Day 53 Feb 26 (Manila, Philippines)

I had no excursion scheduled for Manila so I got on the shuttle and went to the Mall of Asia (supposedly the biggest shopping mall in Asia - or at least Southeast Asia). I wanted to buy some blank CDs and figured I'd get to see some of the city on the shuttle. All my buddies were on excursions so I was on my own (me and about 40 other fellow travelers on the shuttle). I had forgotten to purchase Pesos so when I got to the mall I tried to use an ATM. The first one didn't like my card or something so I tried another nearby one and it worked. I guess I was not quite awake and when offered a choice of 2000, 4000, 6000 or 8000 pesos I chose 8000. It wasn't until I bought 10 blank CDs for only 150 pesos that I realized I had taken about $200 dollars of pesos from the ATM. I really didn't need near that much. Duh! So much for quick mental arithmetic. Traveler's Tip: Do the math ahead of time, not when standing in front of the machine trying to hurry!

I wandered the mall a bit and realized I was hungry so I found the food court. I found it similar to those in any US mall except that the names of the individual food shops were quite unfamiliar. Kimchi, Kamay Kainan, Okuya, Kusina, Chicken Company, Tropical Hut, A Taste of Laoag, Fat Boy's Pizza Pasta, Pinoy Toppings, Wok Yan, Tang City Express, etc. I decided that after wimping out in Brunei and getting pizza that I should at least get something Asian. I settled on Wok Yan and ordered Sweet and Sour Pork with rice and iced tea. I'm sure iced tea is Asian right?

After lunch I returned to the ship with the intention of dropping off my purchases and going into the local area to sight see a bit. That was the plan. What actually happened was somewhat different. A number of factors seem to have been at work but the bottom line is that I took a nap and decided to stay on the ship. This is the first place I've felt a little uneasy about walking about on my own. I had noticed quite a few groups of about 8-10 young men just hanging around without much to do and even noticed them eying me as I passed by (they could have just been curious but I couldn't tell). I learned later that the unemployment rate here is pretty high and that could account for the numbers of them. I had also noticed the area around the ship was pretty run down. I was also pretty tired due to a few things. The bus was very late coming in the morning to pick us up. We stood waiting almost an hour thinking it would be arriving any minute. Another wait before catching the returning shuttle added to the stress and weariness. There were a great many security people in evidence both near the ship and at the mall. I tend to notice automatic weapons when they are worn. Oh, and I forgot that I saw the bomb squad complete with dog. I guess I may have overdone the exercise the day before and that could have contributed to my fatigue. The bottom line is I decided Manila would have to wait for my next trip. Too bad really because I had intended to buy all of you manila folders or manila envelopes for souvenirs. Sorry about that. I can imagine how disappointed you are.

After deciding to stay on ship I turned in my pesos for dollars. (7600 pesos got me $173.32.)

The show this evening was great. The Amsterdam singers and dancers put on their best show yet. They are leaving us in a few days. There was almost a bonus. About half-way through the show a guy got up in front of me and walked across the aisle to tap another guy on the shoulder. I couldn't hear the conversation - right in the middle of a number - but it was pretty obvious that he was trying to tell the guy to stop taking flash pictures (these are always forbidden). I resisted the temptation to do something similar a few weeks ago because I didn't want to make a larger disruption. Well, I saw what that would have been like. The first guy tapped the second on the shoulder and spoke sharply to him. The second guy obviously didn't appreciate the words because he reach out and shoved the first guy back. I (and pretty much everyone near me) held my breath but the first guy realized things were not going to get better and backed off. Apparently not everyone is enjoying the cruise as much as I am.

I may have shared this earlier but it comes to mind now and in case I haven't here it is. I was riding an elevator and someone was cranky about something. When they got off I said to the remaining passengers that I didn't understand how one could be so unhappy while on a world cruise. One lady enlightened me by saying, "some people don't choose to go, they are sent on these cruises". Hmmm. So the vacation is for the caregivers at home. Just when I thought I knew it all....

At 9:45 PM I met Ron and Shiela for late Trivia. We tied for first but lost the tiebreaker.


Day 52

Breakfast on Lido. Tai Chi was held in the Ocean Lounge today. It is much smaller but in some ways it was nicer. Less furniture in the way and being closer to the instructor were both advantages. The Vantage lecture today dealt with Hong Kong and China.

Then came Trivia. WE WON! I can truly say that I was responsible for our win. One of the questions was, "what year did Texas get independence from Mexico?" No one else in our group had a clue. We only won by one answer so.... OK, everyone else can make the same claim because of different questions but if any one of us hadn't offered up our contribution at the appropriate time we would not have won. The winners got a bottle of champagne (we gave it to Shiela) and we each got a mouse pad which has a slot into which you can put a 4x6" photo that you can see as you use the pad. The fact that I haven't had a mouse for my last three computers (all laptops) didn't diminish my excitement at winning. What fun!

Aileen Bridgewater's 2 PM talk was about several things but the most outstanding was the story about a Hong Kong policeman who "committed suicide" (the official verdict) by shooting himself five (5)! times in the chest. She became involved in a popular movement to reopen the case and find the truth and it led to some dangerous times. The final result was never clear but she did learn much later that the policeman was actually involved in deep undercover work to root out corruption in the police department and was no doubt killed for his efforts. Hopefully the police in Hong Kong are better now.

At 3:30 PM I walked the last half hour of a crew walk for the On Deck for the Cure campaign. This is the third event for the charity and this time instead of the passengers walking the crew took turns and walked for 24 hours. Passengers were just asked to sponsor the walkers with donations. They raised over $7500. The amazing thing is that the crew members never walked alone. Even in the wee hours of the morning at least one passenger was out there walking the deck with them! I was about to go run on the upper exercise deck and decided to walk with the crew member instead (I later went up and ran a mile for a bit more exercise). I discovered walking with the last crew member for the 24 hours was a good way to get myself in the cruise video, too. Although it isn't likely I'll buy the video. It costs about $200 for the 5-7 DVDs it will take up.

At dinner Anita loaned me a book by Michael Moore, "Stupid Whitemen". I guess I'll have to find time to read something real. I'm so lazy about reading books. Never seem to have time except when I'm at the beach in the summer.

Another gift tonight. This one is a lighted magnifier. About the size of a credit card. Not sure when I'll use it but the print on some things does seem to be getting smaller from year to year.

Day 51 Feb 24 (Muara, Brunei)

No excursion scheduled for this port so Daphne and I went into Brunei on the shuttle. We walked to the nearby mosque, the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. It has a pond with a very old barge floating in it.

Sadly, the mosque was being restored and there was much scaffolding around it including the dome.

Not nearly as pretty as in pictures. They also wouldn't let anyone inside to tour it. No pictures through the doorways either. The guard was a bit cranky but then Daphne was trying to take pictures and wasn't sure that no meant no. To be fair, he was not really good with English and there was room for doubt. But our attempts to clarify just seemed to make him angrier so we moved away. We walked around the mosque and took pictures outside and then went to the nearby shopping center where we had been dropped by the shuttle bus. We had a soda and discussed what to do next and decided to split up. Daphne wanted to do some sketching and I went to shop a bit. I found an internet place in the mall and checked on email. Then I decided to eat. I'm sorry but I succumbed to the urge for pizza and a Pepsi float. The pizza was unique. It had no tomato paste, etc. and had some kind of seasoned meat on it (small diced pieces). But it was not really local cuisine I'm sure. the Pepsi was cheaper by half than any we had seen in some time. After lunch I shopped a bit more. Found a cable to connect my video camera to my computer. I returned to the ship about 1:30 PM.

I had a little time so I did Tai Chi using my DVD of David Carradine's tape. It felt good to get back to my old routine (I've been doing that one for over five years!).

The show after dinner was David Copperfield. No, not the magician, the "unusualist" This guy was fun. He mixed quite a few different things together to create an amusing and entertaining hour or so. He did a magic trick or two but was billed as being able to throw his voice. I wondered how you did a ventriloquist act using a microphone and was surprised to see that he did indeed do it. He would get some volunteers and talk to them but they had no microphones so when they responded he would change his voice and put words in their mouths. Pretty clever. They would open their mouths to speak and you would hear his voice but it seemed like it was coming from them. In one case he offered to buy someone a drink after the show but they replied (with his help), "no thank you". He also was a pretty fair singer and guitar player. He had a strange looking guitar and did some funny things with it. As a guitar player I may have appreciated some of what he did more than the average audience member but it was fun.

Day 50 Feb 23 (Sea Day)

Pretty normal day. No Tai Chi was scheduled. I think there was a conflict with the room or something. The Vantage talk was with both Chris and his wife, Dee. They talked about their lives and family (apparently someone had asked for that and it was interesting).

The 11 AM lecture was the second half of history of Borneo (where Brunei is located). Amazing how these Pacific Islands were fought over by the European powers back in the day. Locals didn't stand much chance against the military might of England, France, Spain, Portugal and even the Dutch. Of course, there was trouble during the world wars as well.

At 11:45 I played my first Trivia game with Ron, Shiela, Harry (I'm Harry II) and Miska. Two Harrys in one team! Imagine that! We missed winning by a few questions but it was fun.

