Saturday, September 13, 2014

Days 14, 15, 16

Well, not such good news for this blog post. I've been quite sea sick, sleeping all the time. It
seemed like the patch stopped working and then the dramamine I took has made me very
sleepy. Because of the rough seas, the captain cancelled our scheduled stop in Norfolk,
Virginia. The ship was going too slowly, so we are going straight into New York. Today is
Saturday, around noon, we'll be in New York by Monday morning. I've been a little perkier this
morning, but I will be extremely grateful to be on dry land. And probably, no more long cruises
for me!

Larry has been feeling fine, he's been going to the spa for massages and keeping Blanche and
Sol company at dinner.

When we're in New York, we'll visit with Larry's cousin Linda and perhaps go to the World Trade
Center memorial.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Day 14

Today is really the fourteenth day, so I'm late telling about yesterday. I've spent most of today wondering why the scopolamine patch isn't working, but now I'm feeling better, I think the sea is calming down after we passed through another one of those depressing tropical depressions.

Yesterday was our excursion to the Rosario Islands off the coast of Columbia. We began with a short bus ride to a speed boat. All 35 of us clambered into our seats, looped our life jackets over our heads, and headed out to the open sea, through the bay leading to Cartagena.  We passed two impressive fortresses built to protect the entrance from pirates hundreds of years ago. We rocketed past islands, home to fishing villages, and after an hour and a half fighting the wind, ended up at a National Park, which protects a coral reef. On the first small island we visited an aquarium, basically a patchwork of fenced ocean pools where various fish, sharks, sea turtles and dolphins make their home. One of the aquarium workers carried a pail around feeding the various creatures and giving us their names in Spanish. The dolphins and a young woman trainer put on a show for us.  We were offered a chance to get in the water and have our picture taken with the dolphins, but at $40 for five minutes, we declined.

I felt a little sorry for the sea life all huddled together in their jails, but at least the pelicans and other birds were having a good time, trying to snatch the tasty morsels away before the prisoners got them.

We all got back in the boat and headed to another island, where I had a pleasant surprise. It was like a little tropical paradise, with a beautiful sandy beach, a swimming pool, hammocks and chaise longues, and an inviting lunch set out for us--fish, coconut rice, ceviche, fresh fruit. Larry and I sat at a table with two Canadians, and a gentlemen who owns a sheep ranch in Australia. Our cruise is in the majority from the United States, but there are English, Australian, Canadian, and Dutch passengers and of course the crew seem to be from just about everywhere.

After lunch, I swam in the Caribbean and in the pool, while Larry took a nap in a hammock. Then, we churned through the water back to the Regatta. The Regatta left Cartagena shortly after our return, and after dinner, we were well into heavy seas.

Lifesavered Speedboaters

Jaws' Submission

Prisoners, Dance!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Day 12

The Panama Canal transit during the daylight hours yesterday was very enjoyable. The Miraflores locks seem to be functioning just as they did 100 years ago. They don't seem particularly high-tech, with two guys in a row boat fastening the guiding wires to the ship, and two little locomotives guiding the boat into the lock chamber. Some ships just barely squeeze into the lock chambers, with 6 inches clearance on each side. The Regatta had a little more room.

Passing through the locks was very slow, lots of waiting around while the ships ahead of us inched forward and the lock gates slowly opened, and the water beneath us slowly rose (at the Miraflores locks on the Pacific side) or slowly fell (at the Gatun locks on the Caribbean side).
Like watching paint dry.

The really beautiful part of the transit was in the middle, passing through Gatun Lake. It's otherworldly, all green hills and blue water with ships making their stately way down the middle in both directions, following the bed of the Chagres river.

Unfortunately, I forgot to replace my scopalamine patch before we arrived in the rough waters of the Caribbean, and had a bout of mal de mer. I went to bed early and am awake this morning once again feeling fine.

We land soon in Cartagena, and have an excursion planned that includes some swimming on a Columbian beach.

Lock Mess

Making the Cut

Lake Gatun Transit

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Day 11 and part of 12

Yesterday was another day at sea, and I began to despair at how slowly the day went by. The games on the Regatta are mainly bridge, mahjongg and trivia contests. I wonder if there is a board game cruise where younger folks could amuse themselves with the games of their generation? I'm a little fed up with what I call "furniture music" that you listen to almost everywhere. The resident string quartet plays furniture music too.  I miss my piano and my cello. There are pianos on board, but the guests are forbidden to play them.

