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Crystal Serenity 2010 World Cruise - Mumbai to Dubai

We left Mumbai and its pall of pollution seemed to follow us for at least a day.  The skies were overcast and the visibility was so poor that there was no horizon.  The morning of the third day, I tapped the top of the alarm clock to silence it, rolled and pushed myself into a sitting position and then opened the lanai door. The sharp outlines of the low mountains around Muscat, Oman, were visible and the air was soft and pleasantly warm.  I captured the unique lighting effects of the early morning sun, taking pictures of the small port city of Muttruh, where we would dock.   Oman is a sultanate and His Majesty Qaboos Bin Said is considered to be benevolent, moderate and modern, in contrast to his father who limited visas by personally signing them.  In common with almost all potentates, he certainly has provided himself with luxuries, such as a walled off glistening white palace and a yacht about half the size of Serenity.  On the other hand, under his direction, the country has used its oil revenues to improve infrastructure including a modern port with a grain handling facility and a bank of cylindrical storage silos.  There is an excellent roadway leading south, past the Sultan's palace to Muscat, which is the commercial center and national capitol.  There is a modern medical care facility that attracts international patients and, most importantly, an education system that is effective.  When we were here in 2008, he had just mandated that every schoolchild would have a lap top.  Some of the history and heritage have been preserved in restored forts scattered around the port, several small museums located in the city, small boat yards that still build wooden dhows and a classic Souk.   We had our usual pre-breakfast and then went to the dining room where we could watch the pax file down the gangway and board busses for a shore excursion.  We had a nap and then took the shuttle into Muttruh for a short visit to the Souk.  The main street follows the curving waterfront, which is a linear park after you leave the commercial port area and the adjacent fish market, so that no buildings block the view from the near water level roadway.  Almost all the buildings in the city, which occupies a narrow strip between the water and the mountains which surround the port, are one or two stories and white, probably stucco over clay tile.  There is a mosque with two minarets in the center of the arc, next door to the Souk.  The linear park continues east of the city to a large beach, just beyond the point where the highway enters the pass through the mountains.  A large monument, that looks like a giant white golf ball on a tee, is perched on a huge rock that divides the beach.   We wandered through the Souk and Nancy bought a couple of glasses cases with an elephant embroidered on the side and I looked at sextants for which they were asking four times the price I paid in Mumbai.  I took more photographs as Serenity left the harbor for an easy overnight cruise to the next port.   As the ship approached Bandar Abbas, Iran, the visibility was less than a mile in fog but it turned out to be mostly pollution.  The rock jetties guarding the narrow entrance were all oil stained black.  A large cargo ship was moored between a buoy and the seawall on the starboard side.  It was painted navy gray and carried a small caliber gun on its bow.  Serenity was moored to the seaward end of a wharf that stretched about half a mile to the end of the narrow channel that was apparently the commercial harbor.  A small Panamanian rust bucket was unloading cargo just in front of Serenity and half a dozen fishing boats were tied ahead of that.  A white ferry, with a rusting vehicle ramp in its squared off stubby bow, was tied to the transverse dock at the end.  It listed slightly to port, probably the result of uneven distribution of its cargo.  Another navy gray utility ship with, a helicopter hangar on its aft deck, was tied up on the opposite bank, next to a large metal sheathed blue-gray building.  I assume it may have some connection with the Iranian Navy, as Bandar Abbas is naval Headquarters.  Two relatively new oil terminals with freshly painted white petro piping flanked a gravel handling facility opposite our berth.  Three gravel barges were tied next to the pile of demolished structural steel that appeared to be the remains of a materials handling facility.  The truncated end of the square metal sheath hung in mid-air while the skeleton of the conveyor angled toward the ground.  Trucks made repeated trips from a stockpile to deposit gravel on the deck of one of the barges.    There was an arm leading off the right side, just inside the breakwater and I could see the superstructure of several ships, including one with a pod mounted cannon that appeared to be about a 5 inch bore.  Beyond that there were three tall pylon mounted cargo handling cranes, typical of those used in ship yards, which indicated another harbor facility there.  In the late afternoon, a small submarine was towed out to sea by a tug.   Serenity's gangway led from deck five to the wharf.  A line of old warehouse buildings lined the entire length of the wharf, excepting a gap opposite Serenity, where there was a yellow brick building that appeared to be the offices of customs and immigration.  A hundred cars, that appeared to be recently imported, were impounded inside a fenced area and two rows of used trucks were lined up behind one warehouse.  There were a dozen truck mounted cranes, all either new or well cared for, parked behind another warehouse and four stacks of used semi-trailer frames, 5 trailers in each stack, near the cranes.   This was Crystal's first call in Iran and they offered interesting shore excursions.  The big attraction was a tour of the ancient Persian ruins at Persepolis and the nearby city of Shiraz.  Two hundred 200 people were taking a chartered flight early in the morning.  Most would return that evening while 21 would continue on to Tehran, rejoining ship in Kuwait, three days later.  There was an all day tour to the city of Isfahan with an option to continue on to Tehran, a half day tour of the city of Bandar Abbas, and another to see the island of Qeshm, a present day nature preserve and thought by some scholars to be the site of the Garden of Eden.   Although the vast majority of Iranian people would be friendly and welcoming, the country is ruled with a heavy hand by a group of religious extremists that has proven itself to be untrustworthy.  I did not want to risk some orchestrated or impromptu incident on a tour.  Nancy and I stayed aboard ship.   From the comments of our friends, we didn't miss much on the local trips.  Two security men rode on each bus in addition to the driver and a guide.  The purpose of the guards seemed to be to keep the tourists under tight control.  Only the tour busses were available.  We were told that there were no taxis at the port gate and the one couple that told the guide that they wanted to take a taxi and do independent touring were told that they could not leave the group.  The 200 or so that took the flight to Persepolis were thrilled with the tour of the ruins but told tales of poor organization, conflicting instructions and unexplained delays.  The group that went to Tehran enjoyed the visit to the city but were not pleased with delays that resulted in arriving at the hotel at 11PM.  Furthermore they were told at the airport, departing for Kuwait, that they had no visas in their passports and the local immigration officials would not let them leave the country without the paperwork.  Fortunately, after an hour or so of intensive negotiation, the panjandrums relented and they were allowed to board an ancient Russian plane that was chartered to take the 21 of them to Kuwait.  They arrived at that hotel around 2AM.    Certainly my decision to stay on ship proved to be overly cautious and I was pleased that there were no serious incidents with any of the passengers who went on shore excursions.   We enjoyed a pleasant day on a calm sea on the way to Kuwait.  The Gulf is fairly shallow, with few areas deeper than 30 meters.  The channel into Shuwaikh Port starts about 20 miles to sea and passes only a mile offshore from Kuwait City, so we had a picture-post-card view.  The harbor is compact, affording Capt Glenn barely enough room to turn the ship end-for-end and back into the finger pier dock.  As we left the cabin at 6:30, I noticed that there was no activity on the dock other than the half dozen men in orange overalls that manhandled the heavy hawsers over the mooring bollards.  Because our tour was scheduled to leave at 9AM, we opted to have breakfast in the Lido, and go to the gangway a few minutes early.  9AM and no busses!  I could see the shore excursion manager on the dock with a cell phone on his ear and soon there was a rumor that the busses were at the port entrance.  We boarded 45 minutes late.  The exterior of ours was rather inexpertly repainted but the interior was good, excepting the dirty windows.  We learned that Serenity was the first large cruise ship ever to visit the port, so they had a bit of an organization problem that we will excuse.  First stop was the Heritage Museum from which the Iraqi Army stole all the dioramas and displays.  The museum staff did a wonderful job of recreating the exhibits.  Then we drove half an hour along the Gulf coast road with views of the city on our right.  There were dozens of new low rise buildings, many of interesting design utilizing curving exteriors.    We stopped at the roadside and were told it was a photo opportunity.  Other than the buildings, there wasn't anything of interest to photograph.  We stayed there 20 minutes and drove halfway back, stopping at the Kuwait Towers.  One is a tapering spire about 80 meters tall.  We were told it was the "Electricity Tower" but the guide didn't know why.  The second had a 10 meter diameter ball halfway up and was about 130 meters to the tip.  The third had a large ball containing a restaurant at 50 meters and a smaller spherical observation platform at 120 meters.  The top of the tapering spire was at 187 meters.  All three spires were poured reinforced concrete with the outline of the forms clearly visible underneath a coat of white paint.  The topmost sections were silver painted metal. The balls were covered with 6 inch diameter disks of various shades of blue and green.  We were deposited by the bus driver in front of the street level lobby.  When the elevator arrived, a uniformed operator got out ahead of about 20 passengers.  Nancy and I managed to get into the ride carrying the first of our group.  We walked around the observation deck, took some pictures, used the lavatory, went down, found a seat in the lobby and watched people.  A Kuwaiti man and woman entered.  He was dressed in flowing white robes with a headgear topped by a multi-color round rope, sort of like a large throwing quoit.  The woman wore a full length black dress with a black Abaya, a long rectangular scarf that enclosed her head but left her face fully exposed.  They stood, sort of in line with the others, waiting for the elevator.  When the operator saw the couple, he brushed back the horde of cruise passengers, motioned to the Kuaitis, and took them up alone in the elevator.  You can invent your own scenario.   Our last stop was the fish souk.  Whooppie!  It was a large light brown concrete building, about half the size of a football field, and had a colonnaded frontal exterior.  It was surprisingly clean and not fishy smelling.  In the central hall, where the 10 meter high ceiling was supported on regularly spaced round columns, dozens of vendors displayed artful arrangements of crab, shrimp, eel, octopus, squid and a wide variety of fish.  It was all packed in tons of ice, which accounted for the lack of smell, unlike a few of the fishmarkets we have visited.  The local favorite is Homour, which is typically about 5 kilo and 75 centimeters long.  Its off white skin is covered with quarter sized light brown spots.  Other vendors' stalls, in the front vestibule and side wings, offered almost anything you might find in a supermarket.    Kuwait has recovered remarkably from the devastation inflicted by the Iraqi Army in the 1990 invasion.  There are a few buildings that remain from that era, most of which are abandoned and fenced off.  The roads are in excellent condition and, excepting a film of sand dust, are remarkably free of trash.  About 20% of the population are Kuwaiti citizens and almost all of those that work, are employed by the government.  The rest comprise the immigrant workforce.  An immigrant visa, with working privileges, costs $700 U.S. and must be renewed annually.  A non-working family member must pay $300.  They receive free medical care and education for their children, who cannot be Kuwaiti citizens, even if born in the country.  There are no taxes.  So far, oil revenues cover everything.  Interestingly, there are no internet cafes.   What a difference between Kuwait and Bahrain.  Kuwait City seems concentrated.   Manama and adjacent Muharraq are essentially one city and spread out almost endlessly on the desert sand, much of it enhanced by man-made fill.  The government just completed a 3 mile long rock breakwater behind which they pumped a wide strip of sand.  At the end is a brand new commercial harbor that handles containers.  We didn't see oil tankers in Kuwait but there were half a dozen big ones at the original port facility in Bahrain, three miles across the huge harbor.  The U.S. Navy has a large presence in Manama and uses the new facility for its ships and I expect that there is a U.S. Air Force base at the large commercial airport.   Serenity docked at the new port facility directly in front of a U.S. Navy fleet oiler.  Two armed patrol boats cruised back and forth, about 200 yards off the dock.  Our busses were waiting for us on the opposite side of the new terminal building, complete with airport style check-in counters and baggage handling conveyors (which we didn't use, of course).  Our guide was a young twenties lady completely enveloped in a black dress and Abaya that framed her face.  She said she preferred to wear the traditional dress, emphasized the history of Bahrain noting that archaeologists have found evidence of settlements as far back as 8000BC.  She proudly pointed out the first public school ca. 1905 and that they had the first airport in the area in 1923.  Ancient Islamic text refers to the large island in 1345, it was conquered by the ubiquitous Portuguese in 1521 and by the Persians in 1602.  The Al-Khalifa dynasty has ruled since 1783.  The British had a strong presence until the country became independent in 1971.  Like Kuwait, only about 40% of the population are Bahrani citizens.  They receive all benefits tax free and many of those who are wage earners, work in high levels of government.    First visit was the historic fort in Maharraq, a crumbling brown combination of local rock and mortar made from the brown desert sand.  Circular towers on each corner provided a higher firing location than the main walls, which were barely 10 meters high, and allowed fire to be directed against attackers at the side walls.  There wasn't much left of the original interior as recent renovation had added concrete steps and level platforms at the battlements, to accommodate tourists.  