For years, I’ve resisted going on a cruise. My old travelling days were built around a knapsack and hitchhiking or very cheap buses, and it’s been hard to see myself as a member of the cruise set. Times change, though, and I figured I could too. Two things nudged me to try this cruise. One was the route – Dubai to Muscat to Abu Dubai to Dubai. The other was that the ship had a running track.
Bingo, I was in!
The ship was the Costa Serena. (Yes, it’s a sister ship of the Costa Concordia. Remember? The one that ran aground off the coast of Italy when its captain decided to get really close to shore without using a harbour?) The Serena’s one big puppy, carrying 3,800 passengers and 1,000 crew. It also features the most obnoxious decor I’ve ever seen – kind of “Disneyland meets Hieronymus Bosch.” It was, needless to say, a long way from a knapsack and a hippy bus.
But the Serena has a running track. It’s near the stern of the boat, and it goes around the ship’s funnel. It’s not a big track (150m, to be precise), it’s not banked, it’s often wet (it was at 5:30 AM, anyway, when I ran on it, because it had just been swabbed down for the day), and each lap involves running past two huge vents that bring the smells of the ship’s kitchen up close and personal. Very up close. Very personal.
There were some surprises. I ran when the Serena was going through the Strait of Hormuz. Because it’s an important transport corridor and a hugely important military location, the Strait is always busy, with immense freighters, oil rigs, cruise ships, and dhows always in sight. One morning I saw a submarine surface-cruising about 500 meters off the Serena’s flank. I also saw warships – from the UK, Australia, and the US – both in the open water and in the harbours of Muscat and Abu Dhabi. They were nasty-looking – flat grey paint, heavily armoured, and bristling with weapons.
But I ran on a ship, in the Strait of Hormuz, under the open sky, and on my lonesome. There’s a lot to be said for that.
Of course, there’s cruising and there’s cruising. Dhows like the one in the photo below, taken in Muscat’s harbour, have been cruising the Gulf for 2,000 years or so. A long time ago, they carried spices. Now, their cargo is more mundane stuff, like air conditioners and television sets. But, as far as I know, not one of them has a running track.