94. Puerto Vallarta – Mexico

94. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Our 3rd, and last shore tour on our Mexican Riviera cruise aboard the Royal Caribbean “Visions of the Sea,” was at Puerto Vallarta, a still picturesque fishing village.  Tourism began in 1964 after Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made the movie, “Night of the Iguana,” there, and bought homes.

When the young woman who was our tour guide got on the bus, she announced, in Spanish, “This tour is conducted in Spanish.  Is that a problem?”  A man behind me replied, “Es un problema grande!”  (That’s a big problem!)  Then the gal said, “Well, then I guess I will try doing it in English.” (In perfect english.)  There was laughter and a sigh of relief!

Puerto Vallarta had a grand promenade along the wide beach, with bronze statues punctuating the view along the walk.  The last statue was of a boy on a seahorse, a landmark signature point of the city.  Across the cobblestone street, two-story restaurants and gift shops with balconies, presented a picturesque glimpse of days gone by.

Betty went with the group for a walking tour to the local cathedral.  When they got off the bus, Betty stopped to take pictures of traditionally dressed dancers performing on the beach walk.

Because I did not leave the bus with the group, I was treated to a private ride around back streets and over the river to “Gringo Gulch,” where affluent Americans, including Liz Taylor & Richard Burton, had purchased homes.

After the town tour, the bus took us down the coast to a lookout point above Banderas Bay for a photo stop.  The foliage and vistas were reminiscent of Hawaii.  It was another fun day on our cruise.

Then back to the ship for good times at sea as we went back to San Diego.

93. Mazatlan – Mexico

93.  Mazatlan Mexico Ole’

South of Cabo San Lucas on the west coast of Mexico, we went ashore for a bus tour at Mazatlan.  Mazatlan is a large resort community, which became of note when the mountains rising behind were the inspiration for the movie, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” which became a classic Humphrey Bogart movie.

Mazatlan is a famous place for sport fishermen, boasting year around fishing for marlin and sailfish.

First we visited the 19th century Imaculada Concepcion Cathedral.  The cathedral is the main religious building in the city of Mazatlan, and is located in the historical center.

Construction of the cathedral began in 1856, by order of the then bishop Pedro Loza.  Construction was interrupted, and a parish priest Miguel Lacarra took over and concluded the cathedral in 1899.  The church had amazing architecture with a facade of carved volcanic rock, and a breath taking interior sanctuary.

Our last stop was a folklore show at an outdoor theater.  We saw the famous Mexican Hat Dance, and songs and dances from ancient and colonial Mexico. The performers were dressed in their colorful traditional costumes.

The high point of the show, (no pun intended) was the Papantlan Flyers, a ceremony passed down for generations. Five men who were the “flyers” climbed a very tall pole.  Four of them tied ropes to their waist and ankles, and then descended upside down swinging in widening circles as the ropes unwound from the pole.  The older man played a flute and danced on the small platform at the top of the pole.  It was an impressive and daring ceremony from ancient Mexican traditions.

 

92. Cabo San Lucas – The Mexican Riviera

92.  Cabo San Lucas – The Mexican “Riviera”

Life aboard Visions of the Sea, a 900 ft+ Royal Caribbean cruise ship sailing the “Love Boat Route” from San Diego California to Puerto Vallarta Mexico, seemed like a week-long fantasy.  We went this route twice, the second time on a Carnival ship in 2005, sailing from Long Beach.

Our first of three shore excursions in Mexico was at the Land’s End of Baja California, at the small city of Cabo San Lucas.  A power lift dropped me from deck to gangplank level, and with crewmen holding me port & starboard, I stepped gracefully aboard the rocking ship’s tender for the ride to the dock.

I rolled my walker across the dock to the small glass-bottom boat for our 40-minute trip out to the Land’s End where we saw the striking rock formations of Los Aros.  We passed a pelican rookery, and a pile of seals resting in the shade of the rocks.  We paused near a large sea lion basking on a ledge, and our boat driver yelled at him, “Hey Pedro, wake up!” Pedro rolled over, sat up and posed disdainfully while we took pictures. When the boat turned away, Pedro laid back down to resume his nap.

Cabo San Lucas looked much like any small Southwestern US town, but with major housing construction underway.  Giorgio’s Restaurant, where we stopped for a free beverage, was perched on a high point with a magnificent view of the Land’s End rocks, the great curve of yellow beach along the coast in front of the city, and the harbor with our ship anchored in the center.  You can see our ship just to the left of Betty, who graciously climbed on the rock so I  could get the picture.  Behind Giorgio’s were rows of giant vacant-eyed stone monoliths —pastel high-rise condos standing like Easter Island monuments, quiet, empty, and unfinished.  (Perhaps it was siesta time…I saw no activity.)

