THERE was a rumour that someone had been murdered and their body hidden in the meat freezer.
That’s the kind of humour that abounds in the close quarters of a cruise ship with – in this case – 800 ‘cantankerous pensioners’ spending six weeks in relatively close confines as they sailed up the Amazon.
As anyone will know who has tried a cruise, life aboard is a microcosm of village life, with the usual strong characters, the people who shut themselves away and don’t mix, the gossip-mongers... and the diarists.
Surfleet couple Judy and Mike Chapman were both keeping diaries of their trip, which was Mike’s retirement present to himself – although you’ll still see him at work part-time in his role as water taxi pilot on the Welland. Judy, a part-time museum assistant at Ayscoughfee Hall Museum, was reluctant at first, worried about leaving her mother and fearing cabin fever at the very least during six weeks aboard the Marco Polo.
However, she reasoned the trip would take them out of the British winter and into some beautiful places: Lisbon, the Cape Verde Islands, about a thousand miles up the Amazon stopping off at various places along the way, French Guiana, Devil’s Island, Tobago, St Lucia, Barbados and the Azores... who wouldn’t be won over?
While Mike’s diary recorded the places visited, Judy wrote in her journal about her feelings and impressions of the mammoth journey and life aboard the ship, which is just what fellow passenger, writer and publisher Clive Leatherdale was looking for when he put an appeal into the ship’s daily newsletter asking for diary contributions towards a book. Clive was keeping his own diary and thought there might be a book at the end of it, but when he noticed a lot of other people scribbling in their diaries he thought it might make for an even better read if he included contributions from a number of travellers.
Forty-four passengers contributed in the end, with what Judy calls ten major contributors, and while Judy wasn’t one of them, there are six sections containing her words in Murder on the Marco Polo... Well, Not Quite.
Judy’s words recount, for instance, the fact that (on Day 5), she and Mike were sitting opposite a couple from Whaplode. Day 24 sums up Judy’s thoughts about the Amazon: it rained, one or two were victims of muggings and one person had a camera stolen at machete point. She wouldn’t go back, she says, although it was interesting to visit the Amazonian towns and villages.
Judy and Mike naturally ordered a copy – Judy impressed that Bookmark in The Crescent in Spalding was able to get hold of the book in two days, while people who had ordered online were still awaiting copies.
Judy said: “It reads better than I thought it would. It’s like a travel book written by the travellers, who are just ordinary people.”
From Judy and Mike’s recollections of the cruise, it should be an entertaining read: although no one died, one or two had accidents and had to leave the ship, while others were sick in the notoriously choppy waters of the Bay of Biscay.
There was the on-board romance between the couple in their 80s as well as the gossip, the cliques and, as one diary entry put it: “They are talking about setting up a complaints committee to complain about the complainers.”
l Murder on the Marco Polo: Well, Not Quite, published by Desert Island Books Limited, ISBN: 978-1-905328-90-1