January 21-24, 2017 (At Sea & Amazon River)

After leaving Barbados, we were at sea for 3 days traveling southeast in the Atlantic Ocean; passing by Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, before entering the Amazon river in northeast Brazil.

Our first attempt at visiting the Amazon was in 2002. Two days before Christmas we left Miami on the Olympia, a greek ship, expecting to be at sea for 2 days before arriving in Barbados. Instead, we were jolted awake the next morning by the US Coast Guard who had surrounded us with a dramatic display of pulsing lights and deafening sirens. They escorted us to the dock in St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands), where we sat. Clueless. The crew was as bewildered as we were. No one was permitted to leave the ship and Internet access had been squelched. As noon passed, we grumbled about leading a mutiny while noshing on shrimp caesar salads and chocolate moose. Finally, a cryptic glimpse into our predicament was announced… “due to the court case underway in Honolulu, but now recessed for the holidays, the ship is temporarily being detained”. More information trickled in throughout the day, and by nightfall we had the full story. The cruise line had gone bankrupt, and the German bank who now controlled our fate, filed for an emergency injunction to stop us from leaving US Waters. The next morning we got booted off the dock. We moved to the outer harbor and sat at anchor, in limbo, for 10 days before heading back to Miami to disembark on January 3rd as scheduled.

Once the Coast Guard was assured we would not try to flee, tender service was approved. We went ashore each day to hang out in town, visit beaches, or take the local ferry to St. John for a change of scenery. The crew continued to treat us like royalty and the level of service never diminished. And, since many disillusioned passengers decided to fly home at their own expense, there was plenty of food for the rest of us. Hmmm…. go back to the frigid northeast or stay in tropical bliss? Seriously, is that a choice?

The night before pulling anchor, our waiter presented us with a elaborately wrapped package. He was beaming as we peeled off the tape. “You no make it to Amazon, so I give you my Piranah”, he said with reverence. Inside was a lacquered Piranah, it’s gaping maw revealed razor edged teeth. A stick jutted from it’s abdomen and “Manaus” was hand written on the driftwood base.

Hi cute little fishy!

We were astonished by his unwavering professionalism, genial disposition, and generosity in the face of a very uncertain future.

Two weeks after we arrived back home, we received a full refund from the cruise line’s insurance company; even though we did not buy a policy. Refund rules are different for bankruptcies and in the passengers’ favor. Now that’s a happy ending.


It took us 15 years, but this time we made it! And, making history. The Queen Victoria is the largest passenger ship to ever transit the Amazon River.

Early explorers in the 1500’s wrote about being attacked by matriarchal tribes of bare breasted women who fought more fiercely then Indian men. It was these remarkable warriors who later inspired the name, Amazon, after the women of Greek mythology who removed their right breast to facilitate using a bow and arrow. That’s dedication!

The Amazon is truly the mightiest river on earth. The headwaters are a chain of glacier-fed lakes high in the Andes Mountains of Peru. The river flows eastward for 4,080 miles and eventually meets the Atlantic Ocean in Northeastern Brazil at the equator. It’s 250 mile wide mouth expels 3 billion gallons of water per minute with such force that you can taste fresh water 110 miles from the mouth of the river. I wonder who decided to take that first sip? This discharge accounts for 20% of all the fresh water on earth. Two days worth is enough to keep New York City hydrated for 9 years. Drainage comes from 2.3 million square miles of land, which is about 3/4 of the continental United States.

The Amazon can be 68 mile wide in places during the rainy season (January-June) as it rises up to 46 feet during monsoons. In the dry season, some spots are less then a mile wide. Depths range from 20-300 feet. Deep enough for ocean-going freighters to travel 2,310 miles inland as far as Iquitos, Peru. Year round water temperature is about 86F.

There are over 1,100 tributaries. 17 of these are magnificent rivers in their own right, at over 1,000 miles long. When some rivers meet the Amazon, their waters do not mix due to different densities, temperatures, and flow speed. This phenomenon is called the “Meeting of the Waters”. We witnessed this bizarre sight twice. When the Amazon meets the Rio Negro near Manaus, the rivers flow side by side for 6 miles before finally merging. The Amazon wins. The Amazon is milky brown with a mucky bottom because of the sediment and silt that flows from the Andes mountains. This sediment, rich in bacteria, is the perfect breeding ground for the 2.5 million different kinds of insects found here. Half of these spent 6 days attempting to drill through the thick glass of our balcony door… delirious with the intoxicating promise of feasting on the juicy overfed humans inside. We were warned to keep our balcony door closed at night, and outside lights on the decks were dimmed. These precautions did not seem to deter their kamikaze directives. At sunrise, there were mountains of dying insects on deck and a thick film of bug entrails on the windows.

The Rio Negro is the color of black tea which comes from decomposing trees. Because it has a sandy bottom, it is not a breeding ground for insects like the Amazon. It is one of the cleanest rivers in the world.

Meeting of the Amazon and Negro Rivers
Meeting of the Amazon and Negro Rivers

The second “meeting” is near Santarem where the Amazon meets the Tapajos.

