Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cruise 2012: Grand Cayman (NOT!) and homeward bound

All night the boat was heaving and groaning. Since we were so low we heard lots of water rushing, and things clanking around. Not surprising that early in the a.m. Jacques the lisping cruise director said we’d be getting into Grand Cayman at 10:45 instead of 10:00 due to the waves, and that we’d dock elsewhere than Georgetown but no shore excursions would be rescheduled. Ours was at 11:30 so we weren’t worried. It was the only one we were doing with our friends—Reef and Ray Snorkel—and we were really looking forward to it, because we love Grand Cayman and the sting rays there.
Just before we were ready to follow our ticket, our friends called. They had been in line at the excursion desk and found out that all the snorkeling tours had been canceled. We were sad to miss our sting rays but we’d still get to walk around, buy cigars and rum cake right?
By the time our friends came down 1 level to our room, they had announced that, although 5 tender boats were circling the Liberty waiting to take us all off, we weren’t going to Grand Cayman. It was RIGHT THERE outside the window and we couldn’t go. Will was so angry. He really loves Grand Cayman and he was feeling better and he promised his friends at work good cigars. Our plan was to go to the comedy show that night, 3 comedians back-to-back for 3 hours, after dinner. We all went to the pool, since we had bathing suits on, and while there, Jacques announced that the comedians had been waiting on Grand Cayman to be picked up and thus…no comedians either. We were all mad. We had to wave goodbye to our favorite destination without going there, not knowing when we’d be back, and no comedians either!?
So it was two days back to Miami. The pool water had all sloshed out so that day after Grand Cayman I didn’t spend much time in the pool. The second formal night, the night we didn’t go to Grand Cayman, had no lobster for my hubby. The next day they had refilled the pool so I worked out for over an hour in the early morning before it got too hot. We ate at the burger bar for lunch again, our usual spot, indulged in the Chocolate Buffet after that, had our last dinner in the nice dining room, watched Pirates of the Caribbean for a while, while the pool water sloshed out around us—I saw video when I got home of a Disney cruise and the pool wasn’t half as violent, I didn’t even think of video taping the pool! Packed up, headed home, feeling very sad.  (more under the pics)

One thing that really bothered my friend and me was that the Carnival Liberty's decor was so UGLY.  Pictures don't do its ugliness justice. Who designed this ship?  Were they blind or high?  Were they freshmen in high school?
Here are more pics that weren't discussed & thus ends this chronicle.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cruise 2012: Dolphin Extravaganza!

We were last in Roatan (Honduras) on our 10th anniversary, 9 years ago, on the second cruise ship that ever went to the island. And wow how Roatan has changed. We docked at another of the ubiquitous dock-side shopping experiences. This one was on a hill above the ship (no tenders!). (more text below pics)

Our dolphin swim and snorkel didn’t leave until 10 a.m. so we had time to walk around first. The first few shops I went into hoping to find some Mayan art were disappointing. Honduras is at the edge of Maya-land, I know, but I did have hope. But these shops seemed to carry art that looked more African, or even Australian. I hadn’t found anything AWESOME yet for me or my friend and this was my last stop where it was possible. Then I saw a place called Roatan Stone Art. It was exactly what I had been looking for, and if Roatan had been an earlier stop I probably would have spent my budget there. Nothing mass produced and badly carved, only nice and unique items. I bought a pair of altar bowls. Since we had forgotten towels and water my husband headed back to the boat with the bowls to get the towels.
We had to fill out ridiculous paperwork to go on the tour. Basically it said we could be eaten by, or at least munched on, by all sorts of wildlife from horses and iguanas to sharks, stingrays and dolphins, and if we did get eaten it wasn’t the tour group’s fault even if they shoved us into the mouth of a shark. Excellent. We signed.
We took a short ride on a small Hyundai bus across the island from Mahogany Bay to Anthony’s Key Resort and the Roatan Maritime Institute where the dolphins were. We walked through the jungle to a dock where we boarded a very small boat to cross the water to a little key, or cay, where the dolphins live. One person said there were 24 dolphins, another 30. Lots of dolphins, some babies. They were Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins, some bred in captivity and some wild-caught.
The dolphin for our group was a 10 year old female named Marley who had rejected her last baby, which is apparently very rare, and the baby had been adopted by an older female. She was a goofball of a dolphin. Everything she did, she’d roll over a little and get her eye just out of the water and look at us to see if we approved. The male trainer was trying to get her to blow his whistle and she was sticking out her tongue at him and then flopping her head around so her tongue flapped out of her mouth and laughing at him. He said, “this isn’t a trick, this is her!” and then the dolphin went to the female trainer and immediately blew her whistle with no tongue action. (more text below the pics)

