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.

Nosy Be, Madagascar

Nosy Be, Madagascar
Thursday, April 29, 2010

The poverty was shocking from the first step on land. This island reminds me of St. Lucia in the Caribbean, or perhaps Nicaragua. There is no pier, and the ship anchored in the bay, with tenders ashore. I took the “highlights” tour from the ship, and the tour was made in a non-air conditioned, 12 passenger van rather than in a bus. I sat up front with the driver to take photos. Van tours are much better than bus tours. Even before the ship stopped moving, small boats rushed to the ship from the shore, with men begging passengers to throw money to them from the ship. The captain announced that passengers should refrain from throwing money, or anything else (like bath soap or shampoo) to them; however, some passengers tossed both money and other items. Once ashore, beggars and people selling souvenirs, embroidered scarves and tablecloths, and many other items pestered passengers incessantly. I quickly got into the van and set off on the tour.

The tour guide pointed out a dilapidated building and said it was the “governor’s house”; another dilapidated building was the mayor’s house, and still another was the town administrative building. Everything was old, shabby, and run down, although some of the souvenir sales people were well dressed, in brightly colored clothes. As the van proceeded, we saw people walking everywhere and few cars or even motor bikes. Small, old Renault cars were ubiquitous and used as taxis. The island was controlled by France for a number of years, and a version of French is the language and Catholicism is the principal religion.

The first stop on the tour was the town food market, a large building in the town center where locals purchased fresh fruits, vegetables and fish. Few houses had electricity and almost none had a refrigerator; therefore, people had to buy food every day. The main street in town was lined with small shops selling items to be purchased by locals, although some souvenir shops also appeared. Nothing on the island was modern; everything was old and shabby. The tour guide said that the Somali pirates had reduced the number of cruise ships visiting the island, and the island had also lost income when the sugar cane processing plant closed three years ago. The tour guide said that the island is now really struggling economically, with no sources of income. Many of the men seemed to fish for survival.

After touring the town market, the tour van drove inland into the countryside. The road was well paved and smooth. All along the route were shanty houses built of wooden limbs and small trees; many had thatched roofs or wooden planks laid together with wide gaps. A few houses had tin roofs, often with large stones laid on top to hold the tin in place. The tour guide said that most houses had two rooms. The weather is always warm, so houses used only cloth sheets for doors. There were a few schools, and children went to school at least for a few years. The guide said most classes were large because few teachers would come to the island to teach.

The van driver stopped at one point to show us the yellow flowers from ylang-ylang trees; these trees are grown on the island and the flowers sold to perfume factories in Paris. Nosy Be is also famous for its vanilla, and I bought a small packet from a little girl as a souvenir. Later, the driver stopped the van to show us a chameleon, which was pretty and quite interesting. He then stopped at a “typical village”, and we got out for a walk. The tour guide told us about the shanty houses, made of thin trees, like a log cabin only with the “logs” in vertical rather than horizontal positions. Souvenir sellers immediately swarmed around the van, and later we saw the same sellers, who followed the tour vans from stop to stop.

At lunchtime, the vans gathered at a beautiful beach, where the ship had arranged a spread of snacks of fruit and fried shrimp, along with soft drinks and beer. A group of women did a folk dance to entertain the passengers, and I walked around taking a few photos of the beach area.

After the lunch stop, the tour vans returned to the town center for a final stop before returning to the tenders and the ship. Several of us left our van at that point and walked along main street past all the tiny shops. By that time, most of the shops had closed for the mid-afternoon siesta time, and many of the shop owners were seen sleeping in their shops or in front of their shops on the sidewalks. Small children were sleeping along with parents at the shops. We walked back to the tenders, a walk of an hour or so, stopping to take photos along, and returned to the ship.

I’m glad to have visited Nosy Be, but like St. Lucia, I would not be inclined to return.

Dubai, UAE

Dubai, UAE
Tuesday, April 20 and Wednesday, April 21

The day was very hazy as the ship made its way into the port about 9:00 a.m.; I wanted to take photos, but I could barely see the Burj Khalifa through the haze, even though it was only a few of miles from the port. As I went to breakfast, I noticed how cool the weather was, and the low humidity. We were told that the high temperature for the day would be only 29 C (about 90 F), a beautiful day, and it turned out to be hot in the sun, but pleasant and dry and beautiful in the shade.

I had wanted to take a tour of the city the first day, and go to the Burj Al Arab Hotel the second; however, I had to reverse the order because the ship was not running the Burj Al Arab tour the second day. About 10:00, the bus set off to the Burj Al Arab, down a long straight street, the Jumeirah Road. This road is the oldest part of Dubai; it was where the original houses, businesses and hotels were located. This road reminds me of lots of beach towns in America, with flat, two-story buildings on each side of the road. We were told that a mosque would appear about every 500 meters to ensure adequate places for daily prayers. On Friday, most Muslims would go to the large Jumeirah Mosque, and would go to neighborhood mosques for daily prayers. I noticed how new the buildings looked, how there were no electrical lines anywhere, and how clean everything was.

