Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Only Males Can Play With Their Diggeridoo


Since departing Darwin on May 27, our ship has been following the northern coast of Australia in a generally easterly direction, curving slightly southward. As you may remember, our first stop was on Bathurst Island to visit the Aboriginal town of Wurrumiyanga, and from there we continued eastward for the remainder of the day arriving the next morning into Port Essington. Now don’t assume that is a real port in the modern sense; it was at one point in time, the port for Victoria Settlement in the mid 1800’s. That settlement was established by the British and it had consisted of 24 houses and a hospital. The goal was for this colony to evolve into a major trading port, however it was doomed to failure from the beginning for many reasons. First and foremost, the area lacked natural resources, and secondly the people who were sent to live there lacked the basic skills to survive. They were largely administrators with nothing to administer. Their homes were prefabricated and came with them so when a cyclone finally wiped out what little was remaining, the settlers did not have the skilled labor to rebuild and so the colony was abandoned.

I bring all this up because on the 29th after our early arrival, the expedition team set out with most of the passengers for an early morning 2.5 mile walk from the shore to visit what little remains of the old settlement. As you may imagine, Lisa and I took a “morning at leisure” and stayed on board. Around noon, however, the team offered about an hour zodiac ride up into a nearby tributary full of mangroves, and we did manage to join that adventure. As you can imagine, the sun was both high in the sky and hot. Back in the mangroves, the air was still, and before long I was soaked in sweat. Because of the low tide, our ship had to anchor rather far away from shore, and even the little zodiacs had a difficult time making it into the bush. Since the tide was continuing to fall, eventually we had to return or else run the risk of being stranded on a sandbar. Sadly, we did not get to see much in the way of wildlife. I got a photograph of an osprey sitting in the nest, and that was pretty much it. But remember, “it ain’t over until it’s over!” On our long run back to the ship, one of our group spotted a pair of fins breaking the surface nearby. We slowed down, and moved closer to be greeted with the sight of a pod of humpback dolphins. They stayed in our area for some time, and I did manage to get at least one good photograph – yippee!

Yesterday morning the ship continued the journey around the northeast coast of Australia. Well, actually technically this part of Australia is known as Arnhem Land, and covers 37,000 sq. mi. This land has been inhabited for 10’s of thousands of years by what we now call the Aborigines. In 1931, the Australian government created Arnhem as an Aboriginal Reserve, which is closed to outsiders unless they have a permit to enter. Our afternoon adventure was to visit Elcho Island located off the northern coast of Arnhem Land. The main settlement on the Island is Galiwin’ku, however, we had permission to make a wet landing on the opposite end of the Island to visit the small settlement of Banthula. The arrival of our ship was the first time that a cruise ship had ever visited this village. We were told that this was a big event for the local people, and that we could expect a joyous welcome, including a Bungul Welcome Ceremony and Dance. Well, as you shall hear, the reality was somewhat different experience than the hype.

Once again, because of the shallow waters our ship had to anchor rather far offshore, so our ride to the beach was around 20 minutes. For the first time, the swells were up and there was some wind which required that we carry our cameras in waterproof bags. Upon arriving at the beach, only the expedition team was there to help us with our gear, there we no large adoring crowds – actually only one local, who drove down and offered Lisa a ride into town in his old rusty truck. Meanwhile, a nice clean cut young man wearing a uniform shirt of some kind approached me, and said that if I would come up behind the sand dune, he had a car to drive me into town, and thus Lisa and I were separated.

Well, it turns out that Lisa was being driven by the tribal elder of the community. He was very pleasant and very glad to welcome her to the community. Later he had his kids jump in the truck, and everyone introduced themselves to her. So, all in all, she had a pleasant welcome. As for myself, I finally climbed the little sand dune, and there before me was a modern car with some kind of official emblem on the side. I climbed in, and my new best friend started the car, turned on the air, and introduced himself. It seems that he was part of a 13 person team from the State of The Northern Territories who was here today for this event. I did not get all the details, but apparently four different State departments were present today, each with 3 people on their team, and then one overall supervisor. I remember one department was Fish and Wildlife, and another was Tourism, and another Aboriginal Affairs. In the short time we had together, I asked out loud if these settlements were economically viable, or could they be made that way, and to my surprise he admitted that “there was no way.” He said the land was “extremely poor and lacked any resources whatsoever.” By this time, we had arrived at the presentation area, and so I reluctantly left the air conditioning to join our group.

Before me was setup a large portable awning under which were brand new blue nylon lawn chairs all set up in rows. The chairs were so new that they still had tags attached, and lying on the ground nearby were the nylon bags in which they came; obviously someone had gone to a great deal of effort. All of us had arrived by this time, but there were only a few locals visible. Soon the wife of the tribal elder started yelling to the surrounding houses, obviously calling for people to come out. When nothing happened, more yelling occurred, and slowly a few old women sauntered over and sat on blankets to our side. Then more yelling, this time by the Elder himself, and soon heads were looking around doorways or out of windows, and slowly, ever so slowly, people started to meander our way. They would walk a ways, stop and look around, and after more shouting, begin again to come in our direction. At one point, the Elder began to really shout at one elderly lady who was sitting near us, and while I could not understand the language, it was obvious that he was telling her to be more cooperative and to welcome us. After everyone who was going to come had now arrived, the Elder had a small PA system which he used to say a few words of welcome. There was just one little problem: the nice awning and all of the chairs in their neat little rows had the audience facing outward to an empty field, while the Elder was speaking from our right and behind us. So everyone had to crane their necks around, while our Captain was called forward to accept a small plaque in commemoration of this visit. While we all turned in our seats to listen, the Captain said a few words in response, and then everyone kind of looked around as to what was next.

