Fire and Ice Part 22

Tuesday 29th January – Tortola

Today our view is another island port with lush green hills overlooking us. It is dry and sunny with temperatures expected of comfortable mid 20s during the day.

I woke up realising that an annoying ache in my knee yesterday evening, had turned into an agonisingly painful knee this morning. I felt it during the night on my visits to the toilet, but I didn’t anticipate it being this bad.

Deb and I (slowly) went down to breakfast in the restaurant as our beach-break trip is not leaving the ship until 11:00.

As I got up from the table, I nearly collapsed with the pain.

Time to see the doctor again.

While Deb was cancelling our trip, I had £60 worth of prodding, and manipulation, before going away with a knee support and painkillers. The suspicion is that I have damaged the ligaments from a slip on the wet decks in St Lucia. I was told to rest, and have regular ice-packs for a few days and hopefully it will relax and let me get back to normal. If not, I will have an X-ray but that is probably not going to be necessary. I was offered a walking stick or crutch, but I will try and avoid that embarrassment.

With me virtually stuck in rest mode in the cabin, Deb went off into the town for a look around. I was left strict instructions not to do anything.

Believe me, I don’t want to do anything at the moment.

By lunchtime I was feeling no better. The first ice-pack had certainly numbed my knee, and the painkillers were making me feel rather sick. Whenever I stand up, the leg returns to ‘full throttle pain’, and I wish I had accepted the offer of a crutch.

Deb’s wander into the town was not expensive and cost no more than a $5 fridge magnet. She wasn’t overly impressed with ‘Road Town’ where we are on the island.

To make matters worse, we are parked next to a gigantic ship called Disney Fantasy with thousands of Americans seeking out bargains and burgers. The ship has non-stop Disney cartoons being played on the outdoor screen, with very loud sound. There is also a transparent flume running for about a third of the ship’s length, and it is so big that it has boats taking people sitting side by side.

…suddenly Britannia seems quite acceptable

After lunch I discovered that the pre-lunch ice-pack actually leaked cold water all over the bed. The duvet is now drying (hopefully) on the sun-drenched balcony in the hope that it will not mean Vincent the steward will have to change the bedding this evening.

On a more interesting note, our view from the balcony includes a driving instruction track. Learners have to drive around a small circle of cones where they reverse in and out of spaces in different directions. Seems a very good idea based on my ability to reverse when I passed my test over 50 years ago. There is even a more basic piece of instruction going on with one car simply driving down a straight lane, and then reversing back.

You may have gathered by now that my day was not being very dynamic. The view from the balcony plus occasional visits to somewhere to eat or drink was rather frustrating. The sun was making it a tempting warmth outside, and I couldn’t really face laying down on the loungers.

Deb eventually gave in to temptation and had an hour in the sunshine. I had an outing to deck 4 to get a set of crutches. The walking is just too much at the moment without something to support the leg.

Evening was approaching, and we did manage to go to the individual quiz and allow me a chance to try out the crutch. I had to have a pair, because that is how them come. And, I couldn’t borrow them as they are only for single use. Luckily the cost of the pair of crutches was only £12, but I cannot see how I can ever get them home.

The dinner menu wasn’t brilliant, and I went for the ‘always available’ steak. It was delicious.

Our evening entertainment was a female vocalist – no thanks – and I wasn’t sure about the theatre with my crutch anyway.

We sat in Champions for the evening, chatting and quizzing a couple of hours away. It was a pleasant way to spend time with friends.

Deb and I rounded off the evening with a glass of wine, and we were in bed by little after 10:00. I really hope I wake tomorrow without the pain of today, and can be a little more mobile again.

Aurora is now heading west across the Caribbean Sea. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we have a sea day for a change, and on Thursday we will be docking at a place called Amber Cove on the island of the Dominican Republic.

This cruise is certainly bumping up the ‘places we have been’ list.

Fire and Ice Part 21

Fire and Ice Part 21 – Antigua

Aurora was docking as our alarm clock blasted out the signal for us to get up at 6:30.

Today we were in St Johns on the island of Antigua. This island is twinned with Barbuda as a nation, and yet another of the Pointless TV Gameshow favoured answers.

After yesterday’s rather hilly St Lucia, this island is much flatter, with just one major mountain that is named after ex-president Obama for his services to black people. The mountain is around 1600 feet high, so not a major mountain really.

Within minutes of our arrival, the view from our balcony was completely ruined by the arrival of Britannia directly across the dockside from us. Apparently, some of her passengers were describing beautiful Aurora as just a little tug.

We don’t bad-mouth other ships, especially not filthy great huge monstrosities like Britannia.

At 7:55 we left for our tour, and it is something we have been really looking forward to.

We are to swim with stingrays.

