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TUESDAY -MAR. 8


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DARWIN, AUSTRALIA

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Darwin is our last port of call in Australia. It is a city in the northern most region, at the Top End of the Outback. Monsoons during the wet season (which is now!) can close off roads for months at a time. In the dry season conditions can be as bad as the harshest desert. It's Crocodile Dundee country!

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Darwin was bombed continuously by the Japanese in World War II. The city was rebuilt, only to be leveled in 1974 by Cyclone Tracy. The remains of the Town Hall are kept as a reminder of that time.

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The city has been rebuilt once again and some familiar businesses have moved in.

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"Dollar" stores seem to an international phenomenon - it's fun to see what will sell in different countries!

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Top Enders have a reputation among their Australian brothers and sisters as being eccentric and devil- may- care. That attitude may possibly be fueled by those big 2 liter bottles of beer on the top shelf, known as "stubbies".

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There is an active public safety campaign, apparently, to combat driving under the influence - "who's your "Sober Bob"?

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A local bus brought us out of the city farther into the peninsula for a look around.

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Newspapers carried pictures of a tornado that had touched down in the past few days.

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Massive trees had been toppled and the clean-up continues.

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Back in the Cruise Terminal in Darwin there is a lizard statue. It looks like part crocodile and part Komodo Dragon. This was Tuesday and the following day at sea we attended a special interest lecture about the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin presented by his friend and producer. Crikey, what an interesting fella!

Posted by Swenigale 05:46 Archived in Australia

THURSDAY -MAR. 10


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KOMODO ISLAND, INDONESIA

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We approached Komodo Island in amazingly calm waters, anticipating this incredible opportunity - to see Komodo Dragons, wild creatures that roam the island freely.

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Because the Dragons are predatory and endangered, visitors are only allowed ashore in the company of guides and rangers.

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We had had many advance warnings of how to behave (for our own safety) and about what oppressive conditions we could encounter (heat, humidity, lots of mud), but good weather prevailed.

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Our first encounter was right on the path in front of us! That's why guides walk in the front, middle and rear of the group - and carry long, forked poles to guide the Dragons away from an easy meal - us!

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Posted by Swenigale 16:41 Archived in Indonesia

FRIDAY -MAR. 11


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BALI, INDONESIA

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We had a wonderful day touring Bali with friends. It was not until we returned to the ship in the late afternoon that we heard of the devastating earthquake and Tsunami in Japan. May God be with all those who were affected.

There are thousands of Hindu temples in Bali - a wedding was taking place here.

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Bali has two active volcanoes. We drove up a mountain to view one of them and were treated to some music, too.

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Our group - enjoying one fine day on an emerald island

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In a small family owned coffee and spice plantation we learned of the nocturnal Luwak and its vital role in the production of the world's best and most expensive coffee. Look it up!

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Grinding and roasting the coffee beans

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Later in the day - a lovely view of terraced ricefields centuries old. Balinese people eat rice three times a day.

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The annual "Day of Silence" was celebrated just this past week. Evil gods are in still in effigy throughout the villages.

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These boys are learning to be painters.

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Another village has mostly woodcarvers

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Planting rice seedlings

Posted by Swenigale 00:01 Archived in Indonesia

MONDAY -MAR. 14


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SINGAPORE

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We were told by a guide in Singapore that the favorite pastimes here are to shop and dine out. There also seems to be a fascination with creating unusual skyscrapers!

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Sushi, anyone?

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This first day in Singapore is actually the final day of the 4th segment of the World Cruise. We spent the day on Sentosa Island, which is being developed as "Resort World".

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When we were here two years ago the Merlion had already been built - but this time we went up inside it.

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We miss our grandchildren, so we really get a kick out of taking pictures of other people's kids!

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This big kid gets into the picture now and again, too.

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Looking down from the head of the Merlion toward the monorail and the mosaic sculptured fountains that lead to the beach.

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That evening we had a really good "Night Safari" at a Wildlife Park, first on a silent tram and then walking with a guide through the darkened tropical habitat.. We had a lot of great animal sightings and lots of really poor quality pictures.

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Posted by Swenigale 23:26 Archived in Singapore

TUESDAY -MAR. 15

SINGAPORE - DAY 2

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And so we begin the 5th segment - but before we concentrate on past cultures and histories in these fascinating ports..

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. we left our ship early in the morning, walked through the still darkened terminal mall (nothing opens in Singapore before 11am!) and spent the day ..

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. Far, Far Away! Universal Studios Singapore is almost complete here on Sentosa Island. This year is the soft opening. We sort of stood out in the crowd, as you can see!

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The theme park is not huge (no need for a two day pass) but it is really well done - here are some of the happy park-goers!

