Category Archives: Viking World Cruise

The Big Ditch

Friday we transited the Suez Canal from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. Unlike the Panama Canal, the entire canal is at sea level therefore no locks are required so it is really just a big ditch. It was built between 1859 and 1869 using an estimated 30,000 people a day to dig the ditch. The original canal was one way with two lakes for the northbound and southbound ships to pass. The capacity of the original 120 mile long canal was about 49 ships per day, In 2016 a new 22 mile long parallel canal was opened which doubled the canal capacity. We used the new parallel section on our transit. In general, the Nile side had some buildings and farms scattered along the banks, while the Sinai Peninsula side was primarily sand.The banks of sand on each side of the new section of the canal were once where the water is now. The entire section was dug in one year. While the section appears wide, it is one way northbound and the southbound traffic uses a parallel ditch.There were guard houses similar to this about every half mile. It was difficult to judge how many were occupied, but there were clearly people in some of them.This new modern Bridge was the only one I saw crossing the canal. It does not appear to be in use yet, as nobody saw any cars on it.

Our next stop is Alexandria, Egypt.

Sharm

Sharm Al Sheikh, or Sharm as it is known locally, lies on the Red Sea at the bottom tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Since the Red Sea divides the continent of Asia and the continent of Africa, the Sinai Peninsula lies in Asia and the rest of Egypt lies in Africa. Sharm was a surprisingly clean, modern resort town with Sheraton, Four Seasons, and many other resorts on the banks of the Red Sea. We chose to go snorkeling here, and since I don’t have an underwater camera, I can’t show you pictures of the beautiful corals. For a number of reasons, this was our first snorkel of the trip. Those who had done a lot of snorkeling on the trip, said it was the best! We snorkeled at two different locations, both of which had abundant and colorful corals. The surprising thing was that the water was pretty cool. The boat ride to and from the snorkel sites was a pleasant way to warm up in the sunshine.While there was a lot of water front, the sandy beaches were limited.Sharm was full of US restaurants, modern shops, and snorkel/dive shops. The shops and most of the hotels did not appear to be very busy. It is late in their busy season as it is very hot in the summer. Also, their tourist industry is just beginning to recover from the impact of the Arab Spring. All of our guides in Egypt have been very grateful that we were there.Sharm had one of the prettiest mosques I have seen.The harbor in Sharm was also very scenic.This rocky Peninsula with the ruins of a building and what looked to be a lighthouse was adjacent to the pier where we were docked. There is a vehicle next to the lighthouse and there was someone standing watch all the time. This appeared to be for our protection, as I saw them leave as soon as we pulled out of port.

If you look at the map of our route, we sailed around Somalia about a week ago. This area was notorious several years ago for pirates capturing ships and holding them for ransom. While there were no pirate attacks last year, ships still take precautions that we were asked not to post on social media at the time. I’m sure we didn’t see all the precautions, but the ones we did see were additional security guards on the ship in the critical area and razor wire around deck two.This is looking down from our veranda at deck two.Our favorite was this guard who was able to stand on watch all day with no sign of movement which might draw the attention of the pirates. We were also supposed to keep our blinds drawn at night, but many public areas of the ship had lights at night with no curtains. In any case, we all survived and enjoyed a lot of pirate jokes as we sailed the Gulf of Aden between Yemen (another great place to be near) and Somalia. Our next event is transiting the Suez Canal.

Karnak

We are talking about the UNESCO World Heritage site and Temple complex in Egypt here, not the character made famous by Johnny Carson which is spelled with “c’s” instead of “k’s”. Our visit there got off to a slow start as it took nearly an hour for our bus to get out of the port. The buses made several attempts to leave before they were sent to the cruise terminal where we were told to leave our bags on the bus and go into the terminal for a security screening similar to airport screening. Since most of us left our bags on the bus, it was truly an exercise in futility.

