Princess Cruise of Baja California
Alice, Don, Luigi, and Manly, 1985

Although the Princess Cruise people had originally scheduled Luigi and Dodge and me to fly to San Diego on Saturday, February 23, at 11:20 A.M., I decided that due to the uncertainty of Chicago's weather in February, we would fly out a day early to make sure that if O'Hare should be shut down on Saturday we would nevertheless reach San Diego in time for the afternoon boarding of the Pacific Princess. (I did not realize until after I made the reservations that this was the ship that played the title role in the television series "The Love Boat").

Jane Hunt, who came for a visit on Tuesday, the 20th, was to go to the airport with us and catch a 1:30 P.M. plane to New York. Because of her status as an international visitor, she could get a special rate by flying on PanAm, unavailable to Americans; but PanAm does not have many fights to and from Chicago. Leaving about 10:00 Friday morning, we took a cab to O'Hare where we found that all flights were delayed and some canceled because of fog. Ours and Jane's were delayed for 45 minutes or so. We waited until noon and looked at the screens again and our flight had disappeared from it. Inquiry established that it had been canceled, but there was another at 6:00 P.M. which we were able to get reservations on. While wandering about the terminal I felt a sudden pain in my left heel and turned around to find that I had been hit by a speeding wheelchair, propelled by a young woman who accused me of having stopped too abruptly.

We took the subway back to town and the bus back to our apartment for lunch about three o'clock, then returned to the airport to arrive before six. Jane called saying that her flight had been canceled, so Luigi invited her to come back for the night, whether or not we were there. On arriving at t he airport we found that the six o'clock flight had been canceled. After standing in line for an hour, I got the American airlines ticket clerk to re-validate our tickets so that we could take a 7:55 TWA plane to St. Louis and an Ozark plane from St. Louis to San Diego on Saturday because all the American Saturday flights from Chicago to San Diego were booked solid. While I stood in line, Luigi called Jane at our apartment to tell her that we would take her to dinner on our return from the airport. We took the subway back to the loop and then a cab home, and had dinner at the Parkway Restaurant.

When we returned from the restaurant (in a heavy downpour) Jane asked Juan to arrange for a cab for her at 4:45 in the morning, as the next PanAm flight was at 6:00 A.M. I set my alarm for 5:45 so that we could get up for the 7:55 flight to St. Louis. When I got up, Jane had gone and the fog was still there. I decided that it would be unwise to take the TWA flight because if it didn't get there on time, or if St. Louis were fogbound, we would be stranded in St. Louis which would be even worse than Chicago. I called American Airlines (and was able to get through to them at 6:00 A.M.) and talked with a pleasant young woman who said she could get me on a 10:09 flight on United Airlines even though all American flights were booked solid. However this was only a reservation according to the computer, she could not get through to United to talk to anyone by telephone, and was not sure whether the reason the computer showed availability of seating was that the flight had been canceled.

We again took a cab to the airport without breakfast this time, and were on a standby list for a 9:00 A.M. flight to San Diego via Phoenix; it was filled before we got called but it actually got off the ground. I walked over to the United ticket counter to see if they really did have a reservation for me, but the lines were so long that if I were successful the plane would have left before I got to the head of the line. I also checked with Continental Airline and found, after a 15 minute wait that their one plane to San Diego was booked solid. We then went and stood by for the 11:20 American flight and to our delight were able to get on the same flight that we were originally booked on.

I am reminded of various Oriental tales demonstrating the futility of attempts to outwit destiny. Had I simply accepted the reservations that the cruise company picked for us, I could have gone to work on Friday and made it unnecessary to spend Thursday night at the office until 10:30, to miss the concert and to spend Friday vainly trying to reach San Diego. Luigi took Jane to the concert and both enjoyed it very much.