Bolted steel doors closed off small rooms that might have been barracks or ammunition storage.  The original well, with a waist high square stone surrounding enclosure, still had water in it, 20 feet below a protective steel grating.  In the parking lot, a police band, dressed in cherry red full length tunics over white pants that were tucked into combat boots, marched to the accompaniment of several nasal sounding reed instruments and large drums.  Their formations were crisp and they looked sharp but we didn't appreciate the music.   We drove past the international airport and stopped at Sheikh Isa Bin Ali house.  At one time it was probably the finest residence in town but age has taken its toll and the city has engulfed it with stores and other small buildings, although a beautiful small mosque was immediately next to it.  The blank stone and stucco exterior walls were extensively decorated with dentil and similar detail.  A single low door and passageway led to an interior courtyard from which several rooms could be accessed.  The main feature of the house was the wind tower that caught the faintest desert breeze.  The tower extended well above the roof line and was about 5 meters square with an opening immediately below the closed off top.  Crossed masonry panels were molded inside the tower to create four triangular ducts.  One or more carried the breeze down through the ceiling of what was probably the main living room.  It was remarkably effective.  The doors were all small, requiring almost everybody to duck to pass through.  The windows, fitted with interior wooden shutters behind heavy steel bars, were at floor level and only a couple of feet high.   The final stop was at a souk.  ‘Seen one souk, ‘seen ‘em all!   We enjoyed a quiet day while Serenity sailed south at an unusually slow 10 knots.  The alarm jangled at 6:15 and I opened the opaque drapes that keep the ship's perimeter night lights from flooding the room.  The morning was obscured by dense fog, the surface of the sea was flat calm and Serenity was dead in the water.  Very unusual!  After breakfast, the captain announced over the ship's P.A. system that that the port was closed because of the fog and we would have to wait for clearance to enter harbor at Abu Dhabi.   The city has grown, sometimes frenetically, from dusty unpaved streets in 1961to wide boulevards lined with steel, glass and concrete towers that unquestionably make it the prime jewel in the crown of the United Arab Emirates.  It sits on about 10% of the entire world's known reserves of crude oil.  It isthe wealthiest city in the world where the national worth is estimated at $17mil for each citizen.  Our guide, born in Miami of Peruvian parents, attended University in Miami, met her Abu Dhabi born husband there, and has been married for 14 years.  After 12 years of marriage, having produced at least one son, she was eligible to become a citizen.  No taxes, all social benefits paid for and a wonderful environment in which to live, albeit a highly modified desert.  Wonderful if you are a citizen, maybe not so wonderful if you are one of the 80% who are the non-citizen underlying workforce.   Our first destination was the new Mosque, second largest in the world.  The delayed docking made it imperative that we visit there first because it would be closed to visitors at 11:30 in preparation for noon prayers.  To call it large, would be a severe injustice.  It is, at least, immense.  The primary building, all white Italian marble, is probably 400 feet long and 200 feet wide.  Three large white domes dominate the roofline.  The exterior walls, arranged in a rectangle, incorporate the main building on the west (facing Mecca) and create an interior courtyard that is about 400 feet square.  Round Minarets rise from the eastern corners, each probably 150 feet tall, with circular balconies, from which the Muezzin traditionally calls for prayer.  Sadly, no matter where you are in the world, all the minarets seem to be equipped with loudspeakers which broadcast taped messages.  The white marble perimeter walls are about 50 feet tall with columned arches along the floor level and three domes spaced along each exterior wall.  Did I mention that it is immense?    At the corner of the parking lot, a man in a small kiosk issued black cover dresses to women who were wearing shorts or less than ankle length dresses.  Men were issued white gowns, if needed to cover their Bermudas.  We walked along the approach walkway, which was white marble (what else?), past the tomb of Zayed the First, who is revered by the faithful.  No photographs of the tomb were permitted.  At the entrance to the mosque, the women were issued black Abayas which they wrapped to cover all hair and expose only the face.   The lobby was about 100 feet square with a vaulted ceiling.  The two white marble side walls were decorated with a simple green and blue pattern that resembled a grape vine.  The columned arches, of the outside wall, were fitted with single pane glass panels while the interior wall had four doorways into the main hall, which they said could hold 40,000 worshippers (but I did the math and it doesn't compute, so that must be the total capacity using additional areas, such as the courtyard).  The guide said the carpet, an olive green background with a repetitive pattern of white, blue, gold, and orange symbols, was woven in Iran by 1000 workers taking several years to complete.  It weighed 10 tons and was transported in pieces.  The original weavers were brought to Abu Dhabi to reassemble it.  It is stunning, to say the least.  A series of parallel raised pile strips are woven to define the position for worshipers to stand facing Mecca, for the initial position for prayer.  Gold chandeliers, with crystal elements reflecting and refracting white and colored light, hang from the apex of each of three marble domes.   Our guide said each one weighs 4 tons and cost $10mil.  There was a circle of support columns under the periphery of each dome.  Each column started as a quad of three foot diameter marble shafts 30 feet high, topped by a 20 foot diameter capital.  A brilliant white light flooded from the underside of each capital.   Marble arches, with extensive gold inlays, completed the structure to the domes.  Similar column systems supported the ceiling between the domes.  The side walls of the hall were white marble with gold inlay patterns above 20 foot high doors, windows or gold decorated purplish-brown carpet panels, all capped with Islamic arches.   On the center of the far wall, there was a six foot wide wooden stairway that terminated at a simple wooden platform, about 10 feet off the floor, from which the imam preaches.  At strategic locations within the hall and lobby, there were six foot, sort of octagonal, ornate gold panels with bright yellow lights displaying the current time, the Islamic year (which starts in the Christian year 622 AD) and other information in Arabic characters.  Our guide explained that there are five pillars to the faith: Shahadah is the acceptance of the Islamic faith; Salat is the commitment to pray five times daily, during which the supplicant assumes the three postures of prayer indicating complete submission to God; Zakat is giving of alms to the needy; Sawm is fasting during Ramadan; Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca, performed at least once in a Muslim's lifetime (there are alternatives for those who cannot do so).    One interesting fact is that the mosque is located only about a quarter mile to the side of the approach path for the international airport, with aircraft only 300 feet or so above ground as they pass by.   The other three locations that were on the tour were closed by the time we arrived.  It is not uncommon in Muslim economies to close businesses to accommodate noon prayer.  They usually open later in the afternoon and continue into the evening.   At 5PM the world cruisers boarded busses for a 20 minute ride, which actually took an hour, to Yas Marina Circuit.  As part of the overall diversification plan for the economy, the Emir approved developing nearby land for recreational purposes.  One of the projects was to create a world class race track for Formula I cars.  These open wheel (no fenders) designs, are campaigned world-wide, typically achieving 220 mph on long straight-aways but often having to brake to 60 mph or less, to negotiate small radius tight turns, both to the left and to the right.  Courses are typically 3 to 5 miles long.   Our six busses arrived at the track and were escorted, at a sedate 30 mph, around the circuit.  We entered on the pit straight, which is flanked by parallel opposing grand stands, each of which can seat 20,000.  Pit lane is on the outside of the course with the pits immediately below the spectators.  The garages are enclosed under the grand stand with lounges for the drivers, beyond a service road.  An enclosed walkway connects the lounges to an adjacent hotel, certain to be rated 5-star, which can accommodate pit crews and owners.  Another U-shaped grandstand is halfway around at the sharpest turn, where the cars have to brake to 60 mph, and the final grandstand is at the end of the long straightaway, where speeds are the fastest, but the drivers typically slow only to 120 mph to negotiate the corner.  There are multiple intermediate s-curves that can be incorporated in the course by merely repositioning lightweight barriers.  The entire project, including a 10,000 sq ft media center and multiple service facilities for the fans is enclosed in a futuristic structure with swooping curves surfaced with reflecting panels to help control the desert heat.  Because of the heat, most of the activities will be held at night.  When we were there, and the only group there, the entire 3.5 mile track and all adjacent facilities were lighted as if in daylight.  The power bill must have been mindboggling.    They are proud that they were able to complete the project in only 33 months, from the time the first bulldozer started moving the sand of a barren desert to the inaugural race in November 2009.  Oh yes, did I mention that Crystal did it again?  This was the first time any group had been to the track!  The inaugural race was a closed affair for owners, crews and drivers.  Only local officials and VIPs were in the stands.  The first "biggie" was scheduled for two weeks after our event.   There was one small, probably unavoidable, hitch.  Access to the partitioned off third level in the grandstand, normally reserved for the Emir and his chosen guests, was limited by two small elevators, so it took quite a while for all the busses to transfer their passengers.  All the canapés were gone by the time we exited the elevators and we barely had time to sit and find a glass of wine before the welcoming speeches were made, after which we all adjourned to the VIP grandstand and watched.  A pace car, painted in the sky blue and white colors of the Circuit, was positioned ahead of two red Porsche sedans on the starting grid.  When the race control lights turned green, they were off to make two high speed circuits of the track, stopping at the end of the third for us to witness two helmeted passengers, in racing driver's coveralls, emerge from the right seats.  They were Rick and Stacy, the cruise director and WC hostess.  Next there was an ear deafening roar as a formula I car left the pits for two circuits, finally stopping below us to allow the hotel director to exit from a cramped seat behind the professional driver.  He had a boyish grin that won't disappear for weeks.  The final act was a stunt driver in an open top vehicle that had a large cockpit.  He did the customary, tire squealing acceleration runs and sharp turns in the wide straight away below us, finishing with a dozen or so doughnuts with the protesting tires belching white smoke.  Then he stationed a couple of people on the tarmac and proceeded to perform smoking doughnut figure eights, with his inside front tire nearly motionless and less than a foot from the immobile standees.  In the final act, he stabilized the car in a doughnut, locked the controls and stepped on to the track, allowing the driverless car to complete two turns before he nonchalantly placed a foot on the equivalent of a running board, sat down and stopped the car.   Nancy thought the evening was nonsense.  I was euphoric!   Dubai was all but obscured by the early morning haze, a condition that persisted all day.   John Clark had organized a golf outing so 27 of us met in the Crystal Lobby at 11AM and followed the bellboys pushing the hand cart loaded with golf bags.  Two Costa Cruises ships occupied the premier berths so we were demoted to a large white tent that was fortunately only a hundred yards away.  The bus driver negotiated the traffic successfully but stalled the engine trying to make the final turn to the bag drop.  On the second try, he rolled over something that ruptured the tire with a bang and great whoosh of escaping air.  We played golf and he went to replace the tire.   We played Dubai Creek.  It was perfect testimony to what money and water can accomplish.  The fairways were lush, the greens were perfect and Stimped about 12, fairly fast. The landscaping was beautiful and, like Pebble Beach and Harbortown, there were both fresh and salt water hazards.  The clubhouse had flowing rooflines reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House and the staff was unobtrusive but exactly where they should be, when they should be.  We discovered the 19th hole bar and I ordered a Guinness on tap, which was $10.  We had a good time.   One interesting comparison between the cities we have visited around the gulf is the height of the buildings.  Bandar Abbas had buildings that were about four stories high.  Kuwait had buildings that were about 10 stores high.  Buildings in Bahrain were 30 stories high, 80 stories in Abu Dhabi and over a hundred in Dubai.  Of course there were exceptions, vis-à-vis the paired structures in Bahrain that had stacked windmill electrical generators between them; the trio of Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi each of which had a scimitar-like curving side; and the Burge Dubai needle that reaches 2500 feet above the desert sands on which it was built.  It was re-named the Burge Khalifa after the Emir of Abu Dhabi, who essentially bought it for $10Billion to rescue Dubai from imminent default on loans.  Interestingly, one of my friends told me of a conversation with the head waiter of a rooftop restaurant where he and his wife had dinner.  The waiter said the situation in Dubai was completely misrepresented by the media, which portrayed the Emirate as on the brink of bankruptcy.  The waiter said that the personal wealth of the Emir of Dubai was three times the amount reported to be involved and that the contribution from Abu Dhabi was made as an investment with full expectation of a suitable return thereon.  Of course, the story is hearsay and there is a difference between insolvency and bankruptcy.   At two minutes past 5PM, Serenity's throaty fog horn sounded three blasts of about five seconds each and slowly gained momentum astern.  When she cleared the end of the dock, the bow swung toward the open sea.  Two hundred passengers had left and nearly the same number anticipated the voyage, through pirate infested waters to the Red Sea, and a transit of the Suez Canal on the way to Athens.     Duke and Nancy Harrison

