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Lombok, Indonesia

March 12, 2016 – Lombok, Indonesia

I had originally planned to stay aboard the ship in Lombok, however I booked the Fascinating Culture of Lombok shore excursion yesterday, in order to get off the ship and see some of this Indonesian island. The ship is anchored, and we use private tenders to get ashore today. These tenders are big and powerful, in order to cope with the currents and tides in the area.

When we arrive at the Nusa Tenggara Barat Province Museum, there is a local musical group using traditional instruments to greet us with music. The museum itself is modest, but there are interesting displays of artifacts from the area, including traditional Kris knives, drums, marriage costumes, and gold jewelry.

We make a shopping stop at a pearl shop in the central city of Mataram. I stay outside and take photos and video of the traffic on the street.

Terraces and the artifical lake, Narmada Water Palace, Lombok, Indonesia

Terraces and the artifical lake, Narmada Water Palace, Lombok, Indonesia

Narmada Water Palace consists of a large artificial lake whose shape resembles Segara Anak in the caldera of the Rinjani Volcano. It was built in 1805 by the Raja of Mataram after he became too old to climb Rinjani to deposit offerings in the sacred lake there. Narmada’s temple, Pura Kalasa, is still used; the Balinese Pujawali celebration is held here annually.

There is holy water available to anyone, so several of our group partake. Personally, I would never trust such water, but our local guide insists it is pure spring water. There is also a public swimming pool on the same site.

Decorative temple gate, Lingsar temple, Lombok, Indonesia

Decorative temple gate, Lingsar temple, Lombok, Indonesia

Our second temple stop this morning is at the twin temples for both Hindus, Muslims and all others at Pura Lingsar. This is a large temple complex built in 1714, and is the place of worship for Wetu Telu Islam, and is open to all others. The second temple in the northern section is exclusively for Hindu worship, and features a fountain.

As we head north, the road rises over two small hills offering panoramic views of the sea. We have an Indonesian buffet lunch at the Sheraton Senggigi Resort.

Woman making a tall pot with a younger woman holding a baby, Banyu Mulek, Lombok, Indonesia

Woman making a tall pot with a younger woman holding a baby, Banyu Mulek, Lombok, Indonesia

In contrast, our final stop is in Banyu Mulek village, which is famous for handmade pottery. We are taken into the village on a traditional horse cart called a cidomo, to see the skilled villagers make clay into beautiful pottery. They seem to use rice straw to fire the clay instead of kilns.

On the way back to the ship, we get caught in a wedding parade (photo at top). The bride and groom walk down the main street, and all the villagers come out to see them. On Lombok, tradition dictates that the couple elope to get married, and then parade in their local community to let everyone know they are married.

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Myanmar (Burma)

Feb 21, 2016 – Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma)

The Volendam is docked about an hour’s drive south of Yangon in the port city of Thilawa, which is as far up the shallow Rangoon River as ships dare go.

My shore excursion into Yangon takes most of the day. Our bus is a bit dodgy, but our driver and guide are great, and the driver has a helper, so we are well-served, and we are offered lots of bottled water in order to stay hydrated in the heat. The drive from the port to the city takes almost two hours each way through very heavy traffic. As we leave the port through Thilawa, we encounter early preparations for a pagoda festival. There are circus rides, lots of food stands, and people everywhere despite the festival not starting for several hours. We cross the Rangoon/Bago River over the bridge into the city of Yangon, where we pick up a police escort. So for the rest of the day, we arrive at each location like rock stars!

Our guide explains that the change in spelling for the city of Yangon (from Rangoon) and the country of Myanmar (from Burma) was done by the past military government to correct historical misspelling of the two place names into English. She tells us land is very expensive in Yangon, development is sporadic, and is dependant on foreign investment and (in the past) sponsorship by the military regime. There are lots of homeless dogs, who obviously have to scrounge for food, however some are fed and adopted from the Buddhist temples, so they are referred to as “wat dogs”, after the Burmese word for temple.

