Southern India and Sri Lanka aboard the Clipper Odyssey

The sights and experience in Southern India and Sri Lanka were interesting and worthwhile, even if choosing a cruise was a poor decision. Rough seas and gastrointestinal illness do not make for a fun vacation.

Clipper

Being gently rocked to sleep on a ship is one thing. An active sea that leads to tossing either in bed or out is another. That was my night on the Sunday, December 18 into the next morning — and I was scared.

The truth is, you never know what sort of experience you'll get on a cruise ship. Here, I experienced a mix of the good and the bad.

Of course I should have anticipated sea sickness

As the boat thrusts up and down and then back and forth, I hear an accompanying groaning noise from deep within the vessel. It sounds as though we are being dragged. Like our window curtain that is involuntarily swaying with this underlying heaving, I am an unwilling party to fear and therefore unable to sleep. We are in the open sea up the eastern coast of Sri Lanka from Galle to Chennai, India.

Others on the ship have a more significant problem — motion sickness. In the cabin next door, I can hear the male occupant retching. This is not the first night I’ve heard him.

“Either he didn’t take the medicine distributed by our Croatian-trained doctor or it must not be entirely effective,” I think.

Why would anybody take this trip anyway?

If others on the trip thought about motion sickness or the scorching heat of Southern India or the possibility of falls on a moving ship plus the real possibility of gastrointestinal illness (GI), why would anyone take the trip? The answers came easily.

“I trained a lot of doctors from Southern India and wanted to see where they came from,” said one 80-year-old burly, curly-haired physician.

Another passenger was more succinct: “Because I could.”

Yet a third gentleman and his wife who were in their 60s or early 70s explained they had wanted to come back after doing business in this part of the world. They hired agricultural professionals from Sri Lanka to help run their farm in Brisbane, Australia. Now, the couple wanted to host a lunch on board for the families of these employees when the ship docked at Colombo, Sri Lanka.

As for me, I took the trip so I could see most of the colonial ports in India and Sri Lanka on one voyage in what I hoped would be an easy way. My husband kindly accompanied me and fulfilled his passion for taking photographs.

We were about 57 passengers total, 19 of which were from Yale with two Yale representative totaling 21 from that institution. On some voyages, other schools, such as Harvard or MIT, are represented. The ship’s capacity is about 100 so we were not full. Our average age was perhaps 65 or 70. The oldest was 91; another was 87 and at least two more were in their 80s.

Daily ship life: Lentils, lectures and leisure

Everyone liked the food. But, if you eat gluten free, the Indian cooking on this trip is a special plus. Lentils, rice and other non-wheat grains are primaries in the cooking.

Then, there is the spice. There is good reason that Europeans first came to India for the spices. It makes the food so tasty. In addition to good food, the chance of a GI upset is diminished by living on the ship rather than eating in Indian restaurants on shore.

The lecturers on board were a real treat. They were friendly, welcoming, verbally adept and some even funny. Their talks were diverse and, in general, related to the trip, but not always. For example, we had several lectures about physics from a historical perspective, which were actually a hit.

Between shore excursions and lectures, there wasn’t much time to relax. Still, we did meet new acquaintances, primarily at meals. To our great surprise, five of the ship’s passengers lived within blocks of us at home. Two were neighbors from Indianapolis and three from Manhattan, which means we had common interests related to our habitats.

Another bonus is only unpacking once!

Daily Ship life: Long bus rides, less than luxurious bathrooms and little internet access

Our shore excursions took us 30 minutes to three hours one way on a bus. This was not what I expected, anticipating that we would step off the ship and be at our destination almost immediately. Again, I can refer to myself as silly me, because I did not investigate this ahead of time.

There are multiple categories of cabins on the ship. My husband and I had a level 6, 230-square-foot cabin with a bay window and its own bathroom. It had a bed, two desks and closets, a sofa and two chairs. To us, it seemed small but was the largest category available except for a two-room suite that had already been taken before we signed up. The ship was 21 years old and though comfortable was not luxurious. The bathroom in particular needed updating. Internet access was a joke.

Summary

Though clearly this trip has pluses, I would not take it again nor would I advise someone else to do so. The weather was hot (even though it was December), the travel in the bus offshore too long and while on the ship the waves were miserably rough from time to time.

Additionally, though gastrointestinal illness may be less likely on a vessel, it still can happen and did.

The sights we saw were great and worth seeing, but in another way in my opinion. One option is staying at a high-end local hotel and hiring a driver or guide to see the sights. My friends tell me that they also have a driver take them from city to city as well, and since distances are not far in the Southern India that works.