Day 27 Jan 31 (Sea Day)

Definitely a cold. I'm writing this before dinner but I'll be returning right afterward most likely and trying to recover. Long day tomorrow in Aukland. I'm going on a 10.5 hour tour which will include a boat ride in a glowworm cave and a visit to a Pioneer Show. The only interesting thing I did beside rest and nap today was the Vantage lecture. It was about the settlement of Australia and New Zealand and how they grew out of the Revolution and a few other things. I'm out of time so you can read about that online or in a book if you're interested. OK, sorry, I'm a bit cranky. Colds do that to me. Bye for now. I'll probably read this over after dinner before sending it. Hope all are well and happy.


Day 26 Jan 30 (Sea Day)

Not much to tell today. Breakfast on Lido. Tai Chi. Port Talk about Wellington (our second New Zealand port). Went to a talk about Fabric Art, etc. The presenter is the wife of the camera lecturer (her name is Ana Smith). It was interesting. Then we had a cocktail party hosted by Vantage. That's right, before lunch! Our host, Chris was not a happy camper. He tried to get them to do it later in the day. As we began he asked us to drink a lot to make the company pay! As I said, not a happy camper.

Went to an afternoon lecture by the social antrhopoligist. Left early. His fast talking is under control. The trouble is his talks are all over the place without much logical thread to guide the listener. Too bad. He has a lot of knowledge but doesn't know how to share it effectively. Perhaps if we hadn't had such good lecturers early he wouldn't seem so bad.

The evening show was a young violinist named Greg Scott. He is pretty good. He got a standing O.

Took a Cold-eeze before bed. I'm coming down with a cold. Not much to do tomorrow so I'll take it easy and hope to get through the worst of it quickly. Anita caused this I'm sure. The other day she said at dinner that I was the only one at our table who hadn't had the cold going around. Fast air breather for SCUBA, slow to catch a cold. Definitely abnormal but you knew that already. Cheers!

Day 25 January 29 (Nuku'alofa, Tonga)

Up early for the dive. We were supposed to dock in Nuku'alofa but the waves and wind teamed up to make that unsafe so we anchored and started a tender operation. I was on the second one. My buddies had left on the first. We were waiting all together until they delayed so much that I decided I had time for a quick pottie brake. I returned to find that my friends had made the first tender but they stopped the line two in front of me despite the fact that I had a #1 boarding ticket. Apparently they felt that they couldn't fully load the tenders for safety reasons. (Do I need to say that I was ok with that?) I'm getting used to being left behind so I didn't panic.

As we were boarding the tender I noticed it was going up and down quite a bit (approx. 2-3 ft!). I'm used to boats and pretty comfortable about getting on and off but many of our passengers are octagenerians and not so spry anymore. There were two ship personnel on the tender (one on each side of the door) and the same on the adjacent gangplank platform. Because of the considerable up and down motion they stopped boarding tenders on our side (after I got on a tender) and switched to the opposite side of the ship. There the ship probably blocked some of the wave action. I hope it was better on that side but I was on my way and don't know for sure. As expected, my buddies were waiting for me. The dive shop was a very short walk.

There was some doubt about the dive conditions due to the wind and waves but we were there and the dive shop certainly wanted to earn our money so we got onboard and took off. We found this to be rather different from the previous dives. I'm not sure how long they have been doing this. They did ask me to put some comments in a book (sort of a composition notebook like you used to use in school) after the dives and I noticed a number of pages already filled in but on the other hand the most recent comments were from January 8th. No wonder they wanted our business. We were first impressed by the price. It was the most expensive of all our dives, $200 per person - we had 4 divers. Then we noticed they didn't ask us to fill out any paperwork. They said something about having us do it on the boat but we never did. How were they to know who got eaten by the sharks??? There was some discussion about the divemaster. I heard one of my buddies saying he was almost finished with his certification...but that he was a diver in the Tongan navy. That sort of meshes with my observation of his "manners" underwater. He was the only divemaster I saw who stood on the coral a number of times. Yes he broke a little of it in the process. Otherwise he was fine.

We went way out for our first dive because all the turbulence in the harbor would have raised a lot of silt, etc. We must have gone for an hour and a half or so. I asked which direction Tonga was and the crewman pointed to the horizon where there was no land in sight! Clearly we were not going to swim to shore if we had some problem. Oh, the boat was amazing and unique as dive boats go. It appeared to be an old shrimp or fishing boat. They had two attachments which they were able to lower (sort of fold down) to the sides with heavy things on the end of a chain (about 20 ft underwater) which acted as stabilizers. Picture an airplane shape sort of. These did really help keep the pitching and tossing down some. Some, not completely. It was not a smooth ride to the dive site. The combination of occasional diesel fumes from the engine and the wave action had me wondering if maybe I could get seasick. Fortunately, everybody kept their breakfast in their tummies but it was interesting. I was getting pretty sure I didn't need to be concerned about mal d'mere. I'm not so cocky anymore.

Our dive site was an area between two arcs of reef (separated by about 50 yds). We went in along one reef and swam along it for some time then across the trough between and back along the other reef. Yes I ran out of air too soon. This time the divemaster and I surfaced and got the boat's attention and the boat manuevered near me and threw a life preserver on a rope to haul me in. That was less fun than it might sound because they needed to move out of the trough area to avoid being pushed against one of the reefs so they towed me a bit before they could pull me in. Altogether not bad but definitely not on the list of things I like to do enough to pay for them. The deepest part of the dive was 70 ft. I used my air up in 27 minutes. The coral was beautiful and there was an adequate number and variety of fish. Visibility was pretty good too.

When the others returned we were served lunch onboard (I had been given water-could have had coconut-while waiting) and we moved much closer to Nuku'alova for our second dive. The sea had settled down quite a bit by then and we needed to be back to the ship before 5:30. We didn't start our first dive until after 12 PM. Lunch was pretty good. Sandwiches made on fresh unsliced bread along with coconut, bananas and papaya. Coconut milk or water to drink.

Dive 2 was not bad. They gave me a tank with more air (if I was still a student they would put me on the short bus I suppose) - 24 bar instead of the 20 which the others had. I took some photos but the visibility was not near as good. At times less than 10 feet. I have a photo (well, I think I do) of an unusual fish and an old tire. We were in close enough to shore that there was a little trash on the bottom. I even saw a rusted old channel marker sign on the bottom. Not pretty but the overall dive was pretty despite the occasional trash. Oh, the extra air helped but I still was the first one out. The others were only 5 or 10 minutes behind me.

We got back early enough to do a little shopping near the tender docking location. There was a wood carving shop with a sign out front which said it was open but it wasn't! Island priorities I guess. Either forgot to put the sign away or went off for a break. One of the merchants offered me a sporting chance on the price for one article. I offered a lower price than she asked and she said we could flip a coin and if I won it would be my price and if not hers. I thought that was interesting but with my math background I declined. I wasn't willing to pay her price. In retrospect, I suppose she could have reneged on the deal if I had won the toss. But these people were very nice so I hope not. I found something else I liked for a reasonable price so I didn't leave empty handed. Had a beer from Tonga. Don't have a can (bottled beer) or a label as a souvenir so I don't remember the name. One of my sons can research this. The name of the beer began with Ik.... and might have had a te on the end (might have been Ikane or Ikate or something similar). It was not bad.
[research reveals that the name is probably IKALE ]

The evening show was a comedic magician (is that a real entertainer category?). He was pretty good. His name is Bernard Reid.

Day 24 January 28 (Sea Day) Monday

As you can see, Sunday Jan 27th does not appear in my commentary. To be totally honest, I did see Sunday for about 15 minutes before closing my eyes and going to sleep. Somewhere during the night (I guess - I'm really at the Captain's or Navigator's mercy on this) we crossed the International Dateline. Then Sunday became Monday at the same clock time. Poof! 24 hours gone like that. What I didn't know is that the dateline is not at the same longitude from the north pole to the south pole. If you look at it on a map it zigs and zags east and west from north to south. This I am told is to avoid having any inhabited place bisected by the line. Thoughtful no? The other thing I didn't realize is that the dateline does not coincide with any of the time zones! Therefore we didn't have to deal with gaining an hour while losing a day. Dodged a bullet there!

I slept late, losing a day can be taxing I guess, and then went up to the Lido deck for breakfast. At 10 our Vantage group met for another historical lecture. This one was a bit out of context but our leader, Chris, said he needed a bit more time to prepare for the next of the series about the British Empire, etc. He has done this lecture so much (and it is usually well received according to his wife - hmmm maybe not the most unbiased opinion but we don't have to sit there and listen if we get bored) that he didn't need to do much prep for it. The topic, I know you're getting impatient, was Hans Christian Anderson.