The drive to Luxor, formerly known as the ancient town of Thebes and site of the Karnak Temple Complex, was 3.5 hours. It was a really long 3.5 hours as the bus was designed by someone who thought Spirit Airlines is way too generous with their legroom.We first drove through a mountain range for an hour,a barren desert for an hour,before reaching the farm filled Nile river valley where we drove south for another hour and a half to Luxor. The water in the picture is a canal, not the Nile.There was a lot of security along the route. There were checkpoints every 40 miles or so. These checkpoints and many other locations had elevated guard houses with a rifle hanging out the opening. All of them had the rifle, but only half of them had a person holding the rifle.The overwhelming majority of houses we saw were what our guide called “perpetually unfinished houses”. People can’t get mortgages so they save a little money each year and put it into the continuing building of their home. He likened the home to a savings account. The typical home houses all the members of a family, so there can be a lot of people investing their savings in it. Once the ground floor is finished, one family can move in with other families following as more floors are finished. Completing a building this way can take twenty years or more.

The construction of Karnak began 3700 years ago and continued for about 500 years with each new Pharaoh expanding it.The Hypostyle Hall occupies 50,000 square feet and has 134 massive columns over ten feet in diameter. 122 of the columns are 33 feet tall and the other 12 are 70 feet tall. All the carved areas of the temple are original, and any smooth area is a reconstruction to stabilize the structure.Originally the entire Building was painted white with the hieroglyphics painted in bright colors. The original colors still exist in a few spots that are protected from the climate.Both of these obelisks are each made from a single piece of solid granite. Think of trying to erect them 3500 years ago. Again, the hieroglyphs are original.Most of the complex is to honor the god Amun. You will notice that the image in the center of the artwork has been carefully chiseled out. That is the image of Queen Hatshepsut (her name is pronounced something like “hot chicken soup”) who became one of the most successful pharaohs in history. Clearly someone was pretty jealous as every image of her in this room has been carefully chipped away.Many of the hieroglyphs are carved very deeply in the stone so they will probably last for several thousand more years. According to our guide, about 5500 priests would come to this temple on a given day. The Temple was taken over first by Christians who built churches inside it and then by Muslims who built mosques there. The site is huge and only a part of it is open to the public.The Avenue of the Rams or Avenue of the Sphinxes was first discovered in 1949. It stretches for 1.7 miles from Luxor Temple to one of the temples at Karnak. Approximately 1350 ram headed or human headed sphinxes line the road which is presently being excavated and restored. The bottom picture shows a well preserved section of the road at Karnak.Above are two pictures of the much smaller Luxor Temple, which we only saw from the bus. Our next stop is to snorkel in the Red Sea.

In the Footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia

T. E. Lawrence volunteered for the British Army shortly after the outbreak of WWI and was stationed in Egypt. In 1916 he was sent to Arabia on an intelligence mission where he became involved in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks. He mainly provided strategy and liaison with the British Army, but he also actively participated in some battles such as the defeat of the Ottomans at an outpost in Aqaba, Jordan. His exploits were immortalized in the David Lean film, Lawrence of Arabia. Today we visited Wadi Rum, or Valley of the Moon as it is also called, where much of the movie was filmed. Wadi Rum means “sand valley” in Arabic.This mountain is named The Seven Pillars of Wisdom after the book by T. E. Lawrence.We rode in the back of pick up trucks through the valley. Susan picked our truck based on the quality of the cushions on the seats in the back of the truck. That truck turned out to be the most beat up truck in the fleet. We eventually got pretty good at climbing in and out of the back of the truck.The truck ride was pretty smooth and there were scenic views wherever you looked.The valley has been occupied since prehistoric times and several of the rocks had petroglyphs.We stopped at this Bedouin camp. These Bedouins make their living from tourism today. Traditionally, Bedouins will greet any visitor to their camp and offer them food and shelter for up to three days. Perhaps this is the origin of “the three day rule”. Coffee or tea is always poured with the left hand so “it comes from the heart”. The cup is always offered to the guest with the right hand. If you are still in the camp after three days, you will be asked a lot of questions as this normally means you want to move in with them. This is greeted with a lot of skepticism as the Bedouin tribes are family groups and you don’t change tribes unless you were thrown out of your home tribe.Of course the Bedouins had lots of camels which noisily protested any work asked of them. Check out the eyelashes on the camel in the bottom picture.The canyon walls had an amazing variety of surfaces. These walls looked like the rock had melted and drooped down the side of the canyon.We stopped for tea and cookies at a Bedouin tented camp for tourists. This was the common area of the camp. Susan relaxed on the cushions in the center of the area. The camp also had hookahs, or “pubbly bubblies” as our guide called them, available for their guests.The camp had a unique way of identifying the men’s and women’s restrooms.

