Last night we celebrated Carnival, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday; and then, with the tick of a second hand, Fat Tuesday flipped over to Thursday as we turn our clocks ahead 23 hours. Ash Wednesday is consumed by the International Date Line. Observing Lent on a cruise ship is difficult. So perhaps it’s for the best.
After having made no real westward progress because of our detour around Brazil, to Antarctica and through the Chilean Fjords we’re finally pushing relentlessly West. Since leaving the coast of Chile on February 11 we’ve traveled 9 time zones in 14 days, kind of slow-motion jet lag. While this is more pleasant than airplane jet lag (even better than Emirates business class) it’s still wearing. Folks are tending to go to bed earlier, missing some of the parties, and getting up earlier.
Friends in Sitka who watch the ships come in all summer ask “what’s it like on a cruise ship?” I can honestly say I’m not sure, at least not sure of what it’s like on Alaska cruises because the rhythm is different. The few times we’ve been on shorter cruises, especially the one last summer around the United Kingdom, it was hectic. Everyday a different port, no time to really savor or process, busy, busy, busy.
The pacing on this cruise is leisurely. Bursts of port activity are followed by long stretches to relax, process and savor. But for some people so many consecutive sea days drive them a little “island happy.” We had a 10 day stretch not getting off the ship between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia. We cruised Antarctica and circumnavigated Cape Horn. I loved it but some people couldn’t wait to get off. Most recently we’ve had the long stretch between the Chile’s coast and Easter Island and an even longer stretch between Easter Island and Tahiti during which we passed Pitcairn but didn’t get off. I think some of this sea day weariness is caused by the saga of the Westerdam, which cruised for 14 days without being allowed to arrive in port because of fear of the Coronavirus. There is some fear of a repeat performance on Amsterdam as we approach Asia. The whole virus saga has some on edge because, as more than one person put it, a cruise ship is floating petri dish. The crew is spending extra time disinfecting the ship, wiping down elevator buttons, railings, yesterday they took the filter off our bathroom faucet and sanitized it. We’re constantly advised to wash hands and for the last two ports we had supplemental health forms to fill out certifying that we have not been to China for the past 14 days and did not knowingly interact with anyone who had. The questionnaire, for Tonga, asked about coughs, shortness of breath and fever. Given the sea days we have plenty of time to fill them out.
I look forward to sea days. There’re lectures, music, movies, food (too much) and I get the chance to sort pictures and write. On sea days Suzi and some of her shipmates knit colorful “comfort blankets” for a children’s hospitals in Seattle, Project Linus. A few days ago, they displayed some of them.
A long cruise provides the opportunity for those extended conversations that can last over days and cultivate friendship. One of my great joys is the hour or so I spend sitting in a deck chair on promenade deck reading, listening to the waves and watching the them, trying to determine their height and wavelength and contemplating what messages they could be carrying and to whom. What would they be modulating if they were radio waves?
And that’s the cause of one of my few complaints (other than the crappy Internet everyone talks about). I went out to my favorite deck chair, midships, and it, along with its brothers and sisters was gone. I could move to a deck chair aft but there noisy and the wake messes up my ponderings about wave messages. There are deck chairs on the port side, but because of their disappearance on starboard they’re often full when I reach them after the 10 AM lecture. (I’m learning things that I never thought I would want to know. Like a male ballet dancer needs to keep track of his dancing partner’s mensural cycle because with changes in the cycle come changes in her weight and balance point. I didn’t know that.)
So, I asked where the chairs went. It appears that the starboard rail juts inward to accommodate life rafts, encroaching on the promenade. A woman walking her mile swung inward tripped on a deck chair and was injured – so — like Ash Wednesday, the starboard midships deckchairs have disappeared.
So yeah, there are small annoyances, like the missing chairs or waiters calling me “Sir Richard.” This courtesy makes me feel like an English knight, something I would never want to be. “Deal with it” laughs Madame Suzi. Some of my shipmates complain these small problems loudly and often. Perhaps we need Ash Wednesday to bring us back to real. To make us grateful to have such trivial first world problems. To remind us from where we come and to where we are going. This whole trip should be an exercise in gratitude. Gratitude for dark nights at sea to gaze at the Milky Way and southern cross. Gratitude for the dark blue waters of Rarotonga. Gratitude for the things I learn about this robust but fragile planet that we live on. And concern, focused by the lectures, about what we are doing to this gift of a planet. Perhaps we do need Ash Wednesday to bring us back to real. We need to take on spiritual ashes, reminding us of our place on this planet, to help us reflect on our role in preserving it. Perhaps do we need Lent in this boat full of plenty.