Street vendor beside Mahabandoola Garden in Yangon

Street vendor beside Mahabandoola Garden in Yangon

First stop is the Sule Pagoda, which is right in the center of the city. We don’t actually go into the pagoda, but we get to hang around Mahabandoola Garden for a few minutes, where there are lots of street food vendors. Next is the Bogyoke Aung San (Scott) Market, where we have some time to shop or just look around this massive market right in the centre of the city. There are clothes, shoes, precious and semi-precious gems and jewelry, inlaid wood, fabric, cosmetics and all sorts of handicrafts.

I’m glad to get out of the market, and go for lunch at the very elegant downtown hotel, the Sule Shangri-La. We are served (family style) a lovely Chinese meal with our choice of beverages, including beer or wine. I have a very nice lager-style local beer, and dine with several of my fellow passengers at big round tables. After lunch, our police escort takes us to the National Museum for a quick look at several interesting exhibits, including the 8-metre-tall golden Lion Throne used by the last Burmese King. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed in the museum.

The Vane and Diamond Orb atop Shwedagon Pagoda

The Vane and Diamond Orb atop Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda is the highlight of a very full day. One of the wonders of the religious world, this Buddhist spectacle was built more than 2,500 years ago. The pagoda is located on the top of Singuttara Hill, so it is visible from all over the city, since the golden stupa is 100 metres tall. It is topped with more than 6,500 diamonds, rubies and other precious stones; the largest diamond is 76 carats at the apex! The top three components (the Diamond Orb, The Vane and the Umbrella) consist of some 86,000 jewellery items weighing over 5 tonnes. The decorations on the main stupa were recently redone, with the precious stones coming completely from donations. The pagoda is covered in gold plate (not gold leaf).

Everyone, including tourists have to take shoes and socks off and be modestly dressed before taking the elevator from the entrance to the main plaza that surrounds this huge pagoda. Since it is the middle of the day, the tiles are hot in the midday Sun, however since they are marble, it is tolerable providing you don’t step on the black ones! I work my way around the plaza, which has huge numbers of temples and shrines on both sides of the plaza.

The faithful walk around the pagoda in a clockwise direction (as do we), stopping at shrines and temples along the way. In particular, there are Planetary Posts, or shrines for each day of the week (two for Wednesday), just like there are buddhas for each day of the week. Speaking of Buddhas, there are worship halls and temples for the many different images of Buddhas surrounding the main stupa. Free wifi is available in the southeast area of the plaza, near the south stairway entrance.

Monk, and offerings, and the Reclining Buddha

Monk, and offerings, and the Reclining Buddha

Our last stop of the day is to see the Chauk Htat Gyi Reclining Buddha. Again, we doff our shoes and socks before entering the compound. This statue is 68 metres (223 feet) long. Buddha’s feet are decorated with astrology and other symbols. There are lots of wat dogs and their pups lounging around the compound.

Our trip back to the ship uses back roads after we cross the river, since our guide and driver want to avoid the local pagoda festival being held on the main road in Thilawa. I hear later from other passengers that they were caught for almost an hour in the festival congestion. Although the back road we took was a bit rough, we were back onboard the ship by 5PM.

Feb 22, 2016 – Monday – Yangon, Myanmar

I spend most of the day aboard the ship at the dock, and leave at 4:30PM to see the Shwedagon Pagoda at night. The traffic is very congested south of the main bridge across the river, but we arrive at the pagoda in time for sunset when the lights illuminate all the gold on the structures. One benefit of visiting at night: the marble tiles on the plaza around the pagoda are cool. Yesterday, I was burning my bare feet as I walked around the pagoda in the midday Sun. The Moon is full, making this evening even more picturesque.

