Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Around the World in 106 Days

In 2008, Penny and I went around the world.  One goal was to avoid aircraft.  The most important goals were to meet interesting people, see interesting places, and to have a good time.  We did those.

I kept a handwritten journal throughout the trip, and this is that journal entered as though it were an ongoing blog.  I have added illustrations, and some comments that came to mind later.

The pictures here are like a book cover, and are some of my favorites from the trip.  We hope you enjoy this blog and perhaps find some of the contents to be useful in your own travel plans!  Because blogs work in reverse chronological order, you  might want to start at the end to do the trip the way we did.

September 29 Long Beach

Here we are, off Ventura, 106 days after leaving San Francisco.
Penny deserves an unbounded amount of credit for putting this trip together.
She worked on the preparations seemingly without end, for months and
months. It is hard to do her justice, so all I will say is:


September 25-29 Pacific Ocean Transit

More days at sea. I did not have a birthday card for Penny. She said
that was, of course, understandable given the circumstances. Because we
had turned over our passports upon boarding the ship, the crew all knew that
it was her birthday and went out of their way to wish her well.

They had a fire drill on one of the afternoons. As passengers, our sole
function was to show up at the muster station by the starboard lifeboat
carrying immersions suits and wearing warm clothes, kapok life jackets, and
orange hard hats. This we did. The “fire” was in one of the A.B. seamen’s
rooms. The hose did not reach all the way, so they had to get a second
length and recouple everything. Oh well!! With the obvious exceptions of
the galley and the engineroom, there is practically nothing flammable aboard
the ship anyway. Of course, this is as it should be, and just as well when one
considers all things. Shipboard firefighting is not their specialty.

On September 27, the ship had a barbecue and luau in honor of Penny
and me. They don’t get many passengers on the long trans-Pacific crossings.
The captain had bought two suckling pigs for the occasion. There was
something of a cooking contest. The chief mate comes from a family in the
restaurant business, and his wife is Filipina. He prepared one of the pigs
himself, including a marinade with which he basted the skin during the three
hours on the open pit rotisserie. The other pig was prepared by Filipino
crewmen in a traditional style. Both were very good, but I must say that the
chief mate’s pig tasted a little better. There were also steaks, chicken,
sausage, and pork chops. No place for a vegetarian! I took the camera with
me to the luau, but forgot to actually use it! Bummer!! I did get a few
photos earlier of the pigs being roasted.

We have decided to declare our round-the-world journey over when
we arrive in Long Beach. The longitude there is east of the meridian in San
Francisco. It will ease logistics matters a great deal if I fly to San Francisco
as early as possible, get our car, and drive back to Gary and Ann Moore’s
home in Redondo Beach. It will be much cheaper than any of the car rental
options. We hope to get in touch with Charlie and go visit him in Las Vegas.
Then we must to go San Diego to take care of some legal matters before
arriving home on October 10.

September 19-24 Pacific Ocean Transit

One day has been pretty much the same as another. Once the officers
got their paperwork done after leaving port, they too have little to do besides
standing watch. Engineering officers perform routine maintenance, and
corrective maintenance if need be. The engineroom is automatically
operated, and there are no designated watchstanders in the propulsion plant.
Captain Pschonder chose to go east from Okinawa and pass halfway
between Alaska and Hawaii. He meant to avoid heavy weather that was
farther north, along the actual great circle route. The normal track is to the
north, passing through either La Perouse or the Tsugaru Straits, through the
Sea of Japan, and down to Xiamen, China. Or the reverse track from

The chief engineer gave me a tour of the engineroom. As I never
served in a Diesel ship, this was a somewhat different experience for me.
The one engine, twelve cylinder, in-line, 90000 horsepower Diesel with a
single rudder and two steering engines. There are five Diesel generators,
output voltage is 6000V, and the largest one is rated at 2800KW. Only one
generator is in operation now. The large electric plant capacity is to power
refrigerated containers if there are any onboard, but there are none on this
trip. There is a waste-heat boiler, and an auxiliary boiler which is used in
port. Fresh water is manufactured by a single-stage flash distilling plant.
The ship holds 7800 containers. She was built in Ulsan, Korea, in 2004. Six
months were required to build her.