After the Wadi Rum tour, we stayed in Aqaba, Jordan where we were docked to explore some of the sites. Aqaba is on a narrow piece of Jordan on the Red Sea between Eilat, Israel and Saudi Arabia. In fact, from where we were docked, we could see those three countries plus Egypt. Our goal in Aqaba was to see the ruins of the fort where Lawrence of Arabia defeated the Turks (closed for repairs), the giant flagpole (flag out for cleaning), the Mosque (closed for remodeling), and visit the souk (no one knew where it was). Fortunately, we loved Wadi Rum; so it was a good day.There was a lot more of the Mosque, but it was all obscured by the construction.While we didn’t find a souk, we did see this store with a colorful selection of bulk spices.

In case any of you have heard of problems in Tunisia (we have not) and were worried about us stoping there, we learned tonight that our stop in Tunisia has been cancelled. I am bummed because this was a new country for me that I was really looking forward to. We visit Luxor, Egypt tomorrow.

So Which Is Best?

It’s complicated! A world cruise with sixty some sea days gives you a lot of time to reflect on things. One of the things I have been reflecting on are the advantages and disadvantages of the three types of overseas travel we do: cruising, land tours, and staying in apartments for one to four weeks. Not one of them is perfect and not one of them is all bad. We have done land tours with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), Odysseys Unlimited, and Road Scholar. Of these, OAT is our favorite, so my land tour comparison will be based primarily on them. Apartment living would be renting an apartment and doing all touring on your own or buying individual tours from a company like Viator. I will give an item for comparison and try to evaluate each one. If this is not of interest to you, you might want to skip this one

1). Sightseeing. This is a clear win for apartment living as you can see what you want, when you want, and for as long as you want. If it is raining when you were planning to go on a hike, you can go to a museum instead and hike the next nice day. Cruising is the clear loser as they are only in the port for a limited time and have an inflexible schedule. It is impossible to see everything in a large city in the time allowed. Land tours tend to spend more time in a city and see it in more detail. Since everyone’s interests are different, any cruise or land tour is going to spend too much time at some sights and not enough at others.

2). Crowds. Cruising is again the clear loser. Our ship has a capacity of only 930 passengers but we still send out half a dozen buses with 30 to 40 passengers to a sight and create our own crowds. The larger the cruise ship, the larger the problem! And many times there can be multiple ships in port on the same day. Furthermore, most ports are in large cities which are inherently crowded. The land tours we like are small groups of up to a maximum of 16 with OAT, so we never create our own crowd. Apartment living is again the winner as it is only the two of us. We can plan our day to avoid the crowds.

3) Buses. In apartment living we walk and use public transportation. Since most of our travels cover a relatively small area, the time on public transportation is minimal. A cruise ship must always dock on water and bus you to the destination and back to the port again. Land tours can reduce the time in a bus as they can move from destination to destination without being forced to retrace their path. So time in the bus ranking is cruises worst and apartment living best.

4) Service. Cruising is the clear winner here as everything is done for you. Apartment living is the worst as you have to do almost everything for yourself. Land tours which utilize hotels are somewhere in between.