I was also overwhelmed by the number of high rise buildings on the main road, the Sheikh Zayed Road, in the distance to the East, running parallel to the Jumeirah Road. The two main roads run North/South, with the coast line like the West Coast in Florida or California; Dubai is a West Coast city.

Our first stop was the Burj Al Arab hotel, for tea. I was pretty overwhelmed by the appearance of the hotel, built to resemble a giant sail on a dhow sail boat. Inside, the hotel was overwhelming, with an atrium reaching all the way to the 25th floor. The tea was on the 27th floor, and after tea, we were permitted to take photos from several rooms, including the tea room, another dining room, and the two story ballroom. We were not permitted to take photos from the top of the atrium down toward the lobby, perhaps for safety reasons (I’m sure they didn’t want cameras to fall on guests below).

The tour of the day was supposed to include a catamaran ride to “The World” Islands; however, because of rough seas, that part of the tour was cancelled. Instead, after tea and photos, we drove to the palm island -- the little palm island -- which was the first of the palm islands to be constructed. The island was constructed as a residential area, and we were told that it is almost completely sold out and occupied. Clearly people were living in all those high rise apartments and in the thousands of single family homes built on the palm leaves of the island. It was a beautiful place. All the way out to the end of the island is the Atlantis Hotel, and the bus stopped there for photos. The water was a beautiful green color; I had never seen water that color before. It was beautiful.

After leaving Palm Island, we drove through the newly developed area near Dubai Marina, Jumeirah Village. More than 120 high rise buildings have been built in this area in the past 12 years. The area is mainly a residential area, but it also includes Universities and the high tech sector of Dubai. The entire area is planned, with a lake, a canal, and beautiful landscape design, along with buildings of incredible architecture. The new ski slope is located in the Jumeirah area, and from the outside, it looks like a giant metal tube jutting out of a large building.

Dubai is divided into two main parts -- Downtown, near Dubai Creek, and Jumeirah, which is like a bedroom suburb in America. The two areas are separated by a large industrial park area, about five miles long. In each of the two parts of Dubai, beautiful high rise buildings have been built; the new Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, is located in the Downtown area, and that was the next stop of our tour.

The bus drove through the Downtown area, stopping at the Burj Khalifa for photos. This gleaming building is truly beautiful and impressive; it narrows soon and looks like a giant needle shooting into the heavens. Just in front of the Burj Khalifa, a large pond has been constructed with forced water fountain shows each night, like the ones at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Adjacent to the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Mall, the largest shopping mall in Dubai, with more than 1500 stores. After half an hour of photos and walking in the area, the bus returned to the ship.

In the evening, I returned to the city with some others to walk through the old section, the “Souk”, a warren of alleyways filled with small shops. The place was really bustling in the evening, as locals were out shopping for everything from food to household utensils to spices to gold. It was wonderful to experience. We stopped in a spice store to buy some saffron; the man opened a large metal container filled with dark Iranian saffron, pinched off some, and used his scale to measure out ten grams. When the woman buying the saffron protested that it was too much, the shopkeeper seemed taken aback that anyone might want less than 10 grams.

After walking for a couple of hours, we took one of the little ferry boats across Dubai “creek”, which is almost as wide as the Potomac River, to another old area to continue walking. After a time, we took a taxi to the Dubai Mall to have dinner and watch the water show in front of the Burj Khalifa. We were able to get a table at an outdoor restaurant and watched the water show three times (it goes off every half hour) while having dinner. The air was cool and dry and the show was beautiful. The show changes each time it goes off.

Wednesday, I took the ship tour of the city. The first stop was on the beach near the Burj Al Arab for great photos. The bus then drove north along the Sheikh Sayed Road, a 10 lane freeway running north/south connecting all of Dubai, back toward the Burj Khalifa. We stopped for photos outside the Jumeirah Mosque, the oldest and largest mosque in Dubai, and then the bus took us to the Dubai Museum, which, unlike most museums, was very interesting, with displays showing how people lived in the desert community a hundred years ago. We then took a ferry boat across the Dubai Creek to the souk area, where tour passengers went for a walk before the bus returned to the ship. After the bus dropped us off at the ship, I immediately took the shuttle to the Dubai Mall to purchase another photo card for my camera, and there I learned that San Disk now has faster disks than the ones I have been using. I purchased two of them, and that should be sufficient for the remainder of the trip.

What a wonderful place Dubai is. I want to go back some January for a month. Bas and Monique priced a nice studio apartment for about $2500 per month (U.S.), and that seems quite reasonable to me. Two of the passengers, Sar and Nimu, have a son living in Dubai with his new wife, and they love it. I think I would, too.

