Monday, March 27, 2017

Notes from Our Vacation - Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico

The last official day of our cruise was Wednesday, March 8th, and the Star Princess put into the port of Ensenada, Mexico for a brief visit to satisfy US legal requirements before returning to Los Angeles. There really isn't a lot to say about Ensenada, which came across to me as just another tourist-trap Mexican port.

The approach to the harbor ...

No shortage of pleasure and working boats ...

The Star Princess shared the port with another cruise ship ...

We'd originally planned to just spend the day on the ship, because we've had our fill of visits to Mexican tourist ports where we were besieged by armies of hyperaggressive street vendors, but we changed our minds when our on-board waiter recommended a good restaurant.

We hopped the $3 shuttle bus ($1 to town, $2 to return to the ship) and went into town, where we were immediately reintroduced to every junk-hawking street vendor in Baja Mexico. In desperation, we hopped on a bus tour to the tourist center at La Bufadora, although this did not free us from the local "entertainment" ... a fellow climbed into the bus to bang on his guitar and loudly and ineptly serenade us until the seats were all filled. We had the misfortune of sitting in the first row of seats, so he was blaring away at full volume right next to us as the bus slowly filled. I gave him a dollar in the hopes that it would shut him up, but it didn't work. He did, however, by standing right at the top of the steps in the doorway, keep the rest of the vendors from getting on the bus, so I guess it was sort of worth it.

The drive to La Bufadora took about 45 minutes and passed through the sort of scenery we've grown accustomed to in Mexico: alternating between the beautiful and modern and the seedy and run-down. Lots of agriculture, including endless fields of asparagus, and lots of discount pharmacies (about which more later). There was nothing worth taking pictures of until we reached our destination, which had some glorious views of the surf crashing on the rocky shoreline ...

The La Bufadora marketplace was a long, winding stretch of restaurants, bars, and shops selling leather, silver, jewelry, t-shirts, and all sorts of other touristy junk. In order to get to the actual scenic overlooks, we had to run the gauntlet of shop owners calling out to "Mr Rockefeller" and "pretty lady" (you can guess which of us was which), and trying to drag us into their lairs. I ended up buying only one thing: a carved dragon as a birthday gift for my granddaughter who loves dragons ...

La Bufadora ("the blowhole") itself is said to be one of the largest marine geysers in the world ("you will get wet!", according to the ship's tour information office). In the picture below, you can see a group of slicker-clad kayakers waiting to get doused by the mighty blast ... but they rowed away disappointed. We were halfway to La Bufadora on the bus when our guide told us that because we would be there at low tide and there was very little wind, we would be unlikely to see the geyser in its full glory. Sadly, he was right ... we saw a few anemic pffffts of spray, but none of the glorious blast we'd been ready to see. Oh, well ...

Somehow, I'm not surprised that signs like these are needed ...

We did the usual swapping of cameras with a pair of Japanese tourists to get our touristy happy-snaps over the glorious blue sea ...

When Congress gets done mucking up health care, these "discount pharmacies" which require "no prescription" (of which there were at least three in the La Bufadora marketplace alone) may be the last places you'll be able to afford your meds ...

Back at the ship, we spent some time watching the show provided by hundreds of sea lions that swam, sunned, squabbled, and barked loudly along the pier.

And not just along the pier ... Agnes spotted these four sea lions snuggled up on a floating buoy we passed as the Star Princess cruised majestically out of the harbor ...

And with that, we left Ensenada and the sea lions behind and sailed off into the sunset, headed for Los Angeles and the end of our cruise ...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Poetry Sunday

As the father of a daughter, I can very much relate to this ...

