Archive for March, 2016

Hong Kong, China (Day 3)

     We spent Friday, March 4, our last Hong Kong day exploring Kowloon, where we were docked. We exited, as we did every day, through the cruise terminal, located in a very large shopping mall.  The mall is filled with high-end fashion boutiques & its basement has endless numbers of them selling only fashion branded clothes for babies & children (really!).  This mall attracts some 200.000 shoppers every weekend.  Would you buy high priced designer clothes for a child who will grow out of them in 6 months?

     We walked over to the clock tower, located in an area called Tsim Sha Tsui, originally built in 1915 as part of the terminus of the new Kowloon-Canton Railway. The terminal building was demolished in 1975 but the clock tower was left standing alone.  We saw a photo of the harbor from around 1950 in which this tower, only about 135 feet tall, seemed to be the tallest building around. Near the tower was a museum complex, including the Art Museum (which was closed for renovation).

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     Across the street is the venerable Peninsula Hotel, built in 1928 primarily for those arriving by train. Its interior is luxurious, but the most interesting thing is that it was about to undergo cleaning or renovation.  Workers were perched about 6 stories in the air on a bamboo scaffolding they were in the process of building.  There were no nets or cables or other safety devices that we could see.  This is a city with a lot of construction in progress & we wondered just how tall they would build a scaffolding out of bamboo, lashed together by rope or (as one person told us) by plastic ties.  Yikes. When we returned later in the day the scaffolding was completed & being covered in plastic sheeting.

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     We walked up Nathan Road to the History Museum.  Nathan Road is one of the primo shopping streets in Hong Kong, a wide street about 2.5 miles long (although we didn’t walk that far).  It is lined on both sides with clothing boutiques, electronics stores, etc.  It seemed to us to have two kinds of shopping, expensive & very cheap.  On each block we would be approached 3 or 4 times by men offering cards for tailor shops or knock-off designer watches (Rolex, Cartier, etc).  We couldn’t understand why the guy who was 3rd or 4th on the block would think we might want his watches when we had already turned down 2 or 3 others within sight offering the same thing.  How do these guys make any money?

    The history museum was pretty interesting, although it was long on dioramas and reproductions & short on actual artifacts.  We learned a lot about the opium wars & the colonial years, as well as the brutal Japanese occupation & the days of housing shortages after the war, etc.  On the way back down Nathan Street we stopped in Kowloon Park.  To get there you had to climb a set of stairs that was interestingly painted only on the risers & not on the top, looking like a painting from below but just stairs from above.  Hong Kong’s largest mosque was on the left behind a wall of trees & there was a sculpture garden that also had a lot of nice flowers at the top.

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     We crossed back from Nathan Street to Tsim Sha Tsui through an underground crossing that was filled with pictures & text about Hong Kong film stars.  We recognized some of the stars & some of the movies, but not others.  After some exploration in the waterfront area we found the Avenue of Stars, an elevated plaza with handprints of many Hong Kong film stars and statues of a few, including Bruce Lee, seen here with his least successful apprentice.  We returned to the nearby ship & prepared to depart for Vietnam.

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Hong Kong, China (Day 2)

     We spent our 2d day in Hong Kong, March 4, exploring a different part of central Hong Kong island.  We spent some time in two narrow shopping streets filled with vendors, Li Yuen St East & West.  Here you could purchase anything from clothes to souvenirs to food, at very reasonable prices.

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     In 1994 Hong Kong opened the world’s largest escalator system.  It consists of more than 25 lengthy covered escalators set end to end in a continuous line up to the middle of the side of Victoria Peak.  Designed for commuters who live uphill & work downhill, the escalators run down for a couple of hours in the morning & up the rest of the day.  The lower escalators are really tilted moving sidewalks since they lack stairs but the upper ones are actual escalators.  We rode all of the escalators to the top of the system . . . but then we had to walk all the way down (on stairs next to the escalators) since the escalator only runs one way.

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     After descending the hillside we walked around a number of streets on Hong Kong’s west side.  The ambience here was quite different from Central, where everything is presented in two languages in a continuation of Hong Kong’s English heritage.  This section of town had little English and fewer high rises.  There are shops here selling food, ginseng, bird’s nests, live snakes (a folk remedy for cold weather), tea, herbal medicine & food.  Often we had no idea what was on display, usually in plastic bags, because they were labeled only in Chinese.  We did walk down one street populated by vendors who make “chops” to order.  A chop is a block of stone that is an ink stamp, & you can have one made with your name in Chinese characters (although I doubt many purchasers can tell if their name is correct on the stamp).  In this area we passed Western Market, a Victorian built in 1906 as the waterfront Harbor Office.  Nowhere near the water today, it has a tacky shopping mall inside.  We stopped for some coffee & rolls & to rest our feet in that old Chinese institution, Starbucks.

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     In this area were tall tenements, with washing hanging from the balconies. They didn’t look very pleasant.

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     We walked up Hollywood Road to a park on Possession Street, which is the location where the British first landed in 1841 to take possession of Hong Kong after the Opium War.  It was on the water then but (you must be guessing this by now) it is far from the waterfront today.

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     We walked through Cat Street and up Ladder Street (the whole street is steps up the steep incline) to reach the Man Mo Temple.  This area was lined with very expensive looking shops selling jade, antiques & silver & gold.  One silver emporium was catering to the Star Wars crowd.  Man Mo Temple was built in the 1840’s & is dedicated to the god of literature (Man Cheong) & the god of war (Mo Tai), the latter reputedly popular with both the police & criminals. The spiral incense coils hanging from the ceiling (purchased by worshippers) can burn up to 3 weeks, & all the smoke made us yearn for a relatively quick exit.

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     We walked over to see the old police station, originally built in 1864, which is located in a neighborhood with Victorian homes.  The homes were all undergoing restoration, so there wasn’t much to see beyond the police station.  We then walked back to the ferry, perusing some vendor streets on the way, & returned to the ship.

