Friday, December 23, 2011

        Rushford Christmas Letter, 2011

Dear Family and Friends!

What a year this has been!  Many of you already know about our trip of a lifetime—a 111 day trip around the world.  It was a working trip—I landed a job teaching creative writing on the ms Amsterdam (Holland America), but oh, what a fantastic journey. We visited over 50 ports in mostly warm places. Ron ran over 300 miles on and off the ship and is looking into presenting running programs for cruise ships. We left January 5th and came back the end of April. 

 Once again, there will be no trip to Grand Forks, or Edmonton, or Idaho, for Christmas as we visited North Dakota and Minnesota in May and October.  (In May, Ron, Jonathan, Ben, Caryl, Nick and Tom ran in the Fargo 5K and half marathon and did very well.)  Ron and I will be home enjoying our tree and celebrating 48 years of marriage.  My mother, Dagny passed away in June, and we miss her—especially now as the holidays are upon us.  
On the family front, Caryl and Ben are hurriedly getting their house in Grand Forks ready to sell. David and Shelley are still in Edmonton, Alberta and David recently received his Canadian citizenship. Corisa and Nick are spending their first Christmas in their new home in Dundas, MN near St. Olaf College. Hannah and her husband, Tom Harmon, have a new baby girl, Adalia Rose. The count on great grandchildren is up to eight now. Andrea (13) and Madelyn (5) have taken up knitting and crocheting—following in their nana's footsteps in the craft department. Corisa will graduate from UND in May of 2012 and we are so proud of her.  Christopher and Kyrstin are working and being wonderful and living in Couer d' Alene. Christian and Jonathan are living at home, working and enjoying their art and music.    

 We just celebrated Andrea’s 13th birthday.   She is very much into horses and through the experience with horses, Caryl and Ben have developed Stable Days Youth Ranch, a non-profit organization providing the horsemanship experience to children.  You'll have to check them out on facebook. 

As for us, Ron is still running nearly every day, working out and staying in great shape.  Unforunately, my health is not so wonderful.  In addition to the hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart muscle—a genetic defect) I now have atrial fibrillation and am on a pacemaker-defibrilator.  I actually feel good and my heart is still beating so I’m happy. 

 News on the writing front is exciting. I have a mystery coming out soon and have been putting some of my out-of-print books, like the Angel Delaney Mysteries online for the Kindle and Nook and other e-readers. With no contract, I have had plenty of time to make gifts, which I love doing.    

So—thankfully, life goes on. And here we are celebrating another Christmas with gratefulness and joy in our hearts always remembering the greatest gift of all. We pray that joy will reach out to you as well. With much love,

Pat and Ron Rushford 

Friday, October 7, 2011

To Blog or not to Blog.

Blogging is a issue a number of friends and I have discussed a number of times.  For those of us who are writers, blogging, according to the marketing gurus, is the thing to do if you want to to sell our books, articles and the like.  It's part of building our platform.  Of course we all want to sell what we write, but I'm curious as to how many people really like blogging and why they do it. 

 If you weren't trying to market your books and yourself, would you be blogging at all?  Not that marketing is a bad thing, I just wonder if that's all there is.

I began my blog a few  years ago when someone at a writer's conference said I really should blog and have a website and actively promote myself on the internet.  Soooo.  I started a blog.  Put up a couple of entries and fizzled out.  I felt guilty and inadequate.  But then I have never been much of a self-promoter.  I do have a website that really looks pretty good.  But the blog?  I couldn't help asking:

 What did I have to write about? 
How could I sustain something like this long term? 
When would I find time? I was fortunate enough to have contracts coming in on  a regular basis. 
Did I really want to expose myself to the world? 
What was blogging really all about?
Was anyone really interested in what I had to say? 

 Despite my tongue in cheek assertion on my website that I know everything, I really had to wonder if blogging was for me.  It isn't as though I don't have a lot to say because I do and I've written over fifty books to prove it.  When the opportunity arose to take a world cruise and serve as the creative writing instructor, I realized that blogging would be a great way to share my experience with family and friends and to keep a journal for myself.  I made the promise and stuck with it.  Now that I am home, I'm back to the old questions.  What should I write about and does anybody really care?

 I'm not sure, but I thought it might be a good idea, especially after seeing that my son and granddaughter are blogging just because.  But that still leaves me with what to write about.  Writing? Life in general?  Sharing thoughts and ideas and philosophies--pet peeves? Maybe a place to write what's on my heart--like a journal.  And again, I wonder who cares? 

 Maybe a blog should be a question and answer thing.  Like an advice column.  I applied once after Ann Landers died--suggested doing a column called "Pat Answers." Guess they didn't see the humor. I could do an advice blog about writing, but I think that's being covered.  I think I would rather say what I think. 

 I discovered recently that my son was chronicling his journey on:

And my darling granddaughter, Hanna has this lovely blog called A Mother's Mosey.

These two have become an inspiration in finding my way to a blog.  I think the secret is to be who I am--not to worry about selling books or making myself a star.  I gave up being a best selling author long time ago, when I learned the truth about publishing and the mid-list author.  Okay--so I would like to sell books and maybe continue speaking and writing and making a living.  But for the blog, it will be what it will be.

