PUERTO CALDERA, COSTA RICA
13 we were in Costa Rica for the day. We didn't do much, but it's such an
interesting country I'll write about it anyway. More interesting is what
happened to me that evening after sailing, but you have to read about Costa
Rica first before I tell you that part.
It was hot, spelled H-O-T! There is not much near the port, but most people
take tours up to San Jose, Sarchi, the rain forest, or river rafting etc. The
tours here tend to be really good, and Costa Rica is quite a civilized country,
so it's a popular destination for anyone who takes the effort to do something.
For the less ambitious who just go ashore and look around, they normally ask
why we stop here.
Costa Rica is a different world compared to her Latin American neighbors. There
is free education through high school (95% literacy rate), a very low infant
mortality rate, and a virtually nonexistent suicide rate. They have also had
universal health care in place for five decades. Believe it or not, they have
NO army or military force of any kind - this in a country sandwiched between
perennial tinderboxes Nicaragua and Panama!
Costa Rica is bountifully blessed by nature as well, with magnificent scenery
and a wealth of resources. Mountains rise to 12,000 feet and the central
highlands enjoy a comfortable temperate climate compared with hot, torrid
weather on the less populated coasts. It is rich in agriculture, forestry,
fishing, and minerals and cheap hydro-electric power is abundant for industry.
Paradise?? It gets better!
The forests are rich in ebony, balsa, mahogany, and cedar. More than 1,000
species of orchids grow wild and prolific. Abundant wildlife includes puma,
jaguar, deer, monkeys and 850 species of birds. The country has a thriving
eco-tourism industry, featuring some of the best preserved jungles and
national parks in the tropics. Semi-active volcanoes also make for interesting
It's a fairly safe country so there is a pretty good tourism industry,
including visitors from the US, but perhaps more significant is the high
number of Americans and others who retire to Costa Rica! Not quite as popular
as Florida yet, but getting there. :)
Svein and I went ashore and looked around the arts and crafts stalls in the
terminal building. Costa Rica has some interesting crafts, especially wood
products of all kinds. We had fun looking at the diverse wares, t-shirts,
coffee, rosewood boxes, canes, traditional dresses and shirts, post cards and
multi-wood cutting boards. The quality of the work is high. This jaded world
traveler bought a few postcards!
We walked down to the beach for a bit, but it was almost too hot to be out in
the sun. I did find a bunch of mother-of-pearl shells and brought a few back
to the ship. They polished up beautifully.
We came back for lunch onboard the ship where I had a tuna steak that wasn't
quite done enough. There may or may not be a connection, but by dinner I
wasn't feeling very hungry. Svein and I were dining with 2 passengers from our
group, so I couldn't refrain from eating, but I only had a broth soup and a
small steak. By the time dinner was over I had to get back to the suite fast,
and promptly lost my dinner! About midnight, I lost my lunch and breakfast as
well. I also had diarrhea all night and through the next morning and was one
sick puppy! I haven't felt that ill in years. I didn't go to the doctor, as I
figured he'd just tell me to wait 24 hours and see what happens anyway. If it
was food poisoning, it just had to go through my system, and if it were a virus
it would have to run its course anyway. The next day was pretty miserable, but
I asked around to see if anyone else was experiencing any ill effects. By
evening I'd heard of a couple others so I decided to just go report it to the
doctor the next morning so they'd have it in their records.
I told the doctor I hadn't come to see him because I didn't have insurance
and didn't want to pay for him to tell me I'd get over it in a day. He's French
and assured me he is not in the medical profession as a business like US
doctors, but to help people, and I shouldn't worry about that. Pretty nice.
Then he found out I speak French and work as a tour guide in the western
national parks and he was quite excited. He's been to many of them and loves
them, but hasn't been to Yellowstone, and he's wanted to go there for a long
time. We did finally get around to the reason for my visit! He doubted if it
were food poisoning and without saying it in so many words, let me know it
might have been. . . .THE VIRUS! Well, it's certainly not something I would
wish on anyone else, believe me. So far, 4 others he's seen seem to be having
the diarrhea only without the vomiting, so hopefully it won't turn in to
anything major onboard. On the bright side, it did help me lose about 5 pounds
in one fell swoop! Yay!
Weather continues to be good, but our call in HUATULCO, MEXICO had to be
cancelled because the swell was too big to operate the tender operation. So on
we sailed to Acapulco, which will be detailed in the next issue.
For all of you in cold country, I'll try not to get too much sun if you'll try
not to get too much snow!
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Thursday, January 16 we were in ACAPULCO, MEXICO for the day. This is the most
popular port of call on Mexico's west coast and is included in the itinerary
of virtually every ship that passes between California and Panama. Jaded
travelers often turn up their nose at the thought of 'Acapulco again'! However,
there are good reasons all the ships call here and Acapulco has much to offer.
First of all they have nearly perfect weather with an astounding 360 days of
sunshine a year on average with daytime temperatures comfortably in the 80's!
Acapulco has pretty much been a household word since the 40's when the jet set
brought out the lounge chairs and the photographers. Almost overnight, Acapulco
became a glamorous destination, a world of movie stars and cliff divers.
