Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Cruise in Review

Ok, I really haven't talked about the cruise I took, have I? Well, the headcold is down now to a few sniffles, so I can think a little bit (as much as I ever could, I guess).

Most of the cruise wasn't really memorable. It just isn't worth discussing, really.

St. Maarten is a giant tourist trap. In Phillipsburg, where our boat anchored, it was wall-to-wall jewelry stores, women lined up wanting to braid your hair, men lined up wanting to rent things to you. We went on an "excursion" -- I have come to hate that word -- to the Butterfly Farm. It was a 4 hour tour and there were 6 of us on it. First, it was a clown's fire drill trying to get organized to get on the bus (well, really a van) in the hot sun, amongst the crowds, and this was generally unpleasant. Then there was the trek to the vans and busses through all the thronging people. Then there was crowding into a van fitted with three bench seats -- wedged is a better word, I think.

Then there was our driver.

Our driver was a nice man. He was a good driver. He was doing his best. However, as a tour guide, he was pure torture. Imagine an island accent over all this so I don't have to type dialect.

"There are two streets in Phillipsburg. The first street is Front Street. The other street is Back Street. We are on Back Street. The other street is Front Street. We are on Back Street. The other street is called Front Street." I kid you not. By the time we circled the island and came back to Phillipsburg, the six of us were saying the spiel along with him.

"This is the Texaco Station." There it was, large as life, a Texaco gas station, on an island in the East Indies. On the Dutch side, I should specify. Glory be.

He pointed out goats. He pointed out chickens. He pointed out trees, including a tree that isn't there anymore. He pointed out where the Europeans lived. He pointed out where Robby's Lotto shops were (and they were everywhere). He pointed out where the illegal cock fights were held. He pointed out schools. He pointed them out over, and over, and over again.

We had 45 minutes at the butterfly farm. Forty Five Minutes. Out of a 4 hour excursion. It's just NOT That Big an island. Our other stop was for 35 minutes in Marigot (on the French Side) where we had just enough time to taste Sugar cane juice (eh) and Coconut milk (eh) and eat the meat from the coconut (yum). Then back on the van -- to wait 30 minutes for a missing person. We finally decided to vote her off the bus.

Then we drive back. "This is the Shell Station. That is the McDonalds." My eyes were rolling back in my head. "This is the Medical Center. We call it....the Hospital."

I'm not making that up. That's a quote. In fact, we were quoting it to each other for the rest of the cruise.

Then we are dodging evening traffic in Phillipsburg again, and the driver is saying, "This is Front Street. The other street we were on this morning was Back Street. We will be ending the tour on Back Street. This is Front Street."

We are all saying it, in chorus, in the back of the bus. We've been bouncing around in this bus for 2 hours and 15 minutes, not including the 30 minutes spent sitting in the bus in Marigot. We were sick of the bus.

Then there was the ride back to the ship.

There were so many cruise ships at Phillipsburg the morning we arrived that several of them had to anchor in the bay, and use tenders (all the way to the bottom section, 3rd definition, and no, I have no idea how this one word got so many very different meanings) to make the 5 minute trip to the dock and back. The tenders are really just the larger life boats on the ship. They aren't built for comfort, really, but they get you around. The tide is coming in as we head back to the ship. The bay is choppy. They are having difficulty unloading the tenders already at the gangway. So, we are in the tender holding pattern.

It's rough. For 10 minutes, it isn't bad. At 15 minutes, it's getting annoying -- up and down, bounce-bounce-bounce, the pilot of the little boat trying not to run into the other tenders. At 35 minutes, it's getting serious. People are vomiting into their shopping bags. One woman threw up in her purse. At 40 minutes, one of our friends, C, is threatening to jump off the tender and swim to the ship, pulling the tender in with a rope held in her teeth. At 45 minutes, I believe she's serious.

We want off this damn little boat. We've been bouncing on hard bench seats for hours already. We want OFF.

Finally we moor on the gangway, but it's not going well. One of the mooring lines is fraying, and there's about 4 feet of rise/fall between the ship and the tender. There are four sailors lined up -- two on the tender, two on the gangway -- to toss and haul passengers on board. We watch the first group line up to make the leap. I am comforted by the fact that this is a cruise ship and it is not worth the trouble for those seamen to let any of us pampered passengers even get damp. One woman starts yelling that she can't do it, she's too scared. C is ready to toss her bodily onto the gangway. The sailors practically do that, but at least she's on board. Then it's my turn. I eye it, time it, and step off without a hitch. I turn to watch C.

She's crouched in a runner's stance. The tender is really tossing. The sailor -- a South Asian man, C outweighs him by probably 30 pounds, and not because she's particularly fat -- has his arm and leg braced across the opening, determined she will NOT move until he can be certain she will make it. Then she launches, and with sublime grace, is on relatively stable ground.

That, my friends, was the most exciting part of the cruise.

The only other highlight was Half Moon Cay, which I already showed you.

No comments: