Sunday, April 19, 2020

Photo Highlights from the past

'Silk Route' cycle 2007 11,800 Km, Tour D'Afrique 2007 Istanbul to Beijing

'Orient Express' cycle 2006 Tour D'Afrique Paris to Istanbul
(under left side of balloon arch)
Saigon, Vietnam
A trip list of 81 international cycle trips follow, + another list of Scuba, Club Med, and cruises follow 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Trip Count

40  Cruise Bali Hawaii                Oceania          March 2018
41  Cruise Eastern Carribean    Norwegian      November 2018

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Bali Honolulu 29 days Mar 1 -29 2018

 click to enlarge

7855 nautical miles   = 9033 miles   =14527 Km
Oceania Regatta: gross tonnage 30,277 specs link  ship photos:  link

Trip count tally (81 cycle + 39 other): details: scroll to the bottom for 'Older Post' then scroll to end 
Mar 29 Honolulu 
Up at 6:30 early breakfast, have to vacate cabin by 8AM, and  ship by 9AM shared a cab with Ann Marie to HNL only 27+tip (then shared) Used ekit to call store luggage service till 8PM.  Took the city bus to Waikiki then the Blue route of Hop-on Hop-off $25 as far as SeaLife Park, saw the house where Obama was brought up.  Traffic was horrific (60 minutes for 20 min trip)
  • we were 93 minutes late leaving Honolulu, so my bags, and some passengers, missed the VCR  connection, but I ran and made it.
  • Air Canada  will deliver my bags to home,  via YUL (why?), Mar31
  • one older cruise lady, from Saltspring BC, had a lung infection, had 4 intravenous antibiotics on the ship, got an invoice for $12K (had insurance)
  • found out if you reported GI, and they encouraged over PA you to, no charges, they "quarantined" you (= locked you in your cabin, del'd bland meals) till the end. I learned from guests in HNL from sister ship Marina, we were reported as "code bluelink... "code blue" would worry 600+ passengers waiting to board later same day
  • shared taxi to HNL with a woman from Collingwood, only $27+tip(then shared) whereas ship wanted $109ea for the bus. She'd been locked up 4 days ... was furious, never another cruise she swore.
  • Arrived Ottawa 5PM Mar 30 on time (luggage delivered the day after)

Overall Assessment 

On balance, was a good "bucket list" type high-end 29-day trip.  But I guess would prefer 2 mid-range NCL 15-day trips (top entertainment), at roughly half the price, in total. 

Captain's choice for parting words, There are 2 kinds of people in the world: 
If you don't want to do things, .... there's probably  a thousand reasons not to 
If you want to,.... there's probably also a thousand good! reasons.
(.... more profound than it first appears)

Mar 28 Kauai
Took last included ship excursion $199 (so overpriced), a so-called "movie tour" where we drove by 20+ sites that were scenes in movies (many were Elvis')  
Mar 27 Maui
.Bought a ship excursion to Iao Valley State Park then 20km to Lahaina town  .... not bad. Had dinner in Toscana with 4 Trump supporters ...  seemed such reasonable people but just can't get over being Trump supporters 
Mar 26 Hilo.
I've been to Hilo twice before and didn't figure there was much more to see,  slight rain so just walked to nearby Liliuokalani gardens.  Small point: I think when they scan my ship card (say for reservations) they see I have zero added charges (no alcoholic drinks) other than the mandatory $22/day tip,  they think "..... we've got a real winner/tightwad here" 

Mar  21,22,23,24,25 (5 sea days for total 2,277 n. miles) to Hawaii
5 sea days, ... kind of the same routine every day, and the first 4 were sunny weather, but cooler after we crossed the equator, more like 80F, not "feels like 98F". Each sea day has a morning lecture, and I've been to all 14.  The speaker, Adam Tanner,  tries to make it interesting, but is only modestly successful, eg I think reading Wikipedia for 10 minutes would be as good or better. The ship puts on some sort of non-routine event every sea day, ... eg a yesterday 'country fair' (little contests on the pool deck, where you win tickets for a draw). Today (first bad weather) is the "gala tea" held in the main Regatta Lounge.  On sea days I go to the gym twice, (once morning, once afternoon) and I doubt even 10% of the 550 guests ever go to the gym. Tonight, we're roughly half way through our 5 day 'days at sea' stretch, soon, (couple hours) to cross the equator.

