Monday, April 30, 2007

Panama Cruise, Day 13: Day at Sea

Luxury at Sea
Since last night I was out quite late, I decided to sleep in until 7:00. I had room service delivered a little later than usual, but I splurged with a few extras this morning. The poor ships crew...I'm always taking photos of them. As I sat in my Egyptian cotton Princess bathrobe on my balcony, I savored every moment. Early mornings on the ocean are so pleasant, a chance for peace and quiet and a time for reflection.

Apparently we made progress overnight in our journey. After the ship cleared the “Bahia de Acapulco” last night, we set sail along the Mexican Riviera coast. As I was enjoying my breakfast we passed Punta San Telmo, although we still had a full day of travel ahead of us at sea.
I decided that today I would finish the book, “Sammy’s Hill” I had started at the beginning of the cruise. During the past 10 days I’ve been busy with so many activities and excursions that I barely had time enough to read. I made my way to the Riviera deck and found a chair by one of the more isolated pools and began reading, but at the same time I monitored the sound of the steel drum band playing nearby. This was my view of the world, from a deck chair, barefoot by the pool…as real as I wanted things to be.

The steel drum band was pretty good, their rhythm and melodies were relaxing and made me think about some of the great entertainment on board that I’ve enjoyed. The Wheelhouse Lounge has a terrific live jazz band nightly, the Atrium lounge always has a pianist playing the American Standards, The Vista Lounge has comedians, musicians and vocalists nightly, and the Princess Theatre has a variety of production stage shows, musical reviews and other performers nightly.
Fabulous Evening Entertainment too
This evening I went to see comedian Scott Wiley, whose act was billed as having “over 250 punch lines”. I laughed non-stop for his entire act. A few nights ago I stumbled on an odd act of sorts, a chap who was a harmonica virtuoso. In my wildest imagination I would have never thought I’d be watching some guy playing harmonica on stage. However, when he played “Romanian Rhapsody” I realized he did have talent, but what, couldn’t he afford to learn violin?

The All Important Dessert Update

One of the things I enjoy about having dinner in the formal dining room is the fine selection of desserts on the menu. Having a sweet tooth, I cannot resist sampling the goodies. To give you an idea of the quality of delectable delights on the cruise, I’ve provided another gallery of scrumptious desserts:

Above left: Chocolate Mousse with Grand Marnier in Merangue, right: Puff Pastry with fresh fruit in vanilla custard.
Above left: Tiramisu, right: chocolate layered cake with three kinds of mousse
Hello to Judi, who faithfully reads this ridiculous blog every day. By the way, tell Steve it WAS a lamb cake on the buffet yesterday, but made with cauliflower!
Tomorrow we arrive in Cabo San Lucas.
-Rick Rockhill
Welcome members!

Panama Cruise, Day 12: Fiesta Mexicana Tropical Deck Party

Last night was a “Fiesta Mexicana Tropical Deck Party”, starting at 10:30 PM on one of the top decks by the pool. I had to plan ahead if I wanted to make it through the night, so I took an afternoon nap in order to stay awake past 10:00. When I arrived, the party was well under way. People dressed in island style attire were drinking all sorts of tropical drinks and dancing to the live band that played a mixture of calypso and party songs that keep people dancing.

The highlight of the evening, without doubt was the most amazing buffet I have ever seen in my life. It was truly a work of art, all kinds of sculptures made out of fruit, vegetables, and an amazing array of pastries, cakes and pies. They opened the buffet line for photos before the scavengers were allowed to tear into it. Here is my exhibit- take a close look at the incredible detail and time that went into making these. If my memory serves me right, the crew who do ice sculptures are also the same people who know how to do these amazing fruit carvings.

Later in the evening, the crowd went wild, dancing into a frenzy as conga lines formed seemingly out of thin air. At one point, people were dancing around the pool and all jumped in-with their clothes on. It was a crazy scene, even if the cruise director team had planned it that way, it looked spontaneous and fun.

