NEWS

March 2018

What a bloody shitty start to the year.

I left for the Amazon on the 7th January on CMV’s Magellan!!! I was booked on P&O’s Oriana on a glorious 50-night USA/Caribbean cruise, which had overnights at Bermuda, New Orleans and Key West. Three odd weeks before leaving I was sent a text by a friend to ask if I’d heard the news. My reply wasn’t polite and I was furious that P&O hadn’t informed me. My email came the following day offering four alternatives, most of which were already sold out or exorbitant.

I’d booked car parking as well as ten private tours and they all had to be hurriedly cancelled. That left me sitting in England for the winter and that didn’t really appeal. My options were slightly limited, as I had to be back in England by 24 February and I didn’t want a seven-night trip. The usual suspects were available but the Canary Islands aren’t that warm n January and I wanted tropical without flying. There were two single rooms showing on Cruise & Maritime’s website and the price had been halved. You know what they say… better the devil you know!!

The 42-night adventure took in the Amazon and Caribbean and having done the exact itinerary three times before I knew what to expect. To be honest I wanted hot weather and a rest but things didn’t get off to a great start when I was told I would be denied boarding if I brought my three wheeler scooter with me. I explained I didn’t want to use it on the ship but in the ports. My illness hasn’t been the greatest of late and my mobility is definitely not what it was last year. The little scooter folds down and fits under the bed in the cabin but that wasn’t good enough for the company. I could only bring it if I had an adapted cabin.

It’s quite ridiculous. I don’t need a disabled bathroom so why take it away from someone who might really need it. While I quite understand that the ship doesn’t want dozens of assisted walkers roaming the decks, I had given my assurance that this wouldn’t be the case and offered to put that promise in writing. I don’t know why I wasted my breath.

In my opinion Cruise & Maritime are the worst cruise line selling to the British market and it’s a shame as Magellan has the potential to be a great ship if some money was thrown at it. While I could combat the lack of heating in the cabin by bringing blankets and solving the lack of a fried by bringing on a mini-one, I cannot change the seating on deck to make it somewhat less painful.

The mini-fridge was under £20.00 and was a lifesaver. I have to take medication in the night and the company expected me to get up, get dressed and go down to reception at 2.00am every night. Having to take medication isn’t their fault so I didn’t mind going to that extra trouble and cost to resolve the issue.

We left Tilbury early evening and I was pleased to see old friends, CD Tony Parkins, Hotel Director Marco Scavuzzo, Guest Service Manager Olga Klunik and Financial Controller Iaon Petrutiu together with his new bride Lauren Simpson who has been promoted to Assistant Cruise Director since we saw each other last year. My god if that team had been on for last year’s world cruise, what a different story it would have been. We had more entertainment on the six-week trip than on the whole 4 month. Tony even gave up his personal time off to give is an hour of music on deck for a few days with him acting as J. it was great and just what people needed to break the day up.

There could be much more, I mentioned the shop doing a fashion show on deck as it would have been great fun for the passengers and it would have made them more money but they couldn’t be bothered. The woman said it had been in the daily paper but she didn’t get any volunteers. I keep all my papers and needless to say I caught her out in her own lie. I could have easily rounded up passengers to act as models. The bottom line is they are lazy; no one wants to give any extra. Mind you I suppose on their wages there is no incentive to shine.

We were very unlucky with the weather this time with lots of rain in the Amazon and four out of the five Caribbean ports. It stated straight out of Tilbury with Force 10 winds and 9 meter swells lasting four days. It was so bad for a bunch of passengers that they opted to fly home from Antigua. Once we were in South America and heading for our first port Santarem, the whole ship were camped out on deck unaware that we were about to get a dose of bugtitis!! It was rather like invasion of the giant longhorn beetle

 

Many people assume that mosquitoes, and bugs more generally, are a ubiquitous presence in places like the Amazon. To be sure, they do thrive in the hot, humid and densely vegetated environment of the tropical rainforest. In fact, there are estimated to be around 30 million species of insects residing in the Amazon, encompassing everything from wasps, beetles, dragonflies and ants, to mosquitoes, moths, caterpillars, grasshoppers, spiders and plenty more besides.

However, the reality is that you’ll encounter only a very small proportion of these critters on an Amazon River cruise, and an even smaller number pose any real danger or annoyance. There are also significantly fewer bugs around in certain regions of the Amazon or during certain times of the year, something to bear in mind if you’re particularly bug-phobic. In fact if you read the Health organization’s warnings it would put you off stepping off any form of transport in Brazil.

Apart from the bog standard malaria, rabies is found in dogs, bats and other mammals in this country and Dengue is transmitted by mosquitoes in tropical and subtropical areas of the world so no great surprise there but did you know about Chagas disease, which is caused by a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. It is spread by insects known as triatomine or “kissing bugs”,

Chikungunya is caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes. It is occurs in Africa, India, South-East Asia and the Western Pacific. Preventing mosquito bites is the only way to reduce your risk of infection. Duh!!

