March 14 found us in Singapore, a very diverse city of historical interest and full of attractions. We spent more than two days here in 2016, which you can read about here:
We were docked at a different wharf this time. Some folks were disgruntled (well, really, there are always some folks disgruntled) because it was a good walk to the subway & you had to go elsewhere to buy two day subway passes. But we actually liked this one better because there was a good view of the city from the ship & there was a shuttle bus to a convenient (for us) location in town.
Today we decided to visit the Sultan Mosque, which was closed the last time we were here, & do some shopping on nearby Arab Street. So we boarded the shuttle bus for a short drive to the drop off spot at a shopping mall in town. It was only about a 15 minute walk from here to the mosque, but we managed to make it into an hour walk by turning the wrong way & finding ourselves next to the Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel instead of the mosque. But eventually we found ourselves walking along the interesting ethnic streets near the mosque.
The mosque was closed for another hour for midday services so we spent that time scoping out the stores on Arab Street. This is a small street across from the mosque that is lined with textile stores, each stuffed to the gills with every kind of textile you can imagine, many at bargain prices. Some of the stores also sell finished clothes, rugs & other middle eastern items. It is extremely crowded & hectic and after a few minutes it becomes difficult to pick out the patterns you actually like from the myriad others surrounding them. As you walk past a shop, each of which is open to the street with goods displayed on both sides of the sidewalk, the shop owners call out and invite you to come in & peruse their wares. It’s not our favorite shopping environment, but we did not come away empty handed. Then it was back to the mosque.
The Sultan Mosque was built in the 1920’s on the spot where a mosque had stood since the 1820’s. Sir Stamford Raffles had made a deal to recognize as sultan the brother of the sitting local sultan & they agreed to this spot for a mosque and a Muslim district. To enter the Sultan Mosque we had to take off our shoes & leave them in a rack near the door. We were appropriately dressed (long sleeves & pants), but visitors wearing shorts or tank tops were provided with a long robe to wear inside.
After leaving the mosque we decided to walk to Fort Canning Hill & look for a lunch spot along the way. At this time of day, mid afternoon, it was hard to find a place serving lunch, but we finally found a German restaurant that suited. This is a very cosmopolitan city with every kind of cuisine available. Just before we reached the hill we passed the beautiful National Museum, with a huge India Rubber Tree sitting out in front. Originally built in 1887, this was the National Library and Museum until 2004, when the National Library was moved to a new location (which we visited in 2016).
We did not have time to visit the museum (maybe next time), so we walked on to Fort Canning Hill. We were happy to see a huge escalator up the side of the hill, but it turned out to be broken. So we had to treat it as a staircase; much less satisfactory.
Fort Canning Hill has a long history. In the 14th century it was probably the seat of a Malay kingdom, and it became known as Forbidden Hill because the last ruler was thought to be buried there. It was forbidden to climb the hill. When the British came in 1819 they unhesitatingly ascended the hill and erected a flagpole, then a house for the British Resident. None of the locals would accompany them up Forbidden Hill so they took Malays up with them to build the house & renamed it Government Hill. In 1861 a fort was added & the fort & its hill were named after the Viceroy of India, Viscount Canning. In the 1920’s a barracks was built, used today as an arts center, and an underground complex was built in 1936 to house the British Far East Command. Called the Battle Box, this is where the decision was made to surrender Singapore to the Japanese in 1942.
The Battle Box was our main objective on the hill, but it was closed by the time we got there. Among the things we did see on the hill were an old Christian cemetery, which operated from the 1820’s until the 1860’s. The most interesting graves were built into a long brick wall leading up to the Arts Center. There is a sculpture garden on the hill and some interesting flowers, a few of which are included here, but this is only a small taste of the flora you can see in the next episode.
We walked back to the shuttle stop and rode back to the port. The night brought another beautiful view of the lighted city from the ship. And so ended our first day in Singapore.
In the morning on March 12 the Amsterdam sailed up the Saigon River to Phu My & docked among the container cranes at a very industrial pier. There was nothing to do near the pier so we signed up for an excursion that would drive us the 1.5 hours into Saigon, drop us off for 5 hours on our own, then pick us up for the return to the port. Apart from spending 3 hours in a bus seat, this turned out to be a good trip. We visited many places we had seen on our tour in 2016, but this time we could set our own schedule and wander where we saw fit. To see our last visit to Saigon look here:
In Vietnam, as in most of Southeast Asia, motorbikes are kings of the road. You see whole families on a single motorbike: parents, children & babies. People use them to move surprisingly large things too. We once saw someone on a motorbike dragging a 12 foot ladder behind him. Another interesting thing here is that many people cover up their whole bodies and faces despite the withering heat and humidity. We were told that this is to prevent suntan because pale skin is considered more attractive here. If you have ever seen the movie “The Invisible Man,” that will give you some idea of how this can look.
Saigon is a huge city with many millions of people. There is construction everywhere, from a project of high rise residential buildings across the river called “New Town” or “New Saigon” to a subway in the middle of town being financed partly by the Japanese. The construction downtown actually made it somewhat difficult to get around.
The bus dropped us off in front of the tallest building in Saigon, near where the broad boulevard Nguyen Hue meets the river. This boulevard has streets on either side of a very broad pedestrian walkway. It was still dressed up for the lunar new year, but was mostly empty on the day we visited.
We walked up the boulevard, past the Rex Hotel where the American military press briefings (known to journalists as the “Five O’Clock Follies” because they were not easy to believe) were held during the war, to the Hotel de Ville. Built by the French in 1908 as the center of city administration, today it houses the People’s Committee responsible for governing Saigon. It is quite beautiful and is fronted by a park with a statue of Ho Chi Minh in the middle.
The park in front of the Hotel de Ville has many colorful flowers. So here are a few.
We walked over to see the Opera House, whose official name is the Municipal Theater. It was built by the French in 1898 and has elaborate carved stone details & fountains on the grounds. It was closed to the public but we were able to see the lobby through the glass door.
In front of the Opera House was a promotion for a play consisting of a whole lot of bamboo fish traps attached to a bicycle. Walking on, we came to a small park full of flowers and passed a monument in a tiny park commemorating something that happened on Christmas Eve in 1964, but we can’t read Vietnamese so we didn’t know what that was. We have since learned that this was the bombing of the Brinks Hotel in Saigon by the Viet Cong.
It appeared from signs we saw (again, we can’t read Vietnamese) that the city was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive that was a major turning point in the war. Although many more Vietnamese were killed than Americans in that battle, American confidence was shaken by the Viet Cong’s ability to invade the American embassy in Saigon. Tall sculptures of lotus blossoms decorated a number of street corners. We don’t know whether these were there for a special purpose or just normal. We walked around a little, visiting some stores & getting lost until we found ourselves back by the river. The streets of the city were pretty interesting in themselves.
