Land Ho!

After seven days at sea, we reached the port of Taiohae on Nuku Hiva Island in the Marquesas Islands, which are part of French Polynesia and ultimately part of France. Herman Melville wrote his book Typee based on his experiences on the island and Robert Louis Stevenson first made landfall there on his voyage on the Casco. But perhaps the island is best known as the site of the fourth season of Survivor. I had to stretch to find history as the island is very small and the population is under 3000.

There was no guided tour here. We were tendered ashore and left to explore the small town. The locals seemed very excited to have some visitors and set up six stations along the waterfront to show different aspects of island life. Maybe it was because we hadn’t seen any land for a while, but we found the island to be very attractive. The town sits on the edge of a partially collapsed volcanic crater which formed the bay where we anchored.Looking from the town out into the bay where the ship was anchored.Wood carving is one of the major crafts practiced on the island. The tattoos on this woodcarver are typical. Unfortunately, the ship would not let us bring woodcarvings back onto the ship as some had been infected with pine beatles that had made a new home in the wood decking of other ships.Breadfruit is one of the main products of the island and we sampled a breadfruit desert this woman had made. It really resembled bread pudding and we presumed it was much lower in calories.Guides who spoke English were scattered around the town to give us a little history.There were beautiful views of the remains of the caldera all over town.We stopped at the local Seven-Eleven where this crate of baguettes made the French heritage of the island clear. I am not sure the French would ever treat a baguette with such disrespect though.The Town had a beautiful church built in 1975 that featured a carved wooden pulpit in the center and carved wooden stations of the cross as shown at the bottom.The people of the Marquesas Islands feel that their culture, language, and heritage are being swallowed up by the more populous areas of French Polynesia such as Tahiti. As a result, they. are trying to ensure that their language continues to be taught in their schools and that their heritage is preserved in archeological parks such as this one.

We enjoyed Marquesas a lot more than we expected. We now have two sea days before arriving at Tahiti on the evening of the second sea day. The good news is that they are now able to broadcast the NFL playoffs. The other good news is that it didn’t work last weekend, so I didn’t have to suffer through watching my Panthers lose.

From Pollywog to Shellback

It is a long standing tradition among the navies of the world to hold an initiation ceremony the first time a sailor crosses the equator. Prior to the crossing, a sailor is a slimy pollywog. Once they have crossed the equator and been initiated, they become trusted Shellbacks. The initiation ritual resembles fraternity hazing of new initiates and the ceremony is generally presided over by King Neptune. I have crossed the equator previously on a Lindblad ship in the Galapagos, so I was clearly a Shellback when I got on the Sun. In Susan’s case, she had only crossed previously by plane; so she may well be considered to be a pollywog.

On Thursday, we crossed the equator and had our own ceremony to initiate the pollywogs.Naturally, there had to be a Viking twist to the ceremony. They found a number of Vikings deep in the bowels of the ship to facilitate the initiation.The ceremony was presided over by Ægir, the Norse god of the sea. He was accompanied by a lovely mermaid. The first initiates were members of the crew that were still Pollywogs. They were first accused of various crimes such as watching You Tube videos that hogged the WiFi bandwidth. They were quickly found guilty by the assembled masses and subjected to the initiation ritual. Following that, any pollywogs amongst the guests were initiated.The first task in the initiation was to kiss a dead fish. In the top picture, one of the crew members is trying his best to avoid the kiss. In the bottom picture, our friend Susan (not my Susan, but one of the many other Susans on the ship) is bravely going right for the kiss. The Viking holding the fish is the Captain’s wife and she is involved in all the activities.After kissing the fish, you had to walk across the pool and then drink a glass of aquavit which you received from Ægir. You were then officially a Shellback. The guests were warned to wear a swimsuit. The captain in full uniform and his wife both participated; and by popular demand our cruise director, Heather, went in the pool in her evening dress.

It was a good time for all. Since I was already a Shellback, I did not participate. You will have to ask my Susan what her excuse was for not participating.

On Saturday we will be in the Marquesas Islands.