Muscat, Oman

Muscat, Oman
Monday, April 19, 2010

Oman has only two sights -- the grand mosque and the souk. The ship stopped for only a half day, and I took the ship tour. I noticed immediately the incredible drop in humidity from India; it was like a dream to walk outside. Later the temperature reached 42 C, but in the shade, it was very comfortable. What a difference from India, and previous stops on the cruise, where the humidity was always near 100 percent. Many people ate breakfast outside in the Panorama restaurant as the ship docked. What a pleasure to have low humidity.

The bus tour went first to the mosque, the second largest mosque in the world. As the bus set out, and along the way to the mosque, I noticed the new roads and the new cars on the roads. Additional road work was underway in many places. We were told that Oman has no public transportation; however, minibus taxis operated on schedule, with scheduled stops where people waited for their taxi. These minivan taxis were plentiful, holding about 12 passengers each. Clearly, many people used these taxis to commute to work. The roads were jammed with traffic that was stop-and-go in the morning rush hour.

As the bus made its way to the mosque, I noticed that the geography of Oman is rocky hills, with the population located in the “valleys” between the rocky hills. Thus, the city seems to snake its way among the hills like an endless maze. The hills seem to be granite, so that construction on them would seem to be very difficult.

The mosque can be described only in photos; it is very beautiful, with a giant chandelier made of Swarovski crystals. All mosques are alike in several ways -- women pray in an area that is separate from the men, and all prayer rooms are a large open area where worshipers can kneel on a beautiful carpet to pray. Mosques are beautiful inside, but they are not like churches, with pews. Instead, they are open carpeted areas where those in attendance can kneel to pray. The mosque in Oman has a beautiful carpet and a beautiful chandelier, inviting attendees to kneel and pray and feel inspired.

We had been instructed prior to the tour of the mosque that everyone would be required to remove their shoes, and women would be required to cover their heads and wear long sleeved blouses so that none of their arms showed. However, some of the women had not got the message, and were not admitted because they were wearing short sleeved blouses. One insane woman on another bus raised a fuss and said the policy was “stupid”. This insult was an insult to Islam itself, and the guards took the insult very seriously. They demanded an apology from the woman and held the tour bus until they got an adequate apology from the Cruise Line as well. The woman had returned to the bus, and refused to get off to apologize; she was afraid that they were going to take her to prison. Finally, the woman was forced to get off the bus and apologize, but she held up the tour for some time. I was glad she was not on the bus I was on.

After the mosque, the tour went to the souk -- the warren of shops. I love the souks. The first one I encountered was in Istanbul in 2000, and I have enjoyed going to them since then. This one was wonderful, with shop after shop filled with wondrous items, meant mostly for locals, although also available to tourists. Shopkeepers invited all passers by to enter and look, and people from the ship were clearly buying souvenirs. I took dozens of photos in the souk, fortunately remembering to remove my lens filter first, so the photos are sharp and clear.

In the souk, almost all of the local men were dressed in disdashas, and almost all the women were wearing abayas, many with their faces covered. I took a few photos of men and women, as well as in shops. I asked, and most people did not object to my taking their photo. I wandered deep into the souk, taking several of the alleyways on my journey, and when it was time to return to the bus, I was not entirely sure how to make out way back to the bus. As I talked with several other passengers about directions, a tall, thin woman wearing an abaya with her face completely covered except for her eyes, stopped near us and then to my surprise, asked in English if we were lost and needed help. I was so stunned that I failed to ask her if I could take her photo, and I was sorry later.

The tour guide mentioned that in order to marry, young men in Oman must pay a dowry to his bride’s family. The amount varies, but is in the range of 30-40,000 U.S. dollars. He said that more than 70 percent of young Omani men are not married because they cannot afford a wife. I asked him what the young women do for husbands, and he told me that they marry Kuwaitis or young men from the United Arab Republics. He also volunteered that young men who are not married often visit “massage” parlors for sexual relief, and that these massage parlors are legal in Oman.

After leaving the souk, the bus took us to a museum of Oman history. I was not interested, so I wandered around outside, and then went to a very nice gift shop of the museum. It was a really nice gift shop, but many, or most, of the items were made in China. It was not a gift shop of Omani crafts, except for one item. Frankincense is grown in Oman, and it is a national product. It was sold in the gift shop in a variety of small containers, ready for burning.

After leaving the museum, the bus made a final stop at one of the Sultan’s seven palaces. This one was not a home, but a business office for the Sultan, who is the chief finance officer for Oman; the ministry of finance is located in adjacent buildings. I took a few photos, and then the bus made its way back to the ship. I enjoyed our brief stop in Oman.

Mumbai, India

Mumbai, India
April 16, 2010

The ship arrived in Mumbai on Saturday, April 16. How can I describe Mumbai? It is perhaps the most interesting place I have ever been. The one word I would use to describe Mumbai is “teeming”. Mumbai is truly a teeming city. It is like an ant hill, with untold numbers of ants, each one scurrying to accomplish its mission, moving chaotically in every direction with intense purpose, and yet not aggressive and not interfering with other ants. Men seemed more noticeable than women on the streets; crowds of men were everywhere, seemingly either gathered for work, or perhaps looking for work. Although the city is dirty, it is not filled with litter and rubbish except in the slum areas. The city seemed to be covered with a layer of dust; everything seemed to be brown and gray and black. Although there are high-rise apartment buildings, they were not so numerous as in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, and few seemed to be new.

