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Chapter 1, Yangon
It's Friday morning and we've just sailed from Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Rangoon, Burma).
It was worth coming for the extra month just to visit here - definitely a highlight. We got in
Wednesday morning about 11:00am and Svein and I took the shuttle bus into the city, about an
hour's drive away. We decided to stay overnight instead of riding the shuttle bus back to the
ship an hour and then doing the same thing the second day. We were able to negotiate a great
rate at the Trader Hotel (Shangri La chain) and were off to explore the city. The British left
Myanmar in 1948 and there hasn't been great progress since. There is tremendous poverty and
the country has a repressive socialist military regime as well as being almost totally buddhist. In
the midst of these conditions are the most exquisite pagodas and temples. The largest is the
Shwedagon Pagoda, which is a huge complex of hundreds of buildings. The huge golden dome
in the middle is covered with over 9 1/2 tons of 18K gold! Incredible.
Gold is evidently quite plentiful in Myanmar. One of the main handicrafts is lacquerware and
many lacquer boxes will be painted with gold for decoration. These boxes sell for less than $2 and
the gold is real!
Shopping is fantastic and prices are ridiculously low, like Vietnam. A 10-minute taxi ride from
the hotel to the pagoda was $1. Nice Yangon t-shirts were $2. Beautiful hematite bracelets
could be had for $1, jade rings 5 for $1, jade bracelets $1, imperfect cultured-pearl necklaces $1,
lacquer coaster sets in a lacquer box $1 (gold-painted!), garnet bracelets (rough stone) $1, etc.
etc. It's hard not to just buy everything! By the time we took the shuttle bus back to the ship the
second day, neither Svein nor I had any money at all left. I even sent a bunch of postcards.
Cards were 15-20 for a dollar and the postage to mail them overseas was just 7 cents!
We walked around in the evening and there is not much sign of nightlife as such. People sit on
the sidewalks eating supper, but that seems to be about the extent of evening entertainment. On
the other hand, Chinese dinner in our hotel was quite nice, but expensive by local standards. It
cost us each $6 - that in a 5-star hotel!
One indication of the repressive regime is no internet. It is forbidden in the country. As is
typical in socialist countries they don't want the people getting too much information.
At any rate, we had a wonderful visit and I would like to come back again with a big steamer
trunk and fill it up with bargains before prices start catching up with the real world. Actually,
with no change in sight in the government, we probably don't have to worry about that
happening in the near future.
Now we have a couple days at sea and get to Colombo, Sri
Lanka on Monday and on to Cochin, India on Tuesday.
Anyway, on we sail.kent
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Chapter 2, Cochin
Greetings from the Arabian Sea and the Seabourn Sun as we sail merrily along between Cochin,
India and Mumbai (Bombay), India. By world cruise standards, our last 2 ports of Colombo, Sri
Lanka and Cochin, India, were not particularly spectacular. However, if I think back to my first
time in this part of the world and look at it through 'first-timer' eyes, I realize how much we take
for granted traveling around the world! Actually, both ports would be unbelievable for most
The most stupendous aspect of this part of the world is the contrast. Horrific poverty set off by
opulent hotels and a very wealthy upper class. Driving through narrow streets we see tiny little
open-air shops selling everything imaginable. There are masses of people wearing western
clothes, saris, robes and any variety of native costume. The areas tend to be very dirty with
garbage piles, filthy canals, and mangy animals. Street vendors hawk postcards, trinkets, fruits
& vegetables, fish, and anything else they can find that they think someone might like. Beggars
gather around anyone they think might give them a handout. It sounds cruel, but you should
never give anything to a beggar, as you'll be mobbed. Also it encourages the practice, and they
actually deform children to make them more pathetic looking in order to get more handouts! In
stark contrast to all this are the magnificent temples, palaces and hotels. Gold temple domes
with ornate decoration tower above the rabble. 5-star hotels offer visitors sparkling clean
restaurants, rooms, and grounds with immaculate service and excellent foods and beverages,
conveniently cut off from the masses outside the walls.
Driving is crazy! I like to say that in some countries they drive on the left, in some they drive on
the right, but in India it's optional! The only rule is don't hit anyone. Cars are old-fashioned and
tend to look like 50's models. The best mode of transportation is the little tuktuks. Little 3-
wheel, enclosed carts big enough for a driver and 2 passengers whisk people around the city,
darting in and out of traffic, crossing lines of oncoming cars, and barely missing pedestrians and
stray cows. Generally you can get a ride of several miles for about a dollar, but it's important to
set the price before you get in!
Speaking of which, bargaining is a way of life here. You'd be crazy to pay anywhere close to
the original asking price. Especially in tourist areas, they know they can fetch high prices from
naive visitors who compare the price to what they would pay at home. In those cases you have
to be really tough. If I ask the price on something and they say $10, I'll say, "No Way! $1!"
They'll act offended, but come down in price a bit. Eventually, if it's something I want, I'll
probably pay $2 or $3 for it.
We didn't do much in Sri Lanka, other than walking around town doing a bit shopping,
spending an hour on the internet ($1.50), and riding a tuktuk back to the port. There's always
shopping on the pier, but it's best to buy just before sailing. I was looking at a moomoo (long,
dress-like, batik costume) and they were offering them at a 'discounted' price of $15, then $12. I
told the woman I'd only give her $5. She wouldn't even budge. 10 minutes before sailing I
walked up with $5 in my hand and she just waved at her row of moomoos as if to say, "Help
In Cochin yesterday we had a tour for our Virtuoso passengers. Usually the Virtuoso tours are
really top-notch, but Svein & I were a bit chagrined at the quality this time. First of all it was
very hot and the AC in the buses was marginal and the suspension surely caused me to lose 5
pounds riding around in the back of the bus! We visited the Dutch palace, of which they were
quite proud, but it wasn't much to see. The Dutch, the Portuguese, and the Limeys (Brits), all
occupied this area of India for different periods, and all left their influences. After visiting St.
Francis church (moderately interesting), over half our passengers didn't feel like getting off the
bus anymore, especially since they are mobbed by hawkers and vendors every time they step
down from the bus.
After the church, we visited the Chinese fishing nets, which was the most interesting of the tour.
Huge contraptions of wooden poles held large nets, which the men would dip down into the
water and hope for the fish to swim in. They would pull weighted ropes to pull up the nets,
usually for a meager result. Of course, this isn't really the season for fishing, but they do it so
they can offer tourists a photo opportunity helping to pull up the nets. Much more lucrative
getting a few dollars from tourists than selling fish!
We ended up at Brunton Boatyard for lunch, but unfortunately it was too hot for an open-air
luncheon in the dining room. They have huge baffles hanging from the ceiling and boys to pull
the ropes moving them back and forth to create a breeze. Even so, it was too warm. Local
entertainment was unique, with wild costumes and some creative dances. The food was
definitely toned down for a western audience, almost to the point of being bland.
After the tour Svein and I checked out another hotel, the Taj Malabar, and it was much nicer.
The General Manager was very gracious and showed us around, offered us drinks, internet
access and let us use the health club. The AC was very good there and our company will be
using that property for future tours.
Now we are in Bombay for the next 2 days, but since we don't have a tour, we'll have lots of
time to enjoy it and take advantage of wonderful shopping opportunities!
Well, I hope you found this somewhat interesting.
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Chapter 3, Bombay
We just spent 2 days in Bombay and now will enjoy 4 days at sea on the way to the Seychelles.
Since we had no tour in Bombay, we had lots of time to explore the city as we liked. Much of
what I described in the Cochin report is similar to Bombay, but there are a few things I should
The first day Svein and I walked outside the port gate and paid a $1 for a taxi to take us
downtown to the Taj Mahal Hotel. Quite a few of our passengers were there already, enjoying
India at its finest and spending lots of money in the shops, safely isolated from the real world
outside. I've found that most people don't really want to see India. They are happy with the nicer
side and are pleased to take advantage of all the wonderful things available, but they don't want
India to get too close to them.
On CNN International there are not many commercials, so during commercial breaks they often
will highlight a country with a blurb called, "Sights and Sounds of (India, for example)". As I
spent time walking the back streets of Bombay I was reminded of that phrase and kept thinking
for India it should be, "Sights and Sounds and Smells of India." You don't want to get to know
India if you have a weak stomach!
Svein and I perused the various wares in the sidewalk stalls and occasionally went into shops
just to compare products and prices with outside. Outside we were constantly bombarded with
vendors hawking their wares. One fellow was carrying a huge balloon about 3 feet long and 2
feet wide. You could get a whole package of them for less than a dollar! I did that once several
years ago and the balloons in the package were a fraction of the size of the one he was showing!
