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Gill's Ramblings on Mar. 2019 Far East Cruise on 'Maasdam'

Gill's Ramblings on Mar. 2019 Far East Cruise on 'Maasdam'

Postby Gillzajoker » 15 Apr 2019 14:26

Friend Linda and I had a good trip to Alicante Airport to LGW and thereafter to hotel
overnight before transferring to LHR for our overnight flight to Singapore to board
HAL Maasdam. The flight was only half full, so we each had a row of seats to
ourselves, and although I can't sleep on a plane it was good to have the opportunity
to stretch out. We transferred to our hotel, had a quick meal and an early night. Next
morning it was a short taxi ride to the port, and the embarkation process was remarkably
quick and easy. Once on board we had lunch and then explored the ship whilst waiting
for our luggage to be delivered. Maasdam is quite a small ship by today's standards,
with only 1258 passengers, but it really suited me and I found it easy to navigate around.

This particular cruise was part of HAL's EXC Programme - Exploration Central, In
Depth Voyages, whereby they visited more than one port in some countries, and had a
team of experts - most of the Doctors - to explore more fully every aspect of each one.
They specialised in 1) Arts and Culture, 2)History and Perspective, 3) Food and Wine,
and Spirits, 4) Active Exploration, 5) Science and Nature and 6) Photography. Most
of the lectures were about biology, marine biology, coral reefs and culture.

I had been in touch on line with some other other passengers due on the same cruise,
and we met up at the Meet'n'Greet hosted on the first sea day. The first lecture was on
S. E. Asia's diverse religions and ethnic groups, comprised immigrants from China and
India. Because of the Trade Winds many merchants had to stay over, so there grew a
mixed popuation who integrated well together. Until the Dutch arrived in the 15thC
and demanded a monopoly on spices and massacred those who didn't agree. Later the
English arrived and imposed colonialism. This continued until the Russian/Japanese
warof 1904 showed the indigenous population that the 'white rulers' were not invincible
and there was a gradual rebellion which culminated in the collapse of colonialism after
WW2. Malaysia was formed by 9 separate Sultanate's monarchy (excluding Brunei).
It is a 'democracy' whereby they each take turns to rule for 5 years.

Later that day was a talk on the Coral Triangle, and how it has been affected by climate
change - the sea being more acidic which afflicted shellfish and coral as there was less
calcium carbonate. A new venture is planting lots of seaweed in ocean farms for bio-

A British soldier and adventurer called James Brooke ruled Sarawak in Borneo for 24
years and was called The White Rajah - he made it his mission to stamp out piracy.
Head-hunting in Borneo continued until stampled out in the 1930s. According to their
culture it was an essential 'rite of passage' to prove their manhood and subsequently
take a wife. The heads were purified and treated with respect - figuratively speaking,
'put on the mantelpiece and becoming part of the family'. A flautist from River Dance
was the evening's entertainment, but for me, he played far too many jigs and not enough
other type songs.

Next day we visited Bintulu and took the 40 minute shuttle into town. From there we
took a taxi with another couple and visited the Taman Tumbina Botanical and Zoological
Gardens, seeing lots of different birds, tigers and sunbears, to name a few, then a Chinese
Temple and a Mosque, and local market. This cost us the equivalent of $9 each, which
was much better than the ship's eqivalent tour for $129.99! The evening show was a
comedian with ancient jokes who should have retired about 30 years ago.

The following day we docked in Kota Kinabulu in the Salah Province, and again took
a taxi, visiting a Museum, Mosque, Buddhist Temple and the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park
featuring orang utangs, pygmy elephants, hornbills and proboscis monkeys, among
other creatures. $18 as opposed to similar ship trip at $80. Don't know why but
there was no show that evening. We shared our taxi with Ann and Dale - whom I
had met last year on my last cruise around India. It's a very small world as I also met
another couple with whom I had cruised 2 or 3 years ago.

Our next port of call was Puerto Princesa in the Palawan province of the Philippines
(which comprises 7007 islands).They pride themselves on being the cleanest province
and also carbon neutral, and indeed there wasn't a speck of litter around. The
Philippines were ruled by Spainuntil 1898, when the US took over until 1946 when they
gained independence. Wetook a private tour with 10 other people from the ship - this
being arranged before we arrived there. We visited the Heritage Museum, the Plaza
Cuartel Memorial - site of a Japanese where US prisoners of war were herded into
and air raid shelter, and then burned alive. A weaving shed where we tried our hand
at weaving on old-fashioned looms using grasses and local fibres. Then followed a
nice lunch before moving on to the War Museum, Butterfly Farm and Crocodile Farm,
plus a tribal village where they demonstrated fire making with flint, playing unusual
musical instruments and using huge, long, blowpipes. The whole 6 hour tour and lunch
only cost us $35 whereas the ship tour of four hours and no lunch cost $99.95. They
really are money-grabbing b--------s! A wonderful day ended with a great show of
4 excellent singers of 60's/70s called Emperors of Soul.

