A porter takes our 3 suitcases with baggage tags for our room. We eventually find the door to go in. First is an airport type of security screen with metal detectors and carry-on baggage x-rays.
Inside the building, we spot the check-in line for Latitudes members (those who have cruised with Norwegian before). That line is much smaller and shorter than the general line. We breeze through the process, having our pictures digitally taken and the cards produced for us.
We proceed to the winding ramp that is the gangplank. They take our first picture as we are beginning the walk. Eventually, we enter on Deck 7, the Promenade Deck and into the area they call Centrum, the central hall of the ship.
As we are exploring the ship, we come across the Card Room, a small room with about 12 - 15 tables topped with green felt. Since no one else is inside, we enter and I find they have a cribbage board and decks of cards. I am required to report that Joan skunked me at the only game we played at this time.
We take one of the glass walled elevators up to Deck 12 where the Raffles Buffet is. This is nearly 1:15 p.m. And the buffet is quite crowded because none of the cabins are ready yet so nearly everyone already on board is up at Raffles. We grab a table and begin to "buffet".
At 1:51 they make the announcement that the staterooms are ready for our arrival. We wait a bit beyond the first wave and eventually make our way to Deck 4, Cabin 4532, our home for the week. It is a small cabin but it does have a porthole on the port side of the ship.
Our luggage comes in about 30 minutes.
At 4:20 the call comes for Safety Drill with Lifejackets. We grab ours and head for our muster station on the Promenade of deck 7. Basically, we put on our jackets, line up and stand around for about 30 minutes and then it's over.
We go back to our room for Joan to unpack before sail away and then dinner. By 5:40 we're on deck as the ship starts to move, but it's so windy and cool that we try to find several places protected from the wind before we settle on Raffles Court (this is a part of the Raffles buffet that is partially outside). There is no wind behind the glass and we can sit and watch New Orleans go by. As the channel has turned and twisted with the river, we can see the sunset over New Orleans back at the bridge where the ship was originally docked.
By 6:15 the novelty has worn off and we're back in the cabin. An hour later we leave for dinner. While there is a waiting line for the Garden Dining Room, we basically walk into a table for 2 in the Windows. We note that all the hostesses this evening are in kimonos.
Out table is along the windows on the starboard side, but as it has gotten darker, all there is to see are the occasional lights of an oil refinery or navigation beacon. We have appetizers of Onion broth and Peach soup. Joan has the grilled Mahi-mahi which she pronounces excellent. I have the Jerk Chicken with dirty rice and fried plantains. Joan has apricot cream cake for dessert while I simply have chocolate ice cream. All in all we enjoy a very good meal and by the end of it the night outside the window is entirely dark.
Monday, March 8, 2010: I am up before 7:00 and go up to Deck 13 for a lap on the 'running track' and also shoot some buckets in the basketball court. Then I go to the Fitness Center where nearly all the treadmills and elliptical machines are already in use by 7:30 a.m. I walk on a treadmill and use the other resistance machines for a workout before heading back to the room.
I use one of the hot tubs for a soak and alternate with swimming in the pool. The water in the pool is extremely chilly and full of salt. Use one of the deck showers and the hot tub to clean off.
It is chilly and very breezy on deck partially because the ship is making 20 knots toward Mexico.
We go back to Windows for breakfast where I have a Ham and mushrooms omelet while Joan has scrambled eggs.
At 10:00, we head up to the Biergarten on Deck 13 for Cruise Critic meeting with other members. It is still very windy and there are only 10 of the members of the group who we actually meet before we succumb to the weather and go back inside.
We head to Raffles for lunch at about 11:40. The food is good and we stay protected from the wind. The air temperature is 72 but the ship is going 20 knots and there is also a 23 mph wind, so the wind across the deck is in excess of 40 mph. We sit in our protected area listening to Calypso/Caribbean music.
We make one more short trip back to our room and then up to the Galaxy Lounge by 1:00 for the Latitudes Members meeting. They have some members of the orchestra playing live music there so we dance a couple of numbers before the meeting starts but it is hard to dance in tennis shoes.
The Swedish captain introduces the major officers of the boat. Then they have a raffle for prized, mostly bottles of Champagne, sometimes with a t-shirt or something. We don't win.
After the meeting, we stay in the Galaxy for awhile. Joan reads while I try to shoot some pool, but with the ship in motion, the balls move on their own, depending on the roll of the ship. Even if the table were perfect and the player any good at all, the pocketing of a ball in these conditions is even more a matter of chance than normally.
