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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.

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Sacred Valley of the Incas

2011 Incan Empires Cruise

Sunday, December 04, 2011 – Day 14 – Sacred Valley of the Incas Tour, Peru

I am up ahead of our wakeup call at 6AM, and go down to the buffet breakfast included with the hotel rate. It is wonderful to have some Peruvian coffee and a nicely prepared omelette before our day begins. Felix is our driver and Boris is our guide for the day. They pick us up at 8AM for our full day tour of the Sacred Valley. Grain and corn were cultivated for the Inka, his family and the upper class in this valley. Original Inca agricultural terraces are still being used today, and are visible everywhere we drive through this valley.

Wendy mentions to Boris she is interested in textiles, so he decides to reverse the order of the tour, taking us to Chinchero for our first stop this morning. The Peruvian women at Expo Andina serve us cocoa tea and then put on a very amusing and informative textile demonstration (see banner photo above). Afterward, they have their wares for sale. We end up buying quite a few items, since they are original, locally made, and reasonably priced.

Farmer with his plow and mule packing sacks of produce
Farmer with his plow and mule packing sacks of produce

We also visit the local Sunday market in Chinchero since it is close by. It’s a very interesting market, where some people are trading produce rather than paying cash. There is a lunch area, fresh spices, produce of all kinds, flowers, a shoe repair, including sandals for sale made from recycled tires, and cooking pottery is also being sold. The varieties of corn and potatoes available in this market are nothing short of amazing. There is also a large area dedicated to souvenirs made for tourists. I think we are their only tourists this morning, because we are pestered pretty well!

Incan terraces on the front of the fortress at Ollantaytambo
Incan terraces on the front of the fortress at Ollantaytambo

Next stop is Urubamba, the community where the Peru Rail train joins the Urubamba River and the Sacred Valley on its way to Machu Picchu. We get a super workout at our next stop at Ollantaytambo, an Incan town and temple fortress – we climb to the top! The granite stones used for this fortress were moved by human muscle from a quarry on the side of a mountain, located across the river . Boris offers to take us into an Incan house, but we decline since we are so exhausted after scaling the fortress.

We drive to our lunch stop at the Sonesta Posada Yucay, a resort and a hotel. They offer a very a nice buffet of traditional Peruvian food. I really appreciate having some coffee to start with. After savouring the coffee, I go back to tackle the buffet, which consists of virtually all Peruvian food. Yucay is in the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which is a fertile and verdant valley, and still produces maize as it did for the Incas so many centuries ago. We drive by a soccer game being played with sheep on the field, which nobody seems to notice or care about.

Sacks of potatoes at the Pisac Market
Sacks of potatoes at the Pisac Market

Pisac Market is our last stop before returning to Cusco. We all assure Boris we can do without visiting this market, and would appreciate an early return to the hotel so we can rest. However, he talks us into a quick visit, since it is on our way back to Cusco. The market is huge, and there are many interesting things for sale, but we buy nothing and leave after 15 minutes. We see more Inca terraces on the hills above the Rio Pahuaycoc valley, as we return to Cusco.

We go to La Pizza Carlo again for dinner this evening and order the loaded pizza. Perhaps we are not very adventurous, but we are exhausted from the day’s activities and just want to go to bed to get lots of rest for tomorrow – the big day when we go to Machu Picchu.

Sacred Valley
54 photos
Wood stacked for cooking fires
Wood stacked for cooking fires
Planted fields
Planted fields
Andes mountains behind a valley used for agriculture
Andes mountains behind a valley used for agriculture
Andes mountains behind a valley used for agriculture
Andes mountains behind a valley used for agriculture
Packing goods home in a wheelbarrow from the Sunday market
Packing goods home in a wheelbarrow from the Sunday market
Outside of Expo Andina textile demo
Outside of Expo Andina textile demo
Blessings on a roof top
Blessings on a roof top
Guinea pigs being raised for food
Guinea pigs being raised for food
Peruvian wall hangings & other textiles
Peruvian wall hangings & other textiles
Demonstrating how soap is made from a plant
Demonstrating how soap is made from a plant
Textile colouring made from various plants
Textile colouring made from various plants
Red dye made from a cactus blossom
Red dye made from a cactus blossom
Demonstrating red and yellow dyeing
Demonstrating red and yellow dyeing
Balls of various coloured wools
Balls of various coloured wools
Handmade leather bags with fabric designs
Handmade leather bags with fabric designs
Trading produce
Trading produce
Fresh spices
Fresh spices
Cherries & peppers
Cherries & peppers
Bread buns
Bread buns
The lunch area
The lunch area
Tourist wares for sale
Tourist wares for sale
Cooking pots for sale
Cooking pots for sale
Farmer with his plow and mule packing sacks of produce
Farmer with his plow and mule packing sacks of produce
Farmer in corn field
Farmer in corn field
Cows and corn fields
Cows and corn fields
Terraced hills along the Sacred Valley
Terraced hills along the Sacred Valley
Inca terraces along the river
Inca terraces along the river
Incan sidewalks, water aqueducts, and stonework
Incan sidewalks, water aqueducts, and stonework
Main entrance terraces
Main entrance terraces
Steps beside the main entrance terraces
Steps beside the main entrance terraces
Inca agricultural storage facilities on the opposite mountain
Inca agricultural storage facilities on the opposite mountain
View of Ollantaytambo from part way up the terraces
View of Ollantaytambo from part way up the terraces
Inca agricultural storage facilities on the opposite mountain
Inca agricultural storage facilities on the opposite mountain
Incan stone wall
Incan stone wall
Terraces near the top of the fortress
Terraces near the top of the fortress
Incan stone wall and terraces
Incan stone wall and terraces
Joe on the top of the fortress with Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley below
Joe on the top of the fortress with Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley below
Our guide Boris Boret explaining how the stone slabs were made and moved
Our guide Boris Boret explaining how the stone slabs were made and moved
Incan terraces on the front of the fortress
Incan terraces on the front of the fortress
Wendy and Boris decending
Wendy and Boris decending
Wendy and Boris decending with agricultural valley and Ollantaytambo below
Wendy and Boris decending with agricultural valley and Ollantaytambo below
John descending a long series of steps
John descending a long series of steps
Plaza and fortress
Plaza and fortress
Ceremonial fountain
Ceremonial fountain
Peruvian handicraft masks being sold by the entrance
Peruvian handicraft masks being sold by the entrance
Ollantaytambo town plaza
Ollantaytambo town plaza
Restaurant entrance
Restaurant entrance
Tourist souvenirs & little girl dressed for tourist photo ops
Tourist souvenirs & little girl dressed for tourist photo ops
Sacks of potatoes
Sacks of potatoes
Fruit stand
Fruit stand
Piscac street with Incan terraced hills behind
Piscac street with Incan terraced hills behind
Incan terraced hills behind Pisac
Incan terraced hills behind Pisac
Incan terraced hills behind Pisac
Incan terraced hills behind Pisac
Inca terraces on the hills above  the Rio Pahuaycoc valley
Inca terraces on the hills above the Rio Pahuaycoc valley
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Benghazi

