A suitcase full of memories
Feb. 16, 2015
by Ivan Raconteur

I recently returned from a voyage billed as a “Tropical Discoveries Cruise.”

It was certainly that. My eldest brother and I saw some marvelous things during our 10-day adventure.

We explored Mayan ruins, toured the second-largest coral reef in the world, and saw some places that were very different than Minnesota.

Perhaps I’ll write about some of our adventures in a future column.

Today, however, I am thinking of the people we met along the way.

Sights and attractions often get the most attention, but people can be more interesting than places.

We flew out of Minneapolis on a dark, frigid January morning, and emerged into Miami sunshine.

The first person we met was an ancient woman who greeted us by name at the baggage carousel.

I say she was ancient, because the multitude of lines on her deep black face told the story of a life well lived, but she didn’t seem old.

She was small, but wiry, and grabbed our bags before we could stop her and loaded them on a cart.

She was a tiny bundle of energy, overflowing with the joy of living.

I never caught her name, because she never stood still long enough for me to read her name tag.

She had a wonderful, rich laugh, and kept up a nonstop commentary as we made our way across the airport.

She worked for the cruise line, and her job was to meet us at the baggage claim and escort us to the bus that was waiting to take us to the pier.

We learned that when she was younger, she had been a dog breeder in Pennsylvania, but she said the Florida sunshine had beckoned and she never looked back.

She admitted she was 70 years old, and said she planned to live until she was 119.

“I have a lot of adventures still to go on,” she said simply.

Something tells me she will reach that goal.

The next person we met was Yudi, our butler during the cruise. He appeared at the door of our suite soon after we boarded the ship.

He wore a black tuxedo with long tails and white gloves.

For the next 10 days, he attended to our every need, and kept us informed about activities aboard the ship.

Yudi makes his home in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. He shared stories with us about the rainy season in his country.

Yudi is a veteran of cruise lines, and also worked at a hotel in Dubai at one time.

He looked to every last detail, including decorating our suite for my brother’s 61st birthday, and ordering a birthday cake for the celebration.

Our stateroom steward, Ilyas, lives in India, and was four months into his first job on a cruise ship when we met him (crew members spend eight months at a time working aboard ship, and then have four months off).

Ilyas kept our suite spotless, and was as cheerful as the Florida sunshine. He was smiling every time I saw him.

On our first evening aboard the ship, we met Michael, a bartender.

He is another veteran of cruise ships. He told us about his wife and two boys, ages 8 and 4.

One of his more unusual experiences on a cruise ship was spending a week docked in New Orleans during a Super Bowl. He explained there were not enough hotel rooms, so cruise ships were brought in to provide additional capacity.

Although there is no need to share a table on a cruise, I recommend doing so periodically just to meet other travelers.

Early in our voyage, we had dinner with Bill and Jackie, who are originally from Pennsylvania, but now live in Colorado. We were joined by Mike and Jill from the United Kingdom.

All of our fellow diners were frequent cruise travelers, and shared fascinating stories about their lives and travels.

It was pleasant to chat with them again as our paths crossed at various other times during the cruise.

While some of our fellow passengers were veterans of the high seas, others, like me, were on their first cruise.

We met Laurie at a cultural exhibition and tequila tasting event.

Laurie was born in Minnesota, and later lived for a year in Duluth, among other places.

She now makes her home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

She was full of enthusiasm, and every time she saw us after our first meeting, she would yell, “Hey Minnesota!” and stop to chat and ask about our journey.

Each day of our cruise, we took excursions into the countries we visited. We were fortunate to have exceptional, well-informed guides throughout the trip. They shared a wealth of information, as well as providing local perspective.

Our cruise would not have been nearly as rich without their contributions.

I am grateful for the people I have met while traveling. They make the world smaller by showing the many things we have in common, and, at the same time, make it more interesting by sharing their individual perspectives.

At its best, travel is not something we do on our own. It is the shared experiences that are the sweetest and most memorable.

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