Port o’ call: Manta Ecuador

A periodic cleaning of closets and garage allows me to reminisce over photographs and memorabilia of travels while I was in the Navy. In the 1990s, deployment aboard the USS TEXAS (CGN39) and later, USS PETERSON (DD969), gave me opportunities to use Spanish, French and Russian I learned in school in the prior decade. However, it was Spanish that gave me some “street cred” with my shipmates when we visited Central and South America. Though deployments from West Coast bases or East Coast bases tend to visit the same ports, my opportunity to visit Ecuador twice, was as result of being aboard these two ships. The USS TEXAS was a cruiser based out of Alameda, California, and the USS PETERSON was based out of Norfolk, Virginia.

Looking at some images, it does seem incredible that thirty years has passed since I made the first of four Navy transits of the Panama Canal. On the way to Ecuador, I became a Shellback, in a ceremony while crossing the equator just east of the Galapagos Islands. Though the Manta I recall is likely to have changed – this image from Pinterest suggests it is more brightly lit, I wonder what an orphanage we served – entertaining kids, bringing skateboards and games, is like in 2022? I do imagine that the orphans have a much more modern – or well-painted facility. On my second visit, the nuns told me that the classroom I painted (two years earlier I painted a clown with balloons there) had seen several coats of paint from other ship visits!

Manta, Ecuador beachfront (date unk), from Pinterest
US Navy’s “Operation Handclasp” doesn’t clown around

Two people we encountered spoke English; one was a retired US Marine who moved there with his Ecuador-born wife, and a kid from New York City, who became our tour guide in Manta. We stopped for a cold Pepsi at a shop, and the kid -speaking English with a Brooklyn accent- greeted us. He was spending the summer with his uncle, the shop owner. While I spoke Spanish well enough to negotiate hotel accommodations at the beach and bargain with the street vendors, it was good to have a streetwise negotiator on hand. I think it was he who told me about carved tagua nut carvings and Panama hats being made in Manta. Thirty years later, I have thrown away or lost among the boxes of trinkets, a fishnet hammock, a “vegetable ivory” carved tarantula and a “Panama hat”.

Local boys making wicker items

Travel was always the biggest perk in the Navy, though as I learned from my travels, some world-travelers set foot on different continents by having a valuable skill and a sense for adventure. In Manta, there was a British man who was going around the world, using his Fisheries Science education to help with protecting and preserving the fishing industries in countries like New Zealand where he had last lived for a few years to Ecuador where he was now employing those skills. I imagine it was a little easier than traveling from hostel to hostel with a few dollars in ones pocket. That sort of vagabond life, at my age is a non-starter; and don’t get my wife started on bring a tent along.

Ports of call: memories of Cartagena Spain

“JOIN THE NAVY AND SEE THE WORLD”

Navy recruiting slogan in the mid- 20th Century

High school Spanish, as well as years living in southern Arizona near the Mexican border made travel in Latin America easier. Traveling to Spain, on the other hand, was a little more of a challenge. I was amused that they do not necessarily speak “Spanglish” or the Sonoran (Mexico) dialect there.

My second Mediterranean deployment on the USS PETERSON, a SPRUANCE-class guided-missile destroyer, began in October, 1994. One of the first ports we visited was Cartagena. Located in the state of Murcia, it is a port city that has seen sailors on its streets for a few thousand years. Having lived and visited modern cities, from San Francisco to London, UK, seeing a Roman-era coliseum and medieval architecture as well as only a few-centuries-old buildings, was fascinating.

Cartagena, Spain, a bit more modern after thirty years (image via web)

I ventured out on liberty alone, trusting that my Spanish would help me get around. A family-run cafe, Restaurante Casa Pepe, (a small lighter I kept all these years in trinket box, reminds me of that port visit), welcomed me. It was from a son who offered to show me around his city, when I learned that Murcia has a distinct dialect from Castilian or other Latin America dialects. (When I traveled to Panama, speaking something like a resident of northern Sonora definitely obscured that I was an American). We joked as to whose Spanish was “really” Spanish (or “Mur’th’ia -n”).

I should plan to visit the places I saw while in the Navy. I may live in America’s “finest city” (open to debate), but I would like to stand again where Romans, Arab merchants, Etruscans and Jesus apostles stood. Though I think I will upgrade our mode of travel. Anything more luxurious than a Navy ship is preferable.

