CRUISE TO MEXICO
Friday Nov 26, 1999
The day is born in calmness and high expectations for a seven-day vacation elates our spirit. We are packed, all our papers in order, and our chores in the house are done. Our friend Jackie has already come and gone. She has volunteered to take our calls for a few days and negotiate in our behalf. Afterwards Loretta will arrive back from her vacation and take over. Our special thanks to both.
Then chaos sets in. Our plan to leave home by 3pm, drive to Reno, do some last minute shopping, have a leisure dinner and go to our hotel so we can catch our plane early next morning is foiled. Three different contracts have to be dealt with. They are last minute offers and counter offers, and like other things we do in life, the job is not done until the paperwork is finished. We are convinced that if we want to increase our business, all we have to do is plan vacations. There is a vacation grinch hiding somewhere.
Negotiations were accomplished by 7pm amid much agitation, discussion, wrangling and tumult interspersed with enough dosage of patience of which we were running very low on. Our leisure dinner was a few morsels standing up with the phone on our ear. Finally, we turned the lights out, climbed in our trusted Red-Ford and arrived at the hotel where a warm bed awaited.
Saturday Nov 27
It is 4:30 am. I can’t sleep and sit on the floor of the bathroom as to not awaken Mo. It is no use, she beckons me back to bed. A restless hour later we are up rushing to bathe, have breakfast and catch the hotel shuttle to the airport which is just across the street. After a smooth flight in which the cabin attendant stayed seated for 20 minutes reading a book, looking bored and hung-over and then coaxed by the other attendant, grudgingly started to administer coffee and drinks to the expectant travelers, we arrived at Los Angeles.
While Mo protected our six pieces of luggage I went in search of our rental car. We drove 20 miles NW to Pacific Palisades. A few years back we had the distinct pleasure of meeting Gabrielle and Albert Bresnik. She is, a warm, vivacious xxx young lady who stays active by creating her own Victorian gowns, helping at the Santa Monica Museum of Flight, and being guardian, librarian, salesperson and business manager of the photographs and memorabilia, of the late Albert, who was Amelia Earhart’s personal photographer, among other accomplishments. Albert a super warm 85 year young person became like a brother and will always have a warm spot in our hearts.
After a short visit we proceeded through the maze of freeways which miraculously were sufficiently free of traffic being a weekend day to Whittier, fifty miles away. This time we went to visit our dear friends Ruth & Gabriel. To describe this couple would take a book. Their life itself another voluminous tome, so we will just say that she is a transplanted Easterner, turned more Mexican than many real ones. He is the archetype of the Mexican gentleman, who came to the United States, saw, worked and conquered. Their friendship dates back 35 years and we had not seen each other for a few years. We stopped for a few hours, had lunch at the foot of his bed, where he was recuperating from surgery, recounted a few salient adventures in our lives and proceeded west to the San Fernando Valley.
This was accomplished in about an hour. Visiting friends in Los Angeles is like playing pool in a gigantic table; you have to miss many balls you do not want to hit, and aim straight at the destination. Easy on a Saturday; impossible, and very aggravating in a weekday.
Next stop is Encino at our son & daughter-in-law, Pepe and Murmie’s home. She is a dream come true to any man, but especially for our son. Full of wit, energy, charm and care, she has become the daughter we have not had. She prepared a meal for about fifty, although we were only six at the table. Our friends Esther & Leo were the other participants. We had a fun evening full of laughter and departed with our friends to sleep at their home.
Another dear couple, Ethel & Gil and their daughter Vicki, met us as we arrived and we talked and reminisced till close to 11pm. It didn’t take long for our eyes to close. Tomorrow we board the boat that will take us in our seven day cruise of the Mexican Riviera.
Sunday Nov 28
I woke-up, made coffee and Esther & Leo joined us. Mo needed a little more time. Esther made a breakfast fit for kings, or for dear friends and heavy travelers. We said our thanks with good-bye hugs and drove to the airport. We were met at the Alaska Airlines terminal by three representatives of Carnival Cruise Lines, who took our luggage and proclaimed: “The next time you will see your luggage will be in your cabin.” The ship was the “Elation” which would become home, restaurant, casino, dancing venue, fitness gym, and transport to Mexico for a full week.
