Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Between The Rock and a Hard Place

Monday, March 23, 2009

Yesterday, while we were doing the laundry, we struck up a conversation with the other inmates. As is the custom, we swapped “Where are you from” questions and discovered that they were from Butler, Pennsylvania. When I told them where Susie lived, on Wallula, they knew exactly where it was, the name of the nearby hospital, etc. We actually had trouble escaping once they started talking. For better or worse, they did not know any of the relatives; if they had, we would probably still be in the laundry room.

Today, we are in Lanzarotte, another of the Canary Islands. We were here in 2001 and had a great time touring the island. [Flashback….] We went with then-new friends Richard and Rosie to find a cab driver who spoke better English than we did Spanish. When we found one, we all piled in and asked him to show us the sights, which he did. Lanzarotte is basically a volcanic cinder sitting in the Atlantic. The dirt is degraded lava, turned to soil by wind and rain. Yet there is a grape and wine industry here: the grape shoots are planted in the dark lava in holes dug asymmetrically so that there is a high side. This high side protects the plants from the prevailing wind. After visiting a vineyard, we went to a winery for samples. Whee! Free drinks!

The major tourist attraction has to be Timanfiya Park, a lunar landscape comprised of hardened lava flows. The taxi driver took us to the top of the park where we had to board special buses for a drive through the twisting mountain side. The views were eerie. Once back at the top, we witnessed several demonstrations designed to illustrate the heat still being generated by the currently-dormant volcano. A guide threw straw into a small opening in the soil and the straw burst into flame. When water was poured in, it turned to steam in an instant. Finally, the restaurant at the top of the park uses the heat from the volcano to cook food; we saw the grates, loaded with chicken and beef, which had been placed over an opening in the ground. We got close enough that we could feel the heat, too.

The last stop that we remember was a museum which had been created in a very modern house. The building was interesting, but the most fascinating part came outside. There was a grotto there which was home to tiny white crabs which were completely blind. The [pre-digital] pictures we took then did not do the crabs justice.

Well, because we had seen so much last time, we didn’t want to ruin the memories, so after breakfast, we took HAL’s shuttle into town and wandered around. On the way, we passed an Ikea store. We thought about asking if they delivered but decided not to press our luck. We were so busy last time we were here that we never really saw the town. We didn’t miss much. The shuttle bus left us off near the center of town and it was an easy 10 minute walk to the pedestrian shopping area. It reminded us of Calle Florida in Buenos Aries but much smaller. This was only 3 or 4 blocks of retail stores whereas Florida reportedly stretched for a mile, maybe more. Another difference was that there were no McDonald’s or Starbucks to be seen. [We met our good friends Don and Beryl in the Mickey’s on Calle Florida in 2004.]

We watched people since this was a real shopping “center” rather than a tourist trap and went shopping in the local grocery store. Many, but not all, of the brands on the shelves were the same as in the US, and the products were basically the same. Large displays of snack foods, crackers and yogurt, for example, looked strikingly familiar even when we couldn’t read the ingredients or descriptions. There were full display cases of fresh fish, meat and sausages; one case held only varieties of chorizo, the Spanish sausage. Another case held more traditional cold cuts. We bought two packages of Kellogg’s snack bars as a hedge against late delivery of room-service breakfast on tour days. We may do a bit more shopping in Gibraltar where the signs should be in English.

On the way back, D crossed the main road to take pictures of an old fort [which might find their way into this journal when we get home] while MA sat and waited for him. He was surprised to hear his name called but returned the greeting from Dylan, the casino manager. The other HAL staffers who were with Dylan all called D by name, sort of like everyone shouting “Norm!” when George Wendt appeared at the bar in Cheers. He returned their greetings, thinking that this was one of the benefits of a small ship and a Grand Cruise, not to mention an empty casino.

Still, the staffers are all learning our names. We are used to bar waiters learning them early in the cruise, but they, the dining room wait staff and even the dining room captains call us by name. Yesterday, the dining room captain saw us on our way to the Lido for breakfast and asked where we had been because we hadn’t eaten in the dining room in several days [we had been getting up too late to get to the dining room before it closed]. Today we made a point of having breakfast in the dining room. The Cruise Staff also know our names, but that may be because we have attracted their attention with foolishness during trivia. Nonetheless, it adds to the enjoyment and makes this cruise both different and special.