The Rest of Our Home

In an earlier post, I gave you a tour of our cabin or bedroom. Today, I would like to show you the remainder of our home. Viking originated as a Scandinavian company and the decor of the ship has a very Scandinavian feel with simple lines and decor. Our ship, the Viking Sun, was completed and had its first sailing in late 2017. We will begin the tour in our living room.Viking actually calls the bottom floor of the three floor high atrium the Viking living room. The area surrounding the open atrium is subtly divided into smaller conversation areas similar to a living room. Rather than having one large library, there are smaller libraries scattered around the ship such as at the back of this room. The atrium area is used for concerts by the classical trio and the piano player. In this picture you can see more sitting groups on the other side of the atrium as well as the shore excursion and guest services area. There are chairs and tables along the edge of the railings of the second and third floor, so you can enjoy the music there as well. For bigger events, there is seating on the stairs. Like any living room, there is a full service bar as well.At the head of the stairs is a large screen that features an ever changing collection of pictures such as stamps of the port we are visiting, beauty shots of Viking related things, or a “this day in history” list. During early evening concerts, it features paintings by Edvard Munch.There is an interesting garden of lichens and stones beneath the atrium stairs.This is the atrium is seen from our floor on level three.The aisle beside the atrium on level 2 has these circular game tables. Remove the cover and you can play electronic games such as black jack, solitaire, or mahjong.This is the Wintergarden where tea is served each afternoon with fresh scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, macaroons, and a variety of little tea sandwiches and pastries. We try to limit our tea time to once a week.The Explorers’ Lounge at the front and top of the ship is a favorite place to relax. There is a bar and a small restaurant serving light lunches and breakfasts. There was a dance class when I took the picture.The upper floor of the Explorers’ Lounge is always quiet and relaxing.The main pool has a retractable roof that is open when the weather is nice. The tracks in the bottom picture are for the roof. The pool deck is a popular location for parties.The ship has a small museum on Viking heritage as well as art scattered throughout the ship.All of the art has a label with a number (bottom right of picture) that ties into an app for your smartphone where you can learn more about the art.The stairwells feature reproductions of segments of the Bayeux Tapestry, which was likely made in England and is displayed in the Normandy area of France, and of prehistoric cave paintings from Sweden. The stern of the ship features an outdoor dining terrace and an infinity pool.It couldn’t be a Scandinavian ship without a spa featuring saunas, a steam room, a snow room, and this large hot tub.Of course, we have multiple dining rooms – this is the cafeteria. It is a beautiful, modern, and comfortable ship.*

We have one more sea day before we reach the Marquesas Islands on Saturday. The crossing of the Pacific started with three rather dreary days, but the sun has come out and the temperatures have been pleasant.

* Unfortunately, no compensation was received from Viking for the publication of this blog.

A Bird Rescue and the Plastic Problem

One of our enrichment lecturers is a British naturalist, Robin, who specializes in whales, dolphins, and the marine environment. I first met him under interesting circumstances. I was going out to our veranda to work on the blog; and when I repositioned my chair, I discovered there was a sea bird underneath it. As luck would have it, I had talked to a friend the previous night who had spotted a sea bird on the balcony beneath her. She had attended the lecture on sea birds the previous day and had learned that birds landing on the verandas are unable to take off again so they are doomed to die unless rescued. Apparently they need some “wind beneath their wings” to take flight and they can’t get that on a veranda. She told us that she had notified guest services several times with no result. She finally went to Robin and he was able to organize the rescue of the bird she had spotted. Consequently, I knew immediately what to do. I found in our Viking Daily that Robin was presently in the lounge spotting wildlife. I went there immediately and told him my problem. Since there were no whales or dolphins around, he came directly to my room. He took one of our bath towels and threw it over the bird. He then picked the bird up in the towel with his hands around the body of the bird with the head uncovered. He held the bird out over the railing and threw it into the wind as far as he could. Happily, the bird took flight and quickly flew into the horizon. He said sometimes they still have the strength to fly and sometimes they don’t, but it is the only option to save them. Unfortunately, I was so focused on saving the bird that I forgot to take any pictures.

One of Robin’s talks was on the importance of the ocean and the challenges facing it. Of course, the ocean is a major source of food; but the amount of oxygen formed from carbon dioxide by photosynthesis in the ocean far exceeds the amount created by all the trees and plants on land. Plastic is one of the major challenges faced by the ocean. The estimated life of a piece of plastic is 450 years, so every piece of plastic ever made is still somewhere. Many marine animals seem to mistake plastic for food so it is very common to find pieces of plastic in dead marine animals. Much of the plastic will breakdown into microscopic pieces that work their way up the food chain until ultimately we are eating them. One of the most dangerous uses of plastic is the piece used to hold together six packs of soda. These are often found around the necks of birds or animals. And these problems don’t even consider the hydrocarbons that are consumed to make plastic.