At midday we were back on Aurora in time for lunch. Our trip had been absolutely amazing. There was quite a journey from the harbour across this quite small island to a beach location known as the Stingray Experience. On the way our guide gave us a wonderful overview of her island and described just how forward thinking it is in terms of its education and health services. Lets just say that its population of 100,000 have better facilities than us.

OK, so we arrived at the Stingray Experience and our visit started with a briefing about the stingrays, how to avoid hurting them, and how to hold them, and even how to feed them. We would all have a chance to get up close to them, hold them and feed them.

Wow!

Next we boarded little boats and had a high speed trip to a pontoon less than ten minutes away from the beautiful bay where we started. Some people got very wet as the driver made the most of bouncing over waves from the boat in front. I think he may have done this before.

At the pontoon we quickly realised there were stingrays swimming all around us in a roped off area where the water is just waist deep over soft sand. The rays are used to the public, and come for food as soon as they hear the boat engines. The water was crystal clear and there was no mistaking the rays swimming below us. They were about three feet across and upwards of five feet long including their tail.

Everyone immediately got into the water and we lined up to be photographed holding these gentle creatures.

Next we moved to one end of the roped area where we were given bits of calamari to be held in our fists and offered to the rays. They suck the delicacies without any fuss. We had been warned to keep our thumbs inside our fists, as the rays can suck them in as well and give what they described as a love bite.

After those two amazing thrills we swam and dived around clumps of coral to look at sensational coloured fish. There were many quite off-putting moments as the giant rays swam under us, or even quite happily brushed against us.

We had about thirty minutes of this bucket list experience before being returned to the beach. There was now time to get changed and have a couple of glasses of rum punch. They have a few cages with parrots and other birds to amuse us while we waited for our bus to return. All of the parrot type birds enjoyed nibbling the salt off of my fingers, and one beautiful white one allowed me to stroke it head as if it was a cat. It loved the attention and I mentioned it to a man standing nearby. He attempted the identical way of stroking the bird. Instead of enjoying the attention, the bird bit the man’s finger, and then started to make a sound like a laugh and fluffed up its feathers. There was a suspicion that this creature possibly made a habit of appearing to enjoy the stroking to lull an unsuspecting victim to try and make friends, and then laughing its head off after biting them.

We all laughed as well.

And of course we bought the photograph of us holding the ray, plus a keyring as a souvenir for the collection.

What a morning.

Warning to self and others – always take your cruise card out of swimming trunk pocket before going into the sea.

Back at the ship with our heads buzzing from the experience, we had a quick lunch and then explored the harbour area. It is a busy place and lots of opportunities to have a drink or buy typical brightly coloured Caribbean clothing. We didn’t find anything else to spend our dollars o.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent on the balcony listening to a very good steel band playing on the quayside below us. At least it stopped me going to sleep.

The weather here has been superb with bright hot sunshine from dawn. The island is also delightful, and the lifestyle looks rather easy going and delightful.

We had a letter while we were away today. It was to apologise for our disaster of a tour in Tobago. We will be getting a full refund. Thanks P&O for doing the correct thing without any quibbling.

It is heading for shower time now. The entertainment this evening is a comedian called Micky Zany. We have seen him before, and have made a point of avoiding seeing him before as well. Tonight, we will all avoid seeing him yet again.

We had quite a fun evening, and actually won some stickers in a game called ‘Majority Rules’ where you attempt to come up with the most popular answer to different questions.

With another tour in the morning, we had another early night, as Aurora gently made her way to the next stop at the island of Tortola.

Fire and Ice Part 20

Sunday 27th January – St Lucia

I was woken during the night as Aurora blasted her manoeuvring thrusters, but that was the only disturbance to a good sleep. Eventually we woke at just after 7:00 when our neighbours breakfast arrived.

We are docked in Castries, on the island of St Lucia, and it is raining.

Fortunately, we have no tour so after a leisurely breakfast in the Alexandra restaurant, we sat in the Crow’s Nest and checked our cabin statement while Vincent was tidying our room. The spending is very high at this moment in the cruise because of purchasing all the tours, but otherwise we are being quite careful, and living within our pension.

There is another ship in the port with us, and she is the Holland America Line ‘Koningsdam’. Quite a monster compared to the beautiful Aurora.

It is nearly 9:30 now, and the rain appears to have stopped. Before we go looking at the shops, we’ll give it a while for things to dry up.

At 10:00 the ship was having crew drills, presumably to prepare the new crew that came on in Barbados. To avoid getting involved, we went for a walk into the town.

It had started to rain again.

The small terminal was packed with passengers using the free WIFI and pretending to look in the shops while they waited, and hoped, for the rain to stop. We braved the weather with our umbrellas and fought bravely to get through the gang of taxi drivers. Annoyingly, they had congregated under the only sheltered area outside of the terminal forcing the passengers immediately into the wet.

The taxi driver lost, and we walked to the nearby covered market.

