News of the Cruise (Part 5: Don’t Cave In)

Mallorca, Minorca, Formentera, and Ibiza. We’re now a few years past 1957, at which time I was a junior at DeWitt Clinton H.S. in The Bronx. All of us were preparing for the regents exam in Spanish, assiduously poring over the Barron’s review book, which managed to condense three years of study into one yellow covered volume. Vocabulary, verb forms, grammar, idioms, questions about Spanish culture and other items of interest. How else would I have come to know about the Spanish playwright Lope de Vega? And then there were the Balearic Islands. For reasons I still do not understand, I was convinced that they were going to ask me to name the individual islands in this chain. And so, for days on end I went around repeating to myself Mallorca, Minorca, Formentera, and Ibiza, Mallorca, Minorca, Formentera, and Ibiza, until you could wake me at 3AM and ask me, What are the names of the Balearic Islands?, and I would repeat in singsong, Mallorca, Minorca, Formentera, and Ibiza. Much to my surprise, they did not ask me about the Balearic Islands. I did muddle through the exam, and to this day I can still recite the names of the four principal Balearic Islands – which never seemed of any great importance in my life, except that the very ship I was on, the Costa Diadema, was now on its way (full speed ahead) to Mallorca – definitely a long way from E. 208 St. in The Bronx.

We woke up Tues. morning and looked outside. Sure enough, the ship had been sailing all night and we were now heading towards our destination, right on schedule to arrive at 9AM. By the time we were ready to leave the ship – clutching our boxed lunches – the Diadema was safely moored in the city of Palma de Mallorca. Let’s get going! Except that 4,000 passengers all wanted to do the same thing at the same time. And for some reason, the stairs down to deck zero were cordoned off, so nobody was going anywhere.

They finally let us off, and 4,000 people began a mad scramble to find the right tour bus. Our three said “AACI”, and one of the staff people would be waving a sign: bus 1, 2, or 3. Off to the major attraction on the island, Cuevas del Drach.

There are caves, and there are caves. Just about a year ago, we had visited Rosh Hanikra, a cave very near the Lebanese border, similarly created by the seepage of sea water. Except that the caves on Mallorca were, what, ten times the size of the Israeli version and much more exciting. Plus it is privately owned (imagine THAT!), so the owners were free to create a proper visitors center and do what they felt best to heighten your experience.

Before it was our time to enter the caves, our guide, whose English was painful, collected a bundle of brochures and handed them out. Ummmm, you do remember that we collectively are English speakers, don’t you? Why are you giving us brochures in Spanish? (It could have been worse; the local language is Catalan, just as in Barcelona.) Let me see; can I do it? I picked up a brochure and started translating, using the Spanish I learned in J.H.S. 80 and DeWitt Clinton almost sixty years ago. The first paragraph was fairly easy; I was able to do 90% of it even without a dictionary. I stopped a minute to catch my breath. The second paragraph seemed a little harder. By this time, our guide had secured enough copies in English to give out. Saved by the bell! (I never know whether to laugh or cry. I’ve been in The Land now for over nine years, yet there’s no way I could have even begun to read the brochure in Hebrew. Pretty pathetic, isn’t it!)

Our turn to enter. Along with several hundred other people, we started wending our way down through the series of caves, over a thousand meters of walking and taking pictures. There were employees stationed every 100 meters or so, to make sure no one gets injured and to remind everyone against flash photography, but the guides were definitely outnumbered by the tourists taking pictures. Everyone has at least a smart phone, and everyone needs to take pictures of the stalactite and stalagmite formations, and you can’t do it without a flash. So the guards keep reminding, and the tourists keep ignoring.

Inside Cuevas Drach

The one place where they REALLY don’t want you to take pictures is at Lake Martel. (Wait a minute! I thought you were in a cave?) What they fancifully call a lake is a small body of water at the bottom of the caves. There was enough space around it to have created a sizeable amphitheater. And so it was that several hundred people assembled in a dimly lit chamber, not knowing what to expect. Slowly, two gondolas floated in from the left, carrying several musicians playing selections by Handel, Vivaldi, and Offenbach. The gondolas sailed the length of the open area, turned around, went back the other way, and disappeared from view. Ten minutes, that’s all it took, ten magical minutes. Whoever thought of this program should get an award of some kind. Wow! A perfect ending to a very special visit.

The show was over, and the hundreds of people inside climbed the stairs up to the exit. We had a few minutes to use the facilities, peruse the souvenirs, and get a cup of coffee before getting on the correct bus and heading back to Palma de Mallorca – an actual city of over 400,000 residents.

Street scene Palma de Mallorca

We had a little time to wander around the port area before heading back to the ship with a few hours to spare before dinner – certainly enough time for a proper nap. The four of us reconvened for dinner, and – lo and behold – there was now kosher wine on board! Now I can’t say it was very good wine; in fact, I can say that under normal circumstances it would not have graced our goblets. But, as I keep on repeating, desperate times call for desperate measures. We’ll take a bottle, thank you very much.

After dinner, we began our effort to recreate one of our cherished collectives memories from our cruise to Greece in 2009: sitting, relaxing, and schmoozing on the stern (the rear part) of the ship, sheltered from the wind, looking at the sky and watching the proverbial waves roll by. Except we were still in port, so what we saw that evening were the other ships in the harbor and the enormous cathedral in town, all lit up. Barbara L. had earlier come upon a lovely lounge on the fifth deck, which became the headquarters for the Stern Gang – open to anyone who wanted to join us. Now among the good things the organizers had done was purchase a children’s drink package for all of us. That meant that we could order any non-alcoholic drink or cocktail – including coffee – at no extra charge. What a deal! Coffee with soy milk? No problem. A pot of green tea? No problem. I could get used to this! In fact, I would, for we would be on board the entire next day, as the Diadema went sailing, sailing to our next port of call, the second largest island in the Mediterranean, Sardinia.

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