Day 9 – Sea Day – En Route to Guatemala
Sunday, January 28, 2018
Somehow, I was late for Trivia. This was a minor disaster as I lost my place on the team ☹ Jentle was very kind and said she would join me and start a new team.
“No, you stay with the team,” I told her. “It’s my own fault. I stopped in at the library.” Cunard is well-known for the excellence of its on-board libraries. Here on Queen Elizabeth, the library is built on two decks with a gracious, spiral staircase linking the two levels. Downstairs, one can find the daily crossword and sudoku puzzles, plus the brain-teaser quiz of the day which cannot be answered without significant research from reference books. Upstairs, a reader can find a broad selection of classic and current fiction across multiple genres. I am a great fan of mystery, thriller and espionage. Most of my favorite authors are represented on-board and I have fun discovering British authors who are popular but new to me.
On the starboard side of the deck the bookshop does a brisk trade in children’s books, fancy greeting cards, bookmarks, and books about Cunard ships and Cunard history.
If all this isn’t enough, there is an unofficial book swap. I brought three paperbacks on board with me and there is a list of readers waiting for the books to be passed along. My books went first to Saucy who will disembark in San Francisco, then to Perfect who leaves in Sydney and finally to Naughty N who will be on board for the full World Cruise. Naughty will pass the books on to someone else as soon as she is done with them. I’m reading books passed to me from Saucy, Perfect and Naughty, plus library books, so I have plenty to occupy my mind.
I made certain that I arrived in plenty of time for afternoon trivia and I was welcomed back to the inner circle. Trivia is one of the most popular events on the ship and each team has its cherished table in the pub, benches or stools pulled close. It’s a sad day when a usurping team gets to the pub first and ‘steals’ our table. It’s a bit like bridge. Players feel a sense of ownership of ‘their’ space and feel a little put out if they are forced to sit somewhere else. This has the effect of someone from the team showing up earlier and earlier to grab the table. The upside is that it’s easy to grab the attention of one of the bar waiters and order six glasses of iced water.
I have now received confirmation that my friend, Dramatic, will be joining me for the segment from Auckland to Brisbane. Back in 1968, Dramatic and I planned to sail together from New Zealand to England. Instead, Dramatic married Brilliant and they moved to France. It’s amazing that Dramatic and I will be cruising together fifty years after our original plan was deep-sixed. I took the 1968 trip anyway, sharing a cabin with two other friends and a stranger. My stateroom here on Queen Elizabeth is probably four times the size for half the people. Just as well, as I have more suitcases than I had back then.
Pretty, Perfect and I began our evening with cocktails in Café Corinthia. One of the waiters, a young Irishman, consistently delivers us the best gimlets – vodka over ice with lime juice cordial on the side so we can add our own and make it as tangy as we choose. With our drinks, we are served crisp potato chips and a variety of canapes, different every evening. It’s a wonder we have sufficient appetite for dinner.
Every evening in the elegant Britannia Restaurant, we are offered a delicious meal: appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert, petit-fours and coffee. Crystallized ginger and gold-wrapped chocolates tempt us from a three-tier cake-stand by the exit. I content myself with three small courses at table, but I always help myself to some ginger as I leave. It’s an exquisite finishing touch.
Day 10 – Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala – Macadamia Heaven
Monday, January 29, 2018
In the age of the internet, one can access one’s voyage personalizer in the comfort of one’s home, long before boarding the ship. Consequently, I went on-line back in November and read about the Cunard excursions offered in Guatemala. One of the most interesting was the visit to Antigua, Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But I did that trip back in 2009. I really enjoyed the tour, but it was several hours each way on a bus. Perhaps there would be something else. I read on. I discovered a tour to Lake Atitlan, also several hours each way, but the lake sounded beautiful and lunch would be included. I thought about the delicious lemony avocado I had enjoyed in Antigua. Perhaps there would be fresh avocado at the lake. I booked my ticket.
However, once onboard Elizabeth, Pretty and Perfect suggested I join them on a much shorter tour to the macadamia farm. Half the distance, back in time for lunch on board, and free time to browse the colorful stalls at the pier. Who could resist? I turned in my ticket and boarded the macadamia tour bus with P and P.
The ride was pleasant, the same road that ultimately leads to Antigua or the lake. In the distance, we saw the volcano smoking, a puff of white floating off the top of the peak.
We arrived at Valhalla Macadamia Farm where we learned more than we ever imagined about the life cycle of the macadamia nut. We saw trees with nuts at various stages in the growth cycle, so different from most crops where the entire harvest occurs once or perhaps twice a year. The local macadamia trees produce nuts all year round. The macadamia nut forms from the seed of the flower which dries on the tree. The clusters of tiny seeds, no bigger than a grain of rice, swell to the size of an orange pip, then kidney bean, to robin’s egg to chestnut. Only when they are almost as big as a kiwi fruit are they picked.
The nut, is thrown into an ancient machine which strips off the hard, outer husk, revealing the inner nut. This is then placed on a drying bed, a large table in the sun. From there, the nuts are sorted by size in a low-tech contraption, falling into sacks. They are then oven-roasted and ultimately shelled.
