May 04, 2015

Cruise Trip Log


Someday I'd like to end the week before vacation without being more scattered and stressed than a speed addict at a meth convention.   Dang, took some heavy lifting to get those bits and bytes where they were supposed to be.  All uphill, with the programs fighting me every step-inch of the way.  But it is what it is, problems and computers go together like Clintons and scandal.
My computer affair
Entangled hopelessly in code
Codas elusive,
Just the pang of unease
Over something forgotten --
The stove left on
The water running
A seam of spilled computer
Ruining my reputation.
The tenebrae of affairs
Spilt fluid of obsession.
Of course my work angst is stunningly relative, and should and would be laughed at by all of the Third World and three-quarters of the First.


Finally. Finallllly! Authentic Caribbean heat, and a live uptempo rumba band.  Accept no substitutes. The day started wan, with no sun on balcony and I felt restless for the heat so we headed to pool deck and it was an "ahhhhhh" moment more sharp than the  first taste of coffee on a sleep-deprived morn. Breezes and sun graced that electric 89 degree atmosphere. Girls with Corinthian curves and proud miens lounge pool-side in Aphrodite splendor.

Surprisingly, didn't mind the two plane rides it took to get here. Was sufficiently worn out by 5am wake up to spend both rides on the edge of morphic bliss.

I always feel slightly ashamed to report going on a cruise because it is to travel what McDonald's is to fine food. It's easy and quick but not big on experiences beyond the shallow sun-on-my-face, food-in-my-belly variety.  Usually doesn't involve in-depth discoveries of other cultures to put it mildly. The closest we'll get to the foreign is our waiter.


Sad incident on the plane - a guy we waited in line behind to board the plane fell ill during the flight.  Flight attendants were rushing to and fro, getting a defibrillator and asking just like in the movies if there was a doctor in the house. Apparently he passed out and was potentially having a heart attack.  Steph (impressively) was thoughtful enough to grab my hand and offer prayers on his behalf. As we touched down the pilot or an attendant asked that we remain seated while paramedics boarded and took the patient off the plane first. The poor man, father of two teenagers, was conscious and answering questions as we deplaned.

A constant danger is to think of a stranger as a stranger; to be even slightly indifferent to the plight of another is as stupid as my arm being indifferent to plight of my injured foot. We're connected more than we know if we could but see it.


The weather in Florida is certainly changeable, but it's charming in a way, like a fickle pretty woman. Sure enough in less than an hour the sun is back. Hard to take rain seriously here, or cold for that matter.  The muster drill, aka the buzz kill drill, was relatively painless.

But just now the thrilling release of the boat from her pen, a right turn into a sea as open as a farmer's field in remotest Iowa.  As much as I liked the port and it's quaint little sandy beach across the way it's the sea for which I thirst, the whitecaps flashing like lightning bugs in June. The overcast weather disappoints not, it just makes me appreciate my balcony and the promise of more to come. I stack the chairs and get another half-foot of view, and so now I'm above the tinted zone.  The ocean looks more daunting on a cloudy day, more a force to be reckoned with. I feel unexpectedly moved by the slip-leave of land, with the other wedding cake cruise ships left on anchor.


My collecting impulse is triggered by cruises even though I know it's futile. I collect pictures of the view from the balcony even though it's a weak substitute for seeing the real thing. I write this trip log. And even more impossible is to “collect” the rich, idiosyncratic scent of the hallways. Must be present to win I suppose. I always want to try to extend vacation experience into “real” life, much as Peter wanted to hangout on the Mount of Transfiguration and not Calvary.

Speaking of which, sad to see no Masses or non-denominational services on this Sunday morning. Instead, we get a yoga service. Secularization increases … 3600 guests but no Christian offerings. It was motivation to pray, for sure. Discouragement is not from God, as St. Ignatius.


Room service breakfast, ahhhh. Headed for more coffee on promenade deck and stopped by the empty but picturesque English pub. Took pictures of that gorgeous art-lined interior. Old English paintings of fox hunts and monarchs, plush leather sofas, antique books….


Read something last night about the terrible cost of the building of the Panama Canal. 25,000 deaths, mostly Chinese laborers. They asked for opium, their drug of choice, but we're denied by the French in charge and many committed suicide. An example of a mood-altering drug saving lives in the midst of misery? Or was it partially the result of coming off what was for them a stable pleasure? Perhaps the morale seems to be to give up pleasures reluctantly. Or, alternatively, don't get unduly attached to them in the first place. I think of an agnostic author's advice to be on the lookout for adding new pleasures to one's life since old ones can grow stale or be suddenly unavailable. Seemed reasonable to at the time but not exactly the gospel message.


The light feels so different in the afternoon (about 1:30) that it feels like we've landed at a completely different part of the ship even though it's the exact same spot. What is it about late mornings that enthrall? 10:30, 11, 12 - magic time. Mere brain chemistry?  Gal at pool trading Emily Griffin's “One and Only”.  I'm reading “Love is our Mission” as saltpeter, and as Salt from Peter.


