January 1-3, 2013,
Sitka, Seattle and Ft. Lauderdale
I’m starting the adventure around South America sick. We had Liam with us for Christmas and, like every little kid in a daycare, he brings home an assortment of bugs, nature’s little helper. Fortunately we shipped most of our baggage to the ship mid-December by FedEx and all I had to pack was odds and ends that I would need to keep in Sitka for the holidays, prescription meds and the like. It’s a good thing I had only limited responsibilities the day before leaving because New Year’s Eve I was wandering around in an antihistamine and codeine induced fog.
I did a lot of reading before undertaking this trip, the normal tour guides, and some great travel and historical books. I now know something about Henry Ford’s attempt to build a rubber empire in the Amazon, the British theft of rubber tree seeds that allowed the empire to corner the market and crashed the economy of Brazil, Teddy Roosevelt’s expedition down the “River of Doubt” in the Amazon Basin, the digging of the Panama Canal, the discovery of Machu Picchu and the dispute between Peru and Yale over artifacts. We’ve also brought a book by one of Suzi’s Carleton Professors about the Antarctic. I’ve read several novels in translation so I am armed to ask, I hope, intelligent questions. I once said that some folks who travel on cruise ships check their brains at the dock. I don’t want to be that guy. My opinion of some cruisers is based on questions I’ve been asked over the years in Sitka (including a stint as a walking tour guide) and ones I have collected from local merchants and cruise ship staff. I will not ask the altitude in a seaport and I will not ask “are we watching the Super Bowl on cable or satellite” (although I will probably pass on the ship’s super Sunday at Sea extravaganza). New Year’s Eve I was ready to leave, except that my nose would not stop running and that fog I mentioned.
We are paying for some of this by cashing in a bazillion credit card loyalty points earned from 20 years as an aid worker. We paid a little extra out of our own funds for an outside room near the stern but on Tuesday we got an email from American Express offering us an upgrade to a “verandah suite” mid-ship. So now we will have a room with a balcony and less ocean motion. I feel somewhat bad because our good fortune is due to someone else’s misfortune. When you buy one of these “Grand Voyages” the fee is non-refundable after a very short time and Holland America advises you to buy cancelation insurance (we did, I hope the person who originally booked the room we are going into also did.) Someone dropped out, Holland America had the trip already paid for and American Express offered the upgrade to one of its good customers, me. Sometimes I wonder at my good luck.
I am not sure how these blog post/letters will go. I have been writing weekly letters when abroad since 1990 but most of that travel was working. I always had a lot of contact with local people living in an overseas community. Our tourism was limited mostly to “city breaks” in places like Florence, Dubai or Malta. But there was always the context of living and working abroad. I’m pretty sure I will insulated from local life on a cruise ship I not sure how much these letters will reflect the places we visit or how much they will be observations on cruise life. In these letters, which will also serve as blog posts, I will not have to be concerned about breaching professional confidences will be less concerned about saying something about the local culture that will make it difficult for me to live or work in that culture when read by my colleagues. I have a tendency to comment about the absurd I see around me. At times living abroad it was a catharsis to write about those absurdities, but I was also very self-edited. I may be a bit freer with observations on a purely tourist trip. I am curious about how that will work out myself.
By the time we got to Seattle Liam’s cold has gone to my head. I was practically deaf for a dinner with Jon Newstrom. Took a hot shower but it didn’t seem to help. I went to bed and at about 2 AM I was awakened by the noise of the heater kicking in. My ear had popped and could hear again. When we got on the plane to Ft. Lauderdale the whole process repeated and I was where I was yesterday, practically deaf. A hot shower, a lot of jaw movement and a night’s sleep brought my hearing back to at least usable.
We’re staying on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale and my initial impression was boardwalk town with palm trees. It has the same souvenir stands, beach shops, food joints, frozen custard stands, tattoo parlors, places called “The Elbo Room” and piano bar touts that any jersey shore town has. OK there is no actual boardwalk but a classy art deco corniche but I see the same lights and, if I could hear, I am sure the same sounds. We had dinner in an Italian restaurant where we could catch the sea breeze and that’s where any comparison with Jersey ends. No self-respecting Jersey restaurant would serve Chianti Classico chilled.
In the daylight Ft. Lauderdale looks nothing at all like the Jersey Shore. Many of the Bauhaus/Art Deco buildings across from the corniche are original and look much better without the tropical Holiday/Christmas lights all lit up (Santa’s, trees, and menorahs), more Tel Aviv than Wildwood.
Our room is on the top floor of the Marriott Courtyard. It faces southeast and I left the curtains open so I could catch the sunrise, which did not disappoint. I rolled over and went back to sleep, after all I’m still jet lagging. When I awoke a second time face to face with a window washer in dreadlocks hanging from a contraption slung from the roof. When Suzi and I look North East we see the beach, northwest we can see the cruise port. The ships make those coming to Sitka look tiny. Our ship, the Prinsendam, is small one even for Sitka. I could not make her out among the walls of floating balconies but I’m told she’s there somewhere. I hope so because since we booked this adventure I’ve had a feeling that this whole thing isn’t real. I’d be disappointed to arrive and find no little ship tucked among the leviathans.
I want to get this out while I still have affordable bandwidth. (I already downloaded one ebook this morning.) Insha’Allah we board at 2. The anticipation ends.