26 April 2009

The Final Stretch

It's my final Sunday on board and I'm starting to get ready for my disembarkation in Singapore. We left Jebel Ali on 16 April and now we're making the long, straight run to the tip of India where we'll bear east, past Sri Lanka and on to the Straits of Malacca.

Dubai was a short but interesting stop. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to stay ashore overnight but we were able to spend a couple of hours wandering around the old part of the city, visiting the Gold and Spice Souks and taking in some sights. In the late afternoon we four passengers met up in the lobby of a hotel before heading to the Mall of the Emirates. As malls go it's pretty impressive; one of the largest in the world. The main attraction is the somewhat famous Ski Dubai indoor ski slope. Pierre had decided to take advantage of our stop to get in some skiing so the rest of us wandered about the mall. The number and range of stores was impressive but not much that was especially unique or interesting; a mall is pretty much like any other mall and the brands are the same ones that can be found in just about any major city.

Some of the restaurants have large windows that look out onto the ski slope so Clive and I took a break, ordered some appetizers and a couple of non-alcoholic beers and watched.

After that we stopped by a bookstore and then went to meet up with Pierre and Diane and start our trip back to the ship. The taxi stand in front of the mall is right next to the valet parking area and there was an impressive collection of expensive marques on display from large limousines to hyper-fast sports cars.

Our trip back to the ship was mildly eventful when we encountered a some difficulty after we retrieved our passports. There's a bit of a design flaw in that the office where we had to pick up our passports was next to a gate that was barred to automobiles - only trucks were allowed through. After some confused discussions with the driver and the guard it was made clear that our driver would have to enter through another gate and then loop around to pick us up. Once he did that he started driving confidently towards what we thought was our ship until we were surprised when he stopped in front of the US aircraft carrier, Dwight D Eisenhower. There was a bit more confusion between the driver and the guards and to cut a long story reasonably short we spent about another twenty minutes driving around until we found our berth. In the driver's defense the signage within the port is pretty useless especially compared to that of Antwerp. Communication is also a challenge; everyone was speaking English, but it was at best the second language of all the participants.

The next afternoon we cast off and headed out to sea. As we exited the port and while still in the channel we passed the The Palm, the famous building project of reclaimed land laid out to resemble a giant palm tree when seen from the air. From our relatively low vantage point we couldn't see much but there did seem to be some construction going on. I believe this is the second such development, the first one being farther up the coast near the Burj al-Arab hotel. Personally I can't understand the appeal; sure, it might be a nice house, but it seems to be a bit inconvenient to get back and forth to the city and no matter how nice the house is the outside temperature might be 45 degrees C and humid with a dust storm on the horizon. As the Encyclopedia Britannica notes, "[t]he [Persian] gulf has a notoriously unpleasant climate."

On Saturday the 18th the crew had a combined party to celebrate the previous week's Easter holiday and this week's Orthodox Easter holiday. Our Romanian crew members; primarily the two carpenters, the electrician and one of the deck cadets; spent a lot of time in preparing some delicious dishes. They made puff pastries, several salads, some meat dishes, and colored a few dozen eggs. There was also the usual grilled fare and plenty of beer and wine.

The next few days were relaxed as we enjoyed pleasant weather and calm seas. The water temperature reached 30C, about as warm as the air. I occupied my time by editing more of my photos and burning my collection onto some DVDs for the crew and passengers.

Thursday morning found us starting our turn around the northern tip of Sumatra and heading towards the Straits of Malacca. There is a further threat of pirates in the Straits of Malacca so the Captain increased the watch. Unlike the Gulf of Aden the threat is not one of hijacking but rather robbery.

The number of ships in these fairly narrow straits is really impressive; for a while on Friday morning we were traveling almost neck-and-neck with a large Maersk container ship as she slowly passed us.

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