Silence ensued. About 50ft away there was a gathering of teens, many sitting on a car, others leaning against trees and some sitting on the ground with their backs turned to us. The shouting starts up again. This time the clearly agitated Elder is shouting to this group, who for the most part ignore him. Then reluctantly they begin to move towards the open area in front of us, all the while shouting among themselves. Finally we have a group in front of us, one of whom is holding a didgeridoo; it is a hollowed-out tree limb to create a musical instrument which is a long horn that reaches from the lips to the ground usually only allowed to be played by the males in the community. We sit, they stand, and nothing happens. The Elder shouts some more, and almost as reluctant children who really don’t want to do this, they launch into a short dance accompanied by the didgeridoo, and in the blink of an eye, and they are done, and headed back towards the car. That’s it? The Elder this time comes out on the field and a heated exchange occurs, which results in the group slowly and reluctantly returning to play and sing. This time they did give a few performances, and when done, they simply turned and slowly walked away.

At this point, we were offered the opportunity to walk around the village. They had set up places where a were a few items of artwork were for sale, and also places where women were showing our guests how do weave baskets, to paint, and an area where spears were being made and the didgeridoo could be played, but again by men only – women were not allowed to play the didgeridoo! I was surprised to see a rather large solar farm for providing electrical power, and I saw my very first solar powered pay phone which was located in the middle of the village. Nearby stood two large water towers which were filled by pumping water from underground basins, thus providing the island running water. Judging from the number of outhouses, they did not have a sewer system. This part of the visit was the most enjoyable, but Lisa and I were tiring from the heat, and so one of the visiting mainlanders offered us a ride back to the beach.

It turns out that our driver was the person in charge of today’s event, and she and some members of her team had flown over from Darwin just that morning. They first flew commercially to an airport on the mainland, and from there took a small twin Cessna over to this island where they landed on what she described as a “very short dirt strip.” As I started to put the pieces together, it would appear that the State of the Northern Territories, not the Federal government, provides considerable support to this settlement. It is obvious that the locals could not afford the infrastructure we saw, so essentially they are being supported by the government. I gather that today’s visit was an attempt to see if the locals could be engaged into welcoming tourists, and hence the effort gone to by the government to setup the arrangements.

Today is a day at sea. Actually it is funny kind of sea day. Our next stop is to the north in Indonesia, however, for the first half of the day we continued our cruise around the northeast corner of Australia, and at one point were actually headed south, the opposite of where we want to go. The reason for this is technical – we had on board an Australian pilot. He needed to be let off at the port of Nhulunbuy, which is where the ship formally clears Australian waters. That having been accomplished, we are now headed north to Indonesia, in what has been described as one of the highlight of this cruise, a visit to the Asmat Region.

Hope everyone is well. Sadly Lisa has come down with bronchitis and the doctor put her on antibiotics. At the same time he noted a series of large bruises which had showed up on Lisa’s good leg shortly after we arrived in Perth, and he diagnosed those as having been the result of a deep vein thrombosis. Fortunately nothing seriously happened, but it is a bit scary. This was in spite of the fact that she takes a low dose of aspirin and was wearing compression socks on the long flights. I guess you never know.


Friday, May 27, 2016



Our ship sailed from Darwin last night, and after repositioning all of 80km north, it anchored off Wurrumiyanga. No, I cannot pronounce it either, even after having heard it a few times. If you are having a little difficulty locating this on your Atlas, let me help by pointing out that it is a city on the Island of Bathurst. Still having trouble, OK, here is a bigger clue, it is one of the 11 Tiwi islands, of which 9 are uninhabited. Bathurst is one of the inhabited islands along with Melville. Now, maybe you finally found it, but here comes the bonus question: is it an independent country or part of some larger entity? Actually, that is a trick question. It is considered a part of the Northern Territory of Australia, however, when we departed Darwin last evening, we all had to go through a “face to face” clearance with Australian authorities. You see the Tiwi Islands, while a part of Australia, are governed by the Aboriginal Land Rights Act of 1976. I guess you could say they are somewhat akin to our Native American areas

In any event, we spent the morning being hosted by the locals, and being shown around their community. Our first stop was to the local school (quite modern) where we were given a formal welcome followed by a native performance. Afterwards, we were driven around, and then we went on walking tours. The community was interesting, clean, and we were warmly welcomed by smiling faces everywhere we went.

After being on a full ship, it now feels almost empty with only 31 passengers. I just heard from Cathy that she and Michele have only made it as far as Honolulu at this point, and sadly, Michele has become rather ill. What a sad way to end a wonderful experience.

Tonight the Captain will join Lisa and me for dinner, so I guess I have to be on good behavior. Hope everyone is well. I hear it has been raining, and raining some more at home--so we’ll just keep enjoying the clear skies, light winds, and 100 degree heat.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

We Could Not Get There From Here


If you would look at a map of the north coast of Australia, you would see that from our last port, Wyndham, to our next port, Darwin, it was an easy cruise along the coast; BUT we could not go there! Nope, first we had to spend a day at sea going north to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, or as it is commonly known, East Timor. There we spent a day at a truly spiritual island named Jaco Island, and now, today we are cruising southward to our final destination for this cruise, Darwin. Why the diversion you may well ask? Well, Australia like many countries, including the United States, does not allow foreign passenger vessels to pick up people in one domestic port and then transport them to another domestic port, because to allow that would be in competition with domestic vessels that are registered for such commerce. So an international ship must go outside the country before returning. That, for example is why cruise ships going from California to Hawaii, must first make call at some foreign port, even if it is simply a deserted atoll.

And thus, our stop yesterday at East Timor, or to be precise, at the small and sacred island of Jaco was merely a requirement allowing us to proceed to our final destination back in Australia. Because the locals consider Jaco a “sacred” island, they rarely visit it. For this reason, it is indeed “pristine.” After officials from the nearby mainland cleared us into the country and of course collected the $30/head “visa fee,” we were free to go ashore to a beautiful pristine beach. Even better was the fact that just off the shore was a shallow reef where we could snorkel, and of course, Silversea provided all the necessary equipment, but not until everyone had attended a safety briefing and zodiacs were stationed strategically with watchers to insure our safety.