Hookworm is a parasite that can infect humans in countries with poor sanitation and a warm, moist climate. Hookworm larvae penetrate through intact skin (such as walking with bare feet), and can go on to cause severe gastrointestinal and skin infections.

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease caused by a parasite transmitted by sand flies. Roughly 10 million people in the world are currently infected. Its most serious form is known as kala-azar, which is fatal in 95% of cases.

Lymphatic filariasis or elephantiasis is a tropical disease caused by parasitic worms spread by infected mosquitoes. Although most cases are symptomless, the disease can occasionally cause severe swelling in the legs, arms and genitals.

Plague…. Yes I did say plague. This is a serious infection caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis. Humans can catch the infection via infected fleas or by inhalation. Untreated plague can be rapidly fatal, so diagnosis and early treatment are essential.

River Blindness (Onchocerciasis) is an eye and skin disease caused by a worm (filaria). It is transmitted to humans via repeated bites of a blackfly. Symptoms include severe itching, disfiguring skin conditions and visual impairment, which can lead to permanent blindness. No vaccine is available and prevention has been via public health insecticide programs to eradicate blackfly larvae.

Bilharzia (schistosomiasis) is a common, serious infection caused by a parasite found in rivers, streams and lakes in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and South America. The parasite infects people by penetrating their skin then developing in the person’s blood stream. Avoid paddling, swimming and washing in fresh water – only swim in the sea or chlorinated swimming pools. Boil or filter water before drinking – as the parasites could burrow into your lips or mouth if you drink contaminated water.
Avoid medicines sold locally that are advertised to treat or prevent schistosomiasis – these are often either fake, substandard, ineffective or not given at the correct dosage. Don’t rely on assurances from hotels, tourist boards or similar that a particular stretch of water is safe – there have been reports of some organisations downplaying the risks.

Soil-transmitted helminthes. Wearing enclosed footwear in undeveloped areas is important to prevent hookworm. Hookworms penetrate through intact skin such as walking with bare feet, and can cause severe gastrointestinal and skin infections.

Traveller’s diarrhoea affects roughly 20-50% of overseas travellers. It is caused by ingesting contaminated food or water. The bacteria that trigger the illness may appear harmless to the local population, usually because they have developed immunity to them. Symptoms include abdominal bloating, cramps, nausea, fevers and diarrhoea. Avoid contaminated foods such as raw or peeled vegetables, undercooked meats, unpasteurised dairy products and food from street vendors.
Avoid drinking or brushing your teeth with tap water and only buy bottled water to drink. Avoid drinks that contain ice and avoid using tap water to wash your fruit and vegetables

Tuberculosis is a disease caused by infection with the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis can damage a person’s lungs or other parts of the body and cause serious illness. There is a vaccine available, which confers partial protection. Speak to your doctor to determine if this is recommended.

Zika virus is a mild febrile illness, spread via the bite of an infected mosquito or by having sex with an infected person. Studies have shown that Zika virus infection in a pregnant woman can be transmitted to the baby, causing congenital problems such as microcephaly. The best way to prevent Zika is to protect yourself from mosquito bites. No shit Sherlock!!!

So there you have it… when are you booking?

So the sun has just set in Santarem and within minutes the deck was awash with moths, beetles, cicadas, crickets, and grasshoppers and when I say awash we’re talking thousands. Most passengers screamed and ran for cover whilst us diehards stayed where we were and ignored the assault. The other trips have taught me that this only occurs as we enter the river but after Santarem they almost disappear, most probably as a lot of the main ports are modern with the rainforest destroyed to make way for buildings, homes and shops.

The nicest port is Alter do Chao and it’s annoying that we only get a few hours there. It was torrential on arriving and it didn’t help that we had to tender. Famous for its sandy beaches which only appear during the dry season, Alter do Chão is a relaxed, laid-back destination which combines jungle, history and beach experiences into one charming package. Here are some interesting facts you probably didn’t know about this hidden Brazilian gem:

1. The most famous beach of Alter do Chão is the Ilha do Amor, voted by the Guardian as the “best beach of Brazil” – although it only exists for 6 months of the year!
2. The reason for this is that the beach is actually a river beach, or more accurately a lagoon beach – it disappears as the waters rise in the rainy season.
3. The Ilha do Amor (Love Island), where the famous beach is located, is actually a sand spit rather than an island which almost encircles the Lagoa Verde (Green Lagoon) dividing it from the river Tapajós.
4. Winter in the Amazon is different from winter elsewhere in Brazil and refers to the rainy season from December to May; summer is the rest of the year.
5. In dry season there are no mosquitoes and in winter there are far fewer than on the Amazon, due to the composition of the river Tapajós.
6. There are waves on the beaches, but no tide. The waters take over the island – this is because the level of the Tapajos River rises in the rainy season.
7. Waters are blue green in colour rather than the muddy brown of the Amazon River.
8. The guy paddling knee-high in water up and down the beach pulling his cart behind him is the official ice cream salesman.