It was pretty interesting. Seems that the Mermaid statue in a harbor in Denmark (Copenhagen I think...) has nothing to do with his Little Mermaid fairytale. For that matter, Disney's version of the Little Mermaid also doesn't have much to do with Anderson's version. Well actually it isn't too far off until you get near the end. Anderson was apparently rather unpleasant but a pretty good travel writer of his day. He also exchanged letters with Charles Dickens and when invited to be a house guest overstayed his welcome by many weeks. Dickens, realizing he had erred refused to return letters from Anderson after the visit. For a writer that must have been some sacrifice! Oh, one more thing, Chris wants us to know that Anderson was not anything like the Danny Kaye portrayal of him in the old move. Sorry young ones. That reference is for us old people unless you had too much time to watch very very old reruns of the movie on TV.

At 11 there was a lecture on digital photography. One of my tablemates, Anita, has a very new Sony digital camera with many bells and whistles. Unfortunately, she is pretty much a technophobe. She doesn't know how to use the telephoto lens yet. She brings the camera to dinner at times and I show her how to do something like how to view her photos and how to get the displays off the screen when they obscure the picture. I'm no expert myself, right Bunk?, but so far I've been able to figure out what she needs to do. She was afraid the lecture would be over her head but went anyway. Good for her. This was a good first lesson with enough extra thrown in to be of some use to us more experienced users. He did ask for a show of hands on how many had their instruction book with them, how many had read it, how many had taken their cameras off the automatic mode, etc. I think he is starting at the right level.

Not much of interest in the pm. Well I went to another Dave Abbott lecture. I left early. I was discussing this guy with Chris (Vantage) and he put his finger on the problem. The guy is pretty negative. Add to that that he sometimes doesn't know what he is talking about but doesn't seem to be interested in being confused with facts.... I won't be going to his talks anymore. Perhaps the next cruise will be spared if enough of us stay away. We do get the opportunity to provide feedback along the way and after the trip is over. I may spend a little ink on him. Trouble is that he isn't the only weak link on the lecture chain.

Watched the history of Apple/Microsoft 's battle on TV during the afternoon.

The Show at 8 was a piano player/music historian who took us through much of Scott Joplin's story (Ragtime composer who wrote The Entertainer - the theme for The Sting). Pretty good but I think the pianist is bothered a bit by arthritis. I guess cruise ships are one of the last rungs on the aging musician/entertainer ladder. Of course, it is also a rung on the way up.

After that I returned to my cabin to prepare for the tomorrow's SCUBA trip.

Day 23 Jan 26 (Samoa)

13º 49.56' S and 171º 45.75' W

On the dock by 8:30 to catch a cab to the dive shop. Turns out it was on the other side fo the island. An interesting drive through the countryside. The trash is placed on raised platforms to keep it out of reach of the dogs which roam pretty freely. They aren't wild, just not penned up or on a leash. Oh, we passed a McDonalds in downtown Apia (the capitol of Somoa). First one I've seen since we left Ft Lauderdale. The dive shop is named Liquid Motion Ltd. and is located at Siumu, Sinalei Resort. The resort has a bar called Uncle Harry's. Great name!

When we arrived at the hotel the concierge asked what the cabby charged us and was not happy. This country is one of the most honest around I think. The cabbie returned to pick us up after we were done and I think the concierge had a talk with him. He offered to take us on several sightseeing side "trips" on the way back for no extra charge. Another one of our shipmates was telling me that he tried to buy some postcards at one store and the proprietor didn't know what the exchange rate for US dollars was and refused to sell the cards for fear of charging too much! The vendors who set up tents on the dock are a bit unusual too. They don't try to high pressure you to buy their stuff. I may have to come back here in the future to spend a bit more time. Nice people.

So, we report to our dive master (perhaps I should say dive mistress - hmmm....) Her name was Vanessa. Definitely the best looking dive master we've had so far. Vanessa wasn't optimistic about dive conditions. There had been a LOT of rain the day before and today was drizzling. The other tourists found the rain a worry but we knew we were going to get wet anyway so we hadn't worried about the rain until she said we might not be able to dive. She offered to take us to the first dive site but abort if the visibility was too poor. She thought it might only be about 2 feet!

Well, we lucked out. The silt and other murk producing particulates had pretty much settled down by the time we hit the water. We had a great dive - saw a sea turtle, some fish and lots of coral. Very nice. I am still using air too fast. I was almost out at 30 minutes. I went to the boat while the others dived for another half-hour. It was a fairly deep dive. 70 feet for the first part and then 55-60 feet for the second half. The second dive was not quite so deep. Maximum of 58 feet but much was between 30 and 40 feet. We were shown a type of coral that even Scott had never seen. It is called Ghost Coral and is brown in color until you touch it and it changes color to white. The chameleon of coral! Cool! We also swam through a short tunnel of coral. Scott, who was making his 5000th dive, was ahead of me and accidentally kicked a small piece of coral loose. I'm pretty sure I made it through clean. Hah! I may not be able to stay down for days on an hour of air but I can control my buoyancy pretty well. Well, most of the time.

After the second dive our dive mistress (heh, heh - I do like the sound of that) bought us drinks at the hotel bar. That's a first. They also had food and drink on the boat after each dive. Pretty nice. Coconut, pineapple, cookies and water. I am so getting used to being spoiled!

As I said the cab ride back to the ship had a few detours. We stopped at Papapapaiti Falls, (my spell check is going crazy right now!). A nice waterfall near the road we were traveling. Some things are the same worldwide I guess. I think we disturbed a young couple who had parked where they could view the falls (or perhaps just listen to it?). We didn't stay long. Just snapped a few pictures and left. We passed by the Baha'i Temple (one of only six in the world!) and the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum (his final home and where he is buried). You have read at least one of his books! Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He was a Scottsman who came here and fell in love with this part of the world like so many Europeans did. We also passed Aggie Grey's. This is a hotel. Remember Bloody Mary? Well, the character in South Pacific was actually patterned after a woman from Samoa named Aggie Grey. James Michner said he took the good qualities of Aggie Grey and put them into Bloody Mary's character. He was on Pago Pago and hated it so whenever he could he came to Samoa. Aggie had purchased an old run down hotel and made an American style hamburger stand in it. Michner apparently spent much time there and immortalized Aggie. She passed away in 1989 but her hotel lives on much unchanged.

Our ship sailed at 6 PM while we were eating dinner. Six of our 8 tablemates watched the movie tonight. It was Boynton Beach Bereavement Club. Cute and pretty appropriate for this age group.

Wow! It is almost 11:30 PM here. I'll send this tonight so you are caught up in real time. Well except for the six hours time difference. Oh, and we cross the International dateline tonight so we will skip Sunday! I'm writing this at 11:30 PM Saturday and when I wake up it will be Monday! If you understand that please explain it to me. Perhaps it will make more sense in the morning. We got another certificate like the one we got crossing the Equator. I'll spare you the quote.

Gotta go. Enjoy Sunday for me please!

Day 22 Jan 25 (Sea Day)

Breakfast in room. Blueberry pancakes, etc. Not too bad.

Cashed a trevelers check. They still have their uses. The ship will cash them at no charge. Using an ATM always means a service charge. Of course, you can get the local currency at the ATM and that is useful many times.

Tai Chi at 9, Vantage at 10 - what is Slavery?

OMG! I just noticed I'm peeling. Got too much sun the day we snorkeled. So far it is just a small patch on the upper part of my right arm. No ref tan there and I was dumb about sunscreen that day. Had it on my head but nowhere else. My ankles will probably peel next. (You know, the part below the sock line.) Had we been able to SCUBA that day I would have been covered by my wet suit.

Anyway, I'll survive. At 11 AM we had a talk from a guy named David Abbott. He is apparently a well known radio/tv host. Knew many celebrities including Marlin Brando. He prattled on for most of an hour and some loved him but I found him a bit boring. Perhaps his stories will be more interesting next time. If not I may choose to not attend anymore. That's the lecture equivalent to the ON/OFF switch on the TV I think.

After lunch the sociologist gave another lecture. He mentioned that some told him he spoke too fast the last time. He did a little better. We'll see about him.

Had time for a nap before dinner. Hmmm. Still a bit tired. Have a port/SCUBA dive tomorrow.

The show was a combination of our own singers/dancers and then a couple who are pretty accomplished ballroom dancers. It wasn't too bad but I was not disappointed when it ended in less than an hour.

Day 21 Jan 24 (Sea Day)

Slept late, went to bed early. Pheew! Three days in a row of pretty intense activity. Nice to be able to chill a bit. I didn't order breakfast to my cabin. I'd like to tell you it was because I was turning over a new leaf and going to rise and shine and go to the dining room or the Lido deck for breakfast but the truth is I planned to sleep late and didn't want to schedule breakfast. I did get up "early" enough to go to the Lido for it and happened to meet dinner tablemates Jack and Anita. All this and I did manage to make the 10 AM Vantage group meeting. I'm so proud!

Today's discussion was about the Slave Trade.

At 11 AM there was a Lecture from a new "expert". Actually this guy is a professor emeritus from Chico State in California. He did research on South Pacific. Pretty appropriate since we're there. Unfortunately he isn't near the lecturer that the astronomer was. He talks too fast, as if he doesn't think we really are interested. Duh! We can always leave. We don't have to show up in the first place! Hopefully he'll improve.

