I read the article here in The SeaLetter about the "new" Caronia. Back in 1959, my godmother gave me a cruise around the world on the old Caronia as a college graduation present -- boy, I guess that really dates me. The "Green Goddess," by the way, was called the "Green Dragon" by the crew. I was 21 and the average age onboard was 80. We had four deaths due to natural causes and one murder/suicide. So I hung out with the crew who were great and a lot closer to my age.
I remember my cabin was totally wood paneled inside with a sink! I had to go down the hall to use the bathroom or take a bath. As I recall, there were no showers, either. You had your choice of fresh or salt water. I had a salt water bath just once. You had to use a special soap and it was harsh on the skin. It left you very sticky. I didn't care -- I was just a kid on my first cruise.
Entertainment was pretty non-existent: just ballroom dancing and horse racing. It was much more fun in the officers' wardroom, which is where I hung out. I was the youngest passenger onboard, although there were three other girls in their 20's, too. We all hung out with the crew.
There were two dining rooms on board. The Balmoral, which was supposed to be the better one, and The Sandringham. Originally we'd been in The Balmoral, but we switched to The Sandringham because The Balmoral was SO stuffy. The food was out of this world. It was really an elegant restaurant: caviar and smoked salmon anytime we wanted . . . roast beef, salmon, lamb . . . yum!
The ship wasn't as well stabilized as ships are today and the ship would slowly lean to the right, then right herself, shudder and slowly lean to the left. We all walked like drunks when we went ashore because we were used to the ship's motion. When we hit storms, and we hit a doozy in the Pacific, ropes were strung around the ship for us to hang onto, and the edges of the dining room tables were raised by several inches to keep the plates from sliding onto the floor. I loved it; ¾ of the ship was sick, but not me.
The cruise was 108 days in length, mostly via the southern hemisphere. We sailed from New York in January and progressed into the sun. We stopped at Recife, Brazil and then Rio de Janeiro, the only place in my life I've ever been arrested. I was dating an officer who had an evening watch, and we decided to go swimming on Copacabana Beach after midnight. We were the only people there. Along came a policeman who spoke no English; we got hauled into the police station and detained until they found someone who spoke English. He explained that no one was allowed on the beach late at night and sent us back to the ship with a good scolding.
We stopped at Tristan da Cunha in the mid-South Atlantic. We didn't go ashore, but islanders came to the ship to show their goods. I remember seeing how inbred they were because of extreme isolation. Several years later this volcanic island exploded and the islanders had to evacuate. The young ones went to Britain and didn't return, and I didn't blame them!
After that it was Capetown, where I disembarked for a 3-week shore excursion through Africa. I rejoined the ship in Mombasa, after seeing much of South Africa; Victoria Falls in what was then Rhodesia; Uganda and Kenya.
In Uganda I met up with the crew of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother's aircraft. She was touring Uganda at the time. I got to see the interior of the aircraft. I couldn't tell you much about it today except that it was pretty plush. We also visited what was then the Belgian Congo which was simply spectacular. We sailed to India where I did the same thing, getting off in Bombay and rejoining the ship in what was then Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.
India, especially Calcutta, was an eye opener. I love animals and one night at our hotel, I ran into a gentleman with a mongoose on a leash. I immediately started petting it, which evidently you're not supposed to do. However the mongoose liked me and didn't mind. The gentleman, the mongoose and I sat on the steps talking until the wee small hours. At about 5:00AM, I heard a truck starting and stopping and when the truck was stopped, I heard thuds. I asked the gentleman if they were picking up the garbage, which basically I'd seen all over the streets of Calcutta. He told me no, they were picking up the bodies of the people who'd died on the streets during the night! For quite a bit of time, I felt very queasy, knowing that one day on the ship could have probably kept a family in Calcutta alive for a month.
Off to Singapore where I did it again, traveling from there to Bangkok, Hong Kong and through Japan, rejoining the ship in Nagasaki. Then Hawaii, Acapulco, the Panama Canal and back up to New York.
It was the most wonderful, most spectacular cruise I will ever take in my life. Even if I could afford another world cruise, I would never take one. That memory must be left intact. God bless my wonderful Godmother.
A previous contributor to the SeaLetter, Carole Dunham may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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