March 17, 2016 Salalah, Oman

Salalah, Oman - Frankincense Tree

Salalah, Oman – Frankincense Tree

Salalah, Oman - Mughsail Beach

Salalah, Oman – Mughsail Beach

Salalah, Oman - Sumhuram

Salalah, Oman – Sumhuram

Salalah, Oman - Taqah Castle

Salalah, Oman – Taqah Castle

Salalah is located in southern Oman on the Arabian Sea and has a population of about 250,000 inhabitants. This area was once known for its frankincense and silk trades, but today is heavily dependent on its dwindling oil resources. It was the main trading port on what was called the Frankincense Trail, the trading route for the highly prized aromatic resin used in religious rituals and healing. Frankincense trees are grown only in this region of the world.

The area around Salalah at this time of year is very warm, very humid and very barren. There is a stretch of flat land between the mountains and the ocean where the town is built. The majority of the homes and businesses have been built fairly recently but it is almost like a ghost town in that there is almost no vegetation or landscaping anywhere….only tumbleweeds are missing. The ground is mostly sand and gravel, although they do get a fair amount of moisture in the summer that makes the mountains green and the creeks and rivers flow with fresh water. The streets and roads are in excellent condition and they utilize a lot of roundabouts rather than traffic signals. The city is spread out and there is little traffic to speak of. The locals are Muslim and tend to wear traditional clothing. For the men, mostly white robes from the neck to the ankle with long sleeves, a hat and or scarf that is wrapped around the head and sandals on the feet. The women are typically covered from head to toe, with some wearing the black burka covering all but a slit for the eyes. Most places we went we only saw men and very few women. Most of the women stay home to tend to the family and housework.

Our guide was named Salim and was about 45 years of age. He has two wives, as God has given men permission to have as many as four wives. His first wife has five children and his second wife has two children with a third on the way. The wives each have a home of their own about 10 minutes apart from each other. The husband spends time with each family on alternating days….he said he is not “tired.”

Our tour was titled The Best of Salalah and was a full eight-hour tour due to the distances between the local highlights. Our first stop was at the Al Husn Palace, the Sultan’s summer palace for a photo of the exterior. There is not much that you can see from the street other than a large walled compound with the dome and minaret of the mosque rising above the wall.

We then visited the Hafa Souk, or market, where stall after stall was filled with perfumes and frankincense. They explained how they cut the frankincense tree bark to make the tree naturally create a sap or resin. The tree heals the bark’s wound. After several months the resin is scraped from the tree, dried in the sun and then sold for its fragrance when burned. They sell a variety of decorative burners similar to something you might think of for burning incense. Most of these burners use charcoal and then the pellets of frankincense are added to the charcoal permeating the room with a sweet aroma. The scent is unique unto itself unlike a spice, not bad, just unique.

Our next stop was at the Taqah Castle, once the governor’s residence and now a museum. They call it a castle but don’t think of a castle you might find in Europe, this is much different. This castle is more like a two story home with a central interior courtyard. Surrounding the courtyard was an outdoor kitchen, several rooms used for food storage, several bedrooms, a main living room and a roof top observation deck. They had furnished it although most of the furniture consisted of throw pillows on the floor to sit on. There were western style beds in the bedrooms but no other furniture to speak of.

From here we headed to the Khor Rori Creek, believed to be the ruined city of Sumhuram. They believe that this was once the ancient capital of Arabia’s frankincense trade. Excavations at this site provide evidence of a city that traded with Far Eastern ports and Greece. The locals believe that this was the site of the Queen of Sheba’s Palace. Students from a university in Muscat continue to provide labor for the ongoing excavation of this site located on a plateau above the ocean. Some of the walls of the site have been exposed, so you can walk into the large complex to get an idea of where shops, a temple, storage rooms and living quarters may have existed. The views over the creek out to the ocean are incredibly picturesque.