Spent time working on the email journal for days 17-20.

Watched The Last Legion (on TV - they always show the movies on tv the day after they show them in the theater). It was much better than I expected.

Dinner included a celebration for Jack's birthday. He is 81.

Watched Spiderman 3. Can't for the life of me understand why it received good reviews from Roper and company. It was not as good as the first two for me. I hope I'm not outgrowing comic book heros!

Set the clocks back another hour tonight.

Day 20 Jan 23 (Bora Bora)

16º 30.45 S and 151º 45.50 W

Early rise, breakfast in the cabin.

Got to the theater (where they hand out passes for the tenders to get to shore) at 8:01. I was apparently late because there wasn't anyone there. I got number 3 meaning 1 and 2 were already gone. I had a brief moment of panic. We were supposed to be there at 8 AM and my SCUBA buddies were nowhere to be seen. There had been no announcement that "shore operations were commencing" so I was a bit befuddled. Unlike the day before in Moorea, they had cleared the port (paperwork, passport checks done between port authorities and Amsterdam security people) early and the 1st tender had been cleared to leave. I rushed down to where the tender boarding was to happen and it was just leaving. Another brief panic moment but the next shuttle was already pulling in so I thought about it and realized that after our failure to hook up with the dive boat yesterday my buddies would not want to wait for me and risk a repeat. Sure enough, they were waiting for me on the dock with the dive boat nearby.

We had another two dive trip. The first dive was inside the lagoon around Bora Bora. The coral here was mostly tan in color and one particular variety. Lots of sea bisquits and some interesting fish. Someone told me later that there was a lot of silt washing into the lagoon and it might account for the lack of variety and the color of the coral. Something about reduced oxygen in the water. I had to share air again with the dive master. I think I'm improving but still need to work on conserving air more than I do. We were under 42 minutes to a depth of 42 feet but if I could have done better I think it would have been longer.

The second dive was a lot more fun. We were warned that we might encounter large sharks and that they might be curious enough to come nose to nose with us but not to worry. Right! Actually, I was not scared of the prospect and the fact is that the big ones stayed at least 10-15 feet away from us. So nose to nose will have to wait for another day. Perhaps it is just as well. These dive masters (there were two on this trip because we had some other divers with us) were very confident and I just felt I could trust their judgement about the sharks. This dive was deeper, 81 feet. This time I ran out of air at about 43 minutes (well, I wasn't totally out but at that point I was low enough that the dive master pointed to the mooring line of the boat and I understood and went to it and hung out on the surface looking down at the sharks and things. Not a bad way to kill about 10-15 minutes while the others finished their dive. I was happy that my air gulping didn't cause the others to have to shorten their dives. And, considering the increased depth and that I lasted a bit longer I think I'm making progress.

We were done diving by 11:20 AM so it was back to the ship to shower and rinse off the wetsuit, mask, etc. I had a quick lunch on board and went back to the island to visit and perhaps shop a bit. We were leaving at 6 PM so I didn't want to push my luck by trying to tour the whole island but I did manage to find Bloody Mary's and try one. It was not the best Bloody Mary I've ever had but it was passable. Got a
t-shirt from there too. Bora Bora was a base for the US and Allies during WWII and the name of the character in South Pacific (some of you may remember the song "Bloody Mary is the Girl I Love" from that musical) was Bloody Mary. The claim is that the drink of the same name was invented here at the bar/restaurant. Perhaps so. Origins do tend to get lost in the mist of history right Ron?

Two sea days coming up (I have actually finished writing this just before midnight on the first sea day.) Then Apia, Samoa. Many of us need the break. One of my tablemates, Daphne, has some pretty bad bronchitis. She was absent at dinner tonight (Jan 23).

More in a few days. Cheers!

Day 19 Jan 22 (Moorea)

At 5 AM the ship set sail for Moorea. We were scheduled to arrive by 8 AM because it is separated from Tahiti by about 10 miles of water. the distance between the ports is somewhat longer but still, after all those sea days we were glad to have back to back ports.

Unfortunately there was some problem with the trip and instead of our tenders starting to ferry passengers back and forth at 8 AM they didn't start until about 9:30 AM. We were supposed to meet the dive boat for our next SCUBA dive early and by the time we got there the boat was nowhere to be seen. We looked around for maybe a van or something from the dive shop but no luck. I checked with some of the Amsterdam personnel and they said there had been a dive boat there but it had left some time earlier. We considered waiting in case it would come back (Scott had no phone number to call to contact them - only an email and we didn't have email access on the pier so...). One of our group, Norrie, opted to sign-up for a snorkel tour. Jane, Scott and I were still trying to figure out a way to salvage the dive trip. After a few minutes of debating the possibilities - more time than was really justified by our lack of options - Jane and I decided to follow Norrie's lead and go snorkeling. By the time we returned to the area where the tour bus had been it was gone. We knew the name of the tour company was Hiro's and we asked people if there was another bus or something and were told that Hiro's was still there. In fact, Hiro himself was there! He put us in a cab (no charge) and only charged us about half of what the Amsterdam tour which did the same thing was costing other passengers. Apparently the cruise ship makes quite a bit of money on these excursions. So anyway, we hop in the cab and as I mentioned briefly we had a very exciting ride of about 7 miles and caught the snorkel boat.

The short version is that we had a blast!! We saw more fish and coral than we had the day before during the SCUBA dive, saw sharks and rays and had a tour supplied lunch that was typical polynesian chicken and fish barbequed and some fruit rum punch.

We had a couple of hours after the shark feeding and the Manta Ray kissing (well, a few people kissed them. I'm not so much a first date ray kisser. I did pet them a fair amount. Also, one black tipped reef shark swam right under me in about 4 feet of water while I was snorkeling!) We were told not to try to pet the sharks. I complied. We went to a Motu (I think that is what the call them - they're islets surrounding the main island) with beaches and picnic benches, etc. for the barbeque picnic. While there we could drift snorkel. That means you walk up the beach a bit, get in the water with your snorkel and drift back to where you started because of the current. We were warned not to lose track of where we were because the current would happily have carried us well beyond where the boat and picnic were. This tour director had advised us earlier before the shark feeding that they didn't count the number of people they had on board until after the shark feeding so we figured he might not miss a few of us if we were washed away so we were good little snorkelers.

All in all it was a great day and all the more so because we had to improvise! I had said to the group of SCUBA divers when we decided to snorkel that in my life some of the greatest adventures were when plans had to be changed and everyone just went with the flow and maintained a good attitude. This turned out to be one of those times. We all agreed that we probably had a better day than we would have diving.

Had some time to do a little souvenir shopping and stuff after returning from the snorkel trip. Discovered quite by accident that they will bargain on price just like the marketplace in Juarez. I was looking for some jewelry for two daughter's in law who will remain nameless but who are providing me with grandkids so I figured it was the least I could do. Don't tell them I got a good deal. I plan to make out like the gifts are very expensive. Ssshhh! Well, I was just checking the price on the items I had selected and the girl in the shop said she would give them to me at about a 25% discount for the two. I was feeling pretty good as I walked away until I realized that if I had actually been bargaining she would almost certainly have given me an even better price. One of my SCUBAmate's friend, Carol, was looking at the same jewelry earlier and I encouraged her to bargain. She had liked a piece which was carved in the shape of a Manta Ray with a pearl like object (many of these are actually just volcanic rock which has been polished and the prices weren't high enough to believe they are real pearls) mounted on it. She said she would like to try to get a better price but wanted me to go with her since I had been given a reduced price. The piece was marked $45 and when she did her little dance about me and bargains the girl asked her how much she would be willing to pay. Carol said $20 and the girl counter offered $25 and the deal was made. I felt pretty good about at least helping Carol get a good deal but on the way out the girl stopped me and explained she was able to give such good prices because she and her husband were the artists. Then she handed me a tie tack with some carving and another pearl like object on it and thanked me for bringing in Carol! The moral here is simple: Tahiti bad, Moorea good!

I think this is the best day so far on my journey.

Day 18 Jan 21 (Tahiti)

Took video of docking in Tahiti harbor. At 9 AM the SCUBA group met on the dock to catch a cab to the dive center. It was the Aquatica Dive Center at the Hotel International Resort - Tahiti.

We had two dives but had a long break between to eat lunch on our own. The first dive was pretty interesting. We saw a wrecked small airplane and a wrecked small boat. I swam through the upper part of the boat but didn't go in the deeper part. Some others did. I'm a beginner right? The maximum depth I reached on the dive was 45 feet.

Lunch was at the hotel nearby. The food was overpriced but not bad. Couldn't tell you exactly what I had. It was some kind of chicken stew involving coconut milk. Also some rice and a few strange looking veggies. Very adventurous for me. I paid about 2000 cfp (that's Polynesian Francs and they are trading at about 80 to the US dollar at the moment). That works out to be about $25 dollars for my lunch. We were warned that everything was expensive in Tahiti. They didn't disappoint.

