Welcome to Chucksville

The Last Hoorah
Episode #2
by Charles Reuben
Edited by Linda Schwebke
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The photos shown below were created by Dave Niblack of imagebase.net. These photos are not related to the story. Dave's photos are here to add some much needed color to my gray text: Thanks for your support, Dave!

Monday, May 14, 2001

We have already crossed one time zone and set our clocks forward one hour. Tonight we will set our clocks forward yet another hour. Mom had to wake me this morning at 8 a.m. so that we could rush to our 8:15 early breakfast. Since we occupy a dark inside cabin, it is hard to tell what hour of the day it is.

The maître d'  was true to his word, and we were given a table for two by the window overlooking the water. Mom was absolutely delighted, and I enjoyed a breakfast of eggs benedict, juice, toast and hash browns.  Pretty good.

Afterward, we went up to the Mikado lounge and got briefed on upcoming shore excursions. The only one that remotely interested me was a hiking tour of 3½ hours for $30. Mom flipped the bill but was afraid that I might get lost in the jungles of Puerto Vallarta and not get back in time.

My friend Manuel took a cruise many years ago and actually did not make it back to the ship in time. He just missed the boat by a few minutes and swam after it to no avail. He ended up being taken under the wing of a native who let him stay in his palapa. The villagersthrew a feast and slaughtered a baby pig. “Best baby back ribs I ever ate,” he recounted. “That night the mother of the pig visited Manuel’s palapa and tried to tear it down. Can’t blame her.

Lunch was nice. I concentrated on the soups; the cold avocado soup was very tasty and tart. The crab salad was forgettable. For some reason, the coffee doesn’t taste as good as that served in the buffet on the Lido deck. But Mom and I prefer to eat in style, so we avoid the buffet.

This afternoon I spent going down the ship’s huge water slide at least 20 times. Had a wonderful time and made friends with a handsome young man named Wayne. Also enjoyed the adjoining hot tub but was rather disturbed by a young black girl who seemed to think the hot tub was some sort of swimming pool.

Afterward, I lay in the sun listening to a very talented reggae trio entertain us. Now I’m sitting in the cabin recounting our adventures and waiting for Mom to get out of the shower. The captain’s table is tonight, and we must dress up. Tonight is the only night we are able to enjoy free drinks. You better believe I’m going to indulge. Last night the duty-free liquor store was giving away samples of Johnny Walker Green Label, but they could tell I had no intention of buying. Consequently, the thimbleful sample they gave me barely covered the bottom of that pitiful plastic container.

10:15 p.m.  I’m sitting in the Mark Twain Library surrounded by lots of thickly varnished wood tables, antique chairs and fancy wood moldings. Intricate models of paddleboats finely sculpted in wood, complete with rigging set in acrylic display cases enhance the atmosphere. It’s a private place when people aren’t waiting to get into the dining room. This is a very nice place to reflect on the day’s events.

The Captain’s Table was a very pleasant affair. The Captain seemed a bit weary when I shook his hand. The Captain of the Viking Serenade (Royal Caribbean) was much a much livelier personality. The senior officers are all Italian and the Captain is from Venice.

The drinks were free, of course, and I plied myself with five of them. I probably would have drunk more, but Mom and I walked up on the stage and danced a bit. We danced to four, count ‘em four, lively dance tunes from the big band era, including one waltz. Mom is quite a good dancer really and put me to shame.

Part of my shame had to do with the realization that my zipper was wide open — something I didn’t quite realize until I sat down. That was a shame really since I was in formal dress attire. Mom was a bit drunk herself, but that only made her a smarter, more energetic dancer. I spun her around a bunch of times. The cruise director noted that it really took a few stiff drinks to get a person to walk a straight line, as if the alcohol could counter the movement of the waves.

Dinner was particularly popular tonight since lobster was on the menu. Mom noted, and I agreed that the lobster was a bit of a disappointment. Rather small and tough. We probably would have turned down seconds if offered. I complemented the lobster with a second entrée, quail, which was pretty good. I always find those little critters kinda cute and could not resist eating the tiny one-inch legs with my hands. The bird actually had some stuffing in it. That must have been a delicate job to pull off.

In addition to the entrees, I had a small bowl of pumpkin soup,  salad, coffee, and cherries jubilee. It turns out that the jubilee was not our final course because the waiter offered us a dessert menu afterward, which we all turned down. We were also offered little cubes of chocolate and some sort of rice crispy extravaganza. Mother took three of these treats, and I took one. Mom really loves her sweets.

The Captain told a funny story at dinner. That afternoon, he said, a crewmember was washing down an upper deck but forgot to turn the water off when he was done. As a result, gallons of water began flooding the deck and running down the stairs. A terrified passenger approached the captain and asked him if this waterfall was cause for concern. “No,” he said, “I don’t worry if the water is coming down the stairs. I only become concerned when the water starts rising up the stairs.”      

Following dinner, I registered for the four-hour expert hike in Puerto Vallarta that  cost $30.

I was really getting to the point where I was tempted to just hike by myself when I got to Puerto Vallarta and blow off the tour, but Mother would have nothing to do with that idea. She was  afraid I would get lost in the jungle or miss the boat (like Manuel did) or even worse, get in trouble with the natives. So she flipped the bill, which was just fine with me.

May 14, 2001

I have discovered the Nautica Spa, and all is right with the world! This relatively unadvertised corner of the Elation has everything for the devout spa enthusiast: a steam room, a sauna, and two very hot tubs under a huge skylight. The showers have five adjustable faucets, one overhead with lots of different settings and four on the side that can be positioned to spray at just about any angle: God what luxury! I just loved it. And best of all: zillions of clean, white towels.

