All posts by eefalk

Retired after 43 years in corrugated packaging.

ANTARCTICA, THE WHITE CONTINENT

 

 

We made our journey to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions aboard the Ms Ocean Diamond; a cruise ship constructed especially for polar exploration.

We set sail from Ushuaia, Argentina on a 2 1/2 day crossing of the Drake Passage with 185 fellow passengers and 145 crew. This turned out to be a spectacular expedition; crew that had made this journey many times told us this was the best weather they had ever experienced.

 We were treated to bright sunny days with temperatures right at freezing.  Dressed for this environment  (except for the first day when we allowed our hands to get wet)  we were never cold.

Quark provided loaner boots which were insulated “wellies” that came up to mid calf. Two pairs of socks, long underwear, mid weight slacks or jeans covered by  mandatory water proof trousers kept us quite comfortable even while riding in zodiacs to the mainland or just cruising around the icebergs in search of wildlife and fantastic photo opportunities.  Top half warmed by thermal underwear and a layer or two of light sweater protected by the souvenir parka with a pop out liner and we were ready for just about any kind of weather.

Quark Expeditions takes their environmental responsibilities very seriously. Each time we went ashore we walked through a disinfectant solution to prevent disease germs from reaching the continent.

 The weather was nice enough to encourage silly shots and for 65 of our fellow passengers, a polar plunge, jumping from the ship into the icy waters of Antarctica. We opted not to do that noting that ship doctor was standing by with the defibrillator at ready.

 W e were not the only ships exploring this beautiful continent, were saw five other vessels in search of this beauty.

 

 Penguins are the stars of Antarctica and we enjoyed their antics. When swimming at high speed they actually jump from the water in what the naturalist called “Porpoising”.

Since they are out of the water almost as much as under, I guess that penguins can indeed fly! The young fellow below dove into the water with his slightly more developed pals and discovered that his down covering kept him afloat. He managed to paddle back to shore to try again another day. We saw 5 different varieties of Penguin.

Easy to see why he is called the chinstrap penguin!

We were instructed to not approach the penguins but to not be surprised if they approached us. They demonstrated much curiosity and no fear of us. They come ashore to hatch their young. Adults spend all their time fishing and feeding their chicks.

We also enjoyed a number of different seals.

This is the wool seal, below is the leopard seal, a vicious hunter of penguin and other seals.  Many of the seals we saw bore scars from encounters with these teeth.

 We went ashore at an Argentine base which was not occupied at the time. Many countries maintain bases here, only a few have full time staff. This photo was taken by a fellow passenger from a kayak, this humpback came right up in front of their boat. The pictures below show the sad history of whaling that flourished here and almost eliminated this species. These whale bones were estimated to have been lying at this spot since the early 1920’s. Antarctica was the seventh continent to be visited by most of the passengers aboard.  This was our seventh and we are truly glad we made this journey. 

The Noordam

One always meets new people when they travel; one of the true joys of travel. Very early in the continuum of  a relationship with new people comes the inevitable question;

“Where are you from?”

We often hesitate in answering that question, in part assessing if we really want to get into the whole explanation of how and why we have chosen to be “home free” and actually like it. When  we tell folks that we sold the big house, gave most of the stuff away, saved a few pieces and pretty much just travel their by far most common response is…”Oh do you have an RV”?

I guess the most correct answer is yes, a Holland American cruise ship.

HOLLAND AMERICA NOORDAM

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFact is, we really do not own any of these ships but we have been on enough of them that some of the staff recognize us day one with hugs and we get free laundry! That is a perk that goes a long way in helping Karen to decide what to pack.

We have done other cruise lines but Holland American is our RV of choice for traveling the high seas and living for weeks at a time. A tour of the last ship we traveled may just give insight into why we still like what we are doing.

We feel that Holland American  is designed around people like us. Born in the forties, raised in the sixties, who actually like to touch their partner occasionally while dancing to music with real words.

Let’s start with how our RV gets around. The picture below is an

666

an Azipod.

Now while many Kiwi’s may think an azipod is a bloke from the Australian outback with one foot in his mouth and the other on the ground; that may be true, but this is the device which guides and drives our boat.