Dive #2 was more fun. We dove a large wooden shipwreck. Think movie type of wreck. About half the wood had rotted away and the ship was on its side. We swam all around it and peeked into nooks and crannies. Then we went on to another plane wreck. My air was running low - air hog as usual - so I was not allowed to do it but the others entered the tail and swam through the fuselage to the cockpit where a hole in the roof allowed them to exit. Pretty cool. My air was low enough that Patrick, the dive master, shared his air with me to allow everyone to stay down longer.

A troupe of Tahitian dancers came onboard and put on a very impressive evening show. Amazing energy (cover the children's eyes here) and pretty sexy. Who knew hips (both male and female in case you're wondering ladies) could move that way? They received a standing ovation. Amazing!

Have learned that Tahiti is pretty much a pass through location. People at the hotel near the dive site apparently usually stay for just one night. They then take smaller planes or ferries to other nearby islands (on the way in for vacations, etc.). After walking around some in the early evening I can understand that. Tahiti is not too much different from Juarez, Mexico. Pretty seedy looking in many spots and high priced. Rather dangerous looking at night. I think the population is about 32,000. But it is certainly not the lovely island you picture when you hear the name Tahiti. Sad, but don't lose heart. The next two islands are what we were looking for.

17º 32.17 S and 149º 34.15 W

Day 17 Jan 20 (Sea Day)

Had to get up reasonably early today (breakfast in room). I signed up for "On Deck for the Cure", the HAL (Holland American Lines) adjunct to the Susan B. Komen "Walk for the Cure". We will be having a number of events on the cruise to raise money for the cause. It is a good cause and for a $15 (or more) donation you get to walk (if you're able and wish to) and also get a T-shirt and a pink wrist band. We walked 5 kilometers (3 miles to you non-metric literate types). That turns out to be about 9 laps on the Promenade deck. They played music and had people encouraging and stuff. Those of us who kept up a reasonable pace made it in 45 minutes or so. Then we got pink lemonade in pink glasses we were given to keep.

At 10 the Vantage group met in the Crow's Nest to discuss the "special relationship" which has existed between Brittain and the US for many years. Interesting topic. The Brit (our fearless leader) suggested that the Brits were at a point where looking like they were US lackeys might be a source of considerable trouble and we might be seeing an end to the type of relationship we've had for so long.

We had our final Astronomy program with Eric Dunn. This guy is just great. Everyone loves him. He got a standing ovation at the end of the program!!! When was the last time you saw that happen at an Astronomy lecture?? The topic was the history of Astronomy.

Had Polynesian Tea at 3:15 PM. Pretty much as far as I can tell, that is like English high tea with some extra decorations and some Polynesian dance lessons thrown in. They came around with hot water and boxes of tea (herbal too) bags. Lots of glucky goodies too. I should have passed on the lovely goodies because we eat at 5:45 PM. I ate just one. The late seating isn't until 8 PM so they probably need a mid-afternoon snack. Sat with a couple from Belgium and another couple from Florida. Quite a few Floridians and also Van Couverites onboard.

I went back to my cabin after tea and turned on the tv. Watched Ratatouie. Cute.

The evening show was Comedian/Magician, etc. Mark Raymond again along with the banjo guy. The banjo guy even had Mark come out and play the spoons on one number. Interesting but I"m not sure I'd pay real money to watch that show again.

Day 17 -18

Sorry Guys, just too much fun going on here for a complete update. SCUBA yesterday was better than in Grand Cayman. Today's SCUBA in Moorea didn't happen so had to take a different excursion (breathtaking cab ride for about 5 miles to catch the boat for that was just the beginning of the excitement - turned out to be AWESOME!!!). Tomorrow another scheduled SCUBA in Bora Bora. Two sea days after that so I'll have time to give more details. No Benton, no skeet shooting, etc. Ron, you might start installing amenities in that shed in the backyard.

Hope you are all well and properly jealous of this wonderful adventure. Please don't burn my house down while I'm gone. There are innocent life forms inside.

Miss you all.

Day 16 (Jan 19 - Nuku Hiva)

Land at last. I must have been excited. I actually set an alarm for 6 AM. Yes it's true! I was on deck by 6:15!!! Yea me! It was worth it. We were approaching the island and far enough away that I got the full effect (well, except for someone shouting, "Land ho!" from the crow's nest. That didn't happen.) It was interesting to note the changes as we got closer. At first the island looked like a rock - no green or any distinguishable features other than the obvious prehistoric volcanic shape of the peaks. Then a little pale green and some more features. Slowly we could see the inlet opening and a few sailboats already in the harbor. Moving that big ship into such a small harbor is a very impressive thing.

Being up so early I had breakfast on the Lido deck with Claire (she showed up on deck about the same time I did).

Then it was to the tenders to head ashore. Nuku Hiva look out!

Technically the town name is Taiokae. It is the capitol "city" of the Marquesas. There are six inhabited islands in the group and the total population is less than 10,000.

We were not led to believe there was much to do here and they didn't mislead us. I walked through the very few shops at the pier and then started down the road. No, I didn't say the main road. Just the road. Only one and it is pretty short. To be fair, there were a few side roads along the way. Most of them just went a few hundred yards but one went to the interior of the island where they say considerable farming takes place. Most of the roads are not paved. There wasn't
much reason to rent a car or hire a cab. There are some pretty old archeology sites on the other side of the island but that didn't call to me or anyone else I talked to. I just walked west along the road.

Saw a memorial to the French soldiers and sailors who died between the mid 1800's and 1924. The lettering is almost worn off and in French but I managed to decipher it. Visited the Notre Dame Cathedral here. It is actually very nice and somewhat inspiring. It was built with stones from all the Marquesas Islands. I walked a little further and found a cemetary. Looked for Gauguin's grave and a singer named Brel. The information we had was not clear but I knew they were buried in the Marquesas. At dinner tonight Jack said they were buried on a different island in the group. Oh well. I paid respects to maybe 30-40 graves but no celebrities. Lots of stickers on my shoes and jeans. Oh, the temp and humidity were not nice. To be expected in the middle of an ocean this close to the equator. I ran into Claire and Daphne on my way back to the ship. We stopped at the closest thing to a convenience store here. Bought a local (well if Tahiti is local) beer. I now have two empty cans in my collection. Apparently Nuku Hiva and the Marquesas don't have a brewery. This beer wasn't as good as the Cerveza Panama. The brand name was Hinana. Considering the heat and exertion of walking a couple of miles more or less that beer should have tasted better. I'm sure there are better things to drink in Tahiti. I hear they have a vanilla rum fruit punch that is tasty. I'll have to try it day after tomorrow. Incidentally, our arrival time at Tahiti has been changed. We will be there at about 8 AM. That's good because we have to meet the SCUBA people there at 9. That would have been difficult had we arrived at the originally scheduled time, 12 noon. Bought a postcard at the store for $1. That might sound expensive but the ones at the dock were $2! Reminds me of the story about the Cadillac dealer who was seling cars for $1,000,000 apiece. Someone told him he wasn't going to sell many cars at that price and his response was that he didn't need to. Apparently they don't see many ships our size here. They knew we were coming three months ago so they had plenty of time to mark the prices up a bit. Walk a little, save a lot is my new motto. Didn't buy any souvenirs here. I looked at stuff but decided there would be more, nicer and probably less expensive in Tahiti, Moorea or Bora Bora.

Apparently all our ship's company was ready to leave sooner than scheduled because we pulled out a full 45 minutes before scheduled. They check our id's leaving and returning so the computer can tell them if anyone is still onshore. No point in hanging around if all hands have returned I suppose.

I tried to check the pictures on the site and gave up after a few minutes. It seemed to be just spinning its wheels. This system has limited bandwith and just makes you wait if it is busy and eventually cuts you off. I have spent too much time just waiting only to get a message saying the server was too busy after seven minutes or so. I'm learning I suppose. It was my intent to try to scale down some pictures from today and post them. I may still try but I can't promise anything. The scenery was pretty and interesting but nothing fantastic. You could rent the movie South Pacific and see as good or better.

Dinner was good tonight. They have very creative menus. The desert I tried tonight was a Cherry Blossom Sundae. Didn't have any cherry blossoms in it at all. Had green tea icecream, saki, and crispy lotus root! Sounded so weird I had to order it just to see it. It turned out to be so good I ate it all. Shame on me.

Well, that's about it for today. Another port checked off. I think that leaves 34 more to go.

Hope you are all doing well.

10:06 PM 10º 02.88' S 141º 26.09'

Day 15 (Jan 18 - Sea Day)

The last sea day before Nuku Hiva. The usual routine for the most part. Breakfast in the room, Tai Chi, astronomy presentation about stuff outside the solar system. Had lunch with Jane, SCUBA buddy. Watched the movie Starburst on tv (I know, but how much water can you look at before you need a break?). Incidentally, I have been advised that I misnamed the movie I watched the other day in the theater. It was Mr. Brooks, not Mr. Bridges. I knew it was one of those things that had to do with water. Sorry about that.