At the Diamond School of Dance 
by Jon Loomis 

It’s me and the mothers, out in the foyer.
Linoleum floors, knotty-pine, late ’50s rumpus room-
long row of trophies, blue ribbons on a shelf.
I’m here with my daughter, who’s four.
Who, because no one gives princess lessons,
has opted for dancing. She likes the tutus, the tap shoes,
the tights. The teachers are kind.
They’re graceful as egrets, strong in the thighs.
We chitchat, the mothers and I. We futz with our phones.
We’re large, rooted like silos.
Chopin leaks from the studio: a nocturne, full of rain.
The little girls dance-pliƩ, sashay, arabesque-
earnest as death, as if nothing
was ever so hard, or mattered so much. Mothers!
Let us rush in and embrace them! Let us snatch them
up to our great bosoms, and never tell them the truth.

Never tell them the truth. Unfortunately, they'll learn it soon enough. And nowadays, sadly, the truth means little anyhow.

Have a good day. Be good to your daughters, and your sons, and your grandchildren. More thoughts tomorrow, when we visit Ensenada, Mexico on the approach to the end of our vacation.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

It's spring, and in spring a young man's thoughts turn to ... well ... usually they turn to thoughts of love*. Nowadays, they turn to thoughts of what the hell is Trump going to do next?.

A hopelessly fractured Republican party failed to pass it's replacement for the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") despite control of both branches of Congress and the White House, and Mr Trump immediately blamed everyone but himself for the debacle; Chuck Barris, creator of TV's legendary "Gong Show" and "The Dating Game," died in Hollywood at age 87; in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, the director of the FBI stated flatly that there was no evidence of truth in Mr Trump's accusation that former President Obama had wiretapped him during the presidential campaign; in the last five months, eight prominent opponents of the Putin regime, including five diplomats, have either been murdered or died of "natural causes;" and a man suspected of being a radicalized British citizen used a car and a knife to murder four people and injure more than 50 others in London.

Since Mr Trump appears to believe in government by Twitter and innuendo, in 140-character increments, I thought it would be appropriate this week to feature cartoons about social media in general, and Twitter in particular.

Could there have been a medieval Twitter based on carrier tweets? ...

One wonders if things might have been different with social media on the Ides of March ...

Oddly enough ...

Social media noir ...

This may be the ultimate outcome of the bromance between Mr Trump and Mr Putin ...

The Trump approach ...

Sadly, I can see this ...

When the time comes, I imagine this is how Mr Trump will choose to go ...

Truth ...

And there you have it for this week's Cartoon Saturday. If you are in despair over the state of what passes for governance in Washington, I hope I've managed to brighten your day a little bit.

Agnes and I will be headed to the teeming megalopolis of Midlothian, Virginia, today to cheer for our granddaughter Leya as she participates in another rock climbing competition. Not the sort of "on the rocks" I usually go for, but we grandparents do what we must.

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday. More thoughts then.


* "In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish'd dove; / In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love." (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Locksley Hall")

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for March, 2017

As we approach the end of March and enter the third full month of the Trump administration, the crowd of eager ass clowns clamoring for recognition grows every day. Mr Trump himself is the all-time record holder for ass clown recognition, having been a winner or a co-winner of the award seven times in the history of this blog (dating back long before his ill-fated* presidential campaign); thus, I have decided to retire his eligibility (however well it may be deserved) in favor of other deserving recipients.

And so it is with a bit of trepidation that I decide once again to award recognition to yet another repeat recipient, one who has worked nonstop and with great energy to earn his place in the roster of world-class ass clowns.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, the

Left-Cheek Ass Clown Award
March, 2017

is presented - for the second time** - to

White House Press Secretary
Sean Spicer

The job of White House Press Secretary is a difficult and an important one. The Press Secretary is the face of the administration, speaking to the American people and to the world with the voice of the President. He - or she - is the person we expect to present the essential truth while putting the best possible face on bad news.

Mr Spicer is a colossal failure on all counts.

In his (very weak) defense, he is representing a president who has absolutely no problem with lying shamelessly and doubling down on it when presented with proof of his falsehoods. Nevertheless, by twisting himself into rhetorical pretzels*** in defense of the indefensible, Mr Spicer has contributed to the cheapening of his position and the reduction of the American presidency to an international laughingstock.

