SEA OF CORTEZ CRUISE
January 30 - February 9, 2003
In our early married years we both read a book by John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez. This was Steinbeckís nonfiction account of a marine collecting expedition in the Gulf of California with his good friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts. It was March, 1940, when Ed Ricketts and Steinbeck sailed far up into the Gulf of California on the boat Western Flyer. Dr. Ed Ricketts later appeared as the character, "Doc" in Steinbeckís popular novel, Cannery Row, published in 1945.
Steinbeckís description of this inland sea dividing the Mexican mainland and the thousand-mile peninsula known as Baja California, caught our imaginations. "Baja" as it has come to be known, was then an almost-unknown land, only accessible by boat and small plane. Gradually a rough jeep track developed the length of the mountainous peninsula but only the hardiest souls were willing to take the punishment to body and automobile that the "road" meted out.
In the 1970ís Mexico undertook to build a paved highway from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas at the very southern tip of the peninsula. As our interest in the desert and its flora grew, Glenn and I sometimes discussed the idea of driving down into Baja, but tales of the long deserted stretches and the occasional highway robbers that turistas might encounter always dampened our enthusiasm. Baja pretty much faded away as far as our travel goals were concerned.
Then, two years ago, Salem friends came back from a Holland America cruise which took them about halfway up the Sea of Cortez. With many cruises behind them, they said this was an especially interesting itinerary and recommended it to us. Other trips took precedence, but finally, in the fall of 2002, we found ourselves looking for a trip that would be carefree, yet would allow us to see some places "off the beaten cruise path." Suddenly, the Holland America cruise to the Mexican Riviera and the Sea of Cortez sounded very appealing.
HALís "Sea of Cortez/Mexican Riviera" cruise sails from San Diego, down the length of Baja California, then across to the Mexican Riviera port of Puerto Vallarta. From there, another stop is made at Mazatlan on the mainland, then the remainder of the voyage is within the Sea of Cortez, sailing north to La Paz, and even deeper into the Gulf to visit the small mining town of Santa Rosalia with its French heritage and the delightful Loreto, all that a Mexican town should be. The final port is computer-created Cabo San Lucas. Like Cancun on the Yucatan peninsula, the Mexican government selected this obscure site in the 1970ís because of its potential for attracting sun-lovers and fisherman from the cold northern climes--and it worked, boy, did it work!
The cruise line only sails this itinerary three times a year--in January, and again in October and November. We settled on the January, 2003 sailing on the ms Statendam and the rest follows.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Since our flight to San Diego was to leave at 7:45 a.m. on Thursday morning, and Southwest Air said we had to check in an hour prior, we decided to give ourselves the chance for a better nightís sleep by going in to the airport this afternoon and stay at a nearby hotel. The HUT shuttle got us to PDX at 5 p.m. on a rainy, dreary afternoon. A call to the Comfort Suites motel brought their van over to PDX to pick us up.
Our motel room lived up to the "comfort" in the name of the establishment--very spacious, with sitting area, king bed, microwave, refrigerator and coffee maker. All and more than we needed for the evening. Glenn made a short walk around the corner, returning triumphantly with a huge can of Fosterís Australian beer and caramel corn from the nearby Plaid Pantry. He also spotted the Golden Arches just beyond, so after our attitudes were properly adjusted, we slogged over in the rain for takeout burgers to be enjoyed back in our room.
The cruise line had some homework for us to do before we would be allowed on the ship--lengthy questionnaires required by US Immigration Service. So, we dutifully filled these out, attached the bright orange "STATENDAM" tags to our luggage, had a farewell phone chat with Karen, Mark and Betty, and it was time to head for bed as we had requested a 5:15 a.m. wake-up call.
Thursday, January 30
The Comfort Suites was well adapted to travelers heading out from PDX. They served breakfast from 4 a.m., and their shuttle driver deposited us at the Southwest Air terminal shortly after 6 a.m. No let up in the rain during the night.
In the ensuing six weeks since we last traveled by plane, the new, improved airport security system had been implemented and our luggage got a careful wipe-down with a little piece of cloth held carefully with tongs. The cloth patch was then inserted into a machine that apparently would pick up any traces of explosives, but our bags passed the test and disappeared into the depths of the luggage ramp.
This trip, it was Glennís turn to ride through the airport concourse via wheelchair. The bursitis he developed in his hip a couple weeks ago refused to improve, and the long walk to the check-in counter would have been really painful. We had a second security screening and when they got to Glennís carryon, our progress halted. The x-ray machine had spotted a dangerous tool, buried deep inside his digital camera case. Finally the rubber-gloved security inspector plucked out a pair of curved, needle-nose pliers and declared that they couldnít make the trip with us. Our options? 1) Go back out and check them through as luggage, 2) go back out and mail them to ourselves (in what???) or 3) donate them to the US Government. Glenn chose Door Number Three and said farewell to his rather spendy little pliers.
Thanks to the wheel chair, we got first dibs on entering the plane and chose to sit at the rear on adjoining aisle seats. Southwest routed us through Las Vegas and all the rain clouds had rolled away by the time we landed there. Glenn limped over to the slot machines while I placed a call to good friends who live in Lost Wages. After a 2-hour wait, we took off for San Diego and enroute, could recognize familiar desert locales like Anza-Borrego State Park some 30,000 feet below us.
A beautiful day when we walked out of the baggage area of the airport, and there was a Holland America representative to greet us and guide us out to the bus.
San Diego was just recovering from the Super Bowl last Sunday--the banners were being taken down at the airport. Our timing was good--it would have been a zoo in San Diego if we had arrived there last Sunday or Monday!
Barbara, at San Diego airport. Waiting for shuttle bus to ship
The transfer bus deposited us at the pier at 2 p.m. Not a long trip--we could see the ship from the airport! But, the transfers were worth the price--very convenient to be picked up, and plunked down right at the ship with no hassles. The ms Statendam had the San Diego pier all to itself, and loomed over the small bay tour boats near it.
We must have arrived right when most of the other 1266 passengers did--it took an hour to work through the line to check in, get our ID card and finally board the ship.
When we first talked to the travel agent about this cruise, the lowest-priced outside cabins were almost sold out, so we agreed to take the "guaranteed outside, Category H or better" deal. We ended up a few notches higher, at a Category F, but that still left us on the lowest passenger deck, A, and in a cabin toward the aft and very near the elevators. In looking at the deck plan for this ship, I could only find about four Category H cabins, so I suspect this is a marketing ploy. Of course you will get upgraded!
But Cabin No. 805, starboard side, was very comfortable, had a smallish window and if any whales or porpoises should swim by, we would be very close to them! Our cabin steward, with a long, complex Indonesian name (he said, "just call me DB") showed us through the cabin and gave us our keys to the cabin and the in-closet safe.
The queen bed was placed under the window which proved to make it very awkward to view the scenery. Seventy-year-old knees donít like kneeling on beds to peer out the window! Holland America claims larger-than-average cabin sizes, and it probably was bigger than those on our previous cruises on Celebrity and Princess lines, but we could see no significant difference. The bathroom had one difference--a tub with shower. There were lots of grab bars around the tub which made it easy to climb over the high tub side.
One thing we noticed was the roomy closets and cupboards--really more than we needed. I would have preferred to have a refrigerator instead of the cabinet next to the sofa. And LOTS of hangars--but where were the terry cloth bathrobes? Guess we had to be upgraded a few more categories before the bathrobes would appear.
The location near the elevators turned out to be a blessing. The main dining room (the Rotterdam Room) and the Lido buffet were both located at the rear of the ship, so it was just a few steps for Glennís sore hip to get to the elevator for either location. On the other handÖ..the theater and casino were at the front of the ship, but somehow, Glenn always managed the hike to them!
Unlike the Princess ship, which took a very casual attitude about lifeboat drill and let us just sit in the theater and talk about what we would do if we REALLY had to abandon ship, the Dutch had us all out at our proper place on the deck, and in our colorful life jackets at 4:15 p.m.
At least, we could admire the harbor and old sailing ship moored next to the Statendam while getting our emergency instructions. Everybody got counted off by cabin number, so there was no sloughing off either.
The ship sailed away at 5 p.m. , with the setting sun reflected in the glass-faced skyscrapers. Itís definitely a big city now, but San Diego manages to look clean, sunny, and like a fine place to live. Lots to look at as we sailed through the long channel leading out to the Pacific. We passed by some of the Naval station, where a huge aircraft carrier was getting some maintenance. All the planes could be seen on the flight deck, with their wings folded up, like seabirds who have just landed. In the gathering dusk, an ominous looking gray Navy ship passed us, coming back in to port. Glenn guessed it was a rocket-launcher.