A bit of funky local color: a broken down old boat comes speeding towards us. It veers towards the back of the ship then rides in tandem with us, side-by-side, for about thirty seconds before jetting off. I assumed it was legit in the beginning but now think him was a joyrider.

Overcast day with wet balcony at 6:30am but it soon reversed itself.


Today was a 9:30 call for snorkeling on the Belize reef followed by a an hour or so at a Labadee-like island called Starfish island aka Bannister Island. Wondrous light green water the color of our old cat's eyes.

We started with a tender (not a moment, but a small boat to the reef). We sat across from a couple tattoo-laden transplanted upstate NY boys with their attractive wives.

One of the girls, in her late 20s with blonde hair and toothy smile was the spitting image of Elizabeth Duffy, and thus I felt warmly disposed to her. 

One of the dudes was a Marine not long from the Middle East with a gigantic full-back tattoo of Michael the Archangel complete with sword and slain head of Satan. He also had obscure sequence of letters and numbers that he said was the tail number on the Cessna his father and grandfather taught him to fly on. Laughed about how many people thought it was a prison number, as if he's advertise and want to remember that. Had two scars going into the service, one from the bite of a leopard and scratch from a lion. Sounds hard to believe but regardless a sheltered life he's not lived.

He had a chance to be accepted into Harvard, irregardless of grades, by virtue of being the ultimate legacy: his ancestor being involved with the founding (a Mather of Cotton Mather fame). But he'd still have to pay the huge tuition as well as survive academically. Instead he opted for the Marines. His father focused on money as the obstacle while he did the grades.  Not surprisingly.

Eventually we arrived at the dive site and plopped several feet into the water. These sorts of tours aren't ideal because there's a lot of congestion. It's sort of like a group hike in the forest - you can't really dissociate into wonder.

Afterward punch and the beach! All severely short lived. No time for reading; instead walked the grounds and swam in glowing crystal water that had a surprisingly muddy bottom. Drank a local Belize stout. 2pm curtain call! Say it ain't so! To call this beach picturesque and idyllic would be a giant understatement. On the way back a drunk girl went wild (“I feel 13 again”, which was likely four years ago), as did the coal-black ship mate and impromptu dancer whose muscles had muscles. He tried to get one of the Marines to dance but he pointed to his white skin and said, “I'm white, I can't dance.” But he danced a move or two to make the crowd and his Elizabeth Duffy wife happy and then mock-complained, “Oh fine, I just got my wife pregnant!”

A raucous crowd.


Sun-bleached waters
Boatman, pass by!
The last tender sails
While small craft
like small fry
dip and dive and
I feel the freedom
Of not being big.


Sun constellations spray the sea
As I rest in the quiet easy
Aboard this monastic balcony
The ship at rest, for awhile,
The lozenge of the day not consumed.


A vista expansive as sea
Salt tang of strangers' stories
And skin bling still ring
In the concupiscent marrow
Where curiosity rides.


I like the ship at rest - it feels as though the relentless march of precious vacation time has been arrested.


Carelessness is punished, even (especially?) on vacation; I didn't use ear plugs in the ocean, alas. On the snorkel excursion I dove down a few times and the pressure pushed water into my right ear, far enough that I couldn't tilt and shake my head enough to get it out. Hours later, back in the room, I tried blow-drying it but the damage was done. We tried finding “Swimmer's Ear” at a store on the promenade but no luck and the infirmary was closed. Woke up in middle of night with completely clogged ear, which I assume will be the new normal for awhile. Tried using q-tips but either no luck or I was afraid to go in too deep.

Infirmary said ear irrigation "hundreds of dollars" so settled for ineffective rubbing alcohol towelettes. Be “interesting” (I say with faux detachment) to see if this develops into a full earache ala nephew Matthew.


Quick morning cigar on balcony before tying up to Mexico and eating breakfast in bed. Then post-infirmary I checked out the art gallery – three or four interesting offerings. Too bad it's all so expensive. I wonder if art-as-investment has spiked prices across the board. A picture may be equivalent to a thousand words, but a thousand words (even from a Joyce or Salinger) are much cheaper. Of course words can be mass-produced. 


Seamless entry into Cozumel. Taxi left us at the gates of nostalgic Playa Azul, and the beauty and familiarity of the place seemed to say you can go home again. Interior only minimally changed (a tasteful nude beside a relocated small library) and the gift shop was moved. Grounds and restaurant are stellar and timeless.

The cab driver left us off at beach entrance (i.e. the back way), looking out for us I now think, but at the time I thought he had something to hide, not pulling in the front entrance, and for the “costly” price of $16 ride even though I learned later it's the going rate. Sad I don't give people benefit of the doubt more often.

I put in an earplug and hoped for the best, entering the water again to snorkel today. I figure water trapped in the ear is like getting pregnant - abstaining won't change the situation.

