Sunday, May 31, 2009

And Then There Were None...

She was only two months old at the time and so has absolutely no memory of the event, but Millvina Dean was the last of her kind. Passing away on Sunday, May 31st, she was the last remaining survivor of the Titanic.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Say It Ain't So...

After 65 years and nearly 600 issues, Archie is finally all grown up. He not only graduated from Riverdale High School, he's now a college graduate! And employed! And finally ready to propose... Veronica Lodge!!! (
Having spent some years watching the trials and tribulations of this gang of friends, I always understood that Archie pined away for the self-absorbed Veronica, knowing (as no doubt did Betty and everyone else in the comic) that ultimately he would wind up with the more thoughtful and genuine Betty (who had in her favor that she adored Archie - faults and all).
Poor long-suffering (really, ridiculously long-suffering) Betty. I suppose things might work out for her - she might actually wind up with Reggie now (but more likely she'll be Archie & Ronnie's maid).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

But Can It Fly?

In China, a cat has grown wings! (

It's awfully cute (unless it leaves fur AND feathers everywhere!)


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It May Not Be Hazardous to Your Health...

but it apparently does cause stupidity!

This just in from Lincoln, Nebraska: Police are looking for the "Bud Light Bandit". A man, disguised as a Bud Light box, made off with 9 packs of smokes from a Kwik Shop convenience store (

I can't wait to find out how he weaves those 9 empty cigarette packages into a mask so he can go back and steal the beer!


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Because I know you want to plan your Fall!

The networks are starting to announce their 2009/10 lineups.

NBC (as in NoBody Cares) – There really isn’t much here and certainly NOTHING that will move this network from their currently 4th place standing (in fact, I’m thinking that HBO, Showtime and even The Food Network all stand a good chance of taking over that ranking!). No “Chuck” until March and “L&O” which is in the 8 pm Friday night time slot and now tying “Gunsmoke” for longest running prime time drama (and these are I think the only two shows I might watch on this network).

Fox – with “Lie to Me” (though only on until January) and “Bones” both returning this might actually turn out to be our 2nd place network (1st place if you don’t count any of the forensic shows on CBS and you add in the shows like "Fringe" that we probably should be watching!)

CBS – pretty much stayed with the tried & true format (all “CSI” all the time) and picked up “Medium” from NBC (I think that’s going to turn out to be another mistake like “Scrubs” – not that I watched either of those shows but I think NBC is just giving up on network programming) and I don’t see “The Unit” so I’m thinking that one had totally run its course (and with the story lines we had seen of late I concur). There is a new medical drama on Sunday nights ("Three Rivers" – a transplant scenario that sounds suspiciously like “Heartbeat” with Treat Williams) that looks like it is starring the Aussie from last season’s “Moonlight” – definitely one to watch!

ABC – has probably the most new shows coming on board this fall (which I think will most likely earn them the title of “most new mid-season replacement shows") – "Cougar Town" (older woman looking for younger man)? "Shark Tank" (a reality show - well if the Sharks really ate the contestants it might be worth watching)? "Eastwick"? Most of these sound less promising than “Joey”. Oh well, at least they’re bringing back “Castle”!

Hmm...I think I see a lot more reading/sewing happening in my life!


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Home Again...

We arrived home safe and sound on Monday afternoon. The house was in pretty good shape (despite Chris "bach-ing' it for nearly 3 weeks). Of course either the yard will need to be baled or we will need to get a horse (probably a cow and some other animals as well to graze).

So the "Travel" part is over (for a while - yesterday my fortune cookie said I should be preparing for vacation and who am I to argue?) but the "Musings" part will go on (as soon as I figure out how to find my desk under all the bills, junk mail, magazines, packages). We have quite a few more stories to share...


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Star Date: 0509.2009

And we gone where no Weiler has gone before (well not that we know of anyway...) - but more on that later!

First of all, a big shout out to our little buddy James. I suppose someone somewhere knew this day would really come but since we consider you "one of our collective 6" it's nice to know that the baby has actually factually graduated from Gonzaga (we still want to see the actual degree in writing - not that we don't trust you but you know...we don't).