Basically we stood in waist-deep water with the dolphin and the trainers in front of us and the dolphin did tricks and swam back and forth in front of us so we could pet her. We all got our pictures taken hugging her and getting a “kiss” (dolphin leans its beak on your cheek and grins). We had 10 minutes to take our own pictures and videos (some of which are above...and more text is below).

Then we put away our cameras and got our snorkels and fins (fins were required; I actually had bought a pair but Will had to rent them) and we got to snorkel freely around the lagoon while dolphins dive bombed us and played with us. It was so awesome. If you had a piece of seaweed a dolphin would come and steal it. Even the babies came around. If you spun in place they’d race around you in a circle. You’d hear them squeaking and then they’d come from behind (always from behind) and roll to look at you with their big brown eyes as you laughed and tried to pet them. There were also all kinds of cool reef fish to look at, and corals, and lots of grass under the water. It was maybe 15-20 feet deep and the various fish we saw were maybe 8-10” long at most. It really felt like they were playing with us and teasing us, especially if you had seaweed. If you put your hand out they would come and push it with their noses (the trainers did that a lot to them) like a cat or dog would. I can’t explain how amazing it was.
My mask kept getting water in it and I wasn’t scared or panicking, only annoyed that I had to come to the surface and clear it out. Not one bit of panic attack, even when water came in my snorkel! Normally we disdain having others take our pictures for money but in this case, we bought the pictures. The deal was that it was $12.50 for each picture, minimum of 2, and if you bought all them of them it was $40 on a thumb drive, plus $10 for each other person in your group. So a couple was $50. I bought the thumb drive for $50 with no hesitation because some of the pictures came out really good.

We went for a drink at Fat Tuesdays on the way back to the ship & Will took my picture with the parrot-bird and Toad Purse. Will had a Hurricane in an Atti-tube cup and he said it was the worse Hurricane he’d ever had. He actually dumped it in the trash it was so bad.
At dinner our friends surprised us with a heart shaped cake from the bakery that said Happy Anniversary (even though our anniversary had been 2 weeks before) and then we went to see Edge Evolution, a juggling show, a sophisticated one. He did juggling, ancient yoyo work, and thunder sticks, and did it on stilts and blind folded. The ship was plowing through violent waves (Hurricane Sandy) and he only missed one trick because of it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cruise 2012: in which we get rained upon

During his morning visit, Will got an inhaler from the doctor, with the same medicine they’d been putting up his nose with the nebulizer. It went with the antibiotic and steroid pills he’d been given the day before. Dr Fullerton is a cool doc. He’s from Florida and had been a doctor in both the Army and the Navy, and had been stationed in Groton and liked it in New England. When he gave Will the inhaler he told him to hide it in his pocket and not tell the nurses because we’d “already paid enough” for everything. I thought that was pretty nice of him. He showed us where he got attacked on the face by jellyfish while swimming in Cozumel the day before, preparing for an Ironman in a few weeks. He swam the actual course he’d be doing in the competition, a full one, with a 2.5 mile swim, 110 mile bike ride followed by a full marathon.
Then we took tender #18 to Belize City and walked around for exactly an hour. The first thing I saw was the world's biggest cockroach, thankfully dead.
We were going to do the chocolate factory tour but it was lame and not worth $20 a person even with free chocolate bars included. I had a chocolate shake there—it was high cacao chocolate, slightly bitter, the good stuff—and Will had an espresso, both made with local organic beans. While we were in the chocolate place there was a torrential downpour, like monsoon quality, rain solid in the sky, downpour. It made me feel a little better about missing Xunatunich since they said you can’t climb the pyramid to see into Guatemala in the rain. I really wanted to go, of course, to add another ruins site to my collect-the-whole-set, but not at my husband’s health’s expense.
The shopping village featured many, many wooden pillars carved into Mayan glyphs. I took photos of a lot of them but they were actually kind of lame. The gylphs didn’t make any sense, they were just crammed 4 or 5 to a pillar. I bought a few things and we actually were about to board the very same tender that had brought us to the village (it had made a round trip to the ship while we shopped) but it was going off empty. (more text below pics)

