In Front of the Taj Mahal
We will travel to such places as the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, the lost city of Petra in Jordan, and the Armenian church in Jerusalem. We'll ride an elephant in Thailand, a camel in the desert of Dubai, and even taste kangaroo stew in Australia.
We begin our voyage back on January 21st, 2010 at 6pm sailing from San Pedro Harbour in Los Angeles, California.
Seabourn Log: February 9th, 2010
Hi my dear friends,
I am writing this quick note as it has been hard to get on the internet floating in this large wooden box on the very center of the earth. We are just now passing over the international date line... we passed the equator a few days ago. I have been keeping a journal and photos with my new camera. We have been in a cyclone and high waves... the sea is a brilliant navy blue. All I can see from our balcony is the horizon and waves and heart stopping sky.
Our ship has few Americans, mostly British and Germans... with a few Aussies and French thrown into the mix. The food on the ship is 5 Star... anything and everything your tongue can dream of. Mostly the tropical fruits are my breakfast... but lunch and dinner I cannot resist... lobster, caviar, and good wine is the norm.
In Hawaii we visited the Pearl Harbor memorial to the sunken ship, the Arizona... the poignant tribute to all those men who lost their lives during the attack on December 7th, 1941. One can still see the rusty metal of the ship with the sea lapping over it... still entombed below… forever and always their grave.
Papeete, the capitol of Tahiti, is lost to the myth of the great painter Paul Gauguin I'm afraid... it is now a horrible tourist haven. Unless you can slip away to a secret spot of white beach, it has become paradise lost.
Bora Bora is possibly the most beautiful island on earth. No wonder Marlon Brando had such a passion for the land and the sweet people. His family still owns a small, unprepossessing grass shack overlooking the lagoon. Sadly, on his island Tetiaroa, they are going to build an Intercontinental hotel.
We have been walking miles and bouncing along in open-sided trucks to see the sights. In Hawaii it was air conditioned buses, but in the South Pacific, thank god, one uses ones feet more... although the humidity has been from 75-90 percent... almost to the point of putting one into semi consciousness. No wonder the natives were discovered naked by the early explorers.
We are now heading for New Zealand and then Australia...
Sending you all my love,
Seabourn Log: February 20th, 2010
Continuing on from Bora Bora...
We sailed along the route Captain Cook followed in the 1700's... just missing the latest cyclone. There were high winds but nonetheless, we were cozy, sipping hot tea in the cocoon of our little suite.
At one point the captain, in one of his regular updates, said "we are now in the middle of nowhere, with nearest land 3 miles down." So until we reached New Zealand, that is the space we lived in.
Who would believe that I might fall in love with New Zealand? I have memories now forever etched of us crawling narrow winding one lane roads up to the volcanic peaks of Russell, Auckland, Wellington, and Littleton. Looking out and far down to terrifying heights... with literally hundreds of specks of white sailboats, winding coasts, trees, plants, earth, sand, sky that looked like they had all been oiled colored by Da Vinci.
We saw many of New Zealand's famous wounded Kauri trees... massive... one 900 years old. They are wounded because men once gashed them for sap to use as glue.
Sitting on the patio of the very old Duke of Marlborough pub, looking out at the little harbor of Russell, drinking the most delicious draft beer I have ever tasted... oysters, hours fresh from the sea. Mollies in Auckland... the best lunch ever... the fragrance of roses and hundreds of candles and opera sounds and food that had flavors that put me into a trance.
The sea journey from New Zealand to Australia in the Tasmanian Sea is the journey I will remember that resembled my vision of the Old Testament gone mad. Cyclone Ray finally tracked us down and put his arms around us. For 24 hours all we could do was lie on our bed face up, holding on to the sides. We could not eat or drink ... just breath and try to let the body move with the wind and the sea. If you can imagine a large man having grand mal seizures and in the middle of his endless convulsions, sneezing every few minutes... that is what it felt like. Waves went up to our 5th floor balcony... slapping us so hard that all I wished for was sleep. And finally it stopped... bliss... life once again.
Australia tomorrow ... the land of 150 million sheep and only 20 million people!
Seabourn Log: March 9th, 2010
We sailed into Sidney Harbor early in the morning... god what a sight... huge white angel wings frozen against the sky. Surrounding the cement wings of the Sidney Opera House roof top, along the Harbor, there were glass buildings that seemed to extend further than the neck could bend.
