Big thanks to Veendam’s entertainer Mara Jill Herman for sending in this fun post from her recent stops in South America. Enjoy!
It’s been a month since I left the states but somehow it feels like much longer. As the Bermuda days of my itinerary dwindled, the temperature dropped and the Sundays in New York started to feel like fall. It was time for the “never ending summer” to finally come to a close. When we departed for the last time from Front Street in Hamilton, Bermuda, closure was symbolized by literally sailing away.
Grabbing some winter-esque attire (It’s the end of spring in South America, but part of my itinerary travels to Antarctica!) from my parent’s house and giving ample hugs and kisses, it started to sink in that I wouldn’t see New York for three full months! I’ve been away from home for longer stretches before but never out of the country for that length of time. A bunch of new passengers boarded in New York to start their South American voyage and we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, FL two days later to pick up the remaining guests.
I kept hearing from friends and family “Will your shows change when you do the South American voyages?” My performance schedule is far more sporadic now because there are guest entertainers on board during these longer runs to give our passengers a wide variety of entertainment. Now our Showroom at Sea is richly supplemented with comedians, singers, impersonators, classical pianists and guitarists who bring their self-contained solo acts out to sea.
Another major change is the feeling of going port to port to port. A seven-day turn around with three overnights in one place was my introduction to ship life albeit rare to the cruise industry. Now we set sail almost every day! As a group we felt very ready for change and since October 14th I’ve seen Bermuda; New York, NY; Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Santa Marta, Colombia; San Blas Island (off the coast of Panama); Panama Canal; Panama City; Fuerte Amador, Panama; Manta, Ecuador; Quayaquil, Ecuador; Salaverry (Trujillo), Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru; and Coquimbo/La Serena, Valparaiso and Puerto Montt/Ensenada, Chile.
During these travels I passed the equator for the first time and celebrated the on board tradition of the King Neptune Ceremony. “Pollywogs,” or those who have never crossed the equator before, were initiated and had to “kiss the fish.” They were also covered in sloop by the “nurses” and “doctors” while the “pirates” kept everyone in line. I was more than happy to stand on the sideline and photograph the festivities rather than get slimed. When my mom saw my photos of this ritual she remembered a certificate that hung in her house a child. When my grandfather, Irving Schulsinger, served in the U.S. army during WWII, he too passed the equator. Zadie traveled on the U.S.S. Blatch for the Mission of War and on August 21, 1945 he experienced the same rite of passage! His certificate reads:
“To all sailors wherever ye may be: and to all mermaids, whales, sea serpents, porpoises, sharks, dolphins, eels, skates, suckers, crabs, lobsters and all other living things of the sea Greeting: Know ye That on this 21 day of August 1945 in latitude 00000 and longitude 0 there appeared within our royal domain the U.S.S. Blatch bound S for the Equator and for Mission of War.
Be it remembered that the said vessel and officers and crew thereof have been inspected and passed on by ourself and our royal staff and be it known by all ye sailors, marines, land lubbers and others who may be honored by his presence that Irving Schulsinger having been found worthy to be numbered as one of our Trusty Shellbacks he has been duly initiated into the Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep Be it further understood that by virtue of the power invested in me I do hereby command all my subjects to show due honor and respect to him wherever he may be. Disobey this order under penalty of Our Royal Displeasure.”
I also had the pleasure of assisting our cruise consultants Lynn and Larry with the world’s largest cruise sale and their Spooktacular “Name That Destination” event. To tie in with Halloween, we dressed in costume and sang tunes to correlate with a slide-show presentation of various cruise ship destinations. My costume was one of my Bob Mackie gowns, which is a perk of working in the entertainment department!
Santa Marta, Colombia was our first South American port. It was very exciting to be immersed in the Spanish language again because it’s been a while for me. I studied for five or six years in middle- and high-school and had amazing teachers who loved music, so in class I even sang in Spanish a great deal. In port, I felt pretty rusty at first but thankfully my friends have varying degrees of experience with the language. We help each other while making purchases, reading menus/signs and communicating with natives. It amazes me how certain random phrases pop into my head but I can just as quickly get stuck, desperately trying to think of a word or phrase. I’m sure there’s an iPhone app for this kind of instant info but I’m rockin’ a good ole Blackberry that isn’t equipped for international waters. Ah well. I hear there’s still something out there called a dictionary!
