Thursday, March 31, 2011

April 1st

Have recrossed the Equator today and the weather is waaaarm – looking forward to our day off the ship in Victoria, Mahe – Seychelles. Just playing it by ear so we’ll see how it goes.

As you have heard throughout our time on the cruise there is a certain routine one gets into and it is very simple and almost hypnotic. I really can understand why this lifestyle appeals to so many. 
I’ll give you an example of the appeal. Chuck, one of the passengers apparently made some money in business during his career. He is in great physical shape and (hard to tell) probably younger than me. He has chosen to live on the ship 11 months a year. He has a special cabin, gets all sorts of perks and has a great social life  (as you can imagine).
They have a lunch for the frequent travellers – had it yesterday – chef cooks it specially and personally – one couple has the most days on Princess – 1470 days at sea and that’s only on this cruise line.

Our routine is simple – wake up at about 7am – open the curtains and observe another beautiful day in paradise. We go our own way – Merle to breakfast and “the office” – on the swimming pool / open deck under shade where she beads / reads / holds court; I to Bridge – for lessons and playing set hands to learn how to do things right. I have had the same partner since the beginning- Jay and have been in a foursome that has varied over time – Bonnie has been and gone back to Raleigh but Irene has been constant. Our teacher Sue, from Queensland, is very patient and a great player.
At about 10.30 – leave bridge to lie at the pool in the sun and read. I’m sure its not good for the skin but its been great for the mind – real therapy. 

Lunch is an interlude that has assumed less and less importance and more and more lean protein as time has gone by.

Afternoon is more of the same for me but now more competitive at Bridge and more varied for Merle – lectures, discussions, craft groups of various kinds or a lie down. Increasingly there has been pressure for me to fill in with the experienced players – with mixed success – yesterday Sue and I won the competition for the day. At other times Im the goat..

Gym at 3.30 or so for about 45 min – same boring routine but am driven – I have become what I used to mock. Getting fit and doing weights. Imagine in the Equatorial heat and humidity.

Drinks and cocktails in the evening before dinner. Then movies on the DVD / reading / catching up. Sometimes the entertainment but mostly not my scene.

How can this possibly appeal to someone who was so type A? have no idea. But it does. I have little impetus to go back to where my head was at or a facsimile thereof.
Deep huh. Don’t know where all that came from. 

Suffice it to say got the info about Alaskan cruises after dinner tonight and will look at them shortly!!! 
More after Seychelles in a lighter vein

Monday, March 28, 2011

its down to two weeks now

We are entering the final lap of this cruise - we'll be in Cape Town in 2 weeks. I have enjoyed it immensely and could easily go on but...........
We have however booked future cruises - one for three weeks in the Caribbean and a longer cruise around South America - from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco. something to look forward to.
In the meantime we are at sea - moving from the Arabian Sea to the Indian Ocean traveling South towards the Seychelles. Was last there in 1972.
Tonights excitement is "True Grit" - the new version. we'll see. Be well y'all

Saturday, March 26, 2011

G’bye, Dubai.

What a contrast. Dubai has limited oil reserves left and a limited production at best compared to Oman and Oman is small, self-contained and restrained while Dubai is over the top trying to outVegas Vegas or outDisney Disney (however you see it). I’m clearly letting my prejudices show.

We did the Dubai sail-in at 8am and as you can see there was a mist in the air – this mist was with us all day and actually became quite thick in the late afternoon. Its probably like what you see on the Sketeton Coast of South West Africa – but air was cool, water warm here.

The skyline of the city is awesome – tall skyscrapers along the length of the coast. The Burj Khalifa – the worlds tallest building – is obvious. This is likely to be surpassed in height soon by either (or both) the competing towers – one in South Korea and one in Shanghai. Many of the passengers took the elevator to the top to see the 360 degree view offered – you can see the sea and the sand.
One of the few 7Star hotels in the world is here – Burj Al Arab. We were offered a tea there for $390 each – decided against it but a number of folks took it up.

Many ships were docked with us – the Amsterdam (for a while), the Costa Deliziosa, Seabourne Sojourner and the poor old QE2. The QE2 was bought by some businessmen from Dubai with the idea that it would become a floating hotel – money or plans haven’t worked out (some say it’s the asbestos). Then it was going to be used at the World Cup Soccer in Cape Town – didn’t work out. So here it sits.

We took a shuttle into town and it dropped us off at a Shopping area – we had no desire to do the Museum / Gold Souk tour we had booked. We also didn’t feel like going to the Mall of the Emirates – the worlds biggest – they have a ski slope and ice skating rink. Seemed rinky dink.

Spent the morning wandering around. The Mall true to form was a mall. Lots of dudes in local dress sitting around drinking coffee.

A millinery display by famous hat designers – Bonnie you’d have loved it. 