Contrary to what the insistent taxi drivers were saying, the market was open. Although only a few of the stalls were trading, we found what I had been searching for, and injected 25 US dollars into the local economy.

Job done, we returned through the crowds of taxi drivers, now asking if we had changed our minds, and wanted their assistance.

The taxi drivers lost again.

Back on the ship, we changed our soaked clothes and hung the wet ones up to dry on the balcony and in the shower.

After watching the morning end with even heavier rain, we decided our decision not to have a tour in St Lucia had been correct. Wherever we had gone, and whatever it involved, we would have got very wet.

Tonight, the main entertainment is from a male vocalist called Phillip Brown. He sat close to me in the theatre last night, and his voice certainly sounds good. He has been in various musical theatre shows, and is probably very accomplished, but I doubt if he will be seeing us in his audience.

Our lunch was a very light one. Deb had cheese and biscuits, and I had a turkey and cheese filled bread roll. Back in the cabin we then ruined it all by having a tiny bit of Caribbean chocolate. Called Charles Chocolate, it appears to be the locally produced version of the sweet treat. Let’s just say it was not the best we have tasted, but at least it hits the “I need chocolate” spot.

After lunch the rain continued on and off. In reality it was more ‘on’ than ‘off’. We sat on the balcony and looked at the misty wet view of Castries while passengers came and went below us. It was so relaxing, and actually pleasantly cool, after the extremes of heat and humidity we have experienced recently.

At one point there was some excitement when a dinging bell announced the arrival of a land train. The tour should have been a panoramic of the city plus a beach break, but I wondered if the visit to the beach would be for very long.

Deb and I read our books, and generally allowed our batteries to recharge before the next two rather busy days. Tomorrow we will be swimming with Stingrays, and the day after we have our beach break.

Following a break from the balcony to have a cup of tea (oops and a cake) the rain stopped, and the sun made an appearance. It is far too late to plan anything now, but at least our view looks a little more typical of this wonderful area of the world.

Tonight will see us return to the Medina restaurant for dinner, and we are expecting the waiter to demand an excuse for missing dinner with him yesterday. He has now become part of the holiday for us, and we have a good laugh together.

The evening was enjoyable with a good meal followed by an evening of quiz. Robin and rosemary tried to get into the show but were late and couldn’t face finding a seat while the artist was already singing. Their decision was reinforced by the singer’s first song that was not on their favourite’s list.

The six of us played trivial pursuit and had a good go at the two quizzes.

Who want to win all the time anyway!

Another early night was called, as Deb and I have to be up in time to leave the ship just after 8:00 for our tour.

Aurora is quietly making her way overnight for our next stop in Antigua.

Fire and Ice Part 19

Saturday 26th January – Tobago

This morning we woke up to find ourselves already docked in the port of Scarborough on the island of Tobago.

Our first impression of the island was that it was very pretty. It had forest covered hills in the distance, but the capital town (or city) had lots of single, and two-story houses in various pastel colours. There were one of two higher rise offices, and the occasional three-story house, but it all looked rather nice.

The temperature was in the mid 20’s and the wind appears to have calmed down completely and the water is a beautiful green-blue colour.

We have a four-hour tour today to a chocolate plantation, plus a stop at a viewing point at Fort King George overlooking Scarborough.

It is now 4:00 in the afternoon and we are back on the ship, and have had a drink and something to eat.

The tour had been a disaster!

At 10:00 we set off in a mini-bus with r driver Roger and guide called Chrysanth (after the flower). It all seemed to be good as she talked about Tobago, and its history of sugar plantations, which evolved into Chocolate plantations. We drove up into the hills, then down to pass by beautiful beaches, and then through little towns and Parishes. They are named after British people, or just nicknames of people from the island’s past.

It was a windy journey, but rather pleasant.

After an hour we climbed a narrow bumpy hillside track, and arrived at the gates of the Chocolate Plantation. They were closed and our guide rang the bell to summon assistance. Nothing happened.

One of the tour guides then went down to the plantation to see what was happening. He returned after finding it was deserted, and the tour team then got into a huddle on their mobile phones. We were told that there had been an incident, but someone was on their way to open up.

We had been standing in the blazing hot sunshine by now for 30 minutes, and shade was almost non-existent.

Chrysanth suggested we have a forest walk for 30 minutes while ‘the man’ arrived.

Now, it was an hour and a half since we left the ship, and toilets were needed. Chrysanth said that those who needed toilets would be taken down the hill to some nearby ones. So, about half of us got back in the mini-bus and went down to a waterfall tourist site, to use their toilets. Suitably refreshed, we had an informative little drive around looking at banana trees, subsidised housing, a school, and a petrol station. Then we returned up the bumpy hillside track to the plantation, as ‘the man’ was almost there.

We were standing in the sunshine for five minutes, and finally our man arrived to open the gates, and we made our way down a steep set of steps to the buildings.

