NEWS

 

April 2017

What a month it has been, people jumping ship, medical evacuations, sea rescue and loopy passengers. I have been counting down ever since we passed the half way mark at Darwin. The only thing that has kept me spurred on were the ports. I hate flying but from a medical point of view six hours is my limit really so getting across to Australia is something I thought wouldn’t come again.

I loved Aussie and apart from Sydney I hadn’t done Hamilton Island, Cairns, Townsville or Darwin before so that was a real treat. Hamilton Island I treated myself to a helicopter ride to Whitehaven Beach. Last time I was in Australia I missed the chance to see the Great Barrier Reef through illness and since 2012 I cannot do catamarans anymore as they make me sick as a pig. Booking the helicopter was rather decadent but Whitehaven is listed as being one of the best beaches Down Under and they weren’t kidding.

Hovering above the area all you could see was mile upon mile of pure white sandy beach and I was desperate to dip my toes into the crystal waters. Here’s the funny thing, the minimum booking conditions meant I had to book for two people and so I decided to invite my girlfriend Alex whose birthday it was. The trip to the airport was exciting for both of us and once there we were fitted out with life jackets and headphones and led to our craft. The pilot was great and explained our route and after warming up the rotors we took to the sky. It was truly glorious, the scenery is straight out of the best holiday brochures and turtles were pointed out to  us that looked like to size of ants even though they were as big as our helicopter. Within 15 minutes we were touching down on the beach and I noted we were the only people there. There wasn’t a single human being in any direction and I fell about laughing to realize I must have booked a romantic getaway. As the pilot laid out the picnic blanket and planted the umbrella in the sand I whispered to Alex that he must think we were gay. We didn’t bother opening the champagne as I don’t drink so I told Alex to take it back to the ship to share with her boyfriend Nebroiska.

With everything set up our pilot walked into the bush disappearing from view. The only negative were that stingers were out in full force and although our pilot had left us stinger suits I wasn’t going to chance it as the attacks from the  jelly fish in this part of the world can be fatal. I only risked paddling although Alex braved it for a quick dip. The two hours whizzed by and before we knew it we were heading back to the main island.

Instead of the hostess taking us back to the tender dock she dropped us at the main hotel where we met up with the rest f the crew on shore leave, swam, drank ice cold drinks and ate ourselves silly. A fabulous day. I really prefer the island save a few special cities in the world.

The first of the month saw us dock at Cairns (pronounced Cans), a resort city and a popular backpackers destination in Queensland. One of the most northern cities in Australia, Cairns is the gateway to two of the world’s most stunning natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. Both stretch up the coast of  Eastern Australia and although other ports like Port Douglas, Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island and Yorkey’s Know also offer access, Cairns is the only port where ships come into the pier rather than tender. Consequently it is also the only port this far north that allows for overnight port stays. This is important a tours to the reef are full days and with so much more to see you need the two days that an overnight allows for.

The cruise ships dock at Trinity Wharf right in town near the foot of Lake Street. The Esplanade strip is a firm favourite with locals and visitors alike with a ru of restaurants, water views and the popular swimming pools in the park.

The trips to the Reef involve a 40 minute crossing with guaranteed sea swells and that was enough to scare me off. Scouring the Internet I found a our with GBR helicopters that involved a trip over to Green Island. The driver picked me up and we only had a short drive to the helicopter strip. I was thrilled to find I’d been given the front seat as the other four passengers were Japanese and that kept the group together by putting them in the back. The 15 minute ride gave is a bird’s eye view of the city and Marina before following the coastline of False Cape before turning out to sea.

I didn’t realize that the wet monsoon season runs from November to May and mid-flight the rains came in making visibility harder but it didn’t last too long and very soon I could see Green Island and the surrounding reef. It looked gorgeous, in fact picture book perfect with pure white fringed beaches in a true tropical setting.

Just 27 kms from Cairns, Green Island is paradise on earth. It combines the World Heritage environments of Green Island National Park and the surrounding Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Luke, one of the company’s crew met me at the landing site and briefed me on the attractions of the island. My package included a Tropical Smorgasbord lunch, a Glass Bottom boat trip, entry to the swimming pool in the resort and use of snorkeling equipment. Like took me over to the island’s reception desk and they gave me a map and an allocated time on the boat ride at 10.45am

Extending almost a kilometer out into the Reef, the island’s jetty offers a different perspective of the Reef without having to get into the water. The jetty offered clear views into the sea life below where I witnessed schools of colourful fish, stingrays and a rather large shark. That as well as the stinger warnings dotted at every entrance to the beach convinced me not to swim that day.