The ship tours of Mumbai included stops at two museums, which was not the way I wanted to spend my time in Mumbai, so I decided to try to get an individual tour guide. When we were in Chennai, I spoke with the tour guide (Gita) and she introduced me to the manager of the tour company running the tours in Chennai, and would also be running the ship tours in Mumbai. He said that he would arrange for an individual tour guide in Mumbai; however, when we arrived at the port in Mumbai, he had not spoken with them, and no tour guide was waiting. When I spoke with the representative of the tour company on the pier, I was told that an air conditioned car with a driver could be available to us for $50 for the entire day; however, we would have to wait for 45 minutes for him to arrive at the dock. We talked with taxi drivers; however, they wanted more money and also used non-air conditioned cars. I preferred to wait. After a wait of only 5 minutes, a driver appeared, driving a new Toyota minivan, fully air conditioned, and we were off.

As we drove from the ship to the gates of the dock, I realized that we would have had great difficulty finding our way out -- the distance was at least a mile through a maze of roads filled with trucks loading and unloading cargo. I was very happy that we waited for this car.

The driver first drove us along a long street toward some of the beautiful buildings built by the British a hundred years ago -- the Prince of Wales Museum, the Rajabhai Clock Tower, the Mumbai High Court, the Victoria Rail Station. As we started off, my first impression was that at 9:00 a.m., the streets were filled with cars and people walking everywhere on their way to work. People were dressed in typical Indian clothing -- women in colorful saris and men in loose white shirts and pants. We were near the docks, and it was a typically poor area, as one would expect near a port in any city.

As we drove along, we passed block after block of shanties that had been “constructed” along the street, spilling out onto the sidewalk. Families lived in these shacks, made of scrap wood, tin, plastic, and whatever other discarded materials they could find -- homes for the homeless. We also noticed lots of trash strewn everywhere. There seemed to be no trash collection system, despite the large number of people available to work.

The streets around the rail station were even more congested with traffic than previous streets. Thousands of small, black-bottom, yellow-topped taxis filled the streets, each pressing to fill every crack in the traffic. The streets did not have lane markers, and drivers squeezed into every space wide enough to permit passage. Horns were constant, although they were not loud. Drivers used their horns to let the driver ahead know of their presence, particularly when passing, and particularly motorbikes, which were numerous, but not as numerous as in Vietnam. I was amazed at the way the drivers filled every space on the road, but without touching. Often cars were only inches apart. Gita had explained in Chennai that drivers expect other drivers to be unpredictable and not to follow the “rules of the road” too closely, and since everyone drives that way, it is accepted. At one point in Chennai, the bus was forced to drive on the wrong side of the street because he could not make a sharp turn; other drivers seemed to accept his solution to the problem.

After some time, we found ourselves along Marina Road, and we stopped for photos of the beautiful waterfront, with miles of high-rise hotels and apartment buildings looking out onto the bay. It was beautiful. We passed Chowpatti Beach and stopped several times for photos. Then our driver told us that we were entering a very wealthy area, and the feeling of the area changed. The streets were lined with very large trees whose canopies reached out to cover the streets. This area was also somewhat hilly, with narrow, winding streets, and the driver said that we were in the Malabar Hill area.

Soon we noticed parked tour busses, and the driver said that we were near the Jain Temple, which we had wanted to see. He parked the car and after removing our shoes, we entered a beautiful temple. A man took our shoes and kept them for us as we entered the temple. Our driver told us that we were permitted to take photos inside the temple; however, when we entered, we saw many people praying and performing religious ceremonies, and I was hesitant to take photos until an official inside the temple said that it was okay. I also noticed other tourists taking photos.

The temple was somewhat dark inside, and it was very ornate, with statues located at the front center and in niches around the side walls and in corners. Other statues were located in side rooms off the main room, and as people passed into and out of these side rooms, they reached above the doors to clang a bell, usually three times. Incense was burning, and many of the worshipers were carrying lighted incense sticks.

Men were dressed in a cloth that covered their groin areas, and women were dressed in saris. Worshipers could be seen kissing their hands and touching the numerous statues, and some women were seated on the floor arranging rice and flower petals on trays to form religious pictures and designs. I noticed that the male worshipers seemed to be older, while the women seemed to be of all adult ages; there were no children. The temple was several floors high, with a beautiful, colorful dome, and an official suggested that we climb the stairs to see the upstairs of the temple and get a closer look at the dome. With my wonderful camera, I was able to take photos inside the dark temple with no flash, including beautiful photos of the dome.

