Last Day at Sea

June 10, 2012
On our last full day at sea, cruising the waters between Cuba and Haiti and heading back to our home port of Fort Lauderdale, I decided to try something I had planned to do from the start, but only the last day actually did. That is, to run the whole deck, and not get caught up in the dizzying spin around the short track. I went up to the track and did a course consisting of one lap of track, down one flight, along the open deck past the central pool, up two flights to the “Serenity Deck”, one lap around that, then back down to the pool deck across to the stern and back up the stairs to the track. This can only be done early; I got out by six AM to get started so there would be few people out on deck. I got to watch the sun rise around 6:15, appearing red and hazy in the east. I ran a bit over one hour. The combination of running and stairs made for a very decent workout, and the time went a lot quicker. As on each day running on the cruise, whether on land or sea, the temperature was in the mid eighties, with humidity to match. You get completely soaked with sweat, and you keep sweating for an hour after the end of the run. It was wise advice I got to bring two pairs of running shoes, since it takes a day for them to dry out.

On a cruise, access to pretty tasty food is there almost 24 hours a day. We found the Indian food available from 12-2 each day on one of the small buffet stands to be particularly enticing and quite authentic. The food served each night in our dining room, called the “Posh” dining room, was remarkably good and well prepared. They even had delicious,heart-healthy, low calorie options each night, although other items on the menu were also good choices, even if not completely low fat or low salt. Both a fish entree and a vegetarian entree were available at every dinner, the portions were not large, and the vegetables cooked lightly with little or no oil or salt. There were the high calorie, high fat options available, but you were not stuck with that. So, a runner pulled on to a cruise has meal options at breakfast, lunch and dinner which are all reasonable and healthy. My plan, which I stuck to, was to eat only during mealtimes, limit the calories at breakfast and lunch, eat sensibly at dinner, but enjoy the meal, and don’t get too obsessive about restricting myself. All drinks except water, iced and hot tea, fruit juices, coffee and milk are an extra charge. We drank no sodas, and had the occasional beer or cocktail, which made for a very pleasant end of the day looking out over the waters of the Caribbean. One cocktail, the “Blue Moon”, or as we named it, the “Blue Ruin”, was a particularly devastating martini. One was more than enough.

Our on-board gym was as well equipped as any health club. They had plenty of treadmills, elliptical trainers, weight machines, free weights and other equipment such as exercise mats, stability balls, and so on. I went to the gym every day for the weight machine series, which is something I never get to do in real life. Perhaps a week of weight training doesn’t make a sustained difference, but it felt productive. My wife ran on the treadmill and did free weights. We found the best time to go was during the early dining period, 5-7 PM, to avoid crowds. This happened to also be when members of the ship’s crew came out to workout.

A cruise would not be fun during the days at sea without working in some of the best activities the ship has to offer. This ship, Carnival Freedom, had a two-story high looping water slide. Even at 58 years I can still appreciate a fast run down a water slide. I was also not the only one in my age group taking advantage of this. In fact, we thought there should be an adults-only time on the slide, although that would be a bit unfair. I got in about five runs down the slide. The live music at night, from various bands including reggae, merengue, and rock, was very good, and great for dancing. The last night, at the ship’s casino bar, we got to practice our Bachata, learned the other night in Curaçao, while some rather large cruise guests of island persuasion were shaking their booties to the point that the ship’s stabilizers started to overheat.

I would be remiss if I did not thank my wife’s brother Jack, his wife Tammy, and their remarkably grown up boys, Austin and Brandon, for inviting us to come along on this cruise. We had a wonderful time seeing them, getting to enjoy each other’s company, and establishing family bonds.

Now, it’s back to work, to serious responsibilities, the struggle of fitting in the running, upping the miles, and trying to stick to the training plan for Steamtown, October 7.

