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The NCCT and Me!

 

Hello everybody. It’s good to be back. That might sound a strange way to start this week’s blog, but I confess that the last two were written at the same time, as I had been granted some paid holiday from my delivering job, and happily took advantage of it. I have been ‘on holiday’ from Saturday 3rd October until yesterday (Monday 19th), but I didn’t want there to be a pause in the blogs, and so I wrote the last two together, and here I am, back on schedule. When I’m on the ship, I am often asked what I do for a holiday. I think the implication is sometimes that I probably don’t need one as my job involves being on holiday! However, when those who don’t cruise ask me what a Cruise Director does, I tend to reply that it is akin to attending a constant party, but that it is in your own home, so rather than enjoy it, you are forever on the lookout for anything that might go amiss. As for a proper holiday, the most recent I can remember was back in 2004 when my then girlfriend and I went to stay with a couple of passengers in Portugal. Since then, my time off between cruises has been spent visiting friends and families and having days out, rather than what most would think of as a ‘normal’ holiday. These past couple of weeks, I did a few days of volunteering on the railway, I visited friends in Bournemouth, Barnham and Brighton, I called in on my parents, and I spent a wonderful week in west Wales. I only set foot in the counties of Gwynedd and Powys, as they were open to visitors, and we were welcomed with socially distanced open arms by all the locals. You won’t be surprised to know that a few steam railways were involved, but the greatest achievement was on Wednesday last week when, for the first time, Hazel and I climbed Mount Snowdon. I had been up once before – on 19th August 1989 – with my parents and brother. On that occasion we had taken the train up and down. This time, Hazel and I walked from Llanberis to the summit and back again.

 

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 On the summit of Mount Snowdon on Wednesday 14th October   

 

I would love to tell you all more, and show you photos of my adventures, but I did promise to finally finish off the Cape Verde story, and explain the link between Fogo, Dominica, Guatemala and St Kilda. Suffice to say, I feel blessed to have had the chance to enjoy a little holiday, and take advantage of the wonderful hospitality and surprisingly good weather in one of the most gloriously beautiful parts of our country. I feel even more blessed now that the Welsh Assembly have announced that no more visitors will be allowed from this Friday!

 

So… where was I? Oh yes, still in Cape Verde. The last island I visited was Fogo, and it has left a lasting impression on me. As mentioned in the previous blog, we would be dropped off in Fogo in the early morning with half of the passengers, whilst the other half visited Brava. The ship then returned late afternoon to collect us. As with the other volcanic islands, we embarked our minivans and headed up the cobbled roads through lust vegetation. As we ascended the island, the volcanic formation of the island became more noticeable. Dr Chris Edwards was again in his element as he explained what we were standing on whenever there was a break in the journey. Seeing this photo from one of our stops has made me laugh out loud…

  

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 A young souvenir seller in Fogo       

 

Understandably, the local souvenir sellers knew where we would be pausing in order to enjoy the views, and they had a faster vehicle than we did. As a result, they would be ready prior to our arrival. At one of the stops, we were looking out on the round huts built from volcanic stone that we were occasionally passing. The locals had made models of these to sell. Whilst all the adult vendors were showing their wares to our passengers, the lad shown in the photo just stood there with his arm outstretched and one model hanging from his hand. One of passengers sweetly tried to engage him in conversation, even using some Portuguese, but he just stood there and his expression never altered. Eventually, the lady motioned that she would buy his solitary model and he moved his other arm to collect the money. Those of us watching thought that would be his job done for the day, but with perfect comedy timing, as soon as the purchaser turned away, he brought out another model that he had been hiding on the inside of the crash barrier and continue his unique selling technique. A true Del Boy in the making!

 

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One of the round huts made from volcanic rock that had been modelled    

 

We continued into Fogo Natural Park, and I realised that we were now inside the caldera of the volcano. The volcano had only erupted a year before, on 24th November 2014, and some of the Expedition Team had been to Fogo prior to that most recent eruption, and were very excited to be able to return. (The date on the photos I am showing here is 2nd October 2015). You could clearly see the black twisted lava deposits as we were very carefully driven around the edge of the lava field to be able to witness geology at its most raw. Eventually, after much delicate negotiation of roads that no longer existed, we looked out on a painful sight… the village of Chã das Caldeiras. It might seem crazy to have a village built inside a caldera, but when you consider that ships sail into Santorini without concern, perhaps it is not so crazy after all. 1,200 people lived in the village, but the eruption destroyed over 90% of the 220 houses that comprised the settlement. From our vantage point, you could see the rooftops of the buildings amidst the lava field.