9. Fish dishes on the “island” are tasty and very good value – around £2.50 for Pirarucu na manteiga, a local fish with no bones cooked in butter with tomato onion sauce, and it comes accompanied with all the typical side dishes.
10. Everyone puts tables and chairs in the water whilst barefooted waiters run around bringing food and a constant supply of “stupidly cold” beer.

My main aim was to buy bananas as the ship had run out weeks ago, but of course. I was on a mission and armed with 60 of the yellow fruit I headed back to the dryness of the ship. Why did I buy so many? Because our next stop was Iles du Salut, better known as Devil’s Island. The Salvation's Islands (French: Îles du Salut, so called because the missionaries went there to escape plague on the mainland; are a group of small islands of volcanic origin about 6.8 miles off the coast of French Guiana in the Atlantic Ocean.

The islands were part of a notorious penal colony from 1852 onwards for only the worst criminals of France. The main part of the penal colony was a labor camp stretched along the border with Dutch Guiana, which today is Suriname. Île Royale was for the general population of the worst criminals of the penal colony to roam about in moderate freedom due to the difficulty of escape from the island. Île Saint-Joseph was for the worst of those criminals to be punished in solitary confinement in silence and for extra punishment in darkness of the worst of the worst criminals of the penal colony. Devil's Island was for political prisoners, including Dreyfus in 1895-1899 after his conviction in metropolitan France for treason.

This penal colony for the very worst criminals of France was controversial for it had a reputation for harshness and brutality. Prisoner upon prisoner violence was common, tropical diseases would kill many others, and a small core of broken survivors would return to France to tell how horrible it was and scare other potential criminals straight. This system was gradually phased out and has been completely shut down since 1953. Nowadays the islands are a popular tourist destination. The islands were featured in the novel Papillon, by Henri Charrière. He was imprisoned there for 9 years.

While all the tourists padded up the steep hill to see the remnants of the prisons, Michele went off to the tight and up a trail I’d discovered a couple of trips ago. It took me about an hour to reach the clearing and getting down on the ground I made myself comfortable. It didn’t take long for my prey to smell their reward for showing themselves and one by one I was surrounded my dozens of monkeys. It’s a wonderful experience being totally alone and having a one-on-one with these spectacular creatures. I love them and spent nearly two hours there until my lure ran out.

For those that are not as adventurous, you can head up to the main restaurant, which is a wooden platform with a roof and if you have bit the monkeys will also come out. It doesn’t suit me as I have to vie with dozens of tourists all trying to get that perfect picture so you end up getting someone’s limbs in shot if not their phone. The other advantage I had is seeing agouti, an animal that looks a little like a really large guinea pig. Its coarse hair is covered with an oily and stinky substance that acts like a raincoat. The hair is longest on its rump. The agouti has five toes on its front feet and three on the hind feet. It walks on its toes, not flat-footed like many rodents, giving the agouti a dainty look. Although it is hard to see it, the agouti does have a tail: it is very small, looking like a dark jellybean stuck on the animal's rump!

Just like other rodents, agoutis have teeth designed to gnaw on very hard items, with one pair of sharp incisors in the front of the mouth. These are the teeth they use to chew through tough items like nutshells. The layers of enamel on their teeth are twisted in a way that makes them much stronger. Brazil nuts may be hard for us to crack, but they pose no problem for agoutis! This sturdy rodent is the only animal that can crack open the hard outer shell of a Brazil nut. The sharp incisors keep growing throughout their lifetime, ensuring that they always have nut-cracking tools at the ready.

Much of this rodent's time is spent searching for food or taking a dip in a pool of water. At rest, the agouti stays in a burrow or hollow tree trunk, safe from predators such as coatimundis, jaguars, and ocelots. Sharp hearing and a keen sense of smell help the agouti prepare when a predator is near: it may freeze, make an alarm call, stamp its feet, or raise the long hairs on its rump to scare the enemy away. To make an escape, an agouti can run pretty quickly. More amazingly, this rodent can jump up to 6 feet straight up in the air from a standing position, spin around, land, and dash off in the opposite direction!

They are extremely difficult to find as they run off if they hear or see you approaching but with me sat on the forest floor and holding bananas the temptation was too much. Admittedly they never came nearer than six feet away but I was happy to throw them a reward for that Kodak moment.

On Boxing Day I made the move away from O2 as I was fed up paying £4.99 every day I needed to access my texts, emails etc. A friend had told me about the Three Advanced plan where you can Go Roam in 71 worldwide destinations, using your calls, texts and data at no extra cost.

