Monday, December 17, 2012

Friday, December 14, -- The River of Life, part II


A day without a port is usually called a “sea day,” but what if the ship is on a river?  We are still on the Amazon and will be until around midnight, so we will refer to today as a “river day.”  It is like any normal sea day in that almost all we did was eat and play trivia [second again, third day in a row]. 


There was one unusual activity on board – the 2 p.m. conversion of pollywogs to hardbacks.  The pollywog ceremony is performed on all ships crossing the equator; apparently if a ship crosses it twice on the same voyage, the ceremony is conducted on the second crossing.  We first saw this on the Statendam in 2006.


Set around the Lido pool, a mock court judges crew members for high crimes and misdemeanors, all satiric in nature.  There is a prosecutor in a long robe, wig and shorts [ it’s still hot here in the Amazon]; King Neptune and his unnamed wife; and a jury comprised of ship’s officers including the captain and Hotel Manager.


The prisoners are herded onto the Lido and into a cage [or prison] at one end of the pool by other staff members who act as jailers.  They are brought forth by department – housekeeping, bar staff, etc. – for judging.  Traditionally, none of these crew members has crossed the equator prior to this voyage.  The prosecutor, in a fine rolling baritone, details their crimes; the housekeepers, for example, were accused of leaving only three sheets of toilet paper in the stalls; of closing the bathrooms closest to the dining rooms at meal time; and so on.  There is some inconsequential dialogue between Neptune and his queen before each pollywog is required to “Kiss the Fish.” 


Kissing the fish is exactly what it sounds like – each prisoner must kiss some part of a fresh fish, a cod in this case.  Some have to kiss its lips, some its eyes.  Even though everyone is laughing, no one really likes to kiss the fish.  Once they have finished this part of the ritual, they are taken, some dragging their heels and screaming, to tables set up by the pool where they are essentially tarred and feathered with green goop and salad greens. 


The jailers have a good time with this.  Even the usually reserved Ferdie joined in the fun and was especially enthusiastic when the final prisoner was brought to the table; it was Carlos the Cruise Director who has taken part in the ritual as a judge or other character but has never had to kiss the fish.  Well, today he did.  All his years of lying about it and avoiding it came back double as the jailers covered him in all the leftover slime and all of the remaining greens.


After the prisoners are “decorated,” they are judged by the ship’s senior staff including, as mentioned earlier, Captain Gundersen and Fermin.  Thumbs up or thumbs down, the verdicts were applauded by the passengers.  “Thumbs down” meant the pollywogs were thrown into the pool which probably felt good today; “thumbs up” meant they had to bake in the sun covered in slime and greens.  The judges seemed to have as much fun as anyone and it seemed that the Captain was the one really driving the verdicts.


By 3 p.m., the party was over but the crowd lingered to take pictures, especially of the crew who had not had a chance to cool off in the pool.  Even the captain was smiling when he left.


We saw lots of other ships today, mostly container ships heading up river.  We have also seen a number of ships which appear to be transporting liquid natural gas, but we are not sure.  Since we left Parintins, we have seen fewer and fewer cage boats transporting people.  For the most part, the action is west, in the direction of Manaus, the largest city in the province of Amazonia and the provincial capital.


The river is running mostly muddy brown today, but we have seen stripes of blue water which we presume means that we have crossed another tributary and had a mini-meeting of the waters.  When we reach the Atlantic, there will be no magical change in the water color because the Amazon’s discharge can flow as much as 100 miles into the ocean after it passes the mouth of the river.  The Nile may still be the longest river in the world, but the Amazon’s output is a staggering 6000 per cent greater.  To give some idea of how big the river is, consider that there is an island in the Amazon delta bigger than Switzerland.


We will be back in the Atlantic tonight and heading north toward cooler temperatures.  It has not been as hot as we thought it might be, but it was so humid that the temperature did not matter.  We were actually grateful for the rain the other day.  We have a week left before we disembark, but there is still plenty to do.


Tomorrow – Formalities


Saturday, December 15 --  Activities formal and not


Although we have another week aboard the Prinsendam, our vacation is almost over.  At dinner tonight, we found ourselves cataloging the things we have to do when we get home. The intrusion of reality is not a good sign.


