From the deck of the MS Rotterdam, somewhere off the coast of Brazil
We crossed the equator today, our third consecutive day at sea. The crew held a Neptune Ceremony and it was great fun, not to say very funny. New members of the crew, from most departments, were dragged into a net prison by pirates, brought up on specific - job-oriented - charges and tried by King Neptune and his mermaid escort and then condemned by the Captain and the other officers to either roast in the sun or be dunked in the pool. Either final destiny came after being covered in brightly colored slime and smeared with spaghetti and colorful foods. All of that came after they kissed a baracuda (a real one) to show fealty to Neptune. The whole thing lasted forty minutes and about 1000 passengers, lined up on three decks, witnessed the proceedings. Bob and I both kissed the fish, also.
The birds following the ship since early this morning indicate our proximity to the shoreline of Brazil. A three day crossing is the fastest I have ever known, but point to point it is also the closest from the African islands to the South American coast. Things continue to be odd aboard this ship. Today I had a fight in the Lido restaurant over the service and being told to "go away" by a steward when all I wanted was the ice cream listed on that day’s board and which was right there in the case. The minor official told me, and I quote, "We open this station when there is a need and when we have sufficient staff." For what the passenger pays on this line, there is always need and as for staff, when there are half a dozen servers standing around doing nothing, there is a sufficiency. Plus no passenger should ever be addressed in that manner and told that they have little or no rights to the advertised offerings of the ship. That was just plain rude. Frankly, it turned my mood from delightfully amused to profoundly annoyed.
The Philippine Crew Show wasn’t as good as the Indonesian show, but it had a few special highlights. One singer was delightful and the four men in drag losing their wigs and grapefruit breasts was hilarious, especially when the Queens Lounge drink-water, Booze, lost first his wig and then burst his enormous balloon boobs. Being immensely amused by this I begin to wonder about my sense of standards. Oh, well.
Today we entered the harbor at Recife, our first port of call in Brazil. After a rough night of high and heavy seas, breakfast was delayed a half an hour. I’d been up and on deck since 5:15, so the extra time before there was any food available was pretty unsettling. Bob got up early and he and I ate with Celine Flanagan, the former Broadway actress and singer we’ve met on board. We went out on the first bus into Recife and went shopping in the Casa do Cultura, a former prison now a small mall of local artists and tourists shops. There was a lot to see and the place is fascinating. (Note: Bob and me pressed into "service" in the old Pernambuco Prison; click to see us full size.)
Back to the ship for a quick lunch during which I sent Bob’s eulogy for Eddie Weston to Equity in the hopes that someone will read it tomorrow at the memorial. Then - off on the half day tour of the city, new and old.
It was more fun and more interesting than I had imagined. The oldest synagogue in the western hemisphere is here, not far from the ship, and I saw the reconstruction as we passed it. The same man who founded it also founded the one in New York City, which is the oldest in the US. We wandered the principal square outside the court house, the opera house and the Mayor’s house. Then it was back to the old prison for shopping. From there to the Boa Viagio, or beach property where we changed some US $ into Brazilian R$. We sampled fresh cocoanut water from a beach vendor, and I had a coconut milk and sugar cane liquor (Cachaca) drink in the local hotel. From there we drove to Olinda, the old city on the hilltop about 5 km away. We toured through three churches and a marketplace, watched three young Olindans dance the Frevo, which is very athletic and danced holding a miniature umbrella. When we got back to the ship we headed up for our sauna and steam, but the herbal spa was cold. One more black mark on the running of this facility.
Tomorrow, a day at sea. I will be sending this report out then. On Saturday we dock in Salvador da Bahia.
Still dealing with a credit card fiasco. For six days the ship has been claiming that my card cannot be approved and so I have suspended any spending on this cruise. This morning I demanded to see the night manager and have him make an attempt to get the approval code in my presence. It went through, on an automated system, instantly and without trouble. So much for a week of unnecessary daily harrassment. While I was attending to this a very nice, intelligent surgeon who is also on our extended tour was trying to cancel himself and his wife off of another Holland-America cruise. He is convinced that this ship is a major health risk, and he may be right. Every bit of insulation in the ceilings has been pulled out and the carpets in the companionways are strewn with large and small pieces of asbestos. Toilets, ours included, have not been functioning. Hot water has been a hot commodity. In addition to all this, the experience has been like sailing on a floating mall with shopping and bargains being the single motivating force. I've never known anything like it, not in 159 ship experiences.
Tonight's menu is so unappetizing that we're thinking of eating in the Lido or skipping the meal altogether. We'll see what happens and, anyway, tomorrow is a day in Salvador da Bahia.