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RASC General Assembly 2018 in Calgary

June 29 to July 1, 2018 – Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s General Assembly held at the University of Calgary is probably not too interesting for people who are not members of RASC. That said, I’m going to combine the three day conference into one report on this page, just to complete my road trip travelogue.

June 28, 2018 – Arrival at the University of Calgary and the Welcome BBQ

I arrive in Calgary in the late afternoon. JoeTourist: Rural southern Alberta &emdash; First Nations dancing at the opening of the General AssemblyThe RASC General Assembly (GA) registration desk is setup in the hotel lobby, so after I get settled in my room, I go downstairs to pick up my delegate’s package. I connect with a few people I know in the lobby while we wait for buses to take us to the Members’ Welcome BBQ dinner and First Nations performances at the Rothney Observatory, in the country south of Calgary. We also get to tour the observatories operating from this site.

June 29, 2018 – First day of the General Assembly

JoeTourist: Calgary &emdash; Stampede breakfastThe Calgary Stampede put on a Stampede Breakfast for delegates this morning before the GA started, serving pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage in the end-field zone of the home stadium of the Calgary Stampeders Canadian football club.

Dr. Robert Thirsk, astronaut and Chancellor of the University of Calgary welcomed delegates to Calgary and the University. today is his last day as Chancellor, and our event is his last function before leaving. He tells us that being in space showed him the interconnection of the natural world with humans. He illustrates the point with many spectacular photos taken from the International Space Station, and also speculates on the question –Will we be here into the future? (100 years probably, 1,000 years probably not), and also reviews the next steps humans will make in space. He offers the opinion that a Moon base will be part of this new wave of exploration.

JoeTourist: Rural southern Alberta &emdash; Wildflowers in the grassIn the afternoon, I take the Nocturnal Preserve Tour to the Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area south of Calgary. This is a RASC-recognized nocturnal preserve, which supports the notion that pristine night skies are not only good for humans, but all creatures on this Earth. We all depend on darkness to restore our health while we sleep, which helps all lifeforms prosper, not just those that are active at night.

We walked part of their extensive property to appreciate the varied ecosystems found in what is now mainly the farmland of southern Alberta. Grass suitable for grazing cattle displaces the native grasses, which disrupts the ecology in the area, but remediation is possible.

After dinner, the Plaskett Medal Award Lecture is “Dicke’s Superrradiance in Astrophysics” by Dr. Fereshteh Rajabi, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo. Dr. Rajabi gets into quantum mechanics and masers, and how they cause celestial objects to emit previously-unexplained bursts of intense radiation. I’m always happy to see such smart people working to understand our universe better, despite me not always fully appreciating what they are describing!

June 30, 2018 – Second day of the General Assembly

1896 Solar Eclipse observed from Bodo, Norway by Mary Protctor

1896 Solar Eclipse observed from Bodo, Norway by Mary Protctor

The Annual General Meeting is held in the morning, and our President highlights the robotic telescope located in the mountains of California which RASC recently acquired, and is in the process of making available online to all members. Other presentations of note today include: RASC Calgary Centre’s 60th anniversary and history; Early Women Astronomers in RASC; Aurora image processing using Hugin software; Eclipsing Binaries; NOVA Junior Program (astronomy basics); Space for all Learners (bringing astronomy to undergraduates); Telescope in “Rainy” Victoria Celebrating 100 years of looking up (the historic Plaskett telescope located near Victoria); Public Outreach at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (the observatory was/is a tourism draw); Minor Planets (asteroids that might hit Earth, and landing missions on small rocks in space); Once Upon an Eclipse (upcoming eclipses); First Race for the moon 1609-51 (first observations of the Moon);

After a buffet dinner with my fellow astronomers as part of the conference, I attend the public lecture: “The Golden Age of Solar System Exploration” given by Emily Lakdawalla, The Planetary Society. Emily reviews many of the more exciting recent missions to explore our solar system: Hayabusa2, New Horizons, and Cassini, to name a few. She also highlights how amateur astronomers are using data from these missions, and how they are contributing to the resulting scientific discoveries. Emily takes lots of questions from the audience.

July 1, 2018 – Final day of the General Assembly

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover - NASA photo

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover – NASA photo

There were more presentations this morning, concentrated on the history of RASC and astronomy: RASC in Travelling Mode (historic solar eclipse expeditions); Styles of Observing in the RASC Since 1868 (taken from the RASC archives, including telescope-making); RASC and the Space age (amateurs as both participants and spectators); The Cultural/Social Anthropology within RASC (who makes up the ranks of RASC members?); Female Participation in the RASC (RASC leads as an inclusive society in Canada).

