Monday, December 8, 2014

Five Days on Celebrity Infinity

December 4, Embarcation

We left the Ramada Inn - Seaport / Airport at about 12:30 this afternoon for the very short courtesy shuttle ride to the Fort Lauderdale seaport, about 10 minutes.  From there we participated in the very slick, well-planned and sanely-organized check in process at the boarding area of the Celebrity Infinity.  The whole passport / credit card / ID card process took all of about 20 minutes; then we were directed on board the cruise ship to find our staterooms and meet our cabin attendants.  At 3:45 we attended the mandatory emergency drill - no longer do the passengers have to suit up in our life jackets and learn the emergency procedures outside near the lifeboats.  The information is pleasantly delivered inside without a lot of falderal; it took about 15 minutes.

For me it’s been a new experience, this large cruise ship, 965 feet long - that’s 3 football fields, about 14 stories high, and 110 feet wide, equipped to handle a passenger load of 2,100 guests, with a crew of about 700.  I’ve been on many cruises, but always on relatively small vessels, from 180 to about 400 passengers.  It’s absolutely amazing how smoothly all operations are accomplished.  As I’ve noticed before, there don’t appear to be any crew members who are US citizens.  My friend, Fred, tells me that the cruise lines, all of which are registered outside the United States, don’t employ US citizens because they’d have to comply with US federal labor laws.  These, mostly young, crew members come from all over the world; the two waiters at our dinner table tonight were delightful young men from Turkey.  Interestingly, one was from near Bodrum, an Aegean seaport city I visited several years ago.  The crew members are all highly trained in their specific duties; they really have the passengers’ comfort and happiness securely ingrained in their service ethic.

This afternoon we wandered throughout the ship, beginning to get the lay of the land; there’s certainly no end to the activities and entertainment for us to enjoy during our 16-night cruise to Chile.  We’ll be stopping at a few places I’ve visited before, and certainly a few that I’ve not experienced, yet.  Of course, for me the experiences I value most are those that enable me to meet new people and learn about cultures and customs other than my own.  I’m anxious to get back into some Spanish-speaking countries; Cozumel is so geared toward the tourist trade, I sometimes wonder if they maintain their rich history and culture, or if they’ve just moved into a quasi US / Canadian satellite country.  Don’t misunderstand me; I thoroughly enjoyed my recent 10-day visit; I just wish many people hadn’t replied to my Spanish questions with English answers!

Of course, I checked out the Fitness Center; it’s located in the bow of the ship.  I’ll head there tomorrow morning and will hit the treadmill while enjoying a lovely view of the Caribbean Sea as I work up a sweat.  I’ve been watching what I eat - don’t know how long my resolve will endure - given that there are magnificently gourmet delights at every meal, and in between, too.  

I haven’t referred to it in my blog posts, but I’ve read Michael Pollen’s books over the last several months.  I’m sold on his explanation of:  

The Food Rules:

Rule #1:  Eat food.  [Don’t consume any food that your grandmother wouldn’t recognize - for example, processed foods]

Rule #2:  Not too much.

Rule #3:  Mostly plants.

Now, how simple is that?  Since I love to cook, the first rule has always been pretty easy for me.  I don’t eat processed foods very much at all, except for things like bread, yogurt, etc.  Actually, when I was raising my kids I even made all our bread; and, I do make yogurt - but not very often.  I don’t use mixes to prepare meals or cakes, etc.  I love fresh and cooked vegetables and fruits.  I don’t drink alcohol of any kind; however, I used to, but haven’t for 30 years.  My big horrendous downfall is sweets.  I rarely eat one cookie; it’s none or five, or more.  It’s similar with ice cream:  I start with a small bowl; then, go back for seconds, and maybe even thirds!  I’m better off not taking that first bite.  We’ll see how it goes onboard.

I’ll be writing these posts offline; then will publish them as I can, when we’re in ports and I can find cyber cafes.  Now, after a lovely gourmet first night dinner with a varied group of passengers from England, Denver, Vancouver, Arizona, and California (that’s me!), I popped back into this snug little stateroom, took a shower and am ready to settle down to a good book.

