November 2006 - Cruise to Mexican Riviera!

 

December 1, 2006

Two weeks after we arrived home from Australia, John and I set out again. This time, we drove from Victoria to the Houston Quilt show via the home of our good friend Martha Stookey, who hosted a house concert for us (and accompanied us on ukulele). This was the inaugural trip for our new vehicle, a VW Jetta diesel station wagon.  We are very happy with this purchase because we were able to achieve 50 mpg on this trip, fully loaded with gear. This is going to make a huge difference to our touring, and to the environment. 

We had booth at the Houston show, and met many, many friends and fans from all over the world. We saw lots of astounding quilts, too, since Houston is one of the most prestigious quilting events in North America. And I even got the chance to be "Vanna White" for an hour for Ami Simms at the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative display there. She raised thousands of dollars for the cause during the week. It was very exciting to be a part of it. For everyone who bought a quilt while I was "on duty", I composed a song on the spot about their new quilt. Can you spot the tiara?

   
Cathy as Vanna White                                                    Meanwhile, John was working hard!

After Houston, we drove across the desert to San Diego, from whence the cruise was to depart.

We boarded the Holland America ship ms Oosterdam (one of the fleet of "Dam" ships), along with about 1800 others on November 11th. Not all of them were quilters, but about 25 of us (plus spouses) comprised our group.

It was our first cruise. Our ports of call were to be Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas.  On the days we were at sea, Daphne Greig, Susan Purney-Mark  (both from Patchworks Studio in Victoria) and I were organized to teach hand-work classes. I taught a class on my turtle pattern (freezer paper appliqué), and hexagons using Quilt Patis templates. The men were on their own while we were busy in class.

Our adventures began the day before, when part of the group met at Rosie's Calico Cupboard, a wonderful quilt shop if ever there was one. Although almost everyone had flown and were limited in luggage, the fabric and other quilting essentials at Rosie's were irresistible. The shop had arranged for some light refreshments for us, and a little gift, too. We had a great time!


Joanne, Cindy, Vickie and Cathy.

We boarded the ship at noon on November 11th, after airport-style security (although liquids were permitted in our hand-luggage).  Our suitcases would be delivered to our staterooms. We headed up to the Lido deck, where a sumptuous buffet-style lunch was laid out. It was a lovely day, and we enjoyed the warmth of the sun. John and I took a tour of the ship, and were shown the restaurants, lounges, spa and gym facilities, pools, gift shops and casino.  At about 3:30 we all participated in a safety drill, with everyone wearing their life preservers. There were lots of pictures taken (but none by me.....).

Then we lifted anchor at dusk and set out. It was a lovely sunset.

Oh, they know how to treat passengers aboard Holland America! Dinners were beautifully presented and scrumptious. The service was impeccable. It was difficult to return home and have to cook and clean for ourselves again.

Because of trouble with one of our two main engines (called an azipod), our speed was somewhat less than we expected, so the captain decided to reverse the order of our ports of call.  This meant that we had two days at sea before we arrived at Puerto Vallarta. Nobody minded: by that point, nobody much cared if we ever touched land again! These two days were filled with quilting classes. They seemed to float by, slowly and relaxedly. It seemed that the week would last forever, with the only decisions what to choose for dinner, or which event to attend on board. Sleeping in a large ship is very easy; the light roll is like being in a waterbed or a cradle. We saw world-class entertainment each evening. And each night we came back to our stateroom with our bed turned down (with chocolates!) and a different towel-animal waiting for us.  This was the one on the first night.

The time started going by much more quickly once we arrived at Puerto Vallarta. John and I took a Town, Country and Tequila bus trip, which showed us around the area. We ended up at a Tequila Factory: Dona Engracia, to learn about the making of this typically Mexican drink. We found out about the Blue Agave plant, which after about 12 years sprouts a large pineapple-looking fruit, which is what is made into tequila.

Each of these things would be an armful, and quite heavy. The outside is cut off and they are cooked in water until soft. This brings out the sweetness of the fruit, and removes the natural bitterness. It is crushed, and the liquid is extracted, fermented and then distilled. The liquor comes out clear.

We were clear on the basics, now we had to do the taste test! They let us taste quite a few different kinds of tequila. The first one (which we were to buy for our mothers-in-law) was the clear version, straight out of the still. Quite rough, unmistakably tequila.  The second (which we were to buy for our spouse), had been aged in oak barrels for a few months, and was a light amber colour. Much smoother in flavour. The third had been aged for at least a year and was much darker - almost like scotch. This one we were to save for ourselves!