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     We were told there was only one junk left in Hong Kong’s waters, but in the evening we saw two of them from the ship.  We walked over to a nearby restaurant with our Sydney Opera friends Bruce & Cindy for a really delicious Peking Duck dinner.  When we returned the Hong Kong cityscape was lit up again, and tonight Debbie Bacon played and sang on the top deck with the city lights as a background.

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     Finally, tonight there was a show on the ship by Chinese performers.  There was a musical duet of two women playing string instruments, a dramatic dragon dance in which a very long paper dragon was operated by about 10 guys holding sticks attached to it & a pair of women dancing with long ribbons.  Finally a man whose superpower was changing masks while you watched without being able to see the change.  This worked & I don’t know how, but I suspect that there was some kind of mechanism in his elaborate headdress that made it possible.  Altogether a short but interesting & entertaining show.

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Hong Kong, China (Day 1)

     The last episode ended with us sailing from Jakarta anticipating four relaxing days at sea.  But no.  It turned out that there was a typhoon of some sort off the coast of Vietnam that gave us gray foggy weather and roiling seas most of the way to Hong Kong.  So it was relaxing with no shore touring, but would have been a lot more so if we had not been constantly trying to avoid falling down or knocking into walls!  Happily, the weather began to abate somewhat as we neared our destination, so the very early morning sail-in to Hong Kong harbor on Wednesday, March 2, was gray & foggy & windy, but the sea was not so rough.  Unable to stand the strong wind on the front of the ship, we retreated to the Crow’s Nest, an inside venue on the top deck with panoramic windows facing forward.  But the windows were pretty dirty, so we returned to the front of the ship for the last leg, as entering the protection of the harbor greatly reduced the wind.

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     We docked right in the middle of town.  On one side of the harbor is Hong Kong island & on the other is Kowloon peninsula jutting out from the mainland, where we docked.  Right next to our dock is the Star Ferry terminal.  The Star Ferry is a venerable institution hereabouts; for about 30 cents fare (1st class yet) it will take you across the harbor. 

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     Hong Kong is way too big & diverse to see everything in just three days.  It has more than 10 million people and more high-rise buildings than any other city on Earth (almost 800 in our source, but more are going up every day).  Originally not much more than a collection of fishing villages, Hong Kong became something of a trade center in the early 19th century when China began opening up to European trade.  The British imported quite a lot of tea from China & the Chinese were indifferent to western goods, so a serious trade imbalance arose.  The Brits closed it by shipping opium, which grew in its Indian possessions, to China, causing a predictable epidemic of addiction.  The Chinese, alarmed about this, tried to cut off all opium imports & even seized & destroyed a large shipment in Hong Kong.  The British refused to tolerate this & started the opium war to force China to permit the opium trade to continue.  The Chinese were easily overcome by superior weaponry, & the resulting treaty in 1842 not only resumed the opium trade but gave possession of Hong Kong to the British, which they continued until 1999.  A second military action 20 years later gave Britain dominion over most of Kowloon & in 1899 China leased the New Territories & Lantau island to the British for 100 years.

     The Japanese ruled Hong Kong during World War II, a very harsh period of food shortages and repression.  After the war the British were back & Hong Kong began to experience exponential growth, partly from people fleeing the civil war in mainland China.  From 1945 to the mid-1950’s its population grew from about 600,000 (depleted by the war) to some 2.5 million.  The housing shortage was acute, with people living in “cage houses,” which were little more than a bed in a large room with a cage enclosing it, & squatter villages.  A devastating fire in one of the large squatter villages led to the construction of public housing projects, the first high-rises in Hong Kong.  Today there is little to be seen other than high-rises in the central part of Hong Kong.

     We had downloaded some walking tours, so we walked over to the Star Ferry & crossed to Hong Kong island.

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    We wandered around Central for about an hour looking for the beginning of the walking tour, which turned out to be right next to the ferry terminal.  Apart from seeing lots (lots!) of high-end international brand retail outlets, this walk reinforced the impression from the sail-in that visually Hong Kong is all about skyscrapers.  Looking up from the street you see tall buildings all around, and very little sky (apart from what is reflected in the glass walls of the buildings).  The main streets are so busy that there are overpasses and underpasses for pedestrians to get across.

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     Our first stop was Statue Square, which once held a statue of Queen Victoria but now only one of a 19th century manager of the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank (HSBC).  Reputedly a busy place on weekends, it was tranquil when we visited, with several interesting fountains.  On one side is the Legislative Council Building.  Built in the early 1900’s to house the Supreme Court, it was home to the legislature until 2011, and now is said to house the Court of Final Appeal.

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     Chater Garden is a park in the middle of the high rises, with a fountain & lots of fauna.  It was the site of the Hong Kong Cricket Club from the mid 19th century until 1975.

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     On the south side of the garden is Des Voeux Road, a busy street with tramlines running down it.  This street was built as part of an early 19th century land reclamation project.  Land reclamation has continued ever since, narrowing the harbor by about a kilometer so far, so that today this street is nowhere near the water.  The popular double decker trams are part of a line laid down more than a century ago.

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     Two important bank buildings were next.  The HSBC Bank tower was built in the 1980’s for almost $1 billion.  This bank has been in this location since 1865, however, and issued Hong Kong’s first bank notes in the mid 19th century.  It is notable for being supported by an external rather than a central structure.  Its escalator was the longest in the world when built & it is guarded by two stone lions who have been there since 1935.

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     Next door is the 70 story Bank of China Tower, the tallest building outside the United States when it was built in 1990.  Designed by I.M. Pei (who also did the West Wing of the U.S. National Gallery), it implements  the principles of Feng Shui to maintain harmony with its environment. As a side benefit, its design also interfered with the feng shui of the bank’s competitor, HSBC, which could bring HSBC bad luck even while bringing Bank of China good luck.

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     We walked up a steep hill, past the Duddell Street steps, built in the 1880.s, with the only remaining gas lamps in Hong Kong.  We passed the former French Mission building, built about a century ago, & St. John’s Cathedral.  Built in 1849, it is the oldest religious building in Hong Kong.  A funeral was letting out, so we stopped back later to view the inside.

