Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Pacific Princess

We just finished a wonderful trip. It started in Papeete, Tahiti and ended in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida with a few stops in between to make it memorable. This was the second time in 2007 that we were in the Society Islands, having been there in September while we were on the Sun Princess. In September, it was a typical tropical island; in December it was decorated for Christmas. Doorways were covered in Christmas paper; icicle lights dripped off eaves; red and green banners lined the streets; and poinsettias and orchids were everywhere. Papeete at Christmas is a different world.

While we stopped in Bora Bora, the best island to visit is still Moorea. It’s located about 15 kilometers from Papeete. It has beautiful beaches, soaring mountains, and beautiful blue waters. If you get the chance, bypass Bora Bora which has been commercialized and “hoteled” and go to Moorea. When “South Pacific” was filmed, Moorea was the fabled island of Bali Hai…and Moorea keeps on saying “come to me, come to me!”

Our next encounter with land happened four days later when we “found” Pitcairn Island, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. I say “found” because Pitcairn is 1 mile by 2 miles “big.” Navigating the huge South Pacific Ocean to find a speck of land is pretty miraculous to me. So, we cruised about 400 nautical miles a day, and we found Pitcairn right on time. We were not allowed to get off the ship at Pitcairn, but the Islanders were allowed to come onboard. That’s special. With all the new security measures in place, it’s impossible for folks on shore to enter a cruise ship…but somehow the security was lowered and about 40 Islanders visited us. We were able to talk to them; buy their wares; and listen to their stories. I have no idea how folks live on 2 square miles of land in the absolute middle of nowhere, but they do and they seem to enjoy it. I bought a polo shirt with Pitcairn Island embroidered on it and I sent out a few postcards with a Pitcairn Island stamp and post mark. The cards are supposed to arrive sometime after March, 2008, as that is when they are expecting the next ship to make landfall there.

On Christmas Eve we encountered a small triangular scrap of land that has filled my imagination for 40 years. Easter Island, made famous by Thor Heyerdahl’s book, Aku Aku, was a very exciting stop. In 2004, I saw a Moai from Easter Island standing in Valpariso, Chile and frankly, I thought I would never see any more, yet, there we were on Easter Island and we had a tour planned where we would see the 15 Moai at Tongariki; the quarry at Rano Raraku,

and the Moai at Anakena Beach!

We had a wonderful tour and I took lots of neat pictures! I had a grand time looking at these giant stone heads and wondering how they were “walked,” as current theory indicates, from one end of the island to the other. They are HUGE. Our time on the island was not long enough, but the Pacific Princess was moving on, and we were too.

Christmas Day on the ship was beautiful. There were Christmas trees decorating the ship and the chefs had a grand time decorating the ship with gingerbread houses and carved fruit and veggies. We had a priest on board and he said Mass for everyone. We sang Christmas carols and in the afternoon, we had a gingerbread house decorating contest. Santa gave presents to the three kids who were on board. The night ended with two of the children reading “The Night Before Christmas” in their crisp British accents. Everyone had a grand time.

Our next stop, San Martin, Peru, was another 4 days of sailing from Easter Island. We have all been taught that the Pacific Ocean is 15 times the size of the United States and it’s the largest body of water on our planet. This is all true. However, when you sail on the Pacific Ocean for 10 days and see 2 very small islands, you get an idea just how big that hunk of water really is. When we finally encountered the continent of South America, we were ready to step on land! Some members of our party went to Machu Picchu, others went to the Galapagos and some stayed closer to the ship. We stayed near the ship as we are going to Machu Picchu in March. We looked at the hustle and bustle along the docks and practiced our Spanish. We also enjoyed a troupe of dancers. Danielle, pictured above is in native Inca dress. She was so cute we all wanted to take her home!

Somewhere along the way we celebrated New Year 2008. This is when I need to tell you about the wonderful people who take a 26 day cruise. There are few folks under 60 on a long cruise; there are few children on a long cruise; there are few folks who are still working on a long cruise. Given that, staying up until midnight is not a “big deal” to the folks taking a long cruise. Frankly, I did not expect to see many people at the Midnight Celebration, and I was right. There were 3 venues set aside for celebrations. At the Cabaret Lounge, where we were, about 60 partied hearty. I did not go to the other venues, but I don’t think more a third of the passengers stayed up to greet 2008 at the strike of midnight. On the other hand, we were up and having a grand time throwing streamers, tooting our horns and dancing the night away!

