Saturday, 25 of March of 2023

Hong Kong – Naples, 2001



Cabin 3006

Martha E. Martin Hufford

On March 5, 2001 Hong Kong.

I flew into Hong Kong in early morning and was met by a young man who expected another three of us.  When we had all gathered, we mounted a mini-bus for the 40-minute ride from the new airport on Lantau Island into the city.  We traveled along a new wide highway and over the longest suspension bridge in the world.  Actually it looks like two bridges to me, since there is an island in between the two spans.  This bridge is tri-purposed in that it not only has the highest level for a large two way highway, and a middle level for the trains, but it also has a lower span for automobiles when there are big storms and the bridge sways.

As we approached Kowloon we could see the Queen Elizabeth 2 at her birth at Ocean Terminal where all the shops are, but we went on by to the Shangri-La Hotel where we alighted to spend the day in a very nice lower level area called Camomile Room.  It took several hours for everyone to gather, and I met several people I would continue to meet on the ship, namely Kathryn, Catherine and Rita.  The other singlewoman from the plane, Barbara, was adventurous and went out to explore a bit, returning with a purchase already.  Finally when the time came, we mounted another bus and were delivered to the Terminal and processed for boarding.  They have new method of identification, which is based on a computer system of photograph, name and cabin etc. My photo is horrendous, but so what else is new?  Finally on board, I left my stuff in cabin 3006 and proceeded to explore the ship for familiar faces.  The next day I popped off to the Chinese Arts and Crafts centre where I bought a small glass painted globe and various post cards. etc.  The ship left port in the afternoon, backed out, turned around and headed eastward toward the South China Sea.

We had one day at sea in which I attended a lecture on Vietnam, a movie and did deck time.  The next day we anchored off Vung Tau, and a hydrofoil boat came alongside to take us up the Saigon River to Ho Chi Minh City.  The boat ride was the highlight since we roared at high speed along the delta, past an interesting lighthouse on stilts (and looking in the distance like a vertical Rocket), into the wide river mouth and up the gradually narrowing expanse with palm trees, mud banks, mangroves and the occasional fisherman’s hut and dock.  When our hydrofoil approached, the fishermen would have to scurry out of the way or be mowed down.  After an hour or so, we came around a curve and the city loomed ahead.  We docked at Pier 57 and transferred to our tour bus.  While waiting to depart I noticed the countless motorbikes with one or more people astride, honking and making their way through the bustling traffic and smelly emissions.  We were driven through the city on a circuitous route along parks of every description “for the people,” past a Catholic Cathedral made of bricks, another Catholic church being renovated with white stucco, the People’s Palace (we went inside to see the rooms ready for conferences etc.) and which proudly displays a wrecked American tank within the grounds. We also saw the local museum with ancient statue pieces, and a delightful performance of water puppets.  Four men operate these puppets from under the water and I swear they must have powerful lung capacity and endurance, because they stay under very long while the little creatures, dragons and people act out the stories.

We had lunch at a nice hotel with a very extensive buffet of local Vietnamese food. I foolishly bought a conical hat for one dollar in aid of orphaned children.  Now I wonder what to do with it.  Perhaps I will give it to the Charity Bazaar at the end of the month.  Back in the bus for a final drive through the city along the streets with specialized shops to see motor parts, appliances, furniture, beds, etc. all concentrated on one street for that product.  Comment was made that the bike and auto parts had most likely been stolen or taken from other cars and bikes!

In the afternoon we re-boarded the hydrofoil boat and sped southward the same way.  I was in the stern this time and couldn’t see very well out the damaged plexi-glass windows.  However, as we approached the delta we were made aware of a very strong wind and increasing waves as the hydrofoil bounced heavily along what seemed like crest to crest of the waves.  We were informed we couldn’t breast up with the ship’s platform safely because of the waves, so were taken to Vung Tau for off loading, and reloading to the ship’s tenders.  We then proceeded to the ship and had a bouncy time transferring to the platform.  One person fell forward and I was very impressed at how quickly an attendant lifted the person’s feet away from the gunwales to avoid them being crushed.  I was reminded twice to keep my elbow inside the tender as I inadvertently leaned over to watch.  They are very observant and careful of us all.

The next day, all excursions were canceled because the strong wind still blew, and we had to await the return of the overnighters who were due back in the afternoon.  Some people were miffed, but what can you do?  I was grateful to be on the ship and not stranded ashore.

Bangkok was by far the highlight so far, since I was on a complimentary overnight tour, courtesy of my travel agent.  We were given an afternoon tour of the city, including the renowned Royal Palace temples and grounds.  The next day we had a boat ride through some of the canals.  The boats were driven by converted automobile or truck engines with very long drive shaft to the small propeller six or more feet away.  The weight of the motor requires a long tiller and the helmsman has to be very strong to counter that weight. 