Miles and miles of golden beaches are covered with swimmers and sunbathers,
although swimming is less recommended anymore due to the polluted water in the
bay. The pollution does not stop the young children, however, from waiting
alongside the pier for ship passengers to throw coins into the water. The kids
promptly dive in after the coins and jubilantly retrieve them before they hit
the bottom. But the more famous divers of Acapulco are not near the ship. The
Mirador Hotel has been made famous by the daring feats of divers that do
perfect swan dives from the top of 130 foot high cliffs at La Quebrada into
the wild waves far below, as tourists look on, awestruck. The divers seem to
take it all in stride, but you can't help but gasp the first time you see it.
Today it is a thriving city of over 2 million people with great diversity.
Shopping opportunities range from local Mexican handicrafts markets to Walmart,
Costco and Sam's Club! (yes, really). The markets have aggressive vendors,
desperately competing for customers. A lot of people get irritated with the
constant haranguing, but you just have to ignore it and look at what you want
to look at. Even the taxi cab drivers come at you is swarms when you exit the
The city has changed since I first came here by ship 14 years ago. The more
fashionable zone continues to move south, around to the next bay. Grand,
opulent hotels and vast golf courses have been built along the endless
stretches of beaches out of sight of the masses and the crowded city center.
The city was founded clear back in the 1500's and was an important port city
for Spanish galleons sailing between Spain and the Orient. But sea traffic
dwindled when Mexico gained independence in the 1800's and Acapulco saw few
visitors until 1927 when a paved road over the mountains led it to become
Mexico's first resort city on the west coast.
Svein and I spent several hours just walking the long promenade along the
beach, going in and out of shops and markets, and finally enjoying a late
lunch of fresh fish of the day at a local restaurant. Eating plenty of the
lime slices provided with meals will counteract just about anything! :)
Saturday we were in CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO. Talk about change. The first time
I came here with the Sagafjord there was hardly anything beyond a few shops
and a local market on the pier. It has developed into a beautiful resort town
with facilities of all kinds, including some very high-class resorts and spa
hotels. The architecture is tastefully designed to fit into the desert/coastal
environment and creates a stunning view as you sail in from the sea. We walked
over the hill to the Pacific beach where thunderous waves were crashing on the
wildly sculpted rocks. We climbed up over rocks and down the other side, to
little secluded coves, and over more rocks and over more sand. It's a popular
area to combine rock climbing with beach walking. There's a lot of snorkeling
out at the end of the cape so when we reached the end we just took a water taxi
back to the town center. There are now fancy shops, chic restaurants, coffee
shops, internet cafes, and an impressive yacht club with dozens of expensive
yachts! Of course there are countless local markets as well, but unlike
Acapulco, the vendors are laid back and pleasant. The area boasts some of the
richest marine life in Mexico. In the bay we saw flying fish, sea lions, and
thousands of birds. Friends of ours went on a boat tour around the corner into
the Gulf of California and saw lots of whales. They would come up almost right
next to the boat. We sailed away at sunset as the clouds turned flaming red and
lights twinkled from the expensive homes up on the hillside. On to San Diego
Monday and Los Angeles on Tuesday, where we officially start the world cruise.
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Sunday, January 26, 2003
January 20 we were in San Diego for the day and on the 21st we were in Los
Angeles. I won't waste much time on those two ports, even though San Diego is
one of my favorite. They just are not terribly exotic to most of my readers.
In San Diego I mostly walked and shopped, picking up some things I needed for
the next month. In Los Angeles my friend Doris Gnagey picked me up for the
day. First I was able to get her on the ship and show her my luxurious home. I
think it's safe to say she was duly impressed. Then we went out for a
delightful Mexican lunch and went for a walk on Balboa Island. Back at the
port I brought her on for afternoon tea (white glove service!) until all
visitors had to proceed ashore. She sat in her car and waited until we sailed
away in the dark.
Now we are enjoying 6 days at sea sailing from Los Angeles to the South Pacific.
The first stop next Tuesday is Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas Islands. There's not
much there except solid ground on which people can put their feet after a week
at sea! But, more about that later. These nice sea days make for a good
opportunity to tell a little more about the lovely vessel on which we are
As I mentioned in my first update, the Radisson Seven Seas Mariner is the
world's first all-suite, all balcony ship and has a capacity of about 700
passengers. For this segment there are only 399 guests so there is plenty of
space. In Los Angeles the ship officially started her 2003 World Cruise.
Although Svein and I are only sailing as far as Sydney, February 21, the ship
continues on to the Orient, India, South Africa and back to Florida on May 9.
Cousin Elizabeth sent an email asking who Svein is. Svein is my co-host and we
worked together on Sagafjord for 7 years. He is retired and hosts for Virtuoso
several times a year. When there is a large group they need 2 hosts and this
is the 4th time we've gotten to host together. Yes, he's Norwegian, but he's
had a home in Florida 30 years.
Let me start with our suite (we don't call them cabins on this ship)! We have a
separate sitting area with full sofa, table, easy chair, desk, TV/VCR,
refrigerator and fresh flowers. They keep the fridge stocked with water and
soft drinks for us. In most parts of the world we get CNN and ESPN by
satellite. Our balcony has a small table and two recliners. The bathroom is
all marble with gold and silver fixtures. We have down comforters on our beds
and a nice walk-in closet to hang all our fancy duds. (I think Doris was
surprised to find that not only do I have my own tuxedo, but I own several!)
