Thursday, 31 January 2008

Departing Tenerife...

My final week in Tenerife was a really good week, spent doing quite a bit of work in Reception, but also having lots of time to get out and do some cycling on good, tarred roads, as well as spend time with friends. It will be the last time I cycle on that quality of roads for quite a while. Roads in Liberia are notorious for their potholes, and not to mention the taxis. If you thought South Africa was bad, then you should see Liberia. I was able to go for a really long cycle on my final Monday in Tenerife – okay, only between 40 and 50 kilometres, but long considering I was on a mountain bike and much of it was uphill. I took the road to San Andres and then headed inland on a long, winding road that went higher and higher the further you cycled. It was 13 kilometres of uphill and then I came out at El Bailadero, a viewpoint overlooking both sides of the island. I could see down to the other side of the island, and the view was spectacular! After my 13 kilometre climb (easily one of the longest ascents I've made) – which reached an altitude of perhaps 1,000 metres – I rested, taking in the beautiful vista, and then headed back down on the rather hair-raising descent. There were a couple of occasions on the descent when my shoe unintentionally touched the tarmac! But such is the danger and excitement of cycling such a route. And the hairpin bends added to the thrill! Despite these potentially risky incidents, I reached the ship safely after my relaxing three hours in the saddle! For your information, the ascent took me around 1 hour 20 minutes, whereas the descent took me only 20 minutes. My hands were so cold by the time I reached the bottom!

On my final night in Tenerife, Tuesday evening, I took a slow walk to town with a group of good friends. It was a boy's night out. We bought ice-creams and then walked up to one of Santa Cruz's major parks, and spent time in prayer there for a while. It was so good just to pray for a safe voyage down to Liberia, and to also thank God for the wonderful Captain and Officers that the Africa Mercy has. We are truly blessed. It was also a good time of bonding between us guys. However, a damper was put on our evening when we were walking home. We walked passed a man lying on the ground, clutching his chest. There was a policeman with him, and so we carried on walking. But we soon turned back. We felt convicted to pray for the guy. So we sat down on the walkway opposite, and started to pray. We didn't know the situation – whether the man was drunk, having a heart attack or a seizure, or what it was. Shortly afterwards an ambulance arrived, and I was really concerned when the paramedics left him lying there. He seemed to be motionless. I really thought we were witnessing a man passing from this world to the next. And my heart was stirred. I felt such a deep love, compassion and concern – I was overwhelmed. I wondered how much more I would feel were it a family member or a friend in such a situation. It turned out that the man appeared to have drunk himself close to unconsciousness. He was hauled to his feet and taken to an awaiting police car. But the feelings that were stirred within me were so intense, so deep, that I can only attribute it to the Holy Spirit living – and working – in me.

The next day (Wednesday) was a busy day – like the previous few days! We had another at sea fire and lifeboat drill, and that went well. We were able to account for all the crew sailing to Liberia with us. Captain Jurryan, the purser Rob Cairncross, and myself were the last to “abandon ship” from the bridge, having mustered all crew. Following that Captain Jurryan led us in a prayer for a safe passage down to Liberia, as well as giving thanks for the time that we have spent in the Canary Islands. We departed the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife shortly after 14h30 on our sail south towards Africa – and the Liberian Outreach 2008! Over the next few days we will sail through some of the most pirated waters in the world, before reaching Monrovia on Tuesday, the 5th of February. This is not only a special day as it marks the beginning of our Outreach, but it is also my birthday. My 24th birthday will no doubt be a day that I will remember for the rest of my life. God bless. Murray signing off for now.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Tours, Long Nights, Cycling Again, and Tragedy...

The past ten days since I last posted have been quite a mix. Some of the time I have been struck down with utter boredom, not knowing what to do with myself, whereas other times have been really busy. One of the busier periods was when the M/V Africa Mercy was opened up to the public to allow tours on the ship. This was initially scheduled over the weekend of the 11th to the 13th of January. However, security issues meant that the Port Authority asked us to reschedule. The security issue was that a huge cruise ship, the Aida Diva, was disembarking some 2,000 passengers and then embarking another 2,000 new passengers. Having tours during this weekend would have been chaotic. However, despite this, some tours did happen over the weekend. But the official tours went from the following Monday (14th January) to the Wednesday. Over this time we had around 360 people visit the ship, and the response was largely positive. We had videos playing, including the well-known (in Mercy Ships circles) music video, Mercy's On Its Way, and tour guides who led groups of up to twenty around the ship. Translators were made available by the Spanish office of Mercy Ships. I was not involved in this process, but it was great to be able to see the enthusiasm and publicity that was generated.