Expensive stores – I priced watches to fulfill the fantasy but recoiled from reality. Pianos designed for those with everything they need in the world (except taste). 

All, and I mean all, the staff are expats – Pakistani, Indian, Philipino etc. Beautifully designed building. Zero shoppers. See Michael pose for a shot in the empty mall.

Returned to the port and spent a few happy hours getting free Wi Fi so I could catch up on my e-mails and some business stuff. On the ship internet access is 25c/min and the speed is sloooooow. Downloading photos is souldestroyingly slow. Being able to do it quickly and free was lovely.

Back on the ship and on our way again to run the gauntlet past Somalia and Ethiopia then South to the Seychelles. Five Days at sea.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Man oh Man Oman – what a surprise!

Apologies to Natalie for the pun. What a wonderful surprise! Our visit to Oman, albeit short, was absolutely great. It was the complete antithesis to Mumbai.

Oman is situated on the Arabian Sea – side of the Arabian peninsula. Its neighbors are Yemen to the South West, the United Arab Emirates to the North West and Saudi Arabia to the West. It is an oil rich Muslim Sultanate with a relatively benign leader who has turned the country around from the dark ages since taking over from his father in 1970. Three million people live here of whom 1.9 million are Omanis and 1.1 million are expats (who do the day-to-day jobs). A liter of petrol costs less than a liter of water here – water comes from desalination plants almost entirely. Education is compulsory, healthcare universally available and oil revenues pay for the infrastructure.

Muscat, the capital of Oman has a long history – the countries strategic location made it a major crossroads for trade. Muslim since the First Century it was occupied by the Portuguese who built forts along the coast to defend their possession – these are still very much in evidence wherever you look. They dominated for 150 years but liberation from their rule took place in the 18th century. Since then Oman has been ruled by the Al Said dynasty – the latest of whom is Qaboos bin Said who I referred to earlier. The British occupied here for a while and left their mark but to a far lesser extent that the Portuguese

We were told to wake up early so we could see the sail-in to Muscat Bay and the port – it was a pretty sight. The ocean was glassy and still, the sun was rising behind the mountains – you can see an orange tinge to the sky and the mountain tops were etched against it – just like you see in Vegas on a good day, Lael.

The white structure you see is the emblem of Oman – it represents the container used to burn incense – specifically frankincense – which is native to the area. The view of the city contrasts the old (the 16th century Portuguese forts) and the new buildings that are all white or off-white and have battlements reminiscent of the old fort defenses.

The Sultans yacht was in port – its called the Al Said and is the third largest in the world (#1 for now is Roman Abromovich the Russian oligarch that owns Chelsea FC).

As usual the buses were waiting for those of us who were going on tours – Friday is part of the weekend here so it wasn’t going to be busy in town and prayers were going to be called from the mosques after noon. The drivers were wearing their white robes – very Lawrence / Peter O’Toole

My tour involved a drive through Muscat and included four stops. Firstly, the overwhelming impression of this city and its environs is that it is clean, organized, people look happy and you see absolutely no poor people or beggars. It is wonderful! (again). Second, it is warmish – it’s a dry heat but its up there. In accordance with international protection of workers they have to stop outside work if the temperature exceeds 45 degrees C. – all well and good till I realized that’s 113 degrees F!! then they stop until 4pm or so

Our first tour went to Bait al Adam Museum. This is a museum of Oman’s history – through maps, documents, photos, coins and other paraphernalia beautifully displayed at a private home of the AbdelLatief family. The father made a presentation then handed over to Adam, his son (after whom the museum is named) and then his daughter – each of whom made a word perfect presentation on the relics and history and then helped us to Coffee and dates – that’s Adam and to puchases in the museum shop and that’s Maryam – see how young they are!!!!!!!!

We then went to the Souk at the waterfront. I had the camera and so had the responsibility of taking the pictures. The souk was bustling (but lovely and clean with an aroma of incense) despite, or because of the weekend, and there were lots of goodies to buy. 

It was meticulous. Merle had come only here so we actually bumped into each other – she was all excited about her purchases. I took my pics and sat out on the waterfront all excited loving the sun and the view.

We then went on to Bait al Zubair another museum – this time of the Omani way of life. Once again the exhibits were beautifully done – Mens lives, womens lives, the customs and weaponry etc. No pictures inside but I enjoyed (again) the outside where they had an exhibit of painted Oryxs in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Sultans rule and a great diorama of a village scene from the mountain villages 120Km away. I’m a simple lad – give me toys and a playground with water anytime.

Finally we went to the Sultans palace – which is not where he actually lives but where he conducts business – for a photo op. Here it is – the 1970s building in the shadow of Portuguese forts.