The Glass Bottom Boat vessel was moored right at the end of the pier and having reached it I decided not to go as the swells were quite bad. The pilot told me to come back later in the afternoon when it should have been calmer but I didn’t want to risk it. I turned round to make the long walk back. There are more than 50 species of birds to identify so there’s plenty to keep you busy. There are signs sprinkled  along the 1.3km route explaining the colourful history of the island.

The beach runs along the perimeter of the islbd nd dotted along the boardwalk you suddenly come across a path that leads you to the beach. The first three or four were busy with other guests but continuing round I found a spot that completely deserted. I set my towel over atree trunk and sat and read my book for the next hour. It was total bliss. I would have stayed but eventually two people appeared and plonked down next to me.

At 12.40pm I headed over to Marineland Melanesia. Built with  love and passion for marine life in the late 1960s, the sanctuary is a unique experience for marine lovers. Meet Cassius, the world’s largest crocodile living in captivity  and is an estimated 40 years old. I paid the $19.00 entrance and as you follow the paths you are rewarded by the hundreds of priceless Melanesian artifacts dotted everywhere as well as tropical aquariums filled with living orals. In the middle of the complex in a large pool  filled with sea turtles and puffa fish and the bridged walkway takes you towards the crocodile pens.

At 1.30pm the owner’s grandson came out for feeding time. He hooked large chickens to a crude fishing pole and dangled it over the cages. The crocodile swam slowly eyeing its prize and suddenly without warning it leapt out of the water jaws wide open to snap his dinner. I had no idea they were able to move so quickly and you certainly wouldn’t stand a chance if you came across one in the wild.

Cassius was brought to the sanctuary after becoming a man-eater. Several people went missing while their boats were literally  torn apart in the reptile’s quest to get at its prey. The only compound the boy entered  was Cassius as he is so old that he is slow to move and suffers from arthritis. He is not made to jump for his food and being 5.6 metres he would certainly make a splash. We visited six crocs and once the show was over we were given the opportunity of having a hands on experience, which I had to do. I enjoyed the sanctuary and went on my way armed with dozens  of photos.

 

I’d booked a 20-minute foot massage at the  Arumi Day Spa and at twenty dollars it was considerably cheaper than the ship!!! The oriental girl invited me to sit on one of the outdoor armchairs and after serving me Chinese tea she started weaving her magic. OMG she was amazing, I could actually feel the stress leaving my body, I didn’t want it to end.  Whilst sitting enjoying life Luke came and asked if I’d mind if he cadged a lift on the way back to the mainland. Because of the timings I had to book a private craft back so he told me he would understand if I said no. I had to agree as I needed to borrow his thighs to stand on otherwise I wouldn’t have got into the helicopter, lol.

After the rain this morning we’d been treated to the most beautiful weather and I was relieved to see that there weren’t any clouds in the sky for our journey back. With a final wave to this special island we walked towards the Helipad for my 4.00pm flight. The craftwas only a single engine whereas this morning the craft was much bigger and the pilot was also different. We took off and I found that I had the most glorious views of the Reef below. I hadn’t realized how the weather earlier had churned up the sea and that meant  I hadn’t experienced the best of what was on offer. I was gobsmacked.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 1,600 miles. It can be seen from outer space and Is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms. The reef is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. In 1981 it was selected as a World Heritage Site while CNN labeled it one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Thirty species of whales, dolphins and porpoises have been recorded in the reef as well as large populations of  dugongs, 1500 fish species and six species of sea turtles  who came there to breed. Even saltwater crocs are known to live in the mangroves and salt marshes on the coast near the reef. 215 species of birds visit the reef or nest or roost on the islands in the northern and southern regions of the Great Barrier with 1.7 million using the sites to breed.

