Tag Archives: freighter travel

Stage Eleven – Shipping news! CC Coral from Taiwan to New Zealand – overland from UK 2 NZ

Up the gangway of CC Coral at Port Kaohsiung
Up the gangway of CC Coral at Port Kaohsiung – see any reevers?

LONG READ!

Please note this is a multi-page post recording a 14 day sea voyage. I was the only passenger on CC Coral, a container ship travelling between Taiwan and New Zealand, in November 2019. It was an alternative to flying. But was it any more sustainable?

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here is a menu to help you find your way: http://www.ourrelationshipwithnature.com/overview-overland-uk-2-nz-without-flying-eleven-stages-in-fifty-days/

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

The Port of Kaohsiung as seen in the Immigration Office
The extensive Port of Kaohsiung seen in the Immigration Office late at night

Friday 8th November night into Saturday morningThe Port of Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

First night at sea. Mr Wang, my driver, had been a shipping agent for 25 years. He couldn’t understand why this giant of a company, CMA CGM, wanted to take passengers. Why? Other freight companies did not bother.

Well, Monsieur Wang, I was glad they did for they offered exactly what I wanted; a no-fuss way to travel without flying. I also felt comfortable that CMA CGM wore their environmental aspirations on their website. Mr Wang swooped the car around the grand driveway of the Excalibur hotel, lined with a small city’s worth of sparkly blue and white lights, and parked. We were there to pick up the new ship’s reever-electrician. (Whatever a reever is – it’s super important – I’ll find out later.)

Looking over the Port of Kaohsiung from the wing deck outside my cabin
Looking over the Port of Kaohsiung from the wing deck outside my cabin.
Wonder if there’s a reever in this picture? There, look …

The contrast between the chaos, clamour and steamy sizzle of my hotel’s not-foyer in the heart of the Kaohsiung inner-city night-market and this hotel-castle could not have been more marked. Romanian electrician Gabriel had been working on passenger ships for 15 years. This was his first container ship. Mr Wang hazarded he’d be joining a crew of about twenty-two. The company paid for his hotel.

We visited a small Immigration building where Gabriel and I watched a particularly silly and violent boxing film while forms were filled in and checked. Mr Wang kept our passports and we drove to the port security guard. She carefully examined our documents, and then us, looking us over from top to toe before waving us through.

As we entered the port Agent Wang was unimpressed with what he thought excess security. Ever since 9/11 taxis and unauthorised vehicles couldn’t get to the gangways. It was only possible to get shore leave through agents. (Although I found this differed port by port.)

Mr Wang drove us through a city of stacked containers. (Do you remember series two of The Wire? The container port?) The darkened containers towered above us as far as the eye could see. The roadway was busy in all directions with trucks appearing laden with different coloured boxes like giant Lego pieces.

There was a sudden brake as he came to an intersection with a truck driver bearing down, his truck lights illuminating where we were to go; the reveal of CC Coral, the immense side of her, and the two long-legged, monumental, roll-on-roll-off cranes that fed her.

The immensity was stunning. The overhead lights blared spotlight-yellow and others, super white-bright, and these giants had moving mouth-parts, swinging on cables like titan marionettes. They bit on to a container, (or two side-by-side) whisked the boxes up into the air, and swung them over and into the body of the ship. Limit 55 tones.

Trucks line up in order to wait for the spreader to take a load off
Trucks line up in order to wait for the spreader to take a load off

Lines of trucks bearing their containers, like ants carrying block-eggs, queued for their moment under the mechanical grabber when their load would be lightened. Then they would exit, their place taken straight away by the next pregnant truck. Clearly a pre-programmed sorting system existed, the times of arrival for each truck prearranged, for the containers would be packed with the soonest to be taken off at the top of the heap and all those balanced to keep the ship in trim.

Mr Wang swung his car cautiously around the cranes, not keen about driving so close to them, but he had to get right up to the gangway. We parked and retrieved our baggage. The side of the ship was tall. Gabriel did not hesitate so I followed, just ploughed right on, up those stairs. I was also holding my bag of emergency vegan snacks so I didn’t have two hands. Next time, I would take two hands. The handrail was grubby and greasy. It was steep. Luckily, I had been resting in the hotel. I needed all my puff to get up there with the required nonchalance.

