Monday, November 28, 2011

“Bob, Look At That Weird Log Floating By!”

Living on Colvos Passage where there’s always a current, we often see things float by, particularly after a heavy rain.  We have seen, and sometimes gone out in the dinghy to retrieve:  kayaks, mooring buoys, rafts, a friend’s sailboat, as well as observed, but not retrieved lots of trees, limbs and general “stuff”.  Today Cathryn called out, “Bob, look at that weird log floating by!”


Because this is a close-up photo, a close look will reveal that it’s actually a couple of sea lions taking advantage of a nice, calm, sunny day to float by, flippers in the air, relaxing and getting some solar warmth.  Let me tell you, at first glance without the aid of binoculars, it was not all that obvious.

We love living on the waters of Puget Sound, as there is always something going on outside the windows!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

“Loopers” In Training

If you’ve been following along for awhile, you’ve read about our plans to do the “Great Loop” boat journey in 2012. It’s a 6,000-mile trip up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway from Florida to New York, then west through the Great Lakes, and finally south on the inland rivers back to the Gulf of Mexico.  And 2012 is only weeks away!


As part of the transition from people who like to travel by plane, car, “rig” (our truck and 5th wheel trailer, to those of  you uninitiated to that term) or our pocket cruiser into “Loopers” we’ve been honing our boating skills by taking U.S. Power Squadron courses.  So far we’ve take the America’s Boating Class, Boat Mechanics,  a First Aid Course and various specialty seminars.  Currently we’re enrolled in a Seamanship class. And yesterday was our on-the-water-training-day.

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At 9 AM sharp we reported to the Port Orchard Marina and boarded our instructors’ 46-foot Kha Shing trawler for a day of hands-on seamanship.

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Our instructor Kevin, in the white sweatshirt and navy blue hat, began with a boat briefing and then began our drills. Photos  are courtesy of Kevin’s wife Jean Marie.

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Each of the 8 students took a turn at the helm and spent a few minutes familiarizing ourselves with the boat’s handling characteristics and controls.

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We then took this 20-ton twin-engine behemoth into the dock and were expected to do so without injury to either the dock or the boat.

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We’re pleased to report that we both succeeded with flying colors! Of course it helped that there were no other boats on the dock, no wind, little current, and an instructor standing alongside to take over if we screwed up!

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Nonetheless, we came away with increased confidence that we could actually handle a boat like the ones we’re currently shopping for, trawlers in the 36 – 44 foot range.

By the way, we’re in the process of remodeling our blog to reflect our new Great Loop adventure. Near the top you’ll find a new page, by clicking on the words “Looking For The Perfect Loop Boat” which describes what kind of boat we’re shopping for, and over on the top right corner of the home page, a map of the Great Loop route.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sapa, Vietnam Slide Show

Here are more photos from our time in Sapa, which we wrote about HERE and HERE. This was early in our trip, but it was one of the best  opportunities to learn something about the culture and the changes that were going on in Vietnam.  If we got something wrong, let us know; we learned so much we probably got at least some of it wrong.



Vietnam is 85% ethnic Vietnamese, the remaining 15% made up of 56 different “minorities” ranging from the Chum (a group that for 1,000 years was dominant politically in much of southern Vietnam and Cambodia), to many various “hill tribes”. In northern Vietnam, in or near Sapa, we saw Red Dao, Black H’mong and Flower H’mong people.  Each group had distinctive native dress, and many of the women continue to wear the traditional dress. Like elsewhere in the world we’ve traveled, with the exception of Morocco, the men all wore western attire.


When speaking to ethnic Vietnamese, there was a clear sense of superiority over the “minorities”, and when speaking to a member of a particular minority, there were strong stereotypes, often negative, of other tribal groups.

“Touched By Tourism”


“Touched by Tourism” was a phrase we heard a lot in terms of describing a location or village.  This term was used both to reflect that local customs had been influenced by the presence of tourists, but also with a generally positive connotation, in that tourism brought money.  We were also told  that some areas and even individual villages were “not touched” because they were uncooperative with or resistant to government policies.

Touched by Modernization


We heard a lot about the rapid economic development that has taken place since “normalization” with the U.S. in 1995.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, Vietnam lost its’ patron that had subsidized the regime.  Five years later after much economic hardship, the government normalized its relations with the US, and opened the country to foreign investment.  Much has changed, and in the view of those we talked to, mostly for the better since then. Government control remains of the communist variety, but the economy is clearly more capitalist.


One change which we  saw just the beginnings of was the impact of the increased use and geographic availability of electricity.  We drove along the hillsides around Sapa, looking down the steep valley walls at the rice terreces and rivers below them.


