Friday Morning – March 30th. After dinner last evening, we joined several couples on the top deck by the aft pool for conversation & drinks prior to our 11pm departure. The tables were being cleaned from the air pollution (soot from nearby ships unloading coal) so we didn’t stay long – the air was difficult to breath as well. The crew completed installing razor wire around the ship a few hours ago. A total of 1,769 feet was installed for the trip across the Arabian Sea. For those interested & as published by the Navigator…” the Arabian Sea is a region of the Indian Ocean bounded on the east by India, on the north by Pakistan & Iran, on the west by the Arabian Peninsula, on the south by a line between Cape Guardafui, the northeast point of Somalia, Socotra, Cape Comorin in India, and the western coast of Sri Lanka. The sea surface is 1,491,130 square miles, maximum depth is 15,262 feet”. These updates from the Navigator are much appreciated & very educational. We were back in our cabin by 10:30pm and watched from the bedroom as the lights of Bombay faded away. Bright sunny morning today & the stagnant, polluted air we’ve been cloaked in for several days is barely visible behind the ship!

Safaga, Egypt

Saturday – March 31st. Uneventful day at sea - Formal night. Cheryl’s wearing a silk gown purchased in Vietnam for (I believe) $15. It was either $15 or 25 – either way - very inexpensive and exceptional quality. We returned to our cabin right after dinner and elected not to go to the 8pm show – it was opera night, and neither of us are fans. Had been feeling a little suspect all day – took my temp before bed and sure enough, 101. Will need to call the clinic in the morning.

Sunday – April 1st. Still 101 early this morning – phoned clinic, the MD not on duty until 10am. My previous doctor is off today - darn – what a wonderful lady – we really hit it off well, so much so that I gave her and her husband a bottle of wine I picked up in Chile. Doorbell rang at 10:30am – my original MD! Said she was notified I’d gone backward and wanted to see me herself – how very thoughtful. No fever at that point – put back on the same antibiotics that worked so well before. I told her if she could get me well before Egypt, I’d give her our last bottle of Chile wine – if not, she gets a bottle of water! She’ll call tomorrow morning – cabin visits are a little spendy. Layed in a lounge chair on our deck most of the day – as always, Cheryl brought me everything I could possibly need/want! Hadn’t seen a ship of any kind since leaving Bombay until this afternoon – then we started seeing convoys of cargo ships. The Captain told us the closer you get to Somalia, the more frequent you see groups of ships (cargo vessels) traveling together for protection. He again reassured everyone we are safe according to his reports – no unusual activity in the area. Entering the Red Sea this evening – Egypt is still 3 days away.

Monday – April 2nd. Feeling pretty good this morning – no temp, which means I’m not isolated – still hacking. There’s a respiratory bug floating around – we’ve run into people who can’t even talk. It’s very selfish – folks won’t go see the doctor because they don’t want to be isolated & miss anything. Then they get on these tour buses sneezing & coughing – the air is of course recirculated infecting several others. We have an engine room tour scheduled for 10:30 this morning. In all our years of cruising, we’ve never been offered a tour of the engine room, so we’re very much looking forward to that! UPDATE: Received a call around 10am - engine room tour moved one day because they don't want guests down there as we transit this area - understandable. My MD made a "cabin-call" before lunch - nice surprise - says she may want to give me a mask to wear in Egypt - reason...we have a 6-hour bus trip from Safaga to Luxor when we go visit the Valley of the Kings, & doesn't think breathing on the bus for that long will be healthy for me. I really DON'T want to wear one of those rediculous -looking cone masks, but since she and her husband will be on the same trip, I'll get busted if I don't wear it!! Just have to think positive & hope for the best. Balance of the day very quiet - we avoided groups of people today just in case - we had a quiet dinner last night out back in the fresh air by the pool - everyone else was eating in the dining room. Very pleasant weather, although you can tell we're approaching Arizona style patterns...hot & dry during the day, nice and cool at night - love it!  