The Coral was 280 metres long. She was being loaded with up to 30,000 tons of cargo. Agent Wang said they made most revenue from the refrigerated containers. He followed me up the gangway.

wing deck entry door
wing deck entry door

Third Officer, Myo Han Oo, wearing hard hat and heavy-duty overalls, nodded us into the office. Agent Wang introduced us to Captain Alessandru and Chief Officer Tudorel. There was some jostling around paper-work – which I’d forgotten I had – but in the end I handed over medical certificate, statement of responsibility, immunisation card, passport; all those precious documents collected months before. The Captain kept everything, even my passport. He wasn’t going anywhere. Neither was I. ‘Thank you’ in Romanian was ‘multumesc’ which sounds like ‘multimesk’.

cargo cruise ticket
cargo cruise ticket

The obliging Messman (they called him Messy but his name was Win Myint Thein from Myanmar) came to carry my bag and we went up in a tiny little lift, checked the Officers Mess where I’d be taking meals, and found my cabin. Furnished in aqua, reminiscent of my Phoenix House digs in Brighton, the cabin featured a bed, desk, drawers, ensuite and a window looking out on a heap of containers. And a picture of a naked lady, maybe by Klimt?

Second passenger cabin CC Coral
Second passenger cabin CC Coral – nice view out to the stern containers

Win showed me how I could go on the side deck outside but explained if I went up or down I’d need to wear the hardhat hanging on the wall. He reassured me I’d be safe enough just to stand and watch the loading. After he left I did a spot of unpacking, made myself at home, and went back out to my wing deck to watch the containers fly through the air like extremely ungainly, inflexible trapeze artists.

The brightly lit people in safety gear doing serious, dangerous work, waved containers onward and signalled successful docking. The spreader (or in my mind; grabber) could reconfigure to fit the size of container. If there were two smaller (twenty-footers) loading on from the same truck, the grabber expanded to pick both up at the same time. And, if a normal container (forty-footer), the mechanism extended to the full width of the crane.

The mysteries of container shipping at Kaohsiung
Kaohsiung cranes on wheels

There were people working up in the cranes. I didn’t spot them until one climbed down from somewhere, walked across the lower level to chat with someone else in a little cupboard perched midsection of the crane structure and then caught a lift to ground level before walking over to the closer crane. A goodly distance.

The stack of building that sat in the rear third of the Coral was seven floors tall and more spacious than I’d guessed when observing similar ships in other harbours (see Harwich, Rotterdam, Hamburg … ). Obviously the Bridge, or Master’s Station, was at the top. The Captain’s rooms and archiving were on floor F. Then there were people like me, the Only Passenger and the Chief Officer, Chief Engineer and the Second Engineer on E.

Floor guide CC Coral
Floor guide CC Coral

These men were all relatively senior, and I might add, from Romania. Most of the other officers were younger and from Myanmar. This was a dual nationality ship, reflected in the Officer’s Mess. There were two tables, one for Romania and one for Myanamar. And a little circular island off towards the kitchen representing UK, Australia and New Zealand with Passenger Number Only One. My floor also had a rec room for coffee, tea and videos (a rather odd collection of action/sci fi movies and Mama Mia.) And a mini-laundry.

Back in the cabin, I skimmed through the folder of safety documents. There was a lot of hazchem, fuel and gas on board. Any number of things might go wrong. Soya beans in their little containers could build up methane. I had an extinguisher right outside my cabin. There was a life-boat just below my eyeline, a life-raft somewhere else and an immersion suit …

How to don an immersion suit
How to don an immersion suit
How to don an immersion suit in pix
How to don an immersion suit in pix

I sincerely hoped I only saw those things in drills. Donning was not something I wished to explore.

Tao 36 said, TO CONCLUDE FIRST INITIATE. I could not stay awake to watch us depart Kaohsiung at 4am but we definitely initiated.