On September 24, we crossed the International Date Line. So we
have come halfway around the world since July 17, when we left London
and crossed the Prime Meridian.

Life aboard this container ship is very routine. The track is
programmed, monitored by GPS (Global Positioning Satellite), and the helm
is on automatic pilot. Meals go on time. 0730 breakfast, 1130 lunch, and
1730 dinner. Coffee at 0900 and 1500. Ship’s work begins at 0800 and
ends at 1600. The German officers eat in the officers’ messroom, where a
separate passenger table also exists. Penny and I eat at that table. One table
for four has appointed places for the master, chief engineer, and chief mate.
The fourth place at that table is never set, although I gather that if there were
only one passenger on board, that place would be used.

I have never seen the Finnish second mate or the two Filipino officers
in the officers’ messroom at all. Kim Axberg does not even speak German.
There are separate menus for the two messrooms, but only one galley and
only one cook. The messrooms are located to port and starboard,
respectively, of the galley. Penny and I often choose the Filipino entrees
from “the other side.”

There is a gymnasium, a sauna, and a seawater swimming pool. I use
the exercise bike twice a day for thirty minute periods, and do a little bit
with the weight machine. This has been very good for the diet…especially
after all the beer beginning in Poland. They have ice cream after dinner on

The chief mate tells me that we arrive off Point ConcepciĆ³n at 0900
on Monday, September 29, and the Long Beach pilot is scheduled to board
at 1500 that day.

Here is an interesting bit about the cargo ship business. CMA CGM
does not own the Hugo. A German bank does, and the French company
CMA CGM charters the ship from the owners. CMA CGM hires a German
company, NSB, to operate this and other ships. NSB provides crews and
operates more than one hundred ships for six or seven charterers, of which
CMA CGM is one. Evergreen is another, as is Hanjin.

September 18 Underway for California

They finished handling the containers in the afternoon and
immediately got underway. Yantian is an easy harbor. The pilot’s English
was not as good as had been the Hong Kong pilot’s. The mates assured me
that such was usually the case, and that the pilots in the People’s Republic of
China could be difficult to work with because of the language barrier.
We received a safety brief from Second Mate Kim Axberg, and off
went the ship. The track went through the Taiwan Strait and meant to pass
north of Okinawa.

September 17 Hong Kong to Yantian

Captain Pschonder and the Yantian pilot on the starboard wing.

Leonard is the steward who looks after us, and after everyone else as
well. We also met Joe, who is the cook, and is the former chef in a Manila
hotel. “Everyone else” adds up to very few people. Counting ourselves,
there are twenty-six persons on board. The regular complement on this fiveyear
old, highly automated ship is twenty-two. There is an extra electrician
along for the ride to the U.S., and there is a fourth mate who is a trainee
watch officer under the normal complement of three watchstanding deck
officers. All of the unlicensed crew are Filipinos, and so are the third mate
and the third engineer. The second mate is Finnish, and the rest of the
officers are German. In the afternoon, the container handling finished and
the ship got underway.

Captain Pschonder kindly invited me to the bridge. Quite a different
deal than a Navy bridge. Well, not really that different, but there were far
fewer people in the pilot house. Or “wheel house” as they called it. Piloting
was done by electronic chart and GPS. The Hong Kong pilot had the conn
and gave orders directly to the helmsman. The ship went out between
Lamma and Hong Kong islands, and then passed Aberdeen and Stanley.
Passing by Aberdeen, I noticed a ship on the starboard bow whose bearing
appeared not to be changing. Trying to be surreptitious, I looked over at the
GPS harbor chart plot to see how much maneuvering room there was. Not
much, but I thought to myself that I would alter course to starboard ten
degrees. At exactly the same time as I thought that, the pilot ordered the
helmsman to come right ten degrees! It was nice to know that I still have
some seaman’s eye left!

The ship then headed up to Yantian which is just north of Sha Tau
Kok, on the eastern end of the border between the Hong Kong
Special Administrative Region and the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone.
Yantian is another large container facility, and it seemed larger than the one
at Stonecutter’s Island. Many of the containers brought on at Hong Kong
were empty ones destined for Yantian. Container handling commenced as
soon as the mooring was complete, and continued throughout the night.

