Up early today. Breakfast in room at 7:15 AM. Needed to report by 8:05 for my excursion. Only one problem. There were 500 or so scheduled for this excursion. We were going to sail through the unusual and very scenic islands of Ha Long Bay and visit one of the island caves. Apparently Ha Long has nothing worth an excursion onshore so this was the only excursion available. So instead of tour buses we had tour junks.
Definition: (there will be a quiz later)
a flat-bottomed sailing vessel typical in China and the East Indies, with a prominent stem, a high stern, and lugsails.
ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from obsolete French juncque or Portuguese junco, from Malay jong, reinforced by Dutch jonk.
The only problem with that is that when they tried to load the first junk they discovered that the height of our gangway was too low. I guess they thought it a bad idea to have a bunch of septuagenarians climbing rope ladders or some such so the entire process was delayed until they reconstructed the gangway to deal with the high gunwales of the junks. Then there was the time it takes to load a junk and then move it out and the next one in.... You get the picture. I could have slept in!!! (I have never been a morning person!)
Finally got onboard my junk (#12 - well actually it had the number 59 on it but it was the 12th junk to be loaded) around 10:30! This is puzzling to me because they gave us written instructions to wait until about 10 minutes before the scheduled time to show up at the Queen's Lounge for check-in. We would then be given a tag with a number corresponding to the junk we would be on. I got there at the correct time but got #12. That means the other 11 boatloads of passengers were early! I guess I need to buy a tent so I can camp out overnight next time. Yeah right!
Oh well, our junk was fine and we had a nice tour. It was shortened about an hour but after talking with others who had the complete tour I don't think I missed much. The cave was not impressive by Carlsbad Caverns standards but it was nice. It was certainly much larger than the New Zealand Glowworm cave. On the other hand the only water features were manmade. No river ride either. I will try to attach a picture or two of the islands so you get the idea about how tall and skinny most of them are. The amazing thing was how much of the island with the cave was hollowed out. Sort of like a hollowed out artillery shell. The natural water drip in this cave had stopped about 10 years ago according to our guide and they were using a pump now to simulate it. Later, on the way out, we saw a much more obviously manmade water feature. More like a fountain. I guess they want to maintain the humidity level somewhat high in order to keep the formations from drying out. Not a bad idea.
On the way into the cave we had to pass one souvenir stand. After exiting through a different opening we passed by no less than three stands while winding our way back down the short distance to the dock area. The Vietnamese are very persistent salespeople. Reboarding our junk was a trip. Not literally fortunately but I wish I had had the presence of mind to photograph the process. I was sort of mesmerized watching these venerable, youth challenged people trying to negotiate the boarding ramp. Apparently they make it easy to leave the ship but aren't too worried about people wanting to reboard. The gangplank, and I do mean gangPLANK, was not more than a foot wide and about 12 feet long. It was sloped downward about a foot or two. There was a lot of open space underneath it and the only other thing within hanging onto distance was a long bamboo pole that one of the crewmen was holding. The other end was at a point on shore so it was about the correct height to serve as a makeshift hand rail. Not too permanent or steady but there was no way any of these people (me being a possible exception) would even think of "walking the plank" (yes, I couldn't resist that...sorry) without some additional support. Well, I didn't see anyone fall and I think we returned with the same number we started with so I guess all went well. For me I did manage the plank without touching the "handrail". I did have the good sense to hold my arm over it in case I started to lose my balance by the way. I'm crazy but I'm not stupid. (No cracks please!)
From the cave we sailed, along with a freeway rush hour traffic density of other junks, through a bunch of islands which were pretty close together (I think there are over 1600 islands here). It was pretty neat.
We were supposed to stop at a floating fishing village but we didn't have time. I'm told that inside the "permanent" part of the village that they kept the fish in "holes in the floor". Pretty clever. Using the water to store fish (alive I presume) until someone came to buy them.
We were back to the Amsterdam by about 2 PM. It was too late to go ashore as we were scheduled to sail at 3. So I never actually set foot on my first port in Vietnam.
Ate a light lunch on Lido (pizza) because dinner time was just a few hours away. My mother always said, "don't spoil your dinner!" and I've found it a good idea. At present I'd like to tell you I'm holding the line in the battle of the bulging waistline. I'd like to but I can't really tell for sure. I have weighed myself periodically and if the numbers are correct I'm yo-yo dieting big time. Fortunately, there is another explanation. They keep changing scales!!! If they were all accurate I gained about 8 pounds in a week and then lost 10 the next week. I don't think so.... The pants/shorts still fit pretty well so I think I'm hanging in there...no wait...that isn't the right choice of words. I'm maintaining a reasonable weight. That's better. Anyway, I guess they will try to get the scale situation stabilized soon. A lot of people were complaining about inaccuracy of the earlier scales. I know, in most cases the real source of the problem was the buffet table but one person told me they put 40 pounds of weight on the scale and it was off by 3 or 4 pounds. So there was a problem with the accuracy too!
After dinner the show was unusual to say the least. I wondered how many times we would have similar shows and how many "new" acts they could come up with. After all, most cruises are much shorter than this one. Well, this was new. The entertainer's name was Lance Ringnald. Perhaps some of you may recall his name. He was a World Champion and a US Olympic gymnast in '88 and '92. What you may ask could a gymnast do for almost an hour to entertain cruisers? Well, he was surprising. He came out dressed as an old man using a walker. He then did some gymnastics stuff on the walker. He had a pretty good comedy routine worked into the gymnastics but after a bit he needed a break and said he was going to sit down for a few minutes while the Amsterdam band entertained us. Well, he did sit down...at the piano! He played and sang as well. What a surprise. He is a better gymnast than pianist or singer but he wasn't bad. He spent some time using long fabric drapes in the manner of Circque du Soleis (sp? spellcheck doesn't have this one!). And he also juggled some. A multi-talented fellow to be sure and he was entertaining.
Later in the evening our crew members from the Philippines put on a show for us demonstrating many of their cultural costumes and dances. They were not (with a couple of exceptions) close to professional but they were fun to watch. We know many of the crewmembers by now and they are truly a kind, caring and friendly bunch. It was clear that they were thrilled that the auditorium was filled with passengers who wanted to watch them and share their culture. They were given a standing ovation.