The ship had a "sail away" party on the aft deck with a small combo playing, guacamole and blue corn chips set out, and an array of tempting drinks. We ordered Margaritas, and found a table above the pool deck where we could enjoy the receding city, and the happy cruisers as well.
All the cruise ships weíve been on charge a lot for alcoholic beverages (beer $3.75, specialty drinks up to $7.00) and charge WAY too much for soft drinks ($2.75). On other ships, weíve brought our own soft drinks and purchased beer in ports along the way. Not on Holland America! They had stern warnings up front that bags would be searched and any beverages found would be held by the ship during the cruise, to be reclaimed at the end of the voyage. These people intend to make a profit on the passengerís thirst or else! Other than our bon voyage Margaritas, we boycotted all drinks for which there was a charge. So there, Holland America!
We were assigned Table 84, for four people, on the upper tier of the Rotterdam dining room, with a location at the balcony railing. We had a nice view looking down at the diners below us, and directly across to where the musicians played during the dinner hour. Unlike the Celebrity ships which closed the drapes during dinner, the wrap-around windows at the rear of the dining room were always open, and many nights we enjoyed gorgeous sunsets with dinner. Much better.
Rotterdam Dining Room
We had been wait-listed for the early dining group (6 p.m.) and got our wish. Our dinner partners were a delightful couple, Susan and Randy, who made dinner hour a pleasure each night as we traded tales of the dayís adventures and found we shared many concerns about the world we live in. We have at least a couple decades more "life experience" than they, and enjoyed vicariously sharing their on-shore, on-their-own excursions. Well-traveled and with interesting work backgrounds, they really enhanced the cruise for us.
We took in the first-night, "Welcome Aboard" show in the shipís theater, called the Van Gogh Room.
A beautiful showroom, with walls filled with mosaic tiles, replicating the "stars" of Vincent Van Goghís famous "Starry Night" painting. The entire ship reflected its Dutch heritage in its art work and dťcor. Nice to see this featured. The main members of the shipís crew were introduced, along with the "employee of the month" who was one of the Indonesian stewards. As we were to observe throughout the cruise, Holland America gives much more recognition to the folks who really provide the service on their ships, and apparently they earn employee loyalty in return.
Captain Consen is the epitome of a sea captain, with a strong, vigorous voice. Tonight, and every time he made an announcement during the cruise, he would end his statement with, " Ö. and thank you for sailing with us on the beautiful and elegant ms Statendam" giving those last five words great emphasis.
As always, the ship casino was thoughtfully located close to the theater and us poor fools could hardly get to the other end of the ship, and the elevator to our cabin, without passing right through the slots! So, of course, we never did just "pass through" but took a detour and gave the machines a try. There were even some dime machines on this ship, but then again, they were machines that require at least three and usually many more coins to play all the possible lines. Itís my observation that all casinos have discovered that if you lower the denomination to even pennies, why, people who would never play the dollar machines, will happily drop in even two dollars a pull so they can cover all the 45 possible ways to win. We know who REALLY wins, now donít we?
Back in our cabin, sure enough, "D.B." had been busy, turning down the bed, filling the ice bucket, and there, on our pillows, were gold foil-wrapped chocolates and a little card, saying "Good night!" The card also said, "turn your watch to Mountain Time tonight." While the tip of Baja California might seem to be due south of San Diego, in actuality the ship was sailing eastward as well as south. And by tomorrow morning we would be due south of Yuma, Arizona!
Friday, January 31
On our earlier cruises, weíve looked for itineraries that had the least days "at sea." But, on this cruise, we found the virtues in having a couple days "at sea" at the beginning and one day "at sea" at the end of the cruise. Air travel is now a stressful, tiring experience (and a few more years on our shoulders makes it tougher too) so it was good to know that we had Friday and Saturday to slow down, catch up, veg out and enjoy the pleasures of sailing a calm sea, under sunny skies with the desert mountains and cliffs of the Baja Peninsula off in the distance.
While exploring the ship, I found the library and a very good book on the more recent history of Baja California, entitled, Almost an Island: Travels in Baja California by Bruce Berger. The author wrote this book in 1998, about his experiences in Baja over three decades. With several days of sailing before we reached the Baja towns I would have time to bone up on some of the local color of the little towns we would be visiting. I had re-read the Steinbeck book before the cruise, but Glenn brought it along. So, we both had our "homework" assignments.
Our wanderings led us to two uninhabited decks at the front of the ship where we could lean over the deck railing and gaze upon the calm blue waters while basking in the warm sunshine. This is the absolute best part of cruising to a warm clime in chilly January! There were sea birds from time to time, and once, when we gazed directly down at the ocean, we saw a "bird" fluttering its wings just above the water. Took a few minutes before it registered with us that this was NOT a bird, but a flying fish!
Off to the port (left) side we had uninterrupted views of the longest peninsula in the world--over a thousand miles, and all along its length, itís a desert. The coastline looked very rugged and bereft of plant life when viewed through Glennís new, 16-power binoculars. On one of those vacant observation decks, a HUGE anchor was bolted to the face of the ship. We assumed this was a spare, but we couldnít see how it could be lifted over the side by any equipment visible on the ship! A basketball hoop stand was under the heavy anchor, and for sure, it wasnít going to move!
The Statendam has a couple very nice features we never found on the earlier cruise ships: one is the moveable cover over the Lido Deck and its big pool. It would have been very nice to have such a cover on our Alaskan cruise--as it was, on that cruise, no one ever went in the pool, and not many in the hot tubs. Here, the cover kept it very comfy on the Lido Deck, no matter what the air temperature might be. The second feature was the teak-floored "promenade" which complete circled one deck and gave sheltered space to relax on a handsome, traditional wooden deck chair while gazing at the sea. It also allowed the few athletic folks on this cruise to really stretch their legs and make as many laps around the ship as they desired. With Glennís sore hip, we only made one turn about this deck, but it seemed like an excellent feature. We assumed that the cabin windows looking out on the promenade had one-way glass--at least we could never see into the cabins. But, those cabinís views would not be as open as on the other decks, so maybe we were just as happy to be down near the fishies on the "A" deck.
Tonight was a "formal night" with suits and tuxedos appearing on the gentleman, and dressy outfits on the ladies. Suits WAY outnumbered tuxedos, however. Before dinner, we trooped into the Van Gogh lounge to meet Captain Consen and shake his hand. (Many cruises this year have had outbreaks of the Norwalk Virus stomach flu and I had heard that on some ships the captain no longer shook hands with the passengers--just literally rubbed elbows with them! That wasnít the case here--we got a firm handshake from our Dutch captain.) We also got free champagne or juice and hors díoeuvres and front row seats for the captainís speech. Also had to run a gauntlet of shipís photographers and videographers as we met the captain. Amazing, the amount of film and photo paper the cruise ships use up on each voyage, but at the prices they charge (starting at $10. for 5 x 7 prints) I guess they still make a profit on their photography concession.
After again being welcomed by Captain Consen to "the beautiful and elegant ms Statendam we trooped to the far end of the ship to enjoy one of the many excellent dinners of this cruise. I chose Filet Mignon tonight, and finally took pity on Glenn who had ordered the salmon but was hungrily eyeing my steak--we shared fish and beef. Both were very good. A nice surprise came with dessert--waiters gathering behind our table, and singing "Happy Anniversary to You" while they put a nice chocolate cake in front of us which we were happy to share with our dinner partners. Well, yes, our anniversary was officially celebrated back in December, but this cruise was a continuation of the celebration for us. Good thing they didn't put on a candle for every year (52) or we'd have required a fire extinguisher with our coffee!
With what would become our evening ritual, after dinner we trooped back to the front of the ship for the "Danciní Fool" show in the Van Gogh Lounge, with an obligatory stop in the casino enroute. Unlike the entertainment on our other cruises, here the revue-type shows got double-duty from the cast. They were all both singers and dancers. How they managed to dance so energetically and still have enough breath to sing, I never figured out. But, I donít think they were lip-syncing. The quality of the shows seemed as good and often better than on our other cruises. Later in the cruise, we skipped the comedian and one solo singer, so canít comment on them.
After casino and show, we spent some time in our cabin deciding on the optional shore tours we wanted to commit to. Glennís sore hip influenced our choices, although a lot of the tours would never be on our top ten list anyway--such as the sea kayaking, mountain bike riding, and (Glennís all-time most unfavorite activity) riding a mule along a desert trail. We looked for the ones that said "little walking." We also decided to give ourselves the day in Mazatlan with NO excursion. Having earlier spent a week at a condo in the Zona Dorado (Gold Zone) of resort hotels which line the Pacific shore there we felt we would rather have the day to relax and enjoy the shipís amenities.
