Port of Call: Kuala Lumpur

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My wife and I are currently on a seven day Southeast Asia Cruise aboard the Mariner of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. On Jan. 23rd we docked at Port Klang, the port city that serves much of the province of Selangor in Malaysia including the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

As is usually the case with cruises and their ports of call, various excursions were offered and we took one that took us to Kuala Lumpur itself, an hour and a half drive by bus. Here’s how our day went.

All those taking shore excursions met in the theatre at 8:15 and were assigned to various buses. We boarded and set off on our journey. Our guide was a chatty Malay fellow, not always easy to understand with his heavily accented English, but we could pick up most of it.

We passed development after development of relatively new row housing. Our guide told us that many of these developments were designed to provide housing for poorer people. They all were a minimum of three bedrooms and could be bought for 42,000 ringgits, the Malaysian currency. A ringgit is about a third of a Canadian dollar. So if you’re below a certain income level in Malaysia, you can buy a modern three bedroom apartment for around CDN$14,000. These developments went on for mile after mile.

We also passed a large plant manufacturing the Proton car, a Malaysian built car. The Proton company was a government operation at first but was later privatized. Cars, in fact, are plentiful in the country.

The highways are all tolled and our bus passed several on our trip. We also saw many motorbikes on the road and our guide told us that motorbikes under 100 cc are exempt from the tolls, so those small motorbikes are very popular there.

We finally arrived at Kuala Lumpur, a vibrant, modern city, lush with greenery at every turn. Its main industry, according to our guide, is computer parts. It is a high tech hub.

Part of vibrant Kuala Lumpur seen from the Observation Deck of the KL Tower

Our first stop was a Chinese buddhist temple in the middle of the city. Its up on a hill and our bus navigated some windy roads getting there.

The temple itself was gorgeous. Because Chinese New Year is coming up on Feb. 8, red paper lanterns were everywhere. In fact, our cruise ship has also been decorated for Chinese New Year.

Beautiful Chinese Buddhist Temple in Kuala Lumpur

The temple, in pagoda style, is colorful and elaborate. We had to take our shoes off to enter the worship area and we were impressed by the ornate ceiling as well as the three large buddha icons.

One of three giant buddhas at the temple
Some of the ornate ceiling in the temple

After visiting the temple, Janis and I wandered around a bit and came across a lovely garden with waterfalls and two ponds filled with turtles. Buddhists release turtles into these ponds for good luck and long life.

Turtle ponds are found at many Buddhist temples in Asia.

Next stop was a short one at the King’s Palace. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and the king is the nominal head of state.

The King’s Palace

After that, it was back on the tour bus for a meandering ride through a working class district of town. Lots of row housing here too, but older and not as pristine as the newer ones we passed on the drive in. What’s interesting is that almost every home has an air conditoner (it is very hot and muggy in this area), most homes have satellite dishes or antennas, and everyone hangs their laundry out to dry on the balconies. Some buildings were awash with laundry.

The trail ended at the Royal Selangor Pewter Company where we stopped for a tour. It is a large modern plant and displays a bit of the history of pewter making in Malaysia. Tin is widely mined in the area and it is the main ingredient of pewter, along with smidgens of copper and antimony.

Inside the Royal Selangor Pewter Company

One wall near the beginning of the tour showed colour slides of notables who have visited the factory, including the Prince of Wales, Bill Clinton and Martha Stewart.

Along the way we saw various artisans at work handcrafting artifacts. One woman spent all her time hammering dimples into the surface of a container shaped like a tin can revolving on a lathe. Bang! Bang! Bang! Just hammering away.

Artisan at work

The tour ended at the gift shop, of course, as many such tours do. Many beautiful handicrafts were on display including a Star Wars collection – Princess Leia, Han Solo or Darth Vader stauettes in pewter. They were good sized pieces – six to eight inches long, polished to a nice shine, and going for 1200 ringgits each or about CDN$400.

Star Wars figures in pewter
Star Wars figures in pewter

Outside was the world’s largest pewter tankard according to the Guinness Records Book.

Standing beside the world’s largest pewter beer tankard

We left this district for the center of the city, stopping for a short visit to the Petronas Towers. These world famous 88 story towers were the world’s tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004. They remain the tallest twin towers. (Are there any others?) The towers formed an integral part of the 1999 movie Entrapment starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The mighty Petronas Towers
The mighty Petronas Towers

We had hoped to go up the towers but the tours are booked at least a month in advance so it was a no go. But after a tasty buffet lunch at the Commodore Hotel, we went up the KL Tower, the fourth tallest communications tower in the world. It looks much like the CN Tower in Toronto but is a bit shorter. The observation level offers a terrific panoramic view of the city, including the Petronas Towers.

The tour ended, we took the bus back to our cruise ship for the next leg on our exciting holiday.

A few notes for tourists. Although the city is modern, some older places like the temple often have squat toilets and no toilet paper or paper towels for drying your hands after washing them. Ladies should wear skirts or dresses for this eventuality as pants are awkward. You should also pack a roll of toilet paper. Later in our trip we visited Penang and some of the washrooms had a faucet on the floor attached to a rubber hose beside the squat toilet, the hose be used in place of toilet paper. Ewwww! Be forewarned! Modern buildings have modern bathroom facilities and will usually have at least some western style toilets.

Also, while Malaysia is a multicultural society, it predominant religion is Islam, with large Hindu and Buddhist minorities as well as some Christianity from British colonial days. Our tour guide was, by Western standards, quite politically incorrect, making snide cracks about both the Chinese and the Indians in their society.

