April 16, 2013
We won’t be giving “A Taxi” (listed first in the Oxnard/Port Hueneme Directory Yellow Pages) a five-star rating even though the driver (female) did show up on time (6:15AM). She never bothered to help with the luggage. She just pointed at the open door of the van and grunted while we had to struggle with the bags ourselves. Jon, as a former taxi driver, didn’t scrimp on the tip either. Her driving also left something to be desired---screeching the brakes at every stop sign or light as if the need to halt the vehicle always caught her completely by surprise. Unfortunately for us, the van hadn’t come equipped for straps to hang on to. Talk about Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride!
Ever since we took the train in Europe, we talked about the civilized nature of travel via railway service. The seats are comfortable and you have the opportunity to stretch your legs. Jon sprang for Business class, which also offered a complimentary continental breakfast. We also appreciated the unique view of Ventura, LA and Orange Counties---especially along the coastline. Arrived at the Port of San Diego at 12:30 PM. We were going to take our time and hoof the four blocks, but a Pedi-cab guy took one look at my cane and decided to offer his services for $10. He even found a way to make room for all our luggage. His leg-power was definitely Olympic caliber. We also got special treatment boarding the ship so, all in all, we can’t complain about having to stand in line for hours like all those folks whose reviews I read before the cruise.
Jon had told me that we had a porthole in the cabin but it was more like a picture window. I can’t wait to see the sunrise tomorrow. The first item on the agenda today was the mandatory lifeboat muster. Our meeting place was the Rendezvous Lounge that was serving $5 rum punch. Jon also wanted to change our dining time to the early (6:00PM) seating as he had requested. We had been assigned 8:30 PM which would have meant finishing dinner around 10:30---just in time to go to bed. He stood in line for one hour only to be told nothing could be done. We couldn’t even pay extra for open seating. Our theory was that the big groups (the cruise line’s bread and butter) got the highest priority, and alums from the University of Massachusetts held very little clout. Actually the booking went through Alumni Cruises and there was only one couple—the Stewarts from Cape Cod---who actually graduated from U Mass. We had a couple of drinks with them and discussed all manner of things in common including arthritic knees, travel adventures and our adorable Yorkies.
We grabbed dinner at the buffet and it was what you would expect. Jon enjoyed Indian food, sushi and pizza while I settled for a paper-thin, very well done steak, baked potato and grilled veggies. There WAS homemade ice cream for dessert, however. I was, however, looking forward to breakfast at the real restaurant.
We got up early enough to breakfast in the Trellis Restaurant. Met two couples from England (Birmingham and Surrey, respectively.) All four of them were professional cruisers and had been virtually everywhere. In fact, one couple was extending their stay 12 more days while the ship was repositioning. They were wonderful storytellers and we enjoyed trading travel anecdotes with them while enjoying Eggs Benedict (Jon) and Greek Frittata (Beverly). We chatted so long we ended up being 20 minutes late to my watercolor class. The teacher caught me up, though, and I was really impressed with the quality of the art supplies we got from Celebrity. Really nice. We all did the Cabo San Lucas Arch but there wasn’t enough time left in the class so I just sat there and finished my painting---even though the room was being used for Cruise Critics. Jon learned a great deal about good and bad excursions as he sat next to me. After that, we changed into our swimsuits and headed for the pool. The water temp was not the 80 degrees I am used to---probably somewhere around 62. A little nippy for everybody but us. We had the whole pool to ourselves so we did laps to warm up. It was a great workout. The prime real estate around the pool was all taken but on the upper deck we found a quiet corner with a great view and lots of sun. Maybe too much sun---even though it was only a couple of hours. While they were serving hamburgers and hot dogs poolside, in the solarium Jon found a healthy chicken and grapefruit section salad for us. We are trying not to eat lunch so we can really overindulge at dinner. Soon it was time to get ready for our special dinner at the SS United States, a specialty restaurant that requires a $40 a person cover charge.
The décor is from the original ship that was commissioned during the late 40s. Lots of art deco effects in the lighting and etched glass panels. The menu is French and it was even better than Paris (Las Vegas or France). We enjoyed a glass of Tattinger champagne with a sliced strawberry on a tiny glass plate as well as diminutive French rolls in the shape of a snail. The background music at that point featured Edith Piaf and I just knew Jon would get tears in his eyes with her rendition of “Je regret rien.” He did and embarrassed the waiter. The butter was shaped into a 2.5-inch pyramid. After we selected our starter and entrees, we received a special duck pate petite bouche. Then came the Foley Pinot Noir Jon selected. It’s from the Santa Rita Hills (near Buellton).
Every Pinot we’ve had from Santa Rita has been spectacular so we promised ourselves we would do a wine tour up there soon. My starter was arugula and quail with caramelized goat cheese puffs that were to die for. Jon had a smoke salmon, crab and avocado “parfait.” My lobster was prepared by the maître de, personally, at the table. It was a lobster flambé that melted in your mouth. It was almost too good to eat. Jon had a rack of lamb with an interesting but not overwhelming curry sauce. Since it took some time to bake the Grand Marnier soufflé we ordered for dessert, the waiter brought us half a dozen assorted cheeses and dried fruit to try as well as four divine chocolate truffles. Dinner took almost three hours, but it was probably the best dinner either of us ever enjoyed. We adjourned to our stateroom for X-rated activities.
Back to the Trellis Restaurant for a lovely breakfast. This time we were seated at a table for two---which meant no new friends---but we did enjoy ourselves anyway. I thought I’d try to eat English-style, piling up a little bite of everything on the back of my fork. Big disaster. Now, those who know me are laughing already because I’ve never been known as a fastidious eater. Crumbs regularly collect on the front shelf I carry around and Chloe invariably finds little snacks when she cleans me up. The restaurant got really crowded and we soon figured out we weren’t going to be offered a second cup of coffee, so we headed for the buffet restaurant. We went out on the stern deck to see if we could sight land.
