I was supposed to be aboard a cargo ship called the Hanjin Chicago right about now, pulling up alongside the Baja California Peninsula. Alas, when I showed up to board that ship in Busan, South Korea two weeks ago, I was informed of a new law which had just come into effect, making it illegal for civilians to leave South Korea by freighter.
Now two weeks and some $600 later, I’m in Japan to try again. My ride this time is the CMA CGM La Traviata.
February 14th is the departure date.
I know. Nothing says “Valentine’s Day” quite like hopping aboard a cargo ship to spend four weeks with a bunch of sailors.
Here’s a quick update on the my earlier FAQ post about the trip…
How much is this costing you?
I worked out that the ship from South Korea was costing me $4,200/€3,080, including all associated banking fees, travel insurance, plus a doctor check-up. To book the ship from Japan, I had to pay an extra $326 on top of that, so the total cost now works out to $4,526/€3,318.
I mentioned that $600 figure above to account for the cost of the ferry from South Korea to Japan, and accommodation for the last couple of weeks.
Once I’m actually on the ship, I won’t have any expenses for the duration of the trip.
Why is it so expensive?
Best I can figure, it’s because the freighter companies don’t care. They’re carrying multimillion dollar cargoes, and they only have room for 3-6 passengers on each ship. It’s not exactly big business for them, so they probably charge a high price to make it worth their while.
Was this your only option for crossing the Pacific?
No. My ideal was to hitch rides on sailboats, but that would have taken 2-3 months to get all the way across, which was more time than I wanted to spend at sea. (If I was willing to spend that long, something like this would have been epic.)
There were also numerous other cargo ship options.
How do you go about booking something like this?
You google around for “cargo ship cruises” and see what’s on offer. They’re not hard to find. Here are five sites with listings for cargo ships that take passengers:
- Maris Freighter Cruise and Travel Club
- Freighter Expeditions
- Cargo Ship Voyages
- The Cruise People
- Sea Travel Ltd.
I booked my trip via Sea Travel Ltd. Getting everything organized requires a lot of emails back and forth and you have to send them a bunch of documentation, but it’s all fairly straightforward.
Will you be sleeping in a shipping container?
Apparently not. Here’s the description of my cabin aboard La Traviata: “about 20 sqm, double bed (200 x140 cm), sofa, easy chair, desk, shower, toilet. Two or three wide windows.”
I expect it will be similar to the cabin shown here.
What is there to do aboard the ship?
Well there’s no Internet access, so I won’t be able to get my usual work done. There is a “gymnasium” aboard, but I’m not expecting anything fancy, maybe just a few dumbbells and a ping-pong table. There’s also supposed to be a library and an indoor swimming pool, but again, I’m not expecting much. They’re not exactly catering for holidaymakers here.
I’ll keep myself busy though. Mainly I’ll be doing a lot of writing, brushing up on my Spanish, and reading many a fine book.
Will you be interacting with the crew?
The common language on board is English, so I should be able to chat with the European captain and officers, and the Indian and Filipino crew. I’ll be sharing meals with them every day, and I’m allowed on the bridge pretty much whenever so I’ll probably hang around there from time to time and ask which buttons I can push.
Also, it seems I’ll be something of a novelty as I’ve been told most people who travel aboard cargo ships are between 60 and 79 years old. My contact at Sea Travel Ltd. says young pups like myself are usually in too much of a hurry to consider spending 26 days at sea.
What cargo is the ship carrying?
No idea, but I’m hoping for zoo animals. Life of Ni.
Will you be stopping off at many ports along the way?
The first 18 days are at sea, as we go right across the Pacific to Manzanillo in Mexico. We also have a stop in Panama after that and then we hit Callao/Lima in Peru and I disembark.
I’m not 100% sure if I’ll be allowed off the ship in Mexico or Panama. Apparently I have to speak with the port authorities and figure it out with them. I don’t believe we’ll be stopped for very long though, maybe 12 hours at the most, and we might arrive at night.
Here’s a map of the route:
If you feel so inclined, you can keep track of the ship’s position here.
Will you be writing about your experience?
Yes, I’ll happily tell you all about it, but since I won’t have Internet access at sea you’ll have to wait until I arrive in Peru in mid-March. Make sure you’re signed up to my Travel Ninjas mailing list below so you won’t miss the update.
Now, please excuse me while I go make final preparations for the trip. I need to find a volleyball and some ice skates to bring along with me. You know, just in case.
Oh, and your questions and comments are very welcome below. Just keep in mind that I’ll be offline for four weeks soon after this post goes live, so moderation and replies will have to wait.