I will share whatever feels right.  Perhaps friends will stop in from time to time as I  touch on subjects and issues that sound appealing.  Perhaps not. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

One Journey Ends--Another begins

  My son told me awhile back that I forgot to end the cruise--that I left everyone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You probably already figured out that we made it to Ft. Lauderdale and had a non-eventful flight back to the Pacific Northwest. The cruise was an amazing experience and believe it or not, after 110 days, I still love cruising. So does Ron. We are looking to do something a bit shorter though--perhaps this winter.

So, now it's time to end that journey and embark on another. We'd been home for only four days when my heart started flipping out--went into atrial fibrillation and would not convert. I got a ride in an ambulance. This was actually my second ambulance ride ever, but on the first one I remember nothing.

My heart eventually converted and I was given additional medication. Less than a week later it happened again. I ended up staying in the hospital for a week and came out with an ICD (pacemaker/defibrillator).

Since I needed time to rest, I went back to Grand Forks to be with my daughter and her family--I had to go see my adorable new great-grandbaby, Adalia Rose. My time there was, of course, rich and rewarding--UNTIL I got the call saying my mother was in ICU and not expected to live. I cut my visit short by a couple of days and the following day, the doctor and social worker arranged for her to go to the hospice house. I was with her night and day until she passed away seven days later.

The journey from life to death is a painful one. Someday I will write about that journey as well.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rough days at Sea

What day is it? I forgot to look in the elevator this morning.  For two days we had rough seas with waves around 16 feet.  Me, who had been doing quite well warding off seasickness succumbed.  Threw up. Yuk. Was sick for two days, then seas calmed and I was fine.  Then the next day my heart went into artial fibrillation during my class.  Thought is was the same old spells I get, but it wasn't.  Went to the infirmery. Long story short, I'm on extra meds until I can get home to my cardiologist. 

BUT I am doing fine and back on track.  Winding up my class on creative writing and looking forward to getting home--at least for a while.  :-) 

Hugs to all.  Pat

Unexpected Vistas

Madeira—an Island Panoramic

Day 104; April 19, 2011

We arrived in Port at Funchel, which means Fennel—so named because it grows profusely here.  Bananas grow here too—like weeds.  They are a small bananas and are very sweet.  We took our final tour today and at times as we rode our bus through the mountain switchbacks, I worried that it really might be our last.  I had expected hills, but not mountain peaks.  At one place we stopped to walk a trail out to a point that is the second highest sea cliff in the world.  What a gorgeous view.   The island is actually part of Africa. With its multi levels and high humidity is tropical but it also is cool. Tourism is big here.  They have many four and five star hotels. Churchill loved the place and in the place he stayed (Reiz) they actually have a painting of his and a photo showing him paint. 

Though the area is hilly, it is quite a farming community. The crops are grown in terraced plots on steep hillsides. They have many vineyards and produce Madeira wine for export.  And they grow every fruit imaginable. 

One of our stops was at the top of a mountain 1800m high. We had a fennel cake or scone, coffee and coke at the restaurant/gift shop up there.  It was cool and while we were there clouds rolled in, but not before we got some fantastic photos.  The mountains were similar to ours, only most of the trees were Eucalyptus and pine. 

After our tour we had lunch on the ship and took the shuttle into town.  We had an early sailing so we didn’t get off the bus, just rode it into town enjoyed the sights and wished we could have stayed longer.  

Palm Sunday in Spain

Cadez, Spain—Palm Sunday

102 days; 4/17/2011

Cadez is situated on the East Atlantic Coast. While we had to walk a bit to get out of the port area, we were pleasantly surprised.  We stopped first at a beautiful plaza, continued on to a street too narrow for cars and then into another plaza. Lots of statuary or important buildings in the plazas. We went down another street and found San Antonio Plaza and a very old ornate cathedral and a more shops.  One of the buildings surrounding the square had ornate tile work and a lovely balcony. I thought it should be overlooking the sea.  We then headed toward the water and were treated to an amazing park.  Much of the ancient sea wall still stood. The park and walkway greeted us with arbors and tiled seats, fountains and Banyan trees as old as time.  We found another beautiful and ornate church and watched the congregation march in from down the street.  I think there is such a thing as visual overload.  We must have walked seven miles before heading back to the ship.  Even though we have a ten o-clock sailing we stayed on board. My legs were worn out. I do wish we’d have gone out again because we missed a spectacular Palm Sunday procession where all of the churches participated in an extravagant and an awesome parade.  Quite something to see, or so I was told.
Only one more port before we sail across the Atlantic.  It’s hard to believe we’ve been gone so long.  On one hand, I’m anxious to get home. On the other, I hate to say good-bye.  What an incredible journey this has been.

Sea day tomorrow and then Madeira, Portugal.  Formal night tonight with a Roaring Twenties theme.