Clean en-suite bathroom on CC Coral
Clean en-suite bathroom on CC Coral
Shower next to the toilet on CC Coral - bio toilet cleaner
Shower next to the toilet on CC Coral – bio toilet cleaner – all sewage treated on board ship before going into the sea

It was not dissimilar to my first night on the train from Moscow. Solitary. I cleaned my teeth using one of the large bottles of filtered water Win had supplied for me. The bed was clean and comfortable. I slept almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Day one at sea. I woke for breakfast at 7am. The first thing I noticed was the pitching of the ship. There was a hefty swell. We rocked and rolled, baby. Managed a normal breakfast. More bottled water.

My dining island looking straight ahead to the salad bar
My dining island looked straight ahead to the cereal and salad bar.
Note no-slip condiment containers.
Officers to my left at two other tables; one for Romania and one for Myanmar.

When quizzed, the First Engineer, Alin, hadn’t heard a weather report. But he did tell me that a nautical mile equalled 1,852 metres and knots were the measurement of speed in nautical miles. He explained the Coral burnt heavy fuel oil which was expensive and dirty. She did not have scrubbers on her chimney stacks so emission levels were high. Whilst in port she burnt relatively clean diesel. Both types of fuel were fed into the engine via different channels. When one was required, the other was simply turned off. There was one engine to drive the propeller. The propeller was 5 metres wide. Three other engines created power to run electricity, air conditioning and the reevers. Still not sure about those reevers.

9th November rainbow from bow spray
9th November rainbow from bow spray – reevers?

Went out for a widow’s walk outside my cabin and saw a rainbow fluttering beside the ship. It was formed; appearing, disappearing and reappearing in the same place, by the spray tossed up from the prow of the ship. The pot of gold was right there.

The Coral pitched and rolled.

I saw a bird. Maybe a gannet?

I read ‘City of Girls’, a jolly and compassionate romp by Elizabeth Gilbert. More sleep.

Tao 37 said, ‘No desire is serenity, and the world settles of itself.’ (I was looking forward to that.)

View from the Officers' rec room port side CC Coral
View from the Officers’ rec room port side CC Coral

What the flight?!! UK to NZ Part V

An English woman, a New Zealander and an Australian walked into a bar.

Wait!

They were all ME!

Augra, Dark Crystal, The Resistance @ BFI, London
Oooops. That’s Aughra.
Victoria Osborne
This is me. Blocking really cool street art in Brighton

And, it being a Brighton bar, I had a delicious vegan roast lunch.

Seven Stars Sunday Roast Brighton
Perfectly cooked greens at Seven Stars. And the rest was pretty good, too! Sunday Roast Brighton

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here’s a menu to help you find your way: http://www.ourrelationshipwithnature.com/overview-overland-uk-2-nz-without-flying-eleven-stages-in-fifty-days/

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

Whenever I saw ‘Contact’ on an email I felt sick. It would be from my shipping company. I would not open it until I was in a safe place and able to deal with their harsh reality. I felt like a moth fluttering against a window; unseen and incomprehensible barrier. Why did their company take such an unreasonable line?

Alexandra and Oceane, my two shipping company women, were brusque. No, there was no way to review the rules. The regulations were not available. I must travel from China to NZ on the British passport.

This put me in a bad position. I needed to enter Australia and NZ on the NZ passport. You would swap midair if you travelled by plane. Passports are only of interest at borders. If I were to arrive in Australia or NZ on my GB passport with no visa I would not be allowed to set foot on either land of my parents. I had no time to organise a visa.

The company’s flat, oft-repeated, position was that as the Captain sent the passenger’s passports forward to the next ports (all of which; on my itinerary, Taiwan, Australia and NZ, would accept an NZ passport without need for visa) their computer said ‘Captain only able to send one passport per passenger’. I had to leave China on the same passport, the one with the visa, that I had used on entry, the British. Why was this so unusual? I couldn’t believe I was the only dual-citizen seafarer, passenger or crew, in the lifetime of sea voyages.