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Posted by Swenigale 02:31 Archived in Singapore

WEDNESDAY -MAR. 16


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KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA

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We docked in Klang Port in Malaysia, an hour and half drive from Kuala Lumpur. A map of the Mayla Peninsula hangs near Pam, our guide for our full day tour.

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The Batu Caves are limestone caves with 6 Hindu temples at the base of the mountain, and one in the top cave. The guy in the front is the world's tallest Murugan statue.

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We were warned not to feed the monkeys because they can get aggressive!

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The whole day tour was excellent - but we could have posted all ten pictures today just from the Batu caves!

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The temple in the highest cave

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We visited Royal Selanger, the largest pewter factory in the world - which was started with the development of tin mining in the Mayla Peninsula in the 1800's.

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Is this too big to take on the plane?

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The Petronas Towers - the world's tallest twin towers.

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Kuala Lumpur (they call it KL) is prospering - the interesting mix of citizens are reminded to keep it neat.

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Here is the foyer of the National Museum, our final stop. It's an excellent museum and it looks like a Malaysian palace.

Posted by Swenigale 03:11 Archived in Malaysia

FRIDAY -MAR. 18


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PHUKET, THAILAND

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There is little evidence of the destruction caused by the tsunami that hit Phuket back in 2004. And, although the island is known for its beautiful beaches, we jumped at a chance to take a ride on an elephant! Our guide for this was named Chai.

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The animal park is located outside the town, surrounded by rubber plantations and coconut groves. Two people can sit on each elephant (max 500 lbs – fortunately, even after 3 months of the Serenity we still qualify!) and the handler sits barefooted on the elephant, singing and talking to it as he guides it with his feet and hands.

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I volunteered for an elephant “massage” and also got a big, snuffley kiss!

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Rubber tree tapping.

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We passed up the opportunity to sit on a water buffalo. Wouldn’t you?

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At Wat (temple) Chalong we saw and heard firsthand what we were told is the Chinese practice of setting off firecrackers to ward off evil.

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One of many ornate roofs in the Buddhist temple complex of Wat Chalong

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Other stops on our ½ day tour included this gracious welcome to a gem and souvenir store and also a stop at a cashew nut factory. Only the nut factory gave out free samples.

Posted by Swenigale 01:51 Archived in Thailand

SUNDAY -MAR. 20


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YANGON, MYANMAR (BURMA)

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We docked in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) at Thilawa port on the Irrawaddy River, a one hour drive from Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon). In a country that has been open to visitors for only a few years after years of isolation, we were made to feel very welcome.

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Thousands of golden pagodas "pop up like mushrooms", to quote one of our guides; the country is over 80% Buddhist.

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Our arrival and departure times are set by the tide in the river, so our arrival was late in the afternoon on Sunday and we went directly into the city for an evening tour. The street food was interesting - but we decided to pass!

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Precarious maintenance

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We were treated to a traditional puppet show at the Strand Hotel, an elegant remnant of the colonial years of the British Empire.

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A little performer gets finishing touches.

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Posted by Swenigale 20:36 Archived in Myanmar

MONDAY -MAR. 21 - PART 1


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YANGON, MYANMAR (BURMA)

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Wow! We spent a full day touring in Yangon, but this one posting is all about the glittering glory of 2500 year old Shwedagon Pagoda. The main Stupa is over 300 feet high and is coated with more than 8600 solid gold slabs. Oh, and there is a 76 carat diamond at the top, not to mention the other 5000 plus diamonds, 2000 plus rubies, etc, etc. Some say the riches of Shwedagon rival the Bank of England. Buddhist pilgrims come here at least once in their lifetimes to fulfill religious rituals. They smile for us and we were told they are happy and content, believing that this will earn them a better life in their next life.

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Posted by Swenigale 08:16 Archived in Myanmar

TUESDAY -MAR. 22 - PART 2


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YANGON, MYANMAR (BURMA)

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Motorbikes are not allowed in the city ("too easy to get away after an assassination attempt") so people cram into trucks and buses for transportation. If they can afford to have an old Japanese car they are only allowed to buy 2 gallons of gas a day and lines of cars stretch for blocks. There are other options - apparently, the black market is an accepted way of life.

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Novice nuns shave their heads and dress in pink robes. Buddhist monks and nuns are a different concept from Roman - it can be a very temporary thing - our guide was a monk when he was seven for a few months and also when he was twelve years old.

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Trishaws are apparently allowed in the city.

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Here is the 2nd largest reclining Buddha in the world. We were told the Burmese value white skin and blue (representing clarity) eyes. The most popular time to watch TV is at 7 pm when a South Korean soap opera is on. "They are so beautiful!"

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The soles of the Buddha's feet are inscribed with icons of "the three worlds".

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It must be hard to make an omelet with these eggs!

