The first thing I did when I walked into my cabin was tasting the water that came out the shower. That might seem a weird thing to do, but I had just boarded my first ever container ship for a month-long journey from Europe to Australia and I wanted to know if I had to shower with seawater.
This was not the case, however! The water that came out of the shower was fresh and as I discover later, even suitable for drinking.
Travelling By Cargo Ship
Now why would someone board a cargo ship to go to Australia from Europe? Wouldn’t flying be much easier? It probably would, but I had already done that once and this time I decided I wanted to see the world without flying and taking a freighter cruise seemed like the way to go.
People might not realise this, but most cargo ships have room for up to six passengers. Many shipping companies are eager to fill their excess cabins and allow passengers to book the 3-months round trip or parts of it, having them experience life on board for themselves.
What makes travelling by cargo ship such a unique experience?
- Slow way of travelling – great for getting a feeling of how large the world is;
- Giving the possibility to visit ports and places that are not on the beaten track;
- Experiencing life on board – hanging out with the officers and crew, visiting the bridge and engine-room;
- Resting and relaxing while the ship is at sea and experiencing the bustle of the ports when docked;
- Encountering wildlife like whales, dolphins and flying fish.
It’s not even necessary to forgo luxury when travelling on a cargo ship. Cabins all have en-suite bathrooms, and the ships have a swimming pool and sauna. Meals on board are excellent – and an added bonus is that there are no restrictions on how much luggage can be taken on board.
How to Get on a Freighter Cruise
Organising a freighter cruise is easy as worldwide there are many travel agencies that specialise in cargo travel. To find an agency, just google ‘freighter cruises’ or ‘freighter travel’.
Don’t make any allusions on being able to work for a passage. Due to insurance restrictions this is not possible anymore. The costs of a freighter trip are between $90 – $150 per day, which sounds expensive, but keep in mind this includes accommodation, full board and travel!
A New Way to Travel
After my first container ship had dropped me off in Australia, I immediately booked my passed back to Europe on another cargo ship – but it didn’t stop at that. So far I have travelled on five different container ships and spent a total of nine months at sea.
I can highly recommend this mode of transport. If you’re not in a hurry to get somewhere, this is a unique way of travelling, guaranteed to give you an experience you will never forget.
This post is part of a blog tour that focuses on Maria’s book Time Zones, Containers and Three Square Meals a Day.
Visit the Travel Writers Exchange for an interview with Maria about how she wrote the book. Tomorrow, Maria’s new book More Stories of Time Zones and Containers will be launched on her blog Scribbles of an Author and Freelance Writer.
Maria Staal is an author and freelance writer, based in the Netherlands. She has written two books about her adventures on the container ships. Time Zones, Containers and Three Square Meals a Day and More Stories of Time Zones and Containers. You can find her online at www.mariastaal.com
Traveling by Cargo Ship Part 2
I’d just spent the last four months cycling across India on my dilapidated mountain bike and wanted to cross the Arabian Sea without getting on a plane – I’d been travelling for over a year without one, starting in Indonesia.
Having organised a container cruise through a Swiss company it was now time to get my ailing and squealing bike from my hostel in town to the Nhava Sheva docks.
That day was spent waiting for hours in car parks and container fields, presumably because those were what I was supposed to be during each successive stage of the administrative process.
But suddenly, at sunset, I was clambering up the gangplank, and then I was on board. A passenger of the CMA CGM Coral.
I immediately met the disembarking group: two other cycle tourists. In the frantic minutes of our brief encounter, we exchanged maps, currency, tips, and itinerates: we were riding almost identical trips but in reverse directions.
I later discovered that the ‘small change’ UAE dirhams they handed me (they’d boarded at Dubai) were worth almost $50. I love cycle tourists.
For the next six days, life on board was like living in the hotel from ‘The Shining’ (halls of blood not-withstanding), or on the mining ship Red Dwarf.