I am pleased to tell you that Michele and Cathy “dove in” to snorkel, and in particular, I did not think we’d ever get Cathy back. Lisa valiantly not only came ashore with a wet landing, but she tried to snorkel, however, her bad knee just would not let that happen. With the help of Michele and a team member who managed to get my flippers on, I flipped around for almost an hour, but the camera I brought for underwater pictures, refused to work.

As if by some miracle, but the time I came up for air, the Hotel Staff had transformed the beach into a party cove. Not only had chairs been brought over for all of us to use, but under an awning, an elaborate buffet was served while the charcoal grills were blazing away. Ice chests full of just about anything you could want were available, and all in all, it was an amazing effort. I heard later that Michele even ate grilled kangaroo meat along with some crocodile – nothing stops Michele, nothing!

The staff cleaned up everything so that we left no presence behind, and now today we are cruising towards Darwin, our final destination for this cruise. They just came on the speakers to announce to us that because of our good speed, we will actually arrive this evening and be required to clear immigration after dinner.

Sadly for us, this is where Michele and Cathy leave us. They have been really great to travel with, and I am pretty sure that they, too, have become hooked on this “expedition cruising.”


P.S. I just completed an upload of selected pictures from this trip and you may view them at:

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Tale of Two Dams


Yesterday we cruised between two Dams, in an all-day adventure of incredible beauty. At first the idea of spending all day between two dams may seem a bit strange, but in reality, not at all. We were actually cruising up the Ord River which is one of the most stunning river systems in Australia. The Ord River itself is over 200 miles in length, and is located in the remote Kimberley Region of Western Australia. Our journey was limited to the 55 mile stretch between the town of Kununurra and Lake Argyle. At Kununurra a small Diversion Dam is located which has formed Lake Kununurra, while at the other end, is the massive Ord River Dam which creates Lake Argyle. It was between these two structures that we spent a wonderful time travelling up the Ord River.

Before getting to the river, however, our ship finally tied up at a real pier in the town of Wyndham. Well, I guess calling Wyndham a “town” is a little bit of a misnomer. Wyndham is the oldest and northernmost town in Australia, having been founded in 1886, when gold was discovered in the region. Over time it grew and became an important shipping center, however, as one by one of the economic mainstays of the region died out, Wyndham has become a virtual ghost town with a population of perhaps 400 people. It is full of empty streets and boarded up buildings. For us, it became our gateway to the Ord River via a one hour plus bus ride to the town of Kununurra where we boarded our comfortable 700 HP pontoon boat. The boat easily held the 60 or so of us, and was complete with an onboard toilet, which was good since it now became our home for the day.

We were setting out from the top of the lower of the two Dams, this one called the Diversion Dam. The primary purpose for the creation of this massive system of dams was to supply a constant and reliable flow of irrigation water over 180 sq. mi of farmland. With the completion of the main dam, and the subsequent creation of Lake Argyle, there is now sufficient water to insure that under the worst conditions, irrigation water can be insured for up to six years. Lake Argyle is the largest artificial lake in Australia.

But enough with this dam stuff; what about our day on the river? It was stunning, as advertised. In the early morning hours our boat navigated into small tributaries looking for wildlife, which we found in abundance. Strange and wondrous birds, and even trees full of bats. I think you will enjoy the pictures, which I hope to complete in the next two days. Getting back on the river, the water was calm, which made for incredible pictures with beautiful reflections. Soon, our driver/guide picked up the pace and before long we were speeding up river at a very, very good clip, with occasional stops for wildlife, but mostly just soaking in the view.

Around mid-day we stopped along the bank of the river, and our boat was pushed bow-first hard against the shore at a place that led to a small clearing where some tables and benches were setup so that we could sit for a quick lunch. Our “driver/guide” quickly metamorphed into our wait staff, and in no time at all, he had hauled ashore huge coolers with iced down drinks, followed by plastic containers of food. He put out a table cloth, arranged the food, plates, and silverware and announced that lunch was served. Amazing! Better yet, when we were all finished, he reversed the process, and in the “blink of an eye,” the little area was returned to the way we found it. He even wiped down the tables, and saw that no trash remained.

Our next phase of the adventure was somewhat of a surprise. Up until now, we were cruising up a flat and calm river, however, it did not stay that way. We learned that the river level up ahead was actually higher than the lower part, and the river itself narrowed considerably. So all that water up river was going down river through a narrow opening, which meant the waters became turbulent, and the current against us was strong. Now I understood the need for the 700 HP engines.

By 2pm we finally reached the Ord River Dam, itself, which was a massive structure towering above us. Our buses were there to meet us, and we set off for the trip home to the Silver Discoverer.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Up A Lazy River


Finally we have, what on an expedition cruise, is considered a relatively easy day – all that is scheduled is a visit to King George River and the famous King George Falls. Now for the more adventuresome among us, a six hour hike to the top of the Falls is offered – very steep and dangerous we were told, so we rather wisely did not sign up for that option. A quick run to the Falls and back was offered, but it was only 2 hours in length, and did not stop to see wildlife along the way. Again, not our choice. Instead we chose to make a 3 hour morning run by zodiac, and boy was that the correct choice! Now the Cathy and Michele did the same tour, but in the afternoon.

Lisa and I set off with the most experienced expedition team member in charge of our little boat. In all there were only six of us, so moving around for photographs was no problem. To tell the truth, I really did not expect to see much wildlife this morning because it was not only high tide, but with the full moon, it was what they termed “the highest of the high tides.” Generally more wildlife are seen at low tide.