The Omanis are allowed four wives – provided they can afford them – they have to keep them in the style they wish to be accustomed. Sultan Qaboos has none and no kids. This is not good for a dynastic / hereditary ruler. He is much beloved, much revered etc etc and he had published a white paper on the succession process (in 1970) so he clearly has given the consequences long thought.
Just threw that in for fun…………..your guess is as good as mine

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Just Enjoyin ‘n relaxin

Sailing sedately through the Arabian Sea, the water is as calm as could be, the sky blue and its hot and dry (maybe the desert air or its influence). Tomorrow morning early we arrive in Muscat, Oman. by bad luck or planning its Friday - so the place shuts down for prayers - all are called to the Mosque at approximately 11.30. Makes for a rather slim day of touring - I was planning on seeing the Mosques - which I can now only do from the outside and then go to the Souk (market place) but that will be closed too. So boo to all that.

Going to dinner tonight looked out onto the deck of the 5th floor. Security guards on duty. also on the top deck. 24 hours. watching out for Pirate ships. I think our defense will be to pelt them with left over shishkebabs from lunch.

more tomorrow. Its the 24th today. Happy Birthday Niki!!! 40 years old. Wow......I remember when.........
Jenn celebrated her Birthday this week too. sorry we couldnt be with you both. next time

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mumbai – at it’s best.

Mumbai was originally settled by people who believed in the God Mumba – hence the name  Mumbai - was located in a swampy archipelago of islands. The Portuguese came here in the 16th Century and seeing the beauty of the bay they called it the beautiful bay – hence Bombay – a name that stuck until Indian Independence when the old name was reassigned. Its pretty interesting that the Portuguese assigned Bombay to Britain as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II. Today Mumbai is a city of 18 million and growing. It is on one hand incredibly wealthy and a center of business, finance and industry and on the other hand unbelievable poverty.

Today we went on a 6 hour tour of Mumbai with an itinerary that included a drive through areas of the city and visits to the Gateway to India, the Gandhi museum, the Prince of Wales Museum and then a few hours on our own. This was a very different view of the city than I had when I was here with Pfizer a few years ago. Last time I was driven to all my meetings through some of the poorest areas I have ever seen; this time the drive through was limited to a more cosmetically sound route. Even so there is much that is depressing to Western eyes.

The Gateway of India is an archway on the Bay of Bengal that was built in 1904 to welcome King George V and Queen Mary on their state visit to India. It is also the gate through which British troops marched when they departed India with Independence in 1948. 

The open area around the arch was filled with tourists – Indian and foreign and plagued by beggars of all ages and sizes – presenting a most sad and uncomfortable sight. They follow you around every step if they think you will give alms; they touch you and tug at you. Its all very uncomfortable. Maddie, this little girl – so pretty – is such a beggar. You have to say, there but for the grace of God goes I don’t you?

Was struck by this picture – the sublime and the ridiculous?

The Taj Mahal Hotel is close at hand – a beautiful location. 

The hotel consists of two parts – an older building that I stayed in when I was here last – and the newer wing. The hotel was built by the extremely wealthy Tata family when, according to the story, one of them was excluded from the British Hotel next door. It was built to be far more luxurious and desirable than any of the hotels that were excluded to Indians and become THE hotel in Mumbai. It was the target of a terrorist attack 3 years ago in which many were killed, and was terribly damaged. It has now been restored and we went there for lunch – the most expensive steak sandwich we have had!!

The Gandhi museum is in a part of Mumbai not far from the beautiful Marine Drive  - called the Queens Necklace because of the lights and how they form a curve along the Bay of Bengal.
Gandhi resonates with me for a number of reasons – the one is obviously his belief in non-violent revolution but the other is in the fact that this philosophy originated out of his experiences in South Africa where he went for his first Job after graduating as a lawyer. He was then a man who believed in the British and was shocked by racial discrimination in South Africa – particularly brought home when he was thrown off a train because he was in a First Class compartment when Indians ought to be traveling in Third Class by rule.

He actually demonstrated his British loyalty by serving in the Indian Ambulance Corps during the Boer War and the Zulu Uprising of the early 1900s and the violence and brutality steeled him to non-violence and a life of protest. 

He was remarkable for his simplicity – this was his room as it was. And he utilized symbolism that the masses related to incredibly effectively – such as his belief in the value of spinning.

The Prince of Wales Museum was notable for two exhibits to me – the first was an exhibit of Hindu and Muslim miniature paintings – originally created to be part of religious works. These were beautiful pieces of art in a very different way than I am used to. The other exhibit was the European painting collection of the Tata family which was really quite pedestrian and uninteresting but must have set them back plenty! Photos were only allowed if you paid $7 for still photography and more for video – you got a voucher. Everyone on the tour including ourselves refused. Weird.

Thought I would show some of the sights in Mumbai from the bus and from our tour. No commentary can really do it justice.

 How about a bit of a contrast? World Cup Cricket in Mumbai

And therin hangs a tale!! – next stop Muscat