We go back to our cabin at about 2:15 for a nap. The wind is blowing across the ship at nearly 50 mph so not too many people are sunning on deck.
I do go to the golf cages for a few moments and they actually have some left-handed clubs. The wind blows through the netting something fierce and it's really not all that enjoyable.
Around 6:00 we head to Windows for supper. Joan has a papaya, mango and kiwi fruit salad with passion-fruit sauce. I have a chick noodle soup which really tastes like a beef broth with pieces of chicken and noodles in it. We both had a tabboush salad which in this case was a middle-Eastern vinaigrette salad of peppers, cucumbers and pita slices.
Joan has the braised swordfish with artichokes and potatoes. I have pork loin with red cabbage, potatoes and apple slices. For dessert we both have the chocolate mousse dromme which was a dome shaped chocolate dessert with a confectioners' shell over lighter mousse and sponge cake inside. Great dessert.
We collect our dancing shoes and head to Champagne Charlie's where the Gennadi Orchestra is playing. It's not that large an 'orchestra' but you take what you can get. There is no dance floor at Champagne Charlie's and very limited room at all. We end up dancing on the carpeting, this is OK except that it takes the felt off the heels of one of Joan's shoes and loosens it on the other. We first call, and then go to Guest Services, but they have nothing on board that will fix them. Maybe in Costa Maya we'll find somewhere.
We go to the 9:15 p.m. Show in the Stardust Theater. This evening it is the ship's cast in a Broadway review based on a number of recent musicals such as Momma Mia, Movin' Out and Hairspray. Nice voices and a lot of energy.
We are back to our room by 10:15. Tonight we notice the sound of the water rushing by the boat as we sail along.
The sun feels very warm but the wind is still strong at 40+mph. I take shelter in Raffles Court, protected from the wind, and drink my tea. Afterwards, I do attempt walking to the bow of the ship but the wind knocks me off course several time. I don't stay at the bow very long, but along the port side I do find a lounge chair to lay on in the sun for a few minutes. Then I head back to our cabin.
We go up to Raffles to grab some breakfast and eat in the sun on the Terrace aft. Then we go to the Galaxy of the Stars at the bow and with several other cruisers watch from inside as the ship approaches the pier at Costa Maya. The ship actually backs into its berth so that our cabin on the port side is along the pier.
For lunch, we decide to go to the Blue Lagoon cafe for a quick bite. I have the chicken tenders and a bowl of noodle soup while Joan has a panini, then it is back to the cabin for a brief rest.
At about 12:20, we are up and preparing to leave the ship for our excursion. Our tickets say the gathering time is 12:50 but from previous experience we know it won't leave then. So we go to the meeting place that I had noticed during my earlier peregrinations. The staff are telling everyone it will be 20 more minutes before anything happens. So we walk into the Tourist Village looking for the elusive white hat. We do go back to the first merchant mentioned previously but his prices and merchandise are not what Joan wants. [I should also explain that his stall is the very first one you encounter on entering the Village so his prices are premium as well.] We walk on and walk away from several other vendors at other spots in the Village who call after us lowering their price from $22 to $8 as we walk by. No sale.
When we finally board our bus, #908, the air conditioning is already running and it welcomingly cool. We meet our driver, Fernando, and our guide Daniel. The bus leaves about 1:12 and drives through the town of Majahual. The town is still in re-development after it was hit had by Hurricanes Dean and Wilma a few years ago. In fact, Dean completely obliterated the original cruise ship pier in 2007. While that has been rebuilt, there is still considerable areas in need of renewal and development.
We arrive at Chacchoben ruins about 2:15. Chacchoben in Mayan means "the Place of Red Corn", in Spanish you would say "Lugar de Maiz Colorado". It is in an area of dense jungle-like vegetation. We saw no other structures for miles before we arrived at the Visitor Center which is a thatched roofed building meant to evoke a Mayan work.
The temperature is probably in the mid-80s today with high humidity. A few clouds in the sky and just enough breeze keep it from feeling too hot.
Daniel leads us away from the Center along well traveled pathways to the structures. The site he says was only discovered in 1972 and opened to tours in 2002. We are allowed to climb on a few of the pyramids. The rock steps are steep and rough. Daniel points out that the Maya had the habit of building overtop of older structures so that in some cases we are climbing through three or more eras of building.