Since my body was in pain from yesterday’s waterslide adventure, the spa was a welcome relief. The Nautica Spa is free and guarded from youthful intrusion by a vigilant young man at the front desk. You give him your sail and sign card and he gives you a little metal key  on a bracelet for a locker where you can put all your stuff and then enjoy the facilities.

I’m beginning to see that all one really needs on this cruise is that sail and sign credit opens many doors. As I was sweating away in the steam room I felt a bit wicked and told a companion that every time he opened or closed his safe, his sail and sign card was debited 50 cents.And he believed me! I knew for a fact that that was not true, but such is the paranoia many of us feel when it comes to relinquishing that card to a magnetic-strip reader or a vendor. I reassured the gentleman that I was kidding (I know for a fact that Carnival does not charge for the use of the safe because Mom and I had just settled up our bill, and it did not show a single fee for the use of the safe and lord knows we’ve opened it dozens of times.

Mom had a bit of a scare this afternoon when she could not find her credit card. She was absolutely certain that she had lost it. I reassured her that she had put it in the safe, although I was not sure she had done so. As it turned out, the card was in the safe with her passport, and she was mightily relieved. She was hard on herself, though and was concerned about her forgetfulness, wondering how on Earth she could do such a thing. I reassured her that she was just being overly careful, and that was a very good thing. After all, the credit card was not reallylost, and everything was A-OK.

Mom and I ate something for breakfast that really disagreed with us. Since we both got a dose of Montezuma’s revenge, I assumed that it must have been something we both ate. We both ate eggs benedict, hash browns (more like little hockey pucks) and coffee. As I said, the coffee in the dining room tastes awful, and it could have been that. I am definitely switching to tea, chamomile tea for a while. Whatever it was that made us ill, I was prepared and treated my stomach with Donnagel. I gave Mom Walgreen’s version of Pepto-Bismol.

The Donnagel kicked in pretty quickly, and I’m feeling just fine now. The pink pills worked too, so our stomach ailments only lasted a few hours. Hopefully, that is the end of it. Unfortunately, I did not replenish my supply of Donnagel before I left on the cruise and am down to the last tablespoon. I was absolutely delighted to find the pink pills. Must have packed them away without even thinking about it.  Say what you want about the Boy Scouts, they really taught me to be prepared for emergencies.

It’s almost 5:30 now, and we have traveled over 700 nautical miles. We have traveled beyond the tip of the Baja Peninsula. Note: 1 Nautical Mile equals 1.15 shore miles and 1 knot equals 1 Nautical Mile per hour.

Cell phones don't work out here, and the ship has an Internet Café that charges 75 cents per minute. We are definitely off the grid now.  Somehow being totally out of touch with everybody I know is very cool. Hopefully, there will be something left of the world when I return home.

This morning, at our gut-wrenching breakfast this morning, Mom and I saw two dolphins following the ship for a while. I’d never seen anything like it before, though Mom once went whale watching and actually pet a whale. Mom wants to know where all that water out there came from. I just don’t have a clue and neither do our dining room companions.

I’m starting to unwind and relax. My god how stressed out I’ve been as of late. A seven-day cruise is just right, and a three-day cruise will probably never do the trick again.

The ship is slowly rolling with the waves and the sea seems relatively calm. At least, there don’t seem to be a lot of white caps.

Last night’s comedy was pretty funny though, as usual, I’m practically the last one who can figure out the jokes. The place was packed and,once again, the comedian told jokes from his own life. Spoke about his travels in Europe and said that when a person visits overseas, he ought to bring a case of deodorant to hand out to the local residents. He also marveled at the hairiness of men in Greece. He said that some of the women could use a weed wacker to deal with their enormous bushes too.

As usual, the ship’s photographers have been merrily snapping away, and Mother insisted that we buy a picture of us standing by the ship’s wheel. It’s a nice, dignified picture of us standing in our Sunday best, waiting to sit at the Captain’s table. I kept my mouth closed and did not lean toward Mother, as Frida once advised. Mom has a nice smile, and mine is almost convincing. I just have an enormous problem smiling at cameras. Give me a reason to smile, please. Tell me a funny joke. I just freeze up when somebody points a camera at me. Some people just seem to have photogenic smiles. I don’t know why I look so stiff sometimes. It’s not that I’m not having a great time. I’m having the time of my life. It’s just that when people tell me to smile   I cannot.

Maybe I just have a hard time following orders.

The cabin steward has been doing a great job keeping the cabin clean and livable. Unfortunately, we got into a little disagreement with him this morning when a washcloth was missing. Mom called this to the Steward’s attention, and his supervisor just happened to be nearby. An internal investigation was launched, and, for some reason, the steward, whose English was poor, implied that we had lost or taken it and suggested that a five dollar fee would be charged to our room.

Can you imagine that? Five dollars for a cheap ol' washcloth! The supervisor jumped right in and said it was probably just misplaced. I assume the steward was covering his ass, but, in the end, it will probably hurt him. There are some things that staff must concern themselves with and a misplaced washcloth is probably not high on the list.

Wednesday, May 16, 2001

2 a.m.  I figured out what happened to the lost washcloth. The steward’s inventory ran short because Mom had placed that washcloth on the night light before she went to sleep. This way the light would not disturb her but would still  guide me back to my bed when I returned to the cabin in the wee hours. The next day, when the steward cleaned the bathroom, the towel inventory ran short because he removed the washcloth from the nightlight without including it in his count.

