A Travelogue

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sniffles and Coughs

Hans has come down with a cold. Teddy found him some lozenges in town yesterday but by now they’re all gone so we had to pay 2 ½ times as much downstairs in the shop. *sigh* Onion juice would probably work too but we can’t make it here. He did eat a plateful of onion in an attempt to stave it off but it didn’t work. So, he’s sucking Halls and drinking cough syrup and missing dinner.

However, he still has to be somewhere. So this afternoon the three of us sat outside and watched “Mama Mia” on the big outside screen. Very cute show and Meryl Streep is not only an outstanding actress, but also has a darn good voice.

Tonight is a formal night and Hans will miss it, though he probably doesn’t mind not having to dress up.

Sea Day crossing the Equator




Teddy found out early that the machine in the resistance pool was down so no laps for us today. Oh darn. So, since I couldn’t swim, decided it was a good day go do laundry since we’ve been on board just over a week now. I knew everyone else would have the same idea but still, I got lucky with a machine and then waited so I could use it again for the second load and not lose it someone else. It’s a good thing there’s a Laundromat on each level on Princess because our tablemates sent their laundry away to get washed and/or cleaned and got a bill for $67. That’s three bottles of wine!

We cross the equator tonight sometime between midnight at 1:00 a.m. However, the Cruise Director quite rightly suspected few people would line up around the pool at that time so they had the crossing ceremony at 11:15. It’s quite a production. The tradition is for “pollywogs” (those who’ve never crossed the equator) to become sludged, after which they turn into “hardbacks”. Since all pollywogs on the ship couldn’t be sludged, they chose 6 couples, who may not have know what they were getting into.

The sludging ceremony consists of this: one couple is sitting on the edge of the pool. They are pronounced guilty of a made-up crime (like switching luggage tags), after which all the spectators loudly pronounce them guilty. Then they are made to kiss the fish. Yuck. This is a whole fish minus its head , with the cavity filled with whipping cream. The victims had to end up with cream on their face or they had to kiss the fish again.

Then the staff crack eggs over their heads, squirt whipping cream all over their faces and down their t-shirts (which they’re wearing over their swimsuits), drape cooked spaghetti over their hair, throw red jello at them, and pour chocolate all over them. It’s a horrible mess, and then they’re pushed into the pool to clean up. They all went quite willingly into the pool.

Much later I walked by and saw the pool was drained and 3 workers were in there with long pole brushes scouring the pool and deck. And we all got a certificate delivered to our room stating we have “accepted with good humor and withstood with fortitude the most rigorous initiation into the Ancient Damp Rites of the Aquatic Court.”

Sunday, November 29, 2009

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Movie Under the Stars


For last night’s after-dinner entertainment, we chose to watch The Proposal, the movie under the stars. Hans saved us a couple of seats on deck and Teddy and I didn’t even have coffee and dessert (a first!) in order not to be late. I was concerned it would be cold, as it had been last week when we watched Wall-E in the afternoon but yesterday it was perfect. They even bring you popcorn!

A Word or Two about the Food





This, of course, is one of the highlights of cruising. Every day your willpower is tested repeatedly as sumptuous food is available everywhere.

Last night we had escargots. God, but I love those and so, Teddy and I both had two helpings. It’s a toss up whether it’s really the escargots we like, or whether we’d be just as happy with a bowl of melted garlic butter and a bun. I know there wasn’t a drop of butter left on my dish.

French onion soup was also on the menu, but with two servings of escargots I thought that might just be too much, so Teddy and I split a Caesar salad. With anchovy! Loved it.

Frogs legs were also on the menu but I’ve had them on other cruises and while I usually order them when they’re available, this is the first time I’ve chosen something else. We each had 2 filet medallions, medium rare for me, and rare for Teddy. Each was perfect.

Just a few nights ago we had lobster tails. Another favourite, and so Hans, Teddy and I each asked for two. He also brought a couple of extra for the table which ended up on my and Hans’ plates. It was wonderful.

