserved officers who work incredibly hard far from home. There is a great competence about men (they were all men, although the captain made a point of telling Lauren that many of the senior officers including captains are female within Grimaldi) who deal with big, heavy complicated things. Watching the incredibly complex process of loading and unloading many containers plus all sorts of bizarre consignments and hundreds of vehicles proves that there are skills that may not come with fancy degrees but which nonetheless demand great experience and intelligence. From the crane operators in charge of machines that stand 15 stories high, to the chief mate in charge of the whole cargo, to the drivers who know exactly how to fit everything in, to the chef who keeps nearly 40 people in 3 sittings fed and content for 5 weeks on 4 weeks’ supplies.
The seemingly-rigid hierarchy of this group throws up some interesting anomalies – the Filipino senior officer proves the separation which seems so clear at first can be overcome. The Italian steward who works alongside the Filipino one. The engineers who keep the engine going yet are not officers. The affable Italian driver who spends more of his time with the Filipinos. The fact that the Filipinos speak way better English than the Italians who manage them, and are far more at home in various ports.
I don’t claim to understand this world, but it has been a fascinating insight into the lives of people we might never have met, and for whom I have developed a great respect.
During the trip, there were of course a few moments of frustration, but genuinely none of boredom and after 40 days at close quarters, I can honestly say that Lauren and I get on better together than many mothers and daughters. Its been fantastic, a trip of lifetime. It truly couldn’t have gone better.
Now lets see what South America has in store for us!