True confessions-A cruise to nowhere-7

After spending a few weeks of concentrating on what it’s been like to live aboard a ship going nomadic because of COVID, this week is going to be about where we’ve been and what happened which was new.

That said, I’ve noticed something interesting:

  1. Much is being made of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 being less virulent than previous ones, but more contagious.

  2. Unvaccinated people have much higher death rates than vaccinated people.

  3. The current deaths from COVID-19 in the US number about 3,000 per day which is a run rate of about 1 million per year - or about over the average pace over the last couple of years (which accumulated about 800 thousand deaths).

  4. Apparently the hospital system has been reenforced enough that emergency rooms and ICU’s are not being filled with COVID patients and it’s time to treat the disease as an endemic seasonal virus from now on.

Anyhow, the below barely mentions the virus.

Enjoy,

Jeff

A few additions to the “Take the High Road – A Primer For The Independent Traveler” book:

In the past, we’ve also docked at the cruise ship port at San Pedro, near Long Beach. It’s a bit of a hassle to go into Los Angeles itself, so in the past we’ve decided to go to the Long Beach Aquarium and to drop in on the Hotel created out of the original Cunard SS Queen Mary, just to see what a “real” ship looked like.

Other San Pedro attractions include the “Battleship Iowa” ($23, free if you are from Iowa), the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, the Cabrillo Beach, the Korean Peace Bell and the Point Fermín Lighthouse.

We walked the entire circle of the Lighthouse, Peace Bell and Aquarium, which ended up as an eight-mile hike from/to the ship (part of it steeply uphill). For those wishing to avoid long treks uphill, the most expedient route is to take a taxi or Uber from the ship to the proximity of the Korean Peace Bell (about $11 from Pier 46). After taking photos of the bell, head downhill, cross the road and follow the bluffs to the left until you reach the Point Fermín Lighthouse. Continue downhill along the coast until you reach the Cabrillo Aquarium (free or suggested nominal donation). This is not as flamboyant as one at Long Beach, but is great for kids and provides sufficient educational entertainment for adults. The views along the way are fantastic. The route should take about an hour of leisurely viewing plus however long you want to stay in the aquarium.

At that point, you can take an Uber back to the ship (about $8) or walk the flat path back for about 2 ½ miles to the pier.

Also at Pier 46 is a World War II Victory ship (one of three left of the 500 or so which were built to carry cargo and troops). A $10 entry fee is charged.

Some additional ideas for San Diego:
The best Sunday flea market is the Kobey’s Swap Meet, at the Sports Arena Shopping Center, about a 15-20 minute drive from the cruise terminal.

There are great walking tours of a number of San Diego neighborhoods available on www.fromer.com that cover a variety of the city’s districts.
The San Diego Maritime Museum is adjacent to the cruise terminal. The “Star of India”, the world’s oldest iron-hulled sailing ship (built in 1863) and a number of other antique vessels are available for touring ($10) and which offers a World War II vintage Swift Boat 75 minute tour of the harbor ($15-$35).

Also nearby the cruise dock, is a branch of Miguel’s Cocina, a good Mexican restaurant, in Portside Pier (1360 N Harbor Drive Tel: +1 619-719-4962)

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Cabo’s been a hedonistic fun-in-the-sun spot for 70 years. It has transformed into one of Mexico’s most exclusive destinations, with expensive resorts, American-style restaurants, and all sorts of sun and sea diversions where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez.

During the winter of 2022, roughly a half of the locals wore masks against COVID. Interestingly, nearly 100% of the Indian street vendors were masked.

Sport fishing charter boats and boats for snorkeling, diving, and kayaking adventures, as well as pirate-themed cruises aboard a historic tall ship line the harbor. Inland adventurers can hike Baja’s desert canyons and waterfalls, or blow through them in an all-terrain vehicle. The harbor walk is lined with touts.

