Monday, December 13, 2010

One Last Post

This was always intended to be a personal record of my Peace Corps experience-to try to capture the everyday life in Morocco. Now that has all come to an end, so I need to close this out.

It took 2 hours to disembark from the cruise ship in Puerto Rico, a 3 hr flight to Miami, 2 hour wait and 6 hour flight from Miami to LAX yesterday to get home. As in Huntington Beach home. Joanne-God Bless her parents-was there to pick me up and take me to the house. She came back today to go over some stuff that she’d saved for me and to remind me how to work the things I’d forgotten about.

It’s been a rather surreal day. Woke up in my own bed-showered in my own shower. Picked up a rental car this morning and they gave me a free upgrade to a Mercedes. Yes, a new Mercedes-all alone-not w/6+ other passengers stuffed into it-and I’m the one driving. Got my cell phone-who knew you could get a prepaid month to month phone-great option as I ruminate over the need for a smartphone. Lunch in the sunshine at the pier. Picked up the fine jewelry at the bank-that old Swatch watch that got me thru Morocco is history. Made a brief stop at the grocery store, but just for what I needed, ie; Diet Coke and Honey Wheat Cheerios. Everything is familiar, yet different. Everything looks so much bigger to me. Going thru mountains of mailings-only those Jo felt were important-appears I felled a few trees while I was gone. Got my first phone solicitation. Read the LA Times. Got a Jury Summons. Wearing clothes I forgot I had. I thought about going down to the car dealer to check their inventory, but geez, I’ve got plenty of time, yak?

Now it’s on with life. As usual, or hopefully a bit unusual. Looking forward to the next adventure that awaits. Inshallah.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Cruising to America

December 10th, Day 13 of the cruise, 2 days and I’ll be home-really home. Can’t really believe it yet. This has been kind of a 5 week time-warp.

So what’s happened in the last few days of cruising to America?

We had a full day in Cartagena-back on the Spain mainland. It was actually a very pretty and historically interesting place to see. There was plenty to do just walking around the town all day, with great sites at sea level and at the castle remains overlooking the port. We had then had a day at sea while we made our way from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and the Canary Islands. Fortunately they have a lot of things happening on the boat so the day was not an idle one. A champagne art auction. Yes, they serve the champagne to get you bidding. Guess what, it works! I’m the proud owner of a new piece of art. Now I have no argument to the challenge-who the hell buys artwork on a cruise ship? Anyway, there was also a decent art lecture, the ice show (yes, there’s an ice rink on board), started our own personal Project Runway marathon, learned that the ‘sit down’ breakfast and lunch are the way to go, worked out and got the dance floor to ourselves downstairs. Good day.

We’ve also managed to meet up with several other now-RPCVs making their way back to the states after also finishing their service-9 from Ghana, 4 from Tanzania, 2 from Armenia and 2 from Mongolia. Nice coincidence.

Our next stop was in La Palma, Grand Canary. Four of us rented a taxi to take us to the other side of the island to the nicest beach area in Maspalomas. Walking along the beachfront promenade between restaurants, hotels, condos and the shore reminded me so much of Hawaii. That’s when it hit me that the Canary Islands are to Europe as Hawaii is to the States. Who knew? Both are volcanic islands geared to tourists w/year-round balmy weather and great beaches. Go figure. Anyway, it was good to see a bit of the island and do something besides just walking around a port town.

Next was Tenerife-the largest of the Canary Islands-and here 3 of us booked one of the shore excursions. This took us to the World Heritage site of La Laguna-where we had a historic walking tour, visited the cathedral and their market, before heading off to the wine portion of the tour. We stopped at a bodega for wine tasting-6 full bottles of different wines for every 8 people, along with generous snacks to keep us sober. I didn’t personally care for any of the wines, but plenty of others were buying, so I was in a clear minority. We then went to the wine museum-which I figured would be boring, but it was quite interesting and a gorgeous building on a beautiful bluff overlooking the ocean. The structure was a refurbished old farmhouse for growing grapes and making the wine. The building was given to the government of Tenerife several years ago and they’ve done a very nice job of restoring it and telling the story of the Tenerife wine industry. The island is beautiful, mountainous, bright and colorfully painted buildings and homes all over and very well maintained. Anjie and I walked around the center city a bit after coming back from the excursion, figuring we’d have plenty of ‘boat time’ over the next week-and got caught up on high speed internet at a cyber.