Dining is divine on the Mariner. We have 4 restaurants to choose from. The
main one is the Compass Rose and it has open sitting. That means we don't have
assigned tables. When we go to dinner we just ask for a table for however many
people we have in our group that particular evening. The Signature is a French
restaurant and Latitudes has a different theme every week. Both of these
require reservations. The Mediterranean Bistro has an Italian Steakhouse flair
with a wonderful buffet of tapas and Italian appetizers for starters and
another buffet with scrumptious desserts like tiramisu. Complimentary soft
drinks and wine are offered in all four dining rooms. Svein and I have
breakfast and lunch up in the Verandah restaurant. It's pleasant to sit out on
the aft deck in the fresh air listening to the water churning out behind the
ship far below us. The ship is so smooth there is virtually no vibration and
often that churning sound is the only indication we're at sea. People who have
been in so-called 'vibration cabins' on other ships would be amazed that a ship
could be so quiet. It's an ultra-modern propulsion system that also makes the
Mariner highly maneuverable.
Public rooms are spacious and corridors are wide. There is a large open deck
area on the top deck with a swimming pool, 3 Jacuzzis, and lots of chairs.
Other sport facilities include paddle tennis, ping pong, golf putting green,
quoits, shuffleboard and a jogging track. The computer room has 16 computers
and we can go online to check emails or surf the web 24 hours a day. There is
a good program of guest lecturers and entertainers who come and go along the
way. Currently we have Art Buchwald and Marion Davies. Lots of others too, but
those are two names many of you will recognize.
Doris Gnagey wrote a little paragraph of her impressions of the Mariner I
thought I'd share with you:
I was thrilled to get the opportunity to tour the Radisson Seven Seas Mariner
while she was docked in LA Harbor. If I only had one word to describe my
feelings it would be "WOW". As I toured the ship, I was awe struck of the
atrium with its spiral staircase from the bottom level to the top. The elegant
dining rooms (not just one but several) were magnificent. The theater was so
charming with seating to watch the performer or to socialize with your fellow
passengers. The sun deck and the pool area seemed to be such a relaxing place
to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. If I never get to sail on a ship of that
magnitude, it will always seem like I did on that day.
Who knows, maybe she'll get to sail someday.
Sailing out of LA we had pretty cool weather for the first couple days with
temps only in the low 70's. Brrrr. However, it's now back up into the 80's
during the day so it's most pleasant dining out on the aft deck. Mind you,
through much of the South Pacific we will wish the temps were only in the 70's!
We crossed the equator this afternoon so we're in the southern hemisphere. And
yes, the water really does swirl the opposite direction when it drains. There
was an initiation for 'pollywogs', that's people who have never crossed the
equator by ship before. They do all kinds of nasty things to them, like put
jello in their hair, but all in good fun. For a great example, check out my
website and see a photo of cousin Bev jumping into the pool during her
initiation! Once pollywogs are initiated they become shellbacks and have free
access to the seven seas.
After the ceremony the Super Bowl was on down in the conference room, well sort
of. We are way out of satellite range for any kind of TV, but they broadcast
two internet websites onto big screens so we could follow a text version of the
play by play. Not quite TV but definitely better than nothing at all. The game's
not quite over yet, but it looks like Kermit Kauffman is going to be happy with
Meanwhile we continue on to the South Pacific, tropical isles and sandy beaches!
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Thursday, January 30, 2003
Land Ho! After 6 wonderful days at sea we saw our first land Tuesday and had a
day in NUKU HIVA in the Marquesas Islands of the South Pacific. This is a
common first stop on the way from California to Polynesia, only because it's
the first land anywhere. Usually passengers come ashore, walk around a few
minutes, then go back to the ship and wonder why they stopped there. Radisson
had different ideas. They arranged for most of the island's vehicles, private
and otherwise, to shuttle guests up the mountain to a feast, complete with
barbecue, live music, and crafts. The locals had cooked a pig on coals buried
in the ground and they threw in bananas for good measure. It had been cooking
for about 2 days and it was tender. Along with the pork and bananas they
served salad with marinated fish. There was a whole other table with various
local delicacies - stuffed cabbage with chicken fafa in young taroroot leaves,
canapes with fresh tuna, breadfruit chips, hearts of coconut, fresh coconut,
sweet coconut balls, baked breadfruit in coconut milk, coconut cake, and banana
pumpkin bread pudding. Local Marquesan musicians provided a nice background,
the local school children sang and danced, and various artisans displayed their
handicraft for sale. Oh, did I mention this whole shindig was complimentary to
all Mariner guests?