Cartegena, Spain—A Mediterranean Jewel

101 days; 4/16/2011

What a great port. We walked off the ship and into the most beautiful port area we’ve seen outside of Sydney.   Cobblestone streets took us right onto a palm-studded promenade along the waterfront, then into a lovely plaza area, which lead into town.  Older ornate buildings mingled with new. The main street bustled with tourists from two large cruise ships—ours, the ms Amsterdam and our sister ship, the Neau Amsterdam.  We toured the new ship, which is huge and new and quite lovely. I could get used to it, but this is home.  At least for the next few days. 

After a couple of hours we made our way back to the ship. Sailing time was around four, so a short day here. 

Roman Holiday


Day 99; 4/14/2011

We docked in the port of Civitavecchia, Italy.  It is a lovely city north of Rome and I wish we’d had time to explore it, but this was our day for a nine hour tour in Rome and celebrate Ron’s birthday.  We boarded the bus and for one and a half hours, drove through the Roman countryside.  I was the ship’s escort on this trip so had to work a bit keeping track of errant passengers—and there were a few. At a rest stop one sweet little lady with a walker had her latte and just when we were supposed to be boarding the bus—went to use the bathroom. 

And then on to Rome. Soon we were in the city—heavy heavy traffic met us and stayed with us throughout the tour. It is Easter week and soon Palm Sunday.  Tourists are in Rome to visit the Vatican, the Citadel and St. Peter’s Basilica.

The first thing we saw was the original wall that circled for sixteen miles around the ancient city.  Much of the wall is still there and intact.  Then the ruins of the Roman baths. Everywhere we went, we saw signs of the ancient and glorious Rome. Statues, cathedrals, palaces and squares. As we entered the forum, all I could do was weep.  I have seen pictures of these ruins, I’ve heard the stories, but nothing can compare to being in the midst of the forum.  The coliseum left me awestruck.  Since this tour did not allow us to get out to walk around the forum, we could only see it as the bus slowly drove us around.

We must have taken a 1000 pictures as we made our way through the city. Then it was time for the Vatican.  We waited for half an hour in line to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. While we waited our eyes feasted on the exterior.  The columns, the statues, the courtyard, the marble. I took our little lady with the walker in through the handicap area where we waited for the others. The tour guides handed out listening devices so we could hear her throughout the tour. 

Once inside I was so taken by the beauty, I found it hard to breath.  Elegant, extravagant, exquisite, holy.  I walked around with my mouth open the entire time, at times so astounded, I couldn’t speak.  I was face to face with Michelangelo’s work.  Behind a plastic fa├žade stood the magnificent statue of Mary holding her crucified Christ.  In a dome high above us was a signed painting by him. Many of what looked like paintings were actually mosaics, which  allowed visitors to take photos inside. I could go on and on, but suffice to say we were impressed, blown away, awed by the visuals depicting our Lord and the people who have brought Christ’s message through the ravages of history. 

After viewing the basilica, we went to lunch in a lovely Italian restaurant.  Red wine, salad, lasagna, tiramisu—all authentic and all delicious.  If you can believe it, several of the people from the ship didn’t like the lasagna because it didn’t have flour in it.  FLOUR—for Pete’s sake.  Ron and I thoroughly enjoyed the meal if not the company.

Then we were off again to complete the tour. We went through the more modern Rome, past more ruins—saw Circus Maximus and far too many places to mention. We stopped for an hour at a lovely Plaza  and were given 45 minutes to walk about and shop. Here things went a bit sour.  We were to meet at three and be on the bus by 3:15.  Several were late, but one little lady decided to go shopping for a hat at three.  The tour guide had to make two trips back to the plaza to find her.  People were ready to leave her there.  A taxi back to the ship would have run around $300.  Fifteen minutes later, she arrived with the tour guide, gaily showing off her purchase.  Sigh.

At any rate, despite the problem travelers—some who should not have been on the tour-we had a fantastic time in Rome.  Rome is more than photos of ruins and beautiful buildings and traffic. It is a feeling—it  is knowing how insignificant I am in the grand scheme of things.  It is a place where Christians lost their lives for their faith. It is history come alive.  I want to come back. As our tour guide says, you can’t see Rome in a day.  We made a valiant effort. 

We drove back to the ship and after cleaning up and getting dressed in fancy duds, spent the evening with Barbara and Waldo, our tablemates, who treated us to dinner in the elegant Pinnacle Dining room for Ron’s Birthday.  Great food, great conversation and great ambiance.  We say goodbye to Rome and set sail for Spain. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Athens, the Parthenon and Acropolis

Days 97 & 98; April 12-13, 2011

We are docked in Piraeus, Greece, near Athens.  Ron and I had a tour today to Athens and the Parthenon and Acropolis.  Acropolis means high place and getting there meant hiking up the often slippery hillside (as in a few hundred stairs).  The first residents moved up to the mountain in about 3500 BC .  It is colossal and one wonders at the brilliance of the architects in that time.  The stairs pass through the Proylea or colossal entry to the upper terrace. Here we saw the Pinacotheca and the small Temple of Athena Nike, which is anything but small.  The structures are breathtaking.  Pictures don’t do it justice.  Standing there amidst the ruins and the rebuilding efforts –the columns and the statues takes your breath away as you consider the civilization that lived here thousands of years before.  Below the Parthenon we saw the stage and amphitheater where the great orators such as Plato and Socrates shared their knowledge and philosophies.

