From ship to shore

An account of a girl who lives on the high seas.

February 28, 2009

Luganville, Vanuatu

Oh, a million days at sea it felt like after Honolulu. Funafuti, Tuvalu was taken off the itinerary as they do not have proper docking facilities for our ship and the tendering procedure would be likely have even been to difficult to do given the rougher weather that was expected. We finally arrived in Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu and it was POURING rain! Just about everyone was frothing at the bit to get off the ship after 7 days at sea, but as they stepped onto the pier most came back after half an hour. BUCKETS of rain. The kind of rain that soaks you as soon as you’re not under an umbrella. Of course, a little bit or even a lot of rain doesn’t scare me in the tropics, so I rented two crew bikes from the ship and made Scott come with me to tour the island. He was resistant to it at first, but I was so excited to get off the ship I didn’t care. As we rode down the gangway with the security team staring in disbelief and every guest and crew member practically gawking at us while they ran back to the ship in droves, it felt wonderful to be on solid land even if we were riding through one giant puddle.
We rode through town, past markets where the townspeople had every type of fruit and vegetable you’ve never heard of, past tiny hardware stores that sold very little and various daytime bars and restaurants. The people were incredibly curious that we were bicycling through and in such wet weather. Every person waved and said hello. I have never encountered such a purely friendly place. We stopped for lunch at one outdoor place that was undercover and tried the local specialty; curried poulet fish. Fish that’s supposed to taste like chicken is a famous dish here, but it wasn’t to my liking so I think next time I’ll try the chicken and perhaps it will taste like fish.

After lunch I decided we needed a goal for the day, so I asked a local what we could do with limited time and that would be feasible on bicycles on such a rainy day. Million Dollar Point was the place recommended to us, so off we went in search of this place that sounded like it would have a gorgeous view and was “the” thing to do around there. After the paved road ended, the map we were given indicated for us to continue in one direction along a potholed, dirt road that cut through the jungle. As we cycled, enjoying the occasional friendly and curious hello from the island folk, we realized that the road had begun to narrow, become more riddled with potholes, and that we hadn’t seen a car or person in at least 20 minutes. Finally, a pickup truck stopped with two men who wanted to help us. We were told to follow them and we would get to our destination. The truck turned off the “main” road into two mudtracks that disappeared into the thicket of jungle and became more and more remote with every turn. At a certain point, I began to feel uncomfortable and concerned that we were being taken and that no one would see us again. Going through puddles as deep as our thighs, we were now completely soaked through with mud and dirt and barely getting through the giant puddles. With one last bump and puddle, the truck turned back to a somewhat paved road and stopped. The two gentlemen got out, told us in broken English that we should ride 50metres to our left and we’d find the entrance to the Point, then if we were to turn right and continue straight down the road we’d find our way back to the ship and town. Still not convinced that we weren’t going to be killed, we thanked the gentlemen and continued to the point. Once there, we saw that it was deserted except for a lone snorkel spout peeking on top of the water 50 feet out. The Point was a beautiful white sand beach with coral pieces and unique shells scattered all along the beach. We realized that it was not really a spectacular view, but if we were to have brought our snorkels and explored underwater – it might’ve been. However, it was a quiet and much enjoyed quiet moment among many busy ports and sea days to come. Later, we learned the reason for the name of Million Dollar point. At the end of WW two, the US military dumped thousands of tonnes of military equipment into the sea at the point, which is now a diver’s paradise.

Hawaii....over a month ago

Today I’m spending a lovely indoor day in the ships’ Library playing librarian for In Port Manning.
We are finished with our first segment LA-SYD and onto the next! I thoroughly enjoyed the South Pacific portion of the journey. Sure, we didn’t have the best weather (rain, loads of it) but warm rain still beats snow and cold rain in Vancouver. Our first stop, Hilo, turned into a Walmart morning adventure hauling a mini-fridge to the room and sparking many passengers to think that indeed, I was really bringing even the kitchen sink. Once all the necessities were out of the way, Scott – the Orchestra Guitarist and I headed out in search of something to do. We met Teresa, our oddball tour guide for the day who would yawn so loudly she sounded like a whale underwater. She took us to a beautiful black sand beach where the locals fished and relaxed in the surf. Next, we went to the local surf beach and watched as a surfing competition got underway. Gorgeous, tanned surf goddesses and gods lazed on the beach with their surfboards waiting for their friends to return from the waves so they could start their barbeque on the beach. The whole scene made me feel like I missed out on a certain lifestyle and that if I could go back to being 19 again, this is how I would live. Next, we went to the National Park & Waterfalls and explored the trails that led to the falls. Scott climbed over the rocks above the falls so he could look right over the rushing water. I was not so brave as I was picturing being hospitalized and uninsured. It was a great day, and Hilo is a place I would love to see more of and spend more time on.