That's a typical trick here - "let the buyer beware" applies more in India than just about
anywhere. Whether gems or toys or electronics, if you buy on the street, you might be getting
your money's worth!
We went to the spice market and were enchanted by stall after stall of exotic foods, spices, and
condiments. We found a merchant we liked and bought peppercorns, vanilla powder, coriander,
mint oil, saffron, curry powder, nutmeg, and a bunch of other stuff. Here we were able to
sample what we were buying and prices were pre-set - one of the few places there is no need to
barter. The spices were so cheap anyway, I wish I could have bought a suitcase-full.
From the market we walked into the heart of Bombay, far from the tourists. We were immersed
in a sea of humanity. Cars could barely inch through crowded streets between pedestrians,
bicycles, cows, oxen and oxcarts, chickens, dogs, cats, goats and children playing. One fellow
had a load of 5 big barrels mounted on his bicycle. Another mode is similar to a 10' teeter-totter
on wheels, on which they pile mounds of goods and push it through the streets, running over
anything/anyone in their way. If you're walking, it's your own responsibility not to get run over.
Most of the people in the streets are men and nearly all the shopkeepers are men. They all wear
long-sleeved shirts and long pants in spite of the heat. Women tend to wear saris of all colors
and styles. Men sit around on the sidewalk drinking tea with milk and sugar and discussing the
world. Outside a little teashop they may be playing a game of carom or cards. You can get all
kinds of delicacies from the little cart-kitchens on the sidewalks. I'll drink the tea from there, but
I'm not quite adventurous for much else!
Tailors are everywhere - also all men. You can have a tailor-made suit of silk or cashmere or
wool or cotton in just a matter of hours. Prices vary from cheap cheap from market stalls to
quite pricey in the 5-star hotel shops.
The laundry is also a man's world. There is a huge outdoor laundry in Bombay where hundreds
of men carry enormous bundles on their heads, bringing the 'wash' to be beaten against the
stones and laid out on the pavement to dry.
Almost as common are the stationery stores where you can get photocopies made or books
bound or business cards printed. They seem to need copies of everything. India is big on
bureaucracy, having inherited it from the original culprit country of such nonsense, England.
Other sights along the way were locksmiths, watch vendors, fruits and vegetables, barbers
cutting hair and giving a shave on stools at the edge of the sidewalk, mounds of key limes,
pearls, marble jewelry boxes, hot ginger biscuits, t-shirts, lotto tickets, combs, key cutters,
wallets and purses, shawls, underwear, saris, shirts etc. - and this all out in the streets! Another
favorite is the sugar cane grinder who shaves the cane and runs it through a mill to make a fresh
glass of juice while you wait. And of course, there are the piles of garbage everywhere. People
sidestep the filth as they walk down alleys or make their way into the shops.
A sign on a wall near the port said, "Do not pass urine here!" and another, "Make no nuisance
here!" and yet a third, "Stick no bills!"
An enduring feature of the Indians is the way they bob their heads whenever they speak. It is so
natural and automatic here; it's easy to start imitating them if you're not careful. One of my
former Cunard colleagues from Australia asked our local agent in Bombay the reason for this
motion, and she didn't have a clue what he was talking about! He was quite embarrassed.
And for the deceased there are huge cremation pyres down by the river, which burn round the
clock. Several years ago Svein went to see it at 6:00am, when it is normally the busiest. A man
informed him (head bobbing), "Sorry sir, not many bodies today; only bits and pieces from the
hospital!" That will stick with Svein forever.
But life goes on in the world's largest democracy. It's amazing it functions at all with its billion
people and incredible diversity, contrast, hundreds of languages, and turbulent history. Getting
beyond the tourist walls is rewarding if you wish to observe without judging - by what
standards would you judge?
Yesterday Svein and I were invited to lunch at the Khyber Restaurant with our local agent. We
enjoyed a fabulous lunch of a variety of Indian foods in a cool, clean environment. A refreshing
drink was limejuice with salt (yes, really), and the coffee fudge ice cream for dessert was
perfect. It was very Indian, yet seemed far removed from the back alleyways.
And of course, just before sailing, I had to take advantage of some 'sail-away' prices in the little
shops on the pier. Who knows how long it'll be before I get back to India!?