The newest HA ships are equipped with two of these huge electric trolling motors capable of rotating 360 degrees. Take a look at the men walking underneath these units while in dry  dock to get a feel for the size.

While in operation, the unit is turned so the the blades are on the leading edge pulling the boat which is far more effective, The power for the motors comes from these diesel engines very similar to what you would find in a railroad locomotive.dscn2817  The Noordam has, I believe, four of these engine/generator units plus a turbine for power generation to propel the boat as well as to operate the hotel, which is what they call the living and eating portion of the ship.

dscn2815 We were not allowed into the engine room for safety and security reasons but the cameras in the control room clearly showed how spotlessly clean the crew keeps these engines.

The control room was probably a 1000 square feet with hundreds of meters and gauges, dozens of video monitors.dscn2804dscn2805 The chief engineer talked us through many of the controls; a fascinating tour.

In our travels there are two types of places we stay, cruise ships and vacation rentals. Both allow you to pack and unpack once per trip. In vacation rentals having a laundry is essential.  On a ship, laundry is crucial to cut down on how much luggage you carry. Lets take a quick tour of the laundry on the Noordam.dscn2854 Piles of bedding, towels, napkins and clothing are processed continually; three shifts every daydscn2855 There are banks of washers each with capacities far, far greater than a home unit. When you turn in laundry they attach a small strip somewhere inside the garment that has the cruise number and your cabin number. It all gets mixed together by color and fabric and comes back to you two days later delivered to your cabin. Amazing, but it works!

This next set of pictures is an ironing machine for flat material such as towels, napkins and sheets.dscn2857 A worker feeds in the item to be ironed…dscn2858 and it comes out the other side ironed and folded. dscn2863 Important to remember this is a workplace so you see safety signs, notices for meetings, job training and personnel matters. I thought this poster was very true.

Another department that astonished us was the tailor shop. The Noordam has three full time tailors who make the uniforms for every crew member. dscn2847dscn2849 When a new crew member reports for duty they go the the tailor shop, they are measured and a day later have their new uniform. Each assignment has a specific uniform and the tailors use a set of templates to cut the material.

When you think cruise ship ya think food…lots of it. The kitchen part of this tour was also fascinating.dscn2867 The kitchen operates 20 hours per day with a four hour clean-up each day. The bakery section starts first in the early hours using 450 lbs of flour each day to make the rolls, breads, buns and cakes that get consumed daily. With 2600 guests and close to 1000 crew there is a lot of food prep and cooking going on.dscn2866 dscn2884 We went through the kitchen about 3 in the afternoon and these  lobster tails were already moving down the chilling tables.

A lot of folks have asked how we stop from getting fat on cruise ships because there is a lot of food offered all the time at a lot of different venues. It is really fairly easy as there are so many choices, you just have to decide to eat what is good for you and in quantities that make sense.

Another thing that many people do not realize is that the kitchen will make almost anything the way you want it. If you need no salt, no gluten or no dairy, just tell the dining room stewards and the next meal is exactly what you need on your diet.

Behind the kitchen are the store rooms that supply all the materials, this was the liquor cabinet,dscn2870 When Holland America stocks the larders, they make sure they have enough beer for the Aussies and rum for the Caribbean. dscn2872 Hundreds of items that must be ordered, picked up at various ports and distributed to the various bars and dining areas. What most people on the cruise never see are the parallel corridors, stairs and elevators that allow the crew to move about the ship unseen by passengers. It is really like another universe.

dscn2842 This is the storage area underneath the main stage where performers can  grab the next costume and make the quick change often required. The actors and performers are hired by HA from New York talent agencies for a set of shows that run through their contracts. Other than safety drills and actual emergencies the artists do not have duties other than their performances. You can almost always find them in the gym keeping their bodies in shape. Many also volunteer in crowd control.

Racks of hats,dscn2845 Hair do’s of the partdscn2843 are all stocked and at the ready to change.

We took a bridge tour and had the usual picture with the Captain.dscn2830

But the person actually driving the boat this day was the cute little 23 year old on the left of the picture below:dscn2841 Interestingly, though she parks this ship at the dock, she has never driven a car. Does not have a drivers license. Who needs a car in Amsterdam where she lives.

and the Captain has an office,dscn2826 actually neater than any I had when working.

