Saturday, April 27, 2013

Travel Blogging XII

Safaga, Egypt: Today almost everyone is ashore, everyone that is except the DrsC. For us today the Legend of the Seas is our more-or-less private superyacht whose crew exists to meet our every whim. Ah, the decadence, the luxury.

Most passengers have gone to Luxor, a place we've already been. So here we sit enjoying the quiet and the room, sharing with almost no one. Bliss....

Yesterday. We did the same thing in Aqaba, Jordan. From there passengers were headed to Petra wadi or Wadi Rum. Petra you remember from Indiana Jones III (the search for the Holy Grail). We've seen Petra and it is worth the fatigue and dirt - truly an amazing place, but so tiring as the only way to get there is on foot over unimproved trails with no shade.

Aqaba is a fascinating port, within a very few miles the territories of four nations come together: Jordan, of course, plus the Israeli city of Eilat. Then further down on the Israeli side is Egypt, and similarly on the Jordanian side is Saudi Arabia. All of this within a very few miles.

Looking at a map, it is apparent that both Israel and Jordan "reached" down to grab a port on waters connected to the Indian Ocean, and got away with it. Some of the "reaching" may have happened when the colonial powers were carving up the former Ottoman Empire, at the end of World War I.

As I look around Safaga it is clear this is a ferry port taking people and vehicles back and forth to Saudi Arabia. Some of this traffic is associated with the Hadj pilgrimage of the Muslim faith, which requires believers to worship in Mecca and Medina.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Editorial Note

While traveling, input such as the one below are difficult and hence rare. The DrsC are literally on a round-the-world trip: auto-air-ship-air-auto.

The ship portion takes the most time as it is the slowest of the three modes of travel, averaging around 18 mph. On the other hand, when it moves it continues around the clock, day after day, and the miles pile up.

If you would see a few photos of this trip, such are posted on the other DrC's blog at

Noonan Is Back

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan is back with a truly wonderful  insight about our last two presidents:
Mr. Obama was elected because he wasn't Bush.
Mr. Bush is popular now because he's not Obama.
The wheel turns, doesn't it?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Travel Blogging XI

The Arabian Sea: The only further "anti-piracy" news I have to report is that security personnel supposedly prowled the promenade deck all of last night. This comes under the heading of doing things just to look busy, I fear. What about radar? Can't we detect approaching craft using technological means?

Later ... We have just traversed the Bab el Mandeb, now we are in the Red Sea with Africa to our west and Asia to our east. Troubled Yemen with its al Qaida units on the east, Djibouti with a NATO base to our west ... around the fabled Horn of Africa.

Now we sail north toward Aqaba, Jordan, passing the coasts of Saudi Arabia and Eritrea. No pirates so far, none were expected but it didn't hurt to be careful. Amazingly calm seas the whole trip from Singapore.

In the old days, British sailing to colonial India would stop at Aden ... nobody stops there today. I suppose Dubai hopes to become the "midway" stop.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Travel Blogging X

Royal Caribbean International is taking seriously the threat of piracy in the seas off the Horn of Africa. Today we had a "Safe Haven" drill to practice what we are to do in the event of an armed attack on our ship, the Legend of the Seas

In that unlikely event we are to move from our windowed cabin into the windowLESS passageway outside our door. I presume passengers who are in public spaces will likewise be directed to indoor spaces without windows, like the theaters.

Clearly the goal is to protect passengers and crew from RPG shrapnel and small arms fire. From that I deduce RPI's strategy: ignore demands to surrender and take evasive action at speed while broadcasting a call for assistance. Sounds good to me.

We are also operating under a modified blackout after dark. We've been instructed to keep our cabin's blackout curtains closed and the dining room lights are dimmed. I don't believe the blackout is very complete, but we are a much less bright ship, for whatever that is worth.

The captain claims to know nothing about yesterday's jet fighter encounter, except to say such are common in these waters. Given that the U.S.Navy normally keeps two carrier groups in this region, "common" makes sense. I didn't get a good enough sighting of the plane to say for sure what model it was. It was a swing-wing design.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Travel Blogging IX

The Indian Ocean: We had an interesting experience this afternoon. We were buzzed by a fighter jet, down low and going like stink. A real Top Gun/Maverick experience.

I suspect it was a Navy carrier jet letting us know that we've got air cover, that's what I want it to have been. This isn't the best geopolitical neighborhood; having that plane do a fly-by is reassuring.

The sea here is absolutely flat, no waves, merely ripples. We glide along as smooth as anything. That jet blasting by really got our attention

Travel Blogging VIII

Strait of Hormuz, Persian Gulf: There is something about being in a world hot spot, like this one, that focuses the attention. It could be impending cataclysm, and a hope that it doesn't occur while we're here. This is a darned narrow waterway when the folks on one side say we're "the Great Satan." (N.B. That's a hard title to live down to.)

Tonight we have a letter from the captain outlining the steps we will take to avoid encounters with Somali pirates. The ship will undergo a modified blackout, to make us less visible, and the plan is to move pax away from windows and keep on steaming at top speed while taking evasive actions.