Second - a big shout out to all the mums since by the time you read this it will be Mother's Day (if anyone reading this will be contacting Gerry's mother today please let her know we are thinking of her and will call as soon as we get home!) An especially Happy Mother's Day to Sarah and to "mum-to-be" Jenny! (As we've been chumming around with an awful lot of Brits and those "colonists" - Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders - it's likely that we will require a bit of deprogramming upon our return from holiday!)

There will be much, much more later (I'm desperately trying to savor every last moment aboard the ship before we hit reality on Monday) but today was an incredible day! I think I mentioned that our tour of the bridge had been cancelled last week due to "fog" (actually we've since learned that it was because the ship was at Red Level - just like Homeland Security's color coding - because of the norovirus outbreak). We asked if we could be put on the list for this short cruise's tour (because surely others would be touring the bridge as well).

Imagine our surprise when we got a PRIVATE TOUR OF THE BRIDGE! Just us, the watch commander, the guy actually driving the boat, the two sailors ("watchers" they are called) and (for our benefit only...he's not usually on the bridge but only when there are "strangers" on the deck) the armed security guy. We had as long as we wanted to chat and look around and ask questions. It was incredible!!! They even put captain hats on us and took our picture - that's Gerry steering the boat (not really though because the darn thing runs almost always on auto-pilot and is operated by a two inch joystick!)

More later....


Friday, May 8, 2009

Day 15: The City of Angeles (or Back Home in the USA)

We arrived in San Pedro (the port of Los Angeles) very early this morning (before 5 am I think) and preparations were begun immediately for EVERYONE to disembark the ship to clear customs and immigration. I thought this a particular silly process - everyone parading off the ship thru the terminal building and then back onto the ship and figured it would be best for us to “clear out of Dodge” for as much of that process as possible by going on an LA Highlights excursion. Turns out I probably didn’t need to…

We were separated into two groups and all US citizens not disembarking permanently in LA were told to report to the lounge in the back of the ship by 7 am. Our new non-US friends were given basically the same instruction though they were to report to the theatre in the front of the ship. The lounge in the middle of the ship was reserved for those permanently disembarking under the relatively new (what I call) “Carry Your Own Crap” program (if you don’t want to wait for your luggage to appear in the terminal (which can take an hour or two) you can drag all your belongings with you and go ashore at your scheduled time and then head out to your next destination. Sounds like a reasonable plan - doesn’t always work that way.

In any event, right at 7 am our group was instructed to head to the gangway near us and we were guided across the bridge and directly to customs & immigration. It was speedy, it was efficient and everyone of the people directing us (including the custom official!) smiled and said “Welcome Home!” Seriously, even Gerry said it was the fastest and most cordial custom process we’ve ever encountered and we were all loaded on our bus and leaving the port by 7:30 am for our day in Los Angeles. (The Canadians were on their own bus - I think Princess was providing a Canadian interpreter for this tour!)

Once we got out of the port (and into early morning rush hour traffic) we headed for downtown LA. Our first stop was the Los Angeles Coliseum - home (at one time or another) to the Angels, the Dodgers, the Raiders, the Rams, the 1932 & 1984 Summer Olympics (the only venue to host two different Olympics). Adjacent to the Coliseum is the LA Memorial Arena where the USC basketball team, the Clippers and the Lakers have at one time played as well as the site of the 1960 Democratic Convention. It houses a large statue to John Kennedy there but the building is scheduled now for eventual demolition since USC has built another beautiful facility just a block or two away and the professional teams have moved a bit further down the street to the Staples Center (along with a hockey team - you can see a hockey game in the afternoon and a basketball game at night on some days). It is right next door to the LA Convention Center which hosted the 2000 Democratic Convention.

These new buildings are part of the LA Live district. As the downtown city of LA reinvents itself and becomes the new upscale, trendy part of town in which to live, work and play many new (fabulous) venues have been created - the new Disney Concert Hall is an amazing work of art in and of itself and I would like to come back to hear something presented there since the acoustics of this facility are touted to be the absolute best in the world. It is directly across the street from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (home to the LA Opera under the leadership of some guy named Placido Domingo) once home to the Oscars.

Hooray for Hollywood! We head from downtown to LA to the famous intersection at Hollywood & Vine and view some of the walk of fame. Though many store fronts appear to be closed our guide tells us these really aren’t stores but rather clubs and the entire scene will come alive at night. We stop at the Kodak Theatre (the home to the Oscars for the next 25 years - they’ve adorned the columns in the large entryway to this building with spots to list the Academy’s “Best Picture” winner and have optimistically reserved spaces through 2072!)