A couple of sea days followed, happily spent sunbathing and reading, the first of
which included a lunch for past passengers - with free drinks - yippee and an evening
show of the same comedian again. At 8..00am the following day we crossed the
equator, but for the first time ever, there wasn't the usual King Neptune ceremony,
nothing at all to mark it except for a certificate later. Very disappointing for new
passengers as it is usually a big event whereby 'newbies' go from being a 'pollywog' to
a 'shellback' after kissing a large dead fish. (Bemoaning that gives you some small
indication of my love life!!!). A classical pianist was the entertainment later.

We next arrived in Macassar, in the Ujung Pandang province of Sulawesi, famous for
it's spice trade, in particular nutmegs. We visited Fort Rotterdam, built in 1545, which
included a Museum, then the harbour where the traditional ironwood schooners still ply
their trade, and the local market, and the Floating Mosque. The evening show was a bit
of a cheat as it was a BBC Documentary on Birds of Paradise. albeit interesting.

A sea day included a fascinating talk about how China used to rule the seas during the
Ming dynasty in the 15thC. under the leadership of Admiral Zheng He (the Columbus
and Vasco de Gama of his day). They had 3,200 ships, more than the whole of Europe
combined, and including 300 9-masted treasure ships called 'Baochuan'. Zheng He was
a Chinese Muslim who at the age of 13 was captured and castrated - back then many
eunuchs rose to positions of power. His armada consisted of 8-masters for trade and
gifts and 7-masters as supply ships. He wasn't trying to conquer any country but just
demonstrate power and to trade goods and information. Non-Chinese states had to
go to China's capital and kowtow to the Emperor. Whils the word now just indicates
deference, then it involved kneeling and touching your head to the floor 9 times. They
also had to take a gift particular to their country, but in return received a gift of much
higher value. This acknowledgement of China as being superior meant they could
retain full sovereignty with no interference or colonisation, even though with thousands
of soldiers and the huge fleet to hand, it would no doubt have been easy to dominate.
But their credo was 'respectful trading'.

In 1433 during the 7th Armada he died, and around the same time so did the Emperor.
For some unknown reason, the new Emperor decreed that, on pain of death, no new
vessel could be built with more than 2 masts, and all the other ships to be destroyed.
He decided China was perfect and didn't need foreign goods and was not interested
in learning from foreigners, thus becoming very insular. Consequently he was not
aware of the subsequent rise of the West. 70 years later, Vasco de Gama, originally
a pirate, came and declared that Portugal owned the Indian Ocean and every ship
needed a licence to sail there, and without one goods would be seized and the ship
would be scuppered. Zheng He was subsequently deified in Semarang and his statue
is paraded every year. That evening was 'posh frock' night, or as they call it 'Gala
Attire'. The largest contingent of passengers were Australian who rarely deign to
dress up. I can say, without boasting, that I was among some of the best-dressed
on an evening, and received a couple of compliments. The show was the Emperors
of Soul again.

Dili, the capital of Timor- leste(or East Timor) came next - a tender port. We all
had to pay $55 for a ship-organised Visa to go ashore (even though their Embassy
priced them at $20 more greed from HAL). HAL had also commandeered all
the HO-HO buses (not that they were anything like the lovely double-deckers you
find in most countries, but rickety old mini buses - and a ticket cost $80. There
wasn't a great deal to see here - a statue of Christ the Redeemer (purported to be
the second largest in the world after Rio) which was accessed by 500 steps. I
passed, and sat on the beach whilst the rest of our party climbed it. Handicraft
Market, all selling the same old same old, a few historic buildings, and the Santa
Cruz Massacre Cemetery where are buried the 250 pro-independence demonstrators
were killed in 1991. East Timor was a Portuguese colony until 1975, when they
declared Independence from them. That lasted 9 days and then until 1999, guerilla
war ensued. For the next 3 years it was under the supervision of the UN and in 2002
it finally became an Independent Democratic Republic. I found it an unprepossing
and dirty place, so definitely not a place I would choose to visit again. There was
not a show again this evening, but the group in one of the lounges entertaine with
Irish songs for St. Patrick's Day.