Twice I’ve had salmon, also barramundi and Chilean sea bass. The presentation is always beautiful, with every vegetable artfully placed on the plate. I confess that I’m much too interested in my own plate to always pay attention what the others are eating, but when they have something different, I can attest that their plates are equally beautifully garnished and presented.

Lunches are sometimes on the Lido deck where the buffets are tantalizingly displayed, and other times we eat in the dining room. Today I shared a table with an oceanographer who unfortunately suffers from seasickness. “I’ve thrown up everywhere,” he told us.

“Did you know this about yourself when you chose this career?” I asked curiously.

“No. And when I found out it was already too late.” Tough break.

Teddy likes to eat on the Lido where she can see the food and make careful selections. Sometimes I join her there but I tend to eat more if I’m browsing the buffet, though it’s often sensible food like the green lipped mussels they had the other day. Or smoked salmon with onion and capers. Oh, and cream cheese. So not entirely sensible but definitely great food.

There’s a soft ice cream bar that’s open every day from 11:00- 6:00 and between 3:30-4:00 if you’re on the Lido, they bring around hot cookies fresh from the oven and icy cold milk. You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy a hot, fragrant cookie.
Princess also allows you to bring a bottle of wine aboard, and so occasionally in port Hans, Teddy and I have taken advantage of this and then we join Teddy in her room for a pre-dinner glass of wine and some appies, courtesy of Hans who’ll go up to the Lido and bring back a plate of cheeses.

And now, it’s getting close to that time so we’re off to eat yet another scrumptious meal. God but I love my life.

Puntarenas, Costa Rica



There are hills in Puntarenas. Mountains, really, and I see them in the distance. Soft, blue-grey peaks soaring into the sky.

We’re in port, docked just off a long sandy spit from which it is named. Teddy tells me that Puntarenas translates into Sand Point. I didn’t believe her and asked our Spanish tablemate last night what it meant, who then quite rightly chided me for doubting.

The beach is dotted with Sunday bathers, locals probably even though there are two cruise ships in port. Given the option, I’d rather swim in the pool than in the ocean unless there are rocks nearby offering the possibility of good snorkeling.
Today is very hot. Thirty-three degrees and the air is heavy with moisture. Hans, Teddy and I walked into town stopping to browse through the beach markets. They make beautiful bowls and boxes out of wood here, using different woods in different colours all polished to a rich, warm gleam.

We stopped to rest and refresh ourselves with a Smirnoff Ice at one of the quaint beach huts with thatched roof. The break from the heat was welcome but even so, by the time we got back my face had turned an unattractive but vibrant fuschia whereas Hans and Ted still looked as cool as when we left.

Now, we’re just waiting to cast off. We’re leaving a little late again so it must be that one of the tours was somehow delayed. If it’s an official Princess tour the ship will wait for you but if you made your own arrangements to go somewhere and are unexpectedly delayed, tough luck. However, I just heard over the PA system that 3 people are missing and asked to check in with Passenger Services. Then the Captain came on.

“We don’t have much leeway as to when we pull out otherwise there’s a fairly strong current that we’ll be encountering which will make the movement of the ship a lot more interesting and exciting. I’d like to avoid that excitement.” And then he told us that we’d be moving our clocks ahead one hour yet again! They’re chipping away at our sleep time bit by bit.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Nicaragua


I think San Juan Del Sur in Nicaragua is one of the ports they substituted for another one they took away. Certainly, the debarkation procedures weren’t as smooth as we’ve come to expect.

Hans went around 12:30 to get our “ticket numbers” for the tenders and came back to tell us he’d been told we wouldn’t be boarding before 1:15. That was true. Our number was 9, so at 1:15 we found a place to wait. And wait. Those passengers on tours got priority of course, so we understood we wouldn’t be first. Around 1:45 tickets numbered 1 were called to the tenders. And around 2:15 tickets numbered 2 were called. Hans decided he didn’t want to go ashore that badly and went back upstairs. Teddy really wanted to get a postcard and mail it from Nicaragua and wouldn’t you know it, Nicaragua is one country for which the Purser’s office didn’t sell stamps so we had to go ashore. But we want to go anyway. Finally, just before 3:00 p.m. our number was called and we were lucky enough to get a prime seat up top in the open air.

