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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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Flights to Singapore and departure aboard Volendam

Feb 13-15, 2016 – Victoria, BC Canada to Singapore

My first two flights (Victoria to Vancouver and Vancouver to Hong Kong) are both about an hour late departing. This doesn’t cause me any major problems since I have lots of time between my flights into and out of Vancouver.

The Cathay Pacific flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong takes over 14 hours. We fly up the coast of British Columbia and Alaska, over Russia, and then south across central China, and to Hong Kong. I get a beautiful view of Venus off the wingtip and also of the lights of Wuhan, China.

Venus over the wintip in the pre-dawn with Wuhan, China's lights below

Venus over the wintip in the pre-dawn with Wuhan, China’s lights below

In the Economy section where I was seated, the flight crew serves dinner shortly after we leave Vancouver, and breakfast before we arrive in Hong Kong, but otherwise completely ignores our cabin. They never check on passengers, or offer any water or other refreshments or snacks. This is completely unacceptable. I have flown many long duration flights, and all airlines take much better care of their passengers than I experienced on this flight.

I am anxious about my late arrival in Hong Kong, since I have to go through security and change gates for my onward flight to Singapore, and accomplish all of this within an hour in an unknown airport. Deplaning in Hong Kong goes surprisingly quickly, but I immediately have to re-clear security before I can proceed to my next gate. The security guy operating the scanner screws up his face when my computer bag goes along the belt, so at the end, a young woman asks to see inside my bag. It appears she doesn’t know what binoculars are, but is satisfied once she inspects them. She even asks me how to pronounce the word “binocular”!

Cathay Pacific did redeem themselves on the Hong Kong to Singapore flight, where the cabin service in Economy was very good. They served us breakfast after departure, and ensured the passengers were comfortable throughout the four hour flight.

After over 30 hours elapsed travel time, and losing a day in the process, it was great to get to the Pan Pacific Orchard hotel, have a shower, and get some sleep for a few hours in my quiet hotel room. This hotel is not new, but it is very nicely appointed, and is located in the fairly quiet Orchard district of Singapore. This area is not downtown, but there are lots of malls, hotels, embassies, and residential towers in the area. I sleep soundly overnight,

Feb 16, 2016 – Singapore departure aboard Volendam

Freight yard cranes in Singapore harbour with Volendam's bow

Freight yard cranes in Singapore harbour with Volendam’s bow

I have some cappuccino and breakfast this morning at the hotel, and then repack before taking a taxi to the cruise ship terminal just before noon. As usual, Holland America Lines (HAL) are well organized. After filling in a few additional forms to allow me to exit Singapore, I check in at the cruise ship counter, receive my personalized security card for the ship, and walk my bags and myself through the concourse and aboard the ship to my cabin.

The ship is docked in Harbourfront, a busy area of Singapore. When I return in 15 days mid-cruise, I will have some time to explore Singapore, since the ship stays overnight before departing for Indonesia and the Solar Eclipse. I attend a welcome reception for three and four star Mariners, where snacks are served, champagne and orange juice are available. The Cruise Director and Hotel Manager welcome us as repeat HAL cruisers. After some delays caused by Singaporean authorities, the ship pulls away from the dock around 4:30PM into the busy harbour. We have a day at sea tomorrow before our arrival in our first port: Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.

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Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia

March 9, 2014 – Sunday –Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Group, French Polynesia

I wake up very early and look out the cabin window to see that the ship is very close to the coast of Nuku Hiva. I grab my camera and go out on the Promenade Deck to take some photos as we enter Taiohae harbour. The light is wonderful, and a rainbow appears as the ship anchors in the harbour.

My excursion assembles in the Showroom so early, so I don’t have time for breakfast or even a coffee. I’ll just have to suck it up and survive, since the tour will end mid-morning. Private vehicles are waiting to take us for a drive, since Nuku Hiva lacks the tourist infrastructure the main French Polynesian Islands have. I luck out on two counts: our driver speaks some English, and I get the front passenger seat in the new Ford Explorer 4X4. Our driver owns the car rental agency on the island, and has worked in Honolulu.

Nuku Hiva photos

We drive away from the harbour, over the mountain ridge, and into the next harbour and valley. It is a pretty drive, and we stop for two photo opportunities along the way. The first stop is a lookout high over the harbour. The second stop highlights the Survivor Marquesas location, and gives us great views of a long inlet with very pretty colours and interesting topography, with a community at the head of the inlet.

We drive down to sea level through the Taipivai valley and the community of same name. A river runs beside the community, and we eventually come to the head of an inlet called Comptroller Bay, where there is a little community called Houmi. There is a nice beach and a single sailboat is anchored in the sheltered bay. Our stop here includes fresh fruit snacks, and the obligatory crafts for sale. Since it is Sunday, most people are attending church this morning.