Worked on my previous email to y'all. The evening show was a banjo player. He was pretty good. After listening to a little piano with Anita and Jack I repaired to my room to prepare for Brunei. (Hmmm, repaired to prepare... I like it. LOL)

Day 49 Feb 22 (Dea Day)

I actually got up at 7:15 AM to run. I was feeling guilty about being lazy and it helped motivate me. Unfortunately I reached the running deck about the same time they were swabbing the higher deck and as I ran each lap I had to dodge water/etc. which was falling from the higher deck. That will teach me to get up early to exercise! I skipped Tai Chi to watch the Texas Shootout between Hillary and Barrack. Then went to the second Bridgewater lecture about Hong Kong, etc. This lady has interviewed some pretty interesting people including the Dalai Lama.

Took a nap (no wonder after getting up early right?). Went to the Mariner Reception (Mariner is what they call the frequent travelers). The dining room was really decorated for the Captain's dinner. We also got another gift. They had charger plates made to commemorate the 50th Anniversary Global Voyage (or whatever they call this thing). We get to keep them. We had all our dishes placed on top of them during dinner and then the wait staff picked them up and put them in a cardboard carrier for us to take home.

The show, delayed a half hour due to the earlier reception, was a singer from England named Jamie Fraiser. He sings Sinatra, Darren, Dean Martin, etc. He was fair.

After the show I ran into two of the people I played Country Music Trivia with the other night. They drafted me to play regular trivia with them tomorrow. There is a trivia game every sea day at 11:45 AM. They ask 20 questions and the winners get something equally exciting as the luggage straps we almost won the other night. I warned them that I was not sure how much I could contribute but they were insistent so I figured what-the-heck. It might be fun.

Another gift on the bed. Actually two. A tile coaster with Delft image including a certificate of authenticity from the company which dates back to 1610! We also got a picture of the Captain and his wife in a cardboard folder (the picture, not the captain and his wife).


Day 48 Feb 21 (Sea Day)

Slept until after 9:30 AM. Gotta go to bed earlier! Had to skip Tai Chi. At the Vantage group we discussed Cuba and the developing situation there. Isn't the world getting interesting in spots? Kosovo, Cuba, what's next?

I was reflecting that we had sailed about 16,000 miles and feeling pretty sassy until I heard the Space Shuttle had just landed after travelling more than 5 million miles. So much for my inflated ego.

Mike Millwood gave his first lecture on the history of Borneo (our next port is Brunei which is a sultanate on the northside of Borneo). Perhaps you have heard of the headhunters of Borneo. Well I know more than I ever did before about them now. Oh, we are assured that the headhunting is a thing of the past and besides, we will not be in that part of Borneo. The sultanate is recently rich - oil of course. The natives who hunted heads lived farther south and were "civilized in the 19th century by, who else, the Brits. (They did have a small relapse during WWII during the Japanese occupation we learned today - Feb 23).

In the afternoon there was an amateur show put on by some of my fellow passengers. A few were actually fairly good. Most were, well, amatuerish. Watching them confirmed my good judgement not to even think of entering. In the evening we had a concert by the ship band. They have been backing up all the other music acts for the entire trip so it was nice to let them shine on their own. As we suspected they are all very talented musicians. Good show!

Gift tonight was a medallion commemorating 100 days cruising with HAL. Of course, I've only got about 50 but by the end of the cruise it will be over 100 and they are having the Captain's Dinner and a reception beforehand to honor all the frequent flier (make that sailor) customers. Some have over 1000 days sailing. They make a big deal over it and supply free drinks so what's not to like. Pretty smart way of encouraging more cruising.

Day 47 Feb 20 (Padangbai, Bali)

Difficult tides in the Bali port require us to anchor off-shore and use the tenders. There is even a possibility if the tides are severe that we may have a suspension of tender service during early afternoon. That turns out to not be the case but we were repeatedly reminded just in case. Apparently the tides can get so low that even the tenders can't get into the docks.

Our location here is 8º 31.36' S and 115º 31.24' E. We have travelled 15,419.8 miles since leaving Ft. Lauderdale!

I met Brian and Pat at breakfast and we decided to share an unscripted adventure. Without an excursion we were free to go where we chose when we chose as long as we returned by 6:30 PM. Otherwise I understand it is a short plane flight to Brunei. (Actually not so short, over 1000 miles.) We were some of the last to pick up numbers (just like going to the butcher - pick a number and wait your turn) for the tenders and they had a long ride to the dock so we didn't actually get ashore until almost noon. Then the fun began!

We were told to expect persistent vendors on the dock and they weren't kidding. People crowded around us and were trying to get us to take things, " it is free for you. A welcome gift...." Also, drivers were very persistent trying to get us to go with them. We kept walking farther away from the dock but it seemed that they would never let us go and after a hundred yards or so Brian and Pat were growing noticeably upset. We really had no plan other than to go ashore and I guess it showed to the crowd so they kept after us. Brian said maybe we should go back to the ship and just forget it. We started back in that direction but by the time we were almost back to the dock a driver who had been hounding us had dropped his price for the day from $60 to $40. I really wanted to do something in Bali so I offered to pay half if Brian and Pat would pay the second half. They agreed and off we went with I Wayan Sudiarta (I have two of his business cards. One he stuck in my hand early in the negociations and another he gave me toward the end of our day together.) We would have an adventure after all. Yea! I think....

I was only vaguely aware that there had been some trouble with terrorists in Bali at one time in the past. In fact, I might not have recalled it had it not been for Wayan bringing it up early in the trip. Not good PR on his behalf but we had agreed to a deal and I really felt pretty safe with him. He had a cousin in the back of the car (never did figure out why but I figured maybe Wayan felt better with a partner). And I sat in the front while Pat and Brian sat in the rear seats. Bali is not a place for the feint of heart as far as driving or passengering goes. (My spell check doesn't like "passengering" but it just seemed appropriate.) There are narrow roads and a ton of motorbikes and bicycles. Oh yes, they drive on the left side like the Brits. Fortunately for Pat and Brian the visibility from the rear seat wasn't that good to the front so I was the one with the exciting view. Being raised near NYC I found it entertaining most of the time. I commented on how well our driver did in not upsetting us and he said he was gaging our response and making sure not to upset us. Apparently he could drive faster if we were up to it. We didn't encourage him to do that. We passed enough traffic to keep it interesting but we occasionally were passed in turn. The Balinese are very cooperative in lane use. Quite often he would pull into the oncoming traffic lane and the mopeds would just move over toward their curb to allow us to use their lane to pass. I can't see American drivers being nearly as nice to each other. In fact we would probably be making gestures and blowing horns at anyone who dared to encroach on our side of the road. I guess they have developed the system to speed up traffic flow on busy roads which won't be widened any time soon. Interesting.

Early in our trip we needed a restroom. Wayan (I understand this is a caste name but he said we should call him that. The Balinese are mostly Hindu and they have a caste system. Unlike the one in India - last I heard - the Bali system has no "untouchable" caste but they do have castes.) may have misunderstood us at first and asked if we had not eaten lunch. We hadn't and said he could take us to a restaurant (we know where there is food there are usually restrooms). He cut crosstown and in a few minutes we stopped. He had taken us to the zoo. No, this wasn't a horrible misunderstanding. There was a lovely restaurant at the zoo. Wayan apparently knew the people running the zoo admission and told them we were there to eat, not visit the animals so they didn't charge us an admission for the zoo.

This turned out to be the highlight of our trip for me. The restaurant was empty. One other table in a huge dining area was occupied. Since it was the zoo, they had animals. I like animals. Ergo, great time. The restaurant was open walled. It had a high roof overhead and perhaps 30-40 tables of various sizes. At the edge of the restaurant near where we sat was a table and a zookeeper with three of the cutest little critters you could want to see. He offered to let us pet them and play with them. Who could resist. They were about the size of housecats with long prehensil tails. Their faces looked somewhat weasel like. They were adorable and we let them climb on us and had our pictures taken with them. They are called binturongs. Another name for them I later found out with the help of Google is Asian Bearcats or just bearcats. I knew I had seen them somewhere before! I had been at a soccer coach clinic at Plano High School a few years ago and they had a stuffed one in their gym lobby because the bearcat is their mascot. I like the live ones much better. Too cute!! I also got to have my picture taken with a blue cockatoo on my shoulder. We also saw some other animals which were in the area. Some birds, mynas and golden orioles, and a Komodo dragon and a very large colorful Iguana.

Oh, the food was great too but very spicy. Brian and I were up for it, but Pat had a tuna salad sandwich. Not everyone is adventurous when eating in foreign countries. Pat doesn't like spicy food. Brian and I also sampled the local beer, Bintang. Not bad. We had two. This is also the first place we found Coca Cola for less than about $2. It was about $1. Gasoline here is actually cheaper than in the States too. The government is supporting the price at about 2/3 what we pay in the States. The economy here has been in some trouble for some time. One of their main sources of income is tourism and the terrorism thing has put a big dent in that.