Sadly, although the man had the gate keys, he didn’t have keys for the exhibition building, with the chocolate samples, and the toilets. We were offered a chance to walk around the woodland trail of the plantation.

Unfortunately, those who had opted for the forest walk instead of the toilets… were in need of those toilets.

There was a little bit of a revolt now. We realised we would simply be walking along a track and then finishing the tour without seeing any exhibition describing the process, and not getting any samples.

It was decided that those who needed toilets, or didn’t want to walk around the forest, could get on the mini-buses and go back down the bumpy steep lane to the toilets.

That was the majority of the passengers, but a handful did decide to have a walk.

Deb and I were with the majority and there was one final trip down the steep lane to the waterfall site and the toilets.

We waited there for about half an hour (still hot sunshine) and most of us took advantage of the mini-bus air conditioning while our driver tried to occupy us with details of the island.

At last the remaining passengers arrived, but they now needed the toilets, so we waited another ten minutes until everyone was ready to move on.

There was almost another hour in the mini-bus now until we arrived at the fort. Yes the views were rather spectacular, but I think virtually everyone was fed up standing or walking in the sunshine. Many were dehydrated and we just wanted to get back on Aurora.

So at just before 2:30 we had our final walk across the quayside in the blazing sun, to the ship’s gangway.

Back on-board, Deb and I unloaded our bits, drank a lot of fluid, changed out of sweaty clothes and chilled for ten minutes. Then we went to the buffet to find something to eat, and have more fluid.

So here we are back in the cabin. Exhausted and frustrated that we wasted over four hours getting hot and bothered in the sunshine. The highlight of this tour was the last 15 minutes looking down from the fort at the scene below. And that wasn’t overly exciting.

I think we will be complaining, and asking for our money back.

We can’t face a rapid session of getting ready for 6:00 dinner so we have decided to rest a while before going for a leisurely dinner in the Glasshouse.

After showing our disappointment at the tours desk (along with many others) Deb and I had a delightful meal in the Glasshouse. We were the only customers, and as well as the food and wine, the waiters took it in turn to come and chat with us. A really nice 45 minutes.

We sat at a table in Champions until the others arrived from the dining room. It was quiz time, but I took my leave and went to the theatre to get a comfortable seat, where I could stretch my legs.

The show was an American comedian and ventriloquist called Lynn Trefzger and yes that is the correct spelling.

She was very entertaining with a lot of audience participation. The act is similar to other ventriloquist shows I have seen, with very little new ideas.

After the show I met up again with Deb and the others and we took part in a challenge called ‘Scattergories’. We have doe something similar in the past, and this version was equally chaotic. There was no definite way of knowing if we had scored points for the word we had selected, and somehow it appeared to be a way for the entertainment host to personally choose the winners, and award a prize to them.

Never mind, it passed an amusing few minutes before we all decided on an early night.

We will be in the port of Castries which is the capital of St Lucia tomorrow. Robin and Rosemary are on a Dolphin seeking tour in the morning, while the other four of us are simply doing our own thing.

Our day in the beautiful island of Tobago had been a disappointment but I am sure there will be lots of more positive experiences on this cruise over the next few weeks.

Fire and Ice Part 18

Friday 25th January – Barbados

Aurora had quietly arrived and docked in the port of Barbados during the night. I was slightly aware of the thrusters being used, but not enough to wake me fully.

The clocks were put back during the night to GMT -4 so we were awake by 7:00. I got up and opened the curtains to discover Azura was parked opposite to us in the harbour. It is changeover day for them, so upwards of 3000 passengers will be flying home, and a similar number arriving. Aurora will be changing some of her entertainment hosts and probably some crew members here as well.

We have no tour booked, so rather than fight with the scrum in the buffet, we went to the Medina restaurant for breakfast. As we walked along the deck to the restaurant, we spotted another cruise ship arriving, and this was the Oceania Sirena.

After breakfast it was a leisurely moment to sort ourselves out before going ashore.

Our plans are to simply have a walk, but we will be looking for a chemist to get some paracetamol, and we also want a bottle of coke and some chocolate. There is quite a large terminal building here to look for clothes, souvenirs, and bottle of rum that we are checking out. Sadly, there was no chemist so we set off for the city centre about a mile away.

We ignored the numerous offers of a taxi ride, taxi tour, or a taxi to the cricket. England are playing the West Indies in the first test today, and are not doing very well. The locals are rather hopeful of beating the might English.

… perhaps it will rain.

Our walk was a long and hot one, and after finally finding a chemist and a supermarket, we returned to the ship with everything we were looking for, except the rum. There will be plenty of opportunities over the next couple of weeks to get that.

With Aurora rather quiet, Deb put on some washing while the laundrette had spare machines. While that churned away, we had lunch, and not much after 1:30 the washing was complete and put away.

Time to relax.