Map of the locations of my photos of Nuku Hiva

Map of the locations of my photos of Nuku Hiva

We then return along the same route back to the main town of Taiohae, stopping at the local historic Notre Dame Cathedral, and return to the departure point near the tender dock.

By this time, it is starting to heat up, so I’ve had enough and head straight back to the ship on the next available tender. As always, it’s great to be back aboard the ship, where I can shower, change clothes, have some lunch in the Rotterdam Dining Room, and have that much-needed cappuccino afterwards!

The ship departs on time at 3PM, cruising along the coast of Nuku Hiva before setting a course for San Diego, which will take us six days.

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Tahiti, French Polynesia

March 5, 2014 – Wednesday – Tahiti, French Polynesia

My excursion this morning is called Off the Beaten Track: Tahiti by 4-Wheel Drive, which is another tour using 4X4 trucks, but this time to explore the interior of Tahiti. We drive along the north coast of Tahiti from Papeete to the Papenoo Valley, and then head inland up to the base of one of the volcano calderas, now covered in lush tropical vegetation, with a river and waterfalls. The river is used for hydropower generation, although the dams, reservoirs and power stations are very small by British Columbia standards. We return using the same route, marvelling at the huge rough surf crashing on the rocks and shoreline. Our final stop is at an outlook over Mataval Bay and its black beach, with the capital of Papeete and island of Moorea behind.

After lunch, I venture out to walk around Papeete for a few blocks. Everything is closed today, since it is Ash Wednesday (and Missionary Day), both a civic and religious holiday. There are a few restaurants open and a few tourist shops, but otherwise the city is closed for the day. The Vaima Shopping Center was newly opened when I was here in 1978, but it is closed for the holiday like most other retail. The afternoon heat is a killer, so I return to the air-conditioned ship.

JoeTourist: Tahiti &emdash; Tahiti Ora folkloric dance troupeThis evening there is a special folkloric Tahitian dance troupe the Showroom aboard ship: Tahiti Ora. They are top-notch, high-energy performers, and the room is packed for their single performance. After the show, the rain is pouring down outside. We have been incredibly lucky during out time in French Polynesia, since this is their rainy season. We seem to have been perpetually a day ahead of serious-looking rainstorms. See my photos of our scenic cruise along Raiatea and Taha’a for some major clouds and even a funnel cloud!

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Bora Bora, French Polynesia

March 3, 2014 – Monday – Bora Bora, French Polynesia

I have some breakfast in the Lido early, since I have to be ashore for my excursion by 9AM. Another cruise ship has anchored beside us, replacing the one I saw yesterday. Bora Bora is obviously a popular port-of-call! After breakfast, I take the 10 minute tender ride ashore, and eventually we are collected and board our catamaran. We actually depart a bit early since everyone is on board from the ship. Moana Adventure Tours runs this excursion with four Tahitian guys. They are well-rated on TripAdvisor and I can see why – I had a great day, as did the others from the ship on this excursion!

First stop on the tour is just around the seaward side of the closest motu (islet) to Vaitape harbour, so we arrive there in only 15 minutes. We see Stingrays and Black-tipped sharks in the shallow water. Most of the people get into the water with them, however I stay aboard and get some great photos and video from the deck.

Next stop is about 20 minutes away: a small, private motu where there are coral reefs and a nice sandy beach. It is a wet landing, so everyone gets in the water here. I have a wonderful hour poking around, taking photos and video of the fish and the coral formations in the shallow lagoon. The excursion guys serve snacks and drinks under the shade of the palm trees before we return to the catamaran for the trip back to Vaitape harbour. This 3.5 hour excursion couldn’t be much better, but I’m very glad to head back to the ship’s air conditioning, since the oppressive heat hits us once we are back in the town of Vaitape.

Map showing the location of my photos taken on Bora Bora

Map showing the location of my photos taken on Bora Bora

Port Vila, Vanuatu

November 18, 2012 – Sunday – Port Vila, Vanuatu

I sleep in until a bit after 8AM this morning…a first on this trip, where I have been waking anywhere from 5-6AM most mornings. After my usual breakfast of cappuccino, yogurt, and French pastry at La Palette, I go out on deck to call home to check in since there is a good cellular signal here in Port Vila’s harbour. I then go back to my cabin to prepare for my last shore excursion for this cruise “Semi-submersible and snorkel”, a short 1.5 hours long starting mid-morning. I’m expecting it to be similar to the excursion I took from Port Vila two years ago while aboard the Volendam, where we motored out to the far side of Iririki Island, which is in the middle of Port Vila’s rather large harbour. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happens. We walk from the tender dock up the street a short way, and even leave from the same dock as before. The same larger sailboat used for my previous excursion is tied up when we returned to the dock.