The flight was uneventful and we arrived in San Diego about 2:30 California time. People were there to meet all who were to take the Pacific Princess, and we were loaded onto a Grey Line bus and taken to the dock where the ship, which we saw from the air as we flew in, was tied up. Miraculously our baggage had reached San Diego ahead of us, and we were able to claim it immediately we got off the plane. One of the Princesses advised us where to put it, with tags showing our cabin numbers, and the next time we saw them the bags were in our cabins. We were kept in a large building for check-in and waiting until the 4:30 boarding time, and then stayed there another 45 minutes or so until Uncle Don and Aunt Alley showed up with Nate, Nancy and Henry Soule. It took longer for us passengers to board than it did the guests, so the younger generation explored the ship while we were getting into our cabins. Eventually we all met and wandered about the ship looking for a bar that did not have music. Finding three bars that did not meet this requirement, we picked one of them, ordered drinks and took them out onto the deck where we watched the sun set over the western edge of the harbor.

Don and I both were amused to see a sign on the bar saying that liquor could not be sold to visitors, as the younger Soules were the main instigators of a search for it; the younger ones looked quite dismayed until it was pointed out that liquor could be sold to passengers who were free to give it to visitors if they chose. We went to dinner shortly after the visitors left, and then went up on deck afterward to make sure the captain was able to take the ship out of the harbor all right. Departure was delayed two or three hours because of weather conditions, and consequent flight delays, in various parts of the country.

Though smaller than the QE2, the Pacific Princess is nevertheless a large ship; we were told that about 550 passengers boarded at San Diego with 50 leaving at Puerto Vallarta and a hundred boarding there for the return to the U.S. Unlike the QE2, this vessel does not have a computer room; however Luigi and I each brought our own. We cruised down the coast of Baja California with the peninsula or islands visible to port much of the time, though we were out of sight of land occasionally. When we were close enough to see it well, the land looked much as it did when we were there with Shaw and Dodge but more so -- covered with dry sharp mountains. The sea was nearly calm, the sky blue and cloudless and the temperature in the sixties. Dodge and I shot clay pigeons off the port side at 3:00. Luigi, Don and Aunt Alley watched us briefly but did not choose to participate. I did not see any whales, though I kept looking. Luigi and I shared a cabin with a couple of portholes, as did Alley and Don. Dodge had an interior cabin to himself across the hall.

Sunday and Monday were spent as one does on board ship; making sure that one gets to meals on time is the major responsibility. Monday being my birthday, Alley and Don gave me a book A Quiver Full of Arrows by Jeffrey Archer, and Dodge wrote a program on my computer which enabled him to write "HAPPY B-DAY" on the screen in huge letters. Don and I went to a brief gathering near the purser's office for a discussion of hiring a boat to take us fishing from Mazatlan on Wednesday, and ascertained that the only type of fishing they would sign us up for was big game fishing for sailfish and marlin. Both he and I had previously agreed that this would not be our cup of tea, so we decided we would wait until we get to Mazatlan and see what we could line up by ourselves, on the theory that Mexicans will do anything for money, even take us fishing for the kind of fish we want to catch. Perhaps the galley staff has encouraged the purser's office not to help people go after a kind of fish they are likely to bring back to the ship with the request that the staff cook it for them.

One of the things that makes a man of 60 feel young is to get on the elevator on the Pacific Princess and observe the other people who also get on. Many of them don't have the choice, as a practical matter, between walking and riding between floors.

Dinner was French. The waiters were dressed in black pants and jumpers with red scarves. Snails were offered as an appetizer, and Don and I had some, though the others did not. Onion soup was good though not outstanding. All of our party but me had duck a l'orange, which was delicious; I had frog legs Provencal, which were not bad. Don bought a bottle of Heidsicke Champagne, which was very good indeed. After the entree they brought a small birthday cake with one candle on it, which I was able to blow out without help. The waiters and the rest of our party sang happy birthday. In addition to the cake we had cherries jubilee, made at the table with flame and brandy. When we left, a pair of girls in cancan costumes put an arm around each male guest and a leg in front of him, while a photographer took a picture. Dodge got two cancan girls, but Don and I rated only one apiece.

When we awoke Tuesday morning we were in Puerto Vallarta. The sky was overcast and the hills partly obscured, but we could see the nice sweep of the bay and the hotels along the beach to the south and the small boat harbor to the north. After breakfast Luigi and Dodge and I walked along the beach past the hotels, noting the constant smell of burning garbage, which was replaced sometimes by the smell of putrefying garbage or horse manure. Horses are allowed on the beaches, which makes the latter rather messy for swimmers and sunbathers. A pool where the local stream enters the sea is covered in part by a brownish scum which I suspect is a product of raw sewage. My initial impression of Puerto Vallarta was that of a combination of Miami Beach and Tijuana.