Whilst flying over the Reef this morning the pilot had pointed out a small sand cay which was underwater because of the tides but unbeknown to me Luke had asked the pilot if we could land there as a special treat and to make up for the disappointment of the earlier flight. The pilot had agreed and suddenly we were hurtling down towards the small bank of sand. It was so exciting and looking around there was nothing to see in any direction. We couldn’t stay long because of the tides but it didn’t dampen the thrill at all and with a final wave we took to the skies and headed back to the city. I didn’t realize we were going to land somewhere different from the morning and with the Magellan in sight the pilot have the thumbs up sign for landing. I scanned the land looking for a runway but as we got closer all there was beneath us was water. Just besides the terminal  at the water’s edge I suddenly spotted the smallest floating raft I’ve ever seen and having seen the yellow “H” in a circle below us I realized that was where we were setting down. Talk about bum clenching moment.

Darwin was a washout. The Northern Territory is vast, occupying about 1/6 of Australia’s total land mass, its boundaries encompasses a variety of contrasting landscapes and experiences. Darwin is the Northern Territory’s multi-cultural capital, famed for its tropical weather, crocodiles, rich indigenous culture, markets and festivals.

During  the months November to April the area expects monsoon rains and almost all the 165m average annual rainfall occurs during this period and flooding often occurs restricting access to parts of the region. Monsoon rain brings the prospect of spectacular storms and the potential threat of cyclones.. I knew this first hand since we’d been behind the cyclone for two days trying to avoid getting too close to the eye.

The rains were torrential and because of the weather my tour was cancelled which was a big blow. Everyone I spoke to who had done ‘The Ultimate Tour’ said it was awesome and I was particularly looking forward to  experiencing my first seaplane. Better safe than sorry. Without a tour there was little need to rush and I waited in deck for the rains to ease. It poured down for several hours but at 11.20 it suddenly stopped. Most of the ominous clouds had disapated so if I was going to venture into town now was the moment.

The shuttle dropped me at main shopping streets of Mitchell and Smith Street and I used the time ashore to catch up with my emails and speak to my gorgeous son, who I miss dearly. I bumped into Alex and Lucy, two dancers from thee ship and we went to gram a drink and catch up. Those poor sods are rehearing all day, then doing two shows after which they still have to rehearse until 3.00am. The dance coach who has come on is a slave driver and to expect these kids to work 16 hour days and forfeit the ports learning 30new shows is ludicrous. No other ship or cruise line imposes this sort of regime, it is unrealistic and mentally and physically draining, it’s no wonder the crew are dropping like flies.

The passengers are complete numpties and it is difficult to enjoy the ship when life resembles a soap opera. One passenger, who says he has M.S. is also an alcoholic. He starts drinking as soon as the bars open at 8.00am until he passes out on deck and that is where you find him the next morning still in his clothes from the days before, yes that is plural. He is capable of walking with a stick but as soon as he has too many he holds onto everything, ranting and raving to himself. The first few months people would go out of their way to help him by getting the chair wuth arms ready with towels on it to pad it out and an ashtray to save him walking but he has been so rude to those same people that now they have turned their backs on him. Trish has been getting two towels for him every day and a couple of weeks ago he came out and said “for future reference I only want blue towels, but I’m sure you did your best!” Every tour he has been booked on he has been late for, one time up to 25 minutes and if he has missed the trip the ship have given him a 100% refund yet when I had a legitimate complaint about one of my tours, I got diddley squat. It seems you have to be either rude or drunk for people to listen to you.

He often poos his pants on deck but on one trip he actually pooed at the elephant sanctuary and then stripped in front of everyone. He has no shame at all. Don’t think for one minute he is stupid, he was a neural biologist and only stopped working last year. Last week during the lunch service on deck he stood up, stood there and pissed on the floor. When the crew scurried round he refused any help, then dictated when he would leave and how. He made them set up a row of chairs to the internal doors so he could hold on to them. He came on this world cruise with 3 pairs of socks, two pairs of jeans and one paid if ankle boots. He never washes or changes his clothes and stinks but the ship are too scared to do anything about it. The worst infraction is that when he passes out at night on deck it is usually with a lit cigarette which ends up on the floor. For those who don’t know, fire is a ship’s worst enemy. Several of us have been down and had a meeting with the GSM (Guest Services Manager) but he has failed to act on it.