As we entered the river, our guide, Malcom, noted a channel among the mangroves that he had never seen before. It was open now because of the extremely high tides, and so we set off along the towering rock cliffs to our side to see what could be seen. What a jackpot!! I can’t remember everything, but let me try. Right off, we spotted a beautiful white eagle sitting on her nest high among the rocks. Soon after that, we saw both gray and white herons in great abundance along with egrets. Soon on a tree limb hanging right over us was a wonderfully colorful bird – of course I can’t remember the name, but both Lisa and I got photographs. Suddenly someone calls out that something is at the top of the rocks moving around. Malcom cuts the motor and we drift for a while, when before our eyes pops up a long tailed rock wallaby. I got an image, but Lisa got a good photograph. When the little estuary gave out, we proceeded back into the river itself only to find quietly watching from the sandy beach a pretty good sized crocodile. Lying completely motionless you could take it for dead, but that is how they lure their prey so not to be fooled. These are salt water crocodiles and are meat eaters so being near one is not to be taken lightly.

The ride up river was spectacular. The water was like glass, and the low sun on the rocks gave them a bright red glow. We came to a small cove, so of course Malcom takes a look inside and to his surprise we spot a very rare creature in the water. All we can see is the nose and the long back as it glided around our little zodiac. The animal is the Dugong and it is a relative of our manatee. It stayed with us for the longest time and no one wanted to move. Finally we had to continue up river, where we found a pair of brightly colored oyster catchers sitting on a partly submerged rock along the river’s edge. Malcom had slowly worked us to the left shore where we had some shade, and then slyly cut the engine, suggesting that we should look around for ourselves. Gee, I wondered, what am I looking for? Someone shouts to look in the water, and there was a beautiful and very large jellyfish. It was pink colored, which we later learned was from having eaten small crustaceans, and it was beautifully undulating in the river. Wait, there was yet another one – smaller and white – wait, was another one coming to the surface right beside our boat. Before long, there were dozens, then hundreds, and finally thousands of the big creatures filling the water. The largest were perhaps slightly bigger than a basketball, and because of the calm conditions and shallow water, they were clearly beautiful. All we needed was music to choreograph their ballet.

We continued along while Malcom kept up a constant stream of information regarding the surrounding rock formations, which were beginning to tower over the river as we were now entering the King River Gorge itself. Then, there before us were the beautiful King George Falls! Really a wondrous sight. Amazingly Malcom was explaining and apologizing for the small volume of water because we are into the dry season. Usually at the height of the rainy season the Falls are virtually unapproachable. Even so, it was an impressive sight. The Falls are actually two main falls, separated by a rock wall in between. When at full force, each side is composed of multiple Falls all at once. We ran up to the left Falls and got quite close to the thunderous downpour of water. Understand, that it is at these Falls that the salt water of the sea, which is what we are floating on, meets the fresh water from the inland rivers of the continent. “Kinda neat to think of it that way!”

We then moved over to the right Falls and right away Malcom spots a small salamander marooned on a rock ledge near the Falls. We go over, and he explains that this beautiful little creature is a fresh water animal which has fallen from the top to land and be marooned here. It will either die on the ledge, or be eaten by a crocodile if it falls into the water. He says that if it is still there when he comes back in the afternoon, he will rescue it. We move our little zodiac right up to the cascading water until we are being covered by spray. Malcom backs off and with a sly smile and asks if anyone would like to get wet? Three people said yes, and so he asked them to sit in the front, and for the rest of us to move to the back. Now I have known Malcom many years and trust him implicitly, so when he proposed running up until the front of the zodiac was under the Falls, but not the back half – I figured, what the heck? Even though he had done this many times, today the Falls had different plans, and once we stuck our little bow into the falling water, it was as if a giant hand reached out and literally pulled us into the Falls. By the time we backed out, everything, and everyone in our little boat was soaked. Poor Malcom had his camera out and his case hung on the pedestal, and it was dripping wet. I had covered my brand new Sony camera with my Tilly hat – and – it was dry! Get this: before this cruise I washed this old hat and then sprayed it with water repellent because in the past it just soaked up water. Well, by darn, it worked! So no real damage except to Malcom’s pride and his camera, but even so, everyone was laughing and dripping all at the same time.

As we turned our little boat around to go back to the ship, someone let out a gasp because not five feet from us was a huge crocodile lying on a rock shelf with his feet out and ready to jump!!!! Guess what he was watching – yep, the poor little salamander. We got great pictures, but I had my leg over the side of the zodiac, and probably got a little too close in hindsight. These little darlings are known to jump in an instant and grab and twist a limb right off.

My, my – where does the time go? We had left for a three hour ride, and it was already well past that and we still had to return to the ship. But, what an amazing morning. Not one person complained about our being an hour late – after all, this is an expedition cruise.


Up, Up, and Away

Up, Up, and Away

Yesterday was without a doubt the highlight, so far, of this adventure for Lisa and me. We took a helicopter ride on a Bell JetRanger helicopter to the top of The Mitchell Plateau where the world renowned Mitchell Falls are located. The Falls are a very beautiful 4-tired series of falls in this remote outback of the Kimberley Region. Accompanied by Michele and Cathy, we all four squeezed ourselves into the little machine, which my Father, who used to design helicopters for Boeing, often described as 10,000 pieces all just wanting to fly apart. For those of you who are aware of Lisa’s knee problem, this was her biggest challenge yet. She has conquered getting into the zodiac, and in being able to make a wet landing, but climbing up and into the helicopter was a pretty big challenge – but she bravely made it, to a chorus of applause.

Our flight to the top was a magnificent 20 minute ride at first along the coastal cliffs, and then up river until we had to climb to reach the plateau itself. Once we reached the Falls, our helicopter made a circular pass over the Falls, then below, first to the right, and then to the left so that everyone got good pictures before circling back and gently landing on the rocky surface near the top. Once we disembarked, they had a shady area with a bench or two, and Lisa wisely elected to just stay in the almost 100 degree Fahrenheit shade rather than attempting a walk along the edge to the two viewpoints. I was able to make the first viewpoint, but going any further was well beyond my ability. Still, I took some wonderful pictures before returning to Lisa. Just to give you an idea as to exactly just how hot it was, my camera became too hot to even touch. Our flight back was equally impressive, and the pilot took a different route so that we could see more of the beautiful scenery.

