Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the hermit crab, the whale’s backbone.” --TS Eliot
Saturday: Day uno, all aboard going abroad for the Norwegian Western Caribbean cruise to points Costa Maya, Falmouth Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Nassau, Bahamas.
Smooth as silk transport and directly we headed for the buffet, delicious and comprehensively appointed: basil pasta, salad, turkey Parmesan, bratwurst, steak and a chocolate desert. And that was just my load. Definitely had some hunger going on given the skipped breakfast and yesterday’s fast day. We also tippled beers between us since we’d prepaid for them. Dos Equis and Modelos.
Just before 2 we were in our stateroom, enjoying the comforts of the balcony and donning swimsuits. The muster drill (painful disruption) is at 3:30.
We explored the pool area on 16 (next to dining area) and unfortunately it was obnoxious in every way, mainly the noise. Lousy music played loud and crowds of people like it’s Coney Island beach. Not our speed.
Just now looking over the aqua-green water on a sunny Miami day and reading some of Amy Welborn’s Mexico trip log. Funny to be drinking a Modelo while she mentioned she was drinking a Modelo.
There seem to be a fair number of bars and the alcohol package seems to include all of them so far, even the expensive IPAs. I guess we’ll see when we get the bill. There’s a self-service wine area just outside our door - too bad I’m not a wine fan. And there’s also a lounge with a big screen TV that we might go to tonight to watch the Loyola Chicago Final Four game.
The muster was predictably painful. Thirty minutes of people crammed and overheated and listening to painfully long monologue by disembodied speakers saying perfectly obvious things like “don’t throw anything overboard”. I don’t recall Royal Caribbean being quite so overbearing. I think you really have to upgrade cruise lines to get people who prefer a quieter atmosphere. With Cardinal Sarah’s book I feel like it’s okay to be fuddyduddy. (Using “fuddyduddy” is a sure sign of fuddyduddyism.)
Oh the glorious insouciance of having unlimited food and drink at your beckon call. Limited only by body and not wallet, we imbibed in dinners at 1 and 7, with beers, bloody mary’s, and a “Mango meltdown” in between.
NCL not covering itself in glory so far to put it mildly. The food is good, better than RCL, and of course the “free at sea” deal where we get free alcohol is nice (although the tips we had to pay on the “free” deal are probably close to what we would’ve spent on alcohol, so there’s that). But I’m annoyed by:
-No Catholic priest on board to offer Easter mass. I guess only heathens like me vacation over religious feast days.
-TV: sad! Called service desk and they rebooted and it worked for awhile and we were able to watch Final Four game. After Final Four game TV frozen again. We spent a lot of tinkering time on it over the week.
On the pro side:
-Better buffet food, more easier dining option (not forced into straight jacket of 5:30pm dining)
-Free alcohol package but for tips.
They are similar in the lack of privacy on sundeck, party atmosphere, general, etc..
It's possible I’ve introverted past cruise vacations. This is heavy on crowds - after the muster we mustered up to the sundeck on 19 and I finally just put my headphones and listened to some Respighi. At any rate it seems criminal Norwegian is playing music so out of sync with the visual soundtrack of glorious sea and harbor.
Wait long enough and good thing’s will happen, namely sweet relief on our precious balcony. The Norwegian ship called Escape, balcony at cabin exposes the sunset while traveling south as we are now; we’ll get morning sun on the return.
Sunday: So no Mass on Easter. A first for me alas. They have a TV mass, their weak tea imitation of having an actual priest on board. I said I’d go with Steph to the interdenominational service at 9.
Went to short 20 min interdenominational service at theater. No formal readings, just couple guys from India and Columbia doing a sermon kind of thing and a short but intense prayer (a lot of "Lawd Fodder"). It’s seems indicative of how controversial Christianity has become that the men explained how grateful they were that we could even meet in the theater on board and how they were fortunate the secretary in charge is a believer. We both missed music and hymns. First Easter without “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”.