From San Martin we crawled up the coast to Callao, Peru, near Lima and then to Manta, Ecuador near Quito. Ecuador has two unique features: it uses the American Dollar and the equator crosses the country. From Manta, we headed toward the Panama Canal and Miraflores Lock, the first lock on the Pacific side of the Canal. We crossed the Canal on a warm, bright, sunny day. We had an excellent chance to see the locks, the lakes, the trains, the Bridge of the Americas and the new Centennial or Millennium Bridge.

It takes a full day to cross the Canal. This was our second crossing, yet it was still interesting to see how these huge ships are jockeyed into position to squeeze into locks mere inches wider than they are. The biggest ships to cross the canal are called “Pana-max.” The Pacific Princess is not a “Pana-max” ship…she did not fill up the locks, but we were paired with a Panamax P & O liner …there truly were were inches to spare between the ship and the lock. The amount and variety of cargo that passes between the locks everyday is amazing. The cost of going through the Canal is amazing too. Our small ship ran up a $200,000 charge, which was paid, in cash, 48 hours before crossing.

After crossing the Canal we stopped in Colon, Panama for a few hours to stretch our legs and see what type of trouble we could get into at a duty free port. Colon is not much more than a huge warehouse with vendors from all over Panama and Costa Rica selling every type of “arts and craft goody” you can think of. They also have an internet café. So, while I was looking at the handicrafts, Chet was online. The ship internet café charged $.75/minute while the Colon Internet Café charged $3.00 for 45 minutes.

From Colon the ship stopped at the San Blas Islands, where the Kalu Indians reign supreme. The Kalu live as they did before Columbus set foot in the area. They have been encouraged to join modern society, yet they steadfastly refuse. Seeing their society is a step back in time. From there, a short day of sailing took us to Limon, Costa Rica, a completely different reality from San Blas. Here we took a tour and I was lucky enough to hold a 3-toed sloth named Rosita!

What a treat! Surprising to me, her fur was soft, just not luxurious! And, guess what, she moved ever so slowly, exactly like I have seen in pictures. We also saw lots of native birds, but no toucans. I guess they were on holiday.

That was our last stop before 3 days of sailing to Ft. Lauderdale. Everything was getting “wound down” in the ship. People were settling their bills. Others were finding and turning in library books, while some folks were getting rid of their paperback books in order to pack all the goodies they had purchased along the way. The ship held a “white elephant” sale where we could sell our newly purchased stuff to another unsuspecting soul. We had our fourth and final formal night. It’s always surprising to see how well we clean up. During the day, we’re wearing t-shirts and flip flops, but on formal night, the men wear their tuxedos and the women have on the long gowns and glittery tops. One man even wore his dress kilt!

I think cruise ships are the only place people get really dressed up anymore. It’s fun to do every once in awhile, but, according to my husband, not much more than that.

The last day on ship, we were sharing our home addresses and making promises to visit each other sometime in the near future. We made tentative plans to go to Egypt with another couple next December…I hope it all works out. On the final night, we said good-bye to our waiters, Alex, Henrique and Eugenio before packing up our suitcases and getting ready for the hardest part of the journey: Disembarkation.

Disembarkation can be an ordeal. The last time we disembarked there was a bomb scare. Other times, we have lost luggage, and once we were greeted with what looked like total chaos. You never know what to expect. What we got was heaven-sent: The perfect disembarkation. We got up at 6 AM, showered, dressed, and went to breakfast in the Panorama Buffet. We checked our room to make sure we had not forgotten anything. Said good-bye to Roselle, our cabin steward extraordinaire, and we walked to our waiting area. Before we got there, our number was called…so we got in line and before we knew it we left the ship. We walked to the bus that took us to the airport. What had been our home was now just another ship that was going to start a 104 day round the world voyage without us! At the airport we checked in and waited for our plane. We flew home! It was over! We’ve been traveling for 84 of the last 100 days! It’s good to be home. Now a new reality has set in.

1 comment:

Doc said...

Sounds like another tough trip for the Cottons'. You guys aren't planning an Alaska cruise this year are you? Fran and I were talking about one and thought it would be a blast to wind up on onw with you. Let us know and we'll see what we can figure out.