The final straw was the email stating I had two options. Either travel on the GB passport or don’t go. Luckily, I was able to humbly correct them. There was a third way. I could join the ship at Taiwan.

My simple, elegant, time-saving plan was busted. Instead of a quick train from Beijing to catching the ship straight out of China, cleverly designed by me to improve on the Man in Seat 61 journey through all of South-East Asia, I would be seeing a bit more of the world.

All I had to do was organise train from Ningbo to Fuzhou, bus to Pingtan, ferry to Taichung, and train to Kaohsiung. Plus accommodation. I began to lose sleep. I tried to up my salad quota. Another yoga class. I lost things. Disarray.

I contacted Christine at Real Russia! So far she has organised my tickets from Warsaw to Ningbo where I was originally going to catch the CC Coral. Real Russia was the group to help! Could she help get me to Taiwan?

Christine from Real Russia
The lovely and helpful Christine Stadnik from Real Russia
organised most of my tickets.
I personally could not have got this far without Real Russia.

Nope. With the help of their Chinese agents, Real Russia could get me as far as Fuzhou but I would have to get across the water by myself.

I found differing information online. Man in Seat 61 provided link and suggested manipulating timetable to find out which dates the ferry ran from Pingtan to Taiwan (three times a week). Took me ages to work out he meant to check availability of  a return journey. Der. Two of my preferred dates were sold out. It looked like I needed Taiwanese ID to purchase tickets.

Found a travel agent who offered completely different dates. From completely different places.

Sue, fellow mum, met through my son’s school in years past, lived in Taipei. I messaged her with my ferry tribulations. On opposite sides of the Facebook world we looked at the same website and could not make much sense of it. She, having Chinese, was a lovely support as I struggled to understand through the Google translated site, where I was going. Having her there made the trip seem plausible at least.

Back in London again, I stayed in Earl’s Court YHA the night before I visited the Chinese Visa Centre. I liked to imagine all the Australians and Kiwis hanging around there in the fifties and sixties. London adventure time! I was excited to visit the Royal Court Theatre but not so impressed with the play. Accidentally bumped into a very pleasant vegan restaurant called Wulf and Lamb. ‘Run with the wolves, eat with the lambs.’ I ran with their delicious carrot cake – best vegan cake ever.

Outside the Chinese Visa Centre, London
Outside the Chinese Visa Centre, London

There was something exciting, even clandestine, about organising to meet a courier carrying my passport outside the Chinese Application Centre in a street called ‘Old Jewry’. Right next to the Bank of China the red flag fluttered high above the long queue … wait on … very, very extensive queue right around the corner … how long was all this going to take?

The young man gathered the three of us Real Russian customers – the other two were expecting to travel in a couple of days so were even more rushed than me. We waited, poised for China, while the queue disappeared into the building. As soon as the clock struck 9:30, our courier guided us inside, found a bench and handed out our passports. He waited for our number, found us a desk to sit while our paperwork was checked, led us to the next place to be fingerprinted (an electronic plexiglass system like Russia) and we were done. (When I was nine having my fingerprints taken in Hong Kong for the ID card I remember the black ink didn’t come off for days.) The charming young woman wound an elastic band around my two passports without raising a hair. I noted other people in the queues snaking around the room looked exasperated, tired and confused as I sauntered past on my way to the exit.

We were done and dusted, signed, sealed and delivered and it was 9:40 am. Thanks again, Real Russia!

I thought it best to seek culture. Noting ridiculous queues outside British Museum chose instead the London Review of Books shop wherein to drink a delicious Chinese tea called Sichuan Dew from Jing Tea. It did taste as described, grass meadow with flowers. Chef from Frankston. Told her about my Frankstonite barber in Brighton. What were the odds?

Deet, Dark Crystal, The Resistance, @ BFI, London
Deet, Dark Crystal, The Resistance, @ BFI, London

Went to see the World of Thra exhibition at BFI and got into a free Empire magazine showing of the making of the Dark Crystal Resistance. Very happy to watch some keen young puppet captains demonstrating their craft.

