Day 4 – At Sea
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
A few years ago, I was traveling on one of the Cunard Queens between Los Angeles and Sydney. If you look at a world map it’s clear that there is a lot of ocean between those two cities. If you look at the globe, it’s even more apparent that there’s not much to see along the way. I was chatting to a fellow guest on that ship and politely asked if she was enjoying the trip.
“It’s OK,” she said. “But I don’t understand why we have to have so many sea days. Why can’t we have more port days. I miss shopping.” I guess she had never looked at a map of the Pacific Ocean.
So, what does one do on these long cruises which, unlike Mediterranean cruises, are not exactly port-intensive? Most cruise lines offer a wide range of activities aimed at pleasing every taste and interest. Here is a list of today’s activities: crossword puzzles and quizzes, computer class, line dancing, lectures, arts and crafts, watercolor class, bowls tournament, trivia, solo travelers’ get together, shuffleboard, ballroom dance class, Name that Tune, Concert, croquet competition, Movie in the theater, quoits, bingo, paddle tennis, needlework corner, baggo competition, live music all around the ship. And that’s just until 6 pm when the night life begins. And I didn’t even mention bridge!
At a time when many cruise ships have chosen not to have formal bridge lessons or games on board, Cunard is still totally committed to providing bridge instruction and duplicate games. On this segment, there are usually 14 tables of duplicate bridge every afternoon unless we are in port. Agreeable runs two sections of seven tables each. She has been working diligently to provide pre-made deals and hand records every day. Each morning, she gives two lessons, Beginners and Intermediates. The afternoon game is sanctioned by ACBL (American Contract Bridge League) and she is thus able to award masterpoints. She prints a slip for each player as evidence of their achievement, although she will submit the points to ACBL electronically at the end of the cruise. She is well-liked and much appreciated by the bridge playing contingent on board.
I am always amazed at how quickly one adjusts to life on board ship. Even before I joined the ship in Fort Lauderdale, I planned my sea-days: breakfast with Perfect, Trivia, Lunch with Perfect and Pretty, Bridge, Trivia, Cocktails, Dinner and the Show. In the gaps between activities I planned to read, write my journal and this blog, work on my latest needlepoint project and work on the rewrite of my travel book.
However, I’m not perfect. I’m reading more than I’m writing, and writing more than stitching.
I perforce have joined a new trivia team as A and D were conspicuous by their absence this morning. Now I am teamed up with Lovely L and Jentle J. When I told Jentle the name I have assigned her, she laughed and said,
“I’ve never been accused of being gentle.”
“That’s part of the fun,” I told her. “I give names within seconds of meeting a person. Sometimes I’m right on the money and sometimes I am way off base.” Now I know her better, I should perhaps have called her The General. She is calm, confident, capable and we are all happy to put her in charge of our team – yes, she is our scribe – her word counts.
Pretty and Perfect invited me to join them for cocktails in the Commodore Club this evening. It’s a spacious lounge all the way forward and all the way up on Deck 11. It’s a perfect observation point, but in these Caribbean waters it is always dark by the time we meet at 7:30. Nevertheless, it’s a popular venue as the resident pianist plays deliciously seductive and familiar songs on the glamorous grand piano. Our waiter served us the world’s best cosmopolitans, individually shaken, not stirred, individually flamed with orange zest, the perfect beginning to a delightful evening.
Day 5 – Oranjestad, Aruba
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
When I woke up this morning, Aruba was right outside my window. Aruba is one of the ABC islands, (Aruba, Bonair and Curacao) and a popular destination for sun-loving tourists. Back in the early 80’s, American Airlines offered a mini-vacation at the Playa Linda resort. Handsome Hubby, Cherished Child and I, had a wonderful few days on the beach, in the water, sampling exotic cuisine, learning a few words of the local Papiamento dialect. We visited the windmill and the lighthouse. We learned about the divi-divi trees which grow as if windswept, victim to the prevailing wind which blows hard on to the island’s northern coast.
Now, more than thirty years later, I thought I had seen all that the island had to offer. I decided to walk around the square in Oranjestad, the heart of the island, and revisit those memories. I gazed from my balcony at the charming Dutch style buildings near the pier, at the small boats moored in the marina. I was itching to get off the ship, walk around and absorb the atmosphere. It looked so different from that long-ago visit.
There were three cruise ships in port today and the walkway from gangway to port gate was crowded. Once into the melee of taxi drivers, tour operators, brochure waving locals and hundreds of tourists, I just wanted to escape. Then I saw the fun truck. Bright pink, open air, happy people already on board, waiting for one or two more to fill the space.
“Twenty dollars – two hours – all around the island,” sang the tour guide. I made up my mind in an instant.
“Can you fit me in?” I asked.
“If you are willing to sit up front with me,” he replied.
I said yes before I considered how I would reach that front seat. The only way up was to place my feet into tiny toe-holds, hauling myself up on a hand rail. I must have been four feet off the ground by the time I was seated next to the driver.
We headed out for our tour, our guide sharing his expert knowledge of the island.
Aruba is very dry, with water all around but none to drink. The island nation built a desalination plant several years ago and now claims to be number 2 on the list of the world’s best water. We headed for Caribasi, an unusual stone mound, several storeys high, with steps cut into the rock. I was first to get off the truck (the other riders had to wait for the tour escort to let down a flight of steps for them to descend) and headed up the trail to the mound. I had a recollection of visiting a similar place elsewhere on the island, but Caribasi was much higher and trickier. The steps I chose fizzled out. While I was in pathfinder mode, searching for an alternate route, a little old lady crawled through a gap underneath a huge boulder and was followed by the rest of her family. Not me. I went down again and found the granite steps on the rear of the mound. Thank heavens for the handrail. The steps were uneven, some much steeper than others. The sun was beating down on us and there was no shade. I met Vibrant who was already picking her way carefully down the steps.
“I’m glad I did it,” she said, “but I’m never doing it again.” By the time I reached the top I felt the same way. The view was interesting, but not breathtaking. The little old lady was there, so perhaps she was not so old. I couldn’t even see where she might have emerged from her tunnel ascent.
I rejoined the fun truck and checked my fit-bit. Already 2000 steps and the equivalent of 7 flights of stairs.
We drove through an extremely affluent residential area, each home more than twice the size of the traditional local homes. They were primarily owned by North Americans who vacationed in Aruba during the cold northern winter. Aruba claims a consistent daily temperature of about 86 degrees, which is absolutely perfect for a beach holiday.
“Is the windmill still here,” I asked our driver. It had been an important tourist attraction way back when.
“Yes,” he told me. “We will drive past it.
The area was unrecognizable to me. Playa Linda had been one of a few hotels on an almost deserted beach. Now, there are myriad hotels, apartments, timeshares ranging from the ordinary to the Ritz-Carlton. There are casinos, and apartment complexes, beautifully manicured lawns, and lush flowers. We drove past Eagle Beach and saw the famous divi-divi trees, healthier than I remembered on this gentle side of the island.
Back at the port, I wandered through the market stalls, bought a magnet to remind me of the colorful, Dutch-style gabled buildings, and turned a blind eye to the expensive jewelry shops. I willed myself not to be tempted by the same souvenirs I have bought and discarded in the past. It was nearly lunchtime. I walked back to the ship. A special massage treatment was calling my name.