Once back on the ship, we ended up having left before lunch and landed just as lunch was closing, so we ordered a cheeseburger in the room, and collapsed into the cool sheets for a well-deserved nap. So far, of course, I am relating my adventures, but for the record Michele and Cathy remind me of a pair of Energizer Bunnies, who just can’t stop. Before our flight yesterday, there was a brief wet landing onto a nearby island where some rock paintings could be seen, and of course, the girls were first in line. After returning to the ship from our helicopter ride, while we were worn out, the little bunnies kept right on going on a two hour zodiac ride on the Hunter River looking for crocodiles. And, as if that was not enough, they managed to squeeze in a documentary film on the origins of the paintings, then being recycled for the 6:30pm recap and briefing – then straight to dinner. I don’t know how they do it, but my hat is off to them – they don’t want to miss anything!!

Today the day again dawned without a cloud in the sky. We are surrounded by seas that are at times dark blue, and at others a beautiful shade of green. This morning our ship was anchored in Vansittart Bay near Jar Island. Our first activity was a 90 minute round trip to shore to view an aboriginal art gallery, or as I would term it, ancient rock drawings. We ran ashore in our zodiac for a wet landing onto a pristine white sand beach, and then after a short walk inland, came to the first of two painted galleries. This was my first exposure to aboriginal rock paintings, and I found it very interesting. The group then moved on to a much more difficult walk to reach the second gallery while I demurred and returned to the beach for a quick zodiac ride back to the ship. Even though I had been gone less than 90 minutes, I was drenched in sweat and dehydrated. Lisa very wisely decided to take a day off since the experience with getting into and out of the helicopter had left her knee quite swollen and sore.

As I have said before, on an expedition cruise, there is no rest for the weary. No sooner had we returned to the ship for lunch, then it was time to set off again. This time we were going ashore to view the remains of a DC-3 that crashed-landed in 1942. During lunch the ship had repositioned within the Bay to Anjo Peninsula, where once again we made a wet landing onto a beautiful white sand beach. We immediately set off climbing through soft white sand to climb the dune at the shore and once on top coming, or perhaps better put, sliding down the other side where we were confronted with a very wide salt flat. I had to cross this large area in order to reach the wreckage on the other side within the tree line. As we entered the trees to our left were two giant termite hills, and to our right, and in front of us was the intact fuselage and wing of a DC-3 that was now 74 years old. It is a tribute to the strength of this old bird that it was so well preserved, that people could actually walk across the interior ribs and it held their weight. In 1942, the aircraft was headed from Perth to Broome when it became lost, and because of low fuel and deteriorating weather, the pilot made an emergency landing on the old salt flats. Miraculously everyone survived and were eventually rescued. The Australian military salvaged all useable parts, and even cut a portion of the skin to use for shade, but otherwise this aircraft is still pretty much intact.

It was a long hot walk back to the sand dune, then up and down again, and finally exhausted and overheated, I made it back to the ship.

Recap and briefing, a cocktail party for new cruisers to Silversea, and a wonderful dinner capped off yet another day here “down under.”


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Atlantis Rises

Atlantis Rises

Yesterday was a two part experience. Early in the morning, the ship anchored off iconic Raft Point, from which we were transported ashore for a wet landing onto a very rocky beach. There some of the local aborigines waited to welcome us with an arrival ceremony, after which there was a very strenuous 45 minute hike to the Wandijna Rock Art Gallery. This was a scared place where very special art had been painted onto the ceiling of an overhanging rock outcropping. Now if you are thinking that this does not sound like something that Jim or especially Lisa would be doing, you are absolutely correct. Both Michele and Cathy bravely made it to the top to regale us both with their pictures and stories. I at least rode the Zodiac into shore, which allowed me to get come good pictures of Raft Point, and Lisa wisely stayed on the ship.

In the afternoon the ship had moved to anchor off Montgomery Reef, which has been described by Sir David Attenborough as the 8th natural wonder of the world. From my perspective on board the ship, I could see absolutely nothing of any interest, just water as far as the eye could see. At 2 pm we boarded the zodiacs and set out across the water, where in the far distance it looked to me as if there were some small islands just above the waterline. The closer we got, the higher the islands seemed to rise, until I noticed that what appeared to be a dark landmass was slowly appearing all around me. Gradually as the land rose from the ocean, water trapped on top began to flow down from it, slowly at first, then as the land rose entire rivers were gushing down all around us. At one point our expedition driver pointed our little zodiac into the now gushing river and tried to move forward, but even at full power we were no match for the strong currents and eventually had to turn away. At some point I turned around to see our ship behind us, but the land had risen so high, that our ship was hidden from view. As the land rose, virtual rivers appeared, and we drove against the current upriver as far as we could go before running into shallow water. Along the way we saw an amazing variety of birds that had come to feed, and beneath our little zodiac we could see giant turtles now clearly visible in the shallow water. Not only were they visible under water, but all around us turtle heads were briefly popping up for air, and then quickly disappearing.

Turning around now with the current behind us, we flew across the water until turning a corner we once again saw our ship, but our way forward was blocked by a sandbar that had not been there before. As if that was not amazing enough, sitting atop the sandbar was a giant awning, and underneath that was the ship’s Hotel Director along with members of his staff. They had setup a table for drinks and snacks, and brought along ice chest full of cool beverages. Our zodiacs were run up onto the sand, and everyone got out to enjoy the surprise. A few people, such as Lisa and I elected to stay in our zodiac, and so the staff brought beverages to us. All in all a really fun and surprising afternoon.