We were back in time for lunch, and Will felt really tired after only that little bit of slow walking. We ate at the hamburger place and I worked out in the pool and we hung out there for a little while.
At dinner, I went in alone while they went up to the steak house. The waiters kept trying to fill all 4 glasses with water. I’d say, “they aren’t coming” and hopefully they’d say “maybe they are” even though I said they went upstairs to the steak place. Then they offered apple pie a la mode for dessert. My husband loves apple pie. I got it to go for him and I went to get myself another piece of chocolate cake. And the bakery was out of chocolate cake. Evidently someone came along and bought the whole cake! They had carrot cake only, and one single chocolate chip cookie which seemed so lonely I just had to take it back to the room with me. I called room service for some hot chocolate and had my dessert in the room.
When my husband finally came in he laughed because I’d brought him dessert. All 3 of them had 14 oz individual (!?) cheesecakes for dessert (and not finished them) and apparently the cheesecake was awesome and the food was awesome and I should have gone except that I don’t care much for steak and I hate seafood and that’s all they had. He said he’d have the pie for breakfast.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cruise 2012: in which I get to keep my organs

On Monday, I woke up at 3 because Will was coughing, and saw that we were in Cozumel, 4 + hours early. I tried to put the room service tray outside quietly in the dark, dropped it, broken glass everywhere, woke up my husband with the noise, had to call for a clean up, the phone didn’t work, had to hunt down a steward in person to clean up the glass. He came in with the vacuum, you can imagine the noise and confusion and mess.  My bad. 
Went up to the Guest Services desk to tell them my husband had pneumonia and we had no phone and by the way, we’re in Cozumel, are you going to get my bag now? Hilarity ensued as the person said, “You can’t go ashore yet.” “I don’t want to go ashore yet. I want YOU to go and get my bag.” “You can’t go ashore yet. We don’t dock until 7.” “yes, but clearly we are docked already at 3 a.m., so how about someone goes and gets my bag?” “We docked early because someone had a heart attack.” Oops, they were just determined to have someone go to the Mexican hospital, weren’t they? “That is too bad, but what about my bag?” (I am a heartless, selfish bitch sometimes, I admit it.)
Finally she checked and found out that the bag was coming into the Cozumel airport at 1 p.m. and they’d go get it then. So I had no need to search out a dive shop and buy new snorkeling equipment.
I went ashore in Cozumel alone at 7 a.m. (Will had an 8 a.m. doctor appointment.) I had already arranged for a rental car to be at a rental place at the dock at 7:15 a.m. They had assured me that the rental place was in a gas station “right there.” Yes, right there. After you navigate on foot through their tourist village of shops and eager proprietors, then down a promenade and through a parking lot and across the street and asking random Mexican men “Donde esta el Pemex? Pemex aqui? Alli? Donde?” and then finding the Pemex and the rental place and it doesn’t even open until 8 a.m. They were supposed to have an automatic transmission Chevy Aveo with air conditioning waiting for me. No Chevy Aveo in sight. No proprietor in sight. Out comes the muy mal, un poquito espanol again.
Finally Omar the car guy was located, hanging out with the glass-bottom boat guy. (His name was really Omar.) He had no idea I was coming or that I expected a vehicle. He said he would get me a manual transmission car with A/C. I said no, must be automatic. All he had was a Geo Trakker 4x4 with no A/C, but it was automatic. I said fine. I paid way too much money for it and waited for it to arrive. It was red. And rust. It had no side windows. It had no carpets. The floor had holes in it. The check engine light was on. Es bueno,” They said. “No es bueno!” “es bueno!” They give me a map, in Spanish. The only landmark was the gas station itself and a shell in the intersection where I needed to turn right on my way to the San Gervasio ruins. Reverse didn’t work. The brakes really didn’t work. Solamente hablo espanol un poquito. And thus, sola, I was off. Oh, and I couldn’t get my cell phone to work, that was a bonus. Alone in Mexico, with purple hair, the worse rental car in the history of the world, and my cell wouldn’t connect to any network. Great. 
