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Arrival in Vancouver & home to Victoria

Oct 24, 2022 – Arrival in Vancouver, BC, Canada & flight home to Victoria

2022 Hawai’i Cruise

I’m awake as the ship passes English Bay and under the Lion’s Gate Bridge, sailing into Vancouver Harbour. The ship docks at Canada Place at 7:15AM – precisely as the captain predicted yesterday! I get dressed and go down to the Grand Dutch Cafe for my usual cappuccino, blueberry muffin and yogurt/fruit parfait. There is quite a line, so it takes about 20 minutes for Kaye to make my cappuccino, but I’m in no rush. After breakfast, I return to my stateroom and finish packing. By that time, the announcement is made that the ship is cleared and disembarkation is starting. 

Since I’m a 4-star Mariner, I can disembark anytime I wish up to 9:30AM. It feels pretty good to be able to bypass all the passengers waiting for their group numbers to be called as I have my keycard scanned for the last time, and roll my bags down the gangway and into the terminal. The CBSA agent welcomes me to Canada after I give them my declaration. They don’t ask to see my passport, so I walk out the terminal and turn left onto Cordova Street to walk the block in the rain to the Skytrain terminal to board the Canada Line to the airport. I mistakenly get onto the train to Brighouse-Richmond instead of YVR, but no worries since I get off at Bridgeport and board the following train to YVR three minutes later.

The South Terminal shuttle is waiting right outside the pedestrian bridge at the US departures, so I’m checked in at Pacific Coastal Airways in short order. Now I wait five hours for my 3PM flight departure to Victoria. I settle in to work on my travel photos, but have a cappuccino from the Galiano Cafe first, and then an hour or so later I have some delicious seafood soup for lunch.

Bombardier Global 6000 executive jet taxiing at YVR
Bombardier Global 6000 executive jet taxiing at YVR

I spend an hour or so this afternoon plane spotting from the platform outside, taking photos of each aircraft as they takeoff and climb out. A Bombardier Global 6000 executive jet taxis past the platform to the private terminal next to South Terminal. Perhaps there is a VIP aboard? My flight is delayed 20 minutes but otherwise the flight goes smoothly. The pilot must have had a takeoff time slot booked, since he really hustles down the taxiway to the button, not even stopping at the stop line before taking off! The flight to Victoria was a bit bumpy, since we were flying at 2,000′ below the clouds. We fly a straight in approach over Sidney to Victoria International Airport, and roll onto the taxiway 15 minutes after our takeoff from Vancouver. There is an Air North Boeing 737 aircraft on the apron in Victoria, reminding me of my flight to Whitehorse back in May.

My family is waiting for me in the baggage claim area. My checked bag is one of the first to appear on the belt, so we are out of there in quick order, driving home in the rush hour traffic.

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Oahu North Shore

Oct 17, 2022 – East & North Shore, Oahu, Hawai’i, USA

2022 Hawai’i cruise

The Holland America Grand Circle Island excursion is listed for US$149.95, but I got $20 off from my Have-It-All package, and then another $20 off since the the tour operator is no longer including lunch in the tour. As it turns out, this excursion doesn’t much resemble the description given at all. First, we drive around the island in the opposite direction, and secondly, we miss many of the stops, so it ends up being mainly a day of driving with only limited opportunities to get off the bus to either shop or see the sights on our own.

Joe at Halona Blow Hole with Wawanalu Beach behind, south shore of Oahu
Joe at Halona Blow Hole with Wawanalu Beach behind, south shore of Oahu

We do not stop at Hanauma Bay Marine Preserve since it remains closed to visitors since COVID-19, so I have no opportunity to take photos, even from the top of the cliff. The lack of humans during the pandemic has allowed the ecosystem to recover, so only visitors with permits are allowed in now. We stop at the Halona Blow Hole so I have time for a selfie before we hit the road again. I appreciate the 20 minutes we have at the Byodo-In Temple, although it is full of visitors, so it’s very crowded.

