Monday, March 23, 2015

Kerala – lush cool hills, spices, tea, and houseboat

First a couple links – 1 for the present location of the Explorer  (doesn’t always work)
2) Mauritius

From Deej.  12 March 2015. 

Kerala – lush cool hills, spices, tea, and houseboat
Yes we are back on the ship and on our way to Mauritius and Cape Town as of last evening (11 March 2015) at 7:00.

This time India was nicely different than the north India I had been to before. We had access to actual toilets and western style most places which is always a good thing. Everywhere we went in Kerala a big improvement over my first trip to India in 1998. And there was no open sewage here. And Kerala, although it is their dry season, is vey green. There are thousands of coconut trees and we learned that Kerala means “land of coconuts.” There are thousands of hibiscus in many colors, bougainvillea, impatiens, begonias, palm trees galore and all kinds of beautiful flowers I have never seen before. And they are so large here. They have two different coffee shrubs that grow here and they smell like jasmine.  The India of 1998 and 2009 was very different and hard for me. I’m glad to experience a different India.

After a day of a guided sight-seeing  tour in Kochi (the marina, Fort, Vasco de Gama church, synagogue, 20 splendidly dressed  elephants at a festival, old India maps displayed at the Ginger CafĂ©, etc), this India trip of March 2015 we went  to the mountains (Western Ghats) of Kerala to the town of Kumily to see the spices and tea. We visited a Spice Plantation which was a family farm that had all kinds of spices, a herd of Holsteins, goats, ducks, chickens, turkeys, veggie gardens, and we had an excellent guide called Taj who spoke English very well and taught us some Malayalam which is the local language of Kerala. I now know what pepper vines, allspice trees, vanilla orchids, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, mace, plants, trees look like and how they are grown. They grow these spices for local Kerala consumption, no exporting. This has been going on since the British were here - originally they did export to other places but now it is a local economy. The tea plantation and tea factory we visited was very interesting also. Over 600 acres of camellia sinensis, the processing of tea is very quick, it only takes two days and this is with a very old-timey system. They use wood to fire the machines that they use in the factory. The leaves are picked every 7-15 days except during the Monsoon, they are withered for a day, next they are fermented with high heat and water, dried, curled, crushed, and then sent through a machine that sizes them, then they bag them according to size, powder is in our tea bags and the large leaves are the loose leaf tea. We also saw rubber tree farms where they produce latex for local tire making.

We had fun on Mira the elephant who we rode for a bit and Phil helped wash and brush her and I fed her a reward, big squashes, she is 28 years old but has been in training for only 5 years, she helps train the other elephants. I hope they treat her and the other elephants well.

I had a bit of intestinal distress as I ate some way too spicy food at first, not a good move. And maybe drinking the ginger (In local water), lime, soda was not such a good idea.

But we ended on a high note by doing the houseboat tour overnight in the Aleppey backwaters, with our own chef, Siva, who made really good food that was not spicy yet very delicious and healthy. We had fresh fish for lunch and a chicken curry ‘candlelight” dinner. He made this wonderful dish of carrots, coconut and black mustard seed that was delicious. The captain, Agustin, was very knowledgeable about all the thousands of birds along the waterway. He also liked to take us on walks, one before dinner into a village to visit a 400 year old catholic church and the next morning along the rice field’s path into a village. All very interesting and informative.

I hated the 4 hour drive up into the mountains on a very curvy, hairpin turn road and a beeping driver (beeping is required in India for safety). One morning as we were riding to do the elephant interaction I threw up. Sajeev the driver slowed down after that.

All in all it was a good visit. Kerala is called "God's own country" and it really is rather Eden like with all of the natural food resources growing wild everywhere. But there are many poor people there. It is mainly an agricultural area and not much else to do except for the huge tourist industry. Bus loads of Germans, French, and British tourists as well as a few Americans and Japanese thrown in.

We also had some cultural events, a tribal dance and traditional Kathakali performance. Both very entertaining and interesting.

We tried to do a trek in the Periyar forest but they said we were too old. It is run by the Government and they are strict about everything.  We did do the boat ride on Periyar lake and saw a lot of birds, India buffalo, lots of deer, otters, lots of water birds. And I met a nice German man and a nice British couple as Phil and I were separated by our seat numbers. No tigers or elephants though. You have to drive into the forest for hours at a time to see them. We have seen them in another forest called Khana Kishli in central India.

I also fell down the stairs in our hotel, a close call. Phil caught me before I rolled all the way down the last group of stairs. I have some bruises. Just after I was saying how proud of myself I was for all the difficult things we have had to climb up and down and to precariously balance on various actual boards (planks) to gain access on and off boats everywhere. I am okay. Freaked out the hotel staff from my fall though.