A buffet lunch was included at a Crowne Plaza Hotel in Salalah, located on the ocean. The lunch included salads, hummus, babaganous, pasta, a fish dish, meats and desserts. The beach was very clean with white sand, and they had two nice swimming pools. Several European guests were around the pool.

After lunch we visited the Frankincense Land Museum where they have a beautiful collection of the country’s history in a very modern museum. The exhibits were first class, with both Arabic and English descriptions, and it was air-conditioned. They have artifacts from several archaeological sites around the country, model ships from their country’s past and a variety of positive exhibits about the current Sultan Qaboos. Outside the museum they have a number of frankincense trees planted so we were able to see them close up. The trees have trunks similar to a birch tree with paper-thin layers of bark that easily peel off. The foliage is bright green with few leaves and clusters of white flowers.

Our next stop was at Mughsail Beach where there is a beautiful two-mile long white sand beach with natural blowholes in the rocks at the base of some high cliffs. Depending on the tide, the spray coming from the blowholes can reach a height of 45 feet. The cliffs above the blowholes are called the Marneef Caves although the caves are not what we might think of as caves. They were very large open caves where the rock formations jutted out from the hillside creating an awning effect.

The evening’s entertainer was an Italian vocalist by the name of Marco Romano. He has performed in many theater productions in his homeland. He sang a wide variety of music from opera to pop and everything in between. He had a lot of energy but there was not much connection with the audience for some reason.

March 16, 2016 Sea Day

This day we had a quiet morning of breakfast in the dining room, reading and working on the community puzzle. The afternoon included a lecture by Bill Crews on the recent history of Oman and the major improvements that they have achieved in the last 50 years. Prior to 1970 they had only one school, not much in the way of paved roads, running water or electricity. The life expectancy was only 47 but has now risen to 72 in just this short amount of time. With help from the discovery of oil, the infrastructure has been dramatically improved for its citizens. The current Sultan who overthrew his father in the 1970’s is now aging but no one in the country knows anything about his personal life and is unaware of the succession plan. Rumor has it that he may be gay but no one really knows. Mark attended his watercolor class while Kent rested in the cabin.

Dinner was enjoyed with friends in the specialty Italian restaurant called the Canaletto. We invited two of the Rotterdam singers, Wesley and Charlie, to join us for dinner, along with Joey and Michael, Dennis and Robert……. Brian treated us all. The entertainment was a virtuoso flutist by the name of Stephen Clark.

March 15, 2016 Sea Day

A relaxing sea day, after two very busy days in Mumbai, was a relief. We attended a shore excursion lecture about the next two ports of call as well as the location guide’s lecture on Salalah, Oman. For lunch they had a special Asian noodle bar set up with a variety of noodle dishes from different countries.

In the afternoon we attended a lecture by Bill Crews on Raiders, Submarines and Flying Boats during WWII. The lecture focused on the Indian Ocean and the battles between the British and the Japanese during this time. The British had more ships but they were older and less effective than those of the Japanese.

Afternoon tea in the dining room was a special Indian themed tea with sweets and savories from India. The tea was very sweet and had some type of milk in it. The savories included some very spicy chili sauce, while the sweets ranged from honey laden to something resembling peanut brittle. Willem, the manager of the Merabella Jewelry shop onboard joined us for tea. He is from South Africa and has only been working on ships for about a year but has had an interesting life. His goal is to open a specialty coffee shop back home in an old historic residence, complete with beauty salon, pastries, tea and unique coffees.

Mark had dinner with Tom and his Australian friends while Kent attended the early show and chatted with cast members at the Sari Dance Party in the Crow’s Nest.

The night’s entertainer by the name of Toni Warne was a finalist on BBC’s The Voice. She has performed at the London Palladium, Gorky Park Stadium in Moscow and in the heart of London’s West End. She has a superb voice and the audience loved her.

