Read the previous installment here.
Not too long into our voyage, I was getting on one of the glass elevators that hug the outside of the Zuiderdam, when one of the crew came around the corner with a cleaning cart. I held the door for him and he rolled on. Everyone on board was extremely polite and this guy was no exception. "Where are you from?" he asked.
Now, I know this is probably a question that all cruise ship crews are told to ask of passengers to make them feel at ease -- or at least Americans. But it also a very, very common first question when one travels through Southeast Asia.
I told him, "Massachusetts." He nodded and he looked like he was trying to figure out where that was relative to our departure point in Florida. "West?" he said.
"North," I replied. "There, the sea is now covered in ice."
He straightened up (as if could have done so any more than he already was), looked out the glass wall behind him, with a look of horror at the idea that it all could be frozen.
"Where are you from?" I asked. He said, "Indonesia", sounding that maybe every once in a while, someone asks him this in response to his own inquiry, but it never goes further from there.
This surprised him. "Bali."
"I've only been in Denpasar, Kuta and Sanur." Same island. I had almost had heat stroke at the latter. Stopping over for a day, on flights between Kuala Lumpur and Ambon in the Spice Islands, I took a taxi to the Bali American Express office located at a five-star resort in Nusa Dua. We pulled up to the front, but found the office was at the other end of the hotel. I ran about a quarter of a mile in the full sun of a 96-degree day, then back again to ask my driver to wait. When I finally sat down in the air conditioned office, I was drenched in sweat and continued perspire heavily for a full ten minutes. I wasn't even staying at the hotel, but the entire staff -- and everyone on Bali -- was so helpful and cheerful, and unfailingly refused any sort of gratuity.
So the young man in the elevator then admitted that he worked in Bali for some time, but he originally came from nearby Surabaya on Java. I told him I never had a chance to get to Java (most densely populated place on earth), but hoped to some time to see the temples in Surabaya. He nodded very happily, "Yes, yes, you should come!", as the doors opened and wheeled the cart out.
This was a day at sea. A day to relax, explore the ship and await the verdict on whether or not I was going to have to go scuba diving. Don't get me wrong -- I wanted to go. I felt I needed to go. But I just wasn't sure I remembered enough to keep myself from dying. And it is real easy to die when scuba diving. Or so I've been taught in class.
We ordered room service for breakfast, which was a wise choice. Same food as from the dining room. No waiting. The food came on time and we had a real feast. When we finally ventured out, I headed to the library. A book had seemed an unecessary burden in my luggage, and instead brought my laptop. But taking the advice of Walter Brooks, I decided to forgo the $5/minute wireless internet charge and enjoy the simple pleasure of reading a near-pulp detective novel.
It was brilliant day topside, and I headed as far up as I could. Towards the front, the ship was fighting a headwind that made some seating a real challenge. The worst suburn of my life (purple) was gotten from the tropical sun in Key West, so I was keen not to repeat that experience. Slathered in Sofie's SPF 45, I took one of the remaining semi-shaded, semi-leeward deck chairs and set to reading for most of the day.
Lunch for us was always on the Lido deck, with its variety of buffets, self-serve ice cream and endless ice tea and lemonade. My goal was not to gain any weight on this cruise, and resolved to take the stairs as much as I could. And to walk around the ship on the promenade deck as many times as I could. There was such a traffic of walkers and runners there, too, that if you picked the wrong time of day, you might get run over by the intent and aged athletes on the circuit.
Tonight was a formal night, which pleased Chandra to no end. When we were being seated, the waiter pulled over the dining room manager to tell him that I had been to Indonesia. I asked where he was from, and he said Sulawesi, and I told him I had been there on my way to and from Ambon.
"My mother is from Ambon!", he exclaimed. "Where in Sulawesi were you?" I said I had changed planes twice in Makassar, but spent two nights in Manado before catching an Indiana Jones-era flight to the Philippines. "I'm from Manado! Did you go diving?" I explained I hadn't enough time between flights to safely dive (you need 24 hours of normal atmosphere before you go from the depths of the sea to flying high above it -- I'd heard terrible stories). So I tried to climb Manado Tua, a volcanic island nearby. He looked at me like I said I decided to eat a live tarantula, but quickly recovered with a smile, and said, "Maybe you can go diving tomorrow in Grand Turk."
"That's what he's planning on," said Chandra. I attempted a brave face.
"You'll have fun then," he said.
"Yes..." and I looked at Chandra and the menu, wondering if my next dinner might come through a straw inside my new iron lung. "Thanks. I'm hoping so."
Chandra asked if Ambon was a nice place. I said that when I was there, it was, but soon after it had erupted in civil war. The northern half of the island was Muslim, and the southern half was Christian, and with the help of militias from western Indonesia, it had taken years for it to simmer down. In fact, the wall off Ambon, much like a scene out of Finding Nemo, was the last place I had gone diving. I had found out then that I was really too buoyant for my-then slim build, and needed to put on more weights to keep me from rising to the surface.
So dinner at the Vista Dining Room was, as usual, terrific. I had ordered a tenderloin wrapped in pastry as my entree, and Chandra had some baked stuffed seafood thing (gotta love the specificity of one who dug clams full-time). But when the meal arrived, she was given King Crab legs. When I explained the mistake to our waiter, he looked up at the kitchen, back down, apologized, left, and returned less than two minutes later with her original entree. So I ended up eating both the crab legs and the tenderloin. I'd work it off tomorrow, I thought, struggling to get back to the surface. But maybe the dive company would reject me, and then I could go on the helmet dive with Chandra.
During dinner, I realized those classes for my master mariner license I took at New England Maritime really paid off. The ship was really rocking by sunset (click on the photo to the right to watch a short clip on YouTube). The dining room at the stern, not too many decks above the water line. Chandra noted the seas weren't even that high, and I said it was because the ship was too tall. "It's rocking back and forth because the center of gravity is higher than it should be. Imagine if you were paying top dollar for one of those first class cabins. Sure, you'd have a great view and a huge room. But you'd be swaying even further from one side to another. Be glad we're in a cabin the center of the ship, relatively close to the water."
We'd been wondering about one of those repositioning cruises, where for a bargain price you go on a one-way cruise to when the ship goes from its winter cruising grounds in the Caribbean to to a summer route in the Mediterranean. "Do you think it would sink?" asked Chandra, referring to crossing the Atlantic. "No, but the rocking might be enough to make you wish it would."
The entire waitstaff inquired about what Chandra might be singing tomorrow night -- the next night of the Zuiderdam Superstars. "More Elvis?" they asked. One of them must have been working a swing-shift at the Northern Lights Disco, and caught her performance. She said she probably was going to do something different, so they'd just have to see...
When we finally hit our cabin, there was a little red light flashing next to our bed. A message. Calling down to the front desk, I received the verdict: "The dive outfit says you're good to go diving on Grand Turk. Meet them at 7:30 tomorrow morning, and bring your dive card."
Dive card. Yes, I had that. That thin piece of plastic, proving I was a licensed diver, would protect me. Embolism. Punctured eardrum. The bends. No problem -- because I have a card.
Next installment: The Shark