Only four more countries left (Mauritius, South Africa, Namibia, and Morocco). Time flies.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

From Mandalay to Kochi to Kumily

From Philip McEldowney

Two Mandalay, Myanmar photo albums
and local other capitals
Amarapura, etc.

Kochi was wonderful this first day - (6 March 2015) - 12:30 got off the ship, tour of town at the Fort Kochi marina walk, the church with Vasco de Gama burial site, spice shops, Jewish synogoge, amazing elephant celebration and festival with about 14 elephants in regalia, a lovely Ginger cafe supper of perfect rice, uppadam, chapati, and prawn / ginger curry overlooking the bay and back at the Explorer.

On to Kumily and tea / spice plantations and a evening boat trip on the wildlife Periyar lake.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Burma is wonderful so far

See Picasa photo albums 

From Deej 25 February 2015 Yangoon, Myanmar

Burma is wonderful so far. Yesterday afternoon we toured the Schwedagon Pagodas, absolutely stunning and so very many to see. It was very enlightening in many ways, bright with gilded stupas everywhere, our tour guide elucidated the Burmese Buddhism practices and beliefs, and we saw many lovely people. Every Buddhist becomes a nun or a monk in their lifetime in Burma, sometimes as early as 4 yrs. old. And it may be just for a week or a month. They are very dedicated to their Buddhism. About 60% of the population is Buddhist, then the rest are Christian, Hindu, etc.

Our tour guide goes by Bunny for foreign tourists such as ourselves. She was very entertaining teaching us things like the number one in Burmese is "tit" and the no. 8 in Is pronounced "shit," she said we would never forget those 2 nos. It is an hour ride by bus (with poor suspension) on a very, very, bumpy road with way too much traffic. The Burmese government has made motor cycles illegal so there are not too many of them around but there are many cars, trucks, and buses on poor roads. Never saw an accident. 

We then went to a lovely dinner sitting outside with Chinese lanterns all aglow above us at a very good restaurant, Phil ,whose birthday was yesterday, was serenaded by two bus loads of Semester at Sea  students, staff, and faculty and had a tiny fruit plate and cake with a candle provided by Bunny and the restaurant staff. Before that for our meal we had eggplant salad, rice, lentil soup, chicken curry, pork curry, and morning glory (a water cress type veg) with mushrooms, and bananas fried with honey. All nicely spiced and not too hot for wimpy Americans. Plus some Myanmar beer, nice and light.

Today (We. 25 Feb. 2015) we had a different tour guide, Kyall, pronounced Joel, and went out to local  markets, first the ordinary people's small market, a bit raw like in meats, fish etc. It was interesting. They sell all the accoutrements for monks and nuns in that market as well as have places for everyone to donate to the monks, umbrellas, shoes, etc. I tried to buy a string of jasmine and the guy gave it to me "as a present" when I balked at buying a big bunch of jasmine strings which are used for offerings to Buddha stupas. It is scenting our cabin nicely.

Next we went to the tourist and middle-class people market, the Scott market, surely named after some Brit. It was way more enjoyable than Vietnam and China where there is much selling in your face, tugging at your arms, and hard core bargaining. It was quite genteel in comparison. The sellers were all very nice and not pushy, and had low prices. Some would bargain and some would not. They have lots of beautiful fabrics, batiks from Indonesia. And there were tailors with old fashioned sewing machines sitting up in the stalls sewing away for people. I had a longhi made for me in 15 min. for $5. Lots of other tourist and non-tourist things for sale. I wish I had waited to spend money just in Burma. And we found a supermarket for restocking our room’s fridge with beer and cokes as well as an ATM machine that would take our card and spit out money. Always exciting in foreign lands. We got 50,000 kyat (=$50). Then we stopped at a tea shop on the way home to the ship and had sweet tea and sweet buns.

After we got back as there were only 37 people on the ship we went to the pool deck 7 and had French fries for our late lunch and then changed into our swimming suits and got in the pool with only one college student in it. It was quite refreshing. Ahhhh. Usually there are so many college kids on that pool deck it is best to stay away from it.

Tomorrow we fly to Mandalay.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Vietnam - great time

Some photos from the first days in Ho Chi Minh city (mid Feb 2015)

From Deej (9:00 am Tuesday 17 Feb. 2015)

We have had a great time here in Vietnam - museums, botanic garden/zoo, temples and pagodas. 

The  AO show at the Opera house was brilliant, great use of baskets, bamboo, and bodies. 

The food is delicious here. We took a cooking class and  learned how to make several dishes and they were very tasty.

Yesterday (Monday, 16 Feb. 2015) was our Mekong Delta speedboat tour - giant fruit bats, swallows nests for eating, crocodiles and beautiful scenery along the rivers. 

It is almost Tet here, spring time festival, cool in the 90s.