I finished The Miniaturist, and started Au Bonheur des Dames, one of the Zola novels I brought along, a real paperback book! I should have something useful to contribute to the French Book Club when I get home. Using the satellite internet, I can refresh my library on board the ship anytime.

The dining on the Regatta continues to be first rate; there are many, many choices and all that I have tried have been delicious and really pretty too. We're dining with Sol and Blanche every evening and we have had many good conversations, memories of past happy and sad times with our parents, our children, our siblings.

I was also pleased yesterday to see three sea turtles and a pair of dolphins while I walked on the treadmill in the gym.

Tonight I will tell anyone reading my blog about our Panama Canal transit! It is in fact happening as I type, sitting out here on my patio. We are in the third lock, and the boat is rising to enter Gatun Lake. No ocean motion today, all is calm. I will also keep calm and carry on, even though there is perhaps a week left on this long, long, long cruise.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Day 10

This will be short, since I've had a long day off the Regatta and am ready to go to sleep. We left early in the morning for a trip to the Poas Volcano in Costa Rica. It was a two and a half hour drive through beautiful rolling mountains and mist, valleys and streams, towns with little shabby houses in tight rows, all protected by fences, walls and sometimes curving barbed wire. There were also larger new homes. Many roadside sellers of strawberries, papayas, pineapples.

Costa Rica reminds me of Hawaii, it is so green and lush, always on the verge of rain. We walked a short distance to the rim of the caldera and looked over the rim to see nothingness, just a vast white cloud filling all the space. I was sure the weather wouldn't change, so we made our way downhill, but back in the bus, we realized that the cloud had lifted shortly after we left, revealing the active volcano down below. But even though we had missed the main event, it was still beautiful walking through the rain forest.

On the way back, we had a Costa Rican lunch, and saw a two-toed sloth hanging out by the roadside and a family of monkeys playing in the trees. We also saw thriving plantations of coffee plants, and I intend to buy Costa Rican coffee at Peet's when we get home.

Our tour guide told us a lot of great stories about picking coffee beans with his family growing up and he really filled us in on life in Costa Rica. It seems like a truly successful country, peaceful and prosperous, with a big emphasis on education at all levels. I think I'd like to come back to this country sometime, and explore all of its corners.

Here are a couple of pictures:
Lush and Green

Volcanic Nothingness

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Day 9

Day at sea. The Lady Regatta is continuing down the coast of central America and we will arrive in Puntarenas, Costa Rica tomorrow morning. Puntarenas means "sandy point" and it is Costa Rica's port, where the oxcarts filled with coffee came down from the highlands to ship their coffee off to Starbucks or whomever. Apparently, garishly painted oxcarts are for sale in all the shops.

I've been doing basically nothing, an hour on the gym's treadmill, reading The Miniaturist and the New York Times on my ipad. Larry is trying to sort out our 19,000 photographs using the latest Adobe software. (He thinks we have a lot of duplicates.)

I've discovered that if I breakfast in the Terraces (the cafeteria) I can ask for exactly what I want to eat, and no more. By this time in the cruise, I'm starting to feel a little anxious about how much food I'm wasting. It might be a little depressing if I think about it too much.

I went to a lecture on Costa Rica this morning and learned that Costa Rica is relatively rich and prosperous, with a stable democracy and excellent social services. Furthermore, Costa Rica is considered to be one of the "greenest" places on earth, reducing carbon emissions, outlawing all recreational hunting, preserving their rain forests.

We're all getting excited about the Panama Canal transit, which is coming up soon. I watched a documentary on the canal this afternoon, which basically recapitulated everything I'd read in the David McCullough book, but with an added overlay of patriotism. Only America could have accomplished such a feat! Well, maybe. The photographs were fascinating, though.

We had a table for six tonight at another one of the "specialty" restaurants, and it was excellent. I'm still focusing on fish. I've taken to grabbing my napkin and putting it in my lap before the waiter can do this difficult task for me! They're always shoving my chair into the table (with me in it) and I'm trying to resist.

