Cruising Gives you an Opportunity to Meet People with Interesting Life Stories

Vacationers who have stayed at all-inclusive resorts like Sandals in Jamaica and other Caribbean islands will tell you it’s the ultimate vacation. This is because they eliminate vacation planning stress by offering a packaged deal that covers most of what they need for a relaxing an enjoyable vacation. There is another option, however, to these types of vacations and it is cruising on the ocean blue or a river.

Cruising offers the same features and more that an all-inclusive resort offers. Even better is the fact that on the cruise ship everything is accessible by walking a short distance. Perhaps though the biggest advantage of cruising is that you get to visit interesting islands or countries.

Most people would like to cruise do so for the convenience of having plenty of food and refreshments, a variety of entertainment, visiting new places, and doing land excursions. There is one other feature that cruises provide and it is the opportunity to meet interesting people. These opportunities enable people to share life experiences and sometimes even form friendships. Places where you are likely to meet other passengers is at the buffet dining area, the dining rooms where people are seated, or even on the lido deck−a popular place to listen to a band, dance, or just relax around the pool.

On my last cruise to Alaska, I had the opportunity to meet some really interesting people. Although these people were not on the cruise ship, I wrote a blog article about these personalities and since then liked the idea of writing about interesting persons that I meet on cruises and even at other social events.

Four interesting personalities I met during my 10-day Caribbean cruise on the Holland America Veendam ship are an employee on the ship, two passengers (husband and wife), and a Cuban man who is in the Guinness Book of Records. Each of these personalities are profiled below.

Nikesha “Nicky” Brown – on the second night of cruise, we were walking around on the ship and stopped at the photo gallery to look at pictures taken by the ship’s photographers the previous day. This was when we met photographer extraordinaire Nicky Brown who runs the studio on the Holland America Veendam ship. She is a specialist in what is called Black Label (a trade name) photography where she takes pictures and processes them to create spectacular black-and-white portraits.

Nicky who hails from Kingston, Jamaica was trained as a teacher at Shortwood Teacher’s College in Kingston. After graduation from that institution, she taught in an elementary school for one year before abandoning that career as it was not what she expected, especially with the children who were hard to discipline.

It was during her unemployment that she decided to accompany her peanut vendor friend who had a camera and liked taking pictures at events where he sold his roasted peanuts. One day he invited Nicky to use his camera and take some pictures. When the pictures were developed, he was surprised to see how well they came out and said to Nicky “You have good eyes.” From that moment Nicky fell in love with photography.

Nicky Brown with Jermel Shim

Nicky bought her first camera, a Nikon Minolta and enrolled at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston where she honed her skills in photography and began taking pictures at weddings. She would eventually work for the following photo studios doing portraits, and wedding pictures: Joey’s Photo Studio – Runaway Bay, St. Ann, Pugh’s Colour Lab Photo Studio – Ocho Rios, St. Ann, Photo Dayz (Jamaica Grande) –Ocho Rios.

The big opportunity for Nicky came in 2009 when she landed a job with Holland America Line as an image creator and seascape artist. Eventually Nicky would move up to the specialized area called Black label photography (a trade name created by Joe Craig). She was sent to Missouri where she received an intensive three-week course in the Black Label techniques.

Nicky has come a long way from her first photograph session with her peanut vendor friend to being in charge of the Black label studio on the Holland America Veendam ship. Her masterpieces are on display in the studio and are testimony to her skills as a photographer.

Rosemary “Rose” Miles –Rose was born in Hartford, Connecticut to a Jamaican father. My wife and I met Rose and her husband Keith Reynolds when they were seated at our table in the ship’s dining room.

Rose herself did not reveal anything interesting in her personal background. However, it was her family members – her father and sister–who had noteworthy or interesting backgrounds that made me decide to write about her. And by the way her maternal great grandmother is Native American Indian of the Cherokee Tribe.

During our conversations at breakfast, Rose mentioned that her father had played soccer and cricket for Jamaica in the 40s. Being a cricket enthusiast and having played for my high school, I became interested to learn more about Rose’s father. She then pulled out her cell phone and showed me a photo taken in the early 40s of members of a football team and pointed out her father and her uncle.

Rosemary Miles and Keith Reynolds

Rose also told me that her father Lancelot Altamont Gordon and his brother Everett Gordon also played for the Jamaica Electric Light and Power Company (Jamaica Public Service). I was not able to confirm from newspaper archive that Rose’s father and uncle played cricket or soccer for Jamaica. However, I was able to find Lancelot’s Gordon obituary in the Hartford Courant, which stated that while in Jamaica he was an outstanding athlete in cricket and soccer and played for Jamaica Electric Light and Power (Jamaica Public Service Company) soccer team – competing alongside with his brother the late Everett Gordon.