In this port, the US dollar parallels the Mexican peso as a standard currency and prices are quoted in both (but change may be given in Mexican pesos – ask first). If you want to take pesos out of an ATM, avoid high surcharges by using an ATM machine attached to an actual bank (rather than a random one found in a shopping area). The most efficient way to pay in many cases is using a credit card which explicitly does not charge a foreign transaction fee (read the small print or ask their customer support department) and ask for the charge to be made in Mexican Pesos.

Those inclined to try a tequila tasting, should head for Santos Destilados (mariano matamoros, Blvd. Lázaro Cárdena, https://santosdestilados.com/). While there is a free tasting, the 17 tequila/mescal tasting with paired appetizers is $35 and takes a couple of hours.

Plaza Amelia Wilkes is the town’s main square, containing a gazebo, some giant chicken topiary, and a whale skeleton.

As far as shopping is concerned, if you’re after a beer-themed T-shirt, Cabo San Lucas can’t be beat. There are also numerous street vendors selling ceramics, costume jewelry and silver of dubious quality.

Playa El Médano is Cabo’s best strip of sand for swimming, snorkeling, or sipping tropical drinks at a beachside bar. Across the bay, the cliffs of Playa del Amor (Lovers’ Beach) is like a movie set, as kayakers paddle through the giant rock arch of El Arco. There are colorful coral reefs at Playa Chileno, Playa Santa Maria, and Pelican Rock, where you can snorkel right from shore.

About the only historical site is the stone-walled Iglesia de San Lucas, founded by Spanish missionaries in 1730.

Today was a “wife’s maintenance day”. Time for a mani-pedi. The first place we tried was “Piedi Carino Beauty & Spa” in the fairly high-end Puerto Paraiso mall at the far end of the Marina. ($25US for a manicure and $25US a pedicure). Unfortunately, without an appointment, there were not sufficient chairs for my wife and her friend. We walked out the opposite side of the mall and found ourselves in Mexico (as opposed to the touristic environment of the Marina). About a five minute walk down the Av. Lázaro cárdenas main drag was “Hoboken Nail”, which while not as fancy as the shop in the mall, did a professional job for a combined mani/pedi price of $20US.

In the meantime, the guys dropped into a brewery named “La Pintada” about a half a block down Av. Lázaro cárdenas. This has a multitude of beers available as well as a broad selection of (pretty expensive) seafood dishes.

Cabo’s cuisine is all about seafood.
Japanese-style food is available at the refined expensive Nicksan, Blvd. Marina Lote 10 Local 2, Plaza de la Danza.

Maro’s Shrimp House, Calle Miguel Hidalgo, Centro, serves piles of crustaceans and the house cocktail, the Bulldog

Don’t miss La Fonda, Calle Miguel Hidalgo S/N, Matamoros, a temple of traditional delicacies like ant eggs and modern-day mole sauces.

Las Guacamayas, Calle Marinos at Calle Pescadores, San José del Cabo, is a budget restaurant serving great Mexican food.

Mazatlán, Mexico
In recent years, Mazatlán has shed its image as a spring-break party haven and cleaned up its act. What a nice town this is – and a welcomed relief from the artificial environments of Cabo and Acapulco.

The town has installed a line of blue tiles stretching from the cruise port to the Old Town which is lined with blue-jacketed ex-pat US and Canadian tourist information volunteers who handed out hand-annotated maps. There is a constant police presence along the tourist route and things feel pretty safe.

During the 2022 COVID period, 100% of the locals I saw were wearing face masks.

You’ll be out of place wearing much beyond a bathing suit and sandals. Deep-sea fishing for marlin and sailfish is among the best in Mexico. Hiking, bird-watching, and quiet beach walks are popular activities here.

Mazatlan is unique in the hundreds of miniature white taxis – not much larger than golf carts. There is a “set-price” schedule at inside the port gate to use for reference (take a photo of it - $5US to Old Town and $10 to the Golden Zone), but they quoting us a bit of a discount outside the port area. These guys can also be hired by the hour for a tour. Uber is also available and inexpensive in Mazatlan.