Three more sea days passed peacefully, with more interesting lectures, and sunbathing
There certainly can't have been any Germans on board as hardly any of the loungers
were ever occupied (I don't think I saw more than a dozen being used on any given day,
apart from a few that were permanently situated in the shade). Never known this on a
ship before! I usually like doing quizzes, but these were at very unfriendly times -
4.30, in the middle of the 4.00 talk, or 7.00pm - my dining time. We did take part in
a couple of music quizzes and Name That Tune, and won....wait for it.... a HAL lapel
pin! The shows were a so-so singer, and a 'Mentalist' doing the same old tricks.

Cairns was our next port of call. We had intended to take a private tour on the
Kuranda Scenic Railway which passed through 15 tunnels and over 37 bridges,
spend a couple of hours there and then return via the Skyrail Rain Forest Cableway.
However the prospect of spending that couple of hours trying to keep out of the
rain, which fell steadily all day, made us think twice, so in the end we walked around
the town, visiting the local Art Museum featuring showing by David Hockney (not
impressed, myself), then McDonalds to get some WiFi to 'phone home', and finally
spending hours in a fascinating Museum depicting the history and growth of the town,
and earlier native life. The Indonesian Crew put on a show for us that evening,
comprising singing and various cultural dances - much better than some of the
other Show offerings!

We arrived at Alotau, in the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea (usually
referred to as PNG) early next morning. There was a famous battle there in 1942,
between Australians and Japanese. The flag of PNG incorporates a bird of
paradise - most of which species are found here alone. We shared a minibus and
visited the War Museum and War Memorial, the new International Airport (basically
a shed!), and our guide, Mavis, took us to see her village. This comprised 7 or 8
traditional wooden houses on stilts, scattered around a clearing. Close to Mavis's
house there was a structure like a gazebo, within which were 3 graves covered in
flowers. These belonged to her mother, aunt and sister and were lovingly tended.

Next a visit to the local market, many stalls of which sold betel nuts and their
'accessories'. The betel nut serves the same purpose as chewing gum or chewing
tobacco, although because of a slight psychotropic constituent, it is supposed to
relax one and give a feeling of well-being. The kernel of the nut is chewed and
then each user is in possession of a small container of lime coral, and a small
mustard seed pod. The end of the mustard seed pod is dipped into the lime
powder and bitten off. The resulting mixture turns bright red and the teeth of
the users are coated with this, so they look like a set of extras for a Dracula
movie. I was offered a chance to try this, and under normal circumstances I
would have given it a go, but the night before I had broken off a crown, so that
I thought that would have been pushing my luck. The Emperors of Soul were
the evening's entertainment.

The next PNG port was Kitava, accessed by tender. At the end of the pier,
among lovely gold sands and palm trees, the islands had come from far and wide
to set up their stalls, mainly wooden carvings and straw goods. We had been
warned that our last port of call, being in Australia, were very strict about the
importing of wooden articles and confiscation was a possibility. Consequently,
we were reluctant to buy anything. Leading off from the beach are were tracks
in all directions, and sidetracks leading off from them. These had been
commandeered by various locals as a 'showcase' for their wares. One led to a
small cave filled with skulls - 5 kina for a look - another hand written sign
promised an 'orchid garden'. Again 5 kina to see a couple of wild orchids that
just happened to have grown there! (The current rate of exchange was 2 kina
to an Australian Dollar). It was extremely hot, with very high humidity, so
after it began to rain quite heavily, with no sign of let up, we reluctantly made
our way back to the ship. A female singer from the North of England was our
show that night.

The final port in PNG was Conflict Islands. This is a small archipelago owned
by an Australian now living in London. Again accessed by tender, it is a diver/
snorkeller's paradise. Apart from a few wooden huts used by those, (generally
Australians) working there, plus a Welcome Centre, souvenir shop and bar, it
is largely uninhabited. The currency here is still kinas, but with a difference.
You have to buy vouchers in either kinas or AUS$ to purchase anything at all,
ie. drinks, glass bottomed boat trip, snorkel hire, etc. etc. And these are non-
refundable. Crafty or what? We had a walk along the beach and a look-see
round and about, but unfortunately for non-swimming, non-snorkelling people,
there was little else of interest, not even sunloungers or other facilities, so we
eventually went back to the ship. Again the evening entertainment was a bit
of a cheat with another BBC documentary accompanied by the orchestra.