The main Shwedagon Pagoda at night

The main Shwedagon Pagoda at night

While walking around the pagoda, a young Burmese man strikes up a conversation with me, asking about my country, how long I am staying in the country, how I got here and where I’m going after leaving. He speaks very good English, so we have quite a conversation. Two monks also approach me later on, although they speak poor English. They have similar questions as the young man posed, but they also want me to go with them for some reason. Of course I decline, since I have no idea what they want, and I have no intention of finding out!

This evening, the Thilawa Music & Dance troupe perform traditional Burmese music, dance and acrobatics onboard the ship. Their music is kind of screechy, but the performances are very interesting and the costumes are ornate and colourful. The last number involves two guys inside a giant elephant costume! I take video of portions of the performance.

 

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The Louvre & farewell dinner in Paris

September 19, 2014 – Friday – The Louvre, Paris, France

After breakfast in the hotel, we take the Metro to see The Louvre this morning. After connecting with our guide Vincent shortly after 9AM, we walk through the expansive foyer and through security. The place is huge, so Vincent has selected some highlights for us, and has also included some of his personal favourites, since we only have a couple of hours.

The Mona Lisa is not too impressive, and we can’t get close to it since there is such a crush of people in the gallery. We have better luck seeing the Venus de Milo (Aphrodite) statue, although both galleries are known to be frequented by pickpockets. I’m thankful that Vincent is guiding us through the endless galleries, since I’m really not into museums, per se. The crowds are hard to cope with, even at this early hour – many are loud, rude, and pushy. As with the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, I find the display of wealth stolen by Napoleon and the Louis dynasty to be completely over the top. Despite my negative feelings, The Louvre is a place that needs a return visit. I have a feeling that spending a day in the less popular galleries would be more rewarding than our quick visit. After taking a coffee break in the foyer mall, we return to our hotel using the Paris Metro on our own.

Jennifer toasts at our farewell dinner

Jennifer toasts at our farewell dinner

Our group’s farewell dinner is held at La Terrasse du 7ème restaurant, which is only a couple of blocks away from our hotel. The meal is wonderful, and the wine is very nice. We start with Kir, which is a cocktail made with crème de cassis (black current liquor) and white wine, and then we have a three course dinner. We finish our farewell on the rooftop patio with some bubbly…a lovely way to end things and say our goodbyes.

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Open Air Museum in Arnhem

September 2, 2014 – Tuesday – Haarlem, Netherlands to Bacharach, Germany

We are delayed departing this morning because a couple are leaving the tour to return home because of a medical condition. We are now down to 24 in the group, since two people didn’t show up to start with. We finally get away from the hotel at 9AM. Sylvain is our driver. Our bus is huge, so anyone who wants his or her own pair of seats can have them. I end up taking 4 seats, so I can slide from side to side to stay on the shady side and take photos of whatever goes by! The bus has a restroom, however we are encouraged to use the facilities at rest stops whenever possible. The bus also is stocked with soft drinks, beer and wine in two fridges – we use a tally sheet on the honour system for our purchases at only €1.50 for each bottle. This is often cheaper than what is available at our rest stops, depending on the country we are in.

We cruise down the Autobahn, stopping once at a typical rest stop you would find along any expressway/freeway anywhere in the world. We pass Dutch farms with traditional barns and houses, and Utrecht, a modern city. It is fascinating to watch the countryside fly by us as we travel eastward.

We make a midday stop at the Open Air Museum at Arnhem, which reminds me very much of the Fort William historic site in Ontario, Canada (photos). We have a couple of hours to wander around this historic park, which showcases the cultural history of the Netherlands, complete with windmills, recreated old towns with historic displays of life in the Netherlands in the old days. We have an authentic Pannenkoeken (pancake) lunch, which is delicious but filling. Three types of Pannenkoeken are served: a multi-cheese pancake, a savoury onion and egg pancake, and an apple dessert pancake. A not-too-sweet apple syrup is available to garnish the dessert pancake, but the first two are normally eaten without further garnish.