Excursion tomorrow (all day) to a Costa Rica volcano. Stay tuned for that post tomorrow evening.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Day 8

This morning I woke up to watch the Regatta slowly sliding into its berth in Puerto Chiapas, way down south in Mexico.  The closest town is Tapachula, and it's very near Guatemala. There is a tropical feel here, lots of greenery, banana plantations, mangos, and corn fields. The Maya apparently believe human beings were originally made of cornmeal. On the dock we had costumed marimba players and dancers to entertain us before catching a bus into town.

The bus and our tour guide Morelia took us to Izapa to view the ruins of a Maya plaza, complete with ball court and pyramids and carved slabs of rock, hard to decipher. Then we wandered around downtown Tapachula, crowded, hot and colorful...and poor. In the market place, all sorts of baked goods were for sale with the Mexican women fanning the trays to keep off flies, dozens of stalls selling identical junk, shoes, cheap clothing, children's day packs. Well, Tapachula is a real place, not a tourist trap.

Our tour guide was a friendly young woman who was doing her first tour since May. It turns out cruise ships don't often enter this port. On the way into town, we passed a stadium, and Morelia said that there are never any games in the stadium. We passed an auditorium, and Morelia said there are never any concerts there, and then we passed the Museum of Archeology, which is closed, and which will soon be relocated to Mexico City.  So it looks like Tapachula is having a run of bad luck.

Back on the ship, we passed a lazy (as usual) time in the dining hall, our cabin, the gym. I went up to the Horizons lounge to listen to the string quartet, and to the library to read my latest book, The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. We'll meet Aunt Blanche and Uncle Sol later for dinner. It will be hard to top last night's dinner, when, in honor of Blanche and Sol's anniversary, one of the waiters asked them to hold hands while he sang a beautiful and tender love song.  That was really sweet. The ship leaves port very soon, probably in a few minutes, on our way to Costa Rica.

Here are some pictures from the day in Tapachula.

Welcome Ashore

Tree of Life at a planetarium because the museum is closing

Stained Glass -- it's art -- in banana democracy city hall

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Day 7

Today is another long day at sea, gazing out at the ocean. Fortunately, the weather is calm. I spent the day attending lectures and using the treadmill in the gym. The lectures are all power point presentations on subjects such as the Maya and other civilizations, the voyages of Columbus, the exchange of animals and food crops between the old and the new worlds. The speakers are amiable enough, the presentations relatively coherent.

It's warm and calm, I'm quite sleepy, and at a loss to know what to say about the cruise. Most of the activities--bingo, shuffleboard, trivia contests, lectures about gemstones and diamonds--are skippable. What I like most are the captain's announcements. We're cruising 20 miles from shore, the water beneath us is very warm, nasty Norbert is far behind us, giving grief to Regatta's sister ship.

Tomorrow morning we will dock at Puerto Chiapas, and take a tour to the Izapa archeological site, 39 miles from the cruise terminal, known for sculptures of frogs, representing the life-giving rains. Maybe I'll bring a frog home for California.

I'm reading David Foster Wallace's essay called "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" about his experience on a luxury cruise. I'm afraid he never really got into the spirit.

We've been drinking gin martinis at the happy hour, and then soaking in the hot tub at the prow of the boat watching the seabirds coasting around. Tonight is a dinner in the Polo Grill, one of the specialty restaurants, followed perhaps by dancing on the deck under the stars. So, what's not to like?

I should have more to write about tomorrow evening : )

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Day 6

Last night the captain commented on the weather. There are three levels:  motion in the ocean, sloppy and choppy, and finally bumpy and lumpy. Last night we were experiencing sloppy and choppy. Stumbling through the ship, we did manage to eat dinner. I had melon balls, cucumber salad, and risotto with fava beans and mushrooms.  We skipped the comedian (the same nasty guy from the first day) in favor of reading in our cabin. I brought along numerous ebooks, both thrillers and junk books, but also Gardiner's book about Bach, and the beautiful travel books of Patrick Fermor, who writes about walking from London to Constantinople in 1936.

I did worry about the passengers who use canes or walkers and have balance issues, because moving around the ship last night wasn't all that easy. Perhaps the less mobile ordered room service.

A random thought: I have never in my life said "thank you" as many times as I do on this ship. Thank you to the guy who cleans our cabin, holds my chair, unfolds my napkin, pours my coffee, asks me if I slept well, asks me if I enjoyed my dinner. Should I doubt their sincerity?

