The next installment is up; this one has colorful images and very short movies. As usual, I’m dismayed at the pictures I took; I never get the shots I think I got, never get enough footage. But I would rather inhabit the moment at the time than ruin it for posterity, I think. Enough to have sufficient evidence.

This episode may disprove the snark deployed in the comments by our genial tweaker Al F., who said that one would like a cruise voyage if one also enjoyed being trapped in a mall. (Hah! While trying to see if others had made the point, and believe me they have, I discovered that we’re #1 for that particular search term) That’s wrong on almost every possible level. I don’t delude myself into thinking that I had Authentic Experiences here, although this one was damned close; it was a real rain forest, a real village, a real poor country – we docked at a working port, took a boat to a small resort, then took a miserable road Google cannot interrogate from its heavenly eye. Didn’t  look like any mall I know. The full story, such as it is, is HERE.


49 Responses to Thursday, March 11: the Trip Continues

  1. Paul says:

    Yeah, docking at a working port is interesting. We stopped at Kingstown in St. Vincent off of EasyCruise (their motto: “So inexpensive we’re out of business!”) and it was both charming and alarming. Those people didn’t give a damn about the 70 people who came off that dinky little ship, and went about their business of working. And electioneering. There was some election happening in the near future and the arguments on the street were loud, aggressive, and remarkable – as were the cars slowly driving through town with Blues Brothers-sized bullhorns tied to their roofs, their drivers extolling their candidate and excoriating their opponent at 120 decibles. When one is accosted on the street by a ganja-scented local asking one’s opinion of the International Monetary Fund, there is a sense that this is a rather different place than Denver.

    These folks were poor by American standards, but they weren’t poverty-stricken. There is a noticeable distinction between the two. I think the difference is torpor as much as anything else. In some small islands such as Bequia or Anguilla you see folks who are busy at work, with kids riding local transportation, and having a life. But when true poverty is encountered the one thing I’ve noticed – and maybe Mr Lileks can understand – is that the folks look exhausted in every sense of the word. It’s like they’re about to slip into some peculiar state of human hibernation, and that they’ve felt the same way for years.

  2. inhocsig says:


    Glad to read that you didn’t suffer a full blown panic attack. Especially since in an unfortunate fashion choice, you had Captain America’s mighty shield silk screened across your chest. Obviously in those situations the Charlie Brown T shirt is the way yo go.

  3. Most beautiful sight for us disembarking at a Third World port was a tiny adobe church, packed wall-to-wall with locals readying for communion in their Sunday clothes.

  4. Rich Cox says:

    Re: the mall comment. I have to agree, in so far as on the ship, which is what the comment was referring to, the newer mega ships are mall like. Especially when one considers the number of different ways the cruise lines have determined to use their trapped audience in separating them from their ship card with all the on board shops, bars, boutiques, etc. Our host’s particular journey in this iteration however, was different. That being said, on my last cruise, I learned to ignore such crap, just relax, buy into the charade of perfection, and just read. It was much more enjoyable that way.

  5. Joe Sixpack says:

    Did you have your Captain America Underoos on too?

    It’s one thing to wear these shirts ironically when you’re 20…

  6. BanchSpace says:

    A good article on poverty and Western guilt:

    Might’ve made the basis of a lively discussion in the cigar bar of a luxury cruise over vintage single-malt as the ship ambled in the vincinity of Haiti.

  7. Siberian Khatru says:

    I loved the CROATAN reference. Having grown up in N.C., I got it immediately and laughed out loud.

  8. Say fellow, I like your Captain America Shield shirt. Saw one recently in the stores, and reminded me of the one I own from 30 years ago. Sadly, that one will no longer fit, but I’m now motivated to pick up a new one! Everything old is new again.

  9. Scott says:

    Wow, everyone! I believe that is the closest The Wife has ever been to making an actual appearance in the The Bleat, as she must have been right behind the camera when the picture was taken!!

  10. When Natalie walks into the water in your first vid, that sums up every child I see today (including my own similarly aged daughter) – just walk right in and experience it. No hesitation, and not pell mell. Walk in, and look around. The wonder of youth.

  11. hpoulter says:

    Lileks gave a speech on Rome? I’d love to hear or read it, but I can’t afford a cruise.

    Joe – you are really reaching for something to snipe at.

  12. RebeccaH says:

    Our visit to Guatemala with Holland America was at Porto Santo Tomas de Castilla, and it’s a working port as well, with the obligatory shoppers’ warehouse full of carved jade, Mayan masks, embroidered shirts and shorts, and musicians lined up playing lovely tunes on the biggest marimba I’ve ever seen. That thing must have been twelve feet long. Our tour was to a banana plantation, which was fascinating, believe it or not. Learned things about bananas I never knew, and still got to see the little shanty towns (stick and concrete huts with 4WD trucks parked in front and satellite dishes on the corrugated tin roofs. Slowly, but surely, the Third World is beating its way to First World status.

