Yes, I’m Alive

Has it really been over a month?  Yes, it has.  And it was the most bizarre mixture of unbearably slow and crazy making, followed by exciting, fresh and new.  I last left you in South Africa, and I enjoyed one last blissful day in Cape Town.  Went out with some friends from the ship in an attempt to take the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain, but we were cursed with technical difficulties.  Our unfortunate circumstances led to a fantastic breakfast on the waterfront, and then Andrea and I headed to the aquarium for some fun touristy times. I spent the rest of the day riding the City Sightseeing bus solo – a great way to see Cape Town!  I only wish I had had more time to hop on AND off… I had to get back to the ship for our passenger safety drill. It was sad to leave Cape Town, but I have a feeling I’ll be back to visit at some point in the future.  Highly recommended!

And then began… our 18-day cruise with 11 ½ days at sea.  For those of you that I know from the ship, you understand the pain.  And our few ports along the way were as exciting as Namibia, Ghana, The Gambia and Cape Verde.  I never thought I would be visiting these places.  And, yes, I feel lucky to have been there.  But if I never go again, it won’t be the end of the world for me.

The most fun I had was definitely in Namibia, when some of the crew headed out together for an afternoon of quad biking and sand boarding in the Namibian desert dunes.  I had a great time sliding face-first down those dunes on a thin piece of wood/plastic (not sure what kind of material it was).  The bad thing that happened on this day was our guide taking a picture of me with my little Canon Powershot and then dropping it in the sand when he handed it back.  So…. My little baby camera stopped working.  Well, five years ain’t so bad.

In Ghana, we took the shuttle bus in to the city, got off the shuttle for about five minutes, and got right back on.  I was In Port Manning when we arrived in The Gambia, and then was able to get off in our first port of Cape Verde (Praia).  Actually, I went out with a few friends and had a really amazing seafood lunch.  The Cape Verde islands are Portuguese speaking and highly influenced by their Portuguese occupation, so the European influence was extremely refreshing.  Our second port in Cape Verde, Porto Novo, should have just been called “No Port.”  We were providing tender operations to land from our ship anchored off the coast, but then the winds were so bad that they ceased tender operations – first for the crew and then for guests.  Our last port of the 18-day hell voyage (pardon my language) was our embarkation port of Las Palmas, Canary Islands.

Now, it’s worth saying that we did have some good nights in the crew bar despite the terrors of our 18-day cruise.  Including an 80’s night during which yours truly was the DJ, an “Anything But Clothes” party (I created an outfit made of sheet music copies), and a crew dinner in our fancy upstairs restaurant on board.  Luckily, the awesome people we work with can counterbalance the downfalls of ship life and our restrictions and frustrations.  That made it all the more sad in Las Palmas to have to say goodbye to some of our friends of the crew who were disembarking.  It’s so shocking to have people come into your lives, people you would otherwise never have met, then to have such a deep experience together and just say goodbye.  Where else do you spend such time together in such close proximity?  Sleeping, eating, working… all in the same space with each other.  To then abruptly have a group of people in the tight-knit family just up and leave… it’s jarring.  Yes, there are over 200 people in the crew, but I think we all quickly find our niche and get comfortable.  It will be very weird, when the time comes, to eventually disembark the ship for the last time and say my goodbyes to everyone.   And then to come home to my MASSIVE New York City apartment!  I seriously think that will be bizarre… because right now, the room I share with Peter, including the bathroom, could absolutely fit inside my bedroom at home in Astoria.  Well, I plan to make the most of the time I have left.

So the last cruise, which just concluded this morning, was a breath of FRESH air!  We began in Las Palmas, where I was able to get off the ship in the evening for dinner with Kathleen.  Our next port was Santa Cruz de Tenerife, also in the Canary Islands, where I had an adventure day with Krystle.  We explored the city on foot, found a department store (where I bought a new digital camera) and ate some late lunch.  It was just what I needed, and seriously leveled my head.  Again, it was nice to be in this archipelago of Spanish islands – the European influence was lovely.  The next day, I was up early for a tour in Arrecife, also in the Canary Islands, where I was able to explore the wineries of Lanzarote.  The vineyards here are SO bizarre.  Rather than rows of trained vines, the plants here grow in dug out holes in the volcanic earth, surrounded by walls of volcanic rock to prevent the wind from blowing through too strongly.  And the wines were also a completely different taste than I was used to.  Mostly white wines, and much sweeter than I prefer.  But the chance to taste and learn about the production was fascinating!