Speaking of trivia, we were bridesmaids again today. Scott has agreed to change the team name to Bridesmaids from his choice, No Guts, No Glory, which really has no pizzazz. Of course, we still like HAL 9000 but Scott controls the pencil [Are you with us Roxanne and Ed?]

Tonight there was a barbecue on the Lido but we skipped it in favor of the dining room [vegetable strudel & chicken Marsala]. Afterwards, the evening’s entertainment was a local folkloric show. There were about fifteen dancers and an equal number of guitar players and singers. The musicians were all male, but the dancers were both male and female. The performers, Agrupacion Folklorica Los Campesinos, were all dressed in traditional Lanzarotte costumes. The men had blue trousers, white pullover broadcloth shirts, black bandanas at their throats and black pork pie hats. The women had colorful full skirts, contrasting 2-pocket patterned shirts, aprons and scarves tied over their heads so that only a triangle of face showed. The performers were not young; we estimated their average age to be in the forties with a few exceptions in either direction.

The dances seemed mostly to be harvest or agriculturally-oriented. In one dance, two large woven baskets were used as the people held them up and then danced around them sort of like a dance around a Maypole. In another, the men held wooden farm implements. It reminded us of Succot, the harvest holiday. The remaining dances were more formal; these brought pictures of dancing at the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, at least as presented in the movies –very formal, very stylized and very serious. We thoroughly enjoyed the entire performance. Thom says there will be other local entertainment as we progress hither and yon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

For a sea day, today was just action-packed. We were up earlier than expected when the room service tray showed up at 6:55 this morning. What were we thinking? D dressed and went in search of information about today’s Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure, a HAL staple now. When he finally found the group assembling on the back of Deck 7, he asked Thom about making a contribution without actually walking. Thom said D should go to the Front Desk and the staff there would complete the paperwork, adding a $15 charge to our account. This is probably the best purchase we will make on the trip. Thom added, though, that D should stick around for the ribbon-cutting and picture, so there D is in the exact center of the picture even though he didn’t walk more than 50 yards of a 14 lap walk on the deck.

By the time he returned to the cabin, it was time to go to the Crow’s Nest for our second Cruise Critic meeting. Of course, we were the first ones there; we have, somehow, become the public face of CC and no one else has shown any interest in doing any organizing. Twenty-five of the twenty-nine who came two weeks ago came back for more. D started the meeting by saying, “Hi, I’m D and I’m a Cruise Critic addict. It’s been 14 days since I last signed in.” Most people understood and responded, “Hi, D!” D made a few announcements including extending greetings to Jerry [Grumpy1] from Roxanne [Arzz] who is following both his and our blogs. He also related this morning’s picture incident and the one yesterday when the entire casino staff called to him in Lanzarotte.

Scott started the joke-telling, encouraged by MA, and then others just jumped in. Around 10:30, Marvin [worldroamer] made a brief presentation about Medicare. Most people stayed until 11:00, even the Canadians who just wanted to feel superior. We still have not had an officer appear to greet us [other than the Beverage Manager, Roger], so D is going to send a note to Capt.
Gunderson inviting him to our next meeting in April.

We hurried to trivia for the 11:30 start. Scott did, indeed, rename us as the Bridesmaids today and, in an irony of massive proportion, we were the winners. Mugs! We finally got the hallowed “P” mug to bring our collection up to date. No more key chains for us; we have seen the light. [What weapon was Tirpitz responsible for developing in the early 1940s?]

After chatting with Scott and Karen for a while, we took the mugs to the room and then went to lunch. MA had a 2:00 nail appointment and D had a 2:00 meeting with Bill [sk8teacher] to go over the itinerary and the cost; they discovered that D thought Bill and Sharon had agreed to a tour out of Lisbon and Bill didn’t remember it. Bill had made other arrangements for that day. They got the finances cleared and D went to audition for the blackjack tournament.

The casino in the Prinsendam is small and the crowds, non-existent. Although D had the lowest score on the qualifying list, he still made the finals because only seven people tried for the seven seats in the final. Once again, he didn’t win, but he was essentially the last eliminated – that is, he made it to the final hand and then lost big time. Still, there is another deck of second-hand playing cards in the room now in case we want to play double solitaire.

Tonight was formal night again [the third so far], so we were duded up for dinner [couscous and veggies/grilled shrimp. The performers tonight were a repeat of an act we didn’t see the first time they appeared, so we went to the cabin and read before going to sleep.

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