Meeting of the Amazon and Tapajos Rivers
Meeting of the Amazon and Tapajos Rivers

The Amazon region hosts over 30% of all known plant and animal species in the world; 2,500 different kinds of fish,1,800 species of birds, 250 mammals, and 50,000 complex plant varieties. Average rainfall is 79 inches a year making it the wettest region in the world. Humidity is always near 100% and the temperature is usually 90F with little variation.

In the early 1,900’s there were over 5 million Amerindians living in the forest. Now there are less then 200,000. Today, approximately 240 known tribes live in Brazil and most have less then 1,000 people. it is believed that 50 of these tribes have never had contact with the outside world. These tribes are extremely vulnerable to diseases like the common cold or flu, transmitted by outsiders. Unfortunately, this does not stop thrill seekers from venturing further into the jungle.

The Amazon rainforest supplies 15% of the world’s oxygen; and is known as the “lungs of the planet”. Alarmingly, close to 20% (about the size of France) has been cut down, mainly within the past 50 years. Cattle companies using a “slash and burn” technique to sow pastures are major culprits along with foreign lumber companies and big grain farmers cultivating genetically engineered soybeans. Illegal deforestation also continues to be a huge problem. Thankfully, global interest in protecting the forest is on the rise.

My next post will be about our adventures in Manaus and Santarem, assuming I live long enough to tell the tale. Gulp. Was that crack in the window there a minute ago?

Local River Boat
River Homestead
Check out the Satellite Dish!
FedEx on the River!

January 20, 2017 (Barbados)

We arrived in Bridgeton, the capital of Barbados this morning. Our first stop after 3 full days at sea. We have traveled 1,440 nautical miles since leaving Ft. Lauderdale. Barbados is 21 miles long, 14 miles wide, and has a population of just under 300,000 Barbadians. 110,000 live in Bridgeton. Literacy is an astonishing 99% and school is compulsory until age 16. Every person we came across was articulate and amiable. Crime is negligible.

The western side is bordered by the docile Caribbean Sea and the eastern side by the turbulent Atlantic Ocean. It was first settled by Europeans in 1627. By 1680, the wild lush rainforest was denuded to make way for sugar cane production, food crops, and grassland for feeding plantation animals. Every single inch of soil was cultivated. By 1690, the island was known as the “Brightest Jewel in the English Crown”. By the mid-1700’s, Barbados had over 2,500 plantations. With sugar cane production came the need for slaves. Primarily from West Africa, they were paid no wages for the first 7 years of grueling work, as “pay back” to their owners for the cost of boat passage to the island. Barbados remained an English colony until being granted independence in 1966. Tourism is now the dominant industry.

Did you know that George Washington (our first president) came to Barbados in 1751 as an 18 year old serving in the English military? He was aghast when he witnessed how the local “negro style” was affecting white European women. In 1756 he remarked that “white Barbadian women were often heard swearing in a vulgar corrupted dialect”… Sounds to me like George needed a few belts of Mount Gay Rum; produced here for over 300 years, and still going strong.

Our first visit was in 2010 on the Queen Mary 2. Back then, we rented a topless tiny car called a “Mini Moke” right at the Port. Just as we were about to zip off and explore the island, an Armageddon inspired rain started, and never ceased. We watched our Moke fill up with water from under cover a few yards away. After 3 hours, steeped in despair, we shuffled back to the rental counter and meekly requested a refund, not thinking we would get one. But we did! The dreadlocked Barbadian cheerfully handed back our cash. The smile never left his face, as he bobbed in time to music playing on a tinny radio. “No worries, Mon … come back again sometime”.

So here we were again, 7 years later. It was a hazy, hot and humid day. Perfect for an open car, and we sparkled with anticipation as we rushed to the Mini Moke counter. IT WAS GONE. A stodgy Hertz booth commandeered their spot. Where were they? No one seemed to know. After an hour of scanning side streets and asking dozens of people, we finally got an answer. The company had recently moved to the far side of the island, over 20 miles away. If George Washington’s delicate sensibilities were offended by the ladies in 1756, his ears would have bled after hearing the string of vulgarities that escaped unbidden from my dainty mouth.

So we hoofed it around Bridgeton instead, taking in the local sights and seeking shade at every turn. We were in a foul mood for awhile; having been rendered “Moke-Less” for the second time.

After winding through the fish market, we witnessed a curious transaction on the side of the road. A local woman was buying long strands of unrefrigerated stringy meat pulled from a dirty white bucket. We inched closer and asked what it was. Pig Intestines. A common dish on the island is comprised of sweet potato pudding heavily seasoned with pepper, stuffed into pig’s intestines and served with soused pork trotters and head meat. Sounds yummy.

Pig Intestines Vendor

Back on board for dinner, we were treated to a sumptuous pasta dish created table side by the Senior Maitre D’, Sandro. It was brimming with seafood and doused in a sauce of garlic, olive oil, red pepper, and white wine. I am rethinking those elastic pants already.

Sandro was with us on the Queen Mary 2, and we are delighted to see him again. I wonder if he knows how to make pork trotters?

Queen Victoria docked in Bridgetown, Barbados
Fishing on the Rocks
How does the hair stay up there?