Walking along the street Gerry & I recognize the names of celebrities we grew up with: Morey Amsterdam, Danny Kaye, Spencer Tracy. Names that people of our kids’ generation don’t have a clue about (except for our kids. We’ve done what I feel is a great job introducing them to the classics - Bing Crosby, June Allyson, Jimmy Stewart and they are the only ones among their peers who know all the words to the complete works of Barry Manilow and the Carpenters. As you might well imagine they have not been able to express their appreciation for the depth of arcane knowledge we have imbued them with but they will no doubt appreciate our efforts when they play trivia on cruise ships!) We found Winnie the Pooh’s star (and Donald Duck’s - apparently the stars are not just for human celebrities) and Gerry spotted Paris Hilton’s star as well (this star and celebrity left intentionally blank!).

After everyone’s snapped a few photos of Batman and Marilyn Monroe (the faux celebrities wandering about Graumann’s Chinese Theatre it’s off to find lunch and treasures at the Farmer’s Market. It’s an amazing place with a lot of history (something like 75 years here) and was originally just a bunch of local farmers who set up shop from the back of their trucks selling produce they just finished picking a few hours before. Now anchored by Nordstroms and World Market it’s definitely a bit trendier but the original section of the market (with those first bit of buildings) remains pretty much in tact. Lunch for us was similar to Panda Express back home but far more authentic (and amazingly cheaper). We wander the various stalls and vendors and discover a “hot sauce” store - Gerry says he has never before seen so many different varieties of hot sauce all in one place. They don’t sell too many of the 1-4 types (wuzz) but 10+ (basically hell in a bottle) are abundant. You’re going to want to ask what type of sauce Gerry has used BEFORE trying anything at his next few BBQs!

Our process for returning to the ship has again been streamlined and we are dropped at the terminal door by the bus and proceed directly to the ship where staff on board are quick to recognize the returning travelers all while welcoming the new arrivals. After two weeks of practice we are easily able to opt for 7 flights of stairs leaving the elevators to newbies (since it appears that all of the new passengers are of the family type and we have many, MANY children on board for this leg of the cruise).

Dinner became quite the process - the rookies don’t understand the concept of sharing a table and so the line snakes around most of the atrium as they wait for their own table. Of course we didn’t realize this until we had a couple of rounds of drinks in the bar waiting for the line to shorten (he-who-must-not-be-named will not wait in line). We finally get to go in and our table of 8 has two couples that have just joined the ship in LA - one is a very young couple from Vancouver and this is her first time cruising. She told the waiter she couldn’t decide on dinner and he brought her two entrees - I told her it’s a short cruise but she might want to pace herself!

We set sail for Canada and ultimately home. As we make the turn northward once past the islands off shore, the waves turn choppy. Fun ride!


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Day 14: Oh My Aching Neck!

“Weiler” must be German for “Clampett” or we are clearly NOT those kind of people who are accustomed to royal treatment…but we try.

Yesterday was our last day with all our newfound friends (who are so good at trivia) and so we played in the morning and in the afternoon - both times “bridesmaids” never the “bride.” But it was fun and we’ve already met some people who are continuing on to Canada so we’ll see…
In the afternoon though Gerry & I thought we would give the Spa yet another try. In our “anniversary package” was included a ½ hr. couples massage. We made arrangements to have a neck, shoulders and back massage (something Gerry has done, but I have never tried…now I know why!)

After some initial confusion (they thought I had schedule Gerry’s couple massage on Tuesday and mine on Wednesday?), we were led off to the “treatment room” (and right there it doesn’t sound good) by two tiny women from the Philippines (I was thinking maybe they were going to walk on our backs?). They had us disrobe (I’m not really understanding why you have to completely disrobe for a neck and shoulders massage but I comply) and lie down on our side-by-side tables, putting our faces in the small slit that apparently is so you can breathe and is (no joke) carefully wrapped in toilet paper (oh that norovirus fun!). This has the added benefit (for them) that you can see absolutely nothing!