Met a woman in a library who planned to fly to Melbourne next month. Suggested she plant some trees to offset her carbon. Perhaps I was judgy. But how else do we change? Flygskam!

Accept I’m going to Taiwan. Here’s an article about the ferry between China and Taiwan.

On return to Brighton, my comfy little student’s den at Kings Education, I watch ten eps of Dark Crystal, The Resistance. (Not all at once!) Beautiful pictures but I couldn’t help wishing for a script editor – someone who could bring some poetry and delete the explanations. But the story was great.

Kings Education Brighton English Teachers Office
My office (well, empty staff room at weekend!)
Signage in Kings Education
Going up

Delightful Sue in Taipei helped me realise I could not book ferry tix from China. More research required. Here’s some Trip Advisor unanswered questions. Attempted to fill out an online form for the ferry to Taiwan. Looks like I have some options. Have made email contact with csf but no promise of ticket as yet.

Begin to worry about different currencies. Should I carry roubles and yuan? Hang on, Chinese money … renmimbi?  More research coming up!

Then, I had the realisation.

I would still be leaving China on the GB passport. I must leave China on the same document, with visa, that I arrived on. For this plan to work, I needed to arrive in Taiwan on my NZ passport. On one voyage. On one ship. Does this sound familiar?

Was? I? Stuffed?

Would the ferry be the same as the cargo ship in not allowing me to swap passports midstream?

Snookered. I realised I might be pinging backwards and forwards between Aust and NZ until someone saw my citizenship extended past the Captain’s say so and rescued me.

More emails and research informed me of the existance of an NZ Endorsment. I could get this sticker in my GB passport. It would alert officials that I was a New Zealander travelling on a different passport. I would not, however, be able to land in Australia.

Remembering Chinese wisdom I sought I Ching. Reading about leaving Danger and Unknown and, finding strong steed, moving to action, success and light. Main message? Keep going. I take it a strong steed is a train or cargo ship? Authentic, wouldn’t you agree?

symbol of hexagons and yin and yang to illustrate I ching
https://astrology.com.au/psychic-readings/oracles/i-ching

Strain beginning to show in right eyeball. Philip Pullman’s first book in Dark Materials, La Belle Sauvage has his character Malcom experience a rainbow shimmering crack in vision. So did I. It did shimmer like a thin new moon to start with and grew larger and more open, shifting to the side. It did not hurt. It was quite wondrous. An internal kaleidoscope. But I took an aspirin in case it became migrane. Tired. Slow. I managed to get through my classes.

Booked massage with expert Charlotte Softly. (If you’re ever in Brighton!)

I was not getting clear messages from NZ as to where to get the NZ Endorsement stuck in my passport. My passports still with China so there was not much point panicking yet but …

There had to be a way through this section. I kept trying. I Ching told me so.

I discovered I could get an NZ Endorsement over the counter. I found an address.

Discovered NZ Endorsement is also known on the website as ‘Endorsement’ and as ‘First Endorsement’ which explains why I couldn’t find it in the drop-down menu.

Lunched with fellow teacher Karolina to pick her brain about Warsaw (Chopin museum?) and record her saying ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘I only eat plants’ in Polish. It is always nice to eat with a friend. Dziękuję Ci.

A working lunch for Karolina

After school, Nurse Ruth gave me the two-injection-NHS-travel-combo of Hep A and Typhoid, Diptheria, Tetanus and Polio. Given I would be travelling on a working cargo ship I could probably expect rough edges and rusty metal.

Travel vaccine card
Thanks, Nurse Ruth! (Don’t worry, I filled it in.)

She was as gentle as a mosquito and, as a bonus, provided me with surprising admiration for my feat. I felt quite chuffed as she exclaimed over my itinerary and even told a passing colleague of my plans. I thought I’d better get some more business cards printed so I can get folk to read this blog! Hi, Nurse Ruth if you’re reading this!

On the train from Brighton to London to pick up passports, threw lukewarm coffee all over my front, marched up and down train to find working toilet with cold tap to rinse, sat with wet (clean) front, raced to Real Russia, picked up one passport – hang on there, young fellow (who is covering for Bill cowering out the back who does not want his photo taken) – where is the other one? In a separate different place. Got it. The GB is now weighty with four glistening new visas. Wonderful.