January 4, 2010 (Heading to New York to Meet the Queen)

On Saturday, January 4, 2010, we left Maine at 9 AM, with what promised to be, a historic Nor’Easter nipping at our wheels. The channel 8 weather guy – known for his inflated predictions – claimed that the Portland area would see between 10-25 inches of snow (quite a spread, which insulates him from being called an inflationary extremist) and wind gusts over 50 mph. We loaded our Hyundai Sonata rental with 12 bags, 7 of which teetered on the upper weight limit of 50 lbs. There are no restrictions on how many bags you can bring. You do however, need to store them all in your stateroom, which in itself can prove to be an effective self-limiter. Steve had the brilliant idea of buying several large soft sided duffle bags from LL Bean that fold down to inches, in lieu of using hard cases with wheels that would take up half the stateroom. I wonder how many other passengers packed to their hearts content without considering the consequences? No… there is no luggage room… sorry folks. With Steve at the helm, we pulled out of the driveway as the wind slammed into the car. We were grateful for the 500 pounds of luggage keeping the wheels tight to the road.

Some of you may be thinking… 500 pounds? Excessive? Before you judge us, consider this. We packed for 106 days. That’s a LONG time. Steve’s size 13 feet translate into gargantuan shoes that filled an entire duffle, took two of us to tug shut, and tested the zipper’s resilience. The shoes for my dainty size 8 feet filled a bag equal in size… but you must consider that being a woman, it is my Birth Right to bring as many shoes as I deem necessary for all real and hypothetical occasions. Which brings me to clothes. We packed for 46 formal dining nights, 40 semi formal nights, and the rest, spiffy casual. A suit, tux, a few sports coats, and a handful of ties and Steve was set for evenings. For me, the wardrobe choices were vastly more complex. I couldn’t get away with a few dresses when I will see the same people for 3.5 months. There is also a daily afternoon tea (which requires it’s own wardrobe) and a vast array of daytime activities (which include tracking lions and kangaroos to being chased by diseased mosquitos).

We will hit every season. Rome will be chilly. In Sydney, Australia, Fall will have just arrived. New Dehli, India, will be stinky hot and humid along with the Zulu Nation in South Africa. In Hong Kong, Spring will have sprung. Jeans, shorts, fleece, wick-away stuff to sweat in, sequined gowns, yoga pants, patten leather tux shoes, rain coats, bathing suits, sneakers, strapless bras, and flip flops. Have I justified the weight?

During the week before leaving, we were jolted to semiconsciousness several times a night, having dreamt of “can’t live without” items to ad to the list. Of course, not wanting to wake fully, we failed to write anything down… leaving us with wispy memories the next morning that escaped our grasp. Is it any wonder that we started our journey sleep deprived?

That covers what goes ON the body, but we also had to tackle what goes IN it. I scoured the CDC website, looking for life threatening bugs. Many of the countries we will visit are known to provide safe harbor for insects who love to chow down on human blood while they deposit nasty diseases. There are also parasites that would joyfully take up permanent residence in our intestines. They might lurk in innocent ice cubes that started life in an Egyptian river…. just waiting for the chance to defrost in a diet coke. A river that earlier that day was used as a toilet and a clothes washer. To address these potential nuisances we got shot up with a Hepatitis A vaccine, and took a course of Live Typhoid Pills (this is a good thing, believe it or not). And, I can get used to drinking luke warm soda.

Swine and Seasonal Flu vaccines were virtually non-existent in Maine before we left. Traveling on a ship with recirculated air, and over 3,000 people who, no doubt, will skimp on singing the entire “happy birthday song” while washing their hands without being immunized first is akin to playing Russian Roulette. Panic set in! The search began and ended in Southern New Jersey. On a trip to visit Steve’s family in mid-December, we popped into a CVS Minute Clinic and without having to lie about being healthy, got what we needed. The final piece was trying to decide which Anti-Malarial medication to take. Reading about the potential side effects of Lariam was like being engrossed in a Stephen King novel. A chance of psychotic episodes… wicked bad dreams the night you take the (once weekly) pill… depression… anxiety… suicidal thoughts… just to name a few. And then the best one; the “half life” of this drug is LONG, which means that we could feel all of these wonderful effects for several months after the last pill. Hmmm… NEXT. We decided on Malarone. A ghastly expensive drug ($300 for 50 pills), but mild side effects in comparison. No malaria drugs guarantee you won’t contract the disease, so I packed two cans of “Deep Woods Off” as a back up. What’s worse… covering your body with carcinogenic Deet… or contracting Malaria? Definitely Malaria, if you get it, you got it for life.

January 8, 2010 (Crossing the North Atlantic)

January 8 (AT SEA)

We are approximately 1,400 miles from Southampton, England following the route of The Titanic and warily scanning for icebergs.

Which one of these doesn’t belong? Me. Outside. Deck. Chaise Lounge. North Atlantic Ocean. 52 Degrees. January. Sun. Colder then Florida? If you guessed none… bingo! Read it and weep denizens of North America. I never would have expected to see one day like this, let alone two, during this crossing. It’s almost noon (9 AM EST) as I write. We have been nudging our clocks ahead one hour each night so when we arrive in England we will be in the Proper time zone. We mustn’t annoy the Queen.