 

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The remains of part of Chã das Caldeiras, with the rooftops visible in the distance 

 

However, not to take such natural disasters lying down, the locals had already begun to fight back. Due to the volcanic soil, the village was the only place in Cape Verde that grew significant quantities of grapes and produced export-quality wine. The Agricultural Collective within the village had already responded and, with overseas assistance, a new restaurant had been built on top of the now stable lava field. Yesterday, I renewed my house insurance, and I always have difficulty doing so because the Royal Military Canal is about 60 yards from my back garden. I can only imagine the reaction of insurance companies if someone was to ring and mention that their building was inside a caldera and built on top of a lava field! We had a sumptuous lunch in the new facility, and were told about the Cape Verdean wines and enjoyed a few samples.

  

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The new restaurant atop the lava field 

 

At the end of the lunch, I was delighted to be asked by our local guides to receive a few words of thanks. Slightly surprised by this, given I hadn’t done anything to warrant praise, I stood up and waited to hear what was to be said. It transpired that, after the eruption of the year before, the parts of the village that remained had been cut off from the main school in Fogo as the road was no longer passable by regular car. I was informed that the local authorities were not keen to fund transportation for the school children, as they were trying to depopulate the area. However, understandably, the eruption had simply brought the community more together and they were determined to rebuild and go from strength to strength. The major hurdle was finding a way that the children could reach their school. On hearing this, the trustees of the Noble Caledonia Charitable Trust had stepped forward and donated £4,000 to cover the cost of providing suitable transport for six months, until a road could be created, so that the children could continue to attend school. I was absolutely thrilled to be able to receive their words of thanks, and on our way back to the town we passed the school minibus, emblazoned with the logo of the NCCT, making its way back to the village. All the children waved frantically and I felt very proud to be part of a company that truly makes a positive impact on the places we visit.

  

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 Photo from NCCT archive of the Fogo kids on their minibus 

  

We made our way back towards the main town on Fogo, and visited the Municipal Museum of São Felipe. Still feeling full from our lunch, we were offered a delicious array of homemade baked treats by a wonderful lady who had created them all using her huge wood-burning stove. As we nibbled on said treats, we could see ‘Hebridean Sky’ heading across from Brava in order to collect us. It really had been a wonderful day on Fogo, and I sincerely hope that the island folk are continuing to do well. They may not be on the main tourist route, but they are much the better off for it. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Cape Verde local team who were with us on every visit. They even came with us to the airport to see us off. One day we will be back!

 

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The Cape Verde local shore agents who help to make our visits so memorable 

 

By now, you have probably worked out the connection between Fogo, Dominica, St Kilda and Guatemala. They are all places where I have seen the work of the Noble Caledonia Charitable Trust in action. My own fundraising efforts have been to always conduct a Sunday Service and put the collection towards the NCCT. This simple gesture has raised thousands of pounds in the years that I have been doing it, and I’m thrilled to have been able to assist in this way. I think I first stumbled upon the work of the NCCT when I visited Livingstone on the Caribbean side of Guatemala with ‘Serenissima’ back in February 2015. After an epic and beautiful boat ride, we arrived at the Ak’ Tenamit project, which had been founded in 1992. The idea was to encourage the local population to believe in education, especially for young ladies, and help them to help themselves. It has been a resounding success and the youngsters were thrilled to show us around and practice their English skills. They had a little souvenir shop with handmade crafts, and I purchased a knitted dinosaur for my mother from two charming young ladies.

