My dearest friend and I recently took a thoroughly enjoyable two-week cruise on the Holland America liner Statendam.
Before telling you about it, though, let me disabuse you of a common misconception. The trip was not a vacation. Writers don’t get vacations. Even though they might appear to be enjoying themselves, sometimes well into the wee hours of the morning, writers never take vacations.
I brought a computer with me. I worked on my current novel every morning. Well, almost every morning. I wrote last week’s column while at sea, and put down the notes for this one.
It was not a vacation. But it sure was fun!
The cruise began at Fort Lauderdale, stopped at Aruba in the Caribbean, went through the Panama Canal, touched at several Pacific Ocean ports in Costa Rica and Mexico, and ended in San Diego. Then we flew back to Florida.
They say that travel is broadening, and I must admit that the excellent food and drink served by the Statendam’s attentive and unfailingly cheerful crew has indeed stretched my waistline a little.
The Statendam is a very large ship. It displaces 31,388 metric tons, more than half the displacement of the USS Missouri, one of our biggest battleships of World War II. The Statendam is 719 feet long and cruises at 20 knots. Its normal occupancy is 1,200 passengers and 550 crew.
For me, one of the attractions of the cruise was that we actually were at sea a good deal of the time. It’s relaxing to watch the endless, surging waves stretching out beyond the horizon in every direction.
There was plenty to do aboard the ship. Meals were excellent and varied; a passenger could find a place to chow down just about any hour of the day or night. After dinner there were first-rate professional musical shows. And after that, we could dance the night away — although now and then the dance floor tilted precariously beneath our feet as the ship heaved through heavy seas.
One of our favorite pastimes was the afternoon trivia contest. Our team won first-place prizes twice, which shows that “useless” knowledge sometimes has its value!
The Panama Canal is a wonder of 19th-century engineering: massive gates controlling huge locks that floated our ship up to the level it had to be to get across the man-made lakes and finally out into the Pacific. The ships are actually towed through the locks by sturdy, hard-working locomotives.
The ports we stopped in were interesting, but to me they seemed very similar to each other. Of course, we only saw the tourist areas, replete with shops and restaurants and often sad-looking individual entrepreneurs hawking T-shirts and trinkets.
In both Aruba and Acapulco we booked rides on semi-submersibles, boats that gave us a glimpse of the underwater life teeming in those warm, tropical waters. The fish were colorful and came up to our boat eagerly — because the crew up on deck (which stayed above the surface) were tossing out morsels of food for them.
Our guides delighted in calling the scuba divers who paddled past us “Gringo fish.” And they unfailingly recognized my Chicago Cubs baseball cap; one of the guides even treated us to an impromptu chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” As long as I wear that cap I’m among friends, wherever I go.
It struck me that the fish in the sea, the tour guides, the sellers of trinkets on land were all doing pretty much the same thing: trying to make a living out of whatever resources they could find.
As the Buddhists say, we are all bound up on the wheel of life. This is a beautiful world, and even though I write about the wonders of other planets in space, this Earth is made for us — or, rather, we have been formed and shaped for it.
The cruise didn’t merely expand my waistline. It expanded my worldview, and helped me to realize that Earth is truly a wonderful and lovely home for us all. We should cherish and protect it, always, no matter how far into the universe some of us may venture one day.
Bova is the author of 124 books, including “Leviathans of Jupiter,” his latest futuristic novel. Bova’s website address is www.benbova.com.