Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A Brief Stop in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Today’s sunrise comes to you courtesy of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 

We weren’t supposed to be stopping in Jeddah, but we had yet another passenger requiring a medical evacuation and Jeddah is where the early morning transfer occurred. We arrived just as the sun was coming up.
Having never been to Saudi Arabia before, and knowing I'd never get to go, I was quite happy to have a little look from onboard the ship. 
The signage at the dock was the first clue we were in a different country. With a different language and different culture.
But the differences didn't stop there. Both the female passenger being wheeled off the ship (thankfully not on a stretcher) and the female medical personnel were wearing head coverings, as would be expected in this conservative country. Men onshore were either military or port personnel in camouflage or dressed in traditional white garments.

The last time we witnessed passengers being taken off a ship because of an emergency we were in Ketchikan. That cruise was the one where we had passengers involved in a float plane accident. Then is when we saw families being taken off and ship officials meeting with hospital officials. All very cordial, friendly, and from afar, respectful.

Not so today.

While the lady was transferred to the ambulance relatively quickly and her husband climbed aboard with her, the ambulance sat on the dock. And sat. And sat. For a full hour the passengers in need never left the dock. From my vantage point it was clear the officials were not happy about the ship being in port. The female medical personnel were sent back to the ship (this is Saudi Arabia and men rule), and the men did try to rule each other. There was plenty of explanations and hand waving and finger pointing and head wringing and shouting and...and...and... 

More and more Saudi Arabian officials showed up. Then some left. Then others showed up. This went on for a couple hours. At one point I counted 22 people on the dock. Two of our ship's officers, two male medical personnel, and 18 Saudi Arabians. The men from our ship deserve an award for their patience and perseverance today. Even after the ambulance left, the brouhaha continued. Finally the Captain announced we were finishing up some bureaucratic paperwork and would be leaving in 20 minutes. 

The 20 minutes came and left with us still sitting at the dock. Another 20 minutes came and left. And another, and another, and another. Four and a half hours later the ship was finally allowed to leave the country.

After witnessing what we saw today, E and I both came away with a bad taste in our mouths. All this because we had a person fall ill? It's not like the ship wanted to show up at the dock. It's not like the passengers wanted to be sent to a hospital in a foreign country. We're talking about a person's life here. Shouldn't all people care about the welfare of others?

Guess not here. I've never said this about anywhere I've ever traveled before, but I'm glad I don't live here and I don't care to visit here.
The Jeddah lighthouse is the tallest in the world. The only thing of beauty we witnessed today.
Tomorrow we're up for a full sea day, with hopefully all passengers staying healthy.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Pirate Drill Day

Ever see a sunrise off the coast of Saudi Arabia? Yep, you have.

Today was the day I’d heard about. From passenger accounts I’d read about on the Internet, I thought it was happening because of the Suez Canal. But as I know from first-hand experience, it isn’t the Suez Canal transit requiring ships to hold anti-piracy drills. It’s the dangerous waters sailed after the Suez Canal (for those heading southbound) or before the Suez Canal (for those heading northbound.) The waters off the Horn of Africa between the countries of Somalia and Yemen. And the waters off the coast of Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the Strait of Hormuz.

We weren’t given a lot of information ahead of time about what to expect. We received a notice in our cabin a couple days ago letting us know about the upcoming drill. That the drill was mandatory, and part of the drill would require us returning to our cabins. Then yesterday the Captain told us we’d have a drill coming today, and to look in the Patter for more information. Well, the Patter didn’t tell us much but the time of the drill.

While I don’t feel comfortable sharing all the details of the drill right now, once we are out and away from the waters of concern, I’ll add the details right here. I will tell you it was a lengthy multi-step process for both crew and passengers. I will also say, with having a disabled husband, I’ve never been so glad to have a cabin on deck 8 near the stairway.

Something else to be oh-so-happy about? I didn’t throw our load of laundry in the wash before the drill. Have you ever had one of those laundry days when you have absolutely no clean clothes left so you wear your swimsuit since you’re going to the pool anyway? We were there today. Like I’ve said before, we travel light. We share one suitcase and one backpack between the two of us, no matter how long of a trip we have. The suitcase on this 27 day cruise weighed in at the airport check in counter at 37.5 pounds. Yes, the two of us share in the under 38 pound luggage. With so few clothes we can’t wait for the 72 hour free laundry turnaround so we have to do our own. This morning we were down to nothing clean. Nothing. We almost put the wash in before the drill (meaning swimsuit time) but changed our minds. Based on what I had read on the Internet about pirate drills, it should have been okay either way. I was under the impression pirate drills only required passengers to stay in their cabin or right outside their door. As you’ll find out next week after I post the details, you’ll find out why I’m glad I wasn’t wearing my swimsuit during the pirate drill time.