Last week his card was blocked as he hasn’t got any funds left and he is like a bear with a sore head, ranting and raving all over the place. But as I’ve said he is very cunning and goes round to all the bars trying it on. He got away with it for a few days but now all the staff are aware so for the minute we’ve had no alcoholic tantrums, no waving the stick in the air, no holding on to the furniture and no more passing out. I just wonder what he’ll do once he runs out of cigarettes! I’m assuming the doctor is giving him something to counteract the alcohol withdrawal but he is ready to explode. We re all hoping he is disembarked in Singapore but they are waiting on the insurance company to see if they will instigate an expatriation based on the medical care he will need on the flight. Here’s hoping.

Komodo Island is a national park in Indonesia located within the Lesser Sundo Islands in the border between the provinces of East  Nusa Tenggara and West Nusa Tenggara. The island has a surface area of 390 square kilometers and a population of about 2,000. The Park includes 3 larger islands, Komodo, Pador and Rinea, and 26 small ones. The largest living lizard in the world, the Komodo Dragon, is also one of the few venomous lizards and it will kill you. They reach 10 foot in length and weigh more than 300 pounds. They have long flat heads with rounded snouts, scaly skin, bowed legs and huge muscular tails. The muscles on the Dragon’s jaws and throat allow it to swallow huge chunks of meat with astonishing rapidity. Several moveable joints , such as the intramandibuler hinge opens the lower jaws unusually wide. The stomach expands easily allowing an adult to consume up to 80% of its own body weight in a single meal. When threatened Komodos Dragons can throw up the contents of their stomachs to lessen their weight in order to flee.

Their hearing isn’t very good and neither it its eyesight. They can only see up to a few metres and are not able to spot still standing objects but their sense of smell is phenomenal. They don’t smell with their nose but with their tongue. They have the Jacobson organ and a split tongue to smell in stereo. This combination ensures they can smell up to 3.5 miles away. Living on deer and wild pigs that inhabit the island, the Dragon is surprisingly agile over short distances (up to 20 miles per hour). This ominous looking creature with its sharp, saw-like teeth and menacing eyes leaves a lasting impression on all who have the opportunity to see them up close.

Magellan laid anchor at 7.00am. Owing to National Park restrictions it is strictly prohibited for independents to go ashore so one has to book an organsied excursion.
I’d booked a  private ranger as I’m unable to walk the two miles specified on the tour. Simon, the comic, suffers from severe arthritis in both knees and he’s a rather large man so also has trouble walking distances so I suggested he come with me as going to Komodo Island is an extremely rare experience. He jumped at the chance.

After a short tender ride our guide met us at the ranger station and after a safety briefing we commenced our trek. Making our way through paths that led through pockets of thorny vegetation and dry tropical grasslands it was a matter of minutes until we spotted two of these ancient beasts and being afternoon and extremely hot they were laying with their eyes closed resting but they soon opened their eyes when they realized they had visitors. From a distance they looked like large forest logs and if I’d been wandering around alone I would probably have been eaten.

We carried on further into the bush spotting deer and wart hogs, the standard diet of the Dragons. One poor sod looked totally emancipated and our guide explained that it hadn’t eaten in more than a month and was waiting to die. These beasts are totally wild and the rangers are not allowed to feed them, nature must take its course – the circle of life and all that spiel. Another large Dragon was guarding the area around the dying basically giving out the message “this is mine” and once the other dies, his guard will eat him.

There are only about 300 females left and because the lizards tend to eat their young, the species is endangered with only about 3000 left in existence. Our guide spotted an enormous Dragon and that’s the one we had our photos with. The guide crouched to ground level keeping contact with the beast’s eyes and gave the instruction to go behind it and edge closer until he told me to stop. I was practically on its tail. He then took several photos for me before I returned to the safely zone and breathed a sigh of relief. All the guide carries is a v-shaped stick and if needed they use it to urge the beast to retreat, much like the sticks they use on snakes. The “v” is put either side of it’s throat and that should do the trick. The other thing is that their noses are highly sensitive and if they get a wallop on it they run away. I’m glad I didn’t get the chance to witness that. All in all a fabulous day and one that I will remember for a long time. I feel extremely lucky that I had the chance to see these beasts in the wild rather than behind cages in a zoo.