When we arrived the second time at Cabo San Lucas, we rode the tender ashore, and sat a while on a bench on the pier and watched the world go by.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  Is it part of getting “older” that we enjoy “being” as much as “doing”?  Got a great picture of a pelican resting on a small boat right in front of us to keep us company.  Two Mexican marines standing at the end of the pier with automatic weapons reminded us of the real world out there.

Cabo San Lucas was exploding — a lot of new buildings and construction.  We watched the parasails, sailboats, buzzing jet skis circling, and tenders coming and going to our ship.   A great cloud of pelicans and gulls followed a fishing boat returning, obviously after a successful day!

91. The Gala Buffet

 91.  The Gala Buffet

I’d bet that most of us think of food as something we eat for nutrition, that pleases the palate, and is best when it also pleases the tummy.  Food on board cruise ships gave us another perspective — food prepared to have visual impact, and not just the presentation on the plate.  I think the chefs liked an opportunity to show off their culinary skills!

Take a look at the Gala Buffet!  We were told that the midnight Gala Buffet would be prepared for photographing at 11:00 pm.  Bring your camera, BUT DO NOT EAT ANYTHING until seating begins at midnight!

We were first given a tour of the galley, and watched the sculptor chef starting on an ice carving.  The ice carving turned out to be a large sea monster, the first thing we saw at the buffet, along with the good ship melon.

Yes, I think the bowsprit on the melon boat is a potato.

Further down the buffet was a seafood fish, with scallops as scales, and shrimp fins on top.  The orange fruit cups are, in fact, oranges.

 

At the end of the line, if one is not impossibly full — dessert! Whew!

 

The master chef who spearheaded the amazing displays, also gave demonstrations to teach vegetable carving.

I think it would take great skill, and a lot of time, to make such beautiful fruit and vegetable displays!  It was fun to see, and marvel at their creative skills.

 

90. Aboard the Royal Caribbean

90.   Aboard the Royal Caribbean Visions of the Sea

Life aboard Visions of the Sea, a 900 ft+ Royal Caribbean cruise ship sailing the “Love Boat Route” from San Diego California to Puerto Vallarta Mexico, seems like a week-long fantasy!

Consistent with cruising lore, food and the dining ambiance was a major element.  The food was gourmet, and elegantly presented.  Buffets had “floral” displays made with fruit and vegetables.

Our cabin was a short elevator ride right below the “Windjammer Cafe”, the ship’s alternative smorgasbord.  For breakfast, Betty just rode up the elevator and returned to our cabin in minutes with fruit, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, pancakes and a Belgian waffle.  The Windjammer was a circular restaurant with a grand view over the bow of the ship.  Large beautiful models of classic windjammer sailing ships graced the entrance.

For dinner, we sat near the spiral staircase in the two-story main dining room, the Aquarius.  Many, if not most of the waiters appeared to be from the Middle East or India.  Our waiter was Ismael from Turkey.  The live dinner music close to our table alternated between a string trio and David, the piano player who caught our attention with old favorites of our time — romantic music by Mancini.

Imagine sitting down in a 5 star hotel restaurant with a menu of International cuisine.  Gourmet appetizers of fruit, salads, soups both hot and cold, topped by entrees that were both unusually elegant, and elegantly served.  You can order anything, as much as you want.  Betty asked our waiter if they had papaya — “yes,” he could get it.  He brought a saucer with two long slices of papaya; obviously from a “watermelon” papaya, from its appearance and taste.  We ended up with a saucer of 4 slices of papaya waiting at our places for a pre-appetizer every night.

I read the exotic entrees, and then spotted the Ala Carte “always available” section — broiled Norwegian salmon, baked or mashed potatoes, and Caesar salad.  That’s what I had most nights except the night I had a Burrito as well, and the trout almandine.  The meals were always delicious! Macadamia nut and butter pecan ice cream were impossible to resist!

One of the fun things we enjoyed doing that enhanced our cruise experiences was to get acquainted with crew members. We met some interesting people.  A lady playing piano bar was a retired music teacher, “playing” her way around the world by playing on cruise ships.  Our cabin housekeeper was from San Salvador.  He said he could work two years, and then be able to take care of his family.  The executive chef was from Croatia, and was a career cruise crewman.  We actually saw him on another cruise where he was promoted to Maitre ‘de.  His plan was to work on board for twenty years, and then he and his family would get a sailboat and cruise on their own.

89. Puerto Rico

89. Puerto Rico

Bienvenido a Puerto Rico! (Welcome to Puerto Rico!)

Betty and I stepped off our cruise ship, the Paradise, just to look around.   A taxi driver saw us and came over and said he would give us an hour tour of Old San Juan for $30.  There was time, so off we went.

San Juan is the capital and largest city in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States.  “Old San Juan,” was the original colonial settlement with narrow, blue cobblestone streets.  The cobblestones were furnace slag used by the Spanish as ballast on their ships.