Got out too late to make the watercolor class, so decided to try drawing the Cabo San Lucas Arch in charcoal while Jon snoozed. After a few false starts I think I got something I can show my drawing teacher. We had to catch the tender to get out to our Catamaran/Scenic Bus tour, so we changed our clothes and headed down to the first deck. As we were approaching the Cabo dock we saw a three-story mega-yacht with a slide that went from the top floor, directly into the water. We decided that was the height of decadence.
Cabo is overbuilt with hotels and tourist traps. Our boat was called the Cabomar and I gamely climbed the stairs to the top level. We were offered water, juice or soda, and spent 45 minutes sailing around the Land’s End---it is the last outcrop of rock that separates the Sea of Cortez from the Pacific Ocean. Jacques Cousteau (on tape) narrated the trip with all kinds of information about the sea creatures that included everything from krill to blue whales to electric rays. Around Lands End is one of the richest environments for fish. We saw all sorts of glass-bottom boats, snorkelers and even a yellow submarine. But that’s not all. Once we returned from our 45-minute tour, we walked through the town and boarded a bus that toured the city including such American businesses as MacDonalds, Starbucks and Wal-Mart. We ended up on top of a mountain at the Mona Lisa Italian Restaurant where we were served beer or soft drinks and marveled at the view. Also found some interesting items to photograph that might make interesting (shadow-wise) drawing subjects---one was a spiral staircase and the other a cabinet with crooked legs.
Back onboard, we
were delighted to find we had a new table at the early seating. Our dining companions were two former
university librarians who had lots to say at dinner.
We look forward to spending the next two weeks with them. Our dinner tonight was quite good. I had shrimp cocktail, French onion soup, and a chicken Cesar salad with molten lava ala mode for dessert. Jon had a beef ragout starter, pan-fried steak and crepes Suzette for desert.
Found out that the journal I had been keeping on my phone disappeared when I tried to retrieve three days of email. I was ready to burst into tears but decided that this new version should be even better. Looking forward to hitting the hay and getting rocked to sleep by the sea. Tomorrow is Puerto Vallarta and swimming with dolphins. Hopefully my bathing suit will be dry and my sunburn---a golden brown by then.
April 19, 2013
Jon missed the time change so we were turned away at the Trellis Restaurant but we found the funniest couple (David and Margaret) at the buffet. We were chatting about how difficult it is to remember names when David talked about a Dale Carnegie course he took that advised associating the person’s name with an image. Of course the speaker got everybody’s name right at the end of the day. Then I shared my favorite story about the downside of image association. You meet a man named Bowman and you associate him with a man holding a bow and arrow. Then the next time you see the guy, you say, “Hi Mr. Archer.” Well the other couple started cracking up. In fact, David laughed so hard, he started to cry. Then he told us---their surname is Archer. We all thought that was---cue the theme from Twilight Zone. When we told them about our dolphin tour and that it included lunch, David was quick with the quip---he asked if they were serving tuna-free dolphin burgers. They were finished with breakfast and had to change their clothes, but in their honor we ate the English breakfast complete with undercooked bacon and baked beans. After breakfast we headed for the Celebrity Theatre and listened to geologist Dr. Bruce Bakerby talk about tectonic plates—“Five Plates for the Price of One.” If only he were as witty as his title. He really did, however, broke down tectonics for the audience and we all walked away feeling like we knew a little more about the geology of the places we would be seeing.
After the ship docked at Puerto Vallarta, we met with the Dolphin Adventure people who took us by bus to their facility about 20 minutes away. We then traveled by boat to the training tanks and really got to spend much more up and personal time with our dolphin Yoshuri that I had figured. The trainer was very knowledgeable and easily answered questions that ran the gamut from food to communication. Yoshuri (must look that name up) was very easy to love—the first thing she did was give me a big kiss on the cheek and I kissed her back. We danced together; me holding on to her flippers. At the end I got to give her a big hug. She did lots of jumps, swam backwards, came when called, and waved goodbye with her tail. She seemed to love to be petted and even turned over so I could rub her tummy. After we showered, we were given the opportunity to buy photos and then took a boat to the lunch place. The buffet included nachos, guacamole, rice enchiladas and BBQ ribs and even brownies for desert. When I asked the guy behind me if it was okay to eat the salad, he said with some pride, “Of course, this is Mexico; not Costa Rica.” The ride home was on a catamaran that gave us a waterfront perspective of Puerto Vallarta. We were tired but happy as we returned to the cabin and got ready for dinner. Our companions must have gone to the SS United States to eat, so we ended up having a romantic dinner for two. The entrée this evening, was fork-ready lamb shank. I got a little sad when I realized Chloe wouldn’t be enjoying the bones. As we were walking back to our cabin, we ran into David and Margaret and they bought us a drink. Margaret and I compared swollen ankles and our evaluation scale for an outstanding mai tai while the guys traded jokes. David wanted to know if Jon got a big chain around his neck when he served as mayor, as is the custom in London. He is a really funny guy. When we finally got back to the room, I opted to work on my journal while Jon decided to take a walk on the deck. He really wanted to see the magician that was scheduled for tonight but the Archers waylaid us so we missed the show. I’m just ready to put up my tired dogs and finish a couple of chapters in my David McCullough book. I keep thinking that I really should start thinking about the column I am going to write for next week. Since we are in Mexico, though, “manana” is going to be my credo.