Posted March 18, 2010

Crystal Serenity 2010 World Cruise - Rio to Mumbai

This will be the longest segment of the cruise, almost 3 weeks.  We left Capetown at 6:00PM and enjoyed a calm day at sea on the way to Port Elizabeth.  The city was named by the grieving first governor, not for the queen but for his wife, who died in child birth while they were on a sailing ship to this, his first command.   Early explorers found the broad bay on the southeast coast of South Africa and stopped to replenished water supplies.  They probably hunted for meat as well.  Like Capetown, it is cut into the continent, but faces sort of northeast and is sheltered from the heavy weather that blows from the southwest.  Yet the wind does blow, offshore, and that combined with miles of gorgeous beaches makes the area a water sports haven.    Fort Frederick was built in 1799 but never fired a shot in anger.  A century later thousands of locally raised horses were used and perished during the Boer War.  Now, the city is completing a 40,000 seat stadium that will host six of the preliminary games in the World Cup football (soccer) matches.  There is some industry, including a VW vehicle assembly plant (left hand drive Polo cars), two tire manufacturing plants (General and Goodyear) and dozens of small companies that fabricate components for the cars.  They expect to complete a new port facility with an associated manufacturing complex next year.    We took the basic tour that included a drive around the new stadium, a quick photostop at the statue memorializing the horses lost in the Boer War, a walk through the remains of the fort, and a short visit to the huge flower display in the square in front of city hall.  We rode through an older section of multi-million dollar homes (all with high walls topped by electrified and barbed wire fencing) but most of the areas through which we drove were modest houses on small plots, interspersed with two or three story buildings with stores and offices on the street level and living quarters above.  For the most part, the downtown and adjacent urban areas were well maintained, relatively free of trash and the roads were in good condition.     We drove along the ocean front south of the city.  No buildings may be built on the beach, to which the public has free access.  On the other side, close to the downtown area, there was a variety of restaurants, bars and stores, many displaying signs offering water sports (including three diving shops).   Further away there were apartments, condos and a few older beach houses.  As in many locations, the beachfront small houses are being bought up for their land value and are replaced with multi-family units.    It was taken for granted that they would not show us the black neighborhoods that were forcibly established during apartheit.  Blacks were required to live in areas remote from the white-only residential areas.  The government had to build railroads so that the blacks would have transportation to their jobs in the city.  These railroads are still in operation.  There were two different narrow gage track systems leading into the port.  A small locomotive was shuttling six car sections that were loaded with new 100 meter-long rails that were being unloaded from a freighter.  The segregation officially no longer exists but financial barriers prevent all but the most successful blacks from moving into formerly "whites only" neighborhoods.  Residual social pressures also tend to maintain the old status quo.  Thousands of black families have migrated to the cities in hopes of finding jobs.  They have little choice but to live in absolute squalor in black towns.  Unemployment is officially listed at 40% but the consensus is that this is understated.   We again enjoyed a day at sea before our early morning arrival at Durban.  The ship was near the pilot station at 3:00AM but was not scheduled to enter port until 6:30.  The channel is narrow and the port authority strictly controls all ship movements.  At 7:10 we heard the helicopter that lowered the pilot by cable and harness, onto the top deck.  Within minutes the ship had gained speed and was heading for the orange and white, center of the channel marker buoy.  We were nearly an hour late by the time we were cleared to walk through Shed N, which is the passenger terminal.  Most of the interior of the single story clear span building, that was almost the size of a football field, was filled with makeshift tables on which local entrepreneurs had laid out goods for sale.  Sadly, almost all of what they offered was tourist trinkets, generally factory made African motif stuff like bracelets, necklaces, machine-duplicated wooden items and a plethora of T-shirts.  Some of the labels we looked at said "Made in China".   At least the people tending the tables were not aggressive as we walked through the gauntlet toward our waiting bus.   We chose the shore excursion to Tala Game Park, a sequel to our visit in 2006.  The driver easily negotiated the nearly empty streets of downtown Durban on a Sunday morning and we were soon on the N3, their version of an interstate.  The elevated road allowed us to look down on the Indian "flea" market and some of the less choice neighborhoods of the city.  Apparently the immigrant Indians were not relocated during apartheit, so they are a major population component in the city.  The land use gradually changed to suburban and then countryside where the principal crop is a lower growing variety of sugarcane that was imported from Mauritius.    Tala Game Park is a private reserve, owned by the CEO of Tyson Foods, which encompasses about 2700 acres of rolling countryside.  It is completely fenced with an eight foot equivalent to Turkey wire, supplemented by two strands of electrified wire.  The guide said the animals quickly learn to stay away.  About half of the estate is covered by natural growth of various grasses with scattered low trees and Acatia bushes.  The rest is a former sugar cane farm that is slowly reverting to natural.    A nice lady, wearing a typical white collared black waitress dress, which somehow seemed incongruous in surroundings emulating African bush, offered strong coffee or tea, which we sipped on the way to the obligatory visit to the lavatory.  Then we were loaded on to a four wheel drive truck modified with a body that had four rows of seats, five across.  At the last moment, the lady who was directing the loading asked for two volunteers to shift to a Jeep that had seating for nine.  We quickly accepted.    Emily, an overweight blond in her late twenties, dressed in brown work clothes, complete with an embroidered Tala logo above the left shirt pocket, introduced herself and then sort of flowed into the driver seat.  After a short description of the reserve, she turned the key.  The engine started on the third attempt.  We followed the truck onto a slight rise where we spotted a lone Widlebeeste and a couple of Zebra, an Ostrich and several antelope.  In the hollow below us, two Zebra that she identified as males, were having a difference of opinion.  There was some running around and I think a few nips were inflicted but neither attempted to kick.  A well placed Zebra kick could be fatal.  The truck followed the twin tracks in the grass but Emily eased our smaller vehicle out of the well worn path and headed cross-country.  We passed a small group of juvenile Warthog, whose whiskers splayed either side of their snouts, as precursors to the tusks they would later grow.    As we crested a small rise, Emily saw Rhino, their gray bodies almost fully covered with the wet black mud from the small wallow in which they were immersed.  We were able to approach within about 50 feet, staying in the vehicle, of course.  Two daughters, nearly full size but with only a small bump where the horn was starting to grow, were standing next to the wallow.  They occasionally nudged each other with their immature horns as they moved back and forth on stubby legs that supported their huge bodies within inches of the ground.  Momma was in the mud.  After several minutes, she stood up and we could see the large horn, sticking upward from the tip of her broad nose.  It was about six inches in diameter at the base, rapidly tapering to about two inches in diameter eight inches from her nose.  Above that point, it tapered to about one inch diameter at the full 18 inches of length.  There was a second short horn that was only about 8 inches high, further up her nose.  Their heads were about ten inches wide and over two feet long with small beady eyes, on the sides, about halfway to the six inch long ears that were erect.  They sort of swiveled to catch various sounds.  Emily said their hearing was excellent but the eyesight was poor, although they can detect motion quite well.  It was exciting to see these large creatures close-up.  During our first visit, four years ago, we couldn't approach nearer than 200 meters.    At the bottom of the hill we came upon a lake in which Hippos were fully submerged in shallow water but standing on the muddy bottom, periodically raising their nostrils above the surface to breathe.  At one point, one raised its head clear of the water and opened its huge maw, exposing stubby teeth which are used to masticate succulent lake bottom plants and grasses.  Like the Rhino, their huge bodies are supported on stubby legs.  However, they are capable of speeds approaching 20 miles per hour for short distances and are normally very hostile.  The Hippo is considered the most dangerous animal in Africa, even more so than the Cape Buffalo, causing over 1000 human deaths a year.  A large number of Egyptian Geese swam near the shoreline while some waddled onto the nearby grass.   The rest of the tour was unrewarding as Emily explored various dirt roads, using a handi-talkie radio to exchange information with other drivers about animal locations.  Nobody could locate either Cape Buffalo or Giraffe, the two remaining animal populations we hoped to see.   The bus driver took the local route, as opposed to the N3, on the way back to the ship so we could see some of the neighborhoods.  Most of the houses were masonry or combinations of masonry and wood with a variety of roofing, including clay tiles, roll roofing or shingles and both corrugated and standing seam metal weather surfaces.  Neighborhoods tend to be ethnic in make-up with separate areas for Indian and whites.  Now, as in other areas of South Africa, there are no legal restrictions on where any family may live, and indeed many successful Indians and Blacks have moved into formerly all white areas.  However, the old adage, "birds of a feather flock together" still operates and there is strong inclination for people to stay within their ethnic areas.   I am taking the liberty of including excerpts from South Africa at Twenty, an article by Gwynne Dyer that may add some understanding.        "We astounded the world in 1990 and in 1994, and we shall do so again," wrote former South African president F.W. de Klerk on the 20th anniversary of the day in February, 1990 when he announced the end of the apartheid system. But in 1990 and in 1994 the astonishment was about the fact that disaster had been avoided, and even now it is not astonishment at the country's success.       South Africa has the second-highest murder rate in the world (after Colombia), the education system is one of the worst in the world, and AIDS accounts for 43 percent of all deaths.  