Perth Western Australia
It’s not often that I am tempted to start writing an article before starting out, but this trip is an exception to that rule.
We have been steadily planning and booking for this trip for at least the last six months or so, making this cruise booking here; that hotel booking there; buying train ticket here and so on. Doing it this way helps to spread the costs of such a trip and makes sure that by the time you actually leave most of the trip is paid for.
This trip is no different. Our aim is to spend a month in Berlin catching up with Pippa and Tara and hopefully seeing one of Tara’s new shows. To get there we found ourselves a Costa repositioning cruise starting from the Isle of Reunion and thence travelling via Mauritius, the Seychelles and so on up into the Mediterranean via the Suez canal and make a few more stops around the Greek islands on the way to Venice and then via the south of Spain to Berlin. Looks really good!
And then the Coronavirus happens. All is well until cases started to appear in Italy. In Northern Italy, just near Venice. And so the first casualty of our trip appears.
Oh dear – what to do? First things first, check the travel insurance and read the small print. Sure enough … there in the small print under “We will not pay for” is clearly written
“Claims caused by, or claims arising from, an epidemic, pandemic or outbreak of a contagious disease or any derivative or mutation of such viruses, or the threat or perceived threat of any of these”.
Oh dear! What to do? We can’t cancel the whole trip because, apart from losing all the money, the German family we are exchanging houses with are spending the whole ten weeks of the time in our house and are due to arrive here at any moment so we can’t really abandon the trip at this stage.
Oh dear! What to do? Cancel a few things to start with. Get a refund on one train ticket; cancel a couple of hotel bookings. Can’t cancel the booked flights within europe since they are not flexible so those are down the drain.
Oh dear! What to do? Well how about we get off in Corfu instead of Venice, spend a week there and then go directly to Berlin? Sounds like a plan and a sort of win win. We can get four days in a hotel plus a car for the same price as the one night in Venice we had booked. Ok … not so bad, lets go with that!
Michael drops us off at the international airport in Perth (thanks for your hospitality Michael and Patricia) in plenty of time where we check in quickly and are through to our departure gate in record time. The whole place is like a ghost town and feels very strange. The Coronavirus effect is being felt already.
12th March. Day 1 morning
We arrived last night in Mauritius, very travel weary having spent a couple of nights in Perth with good friends on the way. We were supposed to have flown on to Reunion this morning to board the ship, but thank goodness we decided that it was all too much and we would stay here for the day and board the ship in Port Louis instead. We left home on the 8th March but will count this as day 1.
We have booked into a small, rather tired but comfortable enough hotel in Mahebourg on the south of the island and which stands right on the ocean. We arrived late and didn’t have time to see much until the morning when we had time for a short explore before the rain started.
Mahebourg is a small town on the south east of Mauritius and is very much for the locals. Hotels seem small and tourists are encouraged to go to more popular Blue Bay just down the coast.
12th March. Day 1 afternoon
In our email came the news that the ship had been unable to board passengers in Reunion. If they had docked there, they would not have been able to dock in Mauritius! Phew! Dodged that bullet anyway!
And it is now officially a PANDEMIC so who knows what will happen next!
13th March. Day 2 morning
We awake after a good nights sleep to the sound of heavy rain which we are told will last all day. Time to splash out on a taxi to drive us across the island to Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. The heavy rain continues for the whole of the journey and so we see nothing of the island itself before arriving at the port where the Costa Mediterranea is waiting for us.
Embarkation is a strange affair since the main disembarkation/embarkation is tomorrow. We are just a couple of blow-ins who should really have boarded in Reunion. After a while, the immigration person takes our temperature, checks us on board, we get our cruise cards and take our luggage to stateroom 1107 and settle in. We usually enjoy this bit – a chance to unpack everything and stow the suitcases under the bed. We are in our cosy cabin looking out of the window at the continuing rain. It feels like a long journey just to get this far. In the evening the rain eases and we can go up onto the top deck and take in the surrounding port.
13th March. Day 2 evening
Watching the BBC world news it seems the world is closing up around us. Will we actually get to Europe we ask ourselves? The gossip mill is in full swing and we hear that there will be only 1,100 passengers boarding, out of the 2,600 possible. Should be an uncrowded journey. Many will have cancelled and anyone who arrives with a temperature is turned away.
We have a very pleasant five course meal in the main restaurant and look forward to many more. After a wander around to see where the entertainment is we retire to our cabin for our first night on board.
14th March. Day 3
Looking around the ship in the morning it is good to notice that there are a significant number of other ethnicities on the ship, particularly indian and french african. Should be an interesting trip we say to ourselves.
The ship is very italian and has been fitted out in a very dramatic fashion. We take advantage of the quiet period to wander around and take it all in.
