Friday, April 13, 2007

Logbook: Canaria To Cadiz

Canariatocadiz1My plan to post the last Logbook entry on Wednesday night was quickly derailed by the hotel's non-functioning internet connection. I inquired about its status at the reception desk and was told by the cheery young woman on duty that she couldn't tell me because nobody had used the hotel's internet in as long as she could remember. (Reminder to self: A hotel's advertisement that it has internet doesn't mean it works!) I hit the streets and found an internet joint a few blocks away but was told that its wi-fi was not available at night -- yet another absurd new internet encounter on The Voyage! With the time being close to midnight, I decided not to pursue the insanity any further and abandoned my plan in favor of sleep. After breakfast on Thursday morning, I went back to the "no wi-fi at night" joint and was told that, in fact, they had no wi-fi at all. Perhaps the internet gremlins stole their wi-fi while I slept? After a half hour of fruitless searching, I remembered to "mind what I have learned" in my international internet intrigue over the past eight months and made an abrupt change in strategy: I hailed a cab and told the driver to take me to the best hotel in town. Ten minutes later I walked into the Las Palmas five-star hotel, opened up my Mac and was astounded to find myself on a 4-megabit pipe! I actually did a little happy dance -- which gave the lobby bartender a good laugh -- as I proceeded to update the website, download many backlogged podcasts, TV shows, etc. and have high quality video Skypes and iChats with a bunch of folks. I'd almost forgotten how fun the internet is when you're on a truly stable, hi-speed pipe!

After about four hours of internet bliss -- not to mention two cups of pretty good coffee, a Diet Coke and a club sandwich -- I packed up and walked down to the port to visit with my friends on Polar Star one more time before we all go our separate ways. They were all surprised but obviously happy to see me and we had yet another good round of laughs. As it happened, crazy chef Paul was just about to go in search of internet, so I said "Have I got a surprise for you!" and we wandered back to the five-star hotel together. Another couple of hours -- and beers! -- later, I had Skyped a few more folks, including a woman to whom I had been referred months ago as an excellent travel planner, guide and language tutor in the South of France. With all of my internet stuff caught up -- and with a good starting plan in place for France -- I bid Paul farewell and headed back to my own hotel for dinner and an early night.

Canariatocadiz2Yesterday morning I got up, packed up, checked out and caught a cab to the port where I got my boarding pass and embarked on Trasmediterranea’s Fortuny ferry to Cadiz in time to set sail promptly at 8 am. The ferry is huge, with three decks for vehicles of all sizes, one deck of cabins, one deck for “common areas” and a top deck with a pool, gymnasium and kennel for dogs. It is at least ten times the size of Polar Star and quite possibly the biggest ship I have ever been on. Following the crowd, I made my way to “reception” where I was given a card key and directed down a long hall to room 326. I smiled and said “This is different” when I opened to door to find the cabin arrangement you see here. In fact, there are four bunks in total plus a bathroom and not much room for anything else. Mindful of my unusual amount of gear -- most people have vehicles where they leave their luggage and only carry an overnight bag -- I tried to take up as little room as possible by standing my duffel in a corner and putting my pack on my bunk. With my “check in” complete, I set off to explore the ship and figure out what is what. In brief, the “common areas” deck has a cafe in the bow and a bar/disco in the stern, a self-serve cafeteria amidship and countless sitting areas everywhere else. I had my first coffee of the morning in the cafe then went back to my room where I met one of my roommates, a Spanish man in his mid-sixties named Guillermo. I was able to convey to him my limited fluency in Spanish, but we hit it off well enough in pidgen to agree that it was time for more coffee and went back to the cafe. It turns out he is a retired chief engineer of a freighter that used to take oranges to Boston and bring bananas back from the Caribbean... or maybe vice versa. I don’t remember, but we had a pleasant visit.

After that I went to the cinema to see “The DaVinci Code” -- subtitled in English -- then went to the cafeteria for lunch. Ugh. Without a doubt the worst food I have had yet on The Voyage -- some kind of greasy pasta, a previously frozen breaded chicken thing and a pale white lettuce salad. I guess when you are the only game in town you don’t really have to compete on quality. After another little walk around I went back to the room to get my Mac pack and met my other two roomies: Juan, another sixty-ish Spaniard, and Jose, who grunted from beneath the blanket on his cot. Juan is a very outgoing and talkative man whom I was unable to convince of my linguistic handicap. Then again, perhaps my Spanish was just good enough to convince him that I was deaf, because he started talking at me in a much louder voice. After a few moments of nodding and smiling, I grabbed my pack and got the hell out of there. In the cafe, I spent the entire afternoon and early evening in iLife before going for dinner at about 8 pm. A culinary debacle of epic proportions is how I would describe that meal. Between a cheesy white dish that I couldn’t even vaguely recognize and baked chicken with chips, I chose the latter, Thankfully I was able to grab an apple for dessert because I could barely wash down the chicken with the half-liter bottle of water. Oh, I forgot to mention that the meals are included in the price of the ticket. Such a deal! I did some reading while I had a vino tinto night cap in the bar/disco then decided to hit the rack.

Upon opening the door to my darkened room, I could barely see three lumps in the other bunks. Guillermo was sawing logs in his bunk, Jose was still buried under the blanket on his and Juan started shouting in the dark, something about not being able to find his card key. I threw my pack on my bunk, quickly put in my earplugs and climbed on my bunk fully clothed, hoping this would somehow convey to Juan that I had an urgent need for sleep. Either my ploy worked or the earplugs did their job, because I was soon asleep and was awakened only briefly a couple of times in the night by bathroom door action before waking up at about 5:30 this morning. I figured that was about as good as it was going to get, so I grabbed my pack and sneaked out of the room in the dark. The hall was deserted, as was the entire rest of the ship. I didn’t see anybody, anywhere as I walked around, and decided to go out on deck to enjoy the sea air and the sunrise.

Although I faithfully adhere to the “one hand for the ship” rule, I nevertheless lost traction on the slippery aft gangway and proceeded to land on my ass and bump down one deck. I’m okay, though my tail bone occasionally reminds me of my adventure and my left ankle is complaining a little bit about its misuse. Seriously, I’m fine... It is a little funny though: I’ve made four trips across the infamous Drake Passage in a tiny ship with no problems yet I bust my ass riding a behemoth on the calm Atlantic. Go figure. Anyway, I found a comfy chair then did some reading and napping until the PA announced it was time for breakfast. With no small sense of dread, I proceeded to the cafeteria and was not disappointed: For your “no additional charge” breakfast, you get a package of toast crackers, a pack of processed sweet cakes, a roll, a slice of ham, a slice of cheese, a glass of juice and a cup of coffee. Yummy!

For the rest of the morning I read one of the crummy novels I picked up in Tenerife. I won’t bother to tell you how bad lunch was. Now, I am back in the cafe spending some quality time with my Mac. The trip hasn’t been as bad as I may have made it sound, but I will be quite happy to arrive in Cadiz in a few hours and have another memorable segment of “surface” travel behind me on The Voyage of Macgellan!

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