The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

We're Back Home in The Villages

Well, we're home...back from our little 10-day jaunt in the Western Caribbean. Diane and I actually had a wonderful time, and we especially enjoyed the ship, Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas. Our stateroom, with its nice little starboard-side balcony, was roomy enough for the two of us and there was a surprisingly large amount of storage space -- a good thing since we brought so much "stuff" with us.

While we were aboard we just took it easy, and enjoyed this rare opportunity to experience at least a taste of true leisure. We read quite a bit. Diane played cards with our friends (I'm not much of a game person). And, sadly, we ate far too much, an all too common vice for those aboard cruise ships. The food was excellent, even tempting me to expand my culinary repertoire beyond the usual meat and potatoes. I ate many things I could neither identify nor pronounce, all apparently prepared to perfection. Those of you who know me well would be proud.
The eight of us -- three deacons and our wives, plus another couple from our parish -- were seated together each evening in the dining room. Our waiter and his assistant, two very pleasant young Turkish men with the unusual (to us at least) first names of Eyup and Ayhan, took wonderful care of us during our time aboard. Eyup was the more controlled and reserved, while Ayhan was certifiably wild and crazy. But both were extremely competent and always helpful and cheerful. They made our evenings a delight.

This is our friend, Walter, and our waiter, Eyup.

...and here's Diane with Ayhan

The wines, too, were very good, as were the "drinks of the day" that I occasionally sampled after finding a nice quite spot to read one of the books I brought with me. The waiters and waitresses seemed to find me regardless of where I hid. Even the most obscure corner of the ship wasn't safe from those offering odd-colored drinks with little umbrellas sticking out of them.

The eight of us (above, left to right): Deacon Walter; my wife, Diane; Deacon Joe; Joe's wife, Anne; Ed's wife, Dot; Walter's wife, Ellen; Ed; and me.

Although I took one of my little Asus Eee laptops with me, I posted to the blog only once. First of all, at 55 cents a minute Internet access wasn't cheap, especially when the system was slow. And secondly, I really didn't feel like doing any more "work" than was absolutely necessary. I paid a few bills, answered a few emails, and that's about it. The result? I returned Monday to an inbox crammed with nearly 350 emails. Most were junk, but almost 100 deserved responses. Tuesday was a busy day.

In my previous post I described briefly our visit to Labadee, Haiti, so I'll move on to the other ports we visited and give you my impressions.

First, these cruise ships spend so little time in port that one can do no more than develop a vague impression of the place visited. A visit of only a few hours can easily distort one's understanding of a place and its people. For example, our final stop, Grand Cayman, is generally clean and relatively prosperous. And yet, I found the people there less interesting and certainly less friendly than those we encountered at other places that were, on the surface at least, far less inviting. Despite the obstacle of language, for me interacting with the people of Portobelo, Panama and Cartagena, Colombia was far more interesting than chatting with the Canadian salespeople or British ex-pats we encountered in Grand Cayman.

Our second port of call was Cartagena, Colombia. We hired a tour guide named Blanca at $20 per person and piled into a rather ancient van for a rapid tour of the city. The tour wasn't too bad. We visited Cartagena's most famous church, that of St. Peter Claver, whose remains are visible at the base of the main altar. This remarkable priest -- the slave to the slaves -- devoted his life to ministering to and caring for the black slaves who were brought to the new world and sold in the human flesh markets.

The skeletal remains of St. Peter Claver (above)

Push cart in Cartagena's old section.

Following our guide, we walked through much of the old section of the city (see above photo), unsuccessfully dodging the ubiquitous street vendors, and buying little goodies along the way. This part of Cartagena, at least, is really quite attractive, but on our (rather scary) drive up the mountain we passed the homes of the very poor, squatters who live in the kind of shacks one encounters throughout the world wherever severe poverty exists. On top of the mountain, I was privileged (for a small fee of one US dollar) to hold a three-toed sloth who seemed completely uninterested in me or anything else. (See the photo below.)

I actually developed some small affection for the little guy, although any long-term relationship would necessitate surgical removal of whatever gland secretes the odor that surrounded him (and me).

I'll continue with a description of our cruise tomorrow. In the meantime, greet each day of this Lenten season with the joy that comes from being a people of faith. God bless you all.

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