The waves have grown to 20+ feet and are smashing into our starboard side (that the right side for all you nautically-challenged types) which translates into a rolly polly ship. The Commodore (many, many, pay grades above Captain) tells us that these waves are mere shadows of what “batted about” the Queen Victoria yesterday. He also reminded us that our day will surely come. Hear this in your head, spoken in the most delightful british accent, and it’s impossible to get perturbed. Americans are the minority on this segment. It’s mostly brits, and many are getting off in Southhampton. They just wanted to “cross the pond” and overeat. Speaking of overeating… my charming baby brother, Brian, suggested that Steve and I log our weight gain along with our experiences. Thanks Bri. NOT. We have remained true to our goal of working out in the gym every day while at sea. Okay… it’s only been 4 days, but a commendable start. Oh, except that Steve skipped this AM… too drugged on Dramamine to move. Better safe then, well, you know… (retching sounds… ).

From my perspective on the 10th deck, the waves just don’t seem that big. BUT… if you stare at them from the 3rd deck for too long… you will likely revisit with your last gourmet meal. From down there, you get occasional peaks of horizon behind an undulating wall of boiling water. We have been traveling at 23 Knots since leaving New York – that’s pretty darn speedy. Our stateroom is just about mid-ship, which is the least rocky spot. Location. Location. Location.

Let’s go back to January 4th for a moment… our departure day. I took the photo below from our stateroom balcony – looking back at Manhattan. We pulled out around 6 PM with several police boats escorting us towards the mighty North Atlantic. We enjoyed a spectacular view of the Statue of Liberty, and eventually slid under the Verazano Bridge, which we didn’t clear by much. I could see that the underside was in desperate need of a paint job. For you trivia fanatics… the QM2‘s overall height during the design process was determined by the clearance needed for this one little ‘ol bridge in New York.

Leaving New York City – Day One

January 10, 2010 (Still Crossing the North Atlantic)

January 10 – AT SEA

We are now two days from England, and our shore excursion to Stonehenge and Salisbury has been cancelled for Monday – due to the unprecedented cold and snowy weather that has completely paralyzed the UK. The entire country is in effect, shut down. Just imagine a Maine winter without salt, sand, and plows… uh, wait a minute… those of you “from away” NEVER visit past October… so how could you possibly understand what I’m talking about?

We will just have to amuse ourselves in Southampton instead. And honestly, being on solid ground should be excitement enough. I am totally bummed about missing Stonehenge though. I am quite certain that Steve and I would have experienced something magical there among those ancient stones. Perhaps even levitation. We’ll never know.

The waves are 25+ today… but they are hitting the bow head on, making for much less movement. Steve’s off the drugs and can even look at the waves without… well, you know… and we both feel quite chipper. The story today is the wind. 75+ MPH (no, I’m not exaggerating) coming from the East. Walking the complete loop around the ship is now allowed today … lest some of the more annoying passengers get blown (or pushed) over the railing. The temp is still in the 50‘s.

Now, a bit about the stateroom category we chose. We are in a Princess Grill Suite. We forked over the big bucks for several reasons. First… size DOES matter. Our stateroom is a generous 381 square feet, which includes the large balcony, walk in closet, and sizable bathroom with a tub/shower. In addition to the king bed, we have a decent sized sitting area, vanity with chair, and bar area with frig. On our drive to New York, my growing trepidation over the imagined lack of storage space almost led me to abandon half of Steve’s belongings prior to boarding. Did he really need all those shoes? I envisioned living with piles of clothes everywhere. When we finally got everything unpacked, I was amazed to see that we still had two empty drawers… which I prompted claimed as mine, which is, by law, another one of my birth rights.

Second, is the “single seating” private restaurant that only those in our category dine in. We are assigned a table, and can eat anytime we want between 6:30-9 PM. How awesome is that? We have been on cruises before… and the one thing I despised most was being assigned a time I had to eat – if I wanted the fancy restaurant. My stomach does not grumble on demand. Of course, there are over a dozen venues to eat any meal in… but our dining room is about as Fine as it gets. Even if you order a lowly burger for lunch, you are not permitted to bathe your own french fries in ketchup. There is a guy for that… and he grandly places the dollop on your plate with a silver spoon. I am totally serious.

Analisa (from the Philippines) is our “stewardess”, responsible for our comfort and the state of our suite during the voyage. Steve told her we live in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, in the US, and she responded with a polite nod of the head and a quizzical look, which revealed that she had no idea where it was. He tried to narrow it down a bit… “Near Portland?“ Nothing. “North of Boston?” Still nothing. “North of New York on the ocean?” Success. We got an enthusiastic response, although it was probably just to end the agony of the guessing game. That’s okay… we often get that blank look from people in our own country when we tell them where we live.

We reviewed the “pillow menu” (I kid you not) that has 7 different choices (in varying levels of puffiness), and made our preliminary selections with Analisa. We have since made several modifications… and I believe, we finally, have the optimum blend of feather and foam.


January 11, 2010 (Arriving in the Mother Country… Finally!)