This evening Mom just kept the bathroom light on in order to avoid future confusion. Mother is threatening to dock the steward’s tip over that lost washcloth, but I am hopeful that we can eventually negotiate a settlement and make peace. The trip is only half over, and there is no reason there should be ill feelings.

I have not been eating the chocolates the steward leaves; instead, I have been stockpiling them by the bed. This evening neither Mom nor I got a chocolate. I’m not sure if this is payback or the steward thinks we don’t like chocolate. Mom sure likes chocolate, so this developing war of the chocolates has to be resolved soon before it gets any worse. We certainly have a hypersensitive steward, but quite frankly I can relate, being sensitive myself.

Aside from the washcloth situation and the chocolates, the steward’s housekeeping is very impressive. He creates very beautiful sculptures out of the towels. This evening, he created an elephant, and last night, it was some other critter; I forget what. I was hoping that we could accumulate a menagerie, but yesterday’s beast is gone, or else he underwent a metamorphosis into an elephant. Whatever happened, he is gone, and that makes me sad. I photographed his work for posterity.

Dinner was edible. Carnival certainly has its soups, snails, and deserts down pat. The eggs benedict is good too, but I am concerned that they might have caused my stomach distress. The mini hockey puck hash browns should be outlawed, in my opinion. And they should either learn how to cook lobster properly or abandon it all together like Royal Caribbean did. I’m thinking they serve lobster on principal, but what’s the point if they are tough, small and overcooked? I mean, what’s the point?

This issue of food just has to be addressed. I know that Carnival is catering to a younger, less moneyed crowd these days, and perhaps we are less food savvy than previous generations. But we are human beings, and we really deserve fresh, edible food that has not come out of a can or a bag.

At dinner, we saw two dolphins!

The evening’s entertainment was fine. A trombone/singer from the swing era, Denny Brunk, serenaded us. I especially liked his muted trombone style, and he could scat pretty well, too. The crowd warmed up to him in time and gave him an enthusiastic reception. He was lots of fun and left us with the following thought, “To err is human, but to admit to it is just plain stupid.” How true. No reason to call attention to one’s mistakes, especially on a cruise where everybody is usually too damn drunk to notice anyway.

Brunk was followed by a magic show performed by an oriental woman named Deborah Kim. She was a very good illusionist and very kind to the six-year-old audience member who assisted her. So many of the comedians are a bit hard on audience members. They treat them rather shabbily for a cheap laugh, even if they do walk away with a free bottle of Champagne. Ms. Kim was definitely sweet and quite an illusionist, too. She made a lady disappear in thin air and chopped her into pieces without causing her distress. She made a ball float in the air and defy gravity, and she tore a newspaper up, only to have it magically reassemble itself.

The weather outside is actually warmer than the weather inside the ship for once. It’s downright tropical. On the promenade deck, a bunch of Texans have taken over the main stage and sound system and are line-dancing. Looks easy, but a little practice is probably a good idea. I tried to follow from the sidelines and was amazed how difficult it is.

The midnight buffet, as all the midnight buffets thus far, sucked. I mean how many crepes can a person eat anyway? Well, evidently a lot. Obesity runs rampant on the ship. But maybe the horrible food is actually a blessing in disguise. I have never looked so good in my life. I am developing a sort of tan; I actually turn a healthy shade of red, and my body is looking sleek and trim. Hey, maybe this is a good thing after all. Just give me a little caviar once in a while and maybe an ice sculpture on which to gaze. I’ll be on the lookout.

The ship continues to roll a bit and sometimes makes strange engine noises. I guess this is normal, but you never know. The captain made an appearance at a private party that honored repeat Carnival travelers. He is actually quite a delightful fellow but moves kind of slow. Vivace mon non troppo presto  (lively but not too fast),  as my father would have said.

Only one Carnival cruise ship has ever sunk, the English master of ceremonies noted. I wonder if he was joking.

It’s 7 a.m.  and my little watch alarm got us up. Mother is determined to watch the boat dock, so I’d better get my ass in gear.

Oh, one other thing: Looks like I’ll be going dry in this cabin for a little longer. Unlike Royal Caribbean, there is no way they are going to let us take beer on board. To quote: “Liquor bought ashore will be collected at the gangway for safekeeping and returned to your cabin on Saturday. Cases of beer bought ashore are not allowed on board.”

We are now well over 300 nautical miles from Los Angeles, traveling at 20 knots.

Mother and I are heavily involved in attending just about every activity we possibly can. I am impressed with her energy and hopeful I can get her off the ship when we arrive in Puerto Vallarta.

Despite our efforts, we occasionally miss something important and that just about kills me. Like this afternoon, we missed, by just about a few minutes, the passing of another Carnival ship that was headed in the opposite direction on its way to Alaska. The ship is called “The Spirit” and is one of Carnival’s newest ships. My regret at missing something special hurts, but actually, it’s not the end of the world. It lastsabout an hour, but it quickly passes. We are beyond blaming each other for the oversight, as we would have in the past. Perhaps I am maturing in my old age.

Another event that I missed was the “Men’s Hairy Chest Contest.” Missed it by only five minutes, and I’m sure I would have won that. This guy came up to me and said I should be on stage. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure I want my legacy to be that I was the hairiest person on a Carnival Cruise. But, in the end, that may be my biggest accomplishment!

11 p.m.  Puerto Vallarta is an extraordinary town filled with wonderful people. I would come back here anytime.

Puerto Vallarta’s latitude is the same as that of Hawaii, and you can feel the tropical air and see it all around you, even though this is the driest time of the year. In a couple months, however, the rains will arrive and even the most seasoned native will prefer to stay indoors.