March 14, 2016 Mumbai (Bombay), India

Mumbai, India - Lunch

Mumbai, India – Lunch

Mumbai, India - Taj Mahal Hotel

Mumbai, India – Taj Mahal Hotel

Mumbai, India - Train Station

Mumbai, India – Train Station

Our second day in Mumbai, we headed out on foot with Canadian friends Michael and Joey to see the Dabba-Wallahs or lunch box delivery boys at the Church Gate Train Station. Every day 4,000 intrepid men of all ages deliver fresh, home cooked meals from 100,000 suburban kitchens to offices in the downtown area. Each lunch is prepared by a loving wife or mother, and packed into a set of stackable aluminum boxes within a cloth bag ready for delivery. The meals are then carried, dangled from shoulder-poles, bicycles or stacked on handcarts, to be delivered to their hungry recipients. Each lunch bag has a sequence of letters and numbers to assure that the multiple deliverymen who transfer the lunches from location to location know exactly where it goes. They are so efficient and accurate in the delivery that they only make one mistake in every 6-million lunch deliveries. The cost of this service is only $20 a month. This train station location is where lunches from all over are brought to be reassigned to the final delivery person in the city.

From here we walked to the waterfront for coke floats at a local seaside restaurant. Then we took a taxi to a nearby street called the garment district. Here for block after block is one stall after another (about 500) filled with clothing of all sorts. Our next stop was the local shop called Fab India where they had an extensive collection of local clothing from ladies Sari’s to men’s wedding coats. The bright colors and fabrics were very nice and the prices seemed reasonable. As usual we purchased nothing but it was fun to look. It was then over to the Colaba market district popular with tourists. Here we found shop after shop packed with huge amounts of inventory of costume jewelry, clothing and souvenirs. Not much in the way of quality, just volume.

Our next stop was a visit into the exquisite Taj Mahal hotel. This is the hotel where there was a tourist attack in 2008 so security is very tight still today. Cars coming into the portico are required to open their trunks before entering and security guards use mirrors to check under the vehicles before granting access to the hotel grounds. The hotel has a beautiful lobby with tons of fresh flowers, the pool is situated in a lushly landscaped courtyard and there were many high-end gift shops.

Overall, I found Mumbai to be much cleaner than I had expected although the traffic is extraordinary. Drivers drive on every bit of roadway as pedestrians fearlessly fight their way across the streets. The British colonial buildings are truly breathtaking while most of the other buildings are in desperate need of paint and restoration. The people were very friendly in general, but the salespeople are quite aggressive in trying to make a sale. We did see a few cows in the street, but they were very scarce in the city.

The evening’s entertainment was a show by the B.B. King’s All Stars group who normally performs three shows a night in the crow’s nest. They performed a variety of songs made famous in Memphis.

March 13, 2016 Mumbai (Bombay), India

Mumbai, India - University

Mumbai, India – University

Mumbai, India - Street Scene

Mumbai, India – Street Scene

Mumbai, India - Dhobi Ghat

Mumbai, India – Dhobi Ghat

Mumbai, India - Gateway India

Mumbai, India – Gateway India

Mumbai is the capital city, wealthiest and most populous city (18 to 22 million inhabitants depending on who you believe) in India. It is located on the central west coast of India on the Arabian Sea. Mumbai was comprised of seven islands until 1845 when a large-scale land reclamation project coalesced the islands into a single land mass. In 1661 King Charles II married Portuguese Catherine of Braganza (whose father was the King of Portugal) and as part of her dowry Charles received Tangier and the seven islands of Bombay.

Today, Mumbai is the financial, commercial and entertainment capital of India. The city is home to numerous financial institutions, headquarters of many Indian companies, and home to India’s Bollywood and Marathi film and television industry.

Mark had booked a private tour online before we left home for us, and our friends Robert and Dennis from Cambria, California. Our guide for the day was Pranav, a 32-year-old young man with a company called Grand Mumbai Tours. Pranav met us at the port gate with a car and driver to show us the heart of Mumbai.

