Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Not your mother's Caribbean Cruise

You may think I make some of what I write about up.  You may ask, questions like is Olaf really a naked birder?  Is Olaf really the Dos Equis man?  Well, I don't and I am, but sadly no, just a bit of a likeness spread by my PR machine.  
           Everything in life, for me at least, goes (or comes) full circle and after having such a nice time on the Big Nude Boat in 2019 with a friend named Stuart (long story, buy the book for that), I convinced Silja to go on the 2020 version. We rented a cabin and made plans for the February 2020 sailing by watching the horrors of the Plagueboat, the Diamond Princess, in Yokohama, Japan and worried of what possibly we had got ourselves.  The day came for departure and we gathered to leave Tampa thinking of the worst and hoping for the best. 
Some of the dock workers in Tampa commented snidely.  “I’ve never seen so much luggage for a bunch of nudists.”  Which was true and it was not.  All I know is we traveled light, as one does have to dress to eat in the main dining room and in three of the ports (not Roatan) but nowhere else, one needs something to wear.  The Carnival Legend would be our naked home for a week, and hopefully not longer.

Key West, FL 2/24/2020
            It was clear on this boat even just a day into it that this voyage had a different feel to it.  Bare Necessities (BN), the travel company that runs these nude cruises, is much more in the background on this cruise.  Their self-appointed cruise director on previous excursions named Barry, as rumor had it, had a falling out with BN.  Direction was absent on this ship, and so his hosting of parties and events was gone, and BN had no one in his place.  Things like the group picture wasn’t advertised except for on the daily program.  We never read it until after it happened and by the looks of the picture, not that many others did. I have seen very few BN employees around at any of the events, and even a toast of champagne given to BN was done over the loudspeaker by the Carnival cruise director.  This was their 30th anniversary cruise.  I guess after thirty years, things change and maybe there is more to the story.  
As the trip wore on, more and more people worried about the virus especially after we sailed by an infamous MSC ship that had been denied port in three countries but allowed to dock in Cozumel before a riot of some sort broke out and passengers had to be subdued by pepper spray.  Would that happen on a nude cruise?  One wouldn’t think so but even here, people were hogging cushions from chairs to make theirs more comfortable which seemed rude.
            To make matters worse, I also learned that this was a Pepsi-only cruise, unlike 2019, a Coca-Cola-only cruise.  I had tried to by the “Bubble package” but it had gotten screwed up which was lucky since I couldn’t even drink any of the soda offered as Pepsi gives me an MSG-like reaction.
The Carnival Legend is a somewhat smaller ship than the Carnival Sunshine, and there was less space.  Possibly due to the success of the 2019 cruise and increased bookings, the organizers didn’t offer incentives to get the younger crowd on this sailing, so gone were most of the Florida Young Naturists who livened up the 2019 version and left this one with an older average age.  The weather didn’t cooperate and the itinerary didn’t help matters either.  Last year after a cold day at sea the first stop Carnival’s private island in the Bahamas was invaded by 3000 nude people. Everyone had a marvelous time, but unfortunately, the first stop in 2020 being Key West, with no nude options for shore excursions, didn’t get the cruise off to a great start. 
            We landed in Key West after an uneventful first morning at sea.  After turning east west of the Dry Tortugas, I saw my first seabird, a female magnificent frigatebird, but shortly thereafter, we had to get dressed to arrive into the US port of Key West. 
            Our time in the self-described Conch Republic was only for five hours and we got in at noon.  There wasn’t all that much one could do in such a short time.  We rented bicycles for $16 each and looked around for a few birds and did some people watching.  It is still a month early for decent birding here so all we saw was a few warblers and a few butterflies.  

Silja and the Key West Chicken, the most established introduced exotic in North America from pre-1800 

We drove past a block-long line for a picture at the southernmost point of the US, apparently it was the place to be with three hundred people loitering in line to do so, but seemed insane to me.  I was going to take a picture of the process to highlight the absurdity of it all but that would only give credence to something that needs to be purged.
            I found a twelve-pack of Coke zero to bring back to the ship.  Silja tracked down some lip-gloss and after a few miles of avoiding traffic we turned the bicycles in, and both of us took a tourist picture by the end of US Highway 1, something we did back in 2013, the last time we were here together.  I guess this is what we have to do now each time we come to Key West.

                 We came back to the boat, watched it sail away and then had a marvelous dinner in the steakhouse restaurant with some Club Orient refugees, for lack of a better term.  The entertainment, including the comedians were lame so we went to bed early.
                 The next morning my wife announced that if we wanted to go to Columbia in 2021 (the destination of the 2021 Nude Cruise), we might as well just go there and arrange a birding tour on our own or just pick a nakation destination at some other place. For Silja to offer that (a birding trip) is a mighty powerful statement that cruise life is not her thing.  I just hoped that we could survive the remaining five days on this trip.  But I agree, getting drunk and hanging out at bars on a ship and then drinking more is not our scene, clothed or not.  Hopefully, the organizers of this cruise will see that the different mix of people on this boat has left it with a different vibe and they will try to get it going, but I have my doubts and it was never happened.