2006 Total Solar Eclipse – Libya

March 27, 2006 – Tripoli to Benghazi

After lunch, we go to the Tripoli airport. It is controlled chaos, since we have to sort out our luggage, some of which was brought on a separate bus. Then we are all checked in as a group, since the tour operator holds all the airline tickets. The flight to Benghazi is on a Buraq Air Boeing 737-300. We depart on time, cruise at 460kt at 29,000ft. The flight is 90% full of Bestway Tours‘ three groups. At Benghazi Airport, we board our bus and head for the Garyounis Resort. We have a police escort the whole way – complete with sirens and flashing lights!

When we arrive my bag is missing, but it is found on one of the other buses. We have supper at 8:30pm, and afterwards Ralph tells us the eclipse camp arrangements have changed. Apparently our camp was hit with a sand storm, and the government had security concerns, so they insist our camp be moved to south of Jalu on the centerline. This is actually a bonus, since we would have had to be bused to the centerline in the morning from where we were to originally camp.

March 28, 2006 – Tuesday – Benghazi to Eclipse Camp

We leave at 8AM this morning on our bus headed to the Eclipse Camp, south of Jalu. After stopping to pick up some water and box lunches, we finally get underway at 9:30am for the long journey south to the middle of the Sahara Desert.

March 29, 2006 – Wednesday – Total Solar Eclipse in the Libyan Sahara Desert

Total Solar Eclipse - Libyan Sahara 2006
Total Solar Eclipse – Libyan Sahara 2006
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Tripoli

2006 Total Solar Eclipse – Libya

March 25, 2006 – Saturday – It’s 6:30am when I wake up, and when I stick my head out the hotel window, I hear the Muslims being called to worship by chanting being broadcast from loudspeakers in minaret towers in the mosques around the city. Today we travel to the ancient Roman city of Sabratha, about 80km west of Tripoli.

March 26, 2006 – Sunday – Today we travel to the ancient Roman city of Leptis Magna, just over 100km east of Tripoli. There are lots of olive trees along the highways around Tripoli. Sheep are sometimes being grazed in the olive groves, and are always being watched by shepherds. I even spotted a sheep dog once!

This afternoon, I join three of our group for a walk through the Souk (market) in the Medina (old city). This evening, there is a Tuareg cultural display across the street from our hotel, so after dinner a few of us walk over to see the displays. The Tuarag women are very camera shy, so I put my camera away. Later in the evening there is Tuarag folkloric dancing and singing, and our little group end up being the guests of honour! Despite it being very dark, I take some video and hope for the best.

March 27, 2006 – Monday – This morning Fatid takes us on a walking tour of the Medina, which included a tour of the Souk. I take several photos in the Souk today because it is less busy. I’m very careful to avoid taking photos of local people whose faces would be recognizable. The Tuarag women last night were shielding themselves from any cameras. I know Arabs do not like their photos to be taken, especially women.

On the way back to our hotel, we stop at the Safir Restaurant for lunch. One of the other Libyan tour guides joins our table, so I ask him what one litre of gas costs. He tells us most cars use diesel, which costs 0.15 Dinar/litre (about 0.09€/litre). Later, Fatid helps me find some Arab headgear: a Ghutra (fabric) and an Igal (rope) to go with it in the men’s wear section of the Souk just before it closes. I now have a “Lawrence of Arabia” head cover to wear when we get to the desert, so I will probably use it during the eclipse observations to ward off the expected hot temperatures.

We are told that Libya has about 40 years of oil supply left, and coincidentally, they also have about 40 years of water supply left. Our bottled water comes from the Great Manmade River – a water supply system that pipes water from aquifers found deep under the Sahara to the coastal cities in a huge network of aqueducts.

After lunch, we go to the airport to catch our flight to Benghazi, our jumping off point to see the Total Solar Eclipse from the eclipse camp south of Jalu, in the middle of the Sahara Desert.

March 31, 2006 – Friday – After breakfast this morning we walk through Tripoli to see the Jamahiriya Museum, which houses many of the originals of the statues we saw copies of earlier at Sabratha and Leptis Magna. There is a 5 Dinar camera charge at the Museum (10 Dinars for video), which we encountered at all historical sites in Libya. It would have been valuable to have an English-speaking guide, since all the informational signs were in Arabic.

Our time in Libya ends today with a flight to Rome aboard Alitalia airline.