So here we are at JFK airport looking into the mists of the next six months of wandering.
While many wore masks to mitigate the spread of COVID aboard the plane, we seemed to be the only ones in the airport wearing masks and we saw no one in San Francisco wearing one.
And now, in a reflection of last year’s chopping of our Russian stops due to the Ukraine conflict, I am becoming more doubtful that we will dock at Peru, due to the growing degree of social unrest there.
sit, in JFK airport, waiting for our ship (OK – airplane) to come in for the flight to San Francisco. This is the fourth plane we have been scheduled on for the flight. The first flight (on American Airlines) was canceled and they put us on a flight leaving at 6AM in the morning. We changed that to an afternoon flight, which they canceled and put us on a late evening flight. So, we canceled that and used our points to buy tickets on a mid-day Jet Blue flight.
The cruise itinerary has been equally annoying. Firstly, the direction is mainly west-to-east, which means lots of 23 hour days as we enter new time zones (east-to-west travel yields lots of 25 hour days and some extra sleep). Then, just a few days before departure, a series of emails were received from the cruise company (Oceania Cruise Lines) indicating that they were shaving an hour or two off of the shore-stay time of dozens of ports – totaling over 50 hours – with the following “explanation”:
“Our company is committed to driving a positive impact on society and the environment. As part of our global sustainability program, Sail & Sustain, we are continually seeking opportunities to reduce our overall carbon footprint, and recently committed to pursuing net zero greenhouse gas emissions across our operations and value chain by 2050.
To support this mission, we have optimized our arrival and departure times. This revision will not impact any shore excursion operations.”
Which, of course, is utter nonsense – it allows the ships to run at a slower speed between ports, thus using less fuel and saving money for the cruise line, but does nothing to improve their carbon foot-print towards a goal nearly three decades away. And, while their ship sponsored tours won’t be affected, it reduces our independent explorations by a matter of a few days in-total – and reduces the time available when we maintain the buffer of safety we require to make sure we don’t miss the ship. (But, of course, independent travel does not enhance their bottom line). The action has caused me to seriously reevaluate
my future attitude towards the line as well as doubt the credibility of any schedule they may publish for future cruises.
Add to this annoyance the recent (a week ago) massive rains which flooded San Francisco (and its raining again today) as well as the complete shut-down of the US’s air transport system a couple of days ago and there is a bit of additional subconscious stress added as well.
Anyhow, we feel we have planned as well as possible
The cruise line has booked us for the night at the ritzy Fairmont – San Francisco. The Fairmont chain of luxury North American hotels (along with Raffles, a Southeast Asian luxury line which they merged with) has been acquired by the massive French hotel conglomerate Accor. I tried to get a credit for the stay so that I could choose my own hotel (and maybe pocket the difference in price), but they said they wouldn’t credit the “free” night. The hotel, located in the posh Nob Hill section, has a lovely lobby and our (small as a cruise ship cabin – but what did we expect for “free”) room appears newly renovated. It was stripped of all toilet amenities other than a bar of soap and some squirt bottles of shampoo, conditioner, etc. and we had to ask at the front desk for Q-tips, make-up removal pads, a shower cap and containers of water – not what we would have expected in a hotel of this class, but I guess they now have MBA’s running the business.
We walked a few blocks to Uncle Vito’s Pizza (800 Bush Street). The term “a few blocks” in San Francisco refers to what it looks like on a map, but the city adds another dimension which doesn’t show on most maps – vertical distance. Nob Hill is called that because, well, it’s high up on a steep hill – and the restaurant is at the bottom. So, to get to the restaurant, one has to (dodging the occasional street car) walk down a significant slope (and climb back up afterwards).
The pizza was reasonably priced, the fillings of the calzone and toppings on the pizza were good, but the dough was a little “looser” than we expect in NYC (as if they used all-purpose flour instead of bread flour to make it), but still acceptable. Assuming the walk doesn’t bother you (and, of course, there is always the option of Uber or a taxi), this is a reasonable alternative to the expensive food served at the hotel.
Breakfast was relatively expensive, but extremely delicious. I should have realized that, if I asked the concierge where to have breakfast outside the hotel, their suggestion was unlikely to net a savings.
It was served by a bevy of very accommodating Thai waitresses, at Mymy Coffee shop (1500 California Avenue). While I can’t put my finger on what was so special, it actually was a memorably delicious meal. Fortunately, we came early (that jetlag thing) as a considerably long line of locals waiting to eat had accumulated by the time we finished. Like the pizza joint, it was down (and up upon the return) a steep hill. There is a Trader Joe’s across the street for those picking up wine for a cruise.