The “semi-submersible” we are on is basically a small boat with an underwater observation chamber welded to the bottom equipped with windows and seats. Everyone crowds down there for the first part of the excursion, while the crew show us coral formations, fish, and other underwater life. This is ideal for taking underwater photos if you want to remain dry. The second part of the excursion is what I came for: snorkelling. I am one of the first to jump off the boat and swim around observing the fish and taking photos of all the underwater life. As with my excursion two years ago, the crew feed the fish bread, so they are tame, swarming around the food morsels. This gives everyone a great show of fish close up.

After a half hour or so I’m tiring, so I climb back aboard the boat and start to dry off. One of the crew asks me to give him my camera, so he can dive down a bit deeper to “get some good pictures for your kids”. After returning to the ship and viewing the photos, he indeed did get some good shots of sea cucumbers, giant clams, and a yellow-black-white striped coral reef fish. It was a good tour for me, since it wasn’t too long, and I went snorkelling. My needs are simple. After returning to the ship and having a late lunch at Le Veranda, I have an afternoon nap in my cabin.

Later this afternoon just before we sail away, I measure the following weather conditions from the top decks of the ship: 27ºC temperature, 20kmh wind speed, 75% humidity, and 30ºC Heat Index. This is the first day on our cruise where my fellow passengers are complaining about the “hot” weather, although I would hardly call this hot personally. All our previous days aboard ship have seen mild temperatures (low 20ºC temperatures), and light breezes. There are a few light rain showers today, but it is also hot and humid, as the numbers attest.

There is a huge four-masted sailboat named Phocea anchored in the harbour. I heard a story earlier today that the owner of the boat was arrested and thrown in jail in Vanuatu for attempting to smuggle drugs and arms into the country. I wonder if the story is true? Here is a good background story to read.

Dinner in L’Etoile this evening is most enjoyable. I talk with an older couple from San Francisco are well traveled, so this is always interesting to me, and she has a sharp sense of humour. A younger couple from Atlanta are both very friendly. He is a software developer, so we have IT-related stuff we talk about. A man from Ohio joins us for dinner, and always had something to contribute to the conversation, since he is a fellow amateur astronomer I know from a few years back when we both attended one of TraveQuest’s Costa Rican Southern Sky Fiesta tours. An older woman from San Francisco who I met before is also interesting, but because she is across the table, it is hard to converse with her. She and I share the fact we both love terriers, and she tells me she once raised 26 terriers at the same time! I share that we have two one-year-old Jack Russell Terriers.

When I return to my stateroom, I organise everything I need for packing tomorrow night. The daily newsletters which I have accumulated during the cruise make a good record of the activities aboard ship and the ports of call, but weigh too much to lug home, so I photograph each page and then throw them in the recycle bin. I even recycle the nice Solar Eclipse booklet TravelQuest gave everyone when they boarded ship, since I have a pdf version of the booklet.

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Huatulco, Mexico

Friday, December 16, 2011 – Day 26 – Huatulco, Mexico

Since I’m not interested in all the tourist shops available at this cruise port; I go on a snorkel cruise excursion this morning. It is quite a bit of fun, and provides a good opportunity to get away from the ship for a couple of hours. They make us all sign waivers and wear a silly yellow floatation device (which is deflated), but otherwise it is a well-run activity. They take us on a ten-minute boat ride to one of the little bays we saw this morning as Rotterdam pulled into the port.

The group of snorkelers is lead by the crew, and despite several hundred other people swimming in the same bay, there are still a surprising number of fish to see and photograph. I even see a lobster on the bottom before we return to shore. The flippers they give us earlier are necessary, since there are some fairly strong surges as we do the circuit, especially when we are lead into a cave with a narrow opening.

As always, I’m happy to return to the ship to have a shower and put on fresh clothes. I spend part of the afternoon doing one final load of laundry before the end of the cruise. My friends and I have some Becks beer on the stern deck as we pull out of the bay. We decide to have a casual dinner in the same place since the weather is so warm.

Cunard’s Queen Victoria is docked beside Rotterdam at the pier. It is an impressive new ship, with five decks of veranda suites. She is huge – much wider and higher than our ship, but not too much longer. Cunard still runs their larger ships with two classes of passengers, so I expect the two gangways are for First Class and Tourist Class. Seeing this ship brings back memories of when I sailed aboard the Cunard Princess in the 1980’s from Vancouver through the Panama Canal and the Caribbean. The Cunard Princess was a small ship with some 800 passengers, so it was a single class (Tourist Class) ship.

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Manta, Ecuador

Saturday, December 10, 2011 – Day 20 – Manta, Ecuador

We arrive in Manta, a small city with an important seaport with a big harbour and two beautiful adjacent beaches. I am not signed up for a shore excursion today, instead preferring to go for a walk along the wonderful beach adjacent to the pier where we are docked. As we have come to expect on this trip, the skies are overcast and the outside temperature is in the low 20’s, however the humidity is high.

