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John and Diane's Amazing Adventure - Part III


Johnny B

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March 17 – Chiang Mai

 

First, I’d like to thank everyone who reads and comments on this blog. As far as finding time to do it, it really is for a selfish reason. On numerous trips to Europe, etc., I’ve taken along a yellow lined pad or even a proper journal in the form of a book. Usually it comes home looking exactly like it left – empty. When we decided to take the world cruise in 2008, we said then that we owed a debt of appreciation to Bill and Mary Ann Berry, who are now friends, for their blog which we read regularly every morning. I realized that if I made a public commitment (i.e. on Cruise Critic) that I’d have to do it, and we would then have a journal of our cruise when we arrived back in San Luis Obispo. It worked so well that we’ve continued it in 2010 and 2012. While we’re on the ship, it’s really no problem to find the time. After all, that’s the point of a world cruise, isn’t it? While we’re doing an overland, it does take a little more determination, but it’s fun to write about the wonderful (and not so wonderful) things we’re doing and seeing.

 

Our overlands are always to places we’ve never been and have been looking forward to, and that contributes to our excitement and the desire to share what we’re doing. So, if it makes your day a little happier, then we’re happy – and we’ll be happier still to have this when we get home.

 

Now to the elephants. We had the most magical morning, heading out to Maesa Elephant Camp and arriving there in time to have a leisurely walk around the facilities. We came to two penned in areas, one each for a mother and baby elephant. I was concerned when I saw that each mother had a chain around her leg which was attached to a tree within the enclosure. Our guide, Jet, told us that because they are so protective of their young, there is a danger of aggressive behavior toward anyone who comes anywhere near the enclosure, including their mahout, or trainer, so the chain is necessary. Other than that situation, no elephants were chained at this facility. Before I wrote this entry, I Googled the camp and found nothing but high ratings, both for the tourist experience and the elephant treatment.

 

A mahout (ma-HOOT) rode his elephant toward us, having the elephant bow toward us and then had each of the two of us sit on one of the elephant’s two front legs (while bowed) for a photo. (Hello, Christmas card) We wanted to give the mahout a tip and found that the customary way to do that is to put the bill at the end of the elephant’s trunk, and then he (the elephant) passes it to his trainer.

 

As we wandered around, we learned that there are over 80 elephants at this camp, 40 of which belong to the camp and 40 of which belong to their mahouts and go home with them in the afternoon. An elephant’s work day is about 9:00 AM until 4:00 PM, and what they do at the camp is much less than what they do in the jungles when they haul logs and such.

 

As we approached the arena, the tour buses arrived. Yet another reason we like independent tours. It was then elephant washing time and each mahout took his elephant down to a wide area in the stream where they were scrubbed and allowed to play in the water. This happens twice a day, because elephants love water and they get cranky if they don’t get their twice-a-day bath.

 

The show was the highlight for most people, and we were really amazed at the talents that the elephants had been taught. First they come in two by by, ridden by their mahouts and circle around the arena. They play soccer, basketball and compete against a guest in “pop the balloon” by throwing darts at a board.

 

The most amazing thing, however, is elephant painting. I don’t mean the elephants have been painted; I mean that the elephants DO the painting – on paper, with paint. I didn’t believe it until I saw it, but the results are incredible. The elephants work with their mahout, the elephant carrying a painting kit into the arena and, when the mahout has taken a brush and applied paint to it, the elephant takes it up with his trunk and paints on paper (which is on an easel). The elephant closest to us began with black paint and painted vertical curved lines which all met near the middle of the paper and then continued to the bottom together. Picture a tree with its trunk at the bottom and branches going out in different directions. Then the mahout gave the elephant a wider brush with green on one side and yellow on the other, and the elephant proceeded to add foliage to the tree. I sat there with my mouth open, not able to understand how this was possible. To finish the painting, the wide brush had only green on it and it was used to create grass along the bottom. When complete, the painting looked just like a Japanese semi-impressionistic picture from nature, but it was painted from beginning to end by an elephant!

 

There is a gallery with the best of the elephant paintings, and one of them is in the Guiness Book of World Records as the most expensive painting ever done by a group of elephants. It sold for over a million dollars. It’s possible to buy one of these paintings, but most of them are somewhat more reasonable. They mostly sell for anywhere from 1,500 to 5,000 baht, or $45.00 to $150.00 – and they were selling like hotcakes.

 

After the show, the fun really began, when we boarded our elephant for a one-hour ride up into the hills above the elelphant park’s property. We’d taken a 10-minute elephant ride in India up to a fort, but this was really more of a trek (well, for the elephant at least). Our mahout was a young man who couldn’t have been 25 yet, and our elephant was a 19-year-old female, keeping in mind that elephant life spans are about the same as humans.

It was slow going up the hills, but a little scary coming down. It seemed a couple of times as if the elephant might lose his balance, but they are very sure-footed creatures. We sat on a cushioned howdah with a bar in front of us – I needed something to hang on to. The mahout sat on the elephant’s head, with his knees bent and feet behind the elephant’s ears, and he directed her primarily with words, but he also had a long stick which was almost never used. The elephants were allowed to stop and eat tree branches along the way, and at one point they were fed bananas and sugar cane, their favorite foods. When we were nearly at the end of our ride, we trekked down into the stream, where the elephants drank the water and just generally cooled off.

 

Today is definitely in my top 10 of travel experiences and one I’d love to repeat – especially with our granddaughter, who would have loved it.

