Cruising in the Days of Corona Virus
Emerald Princess to Panama Canal from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale
February 29-March 15, 2020
This trip started with ominous warnings from family and friends who advised me against going due to the global outbreak of Covid19, and urged me to cancel when I shared my ambivalence after receiving a notice from the cruise line about the possibility of trip interruption, and the offer of cancellation and rebooking without penalty. But the trip itself was proceeding as scheduled, and since I have put off this particular Panama Canal cruise twice already, once due to schedule conflict with a family wedding, and another due to a class jubilee celebration, I was determined to do it this time, plus it had become a challenge to my independence when faced with pressure that I ignored my doubts and cemented my ambivalence into contrariness rationalizing that I faced a similar situation when I traveled to Japan two weeks after Fukushima. That trip proved to be fantastic with just 1/3 of the original participants going resulting in us being pampered and given many special extras. The only potential danger would have been some disaster from strong after shock, which I did experience post-tour while I was on my own for a few days in Tokyo. I’ve never experienced earthquakes but I got an idea of how it might be like when a strong after shock wave hit Tokyo one night. I just got back from dinner and was preparing for bed in my hotel room, when suddenly I felt wobbly like I was on a ship rolling and needed to hold onto the wall to keep my balance. The chandelier began to shake and tilt to one side as if it was going to break itself from the ceiling, and objects began to slide off the shelf. I could not right myself to a standing position without holding on to something and I felt not in control of my body. That made me panic for a brief moment until I told myself that I must be experiencing an earthquake and once I put a name to what I was experiencing I calmed down and began thinking about what I should do. As soon as I reached this state the environment stopped wobbling too and was still. Later I found out it was only an after shock, though a stronger one than the many that was felt in the city after the earthquake that brought on the tsunami that destroyed the nuclear facility at Fukushima. The after shock lasted mere seconds, but it felt much longer to me. It gave me some understanding of how traumatic an experience of disasters could be, be it natural like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, or life-threatening illness, or man made like wars, torture, abuse, enslavement, or facing the barrel of a gun or the point of a knife. Thinking like this, I rationalized my decision, that any thing that one does is an opportunity for a new experience, where one could learn and grow and live to a ripe old age. And so I set off to see what adventure lies for me ahead.
Instead, I began with misadventure. I booked my flight to LAX from BWI/IAD instead of ORF because it is much cheaper and offered more flight choices. My plan was to drive to Reston, a suburb of DC with my sister as she returns from her long working weekend inCape Charles on Tuesday night, so that I could fly to LA next day. My luggage had been packed for the past week ready to go but my handbag was to be packed at the last minute because it will have my essentials like medicines, money, credit cards, etc. I had unexpected last minute chores such as getting emails out to volunteer groups who gave me assignments while I was away and sending draft copies of the writing project so my collaborator could work on it while I was away, and what took longest was trying to figure out how to edit the text of a scanned PDF copy which I ended up not being able to figure out because my sister announced we could leave early since she has completed her work, which I welcomed too since we could settle and relax at her place and sleep. Well, we were 1 hour away from DC when I suddenly remembered that I forgot to pack my passport. We had to turn around and drive back to Cape Charles for it, and made a roundtrip and didn’t get to Reston until midnight. In trying to figure out why, I decided it was because I never thought of this as a foreign destination trip, in my mind I was going to LA to visit my sister and returning via Fort Lauderdale to visit my friends in Palm Beach. The last minute unexpected changes to my scheduled packing of my handbag distracted me from my focus and from remembering that I planned to pack all essentials then, a senior moment episode, with near disastrous consequence. What would have happened if my brain cells did not click then and I would discover this during cruise check in? “Don’t you forget it from now on, getting old is a bitch!”
