Category Archives: Sri Lanka

Phuket, Thailand

Thursday 1/12/16 –

Today, we arrived in Thailand, another corner of the world new to me that conjures up exotic images of lush green rainforests and idyllic beaches. Thai Brides and Lady-boys are also common associations, of which a group of young crewmen heading enthusiastically for shore leave were laughing and joking about…

We had no tour escorting duties today, so we decided to go for walk.

The port was so different from others we’ve visited that it hardly seemed like a port at all. A few hopeful craft stands had been erected near the ship, and there were a few comings and goings to and from a large container ship that was berthed next to the Voyager, but other than that, it was all very quiet and extremely low-key.

We walked the short distance to the gate, stopping often so that Tracey could photograph the birdlife, and when we came to the main road we turned left (right was towards the city of Phuket, a £5 per person shuttle bus ride away, and not quite walkable).

It was very hot, of course, as we followed the road for about 2 miles, through what seemed like a mostly residential district, turning right, over a small, heavily-wooded hill…

…and down into a small, secluded bay.

We knew we’d made the right choice; the bay was lovely. We were ready for a sit down, so we ordered cold drinks in a small bar on the sea-front and enjoyed a relaxing few minutes looking at, and photographing, the view. Boats were dotted around the harbour, overlooked by hills clothed in lush green rainforests. When we were ready to move again, we walked along the idyllic beach… this was sooo Thailand.

On the beach, we stopped to talk to a friendly chap in a high-vis jacket who was busy cleaning the beach. He explained that his job was to remove litter while another man was assigned to removing the leaves (of which there were many). India take note!

A small white footbridge provided access to the rocks along the base of one of the steep cliffs. We walked as far as we could, to a point where a man was stood fishing, but the tide was in and the rocks were damp and slippy. They soon became a little damper and slippier as it started to rain. When it rains in Thailand, it sure rains! We huddled under the overhanging trees until the rain eased off and then started retracing our steps back towards the port, tired and damp, but very content wiith out mornings meander.

After lunch, we talk a short walk back out onto the quayside to purchase a few odds and ends from the craft stalls there before retiring to the ship ready for departure.

We liked what we saw of Thailand, and left it with a warm, mushy feeling and a desire to go back there sometime… so different to the impression India made upon us.

At Sea (Yet Again)

Today has been spent at sea on our way towards Phuket, in Thailand.

It was our final sea-day, which also meant it was the last of my on-board watercolour classes. Today, we did some Negative Painting…

After the class, we sat up on deck reading, with one eye on the ocean for any signs of life. We’ve got used to not seeing anything; the sea always seems like a great wet desert of nothingness. You know life is out there, but it just ain’t going to show itself for nothing…

And then it did…

An enthusiastic shout went up and folks dashed to the sides of the boat, in time to see a very large bunch of dolphins – about 48 of them all told, in groups of 4 and 5, bounding in from the starboard side and playing in the bow wave. It was a beautiful moment….

The clocks go forward half an hour tonight…

Port Blair, India

Today, we arrived at our final Indian port, Port Blair.

As we hadn’t been given any escorting duties, we decided to go for a walk. Approaching the main gate, after collecting our shore permits, we passed Raul, the Shore excursions Manager, who was going the other way. ‘I hope you’ve got your metal helmets at the ready’, he said, with a very wry smile on his face. The second the gate opened, to let us out onto the street, we knew exactly what he was on about. We were set upon by an absolute barrage of tuk-tuk drivers, like wild paparrazi, or stock market traders waving their papers about ten people deep… all of these tuk-tuk drivers wore the same brown uniforms and waved their driver permits… every one wanted our business, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Except ‘No’ was our only answer.

We fought our way through the throng (official collective noun… a throng of tuk-tuk drivers) and proceeded to follow the coast road towards the town, accompanied by the constant sound of tuk-tuk drivers stopping and saying ‘hello sir…’ We must have repeated our reply; ‘No Thank you… we’re walking…’ twenty or thirty times, but still they came.

The walk was pleasant enough; the shoreline not so.

To say it was disgusting is a crass understatement. Somewhere beneath the mounds of rotting rubbish, there must have been sandy beaches, and this went on the whole distance. We paused briefly to take photos of a harbour with lots of lovely old rusty ships; Tracey was in her element due to the preponderance of birdlife. Another thing that entertained us was the sight of several cows that wandered freely down the road (and pretty much everywhere). In India, where cows are sacred, they are allowed to do this, and cars and tuk-tuks simply work their way around them patiently.

As we approached the town, we noticed long lines of washing hanging along the side of the busy road. On further inspection, we discovered that this was the laundry; long lines of whites, that were presumably contracted cleaning from local hotels… one wonders how clean they must be by the time they are brought in to fold, after being subjected to all those exhaust fumes.

As we arrived at the town, welcomed by a huge statue of Ghandi, the heavens opened. We sheltered beneath some trees until it passed, rather enjoying how much it cleared the air, and soon discovered that the town of Port Blair is a very colourful, and slightly, manic place, with tuk-tuks flitting around everywhere, slipping into any spaces they can find.