Our first stop was the famous Indo-Saracenic archway called the Gateway of India, built in 1911 for the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary. This gate greeted many steamship passengers over the years and served as the final point of departure for the British troops leaving in 1947. Next to the Gateway is the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel built by Tata after he was refused entry into another once famous local hotel called the Watson Hotel. The Taj was hit by a terrorist attack in 2008. We did see the nearby Watson hotel, which today is a rundown building housing attorneys offices and where homeless were sleeping in the lobby.

We then walked around the Mumbai University buildings, the Bombay High Court and the Rajabai Clock Towers. These buildings were built during the British Rule in the colonial style and are absolutely stunning buildings. The exquisite stone buildings have intricate ornamentation and gargoyle downspouts, not to mention the beautifully landscaped grounds.

Across from the courthouse is an enormous Oval Maiden park area where thousands of men were playing cricket this Sunday morning. Cricket is an obsession in India and every square inch of this huge field was filled with different games crisscrossing into each other’s field of play. It was difficult for us to see which players belonged to which team and where one game ended and the next began. Pranav explained how cricket is played and how it is similar to baseball and the locals were very friendly to us. They wanted us to have a try at cricket but we none of us were that interested in embarrassing ourselves. They wanted pictures with us and we obliged.

Our next stop was the Victoria Terminus Train Station, built in 1887, to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Here millions of commuters arrive and depart each day on trains packed with passengers. It is another incredible building constructed during the British rule and has withstood the test of time. The interior is not much to look at but the exterior architecture is gorgeous. From here we headed to the Crawford Market where we found people selling just about anything you might need. What we found interesting here was the type of shopping carts they use in the market. At home we have carts with wheels that you push around the market. Here they have men with large round baskets on their heads. If you have money, you would hire one of these men with a basket to follow you around the market. As you make purchases, the man would place them in the basket until you had finished your shopping and then help you to your taxi, tuk-tuk or driver’s car for the trip home. Also of interest was the large number of animals available in the market. They were selling kittens, puppies, birds, fish, chickens, guinea pigs and a variety of pets. Pranav purchased a variety of cashews with dried chili’s, garlic and other herbs on them for us to try.

We then drove along Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beach known as the Queen’s Necklace. The water is not particularly clean so the locals do not swim here and they prefer light skin to darker skin so they prefer not to sunbathe. In the evening, however, the promenade is filled with locals who come out for a seaside stroll and to eat at one of the many food stalls at Chowpatty Beach. The beach is picturesque in the shape of a semicircle with the high-rise skyline behind and at night is illuminated creating the look of a necklace.

We visited the Iskon Hare Rama Hare Krishna temple built in 1987 by a wealthy Jewish family. On this day there were many families here praying and enjoying food that had been provided by a local family. The main sanctuary was located on the second floor with beautiful paintings, an altar and elaborately carved wooden ornamentation. The parishioners sit on the floor as there are no chairs. Many were lying face down on the floor perpendicular to the altar to give thanks. This assures that their feet are not facing the altar, which would be disgraceful. This is one of the most visited temples in Mumbai and on Sundays the temple has about 10,000 visitors.

For lunch, Pranav took us to a local restaurant where we had a delicious vegetarian lunch. Each place at the table had a large stainless steel tray with about 7 smaller dishes inside of it and two dishes on the table next to it. The servers would come to each table with a unique serving dish with four compartments. From each compartment they would dish up a curry, vegetable, or dessert like dish. The main dish would be filled with rice, three kinds of breads and several spicy sauces. By the time they had filled your plate you had about 18 or 20 different items to eat. Like an all you can eat buffet, you could have as much of any of these items as you would like. It was all very good but too much food to eat.

