Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mexican Cruise (Entry #4)

October 19, 2006: Last Entry

My last message only covered through dinner the night we left for Puerto Vallarta, so I’ll pick things up the next morning. Puerto Vallarta was where Jess and I had our only organized shore excursion. We read about everything that was being offered and we chose the Mexican Fiesta, Shopping, and Lunch (PVR129). It sounded like a nice day trip without all of the rigorous activity that so many of the young people like these days. At least, that must have been the prevailing attitude of the 79 octogenarians that comprised the rest of our group. Actually, the average age was probably about 50 thanks to one other young couple and a Mexican family with three small children. We also had an extremely happy pair of African-American ladies from Chicago in front of us on the bus who were having the time of their lives, so that brought the energy level up to a comfortable buzz.

First we stopped to see a church—Our Lady of Something Or Other of Guadalupe or Someplace That Sounds Like Guadalupe. Of course, the brochure made it sound like a cathedral worthy of Vatican City, but it was just a nice little church about 75% as big as Saint John the Evangelist in Clinton. Granted, it was really old, but after seeing the cathedral in Exeter I can’t say I was that impressed.

After the church, we reboarded the air conditioned bus and went to a little shopping plaza to look for some gifts and things. We almost bought a silver bracelet for Jess after some haggling, but she remembered at the last minute that she doesn’t wear jewelry. We decided instead to spend the money on more practical things we don’t use—like shot glasses—that were way less expensive. The shot glasses were $3 each or two for $5. Jess couldn’t bring herself to pay so little, so she smashed one on the floor and insisted we buy one for $5. Actually she bumped into the shelf with all of the shot glasses on it and one fell to the ground and broke, so we paid for it. Isn’t that sweet of her? I suggested that if she broke some more stuff, maybe we’d infuse enough cash into the local economy to solve the immigration issues plaguing our own nation. She didn’t find that as amusing as I did. At the last minute I decided to buy a handmade wooden inlaid Mayan calendar. I can’t describe it, but it was really pretty and I know I got screwed on the price. We were in a hurry to get back to the bus, though, and I didn’t have time to deal properly. I probably overpaid by enough for the guy to buy a new car, but I don’t really mind. I like my calendar, even if I can't read it.

After shopping we headed out of town for the meat of our excursion. We went to a “hacienda” for a “fiesta” featuring “tequila” sampling and “culture”, finishing off with some famous “dancing whores.” We watched a dance troupe perform the dances from three different Mexican states. Intermingled with the dancing was a tequila drinking contest for the guys and a tortilla making contest for the girls. I got to be a judge for the tortilla contest, thinking it was a great way to stand out before they brought out the dancing whores. Unfortunately, after the last state’s dancers left the floor, the MC announced that the show was over because he just found out that the “whores broke his leg yesterday and cannot dance today.” This prompted to me to smack my forehead and exclaim a little too loudly, “Ohhh! He said HORSE!” I secretly think Jess found that hilarious, but she didn’t let it show.

After the show we toured the tequila factory and saw how they make that vile liquor. Then it was into the happy room to get our samples. We tasted 7 kinds of tequila. The first was regular silver tequila used for mixing. It hurt. The second was tequila aged in oak barrels for 3-11 months. It was a little smoother, but still kind of harsh. The third, and last unblended, tequila we tasted was anejo, which means it was kept in oak barrels for 1-5 years. That was very smooth! The next four were all flavored tequila blends. These were only about 18% alcohol (36 proof), but they were delicious. We sampled almond, blackberry, peach, and coffee tequila. They were so good that I bought bottles of all four and envision using them to make some special ice cream or pouring them into my coffee a la my dear departed Grandma.

Once we were nice and toasted, we got back on the bus and headed back to the ship. All in all, I would say Puerto Vallarta was WAY nicer than Acapulco. I would even consider going back there for a longer stay since they had a lot of American stores and restaurants. After all, why travel if it means leaving the things I like most about America behind?

Yesterday night we had a lovely dinner at the Chinese restaurant on board and then went to the Reading Room so I could write about the Great Lobster Battle. Then it was off to bed.

