An Episode

Oh this is Downton Abbey! The tv programme is based on the lives of Ups and Downs, who are expected to stay in their assigned places. When they do not, we have an Episode! Georg (Down) thought I (Up) were Down, and he invited Up to mingle with other Downs! Because Up, who works like a Down, thought they were a Down, they went! Should Georg be dismissed, and Up be reprimanded. Probably. But this is not Downton Abbey, it is community afloat, and useful individuals cannot instantly be replaced. Georg is still here and so am I, and it reminds me that if they don’t know where to put you in the social order you naturally go to the bottom. It’s quite comfortable down there, there’s no competition. Incidentally we loved our safari with the Downs, we didn’t know it was an Episode!

There were plenty of guests who had a less successful day in Walvis Bay. The shuttle dropped guests at a grocery store. Groceries are the last thing we well fed cruisers need, and walking is not an attractive alternative in this hot desert town, where it has rained 5 times in the last 5 years. Some guests on tour were wined and dined in magnificent style at tables set up on the top of a sand dune. ($168 per person) A more affordable option ($128) was to climb aboard a 4×4 with books and binoculars to look for birds, or with a magnifying glass to study the geckos, lizards and frogs who hide in the rocks or burrow into the sand which lies beneath everything. There is food for both….clouds of flies hang around the shoreline. The seawater is chockful of red jellyfish, up to 16 inches across, trailing streamers of gills and strings. Am I putting you off Namibia? IMG_5274
Walvis Bay is the only deep water port on the skeleton coast, a dangerous shore littered with shipwrecks. The Namib desert, the name means place of emptiness, is the oldest in the world, and it is a birders paradise. We had a good day……and each one is closer to finish! We found free wifi in a shack close to the water, the cell phone towers disguised as palm trees, a safe taxi ( we hadn’t heard the story of the group who were fleeced by unscrupulous locals) took us to see flamingoes, the salt mine, and to Dune 7 so I could climb in deep sand to the top (163 meters) and then dropped us on the esplanade for a long and hot walk. Shore days give us a welcome opportunity for exercise, sadly lacking on sea days. We donated funds to some locals selling carved wooden items from a blanket spread on the ground, came back with a giraffe and a rhino, and enjoyed the sunset sail out into the Angola Basin.IMG_5280

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Out of Africa


We took a safari with the crew, a mixed selection of waiters, entertainment, spa and sport, no waiting before or during the trip, everything on time and affordable. How refreshing, find the small mini bus, windows open and go! The weather before we left was wet and cool, by the time we reached Kragga Kamma Game park the sun was breaking through, and the ‘game’ were grazing. There has been no rain or cool weather since November, so rangers and wildlife were enjoying this first taste of winter. , and so did we. From an open 4×4 on a bumpy circuitous dirt road around the park, we found cheetah, giraffe, warthog, white rhino, gnu, eland , zebra, monkeys, buffalo, and few more unfamiliar antelope. In the late afternoon the drive back to Port Elizabeth was through pleasant neighborhoods, many houses with electric perimeter
fences, razor wire topped walls and barred windows, but none of the squalor that I expected. Walking the neighborhoods, however, is seriously discouraged. There were rolling hills, gum trees, palms and eucalyptus, lovely low light and miles of sandy beaches.
Ooooh, I sense cool in the air. Perhaps Georg overstepped his authority by inviting us to go out with the crew. It is a pity that both Chris and John, my art bosses, were on the same trip. They didn’t say anything!
We had two days in Capetown, just 40 miles from the Cape of Good Hope. The sun was just rising over the sea, and touching the mountain top as we came up on deck from our windowless room. We were docked beneath Table Mountain. The cable car rotates as it hauls 65 people at a time up to the top. We were early, and the views were striking on such a clear day. We did the long rough hike along the summit to Mclears Beacon 3533 ft above the ship and wiith spectacular views of the coastline and rugged mountains inland.
We came down to Camps Beach to eat ice cream and watch the waves. The sea is cool, only 54 deg, and there are sharks. We weren’t tempted to swim. From the quayside at the Victoria and Albert waterfront, there are ships and shops, historical buildings and seafood restaurants. There are seals and dolphins to entertain and wheeling royal terns and gulls overhead and nothing but sea between us and the Antarctic. Early next day we took the first ferry across Table Bay to Robben Island to look for penguins, we glimpsed a few lazy birds on the surface as we came across and were lucky to see more on the rocks.
The island was originally home for lepers, and the tour of the prison, built by inmates in the 1950s, is given by a former inmate. He talked about their daily routine, and showed the small cell where Mandela spent a solitary 18 of his 28 years as a political prisoner. It was a fascinating morning, and when we returned it was time to find wifi and hustle back to the ship to sail away in the sunset.
We were spared the dangerous poorer areas of Soweto, tin shacks stretching over miles of bleak hillsides, but I was sorry to leave such an interesting place, and wished for at least another week or two.

and now……14 classes over seven days…….rough!


