We had two issues of May 28 and every one was a bit confused. I will deal with it today but not right now because I am re-charging, me and the computer. Anon, anon...
Yesterday I was in the kingdom of Tonga, population, according to our guide, 106, 146 people; 98.1% literate (Tongan and English); 51% male, 49% female; 98% Christian (Weslayan aka Methodist), Mormon and Roman Catholic, in order of representation, with the Mormons coming up faster;'and the other 2% scattered "others". The rainy season was over, but we had a maverick day. Our group excursion went by bus to a wharf and then on a ferry to an island resort. To cal it a last resort would not be inappropriate. A five-star yacht club it was not, more like a fishing shack with a corrugated plastic roof and a bar. In sunny weather it would have been an ideal place to veg out on the sand by the water. As it was we stayed out of the spray, spit and drizzle (varying phases of the rain) and waited until we were rescued. We were fed some lunch. I bought some jollies for my granddaughters and had no cash left for a beer or even a coconut milk because I wanted to have some left for tips for the guides. Our mentor was sweet: she sang the Tongan national anthem for us in a strong contralto voice - turns out she is the lead singer in her church and she made her guide-in-trainning, a handsome young man in a black skirt and a beautiful embroidered shirt, dance for us.
Rough benches and tables accommodated the diners and drinkers but there were no chairs with backs to ease our bodies for the long wait for the return trip. The first ferry load left at 3 p.m. and our guide sang to us again and then led us in a sweet rendition of "Amazing Grace." Suddenly the grey day was shot with light as twenty disparate people with little in common but a lust for travel expressed their gratitude for salvation.
And I got back in time for Trivial Pursuit.
Life on board a ship at sea resembles a very organized summer camp. I have never actually experienced it, but the movie Dirty Dancing has given me a glimpse: charades in the West Hall, dance lessons, wig modelling, and so on. I remember saying in jest before I left that I didn't intend to take macrame or ballroom dancing and i wasn't far off. However, I over-estimated my own impervious (arrogant?) attitude. While I have avoided napkin-folding (really!), and origami creating and line-dancing, I have succumbed to Trivial Pursuit, as you know, not to mention "Sit-to-Be-Fit". This is a half-hour workout, on Sea Days only, with amazing exercises all done sitting on a chair. Enrichment Lectures vary in quality but a charming, amusing, erudite man has been giving talks about the early discovery, exploration and history of the southern hemisphere that leave one wanting more. This afternoon we will attend and cheer the launching and testing of home-made ships in the swimming pool following a frenzied five-day creation process by teams of no more than six. (I said NO - amazing how that works!)
With the guest roster almost at full capacity, it becomes harder to find quiet places to hide. I love the library but it can be very cold, especially early in the morning. For the last week or so I have been coming to Barista's, the coffee bar and lounge outside the Grand Dining Room. It's very quiet at 5 in the morning and warm enough. Soon someone will make me a cup of English Breakfast tea, and after that, Marco, the day bartender will make me a weak Americano (weak as requested: diluted espresso). All this will change as soon as I can go outside on the pool deck and swim at 6.
Another wine-tasting yesterday, well handled this time with appropriate cheese and crackers for palate and perception. The drive to the wineries is always lovely, through the city (or town, as the case may be), through the suburbs into the countryside and past the vineyards and sheep. Lovely, with a glimpse of how other people live. I am so blessed.
Back in time for a nap and Trivial Pursuit. Our team always wins, places or shows. I am going to take a bottle of wine (purchased at one of he vineyards) to share this afternoon. I asked them to bring a wine glass. We win tokens, I think I told you, for our efforts. At the end of the last leg of the cruise, when people left and others got on at Sydney, we traded in our point cards for goodies - prizes we could choose and "buy" for points. I snagged a white short-sleeved T-shirt, not cotton but silky polyester, a navy blue blanket, not wool but cozy polyester, and a black passport wallet, not leather but something else, with compartments and slots for other stuff. Each item has an Insignia logo on it. I'm going to look like a member of a team, in fact, I am.
