Sunday, January 16, 2022

Moths to a Flame - Part 7, San Juan


Day four starts like the others, I’m awake before daybreak. Once again I’m on deck as soon as I’m dressed. A beautiful, warm December morning due east of Las Galeras, Haiti. Clear skies but the wind has barely subsided, it is still whistling through the railing. I checked my cellphone app for all the technical details that most other passengers couldn’t care less about. We are eight hundred and eighty-five miles from Ft Lauderdale and have only eighty-eight miles to go. We should pass the famous Castillo de San Felipe del Morro sometime around two in the afternoon. The afternoon is perfect as the sun will highlight the side facing the channel as we enter. This is, to me the prettiest and most symbolic port entry in the Caribbean, and this time our balcony stateroom will be facing the iconic fortress as we enter the harbor.

During the day we had the opportunity to chat and joke with our wait staff, shop sales people, and several ship’s officers. Everyone was masked all the time the entire cruise, so we quickly learned to read eyes. The eyes speak volumes, and we saw eyes from Indonesia, Venezuela, the Philippines, Korea, and just about any country you can think of. The eyes all speak the same language. We met another Daniela from Venezuela who now lives in Colombia, and still another Daniela who was from Chile, just west of Bariloche, Argentina, where Dany of Supernova Duo call home. We met Feliz, from Manila in the Philippines, who went to hospitality school in Arkansas. Our drink hostess, who was from Korea, told us all how to distinguish Asian nationalities as westerners are at a loss when it comes to the many different far eastern styles and features. “It’s how we cut our hair,” she said, her eyes dancing at her chance to tease our group. We were as at ease with them as they were with us. With only five hundred passengers on a ship that usually carries over two thousand passengers, everyone a chance to interact with other, passengers, crew and staff with a cordiality we had never seen on previous cruises.

I double checked the battery for my camera as well as our cellphones as we approached the coast of Puerto Rico, the mountains behind San Juan visible well before the port itself. The pilot boat approached on our port side – that’s sailor talk for the left side – burying the bow in the heavy swells. It passes and turns behind us to come alongside out of the wind on the other side of the boat. We’ve slowed considerably to allow the pilot to make the transfer, but seas are very heavy. Being on the leeward side makes it easier, but not by much.

A deep-sea fishing boat, probably in the thirty-two foot range, not more than a mile away, disappears from sight regularly in the deep troughs, only its outriggers visible above the waves. We watched the small boat for several minutes wondering just how much Dramamine it would take to go fishing with them.

Old Town San Juan was a marvelous surprise the first time we were here, and we planned our walking tour to include El Morro, but the sporadic rains started before we disembarked and turned into a constant reason to duck for cover. We did some sightseeing through parts of town in between rain showers, but cut our tour short and headed back to the boat. If you want to find a drugstore, all you have to do is watch for the long lines as it seems that is the first place everyone from the ships go. The Walgreens at the foot of the pier does a bang up business every time a cruise ship docks. The first sign you see when you step onto the pier is a warning sign about the one hundred dollar fine for failing to wear a mask. Everyone in every store we stopped in was masked. The crew and staff of the boat were on a tight leash due to the COVID restrictions, and were restricted to crew members only outings.

We had dinner in the main dining room which was even emptier than usual. Dave, our waiter who has been with Celebrity Cruises for over eighteen years, welcomed us warmly as usual, our preferred drinks waiting as we were seated. The service on the Millennium is superb. To our unbridled relief, this cruise has been the perfect antidote to the last one we took some seven years earlier.

We were back on top by midnight to watch as we departed the brightly lit city. Another Celebrity ship, the Constellation, which joined us earlier along with Carnival’s Magic, shoved off just before we did. The two ship’s Captains did a long tete-a-tete with the ship’s horns to the delight of the passengers on deck. We were disappointed to find El Morrow is no longer well lighted at night and the marvelous structure is no longer dominate in the darkness as we sailed out the channel. No problem, we joined the dance party on the pool deck. Always a way to enjoy the moment. Definitely not a Geritol cruise.

Next: St. Croix

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