Archive for December, 2006

12/19/06 – Zippety Do Dah

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

The canopy tour was fun though it was raining. We assembled in the Stardust Lounge, those of us going on tours today. Eventually the Canopy Tour was called. Bus 7 carried 36 of us with a guide about an hour and a half to the very lower slopes of Osorno volcano in a Chilean National Park.
We were divided into two groups based on who got out the bathroom fastest. The first 18 of us got in climbing harnesses and helmets. We also got hand attachments that shouldn’t be called gloves. They were thick leather, doubled beneath the first knuckle, and used for breaking. We got a quick demonstration, then we were off in a brightly painted vehicle that looked like it could have been used to transit under-funded jungle insurgents. We headed up a steep, muddy track, only to have the vehicle stall, then start billowing steam out of the front. This seemed routine to the crew, who made some fixing gestures, then began to drive the vehicle again, only to have it repeatedly stall after 5 feet. We finally got out and walked, not very far, to a gateway leading to the suspension bridge to the first platform.
Each person had a pulley that was placed over the thick metal cable. Through holes in the pulley assembly below the cable the guides attached the redundant body harness connectors, usually positioning the carabineers in opposition. With the not-glove in my right hand and my left hand grasping the webbing connecting my harness (and thereby me) to the pulley (and thereby the cable), I placed my right hand behind my head grasping the metal cable above it.
With clearance from the guide, I began my first slide into the dripping air. I approached the green padding at the landing of the next platform quickly. To slow down, I used my right hand to pull down on the cable. Since the cable was wet, and the not-glove quickly wet, I didn’t have a lot of friction. To increase my breaking, I moved my left hand on top of my right hand to pull down. The final breaking happened as I used the spring of my legs on the padding of the platform.

Repeat for 10 more platforms, two spans over sizable chasms, and the last one bringing us to ground level. I practiced letting my left hand fly free after I saw a guide do it. It looked cool, and I wanted to look cool.

Taking a short walk back to where the bus let us off, we passed off the gear to the second half of our group. The bus then took us a short distance to the lunch place, leaving us to pick up the second group when they finished. The second group was to have lunch when they arrived, but we were late for the boat, so they had no substance.

It was a great way to meet people and develop relationships. We all had shared experiences, and watched each other through the time together. People wearing cotton were particularly cold, although we all agreed that time in the boat, uh ship’s hot tubs would be in order upon return.

My mother wanted me to be excited about the zip lines, but I just wasn’t. It was not hard, dangerous, or more than just slightly thrilling. Over the course of two conversations, I was able to articulate what I had experienced on the CDT, which was hard, dangerous, and often thrilling, all followed with sleeping on the ground, perhaps damp. The zip line excursion ended with some hot tub warming, and I’ll sleep in a warm, dry, comfortable bed. No stress.

Back on the boat, I learned that my on-board finances were still a mess. After a lovely dinner at the Pasta Café (with a modified menu for me), I sorted it out, hopefully for the last time, with an additional call to Wells Fargo where they could talk to the front desk. Ug.

On the excursion, I met Neil, who is a Dance Host. He barters his place on the boat, uh ship with being a dance partner for the single women on board. His specialty is ballroom. Oh, and he is the founder of ZipCar.

My mother fell on the pier, and has a banged up knee.

Tomorrow: Patagonian Nature in-depth excursion at Puerto Chabachuco and the singles mingle that my mother and I have signed up for.

12/18/2006 – Second Day?

Monday, December 18th, 2006

It’s hard to believe it’s only the second day of the cruise. Awoke to a note on the door about my on-board account. What it took two visits to the front desk, 5 hours apart, and two calls to Wells Fargo, 2 hours apart, is that my ATM card has a $650 per day limit on expenses. It’s hard to believe that I have never spent $650 on one day on my ATM card, but I guess this proves it.
I guess you are wondering about me spending $650 on my first day. Even though I booked the shore excursions a good while back, they didn’t hit my account until the first day of the cruise, exposing the limit.
Since this cruise is new for me, I may do some dumb things, or make assumptions that don’t make sense on a boat, uh ship. I also suspect people who read my journal (all two of them???) have never been on a cruise, so I’ll try to describe it.

But first let me say that my mom takes a long time to go to the bathroom. What is she doing in there?

There’s always more than one can do on a cruise in a given day.

I feel like Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) is trying to rip me off around every corner. Here’s one example: I had decided to spend $200 on a package at the Fitness Center with unlimited Yoga, Pilates, and fit ball classes, an hour with a trainer, a body analysis (fat, metabolism, etc), and two small seminars with nutrition and other info. Even though I spend a lot keeping my body in good working order (chiropractic, massage, & eating organic), I was hesitant to spend this $200 because I doubted the quality.
Then I decided what the hell.
When they wrote me up, they had included a 15% surcharge. “Because everything here includes a surcharge” said the lady with a questionable high-contrast hair pointing to a brochure for something else, not what they’d been showing me. That’s an extra $30. I would have been happy to consider a package that was $230, but sell it as a $200 package then tack on more, and I say fuck you for trying to rip me off.

The Norwegian Crown has many restaurants on board: three reservation-only specialty restaurants, a place that is a cafeteria (no matter how else they try to frame it), a formal, huge, first come-first served place, and a few other places to get snacks and junk. There are just as many bars too.

One of my goals on this cruise is to try to eat well amidst the horrors of institutionalized American food. Through vague answers, and referrals to other people, I have, I think, the best system. I tried to work this out before the cruise by writing NCL, but didn’t even get a reply.
Eating on this cruise for me involves being 24 hours ahead. I review the next day’s menu with a Maitre’d or manager at any given eating location, and I ask questions. They traipse back to the kitchen, talk with the chef, and come back with vague answers. I ask more questions, and they say things like, “Well, that shouldn’t have sugar in it.” To which I reply, “Well, to me a Bouillabaisse broth should not have sugar, but there’s a good chance that it does. I won’t order it unless I’m certain.”