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Chapter 4, Seychelles/Mauritius
I was going to make this a report on Durban, but after mentioning "briefly" two previous ports it
became long enough to send in its own right. So, Durban will be the next one.
First a sidenote. I wonder how many Americans think the whole world drives on the righthand
side except for Britain and a few other rogue nations here and there. You may be interested to
know that since I boarded the ship over a month ago in Hong Kong, we have been to only ONE
country where they drive on the right; that being Myanmar (Burma). In all the others - Hong
Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Sri Lanka, India, Seychelles, Mauritius, South Africa - the left side
is 'right', except as I mentioned in India where it's 'optional' (that's just a joke, I hope you
realize). We do have a call in Las Palmas, Canary Islands before the end of the cruise where
they drive on the right, but in our last port, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, (USA no less) they also
drive on the left!! How many people know there is a part of the United States where they drive
on the left? Other than South America, most of the southern hemisphere as well as eastern Asia
driving is on the left.
After sailing three days from India, we stopped in Victoria, Mahe in the Seychelles for a day.
This nation of islands is about as close to a tropical paradise as you will find anywhere in the
world. Perfect beaches, rugged mountains, lush vegetation, an almost constant and very pleasant
sea breeze, and quite a 'civilized' populace. Quite different from India and some of the other
countries we just left. What isn't paradise there is the prices. There are no bargains to be had in
the Seychelles - most things are even more expensive than in Europe, quite the contrast to our
recent shopping sprees. Since I've been to the Seychelles several times and done the tours, I
was content to go into town briefly and spend an hour at an internet cafe.
We also happened to be in port with the Saga Rose, the former Sagafjord, the ship where I
worked 7 years. We were able to go aboard and see the ship and I even knew several of the
officers still. I was quite surprised to see that the ship looks to be in very good condition.
Another two days at sea (love those sea days!) and we arrived in Port Louis, Mauritius. This is
another of nature's gems, yet very different from the Seychelles. The inhabitants are mostly
from India, but the island has been ruled by Dutch, French and British at various times and is
now independent. Even though the British were the most recent colonial power, the French left
the strongest influence, including the language. Actually among themselves they speak mostly
Creole or Patois - can you imagine the mixture of bobbing Indian heads and Creole! It's also
much poorer than the Seychelles. I spoke with our shuttle bus driver while awaiting departure
and he earns about $200 a month, which is above average.
Port Louis has a delightful shopping and entertainment complex on the bay, which was as far as
most of our passengers made it. Svein and I headed into the rather extensive market and beyond
into the streets. Like Bombay, they were teaming with life and lots of color and activity. We
walked through Chinatown and enjoyed looking into all the little tiny shops, then headed up the
long hill to the fortress overlooking the city. The fortress wasn't much itself, but the view was
good. The backdrop for Port Louis is a very rugged range of small mountains, covered with
tropical vegetation. I would have liked to take a drive around the island to see more of the
outlying areas, but never got the opportunity this time.
Our second day at sea out of Mauritius was pretty rough with the ship pitching quite strongly
back and forth (as opposed to side to side). The weather was fine, but a big storm in Antarctica
was sending the swells churning our way. There were fewer people at the bridge game today
and the food consumption for some reason was also lower!
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Chapter 5, South Africa
I love South Africa! Maybe I'll try to arrange a small-group tour here in the near future. We
were blessed with 3 South African ports on this cruise and we had Virtuoso tours in two of
them. There's never enough time here, but I guess that's a good reason to come back!
Our first call was Durban, the sub-tropical pocket of South Africa on the Indian Ocean.
Although most of South Africa is somewhat arid with an average of 10-15" of rainfall per year,
Durban gets over 45". The resulting vegetation is spectacular. It's fall here (comparable to the
end of September at home), but I'm not sure I've ever seen so many flowering trees in such
bright colors. Jacaranda, Acacias, Royal Poincianas, African Tulip trees, Flamboyants and
many others displayed masses of red, orange, yellow, purple and blue - we're talking whole
trees here! We enjoyed a beautiful drive out to the Valley of 1000 Hills, heart of Zulu country.
We toured a crocodile and snake farm and were entertained by Zulu dancers in a stunning
setting. We returned to the coast for lunch at the five-star Beverly Hills Intercontinental Hotel.
