It might have been one of the oysters or the knife that opened them, or a limitless number of other unsanitary opportunities. A known fact: I did dine—In Mexico—on the Beach, in Mazatlan. The next morning the Oosterdam docked in Puerto Vallarta. After a hearty Lido breakfast of three over-easy eggs, bacon and yogurt, it was time to explore Puerto Vallarta. The one-time Mexican fishing village was made famous by the production there of the movie ‘Night of the Iguana’ and the torrid and public Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton liaison. Last year the town entertained 3 million tourists.
Jeanne and I spent happy sojourns in Puerto Vallarta in the late ‘90s as guests of friends living in a fine condominium building; it had an ample balcony, on which we would sit and overlook the beach commotion of hawkers and sun bathers and far out into the gigantic Bay of Banderas. We wanted to retrace our steps, find the building where we had enjoyed so many memorable moments (including my 61st birthday party), walk the beach and gaze once again at the John Huston (director of ‘Night of the Iguana’) statute on the tiny island formed by the Rio Cuale near the point where it empties into the Bay.
We were at the bottom of the Oosterdam’s gangplank on our way to the port gate when I said to Jeanne: “Wait a minute. I’m going to have to go back.” Montezuma’s, or some other, revenge was soon upon me. Jim, Jill, Jeanne and I returned to our cabins, in the hope that within an hour the Aztec king would release me, but he did not. I urged my three companions to make their get-away to Puerto Vallarta without me. “No, I’ll stay with you,” Jeanne said. “Absolutely not. There is nothing you can do for me; this thing just has to run its course.” My relatives complied, left the ship, and hailed a taxi for Central Puerto Vallarta. When not in our cabin’s sanitary facility, I attempted to sleep.
I was miserably, dreadfully sick, like a college fraternity party hangover, but cubed. I had chills and shattering shakes so threatening to my wellbeing, I told myself: “When I get home, I’m going to get checked for malaria. It can lie dormant.”
This fear sprang from the time, four years ago, when I was in Douala, Cameroon, West Africa, during my 47 day voyage as the solo passenger aboard the Republica di Genova. The river in which the ship was docked was (and certainly still is) mosquito infested. On the previous di Genova voyage, the second mate had to be removed from the ship after developing malaria from a Douala mosquito bite. It spooked me.
As the afternoon slowly dragged on, I became aware (I’ll spare the reader details) that I probably had a case of Norwalk Virus, named after the Ohio city where it was first isolated. The Norwalk is highly contagious. It was clear that it was my duty to others on the ship to report my condition to the Oosterdam’s infirmary. I knew that I would be quarantined to my cabin for—only God knows how long. “It is what it is,” Jeanne responds to most of life’s travails, large and small.
Jeanne had returned from Puerta Vallarta (unable to locate our nostalgic icons) before Holland America Nurse Lisa Bellehumer entered my miserable existence. “You have a borderline fever,” said she, after a quick temp check in my ear. “The first day you may try any small amounts of liquids you can keep down, like flat soda, juice, broth, ice.” She left me with a list of bland foods for the second day. A very pleasant and efficient english native-speaker born and raised in Quebec, upon leaving she reminded me of the terms of my imprisonment: “You are quarantined until 24 hours after your last ‘incident.’” Suffice it to record that my quarantine was 48 hours.
During my confinement, I received a call from the front office. Sweet-voiced Ina was disappointed she couldn’t to anything to enhance my condition: “Wouldn’t you like a DVD?” she plaintively asked. A specialty cleaning crew has been assigned to us, three men including a uniformed supervisor, “The Hazmat team,” Jeanne calls them. Another nurse called after my first 24 hours in lockup to run down a check list of my condition; after hearing my responses, she sent me on to another 24 hours of in house confinement.
Holland America takes all possible precautions against infectious diseases. Passengers are constantly reminded to wash their hands frequently and to use the hand sanitizers. I now know from experience that once a dreaded bug bites, Holland America has an efficient and compassionate response ready for the afflicted.
Special thanks to Jim McConnell Photography for the photos.
HAL blogger Gary Frink is currently sailing on board Oosterdam’s Mexican West Coast Voyage and will be sending in cruise diaries throughout his time on board.