My technician starts by applying hot (and I mean really hot - they should use these microwaves up at the Grill to keep the hotdogs warm instead) oil and then the fun REALLY begins! I didn’t really think ANYBODY had hands and/or fingers stronger than Gerry but here she is starting the torture process (I think the fact that their names were Helga and Brunehilda should have been a tip off!) I was about to tell her that the knot she was trying to work out was in fact my shoulder blade but I thought maybe she really does know what she is doing.

After 25 minutes of this, she mercifully stopped, but something rather chilly on over the oil (I can’t believe I didn’t slip right off the table) and said we should rest for 10 minutes before attempting to re-dress. At that point the two technicians returned and the “sale” process began - wouldn’t we like to purchase some of this lavender-scented oil and “finishing crème” for use at home? (Curiously when you are using it at home yourself, you are to use only 3 DROPS of the oil…rather than the entire bottle!) Gerry said he didn’t think so but he was brave enough to ask how much does it cost (of course, the entire relaxation benefit of the massage was lost when he found out it is $50 each for the stuff!)

I do like being spoiled (it’s going to take a couple of times to realize that nobody is going to put my napkin in my lap for me and I will miss the chocolates on my pillow after turn down each night) but I think we’re not going to have as difficult a time returning to reality as some of our fellow passengers. (In the meantime my neck is still trying to recover!!)


Happy Birthday (Times 50!)

A really big shout out (and welcome to the 50+ club!) to Gerry's brother, Pete!!!!!

We will definitely celebrate (if you're still awake!) when we get back!


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Day 13: (Yet) Another Day at Sea

The day had promise. As part of our “anniversary package” (yeah, I know…we celebrate our anniversary every time we cruise!), we were invited by Captain Bilson to tour the bridge and our appointment was for 10 am. We took our walk (okay, more like a stroll) on the bridge (I’m up to almost 2 miles now!) first and then came back to “prepare” (Gerry wanted to make sure he was wearing his best Princess Cruise polo for the event). Only minutes before we were to head to Deck 12, we received a phone call (our phone never rings unless it’s for an unnecessary wake up call) that due to current weather conditions the Captain was needed to actually, you know, steer the boat and unfortunately would have to cancel today’s tour. They were so sorry but hopefully they would be able to reschedule and they would let us know if that became a possibility.
Well I’m all for having the ship steered correctly - especially since it was very foggy, without much, if any visibility. But I’m thinking this was more like an excuse to keep possible ebola germs from invading the bridge. Hmpf!

So instead we went back to meet up with our friends for trivia - not much luck to be had there (they wouldn’t give me credit when I said that Zhivago’s first name was Doctor). Instead of lunch, we opted for “high tea” (Gerry had never been and thought it was wonderful…I’m going to try to talk him into it again!) While everyone else was having the Captain’s Gala Farewell Dinner (about half are disembarking in LA and not coming back aboard…we ALL have to disembark for customs - what a country!), we opted instead for dinner at Sabatini’s. It was pretty funny - Gerry kept trying to pronounce the Italian names for things he ordered but our waiter kept correcting him with the English version (Gerry’s Italian ain’t that good but our waiter only spoke Spanish so it didn’t seem to matter anyway!)

After we were thoroughly sated, we tried to hook up with our “evening trivia friends” only to find that they had replaced us with another couple. No worries - the game last night was they would play about 6 notes of a 50’s song and you had to guess the song AND the artist. The first one turned out to be Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” which neither one of us would have gotten so we knew this wasn’t our game. We went looking for something else to do - a comic or Willie Tyler - but nothing much seemed to be happening there. We went to our favorite bar (Crooner’s Martini Bar) where the piano guy was just starting up with TV & Movie Trivia. SCORE! Since we didn’t know if we were really going to stay we decided to just be a team of 2 (me guessing and Gerry saying “yeah, that looks right!”) The guy forgot to tell us the rules BEFORE we switched answer sheets otherwise I would have had 14 of 15 correct but since I didn’t know you could name either the show/movie title, the song title OR the composer, I missed the one with “Flight of the Bumblebee” (recognized the song but didn’t know it was the theme for The Green Hornet). As it turned out it didn’t matter, because I got the “face off” with the other two teams that had the most (recognized Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head from Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid with only two notes!) By the time I got all the way to the back of the room with my prize (another bottle of champagne), we had been joined by 3 guys (members of the “Friends of Dorothy” group who had been meeting here on the ship). Apparently one of the guys had recognized us from our stroll around the Deck because he remembered he thought it was so cute (or was it adorable/) since we were holding hands on our walk.