Saturday, February 1
Our second day "at sea" and we took advantage of room service for a nice in-cabin breakfast. The captain had alerted us during his morning Navigation Report that we would be passing by the end of the Peninsula mid-morning. We were close enough to land to clearly see the arch in one of the southernmost rocks. We could also see huge sand dunes just north of Cabo San Lucas.
Later, as we were headed toward one of those forward observation decks, I decided to share Glennís pain by tripping over a bulkhead on the Lido Deck, and sprawling on the carpeted deck. My right knee took the brunt of the fall, so we both limped back to our cabin, where I made use of the ice pack I had tucked in the suitcase but hadnĎt planned on using! With my knee wrapped in ice, I had no excuse for not reading more of the Baja book from the ship library for the next few hours. By 1 p.m. my knee felt better and my stomach said "Lunch!" so we jointly limped up to the Lido buffet. We had a window seat and saw a whale near the ship.
Cabo San Lucas quickly disappeared as the captain set a course east and south and we would have no more sight of land until we reach Puerto Vallarta tomorrow morning. Our sunny day also turned into clouds. After lunch, we went up to the front observation deck and found that several big birds with wide wingspans were keeping the ship company. From our descriptions and photos, our birder daughter later determined we were being accompanied by Laysan Albatross. If so, they are rather rare in these parts--Karen said there is a tiny colony who nest on islands off Baja California, while the majority nest in the Hawaiian Islands. Pretty good birding for two people who have trouble differentiating between crows and ravens! The albatross gave us ample time to get a good look at them. They kept flying back and forth across the bow of the ship, then would give a few piercing cries, dive down into the water, and come up with fish in their beaks. Just showing off for the tourists, I suppose.
The Ship Program for today listed a special event--a Dutch High Tea, to be held at 3:30 p.m. Having enjoyed High Tea two or three times in Victoria, B.C. we decided to make a comparative High Tea Test. First difference between English and Dutch High Teas--this one was all set out buffet style, with a wonderful assortment of sweets and even some hot dishes. In Victoria, the tiered tray of goodies was brought to the table and I got to be the "tea mother" and pour from a silver pot. Here, the waiter poured the tea at our table. Either way, the High Teas contain way too many calories, but hey, weíre on a cruise and "calorie" is an unmentionable word.
Tonightís entertainer was a guitarist--but not the usual scraggly-haired guitarist with ripped jeans. Nope, this gentleman was "Dr. Justin Miller" who was indeed a virtuoso guitar, not only in the classical style, but also in the blue grass style of Chet Atkins and others. Very enjoyable.
On our nightly casino stop, while Glenn was otherwise engaged with the dime slot machines, I sat down at the quarter video poker slots, put in a quarter, and got three spade face cards. Holding those--I drew the other two spade face cards to make up the Royal Flush and was rewarded with 250 quarters. I couldnít believe it! Top prize for that slot machine, and in a cruise ship casino, to boot! Luckily, Glenn showed up just in time to share the sight of those five spade face cards, all lined up on the slot machine screen. All of a sudden, my knee didnít really hurt so much.
Tonight, the ship newsletter reminded us that we are steaming ever eastward, and tomorrow, in Puerto Vallarta, we will be in the Central Time Zone (barely). So, another round of watch adjusting before sleep.
It was still dark as the ship neared Puerto Vallarta. After docking, we went up on the top deck to take a look at this new part of Mexico. The lights of the city appeared to ring the "Bay of Banderas." "P.V." (as it is familiarly known) sits at the innermost center of this huge bay. Rugged-looking mountains rear up right behind the town, which basically just hugs the shore of the bay. With the sky lightening, we went back down to find our breakfast waiting for us in the cabin. An early start to our day, as our shore tour, "Town, Country and Tequila" was scheduled to leave from the pier at 8:45 a.m.
Fed and aboard the bus, we headed north on a very nice restricted-access highway, then east up a wide river valley past breweries, the penitentiary, small ranches, and then to Ixtapa, a small working-class town where many of those employed in P.V.ís tourist industry live. What we gleaned from our guide:
Thanks to the booming tourism industry in P.V. the unemployment rate is close to zero, in contrast with most of Mexico which suffers from terribly high unemployment. However, the daily wage still only averages five or six dollars PER DAY. The ubiquitous round tanks seen on almost every rooftop are water tanks. At night, the local water companies pump the water into the tanks, and it is gravity-fed down to the house. P.V. is well into the tropic zone and has the heat and humidity that go with this. Summer temps can go over 100 with relative humidity in the 90ís. Whew! Made me grateful for the weather we had today--overcast, in the high 70ís, and yes, maybe a little humid, but quite pleasant. Our drive by the penitentiary inspired the guide to talk about the Mexican legal system--with some significant differences from the USA: 1) If accused of a crime, you are assumed GUILTY until proven innocent, and 2) you can also be assumed to be guilty by association with those who actually committed a crime. (Two more good reasons to try to stay out of jail in Mexico).
Wall of Ixtapa's soccer field
Ixtapa was a tough place
for our big bus to negotiate, with narrow, rutted, gravel streets. I appreciated
the chance to see a "real" town, rather than the tourist areas with their
restaurants and shops all geared to the perceived desires of the "turistas."
The guide defended the "under construction" appearance that is seen throughout
Mexico. Almost every building has re-bar sticking up out of the walls,or other
obviously unfinished rooms. Partly this is because people generally build
as they can afford it, and are not borrowing large sums of money for construction.
Equally important is the way taxes are assessed--completed buildings are taxed
at a much greater rate than those "under construction." Far be it from me
to criticize any other nationís tax structure, but this system certainly makes
for a lot of messy-looking buildings. One place that always looked well-kept
was the local communityís soccer field.
Second stop of our tour was at what was billed as a local rancheria, but I think local "dude" ranch would have been more accurate. They had a lot of horses and even a few ostrich!! in corrals, and a big bin full of riding helmets. For our group, they provided some musicians, and a free cervesa plus the chance to stroll out to the corrals and look at the livestock.
An interesting contrast on a doorway at the dude ranch was an old cow skull over the arch, and a modern satellite dish just above!
The next stop was more interesting--we saw the old, tradtional way of making tequila from the blue agave plant. Earlier, we drove by a huge tequila "factory," but this was a small family operation, probably comparable to a boutique winery. This family trims the stalk of the agave plant, and bakes the stalks in an outdoor rock-covered "oven" then through more simple steps, the cooked agave is pressed, and its sweet juice fermented and distilled into the basic ingredient of a Margarita.
Rock-lined pit for baking agave
Tequila distillery equipment
We all got little samples, and of course we got the cheap stuff first, which had everybodyís eyes watering--very high alcoholic content, and pretty much "white lightning."
Ah, but the next samples were smooth, deep golden in color and instead of watering eyes, out came the "Ahhhís." Needless to mention, also more expensive, like over $20 bucks a bottle. We passed on that.
And for the finale of our tour, we headed into downtown Puerto Vallarta, with a first obligatory stop at the cruise shipĎs "recommended" stores.We also saw the aftermath of Category 5 Hurricane Kenna which struck P.V. on October 25, 2002. Since no hurricane had struck this area since they started keeping weather records 53 years ago, 20-foot waves hitting the beachfront hotels and shops, and 160-mile per hour winds must have been a nasty surprise. Weather people later said that a Category 5 hurricane has never before been experienced off the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Some "before" and "after" pictures of Puerto Vallarta can be seen on this website: http://www.vallartaonline.com/kenna/
A shop owner told me that his curio shop was full of sea water, and what the hurricane spared, looters removed. He was just now getting more inventory in his shop. There were areas of dead-looking trees where the winds and salt water had hit them hard. And, apparently the 600+ room Sheraton Hotel was hardest-hit. After the winds ripped off the bay-side walls, the salt water got into the reinforcing steel and weakened it to the point that the entire hotel is scheduled for "implosion" in a couple weeks, then will be reconstructed. Ouch! That must put a dent in Sheratonís profits for 2003. The good news for all of P.V.--not a single life was lost. Mother Nature really must be angry at this part of the world, since a 7.8 earthquake shook centered 100 miles to the south hit P.V. on Jan. 21--just a few days ago. Again, according to the guide, little or no damage and no loss of life.
All of the shops along the malecon seawall downtown looked fine but the sand beaches below the malecon have been replaced by bowling-ball size boulders, washed in by those monstrous waves.
Even some of the beautiful sculptures that grace the malecon were knocked down by the hurricane's winds and waves, but they had been reinstalled and we enjoyed them all.
The bus dropped us off at the malecon and we walked a few short blocks up to the cityís cathedral. The only church weíve ever seen with a dome of lacy iron work.