We have learned that the crew that works so hard for us on these ships are beautiful people from many countries that enjoy their life on these ships as a way to make a living for their families. They live for their contracts as well as they live for their time at home.

A ship at sea is a self contained city.  Many of the services that are taken for granted on land must be  provided while afloat. We even had a captain trained in emergency dental work.

Nothing brought this so close to home as when we were at sea between New Zealand and Australia and a cabin steward had appendicitis. There are two doctors on board plus nurses but this event required evacuation. Our first clue was a helicopter approaching our stern.dscn2538 We watched as the chopper moved to the bow of the ship where all rigging had been removed. We later learned that all forward facing window cabins and areas had been evacuated in case of issues with the the chopper hitting the ship. Safety always foremost!dscn2546 A stretcher and a very brave person was lowered down to the forward deck where the crew member was hoisted up to the the medivac helicopter.

This incident really brought home to us that all the folks on a ship at sea must be together. The captain had to make big decisions on this trip which caused us to miss certain stops on the itinerary which angered some passengers, but you have to know the captain MUST make these tough choices for us all. Passengers must also make the decision to sanitize hands as when entering eating areas.

The same is true I think for all of us on this world in our trip though the universe.

AUSTRALIA, BIG, BOLD, BRASH AND YES; EVEN BEAUTIFUL

When selecting a photo to start this blog of our 25 days in Australia I was looking through different shots of the Sydney Opera House to make my selection when it dawned on me that the sophistication associated with that iconic landmark, is not by any means, all that is Australia.DSCN2613 I chose this statue of a camel and driver because “The Outback” originally exploited by caravans of these beasts, provides as much of the personality of Australians as our wild west  and its Manifest Destiny shaped America.

We flew from Singapore to Sydney on an overnight flight getting us to our hotel in Darling Harbor, Sydney about 6 am. Since we had stayed two other times at this great lodging they were prepared for a 7 AM check-in.IMG_1892           The Hotel 1888 has been our choice now four times while in Sydney and we love Darling Harbor.

We enjoyed several days in Sydney, which after the Southeast Asian adventure, served as a return to normalcy. Then we flew to Darwin on the north coast; very tropical and hot!DSCN2443  What a lot of folks do not know is that Darwin was repeatedly bombed by the Japanese in the second world war. The story was told that the first several attacks were not effectively resisted by the anti-aircraft guns shown here. It seems that the ammunition  clearly marked “Not for tropical use” because of the ambient temperature,  detonated far too soon.  We also discovered an ammo storage facility that happened to be made in Middletown, Ohio by the ARMCO steel company in Karen’s home town.

We spent several days exploring this area.DSCN2534 Found some giant termite cones 15 or so feet high.DSCN2546 Some huge fruit bats!

And the largest port in the world for shipping Liquefied Natural Gas.DSCN2429 This facility was built by a Japanese company which has a 35 year lease on all production. We had spotted several of these ships en route to Japan on our cruise in SE Asia.

Our visit to Darwin was also to catch “The Ghan”, a fabulous train that runs across Australia from Darwin in the North…to Adelaide on the south ocean as the Aussies call it. 1850 miles, 3 days and 2 nights of first class food, beverages and very interesting company.DSCN2540 DSCN2538

This was a truly grand adventure. Probably the most interesting part were our fellow passengers. We think we were the only Americans. Lots of Brits and folks from Western Australia who were seeing this area for the first time. DSCN2579 The dining car was also the local watering hole where everyone congregated to enjoy the open bar. Among the guests was a reporter for BBC who covered Buckingham Palace. She was on vacation taking her new bust line on tour. She was quite proud of her new acquisitions, and though I  resisted taking pictures; I now regret!

There was also an English Formula One driver and his wife. Each  year they take the Ghan on their way to Melbourne for its great race through the heart of the city.

DSCN2542 DSCN2543

Our cabin had a nice lounge that made into a queen sized bed and a bath with shower stall. All the comforts of home.

The train had 56 cars on the trip we made. Top speed was 85mph, stopping along the way to allow freight to pass.