Each time I’ve been this militant about it, they return with labels confirming what I’ve told them. What I have ended up with so far is awful food. They use the sugar, diary, and even wheat to make poor quality food taste better.

Even on the second day of the cruise, this 24-hour in advance system has failed because they made menu changes. I spent half an hour getting a duck with yam and rice cake dinner together 24-hours in advance only to be presented with a revised menu and an explanation that the duck is no longer on the menu. So instead of preparing a good meal ahead of time, we had a slow dinner as they put it together. And gawd was it awful. I think they took the lobster from the freezer to the microwave to my plate. The same with the vegetables. They discovered as they were making the yam-rice cakes that the packaged yams already had sugar in them, so they presented me with white ovals denser than torte and with the texture of drying Play-Dough. I ate one to be polite. Hours later the rock in my stomach still lingers. They are trying. My experience is that people who like to cook won’t usually put out food this bad.

I guess I’d heard that cruises had great food. I guess great doesn’t include fresh. I could go on about the service too, but I won’t. It’s just funny that they try to be service oriented, but it’s really just having the appearance of service oriented.

I’m just doing my best. I’m not having fits or being rude. I know it’s a tough battle to want to eat well in a place like this, but I have the time to see how far I can get.

Tomorrow is Puerto Montt, where I’ll do a Canopy Tour through the temperate forests on a volcano. I’m looking forward to three things: the fun itself, meeting the people on the ship who choose to have that kind of fun, and seeing the forest from a unique vantage.

12/17/06-Board and Chug

Sunday, December 17th, 2006

As people were boarding the four busses to drive from the Sheraton to the port, someone was tuning the piano in the main lobby. The stone of the lobby & the energy of check out combined with the discord of the piano tuning to produce an unpleasant intensity worth of a David Lynch scene.
The 110-mile drive from Chile’s capital Santiago to Valparaiso on the coast went quickly. We stopped at a roadside stand where I had an awful savory empanada. We are really doing the tourist thing.

I’d thought we’d have half a day in Valparaiso, my almost-home in 1970, but there were forms to fill out, lines to stand in, and worries about when our luggage might show up.

It’s really funny that older people take cruises. We’ve been on the open sea and encountering some waves. Even with such a large ship, we are moving a lot. So older folks who are tottering anyway (but not enough to be in wheel chairs) are having more trouble. The ship moves in a big way, and the inside places often don’t provide visual clues, like the horizon, that might help keep level. So the halls are filled with grasping, tilting elders.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the age range of guests on this tour. When I was imagining myself on this cruise, I thought I would be the youngest person on the ship. Luckily, that’s not the case. There’s a full spectrum of ages and nationalities on the ship, from newborns to lively ancient spirits.
What’s weird for me is that although I am in my mid-40s most people in their mid 40s are much older that I am. However, people in their 30’s are interested in different things than I am.

Tomorrow, there’s a Friends of Dorothy meeting, so we’ll see what that brings. Then there’s the singles mingle and dinner later this week.

12/16/06 – At Least *We* Are Here

Saturday, December 16th, 2006

I lost the original journal entry for this day. In summary, our luggage did not make it.

12/15/06-American Airlines: Run for your supper…

Friday, December 15th, 2006

…Or else sleep at Dallas/Ft. Worth airport.

We were still in the US when I first got called (indirectly) a fat American.

I was crabby when we rushed into the full, waiting plane. Our seats were full with other travelers. We had no room for our bags. Everyone was glaring at us, as if it was our fault that our plane from SF was delayed.. The bin above my head had two small laptop bags. So I rearranged them and put my bag in. The woman who I would be sitting next to for the next 9 hours didn’t like that. So now two tiny laptop bags are taking a whole, large overhead bin, and my day pack is somewhere else. My mother is two rows back.

While I was still pissy I plotted my revenge. Since I’m in the middle seat, my way out will always be on her side.
I did it once, she was pleasant, and I got some calories in me, so now all is right in the world.
The other woman, the woman to my right offered to switch seats with my mother as long as she was on an aisle, which she was.

OK, since I’m posting this online, I have to tell you who my mother is. Well, I can’t tell you everything, because I’m posting this online. Not that she reads my blog.
Miki Brennan is in her mid to late-60s. She was a redhead when I was a child, but as an adult, I’ve watched the silver creep in. As I look over at her now as she’s reading her ever-present spy novel, I see a strawberry blond, the mix of red and grey. She’s a semi-retired real estate broker. She has a tiny dog who loves her unconditionally, and who she loves like a child.

A Little Name Calling, I Guess

Friday, December 8th, 2006

WTF?

Dennis Prager, a conservative talk radio host in Los Angeles, wrote on http://TownHall.com:

The American Family Association in Tupelo, Miss….sent out an “action alert” to its 3.4 million members urging them to write their legislators “to pass a law making the Bible the book used in the swearing-in ceremony of Representatives and Senators.”

Swearing in officeholders on Islam’s holy book “represents a change in our society, our culture, if we hold up the Koran as equivalent to the Holy Bible,” said association president Tim Wildmon. “If calling the Bible superior to the Koran in American tradition and culture is intolerant, then I’m guilty.”
Washington Post

If you are not for the founding values of our nation, how can you be a conservative? I think religious intolerance is, well, treason. You want constitutional change? Start your own fucking country.

God and Mammy

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

I call this God and Mammy, but really it’s just the voices inside my head on a so-so day.


I was sitting at, uh, home?, and this black woman was in front of me and a pair of pewter men were behind me. They represented the bouncing ball of idealism and reality.