The sad part of this pursuit is the friction sone people generate. They have such a competitive spirit they destroy the fun of it for their cohorts. My team split from such a person to create a more co-operative, fun-loving group. I've told you before that when I was at school, on doldrum days when the teacher called time out for a spelling bee or a pickup softball game, according to the weather, I was always the first one to be picked for spelling and the last one for baseball. So now: I am in demand for Trivial Pursuit, although I am hopeless on geography, politics and rock and roll stars. Try me on Shakespeare, literature, Greek or Norse mythology and theatre, though, and I'm okay. So I was being wooed for several teams, including the one with the egotistic dictator. He doesn't speak to me now. Sigh.
Is that how wars begin?
It's too late to write now but I wanted to check in. We have three Sea Days coming up so I will have time to catch up. There are so manny beautiful places in the world it's a wonder and a conundrum that we are where we are, wherever. Have to think about that. You do too.
Here it is, May 24 on this side of the dateline, 23rd where most of you (family) are). We just got directed past Tauranga, NZ. because the port was too windy and unsafe to take us in., so we are sailing on to Auckland, duet to arrive tomorrow morning. Another Sea Day - yea! We had a very choppy sail here, from Napier, after Picton the day before that, so you see I am very behind, not entirely my fault because the Wifi gets crowded, and it's hard to get online. I'll have to begin getting up at 4 to write. Well, when the pool is fit to swim in at 6, it will be easier. Anyway, travellers left at Sydney and were replaced, plus 100 more. We're almost full complement now, about 580 passengers. Those who leave at Los Angeles will be replaced and then some for the Panama Canal transit , apparently always very popular; by that time we will have reached full capacity (684 passengers).
So where to begin?
Picton, on May 22, was lovely: "a charming seaside town settled by early 19th century whalers. boasting one fifth of New Zealand's coastline at its door and the best climate in N.Z. " It's a small town and It reminded me a bit of Banff. The climate and soil are absolutely great, we are told, for growing wine. Marlborough (for Marlborough Sounds),is New Zealand's largest wine region, producing 77% of all NZ wines and 99% of NZ's sauvignon blanc. So of course I went on a wine tasting tour: two wineries (five wines each), plus lunch at the second one. And after dull days at sea the sun came out. It was like a cool, sunny day in early October in Ontario. Perfect! I am learning, have learned, how to taste wine and savour it and while I will never be a true connoisseur, I will be more knowledgeable and discriminating than I have been. I think I will spend more and drink less, but that may be overly optimistic.
Too optimistic for the next day. An overnight sail took us to Napier, a fascinating city in itself. It was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and while the rest of the world was reeling from the depression and not spending any money, Napier rebuilt its home in the currently popular Art Deco style. Fabulous! There are whole streets of Deco buildings, looking like something out of a Hollywood movie set. I expected to see Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dancing down the street.
Before the tasting began we were driven up a mountain, Te Mata Peak, which I found a bit harrowing. I don't like heights, less and less as I get older and older. I was on the right side of the bus, at the window looking down at the edge of the road winding above a drop to the hills and valley below. I took a couple of pix, not sure whether they'll turn out but a tribute to my light=headedness if they do. The wine tastings were excessive by the second place because there was no food, not even crackers, and we were running late after the peak experience. The first place, however, the Mission, was interesting because it's where the first grapes in N.Z were planted, by monks. The original building has survived several resurrections, miraculously,
So this Sea Day is welcome, even though I will miss exploring a Maori village (a replica, I think, not an invasion). And I am getting caught up with my blogs and soon, my correspondence. Do keep in touch., and I will do the same.....
It's May21 here and now. I haven't been able to get online since the 18th until just now. I had an expert show me (again) how to send a picture, I sent you something from a long time ago, feels like: me on Great Wall. It's not a selfie; somone took it for me on my iPad, with the wall behind me. Now I will get caught up on blogs. Soon. Maill first. I'm nearing the end of three Sea Days with choppy seas that haven't bothered me a bit. It's astonishing how busy one can be.