Tomorrow morning there’s going to be a kitchen tour at 10:15; I can’t wait to see how they manage to create these gourmet sensations for 2,000 people three times a day, with snacks in between!

Friday December 5 9pm

First thing this morning I headed to the fitness center for an onboard treadmill workout.  There are 14 treadmills facing large picture windows looking out over the bow of the ship, choppy white-capped water passing by, our cruising speed being just around 29 knots (about 34mph).  If you haven’t experienced travel on one of these huge ocean vessels, it’s difficult to comprehend how powerful they actually are.  

The large fitness room is located right in front of the whole spa area of the ship; they offer just about any kind of spa / beauty treatments one would ever want - for quite a hefty price, I might add.  I counted the number of treadmills - 14 that I saw.  I climbed on one and got 60 minutes in before 10am.  Then, I headed back to the room for a shower and dressing, intending to attend the kitchen tour I mentioned yesterday.  Only, as I was showering I suddenly realized I was very hungry so I had to forego the tour in favor of the buffet breakfast still being served.  Given my intention to eat healthily, I loaded my plate with all different choices of fresh fruit and a large portion of scrambled eggs.  I looked longingly at the breads, rolls, and pastries, but once again, I was able to resist.  Orange juice and decaf were my accompaniments, so I was able to stick to my eating plan.  

From breakfast I walked outside to join lots of other sun-worshipers by one of the pool - hot tub Jacuzzi areas.  A beautiful lounge chair with a super large clean towel draped over it awaited me and my book for a couple of hours in the pleasantly warm, not hot, sunshine.

Getting around on this floating city is somewhat a challenge for me - the lady with absolutely no sense of direction.  I get turned around so easily, and inside the ship I don’t even have the sun’s position to guide me.  So, just about any activity I want to participate in requires that I allow enough time to be able to find the location in time to enjoy whatever it is!  This afternoon I decided to go to one of the enrichment lectures that are offered throughout the trip, this on by a marine biologist, retired from San Francisco State University, who talked about large oceanic animals and birds.  It turned out not to be as informative as I would have wanted, so I didn’t stay for the whole lecture, instead heading to the dining room for a nice relaxing lunch - so many choices!

There are all kinds of people who choose cruise vacations, some for their one and only vacation of the year; for instance, the English couple at dinner last night had arrived yesterday afternoon after having flown form northern England to London Heathrow and from Heathrow to Miami and then shuttled to the ship from Miami just moments before we departed at 4:30.  They’ll leave the ship in Valparaiso on the 20th, as will I, but they have a return flight to London on the same day.  That’s kind of one end of the spectrum; the other being the people who actually live on cruise ships, either staying on one, like this one, or jumping from one to another depending on what ships are available or where they want to go.  These folks are kind of a subculture - living life on their terms - and enjoying it too.  I’ll admit, I could be talked into trying this way of life out!!!

I feel fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to take several cruises; the big difference for me with this one is that I don’t have to rush to partake in every single offering of activity, dining, or shore excursion.  I have sixteen days to spread out the experiences.  My friend, Fred, has come down with a cold, and chose to eat dinner in the cabin; so, I decided to do the same.  Tonight was designated for “formal” attire in all the dining rooms, so I decided to order from the restaurant’s gourmet menu and ate a delicious four course dinner in my stateroom:  liver paté, two different soups - cold pear and warm corn, fresh green salad with feta, bacon, and candied pecans, and rack of lamb with mashed potatoes and gravy, steamed broccoli and carrots.  It was yummy and a  beautiful presentation right here in the stateroom.  Now I’m relaxing in bed and ready to prepare for another eventful day tomorrow.

