Su Lum: Slumming
December 22, 2009
On our recent Holland America Caribbean cruise, my friend Hilary and I spent so little time off the ship that I didn’t think I’d get a column out of it, only to get carried away last week writing about our first stop at the island of Grand Turk.
The second stop was San Juan, Puerto Rico, with a history lecture about the city up on the Lido deck as we pulled in. (How I miss the Lido deck – breakfasts, lunches and snacks 24/7, the fresh-squeezed orange juice – ahhh!)
Hilary had big plans for San Juan – to rent a car, go snorkeling, see the city by day and then, at night, to take the only organized tour she signed up for, to visit a place known for its phosphorescent waters. When I was a kid, there was a lake or a pond that we used to go to at night, where you could stand in the water, whoosh your arms across the surface and it would turn into a lake of fire, but Hilary had never heard of the phenomenon – maybe it’s dying out.
Hilary left as soon as we docked and I should have waited longer to disembark because, though we were the only ship at the dock (there are usually several), passengers were still milling around looking for something to do and I ended up not alone in a little van as had happened on Grand Turk, but on a bus with 25 others touring the city of San Juan.
The driver was a longtime local, entertaining and informative, but the trip was long and one of the three stops was at the domed capitol building, accessed by what looked (and felt) like a million steps and when I (finally) got back to the ship my back was killing me.
To my surprise, Hilary – who was scheduled to be gone all day, due to get back from her phosphorescent tour perilously close to 10:30 p.m. when the Eurodam would depart – was in the bath. She had not been feeling well all along, still recovering from the flu-ish thing (Swine?) that had kicked the ass of everyone in town and still lingers with sore throats, coughing and fatigue.
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So that was San Juan: A marginally bad bus trip for me and an aborted trip for her. Onward to St. Thomas.
At St. Thomas I made the mistake of parking the scooter and getting on one of those open-air buses with Hilary to go shopping, forgetting the ravages to my back from all the steps up and down in San Juan the day before. After a block of souvenir stores I was hobbling. Hilary sought out the local post office where she bought a big box to send some of her excess shopping home, including the two-gallon conch shell, the lacy dried seaweed – both of which miraculously arrived intact – and gifts for everybody on the planet.
Hilary was hobbling as well, this being the morning of my accident with the scooter, running over her foot and bashing into her knee. She hailed a cab, I took to my bed with a Vicodin and she began packing her box – elapsed time in San Juan maybe an hour and a half.
Sending a box to the states was more involved than Hilary anticipated. There were forms to be filled out, inspections, the hauling of the box back to the post office. So that was St. Thomas.
We never caught our room stewards, Yudi and Danny, in our room, but met them in the halls. The two of them have an onerous schedule, taking care of 32 rooms, including morning clean-up, evening straightening and bed-turning-down (with chocolates). Every day they left increasingly complicated animals fashioned from towels, starting with a simple dog, advancing to a rabbit (wearing sunglasses), a swan, an elephant with eyes cut from paper and, the finale, a chimpanzee hanging from the ceiling.
Our final stop was at Half Moon Cay (pronounced KEY), a private island owned by Holland America, inaccessible by scooter. Here I dunked myself in the clear water up to my neck, twice (not supposed to get my riddled eardrums wet), and Hilary went off to see stingrays and get lost on the nature trail.
That night at dinner we met an 80-year-old woman traveling alone, who had gone paragliding that afternoon. “Hell,” she said, “If I don’t do it now, when will I?”
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