It didn’t take that long to get to shore, and then we found out why the going was so slow. There’s only ONE DOCK. And there are dozens of little boats in the cove so, one tender ties up at the dock and tender number two has to wait quite a bit outside that area until #1 has unloaded its passengers and taken aboard those wanting to go back to the ship. Then #2 has to wait until #1 has manoeuvered backwards away from the dock, after which #2 can approach and tie up. And so on. This waiting took another 20 minutes. We finally got off the tender at 3:50, nearly 1 hour after our number had been called.

Last tender leaving shore for the ship is at 6:30 so in order not to waste time, we quickly asked someone where to find the post office. It wasn’t far away and we headed towards it, but had to go through a huge handicraft market first. I suggested to Teddy she go and get her card and stamp, and I would browse through the market and meet her at a designated spot. This worked perfectly. When she got back, I asked, “Did you get your card mailed?” “No. The post office was closed.”

International Café


It was a long wait until we got onto our tender to go ashore, and while we were waiting, Teddy was exploring the 5th level where there is an International Café with specialty coffees and other delicious foods and desserts. The coffees aren’t free, but you do get free refills as long as you are sitting in the area. We decided we’d try it for breakfast one day, should it be open that early, so off she went to enquire.

“Are you open for breakfast?”
“Eclairs, cookies, sandwiches…”
“I mean, are you open for breakfast?”
“Yes! Coffee, cookies, pastries.”
“So, you *are* open for breakfast?”
“Yes!”
“What time?”
“6:00 am”

So, not tomorrow – we have to go into Puntarenas, Costa Rica, and we can’t fill up on coffee before we go. But another day we’ll certainly try their éclairs, cookies, sandwiches. And all the delicious coffee refills we can hold.

Approaching Nicaragua

The Captain wanted to make up some time since the high winds of the day before had slowed us down and we were going to be 30-45 minutes late arriving in Nicaragua. Around 11:00 a.m. he announced as follows:

“Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve probably noticed we’ve slowed down. We have to slow down early and quite a distance from our final destination or the ship won’t stop in time and go right up on the beach. Then we’d be the Princess Restort.

Sea Glass

Walking along the beach in Acapulco, Hans found a pretty piece of green glass rubbed smooth by the ocean and the sand.

“It’s an emerald,” he said, as he pressed it into my palm. Well, perhaps not. But it’s still very pretty.

Death by 1000 Cuts

In the wee hours between Thursday night and Friday morning, we hit rough seas. Very rough seas.

The Captain had told us Thursday night that we would be experiencing high winds of about 40 – 45 knots. At 2:30 I woke up to fairly severe rocking. But strangely, it wasn’t uncomfortable. Yes, the ship was pitching and yawing and at times it even felt like our bed was rocking in a circular motion, but neither of us got seasick. Nevertheless, sleep was impossible. Shortly after 6:00 a.m. the ship slammed down hard on the water, and then we heard from the Captain. Now normally, none of the ship’s announcements are heard in your cabin so as not to disturb you. However, the Captain began his announcement like this:

“I do apologize, but I’m quite sure you’re all awake.” I think he was right. Turns out the winds were a little higher than predicted, blowing at 90 knots (about 100 MILES per hour) and the waves were reaching 30 feet. So those poor slobs who pay extra for the outside cabins with balconies were getting a view of the ocean up close and very personal. And the slamming was the result of a rogue wave. He called it that, though he said that’s not really the correct term for it. However, this large wave seemed to come out of nowhere and wasn’t in sync with the other waves, giving the ship an unusual lurch. But overall, it was okay.

“Oh darn,” said Teddy and I in unison when I called to confirm our lap pool was closed. Almost all the pools had been emptied due to the sloshing.

While it was still rocking a bit around noon, it had quieted substantially and so, alas, it didn’t interfere with our appetites.

