DeFever Friends Join Us on Independence of the Seas

Independence of the Seas

April began with a sudden feeling of dryness…where has all the rain gone?  Oh yeah – it’s Panama – where in the dry season it rains every day, and in the wet season it rains ALL day every day.  Pleasant daytime temperatures, not too hot, led to visions of getting the varnish done on the bow caprail and a coat or two all around.  I planned to do one coat every day from April 2 until April 11 – but then it started raining on the fourth day. I sang at the Cantina again – and when we ran out of common material, we added a few verses to the improvised “Bocas Bottom Feeder Blues:”  (it’s a basic three chord, 12-bar blues) – here goes:

Started varnishin’ on Monday
They all said “sunny all week long.”
Yeah, I started varnishin’ Monday,
Said it would be sunny all week long.
Well, Thursday it started rainin’ —
Now all my motivation’s gone…

So I spent my time cleaning the inside of the boat ready for Brian’s cat sitting service, getting some help from Margarita from the Marina.  Really helps to have somebody willing to stick knives and microfiber cloth into all of the louvers…

April 11 I took off on the early morning flight from Bocas to Panama City, for a reasonable 2:30 flight to Miami to join Ole after an overnight in a HOTEL!  With CABLE!  And a BATHTUB!!  And ROOM SERVICE!!!  Oh, we cruisers celebrate the small comforts of life.  It really was a bit of a break-in period for the outright decadence of the Chief’s cabin on the Independence.

April 12 I took the crew shuttle to Ft. Lauderdale to meet Ole and the ship, and our friends Dale and Linda Bixler joined us for the Atlantic crossing cruise and the first Med cruise of the season.  It’s their first trip to Europe, and they are tickled pink to be able to join us and get what we’re sure will be a first taste of the banquet that is the Mediterranean.

The first six days we spent at sea, following 30° North pretty much 2/3 of the way across.  No Titanic passage for US!  We had fantastic, warm, sunny weather and light breezes all the way across, making us wonder what all the hubbub about crossing the Atlantic was.  We played $10 a day in the penny slots in the Casino, went to shows, shopped, and tried to work off some of the extra meals in the gym every other day, warming up the muscles and the feet for Europe.  We split up the dining experiences among the Windjammer, the Dining Room, the Italian restaurant Portofino, and the steak house Chops, as well as taking a few quiet meals in the cabin.  Ole joined us for lunch and dinner every day, and it was great for him to share his experience of his fantastic workplace with friends.

The first port call was a new one for me as well – Punta Delgada in the Azores.  What a pretty place – not at all tropical – it’s a volcanic set of islands with cloud forest and a permanent halo, being the first land for hundreds of miles in any direction.  Dale and Linda and I took a little walk, and as it was Sunday, town was pretty deserted.  It was charming, though, with a distinctly Portuguese colonial feel.  After our walk, we opted to join a private tour and drive up to an area with twin volcanic lakes called Sete Cidades.  Though it’s tough to see in the pictures, one lake is blue – the other green – even though they are only separated by a thin strip of land.  All of us were impressed with how prosperous, tidy and friendly the island seemed.  It’s not exactly on the beaten tourist path, which may have something to do with the local attitude.

Second port call was also a new one for me, as well as Ole – it was Funchal, Madeira.  It’s a bit south and east of the Azores, so it has more of a subtropical feel, and has been visited by tourists since the 17th century.  There’s a lot more development and tourist infrastructure, including a step-on-step-off bus tour and two Madeira wine houses that offer tours and tasting, so we opted to go that route after a half hour walk into town.  Ole was able to get away for lunch, and we were talked into a wonderful (but pricey) seafood restaurant up on the bluff away from town that the locals prefer – called O Barqueiro, it sits across the street from a developed path down to a natural swimming spa.  It was in the high 70’s, which didn’t stop the mad dogs and Englishmen from having a dip.

One more sea day, then it was Vigo, where we called last summer several times.  Again, we opted to walk, saving our big bucks for the Florence and Rome excursions to come next cruise.  After spending so much time roughing it in terms of clothes and shoes in Panama, I persuaded Dale and Linda to join me for some department store time, during which Dale found a dress shirt and some new tux shoes, so I guess it wasn’t all girly shopping.  Stopped for a lunch of seafood in the Medieval quarter of the city, and had a wonderful, relaxing visit.

We arrived in Southampton on April 26, and I took advantage of the proximity to a good hairdresser and Marks and Spencer to run some errands.  Dale and Linda strolled the city on their own, and seemed to have a grand time exploring.  The highlight was the sail away, though, as it’s about an hour and a half downriver, passing the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, and a summer home from Queen Victoria’s time, as well as some 18th century fortifications at the mouth of the river.  One of them is privately owned, converted into a James Bond/Sean Connery sort of mercenary’s paradise – apparently he’s behind on his payments and the government is trying to evict him – but he’s not going quietly!

First call was again, Vigo – and Ole joined us for lunch at a restaurant recommended by Captain Teo called El Mosquito.  It was charming, reminding me of the small country places we discovered while we lived in France.  While we were there, a Spanish couple at a neighboring table chatted with us, and before we knew it, had treated us to a round of local liqueur.  The friendliness of Spain just cannot be topped in my book.

Second call was Lisbon, where Dale and Linda and I walked two miles down the Tagus River to the Monument of the Discoverers, celebrating the important Portuguese contributions to navigation. Across the street, in an old monastery, is the Lisbon Maritime Museum, with a fascinating collection of ship models from the 1400s to present time, as well as costumes from the various naval ages, and a reconstructed stateroom from the king’s yacht. For fellow boaters, I can’t recommend any better fun than touring maritime museums – and this was one of the best.

Speaks for itself…

Gibraltar was the third port, and the three of us joined a taxi tour to the top of the rock, taking in St. Michael’s Caverns, the Barbary Apes, and the 18th century network of British fortified tunnels that Swiss-cheese their way through the rock.  Linda and Dale just had to join the fun.  Dale is a real picture-taking-fool, and I highly recommend visiting his website as well.  You’ll see that he and Linda are fellow DeFever owners, and spend their summers in Puget Sound and Canada and winters in their motor home, lately of Key West.

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