Tuesday, 30 August 2016

NEW YORK TO SYDNEY PART 7 - Sea days Friday 19th August to 23rd August and Auckland 24th August

Sea days Friday 19th August to 23rd August

I, or should I say we, witnessed a feat of “daring do” when we left Raiatea.  To approach and leave this island is very tricky because the shallows are very shallow (as it where!).  Therefore, a local pilot is bought on board.  He has the “knowledge” of where the deeper channels are hidden in order to manoeuvre the ship and navigate us through to safety.

Under normal circumstances we would have a pilot boat to guide us, but in this instance he had to actually come on board.  Sounds simple until you realise that he had to board a moving ship from a small power boat which was buffeting about in our wake!  When I watched they made several attempts to “line up” beside us before they could get him close enough to grab the ladder and climb up onto the deck. That is skill.

We crossed the international date line on 20th but the celebration and photograph was canned because of high wind and rain.  Goodbye tropics, hello winter again!  BooHoo.
So Saturday became Sunday with a church services, traditional Sunday Brunch, half a day ahead of GMT instead of half a day behind and, in reality, was Raiatea 3 or 4 sea days from Auckland?  We are now about to dock in Auckland and I still don’t know the answer to that one.  My brain has turned to mush.

Auckland, New Zealand Wednesday 24th August

It was overcast and dull, not the best of days.  I went on a tour, saw MacDonalds and Nandos through the rain obscured bus window (back in civilisation again) visited the War Museum and watched Mauri dancers demonstrate the Hakka (is that how you spell it?) and saw then (would you belived it) saws the same troop do the same demo back on the ship that evening.  Essentially $199 to take a drive and see a show that I then saw again for free.  Oh what fun!

Next stop Sydney, but first we had to take a detour to avoid a massive storm that had been trying to envelope us for several days.  The seas were very rough.  Not good.

Sydney, Australia Sunday 28th August

It was a beautiful sunrise as we pulled into Sydney. I took a few photographs (including a selfie – when did I get caught up in this childish crap?), had breakfast and went to the allotted departure lounge where I was meeting up with friends to share a taxi to the airport. 

They were late and when they eventually arrived they were in all of a dither having just seen a drug bust on the 5th deck where they lived and where we used to hang out at the café/bar.  As they passed through on the way to meet me they had witnessed a couple of girls that also hung out at this bar being arrested by five police officers with a sniffer dog.  These girls are very attractive, but extremely flirt and seemed totally out of place of a ship where the average passenger age was 72!

It was a bit of excitement but we thought they had just been taking dope.  However, when we got back to Melbourne it was blasted all over the news that 3 Canadians had been arrested, a 63 year old male and two females aged 22 and 28, following the discovery of 4 suitcases in two cabins containing almost 100 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of 31 million!  Wow!!


How on earth they managed to get 4 heavy suitcases onto the ship is a mystery because, as you can imagine, the security is massive.  Apparently they boarded in Southampton and allegedly work with a “very well organised syndicate”.  No doubt more information will come out when they appear in court on 26th October.

Tim Fitzgerald, the regional commander for the Australia Boarder Force that because the ship had stopped at a number of South American ports it was considered a high risk vessel. Cheers for that! 

Saturday, 20 August 2016

NEW YORK TO SYDNEY PART 6 - French Polynesia 16th/18th August

 Moorea, French Polynesia Tuesday 16th August

Popultion 16,191 (2007)

French Polynesia consists of five island groups:  Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, Tuamotu Archipelago, Austral Islands and the Gambier Islands. Moorea, and our next two stops Tahiti and Raiatea, are all part of the Society Islands. The climate is warm and tropical, the daily temperatures hover in the mid 80’s Cooling trade winds blow through the island throughout the year. The rainy season extends variably from December to April

We had been here and toured the island before so today, for the modest taxi fare of $5m each, we decided to chill out in the sun at the Intercontinental Hotel where we had beer and nibbles whilst observing the “beautiful people” in habitué. A delightful few hours in this sunny paradise.

Many believe that the idyllic Bali Hai, a fictional island from the musical “South Pacific” was based on this island and Mutiny on the Bounty was partially filmed here.

Tahiti (Papeete), French Polynesia Wednesday 17th August

Population 26,017 (2012)

This was an overnight stop from 4pm on 16th until 9.30pm on 17th so there was ample opportunity to wonder into town and enjoy the local nightlife.
 
We berthed right beside two amazing yachts, the Vertigo and the Dragonfly.  This is when you really need our good friend google.  It’s so frustrating that the wifi on ships is so expensive and unreliable and on this trip we have not even had the luxury of wifi on land because the places we have visited had been too backward, remote or poor to have free wifi in the cafes.  However, one of the ships crew had managed to find out that they were both for hire.  Can’t wait to get back to google land.

Imagine owing or hiring one of these two beautiful yachts, paying exorbitant docking fees, only to have a gigantic cruise ship pull up beside you with 3000+ people watching your every move.  Nightmare!

The town of Papeete is currently the capital of French Polynesia’s this largest and most widely known Island of Tahiti.  Throughout history, Papeete has served as an impetus of economic and urban advancement for the rest of the island. Its superior coastal location has guaranteed a welcoming setting for waterfront shops, markets, restaurant and luxury ships.

British inhabitants eventually replaced the former native cultures, and in 1820, the Pomare dynasty’s last queen officially declared Papeete capital of the dynasty. Despite these lingering French and British influences, the city ceased to gain modern popularity until famous French painter, Paul Gauguin, relocated here to focus on paintings of scenes capturing the local life experience.

We had also been here too but thought it warranted a Princess Cruises “Highlights of Tahiti” 3.5 hour driving tour for the exorbitant cost of $127.95. Apart from “picturesque island vistas” and beautiful beaches, this half day tour took us to the historical point where James Cook’s astronomer tracked the transit of Venus across the sun and then onto the reconstructed home of the American author James Norman Hall who wrote the “Bounty Trilogy”.  Very interesting.

Tahiti is also known for its dazzling array of black pearls. 

Raiatea, French Polynesia 18th August
Population: 10,000

And so on to Raiatea.  We walked around dock area but all we could hear was the work being done on the ship which has been going on since we left Panama.  I think they are sand blasting, scraping rust off the life rafts and repainting with a pungent silicon smelling substance (not that I’m an expert on marine repairs) making it virtually impossible to sit out on deck 7, my favourite location where I can look out over the tranquil sea and enjoy the sunshine.   

Monday, 15 August 2016

NEW YORK TO SYDNEY CRUISE PART 5 - Sea days Sunday 7th to Tuesday 16th August

Part 5
Sea days Sunday 7th August to Tuesday 16th August
As our last landfall was at Valparaiso on 6th August and our next landfall is not until Moorea on 16th August we will have spent 10 days at sea and some people are freaking out.  However, I love it. 
This trip from New York to Sydney is a segment of the Sydney to Sydney World tour lasting 104 unforgettable days taking in 5 continents, 39 “Legendary Ports of Call” and 38 time zones.

Thankfully this segment only lasts for 38 days during which we will have been through 10 time zones, crossed the equator and the international date line, through the tropics twice, winter once and spring once.  That messes with both your body and your head.

I think that 38 days is quite long enough, however there are a surprising number of people doing the whole trip and, even more surprising, many have done it several times!  In fact, the couple on the next table to us in the dining room travel, on average, 300 days a year and have clocked up more than 2500 days.  My query is, don’t they have a life? 

This is my schedule on a typical day at sea:
0730      Breakfast – today in the dining room on a “shared table” (that means random people to either like or dislike).  Some mornings I go to the buffet.  My regular buffet breakfast is mixed fresh fruit and yoghurt, then scrambled egg and crispy bacon (American style), fresh orange juice and a nice cuppa.
0845      Bible Study – which bizarrely meets in the “Nook Whiskey Bar” in full view of other passengers who gaze on in wonder and awe when we break into song from time to time. 
1000      An “Enrichment Lecture” in the Princess Theatre.  This day it was a showing of the Machu Picchu presentation of a trip some of our fellow passengers made to this amazing place high in the Andes.
1115      Trivia – self explanatory
1200      Deck therapy in the sun
1230      Today it was lunch in the dining room, where I made more new friends (or not) instead of the buffet where I would invariably have a bowl of soup and a pudding
1400      Watch the choir who had been practicing since New York. This took place in the Vista Lounge.
1530      More trivia – where we usually make fools of ourselves.
1730      Dinner in the dining room.  I usually go for the chilled soup (which is like a smoothie) and a half portion of the main course so that I can make room for a yummy pudding.
1830      Write a blog update
1945      Go to show in the Princess Lounge. This day it was a comic singer called Maggie.  Highly unforgettable but from time to time there have been some really good shows.
2000      Listened to the band and watched the dancing in the Wheelhouse bar whilst drinking a Pina Colada.

2130     Yet more trivia and then bed.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

NEW YORK TO SYDNEY CRUISE PART 4 - Valparaiso (Santiago) Saturday 6th August

We were late docking in Valparaiso because a container ship was still loading in our berth.  This appears to be a very disorganised part of the world.  Again, we were advised not to wear jewellery or take valuables ashore because of the high level of local crime. 

Although some where deeply sceptical that this advice was OTT it happened to be spot on. It was reported that 5 people had been accosted.  One lady held onto her bag and was dragged, together with the chair she was sitting on in Starbucks, into the street where she sustained severe grazing.   I think they ran away without the bag.  Another man had his wallet containing $200 stolen and a lady had her necklace snatched from her neck.   Another couple asked a taxi to take them somewhere.  He took them into a very poor part of town and demanded money to take them back to where they actually wanted to go.

Valparaiso is one of Chile’s oldest cities and Santiago is 75 miles away. I elected not to take the 4 hour round trip to Santiago and instead went on a half day narrated drive through Valparaiso which included a visit to a the Fonck Museum.  The guide was easy on the ear, very informative and didn’t keep us captured inside the museum for over 2 hours!  That was a great blessing. Outside the museum was a moai, one of the original ancient monoliths from Easter Island.  I’m so please to have seen this and if you read you’ll discover why.

We then drove through the ritzy and affluent seaside town of Vina del Mar, then back to the graffiti, rubble strewn Valparaiso.  Good to be back on mother ship again.

Our next stop should have been Easter Island.  Governed by Chile, this is one of the most remote islands in the world, over 2,300 miles from Chile and 2,500 miles from Tahiti. 

However, only 1 ship in 4 ships manage to land there due to adverse sea conditions and yesterday (10th August) we were informed by the Captain that we are one of the unlucky ones.  There is currently a deep depression moving across the southern Pacific, bringing with it large swells and high winds which would severely affect our passage to Tahiti. So goodbye Easter and Pitcairn Islands, hello Moorea on 16th August.  The Captain deemed that the safety of guests and crew was the highest priority.  I’ll go along with that one.

Friday, 5 August 2016

NEW YORK TO SYDNEY CRUISE PART 3 - Lime Peru

On Monday the ship docked at 2 pm but we decided to stay on board because the port gates are permanently closed in an effort to stop crime. “But,” they cheerfully told us, “there is a free shuttle bus to the Real Plaza Slavvery (approx. 50 minutes away)”.  That sounded like a long ride to get us to a place of safety.

We were advised that if we go ashore independently to leave all valuables on board and be aware of our surroundings and people in close proximity because bag snatchers and pick pockets were common. Well, thanks, but no thanks.

The best plan under these circumstances seemed to be to take a very expensive ship’s tour the next day, Tuesday. So at 8.30 am we set off to see the “Pachacamac Ruins & Peruvian Prancing Horses”. 
I must say that I have been in some desperate places but so far Lima is the worst. Our tour guide said that in winter (which this is) there is very little rainfall, only drizzle, and the skies are normally grey and overcast   Strangely enough it drizzled rain that morning. What do you know!

We drove 34 km through depressingly poor and litter strewn districts. But worse, on surrounding hills above were favelas.  Yet, perversely enough, Lima has some of the worlds most acclaimed restaurants.  It’s a mad, mad world.