The highlight, however, was the hotel room, which couldn’t possibly be beat!!!!!!  Hotel Peninsula.  I had a suite with computer, fax machine, email, television and — a television monitor mounted over the long, deep tub.  Needless to say I stayed in the tub an hour in bubbles watching a British television station.  It has to be experienced to get the feel of real luxury.  There was also a speaker-phone available from within the bathtub.   The next day, we took a boat tour in the rain to see life along the Klongs and to visit the Royal Barge Museum.  We got out of the boat and walked along the cement dock area to look closely at those highly ornate and very long rowing barges.

My stay in Singapore also included a boat ride.  We boarded 40 foot or so heavy wooden “bumboats” which used to carry goods up the river from the port, and which are now for tourists to travel up river.  There is a big basin where the warehouses and old homes have been renovated into charming vertical stores in pastel colors.  We could see the famous Merlion by the bridge at the end of the basin.  The next day I went to town to shop and rang up a rather expensive bill, jewelry wise.  Bought a lovely sapphire ring and lapis bracelet.  Interestingly, when I made the second purchase, the phone rang and the attendant was asked if the purchaser were a man or a woman.  Thereupon, I took the phone and had to answer the usual identification questions.  I thanked them profusely for taking this initiative, and felt well cared for in this respect.  I had no intention of buying this much, but I am glad since the jewelry was so reasonable.

My routine on the sea days includes the daily port lecture or such, a movie and lots of boat deck time reading and enjoying the weather and water.  My retired Captain friend and wife, Margaret and Eric are pivotal points each day since we share the same interests about the ship.

Phuket, Thailand is truly a gem of a spot. We took a boat ride in Phang Nga Bay where all around are fascinating tall outcrops of high cliffs forming incredible islands.  We stopped at a village on stilts; while very interesting, a scary place to have to live.  Years and years of stagnant water under the houses has contributed to utter filth.  However, the people seem to be thriving very nicely above it all.   Back on our boat in the water, we traveled further south in light breezes to and through a cave or grotto carved by the water under one of the outcropping islands.  Behind all this was a great place to embark on little three-man canoes.  We circumnavigated a lovely public beach island, also graced with the tall cliffs.

We have been crossing the Adaman Sea for the past two days, and the water was most placid with the only diversion being the occasional frolicking of flying fish and big excitement at the attendance of dolphins.  The latter I missed because I had gone below at the wrong time, alas. 

Yesterday was our stop in Colombo, Sri Lanka.  The ship slipped between two rather picturesque lighthouses on opposite jetties, and into the inner harbor where the large freighters go, and we were pushed sideways into our berth parallel to the quay by two rather large tugs. I didn’t actually realize how large they were till I saw a man standing on the expansive stern deck looking rather small amongst the huge winches and lines.  By the time we were eased into the thousand- foot space there was little to spare between the ship’s bow and stern.  When we disembarked, we were greeted by a large elephant draped in bright blue covering top to bottom,  and this was decorated with buttons and lots of glittering bits.  Even the ears and trunk were covered and the poor thing looked rather miserable but obedient.  At first out tour leader wanted us to pose in front of the elephant, but we were being positioned at his “small trunk” end!!!!  That would not do so they had the owner turn the elephant around so we could have the CUNARD in the background.  We then proceeded to the bus and set out for points north, including a working village à la Plimouth Plantation, then further inland to the elephant orphanage at which we saw babies being bottle fed a liter at a time, refill, liter, ad infinitum. I am glad they rescue these abandoned one, otherwise they might be shot or abused.  Sri Lanka is very lush and at least the average houses and other buildings are roofed with tiles unlike sprawl of a place like Bombay with tin and plastic roofs over hovels endlessly.

I approached Dubai with thoughts of my granddaughter Emily’s interest in horses.  Actually the weekend we were there was the big horse race week, but it was impossible for me to be there since the ship came in after the main events were over.  However, there were compensations because the Sheik came to us!  The new cruise ship terminal was to be dedicated and officially opened with the QE2’s presence, and therefore, Captain Warwick greeted him, and the entourage walked from the terminal along a splendid red carpet runner bordered in gold to the gangway and went up to the Queens room where a ceremony took place with exchange of gifts and plaques.  I took as many pictures as I could without being obtrusive.  Actually, the best views were from Boat Deck so I have the tops of everyone’s heads!  Before all this, there was much dancing, gun throwing in the air like batons, rowing dhow races, sailing dhow races in the harbor, and umpteen children dancing in honor of the occasion and the Sheik.  All this took place dockside and in the harbor so I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else at the moment.

