lookingforlissa

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Posts Tagged ‘Caribbean ’08’

*sigh* Because all good things must come to an end . . .

Posted by Lissa on June 18, 2008

There’s not too much to say about the rest of the cruise; we drank some delicious sun on the last boat day, took pictures with the waiters, got through customs slowly but with no problems, made it to the flight with no problems, and Mike’s folks were nice enough to pick us up at the airport.  Rajah-kitty was soooooo glad to see us!!! 

My plan is to start recapping the cruise with pictures of each day/port; this should whet your appetite for more photo-y goodness:

Because only I can look this cool.

(Actually, Mike looked just as cool, but he may kill me if I post his dork-picture, so we’ll see.  And no, this wasn’t just for fun, it was the mandatory gear for the rock wall.  But still, you wish you were as cool as me.  Admit it.)

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They say it’s worth a thousand words . . .

Posted by Lissa on June 16, 2008

 . . . so let’s give it a try!

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Caribbean Diary, Day 6: HORSIES!!!

Posted by Lissa on June 16, 2008

Okay, so, I definitely slacked during the rest of our vacation and I’ll have to write the rest of this from memory.  Luckily, I took exactly eight gazillion, seventy trillion sixteen photographs, so I have quite a few visual cues to jog my memory J

 

Cozumel is a little island off the coast of Mexico and, according to our guides, has no infrastructure.   No factories, no industries, no farms, nothing but the tourist industry.  We didn’t dock until 10 AM, later than any of the other ports, but also didn’t leave until 6:15 PM so it all worked out.  It also had a very wide, nice dock (apparently they had a very bad hurricane a few years ago that wiped out the old one) so disembarking was relatively painless.  The only real difficulty was to keep from hitting ceilings and walls, as I was SO EXCITED FOR THE HORSIES that I could hardly stay earthbound.

 

The meeting place for the horsies was just off the piers; we signed in and then I went off looking for water.  The drugstore across the plaza seemed like a good bet so I wandered over and bought water there.  I also considered buying Levitra, Viagra, Lamisil, diet pills and injectable testosterone, but we really didn’t need any of that, thank you very much.  The waiting place for the horsies was right next to the waiting place for the Swim and Snorkle with Stingrays adventure; unlike us, they had to sign all sorts of waivers.  The family next to us caught our attention when they stopped the form-guy to ask, “How deep is the water?  We can’t swim, by the way, is that a problem?”  Our heads snapped around in a double-take and quickly back, but that one caught us aback.  If half the name of the freaking excursion involves the word “swim” and you CAN’T SWIM, don’t you think maybe, MAYBE you should go shopping instead?  MAYBE?

 

The bus ride to the horsie ranch took about a half hour.  The guides amused us on the way there by telling us a bit about themselves, and about the ranch, in PERFECT Speedy Gonzalez accents.  It’s so awful to say, but I’m not joking, they sounded EXACTLY like the Looney Tunes character, and I’m pretty sure they knew it.  After all, if it’s a tourist trap, don’t you think they make more money sounding like a famous cartoon mouse from Mexico?  That’s my assumption, because they actually would yell “Epa!  Epa!  Andale!” and watch us giggle helplessly.  The first guide assured our group that, luckily for us, the bus driver had promised not to drink any tequila today, and then told us all about the bus driver:  his nickname was Ricky Martin because he lived La Vida Loca, he had five wives, ten kids, and six boyfriends.  At this point the bus driver started waving his arm in protest, and the first guide (can’t remember his name, dammit!) leaned over, and then announced it was actually SIX boyfriends.  Actually (explained first guide), the bus driver was his brother-in-law.  Because he liked First Guide’s brother, a LOT.

 

We pulled up at the ranch and dropped our bags, then hit the restrooms before we went off on the horsies.  And OH DEAR MY GOD, EWWWW.  The Ladies (Damas) room had 1) tons of flies, 2) a SERIOUS stench of . . . well, um, not being cleaned all that often, how’s that?, 3) only a trickle of running water.  The third part, the lack of good running water, would not have been that important, if I hadn’t been whimpering from using the toilet; the stall sign helpfully informed us that the sewage system would not accommodate paper of any kind, so kindly put ALL TOILET PAPER IN THE BIN NEXT TO THE TOILET.  EW EW EW EW.  (Apparently my father encountered the same thing in Greece.  EW EW EW EW EW.)