Reading this book about silence by a cardinal of the church makes me think Grandpa C. and Uncle M. had/have a lot of wisdom in being men of few words.
Walked around ship, mostly shopping, for 40 mins. Found cigar lounge on 8th floor, midship. Important since Steph not approving balcony cigar smoking as it’s forbidden.
Worked out on elliptical overlooking Melvillian ocean before lunch at overcrowded cafe. From overcrowded cafe to cramped sun deck, where we lasted only 20 minutes before back to the sweetness of balcony.
People seem to like a natural backdrop for social activity. Maybe this explains the inexplicable popularity of campgrounds, where people get away from it all by pitching tents and campers 20ft from strangers likewise pitching tents and campers. Cruises, like a subway rides, require a cool indifference to having a stranger three inches away.
Saw one octogenarian reading a book poolside while a racket of “music” accompanied a male sexiest leg competition. My heart went out to him, poor devil. His wife likely forced him there.
It’s “elevator roulette” here where you hit a button and hope that, when the car arrives, it’s not already full. Odds not in your favor except when ship in port. I’d gladly do only stairs but Steph is a fervent believer in elevators.
Nice dinner at the Manhattan room, inspired by 1930s NYC. Great jazz band offered music. Good steak dinner and Neapolitan Easter soup. Two cute little European girls did pirouettes on the dance floor.
Did the free continental breakfast in room. Room service: that’s what I’m talking about!
Landed in Jamaica, and no excursions yay! Read some of Russell Kirk intellectual bio.
Headed out solo off the ship to run: “Good exercise Bro,” said one stringy black man with a strong smell of marijuana about him. Another dude offered me beads and then weed. Surprisingly - or not - none of them vendors had rosaries and some hadn’t even heard of them. Not a big market for rosaries in Bob Marley country.
Around the port they were aggressive enough to jog behind me a bit, calling to me before giving up due to my lack of interest. One guy yelled, “hey white man!” which is descriptive enough.
But beyond the first couple blocks folks were mellow. A guy staggered by in the sun-heat drinking a morning Red Stripe. Five o’clock somewhere. Reminds me of CS Lewis saying in response to someone saying that giving to a beggar will only result in him buying alcohol and Lewis responding that’s all he would’ve spent it on too.
Another old guy walked slowly down the long road on crutches, with a missing right leg. There was the smell of jerk chicken cooking and later the surprisingly pleasant burning garbage and wood.
All told a 4 mile run and walk, much of it wasted inside the gated Norwegian community part. Only one exit for cruisers on foot and it took me awhile to find it.
Went past a couple of old stone churches — closed for Easter holiday. Instead, they were holding parish gatherings in nearby buildings praising the Lord and exhorting the faithful (one at 10:30am the other at 11:30am on a Monday - pious Jamaicans).
Then back on ship tasty lunch of basil pasta and seasoned chicken. Added slice of pizza because I could.
Then beer o’clock, or rather mixed drink o’clock. Got the ingenious drink o’ the day: vodka, white wine, triple sec, orange juice and blueberries.
Decent privacy on deck 19 due to cruisers on shore, with a friendly breeze to make the 83 degree temps feel more temperate. Snow at home!
Read more of “The March”, Civil War novel. Voyeured pictures of the great Russel Kirk’s house in Michigan. Looks like a castle, with eccentricities as well, like a dancing gal statue on the eave apropos of nothing. It reminds me of my suburban dream to launch a field of corn in my backyard in homage to “Field of Dreams”. Methinks that’s something I could do only when young and fit enough to accomplish.
Long listen to Willie Nelson live concert on satellite radio thanks to now unlimited WiFi package. Perfect. Plus that “all day” beer, Dos Equis. Winsome outdoor seating areas on 8; comfortable outdoor couches no less.
I head the (closet-sized) humidor and it’s all smoked up. I break the rules and find a semi-private spot on the starboard side (or at least the “other” side).
Dinner at Savor restaurant overlooking ocean. Delicious food expedited due to our having a show at 7:30. “After Midnight” it was called, a series of dance/song numbers set in 1920’s jazz club. Lots of swinging brass music.