I was going to wash my nice undies and pack them last, which I also forgot. Unlike the passport they were replaceable though at usurious prices from the glitzy shops at Pasadena, and when I returned for my passport I could not find the printed copies of my ship boarding pass and my cruise luggage tag which fortunately I downloaded and could reprint from my iPhone, but it took some doing because my sister’s printer was out of yellow color but refused to print in black unless it replaced the yellow too, so we had to look for a copier service which was nowhere near the trendy shops and restaurants where my sister lives so we had to wait for Susan to come home so we could run a copy on our way to dinner, only to find out later that I had the copies stowed in a pocket of my handbag, why the passport was not with the travel papers when I always pack them together, and why I do not remember that I have the printed copies already with me I have yet to figure out. My guess would be that something interrupted me in the moment and diverted my attention from what I was doing and my action was not noted in my brain and therefore not encoded in memory. I am noticing that I remember better visually or if noted verbally in my mind. Oh, the accommodations one has to do to continue functioning, both intellectually and physically.
Which brings me back to the cruise. So these near disasters either is telling me not to go, and my dear ones lean in that interpretation, because its completion if not interrupted or solved would prevent my going, or it is telling me to go because the near disasters were resolved towards allowing me to go. And so here I am on the last port of call in Cartagena and the Captain had a serious tone this morning in announcing his regret that we will have to cancel our stop at Cartagena because we were not granted clearance, as all cruise ships due to the threat of CoVid19.
I have an extra sea day and while the cruise staff scrambled to replace our land tour activities with onboard entertainment, I decided to write, and in choosing what to write the title of Gabriel Garcia’s book, Love in the Time of Cholera, came to mind. I recall he was a Nobel Prize winner for his 100 Years of Solitude, which I read a long time ago which inspires me to read the book again as soon as possible and it was about a legendary land similar to Cartagena, that’s why I was excited to see the old city of Cartagena, and now I have lost that opportunity. Perhaps that’s where adventure waits for me, so it’s telling me go another time, together wit two other legendary places where my visits were denied me due to forces beyond my control. In New Zealand due to scheduling conflicts and on a cruise of the Polynesian Islands at Pitcairn of Mutiny on the Bounty’s fame, by a cruise stop cancellation due to an injured passenger requiring medical attention, necessitating us to proceed directly to Rapa Nui where the nearest medical facility could be obtained.
So far what I had on this trip are misadventures, at least they involved some investment of emotional expression. But the measure of a memorable trip for me is when I connect with another and make a friend that endures even long after the trip is over. Here I am almost at the end of my cruise and I have met many people but I have yet to meet the one that I could connect as a friend. I’m wondering if I have changed that those I have encountered seemed so different that I could not find any points to connect. Most everyone are married couples who are so old and frail, and who are not interested in conversation beyond the weather and land tours, and they don’t seem interested in getting to know anything about me. Those who are more talkative would talk about the trips they’ve taken and one was proud that she had visited 129 countries through many cruises she had taken both river and ocean cruises, some back to back, and the couple who have logged 1885 cruise days on Princess, another preferred cruises to vacationing in resorts and that idea fascinated me, as she made her point, that resorts like beach vacations are more expensive and a hassle with planning for dinners and dealing with traffic during high season, plus sight seeing is limited and one has to pay for entertainment piecemeal, whereas on a cruise one can have it all and with excellent staff to indulge oneself and opportunity to visit many different locations with all the logistics planned and executed flawlessly. But after meeting so many and having the same experience I got bored. So here I am bored and couldn’t wait to get back home, I have changed as a traveler, I have gotten old and this piece is a lament of that fact.
Until the Covid-19 infection became a pandemic which transformed this run-of-the-mill cruise a center of attention for containment. Aside from the control efforts instituted on the ship, which is passenger monitoring of hand washing and use of hand sanitizers before entering the restaurants, sneezing on the sleeve and proper disposal of tissues and random body temperature checks, the company also suspended all scheduled trips for 60 days. We could complete our trip but my post-cruise visit with friends in Palm Beach had been cancelled per CDC advisory for seniors to avoid exposure to recent cruise passengers regardless of whether they have visited endemic counties or not or even if they are asymptomatic. So the virus has gotten personal in its reach now, and that is ominous, more so after I read in my class email, the sudden death of a classmate I just spoke with who I was trying to make plans to get together before my embarkation at the Port of Los Angeles. She was fine but alas, she could not manage her schedule of driving her husband to his doctor’s appointment and getting together with me during the time I was in the area. And now she is dead.
When I am old I will wear a red hat and do as I please, for tomorrow, I may become just a memory.