A very civilized way to dine indeed; with a spectacular coastline view to please the eyes and a
string quartet to soothe the ears. On the way back to the Sun we drove along Durban's famed 4-
mile beach promenade with its lovely restaurants, shops, hotels and, of course, the wide sandy
From Durban we headed out into the wild waves - literally. The next day was not a good day for
'weak sailors'! The seas were much worse than the bad day before Durban. The swell was over
35 feet high with individual waves considerably more than that. A small sailboat was out in
those nasty seas and broke down with 5 passengers on board. We had to divert course to help,
but a helicopter finally came and rescued them. On the Sun, the waves even smashed out a
cabin window on promenade deck while the stewardess was cleaning. Gave her a bit of a fright!
Good Friday morning we arrived in Port Elizabeth. The whole city was closed for the holiday
except a huge shopping-dining-entertainment complex on the beach called the Boardwalk.
However, that was delightful. In addition to the Boardwalk attractions there was a big festival
next to it called 'Splash' featuring beach sports, concerts, food, arts and crafts, boats, 4x4's, jet
skis and thousands of people out to enjoy it.
Many of our passengers also went out to the Addo Elephant Park where you can see literally
hundreds of elephants in their natural setting, along with many other African animals. Port
Elizabeth is also the beginning of the famed Garden Route along the Cape over to Cape Town.
This is a stretch I definitely would like to explore with a small group sometime. The southern
cape has the greatest diversity of native flower species of any place in the world. The Garden
Route also offers diverse seascapes, wildlife reserves, sand dunes, quaint town and rugged
Ahhhhh, Cape Town - one of the truly marvelous cities of the world! We were at sea most of
Saturday, rounding the Cape of Good Hope about 1:30pm. Contrary to popular opinion, that is
NOT the most southern point of Africa. Cape Agulhas claims that honor and is also where the
Atlantic and Indian Oceans come together. Good Hope's claim to fame is entirely false! We
arrived into Cape Town at 4pm, enjoying a magnificent clear view of Table Mountain, the city,
and the Cape. As we berthed, there was just a slight hint of the famous 'table cloth' wisping over
the corner of the mountain, but within a couple hours the entire mountain was capped with
cloud, glowing gold in the sunset. My friend Brad Liebl, who used to sing in the opera trio on
Sagafjord, now lives in Cape Town and is a music professor at the University. We spent the
evening together catching up, eating pizza, exploring the enormous Waterfront complex, and
eating a sumptuous desert at Rozenhof, one of the top restaurants in South Africa.
Easter Sunday dawned truly glorious. Our Virtuoso tour took us straight to Table Mountain for
a cable car ride to the top. The view was stunning on all sides of the mountain. The air was so
clear we felt we could almost see to Antarctica! Well, maybe not quite, but we could see clear
to the end of the Cape of Good Hope to the south, endless beaches and bays to the east, and
numerous mountain ranges to the north. Believe me, we were reticent to descend from that
heavenly perch! (Obviously we did, though.) From there we drove along the coast to Hout Bay
and around the backside of Table Mountain. Charming villages, quaint resort towns, and
splendid vegetation lined the route, with the 12 Apostles (mountains) towering over us.
Eventually we headed out to the wine country and had lunch at the Grand Roche Hotel, a
gracious estate mansion on a lovely vineyard. We were greeted with an A Cappella Choir from
a high school on a nearby township. They were good! I could hardly believe the quality of
voices coming from those kids. Lunch was equally impressive and the vineyard setting
exquisite. After lunch we visited a winery in Stellenbosch for some wine tasting, then headed
back to the ship. South Africa does have some of the world's best wines.
Even though it was Easter Sunday and the whole city was closed, the Waterfront complex was
open 9 to 9 and it was packed with people. The ship didn't sail until midnight, so we had some
time to take advantage of our location next to the Waterfront.
With a tumultuous history, South Africa has a monumental task heading into the future. The
country is blessed with tremendous natural resources and beauty and has a modern
infrastructure of roads and buildings. Cape Town is booming with new development.