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     At the top of the hill was Government House.  Completed in 1855, it was the residence of the British governors until 1997 and is now the residence of Hong Kong’s Executive. The tower was added by the Japanese during WWII.  When built, this building overlooked the water but today no water is to be seen.

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     Across the street (if you can find a crosswalk) is the Zoological & Botanical Gardens, established in 1864.  It has a number of exotic animals & birds (most impossible to photograph because of cages) and a statue of King George VI.  A very nice place to spend some time in the midst of this bustling city.

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     We walked down to the station for the Peak Tram, which would take us to the top of Victoria Peak.  The tram has been operating since 1888, before which it took hours to reach Victoria Peak.  Today it is just a few minutes on what is billed as the steepest tram in the world (we believe it; riding it was almost like lying down).  The top terminus is a largely glass sided building with great views, which is full of shops & restaurants.  We had a pizza there; the pizza was good, but the view was spectacular.  We were very lucky to have a clear & sunny day for this; the peak is often enclosed by clouds & fog.

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     We descended in the tram & headed back to the ship on the ferry.  On the way we passed the giant ferris wheel, spinning very slowly, which we had seen during the sail-in.  It was reputedly built to compete with the one in Singapore, which we will be riding in a couple of weeks.

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     When the sun goes down Hong Kong really lights up with an unbelievable amount of neon.  There is a light show (accompanied by music if you are in the right location) during which the buildings change color or light design & some are even animated, with green lasers flashing from the tops of some buildings.  We watched from the top deck of Amsterdam & it was really something to see to end our first day in Hong Kong.

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Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

     We arrived in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, on February 26.  This city long predates the coming of the Dutch in the early 17th century.  They rebuilt it in Dutch style, made it the capital of the Dutch East Indies & named it Batavia.  It became known to sailors as a place to avoid because disease was often rampant & there was a decent chance that if you landed here you might not live to leave.  The Dutch were expelled by the Japanese in 1942 & after the war Indonesia became independent, with this city, renamed Jakarta (a variation of its original name of Jayakarta), as its capital.  Today Jakarta is a (very) bustling city of more than 10 million, with lots of high rise concrete buildings and huge traffic problems (part of which stem from the lack of an effective public transit system).  It is also hot (at least it was when we were there) & we found it the least pleasant location of our three stops in Indonesia.

     We were greeted on the dock by the obligatory Indonesian dancers, these in costumes making the look like large puppets.

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     We spent a lot of time on the bus this day because of the heavy traffic.  We had a police escort again, but it didn’t seem to do us as much good as the day before.  Our first stop was Taman Mini Indonesia, a large park where the typical architecture of each of Indonesia’s provinces is reproduced.  In the center is a lake with a miniature copy of the entire Indonesian archipelago inside it.  If you have been to Disney World, the idea here is similar to the back part of Epcot Center, where there are several squares near each other reproducing the architecture if different countries.  This was the brainchild of Madame Suharto, wife of Indonesia’s president for some 30 years, and was completed in 1975.

     We visited two of the provincial sections.  The first was Sumatra, the home province of our guide.  Its architecture was colorful & fairly oriental looking, with thickly thatched roofs curving up to points on the ends. They had a lot of decoration of carved & brightly colored wood.

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     The second provincial section we visited was West Papua on the island of New Guinea.  This was entirely different, demonstrating the ethnic diversity of this very large country.  The buildings & artifacts here looked more African than Asian.

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     We drove back into town (a very long drive because the traffic was getting heavier) & visited the Museum Nasional.  The original building dates from 1862, although there is a modern addition.  This is a huge museum with a vast and eclectic collection of artifacts, from ancient stone sculptures to musical instruments to textiles to furniture to wayang puppets.  There was no way to see it all in the small time available to us, and we had no time to read about the many artifacts we saw.

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     After lunch we stopped to look at, but not visit, the Presidential Palace & the Monas (National Monument).  The marble monument is more than 400 feet tall with a golden flame on top that is covered with more than 75 pounds of pure gold.  Irreverent locals sometimes call it “Sukarno’s final erection.”  There was a very large police presence on the monument grounds, leading us to wonder if it is considered a terrorist target.

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     Our penultimate visit was to Taman Fatahillah, a square that was the center of old Dutch Batavia.  Several buildings here were built by the Dutch and now house museums.  In this area of town we drove along several canals.  We were told that the Dutch built the canals, inspired by those in Amsterdam.  The largest building in the square is the old Batavia town hall, built in 1627, which holds a museum today. There were a lot of active people in this area, including some guys who appeared to be levitated in the air (it wasn’t apparent how they do this).

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     It turned out our only visit here would be to the Wayang Museum, in a 1912 building to the right of the city hall in the photo above.  It was pretty interesting, containing a very large collection of puppets, most from Indonesia but some from elsewhere.  There apparently are performances here as well, but not while we were there.  This is just a small sample.

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     Finally, we went to Sunda Kelapa, the old port of Jakarta.  Actually, this port has been in operation for centuries, before there was a real city here at all.  Too small for modern ships (like Amsterdam), this port is home to the Phinisi schooners, the only commercial fleet of sailing ships still in operation.  Built on the island of Sulawesi, these schooners are still loaded & unloaded on this dock by hand & with winches.

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     We drove back to the pier through pretty bad traffic, including lots of motor bikes, but the traffic really wasn’t as bad as advertised.  Maybe this was just a good day.  The folks with green jackets sell rides, I guess it’s a lot like Uber.  And this is a good place to put the rest of the flowers we saw today.  In particular, there were a lot of flowering trees around town, often lining the roads or canals.

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     We sailed away shortly after sundown, heading for four relaxing days at sea to unwind & rest up from three long (but very interesting) days of shore excursions in Indonesia.

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     Those of you who signed up for email notifications probably received a mystery email yesterday that turned up an error message when you clicked on the link.  You haven’t done anything incorrectly & there is nothing wrong with the blog.  That was my (Rick’s) mistake.  I accidentally posted “Hong Kong (Day 1)” out of order, then tried to fix it by amending it to add a later posting date.  That worked & now it will appear in a few days when it is supposed to, after the last Indonesia posting.  But I wasn’t quick enough to keep the email notifications from going out before the blog post was pulled off the site.  For those who may be puzzled about that, this is the answer along with my mea culpa.