Tuesday - April 3rd. Feeling better. I ran into the Internet Manager yesterday who told me our satellite would be overhead between 3:30 & 4:00am. Got up early and sure enough, GREAT connection, so I uploaded a few dozen new photos from the Antarctic, Falkland Islands & Easter Island - please check them out - I'd forgotton just how beautiful & magnificant the Antarctic was!  

UPDATE: All parents are proud of their children, & justifiably so. First daughter Jennifer has been a registered nurse approaching 10 years, second daughter Renee, an operations & marketing specialist with Lowe’s Home Improvement. Oldest son Christopher, a professional Rigger for concerts & sports events, & youngest son Bryan, a professional parachutist & HVAC Tech. Middle son Brendon took a part-time contract job with Black & Decker in their Charlotte warehouse about 5 years ago, which eventually turned into a full-time position. The past few years he’s been working 8-12 hours a day, 6 days a week. He gave us a tour of their massive facility last summer and there wasn’t a question I asked that he didn’t have the answer to. He understood every aspect of warehouse operations and I remember telling him that with his knowledge and positive work attitude, he’d be running the place someday. We just learned today that he and 11 others went through 3 interviews for one of the top positions, and he was selected for the promotion! Brendon’s now in charge of logistics & transportation for not only the Charlotte facility but also their warehouse in California. He no longer works on the floor but instead, now has his own office. At 23, he’s one of the youngest managers in the history of the company – how awesome is that!!?? Brendon, we’re so very proud of your progress & promotion! He & Brittany also have some exciting personal news, but they’ll share that with the rest of the family in the near future.

2013 Grand World Voyage

Ok…we’re hooked. Yesterday, the itinerary for the 2013 World Voyage was published and distributed. It’s 3 days longer (115 days) and covers a little more distance, approximately 41,000 miles. The trip next year covers many places we didn’t visit this year: It hits the west coast of South America, New Zealand, the southern & western coasts of Australia, & the big selling point for us, Africa & an African safari. It also revisits many of the places we enjoyed this year, such as Sydney & Singapore. It DOES NOT return to India, though we have no regrets about our visit this year – that’s part of the overall experience and we’re very grateful we were able to visit. Long story short, we booked the trip! It leaves Ft. Lauderdale on January 5, returning early May – same ship – we requested and got a different suite on the same floor, about 10 cabins up the hallway. Reason - our current room has a whirlpool tub which we don’t use – I didn’t realize we are paying extra for this amenity – all we need is a shower! We only have two regrets about the trip next year. One, it takes time away from family, and two, it takes time away from the Blue Stars Drum & Bugle Corps, the non-profit musical organization I’m now a part of. There’s so much I want to do in terms of securing corporate sponsorships, etc., I’ll just need to work twice as hard between May & December this year.

One thing I forgot to mention about yesterday…many folks have been paranoid about pirates, particularly since adding guards & razor-wire. Late afternoon as we entered the Red Sea, a couple of very small boats could be seen off the left (port) side of the ship, probably a half-mile out – so pretty close. I was laying outside our cabin just resting, and I could feel this surge of people moving to the port side and when I got up and leaned over the railing, there were probably 600 people with binoculars gawking at these two vessels…which turned out to be nothing more than little fishing boats from a nearby village – quite comical! We probably scared those poor fishermen to death! So as I mentioned, we entered the Red Sea late afternoon. There are several theories as to why it is called the Red Sea. One explanation is because it borders the Egyptian Desert, which the ancient Egyptians called the Dashret or “red land”; therefore it would have been the sea of the red land. The other explanation revolves around the seasonal bloom of red-colored algae. Either way – it’s blue today – very narrow & shallow. You can monitor the sea depth on TV (navigational channel) – just before entering, we were fluctuating between 12,000 & 14,500 feet – once we entered the Red Sea we have been as shallow as 37 feet! Raised Catholic and believing as I do, one can’t help but reflect on the parting of the Red Sea – you look out over this expansive body of water and just wonder what it was like…ahhh, our first battleship! I just looked up from the desk and glanced out the window – a gray/white battleship – Cheryl grabbed the binoculars – no flag on it – just “P831” on the hull. Must be friendly!! Gorgeous morning – not a cloud in the sky, a slight chill in the air (like a Fall morning) and very calm seas.