Finally discovering the correct route (we had turned in the direction opposite from where we wanted to go), we walked up to the Post Office, built by Gustave Eiffel in 1891. The outside is bright yellow with carved stone decoration, including busts of famous European artists and philosophers. There is much hustle and bustle outside with street vendors selling, among other things, very colorful folded cards that open up like children’s pop-up books to display a Vietnamese building or scene. Inside is a vast hall with iron pillars and a portrait of Ho Chi Minh displayed prominently on the wall in the back. Its really an interesting building.
Across the street is the Notre Dame Cathedral, built by the French in 1880. It looks like brick but it is actually made of red tiles from Marseilles covering granite walls. It appeared to be undergoing renovation as it was mostly covered in wide scaffolding. Down the street to the right of the post office is the building where, we were told, the last American helicopters left Vietnam as the Vietnamese army was closing in on the city. It is the subject of a rather iconic photograph showing the desperate people left behind.
We had done a lot of walking on a hot & humid day, so we stopped for a late lunch in a restaurant next to the post office. We had pizza & beer, very refreshing. Unfortunately it was open on three sides & not air conditioned.
After lunch we walked down to the Ben Thanh Market, built in 1913 by (yes, again) the French. Inside are hundreds of vendors in booths divided largely by subject matter: clothing aisles, food aisles, etc. It is very crowded & busy and as you walk down an aisle each vendor jumps up to point you to their wares (as if you couldn’t see them yourself). Lots of bargaining going on and the shops have spilled over onto the surrounding streets.
After that we met our bus (having to fend off dozens of street merchants who kept approaching us as we waited) and drove back to the ship. It was a shame we had only one day in Vietnam this year.
On March 9 we were scheduled to go on a HAL excursion to Lantau Island In the New Territories, a part of Hong Kong that is somewhat closer to mainland China. So, after the long trek through the cruise terminal, we boarded the bus & set out.
Our first stop was rather useless. It seems that about 10 years ago China completed the Tsing Ma Bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, between Hong Kong & Lantau. Before crossing the bridge we stopped at a sort of park that was built as a visitor’s center for the bridge. Why would you want to go to a viewing station for a bridge? That’s a good question, to which we never got a reasonable answer.
We saw some nice flowers in Hong Kong & many of them were in this park. So here is a selection.
So we crossed the bridge and entered Lantau Island. After the crowded skyscrapers of Hong Kong it is rather a surprise that Lantau has so much undeveloped green area. And to keep it that way they have instituted strict environmental regulations. Most notably for us, only vehicles certified as meeting Lantau’s environmental standards are permitted to drive there. This meant that shortly after entering the island we had to stop and change to a bus that satisfies the regulations. They have begun work on a tunnel under the bay between Kowloon & Lantau, which is expected to make travel there much easier. Lantau was pretty much a backwater until the new airport was built there in 1998 (the old one was where our ship docked this year). Today it also houses the Hong Kong Disneyland, in addition to the attractions we visited while there.
Our first stop was to visit Tai O village, one of the oldest fishing villages in Hong Kong. It was once the center of Lantau’s thriving salt trade with mainland China. Today it is a regular stop for visitors to Lantau but still engages in fishing and has several good seafood restaurants. It is situated on both sides of a channel between Lantau and a smaller island; once you had to cross on a boat but today there is a bridge.
After crossing the bridge onto the island side you come shortly to what our guide told us is the Kwan Ti temple. Built around 1500, it is dedicated to the god of war. Next to it is a tiny temple dedicated to the god of sailing that looks just as old.
The roof of the Kwan Ti temple is lined with what looks like colored ceramic figures of beasts, including a lion and a bird that may be a goose, along with a number of people who may represent former residents of the town. They are looking very good if they have been outside on the top of a building for 500 years of squalls and typhoons.
We spent some time walking up and down the streets of the village. There were a number of shops open to the street (lots of tourists come here), including several food shops, some with blowfish hanging from the awning & some with live fish that can be purchased and carried to a restaurant for preparation.
Leaving Tai O we drove to the Tian Tan Buddha, a massive structure known colloquially as the Big Buddha. It is cast in bronze and is well over 100 feet high and weighs about 250 tons. Until recently it was the largest seated bronze Buddha in the world but our guide told us that a bigger one was opened recently. We were expecting to be able to walk up the 268 steps to the Buddha, sitting on a bed of lotus petals, but apparently we were behind schedule since they drove us to the top instead. On the walkway below the Buddha are large bronze sculptures of three maidens making offerings to him.
The Buddha is on top of a mountain, so there are some great views from there, including one of the Lin Po Monastery below, where we had lunch.
We drove down in the bus (boo) & walked along a promenade lined with statues of old Chinese generals toward the Monastery. We did not get to tour it, but we did eat a very good vegetarian Chinese lunch at a restaurant in the Monastery.
After lunch we walked back up the promenade to a commercial area of restaurants (Starbucks) & souvenir shops called Ngong Ping Village. Its not really a village at all, but it is the terminus for the cable car to Tung Chung, the town near the airport. We climbed in the gondola, which is suspended from a cable very high in the air. It took about half an hour to go over the top of a mountain and down to Tung Chung. As we left we had a nice view of the Big Buddha sitting on top of its mountain and as we neared the end we had a gut-wrenching but beautiful view of the airport far beneath us. One woman in our gondola kept her eyes shut the whole time!
We transferred to the bus at Tung Chung and drove back to the cruise port. On the way we passed a tall building under construction covered in bamboo scaffolding, which is common here (take a closer look at the scaffolding in the first Tai O picture), as is wash hanging from the balconies of high rise residential buildings. Our guide told us that because electricity is quite expensive in Hong Kong people wash their clothes in machines but hang them outside to dry for free.
We sailed away at sunset and passed a stilted village on the other side of the harbor. After dinner we went to bed as the ship sailed south toward Vietnam.
We woke up on March 8 in Hong Kong, on the Kowloon side of the harbor. Unfortunately we were docked at Kai Tak terminal, a converted airport half an hour’s drive from the center of town, instead of the ocean terminal right by the Star Ferry where we docked last time. You can see that three day visit here:
Conditions were pretty poor for a visit to Hong Kong. It was cold, windy & drizzly. Kai Tak is a terrible cruise port; you have to walk about a mile (really!) from the ship to reach the bus terminal. Then once the shuttle bus finally leaves it is a half hour drive through nasty traffic to the drop off at the Peninsula Hotel, near where we docked last time & the Star Ferry Terminal. And once we arrived there our bus had to circle the block three times before finding a place by the curb where we could get off. So, after all that, you can start your visit to Hong Kong. We were told that the building on the left in the picture below is the tallest in Hong Kong, which is saying something because Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than any other city in the world.
