03 Feb 2009

Our Cabin; Cruise Day 8

Given that this ship is our home for four months, and we spend significant time in our cabin, we wanted plenty of room.


Our cabin, 900, is a Master Suite. Counting the balconies, we have a bit over 2,000 square-feet. Essentially, it is a 2 bedroom, 2 ½ bath apartment without a kitchen. Life is grand. We are very fortunate.

The main deck covers ½ of the front of the ship, right below the bridge. Part is glass-enclosed to block the wind.

We have two nice sized walk-in closets (1/2 of one is in the picture). Closet space is important, as geographically our journey will take us through various extreme climate conditions.
Allyn’s good friend Stephanie will be joining us on the next leg. We’ll need to generate some closet space for her.

02 Feb 2009

At Sea, En Route to Brazil; Cruise Day 7

We have three days at sea on the way to Fortaleza, our first stop in Brazil. So many on-board activities to choose from today, we didn’t even know where to start.
There must have been 25 scheduled activities today (to say nothing of reading a book by the pool). Here is what we did.
South America Overview - Like many Americans, Allyn and I are much more knowledgeable about Europe than South America. As such, we heard a lecture by Terry Breen: an Overview of South America. I have heard her  speak on several other cruises. Terry seems to know everything, and knows how to present it best. I wish I had more teachers like her while I was at school.
Here are a few highlights of what we learned:
·     Brazil: Alone, it is bigger than the contiguous 48 states, and has a population of about 200 Million. Believing Brazilians all have the same culture and philosophy, is as naïve as thinking that urban New Yorkers are the same as Alabamians, or Indiana farmers.

·     ALL of their cars run on ethanol, and they have plenty more fuel to export. But, the U.S. levies artificially high taxes to stop this option from being economically viable in here.

·     88% of South America continent is geographically east of our East Coast.

·     There are 19 countries in South America, and they each have their own culture. It is much like European countries which differ from themselves.

Looking at a map South America, it resembles ours. They both have many of the same resources as North America does. Yet there were three major differences which have historically impacted development there, even today.
·     We were colonized by the English, who (in spite of their monarchy) had a parliamentary system, and a  Protestant background. Both of these strongly contrast with the Spanish and Portuguese cultures of political and religious absolute rule.

·     Trade in the U.S. was based on free-trade policies, instead of mercantilism . Translated: in S.A. they believed there was a fixed amount of wealth sent back to Europe or exported, but things were not imported. One way street. This wealth outflow has sustained a low standard of living for many.

·     Finally, whereas the English encountered a number of Native Americans (who were not treated fairly), our Southern neighbors encountered a population of about 25 million indigenous people. This cultural blend still impacts them today.

Inter-terrestrial Aliens – Next up was an astronomer speaking about foreign life possibilities. Turned out he was speaking about science fiction and nothing based on fact. We left after five minutes.

Mexican Pool Barbecue Lunch - Love Mexican food; love barbecues; love eating.
Leonardo da Vinci Lecture – He was great. The lecture was great. I fell asleep. Ended up back at our cabin to nap, canceling the balance of the afternoon. So much for tea time and trivial pursuit.
Super Bowl – I emailed in my wagers. There was a big party onboard, but we watched the game in our cabin. As of yesterday, I didn’t even know who was playing. My son, the sports expert, gave me five good props to bet on. I won one.

01 Feb 2009

Barbados; Cruise Day 6

Barbados is a lovely English Island, far south and east in the Caribbean. In fact, it is so far east that it is really in the Atlantic Ocean (not The Caribbean Sea).

Today, we opted to drive around the island in an open air off-road vehicle with three other couples and a guide.

The highlight of the day was visiting the Green Monkeys at the Barbados Wildlife Reserve. As you can see they definitely were not afraid to be near us.

The monkeys came to Barbados about 350 years ago from West Africa. Today, they are a bit different than their African cousin, as 75 generations have allowed them to evolve enough to factor in the local environmental differences.

Considered by many as pests, the Green Monkeys are important. The tissue from their kidneys is used in the production of polio vaccines, as well as other disease related projects.

About 30% of the island is covered by sugar cane and quite rural. In our off-road vehicle, we went through several areas on unnavigable roads. It was quite fun.
Unlike many other Caribbean Islands, Barbados does not have a mixed history of ownership. As much as people from this part of the world can be British, they are. They have high tea, drive on the opposite side of the road from us, and have had an uninterrupted parliamentary system for almost 360 years.
The literacy rate here is 97%, and it is summer all year long. Everyone is very friendly. All this probably speaks to the fact that they have the highest repeat visitor rate in this part of the world.

31 Jan 2009

Dominica (not Dominican Republic); Cruise Day 5

Today we visited Dominica. It is a nature island. They have two seasons – wet and wetter. Because of this, the island gets relatively very few tourists. But those who come see an island lush with vegetation, which seems unspoiled compared to its touristy neighbors.

Although Dominica is located in The Eastern Caribbean (between the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique), its government, politics and customs are more English oriented. The island was under British control for 200 years, until it was given its independence in 1978. Today, it belongs to the British Commonwealth along with many other former colonies.

Wanting to maximize enjoying its serene beauty, we opted for a visit to the rainforest (which gets 300 – 400 inches of rain a year). We took a 2-mile, 90-minute tram ride with 8 passengers and a guide.

On the way up, it moves right through the forest, and the way back is about ten feet higher. This gives a surprisingly different outlook.

We stopped at the top for a 15-minute hike which took us over a 300-foot high suspension bridge.

Back onboard the ship, we had a wonderful dinner with a couple from England at a new restaurant called Prime 7. It has a menu similar to the Palm Restaurant in the States.


30 Jan 2009

St. Barts; Cruise Day 4

Today was our first port of call, St. Barts. For those of you who have not been here, it is possibly the most elegant of all of the Caribbean Islands. It certainly is the most expensive, and has a three block area with all the same big-time boutique names that you see in New York, Paris and London.
As with the other islands, the beauty is out of town.
I needed a pair of sunglasses and found a nice pair in Louis Vuitton. Unfortunately, I used up most of my shopping budget for the trip on this purchase.
Because I enjoy eating so much, and because I only trust my own research, I tend to find my own restaurant selection.
We rented a tiny car for the day, and used it for going to lunch and the beach, as well as a scenic drive around the island.
I spend considerable research time on the Internet. We had a great light outdoor lunch at L’Esprit, which is one of the island’s big-time dinner houses. It is just a block away from Saline beach. This is where we spent most of the afternoon.
Allyn enjoyed the local beer – Carib – which they serve with a lime, not unlike Corona.

Not unlike some of the other great beaches around the world, there is a tradeoff. There are no services at Saline, and you must walk a path for access. But once there, it is magnificent.

I had to snap a photo in front of Louis Vuitton, as it is the first shopping stop on the trip. See you all tomorrow!