5) Packing and Unpacking. This is what everyone loves about cruises as you only have to unpack and repack once. Apartment living would come in second as we tend to stay each place for one to four weeks. Land tours would be last as you usually move every two to three days.

6) Planning. Land tours are the winner here as there is virtually no additional planning required. The same could be true of cruising, but the shore excursions tend to be very expensive and many of them are not so good, so we tend to spend a lot of time picking the right shore excursion or planning an alternate. Apartment living certainly requires the most planning as there is no one else to do it for you. In my case, I enjoy the planning almost as much as the doing.

7) Food. This one is a tough call. Since the food is included in the price of the cruise and the food on most ships is pretty good, I think we eat better on cruises than the other two. However, you are limited to the restaurants on the ship, so the menus can get monotonous. In apartment living, eating is totally in your control as you can eat in the apartment or any restaurant you want. However, since you have to pay for every meal, we don’t tend to eat as well as on a ship. Land tours give you no choice on included meals, but there are usually a few optional meals you can choose yourself. An advantage of both land tours and apartment living is you are eating authentic local food and not ship food.

8) Health. Catching something from your fellow passengers is a significant risk on both cruises and land tours either on the bus or the ship. On a land tour, any sick passenger must be on the bus when it moves from town to town. On a cruise, there is some remote chance a sick person will elect to stay in their cabin rather than expose all their fellow passengers on a bus tour. However, you are exposed to far more potentially sick people on a cruise ship. Apartment living presents no increased risk from living at home.

9) Accommodations. If you look at the whole ship as your home rather than just your cabin, the ship accommodations surpass any apartment we have rented and most hotels. A win for cruises.

10) Problem Solving. There are generally no problems that you will have to solve yourself on either a cruise or land tour. The cruise or tour company will resolve any problems that occur. With apartment living, it is up to you to resolve any problems.

11). Tour Guides. With apartment living, you are the tour guide. This is not a problem in Europe with a Rick Steves guide book, but can be a lot more work elsewhere. You can also use Viator, a Hop On Hop Off bus, or free tours by locals to get an introduction to an area. On a land tour, you have the same guide all the time. In our experience, the best guides tend to work for the land tour companies since it tends to be steadier work. Companies such as OAT are very selective about their guides and they are normally excellent. On a cruise, it is a different guide on every tour and some are very good and some are terrible. It is strictly the luck of the draw.

12) Entertainment. This one is no contest. There is a wide variety of nonstop entertainment on a cruise ship. With apartment living in a foreign country, we are normally limited to musical performances where the language is not important. The exception here would be San Miguel which we love because of the entertainment, but it still can’t top a cruise ship. Land tours have very limited entertainment.

So which is best? Since our focus is on experiencing the culture of an area in some depth, that is best done with apartment living or a land tour. In a developed country such as those in Europe or North America, we prefer apartment living. In a less developed country or one with customs markedly different from ours, we prefer a land tour. For comfortable living, continuous entertainment, and good food, it is hard to beat a cruise. However, we think it is definitely the worst way to see and experience an area. Any other thoughts or questions are welcome.

From One Extreme to the Other

We left India, the land of vibrant color, litter, and dirt and two days later arrived to the spotless white buildings and absolutely litter free streets of Muscat, the capital of Oman. The contrast could not have been more striking. Known officially as the Sultanate of Oman, Oman is an Arab country strategically located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. It has always relied on the oceans for its livelihood and once controlled the coast as far south as Zanzibar. Unlike most Middle Eastern countries, it has only modest oil reserves so it is looking to tourism and trading fish and dates to develop its economy.