It being Sunday, the church was a busy place. Mass was just over, but a family was celebrating their daughterís Quinceanera--a big event in the life of fifteen-year old Hispanic girls. A church ceremony must be part of the celebration and the family were gathered in front of the altar, being photographed in all their finery. Probably the young ladyís wedding a few years hence wonít be as lavish as this ceremony, complete with teenagers in formal attire, and even the littlest girls in elaborate dresses. It was nice to be able to see a slice of local life.
Back on the ship, we were ready to give Glennís sore hip and my sore knee a break, so I picked up the phone in our cabin and said, "please bring us sandwiches and iced tea." Soon, here was the smiling waiter, knocking on our cabin door and bearing two of the biggest sandwiches Iíve seen! This is the part of cruising that becomes difficult to give up. Our voyaging eastward will be over when we leave Puerto Vallarta tonight. A very short sojourn in Central Time--in Mazatlan, weíll be back in Mountain Time--so, start adjusting those watches again!
Monday, February 3
And, if itís Monday, we must be in Mazatlan! We got up at the crack of dawn and headed for the topmost deck of the Statendam where we had a great view of Mazatlanís harbor as the rising sun gilded the hills guarding both sides of the harbor entrance. Frigate birds formed the welcoming committee and hovered over the bow of the ship as we slowly moved to our dock in the commercial part of the port.
This was a "no shore tour" day for us, so we could enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the Rotterdam dining room (and agreed their Eggs Benedict didnít live up to the ones prepared at our local Indian casino, "Spirit Mountain.") Or, are we getting just a little bit picky? The ship provides spotless laundry rooms on each passenger cabin deck, and this seemed the day to use them--while the majority of our fellow passengers would be off exploring Mazatlan. On the Sun Princess, the machines were free, but they charged for laundry soap and softener. On the Statendam, they charged $2.00 per load for the washers and $1.00 for the dryers--the soap was free. Of course, for this trip, I brought along soap and softeners--and quarters too. I was prepared, either way!
After the laundry "drudgery" we indulged in the pool and hot tub on the Lido deck--and had it almost to ourselves. The pool water was a comfy temperature, so I got in an abbreviated water aerobics routine while Glenn continued his homework--re-reading Steinbeckís book on the Sea of Cortez.
After lunch we went ashore and took the little trolleys provided to ferry ship passengers to the tourist dockside shops.
A very pleasant little plaza has been created here, with the expected curio shops, and a bar where we savored a couple of the locally-made Pacifico cervesas. We could see the tall grain(?) elevators near the dock, clearly labeled "Pacifico." Corona appears to be the big beer maker of Mexico, but they own Pacifico too. Tasted fine to us, and was about half the price of the shipís beer.
Former dock-side ship mooring-rope stanchions
Mining Ore Bucket/Tree Planters
I added to my tee-shirt and refrigerator magnet collection, while Glenn bought a beautiful ironwood turtle where the carver had made good use of the wood grain to emulate the design on a turtleís back. In Puerto Vallarta Glenn saw no ironwood sculptures, and he only saw ironwood at one vendor here, so surmised that it might be getting scarce, and a good time to add to the ironwood collection back home. Actually, this is probably not so--we were to see lots of ironwood at other ports, but what the heck--itís a fine little turtle.
Our tourist shopping done and beer thirst slaked we went back to the ship to continue our "day off." Glennís high-powered binoculars gave us up-close views of downtown Mazatlan from the comfort of a deck chair and brought back 1985 recollections of visiting "old town" and the huge, handsome cathedral that looms over the rest of downtown. Looking to the east, we could see why Mazatlan is much more than just a tourist destination. LOTS of industrial-looking buildings along the narrowing harbor/river channel. The mountains are a backdrop to this city, too, but much farther away than at Puerto Vallarta. There must be a large delta/estuary on the east side of the harbor which means a long car ride to reach city center. There were a lot of little pedestrian ferries, criss-crossing the harbor all afternoon long. Between the ferries, the seals, and sea birds also criss-crossing the harbor, we had plenty of opportunities to enjoy Glennís binoculars.
Sailaway Party leaving Mazatlan
"El Faro" Lighthouse Hill guarding Mazatlan harbor
Another early "sail away" today, with the ship underway at 5 p.m. Since tonightís formal dinner wouldnít start for an hour, we spent the time up on the top deck, enjoying a beautiful departure from Mazatlan, sailing past the highest lighthouse in the Western Hemisphere, only exceeded in height by Gibraltar in all the world. "El Faro's" light can reach out to ships 48 nautical miles away.The setting sun obligingly put on a very nice show before we had to leave the deck and head for dinner.
Tuesday, February 4
long overnight run from Mazatlan to Pichilingue, the port for La Paz. The
ship didnít dock until 8:30 a.m. but long before daylight we could see lights
outlining what appeared to be a long, long bay. La
Paz is situated within that bay and in turn, Pichilingue is situated five
miles north of the city, within a little hook that extends down into the bay.
These were very disorienting facts for me, and even with my AAA map of Baja
California in hand while looking at the harbor, it was tough to get my bearings.
But not to worry, all we had to do was get off the ship in time to board our
bus for the 1 p.m. "Historical La Paz" tour.
Afternoon shore excursions are MUCH more relaxing--we could sleep in, dawdle over breakfast, have a dip in the hot tub if that sounded good, eat an early lunch and climb on the bus with no feeling of being rushed. (Make note for future cruises--only schedule afternoon tours.)
Today, we used a part of the morning to make a pass through another pleasant dockside area of curio shops. Whoops--the ironwood sculptures we thought were getting scarce? They were in almost every vendorís stall here! Did this discourage Glenn from buying more? Nah--in fact, this time we BOTH found a piece we wanted badly enough to haul back home. Glenn picked out a sailfish and I went for a manta ray, and after the usual dickering ceremonies, two more very heavy ironwood objects were ours.
Waiting area at Pichilingue pier with cardon cacti
This was our first day when the sun really was out and we could see the many shades of blue, turquoise, jade and green water (as Steinbeck so poetically described the Sea of Cortez). Pichilingue was also our first close-up look at the desert landscape that covers most of the peninsula. The cardon cactus--a near-relative of Arizonaís saguaros were growing almost down to the water. Dozens of them! Everywhere!
Our tour into La Paz lived up to its title of being "historical." I donít think we ever really saw the main downtown part of the city, but that was o.k. What we got to see was all very interesting and yes, historical.
Just a couple miles from the ship, the bus drove close to a pretty little cove with azure water which certainly had an interesting history--La Paz was a main stop for the Spanish galleons to take on fresh water and food as it was on the Spanish trade route across the Pacific to the Philippines. In this little cove, Sixteenth Century English pirates would hide out until afternoon, when the strong prevailing winds prevented the Spanish ships down at La Paz from sailing out of the port. The pirates, with the strong winds at their backs could swoop down on the hapless galleons, raid them and haul their loot back to England. The Bahia de la Paz was also once the home of most of the worldís pearl oysters and La Paz pearls decorated the robes of the Catholic popes during the Spanish era. A little local folktale about a poor fisherman finding a huge pearl in this bay was the inspiration for Steinbeckís novella, and film, "The Pearl." Today--nary a pearl, some disease wiped out the oysters.
More history! Hernan Cortez, conqueror of Mexico City, got around to investigating the Pacific side a few years later, and sailed into Bahia de la Paz on May 3rd, 1535. Thatís a few centuries ago! First tour stop was at the Governorís Mansion, situated on a beautiful stretch of the coast just north of the city. La Paz is the capital of Baja California Sur--the southern half of this thousand-mile peninsula. A previous governor had this splendid seaside home constructed, but the last two governors tried to set a thrifty example for the voters, by living in their existing homes in La Paz. This is supposed to save the taxpayers a fair bit of change, since the mansion and grounds are only used for state occasions (such as when Pres. Bush recently was entertained there while attending a NAFTA conference). And, the state picks up a little extra income by renting out the premises for private receptions and to the tour bus companies, no doubt.
Entrance to Governor's Mansion, La Paz
We were allowed to wander about the first floor of the mansion, and about the grounds. Wonderful vistas of that azure bay from inside and outside the house. The formal dining room with its exceedingly long table was reminiscent of the one at the Hearst Mansion in California, but on a much smaller scale.
La Paz Bay from Mansion Deck
View from Governor's Mansion living room
Tour Guide in Mansion Kitchen
Mansion Pool and Palapas Area
Next stop was the Archeological Museum in downtown La Paz. An excellent opportunity to learn more about this area--and the word "history" took on greater meaning when we viewed artifacts from very old cultures who once managed to survive in this harsh desert climate.
Cave Painting of Birds
I was delighted to see that they had good photographs of the famous cave paintings of Baja California. These painted rock-shelters have been compared to the cave paintings of France and were added to UNESCOís list of World Heritage Sites in 1993. Images of wildlife are the most common paintings, including marine mammals and fish.