It was interesting driving up there. The dry season should be over by now, but
it hasn't started raining yet. Oddly, most of the vegetation was still brown,
but most of the trees were either in full bloom or bearing fruit. We saw a
great variety of flowering trees and shrubs on the way, including breadfruit,
coconut, papaya, mango, banana, bamboo, banyan, flamboyant, mimosa, frangipane,
hibiscus, bougainvillea, star fruit, ginger, and PPTO trees. The banyan trees
have long vines that grow back down to the ground and become roots. They are
massive trees. Who knows what the PPTO trees are in English, but if you
pronounce the four letters individually you'll have the name of the tree as
it's called in Marquesan. They have long pods filled with small, hard, red
coral-like beads. They string them like pearls for beautiful jewelry. I picked
up a half cup full of them off the ground and brought them back to the ship so
if anyone wants a special bracelet let me know! Here's the kicker - most of
the trees and shrubs were originally imported from North and South America!
And one more tidbit about Nuku Hiva, an episode of Survivor was also filmed
Today we were in PAPEETE, TAHITI and had a complimentary tour for our Virtuoso
guests. It was a hot day with temps in the high 90's. We had 4 buses and went
first to the Museum of Tahiti, then to a 'Marae' a Polynesian outdoor temple
where they originally performed various ceremonies, including human sacrifice.
Today they did some native dances and sang for us, but there were no
sacrifices. The historic rituals still affect their culture, but today most
Polynesians are Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Seventh Day Adventist, Baptist,
or some other western religion. We continued on to a small garden park and
walked a few minutes back to a beautiful waterfall, cascading off the rugged
mountain into a pool surrounded by blooming trees and shrubs of all kinds. Then
we went to the Intercontinental Beachcomber Hotel for a lunch in a gorgeous
setting by the pool. A nice breeze kept it comfortable in the shade, but I was
in the sun quite a bit and can feel it this evening! When I get back home
after this cruise I'll look half Polynesian!
All these south sea islands are volcanic, and the mountains soar straight up
from the coast to form rugged chains of high peaks. Unlike Nuku Hiva, Tahiti is
very lush and very green! Many of the same trees and flowers cover the lower
areas of the island, but low hanging clouds in the steep mountain valleys give
it a more mystical appearance.
Tahiti is the largest of the 115 islands and atolls that comprise French
Polynesia. Mountain peaks tower above dense rain forests, and waterfalls pour
from wild cataracts into cool streams and pools. The French painter, Paul
Gaugin, probably did as much as anyone to make the area famous with his
artwork. However, visitors expecting the world of Gaugin will be surprised at
the modern, bustling capital city, Papeete. The laidback Polynesia is found in
more remote parts of Tahiti, or on other islands like Moorea and Bora Bora
where we'll be the next two days. Papeete is very French, very busy, very
developed, and perhaps not as welcoming as many of the other islands. Oh, did
I mention expensive?! Fortunately for our Virtuoso guests, their outing was
We sail at midnight and have a whole 20 miles to cover between then and 8:00am!
Moorea is clearly visible from the ship even now after dark.
This chapter has gotten long enough, so I'll send if off and start a new one
for the next islands. Wish I could share some of this warm weather with some
of you in cold areas.
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Friday, January 31, 2003 we were in MOOREA. It's just exquisitely beautiful!
It would be hard to imagine a more beautiful place in the tropics. Its jagged
peaks cloaked by lush greenery and encircled by the deep blue of the ocean and
sky make the perfect dream of Polynesia. Moorea is only 12 miles west of Tahiti
but is as peaceful and friendly as Tahiti is hectic and urban. The most
striking feature of the island, viewed from our ship, is the tall spire of
Tohiea Peak, which soars to nearly 4,000 feet like a needle. Moorea and this
mountain are believed to have inspired James Michener for Bali Hai so we
usually just refer to the mountain as Bali Hai. The island is almost
triangular, fringed on all sides by a coral reef and a translucent green
lagoon inside the reef. It's a paradise for diving and snorkeling and is
unique in the Society Islands in that it has magnificent expanses of both white
and black sand beaches (Tahiti has only black). There are only about 12,000
inhabitants on this jewel of 50 square miles and just one 40-mile road
encircles the island. There is little access to the rugged interior other than
by jeep or foot, but if you are a mountain climber who likes heat you should
Saturday we spent the day in BORA BORA, which is almost as gorgeous as Moorea.
Both islands, like Tahiti, are lush and green with every kind of tropical
flower and fruit imaginable. Of course, it's the steep volcanic mountains
rising majestically up from azure seas that really make these islands special.
All these south sea islands are volcanic and out beyond the coral reefs the
water depths plunge to thousands of feet. I went with "the two Carols" to the
Bora Bora Hotel for sun and lunch. I've known Carol Farber and Carol Mann since
Sagafjord days and they are as different from each other as can be. Carol M is
extremely elegant and proper with not a hair out of place. She goes swimming
wearing her hat and sunglasses and a long cape. Carol F talks nonstop and is
down-to-earth and like a mother hen. We swam in the beautiful water, then waded
among colorful fish and fed them bread crumbs. I took a nap in a hammock in the
shade, enjoying a gentle breeze. The hotel has luxury thatched roof huts on
stilts out over the water which go for about $700 a night! However, tourism is down,
so you could probably get a deal for only $200 if you looked. Then we had lunch in
the open-air restaurant with stunning views of the lagoon with its multiple
shades of green and blue inside the coral reef, and somber dark blue beyond.
We rode an open truck-bus back to the pier where Carol M had to have a good
look at the local black pearls before returning to the ship.