It is an absolute monarchy ruled by Sultan Qaboos since 1970. He is also the Prime Minister, Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Minister of Defense, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Chairman of the Central Bank. He is the 14th generation descendant of the dynasty that has ruled Oman since 1744. He came to power by overthrowing his father. At the time he took power Oman was a backward country that was just beginning to receive revenue from its oil reserves. Qaboos immediately abolished slavery, built a modern infrastructure, gave equal rights to women, and established a viable education and healthcare system. Our on board lecturer said he had no wife or children so his successor would be a nephew or cousin. Our local guide said he was very private and no one knew if he had a wife or children. He had nothing but good things to say about what Qaboos has done for the country. While he certainly spent a lot of money on himself, he has also done a lot to improve the lot of the ordinary citizen.The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque was completed in 2001 and can accommodate up to 20,000 worshipers. Unfortunately, the interior was closed to foreign visitors minutes before our arrival, so we only saw the mosque from the outside.The Muslim religion prohibits images of living things including people, animals, and plants. Consequently, the art in the mosque is abstract and often features calligraphy. These images are all details of the exterior of the mosque. The bottom picture is tiles. I think the Sultan would be appalled if he knew you could see pigeon droppings in the next to last picture.

The Other Susan took a different tour that got to go inside the mosque. Thanks to her, I am able to show you what we missed.This chandelier above the praying hall is 45 feet tall; and according to Wikipedia, is the largest chandelier in the world.The carpet is the other famous feature of the interior. It contains 1.7 billion knots, weighs 21 tons, and took over four years to make. It is the second largest single piece of carpet in the world.I personally was more impressed with these doors and the area where the Imam stands to speak.This is the Supreme Court Building across the street from the Mosque. Muscat is a desert climate with only four inches of rain a year. I saw no naturally occurring vegetation. Where there is grass, it requires a lot of irrigation and it is mowed like a golf green. They get their water from five desalination plants.All the buildings were a pristine white. Everything looked freshly painted.The souk was filled with interesting products, all of which seemed to be imported. From top to bottom, a display of elaborately decorated wooden boxes, neatly folded men’s hats, an antique display, the ceiling of the souk, and perfume in the window of a perfume store. The perfume is packaged in a crystal container on an elaborate base in a fancy wood box. The price is 150 Omani rial or about $385. This is a relatively modest price as some of the most expensive perfumes in the world are made in Oman.There are many forts and watch towers scattered around the city.The Sultan found a little extra money to spend on his own needs. This is his yacht and the smaller yacht facing away from us is his also.This colorful and relatively modest building is his home.His home is on a huge plaza with numerous big white buildings of unknown use.The harbor is surrounded by rugged mountains with numerous watchtowers. The big white thing is a model of an incense burner. I think the scenery around the port was the prettiest since Komodo Island. Oman has been added to the list of destinations to which we would like to return. We now have six sea days before reaching Jordan.

Incredible India

On our last day in “incredible India” (the slogan emblazoned on most of the tourist buses) we took a bus, a boat, a mini tourist train, and climbed 120 steps lined with vendor stalls in the incredible heat to reach . . .. . . Elephanta Caves. They are located on Elephanta Island in the Mumbai Harbor. The island contains a number of Hindu cave temples carved from solid basalt rock. The best estimate is the caves and sculptures were created by various Hindu dynasties between the 5th and 7th centuries. When the Portuguese discovered the island, they named it Elephant Island because of the elephant statue they found there. Most of the sculptures are damaged, but there is some debate about who did the most damage. Our guide blamed the Portuguese who used the sculptures for target practice. However, there is also reason to believe that Muslims did the damage when they occupied the area.This is a sampling of the carvings in the caves. Most of them depict a legend related to Shiva or the other Hindu gods. The area around the caves had a lot of monkeys. Not all of them were as docile as this mother. We were warned not to show any food as they could be very aggressive trying to take it from you. One man had to be protected from a monkey when he tried to take a drink of water from a bottle.

