Day 38 -39 Cochin India

Heading due south again, day 38 was spent travelling on a very calm Arabian Sea toward the tip of India and our next port of Cochin. It was a great day for the pool and Luke, Louise and the kids spent hours swimming & playing pool volleyball. We all got an early night as we knew there was a big day ahead of us.

Luke had pre arranged a mini bus and driver to meet us at our next stop of Cochin in India. Arriving in the middle of an unseasonal monsoon rain we all stepped off the ship early prepared for a wet day. Fortunately the rain is quite predictable and within an hour, as our driver assured us it would, the rain disappeared.

With all 10 of us aboard the mini bus we headed off to the rural forest area of Kodanad which is home to the Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary. Here they care for orphaned elephants and older elephants in a quite riverside environment. The sanctuary is quite off the beaten track and the journey through the many villages was one to remember.

Each village was similar in layout with fresh fruit and vegetables at roadside stalls as well as meat hanging from poles in the open air.

At the sanctuary we walked around the grounds and watched as one of the bigger elephants dragged huge bunches of foliage into an area for the other elephants to eat.

The carers live in simple huts amongst the elephants so they can monitor the babies constantly. We were then able to ride a large 39 year old female named Tenetia bare back through the sanctuary. She is a huge African elephant and the size of her was daunting for the kids.

She came along side a rickety old platform that we used to get on her back and a rope like reigns to hold on to. Her short prickly hair felt amazing against our legs and her giant ears flapped against our shins and were really soft.

Unfortunately we were unable to get there early enough to see the elephants have their morning swim but sitting bare back on these glorious and powerful animals was areal treat. After exploring the sanctuary and seeing some of the other animals in the mini zoo we headed off again toward Cochin.

Along the way we stopped to see an Indian snake charmer. The children were fascinated by the thought of this and were even more surprised to see not one but four of the deadly Cobras rise out of their baskets. Simone was the only one game enough to sit beside him as he antagonized them into striking.

Close by on the shores of the harbour fisherman use huge Chinese style cantilever fishing nets to land their catch. The fresh catch is displayed on benches in front of their simple huts and they will cook it for you while you wait.

From here we explored further into the city of Cochin and ended up in the oldest part of the city known as Jew Town. The oldest known synagogue in India is located here as well as many antique shops and crafts. Marloejse finally found a teapot made in India and Louise, Simone and the kids found a small stall where a man using a sewing machine would embroider designs by freehand onto t shirts.

Everywhere we went throughout the city and especially the country areas the people were extremely friendly and easy to deal with. There is definitely an organized chaos to this country. At many places including the elephant sanctuary the children were as much an attraction to the locals as their country was for us. We were all extremely positive about our adventures and experiences throughout India and will definitely come back again.

Day 37 Goa India

After heading south throughout the night we arrived at the port of Mormugao or Goa. The landscape in this part of India is quite a contrast to what we saw in Mumbai. The port is situated in a sheltered harbour dotted with traditional fishing boats.

 The sandy shore line is crowded with villages set amongst coconut palms and it has a tropical feel about it.

Luke, Louise & the children had planned to visit the beach here and spend the day swimming but unfortunately the water was not looking the best so the kids decided they would rather stay aboard the ship and play with their friends.

On the dock Luke & Louise met another couple who were keen to share a cab for the day. It costs about $80 USD to hire the taxi for the entire day which makes it quite cheap when split 4 ways.

Once again it was a stinking hot humid day and our taxi was a Daihatsu mini, mini, mini van with no A/C and no seat belts. Luke drew the short straw and got the front seat and was given the responsibility of warning everyone of any likely collisions.

Fortunately there was only one when a moped ran up the back of us. We can now see where the Indian taxi drivers in Sydney have honed their skills. The constant horn blowing gives you a headache. Rather than just stay on the correct side of the road they blow their horn to let everyone know they are coming around a blind corner overtaking a bus.

We headed off in the direction of Goa’s capital – Panjim. Along the way was the Basilica of Bom Jesus which is home to the shrine of St Francis Xavier. The “boy saints” body is enshrined in a silver lined casket here.

From here we continued on into the heart of Panjim to the central fish, fruit & flower markets. It wasn’t hard to find the fish market as the stench (as Louise referred to it – i.e. “this stench is making me nauseous”) was quite powerful. Hundreds of women sit on the floor selling the catch from the men’s boats.

 Most of what we saw would be classed as undersized in Australia but they seem to sell everything here and if you are after a 5cm long snapper you can get one.

Shopping in the town was generally far less tourist focused than in Mumbai and it was good to walk through the narrow rows of stalls and look at the locals selling their wares.