Mom and I departed the ship at about 10 a.m. and made our way past the high security of the ship and the port to the nearby flea market. It was a small square made up of three rows of vendors who aggressively, though diplomatically, tried to sell their wares.

A bald-headed guy came up to us at the flea market claiming that he had the best chazarai  to be found anywhere. Mom was not that interested in his goods, but since we are Jewish, we were captivated by his use of the Yiddish language. I asked him if he was a member of the tribe. He said no, but he instinctively seemed to know that we were.

He asked us,” You know what the biggest piece of chazarai   is?” No, we didn’t. “Diamonds,” he said, “because when you are hungry, you will trade them for food.” Makes you think, I guess.

Buying new clothes was high on our list of priorities, and we found many brightly colored, gauzy dresses and outfits for well under $35. Mother bought herself a lovely three-piece outfit, and we both pitched in for a similar outfit for Frida. Mom was pleased that Frida liked the serape we bought her last year and was more than happy to get her something else on condition that if she did not want it, she would return it to her and not be tempted to re-gift it.

It was quite a sale that the vendor, an older lady with enormous patience and energy, made, and we were rewarded with a small paintedturtle with a bobbing head as a  gift. In retrospect, Mom said we should have asked for two  turtles since it was such a big sale. But there was so much to think about, and we were concentrating on getting the right size and the best deal. Mother also bought a small bag to carry her stuff in, a cloth, zippered affair that cost $5. I bought an incredible tan hat, heavy-duty cotton with a large brim, perfect for hiking. Nice big head size with a cord to keep it from flying away in the wind.

Afterward, we headed back to the ship and to lunch, which was an uninspired buffet. I suppose I have a tendency to criticize the food on Carnival but make no mistake, the service is always excellent.

By the way, we patched things up with the steward who is not nearly as hypersensitive as I thought. The washcloth affair was long forgotten,and he dismissed my attempts to explain my theories of its disappearance. He did mention that the night before he had seen me dance at the techno club where I did my usual sweaty madman routine. I start out slow on the dance floor (dancing by myself, of course) and built up to a Bolero-like frenzy. I asked the steward if he liked my dancing, and while he didn’t say anything,  he seemed to radiate an air of disapproval. “So, you think I should keep my day job?” I asked. He thought that was a good idea. God, I love honesty.

After lunch, I headed out to my shore excursion, a three and one-half hour $30 hike in the mountains around Puerto Vallarta. Mom was afraid if I went out by myself, I would get lost in the jungle or miss the boat or even worse get in trouble with the natives. So she flipped the bill, which was just fine with me.

1:30 arrived, and I met up with the tour leader, a nice fellow named Miguel, and the only other person in the group, a charming young lady with a crew cut named Alyssa. Contrast this with the very popular scuba tour that must have had about 50 people in tow. I simply could not believe my luck.

Miguel was trilingual (French, Spanish and English) and swore that the best way to learn a new language was to start the day with a shot of tequila and mingle with the local population. He didn’t like bullfighting because of its cruelty, but he somehow managed to have an appetite for cockfighting as long as it was done in a legal context (i.e. the police knew about it and everybody was paid off).

Miguel led us to a waiting taxi and then we drove a good 20 minutes through the city past outlying fields to a place called Sierra Madre Ranch that doubled as both a ranch and a bar. He showed us around the ranch, explaining all the exotic plants and trees. He showed us a teak tree, a cinnamon plant, and basil. I also saw a banana tree, a pineapple tree, and some very fragrant lemon grass. Then we headed down a stone street through an impoverished village whose inhabitants Miguel referred to as “humble.” Many of the old adobe structures lacked windows, but the inhabitants seemed very content, even those who worked in the hotter-than-hell tortilla factory that we toured.

I was glad that nobody seemed to mind that I took pictures because I exhausted a whole role of film on this excursion, which is unprecedented. We walked by a ranch that was breeding ostriches, guarded by a couple of German shepherds.

We left the town behind us and came upon a river filled with glistening, brown skinned teenage boys who splashed about in the water likeancient Greek Gods. I almost jumped in with them to  join in their play. Then we came upon a herd of cattle that was busy grazing at the water’s edge. It all seemed so beautiful, so real yet unlike anything I had ever seen before.

We came upon a steep road that led past primitive shacks and then to a trail that went directly up the side of a 500-foot mountain. Miguel pointed out the flora, fauna, bugs, and reptiles. We walked past red trees shedding paper-like bark and revealing a green skin underneath. We hiked at a fairly rapid clip, and I was impressed with Alyssa’s progress since was wearing gym shoes. I wore my brand new $150 Raichle hiking boots proudly even though the new blue suede was becoming scuffed and dustier with every passing mile. 

Alyssa carried one of those backpack water bottles, and I, having forgotten my new water sack, carried the water bottle I had bought from a store in Albuquerque. Miguel carried three additional bottles of water with him, as well, bless his soul. He told us about the scorpions and snakes that inhabited the land, and he showed us how termites and ants cohabited in the trees yet somehow did not kill them. Indeed, they seemed happy and healthy, despite the fact that they looked thirsty. 

Miguel explained how the birds call to the heavens for water and how they stop singing when the rains fall. He explained the medicinal value of many of the plants that surrounded us, and I was impressed by how their medicine is extracted without killing the entire plant. When we reached the top of the mountain, we could look back at the distance we had climbed with perspective and delight. There were many Kodak moments, as they say.

Having reached the summit, we slowly descended down a trail surrounded by vines Tarzan would just have loved to swing from. Miguel pointed out the tree that caused Montezuma’s revenge on the invading Spaniards and explained how its seed was either poisonous or caused the runs; I forgot which. He also explained that if a person cooked food from the wood of this tree, they would get diarrhea, as well.

Another interesting tree Miguel referred to was the elephant tree because its seeds were the spitting image of an elephant’s ear. There were many elephant trees scattered here and there. The finest one was over 400 years old and seemed very healthy and happy. It reminded me of the late liberty tree in Annapolis, Md. at St. John’s College, my Alma matter, except its trunk was not rotted out, its branches were not being supported by steel cables, and its insides weren’t reinforced with concrete.

This majestic elephant tree was growing at the end of the hiking trail near the promised hot springs, which had just been drained and cleaned. These springs were concrete and tile affairs that had been built a long, long time ago and were on private land. I was not disappointed that the hot springs were empty. I was overheated and did not particularly feel like soaking at the moment anyway. Besides, Ihad neglected to bring my swimsuit.

Miguel pulled out the drinking water (which was quite warm by then), and we sat under the tree and talked for a while. It was clear to me that this tour was going to last a whole lot longer than they said it would, and that was just fine with us. The ship was to depart at 10 p.m. and we were in no particular hurry to get anywhere. Alyssa and my mother were grown- ups and could take care of themselves.

After regaining our energy, we walked up to a stream, a mere shadow of its majesty during the rainy season. When the rains arrive, the riverwill quadruple in size, both in width and height. It will become a mighty tropical river. Still, it was an impressive sight, and we had to cross it on foot (part of the hiking experience, Miguel explained). I had no desire to ruin my boots, so I removed them and gingerly worked my waythrough the warm, three-foot water, slipping more than once and nearly soaking myself through and through. Somehow I managed to cross the river without killing myself, and we followed the river bank. Miguel pointed out a cable that had a little cart attached. During the rainy season, people can cross the river on this device.

Shortly thereafter, we had to cross the river again, but this time, we hopped from one large rock to another. Large loosely placed rocks, mind you, and it was a miracle that I did not slip. If they had been wet, I probably would have broken my neck.

And so we came to the end of the trail and reentered town. Miguel explained that residents often loosened the intricate cobblestones on the street and sold them as souvenirs, which was becoming a bit of a problem to those who maintained the road.

We arrived back at the ranch at around 5 p.m. and Miguel led us to a little bar where he promised to demonstrate the proper way to drink Tequila. This was preceded by a detailed explanation of how Tequila is made, which I’m not going to get into right now. Suffice it to say that the more the Tequila is fermented, the more the higher the alcohol level and less the chance one is going to get a bad hangover. At this point, Miguel pulled out the tequila, 90 proof or 45 percent alcohol, and three glasses. It was party time.

Having won Miguel’s friendship and confidence, he  was determined to teach us the proper way to drink Tequila. He filled up our cups and told us to raise them. He then taught us the proper salute.

You raise your glass high and say “Arriba!”  Then you bring it down low and say “Abajo!”  Then you bring it to the middle and declare “Al Centro!”  and finally you toss it down the hatch and say “Para dentro!”  At this point, you suck on a wedge of lime while inhaling and exhaling in order to properly appreciate the full flavor of the tequila.

As with all things, a certain amount of practice is required, and we went through the mantra four more times, our glasses being refilled with every shot we put down. 

Arriba! Abajo! Al Centro! Para dentro!

Arriba! Abajo! Al Centro! Para dentro!

By our fifth shot, I was thinking that perhaps we ought to get back to the boat, seeing as how dinner was at 6:30 and our mothers expected us back a couple hours ago. Alyssa, who up to now was acting pretty conservative, looked at me sharply and reminded us that we were  grown up adults and not children. So it was time for a few more shots.

Incidentally, Miguel was letting us have these shots for free, which I thought was absolutely fabulous. “The boss is not here today,” he explained. But I still felt guilty and wanted to contribute. “Then make a donation to the church,” he suggested. And low and behold there was a little collection box for the church which I kept stuffing dollar bills into, in exchange for yet another shot. Seemed like the right thing to do. Eventually, the dollar bills stopped going to the church and began going into a little wicker basket marked “tips,” which seemed like a fine place to go as well.

But we really had to get back in due course, and Miguel was starting to act somewhat responsibly. Unfortunately, it seemed like there was no way to return to the ship, but Miguel managed to get one of his buddies to take us back half way on a huge air-conditioned tour bus. Well, sort of air-conditioned. Maybe it was  the economy. Maybe it was the humid weather, but the air conditioners in the bus did not work. Fortunately, the engines of these vehicles did work, and we were dropped off somewhere on the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta. 

I was dripping sweat from every pore with  only two dollar bills in my pocket, as well as my “sail and sign” card, which is absolutely useless outside of the ship. I had no credit cards; I didn’t even have my address book. What if he ditched me? I was, at least, ten horrible miles away from the shipyards and wanted to go home, NOW!

At this point, Miguel flagged down a taxi, and we drove back to the ship just in time for the 6:30 dinner. I gave Miguel a hug and a $5 tip for getting us back to the ship in one piece, as well as his charming company. Alyssa did not tip him as she was by no means rich. Although she lived in one of the more elite parts of the country (Vail, Colorado), she was only a clerk at a video store and had not seen any sort of vacation in over two years! She was as poor as me, if not poorer, but she seemed to have a better sense of the value of money.

Seems like a lot of people were looking for me. I was really a sweaty, dirty mess, but that did not seem to bother the staff at the  Imagination dining room where I greeted Mom and our dinner companions. Everybody seemed glad to see me, and we recounted our experiences of the day.

While I was gone, Mother had spent part of the day on deck, part of the time in her room watching Perry Mason, part of the time washing some of our dirty laundry in the sink using a bar of soap, and part of the time resting. I felt somewhat guilty about leaving her alone all this time, but I was really at other people’s mercy.