Saturday December 6

Today started with a bang!  Actually it was more of a splat.  I was in the bathroom getting dressed for my trip to the gym.  I’m really not sure what happened, maybe a little movement from the ship; anyway, I suddenly found myself losing my balance and quickly put my left hand out behind me to feel for the wall.  There instead of the expected wall was the shower curtain, no help, and I crashed down into the shower landing on my left thumb and wrist.  I heard a ‘snap,’ felt a pain on my left elbow and left behind.  Scampering up to get a look at the damage, I realized I wasn’t in any great pain and it appeared that the contact with the shower floor seemed to be in the area of my left thumb and not my wrist.  Hooray for that.  I thought, “Oh, this is nothing, really,” and proceeded to the fitness center for a pleasant hour of recumbent bike riding.  I glanced at my left hand from time to time, noticing that my thumb was not exactly positioned as I’d remembered it and it was starting to swell.

Back in my stateroom I decided to shower and ready myself for the Galley Tour I’d planned to take this morning.  As I was listening to the interesting talk about how the ship’s dining crew prepares a minimum of 10,000 meals a day, and walking through the incredibly large kitchens, I started to notice that my thumb and hand were beginning to look quite deformed and not just a little discolored.  Upon the completion of the tour I marched myself down to the Medical Center and found that it had closed a few minutes earlier and wouldn’t reopen until 4pm.  It’s 2:30 now and I’m taking it easy in the stateroom but will head back down there at 4.  

Many years ago, while skiing in Park City, Utah, I dislocated my left thumb, a very painful injury that plagued me for weeks and weeks.  When it finally stopped hurting from the injury, I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d have to deal with osteoarthritis in that joint.  Sure enough, it’s from time to time given me some trouble; in the last year or so I’ve given up knitting and crocheting because of arthritis in both hands.  We’ll see what my medical colleagues onboard think about this injury.  I’m not sure what facility they have if it is, in fact, fractured.  I’m kind of thinking there may not be much to be done here.  I’m thrilled to say it’s not very painful, especially if I don’t try to do much with my left hand.  Here I am typing and it’s not hurting very much.  I will go back to the medical center at four to see what they have to say.  

Sunday December 7

There’s been a little delay in getting back to my blog; however I’ve been busy.  I went to the cruise medical center where they decided I should have my hand x-rayed.  Lo and behold, they found at least two fractures in my left thumb; so they put my hand and wrist into a temporary ‘cast- like’ immobilizer but said I should go to a specialist when we docked in Cartagena, Colombia this morning.  So, at 8:30 they took me to an outpatient medical clinic and I spent about five hours there.  I was seen by an orthopedic surgeon, who concurred that there are two fractures and that the area needs to be immobilized for at least eight days.  Then, I need to start doing some physical therapy as soon as I can after that - to prevent contractions and strictures that could interfere with function.  I guess we never know how important each part of our bodies are - until we lose the use, right?

So, I’m back onboard with my left thumb and wrist immobilized (I’m cheating right now by using four fingers of my left hand).  It’s really not very painful unless I try to move my thumb or bend my wrist; but I’m sure I’ll live!!!  There were three other ‘patients’ and their significant others in the group that toddled off to the clinic - all are going to live along with me.  One man had to have an endoscopy for a piece of meat that was stuck in his esophagus - his bill was $700. Mine was $850 (yikes) and I don’t really know why; maybe it was the Arthropod going into the clinic on a Sunday.  I haven’t had a chance to report the injury to Kaiser, but I’m confidant that they’ll cover all the charges. The driver for the trip to and from the clinic charged each of us patients $35 for the trip.  It wasn’t cheap.

I plan to have it looked at again when we get to Valparaiso, Chile (our destination), unless I feel worse before then.  One function that makes monkeys, apes, and humans different from other mammals is our ability to use our thumbs and fingers “in opposition.”  We don’t think much about it until we can’t function that was - tying shoe laces, holding silverware, etc.  I’m feeling a little like an invalid.