So many ruins and so much rebuilding.  And the marble.  You can see where the old tan marble meets the new white, but because the marble contains some iron, the white will turn color and eventually you will not be able to tell old from new.  

We also stopped at the site of the 2006 Olympic Games. We saw dozens of important places, palaces, gardens and statues and such, but none as amazing as the Acropolis.  

Turkey Day!

Day 93;  April 8, 2011

Kusadasi is the gateway to Ephesus, The Virgin Mary’s House, and the Basilica of St. John.  We did not book tours here. We walked out to an island and explored an old Venecian Fort, then walked back into town and had Starbuck’s coffee. Then I walked the streets—and bazaars—hundreds and hundreds of little shop.  The vendors were as pushy as the Arabs, but in a friendly way. A little too friendly at times.  I bought a beautiful silk scarf.  There are many rug merchants here, as well as jewelry and leather.  All beautiful and spendy.

The second day here, I stayed on board and worked on my book.  One can grow tired of merchants, however cute, pleading with you to come into the store—“just to look.”

Ephesus, one of the best preserved ancient cities, is on my list to visit next time I come this way. The Great Temple of Artemis there is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. 

Ancient Ruins of Jonah’s City

Day 91 at Sea; April 6, 2011

Ashdod, Israel is situated 16 miles south of Tel Aviv.  I took a tour to old Jaffa and Tel Aviv. It took us over an hour to drive from Port due to heavy commuter traffic. Our first stop was at old Jaffa. Our guide, a delightful older woman who wore her long, light gray hair in two ponytails and looked a bit like a hippy, led us through the most amazing maze that was once Jaffa, the fishing village where Jonah met his match with God and the Whale. 

The passageways might have been suited for donkeys or horses, but no cars.  Everything was built of yellow stone.  Think 12th century BC.  Many of the ruins have been renovated but still maintained the texture and of the ancient city.  What a tour. I must have taken 300 photos as we wove our way through. It is now the home of artists and crafts people.  Every shop has its own unique appearance.  We meandered around for over an hour and eventually came to this park above the city and could look down the coast to see modern Tel Aviv.  

We made our way back down and went past more of the old city, much being restored in the same manner it was originally built, to the fishing dock.  After our walk through Old Jaffa, we drove through modern Tel Aviv.  Some interesting architecture and history, but not nearly as wonderful as the old. J

Turkey is beautiful.  Very Mediterranean. I want to come back here

Our next stop Kusadasi, Turkey

Sailing Through the Suez

Day 89 & 90 at Sea; April 5, 2011
April 4th finds us at the south end of the Suez Canal and waiting with a dozen or so other ships to make out way to the Mediterranean Sea. 

The Suez Canal takes us from Suez on the Red Sea to Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea.  The Egyptian side is generally green and fertile, primarily due to the River Nile delta.  The Sinai side is arid (no fresh water only salt) and littered with army posts built along the shore at strategic intervals. You even see some army tanks and vestiges of wars.  The difference is staggering. It was finished in 1869.  Did you know that Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, Aida was written to commemorate the opening of the Suez Canal.  It premiered at the Cairo Opera House in 1871.

At the north and south ends, the channel is too narrow for ships to pass so ships line up on either side to go through, pass in the middle, at Great Bitter Lake, and continue on.  Each ship is given a number and only so many are allowed through.  We were the first!

We celebrated coming into the Mediterranean Sea—I think we were all relieved to be out of the strict Muslin area and into a more western culture again.  Our first port is Ashdod, Israel.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Aqaba Jordon

Day 88 at Sea; April 3, 2011

Though we are docked in Jordon.  As I sit in the library writing I can see Eilat, Israel across the narrow Gulf of Aqaba. A Costa Cruise ship is docked in Eilat after having been here in Jordan. Aqaba sits at the very tip of Jordon. From here tours go to Petra, and Wadi Rum. Aqaba is a beach and diving city. After lunch, we took the shuttle into town and explored the ancient ruins of Ayla, an archeological dig in progress, which is near the pier. In 1980s serious excavation began on the site. They have build a museum to hold and protect the artifacts found there.  It’s quite amazing to see the walls of the city and what look like arched rooms. The shopping didn’t pan out. We walked along the beach, had a coke at MacDonald’s and visited an elegant Swiss Hotel.  Then, yes, we were hot and tired and took the shuttle back to the bus.
And we are now lounging by the pool. Such a life.

I would have loved to see these amazing places. Other passengers come back delighted and awed. Maybe next time. We found a packet of post cards on Petra, but how wonderful it would be to see it in person.

Safaga, Egypt

Day 87 at Sea; April 2, 2011

Today I waded in the Red Sea buried by feet in Egyptian sand sat in the shade of an umbrella enjoying a cool North African breeze.  I did not get a tour to Luxor or the Valley of the Kings or Karnac.  I didn’t get to take the long drive with buses and vans caravanning across the desert. We did walk out to the Port gate and take a taxi with eight other people from the ship. For $60 our driver took us to the Holiday Inn Resort where we paid $15 each to enjoy the lovely grounds and use their beach and get a towel and swim in the pools or in the sea. The water was much colder than I expected.

