Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Travel Blog #11: The Momentus Event

I waken one morning. Sheree is clattering around the cabin. Doors opening and closing, drawers being ransacked great meat platters being dropped from thirty feet above. Okay. Maybe no meat platters. But it sounds that way. It is just before five and she is up and about. I, on the other hand, being a genuinely slothful man, lay in bed waiting for the noise to stop.

“What are you doing?” I ask with just enough irritation to let her know I mean business.

“Capturing the Amazon sunrise,” she says.

“Ah,” I retort, thinking quickly.

The door slams as she leaves and I am left with a dilemma. Do I go back to bed or do I throw on clothes and capture the sunrise with her? My body tells me that an Amazon sunrise is no big deal. My mind says I should haul my lazy ass out of bed and get some pictures. Then I thought of you guys – sitting in rapt attention before your computers, aching for the latest update, probably refreshing the screen every five seconds or so. Probably.

So I grabbed the camera, put on my Great Hat and headed for Deck 9. I have to tell you about the Momentous Event that occurred this morning.

Sheree was in conversation with a rail thin Oriental man and a guy who looked like retired army. Rather she was standing there with a bemused smile on her face while they faced off with each other.

“East that way,” insisted the Oriental guy.

“Well, the boat is headed into the Amazon,” Military Guy began patiently.

The Oriental guy jabs a finger toward the back of the ship.

“East there,” he says.

Military guy strokes his chin. This is how I can tell he is thinking. Finally he speaks.

“Well the boat is headed into the Amazon,” says he with certainty.

I am just out of bed and pissy enough to speculate whether he was taught that shrewd navigation at West Point. I mean we are on an AMAZON cruise. It’s pretty obvious that we are headed into the Amazon. I await the next pearl of wisdom that will drop uninvited from his lips. But there isn’t one. I smile at Sheree and she smiles back.

The captain knows where we are going.

We head out to the back deck, fingers poised over shutter buttons. But it is a grey morning. The water around us has turned a light brown. (Sheree is calling it “khaki – the color of chicken gravy” but she says I can’t use the metaphor. So I won’t. She is here, beside me on the balcony and we are both writing blogs.) Anyway – the water has turned a light brown. Ummm. Sort of the color of chicken gravy. Ahem.

There are chunks of plants floating on the water and the air is really humid. Putting the lens cap on a camera isn’t a good idea since the glass mists over almost immediately. You can’t see much through the glass doors because of the humidity. The air feels wet – like you just turned off a shower.

Anyway – I have to get back to the Momentous Event.

Said M.E. (Momentous Event) began as we got onto the Panorama Deck. This is where they put the buffet and progressively rounder tourists graze on rich food from early morning well into night. So many of my fellow travelers lack the will power to pass by food without eating it.
Following breakfast, we headed out to the back deck and there we saw two people huddled around rectangular handheld boxes.

I was curious enough to introduce myself and ask what the heck they were doing.

“These are GPS units,” said a man introducing himself as ‘Dennis from Bristol’ with more than a flicker of pride. “We are very close to the equator.”

He smiled in a way that invited me to enter into the excitement.

“We are less than two minutes away,” said the short birdlike woman, who later became known as ‘Thelma from Martha’s Vineyard.”

“Two minutes, huh?” I said. “Is that close?”

Simultaneously they both looked at me as though I’d grown a third eye in the middle of my forehead.

“Less than ten minutes,” said Dennis.

“She just said it was two minutes,” I observed.

“Well it takes about ten minutes to go two minutes,” said Dennis.

I looked at him and blinked. He liked that – which I thought he might.

“Position is measured in minutes and hours. When she said two minutes, she was referring to our position.” He paused to look down his pointy little nose at me. I was instantly back in college. “That is why it will take ten minutes to travel two minutes in position.”

He settled back with a self-satisfied look, folding his hands over his paunch.

“Do you think the captain will honk his hooter?” asked Thelma.

“Almost certainly,” said Dennis enthusiastically. “We should at the very least all give a cheer.”
I looked around at the other six sleepy tourists, sipping coffee and looking for all the world as though they could give a shit about crossing the equator.

“On the last cruise, we were all gathered on the deck,” began Thelma. “We were tracking our progress.” (I should point out that as she said ‘track our progress’ she sounded exactly like the president and sole member of the Science Club in High School.)

Dennis nodded excitedly. Since I sensed the tale was reaching its climax, I nodded too.

“But the captain honked his hooter nearly two hours early. He just wanted us to leave so he could get on with business. But we knew. We were tracking our progress.”

“Imagine that!” I said, aghast.

Dennis made a tisking sound and gave his head a sad little shake.

“Like we wouldn’t know he was lying?”

The three of us took a few seconds to contemplate the sad state of affairs the world has slid into when the captain of a south American ship prematurely honks his hooter. I broke the silence.

“So is there going to be a dotted white line?” I asked finally.

They both turned to look at me. I smiled back into blank faces – expecting at least a smile, if not gales of laughter.

“What?” asked Dennis.

“When we cross the equator will there be a dotted line?”

“There’s no line,” said Dennis evenly.

“No line,” agreed Thelma with a sharp birdlike nod.

“It’s on all the globes,” I said. “You can see it. There’s a line. Sometimes it’s solid. Sometimes it’s dotted. But there’s always a line.”

Thelma snorted. Not a pretty sound.

Dennis examined me for a long moment. “You’re having us on, eh?”

“Yes. I am,” I said.

Dennis made a sharp barking sound in what could only be considered a polite laugh. Thelma just glared at me. One of the sleepy passengers laughed out loud – bless his heart.

“Less than one minute,” said Thelma.

“What does that mean in terms of time?” I asked.

Dennis paused expansively and looked upward as he did the necessary calculations. “We are less than half a mile away from the equator. Roughly five minutes.”

“I do hope he hoots his hooter,” said Thelma.

“Me too,” I said.

They compared GPS settings and sure enough they were exactly the same.

“Three satellites are providing us the information right now,” said Dennis with an impressed looking shake of his head. “It’s really quite precise.”

“Less than one minute,” said Thelma.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” began Dennis. “May I have your attention please? We are about to cross the Equator. Perhaps we could do a countdown?”

Passengers on cruise ships are in a different state of mind. They will watch anything. Yesterday Sheree and I watched in rapt attention as a Filipino man did an ice sculpture demonstration, transforming a block of ice into a fish. It was mesmerizing. I actually applauded.

So crossing the equator was a pretty big deal.

“Less than thirty seconds,” Dennis announced.

“I hope he hoots his hooter,” said Thelma.

“I hope there’s a dotted line,” said I.


Dennis gave a little whoop. Thelma pumped one fist in the air. I took a picture for you. It looks just like this.

That was it. No hooting hooters. No tap dancing dolphins. No change in the brown water.
Dennis and Thelma finished their celebrations and decided to go back to their cabins to lay down, presumably to recover from all the excitement.

Sheree and I took some pictures, swatted at a few bugs and then came here to write to you guys.

We get five hours on the legendary Devil's Island tomorrow. I have been looking forward to this since Sheree and I started talking about this trip in our bedroom ages ago. You remember Devil's Island, right? Steve McQueen and lepers and nasty prison guys.

I was really excited about being there. But I didn't know my most remarkable moments on Devil's Island would be spent with dead people. At the risk of sounding a little like a radio serial: I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

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