 

Afterward, we had lunch at an open sided restaurant alongside a beautiful little stream which is part of a local resort. The soup starter this time burned not only my lips, but my tongue off. Wow, it was hot! The lady who makes it said she put in “only” two of her lethal little red peppers, but at home she adds seven. I’d never survive. It was wonderful sitting there with a light breeze blowing through, just enjoying nature.

 

We cut short our afternoon tour to give us time to come back to the hotel early (at 3:00) to sit around the pool and veg. In fact, I’m lying on a lounge next to the pool right now, enjoying the leisure and the beautiful surroundings while typing. You see, it really isn’t much of a sacrifice to write this blog.

 

P. S. Sorry to hear about your daughter's experience. There are a lot of mosquitos around, and especially in the jungle where the elephants live, so we lathered up with insect repellent today and had the good luck to avoid bites.

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John and Diane,

I have been silently (up until now, of course) enjoying your reports and pray that I will be able to go on a world cruise when I retire. We were also at Maesa in January and LOVED it! Did you get one of the photos taken there of you on the elephant?

I don't know how much time you have left in Chiang Mai, but the cooking schools are a blast there. We enjoyed touring the local market before learning how to cook the various dishes. We went to Baan Thai Cooking School, but there are many others, as well.

Stay safe and well and continue with your wonderful postings.

Thank you,

Wendy wwb

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March 18 – Chiang Mai to Phuket

 

Strangely enough, I almost forgot the most important thing about the elephants: elephant dung. We were interested to see that, while the mahouts were washing their elephants in the stream, several people waded into the water downstream with large baskets. It soon became obvious what was going on. As soon as the elephants got situated in the warm stream water, they began to . . . well, you know. The purpose of the baskets was to catch elephant dung. Yes, really. We thought it would be sold for fertilizer (apparently it’s very good for that). However, Jet told us that it’s actually used for paper!

 

The dung is soaked overnight until whatever isn’t desirable is soaked out, and what’s left is dried and made into paper, much as can be done with recycled newspaper or tissue paper. It’s a very strange idea, but the funny part is that we have some of it. When we began our elephant ride, we passed through an area where a young man was taking photos. When we finished the ride, they had our 5 x 7 photo in a picture frame – made from elephant dung. It’s also possible to buy greeting cards and stationery made from the same thing, but we took a pass on that.

 

So – if you haven’t been to an elephant camp, you learned something new today.

 

We had a lovely, leisurely morning in Chiang Mai, seeing areas we hadn’t seen and poking into small stores and walking through street markets. I was looking for a place for a pedicure, but they all seemed to only open at 10:00. Finally, I found one open at 9:00, had my toes done, and paid my 150 baht ($4.50) and headed back to the hotel. John found a hair salon across the street from our hotel, and he got a haircut for 250 baht ($7.50) including shampoo and head massage. It’s such fun getting common things done in other countries.

 

Our driver and guide came for us at noon and drove us to the Chiang Mai airport, where we boarded and flew the two hour flight to Phuket (Poo-ket, according to Frommer). We again found a young woman with our name on a placard, and she led us to our van for the one-hour drive to the Amari Coral Hotel at the end of Patong Beach.

 

Driving through Phuket wasn’t anything like my mental image of a beach paradise. The main street is just one tacky shop after another, jammed together so that you can’t even see the beach. Most of the hotels are across the street from the beach which wouldn’t be so bad, but it requires walking by and around tattoo parlors, sleazy bars, sex shops and all manner of places I really didn’t expect. I guess in the evenings people are hit upon by what Thailand calls “commercial sex workers,” and people aggressively trying to get you to come into their shops.

 

Our hotel, fortunately, is at the far end of the beach, past the madhouse, and it’s right on the beach, which is wonderful. John is the one who found it in Frommer, and I’m really happy he did. It’s really just a little oasis, and I’d be happy to stay here and not leave for our three days, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Tomorrow, we have an all-day excursion to Phi-Phi Beach (pee-pee), where much of the movie “The Beach” was filmed, and then on Tuesday, we’re going to brave the madness and check out JungCeylon, the new and upscale shopping mall in the middle of town. We’re not big shoppers, but it’s supposed to have a great food court and we do have to pick up a few small things before we leave, including another battery for my camera.

 

Tomorrow should be great, and if we run into Leonardo DiCaprio on the beach, so much the better.

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We visited Phuket back in 1989, when Patong was a sleepy village, it was just starting to wake up. We stayed at Le Meridien which is right down one end of the beach right on the water and thought it was paradise.

 

Each night we would go into this small town and eat the most delicious king prawns. There were only a few restaurants and we could wander along and pick and choose each night a different place to eat.

 

I don't think I want to return as my memories are of a great place to just relax and enjoy the wonderful balmy weather.

 

Jennie

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In defense of Phuket-I must say that you chose to stay in the hub of the worst that tourism has done to this Island, a zone not at all representative all of the island

 

I happen to live in a VERY different area and my complex not only has good hotels-but also a long ,wide and clean beach with wonderful warm water-www.lagunaphuket.com

 

Also,nearby www.trisara.com has a lovely setting leading to Naithon Beach--just a couple of examples of the many preferable places to Patong--somewhere that residents rarely visit-though can be amusing for an change-as it has some good restaurants as well as Jungceylon

 

I live between here and Marbella-a place that has also changed from a characterful Spanish fishing village to an international resort--BUT still retains much of its charm-just need to know where to look !