When we started the 5-day stretch the captain came on the PA system and said:

Always be careful but be especially careful (use the handrails) for the next five days because we have no emergency options since helicopters maximum range is 250 miles (even if they exist) ... so there are effectively no emergency options.  With this very senior crowd, say 25% over 80 (just guessing), I've personally seen two ambulances pull away from the ship so far while in the dock (and staff don't really want talk about it). Slightly related: These Oceania ships were built 20 years ago for Renaissance (now defunct) for 7 day Mediterranean cruises, so for a 29 day cruise (and mostly "feels like 98F") the cold storage facility is already rather limited.... makes you think, would 'burial at sea' be an option (just joking).

Three times I've had a fish/seafood stir-fry in a 'coconut milk/mango' sauce,...superb,... will try at home.  I asked the buffet chef (does it on the spot) for sauce recipe (pretty simple).

Mar 19 20

2 days in the Samoas: first 'Western Samoa' (German then New Zealand connection), then the smaller American Samoa where they use the USD.  Took a private tour ( kind of a rickety truck with a bus-like configuration add-on for passengers. I kind of worried if the truck would break down when were on the far side of the mountains if we'd make it back to the ship for the 5:30 sailing.   If it sails without you, it's hard to recover., given 5 sea days upcoming.  The Samoan guide talked about widespread obesity (obvious) and even NFL recruits in Samoa because of their size. The guide said Fast Food was the main cause,....really?  The guide really talked up the fact that Samoans put a lot of importance of paying tribute to God, and even a 5:30PM curfew (.5 hour) when everybody prays.  They only get about one cruise ship per month.

It's 8:08 AM Tues Mar 20 (The first of two). Tomorrow will also be Tues Mar 20 in American Samoa ...compared to flying over the date line, it somehow makes more of an impact, ... I sort of understand it (or say I do)

I went to dinner last night at the Polo Grill (a specialty restaurant), there was an older (everybody is older) woman from Vancouver who worked in the fact she had a Lamborghini into her conversation twice (as though the kind of car she had was relevant to the point (such as it was) she was making.  All her stories centred around bragging about her extensive travel,  .... what a boring bitch, I could barely stand it.  Me,..... I guess I tell stories about meeting people who have Lamborghinis. 
At the second speciality restaurant, Toscana, sat with a coloured South African couple (now Thornhill ON),.. he was impressed that I knew what a nephrologist was.

Mar 16/17/18 (Fri/Sat/Sun)
18th Suva Fiji, capital, again "feels like 98F" Suva is fairly nice, people speak English as well a local language. Went for a couple hour stroll around town. I took a book and there was a nice waterside park where I read for a while.  Was approached by two tourism women who asked questions about shopping, but being Sunday most things were closed. They asked about the price of the cruise, but seemed to know it was in the $10K range. Saw a McDonalds (typical/) so asked if I could photo the menu sign, permission granted. If most workers earn about $2F/hr (rarely$5) then buying a 'Filet-O-Fish' at $15.50F is going to be a pricey item (.. almost a day's wages). Went to the market, (the usual), saw a nice-enough church (@NA standards), with service going on.  Compared to Vanuatu (seedier, excessively aggressive taxi drivers, a $5US taxi equates to days wages) Suva was rather nice, ... all the surrounding mountains made a lush setting. A couple hours while the ship is docked is really not doing justice to Fiji. Had dinner in the Grand Dining Room with two of the ships Australian entertainers (singers), ... pleasant enough.  They agreed that the ship's "Regatta Show Band" was top notch (they would know, not me really), although 5 independents, (2 from Ukraine, 1 Brit etc)  that assembled just a month before (apparently fairly common).
16th at sea to Fiji, the usual routine. 17th Luktoka Fiji, second largest Fiji city, again "feels like 98F"  a free AC bus shuttle was provided to take you from the pier to town centre (no aggressive taxi selling), but was really only a 15-minute walk, but punishingly hot. Not a single scooter or motor cycle to be seen (strange), just fairly large ~ 10-year-old cars/vans. Bus driver said jobs pay about $2F (=$1US) and gas costs $2F/litre, but there's not that many jobs of any kind to go around. Regatta put on a St Patricks day "party", .... generally not impressive. Had dinner with 2 San Diego seniors (he was 88) who were Trump supporters, who were fanatical that US was the "best country in the world" ( how delusional and arrogant ...gulp, ... I made no comment).
Mar 14, 15 (Wed/Thurs) 