Thank goodness I’ve visited Cartagena previously, so I have some memories other than a medical clinic.  It’s really a beautiful walled city that was a central location where the conquistadors gathered their plunder from South and Central America for shipment to Spain.  The architecture is Spanish Colonial and really lovely.  I’ll just have to come back again; we leave this afternoon at 5 so it’s out of the question for this visit - it’s 4:05pm right now.  And, I didn’t get a chance to go to a cyber cafe so I’ll continue to write and publish (post) whenever I can.

Monday December 8

I'm sitting in a Radisson Hotel right on the dock where our ship is berthed in Colon, Panama.  We have Wifi access that appears t o be very good for $5 / hour (they indicate they don't monitor the hours)!  I'm uploading some photos from my iPhone as I type, hesitatingly, mostly one-handed.  Stay tuned, photos to come.  We'll be going through the Panama Canal tomorrow and I'm really looking forward to it.  I think I mentioned it'll be my second time, and I'm currently listening to  David McCullough's "The Path Between the Seas,"like all his books it's fascinating and very enjoyable reading.  With the background information I now have I"m sure the passage will be more meaningful.  More later on that subject.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Celebrity "Infinity" - Here I Come

Just getting ready to hop on the shuttle from the hotel to to seaport - about a 15-minute ride.  I'm excited but will miss the Internet access.  What a difference in life styles in the last few years.  I haven't been on a cruise for about 8 years - didn't miss the Internet much on that last voyage!!!  Times have changed.

Check out Celebrity Infinity:  Fort Lauderdale to Valparaiso, Chile . . .

I'm planning to have a Bon Voyage an a Buen Viaje!!!

Adios for now!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cozumel Ironman

December 3, 2014

Dear Followers:

Here’s the story, a little late, of the 2014 Cozumel Ironman.

November 29 - One Day to Go!

Here we are; it’s already Saturday.  Race day tomorrow, Jeff and Kari are kibitzing about  their prep for the final few hours before the starting gun goes off tomorrow morning - at 6:52am for Jeff in the “all men over 50” age group, and Kari’s at 6:55am for “all women over 50.”  I asked Jeff how he and Kari could swim together if he starts three minutes earlier.  “Maybe I’ll just tread water until she gets going in the swim.”  As I’ve shared before, the impetus for this adventure has always been “to do this together.”

Both Jeff and Kari are strong swimmers; however, they don’t consider themselves at the top of their respective categories, having a substantially energetic style with endurance to spare.  Their objective is to swim the 2.4-mile distance in somewhere around an hour and a half.  Each group “wave” will walk into the water and tread water / swim out about a hundred yards from the shore in anticipation of the starting gun.  Having done my share of open-water-swim competition, I know the start can be intimidating, with the crush of over-anxious athletes all vying for a great position without interference from other over-zealous swimmers.  [My parents were not swimmers, but were insistent and conscientious about making sure that my brother, Jim, and I had lots of swimming lessons very early in life; so, as parents, my husband and I were steadfast in teaching our three kids to be substantially water-safe - before they could walk!]

In a previous post I indicated that the swim course would be out-and-back; I’ve been told it won’t be - it’ll be a point-to-point swim along the coast for the 2 ½ miles.  The logistics are carefully planned to decrease bottle-necks as much as possible.  Our Chief Cheering Team (CCT: Alice, David, triplets, twins, and Mimi - that's me) has decided we may have to forego the swim start in order to be present for the swim exit and transition to the bike race.  I do know the bike race will be three loops around the circumference of the island, each lap over 37-miles.  The plan of the CCT is to maintain a position right in front of our condo complex, outside of the “all roads closed” center-of-town population crush.  We’ll see Jeff, Kari and our other five EPIC Tri athletes three times as the whiz past us, hopefully with a big high five, a smile and a strong continence.
All contestants have multiple IDs on arms, legs,
wrist bands and ankle bands.  This is Jeff, #572.  Kari
was #571
Jeff and Kari Saturday night
Ironman Sunday - November 30, 2014