 

Blech.  Moving on.

 

The second guide was the guide for our group, so HIS nickname I can remember – Chico.  Although this guy was anything but; in fact, I’m rather sure he stopped at that drug store for Testosterone Injectivo ;-)  He asked around for riding experience (almost everyone was a beginner) then mounted a horse and gave us a quick demonstration of how to start, stop, turn left, turn right, mount, dismount.  He then picked someone from the crowd to use that horse for the day, and settled on . . .ME.  YAY!!!!  I’m sure it was because I looked so excited and was so earnestly paying attention, but I mounted with no problem and sat there grinning like a fool.  (Horsie’s name was Malinche, and while she had a habit of grumpily chewing her bit, she obeyed instructions quite well all afternoon.  Mike’s was named Benito, and much more stubborn about obeying his cues, but they got along okay.)  I tooled around for a while, taking her up and down the corral, letting her eat plants for a while (“Ay, don’t let the horses eat the hashish!” shouted Chico), etc., while everyone else mounted, and then we moved out.  Um, without waiver forms.  Or helmets.  That last part was more surprising . . . because as we were getting matched with horses, another group came in, ALL wearing helmets.  Maybe they paid more? 

 

The excursion was billed as a ride through the jungle to see some Mayan ruins.  While we DID see some rocks and caves, I think it’s just as likely that the statues were built to be tourist traps, rather than the story Chico gave us.  As he explained it, they had a really bad hurricane back in ’85, and the big boss said to open all the corrals and let the animals find their own way to higher ground.  Once the storm was over, the big boss told everyone to go into the jungle to find them.  The storm had destroyed all the trails – huge trees down everywhere – so the big boss told them to take machetes and carve out new paths.  Once they did – omigod, SURPRISE! – they came across these old Mayan ruins, wow!!  Mmhmm.  As I said, I took pictures, but we were really more interested in the fact that WE WERE RIDING HORSIES. 

 

Three notes of interest:  1) iguanas are everywhere; Chico referred to them as “Mexican squirrels” ; 2) of course, Chico also referred to Kahlua as “Mexican Diet Coke” ; 3) if we wanted to, they let us take the horses to a full gallop.  Did I mention no helmets?  They had a large sign posted which read, “ALL GALLOPING IS DONE AT YOUR OWN RISK,” so perhaps that sufficed?  Only the three expert riders tried it, and one of those girls nearly fell off.  Go figure.

 

We came back to the Cantina and had the offer of Coronitas, a few other beers, tequila etc., then hopped back on the bus.  On our ride back, the First Guide (I think maybe I’ll just refer to him as Speedy) asked if anyone wanted Coronas; perhaps ten people raised their hands.  Speedy then explained gravely that he had bad news, and good news.  “The bad news is that it’s illegal to drink on this road.  It’s a highway and like you got laws in the United States, we got laws here, and the police will stop you and you get in trouble, so we’re not allowed to drink on this highway.”  Long pause.  “Now here’s the good news . . . you’re in MEXICO!  We don’t pay attention to no rules here!”  He let the laughter die down, then continued:  “Now, I can’t give these to you for free, I gotta charge you two dollars, so it’s not free like at the Cantina, but hey, you buy a Corona in town, they gonna charge you four dollars, you know?  But I gotta charge you two dollars, cause if the policeman stop us, I have to share the money with him!”

 

We made it back to the pier without incident and then took a cab to downtown.  We stopped at a restaurant marked on our Shopping Map for lunch, which was both good and affordable.  A few notes from lunch:

-          I immediately made a beeline for the bathroom.  They had running water, but the same deal with toilet paper.  *whimper*  I took a pic of that sign, I’ll post it later J  They did have running water though, yay!

-          They don’t give you water, but since we didn’t really trust the water that wasn’t a problem.  Except, they do give you fresh chips and salsa, and the salsa has BIG FAT SLICES (not diced bits, SLICES) of jalapenos that you may not see until your mouth bursts into flames.  We both speak from experience.

-          The food prices were in pesos but they just had the regular dollar sign.  I admit I did a double-take when I saw the food sampler listed at $360.