Next stop Bali, the famed “Island of the Gods” with its varied landscape of hills and mountains, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, lush rice terraces and barren volcanic hillsides. It is one of the world’s most popular island destinations. From east to west it measures about 95 miles wide and from north to south just over 69 miles. Just over 4,2 million inhabitants live here while 3 million own motorbikes. It’s because of this that no public transport exists and tourists have to rely on taxis or tours.

Bali is also known as “the island with 1000 temples” but in fact there are probably closer to a million. Each village is required by law to construct at least three temples, although wealthy hamlets have many more.

At the moment there is only one option still available for cruise ships to dock and this is at Benoa Harbour. It’s a tricky port and larger ships often tender while the smaller ones tend to dock although some Captains won’t take the risk to manoevre in and choose to anchor but our Master was confident in taking us right in. Four stunning local girls in traditional costume greeted us as did a local band. It was all rather exciting. Mully my guide for two days was waiting for me with an air-conditioned minivan and Wi-Fi.

Our first stop was the Batik Factory where several local ladies were hard at work hand painting some wall murals. Each piece can take a few weeks to make depending on how intricate the design and how many colours are used. I was taken through each stage of the process and then led into their shop. I’m not sure what I expected but certainly not the massive emporium housed over two floors. There was Batik everywhere, huge pieces of wall art. Sarongs, pillow cases, bedspreads, candles, hats and a plethora of clothes. I felt I had to buy something so I opted for a small wall hanging which cost me the princely sum of $30.00.

Next we drove to Mas Village, famous for its wood carvings. The private courtyard had a raised stage where six members of the same family were busily crafting various souvenirs. It was similar to the Batik factory in that they talk you through the different processes and then I was led into their showroom. I’ve never seen so many pieces of wood under one roof before and although I did spot a couple of nice things the prices were quite high and even though they expect you to haggle I didn’t think they would go as low as I wanted.

Next on the bucket list was Tagenungen Waterfall. Everyone seemed to know Mully so we got preferential parking wherever we went. The walk to the viewing area was littered with market stalls and the key word was cheap. We kept walking as Mully knew the owner of a café right above the waterfall. It was a great view and while I enjoyed an ice cold cola, Mully ordered a whole coconut which was served with the top sliced off and a straw. The guide assured me it was a small one!!! He drank the milk and once that was empty he started on the flesh, it was quite a meal. We stayed about an hour while I mooched about the market picking up several bunches of bananas in preparation of our next stop, the Ubud Monkey Forest.

I expected something like the set up in Gibraltar but this was as far removed as you can get. The Forest is enormous complete with its own temples, holy pool, shrines and waterfall. It was like something out of Lara Croft and Tomb Raider, totally awesome. Because of my stash of bananas I found quite a few furry friends and once we’d walked the whole Forest, I decided I wasn’t ready to leave. There are believed to be over 600 monkeys here and you didn’t have to look far to spot them. They were on the footpaths, bridges, trees, well everywhere you looked. I must have taken over 200 photos and I was loving every moment, so much so that they had to throw me out at 6.00pm, closing time.

I’d brought tickets for the Bali Nusa Dua Theatre to see the show Devdan but the journey would have taken 90 minutes and to be honest I was too tired to contemplate another long journey. The island might not be that big but the drives are long because of the sheer weight of traffic. I like other crew members had booked a one-bedroom villa for the night after being told it would be unforgettable and how right they were. Mully spent nearly 90 minutes looking for it and after three calls to the resort we finally ended up on a back road lane. Mully couldn’t drive any further as the road was totally uneven with deep potholes. It was pitch black and I was suddenly paniced over what I’d booked and just about to tell the guide to take me back to the ship. Suddenly out of the night four local boys in traditional garb carrying flashlights took my luggage and asked me to follow. I was really upset and trying to work out what to do but I followed the boys the few hundred yards until they waved me to the left. It was like an oasis in the desert, a stunningly beautiful marble foyer stood there and seeing that vision I told Mully he could go and arranged a 9.00am pick up in the morning.. After checking in I followed my host down a long landscaped path filled with the tallest Birds of Paradise I’ve ever seen. A small pathway off to my left indicated I’d arrived at Villa 7. OMG, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. As soon as I walked through the front door I stood in a courtyard with a private pool taking centre stage, bedecked with sun loungers and a double day bed. On my right was a small kitchen and dining room. In front of the pool were double sliding doors which led to the bedroom. The bed was enormous with Balinese wood on the floor. Sliding doors on my left led to a mammoth bathroom with a rainforest shower and a ‘honeymoon’ bath. To me it was like a small swimming pool. It was simply amazing and the attention to detail was fabulous. My Fridge was stocked with sodas and fresh fruit and the TV was loaded with cable channels or you could borrow a movie from reception to use in the DVD player. Next to the bed they even had an IPhone charger, there was literally nothing missing. Even the walk-in wardrobe had a safe, two silk Batik kimonos and slippers,
 A M A Z I N G.