Now, I must really explain that Atlantis did not indeed rise up out of the ocean. There was a more logical explanation – the tide was receding and as it did so we dropped below the level of the shallow reef surrounding us. While the reef appeared to us to be rising from the shallows, in fact we were lowering in the surrounding waters – still pretty cool, even if you do know the trick.

Our evening ended with the four of us having a unique dinner on the outer deck, where under the stars we cooked steaks on hot lava rocks. Simply put, we are indeed blessed.

What a wonderful World.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Finally – The Kimberly Coast!


We are finally safely ensconced on board our new home for a month, the Silver Discoverer. This had been a very long journey, particularly for our dear friends Michele and Cathy. Like us, they too traveled the almost 39 hours to Perth, however they arrived on one afternoon, and then had to be up by 2:30 am the next morning to catch our 2.5 hour flight to Broome, in northwest Australia. Once there, we were taken to a hotel when we could have breakfast and rest until it came time to board the ship around 1pm. Michele and Cathy, however, went for a walk instead, but how they got the energy is beyond me.

All of us finally boarded buses for our long drive out to the pier where our ship was waiting. Reaching the dock, I was a little surprised that I could not see the Discoverer. I will admit it was a very long dock, but still, the ship had to be there someplace! The dock was under repair, and only one narrow lane was open, so the bus had to drive forward very slowly. The closer we came to the end of the pier, the more I wondered where in the heck we were being taken. Suddenly I realized what was going on; this region of the world is home to some of the largest tidal flows to be found. As it happened, the tide was out, and our ship was so low in the water that only the very top of the vessel was visible. In fact, when we pulled alongside, we were actually looking into the bridge with the ship below the dock level. This situation actually created a problem for the ship. You see, while a ship can make fresh water, it can only do so while moving. Generally, that is not sufficient for all of the needs of the passengers, so while in port, the ship buys water from the local authorities. Here, however, with the tide so low, the ship was riding very close to the bottom, and, therefore, could not take on the required amount of water because to do so, would have weighted it down too much. This is not a huge crisis, but it does mean that some restrictions are in place to conserve water until supplies can be replenished.

All of us wanted badly to rest; however, as is the case on an expedition cruise, the first afternoon is a flurry of required activity. We had time for a quick lunch before being required by immigration officials to attend a mandatory face to face passport check. One hour later we had a mandatory life boat drill, followed one hour later by a sail away party. Just when we thought we could rest, at 6:15 pm we had to attend the staff introductions and all important Voyage Overview, followed immediately by dinner. Lisa and I were barely functioning, but poor Cathy and Michele were dragging to say the least. Poor Cathy had to skip dinner and get some rest because bright and early the next morning we all had to attend the mandatory zodiac briefing and a briefing of the day’s activities. Whew! Whoever said that expedition was relaxing, was dead wrong.

Here we are at the fabled Kimberly Coast – so what is it? Well, the Kimberly is one of nine regions in the State of Western Australia. It is located in the northern part of the State and is bordered on the west by the Indian Ocean, on the north by the Timor Sea, on the east by the Northern Territory, and on the south by the Great Sandy and Tanami Deserts. In total, it covers over 163,000 sq. mi. Besides having one of the world’s greatest tidal flows, it is also one of the hottest parts of Australia with temperatures in November reaching 100 degrees F on the coast, and 104 F inland. On our outing today, we encountered temperatures around 97F, with a clear blue sky.

In anchoring in Talbot Bay, we explored cyclone bay and observed the fabulous horizontal falls from the closeness of our zodiacs. This requires a bit of an explanation, so stay with me. Departing the ship on our zodiacs for a ride into cyclone bay, which is a long narrowing body of water much like a fjord. Next to the bay and running parallel to it was a very large lake. Next to that lake was yet another large lake. So, we were going up the narrowing bay, with two large lakes off to our right. Between the bay and the first lake was a narrow slit in the surrounding rocks. The slit was perhaps the width of 4 zodiacs. As the tide came in, the rising water races through that slit, and fills the adjacent lake. Likewise, when the tide fell, the lake emptied back into the river with a torrent of rushing water.

If you are with me so far, then let me go one step further. Between the first lake and the adjacent lake there was yet another narrow slit in the rock. This slit was perhaps the width of only two zodiacs. So, as the rising tide filled cyclone bay, so, too, does it fill the first lake. Likewise as the first lake filled, water rushed into the second lake. This entire process ebbed back and forth as the tide rose and fell.

Now having set the stage, allow me to describe our two hour experience on the zodiac. We set off entering cyclone bay. The scenery is magnificent. We are surrounded by towering red rock, which is the continent of Australia itself. Plate tectonics has slammed the region of the Kimberly’s violently into the continent producing a wondrous display of strange rock formations. Finally we reach the area of the slits, which because of the large volumes of water thundering through them are known as “The Horizontal Falls.” We carefully approach the first slit, which is gushing water towards us as the falling tide empties the adjacent lake. As we approach the slit, the waters around us become more and more turbulent, with giant whirlpools all around us. Finally our leader lines our little zodiac up with the slit and gives the little beast all of its 90 horsepower, and …… nothing except a violent ride. We simply do not have the horsepower to push our way through the narrow opening, but what a thrill!

That adventure behind us, we set out for a spectacular ride up the narrowing bay. We were looking for wildlife as well as enjoying the scenery. I managed to capture photographs of a two very unique birds – sorry, I don’t know their names, also three kinds of land crabs, red, blue and a black and white little creature. Then we saw a rather unique site – right beside our zodiac was gliding a large black fin. Our guide just about jumped out of his skin because no such animal should be this far inland. We came to a gliding stop all the while looking for the telltale fin, when it suddenly appeared right beside us. There, gliding just below the clear surface of the water was one of the strangest creatures I’ve ever seen. I estimate it was around 4 ft. in length with a strange tail. Our guide guessed it was a small sailfish, but he really did not know. The lady sitting on the very front actually got a picture with her iPhone, so the expedition will look at it and see what they can make.