Cave Painting with large figures
For scale, note two men in the foreground! .
The artists who drew these mammoth figures are lost in the mists of time, but apparently they predate the Indians who greeted the Spanish fathers and soldiers. The paintings are found over a wide area of central Baja--but far beyond what day-trippers such as us could reach. At least the big photos in this museum gave a good idea of what the paintings must look like, up close and in person. Apparently the minerals used to make the long-enduring paint came from the volcanic peaks near our next port: Santa Rosalia. This website gives a good background on the Baja cave paintings: http://bajaquest.com/cavepaintings/
Museum Mural depicting Baja life before the Spaniards arrived
Our final stop on this history tour was at the La Paz cathedral--while not a very large church, it earns the title "cathedral" because it is the home of the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in this state. Besides the usual altar decorations, statues, etc. we found the various ways that the Baja churches deal with the torrid summer climate rather interesting. In this church, the stained glass windows were in essence sash windows--so they could be opened and provide a breath of air for the sweating congregation.
After reading my Baja book I particularly wanted to see the building material of the church. The bookís author had described the rock quarry just outside of La Paz from whence came the multi-hued building stones. He said the quarry had several distinct colors of rock and the local entrepreneurs parceled out each manís portion of the quarry by the various shades in the rock. Yep, you could certainly see that the church was built from rock of many hues, so I assume many men got a share of the business.
Interior, La Paz Cathedral
At 6:30 p.m. the ship headed out of this Bay of pearls and pirates, and slipped past nearby Isla del Espiritu Santo. Shortly after returning from this cruise, we got the latest copy of The Nature Conservancyís Internet newsletter, in which they told of their recent purchase of this entire island. Read all about it at: http://nature.org/success/mexicoisland.html
The Statendam provided more fun passenger participation events than we found on the other cruise lines. Tonight was "Dutch Night" and when we arrived in the dining room, we found black "Dutch boy" and white "Dutch girl" caps by our napkins. A funny sight, to see the entire dining room filled with white and black caps on the diners' heads. We also got some Dutch Indonesian specialties on the menu and enjoyed Nasi Goreng, a dish good friends of ours from Dutch Indonesia used to make for us.
Our "Dutch" dining partners
Now, the shipís bow is pointed north toward our farthest intrusion into the Sea of Cortez--the old copper-mining community of Santa Rosalia.
Wednesday, February 5
Today marks the sixth day of our ten-day cruise, so these carefree days are slipping by--too fast! We are about half-way up into the Sea of Cortez now, as far north as the ship will go in the Gulf waters. This is the first day that the Baja California harbors are too shallow for our big cruise ship, so the Statendam dropped her anchor well offshore and we could watch the lifeboats being lowered (right over our cabin window!) so they could be used to shuttle us into this unique little town.
Our ship newsletter says that Santa Rosalia is referred to as the "City of Wood." What they donít say, is that this is the city of Pacific Northwest wood. When a rich copper ore deposit was discovered at this spot in the mid-1880ís, a French mining company obtained a 99-year contract from the Mexican Government to develop the mine. The copper deposits here were blue-green globules, called boleos, and so the French called their mining company El Boleo. The company got over one million acres of land, with a 50-year tax exemption. As part of the deal, the company agreed to build a town, a port, establish a maritime route between Santa Rosalia and the mainland city of Guaymas, across the Gulf, and employ Mexican workers.
The company smelted the ore on the spot, but then shipped it up to Tacoma, Washington to be refined. In Tacoma, the ships filled up their empty holds with fine Washington and Oregon fir timber and sailed back to Santa Rosalia, where our Northwest timber became beautiful wooden houses, showing their French heritage in their second-story balconies, al la New Orleans.
Santa Rosalia house built with Pacific Northwest wood
El Boleo did keep its part of the bargain to employ Mexicans, but the workers labored in near-slavery and the poisons spewed out by the smelter and the frequent accidents led to a high death rate. In just the three years from 1901 to 1903, 1400 workers died. The workersí attempts to strike for better working conditions and wages were repressed by force. Still, the Mexican Government tolerated the mining companyís abuses until 1938 when El Boleo Company was kicked out and Mexico took over operation of the mine. The mine survived for almost 100 years, then the copper deposits finally played out. The author of my background book on Baja first visited Santa Rosalia in the early 1970ís and complained about the perpetual smog hovering over the town from that noxious smelter. From the ship, we panned the shore with Glennís binoculars and gasped when we saw the cemetery, high above the town, that seemed to stretch over several ridges and was packed with grave markers and monuments. It appeared that there were way more residents of Santa Rosalia occupying those graves, than were presently living in the town.
I doubt that Holland America would have included Santa Rosalia on this cruise itinerary if that mine was still operating. But now, the mine buildings are picturesquely falling apart, and the town is pinning its hopes for prosperity on fishing and tourism.
For the tourist, Santa Rosalia is interesting because it still displays its French, not Spanish, background. The all-metal Santa Barbara Church was designed by Gustave Eiffel who also built a rather well-known tower in Paris, as well as the base for the Statue of Liberty. Eiffelís aim was to design a rot-resistant building that could be shipped to Franceís tropical possessions as metal sheets, then bolted together (the forerunner of WWIIís Quonset hut, perhaps?). When the El Boleo miners asked for a church, the company director bought Eiffelís prototype, and shipped the unassembled church to this remote little spot in Baja. Today, the tourists are directed to two attractions in Santa Rosalia, the Church of Santa Barbara and the El Boleo French bakery--still turning out delicious French bread.
Our shore excursion today was an afternoon bus tour to the town of Mulege, about 40 miles south of Santa Rosalia. That gave us ample time in the morning to take the tender into the pier and slowly walk up through the town, at least as far as the Santa Barbara Church. By then, Glennís hip was complaining rather loudly, so we didnít try to make it to the bakery. Besides, we were in no danger of running out of baked goodies on the Statendam!
Yes, the church exterior was indeed bolted metal plates. The interior was suffused with a lovely, lavender-blue light, thanks to the beautiful blue and rose stained glass windows.
We also stumbled upon an interesting dance troupe performing at the pier. The dancers were masked and while the story line seemed a bit hazy to us, the masked red devil, skeleton, and a drunken woman with baby helped fill in the gaps. Since all the dancers except Death fell down at the end of the performance, we got the drift!
When our friends who recommended this tour visited Santa Rosalia two years ago, their big cruise ship was probably the first to ever anchor in this port and they reported that the town didnít quite know what to do with 1200 turistas. Today, it was obvious that the curio vendors and entertainers know when the Statendam would arrive. Still, there was none of the usual glitzy bars and obvious tourist traps, and Santa Rosalia came across as a genuine town with its own unique culture and history. We liked it!
Once on the tour bus bound for Mulege, we were driving down the famous (or infamous?) Highway One that runs the entire length of Baja California. Two lane, paved road, no ruts and in general vehicles used common sense in passing. This would be our one and only opportunity to see some of Baja beyond the coastline and we had a good time checking out the roadside flora.
Thousand-mile Highway One
on the way to Mulege
(from tour bus window)
Anyone who has driven through southern Arizona would see many similarities in the landscape. Rugged mountains displaying their volcanic origins, desert valleys studded with tall, telephone-pole style cacti as well as the other desert shrubs like creosote bush. But, closer to our bus, we saw some plants that donít exist in the USA, or barely sneak into our country near the Mexican border. Weíre pretty sure we recognized the Boojum Tree from desert plant books (what a weird name, but then, what a weird tree!) and the Elephant Tree, because weíve seen it in Anza-Borrego. The Brittle Bush was a familiar plant, and covered with yellow sunflower-like blossoms. There were several colors of Mallow plants blooming--the orange that is common in the US Southwest, but also an unusual blue color--new to us. There was a tinge of green on the ground, which indicated this part of Baja has had enough rain to encourage the annuals. Will there be a show of colorful plants a bit later? Donít know.
Our destination, Mulege, was one town snubbed by Steinbeck on his 1941 voyage to the Sea of Cortez. The reason? The shipís crew had heard "the port charges are mischievous and ruinous" and "there may be malaria there." Driving down Highway One today, with only cacti showing on the dry, rocky land the idea that the country might be malarial seemed ludicrous.
But then, we drove up and over a mountain pass, and down below us was a narrow valley, filled with date palms and a very slow-moving river flowing among them.
Hmm, yes, this place could definitely have mosquitoes and yes, maybe also malaria, 62 years ago. Mulege apparently survives on those driving down Baja, going to the nearby beautiful beaches for scuba diving or fishing, or hiking back into the mountains to view those cave paintings. The mystery writer, Erle Stanley Gardner, got interested in the cave paintings in the 1960ís and made Mulege his base while researching the prehistoric murals.