I catch up on my journal and annotating photos while we travel along the excellent Autobahns in the Netherlands and Germany. As we travel down the Rhine Valley to our stop in Bacharach, the road narrows into a good two or four lane highway. There are lots of tunnels, and the views of the valley, vineyards on the steep slopes, and little towns along the way all fulfill my expectations of the “Rhineland” area of Germany.

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Amsterdam

September 1, 2014 – Monday – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Anne Frank statue

Anne Frank statue

We are out the door by 8:50AM for a full day of touring Amsterdam. We take the inter-city train from Haarlem to Amsterdam Centraal train station (takes about 10 minutes). Across the street from the train station, we catch a tram to the Anne Frank House and walk in ahead of the long line already forming. It is surprisingly emotional to actually see the hidden rooms where the two Jewish families hid from the Nazis during WWII. The rooms are devoid of furniture and there are no photos permitted inside, as per Otto Frank’s wishes. The stairways are narrow, and the rooms feel so small. As Anne wrote in her diary, having the windows shuttered was depressing, and it must have been a huge challenge to keep still during the day in order to make no noise that might be heard by the businesses operating below the hidden rooms.

Jennifer then takes us on a walking tour of Amsterdam. First stop is the Pink Triangle granite Homomonument in the canal, celebrating homosexual civil rights and freedoms. The Netherlands was one of the first countries to recognize gay and lesbian rights. Spinning around the main Dam square in the city, we see: the massive Neo-Gothic retail store Magna PlazaMadame Tussauds Wax Museum, the Nieuwe Kerk (leading art venue in the city), and the Royal Palace. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to explore Dam Square.

After a stop for a late lunch, we find our way back to the Rijks Museum for an escorted tour. I must endorse taking an escorted tour through this museum, since there is so much art history to appreciate. The guides are wonderful! The museum doesn’t just feature paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and other Dutch masters; there is furniture, applied and Asian art, sculpture, fashion, ship models, weapons, and all sorts of artifacts illustrating Dutch history. Just to cap it off, I bump into friends from home in one of the galleries – what a surprise!

Two old canal houses fully restored

Two old canal houses fully restored

By the time we leave the museum some of us need some respite from all the walking and standing, so we stop for a mid-afternoon beer and wine break in one of the local bars across the street from the Heineken factory. Afterward, we see some fascinating glimpses of Amsterdam by taking a one hour canal boat cruise.

Our final walk of the day takes us to Amsterdam’s Red Light District for a quick glimpse at the girls displaying their wares. As a contrast, we also see the outside of the Oude Kerk (Old Church) located in the same district, before finally taking the inter-city train back to Haarlem and our hotel.

It has been a long day!

Amsterdam is obviously a prosperous city, since it has huge retail, government, and cultural sectors, and they all appear to be thriving. By all accounts, housing is exceedingly expensive in the city. Many people who work in the city must live elsewhere and commute by train. One thing is certain, most of them ride bicycles…there are huge bicycle parkades in the city, and they are everywhere you look.

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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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Santa Marta, Colombia

Friday, November 25, 2011 – Day 5 – Santa Marta, Colombia

I get up early to take a tour to Taroya Park, which involves walking through Colombia’s jungle. The ship arrives on time and the tour bus takes the highway out of town on the way to the park, but soon comes to a stop because there is a protest blocking the road. Police are there, and apparently the protesters are upset over not having power in their neighbourhood, despite having the wiring in place. Eventually our guide comes back with the news we can’t proceed, since this is the only road to the park. Our guide gives us three options: return to the ship and get a full refund, be dropped off for the day at the resort hotel, or take a city tour. Both the city tour and the resort option include a folkloric dance at the Irotama Beach Resort.

Like most on the bus I choose the city tour, since in addition to the folkloric dance, we will see the main cathedral in town as well as the Gold Museum. Our first stop is the Irotama Beach Resort, which is 20 minutes out of town near a resort area. They have a beautiful beach, and offer us refreshments before the show starts. I choose a Colombian beer, which tastes very nice as I sip it under the palm trees. The folkloric dancers look quite similar to the ones I previously saw in Costa Rica and Martinique, but the young dancers do a great job. Apparently all Colombian children learn three folkloric dances when they are in school.

