Posted by: Ali Davis | April 17, 2008

Wednesday, April 2 – Thursday, April 3

Busy day.

We were in Barbados today, my favorite port this run. I treated myself to my favorite shore excursion from my last contract, the 4X4 Adventure and Monkey Encounter.

Barbados has been in a development boom for the past few years or so, and the year since my last contract has been no exception. It’s good to see a Caribbean island with some money to go around, but a little sad to see so many construction sites in front of those beautiful beaches. The company that runs the 4X4 and monkey tour has had a bit of a boom as well, which was not something I’d thought about. This time, instead of the two trucks carrying ten people each like last time, there were six or seven, for our ship and for the Carnival (ick) boat docked beside us.

You know what happens when seventy people all show up at the monkey preserve at the same time? The monkeys go away. It didn’t help much that several of the Carnival people were (surprise!) complete louts, and kept doing things like shouting to each other across the preserve.

“Hey! Are there any monkeys over there?”

“No! Are there any monkeys on your side?”

“No! I DON’T GET IT!”

“HOW COME THERE’S NO MONKEYS AROUND?!”

Thanks, guys.

But we did have Neil, a charming guide, and we saw maras and peacocks and Monty, the incredibly big reticulated python, and a crocodilian of some sort poking his head out of the water and, at a conservative estimate, 13 million billion kajillion tortoises.

“Please,” Neil begged before he let us out of the truck, “Don’t stop and take a picture of the first tortoise you see. I promise you there will be others.”  Unfortunately, not all the drivers had given this excellent advice, so there was a healthy bottleneck in front of the first tortoise on the path. Or maybe the other guides had said that and it was just Carnival people. I don’t know.

I was in a truck alone with a family of nine, and fortunately they were really cool, experienced cruisers all. They were friendly and asked Neil questions about the tour, including for some reason several pointed ones about the tax rate on Barbados. They asked me questions about living on the ship and where we were allowed to eat and did I have one of those really tiny showers they’d seen on the video tour of the ship? (Yes. Every leg shave is an adventure.)

So the only monkeys we saw were either in the cage (I never got an answer as to why there was a cage: the monkeys as a rule are free to come and go as they please in the wildlife preserve. Nobody would explain if the incarcerated few were injured or disobedient or just had to take turns so all the visitors get to see at least a few monkeys or what.) or very far away, which made me moderately cranky, though the other animals in the preserve are pretty damn cool. Monty and I stared at each other for a while, which was reasonably freaky, and there’s a big parakeet section which, exotic island or no, forcibly calls up memories of the discount store in my hometown that always had a thousand cages full of parakeets even though I can’t remember anyone ever buying one.

Mostly I wandered around pretty happily and I managed to completely suppress the urge to suggest a LITTLE LESS SCREAMING, YOU MORONS.

Though I did have to walk away from people several times lest I say something a tad sharply or, you know, punch them in the face. No matter how many warnings the guides and signs have about the fact that these are WILD ANIMALS, YOU CRETINS, WILD, UNTAMED ANIMALS THAT DO NOT PARTICULARLY LIKE YOU, somebody’s always gotta try to be Snow White. In this case, it was a woman who, seconds after the guide gently explained that MAYBE IF PEOPLE LEFT THE ANIMALS THE FUCK ALONE FOR A LITTLE BIT we might see more, had to walk into the food pile – standing on it, in fact – and try to offer bits of fruit to the few animals that were actually sticking around. Amazingly enough, this caused the animals to go away because THEY ARE NOT YOUR PET COCKAPOO, AS ANYONE WITH INTACT FRONTAL LOBES SHOULD BE ABLE TO FIGURE OUT.

[A personal note to these women: The people who are watching you do this are not watching you because they think you are beautiful and warm and perhaps a princess straight out of Fairyland. They are rooted to the spot because a) their brains are being overloaded as they try to compose a warning to you without using the words “You dumb twat,” and b) because they are kind of hoping that the deer will sink its teeth so deeply into your hand that the peacock will be able to pluck your eyeball out before you can free yourself. I know this is a hard fact, but it is true. Sit down with a trusted friend and he or she will tell you I’m right.] [Do not choose a friend who also thinks it might be adorable to try to hand-feed a puma.]

I would call this woman the dumbest person on the trip, but she was eclipsed by the woman who coaxed her son to go ever-closer to a mother mara with very small babies. Because yes, wild animals, sure, but what a sweet picture! Anyway, nature took the opportunity to teach a lesson, one mom to another, and Junior came very close to getting himself bit.

This seemed like a Suing Opportunity – many passengers look for them – but the guide sensibly reminded the woman that he had, not ten minutes before and more than once, told their group not to mess with mama animals. For good measure, he explained it in a way that finally got through: “You remember how you were when your kids were toddlers? How would you have reacted if a stranger tried to touch them?” She got it.

