Tuesday, 30 August 2011

I'm loving Bali

Another day at sea, sailing from Broome north-westerly to Benoa in Bali. Once again beautiful weather and slight seas.

The days we spend 'at sea' are quiet and relaxing. The early morning gym classes are well attended. Watching the sun rise over the ocean is a beautiful way to start the day and Suraya Namaskar feels so ... right. Each time we have a day at sea I get to the class early, before anybody else, and have the room to myself for a few minutes. In the class we do some exercises that are new to me and I feel I must remember them so I can pass them on to my own students. Most of the movements I learn are easily translated into Yogic type asanas.

On sea days I read a lot and relax on the deck until the music gets too loud - at which point I retire to the library or to our stateroom balcony, my own little refuge. In the afternoon and early evening Roland and I sit on deck and enjoy a gin & tonic. We have met people on board who have become friends and chatting to them is a pleasurable pastime at any time.

From the Captain's Log: "... we commenced the final approaches to our anchorage and entered the Southern entrance of the strait named 'Selat Badung' ...". Soon after, Sun Princess anchored in Benoa Bay one mile off the coast of Benoa. We went ashore in one of the ship's tenders. Each tender can take 150 passengers and they speed through the water very quickly. Being squished in with so many people is not my cup-of-tea because of my tendency to claustrophobia - but I made it there and back.


As we stepped off the tender there was a gamelan band and dancers to greet us. I felt a surge of excitement to be back in Bali.



My first trip to Bali in 2009, a Yoga and Cultural Tour (if you click on the link, yes, that is me in the photograph!) with my good friend Michele - who has a huge knowledge of Bali, the people and the culture, which she shared with the group. This stood me in good stead during this whistle-stop visit. I knew about the traffic, the hawkers, the exchange rate crooks, how to bargain (well sort of, I'm not very good at that ...).

This was Roland's first visit to Bali; I think the culture shock was fairly pronounced. We shared a mini-bus with friends from Brisbane who we met on the ship; the Balinese driver, Ketut, a friend of theirs from previous visits. Mike, from Queensland, had been a courier driver in Brisbane. He sat up front with Ketut and did some magnificent back-seat driving! Roland was on the edge of his seat most of the time. I had warned him that a 4-lane highway usually carried at least 6 lanes, maybe more. I think it was the scooters that really got to him, especially the ones with 3 or 4 people (including children) riding them. I love to see the elegance of the pillion passengers who are wearing traditional dress and sitting side-saddle not even holding on.

My main focus, knowing that we had only a few hours, was to visit the Memorial of the 2002 bombing.

It isn't really on an angle, that is just my photographic skill or lack of such skill. I find myself teary when I read the names of the people who lost their lives in the bombings. The Balinese leave small offerings in front of the Memorial and there was a loving letter to one of the victims that had recently been placed on the ledge.

We did some shopping, very important in Bali! Roland's sole purchase was a pink stubby-holder with "I love Bali" on it. When we got home Lily immediately purloined it for her dolls to use as a suitcase! I don't think Rol minded too much.

We returned to the ship in good time but because some of the ship's tours had gone as far afield as Ubud, there was some delay with passengers returning and we left Benoa later than expected - not that that was my concern, I was exhausted. Nevertheless, we watched the final two tenders being winched up and secured. There are so many interesting things to see over the side of a ship.

From Bali we headed for Geraldton ... and this was the exciting part of sailing because the ocean decided to show us puny mortals who was boss around here.

I'll continue the saga at a later date (not tomorrow as I have other things to do).





Monday, 29 August 2011

Broome and beyond

Broome, I have to tell you, is wonderful! The airport is almost in the middle of the town right next door to the shopping mall. My friend, Robin, who lives near the airport says she has become used to the noise of aircraft landing and taking off. Apparently there was a plan to move the airport further out of town but the locals didn't want that to happen.


Not only is the airport in town, so is the jail (correctional facility as it is called around here). Sun Pictures, the world's oldest picture gardens, is also in the centre of Chinatown. We sat and had an excellent coffee at a nearby cafe and an aeroplane nearly took Roland's eyebrows off! He has extremely bushy, white eyebrows (for the Aussies, think: Robert Menzies but more so).


