Sunday, December 25, 2016

Life in a Bottle at Sea

Map picture

Imagine what life must be like living on the ocean floating along in a bottle? If your life must occur within that bottle, then everything you experience is also within the bottle, except at those few times when the bottle is briefly opened. I would like to share with you that very experience because I feel very much that way at this moment. I am aware that there is a world and a life outside this bottle, but I can see it only as if looking through “a glass yet darkly” that it is there. It amazes me that a month ago I would be concerned about so many things, relationships, and environments, which today are but dim memories and not highly relevant to the moment. Instead I find myself living in a strange encapsulated world where my every need is catered to. Inside my bottle with me are approximately 160 individuals, half of whom are passengers and the other half are crewmembers.

When I awake each morning, I go to the side of the bottle and with my sleeve, I wipe a small circle through which I can peer into the outside world. Some days I see nothing but ocean as far as the horizon can stretch. On other days, like today, I look outside to see strange and wonderful islands surrounded by thousands of frigate birds and an untold number of white terns feeding upon the waters. Here my every need is taken care of. I go downstairs each morning to breakfast, being careful to leave my laundry outside my door; breakfast will be served exactly as I like it, including my usual cold glass of Diet Coke. By the time I return to my room, it has been completely cleaned and the bed freshly made. Lunch can be as simple as a hamburger and fries or as elaborate as a full meal. In the evening, we have an elegant dinner served by candlelight which glistens off the crystal stemware. By the time I return to my cabin, it has been completely cleaned yet again, and there on my bed is the laundry all freshly done and neatly presented.

Strangely, most of the people who are here to serve my needs, live in a world of which I know nothing. I am reminded of the visit to Disney World. There you can walk down Main Street as you enter the park, and be in an elaborate make-believe world, without even realizing that just behind the fa├žade and underneath your feet, there is an entire city actively at work to make your experience an enjoyable one. It is that way here in our bottle. For example, I know that below my feet, there are rooms, exercise facilities, a dining room and bar or entertainment area, none of which I have ever seen in spite of the many days I have spent in this type of an environment. The people who live below decks do so in a world largely unknown to the passengers, and during the day, they come up to serve our needs, and then disappear down below; it is a rather unique experience.

I do enjoy my life here in the bottle, and I find it interesting that when I go to sleep at night, I find myself thinking about the events and people that surround my life currently and only distantly, am I aware of the other world outside my bottle. It is a strange feeling to be so disconnected, and yet not. It is hard to explain if you’ve never had the opportunity, but to me it is fascinating.

I mentioned earlier that this morning I looked out the window to see some small islands and to find that we were at anchor off one of them. When I stood on deck, if I looked at the center of the island, I could see each end at my peripheral vision on both my right and left – the island was that small. It is the Island of Desroches, and is part of the Seychelles. The ship had to receive special permission to pay a visit to the island today in view of the fact that the island is privately owned by an Arabian sheik. He comes here only occasionally on vacation, but there is a full-time staff to maintain the property. This very small island even has a grass landing strip. We were allowed to walk the beach, but not to visit the interior parts of the island, and we were also allowed to snorkel and dive on the nearby reef. I was stunned to see literally hundreds, indeed if not thousands of frigate birds floating above and around the island, and in seeing our ship surrounded by small white terns feeding in the ocean waters; this is truly a mystical place. Unfortunately it was not one that Lisa and I could fully enjoy. Snorkeling was only available today in the open water which required getting into and out of the zodiac in a choppy sea. Since Lisa cannot swim, she could only participate in snorkeling if it was from the shore, and likewise with my injured leg, I would have considerable difficulty in getting back in the zodiac; so that option was off the table. I really wanted to go ashore and walk the magnificent beach, but as you may recall I badly injured my toes at the very beginning of this cruise, and my left toe is still bleeding and far from healed. So walking the beach was not an option either. We have, however, had a wonderful day on board reading and sitting outside taking in the sea breeze and all the wild life.

But, I have gotten a little ahead of myself. Today is actually our third day in the Seychelles. After three days at sea, we reached the capital of this island nation, Mahe on December 22nd. Formally known as the Republic of Seychelles, this island nation received its independence from Britain in 1976. It is composed of 115 tropical islands, many of which are uninhabited. The largest island, Victoria, is home to the capital city where we were able to finally dock and put our feet on firm ground. Ninety percent of the country’s population live on this small island and it is said that Mahe is the smallest capital in the world. Lisa and I actually came to the small island in 2009, and the growth of this city is absolutely stunning. Tourism now accounts for ninety percent of the country’s income, and tourism is indeed a booming business. As we departed our ship for an afternoon tour, we first walked through the main part of the city. Between the temperature and the humidity, the heat index was close to 100°F, and our 45 minute walk was far from easy. The last time I was here downtown, it was a sleepy little place, but during our visit this time it was jammed with traffic and construction.

We then visited the National Botanical Gardens, and afterwards took a drive along the coast to the south end of the island where we stopped at a Hilton for refreshments. Up to this point, I had found our drive to be unremarkable in that the island pretty much looked like any other island. However, after we left the Hilton and drove around to the west side of the island for a return to the city, I saw one of the most beautiful island vistas that I have ever encountered. The towering rocks in the center of the island were breathtaking. Wherever soil could be found there were small farms providing produce for the local economy. The towering rock to which I am referring actually reminded me of Yosemite – yes, it seemed just that big. And just to the side of the rock, was a palatial estate that stretched from one side of the island to the other along its spine. When we inquired, we were told that it was owned by the Emir of Qatar and was one of his many vacation homes. This is one island that clearly has a split personality, and it is also one island that I would seriously consider returning to again.

That evening the ship repositioned to anchor off the island of La Digue where the next day we went ashore for an opportunity to visit a former coconut oil mill from the colonial period complete with the original plantation home. Here were located what are reputed to be some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. While on the island, I was able to get some excellent photographs of some unique wildlife, including a giant tortoise found only in these islands. In the afternoon, our ship repositioned itself off the island of Praslin. This island is home to the Valle de Mai, a UNESCO world heritage site. Inside this immense forest are giant Coco de Mare Palm Trees which have enormous fan shaped fronds and that can grow more than 90 feet in height. Some of these trees are dated from 800 to 1000 years old. Lisa and I had visited this forest in the past and remembered it as being spectacular. We also recalled the heat and humidity, and given Lisa’s asthma and my feet, we both decided that we would keep this in our memories and spend the afternoon in our little bottle.

I tell you that it is very strange to live life in a little bottle floating on the sea. At times, life inside the bottle seems to be all that there is until you clear a small circle in the misty glass which allows you to look through outside or else they open a tiny door and let you out. But once the door closes, you are back into that little world. It is an amazing and spectacular world in which we live, and it seems to me that there is no wonder to the amazing sites that we had been privileged to see. If I start to wax poetic I at times, wondering about all of us living on a small dot in the middle of an enormous universe, I, too, wonder if we aren’t living in our own small bottle floating among the millions of stars and planets that surround us.

Merry Christmas!


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