Eventually, after about two hours of walking, we arrived at the quayside, overlooking Ross island. We hadn’t set out with much of a plan; the intention being to simply rest and then take a tuk-tuk back to the ship. That was until a couple from the ship came past, heading towards the ferry, asking if we were going to the island. At the last minute, we decided we perhaps should, and hot-footed it along the quay, in the wake of the couple. When we got to the gate for the quay, however, where the ferry was revving up waiting to leave, we were asked for tickets. When we said that we hadn’t got any, the guard pointed to a building way back… Lucky for us, the guard was in a good mood; he took our 5 dollars (yup, that’s all it cost) and sent a man running for two tickets.

Disembarking the the ferry at the other end (it was only a 15-20 minute ride), we were told by the boatman that they would be back at 1:50pm (it was about 11:45), which gave us a good hour and a half to explore the island.

Before that, though; we were faced with another turnstile, and a woman demanding entrance tickets, which we didn’t have; neither did the other couple from the ship. Luckily for us, the other couple had some local currency, and were able to buy tickets for all four of us. The cost? Another dollar.

Ross Island reminded us very much of Isle Du Salut (Devil’s Island in French Guyana), except this was a British Penal Colony between 1857 and 1942, after which it was captured, and occupied, by the Japanese, until it was recaptured by the Allies in 1945, who later abandoned it. In 1979, it was handed over to the Indian Navy. These days it is a museum where they hold Light and Sound Shows.

Many of the old buildings are almost totally engulfed by tree roots and vegetation, giving them a fantastic elvish look, as if they are straight out of Lord of the Rings. Large numbers of Roe deer wander freely, ground squirrels dart about between the trees, and peacocks holler out their distinctive, plaintive cry. It was all quite fascinating, and over too soon.

We dutifully caught the return ferry at the appointed time and haggled with tuk-tuk drivers, once back on the mainland, over a price for a ride back to the port. We agreed on $2, but happily paid the man $5 for the entertainment value alone.

Sadly; the disgusting state of the beaches, high levels of litter, open sewers by the side of roads, and questionable habits of some of the men we saw, has left me with rather a poor impression of India. The impression disappoints me, and I hadn’t expected to be looking forward so much to leaving it.

Tonight, the clocks go forward 1 hour tonight, putting us 6 hours ahead of UK.

At Sea (Again)

Once again, we spent the day at sea, on our way to our final port in India; Port Blair.

Top of the today’s agenda was my painting class, in which I had them painting James Bond Island in Puket, Thailand; a study in delicate graded washes and rocks.

As usual, we spent some time wave-spotting, reading and enjoying the warm Asian breeze, and once again, we had to fill out a form for Indian Immigration, telling them which electronics equipment we would be taking ashore, although we’re expecting the welcome to be a little less complicated.

A Typical Day At Sea

It’s been a typical day at sea on board the MV Voyager, which sort of goes something a little bit like this…

I always set the alarm for 8am, giving us a few minutes of lazy snooze time before bounding out of bed and heading up to breakfast (which finishes at 9:30am). After breakfast, we head out on deck, to the front of the ship, to blow the cobwebs away.

Even though it is still early, the sun is so hot that we only do this for about 20 – 30 mins before going back indoors. I spend the next couple of hours working through online student stuff, and checking emails (The Voyager has a very good internet service even when we’re in the middle of nowhere), which more or less brings us up to midday, and lunchtime.

Neither Tracey or myself eat much at lunchtime (it’s far too hot for one thing), and haven’t been participating in the on-deck ‘specials’ – today, it’s ‘Pasta Station’, preferring to eat something very light in the cool of the Verandah Restaurant. After lunch, we go to the Discovery Lounge to set things up ready for my class at 2pm. Today, we’re doing a line and wash painting of the Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram. Classes vary in length, but we’re usually finished, cleaned up and packed away soon after 4pm.

Back up on deck, we’ve been joining Robin, our resident whale-watcher and lecturer, in gazing out into the wild blue yonder hoping to catch sight of a whale or two (this being a hotspot for blue whales, apparently). Sadly; all we’ve seen are a bunch of flying fish. There have been a few sightings of dolphins, but no whales.

The final hour of the afternoon has generally been spent writing up blogs or relaxing with a book until its time to get ready for Dinner. We eat in the Verandah Restaurant, the informal eatery; because the ship isn’t sailing at full capacity is also pleasingly quiet and relaxing. We have been entertained by the waiters, one of whom keeps making flowers from paper napkins.

After dinner, we generally sit in the Scotts Lounge with our books and a glass of something (beer, in my case), and if we fancy it, we wonder into the Darwin Lounge for the evening show which always starts at 9:30. By 10:30pm, we’re ready for a cup of tea up on deck (the 24-hour tea-station is on the Verandah Deck), and a final blast of evening air, watching the storms flashing on the horizon, before retiring for the night.