-          Thank you Miss Pinkney, I actually do remember how to ask for the check.  And ask how much things cost, and tell someone I don’t want whatever they’re offering, and say something is too expensive, and a few other things.  We actually managed pretty well.

 

We then wandered around downtown for a while – we bought beers to drink, in bottles, as we wandered down the street, which amused me – before heading back to the pier, and back on the boat.  Mexico was pretty, and fun, and interesting, although hot as hell, but really what was important about Mexico were HORSIES. 

 

We were pretty exhausted the rest of the night; I remember that I had Black Angus Sirloin with herb butter for dinner, while Mike had Mahi Mahi, and that we went down to the cigar bar and finished off what was left of Mike’s cigar, but then we crashed, hard-core.  Oh, and that I took a VERY HOT shower while scrubbing feverishly to make sure I’d washed off all potential horse-muck or toilet germs.  *shudder* 

 

I’ll try to post the last boat-day later tonight, along with the fun we had in clearing customs, but this should do for now.  HORSIES HORSIES HORSIES!!!!  J

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Caribbean Diary, Day 5 (continued): FOOD.

Posted by Lissa on June 13, 2008

I think that was the best dining experience I’ve had in my life.  WARNING:  The rest of this post is going to be nothing but a description of food, pretty much.  If you’re hungry right now, I recommend you skip the rest.

My prior standard for that dubious distinction was Jiko’s, the restaurant in Animal Kingdom at Disney World; the service there was wonderful, the food was marvelous, and the restaurant décor was cool.  But – not Jiko’s fault – it wasn’t on a humongus boat, so tis hard to compete!

Last night’s restaurant is named Portofino’s and specializes in Italian seafood (as Mike mentioned, we just hate seafood.  And Italian cuisine.  About as much as we hate kitties).  We were seated at eight and started with a few different types of rolls, a breadstick and a baked flatbread which reminded me of Italian Mexican food.  To decorate the bread, we had bruschetta, a paste of mushrooms with a little truffle oil, a paste of olives (I let Mike eat that one), and a dish of roasted garlic cloves in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  We ordered a Chianti to go with dinner (Ruffino, Il Duchete or something like that, if you’re curious) and nommed happily.  Mike had a bit of trouble deciding what to order; the seafood skewer seemed to be the best choice, but he was really tempted by the Spaghettini di Frute del Mare.  As it turned out, the server really pushed the option that, if we wanted an extra pasta dish or main course, we could get just a little as a second course.  Shockingly, Mike jumped at the chance J

For appetizers, Mike chose tiger shrimp served on a bed of creamy saffron risotto.  (Like me, he has a slight problem with the texture of risotto – it’s supposed to be “slippery” and sometimes all I can think is “slimy,” but he layered it with the shrimp and the noodles and said it was delicious.)  I had Insalata Caprese, grape tomatoes and baby bottoncini (?) smothered in basil pesto and drizzled with balsamic vinegar.  I still don’t know exactly what the cheese was, but it tasted an awful lot like fresh mozzarella, so perhaps they’re related?  Very, very tasty.  For the second course we had the Spaghettini sample, which was much more peppery than I anticipated; it wasn’t until I finished that I noticed the red pepper flakes.  The spaghetti was served in a white wine sauce, with shrimp, scallops and squid on top.  (Mike ate my squid; he’s very fond of calamari, whereas I’m neutral, and the neutral tips to unfavorable when I can see all the little legs, sans breading.  No thank you, I is not wanting that.)  Both of us have a decent pepper tolerance, so we quite enjoyed it, and the pepper made it sit better with the Chianti.

It wasn’t until they cleared away the second course that, according to our server Maria, the chefs began to prepare our main course.  We’re still somewhat puzzled by this, but they did check at the beginning of the meal whether we had an event scheduled afterwards; I imagine that if the answer had been yes things would have gone more quickly.  As it was, it allowed us time to sip the wine and digest the mountains of food already consumed.  It actually took long enough between the second and third course that Maria offered to fetch us bread, or something else to nibble on, then brought each of us a glass of champagne (or sparkling wine) with a strawberry slice floating in it. 

