Thursday, June 9, 2016

Captain Summoned Ashore!

Today my blog will be a three-part adventure for the simple reason that there are three separate stories to be told. I need to relate our continued encounters with the local Indonesian authorities. Of course, I need to relate our expedition experience going ashore to visit a small village, and finally, I need to give an update on the medical condition for both Lisa and myself.

Let’s start with the official encounters. As you know when I last wrote, it appeared that every time we turned around the local Indonesian authorities wanted to board the vessel for one reason or another, and there seemed to be an ongoing series of discussions regarding some paperwork issue or other. I think everyone on board felt that that issue had more than been resolved. However, after our morning visit ashore at the village of Yenwaupnor, when the ship attempted to raise anchor and reposition to a nearby island for our afternoon activities, a patrol vessel suddenly appeared off our bow, and an official was waving his hands and making an “X” sign to indicate that we were to go no further.

Now understand that everything I am relating here is coming to you third hand; I did not actually witness all that occurred; and I can only share with you what we were told; and what we ourselves heard later. Believe it or not the local officials had the gall to once again board the vessel and indicate that we in some way had violated Indonesian waters without authority. I gather that discussions went on for some significant period of time during which phone calls, and emails flew back and forth in an effort to resolve the issue. After an extended period of discussions, some kind of resolution was reached with the officials who had boarded our vessel, and they returned to their boat having given us clearance to conduct the afternoon’s activities. No more had they departed our vessel, then they themselves apparently received instructions from their base commander that the negotiations were not acceptable to him, and they were directed to return to our ship. Now, get this! Not only were they directed to return to our ship, but they were also directed to bring back to their base the Captain of this ship, and one other senior officer. Such a journey even by high-speed zodiac would have required 40 minutes. In the 55 cruises or so that Lisa and I had done, I had never before heard of the Captain essentially being ordered off of his ship. More negotiations took place, and the offer was made for the local official himself to come visit the ship since the Captain had responsibilities on board which did not permit him to depart the vessel. That was unacceptable, and after a very tense standoff, the local official apparently threatened that unless the Captain appeared in his office immediately the matter would be turned over to police authorities, and the vessel would be forced to immediately undertake a two-day voyage under guard in order to resolve the matter at some district office or other. Not appearing to have any alternative, my understanding is that the Captain along with the Chief Financial Officer set out in a zodiac as demanded. Before they reached the shore however, our ship received instructions from the Home Office of Silversea which is located in Monaco that the Captain was to return to the ship immediately. Silversea took the position that all of the paperwork had been completed appropriately, and that they had thorough documentation. They also were in contact with Indonesian officials at a higher level. I don’t know exactly how the entire matter was ultimately resolved so that everyone saved face, but I do know that late in the afternoon we were finally given permission to continue with our snorkeling and diving operation. You would think that Indonesian authorities would appreciate the large amount of tourism and money that this cruise line brings to their islands, and all that we can imagine is that this really has to do with local feuds and between districts and the federal government. In any event, we finally concluded our activities in Indonesia, and are now today at sea headed towards the country of Palau.

So allow me to return to my second narrative, which relates to our delightful visit yesterday to the village of Yenwaupnor. The village is located in the Dampier Strait on the Island of Gam. This area, and indeed this village is world famous as being a location where one can view Birds Of Paradise in the wild. I had heard of these beautiful creatures, but did not realize that they inhabit such a small range on the planet. In large, they are confined to the island of New Guinea, and some of the surrounding territory. For those hardy adventurers who were willing to brave the strenuous journey through the forest, in the dark, to the top of the mountain side next to the village of Yenwaupnor - they might be able at sunrise to catch a glimpse of the fabled birds in full display. While all of this sounded interesting to me, the idea of leaving the ship around 4:30 in the morning, and climbing up a steep mountain trail in the darkness in the hopes of getting to see a bird – well, it just wasn’t my “cup of tea.” There were, however I understand about 12 hardy adventurers from our passengers who, along with the expedition team, made the journey. According to the Expedition Leader afterward, they were fortunate enough to have observed perhaps the best display that he had witnessed in his career. So I guess this is one I will have to see on the DVD offered by the ship after we get home.