Frank

A Day at Sea

June 8, 2012

Leaving La Romana, our port city in the Dominican Republic, we sailed on to our next port of call, Willemstad, Curaçao. Our arrival there was in the afternoon, at 2:00, burt given my run the day before, plus a gym workout on the weight machines that evening, I didn’t run the morning we arrived in Curaçao. We didn’t have an official cruise excursion planned, but decided to set out on our own in this interesting port city. Curaçao is part of the Netherlands Antilles, first populated by the local aboriginal population, then by the Spanish, but colonized and owned by the Dutch. The official currency is the N.A. Florint, or Guilder. The architecture is an interesting mix of Dutch gables and island cinder-block. The port is busy, and is a major way station for oil and cargo. In the past, however, it was the major port for the slave trade from Africa to the Americas. A wealthy Dutch gentleman established a museum memorializing the slaves and their suffering. We visited the museum. A good part of it was this gentleman’s collection of antiquities from ancient Egypt, Sumaria, and Rome, after which one gets in to the slave-trade information. It was very dramatic, with illustrations of the ships with their human cargo, chests full of irons used to shackle the slaves, and details of their lives. It was well-curated and definitely worth a visit. Leaving the museum, we ventured out to seek our way to Chobolobo, the old mansion where the famous Curaçao liquor is made. We intended to walk across the landmark Queen Emma pontoon pedestrian bridge to get to the other side of the town to get a cab. The bridge was pulled to the shore, though, to let through some boat traffic, so we got on a ferry instead. The ferry is free, and transports people back and forth across the inlet that divides this capital city. We then got a cab to Chobolobo, up a hill and a couple of miles outside the center of town. There we got to sample the various flavors of Curaçao orange-based liquor, and of course, had to buy a bottle as a souvenir. Following this, we had a few hours to kill before attending a dance class my wife had arranged, in a studio nearby. We hung out at the bar behind Chobolobo, an outdoor rustic bar equipped with two disco balls, clearly a later night hangout for locals. Since it was only 5:30, we were the only patrons. We had an Amstel Bright, the local version of Amstel, and a Presidente, from Dom. Republic, and passed time until our lesson. The dance studio was like many others we’ve attended, small but with an enthusiastic and talented owner/teacher. We took an hour and a half lesson in Bachata, similar to Merengue but not as simple. After an excellent lesson, our teacher’s wife kindly drove us back to our ship in time for our 11:00 PM departure, for our next stop, Aruba.

Our planned arrival at 8:00 AM in Aruba was delayed for an hour for “technical reasons”, which made for an interesting run on the track that morning. I got up to the deck track around 6:30, and planned to run for 30 minutes. During that time, the ship made a full 360 degree turn outside the Aruban port of Oranjestad. As I ran on the top deck, the wind, rather fierce and coming from the east, was a changing challenge as the ship made it’s big turn. At times, it was like running into a wind tunnel. The 30 minute plan was because it gets pretty boring running around a little track where 9 laps equal a mile. We had a promising day planed in Aruba, and it turned out well. We took advantage of a shore excursion on a sailing yacht to various snorkeling sites. The boat was a 1925 wooden two-masted sailboat called the Mi Dushi (my sweetheart), and about 40 people from our cruise were on board. We stopped to skin dive at three different sites, including a sunken and blown up German ship destroyed by it’s crew when it was captured by the Dutch during WW2. Getting into the water was simple, just leap over the side of the boat, off the gunwale, put flippers and mask on, and go explore. Myriad schools of small fish, dozens of striped, foot-long angel fish, iridescent, cobalt blue, needle nose fish, jack, and a variety of coral, star fish and other sea life was present. After the last dive, we were fed on board a very nice lunch of jerk chicken, caribbean-style fish, rice pilaf, fruit and salad. The bar was open for island cocktails, with mine being a Blue Dushi, a mix of pineapple juice, rum and blue Curaçao. The sails were then hoisted for the sail back, with a stiff wind and a close haul setting. It was exciting to see this old wooden boat in good working order sailed by a very able crew. Getting back to the ship, we still had an hour to spare, so we ambled over to a second story, outdoor bar on the main tourist drag for another local brew, this time a Balashi, brewed in Aruba, a pleasant light lager. After returning to the ship and before dinner, I headed to the gym for another round of battle with the weight machines. Basically, I’ve been doing the machine circuit of upper and lower body training, setting the weights to where i can do two sets of twenty reps on each machine. Relative to the machines, my legs are a lot stronger than my arms.

