Talks on Board

This morning we are still at sea but there was the opportunity to listen to a great talk on “Visual Narrative” by National Geographic photographer, Jay Dickman (see photo).  Almost every day one of the photographers gives a talk or an opportunity to ask questions and learn….  We also have so many other talented, enthusiastic guides with us… an undersea diver, geologist, vertebrate & invertebrate biologists, archaeologist, ornithologist, geologist, botanist and more.  There are presentations/classes pretty much every morning and every evening.  (This is no luxury cruise!) Yesterday afternoon there was a mandatory safety talk ’cause, apparently, staying away from Polar Bears is no joke.  All the hike leaders will be carrying firearms and flares just in case.  No shit, Sherlock (as my sister used to say).

Jay Dickman

Dominica (last port!)

Our last port (Monday) was Dominica (pronounced Dom-in-eek-ah). At Dominica the Explorer had to drop anchor off shore and tenders (small life boats) were used to transport us from the ship to the shore. Dominica doesn’t have a port to speak of and the bigger cruise lines get preference in using their minimal docking facilities so we got to have the experience of “tendering”. I’ve included some pics below of the ship’s tenders. They look small but each once can actually accommodate 80 passengers.

In Dominica our group went whale-watching. Although as it turned out there were no whales to watch on that particular morning, so it was really just a couple of hours out in a very nice small boat trying our hardest to spot a Sperm Whale’s spout (or pilot whale, or Minke whale or anything!!)… but, alas… no luck!

When we got back to shore Lois and I walked around the port town of Roseau which has lots of narrow, busy streets that seem to contain a pretty even mixture of local life and tourist-focused enterprises.

Although our time in Dominica was short this is an island I’d really like to return to. I would especially like to visit the interior rain forests that are shrouded in low-lying clouds most of the time… you will see them in the photos below. I’ve heard some nice stories about the many beautiful spots around the island but our short stay didn’t really give us a chance to do a lot of exploring outside of Roseau.

This being our last port certainly brings up mixed feelings. I am so excited to get home and see my family, friends and 4-leggeds but this has been a truly wonderful adventure and so, of course, it’s also sad to see it end… say goodbye to the ship and the sea (for now), not to mention all the fascinating and infuriating people I have met… just like life, isn’t it?

beautiful Dominica!!

a tender at the gangway

market in Roseau


sunset as we depart Dominica

Brown Boobies!

This morning I had the wonderful opportunity to stand on the ship’s deck and watch 4 Brown Boobies fly and dive and swoop and soar along with the ship. They flew along the starboard (right) side of the ship for a looooong time… maybe close to 2 hours. It seems that the ship stirs up these little flying fish that pop out of the water and skitter across the surface and the boobies dive after them… sometimes they literally dive-bomb straight down into the sea beak first… then they surface, float along for a few seconds and take off again… It’s really something to see.

Not being much of a photographer I’m super happy that I got a half dozen pictures that are pretty good… I wasn’t really able to capture the diving but you can use your imagination… enjoy!

Bridgetown, Barbados

We arrived at Barbados early morning yesterday (1/8) and the first thing I noticed was that Barbados is a very flat island, unlike many of the others we’ve seen that are quite mountainous (formed by volcanoes). So, at first glance Barbados isn’t quite as pretty to look at.

I decided again to go out on my own rather than going on the planned excursion. Basically my thinking was that since I hadn’t yet actually spent time on a beach or gone swimming this would be my last chance. So, I took a taxi to Carlisle Beach which is just south (about 10 min.) of Bridgetown where the port is. Since it was Sunday most of the shops in town were closed so it was pretty quiet.

My beach experience was mixed… it was a beautiful white sand beach with turquoise blue water at the perfect temperature… what could be better? It was also basically a touristy beach with lots of reclining chairs and umbrellas for rent and folks selling stuff everywhere… including guys who walk up and down the beach selling jewelry. Nevertheless having a chance to swim in the Caribbean on January 9th was a wonderful experience

As you might imagine the sun in Barbados is super-strong and hot so 2 hours on the beach was plenty for me. After that I went back to the ship for lunch and then spent a couple of hours in the Port terminal (it’s gigantic)using their wifi to get a bunch of work done which was fantastic. After almost 3 weeks of the extremely slow and expensive satellite connection on the ship it was a treat

Certainly there’s lots more to see in Barbados but that was my 1-day experience. We set sail around 7 last night… on our way to Dominica (pronounced Dom-en-eek-ah)… our last port!

docked at the Barbados port

two other (bigger) ships in port with us

quiet streets on a Sunday

I love palm trees!

the Barbados port building

departing Barbados with a full moon!