Fortunately, neither of these wastes of oxygen were in my truck, so the Scowly Face of Death could remain put away for the duration of the ride.

The guides were bummed that there were so few monkey sightings, so they drove us by a different monkey sanctuary, this one not so much a state-run venue for preserving wildlife and sharing knowledge as a random guy who took care of injured monkeys he came across just kind of out of his house. He seemed like an amiable guy in spite of the fact that Neil told us his name was Poison. I came close to saying something to my excursion family when they wanted to inappropriately give a banana to a recovering monkey, but then I realized that Poison was feeding him cheese doodles, so I figured what the hell.

We got to see a lot of Barbados on the tour. Neil showed us how different the surf is on the East and West sides of the island and took us by a kazillion high-end resorts and, charmingly, past the local schools. I think most of the guided tours I’ve been on in the Caribbean have involved a slow drive past a school building, if not several. I can’t tell if it’s a moment of “Yes, we read and write too, you jerks,” or just local pride, the way you’d show a friend your high school if they were visiting your town. It feels like the second one.

We stopped at Bathsheba for rum punch or fruit punch or just walking around for a few minutes. It’s a jaw-droppingly beautiful spot – not something they are exactly hurting for in Barbados, but still – so I chose walking around. Neil and I chatted for a bit. He was interested by the fact that I was crew, and that I had just come on the excursion by myself, and I was interested in the guide-by-guide variations in the tour. I was also sort of half-looking for the guy who had been selling necklaces at the Bathsheba stop last year and who had so ardently proposed marriage. (Caribbean men do not pussyfoot around when it comes to flirting.) I was disappointed that he wasn’t there, mostly because it’s not often you get such a good chance to scare the living hell out of someone. (“OK! I thought about it and the answer is YES! Where do I put my stuff?”)

Bathsheba is a particularly beautiful spot on a stunningly beautiful island. I got one good windy picture and very nearly did not get a photo of an excellent rock because goddamned Hand-Feeding Lady kept walking into my frame. She and I are enemies, and she doesn’t even know it.

Back on the ship, the whole cast splurged a bit – we went out for teppanyaki, which meant going to the Asian restaurant that requires a cover charge. The prices are going up as of the next cruise, so we figured why not now, and it’s a good excuse to hang out with each other. I’d been worried about being able to get a reservation, but I shouldn’t have – the passengers here are just as scared of the Asian restaurant as they were on my old ship.

We were exactly the right audience for our chef, because he was still learning the ropes a bit and we are willing to applaud and cheer loudly for anything, including almost splitting the egg in the air with the spatula and very nearly flipping the salt shaker into your hat.

But he had showmanship, and we loved him.

We got out at around 10:00, which gave Mike and I only an hour to change and start drinking. We had agreed, somehow, to be auctioneers for the crew party that night, mostly to avoid the terror of being auctionees.

Crew parties continue to be completely insane.

The last one, shortly after we arrived, was a pajama party on the helipad – Ryan promises pictures, though he may have just sent them straight out for blackmail – and this one was in what’s usually a passenger area, the Spinnaker Lounge.

We started with the crew talent show, which was about seventeen kinds of awesome. Elena the host played a song on the guitar and sang in Romanian, and then Greg the guy from housekeeping became GRETCHEN THE TOTAL DIVA, lip-syncing along to that song from I think Dreamgirls where the woman sings for eleven years telling the guy that no, he is NOT leaving, he’s going to stay right there and love her, or as Mike more succinctly put it, “The anthem of crazy chicks everywhere.” Then there was a guy who did a really cool traditional dance that was – we think – Balinese, complete with a sort of demonic/dragony mask and paper cloak. He was good, and liked to make the mask look at us upside-down over the top of his head. It was sort of playful and creepy at the same time.

I wanted to know more about the dance, but in the end it didn’t matter because the whole crowd clapped like lunatics for everyone, including the next girl who sang a song I can’t remember at all except for the fact that it was maybe possibly just the tiniest bit off key. Not too badly – just enough to make you stop whatever you’re doing to swivel your head like a dog and maybe weep for a moment or two. No matter – this was a good, friendly crowd and everyone clapped like hell for all the acts, including our last talent show contestant, a very quiet Indian guy from the galley who donned a silver shirt and BLEW US RIGHT OUT THE BACK OF THE ROOM with his dancing. He was really, really good. Seriously: If you can make people forget the transvestite who incorporated a costume change into the middle of her song, you’ve really got something.

The acts were great, both individually and as a whole bizarre piece, and the audience was even better. We really enjoyed seeing how behind each other everyone was. But best of all was the mental image of Gretchen, resplendent in a sequined halter top, mini, and Cleopatra wig, demurely offering unsuspecting passengers more towels as Greg in the morning.