DSCN2545Like cruise ships, The Ghan has excursions along the way.DSCN2559 This was as close to the Grand Canyon as down under gets, still beautiful! I had to admire how this tree held on to live on the canyon wall.DSCN2568 DSCN2529

At Alice Springs we took a helicopter ride. As much as I hate to fly I am not sure why we even did it…it was even my idea, and Karen the wannabe pilot jumped all over it.DSCN2583Among the sights we saw,DSCN2595 from a distance is this USAF base which is a listening post for America’s spy satellites, located far enough down the curve of the earth that our friends in Russia and China cannot intercept.

After spending a day in Adelaide, a totally charming city that the rest of Australia makes fun of we moved on to Melbourne where we had a VRBO on the 22nd floor of a high rise apartment building, central and right on the river. We explored Melbourne mainly on foot and water taxi.

We could live here!

We also took some time to visit some animals..DSCN2633 Cockatoos are noisy and a little bit mean. Don’t feed them by hand.DSCN2724 Wallabies are cute.

Roos can be laid backDSCN2728

Among the things we did not do upon our return to Sydney and never will! DSCN2558                         The bridge walk over the harbor bridge. Just won’t happen!

As we said goodbye to Sydney as we sailed off on the 38 day return to North America..DSCN2567 (2) We knew then that we will return once again to Australia.

We often describe Australia as USA 1957. That is not meant as negative. It is more civil, safer, more trusting and a lot more eye contact.

We like that!

SINGAPORE, THE BRIGHTEST DIAMOND IN SOUTHEAST ASIA!

IMG_1885 We had very high expectations for Singapore and we were not at all disappointed. This diamond shaped island off the Malay Peninsula is 278 square miles of wealth. The worlds largest city/state has a population of 5.5 million who enjoy the worlds third highest per capita income.

It is clean and glamorous; known as often as the Garden City as it is the Lion City (the actual translation in the old Malay language).

Parks do abound.DSCN2272 This marvelous park can be observed from the Marina Bay Sands SkyparkDSCN2287 but 4-5 hours exploring this botanical paradise is an absolute minimum. Since Malaysia expelled Singapore in 1965 this country has had a national greening policy responsible for these lovely gardens. They have also expanded their territory adding 23% to their landmass by filling in between islands and filling in shallow areas near the coast. The Iconic Raffles Hotel once a seaside resort is now 5 of 6 blocks from the beach.

This is a city of high end shoppingP1060119 and the park motif extends even to underground shopping malls.P1060109 The swimming pool and gardens atop the Sands Hotel is typical of the opulence found here.P1060140 There is a lot of money here. Singapore lies in the crossroads of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and much of this wealth comes from shipping.P1060094

The architecture is dramatic.P1060143

P1060108IMG_1888

Singapore is also noted as having among the lowest crime rates in the world. High wages, strict enforcement of laws, and quality of education are cited as the cause.

A beautiful place to visit.DSCN2282 This sculpture made from a tree trunk hangs in the entrance to the botanical gardens.

MALAYSIA, Why was I surprised?

DSCN2465 (3)The Petronas Towers housing the headquarters of Mayaysia’s national oil company are often seen as a symbol of this fairly prosperous Southeast Asian constitutional monarchy. These towers are the tallest twins in the world.

Ignorance can be cured by travel. My surprise at this visit to Malaysia was totally due to my lack of knowledge about this country.DSCN2478 (2) It is very clean, in fact I am tempted to call it spotless. There is an obvious police presence everywhere and I think that probably prompts people to put their trash in the proper place. As an example, a young couple were attempting to get a better angle for a photograph by standing on a concrete curb around a flower bed and a police officer quickly returned them to a sidewalk. One gets the impression that this is a “no nonsense ” kind of place!

Even the chaos that typically surrounds the exodus from a cruise ship was controlled here. Instead of hoards of taxi drivers descending upon you there were polite folks who asked your destination and then led you to a driver and gave him the instructions.

DSCN2486 (2) The Royal Palace

This is a democracy with a slant; a parliament elected by the people and a prime minister AND a king!

Nine of the 13 states that make up this union have kept their royal families and the Malaysia King is elected by the rulers of these families.  DSCN2485 (2) The palace is beautiful. Cameras were not allowed inside the palace but our friend Joe managed to get his picture taken beside the throne without causing an international incidentP1060708 (2) Not sure how he managed that.