It still didn’t take long for word to get out there were tourists in town and suddenly we were confronted with small children and adults begging.

From here we made our way around the coast and could see where old ships are run aground at high tide and then cut up for scrap metal. We also came across a film crew shooting a Bollywood movie in the middle of a busy street. After another long day taking in the many sights and smells of India we wearily headed back to the ship for a swim with the children.

Day 36 Mumbai India

Mumbai is a huge city with a population of over 18 million people. With this in mind and limited time available we all decided an organized tour of the city would be a good option.

With all the children in tow, and plenty of snacks and water, we headed away from the port in Bombay Harbour and through the many slums that surround the city. Although it wasn’t really a surprise it is a shock when you see it first hand. These ramshackle structures are propped up against anything that will support them. We all assumed that these people simply squat here and set up home but they actually pay rent to the government to live there. They have no running water or sewage and rubbish is everywhere but despite this don’t seem to be displaced and just get on with life.

Our first stop was the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India (it now has an Indian name but it is very long and in Hindi). Of course all the kids were moaning with joy at the thought of traipsing through a museum in the stifling heat however they were all very good and gave it a chance. Along with all the regular old stuff you find in museums there was a huge natural history section filled with taxidermy – stuffed animals, which the children enjoyed. Amongst these Luke found a huge Perch caught in the harbour weighing 480 pounds.

We then made a quick stop at a hotel which was attacked from the sea by terrorists only 2 years ago. Reconstruction of the front of the building where a bomb went off is still underway.

Getting on and off a tourist bus in Mumbai attracts attention from everywhere. There are many beggars in the city, mostly small girls often carrying even smaller girls or babies. It is hard for us all to see this especially the children. Little girls the size of Danielle would ask for money for food for their family. As much as we wanted to give it to them the guides strongly advise against it.

On from the museum we visited Gandhi’s house which had his room set up as he had left it. Outside in the street cows were herded through the traffic and up the foot path. Cows are treated as a sacred animal and are worshiped at certain places around the city.

After negotiating more of the insane traffic we were deposited in a very busy shopping district. Amongst the tourist type shops there were still many locals buying and selling anything and everything. While four lanes of traffic beeped constantly on either side of the road you could get your shoes polished, have your peanuts shelled and get some photocopying done.

Louise and the girls headed straight for a clothing shop and all the girls came back with colourful saris (which they wore to dinner that night). David and Luke walked the streets trying to fend off offers ranging from kids DVDs to hash. Even watching the traffic is entertaining – it’s amazing what can be loaded onto a bicycle.

A common sight is the lunch delivery men. Many people commute by train to the city and rather than pack their lunch and bring it because it would be to inconvenient they have a man pick it up from their house, he takes it to the station where a guy takes it to the city and then passes it to another guy on a bike who delivers it to your office. It’s much easier than lugging it all that way yourself. It costs about US$6 per month for the service.

The weather was extremely humid and walking the streets of Mumbai with 4 small, white children was getting challenging so it was a welcome relief to get into the relative safety of the bus. We had so many near misses it was best not to look at the cars, bikes, wheelbarrows, people & dogs weaving across the roads.

We all returned back to the ship full of amazing sights and memories of this amazing place.

Day 33-35 Arabian Sea

With the unfortunate luck of our time in Dubai behind us and time to ponder our time in this city we all agreed we would like to return to explore it with more time. Apart from being relaxing, days at sea present the opportunity to talk to other travelers about their experiences and get tips on where to go and not go next time.

Once again the weather has been hot. So hot that Luke, Louise and the kids stayed inside during the heat of the day and headed for the pool in the mornings and afternoons. Kids club have heaps to do during this part of the day so the children don’t fell like they are trapped indoors.

Luke & Louise have been catching up on emails (some work related unfortunately) as well as reading all the books brought along on the trip. The gym has also been popular with even Marloejse regularly doing the afternoon aerobics class.

The children and Luke played cricket while later in the day Chris & Marloejse challenged Luke & Louise to paddle tennis (played with tennis balls on a half court with small racquets).

Quite a number of passengers disembarked in Dubai and were replaced with a new batch which seems to be much younger than the previous so we haven’t had too many disputes over ironing boards or cakes at the buffet to report.

We have met some really nice people from all parts of Australia, New Zealand & England. Louise & Luke were invited for drinks by a friendly family who has one of the six very large suites on board. It was a fantastic night and we were warmly welcomed by all.