We wanted to take the HOHO bus around Hong Kong island, which required us to take the Star Ferry across the bay. The Star Ferry is a venerable institution in Hong Kong, begun in 1898, & still costs well under a dollar for a ride. Well worth it, since its also fun. We crossed the harbor & boarded the two tier bus, taking seats with a view on the top.
The HOHO runs a circular route through the city, allowing you to see a great deal as you go & to get off at any stop you would like to explore on foot. We passed the tram station for going up to Victoria Peak (bad day for this because it was covered with clouds), the botanical garden, the mid level escalators that climb halfway up toward the peak, all of which we visited last time. It continued through Happy Valley which contains a famous race track & out past several bays and the Ocean Park amusement park.
We finally reached the first of two objectives for the day, a remote spot called Stanley. Today it is a high priced residential area, but in the 19jth century it was a fishing village and a base for pirates. Stanley has a large bay that was beautiful even on a dark & cloudy day.
Most people come here to visit the Stanley Market, a crowded maze of stalls selling every kind of Chinese souvenir you can imagine in a large range of prices.
We re-boarded the bus & headed for our second destinatiion, Aberdeen. On the way we passed Repulse Bay, once a pirate hangout that got its name when the British Navy drove them away. Its beach has been a popular since the 1920’s and on nice weekend days it may have tens of thousands of bathers (but certainly not today!). On the hill above is a large curvy blue residential building with a large hole in the middle that was dictated by Feng Shui, the Chinese system of architectural arrangement.
Aberdeen is a town built around a harbor that was once crowded with Chinese junks on which families lived and sold fish, flowers and other items. Today it has a lot of boats parked in rows but it doesn’t appear that many are actually living on board. We were told that most of the families who once lived on the boats here were moved into the residential skyscrapers lining the harbor, which house some 60,000 people.
We toured the harbor on a sampan that was decorated profusely with plastic flowers and lanterns.
We spent about 20 minutes sailing around the harbor, up and down the rows of boats. Are any of these house boats? We don’t know. It was raining so there was no activity on the boats. We don’t know what it would be like on a nice day. This is a very active fishing harbor, bringing in about a third of all the seafood in Hong Kong.
Two huge floating restaurants sit in Aberdeen harbor, one called Tai Pak and the other called Jumbo. We were told that these restaurants are an experience but that the food has gone downhill in recent years, although that on the top floor of the Jumbo is making a comeback. Our sampan sailed around these restaurants. They are brightly lit at night, but of course we weren’t there at night.
We re-boarded the bus to go back to the pier. It had become very cold, windy & drizzly while we were at Aberdeen, so we decided to sit inside rather than on top. Unfortunately the bus was quite late & by the time it got to us the inside was full, so we had to sit on top. The cold wind made for a very unpleasant ride, but we made it (without getting sick, surprisingly). We crossed back to Kowloon on the ferry & rode the shuttle bus back to the ship.
That evening there was a Chinese cultural show. It was pretty much the same one we saw here two years ago but it was still good & fun to watch. The highlights were the dragon dance & the fellow who changes faces (masks) so quickly you can’t see it happening. We were told this is a highly respected art in China and the one we saw is one of the best.
So that was all for day 1, dampened by weather and shortened by the remoteness of the cruise terminal (and a substantial delay in the port officials clearing the ship so passengers could disembark in the morning). Hong Kong puts on a great light show at night, with lasers and changing lights on buildings, but that is in the central part of town where we docked last year and we couldn’t see it from this year’s berth. But we went out on deck and this part of Hong Kong across the harbor was still pretty spectacular at night. As we headed for bed we were hoping for better weather for day 2 when we would be taking a HAL tour.
March 6 found us still in Manila. After exhausting ourselves walking in the humid heat on our first day we were somewhat relieved to be going on a bus excursion today. Unfortunately, the excursion turned out to be less interesting than we had hoped.
Leaving the port, we had a pleasant if uneventful ride through the countryside. We stopped at a fruit stand in the mountains and had an opportunity to taste some local fruits, including very sweet bananas about 4 inches long and small pineapples that were very sweet & juicy.
Our destination was the village of Tagaytay, a mountain resort area about an hour from Manila that attracts Manilans because it is a good bit cooler. The primary attraction here is the Taal volcano, the smallest volcano in the world. It sits in a lake formed by the caldera of a much larger ancient volcano, so it is a volcano inside of a lake inside of a volcano on an island in the ocean.
It is possible to visit the volcano: there is a hiking track up the hill to the caldera from a small village on the coast nearby. But all we were able to do was look at it from the hill behind the hotel where we ate lunch (a pretty good brunch with local food).
At the foot of the mountains on our side of the lake was a fishing village with a lot of fish traps offshore.
There were some nice flowers on the grounds of the hotel, where we strolled after lunch.
So that was it. We left Tagaytay & its tiny volcano & headed back to Manila, where we had a brief drive through Intramuros before returning to the ship. A relaxing day, if not too exciting.
While the day trip was a little disappointing, the sail away from Manila was anything but. The sun was beginning to drop in the sky as we left & part of the city was covered by a dramatic gray cloud. There were double outrigger fishing boats in the water nearby, apparently heading for home, as we sailed away from the dock.
As we sailed across the huge harbor the sun shone down from behind a cloud onto Bataan (once the location of a notorious Japanese prison camp).
We sailed out of the bay between Corregidor and Bataan. Unfortunately Corregidor is much smaller & lower, so we were unable to get a good picture of it before the sun went down.
We left the harbor after the sun set & sailed on to our next adventure.
When we woke up on May 5 Amsterdam was docked at the best located pier in Manila, right near the port gate. Manila is the capital of the Philippines, with a population of more than 12 million in its governing district. After periods of control by the Malays and the Sultan of Brunei, the Spanish ruled here for more than 300 years beginning in the middle of the 16th century. The Americans took over in 1898 after the Spanish American war, then the country became independent after World War II.
There is concern about piracy in the waters of this area, so Amsterdam had instituted anti-piracy procedures when we set sail for the Philippines. This had also been done in 2016 before entering the Red Sea but this time there was no razor wire strung around the lower promenade deck. Instead we just had the water hoses and long range ear shattering noise machines at the ready, and the lights were turned off at night while a beefed up security team kept watch across the water. We had a piracy drill (go to a protected area inside the ship) and we were told that we were being followed constantly by radar with warships not far away. So of course nothing happened. But better safe than sorry.
We also noticed in this area that there is a lot of trash floating in the water. This is a pretty disappointing sight & it would be nice if there were some international effort to do something about it.
Anyway, since we were docked so close to the old part of Manila we decided to walk around and explore it ourselves. As we left the ship we were greeted by a very lively xylophone band dancing as they played, and some local women welcomed us with necklaces (as had been done in Puerto Princesa as well).