April 20, 2013
This was a day of shopping and lectures and drawing. Found a little something for each of our family members as a souvenir from counters filled with jewelry, scarves, wallets, ties and hats. Jon got himself a new bathing suit that “fit his package better.” His old one must have shrunk. The first speaker was Dr. Bruce Blackerby, who told us all about the volcanoes in the countries we would be visit on the cruise. Actually most of them seem to be in Guatemala and some are actually active. The second speaker, Al Goldis, was a former baseball player, coach and scout. He talked about what to watch for in a game. Like I’m going to need instruction. All I have to do is wear all the regalia Jon got me, munch on peanuts and root for the Red Sox. Mostly Goldis rambled. He flipped over an art pad and used red ink so it was difficult to comprehend the visuals, but Jon was enthralled. I liked what he had to say about training, though—that everybody needs flexibility, strength and aerobic exercise. The third speaker was Uncle Marty, who is beloved by cruisers. He is from Panama and does a five-part lecture on his country including narrating our passage through the locks and canal. His voice is so smooth and soothing however, I caught myself falling asleep at every lecture. He is aware of this tendency by most of his audience members, though, and every once in a while he throws a hilarious headline into the Power Point “to take the pulse of the audience.” Learned a great deal in this lecture about the origins of Panama, indigenous tribes, the Spanish Conquistadors and the Panama Railroad. Was hoping he would give me a good lead for my column---which is going to be a “what if” Baron Godin de Lipany had been in charge of the French effort instead of de Lesseps. Our dinner companions are going to be at the SS United States tonight (they came in late from their shore excursion yesterday) so we had another romantic dinner alone. Too much wine for me—Jon ordered a full bottle of French Pinot Noir. The rest of the evening is X-rated.
April 21, 2013
After a nice breakfast, I got to work on my column. Jon busied himself with hearing Uncle Marty’s next installment, looking at the watches on sale, and going to the presentation on Guatemala. When I finished my work, we put on our suits and headed out to the pool. Today it was much warmer. And crowded. Did get my laps in but then covered up my legs that seemed to be inordinately swollen. If things don’t improve with the water retention, I will be going to sickbay. Had dinner tonight with our companions. They had so much to report about their excursions and, of course, their wonderful dinner at the specialty restaurant. Afterwards, we caught up on the news in our room and did some reading. Neither one of us is big on attending the evening shows. People really raved about the iBroadway Review. The singers, dancers, comedians and magicians were all crew members. What we do like to do every evening is before dinner. We have a drink (the $5 specialty of the day) in the Rendezvous Lounge and watch the couples dance. Arthur Murray must be doing a bang-up business now with all these Dancing with the Stars shows. For the most part the dancers we see before the 6:00PM seating are quite graceful but do seemed determined to show us everything they learned. We also stopped by the Internet Lounge so I could register our account. Need to send off my column before 10AM on Monday. Took a couple of minutes and the column sent right away. I also downloaded the two photos of us with our dolphin. That made Jon very angry as he thought they were charging by the mega-bite. I had signed up for $.75 a minute and it only took four minutes. Still won’t download on my phone, however, so our wonderful photos will have to wait until we return to civilization or a reasonably priced internet café on land.
April 22, 2913
Headed for the Sick Bay after dinner. My legs were not only swollen but also the water retention so stretched the skin that the capillaries burst under the surface. I had allowed myself to get totally dehydrated. Bottled water on ship costs $3. Tap water is pretty much undrinkable---taste-wise. I declined to see the doctor ($110) and opted for pounding water all day and keeping my legs elevated. Worked like a charm and we still managed to get off the ship even though my legs looked like an elephant’s. I had read in the reviews that the best shopping in Guatemala was at the end of the pier---lots of original artisan work. It was incredibly humid but we were distracted by all the different kinds of goods. We knew we wanted at least one of the beautifully carved flutes and I paid $4 for my work of art. I love to bargain and know that the unwritten rule is that the salesmen usually quote a price twice that which they are willing to take. I was pretty much successful with that formula. I also found some gorgeous weavings—bought a set of placemats in blues and purples that will be gorgeous with our recycled glass plates. A hand-embroidered tee shirt with jungle animals will be perfect for Elliott in a year or so. Jon found a really nice Panama hat for ten bucks and a leather belt for $15. We were not impressed with the paintings—not quite as whimsical as the one we found in Ecuador. The street scenes were nicely executed but lacked humor and soul. We didn’t have enough cash in my purse to purchase anything more. Jon treated himself to a rum and coconut juice drink served in a real coconut for $3. Back in the room, I did lots of reading, watched a movie called “Hope Springs,” and we just shut out the world and enjoyed each other.
We usually don’t eat lunch but thought pizza or a burger might be good and ordered room service. How decadent! I found my secret stash of money and sent Jon out with it to purchase more placemats and flutes. He was gone for such a long time, I was beginning to worry. When he finally returned, he triumphantly set down the bag. Unfortunately instead of placemats he had picked up a couple of table runners. The colors were very nice. I managed to forgive him even though I couldn’t see how he would be so confused about what to buy. Even though he fought me on it, I had made him take a sample place-mate. Oh, well. It made a cute story when we told it at breakfast the next day. He did find a flute, but didn’t bargain. He did, however, get a good deal on a Gallo beer. Our dinner-mates were very late tonight. They had to have their cabin safe replaced. We all loved the Chilean Sea Bass and the Bananas Foster for dessert. Jon gave me a great massage and I immediately fell asleep while Jon watched the Bourne Legacy. Not sorry at all that I missed that flick.
April 23, 2013
My niece’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Lisa. We have no internet or I would post on your FB wall. We got up at 6 AM. We need to be out for our excursion tomorrow early, so it was good practice. I started a drawing of a Mayan carving while Jon got ready. He always takes three times as long as I do. We met some nice people at breakfast—a couple from Tennessee and another from an island in Lake Erie, Ohio near Marblehead. Isn’t it interesting how you can always find something in common with another person at our age?
Was so pleased to find the pool empty after breakfast, that I raised the number of repetitions with my workout. The weather was balmy but there were little tsunamis in the pool because of the rough waves outside. Made it interesting to swim---first, must overcome the resistance and then you got a mini-surf ride. I made some more progress in the McCullough book. Jon took off for another Goldis lecture on baseball. We met for lunch at the Bistro (that had been highly recommended by a dinner-mates). Both of us ordered the hot and spicy steak crepes. Very yummy and soooo French. We went back to the room so I could shower off the salt water (the pool is fed directly from the ocean, hence the temps from 62-72 degrees.)