Raced over to NZ. It was quicker to walk. Not NZ House where my grandfather’s name marks the entry, but a scummy office building, looking like it was built to store archives, somewhere in the back roads with other archive-type buildings. Immigration has been outsourced. NZ shares a floor with Italy which covers an extensive office of waiting rooms and computer screens, board room and long customer counter. NZ is in a cupboard. The NZ nook.

The young woman there, with whom I had a prior email relationship, was alone and unwell. She coughed and sputtered unhappily and called me Madame even though I insisted on calling her by her first name. I handed over form and two passports. I had eighty pounds in cash ready. She examined the form and asked for my visa photo. I pointed out the form stated I merely needed to show her the NZ passport. She had to ring someone to verify. She asked if I intended to travel within 26 days. I said yes, I was leaving the UK within ten days. She asked for ninety-nine pounds. When questioned she said the service fee of nineteen pounds is listed on the internet. I offered the cash. She explained she could only use the card. I pointed out the tick on the form saying I chose to pay in cash. She said that was not possible. I paid by card.

She said the Endorsement would be emailed to me within 26 days.

I pointed to the tick in the form where I had chosen the option of a sticker.

She said I could not have a sticker. No one could ever have a sticker. The NZ immigration office was closed. I could only have an Electronic Endorsement. I would have to print it out and carry it with my GB passport.

I asked if I could get it in a hurry.

She said she could try. She tapped at her computer. She looked up doubtfully and said, ‘Madame, you could write a letter to explain your circumstances.’

I said, ‘Right-oh,’ and dashed off a note, on paper, pleading for haste and mercy to the Immigration Office (presumably not the one that has closed).

All things considered, it would be better for me to be allowed to enter NZ on arrival.

BUT

No sign of it so far. Nor of ticket for little ferry from China to Taiwan.

BUT

Sue forwarded a link to the typhoon warning system!

Travelling overland from the UK to NZ should not be this tricky. Nor this expensive. Flying is too cheap. One of the students in Kings Brighton flew to Cophenhagen for twenty pounds last weekend. Rail is too expensive. It cost me forty-two pounds to travel from Brighton to the YHA Lee Valley.

Contrail above Brighton Pavilion
Bye bye Brighton and thank you!

Next stop, Harwich! I’m on my way!

AND

UPDATE FROM MARCEA IN TOTNES!

Hi again – well it’s the final week before the global climate October Rebellion. Our area is assigned the theme of food and scarcity – and will be a multi faith platform of speakers. I have been told to pay £105 costs for obstructing the highway last April and not to get arrested again for 6 months. I will be looking after arrestees this time as they leave police cells. I’m making skeleton costumes about hunger and to go to fossil fuel conferences in London with placards etc – we have weekly meetings and 3 times more folk have signed up than April – we don’t know how it’ll go but it’ll be a big impact around the world so let’s hope it’ll nudge the politicians in the right direction!

Marcea made patch
Marcea made my patch so I can nail my colours to the mast

AND

Need help?

Do you feel the Earth move? Here’s who was Rebelling last Friday. Where will you be on 7th October?

https://twitter.com/sallymcmanus/status/1178082679020904448?s=20

Part VI continues here.

Flight or … ferry, train, freighter … UK to the Antipodes Part II

This is the story of my journey to a family reunion in New Zealand in January 2020. I’m in the UK. How to travel without burning av gas?

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here’s a menu to help you find your way: http://www.ourrelationshipwithnature.com/overview-overland-uk-2-nz-without-flying-eleven-stages-in-fifty-days/

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

Once I established my travel would be by train and sea, I turned, with some trepidation, to The Man in Seat 61. The Man lists each step of the travel.

I hasten to add the trepidation was not due to any doubt about his veracity and, in fact, I wrote him an email thanking him for making even imagining this journey possible. He wrote back, saying, ‘Enjoy your trip!’ I felt a long way away from actual travel. I didn’t even have a ticket or a visa or immunisations or those … unknown unknowns … like a destination.

