RTW the voyage home, part 2

So, as I explained in part 1, after a lot of effort and high drama, I finally had my Chinese visa and I had the ship. But the preparations didn’t end there.

Booking a few additional weeks in Japan

While much of this was going on, I was in Japan, with my travel booked until Hiroshima. As it was a popular season in Japan, I didn’t want to toss all my plans, but worked around what I had already planned. I ended up changing my plans quite a few times, to accommodate the extra days in Kyoto, and the “Golden Week” holiday rush in Japan which meant that everything was fully booked from Beppu to Tottori. In the end, I had to book a string of one night stays near Hiroshima, just to make sure I would manage to see the main sights there.

Booking my stay in China

I didn’t want to travel a lot while in China, and I had really liked Shanghai and felt I only had time to see very little of it, so I ended up booking five nights there.

From Shanghai, I would go directly to Ningbo for the last couple of days before due departure. Ningbo was only about 2 hours from Shanghai, but the port was an hour’s drive outside of the city. I wanted to be close to the ferry port in case the schedule changed suddenly, especially if the departure date was shifted earlier. But as it happens, the departure date was postponed a few days, so I ended up staying in Ninbgo for four nights.

Getting a vaccination for yellow fever

For some reason, taking this particular passage required a valid yellow fever vaccination. As luck would have it, the general hospital in Osaka could do it, but you had to get an appointment in advance, and there were only two afternoons a week when they did it.

All intermediate weeks were already fully booked, but luckily there was still space for May 11th, which was the day before the ferry would leave for Shanghai. I called, and got my appointment for 2 pm.

When I got to Osaka the day before the appointment, I was checking the yellow fever vaccination page and noticed that I had to buy “revenue stamps” to cover the 11.180 yen fee (75 GBP) from a post office. I copied the instructions in Japanese from the website and went to a nearby post office where I bought three stamps: 10.000 yen, 1.000 yen and 200 yen. I thought it was all a bit odd, to be honest, and wondered whether I was doing the right thing.

But I shouldn’t have worried, it all went smoothly on the day of the appointment. I checked in the downstairs main reception at the hospital, and waited until my paperwork was processed and went upstairs to another reception where a lady showed me to a room with rows of desks and two doctors up front doing the preliminaries, like checking paperwork, filling in the vaccination certificates, taking people’s temperatures, etc. And they took the payment in the form of the pre-purchased revenue stamps, so I was good. There were several forms to fill in and information sheets about the vaccination and possible side effects. Finally it was done, and I didn’t feel a thing. As instructed, I waited for 30 minutes to make sure there was no violent reaction to the vaccination before going on my merry way.

Final batch of paperwork

With all of that accomplished, the medical certificate completed and the payment made, I was sent the final batch of paperwork to be signed. This included the actual ticket, as well as the general conditions statement which also required my signature. And I needed to send a scan of the Chinese visa as well. This was all quickly done. With the last minute change to Ningbo, I asked CMA CGM to issue me with a new ticket that showed Ningbo as my embarkation point.

The agent had said that the ticket I had was “good enough for her”, but just in case immigration got difficult in Ningbo, I wanted something that showed I had a ship to catch there. Also, I needed the port agent contact details, so I could call them in the days before boarding and check the date and time I could get onboard. So I got in touch with the CMA agent, and after I had provided her with the scanned yellow fever vaccination, I got what I needed.

I was good to go!

Final preparations

In the last days in China, I did some “house cleaning”. There is a passage in the last Harry Potter book where Harry mentions having just skimmed the top 80 % of his Hogwarts trunk for years, and having to clean out all the weird debris at the bottom of it in his seventh year. Well, that’s kind of where I was at, except no Hogwarts (sadly). No point in hauling back stuff I won’t need on the way back.

I bought some whiskey and snacks for the journey, exchanged some US dollars (the only currency used onboard), checked I had all of the required paperwork, and arranged a pickup from my hotel in Ningbo to the port. In the last few days I also bought and downloaded a few movies, season 6 of Game of Thrones and almost 20 books. What? They were free or a pound or two each, and I am a fast reader. No matter what happens, I shall be entertained! And I heard the day before boarding that I would be the only passenger onboard. Plenty of entertainment seemed warranted.

Permission to come aboard!

I was really excited to travel by freighter again. By the time I disembark in Spain, I’ll have spent about two months on container ships and crossed all the oceans in the world, with the exception of the polar seas. At the time of writing, I have no idea whether I will get lucky again and get Indian dals and vegetable curries, whether we will hit rough weather, and whether I will see any sea creatures on the way. Being the only passenger (again) but a bit of a damper on my spirits, but I was going home! On a freighter!

And I was so ready for over three weeks of easy travelling ahead, after months and months of continuous travel and several weeks of staying in dormitories all across Japan. I will have my own cabin again with my own private shower and toilet. And we will be going through the Suez canal! How marvelous! Here’s a time lapse video of such a crossing. Huh, I somehow expected more infrastructure along the way. And I didn’t think it would take 12 hours to go through the canal. You won’t find me on the bridge watching the whole passage, that’s for sure.

We will also be passing through the tip of the strait of Gibraltar. Algeciras is just behind the rock of Gibraltar, when coming from the direction of the Suez Canal, so I won’t be going through the full stretch of the strait, as I will disembark in Algeciras. The port following Algeciras would be Southampton, and the temptation was great to extend my time onboard until then. It would be swell to return back home on the ship! But no, I have bank affairs to take care of in Germany, and friends and family to meet along the way, so Algeciras it is!

We will also go around the horn of Somalia on the Kerguelen. Er, isn’t that where the pirates are? * checks wikipedia * Yes, that’s exactly where they operate. But you know, there were no pirates when we crossed the straits of Malacca, another pirate hotbed, on my third container ship trip, and it is very likely that we won’t encounter any on this trip either. Anti pirate action in the area has brought down the incidents to almost zero since 2013, except that four ships were hijacked just in April 2017 in a new spate of attacks. The Kerguelen is such a monster size ship, though, at almost 400 meters in length, with 40 meters from sea level to the deck, and the pirates tend to target smaller ships with cargo that is easier to access. So I’m sure it will be just fine.

It will be interesting to see how the size of the ship changes my travel experience, if at all. For history buffs, at 398 meters, the CMA CGM Kerguelen is 130 meters longer than the Titanic, and about 60 meters longer than the largest currently sailing passenger cruise ship, RMS Queen Mary 2. Whereas a passenger ship carries over a 1000 crew members, container ships only have about 25. We freighter passengers eat what the crew eats, and entertain ourselves, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As always, you can follow my voyage onboard with a live update map here. Scroll down to the Latest Position and click on the map image. When crossing large bodies of water, there may not be live updates for quite some days, so don’t worry!

Photos of the CMA CGM Kerguelen from here.

p.s. this was a scheduled post, as I am traveling across the seas.

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