In this paragon of a rattling, hiccupping vehicle, I set out into the Mexican jungle. First I had to drive through the Mexican city and deal with all the topes (speed bumps) and people on scooters with small children and street signs I couldn’t quite decipher and a confusion over which blue building I was supposed to turn left at?
Apparently Mexican men, workers crammed into the back of pick-up trucks, really like fat women with purple and blond hair and big black hats who are alone in barely functioning vehicles. Or maybe they just want a green card, I don’t know. But I was very popular. Lots of honking, waving, wolf-whistles, being called “chica” and generally hollered at favorably.
I found my way to the giant shell in the middle of the intersection and turned, leaving the city and entering the type of long boring jungle road with occasional slum-houses that Mexico has everywhere. Oh, and lots of vultures, just hanging out on the sides of the road, waiting for my vehicle to crash so they and the jaguars could fight over who eats me. Probably they’d id me by my purple hair streak after the animals were done.
The turn off to San Gervasio didn’t warn of the dangers beyond. Honestly the road was about 10 miles long, the speed limit was about 1 kilometer per hour and it was in terrible shape. I thought my red rusty car-thing would shake to pieces on it. At the end, I parked against a tree (oops—more on that later) and went in. It cost a whopping $8 American to enter.
I hired a little Mexican man, a Maya, for $18 American, to be my guide. His name was Ruben (like the sandwich, like my evil mailman at home). He was from the Uxmal area originally but his grandfather the shaman told him he had to “go east” and so he ended up in Cozumel in 1956 and had been working at this site ever since. San Gervasio is the modern Spanish name for this site, a small sacred complex devoted to the fertility goddess Ix Chel. I guess it isn’t very popular; no one else was there. Ruben and I walked around for two hours, talking. His stories were a confusing mix of Christianity, New Age, and ancient paganism. Some of what he said was wrong but I wasn’t going to argue with an old native man who claims a baktun is 2000 years long (it’s 396, approximately). Of course Mexican-style Catholicism is basically a mix of the old religion and Jesus-worship in a way that’s much more pleasing than how American Catholics worship. (I know because I used to be one, at least on the surface. Scratch me and you’d find a pagan, always.)
Ruben showed me a place where 2 bodies had been excavated. He said they were priests who didn’t quite live to be initiated fully and they had been carbon-dated to 10,000 BC. He scoffed at all of the plaques erected by the government and said they were all wrong and laughed at me for taking pictures of them. The internet says that it’s a late Classical site, erected probably around 1,000 AD so Ruben’s dating was only about 11,000 years off. He said the site was devoted to the study of the sun, moon, and “eastern star” (Venus, I presume). The arch is at the exact center of the island (not according to any maps, but…) and is perfectly aligned to the cardinal directions and at noon on the five equinoxes (I know, there are only 2 per year) the sun is right overhead. There is another name for this, not equinox, but I can’t remember it, and it only happens at certain places on the earth, and it might be ecliptic or solar zenith, but that doesn’t seem to be it either.

As we were walking toward the arch, Ruben mentioned that there are ocelots there. I’d been disappointed at the lack of iguanas (one big male and maybe a dozen females, the amount that should have been on a single building there) so I was excited to maybe see an ocelot. Ruben misunderstood my agitation and said “now you are afraid of the tigers, huh?” and I said, “No, I want to see one!” Although I was confused if there were ocelots there (small wild cats, spotted) or jaguars (much larger cats, sometimes called tigers). Ruben said that many hurricanes had hit the site and many of the animals were killed. They were expecting a big population explosion of iguanas in the spring.

A dry cenote he showed me was next to a dry pond and he said a hurricane in 1988 drove the water underground and that when he saw both were empty he cried because it was fulfilling some ancient prophecy he knew of. The water is 4-6 feet underground now, and the government archeologists have no interest in excavating to get it back to the surface. Ruben also said the round cenotes were all dug by Spaniards and that people were sacrificed into ponds, and sacrifice was always voluntary. (text continues under the pics)