Oasis of Mulege
The bus first dropped us off at the church, which wisely now sits on a high bluff above the town. The first church, founded in 1705 by Jesuit priests was down below on the river bank. Bad idea, when those rare but destructive desert flash floods roar through. A rocky outcropping near the church was a good place to view green Mulege down below. For reasons not clear to us, the priests named this church "Mision Santa Rosalia de Mulege," while the church up in Santa Rosalia is "Santa Barbara."
The thick rock walls of this church make it look a bit like a fort--and probably it was, at times.
The Jesuits didnít like the polygamy practiced by the local Indians, and the Indians didnít much care for the priests who wanted to change a perfectly swell lifestyle for them. All the history I have read about Baja says that the Spanish only sporadically had control of much of this peninsula. While one area was being converted to Christianity, another region was rebelling and killing the Spaniards. So, the mission churches went up, and then were torn down, depending on who was in power over the decades.
Today, the inhabitants of Mulege were most welcoming to us, when we arrived downtown. Instead of discussing the merits of multiple wives with them, we just cruised the curio stores, and came back to the bus with a tee shirt for Barbara.
Enroute back to Santa Rosalia and our ship, the tour guide provided general background on this area. When he said summer temperatures can reach 125 degrees a little gasp went up from the bus. Apparently the marlin show up in the summer, but boy, you would have to be a dedicated fisherperson to endure those temperatures in hopes of hooking a fish that has been described as feeling like "a Volkswagen Beetle with an attitude" on the end of your fishing line.
A rare Bougainvillea "tree" in Mulege
The ship planned the "Great Statendam Barbecue and Tropical Deck Party" at 6 p.m. tonight, but eating in the dining room still sounded best to us. While the day had been pretty much overcast, with even a little drizzle falling while we were walking through Santa Rosalia, tonight the clouds were arranged just right to produce a spectacular sunset. All through dinner, the show outside the dining room windows rivaled anything the Van Gogh Room could provide. Our dinner partner, Randy, was bemoaning the fact that he had left his camera in the cabin while the Murphyís Law of Photography was in effect. (The best possible shots will only occur when you are without a camera.) The dining room windows were continually streaked from their daily early-morning hosing, so Glenn and I didnít think it worth rushing over to the windows, and elbowing other diners aside to get water-streaked sunset shots. Instead, we all just relaxed and enjoyed Mother Natureís show during another tasty dinner.
Late tonight (11:15 p.m.) the Indonesian crew put on a show in the Van Gogh Lounge. The late starting time allowed them to finish up their work in the dining room, kitchen and cabins. We decided the show sounded interesting, but took a little nap after dinner so weíd be able to stay awake during the show. Staying awake turned out to not be a problem! The Indonesians did a terrific job--and did it all themselves: orchestra, dancers, singers. There was a "Saman Dance" where a long line of men kneeled and did complex clapping maneuvers to music. Started off simple, but then the tempo and the maneuvers got faster and more tricky. A traditional Balinese dance, complete with lion masks, etc. was next up, followed by a couple singers. One of them, the headwaiter from the fancy, extra-cost "Pinnacle Grill" restaurant was really good.
Program for Indonesian Show
(designed by crew member)
Angklung bamboo instrument, lower right
The last number was the "West Java Angklung Bamboo Orchestra" and about 20 people created individual musical tones by gently tapping the bamboo instruments that looked something like glockenspiel. When played,the effect was similar to bell-ringers music, the musicians shaking their bamboo instrument when directed to. We were glad we stayed up for this show. Apparently the ship alternates between shows by the Indonesian and the Filipino crew members. No doubt about it, Holland-America gives its workers way more recognition than the other cruise lines weíve been on.
Thursday, February 6
Our Salem friends who took this cruise two years ago had nothing but good things to say about Loreto and we were anxious to see if we agreed with them. It was a bit cloudy when the ship first dropped anchor out in the bay but by the time we were ready to take the tender in to the pier, the clouds were breaking up and sunshine and pleasant temperatures were with us. A sailboat was skimming over the blue waters and the local greeters were on hand to welcome us ashore. They were perched on the docks, they were sitting atop the light poles, they had taken over every vacant rowboat. Ah yes, we got a fine welcome from Loretoís resident brown pelicans!
The only shore excursion that seemed to meet our abilities in Loreto was a walking tour of the town which would start right at the pier. We couldnít quite see the point in paying $29. per person to have someone walk along with us through this little town. So, we opted to bypass the guides and strike out on our own. Hardly difficult to find the center of the town--there were signposts at every corner to guide us and policemen to stop the cars and let us cross the streets. Like Puerto Vallarta and La Paz, Loreto had a pleasant malecon bordering the sea to walk along as we headed for the town plaza. Thoughtfully, the city fathers had placed benches all along the malecon so we could go at a pace that Glennís hip could handle. Our greeters, the pelicans, were fun to watch during our brief rests--doing their high dives, or gliding along, inches above the water without seeming to wiggle a wing.
Tourists seeing Loreto from a horse cart
Our personal walking tour took us by a school complex. The kindergarten was painted in bright, cheerful colors and the little kids were just finishing up recess and trooping back into their classrooms as we walked by. Next door to the kindergarten, we could look in the windows of the older childrenís classrooms, where all were at their desks. On the gate of the kindergarten a sign was posted. Even with my minimal Spanish, I thought the sign expressed a very good philosophy about education. Hereís the translation, thanks to our Spanish-fluent son:
Children Learn with Work and Simple, Clear Explanations
The Most Important Thing is to believe in a life free of negativity, yet to have confidence and express yourself.
To say the Truth, to be Honest and Sincere. This is the Most Important!
Just beyond the school, we turned away from the sea, and walked up tree-shaded streets, past some very nice looking townhouses and a rather basic RV park, shaded by palms. As we neared the City Hall, we could hear music and coming into the plaza, we saw that a dance troupe was tapping out a line-dance in their colorful black and yellow "vaquero" costumes. Their clothes and Stetson-style hats would have been right at home in southern Texas.
Loreto City Hall
The town plaza had a handsome gazebo/bandstand in the center, and an interesting stream-like fountain running through the park.
After the dance troupe finished, the musicians and a singer continued the entertainment. The sound of their music still followed along as we turned into the narrow, cobblestone pedestrians-only walkway that leads up to the mission church, museum and shops. Arching over the walkway every few feet is a green arbor of trees growing on either side, and trained to meet overhead. Delightful!
Loreto has already celebrated its 300th birthday, in 1997. This is the oldest permanent settlement on the peninsula, where the Jesuits landed in 1697 and established the first Catholic mission in the Californias. And Loreto was the departure point for Franciscan friar Junipero Serra in 1769 when he started out to establish a chain of missions in "Alta California." Once the capital city of all the Californias, a devastating hurricane leveled the town in 1829, the Baja government moved the capital to La Paz, and Loreto more or less disappeared until US sport fisherman figured out that this was maybe the best fishing spot in all of Baja, and starting flying their private planes down here after World War II. Now, anyone can hop a scheduled airline plane in L.A. and be down here in 90 minutes. HmmmÖ..think I should make a note of that fact, because we were delighted with Loreto.
The Mexican Government would like to turn Loreto into a mega-resort locale, like Cancun, but so far the development hasnít come, for which Iím grateful. South of town a few miles, there is one golfing resort (with one part of the property reserved for nudists!) but no other big developmentsÖ..so far.
We walked along the cobblestone street as far as the church and its adjoining museum. A handsome structure, the church is now in beautiful condition, but in reading Steinbeck, Glenn picked up the fact that in 1940 the church was a hollow shell, roof caved in, and only the bell tower intact. Someone has been doing a LOT of reconstruction in Loreto!
Detail on church exterior--note the date!
The interior of the church was very reminiscent of Mission San Xavier del Bac near Tucson--except that these whitewashed walls were NOT covered by colorful murals. Then again, if the church has been almost totally restored, who knows what the walls once looked like? The altar glittered with gold leaf.
Wooden window spindles, Loreto Church
The museum next door to the church is part of the Mexican system of National Museums of History and Anthropology. It too, was in great condition, and all the displays were in rooms opening off the pleasant central patio. We took a little snack break under a shady tree in the patio, and enjoyed fruit and cookies, courtesy of ms Statendam. I was intrigued with a sugar cane press that perhaps dated from the early 18th century. It used donkey-power to crush the cane, and a big cow skin "bowl" to catch the resulting juice. After cooking the juice down, the resulting syrup was poured into molds in a door-sized piece of dark wood, indented with cup-cake size depressions. They werenít making samples (no donkey on the premises) but I bet those sugar cakes were highly prized two hundred years ago.
