A Chilean Farewell Tradition
Traveling The Panama Canal Part 7
We are nearing the end of a 15-day cruise through the Panama Canal, which began in Miami, Florida. We have stopped in Santa Marta and Cartagena, Colombia and Manta, Ecuador on our way to visit my husband’s cousin in Cuenca, Ecuador.
The port of Salaverry was the first of two stops in Peru. The brown, black and gray setting with a sand dune in the background appeared to be part of a quarry and the overcast sky did not lend any color to the dreary scene. Because we weren’t anxious to leave the ship earlier, we had to wait for a shuttle. After a forty-minute wait, a bus with an embroidered image of the Virgin Mary on each headrest and loud noise playing over and over, coming from the dark TV screen, arrived to take us to Trujillo.
It appeared that half of Trujillo’s adult population drove a taxi, as there were five yellow compact cars, each with a roof light, to every two personally-owned cars. The constant tooting of horns could be heard. Pedestrians couldn’t pause on the sidewalks without a cab stopping. All vehicles, including scooters, used their horns the moment a traffic light turned green. It seemed to be an automatic reflex.
We walked several blocks, stopping to visit two large cathedrals. One was dirty and in poor condition. The other was well-maintained and had beautiful paintings on the ceiling. There was a festival taking place, which happens on a regular basis in Latin American countries, especially near Christmas.
The next day found us taking a shuttle a very short distance from the port in Callao, Peru, where we found a taxi to share with an Argentinean couple. Peter, the man from Argentina, told the Spanish-speaking driver where to leave us before he and his wife got out at a restaurant in Lima, where they were meeting friends. Soon the driver made a call to his English-speaking brother before handing the phone to me. The man on the other end of the line wanted to know if we wanted his brother to show us around the city at the rate of $20 per hour. We negotiated a lesser fee and communicated through a translation app on his iPhone until it was time to retrieve the couple at the restaurant.
The streets of the capitol city were very busy, with pedestrians crossing mid-block and cars and motorbikes operating in a haphazard, but seemingly synchronized manner. Lima was where we first encountered vendors at intersections, walking between the lanes of traffic selling cold drinks and snacks from coolers. We noted that gasoline was $5 per gallon as the driver took us to various locations in the city, including a spot that overlooked the ocean and to the President’s palace.
As was always the case on the mornings we were scheduled to arrive at a port, my husband was in and out of bed and back and forth from the bed to the balcony many times, in anticipation of our arrival in Arica, Chile. At one point, he called me onto the balcony to hear a bellowing sound coming from the water below. While we were trying to decide what type of aquatic creature may be making the sound, the port’s pilot boat arrived with eight orange-vested men on deck and one or two more inside the cabin. Within a few minutes we felt the familiar vibration we had witnessed many times before when the ship was turning. Soon we were lined up with the pier where we could see a group of dockworkers, each dressed in red, sitting on the cement taking a break.
It wasn’t one of those days where we could take our time at breakfast and then slowly mosey off the ship at this port, because passengers had to be onboard by 12:30 p.m., rather than the usual 2:30-6 p.m. This led me to believe there wasn’t going to be much to see in this location.
We walked to an area with a park, a church and small shops. There were large, well-behaved dogs lying in several locations around the area. One dog was eating from a dispenser and drinking water from a bowl that appeared to have been set out by a shopkeeper, something we came to witness many more times during the trip. The surface of the entire area was tiled, making it difficult to know where the pedestrians were to walk and where the vehicles were to drive.
When we returned to the ship, we discovered about 18 adults who were each playing a brass instrument while facing the ship.
Our first view of Coquimbo, Chile was of a hillside crowded with small houses interspersed with what appeared to be a few small landslides. A partially sunken ship could be seen a few hundred yards down the shore from where we were docked. After taking a look through his ever-present binoculars, my spouse decided it had gone aground. As we stepped off the ship, we discovered the dirtiest pier we had ever seen during our eight cruises. It appeared to be white with black spots, rather than the other way around, due to bird droppings. We didn’t waste any time walking across that pier.
We stopped where several vendors were selling various souvenirs and bought some hair clips for our two youngest granddaughters and a bag for the oldest. Again, we encountered large, sleeping dogs scattered here and there. We had forgotten a warning to leave our jewelry, especially gold necklaces, in the safe in the stateroom like we had at the last port, until a man at a stand told me to tuck my gold cross and chain into my shirt.
Later, on the way back to the ship, we stopped to watch a man in a wetsuit search for clams and crabs. He was sharing the clams with several spectators who were using the juice of the fresh lemon halves he had supplied to drizzle over the clams.
A young boy held up one of the crabs allowing me to get a picture and had a big smile when I rewarded him with a pack of Big Red gum.
Another brass band had assembled and was playing on the pier as we were boarding. It was smaller, but louder than the last and seemed to be more organized. It appeared to be a Chilean farewell tradition.
It is not unusual to find a few of the ship’s crewmembers waiting near the gangway to offer cool wet washcloths and watered-down sweet drinks, something that often takes place on hot port days. This day was not especially warm, but they were there to greet us just the same.