As we disembarked we were puzzled to see hundreds of people with large carts of furniture. Someone said they were returning to Egypt after having fled to safety. We never did find out for sure.  There weren’t a lot of tourists around.

We came back to the ship around one for lunch and spent the rest of the day luxuriating on Lido Deck.
The buses with all the touring passengers did not arrive until seven thirty, which was our sailing time.  They made it without incident, though I heard one woman fainted in one of the tombs—probably heatstroke.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Happy April Fools’ Day

Day 86 at sea; April 1, 2011

This is the third day at sea since Oman. Today is Friday—at least that’s what the rug in the elevators say.  I don’t know how I will keep track of time without them.  The days are going by entirely too fast.

We are now sailing in the Red Sea and headed for Safaga, Egypt.  Because of the political unrest our captain determined we could not stop in Egypt. Now, however we have been given clearance to go there and will dock in Safaga tomorrow am. We’re excited to have this port back on the itinerary.

Yesterday I taught on Writing about Things and today the class will share what they have written. As for me, I shall work on my book as my presentations are ready for the next few sea days.

I  have been getting up around 5:30 in the morning and going to the Library/Explorers lounge. I confiscate one of five leather chairs with ottomans so I can keep my legs up.  

Would really like prayer in getting my book finished.  And for clarity and the ability to focus.

Love to all, Pat

Dangerous Waters

Day 85 at sea; March 31, 2011
We have been sailing off the coast of Yemen, where there is so much unrest. We are flanked by two navy ships, one US, one Dutch.  Today we will leave the Arabean Sea (the Gulf of Aden) and sail through a small opening with Yemen to the north and east and Djibouti to the west. This is the entrance to the Red Sea.

Yesterday was deemed Celebration Day to collectively celebrate life. We had a formal night and free wine with dinner.  Then at 9:30 in the evening, we had a dessert extravaganza.  The chefs created an amazing and delectable array of sculptures, ice and chocolate and everything imaginable. All edible. We had white and dark chocolate fountains, a chocolate palace and ship.  Wow.  And what took more than 24 hours to create was torn apart and eaten within an hour.  Thankfully, we had a time to take photos before the guests could start eating.

We have four sea days in a row and I am hoping to get a lot of writing done. We are having trouble with our internet so I haven’t been able to get on. 

Salalah, Oman—City of Palms and Beaches

Day 83 at sea; March 29, 2011
We hadn’t booked a tour here even though our tablemate, Barbara, insisted we couldn’t miss seeing Job’s tomb.  The day we docked I had planned to spend the day writing.  However, a friend came up and asked if I wanted to go with her as her hubby was not feeling well.  Of course, I said.

The countryside was arid and not to interesting, but as we headed inland, I was surprised by how high the mountains actually were. They were dry, but lovely and apparently very green and fertile when the monsoons come.

We saw boswellia trees which produce frankincense—one of their major exports. This area and a small area in N. Africa are  the only places these trees grow naturally. The frankincense comes from the bark, like sap. We saw lots of camels along the road roaming free.  Beautiful vistas greeted us as we made our way through the mountains and eventually to Job’s tomb.  So, yes, I did get to see it. Is it really Job’s tomb? And is the giant footprint encased in cement for real? I’m not convinced—especially not about the footprint. Just how does one preserve a footprint for that long. But, the site was lovely. It sits at the top of the hill and is a mosque and mausoleum and one must dress conservatively—and women must cover their heads arms and legs.

When impressed me most was the city itself. A very large area in town is dedicated to growing bananas and coconuts.  Many fruit stands lined the road and much of the fruit is exported. Amazing to see all that green in the middle of town.

We went to a square where one of three of the Sultan’s Palaces, a gorgeous beach and a large souk were all within two minutes walk.  We shopped—lots of clothing, perfume and incense. The beach—white sands and turquoise water made us wish we could stay for a while.  But alas, the bus awaited and we had to say goodbye to Salalah. 

Each day here in Arabia we had temperatures in the 90s so coming back home to the elegant and beautiful Amsterdam and the pool is a joy. 


Muscat, Oman—Largest City of the Sultanate of Oman

Day 81 at sea; March 27, 2011

Muscat and Mutrah, where we docked has been an important trading center between the east and west since the 1st century. It is located on the Arabian Sea. Its current Sultan, Quaboos bin Sadi is said to be a benevolent dictator, who rules with an iron hand, but makes certain his people have everything they need. There are many beautiful mosques and the primary religion is Hindu.  The port here is beautiful and as we sailed in, we saw ancient forts  and lovely scultures. The sultan’s yacht is moored in the harbor and it looks like a small cruise ship. We took a shuttle from the port and were treated to a lovely waterfront with statues and gardens on one side and older buildings mostly restaurants and souks on the other. The shuttle dropped us off at the souk and we spent over an hour wandering around the maze of hundreds of cubbyhole shops with everything imaginable for sale.