Patio between church and museum
Display of Aztec temple at museum
Early water pump used by Baja settlers
Museum guard's son
--waiting for Papa to get off work
No pushy souvenir vendors in Loreto. There were colorful little shops, and some even had a firmly worded sign--"fixed prices." What! No haggling?
So THIS is where the Thrifty Drug ice cream went!
Retracing our steps back to the plaza, the musicians were still playing and we spied an outdoor cafť on the shady side of the street. Cervesa time! A few members of a dance club that is traveling with us on the Statendam were also enjoying the cafť. They took advantage of the now-vacant dance floor in front of the City Hall and the musicians across the way to display some really good dancing. A floor show with our beer! I enjoyed the local musicians so much, I asked if they sold tapes or CDís. "No, Senora." Too bad. Their music would have been a great remembrance of Loreto.
We were back on the ship by 2:30 p.m., still time enough for a late lunch in the Lido followed by a serving of the dayís ice cream specialty. Of all the shipís amenities, I think I've found it most difficult to give up the ice cream bar at the Lido buffet. Really good!
Tonightís entertainment was a repeat performance by the guitarist, and while we enjoyed him, we decided staying in our cabin, and watching the movie "Amelie" on our TV sounded even better. A call to Room Service, and here came tea and cookies to enjoy with the movie. So, whatís not to like about this cruising stuff?
Friday, February 7
It was still dark when we woke up, but a lot of lights were twinkling along the shoreline. If these are the lights of San Jose del Cabo, and we are to drop anchor at 7:30 p.m., twenty miles father southwest at Cabo San Lucas, the ship must be creeping along! Well, thatís the captainís problem, not ours. We made our usual early rise and climb to the uppermost observation deck just as the skies were lightening.
Very close to Cabo now and look! Weíve got company! There, anchored out in the bay was the Carnival cruise ship Elation. This is the only other cruise ship we've seen. The Statendam anchored even farther out than the Elation and we had a fine view of Lands End and the arch rock. We breakfasted in our room, gathered up our shore excursion equipment, including oranges and apples from our cabinís fruit bowl, and cookies saved from earlier room service. Todayís excursion, "Cabo San Lucas Coastal Highlights" would leave from the dock at 12 noon and not return until almost the last tender run out to the ship, at 3:30 p.m.
On this ship, when the passengers had to be tendered ashore, everyone assembled in the Van Gogh lounge, was issued a number and boarded the tender several decks below when their number was called. At the other tendered ports by the time we wanted to go ashore the crowd waiting in the lounge had thinned out and we boarded almost right away. Not today! When we got to the lounge at 10 a.m., it looked like the entire ship was also there, waiting to go into Cabo San Lucas. After about 25 minutes, they called our numbers and off we went. As soon as we landed, a nice little lady in an official's uniform came up to me and asked if I had any fruit with me. I said, "I sure do!" And the nice little lady said, "you canít bring fruit ashore from the ship." This was news to us--no one had mentioned anything about this at the other ports. So, out went the fruit. (The nice little lady didnít ask about the cookies, and I didnít tell about the cookies.)
We got right on our tour bus, where the guide, "Alfredo" spoke excellent English, with almost no accent. Later, I asked him if heíd ever lived in the States, as his English (well, American) was so good. He replied, "Four years, while I was going to college." Where, I asked. "Cal State at Northridge." Gee! My old alma mater! Alfredo had a very funny line of patter and also imparted lots of information which was all very understandable, thanks to his time in southern California, I suppose.
The bus drove through Beautiful Downtown Cabo San Lucas, which could be most any swinging beach resort in the US. And, why not? This was another spot chosen by FONATUR (Fundo Nacional de Fomento al Turismo), a government-funded agency responsible for turning deserted sections of Mexican shoreline into planned resort centers. Our tour guide said there was almost nothing to the town when he arrived here 12 years ago. When John Steinbeck visited Cabo San Lucas, he found one small, sleepy cantina, a tuna cannery and a few canoes beached on the sand. Oh, Mr. Steinbeck, if you could see Cabo now! Well, itís not Cancun yet, but itís sure trying. A few blocks were lined with all the "in" bars for the Spring Break college crowd and the general prosperity of Cabo showed in the new multiplex theaters and shopping mall that opened last Christmas, the MacDonaldís, the Burger King, ad nauseum. The good news? Cabo San Lucas has zero per cent unemployment, so I guess FONATUR knew what it was doing.
Mercifully, the bus didnít stop in downtown Cabo, but drove a short way out into the industrial side of the town, and down a back alley, where we pulled up to a glass-blowing factory. This proved very interesting, full of hard-working (should I say hard-blowing?) men, blowing glass, while several hard-working women were picking up each finished piece of glassware and tapping it lightly to make sure there were no cracks.
The factory had artfully used their product for beautiful stained-glass inserts in the walls, and nice arrangements of their glassware. There was even a small conservatory full of greenery at one end of the factory. And, no pressure to buy anything. Itís always hard for us to resist glassware, and only the problem of getting it home in one piece kept us from indulging.
Hand-painting the blown art glass
Leaving the glass factory, the bus headed east, along what is known as the "Corridor" connecting new Cabo San Lucas and old San Jose del Cabo, whose history started not in the 1970ís, but the 1730ís. The "Corridor" is lined on both sides with resorts, golf courses and, for those Rich and Famous who couldnít find a place on the Lands End Rocks at Cabo for their mansions, they have found their sea view property along this stretch. Many lovely bays and sandy beaches and suddenly, in the midst of all this display of wealth, our bus turned off and headed up past one of those resorts, the "Misiones Hotel & Beach Resort," and into the parking lot of the "famous Da Giorgios restaurant, located right on the point with breathtaking views"--a quote from an Internet site that would be happy to rent us a 2 bedroom, 2bath condo with private Jacuzzi pool in the Misiones Resort for $250 a night or $1,500 a week.
Well, this morning, we bus tourists settled for a half hour and a complimentary cervesa while wandering over the many levels of this spectacular restaurant, "Da Giorgios."
The tour included this stop so we could have great views back west to the Cape Rocks, and of our ship, anchored out in the bay. The views were fine, and so was the opportunity to just enjoy this beautiful spot, with its terraces, pool, waterfalls, all built right into the rocks of the point.
Barbara, trying to adapt to the lifestyle
of the Rich and Famous
Carnival ship, "Elation" leaving
Cabo San Lucas
"ms Statendam" at anchor
Back on the highway, past more "designer" golf courses (green fees average $250/$275--but they include the golf cart!) and amazingly, one public course where you can play 18 holes for $40. The guide also said at least one of the big hotels, the Hilton, offers special, cheap rates to the local people and their families. Good for them! More information from the guide: a hurricane last summer flooded out several hundred homes of the local people, and other locals were asked to take the refugees into their homes while the Government built them new houses, out of the path of future floods. Well, no place is perfect, but the word "hurricane" certainly shows up often in Baja, and even Puerto Vallarta.
The bus dropped us off in the heart of old San Jose del Cabo--right by the church and adjoining plaza. A pleasant little town, without the glitz of Cabo, but still not without the tourist curio shops. We took a look inside the rather plain church--and saw another solution to the problem of stained glass windows and ventilation. This time, the windows revolved, so they could be opened to any sea breeze and keep the panes of stained glass intact. A big tile mural above the church door depicts one of those early Spanish priests being dragged toward fire by the Indians. No, these native peoples did not meekly accept the new Spanish ways!
Today the church has other problems, related to technology. I was amused by the sign at the church entrance which read:
"Please turn off your cell phone. You do not need it to speak with God."
The AAA guidebook indicates that San Jose del Cabo is a marketing center for the surrounding agricultural and cattle-raising areas, and tropical fruits and spices are produced in this region. There is a freshwater estuary nearby with a protected bird sanctuary. But, that is all hearsay for us, because our view of this town was limited to about five blocks. "Alfredo" pulled a fast one on us here. We were told to meet at the Plaza at a certain time, and everyone dutifully did. Then, Alfredo says, "the bus canít get in here to pick us up, so we will walk down a few blocks. Follow me." And, obediently, we did. BUT instead of finding the bus, Alfredo stops us all in front of a silver jewelry store, says the bus will be here in half an hour, and we are welcome to use the clean bathrooms in this shop, and have a free cervesa. Sneaky Alfredo!
Our grumbling was soothed by the nice, cold Corona beer, and after walking about the shop, looking at all the silver necklaces, pendants, etc. hanging on the walls, well, gee, whaddya know--I bought a turquoise and silver pendant! Not too expensive and Glenn clinched the sale when he said, "thereís your Valentineís Day present."
The bus did show up after half an hour, and off we went, now heading back west, and to our last stop of the tour--a brand-new cactus garden called "Cacti Mundo-Los Cabos Botanical Garden."
