January, 2004

Caribbean Seatrek

by George Takei

LOS ANGELES - Happy 2004! Despite the elevated terrorism alert, America managed to carry on with spirit and energy through the New Year holiday. Hundreds of thousands continued gathering at Times Square in New York as they always did, whoopee on the Strip in Las Vegas as they had before, lined Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, California, as they had for the last 115 years to watch the annual Rose Parade, and millions more celebrated the holidays with friends and family throughout the nation. We were careful and prudent but not daunted by the madness of fanatics.

The year 2003 ended for me with a joyful cruise around the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curacao, St. Maartens, and St. Thomas. Seatrek, a cruise with Star Trek fans, organized by Carroll Paige and hard-working Joe Motes, was our defiant thumb in the nose at the terrorists. What a glorious way it was to spend December. Bobbing around a sun-sparkled sea with fans that have become friends over the many years of Star Trek fan gatherings - cruises, conventions, and not just a few serendipitous crossing of paths was a great way to wrap up the year.

I love traveling to places I've never been before. All of the islands on our itinerary were firsts for me. Apart from the shared fun of the cruise, I learn so much about the world we live in on these trips. On Aruba, we went on a tour to, of all places, an aloe skin lotion factory. It was fascinating to see how the lotion was made. It is freshly processed at the site of the aloe fields, then bottled and sold right there. The cactus-like aloe plant, from which the lotion is derived, was brought to the island about seventy years ago when they discovered that it had powerful skin moisturizing and healing properties. The growing and production of a skin lotion was a good industry for the island. There was, however, a second agenda to bringing the aloe plant to Aruba. It was a time of worldwide depression. There was high unemployment on the island. The cultivation of aloe and the production of the lotion would create hundreds of new jobs for the islanders while raising, at the same time, the economy of the island. This creative political and economic leadership of Aruba impressed me. I felt good about buying an ample supply of the aloe lotion - and righteous to boot.

Curacao was impressive in a different way. I'm a historic preservationist. Significant old buildings teach us so much of the history of the place. We learn much about the culture, government and spirit of the people from historic structures. How well the built heritage of a community is preserved speaks volumes for its pride. I found Curacao to be a vibrantly proud island indeed. Curacao's colorful old, Dutch colonial buildings were stylishly restored and adapted to new uses as shops, restaurants, and museums. The great, stony fort that guarded the entrance to the harbor had been converted into a lively shopping bazaar with whimsical shops and fun restaurants. Old mansions had been transformed into elegant boutique hotels. On Curacao, I found as well, historic preservation of a very different kind. We explored a primordial cave of stalactites and stalagmites - icicle-like formations created by particles in mineral rich water dripping through the ages. These ancient forms seemed like fantastical works of modern art by Mother Nature. The cave had once served as a hideout for runaway slaves from the sugar plantations during colonial times. Slavery was abolished in the Dutch colonies in 1863 - the same year that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in the U.S. Half a day on Curacao just was not enough. There is so much that is intriguing about this island. I will definitely have to return to Curacao, an island with a richly preserved history.

The island of St Maartens has a dual colonial heritage - French and Dutch. There is a border running smack through the island separating the two parts. Yet, despite this division by virtue of its colonial past, the islanders have lived in harmony throughout its history. There are few cultural distinctions. However, we were told that the French side has nude beaches. The Dutch side does not. A few from our ship did spend some time at those beaches on the French side and later were complaining about sunburns in places where the sun had never shone before.

St. Thomas was our last island on the cruise - and a singular discovery. Here, I made - completely by chance - a great find. I was roaming around the busy main shopping district when I found a charming passageway between two ancient buildings. I walked through and found a small courtyard with a series of stairs leading up. My curiosity led me up. The second level had an even smaller open balcony with another set of stairs leading up. I followed it up to find an inviting art gallery at the very top. It was filled with works by local island artists. In chatting with the gallery director, I learned that I had stumbled onto a major historic landmark - the birthplace of the master of impressionist art, Camille Pissarro. Indeed, the gallery was named the Camille Pissarro Gallery. Pissarro was born and raised in this very building and his family had continued to live there after he left for France to become the father of impressionism. By happy accident, my nosiness had led me to a wonderful historic discovery. I looked out the windows of the gallery. Each view seemed to have been composed by an artist - the planes of the rooftops, the aged tiles of the balcony below, and, most of all, the voluptuously luminous Caribbean clouds in the sky. It was no wonder that someone born there would become a pioneering artist. To commemorate the happy occasion, I bought a beautiful print of an island scene by a local artist named John Chinery. It will always remind me of my serendipitous discovery of the birthplace of Camille Pissaro.