Dubai—the Emerald City

Day 78 at sea, March 24, 2011

If Mumbai was the image of suffering, Dubai is the image of wealth and prosperity. The United Arab Emirates on the Persian Gulf. It is the most populated City in the UAE next to Abu Dhabi and continues to be one of the fastest growing cities in the world.  The construction and development of Dubai is stunning. Dubai is home to the world’s tallest building.  There is an amazing building that houses a mountain on which people can ski.  The malls here are very high end and it isn’t unusual to see women, who still wear black berkas and cover their hair and face, buying stilettos and fashions right off the runway.

High-rises abound. One resort was built in the shape of a ship’s mast. The architecture here is unique and breathtaking. Most of the city is less than forty years old. Still in this beautiful and clean city, there are touches of the old world. An ancient walled fort, once home to a sheik, is now a museum featuring life as it was centuries ago. There are old-time markets or souks with pushy venders. We visited a gold souk, a spice souk and saw all manner of souvenirs, clothing, fabric and the like.

Most of Dubai’s population is made up of expatriates, the majority immigrants from Asia, who act as the primary workforce.  Nationals are in the minority here.  Dubai is one of seven emirates (kingdoms) still ruled by seven sheiks who are among the wealthiest rulers in the world. They have servants for all of their many palaces and yachts--ready at all times to serve.  They are men who can afford many wives and children.  Oil has made them wealthy as has our dependence on oil, but these sheiks know the oil is finite and are diversified. Tourism, desalinization, commerce, and brokerage also provide an income as well. 

In fact we could learn from their desalinization process.  They have only seawater and desert springs and use desalinization of ocean water for irrigation and even for drinking. Most people, however, use bottled water for drinking as there is still a higher than desirable salt content. 

We took a tour in Dubai and enjoyed visiting the museum and art gallery, the beaches and seeing the buildings. All is not as shiny as it appears on the surface. Dubai is having financial problems and some of their most magnificent projects lay unfinished until such time the developers are once more able to get backing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mundai—Images of Suffering

 Day 75 at sea; March 21, 2011

There are some beautiful old buildings and new high-rises and lovely hotels in Mumbai—for tourists and people with money. A yacht belonging to Kingfisher Airlines and Kingfisher Beer rests in the harbor—pristine and glowing white amidst the gray naval ships, the dirty degrading row-boats, ferries and tankers. The lovely buildings are protected by armed guards. In front of the Taj Mahal Hotel are armed guards and a military tank. Visitors must pass through a security gate and be screened before being allowed to enter.  This is the hotel that fell victim to a terrorist attack about two years ago.  

It sits near the water’s edge, a jewel surrounded by run-down market places and slums.  Never have I seen such squalor.  Millions of people live on the streets, they have no toilets and you can guess where they squat.  Traffic? Think of the worst traffic you have ever driven in and multiply it by ten. I heard that Mumbai has the highest rate of traffic fatalities in the world. I believe it.

The first day I escorted the Panoramic Mundai tour.  We saw all the highlights—remnants of British royalty. Cricket fields, new highways. The Taj. We saw Mumbai’s elite district.  But woven through it all were hovels, people sleeping in the street, women—young girls really—holding babies and knocking on windows of cars, begging for rupees. No one stops to help.  Day two we went out to hire a cab driver—men who surround you--all talking at once.  We make a deal and off we go.  He is an older man, he speaks decent English, but he is not happy. Perhaps he has been doing this for too long. He hopes we will stop at several of the markets where he gets a cut and buy something. He drives too fast.  He argues that we have to buy something and tells us we have to go to one more shop. Ron is firm and tells him where we want to go, but the man stops at another market.  Finally, we arrive again at the Taj for refreshments.  He waits and guides us into another shop.  We do look here because a friend recommended it. I don’t buy. I can’t find what I want in a price range I can afford.  I don’t trust the quality.

Our driver is very unhappy with us because we have not made a purchase. We tell him we want to go back to the ship. It is nearly noon and we want to have lunch. He wants to know when the ship leaves. Ron tells him that if he hurries and gets us back right away he might be able to get another fare.

He takes a very long way around and mentions another shop.  Again Ron tells him to return to the ship. I have a headache from the heat and the bickering.  I think we have been driving in circles. Finally we reach one of the port gates.  The driver asks for and takes Ron’s stamped card (with copy of passport which we need to renter. We’re a bit nervous as he parks and goes over to a guard station. Apparently he must show that he has a ship passenger in order to enter the gate.  While we wait an old woman with a crutch knocks on the window.  My heart aches and I have to close my eyes.

He comes back and we breathe again as he takes us to the gate—we show our cards and are allowed through. He drives too fast again—like a horse heading for the barn. I leave the cab and hurry into the terminal where I have to show my ID and card again.  There are stalls in the terminal—jewelry, saris, tops, souvenirs.  I look again as I did the day before. There are necklaces I like, but I am quoted $1200 US dollars and reminded that the stones are real rubies and emeralds, etc.  I walk away and he tells me that he has one for $600.  How do I know the stones are real?  I don’t. I’m tired and hungry and sad.