However, today is the end of the ships current itinerary – a 14 day trip around Madagascar – and so passengers begin to disembark and those who will continue with us begin to embark. By the time the introduction talk from the cruise director takes place in the late afternoon, 90% of passengers on board are english speakers which has resulted in a dramatic change of colour. Or should I say all the colour has been washed away with the majority now older, whiter, grey haired people.
We get the standard introduction from the cruise director, with a presentation about the next few ports. No hint yet of any issues.
15th March. Day 4 morning
This morning has dawned bright and sunny, so after taking the opportunity to take a few shots which actually show sunshine we plan our day.
We decide to walk into Port Louis and notice the town is literally divided by the main road. On the harbour side the new developments are typical of the western corporate colonisation that is taking over so many places. We take the underpass to the other side of the road to find teaming markets and narrow crowded streets of the old town, alas also overshadowed by the high rise buildings of yet more corporations.
15th March. Day 4 afternoon
This afternoon we see on the news that the world is closing down with the threat of the coronavirus, and many of the passengers have now decided to cut and run. Costa has promised 150% cruise vouchers, valid for 12 months, as recompense and many are taking that option. There is no longer any certainty where the ship will be allowed to dock and where we will be going. We really have no choice but to continue since our house is fully occupied. Who will let us in?
Now things really take an interesting turn. The compulsory safety drill is cancelled. You always have to do a safety drill complete with life jackets and so on at the beginning of every cruise. It’s been cancelled.
Rumours fly around the ship. We discover our cruise card isn’t working when we try to buy a fancy coffee as a treat and so we go down to reception to find out what is going on. People are milling around in a very confused way and then someone is saying the cruise has been cancelled. I ask one of the women on the reception deck if this is so and she tells us to pack.
Wow! How about that!
The Magical Mystery Tour is coming to take you away! But where to?
Joining the queue to retrieve our passports we find we are to be “repatriated”. This will involve spending tonight in a hotel and catching flights tomorrow. We asked if we could fly to Berlin instead but were very firmly refused. We have noticed that a number of buses are lining up outside on the dock, and now we know why they are there. We are lucky enough to get on one of the first and are quickly away for the one and a half hour trip along windy roads to the Hotel Riu Creole situated on the Le Morne peninsula on the south west of Mauritus.
It is dark by the time we are on the road and so we arrive late, check into a very damp, but airconditioned room and then partake of the huge buffet in the hotel dining room.
16th March. Day 5.
We have breakfast by the pool and are informed that we must check out at midday. It is not clear what will happen now, and we all just hang around waiting. We can hear the whispers circulating all around. Then a meeting is called in the theatre and names are read out one at a time (all 400 hundred that are left) and bus and flight times are allocated. Amazingly, ours are the first names on the list – bus at 7pm for a flight at 11pm. This means we will be waiting around the hotel for most of the day and we still don’t know what’s happening.
The trip home is horrific. It is one of those long haul journeys which we have really tried to avoid. On the way here we flew to Mauritius directly from Perth, a journey of eight hours. I seems we are to return via Dubai.
It goes like this after waiting around most of the day until 7.00 pm – bus to the airport, one and a half hours; three hours at the airport; eight hours to Dubai; four hours in the airport; onto the plane and one and a half hours on the tarmac while they change a part; thirteen hour flight to Melbourne where we missed our connection; 2 hours in Melbourne; two and a bit hour flight to Brisbane; pick up hire car and drive for one and a half hours home.
Collapse, exhausted with very swollen feet! Our much anticipated nearly three month trip is over in nine days.
We were told as we reentered Australia that we now have to spend the next fourteen days in self isolation. Thanks go to daughter Zoe and friend Judy for shopping for supplies so that we can retreat from a world which is increasingly in chaos. The world is literally shutting down. Quite amazing!
As for our German family who are supposed to be staying in our house, they are probably in more difficulty than us. The government won’t allow them to be in our house while we are in isolation – and anyway, we would never forgive ourselves if we should have the virus and passed it on to them.
On top of that, they are in a strange country and still finding their way around. Two of them leave after the first week in April but the other three have flights booked for the middle of May and may not be able to reschedule them. In the meantime, we have managed to find them some cheapish alternative accommodation for the next couple of weeks and we will do our best to help them after that.
It felt awful asking them to leave our house in which they had expected to stay for ten weeks, but we had no choice with the world going crazy.
And now, borders are even being closed between states in Australia and travel is increasingly limited.
We count ourselves lucky that we were not on the other Costa ship which had already sailed and which can now only dock in Venice. They have been refused entry in every other port.
How will it all end?
May all be well and happy and may this world health crisis pass quickly.