That evening we dressed our best and took a boat trip around that amazing harbor, drinking lovely Australia wine and eating Aussie food and blinking with pleasure at the twinkling everywhere. We climbed the many steps of the Opera House and watched a very modern version of Tosca... the costumes were jeans and tennis shoes... Tosca was raped in front of the audience... boxer shorts on top of Tosca ... it was actually bizarre, shocking to hear that glorious, soaring music coming out of their mouths... an interesting experiment that definitely did not work.
At the Healesville Sanctuary, one of Australia's most famous wildlife parks, I lay on the ground beside a young kangaroo and petted him. He felt warm and rough. I took a photograph of an adorable baby kangaroo's face curiously staring out from the safety of his mother's sack. I held a koala bear which felt bristly and velvety all at the same time. I was amazed by a Lyre bird... called the prince of mimics... because it is an expert at copying any sound at all... a car, a horn, a voice, any musical instrument.
That afternoon, I had lunch at the Rockford Winery along the river Yarra. A friend was eating kangaroo stew. At first I was horrified. She said it was delicious and convinced me to take a small bite. It tasted like beef, except a little tougher, gamier. I made a decision... that would be my first and last gourmet kangaroo meal.
I took an underwater submarine and saw peculiar, fantastic and colorful fish in the Great Barrier Reef... yellow faced angelfish, manta rays, turtles.
There are parks and water everywhere. At lunchtime, people take off their suits and ties and put on their bathing suits and sun bathe or swim. Australia, the land of Dream Time.
And then there is Bali. (Of all the places I have thus far explored it is to New Zealand, Bora Bora and Bali I want to return) This little green, coconut island made me feel that I was being surrounded and embraced by innocence, kindness and a kind of safety I have never felt before. Looking into eyes that want nothing more from you except to honor mutual humanness.
I remember hundreds of motor bikes whizzing along the highways. One holding a man and woman and three children clutched between them. Women on bicycles holding on their heads groceries in large woven baskets. Another woman walking gracefully, balancing a large plastic water bottle on her head and laughing at something her child said. Along the river, everyone skinny dipping, bathing, washing clothes, not even looking up at us as we passed by.
I saw delicate, doll like, painted 4 year old girls, dancing with serious faces to gongs and bells.
In my hand a straw fan, trying not to faint from the humidity, salty sweat dripping into my eyes, determined not to miss a second of this world of flowers and seasonings and vivid colors and sounds I have never heard.
Here in Bali, you can go into anyone's house... you will be received... the dog barks, they come to the door and invite you in. This is a land where you live in the now... with no fear of old age or death. If you are a good person, you will return. If you are not, you must start your life over, lower, as a 4 legged creature, or sometimes as a tree or a plant. And someday, if you are of great goodness, you stay in bliss forever.
Tomorrow Brunei, next week Hong Kong...
Seabourn Log: March 22nd, 2010
A trivia question... Imagine a country with no income tax, universal education, free medical care and pensions for the old and the needy, and no crime. One minor thing though... the penalty for bringing in, taking out or using drugs is the death penalty. Other than that, there seem to be no prisons... your house and car are paid for if you are needy... the people are very kind (although head-hunting among the up-country tribes is only a generation or two distant.) It is known as "the magnificent city on stilts". The mosques and modern gilded buildings are sparkling. The Sultan, one of the world's wealthiest men, lives in a palace with over 1000 rooms. It is the setting for some of Somerset Maugham's short stories.
Ok, what country is this?
Honestly, I could never imagine it but it actually exists. Tiny Brunei, a country on the island of Borneo, enriched by all that oil.
We took a boat trip down the Brunei River. The kind of boat that each of us got on gingerly one at a time and very, very carefully. And you do not move without letting everyone know what it is exactly you are doing. It was a great adventure... floating markets, beautiful children swimming and waving, plants, flowers, vines, trees that I have never seen before... young and old faces staring out from their houses on stilts.
There are some very interesting customs here. The couple must take marriage lessons for a month before. The woman has an advisor for a month into the marriage and in the olden days, they had to stay together for 40 days in the house without leaving. Now in modern day, it's only for two weeks. And on the wedding night, the couple must stay up the entire night together otherwise... bad luck.