All family adults got up this morning at about 4:30 to see Jeff and Kari off at 5am.  Although their start times weren’t until almost 7, they had to be driven to just south of downtown, where they had to walk to the beach and the swim starting location.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t watch the start, as it was exceedingly difficult to get there with road closures, etc.  But, we hiked into Chankanaab National Park, Cozumel (Link)  to see both exit the 2.4-mile swim, feeling great.  The transition from swim to bike is cumbersome and time-consuming; Kari was smart this time and wore her bike and running outfit for the swim so she didn’t have to take as long for the change-over. Jeff’s transition time was about 23 minutes, some of that was waiting for Kari to exit the water, as she was behind him.  Her transition time was 8 minutes.  We were not able to see them on their first lap on their bikes; we caught them both on the first half of their second loop around the island, at about mile 42 and again on their third lap at approximately mile 82.  Again, they felt great and were all smiles as they slowed down enough to say “Hi” and assure us they were “feeling good!”  Alice and the kids had made several posters to flash as they rode by and each said those signs really buoyed them up.  They looked good, but both declared that the ride along the eastern side of the island was very tough, with really severe head and easterly winds.  Kari said after the event that their speed on that portion of each loop showed from about 18-mph to 8-9-mph, a significantly difficult ride, for lots of miles.

Waiting for swimmers to exit the water.  I got so excited when I saw Jeff,
I forgot to snap a pic!
Bad shot of Kari exiting the swim

Family dinner while the race went on outside!
They completed the 112-mile bike ride in about 8-hours, certainly not as fast as they’ve done in other Ironman events that weren’t so affected by wind.  They’d also had a few sprinkles, but found that kind of a relief from the heat (mostly about 82F - 27.8C) over most of the day.

Again, we missed the transition from bike into running shoes, etc. to begin the run; however, the 26.2-mile marathon was conducted in three out-and-back-loops so we were able to check them out “in the flesh” in one location on the main street of town - as they returned from one loop, then again as they headed out for the next loop.  [There’s just something reassuring about seeing your kids “in person”]. They finished what turned out to be a sixteen-hour day crossing the finish line, hand-in-hand, to the announcer, “Jeff Sherman, you are an Ironman!,” and, “Kari Duane, you are an Ironman!”  An announcement was made for every single finisher - in his / her native tongue.  It’s goosebumps time!  

The final outcome was that there were 3,000+ contestants, from all over the world; I'm not sure what the number is for those who actually completed it.  The winner, for the second year in a row, was Michael Weiss from Austria.  His time this year was over 20-minutes slower than last because of the wind problem.  But, to give you an idea, He finished in a couple minutes over 8 hours; that's just about twice as fast as my kids!!!  (Cozumel Ironman Results).

As I’ve shared before, Jeff and Kari are both ‘seasoned' Ironmen (no, they’re not referred to as Ironwomen!), each competing for a fourth time.  It appears that every Ironman in the race reported that it was difficult in terms of the wind for the bike segment; otherwise, it was an enjoyable day, if you can empathize with that description - I’m not sure I can!
Tate, Kari, Avery, and Spencer

Jeff, Alice, Malia, and Samantha after race

Kari and David after race

One proud mama with her Ironmen

"Welcome Home" sign on condo door
We didn’t get back to the condo until about 1am and had to get up Monday morning to prepare for our trips home, or wherever.  I flew from Cozumel to Dallas and Dallas to Fort Lauderdale - where I’m enjoying a relaxing three-day stay before boarding Celebrity’s cruise ship Infinity for the 16-day jaunt through the Caribbean Sea, the Panama Canal, and along the coast of South America to the final destination, Valparaiso, Chile. 
I’ll write posts offline and publish them when in the various ports of call along the way.  I’m excited and hope I’ll have lots of stories and experiences to share with you.

Hasta Luego . . . and  . . . Hasta la vista, friends.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Short Update

Hi Folks:

Just a short update.  I'm currently in Fort Lauderdale and have had a whirlwind few days.  The Ironman was conquered by Jeff and Kari.  When I have more than two minutes to rub together I'll post all the info and pix.  I got in here past midnight (this morning, actually).

I'll get on it ASAP!