Semarang, Java, Indonesia

     We had to get up very early on February 25 to meet our excursion leaving at 6:15 AM.  We were headed to Borobudur, and ancient Buddhist temple.  Since we were up so early we got to see the sunrise.  We were welcomed on the pier by a large & loud marching band, complete with drum majors & a platoon of flag waving women.  And inside the terminal were more traditional Indonesian dancers.  Quite a welcome, though some passengers who had no reason to be up so early weren’t thrilled to be woken by the drums as they marched in.

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   It is about a 2 hour drive to Borobudur, so we had a rest stop after reaching the mountains. Because of the notoriously bad traffic on Java we were given a police escort.  They stopped traffic & routed us when necessary onto the wrong side of the road.  The rest stop featured a restaurant & gift shop as well as interesting gardens with a large Banyan tree & what looked like a giant yucca with a flower stalk 15 or 20 feet tall.

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     Finally arriving at the temple grounds, we walked through the large park that surrounds it to approach the temple.  Our guide told us that he grew up in a village adjacent to the temple, which was razed to create this park, and played at the temple with his friends as a child.  His father was an Islamic Imam, but he gave our guide books about this Buddhist temple.  Anyway, this thing is HUGE and amazing.  It is almost 400 feet wide on each of its four sides and 115 high.  It is built on (or really, encloses) a natural hill.  Built in about the 9th century, it was abandoned sometime during the next 500 years or so, and accumulated a covering of jungle growth & volcano ash.  It was “rediscovered” in 1814 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (after whom the Raffles Hotel in Singapore is named), who was the governor of Java during its brief British occupation.  In reality, he learned about it from the locals, who knew very well where it was all along. But he did begin the process of spreading the word about it abroad & unearthing & restoring it.  Every day workers are out washing the monument in a never-ending battle against moss & insects.

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    The whole complex was uncovered by 1835.  For many years it was scavenged by souvenir hunters, often working for western museums.  The king of Siam (now Thailand) visited in the 1890’s and was given permission to remove 8 cartloads of souvenirs, now in a Bangkok museum. There are more than 500 Buddha statues on the temple, many without heads because they were carted away as souvenirs.

     Borobudur was built of what looks like lava rock without mortar.  While it is all monotone now, evidence indicates that originally it was painted in bright colors and maybe gold leaf as well.  The stones were connected with dovetail joints & knobs fitting into indentations.  The first attempt at restoration was in the first decade of the 20th century, but they used cement which further damaged the structure.  Between 1975 and 1982 a full restoration was sponsored by UNESCO, in which more than a million stones were removed, indexed & cleaned before being reconstructed.  The entire structure was stabilized & a new drainage system installed inside.  Since then, the temple has been vulnerable to natural disasters, like ash from volcanoes (2010 & 2014), and wear & tear & even vandalism from millions of visitors.  Bombs were set off on the top level in 1985 & in 2014 ISIS threatened to destroy it, so security is pretty tight.

     The temple represents the path from desire at the bottom to complete enlightenment at the top.  The first four levels are square shaped and are surrounded by walkways lined with relief panels on both side of the corridor that tell the stories of Buddha’s life & his development toward enlightenment. There are more than 1400 narrative panels, all of which were originally carved after being added to the temple. 

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    There are statues of Buddha in niches on the walls above the reliefs & at every corner is a gargoyle that is really a water spout for releasing rainwater (water is one of the major enemies of this structure).

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     The stairs from one level to the next were very steep and some steps were quite high.  Some of the stairways had handrails but others did not.  It was very hot & humid, so the exertion took a toll, particularly on older folks.  There were guys around who, for a very small fee, would hold a parasol over a visitor, fan her and assist her in climbing the steps.  This was a godsend for some people. You will notice in these pictures that we had to wear sarongs to enter Borobudur, just as in Bali.

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     The top three levels of the temple are round, rather than square.  And instead of corridors they are covered with stupas, bell shaped structures perforated with square or diamond shaped holes, inside which is a statue of the Buddha.  There are 72 of these structures, some of which are whole & some not.  Some of the Buddhas are headless and some are whole. 

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     On the very top is the large main stupa, which is not perforated.  Apparently there were not enough of the original stones left to be sure of its exact design, so it has been restored according to the best guess.  It is empty, although stories have been told that it originally held a large Buddha which was removed by the first workers to enter the dome in 1842.  This structure apparently represents Nirvana, or complete enlightenment.

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     From the upper levels there are dramatic vistas.  You can see a very long way.

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     So finally we came down the temple & walked through a woods to a restaurant for an Indonesian lunch.  The extreme heat & all the climbing had taken a lot out of us, so an opportunity to refuel was welcome.  But we lingered over our final views of the temple as we retreated into the forest.

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     After lunch we made one stop for shopping & viewing a Wayang shadow puppet show, then headed for our final adventure of the day, a ride on an old train through some wetlands in the shadow of large mountains that are probably volcanoes.  Our ride out of the mountains was pretty wild, with our police escort keeping us going at good speed through small villages and around bends, changing lanes at speed while oncoming traffic stopped or swerved & often barely missed us.  Disney World would charge a lot for a ride like that.

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     As we passed people working in rice paddies or fishing often waved to us.  It was quite picturesque.209a. Semarang, Java, Indonesia212c. Semarang, Java, Indonesia219a. Semarang, Java, Indonesia228. Semarang, Java, Indonesia247. Semarang, Java, Indonesia235. Semarang, Java, Indonesia246a. Semarang, Java, Indonesia244. Semarang, Java, Indonesia237. Semarang, Java, Indonesia251. Semarang, Java, Indonesia252. Semarang, Java, Indonesia

     So we drove back to the dock & sailed away after another very full and fascinating day.