We drive north along the beautiful east coast, passing by both the Polynesian Cultural Center (where we were originally to stop for lunch) and the Kualoa Ranch. We stop at a macademia nut farm to shop, but it is packed with people from other tourist buses. We are stuck in multiple construction zones along the way, which is certainly frustrating for all of us. We only drive by the famous north shore beaches: Makapu’u Point, Sandy Beach,  Sunset Point Beach, and others – no stops.

A surfer girl with her surfboard on the Hale‘iwa strip
A surfer girl with her surfboard on the Hale‘iwa strip

Our lunch stop is in the surfing town of Hale‘iwa on the North Shore, where we have 1.5 hours to eat, shop, or do what we wish. I have an exceedingly expensive cappuccino and then wander along the main street that is lined with surf shops, restaurants, and shave ice places. I find some very nice Men’s Holoholo shorts in the Kahala shop, and buy a pair despite the US$88 price! I forgot to pack shorts for this trip for some reason…

We visit the Dole Pineapple Pavilion, which I detest, but at least we have 20 minutes off the bus. We are running late, so we miss the Nuuanu Pali Lookout (which would have redeemed this excursion for me), and drive directly back to the ship on the freeway. Needless to say, I’m frustrated and tired after this ordeal. I should have stuck to my original plan for today: take a taxi to the Bishop Museum.

After showering and putting on fresh clothes, I have a vegetarian pizza and a beer for dinner on the Panorama deck. There is a beautiful sunset over Honolulu, and later the ship departs Honolulu harbour around 10PM, bound for Kaua’i.

Sunset over Honolulu harbour with the ship's stack and an aircraft climbing out
Sunset over Honolulu harbour with the ship’s stack and an aircraft climbing out
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Honolulu

Oct 16, 2022 – Honolulu, Oahu, Hawai’i, USA

King Kamehameha statue in front of the Hawaii Supreme Court, Honolulu
King Kamehameha statue in front of the Hawaii Supreme Court, Honolulu

2022 Hawai’i cruise

The ship arrives in Honolulu harbour very early in the morning. When I peek out the drawn curtains of my stateroom around 6:30AM, we are docked. I’m off the ship by 9:30am, cross Ala Moana Blvd, and walk the few blocks to old Honolulu. I try to cover some new ground, but also end up at the usual sights: Hawaii State Capital, Iolani Palace (closed), the Mission Houses (closed), and there’s a Hawaiian ceremony happening in the gardens outside the Kawaiahao Church (see banner image above).

Joe on the Lido deck by the Sea View pool drinking a well-deserved Heineken beer
Joe on the Lido deck by the Sea View pool drinking a well-deserved Heineken beer

I’m back on board the ship in just under two hours, having covered 4.7 kms. After a quick clean up in my stateroom, I head up to the Lido Bar to have a beer in the shade and hydrate a bit, given the heat of the morning. I also have a swim in the Seaview Pool, so I’m feeling much better, especially after having a shower and some roast pork for lunch in the Lido. Treating the ship as a resort is a wonderful benefit when we are docked overnight!

I have an afternoon nap, and then go for an early light supper in the Grand Dutch Cafe: grilled ham and cheese sandwich with fries and a Newcastle Brown Ale. I go to the World Stage at 6:45pm to get a good seat, since there is only one performance at 8PM of Drums of Polynesia, a local troupe. After waiting all that time, it is obvious to me that after they perform the first two numbers this is a dreadful, unskilled rendition of what should have been a spectacular cultural event. I walk out, retreating to the quiet of the Crow’s Nest Lounge and have my usual Tanqueray 10 Gin martini, while working on my photos taken today on my walk.

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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

JoeTourist: Rural southern Alberta &emdash; First Nations dancing at the opening of the General Assembly

I arrive in Calgary in the late afternoon. The 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 breakfast

The Calgary Stampede puts on a Stampede Breakfast for delegates this morning before the GA starts, 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 welcomes 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 grass

In 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 walk 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 are 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 Dr. Tanya Harrison “The Past and Present of Water on Mars”. She brings the missions on Mars to life, including the Curiosity Rover, which she 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 ahead 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 towards! 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!

