Monday, October 18, 2010

Downtown Cairo from Cairo Tower

View from Cairo Tower, showing downtown Cairo. Left to right: Four Seasons Hotel, Grand Hyatt Hotel (two buildings in center), Sofitel Hotel (on island). Large complex in lower right is the New Opera House. From Wikipedia.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Trip to Egypt

October 26 - November 12, 2010
(Not shown on map: Fly to St. Catherine's (Mt. Sinai) and drive back to Cairo.)

Tentative Egypt Itinerary (To Be Modified as Desired)

16 Days/15 Nights Cairo + Abu Simbel + 3 Nights Nile Cruise + Luxor + St. Catherine
__________________________________________________

Egypt Travel Experts / Enjaz tours Tel # Egypt: +20123121551 /Tel # USA: +1-617-9339330 Fax # Egypt: +202.26394288
E-mail: info@ask-aladdin.com
Address: 40 Ahmed Fakhry, Nasr City, Cairo Egypt
Egyptian Ministry of Tourism License N#: 1503

Wednesday October 27: Day 00: Arrival (part 1)
Welcome to Cairo! 3 travellers arrive early and their service begins when they are greeted by our representative at Cairo airport (1915, Lufthansa flight 1956 330 from Frankfurt) who will assist them through immigration and customs formalities. After they have collected their luggage he will then take them, in our deluxe vehicle, to the Grand Hyatt hotel.

Thursday October 28: Day 01: Arrival (part 2)
Welcome to Cairo! The fourth traveler arrives and service begins when you are greeted by our representative at Cairo airport (1800, Air France flight 508 from Paris) who will assist you through immigration and customs formalities. After you have collected your luggage he will then take you, in our deluxe vehicle, to the Grand Hyatt hotel.

For the three travelers arriving on Wednesday, breakfast at the hotel is followed by a full day tour with has a religious feel to it. From the hotel you will be taken on a tour of Cairo famous Churches, including: The Hanging Church and the Church of Abu Serga (St. Sergius), where, it is said, the Holy Family took shelter in a cave, with the church being erected her to commemorate this. This whole area is a world famous destination for Pilgrims.

After lunch you will be taken to see the Coptic Museum, which holds artefacts dating back to the Persian era and the later Roman period, and have been collected from all over Egypt. It has 2 major sections; the old section established by Smeka Pasha and the new section that was opened by President Mubarak in 2006. Altogether there are 3 floors devoted to the history of Coptic Christianity in Egypt, giving what is considered to be a complete illustration of this religion.

At the end of these visits you will be driven back to the Grand Hyatt hotel.
(Meals: breakfast, lunch)

Friday October 29: Day 02: Cairo
Breakfast at the hotel is followed by a full day tour. In the forenoon you will be taken to the Egyptian Museum: gaze at the wonders of King Tutankhamen, including his golden death mask. Lose yourself in the many rooms and galleries, where thousands of artefacts are awaiting your visit.

After lunch, at a local restaurant, you will be taken to the Citadel of Saladin, the fortress built between 1176 and 1183 AD, to protect Cairo from the Crusaders and rebuilt by Muhammad Ali Pasha, whose mosque here is a “must see”.

At the end of this exciting day you will be driven back to the Grand Hyatt hotel.
(Meals: breakfast, lunch)

Saturday October 30: Day 03: Cairo
and
Sunday October 31: Day 04: Cairo
Two full days with an Islamic theme. The Sultan Hassan Madrassa and Mosque is one of the extraordinarily wonderful Islamic Monuments in the Islamic World. If Ancient Egypt is proud of the Pyramids of Giza, Islamic Egypt has to be proud of the Sultan Hassan Madrassa. The Sahn, or the court, of the Mosque is almost square, about 34m long and 32m wide, with a large ablution fountain in the centre, which is covered with a wooden dome, carried on 8 marble columns around its capital decorated with a band of inscriptions of The Qur’an (the verse of Al-Kursi). 4 minarets were intended to be built in the original plan but only 3 were erected with the one over the entrance falling in the year 1361A.D leaving now only 2 minarets.

Another one of the various mosques you will visit is the mosque of Al Refaie', which is considered to be one of the remarkable Islamic structures in Cairo. The mosque is located in the Qala'a square in front of the citadel just facing the great Mosque of Al Sultan Hassan. The Shah of Iran, Mohamed Reda Bahlawy, is buried here, as are King Foaud and King Farouk. Walking tour including the Khan-al-Kahili bazaar.
Once these tours are completed you will be driven back to the Grand Hyatt hotel.
(Meals: breakfast)

Monday November 01: Day 05: Abu Simbel/Aswan
You will to fly to Abu Simbel to see these marvellous temples, which were originally carved out of a rocky mountainside by Ramses II.

Upon arrival back from Abu Simbel you will check in to the Basma Hotel in Aswan.
(Meals: breakfast)

Tuesday November 02: Day 06: Aswan
After breakfast start your day by taking a felucca around the botanical garden of Aswan. This is followed by a motor boat visit to the Nubian village.

Lunch at the Nubian restaurant of El Dokka

The rest of the day will be for relaxation and doing whatever you wish.
(Meals: breakfast, lunch)

Wednesday November 03: Day 07: M/S Jamila Nile Cruise: Aswan
After breakfast you will check out and our representative will escort you to your cruise boat: your floating hotel for your next 4 days.

After lunch you will be driven to see the High Dam, the worlds largest rock filled dam, and then a short sail to the Temple of Philae, moved to the island of Agilika after the waters of Lake Nasser flooded its original location. It is then back to Aswan to rejoin your cruise and as the Nile laps gently underneath you, dinner will be served.
(Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner)

Thursday November 04: Day 08: M/S Jamila Nile Cruise: Kom Ombo And Edfu
A new day and your first breakfast on board as the boat sails majestically towards Kom Ombo, where you will visit the Temple of Kom Ombo, dedicated to the gods Horus and Sobek. After the visit you will be taken back to the boat for your lunch while it sails onward to Edfu, home of the best preserved temple in Egypt: the Temple of Horus. After your visit to this superb temple you will be taken back to the boat in plenty of time before it departs Edfu and sets sail for Esna.

Once you reach Esna you can watch as the boat negotiates it way through the Esna locks. Once through the boat continues on its course towards Luxor, which it will reach after you have had dinner.
(Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner)

Friday November 05: Day 09: M/S Jamila Nile Cruise: Luxor
An early breakfast and then it is time to visit the West Bank of Luxor: the tombs of the New Kingdom Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings; the magnificent temple of Hatshepsut at Deir El-Bahri finishing with the immense Colossi of Memnon.

After lunch, which you will have on board the cruise boat, you will visit the magnificent Karnak and Luxor Temples. Once your visit to these ancient Theban Temples is completed you return to the boat where your last dinner, upon this floating hotel, will be served.
(Meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner)

Saturday November 06: Day 10: Luxor
You will have your final breakfast on the boat before you have to check out and then are transferred to the Moudira Hotel for check-in. The rest of the day is yours to do as you wish; relax or explore.
(Meals: breakfast)

Sunday November 07: Day 11: Luxor
You can either spend the day relaxing and enjoying Luxor’s many souks and restaurants, or you could return to the West Bank to visit the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III (Medinet Habu) and the Tombs of the Nobles.
(Meals: breakfast)

Monday November 08: Day 12: St Catherine
After breakfast you will check out and then you will be transferred to Luxor airport for your flight to Cairo (about 50 minutes). Upon arrival at Cairo you will be met by our representative who will transfer you to our air-conditioned vehicle for the drive to St. Catherine, and the monastery, at the foot of Mount Sinai. Though it is a 390KM, 5 hour drive, you will delight at driving underneath the Suez Canal, and viewing sites along the way; including Moses Springs.

Upon arrival at St. Catherine it will be time to check-in to the Bedouin Camp Hotel before settling down for your dinner. (Meals: breakfast, dinner)

Tuesday November 09: Day 13: Cairo
The day begins, pre-breakfast, with an optional early morning climb up Mount Sinai to watch the phenomenal sunrise. Please note: this trip is for volunteers only! After breakfast it is time to check-out and then visit St. Catherine’s Monastery before being driven back to Cairo, where you will be booked into the Mena House Oberoi Hotel for a well-deserved rest.
(Meals: breakfast)

Wednesday November 10: Day 14: Cairo
Breakfast at the hotel is followed by a full day tour. In the morning you will be driven to see the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx: the most famous monuments of not only ancient Egypt, but of the entire ancient world! These massive stone structures were built around 4,500 years ago on a rocky desert plateau close to the Nile.

After lunch, at a local restaurant, you will be taken to Sakkara to see the very first pyramid ever built; the Step Pyramid of Djoser. You will also get the chance to see some fantastic mastabas, including the mastaba of Mereruka, the largest one built in ancient.

After this amazing trip through Egypt’s pharaonic past you will be driven back to the Mena House Oberoi Hotel.
(Meals: breakfast, lunch)

Thursday November 11: Day 15 Cairo
Today is not so much a tour, rather an experience! The Pharaonic Village was founded by Dr. Hassan Ragab Ph.D., who was the person who rediscovered the ancient Egyptian art of papermaking; better known as papyrus.

The Pharaonic Village is Egypt's historic park. It is a unique place where Egypt's entire history is explained in 2 to 3 hours including our ancient and modern history. It is located on an island in the River Nile: just 3 miles south of the centre of Cairo. Here you will find yourself being transported by floating amphitheatres, and a hundred actors and actresses demonstrate scenes from ancient Egypt (papyrus making, brewing, sculpting, home building….etc)

The village also boasts a complete replica of King Tutankhamen’s tomb, with all its treasures. In addition to this there are 12 new museums, 4 related to ancient Egypt (mummification and medicine, pyramids building, arts and beliefs, ancient Egyptian boats.
(Meals: breakfast, lunch)

Friday November 12: Day 16: Final Departure
Your final day starts with breakfast at the hotel followed by check-out. You will then be transferred to the airport for your final departure.
(Meals: breakfast)

End Of Program

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal
Thursday, June 3, 2010

We had been told that the entry to Lisbon was beautiful, and it was. Lisbon and many of its suburbs are stretched along the wide Tagus River, and as the ship entered the river, we saw the white buildings of greater Lisbon for miles. As we passed under the 25th of April bridge (the longest suspension bridge in Europe), we were welcomed by the towering Christo Rei monument that stands facing Lisbon across the Tagus River. This monument, constructed in 1959, is a copy of the more famous monument in Rio de Janeiro, which was constructed in 1931. As we sailed a few miles up the river to the port, we passed other landmarks in Lisbon -- the Belem Tower, a former fortress, and the Monument of the Discoveries, to commemorate Portugal’s many discoverers in history -- as well as a skyline filled with churches and cathedrals.