Benoa, Bali, Indonesia

     We reached Bali, our first stop in Indonesia, on the morning of February 23.  Indonesia is a vast country, spread over many islands with a total population that is the 4th largest in the world (after China, India & the USA).  Situated on the line between two tectonic plates, Indonesia is littered with volcanoes, some still active, two of which are on Bali.  Formerly the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia obtained its independence after World War II.  Indonesia includes the Spice Islands, which are what Columbus was trying to reach when he discovered America (he never got anywhere close, of course).  At that time spices were among the most valuable articles in Europe (whose food at that time before effective preservation was often less than appetizing by itself) because the Turks’ capture of Constantinople had largely cut off the overland trade in spices from the East.

     Bali is one of the smaller populated islands in Indonesia; it is shaped like a chicken that has just laid an egg.  Its population is largely Hindu & it seems that just about every family has its own temple in its courtyard surrounded by walls.  We saw many shops selling carved stone, which must be a thriving business since everyone has to have some for their family temples.  Bali is also known for its woodworking artisans.  And the favored method of transportation seems to be by motorbike (really, this is true of all of our Indonesia stops), with crowds of them in the city & whole families of four people riding one bike in the nether regions.

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     We were met on the pier by a group of women performing a welcoming dance, with an indigenous band to accompany them.  February 10, before we arrived, was Indonesian Victory Day (independence from the Dutch), and throughout Bali large bamboo poles with decorations hanging from them used to mark that day were still in evidence.

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     Our first visit in Bali was Klungkung, the site of the court of the last kingdom of Bali.  This complex contains several buildings, or pavilions. In the traffic circle outside is a sculpture called Kanda Pat Sari, guarding the four directions of the compass.

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     Upon emerging from the bus we had our first encounter with the persistent, but not aggressive, street vendors we would see throughout Indonesia.  They offer their goods for “one dollar,” but as our guide explained, it would turn out that the one dollar was just for looking and the purchase price would be much more.  Often the vendors were small children.  It is best to just say “no thank you” and walk on; if you engage them at all they will follow you a long way.

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     The Kertha Gosa Pavilion was the hall of justice, the highest forum for resolving the most intractable cases.  It is notable for its intricately painted ceilings, many depicting punishments in the after life.  Originally painted most likely in the mid 19th century, they have been restored several times by local artists and in the 1940’s the original paintings on cloth were so badly worn that they were replaced by copies on asbestos sheeting, made by local artists.  Each panel is a beautiful painting in itself, and the combined effect is stunning.

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     The building itself is also quite beautiful, set in a pond of water lilies.

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    I am a little confused about which pictures pertain to which buildings as they were very similar, but I think this next group is of the Bale Kambung (Floating Pavilion), where the royal tooth-filing ceremonies (you read that right) were held.  Our guide told us he had undergone this ceremony & it was (as you might expect) rather painful.  Anyway, this building is in a lotus pond, with ceiling paintings depicting Balinese astrology & notable stories. Inside there were artists working in a traditional style that our guide said is dying out.

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     In 1908 the Dutch invaded Bali.  It was a fair fight (the Balians had knives while the Dutch used rifles) and Bali was added to the Dutch East Indies.  The king & court in Klungkung came out to face the Dutch with no hope of success.  They were all slaughtered, including women & children, and the palace was burned to the ground.  Only one gate to the palace remains.

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     There was quite a lot of interesting sculpture on the grounds & around the small museum there.  A couple of men were playing on an instrument similar to a xylophone.  And the water lilies were quite lovely.

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     Our next stop was Pura Besakih, the “mother temple” of Bali.  It is really a complex of 23 related temples, made of dark lava rock.  This is the largest & holiest Hindu temple in Bali.  The origin of the temple is lost in the mists of prehistory, but it has been in use at least in the 13th century and probably much longer.

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     To enter the temple grounds one had to wear a sarong (or if you had long pants, sometimes just a sash). The inside of the temples is reserved for worshippers, so tourists are relegated to exploring the outside.  But we could see into one courtyard where religious services were being held.

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   You might have noticed that these buildings have thatched roofs.  Our guide told us that these roofs have lasted 75 years without rethatching. The pagodas, some thatched & some stone, are generally topped with gold covered capstones, as are many of the other roofs.

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     Besakih is located about 3000 feet up the side of Gunung Agung, at about 9000 feet the largest volcano in Bali.  Its last serious eruption in 1963 killed some 1700 people and the lava flow missed the temple by only a few yards.  The sparing of the temple is considered by the Balinese to be a miracle.

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     Looking down from the temple in clear weather you can see all the way to the sea.  Our weather wasn’t all that clear, but you could still see quite a distance to some mountains many miles away.

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     More than 70 festivals are celebrated at this temple each year & offerings are left for the gods.  Actually, Balians leave such offerings at temples all over the island quite often.  Most are small trays of fruits, which are left to deteriorate in the weather.  We saw quite a few while we were there.

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      Enough discussion; here are some miscellaneous other views of the temple complex.

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     After leaving Besakih we went to a town called Rendang for an Indonesian lunch in a restaurant on the side of a mountain with a breathtaking view of terraced rice paddies in the valley.  Unfortunately it rained while we were there, so the pictures do not convey its real power.

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     In addition to some unusual flowers (& good food), the restaurant had some interesting sculptures.

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   One thing we noticed but didn’t understand was that many sculptures were dressed in sarongs & sometimes headdresses.  Perhaps this is about a particular festival or maybe it is always this way.  We saw this at Besakih as well as at our last stop, Puri Agung Karangasem

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     The palace at Karangasem was built in the 19th century & is said to incorporate Balinese, European & Chinese elements.  In the back was a large veranda overlooking a vast valley in which was a settlement of people from Lombok.  They are Muslim and there is a mosque there, but our guide explained that they practice a different kind of Islam, praying only three times a day instead of the usual five.  We heard a call to prayer as we looked out on the valley.

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     After that there was a long bus ride back to the port.  We passed what appeared to be small family rice paddies & lots of traffic. We will also include here some of the flora we saw today that hasn’t been shown above. Bali has a profusion of colorful & interesting flowers. We reached the port & then sailed on to continue our Indonesian sojourn.