Melanzane Ripiene - eggplant roulade - Canaletto
Melanzane Ripiene – eggplant roulade – Canaletto

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

Honolulu
71 photos
Bridged office tower
Bridged office tower
Aloha Tower after dark
Aloha Tower after dark
Maunalani Heights
Maunalani Heights
Diamond Head tunnel and the Moon above the crate rim
Diamond Head tunnel and the Moon above the crate rim
Diamond Head crater
Diamond Head crater
Approaching Honolulu harbour in the early morning
Approaching Honolulu harbour in the early morning
Alter and flags inside the church sanctuary
Alter and flags inside the church sanctuary
Mission Houses from S. King St.
Mission Houses from S. King St.
Hand water pump on the Mission Houses grounds
Hand water pump on the Mission Houses grounds
Kawaiahao Church and clock tower
Kawaiahao Church and clock tower
Alter and flags inside the church sanctuary
Alter and flags inside the church sanctuary
Paintings of Hawaiian royalty nside the church sanctuary
Paintings of Hawaiian royalty nside the church sanctuary
Kawaiaha'o Pool in front of Kawaiahao Church
Kawaiaha’o Pool in front of Kawaiahao Church
Kawaiaha'o Pool
Kawaiaha’o Pool
King Lunalilo monument
King Lunalilo monument
Royal crest of King Lunalilo
Royal crest of King Lunalilo
Fan Palms in the garden
Fan Palms in the garden
State Capitol Building
State Capitol Building
State of Hawaii bronze crest in front of the State Capitol Building
State of Hawaii bronze crest in front of the State Capitol Building
School kids crossing the street on a field trip
School kids crossing the street on a field trip
Royal Crest on the gate of the Iolani Palace
Royal Crest on the gate of the Iolani Palace
Iolani Palace Bandstand
Iolani Palace Bandstand
Front of the Iolani Palace
Front of the Iolani Palace
Aloha Tower
Aloha Tower
Luxury yacht Méduse
Luxury yacht Méduse
Nā Kūpuna Makamae Senior Center
Nā Kūpuna Makamae Senior Center
Body surfers, Waikiki and Diamond Head
Body surfers, Waikiki and Diamond Head
Body surfers, Waikiki and Diamond Head
Body surfers, Waikiki and Diamond Head
Point Panic Water Warriors memorial
Point Panic Water Warriors memorial
Sand Island with the reef behind
Sand Island with the reef behind
East side of the palace
East side of the palace
Lamps standard and front of the palace
Lamps standard and front of the palace
Grand staircase
Grand staircase
Etched glass panes in the outside doors depicting the Royal Hawaiian crest
Etched glass panes in the outside doors depicting the Royal Hawaiian crest
Dining room
Dining room
Crowns and settee and thrones in the throne room
Crowns and settee and thrones in the throne room
The grand staircase
The grand staircase
The King's bedroom
The King’s bedroom
An inlaid carved table in the King's bedroom
An inlaid carved table in the King’s bedroom
The King's library
The King’s library
The King's library
The King’s library
Bath, basin and toilet
Bath, basin and toilet
The music room
The music room
Roses in an ornate vase
Roses in an ornate vase
The palace kitchen
The palace kitchen
The Eurodam visible at the end of Punchbowl Road
The Eurodam visible at the end of Punchbowl Road
My lei floating on Honolulu Harbour
My lei floating on Honolulu Harbour
Honolulu and Waikiki shoreline lights with the Moon
Honolulu and Waikiki shoreline lights with the Moon
Honolulu and Waikiki shoreline lights with the Moon
Honolulu and Waikiki shoreline lights with the Moon
Family statues
Family statues
Hawaiian ceremony outside the church
Hawaiian ceremony outside the church
Plumeria or Frangipani blossom
Plumeria or Frangipani blossom
Doves and chickens feeding
Doves and chickens feeding
Kawaiahao Church
Kawaiahao Church
Congregation leaving the church after Sunday service
Congregation leaving the church after Sunday service
Mission Memorial Building
Mission Memorial Building
Queen Liliuokalani statue
Queen Liliuokalani statue
State of Hawaii seal
State of Hawaii seal
Turdus thrushes in the grass
Turdus thrushes in the grass
Clusia rosa, the autograph tree
Clusia rosa, the autograph tree
Saffron finches in the grass
Saffron finches in the grass
King Kamehameha statue
King Kamehameha statue
Plumeria or Frangipani tree
Plumeria or Frangipani tree
Inner courtyard of the capitol building
Inner courtyard of the capitol building
Yellow hibiscus flower
Yellow hibiscus flower
Jenny Joan Andrew 2000 statue
Jenny Joan Andrew 2000 statue
Red hibiscus flower
Red hibiscus flower
Red ginger blossom
Red ginger blossom
Honolulu at sunset
Honolulu at sunset
Sunset over Honolulu harbour with the ship's stack and an aircraft climbing out
Sunset over Honolulu harbour with the ship’s stack and an aircraft climbing out
Aloha Tower on the harbour after sunset
Aloha Tower on the harbour after sunset
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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.