And both us ladies were glad we had shaved our legs the night before because trying to do it during the ship’s rocking would have been death by 1000 cuts.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cliff Divers

I had no idea what to expect when we were taken to see the famous cliff divers of Acapulco. I thought perhaps there was another cliff opposite where they dive, and that we stand on this cliff behind a fence. Instead, we were led through a store, then down some stairs and onto a multi level terrace with tables and chairs. We were offered a choice of water, pop or beer on our way in, part of our tour package. I had brought my own water and Teddy declined, so we hurried to get a good spot.

When we were gathered in the Princess Theatre prior to our departure by bus, there were hundreds of us going on tour and I figured we didn’t have a hope in hell of seeing anything if we all ended up bunched at the viewpoint. However, they very cleverly staggered the buses and we had a great view.

The divers dive from various levels. Most dove from about 80 feet, very impressive, and one dove from 100’. At the 80’ mark, sometimes two would dive at once, mostly doing a swan dive but also sometimes doing a flip in the air. At the bottom, they swim back to the side from which they dove and then climb up the rock face, barefoot. They usually take a short break, maybe 5 minutes, and then do it all over again. Today there were about 8 or 10 divers and once they had all climbed to the top, they took turns diving down so we got quite the show. After they all finished, we headed out and weren’t surprised at all to be greeted by all the divers, waiting at the exit of the store with a huge plastic bag of dollars that they had collected from the tourists. The money goes into a kitty and is shared by all the divers, even those who are retired. One of the retired divers has gone blind from the repeated diving. Others end us with broken ribs or arms, not because they hit anything, but because of the stress of diving so often from these heights.

Acapulco



Loading a shipful of passengers into their appropriate tour buses could be a major challenge but I must say Princess is a master at this and everything went just tickety-boo. As we got into our bus though, there was a little bit of jockeying for seats until everyone was happily settled.

“There have been two revolutions in Mexico,” our tour guide informed us, “and they were due to seats on a bus.”

And then we were off on a city tour. Along the way we had to make the obligatory stop at a jewelry store where the prices were no bargains. I may have inadvertently reacted to the sticker shock because I noticed, shortly thereafter, that one of the attendants seemed to be following me with a wheelchair. Honest. I have no idea what that was all about.

Driving along the beach Li, our guide, pointed out the umbrellas under which fishermen were displaying their fresh catches of the day. It gets pretty hot though, even under the umbrellas, and Teddy and I wondered what happens to the fish lying all day in the heat. “Anything unsold by 4:00 p.m. is delivered to Princess Cruises,” said Li.

Along with a history lesson and he pointed out the various sites, Li told us a little about himself. As a young man, like many others, he hung around the beach a lot and consequently some of his friends nicknamed him Beach Boy. Others called him Son of a Beach.

“The fort on the left was built to protect the city from tourists,” he announced while pointing out the famous landmark. “Or maybe it was pirates.” We were also driven to a lagoon where years ago they filmed the African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. The area is very recognizable if you’ve seen the movie. The water is as muddy today as it was 50 years ago due to the many mangrove trees that line its banks and whose roots disturb the bottom, creating the murk. Elsewhere, wild red bougainvillea give a punch of colour to the otherwise solid walls of green bush.

We drove through some of the older, established parts of Acapulco and saw the well-known Las Brisas Hotel, where each room has its own swimming pool. Further up the road is a multi-level 11 bedroom house with huge glass vistas overlooking the bay, a winter home for Sylvester Stallone. Where once Acapulco was a bright jewel for holiday destinations of the rich and famous like like Hedy Lamar, John Wayne and Frank Sinatra to name a few, nowadays its time has passed and the areas that attracted the old timers looks a little faded. There is, however, much new development going on further down the coastline and Acapulco now stretches many miles further south.

There’s a superhighway linking Acapulco to Mexico City, and it takes only 4 hours to drive between the two cities. Along this highway you can find the Green Angels. These are mobile garages each equipped with a qualified mechanic who will fix your car, free of charge, should you be so unlucky as to have it break down along the road. Li didn’t explain how they get paid, but he repeated that the service is free. Hence the name, Angels. I don’t know where the green comes in.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Trivia

Teddy and I went to the morning trivia game where we were joined by three other ladies.