I stupidly made a mistake by connecting in Mindelo not realizing it wasn’t part of the plan and that lesson cost me £29.00 but the Amazon is in South America so I was able to keep the phone on constant roaming. On 28 January I received a text from my good friend’s sister telling me Billy had passed away unexpectedly on Monday 22nd January. I was in total shock.

I’ve known Billy since the late 1970’s and was among one of my first boyfriends. We parted amicably and stayed friends throughout. He was a natural entertainer with that great smile and boyish good looks. Prior to joining the cruise industry Billy had performed as some of the world’s most prestigious venues with international artists Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett to name just a few.

He stepped into the role of cruise director on Cypriot Louis Cruises in 1984 and took to the role easily because of his wonderful leadership skills and trust me managing and juggling a team upward of 70 resident entertainment staff isn’t easy. He joined Princess in 2004 and enjoyed 12 years with their unique brand.

Starting his career as Leisure Consultant on the Cunard Flag Ship QE2 in the summer of 1978, Billy has been on an incredible journey that has taken him around the world 16 times. Working in the high end of the industry with Cunard, Radisson Seven Seas and a plethora of private charters and Consultant CD contracts, he had just completed twelve years with Princess Cruises and due to the changes to the product has decided to move back to high end cruising. But firstly it was back to Denmark, where he lived in an aged Fisherman’s Cottage in the ‘Old Town’ so he could spend some much needed time with his beloved children, who warmed his heart and enhanced his already beaming smile.

Billy was my mate and I loved him dearly and he is already sorely missed. I loved gigging on Princess and always requested the ship’s he was on and it will now never be the same. I am extremely grateful to his sister Kimberley, who has been a member of our Forum for years, for arranging flowers at the funeral. You try organizing flowers from the middle of the Amazon to Denmark.

As you know February is a bad month for me starting with dad’s anniversary on the 7th and then mum’s on the 25th but I do thank you all so much for your cards and emails. It is always appreciated and its nice to know you are not alone.

I got home on the 18th to an extended winter in England and the week or so it has not improved in fact quite the opposite with an extreme cold front coming in as I type. Brrr

NEWS ALERT

For those of you who follow my brother’s appearances, I am sad to announce that 2018 is the last year Matt will be touring with The Matt Monro Story. After more than 30 years in the business Matt is hanging up his hat and while he did say the same thing a few years ago it was the dangling carrot of The Matt Monro Show that tempted him into staying to complete my vision

The last tour kicks off with a lone date in Ireland this week followed with the British tour in September/October/November.

For your last chance to see Matt performing the songs our dad made famous book your tickets now.

Tuesday 6th March, 7.30pm  – Grand Opera House, Great Victoria Street, Belfast BT2 7HR – Box Office: 028 9024 1919

 

 

Best of British

Peter Robertson, a renowned writer has written a lovely two page spread on dad which features in February’s issue of Best of British. If you want a copy you need to be quick as the new issue comes out on 7 March, so you have six days to hot foot it to WH Smiths or another good retailer. Happy reading.

http://www.bestofbritishmag.co.uk/

Cruise Dates 2018

7 May – 19 May – Celebrity Silhouette
19 May-26 May – Celebrity Silhouette
26 May 9 June – Celebrity Silhouette
9 June 23 June – Celebrity Silhouette
23 June 7 July – Celebrity Silhouette
7 July – 21 July – Celebrity Silhouette
21 July – 4 August – Celebrity Silhouette
4 August – 18 August – Celebrity Silhouette

I’ve been writing a travel blog like I did in 2012 and have uploaded some pictures and video footage onto my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/michelemonro every time I’m in port with an Internet connection.

Don’t forget to check out our Spotlight feature this month, I know so many of you enjoy them. This month we look in on the ever-popular Buddy Holly

Check out the ‘Rough Guide to mattmonro.com’, which is available towards the bottom of the Homepage. If you don’t know how to access certain areas of the site or in fact are unaware of new areas, this guide will explain how easy this website is to get around, once you know how.

There is also another information box “How to Use the Forum’. I know a lot of people have been tempted to join in on some of our conversations but are slightly nervous of doing so. For that reason I have printed step-by-step instructions of how to access it. It really does only take a few minutes.

Whatever the coming year holds, suffice to say that I shall be plugging Matt Monro’s music at every opportunity.  That is the wonderful thing about working the ships, it gives me a brand new audience each time and if then, a small percentage go home a fan, then it is worth all the blood, sweat and tears, not to mention the Bay of Biscay!!!!

Until next month take care of yourselves and don’t forget to check my travel blog out at Facebook.co.uk/MicheleMonro. See you all again in April.

Warmest to you and yours

Michele

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