Our police escore in Yangon
Our police escore in Yangon

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 by 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.

Myanmar is going through dramatic economic and political change. As a privileged traveller, I only saw hints of the poverty and bad labour practices as we whizzed by in our bus. Here is an article from a reputable news service that describes the darker side of their economy, struggling to emerge from being one of the poorest countries in the world.

The Dark Side of Liberalization: How Myanmar’s Political and Media Freedoms Are Being Used to Limit Muslim Rights – Taylor & Francis Online
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Muscat to Dubai

February 22, 2015 – Muscat, Oman to New Dubai, U.A.E.

I get up at 6AM this morning, since our bag pickup is 6:30AM and we leave on the bus at 7:30AM. We have five hours of driving time to Dubai, and the time we spend at the border will add to that elapsed time.

Unlike UAE citizens, Omanis work in service jobs. Our guide Yacoob shares with us that he worked as an airport bus driver, then a switchboard operator before learning enough English to become a guide. He has six children and is also a grandfather at 42 years of age. He lives in Muscat.

Today is the first day it is cloudy and it might rain. We have had very good weather so far, with every day being clear. We are not stopping for lunch today, so I saved a few snacks from the hotel buffets last night and this morning to eat along the way. We drive along route 1 from Muscat, through Sohar, Bani’ Umar, then inland to the border, continuing to Dubai. We get some rain along the coastal route. Although we are on an expressway, there are some roundabouts along the way. We stop at 10:30AM for a rest break in Sohar.

Crossing the UAE-Oman border 3 times - map
Crossing the UAE-Oman border 3 times

Our bus takes Route 5 in Oman and E44 in UAE (green arrows) which looks more direct to Dubai than the route chosen by Google Maps (blue), but it means crossing the border between the two countries three times! Obviously, crossing a border once takes a lot less time, even if the distance travelled is a bit longer. This concept escaped our travel company’s planning process…however we arrived in Dubai unscathed, albeit a bit later than planned.

We are staying in the new section of Dubai at the Manzil Hotel, which is across the street from the massive Dubai Mall, and within walking distance to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

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Machu Picchu

2011 Incan Empires Cruise

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 below

The 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 us

We 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.

John McDonald and Grimaldo verify the North direction on the Incan sundial
John McDonald and Grimaldo verify the North direction on the Incan sundial

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 have 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 to sell the alpaca clothing they modelled.

Our trusty driver Felix and tour coordinator Rocio are waiting at the Poroy train station 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.