 

Next cruises:

 

Prinsendam: 6/4/12- 16 days Istanbul to Rome

Ocean Princess 3/12/12 26 " Sydney to Tahiti

 

 

Driving through Phuket wasn’t anything like my mental image of a beach paradise. The main street is just one tacky shop after another, jammed together so that you can’t even see the beach. Most of the hotels are across the street from the beach which wouldn’t be so bad, but it requires walking by and around tattoo parlors, sleazy bars, sex shops and all manner of places I really didn’t expect. I guess in the evenings people are hit upon by what Thailand calls “commercial sex workers,” and people aggressively trying to get you to come into their shops.

 

Our hotel, fortunately, is at the far end of the beach, past the madhouse, and it’s right on the beach, which is wonderful. John is the one who found it in Frommer, and I’m really happy he did. It’s really just a little oasis, and I’d be happy to stay here and not leave for our three days, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Tomorrow, we have an all-day excursion to Phi-Phi Beach (pee-pee), where much of the movie “The Beach” was filmed, and then on Tuesday, we’re going to brave the madness and check out JungCeylon, the new and upscale shopping mall in the middle of town. We’re not big shoppers, but it’s supposed to have a great food court and we do have to pick up a few small things before we leave, including another battery for my camera.

 

Tomorrow should be great, and if we run into Leonardo DiCaprio on the beach, so much the better.

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Thanks for your comments on Phuket. I didn't mean to slam the whole area; it's just that Patong Beach area was so disappointing to us. Seeing someone walking down the street at 8:00 in the morning with a 24-ounce Singha reminds us too much of Las Vegas. Also, seeing those poor young Thai girls selling themselves and having to pretend that they like it is just so, so sad.

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Just a quick response--I actually totally agree with your impressions-the Island is certainly no paradise-BUT where is--my latest visit to Bali last December was extremely disappointing-in the 70's it really was the Island of the Gods-now Kuta IS far worse than Patong and even Ubud horrendously commercialized

 

Incidentally-I greatly enjoy following your travels and your superbly descriptive writing style

 

Also have fond memories of the Amsterdam from Rio to Valapariso-via Antarctica--a highlight of my travels--though

marred by news of the tragic tsunami whilst on board

 

Continue to have a wonderful cruise

 

John

 

NB:The Thai girls you refer to are mostly from a very poor area in the north and sadly seem to have no alternative for earning a living and assisting in supporting their parents and family--a truly admirable trait that the Thais possess-so different to many in the West

 

Thanks for your comments on Phuket. I didn't mean to slam the whole area; it's just that Patong Beach area was so disappointing to us. Seeing someone walking down the street at 8:00 in the morning with a 24-ounce Singha reminds us too much of Las Vegas. Also, seeing those poor young Thai girls selling themselves and having to pretend that they like it is just so, so sad.
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March 18 – Phuket, Thailand

 

If you’ve seen “The Beach,” you know the reputation that Phuket beaches have, and the site of the actual filming was Phi Phi Beach, so now everyone wants to go there. Our interest (really) was that Phi Phi Beach is supposed to have the most crystal clear water and be absolutely pristine. We decided that we just had to sign up for the Phi Phi Island excursion, and off we went.

 

Well, at least we tried to go. We were told to be in the lobby at 8:00, and since John thinks if you’re not early you’re not on time, we were there about 7:50. We waited, and waited, and waited, finally showing one of the nice young men there our tour voucher and asking him to check. At 8:30 a large van came and picked up several people, but we were told that it wasn’t our van, so we waited some more. About ten minutes later, we were told that our transfer was on its way, and sure enough, around came the same van, full of people who were (understandably) annoyed at having to come back. It seems as though the driver wasn’t quite sure about our name, and we spent the first five minutes of our transfer explaining that “no, we weren’t late to the meeting place.”

 

A 45-minute transfer later we arrived at our port, collected flippers, boarded our speedboat, and off we went. While we expected to go to just Phi Phi Island, it turns out that the day was to be a “beach sightseeing” day. I didn’t like the idea at first, but in hindsight, it was a lot of fun.

 

We began by spending time off Khai Nui Island for snorkeling from the boat, and then proceeded to Khai Nai Island where we spent an hour just lounging on the beach and snorkeling in the clear waters. Just when my stomach began telling me it was time to eat, we headed to Koh Yao Island for a Thai lunch.

 

We found that there are several Phi Phi islands, and our next destination, Bamboo Island, was one of them and a lovely place to sit in the shade and enjoy the turquoise water. We continued on to Phi Phi Don Island and then to a lovely bay where we spent about a half hour snorkeling off the boat. There were more fish here than anyplace I’ve ever been, including the Great Barrier Reef, and the one thing they all had in common was color. They were bright blue, or bright yellow with black stripes or any one of a rainbow of colors. Even looking down at the huge hills of coral beneath the sea I saw lovely areas of cobalt blue coral – and an octopus partially hidden in a coral “cave.”

 

Then (drum roll here) we sailed to to Phi Phi Lae, where Maya Bay is the site of the movie “The Beach.” It’s a beautiful, formerly secluded beach surrounded by a forested national park, but it has now apparently changed into a “must spend a day” site for every 20-something visiting Phuket. There were more string bikinis and exposed skin than I’ve ever seen in one place before. It even gives Copacabana Beach a run for its money. Apparently it’s possible to take a small fishing boat directly to Maya Bay and spend the entire day, and that’s what most of the young people had done.