In Honolulu, I took a surf lesson in Waikiki. I’ve been wanting to go for quite some time, but I’ve been wary. It turns out still enjoy it and have a refreshed enthusiasm for surfing since my last experience included being stung by a jellyfish, almost drowning and swallowing more sea water than a fish would be ok with. It was warm water, a hilarious (Rob Schneider-esque in 50 first dates) surf instructor, and the perfect waves for me. Small and easy. Finished the day off with Avocado rolls and Japenese tea. Perfect.

January 31, 2009

Back to the big blue

Well, I’m going to attempt this once again. No promises! Currently, we’re sailing in the South Pacific. Just minutes ago, we crossed the “Golden Line” on the fifth sea day of seven on our way from Honolulu, Hawaii to Luganville, Vanuatu. It is day 12 of the 117 day world cruise, and for me day 26 already on the 131 day voyage that began in Ft. Lauderdale. However, I’ve just received the news that I will be extended until June 24th and will be disembarking in Rotterdam, Holland. The longest contract by far. Many think I’m nuts, but I’m very excited for the Baltic Itineraries and for the chance to sea Eastern Canada, Ireland and St. Petersburg, Russia.

Going back to the “Golden Line” crossing , it’s the simultaneous crossing of both the International Dateline and the Equator. This means that today at 12:00noon, we will set our clocks ahead 24 hours – or basically “skip a day” as we explain it onboard. So I woke up today and it was the 30th of January in the Northern Hemisphere, now that it’s 18 minutes past noon, it’s now the 31st of January and we’re in the Southern Hemisphere.

Jan 4th, began this journey in over a foot of snow in Vancouver and continued to Ft. Lauderdale where I spent a night in the “Inn with no name”. Unlike last year in the Sheraton Suites, the economy has visibly taken a dive and we were put up in the Quality Inn, no – comfort inn – no! It’s actually between names, owners and apparently no one knows it really exists. However, I was met by Steve and we did our annual ship-shopping run then on to drinks at Lulu’s bait shack on the beach. I must thank Steve for introducing me to a long-standing Gayda tradition. We enjoyed the last few moments of “freedom” with a Pina Colada and hot wings, ah how I already miss that last non-stress moment.

The next morning we hit the ground running, taxis to the ship, rushing to get rooms and figure out our lives for the next four months. Happily, we were incredibly lucky to be onboard for the 2 week Panama Canal cruise before the official world cruise was to begin.

January 07, 2009

Oh the seas they call me

So, I'm doing world cruise number two which will offically start Jan. 19th. In order to completely circumnavigate the world, we left in Ft. Lauderdale on Jan. 5th for a quick Panama Canal Transit. I will do my utmost to keep a blog on this voyage, however as I know how busy these long voyages are: no promises! I hope this keeps you interested in Travelling.

November 03, 2007

The great stairs of china

I was lucky enough to get onto a crew tour to the great wall. As we were docked a good distance from Beijing and still further from the main entrances of the wall, the Shore Excursion Dept. Organized a tour to the wall for the crew that was a bit closer. Still, a three hour bus ride each way was not my idea of close. We had an overnight in Xingang (Beijing) so enough time for a long day tour. The day was perfect. We left Xingang and it was smoggy so I couldn’t be sure if the weather was good or not. It seemed overcast because of the smog. Upon arrival at the Great Wall, the weather/smog had cleared up and it was now a perfectly gorgeous and no longer humid day! I took the crew tour even though I could have done a free tour with the guests, I find I need time to myself for the “big” tours. I did not want people fighting on the bus and complaining to taint my experience. (Argentina was the last time I will escort a tour after a fight broke out between an unrelated man and woman).

As it turned out, I had thought a few of my friends would be on the bus with me but they had all landed guest tours and a few were on the overnight tours. I thought it might be not as much fun since I wasn’t close to anyone on the tour, but I met some of the Indonesian guys from the Pinnacle Grill on the way up and we fell into step. We had a great time and I also enjoyed having a peaceful day to myself to do whatever I pleased!
Seeing something so vast, something that still stands the test of time (parts of it are rebuilt, but we saw some original parts too) and has been the subject of so much history, war and wonderment was miraculous. I had a cold, but was inspired to climb as far as I could go and further than most (well, except for the springy cast members who dance for a living). We came back down the steps of the wall and had a typical Vancouver lunch, er Chinese lunch. There were some fried things on a turntable, mystery meat and mystery goo. I certainly enjoyed the broccoli and some sort of vegetable stew.