It was a lovely fall day in Hobart yesterday, much like a September day in Toronto. The population of Hobart is 250,000 but it seems larger because covers a lot of territory and spans the Derwent, a very broad river whose Estuary makes a wonderful harbour, considered one of he most beautiful natural harbours in the world. Surrounded by hills climbing up from the sea, with the largest, Mount Wellington (4,166 feet) the city appeals for the scenery but also for the historic impact because it was built originally by convicts and many of colonial cottages and handsome sandstone buildings still remain. We saw these during an informative drive around the town after an oyster and wine-tasting gathering at Berilla Bay, up in the hllls on a beautiful salt water (of course) bay.
I learned more about oysters than I needed to know, including the difference in taste and texture when the oyster is pregnant (or whatever). During the demo, including a walk over paths of crushed oyster shells, to see the oyster racks - at low tide and such a beautiful day - I was given (thrust) a freshly shucked oyster to eat. It needed lemon: very salty. Later, we assembled in a gazebo for oysters - with lemon - and tastings of four different wines. Tasmanian wine is good and we'll never get it. Enough is produced for domestic consumption but it's so popular it seldom makes it off the island. I enjoyed it while I could. I'm learning more about wine all the time. I'll probably drink less and savour it more when I get home, but that won't save me much because the prices will escalate with my taste.
I returned to the ship in time for the afternoon session of Trivial Pursuit. Very soon I will consider the politics of this game, which is meant to be a diversion but which has become a playing field for warring factions. I suppose one could write a murder mystery with TP as the catalyst, and maybe the clues could be TP questions? You can have the idea if you want it; I have too much to do to pursue it.
As you may remember, O faithful blogophile, I loved the Kuranda Railway ride on the gold-trail, built with hand tools. The thought of the work reminded me of the Toonerville Trolley I took up the Jungfrau, with tunnels through the mountain, built before bull-dozers. The longest tunnel on the Kuranda line was built, we were told , in three or four different sections simultaneously and it was a spectacular feat of engineering that they met! I remember an ice palace carved in a glacier at the end of the Jungfrau line and a young woman in stiletto heels skating on the frozen floor. And I remember having a sudden craving for French fries and chocolate, two calorie-laden items I try to avoid. I read later that my desire was triggered by my body's need for salt and sugar at that height. Do you believe that? It's a comforting thought. What is comforting and sustaining is the fact that I remember this without a photographs to jog my memory. (it's a major reason that I have trouble coping with cameras: I remember mine too late and just went to look and remember what I can.)
Our own Canadian railway was another feat of engineering, the political plum offered by John A.McDonald, and built on the backs and lives of Chinese immigrant workers, who died in mind-boggling numbers. I have one across the country, west from Winnipeg to Vancouver long ago, and once from Montreal to the Maritimes, some time after that, and several times fromToronto to Banff. Just a year agoI took a train from Toronto to Saskatoon, as close as I could get to Eastend, Saskatchewan, making the rest of the journey by car and bus. I enjoyed two nights and two days on the train and loved it. Such a journey wraps a cocoon around you, ensconced in creation. So with this cruise, and so I am looking forward to three Sea Days.
If I write them here I'll have to keep my promise to the blog and to you Here are a few items I have to deal with: trains I have known; Tambourine Mountain and wine-tasting in Brisbane; the politics of Trivial Pursuit; wine-tasting lessons on board; and more to come, of course.
Our Sea Days have been very short, usually just overnight to the next port and tour. Kaleidoscopic! I seem to have been very busy. Add to my busy-ness increasing pressure and less Wifi time on the ship. I have to get up early again - as I have done this morning - to get a run at a decent blog. It's cold in the library at 5 in the morning but I have my security blanket. Not swimming for a while; the low last night was 46F with a predicted high of 61F. Brrr. We're on the Tasman Sea now, heading for Hobart, Tasmania. We'll dock at 8 a.m. and depart at 6 p.m. I'm going for an oysters and wine-tasting excursion.
