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Ramblings Flirting With Fantasy
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Well I finally did it. Having for years disparaged people for going on cruises and indulging in what appeared to be unforgivable sloth and decadence, I succumbed to my son’s persuasion and went on a Caribbean cruise with him  — and enjoyed it very much.

How can you not enjoy lounging on a deck chair gathering a sun tan, listening to a reggae band, watching bikini-clad girls frolic in the pool and languidly signaling for somebody to bring another beer?

The kicker, of course, was my son who is 30 and gainfully employed at a large grocery store in Modesto, much more gainfully than I, financed the whole thing. It was a gift, he said, to dear old dad for bringing him up or at least not throwing him out during adolescence and his twenties. As the years pass, we remain on good terms. Something to do with having the same sense of humor. We just enjoy the same jokes.

But up to the last minute I resisted going along. I could not afford it. Well Dustin was paying and the cabin cost the same whether single or double occupancy.

I was not in the best of health. About six weeks before the sailing date, I broke my upper left arm so I had surgery and took along a rope and pulley device to do strengthening exercises daily.

The trip was not my idea. I was used to strenuous, independent venturesome vacations like hitch hiking by foot, truck, train and boat from London to Istanbul and back.

I should have remembered. I was 20 then, in the peak of health, up for anything and capable of living on bread and cheese and sleeping in ditches. Not any longer.

It was all the fault of my stepdaughter Shannon and her husband Ryan who’d previously been on a cruise down the Mexican coast and now wanted Ryan’s parents and us to accompany them on another one to the western Caribbean.

The ship of the Carnival Line duly sailed from Miami — the transcontinental flight cramming us like sardines in a tin was the worst part of the whole trip — steamed southwest around Cuba to the Cayman Islands, then turned westwards to visit Honduras in Central America, Belize and finally Cozumel, an island lying off Mexico.

Being still British, I was delighted to learn the Caymans are under British rule and to see the Union Jack still flies over the mansion of a governor who rules in the name of Queen Elizabeth. The islands, first sighted by Columbus, are famous for their turtles — they breed and research the yard-long amphibians on a farm. Columbus called them Las Tortugas. Sir Francis Drake renamed them after the caiman, the local word for alligator.

Nowadays Grand Cayman the capital has well over 100 banks and is better known as a tax refuge for rich people. I played with the idea of jumping ship and reneging on my Bank of America credit card bill.

Honduras has the sweaty hot climate of the tropics, vegetation full of rainbow colored parrots and macaws, chattering monkeys and unblinking iguanas and a people who do not attempt to conceal their poverty but smile anyway.

Iguanas, our tour guide remarked, are a culinary delicacy with the local people who hunt them with dogs that pin them down so the reptiles can be kept alive and fresh for eating.

As a former seaman and avid reader of Joseph Conrad’s novels, I was fascinated by the half sunken hulks of several freighters rusting in the shallows of the port where our intrepid captain backed his behemoth of a vessel alongside a decidedly modern, concrete wharf.

I learned later it was only five years ago Honduras authorities embraced tourism, contracted to receive cruise ships with their free-spending visitors and built the facilities to accommodate them.

Then two old-fashioned floatplanes circled the cruise ship before dipping through the trees towards an airport. The coast quivered in the heat. It began to take on the aura of a mirage.

Of the cruise ship itself I will say little. It was a floating palace with 14 decks, several pools and hot tubs, a large water slide, two large restaurants, a three deck deep theater, innumerable eating places, a gymnasium, a casino, a couple of giant movie screens and a hive of activity 24 hours a day.

It was a pleasure dome, a fantasyland, devoid of all duties and any obligations. Guess that’s what vacations are supposed to be.


John Branch is editor of The Riverbank News and a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at or 847-3021.