September 16 Leaving Hong Kong

This morning we checked out of the Ramada Hong Kong Hotel, and
did our best to end up with as little Hong Kong currency as possible. We
made our last internet and e-mail check, and then went to buy a few things
for the ship voyage. In the early afternoon, a shipping agent representative
came with a driver to collect us and our luggage. We went to the big
containers facility located just north of Stonecutter’s Island. Which, by the
way, is no longer an island. Driving among the containers was like a jungle
in itself, and we finally pulled up to the berth where MV CMA CGM Hugo
was moored.

The crew kindly carried aboard our luggage, and we were escorted
aboard by Chief Mate Bruno Brockmann. The owner’s cabin is located high
in the deckhouse superstructure. We had dinner, which was a mashed potato
and corned beef mixture. This is, after all, a German-flagged ship! After
meeting Captain Pschonder and turning over to him the requisite documents,
we settled into the commodious cabin. They continued to handle containers
throughout the night.

September 11-15 Hong Kong

After breakfast, we went to the shipping agent’s office in Kowloon to
check in with them and to give them our whereabouts. We then took a cab
to the Ramada Inn Hong Kong, located in the Sheung Wan district of Hong
Kong Island. They gave us a suite upgrade, and so we have a sitting room as
well as a bedroom! Since we will be here for a long time, this is a welcome
surprise. The shipping agent called back and said that we may be leaving a
day early, because MV Hugo is ahead of schedule. We set 1400 on 15
September as the time certain to arrange the transfer by telephone.

September 12
A slow day indeed. We are both a bit tired after such a long trip. This
is Penny’s third visit to Hong Kong, and it is my seventh one. So we ate
breakfast downstairs. I went out to find some Listerine and some floss picks.
I found the former but not the latter, and gave up after walking all the way to
Central. I rode back on the double-decker tram that runs along Des Veoux
Road Central and West. We ordered room service for dinner and watched
movies on television.
Our suite in the Ramada.

September 13-15
These were more slow days, and for all intents and purposes, we are
only waiting for the Hugo to arrive. I went to the Sunday morning Eucharist
service at St. John’s Cathedral, which is the cathedral of the Anglican
province of Hong Kong. We went by bus to Victoria Peak, and then took
the tram back down. Another time, we took a bus to Stanley Market, bought
a few souvenirs and some presents for Annie and Charlie Schwartz. Dinner
at the Indian restaurant at Stanley waterfront was really good. We noticed
that there seem to be a large number of Filipina women living homeless in
the streets. The gather in large groups in public places that afford some
shelter such as parks and the covered walkways around the Central district.
Perhaps they have been unable to find work?
If you say "Hong Kong" to me, the Star Ferry comes immediately to mind.
September 10 Guangzhou to Hong Kong
We arrived in Guangzhou in the morning. There were some problems
in hooking up with the local driver, but Bill finally managed after several
mobile phone calls. We did have to double back to find the van, which did
seem to have been parked by the easily visible KFC for some time. Not to
our particular surprise, it turned out that Bill, himself, was the Guangzhou
local guide. Alaine had said back in Beijing that she had been told he had
been a local guide for Sundowners groups before.
We had a very informative tour of the Chen family compound, which
is now a museum of local artwork. An artist there was making amazing
“hand paintings.” Kind of like finger painting, but using the whole hand and
a black, water-based ink. We bought two paintings to have framed when we
get home.

The Chen family compound in Guangzhou.

After that, Bill took us to a depressing market place with many caged
kittens and puppies for sale. Then, we had a very nice lunch. Bill seems to
have ordered it all in advance, because no input was requested from us. I
don’t like shrimp, and one of the courses was a shrimp dish. He should have
checked with us in advance. This annoyance typifies the way he acts as
group leader. I am glad we only have him from Kunming onward. It would
have been just awful to put up with him all the way from Beijing.

We then headed off to the other Guangzhou station, which serves the
Kowloon-Canton Railway. We did the Chinese departure formalities and
then boarded the train for Hung Hom Station in Kowloon. What used to be
the British Crown Colony is now a Special Administrative Region. When
entering it from the rest of China, or vice versa, all must clear immigration
and customs. The train was late, but we were met as scheduled and taken to
the Stanford Hotel in the Mong Kok section of Kowloon. Nice hotel, but a
very small room.