It may be true that South Africa is doing better than was expected, but that only shows how low expectations were when Nelson Mandela was freed from prison twenty years ago.......  .......................     In the end, South Africans' shared interest in a peaceful and prosperous future triumphed over racism and tribalism - and a fairly peaceful and prosperous future is what they got. There have been two lawful and orderly changes of president since Mandela took office after the 1994 election - and with only 6 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa accounts for more than a third of its GDP.       However, it is not exactly an economic miracle. As the only industrialised country in Africa it has always towered over the rest of the continent economically, but its growth rate in the past fifteen years has been only a modest improvement on the near-stagnation of the later apartheid years. A new black middle class has emerged, but the gulf between the comfortable minority of all colours and the poor black majority has only widened.       South Africa does not control its borders effectively, and the result is that at least 10 percent of its population are undocumented foreigners......... They are often better educated and more enterprising than the locals, and the resentment of poor South Africans exploded into vicious anti-immigrant violence in May, 2008.       There will almost certainly be further violence unless most of the illegal immigrants are sent home, but the ANC says that it owes the other countries of southern Africa a debt of gratitude for having given its members shelter during the years of the anti-apartheid struggle. Those countries now depend heavily on remittances from their citizens who are in South Africa illegally, and the ANC cannot bring itself to expel them.       That is a high-sounding moral motive that we can all admire, but the presence of the illegal immigrants also serves to divert the anger and envy of poor, black South Africans from the homegrown middle class, black and white alike, that has been the real beneficiary of  economic growth since 1990. Almost 40 percent of black South Africans are unemployed, and they are well on the way to becoming a permanent under-class.  ...............     Education for black South Africans was always poor, and during the final fifteen years of constant anti-apartheid protests there was a "lost generation" that scarcely went to school at all. The end of apartheid should have changed all that, but it didn't. The money was spent on providing houses and services to keep people quiet, not on building a school system that would give them a future.       According to the World Economic Forum, South Africa's education system ranks 119th out of 133 countries. Only a quarter of South African children finish high school, and a mere 5 percent go to university. Most of those high school graduates and university students are now black South Africans, but the country is becoming a two-tier society with a hereditary under-class that gets only the crumbs from the table.       The thing about South Africa that is truly astonishing these days is that the poor put up with it.    Three pleasant days at sea brought us to an anchorage off Zanzibar, the Spice Island.  We had been there twice before and chose to tender in and shop a bit in the temporary bazaar outside the port gate, after which we rode in the shuttle bus to town and back, surreptitiously taking photographs through the vehicle window, and then only when the van was moving.  Many people strenuously object to being photographed without their permission.  The vehicle's marginal air-conditioner waged a losing battle against the 90F temperature and the tropical sun. We were happy to return to the comfort of the ship.    Arab settlements existed on the island from as early as 800AD and the Kizimkazi Mosque dates from 1107.  Vasco Da Gama lost a seaman during a contentious visit in 1498 and visited again in 1502, exacting revenge by sinking an Arab dhow returning 400 passengers from a pilgrimage to Mecca.  The Portuguese established a supply and trading base there in the 17th century, losing control to the Omani Arabs in the 19th century.  It continued to be an important port for Arab traders and became a slave market after the Moresby Treaty of 1822.  The hapless individuals, usually captured by rival black tribes in central Africa, were marched 1000 miles in chains to Zanzibar where they were sold to traders.  It was reported that the slaver could make a profit even if 80% of the slaves perished during the trek.  The practice was outlawed in 1863 but continued until the British occupied Tanganyika after WWI.   The cultural and commercial center of the island is historic Stonetown where the narrow streets force drivers to hug the walls of the buildings or even back up to allow opposing traffic to crawl by.  Almost all of the buildings are a mixture of coral and gypsum but the nearly snow white surface eventually becomes stained by a black mildew. They are noted for their exotic doors, often varnished bright work or colorfully painted.  The Old Fort was built around 1700, became a prison and site of execution in the 1800's and was converted to be the train station around 1900.  Today it is a cultural center.  Nearby is the former palace, which is now a deteriorating museum, and the House of Wonders, built in 1883 for Queen Fatuma.  It featured the wonders of interior plumbing, electric lighting and an elevator.  The British used it as their headquarters until the revolution in 1964 when Tanganyika merged with Zanzibar to become Tanzania.  It is now a craft center but is deteriorating from lack of maintenance. The twin spires of St. Joseph's Cathedral, built around 1895, extend above the rest of the town and are easily seen from our ship at anchor.  The waterfront appears to have been little changed in the last century or two.  Behind the block or two of historic buildings, cramped along the waterfront, there is a wide boulevard with modern apartment buildings, some individual houses, stores, warehouses, several Mosques and many restaurants, although I didn't see any buildings that appeared to be recently built.  At the port, a new steel and concrete wharf, complete with a large crane and a stack of shipping containers, has replaced the sunken steel barge that served as a dock in 2006.   The population is almost entirely black African or dark skinned Arab with some Indians.  Fishing is a major food source for the locals who, almost every night, sail into the Indian Ocean in 25 foot long, narrow boats, many of which are still built using the ancient technique of drilling thousands of holes in the edges of the boards and literally sewing the hull together with coir, a tough string like material made from cocoanut husk fibers.  The holes are sealed with gum and powdered lime mixture while the exterior is soaked in Lime juice to deter marine growth.  They are equipped with dirt streaked cotton lateen-rigged sails.  A few even mount a small outboard on the stern.  When they return with their catch, they pull the boats up on the beach.       Tourism provides some income but the growing and processing of spices is the major component of international trade.  The island is the source for nearly all of the world's cloves and also produces cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, pepper and ginger.    The sun was about 30 degrees above a hazy horizon when Serenity weighed anchor for Mombassa, just a casual overnight sail to the north.        This year, the shore excursion department did not offer the day-long, grueling trip over some of the worst roads in the world to the Tsavo National Park.  So we signed up for a repeat of our 2001 visit to Shimba Hills Reserve.  It wasn't a complete bust, but close.  We did see a small herd of Sable Antelope, considered a rare sighting, three giraffe, a dozen or so Cape Buffalo and some baboon.  There was plenty of fresh scat in the roads but the forest elephants are usually seen only in the late afternoon and early morning.  Of course, we did not expect to see lion.   One unique experience was to take the cross-channel ferry off the island of Mombassa.  In previous years, the route was over the small bridge at the western end.  There are two ferry boats that bring tens of thousands of black workers across to the island every morning, along with a variety of trucks, busses and private cars.  They load the vehicles first, and then open the flood gates for people to board.  Vendors offering souvenirs, water, food and newspapers walk among the vehicles but regular passengers are crammed on the narrow decks either side of three lanes of vehicles or on a second deck that is partially over the vehicles.  The 40 by 200 foot vessel is little more than a motorized barge with skeleton frameworks each end that raise and lower the full width loading ramps.  The front ramp is raised during loading, probably to prevent some driver from going over the edge, however, the technique used, is to lower the ramp near the opposite shore and merely drive the hull onto the sloping concrete approach roadway, allowing the steel ramp to scrape to a stop.  The lead vehicles start to move as soon as the ramp touches, hitting the bottom on the run, as it were.  It takes about 10 minutes to make the half mile crossing.   We were exposed to the changing kaleidoscope of the roadside.  In the city, almost all the buildings are single story shops and restaurants, usually clay tile or concrete block walls with a corrugated roof.  Small groups of men gather, to pass the time of day, at shops that probably offer strong tea and some easily prepared finger food.  Most of the signs are emblazoned with Coca Cola logos, so they may offer cold soda as well.  Other merchants display their wares, such as furniture, mattresses, displays of food, racks of yellow plastic water jugs, and building materials, piled on the margins of the pavement.  There is seldom a sidewalk.   People walk, sort of aimlessly, or merely sit with whatever comfort they can achieve, preferably in the shade.  Gasoline stations, posting 88 Kenya Shillings a liter (about $4.43 per US Gallon), are few and are surprisingly clean in comparison to the squalid surroundings.     In the country, scattered housing and an occasional village, occupy the roadside.  Almost all of the houses in the villages are small buildings, less than 600 sq. ft, with a few rooms, to single room shanties.  The better ones are concrete or tile block with corrugated roofing.  Others might be a collection of scrap plywood, plastic, or corrugated nailed over poles.  There are isolated well built, two or three story houses with manicured yards and expensive cars behind protective masonry walls with iron gates, but they are the exception.  Outside the villages, the most basic shelters are mud and wattle (mud mixed with animal hair, straw and cow dung, plastered over sticks tied into sort of a framework) with simple thatched cover.  Almost everybody in the country walks, toting whatever needs to be carried.  The better off might have a crude wooden hand cart with wheels scavenged from a bicycle, motorcycle or a car. We saw many people carrying or pulling loads of yellow water jugs from some central source, back along the roads to their homes.  In the city, away from the downtown area, trucks regularly fill up at hydrants and deliver water to rooftop plastic reservoirs---the water is essentially free but the recipient pays for delivery.  Every community has signs identifying various levels of schools.  A few are municipal but most are run by a religious sect.  