First things first. Following his suggestions, I was almost certain I would be travelling from Singapore to Australia by freighter ship. These ships are cargo carriers; they’re already going this way, there’s no song and dance, it’s a working transporter. They take few passengers and those passengers are left to themselves, pretty much. Sounded ideal. The carbon is already spent before I got involved. I would just hitch a ride. (For something like $4,000 Australian dollars).

To begin, The Man advises getting in touch with these lovely people:

http://www.cruisepeople.co.uk/

http://www.travltips.com/cruises/freighter/overview.php

or

http://www.freightercruises.com/

And, I’m not sure how I discovered these kind people:

https://www.globoship.ch/tour/grosse-asien-australien-asien-reise/

Reading through these websites reassured me that freighter travel was safe, comfortable and within my physical capabilities. I sent emails to all concerned and within a week had four quotes from Singapore to Australia.

They were all within much of a muchness but there were certain differences. It will depend on what you want to do and where you want to go as to what you choose. Yes indeed. Just where did I want to go in Australia? Fremantle? Adelaide? The next stop, surprisingly, was Sydney. Then the ships seem to loop back to Melbourne after that.

The Man in Seat 61 blithely recommends travel through several Asian countries to arrive in Singapore. So many different languages, borders and currencies – I imagined basic survival was going to be taxing – especially as a vegan!

I found it difficult to visualise where I would be going. I needed support. I went to the library.

Lonely Planet guides for planning
Off to the Brighton-Hove Library!

Then I called in to international company, STA travel, a travel agency that helped me plan my initial Gap Year – three and a half years ago in Australia. Way back then I booked a flight from Melbourne to Madrid via Hong Kong (to revisit my childhood). A simple year away in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago and working in a school in Catalyna evolved over time, not only because I was reluctant to return south by air, but also because after the Camino I decided to develop a writing project. This project eventually needed research across France, England and Belgium. So much travel, so little time! The Gap Year stretched and stretched …

And then, so did the novel! But that’s another story …

Back to the freighter cruises.

STA travel could offer me a package deal on the TransMongolian (even suitable for old people such as myself) which would take all the worry out of planning and give me some expensive friends to play with along the way. Did I mention my budget?

The kind representative proffered the fat, glossy brochures of both European and Asian holidays – which gave me a plan. Taking them both, I proceeded to the nearest large bookshop and bought a map of the world. I pinned it to my uni-accomodation wall and proceeded to chop up the glossy brochures, liberating pictures of landmarks and cities the train would visit on the TransMongolian Express! Office-craft with destination in mind.

Starting at the UK, I pondered how best to get to Moscow. I loved the Eurostar and I had travelled by ferry between Dover and Calais and also between Santander and Plymouth. Humming and haaaing and using the ecosia search engine often, I saw it was time for a new ferry. This time from Harwich (pronounced ‘Arrrich because it’s England) to Hook of Holland. I’d already visited Amsterdam, time for Rotterdam.

Three years ago I journeyed with a Eurail pass to many of the bigger cities, such as Paris and Munich. Now I particularly wanted to visit Hamburg – on the Camino I had met many argumentative people who told me that Hamburg was the most beautiful city in the world. Really? I was nonplussed. And what about Sydney harbour? You can’t tell me a little old German town can beat the home of the Eora people? Really? THE Harbour Bridge? That Opera House? Oh, they insisted, it could. What of the glory of the two rivers, the artificial lakes, the churches … I wanted to go to Hamburg and see this magnificence for myself. Sticking up more little signs I added Berlin and then Warsaw. There was a nice direct line beginning to happen. Straight ahead to Moscow and just under a week to Beijing. Simple. Then I had to get to Singapore.

Map of half a world showing possible route from UK to Oz
First draft of overland trip from the UK to Oz

Soon I had a neatly-labelled wall of the world. I could see for myself where I was going. It made a big difference to my thinking. No longer a world away, here were colourful representations of these places right in front of me. I examined the route with interest. Only, as I stared at the journey, it began to look very complicated. I did not want to be a tourist. I wanted to be a commuter.