After lunch we piled back in the car and went to a town called Mas, This town has wonderful woodcarvers. Generations of skill and tradition have been handed down here and they do lovely work. We bought a few things in the showroom after observing how the artisans do their thing. Watching woodcarving isn't nearly as exciting as watching glassblowing but it was interesting. Almost everything here seems to be done in the old way. Another thing we noticed is the many temples. I asked and Wayan explained that in Hindu tradition when a man marries he must build a temple for his new family unit. So you might see one of every two or three houses with its own temple. These could be very elaborate or just a couple of ornate pillars and a little other ornamentation. It reminded me of some areas of El Paso and also Juarez where may people have a little shrine in their yards. The population of Indonesia (Bali is one of about 13,000 Indonesian islands - 7000 or so inhabited.) is mainly Hindu unlike Indonesia as a whole which is mostly Muslim.

Next our guide took us to nearby Ubud. He thought we would be interested in paintings. We pulled into the parking area of one of the "studios". The artist was busy at work with many canvasses nearby but nothing really called to me and Pat and Brian said they had no interest in going into the building which housed more of his work. We decided we'd rather spend our time taking a drive through the countryside than looking at artwork we wouldn't be buying. We also passed on the silver and goldsmith town (I forget the name).

So off we went to look for scenery (or scanery as Wayan pronounced it...I tried to help him with that before we finished our day together. English is a devilishly complex language to pronounce isn't it? Notice the British influence in my last sentence? Been hanging around with too many Brits lately I guess. I'm almost done saying, "no worries" though. As we put miles between us and Australia that seems to help.).

As we drive (the countryside was a bit of a drive) I notice a lot of dogs just seem to plop down in the middle of the road and barely move out of the way in time. Wayan says they are "wild" in that they aren't owned by anyone but apparently live among the population without creating a problem (other than to nervous drivers - Wayan wasn't one of these). He also was explaining that the cows we saw were sacred to Hindus but other religions were allowed to raise them for their meat. I thought that was amazingly tolerant for a majority population (about 85% Hindu I believe). Perhaps our religious right could learn something from the Hindus. For that matter so could the Islamic extremists couldn't they? One other thing that jumped out at me
(figuratively) was that although they were doing roadwork on sections of roads which had potholes, etc. that the work was being primarily by hand. I saw no bull dozers or back-hoes. Just picks and shovels and pry-bars. This is not a wealthy country but it seems to be a very pleasant population for the most part. Wayan tells us that they are trying very hard to encourage tourists to return. We stopped to take
pictures of some rice paddies and were again set upon by a small group of women and children with baskets to sell. Their intensity was not unlike that on the dock. I suspect the poverty here is largely to blame for that. I bought a small basket for a couple of dollars (20,000 rupiahs).

The "scanery" was beautiful despite some low hanging clouds threatening rain. The majority of the arable land is in use for rice or other crops. Many terraces, some very small, are created on the hillsides to use pretty much every available square inch of space. We saw one elderly farm woman who had removed her top to rinse it in the stream. We had stopped to take pictures and she didn't seem in the least concerned. We also saw many people carrying baskets and bundles of stuff on their heads. Many of the men wear what looks like a skirt. It is a wrap around piece of fabric. One guy we passed on the roadside obviously needed a restroom too but since none were nearby he had no problem relieving himself from under his "skirt". Somehow it didn't seem out of place in this rural setting and different culture.

After our scenic tour we returned to the dock and eventually the ship. I went straight from the tender to the dining room because I was already late about 20 minutes for dinner. I don't think it hurt me to skip the appetizer course. Perhaps I should do that more often, but in fact I think it would be better if I could skip the dessert course more often. Hmmm. The show after dinner was a comic magician. He was pretty funny.

Day 46 Feb 19 (Sea Day)

Not much exciting today. Did Tai Chi, went to the Vantage group. The discussion was about whether or not we should be supporting a free Kosovo. Apparently George W. didn't feel the need to consult us. At 11 AM we had a new speaker. Her name is Aileene Bridgewater. She had a radio talk show in Hong Kong for many years and is apparently hired to give us some local color as well as share some of her more interesting interviews and experiences with us. .

Ate with the Vantage table today (invitation of about 8 passengers every so often). Worked on my email to you guys (the previous one you received) and checked my bank account on-line. I'm not broke yet!! Yipee!

Ran about 4:30 PM.

Dinner followed by the show. Tonight was the Amsterdam singers and dancers doing a show called Caliente. They had great costumes and did a number of favorite songs including some from my Gloria Estefan cds.

Afterward I got things organized for my trip to Bali tomorrow.

Day 45 Feb 18 (Sea Day)

Lido breakfast

Tai Chi

Vantage lecture: Victorian Age. Chris covered such varied topics as the beginning of cross channel telegraph communication. Agrarian to mercantile economic transition for Great Brittain. Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War. and Charles Darwin. I never took a class in British History...I wonder if I could get C.E. credit for these lectures....

We had our last digital photo class. It was just a collection of questions which have been asked outside the lecture hall and the answers. Also we were introduced to ways to transfer pictures to fabric by Ana, Dave's wife.

Spent an hour working with Anita and her pics. She doesn't know how to download them into her new laptop yet. (Poor gal has a new camera and a new computer and barely knows how to use either. To her credit she is game to learn.) I get to swipe any of her pics that I like in exchange for downloading them into my computer and going through them with her to critique her shots and help her decide which to keep. The last dozen of so of her "pictures" turned out to be short movies. She had accidentally set her camera on the movie setting and didn't realize it. This explains why her flash didn't go off on some of her more recent pictures. She had been asking about that and a couple of other mysteries which all became clear when I downloaded her camera and pointed out to her the movie files. Next lesson will be how to download into her computer. It is a PC and has the Vista operating system so I am not sure I'll be able to help her but I will try. Perhaps we'll both learn something.

Dinner was formal. We all cleaned up pretty well.

The show was a combination of two artists we had seen and enjoyed more or less. It was pretty good. The comic/violinist was funnier and the singer was good. So good that I bought one of her CD's and had her autograph it. Yes, she is cute. I'm sure that didn't enter into my buying decision.

Spent time with Jack, Anita, Brian, Pat and Claire in the Ocean Bar listening to the Station Band. They are really fun to listen to. I got hit on by an 80+ lady who came over and sat next to me. (Finally, I thought I would never get any action!) She asked if the seat was taken and I said no. I was trying not to encourage her but finally she elbowed me and said, "none of you are dancing?" I smiled and said, "There are reasons," and turned back to my friends. She was disappointed but left soon after. Pheew! As they say, you have to be careful what you wish for right?

We were gifted again tonight. The gift was very welcome. It was a Leatherman S4 tool. This is very similar to the one which I either left behind or had disappear from a suitcase. Cool. I've had a couple of times when I wish I had had one. Now I do. Just have to remember not to carry it through airport security. Not sure about going ashore in ports. I guess I'll have to check on that.

We gained another hour tonight.

Cheers! Hope winter is being kind to y'all! (It was 80 and 80 yesterday...ºF and % humidity.)

Day 44 Feb 17 (Sea Day)

Lido breakfast.

Tai Chi

Vantage: Shopping. I might not have showed up if I had looked at the schedule but since I was already there I sat through Dee's (Chris' wife and fellow Vantage Tour Rep) lecture on shopping in the remaining ports for our trip. I am probably lucky I did. Dee had lots of knowledge about the types of things available and more importantly how to shop the remaining ports. The single most important tip was to NOT use credit cards in Russia! They apparently have the highest rate of credit card crime there. The second piece of advice is that we are coming to a number of ports where prices need to be negotiated.

Next was another lecture by Mike Millwood about Australia's history. We're leaving the continent/island (there is some disagreement about which it should be called) but he needed one more day to finish up the history. Today's lecture was titled "Sheep and Gold". Starting out as a penal colony with many inhabitants serving 7 or 14 year sentences for whatever crimes - mostly minor - and transitioning to a thriving free society was quite a ride I'm sure. After rocky starts with lack of supplies and poor support from Mother England, they slowly evolved into a bit of a farming and sheep ranching economy. Then, as with California and Alaska, there was gold. An Aussie who had gone to California to get rich in the gold fields returned pretty much empty handed but he noticed a similarity of geography and geology in a part of Australia to that of the gold rich area in California. Sure enough, he found gold. Australia became much more popular with free men. Settlers started coming in droves. Amazing what a little greed will do to help settle an area.

Lunch and a nap. Tough work I know....

Then I went up top to workout. Ran and did steps, etc. Trying to stay in soccer shape rather than come home in early May out of shape.

Dinner tonight was a theme dinner. Dutch Night. There were "cute" little caps for everyone. The ladies got the triangular lace trimmed white hats you have seen in pictures of Holland. The men got black caps which are similar to painters caps. We all wore ours at our table except Jack and Anita. Jack said something about baseball caps. We gave them an appropriate amount of grief and then let it go. You must pay a price for bucking the herd right?