First impressions of Broome included a man sleeping under a tree next to the town oval, warm sunlight, friendly locals passing out pamphlets and maps and a group of bronzes that told of Broome's history. The Roebuck Hotel over the road and, oh, a 'unisex' public toilet.





I would have liked those photos to be next to each other but haven't quite mastered that yet. Anyhoo, that is Roland with the bronze of an early pearl diver and me standing next to an Oriental man who was part of the first pearl industry in Broome.


We saw the biggest pearl ever, in a glass case - not for sale. It had a lovely pinky sheen and was, indeed, very large. The pearls, even the little ones, were so beautiful. I have a string of pearls from my mum but have given them to Kath as I'm not really a wearer of jewellery, apart from cheap earrings - the only good ones that I have, have been given to me ... like the silver beauties from Donna.


Robin took us to Town Beach which is where people go to watch the 'stairway to the moon'. We had coffee at the cafe overlooking the beach and watched the tide go out and the mangroves emerge from the water. I looked for a salty but no luck. The beaches are really dangerous in summer with salties and stingers. Even the sharks avoid the salties!




Town Beach is a magical spot. Broome is one place in Western Australia where you can watch the sun rise and set over the ocean. This disorientated Roland who has an amazing sense of direction. For me, well, not knowing left from right at the best of times, I just accept it otherwise it makes me giddy and I have to sit down and have a glass of wine.


We took a drive out to the race course. The Broome Races are big at this time of year. People travel from all over to be there. It seems to me that Broome people know how to entertain and enjoy themselves. 


The dinosaur footprints at Gantheaume Point were not in view as the tides dictate when you can see them. My toe was really painful at this stage so I wouldn't have walked down to where they are in any case. The colours of the rocks against the blue sky and the blue ocean has to be seen to be believed.




Robin introduced us as 'The Boat People'. Interesting that, although there were over 1,500 tourists from the Sun Princess, many of the shops in Broome still shut at 3.00pm! It takes more than earning a buck to live the Broome life.


Cable Beach is one of the best known spots in Broome. We were fortunate enough to watch the two caravans of camels come down to the beach to take tourists for rides. Some of the camels are beginners and don't actually carry tourists, they are there to learn how to do it.




Driving round Broome we saw amazing displays of bougainvillaea, frangipani and a couple of Bismarck Palms. Roland went back to the ship before I did and I spent a little while with Robin. We didn't remember about visiting the Japanese Cemetery before it was too late but I'll visit that when we return to Broome next year.


Back to the Sun Princess, weary and happy. Next stop Benoa in Bali. Roland's first taste of Bali! Oh my!


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

cruising - but losing interest in writing about it.

One thing about myself: I probably should have written the whole blog at one sitting because I am now losing interest ...

However, Kimberley Coastal, York Sound and Prince Frederick Harbour are worth writing about - how amazing to see this remote coast from a cruise ship - the elevation gave a brilliant view of contrast between the red cliffs and blue ocean.


The ship, True North, was anchored toward the lower end of Prince Frederick Harbour. We towered over that ship - although we didn't really get very close. You can see it in the centre of the photograph. My camera is not really adequate to the splendour of the scenery.


The islands and reefs we passed coming into the York Sound have interesting names - Robroy Reef, Maret Island and Naturalist Island on the north-east of the mouth of the Hunter River. It was difficult to take photographs, people kept popping up in front of me and I got some wonderful shots of fat tummies and bald heads. Eventually I gave up and just enjoyed the sensation of viewing the sunset in this beautiful place.

The moon was waxing (full moon just after we left Benoa in Bali). The light of the setting moon woke me up - me thinking it was dawn - it shone so brilliantly. I would like to have photographed it but, in the event, I didn't get to do that although on a number of occasions I stood for ages (at 4.00AM) on the balcony gazing into the eyes of the moon until it disappeared behind clouds low on the horizon. No wonder Roland thinks I'm ... odd!

Now the Sun Princess headed south-west along the coast of Western Australia, toward Broome. We had one day at sea (think NO laundromat, lots of swimming etc.) before we arrived in the Port of Broome "situated on the North shore of Roebuck Bay". For me, I was looking forward to this port-of-call more than the others because my dearest friend Robin lives in Broome and I was going to see her in her own habitat! How exciting!