The TV in our cabin says that the air temperature today is 94, but it clearly is NOT that hot.
At 5:58, the ship is slowly backing away from the pier. The sea appears to be running about 6 - 9 feet in swells with some whitecaps visible from the wind as well. However, we don't notice any rocking or pitching in our cabin.
The French restaurant on the ship maybe holds 40 when it's full, if it ever is., other restaurants appear to be more popular, at least on this trip. Because the restaurant is smaller, the service is more personal, the menu has a French flavor and it is much, much quieter than the general dining rooms and many degrees quieter than the buffet upstairs.
We have a table near the back, but we are nearly the only customers for most of our time. We order two glasses of a Moscato d'Asti to accompany our meal. Our server, James, immediately suggests that we consider an entire bottle of the wine but that would cost $36 and probably go flat quickly.
For appetizers, Joan orders Sea Scallops which she reports are wonderful. I have both French Onion Soup au Gratin and Asparagus au Gratin, both of which are delicious. For her main course, Joan has the Grilled Swordfish while I have the Beef Tenderloin Poivre. Both our entrees were superbly seasoned and cooked.
For dessert, Joan has both a Chocolate Napolean and Creme Brulee'. I did her one better by ordering the Chocolate Fondue for Two. You could say that we ordered four desserts all together. Both of Joan's desserts were wonderful and I had all the fruit pieces for the fondue to myself. Late in the dessert, Joan started scooping the fondue chocolate onto her Brulee' but by then it didn't matter. Excellent experience overall.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 The clock wakes us up at 7:00 to bright sunshine. We wait for our Room Service meal to arrive at 7:30.
Santo Tomas has beautiful green hills all around. This is a working port and there is a container ship unloading at the berth right in front of the cruise ship. Off the stern are several boats that appear to be water taxis waiting for business. There is a Guatemalan Coast Guard station immediately behind the ship with a few light cutters docked.
This is a very simple breakfast of orange and tomato juice, rolls, yogurt and sliced fruit.
Shortly, we disembark and join the queue for one of the water taxis that will take us on our 4 ½ hour Rio Dulce excursion. We meet our guide, Merlon, who insists we call him Chico as we enter the narrow 20 passenger boat. The boat is powered by a 200 hp, v-6 outboard motor. The driver's son is the deck mate in the front of the boat. We set off at high speed for the river. Fortunately, the sea is quite calm today and so there isn't the pitching and whumping of a speedboat in our sailing.
It takes us 45 minutes to reach the dock in Livingston. Livingston is a settlement of Garifuna in Colombia. The Garifuna are non-Indian, non-Mayan, and non-Spanish. They are descendants of the Black Caribs mixed with African slaves who originated on the island of St. Vincent. They were deported from there after the British took over about 1800. There are settlements of Garifuna along the coast areas of Central America. At this time, we are only in Livingston for a pit stop, though Chico disappears for an extended period of time during which I leave the boat for a few pictures of the locale.
We start down the Rio Dulce which travels through a gorge of steep green hillsides that reach several hundred feet above the river. Soon after we start, the boat pulls up at a house on the left bank of the river where we can see two spider monkeys chained but free to climb on the deck of a small house. Here Chico instructs those of us who have bananas to throw them to the monkeys on the dock. Mine lands on the deck and is immediately consumed by one of the monkeys. Another lands in the water but there are enough that each monkey gets a treat and people in the boat get pictures.
Chico takes a battered bugle from his backpack and tries to blow it. He clearly hasn't any experience in actually playing it. He gives it to me and I get a number of clear notes from it. At the next school he gives me the bugle first and I blow it to let the kids know that the boat is approaching. At this second school, they weren't expecting us and we waited several minutes at the dock until the children understood we were waiting for them. Then they streamed to the dock and those with bags of candy in the boat were instructed to distribute it to the kids as fairly as possible. That was not altogether possible but we tried. When all the candy was gone, we moved on.
We proceeded on past Cow Cave—don't ask me why it was named that, it's actually high up on the slope—and other aspects of the river. We note the many pelicans and fishing birds as well as the number of other boats also navigating this stretch of the river.
Eventually, we reach the spot where we have to turn around and head back to Livingston. As we do this, children in small dugouts paddle out to beg from the boat. Chico tells us not to give them anything. He explains that the fathers' of these children have pulled them out of school just to beg from the tourists. Then the fathers don't have to work but live off their children. But the children aren't in school and aren't going to be prepared for the future. That's why Chico rewarded the kids who were in school but didn't want us to give anything to those who should have been in school but aren't.