Cherrio! We have arrived in the Mother Country! 3,214 miles from New York. We docked in Southhampton this morning around 5 AM. It was really quite bizarre to wake up to civilization after seeing nothing more then waves for 7 days and nights. During the crossing, we never saw or heard a bird. Steve claims he spied a whale-like creature yesterday, but I wonder if it was his brain fabricating a watery amusement. We have gained an entirely new appreciation for the vastness and power of the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Yesterday, the waves throttled back to about 7 feet with light winds. Movement was barely perceptible and we both felt “equalized”. I received an email this morning from an friend who must have sensed we needed some “‘words of seasick wisdom”, and I found what he shared fascinating…

Bob said that “The conventional wisdom when I was in the Navy during the recent dark ages was that it was caused by conflicting sensory stimuli. If you were inside the ship, your eyes agreed with the sense you were stationary, but your sense of balance (inner ear) was signaling roll and pitch. Until you learned (subconsciously) that this conflict was “normal” and acceptable, you tended to get a woopsie feeling in the gut – to put it in fine, scientific terms. Others said that the dumber you were the less likely you were to suffer mal de mer and conversely the smarter you were, the more likely you were apt to get on your knees in praise of the porcelain goddess”.

Hhhmmm… I never came close to, well, you know… but Steve did. What does that say about my intellect? I think I’m insulted. Just picture the Queen Mary 2 as a tiny crouton being tossed about in a huge caesar salad and that pretty much sums up the last 6 days. “The Crossing” in winter is not for the faint of stomach. One more caveat … I’m glad I didn’t listen to Steve when he rolled his eyes at me in CVS and said “we don’t need to buy TWO bottles of Dramamine”…


After an early lunch on board we ventured out to explore the city. It was dank, dreary, and cold. 31 degrees with the look of perpetual dusk at high noon. We walked from the ocean terminal to downtown in a skating motion. The sidewalks and streets were covered in a thin layer of ice, with a few haphazard patches of sand to break our slide. We glided past a stand of palm trees. What? And shook our heads in wonder. Something doesn’t compute here. Right about now, I was grateful I was  not on a tour bus, in a ditch, with 50 other people on the way to Stonehenge. Can buses levitate?

Southhampton is a huge commercial seaport about 1.5 hours southeast of London and the base for Cunard Lines. Our primary reason for coming here was to disgorge over 1,000 passengers who left wearing tee shirts that said “I survived The Crossing!”. We also gathered newbies to take with us. I don’t know how many passengers are currently on the ship – but when full – it is 2,600 – plus over 1,000 crew members. There are about 300 of us going around the world. The rest would have purchased one or more segments. This leg ends in Dubai on January 27th.

There is not much to see in downtown Southampton from a “historic” point of view. Most of the older buildings were destroyed by the Germans in WWII. We went to one small church, St. Michaels, built in 1070, making it almost 1,000 years old. The main shopping district was a flurry of frozen faces and hunched shoulders. No one seems to own warm clothes. No one had gloves on. Even little kids in strollers were red handed. We went to a large drug store called “Boots” and were surprised to see that all the employees had on matching polyester uniforms. Delightfully Retro.

After buying a few items we forgot at home (I know, can you believe it?), we slid back towards the pier and stopped to pay tribute at the Titanic Memorial. She left from the same berth we occupied yesterday, full of hopeful passengers. Her journey cut short, mirrored ours, less the icebergs. The other ship to leave Southampton on a historic journey was The Mayflower.

We got back to the ship around 4 PM and spent the next hour thawing out. We too, were underdressed. Our down coats did not make the packing list.

January 12, 2010 ( At Sea)


Steve is sprawled on the bed, passed out from Dramamine, as I type away. We are back in the Atlantic Ocean, on our way south to Lisbon, Portugal. The waves started to build back up around 2 AM and are now peaking at 23 feet and coming in two directions. Pitch and Roll introduced “Shudder” today. The grand trio! Yeeee Ha! It’s like being on Space Mountain in Disneyland. To add to the drama…gale force winds and sleet have closed ALL the decks – so no one can escape outside. Cue the scary music…

We are told that copious creaking is a good sign in rough weather. When the creaking stops… that’s trouble. Why, do you ask? Well-built ships creak because they have flexible joints. A “stiff ship” will be crushed by the waves instead of moving in harmony with them. Although admirable, it’s a difficult attribute to appreciate when lying awake with hours to kill before dawn. To amuse myself, I played “Name that Creak!” in my head. Is this how schizophrenia starts? Then I switched to the “What Object Will Fall Off the Shelf Next?” game with a bonus round of “And Will It Hit Me”?

I readily admit to being a “wave junkie”. Their power. Their majesty. Their fierceness. Their ability to mesmerize and hypnotize. Each one is beautifully unique, just like snowflakes. If I nudge Steve awake to share this pithy insight with him, he might have a few choice words of his own to interject… shall I?


We are never “directly warned” of bad weather to come. Instead, we are given notes like this one yesterday…

“Princess Grill guests are advised that for your comfort the cocktail party scheduled for tomorrow evening in your honour has been postponed until after we depart from Lisbon…”

For Our Comfort? Read between the lines (with a british accent please).