And then it was time for the real meat of the party: The auction. Mike and I were as lubricated as we dared get (two Stoli Ices for me, thanks to Roman and peer pressure) and it was time to go on. We were, for the benefit of the Crew Welfare fund, auctioning off dinner dates with fellow crew members, and we mostly agreed to do it so Tambye the Crew Activities Coordinator wouldn’t ask us to be auctioned off ourselves.

We got the first eight brave auctionees up on the block and started things off by shouting “Who’s ready to peddle some flesh?!” Apparently everyone.

Someone on the tech booth thought it would be funny to play the Addams Family theme, but we were having none of it. Mike and I silently agreed that anyone brave enough to literally put his or her ass on the line was going to be treated as a huge, huge prize, and the extremely benevolent crowd was with us all the way.

There hadn’t been an auction on the ship before, and we knew things might start slowly, so Tambye convinced Claudia the International Hostess to go first. Claudia is blonde, German, and, I’ve since verified, is of normal height, but for some reason if you’re not looking at her carefully she seems to be about nine feet tall. Everyone started off at the same price of $30.00, and Claudia got the bidding up to $80. (Later, after everyone lost their minds and started bidding eye-popping amounts of money, Claudia was pissed about that, no matter how many times we explained that we needed the likes of her to get the ball rolling. We have promised her a better slot in the next auction.)

We didn’t have much more than people’s names to go on, and we’re still getting to know folks a bit, but in the end that made things more fun as Mike and I began to hit our groove and simply started making up obvious but flattering lies about the auctionees. They could defeat muggers of little old ladies, bench-press vans, and spin straw into gold.

And they were beginning to have fun too. They had volunteered to do something pretty damn scary and now were gradually getting into the groove of being treated like prizes. Mike and I, trying to keep track of who in the increasingly rowdy darkness was bidding for real and who was just waving to a friend and who had just bid in pesos again, got sillier and sillier as we began to enjoy it too. Mike got entertainingly theatrical about the mandatory $30 opening bid:

“I am going to start the bidding off – “

“NO!”

“At the incredibly low price – “

“You can’t! I won’t let you!”

“Mike, I have to.”

“IT’S TOO LOW! It’s ridiculous!”

“I am going to start the bidding at the scandalously low price of thirty dollars.”
[Mike throws his microphone to the ground and storms offstage in mock-fury.]

Meanwhile, I got a little more free-form. I distinctly remember describing one of the Canadian male hosts as a “slab of Canadian bacon” and another as a “man-stack of maple syrup.” So far they both seem OK with that.

The bidding started to climb as Mike and I got ever sillier and increasingly complimentary, but they REALLY got going when it became clear that a few bidders were fishing for real dates instead of just friendly dinners to help the crew refrigerator fund. Suddenly we were in Oklahoma! with the bids for the metaphoric picnic baskets jumping by $50 at a time. One girl spent $300 to keep her boyfriend from getting bought by his ex. Afterwards, Bianca the singer reported the following priceless conversation:

Girl: “I taught that dumb bitch a lesson!”
Bianca: “She would have paid $250 to have dinner with him in a restaurant that’s full of security cameras. You paid $300 and you can have dinner with him anytime for free. YOU’RE the dumb bitch.”

I love Bianca.

That little bidding war really set people off, though, and things got nuts. Officers began bidding against each other and occasionally against themselves just to keep the excitement going. One of the JARs began bidding against the high rollers to help drive people’s prices up and nearly shat himself when it looked like no one would top his bid of $475.

But Mike and I called out our “Going once… Going twice…” as slowly as we reasonably could and Scott the Hotel Director finally did. Bianca went for $500, and is worth every penny.

The Captain himself was a surprise auctionee at the end, which was really cool. He seemed a little shy about the whole thing, but was definitely game. I was glad he was a part of it – it helped the already-great spirit behind the whole night, and even though I am not a direct employee of the cruise line, there was a peculiar thrill to making up outrageous lies about the Captain. He went for $410, the final bid going to the ship’s nurse. “Oh, NO!” she wailed to me afterwards, “He’s married with kids and now everyone thinks I fancy him!”

If it’s any comfort to her, I’m guessing a fair percentage of the partygoers don’t remember the evening in much detail.

We ended the night with crazy techno music on the dance floor, and Ingar the Staff Captain was so tickled with the way it all went that he extended curfew by half an hour.

We went home sweaty and happy, and a LOT of people said hi to me in the crew passages the next day.

So I guess the lessons I learned were don’t feed the animals but do sell your colleagues.

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  1. Sounds like an amazingly fun night!

  2. […] took the incident as an important wee reminder that gibbons are real live wild animals with strong opinions rather than the adorable arboreal elves I’d been lazily turning them into in my […]


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