Tonight, there will be a Tropical party, and it includes a show from a UB 40 tribute band called ‘Rats in the Kitchen’. Assuming the weather is OK they will be performing around the pool.

There was a good end to the afternoon when Deb won the individual quiz, but only in a tie break. I was a dismal failure yet again.

Being the tropical party night, it was a casual dress code with the majority of people looking suitable tropical. The regular male cruisers seem to have a wide array of tropical shirts, and many of the ladies also have similar tops to make this evening special.

The dinner had a reasonable menu, and we all seem to find something good to eat. From there we did an early evening quiz, and we scored 18/20 but were still beaten.

Un-deterred by our mental agility, we went out on deck to the party.

It was an organisational disaster!

There were hardly any chairs. Around the upper deck were sun loungers, but they were all facing outwards, and tied together. We had to stand and lean on the rails, along with hundreds of other passengers, as we listened to the reggae band.

I think they were very good, but certainly were not to my taste in music, or many others of the passengers. Worse still, they thought they were playing to the same audience as their first show, and didn’t play any well known UB 40 songs until the very end.

When they finished they quickly packed up and legged it to Azura where they were presumably one of the resident bands. Azura would have a far better audience age profile to Aurora, and they probably go down a storm on there.

Rather than stay on deck without seats, we went to the Crow’s Nest for a drink…

… oops, it appeared that there was a piano recital going on

We quickly whispered that we were not welcome, and crept out.

Anderson’s was next, and all six of us had a lovely drink, and reminisced about reggae music, other music from our past, and generally things from our childhood.

Aurora set off at about 10:30 for the next port. Deb and I stood on Prom deck initially to watch sail-away with Azura still in port. There was a faint sound of reggae music coming from her.

The sea was a little lumpy, but after a long and quite tiring day, it was time to sink into our bed.

Tomorrow it will be the island of Tobago, and we have a tour there including a visit to a chocolate factory.

Fire and Ice Part 17

Thursday 24th January

Today is another sea day as we make our way north beyond the lump of South America and into the Caribbean Sea.

Oh, and yes, it is hot but perhaps not so Amazonian sticky. The wind is still blowing and the navigation channels says it was Force 6 and Force 7 during the day.

The morning consisted of me having a cycle, and Deb doing Fit Step while I failed miserably is a Sports quiz. Then it was time for a port talk on the Mexican island of Cozaumel.

Yes, I fell asleep again. What little bits I did see suggested there were a lot of things on offer, but some were on the Mexican mainland 40 minutes away by ferry, and the rest mainly involving beaches.

It was time for a cup of tea by then.

When we got back to the cabin, there was a note on the bed. Our visit to Grand Turk has been cancelled and replaced by a Dominican Republic stop at Amber Cove.

… Grand Turk was where we were going to swim with stingrays.

Deb and I had a look at the tour options and went to the tours desk to see what could be done.

The outcome was that we have cancelled a kayak tour in Antigua and booked a stingray one there instead. Then a kayak tour was booked for the Amber Cove stop. Finally we booked a tour in Cozaumel for a panoramic trip which includes a stop at a chocolate factory where we can actually help to make it.

Time for a quick lunch before Deb took the captaincy of the ladies for the final time in Battle of the Sexes. The men were the victors but only because of one challenge where each side had to name as many Beatles records as possible. The men had a Beatles freak and they outscored the ladies by 40 points. That was just impossible for the ladies to pull back.

At least is was a friendly battle compared to some I have witnessed in the past.

Deb and I had an hour in the sunshine. Sadly, the wind was blowing quite strong, and although very warm wind, it was making it uncomfortable.

By the time we gave up sun worship, it was time for afternoon tea and then thoughts were turned to having showers before the individual quiz.

It was a formal dress code evening, so the ship looked splendid with the vast majority doing their bit to maintain the P&O standards. It was also Burn’s night, and we had a parade of the haggis plus the strange poetic ode to the pudding.

After dinner Deb and I took our places in the theatre for the final show from Graffiti Classic who amused us all again. Once more they were given an enthusiastic standing ovation for a superb 45 minutes of music, singing, and laughter.

Robin and Rosemary excused themselves from the late-night quiz, so we teamed up with Richard and Angie for a drink and a sports challenge. Once again we did very well but also once again, there was a team who excelled and took the prize.

Aurora was still being bumped around by the wind but I think most passengers have gained their sea legs, and quite content to be rocked to sleep.

The captain has told us that the ship will be arriving in Barbados in the morning at 4:00 a.m. although we cannot get off until after 7:00. It appears there are some more engineers and divers who will be attempting to repair our dodgy propeller shaft.

Fire and Ice Part 16

Wednesday 23rd January

Aurora is sailing up the eastern coast of South America, and over the next couple of days we will be passing the countries of French Guiana, Suriname, and Guyana before rounding the norther end of Venezuela – and the continent – to enter the Caribbean Sea. For fans of the game show Pointless, these countries always get good scores.