We had no idea that Old San Juan contained so many museums and historical sites.  San Juan was founded by Spanish colonists led by Ponce de León in 1521, who called it Ciudad de Puerto Rico (“Rich Port City”).  Ponce de Leon was appointed the first governor of Puerto Rico.  One historical site is the Casa Blanca, (White house).  Built in 1521, it served as the first fortification of the San Juan islet, and was the residence for Ponce de León and his family.

In 1493, during his second voyage to The New World, Christopher Columbus landed in Puerto Rico.  He named the island “San Juan Bautista” in honor of John the Baptist.(Saint John)  One of the museums in San Juan is the Casa del Libro (House of the Book).  It is an 18th-century house that is now a book museum holding a rare collection of early manuscripts and books (nearly 5,000 works), dating back to the 15th-century.  Among the museum’s most precious possessions are two royal mandates signed by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain in 1493 for provisioning Columbus’ fleet for his second voyage.

What I enjoyed most was seeing the old forts.

The imposing Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or el Morro, a 6-story-tall complex with 65-foot-high, 18-foot-thick walls rising 150 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, protected the harbor.  San Cristobal, another immense fortress, built to protect the city from attacks on land, is a prime example of Spanish colonial military architecture.  The forts did the job and repulsed numerous attacks.

We were able to see el Morro from a distance from the taxi, but we drove up to the entrance ramp of San Cristobal.

Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States at the end of the Spanish American War in 1898.  Because Spain was able to maintain control of Puerto Rico so long, the population is mainly hispanic, and the country has two official languages of Spanish and English.

Our driver ended our tour by driving down the very narrow, colorful main street of Old San Juan.  The street was jammed bumper-to-bumper with slow moving cars carrying tourists leaning out windows to take pictures.
Whenever I rolled down the window to take a picture, the driver turned off the air conditioning and moaned about the heat, because it was a hot day!

After that slow ride through town, I was glad we got back to the ship before departure time.

 

88. Nassau

88.  Nassau

The PARADISE set sail from Miami, so we had a brief visit with my nephew before departing for Nassau.

The Commonwealth of the Bahamas is a chain of islands, and Nassau is the capital and largest city on Providence Island.  A popular cruise-ship stop, the city has a hilly landscape and is known for beaches as well as its offshore coral reefs, popular for diving and snorkeling.  It retains many of its typical pastel-colored British colonial buildings, like the pink-hued Government House.

Our cruise ship group was treated to a complimentary limousine tour.  One highlight stop for us was at Fort Fincastle, built in 1793 on a hill to protect the town and the harbor.  We were able to go to the top of the adjacent water tower which was built in 1928.  The tallest structure in Nassau at 126 feet, it gave us a panorama view of the city.  In the background of our picture, you can see Atlantis, the plush resort on Paradise Island.

Nassau has an interesting and colorful history.  It was originally known as Charles Town; founded in 1670 by British Noblemen who built a fort and named the town in honor of England’s King Charles II.  The town was burned to the ground by the Spanish in 1684 during one of their frequent wars with the English.  It was rebuilt and renamed Nassau in honor of the then King of England, William III from the Dutch House of Orange-Nassau.

In 1703 Spanish and French forces briefly occupied Nassau. By 1713, the sparsely settled Bahamas had become a pirate haven.  The pirates, led by the infamous Edward Teach, better know as“Blackbeard,” proclaimed Nassau a pirate republic, establishing themselves as “governors”.

In 1718, the British regained control of the islands and appointed Captain Woodes Rogers as Royal governor.  Rogers cleaned up the city, and rebuilt the fort, using his own wealth.

The population of African descent grew significantly when Britain abolished slavery in 1802, and after the American Civil War in the 1860’s.

Next — Puerto Rico

87. Sailing in the Virgin Islands

 87.  Sailing in the Virgin Islands

I pushed the camera out as far as my arm would reach, so the fish could read KODAK, and wouldn’t scoot away behind the rocks, colorful coral, and reef vegetation.  The gentle waves rolled me off balance so it was impossible to see through the viewfinder to center on the fish meandering around fans, purple rocks, and stirred up silt.  By a miracle I was able to get these pictures of the coral.

 

We were snorkeling in the clear shallow water of Hawk’s Nest Bay, St. John Island, US Virgin Islands. Hawk’s Nest Bay was a horseshoe of sand  beach with no houses visible through the trees.  We were the only boat anchored inside, and no one was visible on the beach.  It was a perfect beautiful place.

 

We were on a weeklong cruise of the Caribbean on the CARNIVAL ship PARADISE visiting the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.

The ship docked at Charlotte Amalie, where we and four of our friends, grabbed a taxi van and were driven to the end of the island to Red Hook and the American Yacht Harbor where we had chartered a 36′ sailboat for the day.  We were welcomed by a large iguana and the charter boat captain.