Lunch aboard the ship was advertised as a Champagne brunch any time after noon, and without seating at the normal places. Alley and Don, who had gone on a tour of the downtown area went to the bar for a Margarita, and Luigi, Dodge and I were seated at a table with a pleasant couple from Arkansas and a gregarious couple plus a single woman from Sun City, Arizona, but originally from northern Indiana. All appeared to be in their seventies.

After lunch, finding the deck warmer than I cared for, I went into one of the many bars on the ship and sat off in a corner behind a tinted glass window and watched people para-sailing among the circling man o'war birds. Para-sailing consists in a harness beneath a parachute while a towline from the harness to a motorboat is pulled along at high enough speed to make the parachute lift the person into the air to a height of a hundred feet or so. I believe that man o'war birds live largely on fish and carrion.

On Wednesday morning the ship pulled into Mazatlan Harbor at breakfast time; by acting promptly after breakfast we were able to climb up topside to one of the upper decks where we could supervise the casting of the lines ashore and make sure the ship was properly tied up. Alley and Luigi went shopping and Don, Dodge and I wandered off toward the small boat harbor in search of someone to take us fishing. The first place we stopped at did not have anyone in charge on the premises; the next place was operated by a man who seemed very glad to see us and advised us that we could have a boat and crew all day for $160.

We bit (Don paying via a charge card) and were ushered onto a pier whose parts did not quite meet, requiring a two foot jump down from the ramp to the floating part of the pier. Tied up stern on were two boats, one of which appeared to be relatively neat and recently painted. Ours was the other. After we boarded we were asked if we wanted some beer or soft drinks; we said yes and a man appeared with six minute bottles of beer and a few Pepsi Colas asking five dollars for the lot. Then the crew of three and four or five other Mexicans spent twenty or twenty-five minutes trying to get the engine started. At the end of that time the three of us got up and walked off the boat and ashore along the pier, and were about to demand Don's credit card check back when the operator advised us in fair English that there was no problem, just the battery, and they would have the boat going right away. Don told the operator to get the engine started before we would walk back to the boat. It started immediately.

Once it got started (about 10:30), the boat demonstrated good speed and soon took us so far into the Sea of Cortez that we could see land only as a low ridge of hills under the clouds. We motored around for a couple of hours without a bite, then the crewman in charge of such things pointed out that one of the bait fish had been bitten in half. We saw a pair of fins sticking out of the water, about six feet apart and moving in unison. It turned out to be a large ray. A little after two o'clock in the afternoon the crew spotted a shark in the water and gave chase, motoring around the beast so that the baited hooks crossed in front of it.

Eventually it bit and the crewman grabbed the rod and handed it to me, shoving the butt into the rod holder beneath the chair I was sitting on. Another crewman took off my camera and handed it to Dodge. I was told to pull the rod up without reeling and then to let it down and reel fast. I did this many times. Every now and then the fish would run a little, stripping the line off the reel as he went, but mostly it just resisted my attempts to pull it toward the boat. The captain kept the boat an the right distance from the fish and kept the fish on the starboard beam as much as possible. One or two of the crewmen moved my chair, with me in it, so that I could brace my feet against the gunwale rather than the deck. I wondered if I really wanted to share deck space with a creature that could easily bite off one or both of my feet. The shark tired even sooner than I did, and after about fifteen or twenty minutes I got it near enough to the boat so that two of the crewmen were able to pass a heavy line with a loop at one end around my fishline, then he made a noose by passing an end of the line through the loop and let the noose fall down and over the fish's head and past its gills. A heavy pull on the rope then tightened the noose around the shark's neck and raised the head out of the water where it could be clubbed with a baseball bat of which the handle had broken off. Steely gray above and white beneath plus a sharply pointed snout established that the creature was a Mako Shark.

