Saturday, 30 January, 1999. Boulder, Colorado.

For most of my trip I've been roughing it, sleeping out under the open stars, eating foods that are simple to prepare and keep well, taking a shower every few days at best. So it was a big change to board a cruise ship and be waited on hand and food.

Every few years, my grandmother tries to get the extended family together. For the past few gatherings, she has chosen cruise ships as our meeting ground and this time was no exception. This year, our family group included nine of us.

I assisted my parents in picking up my grandmother from her retirement community in Williamsburg, Virginia. Between the four of us we had a mound and a half of bags and suitcases. Not surprisingly suits don't pack quite as compactly as my usual t-shirts. My brother connected with us in Cancun, Mexico. Eric had learned to dive at quarry in Illinois with conditions worse than I had learned in. So our first plan was to see if we could squeeze in a dive or two before boarding the cruise ship.

My first "real" dive was awesome. Visibility was more than 60' and I didn't get the least bit cold either in the water or out. Beautiful coral and fishes floated by as we road the current. We barely had to swim, we just let the current take us along. Eric and I were psyched since didn't expect we'd get to dive in Cancun. This was my first opportunity to use my new mask with corrective lenses. Finally I didn't have to stick my nose in the coral to see things.

After being shown to our cabin, Eric and I went looking for the ship's diving director. The ship's published itinerary didn't list any opportunities for scuba diving. But when we told Penny, the dive director, we wanted to go diving, she was excited since she would now get to dive too. Can you catch a theme here?

Life aboard the ship was tough, real tough. If you were ever hungry, (which was hard to be) you could order room service 24 hours -- at no charge. No I didn't stay up all night eating! And the food was just a few steps up from what I had been cooking up for myself.

The ship's first destination was Belize City, Belize. The harbor was too shallow for our ship, so we had to anchor four miles off the coast. Since our ship was late in leaving Cancun, we were late in arriving in Belize. Eric and I had hoped to go diving, but no luck, all the dive boats had already left for the afternoon. So we took a local taxi cab out to the Belize Zoo. The zoo was interesting, but the cab ride was way more colorful. One the ride to the zoo, our driver asked if we minded if his girlfriend and son rode with us. Why not? Midway into the trip, they had a fight. They were shouting back and forth in Creole. Eric and I couldn't understand much than "fuck" which made up about every other word, but we got the gist. One the way back we had two less passengers. We didn't push asking why they weren't with us.

Penny had pulled through for us and arranged a dive trip the next day. Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world. The diving was great, with even better visibility than in Cancun. The coolest underwater creature was a hawksbill turtle sleeping on the bottom.

After Belize the ship headed down the Caribbean coast to Honduras. Honduras was heavily damaged this past fall by hurricane Mitch. Our guides said that development was pushed back 20 years, and they weren't that far advanced before the hurricane. From the coast, we took buses inland to Copan, one of the best preserved Mayan ruins. It was interesting seeing Mayan ruins after exploring Anasazi indian ruins this summer. We weren't supposed to go into any of the tunnels being excavated, but I stuck my head in anyway. Could see much before workers chased us out.

From Honduras we sailed to San Andreas Island. Where's that? San Andreas lies approximately 120 miles off the coast of Nicaragua, but is actually a providence of Columbia. The island is pretty small and located in the middle of the ocean. As a result the diving was incredible. The reefs here were the best so far, rivaling my previous top favorite, the British Virgin Islands. On our second dive we cruised around a the wreck of a fishing trawler which had sank a few years ago. Didn't go inside, but is was still pretty interesting.

One of the highlights of the trip was supposed to be traversing the Panama Canal. The logistics of the operation were pretty impressive, especially considering our ship only had two feet of clearance per side! Glad I wasn't driving! But the process was interesting to watch for the first lock, then became a little tedious.

For me the highlight of the trip came on our second to last day as we steamed up the pacific coast of Panama. Several times during the day we encountered pods of dolphins. I'd only ever seen dolphins jumping at dolphin shows responding to commands. But out here the dolphins were performing their own show, jumping the ship's wake. One dolphin nearly did a back flip. Sometimes two or three would jump at once. They looked like they were having a blast. Too bad we can't swim like they do.

After docking on the pacific side of Costa Rica we traveled to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. Most of my group returned early to keep school and work commitments. The last part of the trip was an aerial tram tour of the rain forest canopy. The aerial tram is basically a ski lift running through the jungle. The aerial vantage point provided an interesting view of the jungle, but unfortunately we didn't see that much wildlife.

After the cruise I stayed in Costa Rica for an additional week. Those adventures will follow in a subsequent journal posting.