I made an offering a spring water at the altar to Ix Chel (he said I did it very nicely, and faced the proper way) asking for creativity, although the original request there was for pregnancy, 19 of them per woman if the internet is to be believed. 
One of the buildings with red handprints, the one with the male iguana in the niche, he said was a sweat lodge (temazcal, although I couldn’t remember the Aztec word right then) for women who wanted to get pregnant, and that babies conceived after the mothers went to this sweat lodge could be priests. And the handprints were made by the priests themselves as they were initiated from age 2 to age 30 (or maybe 32, 30 years of training?) and then every 30 years after that until they died at age 90.  (text continues under the pics)

He had joked when I hired him that his fee was $18 and double if I didn’t like it. As we walked back to his station, he said, “I hope you didn’t like it,” and I said that I did, but I paid him $25.
Forsaking all logic and reason, I decided to drive around the perimeter of the island, alone in the rental car from hell with no phone. That was when I found out about the reverse gear, or lack thereof, since I had parked with the car’s nose against a tree. Slamming the gear shift violently from drive to reverse caused it to kind of lurch backward until I could get around the tree, drive back down that hideous road, and then for reasons unknown to me, turn left to drive around the loop rather than right and back into the town. (more text under the pics...)

Lots of vultures. Men in trucks yelling at me. The loop road was under construction so lots of shunting between the small beach-loop road and the bigger real road. I was almost back to the side where the Carnival ship was docked when my map flew out the lack of windows. Now the Carnival Liberty is a pretty big boat, and it was docked right against the land (not on top of it, like the poor Concordia last winter) so I figured if I could see it, I could find it, and thus the gas station where I had to return my vehicle.
 I was watching the kilometer signs go down in number, trying to convert to miles and thus time in my head, when a giant alebrije flashed by on my right. I collect small alebrijes (Mexican wooden, painted folk art from the Oaxaca area) but never had I seen one 20 feet high. I pulled into the exit road of the place since the entrance had already passed me and damn if I didn’t go nose against the wall and no reverse on the damn gear shift. And two guards with guns at the store staring at me as I slammed the car in and out of drive until I could inch around and park near the giant blue animal and take some photos and then zoom back up the exit and be on my merry way. I figure they probably were selling awesome alebrijes in the store but any store that has armed security I probably can’t afford right?
 I found the ship, found the gas station, and put $10 worth of gas in the car. Then it wouldn’t start. I thought I’d have to abandon it at the pump but then I got it going. I returned it and started back to the ship. The glass-bottom boat guy stopped me. “Did you just drive around the island and come back?” He was indignant. I showed him my San Gervasio wristband but he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted me in that glass bottom boat. I explained that my husband was in the sick bay with pneumonia and I was a bad enough wife for abandoning him so I could trek around Mexico alone with purple hair and a car from hell and probably men who wanted to harvest my organs in a hotel bathtub but Glass Bottom Boat man didn’t care. I needed to be in that boat. I did not go into the boat.
I walked back through the shopping village, got a couple of little alebrijes for my collection and a few other items, back onto the boat, and bye-bye Mexico until who knows when. At least I made it there in 2012 right? (more text below pics)

My hubby was just finishing his room service lunch. He was only slightly better according to the medics, so with great sadness I made my way up one floor to the excursions desk and handed in our Xunatunich tickets for full credit. There was no way he could go and I felt guilty enough for my Mexican morning alone.
Our bag was delivered around 4:30. It was almost anti-climatic at that point, even though I was very happy to have my snorkel.
When we met up with our friends for dinner, we found out that our waiters had been very concerned by our absence at formal night, especially since we’d been asking the night before if that was lobster night. I guess one of the waiters had seen me around the sick bay and thought I was sick. Since my friend is a nurse she knew that Will had been really sick but she didn’t know it was pneumonia until they saw us again. They had gone to Coba and climbed the pyramid there and had an awesome time. Everyone was glad to have us back. Everyone but me ordered cheesecake for dessert. Apparently it was the world’s worse cheesecake (exepct possibly the cheesecake at Ponderosa many years ago) and when they complained, the waiter (who looked a lot like Karl Pilkington from the Idiot Abroad series on Science Channel) said, “I never recommend the cheesecake.” Which we learned was his code for “that sucks, don’t order it.” So they KNOW the cheesecake is bad but they keep making it the same way? After dinner we walked upstairs to the steakhouse. Nothing on the menu was worth the extra $35 to me but my husband and our friends really wanted to try it, so they made reservations for the next night.
Below are the pictures that aren't mentioned in the narrative but you may enjoy looking at them. No more text after that.