I decided it was the perfect evening to smoke my Cuban cigar and stay up a little later than usual to enjoy the festivities. It was well worth it!

-Rick Rockhill
Welcome members

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Panama Cruise, Day 11: Acapulco, Mexico

Acapulco was very different from any of the other port of call we’ve made so far on this cruise. The approach from the port was quite scenic, many sailboats in the bay, a winding coastline, and a sweeping beach area with tall hotels. The higher elevations along the coast had been developed with homes, businesses and signs, which was quite a contrast to Huatulco the prior day. Since I did not plan a particular excursion or tour, I decided to explore the city on foot, which limited what we could see. As expected when I walked out into the open area, I was inundated by locals with offers for taxi rides, tours and people asking for money. I eventually made my way through the chaos and into the streets where I made my way to the shops for a day of shopping and price-bargaining.

A Brief History of Acapulco
Acapulco was originally part of the Aztec empire, but I am told that there are no significant ruins remaining today. By the late 1500’s Spain had developed Acapulco as a major port for treasure ships carrying spices, silk, porcelain and ivory from the Orient and gold and silver from South America. Eventually English and Dutch pirates would come and raid these treasures and Spain was quickly out of business in this area. After a few hundred years as mainly a fishing village, it wasn’t until after WWII when there was significant development as a resort destination. Acapulco is in heart of the Mexican Riviera and enjoys a healthy tourist trade to its many beaches and hotels.

Day of Shopping
Shopping wore me out. Being a retail buyer by profession, the first lesson in shopping throughout Mexico’s open markets and many shops is that you never pay the first stated price for anything. This is how trade is done in Mexico, so it is not considered an insult to negotiate price. For example, someone I was traveling with negotiated a piece of jewelry at a reputable store from $6,500 down to $1,500. Although my Spanish is not very good, I felt I could communicate the basics in Spanish and wanted to see how much I could accomplish. Nearly everyone spoke English, which was helpful after my string of broken Spanish only got me so far.

· When I would enter a shop I would proudly exclaim: “Hola, Buenos Dias Senora” (Hello, good morning Ma’am). The women in the shops would acknowledge me with a pleasant “Hola Senor”.

· When they proceeded to ask me something in Spanish I would pretend not to hear them and instead examine the item closest by my hand.

· My next strategy would always to just ask about cost and would say: “Cuanto cuesta?” (How much does it cost?). Regardless of whatever number they quoted I would reply: “Esta muy caro” (It’s very expensive).

· If I wanted to get away I’d shake my finger and say “No gracias, no me gusta” (No thank you, I don’t like it) and would quickly leave.

· Frequently I was asked how much I wanted to pay. I would reply with a very low price, knowing that I was beginning a lengthy process of negotiating the price down to what I would pay. Many times, what I paid was 15-25% of the price they started at. It was always: “Special price for you, my friend”, or “I like you, so this is especial price, amigo”

Whenever I left anywhere I was always shouting: “Gracias, adios” (Thank you, goodbye) to anyone nearby. I’m sure I sounded like a complete idiot. I did manage to make a few purchases, aside from a ring for myself; I found these two items below: what I think is an alabaster parrot (“Perico”), and these beautiful ceramic bowls, although I should have bought more.

At the suggestion of Jose Carlos, one of the bartenders from the ship, I decided to stop for lunch at a restaurant called 100% Natural (see photo left), a Mexican restaurant that uses whole wheat tortillas, with natural ingredients to make traditional Mexican food. It looked clean and was very busy, so I decided to give it a try. After acknowledging the waitress with a hearty “Hola Senora” I blurted out my drink order: “Cerveza, por favor” (Beer please). I thought she said “Corona” but she came back with a “Modelo”, but as long as it was bottled, I’d drink it. For lunch I had the “Tacos de Pollo” (chicken tacos) and an order of fresh guacamole. The food was really delicious. When I asked for the bill, she took out a piece of paper and wrote down two numbers: 250 and 25. Two hundred fifty pesos or twenty five dollars. Since my amigo and I had four beers, two entrees and the guacamole dip, I assumed that it added up to that, but since she didn’t actually give us a bill I took her word for it and paid her the $25. I left a little bewildered, but my mind was already more consumed with thoughts of impending doom from food poisoning that I felt certain would befall me. So far, I have escaped sudden death, as its been a few hours and other than a few concerning gurgles from my stomach, I feel quite fine.