As parents, we tell our children that words matter, that truth is better than lies, that our integrity is a priceless asset not to be squandered. Parents today have a difficult time impressing those lessons on their children when their president and his chief spokesman stand up every day and fire off not only lies, but needless lies that are easily disproven, that make the speakers look like clueless idiots. This opinion piece by former National Security Advisor and permanent US representative to the United Nations Susan Rice pretty much sums it up.

For his blind abetting, in the face of all contrary evidence, of the blatant lies of the Trump administration, Press Secretary Sean Spicer is presented his second Ass Clown award.

And we are the losers.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday - more thoughts then.


* For the country.

** He was designated the Left-Cheek Ass Clown for January, 2017

*** Graydon Carter, writing in Vanity Fair, described Mr Spicer as "the M.C. Escher of the English language."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Notes from Our Vacation - Lahaina, Maui

On the morning of Thursday, March 3rd, the Star Princess anchored off the port of Lahaina on the island of Maui, said port not being large and deep enough to accommodate big cruise ships. This meant we had to get to the shore via the ship's tenders - small vessels able to carry 50 or 60 people wedged in cheek-by-jowl. Ordinarily, this is not a big deal; however, the seas were quite rough that morning, and getting from the ship onto the pitching tender* was ... well ... exciting. I fully expected at least one person to end up either in the drink or mashed between tender and ship, but we all somehow made it safely aboard.

Our tour was scheduled to visit two locations: the Haleakala National Park, and the Maui Ocean Center, and our tour guide - a huge, genial Hawaiian who told us to just call him Henry (his actual Hawaiian name being very long and difficult for non-natives like us to remember) - kept up a very entertaining and informative patter as we went along.

The summit of the Haleakala volcano sits at about 10,700 feet (3,200 meters) above sea level, and is reached by a steep and endlessly-switchbacking road that works its way through just about every sort of vegetation zone on Earth, from tropical to desert to alpine. There aren't many guardrails along the route, especially at the higher elevations, and the giant bus's navigation around some of the tighter switchbacks tended to be exciting, particularly on the way down. The route to the summit rises from sea level to 10,700 feet in about 37 miles, making it one of the steepest and fastest-rising climbs in the world.

Here's a shot Agnes took from the bus as we approached the lower visitor's center, at about the 7,000 foot (2,100 meter) level, with the deep blue sea in the background.

There are two visitors centers in the park: the lower one is larger, and has the usual gift shop and staff of helpful park rangers to answer questions. 

It also had a helpful "you are here" map to help us place ourselves on the mountain. In case the picture doesn't blow up enough to see it, the lower visitors center is at the lower right of the map, and you can see how the road switchbacks up to the upper visitors center, which sits about 600 feet below the actual summit.

The upper visitors center (at about 9,700 feet or 3,000 meters) was significantly less inviting when we got there. A front had moved in and the summit was completely socked in with cold, wet clouds. It was raining steadily, with a very stiff wind blowing**. As you can imagine, we did not get the beautiful volcanic landscape photos we were hoping for ...

After a stay of about 20 minutes at the upper visitors center (which was manned by only one park ranger, probably the one who drew the short straw that day), we picked up our date-stamped "I made it all the way up Haleakala" certificates and boarded the bus for the white-knuckled ride down the mountain to warmer climes and the Maui Ocean Center

The center is a focal point for marine study and conservation, and has beautiful and informative displays about marine life. Tropical fish are gorgeous, and it's very peaceful and calming to watch them swim by ...

One hopes we will be able to save the beautiful and ecologically-important coral reefs ...

This was a fascinating example of natural camouflage ...

And this is about as close as I ever need to get to a shark ...

We finished the day by wandering around the harbor area of Lahaina, where Agnes - ever the lover of wildlife of all kinds - couldn't pass up the opportunity to pose with a few of her new friends. Yes, they're all real ...