This morning we decided to sleep in and poked around for a bit until we made a spur of the moment decision to go ashore. We took another tender (i.e., vomitorium) over to the Marina in Cabo San Lucas and walked completely around the harbor. We were rewarded at the end of our journey with a modern, air conditioned shopping mall. I almost knelt and said a prayer when we walked in. If there was holy water at the door, I would have crossed myself—such was the experience. We didn’t buy much, but we did both use what I believe must be the nicest public restrooms in all of Mexico. We also went into a jewelry store/art gallery that had some really intriguing work by a Guatemalan artist named Omar Cedeno. Jess and I really liked his work. They also gave us each a shot of tequila while we looked around. (I don't know why we don't do that here in the States.) When we get home we are going to research him some more and maybe buy a piece or two. On our way out of the mall, we stopped at Haagen Dazs and got some ice cream (or “helado” as it’s know here).

The walk back was uneventful except for two amazing moments. First, we passed a monument to Sir Lobster outside a maritime museum. I am attaching a picture (see right). It’s nice to see the noble creature honored in such a way. I only wish he had lived to see it. The second moment came when we realized we had 113 pesos (about $11) and we had to spend it before we reached the ship. After some negotiations, we settled on a colorful, hand-painted plate. We weren’t sure which one, but we figured if we kept walking, the right one would appear. About five minutes later we saw it. We asked how much and the guys said 180 pesos. I told him we had 113 pesos and that’s all we were going to offer. I even told him that if he didn’t get our money someone else would because we weren’t going to get on the ship with it. He shook his head no and we walked off. We must have gone a good quarter of a mile before a young boy comes running up with the plate saying he’d take the 113 pesos. We couldn’t have been more delighted! It meant that we actually WON a negotiation! That was our first successful bargain! I was high for hours! On top of that, just about everyone who saw the plate said, “What a lovely plate!” When I told them how much I paid, even the crew members told me it was a good deal. I couldn’t have been more proud. It really ended my Mexican experience on a high note!

Mexican Cruise (Entry #3)

October 18, 2006: The Great Lobster Battle

When last we left our intrepid travelers they were staring out the window at lovely Zihuateneo, Mexico reminiscing about their ill-fated trip to Acapulco. And that’s as close as we got to that lovely town. We learned from our prior day trip that some parts of Mexico are MUCH lovelier from a distance and we didn’t feel like chancing it again so soon.

As the afternoon turned into evening, we swung by the Carousel Bar to kick some more ass in trivia, only to win the same prizes we won at morning trivia. That was when we decided that trivia on board was not like a carnival game that would eventually yield a big prize if we won enough times. I guess I had this delusion of grandeur wherein I would be given a cruise for two, thanks solely to my gift for retaining otherwise useless bits of knowledge. After the trivia game we went back to the room and read for a bit on our balcony while the ship got underway.

We ate that evening at a specialty restaurant called the SoHo Room which serves Asian Fusion. There's even a lovely Warhol-esque mural of our governor in their foyer, replete with Terminator sunglasses, so we would feel right at home. I won’t bore you with details of what we ate (although I am closing in on my goal of consuming an entire goose liver’s worth of foie gras before we leave the ship). We got a free bottle of champagne by utilizing a trick we had seen a number of other couples do—we told them it was our anniversary… again. It’s been our anniversary three times since we got on the ship and we still keep getting free shit! It’s the best! But that wasn’t the most exciting thing about dinner. The most exciting thing about dinner was the Great Lobster Battle. Let me explain…

The SoHo Room boasts live Maine Lobster prepared one of three ways. Naturally, they have the requisite tank in the restaurant where they keep the poor bastards so everyone can point and laugh at those that are about to die. Only at the SoHo Room the tank isn’t in the entrance. It’s in the dining room. Actually, it’s built into a wall like a regular aquarium. Lucky for us, there was only one lobster left in it and someone wanted lobster for dinner. Since the tank was built into the wall, the chef had to climb on a step stool and try to catch the lobster solely by looking down on it from above the water. That’s stupid mistake number one. Once the water is disturbed, there is evidently no way to see what you’re doing on the bottom of the tank. This would be a problem with any old lobster, I would think, but we weren’t dealing with any ordinary lobster. Oh no—this lobster was the Harry Houdini of lobsters. He did not want to leave that tank under any circumstances. It only took a few attempts for us to realize there was a reason this little fella was the last lobster in the tank. He had moves that Jackie Chan would be proud of!