International tourism and trade are starting to rebound in the post-apartheid era. On the other
hand, since the new constitution in 1994, social problems like crime, drugs, and homelessness
have skyrocketed. Shantytowns now dot the hills around the major cities as poor people
gravitate to urban areas hoping for a better life. Makeshift cardboard shacks or crude
constructions of tin or pieces of wood are all many of them can call home. The new 'rights'
guaranteed by the new constitution to all citizens don't always have 'responsibility' stipulations
with them. For example, our shuttle bus driver in Port Elizabeth was telling me they don't dare
leave their home unattended for fear squatters will move in and make themselves at home. In
the 'New South Africa' a homeowner has no right to kick out squatters! One can only imagine
the atmosphere that creates.
Many South Africans would like to emigrate to Europe or America, but the Rand has dropped
in value so much that few can afford to go. The cheap Rand is great for visitors - South Africa
is a tremendous bargain at the moment. I hope South Africa can overcome their difficulties and
rebuild for the future. It is a wonderful country with lovely people and great potential - can they
pull it off? Only time will tell. In the meantime, anyone with a chance to visit should jump at
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Chapter 6, St. Helena
We came here to see Napoleon's tomb, so why am I the one who feels dead!? Jacob's Ladder is
the culprit, but that comes near the end of the story, so read on.
Volcanic St. Helena island soars majestically out of the South Atlantic to elevations over 2,500
feet above sea level. Saying the island is 'isolated' is an understatement. The closest land (and
closest airport), Ascension Island, is 700 miles to the northwest. Africa is more than 1,000 miles
to the east and South America is 1,000 miles to the west. The first settlers arrived in the 16th
century and by 1659 the Brits were here and it has remained British to this day. Yes, they drive
on the left! The 5,000 inhabitants, who refer to themselves as Saints, are a mix of European,
African and Asian, but the language is English.
The barren, basaltic cliffs rising above the crashing waves gave no hint of the lush, tropical
vegetation awaiting us in the interior highlands. I had been to St Helena before, but due to high
swells (more common than not) was not able to get ashore. This time I made it and came ashore
in the ship's tender with singer Jeff Harnar, who I know from other cruises, and his parents, Bob
& Marilyn, who are also in our Virtuoso group. It was a cruise highlight. Jamestown, the
capital, is nestled in a huge gorge coming right down to the harbor. Other than cactus and a few
scruffy plants, not much grows in the lower elevations. The port has a comfortable desert
climate with temps generally in the 70's and low 80's year round. The valley is wide enough for
the town to stretch about a mile along one street, with businesses and houses on both sides.
We each paid $5 for a fellow to take us around the island for 3 hours. We rode on benches in the
back of a little pickup, so the view and fresh air were great! As we climbed steeply out of the
port it didn't take long for the hillsides to green up and we were soon marveling at trees and
flowers of all sorts. Settlers introduced many species of tropical plants (to the detriment of the
local ecology), but NONE of the native plant species are found anywhere else in the world.
Our first stop was Napoleon Bonaparte's tomb. This was extra special for me, as family
tradition claims my mother's Mullet ancestors were personal bodyguards to the 'Little General'.
We walked 15 minutes to the tomb, enjoying the cooler temperature and the beautiful flowers
and trees. Napoleon is no longer actually buried there. He was exiled to the island in 1815, died
in 1821 and was buried at this spot. However, in 1840 the body was removed and taken to Paris
for burial there.
Our next stop was Longwood, where Napoleon lived his final 6 years with a company of about
20 loyal followers, including servants and some of his generals. It was quite an impressive
home, surrounded by colorful gardens and several fountains. The house is perched high on a
hill, with good views of the rugged island as well as of the Atlantic ocean in several directions.
We continued to the Governor's mansion so we could see the big tortoises. The oldest,
Jonathon, is believed to be over 200 years old and was alive when Napoleon was here! The
turtles liked it when we stroked their chins and stretched out their necks in pleasure.
Back in Jamestown, Jeff and I had to tackle Jacob's ladder, one of the town's most daunting
sites. The sides of the gorge are not quite vertical, but it feels like it! A stone stairway of 700
steps goes straight up the canyon wall, leading to homes on the upper level. The steps average
nearly a foot high, so the elevation gain is 602 feet and the actual length is 900 feet! Whew. The
locals say it breaks your heart going up and your neck coming down. It took me 15 minutes
with photo stops along the way (really they were desperately needed rest stops), but I made it to
the top, huffing and puffing and on the verge of a heat stroke. After a few minutes rest we came
back down again. All that just so we could say we did it - and I'm proud to say, "I did it!"