The speaker at our banquet is “The Past and Present of Water on Mars” by Dr. Tanya Harrison – brings the missions on Mars to life, including the Curiosity Rover, which Tanya was involved with. She also describes what “water on Mars” really means. There were lots of questions…a fascinating talk!

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Tucson to Dragoon Mountain Ranch

February 10, 2018 – Tucson to Dragoon Mountain Ranch

Joe in La Cocina's courtyard in the Presidio

Joe in La Cocina’s courtyard in the El Presidio

2018 Southern Arizona and Astronomy

My Tesla Model S rental car (Turo.com) is delivered to me mid-morning in the hotel parking lot. Both the owner of the car and I inspect it for damage, using the Turo app to document and photograph for the handover process. After the formalities are completed, I am handed the fob and the car is mine for the next two weeks. I then drive my friends to the downtown car rental location so they can pick up their rental car. We then go to the old part of Tucson to walk around the El Presidio area and have some lunch at La Cocina Restaurant & Cantina. We take a few photos in the area and we then split up. I find the Tesla Supercharger east of Tucson, since the car needs to be charged up. We buy a few things in the adjacent convenience store, and then leave for the Tucson Airport to pick up another friend arriving on a later flight.

We drive about 45 minutes from Tucson east on the I-10 freeway to Benson, where we pick up a few groceries and other supplies from Safeway. Our friend at the Dragoon Mountain Ranch calls to advise us that there is a wildfire near his place however the danger level is low since the prevailing wind is blowing the fire further away. There are road blocks into the area, but he has asked the officers to let us through. Needless to say we are all concerned since the flames and smoke from the wildfires are clearly visible in the area we are heading to! The officers let us through the roadblocks and we arrive at our friend’s place before dark, which I’m thankful for.

Dragoon Wildfire from JoeTourist on Vimeo.

I park the Tesla Model S in my friend’s garage, so we can plug it into a 115 volt 15 amp outlet. The car starts charging slowly at 12 amps, which means about a 20 hour charge time to 90% state-of-charge. This isn’t an issue, since I don’t expect to be driving anywhere close to the maximum range of the car – about 210 miles at 90% SoC. We have some pizza and salad for dinner, and get settled in after our travels. After dinner, we all go out to see the wildfire in the distance, and then go to the observatory for a quick look through the 25” telescope. There is a beautiful sunset with an arched cloud formation in the west, but ultimately there are too many clouds for observing tonight, so we call it an early night and go to bed.

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Honolulu, Oahu, Hawai’i

Sunday, Oct 8, 2017 – Honolulu, Oahu, Hawai’i, USA

Hawai’i Cruise 2017

I go to the Explorations Cafe this morning for a cappuccino, muesli, and blueberry cake, and then I disembark the ship early. I walk a few blocks to Kaka’ako Waterfront Park, however I really have to screw up my courage to walk through this park, since there are so many homeless people camped out. The shoreline is beautiful, and when I get to Panic Point, I’m rewarded with a beautiful view of the Honolulu boat basin, Waikiki Beach, and Diamond Head in the distance (see above banner image). A local guy tells me the park will be closed this evening at 10PM by the city until further notice while they evict the squatters and clean up the park. I see the eviction signs as I leave the park and head back along Ala Moana Boulevard to the ship, which is only a few blocks away.

My lei floating in Honolulu harbour

My lei floating in Honolulu harbour

I have brunch in the Lido after returning to the ship, and then go for a swim in the Sea View Pool. I buy a dozen beer from the bar on my way back to my cabin, since they are selling some pretty good beer from Alaska 2 for 1, although at $6/bottle, it is still expensive! I toss the lei I received upon landing in Hilo into the harbour. It floats, which tradition tells us means I will return to Hawai’i some day – a pretty sure thing!

My friends and I have dinner at Canaletto Italian restaurant aboard ship this evening. I have the Melanzane Ripiene – eggplant roulade as a starter, and Banzino al Fiere – grilled Sea Bass as a main course.My friends share some antipasto and Mozzarella Bufala – buffalo mozzarella with salad for starters, and Costoletto alla Griglia – lamb cutlets and arugula salad. They also have a carafe of Montepulciano D’Abbruzzio.

After dinner, I go to see the main stage show : This is Hawaii – a show troupe from Maui. It is a pretty good modern song and dance showcase of the islands.