I had a full day of activities planned for the next day and immediately decided I was going to stay until noon, check-out time. Everywhere worth going to see in Bali was at least an hour away and I worked out that for the most part I would spend more time in the car then at any venue. I probably wasted four hours on the first day and I didn’t want the same thing to happen the following day. I just haven’t got the stamina anymore.

The Head Receptionist explained there was a back gate at the end of the property which led to Potato Head Beach Resort that Alex and Nebraska were going to but I didn’t have the oomph to go back out. Instead I ordered room service, hamburger, chips and coleslaw followed by fried bananas topped with vanilla ice cream after which I ran the bath. It was so big it took ½ an hour to fill but because I’m small I was able to swim around in it, pure bliss.

The bed had mosquito nets around it which I undid so that I could leave the sliding doors to the pool open and climbed into bed. All I could hear was the birdsong and the odd cricket and I gradually fell into a deep sleep. When I woke up I was still in paradise. I was quite prepared to wake up and find it had all been a dream. Before I left I made sure I sat on every sun lounger, used the rainforest shower, bath and pool. I’m not a lover of cold water but the pool was outside temperature. There were no steps but a ledge about two foot down and off I went. What I didn’t consider was how I was going to get out. Having no upper body strength it wasn’t as easy as pulling myself out. My only option was to swim towards the ledge and literally throw myself at it. I made it but beached whale comes to mind. I checked out at noon and went to  Mal Bali Galeria for a few hours before heading back to the ship. It is such a shame that I didn’t get to go elephant riding or some other exotic activity but nowadays I only seem to have the puff to cover one full day, the second is always a bit of a write off. It happened in Cairns, Hong Kong n=and Ho Chi Minh but hey you can’t have it all.

Java was a bit of a wash out. I should have gone on the Vintage Train but the tour was fully booked and I had little interest in Brunei. The trouble with this cruise company is that we are docked at the cheapest quays, most two hours or so away from the main attractions and with the temperatures hitting the high 90s I didn’t have the inclination to endure a long stuffy coach ride.

Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah in the eastern region of Malaysia. The city is located in the island of Borneo right by the South China Sea. Separated by a stretch of the sea, Malaysia’s two regions offer vastly different travel experiences. Whilst Peninsular Malaysia boasts a rich heritage, beautiful sweeps of sandy beach and a sensational gastronomy, the provinces of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo offers tribal traditions, wild jungle and a great range of activities to delve into Tungkul Abdul Rahmen Marine Park is a protected marine sanctuary that is just 10 minutes away by speedboat, white sandy beaches, crystal clear water and an abundance of marine life make it a popular getaway and diving spot.

Gaya Island is the largest island of the five of the Tunku Abdul Rahmen Park, which lies about 15 miles off Kota Kinabalu. The 3.665 acre island has 16nmiles f shoreline and stretches consisting of fine white sand. The untouched coastal dipterocarp forest makes it ideal for trekking and graded nature trails.

Sabahs nickname is ‘land beneath the wind” due to its location, which is just below the typhoon and monsoon belt of South East Asia.

Kinabalu National Park is Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO in December 2000.

The Borneo tropical rainforestis about 130 million years old, making it one of the oldest rainfrests in the world.

Sabah is home to the Borneo Pygmy Elephant, the world’s smallest elephant. Sabah is also home to the Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower. The Rafflesia is a parasite flowering plant producing the world’s largest single bloom growing up to a metre in diameter.