We left the Canary Islands and head back to North Africa for a quick bout in Morocco.  I was unfortunately IPM the first day, when we ported in Agadir, but then was able to have a full day the next day in Casablanca.  I started my morning out on tour to see the Great Mosque and the other primary city sites, then went out on my own in the afternoon for some exploration of the Souk and side streets… and free wifi!  I really love the Islamic art of Morocco – absolutely gorgeous, interesting contrasts of geometric shapes and free form art.  Beautiful colors and creative use of materials.  I have learned from this tour of many Islamic countries that I love viewing many of these historical mosques – they are simply lovely.  The next day we found ourselves in Cadiz, Spain (first time in mainland Spain!) and I enjoyed a culinary tapas class in the morning, followed by an afternoon of exploration.  We learned how to make some fantastic traditional Spanish tapas, including gazpacho, prawns in garlic sauce, stuffed mushrooms, pork tenderloin on toast, fried anchovies, and a potato/egg salad.  And sangria!  It was a great, small group, so we had a really fantastic time getting to know each other while cooking (and eating) delicious foods… all in the confines of a beautiful, restored home in a historical district about 30 minutes outside of Cadiz.  My afternoon in town started with a visit to the cathedral, and then running in to Peter in the main square – it’s a small world!  So the two of us set out in search of afternoon drinks, snacks and wifi.  It’s always a quest for wifi isn’t it?  Peter was cracking me up with his constant repeating of the phrase, “I love Spain!”  He really loves Spain, y’all.  We eventually found our perfect place in a quiet plaza and accomplished everything on our afternoon checklist.

Our next port was Malaga, Spain, where I went off the ship with Peter, Krystle and Andrea to get lost in the winding alleys of Malaga.  We found a perfect little tapas restaurant (our criteria was that there only be locals eating there) and ordered wine and tapas to share.  I had a leisurely walk back to the ship and then went out for a sunset run on the beach.  It was SOOOO nice to run outside for the first time in forever!  Our next port was Ibiza, Spain, where I escorted the walking tour from hell…  Let’s just say our guide was a little too scattered and there was too little walking in the minds of our guests.  When it finally ended, I was so relieved!  Headed back to the ship and met up with Krystle and one of the guests, S, for an afternoon of fun.  We found a place for cheap lunch then pretty much did my same walking tour but in half the time.  I really did enjoy wandering through the Dalt Vila (old town) of Ibiza.  It’s really quite fascinating as it’s an old walled off city with winding streets that make their way up to the top of the hill.  Ibiza itself is really gorgeous, and I can understand why it is so popular with tourists in the summer season.  But it was so COLD when we were there!  I was shivering my butt off!  That evening I got the opportunity for another outdoor run, which was a great way to see the marina and coast line of the island.  After leaving Ibiza, we ported in Palma de Mallorca, which was lovely and would have been oh-so-much-better if we had been there any day but Sunday.  We were lucky enough to see the inside of the Cathedral with a central altar piece designed by Gaudi, and then explored the winding streets and came upon a tapas place outside a plaza (are you sensing a theme here).  Fantastic glass of house wine, tuna sandwich, tortilla Española… free wifi… you get the idea.