Wednesday – April 4th. We arrive in Safaga, Egypt at 4pm this afternoon, and will be docked until 11pm tomorrow evening – so a full 31 hours. The engine room tour was rescheduled and took place yesterday morning at 10:30 – it lasted until Noon. There were 6 of us interested in this tour, and what an education! It started one deck below the crew quarters, so we were really in the bowls of the ship. You begin in the master control room, which looks like something from Star Trek with all of the dials & gauges. It was impeccably clean & well-organized, elements that always impress me. Our tour guide was the man in charge of 100+ technicians who keep the ship going – a rather young gentleman (early 30’s) from Bombay. Looking at his curiously young frame, I thought to myself, how can this “kid” possibly understand all of this? As I’ve learned, looks & age can be deceiving. This young man proved to be exceptionally bright & very personable. As I spoke with him, he outlined his special education in ship propulsion which spanned 7 years in India, & he sure demonstrated his expertise as the tour progressed. Once out of the control room, we went down to where the real action was – like another city! The engine room encompasses not only the massive units that physically propel the ship, but all of the peripheral equipment. The engine room is actually 3 floors, approximately 350 feet long and 108 feet wide – it’s HALF of the bottom of the ship – absolutely massive. It contains five huge generators, the water purification system, sewage collection units, incinerators, heating & air conditioning, water pressure, plus backup systems & replacement parts for just about anything imaginable. There aren’t floors by standard definition, but rather a series & maze of steel ladders, planks, etc., that wind in-between and around all the equipment. Parts of it are extremely hot, some areas have a strong odor of diesel & oil, but every place we went was very clean. Technicians in white overalls could be seen climbing all over the equipment just performing routine maintenance – very impressive. Sitting in the peace & tranquility of your cabin, you don’t imagine that there are dozens of workers below you sitting on those massive engines running 24 hours a day without incident. Great tour – a newfound respect for the folks underneath – hat’s off!

Still hacking this morning – a combination head & chest cold – Cheryl is perfectly fine – so surprised she hasn’t caught anything! Weather is quite chilly but typical with the desert, it’s sure to be very warm later this afternoon when we arrive in Safaga. Activity this morning – begin packing one of our 6 suitcases – we only have 24 more days – time to begin organizing!

We arrived in Safaga, Egypt as scheduled at 4pm – unfortunately, our berth was still occupied by a cargo ship unloading wheat, so we had to drop anchor in the bay. As the first few pictures below capture, sailing into Egypt was somewhat of a surprise for me. I expected totally flat terrain & barren desert. Instead, the coastline here is lined with tall, beautiful mountains – and the water colors unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life. The first few photos don’t begin to capture the beauty – EVERY possible shade of blue & green can be found in this port – just breathtaking! The other observation – hundreds of large jellyfish surrounding the ship after we dropped anchor – HUNDREDS of them – huge jellyfish! I don’t know yet if this is seasonal or occurs all year – I assume seasonal because of the water sports they advertise here – I’ll find out. We had dinner in the main dining room, and then went up to a deck party at the outside pool. We didn’t stay long because it was quite chilly (like a typical Arizona evening in the Spring after the sun sets) and just as we were leaving, the cargo ship who was occupying our berth set sail so we were able to dock at approximately 7:30pm. We were in bed by 8pm even though we had the option of leaving the ship at that point – very long day ahead of us. So I’m up at 3:30am expecting to catch our satellite again, but for some reason I can’t even get a connection. I decided to begin writing off-line, because I know I won’t have time for it later today – we leave here at 6:30am and won’t be back until almost 11:00pm – a long 16 hour day. When I woke, I went outside to take a look at the port because I fell asleep as soon as we hit the cabin last night. I hear a crowd – a large crowd – I look to my left and there on the pier just behind our ship is a gathering of residents, ALL wearing long robes & turbans – exactly what you would expect to see in Egypt. For a few moments, I actually thought I was dreaming – there was also some type of religious music or chant playing – a very eerie sort of music. I immediately woke Cheryl – I apologized for the wakeup at 3:30am, but felt she would want to see this gathering – and it’s probably between two & three thousand people! As I write this, I still have NO IDEA what all these people are doing at the pier this time of day – some have suitcases in wheelbarrows, some are carrying large white sacks suspended over their backs – it’s an orderly gathering, but unlike anything I’ve ever seen – more to come as I learn more! Maybe they’re waiting for a small ship going to a nearby island to work for the day?? That’s the only logical conclusion I can reach – UNLESS they plan to takeover the Amsterdam (our ship) later this morning!

