Aukland, New Zealand
Florida South Beach Miami
The favourite resort for newlyweds and nearly deads.Miles of silky sandy beaches, ice-cream coloured Art Deco buildings, thankfully undergoing restoration, and the weirdest people (so far).
We'd booked to stay in a little 'boutique' hotel just a road back from the beach. The foyer had the classic Salvador Dali sofa of a giant pair of red lips, and lots of pink marabou trims on the lampshades. It was a little bit gay and full of friendly people keen to help you spend your money.
Top sighting on South beach where the locals come to play and pose was a beautiful Rolls Royce slowly cruising along by the beach, driven by a Jack Russel accompanied by his brother taking the air out of the window as dogs do.Their human had come along for the ride and as he's such a good master he'd thoughtfully given all three of them matching lime green sunglasses so that the sun wouldn't make them squint and give them wrinkles.Can dogs have botox?
Going for an airboat ride in the Everglades was a must do.Managed to resist the temptation of a quick snack before the ride . The alligator tail sausage would have to wait for later.The Everglades were full of wildlife, almost too perfect.We were beginning to wonder if they'd been stuffed and lined up.Everglades Disney style. Egrets, herons, turtles sunning themselves and plenty of alligators, plus our first sighting of Elderly American's ladies who've 'had a little work done'. Had my picture taken cosying up to the locals.Ugly brutes and didn't have much conversation.(see pic).
So we left Miami and took a ride to Fort Lauderdale and after passing the Immigration exam we were allowed to board the ship. It's very small and intimate by cruise standards and beautifully furnished.Our cabin has everything we need and as long as you don't drop the soap there's enough room in the shower. We're learning to be very tidy. The steward, Victor, brings tea whenever we want it, plays hide and seek with the coat hangers and Tony swears he's drinking his beer.
First port, Grand Cayman in the Caribbean.Tony did a dive and I didn't.Thought I'd go snorkelling and swim with the stingrays.It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Our driver Ronald drove us to the boat and as he didn't have a cd player, sang some uplifting hymns for us, accompanying himself on the harmonica and keeping the bus on the road most of the time.10 out of 10.
We moored by the reef and I jumped in and went snorkellng. The coral reef was full of fish, sorry but I've no idea what they were apart from some stingrays that wandered over from nearby Stingray City.The fisherman used the sandbar to clean their catch and the Stingray became used to being fed.Some enterprising person saw the tourist opportunity and now you can swim amongst them for a few squid.Tony had told me they were like puppy dogs but don't believe everything you hear.They're massive and there are lots of them, all keen to get to the squid before the others do.They haven't heard of table manners. The guys from the dive boat think it's very entertaining to get you to kiss them.Yes I've kissed a fish.Once wasn't enough, they made me do it twice. This event was captured on video but they edited out the screams.
Next stop was one of the San Blas islands, just before we entered the Panama Canal.I'd heard some people say it was dreadful and they didn't know why the ship was stopping there.Again, don't believe everything people tell you.I was expecting a scruffy town and couldn't have been more wrong.
The islands are just above sea level and about a mile off the coast.They're populated by Indians, tiny tiny people on tiny tiny islands.Some have tv and running water (one tap) in their houses and there's the odd mobile phone, but they still resist the modern world.They travel between the islands in dugout canoes or, the odd outboard.It takes an hour to the mainland by canoe and ten minutes by motor.The main work for the men is farming on the mainland and fishing, and the women spend their time sewing by hand really colourful appliquéd hangings for the tourists to buy.When a ship comes in the islanders congregate on the main island to set up their stalls.The mud and bamboo huts are only a couple of yards apart and the little alleyways are lined with t-shirts and appliqués.They wheel out the old grannies who sit with a mincer and if you give them a dollar they'll crank it round and let you take their picture.Mothers sit with their little babies and smaller children and again it's a dollar for a picture.They're very competitive and creative and you'll see boys with a parrot on their head, or a hat made from feathers, anything to make them stand out from the rest.I'm not sure about the ethics of all this but the dollars make a difference and give the women some independence.Good thing or bad thing?I'm not wise enough to pass judgement on that one. Most of the adults wear traditional clothing and rows and rows of beads around their necks and ankles but the teenagers wear t-shirts.If the sea rises a few feet this place and ancient way of life will disappear.
We transited the Panama Canal on our way to Manta.The canal is very scenic and not what I expected as a good part of it isn't a canal at all, it's a lake.The locks are pretty cool but not really my thing so not much to say about that.
Manta is really just a place to stop at to go somewhere else.If I'm honest, it's a bit of a toilet.The museum was cool, literally, lovely airconditioning and we went to a market and bought a Panama hat each, but the town was mainly concrete, traffic pollution and not very old.Our main mission here was to find a cheap guitar for me to keep me going.We took a bus tour around the town and spotted a guitar in a shop window so decided to walk back there and take a look.The shop door was locked but the owner and his wife were inside.All negotiations were done through a little hatch, with the guitars being passed backwards and forwards to us standing on the street. I went away with a very basic beginners but it was only $60so couldn't grumble.