We arrive back in Livingston and are no sooner off the pier than we are surrounded by vendors for cloth, jade, dolls and all kinds of other native goods. Generally they have all their inventory wrapped around their body so if you are uninterested in a particular rug, they can whip out another right away.
We follow Chico on a walking tour of Livingston. We first stop a short way form the boat at the pens for a pair of crocodiles which apparently are native to the river. Then he leads us uphill into the town. Near the phone company offices, he has arranged for a Garifuna band, named "Coconut Oil", and an ice cream vendor to supply us with Garifuna music and 'genuine' Mayan ice cream, respectively. It is a refreshing break and the band is pretty lively. A couple of them dance, sort of, to the music.
We continue walking through Livingston while he shows us a variety of local trees and explains their uses, such as, cacao, tamarind lime, papaya, kapok and others. Several times we stop at a number of small shops where Chico is apparently well known. At one point we receive some cooling wipes and at another fresh pineapple. Also at this stop, Chico comes out of the store with eggshells which have been emptied of their contents and are decorated and have a piece of tape over the hole where the emptying happened. He hands these to some people in the group, including me and asks us to break them over his head. When the first person does so, we see that the contents of the egg were replaced with colorful glitter confetti. He explains that this is a tradition for good luck during Holy Week.
I couldn't find the way again to save my life, but finally I recognize that we are at the top of the street that leads back down to the water. We descend back into the pack of street vendors.
Now it's 1:00 p.m. And we are sitting at a table in the restaurant with about 5 minutes until the boat leaves to return to the ship. We drink the water we have brought but don't buy anything from the restaurant. The boat trip back to the dock where the ship waits, was rougher than the morning trip out but still not too bad. This time we didn't stop for explanations but traveled back to the dock. By 2:00 we were back in our cabin and headed up to the buffet, Raffles.
We understand that NCL will not be stopping in Guatemala next year. Apparently, too many people are afraid of the crime there, so the company will not go back. They will be switching the cruise to Honduras instead.
We are planning to go to the 7:15 p.m. Show tonight and eat later—we'll see how that works. Tomorrow, we're to meet our Tour at 10:00 outside the terminal in Belize. The show, though the cast was talented and energetic, was not what we expected. Joan did buy some pull tabs and a t-shirt just for fun. We leave the show early and head to Windows Dining Room for supper at about 8:00 p.m.
We find it is Prime Rib night with good appetizers in the restaurant. Joan has a Stoned Fruit plate while I have both the Teriyaki Chicken Skewers and the Egg Drop Soup[which turns out to be a little salty]. Joan has a big piece of prime rib with horseradish mashed potatoes while I have the Coq au Vin. I think my chicken was just as good as anything I had in France with the same name. For dessert, I go back to what Joan had for appetizer, the Stone Fruit plate, that is plums, cherry, apricot and peach slices—all fruits that have a stone in them. Joan has both the Dulce de Leche flan and an orange sherbet.
Thursday, 3/11/2010 We wake up briefly at 6:30 to find the ship slowly maneuvering into the Belize City docking area. Because of the shoals and reefs, all cruise ships dock offshore and tenders bring their passengers into the city.
They said on the ship that we were anchored a mile offshore, from the perspective of the tender, it looks to be at least three times that far. The boat is not the fastest, but the sea is relatively quiet and the boat is big enough that the trip in is exhilarating rather than sickening. As we leave the Norwegian Spirit, I can see, far off in the mist, still another cruise ship in port for today. That makes 5 ships in one terminal.
We arrive in the terminal onshore at exactly 10:00. We have a private tour arranged for the day that will include the Belize Zoo and the Eco-Village resort.
The streets of Belize City around the cruise terminal are crowded with cars, what with 5 cruise ships in port today! Alfredo leads us through a couple of blocks of parked taxis, cars and vans to a white 10 passenger Toyota van in which we are the only passengers. We crank up the air conditioning because it is beastly hat and wind our way through downtown Belize City. We will be headed first to the Belize Zoo and then to the Eco-Village for lunch and a tour there.
