February 21, 2015 – Saturday – Jebel Shams to Muscat
After driving down the steep roads from Jebel Shams, we visit the beehive tombs at Al Ayn.These tombs are about 5,000 years old, although not much is known about them. This means the necropolises were built in the same era as the Egyptian pyramids. The tombs are fascinating and quite photogenic, however as we descend from the ridge to return to our 4x4s, the wind picks up and a sand storm blasts everyone as we hurry to get back inside our vehicles.
Next stop is Jabrin Castle, which was built by the Yaruba dynasty Imam Bil’arab bin Sultan, who ruled from 1679 to 1692. This is without a doubt the most impressive castle or fortification we have visited in Oman. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is beautifully restored, and is surrounded by groves of palm trees in a lush valley. The castle has impressive wooden painted ceilings in some rooms.
After driving back along the highway to Muscat, we say goodbye to our driver Ali, who drops us off at the City Seasons Hotel. He has been an excellent driver; taking us over sand dunes at Sharqiya Sands, along back roads to Bedouin camps, and zooming up and down both expressways and mountain roads. It has been a wonderful driving adventure in our 4x4s over the last five days. Tomorrow, we return to Dubai by bus for our final day in Arabia before returning home.
November 8, 2012 – Thursday – First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji
First Landing Resort is located quite close to where I will embark the Paul Gauguin in a couple of days. In the mean time, it is nice to have time to get that much-needed sleep in a seaside bure (cottage), and adjust to the time difference. My taxi driver assures me that First Landing is known for good food, and he is correct. All the meals I have at the resort are first rate, and all the staff are very friendly and helpful.
I arrive from Nadi airport a bit after Noon, and my bure isn’t ready, because check-in is normally after 1PM, so I need to kill some time. They serve me my welcome drink at the bar, which appears to be nothing more than some fruit juice and bar flavourings over ice. I also have some lunch in the restaurant: grilled Walu, which is a tasty white-fleshed fish served in a wonderful coconut crème sauce. At lunch I talk with several people who are also going on the Paul Gauguin Solar Eclipse cruise. They arrived early this morning (5AM), and are just now moving into their bures after having a temporary room assigned to them for most of the day.
After lunch, I am taken to my nice clean bure overlooking the water, where I settle in and get cleaned up. I take a quick walk around the resort, seeing all the facilities offered: pool, sports activities, cultural activities, spa (I have a free coupon), Wifi (modest charge), and the Vuda Marina is right next-door. After my walk, I sleep most of the afternoon, and wake up refreshed to explore the resort a bit further.
There is this Left Foot Island, which you can see best from Google Earth if you search for First Landing Resort in Lautoka, Fiji. I’m not sure what the story is behind this large manmade water feature. The resort has a coral beach (typical for this side of Vanua Levu), which means it is not soft, white sand, so you need reef shoes to go walking and wading. The reef is very shallow and close to shore in this area, which means the modest one foot tide exposes the reef and sandy areas each day, limiting ocean swimming. Of course, the resort has a nice pool, so there is no problem finding a place to swim.
Before supper, I take some sunset photos from just outside my bure, and after supper, I take some wide-angle photos of the beautifully dark western sky. The whole of Scorpius is easily observed, and the Milky Way is surprisingly bright considering I am standing in a resort with their grounds lit up at night. Having a dark ocean westward makes the beautiful celestial show possible.
I identify some of the constellations found in the southern sky using Starmap Pro on my iPad 2. Once I tell the software where I am located, it works really well. I can see Cygnus flying up from the Northern horizon. Mars is flickering in the atmospheric muck at only 6 degrees above the horizon. Altair, Terazad (red star), Peacock and Toucan constellations are all visible, and a nice globular cluster NGC 6752 pops out. I observe all these treasures using my Canon IS 12×36 binoculars while sitting on a lounge chair on the beach – pure bliss!
After the night sky observing, I’m ready for more sleep, and I’m looking forward to enjoying a lazy day tomorrow in the tropics.
November 9, 2012 – Friday – First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji
I am up fairly early in the morning, and take some time to have a couple of cups of coffee while looking out over the ocean at the soft colours of the morning. I’m finally ready for the Continental breakfast, which is part of the room tariff. The morning meal hits the spot with fresh Fijian fruit, homemade pastries, and other delights.
I stay at the resort today, with nothing more planned than to try out my solar eclipse photographic and observing gear while I am still on solid land. First though, there are fish to watch under the causeway, sailboats to spot through binoculars as they drift by on what seems the edge of the ocean, and I take time to contemplate the shadows of the palm trees as they caress the beach (see banner image above). This is a sublime place.