A lot of construction was in progress at the port and it took some time to negotiate our way to the gate. In this area we also saw the first of many anti-drug signs; from what we have read in the Philippines these days a person suspected of dealing in drugs is as likely to die from summary police execution as from the effects of the drugs. Then there were a few blocks to walk out of the port to the main street. Along this street were countless fellows wanting to sell you rides and tours. We kept saying “no thank you,” but it was odd to see someone who has just watched you reject 10 people selling the same tour step out nonetheless to ask if you want to hire him. I guess it doesn’t hurt to ask, but how often can that be successful?
It was a much longer walk than expected to reach the Intramuros (“inside the walls”) area, the old town. That was because there was a very long fence with no gates along the side of the wall facing the main street near the dock. The old city is surrounded by walls, originally built by the Spanish in the 16th century. They also built a double moat, but the Americans found it unsanitary and filled it in, then built a golf course over it. Today the golf course runs all along the wall, so there is no entrance to Intramuros through it.
The traffic in Manila is horrendous & you take your life in your hands when you try to cross the street. This was another reason our walks took so long and difficult in the heat and humidity. A lot of local folks get around in what is called a “jeepny,” a sort of jitny made by welding a bus-like structure to the back of a jeep. These appeared after the war, made out of surplus US Army jeeps. They are very colorful and, we are told, inexpensive and fun to ride. We didn’t have an opportunity to try one.
The Manila Cathedral stands on what was the central square of old Manila, called Plaza Mayor. First completed around 1580, it was destroyed by a typhoon within 2 years and has been destroyed and rebuilt some 6 times. The current building was destroyed, along with almost everything else in Intramuros, by Japanese and American bombs and shelling during the Battle of Manila in 1945 when the Japanese forces made their last stand here. More than 100,000 Filipino civilians were killed in one month during that battle, many through indiscriminate massacres by Japanese solders occupying the area. The cathedral was rebuilt along the same lines as the previous one in the mid 1950’s.
Playa Mayor in front of the cathedral had several art installations. On the left, looking from the cathedral, was a large building labeled as the governor’s residence. We weren’t sure which governor this referred to (Spanish or American?) or whether this building represented what the governor’s residence looked like or just marked the spot where it stood.
Walking on we passed some interesting wall art & came to a very nice little park with a monument at the center erected in 1995. Called “Memorare Manila,” it memorializes those lost in the Battle of Manila. A woman in the center holds a dead baby and is surrounded by other dead people and a victim of rape.
It was not too long a walk to San Agustin Church, completed in 1607. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and famed as the only building in Intramuros to survive the fighting in 1945, when only its roof was destroyed.
One enters through what was once a convent attached to the church but has now been rebuilt as a museum. The museum tells the story of Manila through text and artifacts. Manila was a trading outpost for the Spanish, who exchanged silver mined in their Mexican and South American colonies for Chinese silks, ivory and porcelain, along with spices and gems from other parts of Asia. The Spanish galleons carried on this trade on a route between Manila and Acapulco for 300 years.
The baroque interior of the church itself is quite beautiful. Of particular interest to us was the ceiling and walls, which are covered by extraordinarily effective trompe l’oeil paintings of what appear to the naked eye to be architectural details. It wasn’t until we got very close that we could see that it was painted rather than real.
In the balcony is an old pipe organ and a wooden music stand that is several centuries old and holds some 17th century sheet music. Around the balcony are 68 choir seats, carved and inlaid in the early 17th century.
We also happened upon the church library, nicely finished in polished wood with a globe.
Between the church and the museum is a courtyard containing a small park called the cloisters.
There was actually quite a bit more in this facility, including a lot of old paintings and artifacts, but this was the main stuff (and all that we have pictures of).
Leaving the church, we walked to Rizal Park. This is a huge park with a lot of features we didn’t have time to explore. It is dedicated to Jose Rizal, an important Filipino martyr during the war for independence from the Spanish in the 1890’s. Rizal was executed in this park for treason and his remains are now interred under the monument to him at the front of the park.
Most of the flowers we saw this day were in the park, so this is a good place to show some of them.
We managed to find the National Library, which was on one side of Rizal Park. It was large & you had to present your identification to a policeman at a podium outside the door to gain entrance. The library seemed to be in the midst of renovation, with lots of empty shelves and books piled up in empty rooms. We found one room that was in use as a library, but when I took a picture I was admonished that this is not allowed. Why would a library be a secret?
We walked back to the ship, a pretty long way on a very hot and humid day. We saw statues of Benigno and Corazon Aquino, leaders of the movement that overthrew the Marcos regime. We also saw homeless people sleeping in the park.
By the time we negotiated our way back to the ship we were dead tired. That much exercise out In the heat and humidity, fighting dreadful traffic, can really take it out of you. We didn’t see everything we had intended to see but we saw quite a lot that was very interesting and learned a lot about this huge city. And we still had another day to spend here. Manila was lit up in the night as we headed for bed.
Amsterdam docked in Puerto Princesa on the morning of March 3. So, welcome to . . .
Founded by the Spanish in 1872, Puerto Princesa today has a population of about a quarter of a million people. It is the capital of Palawan province and the westernmost city in the Philippines.
It was a hot and humid day as we left the ship to walk into town. The streets near the port were not very picturesque but there were many nice flowers we saw throughout the day.
Our first stop was to visit the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. Built in 1961 on the spot where the first mass was celebrated a few days after Puerta Princesa was founded, it was undergoing restoration when we were there. A white building with blue windows and two towers that can be seen from the port, it is one of the more distinctive buildings in town. In front of the church is a statue of Jose Rizal, an important Philippine hero & martyr, a leader in the campaign for independence from Spain at the end of the 19th century who was executed at the age of 35 for treason.
We walked on to the Palawan Museum further into the downtown area. The streets were pretty mundane, but we saw a lot of what they call “tricycles.” These operate like taxis, but consist of a metal enclosure for two or three people attached to a motorcycle. A lot of them stopped as we walked to offer us a ride; apparently it is difficult to believe that folks of our age can walk places in this kind of weather. But we politely declined them all and continued walking. The flags hanging over the streets were apparently in preparation for a holiday parade the day after our visit to commemorate the founding of the city.
The Palawan Museum reviews the history, cultures & ecology of the area. People have been living in this area for well over 10,000 years and there are a number of ancient artifacts here. They have items recovered from sunken Spanish galleons, including porcelain originating in China. We also saw models of a number of indigenous fauna. Housed in a building that used to be the city hall, this is not a big museum but it is very nice. Air conditioning would be a helpful addition!
Next door to the museum is the very small public library. Unfortunately it was closed the day we were there so we could not see the inside. The museum and library both border Mendoza Park where a dancing group was rehearsing, presumably for the imminent holiday.