We hurried to get a good seat at Uncle Marty’s next installment on the history of the Panama Canal. He showed some great archival photos from 1904-1914. His voice, however, lulls me to sleep every time. We returned to the room and I drifted off for a nap while Jon attended a tour of the recycling and refuse operations of the ship. VRSD (Ventura County Regional Sanitation District board, of which Jon is a member) should be really impressed with his dedication. Maybe we can write off that day of the cruise as well.
When I woke up I decided to finish a drawing of a Mayan sculpture I had started that morning. It came out pretty well but I have to keep telling myself not to remain in any one position for too long. I feel the sciatic nerve trying to get my attention once again. Dinner was formal tonight so I put on war paint, my gold and black sparkling top and gold button leggings. I was so pleased that I could once again wear my dressy shoes. We headed for the Rendevous Lounge where we love to watch the dancers and order the drink of the day. Tonight it was a whiskey sour. Not bad but every special seems to taste like a margarita. Why is that? Dinner, however, was very special. Chateau Briand and Grand Marnier soufflé. Our dinner-mates were full of stories about their day. Derrie complimented Jon and I on our happy marriage. She said she loved the way we shared bites of our meals or just acted lovingly toward each other. She lost her hubby in October and said the only thing she would tell people who asked what they could do for her, is to just love and appreciate their significant others every single day. Good advice.
Linda who is a Type 2 diabetic being controlled by diet and exercise was talking about how she shouldn’t really eat dessert but just couldn’t help herself. We could certainly relate to that. There was temptation all throughout the day with high tea and a little coffee bar with special cakes and the ice cream bar and the gelato counter. So far we limited ourselves to dinner desserts and the portions are usually small. That’s one thing I appreciated about the cruise line—they do the discipline for you and you still don’t feel deprived. After dinner we went back to see if we could find some sundries I forgot to pack in the Emporium but the cupboard was bare. Most people bring whatever they need with them. It’s always nice to get back to the privacy of our cabin. We are not big on the evening shows. I guess the entertainment staff is quite talented but we prefer each other’s company. TBS Spanish was showing Gremlins but neither one of us could think of the name—Goonies? Gizmo? Gonzo? Too funny. Jon is pretty apprehensive about me being up to the challenge of tomorrow’s rain forest hike. I’ve been trying to get by on one magic pill a day so that if I need two or three, I’ll simply take them. As to the choice between one pill makes you larger; one pill makes you small---all this food should be making both of us larger. Perhaps Weight Watchers will make us small again.
My column was published in the Star today.
Beverly Kelly: America's can-do spirit turned dream into reality
By Beverly Kelley
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
PUNTARENAS, Costa Rica — When boomers add the Panama Canal to their bucket lists, patriotism isn’t usually a deciding factor.
Yet, it was the prowess of our Army Corps of Engineers, Dr. Walter Reed’s fingering of the annoying mosquito as the source of yellow fever and malaria, an expenditure of $8.6 trillion in tax dollars and our indefatigable can-do spirit — that picked up where French hubris left off.
The Panama Canal story begs for a Cecil B. DeMille close-up. Ferdinand de Lesseps is both the hero and villain of our 19th century morality play. With an ego the size of Montana, he carried the charisma of a realized Suez Canal with him into the 1879 Congres International d’Etudes de Canal Interoceanique.
Yet, his unrealistic Panama pipe dream resulted in needless deaths, the loss of nest eggs by French pride-blinded investors, and a political scandal that rocked confidence in capitalism as well as the French Republic itself.
Leading authorities in engineering, naval science, economics and exploration from 22 countries arrived in Paris to supposedly debate “in the impartial serenity of science” the most expeditious Central America location for a canal. Unfortunately, however, the French fix was in and a 74-year-old megalomaniac took charge.
The American delegation pushed for a canal across Nicaragua. While reports of their extensive field research got a polite listen from the other delegates, there was no doubt that the majority of voters would be backing de Lesseps and his “sans locks” canal across Panama. David McCullough, in his award-winning “The Path Between the Seas” described the sham balloting as “a consensus of one.”
After forfeiting approximately 22,000 lives to accidents, malaria or yellow fever and running through $287 million, the bankrupt French put their remaining assets up for sale in 1890.
Not only had de Lessep’s management team lacked training and experience, but their equipment, especially the steam shovels that had served Suez so well in the easy-to-move desert sand, immediately rusted out. Furthermore, rain-induced landslides poured nearly as much material back into the steep-sided cuts as had been removed.
Finally, fiscal mismanagement and political bribery eventually landed most of the principals in prison.
Yet, the French flag could still be flying over one of the seven wonders of the modern world had the delegates not snubbed a diminutive aristocrat and engineer named Baron Godin de Lepinay. His ingenious yet practical solution put people first.
In 1862, while constructing a railroad between Cordoba and Veracruz, a third of his workers perished from yellow fever. Since he considered Panama to be equally “poisonous” — the link between the mosquito and disease was not yet known — staying out of the jungle was his No. 1 priority.
Echoing the less digging advantage argued by the American contingent with Lake Nicaragua, de Lepinay proposed building a bridge of water, instead, across Panama. He would construct dams on the Chagres near the Atlantic and the Rio Grande approaching the Pacific. Connecting the two resulting lakes and building flights of locks at either end would complete the project.
The pluses to de Lepinay’s proposal included minimizing expensive excavation, being able to control the constantly flooding Chagres River, providing an unlimited water supply, allowing ships to transverse (in either direction) in only 12 hours, reducing the completion date to six years and (excluding the purchase of the Panama Railroad) being accompanied by a price tag of only $100 million.
Most important to de Lepinay, however, was the preservation of life. Not only would his plan disturb as little of the noxious jungle as possible, but terrain that produced disease-bearing mosquitoes would be sealed off in the future by the lakes.
Incredibly and tragically, the delegates didn’t even give his proposal a token discussion.
Stevens’ strategy, which was more than faintly reminiscent of de Lepany’s, so impressed the rough-riding president, he instructed his newly appointed Isthmian Canal Commission “to make dirt fly.”