Plastic disposed of improperly is very likely to find its way to a river; and if it reaches a river, it is very likely to reach the ocean where ocean currents tend to concentrate the waste in vast “garbage patches”. Even plastic taken to landfills may blow away before it is properly buried.

Europe has tried several approaches to reduce the use of plastic. Most stores there charge for the bags you use. Some places have tried charging a deposit on the plastic bag which is refunded when you return the bag for recycling. In Germany, people started a movement to remove all the plastic wrapping at the checkout counter and leave it there. This caused manufacturers to reduce their packaging.

So what can we do? Reducing the consumption and use of plastics is probably the best thing. Recycling of plastics is another good solution. Certainly picking up plastic on the ground and recycling it is helpful. I have changed two things I do on the ship as my small contribution: I now get my ice tea without straws and I keep refilling my plastic water bottle (everyone is given a bottle of water when they go out on an excursion) with tap water. I hope I can inspire a few more people to do something to reduce the plastic reaching the ocean.

Los Angeles by Bus

Viking includes one tour in every port and on Friday it was a bus tour of downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood. Since there were only three stops, most of the pictures had to be taken through the bus window; so there may be some reflections. Our guide was a former boat captain and a bit part actor. As such, he was able to provide some insights into the film industry. Our only recent impressions of Los Angeles had been formed from flying through LAX airport and staying overnight at a nearby motel or from driving through it to visit the Reagan Library. Needless to say, none of this had given us a favorable impression. However, the last two days have convinced us that Los Angeles is worth a visit.The downtown area is filled with modern and historic buildings. The Bank of America and Wells Fargo buildings are located side by side.I was surprised to learn that this modern looking building is a high school. What looks like a ramp, is really a sculpture that looks like a figure 9 when viewed from the air.The El Capitan Theater is owned by Disney and is used to premiere their movies. Right next door is the theater where our favorite late night show is aired.We made a brief stop to check out the Beverly Hills sign. Tour buses are no longer allowed to drive through Beverly Hills.We drove by the venue for the Golden Globes this weekend. The area was filled with sound trucks. A temporary bridge had been built across the road. This temporary building had been built for a reception. There was construction activity everywhere.This is the famed Santa Monica pier. The beach is very wide here.While I love this tree, I had to choose between including a homeless man or a trash container in the picture. We saw a lot of homeless people in the parks and under the freeway bridges, but there didn’t seem to be as many homeless as in Seattle.

The US headquarters for Viking is in Los Angeles. Since this was the first time a Viking ship has been to LA, the Sun was crawling with corporate people and travel agents during our stay in port. The world cruise officially began in LA and everyone leaving there is on the ship until London. The voyage was not available in segments. We had a big party with fireworks and the CEO of Viking spoke before the sail away.The party was held on the pool deck. The CEO had a problem holding the microphone close enough to his mouth, so his daughter was trying to help him. The daughter’s dog was also present. Apparently the no dog policy on the ship does not apply to relatives of the CEO. We feel that we are now officially on a world cruise! Thanks for sailing with us!

Three Uber’s and Two Museums

On Thursday we went to the Huntington Library and the Getty Villa with another couple we had met twice before in Pawleys Island prior to the cruise. The day involved three Uber rides of more than an hour each. Both drivers were very friendly and we chatted with them the entire trip. One driver was particularly interesting since he had moved here from our favorite city in Mexico (if not the world), San Miguel. We had a great time talking about life there. His father still works there in the fruit export business. His primary job is handling the importing of his father’s fruit into the US. One tip he gave us is that you should only purchase frozen mangoes in the US. By law, fresh mangoes have to be sterilized in hot water until the seed is hot. This ruins the consistency of the mango. Fortunately, mango is the only fruit whose consistency is not changed by freezing. The only thing we know for sure is that fresh mangoes purchased in Mexico are much better than those purchased in the US. We had such a good time with this driver that he decided to wait around until we finished our second museum visit and then take us back to the ship.

Our first stop was the Getty Villa. Getty had a home on the site, but built a museum to house his art collection when it outgrew his home. The museum is a replica of a villa excavated at Herculaneum, a town buried by Mount Vesuvius the day after it buried Pompei. This was particularly interesting as we visited Herculaneum several years ago. Today it houses Getty’s collection of antiquities. His art collection is housed in the Getty Museum at a different location which we didn’t visit.This is one of the courtyards in the Villa. Unfortunately, much of the Villa is being “reimagined”, as in reconstructed, so many of the galleries and gardens were closed.The pattern on this wall was achieved by using cut stone of different colors.My favorite part of the collection was the Roman mosaics. The lion is an enlargement of the bottom right hexagon in the top picture.