Vanuatu arrived Port Vila 8:AM. sunny (and "feels like 98F"). Walked to town 2.5 miles in the blazing sun (... a mistake, I was worried (fall down in the heat, at one point). There were 50 or so cab drivers (like ravenous wild dogs) outside the ship entrance (scary, persistent) trying to sell a ride.  It's a poor country, GDP PPP about $2600,.... or as poor as they come. Midway, ran into as US woman (Calif-type) from Hawaii (a cafe owner) who spent time explaining what was worth seeing (eg said the museum was not worth the trouble).In the centre, they had an outdoor exposition (big tent awning, music) on the waterfront with strong PA system, so rested there and listened, .... 10% of the words are recognizable English, but overall the pig-English was unintelligible. Returned by van (thank god/good decision) $5 (driver tried for $50, I scoffed),... ahhhh: the comfort of the ship lunch and its AC.

14th: a day at sea to Vanuatu (Fr & Eng, previously New Hebrides). Nice weather, sunny, mid-80s, fairly calm, storm passed to the south. Went to a cocktail party for repeat guests, but there are lots, say 50 guests or more with 15+ trips, 10 guests or more with 25+ trips, Oceania does something right. Today's lecture was on Vanuatu as an offshore financial centre (a dubious tax avoidance reputation, but there are worse "financial" centres, ... one noted for Russian oligarch tax evasion). 

.... update 2...
Mar 13 (Tues)
After 3 days at sea, Noumea New Caledonia (French). I'd never heard of Noumea, but it was impressive, .. cost of living is high, more like a medium size town in France. A Hop-on-Hop-off bus every 20 minutes, went on a water taxi to "Duck" Island (pointless), then a 2:30hr "country tour".  Is rich because of nickel deposits and played an important role played in WWII. GDP pp in most islands, eg Fiji, is $3-4K, but in New Caledonia is $39KUS. Fancy cars, excellent roads, typical supermarkets like France (Casino, Carrefour etc). Kind of a surprise overall. Went on tour of the "cultural centre",  (how Melanesians lived/live) architectural wonder.  Lumix camera now fixed, used stiff paper inserted and rotated around the rim of the 2 lens rings, ... worked wonders. 

Mar 10,11,12
Now 3 sea days, rough seas, and vomit bags available on elevators, doesn't seem to bother me.  Routine:  Gym in the morning then 1 hour lecture (once, a cooking lesson), PM: Film (11th: Darkest Hour)  tea daily 4-5 (been just once). 4:45PM team trivia.  On the 12th: weather changed, seas calmer, temp cooler 78-83F, and not humid, Noumea New Caledonia(French) on Tuesday. I don't really like the "Grand Dining Room" too much... so pompous, but I force myself to go every few days though, to meet/talk to people, have only met 2 who admit to supporting Trump.
Tables of 6  (I actually think I tell better stories (usually re cycling) than they do).  If it's a table of Canadians, we talk (=ridicule) Trump, but Americans themselves seem to avoid the Trump topic (in public). About 1/3 of cruise guests are Canadian.