The ship has arrived at Grand Cayman, thus making Cayman grand again. Around 10:30 we caught a tender and then headed on 5-minute walk to Eden Point. Steph watched as I went into the water amid a half dozen intimidatingly large fish, each maybe 2’ by 6’. She was not eager to mix it up with ‘em - the water was clear and you could see them swarming the entrance steps.
I slipped in and saw it was really nice, like an undersea Japanese garden with picturesque coral “castles” and fish I’d never seen before. Slightly waving sea fans dotted the sandy bottom at regular intervals and a brain corral was perfectly round, like a brown bowling ball.
It all seemed very neat and tidy, with coral looking like leafless bonsai trees. Very zen fish exuded the otherworldly calm that fish often do. Saw an angelfish about the size of a dinner plate.
I climbed out to tell Steph to come in as the water was fine. She demurred and soon after a guy exited the water in a hurry saying there was a shark. At this point I thought we should just take a cab to a seemingly more official spot to snorkel, Smith’s Cove. So we walk back and talk to the taxi person and she says a really good spot is where we just were (!) and that there’s a friendly nurse shark that frequents there. So we headed back, no longer scared of Casper the Friendly Shark, and I snorkeled while Steph ate lunch at a restaurant overlooking the spot.
Another tender boat ride before we were back on board. So about a 2-3 hour self-excursion.
After lunch it was already 2:30 before we could enjoy the laze of rays on 19. Rum runners were soon aboard us. Later up to 20th deck to find refuge from the loud and restless.
Sea-borne, aloft, a lift, and alit, like Oxford circa ‘81:
The drumbeat of brew and languor
Long sun-crystalled afternoons
In the begetting heat.
Another fine and surprisingly swift dinner at Taste or Savor. Then back in cabin to watch action movie “The Commuter” starring Liam Neeson.
Enjoyable morning spent on balcony. Got full breakfast delivered. Read a good selection of Peter Hitchens’s “Rage Against God”. He’s a gifted writer (to hold my vacation-fractured attention) and convincingly describes what went wrong for Christianity in Britain. Relaxing 3 hours that felt like 10 minutes. Getting into the “cruise state”. Helps that I’m getting over news and Twitter addiction given the general dearth of WiFi.
10am elliptical to make up for dietary (mortal) sins. I’m feeling the gain, and little pain.
Water the color of tanzanite; the shore sounds visual tambourines. The ship wakes’ horizontal fireworks of whites and blue-greens.
We walk to the new-built port. The obligatory shopping area was attractive, at least for Potemkin villages. I looked up how to say “rosary” in Spanish and forgot as quickly.
By 12:30 we shuttled to the small 10-block town, sparse of buildings. We landed at an overcrowded beach, guided by hawker waiting new arrivals like New York locals guiding incoming Irish immigrants in the 1800s. We decide to walk down the beach looking for something better and find a hotel renting loungers in the shade: Caballo blanco at Costa Maya, Muhaula. Walked the beach strip and bought 5 cigar set ("Cubans", yeah, right) for $15. Tons of beach massages going on, plied by mostly heavyset Mexican women, perhaps hefty to give the impression of strength to unknot those knots. Like Russian babushkas. Massage on vacation is perhaps overkill on the relaxation front.
All told about 3 hours in our paradise cabana. Wasted time getting lunch at a noisy and incompetent grill. First they missed Steph’s order entirely and then gave her chicken instead of veggie quesadilla. Not cheap either - Costa Maya costa lot.
But just stunning natural beauty. Mexico Quintana Roo, is just otherworldly. Has to have my favorite beaches, not just sand but lots of tropical plants. And I’m a sucker for the thatched umbrellas atop palm trees.
Back aboard an hour earlier than needful as the cab ride was beyond easy. Every port has 4-5 people missing at sail. On a ship of 5,000 I guess that’s not unexpected, but you must really be three sheets to the wind to miss the boat, literally. We sailed without them, 7 minutes later than scheduled, yesterday. Today just 3 minutes.