I always associated macadamia nuts with Hawaii. I don’t know if Valhalla Farm markets its nuts for eating, but they use the oil for cosmetic purposes. At the tiny shop on premises, we were shown the various creams and then each lady received a complimentary two-minute face massage. Pretty and I happened to be first in line. Ahhh, bliss.
We finished our tour with a cup of coffee, accompanied by pancakes with macadamia butter and preserves. Naturally, we helped the economy by purchasing chocolate covered nuts as gifts for our tablemates, trivia teams and so on.
Back at the pier, we browsed the stalls laden with Guatemalan textiles. They are distinctive with their brilliant colors, interesting weaves and functional designs. We each bought something, perhaps more than one something. Such a fun day, with souvenirs to bring back the memories.
Day 11 – Sea Day – En Route to Baja California
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
What, and where, exactly is Baja California? I thought we were going to Mexico!
If you look at a map of Central America, you will see that there is a long finger of land south of California, west of Mexico. This is the Baja California peninsula, but it belongs to Mexico. We are heading for the Mexican port of Cabo San Lucas, or Cabo. It’s an extremely popular vacation spot for Americans.
When I woke this morning, in the 4’s, the ship was rocking and rolling. I turned the light off after checking the time and luckily fell asleep for a couple more hours. When I woke again, the wind was howling, whipping the ocean into powerful spray that reached my balcony some 40 to 50 feet above sea level. The sea was anything but level with 15-meter waves and wind gusts up to 80 mph across the decks, almost hurricane strength. Captain Hashmi chose a course that kept us as close to the coast as possible. The landmass provided some element of shelter and things calmed down a little.
When the waves are unkind, the only thing to do is look at the horizon. Keeping eyes fixed on that distant, straight line certainly helps people cope. By evening, things were remarkably calm, and the theme of the day was The Show Must Go On.
Perfect and Pretty invited me to join them in their box at the Royal Court Theater this evening. As ‘top sailors’ they are invited every segment to enjoy a night at the theater, in a box, with complimentary champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. I was humbled by their generosity and was delighted to accept. The show featured Dale Kristien, best-known for her role as Christine Daae in Phantom of the Opera. The music was wonderful, the Queen Elizabeth Orchestra pulling out all the stops, and I was able to sing along in my head just as everyone else in the audience did. The champagne was perfectly chilled and effervescent; the strawberries were sweet and juicy and enticing.
This was a complimentary perk for top sailors, et moi, whereas other guests paid a premium for the same special treatment. Who has it better than I?
Day 12 – En Route to Cabo San Lucas
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
Every sea day we are offered stimulating lectures. Some are more popular than others. A few years ago, when I was teaching bridge on the maiden voyage of Queen Elizabeth, two extraordinary celebrity lecturers were on-board. The late P.D. James, renowned author of the Adam Dalgliesh murder mysteries, gave a fascinating talk one morning. Of course, I was teaching while she was lecturing so I finished my class and rushed from Card Room to Theater to hear as much as I could.
The other amazing celebrity was Sir David Frost. When I returned to England in 1968, he had three highly popular shows on British television. I had once shared an elevator with him when my British employers rented space in the same building as London Weekend Television. Now I had the chance to see him in person once again, and he did not disappoint. He told some vastly entertaining stories and I dined out on them for months.
Today, the prime lecture spot was filled by Captain Hashmi who took us on a virtual tour of the Navigational Bridge. There was Standing Room Only for his presentation in the theater, and a quick poll of attendees indicated that the session was fascinating. Throughout the ship, lunch conversation was dedicated to the wonders of modern ocean-going vessels, navigational aids, radar screens and the like. I have been fortunate enough to have visited the bridge of several ships, ss Captain Hobson in 1957, Celebrity Horizon in 1994, Celebrity Galaxy in 1997, QE2 in 2006, Silversea Silver Shadow in 2017. I wish I could remember details of that long ago visit to the Hobson’s bridge in 1957. I remember the engine room very well but that’s the only engine room of my acquaintance. If I were more tech savvy I might be able to discuss how things have changed over the years. But this I do know, QE2 had open-air wings on the bridge. I once enjoyed champagne and canapes there, sat in the Captain’s chair, wearing his cap, for a memorable photo op. I don’t think that happens very often these days. Now, a typical bridge has walls of glass for better visibility. Instrumentation is improving all the time. Communication is state-of-the-art. I feel confident that we are in good hands.
A tradition on Cunard ships, and most other cruise ships, is the Captain’s daily announcement. This usually includes the ship’s position, in degrees of latitude and longitude. We are told what this means in terms we can understand, for instance that we are 386 miles from the nearest inhabited island. The Captain will give a brief weather report, temperature, condition of the waves, wind-speed over the open decks and an indication of what we can expect over the next 24 hours. We usually learn how far we have sailed in the past 24 hours and how many miles are left until our next port-of-call. Many captains then add an anecdote of their choice. Captain Hashmi has been entertaining us with explanations of how common expressions came about. For example, he told a story about taking someone down a peg. In olden times, the most experienced seaman on a vessel was able to hoist his flag from the highest point on the mast. If a superior boarded the vessel, the flag would be lowered a peg or two so that the more important flag would prevail. I wonder if Captain Hashmi has a personal flag…If he does, it should be flying at the top of the pole.