The ship arrived in Lisbon on a national holiday, Corpus Santus, and stores and government buildings were closed. I had intended to mail some things home from the post office at the dock, but it was closed, as were UPS and Federal Express. I had planned to take the hop on/hop off bus to view the city; I enjoy these busses because they go to all the important places and they have audio commentary in English. When I went to breakfast, we saw Gilles and Denise, friends I had met from Montreal, and we spotted the red and yellow busses directly across the street from the port building. We decided to tour together, and after breakfast, we met at the gangway, and we were off.

As we exited the port building to cross the street, a taxi driver who spoke good English approached us and would not take no for an answer. His persistence paid off, and we decided to take his taxi, a Mercedes Benz, for the entire day for only 50 euros each. He promised to take us to far more places than the hop on/hop off bus would take us. He took us first through the old Moorish section of Lisbon, the Alfama, and stopped at the 12th century Se Cathedral, which survived the devastating earthquake of 1755, which destroyed most of Lisbon at that time and killed 30,000 people. We also stopped at the Santa Engracia church with its great dome, which serves as a pantheon for many of the great heroes of Portuguese history.

We then drove up the hill to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, but we did not pay the fee and enter as the most important thing in the Castle is the view of the city, and we chose instead the much better views from the Alto do Parque Belvedere, a beautiful panoramic overlook of the city. We drove through the Baixa section, or Lower Town, and stopped for photos at the “Black Horse” Praca do Commercio, or Commercial Square. We then stopped at the Rossio Square, the location of the National Theater of Dona Maria II as well as shops and outdoor restaurants. I quickly stepped nearby to the Rua August, the beautiful pedestrian street, for a photo. Leading North from the Rossio Square is the 1879-vintage Avenue of Liberty, a beautiful wide boulevard lined with shops and park benches and covered by a canopy of trees. The boulevard reminds one of the Champs Elyses in Paris. The boulevard leads up to the tall monument to the Marquis do Pombal.

From there, we headed out to the little mountainside town of Sintra, about 15 miles away. We wandered through the narrow streets filled with souvenir vendors and stopped at Piriquita, a local patisserie, for Travesseiros de Sintra, a wonderful local pastry. It was hot from the oven and was a perfect lunch, along with coffee. I took photos of the church, but did not pay the fee and enter. The principal visit of the day was just up the mountain from Sintra, the Palacio Nacional da Pena, an incredible mountaintop Moorish fortress that was later used by Spanish kings as a retreat. What an incredible place that was, similar to the Alcazar in Seville. No photos were permitted inside, so I had to buy a CD of photos from the gift shop.

From Sintra, we headed to the beach north of Lisbon from where we would drive along the beach back to Lisbon and the ship. We stopped for a photo at Guincho Beach, where we were almost blown away by the high winds. Because of the holiday and the warm day, the beach was very busy. We then drove through the beautiful beach town of Cascais, formerly a quiet fishing village and now a very upscale beach community of high rise apartments, outdoor restaurants and shops. From there we drove through Estoril, another beach town made famous as the scene of the first James Bond film. Portugal remained neutral during the cold war, and the Hotel Palacio in Estoril was a well-known vacation place for spies from both sides. Ian Fleming visited Estoril and wrote one of his books based on the site. We then drove past Carcavelos Beach, the largest of the public beaches, and it was packed with beachgoers. The traffic was very heavy and slow all through this drive.

We passed through Belem and stopped at the Jeronimos Monastery for a photo; however, the monastery was closed because of the holiday. We were going to stop for a pastry at the famous Pasteis de Belem, but we did not have enough time, nor did we stop at the Belem Tower, a former fortress guarding the mouth of the river. From there, we drove directly to the port, arriving at 4:15, a few minutes of the “all aboard” time of 4:30. It was a great day, and we visited all of the sites that were on all of the ship tours for less than one third the cost. Lisbon is a very beautiful city. I felt that I only touched the surface of Lisbon in our one-day port stop. It would be great to return to Lisbon for a week or more sometime.

Seville, Spain

Seville, Spain
Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The ship offered a bus shuttle to Seville, and I took that, not wanting to go on an organized tour. This was a bus that simply dropped everyone off at a specific location and then took us back to the ship at the end of the day. Seville was about one and one-half hours from the ship, and the pick-up time was 3:00 p.m., so I had time to visit only the two most important sights -- the Alcazar and the Cathedral of Seville. These two sights are directly across from each other, and only a short walk from the bus stop.

The drive to Seville took us through rolling hills of dark, fertile farmland. The crops were still early in the season, and the young shoots were very pretty against the dark soil. The climate is dry, and the irrigation sprinklers filled the fields with little sprays of water. We also passed several other interesting sights -- a group of giant windmills generating electricity, a old Roman viaduct, a huge cathedral on a hill in a very small town. We also saw many stork nests; storks come to this area in the Spring to raise their young (as they also did along the road to Tetouan in Morocco). I tried to get photos out the bus window, but was not very successful.

Seville was controlled by the Moors of Spain for many centuries, and the Moorish influence is very clear in the buildings. The Alcazar was designed as a Moorish fortress in 913 and rebuilt as a palace much later after the Christians gained power. It is a huge building with endless rooms and gardens, each of which were more beautiful than the one before. One simply cannot describe the beauty of each room, courtyard, garden. The beauty is truly stunning. I was there almost two hours, but then had to leave in order to see the cathedral.

I paused for some ice cream at a sidewalk café on a very narrow, pretty street filled with sidewalk cafes and souvenir shops. In the shade, the temperature was very nice, although it was hot in the direct sun. I enjoyed the break, and then headed for the cathedral.

The Cathedral of Seville is 15th century Gothic, and Europe’s third largest cathedral. The guide on the bus said that it is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. The cathedral was built on the site of a mosque, and the tall minaret is still used as the bell tower for the church. Many people climbed the tower and were shocked by the deafening noise when the dozens of huge bells rang. The cathedral is huge and ornate, and one can get a full description of it on the Internet. I was there the remainder of my time until the cathedral closed at 2:30, when I hurried back to the bus just before 3:00 for the uneventful ride back to the ship. When we arrived back in Cadiz, we were surprised by dense fog, producing eerie sights. Later, the ship faced almost complete loss of vision as it eased out of the port in the fog on its way to Lisbon.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Tetouan, Morocco

Tetouan, Morocco
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Another day, another souk! The old souk in Tetouan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it was truly great to visit it. I took the ship tour, and it went directly from the pier in Ceuta, Spanish Morocco, the short distance of 40 kilometers to Tetouan. As we left Ceuta, which is Spain, we had to go through the Spanish checkpoint at the border with Morocco, and to keep things simple, the procedure was to give the Spanish authorities our passports and then pick them back up as we reentered Spain. That procedure caused some apprehension, as we were reluctant to give our passports to anyone else; however, the tour guide assured us that the procedure had been used for years, and was okay. It worked out fine in the end.

As we left Ceuta, the guide pointed out a long line of people on foot entering Ceuta from Morocco. He said that these people have a job, and the line is related to their job. Ceuta is a free port, so there are no taxes on items bought there up to a certain value. These people were hired by merchants to go into Ceuta and purchase certain items -- shoes, dresses, luggage, everything -- and take it back across the border to be resold by the merchants in Morocco. They made trip after trip all day every day making purchases up to the value limit, and taking the items back across into Morocco, only to return again for another load. There were thousands of people performing this service, and it appeared that most of them were women. A very interesting sight; however, I was unable to photograph the sight as no photographs were permitted at the border.

Once we were inside Morocco, the entire distance of about 20 kilometers between Ceuta and Tetouan was one long -- very upscale -- beach resort area. Club Med has the largest building on this coast, and there are many other resorts and developments all catering to people on holiday. This area is the most well known, highly regarded coastal holiday area in Morocco, and perhaps on the entire North African coast. People from all over the Muslim world visit this area on holiday. The road seemed new, and extensive landscaping was underway in preparation for the upcoming summer holiday season. The guide said that the area would be packed with people within a couple more weeks. It was a truly beautiful area, especially with all the landscaping, including a beautiful, long promenade along the coast.

Once in Tetouan, we went directly to the souk, and we spent the remainder of our time there. We had just spent the previous day in the souk in Marrakech, so the comparison was inevitable. We found the souk in Marrakech more extensive and somehow “older”, but the people selling wares in the souk in Tetouan were friendlier and more willing to let us take their photo. People on the street were also friendly, and many of them permitted me to take a photo of them. I got much better photos in Tetouan than in Marrakech.

One other difference was that many of the people in Tetouan were Berbers; they wore distinctive clothing. We did not find Berbers in Marrakech, although some Berbers do live in Marakech; in fact, Berber is one of the principal languages in Marrakech. A word about clothing. Our guide told us that only in Morocco do people wear a “jelaba”, which is a robe that has a hood. He said that Romans wore these garments when Rome ruled what is now Morocco, and the Berbers started wearing the garment at that time. The jelaba is worn both by men and women, although mostly by men. The guide said that a man’s jelaba is inexpensive, but a woman’s jelaba is very expensive because of the difference in the fabric used. A man’s jelaba is functional, while a woman’s jelaba is stylish.

One other fact about Morocco -- it is a large country, larger than Spain and France combined. Morocco has a population of over 34 million, less than either Spain or France. The new king of Morocco, who is young and was educated in Britain and the U.S., is promoting economic growth in Morocco, and that economic growth is evident everywhere, with road and building construction going on at a very rapid pace. The king has a goal of greatly upgrading the highway system in Morocco, and the results are very evident.

