Bonded through a Map in Hong Kong

by Stephen Schoenbrun

Couple reading a map
Couple reading a map

Back in the days before GPS was embedded on every smartphone, there was a running joke about men who would rather get lost than stop and ask someone for directions.

On a trip to Hong Kong 20 years ago, my wife, Marsha, and I were standing on a Hong Kong street trying to figure out how to get to the famous Stanley Market. We knew we were supposed to catch a bus, but which one and in what direction?

We spotted another couple with a map and overheard them mentioning Stanley Market. Rather than wander around aimlessly, as the old joke went, by getting increasingly lost in the labyrinthine streets of Hong Kong, we went over and introduced ourselves to fellow Americans, Margo and Jim.

Like us, they were spending a few days sightseeing in Hong Kong before boarding the cruise ship, Sky Princess. I explained our plight, and they invited us to join them. We got along so well that the next day, we explored the New Territories together and the friendship continued to develop as we sailed off.

Since then, Margo and Jim have become some of our closest friends and traveling partners. We’ve taken 40 cruise vacations with them and seen much of the world, with the help of Jim and his maps.

Jim is our travel group’s official navigator. He has a particular expertise in deciphering transportation maps, be they for busses, trains or underground systems, he is the one who will figure out which line goes where and when.

He had become so good at downloading maps and timetables and determining how far we can roam from the Princess Cruises ship, that we have pushed the boundaries of what a shore excursion means.  

The four of us have taken local busses across the Caribbean venturing beyond the popular tourist beaches and shopping streets to where the locals live and play. In Rome we went well past the city center and found the perfect restaurant where the guys and girls from the neighborhood go.

We’ve taken a local bus in Reykjavik and saw a lot of the city from its windows, making it back to the ship just in time. As we travel into the outskirts of some cities, we’ve had one or two squeakers, but we’ve always made it back in time.

Of course, we tease Jim about that time in Barcelona when the bus map failed us. We walked up and down the hilly city in search of Antoni Gaudi’s famed Park Güell, the one with the colorful serpentine benches. Though exhausted, we did eventually find the park.

Over the years, we’ve expanded our little travel group to include two other couples that we met on Princess cruises, Larry and Harriet and Mick and Di. Mick and Di are trivia experts, so since we’ve met up with them, we’ve done well on Princess’ trivia contests.

We talk to each other frequently, plan cruise vacations well in advance, then get down to plotting our shore excursions and adventures. We’re often recognizable on board since we all have matching shirts that we wear at least once during the cruise.

The group has indulged our love for penguins, so whenever we’re in the southern hemisphere, be it Chile or New Zealand, they’ll go with us to where the penguins live, getting there with the help of Jim and his maps.

I’ve often wondered what it is about traveling on a cruise that makes creating such close friendships seemingly effortless. There’s the obvious, that it helps to connect when you’re around the same group of people; seeing them in the same restaurants, clubs, pool decks and theaters over the course of a cruise. You are bound to strike up a friendly conversation or two.

I also think that people on any given cruise are there because they have the same interests as you, so you feel more comfortable saying hello and making small talk. Also, I have a theory that people who take cruises tend to be extroverts.

Whatever the reason, to me cruising has equaled a lifetime of grand adventure and true friendship. And I didn’t need a road map to attain that.

Steve lives with his wife, Marsha, in Palm City, Florida, very close to the ocean.  So whenever they look at the ocean, they think about and the wonderful friends who travel with them.