This memory belongs to my father, it happened long before I was born. In 1968, my father lived in Niamey, Niger (this is actually where he met my mother). He was in the French military, and although they used planes at that time, boat could still be used to travel from Europe to Africa or vice versa. After the few years of service in Niamey, he had to go back to France, but since we wasn’t in a hurry, he asked to travel by boat.
In May, he went to Abidjan, Ivory Coat, where he boarded the Mermoz, one of the last ships that did the shuttle from France to West Africa. This was such a luxurious boat that it became a cruise ship later on. Had boarded as well fifty troops from Ivory Coast, Gabon, Niger, Tchad and Central African Republic. Since my father had the highest grade, he was designated the “Commandant d’armes” and therefore was granted one of the two luxurious cabins.
Departing from Abidjan, the deck was messy with packages, parcels, sheep, goats and men. But after three days, the boat landed at Dakar, and most of the deck cleared up. That night, during the meal, they were announced by the captain that students protested in France, that triggered laughter from the passengers, as they didn’t really care about a the mood of a few students!
Three days later, they stopped at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and, with a group of passengers, visited the island. The cruise was marvellous. Weather was gorgeous, meals were succulent, there were shows every night on board the Mermoz. But arrived at Casablanca, the captain announced that the student protests were getting stronger, and reached Marseille docks. He didn’t know whether they would be able to land there.
Two days later, they passed Gibraltar, but still didn’t know where they would land. The possible options were Marseille, Barcelone, or Genoa. The next morning, they landed in Marseille. The dock was deserted. Red and black flags had been hanged everywhere. Passengers started to wonder how they’d get they luggage off the boat without the carriers. The attendant asked my father if his men could help the passengers get their luggage off the boat.
The country was paralyzed. No train was running, no plane was flying, banks were closed, gaz was hard to find and the price at the few opened station was ludicrous. From this wonderful cruise, my father had step foot in France’s May ’68 crisis.