Lancelot Gordon came to the US in the mid-40s and established his family in Hartford Connecticut where Rose currently lives. He was one of the original founders of the West Indian Social Club, Inc., established in 1950. He continued his love of cricket and soccer and played in organized sporting leagues at Keney Park and Waverly Field.

Jamaica Public Service Company football team. Lancelot Gordon (standing far right and his brother Everett Gordon bottom far right). Circa 1940s.

In Hartford, Lancelot Gordon worked for Hamilton Standard (an aircraft propeller parts supplier) where he retired as a machinist operator. He was once featured on the television marketing commercial demonstrating how to operate one of the company’s machine. Later on, he learned the art of photography and became a professional photographer, doing weddings, portraits, political events and commercial products. He was the official photographer for the Sportsman’s Athletic Club and covered several political events.

If the background of Rose’s father, though impressive, does not qualify him for celebrity status, then her sister Lana Gordon certainly does. Lana Gordon is a Broadway and theater actress. Her Broadway performance includes The Lion King and Jesus Christ Superstar.

In addition to her Broadway performance Lana Gordon has a number of Theatre and production performances as shown on Wikipedia.

Keith Reynolds – while Rose’s “claim to fame” is through her family connections, her husband Keith has an interesting background that makes him an interesting person. This includes his stint in the Vietnam War and a champion motorcycle racer.

After graduating from high school, he joined the Marines and was drafted for the Vietnam War. He served in Unit 3 Battalion that fought in the Battle of Hill 400. This unit was the first battalion size combat troop on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Like many veterans who come home from war with visible battle scars (missing limbs and other physical disabilities), Keith too has his battle scars that are not visible. He has shrapnel in one of his leg and he has had to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He appears to be coping very well with his Vietnam war experiences.

Keith described incidents on the battlefield where he demonstrated bravery in helping to save his colleagues by bringing them to safety. He feels that some of his courageous actions should have made him eligible for a Purple Heart and the only reason he has not received one is because of the lack of the proper paperwork. This is something he is working on.

After leaving the military, Keith worked for the well-known firearms company, Colts Manufacturing Company. This though was not his claim to fame nor fighting for his country. He was a motor cycle racer was proud to relate his accomplishments as a competitive racer in class super-stock race is. He set the national record for drag racing in this class on September 1973 at Adco, New Jersey and raced for 4 ½ years and never lost a race.

Jose Castelar Cairo (aka Cueto) – the chance of meeting a Guinness Book of Record holder is not something that is common. I got that chance and it happened when our tour guide in Havana took us to a cigar factory. The guide told us that we would see the longest cigar in the world measuring 45.38 meter long.

Jose Castelar Cairo with Jermel Shim

As I followed several people in the tour group into the building, I saw a black man sitting on a sofa by himself. As I walked by him and approached the large poster with framed documents and a picture of a black man that I made the connection with the man seated in the sofa. That man was Jose Castelar Cairo (nicknamed Cueto) the Guinness Book Record holder.

Cueto’s Guinness Book of Record cigar was displayed in a glass case mounted on the wall. He had rolled the record-breaking cigar to honor of Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday.

As soon as I found out that the man seated on the wall was the roller for the longest cigar, I went over to him and ask him if I could take a picture with him (pointing to the camera) and he nodded in agreement. I told my wife to take a picture and after she did, I gave him $5 US. I believe that I was the only one in the group who did this and acknowledged Cueto.

I was somewhat surprised that none of the other members in the tour group interacted with Cueto by as much as acknowledging him with a greeting.  The guide pointed out who he was and his picture was on the poster so there is no excuse for not knowing who he was. Reluctantly, I have to say that his race might have been a factor why he was ignored.

With his record-breaking cigar, Cueto doubled the longest cigar made by himself during the Habano Festival in 2005 (20.41m), and which gave him his third Guinness record. Cueto had originally conceived the idea of a 33-meter cigar, but changed his mind after hearing that someone in Puerto Rico had made a 41.2-meter-long stogie.

It was a real pleasure meeting Nicky, Rose, Keith, and Cueto and learning about their interesting background. While I did talk at length with the first three individuals, I was not able to do so with Cueto. I am sure his life story which spans the era before and after Fidel Castro is a fascinating story.