As we go, Alfredo, who is a tour guide as well as a driver, keeps up a running commentary on the history, geography, population and Mayan heritage of Belize. For example, when we pass through Hattieville he explains that it is an inland settlement that was begun in just 1962 by survivors of Hurricane Hattie which destroyed Belize City. It was also the destruction of that Hurricane, he explains, that lead to the capital being relocated from Belize City even further inland. What is now the capital city was a very small settlement of maybe 20 people. The name of the capital city today reflects the tradition of those settlers. They spoke the Mopan dialect of Mayan so in their honor, the capital city is Belmopan, Bel for Belize and Mopan to reflect their history. Alfredo says he lives in Belmopan but that is not on our itinerary for today.
It is about 29 miles on the Western Highway to the zoo. The zoo itself has a non-institutional feel, no exterior fencing, no gateway just a small building virtually hidden by the brush that is the ticket booth, entrance and gift shop. The pathways are gravel and they branch in many points so there are many different ways of seeing the Zoo, you are pretty much on your own as far as that goes. We do notice a couple of groups, presumably from one or more of the ships in port, but the place is big enough that we can set our own pace and with Alfredo's commentary have a private tour of the zoo.
Two points about the zoo is 1. All the animals are native to Belize (no elephants, tigers, etc.) and 2. None of the animals were captured in the wild to be displayed in the zoo. Some of them were injured animals that could not be released again into the wild, others were pets [legal or illegal] that were turned over to the zoo and a very few were gifts from other countries or collections.
Today being a hot and sunny day, most of the animals are in the shade and resting. The settings are natural the the fencing unobtrusive. Alfredo obviously has led groups through the zoo before and he seemed to know the story of every animal. Some of them we never did spot, but most of the collection was visible, though hidden in the bush and the shadows. The signage in the zoo was complete and informative. Many of the signs also contained messages to Belizeans about maintaining habitat and restricting hunting of the country's native species. I thought they would probably be most useful for school groups.
We leave the zoo shortly after noon to head toward Eco-Village. It is just about half way back to the dock to the Eco-Village, in fact, we had passed it on our way to the Zoo. We are admitted by a young woman who says her name is Lucrecia (which spelling she prefers, I don't know). She leads us into a cool, dark dining room that really is more than half exposed to the outside. The upper 4 feet of all the walls of the room are bamboo sticks, about 3" in diameter. Moreover, the roof is entirely thatched palm branches. The floor is a smooth concrete slab. There is a central area where the room is open to the air, like an atrium, with plants and even trees growing through the roof.
I am surprised, with all the cruise ship business today, that we are the ONLY 2 customers! I found this place on-line and made reservations, but I assumed there would be others or tour groups that would also be here. During our meal, Christine, the owner's wife, explains that the had formerly had cruise ship passengers coming to the Village but decided that they did not want the business, particularly due to the drinking, if I understood her correctly.
Back to our meal, Lucrecia seats us at a large table of polished mahogany. Our meal starts with glasses of hibiscus juice and water. The hibiscus juice is made from the flowers on the property. We have plates of 10 braised shrimp apiece. Dinner itself is chicken with potatoes and carrots. There is also a side of what would be called 'dirty' rice with black beans -the Belizean version of rice and beans. Finally a small bowl of bean sprouts. After we have finished that course, she brings us tilapia with a garlic / lime sauce and Rose water, again made on site. We finish with watermelon for dessert. We compliment Lucrecia on the meal and she just says it was a team effort.
For the rest of our stay here, we are turned over to Robin who we soon discern ( and he later confirms) is a retired schoolmaster. He may be retired but he is still a teacher. He starts by sitting us down at a map of Belize and review the history, geography and sociology of Belize. He explains, for instance, that while Belize is the remnant of an English foundation, there are many Belizeans who do not speak English because they had leaked over the border from Mexico and/or Guatemala when there was unrest in those countries.
Robin has a voluminous knowledge of the trees, plants and orchids that make up the Eco-Village which he freely shares with us. Robin shows us all over the grounds, he is particularly proud of a swimming pond that he basically planned and installed. The pond is about ½ an acre in overall size. It has an outer channel around the deeper swimming basin. He says they also excavated a reservoir from which the water is pumped, via a solar powered pump, into the outer channel. There the water is bio-filtered by mangrove plants so they don't use any chlorine. He takes us through the bushes to the reservoir which has its own natural water source. It is mostly full right now because the dry season has just started. He said that they might not have another drop of rain before June so the reservoir was needed to keep the pool filled. We didn't try swimming.