Our ship set sail again at 5 PM, leaving our last port of call and on to two days at sea. This morning, I repeated the thirty minute run, again going over by a few minutes. The temperature was in the mid 80’s, but very humid, so I finished completely soaked with sweat, and still dripping for a god 30 minutes afterwards. Today is a sea day as is tomorrow. I’ll do my best not to pig out at the never ending trough, although the Indian buffet is quite tasty. Another weight training session this evening, then off to dinner at the second seating, 8:15, in the Posh restaurant.

Frank

Running in the Dominican Republic

Wed. June 6, 2012

Tuesday, we docked in La Romana, a semi-industrial town on the southeast part of La Republica Dominica. This was my opportunity to go for a land-based run, rather than whipping around the short track on the top deck of the aft part of the ship. We docked at around 8:30, and could leave the ship around 9 AM. My wife had plans to take a tour of the factory where the finest hand-made Dominican cigars are made, while I went for a run. I was prepared to go about 10 miles, and had a water bottle with me, since it was very hot and humid. I asked the guide at the dock for suggestions on where to run. He told me to take a bus up to Altos de Chavon, a little recreation of an old village at the top of a hill, in a large development called Casa de Campos. From there, he said, I could run back to our ship, around 10-12 miles. The buses leave every 15 minutes or so from the dock, and it costs $7.00 for a round trip ticket, no one-way option. He assured me there was only one road up and back, so I wouldn’t get lost. Trusting in his advice, and my unerring sense of direction, I took his advice and got on the bus. I did pay attention to the route taken by the bus, just in case there might be a turn or two I would need to make. It turns out, there were plenty.

We arrived at the little creation called Altos de Chavon in about 20 minutes, passing through a number of security gates, and passing lovely homes and golf courses along the way. I gathered this is not the Dominican Republic of the locals. I took a quick look around Altos de Chavon, with it’s old-appearing stone construction, art galleries, and musicians playing _____ for beautiful young women dressed in colorful dresses who will dance with the tourists. There’s a dramatic view over the back of the development of a deep canyon leading down to a river. Having checked out the view, I decided it was time to run.

The sun was up, it was around 10 AM, very humid, and I set off down the road we had come up on the bus. I settled into an easy pace, not wanting to get dehydrated, although since it was generally a downhill route, it wasn’t too bad. I kept to the shade as much as possible, under bountiful bougainvillea of many different colors, oleander, and palm trees. This is a very large planned community, and as I passed the local workers, they smiled, said buenos dias, and waved in a friendly manner. There were plenty of side roads leading to golf courses, stables, and housing developments, but I managed to stick to the same route the bus took up the hill. By the time I reached the entrance to the development, where the bus had turned off the main road, I ran into a little problem. I was stopped by the security guard at the gate, who wanted to know where I was going. He spoke no English, and my Spanish is practically worthless, so I had a bit of a problem explaining myself. He didn’t want me to go on, “muy pelligroso”. Also, by my trusty Garmin, I had only gone 4.75 miles, hardly the 10-12 advertised, and it was less than a mile back to the ship. After much discussion, he in Spanish, me speaking a version of it he’d never heard, and a quick phone call on his cell to a person who spoke English so I could explain myself, I was instructed to get in the pickup truck of one of the workers who would take me back up the hill. Somehow, he got the idea I wanted to go to “La Marina”, not where our ship was docked, but a development partly up the hill which led down to a private marina on the river I mentioned above. He dropped me off there and left. So, there I was, in a part of this big development, not knowing where to go, running low on water, hot, humid conditions, and short on miles. I asked the security guard at this place, ¿Donde esta Altos de Chavon? He pointed down the road, told me to turn right and head up hill. I set off again on the run, clicking on the Garmin. Along the way, I spotted a sign for my goal, which was encouraging. Soon, though, I was on a residential street which didn’t seem quite right. Again, i asked a gardener for directions. He pointed up the road, and said “aribba”, upwards. There I went, coming to a dead end on the road, behind some houses lining a golf course. I snuck around the back of these houses until i came to a swimming pool and club house, where a pool guy was working. Again, I asked directions, and he said to stick to the golf cart paths, turning, right, then up the hill, in Spanish, of course. I got the gist. I headed off again, noticing my down hill run had now become an uphill return. Oddly, it hadn’t gotten cooler or shadier, I was out of water, and getting thirsty. Running on empty, I finally saw the entrance to Altos de Chavon! My Garmin read 6.5 miles, and i was determined to at least get in 7 miles. So, I headed along the golf path, around the entrance, and kept going. I finished my run at an outdoor bar between the 9th and 10th hole, and got my water bottle refilled from the tap behind the bar, with the woman bartender, and the few golfers in the bar staring at me like I arrived from another planet. I then walked up to Altos de Chavon, and caught the next bus back to the ship, luxuriating in the sublime air conditioning of the bus, and trying to keep my wet shirt and shorts from touching the unhappy teen sitting next to me.

