Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lessons from St. Thomas

It seems odd returning to cruise blogs while I am immersed in back-to-school craziness. I'm planning classes, training sessions and meetings, but writing about islands that seem even farther away than they did a week ago.

Keeping those places close is one of the reasons I am an inveterate souvenir collector, a trait I have passed on to my daughter. When I go on a trip, I like to bring back souvenirs that will truly bring to mind the French origin of the word - se souvenir - to remember. I'm not a photographer (I bow to the superior skills of my husband and my daughter), so post cards are one of my favorite things to buy because once the images in my mind begin to fade, the post cards can resurrect them for me.

Now that I've returned to not only the real world, but work as well, I'm taking great pleasure in some of the small, inexpensive items I scooped up. The lanyard in Royal Caribbean colors (also my elementary school's colors) that I wore to to work the other day brought back vivid images of the Promenade deck on the ship. The starfish key ring, which changes colors in the sunlight, that I purchased at Del Sol in St. Maarten, reminds me of the trip each time I look at it, and reminds me to adopt a more relaxed attitude in a time that sometimes feels anything but relaxed. (Beginning of year testing? Swine flu plans? Finding all the things I put in safe places last June??)

Another souvenir from our trip is less tangible, but more meaningful. St. Thomas was our port of call after St. Maarten, and our first (and only) stop was Magen's Bay. We all loved the beach, but no one loved it more than my daughter, who spent as much time as possible in the water, which was calm and perfect for swimming and so clear that she could see fish in the water.

We were getting ready to leave when we were faced with an unexpected, but quickly resolved health crisis. Nonetheless, it required the assistance of the lifeguards. I was amazed and unbelievably grateful that it also brought help from bystanders and other local residents (most notably, a very chivalrous taxi driver).

Best of all, I was reminded that there are good people everywhere. What could have been terrifying in an unfamiliar place was quickly resolved as the people around us helped us thoroughly, without question, and with no expectations of anything in return.

When you go on a cruise, you expect to be pampered - it's part of the package. Hungry? There's always somewhere to find food. Don't like the choices on the dinner menu? Ask your waiter to bring you something you really want. Bored? Check out the listings of things to do on the ship. Beds are made for you, meals are cooked to your liking, and you never, ever have to wash dishes.

When you dock in an unfamiliar place and get off the ship, it's not as easy to know what to expect.Though the things that concerned me seemed important at the time, in retrospect, they were so very minor. Are the people being honest? Can that taxi driver be trusted, or should you take a bus with lots of other people instead? I never stopped to wonder what would happen if we got sick, or if people would truly help us if we needed it.

As it turns out, I didn't have to worry about those things anyway, and the answer to those questions may be the best souvenir I brought back from my trip.

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