On Moorea and Bora Bora, the locals are decidedly laid back, enjoying a
low-stress lifestyle, reflecting the idyllic scenery around them. Unlike
France, the islands in this area are 80% Protestant! The rest are a mixture of
Catholic, Mormon, Seventh Day Adventist, and Asian religions. Two years ago on
a Sunday in Bora Bora, Svein and I went to church and they were having a
choral festival. We were awed as various choirs belted out hymns with
traditional Polynesian volume and energy. Whew! They can sing.
Finally we had a peaceful day at sea after 3 strenuous days of palm trees and
Monday we were scheduled to have a call in RAROTONGA from 7am to 3pm. However,
there is no protected bay there and the ocean swell was too big to run tender
service, so we had to give up and sail on toward Tonga. We just called it our
I felt like Rip Van Winkle this week. Tuesday evening I went to bed and didn't
wake up again until Thursday morning when we arrived in Tonga. Well, that is
actually true, but not because I was sick. Wednesday didn't exist since we
crossed the international dateline. Tonga is the first country west of the
dateline so it's the first country to welcome each new day. When it's between
11:00pm and midnight in Tonga the whole world has the same day for one hour.
We were to have just an afternoon call in TONGA, but due to our 'Roar-By' we
were here the full day. This is the smallest kingdom in the world, consisting
of just a few tropical islands. The royal family lives in a palace made of
white Victorian timber that was prefabricated in New Zealand in 1867. Captain
Cook made 3 visits to the islands between 1773 and 1777 and he named them the
Friendly Islands, due to the welcome he received. Today they are still friendly
islands. It's fun walking around Nuku Alofa, the capital city. It seems the
modern world hasn't quite corrupted this town yet. People smile and greet each
other and visitors, and are quick to help in any way they can. Their local
handicrafts specialize in straw baskets and mats, woven tapa cloth and tapa
art, shells and shell jewelry. And none of it's made in China! Thanks to the
British corruption, they do drive on the left however, but that will be the
case for the rest of our cruise until I leave Australia and New Zealand.
Before I close this update I want to just touch on our cuisine on the Mariner.
This morning for breakfast I had an omelet, corned beef hash, sausage and
English muffin. Yesterday was perhaps healthier - just fresh mango, papaya,
pineapple and cottage cheese. There's such a great selection we don't get bored
with any meal. Here's tonight's menu (from the main dining room) for your
drooling pleasure, though for space concerns, I've had to leave out some of the
extra description of items.
Appetizers: Chilled Fricassee of Baby Vegetables with Black Truffle (garnished
with herb goat's cheese stuffed mushrooms); Chilled pineapple fruit cup;
Homemade Alaskan crab cake; and Gruyere Crisp and Air Dried Swiss Beef. Soups:
Turkey albondigas soup (with spinach and spicy turkey balls); Chilled tomato
consomme; and Swiss barley soup. Salads: Mimosa salad garnished with chopped
eggs and balsamic vinaigrette; Garden greens with sliced tomato and bell pepper;
and Caesar salad. Pasta dish: Fettuccini with garlic parsley and olive oil; and
plain pasta with tomato sauce. Main courses: Grilled grouper fillet with black
olives and bell pepper coulis; Grilled capon breast on garbanzo bean mash;
Medallions of beef with a light mustard sauce; Zurich style veal in a mushroom
cream sauce with Berner roesti; Vegetable and Tofu Cannelloni; Sirloin steak of
black angus beef; Boneless breast of chicken; and Salmon fillet. Oh, did I
mention dessert?... Grand Marnier souffle; Zuger kirsch cake (sponge cake with
vanilla cream and kirsch water); Peach yogurt timbale; Ice coupe 'banana
sundae'; Mango sherbet; Peach and rice terrine with berry compote; Butterscotch,
vanilla, pistachio or banana ice cream; Peach frozen yogurt, Fresh fruit;
International cheese board with crackers. Anybody hungry yet?? And I've only
managed to lose about 5 pounds so far. Oh yes, that's only the main restaurant.
The other three have themed cuisine which the chefs change every 5 to 10 days.
Yum yum! Speaking of which, it's 7pm and I'm getting hungry. I better get this
sent off and head for dinner!
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In update #6 I detailed the dinner menu in the main restaurant. However, we
didn't eat in the Compass Rose that evening. Instead, Svein and I and the two
Carols dined in Latitudes with a South Beach (Miami) theme. It was one of the
most incredible meals I've eaten in my life! They served us 25 courses! Granted
they were small portions, but we ate virtually everything they brought us,
including 6 main courses and 4 desserts! Amazing.
Sunday, February 9, we had a Virtuoso tour in AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND and it was
excellent. The weather was perfect with a few clouds and 80 degrees. New
Zealand is so civilized even though they do drive on the wrong side of the
road. It's nice to be here after several weeks of Polynesia. As Svein pointed
out, we had had about enough of palm trees and beaches. (jaded?) We had good
motor coaches, drivers, and guides, and the planning was impeccable. We drove
through the city, then over the harbor bridge to the north shore. We had
English tea with scones and muffins in a hotel in Devonport where we also
enjoyed great views of the Auckland skyline across the harbor. Auckland is
known as the city of sails due to the thousands of yachts and boats. There is
one yacht for every 4 households here and they dot the seascape with pretty
white sails! Considering that the labyrinth of waterways is ringed with
volcanic hills, all covered with subtropical vegetation, the city can
rightfully boast one of the most picturesque settings anywhere.