A day at the zoo

feeding the tykes at the Zoo

My grandson is too young to appreciate the zoo. But I think the time spent at the San Diego Zoo, was decidedly beneficial for our son and his wife, to get a little time to themselves, and for Gramma (and Grampa) to have time with the little one.

Tasmanian Devil

A toddler, now in his third month of real mobility, enjoys hustling around out of the stroller. Under the watchful eyes of grandparent a half-step behind, of course. Fortified with cereal ‘puffs’, he finds plant fronds and shredded bark satisfy -for a time- his need to be touching everything.

Maybe in a couple months he will find the animals fascinating. With the petting zoo under construction for the next 18 months, we may check out other sights around San Diego. But all of us will be back soon. While I enjoy being out and about on weekends with the grandson, we now have annual passes to the Zoo. And for Grampa’s exercise plan, there’s nothing like pushing a toddler in a stroller from the far end of the park, up the long hill to the Zoo entrance.

African Eland

road trip

Lancaster to Victorville may get a new highway, (LA Times, 2018)

Driving north into the western Mojave desert in early September had not been on my “bucket list” of places to visit. Had it not been for our now four-month old business, I would not have gotten to chat with some interesting people living and working in “the middle of nowhere”. And I wouldn’t have taken a scenic tour of the western Mojave.

vicinity of Lancaster, CA (wikipedia.org)

A trip to Lancaster, near Palmdale, California was on company business for my spouse and me. Surprisingly, it became a “road trip”. For those unaccustomed to visiting the high desert, the most expeditious way to visit Lancaster is coming from the east, from the I-15 ( in the vicinity of Victorville). But those we were spending three hours on I-15 from San Diego were likely heading to Las Vegas. They pass completely by Antelope Valley and missed the rock formations, pinyon pines, Joshua trees, and the classified military-industrial complex in Palmdale. For nursing students this weekend, successfully completing their written and practical skills exams would be their ticket to immediate employment in California. For these kids, who were no older than toddlers when the area was known for the last landings of the Space Shuttle at Edwards AFB during the ’80s and ’90s they had the “Right Stuff”. No spaceship needed.

Seaport Village

How many residents of a place that boasts dozens of “touristy” things to see and do, in of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States, frequent them on weekends? And particularly on a beautiful Saturday in the middle of summer? If seven sat at the same table in Seaport Village during the noon hour bustle there may be more than I imagined.

Living twenty minutes to the east of San Diego (judging by Sunday morning traffic), with our kids grown, we have gone to restaurants there for special occasions. So it was a special treat for another married couple, and my wife and I, friends for many years, to go to Seaport Village. Many people may visit San Diego for conventions (Comicon is coming soon), and the Gas Lamp district bars and restaurants is popular with a crowd thirty years my junior. A few minutes away from these, Seaport Village, in years past for my wife and I was a “date destination”. Little craft shops, boutiques, and ice cream and sweets – I admit, I prefer the ice cream to the shop selling handbags – but we enjoyed today as much as in the past. A photographer displayed some captivating images of the area with touches he described took thousands of images and a full day sometimes to capture and then superimpose.

Today the big challenge was finding seating with one of our party in a wheelchair. While the two husbands waited for the burgers, our wives were fortunate: a family invited us to join them. They were also “locals”, which to all of us (except my spouse, a native San Diegan) meant we came from other parts of the country and settled down.

One of the favorite areas that has been restored and re-purposed, is the former San Diego Police headquarters (dating from the 1930s) adjacent to Seaport Village. Though I have been in San Diego more than 20 years, I never noticed what it would become in the last couple years. It was at the suggestion of our lunchmates that we went over to see “the Headquarters” shops, and see what the old jail cells looked like seventy years ago. Where a board has dozens of mug shots of former burgulars, “weedheads”, and petty criminals on display, we all took turns getting a photo op.

There is a lot of San Diego worth visiting for first-time visitors, newlyweds, convention-goers and even some curmudgeon retired Navy people. As long as Haagen-Dazs ice cream is available afterward.

hiking veterans

Wearing a “veteran” ballcap starts conversations.