To drink tequila properly: cleanse the palate with a deep breath through the nose; exhale through the mouth. Drink the tequila and swallow right away. Keep your mouth closed and breathe in deeply through the nose. Keeping your mouth closed, exhale through the nose.  Wow! Try it!

 

This is the blue agave plant. Such a lot of interest in it - and for good reason!

 

We returned to the ship at the end of the day (with a bit of time for shopping, of
course!), and hoisted anchor again at sunset. Our next port of call was Mazatlan the next morning.

 

 

 

Mazatlan is a smaller city than Puerto Vallarta, with lots of sculptures along the shore. This time we took a shore excursion to Concordia and Copala, to see furniture making and fire brick making. 

 

 

This is the fire brick "factory". One guy, one form which makes 4 bricks at a time, and a batch of adobe, made each morning from mud, water and manure. He spends all day making thousands of bricks with his hands, which dry in the sun. When he has enough for an order, he piles the dried bricks up with spaces in between, encloses them with more bricks with mud filling the holes, and builds a fire inside. The bricks make their own oven. They are fired for a full day, and kept at a very hot temperature during that time. They turn reddish with the heat.

The "factory", then, is outside, with no buildings nearby.  And he works winter and summer. It must be stifling in the summer.

 

The buildings in Copala were beautiful. We lunched there before walking up to see the church. One of our bus-mates (who had just renewed her marriage vows the night before on the ship, and who had also been on our tequila tasting trip the day before) decided she would ride up to the restaurant on local transportation - the "taxi service".

    
                                        Donkey Taxi in Copala                                                                                Copala welcome band

Our last port of call was Cabo San Lucas. Because of our continued azipod problems (it was not possible to repair), we had only a half-day there, but we had a wonderful time kayaking and snorkeling.  We were particularly interested in this area, having read John Steinbeck's Notes from the Sea of Cortez, about a collecting voyage he did with his friend, botanist Ed Ricketts. Susan Purney-Mark and her husband Henry were also on the same excursion, so we got a picture of us on the beach between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez.


And this is the ONLY picture you'll ever see of me in a bathing suit!!!

The snorkelling was wonderful - we saw lots of colourful fish and frigatebirds, and got to float about in the sea for a while before getting back on the ship to head for San Diego again. It was also very good to get a bit of exercise before we sat down to eat again!

It was our second formal night, so we dutifully got dolled up. John would prefer not to have to wear a tie ever again. But I sort of liked dressing up - we aren't often required to do this.  That night was the Dessert Extravaganza, including chocolate. I had to see what all the fuss was about.  What the chefs of the Oosterdam did was magnificent. The breads, in different shapes, the desserts too beautiful to eat, and the chocolate fountain. What an experience!

            
    Chocolate Eiffel Tower with carved watermelon behind                                                           The Bread Table                                            

We had one more day at sea before returning to San Diego. I taught a class in hexagons, and John and I sang one more time.  Included in this performance was a Premiere - a new song written aboard the ship a few days earlier with THE HUSBANDS! It was great fun to sing this to everyone, if only to prove they hadn't been entirely lazy on the voyage.

I don't know about anyone else, but I was ready to unpack my bags and stay on another week aboard the Oosterdam. It's a very nice way to travel (no driving involved - we like that!). The happy news is that we've been invited back on another cruise in May of 2008, this time to ALASKA! Susan and Daphne will be aboard too, and this time we'll bring our sewing machines. I'm very excited about this one.  John and I have traveled up the Inside Passage as far as Prince Rupert (in British Columbia), and we've taken the Alaska ferry system from Juneau to Skagway. The area is stunningly gorgeous - the favourite cruise of them all these days. I know we're going to have a great time.

We were still floating a bit for the whole drive back to Victoria. We picked up our car (and some fabric I bought...) from our friends Cindy and Robert in San Diego, stopped with Jim and Mary just outside of San Francisco and Mary and Dusty in Salem, Oregon on our way home.

For those of you following Canadian West Coast weather news: a week and a half after we arrived from the above picture on the beach, snow arrived in Victoria, and it's still here!  A rude return to reality.  But we still have the pictures - and the tequila - and if we turn the heat up really high......

¡Hasta Luego!

cathy and john