Our next stop is the main cathedral back in the centre of the city. Santa Marta is very much a third world city with dirty ditches lining the streets, narrow sidewalks, fruit vendors and old buildings with rickety balconies overhanging the streets below. As we enter the cathedral, our guide talks about Simon Bolivar, who liberated several Central and South American countries in his time, including Colombia. He is very much revered for his selfless sacrifice, since he died in this city from tuberculosis when he was in his early forties. The cathedral is impressive, with many alters decorated beautifully, however I’m most impressed with the large plaza surrounding the cathedral. It is a lovely civic space with no cars, shade trees, and some nice shops on the perimeter.

Our final stop of the day is the botanical gardens. We see lots of native flora and fauna, include the obligatory iguanas in the trees, butterflies, and there are several monuments to Simon Bolivar. Our guide shows us an old sugar cane plantation home where Simon Bolivar died, including the actual bedroom with original furniture. I learned about Simon Bolivar in grade school, but didn’t appreciate how much the people in Central and South American countries revere him. He was someone who bucked the system and believed in people power.

Our guide has some interesting things to say about Columbia and the reputation the country has with the drug trade. He feels the major cities are safe for citizens to go about their business and for tourists, and illustrates the point by asking us a question. What are the two major industries of Medellin? The obvious answer is Drugs, but the real answer is: Shipping tropical flowers to the United States, and being a centre of excellence for plastic surgery! He tells an interesting story on the second point. Apparently the two largest markets for plastic surgery in Medellin are women from the United States and Brazil. Another major market are young Colombian women who want breast implants. Apparently they often get their parents to pay for the surgery!

Julian Gargiulo

Julian Gargiulo

After the ship departs port and we have a wonderful dinner in the main dining room, I go to see the entertainment in the main show lounge. Julian Gargiulo is a classically trained pianist and does a great job playing the grand piano centre stage. He showcases some of his own compositions along with Chopin, and finishes with a classic Beethoven piece.

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Waitangi, Pahia & Opua

Oct 25, 2010 – Monday – Kerikeri – Waitangi, Pahia & Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Keith makes us crepes for breakfast, which are served with a berry compote and real Canadian maple syrup. We then take off late morning to see the Waitangi National Trust Estate Treaty Grounds, where we take about an hour and a half to walk through the grounds and see the displays. I visited this site in 2004…the only thing that has changed is the price – it is now NZ$25/person, whereas I paid NZ$10/person in 2004! The displays are very impressive: the huge Maori war canoe, the carvings decorating the Maori meeting house, the grounds and view, and of course the Treaty House itself. There is lots of history to absorb from the exhibits – both colonial and Maori. The views of the Bay of Islands from the site is second-to-none. Give yourself at least a half day to do justice to this historic site.

Be sure to visit my (archived) 2004 Waitangi web page if you want to see more photographs.

JoeTourist: Bay of Islands &emdash; Joe at Opua marina where SV Sequoia was moored in 2004Last stop today is Opua, which brings back memories for me. I was here in 2004 (Bay of Islands 2004) while the Johnstons and I waited for favourable weather before sailing for Fiji in their 42′ sailboat. I have an “I was there photo” taken at the same dock as sv Sequoia was docked at in 2004 so I can send a copy to Barbara and Craig. I expect they will get a kick out of it. They are currently waiting in Alameda, California for favourable weather to depart to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico for the winter.

After we return to the B&B, Keith prepares a wonderful fresh seafood stew for dinner, complete with French bread and an Australian white wine. Keith has shown us so much New Zealander hospitality during our stay. You might say, well he is a B&B operator…that’s his job. Perhaps, but I feel he well exceeded our expectations, and was genuinely friendly…not just put on for business reasons.

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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.