Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Travel Blog #4: Ship Stuff

The key words to getting onto a cruise ship are "submit to the processing." You get onto a bus with a bunch of other people who look just slightly confused and really hungry. One guy told me he hadn't had more than three meals in the four days so he could get his money's worth out of the cruise. He was all a-quiver at the idea of getting at the buffet.

No sound system on any cruiseline bus really works. The person imparting the information usually sounds like Mickey Mouse on steroids talking through a pound cake. But they smile as they speak. It's not so awful because you know you are in the arms of the cruise ship company and will stay there until you get off the boat.

You get into a line-up with everyone else and baby-step through the whole process. For this cruise you must have a visa from Brazil as well as certification that you've had your Yellow Fever shots.

The woman doing the processing was Rita, who was professionally cheerful.

"What happens if someone has forgotten to get a Brazillian visa?" I asked, making conversation.

Rita froze. "You do have a visa," she said with dread in her voice.

"Sure I do."

"Sometimes we can get them to the Brazillian embassy in time."

"And if you can't?" I asked.

Rita looked crestfallen. "They can't get on the ship. No way."

I nodded. "Has it happened before?"

She dropped her eyes. "Yes."

We give them credit cards to cover all our purchases onboard and are awarded a cruise card. This is the most important card in your life for the next two weeks. You need it to buy anything, to get on and off the ship -- to get drinks. Without the card, I think they throw you overboard. (I'll bet they apologize first -- but they feed you to the sharks anyway.)

Then there's that first moment of looking into your stateroom. Ours was wonderful.

As I stood on the balcony with Sheree, I had visions of sitting on the plastic chair provided, snapping shots of colorful birds and smiling natives as we cruised slowly down the Amazon.

"Keep your balcony door CLOSED," said Mary Rose, our cabin steward, appearing in our room. She's from somewhere in the Philipines, as are most cruise ship staff. She's got a broad smile and a warm manner.

"Why?" asked Sheree.

"The bugs in the Amazon are drawn to the light. You will see them all over the glass doors. I spent hours killing bugs. Please please keep the balcony door closed when we get to the Amazon."

"All over the doors?" I asked.

She nodded emphatically. "All over the doors."

Mary Rose paused at the door and looked at me "ALL over the doors."

I nodded.

Message ingrained on my mind. I have a new image there: me battling eight foot grasshoppers.

I have this wonderful tickling excitement happening in spite of images of snakes and cannibals and things that go "Buzz Snap Snarl" in the dark. I am going to countries I have never been to before. I am in a good place.

Even as the ship sails away and the ship band "Alaska" launches into a real whitebread version of "I Will Survive" (which I do my best to tune out) I see people all around me with the same smiles on their faces.

We're all at the start of a long journey. We are going to the Amazon. What could be better?

The pictures: The fellow on the top is at a safety drill in which every passenger must participate. Here you see everyone on the ship from the dancers to the shop clerks wearing the same awful orange life-jackets and expecting you to do the same.

That's Sheree in the middle image on our balcony. Try to tell me she doesn't feel the same excitement. The last image is of a couple I saw sitting by the pool together.


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