Machu Picchu
47 photos
Machupicchu-Cusco sign on train coach
Machupicchu-Cusco sign on train coach
Boarding the train
Boarding the train
Cows, farmers and crops
Cows, farmers and crops
People and horse looking at the passing train
People and horse looking at the passing train
Breakfast snack & Inca Kola
Breakfast snack & Inca Kola
In-coach service
In-coach service
High mountains observed through the Vistadome
High mountains observed through the Vistadome
High mountains observed through the Vistadome
High mountains observed through the Vistadome
Rail yard at Jajpunco
Rail yard at Jajpunco
Old Aztec entrance to Ollantaytambo
Old Aztec entrance to Ollantaytambo
Hikers on the start of the steep Inca Trail
Hikers on the start of the steep Inca Trail
Peru Rail engine
Peru Rail engine
Machu Picchu train in station
Machu Picchu train in station
Looking upstream
Looking upstream
Train running through the valley below
Train running through the valley below
Intipunku, Sun Gate Ruins - last campsite on Incan Trail
Intipunku, Sun Gate Ruins – last campsite on Incan Trail
Joe  at Machu Picchu - I was there
Joe at Machu Picchu – I was there
Switchback road up the mountain to Machu Picchu
Switchback road up the mountain to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu wide angle
Machu Picchu wide angle
Temple of the Moon - Huayna Picchu
Temple of the Moon – Huayna Picchu
Residential area and Temple of the Sun
Residential area and Temple of the Sun
Terraces below Lookout
Terraces below Lookout
Incan tombs
Incan tombs
Temple of the Sun from downhill perspective
Temple of the Sun from downhill perspective
Our guide Grimaldo explains how some entrances could be locked
Our guide Grimaldo explains how some entrances could be locked
Precisely fitted Incan stone wall
Precisely fitted Incan stone wall
Sacred fountain
Sacred fountain
Main Plaza and Incan houses with Temple of the Moon behind
Main Plaza and Incan houses with Temple of the Moon behind
Residential area
Residential area
Grimaldo explaining to John & Wendy McDonald how Incan houses were constructed
Grimaldo explaining to John & Wendy McDonald how Incan houses were constructed
Andean viscacha resting in a niche in a stone wall
Andean viscacha resting in a niche in a stone wall
Temple of the Sun
Temple of the Sun
Residential section & Temple of the Moon
Residential section & Temple of the Moon
Incan wall showing protrusions for lifting them in place
Incan wall showing protrusions for lifting them in place
Agricultural terraces and quarry area
Agricultural terraces and quarry area
Incan sundial Intihuatana stone
Incan sundial Intihuatana stone
John McDonald and Grimaldo verify the North direction on the Incan sundial Intihuatana stone
John McDonald and Grimaldo verify the North direction on the Incan sundial Intihuatana stone
Incan observatory possibly equipped with 2 mirror vessels
Incan observatory possibly equipped with 2 mirror vessels
Incan observatory possibly equipped with 2 mirror vessels
Incan observatory possibly equipped with 2 mirror vessels
Mourning Peruvian couple visiting the site
Mourning Peruvian couple visiting the site
Classic photo of Machu Picchu showing the agricultural terraces, temples and living areas, and Cerro Huayna Picchu (Temple of the Moon)
Classic photo of Machu Picchu showing the agricultural terraces, temples and living areas, and Cerro Huayna Picchu (Temple of the Moon)
Wide angle photo of Machu Picchu showing more agricultural terraces, temples and living areas, and Cerro Huayna Picchu (Temple of the Moon)
Wide angle photo of Machu Picchu showing more agricultural terraces, temples and living areas, and Cerro Huayna Picchu (Temple of the Moon)
Cusquena - Peruvian beer
Cusquena – Peruvian beer
Lion dancer
Lion dancer
Crew modeling clothes
Crew modeling clothes
Snowy moutain peaks in the Cordillera Urubamba
Snowy moutain peaks in the Cordillera Urubamba
Gibbous Moon from the train
Gibbous Moon from the train
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Lima to Cusco

2011 Incan Empires Cruise

Saturday, December 3, 2011 – Lima to Cusco, Peru

I am seated with an Ecuadorian couple (who live in San Diego) at breakfast this morning in the dining room aboard the ship. 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 (Lima’s port) and on our way. We 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 by 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 arranged 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.

A plateau and lake with snow-capped Andes Mountains enroute from Lima to Cusco
A plateau and lake with snow-capped Andes Mountains enroute from Lima to Cusco

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 (see banner photo above). 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.

Hotel waiting room with fireplace, flower arrangement and Christmas tree
Hotel waiting room with fireplace, flower arrangement and Christmas tree

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 through 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. I wake up at 3AM and decide to stay up for awhile. By then I’m feeling considerably better than I was earlier, which is encouraging. I use my time to go online 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.