We did get laundry done after the drill and I spent time at the pool for more swimming and more sun. We don’t do Christmas presents but I’ve decided I’m giving myself a present this year. A tan created on a cruise in the Middle East. Who gets a Christmas present like that?

Time changes tonight with us moving an hour forward. This is our second hour forward so far of this cruise, with six (6!) more time changes to go – all moving clocks forward - before we get to Singapore. Yikes. I don’t know how long we can keep up our 6 AM breakfast time with so many hours lost.

Tomorrow we have another sea day. I’ve got some cabin pictures to show you so hopefully the Internet holds out. See you then.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Aqaba, Jordan

Ever see a sunrise over Jordan?
You have my permission to say you have.
I heard a beautiful call to prayer at sunrise this morning. I think it came from here.
Did you know Jordan is bordered by some scary territory? You have Syria to the north, Iraq to the east, Saudi Arabia to the east and south, and Israel and the occupied West Bank to the west.
We can see Israel from the ship.
I was excited to get out and explore Aqaba today. E let me know first thing this morning he was feeling better and ready to go. Based on the amount of coughing and snoring he did last night I had my doubts, but whatever. We were up early as usual (as evidenced by the sunrise photos) and talked about how to dress for the day. He headed off to the spa to take his shower and I spent some time on the Promenade deck watching all the passengers heading to their buses.
There were A LOT of buses today.
We met up back at the cabin at 7:30, the time the shuttles were scheduled to run into the city. I had cell service in the cabin so I looked up our options today. Aqaba has a red city tour bus with scheduled start times. We had some time before the first route began so E took a little lie down and I tried to figure out how much money in which currency to exchange into Jordan Dinars. We had some Euros left (1 EUR = .82 JOD) as well as plenty of US dollars (1 USD = .71 JOD). When I had that decision made, it was my shower time.

When I came out, E was sound asleep. Snoring. Covers pulled up all the way to his chin. Of course, it was necessary for me to wake him up and ask, What the hell? Actually, that’s what I wanted to say but being the good wife I am I instead asked, Are you feeling okay? The breakfast then shower combo + the night’s coughing left him feeling not so great. Ugh.

So I did not dress proper for the day and instead put on a pair of pull on capris, looked in the mirror, grabbed a pair of scissors I had and made a cut in them above the knee.

See, we had both bought a pair of men’s swim trunks for $1 each on a Walmart after-season clearance rack. E wears his as shorts and I figured I’d use mine as swim shorts to cover up my bum in the pool. At $1 I didn’t waste time trying them on at the time. But as I now realize, men’s swim trunks don’t necessarily fit a woman’s body. While I wore them in the pool the other day, they were quite uncomfortable around the hips. Since the weather has warmed up and should continue to be warm for our next few weeks I needed to figure something out. Hence, the chopping of the pull-on capris.

I used a pair of child’s scissors from when my daughter was in first grade (she’s 31 now) and a sewing kit picked up in a hotel probably 20 years ago.  I folded a hem and did a quick whip stitch and presto! A pair of swim bottoms fit for a woman.
Yep, I’m living the glamorous cruise life.

The rest of my day was spent in the pool while I consumed a couple adult beverages. And E slept through all but a half hour of it.
I love private yacht day.
Tomorrow is our anti-piracy drill. By looking at the High Risk Areas and the areas we are sailing, I understand why.
I've circled our high risk areas in black.
Tomorrow is also the first of six straight sea days. I’m not sure what the Internet will look like for those days, but if I have access you know I’ll be right back here with something to say.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

An Informative Sea Day

Today was another day of new learnings.

Ever see a sunrise over the Red Sea? You can now say yes!