    I never understood people who sneer at cruises. I see a world of adventure and new experiences, and they see a mall.

  13. Brisko says:

    Aw don’t pay any attention to Al F. He’s an obnoxious little so and so with nothing nice to say.

    I think I’d want to take the dogs home, too. I’m a sucker for a furry face. Hopefully, I’ll never meet a werewolf because all he’d have to do is look soulfully at me and I’d probably say “Aww…sure go ahead and rip open my guts. I’m not using them anyway.”

    Oh and kudos on the Captain America shirt. I have the same one.

  14. I just see these pictures and I start hearing the opening lyrics of the Jimmy Buffet song, “Down to the Banana Republic, Down to the tropical sun Go the expatriated Americans Hoping to find some fun” I always liked that one with a good counterpoint being the Steely Dan tune “I think I just got the goodbye look.”

    Nice photos and sorry about the anxiety onset. I got those myself a few years ago for (thank God!) only a little while. As bad as they were, and it felt like I was being pressed to death a la Giles Corey, the medication put me into a waking darkness.

    Once again, good to have you back.

  15. wendy gunther says:

    I live in a working port. It’s called Norfolk. No jade by the docks.

    Paul, when you said “folks look exhausted in every sense of the word. It’s like they’re about to slip into some peculiar state of human hibernation, and that they’ve felt the same way for years”, you reminded me of one of the most painful books I’ve ever read, “Hunger: An Unnatural History”, by Sharman Apt Russell. Sometimes people staring like that have not had enough to eat. For years.

  16. Al Federber says:

    Point taken, James. I amend my Cruising is Like Being Trapped in a Mall comment by adding that they will occasionally let you out to visit the filthy, depressing, poverty-ridden strip center across the street.

    Seriously, I would feel sick at heart back aboard the ship after the excursion James and family took. How do you choke down tea and cookies after that?

  17. hpoulter says:

    Apropos of not much, I see that on Bleatplus, Lileks is making fun of the Florida attraction “Bok Tower”. I can tell he’s never been there. That is a great place to visit – I know he would find it interesting and strange if he were to visit. The architectural ornamentation on the tower (stone carvings, mosaic, metalwork) is incredible, and the gardens and ponds are beautiful.

    Disney is fine, but I really like old Florida and natural Florida. Worth seeking out.

    Bok Tower:

  18. But you know, we were happy in those days, though we were poor.

    Because we were poor. My old Dad used to say to me, “Money doesn’t buy you happiness, son”.

    I agree, this is not starvation type poverty. I have knocked about a theory that I am sure someone else has thought out and researched better. Real life and death struggle happens in places that have regular cold seasons.

    Life kind be unkind in the tropics but just not being concerned with freezing to death every year, frees your time and resources to survive other of life’s challenges.

  19. that is “Life can be unkind. . .” but, you knew that.

    I can’t help but think that Lilek’s jungle video should have music from an Italian cannibal movie playing in the background. One of those gentle, flowing Riz Ortolani pieces that run counter to the horrors to come.

    As you can see, it is a dog’s world.

  20. swschrad says:

    it has been a long, long time… multiple decades… since I got jollies making fun of somebody else’s good times.

    rabid depravity, well, puncturing those guys will always be a great sport.

    but really. Our Genial Host had a warm, fun week off in the dregs of flailing winter. comped no doubt for work he did shipboard.

    GOOD. don’t know if cruises are my thing, sure the Hughniverse is not my thing, big rip. he liked it. kewl.

    if you can’t enjoy the travelogue, grab the mouse, and find another stream of consciousness.

  21. Nancy says:

    “f you can’t enjoy the travelogue, grab the mouse, and find another stream of consciousness.”

    I agree–because slamming someone else’s vacation smacks of envy and is just not cool.
    I have had that same feeling when touring in an “underprivileged” area. Feeling exploitive on one level, but on another knowing that this is these people’s livelihood and my squeamishness is my problem. They would like me to get over it and spend some money.

  22. Comparing a modern cruise ship to a mall is kind of telling of the commentator. “Mall” is a code word, to hi-jack a phrase, for all that is wrong with the USA.

    I have never been on one but, from friends, family, and Lileks’ pictures it looks more like a floating luxury hotel to me, maybe a Las Vegas casino/hotel.

    “Trapped in a Luxury Hotel” does not conjure up the same negative images unless you are locked up with Jack Nicholson.

  23. JamesS says:

    When one is accosted on the street by a ganja-scented local asking one’s opinion of the International Monetary Fund, there is a sense that this is a rather different place than Denver.

    I agree. Sounds more like Boulder.