It was left so lifted partially from the water until we were half way back to Mazatlan and there was no more evidence of life in it. We continued to fish until 3:30 when I asked the captain to return to Mazatlan so we could make the 5:30 deadline for passenger embarkation on the Pacific Princess. On arriving back at the small boat harbor the three crew members pulled and pushed the shark up the pier and onto the land where there was a concrete structure shaped like the Greek letter pi, about eight feet high with pulleys on the crossbar. They tied a line from one of the pulleys to the shark's tail and hoisted it free of the ground for me to take a picture of. As Dodge took a picture of me beside the fish Don judged the shark's length, measured against my 6'3", as about 6' 6".

It was Olde Englishe Nighte in the Coral Dining room so we had roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. As usual the headwaiter, Enzo, made pasta in a chafing dish near our table, and then made dessert as well in his chafing dish; this time the dishes were noodles Alfredo and flaming bananas. Almost as good as the bananas Foster I had when Shaw and I ate Breakfast at Brennan's in New Orleans a couple of years ago, and enhanced by a little chocolate sauce. At lunchtime Luigi told Enzo that Don, Dodge and I had gone fishing and he said that the galley staff would cook our fish if we caught any. He seemed relieved when I told him that I had caught a six foot-six inch Mako shark but had not brought it aboard for the staff to cook.

The five of us had a table for six in a corner of the dining room and were regularly served by our waiter, Bruno and busboy, Ugo. They seemed to have had only one or possibly two other tables to take care of and they did their jobs very well. Ugo, being younger, and probably not knowing much English, did not say much, but Bruno made up for it and was very jovial and attentive. Our wine stewardess was named Sarah Jane (but not Smith) and is very pretty, looking like a young Iris Witkowsky, but has one of the worst Cockney accents I've heard. At a get-acquainted meeting the Deputy Captain advised us that ship's crew was sort of like the United Nations with British Officers, Indonesian deckhands, Chinese carpenters and laundrymen and Italian cooks and waiters. I forget what nationality the engineers are.

Luigi and Alley went shopping while the three males were fishing, and looked at the local church as well. In addition to a nice blanket like the one Luigi got for Shaw, Alley got some very nice pottery plates and various other goodies. She did not have to take them home on an airplane.

We left Mazatlan Wednesday evening immediately after dinner and sailed overnight to Cabo San Lucas at the extreme southern tip of Baja California. I was able to enjoy one of my favorite pastimes while sailing on salt water: at night, when my eyes are fully adjusted to the dark, I put on my glasses and go into the bathroom without turning on any lights and flush the toilet. The action of the water stirs up the luminescent plankton living in the sea water which is used in the toilet and I can see them flash.

The ship anchored rather than tying up to a pier at Cabo San Lucas. Luigi had breakfast on deck, where such meals are served to those who are willing to get by with a continental breakfast plus scrambled eggs and bacon. Then we all went ashore, Luigi, Dodge and I in one boatload and Alley and Don in another. The three of us decided to walk to a nearby beach, so we set out in a likely direction and walked and walked, climbing a hill to find that it did not have a beach on the other side even though a hotel was being built there. So we started back and immediately came to a beautiful long sandy beach which we walked along. Luigi took off the clothes she was wearing over her bathing suit and went for a cooling swim, briefly. Dodge did not take off his clothes and went wading when an unexpected wave came along.

Cabo San Lucas did not smell of burning garbage, and appears to have a better sanitation system than some Mexican cities. For the entire length of the beach that we walked, we did not see one sewage outfall line. As the city appears to be almost exclusively devoted to North Americans, it may be that the developers decided they had better build according to North American sanitary standards. Nestled in the area between mountains and beaches, the city is quite attractive. Luigi went back to the ship at one point while Dodge and I wandered on in search of a liquor store where I could buy some Bacardi Anejo rum, which we don't seem to get in the U.S. We found one without difficulty and were able to negotiate in Spanish (or at least not in English) for one bottle of rum and six bottles of cold Bohemia beer for a total of $10.30. We found an out-of-the-way sidewalk where we sat and drank one bottle of beer apiece. We put the empties and the two bottle caps in the six-pack, but on our way we encountered a small dump and left the empties and caps there.

Back on the ship we were still thirsty, so had a couple of more bottles, giving the fifth to Luigi who was just about to go to a bar for a beer.