This picture shows two iconic sites in Mumbai, or Bombay as many residents still call it. On the right is the Gateway of India built to commemorate the visit of the British Monarchs in 1911. The Gateway was not completed until 1924. On the left is the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, a five star luxury hotel built in 1903 that is on many lists of top 100 hotels in the world. It was the site of a major terrorist attack in 2008. The high rise behind the Gateway is a new wing of the hotel. The boats in the foreground are typical of the one we took to Elephanta Island.This is the main railway station in Mumbai. It serves more than five million people a day.There are a lot of pigeons in Mumbai!

What do you call a building that is 27 stories high and cost over one billion dollars to build?You would call it the home of a very wealthy India couple and their three children. They have a staff of 600 to take care of them and the building. If I spent a billion for a home, I would hope it would be more attractive. Despite half the population of people living in slums, Mumbai has the highest density of billionaires of any city in the world.This is the Dhobi Ghat, the largest open air laundry in Mumbai. About 7000 workers, almost all of them men, work here to wash, bleach, dry, and iron the laundry. Flogging is an important part of the washing process. They go throughout the city to collect the dirty laundry and return it neatly pressed. Many of their customers are hospitals and hotels, but ordinary citizens (even those who might own a washing machine) are regular customers.We visited the Gandhi Museum, located in the house of a friend who he stayed with when he visited Bombay.Shopping stalls lined many of the streets. This block was filled with used book stores.While this picture could be from Mumbai, it is really one I forgot to include in Goa. The thing to note is the workers on top of the bamboo scaffolding with no safety harness. OSHA would have a fit!

Mumbai was our last port in India. I think many passengers feel as I did when I first visited Mumbai many years ago – they don’t want to ever go back. But the more you explore India and get to know its people as we did on several OAT tours, it really is Incredible India. We have two sea days before reaching Muscat, Oman.

Goa

Goa is the smallest state in India by area and also its most prosperous. It was a Portuguese colony until 1961. When the British gave India its independence in 1947, Portugal refused to cede control of Goa despite the efforts of the India government. Things reached a head in 1961 when India sent overwhelming armed forces to take Goa back. Salazar was the Prime Minister of Portugal at the time and he ordered the Governor General of Goa to hold out for at least six days while he gathered international support, to fight until the last man, and to destroy everything rather than surrender it. However, the Governor General loved Goa and its people so he could not accept the loss of life. He surrendered the second day of the invasion. He was stripped of his military rank when he returned to Portugal and sent into exile until the fall of Salazar in 1974.We will start with a quiz. Who can identify this? Answer at the end of the blog.The Basilica of Bom Jesus was constructed between 1594 and 1605. Check out the size of those flying buttresses on the left wall!The Church is relatively simple except for the Baroque style alters.The Church is noted for housing the body of St. Francis Xavier in this coffin with windows. The Saints body was first buried in Portuguese Malacca and then after two years it was shipped to Goa. It is reported that his body was as fresh as the day he was buried. The people of Goa believe that as long as his body remains preserved, they will be free of natural disasters; and so far so good. The coffin is on a raised platform so all you can see is his cheek at the bottom of the lower right window. However, the coffin is taken down every ten years for public viewing. The next viewing will be in 2024 in case you want to start working on your reservations.

While at the church, our guide also showed us the seed pod of a carob tree. These pods are remarkably uniform in weight and in ancient times were used as a measurement of weight. Gold was sold in increments of weight equal to that of 24 carob seed pods. This led to the expression 24 karat gold which is pure gold.

The Chapel of Saint Catherine is no longer used. It was the original Cathedral in the area.The adjacent Se Cathedral was completed in 1619. It originally had two matching towers, but the one on the right collapsed in 1776 and was never rebuilt.There was a team of workers weeding the lawn in front of the cathedral. However, there was no effort to clean the area just outside the walls.In the new town they had a unique version of “The Thinker”. Any thoughts on what this is? It’s a motorbike taxi, the quickest way for one person to get around town.And this is the most photographed church in Goa. Despite the cars, I prefer the version with the brick stairs in the foreground. Since I risked my life crossing the street to get the top picture, I wanted to include it. Many Bollywood films feature dancers on the stairs of the church which means everyone wants their picture taken in front of it.