This is one of the fascinations of cruising for me, when less than exciting school geography lessons are finally becoming reality, as the enormity of the world passes by my window.

While Deb was at the Fit Step class, I went for a walk around the Prom deck for the first time in many days. After our exercise we sat in the theatre listening to the Port talk on Belize. The outcome of that was a tour that will be looking at a Mayan temple.

Just after midday the ship is going to be passing close by the Salvation Islands off the coast of French Guiana. I have never knowingly heard of them before. The most important one of these three islands is ‘Devils Island’ (Isle Diable) which was an infamous French penal colony from around 1850 for a hundred years. Apparently, it is also the basis for the film ‘Papillon’.

… I don’t remember covering that island in geography or history, and I haven’t seen the film either.

The larger middle island (Royal Island) is habited and is a holiday destination for some, while the third island (St Josephs) is restricted by the French authorities, and used by their Foreign Legion as a training.

Nearby is Guyana where there is the launching site for the French Ariane Rocket that launches many satellites into space.

After a short sail-by of the islands Aurora has now pressed on the throttle and will soon be back to around 20knots to get us to Barbados on Friday.

Deb is currently at the Battle of the Sexes but will be out in time to see the islands before we have a later than normal lunch together.

There was an Indian buffet out on the decks today and is very busy giving the passengers some authentic Indian food rather than what is available in many English towns and cities. Deb and I walked by as we are not that hungry, and I prefer not to try too much spicy food. We simply had a snack.

In a few minutes we will be off to the theatre again for the next Port talk covering Costa Maya in Mexico.

Unfortunately, my cold/flu has not totally cleared up, and I find myself with a head full of gunk that has to go. This morning I attempted to speed up the process by taking an anti-histamine. Well it has certainly helped, but has made me drowsy. Hence as I sat down in the theatre for the Port talk, the darkness plus the pretty pictures quickly sent me into sleepy land.

… Now what are we going to do in Costa Mayo?

The pill will soon wear off, and I will be fine by this evening.

It is another casual night so no need for the dress shirts yet.

The entertainment tonight is the comedian Me Mellers in Carmen’s and the Headlines in the theatre with ‘My Generation’. I doubt we will ever see Mr Mellers again so that is our primary target for the evening. We like the Headliners’ show as well, but have seen it numerous times, and will certainly get another chance soon.

After the show I think we will all meet up in Champion’s for the 10:00 challenge, which is called ‘Pot Luck’ so not themed on something we know nothing about. With the serious quizzers going upstairs to the Syndicate quiz, it gives us an even chance with the other Champion’s bar teams.

Now, my shower is over, so it will soon be time for dinner.

The evening was very enjoyable. The comedy magician did not disappoint, and we were just one point short in the quiz. At least it was good fun knowing that someone different won the stickers.

Aurora is still moving around a little tonight, but I don’t think it is going to spoil my sleep.

Fire and Ice Part 15

Tuesday 22nd January

We woke to a misty morning and it a raining. We are still several hours away from leaving the Amazon. It is just 24°C and we had to paddle across the decks to breakfast. They even closed the greenhouse roof today.

The ship is full of people who don’t know what to do. The sun isn’t shining, and it is much cooler than what they have become used to. There isn’t a morning port talk either.

Fortunately, Deb does have Fit Step, and later on John Bartram is having a chat with Bob Champion in the theatre. Once that is over and the theatre is clear, the vocalists will assemble for our final rehearsal, and to sort out where we will stand on the stage. The performance will then be at 1:30 after lunch.

I had a rough moment in the rehearsal when my throat decided to send me into a coughing spasm with two songs to go. I hope I can sort that out with liquid and lozenges before the real thing.

It is now 2:30 and our performance went off very well, and there was a good audience turnout to applaud us. Oh, and my throat survived. Seven songs can now be forgotten, and we will start again after our Barbados stop.

Deb came and watched our show after her Battle of the Sexes, and said it was the best she had heard over the years.

… ahh, that was nice.

Now it is relaxation time.

Outside, it is still raining, and the wind has increased to a Force 6. We left the Amazon a little while ago, and now we are in the Atlantic and beginning to change course towards the north. Although we are now in the open sea, the water is still a muddy brown from the thousands of tonnes of soil from the Peruvian Andes that are washed down the Amazon. It has been so amazing to see just how big the river is, and how much power is has. What a week it has been.

There are now two sea days now until we reach Barbados on Friday. That is the nominal half way point in the cruise, and we will be billed for the voyage so far.

After our customary shower, and individual quiz, we dressed (casual) and had a drink in the Crow’s Nest before dinner. Up there they have a different, and more enjoyable, snack with our drinks, compared to the vegetable crisps in Anderson’s.