Monday, Oct 9, 2017 – Honolulu

Throne Room in the Iolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawaii

Throne Room in the Iolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawaii

This morning, we walk the few blocks to see the Iolani Palace, which is quite spectacular inside. Last time I cruised to Honolulu, the palace was closed because it was a Sunday, so I”m glad I have lots of time to see it this time. We also walk around in the vicinity, seeing the outside of the State Legislature, the Mission Houses and Kawaiahao Church.

We are beat by the time we return to the ship just before noon. The heat and humidity are building, so I am glad for the air conditioning aboard ship. I’m turning into quite the wimp! My friends and I have a beer before we go to the main dining room for dinner. It is Canadian Thanksgiving today, so we order turkey dinner and pumpkin pie along with our other Canadian table mates from Quadra Island, West Vancouver, and Brandon, Manitoba.

We don’t leave port until late this evening, bound for Maui.

Slide show of Honolulu (2010-2017)

Oahu photo galleries

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Myanmar (Burma)

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

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

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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New Dubai

February 22, 2015 – Muscat to Dubai

We drive from Muscat, Oman back to Dubai, U.A.E. today. We are staying in the new section of Dubai at the Manzil Downtown Dubai hotel. This is perhaps the poshest hotel we have stayed at on the whole trip, and when I check out the room rates, they start at 1,400 AED (CD$400) per night. There are multiple concierges in the lobby, all eager to be helpful. I have dinner in the hotel restaurant this evening, since I don’t feel too adventuresome. The boneless beef ribs in date sauce with french fries are very tasty, and I chase it down with a Tiger beer. Service is impeccable. Cost is AED130 (CD$43) – about what I would pay for a nice dinner at home in Canada.

February 23, 2015 – Dubai to Atlanta – last day of the tour

Today is a free day to do what we want in Dubai, since our flight home doesn’t depart until 11PM. We have a late check-out from the hotel at 6PM.

Joe takes a selfie on the Observation Deck of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Joe takes a selfie on the Observation Deck of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Last night I booked a ticket for the Burj Khalifa’s observation deck (140AED or CD$50). When I initially went online, the standard tickets were booked until the mid-afternoon, however when I selected having a cappuccino and a cake for 15AED more, I suddenly had my choice of time slots!

So this morning I navigate my way through the Dubai Mall to the observation deck entrance at 9:30AM. The elevator zooms up to level 124, and I experience the tallest building in the world! There are inside displays and an outside deck. Although the deck is glassed in, there are gaps in the glass so photographs can be taken without window reflections. As I sip my cappuccino and pastry from the coffee shop below, I gaze up a this imposing building. It is visible from virtually anywhere in the city of Dubai, and casts its shadow for blocks.

Most people on the tour are shopping in the Dubai Mall, which is right across the street from our hotel. Since I’m not into shopping and I’m feeling it’s time to return home, I spend the afternoon in my hotel room packing, napping, cruising the Internet, and annotating my many photographs from the trip.

Our bags are picked up at 5PM and we depart the hotel at 6PM for our farewell dinner. The restaurant is near the airport, and the food is underwhelming, so I won’t mention the name. I guess we have been spoiled with all the good food we have had on our tour. Our flight leaves the airport at 11PM, so we have plenty of time to wait. The flight to Atlanta will take 16 hours and 4 minutes according to the pilot.

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Machu Picchu

Monday, December 05, 2011 – Day 15 – Machu Picchu, Peru

Today promises to be the highlight of the whole trip. Rocio and Felix arrive at 5:50AM to transfer us to the Poroy train station, a few kilometers outside the city. Cusco has a train station dedicated to Machu Picchu, but the residents in the area had it closed down because of noise problems from the train running up a series of switchbacks to climb out of Cusco. I can sympathize with their concerns. Of course the city now fills up with all the tourist buses and taxis heading to Poroy station, but at least they are quieter than the train, although they cause much more pollution.

JoeTourist: Machu Picchu &emdash; Train running through the valley belowThe PeruRail Vistadome train leaves Poroy station at 6:40AM, traveling through the agricultural valley of the Rio Cachimayo through several small towns. Once it passes through the town of Huarocondo, it starts to descend down the steep valley carved by the Rio Huarocondo. We are served a very nice continental breakfast snack, including good Peruvian coffee or soft drinks. At the half way mark down this valley, the train carefully negotiates a switchback built on the steep sides of the valley before traveling down to the junction of the Rio Huarocondo and the Rio Urubamba. We are now in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and the train soon arrives at Ollantaytambo station, where it makes its only stop for five minutes.