When it was time to return, as we went by the slit that an hour before was impenetrable, our little zodiac drove right up to and through with no resistance. The tide was turning, and so the water was mostly calm. We then drove across the first lake to the second slit, and I have never quite seen anything like it. Before me was a virtual wall of water since the lake beyond was not able to drain due to the more narrow slit. The water level in second lake was clearly above our lake and was gushing through the narrow slit. We pulled up to it, and as we did previously on the first slit, we tried to power our way through the little slit, but alas, it was to no avail. Interestingly enough a local tour company offers rides through the falls, but then their boats have 1,000 horsepower in order to do so!

At the end of a very long day we all had the Hotel Director join us for dinner and had a wonderful time. One interesting thing we learned was regarding just how full this cruise indeed is. I have noted that I have never seen this ship so full, and he confirmed that we have so many passengers that four members of the crew had to be left behind in Broome because the ship is limited to no more than 216 persons in all. I don’t know just why this particular trip is so popular, but one theory is that because tomorrow is a full moon, we will be seeing maximum tidal flows.

So, that gives everyone an update from down under – stay tuned for more to follow from the little ship that can!


Monday, May 16, 2016

Whoops – Size Matters


This morning at the early hour of 5:45am, Lisa and I were sitting on our Qantas flight to Broome Australia, when our Captain announced that taking off in front of us would be the largest aircraft in the world, the Ukraine-built Anotnov An-225 Mriya. This aircraft had caused quite a stir in Perth when it landed the other day to deliver a 128 ton generator. For two days, roads around the airport were brought to a standstill as people from all over the region flocked to see this enormous beast. Fully loaded the aircraft weighs in at 660 tons. By comparison, a Boeing 747-8 weighs in at a puny 493 tons. I was excited to see if I could see the plane, and as luck would have it, even though it was still dark, the aircraft took off on an intersecting runway, and so I got a good look as it roared by and lifted into the morning sky. Even though it did not take off on our runway, the fact that it crossed our runway meant that we had to hold for several minutes to avoid any wake turbulence.

This incident made me realize that in my last blog, I was so excited about having been on one of the longest non-stop flights in the world that I forgot to mention that we had made the trip on the largest “commercial aircraft in the world,” the Airbus 380. Depending on the configuration of the interior, it can carry anywhere from 585 passengers up to 700 passengers. So, seeing the Anotnov this morning made me wonder how the weights compared, and the Anotnov is indeed the winner, since the Airbus tops in at only 560 tons.

Anyway, we have finally met up with our dear friends Michele and Cathy, and are now waiting the only hotel in Broome for the opportunity to board our ship.

So again, G’day mate,


Thirty-Nine Hours


Lisa and I have just completed one of our longest journeys; from the time we left home in Kansas City until we checked into our hotel in Perth Australia, we had travelled for thirty-nine continuous hours! When you start talking about Australia, the distances involved are enormous.

Let me briefly tell you about our flight:

We departed Kansas City for a flight to Dallas, TX, where after a 6 hour layover we boarded a Qantas Air flight direct to Sydney, Australia. Until just a few months ago, that was the longest ultra-long haul commercial flight in the world going non-stop for 16 hours, 45 minutes. Our flight actually took a little over 17 hours. Recently Emirates Air started service between Dubai and Auckland, New Zealand which is slightly longer. In any event, it was one long flight! Even more exciting was the fact that we were flying for the first time on the enormous Airbus 380 which is essentially a complete double decker aircraft. As you board, you are directed to either the upper level or the lower one. Once on board, our level was completely independent from the lower one. It was in that sense completely like a normal flight, except we were seated way above the ground. I was amazed by two things actually. First, the takeoff was fairly quiet, and the liftoff so smooth and subtle that it was eerie. We eventually climbed to 41,000 ft. and flew at about 475kts across the Pacific. Second, and really amazing thing, was the landing. The aircraft came in so slow and quiet, then touching down softly and without much braking or noise, then almost silently coming to a slow taxi. Really amazing! We were in Business Class and had so much room that it was pretty impressive.

Now it seems that all our friends seem to assume that after arriving into Sydney, we are pretty much there – well, that is not the case. Australia is a very large country indeed, and after waiting for 4 hours, we boarded another Qantas flight to the western city of Perth; a flight that took 5 hours. What amazed me on this flight was the terrain. It was devoid for the most part of any sign of human activity. By the time we left Sydney and I actually paid attention outside, there was simply a barren red and white landscape. Try as I could, I could see no roads, or trails --nothing, and it stayed that way until we were on our descent into Perth.

Believe it or not, Perth is not the final destination in our journey to join our ship the Silver Discoverer. Rather Perth is where we chose to stop for a few nights to get caught up with ourselves. Believe me, after 39 hours in the same clothes, without shaving or brushing my teeth – and yes, no quality pot time, it was time to just stop.

I don’t believe that neither Lisa nor I remember much of our first night here. Every restaurant in our Hotel/Casino was completely full so we were forced to find some place in town to eat. Since our hotel is on an island of its own that meant a cab into town. I really don’t recall much about dinner, I just remember dropping into the cool clean sheets and going right to sleep.

With no rest for the weary, however, we set our alarms to get us up in time to meet our driver at 8am the next morning for an all-day outing in the countryside north of Perth. Surprisingly after a good night’s sleep, we were actually doing reasonably OK. In the end, we spent over 8 hours on our circle drive north before returning to the Perth. Our first stop was roughly two hours before reaching the quaint town of New Norcia. First founded in 1847, where even today it is the only monastic town in Australia. Here we found a Benedictine abbey and church along with several old schools and colleges. We arrived into town on a Sunday morning just in time to catch the end of the Service in the old Abbey Church. Housed in that Church is an old and very large Moser Organ which was originally crafted in Germany and brought here in the 1920’s. The sound was amazing as, too, were the haunting harmonies of the all-girls choir that was singing. We were very blessed to see even a small portion of that service. After meandering around town taking pictures, we continued north and west towards the coast, traveling for hours on roads that went straight for as far as the eye could see. On either side of the roads were massive properties used for cattle or sheep farming.