Port of Spain, Trinidad

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Today (yesterday) I decided to skip the group trip and go out on my own. After 3 days on the ship the thought of getting on to a bus was not particularly appealing to me. So, I left the ship and walked out through the port with the full intention of simply ploughing my way through the usual wall of tour operators and taxi drivers who vie for your business and out into the street. And I almost got through the gate when I was approached by a smiling and soft-spoken taxi driver named Ignatius. And, to make a long story short I decided a short ride with Ignatius wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all… which it wasn’t. He ended up driving me around for about 3 hours (at a very reasonable rate) and I had a wonderful time learning about the island and about him. In addition to the usual places I would imagine he takes his passengers we also rode by one of the many Hindu Temples in Trinidad. In the interest of a balanced experience Ignatius drove me through both a pretty upscale neighborhood and a fairly poor neighborhood as well as out along the coast road and up on the hills behind Port of Spain so I could see the view. One of the highlights was stopping at a local Indian place to get a Roti: a Trinidad-inspired version of the East Indian dish. it was delicious… filled with a mix of vegetables and spices and wrapped in a pancake of sorts.

At the end of our driving tour Ignatius kindly dropped me off in the Port of Spain shopping & business district where I walked up and down a few streets before heading back to the ship. I can’t say that walking around by myself felt particularly safe and most of the shops seemed to sell pretty westernized items along with a sprinkle of East Indian trinkets (incense; salwar kameezes, statues) and of course T-shirts and various touristy items. I have been wanting to find something to bring home to Hari so looked at a few Tropical-looking shirts… but when I turned the tag over on one I liked it said, “Macy’s” OMG… that was the end of my shopping day. But I did buy some Indian spices (Trinidad-style) and chocolate (apparently Trinidad is an award-winning chocolate producer).

There were many other things I would have liked to see on Trinidad but with only 1 day in port this was about all I could do… my Dad always wanted to see Trinidad because of it’s abundance of birds (over 400 species)… but he never made it.

arriving at Trinidad

at the port in Port of Spain, Trinidad

a view from the mountains North of the City

Roti shop

coconut wagon

Port of Spain Performing Arts Center

Lois on the ship's gangway

Next… Barbados (stay tuned!)

More Beautiful Images From Lois!

Here are some more of Lois’ wonderful photos. She generally takes more than twice as many as I do on any given day so sorting through them and deciding on just a choice few to share here is quite a job… here are her choices for today. Most of these are from our 2nd day in Manaus, Brazil (from the same excursion as my “Manaus, Brazil (Day 2) post). I hope that you enjoy these and get just a little feel for the experience.

on the river

a floating restaurant

Manaus, Brazil (Day 2)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The day started a little earlier than usual as we were getting on a smaller boat to take a day trip up the Rio Negro ( a tributary) to both an Indian Village and the Amazonia Eco Lodge where we had lunch.

The trip up the river and back was the best part of the day IMHO… just getting to experience some of the diverse “looks” of the river.  In some places it is quite beachy and they even bring in white sand to create a nice place to swim.  (the sand, however, gets wiped out every year during the rainy season and has to be brought in again when the river recedes).  In other places it is extremely remote and is all jungle lining the banks right up to the water.   Then there are areas that look more like wetlands complete with wading birds.  Certainly the Amazon is full of surprises… every extreme… from  remote jungle to cell towers and high-rises…

Our outing today included the opportunity to experience some dancing rituals by a group of Brazilian Indians (I don’t know which group(s) they represent) and lunch at an Eco-Lodge… followed by an extremely realistic display of a rainy season downpour 🙂

When we got back to our ship at about 4 PM one of the group leaders (Emma) and I headed out into the market place that is nearest the dock.  We only had an hour ’til all-aboard but we were both fast walkers and covered a lot of ground in a short time.  We saw vendors selling the whole range of items geared for tourists (like crafts and T-shirts) plus car parts, kitchen items, clothes and pretty much anything you could ever need.  If I’d had more space in my suitcase I would have bought a couple of the gorgeous hand-made baskets but I settled for taking photos instead.

floating gas station

floating hotel

along the river

Indian's dancing demonstration

Eco Park

toad guy 🙂

in the marketplace

city bus in Manaus

good-bye Manaus

Manaus, Brazil (day 1)

Monday, January 2, 2012 – Manaus (Day 1)

We arrived in Manaus about an hour or so later than scheduled so our day got a little crunched.  This was, I think, the first time our ship has not been perfectly on time, which is, in my opinion, pretty amazing given the huge distances we are covering.