 

Our last “drive-by” was into a secluded cove which extended back about a half mile between huge sandstone peaks. Apparently a James Bond movie was filmed here. This was the clearest water I had ever seen. It was like snorkeling, but without going into the water. It looked to be about two feet deep, since we could clearly see the coral formations, the fish, and the bottom, but Helen, our guide, said it was about ten feet deep. Hard to believe!

 

After a high-speed 45 minute ride back to the port and another 45 minutes spent being driven to our hotel where we arrived just before 8:00, we dropped off our wet beach towels, took showers to get rid of the salt water, and had a late dinner at the hotel’s Italian restaurant, sitting at a table overlooking this lovely bay. The evening was warm, the pizza was great, and we slept like a couple of logs.

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March 21 – Phuket

Day 75 (we’re back on the ship)

 

Today was pretty relaxing for a transition day. We didn’t have to check out until noon, so we just lazed around until about 10:30 we got bored and decided to get it over with. Our hotel was conveniently located less than a 10-minute walk to the tender pier (all downhill) so we just set off with our roll-alongs, caught the shuttle out to the ship, and unpacked. The most time-consuming part was getting the laundry ready to go out. One of the joys of being 4-Star Mariners (like 500 other people on this cruise) is free laundry. Usually I put it together every 2-3 days and send it out, mostly because our exercise clothes are not pleasant to have around very long. Today, however, there was a huge amount and it barely fit into the large laundry bag we’re given. However, it’s organized and ready to be picked up this afternoon.

 

After a quick Lido lunch (after 10 days there’s free food!), we jumped on another tender and headed into town. We wanted to pick up a few last minute items, so we walked about a mile to JungCeylon, the newest shopping center (I do love air conditioning when it’s 90 degrees and higher humidity). Our goal was the basement, where Thai products are sold, and we found some silk scarves, placemats and a table runner. We ran into friends from the ship almost everywhere and it was nice to have people tell us they missed us.

 

We walked back toward the tender, with a quick stop at the downstairs grocery store across the street. Of course we bought only necessities: Pepsi Max (sugar-free), salt and vinegar chips, peanut M & M’s, and a Cornetto for John. We are such health food freaks! Now we’re back at the ship and it feels like coming home. Our own little cabin (nothing like The Peninsula), our friendly stewards, and air conditioning (we are such weather wimps – but what can you expect from Californians?)

 

We have had a wonderful ten days in Thailand, and we are anxious to come again. We’ve learned a lot and formed a lot of impressions. Overall, we find Thailand to be a very peaceful country, full of people who just want to get along together. The main crime problem is drugs, and most of those come in from Burma and Laos. Because of that problem, however, the jails are full to overflowing. There is actually capital punishment for those who bring in more than a certain amount of illegal substances.

 

The people we spoke to have a great deal of reverence for their king. He is 85 years old and not in good health, but there are pictures of him everywhere, and any negative comments about him are severely frowned upon – a good way to be an Ugly American. There is concern about the sucession, however. King Rama IX has three daughters and one son. His eldest daughter studied in America, married an American and therefore lost her position as a princess. She remained in America (California, to be specific) for 25 years before divorcing and moving back to Thailand. Being a parent, I imagine the king wanted to say “I told you so.”

 

The second eldest is the Crown Prince, who has been married either two or three times (we heard from different sources). Apparently he is a playboy and can be violent, having been in fistfights from time to time. He is the father of two girls (by his first wife) and a 4-year-old boy by his current wife, a commoner (oh no!). Every Thai we spoke with expressed concern about him taking over as king, even though it is a ceremonial role (but it is reported that behind the scenes there is a great deal of influence).

 

Child number three is the most promising one. She’s an unmarried daughter with a Ph.D who teaches at the university, does many good works, and is uniformly admired throughout the country. If she were male, she’d probably be chosen over her brother, since the king may choose his successor. She has been named Crown Princess, however, and many people think she would make an outstanding Queen, but Thailand has only ever had kings.

 

A year ago, the king’s very elderly aunt died in her 90’s, and much of the news now regards her cremation ceremony. It is customary when a royal person dies to wait one year before cremating him/her – and I have no idea what they do with the body in the meantime. We saw construction in Bangkok of a royal crematorium surrounded by several temples filling an entire city block.. In the newspapers, there are photos of soldiers in two extremely long lines practicing for the ceremony. Because members of the Thai royalty are considered to be almost gods and at the top of the reincarnation cycle, there is really a big deal about their lives. In fact, every night at 8:00, the Bangkok television stations have a very popular half-hour show featuring the daily activities of the royal family. I can only imagine the ratings if they tried that in the UK or the US.

 

The parliamentary system is also interesting. The former prime minister (a couple of PM’s ago) was run out of the country for corruption, but the current PM is his sister, and there is a school of thought that her brother runs the country through her. And I thought the Republican primaries were complicated.

 

After the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and the fascination of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, Phuket was rather a disappointment – at least for me. There are gorgeous beaches on nearby islands as well as parts of Phuket Island, and most of the island doesn’t come in for this criticism, but Patong Beach is too much like Las Vegas, and not in a good way. There is a truly international crowd here, but I felt out of place without at least one tattoo, and preferably an entire arm or back full. It’s a place where you can pretty much buy anything you want, and as our friend Alan said after a previous visit, “I saw things I never thought I’d see.”