We drove through the countryside to the north, leaving the calm waters and
white sand beaches of the east coast for the wild ocean and rocky, black sand
beaches of the west coast. It's like going from Florida to Oregon in half an
hour! There we saw a gannet colony with thousands of the big sea birds. In
addition to the wildlife there were dozens of surfers, taking advantage of
high surf crashing in from the Tasman Sea. From there we proceeded to Gracehill
Vineyard for an exquisite private lunch in a country setting. This was one of
the nicer tours we've been on with Virtuoso.
We were back to the ship by 4pm and my friends John and Julia Ensom picked me
up for the evening. First I brought them on the ship to show off a little.
They were duly impressed. It was nice having a relaxing evening in their home
and the Mariner didn't sail away until midnight.
Monday night I enjoyed a rather unique dinner - in the galley (that's kitchen,
for you landlubbers) with three other guests and the chef. They set up a table
for us right in the middle of all the cooking and preparation and it was
fascinating to see the organization and efficiency of production. We started
with caviar, which is not exactly my taste (I don't care to eat unborn fish!)
but from there the meal was superb. I had a little extra portion of wiener
schnitzel, so I wasn't going to have dessert. However, they brought us each a
little basket made of chocolate braid, filled with chocolate mousse and I
didn't want to hurt the pastry chef's feelings. I ate it. Wasn't that noble of
me. An interesting side note; the chef is Swiss and he admitted at the table
he thought I was a Swiss who spoke really good English!
Tuesday we were in WELLINGTON, New Zealand's delightful capital city.
Temperatures this time of year (like August in the northern hemisphere) run in
the 60's at night and 70's during the day - perfect! The downside is the high
winds they get, often accompanied by rain. Wind is so common that locals
rarely use umbrellas - if you see one, the owner is most likely a tourist!
Svein is not much of a sightseer, so here I decided to go exploring on my own.
I did something most uncharacteristic of me. This museum-non-lover went to the
Museum of New Zealand. That's probably the first time I went to a museum by
myself and of my own volition since going to the Louvre in Paris in 1974! My
main reason for going was an exhibit on the film, Lord of the Rings, which was
filmed here in New Zealand. It not only showed where much of the scenes were
filmed, but also many of the extraordinary techniques used. For example, they
started working on Hobbiton in the Shire over a year before filming. They
planted hedges and trees and reshaped the land into gentle knolls, building
little hobbit houses into the hillsides. They used a great combination of live
actors and animals with something called digital duplication. They hired horses
and horsemen from all over the country, but they used digital techniques to
make more of them and even to change features. I'm going to watch Lord of the
Rings and the Twin Towers when I get home and see how much of it I can
recognize after seeing the exhibit. The rest of the museum wasn't bad either.
After that I meandered through town and took the cable car to the top of
1,980' Mt Kelburn. The view of the city and bay was spectacular. The
surrounding jagged mountains seem to come crashing down into the graceful,
curved harbor. I then enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the botanical gardens
back down to the city. The gardens were well done. In this climate almost
anything will grow, so there are trees, shrubs and flowers from all over the
world. Specialty areas include a rose garden, a herb garden, a rock garden,
Australia garden, Begonia House, and Observatory.
New Zealand is such a civilized place! After Polynesia this country is truly
refreshing. They do have some quirks though, but I think I'll save that subject
for the next update. We are on to Christchurch on the South Island tomorrow.
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Happy Valentines Day Everyone,
Greetings from a very rough and wild Tasman Sea! But that comes at the end of
this update, so back to the beginning first.
Think Christchurch - think flowers. Think flowers - think Christchurch!
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND, the Garden City, is one of my favorite cities in
the world, and the wealth of flowers and gardens is a big part of it.
Wednesday, February 12 we spent a perfectly beautiful day in our first port on
the South Island. The North and South Islands of this country are as different
as night and day. The North, dominated by Auckland, is like an enormous rolling
farm. The vast majority of the population lives there. The South Island, on the
other hand, is rugged and wild and much of it has been preserved in parklands.
Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island and is filled with public
parks and private gardens, all boasting a stunning array of flowers. Much of
the city center is reserved for pedestrians instead of autos, and old gothic
buildings dominate the skyline. The town's centerpiece is Cathedral Square
where one finds the Town Crier, Visitor Information, street musicians and
entertainers, food stands, souvenir shops, ice cream, post office, and of
course the Christ Church Cathedral dating back to 1864. The gently meandering
Avon River wanders through the heart of town, framing another of New Zealand's
brilliant botanical gardens, this one boasting an English teahouse and an
observatory. Punts (small boats) still ply the waters gracefully; offering
rides in a gondolier style. I wandered through the gardens, enjoying the vast
array of vegetation. They really can grow almost anything here in this
temperate climate. Here summer highs tend to be in the 70's, whereas winter
lows may dip into the 20's. They are preparing for their big, annual flower
festival. They have competitions to find the best flower garden in town and
hundreds of residents work hard to try to make their garden special. I met the
two Carols in Cathedral Square and we decided to have lunch at an English Pub
on the Avon River. Fish and Chips was the order of the day and it was good.