As we left the port, our next port of call was Cadiz, which is in a westerly direction, back out of the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea. The Captain sailed the ship directly across the mouth of the Mediterranean close to Gibraltar so we could get a good look at Gibraltar as we sailed by. It was very nice to see it. However, Gibraltar sits at one end of a bay, and all the other territory around the bay is in Spain. We noticed a yellow cloud across the bay, and we noticed a dozen or more smoke stacks billowing yellow smoke, all coming from the Spanish part of the bay.

Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech, Morocco
Monday, May 31, 2010

Salama sent an email message that our driver would pick us up at the pier at 7:00, and we were the first ones off the ship. We saw a line of cars and vans picking up passengers, but our driver was not there. Some other passengers were also missing their drivers and we learned that there was a hold-up for some reason, and some drivers were not getting through the gate to the pier. After 15 minutes, we saw a line of drivers coming to the pier, and our driver was the first one. His name was Yassin. We hopped in, and off we went to Marrakech.

The day was cool and clear, and the humidity was low. It was a perfect day. Bas had looked up the forecast temperature in Marrakech, and he reported a temperature of 100 F was forecast. We were dressed in cool clothes, ready for the day. We also knew that we would be inside the air conditioned van, so we were not concerned. It felt good to be in Casablanca again. We were in a hurry to get through the traffic and get on the road to Marrakech, but we faced morning rush hour traffic as people were on their way to work, and the going was slow. I enjoyed seeing the wide boulevards lined with palm trees, and I enjoyed seeing the different manner of dress of the women. We saw women completely covered except their eyes, and we saw women wearing jeans and tops, with no head scarves. Our driver, Yassin, proudly told us that Morocco is very tolerant of all manner of dress; he said that many women wear western-style of dress. We saw many women in slacks of one type or another (lots of jeans), but no dresses or skirts and blouses.

After half an hour, we exited Casablanca and entered a toll road to Marrakech. It was smooth sailing from then on; there was little traffic on the road that was completed only seven years ago, in 2003. The scenery was very flat farmland; rolling hills and dark, rich soil. The scene was very pretty, and it was unchanged for almost two hours until we reached the river; after that, the land was quite different -- very arid and rocky and not used much for farming. We saw many small herds of sheep, goats, and some milk cows. With each herd, one or two herders were present watching over them. We never see herders with herds of animals in America, so the sight was interesting. After the river, we also came upon very small walled towns, and Yassin said that the towns were inhabited by poor farmers and sheep herders. Every one of the towns or buildings had electricity, and many buildings had a TV dish on its roof.

After three hours, we reached Marrakech, and it was very different from what I had imagined. Marrakech is a very flat town, and it is very modern and very prosperous. As we entered the city of one million, we saw many new apartment buildings and many new homes. I was expecting the city to be a “red” city, with buildings the color of the “red” soil; however, the soil is not as red as I expected, and the buildings are a reddish tan color, rather than the deeper red color I had expected. Marrakech seemed very French to me with its wide boulevards and many buildings with balconies. The city feels very modern, and Yassin proudly boasted that Marrakech is the most modern city in Morocco; “Until you have seen Marrakech, you have not seen Morocco,” he said. Although most women wore head scarves, few of them wore abayas, and almost none had their faces covered. Motor bikes were everywhere, and were a menace in traffic, but cars were also everywhere.

We picked up Salama at a hotel, and we went directly to the medina. We entered through the Bab el Jdid gate and walked to the Koutoubia Mosque, which dates from the early 12th century. Yassin then drove us to the “back” side of the souk area, where we visited the intricately ornate Ali ben Youssef Medersa, the former Islamic school. What a beautiful marvel that building is. We then entered the souks, where we spent most of our time in Marrakech. Salama led us through one area after another, and we took as many photos as we could take. Salama had told us that if we wanted to take photos of people, we should ask them first; some would permit photos and others would not. Some would ask for a small amount of money for a photo, and Salama agreed to give them a coin each time we asked him to. We also gave coins to some of the ones who agreed to let us photograph them. We got dozens of photos of the souk and of people in the souk. We hope some of the photos will be good.

After a time, Salama took us to a Berber rug weaving store, and we looked at many beautiful rugs as we drank soft drinks. After a time, we worked our way through the souks to the great square in the medina, Djemaa el Fna, where we bought some dates, which were incredibly delicious. We then sat on an upstairs outdoor balcony restaurant and drank soft drinks as we watched the scene below. Snake charmers, fortune tellers, monkey trainers, and all sorts of people selling all sorts of items. It was truly a carnival. Many people said that the square is far busier and more interesting in the evenings. Our time was drawing short and we had to leave much too soon. As we exited the medina to join the van, we looked down many streets to see one incredible view after another, and we knew that we must go back to Marrakech to absorb the city more fully. Salama took us to one last gate, the beautiful Bab Agnanou, for a photo, and we had to leave the medina to head back to Casablanca. We dropped Salama back at the hotel, and we were off.

The drive back did not seem as long as the drive over, but it lasted more than three hours. When we got back to Casablanca, we had time to drive by the great Hassan II mosque for a photo, and then Yassin returned us to the ship. The day was truly great, and we must return to Marrakech some day.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Funchal, Madeira Island

Funchal, Madeira Island, Portugal
Saturday, May 29, 2010

What a great city Funchal is. The weather was perfect -- sunny and cool with low humidity. It was a perfect day. I took the shuttle into the city where I spotted the red hop on/hop off bus, and boarded with no delay. I made the complete circle of the bus route without getting off; I just sat on the upper deck and enjoyed the views of the city as we listened to the English description on the bus audio. Funchal is built on the side of a steep hill, like Positano, Italy, and so many other cities, and the bus wound its way along narrow streets up the side of the hill until it reached Pico dos Barcelos at 355 meters, or about 1100 feet in altitude. The bus paused for photos of the great views of the city and the port below.

Funchal is a very modern city and a very prosperous one. The houses are all white with orange tile roofs. The city is very clean, with no litter, and it is quite upscale. Funchal feels good. It is easy to see why Funchal has been welcoming tourists for more than 100 years, and many Europeans have apartments in Funchal as so many Americans have apartments in Florida. A forest of high rise apartment buildings looks out on the ocean, and dozens of new ones are under construction. The sidewalk cafes, the mosaic tiled sidewalks, the pedestrian streets throughout the “downtown” area -- all these things make visitors feel good about being in Funchal, along with the beautiful weather, of course. The one drawback to tourism is the lack of beaches. While Tenerife has numerous beautiful beaches, Madeira has none. Therefore, far more tourists, particularly young people, go to Tenerife than to Madeira. On the other hand, I feel better in Madeira than in Tenerife. The main source of income in Madeira is tourism, and it is evident that tourism is adequate to support a prosperous economy.

Along the hop on/hop off route, the bus passed many monuments; Funchal seems to love monuments and has many at traffic circles throughout the city. These monuments are great sculptures, great works of art, rather than simply statues honoring dignitaries of the past. One exception is the statue of “Cici” of Austria, one of the many dignitaries who have visited Funchal. Like many others, she visited Funchal as a way of treating a respiratory ailment in the days before antibiotics. I tried to take photos of some of the monuments as the bus passed, but was not very successful. Similarly, I tried to take photos of some of the churches and other beautiful buildings, but was not very successful. One of the common sights in Funchal is elderly people sitting outdoors in the beautiful weather drinking coffee and reading a newspaper. Funchal invites leisure activities and peaceful strolls.

After completing the hop on/hop off bus route, I walked nearby to the base station of the cable car that leads to the top of the hill. I learned that I needed cash, and I was told that I could find an ATM machine at the food market, so I walked there, a few blocks away. While there, I wandered through the market, which was extremely busy on a Saturday. The market is a separate two-story building, with a separate area for the fish market. I looked at fruits and vegetables and beautiful flowers, taking photos all along. We sampled sweet juicy fruit, and enjoyed the scene at the fish market. It was a happy scene, and a busy one, like all markets, and I got a few photos.

After leaving the food market, I walked along a main shopping street for a short distance, but found that I was not interested in seeing the store fronts. As I walked back toward the cable car station, I passed through a flea market, which is set up in a pretty square and is open only on Saturdays. This market turned out to be a craft market of hand crafted jewelry, and I was not interested, although I did take a few photos.

Next I took the cable car, which climbs 550 meters (almost 1900 feet) up the mountain, and the views were spectacular. I took many photos of the city from the vantage point of the cable car as it made its way up. When I exited, I walked a short distance to the church of Nossa Senhora do Monte and climbed the steep staircase to take a photo inside the church. Then I got to the highlight of the day -- the basket toboggan ride down the mountain. Wow! Basket sleds guided by two drivers on the rear slide people down a steep paved path half way down the mountain. It is quite a thrill to sit in a basket sled and glide along a slick, narrow, paved path at a very fast rate, sometimes seemingly out of control. The basketeers turn the basket sideways to increase the friction of the sleds and slow the basket to keep it from gaining too much speed, and sliding sideways only adds to the thrill of the slide. The ride last about 15 minutes, and it was great! They have been doing that sled ride for more than 100 years -- one of Funchal’s most famous attractions.

After returning to the base of the mountain, I wandered along back streets enjoying the beautiful mosaic sidewalk patterns and beautiful decorations in the narrow pedestrian streets until I came to one of the main squares with numerous sidewalk cafes. I saw an open table at one of the most attractive restaurants and decided to stop for a snack and watch the people in the square. Some of the ship personnel were also at other tables, and I enjoyed chatting with them and taking a few photos of them before going on.

I then stopped in a shop selling lace and bought a beautiful lace tablecloth with yellow and green embroidery patterns as a gift for Bas and Monique. I hope it will fit in one of their houses. As I was leaving the shop, I spotted Gilles and Denise, a couple I met on the ship from Montreal, and walked with them along the waterfront promenade until we hopped into a taxi to return to the ship. What a wonderful day I had in Funchal, where I could happily return for a peaceful vacation someday.

