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Singapore

Feb 29, 2016 – Singapore

We arrive early this morning in Singapore’s cruise ship terminal. We have a day in port and then overnight aboard the ship this evening. Most of the passengers are disembarking tomorrow morning, but I’m one of the 175 who are staying on board for the next cruise segment.

I take the Best of Singapore excursion today. It is an exhausting 8 hour tour, but we cover a great deal of ground, and I take some good photos and video. Our guide takes us to the City Gallery, where there are some wonderful scale models of the city and the whole country of Singapore. It shows just how much of Singapore is dedicated to gardens and other non-developed land, including the reservoir system for their water supply.

We take an electric-powered riverboat ride down the Kallang River and into Marina Bay, past Merlion Park. The Merlion fountain statue was erected as a symbol of welcome to visitors; the lion statue is emblematic of Singapore itself. We also see the historic Fullerton Hotel, on our way to the three towers that make up the Marina Bay Sands hotel and the observation deck, 200 metres (650 feet) above sea level, perched on Tower 3 of the hotel. I manage to photograph the amazing infinity pool (reserved for hotel guests) by leaning out from the observing deck to grab a shot. The view of Gardens by the Bay below the towers, as well as the city and harbour are fantastic from this vantage point. The Marina Bay Sands hotel has one of only two casinos, and a huge number of high end shops in a vast mall under the main hotel.

Our bus takes us to the entrance to Gardens by the Bay – a 100 hectare (250 acre) spectacularly designed park, home to an amazing variety of rare plants housed in giant, innovative domed conservatories. There are several different regions and ecosystems to discover, but we only have time to explore two: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.

The Flower Dome replicates the cool-dry climate of Mediterranean regions, and showcases flora that thrive in these conditions. Oddly enough, cactus and succulents, as well as Baobab trees are included in this ecosystem. True to its name, the Flower Dome showcases massive numbers of flowers from all over the world. As we move into the mist-veiled Cloud Forest, we feel the climate change to warmer and moister conditions. The 35 metre (115 foot) tall mountain showcases the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and presents plant life from tropical ecosystems, and is nothing short of spectacular.

We stop for a family-style Chinese lunch in a restaurant in Chinatown, which offers us a welcome air-conditioned respite from the heat and humidity on Singapore’s streets after seeing the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The gold-domed Masjid Sultan Mosque is the centre of Muslim culture in the city, and nearby Arab Street offers lots of carpet dealers. Shopping in Little India is interesting, and there are bargains to be had here when compared with Singapore’s more upscale (and expensive) shopping areas.

We finish our day at the legendary Raffles Hotel. I have a Singapore Sling cocktail where it was originally invented in Raffles’ Long Bar. Named after the British designer of modern-day Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, this property is one of the world’s finest and most famous hotels. The high ceilings and colonial architecture reflect the era of British rule (1819-1963). There is no public access to the lobby and other guest areas, however the Long Bar and shops are accessible to the public.

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Jebel Akhdar

February 19, 2015 – Sharqiya Sands to Nizwa

We depart early this morning for Sinaw, whose Thursday souq attracts many Bedu from Sharqiya Sands. This is a good place to interact with Omani women whose Bedouin lifestyle affords them a more visible social role. They wear brightly coloured costumes with peaked masks and an abeyya of gauze. I find some shade while we are at the souq in Sinaw and spend my time taking people photos using my long telephoto zoom, since the people here are camera-shy.

After leaving the souq, we climb some roads near Birkat Al Mouz which are controlled by the army for some reason. The road is extremely steep and also has sharp curves, so our 4x4s get a good workout today on Oman’s spectacular mountain highways! Two of our 4×4 vehicles have broken down so far, but the local tour company is replacing them with no delays. We drive through the lower plateau of Jebel Akhdar, where most of the market-gardening happens in terraced plots in small villages clinging to the steep hillsides. We have a wonderful buffet lunch at the very remote Jabal Akdhar Hotel., which is 2,000 metres above sea level.

Our final destination today is Nizwa, a large city which lies on a plain surrounded by a palm oasis and some of Oman’s highest mountains.