Alley and Don had taken a cab to one of the hotels up on a nearby hill; the hotel was literally carved into the rock of the hillside which formed one wall of the hotel lounge (and of the men's washroom, Don reported). The views were magnificent, with the harbor in one direction and a lively beach in another. But getting to the beach would require a climb down 100-200 steps.

The ship got underway about 3:00 and passed by the magnificent rocks that guard the entrance to the Cabo San Lucas harbor. On one rock, just at the very end of all of the rocks, stuck out of the water about ten feet and formed a near pyramid. On the top of it was a sea lion playing "King of the Castle" all by itself. Other sea lions were seen on other rocks nearby. On our way out to see we passed by an old abandoned lighthouse on a low hill near the sea and a new lighthouse a quarter mile away, further from the sea but at a much higher elevation, testimony to the higher power of electric lights over whatever they had used before.

Thursday evening a captain's farewell party was held in one of the lounges. We were able to find a table away from the music and sat there while a waiter brought us drinks. The noise was perfectly tolerable and we all stayed until the end of the 30 minutes that it lasted. I had walked out on a previous party because the noise hurt my ears. After dinner Alley and Don and Dodge went to the floorshow which they said was excellent. Alley and Don even went to the evening buffet at 11:30, which they said was a magnificent spread with the chefs standing proudly behind the long table on which many trays of gloriously prepared foods (such as whole decorated salmon) were displayed. I went to bed shortly after dinner and Luigi did likewise, I think, after a turn around the deck.

Friday morning I awoke a little before seven and found the sky overcast and the breakfast, as usual, delicious. This being the last full day aboard, it was time to make preparation for paying bills, passing through customs on the morrow and generally, regretfully, preparing to return to real life. Luigi and Alley went to a 10:00 meeting to learn about the debarkation routine, and shortly after 11:00 I went to the purser's office to pay for whatever I had charged to my account, to get envelopes to put tips in, to get tickets for the bus from the dock to the airport in San Diego and to get small bills to use for tips. Luggage to be carried ashore by the crew was required to be in the hallway before dinner, with only hand items to be carried by the passengers Saturday morning.

Shortly after lunch we passed the Cedros Islands, the first on our starboard and the second on our port. While we were passing the first, we saw several whales frolicking and puffing in the sea. On the second island there was a salt manufacturing and shipping operation, where they extract salt from sea water and load it onto freighters; A Mexican vessel was in port and a Japanese freighter was anchored offshore waiting for a load.

The weather turned colder and all those who had been on deck to watch the whales or to sunbathe disappeared. Dinner was sumptuous and delicious as usual. Dessert was brought in by the various waiters carrying a tray apiece, on each of which was a dome shaped baked Alaska surmounted by a candle. The lights were turned off and the waiters marched around with their candles furnishing the only illumination; suddenly the candles turned into sparklers, throwing lots of sparkling light throughout the dining room.

All five of us arose early Saturday morning and walked out on the deck before the seven o'clock breakfast (previously all breakfasts for the first sitting were at 8:00) partly because of the fact that we set our clocks and watches back an hour the night before. Although the trip was mostly north and south, we did proceed east into two time zones; Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan are in the Central Time Zone and Cabo San Lucas is in the Mountain Time Zone, so we had to change our time more than we left it alone from day to day. The ship entered San Diego Harbor in the teeth of a strong north wind and under heavy overcast, passing Point Loma about 6:55.

After the usual sumptuous breakfast we bade goodbye to Bruno and Ugo and Enzo. The last of these is quite handsome and many of the female passengers kissed him goodbye, though Luigi merely shook his hand, as did the rest of us. As we did not have to catch a plane before noon, we were given debarkation cards lettered J and requested to stay aboard until our letter was called. This was no great hardship as the Pacific Princess was a pleasanter place to be than the airport, which is where we had to go next. They had given us tickets for a complimentary ride on the bus to the airport but didn't bother to collect them. So next time we are in San Diego when one of the Princess Cruises is debarking passengers, we can probably get a free ride from the dock to the airport.

Going through customs was as quick and simple as possible, the customs officer stating that we looked like very low risks. Henry had come to pick up his parents so we said hello to him at the same time as we said goodbye to him and Alley and Don, in virtually the same spot we met a week ago when preparing to board.