Later this evening, the ship is hosting a “Fiesta Mexicana Tropical Deck Party” with live music, dancing, and a midnight buffet with tropical and Mexican foods. I'll update this again after the big party! Thanks for reading...tomorrow we are at sea, on route to Cabo San Lucas!

-Rick Rockhill
Welcome members!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Panama Cruise, Day 10: Huatulco, Mexico

Wow- it's hard to imagine that ten days have already passed by. I find myself wishing this were a 30 day cruse instead of 18. That pesky job always gets in the way of my social life! The view along the Central American coast and waters was very pleasant, but oh so humid and hazy at times. Our ship was spared from the normally windy and rough waters of the Gulf of Tehuantepec. We glided through calm seas into Santa Cruz Bay this morning to views of the rugged coast of Huatulco (pronounced "wa-tool-co"), located in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Huatulco was originally inhabited by a variety of ethnic groups: Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Chontales and Mexicans as far back as 1000 A.D. In 1519, Huatulco became an important port for Spanish merchant vessels, but the population was decimated by Smallpox and left virtually no inhabitants. In the 1980’s the Mexican government recognized the opportunity to develop the area as a resort destination, and began an effort to build an infrastructure of roads, bays, piers and lush vegetation. The result is a relatively new and well planned resort community. While still very much in its early stages of development, Huatulco boasts crystal clear waters, coral reefs, rainforests, coffee plantations and uncrowded beaches. To their credit, large areas have been designated as an ecological reserve and will remain undeveloped.

In the afternoon, we went on a river rafting trip, which was great fun. The “Party Bus” met us at the marina, where I boarded with some trepidation. The engine of the bus grunted and groaned, slowly making its way up steep inclines and around hairpin turns. My mind immediately fabricated tomorrow’s headline news: “Tour Bus drives off cliff in tiny Mexico resort town”. I tried not to look at the driver, a short Mexican man who looked confused and tired. The steering wheel seemed far too large for the driver, as he wrestled with the wheel and shifted gears in response to the painful grumblings of the engine.

As we arrived at the river launch spot, we passed by a Mexican Army “barrack”. The soldiers were armed with machine guns, but most were lying around sleeping. We were told that if anyone needed a restroom there was a woman who would “rent” it for $1.00 for two people’s use. Once in the river we saw a group of naked Mexican soldiers taking a bath in the river, and further down, we were met by young children who swam to the raft. The river was recently dredged, with large piles of rock and sand along the banks. We saw a number of birds along the river, but I wasn’t able to take many photos out of fear of getting my camera wet. After a brief water-fight with another raft team full of idiots, we paddled our way down the river for three miles. The river rapids were quite easy, perhaps no more than a level 2. Although it was sunny and hot, a gentle breeze kept us cool as we enjoyed the afternoon Mexican sun.

In the afternoon I went through the shops in the marina, where I found a few postcards to add to my massive collection since I was a kid. I also bought a nice ring for myself and decided to celebrate my new acquisition with a beer on the beach. As I sat in the sand watching the surf roll in, I closed my eyes and listed to some music. A man and his two small children were playing an instrument that looked like a xylophone, with a sign that read: “here tips”. I obliged, thinking that the change from my beer would probably buy the three of them dinner for the night. After a leisurely stroll on the beach, I returned to the ship and wrote this posting. Thanks for reading. Tomorrow we arrive in Acapulco.

-Rick Rockhill
Welcome members!


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