After going through a serpentine line to clear tickets, passports and whatever else, we boarded the ship. It took a while to get to our cabin since this is a 13 stories high, 3 football fields long and 105ft wide behemoth. A luscious lunch awaited us on the fan deck. We sat outside looking, unfortunately, at what a harbor looks like, and fortunately at many boats, which have been one of our passions in our lives. We then had the compulsory “abandon ship” drill, and then proceeded to a meeting of the 500 Dixieland guests which like us, were exited at the prospect of a week of almost non-stop Dixieland music. The organizer had 2 venues and five bands all for us. No other person aboard the ship could participate, so in a way we were isolated when it came to music and dancing and then participated in the rest of the normal activities of a cruise.
Dinner was served promptly at 6pm and by 7:30 we danced the rest of our energy away. By 9:30 we gave up, proceeded to our cabin to the ever-present chocolate on top of the pillow, and, after advancing our watches one hour, collapsed.
Monday Nov 29
Dawn awakens us and since we have a port side cabin we experience the beautiful sunrise as the light begins to intensify after clearing a bank of low clouds that hang tenaciously on the horizon. We move slowly, it is time to decompress. After a warm shower, we dressed in pure white matching jogging suits, sandals and a woolen beret, and proceeded to the “Lido Deck” for coffee and croissants, which became a daily tradition for the rest of the trip. We walked out to the poop deck and from 90 feet above the ocean we see how the churning of the propellers leave a white paved road behind us.
I begin to sing and Mo begins to cry. It is a song about a man in hope of a new love who in the ashes of his first marriage, meets somebody that reminds him of a star or a flower and says to her: “that because of your sweet look, ideal woman I am happy. Because of you I learned to love with all the fire of my soul.” And on and on. This song has tremendous significance to both of us. We have been happy for 30 years and now in the sunset of our lives we live mostly for each other, however selfish this might sound.
After breakfast we sat in the library which has a great view of the ocean and began to write and read. We had decided to skip lunch and wait till dinner, but the sea air is the best aperitif and we succumbed and nibbled a few morsels. Later we decided to burn them so we ambled to the gym and worked for a half an hour using most of the 30 different machines available.
The ship has 2 main dining-rooms which easily sit 500 persons each in two different sittings. They are very elegant in a mixture of modern art-deco style. Our table sat five couples with Tom & Mary to our right, a warm couple from Esparto Calif. She is a retired school nutritionist and he a retired insurance salesperson. We became quite at ease and made normal “where are you from” etc. conversation, but we had much more due to our similarity of hobbies, like Dixieland music, trailering and much more. Next to their right were Marie and Jack from Florida. He, a retired Navy man who was quiet most of the time, she a lively ex-government employee who made us laugh by saying that the food was excellent but would rather have a hotdog. That is all I needed to create a stir. I quietly told Ernesto our wonderful cherubic-faced waiter, if he could bring a hotdog from the kitchen with the unfounded hope that a great restaurant like this would not have any. Well right after desert, in a plate covered by a napkin he presented Marie a great hotdog with fries. Amid the laughter from all of us and the mixture of pleasure and embarrassment from her, she proceeded to eat a piece, declared herself too full and satisfied, covered the plate, blessed it and added some of the flowers from the table for proper burial at sea. Ernesto would have none of this, and in his quiet humor admonished Marie that she either finished the hotdog or help him do the dishes. The next couple, also from Florida, were newly-weds and by the second night abandoned the table. The fourth couple, who sat next to us on our left, had a couple of problems. He could not stop talking, and she could not stop giggling.
Tuesday Nov 30
We are steering a course of 120. We don our jogging outfits and go to the Lido deck. Mo is behind me by the length of a stairway, when down comes a lady, looks at me, descends the steps and looks at Mo and does a double take. Because of the identical jogging suits and hats, she thought she saw double. We stand in a wind-protected part of portside and as on cue “El Sol” begins to appear. A small orange dot, then the form of a scimitar, a half circle, then with a decided ascension it pops out of the water. Sunrise at sea is impressive mostly because it has unobstructed view. A few clouds add to the drama, and it is the best way to start your day.
We are determined not to add any poundage to our bodies, but the abundant and delicious food is beginning to take its toll. We now walk 3 miles on the jogging track and follow later with 30 minutes at the gym. Our course now shifts to 110 and we head for Puerto Vallarta. This ship carries 2000 guests and 900 crew. You would think that with this amount of people we should feel crowded. Not so, we have a cornucopia of groups. The young energetic, the five hundred Dixieland aficionados, the elderly, and the rambunctious teens. Yet the ship has so many special rooms and diverse activities that only once in a while we really see more than a few. Like in a bustling city, everyone has a purpose and direction. Our group meets in two venues that are “private party” to all others with a guard at the door. We are really isolated from the rest of humanity.