Mar 9
Cairns, with a deep water pier, near 90 and heavy rain, constant through the day. Took a $199 excursion (included) to a Nature Rainforest station (3 hours), ... turned out to be the same one I visited in 2003. We were ferried around 
(though a stream + small lake) in WWII US 24-person amphibious "ducks", built by GMC by women in WWII, to last 3 years, but still going strong 75 years later.  There were demos by aboriginals of spear throwing boomerangs and didgeridoo playing. It was constant heavy rain, about 100 mm worth (in Ottawa we had one day of 79mm), but through March that's common for this area. 

Mar 8 
Cooktown Australia (anchored and tender req'd) is a pretty small town, north of Cairns, discovered by Cook, 4.5 meters of rain annually. Just 2400 people, but in gold rush days was 44,000 people and 22,000 Chinese immigrated, for gold I guess. About high 80s F, and a misty light rain. No pier so we had to tender in (an hour process). I didn't figure there would be any excursion worth visiting so just walked 1km the Main Street, and went into a volunteer historical museum, ...  included a  film about building a rinky-dink local railway in 30s, abandoned 1960.

...Mar 6, 7
On way to Cooktown, Queensland Australia. Thought yesterday I was getting a cold, (skipped dinner/show ) rare for me, but luckily I seem OK this, 6th, AM, .... Could be just the extreme heat followed by AC issue. When you get down to it, I really think I prefer a clear cold 0C winter day than successive sultry 99F humid days. 
I Check the stocks markets daily, and can't get over the frequent big! daily swings, ... used to be roughly +/- 5K/ day, now can be +/- $40K. Went to a 60-minute lecture by a reef pilot, ... Interesting. He said the hard part was not hitting the bottom, often less than 1m to spare. The charting the course or route through the islands, other ships were relatively simple.

II feel a little awkward joining a table of 6 or 8 as a single person but I surprise myself, ... a couple times now we've stayed much longer than neighbouring tables, and they seem to be fascinated with my 81-cycle trip stories (mostly silk route anecdotes), they compliment me, say silly things like I should make a movie out of it, ... makes me feel good.   You can tell (in their eyes) they are interested, eg questions, and the secret sauce (@NYTimes) that makes it interesting is to somehow build a little tension around the incident (ie how's it going to work out).  Their tedious (and they know it) stories tend to revolve grandchildren (.... Oh, God help me).

Last night, 6th, there was a one man (+ 4 piece band) harmonica player (from Hong Kong) show.  I went thinking this won't be much, but turns out it was really quite impressive, .... Who'd a thought?

Mar 5
In Darwin Australia, population 145,000, went on a 5-hour excursion to Wildlife Park about 50min from the port. I don't remember much about Darwin from being here in 2003, other than the above ground water pipelines along the highways. Seems bigger than the 145K population size would suggest. Very clean neat and modern.  The WildLife park excursion was just OK, wallabies, various nocturnal creatures and a "flight deck", a 45min show where birds were trained to do fly past, etc: eg break open emu eggs with a stone "tool" (... all to get food). Mind you: the constant 99F, uncomfortably hot and humid, sets the general tone. photos  
Mar 3 and 4.
Here, on way  (2 days at sea) to Darwin Australia, ... it IS! a "world away". Internet says feels like 99F during the day ( it does), and the sea is calm like a small lake.. I'd just got used to being 13 hours ahead, (close enough to 12 hours to make it easy) but now it's 14.5 hours, so I now look at my iPad which is still on  home time or 1:51 PM Fri, whereas I think here  it's 4:21 AM Sat.  At some point, I must learn to focus only on local time. On Mar 20, we will have Mar 20 followed by another Mar 20,.. mmmm?.... OK, if they say so.  Tried the ship's gym, more or less the same routine as at home. Went to a 10AM 1-hour lecture by a Harvard professor, Mar 3: about the "Dark Side of Indonesia's Recent History" (Suharto embezzled $35B, makes Trump a small-time crook) but having just researched Wikipedia I wasn't surprised by much. On Mar 5th, a lecture about prisoners who populated Australia.

I talked to Beckie from Michigan, a retired 4'10" teacher, who is delighted with Trump's tax cut, she said, "I really like it". I tried to convey the NYT analogy where someone (Trump) offers you lunch, (a steak for him, a hot dog for you), and later you find the steak and hot dog are both on your credit card.  I think Beckie now hates me. The US admin needs more revenue, not less, .... their infrastructure (roads, airports, Medicare) is falling apart.  Canada's infrastructure is somewhat the same but at least we're not cutting taxes.  

