Cruising Episode Two - Floods, Petra, Red Sea fish, pirates and Oman
Well, where were we? In the last post I covered the first part of our Middle East cruise on the 'Voyager' - have added some more pictures to that now - and in this post I carry on cruisin'. A wet day in Petra, a look at life below the Red Sea, fending off the pirates, and exploring Oman.
So, after the floods in Sharm-el-Sheikh, we chugged up to Aqaba, in Jordan, for our trip to Petra. Unfortunately, the bad weather followed us, and it was a pouring wet morning. We saw scarcely anything of Aqaba. Apparently, it has the sixth largest flagpole in the world - here it is. It carries the flag of the Arab Revolt commemorating the Battle of Aqaba that took place in 1917. Think Lawrence of Arabia. You can look across from Aqaba to Eilat in Israel.
|Looking across to Eilat, Israel.|
|Weather not encouraging.....|
|Walking down to the Siq - with the crowds|
The first bit of the 2km walk down the Siq was fine, if a bit crowded - stunning rock formations and colours, but as we got further in, streams of water gushed from the walls onto the path, which rapidly turned into a fast-flowing stream. Worse, the smooth path was replaced by ancient paving - chunks of rock made slippery by the wet - and even deeper water.
|Classic view of the Treasury|
By the time we had floundered back up again the sun was out. Philosopher had sore toes from his wet shoes rubbing his feet.
Like many places these days, Petra felt so overun with tourists it was hard to appreciate it. We count ourselves lucky to have seen so many wonderful places in the world before the mass tourism explosion happened.
The views of the Wadi Rum were much better on the way back. In the villages we even saw some Bedouin tents. Most of them are now no longer nomadic, and have houses, but apparently they still like to erect their tents in their gardens and sleep in them.
|In the distance, a proper Bedouin encampment|
Our boat to the Giftun Islands, the snorkelling destination, set off from Hurghada, the next resort up the coast, and in former times, very popular with tourists. Now, it is like a ghost town. Our guide told us that of the 250 hotels, only 40 were open. It really brought home how depressed the Egyptian tourist industry is. The guy told us that he used to do five trips like ours in a week, but this was his first in six months.
|Hurghada - a ghost town|
We had a good boat trip out to the islands - how blue that sea is - and landed at an island resort called 'Paradise'. The islands are just chunks of desert in the sea....
|Paradise Resort, on the Giftun Islands|
|First fish we saw...|
However, the fish were wonderful - I had not expected them to be just as you see on telly....
|Yes, the reef and the fish did look like this|
|A blue-lipped clam - saw one like this.|
|Mysterious people arrive on board|
|Unloading their gear|
|The only pirate we saw!|
So, how was life on board for the five days? The daily lectures were quite good, so added those to our routine of Sea Stretch classes, and I visited the gym daily. Ate loads of course, and got hooked on daily cocktails....
We didn't sit out in the sun that much - too hot. However, there were 'lizard' folk who just lay out on sunbeds all day - crikey were they orange and wrinkly. The temperature was well over 30 degrees most days....
Then there was the competitive talk - it moved from who had done the longest and most exotic cruises to wild-life sightings - I saw a dolphin today, well I saw a whole pod of them, I saw a turtle, well, I saw a huge leaping sword fish bla de bla. We didn't see anything at all until the last sea day, when I think by sheer will-power we summoned a school of dolphins from the vasty deep. They gambolled around our bit of ship for at least five minutes.
We did meet some nice people - an Australian woman travelling on her own, and an English/American couple who lived in Tavistock. To be fair, most of the passengers were pleasant enough, just not our sort of people.
What else? I visited the Bridge. No big wheel to wrestle with - in fact there was nobody driving the ship at all, it does it all automatically with computers, and there was just a little joystick thing to adjust the course if necessary.
We went to some of the evening 'shows' delivered by the hard-working entertainment team - surprisingly high standard. One night the senior staff did a 'Call my Bluff' session, interspersed with spontaneous music. That's the Captain on guitar....
The senior staff also did a question and answer session for us, all about the running and management of the ship. It was really interesting - we could run for about 15 days without refuelling, and carry enough food for about three weeks. I didn't like hearing how cruise ships discharge 'black water' i.e sewage into the sea once they are 19 miles off the coast. Ugh. Imagine the pollution from all those huge ships....
When it wasn't boarding school, it was a holiday camp. Foxtrotting with Sarah and Tony in the Darwin Lounge. Putting with Paul on the Lido deck. Bridge club in the Lookout Lounge. Origami in Scott's Bar..... No, no, no. We read lots of books, played scrabble, slept. They had a good library on board.
As well as the lizards, other subgroups to be avoided included the good-time gals - older women on their own who gathered together to drink cocktails and shriek. The drunks - swaying on bar stools and getting embarrassing with the Fillipino waitresses. The solitary nerds and saddos - say no more but to be avoided at all costs. The ancients - say absolutely nothing but grit teeth while someone on a zimmer frame holds everyone else up.... Before each trip, they said whether or not it was suitable for persons with restricted mobility, but did they take any notice. No. The bores, the stupid.... oh, stop right here....
|The Verandah restaurant, our usual haunt for breakfast and lunch|
In Salalah, we visited a brand new mosque and a very boring, brand new museum. The place is big on frankinsense.
|Mosque in Salalah|
|Frankinsense tree at the museum|
|Classic desert palm trees|
It is possible things may be different in the mountainous interior of the country, but I do faintly doubt it.
In Muscat we went out walking on our own - phew was it hot though. You can see how shiny and clean it is. Very few women were to be seen, and many of the men wore long white dish-dashas.
|The incense burner - symbol of Muscat|
|The Sultan's palace|
|Shiny marble pavements|
|Muscat Corniche at night|
|The Sultan's yacht - nearly as big as our ship|
Talking of shameless, on our last night a beautiful three masted sailing ship tied up near us, the brand-new Omani navy Sultan Qaboos sail training vessel. We went to look at it with Graham, the nice bloke from Tavistock mentioned above. Philosopher and I would just have gawped but Graham blagged his way on board, and crew members showed us round. Just my luck - had no knickers under my long skirt. Just the thing for climbing up and down breezy ladders in front of a load of Omani sailors....
Long journey home - flight from Muscat to Dubai, then seven hour flight on a huge Airbus that holds 600 people.
Would we go cruising again? Probably not until we are older. We liked the ship, the staff were truly excellent, the food was great, but both of us disliked being herded about on outings with lots of others, and the whole on-board culture schtick. By the end, I had just about had a basinful of my fellow Brits.
Also, ports big enough to accommodate even small cruise ships like ours are very inconvenient places. They are usually a long way from town centres, and sure, you can walk off the ship, but then you can't walk about in the port because pedestrians are forbidden, or get to the towns without being pestered by hordes of taxi drivers etc.
Anyway, to finish, here is a cute Omani kitty...