They are scattered throughout the countryside as well.   Unfortunately for the city, Serenity, and the cash flow it brings, was the first cruise ship to visit Mombassa in a year.  In addition to being inside the southern boundary of the internationally declared piracy zone, the quality of sightings in its wild animal parks is much lower than in the parks accessible by air or sea in more southerly areas.  However, it is an active cargo port.   PIRATE!  Say that word to the average American and he will conjure an image of a stocky, peg-legged, scruffy bearded individual wearing a red waistcoat over a frilly white shirt.  A curving broad sword and a flintlock pistol will be tucked inside his belt and there will be a green parrot on his left shoulder adjacent to a black tri-corner hat.  He will scan the sea or command his roughish crew while standing on the quarter deck of a wooden caravel flying a black flag with the skull and cross bones.  Aaarrrgh!  Quite a stereotype.    Since the dawn of time, some instinct in man has impelled him to steal, whether it was an individual from another individual or, in the extreme, a nation from another nation; a la, how America acquired the Hawaiian and other Pacific Islands, Puerto Rico, and albeit temporarily, the Panama Canal Zone and the Philippine Islands.   Soon after Spain started shipping the treasure of the New World their ships were attacked by pirates.  England and other European countries gave royal commissions, as privateers, to certain captains to prey on the loaded galleons, yielding high returns to the monarchy.  Eventually, there is a point at which stealing ends, often when society, as a whole, will no longer tolerate the insult.  The privateers went out of existence when Spain simply ran out of treasure to ship, the Marines cleaned up piracy on the Barbary Coast and Southeast Asian countries finally organized to suppress the hijackings in the Strait of Malacca.    Pirates need boats, of course, but they also need a protected base from which to operate and from which they can convert their ill gotten gains to something of value to them, such as money.  They need sufficient deprivation and/or incentive to take the risk and targets of opportunity. Today's Somalian pirates operate from bases whose security is assured by warlords, operating in lieu of the governmental vacuum in southern Somalia.  European and Japanese factory ships fished out the waters off the coast, depriving the natives of both sustenance and a source of income.  Tens of thousands of refugees, fleeing from the persecution in neighboring countries, have stressed the available resources.  Slow cargo ships, often carrying millions of dollars in cargo, in addition to the value of the ship itself, and the ransom potential for the crew, were an obvious incentive to take the risk, which to date has been minimal.    Multi-national naval forces have had some effect by establishing protected shipping lanes and escorting convoys but hundreds of ships choose to go it alone for various reasons.  In addition, there are non-violent takings of cargo.  Pirates take a ship, sell its cargo then repaint it, rename it, forge some convoluted documentation and register it under one of the flags of convenience.  Their agents seek shippers who, for example, have a cargo that must be urgently moved to meet a delivery schedule but their usual shipping is busy.  The agents produce believable documentation and negotiate a contract.  The ship arrives, loads the cargo, issues bogus bills of lading and departs---never to be seen again.  The ship diverts to a warlord protected harbor, the cargo is removed and sold in the underground or black market and the process is repeated.  Currently the term piracy also is applied to the theft of intellectual property.   Why don't ships carry weapons?  One answer is that doing so could escalate the level of violence.  To date, the pirates seem to be content to take the ships and cargo and ransom the crew.  Ship owners have accepted the risk as a cost of doing business and regularly pay off the pirates to retrieve everything, or at least the hull (which is usually the most valuable asset at risk) and the crew.  Many takings are quietly resolved without any report to authorities because shipping companies know there will be no effective retribution and insurance rates will skyrocket.  To date, there has been very little killing and as long as the status quo exists, the world seems resigned to tolerate the situation.  International action to effectively terminate the piracy would certainly involve massive invasion forces and huge drains on already strained economies.  There would be an ongoing commitment to restore an effective government and provide sustenance to millions of people.  It is cheaper just to pay them off.   Serenity has canceled its proposed call in the Seychelle Islands, to avoid the waters considered to be open to pirate attack.  The added distance meant also canceling the call in the Maldive Islands.  The ship left Mombassa and retraced its course, southbound for a day and a half before turning east to skirt the northern tip of Madagascar.  She will sail 1500 miles to the Chagos Bank before turning north toward Cochin, India.  We will have eight days at sea.   Serenity has been modified to prevent access to the vulnerable winching machinery space, deck 5 aft, by installing rigid metal grates over the openings in the hull.  Fire hoses, of questionable value against AK47 wielding boarders, have been laid out along the decks and there are rumors about unspecified other defensive measures such as nozzles releasing noxious gas or liquid sprays and intensive sound emitters that can stun attackers.  However, the ship's most effective defense is speed and maneuverability.  No ship has ever been successfully boarded when it could maintain 13 knots or more.  Serenity is now proceeding at 19 knots.  The roiling in the water that Serenity can create by directing its azipods sideways would swamp any small boat alongside at the stern and the water that the propellers thrust behind the stern are turbulent to the point that no boat could be controlled when directly astern.  There are four Indian security personnel, hired through a company in Capetown, who maintain a 24 hour watch on deck 6 aft, with direct communication to the bridge.  We don't know if they are armed.  The bridge also has wings that extend beyond the hull, allowing full view along each side, and TV cameras that cover the stern.   LAND HO! Can you imagine how exciting that could be to a crew that had spent months at sea, 4 hours on, 4 hours off, sharing a hammock swinging under the deck beams, in clothes that were constantly wet, enduring the motion and sounds of a creaking assemblage of wooden beams and planks, eating food that was stale rotten or worse and thirsting on rations of stinking water from a mildewed wooden barrel.    We woke up in Cochin (KO-chin) harbor, already secured to the mile long wharf, constructed in British colonial times, probably within feet of the same location Serenity was berthed in 2008, except this time the ship was facing in the direction of departure.  I looked across half a mile of sort of muddy water at a tanker, discharging at the petro dock.  Cochin imports crude and produces gasoline, diesel and kerosene for home cooking.  I could see the heart of the downtown modern city through the pall of pollution.  The sun was an orange button slightly above the horizon. Small ferries, loaded with passengers, were scuttling about. Directly across, and behind the bow of the tanker, I could see early morning traffic crossing the modern concrete bridge that connects the mainland with the southern end of one of the long peninsulas that form the huge harbor.  Trucks, their yellowish headlights like animal eyes reflecting light in the darkness of night, crawled over the flat plane that will eventually form the new container terminal.  Unseen in the gloom of early dawn were the untouchables, gathering at the Chinese fishing nets that are either side of the narrow harbor entrance, hoping to harvest some fish during the period an hour or so either side of high tide, when the current through the inlet is minimal.  Of course, the real catch is deposited in the hat that is passed among the gawking tourists---that's us!   After our usual pre-breakfast of fruit, coffee and banter among the fellow members of the VVEBS (Very Very Early Bird Society) we went to the dining room for a couple of Belgian waffles.  They're poorly formed and uncooked in the middle, possibly because the batter is cold and cooks more slowly. The outside is super crispy almost burned black, probably because the waffle iron is too hot.  We've complained through our waiter and head waiter but they haven't improved, although they have tried to make them better.  We endure them occasionally because we like waffles.  The pancakes aren't much better, but they are alternatives to cereal or eggs.  Actually the breakfast menu is listed in single spaced type on two pages, so there are plenty of choices---we're just sort of set in our ways.   The morning shore excursion was a duplicate of the one we have taken every time we have been in Cochin.  It was complimentary (i.e. we paid for it in the price of the cruise, so we might as well get our money's worth).  At the deck five gangway, each passenger had to present a landing card and a copy of his passport to a thoroughly bored immigration officer, who alternately inked a worn rubber stamp and then slammed it against the papers. These were again checked, 200 feet away, by a soldier at the gate in the wire fence isolating the ship's boarding area from the busses.  It actually went rather smoothly. We were directed to freshly painted bus number four of fourteen busses, negotiated the four steep steps, each one set at an angle so there was a quarter turn while climbing into the bus.  We settled into a seat beside a window that was spotlessly clean.   Some parts were missing from the small control panel over our heads that had two reading lights and switches but not the adjustable vanes that direct the flow of air.  The air conditioning system was powered by a separate diesel engine, so the main engine could be turned off when the bus was parked.  Clever and effective.  The rest of the interior was clean and recently re-upholstered but there was no mistaking that this was a tired old Tata.  Barbara, the bridge instructor, confirmed that there were 26 aboard and we lurched forward while some were still finding a seat.   Cochin hasn't changed perceptibly.  The streets are narrow and loaded with pedestrians, bicycles, motor scooters, motor cycles, three wheel Tuk-Tuks, busses and trucks of every description.  Many of the trucks are personalized by their owners by displaying their name on the upper panel of the windshield and painting the cab in bright colors with intricate designs.  Almost all are made by Tata.  In common with other third world countries, trash and garbage was everywhere.   We did see people, usually women, sweeping leaves and other trash into a pile, adding the detritus to that which was swept into the pile the day before.  Vacant lots were frequently dumping grounds and small trash fires sent acrid smoke drifting in the air.   We were taken to the old Portuguese church, Catholic of course, which is now maintained as a tourist attraction, as well as being used for services.  Inside the masonry walls, the property is well maintained and clean with a well tended garden of succulents around a mortared stone obelisk in the front yard.  