The show was a piano player named Amber Abler. She was mediocre. Jack, Anita and I sat together and although a number of people stood at the end we sat there and only applauded politely. Both Jack and Anita are piano players. I'm just a music literate critic. I'm sure Amber didn't notice we were not standing. We were in the balcony behind some standers. I believe standing ovations are like waiter/waitress tips. They need to be earned. (OK, I usually tip a little for the worst service but you can't standing ovation just a little. You either sit or you stand.)

Jack and Anita turned in early but I went to the Piano Bar. Did I mention before how many bars we have? There was a Name That Tune competition. Unfortunately, the music was Country Western. Not my strong suit. I decided to stay and a few other people came to join me (teams are limited to 6). Well, long story short, we tied for first. I knew most of the ones we got. My teammates helped on a couple and didn't know some of the ones I knew. The prize for winning was a set of luggage straps. I is a cruise ship. Problem is they couldn't award duplicate prizes so we had to go to a tie breaker. We lost in the second round. Considering the fact that I was just playing for fun and had no thought of being really competitive I was happy even without luggage straps. I guess all my years in El Paso have taught me more than I thought. Yee-ha!

Day 43 Feb 16 (Freemantle-Perth)

After a Lido breakfast I boarded the shuttle bus and rode around the loop. Freemantle is the port which serves Perth (inland about 40 minutes by train). We had a shuttle bus which made a loop through Freemantle and stopped at several places for shopping, sightseeing and the train station. After going around once to get the idea I went back in to the train station and took the train to Perth. The train system is reminiscent of ones in Europe. Very efficient and pretty much automated.

I left the train station in Perth and explored the surrounding area. Found a large shopping mall (two stories high with perhaps 30 different stores) at the south exit of the station. I discovered a discount store which resembled a Big Lots and decided to wander through it to see how it compared with the US equivalent. Most prices were a bit higher and the selection was about the same. A few more tools perhaps but very similar. I didn't find any irresistible bargains although I was looking for a tool to replace the Leatherman Micro I either left behind or was removed from my luggage. Fortunately I could not find one. More on that later.

I finally succumbed and ate lunch at Mickey D's. (Mc Donald's to those of you who don't recognize the familiar nickname.) I had a Mc Value meal (the Aussie equivalent of an Extra Value Meal) Big Mac. Pretty close to what I remember from the US but it has been quite awhile.

After lunch the day took a turn for the worse. It was Saturday and all the Information stands seemed to be closed. Not only that but the restrooms in the train station were too. I found some information and a restroom in a nearby library. Very helpful librarian. I was apparently not the first lost American she had seen. Oh, the light in the restroom in the library was a blacklight! Pretty weird!

Thinking I was back on track I followed the librarian's instructions to a bus stop which was supposed to provide me with a Tourist Tram bus which would give commentary and a tour of the city (Perth). Well, after sitting at the stop for over an hour I decided I was at the wrong place or the tram wasn't running and figured I had wasted enough time. I went inside a nearby bus station (attached to the train station) and
inquired but nobody was any help. Ah me. Travel adventures aren't always successful stories. I have three sad pictures of Perth taken while I sat at the bus stop. That's it.

Somewhat disappointed I returned to the train station and took the train back to Freemantle. I did pick up a thing called a Lamington in the train station bakery. This is a cube of white cake which has been lightly coated with dark chocolate which in turn is dusted with coconut. Highly acclaimed by our travel lecturer, Barbara, but not all that great if you ask me. I think I expected something far richer and more chocolatey. Anyway, Freemantle was kinder to me but not without its surprises. I decided to try a local beer. Stopped in a restaurant which had a Stella Artois sign up (beer brand to those of you not in the know). I sat and the waitress came by and asked what she could get me. I told her I needed a beer and she said sadly that the law would not allow them to serve alcohol unless it accompanied food. It was about 3 in the afternoon and I had eaten that Mc Value Meal so I was not really hungry. Nor would my waistline appreciate an extra meal. I considered leaving and continuing the search for a more proper pub but the day's travails had taken their toll. I decided to order something cheap and have my beer. I figured I had "Tourist" or "Cruise Ship" tattooed on my forehead so I was going to probably hear the same thing wherever I went. So I ordered some brouchette and asked her to choose a local beer for me after telling her my general preferences. The beer was a Rogers and it was pretty good. Actually so was the brouchette (an Italian thing where onions, tomatoes and whatever else is handy is chopped up and put on a fairly thin slice of toasted Italian bread) so I ate it all. (I know, I know. I tried to eat lighter at dinner a couple of hours later.) I was done with my sightseeing. Still needed to shop for a souvenir of Australia so I took my leave of the restaurant after spending a bit of time people watching. Lots of tourists here. Many eateries and shops.

As I approached the bus stop location (in front of the Freemantle train station) I saw Daphne and she seemed in a bit of distress. Poor baby. She was upset because she didn't know exactly where the bus for the boat (shuttle bus) was supposed to stop. She had apparently been waiting awhile and was beginning to get that panicky feeling that she might never find her way back. She's about 80 and does very well most of the time but can get frazzled and this was clearly frazzle I was seeing. I calmed her down and showed her where the bus was supposed to stop. Then one came and went right by where we were to stop a couple hundred yards past us at the entrance of the station. This is not where we had been dropped off but I told Daphne to stay put and I'd go investigate. I did and the driver said he would wait while I went to get D. By the time I got back to where she was she was not there. Another shuttle had come and stopped in the right place and she was aboard. I got on too and we asked the driver and he said the other driver was wrong and that they got in trouble for stopping right in front of the station. Hmmm. It had just been that kind of day. Travelers need to be flexible. It's an adventure right?

I left Daphne on the bus and got off at a shopping stop called E-Shed. I was confident she could ride the bus to the ship without further difficulty. Apparently I was right because later in the evening she was her old composed self. The ship had a barbeque on the Lido deck and Daphne had the good sense to go early to hold a table for those from our normal dining room table who wanted to eat barbeque. Well, the tables on Lido are big enough for about 4 people. We wound up with eight! I was able to go around the deck and "borrow" extra chairs for everyone. We did have to eat in shifts to share the small table but we all enjoyed the challenge and the music provided by the local group which sang mostly sea shanties. Well all of us but Jack. Jack doesn't like anything but classical music. Other than that he is a great guy. It is fun to hear him rant about the fact that other types of music aren't music. It is amazing how well we get along (my tablemates). I was mentioning this to another traveler after the BBQ and they said something about how sometimes all the people at a table have such similar backgrounds that they get along. I thought that was an interesting idea but it didn't apply. We are such a varied group it is amazing. We have Jack, a retired coorporate banker who never worked in the US and his wife Anita (American but they met working in a bank in Italy many years ago). Daphne, an Episcopal Priest (for the last 20 years or so) from Wyoming - born in Houston. Brian, a retired realty guy who worked some years in Korea for the US military and his wife of 57 years, Pat. Darryl, a retired electrical engineer who started building and maintaining vacuum tube computers (can you remember Univac?) and his wife Carol and finally, Claire, the other Physics teacher in the group. She and I are the only ones with anything in common and other than our ages and the physics thing we don't share much either. I think the only thing we really have in common is a willingness to get to know each other and pretty good senses of humor. Whatever it is it seems to work. We spend a lot of time together.

Well, that was Saturday. Farewell to Australia. It has been interesting but I think I need to return with more time to spend in the cities I choose to visit and also some time to tour the outback. I have some kangaroo and koala pictures but don't really feel that I've gotten to know the country. I'm beginning to understand why some people keep taking world cruises. You could eventually do enough to see a country this way but I think a couple weeks in Australia would be a better idea. We'll see.

Day 42 Feb 15 (Sea Day)

Not much today. Lazy, skipped Tai Chi. Vantage lecture. Australia lecture from Mike Millwood - the early settlement years continued. Digital editing was the topic for the Photography talk in the afternoon.

Caught up on emails to you guys.

The show was a comedian/violinist named Dave Levesque. He was entertaining but his violin playing seemed to suffer from his antics. He was dancing around and running into the audience among other things.

Some of these entertainers seem to be fair at a couple of things and combine them to create an act. I guess it is a way to be in show business and travel on a cruise ship. I guess you gotta love it.

Day 40 Feb 13 (Sea Day)

Breakfast on Lido. Tai Chi. Vantage lecture. Chris talked about the development of British interests in Africa. He finished up with Dr. Livingston I presume. Interesting story that.

Mike Millwood continued with Aussie history. First governor, prison stuff, etc.

After lunch there was a panel of crew members, including Bruce, the Cruise Director, who briefly described how they wound up here and answered questions on what life was like working on a cruise ship. Pretty interesting. I was not surprised to hear all of them praise Holland American Lines as a great employer. Things run so well and everyone is so pleasant and helpful they had to be happy campers. How they got here and how they live was interesting.

The show was a flautist named Claire Langden (I think). She was pretty good and played a wide selection of music. Not quite James Galway but she is half Irish and was inspired by him. She said she chose this type of entertaining because she got tired of playing a few bars and then resting for long periods of time at symphony concerts. She decided she would rather play more and rest in bars! Or words to that effect. We do have quite a few bars on the ship. Seven I think but I may be overlooking one or two.