Lima, Peru, Monday & Tuesday 1st & 2nd August

Included in the small print of our trip was a visit the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology. Now I have to confess that I don’t normally “do” museums. They tend to suck the life out of me - which this one did in bucket loads. 

However, our tour guide was enthralled by it and kept us “informed” for more than 2 hours, ignoring the fact that everyone was “peeling off”, heading for the nearest seats.  She kept telling us to keep together and when we finally collapsed back onto the bus she scolded us and laughingly compared us to “a bunch of naughty students”. Well, hey, I’ve been called worse things.

On to the Pachacamac Ruins.  I had the feeling that, at last, she understood our listless and bored body language and cottoned on to the fact we now understood the Incas were not an ancient civilisation compared to other civilisations that had gone before “right back to the time before Christ”.  “Lima is one of the most ancient cities in the world”.  Interesting. Pity its such a dump now. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Now, at last, on to the main attraction of the day – the Peruvian Prancing Horses and lunch.  We drove through gates and up a long winding lane and there, in among the desperate destitution, stood a beautiful hacienda. 

Five buses from the ship where seated and plied with chips and a potent cocktail called Pisco Sour, consisting of fermented grape liqueur (that’s the Pisco part) plus lime and egg whites (that’s the sour part). Potent. We were also give a chip type thing (none of us were sure if it was fried sweet potato or some other unidentified vegetable) with a dip. I was fervently hoping that this wasn’t “lunch” because I was starving.

The show started with an introduction to the special breed of Peruvian Horse.  They have a unique gait inasmuch as all four legs move independently.  This, we were told, was a natural phenomenon caused by the terrain.  And to demonstrate that it was bred not trained into them they bought on a 12 day old foal and, sure enough, she didn’t canter like a “normal” horse. 


The show began, the horses strutted their stuff and the dancers did their thing.  And then lunch.  Now this was really impressive.  They had provided a magnificent buffet lunch for early 300 of us. Slick, organised and delicious.  A very happy end to an interesting tour. 

Saturday, 30 July 2016

NEW YORK TO SYDNEY CRUISE - PART 2 

Cartegena, Wednesday 27th July

Zika Virus Health Advisory. We have been advised to cover up and apply insect repellent because we are now going into that zone.  Thankfully only 1 in 5 people infected experience nasty consequences including fever, headache, skin rash, joint pain, red eyes and in extreme cases Guillain-Barre syndrome.  We have also been made aware that it can be sexually transmitted.  No problem there then!

Having read that and considering I came here last year and how hellishly hot it is out there I respectfully decided not to go to Cartegena today.  Instead I chilled out on the ship, wandering around until I came across the maddest thing I have ever seen in my life. A large group of mixed age and sex people all playing Ukuleles, singing “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane”.  Ah! this must be the
“Common Interest Group: Intermediate Ukulele. Join you follow passengers to discuss a common interest or two“. 
I am yet to find the
“Common Interest Group: New Vogue Sequence Dancers.  Join you follow passengers to discuss a common interest or two“. 
I dread to think what this is all about.

Panama Canal, Thursday 28th July

Today is cooler, unlike when we did the Panama Canal transit last year, and it was possible to stay on desk to observe the whole spectacle.  We entered the first of three locks, the Gatun Lock, at 07:30, the second, the Pedro Miguel Lock at 13:30 and the last lock, the Miraflores Lock at 15:45. Hard to describe except to say that there were only a few inches lea-way each side of the ship which took precision driving.  Oh! And I was invited to take part in the Intermediate Ukulele Common Interest Group.

Mantra, Equador, Saturday 30th July

As we arrived at dawn this morning we could see all the lights from a multitude of tuna fish trawlers lining up to off load their catch.  Quite a sight. 

This village suffered a devastating earthquake in April.  My facts might be slightly dodgy because wifi is not good on the ship and I can’t check this statistic out but I’m sure our tour expert said 700 people were killed. 