Someone has spent Big Bucks to bring a huge cactus collection, with thousands of specimens, from the Mexican mainland to this site. There are exotics as well as native cacti, and the gardens include other arid-land plants, all handsomely arranged and displayed. A few of the early-bird cactus were already blooming. It will be quite a sight, when the bulk of the plants bloom in the next few months.
Our tour group climbed aboard the last tender of the day, and the ship lifted up the anchor and sailed out and around the Cape at four p.m. We had wonderful views of both sides of Cabo San Lucas and its famous rocks and arch and later, a colorful sunset over the Pacific. The ship swung north, following the peninsula and we got to see some sail fish, leaping high out of the water. First, we thought, whales? Nope. Then, porpoise? Nope. Glenn later read Steinbeckís description of sailfish leaping out in front of his ship, and the description matched what we had seen.
At dinner, we compared our dayís experiences in Cabo San Lucas with Susan and Randy. They had taken a glass-bottom boat excursion and were the only customers aboard! So, they got a private tour and said it was very good. They didnít see many small, colorful fish, but lots of bigger ones. As Susan said, "eating size." Later, Randy had hiked over the Cape rocks to the Pacific side, where he found "Lovers Beach" and nearby, "Divorce Beach." Only one hotel located on that stretch and it was "under construction." That is an accurate description of many of the places we saw on this cruise.
Tonight was the last Formal Night and in keeping with some long-standing cruising tradition, that meant lobster was on the menu with the Baked Alaska parade for dessert. The Statendam expanded on the usual waiters parade--they opened the parade with rousing operatic march music, and the presentation of the entire culinary staff. The diners responded by twirling their napkins as the waiters came by with the sparkler-decorated dessert. Later, it was time for the last big show by the dancers/singers troupe and they outdid themselves with costumes, and production numbers.
Our ship is steaming north today, retracing those thousand miles of the Baja Peninsula. Very nice to have this day to "decompress" and oh yes, figure out how to stuff everything back into our suitcases, complete the disembarkation papers, make sure our account with the Front Office is correct, etc.
Sunrise on the Sky Deck
There was a mandatory Disembarkation Talk in the Van Gogh lounge at 10:30 a.m., so we dutifully showed up, expecting the rather dreary "to do" list that was given to us on other cruises. But not this morning!
They started off with a funny scavenger hunt among the audience. Rebecca, the assistant cruise director, would call out an item, then two of her staff (a young man and a young woman) would dash through the audience, pluck the item, and run pell mell back to the stage with it. Some were what you might expect, but who would have thought passengers would remove their Bermuda shorts (one man did!) pull out their false teeth (two women did) or hand over their bra (one woman did). Some of the passengers got out these items suspiciously fast--I suspect they are seasoned travelers on Holland America and knew what was coming. Anyway, that put everyone in a good mood and more willing to hear what they must do before leaving the ship.
We also got a chance to say farewell to just about everyone working on the ship--they all paraded up on the stage--the cabin stewards, dining room crew, kitchen staff, engineers, dancers, orchestra--everybody. I guess there was a skeleton crew to steer the ship and keep up the steam! They closed with a song about the universality of love. A very positive, upbeat ending to the voyage and a fine way to leave your passengers wanting to come back again.
The Pacific Ocean was indeed peaceful again on our northward trip. Since our cabin was on the starboard side, we could see the peninsula sliding by all day. We reached the midpoint of the Peninsula about noon. The shipís photographer had been making a video of "our" cruise during the voyage, and today he showed it off in the movie theater. We went to see how it all looked, and whether it might be worth the $35. cost to take home a copy. Definitely not! Very poor videography. Our Salem friend, George, who recommended this cruise to us, had done a great video of his trip--far, far better than the shipís photographer.
Barb in the Wajang movie theater
By the time the video was over, we headed up to the Lido buffet to discover that yes, there actually is a tiny little window of time when they are not serving food there--and we found that window. No food! What to do! Well, actually, things werenít as bad as we first feared. You could still get a pizza, a sandwich made to order, OR you could have ice cream, cookies, iced tea and coffee. We eked out lunch with that last option. That held us until the Explorer Lounge provided tea and goodies at 3:30 p.m. So, for the first time, we made it into that lounge and found it a very pleasant place to sit, visit with others and watch the blue Pacific from the big picture windows.
We took advantage of the open time to go around the ship, taking pictures of some of the beautiful art that the Statendam is rightfully proud to display.
Made in Friesland in 1760
Batik and wooden gilded sculpture from Indonesia
Cannon cast for the Dutch East India Company
made in southern Germany, 1663
A last nice dinner, a last tussle with the slot machines (no more jackpots, darn!) and then it was time to get serious about the packing. Glenn miraculously got all the ironwood sculptures nicely packed and protected, and the virtues of my combination suitcase/duffle bag came into play now--just roll it up, stuff it in, and always, room for some more. Holland America was also more generous in their deadline for having our suitcases outside the cabin door for pick up. On other cruises, theyíve wanted the luggage very early in the evening, but here, we had until 1 a.m. to get it all zipped up. Didnít take us that long, but it was nice not to be rushed with the packing.
Holland America publicizes the fact that they do not require cruise passengers to tip any of the crew. We felt we had received very good service from our cabin steward and dining room waiter, but wanted some guidelines on tipping them. On the other cruise lines, it was made obvious that you should tip--lots of people--and they thoughtfully printed guidelines on how much to tip, and provided little envelopes for you to leave money in. On Celebrity Lines, I had learned that cabin stewards and most of the wait staff in the dining rooms receive NO payment--just tips. So, of course, that cruise line expects you to pay their salary.
There was nothing in all of this shipís literature that even mentioned the word "tip." We asked the Front Office woman and she really didnít want to talk about it. "That is entirely up to you, Sir. If you do tip, you should tip each individual, as there is no sharing of tips." So Glenn calculated what he thought was a fair gratuity, considering that these workers were also getting an apparently living wage from the cruise line. I must say, we gave our cabin steward and waiter their tips with a much better feeling than on the other cruise lines where it was almost made mandatory. Nice to have a little free-will at play here. We got our final statement from the Front Office and found no problems. Now, all we had to do was remember to ask for a call for 5:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. The Lido buffet will open early, and since we have a fairly early flight from San Diego, we wanted to be sure we were ready when they called our number.
Sunday, February 9
Of course, we woke up at 4:45 a.m, long before the wake-up call and decided to go up and wait for the buffet to open. We found they already had the "continental" breakfast line open, and it had just what we wanted, juices, lots of fruit, cereal, sweet rolls and coffee. What more could we ask? When we got back to our cabin about 5:30 a.m., there was a knock on the door and a steward was there, checking to see why we hadnít answered our wake-up call. Oops! Forgot about that, but nice to know that the ship was keeping track of us.
At 8 a.m. we left our room and safe keys on the table, and left Cabin 805 for the last time. As on our other cruises, departing passengers were scattered all over the shipís lounges. We ended up in the Van Gogh Lounge, and found that our number "5" was called very soon. So, off the ship we marched, and into the big pier building which was now a sea of suitcases. Just like the penguin parents who unerringly find their own offspring among all the identical-appearing babies, people were happily claiming their own bags, us included. The Holland America land staff was on hand to shepherd us to the right bus. They whisked us back to the airport, where we found our dinner partners, Susan and Randy, waiting for their flight which left before ours.
A slight delay in departing, but with our Southwest Air "A" boarding passes, we had our pick of the seats and again chose the rear of the plane. We held out hope that the flight wouldnít be full and we could have the luxury of an empty middle seat between us. No such luck! Every seat was full. We stopped at the Sacramento airport, lost a lot of our fellow passengers, again hoped for some extra space, but nope, a full flight heading for Portland. A sunny day and the pilotís route paralleled the Sierra Nevada and Cascades. We got a clear view of the water situation on the West Coast. Lots of snow in the Sierras, and almost none in the Cascades--going to be a long, dry summer for us.
The fifteen-minute delay in leaving San Diego meant that we got to Portland just after the 4:00 p.m. shuttle left for Salem. Next one: 5:30 p.m. A beautiful day for early February, and easy ride home. Hard to stay awake--it was a long day. Tonight, no, not Filet Mignon or lobster in the Rotterdam Room, but a Big Mac on the way home. Yes, Barbara, youíre not on the beautiful and elegant ms Statendam anymore! But a fine cruise, and an excellent deposit in the trip memory bank.
February 16, 2003
P.S. The next morning we each stepped on the bathroom scales with fear and trepidation. Not to worry! Barbara hadnít gained a bit, and Glenn had lost seven pounds--amazing!.
Unless otherwise noted, text and photos are the property of Glenn and Barbara Halliday, © 2003