The national religion is Islam but their constitution protects freedom of religion for all faiths.DSCN2420 (2) This is a beautiful Mosque on the harbor front.

 

Fabulous BANGKOK ! Would you please pass a temple!

IMG_1829 Meet our secret weapon in Thailand. Jane, our tour guide was simply fantastic. She is a professional tour guide who just happens to be a friend of one of my high school mates. She put together a “Best tour ever” for us!

There are a lot of temples in Thailand, you could wear out the shutter on the best of cameras if you even tried to snap them all.P1060003 Just inside the palace area alone it seems there are hundreds.P1050987 You can almost get sensory overload. Many are gilded and jeweled worth millions.DSCN2146 P1050981

P1050983 DSCN2107

There is a lot more to Bangkok than just temples. We visited the flower market which has to be one of the largest in the world; open 24 hours a day, every day of the year! It is part of the culture of the Thai  people to buy fresh flowers each day for their homes and for their small temples they keep at their house.P1060053

A ride on the canals in a long tail boat is always a top Bangkok attraction.P1060009

P1060038These boats are powered typically by V8 engines from cars and trucks and seem to fly around the rivers and canals that lace Bangkok.P1060037 It is a beautiful city, very clean with old and new.P1050993

We finished the day with a fantastic dinner and show that covered the history of Siam and Thailand.

Bangkok was indeed a highlight of this adventure!

VIETNAM; A land of 91 million people and 47 million motorcycles

DSCN2059 If Vietnam is anything, it is busy; very busy!

Traffic is a constant blaring of horns and flashing of headlamps. Crossing the street is an adventure that has nothing to do with crosswalks and traffic lights.DSCN2127 To cross, you simply move slowly onto the street and allow the cars and motorcycles to just swarm around you much like a school of fish passing you on a reef. Most important that you move slowly so the drivers can judge where you will be when they get there. If you wait for a light you will still be there!

The market is everywhere!DSCN2018 Sidewalks are for markets and parking of motorcycles.DSCN2028

DSCN2017

DSCN2031 The infrastructure is simply scary. If you understand anything at all about electricity, Vietnam will scare the hell out of you!DSCN2024Wiring just seems to flow at total random in all directions.

DSCN2012 Air pollution is an issue and you see many folks wearing masks.

P1060052.

There is also great beauty in Vietnam.P1050797

P1050796 These silk hand embroideries were stunning but I fear the artists who did these reaped little of the benefit.P1050795

We visited the presidential palace which is a beautiful reminder of the French colonial period;DSCN2075 saw the simple home near the palace where Ho Chi Minh lived;DSCN2081 and noted that even in his backyard, Coca Cola rules!DSCN2086 From the Vietnamese people we have met prior to going to Vietnam, we did not expect to feel any animosity towards Americans relative to the war years. We did not find any.

 

HONG KONG; One of those far away places with strange sounding names that added so much color to our childhood imaginations.

DSCN1967 Hong Kong was to be the start of a very Asian and apprehensive adventure. We left the never- never land of Maui, Hawaii and flew to this exciting and enchanting piece of China; perhaps the oldest civilization on earth. We have traveled to many places but this raised our blood pressure a notch or two just thinking about it. Foods that do not match our digestive habits;

languages in characters we cannot comprehend;

several months of being on the wrong side of the highways, streets and sidewalks;

multiple times zones, some in half hour increments gave us far more challenge than a trip to the “Dark Continent”!

This was a bit scary. But we had a good plan! Main part of that good plan was to have Joe along with us. Our friend Joe is just one of those people who can save you in Barcelona, dig you out of quicksand, navigate a 95′ boat over a sandbar 12″ deep, and on top of all that…is just fun to be with!

Second part of the good plan; we are doing this on a Holland America ship that will feed us every day, snug us in a warm bed, and hopefully come look for us if we are not back at “All Aboard”! Cruise ships and vacation rentals provide almost all of our accommodations on this adventure. We try to avoid hotels as they tend to be very confining.DSCN1961 Hong Kong was chilly and cloudy for much of our visit. We arrived just in time for the Chinese New Year celebrations, the city was decorated extensively.DSCN2355DSCN2354 The celebration lasts officially for a week but extends to three weeks for some devotees.