Would I go back again to Mundai?  Perhaps, but I have to process what I have seen. The pictures of poverty on television do not compare to the reality. In truth, I am happy to leave India behind. 
Now we are off to Dubai where things are new. There is a mountain inside a building where one can ski for $60 an hour.  Dubai is home to the tallest building in the world. There are shops and I have made plans to go with friends from the ship. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Kochi—a Near-Death Experience

Day 72 at sea; Mar 18, 2011
We were greeted by dancers and some rather interesting and colorful oversized plants.  Since we didn’t get clearance from the ship until 11 am we decided to eat lunch before heading out. We had planned to hook up with another couple to share a cab, but alas, everyone had already gone.  We finally decided to walk to the Taj Hotel which was 2 k away.  We got as far as the port gate and were swarmed by cab and Tuc-Tuc drivers.  One voice seemed to rise above the others and he offered to take us to the hotel for only one dollar.  He was a very handsome young man and his tuc-tuc looked fairly new. Think golf cart with three wheels and a little more power. 

Anyway we employed him for the ride and since we wanted to go the city to see a couple of sights, he insisted on being our driver. He waited for us at the Taj—a beautiful plush hotel on the water’s edge. Security guards and gates kept the poor of society out.  The driver stayed outside the gate.  We enjoyed the grounds and drinks in a lovely restaurant and eventually wandered back out. 

Defir, our driver jumped up from where he’d been waiting with a number of other drivers and ran to get his tuc-tuc. This is where the excitement or should I say, terror, began.  It took about forty minutes to get to St. Andrews church, our destination, and let’s just say that the worst you have heard about India is true.  Garbage everywhere—smells like you wouldn’t believe. While there was a line down the middle of the road to separate traffic, no one seemed to pay any attention to it. Bikes, tuc-tucs, buses cars and people shared the narrow streets narrowly missing each other.  We held on white knuckled as we passed hundreds of street vendors and beggars.  The poorest of the poor.  No wonder Mother Theresa had such a heart for India.  It is painful to see this. You want to help so much, but we were told not to give anything to any of them or we would be swarmed and basically trapped. We were also told that some will fake injury or main themselves and even their children so that people will take pity on them and buy their wares or give them money for whatever purpose.

Past all of this we went as Defir proudly showed us the area where he lives with his wife and two children.  He invited us to come to his place for tea, but we declined. (This is a ploy to get the tourist to give them more money. Our cab fare was whatever we wanted to pay.)  We finally reached the church and after looking around and taking photos, we asked Defir to take us back to the ship.  But first, he said, we had to stop at his brother’s shop—his uncle’s place, where his mother works and his wife and on and on.  Ron had to firmly tell him over and over, no shopping—go straight to the ship.  The “shops” lined the streets, where many of the people slept.  The traffic was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I had to close my eyes more than once, fearing we’d smash into something. It was terrifying at times as Defir honked his horn and came to with half an inch of a bike or bus or a person.  A harrowing experience to say the least.

We finally arrived home and Defir let us off at the gate. He was not allowed inside the port area. He gave us a card so we could tell people coming out to hire him. Unfortunately for Defir, people were coming back to the ship, not going out.  We paid him a little more than the going rate.

We are alive, have probably gained a few gray hairs, but I would hire a tuc-tuc again. I would spend a little more time seeing more of the sites—find a reputable market and not be so frightened.  I would take a boat ride and explore the shore and I would spend some time in the country and maybe not so much in the city.  
Now, we have another sea day before we dock in Mumbai (Bombay).  Will it be more of the same? Worse?  We shall see.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Raffles, home of the Singapore Sling

Day 67-68 at sea;  March 13-14, 2011
I spent the first few hours in Singapore working on my book.  Then we went exploring. Took a cable car sky ride above the city that took us over to Sentosa Island which was a rather magical place.  Views were spectacular.  In addition to several parks, we hopped a tram and went from Beach Station through Merlion Park to Resort World which has Universal Studios, fabulous restaurants, a casino and convention center. HUGE complex. The parks were wonderful and I’ll post some pics on Facebook soon.  There is a carving of the Merlion that is several stories high and has a number of water features at its base.  These people know how to do parks. 

BTW I posted some Hong Kong photos on FB the other day.

Singapore is a city and a state. While it adheres to British ways,  it has Chinese, Hindu, Maylay, Islamic, Confucian, and Buddist elements. About 5 and ½ people live here.  In early years, people were forced into certain areas—Chinese, Indians and Malaysians had their own territories which are still  in place today as Little India and China Town. There are a number of Hindu and Chinese temples.

The laws in Singapore are very strict and enforced—there are a lot of rules. If one does not take care of their elderly parents, one could land in jail.  Drug traffickers can expect a death sentence. There are no street people—everyone in Singapore has a home. The literacy rate is 93 percent.  It is safe and it is clean—mostly. It is probably the busiest seaport in the world.