 

So there you have it. We will come back to Thailand, and next time we’ll build in more free time. There are so many more things to see here and we need to come back to see them.

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March 23 – Day 77 (only 35 days left)

At Sea en route to Sri Lanka

 

These two sea days have been absolute heaven. They’ve included such necessities as taking a nap, seeing “My Week with Marilyn,” and sleeping until we feel like getting up – with no tours ready to carry us away at 7:30 or 8:00 AM. There’s also the feeling of “coming home,” to our own little nest at 2655 Amsterdam Avenue, so to speak. Even though our cabin in nowhere near as large as our room at the Peninsula, it does feel like home.

 

On our first night “home,” we turned our clocks back – but only 30 minutes. If you’ve been to India you know this, but India’s time has two interesting characteristics. First, it isn’t set to a whole hour different than other places; it’s 30 minutes. Why? I have no idea. Secondly, the entire country (classified as a subcontinent) is in the same time zone. India is half the width of the United States, and we have four time zones.

 

The entertainment has been quite good lately. On our first night back, we were serenaded by Dale Kristien, the woman who took over the role of Christine in Phantom of the Opera after Sarah Brightman and played it in both New York and Los Angeles. She has an absolutely gorgeous voice and an amazing range. We’ve invited her to dinner tonight and she has said she would be happy to join us. Apparently she’s very shy off the stage, but seems very friendly and pleasant.

 

Last night we had a gentleman who played the piano, sang, and was very, very funny. The most memorable part of the performance for us was when he was talking about living in California and mentioned San Luis Obispo, where we live. We clapped and he looked out in the audience and asked, “Do you really live there?” We, of course, answered in the affirmative, and he looked fairly surprised.

 

While we were on shore, with access to pretty much unlimited internet, we were able to catch up on some of the blogs from our cruise. Most of them are uniformly positive, but, unfortunately, not all. I guess it’s common knowledge that not everyone is going to be happy with everything, but anyone fortunate enough to spend four months on a cruise is a very lucky duck. It also should be understood (but apparently not by everyone), that there is a lot of free time at sea and if you can’t entertain yourself, this really isn’t the place for you. Oh well, just a comment.

 

We had a new type of drill this morning. Because we are approaching “pirate waters,” we received a letter from the captain yesterday giving us instructions on what to do in case of an attack. Basically, we are to come inside and get as far away from windows as possible, leaving cabins and staying low in the halls. Of course, there will always be people who want to win the Darwin Award by going outside for a good photo, but to most of us, this seems sensible advice. Today’s drill was for every crew member, and as I sat in the library, Ingo, the Cellarmaster, came in and told everyone that in the case of an actual attack, he would have all of us get low to the floor and then crawl from the area with windows to a sheltered area in the hallway.

 

We also heard that because of the threat of pirates, we will travel “at all speed” from Mumbai to Safaga, Egypt, causing us to arrive in that port at 4:00 PM the day before we were scheduled. I’m sure we’ll get more information about that later.

 

We’re looking forward to Colombo, Sri Lanka, tomorrow. For a long time, because of the armed insurgencies on the island, cruise ships avoided it like the plague. However, its current stability is helping to make it a tourist destination, which I am sure helps its economy. We don’t know what we’re going to do there yet, but we will probably check with Greg and Heo or some other friends to see if they want to get together and rent a taxi or a van for a few hours to see the area.

 

Now Trivia awaits. Yesterday, for the first time in absolute ages, we didn’t earn any “Dam Dollars” (or whatever they call them now), so we’ll have to set our brains on a higher level than yesterday.

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March 25 – Day 79

At Sea

 

It was really surprising yesterday to learn about a new country and find out that what I expected was totally incorrect. Our port yesterday was Colombo, Sri Lanka (until 1975 called Ceylon), and I think I expected “little India,” with the same extremes as we found when we traveled in India in 2008.

 

Six of us had decided to skip the $100 ship’s tour and rent a van with a driver. We negotiated with him and decided on six and a half hours for $150, or $25.00 each – a great improvement. Also, we were traveling with friends, always a plus. We drove what seemed like miles to get out of the dock area, as Colombo is the largest port in the country and is huge and extremely busy.

 

The last time HAL called in Sri Lanka was in 1995, because the Tamil Tigers and their rebellion caused a great deal of violence in the country and made it dangerous for visitors. Now, however, peace has been restored, although police and military guards are seen everywhere, from the markets to the temples. No one seems intimidated, however, including us. Our guide told us that 85% of the country is Buddhist, 7% is Christian, and the remainder is divided between Hindu and Muslim. Apparently there is a great deal of religious tolerance, and although there are specific neighborhoods in the city where those of a particular faith are likely to live, they live in peace.

 

As we drove through the neighborhoods of Colombo, stopping at temples and markets, we found that the city is surprisingly prosperous. While there are poorer areas, the streets are wide and in good condition. The homes and businesses seem well-constructed, and the people look well-fed. There are not the beggars one sees all over India, but there are some people who are rather insistent on “helping” the tourist – for a price. For example, the first temple we visited was Hindu, but with a Buddhist Temple on the front. According to Lala, our guide, this was because Hindu husbands would come to worship, but their Buddhist wives insisted on a temple of their own. It seems to illustrate the religious harmony in which Colombo exists.