Lord’s soldier

The “San Diego Chargers” jersey worn by a twenty-something man I met near the summit of Angel’s Landing trail prompted me to ask whether he was a Los Angeles -based fan or one from San Diego. From Temecula, Californi, he and his buddies were up in Zion for a “men’s retreat”; among the faith community, that is “code” for a spiritual bonding time. We talked about our respective churches and our military service. As a Navy veteran, he asked me whether I had been to the Philippines; his father had joined the Navy from there. Eugene was an Army veteran. I told him about my son, an Army veteran. Eugene knew Fort Bragg. He and my son, were sort of, but not quite, following in each respective fathers’ footsteps. One of his companions was a veteran of the Iraq war. Both were now college students. As we talked, I encouraged him to endure the bureaucracy of the VA medical evaluation process (he had gone once and was discouraged by the red tape) to get service-connected injuries treated – or compensated. Being young men of faith as well as warriors, these newly encountered Brothers encouraged me. Like me, though my friends and several dozen people attempted the narrow and very physically-demanding ascent to the “Landing”, I knew these guys had nothing to prove to themselves. Military services do the difficult every day. The impossible generally takes just a bit longer.

DOD recorder

There weren’t but one or two available seats on the crowded shuttle bus from the Temple of Sinawawa stop in Zion National Park. It was a thirty-minute ride back to the parking lot. Looking tired and a little irritated, the large man ( solid, not stocky) squeezed into the last available seat, directly across from me. He looked at my ballcap and thanked me for my service. We chatted. He was taking in Zion while his wife was at some military event in San Diego. He is a civilian archivist for the DOD, which lead to talking about history, this blog, and travel. Apparently, Lake Powell should be on my “bucket list”. One of the things that all this military reminiscing lead to was to get some coffee prior to starting back to the hotel in St. George.

View of the Virgin River in Zion NP. Angel’s Landing trail.
Though some start, few finish the ascent to the very top

“Airdale” trucker

Tomahawk night launch, Red Sea, 1993

On Saturday morning, the motel cafe was busy. All eight little tables were occupied. At one table, a man about my age wore a Desert Storm veteran ballcap. I asked him what service, and he responded Navy. I was also a Desert Storm veteran. He offered me a seat. Mike had been an Navy “airdale”, the Navy nickname for a member of the aviation support community. An aviation ordnance technician, he served a carrier airwing in the Persian Gulf during the conflict. We chuckled about engineers who design but never actually tried to use some things in aircraft he worked on; trying to remove an assembly where you could neither lay flat or reach overhead comfortably, but in one case having to crouch the whole time removing it. My companion, a retired DOD engineer, feigned dismay. A couple of comments he made, however, suggested he was a little more ‘dismayed’ than he let on. The trucker at the table across from us was also a military veteran, though from the prior conflict. As Mike and I chatted about the Navy, missed advancement opportunities (if only those darn Master Chiefs would retire so others could move up the career ladder!), and life after the military, the more I got to thinking how a community, a brotherhood, sisterhood, or more accurately – a large extended family one can meet all over the country.

Community. Often it starts with a ballcap, a veteran-themed t-shirt, or other, and an interest in getting to know someone.

club for erudite Old Salts

A Thursday evening discussion with an acquaintance over cigars, as retired Navy Chiefs, we were amicably discussing the Navy “salty” life, adventure, and places familiar to each of us around the world. With a lifetime of experience including travel to the same parts of former Soviet bloc countries, we then opined on 21st Century socialist nations. While rigid politically, some tacitly approve of workers ‘capitalist’ use of an underground economy to support their families. He illustrated discussing the merits of fine Cuban cigars he obtained. Skilled cigar rollers have access to tobacco, paper and other accessories to make – after the day’s production was completed and inventoried – some personal cigars to provide under-the-table income. He learned of accessing such side channels during global business travel. And tonight, the ‘entrepreneurial’ wheels in my mind started turning. In a Progressive future, there will always be those who obtain – and those who will then purchase – a premier cigar.

fourteen

What was your biggest accomplishment when you were a teenager?
When I was fourteen, I was responsible enough to arrive at my assigned work at 4:45 AM daily, load a hay wagon, and then feed 80 horses. And in the late afternoon, repeat it all again. I was determined to trade labor for horseback riding lessons. That was on a dude ranch in Arizona where I learned responsibility, animal psychology, ranch operations, and customer service. That was forty years ago. Every generation hears how their predecessors “walked uphill in the snow, both ways, to school and back”. In an age where many are fixated on social media, feel subject to hardship and discrimination without government mandates, and may be emotionally scarred because of others’ contrary views, it is not universal. It may only be a minority opinion.