The main course arrived not long after the champagne; we pushed it aside to save for dessert and marveled at our entrees.  We both ordered the seafood skewer; it came in a stand, the bottom part holding a plate securely and the top part consisting of an arm to hold the dangling skewer.  (I’ll insert a picture here later.)  I was eyeing the stand appreciatively but dubiously, wondering how on earth I was going to extract the seafood and consume it without skewering my dress or something worse, when the server returned to rescue me.  She took the skewer down, using a napkin to grasp it, and slid all the food onto my plate.  Shrimps, scallops, salmon and a lobster tail (which she helpfully extracted from the shell) nestled around a tomato beurre-blanc (sp?) sauce, garnished with two stalks of asparagus.  At this point, if I’d had any sense of self-preservation, I would have called it a day and doggy-bagged the rest for another time.  Would anyone like to guess whether I did so?  Anyone?  Bueller?

After the main course we were fairly groaning in our seats.  Maria cleared away our dishes and gave us dessert menus, promising that the best part of the meal was yet to come.  (We chuckled to ourselves, knowing there was no topping The Skewer, but humored her nonetheless.)  Again, it took long enough between courses that we finished our wine and decided that, yes, we could probably attempt dessert with no more than a 65% chance of imminent death.  Then dessert arrived and we decided that death was an acceptable price to pay.  Mike ordered Tiramisu, while I had a sample of desserts – a shot glass of Tiramisu, a tiny flourless chocolate cake, a little circle of Panacotta topped with raspberry sauce, and a small square dish of coconut crème brulee.  My friends, if ever you have the chance, I sincerely recommend that you visit Portofino and JUST order the dessert.  It’s that good, and the complimentary champagne made it all the better.  Twas a pity that neither of us really had room for the chocolate-dipped strawberries that came with it.  Maria was absolutely correct.

Naturally, about halfway through my dessert the waiters all gathered round to chant Happy Birthday and give me ANOTHER dessert.  Because, y’know, the FOUR I was working on just weren’t sufficient.  The large white dish had my name (spelled correctly, yay!) written out in chocolate sauce and held another mini flourless chocolate cake, a sliced strawberry and two more chocolate-dipped strawberries.  I thanked them all and, after the waiters and Maria departed, put the cake on a clean saucer and gave it to the table next to us.  I was far too close to death as it was.  When I ordered, I was under the delusion that a flourless chocolate cake allowed gluten-intolerant people to order it; actually, it’s so that the flour doesn’t get in the way of the EIGHTEEN POUNDS OF CHOCOLATE THEY MUST COMPRESS INTO THAT LITTLE MORSEL.  I swear, they put it down on the table and the boat immediately listed to starboard.

After polishing off the majority of our respective desserts and thanking the staff, Mike and I waddled to the elevators.  We considered going back to our rooms and abandoning ourselves to a gluttonous stupor, but decided it was more dignified to remain upright, so we wandered over to the cigar bar.  We topped off our evening with cigars and drinks, The Glenlivet for me and Remy Martin V.S.O.P. for Mike.

Thank you, again, to everyone who helped make my birthday beyond-amazingly-wonderfully-fabulously-great.  Mike obviously gets the most credit, but my sincere thanks also go to my family, and finally to all my friends.  It was wonderful, and I love you all!

P.S.  We’re almost at Cozumel now – time to ride horsies!  HORSIES!!!!

P.P.S.  We spent more time than you would think at dinner last night, trying to remember what we’d eaten and drunk for the previous dinners for the cruise.  I offer, for your food fetish, the following accounting:

Sunday: Prime Rib with horseradish for me, salmon for Mike, Beaujoulais-Villages (I’m SURE I spelled that wrong)

Monday: Filet mignon, medium rare, and Cline Zinfandel

Tuesday: Chicken marsala for Mike, lamb shank for me; I finished the zinfandel and he ordered pinot grigio

Wednesday: Filet of shoulder for both us, medium rare, with chive béarnaise sauce, and the same Beaujoulais from the first night

Thursday:  ENOUGH FOOD TO THAT I SHOULD NOT EAT FOR THE REST OF THE TRIP. MAYBE FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.  AND IT WAS WORTH IT.