Day 41 Feb 14 Thursday (Sea Day - Valentines Day)

Breakfast on Lido. Tai Chi - I was a bit late due to being lazy in bed but didn't miss much.

Vantage Discussion: The changing roles of the sexes and how we're doing. Wow! Still some dinosaurs out there in the older generation! Chris does come up with some interesting discussion topics. He does like to "wind people up" as they apparently say in Brittain.

Digital Photography class was about how to share photos. Not too much new here for me but I did learn about a website which has free music (legal) to share. It is

At two in the afternoon two of the bar bands teamed up to put on a concert of Filipino Music (most of the crew is Filipino). It was interesting.

I ran a few miles today - about time I got back to it.

Dinner was formal tonight and the dining room was beautifully decorated for Valentine's Day. I got a couple of small gifts for the single ladies at my table (I'm the only single guy). Daphne and Claire were surprised but pleased. Claire has an Epson printer which she can put her camera card into directly and brought a lot of paper for 4x6 prints and gave everyone at the table a picture of one of the orchids on the tables with the ocean outside the window in the background and Feb 14 date stamped on the pic. This was a Valentine Card. Cute idea.

The show was a singer named Annie Frances. She is Aussie but has travelled widely entertaining. She had a very strong voice and did a wide variety of music and styles including Scat, Country, Irish Folk and Yodeling! Pretty good.

The Valentine's Ball was held at 10:15 and they had cupid running around from time to time and selecting ladies who then got to choose a card and if it was a Heart they received a free bottle of champagne. Funny thing, all the cards were Hearts. Then the twelve ladies who got to draw cards were invited on stage and one of them was selected (at random by drawing cards again) to be the Valentine Queen. She received a number of gifts including some spa treatments and the use of up to $30,000 in jewelry for the next formal day from the onboard jewelry shop. It was pretty nice and we all marvel at the amount of money they must spend for all the decorations.

When I got back to my cabin there was a Valentine Gift on my turned down bed. It is a nice velour heart box which was filled with Belgian chocolates. Happy Valentine's Day All!

Day 39 Feb 12 (Melbourne)

Got up late. Had breakfast on the Lido deck with Claire and Jeane (Claire's roommate). Took some pictures and video of the port. Caught up on journal entries.

At 12:30 I left on an excursion called, "In the Wild, Koalas and Kangaroos." I prefer seeing the critters in the wild but it does mean you don't get too close. We went first to a "forest" about 50 miles away and saw two koalas (separate trees a bus ride apart). The tour company has a couple of spotters who go out in the morning and look for the koalas. I didn't realize how solitary these animals are. The only time they get together is to mate! Thank goodness I have a 35x zoom lens on my video camera because the pictures I took with my still camera are too far away even with the 3x lens to really be very interesting. Top that off with the fact that both "bears" (they aren't actually related to bears) didn't move noticeably and a great photo op was not really in the offing.

From the Koala habitat we bussed some more to a place called the Serendip Reserve. This had been a farm at one time but it was bought by the government to be used as a preserve to help bring back a very endangered species called the Cape Barron Goose. They were apparently very successful at captive breeding and reintroducing the species to the wild. This farm has been left unused and the kangaroos have more or less taken over. So it is a good place to go to view them. We couldn't get closer than about 50 yards (maybe 100 yards??). We also saw a number of bird species (Emus, Bustards, Magpies, Magpie Geese and Cockatoos) and Wallabes (sort of pigmy kangaroos). It was a nice trip even though we didn't get to be pet anything.

We had two new tablemates at dinner. Carol and Darryl. Apparently they were not happy at their old table (by the front window!). They said one guy at the table drove two couples away. Some people apparently never learn to play well with others! I may have to smack one of these two ones. They have this obnoxious habit of trying to pass the bread around. I have informed them that we have three bread baskets on the table and that it is unnecessary to pass them around. We have all become so comfortable with each other that when there is something in one bread basket that is not within reach we ask for it. I know, it isn't really a big thing but I'm trying to get them relaxed and in the group. We have stopped being "formally" polite a long time ago. We're more like family now. We also tease each other mercilessly at times. (OK, not really mercilessly but quite a bit. Everyone seems to enjoy it and participate in it.) Everyone is quite bright and can take being the brunt of the joke as well as dish it out. We do have considerable fun.

The show tonight was Soul Mystique. This is a duet of Aussie ballroom dancers with sometimes magiclike costume changes. They are pretty good dancers (have won some contests in London. They apparently won the Australia's Got Talent competition one year. Pretty good show.

Day 38 Feb 11 (Sea Day)

Well, not much new today. The Vantage group talked about the Health System part II. Pretty much everyone agrees we should take care of everyone. I suspect that some of the R's as Linda calls them think to themselves, "but those of us who pay more taxes should get better service/care." But they're not saying that outloud. Lots of good people in our group who seem to truly care about others.

We had our second lifeboat drill today. This is apparently a requirement. Yesterday our Cruise Director, Bruce, reminded us after the show that today we had a lifeboat drill. He was greeted with a rousing collection of boos. He seemed genuinely upset for just a moment and then realized we were just teasing him. I can't remember ever being part of such a playful audience. It was really funny. We see Bruce almost everyday at the evening shows and a sort of relationship is developing between the crew and the passengers. We also give standing ovations to the best entertainers and they seem truly surprised by it but we all appreciate the effort and talent they display. I don't get out to live entertainment much in El Paso so this part of my cruise is a real treat. Having the same people (more or less) in the audience every night makes for a sort of unspoken camaraderie. Interesting.

Anyway, nobody fell overboard at the lifeboat drill. Two successful ones in a row. Fantastic!

We have a new lecturer about the area we're traveling through. His name is Mike Millwood. He is pretty good. Certainly an improvement over the Social Anthropologist! His topic is the settlement of Australia. Part I today. The first trip here with prisoners (the colonies were no longer available as a dumping ground for Great Brittain) took about 8 months and the guy in charge did such a good job he only lost about 3% to disease, etc. The next ship, a couple of years later lost 40%! Pretty brutal considering some of the prisoners were in jail for stealing food to live during a time of famine.

We had a meeting this afternoon of people interested in learning more about computers. I learned that the ship's computer guy, Felipe, is not a Holland American employee. He is on board to run the internet service which is a separate organization. I can't believe that Holland America doesn't realize that they need someone to help passengers, not just a technician. Well, on second thought, I think there have been so many complaints that perhaps they will add someone for the purpose on the next cruise (if not before). The group that met this afternoon is basically just passengers who would like to learn more or who know enough to share their knowledge. The guy who organized the meeting is just another passenger but we'll see how this goes. We signed up for subjects we were interested in and he is going to try to arrange rooms and times for the "classes". Some of the people at the meeting offered to "teach" the classes. This could be really helpful for those with little or no knowledge. Some of the programs being considered are: Excel, Word, Power Point, Income Tax filing, etc.

The show after dinner was a group called String Fever. It is a cute combination of a Cellist and a Violin (married couple). Very unconventional. Creative and clever with fun conversation thrown in.

Day 37 Feb 10 (Sydney day 2) Sunday

After Lido breakfast I went with Pat and Brian to the local market. Pretty neat. I'm not the world's happiest shopper but this market was full of unique handcrafts and special things. I actually enjoyed the hour or two we spent wandering about.

Lunch on board ship and then we were off to take a boat around the harbor via Captain Cooke Tours. I had no idea how huge Sydney was until we did this. The ride took about 90 minutes and we didn't really cover the whole harbor. Sydney is located in a very long wide river mouth. The town has over 4 million people (about a fifth of Australia's total population). The country of Australia is the least densly populated in the world and is as big as the 48 contiguous states of the United States.

{I checked email and have checked for the existence of the Texas Tavern, John. I am told by our front desk personnel, who investigate these things, that the only references to this establishment are historical ones. There appears to be no current address for it so I could not go searching for it. By the time dinner was over I would have been hard pressed to get to the King's Cross area and back before "all aboard" at 10:30 PM but I would have tried.}

After dinner, Anita and I spent an hour or so wandering around the ship looking for good photo angles to take night shots of the Opera House and the bridge. We found several. Shortly after we took some of the aft railing on deck 8 the guy who is teaching the "classes" on digital photography showed up and went to the same exact place. I went over to offer my help...(yeah right!). He seemed to have it under control.

Pat and Brian showed up so Jack, Anita and I sat down with a cup of coffee and talked while the ship negotiated the exit of the harbor. As I was returning to my cabin around 11:30 PM I decided to take one last look over the railing and was rewarded with a sight I had not seen before. First I saw a slew of sea gulls flying low over the water near the bow wave of the ship (a slew is approximately 40) and then I looked back and there was a Pilot Boat nearing the ship. They always put a local pilot onboard to provide an expert on the local harbor and conditions. The actual entry and exit are controlled by these pilots. Anyway, I'm watching this Pilot Boat and it actually closes the distance to the ship and lightly bumps the ship. The next thing I realize is that a strap kind of thing is being lowered to the boat from the ship. Well, duh! Of course, the local pilot(s) have to leave the ship after we exit the harbor and they don't want to stop the ship to transfer them back to the Pilot Boat. They use the straps to slide down to the Pilot Boat. What a trip. I think I videotaped the transfer with my digital camera but haven't had time to look at it yet. I hope I got it.

