By Steve White
contributing writer 

Life with Pepe


December 19, 2020

Photo provided

Pepe and Steve walking.

I am recently retired from a long working life. Well over 70 years of age, somewhat financially secure with a small retirement income. I debated with myself on how to spend my retirement years. I am in reasonably good health; however a hearing disability allows me to have an ADA Certified Service Dog. Pepe is a small, male Chihuahua mix, 8 years old, that accompanies me everywhere.

I've lived in Tehachapi for nearly 30 years, enjoy the "four seasons" and like the lifestyle we locals get used to. Small-town living within a reasonable drive for big-city shopping or major medical. Winter months, however, are the least favorite of our four seasons. Since I love to travel, and with family in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon and other parts of the country, I would often get away for a visit, until this year.

An easy, relaxed way to travel is via cruise ship. Unpack your bags once and relax while being treated as a guest in luxury. Travel by cruise ship is what you make of it. It can be pricey, or you can cruise on a budget. Living and traveling alone, except for Pepe, means my shipboard suite is usually small and inside. On one two-week cruise, the cabin was less than 100 square feet. All I need is a place to put my stuff, a shower and a place to sleep. A luxury suite is not reasonable for a solo traveler. Especially for a budget traveler. And that tiny cabin was budget!

Most people that you meet on a cruise ship are traveling with a significant other, family members or a group of friends. The passengers are from many parts of the world. Traveling in such close quarters is an opportunity to exchange conversation with others, except for a nearly deaf person. If it were not for Pepe, cruising would be very boring. Conversation with a deaf person can be awkward for a hearing person.

Dogs on cruise ships are not common. A cruise ship operating in American waters must allow ADA Certified dogs aboard their ships at no additional cost to the traveler. A health certificate, with proof of vaccinations and general health condition, is required. The dog must accompany the traveler at all times and cannot be left unattended in the cabin.

Each foreign country has their own specific requirements as we are "importing an animal" into their country, even if we are in their country for only a few hours. Laws covering Assistance Animals are not common outside of the U.S. and Canada. Some countries, like the Bahamas, require an "Animal Import Permit." A big hassle to get; however the charge is minimal.

With Pepe at my side, others are drawn to us. "Why can you bring your dog and I can't bring mine?" is a common question. "Where does he do his business?" is another. And the most common, "May I pet him?" Of course, pet my dog and talk to me! Having Pepe with me aboard a cruise ship has brought untold blessings in conversations with others.

Pepe and I have traveled many times during the last three years. Our favorite is the Mexican Riviera - especially the port city of Mazatlan. When we cruise to South America or through the Panama Canal, the ships stop at Huatulco, a resort town in Southern Mexico, which is another favorite port.

A year ago last month, Pepe and I were on a three-week cruise from Los Angeles to New York via the new Panama Canal. The weather was ideal. We made several stops along the Mexican Riviera, Central and South America, as well as stops in the Caribbean. It was exciting to view the new enlarged Panama Canal from aboard a very large cruise ship. When we left the small Caribbean island of Saint Martin it would be four days at sea to New York City. I was anticipating viewing the city from the sea as my ancestors had done when they emigrated to America. We were scheduled to pass the Statue of Liberty during early morning daylight hours.

Food born sicknesses are common on cruise ships. I've been on ships when an "intestinal bug" was infecting the passengers and crew. Common sense and good personal hygiene and the bug is usually easily avoided. The ship's public announcement system alerted the passengers that a "bacteriological infection" had broken out shortly after we left Saint Martin. These infections are usually foodborn; however the ship announced that there would be some restrictions.

On the second day of the "infection" the ship's crew was wiping down the walls, handrails and other commonly touched areas with a sudsy solution that smelled of a disinfectant. Self-service for food and beverage was now served by the crew. The coffee, ice and water were poured or served by the crew. The pools, hot tubs and spas were closed. The casinos closed. The shops were locked and the doors were marked with "do not enter" and "disinfected area" signs. Table cloths in the dining areas disappeared. Salt, pepper and sugar were in individual packets given out one at a time. Crew members were at every elevator wiping down the call buttons and handrails as we touched them. We pulled into New York City at 2 a.m. The local Health Department swarmed aboard, some of them wearing masks.

In my working life as a Water and Wastewater Treatment Specialist, contamination with a possible bacteriological infection was always at the forefront of my work. I knew that something was wrong. This wasn't a bacteriological bug. Many of the cruise ships crew members are from Southeast Asia and the Orient. They knew what was coming and were taking steps to stop the infection aboard their ship.

Pepe and I were greeted in New York City with cold, rain and wind. Our original plan was to take a few days touring the Big Apple. Instead we headed directly for LaGuardia after departing the ship, and flew home via Burbank, then Metrolink and the Kern County bus. With three hours added to our day, we were able to make the journey home in one very long day. Exhausted, but happy to be home.

The next morning I made arrangements for a one-week Mexican Riviera cruise in December and a two-week stay in the resort city of Huatulco in February. Best laid plans are often disrupted. More about that at another time.


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