I’d booked a tour with the operator ‘Down Below’ and talked Ioan, the financial controller, into coming with me. We were picked up from the pier and driven some 15 minutes away to a small marina attached to a posh hotel. There were only 8 of us on the speedboat and a mere eight minutes later we pulled into the pier of Gaya Island. I can’t adequately describe the sheer beauty that faced me. The pier was long and the wooden walkway  took us across crystal clear waters towards the jungle. You could hear thr firest singing, alive with birdsong and our guide led us to the lone wooden chalet where we were given a briefing on the upcoming snorkeling. Because of thir culture everyone had to take their shoes off and wash their feet before netering but it was a small price to pay after the nonsense at Brunei.

Ioan loves to snorkel and I waved him goodbye as he boarded the boat that was taking everyone to a nearby reef. I had the whole beach to myself, which was awesome. The tide was out and it meant I could walk right out to the sandbanks and the water never raised above my ankles. I took a pew in the ocean, which was as warm as a bath, and watched the fish doing their dance just under the surf.

Ioan was away 45 minutes and amazingly in that short time he was slightly burnt despite putting a high factor sunscreen on whereas I wasn’t even pink even though I hadn’t put any lotion on. I met the owner who turned out to be from Harrow. He flew over with his wife 11 years ago and set up shop. He has a dive centre on another island, as well as running overland tours. He took a huge risk but it has paid off because now the government are investing millions on developing the port and promenade into an entertainment adventure filled with restaurants, bars and shops. It will probably take another two years but it will make a big difference to the tourist spend. They are now getting a ship or two a day and that will increase as the cruise industry continues to prosper.

Borneo is famous for orangutans and Kota Kinabalu offer several tours to see these animals in their natural habitat but it involves an overnight so sadly there wasn’t the opportunity this time. In fact there wasn’t much time to do anything as we had to be aboard by 2.30pm. ‘Down Under’ had especially accommodated me as their tour usually finishes much later, in fact I tailor-made all of it as in the early afternoon I’d shelved the second snokelling outing in favour of a zipline experience.

Ioan and I boarded the speedboat which took us to another part of the island. We were kitted out in our harness and hats and told to follow the trail. I had originally checked there weren’t many steps but guess what they lied. They were.t even manmade but stps carved into the forst floor plus the fact there were 42. I struggled big time but Ioan helped me on each step, laughing away. I wasn’t sure what he found so funny until much later when he showed everyone on the ship the video.I could have killed him except all my energy was focused on the bloody climb.

I made one mistake which I didn’t suss out until much later when it was too late. I wore my GoPro so I got wonderful footage of everything except me. What I should have done is given it to Ioan to wear!!

There was only one traverse but it was Borneo’s longest at 250 metres long. The ‘Coral Flyer’ flies from Gaya Island over the crystal clear waters to Sapi Island reaching speeds off upto 60kph. Ioan and I were hoisted onto our lines across from each other and on the word from the guide, we were off. It was a pure adrenalin thrill and I so would have loved to go again but you know what they say, leave them wanting more.

Since dropping us at the zipline base our boat had driven across to Sapi Island and was waiting for us. It only took six minutes to take us back to Gaya and while I swam about in the shallows, Ioan tucked into a huge curry lunch. It was a great day albeit short and at 1.25pm we climbed into our private boat to be taken back to the mainland. I have to say it was very well organized and disembarking at the pier, we found our driver waiting to take us back to the ship. We were scheduled to have a massive buffet and entertainment night on deck because of St Patrick’s Day but the winds were so fierce it shredded the bunting in minutes so after setting all the tables and chairs up the poor crew had to move them to the Eros Deck. They spent another ½ hour setting up the buffet but the wind kept blowing everything away so all the tables and chairs had to be moved under cover and that took another 30 minutes but eventually they won and the celebrations carried onto into the early hours.

After Kota Kinbalu we visited Manila,  Hong Kong, Chan May and  Ho Chi Minh but there just isn’t the time to write these up. The Internet in this part of the world has been so bad that  it is possible this might go up a day or so late so if that happens I apologise but it is always difficult dealing with the unknown.

In the meanwhile here are a few snippets on Matt Monro news.

“One Voice’ The Matt Monro Story’ opened on 4th February at Richmond Theatre and this time round we’ve updated the songs and script to include even more.

Matt posts regularly on his facebook page about what's been happening on the tour, which can be found

Here

Don’t forget to visit Matt’s new website http://www.mattmonrojnr.co.uk/


Matt’s new album came out to coincide with the tour. “A Father’s Legacy’ is the first album since “If He Could See Me Now” which was in 2007 and “Dancing With His Father’ in 2010.

Matt’s doing the album in the style of dad in terms of arrangements and although I don’t have the final running order I have managed to get the track listing.

Fourth Blue Monday
Didn’t We
For Once in My Life
Georgia on My Mind
Let Me Sing
One Morning in May
Gonna Build a Mountain
One Voice
You’ve Got Possibilities
So Little Time
This is the Life
Wonderful World
On Days Like These
You Made Me So Very Happy
Yesterday When I Was Young

Just so you know Jasmine records issued an erroneously titled "Complete Recordings 1955 - 1962" set by dad on 9th December. This in all likelihood steals all Richard Moore’s remasters, as this record company doesn’t have the rights to any of the original masters. Certainly they don’t have the masters from Decca, Love is the Same Anywhere or The Complete Singles Collection.

This is either a substandard release or they have taken our masters for their own gain. There is never any finesse or research taken. Thy have listed the Parade of the Pops LP tracks as BBC Transcriptions. Where they pulled that from I don’t know as they are EMI tracks recorded at Abbey Road and have nothing to do with the BBC apart from being the same name as the radio show.

Strange Lady took us years to get hold of and Richard lovingly worked on the disc to give it its best possible treatment. Jasmine can’t have got the masters anywhere else so I urge you not to buy this product. I’m so fed up with these fly-by-night companies coming out of the woodwork to make a buck off other people’s work.

I’ve been working on a new project for the last 20 months and all being equal the book will be ready to go to print in April or May so I have it ready for the Celebrity cruise season.  The working title is ‘The Port Guide for Mere Mortals’ and includes a ‘Mobility Challenged’ section which is something sadly missing from other guides.

The first edition includes Norway and Europe and I’m relying on all of you to let me have any recommendations of shops, eateries, tours and the places that have impressed you Even if you have a valuable tip I want to hear it , you might know the best places for duty free and if anyone has issues with their mobility please share your stories with me. It could be that you need to tell me a place to avoid and that is equally important. This project is important so if you have any suggestions of things to include please email me at michele@mattmonro.com. Maybe you have a great title for the book then please don’t be shy, everything is valuable and you’ll be helping future travelers.

 

Cruise Dates 2017
5 January – 5 May - Cruise & Maritime Magellan World Cruise
18 June -2 July - Celebrity Eclipse
2 July-16 July - Celebrity Eclipse
16 July            -30 July - Celebrity Eclipse
30 July            -13 August - Celebrity Eclipse
13 August-26 August            - Celebrity Eclipse
26 August-3 September - Celebrity Eclipse
3 September-17 September - Celebrity Eclipse
17 September-21 September - Celebrity Eclipse
28 September -8 October - Celebrity Eclipse
8 October-18 October - Celebrity Eclipse
18 October-28 October - Celebrity Eclipse

I looked forward to the World Cruise on Magellan as it gives me a chance to check out a few places I’ve not been before. I’m writing a travel blog like I did in 2012 and have uploaded some pictures and video footage onto my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/michelemonro every time I’m in a port with an Internet connection.

Don’t forget to check out our Spotlight feature this month, I know so many of you enjoy them. This month we look in on the ever popular Dusty Springfield

Check out the ‘Rough Guide to mattmonro.com’, which is available towards the bottom of the Homepage. If you don’t know how to access certain areas of the site or in fact are unaware of new areas, this guide will explain how easy this website is to get around, once you know how.

There is also another information box “How to Use the Forum’. I know a lot of people have been tempted to join in on some of our conversations but are slightly nervous of doing so. For that reason I have printed step-by-step instructions of how to access it. It really does only take a few minutes.

Whatever the coming year holds, suffice to say that I shall be plugging Matt Monro’s music at every opportunity.  That is the wonderful thing about working the ships, it gives me a brand new audience each time and if then, a small percentage go home a fan, then it is worth all the blood, sweat and tears, not to mention the Bay of Biscay!!!!

Until next month take care of yourselves and don’t forget to check my travel blog out at Facebook.co.uk/MichleMonro. see you all again in May.

Warmest to you and yours

Michele
x

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