Well, that brings you up to date through Sydney. We dock in Melbourne tomorrow morning. Cheers mates!

Day 36 Feb 9 (Sydney day 1)

We arrived early (around 6:15 AM). I was actually up to film the "sail in" which was announced by our port lecturer Barbara. It was still dark!!! I probably would not have gotten up for it but we were told that Australian Immigration/Customs would be on board and needed to check our passports against our faces personally (the ship gave the passports back to us for this wonderful drill). They said they would start at 6:45 AM!!! Everyone would have to get up and go through the check whether they wanted to go ashore or not. The entire ship had to clear before they would let anyone debark. Well, the weather was rainy (and dark as I said). Not much for picture taking. To top it off, the Aussies didn't show up on time and we didn't start processing passports until about 8:00 AM! Ah bureaucrats!!! Seems they are the same the world over.

While waiting for my name group to be called (they called us into the processing area alphabetically by last name) I was watching the ferry boats come and go. Thought about taking one to the zoo to visit. Throughout my life I have always been excited about taking ferry rides. Just love being on the water. Today no such feelings. I suppose 36 consecutive days of sailing the ocean has dulled my enthusiasm. Probably just temporary but it seems you can get too much of a good thing. Hmmm, that seems to be a theme. Too much water, too much food.

After we were cleared I decided to hunt for an internet connection ashore to send pictures back for you guys. It took me about a half hour but I found one pretty near the ship. It was on the second floor of a convenience store called Bomb Didg. You go into the store look for a staircase going up. Climb the stairs and there amidst piles of boxes of bottled water and a few other things are five Dell computers. The high tech system of accounting was to go up and use the computer and then pay on your way out. $3 per half hour. This seemed quite a bit better than the ship (I'm paying $.25 per minute there - it is only that cheap because I bought the biggest packet of minutes, 1000). I sat down with my memory stick with about 130 pictures on it. I'm sure I could have figured out a smarter way to do it but I have sent about 66 emails to my son, Harry, each with 1 or 2 pics attached. I found that I couldn't send more than about 2 M of pics at a time. I was using AOL and later thought perhaps another browser might have worked better but after being on the ship even AOL seemed wonderful. The speed was fairly good (I think my broadband at home is somewhat faster but that was several internet lifetimes ago). Nevertheless it took me a little over 3 hours to send all the pics. I'm not sure when Harry will be able to get them somewhere where you can all see them. Had I been thinking I could have taken your email addresses with me and just copied you. Oh well. Next time? The pictures were sent in alphabetical order (I was into it a bit before I realized it might have been better to send them in the order they were taken - next time?).

{By the way, Harry, the untitled one is Milford Sound 8.JPG. Hopefully you can put them into a file and sort by date/time and get them back in order. If not.... Well, you know more about IT than I do. I'm sure you'll figure something out.}

Anyway, I finished the emails and went downstairs to pay what I figured would be at least $18 (Australian - more like $20 or so US) to find that the clerk (I guess they have minimum wage employees in Australia too) didn't even remember that I had been using the computers. He said, "you go upstairs and use the computer and pay afterwards." I explained that I had already used it. He said OK, and that I should pay him $6. I explained that I had used it for about 3 hours and he said that it was ok and I should just pay $6. I'm sure I would have stayed and argued that I should pay more but by this time I needed a restroom break pretty badly so I acquiesed and paid $6. I later learned from others more experienced than I that this was common practice when the computers were not being heavily used. I guess if people were lined up you might have to pay the full rate but hey, I can take a good deal if it is forced on me. So I got a very good deal. If I had spent that much time on the ship's system it would have cost me about $45 US. I saved enough money to buy souvenirs! Yea!

The rest of the day I spent walking around the harbor area. The ship is docked between the famous Sydney Opera House and the well known "coat hangar" bridge. They are quite close together. I had eaten a big breakfast so I more or less skipped lunch. I did indulge in a chocolate (ok, double chocolate) ice cream cone from a small stand. The botanical gardens are close by as well. I didn't really go in but walked by part of it on the way to the opera house. Then I walked through shops, etc. to the other side of the little cove, where the ferry boats come and go and our ship is docked, almost to the bridge. Then it was time for my haircut. Yes, I finally broke down and scheduled one with the ship's salon. I had scheduled it for 9 AM but because the inspectors were so late I had to reschedule for 4:45 PM. A pleasant young french woman named Corinne did the shearing. (Yes, I did say pleasant and French in the same sentence. In fact Corinne and I discussed the state of relations between our two countries at some length. She informs me that the French do not uniformly hate Americans. I think she said a few do but.... She did however mention "Freedom Fries". We agreed that perhaps some of us went too far there. She did point out that the French don't even call them French Fries. We both agreed that there were stupid people in both countries and the rest of us shouldn't take them too seriously. Apparently I didn't upset her too much because the haircut turned out nicely.)

After dinner I went to the movie (Music & Lyrics with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore) with a few tablemates (we were all pretty tired after the early morning and no one seemed interested in going out and partying. Remember the average age on the ship (passengers) is a bit over 70. Not too many swingers here.

Day 35 Feb 8 (Sea Day)

Not much today. Breakfast on Lido, Vantage discussion topic was : US Healthcare System.... Most seem to agree that we need to seriously move toward universal care. Some don't see need (Republicans I suppose...must be nice not to be aware of the suffering in our own country). Had an Aussie tell me in Sydney that Republicans felt they were patriots and Democrats were basically wimps. Hmmm. I guess I'm a hawkish wimp. Or is that an oxymoron?

The discussion will be "finished" on the next sea day.

Tried to do email today and had some trouble. Then when I went to sign off the "receipt" page, which tells you how many minutes you have used and have left, showed blanks for both categories. I didn't go ballistic. Wanted to but took a chill pill (figuratively speaking...don't have any chill pills....)

Went to see Felipe who said it happens sometimes. But there was no problem. You gotta love this system!

Ran about 3 miles today. Then weighed. It appears the cruise food is very good. Ouch!

We had a full dinner table tonight. The seldom seen Fred, a retired jurist from NJ, showed up for the second time in about a week. He is leaving us in Sydney. Gonna spend a week or two in Australia and then catch another cruise ship which will be heading north via Japan and then over to the states. Fred seems to pretty much live on cruise ships. Come to think of it he likes the food a lot too and it shows. I was thinking cruise ships might be a fun way to spend life but I think I would need two cabins (a double wide to be exact) if I spent too much time on them. Hmmm.

The show was pretty entertaining. Had the dancers/singers from the ship and the female comedian and the juggling comedian (he got bad reviews his first night - I missed that fortunately - but did much better this time).

Day 34 Feb 7 (Sea Day)

Back to the routine of sea days today. Slept a bit late and after Lido breakfast I went to the digital photography lecture. Spent time with Anita in the Atrium showing her how to put her pics in computer and what kind of things were possible with editing. After lunch with Anita and her husband, Jack, I went to my cabin and spent some time on my pics. Sure wish I could get this internet system to work well enough to share. I may be able to send some pics from Sidney if I can find a good internet cafe. I'm putting pics on my memory stick. I actually tried moving my laptop to the computer lounge to see if the system would work better. No luck. In fact I tried twice to send a simple email reply and then plopped the laptop down in front of the computer supervisor to show him my problem and the darned thing worked when he was watching. Isn't that the way it goes? Stupid system!! I have to remind myself of how surprised I was to hear they would have internet availability onboard. I should be grateful I suppose.

Oh! How could I forget??? Today was the roughest sea day yet. I noticed something new hanging on the railing between the elevator doors. On closer inspection I realized that I was looking at something akin to the cute little bags you find in the seat back pockets on airliners. Barf bags! I learned that about half the crew was down with seasickness. Wheew! Sure glad I'm not affected (so far). Also, while we were in the dining room we discovered that they have no lips or ridges on the front edge of the sideboards where they stack up the dinner plates and set the individual meals. We discovered this after the loud crashes. Probably broke a few dozen dinner plates! Fortunately, no one was injured. The crew cleaned up and carried on quite well. I'll bet they find a way to avoid a repeat event.

The comedienne was fairly funny. She was able to work the pitching of the ship into her act quite successfully. Her name is Julie Barr.

Another hour gained tonight. Sea day tomorrow then Sydney for two days. Sea day after that will probably be my next communication but I will try to send some pics to my son, Harry and hopefully he'll be able to upload them to the gallery site I set up. We'll see. I don't have any formal excursions set up in Sydney so I should be able to explore the possibility. Righty Oh. Cheers for now....

Day 33 Feb 6 (Fiordland National Park Cruise)

Not exactly a sea day. We sailed from Dunedin last night and awoke today to Barbara (our port expert) on the PA system describing the park. This is a huge park on the southwest corner of the South Island of New Zealand. It is very similar in some ways to the fjords of Norway or the glacier area of Alaska (College Fjord comes to mind). By the way, I am not making a typo when I type fiord for the New Zealand variety. That is how they spell fjord in New Zealand.