After two more hours, we came to a small town, but since it was Sunday, everything was closed. Heading down the road at 70 mph the speed limit, we crested a hill and right in the middle of our lane was a medium sized strange animal. I was certain we would hit the creature, but our driver was quick enough that we just missed it. However, he immediately hit the brakes and started to quickly back-up. (Now on deserted roads you can do this stunt. Why, we had not seen another car for perhaps an hour.) Our driver was excitedly yelling at us to get out of the car to see the Echidna. Never having heard of the little critter, I was anxious to get some photographs, but when we got too close it just rolled into a tight ball and played dead. It was covered with sharp spines, so leaving it alone was the best option; although we did see if we could get it to move. Our driver said that having lived in Australia 35 years, he had never seen one of these little animals alive outside a zoo. I looked it up, and an Echidna is sometimes known as a spiny anteater. So, there, yet another adventure for the day.

We drove and drove until finally we came to a small village with a gas station open where we could find some food and a drink. The cold soda was great, but the food made me sick, and our next search was for a bathroom – like quickly. Finally we found a public restroom on the beach – but, hey, when you gotta you gotta! Having now reached the coast north of Perth, we started our drive back to Perth, which the computer showed as requiring 2.5 hours. Along the way, we made our next big stop at the Numbung National Park, home to the Pinnacles Desert. These mystical limestone pillars make up one of Australia’s most unique landscape. These ancient pillars are scattered across the desert in their thousands, creating an eerie, alien-like landscape. Some are as high as three and a half meters, and some finish in a jagged point like spear. Made up of shells, they date back millions of years. There is a theory that this area was the bottom of the sea, but in truth no one yet knows the exact process that caused them to form. Finally we headed home after a long day, and fell into bed exhausted.

Today we are taking a break and mostly a day at leisure. We will drive into the City itself this afternoon to see the museum and the large Park, but our travel to the ship is not yet over. Tomorrow morning we catch a 5:45am flight north along the coast, to the city of Broome. {I have to interject, right outside my window playing on our patio are three beautiful parrots. Just beautiful, but in the shade, so this memory goes home with me and not in my pictures.} So, back to my story; Our flight to Broome will be another 2.5 hours, allowing us sometime tomorrow afternoon to finally meet our ship and begin our amazing cruise along the Kimberly Coast of Australia.

Hope everyone is well,


Thursday, May 5, 2016

10,700 Miles


That is how far away from Kansas City Lisa and I will be flying next week as we head off on yet another globe-trotters adventure. By the time we finally arrive in Perth, Australia, we will have flown more than halfway around the world since the diameter of the earth is only 7,917 miles.

This will be a VERY long series of flights which takes us to Dallas, TX, then onto Sydney, Australia, and finally into Perth itself. Perth is a large city located on the southwest coast of Australia. However, our stop in Perth is merely to allow us to catch our breath, make some adjustment to the time change, and to give us time for our bags to catch up should they be delayed. After a three-night stay, we will board a Qantas flight for roughly a 3-hour journey up and along the coast to the small town of Broome, where finally we will meet our home for the next 30 days, our expedition ship, The Silver Discoverer.

I really must admit that in truth I am not at all certain why we are traveling to this remote part of the world, and until about a year ago, I had never even heard of what is called “The Kimberly Coast.” However, during one of our cruises, the onboard expedition team was given the task of having each team member make a five-minute presentation of where on this planet they thought most amazing and a place to which they would return. A large number of the staff selected the Galapagos Islands, but all the rest chose “the Kimberly coast.” The pictures and stories they shared were nothing short of amazing, and so Lisa and I decided to search it out. What we found were very few ships made this journey, and when we looked into booking a cruise, they were all sold out. So we have waited some time to finally learn what all the fuss is about. For this initial 10-day cruise, we will be joined by our dear friends Cathy and Michele, which will make this adventure more exciting than it already is. I did find this brief description using Google:

“The Kimberley is Western Australia’s sparsely settled northern region. It’s known for large swaths of wilderness defined by rugged mountains, dramatic gorges, outback desert and isolated coastal sections. The mostly unsealed (unpaved) Gibb River Road runs 660km through the heart of the Kimberley, leading to Windjana Gorge National Park, which has towering limestone cliff walls and pools where freshwater crocodiles gather.”

I was going to attempt to describe our journey, but in the end, I felt that pasting a map would help everyone in following along.


After following the Australian coast for 10 days, the ship will begin another cruise to the north into Indonesia. Sadly, Michele and Cathy will be heading home, leaving us to sail on alone.

Our remaining days will be focused not so much on beautiful scenery, but into expeditions of some aboriginal settlements, and then as we head north to Indonesia and Papua, we will explore some very isolated cultures in what is known as the Agats region of Papua. If you are like me, then all these names and places are for the most part unheard of, so once again, I have resorted to a map of our second voyage.


Finally, for those of you who have not yet heard, poor Lisa has had her artificial right knee breakdown. She is in quite a great deal of pain, and at times the knee actually “locks up.” On the other hand, at times when the swelling is down, she is able to get around reasonably well with a cane. It all just depends on the moment. In spite of this, she has decided to make this trip realizing full well that some expeditions will simply not be an option for her. Her surgery to repair the knee is scheduled for July 8th, and until then it would help if you would keep her in your prayers.

I will do my best to write as we go along, but as always, know that when we get to these remote regions, we do not always have a satellite signal for internet. Just to add to the fun, where I have been uploading my pictures as we go along is no longer being supported by Google, so I do not know if or how well that web page will work. We will just have to see. I promise that I will upload the photographs when we return and in fact, I am already working on a new site.

I hope everyone is well, and I do hope you enjoy the journeys.