Ahoy there folks!
After Cochin we had 3 days at sea, crossing the Indian Ocean to Phuket in Thailand. The art class are now painting landscapes, using ports of call as our subject matter. Having introduced the class to gouache - quite a few of them are giving it a go and though some struggle to get out of their watercolour technique, they appear to be enjoying themselves. Others have told me that they think it's the medium they have been looking for, as they have been struggling with watercolours. Twice the Captain has visited my class. The first time he stood at the back and listened for a bit - slightly disconcerting for me! The second time he came right in and wandered around and spoke to some of the class.
In Phuket I could have escorted a tour to the bay with all the stack islands... very tempting... but even more of a draw was the chance to go and see some elephants. We anchored offshore and got on 'tenders' (Oriana's lifeboats and two small ferry craft from Phuket) to go ashore- which is great fun. Felt sorry for the officers and crew on duty on the pontoons in charge of this operation, as it was extremely hot and some had to be on duty there all day.
Got ashore and found the oldest looking taxi driver I could find!! Struck a deal (sure I was still ripped off) and got my ride out to an elephant trekking place. My idea was to stay there for an hour or two to photo, sketch and video the ellies but my taxi driver had other ideas and said I'd have to pay more for him to wait longer than the time it took for a 'trek' on an elephant!! Hrumph! I ended up going on a 30 min 'trek' - more like a sedate amble along a track to a small patch of woodland, big circle round wood and back along track! Well it was an experience.... Had mixed feelings about participating in this activity – it was hot and seemed that they did this day in and out… not much of a life! But felt reassured by the way the mahouts were with their ellies and that there seemed to be a good care ethic with plenty of food, shade and water available.
The next morning we woke up in Penang.... where I did go escorting - went on tour to the Botanical Gardens, Butterfly Farm and Tropical Spice Gardens. It was very hot, sunny and humid in Penang, especially in the hillside wooded glade of the Spice gardens.... but we had a very refreshing water drink made from the soft part of a nutmeg plant... Yum! The botanical garden was very manicured but lovely and restful. Think I saw a racket-tailed drongo and there were a few long-tailed macaques that were free roaming and after handouts - though feeding was definitely not encouraged! The butterfly farm was a large free flight room filled with butterflies and plants. The air was constantly misted with a fine refreshing water spray - not much good for cameras but a welcome relief to 'heat/humidity-stressed' people!
Next day we were at sea again til the afternoon when we arrived in Singapore. Our approach to Singers happened at the time of my afternoon art session, so we didn't get to see much of it... apart from a few tantalising glimpses through the windows. There were masses of ships - mainly freight/container vessels - I thought it was busy in the Suez on the Bitter Lakes, but this was mad crazy with how many there were! Our berth was equally amazing. We were in Container Land!! If you've seen the film 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' you'll get some idea... that bit at the end where the ark is being stored in an endless warehouse filled with boxes to the hilt.... well it looked a bit like that only an open-air version. The containers were arranged in blocks of blocks of blocks.. 40' containers in blocks of 5x7x8 or thereabouts! Rows and rows of them. Stacks and stacks. And it went on and on and on for as far as the eye could see along the massive dock area we were berthed at. Going out in the coach later we were driving along the coast for about 15 mins or more and it was just continuous container land all the way... thousands upon thousands of them! Quite staggering!
The ship stayed in Singers overnight and all but a few left the ship for the evening - I stayed on board having no-one to go ashore with to enjoy a meal or drinkies. However, the next day I caught the shuttlebus service provided for the ship and went off in search of the Nature Reserve. There was a long queue on the dockside waiting to get on the 20 coaches provided... as there was obviously no walking in ContainerLand. Eventually I got to Orchard Road - where the drop off and pickup point was. From there I got on a local bus and took a ride out to the Burkit Timah Nature Reserve - an area of primary rainforest. I had high hopes of seeing the birds, squirrels , colungas and monkeys that were promised here... all I saw was an Oriental whip snake - very cool beastie and a 4" long caterpillar. Heard plenty of birds but just couldn't see them and as for the monkeys.... not a sight or sound of them...must've been having their siesta! However disappointing that was - the forest itself was wonderful! And I had a great time following the little trails up and down steep inclines, over tree roots and round buttress roots. It was hard going in the heat and humidity but what a fabulous place! I was so busy looking up trying to find a bird that I went over badly on my ankle.. served as a reminder to watch where I was going.. I was on my own and it would not be an easy place to get out of with a sprained or damaged foot!Couldn't cope with any of the malls on my return to Orchard Road... I went in one but the shutters went down in my brain... didn't want to be there, too much noise and hassle. So I joined the large queue for the shuttle bus back to the sanctity of Oriana.
Well I'm just a few days away from the end of my trip... and can't deny that I'm not ready to come home.... have had a marvellous time and have met lots of lovely new people and some familiar faces from previous cruises, when I was assisting Julie. I have just two ports of call left... Phu My in Vietnam and Hong Kong from where I shall be flying home. I will leave posting my report about these places til I get home... which alas is just 5 days away! Wish I could bring some of this lovely weather back with me... today is my last chance to sit out on deck in some hot sunshine, as it will cool rapidly now as we head up to HK.
Will walk the decks taking it all in -the sound of the sea washing along the hull of the ship, the breeze through the cables overhead, the sound of shuffleboard games clanking on the decks, the smell of salty air and the sight of endless ocean.
Signing off for the last time on MV Oriana