Jan 31-Feb 6, 2009 - Our First Mexican Cruise
Back in October '08, we got an email offering an irresistible price on a cruise to the Mexican Riviera. We'd never been to Mexico (other than to our dentist), and the price was indeed irresistible, so we called Norwegian Cruise Lines to ask some questions. Wound up being offered an even lower price, a free cabin upgrade, and a bunch of shipboard credits, so we booked ourselves 7 days on the Norwegian Star, sailing from Los Angeles the end of January. The morning of Jan 31, we drove about 90 miles to the cruise port at San Pedro, parked about 100 yards from the ship, and boarded. The concept of taking a vacation when you're retired is a little strange, but that's what we did, and we had a fantastic time. And it was warm! As you can see from the little map, there were just 3 ports of call, meaning there were also 3+ days "at sea", getting from here to there and back again. All together, the ship traveled about 2300 nautical miles.
Cabo San Lucas is at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula. The harbor isn't big enough for a cruise ship, so we were ferried to shore aboard the ship's lifeboats, which they call "tenders" when used as shuttles. Ashore, we didn't stray far from the harbor, mostly wandering around the tourist shopping areas, stopping for lunch at the local Hard Rock Cafe. The exchange rate was running about 14 pesos per dollar; even so seeing a burger priced at $149 was a little startling. There were a couple of sport fishing boats in the harbor from Oregon, which wasn't as surprising as the one we saw claiming Billings MT as a home port. Walking around the harbor involves running a gauntlet of folks selling hats, jewelry and noisy toys, plus the occasional time share.
In Mazatlan, the ship docked at the local container ship port, and we took a delightful half-day tour that included stops in a couple of small villages. Our first stop was a traditional Mexican brick works just outside Mazatlan, where bricks are hand-made from a mixture of sand, water, straw and cow manure. They seemed to be very busy, so we assume many bricks are still made this way in Mexico. Our next stop was the village of Malpica, where we first visited a family panaderia, or bakery, operating out of a private home. You could savor the aromas a couple blocks away, and then we were allowed to sample the delicious fresh-baked pastries and breads. Outside, we were greeted by a very patient and persuasive dog, who managed quite skillfully to get his share of our treats. Our second stop was a home-based tile works, where the craftsman made colorful ceramic-type tiles. Fascinating process, again all hand work, and the result was fairly sturdy decorative tiles that were completely air dried - no kiln or firing involved. Next stop, the village of Concordia, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains, where we visited an open-air furniture "factory" and crafts market and later wandered the town square and toured the old church.
Our final tour stop was back in Mazatlan for a performance of the Papantla Fliers. The Papantla Flyers perform a unique religious ceremony. The setting is an 80 or 90 foot tall pole and the cast is five people, one of them an Indian priest. The 4 flyers represent air, fire, water and earth elements, and also the 4 cardinal points. The dancers and the priest climb the pole one by one. Once on top the priest starts playing and dancing on a 9 inch platform, with a flute and drum, and the dancers throw themselves backwards tied to the pole by the ankles. They slowly start their descent, "flying" exactly 13 revolutions around the pole, thus representing the 52 year time span of the pre-Hispanic cosmic cycle (4 dancers X 13 revolutions = 52), after which a new sun is born and life begins again. This rite is believed to be started 1,500 years ago in central Mexico, as a prayer to the God of Sun, for fertility and good harvest. After the Spanish conquest, the ceremonial rite was disguised as a game to keep the Christian priests from interfering, and thus allow the Indians to continue to practice their religion.
We bailed out of the tour bus before it returned to the ship, so we could spend a little time in the downtown shopping district. And then we took a fun ride back to the boat in a "pulmonía" - an open-air vehicle built from an old Volkswagen, without doors, windows, sides, seat belts or (in our case) speedometer. FYI, "pulmonia" is a bit of a joke - it means "pneumonia", presumably a result of driving around too much in a pulmonia.
Puerta Vallarta was the most "touristy" of our cruise ports. Hemingway made the city famous as a sport fishing destination, although we understand the big billfish are getting pretty scarce. RIchard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor made the town famous in another way during the filming of "The Night of the Iguana", but that subsequently brought many other Hollywood figures to the area. We took a taxi from the ship to the Malecon - the beachfront commercial district. Marvelous beach, but very few swimmers - the water temp was in the low 70s. But there were some wonderful sand sculptures on the beach! A delightful find.
In the evening, we boarded a catamaran for a 1 hour ride across the bay to Las Caletas, once the home of film director John Huston. It's quite isolated, and we were first treated to a spectacular performance combining modern dance and ancient traditions called "Rhythms of the Night", staged in an enhanced natural amphitheatre. After the show, we were escorted to a waterfront table for dinner. We were on the beach, 3-4 feet from the water's edge, thousands of candles back in the trees providing the only light, absolutely wonderful. After dinner, back on the catamaran and back to the ship. There were a few anxious moments on the return ride - the catamaran lost one of the engines, and limped back home on half-power. We arrived shortly after the ship was supposed to have buttoned up for departure, and we're thankful they waited for us.
After two days at sea, the last one involving some interesting ship motion, we were back in Los Angeles, where it was raining. Long pants and jackets again. Sigh. No more endless food. No more hand and foot waiters. No more wonderful entertainment. We have such a tough life.
The slideshow for this report contains about 185 images from our cruise. You'll find it here.