After breakfast, I take the shuttle to the entrance to the pier, and walk the block or so to the Malecon Beach. This is a huge beach, several kilometres long. The entrance area has cafes and bars, as well as activity areas for people and families to socialize and have fun. Being Saturday, there are hundreds, perhaps even a thousand or so locals at the beach today. That said, I only have to walk a few hundred metres down the beach and it is virtually empty. There are some lovely beachfront towers built between the road and the beach. It is a great area to enjoy, and so easy to get to from the ship.

I meet a friend on the beach, so after we walk for awhile, we decide to have a look at the Cultural Museum located across the street from the beach entrance. There is no charge to enter; however the main desk retains our Holland America passenger cards until we leave. There are some interesting modern works of art, and some cultural artifacts in pottery and gold. It takes about 20 minutes to see the three floors of exhibits, so their collection is not extensive, but it is interesting nonetheless. We return to the ship, taking the free shuttle along the working pier to the gangway. It is always nice to return to the relative comfort of the Rotterdam.

In addition to being a deep-sea port for freighters, Manta is also home to the tuna fishing fleet for Ecuador. Many American and Canadian fishing companies operate out of Manata. The nearby town of Montecristi is where Panama hats are produced. There are many tours from the ship returning from Montecristi this afternoon, with passengers sporting new hats as they re-board. I bought a genuine Panama hat many years ago on one of the Caribbean islands.

JoeTourist: Manta &emdash; Bulk carrier with truck vehicles on deck being docked by two tug boatsOur departure is delayed this evening by the fuel loading, or bunkering operation that started this afternoon alongside. We go to dinner in the main dining room and are seated at a table with a couple from Liechtenstein. They speak poor English, but prove interesting to talk with nonetheless. After dinner, I take advantage of the ship still being docked after dark by taking some night time photos of the fish boats at anchor, the freighter docking next to us, and the Full Moon reflecting off the water as it drills through the cloudy sky. I stay on deck to watch Rotterdam finally leave port around 8:30PM, carefully finding its way out to the Pacific past the anchored fish boats.

Sunday, December 11, 2011 – Day 21 – At sea – Ecuador to Costa Rica

We sail between Ecuador and Costa Rica today, and in the process cross the Equator for the second time on this cruise. We are still in the cold Peru Current, which has surprised may on this cruise (including myself) with the cool air temperatures (averaging 21°C) despite us being so near the Equator. I catch up on my blogs today, covering both Ecuador and our last day in Peru (Dec 6). Annotating and choosing photos is always a big part of this work.

It is formal night, so my friends and I get dressed and go for dinner this evening to Canaletto, an Italian-themed restaurant. A couple of others join us for dinner, which always means there is welcome variety to the dinner conversation as we interact with people from all walks of life.

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Trujillo, Peru

Friday, December 2, 2011 – Day 12 – Salaverry (port) and Trujillo (city), Peru

Rotterdam creeps into port of Salaverry this morning sounding the ship’s horn as she goes through the thick fog that envelops the area. The Cruise Director tells us later that we almost had to miss the port due to the fog. My friends explore the city of Trujillo, taking a shuttle bus from the port to the city centre in Trujillo. They report that the central square is charming, but the abject poverty in the rest of the city is shocking.

I take a shore excursion to the Huaca Dragon (Temple), the Chan Chan complex, and to see the fishermen with their reed boats at Huanchaco, a popular beach resort area. Huaca Dragon is a small temple on the outskirts of Trujillo, and has a ramp up to the top of the single temple and also has some fascinating rainbow decorations on the walls. A pre-Incan culture called the Chimu built this edifice as both a temple and a place to store food.

Chan Chan is an immense adobe city (20 sqkm, 30,000 residents) also built by the Chimu people, but closer to the coast than Huaca Dragon. In fact, from high points in the complex, the Pacific Ocean can be glimpsed. We visit the three huge plazas and former living areas used by the Chimu people before they were conquered by the Aztecs, who destroyed much of this complex. The vast majority of this city is still buried in the coastal sand.

The reed boats at Huanchaco are an interesting diversion. A couple of our tour members have a ride on them or try to paddle them in the ocean. As we travel around to these various sites, I also take note of the disturbing poverty in this region, other than at the resort town of Huanchaco, which is rather posh in comparison.

Rotterdam leaves port on time at 5PM. My friend and I try to see the Green Flash of the setting Sun from the Sports Deck, but no joy since there is too much fog out to sea this evening. After dinner in the Lido this evening, I pack my bags for our departure from Rotterdam tomorrow for a three day excursion to Machu Picchu. We rejoin the ship in the port of Pisco on Dec 6th.