It was a long time ago but the details remain fresh in my mind. I was on the loose and feeling a little sorry for myself. Then I saw a flyer posted in a travel agent’s office window in the small town where I was living. The flyer looked somewhat homemade, not slick like the usual ones picturing luxury grand salons with impressive staircases and elegantly dressed couples sipping champagne. On the other hand the price was right and it wasn’t going to be too much of an effort to get to San Diego where the one week voyage to Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and La Paz was to set sail.
What did I know about cruising? Absolutely nothing other than it seemed a pleasant way to get some sun and a change of scene. Packing my new bikini and my 9-year old daughter off to the airport we headed for San Diego and down to the pier where the Good Ship Lollipop (otherwise known as the Orpheus) was awaiting us.
Orpheus was the Greek god who was able to charm the trees and animals when he played his lyre. But the ship should have been named Dionysus after the god of wine because it soon became apparent that a large proportion of the passengers were AA dropouts. They drank and they drank and then they drank even more. I watched them fall off the bar stools, stagger dangerously near the swimming pool and fight on the dance floor. After shore excursions they had to be dragged into the tender and then heaved into the cargo bay by the crew because they were unable to navigate the gangplank.
My daughter was goggle-eyed watching the unintentional lesson in “adult” behavior while she feasted on lobster and Baked Alaska, treats she wasn’t likely to see again any time soon. Meanwhile, I received frequent invitations to attend a “real Greek party” after hours, and our handsome cabin attendant regularly stopped by to ask if I “needed something extra.” The lure of my supposed attractions continued when I sensed that someone was following me on the beach in Puerto Vallarta. I turned around to see a tiny man with big muscles and a lot of chest hair. In broken English he explained that he would like to marry me and take me home to his mother in Greece. We had an extended conversation but in the end I declined that offer too and he returned to the engine room alone.
It wasn’t just the passengers and crew that provided excitement. The ship ran into a tremendous storm while crossing the Sea of Cortez. Lines were rigged for the green-tinged passengers to grip hand over hand in the passageways. Most of the seasick crew retreated to their cabins. When the storm began to abate I found a deck chair where I could see the horizon through the flying spume. I was soon encrusted with salt from the spray, thus looking like Lot’s wife. But instead of looking back at Sodom I watched our approach to the tiny port of La Paz. We anchored next to a ship that was winching cattle from the shore into the hold for their own cruise back across the Sea. The unhappy animals bellowed strenuously as they swung in the air suspended from ropes tied to their horns and mid-sections. They reminded me of my fellow passengers coming aboard after a too-happy day shoreside.
The Orpheus eventually left the Epirotiki Lines for a more sober life with Swan Hellenic cruises but it was sent to the breakers in 2000. On the other hand, I’m still cruising.