Cruising with Servas
We had never even thought about cruising, thinking it was for older, richer folks using it as a last adventure before heading to hospice care, or for families who tire of the long lines at Disney. But Servas encounters have a way of making one see things in a new light. So when a couple of youngish, not-so-rich Canadians visited with us in Florida on their way to a cruise, we discussed how their cruise was taking them to places which might otherwise be inaccessible. Curious, we looked into and booked a four month Holland America world cruise. The challenge was working Servas visits into our busy, see-a-country-for-a-day-or-two schedule. We succeeded.
Our first meeting was with two hosts in Montevideo. They met us at the port, ran us ragged (in a good way) enjoying the main sites of the city, and brought us to a yacht club for lunch. Along the way, we discussed the political, economic, and social issues of their country. Even though we spent only nine hours in Uruguay, we got to know a few people well.
In Sydney, our day host took us to a Greek Festival. In addition to tasting delicacies, we learned of the huge impact Greeks have on Australia. We still had time for the Opera House and Bondi Beach. Our hostess, a children’s author, made the city far more memorable than any tour Holland America could have provided. We also stopped at a hole-in-the-wall bookstore in Towanda (near Cairns) where our Servas host admitted that the shop was really a front for meaningful conversation. We were glad to oblige him.
We were scheduled for a single night in Hong Kong. Knowing that guest rooms are very rare, I had written to the National Secretary of Servas seeking ideas. We settled on inviting the local hosts onto the ship. Three hosts and a traveler, all who had never met, came aboard for a meal, a tour, and laser show.
Singapore was also a one-night stand. I explained our predicament to a local host, who agreed to break the two-night minimum rule and allow us to stay. The American ex-pat introduced us to her life abroad, her Singaporean family, and the national museum featuring a military archeologist who was digging up a local neighborhood which also served as a WWII battlefield and a POW camp.
In Durban, our first of two South African hosts met us near the controversial, tax-payer supported stadium recently built for the World Cup. (That scenario rings familiar.) They lived by Bollito Beach, a resort town thirty miles north of the city. Nearby was farmland turned into a wildlife reserve. That’s what a farmer turns lemons into lemonade when he realizes that he can’t separate the wildlife from his cash crops. We stayed two nights and flew to Capetown where our hosts lived across from a beach providing a view of Table Mountain. We toured the obligatory winery and South Africa’s largest Afrikaans university. Both South African hosts were “mixed marriages”, one Boer and one Brit. All spoke freely of their country’s past struggles, problems, and hope for improvement. We rejoined our cruise in Capetown, happy that our four day break offered an opportunity to interact with locals and avoid the Cape of Good Hope’s rough seas.
Knowing that the French isle of Reunion has more Servas hosts per square mile than anywhere else, we arranged to meet one. She met us at the port and took us to view one of the island’s foggy volcanos and dine at a typical beachfront Creole barbecue. Beaches and cruising tend to go well together. Our one-day visit was far too short. This is not surprising as we feel that way whenever we utilize Servas to enhance a trip. We intend to keep our promises to return.
Rob Allekotte served on the U.S. Servas board of directors for seven years and has been a frequent contributor to our newsletter. He has recently written a memoir, The Most Important Person in the World, which is available at thebookpatch.com.