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Easter wishes


The Queen has delivered Easter bunnies to our cabin. We will most clearly feel chocolate deprivation when we leave her ship. And such winds….strong gale force, 55 knots, racing clouds and a wild foamy sea. We are in the roaring forties, close to the Cape of Good Hope. The motion is not to everyone’s liking. But we love it.

The islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean are wonderfully remote and unspoilt. Mauritious was the home of the legendary dodo. This 70 lb chicken was soon eaten to extinction by early settlers, and hungry slaves with huge appetites generated by labour on sugar plantations. After the abolition of slavery, the French were joined by indentured labour from India, and plenty of immigrants from China. So it is a multicultural island speaking French and Creole. The Cardan Waterfront in Port Louis is free of modern high rises. It still has a disused 250 yr old granary with weathered French blue shutters, old wharves, and even a windmill. We walked through a colorful local fruit market, up narrow streets lined with one room shops selling aromatic spices and unfamiliar grains, pods and beans. We clambered up flight after flight of stone steps to the fort, for a view of the town spread far below, thenfound a taxi to take out of town, and through the fields of sugar cane to Trou Aux Biches, a beach with many little dinghies pulled up along the shore.
We spent the next day in Saint-Gilles Les Bains on Reunion, a really French Island, with yet more sunshine and dive shops in a holiday harbour. The mountains in such a small island are still twice as high as Ben Nevis and shrouded in cloud, generating heavy rain and spectacular waterfalls in craggy canyons. It receives occasional severe batterings from passing cyclones. But it is a pricey place, so we sat contented under a tree and watched the surfers and swimmers enjoying the surf, all safely contained by a shark net.IMGP8779

After the heat, we don’t mind that the Queens windswept decks are now closed. We can stay in the cool air conditioning. I have fourteen more days of classes. I am still managing to muster enough enthusiasm for a class, but my guests all seem to like each other, and come up with great little paintings without a demo. This is perfect.
I can step back and watch them being themselves. On a rocking ship, painting straight lines is absolutely impossible, so the artwork is very very interesting! Even the tightest of painters are loose!

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Still paddling!


We sailed into Port Victoria just after sunrise, it looked just like Tortola. And through the day we kept saying that! But a Tortola from 70 years ago, when it was laid back, friendly, inexpensive and quiet. We are in the Seychelles, a maiden call for the ship. (who ever thought up that term). It is a freenation for wifi, and we walked into the local dive shop to use it, and find out what we should do. One friendly belonger handed over a hundred rupees in exchange for ten dollars, and we had funds for the whole day. We caught a local bus which rattled up the steep ghut, and down the switchbacks to Beau Vallon, on the far side of the island.
Here is a long, sandy beach for basking and swimming, backed by a shady promenade. We wandered for a while then picked up the hot bus further on its long route following the coast around the north point and back to town. The resorts here are small, attractive and built beside fish filled crystal water (try Oceania Resort). It was a great weather day, but the green hillsides are the result of frequent huge tropical storms. On the slopes are tall flat topped mesquite, and big variegated vines that grow up for 100 feet into the tree tops, with lush palms and impenetrable bamboo at ground level.
We took another bus to Port Glaud. The road follows an unspoilt shore line, turquoise sea, no shops, no bodies…….and then returns through the high rain forest, with occasional tea fields, and back to town. It was a Sunday, so there were no shops or markets, or traffic, and just a few interesting old homes with weathered tin roofs. It was quite a special day, by 4.00 we had walked ten miles, and we still had enough rupees for three cool beers!

The Indian Ocean is calm. This could be a sailing Mecca, but the threat of pirates is real for small boats. There are many well spaced islands, but no desirable continents around.

It is hard to go into the classroom on a day like this. I could hang over the rail watching waves, and fairy flying fish, billowing clouds, and shimmering water. The morning class is large, but the life source of any class is discussion, and that needs a certain critical mass to get going, and with numbers there are always those that think and paint differently. A little dissent is good. Conventions are meant to be challenged, and effort can trump ability. Some have the determination to keep plugging away, and some give it a try, find they are not the star they’d like to be, or recognize that art can require some work, and give up. They go and lean on the rail!!
We are tired of dressing for dinner, but not to the point we are skipping meals. It is five star cuisine…appetizer, salad, entree, dessert, petit four, chocolates and ginger with coffee…..every night!!! Some guests are bulking up….Come on as a passenger, go off as cargo!
We dine with new table mates. Stanley Quinn is a Scottish former professional soccer player for Aire United. He has early Alzheimer’s brought on by constant minor bruises from heading the ball, and concussions. His wife is fun. Our other couple are salt of the earth Aussies. The conversations are wide ranging, but subdued last night. There was a serious heart attack in a packed theatre, in the middle of the morning lecture. I’m glad I wasn’t there.

wifi is so slow…… to follow soon

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People are moving out theirsuitcases are beginning to appear in the corridors, but bees have moved in. A swarm came across the sea and liked the look of deck nine, the pool deck. Lightly clad sun bathers scampered for cover!
The ship holds 2600 guests, in Singapore, 1200 left. Not everyone does the whole trip with us!! Guests hop on and off for as little as five days….if there is a room available Cunard will fill it. Some come on for a while then if they can, switch to another Queen. Mix and match!! We hope this exodus included the norovirus, a germ which can quickly run around the confined spaces of a cruise ship. (We know it is here. The crew is extra vigilant, we have a different eating arrangement in the dining room and dreaded yellow tapes attached to a few doors.). The Japanese left replaced by 900 Brits. Just eight of my students stayed on to South Africa. In the meantime I had three whole days off….We sat in the sun for an hour, and drank champagne. Why not!!!