At this point, we are out of time to return to the ship. Since we are not on an official ship's tour, if we do not return on-board by sailing time, they will leave. So we say our 'good-byes' to Robin and Alfredo is there again to take us back downtown and to the dock. We are in plenty of time and catch a tender at about 4:15.
Returning to the cabin, Joan lies down and I get on a swimsuit and head up to the Tivoli Pool on Deck 12. I haven't mentioned before but this particular cruise has several groups of college kids on board for 'Spring Break'. I know of one group from Vanderbilt and another from Southern Methodist. Today, the pool is surrounded by the kids. I would say I was at least twice as old as anyone else near the pool. They must have pumped the pool water direct from the depths of the ocean because it was c-o-l-d, but it was refreshing after such a hot day. I finally got out, showered poolside and dried off to return to the cabin.
Friday, 3/12/2010 It is not a long sailing distance from Belize to Cozumel and we arrived sometime during the night.
We awake slowly and get ready for the day. We note the TV reports it is 77º at 7:40 a.m. We have a 5 hour tour of Cozumel that leaves in a little over an hour. So we head up to Raffles for breakfast then back to the cabin to slather up with sunscreen.
We gather ashore with others on the same excursion. We are marked with oval-shaped, green adhesive tags that read "Patricio". We soon learn as he assembles his mob, the Patricio is our guide for today. He leads us over and through the Punta Langosta shopping area to where the bus is waiting for us with the a/c running. We sit in the second row, near the front to hear everything.
The bus drives several miles to the South along the Western shore of the island. Not too much longer (after all the island is only 30 miles long) and we arrive at Chankanaab. Patricio explains that the entire park, indeed much of Cozumel, was leveled by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. But it has been entirely rebuilt since then and he says for the better. Part of the park consists of winding gravel paths through lush greenery. We often come upon replica artifacts of some of the major cultures of Mexico (Not all because Patricio says there are 52 different ones in all.) In addition to the Mayan that we have seen over the past week, there are also replicas of Toltec, Aztec and Olmec artifacts that exist in Mexico.
At one place we stop to view an Aztec calendar, I ask if this is the one that will be running out in 2012. He replies first of all that this is an Aztec calendar, not a Mayan one. Secondly, he clarifies that what is really happening in 2012 is not the end of the Mayan calendar. The Mayan had two calendar systems running simultaneously. One of 365 days and another of 260 days. One was used for practical timekeeping and the other for religious observances. If you run both calendars, you find that once every 52 years, they coincide [for the first 260 days]. This end of cycle year was observed in a very specific way. Namely, they destroyed everything and started over. According to Patricio, what couldn't be destroyed was built over, hence the Mayan temples show signs of multiple eras of building probably corresponding to these special years. 2012 in our reckoning is simply one of these cycles completing itself. Mayan calendars are built as wheels to symbolize that time rolls on and on.
The path continues until it winds along near a cool blue lagoon and ends at the beach. There are changing rooms if anyone wanted to swim, though I don't see anyone doing that. Like most people, Joan and I snag a pair of deck chairs in the sand and relax in the shade. I do go to a small bar area and get a Coke, Dr. Pepper and a small bag of Cheetos for $6.50. As we are lounging, I am strongly reminded of the Corona beer TV commercials what feature relaxing on a beach. We chill for only about 15 minutes before heading back to our bus. Pepe (our driver) has cold drinks for us and the a/c running.
All this before 10:55 a.m. When the bus leaves Chankanaab for El Cedral (The Cedars). The village is a small one but with a large open air rectangular building covered by a high thatched roof. Patricio explains that this structure is used every May 3, to celebrate the feast day of the first Mass held on the island in 1848.
A Side Note on this feast: To this day a historic festival is held in the small town of El Cedral, in the south of Cozumel Island at the end of April. This annual event is said to have been started over 150 years ago by Casimiro Cárdenas. Cárdenas was one of a group that fled to the island from the village of Saban, on the mainland, after an attack during the War of the Castes. The attackers killed many other villagers, but Cárdenas survived whilst clutching a small wooden cross. Legend has it that Cárdenas vowed to start an annual festival wherever he settled, to honor the religious power of this crucifix. Today, the original Holy Cross Festival forms part of the wider Festival of El Cedral, which includes fairs, traditional feasts, rodeos, bullfights, music and competitions. The celebrations last about 5 days in all and are held every year at the end of April or beginning of May. - Wikipedia We spend about ½ an hour here, much of it in shopping for 'black coral' jewelry that seems to be made in the town. We go over to look at the church and note, as Patricio had said, that it was added onto in the near past without too much concern for continuity of style or design. We buy some ice cream bars and return to the bus to cool off and rest before our next scheduled stop which is to be on the east side, the less developed side of the island.
