Episode 234 – Two Days in The Red Sea

March 27, 2022. 72°F/21°C

#myvikingstory

We were back into ever so slightly choppy seas briefly this morning, which were just enough to make me feel a bit dizzy and disoriented, so it seemed like a good time to lay low and read. While the sun was shining and the lounges on Deck 7 under the open roof beckoned, I spent most of the morning on Deck 1, where the motion of the sea is felt least. Unbidden, the amazing Zoi brought me a dish of candied ginger when she noticed the core of a green apple (good for settling stomachs) on my side table. Have I mentioned how incredibly attentive the Viking staff are?

The Red Sea from our balcony (and everywhere else on the ship) is an intense blue-green, so why “red” sea? Possibly because its salt content is just right for the growth of the Trichodesmium Erythraeum algae, whose blooms, when they die off, turn the sea a reddish brown colour. There are other theories as well, but that one seems (to me) the most logical. The phenomenon is similar to the “red tide” phenomenon caused by the overpopulation of toxic varieties of algae. At any rate, the ancient Greeks already referred to the sea by its current name; Red Sea is a direct translation of the Greek Erythra Thalassa.

We got the sad news during Captain Olav’s noon sea day report that we have 1 person on board (no idea whether it is a passenger or crew member) who has tested positive for Covid, after such a long stretch of zero cases that we’d come to expect the daily repetition of the “all clear”. Our new case is “in custody”, as our captain refers to quarantine, along with 5 close contacts in preventative isolation. Hopefully it will not affect the ship’s admission to planned ports of call, or our ability to explore independently.

Better news at noon was the TexMex lunch extravaganza in the main restaurant. The menu was huge, with everything served either tapas or family style: tortilla soup, chopped salad, ceviche, huevos rancheros, chicken empanadas, fresh tortilla and sweet potato chips with guacamole and salsa, sea bass, chipotle spiced ribs, scallops, beef fajitas, and seared steak. Dessert was small portions of dark chocolate torta, caramel flan, and crispy churros with chocolate sauce. Naturally there was also sangria and margaritas. WAY too much food, but we had fun visiting with a really lovely couple while trying as many dishes as we could (until we finally had to ask our waiter to just stop!). Even after 3 months on board, there are still new friends to be made.

The rest of our day was spent sorting photos (Ted), doing laundry (me), enjoying a lovely dinner and conversation in the restaurant (it’s always nice to be seated next to someone new), taking in King’s guitar set with our after-dinner lattés, and catching guest entertainer violinist Lindsay Deutsch’s show in the theatre. Tomorrow is another sea day en route to Saudi Arabia.

March 28, 2022. 76°F/24°C

We’re heading into “tropical spring” in the Middle East, with average late March temperatures that can reach the low to mid 30’s Celcius (hovering just either side of 90 degrees Fahrenheit). I, personally, am ready for some heat, although into the 90s may be too much of a good thing. I’ll take it though!

In preparation for our arrival in Saudi Arabia tomorrow, we took in two relevant lectures today. It’s important to us to have some history and perspective in order to understand what we’re going to see in the next 4 days.

The first was a talk on the House of Saud, by our resident historian Michael Hick. He took us back to the turn of the 20th century when Britain ruled India, and was concerned about protecting that territory against possible incursion by Russia, and how that impacted British/Saudi relations.

Even then, the Arabian peninsula was fraught with constant conflict (eventually leading into the era of the Arabian conflict depicted in the movie “Lawrence of Arabia”) but Britain was more concerned with the borders of the Suez canal, and countries bordering India, and was not too carefully watching what was being done in the “empty” land that is now Saudi Arabia. While Britain wasn’t paying attention, the Saud family gradually defeated the other families in the area to end up as rulers, under the ideology of Sunni Islam (Wahhabism), and by 1914 had convinced the Bedouin tribes to become “settled” nomads. In 1926, Abdulaziz Ib’n Saud took over Mecca, completing his takeover of the holy sites of Arabia. He became the man that Britain needed as an ally while creating “depth” in the defence of India, but also with whom Britain later declined to go into the oil business, leaving a 60 year oil deal in Saudi Arabia to go to American Standard Oil. There was a whole fascinating side story involving the British double agent Kim Philby and the machinations that undermined British interests. It was really only after a huge oil strike in 1938 that the countries of the Persian Gulf became the oil and gas giants that they are today.

Things got understandably complicated after Abdulaziz Ib’n Saud died, leaving 45 (!) sons. The family today has 15000 family members, 2000 in some kind of power, with a net worth in the trillions. The current King is Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud; we learned that Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, but one in which the King must comply with Sharia Law and the Quran.

The flag of Saudi Arabia tells the story: it has the sword of justice pointing to the left, indicating that justice reigns. The calligraphy on the flag states: “There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”. Green is the colour associated with Islam.

The afternoon talk was by Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar on “Saudi Arabia: Past, Present, Future”. The ambassador is another speaker whose enthusiasm for his subject matter is contagious.

He started out by defining why Saudi Arabia is so preeminent in the Arabian peninsula, beyond simply covering 80% of the land mass. First, it is the site of the 2 most important religious sites of Islam: Mecca and Medina. Second, it is the world’s largest petroleum exporter. Third, it spans the important width of the peninsula, with proximity to both Asia and Africa.

I didn’t know before today that Saudi Arabia has one of the youngest demographics in the world, with 50% of the population being under 25 years old. Despite what would seem by that statistic to be a prime labour force, the country is heavily dependent on foreign labour, with about 80% of private sector employees being non-Saudi.

We learned briefly about the current Crown Prince’s “Saudi Vision 2030” initiatives to restructure the economy and make Saudi Arabia more progressive/attractive in the eyes of the rest of the world. The opening up of tourism – like our own visit – is part of this initiative.

After all that intense learning, we felt that we deserved his and hers lattés.

Our day ended with dinner in Manfredi’s with our friends Karin and Al (he who so generously shares photos when we haven’t captured something specific that I want for our blog), and a thoroughly enjoyable variety show performance by our entertainment crew.

Top right: Ana-Lyn and Jeffrey performing Beauty and the Beast. Bottom left: Ksenia, our cellist, in her final performance on board before leaving for her time in Rome between contracts. Bottom right: Assistant Cruise Director Sarah-Leanne singing and tap dancing to Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes”
Top L to R: vocalist Daniel, Cruise Director Damien, vocalist Jeffrey, and vocalist Jack performing numbers from Jersey Boys. Their choreography was terrific! Bottom left: Sarah-Leanne and Viking vocalist Beth in a number from Chicago. Bottom centre: King rocking out. Bottom right: Viking Band leader Heintje and vocalist Daniel performing “We Will Rock You”
Our sartorially splendid Cruise Director Damien.

HAIL AND FAREWELL. We had bittersweet news today: our incredible Hotel General Manager, Johann Van der Merwe, leaves us tomorrow for a well-deserved vacation, and will not be rejoining our ship. His are big shoes to fill. He has been the epitome of Viking service: personable, organized, hard-working, professional, and fun-loving. We wish him a happy reunion with his family and every success in all his future endeavours.

One comment

  1. Enviable details! We felt sad leaving our cabin stewards after just 11 days aboard – I can imagine how bittersweet it is to say good bye to crew members who’ve looked after you for months now. The crew (and the decor and the food) really make Viking so special! We’ve booked a new cruise for March 2023 with a lot of sea days — can’t wait! Thanks as always.

    Liked by 1 person

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