Broome Pier, very long and spindly looking - we weren't allowed to walk along it but had to wait for buses and coaches to fetch and carry us. We knew we were back in WA when our bus driver had his mobile phone glued to his ear making plans for the evening. There were Broome people fishing along the pier and I hear that the fishing is very good! The tides in Broome are huge - it is a tidal port with shallow water and strong currents. Our arrival and departure was governed by the tides and that meant we had a longer stop in Broome than in some of the other ports we visited. According to the Captain's Log, there was a tidal range of 2.6m during our call to Broome.

I'll tell you about Broome in the next instalment.

Meanwhile, here is another laundromat story. I was walking past the laundromat and overheard two older men (late 60s) having a chat. The one man was showing his friend his Princess Cruises complimentary carry-bag which, he said, "I thought I'd try it out." His friend looked him up and down and retorted, "You look like a bloody old shiela!" OK, not pc I know but it tickled my funny bone and I still chuckle when I think about it.

Eavesdropping is one of my favourite hobbies.



Monday, 22 August 2011

more about Cruising

The Gulf of Carpentaria and the Arafura Sea, I can hardly believe that I have been there! I am going to read Alexis Wrights novel although slightly intimidated by the length - 500 pages - the book Carpentaria.


The Arafura Sea is known as one of the world's richest fishing grounds and we did see a couple of fishing boats (Roland assured me they were Refugee boats but I have his measure ... he is a terrible tease). The weather was beautiful, the sea 'slight' according to the Captain's Log. 


By this time we were more-or-less au fait with the layout of the Sun Princess; not entirely as there were so many dining rooms, lounges, theatres and the like. I kept on forgetting 'fore' and 'aft' and, as those who know me, know, 'left' and 'right' remain a mystery. We made friends with the people on our table and the evening meal became one of the highlights of the day. There were generally 8 of us and we got along so well. Lots of jokes and tall tales from Roland and Mike (from Brisbane) I'm sure they were trying to outdo each other making us laugh. Charles and Janet from Tasmania, Linda and Wills from Western Australia and, of course, Mike's wife Jenny and me making up the table. There were 2 or 3 formal dress nights and the passengers put on their finery. My finery consisted of a lovely top that Kath lent me and my Liz Davenport pants and the earrings Donna gave me. Oh, and my new purple thongs (flip flops) of course (remember I had a sore toe!)


Two days at sea relaxing and NOT doing laundry ... but swimming and dodging the big people ... chilling out and reading. Enforced relaxation is actually quite difficult.


Captain's Log: "After clearing the Dundas Strait in the early hours of the morning Sun Princess transited the Clarence Strait ..." and so on and so forth until we arrived in Darwin, anchoring at Fort Hill Wharf.



Darwin is wonderful! The city is vibrant and so much going on. We took a coach tour and our guide (a Kiwi) and our coach driver were knowledgeable. We went all over the place including the Botanical Gardens. I could have stayed there all day, so beautiful. In fact it was here and not Port Douglas where I first saw the Bismarck Palms that so took my fancy. 


 This tree in the Botanical Gardens conjures up all sorts of stories in my head. I only spotted it as we were about to leave so the photo is taken through the windscreen of the bus. 


Here I am standing by a lake in the Gardens. When we return to Darwin I will spend at least a day in these Gardens.

Some of the things we learned about Darwin: the Japanese dropped more bombs on Darwin than they did on Pearl Harbour. Every year the Greek Community hold a party on the Esplanade for all the inhabitants - free food for all comers! I'd like to be there for that! The Greek Church is painted blue and white looking like it has been transplanted from one of the Greek Islands.


The buildings in Darwin are modern and the architecture is innovative. There isn't much old Darwin left owing to Cyclone Tracey which demolished most of the city at Christmas in 1974. There are a number of websites that you can read; the link I've chosen is the Australian Archives. The Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory has a permanent exhibit of Cyclone Tracy, which is so realistic it is frightening. We didn't have time to go and look but that is also on the 'to do list' for our next visit. Also the Military Museum. 

A single day's visit isn't really enough but it is a good taster. Which reminds me, we went to a wine tasting one morning on the ship. I quite enjoyed it but some passengers thought it was a rip off. I guess it was to a certain extent. 