These people know how to build malls.  We have nothing in comparison.  I shopped and again bought nothing.  Their idea of sizes here is small and extra small.  J 

I was to escort a tour on the second day, but my bus was cancelled so I went along with Marie, the watercolorist on hers to “learn the ropes.”  It was a wonderful 4 hour tour and our guide had a good command of the English language, which is the primary language here.  We went through Little India and saw a temple there and another in China Town.  The highlight of the tour was a bumboat ride on the Singapore River.  Lovely.  At the end, we went to Raffles, a very old and expensive Hotel and the famous Long Bar where the Singapore Sling was invented. It’s a wonderful place and would be a fun place to stay if you could afford the $1000 per night rate.  The drink costs $30, but ours was complimentary (included in the tour).

We had to be aboard by 1 pm and did make it back to the ship, but when I went to get my passport and my room card I discovered my room card was missing and I couldn’t get through security without it.
Totally embarrassed, I had to wait for someone from the ship to get me a new one.  Marie was kind enough to wait for me.  We ended up being a bit late boarding the ship, but others were behind us. I am so glad it wasn’t my passport. The day before A very sweet elderly lady lost her passport (or it was stolen), but they brought her through and took her to the US Embassy the next day to get a new one.  

Finally, at 3 pm we sailed away, gazing in awe at this beautiful city.  Oh, the skyline here is amazing. The Sands has a hotel Casino here that has a park on top.  There is a structure—three skyscrapers with a ship on top than spans those three buildings.  You have to see it to believe it.  We left Singapore feeling as though we only scratched the surface. I want to come back and stay a week or two.  I’d shop more in Little India, I’d eat at Bait, a world famous restaurant, I’d do the Zip Line—and so many other things to do and places to explore. 

In the meantime, we are at sea for three days and then arrive in Kochi, India.  Captain Olav gave us the sad news that due to the unrest in Egypt, we will not be stopping there. Instead, we will go to Israel.  Some are disappointed. I am a little, but I’m excited to be wherever we are.  J

Signing off for the moment, Pat

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Welcome to Phu My, Vietnam

Day 65 at sea, March 11, 2011

There is nothing here except a few stalls on the pier. The towns Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon are quite a distance. A number of people took tours, but it is 100 degrees and humid here so we passed.  I’m sure it is beautiful here but I understand traffic is crazy.  We’ll be in Singapore soon and I am delighted to announce that I will be escorting a tour.  I’ll share  details on that later, but it involves a trip on the river.

So, I am sitting on a lounge chair enjoying a slight breeze, sipping ice tea and taking the occasional plunge into the cool water.  A number of fishing boats have sailed by along with tugs and cargo vessels. It’s quiet here.  We have been joined by a grasshopper that’s big enough to toss on the grill and eat for dinner.  J  Actually he’s about 3-4 inches long. I think one of the servers made him disappear.

Last night we had a wonderful ventriloquist and very funny. Has entertained several presidents at the Kennedy Center and elsewhere.  He talked about how as a kid he learned to throw his voice and make his mother crazy.  He made his year-old brother talk. He’d get out of school by having the PA system call him to the principle’s office. Some really cute stuff.   

This evening we have a lovely lady named Eve. And for dinner we have Vietnam specialty foods.
I’m getting caught up on classes and working on the book today. Sail away is at 5:30 this evening and then we have a day at sea, then Singapore. 

I’m off to take another dip in the pool.  Hugs, Pat

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Leaving Hong Kong

Day 62 at sea, March 8, 2011

Our second day in Hong Kong was not what I had hoped.  Ron left to explore on his own and I had the bright idea of walking to the ladies market 45 minutes away.  The streets of Hong Kong are not easy to maneuver.  Many of them have no pedestrian crossings and one must go underground.  I walked around, fearful of tunnels.  I learned later that the tunnels are so clean you can eat off the floors. Very safe.  So I walked miles out of my way and went into a few shops.  Shops, my foot.  This is where they have all the runway fashions that regular folks can’t or don’t wear and cost more than a car.  I wonder how many such shops can survive but then one sale in any given day would likely pay their salaries for a month.

I came back to the ship for lunch and met up with Ron.  He talked about riding across the bay on the ferry and walking a covered bridge to another shopping mall.  BTW there are more Starbucks here than in Seattle.  Hopefully I will see Hong Kong again and I’ll know better where to go.

We arrived back on the ship in time for me to sit in the hot tub for a bit and soothe my aching body.  After dinner the Chinese cultural center entertained us with music, dance and a wonderful changing faces artist.  A dance troupe of your people did the dragon dance with a magnificent multicolored dragon that glowed in the dark. The kids each held one or two sticks and maneuvered around the stage with exact precision to make the dragon twist and turn.  Amazing. We also had two lovely girls do a ribbon dance.

After that we enjoyed another light show and all too soon came the sail away party.  It was Mardi Gras so we all got beads and music.  At ten pm we undocked and sailing out to sea we were mesmerized by the city lights.  It’s impossible, I think, to explain but imagine thousands upon thousands of high rises some apartments with lights some without against a nearly dark sky.  I have never seen a more beautiful city. I would have loved another day there.

But we must look again to Viet Nam and crossing the South China Sea.  We’ll have two days there as well.  In the meantime we have two sea days and I must teach.