Tenerife, Canary Islands

Tenerife, Canary Islands
Friday, May 28, 2010

What a beautiful island Tenerife is. It is like a European Hawaii. Tenerife is a volcanic island, dominated by the dormant volcano, Mount Teide, which soars 12, 300 feet high. Mount Teide is Spain’s highest peak, and has been designated a World Heritage Site. Tenerife seems to be an older island than the Canary Islands because it has topsoil and it is very green. The high peak also results in abundant rainfall on the north slopes.

Although Tenerife has natural beauty, its beauty is mostly man made. Beautiful, well-kept roads; well planned landscaping and beautiful plants everywhere; beautiful, colorful houses; almost manicured fields of banana plants and vineyards; everywhere one looks, one sees a beautiful scene, and the scenes were created because people created them. And never an electric line. Tenerife shows that beauty is a choice, and it is so nice to be in such a beautiful place. Tenerife is completely modern and upscale. Tourism is the principal economic activity; over five million tourists visit the island each year, mostly from Europe.

Bas has had a home in Alfaz del Pi, Spain, for the past 30 years, and he has lived there part time during that time. He was “home” in Spain in Tenerife, and he wanted to drive. Monique had arranged for a rental car to be picked up at the airport in La Laguna -- the north Tenerife airport. We met for breakfast, and then were the first passengers to leave the ship after clearance at 8:00 a.m. The drive to the airport in a taxi was only a few minutes, and we were off for the day. We first traveled to Puerta de la Cruz, a beautiful seaside town on the north shore of the island that has been Tenerife‘s premier resort since the 19th century. After parking the car, we went for a walk in the cool, sunny early morning, and stopped for coffee at a beautiful seaside outdoor restaurant. What a great feeling to sit outside in beautiful surroundings and chat and have coffee. We then went for a walk through the narrow, pedestrian streets. Photos were everywhere.

Monique had read that another town on the coast, Garachica, had recently designated a World Heritage Site, so we drove there next. Garachica is also a very beautiful little town, much smaller than Puerta de la Cruz. We walked through the town and visited the two very old churches, and then we stopped for lunch at an outdoor restaurant directly beside the sea. It was beautiful.

We then had only enough time left to drive back for a walk through La Laguna, also a World Heritage Site, before returning the rental car and returning to the ship. La Laguna is a larger, working town, and quite busy, and the World Heritage Site is the “old town”. We enjoyed our walk through, and then hurried back to the airport to return the car. A quick taxi ride took us back to the ship just in time, and we enjoyed taking photos of the sail-away along the coast.

Tenerife is a very beautiful island, and it is easy to understand why Europeans go there for a restful holiday. It really does remind one of Hawaii.

Mindelo, Cape Verde Islands

Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde Islands
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What a misnomer! A black rock jutting out of the ocean with virtually no green anywhere is called “Verde”! I will have to check Wikipedia when we get home to learn the history of naming a black rock “Green”; perhaps other islands in the chain are green. As we entered the harbor, I was reminded very strongly of Oman; there is a striking similarity between the two places. Mindelo is situated on a bay, with hills all around. Black hills. The volcanic island is “new” geologically, with little top soil on the black volcanic rock.

Mindelo, or as locals say, “Windelo”, is a very small town on a very small island, and what a difference from the places we had just visited in Africa. The air was cool -- about 75 degrees -- and the humidity was very low, and the wind was blowing at gale force. We were told that the winds blow strongly almost all of the time. I was reminded of Aruba. Cape Verde is a territory of Portugal, and Portuguese is the language spoken.

Cape Verde is middle class modern; people have homes and cars and dress well. It is 21st century. Children attend school, and there are colleges and a university for students, as well. No more abject poverty; our cruise has now exited the past and returned to the present, with some loss of “difference” and interest. One often finds “different” to be more interesting than the images one sees at home. Mindelo is a small town with a small town feeling. The principal activity of the island seems to be fishing and daily food shopping, although with modern electricity, there is little need for women to shop daily for food.

I went with Bas and Monique as usual, and we all decided to take a taxi. We walked off the pier and were immediately approached by a horde of taxi drivers. Bas and I had previously agreed to try to find one with a good car and one who spoke English well. The first one who approached us was about the same size as Bas, and both had premature bald heads; they were very similar, and amusingly so. Joseph spoke English well, and he offered a taxi that would hold seven people -- five hours for 50 Euros. We agreed, and we were off. Bas made sure that Joseph understood that we wanted to see “the people” and not buildings. Joseph sat in back and was our tour guide, and another person whose name I never got was the driver. He spoke no English, but was very friendly.

First we stopped at a vegetable market; it was small and lacked activity and interest of markets in previous stops, but it was colorful. Bas climbed up on a table to take a photo, and the table almost fell, to everyone’s delight. Because he had entertained the people, he was then permitted to take any photo he wanted. In general, he gains permission to take photos of people by being such a friendly, entertaining fellow; he gets people smiling and laughing with him.

We walked a half-block to the fish market, and Joseph said that because of high winds, the catch had been light. There was little activity, but we did take a few photos. We then walked along the waterfront of the marina to another food market, the main municipal food market. The building was a pretty two-story building, but it had little activity. In general, few people were on the streets, and we saw few people all day in Mindelo. When I asked Joseph the reason, he said that most people were at work, and inside. We took a few photos at the market, and then took off on our driving tour of the island.

The town was colorful; buildings were painted in bright colors, rather than being all white, and we stopped the taxi to try to take photos of the colorful buildings. We then drove to the top of one of the surrounding hills to take photos overlooking the town. Later, we drove to the top of another hill for more “overlook” photos. The photos were okay, but not spectacular, and we were already getting the impression that good photos would be difficult to find on the island.

Next, Joseph took us out of the town toward Monte Verde, the dark volcanic mountain that has no green but is named “Verde” and rises 750 meters (about 2500 feet) into the sky. We noticed immediately that the roads were made of the black volcanic rock, and they were like driving on cobble stones; the ride was very rough both in town and on the road out of town. We also noticed the bleakness of the landscape, with no trees or vegetation anywhere. Joseph told us that the island is very arid; there are two “rainy months”, July and August, but little rain falls even during those months.

We zig-zagged our way up the side of the mountain to a very high level and took photos back down toward the town; we were able to see the ship well, but the day was hazy, and the photos from that distance did not work. As we drove, we saw nothing but hard, black volcanic rock everywhere. Houses were built sporadically, and stood out in stark contrast to their black, bleak surroundings. There were virtually no plants, even near the houses. The wind was blowing very hard; when we got out of the car to take photos, the wind was difficult to deal with.

After descending the mountain, we drove to the opposite side of the island to an even smaller village on “Catfish Bay”. One of the ship’s tour busses was there, and a buffet lunch had been set up on the wide, flat strip of land. A jetty had been built far out into the bay, and some of the passengers had walked out to the end. We decided not to stay, and continued our drive. We passed a group of colorful fishing boats, and we stopped and walked out a distance of perhaps 100 yards to get some close-up photos of the only color we had seen, and virtually the only activity we had seen.

Joseph then took us along the coast line on a new road that was very pretty. This road was paved and smooth, and was a welcome change from the rough, rocky roads everywhere else. We noticed large sand dunes, and Joseph told us that the dunes were sand from the Sahara Desert, blown there by the wind. The sand was light in color, and stood starkly against the black rock of the island. We speculated that eventually the sand would cover the island, making it resemble the sand dunes of Namibia. We stopped at a small restaurant called “Hamburg”, and had soft drinks. A lunch had been set up for a ship tour, and we departed just as they were arriving.

Our route back to Mindelo took us through one of the valleys, and we noticed that this valley seemed to be the only place on the island where a little top soil had accumulated. Small garden plots had been laid out by many people, each with its own small windmill to draw up water for irrigation. Palm trees had been planted near the water reminding us of photos of oases in the desert. We took a few photos as we drove along.

Joseph returned us to the pier about 1:00 p.m., after only four hours, but we felt that we had seen everything that the island had to offer. The town was closing for its afternoon “siesta” until 3:00, and we decided to return to the ship and take the ship’s shuttle back to town later for a last walk before departing. Later, I took the shuttle back into the town for a walk, but felt that there really was nothing more to see of this little place. Like small towns in America, many of the children leave the island to attend school elsewhere and never return, or they leave for other places seeking work. The town seems stable, but will remain small as there is little to attract either visitors or permanent residents.

Dakar, Senegal

Dakar, Senegal
Sunday, May 23, 2010

At 6:00 a.m., I looked out the balcony door to see that we were entering the port of Dakar; it was a large port, like entering the mouth of a river. The world had changed; suddenly, we were back in civilization again. As the light of dawn slowly emerged, I could see that we were in a real city, with real buildings, high rise buildings. Cars were passing on the streets. I felt excited to be in Dakar, the destination of many European tourists. As I stood on the balcony, I could also feel the cool, dry air, and it felt good to have left the heat and humidity behind.

Monique had arranged a tour guide for Dakar, and when she called him on her cell phone, he was already at the pier waiting for us. She called to say that we would exit the ship as soon as we were given clearance, so we hurried through breakfast to be ready to go as soon after 7:00 a.m. as possible. Jerome would not be our guide himself; he had a van and driver, and he introduced us to Oussey, who would be our guide. Monique gave him half the agreed upon price of 300 euros, and we were off.

Bas explained to Oussey that we were not interested in buildings, but people. Take us to where the people are. Well, that turned out to be somewhat difficult because we were in Dakar on Sunday, and most of the city was closed. The streets were almost empty, and Oussey explained that we were lucky because we would not normally be able to get through the traffic congestion. We stopped first at the beautiful train station, located next to the port. The station was closed on Sunday, but we took photos of the elegant façade and we peeked through the fence to see the old trains still in service.

Next, Oussey took us past the Place de L’Independence, the center of Dakar, to the President’s house for photos, and I was struck at how much like the White House it looked. We had fun taking photos of the guard at the gate, who was dressed like the guards in London. We also took photos of some of the girls selling souvenirs nearby.