We are waiting on ship (Tuesday morning at 8:45 am 17 Feb. 2015) in the river for the tide to turn so we can leave. We are 2.5 hours late so far.

Just when you get used to a place, it is time to leave.

Soon we will be in Singapore for only two days.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Japan Travel Log

Japan Travel Log (Blog)

From Deej. Feb 1, 2015. (but sent from Ho Chi Minh city, 9:47 pm Sunday 16 Feb 2015)

We just spent two days in Japan, Yokohama and Hakone, and I really like it. Yokohama is a lovely port city, we went up in the Landmark Tower for a full view of the city, went to a cafe and had some tea and even managed to order and pay for it. The Japanese do not speak much English but are very accommodating and eager to please. Very nice polite people, enjoyed the very fresh sushi and other fishy foods, seaweeds algae etc. all of which has been very good.

Stayed at an onsen Ryokan called Tenseien, very interesting, nude Japanese bathing is okay after all, enjoyed it. They had a very lovely garden with a large waterfall and koi ponds. The whole Hakone area is a huge tourist region with many hot spring hotels as the Japanese have since ancient times been into steamy soaking in the mineral baths for the health.

Saw Mt Fuji, rode a cable car to ride a “pirate” ship, noodle curry and a fish soup lunch by the lake, then bussed through the mountains to Hakone and went to a fabulous outdoor art sculpture gallery, modern sculpture both Japanese and some Henry Moore, Calder, many others, look it up. It also included a Picasso museum.

Gorgeous scenery everywhere, nice temps in mid 50s, clear beautiful weather, very clean and the Japanese have a beautiful aesthetic, everything is just so and very pleasing to the eye. I have yet to see a cat anywhere out and about, but some of the ship people went to a cat cafe and enjoyed it. 

I am sore all over from hiking up to see the sulfur springs and view of Mt. Fuji which was very impressive.

It was interesting to see all of the plants growing wild in the mountains that we all grow in our yards as purchased shrubs, grasses, etc. Bamboo, azaleas, pieris japonica, rhododendrons, etc and saw a gigantic Japanese dogwood tree. They do a lot of gorgeous things with rocks everywhere, city and countryside. There are camellias blooming now, daffodils, hellebores, we saw rice fields being planted.

Now on to Kobe port – Kyoto and Nara temples and sights, and a half-day trip up into the hills for a naked (gender separated) soak in another hot springs, this one at Arima. What a wonderful tradition.

Who are these people? Routines #1

From Philip (Ho Chi Minh city, 9:45 pm Sunday 16th Feb, 2015)
Who are these people? What’s in a name?
I recall our good librarian friend and fellow Semester at Sea Librarian, Warner, saying he set a goal before one of his voyages – I will meet, learn, and get to know a new person each day for the next 100 days.

Ahh, if it were that simple, or is it?

What are the top 50 people you know right now or have gotten to know in your life in the last 2 months?

How would you list them? How do you remember their names? Who are the new people you have met in the last 2 months?

In the following lists and names – do NOT be miffed if I do not mention you in person.  But let me know if you want me to know you – tell me your name.

Well, there are our student library assistants with fellow librarian Jonathan - Jennifer, Raisa, Graham, Andrew, Dan, Rachel, Schyler, Brittna, Maya, Joanna, etc.

The "Rulers" – Mark and Bob, Layne, Annaia. IT and AV persons – Raresh, Jig, etc.

The helpers, waiters – Darwin; cabin steward - Sotero

The faculty – John, Lili, Michelle, Ernst, Jim and Jim, and Ernst, Jens, Daphne, etc 

And others – Talon, Brian, Erin, Emma, whom I’ve recently met.

And even others – John K (brainteasers),

Then there are Facebook friends Nadeem, Bill K, David S, Helen A, Betty C, Ginny, Ben, Woody, Beth, Todd, Ted, Cathy, Iris, Vance, etc.

Who are also some of my relatives – Betty, Tim, Julie, Art, Jeanne, Arlene, 

Or who are classmates – Liz, Jackson, Gil, Maudie,

Or others who are non-Facebook – Edith, Jonathan,

And so it goes, one of the many voyage routines – what fun, getting to know you, getting to know new people, some for life, some for just this voyage, some for a few weeks  ...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

We are here (there)

From Philip 

Check on the above web site to see wherever Deej and Philip are on the MV Explorer, night and day - wave or yell hello to us, or add a comment below.

Just a brief note, on our way to Kobe from Yokohama, after our first sit-down waiter-served dinner, and while Invectus is showing in the Union (started at 9 pm - which I was phoned up from my cabin at 8:43 pm to unlock the Library cabinets, find, and deliver from the Library to the AV crew man).  Others wanted Bend it like Beckman. What would you have choosen for tonight's special showing?