Thursday, November 20, 2008



On the High Seas

After a summer very crowded with travels and conventions, and after the 27-day PAUL OF DUNE book-signing tour, as well as being the closing speakers at the national Young Adult librarians' convention in Nashville, Rebecca and I really needed a little time to decompress and recharge our batteries. Many months ago we booked a 14-day cruise that left Ft Lauderdale, FL, traveled across the Caribbean with several stops, through the Panama Canal, up Central America and Mexico, and finally docking in LA. We're traveling with her parents, Lou and Louise.

This is the first chance I've gotten to write a blog about it. We're just about to pull out of Cartegena, Colombia at 2:45 PM. The weather is hot and muggy, debilitatingly so, sunny skies but with a brief rain shower as we got back aboard the ship after our morning tour.

After checking aboard the ship on embarkation day, we toured the facilities after having a buffet lunch. I checked out the very extensive gym, and Rebecca took a tour of the spa. By sheer luck, she was asked to be a "model" for treatment she was interested in (detox, mud, and electrode stimulation), so she got a $150 treatment for free (and then signed up for another one). I worked out in the gym and got back to the room just in time for the somewhat disorganized emergency drill.

After embarkation day, we had two full at-sea days on our way to the first destination, the island of Aruba, just off the coast of Venezuela. Aboard the ship, even though you've already paid for the cruise, somebody pesters you for more money every time you turn around. We bought a pass to the spa/sauna/thermal room for the two of us; we bought a sticker to get us "free" sodas for the cruise (for only $10 a day); we bought a "premium coffee card" for $24 which allows us to get coffee that *isn't* pumped out of the ship's bilge tanks; we paid $35 for a fitness consultation and a body-mass/fat ratio measurement -- which turned out to be a 90-minute long sell-job to get us to buy a $3000 detox treatment (we said no). If it's just a sales presentation, then they shouldn't charge admission! Because the fitness consultation took so long, we missed a coffee-tasting session (which, we learned later, was a thinly disguised presentation to sell you a year's supply of their brand of coffee); we declined to pay $50 for a wine tasting (where they pressured you to buy their wine and have it shipped to your home). Man, even Amtrak doesn't charge when they hold a wine tasting.

Monday was Rebecca's birthday; I had arranged for the steward to bring a bunch of balloons and put them around our cabin door, which surprised her when she got up. Her parents sent roses. Rebecca also had her second spa treatment, and she and I watched the "Sex & the City" movie in the ship theater that afternoon, then met her parents for dinner (our nightly routine).

I attended a guest lecture on the construction of the Panama Canal presented by a nasal-voiced old man who stood on stage and simply read the text off of his PowerPoint slides. (Fortunately, the ship TV was playing an excellent National Geographic special on the same subject, so I watched that.)

Next morning we landed in Aruba. Rebecca and I left the ship, expecting just to go to a nearby beach and hang out for an hour or two. We had not signed up for any of the tours, but one of the local buses was hawking a tour of the island and an hour at a beach for $10 apiece; since a bus to the beach alone was $5, we signed up and saw the very pretty island, then swam in the Caribbean for about an hour. We had to hurry back to the ship, which sailed at 1 PM.

That afternoon all the toilets on our section of the ship were clogged (joy!), which took several hours to fix. Meanwhile, Rebecca played games with her parents while I sat on the balcony to work on my laptop. During the at-sea days (and the weeks before the trip) I had been hurrying to finish the main edit of JESSICA OF DUNE to send to Brian Herbert, who was waiting for his turn on the polishing. On Aruba afternoon (Wednesday the 19th) I was finally able to upload the third-draft manuscript to Brian. A major relief! I had also received the galleys for ENEMIES & ALLIES, my Batman/Superman novel from HarperCollins, on the day before we left, so I have been proofreading those. (And what better place to read than on the deck of a cruise ship?)

This morning we stopped in Cartagena, Colombia. We signed up for a general tour of the town, which took us to an old fortress, a monastery overlooking the city and the ocean, and to some shopping areas. Now, Rebecca always walks around with a giant target on her back, because she stops to look at the merchandise and makes eye contact with the vendors -- and the result is like someone smeared in honey rolling on an anthill. Everywhere we went, the very pushy people were crawling all over us, though we didn't end up buying anything other than a t-shirt and a small leather purse that Rebecca wanted. I did make sure to stop in a café and have a cup of Colombian coffee.

Cartagena is a very beautiful city with interesting streets, flower-filled balconies, colorful houses, surrounded by a lovely bay. Rebecca had her picture taken while holding a three-toed sloth; I got a pic standing next to a native Carmen Miranda imitator with colorful dress and a basket of fruit on her head. The heat and humidity was really oppressive, and we were glad to get back to the ship and cool off.

During our down-time, Rebecca and I have been brainstorming the events in the second and third "Terra Incognita" novels, which I'll be plotting while Brian edits JESSICA. We've still got ten days to go on the cruise. Tomorrow we head through the Panama Canal.

-- KJA


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