Being closest to the tank, Jess and I were the first to become fully committed spectators. We couldn’t stop ourselves from ooooing and awwwwwing when the chef would get the upper hand only to have the lobster flip its tail or wiggle some little appendages and scurry back to a safe corner. Once in the corner the lobster would make himself as flat as possible and only expose his smooth topside to the net the chef was using. That was mistake number two—for the chef. All he was working with were two green nets with two foot handles. The nets themselves were barely big enough to hold the lobster and there was no way of getting it into the net unless you could get under it or it simply walked or swam into it. I swear the lobster figured this out, because he didn’t make a single mistake. About five minutes into the fight, around the time I started thinking of him as a warrior instead of dinner, the lobster started to show some real anger by bringing out the claws. But again, he did it brilliantly. He would grab the net and pull, but let go when the net started to withdraw. I remember how stupid crabs were with their claws—actually helping you get them out of the bucket by grabbing on—but Sir Lobster was no idiot. He wasn’t giving an inch.

By now we’re going on ten minutes and every table within view of the tank is completely engaged by the struggle. Even the staff has clustered around (courteous enough not to obstruct our view, thank God) and they are all offering suggestions to the chef through an intermediary who is passing information to the chef around the wall. The Lobster Battle is all anyone is talking about at this point, so the stakes are getting pretty high for the chef. I can sense the mood starting to swing among the diners. Some rumblings started filtering through the crowd about paying double to let him go or at least giving him a chance to catch his breath before going on. I mean, even heavyweight boxers get a break every few minutes. Everyone started to speculate as to who ordered the lobster in the first place and you could feel the tension as we all looked around for the silent, guilty, heartless bastard who would destroy this perfect example of the will to live.

Unfortunately, things ended the only way they really could have ended. The chef forced the lobster forward into the waiting net using the back of the other net and then held him there until he was well clear of the tank. The Great Lobster Battle was over, but there was no joy in the victory for those who witnessed it. Perhaps there was a sense of relief, as it was clear that the struggle would not end in Sir Lobster’s favor, but it was the kind of relief that comes when those who have fought hard are finally at peace. In an unusual epilogue to the battle, the chef brought the still living lobster out to the dining room and let us all see the noble creature one last time. There were many mixed feelings, but I felt the general mood was one of hushed respect. Most of us applauded the effort—of the lobster, I mean. I almost stood and saluted. Had it been me who ordered him, I would have yielded the chase. No, Sir Lobster… You may die this day, but not by my hand.

After the emotionally draining meal, we went to the casino to forget what we had just seen. And forget it we did—to the tune of a few hundred dollars down the drain. After our raping at the casino, we went to see another schlocky cruise ship show called “It’s Fame!” It could easily have been called “It’s Gay!!” To put things in perspective, they billed it as a Bob Fosse tribute. However, they did it with mangled, slightly altered versions of popular show tunes and pop music combined with choreography that would make Bob Fosse want to cut his own legs off. I imagine that all things being equal, it wasn’t that bad, but they billed the shows as “Broadway Quality.” That phrase should now be used as one of the definitions of hyperbole. I think I’ve seen two of the performers in porno, but some of the dancers (two to be exact) were much better than the others and could accurately be labeled “entertainers.” (Did I mention they had fantastic asses?)

Now I don’t want to give the wrong impression. We had, and continue to have, a great time! Even the stuff that is disappointing beats the hell out of working, so I would do it all again in a heartbeat. (Except I wouldn’t ever set foot in Acapulco again. Did I mention it was a shit hole?)