I rewarded myself with a Ginger Beer (like a strong ginger ale) from the local market, a few
special coins from St. Helena and Ascension, and a few minutes on the internet. Yes, they may
not have an airport or speedy mail service, but the electronic superhighway has given even St.
Helena contact with the outside world. In the evening I watched the island fade into the distance
and realized I was going to have to devote a whole page to this wonderful day on this
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Chapter 7, Dakar/Las Palmas
Here we are on the final leg of our 2002 Seabourn Sun World Cruise, sailing from the Canary
Islands east across the Atlantic. Two months has flown by, but I've also been able to get a lot of
work done on Mom's "As I Remember" interviews as well as a couple of other projects.
A few days after leaving St. Helena I looked out the window from our bridge game and noticed
a couple porpoises jumping alongside the ship. I pointed it out to the others at our table (it's
quite a common sight from a cruise ship), but then we saw a few more; then more and more
until the sea fairly came alive with porpoises, jumping in unison, wave after wave of them right
next to the ship. In 10 years of working on ships I've never seen a tenth as many porpoises at
one time as we enjoyed that afternoon.
Dakar is classic West Africa! It's poor, it's dirty, it's chaotic, it's hot; but somehow it functions.
On the other hand, it's very colorful. The traditional costumes of the Senegal women are
probably as colorful as any country you'll find. Bright, bold dresses, enhanced by even brighter
shawls and turbans contrast with their dark skin. Some of the huge loads they balance on their
heads are equally colorful. I took a little tour by taxi with a couple of passengers. It doesn't take
long to see everything, but we took a few photos of the presidential palace, the cathedral and the
market. The local market (as opposed to the tourist one) has more things packed into it than you
can imagine. US bureaucrats who love safety regulations would go nuts at the sight of a Senegal
market all crowded under their canvas roofs! Some of the aisles between stands were so narrow
I had to turn sideways to pass through. Few tourists ever make into this abyss of fruits,
vegetables, animals, hardware, clothes etc., swarming with humanity. Just as well, no doubt.
The highlight of my day was getting a haircut. $5, and he did a nice job! Back on the pier dozens
of vendors were desperately hawking their wares before sailing. They boasted all the goodies of
West Africa - the kind of things I bought 'en mass' my first few world cruises. Now I just
enjoyed looking, and off we sailed for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.
We came to the Canary Islands and in the Canary Islands we found no Canaries. So now we are
sailing for the Virgin Islands. And in the Virgin Islands, we know from past experience, we
won't find any canaries there either! Seriously though, what animals gave their name to these
Spanish islands?? Wrong! It was dogs, not birds. The word comes from the Latin 'can' meaning
dog, or canine.
We had a Virtuoso tour in Las Palmas. The temperature was delightful, in the low 70's, as we
toured around in open-air double-decker buses. In one hilly part of the city all the houses were
extremely colorful. It turns out there's no historical tradition for that. Two years ago the city
decided to spruce up the area and told people they could choose from five bright colors and the
city would paint their house for them - free! Everyone took part and now that area went from a
drab suburb to a page out of an artist's watercolor book. In the old quarter of Las Palmas we saw
the house where Columbus stayed in 1492 before he went to America. Nearby we had lunch in
the courtyard of a house built in the 13th century.
A lot of new passengers joined us in Las Palmas and the ship is full for her last voyage as the
Sun; after this cruise the ship will be turned over to Holland America and become the
Prinsendam. The first night out after Las Palmas was the Captain's welcome party where he
introduces his officers. He made some comments about the ship, crew, passengers etc., and then
set about to introduce his team. The chief engineer surprised the captain (and us) by coming out
carrying a paint bucket and a roller brush! When this was followed by the doctor, wearing
scrubs and carrying a saw and a bottle of whiskey, the passengers really howled. Each
successive officer (20 in all) came out wearing or carrying something humorous indicative of
their position. The Captain had not been forewarned, but he rolled with the punches and made
some comment about each one as they came out. The crowd loved it. I've never seen anything
like that in my years on ships, and Svein said he hadn't in his 30 years. That set the tone for this
last cruise as upbeat and happy, though there will undoubtedly be many a tear shed at the end.
There's not much to be said about St. Thomas. It's the most popular Caribbean cruise destination
with many ships on any given day. One interesting note about the Virgin Islands; even though
they are a US territory, they do drive on the left. This has nothing to do with England, but dates
back to the time of purchase from Denmark. The Danes were lefties back in those days as well.