January 13-15, 2010 (Lisbon, Portugal & At Sea)

JANUARY 13TH – Arrival in Lisbon

Bom Dia! That’s portuguese for “Good Morning”! We arrived in Lisbon today amidst torrential rain and gusty winds, although warm at 60 degrees. Despite the weather, there was a platoon of “hand net” fisherman in tiny dinghies bobbing in the harbor. They appeared to be directly in our path. The Bridge sounded our approach with two Typhon style whistles that sound a deep resounding “A” note (for all you musicians out there) and can be heard from 10 miles away. The little boats did not flinch nor did their captains frantically row away. Instead, they waved vigorously in greeting (or perhaps in defiance). We may be bigger… but they were here first. As we passed by, the fisherman disappeared from view. I wondered if they got sucked into our vortex… ground up into little pieces after a trip through the propellers and sent out the other end as fish food. Disgusting, I know, but it happens. I’ve heard stories…

This would be a good time to talk size. The QM2 is 1,132 feet long, which is only 117 feet shorter then the Empire State Building is high. She is 147 feet longer then the Eiffel Tower is tall. Onboard there are 1,550 miles of electric cable and 280,000 square yards of fitted carpet. Her hull alone weighs 50,000 tons – which is more then a school of 330 blue whales (that’s a lot of blubber). Her gross tonnage is 151,400. Then when you add the really gross tonnage of the passengers after 11 days of overeating (not us of course)… it’s remarkable that we didn’t flood downtown Lisbon with displaced water as we docked.

A few years ago, we spend two weeks exploring Portugal and got a good taste of Lisbon. I am very grateful for that. Our 7 hours here was a complete washout. The 40 mphwinds shredded our umbrellas and we were soaked through within seconds. We were so looking forward to hanging out downtown and people watching in the parks. Lisbon is built on 7 hills; most are too steep for vehicles. There is a series of funiculars (elevators) that whisk people between the upper and lower city. The streets are narrow, and you often have to press your body against a building to let a car pass. Thankfully, all the side view mirrors are permanently tucked in, so they didn’t shave off last night’s Chocolate Moose with Raspberry Puree.

Oh! Some excitement tonight at dinner! Over the loudspeaker, the Captain asked the “Assessment Crew” to kindly report to the Commodore’s Lounge (a bar on the 9th floor – forward). Assessment Crew? That’s rather vague, isn’t it? Ends up there was some white smoke coming from a vent and they needed to check it out. It was a corroded wire and easily fixable… but now I know to perk up when this special crew is assembled. The other spine tingler was a medical evacuation! We saw a passenger being taken from the ship via ambulance from several decks above. Her head was not covered, a good sign. Although a dead body would make for a much better story. Shocked by my crassness? You shouldn’t be. I’ve been at sea for a long time. Aaaarrrrrggghhhh……


Do you know the difference between an Ocean and a Sea? I didn’t, so I looked for a proper definition in the ship’s library (with over 8,000 books and a dedicated librarian, this self-proclaimed book worm is in heaven). A Sea is fully encompassed by land – with a small opening in and out. An Ocean borders land in some places but is not surrounded by it.

The North Atlantic Ocean spewed us into the Mediterranean Sea through the Straights of Gibraltar this morning. This narrow stretch of water separates Africa from Europe; with Morocco to the South, and Spain to the North. It is only 7.5 miles across at the narrowest point. The straights were known to the ancient Greeks as the “Pillars of Hercules”. The attached photo is the Rock of Gibraltar, taken today. It is owned by England (what?) and Spain still wants it back. Africa too.

Throughout the early morning, with our course change from South to East came a welcome change in wave direction from rolling to “following seas”. The waves are still about 15 feet, but they are pushing us from the back – and the movement is barely perceptible. The (more intelligent passengers), like my recently resurrected husband, are down right giddy. The Stabilizers (they deserve the capital S) on the QM2 are life sustaining. They reduce the rolling motion by a whopping 80%. There are 2 on each side, protruding from the hull. They are the shape and size of a jumbo jet’s wing, and are constantly self adjusting to the the water’s direction and force. When their job is done (although they have not taken a break yet) … they nestle against the hull until called again to duty. Let’s hope they never join a Union.

We finally needed sunglasses today – after packing them away last Fall. It is much brighter down here and the sun is toasty. It’s about 65 degrees and the water is a “Chamber of Commerce” turquoise blue due to silt and sand runoff from the African coast. After passing through the Straights, the land spread out again and there was nothing ahead but endless sea dotted with a few islands.


Why I thought a Sea would be more mellow then an Ocean is beyond me. It’s a stormy day, today. 20 foot seas, lots of wind, and the outside decks are closed. Steve was all cocky this morning and went to the gym (in the bow) around 7 AM, despite the fact that we were being jostled about mid-ship.. Waves = Big. Mid-Ship = Good. Bow = Bad. He came back 15 minutes later glowing with a translucent shade of pee green. He recovered quickly and learned a valuable lesson. Location… Location… Location…

We passed by the Balearic Islands of Ibize, Mallorca, and Menorca today (consult your Atlas). Later tonight we will pass between Corsica to the North and Sardinia to the South into the Tyrrhenian Sea (which is a sub-sea in the Mediterranean).

Tomorrow morning we arrive in Civitavecchia, Italy, our gateway to Rome. We are doing “Rome on our Own” and will take a bus to the city. We have been before, and really look forward to exploring Old Rome again.Tshau! (Good Bye in Portuguese) For Now!