One more interesting note on Christchurch is the International Center for
Antarctic Information and Research. Because of the proximity to Antarctica and
increasing polar research, the ICAIR was set up in 1992 as a joint venture
between New Zealand, the US, and Italy. The center has exhibits on Antarctica's
history, wildlife, and natural beauty.
Thursday we docked in Port Chalmers, port city for DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND. The
city was settled by Scots and named New Edinburgh, but soon the name was
changed to Dunedin, the old Celtic name for the beloved Scottish city. Carol
Mann and I took a ship's tour and enjoyed a train ride on the Taieri Railway,
a narrow gauge train through Taieri Gorge. It was a nice 3-hour ride with much
diversity in scenery and lots of tunnels and bridges. The train left right from
the dock, went along the harbor into Dunedin, and then continued through a
rural area with lots of sheep before turning into the gorge and following the
river. It's late summer here and they've been having a drought to boot, so the
landscape was pretty brown, but we saw lots of forest, cropland and a wild,
scenic river gorge. On board they served us coffee, tea, and shortbread and
later a nice lunch. We got off the train after 3 1/2 hours and boarded motor
coaches for the ride back to the sea, with a short tour of Dunedin on the way.
Dunedin is the largest university center in New Zealand with over 20,000
students and has an interesting octagon-shaped city center. Sailing out of
Port Chalmers, the ship hugged the coastline for a few miles so we could see
the cape and the large colony of breeding albatross below the lighthouse.
Today, Valentines Day, we had a couple hours in MILFORD SOUND, a spectacular
fjord complete with steep cliffs, soaring mountains, cascading waterfalls, and
distant glaciers and snowfields. The morning had been cloudy and foggy, but by
the time we entered at 1:00pm, the sky had cleared and there were just enough
clouds to give perspective. As the ship slowly wound her way through the fjord
we were treated to one stunning view after the other. We took lots of photos
with the digital camera, so I'll have to decide which one to send along with
this update, then put a few others on my website. Now we are on our way to
Tasmania and the swell is over 20 feet, with individual waves much higher than
that. Occasional big waves have sent a few things sliding off tables and
shelves, but the ship is pretty well secured. We already made our cabin
wave-ready! It's expected to continue through the evening and the night. Some
of our guests will spend this Valentines Day confined to their suite!
I mentioned NZ quirks in the last update. My favorite one is a traffic
regulation. If you are making a left turn, you have to yield to any oncoming
traffic wanting to turn across traffic in front of you! The equivalent at home
would be if you wanted to make a right turn, you would have to yield to
oncoming traffic wanting to turn left in front of you! I suggested just not
signaling, then they wouldn't know I was planning on turning. That happens,
but usually results in rude gestures!
We sail away from New Zealand hoping to come back soon and looking forward to
Tasmania and Australia in the days ahead!
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Sunday, February 16, we arrived in HOBART, TASMANIA after a couple fairly rough
days on the Tasman Sea. Most of Australia is in a drought and has been
suffering extreme hot, dry conditions for the past four months. However, our
arrival coincided with a cold front and it was cloudy, breezy, and only in the
60's! Brrrr! I had to put a sweater on to walk around town. Tasmania is that
little island just off the southeast coast of the continent and it's a
beautiful place. Hobart is the capital with a population of about 200,000, and
is sandwiched between 4,000' Mt Wellington and beautiful Storm Bay.
Radisson put on another of their complimentary shore events for all guests and
they did it up right. We boarded motorcoaches at 4:45pm and enjoyed a scenic
drive through the country for an hour and a half, heading southeast to Port
Arthur. Tasmania was founded by the Brits as a penal colony and Port Arthur
was an actual prison for the hardcore prisoners. Today it is a national
historic site. (When I came through Australian immigrations the officer asked
me if I had a criminal record and I replied that I didn't know you needed one
anymore!) For our group of nearly 400 guests they had set up a huge tent for
dining. We had a short, guided walk around the grounds to learn the history and
drama of the place. They did a dramatic reproduction for us with actors dressed
as soldiers and convicts of the 1800's, including an escape attempt. It failed
of course, as it usually did back then. During our meal a troupe of young
performers, ages 7 to 16 did a delightful program of song and dance. Even the
12-piece orchestra was made up of young people. They did a great job and we all
loved it. Meanwhile, the ship sailed from Hobart and came down around the coast
to Port Arthur and picked us up right there. Such service.
Tuesday we were in MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA, our last port before Sydney where I
have to leave this wonderful ship. I'd just as soon stay on for the rest of
the world cruise! Oh well, we have to go back to the real world some day.