Once again, no green flash. I'm beginning to think I'm the jinx! When I don't show up it happens and when I do.... Did see the Southern Cross again.

Day 14 (Jan 17 - Sea Day)

Tai Chi again. Today she tried to walk us into the furniture! She decided to teach us a "form" which required a series of steps which moved us slowly forward. This worked fine for her on the stage but we're in an auditorium of sorts with furniture covering much of the floor. Chairs and tables which are lovely when watching a stage show but not easily penetrated when you try to emulate this form. Unfortunately she had her back turned so we could mimic her moves more easily. I would have stayed after class (scary words from my school days) and clued her in but I had to get on to another activity. I hope someone lets her know. I'd hate to have her do it again tomorrow.

My next activity was the Vantage meeting. Today was the first half of the build-up to the American Revolution as seen by a Brit (Chris is from London). Interesting. He does have a great sense of humor.

Went by the computer geek (Phillipe) after that. He had left a message on my phone in response, no doubt, to the unkind note I had handed the front desk. They had asked to know if anything wasn't to our satisfaction. Well, the poor internet service was the top of my list and there were no other things on the list for me so.... I'm impressed that they responded so quickly. Phillipe told me what times were more likely to have more bandwith and suggested reducing the resolution/size of my photos and only trying to upload a maximum of 3 at one time. I'll give it a try.

Incidentally, I did manage to upload one pic yesterday to the gallery. It is a route map of my journey. Also, in case anyone wants to look back at earlier emails I have sent on this trip (not that I can imagine why), my son, Harry IV, has set up a blog site with the emails in one place. The URL is

Hope that is helpful. Thanks son!

Less than 500 miles to go to port! Yippee! We're gonna get off the ship. Setting back the clocks again tonight. 7º 06.43' S and 132º 19.35' W

Day 13 (Jan 16 - Sea Day)

Tai Chi again today. My Chi must be very happy by now! OK, you busted me. I ate breakfast in the room again today. This decadent lifestyle is very easy to get used to.

Vantage group topic today was Creationism. Heh, heh, heh! I just love the way some people get so wrapped around some of these topics. A little sadism surfacing in my personality I think. I pretty much closed down the session after all the hand wringing and anguish with a quote I remember and a suggestion. The quote (I have no idea who said it - someone check it out if you want) was, "To truly understand reality is to go insane." Then I suggested that all of mysteries of existence have been placed here for us to keep us occupied on Sea Days. It got a pretty good laugh and then we broke up.

Next was an astronomy lecture on the outer planets. Our astronomer is really good. The audience is growing and more and more people are out on deck stargazing. I take some credit for spreading the word that he makes himself available at 7 and 10:30 PM.

Went to Beat the Crew this afternoon. It is a recurring trivia game. They have 4 podiums ala Jeopardy and three audience members compete against one of the crew. It was mildly entertaining but I'm pretty sure they are running out of ideas to amuse us and keep us out of trouble on Sea Days. Tomorrow they are offering a kitchen tour. I almost wanted to do that until I realized I had another Vantage lecture at the same time. I can just see the planners saying, "Well, we could take them for a tour of the kitchen...." Years ago I went on a behind the scenes tour at the San Diego Zoo where they showed us how they prepared food for the animals. I suppose seeing the ship's kitchen might be interesting after all. Perhaps I will get another chance.

Early star gazing was not too good. The moon was too bright and there were some clouds. I went to the movie. Yes, they have a movie theater. Well, that is generous. It is really a good sized room with three tv screens in it (one is a pretty big projection tv and the others are flat screen, probably hi def screens. The movie was Mr. Bridges, a pretty intense movie about a serial killer (well actually several killers) with Kevin Costner and Demi Moore. The best part was that they had bags of pop corn on a table for those who wanted it. OK, the movie was not bad. Brutal but not bad if you enjoy a little violence. The stage show was a repeat of Renato, the opera singer. Supposedly an all new show but I think once with him was enough.

Later stargazing was much better. Although the Southern Cross teased us for quite awhile. The moon was still a problem and the clouds were in just the right spot to obscure the southern horizon until perhaps 11:30. Finally the entire cross was visible.

Didn't mind the late evening because we had to set the clocks back an hour again. I'm now in the time zone west of the Pacific Time Zone. At midnight just before going to bed the tv told me we were 4528 miles from Ft. Lauderdale, 2948 from Panama and only (LOL) 887 miles from our next port, Nuku Hiva. For the GPS literate among you: 5º 19.11" S and 125º 42.94' W

Day 12 (Jan 15 - Sea Day)

Ah me. Ate breakfast in the room today. Had a good run with getting up early enough to eat on the Lido deck but there is something very decadent about having them knock on the door to bring your breakfast.

Did get up to do Tai Chi (it is every day except Saturdays when we're at sea). The instructor is now describing what we do as Chi Gung (Gong?) with a little Tai Chi thrown in. I may have to go back to David Carradine. Perhaps I could start my own class. There are grumblings among other passengers about the class. Mutiny may be on the horizon. We're getting to the right part of the ocean for it I think.

The Vantage Group discussion/lecture was about gambling (history/psychology, etc.). Seems Chris Beckett, our tour host from Vantage, was involved in casino management for 17 years! Long story short? Don't do it! Take it from a professional. It was interesting but since I'm not a gambler it was more or less academic. I passed him later in the day and he said someone from our group having heard his talk came to him privately to ask for instructions on how to card count. Some people completely miss the point I guess. I mean, he went into detail about how the casinos actually made more money after people started trying to beat the system by counting cards (Blackjack)! Although a few very disciplined people actually did make money at it the vast majority can't seem to avoid "bending" the rules of the system and therefore eventually lose. This trip is becoming a study in human psychology. People watching is very interesting from time to time. We do bear watching don't we?

In the afternoon we had a "briefing" from some crew members. One ship's officer, one navigator and the chief security officer. Pretty interesting and then there was the opportunity for Q & A. The most amazing thing I learned was that this ship takes a mile to stop but...wait for it...the ship can do a turn around (180º turn) in about 300 yards!!! The 2nd Officer said rather dryly, "we don't like to do that." I can't imagine what would fly where if they had to but if they need to avoid some oncoming vessel or perhaps turn into a "rogue wave", it is nice to know they have that type of maneuverability.

Saw some flying fish yesterday. I was on deck near sunset hoping to film a "green flash" * (no luck-clouds on the horizon) and there they were. Tried to video them but didn't get the camera on them for more than a brief second or two. Darned things just keep moving! They're cool to watch though.

Stargazing was pretty good last night after the show. Got to see the Southern Cross again. Well, most of it. The lowest star obscured by low clouds on the horizon but I am now familiar enough with the constellation that I could tell for sure. Of course, having the astronomer verify my opinion didn't hurt either.

I've been asked about using the global coordinates to plot my position on a map. Unless you know how to use them don't bother. In a few days we'll be near actual solid objects and you won't need to. I just threw the coordinates out because they give them to us and I thought some of you might be able to do something with them. Last night's were 3º 14.60' S and 118º 08.54' W. That's a little more than half-way between Panama and the Marquesas (I think). By the way, I learned that the Marquesas were named by some explorer who was naming them after some Marquis (a title for French nobles back in the day). For a short while the islands were named the Washington Islands by some guy who tried to claim them for the US but it didn't stick. The Marquesas and the Society Islands (Papeete, Moorea and Bora Bora - our next three ports after Nuku Hiva) are all part of French Polynesia. The original version of the movie South Pacific was filmed (at least in part) at Moorea and as I mentioned, Nuku Hiva was the site for a season of Survivor. My brain runneth over with useless information.

* Scholarly footnote: (yeah, right!) The "green flash" is a phenomenon which sometimes occurs at sundown. I had read about this in a Travis McGee novel years ago and knew that people at Key West gather just before sundown to drink and, oh yeah, look for it. What the astronomer said - he actually discussed it in his talk so I figured it must really exist and not be just the result of too much alcohol- is that as the sun goes down the various colors of the spectrum are progressively removed from the sun light (purple and blue are scattered sideways so we see the other colors mixed - yellows, oranges and reds for the most part near the end of the suns setting). The very last color to be seen is green but the conditions must be just right and it only lasts for a fraction of a second. I was really annoyed yesterday because the astronomer said they did see the flash. I was sitting down for dinner at the time. So today I went in search of the green flash. No flash and, of course I was late for dinner. It would be nice if they would arrange for the sun to set earlier or later so I would not have to choose....

Day 11

Hi Y'all!

Today was a special day. Well it was for some of the crew. We crossed the equator. We're now in the South Pacific! (00º 56.31' S 109º 35.75' W) They had a special "ceremony" for the crew members who had never crossed the equator before. Had Poseidon and his mermaid and a merman too (equal opportunity and all that). They held court and all the crew members being inducted were advised of their crimes and made to kiss the fish (a big ugly black fish on a block of ice) and then were slathered in some kind of foam and the staff voted whether they were to be thrown in the water or saved. A couple of them were saved (not sure that was such a good deal because they had to sit there in the sun and bake with the foam on them) but most were made to jump into the water (not the ocean of course, just the rear pool on the Lido deck). Very cute. The passengers were treated somewhat better. We received a certificate which reads as follows:

"A Voyage Spanning the Hemispheres

To all ye Officers and Members of the crew of All Ships plying the Waters of My Kingdom; ye Mermaids, Mermen and Sea Urchins; ye Whales and Porpoises; ye Fish both Great and Small; and to ye Crustaceans and Lowly Barnacles, Greetings.