After several chief engineers appointed by Roosevelt resigned, though, the chagrined president turned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They, he quipped, couldn’t quit. Eventually, the Corps would finish all the breakwaters, locks, dams, reservoirs and complete the challenging Gaillard Cut as well.
After 10 years of backbreaking effort, they had succeeded — minimizing the threat of disease with extensive mosquito abatement, relocating/upgrading the Panama Railroad, excavating more than 200 million cubic yards of earth and constructing the (then) world’s largest dam and lake.
So, as we transit the Panama Canal on Saturday OMG it should say Friday (that’s the last time I leave fact-checking to Jon), I will lift a glass of gin and tonic (to ward off malaria) and toast a nation where, more often than not, no dreamer ever becomes more important than the dream.
Breakfast this morning was fantastic. We had cheese blintzes with raspberries, bacon and a fruit plate. We also got a seat with a terrific view of the sun glittering in the water and lots of fishing boats moving around. This is the excursion that Jon has been dreading because it will be eight hours of fairly challenging standing, walking and riding in a bus—all of which are not great for the old knees. The first stop after an hour and a half bus ride was to the Rain Forest Adventure on an aerial tram that rose above the canopy of trees in the rain forest.
Our guide tried to shape our expectations by saying that most of the mammals only came out in early morning or late night. The same was true of the butterflies and moths of which there are 2000 species alone. He said visitors don’t always see the birds but we would hear the calls. Everybody was to be on the lookout as the tram inched along.
First of all, the experience was so tranquil and awe-inspiring. Both Jon and I are afraid of heights but there was no apprehension this time. We were surrounded by a heavy metal cage and the tram proceeded very slowly, pausing at every tower to allow riders to see everything around them.
The guide explained the medicinal facts about the trees that the native Indians had discovered—the kerosene tree that can be used as fuel; the sand box tree that cannot be cut down because of the acidic sap and grenade-like seed pods; and the balsa wood tree that is used to build airplanes with the seeds serving as stuffing for pillows. After the hour tour we were treated to a simple lunch base on chicken, yellow rice and black beans. The lettuce looked so fresh, I asked for mainly salad. They put the slices of pineapple, melon and oranges right on top of the lettuce so we thought Costa Ricans (Ticos or Ticas) used the fruit itself as a dressing. Later we saw the usual condiments on a side table but we thought the fruit was a delicious and healthy alternative.
For dessert we enjoyed sautéed plantains with brown sugar. Reminded me of all the entrée recipes I tried to find for our Friends of the Library Banana Cookbook. After lunch Jon went on a mile long nature walk while I strolled through the medicinal plant garden and made friends with another woman (Becky) from Ontario who had just recently had a hip replacement. We had a great time trading stories. Next on the agenda was a bus ride to Jungle Crocodile Safari on the Tarcoles River. This was the highlight of the trip.
Our guide knows his birds
and we were able to check off 19 species on our life lists between here and the
tram ride including the Magnificent Frigatebird, the Brown Pelican, the Roseate
Spoonbill, the White Ibis, the Boat-billed Heron, the Tricolored Heron, the
Snowy, Cattle and Great Egrets, the Western Sandpiper, the Black Vulture, the
Mangrove Black Hawk, the Scarlet Macaw, Yellow-naped Parrot, Mangrove Swallow,
Great Kiskadee, Baltimore Oriole, and Great-tailed Grackle. We also saw a couple of iguanas and the Jesus
Christ lizard that apparently walks on water.
The big moment was spotting a mama crocodile that had just given birth to 45 babies three days before. She was in the water, guarding her young ones on the shore and we were able to see two of them moving in the grass. There were also Brahma bulls and cows sharing the shoreline with Cattle Egrets. They were so anorexic (this being the dry season) that one women behind me quipped, “they must only give non-fat milk.” This was the most amazing day and we rode back to the ship with a beautiful sunset to keep us company. There was also a full moon rising at the same time. We were right behind Uncle Marty as we walked to the ship. Because of my cane, I was told to use the handicapped ramp that went to the second deck. The angle of the first three feet was 80 degrees. It was tougher to pull myself up than if I climbed the stairs. What were they thinking? I can’t even imagine a wheel chair descending down that steep a ramp without the poor occupant ending up in the ocean. At any rate, we were too late for our 6:00 PM seating so we returned to the room, freshened up, changed our clothes and headed up to the buffet where we got a big salad and a couple of slices of pizza. Jon was in heaven—he sampled all three kinds: pepperoni, four-cheese and vegetarian. I was so exhausted that I didn’t even brush my teeth or take my pills---I just crashed and woke up at 7AM.
August 25. 2013
The time had changed again so we missed out on the Trellis restaurant that closed at 8:30. Jon was moving really slowly today and I was too. We finally showered and dressed around 9:15 and made our way to the buffet. Jon has to wait on me at the buffet since I can’t handle a tray and a cane. He really does love the variety so we have been choosing the buffet even when we do get up in time for the restaurant. This morning we found a seat with Becky. She was trying to avoid her room-mate (a male) who doesn’t share her love of silence, coffee and a newspaper in the morning. We shared a leisurely breakfast of a chocolate croissant, fruit plate and one egg Benedict as we traded life stories. She has a daughter who is dying which must be a very difficult burden to bear. I think this trip was a way for her to get away for a while. She has her contingency plans in place if the situation requires it but other than the talkative engineer room-mate, she’s been having a ball.
Wish I hadn’t checked my email. Got a final rejection from Five Star on my book. The letter was quite positive and I could tell the senior editor really fought for me. but the market in mysteries and everything else, for that matter, is pretty tough. I’m not sure if I’m going to pursue a publisher or perhaps publish myself (if I pull get together a marketing plan.) The beauty of Five Star is that they only sell to libraries so you do get hardcover sales but only limited to a couple of hundred books. The downside was that I had to get rid of every reference to a real person place or thing. It sometimes took away from the story. There also wouldn’t be an e-book issued. I just need to think this through when I feel less fragile.