For my meal this evening I had the gammon steak, egg and chips. The last time this was on the menu I had it minus the gammon after the Peninsular lunch.

The entertainment this evening was a second show from four male singers (The Jack Pack) in the theatre, and the 60s and 70s party in Carmen’s. Based on the average reviews of the singers we all decided to stay in Champion’s and play Trivial Pursuits. We just managed to fit in two games, where the men finally beat the women, before it was time for the Beatle’s Challenge, and the pub was packed with fans all hoping to show off their knowledge of the iconic band.

We did very well but our knowledge was not as good as a couple of other teams.

To round off the evening it was a humiliation at the Syndicate Quiz where the guesses were just not coming good.

The wind has increased still more during the evening, and Aurora is now rocking and rolling rather noticeably. The calm waters of the Amazon had lulled us into a false sense of security, but now the ocean was reminding those of us with susceptible stomachs of what it can do. To be fair this is the first lumpiness since the first night out of Southampton. The sea has been very kind to us so far, and a bit of movement cannot be moaned about.

Earlier in the evening I suspected problems, and had prepared myself for the movement with a little white pill.

Before I dropped off to sleep, I was being rolled and jiggled around on the bed, and hoping it would soon improve.

Fire and Ice Part 14

Monday 21st January

Santarem on the Amazon River

This is our final stop in the Amazon. Santarem is a city of about 400,000 people (I think that is what the guide said) and we have a tour.

Our stop should have been a normal dockside one, but because of the delayed progress we have lost our berth and have to tender ashore.

Deb and I were camped in the theatre and waiting to be called by 8:45 but there was a busy schedule of tours and it was quite a long time before we were waved away to the tender pontoon.

When I say pontoon, I mean it, because today they have hired a massive floating one that is temporarily attached to the ship. It is large enough to allow Aurora’s lifeboats, plus three of the local double decker boats to load and offload at the same time. So, after yesterday’s rather chaotic tender experience, today was a smooth and efficient process.

After a ten minute smooth crossing to the dockside, we were quickly on our coach. Well, actually it was a typical domestic bus. We rattled and crashed our way out of the port area. The guide explained what we were going to do and described a little about her city. The tour would begin with a visit to a farm (or plantation) to visit a family run business based on agriculture.

This city is not an affluent one. Most of the buildings appear old, and few look to be in good condition. Our drive took us on city roads to begin with where small shops lined it selling virtually everything imaginable. Soon the slightly glitzy shops (sarcasm) turned to petrol stations, repair garages and warehouses with the occasional supermarket. These monster buildings were the only examples of newer buildings, except for motorbike and car salesrooms.

Away from the city the roads lost the abundance of small shops and it became patches of trees with hamlets of rough and ready houses, and more garages. There was one different view when we passed a large built up area, that consisted of small, but new, housing units. They were all identical boxes, that couldn’t have been much more than a single bedroom plus living area. They were very close together and had virtually no outdoor space. I think this summed up the poorness of the majority of the people living around this city.

Some thirty minutes of driving later, we arrived at the farm. It is a family business (large family) that have several strings to their bow. One area concentrates of growing plants that have medicinal properties where we rubbed and sniffed several leaves.

From there we went down a forest trail to a rubber tree, and were shown how the bark is cut to allow the latex to pour. Maybe once this was a major industry, but now it is just to show the visitors.

Further down the path and we came to a clearing where they take a root and convert it to flour. This is a manual process of peeling, washing, and grating of the large root, followed by drying and slightly baking it. We were given a chance to nibble the dried flour which is a little like broken rice. Then we had examples of items cooked with the course flour, and they were unusual, and quite tasty.

Next came a look at various fruit that they grow, and many were only found in the Amazonian region. Of course there was a tasting session, and some were OK while others had a strangely cheesy after taste.

The final part of this visit was a look at the Brazil nut. It starts with a brown ball the size and shape of a coconut. It is very dense and can be dropped without any chance of breaking. The demonstrator, that I thin was the head of the family, chopped it open with a machete to show the initial soft husk that is used for fuel. Then broken further it revealed a cluster of 24 nuts, that we see in the shops. They are amazing packed by nature inside this shell, and hard to imagine how so many could be in it.

We had samples to nibble on, and they were the simple nut, plus baked ones that are slightly tastier.

The visit then finished with the chance to buy the nuts, or the decorated shells, or eve a type of chocolate sweet made from the nuts.

All in all this was quite a fascinating visit to a farm that might once have been producing a product to sell and make a living, that has adapted itself into an eco-tourist site.

We were back on the bus and rattled our way back to the city. Our guide took us to a point where to see another convergence of another two rivers where the brown water refuses to mix with the clear water. I think she was surprised that we were not enthusiastic having already seen it, and sailed through it.

There was another stop now to look at the cathedral, but Deb and I spent the ten minutes looking at nearby market stalls. Nothing interested us and we took our seats on the bus again.

