Out of the Pirate Zone

Captain Jack Sparrow was unfortunately never spotted in my time aboard the ship thus far, and I’m happy to say that we are now officially out of the ‘pirate zone’ as we continue to head south.  I feel bad that it’s been some time since my last update, but lately I’ve been having a hard time feeling inspired to sit down and write.  I want to provide a realistic account of my time here, but when I’m in a bad mood or things are not going so well, I just can’t try to fake it through a cheery entry.  Not that there’s too much to complain about here, I am completely aware that I am extremely fortunate to have these travel opportunities… but life on a ship is difficult.  I don’t even know how to explain it.  Combine equal parts small-town life, summer camp, a retirement community and a circus, pepper it with some high-school drama, sear it with a good handful of language barrier and serve within the confines of a 500 foot ship. Yes, I said 500.  Life on the ship is extreme, with no privacy to be found, time moving slowly and yet weeks fly by unnoticed, the guests change, the show goes on.  I am not a disingenuous person when it comes to interacting with the guests, so sometimes being ‘on’ all the time can be absolutely exhausting.  So while you may only have one show every day or every other day, with a few hours of work to do with guests around the ship on a daily basis, every single moment is draining.  I’m learning so much about my self right now, the way I deal with stress and emotions, performing under pressure and learning to how to work is such close proximity with others.  I never thought that this job would force me to look at myself so closely, analyzing each insecurity, strength and weakness like specimens in a petri dish. Okay, time out.  As I’m sitting here in the observation lounge, I just happened to look out the window and saw a huge pod of dolphins swimming alongside the ship, so I just took a five minute break outside on the deck, squealing like a little kid as I watched them leap in the air with friendly hellos.  That was a much-needed sight for sore eyes.

Now.  I last updated the blog as we left the Seychelles and sailed for Mombasa, Kenya.  Unfortunately, our first day in Kenya I was scheduled on IPM (In-Port Manning), which meant I had to remain on the ship.  I apparently missed a huge welcome, as television crews from Mombasa documented the ship’s arrival and a local dance/drumming troupe entertained our guests and crew as they disembarked the ship.  I didn’t realize that this was the first cruise ship to arrive in Mombasa in three years!  Not hard to understand why… there weren’t a terrible number of things to do in Mombasa, aside from viewing public displays of poverty and trying to evade pick-pocketry.  Luckily for me, some of the other crew gals had ventured out in the first day and found a great thing to visit: a nearby walk-through nature and animal reserve that cost less than $10.  So I headed out with Krystle and the boutique girl, Holly, and we hired a taxi driver for the day.  What a day we had!  It was so nice to be out and about, enjoying the flora and fauna with our very own private guide of the reserve.  We saw crocodiles, hippos, yaks, antelope, monkeys, tortoises and giraffes.  I even fed the giraffes, check it out here! But my favorite moment was viewing a little monkey breast-feeding her tiny infant.  The baby was so small and delicate, with bright blue eyes barely open.

Monkey and her baby

It was a lovely day to be in the park, with a wonderful shroud of clouds, a light mist of rain, and lots of open space (something that always make me happy given my current living and work conditions).  The day in Mombasa was well spent and the time away from the ship was necessary after leaving the Seychelles.

Our next port was Zanzibar in Tanzania, a tiny port butted up right next to the vibrant old town center.  My Mom had told me ahead of time that she was sending a small package to this port, but naturally, it didn’t make it to me on board.  Apparently a lot of these ports are precarious with mail, and things tend to be “lost”.  But I was out to escort a tour in Zanzibar – I had happily been given the tour of the spice plantation of the island!  There are a number of busy spice plantations in Zanzibar, and I was pleased to visit the one we saw, buzzing with activity around the crops of vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa, cardamom, cloves, pepper, coffee, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg and others.  It was a feast for the senses, to say the least.  I found it absolutely fascinating to see how many of the spices are grown and harvested.  I had to idea before this trip that vanilla is in the orchid family and grows parasitically on other plants.  Or that cinnamon is a bark scraped from trees and cloves have to picked and dried at a very precise point in their life cycle.  In New York, I had worked for a coffee company that specialized in cacao nibs, but this was the first time I saw how cocoa grows and how it’s harvested!  One of my favorite discoveries of the day was seeing a plant they called “the lipstick plant” which has a small furry red pod that once opened, has tiny red-orange beads that can be crushed and used as a lipstick or body paint.  So, naturally, I opened one up and put a little forehead design and lipstick.  When in Zanzibar…

The Lipstick Plant!