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Caribbean Diary, Day 5: Grand Cayman

Posted by Lissa on June 12, 2008

Happy birthday to me,

I liked La-ba-dee

Jamaica was awesome

And horsies will be!

 

To backtrack just a little, last night Mike and I went to the martini bar on Floor 14, aptly and amusingly named Olive or Twist.  (Giggle-snort.)  Tis a kind, just God who invented such happy alcoholic deliciousness as a Chocolate Mint Martini.  Of course, it says right in the Bible that God invented good and God invented evil; this explains the presence of the gin martini.  (Shudder.)  Mike didn’t actually finish his, which is probably why he managed to live till this morning.  Or perhaps all the food from the midnight buffet helped dilute the ickiness.  We haven’t had the midnight buffet every night, just last night; they had music and dancing “under the stars” (of which you could see perhaps two) and really happy tropical drinks.  Why so you happy, you may ask?  Well, dear child, they were so happy because they had little multicolored lights blinking in the base.  I know, I know, y’all can’t BELIEVE I was massively entertained by the blinking colored drink glass J

 

Speaking of silly entertainment, the silly birthday song at the post’s beginning took longer than you would think to compose this morning; very little rhymes with Grand Cayman and I hadn’t had much coffee.  We managed to make it to the breakfast buffet today, but only because we were smart enough to order coffee-only room service.  (An aside – you’d think that having fresh coffee waiting by your bedside would be enough to get anyone up; not so.  As Jenny will happily tell you, I once actually doused her in coffee in the attempt to get her out of bed.  And when I say “actually doused her in coffee,” I mean “I tried once more to waft the coffee scent towards her nose at the same time that she rolled over and whacked the cup with her arm, sending a WAVE of coffee sloshing over the bed which was neither my intention nor my fault.”  Really.) 

 

The first tender boat landed in Grand Cayman at around 9:30 AM.  Our tour didn’t meet until 10:15 so we spent some time looking through the duty-free shops.  I was pleased that the stores right next to the pier offered cheap-touristy stuff, rather than the designer clothing, watches and jewelry that I had no interest in buying.  The tour ran perhaps twenty minutes late at the start; in my family we joke about Mom being on Island Time, which is fifteen-to-thirty minutes behind the rest of the world, but it’s actually true on Grand Cayman.  We loaded up in our “air-conditioned coach” (known to Americans as a mini-bus) and trekked over to the Nautilus, a semi-submersible.  The Nautilus looked like a basic, albeit small, pontoon boat, but all the seating was below the water line in an area lined with windows.  The tour crossed several coral formations, including the famous Cheeseburger Reef, as well as two shipwrecks.  (No, the reef is not made of cheeseburgers.  The guide told us today why it’s called that, but his accent was pretty strong and he was mumbling a bit, so I’ll leave the curious to check Wikipedia.org.)  We also saw loads of pretty fish, many of which looked tasty (the guide’s favorite fish was barracuda, of which we saw three). 

 

The boat tour took perhaps an hour.  (The entire Land-and-Sea Excursion was billed as a three-and-a-half hour tour, which Mike insisted on calling “a three-hour tour,” so that we could pretend we were from Gilligan’s Island.)  The bus ride to the next stop, the Turtle Farm, took us through some different Cayman neighborhoods and allowed the guide to share some local wisdom, including:

-          There is almost no crime in Grand Cayman, due to 1) virtually no unemployment, 2) rather strict laws.  For example, the speed limit throughout the island is 40 mph; if you get caught going more than 50 mph you automatically get your licensed yanked for six months. 

-          Caymanian police do not carry sidearms, nor even batons.  They do however carry a cane, which they call The Stick; as they say, “Da stick will do da trick.” 

-          The island is really, really flat; the highest hill is sixty feet above sea-level (or maybe ninety , I can’t remember).  The whole damn thing was under three-to-four feet of water during Hurricane Ivan in 2004; the island actually went off the radar map.  That’s why all the cars we saw were relatively new; literally all the cars were ruined during the hurricane.