We were told that 5 hydroelectric dams were being built.  So in 10 years if we were to come back, we would see large new lakes down the hillsides, the result of the dams. It would be easy to adopt a preservationists attitude from the comfort of our life style, when thinking about the lost landscape and displaced villages, but the people telling us these stories seemed to regard it as something positive in terms of the dam’s future impact on their standard of living.

With that, here is the slideshow. Hopefully the background will add some context to the photos.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mekong Delta

We’ve been home a week, jet lag is largely behind us, and we’ve caught up with our basic chores.  Bob has finished editing our 1,200 photos, so we’re going to post some of the more representative ones.  We’ll post more soon.

First up is the Mekong Delta.  We made a day trip here from  Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City) as we reported HERE.

These hours in a small boat were one of the highlights of our trip. We believe we got a glimpse of the traditional life on the river. As you look at these pictures, try to imagine the life that goes with these images!

Technical details:  If you double click on the slide show below you can see the pictures in a larger format. If you use Apple products, like an Ipad, you will not see a slide show on this page, since Apple does not support Flash. If you put your cursor over this Mekong Delta  it is a link to the slide show that will work for you.  If anyone knows how  to solve this problem, I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Closer Than A Slow Dance At The Prom

We took the MTR (the subway) back over to Kowloon again this morning. Because we got an early start, we caught the end of a Monday morning rush hour. The MTR trains are 10 cars long, each car 90 feet in length. While we spent most of our weekend subway trips standing, we discovered what "crowded" really looks like this morning. Luckily we're married, otherwise our closeness would have been inappropriate. No eating or drinking is allowed on the subway, so the ubiquitous Starbucks cup we see on Seattle buses is notably absent. Instead, every person has a smartphone or gaming device in hand and is tap-tap-tapping away on a touch screen.

Hong Kong, with 7 million people, is reported to be the world's most vertical city, defined as having the largest number of residents living above 14 floors high. Not hard to believe when looking at it. Lots of tall buildings are draped in scaffolding, but here it is all made of bamboo, not iron or steel, even when 40 stories high.

We spent some time sitting in a park during our morning explorations to get off our feet. It was fun to watch the Hong Kong version of the YMCA's Silver Sneakers class: Couples playing badminton, some very elderly women doing exercises, and one guy jogging very slowly around the tennis court (more than we were willing to do in the heat).

Hong Kong is an interesting finale to our SE Asia trip. It's been great fun, and we're ready to head home!

Kowloon's Temple Street Market

Last night we ventured across the bay to Kowloon for the first time. This area is just as urban as Hong Kong Island, but even more Chinese in character, with far fewer signs in English and a smaller proportion of people on the street being other than Chinese.

We explored the Temple Street Night Market, one of the top 10 sights in Hong Kong, according to our guide book. Hong Kong markets are very crowded with shops and people, but the selling is much more low-pressure than in other markets we've visited on this trip, making it more fun. We bought a hand-made tapestry for our bedroom wall.

Exploring Hong Kong

We set off by bus this morning, traveling up and over central Hong Kong Island to the town of Stanley. We shopped in the market, stopped for a cold one along the waterfront, visited a temple and finally hit the pier. A busy morning.

Outside the temple we found a father and daughter trying out what may be the next "big thing", something that married a skateboard with a unicycle; we didn't catch its' name.

By early afternoon we were back on the bus to downtown Hong Kong, "Central", where we walked through Statue Square. This square is the hub of Hong Kong high finance 6 days a week, with the headquarters of many banks, including HSBC (Hong Kong Singapore Bank Corporation). On Sunday, it's a much different place. The square is taken over by domestic workers who come here from poorer countries like the Philippines and Indonesia. They congregate in the square to socialize with each other, have lunch, and from the looks of things, to do a little protesting against their working conditions.

Sent from my iPad

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Crowds, Glitz and Expensive

We are happy to be in Hong Kong and think 3 days will be enough. We are spending a lot of money here, and not because we are shopping.

In the morning we took the tram to The Peak where 360 degree views of the bay and islands are beautiful. Next we experienced The Travelator, a 1.5 mile long escalator that goes up the hillsides of the city to restaurants, shopping and apartments. Late in the afternoon we rode the Star Ferry for an hour-long Victoria Harbor tour.

95 percent of Hong Kong residents are Chinese, and it's obvious they have had sufficient nutrition for at least a generation. They are MUCH bigger, both in height and weight than their Vietnamese and Cambodian neighbors. We don't feel like over-sized mooses here.

The array of very tall, very modern, very showy buildings is unlike anything we have seen anywhere. This place is very dense and fast-moving. The subway and buses are pretty easy to figure out, and very fast and easy once you do so. Jim J if you are reading this: on our way into town from the airport we passed a bus operating base, which included a 5-story structured parking garage for parking buses, not cars. Land is very pricey here.

The most expensive home in the world is here. It sold for $950 million in 2007, but only half that much when it sold again recently. All of you who are underwater on your home mortgages can be glad that is not the home you bought.

