Thursday, April 14, 2016

No phone, no wifi...will travel. By Sheila Claydon

In my last post I told you I was going to cruise through the Mediterranean in March. What I didn't know at the time was that I would also experience an almost total communication blackout. Unlike the US, few of the countries I visited had a tariff agreement with my telecommunications supplier so mobile roaming fees were exorbitant. On board ship the wifi was even more expensive as well as being so slow it was a waste of time. All of this meant that I was without email, phone or any social media for almost 3 weeks. Consequently I left my phone behind whenever I went ashore, which meant a complete photo blackout as well. There are no pictures of the trip, just memories, and how colorful they are.

I listened avidly to the guides instead of looking for things to photograph when we were ashore; I watched the people who walked by while I ate at pavement cafes; I noticed the birds pecking at crumbs under the table; I smelled the flowers. I learned more about Greek and Roman architecture than I ever would have if I'd had my camera with me because, instead of taking shots of the ancient sites I visited, I sat and listened to the guide without any interruption. It was the same when I had a gondola ride in Venice, and when I saw the monkeys on the rock in Gibraltar. No photos. Instead a memory of narrow waterways snaking between lofty, crumbling buildings, and then a traffic jam of black gondolas. I have a mind's eye view of a monkey stealing a tourist's hat in Gibraltar too, and the tricks the guardian of the rock used to get it back, something I might not have noticed if I'd been busy with my phone/camera.

On a coach journey I noticed the strange tipped over buildings in Albania, made uninhabitable by the government because they had been built without permission, and I heard the unnecessary but embarrassed apologies of the guide as she explained the poverty of her country. Then there was the bullet embedded in a wall right next to my head when I visited Dubrovnik. I'd have missed it if I'd been taking a picture of the scenic street instead and I might have missed what the guide was saying too. He was a young soldier during the 1990s who fought in the Serb/Croat war, so naturally he wanted to talk about it and show us exactly where the Serbian soldiers had taken up position and destroyed eighty per cent of his city in bombardments that sometimes lasted for 24 hours. It really brought home to me the horrors of what we had only seen on TV. That bullet said it all.

Listening and watching without being distracted by the ping of a phone or the need to take a photograph, I learned a whole lot more, and now that I'm home again the memories remain vivid.

The same happened on board ship. With no email or wifi to distract me, I watched the other passengers instead, making friends and listening to a lot of personal stories. There were a quite a few elderly British people on the cruise, mainly because the ship set sail from a home port so no flights were involved, and by the end of the trip I had gained a great deal of respect for so many of them.  Despite suffering significant disabilities or, in several cases, life threatening illnesses, their stoicism and enjoyment of life was amazing. I am lucky enough to still be reasonably fit but I hope when this is no longer the case that I will be as brave.

I was especially affected by the woman who, less than a year ago, jogged every day and regularly looked after and played with her young grandchildren. That was before she was suddenly struck down with such a devastating illness that she is now confined to a wheelchair, her body bent and disfigured in a horrible way, and in constant pain...yet she smiled and talked and was interested in other people, and when the ship berthed in foreign ports she insisted her husband take her wheelchair onto local trains and other transport so she could pretend she was still 'normal.'

People and places are truly amazing when we take the time to really look at and listen to them. My phone will be taking a back seat on future holidays too.

Cabin Fever, which is about life on a cruise ship, and which I wrote after cruising through New Zealand to Australia, is available from Books We Love and on Amazon, as are all my other books. They can be found at or on Amazon at