Our Patriot’s Journey
Robert cruised the world From Dec 2010 to Dec 2011:
The Caribbean Princess
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Wheat,
First off I should apologize. I found your son's photograph over a year ago, and I have yet to leave it for someone else to find. I've been carrying it in my wallet since December 7th of last year (2010), and couldn't decide where to leave it. I thought I would write and tell you all the places he's been.
I work as a photographer for Princess Cruise lines. I found Robert's picture tucked into one of the display panels in our photo gallery on my second day of work on my first ship, the Caribbean Princess. At that point I was totally and completely overwhelmed by the amount of information I needed to take in for this new job. Not only was I going to be working and living on board for six months, but I was away from my family at Christmas for the first time. I put the picture in my wallet, intending to find a place for it sometime soon, in one of the ports we called on.
I never forgot about the picture, snug between my receipts and cash, but I never found just one place that seemed right. So Robert rode along on the crazy journey I took.
Robert was with me in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I found an amazing place to have breakfast on Sunday morning turnarounds. A place where I made friends with locals, who made sure that my favorite table was ready when I got there around ten.
He was with me in St. Thomas, where I agonized over which professional camera to buy in the many duty free electronic stores that call the island home.
He rode in my wallet to Antigua, one of my favorite places in the world. He sat next to the dollars that bought me the best ice cream I’ve ever had at Australian Ice Cream, right on the boardwalk. He saw the amazing beach at Dickenson Bay.
In St. Lucia he saw me buy the most disgusting sushi I have ever had in my life. The spicy tuna roll was canned tuna with mayonnaise and chili powder. My friends and I laughed so hard when it was delivered to our table.
In Barbados he went to The Boatyard, a beach bar/restaurant that caters to crew members. He witnessed crew rounds-free drinks for all crew members present, and he saw my friends and I jump off the pier into the crystal water.
We went to Tortola, where four of us rented a Jeep and drove around the island for Yssa’s birthday. We had breakfast on the beach, drove all the way to the top of the mountain for 360 degree views of the island. We stopped for a snack at a local shack and met friendly islanders who told us how to get to the most beautiful parts of the island.
In Aruba he sat with me at the local Dunkin’ Donuts while I used a free internet connection to talk to friends back home. While I drooled over a perfect pair of Burberry Sunglasses, he guarded my precious dollars, which I was saving for the camera I eventually bought in St. Thomas.
In Bonaire we rented a scooter for the day with my friend Andy, and drove all the way around the island, and discovered its extraordinary beauty. We stopped at Windsurf Beach and watched the graceful sails on the water while having the best roast beef sandwich in existence. We saw flamingos and fire coral and salt flats and divers.
In Grenada he saw me get escorted out of a library for wearing a dress with a halter top. Apparently there was a dress code for the place, but it wasn’t posted. There I was, reading Moby Dick, when two BIG guys come up and ask me to leave the premises. I don’t think I’ve ever been so confused and embarrassed.
In Dominica I took pictures of the locals while they did washing and sold fruit and painted sea shells. I made friends with a woman who did hair braiding when she joined me for lunch at a tiny café. Robert rode along as I hiked to the boiling lakes and back, barely making it back to the ship before all-aboard.
At the beginning of May, 2011, the Caribbean Princess crossed to New York, by way of Grand Turk and Bermuda. In Bermuda he came with me on a first date with a man I came to love. We walked and talked around the fort that protected the harbor, and drank ginger beer. We sat against one of the walls in the sun, and talked for hours. And in Grand Turk I sat and watched the sunset by myself, amazed at how five months had gone by so quickly.
My last month on Caribbean flew by. In New York I met with a few friends from back home, and Robert sat with me while one of my best friends got a phone call and a job offer. We walked around Central Park, and Washington Square Park, and peeked in a shoe store where I knew I would never be able to buy anything, but I just wanted to see them.
The last 9 days I spent on Caribbean Princess were in Canada and New England. In Sydney and Charlottetown we walked through picturesque seaside towns, and realized what a weather wimp I had become. 5 months of Caribbean weather is enough to do that. We saw the world’s largest violin.
In Halifax, Nova Scotia, we went bar hopping with friends, and raced back to work for my last night of shooting portraits for my first contract. Robert saw Boston, Massachusetts as we walked the Freedom Trail, and Newport, Rhode Island from the ship — I was stuck on board that day, but it looked beautiful. When I met up with friends in Bar Harbor, Maine, the first thing we all did was buy jackets off the clearance rack at an outdoors adventure store. It was near freezing…at the end of May!
On May 26 I flew back to California, where I spent the summer and my time off with my family. I went to Seattle to visit a friend, to Portland and my very favorite bookstore, to Eugene, where I graduated from college a year before. I went to Los Angeles for concerts, and Redondo Beach to visit my grandmother. Robert was tucked in my wallet when I went for an interview at an amazing company in Hollywood. And when I decided to turn that job offer down for the next ship I was assigned to, the Ruby Princess.
The Ruby Princess
In early August I got on a plane bound for Rome, and then switched to a tiny little commuter plane for the trip to Venice. I met up with wonderful family friends who lived nearby, and who took me for dinner at a cousin’s house that was tucked in the canals near St. Mark’s square. I joined the Ruby princess at 6 am on August 6th, and that afternoon I set out for further Adventures.
In Livorno I ate fruit from the open market while I wrote in my journal, Robert at my side. In Florence I marveled at the Duomo and the David, and in Rome a friend and I did our best to recreate the Audrey Hepburn movie Roman Holiday …complete with haircuts.
In Civitavecchia I went out for a meal on my own, and made friends with people at the next table, who dished up a plate of shrimp and mussels for me, insisting that I try the special of the day. We made plans to meet up there the next week, and we did, to share a meal and a bottle of wine and I practiced my long-forgotten high school Italian. I’m sure Robert would have been laughing at my broken sentences and heavy use of hand gestures.
In Monaco Robert and I saw the Prince and his new wife, strolling along the harborside.
In Barcelona we went to the amazing Parc Guel, one of Antonio Gaudi’s unfinished masterpieces. We saw flamenco dancers. It was perfect.
We went to Santorini and rode donkeys to the top of the long-dormant volcano that formed the island, and Rhodes where my friends and I ate gyros in the ancient walled city, home of Colossus. In Dubrovnik, Croatia I went for a long walk with a new friend, ate savory cheese pies and drank fresh squeezed pomegranate juice.
And in our last European port, we sat on the roof terrace of the Panteao nacional in Lisbon, and marveled at all the places we’d seen in the past few months. We crossed the Atlantic Ocean in seven days, not a glimpse of land in sight.
We arrived in Ft Lauderdale and returned to the Caribbean. We returned to St Thomas, where I was grieved to find my favorite coffee shop out of business. We strolled the waterfront of St Maarten and tried not to get annoyed by the ever-present steel pan music. We went back to Grand Turk, where I once again watched the sunset, again amazed that my contract was almost over.
I’m now back in California, and looking for a new job. While I absolutely love working onboard, I’ve found that it’s hard for me to say goodbye to the amazing friends I have met along the way. Each time one of them leaves to go home to Brazil or South Africa of New Zealand, my heart breaks a little bit, and that part is too much for me. So I’m home for the holidays with my family, baking cookies and trying to figure out what comes next. And I think it’s time Robert had someone else to go on adventures with. So I say goodbye to another friend. I’ll leave him somewhere in the next few days, and I hope whoever finds him next puts him somewhere special.
Please know that I am grateful for your son’s sacrifice, and proud to live in a place where people are so committed to bringing good into the world. I’m sure you have always been and continue to be very proud.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a very bright new year.