This was a day for preparing for the actual transit tomorrow. We attended a lecture by Uncle Marty about how the locks work and a Nova documentary based on David McCullough’s book, “The Path Between Two Seas,” a 900-pager I’ve been attempting to plow through. We also went to Al Goldis rambling about his experiences in baseball. Not really my cup of tea but it insured a good seat for Uncle Marty’s lecture, which is so popular, the guests are hanging from the rafters. Dinner was great. We enjoyed Chilean Sea Bass and a great conversation with our table-mates. They have such great stories to share. Was also touched that they were worried about us when we didn’t show up after the Costa Rican excursion. They knew I had a tough time getting around but I did surprise everybody---including myself.
April 26, 2013
This is the day we have been waiting for. The tugboats approached around 5:45AM. We were supposed to enter the first lock at 8:00AM but we got an early start. We sailed past so many ships waiting in the Bay of Panama. We were given priority because we pay a steep toll—something like $340,000. The first set of locks are called the Miraflores. Each step is a rise of about 27 feet. Each lock is 1000 ft. long or the equivalent of three Statues of Liberty set end to end. It was really interesting to look out our stateroom window when the lock was filling with water. You could really see the progress against the cement wall---three feet a minute. We were eating breakfast at the buffet at a table between two floor portholes---a really good way to perceive the scant two-foot clearance we had on either side of the ship. We did see them painting the side of the ship after the crossing so we did scrape the side from time to time. Also we got a good view of the work being done on the new expansion locks---my topic for the next column. Panama is investing billions in order to accommodate the post-Panamacs that are too big to fit in the present locks. The new locks will be 427 meters long and 55 meters wide—the size of four football fields. Unlike the present locks, however, the new locks will boast water-saving basins, a lateral filling and emptying system and rolling gates. Experts are sure that the expanded route will modify trade patterns and great expand globalization. Panama hopes to become the transportation hub of the world. The Maersk Else that is presently being built will, however, be too big. The expansion locks are set to be completed by the 100 anniversary of the Panama Canal or in Fall, 201t5. They don’t look like they will be ready right now. We recognized lots of birds we had seen on the Costa Rica excursion. They were being attracted by the churning water and the promise of fish. What is so compelling about the engineering of the Canal is the elegant simplicity of the design. The flow of water is based on gravity and the gates were designed to close into a “V” in order to resist collapsing from the pressure. There were three in all sets of locks before we sailed through Miraflores Lake. There are actually three lakes in Panama—one is a storage facility up in the mountains and the other was created when the Chagres River was dammed---the biggest artificial lake at the time. Right before the Culebra Cut (formerly known as the challenging Gaillard Cut and the site of so many landslides that more fill went in and then was dug out) is the Pedro Miguel locks. Gatun Lake was really beautiful. The dam created a series of beautiful little rainforest islands that are home to waterfowl, crocodiles, iguanas, and tree sloths. Soon we were going through the Gaton locks (70 minutes early) and out into the Caribbean. More than 14,000 vessels transit every year. It was an amazing experience and we even received certificates suitable for framing that attested to our experience and signed by the captain. The entire time, Uncle Marty narrated from the bridge and those who didn’t want to stay out in the sun could enjoy a view from the bridge on our stateroom TVs. It was, I believe, the same picture our friends and relatives could see at www.pancanal.com but Naomi later messaged me that she kept getting kicked off when she selected English. We did purchase a DVD about the canal we can send her. Also during the crossing, we sailed under the Millennial Bridge and the Bridge of the Americas. I was in the swimming pool for the former. Thought I could finally get my laps in with the hoards elsewhere but a crowd of rude French people didn’t cooperate. After they left, however, I did follow my regimen and felt better for it.
Jon and I also visited the therapy (Velasoraptor) pool which no only did nothing for my arthritis but the roller bars seriously hurt my sciatic nerve. Bad idea. Lunch at the small portion and healthy buffet, however, was a good idea. Greek salad and a portabello open faced sandwich for me. Jon tried the apricot soup and rhubarb dessert. While he was running around the ship trying to find the best view, I went back to the room to do some drawing. I did a reasonably executed portrait of Ferdinand d Lessups---the hero and villain in the French attempt at the Panama Canal.
Dinner was a Moroccan lamb shank with couscous, raisins and apricots. A little dry and not much of a sauce was the consensus. First disappointing meal. We talked about a whole range of subjects once again. Linda and Derri are going to Colon tomorrow to see the locks. They hadn’t realized what a show Uncle Marty was going to put on. Hope they get some time to shop—that is their real interest now that the trip is nearly over. We are just going to hang out at the pool tomorrow and maybe catch the “Trouble with the Curve” movie.
April 27, 2013
Port of Colon, named for Christopher Columbus. We didn’t have an excursion planned as we decided against the yellow fever shots. Apparently if you are over 60, you have a greater chance of actually contracting yellow fever from the shot itself. You have to get permission, in fact, from the CDC. We had read that there really wasn’t much there to see in Colon anyway. The shopping, according to a woman from Rhode Island I met in the pool, was shitty. We had a nice breakfast for two at the main dining room. It wasn’t very crowded and the waiters were super attentive. We lingered until they threw us out, nicely, of course. Then we changed and headed for the pool. Had the lap pool all to myself most of the time so I got in a super workout for a change. The water was refreshing instead of 80 degrees. Jon and I always try to forgo lunch but a waft from the hamburgers grilling did us in. We made the concession of splitting a cheeseburger with bacon, onions and mushrooms. Then we went back to the room to shower and dress for the film. The theater, even though it takes up two decks, is always crowded and I like to get a seat near the top so I don’t have to try to navigate all the stairs. We got there early enough I had time to work on my “drawing for the day” of a couple of barrels.