The days at sea were times for socializing and enjoying the ship's many amenities. A feature on this ship that I had not seen before on any other cruise ship was a rock-climbing wall. It is a sheer wall the height of a two-story building studded with protrusions and nicks and crannies - sort of like a cliff decorated with odd shaped Christmas tree ornaments. When I was a student at U.C. Berkeley many decades ago, I used to do a little rock climbing. As a matter of fact, I was pretty good at it. So, I studied the wall and strategized. It didn't look too difficult to do. I decided to take a crack at that wall. I got into the helmet and had the attendant strap on my harness as I mentally plotted out the path of my climb. It'll be a piece of cake, I thought. But, as I started to climb, I realized that the footings weren't as easy to stay on as I had figured. The grabbings weren't as easy to reach as it looked. With raw determination, I struggled on up. I pulled and I reached and I huffed and I puffed as my muscles began to tremble. Two thirds of the way up, I realized I was not a college student anymore. Gratefully and very humbled, I had the harness lower me down. But, I still did make it up two thirds of the way!

A memory of the cruise that still glows is the sunset catamaran cruise when we were at Aruba. It was all Star Trek fans on board. There were Casey and Aileen, Jack, Chuck, Ann, Donna, Paige, Sallie, Sondra and a whole crew of fun loving trekkers. The clouds on the horizon glowed like luminescent cotton candy - all pink and delicate with a softly shining halo around it. The bartender created a special Caribbean drink - a mixture of blue curacao, orange juice, vodka and something else. The mixture magically turned a Vulcan blood green and it was delicious. Soon, I was glowing like the now pale pink sunset. We chatted and sipped, laughed and sipped, and danced and sipped as the rhythm of the Caribbean music played on and the sun slowly sank into the darkening romantic sea.




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George Takei Statement on William Shatner

Marriage Equality Comes to California

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George Takei on Casting of John Cho as Sulu

Second Wind

George's Statement on the Star Trek Feature Daily Variety Story

The Forty-Year Trek

Why Howard Stern?

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The Year of Equus

Tribute to Pat Morita

November, 2005
Equality and Justice For All

Tribute to Jimmy

May, 2005
Catfish, Scholars, and a Geisha Party

April, 2005
Two Surprising Gifts

March, 2005
Measuring TV Viewers

February, 2005
Oscars: the Luckiest of the Best

January, 2005
New York, New York

December, 2004
Tsunami of Compassion

November, 2004
An Emperor, Abe Lincoln, and Four Presidents

October, 2004
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September, 2004
Life Interrupted

August, 2004
Celebrating Three Legends

July, 2004
Dense Enrichment

June, 2004
Seattle: The Crucible of Imagination

May, 2004
High Times Down Under

April, 2004
Trekkin' in Japan

March, 2004
An Actor's New York

February, 2004
They Call Her Osama

January, 2004
Caribbean Seatrek

December, 2003
My Arkansas Roots

November, 2003
A Month of Glory and Fury

October, 2003
Jet Lag Reminiscences

September, 2003
Supporters and Whoopee!

August, 2003
Beaming Back in Time

July, 2003
Hawaii, Chicago, Tulsa and Kiribati

June, 2003
A Salute to Liberty

May, 2003
Renewal and Nurturing

April, 2003
The Human Spirit

March, 2003
An Anglophile Angeleno

February, 2003
NASA Must Rise Again

January, 2003
A Shiny Double Bow

December, 2002
Holiday Reflections

November, 2002
"Omiyage" Gifts from Japan

October, 2002
Historic Travels

September, 2002
Oscar-Winning Movies

August, 2002
Summer Visitors

July, 2002
Mama's "Pacific Overtures"

June, 2002
Fumiko Emily Takei, 1912 - 2002

May, 2002
Flight of Angels

April, 2002
Surviving a Texas Storm

March, 2002
Hooray for Hollywood; Boo on Secession

February, 2002
Sacramento Roots

January, 2002
Bearing Witness

December, 2001
A Hundred Million Miracles

November, 2001
Serendipitous London

October, 2001
The Aftermath

September 11, 2001
A Special Message

September, 2001
Summertime at the Hollywood Bowl

August, 2001
Voice Transporter

July, 2001
Two American Monuments

June, 2001
Luck Be a Lady

May, 2001
A Global Banquet Table

April, 2001
Joy and Disappointment

March, 2001
Two Guys Named David

February, 2001
Wisdom from a Volcano

January, 2001
Millennial London

December, 2000
Japan - From the Past to the Cutting Edge

November, 2000
Counting My Blessings

October, 2000
The Mother of an Actor

September, 2000
Hanover Expo 2000

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Rockin' in the Northwest

July, 2000
Global Interchange

June, 2000
Sky High Challenge

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A Month of Theater

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Excelsior Passion

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Alien World Right Below

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Hawaii Connections

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A New Beginning

December, 1999
Millennium Musings

November, 1999
Power of Ingenuity

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Back to a Diverse Future

September, 1999
Our Human Linkage

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Equatorial Launch to the Stars

July, 1999
Celebration of Diversity

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