Hello one more time,
It's Saturday night and our world cruise is coming to an end. Yesterday in St. Thomas, our
Virtuoso gala luncheon was a success, tonight was the Captain's farewell cocktail party,
tomorrow at noon the email service goes out, and Monday morning we arrive in Ft. Lauderdale.
Then the ship is handed over to Holland America Line to become the Prinsendam. The end of
an era. By popular demand, I will back way up for one more port description before signing off.
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Chapter 8, Thailand
I digress. Way back in Myanmar, a maiden call for me, I was inspired to write about what I had
experienced there and share it with family and friends. Svein encouraged me to keep writing as
we go along, and it became a habit. Thailand was prior to that, so I'm pulling up memories to
If there were a vote on which Asian country has the most gracious, gentle, and hospitable
people, Thailand would win my vote hands down. The Thais are beautiful inside and out and
they never fail to make guests feel welcome. It is the only Southeast Asian country that has
never been conquered by a European colonial power, and thus they have maintained their own
distinct mentality and way of life for centuries. Oh, they have readily adapted to modern times,
all right. The result is a very productive country with a myriad of wonderful shopping and
business opportunities, but somehow they've managed to escape that annoying western concept
called 'stress'. It is always a delight to spend a few days in Thailand.
It is an exotic country, with elaborate temples, magnificent palaces, extraordinary luxury hotels,
elephants, silk, spices, endless beaches, a torrid tropical climate, and, by the way, did I mention
shopping!? The dollar will go a long way, and, any 'big name' item from the world's fashion
sector will be found on the streets of Bangkok or Pattaya or Phuket in perfect imitations for a
fraction of the price. A Rolex watch for $5 anyone? How about a silk Giorgio Armani scarf for $2? A
Pierre Cardin polo shirt for $5 or a silk Ralph Lauren tie for $1? Need I go on? If you'd rather have
the real thing, tailors will be happy to clothe you in elegance in a matter of hours. For example,
I had a full cashmere/worsted-wool suit tailor-made for $100. Silk shirts, evening jackets, wool
pants, tuxedos - take your pick - tailors stand in front of their shops urging you to indulge.
Many of our world cruise passengers (and staff) habitually enrich their wardrobe each time we
call in Thailand.
We had two days in the port of Laem Chabang (for Bangkok) and a week later, we were back in
the country spending a day in Phuket, on the Indian Ocean side of the country. We were free the
first day in LC and Svein and I wasted no time heading into Pattaya to wander the markets and
examine the latest wares. We also indulged in a massage. Thai massage is very good, but they
can be pretty rough, too. After that, Svein went for a haircut and I splurged and spent a whole $4
for another hour of massage - this time foot reflexology! By the time we made it back to the
ship I was so relaxed I could hardly wait for bedtime!
We had a beautiful Virtuoso tour to Bangkok our second day in LC. It's a two-hour drive into
the city from the port and we went straight to the Royal Palace and Temple for a walking tour.
On my first world cruise I was advised to take lots of film on my first trip into Bangkok. I had
been taking 4 or 5 photos in each port prior to that, so I just stuck an extra roll of film in my
backpack. Within the first half hour at the Royal Palace I was scrambling to find more film! It is
truly one of the wonders of the world. An immense complex of glittering buildings and dazzling
temples takes your breath away. Towering gold spires are the "simplicity architecture" amid
jewel-adorned walls, ornate statues, and lavish displays of wealth. First-time visitors tend to
walk around with their mouths hanging open (when they're not clicking their cameras). Our tour
was followed by an exquisite lunch at the Oriental Hotel - voted the number one hotel in the
world for many years in a row. I would have been happy to fill up on the hors d'oeuvres, but the
meal was equally delightful. They brought a collection of 8 small dishes for each person and
arranged them neatly around our plates. Then we could help ourselves to whatever we liked.
Meanwhile we were entertained by Thai dancers. Beautiful dresses, graceful movements, long
fingernails, exquisite headdresses, and complex dances (not to mention the pretty Thai ladies
themselves) kept their audience enchanted. Some of the dancers are very young boys and girls,
but their training is perfect.
Ahhhh, Thailand! If you ever get a chance to visit, say yes, and start asking questions later!
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