The deck chairs on Regatta are usually > 50% vacant because people look for air conditioning. It's half sunny and the humidity is very high, but not raining that I've noticed. The Australian Border Patrol came (or were) aboard and Mar 4 AM we all (550 of us)had an individual face to face session with our passport, $59 fee as I recall.  I guess with a huge! low-income south Asian population nearby they've got to take caution they're not swamped by illegal immigrants. I guess Canada and Australia have a rather similar problem.

Mar 2 
Never been to Bali so signed up for  5.5 hr Bali excursion, ($159, 1 of 4 included) where a 2.5-hour meal is involved (... seems long). Whereas for Darwin and Cairns upcoming, I've been before. Update 11AM:  Embarrassed Fri, I slept in till 10AM and missed my 8:45 AM excursion departure, ... rats!  that's going to bother me for days. I guess Ill just stroll around, walking from the ship, and learn how to set the alarm on my frigging phone. I've not slept past 7AM for years. only excuse: I've got that 13 hours of jet lag, and 2 nights of essentially no sleep. At least I'm pleased I've now slept 11 hours, (amazing, so rare).
  • Google's stock photos of Bali link
  • Notice ship offers a printed version of about 10 newspapers (National Post for Canadians) $6.50 Mon-Sat.,  ... but with unlimited Internet (via satellite), ... there's really no need.
  • Norwegian Star cruises (2 recent) were pretty good, but I can see there are reasons why Oceania Line is called "deluxe" or "luxury", mostly shows in the food selection and quality, (eg excellent bouillabaisse for lunch, lobster for dinner). Actually, NCL Star and Regatta are both about $400U/day all-in (to my surprise), partly because the Bali trip is a long 29 days, a big divisor, and any higher total price would scare people away (I'd guess).  When Holiday Inn Express is $179, $400/day on the ship seems reasonable, all things considered.

Mar 1 
Arrived in Bali on time 8AM Thurs,  arriving exactly in 36-13time change=23 hours after leaving Philly (21 hours in flight), +13hours time change, so it's now Thurs in local time.  Hot and muggy but some sun, boarded ship at 11AM, room prep may take until 3PM, (~700 previous passengers just left at 8AM). Learned there were 143 Canadians (... a lot) in the 550 total, and 550 compares low in the normal 700 capacity (reason: 28 days is a 'longish' cruise). The dinner was with a group of 8 other "solos".

Sometimes I wonder if the ordeal (and it is an ordeal) of long flights makes the whole 'cruise travel' thing worthwhile. Beforehand and during the long flight: it seems like "hell", .....afterwards: somehow it doesn't seem so bad.   
Feb 28
One hour connection, in Doha Qatar( beautiful 5-star airport), then onto Bali 9 hours Qatar Airlines Boeing 787 with more of a "tourist" crowd. Noticed quite a few Russian speakers  (I asked) around me, but they're not likely cruisers. 

Feb 27 
.1PM Uber home to YOW, fine, brand new (day old) Honda Civic, ... Uber is so handy.
.Going thru US customs (first time for me) at YOW is a relative breeze, a benefit of small airport I guess, compared to YYZ.
.Flight to PHL in Embraer 145 (full),  52 minute flight time, arr 4PM, bus shuttle to TermA Qatar, for 12 hr flight, leaving at 8:15PM. Ham cheese sandwich from home, because I'm sure they'll eventually serve diner well after 9PM.
.Flight aware is a great tool:        Airbus 350-900.
.Philly to Doha, 12 hours, on Airbus 350-900, several shrieking infants, 80% Arabs/Africans, hijab-wearing etc, most are likely revisiting home I'd say.
.Qatar airline is rated an 8 on Skytrax, but for all the comparison "fuss",  the service was not really! meaningfully different than Canada (rated a lowly "5" on Skytrax, AF a "6").