Tomorrow we land in Mazatlan, and I plan to spend the entire day with her.

After dinner, we attended the show in the amazing Mikado performance space, a huge, high-tech auditorium that seats 2,000 people.

I must say that the theater and dance department at The University of New Mexico has really spoiled me. After seeing this evening’s performance, I now realize what outstanding talent we have at UNM. Nevertheless, I gave the cruise ship performers a standing ovation for their work and was very disappointed that nobody else joined me in my adulation. 

Those dancers worked their buns off for us for well over an hour, and I was the only person who stood up. What’s wrong with these people? Don’t they have a clue how difficult it is to put on a show like this? I suppose that because they did not have to pay for a ticket, they take it all for granted. Mom was a bit embarrassed by my enthusiasm and pulled at my coattails, trying to get me to sit down. Of course, I would not sit down.

The best part of the show, by far, was a tribute to the work of Antonio Vargas, called “My Angel is a Vargas Girl.” The performers danced and sang  numbers in celebration of the Vargas Girls from his pinup calendar. For example, Miss July celebrated “Yankee Doodle Dandy and Grand ol’ Flag,” and Miss December danced to “Jingle Bell Rock.” Lately, I have been absolutely enamored with the work of Vargas and have been sending my sister Linda a scanned picture of a Vargas Girl just about every week for the last few months. I have over 50 pictures of Vargas Girls and each one is an absolute gem.

The show had pyrotechnics, a laser light display, and even a circular, moving stage. It was pretty spectacular even though the dancing seemed a bit scattered. Still, it was light-years beyond anything any of us in the audience could do, so it is a wonder they were not more appreciative.

It is fast approaching midnight, and I plan to stay up for the evening comedy show: the same comedian as last night only, this time, it's X-rated!               

Thursday, May 17, 2001

10 p.m.  The approach to Mazatlan is impressive. Huge islands of rock welcome the Elation as the ship makes its way slowly into the harbor. The port is very industrial and I have my doubts whether I should venture forth from the ship. Mom and I checked out the flea market at the port where I saw a guy selling $18 tickets to tour the city. He was nice and the price seemed reasonable, so I told him I would return shortly.

And I did return after depositing Mother at her cabin and assuring her I would return at 3 p.m. I don’t know how I come up with these promises. Leaving the ship is definitely a very uncertain proposition.

I found  Jesus, the van driver, and after waiting about 15 minutes for him to collect a few more curious travelers, we departed in a brand new, air-conditioned van with me riding shotgun. He drove into the hills of Mazatlan where we could take some pictures. This was a residential area, supposedly fairly well off, but somewhat run down by American standards. Just about everything I’ve seen in Mexico is rather run down actually, and I wonder what it must take to get things done properly in this country. 

The residents embed broken glass atop their adobe walls because it keeps the bad guys out. The schools do the exact same thing, but their motive is to keep the school children inside. Jesus pointed out many schools to us: Maritime schools, elementary schools, and universities. One of the schools taught children during the day and adults during the evening. They are old structures, like something out of an old movie. You can see the uniformed children inside the schoolyard through the paneless windows.

After reaching the summit of the residential area, we descended into the old town through lovely, old narrow roads. The people who drive these ancient streets seem to have little regard for stop signs or even pedestrians, and Jesus unapologetically had an empty beer bottle in the front seat. 

En route  to town, we stopped by the side of the road where I bought an ironwood sculpture of a turtle as a present for my boss. This was Mom’s idea. I thought it would be regarded as patronizing, but Mom vigorously disagreed. However, I thought about all the nice gift certificates Diane has bought me since she became my boss, and I relented. I hope she likes it. It didn’t break me either. Cost only five dollars!

We made our way into old town, and I was mesmerized by its beauty. We were far from the austere surroundings of the port and seemed to enter the world from another century. 

We stopped to rest at the old cathedral (ca. 1875), and Jesus said we could spend 30 minutes looking around. I set my stopwatch for 30 minutes and began sightseeing. I got a shot of the exterior of the church and walked around the inside. A church is a church is a church unless it happens to be the Vatican. Anyway, having absorbed the church, I walked to the nearby city market, which was kind of like a huge mall/supermarket that had fallen into a time warp. It was a huge open space filled with the usual touristy stuff but also lots of food, medicines, and essentials for the local population of 438,000. This was a real culture shock, especially the meat department. 

Here we find scores of meat cutters slicing up animal flesh: huge slabs of beef lying in the open air being cut to the customer's order and indignant pig heads staring at you from the counters. Haven’t these people heard of plastic wrap? Evidently not or it just costs too damn much. I found the chickens particularly intriguing. They sat in neat rows like the Korean cars in the harbor that just got off the cargo ships. I must say the people of Mazatlan are very good at stacking immobile things. The plump chickens looked pretty appetizing, though the sight of their legs stuck inside their body cavity turned me off. They have definitely gone a step further than the way they pack the gizzards in theStates. But who knows, those clawed feet probably add a certain flavor to whatever you happen to be cooking. Perhaps it is a law that they are presented that way. 

If I were in the States, buzzing flies and other repulsive insects would probably surround the meat. Oddly enough, there were no bugs of any description in the air. Where did they all go? New Mexico? I have not had a single bug bite since I arrived in Mexico. Seems odd in such a tropical climate where modern sanitation appears not to be the order of the day.

I was relieved to see that when a customer bought some meat, it was packed in a plastic bag, however. On the whole, the meat and all its sundry parts looked pretty fresh and appetizing.

After regrouping, Jesus drove us to the coastal highway where we got a bit of an art history lesson. We stopped by the sea where at least three monumental sculptures celebrated womanhood and family. Jesus said that in Mazatlan there are seven women to each man. He said that his wife said that when it came to other women, he can check out the menu, but he had to come home to eat at night. At one of these statues were some cliff jumpers. These guys really do jump from the cliffs and start at a very young age, working their way up to the top of the cliff. This is their livelihood, not just their way to get exercise and have fun. And since nobody in Mexico will do anything for free, we all had to pitch in a buck until we got the requisite $10 together. 

At this point, the bronzed young man proudly walked to his jumping point, up a well-trodden path. He dramatically raised his hands, and, waiting for exactly the right moment, dove into the water. It was important that he waited for the tide to come in because the water he was about to jump into was only five feet deep. That was pretty spectacular, I must admit. But as we applauded (I doubt he could even hear us clap), I noticed that getting back to shore was probably more dangerous than the jump. 

The waves revealed huge boulders that created dangerous currents and eddies. The returning diver had to be careful not to get bashed into a rock on the way back to shore. You’d really think that after all these years of cliff diving somebody would have cleared the rocks away, but hey, this is Mexico, and nobody seems to give a damn about anything.

In addition to all the religious  sculptures by the ocean, I noticed perhaps the most important monument of all- the first copper beer distillation vessel. This thing must have been as wide as a Humvee and tall as a giraffe. It had been retrofitted into a fountain that spewed water over its smooth copper sides. This sculpture, unlike just about every mosaic or grandiose monument, was in perfect shape. No tiles missing, no fountains malfunctioning, not a thing wrong with it. 

Clearly the Mexican government had, at least, one mission. Beer drinking seems to be the national  pastime and number one priority. And a national icon needs to be well looked after.

Now this is where things started to get weird. Jesus said that if we wanted, we could stop at a restaurant. I glanced at my watch and noticed that this three-hour tour was almost over, but as far as my van mates were concerned, it had barely begun.

So we drove on a bit more and eventually pulled over to one of Jesus’ favorite places (Mom says the tour guides get kickbacks to take their captive audience to visit shops and restaurants).

We settled into a cozy booth by the water’s edge and ordered up dinner. I was feeling experimental and ordered Calamari, and it was the best squid I ever tasted.  Must have been a baby squid, however. It was very petite and its little purple suckers were charming. That cost six dollars. The waiter delivered a seafood medley soup to the fellow next to me, but he did not like the looks of it. Turns out, he had gotten the soup that some other table had ordered. He offered the soup to anybody who cared for it, and only I was interested. Yum yum. Next came the drink, the Coco Loco, which was a coconut that had its top removed with a machete. Inside were mixed coconut milk and a lot of alcohol. I was absolutely charmed by this drink and was feeling pretty damn good in only a few minutes. Best of all, it only cost $2.

So I got a huge lunch for under $10! And it was much, much better than anything I had on board the Elation, up to now.

I began to relax and suddenly time began to do weird things, and none of us really seemed to give a damn.

The mariachis made their way to our table, and our long-haired California companion requested the song “Cucaracha.”  It was pretty amazing, especially under the influence of the Coco Loco . We couldn’t help noticing the word “marijuana” being tossed about over and over again, and after the Mariachis moved on, it was time for something that resembled a St. John's College seminar. Fortunately, one of our tablemates understood Spanish and translated the song, word for word.  Here is what it means:

La cucaracha la cucaracha ya no puede caminar,
porque le falta porque no tiene mariguana que fumar


The cockroach. the cockroach can no longer walk
since it has no pot to smoke

Eventually, Jesus returned to check up on us. It was 3:30, and time to head up to the so-called “Gold Zone” or “Hell on Earth” as I call it.

Did you know that Mazatlan is the second most humid place on Earth? Well, that’s what somebody told me. I was sweating like a pig and was hoping, praying that nobody wanted to shop. Normally, I do like to shop, or, at least, look around, but I happened to notice the time and started getting very nervous. The ship was going to depart in only two hours, and these people wanted to shop? Furthermore, I could not see what could possibly interest these people. It was all junk. All chazarai.

Anyway, there I am worried to death about missing the departure of my ship and totally outvoted by my fellow passengers who wanted to shop for chazarai . Jesus told me to cool my jets in this store that was entirely dedicated to selling seashells. Once again, I noticed the pension these Mazatlanders have for putting things in immaculately ordered rows. It was absolutely amazing how they managed to match the seashells so closely and how they could line them up so exactly. But I could not concentrate on them.

I was driipping sweat from every pore with  only two dollar bills in my pocket, as well as my “sail and sign” card, which is absolutely useless outside of the ship. I had no credit cards; I didn’t even have my address book. What if he ditched me? I was, at least, ten horrible miles away from the shipyards and wanted to go home, NOW!

Well, finally I annoyed Jesus enough for him to get me on another tour bus that was pretty packed. They squeezed me in, however,wondering if I was even with the ship. I turned to them and said, “Shoot, I’m not only with the ship, I own the damn thing!” And you know what? They believed me!

Let me tell you something. I can’t think of a prettier sight than that of the Elation in the distance. I wasted no time and practically ran back on board in time to meet Mother on her way back to the cabin. She was concerned about my whereabouts but had actually spent most of the afternoon happily situated on the promenade deck reading her mystery. She was not worried at all. I was worried about her but mostlyconcerned about whether I would get back to the ship on time. As it turned out, everything worked out just fine for both of us.