From the loudspeakers we hear that we are going to make an unscheduled stop at Cabo San Lucas to let off an ill lady. For the unfortunate ill passenger it was the end of the trip and a hospital would be a better place to be. For us it was a welcome deviation. Mo and I spend the time sitting on comfortable reclining chairs, reading, watching, and having lunch. Mo wanted a salad and I had to walk the length of the ship back and forth. At this rate, our legs will be ready for skiing. But I digress. Before arrival, the coast appears to port, then the silhouettes of the mountains of the cape, then the cape itself with the sand dunes and beaches to the west. There is a big new lighthouse, sprinkling laughter and tease to the old abandoned one below. Houses begin to appear. Thirty years ago, when we came for the first time, this was a sleepy, scrawny village with a tremendous potential that we did not see or care. We were newlyweds. Now the land that was offered for a few thousand dollars is worth millions. The interminable line of hotels, villas, condos and magnificent homes line the coast and the hills.
Soon the ubiquitous rocks and the arch of Land’s End appear, and our cameras are tucked away in the cabin. We finally run to get them, but a lot was left to the memory. Maybe that is better, for the mind has a way of enhancing and selecting only the good. For our taste of solitary beaches with only a few homes, and maybe a few people on the beach, this was chaos. Boats of every size and kind, move to and fro at different speeds, from the ever-annoying ski-doo, crisscrossing the bow that can crush it in seconds, to the catamaran with 100 “sailors” sitting in plastic chairs eating and drinking and listening to maddeningly loud sounds, they mistake for music. The ever-present sport-fishing vessels dodge the myriad of tenders disgorging passengers from the mother ship to shore or vice versa. A fleet of real sailors in their vessels is what we remember 30 years ago. Then you could only arrive here by air to San Jose del Cabo and rent a car or sail in on a sailboat or a big yacht. The sky is not as clear as we remember either. There are at least 2 parasail boats and parachutes moving about in the sky.
Wed Dec 1
December arrives ever so quietly. Instead of Christmas carols, and snow, the scene outside is Bahia de Banderas, Puerto Vallarta. We arrive at dawn and the lights of the yet asleep town are outside our window. We must hurry and go topside to watch the boat dock. This time, the sun pops out of the jungle behind the mountains. The ship slows, enters a basin, does a 180 ever so slowly and attaches itself to a cement dock as if attracted by magnets. By now the activity is intense. A wooden caravel circa Columbus or Capt. Cook, appears. There is a difference; this one has engines, generators and loud music, or something that resembles it. Innumerable craft await the disembarkation of passengers to take them in their different directions and activities. Mo commented they looked like vultures. The pangas, delivering passengers to the different “pleasure” craft, reminded me of a backhoe moving earth.
To add to the commotion another ship from a different cruise line arrives. It maneuvers at 90 deg. angle to us and ties to the quay. Lines come out like lizard’s tongues and are thrown to the men ashore who tie the ship to the cleats on the dock.
No touristy tour for us: we will do our own reconnoitering. Twenty yards from the ship is a young fellow with white hair who rents jeeps, for 35.00 a day. It is a CJ-7, a stick shift CJ-7 with no top or doors. It is red, and that settles it, we sign, go get gas and proceed to town. The road is paved with “adoquines” which are pavers that interweave with each other. Harder than bricks, this is done to enable you to destroy your vehicle faster than normal; therefore there are more jobs and the economy flourishes. To be fair they add a touch of quaintness, and the passengers get a massage. Cars, vans, busses and heavy trucks, pass us as if we were standing still. Everybody is in a hurry, and they announce themselves with a cacophony of horns. With this jeep, whose steering wheel plays 45 deg. to either side without moving the wheels, it was advisable to go slow. The brakes were not bad, but yet they were suspect.
As we enter downtown the streets narrow and become more quaint. The pavement, if we can call pebbles pavement, is circa 1599. Thanks for the invention of rubber wheels. We cross one of the bridges that span the river Cale and look to see if we can find Gabriel’s recommendation of Le Bistro. But we are on a quest. First we will travel the coast route going south to see if we can spot the places we remember from past visits.
Casa Vida comes into view. This is a time share we stayed in 15 years ago when we returned from Mo’s air-race to Acapulco. Then we proceeded to Garza Blanca where we stayed 30 years ago, and it was a place taken from a scene in Bora Bora, but alas, it is gone and in its place a myriad of villas and condos. From there we proceeded to Mismaloya.