Meanwhile, we enjoyed the quiet pace of another sea day, this one actually at sea.  We were second [again] in Trivia, the fourth day in a row.  The highlight of the day was the Mariner Reception and luncheon.  This is the third Mariner luncheon held on this cruise, made necessary by the large number of repeat HAL passengers.  Today’s affair was for the 4-Star Mariners, those with more than 200 sailing days on the line.  We currently have 316 [not counting this trip] and still felt like babies compared to the 500-, 700- and 900-day cruisers; there was even one woman with over 1750 days!


The reception was held at 10:45 in the main showroom.  Cheap champagne, red & white wine, bloody Mary’s and orange juice were provided.  Naturally, D asked for, and received, a Diet Coke.  Award winners were called to the front and had their pictures taken with the Captain and Fermin.  Award winners were being recognized for passing the 200-, 300-, 500- and 700-day milestones.  Our next recognition may come next year when we pass 400 days, but we really don’t care.


The reception was followed by the Mariner luncheon in the MDR.  We ended up at a table for 6, sharing it with a couple from Orlando and one from Madison, Wisconsin.  After lunch, we returned to the room and read before taking the world’s longest nap.

Tonight was the third formal night.  Once again, we wore matching costumes; D wore a blue cummerbund and bow tie to match MA’s blue outfit.  Several people commented on our color coordination.  They will be disappointed next week when D wears red and MA wears black.


After dinner, we checked e-mail and returned to the room to read and write.


Tomorrow – Another sea day


Sunday, December 16 – A short report


Another sea day found us doing as little as possible.  After breakfast in the MDR, we attended a lecture by Peter Alden, who also spoke ten days ago prior to our entering the rain forest.  At the first lecture, Peter spoke about the vanishing indigenous tribes of the rain forest; today he addressed the flora and fauna of the rain forest with slides of what we might or might not have seen.  Among the unseen were the jaguar and anaconda; among the seen were cormorants, herons, caimans and sloths.  He is an engaging speaker and the Roads Scholars [formerly Elderhostel] were lucky to have him as their leader.


Trivia followed Peter’s slide show and we won again to the great dismay of many of the other teams.  We had not won in the previous four sessions, so we don’t understand the animosity.  We may not participate at all tomorrow because of shore excursions – if we are back in time, it will be a coincidence.


We continue to read and nap.   We have each read three books so far and are almost done with the fourth. 

And so it goes.

NOTE to teedup[?] – There are no golf simulators on the Prinsendam or, reportedly, any HAL ship anymore.  There may be Wii applications which are available, but you’ll have to wait until you are aboard to find out.

Tomorrow – Bridgetown, Barbados

Monday, December 17 – Beautiful Barbados

We visited Barbados 18 months ago while on the Prinsendam.  For that trip, we used a company called Glory Tours and were escorted about Barbados by the owner, Sarah.  As further proof that you can’t go home again, we again contacted Sarah and expected to meet her in “the regular place” this morning only to discover that she had a family emergency and sent one of her other drivers.  Kwame was okay, but he was not Sarah and, while we had a good day, we were disappointed nonetheless.


The legend has it that the Portuguese discovered this island and named it for the ficus tree, known as los Barbados because of their beard-like aerial roots.  Bridgetown got its name much later because of the bridges used to span the waters and connect sections of the city.  Many of the bridges have long since disappeared as the wetlands were filled in.  One of the best-known areas was a leper colony located where the current cruise dock now sits.


The only site from our last trip we wished to repeat we wished to revisit was the old Bridgetown Synagogue, Nidhe Israel.  Dating from the mid-1600s, the synagogue was restored first in 1831 and then again in 1983.  Unlike its counterpart in St. Thomas which has a sand floor, Nidhe Israel has a stone tile floor.  The sanctuary is small and dark despite the addition of electric lighting.  The interior is done in dark wood.  Of course, there is a balcony around the sanctuary because men and women were not allowed to worship together; the women had to sit or stand upstairs.  Services are no longer conducted on this site but there is a newer synagogue elsewhere in the area although we did not visit it.


D took plenty of pictures of the interior of the synagogue; last year, the batteries died in the camera and we had no pictures.  Remember, the rule is, “You haven’t been there if you don’t have a picture.”  D also took photos of the adjacent cemetery.  Surprisingly few of the graves had stones atop them, a Jewish custom.  We did not visit the ancient mikvah, ritual bath, which was not open again, or the Nidhe Israel Museum which we visited last year.