After we checked in, Bill asked if there was anything else for which
we needed him. He seemed quite pleased when we assured him that there
was nothing. He made a quick exit.

September 9 Li Jiang Cruise

Today we packed up and checked out of the hotel. There was a large
tour group of Scandinavians that arrived the night before, and so the hotel
set the Western breakfast on a buffet basis, instead of a la carte as it had
been yesterday. A van took us out of town to the starting point for the Li
River Cruise. This cruise passes by many areas with tall limestone
outcroppings that have been the inspiration for countless paintings, prints,
and scrolls. One scene from the river also appears on the reverse of the
twenty yuan note. The tour was mostly foreigners, from a variety of
countries. The Li Jiang is nowhere near as large as the Chong Jiang
(Yangtze) but the gorges here did evoke in my mind the photographs I have
seen of Yangtze cruising in the “old days.” The cruise ended in the town of
Yangshuo. Sue suggested some local activities, each one carrying a rather
high price tag. Again, Bill sought no input on this. We decided against any
of them, and so we returned to Guilin. Penny and I went out to play cards on
a bench in the river promenade. Many people stopped to watch us.
Picturesque river scene.

Water buffalo in her habitat.

Another look at the Li river.

Don't you just love it when translations go slightly awry?

We took the sleeper train to Guangzhou (Canton). Our soft sleeper
berths were quite nice, and the car was as nice as the one in which we rode
from Beijing to Xi’an. We are not sure just who bought the tickets, but one
was in a different cabin. Bill roomed with some Polish tourists, while Penny
and I had the next cabin to ourselves.

September 8 Guilin

Reed Flute Cave lighting.

Mom, are we there yet?

Today we visited the Reed Flute Cave, which is located some distance
from Guilin. It is a very large limestone cave, and has been developed for
tourists with colored lights, safe stairways and floors, and so on. Sue told
that the cave’s existence was kept secret for centuries by villagers until 1959.
We had free time after we got back to town. Neither Penny nor I are finding
Bill’s company to be very pleasant. He is very self-centered, and even said
on the first day we met that he was excluded from an intramural basketball
team for being an “arrogant ball hog.” His words, not mine, and he did not
take exception to his friends’ characterizing as such. Any way, he seems to
prefer to go his own way, and we prefer it that way. The problem with that,
of course, is that as a Sundowners group leader, he is supposed to be on the
lookout for our interests. We did a boat tour by night of the Guilin city
lights, all suggested and arranged by Sue.

September 7 Guilin

We seem to have slept pretty well on our penultimate train night. The
train went through Nanning and on to Guilin. Once again, our local guide
Sue was there to meet us and we checked into the Hotel Universal Guilin. It
is easily the best hotel so far on the Sundowners package deal. Like the Hai
Tian Hotel in Kunming, this one has free internet connections in each room.
Ours did not work, and so we were immediately moved to a room where the
connection was good. We went out with Bill and had lunch on the
pedestrian mall. It was okay, and then we headed off to see some of the
town. Guilin has only 650,000 people. It has a great river walk promenade,
and a couple of small lakes in a park. In Shunshu Lake, there are two large
pagodas, a nine-storied copper one and a seven-storied one with glazed
eaves. This is simply one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen.
Along the lakefront park.

View from our hotel room.

September 6 Kunming

Double Gates of Kunming.

Today was a free day. Bill negotiated an extra hour in the checkout
time. So after breakfast, we walked around a bit. We went to the twin gates,
and then along the market street running north from there. Kunming is a
very pleasant city, and the six thousand foot altitude mitigates the Southeast
Asian climate quite a lot. We got back, showered one last time before the
train, and checked out of the hotel. We said good-bye to Alaine, and then
went out for a walk while she and Bill conducted turnover on administrative
matters. We walked a ways east of the hotel, and then went north one block
through a traditional market street. Penny finally found a small electronic
calculator to replace the one we lost several weeks ago. We came out of the
market street and then headed back to the west. We found a large, local
restaurant. More than twenty tables, but with no windows and completely
open to the street. The tables were low to the ground, and the seats were
wicker stools with cloth covers. I got out my Barron’s Mandarin phrase
book and we managed to order chicken, pork, mixed vegetables, and beer.
The dishes came kung pao style. Very spicy, and very good! We headed
out again.
View of Kunming from our hotel window.