The ship held a Pirate Drill Presentation in the Princess theatre twice and we all were encouraged to send at least one person per cabin to the presentation. While it was a short 20 minute presentation, allowed no questions, had slides that were too hard to read, wasn’t about the Pirate Drill (it was actually entitled a Maritime Security Briefing), and was presented by a security officer who spoke pretty softly, it still was informative.
  • We found we will soon be sailing in a High Risk Area (HRA). The boundaries of these designated areas have changed through the years. The HRA we will be encountering will occur as we sail around the Horn of Africa on our way to Abu Dhabi. During that time we will be sailing between Yemen and Somalia.
  • Some of the reasons for the High Risk Area designation are because of drug smuggling, human migration, the Yemen Conflict, piracy, and charcoal exportation. We were surprised at hearing there is money in charcoal and I’m interested in finding out more about it.
  • We heard that piracy is a business, with sponsors at the top. There are some typical telltale signs to identify pirates. Skiffs are towed behind motherships which can be spotted on radar miles away. Two skiffs travel together when targeting ships and can look like normal fishing boats from afar but once binoculars are used the difference can be detected. The skiffs carry grappling hooks, increased fuel, and no fishing gear. The pirates may also be in possession of AK-47s.
  • Ships use several methods to ward off pirate attacks. Our ship has already prerigged hoses along the Promenade deck. We saw these hoses hanging down all along the deck when we were out there today. They have a nozzle on one end, with the other end of the hose attached to the water supply across the deck. 
  • When in use these hoses will create a water wall, if needed. We’ve seen these hoses being used in drills before but I thought they were water cannons. (You can see them used during a crew drill in my photo from last year here.) We will also be increasing our speed as we make our way to Abu Dhabi. There are some recommended things we won’t have, but I won’t mention those until after we’re through the HRA. I also learned about citadels on container ships - something I never even knew existed.
  • We will be having a pirate drill in a couple days. 
It was a lot of information crammed in the 20 minute presentation, but it was a good overview. More than one person wished they had a map in hand to look at the areas more carefully. Us included.

The rest of our day was spent doing not much of anything. We have Aqaba, Jordan coming up tomorrow. While I would have loved, loved, loved to go to Petra, being it is a full day excursion with lots and lots and lots of walking, there is no way E can make it. My second choice was snorkeling the Red Sea, but in the interest of his comfort, I canceled the excursion before we left home. Now we’re left with taking the shuttle from the ship to the city center and possible grabbing a city tour.

But E has come down with a bit of the cruise cough and isn’t feeling so great. He tells me he’ll be ready to go tomorrow, but I’ve lived with the man for 36 years and I know his patterns of illness. If he was still teaching, I would expect tomorrow he’d be calling a substitute to cover for the day. So I may be waving at Aqaba from afar and spend my day at the pool while he spends it in bed. We shall see.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Cruising the Suez Canal

Hello from the Suez Canal! Did you know the Suez Canal divides the continents of Africa and Asia?
As we are going southbound, Africa is on your right and Asia is on your left.
Ever see sunrise over the small strip of Egypt
on the continent of Asia? Now you have.
We were in a convoy of 22 ships using the older canal. Now they also have a newer canal so more ships can move through each day. We were number four, with three ships ahead of us...

and the remainder of the ships behind. There were three cruise ships transiting today.

Upon entering the Suez Canal we immediately noticed differences in the landscapes from one bank to the other. The landscape of Egypt on the African continent was green and developed while the Sinai Peninsula section of Egypt on the Asian continent side was brown and somewhat deserted looking. 

Some views of the Africa side:

Compare that to the Sinai Peninsula side:

While it looks as if the ship is docked along the sand,
it is actually transiting the western canal.
There is a bridge across the Suez Canal. The Mubarak Peace Bridge, also known as the Egyptian-Japanese Friendship Bridge or Al Salam Peace Bridge links the two continents. It is closed to traffic while convoys are making their way underneath.
It appeared the most popular way to get across the canal was by ferry. The ferries darted between the ships in the convoy. They also have floating pontoon bridges that swing out and across once the convoy passes. Because convoys disrupt traffic, they also have a tunnel under the Canal with plans to build more.

Today was a day of so very much to see. I went back and forth from port side to starboard side and found there was always something to take a picture of. While I could have taken hundreds of pictures I tried to limit them and have a just a few of them to show you.

Some sights from the Sinai Peninsula side:
Some from the African side:
 Fisherman were all throughout the waters. Some came quite close to the ship.

It felt like a day of discovery with so much to see, so many new learnings, and surprisingly a strong cell phone signal all day. (Thank goodness or you'd have no visuals of the day!) 

We did have two medical emergencies onboard today, with one passenger needing an emergency disembarkation. Our night time route is being altered a bit so he/she can be transferred to an onshore medical facility around 2:30 in the morning. Thoughts are with the passenger and family.