After leaving the President’s house, Oussey took us on a drive along the coast through a very wealthy area with beautiful large homes, including some of the homes of high-ranking government officials and homes of ambassadors to Senegal from other countries. We stopped on an overlook for several photos looking back toward the city. France controlled Senegal for more than 100 years. Dakar did not exist until the French decided to develop a port at this site, and built Dakar on undeveloped land. Thus, France was able to plan the city in their own style, and the French influence is everywhere. The streets were wide and beautiful, with large trees forming a shady canopy across them. I was reminded of Paris, and Senegal has adopted the French attitude toward beauty, promoting art and culture. How wonderful it is to be in a place that values beauty.

Next stop, Dakar’s central cathedral. It was confirmation Sunday, and many, many girls were outside the church in their white dresses looking very pretty. Bas waded in and began to take dozens of photos, laughing and playing to get them to smile. I was much more shy about taking photos of girls outside the church. We walked into the entrance of the church, but a service was underway, and I was quiet. Oussey told us “no photos in the church”, so Bas was the only one who got a good photo inside.

Oussey then took us along Route de la Corniche Est, the beautiful street along the eastern corniche or cliffs.

To be completed later.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Banjul, Gambia

Banjul, Gambia
Saturday, May 22, 2010

I had scheduled a ship tour for this port, along with Bas and Monique, but the “port talk” on the ship, as well as all I read about this port, indicated that the town was quite small (about 40,000), with nothing to see. I hated to spend $119 on a half-day tour, which spent much of that time at the museum; so I cancelled the tour. I decided to take a taxi around the town and return to the ship for a restful afternoon. How wrong I was! And what an incredible day it turned out to be.

As I exited the ship, a man in a yellow shirt, wearing an official Gambian tour guide badge, offered to take me in his minivan all day for $50, returning to the ship by 5:00 p.m., half an hour before the “all aboard” time of 5:30. He found one other couple to go along, as well. His minivan was an old Nissan and not air-conditioned, but the day was cool, with low humidity and I wanted the window rolled down so I could take photos out the window. His name was Tata, and I mentioned to him that his name was everywhere in India.

The streets of “downtown” Banjul (pronounced “Ban’youl”) were not paved and very, very rough. It was amazing that the streets could be so bad. There were few cars, and many people were walking. The buildings were mostly one story, and quite dilapidated. After we exited ‘downtown”, we came to a paved road leading out of town, and we saw a large yellow arched building ahead. It was “Arch 22”, a victory arch celebrating the takeover of the government by Yahya Jammeh in June 1994. We took an elevator to the top of the arch, four or five stories up, and took photos of the surrounding area. One of the sights was the King Fahad Mosque; most of the population of Gambia is Muslim, and this is the largest mosque in the country.

After leaving Arch 22, Tata drove us some distance to a village of Bakau to visit the Cachikaly crocodile pool. Bakau is home to people of the Mandinka tribe, and Tata explained that tribes have their own villages and do not mix, although they live peacefully together in Gambia. Driving through the “streets” of Bakau to the Cachikaly crocodile pool was breathtaking in its poverty. Even poorer than townships in previous countries, and almost like shanty towns. The “streets” were unpaved, and mostly sandy, and extremely rough. People were outside, sitting, walking, just getting out if the dark, hot interiors of their primitive houses. Everywhere we went in the van, children shouted “hello” to us. People were extremely friendly. The average annual wage in Gambia is about $350, about a dollar a day. In the villages, there is little electricity, no running water or sewage in the homes, and no trash pick-up. Few children attend school because parents have to pay, and few can pay the fees.

Cachikaly crocodile farm was fun. The crocs are very tame, and can be petted. I was amused to kneel beside a croc with my hand on it to have my photo taken. They have cold, hard skin, as one might expect. I took some photos, and then took more photos of children outside before we set out to our next destination.

Next, Tata took us to the Abuko Nature Reserve, a large mangrove, and home to numerous birds, reptiles, and especially, vervet monkeys. We first saw a group of boys about 12 years old, swimming happily and noisily in the creek on an outing. The water was not deep and they were being very playful. We walked along wooden walkways out to a rough building that housed a small café, where we got soft drinks and enjoyed the views. However, the monkeys were not visiting on that day; wildlife is not predictable.

After leaving the Abuko Nature Preserve, Tata said that his home was not far away, and on the way back to the city. He asked if we would like to see it, and we agreed immediately. He warned us that his home was very primitive and was the home to his extended family, including his father and mother, his brother and his brother’s family, his sister and her family, as well as his own family of a wife and four children. When we got there, it was pitiful. The compound included a “house” of three rooms, a separate mud hut used as the kitchen, and a partially constructed building, also of three rooms that the family was hoping to complete before the rainy season began. The walls of the “new” building were made of mud bricks and would be destroyed by the rains if a tin roof could not be completed, and Tata explained that he was the only person in the family with a part-time job, and there was no money for the tin roof. The family members were extremely friendly and welcoming to us. All of them spoke English, as most people do in Gambia, a former British colony. Tata explained that his eldest son was the only one of his children to attend school because he could not afford the fees. There was friendship and even joy in the family, but the situation was exceedingly pitiful. Before leaving, we took photos of Tata and his family.

After leaving Tata’s home, he drove us to Paradise Beach, a beautiful beach and outdoor bar and restaurant. We had lunch of grilled fish and French fried potatoes at the Rainbow Bar and Grille. It was delicious. Before eating, Tata and I walked down the beach for some photos of fishing boats being pulled from the water. At least 15-20 men joined to push each boat onto the beach, using large wooden rollers to assist them. As we were eating, some of the ship’s crew who we knew arrived for a few hours at the beach as well as lunch. Vendors desperately tried to sell us items, but we were not interested and left them feeling sad. They needed the money. They would not feel sad long, however, because five large bus loads of passengers on tour from the ship arrived just as we were leaving.

On the way back into Banjul, Tata next stopped at the fish market. What an incredible scene that was! Dozens of fishing boats, all painted in bright colors, were coming back to shore after the day fishing. As they neared the shore, people waded out to meet them with large “dishwater type” pans on their heads to get the day’s catch and then wade back to shore to dump the fish into wheelbarrows to be rolled quickly into a market place, where women waited to purchase the fish. The scene was incredible. Thousands of people were rushing about, and fish were in pans and in wheelbarrows everywhere. I took photos of the boats, the people wading out to meet the boats, the pans of fish and the wheelbarrows of fish. No photo can adequately portray the scene. It was amazing.

Tata then took us back into Banjul and stopped at the Albert Market, which is the heart of Banjul. The market is quite large, and includes hundreds of stalls selling everything from foods to furniture, along with crafts and souvenirs. Vendors who spotted tourists were very aggressive in trying to sell something -- anything -- to them. I took several photos, and the other couple made several purchases before we left to return to the ship, a few minutes before 5:00. When Tata dropped us off, I gave him an extra $50, and I think the other couple did as well. We then had to face a gauntlet of souvenir salespeople the length of the ship as we made our way back to the gangway.

What a great day it was. So much more than on a ship tour, so much more meaningful, and with a cost less than half of that of a ship tour.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tema, Ghana

Tema, Ghana
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tema is the port town for Accra, Ghana; the two are separated by only a few miles. I took the ship tour, “Meet the People”, a tour to visit the local community within Tema; the tour did not go into Accra. The tour first included a drive through a township area near the port, called Tema New Township. This is an area where immigrants to the area (from other parts of Ghana and mostly, from Togo, Benin and Nigeria) build temporary housing while looking for work, or while working odd jobs while looking for full-time employment. It was a typical combination township/shanty town, with new shanties built adjacent to more permanent housing. The bus drove around in the township for a while before stopping at a larger house where the “King” of the township lived. The tour had arranged for the “King” to grant an audience to the passengers, including a ceremony and then a couple of dances, first by elderly women and then by young people. The dances were fun and included interactions with passengers. The “King” made opening remarks, and five people were selected by the tour guide to sit on the first row and respond to the “King”. I was one of the five, and gave one of the responses. I was given a lei made of greens. We all took lots of photos of the people, including the “King”, and it was a lot of fun.

Next the tour stopped only a short distance later to visit a school. This school was a government junior high school. It was a real school in which students had text books and actually had the usual classes of math, science, English, Literature, etc. Ghana was once a British colony, and the official language in Ghana is English. All classes in school are taught in English. While we were at the school, the students performed a play about the ritual of a young man and woman getting married. It was very well done, and very amusing, and the students, who were in the audience, loved it even more than the passengers did. I took lots of photos. After the play, passengers were invited to visit the classrooms, and I took some photos there, as well. Later, two of the teachers gave me their email addresses and asked me to email some of the photos to them, which I will do after I get home.

After visiting the school, the tour stopped only a short distance away for a walk into the shanty town to see how some small fish were dried for sale. The fish were like sardines and were laid out on screens to dry in the sun. I took a couple of photos of the fish, but spent most of my time taking photos of the people from the shanties who had gathered to watch.

The tour then took us to another area not too far away where more permanent housing existed. The tour guide said that the apartments in this area had been constructed for people who worked in the port. The apartments were “middle class” and clearly much better housing than that in the Tema New Township, either the township housing or certainly the shanties. While there, we saw a woman making a ground meal food that tasted like hominy grits. We also saw how foods are prepared and sold in a typical take away store front. The stoves are open wood fires and the foods are not refrigerated.

I was particularly interested in seeing how much more prosperous Ghana is than either Benin or Togo. Ghana is a former British colony, while Benin and Togo are former French colonies. The Ghana port of Tema is modern, with a very large container shipping business. Many people own cars, and education is compulsory and free, including books, through high school. I was particularly struck by the friendliness of the people -- they smiled and waved and were incredibly friendly everywhere we went. They were much friendlier than in Togo or Benin.

We returned to the ship around 3:00 p.m., and all of the passengers felt that it was a very good day. I enjoyed the day enjoyed the day very much.