The last - and one of the most fascinating things - we saw was this enormous banyan tree. The picture actually shows only a small part of it; the entire tree covers about half an acre of a local park, and is the largest banyan in Hawaii. The original seedling planted in 1873 was about 8 feet (2.4 meters) high; by 2005 it had grown to a height of about 49 feet (15 m), had 16 trunks, and a circumference of nearly a quarter of a mile ...

By the time we boarded the tender to return to the Star Princess, the seas had calmed quite a bit from the morning's excitement, and we had a much more pleasant ride across the harbor to end our too-short stay on Maui.

This was our last stop in Hawaii. The final port of call before we returned to Los Angeles was Ensenada, Mexico, and we'll talk about that next week, after the usual Friday, Saturday, and Sunday posts.

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow to greet our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for March. More thoughts then.


* I now know why they call them tenders ... it's because of how every part of your body feels after it's been slammed around for a while against the sides of the boat and the other passengers.

** The people who ignored the tour guidance to dress in warm layers didn't get off the bus for more than about 10 seconds ... there's a reason the Park Service recommends against tank tops and shorts for visiting the summit. I also recommend against using the rest rooms there ... as they are unheated and will absolutely wake you up.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Notes from Our Vacation - Nawiliwili, Kauai

Our arrival at the gorgeous island of Kauai proved beyond any doubt that it was indeed the rainy season in Hawaii ... rain, driven by high winds, was so heavy we couldn't see across the pier from the ship to the passenger terminal. We had booked a special tropical flower and waterfall tour, but when we swam out to the terminal to meet the bus, we learned that our tour (and many others) had been cancelled because of flash flooding across the island. Aaarrrggghhh!!!

Well, we were in Hawaii and didn't feel like sitting on board the ship, so we caught a ride to the local Hop-On-Hop-Off bus, bought tickets for the day, and set out on our own.

We hopped off first at Lydgate Beach Park. There certainly wasn't any swimming to be done (as you can imagine from looking at the surf in the pictures below), but it was a beautiful place nevertheless ...

While at the park, we made the acquaintance of many of the local inhabitants ...

The island is overrun with feral chickens - our bus driver said there were about 700,000 of them, although I'm not sure how anyone could come up with a number more accurate than "bazillions." There are apparently no significant numbers of predators to keep them under control*.

We were starting to despair of visiting any of the tropical gardens we'd wanted to see, because the bus operator's radio kept crackling with a litany of all the locations that were closed because of flooding, but we lucked out when one of the sites decided to open just as we were driving by ...

The area was well-saturated and we spent a few hours avoiding huge puddles while gawking at the glorious tropical scenery. In this picture, you can see the local feature known as the "Sleeping Giant" - the mountain line on the horizon looks like the profile of a sleeping man lying on his back ...

Of course, we did the usual touristy thing of trading cameras with other visitors to get pictures of both of us together ...

The gardens were full of tropical birds who flocked happily around all visitors ... they long ago learned that people buy bags of seeds at the entrance and are good for a snack. Agnes had a large following that included one of the many peacocks, as well as ducks and the usual chickens ...

The smaller birds will happily eat from your hand. Some less-wary visitors tried to get the peacocks to eat from their hands ... which they will do, but the result can be painful when the larger beaks meet the smaller and softer hands!

We made a stop for a late lunch at Gaylord's Restaurant at the Kilohana Plantation. The location was gorgeous, the service mind-numbingly slow ("island time," dontcha know), and the food fantastic. I had delicious chicken crepes and Agnes had a caprese salad and fish tacos. This was my salad - Ahi Poke, a wonderful tuna ceviche with plantain chips served in a coconut shell on a bed of salt ...

By the time we were done with lunch, it was time to head back to the ship ... although we seriously considered just staying in Nawiliwili, rain and all. The day ended with a spectacular sunset ...

And we sailed majestically on to our next stop, which we will visit tomorrow.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* We learned on some of the other islands that the inhabitants had imported mongooses (mongeese?) to help control the rats that had arrived on ships. It didn't work - the mongooses are active during the day and the rats came out mostly at night, so they never tended to meet up. Now they have problems with both mongooses and rats.