Tomorrow we have a sea day and I do believe I might just sleep in.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Heading to the Suez Canal

As I was researching the Suez Canal experience from a cruise passenger’s perspective I found all kinds of conflicting information.
*One said the ship is locked down and goes dark, with no one allowed outside or on the open decks during the day or night. This person said all curtains had to be closed and no lights allowed at night and passengers were pretty much confined to their cabins. For several days, actually.
*One said they were forced to endure pirate drills where they were all required to huddle in the hallways.
*Another said the Canal is one way so it took forever for the Canal to open in their direction. And they had to time it so the ship could leave in the cover of night to stealthily avoid the pirates.
*Yet another one said cruise ships have heavily armed guards onboard with water cannons set up on the open decks in case of attack.

In most of the cases I read about, the time in the Suez Canal sounded like a dire and pretty scary experience. I’ve traveled enough to know both cruise passengers and the news media exaggerate and dramatize certain things around cruising. I took what I read with a grain of salt so I was very much looking forward to the transit on this ship to see it first-hand for myself.

Side note: I do have two trusted sources I rely on when it comes to cruising. They aren’t just random people on the Internet and their information is highly accurate, engaging, and entertaining. Yellow Fish Cruises and Vickie and Bernie Travel blog live from their cruises. Each of them have a ton of cruising experience, and thus have a ton of information - with plenty of photos - on their blogs. And guess what? They are both right now on different ships in different parts of the world, blogging live as we speak. Be sure to check them out! Unfortunately neither has been through the Suez Canal so I had to look elsewhere for information this time around. (Thanks a lot ladies, leaving me alone to sort through the crappy information on the Internet. Just kidding. Sort of.)

After our first scheduled day of the Suez Canal transit I can report…
It was pretty much like a regular sea day. We had t-shirt sales and trivia and fruit and vegetable carving and Pub Lunch and music out at the pool and the don’t-hog-the-loungers notification and evening shows. E and I had our 6 AM breakfast (3 days in a row!) and while we missed the moment the sun rose over the horizon, we were walking the Promenade Deck in time to still get a nice view.

I spent time swimming and sunning, and we both spent time napping.
An adult beverage by the pool on a warm day as we head towards the Suez Canal?
Doesn’t get much better than this.
The only noticeable difference in the ship’s activities was by evening we had arrived in our staging area where we would wait for other ships to gather in preparation for our transit. We will be in the southbound convoy of ships beginning tomorrow at around 4 AM. With sunrise not long after 6, it doesn’t sound like cover of night to me.
We’re not the only one waiting for early morning.
Ever see a sunset over Africa? You have now.

Pirate drill with passengers huddled in hallways? Not yet, but I did hear there may be one after the Suez Canal as we will be entering some more potentially dangerous waters.
Relegated to our cabins? Not so far.
Lights off everywhere around the ship? Not yet.

Excited to see what tomorrow brings!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Rhodes, Greece

For the second day in a row, both E and I made it to breakfast before 6 AM. Yay, us! Also for the second day in a row, we took a little rest before I had to go out to my excursion. Since we had calm seas last night, he and I both were ready to explore Greece on our island tour. It wasn’t a great tour as it had extra shopping stops that weren’t in the description - they were ones the guide thought we should make. It extended our tour from a three and a half hour tour to a five hour tour. All because of extra shopping. Ugh. Plus she talked every single moment of the tour in her high-pitched voice. I so couldn’t wait for the tour to be over. But I did get some nice photos, both in the pouring rain (where we started the day) and in the sunshine (where we ended our day). 

When it was finally over I made a beeline for the quiet cabin to kick off my shoes and put on my slippers. While we stopped on the tour for a provided snack (a cookie), it was now over 9 hours since breakfast so I ordered room service (note to self: the cheese quesadilla on the kids menu on the Sapphire uses American cheese so don’t order it again) while I worked on the blog. 

Not much commentary tonight as my head is rattling from another day spent on a bumpy bus ride while having to listen to a screeching voice. So I’ll just leave you with the beautiful island of Rhodes, Greece.
Tour buses lined up on the dock and waiting for cruise ship passengers.
So rainy today.
The walled city.
The Sapphire Princess is out there somewhere.
The mountains of Turkey can be seen in the distance.
Even with the rain the ocean is gorgeous.
Finally, the sun!
Finally home.
We have some sea days coming up, thank goodness. The first two will be involving the Suez Canal. It’s a big reason we are on this trip so I’m interested to see what tomorrow holds.