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Buying a dinosaur from two young ladies at the Ak’ Tenamit Project in Guatemala in 2015

  

The following year we returned to Livingstone, and again we visited the project. I thought it would be a nice idea to print out the photo I had taken the previous year, and see if I could find the ladies and give them a copy. Having enjoyed the tour of the facility, I asked our young male guide if he recognised the ladies in my photograph. He laughed and led me to a large straw-roofed hut in another part of the campus. He went inside and I could hear a large amount of giggling. The two young ladies then appeared and were amazed to see me. We had our photos taken again and, with the manager of the project there, I handed over a donation from the NCCT to help support the work they are doing.

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Visiting the Ak’ Tenamit Project in 2016. The lady with me and the lady laughing in the doorway are the two from the photo taken the previous year

 

 Another NCCT donation that I took part in was when we visited St Kilda on Sunday 28th June 2015. As mentioned before, ever since I became a Cruise Director in 2006, I have always conducted a Sunday Service on every cruise I have been on (unless there is someone else who is keen to conduct it). I really enjoy the opportunity to take a step back and reflect on what we have seen and heard prior to the service. I also relish playing the hymns on the piano, always ending with “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”. On the occasion of this visit to St Kilda, it happened to fall on a Sunday. I’ve always had good relations with the National Trust for Scotland, who own the archipelago, as I was part of the team that ran their chartered cruises from 2008 onwards. I decided to chance my arm and I called the warden on the island and asked if, given it was a Sunday, I could be allowed to conduct the Sunday Service inside their own restored church. The warden confirmed that she had no problem with it whatsoever, and would be delighted to see the building used for something it was designed for. As usual with St Kilda, the weather wasn’t great. However, I hatched a plan and we put the electronic keyboard and its stand in a sleeping bag and ferried them ashore in the zodiac. I had finished setting up, and can remember standing there with a plug in my hand looking for a socket. Yes, it wasn’t my finest hour of common sense! The island had been abandoned by the remaining inhabitants in 1930, so the chances of finding a three-pin plug socket in the wall of the church were rather slim. A quick radio call to the Chief Engineer and what seemed to be the world’s longest extension cable was sent ashore. We found a plug socket in the neighbouring modern building and ran the lead through the window. Former Royal Marine Chris Lockie had to all-but shimmy across the roof of the church and lower the cable through the window. With about 45 seconds until the start of the service, I pressed the power button on the keyboard and it lit up. I’ve never felt quite so grateful! Ten minutes before the service, I had rung the ship’s bell that stands outside the entrance to the church, to advise our passengers in case they wished to attend. The island warden later told me that it was a touching moment for her to witness the passengers descending from the hillsides and coming into the church, as that is exactly how it would have looked all those years ago.

 

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The Sunday Service taking place inside the church on St Kilda

 

 The church was full and the collection was exceedingly generous. Whilst preparing for the service, I had noticed quite a lot of damp on the back wall of the church. After a quick phone call to Head Office, I was able to confirm that half of the collection would go towards the restoration of the church, with the other half going towards other NCCT projects. After the cheque had been sent to the National Trust for Scotland, I received a very kind letter in response, thanking us for having the initiative to use the church, and for the generosity of the donation.

 

Lastly, but by no means least, the final NCCT project I have had direct involvement with was the re-supplying of books to the public library in Portsmouth on the Caribbean island of Dominica. The island was a direct hit for Hurricane Maria in 2017 and the clear-up has been ongoing ever since. The library in Portsmouth, which serviced the entire northern half of the island, lost its roof and over 3,000 books and almost all of its equipment. Simply by having passengers donate paperbacks that they had brought on the cruise and finished reading, we were able to offer substantial donations to their temporary mobile library. The NCCT then stepped in with a £10,000 donation towards the rebuilding of the library, and this was further topped up by the generosity of the passengers.

 

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Pam Le Noury delivering books to the temporary mobile library in Portsmouth, Dominica

 

 To summarise, cruising can occasionally have a bad press, and understandably so. However, as with any industry, everybody shouldn’t be tarnished with the same brush. Many will have their own views on the mega-liners which seem to be increasing in size every year. However, I feel so proud to be part of a cruise line in Noble Caledonia that operates small ships, and have a team on board and ashore who actively seek out local projects that we can assist. No wonder we are always welcomed back with open arms wherever we go. No doubt, after what we are all going through this year, those arms will be extended even further when we next return!

 

More details about current and past projects of the Noble Caledonia Charitable Trust can be found here

 

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