The snorkeling at Playa Azul was fantastic, a home run. Saw tons more fish than in Belize and of plenteous variety. Cool to see the fish bright with color in their busy kingdom, looking like swimming flowers.


Reading a book on Mexican national character makes me think I was supposed to born south of the border and not just for the sun – Mexicans are highly individualistic and not joiners. (Catholic too!) I wonder if Myers-Briggs results differ by nationality. "When God made me born a yankee, he was teasin'".

Mexicans are much worse at team sports than their country's size would indicate. The vast majority of their Olympic medals since 1900 are in individual sports.


Round 4pm we rolled, heard our graying taxi driver point out with pride the tourist traps, picked up some souvenirs for the grandkids at the pier tourist traps, and drank a $1 can of Dos Equis while listening to a mariachi band play La Bomba. Felt sad to leave authentic Olde Mexico!

Now we face the music: Cap'n comes on the intercom, in his distinguished authentically accented English, and says tomorrow morning will be not be too tropical - cooling and rainy and clouds in between. Nothing a book and a brew can't solve I suppose.

Back to cabin where I put myself in the hands of Dr Steph who showed me how to do a do-it-yourself ear irrigation. Somewhat counterintuitively it's to spray more water in the ear, albeit with the bad ear pointing down so the water can immediately drain. Still it's an act of faith to basically be putting more pressure on the wax and assuming it won't clog further. Except it's very warm water, the goal being to melt the wax, which I guess It did after about 30 flushes. Finally relief, the big breakthrough – I could hear again! In stereo! Just hope the seawater didn't infect the ear during the 36 hours it was parked there.


The unbearable bareness of being…at the pool. We got their early and often, pre-9am, anticipating the short-sunned time (rain predicted all afternoon) and the desperate to reserve a spot at the elusive “quiet” pool. The 63-yr old newlywed woman next to us was quite gabby so between dipping in on that and the distracting visual environ, I wasn't able to execute morning prayer with much attention, alas. Maybe get some credit for trying. It's possible a Royal Caribbean cruise pool is the place on earth least conducive to prayer, is most unlike a monastery, with the possible exception of a Vegas casino.

At last, released by clouds and threat of rain from our concrete & human jungle, I savor the balconic view of blue-dyed waters rolling with comforting repetition. I listen to Julieta Venegas sing Me Voy on this, the last day at sea. I have a sudden desire to read a Laurie Colwin novel.

The sun and heat were tropical all morning and into late afternoon, proving sea captains can be bad weather forecasters. Sweat poured from me like money from an NBA rookie's hands.  I think I like something more akin to camping, although we could've pretend-camped on our balcony more oft. Today definitely should've been much more on balcony.

A ship passes and I get obsessed snapping artistic pictures of the forlorn ship in the gloaming with dramatic clouds and rain as accompaniment. (It's owned by an oil shipment company.)

Watching the hypnotic waves reminds me of that nature show where they just filmed in real-time and just left the camera run in a natural setting with no narrator or commentary, at a place like a ocean shoreline or Asian landscape or New England early morning fishing village. In a “reality” show culture of heavily edited fiction, that may have been the most countercultural show since Bishop Sheen's (although his popularity suggests it wasn't that countercultural - sure would be now). There's the slow food movement, how about slow television?


After a late-day workout and a hot shower we had a pleasant final dinner served by our waiter K. from a small island off the coast of Africa called Mauritius. He claimed his home was beautiful and crime-free, and later I checked a world fact book and it seems he wasn't biased. Very functional country despite proximity to Africa, where he said “people will kill you for no reason at all!”

He wants to be a hotel manager on land and he emphasized the “on land” part. Said his passion is fishing, mostly swordfish and tuna, and that he likes serving Americans because they're so much friendlier than Europeans or Asians. His favorite ports are in U.S.; New York and I think he said Key West.


We woke to nice view of Fort Lauderdale harbor. Dark outside with lights aglow.

Later I picked up java and sat for a moment in the cushy leather chairs outside the vintage wine shop on the promenade deck. They were marked “Reserved”, which lent it a forbidden fruity flavor:

Felt quasi-instant nostalgia for the Me Voy song'd moments on the balcony watching the Euronav navigate a storm, and for the first day with the sun-memory imprinted on my skin.  It was 1pm before I could blink; most of that time is now listed on a federal database as missing.


Banshee said...

Sounds like you had a great trip, even with the ear problems and weird stuff!

If it's just a wax problem, or if you need to get wax out of the way, use hydrogen peroxide. (Cover up your hair with a white towel first, so you won't bleach your hair or the towel.) You just have somebody put peroxide in your ear, and you listen while bubbles away and dissolves the wax. (This can take a while, like fifteen minutes.) Then you turn over and drain what's left in the ear into a paper towel or tissue.

Of course, this would take quite a bit of time, and the doctor would still have had to irrigate your ear afterwards. So he did the faster thing.

TS said...

Thanks Maureen sounds like a pretty easy treatment. I probably should do my other ear to keep them "in sync" as far as wax.