We then visited the hanging gardens where a local religion believes that a proper burial is to have the body hung up for birds, vultures and nature to finish the body off. The vulture population is gone today but this strange practice is still done. Next to the area where this practice is done there were once open reservoirs that the vultures would drop flesh into and thus contaminated the water. So during the British rule, the reservoirs were covered over and a lovely garden was planted here. This area includes many high-end residential housing towers that overlook the park.

Pranav took us for a drive through the red light district where prostitution is legal. Similar to what you see in Amsterdam, the woman have very small rooms along the street and they are mostly dressed in Sari’s out in front for you to see them. We were there in the afternoon when things were quiet but we were told that it is much busier at night. You can get a woman for about $3.00. Yep!

We then visited the Dhobi Ghat or main laundry of Mumbai. Here in a small valley, many people are employed to soap, soak, boil and beat the laundry before it is dried on rope clotheslines (without clothespines) and then ironed before being returned. Most of the hotels, uniforms and laundry of Mumbai is processed here making for a colorful photo stop.

From here we took a local train at the cost of 5 Rupees (Local exchange rate today was 64 Rupees to the US Dollar) a few stops across town so we could experience the local train. Being a Sunday, the train was not so busy which was a blessing since there are no door or windows and no air conditioning on the trains.

Pranav then took us to him home that his family has lived in for the last 70 years. Here he lives with his mother and father and aunt and uncle in a small apartment located in a complex of about 300 units. They had a small living room, a decent sized kitchen and three small bedrooms. Pranav’s room had a small desk and chair but no bed or other furniture. His bed is a thin mat that you roll out on the floor. He rolled up the mat and placed a brightly colored piece of fabric on the floor for us to sit on. Pranav said that he comes from the Brahmin cast, which is the highest cast in the country, and that this was an upper class neighborhood, but it was very modest by our standards.

Back onboard the ship we enjoyed a local show called the Magic of Bollywood. India is the largest producer of films in the world and the Bollywood films are very popular here. The typical movie includes boy meets girl, they fall in love, a villain creates a problem for the relationship before all is resolved and they live happily ever after. This live stage show included elaborate and colorful costumes and many local dances like you might experience in a Bollywood film.

March 12, 2016 Sea Day

The afternoon included a lecture by Bill Crews on The Religious Divide in India after their independence in 1947 and the partition to form Pakistan. Pakistan was split off from India and was divided along religion lines into multiple states. This breakup caused millions of people to move from their homes to a state that had similar beliefs to their own. During this time there were religious wars that broke out and many people lost their lives. Later eastern Pakistan was split again into what we know today as Bangladesh. It is a sad history, but not unlike some of the things happening in the world today.

Mark went to the watercolor class and worked on the community puzzle to pass the time, while Kent went to the gym.

The evening entertainer was a gentleman from the UK by the name of Glenn MacNamara. He is a wonderful vocalist who same songs from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole.

March 11, 2016 Sea Day

Our location guide David gave a lecture on things to see and do in Mumbai, India, as well as practical tips. We then attended a morning lecture by Bill Crews on the British Raj (Rein) over India and its legacy. Here he discussed Britain’s prolonged rule over India, how many things India gained during this time and also some of the negative impacts on India of being ruled by a foreign government.

The afternoon was quiet and relaxing. Mark went to the watercolor class while Kent went to the gym. In the evening the Rotterdam cast performed their show A La Mode. This musical journey through Europe we had seen twice before on this trip but we still enjoyed it for the third time.

March 10, 2016 Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Architecture

Sri Lanka Architecture

Sri Lanka Market

Sri Lanka Market

Colombo - Pettah Street

Colombo – Pettah Street

Colombo - Tea Shop

Colombo – Tea Shop

Our tour on this day was titled “Exploring Old Colombo” and was a walking tour through several old neighborhoods not far from the port. The local family owned business, called Colombo City Walks, is run by husband and wife Mark and Ruvi Forbes. We started our walk in one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city called the Pettah District. The Pettah is the hub for all shipments in and out of the local port before being sold wholesale and retail to locals or shipped on land to other regions of the country. The ox carts of days gone by have now been replaced by trucks and hand carts carrying goods like tea, cinnamon, rope, fruits, vegetables, fabrics, clothing, foods of all types and more. It is a beehive of activity and when navigating the streets one needs to be careful not to be run over by a cart piled high with goods.