30 years ago Mismaloya was a pristine beach accessible only by small boat. Everyone that went there described it as a piece of paradise. A film was made there with two then famous and controversial movie stars. Now the road meanders through the curves and around one of these, a huge hotel flanks both sides of the protected small bay. It is “La Jolla de Mismaloya”, one of the most impressive and beautiful hotels in the world. Huge pools with islands, bars topped with thatched roofs, five restaurants, all kinds of shops and the most courteous people in town. Away 15 miles from town it is more that a breath of fresh air. We have not seen heaven, but we think this is close. We are given a tour of the facilities by a young lady called Bethy for Beatriz, and falsely thinking we needed to see more of the town, we departed.
Years ago, in a home magazine we saw pictures of a private home called “ocho cascadas”. The owner-arquitect sold it later to a group and they converted it into a time-share private club. It consisted of “ocho” floors, each with its own pool that cascaded to the floor below. Each floor, hugging the hill was open to the bay, and when we say open, we meant it. There were few doors at all letting the breeze flow through every part of the house. We went to visit it if only from the outside, after putting the jeep through the torture of the winding, climbing, pebbly streets.
Vallarta has its share of repatriated Americans, some in the millionaire category who now call this home. The rest is a mixture of hard working middle class, and the ever-present poor;the latter two, working to please the onslaught of tourists that arrive day after day. We stopped the jeep in the only parking place left in a 10 block square area, right in front of where we wanted to go. The drug store and the omnipresent “panaderia” for pan dulce. Later we walked to the river, found “Le Bistro” and sat to have a drink and aperitifs. Gabriel was right. The place was elegant and the service impeccable. It was an oasis in the, by now, oppressive heat of the tropics. We did a little shopping and returned to the burning seats of our jeep. There is a time to be brave and strong and a time to be comfortable and wise. We belong to the latter group, and after stopping at a furniture store for ideas for our home, we decided that the ship was our ideal harbor for the rest of the day. A cool shower was a welcome tonic to our bodies.
We listened to music, then dinner, and back to our dancing venues with our five Dixieland bands. The ship departed at 10pm and the maneuver was really something to experience. From the 11th deck we watched as the ship pushed away ever so gently from the dock, proceeded to the entrance of the channel, where a pilot’s boat awaited and followed us, subsequently picking the pilot who hung from a rope ladder amid the cheers of many of us. With a bow he waived at us and we went to bed.
We wake early and in sight of Mazatlan. Our arrival to the inside bay was spectacular. This is a large city and probably the largest commercial port in Mexico. We passed two ferry boats with their mouths open, disgorging cars and people. Innumerable shrimp-boats, both in port and out to sea. The tugboat, that brought the pilot aboard, stood by, while the pilot maneuvered the ship making a 180, and as if they knew what they were doing or because of it, we never felt the arrival.
The scene of this port city with streets that were set in every direction many years ago was breathtaking. Set on a couple of hills, with houses painted in happy colors and at least two basilicas with their double towers and of course the new hotels in the distance. Today we decided to stay aboard, with the exception of a small trip to a store for a few purchases. We have decompressed, in fact we are so relaxed, we sincerely wish we could continue this type of life. We are wise enough to know, that to live exempt from work requires having accumulated a small fortune. However at moments like this, we feel that if we sacrifice and curtail spending we can live a more sedate life, reading and writing.
We depart at six and from the restaurant it seems like the world is moving and we are standing still. More music and dancing.
We awake to a light outside our porthole. It is boat with a powerful light; probably the pilot or an early sport fisherman. Then the shadows of the rocks at Land’s end. The ship slows down and drops anchor. No docks here. We anchor on the bay and a line of tenders take all who want to go ashore in a matter of minutes. We again chose to be away from the tourist activities. We rented a Taxi who for $20.00 an hour drove us through town and to the outskirts. Martin a gentle young man of 33 drove us to the road to San Jose del Cabo and stopped at a hotel that sits on the first point NE of town. From here we could see the whole bay with a multitude of sport fishing boats waiting for what seemed the starting gun on a fishing tournament. At a given moment they all scattered in different directions at full speed. The restaurant that was built below the hotel has a 270 deg. view of the bay and beyond. From the kitchen, the place is a series of tiers with tables and chairs, and next to them pools of water with the base of these, paved with blue tiles.