The children have had some more theme nights including a “pirate” night. They all got right into it and after an extensive treasure hunt returned with about 200 chocolates between them. Louise has been good at convincing them that they have actually eaten most of them now and she hasn’t thrown any away.

We are all looking forward cautiously to our next destination of India. Immigration officials from India have been aboard during this leg of the voyage interviewing all passengers wishing to enter at Mumbai. We have had to fill in countless forms and declarations to make sure we don’t try and illegally overstay our visas or try to live here.

We don’t think they will have to worry too much!

Day 32 Dubai

With a busy day planned Luke, Louise and the kids headed off early into the city. First stop was the massive mall of Dubai which is where you can find hundreds of shops as well as the indoor ski resort.

Although it looked like fun the kids had already voted on spending most of the day in a huge aquatic park with wave pools and slides in another part of town so they were happy to look at the incredible sight.

While we were there Louise was keen to buy some urgent supplies such as swimming costumes for the girls as their current ones have all but disintegrated from the chlorine pool on the ship. From here we took a drive around the famous man made sand islands known as the palms. There are modern apartments lining each of the many fronds as they are called as well as extravagant hotels including one that has an aquarium in the foyer with dolphins in it.

We then headed off by taxi to the water park only to be greeted by a queue a mile long. As Ramadan had just finished this was one of the biggest holidays in Dubai.

After speaking to someone at the gate we voted to wait in line and see how we went. After over an hour standing in the sun in 42 degree heat the kids and Luke & Louise gave up. We heard later that the line did not get any shorter until well into the evening. Standing in the sun for that time really knocked the children around so we had no choice but to head for home and leave more exploration of Dubai for another time.

Prior to arriving in Dubai Chris had booked himself , Elisabeth, Marloejse & Simone to an extravagant afternoon tea at the famous 7 star hotel Burj Al Arab. This is the sail shaped hotel with the tennis court hanging off the top. Sitting on the 26th floor they were served everything from French Champagne & Beef Wellington to cakes, sandwiches, cheeses and teas. Apart from the food the interior of the hotel is spectacular with the atrium spanning the entire height of the building. Huge aquariums with stingrays and large tropical fish line the stairways and the outdoor express elevator takes only a few seconds to get to the top. Normal room charge per night is about $4000.

After rolling out of the Burj they were met with their own scenes of chaos as the ten day old metro rail system had broken down throwing the city into chaos. Taxis were almost impossible to find and when they finally did get one they were in traffic gridlock. After a nerve racking trip they made it back to the ship with only a short time to spare. Unfortunately others weren’t so lucky and were left behind to make their own way to the next port. The ship really won’t wait unless it is for a tour bus that has a really good reason for being late.

Despite running so late Elisabeth & Marloejse managed to squeeze in a trip to the Gold Souk (a bazaar for jewelry & gold). Chris had been dreading this particular excursion and when we saw what they came back with that night we all understood why.

Day 31 Oman Muscat

Our first day on land after 5 days at sea was certainly welcomed by all despite the heat. Mina Qaboos, our port here in Muscat is in the heart of the city with towering rocky mountains in the background and protected harbours. It is an extremely clean city and quite wealthy as oil is the main source of income.

With very strict dress codes enforced in the city and the expectation that not much would be open due to Ramadan the children stayed on board while Luke & Louise hired a local cab driver to escort them around the city.

First stop was the Sultan’s Palace which of course is magnificent wit massive gold gilded entry gates. An earlier Sultan had the great Blue Mosque of the city built and gave it to the people as a gift. The main chandelier in the men’ prayer area has 20 tonnes of Swarovski Crystal in it with 2 either side each with 10 tonnes of the same crystal.

Chris, Elisabeth, Simone & Marloejse had also made their way to the mosque and were waiting to go inside when security people pulled Simone & Marloejse aside and told them they were inappropriately dressed. Simone had some of ankles barely visible and apparently Marloesjes’ shawl see through. After some quick rearranging and borrowing of socks they were allowed through.

Just for interest Luke & Louise walked into the foyer of the $1000 per night Intercontinental Hotel and could quickly see why it cost so much.

After seeing most of the major sights Luke & Louise headed down to the local fishing coop where nets were being emptied of the days catch. The fisherman explained that since the tsunami a few years ago the catches have declined dramatically, especially of the larger fish species such as Tuna.

Oman has a population of just over 2 million and the entire power supply is from huge diesel generators. They run 5 simultaneously for 24 hours then switch over to another 5 while these are serviced.

The laws during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan are extremely strict which meant that not even water could be consumed in public. After hours in the heat it was good to get back to the ship to cool down with a swim and a cold drink.