Lome, Togo

Lome, Togo
Monday, May 17, 2010

I took the ship tour with Bas and Monique to visit a rural area two hours away from the city of Lome. As we began our tour, the tour guides said that Lome did not have stores as we were accustomed, but that everything is sold on the street. Indeed, everything from food to clothing, to furniture, to kitchen appliances, was out on the sidewalk. It was a very colorful sight. My first impression of Lome was the shock at its primitive appearance. Only the main street was paved; all of the side streets were dirt. Ladies walked everywhere with loads on their heads, and it seemed that everyone was outdoors as there is little electricity and no air conditioning. Motorbikes (called “motos”) were everywhere, although not as overwhelming as in Vietnam; there were lots of cars, too. The buildings were almost all one story, and it seemed that most of the buildings were dilapidated. I felt that we had truly arrived in one of the poorest, most primitive parts of Africa.

Our tour took us first to the Lome Fetish Market, where we listened to a talk about fetishes while we looked at fetishes for sale, most of which are intended to bring good luck. I was not interested in the fetishes, but instead focused on taking photos of children whose parents were selling items at the market. After a few minutes of being harrassed by vendors wanting to sell us anything at all, we reboarded the bus just as a rainstorm began. The rain was very heavy and lasted two hours. Everywhere we went, people were scurrying to get out of the rain. Those on “motos” got drenched, as did those who were walking. A few gas stations had awnings, and they were filled with motos seeking protection from the downpour. All along the street, vendors covered their wares with plastic and huddled under their awnings or tin roofs. The downpour spoiled phototaking out the windows of the bus.

After driving more than an hour, the bus stopped at the village of Attinoufoe, where the guides first determined whether passengers would be able to walk through the wet soil to the school, several hundred yards off the road. After deciding that it was okay to walk there, the bus passengers followed the guides to the school. The school had four rooms, one for fifth and sixth grade students, one for first and second graders, and two rooms seemed to be for third and fourth graders. The students had no books. Teachers had to write everything on blackboards. The schools were very primitive -- one room was an outdoor structure with straw walls and roof; the others were in a long cinderblock building divided into three rooms that were open -- no doors and no windows, only open places for doors and windows. The students were very happy to see the passengers and smiled and sang for us. When we took photos of them and showed them the photos on our cameras, they laughed with delight, and all of the students tried to crowd around the cameras to see. Then all of the students wanted us to take their photo and show them. It was sad, but also a very happy scene. A basket was available for donations, and I felt generous to them, although many passengers did not leave a donation.

After leaving the school, the bus took us to the area near the one “mountain” in Togo, Mount Agou, elevation of 3200 feet. We stopped for photos, but we were too far away to get good photos. The bus then drove on to Kpalime, a small town near the mountain, and to a hotel in the town -- the Cristal Hotel, The town was exceedingly primitive, with no paved streets, and the houses very primitive. Because of street repairs, the bus had to take a circuitous route to the hotel, giving us a good look at the back streets in the town. It was really amazing to see the town and the houses and the way people lived. It was very primitive.

When we got to the hotel, we entered a hall with a buffet lunch set up. The dishes were lettuce salad, avocado salad, couscous, rice, roasted chicken in a sauce, beef skewers like satay, whole roasted pig, pineapple slices, and fruit salad. It was surprisingly delicious. After lunch, most of the people on the busses walked around the area taking photos.

The tour next took us to the Kpalime Arts Center to look at wood carving and batik making. I enjoyed taking photos of the artisans and various wood carvings on the grounds. I was particularly amused by the carvings into a line of trees, and we enjoyed seeing a very large mango tree, filled with rich, full green mangoes.

After leaving the arts center, the tour stopped at the village of Tove-Atti, where the King of the village welcomed us and then a group of village ladies danced while a group of guys played the drums. I mostly enjoyed taking photos of the children attending the ceremony. I loved the reactions of the children when I showed them their photos.

The tour guides announced that the drive back to the ship would take more than two hours, and we took off. The rain had stopped and the windows of the bus were clean. It was perfect for photos; Rae was kind enough to sit in the aisle seat, and I glued myself to the window of the bus. I snapped several hundred photos of scenes along the way back to the ship, and I enjoyed it very much. When we got back, I snapped the final frame on my card of the Manager of the Hotel on the ship, and the tour director, who were both on the pier helping passengers reboard the ship after returning from tours. Perfect timing. I was exhausted, and went to sleep immediately after dinner.

Cotonou, Benin

Cotonou, Benin
Sunday, May 16, 2010

Unable to find a private guide for the next four ports on the Internet, I took the ship tour to see both Cotonou and Porto Novo, and unfortunately, it was not good. Princess had warned passengers to be careful in the next ports as they are truly third-world, and not always safel. In addition, few taxis would be available, and none at the port; therefore, Bas and Monique and I were not inclined to try to find a taxi. We had also been told by Princess not to expect good bus transportation on the tours -- the busses would not be air conditioned, nor would they have amplification for tour guides. However, the bus on our tour was quite old and all the windows were badly fogged over and we could not see out or take photographs through them. There were two guides on the bus, and they tried hard to make the trip informative and interesting; however, it was really frustrating to see endless interesting scenes through the front windshield and through the foggy windows, and not be able even to see it well, much less take photos.

The bus drove directly to Porto Novo, about an hour away. The road was very good; it was a six lane divided highway that was as straight as an arrow with a line of tall street lights running down the middle. It was quite pretty to see it through the windshield, even though I could not get a photo. As we drove along, we were surrounded by motorbikes, much like in Vietnam; however, Benin is more economically developed and advanced than Vietnam and there were many cars as well as the motor bikes. Clearly, there was much economic activity. The guides said that poor people from the rural areas and particularly from Nigeria, next door, were moving into the area between the two cities of Cotonou and Porto Novo. Most of these people lived in shanties built all along the road. Indeed, it seemed that everyone in Benin lived in a shanty. I asked one of the guides, and he said that about a quarter of the population of eight million lived in shanties.

All along the road, and indeed in both cities, people were selling a wide variety of items, including gasoline which was available in four liter bottles (about a gallon). The guide said that gasoline could be bought in Nigeria and sold along the roads for much less than people would pay in stations; therefore, most people, particularly those on the motor bikes, bought gasoline along the road.

When the bus arrived in Porto Novo, the tour went to the Ethnographic Museum, which displayed masks, musical instruments, plowing tools, etc. I was not very interested and waited outside in the shade. After leaving the museum, the bus went directly to another museum; however, just before reaching the museum, the bus stopped at a traffic intersection, and I saw a market across the street. I got up out of my seat on the bus to take a quick photo out the windshield of the bus. The guides then invited me and others to get off the bus to take photos. Well, everyone got off the bus to take photos, and the guides had a difficult time getting people back on the bus. When they did, the bus continued to the Honme National Museum, which was the former home of the last king of Benin, King Taffe. The tour went through the various rooms and ended at a performing area with benches set up and male dancers dancing to drums. After half an hour of that, I suggested that we leave, but the people at the museum wanted us to stay. Eventually, most of the people got up and walked out to the protests of museum staff. The bus then drove back to Cotonou and directly to a handicraft center. We were given 15 minutes to make purchases, but many people did not return to the bus for more than half an hour. The bus then took us back to the ship.

All in all, it was a very unsatisfactory tour.

After returning to the ship, I took the shuttle back to the handicraft center to try to take a few photos. I was not very successful, but I was glad I went. Only two other men were on the shuttle, and one of them said that he had been able to find private guides for the next four ports in Africa, and I gave him my name and asked him to let me know the names of people I could contact in those ports. I hope I will be able to find private guides in all or at least some of them. I really don’t find the ship tours satisfactory.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Walvis Bay, Namibia

Walvis Bay, Namibia
May 11, 2010

Namibia is a country of giant sand dunes, so large that they can be seen from space. Therefore, the most important thing to do in Namibia was to see the dunes. No dunes are located near Luderitz, our first stop in Namibia; however, some large dunes are located near Walvis Bay, although the very large dunes are in the east of Namibia, not close to the port where the ship stopped. While I was in Cape Town, I stopped into the Namibia tourism office to try to find a guide to take us into the desert when the ship stopped in Walvis Bay. It turned out that Mazda Corporation was having a large conference in Walvis Bay the same day the ship stopped there, so finding a local guide was difficult. However, after some work, I did locate an experienced guide with a four-wheel drive Land Rover. I had invited Bas and Monique to go with me, and the guide met us at the pier at 7:30 a.m., just after the ship docked.

The large dunes near Walvis Bay are located in Sandwich Harbor, an hour’s drive south of Walvis Bay. We stopped first to pick up some sandwiches at a local bakery/sandwich shop, which was packed with locals also getting sandwiches. After we set out, we passed the Walvis Bay Lagoon just on the south side of Walvis Bay, and we stopped to look at, and photograph the thousands of pink flamingos there. Our guide said that the number of pink flamingos was estimated to be about 70,000. They eat crustaceans in the lagoon waters, which gives them their pink color. We walked out into the mud to take photos, but still, most of the flamingos were too far out in the water for really good photos.

Our next stop was the local salt processing plant, which was quite large. The guide said that the plant was owned by the government, and processed more than two million pounds of salt each year. The salt is used for commercial purposes. Some sizeable dunes are located near the salt plant, and our driver took us on our first ride up to the top and down the very steep slopes again. I was surprised that a vehicle could drive on top of the dunes, and also surprised that it could safely go down such steep slopes. He warned us not to be concerned; he said he was experienced and knew what he was doing. He did make sure that we were wearing our seat belts, however.

We then drove south along the coast for an hour. We stopped several times to take photos, particularly when we saw a huge flock of cormorants sitting on the shore. It was a great photo, especially when Bas ran yelling at them to make them fly. As we drove farther south, we entered Namib Naukluft Park, where a permit was required to enter. Our guide had already obtained the permit. As we continued, the dunes formed a tall wall directly by the shore, leaving only one lane for a vehicle to pass, and at times, the water washed over the lane and we had to drive through the water to continue. Our guide said that in previous years, many houses were located along the beach, but the sand dunes eventually buried them. We passed a single lone building still remaining.