Day 13 – Cabo San Lucas
Thursday, February 1, 2018
I was booked on an early tour today and scheduled to report to the theater at 8:15 am. Arranging the tour departure for 2000 guests is a major task and Cunard has it well orchestrated. Cabo San Lucas, or Cabo, is a tender port which requires an even smoother operation.
A tender is a small boat carried on a ship. After the Titanic disaster, ocean going vessels were required to carry sufficient lifeboats and life rafts for everyone on board. In the era of cruise ships, those lifeboats have been renamed tenders. Cunard’s tenders carry perhaps 70 or more guests between ship and jetty when the port has no dock large enough for a major vessel. In the event of an emergency, each tender can accommodate far more people.
The tour departure schedule is listed in the daily program and guests are urged to arrive with their companions so they can all be assigned to the same tour bus. Guests check in with the tour office representative, show their ticket and get ‘stickered’ with the appropriate bus number. Now, they must wait until their group is called to the tender gate. Each guest must check out using his ship ID; an officer counts each guest using a mechanical hand-held counter. Thus, the tender is not overloaded. Deck hands monitor the boarding of the tender, keeping ship and tender closely aligned. Cunard now uses a mini-gangway to link ship and tender which virtually negates any chance of an accident. Current protocol requires that guests must be able to board the tender unassisted, even if they use a mobility assistive device such as a walker or wheelchair. Once on board the tender, guests must sit where directed. The short ride from the anchorage across the bay to the landing point is usually great fun and provides another opportunity to make new friends.
This morning, my tour group left on the eighth tender trip – there are usually about four tenders in operation at any one time. We had an uneventful trip across the water to the landing jetty, passing the famous El Arco de Cabo, a natural hole in the rock. We had a fish-eye view of the Ruby Princess, somewhat smaller than our own vessel.
We found our tour bus, where our friendly guide welcomed us in excellent English. First stop was a glass-blowing factory. We watched a young man twirl an iron rod in the furnace and produce a lump of molten glass to which he added glass pebbles in a variety of hues. He rolled the mass on a slab, the molten glass absorbing the colors, then placed it back in the furnace. At 1800 degrees it blended and glowed and he rolled it more, forcing it into a cylinder, then a pear-shape. Back in the fire it went, in and out and roll and heat, in a cycle of heat and glow and roll and blow, until finally he slid the shape off the end of the twirling rod, fluted the edges and showed us – a salad bowl!
Our guide explained that young men from rural areas are trained in this factory, receiving a life-long skill and the wherewithal for a successful life. There were perhaps six eager, young men each working his own rod, in his own furnace, each producing wine glasses, salad bowls and other trinkets. Fragile objects are the hardest for world cruisers to take home in their luggage, so few glasses were acquired, but the memory lingers.
Rain fell as we drove along the Cabo coast, past fancy hotels and time shares, and vacation rentals. We didn’t care – we were safe and dry on our bus. We had no idea that the tender service was canceled, it being a little too dangerous to run tender operations in the inclement weather. Sail and snorkel tours were canceled, some guests making it to shore only to be told their tour was canceled. Now they had nowhere to go and they couldn’t even return to the ship.
Meanwhile, we strolled the streets of Cabo San Jose, under blue skies, visiting the church and viewing the art galleries. A few brave souls sampled coffee at a charming restaurant, and I somehow acquired a magnet and a postcard.
On our return trip, the rain a distant memory, we stopped at Belluna Resort, one of the superior hotels, and sampled the local beer. The view was mesmerizing: across the bay to the Rock Arch, Queen Elizabeth standing proud at anchor, dwarfing the Ruby Princess, tiny white waves breaking over the rocky terrain, the long stretch of golden sands a stone’s throw from where we sipped our coffee in the sunshine.
The last tender from shore returned to the ship at 5:30 and the Sail Away party began on the open deck with music from the onboard band, Synergy. I heard stories of canceled tours, and bumpy tender rides, and rain-sodden clothes. But no-one minded. We have nothing to complain about. We are sailing on a magnificent ship, with a stellar crew, sound seamanship, and if the Captain is not Canute, the British king who could command the waves, it doesn’t matter. We are having a wonderful time.
My voyage on Queen Elizabeth is divided into segments. Each segment I receive a few benefits: 8 hours of complimentary wi-fi (it goes very fast), invitations to cocktail parties with literally hundreds of guests, complimentary wine-tasting (unfortunately this clashes with bridge) and a complimentary dinner in one of the alternate dining venues. Pretty and Perfect are also recipients of these benefits (plus some extra treats) so we decided to dine at La Piazza this evening. This week the Lido is ‘buffet by day’ and intimate Italian trattoria once the sun sets. Pretty arranged that we sat at the most exclusive table in the room where we could imagine we were in Italia, mangia-ing antipasti, pasta delicioso and tiramisu. We had a wonderful evening and closed the restaurant down a little before midnight – we were not the last!
How can we top this wonderful day? Not even going to try.