When we left the temple, the man who had taken our shoes returned them to us, remembering which shoes belonged to us even though several bus loads of tourists had also arrived and deposited their shoes. I gave him a dollar and he seemed happy. Later, our driver told us that this temple was for Hindus who were not only vegetarian, but ate only vegetables grown above the ground.

Outside the temple on the street, I saw two children playing along the curb, and took their photo. Immediately, the older of the two ran to me with her hand out, and I gave her a dollar for letting me take her photo. Later, when I looked at the photo, I realized that the children were not playing, but the older one was reading from a scrap page to her little sister, who was listening intently. What a poignant scene; I wish I could help them go to school, but what can I do to change India. I can only observe. Incidentally, my practice throughout the day was to ask if I could take a photo of people, and then give them a dollar. When the driver noticed what I was doing, he felt that I was giving the beggars too much, and suggested that I give them a small amount of Indian money. However, I had no Indian money and continued to give one dollar, which didn’t seem like too much to me.

After leaving the temple, the driver dropped us off at the Hanging Gardens, which were nearby, and told us where he would meet us down the street. The gardens were beautiful, and if not for the haze in the air, we would have been able to take a beautiful photo of downtown Mumbai from the hillside overlook. I did take photos, and I hope Photoshop will improve them.

After leaving the Hanging Gardens, we passed a hill with a brown cement building with no windows, and our driver told us that the building was the burial place used by Parsis. (See Wikipedia for Parsi burial rituals.) The driver said that the hill had been donated to the Parsis by Tata, who is Parsi. He told us that most of the rich people in Mumbai are Parsi.

After a time, we came to a narrow, tree-lined street, and the driver said that we were near the Gandhi home, which was now a museum. He gave us 10 rupees each for an entrance fee and we went inside for some photos. Outside beggars were selling trinkets, and I gave a dollar to a pretty woman for her photo.

After another drive, we arrived at the Dhobi Ghat, the large area set up as an outdoor laundry; we were able to take photos from the elevated street. It was very interesting to see the men washing the clothes, and hanging them up on lines and laying them on the tin rooftops of laundry buildings, the white clothes hanging together, the blues, the reds, the denim jeans, etc. How could these clothes ever be returned to rightful owners?

After leaving the Dhobi Ghat, we passed another waterfront area, and we noticed a long winding pier stretched far out into the water. At the end of the pier was the Haji Ali Mosque. The driver stopped several times to let me take photos. Around the curve of the road, on the tip of land was another beautiful building, which I also photographed from the road.

Nearby, the driver pointed out a new building with a very lovely green lawn. Many Indians were visiting the building, including bus loads of Indian visitors. He told us that the building was new and it housed the planning department. Something inside the building must have been an attraction for the Indian visitors, although we did not go inside.

As the driver moved into the parking lot to turn the car around, we noticed a slum area, and he said that he lived in that area. He asked if we would like to see where he lived, and we quickly agreed. After parking the car, he led us through winding pathways to his home. We noticed the garbage in a creek, and the odor was horrific; the creek served as a garbage dump and a toilet as well. As we walked along, we passed a barber shaving a man, who refused to let us take a photograph of him, and later, the barber also refused to let us take a photo. We also passed a group of 8-10 school girls who were dressed in their school uniforms, happily going to school. Each of the girls was neatly dressed with perfectly combed hair.

After winding our way through the maze, we came to the home of the driver, and after he announced us, he asked us to enter. It turned out to be the one-room home of his landlord, and his room was above on the second floor. A woman welcomed us to a spotlessly clean room, about 15 by 15 feet square, with a kitchen area along one wall, and a bed along the opposite wall. We noticed a woman sitting on the floor cooking, and we were told that she was a cook, hired from the slum, making flat bread (roti). A young girl, about years old, was the daughter of the cook. The woman of the house left the room and soon reappeared with glasses of Coke for us. I was permitted to take photos, and soon the little daughter of our driver was brought in; she was about 6 months old. After a time, the driver’s wife also appeared. We were given sliced mangoes to eat, and they were absolutely wonderful -- so sweet and tasty, and not at all like the mangoes at home (which I do not care for).

One interesting difference between Mumbai and Singapore concerned ethnic groups or castes. In Singapore, ethnic groupings were discouraged, while in Mumbai (and I assume in all of India), ethnic groupings are almost mandatory. In Singapore, ethnic groups are not permitted to live together; instead, families of each ethnic group are split so that neighbors are not of the same ethnic group. All children of all ethnic groups attend the same schools. In contrast, in Mumbai, children attend only the schools of their own ethnic group -- Hindus of each caste attend Hindu schools of their own caste, Muslims attend Muslim schools, etc. Consideration of caste seems to follow one not only in schools, but also in jobs as well; individuals of certain castes perform some jobs, while other jobs are reserved for individuals of other castes.