Safaga is a small city in Egypt on the coast of the Red Sea. We learned it has several phosphate mines, and is regarded as one of the top phosphate export centers & marine ports connected by a regular cruise shuttle between Jordan & Saudi Arabia – that’s what the large crowd was all about on the pier. Surprisingly, Safaga is considered one of the most important therapeutic tourist centers, as special medical researchers have proven the potential of attracting international tourism to Safaga. The resort is reputable for its unpolluted atmosphere, black sand dunes and mineral springs which are purported to ease rheumatoid arthritis & psoriasis. Safaga has a small, but thriving tourism industry – beyond the pharaohs & tombs, they specialize in scuba diving here – many diving shops along the waterfront. Apparently & for many years, this was nothing but a merchant port – now it has long sandy beaches, but not very well kept. We’re told it’s a favorite sports destination, particularly windsurfing, and was the host of the Red Sea World Windsurfing back in ’93. The REAL reason for our stop, however…Safaga is the starting point for the journey to Luxor, & The Valley of the Kings. Although you can reach Luxor by plane, the most popular way is via cruise ship. Overall, Safaga is a crusty city – small, rectangular cement buildings, most in disrepair, line the streets with drying cloths suspended out of windows & rooftops. Our trip to Luxor consisted of 3 buses & 1 back-up coach. We are in bus #2. Each bus had an armed guard sitting in front next to the driver - they carry not simply pistols, but machine guns. We are to travel as a convoy. The road to Luxor is a 2-lane hiway, the majority of which is quite rough & riddled with potholes. About 25 miles outside of Safaga, a passenger in bus #1 takes ill – she is loaded on the back-up bus and returned to the ship. We continue on. There are checkpoints every 10 – 15 miles, manned by several armed guards. From Safaga on the coast, you pass through a mountain range and emerge into the desert. Nearly 4 hours later, you begin to see a second mountain range and the beginnings of civilization. Luxor is now on the horizon. Our first stop is on the east bank where we visited the Luxor Temple, which was once connected to the Karnak Temple via the Avenue of Human-Headed Sphinxes, Amazingly, this avenue of sphinxes is right in the middle of the city. After discovery, the city itself was built around the ruins to preserve it. Amazing – McDonald’s on one side of the street, ancient history on the other! Words cannot begin to describe the tall columns – the graphic hieroglyphics –& the colors – hopefully the pictures below give you a sense of the size & ancient beauty of these ruins. After touring this area, it was time for lunch – Holland America made arrangements for a buffet at a very nice resort hotel on the Nile River. After lunch, Cheryl and I went down to the riverbank for a close look at this historic body of water and found to our dismay, tons of pollution! We couldn’t believe that the residents of Luxor would dump their garbage in such a historic river but as the day progressed, it only got worse – more on that later. We left the hotel and headed for the Valley of the Kings, the city of the dead where 62 magnificent tombs have been discovered. They say that potentially hundreds of these tombs exist but again, 62 discovered to date. This mountainside was used for burials from roughly 1530 – 1075 BC, Some of these tombs, carved into the desert mountainside, are 1 – 2 city blocks deep, are intricately painted with mineral and stone dyes which amazingly have maintained most of their color after all these centuries. The hieroglyphics are carved into every inch of both walls & the ceilings. They say it took several years & dozens of laborers to complete each tomb. They almost look commercially manufactured (but are not, of course) and this is where the kings were/are buried with their treasures for use in the afterlife. Despite the name, Valley of the Kings also contains the tombs of favorite nobles as well as the wives & children of both nobles and pharaohs. We were able to explore 3 of these tombs – they alternate which tombs are open