The language of PNG is English, Pidgin English and some 800 dialects. An
example of Pidgin English is:- 'oldfella pili-pili him bilong Misis Kwin' and
'nambawan pikinini bilong Misis Kwin' - Prince Philip and Prince Charles
respectively. Everyone seemed very friendly and eager to talk to us.

A sea day followed sunbathing/reading and attending more lectures. A very
interesting one was on Toxic Land Mammals. Our speaker grabbed the
attention by correcting a common misconception by saying 'there are no
poisonous snakes in Australia'. He went on to say that snakes were 'venomous'
and not poisonous - the difference being that venom is introduced in the body
via bites, scratches, stings, etc., whereas 'poison' has to be ingested. It was a
surprise to learn that duck-billed platypus is venomous as it has a small claw
attached to it's back leg. The lady singer was back again that night.

Another sea day saw us packing and again attending lectures - this time on
Saltwater and Freshwater Crocodiles, the largest reaching 6.17 metres. They
usually have 66 teeth, and also great homing instincts. One 'tagged' croc was
relocated and swam 450km back home. The final entertainment was shared
by a singer and the magician again.

And so we prepared to leave the ship, after a substantial breakfast. We took a
shared taxi to Brisbane Airport and handed over our luggage with the assurance
it would go straight through to Heathrow. A couple of hours flight took us to
Sydney, then a 7 hour flight to Sinapore where we stopped for refuelling before
the 13.5 hour flight to London. Then we had to cross London to Gatwick and
wait quite a few hours for our flight back to Alicante, and then the drive home.
All in all we were 40 hours in transit, and as I can't sleep on planes, you'd better
believe I was a wreck by the time I got back. Went straight to bed and slept for
17.5 hours solid, up for a few hours, then another 12 hour sleep before I felt fit
enough to join the human race again. But needs must, and it was worth it!
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Re: Gill's Ramblings on Mar. 2019 Far East Cruise on 'Maasdam'

Postby Camela » 15 Apr 2019 18:07

What a good review, must have taken hours Gill, thanks. So much culture and history to take in and seems you did!
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Gill's Ramblings on Mar. 2019 Far East Cruise on 'Maasdam'

Postby judgegeoff » 16 Apr 2019 00:37

Wow, a fantastic review of your holiday Gill with some very interesting historical information. many thanks for posting it. :clap: :clap: :clap:

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"MSC Orchestra" - Cape Town to Venice 2020 (now virtual)
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Gill's Ramblings on Mar. 2019 Far East Cruise on 'Maasdam'

Postby Dave » 16 Apr 2019 08:55

Many thanks for your fascinating report Gill. You are indeed an intrepid cruiser! :thumbup:

Booked cruise 2019: December - Caribbean on Marella Explorer 2
Remaining land-based holidays 2019: July - Peak District, August - Harris and Highlands, October - Brecon Beacons
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Re: Gill's Ramblings on Mar. 2019 Far East Cruise on 'Maasdam'

Postby rdw123 » 16 Apr 2019 10:06

What a fantastic review Gill, thanks. I sympathise with you about your journey. I am headed off to N.Z. on Sunday and should think I will feel much the same when I arrive! As you say worth it. Ruth
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Gill's Ramblings on Mar. 2019 Far East Cruise on 'Maasdam'

Postby grannyM » 16 Apr 2019 10:42

Phew! quite exhausted reading this Gill. ;)

What an itinerary. The way you describe the history of ports is, as usual, very education. Thank you :thumbup:

btw We have only done one HAL cruise and found the entertainment much as you describe. :thumbdown:
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Re: Gill's Ramblings on Mar. 2019 Far East Cruise on 'Maasdam'

Postby Carwalsick » 16 Apr 2019 11:26

A really interesting review. You must be intrepid in note taking and diy excursions. Not a bit like the Gill who appears frequently in Ban Me!

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Gill's Ramblings on Mar. 2019 Far East Cruise on 'Maasdam'

Postby Gillzajoker » 16 Apr 2019 11:49

Thank you for your kind comments, Camela, Geoff, Dave, Ruth, Marie and Carwalsick.
Actually, I don't take many notes, just the odd phrase or sentence, but luckily I am
able to 'expand' (ad nauseum, I know!) once I get home.
(Carwalsick, I am 'woman' - multi-talented and a multi-tasker!) :lol:
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