Usually on an overnight, the crew does anything to get off the ship and go out. I was so tired from the tour and being an hour or more out of Beijing and close to nothing in Xingang meant that we drank in the OB (Officers' Bar) and went to bed. That was our big night in Xingang!

Dalian, China. $135 Visa well spent

Our first stop in China was met with excitement. Unfortunately for much of the American crew, it was not the same. Many of our department and crew including Lucy, Bruce and Rosanna were not able to get a Chinese Visa in time for their departure from the states. Even though it would be more expensive, they were counting on the consulate in Japan to receive their visa’s. The day we left Tokyo it was a national holiday and they were not able to process their visas. I shall now take this time to thank the bazillions of Chinese people in Vancouver for living there and having our very own consulate that I could go to and have my visa the next day.

So, for Steve and I who gave up Kagoshima and Kobe so the others could get off in Japan and we could get off in China, it was our first port in (what felt like) a while. We didn’t know what to expect, but often there’s not enough time to do any research so we didn’t really care as long as we were on land. We took the shuttle from the ship to Dalian’s “Friendship Store” which is basically an overpriced mall for the passengers to spend their money, get back on the shuttle and go back to the ship. From the store, we found a cab driver and I had just been joking about how I’d like to see a Panda Bear when a man came out of nowhere with a map and a picture of a Panda. We negotiated a price for our new friend to take us around. He took us to the seaside where they had various monuments and every where you looked, modern buildings and ramshackle homes butted heads like bighorn sheep.
Our driver took us to the Panda Park which was much larger than I expected. We spent 3 hours in the park, realizing it was more of a downtrodden zoo than a park. We did see the panda, asleep in the corner of his cell. We also saw monkeys, bizarre-looking toucans, lions, tigers and elephants. We saw kangaroos, seals, tiny panda-raccoon animals with vicious looking teeth. I have a love-hate relationship with zoos: I’m excited to see the animals so closely, but sad that they are kept in captivity and especially in that particular park, the facilities being so stark and dirty. It was still nice to be outdoors walking around. However the “fresh” air we were getting was really mostly smog and I had a sinus infection for the next 5 days.

October 26, 2007

Oh, the tiny people

Ah, Japan. Land of cleanliness and very odd cartoon characters. Even Japanese pornography (as we learned at a gas station corner store) is in cartoons. However, enough about that. In Aomori, Japan – our first stop in the country – Lucy, Rosanna (Administrative Assistant), and Rodin (Internet Manager) took a taxi to the big Buddha and saw many a beautiful pagoda along the way. It was much warmer than I had expected Japan to be. When my mum took us to Tokyo and Kyoto 15 years ago, we arrived in March and were met with chilly spring weather and even snow. This led me to believe it would be the same climate as Vancouver. Cool and perhaps rainy, just like Vancouver! Instead I was met with uncomfortable humidity and warm, summer weather. After visiting with my old friend, Budda, (apparently the largest outdoor Buddha in Japan) we took a taxi to a weird triangular building near our ship. It turned out to be part office building, restaurant and shopping mall. There is some strange architecture going on in Asia so far. There are bridges which seem to serve no function whatsoever, except maybe to be aesthetically pleasing. The do not go over water and they do not pass over highways or busy intersections. They are just there.

Clearly, the Japanese are overachievers and the bridges prove it. If you really have nothing better to do than build a bridge that doesn’t do anything, then you should really consider baking me a chocolate cake. I don’t know why a cake, but it certainly sounds good.

Back to Japan….we found out they have apple everything and also that anything IN THE WORLD can and will be bought via a vending machine: Apple crackers, apple candy, apple vinegar (which, we thought was a bottle of juice because it looked like apple juice and had a picture of an apple on it, PLUS it was from what looked like a beverage vending machine). Who sells vinegar out of a vending machine and why??
Confusing as it was, utterly immaculate and beautiful is Japan, also I found the people incredibly hospitable and friendly. Expensive, but was nice to see again after 15 years.