The final stop was a museum. It was the old city hall, and the foyer had paintings of all the mayors of the city. The guide was proud to point out the two lady mayors of the any tens of males. Another room was the old courtroom, and then there was an art gallery where the local artist was actually on site. The next room was the mayor’s parlour with plush furnishing, and air conditioning!! E volunteered to stay quite a time in that room.

Finally, we moved to the actual museum area with artefacts from the Indian population of the area. One macabre object was a large bowl that families would put all the crushed bones of their dead ancestors, and presumably put them on display on the mantlepiece.

It was time to get on the bus again for the ride back to the dockside. The three hours had been very interesting, but the heat was overbearingly uncomfortable, and I think we were all looking forward to the wonderfully cool Aurora.

On the quayside there was another small market where many people were getting rid of any remaining Brazilian Rael currency. We finally got a fridge magnet of Brazil, and Deb also bought a bag. We started with £50 worth of the currency, and came away with about £5 in the notes.

Our tender was waiting, but we had a delay in the heat while a large ferry manoeuvred itself away from the dockside. It was such a relief to get back to the ship where we simply dropped our bags and went for a cup of tea.

The afternoon was spent relaxing in the cool cabin.

Deb and I had dinner in the Glass House to take away the rush to get to the dining room. The food was fine, but we can never accept forget that the room was once the wonderful Café Bordeaux. It will never be as good as that again.

Showtime!

Tonight it was from four classical musicians called ‘Graffiti Classics’. They are sensational and play classical favourites while they dance and sing. It is funny and agile and absolutely wonderful. There was a truly deserved standing ovation at the end… and they are not very common.

After a long day, the six of us met up again and competed in a couple of quizzes to end the evening. The highlight was the syndicate quiz where we were winning until the last half dozen questions, and actually talked ourselves out of the correct answers we knew. This may have been our chance, but sadly the Glums caught us and took the bottle of wine… again.

Aurora was on her way east towards the Atlantic Ocean. Tomorrow morning she will drop off the last of the pilots that have been with us for a week, and leave this amazing, yes truly amazing, river.

Fire and Ice Part 13

Sunday 20th January – Parintins

On the banks of the Amazon, this is a city (or large town) of around 100,000 people. It is a tender port, and soon after we woke at 7:30 the anchors were dropped into the muddy Amazonian waters.

Deb and I treated ourselves to breakfast in the Medina restaurant this morning. The special was Salmon and Scrambled eggs that Deb enjoyed. I went for bacon, egg and hash brown to spoil myself.

Our plan this morning was to catch a tender to the town and have a walk.

It was not to be.

The river has a constant flow of debris such as trees and other vegetation, and those in charge of the tenders were not willing to risk them in these potentially damaging conditions. The ship organised some of the local boatmen to come out with the double and triple decker boats to ferry the passengers back and forth. Sadly the river current, and the debris still made I difficult to load passengers and it was a very slow process.

We quickly gave up any idea of going ashore. It was taking about 30 minutes to load one boat with about 100 passengers on each one.

While watching the tendering process from the Prom deck, there was considerable chatter from people suggesting there were dolphins nearby. Sceptical, but hopeful, I joined the tens of others staring at the log infested river, and yes there it was. Not just a dolphin, but one of the pink or white dolphins that only live in the amazon. Unlike its grey cousins it was not leaping and diving. Just simply swimming and occasionally coming up to breath.

I feel rather smug that at last I have seen one of these very rare creatures.

After lunch we camped in the cabin. It was too hot to be outside, and the air conditioning is oh so nice.

Afternoon tea came and went, and while I was updating my diary. Deb said there were more dolphins swimming just down from our balcony. Responding that I had already seen one, I ignored her. She then said there were two of them….

… I got off the bed to take a look

… they never appeared again

As our afternoon on the Amazon began to turn into evening, we had our showers and attempted an individual quiz. Not our finest day. Then it was time to change for dinner.

The food was OK but the best part of the meal (in my view) was the Turkish delight chocolates. We expressed our delight and as the six of us left the table, our waiter wrapped up some more of the chocolates and handed them to me.

From dinner we went to the theatre to watch a comedy magician called Mel Mellers. None of us had seen him before so it was a pleasant change. He performed a few simple tricks, but his act was mainly about the chatter with the audience as the tricks progressed. The overall feeling was that he was a fresh act and well worth seeing. He may well get our return for the second show he puts on.

The clocks go forward tonight and that means an early rise for us all who are going on tours. Deb and I rounded off the evening with a glass of wine in Anderson’s before a quick read in bed.

Tomorrow we will be in the port of Santarem and Aurora will be well on her way back to the Atlantic Ocean again.

We have a tour to look at a couple of landmarks plus a visit to an Indian farm where they make flour from a root and have rubber trees.

And as a final thought on the Amazon for now….

… it is flipping hot here!!