Day 10 – Airlie Beach, a short day, we have to be back aboard ship by 4:30 pm for the run to Cairns, tomorrow's stop. Airlie Beach is a gorgeous little resort town, but very expensive. In fact, everything we've seen in Australia seems expensive.
We took a ride in a tour plane over the Great Barrier Reef, aka GBR.
It is immense, stretching about 1,450 miles along the northern part of Australia's west coast; and, from the air, absolutely spectacular. It is composed of small organisms similar to anemones who live their lives rooted to the bones of their forebears. In a much more complex way, we humans do much the same thing. Anyway, tomorrow, we get up-close and personal. We're going to do a little snorkeling around the GBR. Here's what part of the reef looks like from the air. We arrived home to the news that because of rapidly warming sea water, large parts of the reef are either dead or dying.
Day 11 – Cairnes, Australia. Up early. It's a 90-minute boat ride from our ship's anchorage out to the reef. Once there, suited up with fins, snorkel and more, we're ready. Laura jumped right in and swam off. She's a regular water babe. I'm next and - I just could not do it. I've snorkeled in situations where you walk down a beach into clear water, then swim out to view the sea life. No problem. But here? I'm getting a gag reflex from my snorkel's mouthpiece. Jumping off the back of a pitching boat into rough seas with that going on? Just not going to happen. I handed the camera to Laura and remained aboard. I got my look at the reef via a small glass-bottomed tender. Meanwhile, Laura got a bunch of really nice photos of the reef and its denizens. Of course she did! The photos show how close Laura was able to get to some of the sea life on the reef. The one on the right, shows, how shallow the water here is and how close to the surface the reef is.
It's amounted to a full day; we departed for the GBR at about 9 am and we're back on board by 4:15, under way by about 6 pm. In bed by 8!
Days 12 and 13 – At sea on the way to Darwin, our final Australian port of call. These sea days are great for relaxing, doing art, writing, soaking in the ship's many hot tubs, and for checking out the classes and lectures that are offered. Laura has attended several cooking classes. Today I plan to attend one on digital photography.
A truism about this trip, at least for me, is that we have crossed so many time zones, and also the international dateline, that it's tough to keep track of what time and day it is. For instance, today is Wednesday. I think. This morning we turned our clocks back half an hour. When did anyone ever do that?
Day 14 – Darwin. Were not spending any time at all in town. Instead, we're on a tour of the Territory Wildlife Park, located about an hour out of town. Interesting place constructed around habitat for the animals in residence. It's 92 degrees with 99.9-percent humidity, so while the park's many gorgeous birds are active, the wallabies definitely are not. Instead, they sprawl in the shade, carefully watching us watch them. A trio of dingoes came out to investigate us - perhaps because a keeper was tossing food items to them. Oh, and tonight, our clocks get set back by another 90 minutes. Crazy. A nice shot of an Australian pelican on the left and of a very lazy wallaby on the right.
One more thing – today we're tied up alongside a quay, rather than being anchored out in the bay. This makes getting to and from our shore excursion so much easier and faster.
Meanwhile, back in Redmond today, it's 51 and sunny, a gorgeous day. It might just be spring by the time we arrive back home in a little more than a week. Can't wait to get back to the glories of central Oregon!
Day 15 – And now this trip enters new waters, exotic waters. We're in the sea between Australia and Indonesia. It's another sea day, with the latest James Bond movie playing in the on-board theater this afternoon. We sit on our veranda pondering the power of this enormous vessel, plowing inexorably through this distant ocean at about 30 kph, no other vessels in sight, but in the distance, off our starboard side, the southern profile of East Timor. It's just us, the endless ocean, and the endless sky, very far removed from the ridiculous tumult in Washington D. C. and the affairs of arrogant, traitorous men. (The attorney general recusing himself from an investigation because he's guilty of the same things being investigated? Outrageous!) So far, we've sailed about 4,600 nautical miles. We'll sail about 6,000 miles before we're done.
Day 16 – Komodo Island. Today will be civilized, unless of course one of the dragons eats a cruise passenger. It will be civilized because instead of being ready to rock by 8 am, as has been the case with past shore excursions, we needn't be ready until 10:30. There is time for breakfast. Life is good. Komodo Island looked innocent enough on this gorgeous morning, but it is a very dangerous place.
We're up early to watch the rugged, very exotic islands that comprise Indonesia – 17,000 of them – slide by as the ship heads toward today's anchorage. We watch as electrical storms light up the clouds above the islands. The message in those flashes of light seems to be, "Tread carefully here."
Not far from us are such places as Sumatra and Borneo. When we were kids, my pals, the Duryee brothers, and I were fascinated by stories about Borneo's fabled head hunters. But no Borneo for us now. Today it's Komodo. And dragons. We're not in central Oregon anymore.
Again it is very hot, the mid 80s, with humidity at 99.9 percent. The island, like those surrounding it, is a verdant green, with a necklace of gorgeous beaches. I like the irony that we've come from a place called Darwin to a place that figures so strongly in the study of evolution.