Now I had seen the daily meeting listed for the “Friends of Bill W” in our Princess Patter and knew what that was. This time, however, I also saw a “Friends of Dorothy” meeting listed and had been wondering for nearly two weeks what was that one was for. It wasn’t until I got back to the room last night that I put it all together! I’m still laughing at how long it took me to figure that out!!!


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Day 12: The Ebola Boat Revisited

First off, let me say “Happy Cinco de Mayo!” (we will have a belated celebration when we return next week).

During lunch today Captain “Speaking” announced to the entire ship that he was sorry to interrupt but that the ship’s doctor was reporting an increased number of “gastro-” something or other (or as he called then called it “a tummy bug”) - nothing alarming at this point but there would be heightened precautions taken.

Basically he was taking the ship to “Barf-con 3.” This involves greater alcohol consumption (at the entrance to each restaurant not only are there wall mounted hand-sanitizers but now there are numerous crew members armed with dispensing bottles of “goo.”) Everyone entering one of the restaurants look like they have just scrubbed for surgery. (“Barf-con 2 would result in face masks being issued!) At the buffet, people are no longer able to serve ANYTHING themselves (including beverages) - and as a caterer who’s watched many, many children & adults go thru a buffet line, frankly I don’t have a problem with this at all (unless I’m assured that I am the first thru the line!)

Having experienced this before, I’ve taken it another step (about “Barf-con 2.5”) - of course we are avoiding handrails everywhere and I tried punching the elevator buttons with my elbow (Gerry rolls his eyes and I think I’ve bruised both my elbows now so I may have to reconsider that step). We also are restricting ourselves to just using our cabin’s bathroom facilities (which have the added benefit of increasing the amount of walking we’re doing since our cabin is never in the vicinity of anything we want to do so we’re getting some additional exercise with this).
At dinner last night changes were also evident in the main dining rooms - no more basket of rolls on the table, nor butter, salt or pepper either. (Okay…another “benefit” here since the fresh baked bread and rolls on the ship are some of the best food I’m now limited to only what they will serve me on the first round - no more sneaking an additional roll while waiting for my soup!) And any bar service no longer includes garnish (not too bad for me - I like the thought but don’t really know what to do with it in my drink - but those ordering vodka or gin martinis were very disappointed that there were no longer olives or onions in their drinks).

Those who suffered with me on the first Ebola/Disney boat will remember (fondly, no doubt) these steps and realize with me that we are no where near “Barf-con 1” - additional steps that could be taken and I figure we’re good until I see all the crew members donning gloves (either plastic or dress white depending on their position) or quarantining us completely to our cabins (good thing I brought plenty of books). It will be interesting when we arrive in LA (remember how quickly we made it through customs/immigration when we returned to Florida - gloved/masked individuals practically standing in a separate room pointing us to a box where we could just drop off our forms, no questions asked (personally I think they incinerated the batch without ever looking at them!!!)

Terri’s Travel Tip: Okay people, let’s review here…ICE is made from WHAT? When going ashore in a country where you’ve been advised NOT to drink the water, it would be in your best interests to avoid drinks (even alcoholic ones) containing ICE, which I can pretty much guarantee you is made from local WATER. Apparently some people on this ship were unable to draw a line from A to B to make that connection (or they figured the alcohol in the drink would take care of the situation…it won’t). (In the interest of fair disclosure, I must admit that I learned this lesson the hard way myself…at least I’m not into repeating it though!)


Monday, May 4, 2009

Happy Birthday!

A happy birthday shout out to Dionne - a cosmopolitan will be consumed in your honor this evening at the Crooner's Bar!


Day 11: Out to Sea

After three days of long excursions ashore, it was nice to enjoy a relaxing day at sea. Though we remain just off the coast of Mexico (cruising towards LA) there is apparently no truth to the rumor that those on the starboard side of this ship are required to wear facemasks (yet!).

Our morning started off to a great start (lots of Disney questions this time) and so our little group enjoyed our first victory at morning trivia and the balance of the day was spent in slow motion so instead let me share a “cruising” story we heard at lunch.