It was a great day to see such a vibrant, multi-cultural place.  I felt incredibly lucky to be there, and my only regret was that I had no money with me to buy any of the amazing spices they were selling on the plantation.

After a day at sea, we found ourselves anchoring off the coast of Nosy Be, an island off the Northwest tip of Madagascar.  I was again heading out with a tour group, this time to the small island of Nosy Komba, also known as “Isle of the Lemurs.”  We boarded a tender off the ship to head to the island, but it was overwhelming how many people had pulled up in kayaks and canoes, right to the ship, trying to sell beads and trinkets to the guests, and even calling for people on their verandas to throw down money and food.  It was an unbelievable thing to see.  I’ve obviously seen some considerable poverty in some of the places we’ve visited, especially Mumbai, but this was yet another display of it, right off the side of the ship.  I tried to avoid eye contact as a man kept speaking to me in French, clinging on to the side of the tender boat, begging for money.  We finally got to Nosy Be, where we boarded tiny boats that seat ten, and experienced a VERY rocky ride to Nosy Komba.  I was actually a little scared as we sped over the choppy waves, desperately clinging on to the side of the boat, and letting myself have a second shower of ocean spray.  The village on Nosy Komba functions with no electricity, relying on some solar power when necessary.  It was a beautiful village with some of the most gorgeous people I’ve seen in my life.  Families sat out front their tiny homes, traditional Malagasy one-room structures, cooking lunch over hardwood charcoal fires and smiling tentatively as our groups walked by.  The children all decorated themselves in floral face paint, wearing dresses and outfits that looking like the ultimate hand-me-downs, and they formed little familial groups along the walking path, singing and dancing for us.  It was absolutely beautiful and so joyful.  I only felt bad because I felt in a way that we were disturbing the peace with our presence.  And I felt even more ashamed when some guests were getting right in peoples’ faces to take photographs.  Many children were selling beads and asking for money from us, but I politely declined each one and smiled.  At one point, a boy about nine years old came up to me and started chatting in a heavily accented English.  I thought at first he’d also be asking for money, but he really just wanted to know all about myself and where I was from.  He told me his name was Marino, and when I told him that I was from New York, he [very seriously] asked me if I knew Justin Beiber. He politely showed me the way up the hill to where the famous lemurs lived.  Oh man, lemurs love me.  I don’t know if it’s the fact my hair color is almost identical to the color of the female lemur, but I had lemurs all over me!  The guests got a real thrill of taking pictures of me covered in lemurs.  It was such a thrill!  After we saw the lemurs, we went further up the hill to see tortoises, snakes, iguanas and… more lemurs.  Have I mentioned that I love lemurs?

Surprise Lemur Attack!

We made our way back down to the village and had some local fruits before walking back down to our boats.  As we were leaving, Marino ran back up to me – and at this point, I was sure he’d be asking for money.  But instead, he just wanted to shake my hand and say goodbye.  It was truly humbling to see this joyful child, who just wanted the chance to practice his English and learn about another person from a totally different culture.  The day on Nosy Komba was so special and I felt so lucky to experience it in such an honest light.

After leaving Madagascar, we prepared for a holiday at sea – New Year’s Eve! We started the night off with a packed pre-dinner performance of our Billy Joel set, then a group of us stayed in the theater to watch our very own screening of Bridesmaids over the projector.  We finished the movie just in time to head to the main dining room for a midnight toast, where my midnight kiss was an innocent peck from a gay man from Bali.  Oh, ship life.  We danced into the night, and then headed down to the real party in the crew bar, followed by the after-party in one of the crew cabins.  It was a really fun night and a great way to start the New Year.