Once aboard the ship, the search for a bridge partner began. I am of the opinion hat there are maybe 15-20 thousand people who frequently take cruises of a month or more on English-speaking and when you pluck out a few hundred at a time, the probability of knowing someone aboard is a near-certainty. This cruise is no exception and while I was offered a partner by another passenger I knew, I chose one who I had played with on occasion in the past. After an initial “very interesting” shakedown game (57%, but not in the money) we have gravitated to a loftier position.
After a few days aboard, the crew has started wearing masks (which means that over 3% of the passengers/crew are COVID positive). While I took two days fighting off a upper-respiratory thing picked up from another passenger, both a flu test and a PCR test are negative and that episode is now in the past.
Manzanillo is a Pacific Ocean port city and resort in the Mexican state of Colima. It’s the site of 2 bays, Bahía de Manzanillo and Bahía de Santiago. The latter is known for beaches such as Playa La Audiencia, with calm surf for water sports.
The waters off the coast have numerous coral reefs, shipwrecks and other dive sites. With a high concentration of marlin, the area is also known for deep-sea sportfishing. A good choice of a charter boat is the “Luckiest II” (www.manzanilloluckiestfishing).
Manzanillo has a dual identity. It is Mexico’s busiest commercial seaport the trade route between here and Spain dates back as far as 1531. It is also pitched as a beach-lover’s paradise with 350 days of sunshine annually and a wide range of stunning beaches. One of the Mexican Pacific’s major seaports; tourism takes second place. The beaches are none too clean, and since the more desirable ones, such as Playa Olas Altas, are 20km from the old town it is a drag to get around without a car.
Large-scale investment in tourist areas has added a bit to the town’s appeal, though you’ll still see the shops reflecting a Mexican life-style if you venture into the town center.
One walks from the pier towards a huge blue sculpture on the waterside plaza, a nod to Manzanillo’s self-proclaimed status as ‘Sailfish Capital of the World’, flanked by a huge Mexican flag – about the size of half a football field.
Across the street, is a venire of relatively modern buildings hosting modest shops, a parking lot, a couple of small Oxo grocery stores (heavily stocked with the junk food that cruise ship crews seem to prefer), a bank, “very Mexican” restaurants and so on. Once you move behind that row of modern buildings, you move directly into the old town, the most “atmospheric” (Mexican) area.
Visit between December and April and you’re likely to see whales swimming in Manzanillo Bay.
Outside of the town, Playa La Boquita is a beach with calm waters at the mouth of a lagoon where fishermen lay out their nets to dry by day, and shove off by night. The beach is lined with seafood restaurants where you can hang out for the day. A shipwreck just offshore makes this a popular snorkeling spot.
Boasting the best surfing and bodysurfing waves in the area, the long and beautiful Playa Miramar is an ideal place to take the plunge and rent a surfboard from a beach shack. Catch a bus marked ‘Miramar’ to get here.
Playa Azul is a 6km-long, curving strip of sand is rather steep and buffeted by Pacific surf, so it’s better for sunbathing and walking than swimming. It stretches northwest from Playa Las Brisas to the Península de Santiago.
Other potentially interesting activities include taking photos of iguanas in a public park, photographing the interesting graffiti covering many of the walls of the downtown area ana swimming with the sea turtles.
Zihuatanejo (Ixtapa), Mexico
Zihuatanejo, is the fourth-largest city in the Mexican state of Guerrero. The area is now the third most-visited area in Mexico, after Cancún and Puerto Vallarta, and the most popular for sports fishermen. The center of town, including streets radiating out from Av. Cinco de Mayo, have been cleaned and host a wide variety of shops and restaurants line them. A shop of note, which sells a wide variety bof artifacts from around Mexico (many of which might be too fragile to ship is the Suazo Art Gallkery (Calle Cuauhtemoc #16, Col Centro, www.suazoartgallery.com.mx).
Ixtapa is a nearly adjacent Pacific Coast beach resort in the Mexican state of Guerrero. Curving El Palmar Beach is lined with high-rise hotels, bars and restaurants. Fishing boats leave from Ixtapa Marina, next to a world-class golf course and lit tennis courts. The granite rocks of Los Morros de Potosí are a popular dive site, while the Delfiniti dolphinarium offers the chance to swim with dolphins.
Horses are available for beach rides in Playa La Ropa and Playa Linda. To really get away from it all, visit the fishing settlement of Barra de Patosi.
A few places to consider for lunch, or maybe just a wonderfully fresh guacamole and a margarita:
Bandido´s Restaurant Bar (Av 5 de Mayo 8)
Cuattro Cycle Coffee & Tea (Ignacio M. Altamirano 19)
Palma Grande (Ejido 24-departamento #2)
Coconuts Restaurant & Bar (Agustín Ramírez 1)
For good Mexican food, La Terracita (Calle Adelita, P.º del Pescador S/N, entre Playa la Madera)