I'd like it better if there was some plan to shoot back, or run pirates down - offense is the best defense. There are two cruise ships making this run at the same time, our Legend of the Seas, and the Pacific Princess. I'd hope the U.S.Navy is keeping an eye on both. Neither ship is registered in the States but both firms operate from U.S. headquarters: RCI in Miami and Princess in Santa Clarita, CA.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Travel Blogging VII

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Yesterday was Muscat, Oman - boy, is that ever a bleak, dreary country. The head guy is spending money like crazy trying to make it into something before the oil runs out - supposedly in 25 years. Good luck with that.

This morning we sailed through the Strait of Hormuz, an event for which I actually got up early. There is a persistent haze that may consist of wind-borne dust, visibility is diminished out past a couple of miles. Nevertheless, one can see the outlines of both shorelines and a lot of ship traffic in the channel - it's a busy sea lane for sure.

We'll sail that strait again tomorrow early evening. This strait is where Iran would shut down sea traffic in the event of hostilities happening, say with Israel or the U.S. I wondered if we'd see any naval vessels here - not so far.

Tomorrow we take a look at Dubai. It appears to be a city on a sand spit, with a man-made harbor. We are told Dubai nearly went bankrupt a few years ago. The haze creates buttermilk sky conditions, makes the place look un appealing. More later....

Later ... the next day, actually. We had a cloudy day in Dubai, it actually sprinkled on us in the desert. Not real rain but enough to see spots on the pavement. So it wasn't hot, just warm.

We took the Big Bus Tour, the formal name of the hop-off, hop-on bus in Dubai. While costly, it is a good deal as it includes everything - museum entry, river cruise, park entry, etc. Almost anything you want to hop off and do is included, except perhaps shopping.

If you had a whole day to ride this bus you could do a bunch of stuff; maybe see the whole city. Of course, if you know you only want to do one particular thing, taking a cab and paying admission might well be cheaper, and quicker too.

Travel Blogging VI

Mumbai/Bombay, India: This is one impressive city, the Brits left the Indians a heck of a lot of grand Victorian architecture, executed in stone. If the Indians add nothing whatsoever for a century, it will still be a grand city.

Bombay is far and away the most impressive place we've seen in the Subcontinent. If I were to design an ideal tour of India for Westerners, it would be based on "monuments of Empire, plus the Taj Mahal," end of story. And Bombay would be the base camp from which we would foray.

Our tour yesterday ended with high tea at the Taj Mahal Hotel,a world class property. This is the hotel which was attacked by terrorists awhile ago. The security they've now installed equals that at an airport, no kidding.

Travel Blogging V

Goa,India: This former Portuguese colony has been a state of India since 1961 when the Portuguese bugged out. All the older Goanese speak Portuguese but it never appears on signage. Apparently Goa natives who can prove some Portuguese ancestry are eligible for Portuguese citizenship which gets them entry into the EU.

In yesterday's entry we mentioned English on signage; in Goa English is the first language on all signs, a few also feature Hindi, most do not. I have to wonder if the difference is that Goa has no British colonial history to overcome, they've overcome their Portuguese colonial history instead. This makes Goa more accessible to English-speaking travelers as business and road signs are clear. I'd guess it means the people of Goa speak better English too.

Roads in Goa are mostly 2 lane, and have little or no shoulder. Driving, they say here, requires three "goods," good brakes, good horn, and good luck. They do use their horns a lot. Nobody drives very fast, there aren't high speed roads.

Goa boasts of its beaches, and has beach resorts. Going in the sea off India seems like a bath in E. coli "soup" to me. In other words, un appealing. Still, it is a tourist destination.

The estuaries around Goa are moorings for many self powered iron ore carrying barges, and if today was any indication they are largely unemployed and left to rust. These same moorings are home to quite a few floating casinos, all idle in the middle of the day.

Travel Blogging IV

Mangalore, India: This is our second stop in India, our first was Cochin. Cochin is in Kerala state, a place with a Communist state government. Those who went ashore at both say Mangalore is much cleaner and more prosperous looking.

My reaction to Mangalore is that it looks much like most other Third World cities, and not toward the higher end of that "Third World" range either. Unlike Dakar, there were no groups of idle young men lurking on street corners; everybody seemed to have someplace he (or more rarely she) was going.

We are told the work day is short but a six day workweek seems to be standard. We see a number of labor-intensive practices that smack of "job creation" for it's own sake. It is not uncommon for a bus to have a driver and 1-2 other miscellaneous helpers whose roles are unclear, plus a guide who provides narration to the tour group.

Car ownership isn't yet common, using public transport is the norm. Tuk-tuk taxis are well patronized too. Scooters and light motorcycles are popular. Car ownership is the next step up the ladder of personal transport and will happen when people can afford it. Parking will be a challenge then. We've seen Chevrolet dealerships, Ford too.