Rock of Gibraltar – Located off the southwestern tip of Europe on the Iberian Peninsula

January 16-18, 2010 (Rome, Italy & At Sea)

January 16 – ROME

Tiny wavelets on the way to Rome last night. Finally… a good night’s sleep? Not for me. It seemed endless, as I woke up a dozen times to peak at the clock. This was the first time we had to be somewhere early in the morning and even though I set an alarm and arranged for a wake up call… I kept imagining that both safeguards would fail and we would miss our bus to Rome; taillights mocking us as they receded from view. My mom calls it “trip jitters”. I call it neurosis. Steve slept like a deadman.

We were quite surprised to find a hand written note from the Pope under our stateroom door this morning inviting us to tea at the Vatican. Apparently, he feels that our Catholic friends back home are in need of serious attention and requested a joint prayer session. We assumed the note was delivered to the wrong room, since all of you are either perfect little angels or beyond any help we could offer. We decided to hang out with the pagans in ancient Rome instead.

The port (Civitavecchia) is about an hour’s drive from Rome. Deep green hills full of grazing sheep and sleeping vineyards held our attention along the way. It was a stunning day with a deep blue cloudless sky, no wind, and warmth. We were dropped off at the Piazza del Popolo (People’s Plaza) with 7 hours to explore. It was Saturday and the city was buzzing with Romans living life. Coffee flowing in outdoor cafes, treasure filled shopping bags ready to burst, groups of old men gesticulating wildly to get their point across, and a cigarette in almost every hand. Hello? Smoking Kills!

Our first stop was the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps), where we were greeted with The Rules posted in Italian and English.

1. Do Not Dirty Having Meal Or Drink
2. Make Camp or Get Bedding Is Not Allowed
3. Using the Area For Defecating Is Prohibited
4. Do Not Shout, Racket, or Sing

Aren’t translations fun? For centuries, important citizens and visitors congregated at the Steps. Artists scoured the area in search of models. People were (and still are) hoping to be discovered. The site is no less popular in contemporary Rome, but the refinement has faded (one look at The Rules will tell you that).

Next we headed to the Trevi Fountain. It is said, that if you casually toss a coin over your left shoulder into the fountain, it will ensure a return visit. A second coin will grant you a wish. The guy who scrubs the bottom is among the richest in the city. I’m sure he reports all the cash income too. Just like his father, who started the Legend.

Our next stop was the Pantheon; completed in 27 BC and still completely whole. It started life as a Pagan place of worship and was later consecrated as a Catholic Church. The huge round open hole in the roof is the only light source. The massive columns (40 feet high and 6 feet in diameter) came from Egypt.

Then it was off to find lunch. We wanted a place where the menus had no translations and the owner was stereotypically Italian. We found it. There was a large middle aged woman sitting behind a cash register and stroking a cat who was lying ON the menus. She pried them from under his generous rump, and led us to a beat up wooden table with ornate chairs. We were plodding through the unfamiliar words when she returned with unappealing white bread. I took a bite out of curiosity – before I remembered that in Europe – nothing that gets delivered to the table is free. You have to ask for it to be removed pronto – or you pay for it – even if you don’t touch it. We spent 4 Euros ($5.00 US) for bread that should have been tossed three weeks ago. Stupid tourists. The pasta was fantastic though. I had Rigatoni Carbonara that was thickly coated with tangy cheese and salty ham. Steve had a squiggly pasta smothered in mushrooms, ham, and something we could not quite identify. The cat kept us company by weaving through our legs and depositing long hairs on our jeans. He even jumped on the table to take a closer look at our meals. We wanted an authentic experience, we got it.

After lunch we headed to the Coliseum, completed in 80 AD and the most celebrated of all Roman monuments. Up to 50,000 spectators crowded in for horrifying “entertainment” as live (unarmed) men confronted lions (or each other). Violence was a drug in this depraved society. With a bit of imagination, we can make the parallel to 21st century spectator sports and video games, can’t we? Our last stop was the ancient remnants of the Roman Forum before heading back to our pick up point.


Rome Coliseum
Ruins of Ancient Rome


Today we continued on our Southeasterly course towards the Suez Canal and Egypt. Predawn, we passed the volcanic island of Stromboli and witnessed 2 eruptions in 30 minutes. Lava was vomited over 300 feet high! Despite this “Old Faithful” pattern, there is a tiny village of fisherman who cling to the nearly nonexistent coast line behind the crater. Soon after, we passed through the Straights of Messina between the “toe” of Italy’s boat and the Island of Sicily. It was clear enough to see Mt. Etna. A dormant volcano in Sicily over 10,000 feet high and covered in snow. It is a rare sight as the mountain is usually shrouded in mist.


Our only land sighting today was the Island of Crete. Greek owned, and believed to be Plato’s fabled Lost City of Atlantis. We will start our transit of the Suez Canal around 4 AM tomorrow.

January 19-21, 2010 (Suez Canal & Egypt)


Can anyone guess how much a “one way” trek through the Suez Canal costs? Answer below. Don’t peak.

Linking the Mediterranean and Red Seas was an ancient idea. Pharaoh Necho submitted the first documented plan in the 6th Century BC. Nearly 100,000 workers, most of them slaves, died during the construction effort and the Pharaoh was forced to abandon his dream. There were many attempts throughout history to complete the canal, but since there were no established communities along the route to dredge and maintain it, the project repeatedly failed.

