On Location: Chennai, India

December 27, 2011

Time to hit the ground running! Arriving into the Chennai Airport, one has no other option than to immediately give in and acclimate to the beautiful organized chaos that is INDIA.

We convened at the gorgeous Taj Coromandel hotel. From the second we arrived their fabulous staff - all dressed in beautiful saris and royal colonial-era uniforms - made us feel like royal guests. After a quick welcome and lunch, we wasted no time in grabbing our cameras and hopping onto buses.

Our premier tour of Chennai introduced us to 10 AD bronze statues of the Hindu gods Pavarti, Shiva, and Ganish at the National Art Gallery. During our visit to the gallery, the ever intrepid Jack Grove was keen to point out an entire tree full of humongous red flying foxes and parakeets. From there we visited the colonial Fort St. George Museum as well as the San Thome Cathedral.

The highlight for all was our final visit of the day to the Kapaleeshwara Hindu Temple. The temple itself sits in the middle of a bustling market where vendors weave beautiful garlands of marigolds. We obliged with the rest of the worshippers and removed our shoes before entering the open-air temple, where devout Hindus walked underneath the temple’s ornate spire, praying and chanting; they laid flowers and lit candles below the gaze of thousands of colorfully painted statues.

The night ended with a welcome dinner and reception back at the hotel. Everyone went to bed early, all anxious for the next day’s adventures!

On Location: Sri Lanka

December 20, 2011

Sri Lanka is indeed a marvelous place. A highlight was visiting the elephant orphanage - not only did we get up close views, we were also able to watch them bathe in a nearby river. Fantastic creatures! We then explored the grounds and buildings of the famous Temple of the Tooth, one of the most important Buddhist shrines in Sri Lanka, and toured Kandy’s impressive city and botanical gardens.

Nearing the end of our voyage, one of the images that will stay with me is that of the colorful wooden boats the Trivandrum fishermen pulled up on the beaches of the town. Galle, Sri Lanka was also a highlight, with Old Galle being the part of the town that is enclosed in the Portuguese fort walls. Many of the bastions and sections of the walls still stand and one can walk along the ramparts and get beautiful views of the beaches and seacoast.

On Location: Indian Ocean

December 15, 2011

Greetings from the Indian Ocean! We’ve been cruising from Mumbai down the west coast of India and tonight will sail for Trivandrum. The Taj Hotel in Mumbai was a great first place to stay, dramatically posed by the famous ‘Gateway to India’ where we took small boats to the legendary island of Elephanta to see the striking rock-cut temple of Shiva. With its many-columned cave sanctuary and colossal triple-faced head of Shiva carved in the living rock of the temple’s walls, this was an incredible site. The west coast has been marvelous; Goa was resplendent with palms and Portuguese churches from the colonial period. Mangalore and Cochin, too, had long contacts with the Portuguese and there were many Catholic churches and schools there as well. We even visited a cashew factory…fascinating! We saw a giant stone statue of a Jain saint at one monument, poised high on a hill. The Chinese-style fishing nets in Cochin were a highlight with their arching, elegant frames reaching to the sky along the shorelines. Our textile experts on board have helped with shopping for the beautiful textiles of India. Today, off on river boats to explore Cochin’s famous canals!

On Location: Anamurium

November 14, 2011

It’s not every day that one has the opportunity to wander through the deserted ruins of an ancient city in the company of the archaeologist who brought the treasures of the area to light, but this was our privilege today. Hector Williams has spent over a decade of summers carefully uncovering the historic site of Anamurium, which dates from the 4th century BC. Its favorable location, protected from prevailing winter winds and less than 50 miles from Cyprus, attracted settlers throughout the Roman, Byzantine, and later Medieval periods. Hector’s informed commentary helped to recreate the complex and varied human history that spanned these millennia. The first autumn rains of the previous night added crispness to our morning visit, with the songs of rock nut-hatches and blue rock thrushes ringing around the ruined city.

The modern town of Anamur, named after its ancient predecessor, is also home to the picturesque fortress-castle of Mamure Kalesi. First constructed by the Cilician Kings of Armenia, the castle was utilized by successive conquerors, including both the Crusaders and the Ottomans. A quick stroll along the top of its crenellated walls, which plunge directly into the Mediterranean Sea, gave some insights into its impregnable nature and strategic importance of the fortress in earlier times.

On Location: In Search of the Mediterranean Monk Seal

November 9, 2011

With the first rays of the sun bathing the landscape, we found ourselves nosing the Clipper Odyssey into one of the most secluded, breathtakingly beautiful bays on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast. The dramatic limestone peaks of the Taurus range formed the backdrop for our exploration of the tiny village of Kas and its most famous historic edifice, the Hellenistic Theater of Antiphellus.

But this morning it was natural, rather than human, history on my mind, for this remote coastline is home to one of the world’s most elusive mammals, the Mediterranean monk seal. Once widely distributed from the Black Sea to the Atlantic coast of West Africa, this animal has undergone a catastrophic decline across its range, as a result of causes as diverse as direct persecution by fishermen for poaching fish from their nets and lines, to disturbance of their breeding beaches by coastal development. The remnant population, now estimated at under 500 individuals, is divided into two main areas: the deserted, Saharan coast of Mauritania, and the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean region of Greece and Turkey in which we now found ourselves. As I carefully scanned the quiet waters of the bay, I secretly hoped that we would be so lucky…

During the time of the ancient Greeks, the seals formed small colonies on rocky coasts, the males wooing their consorts with high-pitched, bird-like songs that gave rise to the myth of the sirens, luring sailors to their deaths. Nowadays, they use mostly inaccessible sea caves for pupping and we carefully scanned the nooks and crannies of the convoluted coast as we sailed into the bay. Suddenly, a head broke the surface of the inky water, and my heart stopped - but close inspection revealed the chunky head and hooked profile of a loggerhead turtle, a species that still nests in good numbers along these coasts. And sadly, that was as close as we ever came to seeing the rarest of all pinnipeds, despite careful searches around Kas and adjacent areas. We can only hope that the admirable effort of the Turkish government yields results in the ongoing protection of this charismatic creature.