The next day, we were in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia facing the emerald green waters of the South China Sea... walking in hot, humid jungles. The town was almost totally destroyed during WWII by both Japanese and Allied bombing and all that was left standing was the clock tower and an old post office. But now like a phoenix, it is back.
Hong Kong (meaning "fragrant harbor")... 164 square miles... crammed to the top with 7 million people... neon, massive banks, financial houses, and enormous skyscrapers with futuristic architecture. The skyline is heart stopping... especially at night.
I stood on my little ship balcony looking out out at the skyline and that city... every color of light imaginable. At 8pm every night there is a light show... I had to remind myself to breathe.
Hong Kong in my mind is a blend of the power, speed, excitement, color, drama round the clock of New York and the beauty, sophistication and exoticness of San Francisco. There are noodle vendors, hair cutters, bargain hawkers, bone setters, fortune tellers... junks, sampans, black pajamas, coolie hats, incredible ancient faces, sleek hip men and woman carrying brief case in one hand and a cell phone in the other, tenements with laundry hanging out 40 floors above, store windows overflowing with your heart's desire.
I took a speedy little red tram and was swooped up to the top of Hong Kong... Victoria Peak. Looking down on that city is like being on a hallucinogen.
I had dim sum on a floating restaurant called Jumbo's... the one where Cary Grant wooed Audrey Hepburn in Charade. I remember seeing that film as a girl and thinking, yes, one day... Chinese food in that incredibly romantic restaurant and Cary Grant... that is my future.
I saw Chinese opera, with acrobats, dragons and contortionists. Went up and down Hong Kong Harbor on the Star Ferry and then did it again... bought some slinky, silky Chinese clothes.
Hong Kong is like a drug.
Seabourn Log: March 31st, 2010
Da Nang, Saigon, Cambodia. Those names... my youth... my first remembered war. The war I fought my family about round the dinner table. The war we kids stood up against for the first time. The war we lost our playmates in. The war for naught.
I stumbled my way through the jungles of Da Nang toward the UNESCO World Heritage Site of My Son Sanctuary, following the guide who kept getting smaller and smaller ahead. Hot, more humid and hot than anything experienced in my life... unknown flying crawling insects larger than my little finger, a broken stone path I kept tripping on, magnificent bird songs in the crunching silence... my feet moving with will power. My thoughts toward the boys, American and Vietnamese, who had suffered heat, bugs, fear in this endless jungle forty some years ago.
And then an opening in the jungle and it was like a mirage... My Son Sanctuary. A complex of temples and towers, their red brick exteriors decorated with base relief... columns, flowers, leaves and worshipping figures... sandstone carved with the figures of gods and the holy animals of the Hindus. Magnificent towers almost destroyed by American bombs... an imperial city during the Cham Dynasty between the 4th and 12th centuries. Among this shattered beauty... great gaping, swooping holes, bomb craters. One unexploded bomb still lies in one of the walls. Their government contacted the U.S. during the 'American War.' as they call it, and begged for the bombing in this area to be stopped. And so Nixon stopped. And so there is some of this magnificence still left.
There is China Beach... the sand and sea the boys took their R&R from the fighting. High up in the mountain looking down onto China Beach is a giant 250 foot stone female Buddha. The Goddess of Mercy.
The city of Saigon and Da Nang... filled almost onto the sidewalks with motor bikes, thousands and thousands of motor bikes. There are 4 million of them in Vietnam, I was told. No cars, just motor bikes, buses, trucks. The motor bike riders, faces half covered like bandits with colored cloths of every hue to protect from the fumes, the heat, the dirt... perched on the bikes, whole families clutched together like slim flowers, women riding in high heels, infants, quiet not crying, folded into their mother's breast, the father and young son in front on the bike, guarding the way home.
Then somehow I was riding a pedicab straight into the center of that brilliantly chaotic intuitively organized chaos... there was a cow humping in the street. We were told how to cross the street: Walk at the same speed, do not stop or turn to the left or right... just keep walking straight, looking straight ahead calmly... they will all move around you, we were told. It is a terrifying experience but one that teaches total universal trust.