Melbourne is a delightful city. In fact an international group of economists
voted Melbourne as the world's most livable city last year. Its city center is
the envy of many other big cities, which have been suffering urban sprawl and
suburban mega-malls! Melbourne's downtown is the life of the city, with wide
streets, wide sidewalks, trolley cars, and lots of people! Similar to Salt Lake
City, the founders wanted streets wide enough so a team of horses and a wagon
could turn around in the middle of the street without having to back up. Today
traffic is limited to the trolleys and delivery traffic, so most of the
downtown is virtually a pedestrian zone. The city is also laid out on the
American grid system of square blocks. Streets are connected with a myriad of
arcades, all lined with little shops and coffee houses - they love coffee here
and I thoroughly enjoyed having several good cups of coffee (the ship's one
negative is they have awful coffee!) The historic buildings have been protected
since the 1970's, so renovations preserve and highlight old architectural
styles, which contrast remarkably with flashy new skyscrapers. I enjoyed
several hours on my own, just wandering through the shops and arcades and
enjoying the atmosphere. I did spend some time on the phone, because I found I
could call the US for less than five cents a minute!
Today is our last day at sea before arriving in Sydney tomorrow. My bridge
partner and I won the club championship today as our last hurrah before I have
to leave. We do get a free day in Sydney tomorrow yet and stay aboard one more
night before disembarking Friday morning. Sydney is also one of my favorite
cities, but I'll do one more update and include Sydney and my adventures
driving up to the Gold Coast and flying over to New Zealand for a couple days,
before heading home. Oh yes, the photo is of me with Carol Mann, caught at one
of her weaker moments!
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Update #10 (final)
"Cruise update" is only partially true on this one, since I've disembarked the
Mariner and done some shore-side travelling, but why change names now?
Oh, before I continue, I want to remind you that you can view a few photos from
the cruise at the
2003 World Cruise slideshow.
Thursday, February 20 we arrived in SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA for two days. It was nice
to have a free day before disembarking the ship. Svein and I had one last
leisurely breakfast out on deck, enjoying great views of Harbour Bridge and
the Sydney Opera House while dining. Incidently, the Danish architect who
designed the famous Opera House studied at MSU in Bozeman! Sydney is such a
good city to explore. I walked the city center area from one end to the other,
through the parks, China Town, Darling Harbour, downtown pedestrian zones, and
Market City. Market City is an enormous covered market with individual vendors
selling everything from produce to souvenirs to shoes to jewelry to clothes. It
also had some of the best prices on things in the city. In Darling Harbour I
went to a big store themed to the Australian Outback and they do a free
30-minute show demonstrating the didgeridoo (aboriginal instrument made of
hollow tree stems) and accompanied by music and slides of the outback.
Friday morning we had to be up early for disembarkation and it was pouring
rain. Australia has been gripped by their worst drought in 100 years, so the
rain was a welcome change. I rented a car for 3 days and headed north up the
coast, driving through heavy rain and foggy, misty conditions all day. Multiple
accidents on the motorway caused horrific traffic jams and a 2-hour drive to
Newcastle took me over 5 hours. After moving 10 miles in 2 hours, I took off
west into the country and took a 50-mile detour so I could enjoy the
countryside instead of fumes and brakes. It was delightful. The drought was
quite evident, though some things were showing signs of life already. Blackened
areas testified to the wildfires of the past months. I finally gave up driving
and checked into a motel at 10:30.
Saturday was much better, cloudy but only a few showers. It was nice being able
to see the scenery. As I headed further north it got greener and lusher. This
area had started getting rain nearly two weeks earlier and it was obvious. The
coast made for a lovely morning drive, but after a few hours I decided to leave
the Pacific Highway (the main road) and go inland again. It was beautiful and I
saw kangaroos like we see deer at home, more big birds than I've seen anywhere,
and even a peacock strutting on the shoulder of the road. The terrain was
hilly, covered with lush forests. Most people think of Australia as dry, but
the east coast is subtropical, and (other than this past year), gets lots of
precipitation. I returned to the coast just in time to leave the state of New
South Wales and enter Queensland and Australia's famous GOLD COAST. This area
is very much like south Florida, but without the Hispanic influence or
hurricanes. It's developing rapidly and there are miles of high-rises along
white-sand beaches. They even have names here like Miami Beach and Palm Beach.
Vicki Scotts is a good friend from QE2 and Royal Viking Sun days and now she
and Jamie and their two boys lives on the Gold Coast. Vicki is expecting a baby
girl in a few weeks, so her activities are a bit limited, but Jamie and the
boys and I went to Surfers Paradise to swim and body surf the big waves. The
waves really come crashing in off the Pacific there. Later we enjoyed a dip in
their own pool, then lounged around the Lagoon at the neighboring Hyatt, and in
the evening finished off with an Aussie BBQ. The Gold Coast claims to have the
best weather in Australia - they say one day's beautiful, and the next day is
perfect! However, I arrived on a cloudy day, enjoyed one gorgeous day, and left
in a tropical downpour. So much for averages. They were so happy to get rain
again after the long drought, though, that I can't begrudge them a little
less-than-perfect beach weather.
There is so much to see and do in Australia. Some day perhaps I'll have to
organize a tour down under and take in the highlights of Australia and New
Zealand. With the world political climate, this seems to be a particularly
good time to visit here.
Now I'm spending a few days in New Zealand before returning to winter. I hope
you've enjoyed the cruise updates and have been able to explore the world
vicariously through these writings. So, signing off until my next adventure....