After leaving the slum, we drove for a time and came to an area where our driver wanted us to shop. Drivers seem to get a fee for taking tourists to certain stores, and these stores were State-operated stores of Indian crafts. We went inside and many of the items were very beautiful. At first, we did not want to purchase anything, but I decided that perhaps I should buy a souvenir, and picked out a small elephant of marble with colorful inlaid stones.

The driver then took me to the Taj Mahal Hotel, where I had planned to have lunch with a friend. The hotel is still being renovated after the terrorist attacks; plywood corridors fill the hotel lobby and plywood still covers many of the ground floor windows. The former grandeur of the hotel is hidden. Incidentally, the hotel is owned by Tata, who seems to own much of Mumbai. The name “Tata” is everywhere. My lunch was great, both because of seeing my friend, and because our table was beside a window looking out over the promenade with the Gateway Arch and the harbor, with dozens of colorful boats. After leaving the hotel, I quickly took a couple of photos of the Gateway Arch, just across the street from the hotel, before returning to the ship.

I was completely enthralled with Mumbai, and I would happily return there. I found the people friendly and the culture fascinating, and I could spend months taking photos of fascinating and color filled sights.

Chennai, India

Chennai (Madras), India
April 16, 2010

The temperature and humidity were stifling, and as we looked out from the ship onto Chennai, it was flat and uninviting. Dock workers stopped their work and watched as the ship entered the harbor and tied up at the pier. The city looked small, and I kept wondering where millions of people lived. I took the Chennai sightseeing tour from the ship, and as the bus drove along the coast, the beach was wide and flat, but the temperatures were too hot for people to go to the beach. The only people on the beach were some fishermen repairing their nets. My first impression of Chennai was that it was not as dirty as I had been expecting; there was little litter and rubbish in the streets, all of which were paved and neat. I was pleasantly surprised by my first sights of India. As we drove on our tour, our tour guide, Gita, explained that the sandy soil does not permit the construction of high rise buildings, so the 7.5 million population of Chennai is spread out over a very large area.

The first stop on the tour was the Mylapore temple, which was first mentioned in writings as early as nine centuries BC. The “newest” part of the temple dates from the 1600s. The tower over the door is made of granite, which does not hold paint, so a plaster has to be used to cover the granite, and then painted. This one was last painted in 2000, ten years ago, and it is still very brightly colored. We walked though the temple and I was permitted to take photos inside. Many people were there praying and worshiping in their own way.

After leaving the temple, the tour went to St. Thomas church, built in the city where St. Thomas died. We went inside, where a wedding was being planned for later that day. I took a few photos, but really I was interested in seeing India, and not Christian churches.

The next stop on the tour was the National Museum, which housed bronze statues of the Hindu gods. The museum was interesting, and our tour guide, Gita, explained the stories behind some of the Hindu gods. The highlight of the collection is the Chola Period Natraja, which depicts Shiva, the Lord of the Cosmic Dance. Outside, a school group was sitting on the ground beside their bus, eating their lunch. It was a touching scene.

Last, the tour took us to Fort George, a large old fort built by the British along the coast, and now used to house the Tamil Nadu government and military. Massive new beautiful buildings are under construction to house the government -- court, legislature and many administrative offices.

Inside the fort was St. Mary’s church, built by Elihu Yale, who was married there. When he left Madras (in 1864), Yale collected money from the British soldiers to construct a university in New England, but by the time he got to New England, he had spent half the money, so he didn’t have enough to start a college. He gave the money to Salem college in New Haven on condition that they would change the name of the college to Yale.

After seeing St. Mary’s church, we visited the little museum at the fort.
Gita was a great guide. She went to high school at Woodrow Wilson high school in Washington. Her dad was in the foreign service of India, and she lived many places. After college, she worked for eight years at the UN in New York.

Phuket, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand
April 8, 2010

The ship offered a bus transfer into the downtown area of Phuket, and I took it, thinking fi would explore and then perhaps take a taxi around to see some of the sights. On the bus, I met other couples who had the same idea, and when the bus arrived downtown, I was able to get a minivan taxi with two other couples -- Fred and Phyllis from North Carolina, and Gilles and Denise, from Montreal.

The taxi stopped first at a cashew processing store. I was interested to learn how cashews grow, as the seed at the bottom of a large green pod that resembles a green pepper. When the pod falls off the tree, the seeds are picked up and opened, like any nut, for the cashews inside. The processing store had a woman sitting at a machine opening the nuts. It was an interesting stop.

The taxi then went to a very large temple complex, Wat Chalong, which is one of the most venerated monasteries in Thailand. The complex consists of numerous buildings, all of which are beautiful, with gold plating. We stayed for an hour observing and taking photos.