We drive along Playa Bonita or pretty beach. We see waves like whipped cream, long sandy beach with breaking waves, but very, very few people. We learn that no development is really allowed on this side of the island. It reminds us a lot of Aruba with the difference between it's east and west coasts. We pass San Martin beach where Patricio says the undertow is really deadly causing a number of accidents each year.
Ultimately, we arrive at Playa Punta Moreno, where there is a small restaurant and beach bar. Here we have our free margaritas—tiny things served in plastic cups. The ice was almost better than the drink. There is lots of surf around the point and some remains of older buildings that I assume the hurricane took care of back in 2005.
We head back across the island to the West Side and into 'downtown' San Miguel to the archaeological museum. It only has four display rooms and a couple of shops but it is nice. From our visit there it is a short ride back to the ship.
We make our way by now hot and weary way along the pier back to the ship—it seems that they lengthened the pier while we were gone because the walk back sure seems longer than the walk out was this morning. We stop at the cabin to drop off the backpack and for a quick refresh before heading up to Raffles for lunch. We get there about 2:40 and we have to choose our food fast because the Buffet actually closed at 2:30 and the staff are pulling the remaining food off the serving lines. We did manage enough for a sufficient lunch.
Daylight Savings Time starts this Sunday. Apparently, they don't want everybody confused about the time on Sunday—disembarkation day—so they have us move the clocks ahead one day sooner.
As it was during our first crossing of the Gulf of Mexico, the wind is blowing nearly 30 mph from the North and the apparent speed of the wind across the deck is 50+ mph—not the time for a romantic stroll. Moreover, out our porthole, we can see the sea making at least 6 feet waves. The sound in our cabin is exactly like a gusty windstorm against a house with only single pane windows—kind of a roaring. It should be good for sleeping though. We feel very little motion from the ship despite the conditions.
Saturday, 3/13/2010 Today is a sea day and we have, obviously, no shore excursions.
We wake up about 8:45 a.m. (new time) and head to Raffles for breakfast. The wind is still blowing across the ship at an effective rate of 55 mph and the seas are 9-10 ft. Joan decides to stay in the cabin and read while I go around the ship. I go up to Deck 13 and looking down on Deck 12, I can see the water sloshing in and out of the Tivoli pool because of the motion of the ship.
Sunday, 3/14/2010. We are up at 7:00 and do our final packing to desert the room. We also want to go get some breakfast before we have to depart the ship. Up in Raffles one last time, I just have fruit since I am not particularly hungry. By 8:00 they have called those people carrying their own luggage to walk off the ship and go through Customs.
We are back in our room at shortly after 8:00 with the TV on listening to the announcements. Finally, at 9:15 we leave for Champagne Charlie's hoping that our color would be the next one called. I call our friend, Tom, and let him know we should be off the ship in the next half hour or so.
We wait, and wait and wait. We should have kept our cribbage board in our carryon luggage, at least we could have played a few games. There still seem to be a lot of people to get off the ship at 10:00. We finally head to the gangway, just as all the remaining colors are called to leave the ship. So we get in long line #1 on Deck 7.
After we have left the ship, we join Long Line #2 that winds down the gangway and through the Cruise Terminal to the rooms where the porters unloaded the luggage overnight. We do have something of a problem locating our luggage because it is in a separate room from where the line empties out.
When we have finally located it we join long line #3 that approaches the CBP, Customs and Border Protection, checkpoints. We creep very slowly along in this line and when we finally enter the room where we line up to talk with a CBP officer, we are astonished to find that they have only 4 of the 8 lanes open. No wonder the whole process dragged along!
We make it through with only the most perfunctory examination and emerge into the New Orleans air. I call Tom's cell phone to let him know we are out and he and Diane are waiting for us only about 75 feet from where I call. We pile over to their car, shortly after 11:30, apologizing for the long delay.
We enjoyed the cruise and trips tremendously and would do it again if it were possible. The disembarkation process was kind of a mess but that was due to Customs and Border Protection more than anyone else.