Apparently when Princess Cruise Line was in its infancy (mid-sixties, a few years before The Love Boat made them famous), they didn’t have Laundromats on board or really any facilities for passengers to get their laundry done. This was a particular hardship for those on cruises of more than 7 days and so the ship arranged that when they were in port, passengers could bag up their laundry in the bag provided in their stateroom (with their name and cabin number on it). The stewards would gather up the bags and they would be taken to a laundry ashore and returned to the passengers later that day.

It seems that not ALL of this was communicated to the laundry facility and though many, many bags arrived ashore, only one large bag was returned to the ship. The crew was a bit dismayed but figured what else could they do now? So they spread out all the laundry on the dining room tables and had passengers come and claim their belongings.

I’m thinking I’m pretty typical cruiser here - there are some things in my laundry bag that I would call “serviceable” but there’s no way in hell I’m going to the dining room to sift through undergarments - trying to reclaim those! I can only imagine the announcement (“This is Captain Speaking…could all passengers please come and claim their clothing as we need to set the dining room for 1st seating tonight?”)

I’m so glad others have gone before me and worked out the kinks in that system!


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Day 10: Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

We arrive in port on another beautiful day. Not as humid here so the weather is definitely changing as we head north. Our bus ride takes about 1 ½ hours to reach the colonial city of Antigua. It is 4000-5000 ft. above sea level (depending on which tour guide you get apparently…unless somehow it is a floating city?) and the guide promises that it will be much, much cooler at that elevation. (Okay he was freezing when we got there but it was only at most 10 degrees less than what we’d been experiencing every day since leaving Florida so only a small relief to us!)

Guatemala appears at first glance to be quite a bit more prosperous than other countries of Central America we’ve visited. There is a paved 4-lane highway leading from the pier, an on-ramp and a flyover bridge - the first that we’ve really seen evidence of here. Our guide explains that this is a private highway but it will take us all the way from the port to Antigua. We pass a small cemetery. Once again, as in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, we see that they do not bury their dead in the ground (the water table is usually too high to allow this) but rather in crypts above the ground (they will stack them 3-4 high). Often during the process they will actually place the body in a coffin and allow decomposition to take place. Once only the bones remain they are placed in smaller (more easily stacked) boxes.

Our first stop after we pass many coffee bean plants (and shade trees? Is this is what is meant by “shade grown” coffee?) along the road is naturally the Coffee Museum and the Museum of Mayan Culture. We learn the process by which coffee could be made but frankly, our guide tells us, the local people drink an instant coffee (made from the beans that float to the surface during the first rinsing process - basically the beans that are too bitter for coffee). In order to export the beans, they must be whole, unprocessed beans. Though they are originally collected in large bags (Gerry estimated 100 lb. bags of coffee beans) that contain some sort of poly-fibers to protect the beans from spoilage, insects, etc., the coffee can only be shipped in cotton bags and so they will be repackaged before shipping.

At the conclusion of the tour, we are offered samples of coffee but the effort and fascination is totally lost on both Gerry and me so we wander around in the beautiful courtyard instead while others finish their sample and look for anything that they could buy in the meantime.

Then it is across the courtyard we go to learn about Mayan culture and music. Our guide (Alfredo) shows us the pre-Colombian artwork and the music of the various regions of Guatemala. He explains that only the the “spinners” (those who climb up and dangle from a rope as they spin back to the ground) are the only ones allowed to wear sneakers with their native costume, however we saw photos of other groups doing it as well.

Back on the bus (it was a rather aerobic excursion today), we head off for lunch. I can’t imagine where it is going to be - I really don’t see anything that will accommodate our group until we enter a doorway from the street. Now inside we can see that it is a really lovely paradise in here - the Hotel Antigua. It is all built around this gorgeous courtyard. There is a swimming pool in the center and off to the left is a covered, yet open-air restaurant for the people staying at the hotel. Beyond that is a huge buffet area with shaded table areas. Once again the food is wonderful - guacamole, steak, chicken cooked in a pumpkin sauce (much better tasting than I’m sure I’m making it sound here!)