We then went to the Big Buddha on the mountain. The Big Buddha is a very large white Buddha being constructed on the top of the highest hill on Phuket island. It can be seen from a great distance, and it is very impressive. The taxi then drove us along the coast through the coastal resort towns, and it is easy to see why so many tourists visit there. The beach is long and beautiful, and the towns are like beach towns everywhere, filled with shops, restaurants, souvenir shops, and traffic. The taxi driver said that this was the low season, and the traffic was light compared with the high season. The taxi driver asked us for permission to stop at a jewelry store; taxi drivers were given coupons for gas for taking passengers to the store. We agreed, and it was harmless. The taxi driver then took us to the ship. I mentioned to him that he must be familiar with the port, but he said it was his first time there. He said it was a Muslim area, and non-Muslims were not permitted to go there. He seemed quite anxious about going there, but he did.

It was a good day.

Penang, Malaysia

Penang, Malaysia
April 7, 2010

I took the ship’s walking tour of a local food market and a flea market. The local food market was very busy as women were doing their daily food shopping. This type of market is strange to us, although it is similar to fish markets in seaside towns in America. Meats were being carved; fish were laid out and being cut up; live chickens were for sale, and were butchered on the spot. All of the fish and meats were laid out at room temperature; there was no ice and no refrigeration. Meat would have to be sold and cooked the same day before it spoiled. Fruits and vegetables were laid out in beautiful displays. Many other household products were also available.

The flea market was quite extensive and sold both items (mostly used items) and foods -- beautiful fruits and vegetables. The flea market was similar to flea markets in the U.S. except that it also sold fruits and vegetables. It was not very interesting to me, and I returned to wait in the bus.

The tour then stopped at the Penang museum with an interesting display of the history of Penang. Half of the building had been bombed by the Japanese during the war and not rebuilt; I made a quick tour of the museum, and then reboarded the bus. I am not very interested in museums.

This was a morning tour only. After we returned to the ship, I decided to go out again, thinking I would go for a walk in the “downtown” area. After walking a short distance, I saw a young couple with a map and asked them where they got it. They said far from there, but they had another one in their backpack. As they searched for it, we talked about sites, and agreed that it would be nice to go to the big temple on the mountain -- Kek Lok Si, with its seven story pagoda that overlooks all of Penang. A taxi came by and we asked him how much he would charge us to take us there. He said $10 American, and I said let’s go. On the way, we stopped for photos at the national mosque and then a Hindu temple. The temple complex was incredible, by far the largest and most impressive temple I have seen. I was so pleased that I had decided to go there, and I loved taking photos of the young couple who had joined me. They were very nice and I loved being with them. Their names were Alex and Catarina, from Chile. They were on a work-study program in Australia and were in Penang on holiday. I took many photos of them, and they gave me their email addresses so I could send the photos to them later.

After the mountain temple, the taxi driver took us to Wat Chayamangkalaram with its gold covered reclining Buddha more than 100 feet long. We also visited the temple across the street from the reclining Buddha temploe. Last, stopped at the oldest mosque in Penang for photos before returning to the ship. It was a truly great day. I gave the taxi driver $40; he reminded me of the taxi driver in Istanbul, an older man just trying to earn a living.

It turned out later that an eventful incident occurred at the hill temple. As I was taking a photo of Alex and Catarina, a couple passed by, with a woman carrying a large camera. I mentioned that she had a large camera, and they smiled and continued. Then they stopped and returned and asked me to take their photo with their camera, which turned out to be a Nikon D700, the same as my camera. I took several photos of them and went on, not thinking more of it. I take many, many photos of people with their cameras. However, later, I met the same couple again on the ship, and they turned out to be Bas and Monique, who came to be close friends and with whom I would take many tours of sites along the cruise. Bas is one of the truly great amateur photographers I have met, and I have learned much, much from him about photography.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur
April 6, 2010

I took the “Highlights” tour with the ship. Kuala Lumpur is over an hour’s drive inland from the port, and the tour was only four and a half hours -- 9 to 1:30 -- so there were only a few stops on the tour. It stopped first at the great Blue Mosque for photos; we did not enter the mosque. The Blue Mosque is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, and it is truly beautiful. The tour then stopped at the Malaysia National Museum, which had displays of the history of Malaysia. The tour stopped at the Victorian era railway station, with its elegant building and I also walked across the street to take a photo of the national mosque. The tour then stopped at the Petronas Twin Towers, the third tallest buildings in the world, and the highest twin towers in the world.

Malaysia was not what I expected. I had expected Malaysia to be like Thailand -- quite poor and undeveloped -- but it was very different. Malaysia is much more prosperous economically than Thailand, and much more highly developed. The region between the port and Kuala Lumpur is the richest region of the country, and it was very highly developed with new high-rise apartment buildings and new expressways throughout the area. New cars were everywhere, and there were few motorbikes. Kuala Lumpur was similarly highly developed.

Malaysia is a mixed country with about 65 percent of the population being Muslim, 20 percent Buddhist, and about 10 percent Christian. However, it seemed that almost all of the women wore the hijab. This was a brief visit, and an interesting one.