Yes, I'm halfway through this voyage now. It seems forever since I left Toronto and yet the days zip by. I was hoping for enough time to get caught up last weekend when we had a little more sea-time but we encountered the roughest seas yet and everyone was seasick. Almost everyone, staff included. I wasn't sick but I was a mite queasy and didn't want to focus too closely on a printed page to read or to write. Recovered in time to enjoy Sydney which meant a lot to me.
The Sydney Opera House was opened officially by Queen Elizabeth II in July of 1973 after years of planning and building and huge amounts of money and care. Bill Wylie, whose mandate had been from the first, to put Stratford on the world theatre stage, booked the Festival in to the Opera House in January 1974. Plans were going ahead well in advance of the opening and people in Stratford signed up for a special theatre tour to cheer on our home team. Board members and theatre lovers and Stratford supporters were signed up, including us.
Bill died in April, 1973.
So we never got there. By January, 1974 I was fighting for my life and that of my children, wondering where the money was going to come from to enable us to live. No way was I going to Australia. So now, this past weekend, I realized our dream. The tour guide was fine and so was the Opera House guide, a voice teacher by profession and very clear and informative. Bill was with me every step of the way.
Sydney is beautiful, about twice the size of Toronto with an enormous, magnificent harbour and a living history on its shore. The trouble with my Bucket List is that I'm not knocking everything off, rather adding to it and wanting to return to some places for more time. - Australia, for example. I love it. I loved Darwin; Cairns was wonderful; the cruise at Whitsunday Island was sun-filled;Brisbane was delightful, and Sydney the fulfilment of a dream. I'll go into detail on those places soon but I had to summarize a bit to get caught up.
Yesterday, May 12, was magic. Everyone on the ship responded to the sun and air and scenery with smiles and something extra, some sort of extra-terrestrial light.
I started cold; I couldn’t warm up after my swim in a cold pool, but the day soon compensated for it. Flawless, the sky and the place: Whitsunday Islands, named mistakenly by Captain James Cook who didn’t know about the international date line in those days (I’m still having trouble with it). It was really Whit-Monday. Whitsunday, as you may know but I didn’t until I looked it up, is another name for Pentecost, celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus after his Ascension and held on the seventh Sunday after Easter. The Whitsunday Islands are a group of various sizes off the central coast of Queensland, Australia, a short trip from GBR (the Great Barrier Reef).
So many blessings! So much to learn, so much to assimilate! It’s a good thing today is a Sea Day, giving us time to recover from such happiness.
People had a dazzling choice of scheduled excursions or ones of their own making. One man took a scuba dive with a video cam and treated a few of us last night to a viewing of 30 minutes of his underwater exploration – breathtaking! One excursion put people in a submersible chamber so they could look at the fish and vice versa. Being aged and lazy, I took a harbour cruise around the islands in the Denison Star, a 107-foot Huron pine motor cruiser. A fellow traveller went below deck to see the magnificent mahogany interior. I just basked (dozed) in the sunshine, shaded by a canopy, after being served champagne and afternoon tea. Before returning to the ship, I took an Island Tour (free) seeing the landmarks we had viewed from the sea.
I have to refer to Gerard Manley Hopkins to help me express my gratitude: (I do hope Wikipedia can help my fading memory):
GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough; 5
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 10
How could anyone resist an excursion with a title like that? On the other hand I had no difficulty ignoring one beginning "SkyRail". Six people in a gondola floating over the canopy of a rain forest? No! But ascending 1,076 feet in a replica of a century-old train, going through 15 tunnels and crossing 40 bridges over steep gorges while passing incredible waterfalls and looking down on the valley below stretching along the Barron River to the Cairns harbour?? Yes!
And it was a beautiful fall day, temperature about 78 F and dry (rainy season just over). I love trains and this one was a keeper literally. I took a picture of the Kuranda Railway Station sign - who knows if I can send it? There's a little museum there at the Freshwater Railway Station, were we boarded the train, and it's fascinating. The railroad was built to enable prospectors to search the mountains for gold (they found tin [CHECK THIS] ), hence the bridges and the tunnels all built without power tools. (DATE). Not only that, the men who came to do the work (for 90 cents a day) had to supply their own tools.