One thing we always look for is the prevalence of English on billboards. In Mangalore all signage had Hindi, some also carried English.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Travel Blogging III

Colombo, Sri Lanka: A new country, one we never thought we'd reach. It is Asian, semi-poor but everybody seems to have things to attend to.

In other words, there aren't the crowds hanging out on street corners you see in Dakar, for instance. Crowds of idle, unemployed young men are almost always a threat.

There are remnants of the Dutch and British colonial eras, some quite pretty. However, I don't see what Sir Arthur C. Clark must have seen that caused him to choose to live here for most of his life.

The most common form of Transportation is the tuk-tuk. A three-wheel vehicle made from a motorcycle that functions as a two passenger-plus-driver taxi, particularly if the pax are small Asians. Go to to see pix. These were once common in Bangkok, not so much now. N

We were looking at the other DrC's pix, taken in Colombo (see and noticed that women were scarce on the streets. Certainly not nonexistent, but definitely scarce. Instead of common. Perhaps one person in thirty a woman.

I don't think many cruise ships come to Colombo, it appeared local media was aboard taking a tour. Colombo doesn't have a cruise terminal. It isn't clear Sri Lanka has enough features tourists want to see for it to become a major destination.

Tomorrow we are at sea and then India, which is probably poorer than Sri Lanka. Poor countries are a drag.

Travel Blogging II

Random thoughts from the Bay of Bengal: When we set out to book this trip it never occurred to us that it was a trip quite literally around the world, in just over thirty days. We'd covered most of the globe before but never did the proverbial circumnavigation. What a hoot!

Our next port is Colombo, Sri Lanka, which is the island formerly known as Ceylon. This, is one of those places I never thought I'd visit. Sri Lanka/Ceylon is a storied part of the legendary British Empire, how appropriate we sail in the Legend of the Seas.

About this ship, it's old but an elegant design, particularly its public spaces. The two story main dining room is particularly attractive. I also like the main theater. The "old" becomes obvious in lack of cabin amenities. Ours, for example, lacks a refrigerator - no place to put it.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Margaret Thatcher R.I.P.

We learn of the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, far and away the best prime minister Britain has had in the post World War II period. We write to celebrate her life and accomplishments, from a trans- Atlantic perspective.

What she did for Britain was turn it away from socialism, no small thing. She also tossed the Argentinians out of the Falklands. No other post-war PM accomplished so much or served so long. Britain would be fortunate to have another like her.

Come to think of it, the U.S. would too.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Travel Blogging I

Singapore: This is one of the most modern, attractive, organized cities anywhere. The streets are wide, the buildings are beautiful, the public spaces are excellent – Singapore is a knockout.

Located on the Equator, it is always warm and humid. I doubt if a coat would ever be needed. The plant life is verdant and the landscaping is tropical, of course.

The population is a heady mix of Malays, Chinese, Europeans, and Indians (the India variety, of course). And it is a “designer” city state, which makes it even more unique.

Singapore was an administrative center of the British Empire, because of its strategic location on the far southern tip of the Malay peninsula. Occupied by the Japanese during World War II, by the early sixties it was somewhat down at the heels.

It was at this point that location and architect came together. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew returned from Europe, and took in hand the project that would consume his life: making Singapore the richest, best-run city in Asia.

His time in Europe taught him what Europeans didn’t like about Asian cities – dirt, street crime, chaos, and their inability to read the street signs. If Mr. Lee could make Singapore a city Europeans liked, a place where they felt comfortable, they would come and bring money, lots of money.

So … Singapore is a place where the street signs are all in English, and maybe Mandarin too. The streets are safe and clean, just about everybody one meets speaks serviceable English, and the government simply doesn’t put up with hoodlum behavior – for example drug dealers are executed.

It may be the only place in the world where people want to live in government housing. Tenants in public housing who don’t keep up their flats are evicted. Singapore’s public housing is not viewed as warehousing for the poor and dysfunctional, as it so often is in other countries.

You will hear that human rights are not respected in Singapore. It may be true. On the other hand nobody is keeping people from leaving, and I would guess few do. Singapore has managed to avoid many of the things about our governments that drive us crazy. Its government operates for the benefit of productive citizens there, not primarily for the benefit of the dysfunctional.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Stockton's Woes

Everyone knows Stockton is bankrupt, literally. Now I read a news story that says nearly half of its residents do not speak English at home. Roughly a quarter speak poor English. Are these facts connected in any way ... who knows?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Gotterdammerung Waits

Former Congressman and Ronald Reagan's one-time budget director, David Stockman, thinks the U.S. economy is on a steep slide to oblivion. His opinion piece for The New York Times is seven kinds of pessimistic, but it's long. For a precis you can try this overview in American Thinker. Hat tip to for the link.

Is our economy less rosy than the stock market suggests, almost certainly. Is it as bad as Stockman believes, probably not. Articles that say the sky is falling are more likely to get printed, aren't they?

If you believe Stockman is correct, perhaps you should take DeCovnick's suggestion to become a survivalist.