We are the first cruise ship to land here since then so we were encouraged to spend money to help the local economy. Being the compliant person that I am I took the free shuttle bus into town where I immediately bought 3 panama hats. 

One little known fact is that although they are called “panama hats” they are actually made here in Manta but were originally sold to the merchants etc passing through panama before it became a canal otherwise they might have been called panama canal hats. I think I may call this cruise “My Hat Trip”.


I did dabble with taking a selfie of me in one of my hats but I look so daft that I decided not to inflict that image on anyone.  Hats really do no suite me, in fact not much does suite me.  But I did my bit for the village. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

MY TRIP FROM NEW YORK TO SYDNEY VIA PANAMA CANAL - PART 1

Tuesday, 19th July

Left for London Gatwick at 9.30 am for a 5pm flight.  A journey of approx. 4 hours max! But you have to allow for road works, accidents, flies in the ointment and the 3 hours it takes to check in!
I flew Norwegian Air Shuttle to New York on the new Dreamliner.  One of the cabin crew told us the plane was lighter and faster with lighting designed to reduce jetlag, purer air, roomier seats, bigger windows and more luggage space. 

The flight was uneventful (thankfully!) until we reached New York where we sat on the tarmac for 1.5 hours while ground crew got their act together.  So much for a speedier crossing! The technology worked a treat.  It was, as usual, the humans that let it down.

Making my way to the taxi rank I was approached by a driver asking where I wanted to go. I told him, he took my suitcase and started heading across the road. The rank gaffer asked him where he was going and was told “I’m taking this lady to the Wellington Hotel”.  “OK” he said, and to me “follow him”.  So off we go at speed across the road into a car park and we are on our way. 

My first clue was that there was no meter or licence number in the car.  My second clue was when we reached the hotel he told me the fare was $150!  What can you do?  Just put up and shut up!! At this stage I wasn’t even sure that he wasn’t going to pull a gun on me.  He didn’t take cards and I didn’t have that much cash so he took me to an ATM where my cash card was eaten up!  We had mild words and he finally agreed to accept that I only had $126 and had now lost my main source of finance. I wrote that up as a close shave.

New York was not kind to me that night but I did manage to put a block on the cash card.  Now I had no cash, only had my Debit and Credit Card to rely on and I couldn’t remember if I had told the bank I was taking this trip! Cheers! I remembered mentioning it when I let them know about the Norwegian trip but, in hindsight, wasn’t sure if I was told “let us know before you go”, or did I imagine that?!

The following morning I met up with my friends Jill and Angelo. At last, someone to look after me.  We set of for the ship in another taxi.  After a while I said, “are we going the right way”? Angelo reassured me that we were and half an hour later, when we pulled up at an empty cruise terminal in Brooklyn, we found that actually we weren’t!  We should have been at the cruise terminal in Manhattan, where we had just come from.  I didn’t want to say “I told you so” but I did. 
It transpired that Angleo had received an email with incorrect final boarding instructions so we had our taxi fare refunded. 

Bliss to be on the ship, safe at last, but with the nagging worry, what am I going to do about money? But I’ll worry about that when we get to Saturday. 
Saturday, 23rd July

The ATM on the ship offers me $60 for a charge of $6.50 + any other charges my bank may make (no “may” about it mate). But needs must.  So we set off for Hamilton to have a wander around.  Now Bermuda is a place I could happily live in.  Picture perfect, smiley people, lovely day.  Bliss. 

Then I spot an ATM.  Should I take the risk? Yes, be brave.  This is when paradise turned into something a lot less appealing. The ATM won’t let me have money and my bank started sending me frantic messages which my phone wouldn’t let me respond to, panic.  I rush back to the ship and spend a gut wrenching hour trying to contact the bank by ships phone. Finally sorted!  Whew!  Now I can relax.

Tuesday, 26th July


Two uneventful days sailing through the Bermuda Triangle and incidentally, according to the Captain, the most dangerous waters in the world. I thought the danger was that the triangle would eat us up, just like my card, but apparently the danger is that we are navigating through narrow channels between reefs.  Now I did wonder why he couldn’t have kept that information to himself but I guess he was just trying to big his job up.