Arriving back at the dock, I stopped in at the bodega, grabbed a Budweiser, and sat under the shade of an umbrella, listening to a family behind me having a blast playing dominoes, and awaiting my wife’s arrival from her tour. I decided the best option for a run in this port is indeed to take the bus up to Altos de Chavon, run down 4.5 miles, before you reach the security gate, then turn around and run back up the way you came. It avoids a lot of hassle, and beats running the track on board the ship.

Frank

Running on board

June 5, 2012

Already starting day 3 of my 8 day cruise aboard Carnival Freedom, in the southern Caribbean. The first day, embarkation day, the cruisers are kept busy with formalities. It is a busy and lengthy sign-in process to get on board, there’s the obligatory “muster station” gathering for the life vest and life boat instruction, and it takes time to get oriented to your new floating city. I didn’t run the first day, being occupied with all the initial activities, plus being social and seeing my wife’s brother and his family, also on the cruise.

The next day, officially the first day, and as they say on board, a fun day at sea, I planned to get up around 5 and run on the track, which is on the uppermost aft deck. Well, after 3 hours sleep the night before boarding, I didn’t quite make it by 5, but did get out there by 7:15. The track is not long. I was told 10 laps to the mile, although it turns out 9 is the right number. Whatever, keeping count in my head as I ran was not possible. So, I ran according to time, going for 54 minutes at around a 9 minute pace. It was tough to go faster due to the number of walkers and slow joggers, but there were a few jackrabbity types who seemed able to scoot around better than me. Later that day, I found my way to the gym for a session on the weight machines. That night was “elegant” night in the dining room. Yup, broke out the tuxedo for the first time in years, struggled to tie my bow tie (old school, no clip ons), and enjoyed a nice dinner.

Next day was our first day in a port, on Grand Turk, the capitol of Turks and Caicos. It’s not that big. Seven miles long by 1.5 miles wide, and best known as the site where John Glen was brought after splashing down in his Mercury space capsule, in 1962. Three months ago, they had a fifty year anniversary celebration, which John Glen attended. My wife and I had signed up for a kayaking adventure, which turned out to be a lot of fun. In addition to the active part, of kayaking around a tidal estuary for about two hours, we were introduced to amazing forms of sea life, getting to pluck conch and sea cucumber from the water. We saw sting rays, a lion fish (not welcome because it eats all the other fish), octopus, sea urchin, and myriad sea birds and mangrove trees. We got to eat a taste of conch prepared right from the shell, which was delicious and is an island staple, according to our guide. After re-boarding and having a salad for lunch, I went back to the gym for the weight machine circuit. I’m starting to feel the sore muscles.

Now, we are arriving this AM in La Romana, in the Dominican Republic. My plan is to do a land-based run today. We will see how it goes.

Frank

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