Becoming an entrepreneur at the age of ten, Noa Mintz, at age sixteen founded a New York City childcare agency, (vetting nannies)and was among those entrepreneurs under age 18 featured in Fortune magazine (2016). Eugenie de Silva, starting at the University of Leicester (UK) in 2015, graduated age 16, from Harvard, through distance learning, with a Masters in Liberal Arts. A pilot, Mason Andrews, completed a circumnavigation of the globe in 2018, as the youngest to do so – at age 18.

And then there is the young Dutch woman, Laura Dekker, who at 14 set off in a sailboat to circumnavigate -solo- the world in 2011. She had been born to a sailing family, and had been dreaming of sailing the world since the age of ten. She had the support of her parents, but had to fight the Dutch authorities in court to be permitted to get underway. For more than five hundred days she navigated and explored the places along her route. A film produced by National Geographic presents her video record of her travels.

film trailer at http://www.maidentrip.com

And finally, there is Jordan Romero, who at age 13, with his father, reached the summit of Mount Everest, in 2009, and by the age of 15 years, 5 months , became the youngest person to climb the Seven Summits (the highest peaks in each of the seven continents).

From circumnavigating the globe, climbing mountain peaks, graduating from a most prestigious university, or becoming a successful entrepreneur, children who attempt the difficult, and refuse to have their dreams quashed, demonstrate that if you have a dream and are determined to succeed, you can. Leave the participation trophy to others.

Labor freedom

As a retired military man I am grateful that I am not deployed to far away seas these days.  In San Diego,  this holiday weekend has been an opportunity to meet with friends.  Saturday with an outdoor concert by the San Diego Symphony at the downtown waterfront ending with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (with cannons!),  Sunday with a gathering at Mission Bay,  and today for breakfast at a restaurant our friends have enjoyed since the husband was a child.

Hob Knob Hill, San Diego

Dana Landing, Mission Bay

music lovers, San Diego waterfront

40670115_10213349268473356_2841476309207482368_n
Old Sea Dawg and his CINC

 

When in little Moscow

American sailors on liberty in Pusan, South Korea before 1999 used to talk about going to Texas Street. Dive bars and cheap eats.

When I visited Pusan in 1999 while aboard USS CORONADO, I remember a Russian carrier in port. Russian bar girls. To avoid uncomfortable conversations, my shipmate and I had a line popularized by Steven Segal: “I’m just a cook!” Didn’t see any Russian sailors. But I picked up a few words in Russian.

красивая девушка

I don’t know what it’s like today, but I left there thinking the bar district had become “Russia Street”.

Learned a little bit about being stationed in South Korea. I learned how to order a Starbucks in Korean. “Grande Mocha”.

IMG_5618And I know not to enter any Asian establishment with a “barber pole” out front. Was told they were “massage” parlors. Wonder if they also do haircuts?

Foreign travel sure is educational.

Haze gray memories

All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.
~John F. Kennedy , Newport dinner speech before America’s Cup Races, Sept. 1962

I have never learned to sail a wind-driven vessel, nor do I recall the difference between a sloop and a ketch. That said, it does not mean I have no familiarity with ships, storms, life aboard ship, or the special bond that seafaring men (or women) have as a crew at sea.  For eight years out of a twenty-six year Navy career, I was a member of ships company, on a Virginia-class cruiser, a Spruance -class destroyer, and a converted amphibious transport dock-turned-command ship (for the U.S. THIRD Fleet).  I have spent months at sea repetitively in the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, Mediterranean,  and Caribbean Seas.  Perhaps the readers of this blog, merchantmen and military navymen (and women) have also looked upon Naples, Italy with Mount Vesuvius as a backdrop in the early morning.  As a Petty Officer on a ship that was one of the very first Navy visitors after forty years of the Cold War,  made port in Varna, Bulgaria. On deployment to enforce blockade of Saddam Hussein’s illicit oil trade after the Gulf War, transited the Suez Canal and made circles in the Red Sea. Like the apostles of Jesus two millennia ago, I walked the streets of old Jerusalem, visited Cyprus and Crete, Turkey and Greece.  Gazed upon the ruins of ancient seafaring civilizations four thousand years old.   I’ve ridden trains on a day’s liberty time as a Pacific Fleet sailor between Yokosuka and Tokyo, Japan,  and as an Atlantic Fleet one from Marseilles to Paris, France.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.
~John Masefield

A man I have known casually for years at a place I have written about many times, Liberty Tobacco, a cigar lounge in San Diego, California, is another Old Salt.  We both have long careers in the electronics industry and worked at some of the same places in San Diego.   But tonight we learned that we have been to the same places underway on ships,  and to shore stations around the country.  Twenty-five or thirty years ago is a long time in an age where, in a social media-world, memories last minutes or perhaps hours till another attention-seeker replaces them.