Pete was feeling rough, so I rode alone on the train with a map to the center of Singapore. I enjoyed the clean streets ,( littering will get you a big fine) the modern buildings, the lush verdant color of botanical gardens, and the smart suited young people. I wished for more time. I made the sweaty walk back to the ship just in time to watch a tropical storm which crossed dramatically over the city. It was an unfortunate day for an air conditioning failure in the aft cabins. We were lucky, ours stayed cool. In the shade it was 38 deg C.

I signed up as an escort for a glimpse of Kuala Lumpur. A glimpse was enough. Our tour guide was a young Muslim girl. She made an attempt at humor ( Do I look like a terrorist? ) It was not a promising opening. The name KL means ‘muddy river’ we didn’t see It! But we did see Merdeka Square. In the glory days of the British Empire this was a venue for cricket, polo, tennis and rugby, followed by pimms, gin and scones in the select Selangor Club. It has a 100 meter flag pole.The Union Jack was lowered and the Malaysian flag raised in 1957. The elegant copper domed Big Ben stands nearby, but the famous Petronas Towers is still surrounded by a building site.

Penang was very different. We wandered along Chinese jetties, once poor fishing communities, now residents earn a pittance from trippers and cell phone photographers. We spent our few dollars on trinkets and were glad our homes weren’t built over mudflats. Even a small tsunami here would wipe out the entire community, as it did in Banda Aceh, close by. We strolled back through an older district with cream stucco buildings with shady archways, chairs and cafe tables out front, ornate lamps, crowded, colorful, endless motorbikes and burka clad women…and back around an old fort to the ship, with plenty of material for new classes, and the rest of the day to cool down and prepare it.


Colombo was highly disappointing. It was most aggravating that our first choice expedition to an elephant rehabilitation area ( Pinnawala ) have been terminated since QM guests complained about the handling of elephants. We set out on a walk, found the scale of the map was super misleading so spent 5 dollars on a harrowing 1.5 hour tuk tuk ride. Heat congestion, lots of gesticulating, weaving in and out, hands on horns, dust, emissions, poor dingy alleys on the outer limits of the town then lush banana palms and shade trees, water- meadows, and the thick brown wide river? If fear stops you interacting with locals isn’t it time to stop cruising???.

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No Chi Minh


The big eyes of two parrot fish are watching us watching them. So are the puffers! Choose which of them will die.! We are in Vietnam. It is hot, resorts are inexpensive, people are poor but friendly, the sea is warm and the fishy victims are in tanks on the sidewalk. We are considering breakfast in a seaside cafe, and the fish, already given up to their fate, are swimming lethargically in tanks, to be hauled out, weighed, gutted, grilled and slapped on the plate right in front of you. Not for me. Just a beer…Export 333, icy cold, $2. No fish. As we drink, we watch two women hauling bricks, mixing cement and building a wall. The road way is a swarm of motorbikes, both directions, with up to three riders, dogs, baskets, boxes, pipes, chairs or a table. It is a free for all, trishaws weave amongst them, and cars and busses. If you have the nerve to cross, and drop something, keep walking…..apparently there are 20-22 road deaths a day.

We walked to the Pagoda. We look up at the 75 ft main tower of Po Nagar Cham Towers, built in the 8th-12th century as part of an early Hindu empire. The tower is dedicated to Po Nagar, goddess mother of the kingdom, and manifestation of Uma, Shivas consort. Inside the main chamber is a black stone statue of the goddess Uma with her 10 writhing arms.
From there we could walk down to the fishing community, and now I am even more relieved to have not sampled the sea food. The water is disgusting! You can imagine the dreaded norovirus swimming in clouds amongst the misc trash floating in the slick at the surface.

Rather than risk a motorbike disaster we find a taxi to take us to
the Long San Pagoda, and climb the 152 steps up to a giant fat Buddha, dedicated to monks who gave their lives protesting against President Doems corrupt regime in the early 1960s.

We enjoyed our long day in Nha Trang, but found little of interest in Phu My. This is the jumping off spot for Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), where guests could spend a ten hour day sightseeing in the old city. We settled for much less. Scruffy treelined streets, dirty markets, persistent sellers of sunglasses and kimonos. Shopping is a math challenge,
since there are 22,000 Dong ( d.) to a US dollar, and you can get a $100,000 Dong note.
We purchased a bottle of rum for $88,000 d. and gave a handful of change for bulat.
Here it is……what do you think, Pete, does it taste like chicken, or egg?IMGP7602

The rum was surprisingly good.

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