Towards the end of last week I entered another round of the dreaded night shift. Eight hours of watching the Fire Panel from 23h00 until 07h00. Thankfully my boredom was lessened by watching a couple of movies during the nights (including Blood Diamond - a movie I've been wanting to watch for a long while. Leonardo DiCaprio did justice to the South African accent!), as well as the entire second season of the American version of The Office. I borrowed this TV series from one of my ward nurse friends here on the ship, Megan Petock. I enjoyed it, but I must say it is not for the sensitive. It is quite politically incorrect at times, which adds to the humour, I guess. So I was on the long night shift from Thursday night through to Sunday night. The days were largely spent in deep, deep sleep. It is easy to sleep in my cabin, because there is no natural light. Cabin 4419 does not have a porthole. Which is nice, because it means that sleep is easy to come by.

Yesterday (Tuesday) I had the opportunity of going for another cycle. I went out the same route as last time, except at San Andres I headed inland and took a gradual climb into the centre of the island. I cycled uphill for over forty minutes, before deciding I had had enough and turning back round. The downhill only took me seven minutes! The road goes uphill for over ten kilometres, before it reaches the top of a mountain range. I didn't get this far, however. I'll leave these mountains for when I'm off duty, which will be Monday or Tuesday. Again I was very impressed by the beautiful scenery of Tenerife. Cycling higher and higher, I passed many cactii growing on the slopes. It became evident to me just how close Africa and the Sahara Desert really are to the Canary Islands.

Indeed, over the past few days we have had a heavy mist - almost apocalyptic-like - cover the island. This is said to be as a result of dust and sand being blown across from the Sahara Desert. It gave the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife a very ghost-like feel. Indeed, I was strolling up on deck 7 the one evening and I noticed a sailing vessel making difficult progress in the heavy seas. The mist was hovering low over the ocean, making the vessel almost indistinguishable. I was reminded of the story of the Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship said to appear to sailors when disaster is imminent. It is a well-known tale in South African waters. Thankfully I am not the superstitious type! This heavy mist also marked a palpable change in the sea. The M/V Africa Mercy is berthed at the very end of Dique del Sur, our dock here in Santa Cruz. And we are right next to the entry to the harbour. Thus we feel the sea a lot more than if we were berthed closer to town. The past few days the waves have been crashing into the ship, and it has felt as if we were out on the open ocean! The sea has even been spilling over the dock, and onto the road. It has been pretty scary. Indeed, several crew members were actually seasick due to the heavy swells we have had!

On Tuesday evening I went to a farewell party for one of the South African Mercy Shippers, Lauren Bluck. Of the 24 people who went, 22 were women! I was one of the two guys. Typical Mercy Ship ratio? Hmm, perhaps not - but pretty close!

Last night we had a tragedy occur in the port - almost right next to us. A pilot boat sunk in the harbour. The pilot was pulled from the water, but only after suffering a heart attack. He died during the night. It is speculation as to what really happened. Some stories say that the boat was crushed when it was busy trying to disembark the pilot. So things aren't very clear. This morning there were Port Authority divers all over the dock. But either way it is still a terrible tragedy. I'm sorry to end on a rather sour note, but I tell it like it is.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Fire Fighting, Cycling, and a Dragon Tree...

It has been a while since I last posted, so I thought it was about time that I updated this. Over the past ten days I have been doing a fair amount of working at Reception, but have also had time off to enjoy more of Tenerife's sights and sounds. But more on this later. I'll start things out by telling you what I have been doing here on the ship in my spare time.

If you've known me for a while then you will know that in my Grade 11 year, way back in 2000, I did my job shadowing at Salt River Fire Station in Cape Town. There is something about fires and fighting them that have always fascinated me. And here on the ship I've been doing a fair amount of work helping the Duty Fireman, my good friend Marius Moe, ensure that all the fire fighting equipment is in good, working order. Every week the fire stations on the ship are checked... and this includes checking the air pressure in the cylinders as well as ensuring the SCBAs are in order. (SCBA = Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus.) The "Africa Mercy" has four fire stations and four Fire Teams when we are on outreach. At the moment we are only using Fire Teams 1 and 3. However, we still do equipment checks of all four fire stations. Divided amongst the fire stations are sixty air cylinders. I was checking that the air pressure of each cylinder was around 300 bars. It took quite a lot of time. But not as much time as if it had been only one person on duty. And once we had finished checking all the equipment I got the chance to get kitted out in full fire fighting gear. So that was great fun.

This past Thursday (10th January) we had a fire drill and this put all our hard work (on the fire fighting equipment) into practice. Fire drills on the "Africa Mercy" are not light-hearted affairs. We respond as if it is a real emergency. Scenarios are drawn up which allow all the emergency teams to get practice. Smoke machines are used to set off the smoke detectors, and this then registers as a "prewarning" or "fire" alarm on the Fire Panel in Reception. We then contact the Duty Officer who investigates and then gives the order to set off the Crew Alert alarm. The past fire drill scenario was that a fire was started in cabin 4417 due to secret cigarette smoking. Cabin 4417 is located next to my cabin, and on hearing the Crew Alert alarm I headed out to muster in Reception (I'm part of the Muster Control Team). On my way out I could clearly see the smoke pouring out of the cabin. It was very realistic. There were two victims trapped in the cabin, needing assistance. The Fire Teams, once mustered, then had to go through the smoke-filled room and passageways to find the victims, who, once found, are transferred into the care of the Emergency Medical Team. So it is quite a detailed process. But it is always good to get practice.