October 12, 2007

All in a days' work

I wake up around 7:30-8:00am…not too early, not too late. I get ready to face the public, walk the 3 minute commute from my A-Deck crew area room (below Deck 1, passenger area) to the Explorers’ Lounge. I then pour myself a cup of tea, have a freshly-baked-that-morning Chocolate chip cookie (my favorite, so how can I resist!) and chat with guests for a few minutes. I pick up the microphone to start the day and have a chat with about 100 of my closest friends. I’m my own floating talk show. I’ve interviewed Pianists, Russian opera stars, Oldtime Vegas show people, Broadway stars and various people working onboard that have behind-the-scenes stories that might be of interest. We have a good laugh for about 40 minutes and then I finish with my final question and pack it up. Onto the demos! At 11:15am, I’m either hosting a cooking show with the chef, teaching people to fold Origami cranes with the Bar Staff (and my friend Kat), or how to arrange Flowers with the florist. We might have wine and cheese for the suites at noon, greeting and socializing. Perhaps Sake tasting at 1:00pm, I’m to introduce our Sake Expert, drink Sake and eat shrimp chips. Funny, I’ve found I actually LIKE Sake. Apparently the stuff we have in Canada is made in the States and it’s no good! Lunch at 2:00 in the Lido, 3:30pm Tea socializing. 5:00pm Travel Group cocktail party mingling. (P.S. I haven’t had a chance, but usually 1200 others are keeping track of the cruise via 7:15pm meet guests in the Atrium for cocktails before the Captains’ Pinnacle Grill dinner. Dinner is 7 courses and 2 ¾ hours long. Dance the first dance with the Captain to open the Black & White ball, forced to enjoy the open bar for officers! (I’m of officer status). Dance the night away, pull down the decorations at midnight and finally get some sleep. Yes, it’s a ridiculously amazing “job”. Above all, I get PAID to do it ;)

Russia, Shmussia

Who needs Russia anyhow? It’s cold and wet and unfriendly and I didn’t want to drink vodka or wear a furry hat anyway. I didn’t want to see people swearing Russian swears at each other or the Russian mafia shooting each other (Lucy tells me it’s the thing to see in Russia), and Russian women wearing stiletto’s at -10 degrees celcius. Thank goodness the Russian Immigration officials stepped in and didn’t allow any crew to get off the ship in Petropavlosk. I’m so glad we didn’t get to go to Siberia, it certainly wouldn’t have been cool to say I’d been there. Good thing they made Steve (SACD) and I freeze for 7 hours on the gangway trying to organize and keep people from flying off the handle while they checked every single person’s passports and documents getting on and off the ship. I didn’t want to go anyway.

The day I lost it. Or rather, the day I lost.

I went to bed on Tuesday, Sept 25th 2007 and woke up on Thursday, Sept 27th. I know, you’re all pretty impressed. It’s not because I can sleep for longer than most humans (though, I most certainly can…). We instead, crossed the International Date Line and just lost an entire day. Later, I will be lucky enough to re-live the same day twice. I sure hope it’s an excellent day to re-live. We had terrible storms and rough days at sea for 6 days, and then, since we couldn’t get off in Russia, another 2.

October 03, 2007

Too many days at sea for me

I am 5 days out to sea from Seattle, WA; somewhere in the Bering Sea, just along the coasts of a few of the Aleutian Islands. I left Vancouver on Friday, Sept. 21st with excitement and a nervous stomach. Oh, and far too much luggage. I have traveled around Europe and Brazil & Argentina with just a backpack and now I venture forth for 2 months and I must bring 17 formal-wear dresses, business attire galore and casual clothes suited for various climes and temps. The Air Canada Check-In Employee was very kind. He saved me 50 dollars (as both my bags were overweight) and then gave me a free Starbucks coffee (take that, airports around the world – perhaps they could learn a few things from Vancouver).

Enough about the little things. Actually, no – if you were expecting an exciting entry about fame, adventure and exotic ports, you’ve come to the wrong place today my friends. Alas I have literally spent the last 6 and a half days sailing into the great blue. We have sailed from Seattle, past Vancouver Island, the Queen Charlotte Islands and North to follow the Aleutian Islands and in one more day, we will finally drop anchor just outside of Petropavlovsk, Russia. I really have done nothing exciting. The events of the last few days have included doing more paperwork than I ever care to see again, setting up Culinary Schedules, hosting coffee chats (though, I do like that new addition to my job), socializing at cocktail parties. Many of the guests and also staff from the Prinsendam voyages are here as well, which makes it feel like I’ve already been here for months! It seems I’ve worked with a LOT of the crew on the Statendam and the Ryndam too. It was great to see Lucy, Kat and Adam again. A tonne of other people I’ve worked with before were added to the cruise at the last minute and was a great bonus. Also, lucky me – the hotel manager is wonderful! Starting out the voyage in a fabulous way ;)