At the History Museum, we saw in a theatre, the fabulous Chinese water puppets, dragons spewing fire, little wooden figures back stroke swimming, beautiful girl doll puppets dancing on the waves of the water... Magic.
Dinner at Henry Cabot Lodge's old residence when he was Ambassador during the war... In a bougainvillea filled garden, painted beautiful girls, so sweet, gentle, dancing for strangers in the candlelight. French songs were coming through the garden from the Bistro next door... tears in my eyes.
The next day, a boat trip down the Mekong River... rice paddies, sugarcane, orchards of bananas, coconuts, mangos... floating markets. From a little boat that approached us, I was handed a coconut with a straw in its center... the warm juice in my mouth made me feel faint with pleasure. So many children waving... you would think they would get tired of seeing strangers on their river. But they all seem so happy to see us. I wonder why when I feel so ashamed.
Next Thailand, Singapore...
Seabourn Log: April 12th, 2010
The Yellow Shirts and the Red Shirts are rioting... fighting their political battle in the streets of Bangkok. So because of the unrest, the ship canceled all trips into the city. Instead we visited the outskirt cities.
Thailand ('Land of Free Men')... chaotic roads and alleys filled with swarming, frenetic markets and peaceful golden temples. 60 million people, 90 percent Buddhists. Women quietly turning out in front of their houses soon after dawn offering rice to saffron robed monks.
One midnight, a real Thai massage in a little shop in the ship's terminal... strong healing hands, fragrant, mysterious scents of pungent oils.
Phuket Island... this is the lovely island that was almost destroyed by the terrible tsunami on December 26th, 2004. It is healed, thriving once again. Stunning white sand beaches, sapphire blue seas that hurt your eyes from the color.
One afternoon, I put my feet in a pond of nibbler fish... half inch little creatures that nibble your feet and because of an electrical energy, they, like dolphins can have a healing essence for the human body. My feet looked like I had two black boots on. I wasn't afraid... it felt amazing.
One evening, in the little seaside town of Pattaya I had an experience out of a Fellini film. An astonishing place called The Sanctuary of Truth. A mind blowing place to visit, especially in the night, with hundreds of candles and torches and stars lighting the way. Construction of the 345 foot wooden pavilion began in 1981 and is fashioned after ancient Khmer architecture. It is covered entirely inside and out in beautiful hand carved wooden sculptures with images representing Buddhist and Hindu religion and mythologies. It was created by a wealthy man as a gift. It is still being created...an endless work of art.
A slab of wood in the building has these words... it is the meaning, the intention of the Sanctuary.
This work indicates that humans Art will ultimately become one with the universe.
Always will I be imprinted by the mystery, the beauty of the place.
We had dinner, wine under the stars... surrounded, embraced by the shadows of this piece of great art... Listening to Thai music, watching beautiful young Thai men and women dance, sing...
Next, India and the Taj Mahal
Seabourn Log: April 15th, 2010
And then there is Singapore… a sparkling clean, softer, gentler, slower New York City. Gentle yes, but with tough, fascinating laws... death to drug sellers, fines and possible jail for chewing or even owning chewing gum.
When I think of Singapore, I think of fine-looking buildings, landscaped streets, elegance, British, expensive, the Raffles Hotel, Singapore Slings.
We drove past the Armenian Church... the oldest in Singapore. In 1833, the government granted the land on which it stands to the Armenian community. By 1835, the building was completed... the first church built in Singapore. Considering that the Armenian community was tiny (the 1824 census counted only 16 members), its contribution to the Armenian Church was huge in proportion... a testament to the great wealth and social standing of the Armenian community in Singapore.
India, the land of contradictions, is like an old lover you can't get out of your system... seductive, annoying, magical, melancholic, familiar, awe inspiring, sad, sad, sad. When I think of India I think of beautiful, wild, dirty children clawing at our car window, begging. Polio maimed men crawling like wounded animals on all fours, head tilted up with dead eyes. And I think of the Taj Mahal... perfection... the kind one hopes to see with ones last breath. If man can create this... a building with a shimmering soul, then he is capable of anything.
In the twilight, Good Friday, we sailed away from Cochin, India. I stood on the balcony and saw something I will never forget. Hundreds and hundreds of people lined up on the shore, around a plump finger of land. They were not waving... they were standing silently, almost religiously, watching our beautiful white golden ship sail away. I suddenly was profoundly sad. These people were watching their dream float away... disappearing into the sea... the dream of being on our ship, to be us, to be a part of us, to escape, to be free... to know what it would be like to be us... ease, plenty, adventure, safety.