I must be improving because I got to where I wanted to be with only one false start. The brick wall behind the barrels was giving me problems, however. My version looked like the masons had been pretty drunk. The film was an entertaining romantic comedy. All the bad guys got their comeuppance and all the good guys were blessed with more options in their lives---not the least of which was telling the boss to go to hell---than they had ever had. Clint Eastwood did a great job and now I know why Justin Timberlake is such a star. The baseball backdrop may have been incidental but I really learned a great deal from the film, which is always a plus for me. Jon said it was pretty accurate as well. In fact he missed a couple of the baseball trivia questions the girl asks the boy and vice versa. After the film we went to see the ice sculpture demo. Since the film ran late, the ice melted before we got there. We decided to visit the Rendezvous Room to find out the special drink of the day. It was a Greyhound—vodka and grapefruit juice. Very refreshing. I finished my drawing while a big group assembled there played musical trivia. Dinner was French Onion Soup, Artichoke Dip with pita, Coq au vin and apple pie ala mode for dessert. Jon had a Tofu Tikka. Why I don’t know. He had a peach torte with pistachio ice cream for dessert. We went back to the room for some X rated entertainment. Best part of the cruise.
April 28, 2013
We still hadn’t docked at Cartagena when we woke up. We were looking forward to the cruise of the harbor on a Spanish Galleon. Had a nice breakfast at the buffet. Mostly fruit and cereal but we also split a freshly baked pecan roll. The couple at the other table was from Sydney. When this other couple sat down next to them, they did the usual “Where are you from?” When the lady said she was from Kansas but had been raised in Sydney, the guy said, “Why would you leave the greatest harbor in the world to be land-locked in the middle of a corn field?” I loved her response. She said, “Because I met the greatest man in the world.” So refreshing compared to all these bickering couples in the public areas. It seems to me, and maybe I’m doing a great deal of rationalizing here, but the folks with the most money, at least the ones who were wearing it, seemed to be the most miserable. Cruises are great democratizers. In the public spaces, it doesn’t matter what you paid for your room. Even if you are in Aqua Class (they have suites with verandas and their own exclusive restaurant) you still have to rub elbows with folks who buy their resort wear at Target. The just plain folks don’t have to worry about losing their sapphire bracelets or $2,000 designer sandals. Actually it’s been perfectly safe to leave your stuff on your lounger while you swim. There is, believe it or not, pool butlers who keep their eyes on everything. I like the fact that there is a dress code on the ship because everybody makes an effort to look nice all the time. Yet as Jon likes to say in Latin, “de gustibus nom diputandum est”---there’s no accounting for taste. We almost went blind at breakfast this morning with a couple in neon green and neon orange shirts. If they do fall off of the ship, they won’t be difficult to spot.
It was a very hot day in Cartagena when we disembarked. We were supposed to find our Spanish Galleon moored behind the tugboats—a good half a mile away. I had just taken a magic pill so I was up for the walk. Actually I was feeling pretty good—shocked and awed Jon as I climbed up and down ladders on the ship without assistance. The cruise was only supposed to be inside the harbor but the guide gave us an extensive history lesson about the different places the occupants (first, monks and later, post revolution occupation forces) chose as a fortress. Old town was quite lovely with the ancient cathedral and several other picturesque churches. The Lady of the Harbor was a marble statue of Mary literally in the middle of the new harbor. On board the galleon were four dancers as well as a flutist and two drummers. They were quite lively, loved posing for pictures and changed outfits three times. The dance they did was called Cumbia but they did all sorts of variations, some of which included great leaps in the air. Halfway through, the captain served Aguila Beer. Most everybody thought it hit the spot along with Frito Lay products geared to a South American audience. I chose Cheetos, which, here were big yellow puffs of a very mild cheese.
After we got off the ship, we walked over to the shopping center. The prices in the Duty Free shops were way too high but there was Wifi for $3 an hour, a coffee shop called the Juan Valdez Café and a wonderful collection of creatures including an iguana, dozens of pink flamingoes, ducks, Macaws, Toucans and Blue Parrots. Jon bought me a cappuccino that was excellent. I did figure out how to get on the Wifi and uploaded a few photos to Facebook before the system went down. Jon somehow got the wrong time to be back on the ship so he hurried me back before I could send more photos. He felt badly because I didn’t get my full hour and I really wanted to enjoy the grounds of the shopping center. At any rate, we got into a little bus in time to stand in a long line to board the ship again. One nice touch that Celebrity does is to welcome you back, hand you an icy cold towel for your face and neck as well as a cup of punch or water. Cartagena was the last chance to shop so everybody was loaded down with bags of souvenirs. A shower was a must after the long muggy day. Some people even claimed they would be throwing away the clothes they had worn that day because of massive BO. Not us, of course, we smelled like roses.
Dinner (Salmon and Lamb) was wonderful as usual. I am really going to miss our little cocktail hour and watching the dancers. This time, before the Sonny Rose (Jon can’t stand his singing) trio came on, there was another music trivia contest. Every song was a Beatles hit. Jon and I would have cleaned up had we played for prizes. We usually had the title after the first few notes.
April 29, 2013
This was the
last formal night and an at sea day. We
went to the special brunch in the
Trellis Restaurant. There were the usual breakfast items, sushi, a carving station, waffle station, an omelet station, a pasta station and ice sculptures at either end. It was very crowded even though the event was not well publicized---on purpose. We sat a huge table with mostly Germans who weren’t very talkative.
Jon brought me a very cheesy ham omelet but had to spend a long time in line. He went back and got a pasta dish with tomatoes and olives that was dinner-sized. I asked him if he might get me a Belgian waffle with strawberries and whipped cream. He was gone forever but returned triumphantly with two little waffles—one with raspberries and the other with blueberries. I couldn’t believe he couldn’t find the whipped cream---but then felt like an ingrate as I was expressing my frustration. There was just no way with the ship rolling back and forth I could have managed a plate and my cane at the same time or I would have. I just hate having to depend on the kindness of others. The pool was really overcrowded so we returned to the stateroom to draw and read. I fell asleep and napped for two hours. The pain had been pretty bad that day so I was grateful to wake up and feel decent. I finished a couple of pictures of the dancers from Cartagena after dinner. This was the last formal so everybody gussied up. The menu was quite impressive—Oysters Rockefeller, Blue Cheese Salad with Tomatoes and Onions, Caribbean Lobster Tail, and Baked Alaska. My mother made Baked Alaska for my sixth birthday party. I’d seen it on a television show called “I Remember Mama” so she figured out how to cover a brick of Neapolitan ice cream with merengue and actually dyed the bread for finger sandwiches. She was such a great Mom. I wish she could have met Jon. She would have loved him and have been so happy for me. We are delighted with our dinner-mates. They are so well read and made every conversation interesting and thought-provoking.