Minutes after waking up a song I hadn’t heard in decades comes to mind. Part of the lyric goes: “There’s something about America...”. I google it and it seems a relatively obscure song:
“I also remember the patriotic America song that was sung daily on the Uncle Al Show: ‘There's something about America, that makes me shout with joy – It's a land of opportuniy for every girl and boy...There’s something about America that’s wonderful to see – And do you know what that something is? We are…really… free!’”Wow, the Uncle Al show. That’s going back a ways! Early ‘70s is probably the last time I had this much free time, ha.
An At Sea day, which means a heavy balcony day; the natives will be restless. Didn’t do much reading in Mexico as I was just dumbly taking in the natural wonder.
A morning oxymoron sentiment from T.S. Eliot:
“Years of living among the breakage*
Of what believed in as the most reliable —
And therefore the fittest for renunciation.”
“I will run the way of thy commandments when thou hast set my heart at liberty.” - Ps 119:32 (KJV)
NRSV rendering: “I will run the way of your commandments, for you enlarge my understanding.”
“Our victory isn’t the moment we stop struggling. It’s in grittiness of the struggle.” - Therese Borchard
A nice thing about a cruise is the relaxation process begins Saturday around 2pm (or 4pm, allowing for the muster). That’s about a whole day earlier than Hilton Head’s Sunday post-grocery 1pm start. Plus the dream of the Caribbean - except it’s no dream - is the sunshine so steady you can be spendthrift with it. Our last two Hilton Head trips had days of clouds and rain. An extra day and no sun makes up for crowds...
Elliptical followed by lunch, then 2:30 to District Craft brewhouse since the decks are hopelessly crowded and not fit for visual consumption (is it a coincidence that “skin” and “sin” are so similar?)
We walk around later and move chairs to sunny rear of ship on 8, enjoying sun and wake. Many a passersby complimented us on our fine location. And oh that wonderful sun! Even after 4 days of it it still attracts.
Stray thoughts: We’re in the reason, the planet is blue. There are no landmarks in the sea which i guess is why they call them “land”marks.
Saw excellent ‘80s music show at 7:30. Great music, especially “Turning Japanese”, “In Your Eyes”, Melt With You” and others. Impressive lights display as well.
Last day of cruising. We’re off to Nassau in the Bahamas, arrival by noon. Around 8am I see an island south of us, southwest of Great Abaco I island. It’s probably Great Abaco II. (Or not.)
Later, about 15 miles northwest of the port of Nassau, I see a little white sail boat in the wild blue yonder.
Ports of call are God’s gift to introverts on cruises. Unfortunately we had to interrupt the sun coverage for a long but needed lunch: jerk pork chops, salad and red velvet cake for dessert for me. Yum. Best week of food I’ve ever experienced in my life.
Come 2pm we were back out and decided to go on the water slide rides. I did the one where you get sent down a tube nearly ninety degrees, a roller-coaster-like free fall I have no desire to do again. Steph said it was too much for her so I went solo.
Come 4pm I head to port and do a 40minute speed tour, jogging in the mad dog and Englishmen sun. The Bahamas are formerly British, with the bobbies and the drivers on the wrong side of the road. The architecture is frayed Victorian, with a decent amount of 19th century. Some derelict buildings and poverty. A neglected wall with peeling paint announced “Ministry of Health”, not inspiring trust. An old church had an official sign that even I obeyed: “poison gas - do not enter grounds”. Political signs saying “It’s the People’s Time” populate the area, showing the popularity of populism. (Say that five times fast.)
I see a mural in Nassau of a black man and a bit abstract, by artist Allan P. Wallace, and find more on the web, appropriate for so close to the Triduum:
The body of a man forms a cross, showing the sufferings of mankind while his environment is supporting him.
The mural refers to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and to how he made a difference in this world. This death is depicted as a Christian victory because he saved all mankind with his sacrifice.___________________________________________________