In any event, at the more reasonable hour of 8:30 am, we were invited ashore to witness a cultural performance by the residents of the local village. Sadly, Lisa was restricted to the ship, but I did make the journey. It was a relatively short 20 minute zodiac ride across crystal clear waters to reach a very long wooden jetty onto which we could make what is known as a dry landing. Right from the jetty you could look down through the water to the coral reef below, and see fish and giant clams along with even a blue starfish or two. The water was so clear, and the sun so bright that essentially I was snorkeling without even having to get my feet wet. At the end of the long pier, there awaited a line of local women who were playing drums and flutes to welcome us to the village. The drums didn’t surprise me, but the flutes did. In fact, this entire village seemed to be quite musical with a large variety of instruments in use.

Once we were all seated in a semi-circle, members of the village proceeded to put on a very lively performance that reminded me somewhat of being in the Caribbean by nature of the beat they used. They were laughing, smiling, and in general everyone was having a good time. In fact, I even heard one story from a local who related that since today was a school day, the young people who were there had to have their parents’ permission. Early in the morning, I understand that young children were begging their parents to be allowed to attend the performance and not to have to go to school.

After about 30 minutes, the performances ended and there followed a demonstration of local cooking techniques, and an opportunity for members of our team to try local cuisine. We were also at liberty to wander around the village, which I did. I was surprised at how clean I found everything. I walked down Main Street, and once again it was lined with railings on both sides behind which were clean neighborhood yards. There was a nice school which was in session, and there was a beautiful church, which I believe was Catholic. Everyone seemed very grateful that we were visiting. When you get a chance to look at my photographs, I think you’ll find that I had an exceptionally good day and managed to bring home “some real keepers.”

After returning to the ship for lunch, the unpleasantness of local officials occurred, and after that was resolved many of the people on board went snorkeling and diving. Unfortunately neither Lisa nor I were allowed to join in those activities. Both of us are still being bothered by significant breathing problems relating to asthma and bronchitis. Our room looks somewhat like a medical clinic complete with nebulizers, oxygen tanks, and blood pressure meters. There is one cute story that I do have to share. The photographer on the ship is a good friend that we have met on other cruises, and for this cruise he has for the first time brought along a drone from which he is able to take aerial photographs. He has been very excited to share this with me and to let me operate his new toy. Unfortunately, we just never had an opportunity until yesterday. So I begged the doctor to allow me to go ashore in the afternoon simply for the purpose of playing with the new toy, and promising to return as soon as I could thereafter. Reluctantly he agreed, and inwardly I said to myself – I won! I was so happy at finally being given permission to go outside that I walked out to the pool deck to take a breath of fresh air and as I did so, I immediately started to cough and hack as the warm moist air filled my lungs. Who should come around the corner just as I am in a hacking cough – the ship’s Doctor! With a sly smile on his face he quietly says, “Well, I guess you’re not going ashore today.” So, I will just have to get to play with the drone another day, or else buy my own.

As in all good things, there comes a time when our adventures must come to a close. This will be my last blog for this journey, and I do hope that all of you have enjoyed traveling with us from Australia across the South Pacific to Palau. It has been a wonderful time, and I simply cannot emphasize strongly enough how wonderful every member of the crew on this ship has been to Lisa and me. They have gone out of their way to accommodate our every need, and I genuinely feel as if they have in many ways become family.

Tomorrow afternoon the ship should arrive in to Koror, the Capital of the island nation of Palau around noon. Because we are arriving slightly sooner than planned, activities have been set up for the afternoon. Lisa and I are going to spend our time in the cool environment of the ship, and prepare to depart the following day. We will leave allow around 4 AM on June 12, and fly to Tokyo. From there, we will have a long layover before catching a nonstop flight to Minneapolis, and there we have a short wait until catching our flight onward and we will arrive into Kansas City late on the afternoon of June 12. So even though we are traveling halfway around the world, we will arrive on the same day that we left, thus gaining back the day that was “lost” on our flight over.


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