And then we arrived in… Barcelona!  Or, Barthelona, as it’s pronounced here.  I woke up early yesterday morning to take advantage of the city and the hop on/hop off bus and had breakfast off the ship with some guests who were eager to share churros and hot chocolate with me (soooo good).  I rode the bus around the city and then came back to the ship for some recovery time and then a run around the Barcelona marina.  Again, this is a GREAT way to see the city.  I got back to the ship and made plans with Peter to see Les Miz in Spanish, or “Los Miserables.”  We had a nice walk to the theater… and then realized it was closed for the night.  Apparently, the dark day in Spain is also Monday.  So we decided to make the most of our night and find a place for tapas.  We first stopped for a shwarma (Peter’s brilliant idea – they are so good!) and then wandered around the side streets near Las Ramblas, looking for another small restaurant.  That’s when things got shitty.  A few teenagers approached us and asked for a lighter, then they started getting too close, asking me repeatedly “Do you speak Spanish?  Do you speak Spanish?” while the other guy was doing this weird dance/kicking thing at Peter, asking him if he wanted some hassish.  I immediately felt this was weird, then the one guy grabbed arm and I pushed him away, clenching my purse.  I turned around and the guys started running away… I asked Peter “what the fuck was that?” and that was when Peter realized that they had stolen his iPhone out of his back pocket.  So Peter set off, chasing after them, and I was chasing behind, wearing shoes that are too big for me, which really slowed me down.  It was like something out of a weird comedy.  I was always one alley behind them, so as I approached an intersection, a bunch of people would point in the direction I needed to run.  Really freaky.  I eventually realized that I was too far behind to possibly catch up and I’d rather not stay in the weird alleyways, so I continued running all the way to the main plaza, which is surrounded by restaurants.  And I waited there for Peter for about 20 minutes, when he finally arrived, empty-handed.  He was justifiably pissed off, so he left to find a police station, but then just tracked down a “Guardia Urbana” van with four cops.  So that’s when the night got really interesting, and Peter and I were cruising Starsky and Hutch style with four Spanish cops.  We thought at one point that the guys were in a certain alley (I’m positive that this group of kids was all together) – so the van pulled in from one side of the alley and two of the cops (with battons out) and Peter and I walked in from the other side.  I felt like a bad ass.  But they searched all the kids’ pockets and… no phone.  I pretty much can’t go back to this part of town at night because I’m surely a target at this point.  After all this, and not being able to track the phone or remember an accurate description of the certain kid who stole it, Peter and I abandoned our plans of having a fun night out and just came back to the ship.  It was definitely a learning experience, and I’m so sorry for Peter that he lost his phone, but I’m just glad that his wallet wasn’t taken and that we weren’t hurt.  I’m definitely going to be more careful going forward, especially as I hear than some of the ports we are visiting in Italy are even worse.  Sorry Mom, not trying to freak you out.  Today was another day in Barcelona, I’m actually IPM, but was able to get off for a couple hours to ride the other line of the hop on/hop off bus.  The Gaudi architecture in this city is absolutely MIND-BLOWING.  I had no idea that any of this existed.  It is so unbelievably gorgeous, bizarre and wonderful.  I didn’t get the chance to explore the Sagrada Familia (Gaudi’s famous, still unfinished cathedral) but the exterior was like nothing I’ve ever seen.  I did explore the inside of the main cathedral, which was fantastic and offered the chance to hear some live organ.  I was a quick, lovely trip through the city.  Tomorrow is our last day in Barcelona and then we set sail for France, Monaco, Italy, Malta, Greece and Turkey.  AT LAST!!!  It’s good to be in the Mediterranean.

8 thoughts on “Yes, I’m Alive

  1. Linda March 13, 2012 / 9:47 pm

    worth the wait. SO SORRY about Peter’s loss- how frustrating! Yes, be careful- you are not impervious to the ‘bad guys”. Be smart! I love you and LOVE reading your updates! kindly, keep them coming! xoxo Mom

  2. Liz Beneski March 13, 2012 / 10:15 pm

    well done ASH. Sharks ( ie, iphone thiefs) be damned! Great blog, and I will message you privately. So lovely to relive MANY similar adventures…keep tall, keep strong, keep smiling- that is YOUR gift. Love ya kid. ( ps, NYC says ‘hi ASH- we miss you!!) Liz

  3. Lore Duser March 14, 2012 / 11:51 am

    Thanks for letting us accompany you on your adventures by reading your blog. I know it is a lot of work for you but it means ever so much to us to read where you have been and what you have done. Sorry that you have to cope with the bad guys. All the more reason to make sure you are safe. Much love from Oma and Opa

  4. Randy March 16, 2012 / 9:02 pm

    Just saw your pics at Monte Carlo. Always wanted to be like BOND and play at Monte Carlo. So much fun. Enjoy your last 2 months!

  5. bmahoney1 March 19, 2012 / 8:22 pm

    I can’t wait to taste all of the tapas you are going to make for me (I’ll bring the sangria)! Sorry you have to deal with crappy things like pickpockets (poor Peter), but I am proud of you for rising above it (Spidey reference?) and keeping your sense adventure! You inspire me by not passing up an opportunity and making the most of your situation!

  6. Kristin Matthews March 20, 2012 / 2:27 pm

    Thanks for sharing your adventures with us Ash! So sorry for Peter – I’ve heard stories like that all too often from international travelers 😦 Stay safe and have fun out there! You really are one lucky lady to have all of these adventures at such a young age 🙂

  7. Lore Duser April 27, 2012 / 11:13 am

    Are you still alive??? We are waiting for another sign of life.

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