On the short drive to the synagogue, Kwame pointed out prominent buildings and landmarks, but we paid little attention to them and were not interested in having photos of them.  Kwame did talk to Sarah about an itinerary for us, so we proceeded to drive the coast from the southwest, where Bridgetown is, to the east and north.


Although we followed the coast as much as possible, we did not see very much of the water.  There is no perimeter coastal road, so most of what we saw consisted of house and stores.  Later in the trip we saw some farm land, sugar mostly with stands of banana trees as well.  Sugar and rum are still important exports and, along with tourism, drive the Barbados economy.


The island consists of eleven parishes.  In explaining Barbados, parish is used two ways.  Like Louisiana, the different local authorities are called parishes instead of counties, so there are eleven counties on this small island.  The other use of parish is religious; because Barbados was taken as part of the British Empire in 1625, it is predominantly Anglican or Church of England.  As a result, each political parish has a parish church, one Anglican church per parish.  Each political parish is identical with the religious one.  Confused yet? 


Nine of the parishes are named after male saints; one is named after St. Lucy; and the last is called Christ Church.  We visited the parish church of St. John.  It was fine old building in what seemed to be an Anglicized Gothic style.  The side walls were braced like many of the churches in Europe but without flying buttresses and the roof line was low and “toothed” so it looked more like a castle.  The interior was plain but serene.  The whole of the church, inside and out, benefitted from a constant breeze so neither the grounds not the interior of the church was uncomfortable.


The church property was located high enough and close enough to the ocean to afford spectacular views both north and south with the beach and ocean clearly visible seemingly forever.  It was magnificent.  Of course, there were vendors in the parking lot to take advantage of both the HAL and Celebrity cruisers on tours, but they were respectful of their location and did not badger visitors.  After walking away from on display, MA changed her mind and purchased a necklace.


We stopped at the Andromeda Botanic Gardens, a small display of local trees, shrubs and flowers.  Two paths were available and we took the one which was less strenuous.  There were still several steep spots going both up and down, but we enjoyed seeing the plants and flowers.  We were disappointed that there were not more blooms but were told later that the blooming season is still three months away. 


We followed a map which explained which plants we were seeing in each section of the garden.  There was also a brook running through the garden adding to the peaceful tone of the garden.  Although we did not take advantage of them, there were chairs and benched scattered throughout the property.  The botanic garden was not free, but we felt it was well worth the visit.


By this time, it was almost 12:30 and we were ready for lunch.  Just five minutes from Andromeda was the Atlantis Hotel complex where Kwame had made a reservation.  It was not necessary as the restaurant was almost deserted.  Still, our reservation ensured we had a table overlooking the ocean.  There was a gentle breeze throughout our meal and we could have stayed forever.  MA and Kwame had flying fish and D had barracuda.  We asked the waitress what preparation she recommended and she said that the broiled fish was healthier but the fried fish was tastier.  We all chose the fried fish.  The meal included something new to us, breadfruit chips.  Looking much like pineapple wedges, the breadfruit had been sliced thick, fried and them coated with spices that reminded us of Old Bay seasoning. 


During the day, we were able to see some of the local wildlife, sort of.  We saw several mongooses [mongeese?] scampering across the road and Kwame told us that the mongoose had been imported to eliminate Barbados’s rat population.  Whoever made that decision did not realize that the mongoose is a daytime creature and the rats are nocturnal; the rat problem persists, but the mongoose has eradicated the island’s snakes, a fair tradeoff.


We continued driving after lunch and stopped for a few minutes near the ship to look for a box for MA’s collection.  Although we saw some beautiful handmade boxes in a craftsman’s studio, there were too large [and too expensive].  The woodworker pointed us to a tchotchke shop in the same center where we found a box/basket made of Guyanan twine woven in Barbados.


We arrived back on the ship around 3 p.m. in plenty of time for trivia.  We were soaked from walking back to the ship and from the broken a/c in our Lincoln Town Car taxi.  We changed quickly into dry clothes and went to the OB.  We may have been the only full team present today and managed to win again [8 for 17 so far].  Carlos is at a loss over what kind of prizes to give us – he says we have won everything he has to offer and have, actually, gone without prizes twice because we don’t want more pins.


We read and rested; talked with CC companions during the cocktail hour; had dinner and came home where MA was asleep long before this chapter was completed.


Tomorrow – another sea day

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