Captain Omar and his wife sailed us the four miles across to the island of St. John.  I got to take the helm sailing into Hawk’s Nest Bay where we anchored.  The captain’s wife, Sharon and Debbie went ashore to look for shells along the beach, while Dale, Betty and I snorkeled.  The ladies wandered further than expected, and we had to motor around the end of the island to pick them up.  With gray clouds forming off in the distance, we took a straight course back to St. Thomas.

I asked the captain, who was a retired Canadian air force officer, why he picked the U.S. Virgin Islands for his retirement business instead of the British.  He said, “Because it is the United States.”  That made me proud.

Back on board the ship, we showered and went for dinner.  It had been a tiring day, but super fun, and another “once in a lifetime experience!”

Next up:  Nassau

86. Cruising

86.  Cruising

Our first experience cruising was a Sunrider leadership cruise of the western Caribbean out of Ft Lauderdale.  We invited my sister Jan to go with us.  There were eight days on board the Crown Princess, the “Love Boat” to Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Cozumel Mexico, and back. They piped the theme music from the Love Boat TV show as we left port.

This was the first of five cruises we had with Sunrider.  One high point was a snorkeling outIng at Grand Cayman, which turned out to be a test for us because we did okay in cold, rough water near a reef.  The other high point was at Cozumel, where we and Jan rented a cab for a tour along the coast.  The driver took us into a small town for shopping, and I bought a beautiful onyx chess set.

Perhaps our biggest discovery was that we enjoyed being on the ship more than the shore excursions.  There was non-stop activity which seems to be the common element for cruises.  There were Broadway-class shows in the large forward theater, games, contests, dancing, travel lectures, swimming, and hot tubs, and eating, eating, eating fabulous food!

There were times to relax and dream while sipping juice and enjoying our favorite songs played by the lounge piano maestro.  I even made it twice to the well equipped gym to exercise!

Remember, this was a business cruise!  We had to work by going to Sunrider meetings! Tough business! Sunder paid for most of the cost of the cruise, and, it was tax deductible too!

Shipboard food is legendary!  One could eat the typical breakfast, lunch and dinner in the main dining room.  But we found the large buffet on the Lido deck had more variety for brunch and lunch.  And we went a few times for midnight snacks at the bar on the aft deck.

Dinner on the Princess was an experience in elegant international dining and cuisine.  Each night was a different nationality menu or vegetarian, English, French, Italian, and American.  For example, English Night was Royal Pheasant, caviar, and Cherries Jubilee.  The last night was formal attire, helium balloons all over, and a climax of a waiter’s parade with Flaming Baked Alaska!

The last night crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a rain storm was a “treat”.  I was pushing a wheelchair to balance better as the deck moved, and when a 803 ft.ship lurches, you know you’ve been over a wave!  When Betty & I went across stage that night to receive our trophy for business performance, I had an usher holding on to me so I wouldn’t be dancing and “rocking” with the others!

We knew the ship was rolling, because when we showered that night, the water washed back and forth across the floor.  We were rocked to sleep that night by the gentle rolling of the ship.  Fun experience — and a neat climax for our cruise!  We fell in love with cruising!

85. Dining Out in Hong Kong

85.  Dining Out in Hong Kong

Our first outing in Hong Kong was to the Jumbo Floating Restaurant.  The restaurant is a large double-story boat, requiring groups of us to be ferried out in small boats.  

The Jumbo Floating Restaurant is known for the Cantonese–style seafood cooked and served on board.  It was perfect for us, because Cantonese style is distinguished by lightly cooked fresh vegetables and meat, and sweet sauces.  Even with high-quality food, the ornate dining atmosphere is the main attraction of the restaurant.

The Jumbo Floating Restaurant is located in the Aberdeen Floating Village in Aberdeen Harbor in the southern district of Hong Kong.   There are approximately 500 junks housing 6000 people.  The rise in tourism has increased the demand for fresh fish, and been a boon for the villagers.  Many have moved ashore, and fish on their boats during the day.

The next day we took a young Chinese couple to the hotel next to the Shangra La for dinner.  We were put in touch with them by his brother who was one of one of my students in Hawaii.  He and his fiancee were delighted to have an opportunity to practice their English.  Since the menu was in Chinese, we asked him to make the selection.  He asked if I liked eggs.  Whew!  Of course.  Eggs!  What could they do wrong with eggs?

Here comes the waiter with our main dish — a huge bowl of noodles with an egg perched in the middle, a raw egg, which was slowly coagulating as the heat from the noodles warmed the egg white.  Our new friend stirred the egg into the noodles, and served us. It was fine. I could not taste the egg.

In addition to being the shopping destination of the world, Hong Kong is also a place where a culinary connoisseur could experience an amazing diversity of cuisine from around the world.