Know ye that, Harry Stone III, a Landlubber and Vassal of Terrestrial Rulers, having had the temerity to embark on the World Voyage and to cross our Royal Equator without prior Official Consent, has been caused to appear before Us and the Learned Members of Our Nautical Court, held in special session January 14, 2008. Be it further known that said Landlubber, having been found to be seaworthy, and having, through rigorous trials, given proof of sincere repentance and of abiding devotion to Our Imperial Self, has found favor in Our eyes and is hereby publicly proclaimed to be one of Our Loyal Subjects and an Honorary Member of Our Royal and very Ancient Order of Sellbacks. Which exalted status confers upon its Holder freedom forevermore to cross Our Equator; to roam Our Oceans and Seas to their most distant bounds without further molestation or ritualistic test of loyalty; and to partake in full measure of those gifts of Health, Recreation and High Adventure vouchsafed all Loyal Subjects who venture forth upon Our briny Kingdom."

It is signed by the captain rather than Poseidon. Perhaps Poseidon was too busy?

The only other thing to report of importance about my day is to let you know that my concern about the trash in the ocean may have been premature. I have not seen any more trash. Yea! Apparently just a bad patch. Hopefully it will remain clean for most of my voyage.

More later.

Day 10 (Jan 13)

Breakfast on Lido AGAIN!! Tai Chi, Vantage Group, Astronomy lecture, lunch with Jane and Daphne. Nap in cabin after lunch. Tried to upload pics to website unsuccessfully again. Need to go talk to the IT guy and see if we can expect any improvement. Most things on the cruise are really wonderfully done but the internet thing is pretty sad. I had trouble before the cruise with their website too so they need to invest some money in better stuff or better people to run the stuff. Not sure which but it isn't my place to do anything other than let them know that they should do better I suppose. Dinner: I have been really adventurous with my food choices and tonight I was well rewarded. As a rule I don't like mushrooms but the item I tried was so unusual I decided I had to try it to see if the cook was crazy or a genius. The item was billed as a Mushroom Chorizo Streudel!!! It was said to contain goat cheese too. It was amazing. Totally delicious. Who would have thought. The chef is a genius!

Neat thing after dinner. I went to 6 Forward to see if the stars were visible and there were only two other people there. One of them was the astronomer, Eric Dunn! He was very nice and said he will be out there around 7 and again around 10:30 PM each evening while he is onboard. He has this cool laser pointer which is very visible when he points out stars, planets, etc for those of us who bother to show up. He didn't announce his intention to be there in the lectures but I'm spreading the word. I went back after the show and couldn't see anything but clouds until he showed up. Slowly a few "sucker wholes" appeared. These are small breaks in the clouds which tease you into hoping for more visibility. Cute! Well, we were lucky and after some time we got to see quite a bit. Jane, one of my SCUBA buddies showed up. I had run into her after meeting the astronomer at 7 and she was excited to come out and have him help us observe. I had a lot of time to chat with him before she and the stars showed up. He's very nice and down to earth in the way he talks about the sky. He spent 15 years running the Van Couver, BC planetarium. Unfortunately he will be leaving the ship in Tahiti. Until then I think I will be stargazing as much as possible.

Between the stargazing episodes there was a show. It was some old opera singer named Renata. I wasn't sure about this guy at first. Some people left after his first song. Their loss! He turned out to be a lot of fun. I don't remember ever being involved in an opera sing-a-long before or even hearing about one but that was part of his act. He has a pretty good voice but it is clear he is a little over the hill. But he was great with the audience and had us singing along to familiar opera melodies with "la-la-la" instead of lyrics. He also got the Captain's wife to volunteer to come up from the audience and "sing" with him onstage. He sang some well known popular songs and even did a Louie Armstrong impression that was surprisingly good on one song. What a hoot! We gave him a standing ovation.

Well, that's about it from the middle of the Pacific. We passed about 200 miles north of the Galapagos yesterday. (No, we couldn't see them. For all I know they just put them on the map to make us feel less isolated. How many people really know where they are anyway?) Come to think of it, they have a map with the entire cruise route on it in lights. The lights (little LED's I'm sure) are supposed to turn from red to green as we progress. An hour or so ago I checked it and it says we're still in Panama! I wonder if this is all a fake trip, kinda like the astronauts not really landing on the moon. Hmmm.

I'll check into it. Bye for now.

On Day 9 (Jan 12)

I had breakfast on the Lido deck again (aren't you proud of me? two days in a row I got up for breakfast instead of having room service!) We had a Venture Group talk (this was a lecture about the history of the British Empire up to the point where the Vikings arrived). After lunch I went to a solo/single traveler meeting and then worked out (I think the weight/machine room in the fitness center has one of the best ocean views on the ship!). I had to ask the cute blond to show me how to work some of the machines. Too bad she is so young.... It was fun watching her demonstrate the machines I didn't know how to use. Maybe I'll forget and need her to show me again from time to time. Hmmm. After dinner I went to the show. A comedian named Dich Hardwich (I think). He was pretty funny.

The clocks had to be set back another hour which puts me back in the Mountain Time zone. All this traveling and I'm back where I started! Oh, chocolate and gift on the pillow tonight. The gift was a dual time travel alarm from Sharper Image. I'm hoping by the end of the cruise they give us cars or something! Gotta love it!

Day 8

Hello from the Compass Rose. Well, at least that is what our resident astronomer said. This is the area of the planet where they seem to put it on the map (for those of you scratching your heads, the compass rose is that thing on the map which shows which way north, south, east and west are). So the next time you look at a map of the world think of me. We are finishing up our third Sea Day of eight consecutive ones on the way to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas. I intend to go topside with my video camera and do a 360º pan to show what miles and miles and a whole lot more miles of ocean looks like. Last night, after two days of open water sailing we had sailed 2500 miles from Ft. Lauderdale and had 2900 miles to go to reach our next port, Nuku Hiva. Currently, for those of you with GPS, we are at 1º 44' 66" N and 99º 40:65" W.

I'm writing this on day 10 at just about midnight. Sea days might seem to be boring but there are some on the cruise who actually prefer them. After three consecutive days of activity a rest is good but 8 days may be a bit much for me. On the other hand, I'm not even close to being bored yet. There are so many things to do that it is hard to choose.

On Day 8 (Jan 11) I had breakfast on the Lido deck, went to Tai Chi, Vantage group, Astronomy lecture, Lunch, Talk about Nuku Hiva, took a nap, ran about 2.5 miles, had dinner, tried to star gaze, and had a beer with a tablemate who was celebrating her birthday.

The food was all good. Kind of wish it wasn't so good.

Tai Chi needs to step it up or I may go back to my David Caradine DVD. OK, to be fair this was only the second class and our instructor, Lian Sae (sounds pretty authentic right - she talks with a Brooklyn accent, go figure!), has two things to contend with that David doesn't. First, the class has a lot of old people in it (I mean old from my 63 year old perspective). Many are doing what they can from their chairs (and more power to them). The second limitation is more to the point perhaps. That is, we're on a ship! Have you ever tried to balance on one foot while the floor keeps moving? I thought not. So, I have decided to go with her program for a few more classes. It is slowly improving and I have learned some things that David didn't teach me.

The Vantage Group discussion was about Religious Fundamentalism. We will clearly solve all the world's problems before we get to the middle east so you can rest easy.

The Astronomy dude is awesome. He has a great sense of humor and his lectures are quite entertaining (not just to me and other physics geeks, to real people too!)

Apparently Nuku Hiva was the location for the Survivor season in the Marquesas. Who knew. Unfortunately, that may be its claim to fame. We will be porting there but there are no shore excursions and we will be on our own on a small island without much in the way of roads or transportation. I guess you need to have someplace to go to have transportation come to think of it. It is supposed to have some history and some great scenery. Oh, of course there will be souveniers. The word is Tikis.

A sad note. While I was eating lunch I was looking out at the passing ocean and I noticed a piece of trash. Then another , another, and on and on. I hope we were just in a bad patch because if not it appears we have polluted the whole Pacific. I have to hope we are just in a shipping lane and that the trash isn't everywhere.

Star gazing was a bust. In fact we had to leave the forward deck where the lights are dim so the bridge crew (no they don't play cards, they drive the boat!) can see at night. The reason we had to leave was that we were going through a fog bank and getting wet.

Day 7: (Jan 10 - Fuerte Amador, Panama)

Breakfasted in my room to save time. Had an 8:45 AM departure for today's tour. You know breakfast was good. About the only thing I could find fault with was that the toast was not warm. Picky, picky, picky! The cook did throw in some hash browns he thought I needed - perhaps to compensate for the cold toast?