In 1845, a french engineer came up with a promising plan, although rumors circulated that the project was impossible because of a 30 foot elevation change between the two Seas – and all that would result was a huge waterfall. This was found to be false. There is, remarkably, only a 3 foot difference, making locks unnecessary. Construction started in 1856 and was completed in 1869.

We started our transit through the Canal at 3 AM. We were the caboose of 15 ships in the first of two daily southbound convoys, spread out with a good distance between us. Remember – ships can’t step on the breaks – so tailgating is a no no – especially without a slow lane. There is one northbound transit each day. Since the Canal is “one way”, the two convoys pass each other in Bitter Lake (6 miles long and 4 miles wide), and conveniently at the half way mark. In the lake, 32 HUGE ships, glided past us. Container ships (like the one in the attached photo) has over 1,100 containers on it! I kid you not. 1,100! We also saw massive car carriers and oil tankers. The Canal is about 100 miles long and it took us 12 hours to complete the journey. Maximum allowed speed is 8 knots, which helps control erosion on the banks.

We were glued to the scenery from dawn to the bitter end, mostly because it was so utterly foreign to our habitual rhythm of life. On the western side, jagged barren mountains were the backdrop to patches of green, irrigated by the Nile River. The eastern side (Sinai Peninsula) is by contrast, an utterly flat and endless desert. The military was everywhere. Forts on both banks and guards toting machine guns every half mile, kept watch from tiny cement shelters. I thought about the heat they must endure in the summer – when it reaches 122 F with no relief. We passed a convoy of armored tanks and thousands of soldiers involved in tactical training exercises – as the ship’s Reggae Band was banging out lunch time tunes. I think my brain stopped functioning for a time as it tried to process these starkly juxtaposed images.

We were definitely the featured attraction as very few passenger ships, let alone the QM2, take this journey. We were whistled at, photographed, and studied intently through binoculars. Kids would run to the canal banks and jump up and down waving so vigorously they fell over with exhaustion! The local people were in awe (so were we). When we reached the town of Suez at the end of the canal, there were hundreds of people lined up on the promenade to see us pass by. I am told this will happen frequently, especially in “maiden call” ports. Steve and I waved regally from our stateroom balcony. Princess Diana would have been proud.

If anyone guessed $750,000 USD for this little jaunt (I will pause briefly here as you shout out the appropriate expletives), give yourself a pat on the back.

We Parted the Red Sea after we left the Canal. I told you we had clout.

Container Ship in the Suez Canal
Kamikaze ferry darts between ships in the Suez Canal

JANUARY 20TH – SOKHNA, EGYPT (Port for Cairo)

Some of you know that Steve and I spent two weeks in Egypt on our honeymoon back in 1989. We explored Giza and crawled deep inside the innards of the Great Pyramid. Tourists aren’t allowed to do that anymore. We went at a good time, there were far less people visiting 20 years ago. We rode and got spat on by a camel. We visited with the Sphinx. We soaked up the Cairo Museum and saw all the treasures from King Tut’s tomb. We shopped in souks. And, Steve, tried to sell his new bride for 1,000 camels (but that’s a story for another time). It was in a word, unforgettable.

So, we opted not to take the trip to Cairo from Sokhna – with most of our shipmates – due to the distance. 6 hours round trip on a bus, with only 4 hours of exploration time sounded very unappealing.

Unfortunately, we docked at the commercial port and town wasn’t close enough to walk to. Taxis were nonexistent. The only entertainment was to walk the blacktop in front of the ship and check out the tables laden with souvenirs. I had 300 Egyptian Pounds (about $36 USD) in my pocket left over from 20 years ago and I was determined not to leave the country with them again. The “Destination Speaker” a few days earlier had warned us about souvenirs to avoid…
Stuffed Animals (camels mostly) that are filled with dirty “nappies”. I found out later that “nappies” are brit-speak for diapers. How nasty is that? By the time you sniff around your stateroom and ask… What. IS. That. Smell… the seller is enjoying a double expresso while fanning himself with your cash.
The Egyptian version of the Snow Globe is filled with lighter fluid so the sand floats down dreamily over the mighty Sphinx. If you haven’t blown up your stateroom as the globe slowly leaks through the cracks in the plastic… then I’m sure you’ll enjoy the full body strip search at the airport.
I went to take a look and nearly guffawed when I saw these items, front and center, on the merchants tables. I did resist picking up a camel and taking a whiff. Better that they don’t know, I know.

After all the dusty travelers returned to the ship we headed 200 miles south to our second Egyptian port.

JANUARY 21ST – SAFAGA, EGYPT (Port for Luxor)

Safaga is a 4 hour drive (one way) to the historic sites in lower Egypt, so we skipped the excursion again, having been there already. 8 hours on a bus. No thanks.

We walked to town and amused ourselves by hanging out on a park bench watching life unfold. An alien landscape with no Walmart or McDonalds.

When the passengers returned from the tours to Luxor, I overheard a woman complain about being scammed. She was charged $10 to get on a camel… then once the ride was over, she was charged $100 to get off. And she paid it! She almost dropped her new snow globe as she ranted. Silly Silly Woman. Such is life in the QM2 melting pot.

We will be At Sea for the next four days before arriving in Muscat, Oman.