Tracking down the muscle men

Evening Star reader Mavis Bensley is taking a cruise - and filing reports on the latest antics aboard back to Ipswich. Check out her latest instalment.

Sunday 14: I enjoyed Cartagena more than I thought I would.

The old town has a huge fortress to keep out invaders and pirates. Built by the Spaniards using African slave labour, taken by the French then by Francis Drake then by the Spanish again, repelling people such as Captain Morgan - talk about Pirates of the Caribbean - they've all been there.

The narrow streets have balconies where neighbours could chat. It was very picturesque, we had a drink and a folklore show then on to the sky-scrapered new town with shopping malls, which sold good quality emeralds - I was even given a free sample!

I was up very early on Monday to watch the transit of the Panama Canal. I counted 11 ships waiting to enter - some freighters, tankers and two cruise ships. Going through the locks was fascinating, one set filling with fresh water to raise us to the level of the lakes and another set lowering us to the level of the Pacific Ocean at Panama itself.

There were so many small islands with every shade of green imaginable. The vegetation was lush.

We passed dock yards, dredgers, tugs and buildings where people had gathered to wave and cheer QE2. It was a wonderful experience. I will never forget it.

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I was given a certificate commemorating the transit signed by the captain. The canal has been the highlight of the tour so far.

Panama City itself was very disappointing, it is either very run down, tin shacks or very modern skyscraper five star hotels. I did buy a panama hat though. Property is relatively cheap and I read an article on why one should buy there. The usual reasons such as second home, retirement, investment, escape from your own country, economical, safe and tax-friendly were given but the reason I liked best was “frivolous foreign law suits are not recognised and assets can truly be protected”.

Wednesday and Thursday were both sea days, plenty of things go on each day from the obvious like films, cookery, diving, shuffleboard (deck quoits), darts competitions, bridge classes, trivia quizzes, fitness classes etc, but there are one or two which are not so obvious therefore I set out to find out what they were about. First I went to “singles coffee” but I didn't stay. Too many wheelchairs and walking sticks about the place!

Next I went to look up “Friends of Dorothy” at their daily meeting and finally on to the “Friends of Lois and Bill W”. I can now categorise my passenger status as a single and alcoholic!

I met a lady from Bury St Edmunds who has family in Ipswich and Kesgrave. They have read the articles in the Evening Star and asked her to contact me, we had a nice chat over coffee.

I have put on a couple of pounds already so I take myself off to the gym to pound the treadmill to try to lose a few ounces.

Friday 19: At anchor in Acapulco. I went round a flea market and a cathedral in the old town. I couldn't resist going into Woolworths shop. It is not much different from back home. Then I climbed the hill to watch the cliff divers. Their ages ranged from about 14 to 25 and they were all very bronzed and fit. There were about a dozen of them diving from various points including the top of the cliff as singles, pairs or trios. It was frightening but wonderful to watch. They seemed to fly, float then plunge into the narrow gorge below. The cost for this spectacular was $3.50, about £2, with a bottle of beer (or water) included in the price.

Acapulco itself is a bit like me - past its best, but still chugging along. In its heyday it was the playground of the rich and famous, John Wayne, Errol Flyn, Tyrone Powers (who?) had homes here. Now they are film sets, museum pieces or tourist attractions. The waters are polluted and have to be cleaned regularly. Far more fashionable now is Puerta Vallorta further north.

The outbreak of Norovirus is still with us, sufficiently serious for the captain to clear the ship of all the passengers in LA.

Everyone has to disembark so the ship can be sanitized from stern to stern. All tours taken must last a full day - paid for by Cunard plus a free bottle of wine with an apology for any inconvenience.

We have been given an 11-page questionnaire to complete provided by the “Epidemiologist and Environmental Health Officers of USA Centre of Disease Control and Prevention”. No one is allowed back on board until the “all clear” has been given. Scary huh?

My chosen tour is the beaches of South California as I have already “done” the Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, Mann's Chinese Theatre (where the hand and footprints of the stars can be seen), Universal Studios and Disney. Bearing in mind there has been snow in Malibu and Santa Monica, which is unheard of, I don't expect to see any would be Arnold Schwarzenegger look-a-likes working out on muscle beach, but you never know, I just might get lucky!