Written 03/28/2013, somewhere along the Mexican Riviera.
I’m currently on a cruise ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Not the true middle. We are, in all reality, just over twelve miles west of the Mexican coast. The last few days have been filled with friends, whiskey, music, and (perhaps too much) sun.
For our third anniversary, my wife Amanda and I decided to cruise the Mexican Riviera. But instead of going alone we invited our friends Tim and Ben. With these two, alongside a group of old and new friends that work on the ship, we’re surrounded. Just the way we like it.
Last night, after a sorry attempt to watch Skyfall “under the stars,” Amanda decided she needed to get some sleep. So Ben, Tim and I ditched the movie as well to get a drink.
Benedict and Brandy and stories.
We’re traveling with Princess Cruises. A line known for its appeal to the 50+ crowd, so the activities are aimed at people who aren’t generally very mobile, and those that are, stylistically, stuck in the late 80s and early 90s. Ice and fruit carving demonstrations, health classes that teach women “how to keep [their] skin from wrinkling.”
Luckily, on this ship, there is a surprising amount of talent. The comedians have been hilarious. (While always nodding to their generally more conservative audience: “See, I believe you can be funny without using profane language!” With some of these guys, that’s entirely debatable.) And many of the independent musicians on board are top notch.
The bar we found ourselves in last night features a nightly jazz quartet, straight out of Los Angeles, and they know their way around a jazz standard. They provided the backdrop for many late night conversations, and lots of things said in silence.
On the opposite end of the ship on the very top floor, there’s another club. This one features a DJ and is billed as a place for the “young” and “young at heart” to “get down” and “groove.” While dancing has never—and likely will never—be something I’m remotely interested in, we spent quite a few late nights there hanging out with crew members and friends.
We danced and laughed and yelled over the horrible music the DJ was trying desperately to spin until 2am. Some of us shut the place down.
What makes cruising so interesting to me, though, is the ocean.
I know there’s no shortage of writing about the sea, but let me tell you, it is vast and it is terrifying. No matter how much dancing, drinking, eating or singing you experience on a ship, and no matter how big the boat you’re on, the ocean is just over the railing to remind you just how small you really are.
After our drinks and jazz and storytelling, we took a walk around deck seven—the only deck that will take you all the way around the ship. It was midnight and pitch black. We stopped at the stern, or very back, of the ship and stared over the railing as the ship’s massive propellers chopped up the water, leaving a white-cap in the wake that was visible maybe 30 meters out.
White water and then…
As terrifying at it is though, there’s a stinging curiosity, staring out at the sea that late at night over a 5' railing:
What would happen if I jumped in?
What would happen if I fell into the water right now?
Yes, there are security cameras and mechanisms in place to save me, but what if I just want to know what it feels like for the world to be absolutely quiet? To feel complete helplessness, loneliness, and fear for just a little bit before someone pulls me back to safety.
Most people go on cruises to relax and experience new things. And, don’t get me wrong, I do too. My wife is a bit obsessed with traveling this way, so we’ve been on more cruises in our first three years of marriage than many people ever go on, so we’ve been around, seen and done some things.
We’ve climbed a volcano in Guatemala, played with parrots in Columbia, kayaked in Costa Rica, swam to a floating bar in Honduras after snorkeling for hours, fallen asleep on multiple beaches on islands all across the Caribbean, and avoided Señor Frogs’ overpriced tacos, opting instead for street food in Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas.
We’ve had so many amazing experiences but, still, my favorite thing about cruising—or being out on the ocean at all—is walking to the back of the boat and feeling infinitely small.
I find that after staring out into essentially nothing, scared straight, I’m able to think clearly again. It’s as if I’m somehow giving myself a mental second chance by just being curious about what it might feel like to not be “in control” of things for a little bit.
Turns out curiosity is almost as good as jumping in.
“Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love—but sometimes it was so hard to love. Sometimes my heart was sinking so fast with anger, desolation and weariness, I was afraid it would sink to the very bottom of the Pacific and I would not be able to lift it back up.”
- Yann Martel, ‘Life of Pi’