We did not distinguish ourselves.

One of the questions (that we actually got right) was, what does Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, General Patton and Benjamin Franklin have in common? We wrote down dyslexia. The moderator was walking past our table and glanced over at our answer sheet.

“Do you know what these ladies wrote down?” he asked incredulously. “Erectile dysfunction.”

Dolphins and Whales

“If you look towards the bow of the ship, you’ll see a bunch of dolphins,” came the voice over the PA system. I hurried to the side to see and sure enough, swimming straight towards me just under the surface of the water was a pair of dolphins. In tandem they leapt up in a joyful , perfect arc and then swam along the length of the ship and repeated their acrobatics. Here and there along the length of the ship and further out in the ocean were other singles and pairs, leaping and frolicking in the wake of the ship. Our faces were all split into the same smiles worn by the happy dolphins at play.

I wasn’t on deck when this announcement came, so I missed the whales, but Hans and other passengers saw three of them. They were blowing and doing their typical ‘rounded back up and down’ swim, sort of like thick, black darning needles weaving through the waves.

Coookies and Meeelk

“Coookie and meelk. Warm, fresh coookies just for you,” sang the pretty blond waitress, pushing her cart loaded with fragrant, mouth-watering chocolate chip cookies. She and her assistant meandered through the passengers stretched out on loungers watching and laughing at Wall-E, that day’s “Movie under the Stars”. Except it was the afternoon movie, no stars visible yet. The two hot tubs were also full of movie watchers. They didn’t have to cope with the chilly wind. But, they also didn’t get “fresh, warm coookies.”

Cheeky Bird


“Look at that cheeky bird!” Hans laughed, pointing to a pelican flying away with a fish in its mouth. We were travelling by tender to shore in Cabo San Lucas. “It landed on the back of that boat and stole a fish right out of the fisherman’s basket.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I got my first chance to try out the resistance pool this afternoon, and it was great. When I was finished, I headed back to the cabin to shower and fix my hair. Hans and Teddy were on the Lido, so I headed there to meet up with them. I found Hans in the hot tub and Teddy standing next to him chatting.

“Hi,” I said. “I had a great swim even though the current in this pool is quite weak. Still, it was sufficient for me and discouraged the better swimmers who left for more challenging pursuits. I just finished showering.”

“Didn’t you do your hair?” asked Teddy, giving me a quick once-over.

What?!” I had washed and curled it, and thought it looked pretty nice.


“Ooops! That didn’t come out right,” laughed Teddy when she saw my shocked look. “I meant, it takes me so long to do my hair to get it right and you were so quick I didn’t think you had time to fix it.”

Good recovery. Guess I’ll be giving it a little extra attention tonight.

Marching Two by Two

“It’s odd that we’re leaving when the bus isn’t full yet,” said Hans as we sat comfortably ensconced in the large Greyhound type bus and pulled away from Los Angeles Airport. Behind us were another 20 empty seats and it didn’t make much sense to me either since I knew there were still passengers for the Star Princess waiting in the terminal.

It soon became clear. We were in terminal 4, and when we approached terminal 5 the driver parked by the curb and across the street we saw another Princess official coming towards us, leading her flock. “Here they come, two by two, just like on the Ark.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

On the road again...

More correctly, we'll be on the sea again. But starting November 22, we should be enjoying sumptuous food and other luxuries aboard the Star Princess as we take a leisurely sail from Los Angeles to Rio de Janiero over 30 days. Can't wait!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Another Goddamn Beautiful Day

My Mom taught me that.

Years ago when she was still sewing work outfits for me, we had a deal. If it was bad weather, we'd sew together and I'd help her, mostly doing the grunt work while she did the more difficult, clever stuff. But if the weather was lovely out, then she wanted to sit outside and enjoy the sun. It became a dilemma because Alberta has so many beautiful, sunny, summer days and while she wanted to sew, she also wanted to be outside. And so she'd walk around the house muttering, "Another goddamn beautiful day."