The few people on board weren’t enough to even half-fill the massive floating office-block and they were pretty much always working on far-flung regions of the 280 metre long ship anyway.
In fact, at times I worried that I was actually on board the spaceship from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and that some computer was about to switch off the life-support system.
In other respects it was like living in a Soviet submarine. While the crew was mostly Filipino, the officers were all Croatian and Ukrainian and they spent most of the rare periods in which they succumbed to my polite attempts to engage them in conversation reminiscing about the good ol’ days under the Communists when the crews were large and the workloads small – plenty of scope for games, music and vodka.
Today, sadly, these cargo ships slide silently through the sea like ghosts. My entire floor, ‘E Deck’, was empty. I was the ship’s ‘Spare Officer (A)’ according to the sign on my door, and fit somewhere in the hierarchical limbo between superfluous officer and steam-pipe mould.
Doing My Laundry
In one telling encounter I’d just finished putting on a wash when I turned and saw the captain standing in the laundry doorway. He looked at me, then at the washing machine.
“Err… do you want to go first?” I asked. He stared at me blankly.
“I’ll get my stuff out. You go first.”
The ship could also be quite spooky at times. The constant movement and vibrations of the vessel at sea seemed almost human.
I often got the sense that someone had just sat down next to me or even gotten into bed with me. Objects placed on tables would march slowly but resolutely towards the edge, finally hitting the floor with a bang that invariably ejected me from my skin.
Another concern, only slightly more legitimate, was of pirates.
The first mate took me on a guided tour of the rest of the ship one day and pointed out all the anti-piracy apparati: riot hoses, rope ladder axes and even dummy security men equipped with fake rifles.
The mate even related some stories of work colleagues who’d been taken hostage in these waters, sometimes for months.
Otherwise I spent my time reading, listening to podcasts, stuffing my face full of the excellent food prepared especially for me and watching movies from the ‘Ship’s Library’.
They had the rather pointless but somewhat interesting ‘Darjeeling Limited’ about a train journey in a fictional country bearing no resemblance to India, and the much more excellent film ‘Chopper’, which toyed with my Australian homesickness.
I filled in the gaps gazing at the hypnotic immensity of the ocean – a desert in flux. One night I saw swirling bioluminescent fireworks being churned up in our wake, mirroring the brilliant starfield above.
I often watched leaping schools of fish shadowing our slow progress but I never saw the dolphins diving in the waves that the preceding passengers reported.
The Cost of the Voyage
Well, I hear you ask, how much did this crazy sea voyage end up costing me? First, think of the carbon footprint: a back-of-the-envelope calculation puts my personal CO2 contribution at an additional 500 mils of fuel for the whole journey (although that’s enough for over 2,000 kilometres of chain cleaning).
For the six days I was on board the trip cost $1200. If I’d chosen instead to fly it would have required one fifth the money and one fiftieth the time. But stuff that. This was totally worth it.
After six days at sea I was at last disembarked at an Omani port half-way up the end of the Arabian Peninsula. It was 4:30 in the morning and I was thirty kilometres out of town. Miraculously, my ailing bike got me into the city.
This was not helped by multiple shells of port security refusing to believe either that passengers could travel on cargo ships or that I could just ride on my bike into the country – but that’s fine, by now I’m used to people not believing that what I’m doing is possible.
Shortly after arriving in the delightfully named city of Salalah my bottom bracket actually disintegrated on me, flinging my left crank to the ground and grounding me where I stood. A new adventure had begun…
I was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1983 where I also studied Arts and Civil Engineering at University. After three years working on various freeway construction projects I felt the pull of the rest of the world and so began a 20 month trip around the Indian Ocean.
After backpacking through South East Asia, I began cycle touring in Vietnam, which then continued in Nepal after a mechanical failure forced me back to backpacking during China.
Rounding off my trip I cycled for four months through India and another two across the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. Finally, I flew to Eastern Africa before returning home to begin a job back near Melbourne as a desalination plant construction engineer.