In the Pettah district we visited a local produce market where people were busy shopping for daily food. Dried fish, unusual fruits and vegetables and spices abounded. The locals were extremely friendly and wanted to interact with the tourists, which was nice to see.

We then stopped at the Grand Oriental Hotel built in 1837 as one of the most elite hotels of the time. At that time you would need to provide your financial records prior to being accepted as a guest in the hotel. Many of the original woodwork, furnishing and architecture remain intact although it is in need of updating and refurbishing. In the fourth floor restaurant and bar we had tea and cookies as we enjoyed the views out over the harbor.

The next area of exploration was the Colombo Fort area built on the remains of a Portuguese fort from the sixteenth century. When this area was built all of the buildings were required to have covered colonnades or walkways so that you could walk undercover to avoid the rain and hot sun of the day. The walls of the fort are now long gone but the architecture of the buildings in this area is stunning. Many buildings are now being renovated and converted to businesses and hotels.

We stopped at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking building set up to pay the salaries of the British Soldiers. Then we moved on to the Cargill’s building from 1844 that was the first department store for Sri Lanka dealing in imported goods mostly for expatriates and wealthy locals. This area also includes the presidents’ residence located on a large parcel and beautifully landscaped.

We stopped in a local teashop for an explanation about some of the local teas. This shop was extraordinarily modern in contrast to many of the local buildings and shops. It could have just opened in any American or European city.

We then stopped at the Old Dutch Museum to see the six-story atrium in the recently restored mansion built in the latter part of the 17th century. Initially it was the residence of Count August Carl van Ranzow.

Nearby was the Old Dutch Hospital complex, once a functioning hospital during the 17th century and now beautifully restored as a high-end shopping and restaurant arcade. Many of these old buildings have sat vacant and decaying during years of civil war until just six years ago when the war ended. China has been very instrumental in financing the redevelopment of the country. In exchange for financing, China has been allowed to build a new port for their personal use, free of charge for the next 35 years.

The city is going through an incredible renaissance with lots of foreign investment and within a few years I am certain that it will be a wonderful new city.

The evening’s entertainment was a new show by Davie Howes from a few nights earlier.  Mark attended the show and Kent saw the movie, “Million Dollar Arm.”

March 9, 2016 Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka - Captain's Garden Temple

Sri Lanka – Captain’s Garden Temple

Sri Lanka - Gangarama Buddhist Temple

Sri Lanka – Gangarama Buddhist Temple

Sri Lanka - Jami Ul Alfar Mosque

Sri Lanka – Jami Ul Alfar Mosque

Sri Lanka is an island located at the southeastern tip of India between the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Colombo is the largest city of Sri Lanka with 2.4 million inhabitants, while Sri Lanka has 22 million residents. Colombo’s harbor and position along the East-West sea trade routes enticed the Greeks, Persians, Romans, Arabs and Chinese traders who visited regularly over the centuries. Muslims of various ethnicities began to settle in Colombo around the 8th century, mostly because of this trade business. In the 15th century the Portuguese established a foothold in the area and were granted authority over the coastline in exchange for guarding the coast against invaders. However, they soon expelled the Muslims in Colombo, building a fort there in 1517. The Dutch signed a treaty in 1638 with the King of Kandy, assuring Dutch assistance in the King’s war against the Portuguese in exchange for a monopoly of the trade goods. However, in 1656 the Dutch refused to return control to the King, eventually assuming control of the area’s valuable cinnamon lands. The British captured Colombo in 1796, beginning an era of British colonialism that ended in 1948 when Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) gained independence from Britain. Modern-day Colombo is a mix of old and new.