So, up early (around 7:30) to be on deck for our entry into Dusky Sound. We circle a large island and exit the area into Breaksea Sound. Pretty but I'm beginning to wonder if maybe it isn't all that.... They did have coffee and food on deck for us so we could enjoy the scenery and nourish ourselves at the same time. Tough life again.

We reentered the park again about an hour and a half later in the Doubtful Sound. (Supposedly so named by Captain Cook - the guy was everywhere and apparently one heck of a map maker!!! - because he didn't think it was more than just a slight cove.) I found some friends at a good table on the back end of the Lido deck. We had good conversation, coffee and great scenery. At about noon we left Doubtful sound - Captain Cook was wrong about this one. It was pretty deep!

We had a two and a half hour break while we proceeded north to the final and best fiord. This one was entered at Milford Sound. This fiord was absolutely amazing!! Great scenery. It was the biggest of the three and had the highest steepest sides and was big enough at the end to have a large resort hotel and an airstrip. The one disappointment for me was that there was almost no snow or glaciers. We caught sight a couple of times during the day of some high mountain glaciers but none come to the water like in Alaska. Other than that it was really beautiful and worth the trip.

We were once again blessed with great weather! We have been so lucky on this trip weatherwise. I'm telling everyone I brought the sun from El Paso but I'm not sure they're buying it.

We clear the third and last fiord in time to go to dinner. After dinner I went to the movie ("No Reservations" - Catherine Zeta Jones seemed the right choice over the comedian in the live show. I learned the following day that I definitely made the right choice).

We gain another our tonight.

Day 32 Feb 5 (Dunedin, NZ)

Breakfast in the room 8:30 Excursion to the Otago Peninsula. I know, the what? Dunedin harbor is an extremely deep narrow one bordered on the south by a very long, pretty narrow peninsula. Today we board a bus on the north side of the harbor and travel through Dunedin and around the end of the harbor to the south side and the Otago Peninsula. The object of our trip is the penguins and albatrosses. We go first to the Yellow Eyed Penguin Reserve. There are only about 4000 of these critters in the world and about 50 of them live here on the tip of the peninsula. They have a network of covered trenches and lookouts for the science observers (and fortunately for the public) to observe the penguins without disturbing them unduly.

It works! I have photos of several young ones. The adults are all off in search of food. They apparently will travel 10 miles or more in the ocean feeding before returning to the chicks. The chicks are at the stage where they no longer need the adult sitting on them for warmth. In fact the chicks are actually bigger than the adults. This will change before long and they will get their adult plumage and go off on their own to the sea. They get their yellow eye stripes at about 12 months. All very interesting. There was actually one chick about two feet from my face. This one had taken up a position near one of the observation trenches and was actually eyeballing us as we went through. Curious critter. Hopefully they will fight back from the endangered list and keep the species with us for our descendants to appreciate.

From the Penguin Reserve it was a short drive to the Royal Albatross Centre. (The albatross are Royal, not the Centre) Here we not only got to see the only nesting site of albatross on inhabited land (or something like that) but we also got to see a "disappearing gun". No, the albatross don't own it. It is left over from war years. This gun is hidden in the top of the hill and can be cranked up into position to bear on shipping in the harbor entrance area. When it fires it recoils back down into the hidey hole. They say it can cycle fire in about a minute. It was never used in wartime but nevertheless is a part of island history so we toured it on the way to the albatross. Like the penguins, the adult albatross were all out feeding. The chicks were resting and preening and waiting for food. Cute. I have some pics.

Next we headed back toward Dunedin a bit to a place called Glenfalloch Woodland Gardens. We had lunch there. The flowers were tasty. OK, just kidding. We had a buffet lunch which was tasty but there was nary a flower to eat anywhere. It was a beautiful setting for the lunch. Plants seem to grow well in wet climates. That is something I forget in El Paso from time to time.

After lunch we go to Larnach Castle. It isn't really a castle (hmmm... An albatross colony with a "disappearing gun", lunch in a garden and a castle which isn't a castle....). It is really more of a really fancy manor house with amazing views and pretty nice gardens too.

The final stop on the way back to the ship is at the Dunedin Rail Road Station. It contains some beautiful tile work and the front was recently remodeled. Quite a beautiful station for such a small town on an out of the way island! Reminiscent in overall design of the station in Amsterdam but much smaller. Oh, it is right across the street from the Cadbury factory which we don't have time to visit (alas!).

Back to the ship about nine hours after leaving for dinner with a Mardi Gras theme. All the staff dressed in costumes and there were feathery masks on our dining tables for the ladies. They had really decorated the dining room with many purple, green and gold balloons and tiny lights and colored drapes. Quite an effort! The staff waited for most of us to be seated and then put on a parade including "cymbals" made from the stainless steel warming covers used on our meals. Pretty colorful and we all applauded the effort they made.

Watched the movie, "Johnny Blaze". Not one of Nicolas Cage's best efforts. Well, his effort wasn't bad but the picture does stretch the imagination.

Day 31 Feb 4 (Christ Church) (Monday)

Breakfast on Lido. 10:15 Shuttle to town. Walked around taking some pics of downtown cathedral and park. Walked to what used to be Canterbury College around the turn of the last century (1900). The college has moved but they have an arts center there now and they preserved a small part of the old college because it was connected to Ernest Rutherford (This one is for you Richard and Christie too). Rutherford was a name well known to me from my days as a physics instructor. I confess that if I ever knew he was from New Zealand I had forgotten. When I read that he was memorialized here I had to pay the place a visit. A sort of Physics pilgrimage I suppose. Anyway, they have preserved a few rooms of the old college where he studied and did some of his early experiments. I learned much more about him than I ever learned majoring in physics in college or teaching physics. He is really the father of nuclear physics and even did some experiments which are the basis for modern day smoke detectors! Who knew??? Anyway, he won a Nobel Prize (as so often is the case it was not for his most important work in retrospect but a Nobel Prize is a Nobel Prize right?

So that was cool (for me). Then I stopped at an indoor/outdoor cafe which was part of the art center for lunch. I was warned not to feed the sea gulls. (I chose to sit outside under a canopee despite a slight drizzle from time to time (this is the first time I needed my umbrella on a shore day). So of course I disregarded the advice. I had this one gull shouting at me so I held out a piece of the pastry which was wrapped around the meat portion of my sausage roll lunch. The gull flew down to a nearby table and I tossed the piece to it. He caught it mid-air. Then I told him, "off you go" and he went. Works on gulls too Scott and Tara! He (could really have been a she I suppose) was a well behaved gull. I also offered my plate crumbs to the sparrows who were gathering. I had been told they could be coaxed to eat from my hand but decided I would save that for the pigeons in St. Marks Square in Venice later. I mean, I hardly knew these sparrows. The pigeons at St. Marks are old friends.

Well, that's about it. I'm back to watching the Super Bowl. There are 3 minutes left in the 3rd Quarter and I think this might be fun. Cheers to all. We go to Dunedin tomorrow so I'll try to catch you up after that. The following day we go to the fiords of New Zealand so it could be a couple of days.

Bye now.

Day 30 February 3rd (Wellington, NZ)

Days 30-31 & Super Bowl Greetings!

Hi All,
I'm writing this at half-time of the Super Bowl. I know that seems impossible since I'm writing it on Monday the 4th of February but I'm going to try to send it before the second half starts so I can focus on the game. It is strange but I am 6 hours behind those of you in the Eastern Time Zone and yet I am a day ahead of you. So I guess I'm actually 18 hours ahead of you. Hmmm. Don't think about it too long if it makes your head hurt.

Anyway, here it is.

Yesterday, Day 30 February 3rd (Wellington, NZ)

My cold is much better by the way. Ate on Lido. Took the shuttle to town around 10:30 AM. Found a Photo Shop open on Sunday (the first one I was directed to was closed). They not only processed my 35 mm dive photos but also processed the negatives directly to CDR so I have prints and a CDR which allowed me to enter them into my computer. Sure wish I could send pics. They included some medium size pics I might be able to do something with when I have time. The dive pics aren't spectacular but some turned out pretty well. But I get ahead of myself. I left the film and trudged off to have my adventure in Wellington. No excursion scheduled so I had to invent my own. I decided to take the cable car (in reality a finicular) to the top of the hill. From there there were some great views and a way down the hill through a beautiful Botanical Garden. As I was getting my ticket Claire appeared. She decided to tag along so we shared the adventure. It was quite a bit of walking but my cold seemed to need the exercise and we both enjoyed the tour. Amazing plants which don't resemble anything I've ever seen before. Beautiful
roses in the rose garden.

After we had seen most of the garden we started out through streets neither of us had travelled before with mediocre maps. I needed to return to the photo shop for my pics and I had not even written down the address. Chalk it up to the cold I guess. I'm usually better organized. Or maybe it was just cockiness. I figured I could rediscover the place because the town didn't seem that big. Considering it is about twice the size of El Paso I guess it wasn't the brightest thing to do, but all's well that ends well. My usually reliable sense of direction pretty much came through. OK, we crossed a street and then when I looked around to get my bearings I realized we should not have crossed it because the shop was just a few doors from where we crossed. So we crossed back and retrieved my pics.