Our next port was Reunion Island (New Yorkers: know of that bar on 43rdstreet called Reunion?) – not much to see or do there, but I took the free shuttle service that transported us to another part of the island, where I enjoyed a cheap and yummy lunch with some of the girls, then walked the beach and had a tropical cocktail with Krystle when it started raining on us.  It was a nice day in Reunion – very French, very beachy, just perfect.

Cocktail time on Reunion Island

Then we found ourselves in Mauritius on embarkation day, so we said our goodbyes to the guests and prepared to meet a whole gang of new passengers.  I luckily had the day off in Mauritius, so I headed in to town, bartered for a Panama hat in the old town market, then enjoyed free wifi at a luxury hotel on the waterfront.  Not so bad!  Our next port was back in Reunion, but I had the luxury of IPM so I enjoyed a sea day in port – doing the things I would normally do on a sea day instead!  Have I mentioned how much harder it is to run on the treadmill when the ship is rocking and rolling?  The stationary bike has recently become my new boyfriend.  So the next port I was able to enjoy… or, well… get off the ship and see, was Fort Dauphin, on the south end of Madagascar.  While the beaches were stunning and the landscape of the lush hills absolutely breathtaking, the life in the city center was depressing and derelict.  I couldn’t walk more than a few steps before another person came up begging for money.  I had headed out with a couple from Vermont that I’ve gotten to know well (they’ve been on the ship for three cruise legs), and we were set on finding more spices like vanilla and cloves.  Instead, we walked several kilometers down a dusty road with a young man that demanded to be our walking guide, didn’t find anything to buy, and had to hire a taxi to take us back to the city center.  Not really much to see or do there.  So I went right back to the ship and resumed my sea day lifestyle while in port.

After a few sea days, we ported in at our first South African port, Richards Bay.  I wasn’t on tour, so I took the free shuttle to the main mall with our international hostess, Roxana (a FANTASTIC woman from Romania who is quickly becoming a good friend), and we walked around, shopping for a new dress for her and then settling in at a restaurant for lunch and free wifi.  It was so nice to be off the ship and in a mall.  Sounds bizarre, I know.  But something about just being in the mall, having the visual stimuli and human interaction with strangers – made me feel normal again and press the ‘restart’ button on myself.  As we’re now in the South Africa leg of our contract, a lot of these ports are repeating in the next month, so it will be interesting to see what new things we find when we return to each port.  Of course, the crime statistics are not so great in this country, so it’s about being smart and leaving from the ship in groups.  I personally like to travel around the ports alone, so for me, it’s going to be a challenge.  That evening in Richards Bay, we presented the show we perform on the pool deck during the BBQ buffet dinner (done once per cruise). Krystle and I had actually been invited to dine with a British couple that were celebrating their 25th anniversary.  So we chatted with them, enjoyed grilled shrimp and crab legs, and then got up to do our show (which garnered the most incredible response!)  Side note: I truly think that every cruise we do is getting better and better with our shows.  We finished our show run last night with Abbalicious – and I have to say, we NAILED this cruise!  We had some sea days during which I participated in some other shows, including one called Liar’s Club – a comedy game-show based on ‘Call my Bluff’ and very similar to Balderdash (my favorite board game).  This was my third time being on the panel, and every time it’s gotten better and better.  The way the show works is that a word is given to the audience, then the four panelists say what the meaning of the word is, according to them, supported by anecdotal stories or supporting evidence.  The audience then decides which person they think is telling the truth.  I have given the show my own twist by writing songs for each world, which I sing and play on the guitar. For an example, the first word of our last show was “buccula,” and I was assigned to tell the true meaning, which was ‘a double chin.’  So I played a lovely little Taylor-Swiftian song… I’ve always looked for a man with lots of ambition, a big ol’ heart, and two ears to listen, but it’s hard to explain, oh how do I begin, I need a man with a double chin… Buccula! Buccula!  Oh let me kiss your buccula!  Buccula! Buccula! There’s just more of you to love!  The undeniable hit of the evening was the word “moniac,” which I falsely defined as a person who makes a lot of noise during sex.  I was sure how this would go over in the audience, but as it was a late night show I thought it would be fun.  I played the role as the innocent ingénue, and sang my song tentatively, waiting for the response from the audience to see how far I could take it.  The audience was ROLLING with laughter – I’ve never felt so confident about a successful improvisation.  It’s hard to recap with words exactly what I did with the song, but it ended with me singing on a melodic “oh” vowel, which quickly changed to “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!”  Afterwards, one of the couples on board that is actually sailing with us until March, came up to me and said how much they loved it – that I should have my own one-woman show.  It was an incredible confidence boost and made me think that’s actually a great idea!  A couple nights later, Peter and I presented a show together in the Panorama Lounge and had a lot of fun singing great songs with the band.  I think my favorite one was absolutely “Islands in the Stream” – the band already knew it and we Dolly and Kenny-ed it up.  So much fun to perform with one of my best friends, especially when we have a great show and the audience is so responsive.