-Wow, I'm listening to a video about the cruise and ship and I just learned that this ship produces its own fresh water from sea water! 150,000 gallons a day!

My tour today is to the Gamboa area (inland from here along the canal about 20 miles). Our guide gave information as we passed through the city and drove the road to Gamboa (on the way back too). We stopped at the 5 Star Gamboa hotel to link up with local guides for the actual excursion. We went to several separate attractions all in the same complelx. There was a native indian (there are actually 7 different indigenous tribes still in existence in Panama) area showing typical huts, etc and also crafts and souveniers. Then we went to a reptile exhibit - caimans, crocodiles, snakes, turtles, etc. There was a butterfly house - lots of butterflies, plants and butterfly feeders. Then there was the orchid farm. I know more about orchids than I ever wanted but it was pretty. Finally, and this was the main attraction, we went on an arial tram above the rain forest. Yes, Panama has one too. Two rain forests in three days. I'm feeling a bit of mildew between my ears! Actually it was pretty cool. We saw toucans, coatimundis and an egg laying turtle. Heard a howler monkey but couldn't see it. That's the way it is with rain forests I'm finding. There is so much vegetation you can't see the wildlife sometimes. It was still neat.

On returning to the dock area we had time to shop. My tablemate, Claire, had been on this tour too so we revisited our shopping spot from the night before. Today I indulged in a rare pleasure. I bought and consumed a coke! I know you think I have not had a coke in a week because I'm a cheap #$%^&* and they charge $1.95 per can of coke in the room and about $2.25 if you order one at dinner or at a bar on ship. The more or less truth is I don't drink cokes nearly as much these days. I stopped drinking them as much when I was losing weight about a year ago and have just not missed them. OK, it is easier to not drink them at shipboard prices. Oh, they have 146 calories (or 610 kJ of energy) here. That's 6 more calories than in the states. Same volume. Must be the sugar.

Had two new tablemates tonight. (I think I mentioned they assign us to tables.) They are a couple and the guy, Brian, was apparently pretty sick. He has emphysema, is hooked to oxygen, and apparently had some pneumonia and it is very serious when that happens. Anyway, we have new faces to look at while we pig out. Not sure if that is good or bad. We'll see.

Last observation. I found the toilet in my room wouldn't flush a few minutes ago. Called Guest Services and Jennifer (she and I are getting to know each other pretty well. The swim fin thing) responded to my information about the toilet with, "We do have a technical challenge with the plumbing. We're working on getting it fixed." I wonder what a "technical challenge" means but it just struck me as funny.

Well, that about gets you up to date. Not much exciting will happen for the next week or so. Well, I hope not anyway. There is nothing exciting scheduled. We have 8 days in a row of Sea Days. We have to travel about 3800 miles to our next port. I haven't read emails in about 3 days so I'll catch up on that and see if I can't get at least a few new pics up on the website for you guys.


Day 6: (Jan 9 - Panama Canal Transit)

Set my alarm for 5:45 AM. Ouch!!!

We started the canal transit at 6 AM. I have video, etc. proving I was awake at that unholy hour. Alright, alright, I know I am leading a pampered life here but I have never been a morning person. OK, so I fell asleep for about 30 minutes during the afternoon. We were in the lockless part of the transit and it was kinda boring. At least I had the decency to nap in my cabin. I saw one passenger nodding off earlier in the day at a lecture about the culture and societal values of latin americans. No it wasn't me. I went to my cabin for a bit and made the mistake of lying down. About 30 minutes later I woke up to the Captain's voice. No he wasn't in my cabin. They have a tv channel which shows the view from the front of the ship and I had that channel on so I would know when more locks were coming. As we were nearing a lock he started his commentary. Fortunately that woke me. I wanted to video each lock passage or at least watch it from on deck. This makes more sense if you understand that it took us about 9 hours from one end of the canal to the other. There are three locks close together on the Atlantic side. Then you move about 40 miles until you reach the first of the three locks which lower you back down to the Pacific. On the Pacific side the locks are farther apart. Something about the tides on that side being higher seems to be the reason the three locks are spread out more. At least that is what I think I heard. I was pretty sleepy. To the ship's credit they had coffee and Panama Rolls on deck for us when we woke up. (Panama Rolls have a strong resemblence to jelly donuts by the way. I think the center was peach jelly, a little unusual but delicious. Come to think of it all the food so far has been delicious. Someone may have to come wheel me off the ship when I return. Or maybe a forklift? Hmmm. Better try to work out more or something.)

We anchored in Fuerte Amador (it is the port for Panama City. It is close but in an area away from downtown. The name comes from the past when a real fort was in the area.) early in the evening. One of my dinner companions, Claire, and I went to shore (in a tender) to look for postcards for some friends who don't get email. While shopping for postcards and stamps I asked one of the clerks (in Spanish - everyone doesn't speak english around the world despite some Americans' opinions) if Panama had any good beers. They pointed to the soda cooler and said there was some there. It was hidden behind the coke! Cerveza Panama was the not too original name. The beer was better than the name. Pretty good for a fairly light beer. At the moment I'm saving the can for a souvenier. Not sure how long it will survive the needs of packing space and small cabin crowding.

I returned to my cabin and wrote postcards to friends. Waiting for me in my cabin was a new pair of slippers courtesy of the cruise line. I love this life. I must find a way to do it permanently. Just kidding. I'll be home in time for the Sun Bowl Tournament Neddie.

Day 5: (Jan 8 - Puerto Limon, Costa Rica)

My tour today didn't start until 12:15 PM so I got to sleep in a bit. I went ashore early to do a little shopping for souveniers. My tour today included a canal ride in a rain forest and a tour of a banana plantation. Pretty cool! I now know who puts the tags on your bananas! They do it here. I guess I pictured some supermarket employee putting them on so your checker (or you if you used the self checkout) would have the code to input at the register. On the Tortuguero Canal boat ride I saw many types of birds, sloths (both two and three toed ones! Who knew??), howler monkeys and bats. After the boat ride they gave us free beer (Imperial - not bad but a bit light for my tastes) and fresh watermelon and pineapple.

In the evening I went to the show (there is one every night). It was a ventriloquist with a duck. Sounds weird but it was pretty good.

The weirdest thing is that tonight we have to set our clocks ahead an hour. Not back as we did two days ago. It makes sense if you look at a map of the area. Costa Rica is farther west than the Panama Canal. So the hour we gained now has to be returned.

Day 4: (Jan 7 - Sea Day)

Today we were at sea all day. Headed for Costa Rica.

I took a Tai Chi class in the morning. Then met with the group of Vantage travelers. Our Vantage tour directors are a husband and wife team from London. The discussion today was about politics in the US and also the world. I tried to be quiet but was unsuccessful. Ah well. I haven't been at a loss for words in quite a few years and a few of my fellow travelers have some naive ideas. We also got into the illegal immigration and border security issue. Some of these easterners haven't a clue! I guess it is my role to help educate them (gently of course - for now).

Went to a briefing about upcoming Puerto Limon, Costa Rica and Fuerte Amador, Panama. We have no sea days between them so both cities were covered today.

The most important (to me) meeting of the day was with my fellow SCUBA divers. It was lucky for me that we had the dive yesterday. There were only 4 others divers beside me! Quite a lot of gray hair on this cruise. Not too many crazies like me. I refer all to the Jimmy Buffett song, "Growing Older But Not Up". Anyway, one of the other divers, Scott, is about to take his 5000th dive. This is the guy who I was following when we went too deep the other day. I asked him today and he admitted he knew where the other divers were but just wanted to enjoy the view of the 6000 foot drop-off. Hmmm. Now I know why the dive master was chewing him out quietly after we surfaced. I guess when you have that much experience you can pretty much do what you want and know what the consequences will be. He also in an instructor (including cave diving). If he doesn't get me killed I'm sure I'll learn a lot from him. (Don't panic nervous Nellies... I am comfortable enough to know what my limits are and to stop before things get dangerous.)

So, Scott has already got 5 more dives planned. One of our group didn't show up for the meeting but the other three did and we're all in for the dives. Most of them come pretty soon. Jan 21, 22, 23, 26 and 29. Boy will we be waterlogged by February! I can't wait!!! These dives are in Papeete, Tahiti; Moorea; Bora Bora; Samoa and Tonga.

That's about it. I worked out later in the day and went to a show. Then I got ready for the next day.

Day 3 (Jan 6 completion)

Nothing much else happened today after my last email. We do keep receiving little gifts from the cruise line. A tote bag, a little leather wallet big enough to hold a little cash and a credit card, the ship ID card/room key card, and a short pen (included). Even got a nice planner the other day which I could have used to keep a journal except I already have one given to me before leaving El Paso. The gifts just show up in the evening. My cabin attendant, Andreas, puts them on the bed when he turns down the covers in the evening and leaves a mint or chocolate or something. Yeah, I know it is a tough life but someone has to do it right?