Our second museum was the Huntington Library which is a library, art gallery, and garden. We had about three hours here, but could have spent the entire day. As luck would have it, the first Thursday of each month is “free day”. You still must have tickets, and they must be reserved at 9 AM PST (noon EST) of the preceding month. I got on the site about two minutes before noon (using my atomic clock to ensure accuracy) and started clicking the link to the tickets. About two minutes later, I got on and was able to get four tickets. Our friends also tried to get the tickets and were unable to get on until 12:02 at which time the free tickets were all gone. Money can’t get you in on free days, so we felt very lucky.

And it was well worth the hassle of getting the free tickets as the library, museums, and gardens were all both beautiful and inspiring.We only had time to visit one room of the library, but it had such things as a Gutenberg Bible, a letter written by Lincoln, and the above Audubon book with life size paintings of the birds.The European collection is housed in their former home. Mr. Huntington was a collector of art, and Mrs. Huntington collected European furniture. The most famous painting in the collection is Blue Boy by Thomas Gainesborough.

The American collection was in a separate building and included paintings, quilts, furniture, and a temporary exhibit of Tiffany glass.

The gardens were the highlight for me.There were a number of different gardens. Above is the Chinese Garden.The Japanese Garden. This gum tree was in the Australian Garden. By this time we had been on our feet for nine hours except for the Uber rides, so we were riding in the garden shuttle. The driver said the bark on this tree is changing constantly so it has a different appearance each week she works.You all know how much I love unusual tree trees. This is a type of cedar tree.These pictures are from the desert garden.

We have left Los Angeles for seven days at sea. During that time I will post about our second day in Los Angeles and show you around our ship.

Welcoming 2018

Viking turned New Years Eve into an all day eating, entertainment, and party extravaganza. They began with a brunch served around the pool featuring eggs Benedict with lox, shrimp, crab, sushi, Bloody Marys and other goodies. Dinner featured a large whole lobster or beef Wellington in the restaurant and steak Diane and crepes Suzette prepared before your eyes on the aft deck. We went to the brunch early for breakfast and again as it was closing for lunch. The entertainment was a Canadian vocal group performing a mix of classical and popular songs. This was followed by a two hour dance party featuring the band and most of the vocalists on the ship to welcome in the new year. This stood in stark contrast to last New Year’s Eve which we spent at the Charleston bridge tournament. Believe me, bridge players do not party as hard as cruisers!New Years Eve with our new friends Alice and Chazzie.

New Years Day we visited Cabo San Lucas at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula. The most famous site there is El Arco at the tip of the area known as Land’s End.Parasailing was a very popular activity. You can see one above the arc in the sunset picture.

While we were waiting for the bus for our excursion, we saw some Sally Lightfoot Crabs on the rocks near the pier.I tried to learn the origin of their name without much luck. The best I found was that they were named after a Caribbean dancer. I did learn that their scientific name is graspus graspus which seems very appropriate.

Cabo, and particularly the pier area, was very crowded and touristy. Our tour was to the nearby town of San Jose Del Cabo. Since it was New Years Day, the town seemed pretty sleepy.The central Square in town was decorated with a large Christmas tree. Comparing this square to San Miguel, it was much larger much but also much less appealing since it was mostly concrete instead of mostly plants.The church on the square was a simple, but attractive, design.The town had a number of attractive galleries that chose to open on the holiday for us. The design on this dog is done with beads.

We are presently enjoying the first of two sea days before arriving in Los Angeles on Thursday when the world cruise will officially begin. Presently, about half the passengers are just on the pretrip from Miami to Los Angeles. When we leave Los Angeles, all of the passengers will be on until London.

Sugar, Coffee, and Chicken Buses

On Thursday we had a nostalgic visit to Antigua, Guatemala, which was the first place we visited when we started our version of the “home free” lifestyle. We lived in a house there for a month and took Spanish lessons. It was a 1.5 hour drive each way from the port to Antigua, so our guide taught us about three major symbols of Guatemala.

