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Exploring our world is one of life’s pleasures: Susannah Gal

Posted 6/27/18

Have you ever been on a cruise? I had my first experience in February when my older daughter and I traveled on a large boat with about 1,300 others in the Caribbean.

This was something we had …

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Exploring our world is one of life’s pleasures: Susannah Gal

Susannah Gal and her daughter, Christine Baxter, enjoy Costa Maya, Mexico.
Susannah Gal and her daughter, Christine Baxter, enjoy Costa Maya, Mexico.
photo courtesy of susannah gal
Posted

Have you ever been on a cruise? I had my first experience in February when my older daughter and I traveled on a large boat with about 1,300 others in the Caribbean.

This was something we had wanted to do together and to prepare for another cruise with my husband and younger daughter after she graduates from college next spring. Since no one in our immediate family had been on a cruise, my daughter and I decided to be their guinea pigs. I am so glad we did.

We traveled on a large cruise ship from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in mid-February, leaving in the evening to travel all day and night to arrive at our first destination, Costa Maya, Mexico. This port is also called Mahahual by the locals.

We had booked a tour of some Mayan ruins, which involved riding in a small 15-person van for about an hour to Chacchoben ruins. We had a wonderful tour of the grounds, although we were limited in how much we could walk on these stones placed by Mayans more than 1,600 years ago.

On the way back, our guide asked us if we wanted to stop for some fresh pineapple that had just been harvested by the locals in “Pineapple Town.” I love pineapple, so I heartily agreed. They have a wonderful way they “spice” up their pineapple by adding a bit of cayenne and salt to the slices. It added a great additional flavor to the fruit.

Next, we traveled to Belize City in Belize. That port isn’t deep enough for the large cruise ships to enter directly, so they had other small boats they called “tenders” to take us from the cruise ship to the port. In Belize City, my daughter and I discovered St. John’s Anglican Cathedral. This was a lovely small church with high ceilings and lots of open windows.

We also found the Bliss Center for Performing Arts. It was closed for tours, but the place was open, as a group of local young dancers were practicing for a performance as part of the art and culture fair in town that day. We met a nice guard there who talked with us about the local Garifuna music, which combines the cultural heritage and experience of African slaves and Caribbean natives.

The next night we traveled to Cozumel, Mexico. Here we had a chocolate, taco and tequila tour that was held at a Discover Mexico park. We started with a visit to the cultural museum, then were ushered into a room where we learned about chocolate and made our own bar, starting with grinding the cocoa beans and hand mixing in sugar and vanilla.

We then toured an outside garden in the park that included replicas of monuments from around Mexico, re-created at reduced size. They then treated us to a taco lunch with corn on the cob. We finished with a wonderful tequila tasting workshop where we learned how this drink is derived from the agave plant and how the different types — white, reposado and aged — are made. We slept well that evening.

The final stop on our cruise was Havana, Cuba, one of the main reasons we wanted this cruise. We were very curious whether the rumors about old cars and interesting people were true. The upshot was they were.

We arrived in the early afternoon and had to clear customs, spending about four hours in a people-to-people exchange in order to satisfy the government restrictions for visiting the country. This my daughter and I did with a tour of the city and its several squares. We visited a cultural place for older people and youth, and watched a rap group of senior women.

We then toured a park with a 75-foot-tall statue of Jesus made of a white marble that overlooked the city. Nearby, we visited the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress on that same hill, and later the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, protecting the entrance to the bay.

We toured several town squares. One was Revolutionary Square, where two buildings had iron relief images of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara on them. This was also one of the many places that had several classic old cars in bright colors waiting to take tourists on a tour of the town.

Near the end of the tour, we walked through three squares in old Havana, enjoying their unique character and charm. It was a very interesting day in this previously forbidden city.

The cruise was a wonderful experience and I accomplished all of the things I set out to do — not get sick, not gain weight, and stay friends with my daughter. I’ll elaborate on how I did all of these things.

The cruise ship meant that there would be germs from the many people locked up in the same place for several days (one week in our case). They recommended regular hand-sanitizing before and after each meal.

Related to overeating, I just tried to only eat when I was hungry and take smaller amounts — not the easiest to do when there are tons of à la carte options all the time (really good ones, too). I also tried to walk as much as I could (around the ship multiple times and up and down the stairs between our room, and the level with the pool and the bulk of the eating venues).

I also stayed friends with my older daughter despite being in a tiny two-bed room. We had opportunities to explore things and happenings in different parts of this massive boat. I mentioned them in one of my previous articles on lifelong learning. Some my daughter and I did together, more I did on my own, which might be one reason we stayed friends.

So the upshot is — take pleasure in life. Explore and learn about things when you can. We met some really interesting people on the cruise and you can as well.

Enjoy any vacation plans you have for the upcoming summer.

Susannah Gal is associate dean of research and outreach and a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg, and is a member of the Press & Journal Editorial Board. She has lived around the world and made Middletown her home in 2015. She can be reached at susannahgal1000@gmail.com.