Is it a monster or a container ship? It must hold at least six thousand of those. They are unloading some of them. With gigantic cranes resembling Louise Bourgeois spiders. They reach for container after container with their magnetic limbs and place them on the dock as though playing a game of Lego for adults.
We climb the gangplank. It is like scaling a peak. Our hands are blackened with grease as we hold onto the ropes and try to keep our balance. A sailor is waiting for us at the top. He is a Filipino. He informs the ship’s captain by walkie-talkie. He is nothing like a German officer.
He takes us along a corridor that is narrower than usual. The walls are hung with reproductions of works of art denoting a certain sensitivity on the part of the ship owner. We arrive at the canteen, the gathering place for most of the sailors. Three long tables are lined up and four sailors sit down to eat.
The plates contain white rice covered in a thick sauce full of bits and pieces as dark as oil. This is ‘dinuguan’, a highly prized Filipino dish. It is a stew made of pork blood and offal, cooked slowly and seasoned with garlic and chilli. We are invited to join them for lunch and, as a starter, they offer us some small fried fish similar to “pescadito frito” except they dry theirs in the sun and then fry it in oil without flouring it first.
We sit down at the table. In front of us, on the main wall, there is an enormous reproduction of one of Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s soup cans. This is strange for a merchant ship whose walls are decorated with pictures from different places and eras. It is like a travelling museum on the sea. Now I know they exist.