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Darwin, Australia

      In the morning on February 20 we pulled into Darwin, Australia, a small city on the northern coast.

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     To reach Darwin we sailed up the eastern coast of Australia through the Great Barrier Reef area, then through the shallow Torres Strait between Australia & New Guinea.  We had a pilot on board the whole time, more to protect the reef than the ship.  The Great Barrier Reef is, at 1200 miles long and 50 miles wide, the largest living thing on Earth, visible from space.  It consists of many islands and submerged reefs of living coral populated by thousands of varieties of fish.  Captain Cook discovered it by accident.  He thought he had clear sailing a few miles after leaving shore when suddenly he ran aground & the reef tore a large hole in his hull.  Fortunately one of his sailors knew how to stretch a sail around the ship like a bandage to allow them to sail to shore in a place just north of Cairns now called Cooktown, where they spent a long time repairing it.

     If you really want to see the reef (without getting into the water), perhaps an orbiting space station is the best place to go (or a helicopter).  A ship, which provides little elevation and cannot sail anywhere near a reef without endangering both the ship & the reef, doesn’t really give you much of a view.  Even from the top deck all you could see were shadows caused by the otherwise invisible submerged reefs, although the islands were obviously in view.

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    Our itinerary included an “anchorage” at Sherrod Island overnight, with no landings.  The Captain decided that it would be dark when we arrived & we would be leaving before sunrise, so there was no reason to stop there.  So we didn’t, & sailed on toward Darwin.

     With a population of about 125,000, Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territories. It was founded in 1869 as Palmerston & renamed in 1911 in recognition of a visit by Charles Darwin & the Beagle in 1839.  Darwin Harbor is much larger than Sydney’s.  The town has been destroyed several times in recent decades.  First, the Japanese bombed Darwin 64 times during World War II. The first two, on February 19, 1942, were launched by the same task force that had attacked Pearl Harbor two months earlier, but more than twice as many bombs were dropped on Darwin.  Almost 300 people were killed & 21 ships anchored in Darwin Harbor, which was on the front lines of Australian defense against the Japanese, were sunk. The movie Australia, with Hugh Jackman & Nicole Kidman, ends with a depiction of the bombing of Darwin.

     The town was rebuilt after the war, but on Christmas Eve in 1974, Cyclone Tracy hit with winds that reached 175 mph before the measuring instruments broke.  66 people were killed, 30,000 were airlifted out & 95 percent of the buildings were flattened.  The city was rebuilt again, with laws requiring stronger construction & other safety precautions that are now being loosened for some reason, so the city is mostly contemporary buildings with little in the way of old world charm.

     What it does have, as evidenced by our visit, is very hot & humid weather.  This is the closest Australian city to the Equator, & you can really feel it.  While waiting in line for a bus we heard one fellow say “Darwin is Australian for hot,” and that seemed pretty much on target. Of course we were only here one day & it may be better at some other time of year.

     Anyway, after leaving the ship we took a shuttle bus into town (walkable, but not an attractive option in the heat).  Our first objective was the public library, inside of the Civic Center. This is located in what used to be Chinatown, & just outside is a large Banyan tree growing since the 19th century called “the Tree of Knowledge,” where Chinese youth would sit & learn from their elders.  The Aboriginal people call it Galamarrma.  It has surprisingly survived when almost everything else in town was destroyed by the war & the cyclone.

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     We mentioned that Darwin was named in honor of the visit of the Beagle to this area in 1839.  In 2009, for Darwin’s 200th birthday, a set of bronze sculptures was erected in the park next to the Civic Center.  Darwin was apparently enthralled by the number of parrot species he found in Australia, so this installation consists of a semicircle of various sized ship bells, each with a different parrot species or the Beagle on top, and a bust of the young Darwin in the center on top of a replica of the ship’s bell of the Beagle.  It was quite interesting.

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     We took a local bus to the Museum of the Northern Territories, where we saw an extensive and sobering exhibit on Cyclone Tracy & what is considered the best gallery of Aboriginal art in the world.  Although the first exhibition of Aboriginal art took place in 1888, most of the gallery’s works date from the last half century.  That may be because art collectors only became interested in Aboriginal art in recent decades, & before that it was mostly created on impermanent materials like bark & skins. Today many Aboriginal artists work with canvas and acrylic paints, although some still use traditional materials, and their works are highly collectible and well cared for.  We have seen galleries of often very expensive Aboriginal art in other cities in Australia, but Darwin has by far the most.  Apparently about half of all Aboriginal artists are located in the Northern Territories.

     The distinctive dot & circle designs associated with Aboriginal art only came into wide use in the 1970’s.  They often represent maps, with the circles as locations and the dots as tracks.  The old sacred designs are not shared with the public through art, but the techniques have been adapted to produce similar designs for public display.  It seems that the cross-hatched technique may be older than the dot & circle.

     The didgeridoo (shown below) is a wind instrument that produces a very low vibrating tone.  It was originally used only by Aboriginal people in the northern area, and has been adopted by others in the last 50 years or so.  It was originally used only to accompany singing, but now there are musicians who use it as a solo instrument (one was on board Amsterdam teaching how to play it, but an injury to his eardrum required cancelling his public performance).  They are widely available in galleries & souvenir stores throughout Australia with colorful Aboriginal designs painted on them.

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     Before walking back to the bus stop we took a look at the nearby shore.  We passed the Darwin Bowls Club, where people were out playing despite the oppressive heat.  And there was also a Eucalyptus grove nearby.

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     Back in town we visited a couple of buildings.  The old Town Hall, built in 1882 & destroyed in 1974 by Cyclone Tracy, is preserved as a ruin.  The Legislative Offices of the Northern Territory was built in 1955 on the site of the 19th century post office & telegraph office, both of which were destroyed in the Japanese air raids.  Called the Wedding Cake by locals because of its appearance, this building houses the Northern Territory Library (which, of course, was why we sought it out).  In the library was an exhibit about the incarceration of Aboriginal people in camps for much of the 20th century, and the forced separation of mixed race children from their families, an abominable policy.  The library had one wall preserved from the old post office as well.