A major crop in the Pacific lowlands is sugar cane. The production of sugar cane requires a lot of manual labor. Sugar cane is planted by cutting healthy stalks into foot long sections and burying them horizontally in shallow furrows. New plants will sprout from the joints in the stems. The sugar cane blooms look much like the bloom of pampas grass. When it is time to harvest the sugar cane, the fields are burned to remove the snakes and the outer leaves of the sugar cane which our guide said are dangerous to the eyes of the workers. The burning is of course controversial since it adds carbon dioxide, ash, and pollutants to the atmosphere. The sugar cane is then cut manually with machetes before the snakes move back in. The harvested sugar cane is hauled in large trucks with three open box beds. These trucks are two heavy for the road and have caused lots of breakage which made the bus ride very rough. I was thankful that I didn’t have a headache!

The other big crop in Guatemala is coffee. On the Atlantic side the trees grow in the sun, and our guide said that coffee was too strong and bitter.In the highlands on the Pacific side, the coffee trees are grown in the shade of other trees resulting in the “perfect” coffee. You can see the red beans ready for harvest in the picture above. After harvest, the shade trees are pruned back to help the coffee trees develop the next crop.

In the United States, school buses must be retired after ten years or 100,000 miles. These buses are purchased by Guatemala entrepreneurs at US auctions. The buses are driven from the auction house to the US border and down through Mexico to Guatemala. There the windows, seats, transmission, and engine are stripped out. The automatic transmission is replaced with a new manual transmission, and the engine is replaced with a strong, Diesel engine. Wider seats are installed along with new windows. The bus is then painted in bright colors and decked out with shiny chrome bumpers. We rode one of these chicken buses to visit a nearby town when we stayed in Antigua previously. Gringoes gave the buses their name because farmers used to use them to transport chickens and other farm animals.

Antigua was as pretty as we remembered and we did recall many of the places we visited. I was particularly pleased that I recalled the exact location of our favorite crepe restaurant. Susan made some comment about all I remember is food, but I chose to ignore that.La Merced Church has beautiful, detailed designs on the outside.The city has the ruins of many old churches that were damaged in earthquakes and were too expensive to rebuild.The cathedral occupies one side of the central plaza.The plaza was packed with people visiting from Guatemala City for the holidays. This meant the vendors were out in force. Hopefully, this vendor will be able to make enough money to visit a dentist.These children were having a good time playing on the fence around the cathedral.

We loved seeing Antigua again and are plotting our return. We have three days at sea before arriving in Cabo San Lucas on New Years Day. Since this is the last planned blog for 2017, Susan and I would like to take this opportunity to wish each of you a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year.

The Land of Volcanoes and Lakes (and Churches)

Wednesday we took a tour to Leon, Nicaragua. The country refers to itself as the land of volcanoes and lakes. We didn’t see any lakes but we did see a number of volcanoes and Leon certainly has a lot of churches. For those of you with really good memories, we visited Leon a couple years ago when we took the Oceania cruise through the Panama Canal; so this tour was pretty repetitive for us. Still, Leon has a pretty Cathedral, and there aren’t too many churches where you can walk around on the roof and find better views.One of the many volcanoes in Nicaragua.For a relatively small city, Leon has a large, beautiful cathedral.The square in front of the cathedral was decorated for Christmas.There were a lot of rules to walk on the church roof: you had to take your shoes off, you had to stay off the domes, and you couldn’t ring the bells.Several other churches were visible from the cathedral roof.

Our bus drivers and guides found a convenient spot to enjoy some food while we were touring Leon. On Friday we are going to visit Antigua, Guatemala.

Costa Rica Revisited

Today we docked in Puntarenas on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica. The temperature was in the low 90’s just like the Atlantic side, but the humidity is much lower. Since we had both been to the cloud forest previously, we elected to take the included local tour. This was a mistake as the cloud forests of Costa Rica are certainly more attractive with more interesting things to do. There is an attractive beach adjacent to the port, but the ship had warned us that the water was not clean enough for swimming.The locals apparently never got the message! The sand is of volcanic origin so it is a dark brown color.We visited the small nearby town of Esparza where we were treated to a demonstration of local dancing by the children of the town.The church in Esparza.A brown pelican.

We did learn some more interesting facts about Costa Rica. They get about 80% of their power from hydro, 15% from geothermal, 3% from wind, and they are starting to add solar to the mix. They used no fossil fuel based power on over 300 days this year. Costa Rica is considered one of the successful Central America countries (together with Belize and Panama) with an average annual income around $10,000. There is no income tax on this amount and a relatively modest income tax of 15% – 20% on higher amounts. However there is a large tax of 25% up to 80% on imported goods. For instance, the tax on an imported automobile is 50%!

I want to thank everyone for their Christmas messages. Our next stop is Nicaragua.

The Travel Blog of Susan and Bruce