Mahahual, Mexico 2/26/2020
            If I was doing a nude year in 2020, I would have taken the day trip to a nude day trip near this sleepy artificial cruise destination.  They made Costa Maya (the name of just the port) sixteen years ago and it hasn’t done much for Mahahual in the years that followed.  Streets made and platted remain overgrown and abandoned.  I haven’t been to the mainland of Mexico since 1997.  23 years ago, the Minnesota Gophers made it to the Final Four.  We watched them lose to Kentucky at a bar in Zihuantanejo, on the opposite coast.  As such, I needed many Mexican birds.  I had made arrangements with local guide Victor Rosales, who took me and my wife out for the day as no one else on the ship wanted to go.  We started at the Chacchoben ruins.

Spider monkeys

            Victor quickly got us in before the cruise ship passengers and we scoured the area for birds.  We saw spider monkeys and the best bird we found was just a laughing falcon, a bird I’d seen in Costa Rica, but still a nice bird and photo.

Laughing falcon

            We drove around a little and saw some fun birds including six lifers.  I had a camera malfunction on a squirrel cuckoo, but at an abandoned spa we found three black-headed trogons, the best bird on the trip for me.
Black-headed trogon
            We found a tree in the small city on a neglected block which had berries and birds.  I finally got a photo of a Yucatan woodpecker, I( had heard one the year before but not seen it on Cozumel (long story)  
Yucatan Woodpecker

Victor was a good guide and a nice guy.  It was lucky to have found him by chance.  I’d recommend him for any birding in the area.  I didn’t bring up the fact I am a naked birder.  I figure it would get lost in the translation.  Maybe I could have added a few birds to my lifetime naked list, but I was just happy to do my own thing for a day and avoid the cruise ship outings.
Rufous tailed hummingbird

Yellow throated euphonia

Young immature Yucatan Jays, a lifer bird
Paya Bay, Roatan, Honduras February 27, 2020
 My re-return to the Garden of Eden, my name for Paya Bay Resort on Roatan happened in the middle of a downpour.  Unlike 2019, we had no goofy stores after being hungover playing naked beer pong to the wee hours of the day.  We’d gone to bed early and the difference of ship time and local time did not cause us any issues.  But this was no beach weather day.  It was windy, wet, and nasty outside.  The rain according to Forest Gump could be described as big ol' fat rain.

A tropical washout
Even Leroy thought it was a little wet
Many of the people that went out here on the east end, made a u-turn and went back to the boat.  This seemed to be a frequent happening as we saw guests do this here and also on Cozumel. There was a break for a while in the weather.  I went birding, Silja read.
            I saw some birds that were on my nude list previously and enjoyed a place we’ve visited now separate five times.

Mangrove Vireo

Yucatan vireo
Canivet's emerald
Erato heliconian 

Tropical Buckeye
            We thought about how much we liked Paya Bay and thought about booking a trip there in the future.  Before we went back to the ship, I went back to have a moment at the Tree of Harmony.  

I thought about how I had ended my 2016 big year here with the death of my grandmother the day after returning.  I thought about what I had deduced in 2019, in that I needed to spend all trips, if possible, with my lovely bride of nearly 30 years.  In 2020, I thought of some what ifs…what if we’d die from COVID-19 and the coronavirus?  What if the world economy collapsed?  What if we’d never get back here?
            Edward Abbey, wrote in Desert Solitude about finding the prettiest place on earth, which is different for different people.  His was the redrock country near Moab, Utah.  Ours was St. Martin until it wasn’t and now, maybe it is here at Paya near this tree.  Maybe, like I read in a book here on our 2017 visit in  Finding Abbey, a book about finding the hidden grave of Edward Abbey, it isn’t about actually finding anything.  It is about the search, and maybe that is true for us.  Life is the journey, and NOT the destination.
            We drove back contently to the ship and shortly, it rained again.  That evening we met up with two couples we had met on the Grand Canyon nude rafting trip and had a great reconnection.  That is also what life is about, the connections.

You could have read about the Cozumel portion of this trip already so I'll just repeat pictures of two of my lifer birds.

Cozumel Vireo

Cozumel emerald

Leap year day on the Carnival Legend turned out to be much like the rest, rather plain and without much excitement day.  I did spot a red-footed booby and a brown booby somewhere north of Cuba as we waited out this day at sea looking for something to amuse ourselves, I began to think about the previous week.  Some of the other guests were saying things like even that was a waste of a very good week.  I tried to think of a phrase or word to describe this trip.  The trip wasn't bad, the food wasn't bad, and well, the company was good.
All I could come up with to describe this cruise was white toast—white toast without butter.  Like I said, this cruise wasn’t bad just like white toast isn’t bad, but it was unremarkable and just plain, and nothing really worth writing about any further.
It made me think of larger issues, like one can’t go back to the past.  The past is past.  The 2019 cruise was great but past fun has no bearing on future fun.  In a larger sense, and how I started this project, St. Martin was fun but it is now gone and over so now we are moving on, finding newer and hopefully other great things to experience.   Many of these trips will lead to new birds, sometimes I will be wearing clothing and sometimes I won’t be.
Silja and I decided to buy an RV lot in Lutz, Florida from a seller who lives in Alberta and is having health issues and I think we will avoid most cruises in the future unless they are going to exotic locations like the South Pacific.  Other St. Martin owners are buying condos in Treasure Island and another, a house nearby in another nude development, Paradise Lakes.  Maybe Club Orient will like a phoenix, rise again some day, and if that happens, we will probably add it to our itinerary.  This fall, going to Asia.and Brazil.
All I can say is that wherever we go, we will wear lots of sunscreen and in all likelihood, you, my readers will get to read about it.

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