Three Days at Sea (2019)
It took a couple of days to sail from Alter do Chao to our next stop, Devil’s Island. These were “sea days” in that we spent the whole time on the ship, but most of the time we were still in the Amazon, so we guess these were really river days, rather than sea days. On March 14 we sailed toward the mouth of the Amazon on the north side of the Ihla de Marajo, the largest river island in the world: it is a little larger than Switzerland. We had sailed into the Amazon along the Para river near Belem, which runs along the south of Marajo. Marajo has a population of more than 450,000 and almost as many water buffalo as people (the police ride them on patrol). Here is a picture of the riverbank taken that morning, but we aren’t sure any more whether it is Marajo or the opposite river bank.
On this day we crossed the equator for the fourth and last time on this voyage. We crossed the line as we sailed past the city of Macapa on the north bank of the Amazon, across from the island. This city of about 500,000 calls itself “the capital of the middle of the world” because the equator runs through it and they have built a monument on the spot where the equator passes through called “Marco Zero.” We didn’t see the monument from the ship, but we passed the equator there anyway.
There is a navy tradition dating back at least 300 years of initiating sailors making their first crossing of the equator. It’s pretty silly, but still fun. The novices, called pollywogs, are brought before King Neptune and his spouse (Queen Neptune?), where they are charged with heinous but hilarious “crimes,” then judged by the ship’s senior officers with a thumbs up or thumbs down. They are forced to kiss a fish then lie on a table while they are slimed with brightly colored yuck. If the judgment is thumbs down, they are forced to jump into the pool; if the judgment is thumbs up they go and side on the side of the pool (those who get thumbs down have the advantage of having the slime rinsed off). After surviving the ceremony the “pollywogs” become “shellbacks,” and aren’t supposed to have to do this again. This is supposed to be done on the first crossing of the equator, but our Captain saved it until the last crossing, apparently unafraid of reprisals from an easily offended Neptune. The passengers got to watch, rather than participate, even if this was their first crossing, and a large crowd turned out to watch the fun under a hot sun.
Polliwogs kneel before King Neptune while the charges are read, then must kiss the fish (while everyone chants “kiss the fish!”).
In the early days the KIng Neptune ceremony was much rougher than today. On Captain Cook’s 1768 voyage to the South Pacific crew members who had not crossed the equator before had to give up their wine allotment for four days or else be ducked three times into the ocean. Joseph Banks, the ship naturalist, recorded that some came out of the ocean “grinning and exulting in their hardiness” while others “were almost suffocated”. On the second voyage of the HMS Beagle in 1832 young Charles Darwin was one of the novices (called griffins at that time).. The griffins were assembled on a dark and hot lower deck, then led by “four of Neptune’s constables” one at a time, blindfolded, up on deck while “buckets of water were thundered all around.” Darwin, the first victim, was “placed on a plank, which could be easily tilted up into a large bath of water – They then lathered my face & mouth with pitch and paint, & scraped some of it off with a piece of roughened iron hoop. – a signal being given I was tilted head over heels into the water, where two men received me & ducked me . . most of the others were treated much worse, dirty mixtures being put in their mouths & rubbed on their faces” . As late as World War II US Navy ship ceremonies included beatings with wet fire hoses and poking with an electrified piece of metal.
Compared with all that today’s ceremony was pretty tame, with no injuries and a lot of fun. After kissing the fish the pollywogs were led to long metal tables where they had to lie down and be slimed by attendants wearing surgical attire. On one side of the pool the slime was mostly pink and on the other blue. The slimers were very enthusiastic in their work.
After being slimed, those receiving thumbs down from the officers were mercifully “helped” into the pool, while those who received thumbs up had to sit on the side & bake in the sun fully slimed.
As we neared the end they were running out of pollywogs faster than slime, so some people received entire tubfulls.
King Neptune read a final proclamation and he and his consort walked out, signaling the end of the ceremony. As you can imagine, the pool was closed for hours for cleaning and restoration. Everybody received a certificate signed by the Captain and “Neptune Rex” that we had crossed the equator (the certificate inexplicably left out our first crossing in Ecuador).
March 15 was Mary’s birthday. When you have a birthday on a HAL ship a small birthday cake is provided after dinner and the waiters and other dining room staff gather around your table and sing the Indonesian birthday song. This is done with great enthusiasm, including beating on the bottom of pots with wooden spoons. With only 365 days in a year and almost three times that many passengers, this can be heard just about every night and often twice. Mary’s birthday was no exception, although an added touch was that this was a gala night so everyone was dressed up. We had the cake sliced nine ways so there would be some for our waiters too.
Before dinner we listened to some lovely chamber music by George & Agnes (Adagio) in the Explorers’ Lounge and we ended that night with a difficult to identify towel animal. During the afternoon in the Lido the food artist was active.
We are going to cheat a little here in the name of efficiency. The Indonesian Crew Show was presented on March 20, five days later and after several interim stops, but we are going to include it here because it was a sea day and because presenting it out of order will save posting an additional episode. We had seen the Filipino Crew Show much earlier in the voyage, https://baderjournal.com/2019/03/06/antofagasta-chile-2019, while we were in Chile. The Indonesian crew had a band and a singer who, if we remember correctly, doubled as Master of Ceremonies.
There was a performance we have seen before in which the participants wear white gloves and kneel down in a row on some cushions. Then they do synchronized movements to the music. First every other one does a movement with hands up while the other half do one with hands on the floor, then they reverse. Perhaps the pictures will explain it better.
The solo singer who opened the show came back for a number or two with the band. He was quite a showman.
The last performance involved most of the Indonesians on stage along with several people from the audience. Each had a wooden contraption that emitted one note when shaken. Some kind of musical notation was on a plaque that was mounted on a stand in front of them, which indicated when each note was to be played. Songs were played by people shaking their instruments in turn. The passengers then left the stage and the Indonesian performers all took their final bows.