In January of 2012 I faithfully kept my vow of going somewhere for holiday every January during my retirement. Since January 2012 was my second month of January of retirement, as I retired at the end of 2010, I was on a roll. Ron, my brother-in-law who is much more like my brother accompanied us. Ron had some minor trepidation prior to disembarking due to his having never cruised before. This soon yielded to happiness and the sheer joy of the beautiful accommodations and delicious cuisine along with the uniquely singular experience that cruising offers.
We first flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico and stayed at the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino on Condado Beach. The next day we embarked on a walking tour of old San Juan until we happened upon a tobacco store. I subsequently rushed in as Mary Jane and Ron followed and announced with some savvy traveler glee…” I would like your best cuban cigar”…to which the proprietor replied…sir you are still in the United States. Somewhat chagrined, but not defeated, I replied that I would like a quality cigar. The astute storekeeper instructed his assistant to give me a Churchill…on the house. Being more than surprised I began to professionally puff what was indeed an excellent cigar while Ron proceeded to purchase one as well. As I mused among the cloud of delicious smoke…that perhaps Ron was going to join me in my vice…the friendly cigar aficionado began to show me moderately priced box sets for shipping home. By this time Mary Jane and Ron had exited the building and I was left alone with my generous new friend and under the influence of cigar delight. Mary Jane said that it was at this point another tourist exited the store and told her that I was just about to be talked into a large purchase of cigars…with no one to protect me. She quickly entered and announced that we must go and pulled me from my revelry. As we proceeded through an extremely busy open market I told my party to go ahead and that I would catch up after Churchill and I had completed our visit. Later I discovered that Churchill had a brother that had been purchased for me.
As we prepared to leave our short pleasant stay in San Juan a fellow guest told us of the sinking of the Costa Concordia on January 13, 2012. A terrible tragedy…and a sobering occurrence happening just prior to our boarding the Caribbean Princess for our vast ocean journey.
The Caribbean offers such a variety of cultures and peoples that it is astounding to me that although many of the islands are close in proximity to each other…the people speak often a different language than their neighbor and have a totally different culture. For instance the island of Saint Martin in the Northeast Caribbean and 190 miles east of Puerto Rico is divided between France and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. France has twenty square miles and the Netherlands has thirteen square miles. St Martin is the smallest island divided between two nations. The northern French part is referred to as the Collectivite de Saint-Martin. We shopped in the French portion of St. Martin and had a lovely experience doing so. The very friendly store owner encouraged us to make a toll free telephone call from the store’s phone to our sons. We did so and got voicemail. Following our purchases he invited us to partake in some small Heinken beers for the returning bus ride to the cruise ship. When we asked if this would be all right with law enforcement he replied that we were not in the United States anymore.
A preponderance of the pleasure of cruising the Caribbean in January is the sure knowledge that it is winter at home. An assistant in this joyful period is the daily inquiry as to the temperature back home and finally the discussion of that abysmal temperature with friends old and new. Cruising is somewhat like Disney World was to me and my family many years ago. It is the transference into a world of luxury and seemingly worry free atmosphere for a few days. Or as Ron commented the first morning at breakfast…”they heated my milk for my oatmeal…they do not heat my milk at the Corner Cafe!”
Recently we were privileged to attend a lovely wedding in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico. However I am getting ahead of myself as our plane landed in Albuquerque. This southwestern city is simply beautiful. We visited a house near the mountains and were spellbound by the beauty of the sun setting over the mountains and producing a red hew on their surface. The city has a population of 558,000 and a peaceful demeanor that is captivating. Not forsaking that Albuquerque is where the popular television show Breaking Bad was filmed. My sister-in-law’s face lit up and her eyes sparkled when we arrived, as she had lived in New Mexico, and I could soon see why she was excited to return. We stayed at the Hotel Nativo which had lovely southwestern decor and the friendliest staff I have encountered in some time.
The next morning it was time to begin our pilgrimage to Arroyo Seco by way of Santa Fe and Taos. With a population of 67,947 the artistic haven of Santa Fe has a small community feel to it. As we walked Canyon Road to visit the many shops I could not help but notice and feel the laid back…friendly…live and let live attitude of everyone we met. Santa Fe is at an elevation of 7,260 feet and it was only up hill from there. Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico.
When we arrived at Arroyo Seco I noticed that I was somewhat short of breath. I first thought that it was my continuing cold that I had been battling for over a week but then recalled that we were in the mountains. Arroyo Seco’s elevation is 7,634 feet. After a long day of site seeing and travel we sought out a good restaurant and found one that had delicious food and some of the best pie I have ever tasted.
I was seeking a turquoise ring to commemorate my New Mexico Adventure and found just the one at Claire’s Jewelry at Arroyo Seco at a very reasonable price. Turquoise is the stone of the Navajo and although I did not know this at the time I purchased it…I found out shortly thereafter…and the significance of it grew exponentially.
The beauty of the wedding was breathtaking. The poignant Navajo traditions that were part of the celebration were deep and moving. Mary Jane and I were honored to be a part of the day.
New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment and after visiting I heartily agree.
As we were sailing toward Scotland I noticed how chilly it was becoming. I really had not thought about how far north Scotland is. It’s only land border is with England and it runs for sixty miles. The Atlantic Ocean borders the West coast and the North Sea the East coast. It was about this time in our United Kingdom and Ireland Cruise that we encountered extremely rough seas. Now I must confess that I was…to this point…extremely proud of my having never been afflicted with sea sickness. In fact I looked upon those unfortunate souls with the little white patch behind their ear as somehow not cut out for true sea faring. When the jostling began I greeted it with joy as it added some adventure to the holiday. However I did wonder when it became apparent that I could not walk without holding on to a solid objects and when the nightly Broadway type show was cancelled for two consecutive nights for the safety of the performers. As I lay in bed…on the first night of the heaving and swaying I felt the front of our little ship rise what seemed to me to be an interminable height…and then come crashing down with a tremendous jolt…time after time after time. It was about this time that it occurred to me that ships do sink…even small ocean liners. I reflected on the Titanic and Gilligan’s Island…and became extremely ill. Or, as Jonathon remarked the next morning…he woke up and was somewhat concerned for our safety…prayed and returned to sleep. The next morning I made my way slowly and carefully to the front desk for my free ration of sea sick pills or patches. The somber attendant told me flatly that they were out and that I might try the on-board hospital. As I entered humbly a stern nurse from South Africa instructed me that they were not a store and that if they gave me sea sick pills I would have to pay for their medical services…I replied whatever it takes…and thank you.
So, we landed in Scotland and were greeted by a wonderful jolly appearing gentleman in his kilt and playing a bagpipe. As we made our way into the port shops area we again were greeted with very happy Scotsmen in kilts and rosy cheeked and offering us free whiskey. As the Russian actor said on an old television commercial, “What a country!”
As we were entering one of the lovely shops the proprietor welcomed us in while he continued a seemingly passionate discussion with another patron as I heard him say, “I do not care what the Pope says…I have never believed that religious stuff…I am a pagan.” I was reminded of the well known movie the Wicker Man…and thought what an interesting country this would be to have a lengthy stay in.
We walked Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and toured Holyroodhouse which is the Queens’ official residence when she is in Scotland. I was also fascinated by the ruins of Holyrood Abbey.
The Ocean was especially beautiful as we made our way toward Scotland. The combination of the clouds, the chilly temperatures, and the sunlight shining on the water gave a special air of mystery to this enigmatic land.