DSCN1964 Since its return to China the city operates as a special administrative district of the central government. DSCN1957

We took a fascinating tour of the Hong Kong fish market. This is not the typical fish market where dead fish are laid out on ice; these fish, thousands of them; are all alive in tanks.P1050552

P1050548 The market was at least a quarter mile long through a narrow walkway on the docks with tanks with every imaginable type of seafood awaiting selection. You know your fish is fresh when you buy it live!DSCN1975

DSCN1976

BIRDS OF MAUI

In an earlier post about our African safari last June we talked about our very pleasant surprise in discovering the birds of Tanzania and the Serengeti.

The wild birds in Maui also gave us pause.DSCN1917 Not to be outdone by the wild roosters that inhabit Key West, Florida; Maui also has its “indigenous” wild chickens that are all over the island. Feral cats also abound but the cats stay clear of the roosters as they seem to consider a confrontation a losing situation.

They roam the streets with impunity…DSCN1906

DSCN1913 seem for the most part to be quite healthy…DSCN1904 and seem to virtually own the parks.

They are protected, have no natural enemies, and therefore prosper.

While the roosters are usually more flamboyant…DSCN1903 There are plenty of hens

as well.DSCN2324

Ok; I just could not resist that!

EXPLORING MAUI, The Valley Island of Hawaii!

DSCN2333 (1)We do not like to think of ourselves as tourists.

The real adventure in being “Home Free” is that we get to live in many different places for time enough to explore and get to understand different cultures. Culture need not be exotic to be very different and diverse.  A month spent in Chicago, Northern California and Maui revealed great difference in culture.

An ideal visit of thirty days allows us to explore and take time to enjoy without the frenetic pace of typical tourism.

We enjoyed our exploration of Maui!IMG_1688 From iconic Front Street in Lahaina where I posed for the Forrest Gump shot to the top of Haleakala crater.IMG_1706

To the depths of the rain forest on the northeast side;DSCN2258Maui is a beautiful island!

IMG_1693This is a photo of the waiting room for one of our favorite restaurants. If you are told it will be a half hour wait for a table here, it just ain’t no big thing!IMG_1696 A little pricey, but Mama’s Fish House just east of Paia,  has arguably the best seafood on the island. A better view is hard to imagine!IMG_1726We took the rigorous drive from Kahului on the north side of the island with lots of hairpin turns over the northwest tip of the island which is lightly traveled. You can average about 11 miles an hour with a maximum speed of maybe 40 on the only straight section. The scenery is stunning!IMG_1730

We could see whales breaching in the ocean between us and the island of Molokai maybe 20 miles to the north.IMG_1727

We explored the crater of Haleakala,DSCN1803 by car, bicycle and

hiking.IMG_1710

Those who own a home often lock up their house for a few days and take overnight trips from that home. We did the same, leaving our condo in Kihei to take the magical “Road to Hana”.DSCN2244 While less than 40 miles from the Maui Airport to Hana, the more than 50 one lane bridges and 200+ turns makes it a very tough day trip so we decided to spend 3 nights in Hana.

DSCN2311 (1) We  found a lovely VRBO rental on the hillside high above Hana with wonderful views of the Pacific to the east and the rain forest all around us.DSCN2338 (1)a4 As typical, we cooked our morning and evening meals in the VRBO and found interesting places for lunch.

There is not really much in Hana! It is the truest example of the journey being the destination. Its isolation prompted Charles Lindbergh to move to Kipahulu just south of Hana to live his last days suffering from Lymphatic Cancer. The “Lone Eagle” chose a very obscure spot to be again alone.a1

Another reason it takes so long to drive to Hana is the scenery just begs to you; Stop, Stop, Stop!a3 Dozens of waterfalls

and pools for swimming.DSCN2289

Small town churches saying: “Come see me”!DSCN2260

Dramatic beaches with waves towering over the surfers just make you stop and look.DSCN2229

There are even canals to funnel the abundant water from the eastside to the west.DSCN2266

And as usual, time to get lost!DSCN1939