Early this May, I and my daughter, then a few days short of turning two years old, got an opportunity to sail with my husband who had just got promoted to captain of the ship. We were hoping to be able to celebrate her birthday on board. It was to be a short trip. We joined him at Fujairah, a bunker port in UAE and after a month on board, signed off together at Chiba in Japan. A detailed report might not be appealing nor am I inclined to give it!
Instead, I will relate few occasions, experiences or incidents that stand out in my memory as I look back.
1) To start with, I was hugely intimidated with the prospects of travelling alone with my toddler. She was not used to a pram. So I was to manage the luggage (packed for a baby and adult for a whole month) and my daughter, all alone!
Luckily, I got a direct flight to Dubai from my hometown of Calicut. And everything went off without a hitch from the immigration clearance at Calicut to the baggage retrieval at the host city. Dubai has always been a dream destination. So I was super excited to be there for the first time in my life and I fell in love with the city. Initially we were to be driven straight to Fujairah from Dubai airport but the ship was slightly delayed and we were put up in Hotel Majestic towers. I even got time to visit Burjuman complex for a little shopping. But before that I was received at the airport by this hotel cabbie who spoke to me in hindi. A helpful charachter, we made small talk while he dropped us off. He asked me where I was from. He thought I was from Delhi. I asked him where he was from assuming he was an Indian too. ‘Pakistan’, he said. A moment of awkward silence followed. I was thinking of a right thing to say in reply but couldn’t. Very soon we had begun chatting cordially. Coming from India, Pakistanis are often made out as sworn enemies thanks to the history and the political environment between the two countries. But far away from the countries of our birth, we struck cord, he an expatriate working hard to earn his bread and I, a transit tourist. Merely, two fellow human beings.
2) The moment of rendezvous is etched in my mind. My daughter and I along with few other crew members took a boat to reach the spot where the ship, MT Yamatogawa, was anchored. The ship was empty of cargo. It would fill in the engine fuel at Fujairah before moving on to the next port of call for reloading. The ship was in ballast condition and consequently lighter. As we approached the ship’s flanks, it was an overwhelming sight. The ship hulk towered like a 7 storeyed building in front of the puny boat. The oil tankers are the biggest in the business and the enormity of the vessel dawned on me at that moment. The gangway, a retractable steel ladder was lowered to the boat deck and we climbed some 50 odd rungs of the steep gangway, I carrying my daughter who wouldn’t go to anyone else. I looked down once from the middle and saw the hint of the ocean surface way down. Mercifully it was late in the night and hence too dark for a clear view. It can be dizzying even for those not suffering from vertigo. I hastily looked up and concentrated on the remaining rungs. I suddenly couldn’t wait to get it over with and finished the whole climb in one stretch, without a break. Phew! Needless to say, I was horribly out of breath as I reached the top!
3) The myriad colors and textures of ocean are a beautiful sight to see. Sometimes the ocean is a bright blue on sunny days. On rainy days it takes on a grey pallor. Others days the wind is high leaving the surface ruffled with huge waves crashing on the deck. Incredibly there are days when the breeze is very soft and the ocean is still like a mirror, not a wave breaking the surface. As we approached Singapore, the ocean was noticeably green possibly because of algae in the waters. The sun paints the ocean in million hues of pinks and reds as it sets in the horizon. Sometimes its a foggy grey in the mornings and you move like a phantom ship, stealthily. As we were approaching Srilanka, we intercepted the monsoon clouds making its way to the Indian subcontinent. Dense black clouds looming up ahead filtering the sunlight, the air warm and sultry. It was a special moment - The clouds holding promise, fascinating and intimidating at the same time.
4) While the sunsets are unimaginably beautiful, also incredibly entrancing is the night sky. There aren’t too many places on earth that would offer such a beautiful view of the night sky. You can see the entire celestial dome specked in twinkling stars. One night I went out on the bridge wings. And there was a huge halo around the moon. One like I had never seen. The halo appeared like a ring some distance away from the moon. It was so unnatural, almost terrifying! On another occasion, we went out and it was pitch dark. I couldn’t see a thing. Not the moon, not a star or even the outline of the ship or the ocean. Just the cool breeze blowing on the face. It was eerie! Then there was this moment that took the cake. I saw a moon-rise for the first time in my life and it was spellbinding. The moon was bright yellow... almost orange! The horizon was painted in bright lights even before the moon slowly appeared... illuminating the clouds in a spectacular fashion and slowly losing its yellowness as it rose. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life! I had tears in my eyes and I couldn’t stop looking at it. It was the kind of moment that you wished would last forever...
5) From Chiba five of us signed off and from the berthing station boarded the pickup boat. As we left the towering ship behind I couldn’t help feel a tad emotional. The air was clear and the visibility high. We sat in the boat for an hour to reach the jetty and we could see the vanishing silhouette of the ship almost till the shore. Thats how big the ship is! Chiba is a beautiful city. Clean roads, elevated rail transit systems and blooming pink flowers stand out in my memory. The people were all well dressed in fashionable clothes. After customs check, we were driven to Narita and checked into Hotel Narita KIKUSUI. The Tokyo international Airport is in Narita. We had some time on our hand before our early morning flight.
Japanese food can be a challenge to the South Asian palate used to spicy and tangy food! Tea there is a green insipid drink. And rice is staple. We preferred a Japanese-American restaurant called ‘The volks’ that served steaks and salads. One of us was a pure vegetarian and the poor soul had to be contented with fried onion tempura and sweet corn soup! After lunch we were hovering around just outside the restaurant. A small boy with his hand in a sling stood there with two women, one possibly his mother. My daughter had some flowers in her hands and much to my surprise this usually stranger shy girl walked up to the little boy without any prompting and offered him a flower. Children know no barriers. Their friendships start easily without any self consciousness.
Post lunch we ventured out to a nearby mall – Aeon mall. Now a mall is a place where you would always find familiar grounds. They all look the same where ever they may be! We had fun window shopping just to see all the myriad stuff on display. We stopped for a while at this small space selling trinkets and cheap toys. There was a couple shopping. A baby girl cuddled in the mother’s arms and two twin boys about 5 years old stood looking at all the toys that fancied them. The father appeared busy talking to his wife and in between broke into scolding his twins who couldn’t help touch the displayed trinkets. Suddenly the man slapped one of his boys who looked at me in embarrassment. I averted my gaze and moved a little away pretending not to have noticed. Few minutes later there was the sound of a huge smack that made me jump. The other twin was crying holding his cheek. When his cries abated I noticed dark red blood clots on his cheek where his father slapped him. I hoped my daughter hadn’t noticed.