We wade thru the vendors now stationed at the hotel entrance and determined to make a sale (where are the tourist police when you need them?) and head back to the bus. We visit a church (partially destroyed by earthquake in the 70’s) and hear about Hermano Pedro, Central America’s first saint - a Spanish missionary on his way to Cuba who wound up in Guatemala instead (I think he took Christopher Columbus’ directions) and was eventually canonized by Pope John Paul II on his last trip to Central America (2002).

While in the courtyard of the church, Gerry was approached by an elderly woman trying to sell trinkets (really these seem to be made of plastic so I’m not thinking they are truly Guatemalan) - others had dismissed her completely when the necklaces were $1/each so she was now offering them at 6 for $1 (US always!) Gerry saw her and using his wonderful bargaining skills finally negotiated the price to $5 for the 6 necklaces. The woman tried to give him more necklaces but he stuck by his original deal. I really do love it when he does that!

From there it was back on the bus for our final stop. The skies were darkening dramatically, the rain wouldn’t be far off. The small cobblestone streets were becoming more crowded and we often had trouble making turns or just negotiating our way thru them. Finally we arrived at the Jade Museum.

We were greeted by the owner who gave us her spiel about her fabulous place. It seems she and her husband had come to Guatemala 35 years ago as archeologists. She approached the Guatemalan government and told them that she had rediscovered their Mayan jade mine. They said thanks, but no thanks - there is no jade in Guatemala. And she set about to prove them wrong. For the past 35 years they have been busy with their “Jade Factory”. This establishment mines (why does “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” come to mind?) jade - white jade, blue jade, green jade, even the elusive black jade - in abundance. Then they set up shop where the locals will polish the jade (they have a set up right there in the center of the factory) - women working with a face mask (that for all I know was just provided to offer protection from the swine flu). They have no eye protection from the fine dust created during polishing and no ear protection (and the sound is roughly the same you would experienced if you had your head stuck in a bowling ball return machine…for about 8-10 hours a day!) They probably pay them well (by Guatemala standards) but definitely nothing compared to US standards and certainly the markup on the merchandise she sells in the “museum” (do museums typically have all the exhibits tagged with sale stickers?) allows her quite a profit. The final part of the museum “tour” is to view her “retirement rock” - a 35 lb. piece of jade that is probably worth tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is nothing more than stealing from this incredibly impoverished country. Needless to say I will not be wearing jade any time soon. (And I don’t know when I will come across a better example of the term “ugly American”.)

Terri’s Travel Tip: Always play the games! After dinner last night I convinced Gerry to come play “Country-Western Trivia” (I told him it was a geography quiz). Our group (now named “The Saddle Sore-losers”) figured it would be cause for celebration if we got two questions right (we figured Johnny Cash and either Dolly Parton or Patsy Cline might show up as answers). Imagine our surprise when we actually won - showing that we knew only slightly less “nothing” than the others! Now we’re hoping tonight’s theme is “Quantum Physics” (because we know even LESS about that!) Our prize was a bottle of champagne. Whoo Hoo!!!!


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Day 9: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

This morning we dropped anchor off the port of San Juan del Sur. It is overcast and promises not to be quite so hot a day (I’m noticing a welcome trend as we move north along the coast). Before we can disembark to awaiting tender ships (actually our lifeboats - nice to practice in case the real thing ever becomes necessary!), a team of immigration officers from Nicaragua board our vessel. Ten random people are pulled out of line from the Horizon Court buffet and are asked to submit to some questioning (Have you had a fever recently? Have you been coughing? Etc.) All are deemed to have passed the test and we are now allowed to go ashore in San Juan del Sur.

Last night we received this information with regard to the tendering procedure: “For today’s call in San Juan del Sur, our tenders berth at a very narrow floating pontoon with some steep steps. Due to the size of the pontoon, no assistance is available to our passengers and therefore all passengers going ashore today need to be able to walk unaided (there is no room for wheelchairs and not wide enough for walking frames) along a narrow, moving pontoon and negotiate approximately 8 very steep steps.” Nice of them to mention this AFTER they’ve sold us our tickets for excursions and the deadline has passed for opting out!