    I see that James shipboard lingo is improving. In Part 2(still labeled “Part Three,” regardless of our host’s assurances) he spoke of writing “outside on the back veranda.” Now in Part 3 he states “I head up to the stern to watch it disappear” as Guatemala fades into the distance.

    Bravo for upgrading from “back” to “stern,” but subtract points for “heading up” there: one always moves aft to the stern (and forward to the bow, just for balance’s sake).

    But hang in there, and soon you’ll be skylarking up to the main truck with the ship’s boys! [strikes Captain Morgan pose]

    Great story so far — thanks for sharing!

  24. John says:

    I don’t know if the rain forest itself is patient, but in such places I sure am the opposite. Rain forests, be they in Amazonia or Ketchikan, can be boring. “OK,” I ask. “Now what?” With a clear line of retreat to a huge comfortable ship, one can only find them improved; fun, almost. As for Guatemala, and this, its Atlantic port town (remember, there are Pacific ones too!), it actually seems to have…moved sideways in the world since 1981. The English-language greetings and hawkings may or may not be progress. Only a Guatemalan is qualified to judge. Me? Happy memories of getting to this same place by train. Passing through towns named Dartmouth and Cayuga – had the railroad been built by adventurous Ivy Leaguers? That, and passing by the U.S. Embassy the night before the train ride: speaking as our host does of all the Then-Popularly-Perceived-As Badness, I must say I had never seen a more formidable, more hostile, more ultraviolet-bathed- and slippery-walled structure than that one. I think our host could do worse than learn Spanish and Portuguese and become a foreign correspondent. Be a good career change, one he might thrive in, after much less adjustment than he might imagine.

  25. GardenStater says:

    Never been on a cruise myself, although the prospect of great food and free booze, combined with speeches by the likes of Lileks and Hewitt, certainly makes it sound appealing.

    I’ve always figured I’d be bored on a cruise. Or fall overboard.

    Add to that the fact that I could never afford it, and I guess I’m destined to be a landlubber.

  26. I always wanted a “real” Captain America shirt, with the top half blue w/white star in the center, red-and-white vertical stripes on the bottom half, and white sleeves. (See juanito – John Davey’s avatar.) Except I’d never wear it, because I am totally out of shape and marshmallowy, and would look like an idiot.

  27. Al Federber says:

    @bgbear — Have you been to a big mall lately? I’m a free-market capitalist, and malls kind of break my heart. They are sad places, I think. They are not what is wrong with the USA, but they are a symptom.

    Of course, I’m pushing sixty, and have no desire to acquire the latest shite, so I realize that the malls aren’t really trying to attract me. I suppose the biggest turn-off for me last time I went to a mall was the fashion shop specifically for obese teenage girls (“Torrid”), which was right next door to a doughnut shop!

    Last year, my best friend cajoled my wife and I to join him and his wife on a Mediterranian cruise this fall. Wifey and I immediately rejected the idea, exhibiting a rare singularity of opinion.

  28. Larry says:

    What was the food like, per “Anthony Bourdain “

  29. Nick Fury says:

    …I see from your accompanying photos that they actually HAVE cast the lead for the upcoming ‘Captain America’ movie… least the early, scrawny pre-super soldier serum Steve Rogers scenes….

  30. Mr_Hat says:

    A few years ago my better half and I were haled into a focus group where we saw the pilot of Bourdain’s TV show. That man is incredibly unlikeable. Also our host’s knowledge of cuisine is a bit idiosyncratic.

  31. Sarah says:

    I love how Natalie doesn’t comment, doesn’t even look back at you, when you’re telling her about how the chairs were formed by erosion :-) .

  32. ScottG says:

    “I love how Natalie doesn’t comment, doesn’t even look back at you, when you’re telling her about how the chairs were formed by erosion :-) .”

    But her eyes were probably rolling….

  33. Larry says:

    Oh ya fer got about that and here I am a fan since 20 o6

  34. @Al Federber: I was defending Cruise Ships not malls (I avoid most as well even nice upscale ones).

    I think you made my point, “mall” is used as a shorthand illustration for many negative concepts regarding consumption, marketing, trade, urban sprall, etc(you may even catch me agreeing with a little of the criticism).

    I just think floating Luxury Hotel/Casino/Resort is closer to the mark in what a cruise ship provides to the consumer with the added bonus of taking you somewhere.

  35. Mike Gebert says:

    “Seriously, I would feel sick at heart back aboard the ship after the excursion James and family took. How do you choke down tea and cookies after that?”

    Have you ever traveled, Al?

    Gary, Indiana is depressing. A place like Guatemala is not, necessarily. And you won’t know why until you go there.

  36. Well at least Al F is not in the environmentalist mind set that believes low carbon footprint poor people should stay poor for the good of the planet. They need to have free market and trade and work their way out poverty preferably not using turista dollars and stop short of building shopping malls.

    Seems clear.