Inside, the décor is rather plain.  There are two rows of unpainted wooden benches.  Neither the seats or backs have any sort of cushion.  Worshipers are provided some relief from the heat by wooden frame-works supporting cloth fan panels that are pulled from side to side with ropes that pass through the outside walls.  We then walked, occasionally bothered by mildly aggressive vendors, about a quarter mile to the Chinese Fishing Nets.  A couple of passengers were brave enough to help lower a net into the water, for which a contribution was expected.    Next stop was the Dutch Palace, a two story masonry walled former house, built by the Portuguese, that was later restored by the Dutch.   The first floor is now a Hindu temple and off limits, while the second was formerly a series of bedrooms with exquisite oil murals depicting Indian social life.  These were also off limits.  Steep rock slab stairs led two columns of tourists to the second floor, one side up, one side down.  There were handrails but they were tantamount to useless.  At the top, there was a vestibule, choked with people so there was barely enough room to turn around.  A uniformed guard collected tickets before a doorway, with a foot high sill, leading into a white plastered room.  The intricately carved ceiling was supported by wooden beams, each element necessarily similar to the others for structural uniformity, but each also carved in a slightly different pattern.  Our guide explained that the original oiled Teak wood was stained dark and varnished to protect it from further damage.  Two hundred or so tourists, both from the ship and natives on holiday, crammed into the six long narrow rooms and sort of flowed along, observing the contents of a few glass cases and the portraits of six Kings of Cochin.  The rooms were above 90F; people were sweating, some clearly had not showered before coming (or even in the last month); there was no circulating air and it was stifling.  Several aging passengers were obviously extended beyond their capabilities and were being helped by others.  We finally got to the stairs and met our group outside the gate.  Some continued on a shopping tour and a visit to Jew Town (politically correct or not, that's what the signs say) to see the synagogue.  There was a substantial Jewish colony but almost all emigrated to Israel after WWII.  There are only four families left with a total of ten worshipers, all now well into their eighties.  We went back to the bus and enjoyed the cool air.   Kerala, the state in which Cochin is situated, is mostly Muslim and ruled by the Communist Party.   It is in constant political friction with the National Congress Party which governs the rest of India.  As a result a lot of energy and treasure is directed toward programs that ostensibly improve peoples' lives, such as state provided medical care and a wide variety of less ambitious Party run social programs.  The status of the infrastructure, for the most part, is as the British left it in 1947.  There are some exceptions, of course, such as a new bridge completed four years ago, that takes the heavy traffic off the century old steel lift bridge, which is now limited to cycles and Tuk-Tuks.   After dinner, we enjoyed a show featuring Kathakali (cat-ah-cah-LEE') Dancers from a local school.  Kathakali is a traditional art form.  The first presentation was by a single, barefoot slightly pudgy actor, dressed in a simple costume consisting of white cotton sleeveless top and matching pantaloon bottoms, both of which were extensively decorated with colorful appliqué and gold thread embroidery.   He demonstrated nine emotions (love, contempt, pathos, anger, valor, fear, disgust, wonder and peace), using a combination of extreme eye positions, rapid head movements back and forth ending in unusual positions, exaggerated facial expressions, body position, arm extensions and hand contortions.  He was accompanied by a topless man seated on the floor, to one side, with at a snareless drum cradled in his folded legs.  He used two slightly curved sticks to create different rhythms and tones that accentuated the actor's movements.   In the second act, two actors told the story of a man who was beguiled by a young girl that turned herself into a demon to destroy him, incorporating the classic combinations of movement and expression previously demonstrated.  The male character was heavily made up with bright red accentuated lips, green face, mascara laden eyelids, dark eye shadow that extended back over his ears and a yellow triangle on his forehead.  He wore a multi-tiered white headdress with bands of gold accented with red inserts separated by a green band.  It was two feet tall and had a round fan at the back, like the tail of a peacock.  He was dressed in puffy red clothing with gold arm bands and a gold beaded fall from a pearl necklace.  There were golden fingernail extensions clamped on the left fingers (a couple of them flew off during the dance).  Below the waist was a five foot diameter spherical shaped skirt over pastel green pantaloons.  Truly a sight to see!  The female wore a modest white dress with a flaring skirt that was also extensively decorated.  The finale of their somewhat long presentation came as she turned her back to the audience, pulled her long hair from its previous bun and revealed herself as the demon.  They left the ship in full costume, the gangway was immediately removed and the ship slowly sailed toward the ocean, half an hour late.   We had another calm day at sea and woke up as Serenity was being made fast in Murgamo (or Margamo).  There were only two shore excursions offered, an indication of the variety of spectacular tourist destinations available.  We chose the Hindu temple in a village in old Goa, the Portuguese name for the area, followed by a visit to a spice farm.  Neither attraction was particularly interesting but it afforded us an opportunity to view the Indian countryside.  It's pretty depressing.   The entire dock area was awash in coal dust that was picked up by passengers' shoes and brought back on board causing extra clean-up work for the night crew.  There are no mechanized facilities so incoming bulk carriers merely deposit the coal on the dock.  Huge tractor-loaders, supported by a gang of hand shovelers, transfer it to trucks or nearby storage piles.   The area is fairly hilly, so the two lane road that was reasonably well paved, wound back and forth, following the contours.  As in most of India, trash was evident everywhere.  There were a few houses that clearly were owned by relatively successful people who cared for their property and enjoyed the BMWs, Mercedes, Lexus and even top of the line Tata, parked in their driveways.  However, the majority lived in conditions that were poor to squalid.  The people seem to prefer small villages, rather than scattered individual houses, and some of these abodes were well constructed, probably of tile and mortar with a stucco-like finish and metal roofing but most were very small, and simple.  Locally hand-made bricks, about three times the size of a standard U.S. brick, were widely used, but I couldn't tell if they were essentially adobe or were actually fired into a vitrified block.  Thatched roofs were common.  Goats and "fiest dogs" (a N.C. term for a mixed breed mutt) were common.  Cows, sacred in at least parts of India, wandered the streets and countryside freely, even in the villages.  Our guide said that they quickly learned the routine to return to their owners at the end of the day.   The road followed the shoreline of a wide river and we saw at least six large boatyards actively constructing medium size ships and ore carrying motorized barges.  There is a large Molybdenum ore mine up-river and we saw a dozen barges in transit.  There were quite a few discarded hulls, in various states of decay or being dismantled for scrap, tied to the river bank near the yards.   Rice is a staple all over Asia and we passed hundreds of small terraced paddies, many of them flooded with muddy water, bright green shoots sticking above the surface.  There were several fields of ten or more acres.  The smaller fields are tilled with traditional water buffalo dragging a simple hand guided plow while more mechanized tractors are used in the big tracts.  The rice is started from seed in small incubator plots and, when about six inches tall, it is hand transplanted to the rice paddies.  The farmer must harvest, again all by hand, about ten days before the rice would "go to seed".     Our bus stopped in the large parking lot in front of a village, whose name was about twenty letters long.  The story is: The Portuguese were in the process of destroying all the Hindu temples in Goa as part of their attempt to convert the Indians to Catholicism.  A group of natives secured some of their sacred idols and moved them secretly about 30 miles into the countryside and hid them.  When the threat no longer existed, this temple was built to protect them.  We were led from the parking lot, along a dirt road with deep side gutters that wound between the village houses.  Some had front yards, mostly barren earth or with small gardens but most of the houses were a natural brown stucco over native brick, built with one blank wall right against the roadside.  There may have been rear yards but the houses were built so close together that we could not see beyond them.  I almost gouged my eye out by not being careful of the sharp edge of a corrugated roof that projected near a small pathway.  The temple itself was a long gray single story building with 30 foot ceilings in a central 20 foot wide corridor with lower wings each side.  At the far end there was sort of an altar with a central idol flanked by several other smaller ones.  In the side wings, there were additional niches with small idols.  All the inscriptions were indecipherable Hindi.  The massive front doors were entirely covered with pure silver panels inscribed with various scenes.   The next stop was a spice farm.  We were given the option to follow the guide through the demonstration area, a jungle of tall palm and Betel nut trees, and heavy underbrush, where various spice plants were identified.  I convinced Nancy to wait in the area where we were to be served lunch and joined one group.  I went back half-way through.  We are always leery of eating "native", lest we acquire some bug to which we have no resistance, so our lunch was a couple of baked rolls and white rice.  Nancy had a coke, in a classic green bottle, and I had a local beer.  I learned in the Philippines, in 1974, that Coke's quality control, world wide, made it a safe choice and the beer would be safe because it is boiled during brewing.  The brew was OK, nothing more, but I did have two of them.   The last port on the third segment was Mumbai (Bombay).  We've been there before and taken all the local tours, so we stayed on ship, excepting an excursion into the cruise terminal building for some shopping.  I bought a Royal Navy brass sextant, which a fellow passenger assures me is genuine, for less than the plastic training model I bought 40 years ago for my Power Squadron celestial navigation courses (no, I don't have a use for it, I just wanted it).  Nancy found an embroidered Indian silk blouse that she liked.    We sailed for Muscat, Oman, at midnight, having taken on several truckloads of supplies and two barges of heavy diesel.  We were told that 200 pax got off and slightly fewer got on.  It's always difficult to discover the exact numbers.    Duke and Nancy Harrison

