Well, the trip is winding down (only 3 weeks left and lots of days at sea on the way home). I looked at a map and if the captain plays his cards right, we could be crossing tyhe International Date Line four times in one day by going in a straight line from American Ssmoa to Hawaii. Finally found a fast free internet connection at the Mwlbourne Wston, so here goes:A note on departing Jakarta, Indonesia: There was a pile of shipping containers that seemed longer than the Great Wall of China and stretching back from the sea wall as far as the eye could see. Freighters lined up against the wall as about a dozen cranes were hard at work loading the containers. I wonder how often the wrong container is loaded and ends up (like errant airline luggage) in the wrong port.Sunday November 6, 2011 – Exmouth, Australia:Well, everyone still drives backwards here (Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia all use native Japanese” right hand side drive cars and drive on the left side of the road. On the other hand, we have started the leg of our trip in which most of the inhabitants speak a language which closely approximates English (based on the more proper use we have in Brooklyn ?).Exeter is a new town built around a military base (joint US/Aussie thing) and a handful of offshore oil rigs (harbor had a handful of nice yachts, some smaller stuff, some commercial fishing trawlers ocean going tugs and oil rig service boats. The whole town has a population of about 2,500 which is less than half the students in my high school (as well as being only twice that of the ship’s passengers).Anyhow, the scuba idea did not work out as there was not enough time to do it safely (and ensure making the boat in time). We elected to go into town which allowed me to get some money from an ATM, buy a $30 (as the Aussie buck is just a bit more than the US buck right now - $1.04US, all prices will be in AUD) SIM chip for my phone, buy a fruit smoothie and a couple of packages of Tim Tam’s. For those unfamiliar with this cookie, they are the Australian equivalent of Oreo’s (but different) and are the lifeblood of Oz (well, I guess the delicate taste of Vegemite might also fit that bill). We saw a cockatoo fly into a tree filled with red headed parrots (or parakeets or cockatoos or something similar). Prices for common stuff in Exmouth seem high, but that is probably due to this place being at the end of nowhere. Some of our friends went to play golf. The good news was that it was cheap ($40 for three players and club rental on an 18 hole course). The “other” news was that there was only one moderately complete (no wedges) set of old clubs between them. As there was little grass, they tracked where their balls landed by the dust plumes. The greens were made out of oiled black sand and apparently putting was a “bit fun”. The town supplied shuttle busses were snafu and we ended up waiting over an hour in the heat. Especially considering that the town had no redeeming characteristics, if I ever found myself heading here again, I would simply spread a beach towel near the marina that the shuttles landed at and work on my tan. November 8, 2011 – Approaching Fremantle/Perth, Australia:Waves were about 15’ during the night and things were a bit rocky (by now everyone seems to be used to this sort of thing). At 4AM this morning the ship’s fire alarm went off (geared to wake the dead) with an announcement by the Officer of the Deck that there was a fire in the incinerator room. Without boring you with a blow-by-blow, it was dealt with (no abandon ship stuff), but made for a grumpy start of the day.Fremantle, where the ship is docking, is the port city of Perth – the largest city in Western Australia. The two are connected by the Swan River – home of Australia’s Black Swan which shows up prominently on the province’s flag (as well as showing up every so often on Wall Street). Since the ship is, once more, on a screwy schedule (arrive at noon and leave tomorrow by noon), we decided to see Perth the first day and Fremantle the second (to make sure to get back to the ship on time – turns out the ship didn’t re-admit one crew member who left to visit his family in Jakarta and then didn’t show up when the ship sailed and who tried to re-board in Bali). We took the train (like an above ground subway light rail system - $3.80) to Perth. The trains come fairly quickly and the ride is about ½ hour. The system is a bit on the primitive side by Asian standards (there are apparently debit card things with proximity readers that most locals use) with paper tickets spit out by vending machine, but looked at manually by ticket agents. The cars are very basic with posters of the modest system (three lines) above the doors and LED readouts of the next stop.Perth has a couple of free center city bus loops (called CAT’s) which makes getting around pretty quick and easy (though the city center is small enough to walk across much of it pretty quickly. We saw the Anglican cathedral which dates to the 1880’s (ancient by Australian standards) and has been recently cleaned and refurbished. It was notable to me for its wooden arched ceiling and the large grouping of trumpets that some donor had added to the organ (did not hear this played but it got “mixed” reviews from the lady at the information booth). From there we walked to the futuristic bell tower (filled with the original bells from London’s St. Martins in the Fields donated by the British Crown). These bells are chimed at least once a day and you can go (for a fee) to the top of the bell tower to watch. We came just as the ringing began so I was able to avoid the fee (I think about $12 a head), but videoed the scene on a surveillance monitor and then ran outside to get the sound on an external shot. Anyhow, we hopped onto the Blue CAT bas and it started to pour. In consummate Jeff