The fruit in the first picture is a cashew. It is unique in that the seed (the cashew) forms on the outside of the fruit. The fruit itself is called an apple and can be eaten fresh, cooked in curries, or fermented in vinegar or an alcoholic drink.

A Day in the Kerala Backwaters

Our next port of call was Cochin in the state of Kerala. Rather than spend the day in another large city, we opted to visit a smaller “village” along the canals known as the Kerala Backwaters. With a population of 23,000, Vaikom is a little bigger than what we would call a village, but all things are relative. India is on pace to exceed the population of China in as little as seven years, so there are a lot of people everywhere. To give you an idea of how fast the population is growing, they add the population of Canada approximately every two years.

One of the highlights of Vaikom is the Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, the destroyer of evil. Shiva was tough to deal with, but his wife, Pārvatī, was a soft touch; so you always wanted to face Shiva on days when Pārvatī was also around.Shiva is busy destroying evil in the top picture, but looks almost angelic in the bottom picture with Pārvatī.One of the traditions is to be blessed by sitting on this scale while the priests add enough bananas to balance your weight.This nine month old girl was the first to be blessed on the scale.These people are in line to make an offering at the Temple and receive a free lunch in return.This is the outside wall of the main building of the Temple. The little metal dishes are to hold oil which is one of the most popular offerings. The idea is to pour oil in the holder and light it as your offering. It must be safe as the temple has survived since 1594. The Temple is notable as the site of the Vaikom Agitation which gained the right of people of the lower castes to walk on the roads around the Temple.These are some of the men in the Temple. The man in the lower picture has stripes of ashes on his body as a symbol of his devotion.We passed by this one room school house with the teacher and her class of three to six year olds. They enjoyed waving to us, but the oldest started to cry that he wanted to go home when some of our group wanted their picture taken with them. The school house was about as deep as it was wide.These housing extremes were within a one minute walk of each other.The black flag flying above the poster was to honor one of the village residents who had died recently. The poster had a picture of the man and the date of his cremation.We took a short tuktuk ride to the put in point for our canoe ride on the Kerala Backwaters. A short ride was fine as the speed seemed way too fast for conditions.Women were in the canal doing their laundry and washing the dishes. I don’t think I would want too eat or wear anything washed in that canal!Both ducks and children were enjoying the canal. We rode in wooden canoes with a driver who poles the canoes through the water. Most of the canoes held six passengers, but we were in a larger canoe with eleven passengers. Unfortunately, the water level was not very high and our more heavily loaded canoe soon was mired in the mud and could not get out. There was one man and four children there to help push the canoes through this low spot. While they were successful with the smaller canoes, they worked for twenty minutes on our larger canoe before finally concluding we needed to be rescued. After another ten minutes, a rescue canoe arrived and half of us transferred to it. We made good time for the rest of the trip.We saw a lot of people going about their daily life in the village. This pair was drying rice cakes in the sun. This was the fresh chicken section of Whole Foods. If you wanted a chicken, they opened the door and selected the chicken of the weight you desired. The price included the chicken counter manager wringing the neck of the chicken for you.Whole Foods had a meat counter as well. Since cows are sacred to the Hindus, the meat here is water buffalo.We visited a weaving workshop packed with hand looms. The weaver used her feet to move the warp yarns up and down, one hand to shoot the weft shuttle back and forth, and the other hand to set the weft yarn in place. When you had the right rhythm, the weaving was very fast. There is a weaving caste in India. If you are born into that caste, you are destined to be a weaver. Presumably, this girl is learning weaving from her mother to begin weaving herself in a few years.We also visited a coir factory where they made ropes and mats from the fiber of coconut husks. This factory is a cooperative run by the government.

We saw many other people at work making various crafts. Despite the heat, we both enjoyed a day out of the city. For some people, India stands for “I’ll Never Do It Again”. However, if you can get past the poverty (half the people exist on an income below $3 per day) and the pervasive litter, any other country you visit seems dull by comparison. After a sea day, we visit the Portuguese influenced state of Goa, India.