An interesting thing that happens as you circumnavigate the globe is that you have to keep changing time zones. We will lose a day when we cross the International Date Line in the Pacific but we will gain 24 hours as we travel from one time zone to another traveling west. So in effect we get the day back. It is like going from El Paso to L.A. twenty four times.

I set the clock backward an hour before going to bed. Instructions were to do it at 2 AM but I'm no dummy!

Days 3.5 - 7

Well, let's see. Where was I? Before I begin, thanks to those of you who encouraged me to continue with this log. I will try to continue to do dumb things so it entertains you. It could just get boring if everything went well right?

As I'm writing this I'm playing videotapes I have recorded so I can label them for future reference. I brought 40 blank cassettes with me to avoid having to pay inflated prices for them out of the country. Pretty smart huh? Unfortunately, I just discovered I didn't bring the cable with me to import the videos into my computer. Duh! I suppose perhaps I did that on purpose to avoid the drudgery of editing while cruising. In any case, back to the trip. (I can always pick up a cable along the way.)

Day 3: (Jan 6 - Shore Day - George Town, Grand Cayman)

8:15 AM - boarded a tender (this is what they call the lifeboats they use to ferry passengers to and from shore when they can't tie up an a pier and just use a gangplank) to go to shore for my first shore excursion. In this case "shore excursion" is a misnomer because after we checked in at the dive shop we were on or in the water for the next several hours.

As evidenced by this email I didn't drown! That is the good news. The bad news is that I did run out of air underwater. Not as bad as it sounds but a source of some small embarassment for me. Before the dive I made sure all knew I was just barely certified at the lowest level and that this was my first salt-water dive and my first dive to more than 20 feet of depth. Good for me. The dive master was briefing us and mentioned we would soon learn who the air hog in the group was and it was me. I was not too embarassed and everyone was very kind even though I had to share another diver's air in order to take the proper amount of time surfacing. This was a deep dive and thanks to my buddy - a very experienced diver - it was deeper than planned.

I found it was no problem going deeper than I had been. When we neared the bottom (close to 80 feet) is when the excitement began (excitement translates into more rapid breathing which uses up the air faster for you non-divers who might not know). I looked where everyone was going and it was into a shallow canyon between coral formations. I noted with mild apprehension that it had several stretches of 15-20 feet where you couldn't just go up if you wanted to. The overhanging coral would prevent that. I wasn't sure how I felt about it but managed to "give it a go" and found I am not as cowardly as I had feared. It went fine but I'm sure there was heavy breathing I was unaware of.

As we reached the end of the "canyon" my buddy was ahead of me but I quickly realized the other divers had moved out of sight. We had been given a description of the dive and this is the point where the reef dropped off into something like a 6000 (yes that is six thousand) foot trench! I looked left, right and upward (not straight up unfortunately) and could not see any other divers. The visibility was excellent so we should have seen them. My buddy started going deeper and I followed. We were down 100 feet before he stopped. Finally we looked up again to find the other divers (4 of them including the dive master) above us. Later they told us that the dive master had been banging his tank frantically to get our attention. We never heard it. Sound travels differently underwater so I'm not sure if we couldn't hear it or were just distracted by the 6000 ft dropoff. Personally I think it was the former because I never really looked down to admire the view. I was more concerned with linking up with the others and wondering if my buddy was headed in the right direction. In any case, more heavy breating here I'm sure.

After we rejoined the others I took out my underwater camera (newly purchased so unfamiliar and another source of distraction...not a good thing while diving right Bunk?). I took some pics (the camera is film based, not digital or I'd try to put up pics for you all to see). Eventually I looked at my air supply. I had just over 500 psi left (the tank started with 3100 psi). This was not good. We were about 65 feet down and not too close to the boat. The dive master rebuddied me with Jane. Bless her heart. She had about 1500 psi left and could have stayed down quite a bit longer but the buddy system requires two buddies and she was elected by the dive master. We ascended slowly and stopped about 15 feet from the surface for a 3 minute Safety Stop (to allow disolved blood gases to be processed by the body before exiting the water). It was here that I essentially ran out of air. With two minutes remaining I read my gage and knew I was almost out. I shared air with Jane and we got to the surface fine. I even had enough air left to inflate my BCD (bouyancy control device - an inflatable vest worn to help keep you about the same overall density as water so you don't sink or pop to the surface too rapidly). So, all was well except my entire dive lasted only 19 minutes and Jane's too sadly for her.

Everyone else surfaced about 10 minutes later. I had already apologized to Jane numerous times but she was very kind. She said she has dived a lot and it was no problem. Fortunately we had another dive after a surface interval and short boat ride. The second dive went much better for me. It was somewhat shallower and I was not nearly as excited. We cruised around another reef area very close to where the Ms Amsterdam (my ship) was located. We were down 48 minutes (well I was...I was still the first to run out of air. This time the mooring/ascencion line was nearby and I actually surfaced by myself without problems. I find it helps to keep checking your air. Imagine that!

Despite my air hog designation I loved it!!! Lovely, I have something else to spend money on now. This isn't a cheap sport. It is C O O L ! ! !

Two other noteworthy items - not my proudest moments.... I left my swim fins on the dive boat. May have to replace them. The ship's staff is trying to get them back to me. I've had them for almost 20 years so it may be a good thing if I must buy new ones. Hmmm. Do you think I may have left them on purpose (subconsciously of course)?

The other thing was slightly upsetting for just a moment. I was going back to shore on a tender and forgot about how strong the wind often blows when you step outside the ship onto the walkway down to the tender. Most of you know the wide brimmed Tilley hat I have. Well, it has now been christened in the Caribbean! (Thankfully, the crew retrieved it almost immediately with a long pole and hook - smart guy that Tilley. He made the hat so it would float.)

I experienced a lot of firsts this day. First port on this trip, first port excursion on this trip, first dive in salt water, first dive deeper than 20 feet, first time I ran out of air underwater, first time to lose my hat in the Caribean (duh, it does have a chin strap to prevent such adventures). All in all a very fun and interesting day.

Well, I have to go. I'm meeting with the other divers from yesterday. The guy who was my buddy briefly yesterday, his name is Scott - hope I'll be able to remember that - has set up at least three other dive excursions for later in the trip and we're all meeting to decide how many of them we want to go on with him. I figured I'd be able to schedule more dives once I got on board. It looks like the Great Barrier Reef of Australia may have to wait for another trip. At least according to him.

So far today (Jan 7th) I have been to my first Tai Chi lesson, another meeting of our Vantage group and a lecture on upcoming ports (Puerto Limon, Costa Rica and Panama City, Panama). We port at Puerto Limon tomorrow.

Realy gotta go! Hugs and kisses to all as appropriate. Hope this has been worth reading. More soon.


Day 2: (Jan 5 - Sea Day)

Slept well. It is like being rocked to sleep or maybe being back in the womb??? (sorry but the thought did cross my mind) No sea sickness here.

Went to a tour briefing about upcoming ports and also a meeting of the 120 or so of the passengers who were using my travel agency (Vantage Deluxe World Travel). There are 1248 passengers onboard of which 1120 are taking the entire 115 day cruise!

There is a daily bulletin which has a schedule of the day's available onboard activities as well as info about something upcoming. This one included notice that Regis Philbin would be entertaining that evening. He was genuinely entertaining despite a weak voice. (His act is basically singing/comedy) His wife, Joy, also joined him onstage and they sang several songs together. What they lack in talent they make up for with showmanship and genuineness. It was fun.

I found dinner this day. Met several tablemates and enjoyed.

The food on this trip promises to be excellent. I will be trying many things but in case I get tired of new culinary experiences I can always fall back on some old favorites which are also on the menu. These people seem to understand that not everyone is into haute cuisine (sp?).

After the show (about an hour and a quarter) I returned to my room to do final prep of my SCUBA gear for the next day.

Day 1 (Jan 4):

We boarded and sailed about 8 PM.

Began unpacking (with a trunk and 4 cases - including my laptop case it takes awhile - still working on it today but almost done).

Went to "Singles/Solos" meeting. Not to worry Judith, etc. I'm not married yet.

Missed my dinner assignment. There are two sittings and they assign tables (although you can have your assignment changed if you wish). Duh..., the assignment was printed on the bar coded id card/room key I was issued on boarding and I didn't notice it until the next day. No problem. With free 24 hour room service I'm not wasting away!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The great adventure is almost here. I am in San Antonio with my sons and their families. I fly to Fort Lauderdale and board the Ms. Amsterdam on the 4th. Thanks to all of you who have expressed interest in this trip. I will try to share the highlights (and lowlights if there are any) here and in the photo gallery which is at:

It is tough leaving the snow behind but someone has to do it.

OK, the pic of my house was taken in November - a rare snowfall was worthy of pictures.)

Assuming I figure out how to operate the iWeb and Web Gallery I will keep you informed as I go.


Harry's Cruise

Around the world in 114 days.

Seems the world must be bigger. It used to only take 8o days right? Perhaps global warming? What say you Al?