Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Travel Blog #5: Sea Days

Life on a cruise ship is split into two kinds of “days.” A “Port Day” means you get off the boat and see stuff. A “Sea Day” means you are going to spend the day on the ocean going somewhere. We’ve got a couple of “Sea Days” coming up.

The ship plans activities from the lame to the really lame to cover the time at sea – which is why I use the time to process pictures, write, eat and hang out. Sea days are a real pleasure after you’ve been to several ports in a row. Since on Port Days we start first thing in the morning and work to get off the ship as soon as possible – and get back on as late as possible (usually with just enough time to cut photos and then fall exhausted into bed) these are really busy days.

This is a very small cruise ship as cruise ships go. We’re on the Pacific Princess, which, if you are as old as me, you will remember was the ship on the classically awful series “The Love Boat.” They show re-runs of that series here all day and some of the places look familiar.

Activities that looked really stupid when you got on the ship become quite interesting as sea days pass. One of the highlights of one at sea day was a screening of “Mama Mia” – starring Meryl Streep and a host of others. You could not have gotten me into this movie with a shotgun to the face before…but now I can hardly wait. There’s an ice carving demonstration later that I may check out as well.

Some ships offer courses in computers, Photoshop, guest lectures, destination speakers (people who dispense the straight poop about places you are about to go) and a bunch of courses in everything from western line dancing, ceramics to bow tying. (If I ever go to any of these, please please just shoot me.)

You can also sit on the balcony and watch the world pass by. These are my feet on the rails.

Here’s always a casino, bingo, art auctions, tons of bars and more. There are shops and a pool with deck chairs. There’s a pizza place, an ice cream parlor and a buffet. There’s a library and a card room. There’s also an Internet café where you must simply agree to turn over all you earnings for the next twelve years in order to get onto the web.

You’d think it’s impossible to get bored, right?

It is.

There’s an amiable peaceful Neverland feeling to it all. You have merely to pick up the phone and order food – and minutes later, it’s delivered to your room. We started each day with a carafe of great coffee and a pitcher of ice water with lemon.

Sounds cool, huh?

It is.

The hours slide together and soon you are in a happy place where you are not sure what day it is. You gage the passage of time by the position of the sun in the sky and the meal or activity you are currently planning.

At night there are shows and music and a night club not to mention supper in the formal dining room.

The “formal dinner” puts you back in touch with the same people at the end of each day. There are four courses served and this meal can be one of the day’s highlights as you chat and laugh with new friends – or a horror. It all depends on who you are seated with.

This cruise put is in touch with Jack and Jenny (not their real names, by the way.) These two are out of Vancouver and are really experienced cruisers. They are travelling with Jenny’s father: Frank. Frank served in World War II as a fighter pilot. He’s still got a sharp mind – but he needs to go slower and he has hearing aids that make talking with him sound a bit like a friendly shouting match. I really liked Frank. He wore his medals proudly and he told wonderful stories about the war and the people he served with.

Jack’s favorite topic is Jack. He has an opinion on everything, even if it is a subject he’s never heard of before. If you have been to the hospital for a routine operation, Jack has operated on himself and successfully removed his own brain tumor. If you are into Photoshop (like me), Jack used to use it but has moved on to more sophisticated software since then. Actually he’s designing software that will make all other software obsolete, despite the fact that he is an electrician by trade.

You try very hard not to make eye contact with Jack because he will talk to you. Even when your eyes glaze over and you start tying your own noose, attaching it to the nearest rafter, he will keep talking. I have the idea that he would continue discussing himself with my softly swaying no longer kicking corpse.

Jenny doesn’t have much to say. She’s a realtor in Vancouver and she makes all the arrangements for their trips together…arrangements Jack does little except complain about. She even cuts his meat and picks lobster meat out of the shell for him.

They have decorated their metal cabin door with magnetic stuff, including a Canadian moose. If you squeeze the hand of the moose it plays “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.” It’s their doorbell. Jack thinks it is hysterically funny. Every time.

We were invited to their suite for a ‘cocktail party.’ Since we were at sea that day, any distraction was welcome and we went.

Their suite was a mirror image of ours. We were at the back of the boat and they were at the front. We had a relatively smooth ride. Theirs was a lot roughter.

“Ask me why I am wearing these sea bands,” said Jack, brandishing his wrists in my face.
“To keep from getting sea sick?” I offered weakly, realizing that this whole cocktail party had probably been a really bad idea.

Jack nodded and cast a sly look Jenny’s way. “Bingo. Now ask me why I have to worry about being seasick,” he demanded.

I offered him a blank look. It seemed pretty obvious to me…

“Because a certain someone booked our cabin at the front of the ship,” said Jack with perfectly synchronized jerks of head and thumb toward the hapless looking Jenny. “Betcha you two have a smoother ride at the back.”

I made a show of considering this. Jack didn’t care.

“All night. Up and down. Up and down,” he said, sticking his tongue between his teeth, cocking his head to one side and making a loud gagging sound for effect.

I nodded and looked around the room to signal the conversation was over.

He continued talking and I continued nodding and making interested noises.
The desk in their suite was occupied with cans of pop and huge…and I do mean HUGE – bottles of liquor.

“Ask me how much I paid for those bottles,” asked jack.

I considered faking a heart attack.

“I have no idea,” I said.

“Go on. ASK,” said Jack.

“I really don’t --” I said.

Jack punched me in my arm, a little harder than he had to.

“C’mon,” he said. “Guess.”

I sighed. “Six hundred dollars?”

“HA!” said Jack. “Ten dollars a bottle. We go to the PX on the base with Dad here,” he gestured toward Frank. For the first time, although not the last, I wondered if Frank actually had any hearing problems or if he was faking them. I would have.

I looked around the cabin. Jenny had put suction cups on the mirror so they could hang their matching Australian bush hats there. Said bush hats were covered with pins from all over the world. I worked very hard to control rampant envy. (If Sheree and I ever get “samie” hats, just shoot me.) Then I caught Jenny’s eye looking at me looking around their cabin, reminded myself I was a guest in their home and felt like a shithead.

“We scrapbook,” said Jenny half apologetically.

Suddenly I liked Jenny. She was a gentle soul but she had a look about her that looked worn down. Tired. She told us that on the sea days she and “Dad” and Jack got together to cut photos and paste them into scrapbooks she had purchased for that purpose. She opened a Tupperware container and showed me her carefully kept scrapbooking kit. I kept her talking because as long as she did, Jack was silent.

You meet people on a small ship. And photographers draw other photographers to them. We found ourselves shooting beside a spare woman of about 50 from Germany, who specialized in horse pictures. We talked at length with a geography teacher from England who was videotaping the trip for her students. Even the ship comedian had a brand new Canon 5D. He was everywhere with it. There was a guy from California, a software designer from Intuit, who also had a 5D…and no idea how to use it.

On a small ship there are people you nod to, people you’ve exchanged a few pleasantries with and people you’ve spent some time with.

And the Pacific Princess is a very small ship as cruise ships go.

Tomorrow we are putting into St. Barth’s – playground of the really rich and famous.

I am absolutely ready to get off this ship.

1 comment:

adam said...

Interesting text. You have a nice blog. Keep it up!