  37. swschrad says:

    al_F… heh, fatso fashions next to a donut shop. d’oh!

    if you’ve ever had Popeye’s Famous Fried Chicken, you will know it’s mighty tasty, mighty greasy, and not exactly health food. here in the twin cities we had a renowned surgeon set up a couple of franchises. he’s been out of ‘em for years, but the Minneapolis store still operates.

    it is worth the wait to have them make up a batch of extra-spicy for you. but I’ve only done that in n’awlins.

    what a country!

  38. hpoulter says:

    One aspect of poverty you notice in the third world:

    We noticed in the British Virgin Islands, a lot of seemingly poor people owned homes. They might be only one room with a microsocopic front yard, but they kept them painted and planted flowers in the window boxes. In the US virgin Islands on the other hand, large numbers of poor folk lived in public housing, which looked about like you would expect – graffiti, litter and broken windows. I’m not saying anything except to note that there is a noticable difference, and everyone knows the road to Hell (or its Michigan neighbor, Detroit) is paved with good intentions.

    One of the best things you can do in a third world country is talk to the locals. It helps if you can speak the language, but if not, hire a guide for a few days. Hire several if you have time. You may learn a lot. We certainly did in Thailand – among others, we had a dynamic young man whose mom had supported her family and even sent him to the local college by sewing clothes and selling them on the street – which put more of a human face on the struggling street merchants we met every day.

  39. teach5 says:

    I thought the same thing as Sarah and Scott when I watched Natalie looking at the rock lounge chairs. She tolerates it well, taking it all in stride! Does she realize it’s funny? No wonder her writing talent is so advanced. What a hoot. Thanks for the travelogue, James. Love reading about your exploits.

  40. swschrad says:

    people are basically the same all over. if you’re not starved and have shelter and drinkable water, it’s tolerable among your peers.

    if you knew gold table service and hand-laced linen and truffles all your life, then got teleported to a Motel 6 next to a KFC for the rest of your life, you’d feel the gods ground you underfoot and spat.

    it would be good to raise all to a solid middle standard of living. unfortunately, it isn’t possible.

    but people who care to can still find joy in a new day.

  41. hpoulter says:

    Amen swchrad buddy, you said a mouthful. As long as you’re not in such desparate need you can’t think of anything else, you can take some time to seep back and experience the joy and wonder of life. This is your only chance to do it, so carpe diem, baby.

  42. hpoulter says:

    So I misspelled Swschrad (can you blame me?)

  43. hpoulter says:

    Also “step back”, don’t “seep back”. Damn this no editing.

  44. Marjorie J Birch says:

    James, if you’re wondering what it’s like to be a Spanish conquistador loaded down with armor and staggering through the rainforest, I can recommend that you see the film “Aguirre: The Wrath of God.” It was directed by Werner Herzog who has a knack for portraying people possessed by dangerous ideas (he also directed “Grizzly Man” and the movie stars Klaus Kinski who is surely one of the scariest actors in the history of world cinema.

    Croatan, indeed. Little did they realize that Croatan is the Indian translation of “Rocky Mount.”

  45. Marjorie J Birch says:

    also: after seeing those village dogs, I bet you gave Jasper a big hug when you got home.

    (I would have.)

  46. XWL says:

    “But I would rather inhabit the moment at the time than ruin it for posterity, I think. Enough to have sufficient evidence.”

    I take a ton of pictures, but never when I’m actually doing stuff, when I take pictures, it’s only to take pictures, and when I do stuff, it’s only to do stuff, I rarely try and do both. It’s hard to do something, and record it, it’s mostly an either/or prospect, and I think choosing the doing over the recording on this cruise was the wise move.

    That’s why your method works so well, a few snaps, a few clips, and lots of words to give context is the best way to capture a moment in time.

    A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a thousand words, supported by a few pictures, comes close to evoking real memory.

    Also, I really need to borrow your voice to narrate any future clips I upload to YouTube, they’d be greatly more watchable with a few choice words delivered expertly with pipes like yours.

  47. bgbear says:

    Well personally, if I could, would hire Dennis “President Palmer/Allstate” Haysbert to narrate my videos.

    I will admit, Lileks has a big voice for a little man but, he is no Peter Graves.


  48. fizzbin says:

    Peter Graves…Airplane !! Lileks comparison !! Oooh, no no no, I must not go there :D

  49. Dr Mike Fleming says:

    Royal Carribean deserves major thanks. I worked for a week at Sacre Couer Hospital in Milot, Haiti which is 10 miles from Labadie Bay where their ships dock. I slept on one of their mattresses and used their towels. They went the extra mile for the volunteers and patients in the critical early weeks. They are still making some deliveries at no cost.

    I am grateful to them for making difficult living circumstances better. There is more to this company than just good times.

    Keep them in mind first if you want a Cruise Vacation.

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