There is a strong animosity towards Singapore, which interestingly enough, used to be part of Malaysia. But unlike Quebec separatists in Canada and the Basques in Spain and France who want to secede from their countries, Singapore didn’t secede but was expelled by Malaysia over political differences. The largely ethnic Chinese Singaporeans have been disdained by many Malaysians ever since.

Finally, Malaysia, like Singapore, has very strict drug laws and the death penalty for many drug offences. While there are movements to decriminalize marijuana in Canada and the United States, bringing some into Malaysia could see you at the end of a rope.

But all in all, we loved Kuala Lumpur and would love to visit again for a longer period. It is relatively inexpensive and although we didn’t do any shopping, I’ve heard it is a shopper’s paradise.

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One Million Years BC – A Visit to Mt. Teide

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In 2009 we took a repositioning cruise with our friends Chris and Sheila. The ship, the Navigator of the Seas, left from Fort Lauderdale and was at sea for seven days before finally reaching our first port of call, Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands. As with all ports of call on cruises, there was a variety of shore excursions we could take. Or we could just wander around the town of Santa Cruz. We opted to take the trip up Mount Teide, the island’s volcano.

Mount Teide last erupted in 1909 and is considered dormant. It could erupt again in the future. At 24,600 feet (7500 meters) it is the third highest island volcano in the world after Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa in Hawaii.

The bus took us on a meandering road through fields and villages and finally into Teide National Park, which gets about 2.8 million visitors a year. As we got higher and higher we had many spectacular views of the villages and the sea below. Upon entering the park, the peak drew closer and closer. We stopped for a photo op part way there.

Janis and I and Mount Teide

We left the verdant landscape behind as we continued on our way. Soon we were left with nothing but lava fields all around with sparse patches of vegetation. Almost a moonscape.

It was here in this wild setting that parts of the movie One Million B.C. with Raquel Welch were filmed.

Scenery like this formed the backdrop for Raquel Welch’s One Million Years B.C.

Finally we arrived at our destination – not the summit, but a tourist area where we could get off the bus and wander around at our leisure to take in the many interesting rock formations.

Tourists clamber over the rock formations on Mount Teide

From one vantage point you could see a frozen river of lava in a bowl between the peaks. I called it the Teide Bowl (Tidy Bowl). My warped sense of humour.

River of lava in the Teide Bowl
She’s got the whole world in her hand – well, at least this rock formation on Mount Teide!

After some time here the bus took us on the long and winding road back to town.

We leave majestic Mount Teide behind

We took a slightly different route on the way back, one that took us past Tenerife Airport. This was the site of the world’s worst aviation disaster in 1977 when two Boeing 747s collided.

We arrived back at Santa Cruz with enough time to explore this bustling seaside city. It is a lovely city with a good-sized pedestrian mall and lots of shops and restaurants to explore.

The bustling city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife

The Canary Islands are an autonomous community of Spain, sort of like a state in the U.S.A. or a province in Canada. Spain’s government is very decentralized with a lot of power residing within the smaller divisions of the country. We visited three more Spanish ports of call on our trip, as well a Lisbon, Portugal.  I’ll cover the highlights of those in later posts.

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Sandsurfing in Lancelin

129 kilometers north of Perth lies the seaside town of Lancelin (about an hour and a half drive).  It’s a sleepy little town of 600 whose population swells to 2500 in the summer months (December, January and February in Australia).

We took a day trip out from our daughter’s place in Ocean Reef in early January. It was very pleasant drive along the Indian Ocean Highway. The scenery was constantly changing from forested to scrub land to farm land and sheep grazing land. Along the way we spotted some emus in a field but we were going too fast for me to get my camera out in time to snap a pic.

We also passed a brush fire inland a bit from the highway. Brush fires are a big problem in Australia. In the summer the climate is so hot they spread very quickly. And Western Australia in particular is very windy which does not help. When we went back home in the late afternoon, we had to take a long inland detour because the fires had spread and the Indian Ocean Highway was closed for a stretch.

Sadly, another even larger brush fire occurred south of Perth later in the month, destroying most of the town of Yarloop. The lightning stoked fire destroyed 162 homes and killed two elderly men.

Finally we got to the turnoff for Lancelin and drove into town. One of the main attractions here are the giant sand dunes just north of town. They are about two kilometres long and about 30-50 meters high (my rough guess). They are very accessible and they are free.

Once we got to town, we were not done driving. The dunes are north of town and so we drove some more, finally getting to a dirt road leading to the dunes themselves. You can drive right up to the base of the dunes, though the trail is very sandy so caution is recommended. We saw one vehicle stuck in the sand as we left.

The dunes are spectacular – pure white sand – they look like giant snow drifts, that’s how white they are. You would think the sand would be hot underfoot under the blazing Australian sun, but we walked up the dunes barefoot and it was remarkably cool. Well warm maybe, but definitely not hot.

I hiked up to the top of a ridge for a good look around. A terrific view of the area. We saw quite a few sandboarders up there. We didn’t bring boards ourselves so we wandered around for a while, taking in the action, before heading down again.

We drove back in to town and parked near a restaurant. Then off to the beach. Lancelin’s beach is, like most Australian beaches, sandy and beautiful. There are two islands at either end of the beach, the larger being Lancelin Island which lies about a kilometre off the shore. It is a nature preserve frequented by various species of birds as well as sea lions.

Because of the windy clime, windsurfing is very popular here. We had a swim, took a stroll down the beach and back, and then settled in at the Dunes Restaurant for a tasty meal. And then the long drive back.

Because of the detour, we headed inland and turned onto Military Road. And it was along this back road that we found another interesting place to visit. A place something like Science World in Vancouver or the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. Only this one is set in the middle of nowhere! And that’s a topic for another post.