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     We spent some time exploring the shops & galleries lining both sides of The Mall at the center of town. While there we happened upon an Aboriginal movie star!  You may have seen David Guilipil, who had important parts in such Australian located movies as  Walkabout, Rabbit Proof Fence, Priscilla The Queen Of The Desert, and the earlier mentioned Australia.  He was standing outside an Aboriginal art gallery at a table selling his artwork (expensive!).  He is very thin & now has grey hair under his Australian style hat.  I would show you a picture, but there was a sign requesting that pictures not be taken of him.  After that we took the shuttle back to the dock, where we had to undergo metal detection before getting back to the ship.  There was a sign indicating the kinds of weapons that could not be carried into the dock (including missiles & bazookas); I wonder if anyone read that sign & felt they had to turn back?  We didn’t have any of those, so we were able to reboard the ship & set sail away from our last stop in the Antipodes toward an entirely different culture in Indonesia.

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Cairns, Australia

    February 16 found us in Cairns (pronounced “Cans,” for some reason), Australia.  It is a small city of some 130,000.  Captain Cook visited here in 1770 & he named the bay Trinity, but the first settlement was in the 1870’s after gold was discovered nearby.  Today the town is most famous as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, which is about a 2 hour boat ride away.  Some of our passengers spent the day going out there for snorkeling, diving & watching through glass bottom boats.

     We walked into town from the ship past some bronze wildlife sculptures.

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     Our first destination was an unusual wildlife dome on top of the local casino. Inside was a surprisingly large number of animals, including snakes, lizards, koalas & wallabies.

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     But the best part was the birds, some in cages but many flying freely through the dome. 

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    We walked along the Esplanade, a street & park running along the waterfront.  As usual around here, you can’t swim in the ocean, but they have built a freshwater “lagoon” for swimming, complete with large fish sculptures.  This area also had a craft market; the most notable thing there was an Aussie vendor who knew Rick’s hat was for Cincinnati rather than Chicago (her husband was American). This area was also decorated for Chinese New Year. Also in this park was yet another ANZAC memorial, this one originally built in 1926 and moved here later.

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     We found the library, which was nice but obviously couldn’t hold a candle to the ones we saw in Melbourne & Sydney, and then walked under the bats. 

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     In an area near the library thousands of Spectacled Flying Fox bats hang from the trees during the day.  At dusk they all fly away at once, filling the sky (but we were gone by then, unfortunately).  They are not asleep as they hang; the whole tree seems to vibrate with their sound & constant movement (yes, it’s a little creepy).  These bats feed on flower nectar rather than mosquitoes.  The sidewalk under the trees is covered in bat guano, & we were wondering how they do that hanging upside down without it getting all over them.  The answer is that they turn around & hang by their thumbs when defecating . . . so tidy!

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     Our next objective was St Monica’s Cathedral, which had been recommended by Barbara, the Amsterdam’s location guide.  The tourist information assistant on the pier had never heard of it & the person she asked about it gave us a location on the map that turned out to be a huge construction hole (we were afraid that maybe it had been torn down).  A librarian gave us new directions, but that took us to St Monica convent school.  Finally, someone on the convent grounds was able to direct us to the right spot.  And it was well worth all the effort to find!  This is a small contemporary church, built to commemorate the Battle of the Coral Sea which could be seen on the horizon from Cairns. It really doesn’t look like much from the outside but the stained glass windows inside are fabulous.  Along the two long walls inside are a series of stained glass windows that show a continuous diorama of a scientific view of the creation, beginning to the left of the altar with views of outer space modeled on NASA’s Hubble telescope photos, including volcanoes, & continuing on the wall leading back to the altar with depictions of trees, Australian animals & people. Quite an artistic triumph, the photos do not begin to convey their impact in person.

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   Surrounding the front entrance on the wall opposite the altar are the Peace Windows, created for the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, which started 50 years of peace in the Pacific. The windows above the entrance include not only a cross, but also a rainbow & a dove of peace & fish playing in the water below.  The window to the right of the door is the Chaos window, including destroyed instruments of war lying on the seabed, along with three helmets for the Americans, Japanese & Australians who fought here. To the left of the door is the Rest window, with a more peaceful view of war machinery lying on the ocean floor, including the USS Lexington at top, an American Wildcat plane in the middle & part of a Japanese bomber at the bottom.  The Battle of the Coral Sea was the first naval battle in which the ships were too far apart to fire on each other, the battle being fought entirely with planes launched from aircraft carriers. There is a lot more symbolism in these windows, but I will spare you all that.

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     We headed back to the ship, but before we get there we have to show you the flowers.  In addition to many interesting flowers, we saw palm-like trees with bright red trunks, a new one for us.

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     Finally it was time to sail away from Cairns & head for the Great Barrier Reef.  Later, at sea, there was a dramatic sunset.

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Townsville, Australia

     On the morning of February 15 we docked in Townsville, Australia.  “What’s that?” you are asking.  “I have never heard of Townsville & it wasn’t on the itinerary” (which I know you studied carefully in reading the first post of this voyage).  Well, of course you are correct & we hadn’t heard of Townsville before either.  We were scheduled to stop in the unlikely named Mooloolaba, but that is a tender port & the seas were rough & it was gray & raining, so the harbor master closed the port.  Just as well, since it is a beach community and about the only thing to do would have been to walk on the beach, which wouldn’t have been much fun in the rain.  So now, the next time a HAL ship stops there it will be HAL’s maiden visit, again.

     To compensate for the missed port they arranged for us to stop for a day in Townsville, where it was not rainy but was extremely hot & humid.  But before we get to Townsville, there were the days at sea getting there.  From Sydney to Cairns we were joined on board by several top executives of HAL and its parent corporation, Carnival.  They were ostensibly here to meet the World Cruise passengers, explain their plans for the future & respond to questions and complaints.  While they were on board the alcohol flowed, free of charge, beginning with the Sydney sail-away party & including several receptions and parties the next few days.  HAL President Orlando Ashford had a presentation (really mostly a commercial for their newest ship, Koningsdam) and a Q & A, during which the answer to most questions was “We are working on that.”  Among the good news, however, he announced that the Asia & Pacific Grand Voyage will be reinstated next year & that a pilot program has begun on Noordam toward eliminating smoking on cabin balconies.  He invited people to approach him at dinner with any further issues, but the HAL contingent mostly dined in a separate room by themselves, with about 15 staff who normally waited on passengers culled out so each of them could have an individual server (Downton Abbey style, I guess).  Despite their generosity with alcohol, it was somewhat of a relief when they left & the ship could get back to normal.