fashion, the rain stopped as we walked off the bus (when on vacation, I refuse to let it rain). We popped off and walked to His Majesty’s Theatre. This is a bit over a century old and for a small donation (“golden coins” meaning dollar or two dollar piece per person) we were given a guided tour of the place. The building underwent a significant change in the 1980’s when a next door hotel was purchased and the grand marble staircase relocated to that building (along with the most impressive toilets). The theatre’s “domed” ceiling is actually flat, but painted to resemble a dome. From there we wandered down a shopping street (and I did some preliminary pricing of colored diamonds. The Argyle mines are located in the Kimberly range in that part of the country and their prices were reasonable last time we were in Australia. Thus time, not so much – whether because of the retailer, the increased popularity of the stones or the difference in currency valuation – likely all of them. While I am not a big fan of the “champagne” and most “cognac” (chocolate) colored stones mined there, I am looking for some small bright yellow stones for a project – yet to be decided what – and there are some cognacs with heavy red/orange hue that I think are interesting (at least at the right price – yet to be achieved). Coffee and food prices in restaurants seem very high here (even by NYC standards). I saw a “soup of the day” in a neighborhood restaurant for $12, a hamburger “deluxe” for $18 and an ice coffee with chocolate in a café for $8. Took the train back to the ship. The original ticket is round trip if used within 2 hours – no such luck, so we bought new ones. As we approached the ship, we popped into Cole’s (think Target’s – though there’s one f them in Fremantle as well) booze department to pick up a few bottles of local wine (buy 3, get one free).Vass Felix 2009 Margaret River Shiraz CabernetMad Fish 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon MerlotWynns Coonawarra Estate 2009 Cabernet Shiraz MerlotAll screw tops - We’ll seeAs we walked towards the ship we smelled the wafts of “perfume” emitted by a huge ship of caged sheep anchored offshore and bound for Saudi Arabia.In the morning I woke up early to go about ½ mile into town to use a free WiFi connection before meeting with the folks we’re traveling with (tablemates at dinner who I’ve previously mentioned). Long story made short, every time someone wit an iPad tried to log on, it wrecked the connection. With these being popular gadgets this was a constant challenge. One guy who told me “it’s a free country” brought my anger management skills to a whole new level (as I considered my options of using his tablet as a Frisbee or simply seeing if he could swallow it whole. As it got later and more yokels showed up with these things, I finally gave up and let them sit by themselves and burn in their own internet hell. (One idiot lady asked me why she had trouble connecting and I indelicately suggested she ask Steve Jobs). I finally went to the local library and paid a gold coin (Aussie buck) for 15 minutes of decent speed. The wife was floating around in the town with the others as the minutes ticked down towards the 11:30 end of the world when the gangway was raised. Re-met with them in time (after a 3 stooges routine of running in circles – knew I should have bought a second SIM chip for my backup phone), but ended up seeing too little of this quant town. As the ship left the harbor, we were surrounded by breaching humpback whales so my mood got better.We are crossing the “Australian Bite” at about 25 knots and the wind is picking up. It’s three days to Melbourne and things could get interesting ?.November 11, 2011 – Day at Sea:Have spent a bit of frustrating time setting up some diversions in Sydney (a few days away). The guy I deal with at Westpac is taking us out to lunch. OTOH, we invited a couple we’ve been friends with for years who live in a suburb of Sydney to eat with us in the fanciest dining room on the ship. Getting them aboard is a PITA because of security concerns and somewhat expensive but, since they treated us to a day of sightseeing and a meal last time we were in Sydney (I had a mixed Australian platter of kangaroo, crocodile and emu) and will be taking us to Bondi Beach etc. this time around and it’s the only way I can think of to reciprocate. Sydney is one of my favorite cities and we will be spending every spare minute running in circles there. At least my Aussie cell phone will work in Melbourne and I will be able to fine tune things.ON MONEY:I have always laughed at the US’s attempts to come up with a popular $1 coin. First there were the Eisenhower silver dollar clones that were the size of Frisbees. Then came the Susan B. Anthony quarter clones. We currently have a similar sized coin but brass colored. While I am not a fan of most of the Aussie coinage (tends to be larger than US), the Aussie golden colored $2 coin (about the size of a US nickel, but a bit thicker), if made slightly thicker would be a perfect US $1 size. You could easily feel it in a pocket full of coinage and its color would make it stand out. Similarly, the Aussie paper money is a “paperized” sheet of plastic. It has color, texture and all sorts of anti-counterfeiting technology including transparent plastic areas. While it is true that the US has started to add some color and new technology to our paper currency, foreign currency is far more attractive (and as in most cases – but not Australia - different denominations are different sizes as well as colors, it’s generally easier to use – not to mention by those with vision challenges). We feel our way is the best way (if not the only way) but, as in many other areas, even our physical currency itself could be improved if we only open our eyes.Jeff
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