JoeTourist: Machu Picchu &emdash; Peruvians pose for usWe arrive at Aguas Calientes on time at 10AM. This small community is jammed in a narrow valley where the only road is to Machu Picchu. Our guide Grimaldo meets us in the train station, and we then take a transfer bus to Machu Picchu. The bus climbs to the top of the hill on a gravel road with many switchbacks, some 800 metres above the valley below. We soon catch our first glimpses of Machu Picchu – it’s hard to describe using words or photos. It is a wonderful feat of engineering if you consider it has survived virtually intact for centuries through countless tropical rainstorms; hot sun, fierce winds, and yes…the onslaught of tourists.

We spend two hours walking the site, learning all the fascinating concepts, which Grimaldo so skilfully conveys to us. I would not want to see Machu Picchu without a guide, at least for a first visit. I can see where it would be wonderful to just go up there to sit and soak up the ambience of this sacred place on my next visit, which would require staying in a hotel in Aguas Calientes for several nights. We see the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows in the Sacred District. We also see a sundial, which still has perfect alignment with the cardinal directions.

There is a single hotel right at the entrance to Machu Picchu, where we had a nice buffet lunch after our walking tour of the site. I expect the rates to stay there would be very high. There are several hotel and hostels in Aguas Calientes, which no doubt offer less expensive options. We take the bus to the bottom then board the Vistadome train from Aguas Calientes back to Poroy Station near Cusco. As the train makes its way back, the crew put on a fashion show and dragon dance. Of course they then come down the isle and sell the alpaca clothing they modeled.

Our trusty driver Felix and tour coordinator Rocio are waiting to transfer us back to Cusco and the hotel. By then it is 8PM, so we decide to skip dinner and go to bed since it was such a full day.

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Lima to Cusco

Saturday, December 03, 2011 – Day 13 – Lima to Cusco, Peru

I am seated with an Ecuadorian couple (who live in San Diego) at breakfast this morning in the dining room. The man is very impressed that I am on a self-booked tour to Machu Picchu, and validates my expectation that this site will be the highlight of the trip. He tells me Machu Picchu is actually in a tropical climate, which will be wetter and warmer than Cusco, and which will also be cool in the mornings but pleasantly warm by afternoon. I have my trusty Hally Hansen sailing jacket with me, which has an outer rainproof coat and an inner fleece jacket, so I should be able to cope with changing conditions, including rain, which is common at Machu Picchu this time of year.

Rotterdam arrives on time at 10AM despite being delayed by a Peruvian navy ship that had priority in the harbour. It’s exciting to finally be in Callao and on our way. I debark the ship and immediately see my name on a placard, and meet the young woman who will guide us to the airport and help us find our flight to Cusco. Although I’m sure we would have managed on our own taking a taxi, it is so much easier to have someone else deal with the transfer and check-in using Spanish. This is the start of our private group tour (just my two friends and myself) which I booked through Bestway Tours and Safaris.

Since the port and the Lima airport are both located in Callao, we don’t have to drive through Lima proper, so the transfer to the airport takes less than a half hour. We have about three hours to kill in the airport before our flight departs, so we settle into the food fair area outside the secure gate area – Starbucks and MacDonalds are both available, as well as chicken and sandwich places. We eat our own snacks instead. I spot quite a few passengers from the Rotterdam in the airport. Flight announcements are in Spanish and English. We find this area of the airport to be very noisy, so we move through security to the boarding gate waiting area, which has nice padded seats and is a bit quieter.

Our LANPeru flight to Cusco leaves on time, and it is not full. The scenery outside the window is nothing short of spectacular. As we climb away from Lima, we can appreciate just how huge the city is. The flight across Peru on our way to Cusco takes us over the Andes mountains, which are simply amazing. As we approach the valley where Cusco is located, there is beautiful scenery at every turn the aircraft makes on approach. After landing and retrieving our bags, we find the bonus outside – the weather is warm and sunny in Cusco, unlike the coastal cities of Lima and Trujillo, which were cold, foggy, and overcast.

Our guide and driver meet us at the Cusco airport and take us to our hotel, the Casa Andina Private Collection – an amazing hotel right in the centre of the city. Although we haven’t had a chance to explore it fully since it is so labyrinthine, what we have experienced is very nice indeed. Our three nights here will be very comfortable. Our rooms have king beds and all rooms look over courtyards, which means they are very quiet. The hotel was created from an 18th century manor house. Having free access to high speed Internet is a real bonus for me…hopefully I will have time to catch up on blogs and email while I’m here.

We all are a bit wobbly and not feeling 100%, although it is hard to tell if the cause is spending the last 11 days on board a ship, or the high altitude, or a combination of the two. In any case, we are coping well, since the symptoms aren’t preventing us from exploring this interesting city. Cusco is a safe city to wander around day or night, since it is so tourist-oriented. We have a wonderful wood fired pizza for dinner at a little pizzeria only a block from the hotel called La Pizza Carlo – recommended by our guide, TripAdvisor, and me too!