We went on a little tour of the City of Manaus which was interesting but a little rushed… the best part of it was walking through the market place.  I had never seen so many mangoes, papayas, bananas, watermelons and about 100 kinds of fruits and vegetables that I could not even identify… then there was the fish market too.  I have heard that the Amazon supports 2000 species of fish (I also heard 3000 but who knows what’s true?)… either way, it’s a lot!  The marketplace was super colorful but I could have strolled around there all day enjoying the sights and sounds… as it was we only spent about 20 minutes.  Because of our late arrival our trip around the City was pretty rushed since, so really we just glimpsed the City.  But that’s ok.

Rainy season is just beginning in this part of Brazil and today we had a little taste of what that is like tho’ probably nothing compared to what it’s like when it really kicks in.  At the Manaus dock there is a huge metal plaque that notes how high the river rose in different years… as I recall in 2009 it rose way up to street level which is many meters (5 or 6) above where it is today.  The up side as far as I am concerned is that it is warm here… so despite the rain it’s still in the mid 80’s.  Oh, and did I mention that we crossed the equator? … we are now in the Southern Hemisphere (by a degree or 2).

Another really interesting thing about this place is that it is, apparently, doing quite well economically.  There is a lot of new building and we also learned that many western countries have factories here: Harley Davidson and Lego (yes, the building blocks) to name a couple.  One of the attractions is that it is duty-free so, as I understand, it that makes it quite inexpensive to ship parts in and finished products out.  There was actually a lego model of the Amazonia Opera House in the Opera House entry way… can you imagine?

at the market

Manaus port

Amazonia Opera House

Opera House model in Legos

bug of the day

Santorem, Brazil

Yesterday we spent the day in Santorem, Brazil… a city of somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 million (I’ve heard differing estimates) on the banks of the Amazon river.  I went out with a group of out 25 onto a smaller boat where we travelled out into the river and up a smaller inlet of the river (much narrower than the river itself).  We briefly glimpsed the 2 fresh water dolphin species: grey and pink plus tons of birds: kingfishers, turkey vultures, egrets, herons, terns and a ton more.

Life along the river ranged everywhere from full-out city living in Santorem to tiny fishing shacks built up on stilts to, hopefully, withstand the rainy season which is just beginning now.  There are a lot of islands in the river and, apparently, cattle and horses are dropped off on the islands to graze during the dry part of the year but are then picked up and brought back over to the mainland before the islands become completely submerged during the wet time of year.

Our tour guide yesterday, Anna, was extraordinary… briefly, she is a young woman (30ish?) originally from East Germany who is living in a small village outside of Santorem.  She has a little house she built (no walls), has no electricity, grows a lot of her own food, drinks the water from a nearby creek, has a composting toilet and a solar panel and is trying to live as close to fully independently from the grid as she can.  She told me that she lived in “paradise”.  I love just knowing that there are people in the world who are dropping out and creating their own simple, happy life in this way.

I enjoyed our relatively slow-paced excursion yesterday and took lots of photos (well, I took about 140 but when I downloaded Lois’ pics from the same trip – but a different boat – she had close to 800!)

We departed Santorem at about 5 yesterday afternoon and will arrive in Manaus at about noon today.  Traveling on the muddy Amazon is much smoother than in the open ocean and we can see the shoreline from the ship most of the time… sometimes far, far, in the distance and other times pretty close up.  Lots of little villages and boats pass us all the time and if we are close enough there is a lot of waving.

Lots of bugs of all sorts have found their way to the ship and we see them on the decks and windows.  Some of them are remarkable colors and textures… some look vaguely familiar (like grasshoppers and crickets) but many are quite exotic-looking and intriguing.  Lois has tons of photos of them that I will try to share with you a little further down the road.

Well, Happy New Year, everyone!   We will be docking in Manaus in a couple of hours and will be there for about a day and a half…  After Manaus we start back and, although I am not quite as homesick as I was for the first few days I have to admit I am looking forward to getting home!

buggy visitors

Meeting of the Rivers: The Amazon and The Tapajos

The MV Explorer docked at Santorem

More photos for you!

My friend and traveling partner, Lois, is a really good photographer and she certainly takes it a lot more seriously than I do. I’ve probably taken 250 pics so far and I think she is well over 800. Yesterday we downloaded her photos from the first half of our trip (pre-Amazon) onto my laptop and she chose a handful of her favorites for me to share here. I hope that you enjoy them!


a nearby ship

Puerto Rico:

St. Kitts: