Friday, February 15, 2013

Singapore (End of Cruise) 2-11-2013

Sea Day 2-10-2013

Today, as we made our way toward our final port of Singapore, I sat for one last time on our balcony, taking in the mirrored water, on this warm, somewhat muggy and breezy day and enjoying the calmness and beauty of the early morning. 

Happy Chinese New Year! The outdoor grill was decorated and a special buffet of Chinese food was served for lunch. We were told that many countries celebrate the New Year for one to two weeks, so  festivities should be continuing when we are in Singapore.

On this final day there was more to celebrate. The Earth's equator is an imaginary line on the Earth's surface equidistant from the North Pole and South Pole, dividing the Earth into the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere.

In the U.S. and many other navies, when a ship crosses the equator a time-honored ceremony takes place. With few exceptions, those who have been inducted into the "mysteries of the deep" by Neptunus Rex and his Royal court, count the experience as a highlight of their naval career.  Members of Neptunus Rex's party usually include Davy Jones, Neptune's first assistant, Her Highness Amphitrite, the Royal Scribe, the Royal Doctor, the Royal Dentist, and others who suit the party. Officially recognized by service record entries, the crossing involves elaborate preparation by the "shellbacks" (those who have crossed the equator before) to ensure the "pollywogs" (those who are about to cross the equator for the first time) are properly indoctrinated. All pollywogs, even the Commanding Officer if he has not crossed before, must participate. 
We gathered with others on deck to watch as members of the crew, who were "pollywogs" were covered with, the only way to describe it was "goop", made to kiss a fish and thrown into the ship's swimming pool. By only the witnessing the event, all of the passengers qualified for a traditional certificate commemorating their transition from "pollywog" to "shellback" and this was yet another first to add to the many others of this journey.

It is hard to believe that we have been on the ship this long. It has been 54 days, but has not felt like a long time. We have seen so many sights, had so many interesting experiences, with such a variety of people that each day was its own adventure and the trip in total was a complete adventure, never to be forgotten and truly appreciated and cherished.

Semarang 2-9-2013

This morning, as  we approached Semarang, our last port in Indonesia, we were greeted by perhaps the most unusual sunrise of the trip.

Semarang lies in the northern part of Central Java. It is the fifth largest city in Indonesia, with a population of 1.5 million. More a business than tourism destination, its port has been for centuries a dock for local and foreign ships, and part of an international trading route.

Many cultures influenced this area, beginning with the Chinese who arrived in 1405. An Arab mullah founded the original village in the late 15th century. When Semarang became a Dutch trading outpost in 1705, the area became a center for coffee, sugar, tobacco, and rice cultivation.

Entering the habor we were met by the pilot boat as well as other uniquely Asian vessels.

Yesterday we had experienced another first as the two of us had never sailed by oil rigs. We assumed that there would be a connection between Semarang and these rigs.

We found the port to be unlike any of the pristine locations at which we had previously docked. This was the first dirty water we had seen since we began our journey in  December. We were advised that the city would also be dirty and there was not a lot to see on the provided city tour.

The main purpose of this stop was for those who wished to make the journey to Borobudur, both a shrine to Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage, known by some as the journey to enlightenment. As much as we would have liked to seen this UNESCO Heritage site,  the ride to Borobudur was close to two hours each way and upon arrival there would only be 45 minutes to explore. It would be extremely hot and humid and there would be many steps to climb. After an intensely hot and humid one-hour walk in Komodo, we decided that this would be the only stop on the whole trip where we would elect to remain on the ship. We used the day to gather our belongings, pack and watch the scenes outside our window.


Influence of Dutch architecture

This evening as we left port we were again escorted by the pilot and other vessels.

Leaving the harbor we were not surprised to see the approaching freighter.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cruise the Java Sea 2/8/2013

One of the unexpected pleasures of this trip has been the time I have had to sit on our balcony. More than any other cruise on which we have been, it has been a delight to sit in the early morning, late afternoon or late at night. On various mornings I have watched the sunrise, our ship arrive into port or just relaxed, watching the water and listening to the sound of the waves. In the afternoon I could do the opposite, watching the sunset and the activity in the bay as the ship heads out to sea. Late at night, when we were surrounded by water and the only light comes from our vessel, the stars put on an amazing show.

Over the course of this journey we have seen many variations of the sunrise...

Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island

... and the sunset, for which I must admit, we were more often awake.

Melbourne, first and second night of second visit
Timor Sea
After leaving Komodo

After sunset, how special it was when we could end the day with the moon 
reflected on the water.

Bali 2/7/2013

Komodo Island, Indonesia 2/6/2013

Associated Press, Published: February 7, 2013 – “Washington Post”
2 park employees hospitalized after being attacked 
by giant Komodo dragon in eastern Indonesia
JAKARTA, Indonesia — A park official says two people have been hospitalized after being attacked by a giant Komodo dragon that wandered into the office of a wildlife park in eastern Indonesia. An official at Komodo National Park, Heru Rudiharto, said Wednesday the 2-meter-long (6 ½ foot-long) Komodo dragon attacked a park ranger after walking into the office on Tuesday. It then attacked another park employee who came to help him. Both were badly bitten and were evacuated to a hospital on Bali Island. Endangered Komodo dragons can grow longer than 3 meters (10 feet). Fewer than 4,000 are believed to be alive. They are found in the wild primarily on the eastern Indonesian islands of Komodo, Padar and Rinca.

