Monday, March 3, 2008

More on the Buddha, Counting Countries, and What I Plan to Do Next

More on the big Buddha:

The gondola picture in an earlier post shows the Buddha statue on the skyline to the left. Here’s the 33 meter (110 ft) statue from a little closer before I got on the gondola. It was a very scary ride, I suppose because it was, 1) 1000 feet above the ground at some points, 2) the span between towers was miles long in a few instances, 3) I was all alone in the car and therefore left to my own thoughts mostly about what I would do if it stopped. (I kept feeling for my international cell phone in my little backpack), 4) the wind was howling so that, 5) the damn car was swinging—fortunately only slightly, and 6) I realized that I always forget how much I don’t like gondolas shortly after I get off them so that I end up taking them again somewhere else.

Counting Countries:

As of this trip, I've now been to 116 countries as per the Travelers' Century Club list or 106 "DXCC" countries (which are based on radio call letter prefixes). As for “marking” a location as valid, I am at the age where need to ensure that one has to pee at each place isn’t really an hardship to accomplish and makes a good proof of entry, so to speak. I just wanted a criteria that didn’t include just flying over a place or riding through it while asleep on the train. I would count a place if I don’t go to the bathroom as long as I was “setting foot” there. I didn’t count Lord Howell Island even though a cruise a few years ago went 100 miles out of the way to circle it and had a lecturer onboard who gave a talk on the little island as we were circling it only a mile or so from the shoreline. But we never landed there or even dropped anchor. I usually have to actually stand on the place, and as I said I usually look for a john anyway. So that makes it even more official. For all it’s worth, I did “count” Panama when I went through the canal. I figured being “raised” through three locks and dumped in a lake 85 feet above sea level in the middle of the isthmus is definitely “in” the country. So the ship “set foot” there, and I was on the ship. Likewise, I'd probably not count a location if only my passport got stamped but I didn't get off the ship--I'd feel guilty about counting that and probably would at least set foot on the dock to make the visit "official", more so if I found a toilet in the terminal. So I do have my standards and rules.

Despite the results, I'm not motivated primarily by adding to the count. The recent trip added only two: the Indonesian part of Indonesia (the old Irian Jaya, now called Papua which is very confusing since the states of Papua and West Papua share the island of New Guinea with the country of Papua New Guinea. Get it?) which while really part of Indonesia, of course, does count according to the Travelers' Century Club list presumably because of its distance beyond the new independent country of West Timor, and the Solomon Islands. My primary choice of trips is to see new and interesting places even if they aren't additional entries on some list. Of course, "new and interesting" on a cruise can be a new country by some measure. As to how many are left, the total number on the somewhat inflated TCC list is 317. So I guess I have 201 to go! Of course, I do not care to visit some of them and some are awfully hard to get to, at least easily. Some were scheduled on cruises and bypassed at the last moment: Sri Lanka (civil war), Madagascar (high swell that made tendering impossible), and Fiji (typhus threat due to a recent typhoon).

The ARRL DXCC list has 338 "countries" and the TCC has 317 if I counted correctly. My personal totals are 106 and 116 for these two lists respectively. There are only 192 UN members (as of 2006) and may omit countries due to political issues. Both the TCC and the DXCC lists include "isolated" locations such as Hawaii and Alaska, for example, as separate countries, but the main difference between these lists is cultural. The TCC counts different religious regions, for example, as well such as Bali in additional to Java, the main island of Indonesia, since Bali although close to Java is Hindu while the rest of the country is Muslim. The states of West Palau and Palau are probably on the list because of their isolation from the rest of the country as per the "isolation" rule since West Timor now a separate country is between the island of New Guinea (where Papua and West Papua are located) and Java. The DXCC list also counts "isolated" locations but all of Indonesia is counted only once. DXCC adds uninhabited locations--only if they have separate call leter destignations such as the various Antactica territories--but the TCC list specifically exempts locations without populations. Now you know.

What Cruises are Next:

If I do the entire cruise I’m looking at in the Fall, while it’s mostly only Mexico (plus one stop in Guatemala) for the first segment I’d then add Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and French Polynesia. I’ll have to look up if Easter Island (probably), Pitcairn Island (probably), and Robinson Crusoe Islands (maybe) count on the DXCC list. They all do on the Travelers’ Century Club list. I had originally booked for this Fall a 16 day cruise from Barcelona to Barbados that stops in Senegal and Cape Verde Islands; so the replacement cruise would be up eight countries rather than just two. Maybe I’ll hit those on a subsequent trip since “crossings” are usually discounted, but the proposed cruise is kind of a one of a kind. It’s three out of four segments on a circle from LA to LA, but I have no interest in the last 16 days from Tahiti back to LA. It’s lots of days at sea—some as much as six in a row—mostly it only stops in ports in Hawaii, and 54 days is really much too long. (So is 36 days, but it would be fun to “live” on the ship for more than a month again.) I did also deposit a cruise for November 2009 that includes Devil’s Island, French Guiana. So I guess it is getting harder to add countries now. I suppose I could go to Europe and take the train to San Marino, Andorra, and Lichtenstein and maybe a ferry from Liverpool to the Isle of Man or from Weymouth to the Channel Islands. Also, I’ve not yet been to the Czech Republic or Estonia, and there are a few Caribbean islands I’ve missed. So there are still easy ones to “bag” if that was really my goal. The 2009 cruise stops at a few Caribbean islands and lots of places in Brazil, including Manaus which is 1600 miles (something like that) up the Amazon River from the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve been to Brazil before; actually my only stop ever in South America was at Rio early in 2001.

Pirates and Cruise Ships

Possible Pirate off the coast of Cebu City, Philippines. (c) 2008, M. Borsuk
Pirates on the High Seas

There's a lot more security on the cruise ships than there was in the old days (none). Even on the 350 or so passenger cruise ship, there are three or four crew members onboard who do both the normal hotel security functions, watch external cameras on security monitors, but look out at the sea when any other vessel appears. There's always a security boat on the harbor side of the ship when we're in port, but often it's a guy in a small motorboat wearing a hat that says "security", the guy not the boat. I suppose he has a radio to call in the troupes, and security on the pier is usually a lot like at airports nowadays. Piracy when we're underway is usually very difficult since there's 250 crew members on a our little boat compared to maybe 12 or so crew members on a containership. (The usual MO of "pirates" is to board slow going containerships at night and empty a container before a crew member comes by with a baseball bat. This is a lot different than what would be useful to a pirate boarding a cruise ship.) Also cruise ships make 15 to 20 knots and have all sorts of cameras and outlooks on the bridge; so stealth would be difficult for the pirates who would pretty much be overwhelmed anyway by bartenders and cabin stewardesses if they somehow could board the ship. And it is said that the cruise ships now have high pressure water hoses and other anti-boarding measures. (On Silveasea, the captain would make any pirates drink grappa, and that would do them in for sure.) Most of all, there is a "Security Officer" on each of the Silversea ships that seems to be sent by Central Casting. He is always a Brit with a movie Scotland Yard accent, tattooed arms (usually of anchors), and very little neck. On some of my cruises the little Asian looking security crew members turned out to be Gurkas. Most priates would not want to mess with them. Overeating and perhaps having a drink or two too many are a risk on a cruise, but being made to walk the plank isn't.