Saturday, 5 March 2011

From Fremantle to Phuket: February 2011

From Fremantle to Phuket 
via the Indian Ocean, the Sunda Straights, Port Klang, and Penang.

Fremantle harbour, from the stern of the 'Athena'.
Another cruise ship in port.

     Herman Melville’s character Ishmael told of how he felt the sea to exert a strange and compelling fascination upon himself. How for hours, while supposedly searching for whale, aloft his ship’s crows nest, he would gaze happily and contentedly, free of worldly cares out onto the ocean. Such a claim might seem strange to those who have never journeyed onto the ocean, but to those who have, most will have found, that even the most tortured soul or worldly mien will find a measure of solace and respite upon the ocean’s watery embrace.

Myself, having completed a goodly number, though not enough to boast of, ocean voyages, I can only echo the fascination of Melville’s protagonist with that which covers three quarters of the Earth’s surface.
Me on the rear deck, saying goodbye to Perth.
the 'facilitators' encouraging us all to dance !

Again, having decided to return to south east Asia in search of knowledge and adventure, I decided to journey by sea. I was induced by a kind offer from my cruise company to sail on one of their ships, the ‘Athena’. This is one of the older cruise ships, not a towering super cruise ship, with crew and passengers both measured in the thousands, but rather a smaller ship, with a mere 500 or so passenger capacity, and a similarly small crew number. 
We set sail from Fremantle on a bright, sunny afternoon, on a ten day voyage (for me) to Phuket, Thailand, where I was to disembark (and subsequently did so). Once on the ship I did meet a few people who I had met on previous cruises. 

This might seem surprising, but there are many folk, who regularly cruise on cruises. The large majority of people on the ship were retirees, who invest their superannuation in travelling the world, via ship.

departing Fremantle harbour.

rear of the ship.

The first stretch of our trip was across the Indian ocean between Fremantle and the Sunda Straits. This long stretch of water took six days to cross, and in doing so we did experience some chop. There was one of these annoying cyclone things near Java, which stomped up the water just fine. For two days the ship tossed fairly much, though not, in my opinion, too much, however, some waves did in fact splash into the upper decks of the ship, through closed doors into the hallways. This left the carpet wet and rather smelly for a few days. Great fun.

me in reflection.

Shadow Ian

the deep loneliness of the ocean.

Two sights met us on the first leg of our voyage. First was a visit to Christmas island, which, unfortunately, did not occur. I particularly wanted to disembark here, as it would give me a great opportunity to waymark on the island, something which so far has not been done. The reason we did not visit, was that there is no deep water port on the island, which required that we use the ship’s tender boats (I think they are also referred to as life boats, but that is too scary a name to use regularly) to reach shore. As the ocean was rough, the Captain considered that it was too dangerous to allow passengers ashore, and so we did not. Another day.

Xmas island. Stormy weather.

not the best of weather.

Ian and Krakatoa.

the simmering Kratatoa island.
As we approached the Sundra Straights (~30kms), which separate Sumatra and Java, we cruised past the still active volcanic island of Kratatoa—West of Java, not east, as in that idiotic movie I saw when very young. Not really too much to see. There are in fact now four islands in the group, one of which smoulders a little. 

The Sundra is a busy piece of aquatic landscape. There are many ships, of all shapes and sizes, sailing back and forth, plus there are oil rigs and other things in the water. Quiet a sight from the bridge and on a radar screen (seeing the bridge was not possible on the cruise, due to security considerations, however, on a freighter, such visits are part of the trip).

Ahem: possibly against the Capt’s orders, I am not sure, I did go onto the deck during the stormy time. As I approached the bow I felt the wind lift me from my feet and blow me backwards a half metre or so! Wow. Windy. Thus I then returned to the interior of the ship.
What I noted of the island, it was lush with green growing things, and that the shore was steep and uninviting. From what I could see, landing was only possible in the small bay where the settlement is situated. In lieu of landing, the Captain sailed the ship around the island.

passing by Singapore.

The day on a ship is a routine: centred around food. The day begins with breakfast, served either as a buffet or sit down, then morning tea (buffet), then lunch, again buffet or sit down, then (did you guess?), afternoon tea (ditto), which is followed by dinner. This last was compulsorily sit down, though one can take one’s meal in one’s cabin, if one desires a little quiet and privacy. The food was great, tasty, and lots of it. The main meal always had a specifically vegetarian option, plus a few other menu selections without meat, having said that, the range of veg meal could be expanded.
Port Klang cruise control.

'Athena' docked in Port Klang.

One thing we did immediately after the ship left Fremantle was practice our ship safety. This involved a drill whereupon the passengers acquired their life jackets, wives, and then took themselves to their designated assembly areas, where, if this were the real thing, and not merely a drill, we would be told our next course of action. I have been through many of these, and, to be frank, not totally impressed. In calm water, during the day, with forewarning, no trouble. In rough waters, at night, possibly an electrical fire which cuts the lights, a quickly sinking ship, I suspect that we would all be stuffed. Better to stay in one’s cabin and go with dignity.

The first landing after Fremantle was Port Klang, nine days out of Fremantle. Klang (quiet the name for a harbour!) is the harbour town of the sprawling metropolis of Kuala Lumpur. Some people elected to travel to KL from the port, I did not. I have seen KL, not the greatest tourist city in the world, but interesting enough. I spent a few hours ashore (if was good to get off the boat for a few hours) in the town of Klang, a few kilometres in from the port, and in a new, towering shopping mall. Here I visited the state museum and did a little waymarking. Great fun.

Klang town street.

another street in Klang.

The Museum in George Town is impressive, small, but filled with local artefacts and info. I spoke for a few minutes with the young fellows who took my one Ringit entry fee  (~au 30c). They found Penang a quiet town. I asked about girlie bars and pole dancing (soon to be an Olympic sport, I hope), but they replied that the Muslims who run the island deplore such deplorable things. I continued on around the George town area, there are some interesting sights to see: old buildings, a few pieces of abstract art, clock towers, bus stations—all things which can be waymarked. 

It is the Year of the Rabbit.

The next landing was the following day, on Penang island. Penang is just off the coast of northern Malaysia. A very pleasant spot. Filled with retired English accountants, is my impression. The principal city on the island is George Town, however, I am not even sure if it is legally a city at the moment, its actual status has changed several times since Malaysian independence. Nevertheless, it is a picturesque city, certainly, the ‘old town’, which is a world heritage site.

Queen Victoria clock in Penang.

I can understand why folk from England enjoy retiring here: cheap compared to London, a full range of services, pleasant weather (being a western Asian island, Penang receives more than its fair share of sea breezes).

cannon in Fort Cornwallis.
Penang abstract sculpture.
Georgetown city hall.

Penang street.

abstract sculpture in Penang.

Phuket - disembarkation.
Next was Phuket island, one day sail away. Disembarkation was a little sad, as it always is. After ten days on the ship one falls into a routine. It is comfortable on a cruise, a timetable, and everything done for you. I can understand the stories of wealthy, older folk who spend their entire lives on a cruise ship. Understand, but do not agree. One must have change in one’s life. After ten days, time to leave. Onward !

A few pics of the ship interior.

map of ship, found at each lift doorway.
my cabin.
lounge area.

piano, and a devoted couple.

open area.

the bar.

a jigsaw puzzle for passengers.

details of the ship.

one menu,
different for each evening meal.

dinner time !
eat eat eat.

my dinner companions. 
every night, a show.

sunrise in Phuket.

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