Next was San Blas Islands, off the coast of Panama, which truly blew my mind. I’d never seen anything like it. The excitement started with natives in canoes charging our ship and asking for money. When a coin or dollar was thrown overboard, there was a mad dash by at least six or seven men to dive for the prize. The island is home to the Kunu people.
My pictures represent the dirt roads, the style of houses and the children running around partially clad, many with no shoes. While elements of the island seem poor, there were natives using cell phones with satellite dishes and electricity in their huts. It’s hard to capture the essence of the “middle of nowhere” claustrophobia I felt for this society. But in such a small community the argument is made about who is happier; our modern culture with an overload of choices or the Kunu people with their simpler way of life?
Going through the Panama Canal wasn’t something I ever thought I’d see. Under the leadership of President Teddy Roosevelt, the canal was built between 1904-1914 to increase international maritime trade. It has been named one of the seven man made wonders of the world and connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. I woke up at the crack of dawn to see the ship go through the first set of locks. It took about an hour, so I went back to sleep and woke up just in time for the second set of locks.
After the third set of locks, when I saw the Panamanian skyline with gray modern buildings, the futuristic looking city gave me a rush. Time on the ship can move very slowly so just the sight of a metropolis made me feel at home. My friends and I went out in Panama City thanks to our first overnight! It was nice to do something social together off the ship in a completely new atmosphere. We heard music playing that reminded us of our local Bermudian spots, Café Cairo and Pickled Onion, and naturally gave a shout out. We were surprised to hear so much English and even heard a group sing “Happy Birthday” before breaking into “Feliz Cumpleaños.” Muy loco y yo no comprendo!
We had to use the tendering system to get from the ship to land in San Blas Islands and Fuerte Amador. This system was used in St. George, Bermuda too. The tenders are smaller boats that take us from our cruise ship to the port.
The next day we got to Manta, Ecuador. Que calor! I walked around a flea market and playground area before assisting on my first passenger shore excursion. At any time I am able to sign up for passenger excursions to help the tour guide as an escort (aka head counter) as long as I don’t miss any job related obligations. In Bermuda, I felt content exploring the island with friends and locals and never participated in an organized tour. Now that our location changes so frequently, I find it quite wonderful to be part of the tours. It takes a little bit of the pressure off when trying to immerse myself in the culture. It also saves a great deal of time in terms of planning. Best of all, escorting affords me the chance to bond with passengers I may not otherwise meet.
My first shore excursion, Fine Panama Hats, was to a Panama hat ranch where I got to experience the step by step process of making a hat! An interesting fun fact is that its name is geographically misleading; the hats are truly from Ecuador. When the canal was being built at the turn of the century, North Americans saw these hats on the workers and didn’t realize their origin and yet the name stuck. In the 1960s the hats were the backbone of Ecuador’s economy.
First, our tour guide showed us how the fiber is obtained from the Carludovica palmate plant, grown typically in tropical areas. The fiber is then cooked in boiling pots of hot water to soften the material and then left to dry. Sulfur is also used to mold the fibers and then washed off to avoid staining.
We watched the manteños hard at work, stitching away to create these completely hand-woven hats. At no point is a machine used to refine them. A $25 hat uses the thickest fibers and can take three to four hours to make over the course of one day. A top-of-the-line hat, using the thinnest fibers, could take up to six months and costs around $1,200. The fibers are naturally an off-white/ cream color but can be dyed to create a variety of looks. I bought a pink and tan one! Que bonita!
English is mandatory in school starting at the age of five so many of the people I encountered spoke English. I also found it interesting that the official currency in Ecuador is the American dollar!
Next up, I will write about my experiences on a tour in Guayaquil, my outing to the Chan Chan ruins, a private crew tour of Cusco and Machu Picchu and White Water Rafter in Ensenada. Stay tuned!