Close Up: Komodo Island, Indonesia 
“On the approach to Pulau Komodo, a tiny island, it is hard to imagine that this is the home of the fearsome dragons described by the late 19th-century explorers. The island lies between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores. At first look, steep hillsides slide down into topaz bays covered in glass-clear water, and white-sand beaches hem quiet shorelines. But this innocent-looking island is inhabited by 13-foot long, 220-pound ora, as known locally. Indonesia’s government established Komodo National Park to protect the dragon in 1980. It is also a world heritage site, as of 1992 and is now a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve. Loh Ling is the main entry point to the island, with a single wooden dock and park office at the end of it, where a guides meet guests and escort them on a 1-2 hour walk along the paths in search of the dragons."
I had never heard of the dragons or Komodo Island and could not imagine what we could see in our short, three-hour stay. However, I was in for a surprise.
Our destination
This was exactly what one would imagine when thinking of a small, secluded tropical island. I couldn’t stop taking pictures as each view was more beautiful than the last. As we made our way to where we would drop anchor, I could not help but think of the Broadway musical, South Pacific or how much this must resemble the Cook Islands where my father was stationed during the war. We had been given the choice of a one or two hour tour. Because of the excessive heat and humidity on the island all tours were limited to one hour. We met our guide, were cautioned to stay on the path with the group, drink plenty of water and follow all instructions given to us. Not knowing that humans had been attacked the day before, we were still hesitant when we saw our guides only carrying forked sticks for our protection.

We walked into the beauty of the lush vegetation we had seen from the ship and found the dragons in an open space. We watched as these massive creatures walked, played, drank water and moved past us.

The dragons, according to modern science evolved from dinosaurs that lived in Asia some 130 million years ago. Indonesian cultures have known about them for centuries, and they have inspired many myths throughout Asia, but the rest of the world did not believe the legends until a Dutch Indies army officer brought back evidence in 1911. An Americana expedition to see them in 1926 is said to have inspired the movie, King Kong.

Today the 2,000 some dragons in the park area are the largest lizards on earth. As hunters, they use their long tails to knock down prey; serrated teeth to deliver poisons to disable bitten quarry; and razor-sharp craws to slash through a victim’s belly. They have sharp hearing, a keen sense of smell, are excellent swimmers, can eat up to six pounds of meat in a minute and run at speeds of 18 miles per hour. Attacks on humans are rare but not unknown. There was no question as to why they had been given the title, dragon. We walked the rest of the path to the point where we could go through the shopping stalls, manned by the local residents or return to the ship.

Back on board, we again admired the magnificent, unspoiled land that we agreed, gave no clue to the ferocious resident of the island and headed out to sea.

Headed back to sea

We received word that representatives from Regent would not be in Bali. It had been decided that we would receive a refund of 50% of the amount paid for the Sydney to Singapore segment, to be applied to a future Regent cruise. While what had happened was not the fault of the company, they realized that this segment had been affected by an unusual number of incidents and respected that passengers had not received value for the time and money invested in this trip. Maybe they were afraid that we had brought along a Komodo dragon to meet them when they arrived in Bali.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Cruise the Timor Sea 2/5/2013

Still in Darwin 2/4/2013

Today began as a normal touring day. Since we had been scheduled for the earliest tour yesterday afternoon, we had the earliest tour this morning. At 7:15 am we boarded our bus and were on our way to the Adelaide River for a boat ride that would bring us face to face with the jumping crocodiles. 

In route we passed through a number of the suburbs outside the central city. Our guide gave us an overview of the city of Darwin. It is the capital city of the Northern Territory and acts as the regional center of what is referred to as Australia’s “Top End”. It is situated on a harbor twice the size of Sydney’s and acts as a gateway to countries such as Indonesia and Asia. It is the headquarters of Paspaley, known for South Sea pearls. This area is also known as crocodile country. Designers and stores from all over the world come here to purchase pearls and crocodile skins and products. Having been almost entirely rebuilt twice, once due to Japanese air raids during World War II and again after being devastated by Cyclone Tracy in 1974, Darwin is one of Australia’s most modern capitals.

We reached the river, boarded the boat and set out to meet the salt-water crocs. Large pieces of raw meat were attached to a string on a pole that was held by the driver of the boat. The crocodile would approach, reach for the bait and eventually jump out of the water to almost full body length and grab the meat. These were large, fierce looking creatures with tremendous teeth. They swam right next to the boat and it was quite something to see them jump.
Being silly!
On the way back to the ship we saw two new sights. The wetlands were a landscape we had not yet seen and water buffalo were another animal to add to our list.

At noon the captain announced that he was saddened to officially inform us of the death of the lead singer. It had been verified that the death was from natural causes and the ship had been cleared to leave Australia. We would be leaving at the scheduled time, but due to recent events and the additional fact that the ship's speed was limited by one of the four engines being broken we would only have a three hour stop in Komodo and one of the days in Bali would be canceled. Extra engineers had joined the ship to work on the engine and representatives from Regent’s main office in Miami would be joining the ship in Bali.