The next stop was Muscat, Oman.  This reminds me of a much drier desert than Tucson.  I didn’t see a single cactus, and most of the land is absolutely rocky barren except where watered by treated effluent from used water made by desalinization. 

We are now on our four-day at sea period from Oman to Jordan.  My tour from Muscat took me inland and along the shore northward.  The first stop was at Seend fish market right on the beach.  As I was photographing a little fishing boat, the wind blew my hat off into the Gulf of Oman, and not wanting to lose it, I took off my sandals, threw my stuff on the wet sand and scampered into the receding surf.  I caught the hat and spent the rest of the day wiping myself off (rather quickly) and nursing the very fine black sand from the hat crown and brim interior.  Of course, the trousers dried rather quickly, but actually the damp hat helped keep me cool a long time!!!!! At least I can say I have been in the Gulf of Oman, not just on it!

The highlight of the tour was a visit to an Oasis; and believe me, they need an oasis here in Oman.  There was a large old fort nestled atop mountainous crags, which used to guard access to the precious mountain spring, and after exploring that, we went further into the mountain to see the source of the spring.  They have built hundreds of cement troughs to channel the water to their extensive date palm groves, alfalfa fields and homes.  Lunch at a moderately nice seaside resort was most welcome, and after wards we could stroll by the gulf again (this time, with me holding my hat).  Back “home” at the ship, I had time to admire the coastline at Muscat, which is mountains towering above the harbor side.  From my vantage point I could see absolutely no vegetation on these mountains since the desert conditions are close to Sahara’s.  They haven’t had rain for three years and are yearning for relief.  Not even cacti could live here and yet Oman thrives with their desalinization plants and Oases.

Four days have ensued since our last stop and we have entered the Red Sea. Aqaba, Jordan is next.  While there I took the city tour which didn’t include much.  It is not a compelling city but merely a sea port right at the pointy end of the Gulf of Aqaba, right next to the border with Israel on the western part of the “V” formed by the tip of the gulf.  Elat, Israel looks more prosperous that Aqaba but no one ventures that direction since there is no love lost between the Jordanians and the Israelis (‘nough said).  Anyway I toured the ruined fort from Mameluke times, reminding me of the poem fragment I heard as a child:  “A mesopotamian Mameluke was pricking it over the plain.  He met a Wolakian Hospidar riding about in the rain…..”  All I remember!

The highlight for the tour was the shop next to the fort in which fantastic needlework products were for sale, made by the Bedouin ladies to generate funds to improve their lives.  The Queen Noor Foundation was formed for this purpose and I was happy to support the efforts by buying a fantastic fabric handbag the shape of a rounded “tuffit”, patch-worked with fine crimson and gold and black and green woven silk(?), black banded at the top and fitted with a black fabric expander and draw-string.  The shoulder handle is also quilted in black.  When I took this back to the ship, I had a great time showing it to my needle working friend Margaret (who spends almost all of her time on the ship stitching fantastic works of intricate cross stitch.)  I puffed the bag, plopped it and then put it on her head, making her look like a very colorful chef.   Hanging, it looks like a Bedouin hanging pot, and upside down, it flops to look like a loose chef’s hat.  If I stuffed it, I could snuggle up to it for a good rest!!!   In short, if I can be short, it is a soft, biased quilted square collection of fascinating beauty and utility!!!!!

The next highlight was the Suez Canal itself.  We worked our way northward on a ten- hour ribbon of canal with civilization on the west bank and absolutely nothing on the east bank.  The whole area is as barren desert as you can imagine, and the west bank (Egyptian side) is very nicely irrigated for palm groves, gardens, plantations, peasant dwellings, military ramparts with soldiers on them, and fishing villages as well as expensive resorts.  Ten hours of life passing by, or should I say of us passing it by.  I took these notes as we coasted along, making practically no wake whatsoever!

         SUEZ CANAL, 2001

5:40 a.m. – We are on the move, and we entered the Canal by Port Suez at about 5:55.  The city is to Port.  Things we can see are desert, high- tension wires and a plant.  On Starboard is the Sinai Peninsula with mostly desert as far as one can see.   Most of the sights are definitely only on the Western bank of the canal.  Large floating dry dock – Suez Odense Marine Service. 

The sun rose over the Sinai Peninsula at 5:40 as we were getting under way.  Apartment buildings and two erector type towers – Monument marks beginning of the canal.  Arab graffiti and a drawing of a donkey at the park.  Pilot boat docks – Arab music by a part.

Mosque and a little harbor dredger – yacht harbor with sailboats.  You can see more city across another inlet from the sea.  Low single houses or- small minaret(single).  Small green fisherman boat with a red stripe and bottom.  More city in the distance – mountains taper into the mist.  Two white dogs on shore romping.

We could see the ship’s shadow in the low sun angle on shore.