The past few days I have also had the opportunity to go cycling along the northern coastal road. This road winds its way along the coast, taking in some great scenery. It climbs high above the beach at San Andres (the beach is called Playa de las Teresitas - seen in the photo above) and then drops sharply down to the village of Iguesta de San Andres. The north-eastern coastal road ends here in this beautiful valley. I cycled this route yesterday (Saturday, 12 January) and was reminded of the breath-taking scenery of Chapman's Peak Drive in Cape Town, South Africa. Both roads cut sharply into the cliffs above pounding waves. The climb is also very much like Chapman's Peak, in terms of the gradient of the slope. I left along this route at just before sunrise (which rises late at a few minutes before 08h00) and was back at the ship just after 11h00. It was good to get out and do some cycling. And also just to get away from the ship and take some time to myself. Always good.

In the afternoon of the same day I joined a small group in exploring the north-eastern side of Tenerife. Unfortunately our choice of vehicle wasn't that great. All the vehicles were taken, but for our Landrover Pickup. And we soon learnt why. The clutch was slipping, the engine struggled on the hills (reminded me of the car I drive back in Cape Town!), and to make matters worse, the handbrake didn't work! But it all added to the adventure! We drove past Puerto de la Cruz to the very picturesque town of Icod de los Vinos. Here we wandered along the narrow streets, surrounded by typical Spanish architecture. We visited El Drago, a Dragon Tree said to be over 1,000 years old, and also drove through to Garachico, one of the many "Old Quarters" in Tenerife. There is a small fortress standing guard over the ocean. And many small walkways that wind in and out of the rock pools. It was good to see the power in the ocean, and be reminded that there is Someone much bigger who controls all things.

So it has been an exciting few days since I last posted. And things will get even busier as we near our departure date. Indeed, new crew members and those returning from vacation are coming every day now, and soon the ship will be fully manned and ready for our next Liberian Outreach. Get ready Liberia, we'll be with you soon!

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Christmas and New Year's on Tenerife...

I must first say a very, rather belated, happy Christmas to you all! I hope you had a wonderful day! My Christmas on the ship was really special. I was surrounded by good friends at all times, and there were always activities to do. We had a Christmas eve dinner followed by our Christmas service. On Christmas day we had a lovely brunch followed by an afternoon of relaxation and fun. And then on Boxing Day I went into town and spent time browsing and relaxing, and also got my caricature painted!

We are now in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, berthed in a very picturesque port. However, not as picturesque as the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, I must add. But that's my personal bias coming through! Santa Cruz is a large town nestled between hills that slope down to the sea. There are many tourist attractions here, as well as good restaurants in which one can dine. I have done the tourist thing while I've been here. Last Friday (28th December) I went down to the south of Tenerife where I kayaked on the open sea! It was an amazing experience, one that I'll cherish for the rest of my life. And then on the following day I joined a group of Mercy Shippers in hiking in the centre of the island, and then driving through to the base of the volcano. It was really strange, driving through different, changing vegetation as we got higher and higher. And as we got higher, it got colder, and soon small patches of snow were visible alongside the road. By the time we reached the base, the view had altered to a barren lunar-like landscape. The base of the volcano is at 2,300 metres above sea-level. Easily the highest I've ever been in my life... with the exception of flying, of course! The peak itself is nearly 3,800 metres. So it is very high and very cold. We didn't have time to take the cableway to the top, but spent some time admiring the scenery. The picture above is of the peak of Tenerife's volcano.

Yesterday we had some excitement with the arrival of the brand-new Cunard liner, "Queen Victoria". She is on her maiden voyage and stands 16 decks high and is a gross tonnage of over 90-000 tonnes. The "Africa Mercy" is only 16-000 tonnes in comparison! Of course this brought much excitement for me as it was a fellow Cunard liner, the "Carpathia", that rescued the survivors of the "Titanic" back in April 1912. Yesterday was also New Year's Eve and we had a winter ball followed by a time of praise and prayer and then watched the fireworks from Deck 8. The fireworks display was amazing. At midnight all the ships in the harbour started blowing their horns continuously for between ten and twenty minutes. It was quite a sight (and sound!). We were blowing our horn and then the other ships would answer us by doing the same. And while this was going on fireworks were lighting the night sky. It was so amazing!

I then joined a group of us and we walked in to town and bought hamburgers, before coming back to the ship by around 02h10. And now I'm working the day shift from 7h00 until 15h00. It'll be a long day.