I agree that two cruises within four months is kind of extravagant—and not the typical sabbatical outing. But this trip to the Panama Canal was altogether different—and beneficial in a completely different way to my sabbatical than my first cruise for two reasons:
- I went with my sister. While this might not seem like a big deal, for me, it was. I haven’t spent any significant time with my sister since we were both in high school. Let’s just say that that was a long, long time ago. Thanks to my dad who helped finance this trip, we spent 12 days together—and we even got along the whole time.
- I have wanted to see the Panama Canal for about forever and, really, the only way to do that, is by boat.
So how was it? In a word, epic.
We travelled on Holland America’s Zuiderdam, either a “good old boat,” or a “needs to be in dry-dock boat,” depending on your perspective. I found I kind of liked her creaks and moans. I could relate!
To the first point: my sister.
Those who know me well know that I am actually a bit of an introvert—or as I like to remind people, I’m an introvert stuck in an extrovert’s body. My sister is both a chaplain’s wife and a social worker. She helps people. So, of course, she talks to them. I, however, am a professor. On sabbatical, no less. So I’m alone a good bit. Give me a comfy chair and a book and I’m good to go. On this cruise, however, I decided that it was time to strike out and play the extrovert. I’m glad I did because in the process, my sister and I had dinner with at least 50 different—and mostly interesting—people. Our dinners typically lasted two hours in which we would savor our lovely four-course meals.
My sister and I were quite adept at bringing people out of their shells. Between her social work skills and my curiosity, we were both able to work the crowd fairly well. Most of the people we met were retired—and thrilled to have more free time, even though they all seemed to have enjoyed their careers. Most were eager to chat. We met a former editor of the Boston Globe; a retired soprano with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus; a doctor who had climbed Kilimanjaro; another doctor who weekly travelled up to North Dakota from Minnesota to practice medicine in an area that desperately needed doctors. We met couples who had been married over 50 years. We met people who were traveling alone. We even met another set of sisters. In the process, my sister and I also learned quite a bit about each other.
Now to the second point: The Panama Canal.
To get to the canal, you have to travel a long, long way. Lots of days at sea. And the seas were something during this trip. We had near gale force winds more than one day hitting F7 on the Beaufort scale. (Even if you don’t know what that is, it sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?)
One morning during our daily 7a.m. “stretch and exercise” class, we had to do all the moves sitting down because it was too difficult with the movement of the ship. So it felt like I was on a voyage, which, somehow seemed appropriate for my sabbatical.
Once we got to the canal, we entered the first set of locks (Gatun Locks) early in the morning. Each section is about 1,000 feet long. Interesting because it is also the length of the ship. It was a tight fit and quite exciting to go up 87 feet (over the three locks that make up Gatun Locks). Once we got into Gatun Lake, the real fun began. Here’s what I did: got into a lifeboat (really!), and traversed the high winds to the shore; got into a not-great bus for a 90-minute trip across not-great roads listening to a not-great guide spew political opinions (of which I disagreed) about the canal. I can sum up his viewpoint by saying he was not a fan of Jimmy Carter. Then I got into a not-great ferry boat for a very hot ride through the rest of the canal, including the San Pedro and Mira Flores locks. Then another 90-minute ride back with the same (but even more annoying by this time) guide. I was glad to get back on the big ship and was sound asleep by 8.
But the point is this. I saw the Panama Canal. Just about every inch of it. It wasn’t necessarily the most fun way to spend the day, but it was one of the most interesting days I’ve had in a long, long time.
The next morning after the ship docked in Limon, Costa Rica, I was refreshed enough to head out with my sister to the rain forest to zip line. Did I ever think I would zip line anywhere (let alone the rain forest of Costa Rica and let alone with my sister???)? Uh. No. No. No. No.
I had hoped that my sabbatical would provide a combination recovery period from a decade of administrative work and a platform for (re)launching my scholarly life. It has done that. And more. I’m looking forward to returning to campus. But, not quite yet. I still have a lot of rest, recovery and research to do!
March 12, 2015 at 9:24 pm
Carol! This was my favorite one yet! I loved it! Although I want more detail on the zip line! Can’t wait to hear every detail of the canal and all the things you knew that the guide didn’t and all the things that he got wrong from your perspective. Really! Can’t wait!
March 14, 2015 at 7:44 pm
What a thrilling post. I, too, want to hear details about life aboard the creaky ship, that irritating guide, as well as what you’re reading. I do have a question: What about pie baking? Have I missed a post about that? Or, will that nourishing activity come along later? Hope to see you soon.
March 15, 2015 at 6:05 pm
What a trip! I really want to see pictures of the zip line, but I may still believe you anyway =) And, being a farmer in the 1970s (embargo, anyone?), my dad isn’t a fan of Carter either. We can’t wait to hear more in person later this month!
March 19, 2015 at 1:46 am
How wonderful! Both the experience and the time with you sister. But most wonderful of all, the social dance at which you two were so adept. How fortunate to be able to do that — get people out of their own shells to converse in amazingly wonderful ways about amazingly wonderful things.
April 13, 2015 at 10:22 am
Looks like you had fun – with your sister, your boat, the canal, the people …and uhmm even the guide !!