Singapore, April 2-4, 2010

April 2-4, 2010

The heat and humidity in Singapore were stifling. In addition, there were tremendous downpours -- tropical downpours with incredible thunder. Singapore reminds me of Disneyland, it is very clean and modern, and the flowers all seem to be in bloom. The city is multiracial, and very interesting. The airport in Singapore was like a large shopping center, much like Union Station in DC, only much larger. The plane arrived at midnight, so the stores were closed. However, there was a long line of people waiting to get into a restaurant at the airport.

The first stop in any country is an ATM to get local currency, and then I got a taxi to the hotel. The road was wide with large trees lining the street and forming a canopy over the street. It was beautiful.

The hotel was very luxurious, and I was very pleased that I got a good rate and stayed there -- the Easter special. The shower in the bathroom was incredible -- like a flood of warm water. Each day the buffet breakfast that was included with the stay was extensive and delicious. Also each day, “tea” was served at 3:00 in the afternoon, which consisted of sandwiches, scones, dessert and coffee -- all you could eat and drink; this was also included in the hotel package. I ate only those two meals each day until the last day, when I had lunch at the food court on Orchard Road. In addition, the location of the hotel was really great, within walking distance of the riverfront café scene and Chinatown, and only a short taxi ride away from Little India and Orchard Road. I would return to the Fullerton, except that the view from the Mandarin Oriental appeared to be even better.

On the first day, I just wandered about, going for walk along the river. Then I took the river boat ride along the Singapore river, which very pleasant.

On the second day, I took the hop on/hop off bus and saw the city. At first, I had difficulty finding the bus stop, and the concierge at the hotel did not give good directions. Finally, I was sitting at a bus stop waiting, when an elderly man in a taxi came up and offered to take me around on a sightseeing tour of the city for only 15 Singapore dollars. He said that it was a holiday weekend, and all of the taxis were making that offer that day. I accepted, but after a few minutes, realized that he only wanted to take me to stores to purchase items where he got a commission. Once he learned that I was not going to buy anything and didn’t want to stop at those stores, he dropped me off. Fortunately, I was near a bus stop, and boarded the hop on/hop off bus for my tour. I got off the bus in the Muslim section and went for a walk and took photos of the mosque, where a Malay wedding was taking place. Unfortunately, the rain started, and I put my camera into a plastic bag. That was the one day I did not take an umbrella; I didn’t make that mistake again.

The third day, I took the hop on/hop off bus again, and this time I got off in Little India and walked to the next bus stop, taking many photos along the way. Later, I got off again and wandered through Chinatown. I stopped for lunch at a Thai place, and found that I liked the Pad Thai at home better. However, it was good to sit under the overhang of the restaurant until the downpour stopped.

The last day, I took a taxi to Orchard Road. I wanted to go to one or two of the shopping centers on Orchard Road, just to experience them, and I ended up purchasing a blue Addidas golf shirt. I walked along the underground walkway that was air conditioned, and went to a large "food court" with dozens of food outlets; I decided to eat at a Malay restaurant, where I picked out samples of many items; it was wonderful. I decide to walk part of the way back, stopping to take some photos at a small Hindu temple.

On Monday, April 5, I got a taxi to the ship, which seemed extremely small when I first boarded, and that later turned out to be the case throughout the cruise.

Singapore to Dover, Flights to Singapore

After checking in, I boarded on time with no problems. The flight began smoothly, but after about three hours, we experienced turbulence. The captain tried to evade the turbulence by changing altitude first, and then air speed. He changed altitude from 39,000 feet down until finally flying at 26,000 feet, and he reduced air speed from about 600 miles per hour to about 400 mph. He never found a way to avoid the turbulence. When we finally arrived at Tokyo, we were unable to land because of high winds. At first, he was going to go to another airport, but then was permitted to circle back land at Tokyo Narita International. The landing was very nerve wracking, but he made it. We were all relieved to be safely on the ground.

The time in Tokyo was uneventful, and the flight on to Singapore was also uneventful. Finally, after the 14 hour flight to Tokyo and an additional 7 hour flight, we arrived in Singapore.

ANA is a very good airline. I would make several observations about the flights (both on ANA). First, the airline flight attendants were great. They constantly moved through the aisles looking for ways to be helpful, and about every half hour, they offered orange juice, apple juice, or green tea. They were very friendly, courteous, and helpful. They were also very thin and very pretty and smiled constantly. Second, on any airline serving Americans, there is always a long line waiting to use the restrooms, and there is quite a lot of noise and movement by the passengers, particularly on long flights. However, on these flights (both long flights on ANA), almost all of the passengers were Asian, and the flights were extremely quiet. There was very little sound, and almost no movement by the passengers. In addition, almost none of the passengers used the restrooms. There was one restroom serving the economy section on the plane, and it was almost never in use. It seemed very odd. I really liked ANA, and I would fly it again. Oh yes, the food was distinctly Japanese, even for breakfast, with rice, noodles, fish, and soy sauce.