ONE TOGA OVER THE LINE
‘EQUATOR: n. A line notionally drawn on the earth equidistant from the poles, dividing the earth into northern and southern hemispheres and constituting the parallel of latitude zero degrees.’
–Oxford English Dictionary
Well, that’s the thing about the equator, isn’t it? It is just a notion. A metaphysical sash drawn around the belly of our planet right where we bulge out the most – but purely imaginary. It’s not as if a satellite photograph from space would show any kind of man-made lasso girdling the globe.
But the line is very real in our minds. We speak of ‘crossing the equator’ with almost epical reverence. In travel circles crossing the equator is, quite literally, a rite of passage.
I don’t know exactly what I thought would happen when I finally crossed the equator, but I never imagined it would involve wearing a toga, wiping spaghetti on my shoulders and raw egg yolk trickling down my forehead.
The Aegean Odyssey crossed the equator on January 29, 2013 while the ship was en route from Semarang, Indonesia to Singapore. The summons under our cabin door was a tad bewildering: “All Polliwogs desirous of metamorphosing into Shellbacks please assemble by the pool on the Lido Deck at 1100 hours in order to partake in the time-honoured tradition under the behest of King Neptune and his queen.”
Turns out Shellbacks are sailing veterans who have crossed the equator before; Polliwogs are those of us who haven’t. King Neptune turned out to be the Ship’s Doctor dressed in a toga-cum-bedsheet. His queen, also be-toga’ed, was the ship’s aesthetician.
The pool area was garlanded with palm fronds for the occasion. Two mock thrones were installed at the head of the pool and beside them, ominously, a tub of spaghetti noodles, several shakers of white flour and a large bowl full of several dozen soft-boiled eggs.
The ceremony, variations of which have played out on the decks of ships in the British navy, the Marines, the Coast Guard and various cruise lines for a couple of centuries or more, was mock serious and full of spells, incantations and pronouncements. The upshot was we Pollywogs (forewarned enough to be wearing bathing suits) were blessed and bedaubed with flour, spaghetti noodles and yes, soft-boiled eggs cracked over our skulls, after which we were gently but firmly pushed into the pool.
I was no longer a Pollywog, I was a Shellback. I had officially crossed the equator.
I expected somehow to feel … transformed … elevated to some higher plane, but I can’t say I really do.
Well, aside from the dried egg yolk in my ear.
READ MORE BALI, BANGKOK AND BEYOND
ENTRY 1: FROM BALI
ENTRY 2: MORE FROM BALI
ENTRY 3: CROSSING THE EQUATOR
ENTRY 4: FROM SINGAPORE
ENTRY 5A: HO CHI MINH CITY
ENTRY 5B: IN VIETNAM, DON’T ORDER THE MUTT-ON
ENTRY 5C: TRAFFIC TRAUMA – VIETNAMESE STYLE
ENTRY 6: AN INTERESTING SIDE TRIP
ENTRY 7: THAILAND: A FRUITFUL DESTINATION
ENTRY 8: AH, SHANGRI-LA. NO, REALLY
ENTRY 9: HOCKEY IN THE TROPICS
BALI, BANGKOK AND BEYOND
Arthur Black travelled on a Voyages to Antiquity cruise called Bali, Bangkok and Beyond on a cruise tour offered through Exclusive Tours. Read all about his adventures on board the Aegean Odyssey, a modern, slimmed-down cruise ship (only 350 passengers) making its way from Bali to Bangkok by way of Singapore, Saigon, Sihanoukville and Angkor Wat. His travel diary can be accessed by clicking the links above. Happy reading!
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