We wandered through the local street market, and despite our ship being in port, we were the only westerners to be seen, most of our fellow passengers preferring the sanitised western style shopping mall. Have to be honest, I thought that Tony was about to be mugged for his camera every 2 minutes but we escaped without mishap and saw how to buy chickens the real way.The owner stands over them with a leaf fan wafting away the flies. I was expecting Lima to be similar but I'm beginning to learn not to have expectations as they're usually wrong.
We tooka tour to see the Pachacamac ruins and en route drove through the city.Much wealthier than Manta and far less polluted.The houses all had metal gates and walls with barbed and electrified wire on top.The cars were parked inside the walls.We were told this was because of the political situation around 20 years ago, when no cars were being imported and if you didn't lock your car away, people would steal the parts they needed to keep theirs going.We're not so sure this was the truth as some systems looked pretty new and shiny.We drove along the coast and saw the shanty towns where 2 million people live.Homemade shelters all built on top of each other.Some of them have been there so long that the government have installed electricity and water.The most amazing were the shanty towns by the coast clinging to the side of enormous sand dunes about 300 feet high.They regularly slide down, the sides but they just build them back up again.
The ruins were Inca, extensive and still being excavated.We saw a couple of local dogs that are hairless apart from a tuft on their heads.They're bred like this but one of them was a bit ginger and should have used sunscreen.Never seen a dog with freckles before.
The museum had amazing old pottery styled on figures and heads.Some of the heads were clearly African and Caucasian, and predate Columbus so makes you think.Worth a visit and Peru's definitely on our list of places to go back to.
Easter Island was next after 4 days at sea but there's plenty to do as always, or nothing if you prefer.It's a crazy place, in the middle of nowhere and thousands of miles from anywhere, with amazing statues all over the place.All the statues are of men and the best way to describe them is giant willies with faces, cocking a snook at the rest of the world. Ha ha.It has an airport and there are more horses than people, some of them on the runway. We saw the island where the birdman ceremony took place, the first extreme sport, climbing 2 hundred feet down a cliff, swimming a mile across the currents to an island, climbing to the top of another cliff and, waiting for the first frigate's egg, stealingit, back down the cliff then another mile swim then shinning up the cliff again.The winner was made King for a year, saved the natives from killing each other and jolly good entertainment for the rest of the islanders.
Four more days at sea with a pitstop at Pitcairn.Most of the islanders came on board the ship as we couldn't get off and we could talk to them and ask questions.They were strangely silent about the recent scandal of ritualised raping but the perpetrators are now in prison. I have a carved polished stingray made by Randy Christian who I think was one of them.Yeuch.
Papeete in Tahiti after 2 more days at sea.A tropical island paradise and our first traffic jam since Maidstone.Papeete is a busy town but quite small and easy to get out of.The island is volcanic and incredibly lush and verdant.We swam in a pool in a river with a local family who were having a picnic there.Not next to the river, but sitting in it.Very hot and humid but the local beer was cold and good.Good surfing beaches too Will.
Only one day at sea this time then Raratonga in the Cook Islands.English speaking and drive on the left side of the road.Another tropical island paradise.I spent the day in the lagoon, snorkelling and swimming and eating fresh barbecued fish and tropical fruit.Tony went diving and had a good day.In the evening after we set sail there was a tropical island party on the sun deck under the stars.A perfect day. Bliss.Another place to go back to.The islanders have quite a sense of humour and so relaxed.
Five more days at sea, or was it four?Hard to tell as we crossed the International Date line and lost the 7th of February.
I'm writing this as we're about to reach Aukland around 8 hours later than expected.We were held up because of bad weather, a cyclone in the Pacific and the Captain took us around it instead of through it.We had a jolly time rolling and pitching for at least two days.The swimming pool was emptied after it emptied itself over some people who were sitting around it and someone on the deck 6 below us found a fish on their balcony. We haven't suffered any seasickness though and carried on eating as usual.
I'm very excited as the guest lecturer arriving in Aukland is someone I fell in love with when I was at a very impressionable age and saw him in Far from the Madding Crown playing Sergeant Troy opposite Julie Christie.....Terence Stamp!!!!I've tried bribery and feminine wiles but haven't managed to wangle having dinner with him.Blast. Tony doesn't know who he is. So instead of a full day and evening in New Zealand , we'll only have late afternoon and the evening.Time enough I hope to find an internet cafe and say hello to everyone.We can use the internet on the ship but it's quite slow and very expensive so we're keeping it down as much as possible.The satellite cover in the Pacific isn't that great either as no point really.