Now back to the ports… our next port was Durban, South Africa, where I was able to go on tour to a Zulu village and learn about the Zulu culture, as well as see crocodiles and poisonous snakes in a reptile habitat.  I loved seeing the traditional Zulu dances and songs, and it was fascinating to learn about the traditional culture.  My favorite moment was when the guide showed us the old marijuana pipe of the village, and said, “But we don’t use this today.” Then one of the guests asked, “How about tomorrow?”  The reptile village was awesome – we were able to see a crocodile feeding and I held an enormous boa on my shoulders.  For some reason the guests are always volunteering me to do these things, and I willingly oblige!  Yesterday we were in port in East London – as I wasn’t on tour, I just took the shuttle in to the city mall, and walked around to get that essential visual stimuli and also pick up some odds and ends I needed.  Again, it was a nice afternoon sitting in a café drinking a coffee while enjoying free wifi.  Today is our last full day of this voyage, at sea en route to Cape Town.  As we are heading around the Cape and meeting the convergence of oceans, we’ve been experiencing some really rough swells and the ships is rocking side to side and pitching up and down like I’ve never experienced.  I actually really like it for sleeping, but other than that, it’s just annoying. The other day, as the cast was walking down the hall for our Billy Joel show, we were all walking with our bodies slanted to the left to counteract the movement of the ship.  I felt like we were all in one of those old V8 commercials – remember those commercials?  So tomorrow we will find ourselves in Cape Town, South Africa.  It’s an embarkation day, so I don’t know how much time we’ll have to see things, but I’m pretty sure I’ll have the time to go off the ship for dinner as we don’t sail until 11pm.  My one thing I’d like to do is climb Table Mountain, which requires about three hours, so it will have to wait until another day on this voyage when we’re in Cape Town and I’m hopefully not working embarkation.

Yes, life here on this ship is bizarre.  But life on the ship is so similar to the ship itself, sometimes pitching up and down and back and forth, other times smooth and easy.  I constantly have to adjust with the unpredictable motions in my life, analyzing new emotions and learning how to be the best person I can be.  I hate to complain, because I know I could just as easily be back in New York, working at some office job I hate and wishing for an opportunity like this.  But life is hard no matter where you go, and I think this life is made harder by the distance between me and the people I love.  Here’s to staying focused on self-improvement and maintaining my sense of adventure.  And rolling with the movement of the ocean.

5 thoughts on “Out of the Pirate Zone

  1. bella29 January 13, 2012 / 6:50 pm

    worth the wait. I love these posts so much it’s ridiculous- I can almost picture your life on board and your descriptions are amazing. Roll on dear one, enjoy the adventure . . . (and misadventures) xoxo

  2. Randy January 13, 2012 / 6:54 pm

    I love you sweetie, your amazing! xxooxxoo Dad

  3. Lore Duser January 13, 2012 / 7:19 pm

    Great post Ashley. Some day when you are looking back on all this, you will sometimes feel like you are dreaming. All the things you experience will give you a lifetime of memories and memories is something no one can take away from you.
    Opa and I love you lots.
    Hugs and kisses from the old folks.

  4. Suzanne Childers January 13, 2012 / 7:34 pm

    Your writing is a gift Ashley. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  5. more brilliant July 29, 2013 / 6:18 am

    I got what you mean , regards for putting up.Woh I am delighted to find this website through google. “Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up by itself.” by Woodrow Wilson.

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