The Old Town is about a ten minute walk from the port – simply walk out of the main gate, cross the street and, after meeting your first tourist volunteer, keep walking straight. We wandered down the cobbled streets along the colonial splendor of the 19th-century Italian-style buildings. The restored Teatro Peralta has been created from a number of neoclassical homes resplendent in warm tropical colors. It’s pleasant to sit in the tree-lined Plaza Mechado and pause in a traditional cafe for a robust Mexican coffee.

Mazatlán has one of the largest shrimp fleets in the world, so it’s no surprise that shrimp and seafood are its specialties. Most restaurants are very casual and moderately priced, offering good value. Many loncherías (small establishments that are only for lunch, kind of like a home-cooking place, but not a counter) scattered throughout the downtown area. Here you can get a torta (a sandwich on a small French roll) stuffed with a variety of meats, cheeses, tomatoes, and onions, for around $5. While the street stand food looked fine, we set our sights a bit higher.
Mazatlán is known for fresh, spicy ingredients that accompany grilled fish, and shrimp of all shapes, sizes and preparations. Don’t expect haute cuisine, but simple and tasty food. We ate an incredibly tasty, inexpensive lunch at Marisco Chon (Carnival 1508). Three of us ate for about $30 – a plate of grilled garlic shrimp, four smoked marlin burritos, four shrimp and cheese tacos, two beers, a soda and two vanilla flans covered with Kalua. The restaurant, which has been around since 1946 is simple, but the food was delicious. (Be aware that this is a cash-only place – either Mexican or US. Another, somewhat more expensive, but also popular restaurant is Mariscos Bahia (Mariano Escobedo 203).

One of the items we were looking for while in Mexico was a bottle of good 100% vanilla extract. Based on the recommendation of one of the tourist volunteers, we found “Orlando” brand (about $11 for 500ml and about $15 for a liter) along with a couple of traditional cotton shirts (at about $15 and $20 each) at Ximena’s Cotton Clothing (Angel Flores #806)

Small galleries and shops are beginning to appear in Old Mazatlán; one of the nicest is NidArt Galería, Av. Libertad 45 and Carnaval (tel. 669/981-0002, or 985-5991 for after-hours appointments; www.nidart.com), next to the Teatro Angela Peralta. It features changing exhibits of contemporary art. Open Monday through Friday from 10am to 5pm or after hours by appointment.

The Cathedral is unique in that the top layer of stained glass windows contain six-pointed stars – a tribute to the city’s Jewish community whioch contributed to its completion.

The Centro Mercado (Pino Suarez Market) in Old Mazatlán is another kind of shopping experience. Here you’ll find women selling fresh shrimp under colorful umbrellas; open-air food stalls; and indoor shops stacked with pottery, clothing, and crafts (some of lesser quality). The market opens around 6am and stays open until sundown. It you miss something, there is a decent sized market at the cruise port (though the prices may be a bit higher there).

Continuing to walk down Angel Flores brought us to the path, the Malecon, along the fine-sand beach and then the rocky coastline. Walking to the west, there are platforms for “cliff-divers”, a somewhat defunct salt-water pool, numerous bronze statues and great views of the ocean and the city. Walking towards the east, brought us to “Liverpool Street”, with its bronze replicas of the four Beatles crossing Abby Road, a Morris-Mini 1000, a Yellow Submarine and so forth – all presented to the sound of Beatle music blaring from loudspeakers.

La Zona Dorada (the Golden Zone) is the best area for shopping - and is far enough to require a taxi ride from either the port or the Old Town. There are a number of quality silver shops along Avenida Playa Gaviotas, including Pacific Jewelry (tel. 669/913-3754), at Av. Gaviotas 413. It’s open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 8:30pm, and Sunday from 10am to 6pm. For more fine jewelry, go to Rubio Jewellers, in the Costa de Oro Hotel, Av. Camarón Sábalo 710 (tel. 669/914-3167; www.rubiojewellers.com). It’s open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 6pm, and Sunday from 10am to 1:30pm.