I watched YouTube videos of the train journey to China and, thence, most particularly, the border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. What a shemozzle. It sounds as if a new trainline has now cleared that particular blockage but it did cause me more than one second or third thought. Thailand. Vietnam.

On the Camino Frances I met Kay, a true intrepid traveller, who had been on the TransSiberian more than once. Both times with friends, she had experienced warm temperatures as well as a winter sojourn. She had stopped in many places, particularly Lake Baikal where there is an annual ice festival

She thought it nothing to cross half the planet by train. ‘It’s easy,’ she said.

Another intrepid Australian woman, Narelle, told me, if in doubt, one should just pretend to be invincible. ‘And you will be.’ She reminded me of my typing teacher from the early 80s in Sydney. She was a small elderly lady with terribly died hair. One day as she attempted to straighten my paper or point out some error in my typing ways (there were many) I noticed the tattooed numbers on her arm. I paid attention to her. She told me to sit up straight, hold my wrists correctly and pretend to be a typist. I was an acting student at the time and she thought I should make the most of this experience by ‘acting like an efficient secretary’. It would probably work. In these mindful days she would probably say, ‘Be the person you want to be.’ I sat up straight.

Okay. I’m an efficient secretary and an invincible traveller. If I can walk across Spain then I can sit on my bum in a train for a few days!

Yet, I was not sure I wanted to go to Cambodia without seeing Ankor Watt or the Bayon Temple and I did not want to buzz through Thailand without exploring … aaaaaaah the world is so BIG! There’s so much to see. Budget. Time.

Somehow the messages I was getting from the freighters became mixed up as I dithered over routes and final destinations. I started to see that if I really wanted to be in New Zealand in January what was I doing going to Sydney or Fremantle? There were curls and twists in the different itineraries. Every day at sea gets more expensive. I began to imagine landing in Fremantle and catching the Indian-Pacific train across the Nullabor to visit my sister in Adelaide. That would add a mere twelve hundred dollars to the budget. But how cool would it be …

I got more and more confused until I contacted the company that most of the agents seemed to be quoting about directly.

Voyages en Cargo by CMA CGM

Once I established I was speaking to a real person (two, in fact) and this was a real company with a real address (they had recently changed both) I was able to proceed. I made a decision.

https://voyagesencargo.com/lines/cargo-ship-travel-asia

Now my pin board was rearranged.

I would no longer be travelling UK to Australia via Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore. I would be going straight from China. And I would be travelling to New Zealand.

Map of the world showing route across Europe towards NZ
Now China to Taiwan to Australia to Auckland

I had a plan. I paid the deposit. I filled in the forms.

I just needed to organise a medical certificate. Pop in and see a doctor.

But.

I couldn’t get past the guardians of the various reception areas. Or email enquiry forms.

‘Not in this medical centre.’ ‘We don’t do that here.’ ‘Our doctors don’t do certificates.’ ‘Not here, sorry.’

I couldn’t even pay for it. One surgery gave me the NHS forms to fill out, then when I returned them, realised I was only a short term visitor and gave me the short form. She took it, smiling and nodding. The next day I popped back in to hear her say, ‘The doctors are not prepared to fill in the certificate,’ as she handed me back my carefully filled out NHS forms. She would not register me in this surgery.

How was I going to be able to see a doctor in Brighton?

I could not proceed with my ticket purchase until I had that certificate. I tried writing to my Australian family doctor (they do not use email) with no reply. Long shot. After all, I had not seen them in over three and a half years.

Now what?

Access to the vessel is dizzying [préciser la hauteur pour les grands navires], the passenger shall be able to climb the access gangway with luggages on his/her own.]

Some passages in a container vessel are narrow or hard to access. It is essential to ensure the passenger has full mobility. The passenger may have to promptly don an immersion suit if need be.

If the passenger is on regular medication, the latter shall bring on board medication in sufficient quantity for the length of the journey increased by fifteen days taking in account the uncertainties of the sea passage such as weather conditions, maritime accident, deviation.