We walked through a Chinese neighborhood with a large shopping mall. Its streets were decorated with Chinese red lanterns instead of flags. Like some other cities we have seen in Southeast Asia, Puerto Princesa’s streets were lined with many electrical wires meeting in massively tangled junctions.
We walked back toward the cathedral. Right across the street is a park called Plaza Cuartel. This was a Japanese garrison during World War II. On December 14, 1944 they detected a large American task force that they feared was headed their way. They herded their 150 American POW’s into an air raid shelter tunnel in the Plaza and set it on fire, burning the Americans alive. Eleven of them escaped with the aid of Philippine guerillas. There is a small sculpture in the park commemorating the victims, along with several large placards that tell their story in words and pictures. Today this is a very nice park, apart from the memorial to its grizzly history, with many colorful flowers and a nice view of the bay.
From the Plaza we headed back to the ship. We passed a school and some houses with interesting decorations made of old bicycle tires. We passed Amsterdam’s Hotel Manager, Henk, riding alone on his bicycle built for two, and also another copy of a notice we saw posted all around town seeking workers for South Korea. Near the port was some laundry hung out to dry on a barbed wire fence: no need for clothespins to keep these clothes from blowing away in the wind. And there was a giant municipal Christmas tree on a walk along the bay.
As the ship prepared to leave that evening the locals wished us “Bon Voyage” with dance & music.
Across the bay we could see from Amsterdam’s Lido deck a fishing village complete with boats & houses on stilts. We saw several double-outrigger fishing boats nearer the ship as well, probably heading for home.
As we pulled away from the pier the sun began to go down & the bay was alight with gray clouds and slate blue sea. It was dramatic enough to warrant more than one picture.
So that was all for Puerto Princesa as the ship headed out to sea and we headed to dinner.
Before we get to what we did on February 27, our second day in Bali, the last episode ended with a promise of Balinese dancers. This was an excellent dance troop, very graceful in executing complicated and subtle dances. The Gamelan orchestra was really good too. You might think their music was just cacophony if you did not pay close attention, but it was actually quite beautiful. The orchestra played a piece and then there were four dances, including a warrior’s dance & a bird dance (can’t remember what the other ones were called).
Our second day was to be dedicated to the master craft studios of the Ubud-Mas area. The local royal family began cultivating artists and artisans in the 1930’s and it became a center for native and foreign artists. It was not until the 1980’s that it began to grow into the large town (about 30,000) known for its arts that is so attractive to foreign visitors today. One could easily spend several days exploring Ubud’s palaces, galleries and museums but we didn’t have that kind of time so we opted to spend our time at several art & craft galleries in the area.
As on the first day, the traffic leaving the port was really bad. Crossing a bridge we had a glimpse of Mt Agung, the volcano that has erupted a couple of times in the last six months. Unfortunately, the picture was taken from the back of a bouncing van, so its pretty unclear, but it’s the only one we have. We also passed people working in their rice fields. The people of Bali give offerings to the Hindu gods pretty much every day. Consisting mostly of fruit and flowers, often in a small tray that is sometimes placed in a small shrine, you see these everywhere. Our driver was no exception.
Our first stop was at a textile gallery. Most of these galleries had people working on the products as well as a showroom for purchases. The textile place specializes in batik. There are three techniques, in order of increasing difficulty (and price): printing on the fabric, hand stamping patterns of color, and using dye and wax to create the entire colored pattern by hand.
A weaver was also working outside the shop. Most of the workers we saw were outside the galleries; cooler presumably, and also good advertising.
Next we visited a silver studio and gallery called Yan Yan. We really have no idea where in the Ubud area each of these galleries was; it often seemed to take quite a bit of driving to get from one to the other. We did not walk the streets of Ubud, but just drove to various galleries. All were interesting though, both to see the craftsmen at work and their finished wares.
Inside, the showroom was extensive including several rooms of jewelry and unusual sculpture.
In the courtyard out front was a statue of Ganesh, the elephant headed Hindu god. There were some lovely flowers as well. Across the street was a house that must belong to a wealthy person.
After Yan Yan, Gede took us to visit what he described as a typical Balinese house. It was more of a compound of one room buildings than a house, surrounded by a wall. It seems doubtful that poor Balinese can afford digs like this, so this must be a typical middle class house. Daytime activity apparently takes place outdoors where it is a little cooler, with sleeping indoors. We were given some of the impossibly thinly sliced pancakes, which were quite good.
In the back of the compound was an area set aside for shrines. But that didn’t mean there weren’t offering trays elsewhere.
Many colorful flowers decorated the family compound.
Several chickens were penned into small woven baskets and a rooster was strutting around near them. A porcupine was nearby. In front of the street gate of the compound sat a stone guard looking very cool with a red flower above each of his ears. I guess he was wishing us a friendly goodbye.
After this we visited a wood carving shop. This may have been the most interesting one of all, chock full of fantastic carvings. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside. But outside we watched some of the craftsmen carving and finishing wood sculptures. Really interesting.
We had lunch at a restaurant called Bebek Joni, which was open on one side to a series of rice paddies. The food was very good (we had duck) & really inexpensive.
As usual in Bali, there were stone sculptures, even in front of the restrooms. In the rice paddy was a very large female goddess (presumably), & the rice paddies were, as always, picturesque.
After lunch we went to our last stop of the day: Semar Kiming painters’ cooperative. No photography was permitted inside the gallery, which was huge with a wide variety of paintings. While we were in the front room talking to the manager we heard a siren & a police car appeared leading a caravan of vans. He indicated we should move along to the next room & we thought maybe it was a visit by a foreign dignitary. It turned out to be a HAL tour!
On our way back to the ship Gede stopped the van to view a really spectacular traffic circle sculpture of an important Hindu story that is the basis for a well known Balinese dance.
And so we came to the end of a two day adventure that was pretty much the top highlight of the voyage to this point. It would have been even cooler if the following picture were real rather than fantasy (although, come to think of it, this might have resulted in chaos), but as it was everyone had a really great time. You may think you have seen this picture earlier, but look at it closely.
We arrived in Benoa, Bali early on the morning of February 26 for a two day visit. Along with our tablemates we had rented a van, complete with driver and guide, for the full two days. This was quite economical compared to the alternatives (there is nothing you can walk to from the pier) and it also allowed us the flexibility to decide for ourselves where to go and when, although for the most part we followed our guide Gede’s excellent advice. This is definitely not a place where you should drive yourself, as the traffic is unbelievable. We were welcomed as we left the ship by a Gamelan orchestra and some Balinese dancers.
Last time we were here we took a day long excursion to several impressive temples and palaces in eastern Bali. You can see that here:
This time we set out for central Bali. The traffic around the port was horrendous but eventually our excellent driver got us through it and we headed for a monkey forest called Obyek Wisata Sangeh. There are at least five monkey forests in Bali that can be visited and the monkeys in some of them have very bad reputations for stealing items from tourists (like sunglasses or cameras) and even for biting & scratching. In others the monkeys stay away from visitors high in the trees. Ours was in the Goldilocks zone between these extremes, since the monkeys were very friendly and did not bite or steal anything. The forest was of nutmeg trees, very tall and imposing, and there were some sculptures and an old temple near the beginning.