The Sights, Sounds, Smells, and Corruption

One goes into sensory overload as soon as you set foot on the streets of India. The sounds of horns honking and people talking are all around you. The colors of the clothes and temples are brilliant and dazzling. The aromas can range from the good of Indian spices to the ugly of rotting garbage or worse in a few steps. People are everywhere. You have to dodge them on their motor bikes. They have their hand out for food or money. They want to sell you something. It is truly hard to take it all in especially since you have to be so alert to where you are walking. Whether you are walking on a sidewalk, or more likely the side of a street, the path is full of things you don’t want to step on from holes to debris to something left behind by a passing cow. And did I mention that it is really important to avoid the motorbikes?

But India is also full of smiling people and numerous things you won’t see walking around Pawleys Island. Once you get past the poverty and the abundant litter, the joy of visiting India is the uniqueness of the overall experience. Our first stop in India was Chennai on Easter Sunday. Chennai is the sixth largest city in India and the ninth most densely populated city in the world. In 2015, Lonely Planet named it as one of the top ten cities in the world to visit. In 2018, I don’t think many of the passengers of the Sun would agree with that assessment.This is an admittedly terrible picture of the Ice House taken from the wrong side of a moving bus. The building was built in 1842 to store ice which was imported from the United States. The ice was cut in large blocks from frozen lakes and shipped by boat to India. Despite the long shipping time, only a third of the ice melted during shipment, The building is now used as a college dormitory.Chennai has the second longest beach in the world (Miami Beach is first) at nearly nine miles. It is also an exceptionally wide beach. The small buildings you see on the beach are the wheeled carts of vendors. Despite it being Sunday and very hot, there were few people on the beach.The Hindu temple we visited dates back to the seventh century CE. The Temple is dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva and features the gopuram, or entrance tower shown above. Can you imagine how long it would to take to paint that tower?There had been a festival at that temple several days before and they were still dismantling the floats and towers lining the streets.This is the temple tank or sacred tank adjacent to the temple. The steps leading down to the water make it similar to the step wells that are common in India. In some cases, washing in these sacred tanks is believed to cure disease.Our guide called these the Ferrari of India, but they are better known as tuktuks. These are even harder to avoid than the motorbikes and their horns are sounding constantly.This is a wanted poster of thieves working the area. Fortunately, we didn’t meet any of them.India is a sea of faces and many of them were as interested in photographing us as we were of photographing them.Many people make a chalk drawing in front of their house or business each morning. Most of them were simple ones with white chalk as seen at the top of the picture. We have seen much more elaborate color chalk pictures on previous trips to India.This is a fortune teller sitting on the sidewalk outside the temple. You pay your money and he lets the parrot out of the cage to sort through the stack of “fortunes”. The one the parrot chooses to hand to the man is your fortune which he will then read to you.These buildings are behind the railway station. The pile to the right below the wall is all broken glass.The streets are filled with vendors.There are slums scattered throughout the city and they are littered with trash.This is a small temple where you bring your new motorbike to be blessed. There were a lot of people there so the motorbike business must be pretty good.

When we returned to the ship that afternoon, there were a lot of Indian families walking around the ship. We presumed that they were relatives of crew members. However, we heard from a person who would know that the government officials were not going to let our ship dock unless Viking permitted their family members to tour the ship which is a clear violation of Viking’s policies. So corruption is still a part of the Indian government.This is our table at the Seder on Friday evening. About eighty people attended including many Christians who were invited to share the experience. The evening began with people reading from a 34 page Haggadah that had been prepared by one of the travelers. The menu was gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, beef brisket, and a Passover almond honey torte. Most people complained about the gefilte fish. However, I finished mine and normally I struggle to take one bite.

We have two sea days before reaching Cochin, India.