Posted March 13, 2010

Silversea Silver Spirit Inaugural Overnight Celebration

Tuesday January 19th, 2010 Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale Terminal 25 Embarkation 4:00 p.m to 6:00 p.m. Gala Cocktail Reception & Dinner 7:00 p.m. Disembark 8:00 a.m. We were invited guests of Silversea to attend an inaugural celebration aboard the new flagship Silver Spirit. Our ocean-view retreat for the event was Veranda Suite #631, it was midship on deck six. The suite is 376 square feet with a 65 square foot veranda. Our suite had a  teak veranda with floor to ceiling glass doors. We had a spacious walk in closet, marble bath with full size tub and seperate shower. This ship is the largest in the Silversea fleet carrying 540 guests and 376 crew. This ship has six dining venues, The Restaurant, La Terrazza serving Italian cuisine in the evenings, Stars Supper Club, Le Champagne serving a six -course culinary experience, Seishin offering Kobe beef, sushi and Asian seafood specialities and casual dining poolside at the Pool Grill. On this ship you could do as much or a little as you wish. Outside the Panorama Lounge is a large seating area with oversided lounging sofas. Great location for cocktails under the stars. I would highly recommend this ship to any of my clients looking for the truly all-inclusive experience. Call us with any questions or to inquire about sailing Silversea- Jon or Kathleen at 800-299-1123

Posted January 24, 2010

Crystal Serenity 2010 World Cruise- Miami to Rio

We have been on board for nearly two weeks.  I don’t see any changes to the physical aspects of the ship, yet there is a subtle difference.  We (and probably others as well) seem to be the center of attention with the crew.  They practically fawn over us.  The Leo Assmair stops by our table almost every night, Franz and Guiseppi )(head waiters) visit at least twice at every meal, two or three waiters seem to climb over each other to supply water and  somebody is always there to open the back door for us when we leave the table.  When we encounter a behind the scenes crew member, most of them greet us by name, even though we have never seen them before.  I know Crystal conducts pax recognition classes, as we have seen it in other years, but it is even more evident this year.  BTW, last night was very cloudy!  The ship seems deserted.  We are often in the dining room with only one or two tables occupied on our side.  First formal night, we were one of two tables the entire night in Prego.  Officers are permitted in the dining room on specified evenings.  At the Welcome Aboard Party, the Captain said we were about 200 WC and 200 segment cruisers.  I think he overstated the case, and Bruno in Prego later said it was about 150 segment plus clergy, entertainers and lecturers.  We are supposed to be even less on the Rio-Capetown segment.  Bad for Crystal but we are being treated like royalty.  We love it!  Duke

