Behold! The smoldering crater at Halema’uma’u on Mauna Loa, which has been in continual eruption for something like thirty years. During the day it produces poison gasses; by night a scarlet glow.
I was taken from Honolulu to the Big Island by the Celebrity cruise ship Millennium, which is now carrying me farther south along with a couple thousand other people.
Walter on a cruise ship? I hear you asking. What in the world is Walter doing on a cruise ship?
My friends have heard me denouncing the very idea of cruise ships. They are little cities on the ocean, and carry with them all that cities imply: crowding, environmental degradation, high prices, vice, corruption, and pollution. (Not that I have a problem with the vice, necessarily.) I’ve been underwater and seen what happens when a 10,000-ton anchor is dropped on a coral reef. (Death and sand, mostly.) And even if the ship ties up to a pier, something’s got to make way for the pier. I’ve dived the aptly-named Paradise Reef in Cozumel, which was dynamited to make way for their new cruise ship pier. Farewell, paradise.
And of course I’ve been diving at night in a lovely Mexican bay when it was subjected to an underwater blizzard of toilet paper and everything else that toilet paper implies. Maybe it was an accidental discharge from the cruise ship tied up nearby; maybe it was a deliberate action under cover of night.
Anyway, try loving cruise ships after an experience like that.
But here I am anyway. And the reason I’m here has to do with the total eclipse of the sun taking place in the South Pacific on the morning of November 12.
There’s simply no better way to view that particular eclipse than from the deck of a ship. (Well, I could go to northern Australia and get eaten by crocodiles while dodging the bad weather and something called the Eclipse Marathon.) So here I am on the ship for 16 days, in order to view an eclipse that will last for something less than four minutes.
Fortunately there are other eclipse enthusiasts present, most courtesy of TravelQuest, which specializes in eclipse trips. There will be lectures by actual scientists, notably astronomical superstar Mike Reynolds, who was an astronaut candidate and who just had an asteroid named after him. (We were introduced prior to the trip by the lovely Patricia Rogers, a mutual friend.) And if there’s cloud cover during the eclipse, the ship’s captain can race for the nearest spot of sun.
I have to say, though, that my initial introduction to the Celebrity line was not encouraging. Our cab dumped us off on the far side of a parking lot. Two huge lines of passengers had formed already. We had too much baggage to haul around with us, including a delicate telescope and a big bag of scuba gear.
What we needed, actually, was one of those four-wheel carts that you see in hotels. But none were available. I saw someone hauling bags around in a cart, and was told that what I needed was a porter.
I didn’t need a porter, I needed a cart. We were perfectly okay with hauling our own bags in a cart, provided a cart was available, but unfortunately carts only came with porters, and there were only maybe four porters in total. Clearly the porters were in charge, and if the porters let people haul their own carts around, the porters’ tips would suffer. So I went off to where the porters were unloading their carts, and refused to leave until one of the porters came with me.
At one point a security guard came up to me and told me I had to get in a line. “Which is the line for porters?” I asked. She didn’t have an answer for that, so I stayed.
After a quarter of an hour or so I acquired a friendly young porter. “Where are your bags?” he asked.
“At the far end of the parking lot, in the care of my wife, who is the one leaning on her cane and fainting in the sun.” (My friends will be amazed to discover that I am capable of sarcasm.)
At any rate, the problem was soon solved, and we discovered that once the porter had our bags, we didn’t have to stand in line, we got to cut in front of everyone and go straight to the three or so security checks, the x-ray machine, and then the mighty ship itself.
I guess there is some benefit to wandering around at random and pitching a fit at everybody one meets.
On a cruise ship, the food and entertainment are free, and everything else isn’t. I am charged a mighty fee for use of the wifi, and so I will be checking in only every two or three days, and I’ll be going on to post here and to check email. Browsing costs too much, so I won’t be doing it. Much.
Unless I’m really, really bored.