I walk over to Vuda Marina, where my friends Craig and Barbara moored their sailboat Sequoia on their trans-Pacific journey a few years ago. I was lucky enough to share passage with them when they sailed from Opua, New Zealand to Suva, Fiji in 2004. I also have my first Fiji Bitter beer today, which goes down well with a very tasty Fish Curry Hot Pot in coconut sauce with rice.
I get out my solar observing and photography gear this afternoon and have a trial run on the lawn in front of my bure. It is going to be a major challenge to keep the Sun in the field of view of my camera while on a ship’s deck. Achieving sharp focus is another issue when your observing platform is moving under your feet. I’m sure we will be given lots of advice about solar observing and photography by the enrichment speakers onboard the ship, but I can already see the challenge. In any case, I take some useable photos of the Sun, which is all I can do for now.
Turning my attention to the 24 day old waning Crescent Moon proves rewarding this afternoon. The Moon has a rendezvous with the Sun on the 14th (the Total Solar Eclipse), so it will soon disappear from daytime view and keep its celestial appointment while I stand under its shadow while aboard the Paul Gaugin, observing this apparition from the Coral Sea.
I have a Fiji Bitter beer and potato wedges (bar snack) for dinner, since I’m not interested in the beach BBQ and Meke show being staged by the resort staff this evening. There are too many clouds to try more astrophotography this evening, so I return to my bure. Time for more rest, since I board the cruise ship tomorrow afternoon.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011 – Day 2 – Half Moon Cay, Little San Salvador Island, the Bahamas
The Rotterdam anchors in the beautiful tropical bay this morning, and by 9:30AM tenders are ferrying passengers ashore 300 at a time. This is a highly organized day at the beach for the 1,400 passengers, with everyone being accommodated no matter what the disability, unless the person is completely wheelchair-bound.
Since I wake up this morning around 8:30AM, I miss the crowds of early birds who want to catch the first tenders ashore. I pick up a cappuccino at the Explorations Café and have a leisurely breakfast in the Lido before going back to my cabin to get ready to go ashore, packing snorkel gear and changing into a swimsuit and beach wear. The tender I take around 10AM is only half full.
This part of the island is dedicated to giving Holland America’s cruise ship passengers an enjoyable day at the beach. They certainly succeed at this, providing everything any cruise ship passenger might want: a wonderful long curving sandy beach; clear, warm and shallow water to swim in; a place to snorkel and see some fish; shopping; personal services such as massage and spa treatments; sports services such as horseback riding in the surf, parasailing, small boat sailing, walking tours; and of course a BBQ lunch. I expected the beach to be crowded, but everyone spreads out so it turns out to be very relaxing.
I have a clamshell reserved, which is a small half tent to provide some shade from the tropical sun, including two lounge chairs. I take my snorkel gear and wade into the warm water, not expecting to see much since there are lots of people in the water, however I’m pleasantly surprised. There are several varieties of fish swimming around, and I even spot two Barracudas and manage to take a picture and a video of them! The BBQ lunch is good, and afterwards I return to the clamshell for another hour before deciding to return to the ship.
After having a casual dinner in the Lido with my friends, we go to the Explorations Lounge to listen to the “Adagio Strings” – four young women who are a string quartet. They sound very good, which is a pleasant surprise for us, since the “Adagio Strings” quartet who played aboard the Volendam cruise last year were nothing short of dreadful. This quartet obviously practices and actually care about how they sound!
I decide to skip the entertainment in the main show lounge this evening, since it is a Las Vegas headliner who sings and tells jokes – not my type of entertainment. I return to my cabin and work on the photos and video I shot today and yesterday. I like to keep up-to-date with the results from my camera work while traveling. I find putting a caption on each photo and the location makes it much easier to cope with all this media when I return home. I also write a journal while traveling, which I find invaluable for creating travelogues for my main JoeTourist website once I return home. I enjoy the ritual of sitting down and reviewing the day, and then committing it to words.
This evening I sign up with Rogers for their cellular roaming package, which gives me voice coverage for Central and South America. This ensures I get a more reasonable per minute rate for voice calls than standard roaming, so I can use my iPhone to call home when we are ashore. Cellular service is offered aboard ship, but it is outrageously expensive, so I will wait until we are docked or ashore to check in with the family. While aboard ship and offshore, it isn’t too expensive to send and receive email using the Internet access package I signed up for yesterday.
The ship is bucking a 30kt headwind as we head south towards Cuba. Our speed is 14.5kts, which is certainly slower than last night.