Sea Shell City (tel. 669/913-1301), at Av. Playa Gaviotas 407, sells shell-covered decorative items from the tacky to the sublime. It’s open daily 10am to 7pm. Michael Gallery (tel. 669/916-7816; www.michaelgallerymexico.com), at Av. Las Garzas 18 off Avenida Camarón Sábalo, has an excellent selection of Tlaquepaque crafts, art, diamonds, and fine silver jewelry. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5:30pm.

The world-class golf scene, luxury-yacht harbor, and watersports activities tend to be more moderately priced than in many other places. It is a short boat ride to Deer Island, where you can spend the day swimming, snorkeling, kayaking or grab a surfboard and paddle out to the small, consistent waves.

This port is a keeper!

Embark
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Acapulco, Mexico
About two thirds of the local population is masked against COVID during February 2022.

We decided to grab an early Mexican breakfast at Lonchería La Amiga (Av 5 de Mayo 22, Barrio de Petaquillas), a small restaurant near the port. They only accept Mexican pesos as payment (there is an ATM at a bank a couple of blocks away) and only speak Spanish. We had uevos rancheros and quesadillas. Be aware that the café con leche is made with Nescafe instant, but somehow is pretty good. The restaurant specializes in a vast variety of freshly blended fruit juices and smoothies, but prudence had us avoid them despite their appeal. We were made to feel welcome and like we were celebrities. For those who like to try to “go native”, this one is worth a try.

No first-time visit is complete without seeing La Quebrada Cliff Divers plunging from high cliffs into a narrow gorge, much as they have since 1934. You can see the show from public viewing areas or the terrace at El Mirador Hotel.

The Fuerte de San Diego, built in 1616 to protect Acapulco from pirate attacks, houses a museum tracing the port’s history as well as offering a great viewing platform of the port and beaches. It can be easily walked to (a couple of the blocks are a bit steeply uphill, but not too bad). Unfortunately, while the view was available, during our visit of February 2022, COVID had shut the museum down.

A block from Woolworth’s is the block-sized gold market. I’m not sure that Mexico is known for its gold, but that’s where the market is located.

The top shopping center in Acapulco is La Isla, Blvd. de los Naciones 1813, off the Carretera Escénica close to the airport (tel. 744/462-1962). Opened in late 2008, the open-air mall with streams and lush landscaping houses the Mexican department stores Liverpool and Casa Palacio.

Nearby is the city’s main square, the Zocalo area of Old Acapulco. It is lined with cafes and shops. It is known for simple authentic local dining. Cheap, fresh seafood can also be found at any of the simple restaurants in the Barra Vieja neighborhood near Diamante. Many of Acapulco’s fine-dining establishments automatically add a small “cover” charge of $2-$3 per person to your bill (“for the bread”). To explore, start at the zócalo and stroll west along Juárez. After about 3 blocks, you’ll come to Azueta, lined with small seafood cafes and street-side stands.

Acapulco is not among the best places to buy Mexican crafts, but it does have a few interesting shops. Be prepared to bargain - using the spot price of silver in Mexican Pesos from Google, adjusted to .925 alloy and ask them to weigh the piece. The starting price will be steep, so take the time to persevere. Before buying silver, examine it carefully and look for .“925” stamped on the back. This supposedly signifies that the silver is 92.5% pure, but the less expensive silver metal called “alpaca” may also bear this stamp. (Alpaca is generally stamped MEXICO or MEX, often in letters so tiny that they are hard to read and look similar to the three-digit .“925.”)

Linda de Taxco, located at the Quebrada where the cliff divers perform as well as at the cruise port (tel. 744/483-3340), is a large store selling silver and gold pieces, including quality silver from Taxco at high prices (bargain hard). It’s open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 10pm.