This huge jade boat was in our hotel lobby.

Alaine had left for the airport by the time we got back to the hotel
lobby. What a small world! A man in the lobby was wearing a University
of Oregon ball cap. Penny went to chat about the University of Oregon vs.
Oregon State University “Civil War” football game. He turned out to have
played on the golf team at the same high school as did Jeff Blum, Penny’s
younger brother. We were promptly collected as advertised by Gail and the
driver, and we left for the Kunming train station.

The berth on the K394 to Guilin (Kweilin) was nice, and there seemed
to be a little more space to maneuver the suitcases around. We got lucky
again because there was no fourth person in the room. In fact, most of the
soft-berth cabins were empty, which makes me wonder all the more about
why we could not get a two-person supplement in China.

We met up with two Americans from Utah, and also an Israel-born
American. We went to the restaurant car for a good time spent talking and
drinking beer. Bill and I drank the beer, that is to say. Not so the Utahans.

September 5 Kunming

Bruce and Penny in the Stone Forest.

After a second night on the train, we arrived in Kunming in the
mornig. Kunming is the capital of Yunnan province, which borders with
Vietnam, Laos, and Burma (Myanmar). Yunnan is home to fifty-two ethnic
minorities. Gail, the local guide, met us at the train station and got us
checked into the Hai Tian Hotel. It is very nice, and has free internet in the
room! Alaine will be leaving us tomorrow, and she will be replaced by Bill,
who will take us the rest of the way to Hong Kong. Bill seems like a very
nice young man. He is from Guangdong Province.
This was our final tour with Alaine.

We cleaned up and went to the Stone Forest, located about two hours
away from Kunming by expressway. A very nice park has been built around
the stone formations. As the pictures show, we had a very nice visit. First
we had a great lunch at a restaurant out there. Catering to the tourism at the
Stone Forest were many people wearing traditional Yi nationality costumes.

Having eaten quite a lot in the past few days, we skipped dinner and
took in the “Dynamic Yunnan” show. It consisted mostly of traditional song
and dance, with a few modern elements and arrangements. Unlike any show
I have ever seen.

September 4 Xi’an to Kunming

We slept reasonably well on the train, and got lucky because the
fourth berth in our cabin was never occupied. This train was quite as fancy
as the one from Beijing to Xi’an, but the cabin was still comfortable. This
wagon also had a Western toilet at one end, a “squat” one at the other end,
and also a three-sink washroom. Unfortunately, there was no water service
in the Western toilet which was right next to our cabin. The good news was
that the food in the restaurant car was actually quite decent. We all spent a
good day resting, reading, and playing cards.

Chongqing (Chungking) was one of the stops, and right afterwards the
train crossed the Yangtze River. It was just fantastic actually to see it after
reading so much about it for so many years. Even though we only got a
short glimpse as the train continued south.

September 3 Xi’an

Bell Tower at night.

Happy thirty-first anniversary to us!

Today was a free day in Xi’an. Alaine, Penny, and I got on the K610
bus and headed off toward to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Local transport
again! Our first stop was at the Shaanxi history museum. It was a very good
combination of actual artifacts and informative displays. Mostly about the
Tang Period when Chang’an (Xi’an) was the imperial capital as well as the
gateway to the Silk Road. We walked the rest of the way to the pagoda,
located south of the Ming-era city walls, as is the Shaanxi museum. First,
we stopped for lunch at a Korean restaurant. The pagoda itself is located in
a large public park and shopping mall complex. The whole complex is in
modern buildings, but with Tang-style roofs and eaves. They are much
simpler than later designs and look very much like traditional Japanese
buildings. On our way back to the hotel, Penny and I toured the Bell Tower.
We went out for a very nice dumpling dinner, and then headed to the railway
station to catch the K165 train to Kunming.
Big Wild Goose Pagoda.

Xi'an shopping and park plaza.

This building seems a nice use of traditional influences on modern architecture.