Despite the dire warning, this is nothing like tendering from the Amsterdam in Sitka (those who were there with me may recall how much fun that was in the whipping (COLD) wind!) and soon we are aboard our lovely, air-conditioned bus and begin our travels in Nicaragua. The port city offers little to see so we are heading out to Masaya, known as the birthplace of this country’s artisans The Market is a large place that resembles a fort from the outside but once inside has numerous booths and stalls where they offer everything from leather goods to wood carvings to ceramics to toilet paper for sale (yeah, you’ll probably want some of that later on!) - priced between US$1-3 (depending on whether or not the supervisor is there). In addition, they offer various bottles of Nicaraguan rum (well of course we’re bringing some back!).

Our guide, Enrique, tells us that this is an absolutely safe place to shop but…we will be approached by young children - some will just be asking for a handout but others will have things to sell. He tells us not to give into the temptation of giving money to these children (unless we want to buy something from them like a pack of gum or a bag of roasted cashews) because if the parents feel that they are more successful at earning money this way they will hold them out of school completely. Nicaragua has no compulsory education system - those that want to go to school go either from 7-11 am or from 1-5 pm. Everyone goes home at lunch time.

After our shopping stop we head off to see the Masaya Volcano National Park (the first national park in Nicaragua - their “rangers” wear shirts similar to ours but instead of guiding you or providing information, they sell t-shirts from a table set up near the crater’s rim) and see the Santiago Volcano - one of 27 volcanoes in Nicaragua. This one has been active for the past 46 years but they take no chances here and all vehicles are instructed to park facing the exit (in case a hasty retreat becomes necessary). There is a large cross positioned above the crater. Apparently this volcano was thought to be possessed and so it also boasts that it is the ONLY volcano to have been exorcised by the church.

Then it is off to visit “The Filette” (a traditional Nicaraguan steakhouse) for a typical Nicaraguan meal (rice & beans, a very small salad, and we sample three of their native dishes: fish, chicken and beef, and of course fresh fruit). Our beverage choice was either bottle of water or a can of pop (7-Up or Pepsi? There are signs everywhere for Coca Cola, however, I've yet to see anyone drinking that. And the Pepsi here in Central America is from a different recipe than what we have at home - it is most definitely not as sweet here). The food was simple, yet delicious (in fact much better than what we would have enjoyed at the Horizon Court buffet had we remained on the ship). It was curious though to be greeted by the wait staff all wearing face masks as if we were going to infect them.

After lunch we head to our final stop of this excursion: the colonial town of Granada, the oldest European-founded city in Central America (1542). Though only one building remains from that time (a monastery that now serves as a historical museum), many of the other structures are nearly as old and beautifully maintained.

I'm not sure that after a week on the ship a "virtual" breakfast would do it for me!

The Swine Flu outbreak has been actually good news for Nicaragua. 45% of their population is unemployed and even the more successfully employed people (like police officers, teachers, etc.) make only about $200/month here. With ships no longer able to make port in Mexico, they are now coming farther south. We were to be one of the last ships for this season, however, they will have another cruise ship tomorrow and Sunday as well. Nicaragua is too poor to even have buses for our excursions and so the ones we rode in today, we probably rode in yesterday in Costa Rica as they were driven up here during the night.

As we head for "home" we can see Lake Nicaragua. This lake has two volcanoes in the center. There are 40,000 inhabitants of the volcanic island and they are surrounded by a lake full of freshwater sharks. It's pretty safe to say that in the event one of these volcanoes goes off they will not be swimming ashore. There is a lake inside the crater of one of the volcanoes and it is thought to be particularly lucky for someone to be able to say they swam in the lake, in the crater of the volcano, in the largest lake of Nicaragua!

We have a long bus ride back to the port so that we can get there in time. The Captain promised that he would “weigh” anchor (where does that term come from?) promptly after the last tender at 3 pm has returned to the ship and been repositioned aboard. Naturally there are still shoppers ashore well past this time and we don’t get to leave Nicaragua until well after 4 pm. We will be speeding thru the night to reach Guatemala in time tomorrow morning.

Terri’s Travel Tip: If you are thinking you might like to do something in the future (like a cruise!), don’t put off those plans indefinitely. We met a "young" woman (late 30’s - early 40’s…doesn’t that perspective change as you age!) who tragically lost her husband 2 ½ years ago. It’s taken her some time to get used to that idea (certainly she thought they would have much more time together) but she is forging ahead and doing things and just plain seeing where life will take her. I guess the moral here is you never know how much time you’re going to have together but I can pretty much guarantee you that however much it is, it will never be enough!