The monkeys looked like the flying monkeys from The Wizard Of Oz, with points of hair on top of their heads. The monkeys appear to be well trained to climb on the backs of visitors, knowing that the fellows who work here will give them something to eat if they do. Still, it was fun and the monkeys made it onto the shoulders of everybody but Mary, who shooed them away.
Even without people, the monkeys were fun to watch.
From the monkey forest we drove on to a Hindu temple called Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. Bali is full of temples, some 10,000 in all according to our guide. And that doesn’t include small shrines in what seems to be just about every house you pass. Built in 1633 on the shore of Lake Bratan, Ulun Danu Bratan is some 3600 feet above sea level & one of the most important temples in Bali. It is dedicated to Dewi Danu, a water and fertility goddess, and is an important pilgrimage site for the Balinese. On the day we visited the weather was chilly & wet with the mountains behind the lake hidden by a thick cloud. You could not go into the temple & its grounds outside were thick with tourists. Despite all that it was quite beautiful.
Outside on the temple grounds there was a bit of a Disneyland atmosphere, with figures of beasts & birds, even Spongebob Squarepants. In the lake you could rent bird shaped pedal boats. Quite incongruous at a religious shrine. As you walked into the grounds there was a sign with rules, one of which seemed pretty offensive to women.
We walked around the temple toward the lake side. There were some small pavilions & some double outrigger boats near the path.
Around the back of the temple on the lake were several islands containing pavilions and sculptures. They looked like they were floating, but we don’t think they really were. One had bamboo surrounded by two dragons and the others had several pavilions and sculptures. They were quite beautiful, even with the mountains behind them invisible because of the low cloud cover.
Bali is filled with flowers, many of which we saw at this temple. So this is a good place for the flora section. Hang on, there are a lot of them!
Stone carvings are very big in Bali; you see them everywhere & often pass stone carving shops when driving around the island. There are many stone carvings at this temple, including a large Buddhist stupa with golden statues of Buddha in it facing in each of the four directions. We came across a Dik-Dik, a small species of antelope, that was penned on the grounds. There was also a large banyan tree dressed up in a skirt.
Given the choice of eating inside the temple grounds or outside we decided to go to a buffet restaurant not far from the temple. As soon as we stepped inside the heavens opened up & it poured rain; the rain stopped shortly before we left. So that seemed like a good omen. The lunch was very good & surprisingly inexpensive.
After lunch Gede took us to a produce market. Quite colorful, but really unnecessary. One fellow there was selling “Rolex” watches for $10 (with a lifetime guarantee!). He had them mounted on a board & when no one bought he lowered the price to $5. Still no one bought, so he went down to $2.00 without any success. As we wandered through the market, Bob encountered him again on another aisle and, apparently not recognizing him, the guy asked for $10. Bob said “What happened to the $2.00,” and that was the last we saw of him.
Next we went to see a landscape of rice terraces that is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. As we understand it, these are separate farmers’ fields, each with a storage building, but the Subak water distribution system is operated cooperatively. The water appears to filter down from terrace to terrace. At the top was a water trough with a tiny water wheel, & the water seems to originate from one of the mountain lakes, but we weren’t sure about all that. We were quite sure that this area is very beautiful.
Time was now getting short so we went to see another famous temple. We had wanted to see one called Uluwatu, which is perched on a high cliff. But road construction had made the traffic in that area impossible so we went to a temple called Tanah Lot. It is on an island just off the coast and is accessible from the shore only at low tide. It wasn’t low tide when we were there and we aren’t sure that non-Hindus would have been admitted anyway. The sun was getting low in the sky, which made for a beautiful vista.
A small temple called Pura Batu Balong was a short walk up the coast from Tanah Lot. It was on an island connected to the mainland by a natural bridge.
We left Tanah Lot & drove back to the ship after a very full day. There was a Balinese dance performance on the ship, but this episode is already too long so tomorrow’s episode will start with that show.
We arrived at Freemantle for an overnight stay at 4:00 PM on February 21. Founded in 1829, when Captain Charles Freemantle claimed all of western Australia for England, it is located at the mouth of the Swan River about 12 miles from Perth, the capital of Western Australia, and is one of the main ports in the region. Its population is close to 30,000 today.
Once the ship was cleared by the dock officials we walked out of the harbor and crossed a metal pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks. On the dock by the ship was a small band of Australians singing “Waltzing Matilda.”
Walking toward the center of town we passed several old churches.
Freemantle (known locally as “Freo”) is characterized by its many Victorian buildings, some of which we passed on our walk the first afternoon.
In the middle of town we saw the Town Hall, opened in 1887, with its imposing clock tower. The garish asymmetrical yellow stripes at the top were a mystery until later on the second day. Near it was a small platform with plants called the “Tiny Park,” intended as a brief respite from crowds on busy days. It was very tiny, maybe 8 feet in length.
Returning to the ship we had to clear Australian security, which turned out to be absurdly tight. We had to remove everything metal to get through the detector, including Rick’s belt & wallet. Mary had to be wanded because of her titanium knee . . . and the rivets on her blue jeans. It was silly, since the only place you could go afterward was on the ship, which has its own metal detectors that are not quite as tightly wound. So if that was good enough for the ship it seemed it should be good enough for the Australians.
We had thought to spend the second day in Perth. But we were leaving at 4:00 & Perth was a train ride away, and we hadn’t seen much of Freemantle. So we decided to spend the second day in Freemantle and save Perth for another visit. This turned out to be a good choice.
So after breakfast we left the ship and headed to the left this time to find the Freemantle Arts Centre. On the way we passed what looks like a nice cruise ship with large windows in every room. Actually, it is the world’s largest sheep transport ship, which would be taking export sheep to the Middle East. We could almost see the sheep checking into their rooms and unpacking before heading to the buffet for breakfast! In fact the ship was empty at that time, but we were told that when it is full you can smell it before you see it.
The Freemantle Arts Centre was built by convicts in the 1860’s as the Freemantle Lunatic Asylum. The current exhibit was “Museum Of Water” and our friend Robert, who was already there, told us it consisted entirely of jars of water with labels of where they were collected. So we decided we didn’t need to see that. The grounds were lovely, though, with some nice flowers & some birds nearby.
We decided to visit the Freemantle Prison next, but it took a great deal of looking before we found it. The prison was built in the 1850’s by the first group of convicts transported here from England. Before the convict transportation system was shut down in 1886 some 10,000 men had been sent here. It was used as the local prison after that until 1991, when it was closed and opened to the public for visiting. The remains of the eleven convict prisons in Australia are all part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the one in Freemantle is in the best condition (after some restoration).