When we got to Sandwich Harbor, several vehicles were already there, and our guide told us it was organized tours from the ship. They had not stopped for sandwiches or to view the flamingos, but had driven directly there. They parked at the base of the dunes, and a couple of people climbed a dune; however, they did not drive into the dunes, which our driver did immediately. To drive up steep dunes and then down again, where one cannot see what is below is a scary experience; however, he reassured us that he had been doing that for the past 11 years and we did not need to worry. We scaled dunes as high as a twenty-story building and dropped down slopes of more than 60 degrees. It was an amazing experience. We stopped in several places for photos and simply to gaze in wonder at the dunes. We were unable to take any photo that adequately showed the height or steepness of the dunes.

Around noon, a problem arose. Our driver informed us that we could stop and eat our sandwiches, and then he would take us back to the ship. We had contracted with him for the full day, to be returned to the ship at 5:00 p.m.; however, he said that we had misunderstood and that he would take us only to see the dunes, and then return us to the ship. After some discussion, we made it very clear to him that it was his misunderstanding and not ours, that we had contracted with him for the full day, and that was what we wanted. The implication was quite clear that if he wanted full payment, he would give us a full day. After a time, he agreed.

Our guide had been very friendly and very talkative on the way down, informing us about everything we saw. However, we drove back to Walvis Bay in silence, not stopping until we got back to the salt plant, where we took photos. We then requested that he take us to a place with restrooms, and that request seemed to surprise him; however, he complied. He then informed us that he would take us to “Dune 7”, a mid-sized dune located just outside town, where we would have lunch at one of the picnic tables there. Dune 7 is a local recreation area for families, and many children were there playing on the dune when we arrived. They had fun climbing the dune and sliding down.

After lunch, we drove north by a back road that was not paved, but was as smooth as a paved road. After a time, we arrived about 10 miles east of Swakopmund, and turned east onto a road called Welwitschia Drive, an alternating gravel and paved road. We drove along that road for 10-15 miles, before turning around and heading back into Swakopmund. Welwitschia is a plant that grows in the desert and survives for a very long time; average specimens are 500-600 years old, and the oldest ones are 2000 years old. The plant has large flat leaves that grow along the ground, and the plant has a root that reaches down as much as 20 feet. The leaves are very strong and cannot be torn; however, animals in the desert scratch at the leaves with their teeth for the moisture in them. Welwitschia Drive has been called a moon landscape, and it does resemble photos of the moon landscape. It is very barren.

We then drove into the little town of Swakopmund, a pretty tourist town with a nice beach and very pretty painted buildings, some of which have onion domes on them. A former German town in which German is still spoken widely, the town is a very popular beach town for Germans. We drove around the town taking photos of the interesting buildings, including the railway station built in 1901, and still one of the finest in Southern Africa. We then stopped into the famous Café Anton, a German confectionary, for cappuccino and apple strudel. We sat outside on a pretty terrace, and it was cool in the shade. We noticed that most of the guests were speaking German. After our coffee and strudel, we walked around the area to take photos of the lighthouse and a beautiful building that resembled a castle. It was originally constructed as a vacation house for the Kaiser, and is now used as the Namibia President’s vacation home. While we were in Swakopmund, we stopped at an ATM to get cash to pay the guide in Namibian dollars.

The drive back to Walvis Bay is very pretty, along a very modern highway that runs along the coast between the two towns. Many homes have recently been constructed along this road next to the beach, and our guide told us that the homes were built and owned by locals, mostly, although a few were owned or rented to foreigners. This is the area where Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt came to live before the birth of their baby. As we reentered Walvis Bay, our guide pointed out housing developments (or townships) on both sides of the road -- one side for “coloreds” and the other side for “blacks”. In South Africa and Namibia, “coloreds” are a distinct group of people who are of mixed race and who speak Afrikaans almost exclusively, whereas “blacks” speak English along with their tribal language. The “coloreds” consider themselves a distinct group from “blacks”.

We returned to the ship at 4:30 and paid our guide his full amount and departed happily. It was a very good day, particularly the ride in the dunes, which is an unforgettable experience.

Luderitz, Namibia

Luderitz, Namibia
May 10, 2010

I had planned to take a taxi to Kolmanskop, the abandoned town near Luderitz; however, when I didn’t see any taxis, I decided at the last moment to take the ship’s tour that went to Kolmanskop. It worked out fine, although it was much more expensive than a taxi would have been. The ship was in Luderitz for only a half day (until 1:30 p.m.); and the tour of Kolmanskop was for only a couple of hours. On the way back to the ship, I got out of the tour van and walked around the little town for a while before walking back to the ship.

Kolmanskop (see Wikipedia entry) was a thriving town in the early 1900s based on diamond “mining”, which was really just finding diamonds on the surface of the ground rather than actually digging in mines for them. However, larger diamonds were found in other places, so this town was abandoned. It has been lying in an abandoned state since the 1950s, filling up with sand. Three of the buildings have now been restored to some extent as the town has now become a tourist attraction. It was interesting to take photos of the old buildings.

Namibia was a German territory until it was lost to the British in World War I, and both Luderitz and Kolmanskop were German towns. The German influence is still very strong in Luderitz, with a Lutheran church being the most prominent building in the town. The town reminded me of a rural American town that is dying because all the young people are leaving to live in the cities. The climate of the town is extreme desert, with sand dunes and sand everywhere. Almost nothing was growing. We were told that anything -- such as a road or a railroad -- that is not used frequently is quickly covered by the sand. However, the basic geography beneath the sand is granite rock, much like Oman. It was hard to imagine building on the granite rock. Water had to be imported, as there is no fresh water supply. The little town of Luderitz seems to be based on fishing and it is not close to any other place. What an isolated, tiny town. We were told that the local school goes only through grade four as no teachers will come to live and teach in the town; after that, children are either home schooled, or they must go away to school. Many of the poor simply remain uneducated.

There was not much to this stop, but it was interesting.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town
May 6-8, 2010

All night, the storm lashed the ship, with high winds and rain and the ship pitched and rolled greatly. At 7:00 a.m., the captain started blowing his fog horn to let the pilot know we were sitting off shore waiting for the pilot to come aboard. We learned later that 7:00 a.m. was the time of the shift change, so our ship had to wait for the new pilot to come to work before he could motor out to meet the ship; he arrived at the ship at 7:20. The winds were blowing 45 mph, and the captain was not sure he could put the ship through the narrow opening in the marina. Finally, as the ship inched its way to shore, the winds calmed a bit, and the captain used two tugs to help steady the ship as he eased it through the narrow opening into the marina. It was a very slow, very careful process, and when we finally arrived at the pier, a seal had decided to climb into one of the huge tires along the pier, and had to be encouraged to move before the ship could tie up.

The pier was in a great location, right downtown next to the V&A Waterfront Shopping Mall, a really great shopping mall that reminds me of the waterfront in Baltimore. The entire waterfront is filled with restaurants and shopping. The mall was developed several years ago by a private group, and sold recently to the Dubai development group headed by the Sheik. Many of the stores are upscale, and the entire area is very pretty.

As people began to leave the ship for scheduled tours, the winds and rain did not let up. I had not scheduled a tour that day, thinking I would get some chores done first before touring. I was glad I had not scheduled anything because of the storm. Around 10:00 a.m., when I thought the stores would be opening, I decided to go next door to the shopping mall; however, by the time I arrived at the mall entrance, was completely soaked; the wind blew the rain underneath my little umbrella. What a storm. I was happy to be indoors, and stayed for several hours, looking through stores. I came across a salon, and got my hair cut by a very pleasant young woman from Johannesburg, who complained about the cold winter in Cape Town (never less than 60 degrees F). She had never seen snow. My haircut was not the same as Marty, my hair person at home, does it, but it was acceptable for only $28. It will last until we get home and Marty can straighten it out. While I was in the mall, I also located an Internet café, where I planned to go to try to load photos on my Flickr site; locating an Internet café was more difficult than it would seem, and I ended up going to several malls before finally finding one. While I was in the mall, I also visited a bookstore, where I picked up a book on Namibia and another more complete book of places in Western Africa, which included most of the places the ship would be stopping. Eventually, the rain and wind abated a bit, and I returned to the ship. Then about dinner time, the weather cleared, and became cool and pleasant.

Friday morning dawned sunny and clear, and I decided to take the hop-on/hop-off bus. There were two bus routes, so I got a two-day pass, one for Friday and the other for Saturday. The first bus route went through the downtown area, with commentary on the bus audio system about the history of Cape Town and some of its landmarks. I had previously decided to get off the bus in the downtown area and go to the Namibia tourism office to try to get information about a private tour guide in Walvis Bay, so I could go into the dunes. The woman at the tourism office was very helpful, and one of her suggestions eventually led me to a guide, although not directly. After leaving the tourism office, I walked through Green Park, which was filled with tent stalls of vendors selling hand made crafts. I purchased a couple of souvenirs, and then walked on to the next bus stop to reboard the bus. As I walked, a woman approached begging for money, and I refused; how could I possibly help all of the starving people. She was rail thin. There was a hot dog vendor near-by. As we walked on, I stopped and went back and gave her 10 Rand.

Although I had a map, I was not sure where the next bus stop was, and I learned that asking locals was no help. Finally, I spotted the bus on a street, and he stopped for me, even though we were not at the bus stop.

I continued the bus tour, and enjoyed listening to the commentary on the audio system as we passed the landmarks. I really do enjoy taking the hop-on/hop-off buses in all towns that have them. They are pleasant and informative, usually two level with an open top that is good for photography, and they allow hopping off and walking around. As the bus passed the Malay section with its brightly painted houses, I hopped off to take some photos. Later, I hopped back on and continued the tour. The bus continued on to the lower station of the cable car to the top of Table Mountain. I enjoyed the view from the lower station, which is about half way up the mountain, but did not go to the top.