Map of our 4x4 drives in Oman,

Map of our 4×4 drives in Oman,

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Suva, Fiji

Port of call on a 2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Oct 11, 2010 – Monday – Suva, Fiji Islands

I set the alarm this morning in order to see our arrival in Suva. It brought back memories of sailing the SV Sequoia through the same channel in 2004, when I crewed the open ocean segment from New Zealand to Fiji with the Johnstons. This time my mode of transportation is a bit more luxurious!

Our arrival at King’s Wharf is heralded by the Suva Police Band – they march up and down the wharf playing some very catchy tunes. It is overcast today, so it is not as hot as Pago Pago was (our previous port of call in American Samoa). I call my Fijian friends several times this morning, but there is no answer, so I find my onboard friends and we go ashore together.

Downtown Suva & office buildings

Downtown Suva & office buildings

We walk along the waterfront to catch some views of the harbour. It is Independence Day in Fiji, so most shops and offices are closed. We meet several Fijian families who are enjoying the day off. We walk past the derelict Grand Pacific Hotel and take an obligatory photo of the guard dressed in a ceremonial uniform (including a sulu) who is posted at the Governor General’s mansion. We then wander through Thurston Gardens and see the Fiji Museum. The last time I toured this museum was in 1975. At that time, cannibalism artifacts were prominently displayed, but there wasn’t a sign of them during this visit. When I pay for the admission to the museum for myself and my friends, the guy at the desk notices my “old” bills. I had saved them from my last trip six years ago, so I guess they have updated their currency since then.

Despite the cloudy weather, we still find the walk to be hot and exhausting. We stop in town to poke around the few shops that are open. A friendly Fijian “sweeper” directs us to the shops that sell t-shirts, jewellery, and other tourist stuff. I buy a Fiji Bitter beer t-shirt for FJ$22 (CD$12). We also walk through Prouds, a high end department store, but buy nothing. After returning to the comfort of the ship, I head for the Sea View pool to cool off, and then grab some lunch in the Lido.

The Suva Police Band is once again there to serenade us before our 5pm departure. They have an incredible repertoire…not just marching tunes, but also pop and rock and roll! Their performance has to be one of the highlights of this trip. What a change from the last time I saw the band in 1975, when it was a pretty ordinary marching band. I shoot some high definition video to capture some of their wonderful performance. The ship was waiting in Suva harbour for the arrival of New Zealand customs and immigration officers. They were delayed about two hours…so we waited, and the band played on (as the old saying goes). What a show – this is no ordinary marching band!

Fiji 2010 from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

HINT: Click on the little four segment icon beside the “HD” in the lower right corner of the video window to view the video in high definition mode.

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St. Lucia to Durban and Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve

October 31, 2008 – Friday –

Our wakeup call is at 4:45am this morning, and we depart the Protea Hotel in St. Lucia by 5:15am for our safari to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve. The box breakfast the hotel prepares for us is nothing short of dreadful. While we were on safari, I drank the juice and ate the fruit, but threw the rest of the box breakfast away in favor of granola bars I always bring with me when traveling.

JoeTourist: KwaZulu-Natal Province &emdash; Black Rhinoceros grazing on the hillside

Black Rhinoceros grazing on the hillside

This game reserve is the oldest proclaimed park in South Africa (1895), and is known for its rich wildlife. It is the only park in KwaZulu-Natal where all of the big five occur. This is the only time I see Black Rhinoceros (leaf browsers, pointed mouths, much smaller that the White). I manage to shoot some video of the Black Rhino despite them being so far away. We also see some White Rhinoceros (grass feeders, square mouth, twice as big as the Black), as well as Elephant, Lions, Zebras, Kudu and Giraffes. The safari ends around 9am – my last safari on this trip.

Wildlife in South African parks & reserves from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

St. Lucia to Durban

We board our bus, and many of us sleep as we drive to Durban. Not long after we leave Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, we start seeing the Indian Ocean coastline. The communities north of Durban appear to be quite affluent, with lots of big houses situated either right on the coast, or having a water view. The bus pulls into Gateway Shopping Mall – a super-sized destination mall with four levels, a wave machine, skating, IMAX theatre, and a huge number of shops and restaurants. This mall caters to a very affluent clientele – including us of course!