     The night after we left Sydney there was a “beach party” by the Lido pool.  We had taken on board some of the famous lifeguards from Bondi beach in Sydney, apparently just to give this party more flavor.  The pool was filled with beach balls & there was a very good Australian band called “Hipnosis.”  There was a lot of dancing & drinking, and there was even a conga line at one point.  But really, it was just a party on deck and not the Major Event that the HAL execs seemed to think it was.

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     On February 14 there was a Valentines Ball.  First there was a reception in the Queen’s Lounge, then a formal dinner, then the Ball, all with free drinks.  They really went all out in decorating & Debbie Bacon serenaded us from the piano on the first floor.

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     At the ball the excellent 5 piece “Amsterdam Orchestra” played along with two very good young singers brought aboard for the occasion, Liam John Burrows & Darcy Jones.  Liam was in the Sinatra mold & did it very well.  We saw him sit in with the Neptunes in the Ocean Bar a few days later & he was particularly enjoyable in this more informal setting (many of the featured acts are).

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     Since it was a last minute replacement port, we had little information about Townsville.  It dates to the early 19th Century & has about 200,000 residents.  In the second half of the 19th century it was the port for several gold mines during the gold rush.  We know that today it is a port for, among other things, cattle because there was a cattle ship being loaded next to us in the commercial dock area where we were moored. 

     We took the mandatory shuttle into town & walked down Flinders Street to the Reef Headquarters & Aquarium.  Flinders Street has a lot of small buildings from the 1800’s but most of them seemed to be closed up.  This is near the beginning of the Great Barrier Reef & the Reef administration seems to be situated here.  The Aquarium in the same building was wonderful: the largest living coral reef aquarium in the world.

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     A very large “predator tank” contained several different kinds of sharks along with other fish & even a giant clam.  There was a talk here by a diver inside the tank.  To keep the coral alive these tanks are open to the sun & air outside.  This means they have to constantly replenish the water that evaporates & also must constantly clean the inside of the tanks.

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     For fans of Finding Nemo, we are in Australia so both Nemo & Dorrie were here.  Clownfish are born male & when the dominant female dies one of the males becomes female (no operation needed).  We learned that there are several kinds of fish that can change sex & the giant clam above can change on a yearly basis, emitting sperm one year & eggs the next.

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     The Crown of Thorns starfish has become a menace to the Great Barrier Reef.  They eat the coral polyps & have spread alarmingly in recent decades, partly because they can regenerate like worms so that when machetes were used in early eradication efforts the pieces would each become a new starfish.  Today the inject a toxic solution into them, which ensures they are truly dead.  There were other more benign (and prettier) starfish as well.  We learned that starfish have eyes at the end of each of their arms.

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     We saw a creepy Moray Eel & a Bluespot Lagoon Ray that looked like something from outer space. There was a Lionfish – beautiful but deadly – and some Razorfish, which swim vertically. Also a beautiful Semicircle Angelfish (which looks more blue than the purple color in the picture).

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     In the background there were many types of living coral & some stationary animals, like anemonies & sea urchins.

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     Finally, we visited the turtle hospital.  Wounded or disabled sea turtles are bought here and nursed back to health, then released back into the ocean.  There were a couple of hawksbill turtles here, a couple of flatback turtles, and one huge 200 pound green turtle.  “Green turtles” are actually brown, not green, as you can see below.  Turtles are sea animals with flippers instead of legs, while tortoises are land animals with legs & feet.

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     Leaving the Aquarium, we walked along the Strand, a road that borders the waterfront ANZAC Park.  Known as Strand Park since the 1880’s, it was renamed in the 1930’s to memorialize the soldiers from Townsville killed in World War I.  It is a lovely, very long park with banyan trees and many flowers in addition to the ANZAC memorial & another memorial with a fountain commemorating the WWII Battle of the Coral Sea fought near here.  Townsville had the largest allied naval base in the South Pacific & played an important support role in this battle.

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     In the park and elsewhere in town we saw a number of interesting public sculptures.  Most, but not all, were of wildlife.

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     There is a lot of seashore in northeastern Australia, but you can’t swim in the ocean.  Some places there are crocodiles & most places there are Box Jellyfish, which are blue and about the size of your thumb with tentacles that can reach 20 feet in length.  Both are deadly.  As Bill Bryson pointed out in his book about Australia: of the ten most toxic animals in the world, ten live in Australia.  This includes spiders and snakes as well as jellyfish, so Australia can be a dangerous place if you are not on your toes.  A few places along the waterfront in the park have been enclosed in jellyfish-proof netting to allow some swimming.  We saw some genuine wildlife in the park too, including black cockatoos & a little red-beaked gull that looked like it was laughing.

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     We ended our walk along the park at the end of the shore, where we climbed up a hill to a lookout point called Kissing Point.  This area had been fortified since the 1880’s.  In July, 1942, a couple of Japanese planes bombed Townsville, but most of the bombs fell into the water or the bush outside the town. Only one caused any damage, and that was to the racetrack.  Today this is a park that provides a nice view over the harbor & of the reddish colored mountain that overlooks the town.  We walked back to the ship.  It was a couple of miles & it was VERY hot & humid, so we wilted pretty badly before making it back.  Later we learned that there was a free shuttle bus going back & forth to Kissing Point.  We wished we had known about it, as that would have made a big difference for us. 

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     And so we sailed on up the eastern coast of Australia, into the Great Barrier Reef area.  But that’s a story for another day.  For now we will leave you with a couple of towel animals (I have lost track, so if you have already seen these, never mind).

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