Last Tuesday, May 7, I took a tour titled "Highlights of Darwin's Historical Past"It was a perfect day: high of 95 F. a mite hot in the direct beating sun and the jail was HOT, but the Museum was AC, and there was a delightful panoramic drive in our bus plus a stop at the Botanical Gardens where I chose a bench in the shade beside an eight-jet fountain, so I was fine, also healthy.
Knowing not much of Australia's history I got confused and thought we were going to an historic jail for the original convict settlers but of course Australia was their jail wasn't it? The Fannie Bay Gaol Museum was Darwin's original jail from 1883 to 1979 and there were several points made. One was that the heat was one of the penalties, being cooped up in a wood frame house in a hot sun-beaten yard. The cells were built with wire mesh between them and wire mesh openings too, and the inmates appreciated that being able to communicate with each other. There was a male buillding and a female building and one for young offenders. The men ate communally in a mess hall and were separated for young males, another good thing. All the same, I should' t like to have been incarcerated then (or ever).
Fannie Bay is the name of one of the many bays comprising Darwin's magnificent harbour, named by a ship's captain after his lady love. When his wife found out he named another bay after her, not nearly as nice.
We were grateful for the air-conditioning of the rebuilt Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (free entrance). Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin on Christmas Eve, 1974, and wiped it out so it had to be restored. One entire gallery is devoted to Tracy and the destruction it wreaked. The art display is eclectic: Aboriginal, Southeast Asian and Oceanic, along with a permanent collection of major Australian fine art. I spent more tie in the gift shop. I love Museum and Gallery gift shops including our own. You often get an essence of the most important pieces in the galleries as they are replicated in magnets, hasti-notes, bookmarks, and various tschotschkes.
The panoramic drive was through the city but out along an esplanade and through a park to the end of a peninsula. Beautiful day, beautiful scenery, ending, as I mentioned in the Botanical Gardens with the fountain. I tried to take a picture of some really old huge trees but I don't know: you've seen one tree in a photograph, you've seen them all.
Someone asked me today (after a very picturesque excursion that I will describe tomorrow, if I took a lot of pictures. No, I said. I'm only trying to take pictures because my kids asked for them. l get so busy looking at something I forget to take a picture and often when I do remember I don't anyway. I just like to look,and lock it in my memory, I hope. When I take a picture it doesn't lock.
Darwin is now a lock.
Too many people online for Mother's Day yesterday, couldn't post a blog. So now I'm two behind. I still owe you Darwin, and today, coming up, I'm going on a jungle train and an amphibious army duck. It sounds adventurous but I'm passing up a Skytrain (6 people in a gondola climbing up over the rainforest to lookouts). I'll still get views fom the 90-minute train ride.
Yesterday was Mother's Day - or today depending on your time frame - and I thought of my family, of course. I did get on line early in the day to wish them well, but then everything jammed up. I gave a "chat", as scheduled, brought about by two fellow-travellers who turned out to be from Guelph, Ontario, just an hour's drive from Toronto. They're getting off this cruise in Sydney, four days from now, so we had to fit me in before they leave. I talked about my writing and about memoir and blog writing, just easy chat. It was a dock day: we moored at 1 o'clock in beautiful Cairns after sailing along/through/around? the Great Barrier Reef. People went ashore to shop and look aroiund. I had a sleep after celebrating M Day plus my chat with a bottle of champagne shared with 4 fellow-travellers. Have I told you that one can buy a "cellar", 7 bottles from a selection, then labelled with the stateroom number, and served on demand? I didn't know how I was going to drink a bottle of champagne all by myself in one sitting, so this was ideal. There is no occasion that is not enhanced with champagne.
It was a heavenly day: soft air, soft breeze, beautiful harbour, unbelievable, real,y, that I am here. I keep being reminded each day how astonishing this world is and how blessed I am.