Our friends Robert & Bill were at the prison when we arrived & we were in the same group for the tour. Our delightful guide, Moira, was full of interesting stories & was a dramatic story teller. We set out to walk through the cell blocks, depressing to say the least.
We visited the prison library and the chapel. Then Moira took us down for a look at the solitary confinement building, where each cell had an inner and outer door & a food slot. Outside was the site for lashings with a cat o’ nine-tails, which Moira deftly demonstrated on one of the hapless visitors.
Headed for the Shipwreck Galleries, we walked past what appeared to be the rugby stadium, the Freemantle Market (built in 1897), only open on weekends, and an odd street sign & some wall art.
The Shipwreck Galleries are housed in a building built by convicts in the 1850’s as a government warehouse. It houses artifacts & displays relating to . . . shipwrecks in western Australia. Its prize display is of part of the hull of the Dutch ship Batavia, which sank in 1829 on its way to Batavia (now Jakarta). Among other things, it was carrying stones intended to complete the gates of the city of Batavia, which have now been assembled in the museum. The full story of the Batavia sinking is a lurid one, and the museum also presents the story of its recovery in 1972.
We stopped for a delicious lunch of fish & chips at a nearby restaurant called Char Char then headed over to the Round House. The Round House (actually an octagon) was built in 1831 to serve as the local jail and is the oldest remaining building in Western Australia. It is built on the spot where Captain Freemantle claimed western Australia for the crown. It had 8 cells opening onto a central courtyard. A tunnel was built below it to enable whalers to transfer their catch directly from the water into the town.
Meanwhile, remember those garish yellow stripes on the top of the Town Hall? It turns out that they are part of a temporary art installation that can only be seen properly from the steps of the Round House. From there it looks like a large tunnel made of yellow semicircles stretching down the street to the Town Hall. From below it doesn’t.
Back on the ship for the sail away, we could see Perth in the distance (about 12 miles away) & the sheep ship being loaded. A huge solid body Japanese ship was nearby unloading Toyotas. And there was a yacht that the Captain told us cost 200 million US dollars (10 years earlier the Amsterdam hand cost only $50 million more than that).
As we sailed away we had one last view of Freemantle in the sunny afternoon, then as we left the port we passed a forest of yacht masts. This was our last glimpse of Australia as we headed into the Indian Ocean toward Indonesia.
After two fairly rough days at sea crossing the Australian bight we reached Albany on the morning of February 20.
Founded in 1826 by a group sent out from Sydney, Albany was a home to whalers until 1978 & was an important stop on the shipping route from Britain to Sydney. Until 1897 it was the only deep water port in Western Australia. Situated on Princess Royal Harbor inside the much larger King George Sound, Its population is about 34,000.
The coast in this region can be quite dramatic & our excursion set out early in the morning to see some of it. We visited Torndirrup National Park to see two formations in the coastal rocks that are within walking distance of each other. The first is called “The Gap,” an inlet into the rocky shore where the tides rush in. A walkway has been built part of the way over the gap to give a better view.
Not far away is the Natural Bridge. You can walk near, but not over, the Bridge.
This rocky and inhospitable area had quite a few flowers & also some unusual plants whose trunks stretched far over the rocks, looking dead but supporting greenery at the end.
Driving back from the National Park we passed a field with a horse feeding while wild kangaroos breakfasted in the field behind him.
We returned to Albany & drove up Mt Clarence. Near the top is a monument to the ANZAC troops who fought in Palestine during World War I (ANZAC is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corp). This monument was originally erected in Port Said, Egypt, in 1932 but was destroyed during the Suez crisis in 1956. The base & plinth were sent back to Australia but the sculpture had been irreparably destroyed. A new version of the monument was created and the whole thing was erected here in 1964. The sculpture shows a mounted Australian and a dismounted New Zealand soldier in action.
Albany is a center for ANZAC remembrance because it was from this harbor that the more than 40,000 ANZAC volunteers set sail in two convoys to fight in World War I. The first convoy left on November 1, 1914. Many of those troops fought in the battle of Gallipoli in Turkey, an unsuccessful amphibious campaign designed to take Turkey out of the war early. One of the famous battles there was for “One Pine Hill,” so named because a single pine tree was at the top. Near the monument here is the Lone Pine memorial, consisting of a pine tree planted in 1974 from a pine cone collected by some soldiers from the top of One Pine Hill, after the original pine tree had been destroyed in the battle.
At the top of the mountain above these memorials is the Mt Clarence Lookout, with fabulous views over Albany and King George Sound. Ships have to come through the narrow passage in the foreground to enter Princess Royal Harbor and the Albany dock. This passage is called Ataturk Entrance, apparently named after Kemal Ataturk, the first president of modern Turkey and also a general who fought against the ANZAC troops at Gallipoli.
Next we toured the nearby National Anzac Centre, a museum dedicated to the ANZAC troops of World War I. It was very interesting with cutting edge interactive technology, although a little light on artifacts. The focus was on individuals who were part of the Anzac force. Each visitor receives a card describing one Anzac member, then you can follow their personal experiences as you proceed through the museum, reading about the battles & the people who fought in them. The museum opened on November 1, 2014, the 100th anniversary of the departure of the first convoy of troops. It is very evocative.
We drove back into town & the bus dropped us off on York Street, the main street in town. Albany has no stoplights, only roundabouts at the intersections. We walked up the street, lined with old Victorian buildings. Among other things, we passed the Town Hall, erected in 1888, which was also the place to catch the shuttle back to the ship. There was also an interesting statue of Mokare, an elder of the Noongar Aboriginal people who was instrumental in establishing good relations with the British settlers in 1826. Monuments to Aboriginal people seem to be pretty rare in our limited experience. A plaque explained that this was a “reconciliation project.” Near the Town Hall was a large poster depicting the head of this statue.
We stopped for lunch at the Albany Hotel, built in 1835. Among the best fish & chips we have ever had, along with some tasty local brew.
The public library was under renovation so it didn’t look like much from the outside. But it was still in operation inside, although a two week closure was imminent.
We saw more flora after our return from the National Park in the morning. So here is what some of it looked like.
Last but not least we walked up to visit the Dog Rock. It looks very much like a dog’s head, especially since someone has painted a collar around the dog’s neck. We have read that the Noongar Aborginal people called this “Boondie Yokine” before the Europeans came, which translates as “Dog Rock.”
Back on the ship, we had nice views of the port and of the wind farm on the opposite side of the harbor. Some 18 huge windmills sit atop a ridge. We were told that there are only 7 days a year when there is insufficient wind to turn the turbines (the day we were there was certainly not one of them) and that the wind farm supplies about 80% of all the local electricity. Solar panels provide most of the rest.