At 6:10 we left the city behind.  Flag flapping on mast (I’m on Boat Deck forward. )  Outlying newish apartment buildings.  Birds chirping – frayed moon.  High wires over the canal.  Small remote mosque with white and aqua trim.  In the far distance you can see palm trees galore.  A funny large cement ball looks like a helmet.  Wonder what it is?

Parallel road – Left.  6:30 still outlying buildings.  Green and trees.  Little landing ramps for fishermen I guess.   Egrets in a green – wet field.

Army installation.  Men in fatigues.  Battered water tower in distance.

Trucks in a long line waiting for ferry.  Egrets on trees.

Soldier guarding shore.  Big sand piles border then green parks and trees.  A guard tower with sign:  EL SHALUEA and time mast behind with gaff.  Green fields.  This band of green is only about 1/2 mile to a mile wide, then real desert.

Dovecotes – Two tall adobe, dike-like mounds appear to be rock cored, then dredgings piled over them.

Stern view:  Freighters following in convoy. 

El Tinaffra – control station on port.

Little Bitter Lake.  Time board 7:43 – GENEFA station, entrance to Little Bitter Lake opens to Big Bitter Lake quickly.  Lots of crew observing on QE2 bow.

Great Bitter Lake.  Channel (bordered by cement short pilasters.  Channel turns a bit westerly.

Military Air Base in preparation.  Housing new and empty to the west.  Bunkers and Hangars.  Bunkers in background to port.   Nothing to speak of on the Sinai side, just barren desert.

8:37 – KABRIT Station.  Series of peninsular developments. AFB

Eric reports there are southbound ships lined up waiting for us to pass.  8 more miles of lake.  The southbound ships can pass but are waiting.

EL FAYID to port?   Two small sailing dhows and small rowing fishing boats.  10 ships waiting.

They slowed down to let convoy by.  New cut El Ballah Loop.

Early we used the starboard bow thruster to get anchor chain away from the bow and not scrape the painting.

Stopped in Great Bitter Lake.  10:05 we resumed speed at last.  One passed us to port going south. Ballah Loop –

10:22 DEVERS – entrance to Loop – Grand Highway with median – bow pan – short median.  Back in main channel.  Green houses – plastic Quonset shape – camel, a donkey etc.

Army installation camouflaged – “serapeum” – floating docks – life rings.

11:02  TOUSSON – Bird cliffs – low Large resort – Ismalia Sport Village – various sections called suites.  A nice lady gave me her chair under boat 6.  I had sat on the deck next to her all this time and she took a photo of me, and I her.  I am beginning to think this long band of trees – palms – olives etc. were planted for wind and dust shields.

Here comes the Turkish war memorial.  Damage hole in side mounted artillery gun – damaged mosque – Lots of chips – on statues.  Stacked pipes depot. My binoculars sure are helpful here!  Lake Timsah – We will change canal pilots here.

Sand dredgings, people claming – rowboat – green lots of new building on far shore, presumably Ismailia outskirts, clammers stand and stoop in the water.  This is a much larger city than last time through in 1992.  Car ferry – green  – whistling soldiers.

Mosque and Christian church together.  Long undeveloped stretch – then 12:40 we entered the east channel of the two -way stretch.  Blue tug – Desert both sides.  Sun creeping onto Port Deck and very hot, but breeze cools.  Ships in the desert heading south, looking like they are sailing along the desert!    1:10 Two -way channels merge – island ends.  Notable landmarks are few and far between.  Railroad close to road and highway.

Saw a sign for a bridge project.  Dirt dozing lads up to it.  Hardly begun.

1:25 A city coming up.  Ferry – Buildings more red brick looking than white Ismailia!  Small rowboats along bank out of water.  Whistles – Sunday trippers – cell towers.  Another ferry point.  Little military camp tent, another double dove cote.

A good-sized Ketch passed by.  – Minaret call?  Agrarian area, desert rural irrigation of rectangle fields in distance.

Cemetery – concrete tower.  Browning fields.  Long narrow rowboats, sub canal far side of railroad.  Train – toot whistle little adobe brick houses and cattle in small field – tractors rural and wide-open but not desert sand.  Tiny farmhouses covered with straw or rushes – little irrigated fields – cell tower.  In distance low pueblo -like buildings in a poor “city.”

12:10 EL CAP as above.  Margaret reported a tent village to the East with solar panels.  11 men carrying guns.  White dove cote and farm.  Sailing rowboat – steering oar.  2:49 TINAH  Rice paddies  3:27 EL ISH – cattle market. Trucks waiting – dovecote, Cows, goats, burros in various farms.  4:00 PM Port Said.

After that we beat tracks right across the Mediterranean Sea to Naples, where I disembarked and flew home.  Fabulous 33 days.