Wednesday, April 23, 1997

1997 Cruise

We flew from Orlando to Montego Bay on Air Jamaica…a VERY nice airline. Very efficient and well run. Nice wide-body jets with complimentary champagne and as much rum-punch as you want (yee-hah!). I had never heard of Air Jamaica before so I didn’t know what to expect. I had visions of sitting on milk crates in a propeller plane with a dread-locked pilot saying “In the event of an emergency water landing? No problem, mon”. But that was not the case at all. The airport in Jamaica was atrocious, however, and we had to stand in line for close to two hours in order to clear Jamaican Immigrations. On the ride from the airport, we passed by some very disgusting parts of town. The phrase “God-forsaken country” pretty much sums it up. The beaches were really nice, but get away from the tourist areas and it is total sleaze and disgust.

Cartegena, Columbia was similar. The “new city” with the beaches and skyscrapers is nice, but go inland towards the historical or residential areas and it’s run-down dilapidated houses, if you can even call them that. Most of them are shacks that don’t even have four walls and ceilings sometimes, but the locals seem content to live there like that.

The Panama Canal truly is an engineering marvel. It takes a few hours just to cross the first set of locks, but it is very interesting and that time flies by. Watching the locomotives along sides of the canal pull ships through to the next lock was fascinating. Seeing the doors to the locks open in front of us, close behind us, and then fill up with water and rise us about 20-30 feet in a matter of a few minutes is amazing. They make about a million dollars a day there. It costs an average cruise ship about $30,000 to use the canal, and tankers and freighters are significantly more expensive. The tolls are based on tonnage, with the lowest toll charged being 36-cents for someone who swam through the canal decades ago. It takes about eight to ten hours for ships to go the full 50 miles of the canal. Despite that time and the cost, it is definitely a better alternative to sailing the full 4000-something miles across South America to get to the other side.

Off the coast of Panama, we visited a group of hundreds of islands ranging in size from barely big enough to have a grass hut, to a few miles big. The main island in that group has a small but popular air strip as well as an open field where the natives peddle their hand-crafts and wares to the rich Americans who visit. We went island-hopping from there for a few hours. I didn’t know that we were going to go in the OCEAN with a canoe!! I was so petrified at first! I’m talking deep choppy Caribbean Ocean, probably shark-infested, in a canoe made from a hollowed-out tree!! Oh, and NO life-jackets!! The natives piloting the canoe spoke no English and not even any of the high school Spanish that I butchered the whole trip. They were walking around the canoe like it was nothing, but I was scared beyond belief working our way through the choppy waves of VERY deep ocean water without a life jacket. “Please sit the hell down” and “stop rocking the boat!!!” don’t mean anything to them. It wound up being cool though, once I got past that initial fear. All those tiny little islands, some of them just being oversized sand-bars…just like how you see it in the movies. And the grass and straw huts were very Gilligan’s Island-ish. Oh yeah, these island natives are not very sanitary by our standards. Their bathroom facilities are outhouses at the end of docks, over the ocean. You look down and you see sea. But that’s just mostly for show, though, because they don’t use outhouses themselves. Instead, they take a walk out in to the ocean and do their business the natural way. It’s a good thing the currents are pretty strong there.

We went on another boat ride in Costa Rica, but this was a 24-foot cruising boat that took us through rivers and canals through jungles and rainforests. Yes, it certainly does rain in those rainforests, and this is their dry season! We saw many different birds including toucans and parrots and other exotics like that. We also saw lots of monkeys and other jungle inhabitants, and we even saw real vampire bats! They REALLY draw blood from their prey’s necks and earlobes and fingers. And they do like humans. Thankfully, they sleep during the day so they weren’t bothering us at all.

Back on dry land, we went through banana and cocoa plantations. The cocoa plant is not at all what I would have expected. The cocoa grows in a large pod. In that pod, there are dozens of smaller pods that are white and slimy. You can eat them. The slimy outside is very sweet and tasty. If you bite into that, you get a purple colored raw cocoa, which is rather bitter and bad tasting. Cocoa needs to be dried and roasted before it can really be used (just as coffee).

In between all that, I participated in many activities on the cruise ship and won rounds of "Match Game" and "Liar’s Club". I especially kicked ass in "Name That Tune". I had 15 out of 20 correct the first night, 18 out of 20 right next time, and I won the final rounds, becoming the big winner of the week and winning a nice bottle of champagne to supplement the t-shirts, beach towels, decks of cards, and other assorted goodies that I won along the way.

Oh, and I also performed in a play. I was a butler to a rich old lady who found out her husband was two-timing and even three-timing on her. To make a long story short, she invites her husband and his "harem" over to dinner and tells them she is going to leave the country to start a new life and is leaving her husband and the women to fight it out with each other. She pours them all a glass of wine and wishes them a happy life together. They all died. Arsenic. She then calls me into the room. I see they’re all dead, and she kisses me and picks up a suitcase and the two of us take off for Nicaragua together. It was pretty funny.

After that trip, I spent some time in Daytona. Bike-Week was just winding down so it was very busy and the whole area was swarming with $20-30,000 Harleys and scantily clad people. From there, it was back to the airport for a flight to Savannah, GA via Atlanta. The shortest jet ride I have ever been on was from Augusta, GA to Savannah…17 minutes. Needless to say, no beverage service on that flight. An old friend picked me up at the airport and we drove from his house in South Carolina all the way up back to Boston. Apart from a brief stop to say hi to my buddy in Virginia, we drove the full 19-20 hours almost continuously.

A pretty good time on the trip but I’ll tell you what though: if I hear that damn Macarena song one more time, someone is going to get hurt!