Thoughts for Today
From the real world, sublime and challenging
Costa Rica, a tropical railway and crocodiles-
with bananas and coffee…
The four-day sailing to Costa Rica and its largest port of Puerto Limon meant many things. We were never far away from live music and strange ceremonies on the good ship Balmoral. On the first day sailing we had the 9am Morning Prayer in the Observatory (153 steps up) commending these sea days and every day in thanksgiving. This meant all eventualities were faced. I helped one of the passengers to work on a funeral order of service for a close loved one back home. Sudden bereavement a long way from home is always challenging.
Several times on this voyage I led fellow passengers in ‘mirror’ services to remember loved ones on the day and time of the service back home. This means so much to those involved and to the families wherever they are. The Fred Olsen line usually has a Chaplain on board on voyages of over 21 days duration.
Longer voyages give the time to reflect on many things and much of the Chaplaincy role is to be there when people need to share particularly challenging life events. They are also there to witness much fun like the crossing of the Equator. King Neptune, his Queen and consorts (my fellow members of the ‘entertainments team’) pronounce the taxing sentences on different members of the Staff and Crew (650 altogether). This includes the kissing of the fish and a thorough dunking fully clothed into the swimming pool. Friday 21st February was the turn of our Captain Henrik and Stelios the Executive Chef.
In contrast there was soothing music from Soprano Lindsay Aldrich and Tenor David Fearn, both recent scholars from the Royal College of Music. It was a good preamble to afternoon 4pm tea, and before table tennis. There was the Emergency Crew Drill on the eve of our arrival in Puerto Limon, an event which happens reassuringly every two weeks. Interest groups were invited during the cruise to meet with hospitality, and this day it was the turn of any members past or present from the Girl Guides and Scout Association. This was well attended and so varied. On top of that, the evening entertainment after dinner was the treat of Steve V. King telling and singing us the story of the formation and recent history of the Drifters.
Steve performs out of the UK and was for 7 years lead singer of the official Drifters. He brought the house down and performed later in the cruise on deck on a balmy Caribbean evening.
Early morning of Monday 24th February Puerto Limon swept into view with the local band singing on the quay ‘Welcome to Limon’ in calypso style. We were coached to the Tortuguero National Park and the river of that name leading to the mangroves.
Costa Rica means ‘rich coast’ and has a population of 5 million people. This part of the country represents the mixed Afro-Caribbean community comprising Italian, Jamaican and Chinese labourers who built the Limon to San Jose railroad during the 19th century. It fought for, and gained its independence from Spain in 1821. Christopher Columbus dropped anchor off Limon in 1502. African slaves were acquired in 1569 for the Cocoa plantations but their emancipation wasn’t achieved until 1824. The Costa Rican government did not recognize the Afro Caribbean people as citizens until 1948 and even then their movements were restricted to the Limon province. Many to this day have English names and speak English with a Jamaican accent. Carnival time in Limon has been celebrated on 12th October since their citizenship was granted.
The trade winds and the tropical rain forest (with an average temperature of 25 degrees C ) export a huge coffee and banana crop from the Central Valley. Our eco-river trip was preceded by the story of bananas. Twenty bananas grow from each leaf of the plant, producing a big bunch. The process takes a full 9 months from the bulb called rhizome to maturity. Its 6-12 day freezer container voyage to us then continues in the ripening rooms before arriving in the shops and supermarkets in UK. The banana takes its name from the Arabic word for finger. Along with tomatoes they are the most popular fruit in the world.
We did not expect to come so close to the three-toed sloth on this wild day but we did and saw Mum protecting her newborn baby in the upside down position.
Exotic does not describe this trip. It was more than that. Within a few miles we encountered a bare throated Tiger Heron, the great blue Heron, Baliscus Lizards, a Jesus Lizard, a spectacled Caiman (who winked at us) and Howler monkeys in numbers. That was before the giant termite nests, gleaming swallows from the mangroves and the delicate tiny Artibious bats hanging from the ‘OMG’ railroad bridge (already mentioned) which has seen better days. Fresh pineapple and banana refreshed us as we watched the Costa Rican dance troupe give us their local dances and invited daring limbo participants.
We returned to our ship through the city of brightly-coloured park areas and municipal buildings of Limon.
The next day I had negotiated Ash Wednesday should be Ash Tuesday as we were due to be in port at Cartagena de Indias, Colombia on the actual Holy day. Ash Tuesday was much appreciated. It is not very often that you get ahead of the rest of the Christian world!
Viva Costa Rica – Viva Columbia to come.
Edward and Jane