I stood there not able to help... until the tiny dark spots of humanity turned to blue waves.
Bombay. Easter Sunday. Mumbai as it is now called... India in microcosm.15 million people. The best introduction anyone could have to this vast subcontinent of 1.12 billion souls... a sixth of the world's population. The streets are literally exploding with people, cows, touk touk's (tiny 3 wheeled cars), bikes, beggars, hawkers, carts, children, camels, dogs, elephants, noise, honking. If you honk, you can pass anyone, going in either direction. I saw a van carrying maybe more than 30 people in and on it... on top of it, on the back fender and jammed inside. The streets of New York City is the inside of a church compared to the streets of India. 25% of the Indian people make 50cents a day. But that is considered the norm. 40cents per day is the poverty level.
Then I visited the great Mahatma Gandhi's refuge in Mumbai. A room where he stayed and worked in. His slippers, his glasses, his mattress, his spinning wheel, his books, his tree branch green leaf view through his window. It’s as if he just left the room and could walk back in at any minute. Ghandi said... "Only when a woman is freed from the kitchen, will her spirit be free." So hard to leave his presence.
Outside of Mumbai airport terminal... handsome soldiers with machine guns placed on shoulder high platforms, pointed straight at us. Smiling... sort of. Inside the terminal, going through security, the men in one line, the women in a separate one. Our bodies totally searched from top to toe. The customs officials were smiling... sort of.
Jaipur, India. Night... the children, the cows, the dogs, the camels, the beggars, the touk touk's, the bikes, noise, honking. We were driven in a car through the securely guarded golden gate of the Oberoi Raz Villas. Everything that is outside the gates suffocated by the vision inside the gates... flaming torches, peacocks voices, the strong and overwhelming scent of jasmine, fountains spraying water, little temples, bells, the sound of a drum beating, flowering trees swooping down over our heads. They took our luggage and we followed to an outdoor garden... a mosaic platform. A lovely Indian woman dancing to the drum sound. Curried foods that tasted of the constant scent of jasmine, Indian wines... the stars, the moon, the warm air. My heart was beating so fast. I could not stop saying thank you. The next day, an elephant ride to the Amber Fort... somehow it all felt so familiar. I have no idea why.
Agra, India. A kaleidoscope of one’s senses. I was overwhelmed... just this speck of a moment... through a haze... slow and almost painful... the pleasure of Life touching me in ways I never imagined it could... like a lover leading me. I opened my bedroom window at dawn... it opened to a balcony. I saw the shape arising out of the darkness... the huge Taj Mahal... looming, awakening. That afternoon I touched her marble, her jeweled flowers... looked at her magnificent face. Then I got ill. In the car drive to Delhi... too much stimulation for one small human body to hold. Our driver stopped at a tiny semblance of a shop that looked like a cart with a red cross on it. I mimed where it hurt to the man behind the counter... my head, my stomach. I trusted him and our guide... so I swallowed the tablets and slept in the car. Four hours later I felt myself again. The next day we flew from Delhi to Dubai... arriving in an airport that looked like a huge golden temple.
Next Dubai, Egypt, Jerusalem.
Seabourn Log: April 22nd, 2010
Dubai. The golden city. The Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world (2717 feet). Halfway up on the 124th floor there is an outdoor observation deck. You have to stand in line early in the morning to get tickets. Because of our ships schedule, we were not able to go up unfortunately. The Burj Al Arab Hotel is designed to resemble a blowing sail and soars over a thousand feet in the air. I was told that to have tea on the top floor of the Burj cost $175. And believe it or not, there's a waiting list. In the evening, the ship took us on a convoy to the outskirts of the city. We were driven in jeeps through more sand dunes than I could ever imagine. The desert encampment was laid out like the settlement of a wealthy local tribe. We sat on rugs and ate Arabic foods. I rode a camel... he looked so bored no matter how I smiled at him. There was a belly dancer. And a full moon. I walked barefoot in the warm sand... and in my mind’s eye photographed myself standing in the Arabian Desert. Me and Lawrence of Arabia of course.