And now it’s all about the Atlantic and the boat. That’s all we’ll see for the next 6 days. The motion of the ocean is already affecting several of our group, and they say that it’s been relatively calm so far. Don’t mind the barf bags they tied to the inside stair railings last night. Fortunately none of us needed them. So far.

They also have us on a system of gaining an hour every night so that we’re on the right time zone when we arrive in San Juan. It’s kinda nice to feel like you get to sleep in an extra hour every morning. Not like we’ve got a hectic schedule and can’t sleep in anyway. It’s just nice to get the extra w/o the guilt of “sleeping in”.

Here are a couple additional observations/factoids from the cruise ship: Yes, I am wearing the best of the clothes I have from Morocco. Yes, this includes the fact that for the last 3 days I’ve worn a different top, each having a prominent hole in it. I feel like I should wear a disclaimer stating “Peace Corps” to explain the poor condition of my clothing/shoes/ general appearance. The weather is significantly better than I expected. I thought we’d be in freezing, rainy, dismal weather all the way across the Atlantic. Although we are rocking with the swells, it’s been sunny, windy and in the mid-70’s every day-nice surprise. Emily made the astute observation that the cruise feels like we’ve landed in an upscale“old folks home”, with all the amenities at hand-no further than a few steps from your stateroom. Went to a Q&A with the captain today and learned a few interesting bits: 1200 staff to approx. 3000 guests; 96,000 meals prepared each week; 25,000 lbs of flour, 64,000 lbs of fresh vegetables and 8,000 gallons of ice cream consumed weekly. Gulp.

Oh-I also need to give a thank you to someone-don’t know who-who gave me a “soda cup” for the cruise. It just showed up in our room, designated on my cruise card, and gives me unlimited access to Diet Coke. I didn’t sign up for it, can only figure someone did this for me, but they can’t find a record of who paid for it. So whoever you are, thank you! It’s also contributed to some good mixers for the booze that one of our rooms brought aboard.

Anyway, as I sit sipping on some Diet Coke (post workout-feeling a bit queasy), I’m listening to the guy on the promenade playing “my” music on an acoustic guitar, in full view of the huge Christmas tree they’ve put up, watching guests dressed for their 6pm formal dinner, feeling a bit nostalgic as this 2+ year chapter is coming to a close with the next yet to be written. I don’t think I’ll have many more blog postings as it was always intended to be my personal journal of my Peace Corps experience. Thankfully I’ve been writing it as a continuous Word document (all 270 pages so far) so I’ve got it all accessible. I’ve heard of websites where you can self-publish single editions and I may just do that to have it to go back to in the future.

Well, I thought I’d get this posted several days ago, but the computer terminals they have in the internet lounge don’t have USB access and I’ve had trouble getting my laptop to connect to the wifi. Trying again today to get that connection so I can work straight from my computer.

Despite the fact that I wrote most of this several days ago, there aren’t really any updates. More of the same. The time is going much faster than but I am ready to be home. Fortunately I will be in 2 days. Hamdullah.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cruise Part 1

Day 2 of Cruise-Mon Nov 29
We all got on board the Adventure of the Seas ship around 1pm yesterday, well ahead of the 5:30pm departure. The 12 of us are in 4 rooms, 3 of them adjacent to one another. The rooms are small interior rooms, cozy, but actually bigger than I expected, which was a nice surprise. So far the food is rated well-and plentiful, as most cruise-goers will attest.