From there Claire and I decided to find a place to eat. We discovered a neat sort of "mini-mall" which had been created inside an old bank building. We asked if there was a good place to eat and were steered to one place in particular and enjoyed some New Zealand cuisine. There weren't too many things to choose from but we had a place to sit down and eat and drink and after the long walk (I'm guessing a few miles in all to this point) we were happy.

After lunch we walked in the general direction of the ship looking for some government buildings to photograph. One is called the beehive because of it's unique shape. The architect has taken some considerable heat for the unconventional design but it seems the Kiwis now joke about it in that way of people who have grown to love something they once thought was ugly. Remember the old Volkswagen Beetles? The bus driver on the way in said the Queen Bee (meaning the Prime Minister) was in her Hive. We were successful in using the maps to find the place we sought and we found a nice souvenir shop as well.

Hmmm. As I write this I am aware that while they were showing the highlight reel of the season's best plays or something, the picture froze and now there is no picture on my set. This doesn't bode well for me watching the second half. The uncertainties of satellite reception I suppose. Well. I won't feel rushed to finish this by the game restarting (it may have already done so).

Went to the show at 8 PM but walked out during about the 3rd number. The "entertainer", an accordion player, had no soul. I was debating about his skill and then he started playing Sorrento and O Solo Mio. I'm sorry but these are meant to be played with feeling. I've heard them performed in Sorrento, Italy and this guy didn't have a clue. He was more interested in showing off the dynamic range of his instrument than in putting the emotion of the music into his performance. I'm getting to be such a music snob I suppose but I was just not able to sit there any longer. It wasn't that he wasn't playing the notes correctly (most of the time) it was that he was not playing them like he cared about the music. Maybe my cold is not as good as I think it
is but ....

Anyway, I returned to my cabin and spent the time processing the pictures from the dive film. Much more fun.

Well, the game is back on so I'll finish this up quickly.

Day 28 February 1 (Aukland, New Zealand) - Day 29 Feb 2 (Sea Day)

Long day today (the cold doesn't help but we had long bus rides so I was able to rest during those). The trip was fun. We went to see the glow worm caves and a Pioneer History Show. The cavern was less than remarkable (having spent many hours in Carlsbad Caverns makes most caverns seem unremarkable). It had stalactites and stalagmites. In fact the ones at the entrance were so low hanging that, despite warnings, caused a rather severe injury to one of our party. She came back by those of us at the end of the line with blood trickling down from above her eye. Later she rejoined us with her arm in a sling and apparently needed 17 stitches (not sure if they were all in her head or some in her arm). Needless to say the rest of us ducked. Perhaps they should invest in some Halloween make-up and have someone get "injured" before every group goes in. Visual aids are so much more effective than just a verbal warning aren't they teachers?

One of our passengers (cabin near mine so I've known her for most of the trip - another retired teacher) has the first name Woodlyn. Well, the park in this part of New Zealand is called Woodlyn Park. I'm not sure if it includes the cave we saw or not but nevertheless Woodlyn and her guy, Jim, came on this trip just so she could go to the park with her name. When we got into the main chamber (they have concerts there several times a year) we were asked if we wanted to sing to experience the acoustics and we all said yes but no one could come up with a song. The guide asked if it was anyone's birthday and it was Woodlyn's! So Woodlyn had about 40 people sing happy birthday to her in the glow worm cave either in or very near the park with her name! The coincidences to cause this to all come together are amazing. I'm sure she will never forget this birthday.

After the singing we went on to the boats to ride the stream to the part of the cave which had the glow worms. Loud noise causes the worms to turn off their light so we rode in silence for about 10 minutes enjoying the pinpoints of light in the roof of the cave. Pretty cool. The worms live in that stage for about 8-9 months and tend "fishing lines" that they lower from the ceiling to catch insects (like spider webs). They lower about 30-40 of these strings which may be anywhere from a few inches long to a foot or more. Then when insects get caught they eat them much the way spiders do. I'll spare the squeamish the details.

After the boat ride we walked along the stream a short distance to the mouth of the cave where the stream exited (we entered through a higher opening and walked down some steps to get to that level. The caves here were formed much like Carlsbad. Once covered by ocean limestone deposits leaching out to make the ground more like swiss cheese. Some of the caves are miles long.

After a brief stop at the souvenir shop (there is always a souvenir shop) we boarded the bus and headed for Billy Black's. For those of you who have not heard of Billy, I hadn't, he is a former record holder of some sheep shearing record I think. We had a nice buffet lunch and I had a good local beer (Waikato Draught - Bitter Beer). I have finally figured this collecting beer cans/labels thing out. I don't have the finger nails to peel off labels well so I realized I could just snap a picture of the bottle! I know. I am a little slow but considering I have this cold it was a pretty amazing epiphany.

The Pioneer History Show followed lunch and was pretty entertaining as well as informative. Billy is a character. He has created a little enterprise here which also includes some unique accommodations for people who wish to spend the night. He has an old airplane (big boxy thing that the Brits made years ago), a boat and the most fun of all for Ring Trilogy fans is the Hobbit House. (He assured us the ceilings were high enough for real size people.)

The show included demonstrations and explanations of how the pioneers of NZ took a Jurrasic Park like land and created the beautiful country they now have. More than 90% of the island was rain forest. The Kiwi's are very aware of environmental management and conservation now but at that time there seemed to be unlimited resources (19th century). So, first were the lumberjack demonstrations. He mixed humor in with the demos and got volunteers from the audience for many demonstrations. He showed log sawing, working your way up a tree trunk to saw it above the root level, splitting the logs with black powder and a tube with a fuse hole in it. That last one was a bit scary until he let us in on the secret after the fact. You'll have to come watch the show to see that. I don't want to spoil his surprise. Mixed in with the demos were some animal things. We learned and saw what a Kiwi bear is. It is actually a New Zealand possum (much cuter than our variety). We saw a large hog that was trained to nod yes and know to questions. (Well, sometimes he was trained.) The show moved on to sheep raising and shearing. He had a dog who went back to the corral (the back of the stage was open so we could see behind it) and shepharded 5 sheep down to the stage. The ram was (obviously) trained to jump off the stage toward the audience. There was a rail inbetween which had a feed bag hanging on it. Just part of Billy's Kiwi humor. Scare you a bit before you realize all is well. Probably the highlight of the show was when Billy began with the history of sheep shearing. He brought three volunteers on stage and showed the first shearing tool which is basically a pair of scissors. The two halves are joined at the end of the handle instead of the middle and the two opposing blades are more like sharp knife blades. He explained how it was important to not cut the sheep and the way that was accomplished was to put your thumb between the sheep and the shears. Of course, that puts your thumb at risk but.... He then asked one of the ladies onstage if she was ready to shear the lamb he had brought onstage. She said yes to his surprise and he complemented her but had no intention of letting her try. He put the shears away and showed us the motor driven variety of shears. That is how they do it now. But, not out of surprises yet, he said that before the motor driven ones they used hand operated versions of the same type of shear. To make the shears clip someone had to turn a double handled crank. He then had the ladies turn the crank (the one man onstage stood on the bottom of the platform of the turn crank to stabilize it until late in the demo). He sheared the lamb and we all got a good idea of how much work it used to be to do that job. His last animal was a steer. He rode into the theater on it and encouraged us to share with everyone we knew. I think he wants to be on Leno or Letterman (he may have been in the past - I missed some of his patter). I have to appreciate the effort he puts into this one man show. It was genuinely entertaining and informative. We all went away with smiles and some knowledge we didn't have before the show.

We were late enough getting back to the dock that the ship had to wait for us. Ah the security of taking cruise line sponsored excursions. I made it to dinner at about 6:00PM.

After dinner it was bedtime for this sicky. I'm some better today (I'm writing this on the 2nd of Feb) after spending much of the day on my back. I think the worst is over as long as I don't get stupid and overdo. We have three non-sea days in a row coming up but I don't have an excursion tomorrow in Wellington so if I'm not good when I wake up I can just chill another day.

Oh, I have forgotten to mention some of the gifts we have recieved. I realized it tonight when we received yet another gift. Tonight's was a nightlight. The ones I have not mentioned were a travel umbrella (the kind that folds down to less than a foot long) and a nice vinyl zippered multi-pocketed carrying bag - sort of a portfolio kind of thing.

Today (Feb 2) I didn't leave my cabin until after 1 PM and grabbed lunch and went to the lecture about digital photography. Then back to the room for more lying around before dinner. Since dinner I've been feeling pretty good so I have tidied up a bit and written this bit of blog. I know some of you are probably worried about my health so I'll send this tonight before I quit and unless you hear otherwise I'm going to be fine. One of our tablemates, Anita, had a belly ache yesterday and went to the ship's doctor who quarantined her! Apparently some rule requires this. I'm not sure what kind of quarantine this is because her husband is free to come and go from the cabin (she is on house arrest maybe?). But you can bet that when word gets around nobody is going to the doc with stomach cramps unless they are really bad. Hmmmm.