So clear and still were these pools that Mo, in taking pictures thought of the floor as dry mosaics and put her foot into the water. The roof is an inverted cone made of thatch and supported by magnificently knurled trunks of trees brought from the jungle. These supports were in themselves pieces of art. Too early to sit for a drink and with the cab waiting and the meter ticking, we departed. For the next stop Martin drove us to a guarded community where attractive homes, which we estimated in the $200-300K category, were strategically placed to take advantage of the sloping hill, so that each had an ocean view. For landscape, cactus and desert brush abounds. All this decorated with bougainvilleas of at least four different colors. One could live here in utter peace and beauty for months at a time without visiting the US. Martin also took us to a golf course in which the entrance road to the clubhouse was paved with adoquines, precisely placed to both sides of an island that was planted with flowers. Finally having only seen a small part of town he dropped us in the heart of town, where the shops and restaurants were lined next to each other for a mile.
Back on the ship, we lounged on deck basking in the sun. The long beach in front of us was only bothered by the massive yet pleasantly beautiful hotels, all in white or tan with tile roofs. All except an abortion painted in bilious mustard.
By one PM the ship begins to move and turn. As soon as we pass Lands’ End the westerly begins to blow. We were lounging on the starboard side, but the combination of the ship’s 22knot speed and the headwind of at least 15 knots, made it too uncomfortable. We went forward where a heavy glass or plastic partition, protected us from the wind and gave us the feeling we were steering the ship. The pennants and flags were being buffeted by the wind making a small racket, till mercifully one crew member lowered them.
Remember the fishing fleet that had a tournament? Well they were returning and they appeared on our bow. The ship maneuvers away from them, but some brave “dummies” try for a minute to challenge the behemoth. Two of them cross the bow somewhat dangerously, depending on the power and reliance of their engines. After we pass the fleet, the whitecaps become a little more intense, and in the distance only two more white dots, which become as they come closer, a fishing boat and a sailboat. The latter bearing downwind, with only a reefed main for power. The jib and clubfooted jib were bare. Maybe the crew was below for lunch, we figured.
The wind had a grating effect both on the mind and the body. Even covered with a towel we began to feel a chill. Resistance is in inverse order with age. The higher the latter the lesser the former. We retreated to our cabin and a hot shower. Our lunch was still in a state of confusion as to weather to leave the stomach and proceed to the labyrinth of the intestines or to remain forever where it was producing the inevitable gas and with it, discomfort. We did not feel like dinner, so we went dancing instead.
Saturday Dec 4
We have been away from home and work for 8 days, seven of which have been aboard this magnificent ship. We finally succumbed to having breakfast in the main dining room where our ever present Ernesto served eggs benedict. Now we sit in the library. Tomorrow we disembark. Our last dinner aboard, so we said our goodbyes to our newly found friends, and the people that had taken care of us so efficiently, graciously, quietly and with great sense of humor.
We went back to the “Cole Porter” lounge for the last night of music and dancing, at least for this trip. The bands were at their best. The grand finale consisted of each band challenged to play a tune in a key that was not their usual, therefore sounding pretty bad. Then of course a tune they like and do well. Finally all five bands about 35 musicians strong played the Big Bear Stomp. Had we not carried earplugs we would have earaches. The last piece was Stars & Stripes Forever. We retired, placed our luggage out the door, not to be seen until reaching customs, and went to bed.
Sunday Dec 5
We awoke at 5am to a plethora of lights outside our window. The omnipresent oil towers around San Pedro, signaled our arrival. We dressed and went topside for coffee and a look. To the east, the day was awakening adorning itself with beautiful hues of yellow, orange and red. Even the harbor looked pretty and serene. By the time we docked we had already had breakfast.
Had it not been for our 30-minute walk on deck, plus an hour at the gym every day, we would have picked more pounds than the two we inevitably did. The food was superb and of course, plentiful. Then the boring wait till 9:45 when they called the first color of tags on our luggage to disembark. After looking in four different places we found our luggage. A porter took it to our bus and we went to the airport. Only because we lived in L.A., did I remember where the terminals were. The bus driver would have put us at the opposite side of the airport. The rest of the trip was without incident and we got home by 5pm.
A cruise is without doubt a pleasant experience, very calming to the body and mind. We would prefer, after we retire, a cruise aboard a freighter, where there would be maybe 10 passengers and long stays at sea in all kinds of weather. In this cruise we were pampered, and the bonus was, the Dixieland bands, the music and the dancing. The trips ashore were definitely rewarding both because we had been to those ports in Mexico and because we speak the language. All in all a great trip. Now we are back at work, waiting and packed for the next.
Mo & Danny.