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Nichols: Birthday cruise was a worthwhile adventure

POSTED: May 7, 2008 5:01 a.m.

For my 80th birthday, my second daughter gave me a cruise of the western Caribbean for the both of us. The tour had an inauspicious beginning, and a chaotic end.

We planned to meet in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She would fly down from Washington, D.C., and I from Atlanta.

We were to make contact by cell phones. Her phone never rang and she did not know I had arrived. She tried to contact me, but my phone never rang either.

I waited for her for 2« hours. Finally, I decided to go aboard and wait in our cabin. When I opened the door of our cabin, she was already there, and had been there waiting for me for more than an hour. We later discovered that some other cell phones did not work inside the terminal building either.

Because I have bad knees and cannot walk long distances, we chose shore excursions that involved little walking.

By chance, my daughter had bought a cruise on the same line as I had when I cruised down the Alaska coast last spring. In Alaska, all but one of our guides were from the lower 48 states. We had only one guide who was native American.

However, there were available several trips to native villages that did have some opportunities to meet and interact with locals other than those we met selling souvenirs. Likewise on our Caribbean cruise, the emphasis was on commerce, not local history.

Our first stop was Ocho Rios in Jamaica. After a 90-minute bus ride through the mountainous country-side (definitely Third World poor) we came to the White River. My daughter and I boarded a 30-foot bamboo raft with a captain who polled us down the river for an hour. He was an artist who had carved some beautiful Kalabash gourds. My daughter bought one of his gourds and will always treasure it because we met the artist who made it. He chatted in clear English with us, and in patois with other natives on the river’s banks.

Our second stop was Grand Cayman. It is a British Overseas Territory and is bursting with luxury hotels and condos. Although damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Grand Cayman has been almost completely rebuilt. As we passed luxury shops I was reminded of the beach towns of Florida and California.

I was told that Grand Cayman is a banking center. I have never had need to launder any money overseas, so I knew nothing of the banking activities there. I did recognize some of the names of our biggest American investment firms.

We boarded a catamaran with 50 other passengers and sailed to a sandbar far from land where we disembarked and waded around petting the stingrays that came up to be fed the raw fish given us. I was surprised at how tame these stingrays were. I petted two and loved the ocean swim. With my bad knees I found walking around in the three-foot surf a bit difficult, but managed to have one exciting day I will never forget.

Our third shore visit was Cozumel, Mexico. The town of San Miguel had shops filled with quality gift items far removed from the tawdry glitz of the Taj Mahal shopping center in Jamaica.

We boarded a boat that took us out to a waiting submarine. I climbed down backward into the sub, the first I had ever been inside. I sat just a few feet away from the pilot, who set many switches and controls as our electric submarine took us gently down to 45 and then later to 105 feet.

The 48 passengers sat back to back looking out large portholes. The beautiful fish swam in and out of the towering coral reef. I felt a little like Jonah looking up at the fish swimming above us.

The last day of the cruise was spent ashore on a 45-acre resort owned by the cruise line near the end of the 100-mile long island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. I went swimming many times, but spent most of the day resting on a lounge chair in the shade of a palm tree.

After a week at sea, I was ready for Gainesville’s comforts. However, two of my flight segments were canceled (icy bad weather), and it took 36 hours to fly from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta, by way of Pittsburgh, Washington and Charlotte. It was a forgettable ending to an unforgettable adventure.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears frequently and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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