to the public because they say prolonged exposure to oxygen will begin destroying the intricate drawings & artwork – they regulate both pedestrian traffic and length of stay. Photographs are not allowed in any tomb. Each tomb is uniquely different – very humbling, & hauntingly beautiful. The weather was quite hot – a typical summer day in Phoenix, but the tombs were obviously very cool & refreshing. From the Valley of the Kings, we stopped at the Temple of Hatshepsut – a complex rising out of the desert in a series of brilliant white terraces. Hatshepsut was both a woman and a Pharaoh. She dressed like a man and even wore a false beard due to the considerable bias against ruling females during that era (1500 BC) – the temple is phenomenal, particularly given the surrounding mountainside. We also stopped by the Colossi of Memnon – two immense statues of Amenhotep III that guarded the entrance to Amenhotep’s great temple – JUST DISCOVERED & unearthed a few years ago! By now it was 4pm – the only tour remaining on our schedule was a light show at the Temple of Karnak – the world’s largest temple complex – scheduled to begin at 7pm. We went to a mall in downtown Luxor where we were given a couple hours to shop & relax. Similar to the hotel where we had lunch, we were all processed through metal detectors before entering. Good to know you’re safe, but rather unnerving with so many guns exposed and guards watching your every move. We boarded the busses around 6pm and the ship had made arrangements for box suppers – they take such good care of us! We headed for Karnak and our guide made sure we were positioned at the entrance of the complex a few minutes before the scheduled 7pm start – right at dusk. Again, the world’s largest temple complex – you take a very fascinating walking tour through the history of the temple, guided by the voices of the ancient pharaohs – ominous shadows playing off the enormous columns in the grand hypostyle hall with beautiful colored lights in sync – an unforgettable experience! Combined with local tourists, there were probably 200 people going through, but it was all very well controlled and you didn’t feel like you were in a large crowd. The 7pm show was in English – as we emerged at 8pm, the French version was about to begin – another large crowd was in line for that! Would we recommend Luxor? For the ancient history, a resounding YES! Given the opportunity – GO! It’s a phenomenal firsthand look! On the downside, two things to keep in mind. I mentioned the polluted Nile earlier – it’s not just polluted, it’s disgusting the way local residents have such disregard for it. The main Nile is not only polluted, but the main tributaries running through Luxor that feed it are filled with raw sewage and dead cows – several dead cows – and you look down perhaps a city block and you see neighborhood children swimming in the same waters. So you have the pollution to contend with and despite the 5-star resorts, you have a poverty level throughout the entire city equal to anything you’d find in India – so not pretty in that respect either. The street vendors here were much more aggressive than anyplace visited – if you say no, many will grab your arm and pull you, continuing to talk – you try so hard to be polite and say “no thank you” – it’s very unsettling. If you can deal with the pollution, poverty & relentless street vendors, it’s well worth the trip – one of the most beautiful, archeological spots in the world! After the show, we got our busses together and headed back to the ship – we were due back at 11:30pm, and scheduled to sail at midnight. Our bus overheated in the middle of the desert – the caravan stopped, the security guards positioned themselves on the hiway and the drivers filled the radiator by hand, bottle-by-bottle! We resumed the return trip –uneventfully – arriving back at the ship at 12:45am, but because we were on a ship-sponsored tour, they will always wait for you, even if it’s only one person. The gangway was pulled by 1:15am and we were on our way to Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, just 100 miles north up the coast. An exhausting day, but absolutely unforgettable!! Short night…another tour at 7:30am!