 

As we exited the van at the temple, the first thing I saw made me stop in my tracks. Across the narrow street was a young man, just at that moment removing a half-grown cobra from a basket, which had been tied with a blue string. He played his flute and got it to sway as it came out of the basket, and then he offered to put it around the neck of another tourist – always the good photo op. I noticed that he held the head tightly, but no one can hold a cobra tightly enough to put it around my neck! The other guy, however, apparently had a death wish, so around his neck went the cobra for a photo by his wife. I’ll bet she had his life insurance paid up. Actually, I believe most cobras used to thrill and amaze tourists have had their venom sacs removed, but I sure wouldn’t take the chance. BTW, the young man was charging $1.00 for a photo of the viper, and an additional $2.00 to put it around your neck. I would have paid HIM $100 to keep the heck away from me.

 

Before we even crossed the street, there was an older man who was nice enough to show me which parts of the temple façade I should photograph, as they were the most significant religiously. After snapping a couple off, he then proceeded to tell me that he’d sure like it if I could “help” him, but I didn’t have my purse, so I was unable to. Like other temples, this one required that we remove our shoes, which we did and then put them onto the rack provided. When we came out and headed to the shoe rack, a man was standing there requesting a “tip” for watching over our shoes. Again, I didn’t have anything with which to tip him, but John gave him a dollar for our shoes, and he was perfectly happy.

 

While we were in the temple, a Hindu priest motioned us over, gave us blossoms to place below a statue, and then put white and red dots on our foreheads. It’s in the form of a blessing, and I figure you can’t have too many of those. However, it was so hot and humid yesterday that about an hour later, without thinking, I mopped my brow with a Kleenex and there on the Kleenex was my blessing.

 

After a brief stop to purchase some Ceylon tea, the second temple complex was Buddhist and huge, and it even had a baby elephant in one of the courtyards with his keeper feeding him and letting him spend time in his very own little swimming pool. When he lay down in the water, he made a noise of such satisfaction that everyone knew he was truly happy. The keeper had bunches of apple bananas (the little ones) which he would offer to people to feed the elephant – and no contribution was requested. There was an entire room, probably 50’ x 30’ which was filled with cases containing items that had been contributed by devout members. There was everything from a bowl of sapphires to a Buddha decorated with rubies (all real) to old Motorola oversized radios from the 30’s and 40’s. Apparently they just collect everything and leave it on display. If it were me, I’d sell a lot of the valuables and do some good works with the proceeds, but strangely enough, they didn’t ask me.

 

We were by now ready for a mid-day break, so we went to the Galle Face Hotel, which sits right on the beach. They have a wonderful Sri Lankan buffet for about $12.00, and we dug right in. There were three kinds of rice, several curries, mulligatawny soup (I just love the name), a man making fresh shrimp, calamari, and vegetable tempura, and all kinds of other tasty delights. There was also a large case containing all sorts of beautiful desserts – what more could a person want?

 

After lunch our touring took us to more neighborhoods and then to the downtown market. If I had a dollar for every tee-shirt for sale . . . well, you know. After walking through different parts of the market, our friend Renee commented that virtually everything was for men – the shirts, the sports clothes, the shoes – and then everyone else saw it too. The places which sold things for women could be counted on one hand.

 

It was then time to head back to the ship for the 4:30 show put on by about twenty children from a nearby orphanage. Several activities (like “Dunk the Officers”) had raised $2500 to contribute to the orphanage, but then HAL added more, so that the check for the children ended up being $5,000, which they took back along with about twenty big boxes of school supplies and such. The orphanage itself is about 80 years old, and the money will be used to put a new roof on the building. The children, aged 5-18, performed a series of songs and dances and were absolutely adorable.

 

If that wasn’t enough for the day, last night’s entertainers were “The Unexpected Boys,” who sing just like the cast of “Jersey Boys.” We’ve seen the play, and these guys are every bit as good. They sang most of the Frankie Valley repertoire and use so much energy singing and dancing that they must lose five pounds by the end of the performance. To everyone’s delight, they will perform again with a whole new program.

 

It was a long, rewarding day, and today’s sea day is just what the doctor ordered.

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I think you must have had an absolutely fascinating day because it was fascinating just to read about it.

 

I am not an envious person, but OH, how I wish I could have been there!

 

Thank you for all your posts and the time and money you spend to share your cruise with us.

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What a wonderful visit to Sri Lanka you had.

 

Thanks for memories of our ship visiting Ceylon. Lots of English speaking people joined our ship migrating to Australia, ahead of the troubles yet to come.

 

Our day trip to scenic Kandy, an old capital in the hills, through tropical tea plantations and past working elephants, was a travel highlight.

 

Pleased you bought some Ceylon tea, as unblended, single origin, Ceylon tea is the best!

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March 26 – Day 80

Mangalore, India

 

I’ll bet you haven’t been to Mangalore, India. We don’t know of a person on the ship who has been there, including Barbara Haeni, the Port Lecturer who has been absolutely everywhere. This is a maiden call for Holland America; none of their ships have ever called here.

 

Mangalore is on the western coast of India, not too far from the tip of the country in the state of Karnataka. It contains a couple hundred thousand inhabitants, and is very much like many other Indian cities. Most, but not all, of the streets are paved, the shops are primarily open-fronted, and there are people everywhere. Dogs wander freely – or sleep in the shade, and the traffic is crazy. There are small cars, vans (like the one we traveled in), motorcycles, motorcycle rickshaws, huge trucks and tuk-tuks absolutely everywhere. How anyone can drive from Point A to Point B and not get in a car wreck is certainly beyond my knowledge.

 

We began this morning by walking five minutes to the port’s gate where we engaged an air-conditioned van for six of us for 4-5 hours. It cost $60 (total), but had we wanted a slightly older van, we could have had it for $40. We decided that $10 each for a day’s tour was a pretty good price. We began by driving to a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna, one of the main Hindu deities. The temple consisted of several different smaller buildings, each a center of worship for the dozens of people who were devoutly praying at separate shrines. There was a small group of monks on a platform to one side who were praying beside a fire and throwing small blossoms into it. All of the monks at the temple were pleasant and helpful in explaining different things to us.

 

Another interesting part of the temple grounds looked, from a distance, like a theme park. I could see what looked like a swimming pool with huge plaster statues of cobra-draped gods surrounding the pool, but there was very little water in the pool. Off to the side of the pool was a little grassy area with trees and very lifelike animals: lions, tigers, and deer. While we were taking some photos of the “tigers,” a small mongoose was sighted walking and hopping through the high grass, and then going down into a small pool to have a drink. All I could think of was Riki Tiki Tavi, and since I knew he could kill a cobra, I hoped he wouldn’t head for me.

 

Next, our driver dropped us in front of a four-story shopping center in the middle of the city. We were surprised to find so many familiar American brand stores (Lush, KFC, The Body Shop, etc), but there were also stores with wonderful Indian formalwear for both men and women.

 

After a decent interval (of 30 minutes), we got back in the van and drove to St. Aloysius Chapel, a church and school complex. Because we stopped there at 12:00, there were students coming out in droves from the high school, all in their blue pants/skirt and striped shirt uniform. As we walked toward the church itself, we encountered dozens of college students sitting on benches in the shade of the trees, apparently having a lunch break. Then we entered the church itself, where we found a ship’s tour group seated quietly, listening to a lecture on the interior of the church (yet another reason we avoid ship’s tours – we don’t sit still well). The interior of the church is truly magnificent. It was built in 1899 and the interior is a series of beautiful paintings by Jesuit priest Antony Moscheni from northern Italy. It looks quite baroque, and would be a beautiful place to worship.

 

We wanted to go to an Indian market, perhaps to buy some handicrafts, so Moma, our driver took us to one that he knew. It was fairly small, but Renee and I decided we had to have some bangles to go with our Indian costumes for Indian formal night. I found that what she meant by bangles and what I meant were two different things. I was looking for skinny little bracelets to wear in multiples, and she was looking for wide gold bracelets that snapped open and had really lovely fake jewels on them. By the time she was done, they even gave her her own jewelry box to hold the 7 bracelets, two pair of dangly jeweled earrings, and the large pendant-like necklace she liked. Since Renee lives in Los Angeles and is almost a professional shopper, she knew that if she had purchased one of the $20 bracelets in Nordstrom or Bloomingdales, it would have cost her a couple of hundred dollars, since they’re apparently very fashionable now (I really am not a fashionista). We had a good time watching her choose her jewelry and then bargain for it.

 

It was now lunchtime, and we told our driver we wanted to go to a hotel with a good restaurant, preferably on the beach. He told us that there were no good hotels on the beach, but the Ocean Pearl Hotel had just opened a year ago and had three very fine restaurants. He was absolutely spot on. We chose the main dining room instead of the buffet restaurant, because we wanted to order a series of entrees to share at the table. We had prawn biryani, rice with diced vegetables, honey-glazed chicken (which we liked so much we had a second order), prawn curry, both garlic and cheese naan, papadaams, and several Kingfisher beers as well as a couple of Diet Pepsis. We ate everything! When we got the bill and converted it to dollars, including tip, it came to $10.00 per person – including beverages. It was one of the best meals we’ve had on the cruise!

 

Our only stop on the way back to the ship was at a grocery store. All six of us love to eat, and it’s so much fun to browse in international food stores. Since Mangalore is famous for its cashews, we looked for them, and found large bags that were plain, salted, or chili-flavored. We grabbed two of the chili-flavored and a smaller salted, and then headed to the soda aisle. They actually had Diet Pepsi, our soft drink of choice. It wasn’t Pepsi Max, Diet Coke, or the dreaded Coca Light – it was real Diet Pepsi, so we bought a dozen – a particularly good thing as they were only 40 cents each. A couple of bags of “Magic Masala” Lay’s potato chips, a box of chocolate cookies, and our health food larder was now full. Because we were the only ones with rupees, having stopped at an ATM, we were the St. John bank at the grocery store, paying for our friends’ purchases and being paid back in American dollars.

 

Probably the most interesting thing about the store was that we were the main attraction. There must have been 20 employees and almost no Indian customers, and they were all very curious about us and very anxious to help. Those who spoke English best came and talked with us, and one young man who said he was “very good” at cricket spoke with Greg about the cricket stadium in Melbourne. Grocery stores can be so much fun.

 

It was time to get back to the ship, an hour before the 3:30 all aboard, and after a break to organize our groceries and take some down time, we went up to the aft Lido for sailaway. It was the first time I remember being away about 15 minutes early, and there was a good crowd enjoying the orchestra’s music, the hot hors d’oeurves, the company, and the bar. Tomorrow’s port is Goa, only about 60 miles away, and we will slow to 14 kph to make sure we don’t arrive before 6:00 AM.

 

Tonight the “Unexpected Boys” are performing again, but this time it will be Broadway show tunes. They are incredibly entertaining, and we’re looking forward to it. Also, the pianist/comedian Dale Gonyea is having dinner with us tonight, and we’re meeting him at 7:30 in the Crow’s Nest – better get ready.

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As always, it's wonderful to be vicariously part of your world cruise!:o

 

I was just curious as to why they needed to cast off at 3:30 PM when the next port is only 60 miles away? With so much sea time on a world cruise, you would think they would want to maximize port times when they could. The problem can't be port charges since they pass those on to the pax anyway.

Must be that old crutch: saving fuel. But excessively early departures have to be one of the real downers of cruising.

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Would love to taste a "Masala" potato chip! DH and I also love visiting the local grocery stores in our travels, the regional snacks that are so unique (and sometimes a bit odd, at least to us ;) ) in many regions.:D Enjoy India!

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While travelling around India for 84 days, on the Road ro Mysore we saw the road sign for Mangalore. It was far away.

I got some thin cans of Diet Pepsi there in thin cans. It was very bad. hope you did not get those. Lays are everywhere. We lived on those. Love the log.

 

Jeffrey

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Hi Diane and John,

 

Believe it or not we have been to Mangalore! We visited the city when we were on Oceania's Nautica back in 2008 when we were crusiing from Hong Kong to Athens. We too visited the Temple and the Church plus a lookout and then we wanted to see the beaches which wasn't a good idea as the hotels along the beach are very run down. We also went to the shopping Mall too.

 

We hated the dust that was everywhere from the iron ore that they export, it seemed to get into our clothes. We could have had a great discussion with the Indian gentleman who wanted to talk about cricket and our beloved Melbourne Cricket Ground. My DH adores cricket and he is always following the scores especially now as our Aussie team is over in the West Indies.

 

Jennie

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March 27 – Day 81

Goa, India

 

Driving in India is one of the world’s great adventures. We would never try it ourselves, of course, but even sitting in the back seat with a driver at the wheel is a trial for my blood pressure. Yes, there are lines on the roads, but they are only suggestions, and the dozen or so stop signs we sped through were just a figment of my imagination, I’m sure.

Never more did I understand the bumper sticker which says, “Sit Down, Shut Up, and Hold On.”

 

Since we were in Goa two years ago and saw most of the main sights, we decided that today would be a good day to go to the beach. Barbara, the port lecturer, said that the best beach at which to spend our time was Cansaulim, about forty-five minutes away from the ship. We wandered out past the gates of the port, because the taxis inside the gates usually have to pay to be there and charge more. We found a nice young man with a small, air-conditioned taxi who was willing to take us to the beach, wait for us, and drive us back to the ship. After a little bargaining, we were off.

 

I didn’t have any idea that that little car could go so fast. Mario Andretti would have been proud. The one accessory that every Indian car must have is a horn. Our driver honked it as we went around corners, he honked it when we passed another car, a pedestrian, a truck, a motorcycle or a tuk-tuk, and sometimes I think he just honked it for the heck of it. He would get behind a motorcycle and then try his darndest to get around it. Every time he tried, he’d honk. Finally, with a truck coming the other way, we’d pass the motorcycle. Occasionally we’d have to slow down while a cow crossed the road (true story), but we did make excellent time to the beach. Barbara had told us it would take 45 minutes; it really took 30.

 

The beach itself was recommended for two reasons: it was the closest beach with clean, unpolluted water and it has beautiful white sand for at least five miles. There is a series of “beach shacks” serving food and drinks and providing shaded lounges out front. We assumed that we would have to pay for the lounges, but the young man at the beach shack told us they were free. We just lounged around, swimming from time to time in water warmer than a heated pool back home. John walked down the beach taking pictures, and I just enjoyed the sun and my Kindle.

 

There were dozens of European tourists at the beach, both with and without swimsuit tops. We ran into a couple of people from the ship, discovering that there had been a ship’s tour to the beach, including lunch. We ordered a beer, a Diet Pepsi and some papadams, which came to the princely sum of $5.00. At about noon, it was time to return to the ship, as all aboard today is at 2:30. “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” took us back, fortunately in one piece, in time for a late lunch.

 

This southern part of India is very different from the north in terrain. It’s very tropical, with beaches and palm trees and all kinds of beautiful flowering plants. The way of life is far more laid back than in Mumbai or Delhi – even if the driving isn’t.

 

This morning at about 7:15, as we worked out in the gym, we watched the Seabourn Quest sail in and dock. We’ve been playing leap-frog with them for several days, and we’ll both be docked in Mumbai tomorrow. Dale Kristien, our “Phantom” singer, will be transferring to that ship, while Dale Gonyea, who joined us for dinner last night (for two hours of merriment and cork-forking), will be flying back to Los Angeles for a ten-day break before he boards another HAL ship for a Latin America cruise. If you ever come across either of these wonderful performers, say “Hi” for us.

 

The show last night was a reprise of “The Unexpected Boys,” or as Dale Gonyea calls them, “The Expectorant Boys.” Since they had done Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons songs the first show, for this show they did Broadway songs – and delighted the audience, ending with a standing ovation. They also leave the ship in Mumbai to fly back to New York, their home base.

 

Tomorrow is Mumbai (for two days) and we’re really looking forward to it. It’s our third visit here, and we’re talking about taking another wild taxi ride tour of the city, as we haven’t done that since 2008. We haven’t worked out the rest of the time, but it should be fun. It’s a fascinating city and maybe we’ll find some fresh-cooked samosas at a street stand.

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