However, seeing so much in such a short time is tiring so I was pleased that the ship was tied up at the wharf and we didn't have to catch a tender. There was a curio stall in the building on the wharf and the woman running it recognised my accent. She had taught in Zimbabwe for some years and was so delighted to speak to somebody from the 'old country'! 


I was sad to leave Darwin but looking forward to the next part of the cruise - Kimberley Coastal. This was one of the main reasons we chose to go on this particular cruise and it did not disappoint.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Cruising again

Recap (i.e. things I forgot) and probably will repeat some of the stuff I've already written ...

Sailing through the Torres Strait Islands and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was necessarily slow. The ship, while not huge by cruise ship standards, was still large at 77,000 tons. At times the water under the keel was not very much.




The ship's laundromats (there were 6) were closed for the few days we sailed through the Great Barrier Reef. However, when the laundromats were open I was amazed at how many passengers spent so much time sitting in the laundromat on our deck watching their washing spin around! Needless to say, I brought home a suitcase full of dirty clothes. One thing; I would drop by and see what the launderers were reading - always on the lookout for a good book. The one that took my fancy was/is The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery - which I have ordered from the local library here in Falcon. 

In the Torres Strait the ship passed close-by to some of the islands. We saw Wednesday Island and also Thursday Island where there is a settlement and a resort. Apparently there is no Monday Island but an island for every other day of the week. We didn't see any people on the islands although we were quite close.

The weather in Tropical FNQ was glorious and I spent time swimming in one of the pools. This turned out to be more of a 'dodge-the-other swimmers' most of whom seemed to be big and hell-bent on swimming over the top of me. I was about the smallest person in the pool and couldn't touch the bottom owing to my being a shorty! 

The spas held no appeal for me (never have) as I've noticed people doing disgusting things in spas (squeezing pimples for e.g.) so I keep well away! In the event I only swam a couple of times as I preferred to relax on a sunbed - reading and keeping an eye on the scenery. Of course the sunbeds were turned toward the pools (two pools and three spas on this deck) so I had to swivel my chosen bed around so I could see out. Later in the trip, while I was moving the sunbed, I banged my littlest toe again (same one that I broke a couple of months ago) and I must've broken it again as it swelled up and was bloody painful. As a result I wore thongs (flip-flops to those who don't speak Aussie English) for the rest of the trip. My old faithfuls broke so I had to buy a pair in one of the shops on board. I've never paid more than a few dollars for thongs so, for a frugal person like me, it was excruciating to pay nearly $20.00! 

Roland frequented the icecream parlour two or three times a day and is regretting it now ... he put on quite a bit of weight! After I broke my toe he found another walking partner (Linda) so he did keep up his exercise. In the evenings, he spent a lot of time watching and listening to the string quartet. They were beautiful young women from Poland and many of the old blokes on board spent time gazing at them as they played. 

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Cruising Continues, (4)

Here we are approaching Port Douglas. According to the Captain's Log, the Sun Princess anchored approx. 2 miles off the nearest coast in Trinity Bay. Passengers were taken ashore on local boats and ships tenders. The Log says it was overcast with showers but I don't recall getting wet.


Port Douglas is lovely, lots of mangroves and fancy yachts.

Once ashore, we boarded the bus for Cairns. The first part of the trip through Port Douglas seemed to entail passing the resort built by Christopher Skase. The bus driver told us all about how his wife Pixie (or Trixie, can't remember exactly) had the place repainted a couple of times as she didn't like the colours; also had it re-floored as she didn't like the marble ... oh my, how pretentious.


Of interest, this is where, in 2006 Steve Irwin (crikey) - the Crocodile Hunter - died at the Batt Reef, out from Port Douglas. He was injured by a stingray while filming a documentary. 


The road from Port Douglas to Cairns follows the coast. The bus driver was loquacious going to Cairns but nary a word coming back. The trip takes over an hour through rain forest on the shore and beautiful coast on the seaward side. Cairns is another place that surprised me in size and sophistication. We spent a couple of hours roaming around and in places it seemed much like parts of Fremantle. This is another city that both Roland and I would like to revisit one day. The city centre is tourist oriented and the demographic young and international. If we had had longer to explore I think a visit to the museum and art gallery would have been interesting. As it was, there were a number of drunken locals fighting near the train station (NOT a good look!) and we had to retreat into a pharmacy for a few minutes.