We took advantage of most of the shows offered on the ship and almost always attended the later of the two. One evening I was one of about 40 people who were eligible to go onstage when a female hypnotist gave the theater’s audience a “test” to see who was most easily hypnotized. I chose not to fill one of the chairs on the stage and after seeing some of the silly behaviors of the participants, I felt I had made the right decision.
On another night, we watched a magician with the expected girl in a box routine. Magicians make me nervous for fear they will mess up and expose their secret. I was quite sure this would not be the case when the man put two wide sharp blades and two sword-like blades through the box. The girl exited unharmed. The next act was even more amazing with a different girl in another box with her head and arm sticking out of the top section and one foot out of the bottom section. The magician slid the top half over, so it appeared that the top half was beside but above the bottom half. I decided she was a contortionist who was able to put her entire body in the top section with a fake foot in the bottom, but I had no explanation for the last act where another girl got into a long box that was lying down. The right end was pushed to within inches of the left, making what appeared to be an 18-inch-high by 18-inch-deep box, but only four inches wide. The man put rods through the compacted box, from one end to the other. Of course, when the box was slid open to its original length, the girl walked away intact.
My husband was impressed by the talent of three female singers who performed another night. The women met while doing a run in Las Vegas and decided to team up, taking their show out on the road or in this case, the ocean.
One of the last shows we watched was performed by four mop-headed, dark-haired men from Brazil, who were playing the role of John, Paul, George and Ringo. The audience seemed to enjoy the show, having been a seventh-grader when the original Beatles made their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show in the sixties, I was more critical.
It is not unusual to have to turn clocks forward or backward as the ship moves along. In this case, we had to move them forward two nights in a row. Apparently, Holland America thinks its passengers forget what day it is, because every elevator has an interchangeable mat with the name of the day woven into it. From the first time we cruised on one of their ships, I have thought it would be interesting to mix up the days, putting a different one in each elevator.
As has always been our experience, we have dined with interesting people and the last few days on this ship were no different.
Fred likes to be seated at a table for six or eight at dinner. I, on the other hand, enjoy, no require, an evening every few days when it is just the two of us. I need some time away from people, even though I consider people one of my hobbies. On one evening, when I was given the option of a table for two or a sharing table, I chose to share. The dentist, who travels with a small carry-on and who had told us his trick for quickly drying his clothes a few days earlier, and his wife were the first to be escorted to our table. An engineer and his wife, who had a medal pinned on her chest, arrived a few minutes after them. She, a neurophysicist, had placed first in her state in an event for female cyclists, thus the pin. I was thankful when a brief discussion of politics started by the dentist, ended when it was clear the other couple favored a different political party.
A second retired dentist shared our dinner table on another occasion. He talked about the 25 Corvettes he had owned over the course of his lifetime and about his patent on some dental procedure. He claimed he was an early pioneer in the dental implant industry, having done the first implant 50 years ago.
During dinner on another evening we met a couple from Georgia, who were in their 80s and who had traveled extensively throughout the world. While the men were comparing their trips to Israel, the woman was telling me about their disappointment with a recent trip to Egypt and about the large volume of litter they saw in the country. She, also, told about being on the last trip of a small cruise line and how the company went bankrupt while the ship was docked in Montreal, Canada. Additional passengers who were supposed to board were not permitted to get on the ship and the when the crew was returning to Florida, the ship sunk. The crew was fine, but the creditors may not have been rejoicing.
During my conversation with the older woman, the topic of essential oils came up. The husband stopped mid-sentence, looked at me and said he wanted to hear more about the oils. Then he went on to tell me he had had a career in pharmaceutical sales.
A couple days later, this same man attended one of the Bible studies in which my husband had been involved. When he witnessed Fred pull a roller bottle from his pocket and apply it to his wrist, the retired salesman asked if he could apply some to his thumb. This man was waiting for my husband the following day when we stepped off a bus, asking if he could, not only put some oil on his other hand, but if he could have the bottle and if we could get more information to him. Hmmm. A pharmaceutical salesman using essential oils.
A final mealtime experience happened at noon one day near the end of the cruise. A man who had spent some time in two of the three cities we would be visiting while in Ecuador, Cuenca and Quito, was giving us the ins and outs of each. My husband told him we had reservations to fly back to Florida from Quito, but none for going from Cuenca to Quito, as we had hoped to visit an herb farm and distillery in Guayaquil after leaving Cuenca. Since it was closed for a few weeks in observance of the Christmas holidays, our planning was on hold.
The man explained that the airport in Cuenca was located in the middle of the city and that the pilots didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver the planes because of a less than spacious setting. He said, with a straight face, he had actually witnessed planes landing with bras, which he called brassieres, on their wings from passing by clotheslines that were on the tops of apartment buildings.
On one of the last evenings aboard our ship, we discovered we had each become eligible for another of the ship’s certificates when we found them lying on our bed near the towel animal and the schedule of events for the next day. We chuckled when we saw they were for crossing the Equator. Little did we know we would have a closer relationship with the Equator when we visited Mitad del Mundo or the Middle of the World, near Quito, Ecuador, a month later.
To be continued.