Today is another day at sea. The ocean is much calmer, rolling along with more or less gentle swells. I can see a shoreline far away and another boat in the distance. I hoped to see whales, dolphins or even flying fish, but so far, it's just lots of water.  My favorite activity on the ship is sitting out here on the balcony, reading, writing this blog, watching the Pacific.

I'm going to try to take some pictures on the ship today and convince Larry to work his magic on them.
Dining Primary Activity

The Gym is Usually Empty

The Pool is Kind of Small

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Day 5

Today we are having exciting weather. The storm our captain is trying to avoid has a name, Norbert. I think Norbert is not a hurricane, or a tropical storm, but a tropical depression. The fitness director said, "Yes, Norbert is very depressed." Larry and I were both trying to use the exercise equipment in the gym, but it's hard to stay balanced when the ship is moving up and down and sideways in random patterns. Fortunately, my motion sickness patch seems to be working very well, and I feel fine. Looking out at the Pacific Ocean, I see big waves, lots of whitecaps, and on our balcony a strong wind is blowing. The captain claims that it will get somewhat worse in the next few hours and then better during the night. They've closed the swimming pool and asked us to avoid the open decks.

The shore excursion yesterday involved a bus ride from Cabo San Lucas to the town of San Jose del Cabo. We passed the entrances to many resorts, and could see many wide, sandy beaches off to the right. There is a lot of dust and some impressive cacti. In San Jose del Cabo we visited a couple of art galleries, tasted beer at a local brewery, and meandered around, as much the heat and humidity would allow. Shopping wasn't all that attractive an option, as the art gallery merchandise was very, very expensive and the other shops had only the usual assortment of jewelry and souvenirs. What was disconcerting was the shop owners annoying persistence to get us to buy something.  (That's unfortunately somewhat the case on the ship, too.) I did enjoy our tour guide, who has lived all his life in Cabo San Lucas.  He calls himself a Cabeno (like jalapeno).

Back on the ship, I had a piece of fresh local fish (Corvina) that was fantastic, and then wrecked my diet with a chocolate souffle. We're enjoying the company of Sol and Blanche at our evening meals, animated conversation and all kinds of tasty food. We've now tried all but one of the dining venues on the ship. We've been casually lunching at the "Waves"--I had grilled mahi- mahi, Larry had a tuna burger, with no bun, just a beautiful piece of fresh tuna. Let's hear it for fish!

Shopping Opportunity

Day 4

Land is approaching. I an see Mexican mountains in the mist, and what appears to be long stretches of sandy beach. For the first time since leaving San Francisco, there are many sea birds wheeling and soaring all around the ship. The captain joked over the public address system that with amazing accuracy the ship is headed to port. Larry and I surmised that being the captain of a cruise ship such as the Regatta is probably not so exciting.

Last night we dined at the Polo Grill, with unctuous service and various grilled meats and fishes. The entertainment of the evening was a comedian and guitar player, who sang and joked and played and was generally hilarious. There were a lot of senior citizen jokes, which is appropriate for the population of the cruise. Zero children, and all the twenty somethings I have seen are all part of the staff. There are certainly a great many vigorous old folks, and some ancient ones, but all apparently having a good time.

I think I will skip the lecture this morning because it is so very pleasant sitting out on the balcony watching the mountains and beaches coming closer and closer. Our first day at sea was a little rough and even the motion sickness patch didn't entirely work, but yesterday was very calm.
Today, there are a few more white caps, but the boat will anchor soon. Ah, now I can see houses and buildings at Cabo San Lucas!

Our boat has come to rest away from the shore, which is lined with hotels and beaches, pink, white, brown, beige, yellow.  I can hear the excited shouts of the folks on the beach, and the water is speckled with little boats racing around or drifting. Leaning over my balcony, I can see the little red tender boats being lowered and dropped into the ocean.

Now, it's evening and we are back from our excursion to San Jose del Cabo. We had a knowledgeable and charming tour guide, but the tour itself was less than great, probably because it was too darned hot. 95 degrees and 90% humidity, not what I consider to be great weather. I'll write about it more tomorrow.

We are sailing away from Cabo San Lucas, and if I can stay awake, I'll go to the evening entertainment, a magician and comedian.

Tender away ...