The newest change in plans affected almost every departments of the ship. Guests had to decide on which of the two tours they had booked in Bali they would like to go. The Spa had to rearrange appointments since there would be more time at sea. The restaurants that require reservations were receiving calls because many guests were planning to eat in town when we had the overnight in Bali. The list continued. Needless to say the crew was working overtime and the guests were not happy.

We received no further information about the investigation, and will probably never know more, but the tragedy remained that a talented 24-year old woman had experienced an untimely death.

Darwin 2/3/2013

Today’s posting was going to be about the beautiful approach into Darwin and our river boat tour to see the jumping crocodiles. 

Little did I know that there would be other things to write about and a continuation of the segment of the cruise that has come to be known as “how many things can go wrong on one cruise”.

Since leaving Sydney we have waited in Moreton Bay while the remnants of a cyclone passed and had an emergency medical helicopter take a passenger off the ship. The greatest disappointment was that we missed both of the ports that would have allowed us to see the Great Barrier Reef, stopping only in Brisbane (in the rain) and Cooktown, where there was basically nothing to see or do. For the avid football fans there has been ongoing frustration that the expected option of viewing the Super Bowl would not be provided by the ship. For all of us, who have become so dependent on technology, the almost non-existence of an internet connection was a constant problem.

Today though, we experienced the most unbelievable saga of all. Our original itinerary stated that we would be arriving in Darwin at 9 am. Because of previous circumstances and the fact that we were fighting headwinds, we did not arrive until 1:30PM, cutting our time here in half. Upon arrival we all made our way to sign in for our tours, only to be told by the Captain that an announcement made earlier in the day had been the signal for a medical emergency on the ship and sadly, one of the crew had died.  We would learn much later that it was the woman who was the lead singer in the group of onboard entertainers, but at this moment we knew very little.

Many Australian policemen as well as a number of other people from the crime investigation bureau were waiting for our arrival in port. The authorities would not clear the ship and because an investigation was underway, no one was allowed off. There would be further announcements as more information became available.
Our room faced the pier so as we waited on our balcony, we could watch as various cars arrived and more people boarded the ship, as the body was removed from the ship and taken away, as the captain and various ship personnel came down the gangway to talk to people on the pier and as a policeman walked up and down the pier taking pictures of the outside of the ship. This whole time, in the distance we could see that the buses, drivers and guides who were lined up to take us on our tours were also sitting and waiting. We could have been watching a television program, but it was indeed, all too real.
At 4pm an announcement was made that the ship had been cleared only for the passengers. All of the tours had been canceled except for one. Buses would be available to take anyone who desired on a two-hour ride to see the highlights of the city. The shuttle bus into town would still be run, but all of the shops had closed at 3pm. Because of the ongoing investigation, the evening’s entertainment would be replaced by the showing of a movie and no further information could be given about the incident. We were scheduled to leave Darwin at 7pm.

We skipped the tour and headed downstairs to the ship's coffee bar for a snack. From this other side of the ship, the view was entirely different. The residents of Darwin were enjoying this beautiful weekend day on the water.

The tours returned and of course, the rumor mills were in full force. There was much speculation about what had happened but the only thing that was clearly known was that someone from the crew had died. As we all suspected, 7 pm came and went. We were informed that the investigation was still underway and until it was complete, the ship would not be cleared to leave Darwin. Our revised time to leave port was 1:00 pm tomorrow. 

Another announcement came later that all of the tours canceled this afternoon would now be available tomorrow morning and 225 seats had been secured at the local casino to watch the super bowl. Anyone desiring one of these seats or to go on a tour would need to come to the destination services desk to obtain new tickets. Well, you would have thought it was opening day at Harrods’s sale. Grown men and women were running down the stairs and racing each other down the halls.

Our day came to an end on what could have been an entirely different date and place. On the night we left Sydney, Lisa and Charlie struck up a conversation at dinner with the couple sitting next to us. The man explained that he was celebrating his 70th birthday while onboard. We talked for a long while and the couple invited us to join them on the night of the birthday to have cocktails in their room and dinner at the ship’s gourmet restaurant. Tonight was the night of the birthday party.

We dressed in our nicest attire and entered one of the largest cabins on the ship. We were given a tour of the living room, bedroom, large closet, bathroom and indoor alcove that had a large bathtub in the corner, from which one could look out the two floor to ceiling windows. The couple served champagne and canap├ęs and in total there were four couples in attendance. We made our way to the restaurant for what turned out to be a delicious meal and lively conversation. We talked about our families, where we lived, other cruises we had been on and the current situation onboard. We learned that we all split our year among various locations, but the hosts, who were charming and very unassuming, had the most homes and were the only ones to own a private jet. The dinner finished with the traditional birthday cake and singing of happy birthday. It had been a lovely evening, for which we were still not sure why we had been invited, but had thoroughly enjoyed.

The entire day had been surreal, but there was more to come tomorrow.