I think it was in Cairns that I first saw the beautiful Bismarck Palm and have decided that this is the next plant I will get for my garden. Since we've been home I've seen at least one Bismarck Palm nearby so I know they can grow here - even if not as luxuriantly as in Far North Queensland.




I nicked that photo off the Internet. I just love the blue-green colour of the foliage.


We spent a lot of time at the stern of the ship watching the wake; this is hypnotic and the noise is wonderful. Talking of noise, the entertainment on the deck was sometimes fairly/very loud - and I don't like loud noise so would take refuge on the balcony of our stateroom with a book and a glass of wine. 


The Library on board was well stocked and one of the quieter places to sit and relax. I enjoyed reading The Cunning Man by Robertson Davies (one of my favourite authors). I also read two books by Audrey Niffenegger: Her Fearful Symmetry and The Time Traveler's Wife - both of which really mess with your mind (well, my mind!) I'll be looking out for more books by Niffenegger for sure.


From the Captain's Log: "At 5.49pm once all passengers were back onboard from the last shore boat we commenced heaving on the anchor (don't you love the language ... 'heaving on the anchor' ... as though they were dragging it in manually! I don't think so, I saw it and it was HUGE and green). At 6.00pm the anchor was aweigh, and a Northerly track was set; as Sun Princess commenced her passage inside the Great Barrier Reef toward the Torres Strait".


The following day 'at sea' the Sun Princess continued through the reefs inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and early in the day we passed Cape direction. Our noon position was Lat: 11 degrees 346'S, seas - slight.


I guess this is as close as I'll get to the Torres Strait Islands and certainly to the northern tip of the Australian mainland at Cape York. In the early evening "... we were abeam of Booby Island on the Portside after transit of the Torres Strait ... Once clear of the strait we set a Westerly course which was followed for the rest of the evening, crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria".



Friday, 19 August 2011

Cruising Continues, (3)

Now, where was I? Time for some reflection and observations.

The Captain of the Sun Princess is an Englishman, Craig Street. Everyday at noon he broadcasts his log to the ship. He has a clipped English accent and we've decided he must be a descendant of Captain Cook because he seems to have an adventurous spirit, which becomes more apparent as the cruise continues. He generally follows his update of events with an item of trivia - with a nautical flavour; for example: "no room to swing a cat" which dates back to when miscreant sailors were whipped with a 'cat-o-nine-tails' on deck in front of the whole crew. This made for quite a small space and the lead-tipped tendrils of the nine-tails would bash the unwary as well as the victim. You may be interested to hear that these whips are still manufactured and sold for whatever purposes ...

From the Captain's Log: After leaving Brisbane we "... followed a North-westerly course ... Sun Princess entered the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park somewhere level with the coastal town of Bundaberg (think, Rum), Queensland. At this point the Great Barrier Reef Pilot who had joined us in Brisbane commenced assisting the bridge team with the intricate navigation of the Reef". Noon lat: 22 degrees 460' S.

Of the 800+ crew, the majority were from the Philippines; however, there were people from Mexico, Ukraine, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Thailand, South Africa, England, a couple from Scotland, and many other places. The 2,000 passengers also came from the 4 corners of the globe (still figuring out how a 'globe' can have corners ...) but mainly Australians.

Our next stop was Townsville. The ship anchored about 8 nautical miles from the shore. We were amazed at how smoothly the process of taking the passengers ashore was accomplished. The tenders were large catamarans from Townsville. The weather was glorious - as it had been all the way.


This a a view out toward the ship from the top of Castle Hill. You can vaguely see the ship if use a magnifying glass! It is more or less in the middle of the photo ... unless that is a spot on my computer screen. The clearer vessel is one of the catamarans. The drive up to Castle Hill was fairly steep and narrow. Coming from Western Australia we are not used to steep, narrow roads but the bus driver was a skilful driver (and a jovial man) who handled the bus adroitly - apart from forgetting to take in the step when we left ... crunch.

Some of the people we met on board were familiar with Townsville as they had done their military training and/or service there - from the Vietnam War and so on. There is a military base and an RAAF base in Townsville.