Posted January 24, 2010

Our trip to the Galapagos Islands with International Expeditions

We can truly say this trip was a life-changing adventure and was made even more exciting by our expedition leader Bolivar (Bolli) Sanchez. Our adventure was aboard the M/V Evolution that accomodates only 32 guests. "If I have seen further,' Isaac Newton once wrote, with celebrated modesty, 'it is by standing upon the shoulders of Giants.' The dark volcanoes of the Galapagos are Darwin's shoulders. These islands meant more to him than any other stop in his five-year voyage around the world." -Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch We began our adventure with a flight from Guayaquil to Baltra which was a USA military base during the second World War. Then we boarded our home for the next seven days, the M/V Evolution. We spent the afternoon getting settled. The next day we did a wet landing at Bachas Beach (Santa Cruz). It was a coral sandy beach so water shoes were needed. Here we saw flamingos, Sally Lightfoot crabs, pelicans, boobies and frigate-birds. After  two and one half hour s it was back to our ship for a naturalist briefing and welcome cocktails and dinner. The ship sails overnight so the next morning  we were in Espanola (Hood), the oldest and southernmost island in the archipelago which holds one of the most diverse seabird colonies. First stop Punta Suarez where after breakfast it was a 7:15 a.m. dry landing. Here we saw the waved albatross colony, nazca boobies, blue footed boobies, gulls, tropicbirds, marine iguanas and the blow hole. We then went back on board for snacks and refreshments, then we got our snorkeling gear for an hour. Then lunch and an International Expeditions power siestas. We were encouraged to take one every afternoon and believe me they were well needed. During our siesta the ship moved on to Gardner Bay Beach where it was time for more snorkeling from our panga (zodiac). We saw rays, played with the sea lions and saw small sharks. At 4:00 p.m. it was a wet landing on the white sandy beach (no shoes were required). We walked along the beach with sea lions. We could lie down and read, make sandcastles all while surrounded by them. Back on board for another naturalist briefing a delicious dinner and to bed. A 7:00 a.m. wake up call found us now at San Cristobal where we took a panga ride to Cerro Brujo where we saw the remains of a tuff cone and many sea birds. We made a wet landing on a white coral beach where we went swimming and snorkeling with the sea lions and many different fishes. Back on board we went for a ride aboard the Evolution around Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido). This beautiful rock formation is home to frigate birds, boobies, sea lions and pelicans. In the afternoon we arrived at Baquerizo Morenoa Port, this is the capital of the Galapagos Islands, a small colorful town of about 6000 people. We were able to walk around town, do a little shopping and stop for a beer before heading back on board. Floreana (The mystery island) La Loberia (sea lions bay) 6:00 a.m. wake up call and breakfast then panga to Post Office Bay for a wet landing on a dark green beach. The post office barrel was placed here before 1793 by English whalers. It appears for the first time on a map by Santiago Colnett in 1793. We opened the box and our guides read the addresses of the mail inside.We were encouraged to drop postcards addressed to ourselves in the box and take home any that were addressed to our home towns and find the sender. Believe it or not, three weeks after we returned home we received a letter from someone living right here in Sarasota that had found one of our postcards. Back on board by 8:30 a.m. our ship continued on to Devil's Crown for more snorkeling. The currents were strong and the water cold so some of us stayed on board. Our captain saw a school of dolphins so he took up anchor and we chased them as they played in our wake. That is one of the advantages of traveling aboard a small ship. One day we even jumped onto our pangas to chase whales at sunset. What a thrill. Mailing our postcard.   After siesta time we went to Santa Cruz (Indefatgable) to Puerto Ayora which is the economic capital of the Galapagos and home to the national park and the Darwin Center. Population of 16,000. at the Charles Darwin Station we did a dry landing and went to learn about the world-famous giant tortoises and their captive breeding program and visit "Lonesome George". We then took a 30 minute bus ride to see the different zones of vegetation including the agricultural zone. We then walked 45 minutes to see the giant tortoises in their natural habitat. Then back to our ship.   Next morning we were anchored in an old volcanic tower (Genovesa). A pristine island that is home to more than a million seabirds and the only site where you will find the red-footed boobie. At 8:00 a.m. we made a dry landing where we hiked 1.5 miles and climbed steps till we found a beautiful plateau with Nazca and the red-footed boobies. We then went through the Palo Santa Forest where we spotted the elusive short eared owl. Very hard to find. Lunch and power siesta and then an afternoon of kayaking along Darwin's Bay Cliffs to view frigatebirds, boobies and sea lions. Fernandina (Narborough) is the youngest of the islands and has the highest and most recent volcanic activity in August 2007. This island has some of the largest marine iguanas in very dense concentrations. And do I mean dense. Isabela (Albemarie) is the largest of the Galapagos Islands with five active volcanoes. Here we spent the afternoon snorkeling from our pangas with penguins and sea lions. The next morning we were at Bartelome which is a small volcanic island located off the east coast of Santiago-a geologists paradise. Our morning hike took us uphill 371 steps, a mile in total. At the top we had a magnificent volcanic view of Pinnacle Rock. Then 371 steps back down where we then got to spend our last day swimming with the sea lions. Later that day after lunch and siesta we made a dry landing at North Seymour Island which holds the largest colonies of the magnificent frigatebird. This is the only place where you can always find the male frigates showing their red pouches to attract the females. That evening was our farewell dinner. In the morning it was back in our pangas for a ride through Black Turtle Cove.It was a mangrove swamp where we saw sea turtles mating. After that we were transported back to Baltra Island where we made a dry landing to be transferred to the airport. A short flight back to Guayaquil where we spent the night at the Hilton Colon and watched a fabulous tango show and said good bye to all our new made friends. We made several new friends, including some with flippers. If you're interested in a memorable vacation, give us a call. We'll give you helpful recommendations and we're always happy to share our insider knowledge with you! Jon and his new-found friend!

Posted November 13, 2009

Ideal Travel Agent

Dear Ms. Sutter, Thank you so much for sending us the information about our son Carter's next trip and the Virtuoso magazine. We had never seen the magazine and enjoyed the articles and ads. Every trip you have arranged for Carter and Regina has been perfect. You are an ideal travel agent! Thank you again-Aloha- Helen and Eric

Posted February 03, 2009

Cruise West- We Had A Blast!

Hi Jon,         Sorry this has taken so long to write- if it means anything we just downloaded the digital pictures on to the PC.          Thank you so much for your expertise on our travel to Alaska-we had a blast and do appreciate the "Special Gift" on Cruise West. Alaska was on the "Bucket List"- thanks for arranging everything-all was terrific. Thanks- Ginger and Beth

Posted August 11, 2008

173rd Airborne Reunion Cruise-Alaska

Landings Travel was proud to escort 200 retired and active memebrs of the 173rd Airborne aboard Holland America Line's Westerdam May 25th, 2008.   Jon and Kathleen,      It was great working with you all and we want to thank you for all you did. Airborne James R. Bradley James R. Bradley CW3, US Army (Ret)  President, Florida Chapter   Dear Kathleen & Jon, Just a note to thank you both for all your hard work that made the Airborne Reunion the huge success that it was. We appreciate everything you did to help make our cruise wonderful. We both had a fantastic time and will treasure the memories. Thanks again! Gail & Chris P.S. Thanks to your staff for all the help answering questions, etc. We love you all!   Jon,        We would like to thank you greatly for the DVD covering the reunion of the 173rd on the Westerdam, what  a lovely surprise. It was nice to see old friends again. We both had a wonderful trip, we crammed so much into the 3 weeks, but was able to see things we only dreamt about. Thank you so much for all your hard work in organizing our travel and the extra yards that you and your wife went to to make sure everyone had a terrific time, more fun than Vietnam that's for sure. Thanks again Jon for all your effort. Best Wishes Bill and Judy from Down Under

Posted June 10, 2008

Landings Travel in Sarasota Accepted Into Virtuoso

Landings Travel in Sarasota Accepted Into Virtuoso Travel Agency Now part Of Exclusive Luxury Travel Network Sarasota, Florida April 12,1992 - Landings Travel in Sarasota has achieved membership in the by-invitation-only Virtuoso luxury travel network, comprised of top leisure travel agencies in North and South America, the Caribbean and Australia. According to Kathleen Sutter CTC of Landings Travel, the agency's membership in Virtuoso will bring a host of rare travel opportunities and exclusive values to the agency's clients. "Less than one percent of travel agencies in America are admitted for membership in Virtuoso," said Sutter. "This renowned network of luxury travel specialists leverages its combined annual sales of more than $3 billion to negotiated special upgrades, amenities, values and truly rare travel experiences exclusively for the clients of its member agencies. For the clients of Landings Travel this translates to complimentary room upgrades, airport transfers, special dining experiences, exclusive shore excursions and custom itineraries, offered by the world's best providers of upscale travel. We are very proud to have been invited to join Virtuoso and now to be able to offer these additional perks to our clients." Beyond the monetary values, Landings Travel's membership in Virtuoso gives its agents reinforced direct relationships with the finest hotels, resorts, spas, cruise lines and tour operators in the world, as well as an expanded resource of insider destination knowledge. Virtuoso also provides the services of Virtuoso On-Site ground operators in more than 60 countries, all dedicated to ensuring the happiness and comfort of Virtuoso agencies' clients. Based at the top luxury travel destinations, these Virtuoso On-Sites take care of every detail, from English-speaking guides, drivers or translators, to private access, prestigious introductions and tickets to top events. Sutter says she is particularly excited about the new exclusive travel offers the agency will now present to its clients via new publications and special invitation. "Many of these rare trips, by their nature, can only be offered to a small number of discerning travelers, and we're confident that our clients will be intrigued by many of these unusual opportunities" Landings Travel, located in the Landings Shopping Center in Sarasota, Florida has been in business since 1983. For more information about Landings Travel and its new Virtuoso travel offerings, call 800 299-1123 or visit www.landingstravel.com. ####

Posted April 14, 1992

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