I know I threw in a lot of extra detail tonight and some of you (Diane, I am sure; Fran maybe—what with her ADHD and all) are probably saying, “C’mon, already!” So I’ll wrap it up for now and write more about Puerto Vallarta (it’s like the San Fernando Valley, except everyone speaks English) tomorrow.

Love you all! Thanks for reading this far. And if you didn’t, I’m not getting you a Christmas present.

Mexican Cruise (Entry #2)

October 18, 2006: Acapulco

So we had our first taste of the Mexican Riviera on Monday when we went ashore in Acapulco. Let me preface this by saying how lucky we were to be visiting a city that boasts 360 days of sunshine a year on one of the rare days when it was raining all day. We feel truly blessed. I’ll get into specifics later, but let me just say that the word of day was “runoff.”

Our impression of Acapulco… What a shit hole! (Although in its defense, the people were really nice.) We decided to ignore the “advice” of the onboard shopping consultant and walk around Acapulco on our own. That was mistake number one. The minute we got out of the cruise terminal, we were set upon by hordes of extremely eager cab drivers (none of whom had legitimate taxi licenses). Trying to convince these guys that we just wanted to walk a bit after being on a ship for three days was not the easiest thing to do. They literally follow you for blocks trying to convince you that you need a taxi to see anything good. (In retrospect, we realized that they must be right.)

Once we got far enough away from the terminal, we started to be set upon by the adorable, albeit dirty and sometimes scabby, little girls selling chiclets. They don’t exactly take no for an answer either. We got the distinct impression that if you offered their parents enough money they would sell you not only all of their chiclets, but the child, as well. It was pretty depressing. Luckily, we managed to get through their gauntlet without buying anything or getting pick pocketed.

Once free of the chiclet girls, we encountered the flea market representatives. These are guys who are dressed fairly nicely and whose sole job it is to divert tourists who are just wandering around to a piss-ant little flea market full of junk. Every guy we saw or heard was taking people to “his mother’s store.” Someday I’ll have to study this to find out why that’s a successful hook. We couldn’t get rid of this guy until we arrived at the flea market, at which point he disappeared, leaving us directionless with very little concept of where we were.

After poking around the junk at the flea market and overpaying for some “silver” charms we started to head back to the boat—by now we’d realized that coming ashore with no plan or guide was pretty stupid. We figure we walked about 5 miles (4 miles out of the way, I’m sure.) to get back to the boat. We passed a bunch of stores that sold musical instruments and a whole lot of markets selling second-hand power tools and small appliances. My personal favorites were the stores that had assorted recently-deceased fowl hanging over the sidewalk directly in our path. We even think we saw a fat, old hooker, but she didn’t try to solicit us—what a pity.

Finally I caught sight of a landmark I remembered from our walk to the flea market and then one block later we saw the ship’s smoke stack. I thought Jess was going to fall to her knees and weep openly, but the ground was far too disgusting to do that.

During the whole adventure I wore only flip-flops on my feet, thinking that I wouldn’t want to walk around for hours in wet shoes. God only knows what kind of fungi and bacteria my feet were exposed to. Add to that the constant dripping of water from filthy roofs onto our heads as we walked down the street and it will be a miracle if we don’t get some kind of flesh-eating disease.

As we headed toward the ship, wet and weary, thankfully the pan-handlers and taxi drivers could read our sentiment on our faces. We must have looked like we had been through something, because we didn’t have to tell anyone more than once that we just wanted to get back to the ship. As we approached the terminal, Jess and I gave voice to our fantasies about drinking ice water and showering. Inside the terminal we chuckled to ourselves a bit because that was by far the nicest building in Acapulco with the nicest stores. (It was a sad kind of chuckle, as you can probably imagine.) We bought a few things there and then reboarded our vessel, vowing never to go ashore again unless we had a shore excursion planned.