April 30, 2013
Woke up to Cuba on the horizon and a beautiful cloudy day. There were cumulous mixed with stratus and I spotted what looked like an airplane while I was waiting for Jon to return to the table at breakfast. He loves the buffet but this morning I waited for 20 minutes for him to get an omelet for himself. I wanted to get to the pool before all the regulars hogged up the loungers and the water so I left him to graze---he likes to try a little of the British, German and Asian breakfasts. The rule at the big pool is that you are not supposed to come early and leave your stuff on a lounger to “save” it but people do it anyway. Those of us who want to do laps or exercise have to navigate between the “talkers” who are standing around and drinking umbrella drinks. There are three pools but only one is big enough for laps. I was pleased that the temperature was pretty cool this morning—around 68 so the drinkers headed for the hot tubs and the bar stools. Every morning is Zumba techno music that helps keep us swimmers motivated as well. There is this amazing glass sculpture at the front of the pool. It’s safely ensconced behind thick glass---the perfect piece of art for the swimmers to focus on. Today was filled with activities but I’ll be happy just to get some drawing and reading done. I don’t even want to think about packing. We have to have our bags outside our staterooms after dinner. This time I took exactly the right number of resort wear outfits---especially for a sweaty tropical climate. I probably could have worn the same formal each time but it was nice to have different outfits. Brought a black cocktail dress, a glitzy gold top with palazzo pants, and an elaborately jet-beaded collar from Beijing that I wore over a black pantsuit. I also had a low cut long black sundress I was saving for tonight. Never needed my second bathing suit as with the excursions and lectures, we only swam every other day. Plenty of time for things to dry. Jon washed out his underwear and I my pool cover-up in the sinks. Was so glad we brought clothes-pins. The shower had a nice little retractable line. All in all, we prepared well.
Jon found a watch at the Emporium sale that also came with a wallet (couldn’t be leather) and a pen. He says it’s perfect for his piano tuning. I picked up a DVD of the Panama Canal history and crossing. Princess Cruises. Figures.
After our pizza and salad lunch, Jon went to see the last installment by the baseball guy Al Goldis and by Uncle Marty on Noriega and Carter. I stayed up at the buffet and drew a stairway I had seen in the Mona Lisa Restaurant in Cabo San Lucas. Jon took one look at two hours of work and said, “What is it?” I probably got the perspective wrong but when I showed it to Linda and Derri they recognized it immediately. It was a spiral staircase but very open—there was no way I was going to try to climb it---but it threw some interesting shadows on the wall. Sigh. Went back to room to work on my journal—get it ready to publish and pick out the photos. Jon had to change clothes for the Alumni of U Mass group photo. All three of them. After dinner, we girl our loins and try to pack. This will be a case of trying to fit 25 lbs of crap in a 10 lb. bag. And we didn’t buy very many souvenirs either. I am hoping that Jon has more space than he thinks. We figure we will get up at 6AM tomorrow in order to get in time for a shower and breakfast. Our call is 8:40AM in the Celebrity Theatre.
Neither one of us slept well last night. We were really nervous about getting off the boat. Lots of horror stories about long lines and huge waits. It was even worse than I thought. I really should have insisted on getting the handicapped line. As it was, we waited over an hour to get through customs but the real clincher was at the airport. Our taxi driver overshot our stop and said, “uh, oh.” We had to walk uphill about three blocks with all our luggage. Finally I just burst into tears and Jon walked over to comfort me. Since I had a first class ticket, we breezed through the ticket counter and the security check. We stopped at Chili’s for an early lunch and who walks in but Linda—our dinner mate. Small world. Jon offered to pick up her lunch but she declined. She only ate a few bites of chicken out of her salad. She did send a text to Derri saying, “we are here—where are you?” There is a public wifi here at the airport as well as a stool and table setup that allows you to plug in and type on your laptop. I should be able to get my journal posted while waiting three hours for our flight.
Summary: On the whole, I thought this was a fabulous experience. I heard from other passengers---especially those who cruise regularly---that the Celebrity Infinity has its shortcomings. There seemed to be too few employees in the restaurants, bars, room service, housekeeping, pool and especially the maintenance crew. As a consequence there were long waits for everything and not everything was clean or in tip-top shape. As we were waiting to check out, for example, the paint crew came in, taped up just the tops of a couple of doors and proceeded to paint. The problem was that that room needed more work than just the tops of the doors. As to the high points, I thought the crew members, although they were required to put in 12-hr days, were friendly, helpful, accessible and really enjoyed what they were doing. Also most of the people we met had great stories to share about their lives, travels, children, etc.
I especially liked meeting people from other countries---particularly those who wanted to practice their English and didn’t mind our mistakes as we attempted to express ourselves in their’s. The food was good, especially since I didn’t have to cook or serve it. I loved having somebody make the bed and clean the bathroom every day. I loved swimming or reading or drawing when we didn’t have an excursion planned. Jon was particularly sweet about finding trips that were rated “mild” in terms of exertion. My favorite excursion was in Costa Rica where we saw all of the wonderful birds. I loved the lectures on the Panama Canal even though Uncle Marty put me to sleep. I even enjoyed Al Landis and his baseball stories. I wish that www.pancanal.com had allowed Max to see his grandma and grandpa going through the canal but maybe he can get the idea from the DVD. I will be glad to be back home with Chloe and Elliott. I really hope Mike Adams likes my drawings and can maybe offer suggestions for improvement. I really tried to challenge myself in the choice of subject department. All in all, I would recommend that everybody make this trip---especially if the Panama Canal is on your bucket list. Adios and pura vida.