We shared memories of the school buildings for our respective Navy trades being across from one another on the shore of Lake Michigan.  We were assigned to electronics schools ( perhaps five years apart) at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago.  And we both have been through the fire-fighting trainer in Norfolk, Virginia. This is a large complex of buildings built to resemble shipboard compartments where fuel-oil fires are set ablaze.  Into the heat,  dense smoke, and real danger, crews are trained to combat them,  and to become familiar with all the tools and roles needed to fight and preserve a ship.  At sea, there is only your shipmates to keep your vessel afloat.

Other memories of putting to sea on your first ship get dusted off and refreshed while talking.   The times standing watch on the ship’s Quarterdeck in the middle of the night alongside the pier in Italy, you can chuckle about the garbage barge alongside – with something moving (not human) in the shadows.  Or noting wharf rats the size of cats rooting around a dumpster in the dark at the head of the pier. And realizing what “rat guards” on your mooring lines are designed to block.

Memories of winter rain in Panama that will soak you to the skin in minutes.  One of the wettest places on Earth,  the year-round rain recharges the waters in the Canal Zone powering the locks on each end of the Isthmus.  Swapping stories of liberty visits in ports ten time zones away from home that are extended to a month when a casualty occurs.   For one it was the ship’s screw (the propeller, in civilian-speak).  Without a shipyard and drydock, this enormous thing had to be replaced underwater by specially-trained teams.  For the other,  when a gas-turbine engine has to be flown from the USA and replaced in the Netherlands Antilles.  Due to a prior transit in a freshwater river in the Northeast USA, killing the built-up marine growth – and then immediate transit to the Caribbean resulted in the cooling inlets for that turbine being choked by dead organisms and engine destroyed by overheating.

The sea speaks a language polite people never repeat. It is a colossal scavenger slang and has no respect.
~Carl Sandburg

While some of my friends have experienced sea-sickness on a harbor ferry in San Diego bay, and worn the medical patches when first putting to sea on cruise ships and small frigates,  these aids may become unneeded when accustomed to life at sea for months at a time.   With merchantmen and Navymen, the camaraderie of sharing shipboard stories,  having weathered hurricanes and strong gales in the mid-Atlantic and off the western coast of Mexico transiting from the Panama Canal, the memories seem only days old instead of a quarter-century.   My shipmates and I have marveled at the  different colors of ocean water, the patterns of currents, bright sunshine and placid seas turn gray-black and stormy within hours.  I’ve been concerned for brightly color birds alighting on our ship as we leave port and then been still there twenty miles to sea.  Crossing the Equator and the International Date Line,  as a Navyman I have been both Pollywog and seasoned Shellback during the traditional ceremonies of the “Shellback Initiation”.

And some of the other ‘initiations’ like standing a first watch on the bridge – learning to always check your binoculars handed to you,  especially at night.  Some salty Bosun’ mate (Boatswains mate) may have first smeared a little shoe polish in the eyecups.   Or being especially vigilant while  manning instruments and reporting conditions during underway replenishment.  Any sailor will acknowledge the gait at sea is unique, an adaptation to simply performing your duties while the ship rolls in heavy seas.   Huge waves breaking over the bow of your ship become commonplace.  Watching a smaller vessel in your group seeming to disappear in the trough of the waves and then pop up as the waves crash by.  While performing maintenance on deck, looking out and seeing a small sailboat, manned by an individual sailor, pass alongside hundreds of miles from shore.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. Jacques Yves Cousteau (brainyquote.com)

For the many who are serving or have served honorably in uniform, we have a bond that few understand.  For those who have spent several months, several years, or a working life,  at sea, we have another strong bond that years and decades later we recall clearly.   Perhaps it is indeed the stirring of the salt in our blood,  the sea spray on our skin,  and the experience of working together in times of routine,  in danger and in emergencies when we all realize just how we are and will always be, Sailors.

[quotes, except where noted, via writebyte.net ]