Today we are docked in the bay at Zihuateneo. We bounced around the idea of going ashore, but even though it’s sunny today, the bay is kind of choppy and you have to take a small boat to town (see piucture to right). I don’t think going ashore in a tiny little coastal village is worth wretching my guts out on a ten minute boat ride from hell, so we are just relaxing on board and enjoying the peace and quiet while all the suckers are on terra firma getting ripped off by the locals. Like Acapulco, I’m sure this port looks much more beautiful from the boat, which is where I intend appreciate it from afar.

This morning we went to play morning coffee trivia at the pub on board. Of course, we won. We both got a keychain with a light on it, a notepad that looks kind of like a passport, and a luggage tag. Woo-hoo! I love winning! Since we are so brilliant, we’re thinking of playing again at 5:30 if we don’t do the Texas Hold-Em tournament. Wish us luck either way!

That's all for now. I’ll write more later!

Mexican Cruise (Entry #1)

Back in October, my wife and I went on a cruise to Mexico. I chronicled our experiences on the cruise in a series of e-mails to my family and thought, "Why stop there?" So here are the posts in the order I sent them out. Just to give some background, Jess is my wife and we're not very active people.

October 16, 2006: Our Cruise So Far

Jess and I are starting our third full day aboard the Norwegian Star. So far we’ve had a blast! We got a late start out of L.A. because there's a chance some fool on the previous cruise threw his wife overboard on the way back to L.A. and the FBI had to do some investigating. It was wild! The dock in L.A. was a madhouse because everyone was there at the same time and the system they had in place couldn’t handle that. The staff, seasoned cruisers, and our travel agent said they’d never seen anything like it. All in all, I think we were lucky to get out of port only four hours late.

The weather the first few days was good, but we’ve had rain since last night. Also, whoever said that you can’t really feel the rocking of the ship is full of shit. Luckily, Jess and I are used to the motion now and we aren’t seasick at all. They say the captain made up two hours on the trip down to Acapulco and I suspect he did that by dumping some ballast, which is why we feel the rocking of the boat so much. Add to that the earthquake off Hawaii and I couldn’t get visions of the Poseidon Adventure out of my head. Luckily they said there was no tsunami detected, so we should stay upright.

Today we are going to try to go ashore in Acapulco if the weather clears up a bit. If not, we’ll just relax on the ship. Neither of us are particularly interested in seeing much of Mexico, so the ports of call are kind of optional as far as we’re concerned. So far we really like the cruise experience and we’ve been treated really well since we got a suite. We actually felt really good when we checked in because we were on the Top 35 list and got to go in a special line that was about 1/20th as long as the regular check-in line. Some people had to wait upwards of six hours to dump their luggage and check in. We were on board about 90 minutes after we got to the dock. Of course, we had to bribe a porter to take our luggage and I snuck us into the check in line 19 groups early. If I had to do it over again, though, I would.

Gotta go get ready for Acapulco! I'll let you all know how it goes.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Born Anew

So this is what it feels like to have a blog. I've been debating with myself over whether or not to extend my persona into the digital realm for a few months and I finally wore myself down enough to let me give it a try. So far, my blogobirth has been pretty painless. The hardest part was coming up with a nom de plume and a name for my blog. I've always liked the word Bastard, and nothing gets your attention quite like a slap in the face, so "Slap Bastardson" seemed perfect.

As for the name of the blog, that was mere expediency--although in retrospect, I fear that the name "Slap" coupled with the word "Beat" in the blog title might give the impression that I condone violence. Far from it. I belive violence in all its forms has only one proper place--in children's cartoons, of course. And in video games. And the occasional action film. I guess you'd have to also include war movies because, hell, what's a war movie without violence? Just a bunch of shots of cargo ships unloading equipment and G.I.'s eating in a mess hall? Who wants to see that? But I digress...

I guess the whole reason I started a blog is because ever since I was a kid, the weirdest shit happens to me and the people around me. I guess I just needed a place where I could write that stuff down when it happens. I plan to wax philosophic from time to time on a variety of subjects. They won't all be winners, I'm sure, but I'll try to keep the painstakingly banal entries to a minimum. That's all I have time for at the moment. Hopefully I'll have something interesting to write about soon.

Thanks for taking the time to read this far!