March 31, 2020, Sitka, Alaska
We hadn’t planned to go around the world in 80 days but that’s what happened. We left Fort Lauderdale on January 4 and arrived in Sitka on March 24, 80 days later. The first 77 days were on MS Amsterdam. The last three days were a mad rush against a global transportation shutdown to get home. We flew the Indian Ocean from Perth to Dubai and then across the Arctic Ocean, passing just southwest of the north pole so I can consider it a circumnavigation. Some of my friends are sending posts saying things like “today we should have been leaving Singapore.” I don’t want to go there. I want to focus on what we got to do, which is more than most people get to do, and I’m grateful.
I’ve been reading my 70 blog posts (this is number 71) and am suitably embarrassed by the many typos. I’m reminded that this cruise not only ended in chaos, but started chaotically with the taxi wanting to take us to the “wrong” Amsterdam. (Neiuw Amsterdam was also loading) and long lines because Holland America was understaffed and under computered. Instead of sailing at 5:00 we sailed Tat 7:30 because they had to sort out baggage. Even then some people had to walk the halls to find their bags. If you’ve been following this blog you know the first post was “to excited to sleep” and the penultimate post could have been labeled “to nervous too sleep.” But between beginning and end, and even at the end, wow!
We’re fortunate that instead of heading West through the Canal we went East around the bulge of Brazil and then to Antarctica. Had we headed straight for Asia we may have found ourselves sharing our fate with the Westerdam, wandering around looking for a port, or worse. We are also fortunate that the things that most excited us were on the first half of the trip, our side trip to Iguassu Falls (the hotel had an “infinity pool!”),
Antarctica (seen in a completely different light from our last trip, overcast bringing out the ice blues in color or the drama in black and white)
and Easter Island (I will never be able to hear “Lady in Red” without thinking of piano bar Diane’s parody “Great Big Stone Head.” I can’t unhear it.)
And I was particularly looking forward to revisiting Rio, where we spent two evenings listening to Bossa Nova in its natural habitat, a club in Ipanema.
We were able to enjoy other ports that we’ve enjoyed in the past, like Auckland, and Sydney. From Sydney we took a side trip to the Blue Mountains. We visited them unhindered by the concerns for COCID-19. (Although, in retrospect we should have been concerned. While we were in Sydney the Ruby Princess dropped off passengers suffering from the Corona Virus.)
And there were some surprise delights. I loved circumnavigating Cape Horn Island, seeing the Cape from every seaward angle in weather that is not typical of that notoriously stormy nautical landmark.
We had been in Ushuaia before but we have never had hot chocolate there, our cups of rich chocolate were among the small delights that stand out in our cruise memories. Our day in Punta Arenas was another standout. Last time we were there we went looking for penguins. This time we just sat in the main square and watched as the square entertained us with musicians preforming jazz, pop, indigenous music and even some Schubert. There were traditional, interpretive and tango dancers along with colorful hawkers and bewildered tourists. What we thought would be a short ride downtown ended up being a memorable day of delight in a green park surrounded by classic buildings.
And the Chilean fjords were mind blowing. Five years ago, we missed cruising the fjords because of weather. The Straits of Magellan were overcast so we didn’t see them at their best. This time the weather was perfect and the straits and channels spectacular. At night and daybreak, the clouds gathered enough to give us memorable sunsets. Our five days in early February cruising Patagonia were among the unexpected delights of the cruise.
But what I really like about the Holland America world cruise is the chance to learn. There were several opportunities on this cruise. Travel itself is a great teacher, accompanied a reading list and an ample number of sea days. But Holland America gives us more. We had three cultural teams on board at different times, one from Brazil, one from Polynesia and one from the Maori Culture of New Zealand. They presented lectures, music, dance, and from the Maori team, theater. The Antarctic expedition team gave us in-depth views of the history, biology, politics and geology of Antarctica and Patagonia. It was an international team from New Zealand, Argentina and the US. While their lectures and cruising commentary was engaging, my favorite part was the “evening campfire” gatherings in the Crows’ Nest lounge for travelers’ tales. Then there was southern hemisphere star watching, led by the ship’s navigation officer, lectures by our Great Barrier Reef pilot, insights from Glenn-Michael our Aussie guide, and excursions into history, economics biology and seafaring lore presented by a series of lecturers.
One of the learning highlights came during the chaotic ending of the cruise. Andy Fletcher, lectured on quantum mechanics (Wearing a t shirt that on one side said “Schrödinger’s cat is dead” and on the other “Schrödinger’s cat is not dead”), fractals, complexity theory and, appropriate given the situation, chaos theory. He said he’s often asked how, as chaos theory posits, a butterfly wing fluttering in Brazil could lead to a typhoon in China. He replied, “someone ate a bat in Wuhan.” His lectures challenged me in every way, including my view of the physical world and my conceptions of God. They had special import given the chaos of our last week.
And I learned something else. I’ve always loved travel and the part of travel that is the adrenaline rush of uncertainty. Will we make the connection? Will we figure out how to get from x to y? Should we, on a whim, completely change our plans mid-course? I’ve always liked that, which is good because traveling to and working in Albania in 1993, Kosovo in 1999 or South Sudan in 2012 gave us plenty of practice.
Cruising is something different. People take care of you, they handle the details, your job is to sit back and enjoy the ride, you can make choices but they’re all “safe.” I was beginning to really enjoy that. I am not a person who relaxes easily but for the first half of this cruise I was completely relaxed, something new me. When things started to come a cropper, it was good to know that the old skills were still there and there was still some thrill in using them. But I also realized that as I age a little less travel adrenaline may be ok. I may be getting a little old to fully appreciate chaos theory. But I still can.