Last night we went thru a strong wind storm and felt a lot more motion than any of us expected. There was a bit of Dramamine purchased on land today. Speaking of which, we all took the transport into Toulon France, our port of call today. No one can accuse Royal Caribbean of overselling the town-it lived up to expectations-which were pretty low. Highlight was the small Christmas craft festival, complete with piped in Christmas carols and d├ęcor in an open square in town. We did make our way to a Super Target-like store to pick up a couple items. (Note to self-do NOT purchase items until someone translates…small bottle of hair removal lotion easily mistaken for eye makeup removal). First time to be immersed in Christmas shoppers in 2 years. Suffice it to say, we were all back on board ship in the early afternoon, having seen all we wanted of Toulon.

I’m sorting out how to get the internet service I’ve signed up for (500 minutes for $150-yikes!) via wireless vs at their stations on the 8th floor (there are 14 floors to this ship). 

Today I checked out the workout facility. It’s been a LONG time since this old body has seen an elliptical machine and I think it’s high time we got reacquainted. I feel better already-even hope my muscles are sore in the morning.

With 3000 people aboard the ship, there’s no shortage of things to do. There are activities from morning to late at night. Fortunately this group of the 12 gets along well together-enjoying one another’s company as well as comfortable going off on one’s own. With 14 days’ cruise, this is important.

Weird-laying on my bed typing this up, watching CNN news on the TV-yes, a TV. All English channels-choices. That will be another adjustment. But it is nice to know what’s going on in the world-really have been in a bubble for a while here.

I’m starting to get things scheduled for my return. First on the list is to buy a car. I’ve been negotiating over the internet and am hoping that I can get a deal put together for a car to be ready for me when I get in town. Next will be a Smartphone (it used to be a simple cell phone)-which will require a whole new set of skills-they’ve jumped several generations since I last had one in the US. Also on the list will be a bit of necessary clothes shopping. I’ve left most of my PC clothes behind in Morocco and will likely leave some aboard the ship. Most of the rest of my current wardrobe was just fine as a PCV. What I looked like wasn’t so important in Ribat El Kheir and I took advantage of that “freedom” for 2 years. However, even these clothes have become ratty and tired.

Dec 1st-Day 4 of Cruise:
Yesterday we were in Corsica. Sounds exotic, doesn’t it? Well, we decided to “do it ourselves” and rented out 3 taxis to take us to the Gorges on the other side of the island. Turns out that we’ve all seen far more impressive gorges in Morocco, but the countryside was beautiful and it beat just walking around town. We did a bit of that when we returned, including a local market where we sampled Corsa cheese. Back on the boat (had to be back at 3:30), everyone was working out and gussying up, as dinner was formal. I sat on the promenade deck for a bit to cool down from my workout and watched the parade of older folk heading to the early dinner all ´done up´. Sweet. After dinner I finally made it to the theater for a Las Vegas-like show. Not much drinking again last night as the motion of the boat was enough to keep you swaying-high winds on the sea.

It was a longer ‘sail’ to Mallorca, as we didn’t arrive until 11am this morning-that meant sleeping in for *ahem* some of us. Since today is Anjie’s birthday, we all booked a shore excursion to go to the Cuevas del Drach (Cavern of the Dragon)-her choice. It was really beautiful-huge cavernous spaces with stalactites and stalagmites. We were treated to a 15 minute live concert in the bottom, with the musicians floating on what is purported to be the largest interior lake in the world. It was a nice ´natural cathedral´ alternative to the wonderful man-made structures we´ve been seeing. We got off the bus in town and walked around a bit-charming town, saw the Contemporary Art Museum and made it back on one of the last buses before we sail again.

While the cruise is going fast, I’m already feeling antsy to be home and get on with things. At the same time, I want to take advantage of the places we’re going, as I’m unlikely to return to them. Also, we have 7 days crossing the Atlantic with no ports of call. Need to save anything I can do on board for when I’ve no alternatives.

We´re in Cartagena for the day (Day 5). Have seen the beautiful architecture, Roman ruins, castles and now catching up in the only cyber in town and I think half the ship is here doing the same. The satellite connection is remarkably slow. Finally getting caught up and posting this. May be the last posting for a bit.