My companions, on the other hand, were then living out their own unique soap opera. I learned, after relaxing in the hot tub, sauna and steam room, that four other passengers did not make it back to the ship in time for departure. In their haste to return to the ship, they hired a motorboat to catch up with the ship but did not make it back in time.

After dinner, we walked over to the Mikado lounge to enjoy the Mexican Folkloric Show that featured the Mexican Junior Ballet and TheMariachis Popular . The young dancers were delightful but the highlight of the show was a 15-year-old Mexico churro , or cowboy, who showed off his award-winning lasso work. He was quite a showman, starting the act by simply balancing the lasso on his arm as if it were a solid piece of rope. Then the lasso grew larger and larger till he was able to draw it over his entire body and walk in and out of it. It was absolutely remarkable, and he did it all with such modesty and ease.

May 18, 2001

5:45 a.m. Heading back home from side trip to Cabo San Lucas. Due to some confusion about the time (I had turned my watch back an hour prematurely), I left the boat later than I had planned. Also, the waves were choppy and the tenders were not docking with the ship, so there was a line a mile long to disembark. I got to land at around 10 a.m. and after my close call in Mazatlan, I decided to spend only an hour there, because the last tender was leaving at 11 a.m. This gave me exactly enough time to stroll the length of the concrete and tile boardwalk to a little restaurant where I leisurely drank a huge Margarita that cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.

Although after I finished my drink, I specifically asked the bartender if he could make change for a twenty in dollars, he handed me a hundred-peso note and a coin. This kind of pissed me off, and I caused a bit of confusion in the back while they desperately looked for American bills and could not find any (business was slow, which was why I went to the bar, avoiding a larger establishment called “Margaritaville.” I searched desperately through my pockets, found five single American dollars, called the owner back and exchanged the $20 for five ones. 

I could have sworn when I asked him the cost of the drink he said $4.50, but I was not going to make a big deal. The drink was good, and I am not sick, so I guess everything is all right. I had worried about the crushed ice in the drink, but he said the water was purified. Also, the cruise director said that the large amounts of alcohol they put in the drink would kill anything.

Prices are definitely higher here than in either Puerto Vallarta or Mazatlan, but that did not stop me from buying five little-multicolored turtles with bobbing heads for only $5 as gifts. I love those little guys and now have four of them with mama turtle on my desk. One bobbing turtle on mama turtle’s back stands guard.  In retrospect, I should have bought more, but I showed some restraint. I made it back to the ship, no problem, but a couple people delayed our departure by about 15 minutes.

I was not too impressed with what I saw of Cabo, but I really did not see much. One lady raved about the glass factory. She was a seasoned traveler and had left the boat early, found a tour guide, and had him show her around, all in the space of a few hours. On the way out of the harbor, I saw some very pretty beaches among the rocks and crashing waves that looked very appealing. I must return some day. Cabo has no industry at all, except for tourism the harbor is full of boats from distant lands. Lots of fishermen would just love to take you out and help you catch a big one. Even you did catch a fish, they wouldn’t let you bring it on board.

After we set out from Cabo, the winds picked up and I settled Mom in a nice leather chair by one of the lounges. Then I went to the spa to clean up for the galley tour.

I have a much greater appreciation for Carnival’s efforts to feed its 2,000 guests, as well as its crew and staff now. Consider the weekly grocery list for this mega ship and the 10,000 meals it serves daily: 10,000 lbs. of beer, 8,000 lbs. of poultry, 6,000 lbs. of fish and seafood, 3,000 lbs. of pork, 12,500 lbs. of fruits and vegetables, 4,500 lbs. of flour, 1,400 lbs. of sugar, 1,000 gallons of ice cream, 900 gallons of juice, 1,200 gallons of milk and 48,000 eggs. We walked through the spotless kitchen. I watched the ice carving demonstration and was introduced to the fine art of napkin folding. There are seven different kinds of napkin folds: the cone, the rosebud, the rose, the fan, the bishop’s mitre, the candle and the crown. We were shown how they make those towel creatures we find in the room every night: the eel and the lobster, to name just a couple. The hierarchy of the dining room was explained and the possibility of advancement in the dining room was detailed. Over 200 dining room employees from 20 different countries, speaking 20 different languages work their way up from dishwasher to various waiter positions, and and if they are good enough to Maître d'hôtel   (the Maître d'hôtel  joked that when a waiter is promoted to head waiter, he personally takes him to the promenade deck and throws him overboard.) 

The disposal of waste was explained in fine detail. Waste is separated into wet and dry waste. Paper products are sent to incinerators where they become fuel to propel the engines, metals are crushed and recycled, and  food is finely chopped up and dumped into the ocean. Schools of fish actually follow the ship and consume the waste, only to be eaten by larger fish that become the next main entrée  (that’s a joke). Food preparation is an ongoing matter, and the waiters have only one minute per guest to pull it all together. I was absolutely amazed.

After the tour, we had free Champagne with our dinner, courtesy of our travel agent. And after dinner we attended a show featuring songsfrom all over like “9 to 5” (Nashville), “Hot, Hot, Hot” (Puerto Rico), “California Girls” (Take a guess). The dancers were very synchronizedthis evening, and the crowd was very appreciative.

Tonight we have the Gala Buffet, which is what I have been looking forward to all week: real ice sculptures (not Styrofoam), chocolate sculptures, bread sculptures and lots of other good things.

I checked out the photo gallery and bought a lovely 6”x 8” photo of Mom and me posing with three Indigenous peoples from Mexico (you’re not supposed to say Indian). Ah, political correctness. At dinner, I wondered whether feminists would be inclined to park their pride at the life rafts if the ship went down. You know: women and children first.  I think they should probably go down with the ship!

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