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Small plastic chairs and tables line the streets around the food vendors.

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Our guide demonstrated smoking a Cheroot.

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There are some well-maintained hotels around the country, but most of the buildings and streets don't seem to have been maintained since the days of British colonization.

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The Karaweik (a mythical bird) Royal Barge - a replica - sits beside Royal Lake.

Posted by Swenigale 23:51 Archived in Myanmar

FRIDAY -MAR. 25


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COLOMBO, SRI LANKA

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This is Crystal's maiden call to Colombo, in the small country of Sri Lanka. The civil war of 20 years ended in May of 2009. Remember the "Tamil Tigers"? The government is now encouraging tourism and there are big plans for expansion in this busy port.

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After India, Sri Lanka has one of the best performing economies in Asia. It is an island the size of West Virginia with a population almost the size of California!

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There is official tolerance of all religions, although the country is more than 70% Buddhist. The streets are full of three wheeled vehicles like the one in front of this Christian church.

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The National Museum - we visited the same day as the girls' schools.

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The Hotel Galle Face, described as the first hotel in Asia - built in 1864 - our lovely morning snack stop.

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The hotel is right at the shore, a beautiful location.

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Sri Lanka is known for its textile industry.

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At the Gangarama Temple we were dwarfed by the huge statues..

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..and by the Temple elephant!

Posted by Swenigale 04:36 Archived in Sri Lanka

SUNDAY -MAR. 27


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COCHIN, INDIA

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Chinese fishing nets ( named by the colonizing Portuguese) line the Indian shore as we sail to our berth.

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A loud, colorful welcome was getting organized.

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On a morning tour we boarded long boats on shallow back water, poled front and back by barefoot sailors.

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Here's the birthday boy!

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We stayed for a few hours in Kumbalanghi Village, taking in the sites of rural Indian life.

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An almost full size crab that is being fed and kept in a fish pond, along with hundreds more, before being sold

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Weavers work on coir (this is made from the fibers of coconut husks), twisting it into rope

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Shredding coconut

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Roofing made from palm leaves (using hands and feet)

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Our convoy of 3-wheeled tuk tuks traveled through the village streets, briefly slowed by this regal elephant!

Posted by Swenigale 00:41 Archived in India

TUESDAY -MAR. 29


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MUMBAI (BOMBAY), INDIA

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Our day in Mumbai marked the start of the sixth segment of the World Cruise.

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Our tour today took us on a one hour ferry ride to an island in the bay to see the Caves of Elephanta. In the skyline behind us can be seen the archway called "The Gateway of India", and also the Taj Mahal hotel.

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The Elephanta temple to the Hindu god Shiva was carved out of the island's mountain in the 7th century.

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On the bus back to the port we were reminded of the extreme poverty in this rich country.

Posted by Swenigale 09:31 Archived in India

WEDNESDAY -MAR. 30


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MARMAGAO, INDIA

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We docked in the town of Vasco da Gama in the Indian State of Goa. Coal dust covers everything in the port as it is definitely a working port. We rented a car and driver with friends and drove toward the capital city of Panaji. Roadside watermelon, anyone?

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This is Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Panaji, built in 1541. We were told it is used in many movies. Bollywood? The roads are good and recently paved. Our destination was the "Wednesday Market", more than an hour's drive from the port.

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A very large roadside attraction

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Old and new - everywhere you look

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We spent a few hours at the huge outdoor market where vendors sell everything from spices to jewelry and clothing and flea market finds. Bargaining is mandatory.

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The market is well organized, but the weather was extremely hot and humid - even for the locals!

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Squeezing sugar cane

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You can't make this stuff up.

Posted by Swenigale 20:26 Archived in India

SATURDAY - APR. 2


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MALÉ, MALDIVES

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The North Malé Atoll, straight ahead. We anchored near this 1 square mile island, which is the capital of the Republic of the Maldives, Asia’s tiniest nation (and one that is composed of more than 99% water).

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The Prime Minister of Bhutan was visiting Malé today. The plan was for him to plant this Plumeria tree in a special ceremony, but it apparently it was going to happen on “island time”.

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The band was still waiting for the ceremony to take place when we left after waiting 45 minutes…

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…opting, instead, for Apricot-stuffed French Toast and air conditioning back on the ship.

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In the afternoon we took a ferry to another island (the Maldives are comprised of over 1000 coral islands, and the highest point is only 7ft 7inches above sea level).

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This is the beautiful island resort where we spent the afternoon. The snorkeling was fantastic – beautiful coral, warm, crystal clear water, and thousands of brilliantly colored fish. We even saw a school of fish apparently directly from casting in the film “Finding Nemo”!

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Posted by Swenigale 21:56 Archived in Maldives Republic

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