We pulled away from the dock and headed out through Ataturk Entrance. On the island to our right was a flock of Cormorants.
A lot of locals had parked their cars on the mountain beside Albany to watch us sail out.
As evening fell we sailed out into King George Sound and thence into the Southern Ocean.
We spent February 17 in Adelaide, having docked during the night after the very short sail from Penneshaw (less than 10 miles). Adelaide was first settled by Europeans in 1836, displacing the Aboriginal Kaurna people whose culture was destroyed within a couple of decades. It was named for Queen Adelaide of England, the wife of William IV. It is the only state capital in Australia that was settled and built by free settlers rather than convicts, and it has been known from the beginning as a pioneer in civil and religious liberty. Adelaide is a sizable city, with a population in excess of 1.3 million.
The port is a good way from the city, so we had to take a train into town. The train runs between the port and the city center and it was $10 for an all day pass (but really, it was only useful for two trips: into and out of town). At the railway station we met our friends Robert & Bill, with whom we spent the day. Leaving the downtown train station we walked down the street past a number of sculptures & monuments, most notably the War Memorial.
We visited the State Library, which had a gorgeous old part & a snazzy new one full of glass. We were puzzled by all the old books in the original library, which didn’t seem to have any clear scheme for organizing all of its old books. Rick suggested maybe it was in order of acquisition, which would be particularly useless. In front of the library was a statue of Robert Burns, who seems to have been very popular in the Antipodes.
We spent some time in the South Australia Museum, which includes the largest collection of Aboriginal artifacts in the world & a very extensive natural history exhibit.
We walked down the part of Rundle Street that is a pedestrian mall. It is lined with shops & large stores and has street performers and sculptures, including one called Silver Balls. We also saw signs for the Adelaide Fringe Festival, a three week arts festival that was in progress. In one of the large stores we found the Adelaide City Library, but it was on the top floor and the escalators didn’t go that high. Puzzled, we walked around and found the entrance in what looked like an alley behind the store.
The city library was very nice inside, with a board game area & all the modern conveniences, including a usb charging station.
After this it was time to eat. But that wasn’t so easy. It was Saturday and a lot of stores & restaurants were closed, though we aren’t sure why. Anyway we did a LOT of walking looking for a pub & eventually settled for what turned out to be a very good pizza restaurant. It was the first pizza with pumpkin we have had & it turned out to be surprisingly good. We then walked a long way to a couple of stores we had read about, but they were closed. So we walked all the way across town to some other stores, which were very expensive and a bit disappointing.
We were all tired by this time so we headed back to the ship, where we heard that a passenger had been removed by police in handcuffs. We don’t know why, but suspect it was drugs. Anyway, that’s it for Adelaide, a pleasant but unspectacular city based on our short experience.
After two sea days we finally anchored off Penneshaw shortly before noon on February 16. You may recall from the last episode that we left Hobart on the evening of February 13 with the plan of avoiding the worst of the storm by sailing back up the east coast of Tasmania then west along the south coast of Australia to Kangaroo Island, located just 6 miles from the Australian coast. Well, we took that route but we certainly didn’t avoid the storm. In fact, as we turned the corner from north to west at the top of Tasmania we hit winds so hard that the ship tipped to starboard and some deck chairs tried to blow away from the aft pool into the sea (photos excerpted from someone’s phone video).
The Captain reported wind gusts up to 100 mph (well into hurricane territory, although its called a cyclone in Asia) and swells up to 26 feet. Mary saw a wave hit the windows on deck 5. We were rocking so badly it was very difficult to walk inside the ship.
The Valentine’s Ball was cancelled and the gala night dress code was dropped, primarily so women wouldn’t feel the need to wear high heels (surprisingly to us, a majority of folks seemed to be wearing formal clothes anyway). We have seen some rough seas in our time, but this was probably the worst. So little progress was being made sailing into the wind through these high swells that the Captain “hove to,” slowing the engines down to a crawl through the night. The doors to the outside decks were sealed, so the only pictures we could get of the rough seas were through dirty and water streaked windows. They don’t really convey how nasty the ocean looked or how high the waves & swells were, but they will give some idea.
Here is a picture sequence excerpted from someone’s smartphone video that will give you a real idea of the severity of this storm. These pictures were taken through the window of the Crow’s Nest, we were told, on the top floor of the ship 8 or 10 decks high, showing a wave that actually hit that window!
Kangaroo Island is a tender port & it sure looked like we would be unable to tender ashore in this kind of sea. But when we arrived, shortly before noon, the seas were calm. As the Captain noted, it was like waking up on a different planet.
Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest island (after Tasmania & Melville’s Island) at 96 miles long and 34 miles wide. Aboriginal people lived here at least 16,000 years ago but had abandoned it by 2,000 years ago after the water rose and it became an island. Matthew Flinders was the first European to land here in 1802 & named it after the animals that were the main course at a feast. Settlement began in 1836 and today there are some 4500 people living on the island, 300 of whom live in Penneshaw, the island’s second largest town & best port.
We were scheduled for a 9 hour bus tour that would have enabled us to see all the best natural sights on the island, most of which are far from Penneshaw. Unfortunately, because of the storm we arrived about 4 hours later than scheduled and all the long excursions that would have taken more than about 4 hours were cancelled. So we tendered ashore around 1:30 (because the tendering was slowed by some difficult swells that made boarding difficult) & just walked into town.
As we approached the ferry dock we saw a number of birds we think were Cormorants relaxing on the edge of the sea wall.
Walking up toward the town we passed Hog Bay, a white sand swimming beach. A colony of small penguins lives on the hill above the beach, but they are only there at night. We stopped at a market with stalls set up in an open field called the Oval, where local produce and crafts were offered for sale (apparently this market is set up whenever a cruise ship is in port). There were some nice flowers and also some birds that might be New Holland Honeyeaters.
We continued through the tiny town to Christmas Cove, which we understand is where the first settlers of the town landed. There was a black swan in the cove.
We visited the Visitor’s Center, which included a small museum. There we got directions to the library, an annex to the library of Kingscote, the largest town on the island about a 45 minute drive away. Unfortunately it turned out that the Penneshaw branch of the library was inside the local elementary school. School was in session, so we didn’t try to go inside.
Since we made it onto the island late it was already nearing the time we had to be back on board. We had, in any event, pretty much made it all the way to the other side of town. So we walked back, hoping in vain to find a place to eat. The most famous fish & chips establishment, called Fish, was closed for renovations. We did stop in the grocery store & buy some local honey, produced by the only pure strain of Ligurian bees in the world. On the way back to the pier we passed some interesting metal sculptures outside a hotel and some more nice flowers.
So our stop in Kangaroo Island wasn’t really all that we had hoped, but we were happy that we had been able to visit here at all after such a memorable and difficult voyage from Tasmania.