This place is a national park and a World Heritage Site. These creatures, which are found only on Komodo and four other islands here, total about 5,000 individuals, live for up to 50 years, weigh up to 600 pounds, and are up to 10 feet in length. They are protected. I think it's us who need to be protected from them, but that's just me. We're told to wear no red and to have no open wounds. These things see colors, are said to be poisonous, and are bloodthirsty. As long as we all are issued automatic weapons, grenades, rocket launchers for use during our visit, we should be OK. Our guide took us to a pod of about a half dozen Komodo dragons and kept us well back. We needed no urging to stay clear away from these nasty things. The creature in the second photo was hissing loudly at us. All the warning I required!
And we were careful. The last time the dragons ate a tourist was in 1973, some Swiss traveler who got careless. The guide said all that was found was his camera. Probably had teeth marks on it. But since then, the ugly bastards also have eaten seven locals. Not good, not good at all. Seriously, these are very poor people and do not need the grief.
Our visit consisted of a walk of about 2 kilometers, during which we saw a gaggle of six dragons resting in shady spot, waiting for an unsuspecting Timor deer, rabbit, or human to stumble through for lunch. We escaped the honor. So to, for now, did the deer and wild pigs we saw on our walk.
Interesting habitat – deep tropical jungle, exotic bird calls, the whole deal. And at the end of our walk, a large shopping bizarre set up by the locals who are hungry for income of any kind. All in all, a day very well spent.
Day 17 – Bali. An interesting day. Anchored far out in the harbor, we get a whiff of the place - smoke from cooking fires and from the fires used to burn rubbish. It's not at all unpleasant.
We joined an excursion titled "Bali Terraces and Ulan Danu Temple." And that's what we saw, acres and acres of terraced rice paddies and beautiful Hindu temple far up in the mountains. Doing all this required five hours aboard a bus for a 30-minute temple visit, however, so this is not something I would recommend. Bali's rice paddies are small in size and tended by hand.
From what I could tell, Bali does indeed possess some gorgeous scenery. But it also possesses grinding poverty and excruciating overpopulation, a main city that is as busy and frenzied as an ant hill, with a lack of critical infrastructure just to make things interesting. The traffic here was the most amazing I've seen anywhere, with few traffic controls, people putting their lives in jeopardy to turn left or right, to cross the road - indeed, to do anything at all except perhaps follow the vehicle directly in front of them.
There are plenty of cars, trucks and buses here, but the vehicle of choice seems to be the motor scooter. They are everywhere, and very often are used as trucks and family transport. We saw a guy riding along carrying four big sacks of stuff - one behind him, one on the handlebars, one on his lap and one down on the floor boards. We also saw many scooters carrying entire families - mom, dad, little kids. Yes, up to four people per scooter. Often the adults were helmeted, but not so the children.
The scooters are slow and the roads exceedingly narrow, with homes and shops built right out to its edge, and with cars parked halfway into the driving lane. Yet faster traffic regularly passes slower traffic. An oncoming vehicle? No worries! Maybe we'll be lucky, maybe it will stop before we collide with it. Kinda operated like a weird, barely contained anarchy. You wonder what the traffic death toll is here? About 20,000 motorcyclists meet their fatal doom every year, according to one of our guides. Shocking.
The rice paddies were in various stages – some newly planted, some ready for harvest, all of them very small, nothing at all like the industrial rice farming we see along Interstate 5 in Northern California. No tractors to do the plowing, either. The farmers here use small, attractive cattle for that. Or so we were told by a farmer whose home we briefly visited. The place was very well kept, but I had to wonder about the proximity of the toilet facilities to the well. Oh, and since this country largely is Hindu, those cattle are for work only. They are not a food source. The home of a local farmer was clean and well-kept, but as you can see from a look at the family kitchen, primitive, relative to the way we live.
Ulan Danu Temple, our second stop, is a gorgeous place. It is a major Shivaite and water temple. Not many structures, but a lot of nicely maintained parkland located on the shores of Lake Bratan in the mountains near Bedugul.
It's a large, open campus, very well kept but very crowded with tourists, on the shore of a large lake high up up in Bali's hills. Dating from 1633, it presents an opportunity to meditate, to appreciate the architecture and scenic beauty, or, once outside the temple grounds, to do a brief bit of shopping. The temple at Ulan Danu is an expensive, well-kept place. The photo on the right shows just a small, beautiful part of it.
All in all, we were glad to get back aboard the ship, especially because this was yet another port in which we were not tied up alongside and instead used the ship's tenders to get to and from shore. This can be very uncomfortable, as it was today, for the ride to and from was long, the day was very hot, and the tenders completely unventilated. It was surprising that none of the older people with us – and they are many – suffered heat stroke. Getting back to our cabin and cranking up the AC was a very good thing. Getting my paws wrapped around a cold beer was an even better thing. Next, part three!