The air is very smoggy. And hot, but not as humid as Vietnam or Cambodia. There are, of course, no water buffalo or elephants here.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Arrived in Hong Kong

After a long day with flights from Siem Reap to Saigon, a 5-hour layover, then a flight to Hong Kong and a one-hour bus ride, we arrived at our hotel at 1 a.m. We're traveling on our own now, without an English speaking driver/guide to pick us up at the airport, so had fun figuring out the bus. We expect to be in culture shock going from Cambodia to Hong Kong, as this place is huge, crowded, modern and very, very prosperous and expensive. Not much in common with Cambodia except for being part of Asia.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cambodian Tourism: No Pirahna

In the evenings we’ve been taking tuk-tuks downtown for dinner and explorations.  Siem Reap, a city of 300,000 is heavily influenced by tourism.  Over 2 million tourists visit Cambodia every year.

One “attraction” offered which we had heard of but never seen, is a foot massage provided by fish!  On many corners, a tank full of fish is set up with signs that say “Fish massage, no pirahnas.”  Bob and David, after experiencing their first pedicure only one week earlier, agreed to give it a try.


For $3 you get a 30-minute massage (really more like a partial pedicure, as the fish are simply nibbling at and removing dead skin), and a beer!


The first 30 seconds is pretty weird, having dozens of fish nibbling on your skin; after that it begins to feel quite good, although odd to see.

Bob, at least, has decided he prefers to have attractive young women working on his feet instead of fish.

Last Day in Cambodia



Cambodia is beautiful (what we’ve seen of it, anyway) and breaks our hearts. We’re very glad we came here.


It’s an extremely poor country, nothing like the very prosperous looking Vietnam, and until 13 years ago was devastated by occupations, civil war, and the Pol Pot/Khmer Rouge disaster which lasted 3 years, 8 months and 20 days (according to our guide Rida) and resulted in the massacre of almost 2 million people out of a population of 14 million.


Rida says everyone in Cambodia had one or more extended family members killed during that time, with a focus on those who were wealthy, educated and had professional jobs, but including many more, and many children.


During the last 13 years Cambodia has had a stable, if corrupt, government/military/police, the doors have been opened to tourism, and the citizens are learning capitalism. At least in the cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and we hear development is beginning to occur on the coast with nice beach resorts.


Despite all this, Rida states with not even a touch of sarcasm  that “Cambodia is a very lucky country – not like our neighbor countries – because we don’t ever have any earthquakes here.”  He is earnest if lacking perspective, as we know of no earthquake that ever killed 2 million people.


Everywhere we go, people mention Angelina Jolie, her philanthropic works here after the filming of “Tomb Raider” and her adoption of a Cambodian child. One local bar where she and her film crew hung out during the time of filming features her photo on the menu.

The U.S. dollar is the de facto currency here. We get Cambodian riels in change anytime we’re due something less than $1 (they don’t use our coins) but otherwise prices and purchases are all in U.S. currency, and even the ATM machines give U.S. dollars.


There is no potable water in Cambodia. Tourists and locals alike drink bottled water, and those who use the tap water must boil it before drinking or cooking with it.


Both for reasons of tradition, having to do with keeping out bad spirits, and because of regular flooding, almost all rural homes are built on stilts 4 – 18 feet above ground.


We haven’t seen Phnom Penh, the capital, but Siem Reap, the second largest city in the country, has no buildings over 4 stories, and none that go beyond functional in design.


IMG_2302Like Vietnam, the motorcycle is the major means of transportation, though bicycles are much more common here, and the Tuk Tuk (tiny 3-wheeled carriage which carries 2 people, pulled behind a motorcycle) is used by both tourists and locals alike.


Several of the tourist sites we’ve visited outside the city are ringed with signs saying they’ve been cleaned up by the Central Mine Action Center, a NATO organization that spent years clearing the minefields that were everywhere here following the Khmer Rouge days. We’ve seen more artificial legs in 3 days here, and blinded people, than cumulatively throughout our lives.


We have eaten “Khmer food” here, but have not been able to distinguish it from Vietnamese food.


Prices here are very affordable.  We’re staying in a wonderful 4-star hotel with a swimming pool and lavish gardens, and don’t know what we paid for it, but the rack rate we found on the internet is $110.  The four of us have had very nice dinners in town (linen tablecloth, wine, attractive lighting and fountains) for $30 or less, including wine, for all 4 of us; main courses are typically $4-5 per person.


Today we went 1 1/2 hours out of the city to see the incredible “Lost Jungle” tomb, then stopped at a Killing Fields collection of human bones and photos of the Khmer Rouge massacre.


Today we leave Cambodia and fly back to Saigon with a 5-hour layover, then on to Hong Kong.