A painting of the Inca Cross: a snake, a puma and condors with Machu Picchu

A painting of the Inca Cross: a snake, a puma and condors with Machu Picchu

After dinner, I buy a watercolour painting from an artist hawking his wares outside the hotel. It is an abstract of an Inca, an Indian, a puma and Machu Picchu, which I find out later depicts the Chakana or Inca Cross (see Inca mythology). I sometimes purchase small paintings as mementos while traveling, since I routinely pass by all the other souvenirs.

It is time for bed and some rest, since we have a full day tour of the Sacred Valley tomorrow, and I want to be ready for it. I wake up at 3AM and decide to get up for awhile. By then I’m feeling considerably better than I was earlier, which is encouraging. I use my time to update my blog and drill through a bunch of emails. After an hour, I crawl back into bed and rest for an hour or so before arising again as the morning starts.

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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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Auckland to Kerikeri, New Zealand

Oct 22, 2010 – Friday – Auckland to Kerikeri, New Zealand

My friends and I disembark from the Volendam for the last time this morning at our assigned 9am time. We pre-cleared New Zealand customs and immigration while we were at sea on the 19th, so we simply walk ashore, let the Beagle dogs sniff our bags for any unauthorized foods, and then pick up our bags, which are waiting for us in the departure hall.

End of 2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam


My friends and I decide to roll our bags the six blocks to the Hertz car rental office. The last block was a steep hill – a killer! I rent a Ford Mondeo, with the three of us named as authorized drivers. I pull out of the rental office driving on the left, and make it the three blocks to the on ramp and onto the motorway (freeway), heading north across the bridge and out of town. I am very anxious to get out of the city before noon, since this is the Labour Day holiday weekend. We are on the road by 10:30am, making our way north to Kerikeri with only moderate traffic.

The Frederick Hundertwasser Toilets in Kawakawa

The Frederick Hundertwasser Toilets in Kawakawa

We make a brief pit stop at the service centre just south of the new toll section of the motorway near Warkworth, where we pay the NZ$2.00 toll fee for a rather ridiculously short stretch of toll roadway. There is no toll booth – it is a self-serve system where the toll can be paid at a vending machine in the service centre, by using your cellphone, or through a website.

Our next stop is to see the Frederick Hundertwasser-designed public toilets in Kawakawa. Kerikeri is only about 20 minutes further down the road, however some of the roads had changed so the in-vehicle GPS we were using takes us down the wrong road. We end up at a dead end at the Stone Store & Kerkeri Mission House, so have to find our way back into town and approach Glenfalloch B&B by using a newly constructed diversion road. We finally find the place after asking for directions. By now it is 3pm, so we are glad to be done with our first day of driving on the left side of the road. Keith, who owns and runs the Glenfalloch B&B isn’t home, but the front door is open so we go inside and wait. He arrives just a few minutes after us, so we are soon settled into our rooms, and he makes us some coffee.

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Noumea, New Caledonia

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

Oct 17, 2010 – Sunday – Noumea, Grand Terre, New Caledonia

Welcoming dance troupe on the dock at Noumea

Welcoming dance troupe on the dock at Noumea

We arrive in port on time this morning at 8am and are serenaded by a local dance troupe performing Polynesian dances on the dock. Noumea is a large, and well developed city, however since it is Sunday, most stores are closed. “Casino”, the supermarket across the street from where we are docked is open until noon, which according to my friends who lived in France is “very French”, since Sunday afternoon is reserved for time with family. The prices in the supermarket are as I expected: about three times higher than anywhere else for foreign imported goods, and reasonable prices for local goods and those items imported from France. New Caledonia is a French colony.

I quickly decide during our little excursion to the market this morning that it is too hot to bother with any tours. I return to the ship and have a swim in the Sea View pool. There is lemonade being served poolside, so I soon cool down. I go out on the Promenade deck and sit in a lounge chair in the shade and work on my journal and photos – watching the world go by. There are huge numbers of sailboats moored in the harbour…almost to the point of it being crowded. People in power boats scoot alongside our ship, waving hello before taking off again

A local dance troupe Temonoroa Dance Group put on a terrific show of Polynesian dancing in the show lounge aboard ship this evening. They get some audience participation going, with both the men and women in the audience appearing on stage. The Volendam departs right after the show, once the troupe goes ashore with all their costumes and gear. She creeps out of the harbour dead slow past all the sailboats that are moored for the night.