Egypt. The writer Lawrence Durrell made Cairo and Egypt into a world of intrigue, fantasy, and glamour. As a result, I have always dreamed to visit. After driving through the bleak, endless desert of the Sahara, we arrived in Cairo, looking out our window into a filthy haze of black pollution, dust, and grime. Streets filled with garbage, the great Nile littered with floating plastic bags overflowing with refuge. The roof tops all sprouting thousands and thousands of large grimy white floating mushrooms that on closer inspection turned out to be satellite dishes. Even the Pyramids and the wondrous Sphinx looked like they were suffocating... polluted with the fumes of too many years of too many tour buses, cars, trucks, and lack of caring. Lunch on the Nile... dark humid rain that burned my eyes. I left Cairo depressed, sad.
Jordan. The Sinai Desert. Petra, one of the great wonders… the lost city. Entirely, brilliantly, magically carved by hand out of the stone mountains in the last century BC. Even an open air Roman theater... 40 rows of seats, chiseled out of the pink mountains. To get there and back, one must trudge in the roaring heat through sand, broken stones, dirt, for several miles. All around you, nature that you cannot imagine... something out of the Old Testament. Then, when you are breathing hard, a narrow gorge opens and there in front of you, looming, the fabled stone city, carved deep into, out of the mountain, glimmering in the morning sun. Returning is uphill... through heat, sand, stone, a broken path thousands of years old... the last 200 feet there is the thought that one might have to get on hands and knees and crawl. After Petra though, I knew my body was still strong, still under my will, thank god. I had my picture taken next to a giant poster of Jordan’s beloved King Hussein and his son, King Abdullah. When I was a young woman I dated King Hussein in London right after his separation to Princess Muna. He invited me to Jordan where he said there was a large community of Armenians in Amman. I never did make it. Until now.
Jerusalem. The Judean Hills. The beautiful Garden of Gethsemane... olive trees literally thousands of years old, their trunks gnarled into the earth... perhaps their primitive roots sheltering Christ his last night. Walking the Old Walled City... surrounded by the sacred sites that have become part of our blood. The Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter.
I stood at the door of the Armenian Church office. It was open... a priest came toward me. 'Are you Armenian?' he said, grabbing my shoulders. Yes, I said, yes. "Follow me," he said. And I did. Up many stairs past a gold gate there was the altar and the Armenian cross I knew so well. He said, "Do you want to say a prayer?" I said yes. And I prayed for my momma and dad. Then he said, "Do you need Prayers?" What I said? Prayers...yes, I said. Yes. I closed my eyes and I heard my language. Not understanding the words, but understanding the sound. Thank you I said, when he had finished. He grabbed me and hugged me. "I love you," he said. I said I had to find my group or I would be lost in Jerusalem, and I ran down the stairs.
We followed the 14 stations that Christ walked, the Via Dolorosa... the road he followed as he carried his cross to Calvary. Christ said I don't understand, Father, but I trust you. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher... marking the site of his crucifixion, burial, resurrection.
The Wailing Wall... filled with silent, weeping women... the men on the left side, the women on the right. I put both hands on the wall. I could feel an energy, a surging almost electrical power go through my hands. I felt something I have never felt... my hands became hot in the cold rain. I realized I had been crying. I made a prayer and backed away. I sat on a stone bench next to a Israeli woman. She asked me a question in her language... I answered in mine. Somehow we understood each other. I sat for a long time and watched the people. All of us connected by a golden thread.
Next, Athens and Home
Seabourn Log: April 26th, 2010
Athens was the place the Seabourn ship dropped us to find our way home. On the ship for 3 months, we had been in a safe womb, every need taken care of. Now we and our luggage were being placed in a strange (but beautiful) hotel... and left to our own devices. At 4 am the following morning, we would be picked up to be taken to the Athens airport for our flight back to Los Angeles. I was exhausted from my inexcusable last minute marathon packing on the last night on the ship.
I found my way in the rain, up the steep path of the Acropolis, to the glorious Parthenon. The Turkish Empire used much of the irreplaceable marble for their own uses, almost destroying it. But like many countries, many people, many things you cannot destroy... it still stands, somehow more beautiful because it has survived.
I think it was Helen Keller who said that life should be a daring adventure.