Getting Our Sea Legs

January 5, 2015

Aboard the MV Prinsendam.

Dear Friends,

I had expected to find lots of folks on the “trip of a lifetime.”  That doesn’t seem to be the case.  At our table there’s a couple on their 80th cruise.  I met a woman who’s staying on the boat from the Christmas /New Year holiday cruise.   Several fellow travelers taken world cruises, a few several times, and some have taken this very cruise before.  This is not a “starter” cruise but appears to be one for people who have “done it all,” including the world cruise.  Experienced cruise hands are giving us all sorts of good advice about the ports (which jewelry store in Rio give free shuttles from the port to downtown, and if you buy a $100 piece of jewelry, will run you up to the Statue of Christ the Redeemer. Since the tour off the ship for two costs more than $200…), and logistics (one woman got off in the Falkland Islands, the weather turned and she couldn’t get back on ship.  She advised us to take our meds ashore.  Since there are no flights to Argentina from the Falklands she had to fly to London and then back to South America.)  One experienced traveler told us that when we got to the Amazon we could no longer do laundry because the desalinization plant gets clogged with river mud and the ship is on severe water conservation so catch up on wash before we enter the river.

It’s good to be traveling with such experienced hands but we must sound like the naïve country cousins, full of wonder and expectation.   I miss that sense of wonder in some of our traveling companions.  I hope I never lose it anywhere, even places where I’m comfortable.  One person put it well when he said “This is not a vacation, it’s our lifestyle.”   They seem to have traded wonder for a kind of comfort food, and that seems ok.

There is a bit of one ups man ship, as one lunch companion said, among some of the passengers.  “I’ve been to, well I did…”  There is some very good storytelling, which I love.  These experienced cruisers sound very much like expat aid workers comparing postings.  I can match them with travel stories but not cruise stories.   I am still learning the etiquette.   When folks went around a table telling how many countries they had been to.  I declined to play, in part because I had the best of them beat by 10.  But you can’t visit Azerbaijan on a cruise ship (but you can visit Georgia, I found.)  We are in good hands with our fellow travelers although I suspect we will be more likely to break away from the planned ground excursions when we’re in port.

Kevin gave me an app for my iPhone that includes charts for the region and uses the iPhone GPS to tell me where I am, our heading and speed.  It took some getting used to.  There is a (very expensive) telephone cell on this ship.  If I don’t turn “Cellular Services” off in my iPhone the app keeps telling me I’m in Rotterdam.  Once I figured that out I’ve been following our coasting of Cuba, past Havana, and around the west end of the island.  There are many wistful people wishing we could call there.  Me too.

There are lots of activities, Suzi is off at Tai Chi and has been to a watercolor group.  I will go to a lecture on plate tectonics, one on building the Panama Canal and a workshop on digital photography.   I’m not getting as much reading time in as I thought I would.  Service on the ship is not as good as it should be.  While Suzi was at Tai Chi I ordered some hot tea in the room.  An hour later it was not here but the bus boy came in to take the empty cups and teapot.  Actually there is a lot of coordination yet to work out.  I mentioned we were upgraded to a room with a balcony, which we love.  But our baggage didn’t arrive.  I called the desk.  “Not to worry, we are still loading.”  The ship was supposed to sail at 11 PM but cast off at 9:30.  I called the desk.  “My luggage has not arrived and we are underway.  Should I start worrying now?”  There was a long pause.  “I’ll get back to you.”   The baggage had been delivered to the old stateroom, which had no guests.  Apparently several messages were also delivered there.  Perhaps there’s a cup of tea waiting in a stateroom three decks below.  Suzi has done her best to make our cabin for 68 days homey and useful.  She brought magnet hooks that attach to the steel cabin walls allowing us more places to hang things.  She also has gotten us several magnetic “white boards” actually laid out in several colors that add some decoration to the room and allow us to know where to find each other.

I wondered how Holland America would recognize the original Prinsendam, the one that sunk off of Sitka in 1980.  To my surprise and delight they have both a beautiful scale model of her on my deck and a nice Marine painting of her before a row of mountains.  Her short service life is noted but not the reason she left service.  At one of the meet and greets a man came up to me after he heard I was from Sitka.  He had served on the USCGC Storis (The Cutter on station during the rescue, the one that brought survivors into Sitka he was not on the ship at the time but subsequently did a stint at the 17th Coast Guard District in Juneau so he knew the tale.)  I told him I was always happy to shake the hand of a Coastie.  We then talked in great detail about the rescue, engaging some people and, I think uncomforting others.  I made the point that it was the best of news stories to cover, drama, adventure and everyone safe in the end.

For those of you who have taken cruises recently this is probably old hat.  We have not been on a cruise ship since taking my mom on a cruise 16 years ago.  A lot has changed, although I am glad we are on a “Small” ship, which in 1980 would have been a big ship, 800 passengers.  The one thing that is really different is the emphasis on stopping diseases before they start.  There are hand sanitizer dispensers all over the ship.  As we head into the lunch buffet someone actually squirts sanitizer on each hand.  With all the emphasis in disease prevention my coughing is a problem, at least to me it is, so yesterday I went to the infirmary.  I started a round of antibiotics last night hoping I will be I good shape for the Captain’s reception tonight and a visit to New Providence Island, Colombia tomorrow.

Take Care,



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