Around 2:00, the bus came to Camps Bay, a pretty street lined with restaurants, and I decided to hop off and get something to eat at an outdoor café. I walked along the street looking at all the restaurants and then picked one that had some shade; the day was not hot, but the sun was really glaring. The restaurant was Paranga, Shop 1, The Promenade, Victoria Road, Camps Bay, Cape Town. I had a nice salads with cheddar coated chicken strips on the side, and I sat there enthralled by the scene of the ocean lashing against the rocks and the beach. Sitting in the restaurant looking out at the ocean and the beach was truly a magical scene. I noticed many young people in the area, particularly beautiful young people, and many expensive cars, and later I learned from the bus audio that Camps Bay is the place to see and be seen, particularly among young wealthy white Cape Towners. I sat in the restaurant for more than an hour and then went for a walk along the beach taking photos; when I saw the bus arriving, I hopped on again, and the bus slowly wound its way along the cliffside road back toward the waterfront and the ship.

The houses along that road are built into the side of the steep hill, reminding me of the way the houses are built on the side of the hill in Positano, Italy, although the hills in Cape Town are steeper than those in Positano. I noticed stairways leading up the steep hillside to houses, and the bus audio system pointed out that some of the houses had private funiculars or elevators. As the bus drove along, I tried to get a photo of the steep stairs, but failed to do so, although I did get one photo of a funicular,

When I got back to the ship, I was not hungry, and although I am not much of a wine drinker, I decided to attend a wine tasting event at the shopping mall, called the Wine Affair at the V&A Waterfront. I had no idea how difficult it would be to find the location of the wine tasting; no one I asked at the mall knew how to tell me where to go, and I walked all over the place for at least half an hour before finally finding a young waiter in a restaurant who walked me to the venue. The place was packed with young people -- young, hip, white couples, perhaps 2,000 people. It was a very upscale affair. I had thought I would go to the Internet café in the mall after the wine tasting, but it closed at 9:00, and I was too late to go. I decided to be at the Internet café at 9:00 a.m. the next morning, when it opened to try to load my photos onto Flickr.

One interesting sight at the marina was the large yacht owned by Larry Ellison of Sun Microsystems. The yacht is one of the largest private yachts in the world, with 82 cabins. Staff and crew never stopped cleaning and shining the yacht, and were always present at the entrance to be friendly to passersby, while making sure that no one tried to go on board. The yacht is completely white, and somewhat bland in appearance, but very impressive in size. Many passersby stopped to take photos of themselves with the yacht in the background.

Saturday was another beautiful day, and I wanted to get out and get on the hop-on/hop-off bus, but Saturday was our last day in Cape Town, and I really wanted to spend some time at the Internet café. I arrived at the Internet café about 8:40 and waited for it to open at 9:00. A few minutes before 9:00, the workers arrived and saw me waiting, and said hello to me. Then just at 9:00, a passenger from the ship walked up and tried to get ahead of me to be the first into the Internet café. There was only one connection for a lap top computer, and he had his lap top with him, as I did. He was very aggressive, but the workers in the shop put me to the connection ahead of him. I was stunned, really. I hurried to begin my work, and I worked steadily for two hours, until 11:00. However, the Internet connection was quite slow, and I was not successful in loading my photos on Flickr. I finally gave up at 11:00 and returned to the ship. I didn’t want to waste any more of my last day in Cape Town.

After leaving the Internet café, I hopped on the bus and began the second route around Cape Town. This route went farther out, around the back side of Table Mountain, past Kirstenbosch Gardens, down by Hout Bay, again past Camps Bay, and then back to the waterfront. It was a beautiful drive on a beautiful day. I didn’t hop off the bus; I just rode along enjoying the scenes of Cape Town and taking photos. I got back to the waterfront around 2:00 p.m. and had to be back on board the ship at 4:00.

The waterfront was filled with people enjoying the beautiful weather, and as I passed a lovely outdoor restaurant, we decided to sit outside and eat some lunch and watch the scene. The restaurant was Sevruga, and after a short wait, I was able to get an outside table. The restaurant was really beautiful, directly on the sidewalk, but well shaded, and I ate a beautiful lunch while watching the passing scene. I noticed that many of the customers were drinking a lime-colored drink filled with green leaves. I asked what it was, and the waiter said it was a Mojito, which was a lime drink (like lemonade) with mint and rum. I ordered mine without the rum, and it was truly refreshing. For lunch, I wanted to try springbok, which Bas and Monique had urged me to try. Springbok is an African antelope. The helpful waiter suggested that I try the springbok with a chocolate mint sauce, somewhat like chicken mole in Spanish. He said that the chocolate mint was mild and would help cover the gamey taste of the springbok. It turned out to be very delicious. By the time I finished lunch, it was time to reboard the ship to leave for Namibia.

Cape Town turned out to be a truly wonderful visit. The weather on the last two days was incredible, and the city was beautiful and interesting. It was a truly happy visit.

East London, South Africa

East London
May 4, 2010

Monique had arranged for a taxi to pick us up a the port and drive us for the day. We went first to Khaya La Bantu, a replica Xhosa Village 20 miles west of East London. East London reminded me of a town in the Western U.S., with flat buildings and wide streets -- a clean, neat town. In recent years, a huge, gleaming new shopping mall has opened west of the downtown area, taking most of the business from the downtown stores. The town was not busy early in the morning, and there was little traffic. The road west was the N2, an expressway, and the countryside was green with rolling hills. It was beautiful.

When we arrived at Khaya La Bantu, we found a welcoming party of about 25 girls, all under the age of 14, along with 8-10 women and a half-dozen boys. The troop was a singing and dancing group, there to perform for the guests. We were the first to arrive, and later, two bus loads of passengers arrived for the performance. As we stepped out of the taxi, we were shocked to see that many of the girls were topless, which was the usual “dress” for village girls. The girls performed a couple of singing/dancing numbers for us, and then we all waited until the busses arrived. They seem to have performed frequently, because they were very good, and completely at ease topless. We took photos of them as they danced, and later they posed for more photos. After the busses arrived, the ladies gave an explanation of village life, and then the ladies and men were separated, and the women were taken into a hut to hear about cooking, while the men were taken to a separate place to hear about the rite of circumcision. This rite was performed as boys reached age 13.

After the lectures, a traditional lunch was served -- beans, squash, lamb stew, and several other items, along with bread. All of the lunch was prepared over open pit fires on the site, and it was quite good. Following lunch, the girls performed more dances, and then the busses left. The owner of the land, and the performing show, then invited us to see his farm house, which was not modern, but quite nice. He was Canadian, and he had purchased the land and developed the replica village and performances as a way of remembering a cultural way of life, much like Williamsburg, Virginia.

After leaving Khaya La Bantu, our taxi driver took us to Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve, a private game reserve. We were surprised to see an ostrich in the lobby of the main building, which housed the office and restaurant. Then the ladies who were working the office took us out back to see some cheetahs in a large pen. There was not enough time to go into the reserve to see other animals.

We then drove along the coast back to the ship, stopping for photos along the way of giant termite mounds and an eland standing on a hilltop. Along the coast, we stopped to take photos of a beautiful flower, called a “Red Hot Poker”.

We were happy to pay our taxi driver 1000 Rands for the day, about $140.

Durban, South Africa

Durban, South Africa
May 3, 2010

I took a taxi with Bas and Monique. The driver was Indian, who was born and raised in Durban. The taxi company was owned by his family and he had been driving for the past 14 years. He agreed to take us out for the day for 800 Rand (about $115). As we began our drive through Durban, I noticed how hilly the country is, and how green. The downtown area is along the coast, and flat, with wide streets. Durban has the feel of a clean, neat city, well organized and easy to follow. One feels comfortable in Durban. Then one begins to notice how Durban flows in and around and atop many hills -- some quite tall. The larger streets and freeways seem to flow between the hills, and neighborhoods climb the hills right to the top, often capped by tall apartment buildings with views that stretch for miles. Durban is a very beautiful city, a welcoming city.

We drove first to the Valley of 1000 Hills, and I expected to spend some hours taking landscape photos. However, I learned that this valley was the home of the Phezulu Zulu Village, a center for traditional Zulu tribal culture and dancing. It is a beautiful area, and we were going to attend a cultural show. We arrived at 9:30, and the show began at 10:00, so we walked among a large zoo-like area containing crocodiles of all sizes from babies to some very large ones. Crocodiles live to more than 100 years of age, and one of the males was more then 100 years old. We then sat in the small café and had cappuccino while waiting for the show to begin. A group of dancers performed a very lively show about marriage -- the payment of cows as a dowry to the girl’s family and the acceptance by the girl and her family. It was a very pretty show, and then we took photos of the dancers and walked among traditional Zulu grass huts on display in a museum-like setting.

After leaving the show, we drove among the hills to view the scenery and then the driver took us to Castor Crest, a shanty town. We drove through the shanty town on a narrow road and took photographs of the makeshift houses constructed of scraps of wood, tin, plastic, and whatever other building materials the people could find. We noticed a water tap where people went to get water, and we noticed out-houses -- the common toilets. A few of the huts had an electric line stretching from the single electric line running through the shanty town, and the taxi driver said that the hook-ups were illegal. We noticed children playing and tried to take a few photos of them. After a time, the driver turned the taxi around and drove back the way he had come, and we took more photos as we left.

Next the driver took us to the new soccer stadium being constructed for the World Cup. This new stadium is built in the shape of a giant flower basket, and a funicular car runs up one side of the “handle” of the basket to a viewing platform at the top of the stadium. We rode up and took photos, and the view was beautiful, with the coast line stretching along one side of the landscape with white waves breaking along the beaches. The skyline of the city grew from the coast, leading to green hills dotted with tall apartment buildings. The scene was beautiful.

We had lunch at the stadium at an outdoor restaurant, and watched numerous school groups coming to visit the stadium. We took photos of one group of girls, about 7-8 years old, all dressed in blue uniforms, as they watched a water fountain display with its pattern of sprays. Durban has a right to feel very proud of this new stadium, constructed for the World Cup. Actually, many streets were also being widened and repaved in preparation for the World Cup.

After leaving the stadium, the driver took us on a drive through the city, to give us a feel of the city, and I enjoyed that very much. We then returned to the ship about 2:30 p.m., ahead of our 3:00 deadline prior to sailing to East London.

The weather was cool and dry and sunny and beautiful, and soon after we returned to the ship, the sky became overcast, and soon loud claps of thunder and flashes of lightening shook us as a heavy rainstorm flooded down.