Colombo has a mile long seafront promenade designed by British Governor Sir Henry Ward in 1859 as a horseracing track. The city’s central park lies along the western shore and is known as Galle Face Green. The fort district is the city’s heart and is filled with old colonial buildings, like the Grand Oriental Hotel which was converted from an 1850’s military barracks, and the Presidential Secretariat or former parliament building.

Our tour this morning was titled “Holy Colombo” and took us on a tour of the diverse, multi-religious society of Colombo. Our first stop was at the very ornate Captain’s Garden Hindu Temple with a recorded history of more than 400 years. The very colorful roof of the temple has depictions of hundreds of gods.

The next stop was at the Gangarama Buddhist Temple. At the Gangarama Buddhist Temple we discovered an unusual and extensive collection of kitsch–a complete contrast to the normally austere atmosphere of a Buddhist temple. The temple contained several buildings of stuff given by the faithful. You might find a case filled with watches next to a table filled with plates or flower vases. Next to that might be a case with elaborately carved ivory figurines or paintings stacked one upon the next. Everywhere you looked there was stuff that might remind you of your grandmother’s attic or basement. They even reportedly have hairs of the Buddha.

Our next stop was at the Wolvendaal Church, once a Dutch Reformed Church and now renamed the Christian Reformed Church. This church was built in 1757 and contains the remains of many former governors of the region. The church has a very plain interior with a simple pipe organ and geometric stained glass windows.

It holds the record as the oldest Protestant Church still functioning in Sri Lanka. The church is in desperate need of painting and refurbishing but it only has a congregation of about 200.

Finally we visited the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, also known as the Red Mosque. Located in the Pettah Bazaar area of Colombo, it dazzles you with its candy-striped red and white brickwork. Only 7% of the Sri Lankan population belongs to the Islamic faith. Midday prayers were just finishing so we did not really get a tour inside but one of the parishioners wanted to convert Kent and gave him a book to read on the Islamic way of life. He may have to make a few changes to convert.

The city appears to be growing, as there are construction sites all over town. They appear to be building not only new office and commercial buildings, but also high-rise condominiums. The port area also appears to be going through major renovations as they modernize for today’s shipping container ships. I think that in another ten years you will not recognize the place.

The tour guide that we had was not very informative and made very few comments about what we saw or where we were going. It was very disappointing but this is life. You win some and you lose some.

We were in port overnight so there was no live entertainment. Instead they showed the movie Brooklyn in the main showroom at sea. We spent about 2 hours having drinks and sharing our day’s experiences with our fellow travelers.

March 8, 2016 Sea Day

This was the third sea day before we arrive in Sri Lanka. The good news is that we have turned our clocks back 2.5 hours in the last three days so people are catching up on their sleep. The weather continues to be in the 80’s with high humidity.

Valerie Mock gave her last lecture before disembarking the ship on how the British craving for tea upset the balance of trade between Britain and China. This imbalance led to the mass introduction of Opium into China, creating a huge demand for the drug, which Britain was happy to supply in exchange for silver.

The afternoon lecture by Bill Crews was on Sri Lanka, its Independence, Civil War and the 2004 Tsunami. Like so many countries, it has a long history of corrupt government controlled mostly by a single family. After many years of civil unrest the country now appears to be on a more stable footing and is growing by leaps and bounds.

Mark watched a Disney Nature film titled Monkey Kingdom narrated by Tina Fey. It was a very sweet nature documentary that follows a newborn monkey and its mother as they struggle to survive within the competitive social hierarchy of the Temple Troop. This group of monkeys lives in ancient ruins in the jungles of South Asia and the photography is beautiful.

Dale Kristien, the singer who starred in the Phantom of the Opera, put on another wonderful show this evening. She has aged a bit since Phantom but she still has a great voice. Bravo!