"The Komodo dragon is the largest lizard on earth. “When you see oe for the first time it is as if you are looking back to the age of the dinosaur. The male of the species can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh over 200 pounds. The female is usually a bit smaller. They live from between 20 and 40 years. They are a truly amazing species with a sense of smell that can detect their next meal from up to five miles away. Extremely strong, with huge hooked claws and a forked tongue that they use in much the same manner as a snake, the Komodo dragon is both fast on land and able to swim as easily as it can climb a tree.
The great danger from a Komodo dragon I the deadly bacteria found in its mouth. If an unlucky prey is lucky enough to escape from the powerful jaws of this dragon it will soon succumb to the bacteria (and an anti-coagulant that makes the victim keep bleeding)."
from my Oceania newsletter for May 5
It’s now May 8 and I’m behind in my blogs. I did too much too soon after my indisposition, carried away (not literally) by the Komodo dragons., so I was very weak and tired.
I couldn't mail that yesterday because I couldn't get online. So here it is now, my catchup report for May 8; It was a busy morning. I caught up with my New York Times (the new Baby, the British election, Broadway theatre news, and so on) and then attended a talk about the Great Barrier Reef by a long-time pilot. who will be guiding us through – tomorrow, I think. I probably won’t finish this now because I have Trivial Pursuit at 4:30. I know I know. I said no macramé or ballroom dancing but TP is different. I also took a Sit Fit class this morning. So busy!!!
We're heading for Cairns now, not docking until tomorrow (Sunday?) late afternoon. I still have to write m report for Wednesday, I think. I will describe beautiful Darwin, the goal of my excursion that day. Such a lovely day and such a darling city!
So much better than better, and just in time.
I was quarantined in my cabin for 24 hours - not much hardship for me, but hard on my room-mate, who was not sick. Room service was ordered for us, with prescribed mild food, served on plastic dishes with plastic utensils, with red plastic haz-mat bags for disposal. I have not mentioned our relationship. We had accepted each other as companions sight unseen to save the $50,000 it would have cost to be alone. We couldn't be more unlike and we have worked out a kind of détente that has worked out quite well. We are civil and co-operative and we don't live in each other's pocket, so it has been okay. I think it must have been as hard on her to be in my constant company for 24 hours as it was for me, and it was my fault, after all; she wasn't the one who was sick. I may have to write something about it: a play, maybe., it was quite funny.
Anyway, 24 hours after diagnosis by the doctor, he made a house/cabin call and pronounced us fit to leave. I had a ticket for the first departure to see the Komodo Dragons (pron. like kimono) but I was a bit leery, sort of weak, maybe a bit dizzy? I exchanged my early exit for a later one, only an hour later, but it gave me time to have a cup of coffee, assess my health and decide whether I was up to it.
Well, I went and it was fabulous. I'll include a description of the "dragons" later. They are quite dangerous and we had to be careful and obey our guides, with no guarantee, BTW, that we would even see them. They are an endangered species and they have been given a park all to themselves. They are carnivorous and forage/hunt for their food. We saw a couple of deer and I didn't see but believed that others saw a wild pig, all prey for the lizards, for that is what they are. I actually took a picture of one, and I'll try to send it. (I'll get help.)
It was very hot and we walked for about 2 hours but on a groomed (rough, but groomed) trail through a jungle that has been trimmed to a park in the environs. We arrived at a water-hole where the dragons hang out and we saw about six of them altogether! Wow!
I had a shower and shampoo when I returned to the ship in time to have a beer (2, actually) and real food, and I was just fine. Big nap after before I went to Trivial Pursuit - a daily, also nightly pastime, and I'm in a team that wins (often) or, places or shows; we are given Big-O (for Oceania) points and apparently we can cash them in when the cruise is finished for "prizes". We'll see. In the meantime, it is fun and very humbling as I keep being reminded of how much I don't know. (I think I have to take Geography 101 when I return.)
I can't give you more information about the dragons right now because I have to get ready for the 4th wine-tasting. Each session is more expensive than the last and I'm enjoying it and learning a lot-- how much I'll retain I'm not sure. I'm going into detail like this because my daughter Kate was getting the impression that I wasn't having fun. I am. I am having fun. Also enjoying it all.
More to come....