Townsville was also affected by Cyclone Yasi and apparently many of the mature trees were destroyed. In fact, if we hadn't known about Yasi we probably wouldn't have noticed anything. What did surprise me (and Roland) was how big Townsville was. I think I was expecting something a lot less ... sophisticated? citified? I'd like to go back one day and have another look.

We returned to the ship in the same catamaran that took us ashore. The transfer was seamless and those passengers with walking frames and/or other walking aids were assisted by members of the crew especially assigned to them. One elderly man who zipped up the gangway in front of us turned out to be 91 years old!

The security measures both disembarking and embarking were stringent. More of that later.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Cruising Continues

OK, so we've left Sydney and spend the next day, Sunday, at sea. We spend the day getting our bearings on the ship; our dining room is on deck 5 and we're on deck 11 (that's 107 stairs there and 107 stairs back again). The first couple of days this is hard but soon we aren't even puffing at the top. Breakfast and lunch we have on deck 14 (no deck 13, sailors are superstitious). Roland discovers the icecream parlour that doles out icecream on demand. I discover they also have delicious peanut butter bikkies. I'm good and limit myself to 1 or 2 a day. I abstain from the icecream as milk/milk products and me are not good friends.

On Sunday while I'm exploring the outside decks I spot some whales and get very excited. As I'm about the only person on the deck this may be considered a non-event. Many of the passengers seem to spend a lot of time below decks in the casino or one of the many lounges. In fact we see many whales; Roland is very good at spotting them and I come to the conclusion that he is seeing non-existent whales because every time he tells me, the whales have disappeared.

We have a life-drill and wander around with looking a bit like Sponge Bob Square Pants while we get a talking-to about not panicking in the event of the sirens sounding. The life-boats are slung up against the ceiling on deck 7 (Promenade Deck) and are used as tenders when we can't dock at the wharf. I found this very exciting and looked forward to being ferried back and forth on these amazing vessels. Here is one in situ. Our stateroom would be almost directly above.



Brisbane is the first port of call and we take the city tour. Very many one way streets in central Briz and we go round and round the CBD. We are shown the high water mark from Cyclone Yasi in January this year (goodbye bananas for the next year).

The cruise down the Brisbane River on a paddle steamer is good fun. Although I thought I took heaps of photos, in fact they were mainly of the tug that had to turn the ship so we could get out of the harbour. However, here is one of a bridge at night ... you can see my hand wasn't very steady!


That's a bit pathetic really isn't it! Best look at these images of Brisbane - not sure what happened to my brain at this stage.

From Brisbane we headed for Townsville, so another day at sea.

Three times around the Promenade Deck = 1 mile; lovely to walk on wooden floors. Roland was good about this and I joined him most days. Usually I went to the gym at 7.00-8.00AM for a variety of classes including Ab workshop, Tai Chi, Body something or other - all of which seemed to segue into my Yoga practice. Lovely to balance on a rolling ship! Keeping up Suraya Namaskar and the Five Tibetans eery day was good for body and mind.

Cruising



The best advice when cruising came from my sister: "Never take the lifts, use the stairs!" Benefits of this include enforced exercise and not being subjected to cold and flu germs in the elevators/lifts.


We flew to Sydney at the end of July to embark on the Sun Princess - a holiday we planned a year ago. Not our first cruise (that was 35 years ago in the Mediterranean) but a long time between! Good news was that we were upgraded at the last minute to a stateroom with a balcony ... on level 11.


The flight left Perth at some alarmingly early hour; we made it with time to spare, just as well because neither Roland or I are au fait with checking in with nothing to show! No tickets or anything 'official' looking; not so comfortable for a pair of old darlings like us. 


Transfers from Sydney airport to the ship were smooth and we boarded our home for the next two-and-a-half weeks. The logistics of boarding almost 2,000 passengers is mind-boggling but the whole exercise was quick and remarkably painless. We sailed out of Sydney soon after 4.00pm.
Barangaroo Wharf and The Rocks. 


We sailed under the Harbour Bridge and past the Opera House. The people climbing the Bridge waved at us and we waved back!

Out through the Harbour to the Heads, looking back at the sunset over the city.