JoeTourist: Durban &emdash; Pink Orchids in the Orchid House at the Botanical Garden

Pink Orchids in the Orchid House at the Botanical Garden

After looking around for awhile, I end up at Sam Brown’s for lunch. I have a good cappuccino, however the roast chicken sandwich is only mediocre. After an hour or so, we re-board the bus and carry on to Durban. Before we check into our hotel, the bus drops us off at the Botanical Garden. There are some spectacular orchids in the Orchid House, and I have some very nice tea and a scone at the tea house. We also stop at the Indian Market, which is a fun place to waste some time.

Downtown Durban is a chaotic mess. There are taxi vans picking up people everywhere, the traffic seems to go in six directions at once, and just to add insult to injury, the street names are all being changed so there are two different signs for most streets!

We are staying at the Tropicana Hotel, which is located right on the beach downtown. The room is nothing special but it’s clean. Craig tells us we shouldn’t walk the beach area due to a “bad element”. He certainly is correct about that – I see lots of action going on across the street which I would rather not be part of! This evening we have a group dinner at RJ’s restaurant – which is about a 20 minute drive across the city. The restaurant isn’t prepared to serve 40 people at once, but the staff do their best. The food is mediocre, but everyone in our group stays good humoured about it. After returning to our hotel, I’m kept up most of the night from noisy street parties happening all around us. I work on my computer sorting photos and video until the parties stop a few hours before dawn, so I only get a couple of hour’s sleep before our early wake up call.

From the limited exposure I had to Durban, I was not impressed.

Limahuli Gardens, Kaua’i, Hawaii

January 17, 2001 – Limahuli Gardens, Kaua’i, Hawaii

This botanical garden is located in Ha’ena, near the end of the north shore road. Be sure to allow yourself over an hour (two hours is better) to explore these botanical gardens. You don’t have to be interested in plants to appreciate the rare window to ancient Hawai’i which Limahuli Gardens offers its visitors.

Only basic facilities are available: composting toilets are located at the visitors’ center, drinking water is supplied along the way, and a guide book is part of the modest admission fee. Mosquitoes can be a problem in this wet area (Skin-So-Soft is provided), and rain showers are frequent but usually brief (ponchos and umbrellas are provided). Please stay on the well-marked pathway provided, and be sure to stay hydrated by sipping water from each station where it is provided for your use. Parts of the path are steep, and may not be suitable for those with mobility issues or certain medical conditions. Access beyond the parking lot for those who have limited mobility can be a problem, so check with the facility for current info.

Makana Mountain towers above Lumahuli, and was given the name Bali Hai by the producers of the movie South Pacific. In Hawaiian “Makana” means “gift”, giving us a clue to the importance of this mountain in ancient Hawaiian life. Makana was used for the ‘oahi fire-throwing ceremony, where light, dry logs were set aflame and flung off the mountaintop. The strong winds would carry the firebrands as far as a mile out to sea. This ceremony was reserved for very special occasions.

Pohaku-o-Kane means Stone of Kane. Ancient Hawaiian legend tells us this rock is very significant. Kane (the rock) and his brother and sister were rolling around on the ocean floor long before humans inhabited Hawaii. They all liked Kaua’i and decided to stay here. His brother and sister fell asleep on the shore nearby, but this rock was determined to climb to the top of the ridge. He tried and tried, but each time he fell back until Kane (a Hawaiian god) helped him to the top of the mountain ridge. In return, the rock promised to remain awake and watchful, and report everything he saw to Kane. Personally, I believe the legend – what other explanation can there be for such a large rock to be perched so precariously atop a high ridge, and remain there for so long?

Lumahuli is a special place which gives me good feelings. Take the opportunity to rest for awhile at the Lookout. Gaze around to fully appreciate the natural beauty, and soak up some of your own good feelings from this place to carry with you in your travels through these special islands.