Sanborn’s (www.sanborns.com.mx), a few blocks from the port, is an excellent department store and drugstore chain, offers an array of staples, including cosmetics, music, clothing, books, and magazines. It also carries high-quality folk art from around Mexico, and its restaurants serve excellent breakfasts (and other meals).

Woolworth’s department store is about a block from Sanborn’s, is a bit lower end, but also serves breakfast.

Boutiques selling resort wear crowd the Costera Alemán. If there’s a sale, they can be bargains bargains. One of the nicest air-conditioned shopping centers on the Costera is Plaza Bahía, Costera Alemán 125 (tel. 744/485-6939, -6992), which has four stories of shops, movie theaters, a bowling alley, and small fast-food restaurants.

Acapulco’s 12 miles of beaches stretch from the south end at oceanfront Punta Diamante to the north at low-key Pie de la Cuesta. Go scuba diving, deep-sea fishing for marlin and swordfish or float above the bay by parasail. Glass-bottom boats depart from Caletilla to Roqueta Island for snorkeling, sunning and hiking to an old lighthouse. All kinds of sailing vessels run sunset cruises on the bay and into the open ocean.

Acapulco’s nightlife kicks off around midnight and stays open until morning. Big (expensive) clubs are concentrated on mountainside Las Brisas, including Palladium, with breathtaking bay views, and the multi-leveled El Alebrije, with its mammoth dance floor.

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One of the items we were looking for while in Mexico was a bottle of good 100% vanilla extract. Based on the recommendation of one of the tourist volunteers, we found “Orlando” brand (about $11 for 500ml and about $15 for a liter)

Wow! What a coup!

Are you still heading to Russia given all that is in the news?

IP

Are you still going to Russia?


If nothing else, the itinerary of this trip has been “fluid” :slight_smile:

It still shows Russia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Turkey, etc., but I’m guessing they would be reluctant to put the ship at risk if war broke out at the time we are scheduled to enter the area. OTOH, I have no hesitancy about visiting due to political concerns.

So, currently yes.

Jeff

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Thanks for sharing your travel expertise. This one seemed much more likely to be on my bucket list.

I came across a word I thought was a typo. But decided to google it. Nope, not a typo for those who didn’t do this, tout as a noun:

“A tout is any person who solicits business or employment in a persistent and annoying manner (generally equivalent to a solicitor or barker in American English, or a spruiker in Australian English).”

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wow, what a great, detailed post !

Would like to visit the Baja, but you have also piqued my interest in Mazatlan.
Your book sounds like a good investment for foreign travel, will definitely
keep it in mind.

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good investment for foreign travel


This may sound self-serving, butt is the truth:

I originally wrote the book because I found myself spending too much time trying to figure out how I did things in the past as we revisited places. Now, it’s my go-to first stop to research each location we intend to hit. Most places only get a page or two, but major cities (Shanghai, Cape Town, Mumbai, Paris, etc., etc.) generally get ten pages or more (as we tend to spend a week or two in each). As we enjoy local craft/flea markets, museums and good restaurants and tend to travel with public transportation systems, these tend to be concentrated on.

Jeff

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Thanks for reminding me about a great memory of my late mother.

The family was vacationing in Goa, India.
My departure flight was from New Delhi at a really awkward time (IIRC, around mid-night or 1 AM) and involved 26-hours of flying.
Mom being mom suggested that if I wanted to get some sleep before the flight, I could stay at one of these specialized motels near the airport.
The one she had stayed at, and remembered was a motel name that was “Diamond-in-the-Crown-Jewels” + “2nd part of my aunt’s neighborhood” (at that time I had visited my aunt’s neighborhood only once, and very briefly at that)
Because it was such an odd combination of 2 unrelated items, I burst out laughing.
Mom was a little annoyed at me.

But, in the end, she got the last laugh. 16 years later, the motel name still stuck in my head because of such an odd pair of unrelated items.

Thanks for the memory
HohumYNWA