-          The economy depends entirely on offshore banking and tourism.  The government doesn’t tax anything; they get grants from Great Britain (Grand Cayman voted to remain a crown colony) for some of it and pay for the rest . . . um, somehow.  Sorry, it was a lot of information that he threw at us and I wasn’t taking notes J 

The next stop was the Botswain Turtle Farm, the only known turtle farm in the world.  Turtle meat is considered a delicacy in those parts; the driver swore that turtle meat tastes just like pork, only the fat part of the meat is green rather than white.  (In which case, I’ll take the pork, please.)  They have all these HUGE freaking sea turtles floating about and getting, um, amorous; after the turtles mate, they bury the eggs in an artificial beach.  The farm folks collect them, tag them, and incubate them; some are kept for breeders, some are harvested for consumption, and twenty percent are released back into the wild.  I’ll have to edit this post later to insert a picture of my holding a flapping turtle and looking completely engrossed; I was busy telling it how my kitty would want to play with it.  We skipped the Turtle Burgers and the Turtle Soup.

After the turtle farm we stopped in Hell.  Yes, there is an actual town in Grand Cayman named Hell.  The name comes from this freakish formation of limestone that stands in the midst of palm trees and sweetsops trees.  The stones are a dark-gray and twisted and actually do look rather like devilish teeth that broke through the surface.  Besides that, and one souvenir shop, the only other things of interest were a few roosters walking about and occasionally crowing.  (I clucked to them but they did not seem eager to let me pet them.  A pity.)

Our final stop was at the Tortuga Rum Factory, which included samples of lots of different kinds of rum and different flavors of rum cake.  It also included growing anxiety on our part, as the time was 2:15 PM when we pulled up at and the last tender left was scheduled to leave from the pier at 3:15 PM.  The driver airily dismissed our concerns, assuring us we would get back in time, which did not exactly endear him to Mike and me.  We were there for about twenty minutes, most of which I spent grabbing souvenirs for the family, since it was obvious at this point that there would be no time for shopping once we returned to the pier.  (We were scheduled to return to the pier by two and had planned on picking up souvenirs and Cuban cigars on the way back to the ship.  We got there at 2:45 and went straight to the tender.  The guide, however, helpfully described all the best shops and restaurants . . . that we did not have time to explore.  Grrr.)

It took quite a while to get back to the ship; I don’t know if everyone else’s excursions rate late as well, but they had at least four tender boats going and still it took a good twenty-five minutes to get on board.  (I got a great picture of the monster boat with two tender boats docked alongside; the monster boat could SO OBVIOUSLY *EAT* the tender boats with no chewing.  Think Rajah with a treat; just down the hatch.  No pun intended.)  We stopped at Sorrento’s for a quick slice of pizza and then came back to the room to find all sorts of pretty yellow, blue and gold decorations for my birthday, yay!!  And a chocolate cake, yay!!! Thank you Mike and family folks, they were lovely and delicious, respectively. 

I must dash off now and get ready for my super-wonderful seafood birthday dinner at Portfino’s.  Thank you everyone who called or hit Facebook to wish me happy birthday, I love you all! 

(Two edits made)

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Caribbean Diary, Day 4: Jamaica!!

Posted by Lissa on June 11, 2008

 Welcome to J-A, mon!  Everyt’ing irie!

 

Wow.  I’m a bit sunburnt and tired as hell, but wow, was it a wonderful day!!  We booked a cruise to Dunn’s Falls (Dunn’s River Falls?), a 600-feet climb up THROUGH, not around, the waterfall.  It took just under an hour to get to the falls, though it wasn’t far from the boat; they started in the opposite direction to give us a quickie tour of the coastline before doubling back.  Even at 9:30 AM the sun was bright and pretty damn hot; made me glad for a slight haze/cloud cover, definitely.  The crew members were all friendly (of course) and walked about offering people fruit punch (I swear it was Kool-aid) or Red Stripe, if they wanted to buy beer. 

 

We landed by the falls and immediately Mike was directed over to the side to put his bag down.  He only had the towels and his flip-flops in it, so we weren’t worried, but we were a bit surprised; I guessed (correctly) that they wanted us to be able to use both hands.  There was one more reason also, but I didn’t figure that out till later.

 

We started up the falls in a long snaking line of tourists, hands linked to the person on either side.  I have no idea what those falls are made of; I don’t think they’re concrete, but I also don’t think they can be natural rock; the progression is too perfect and the services surfaces aren’t nearly slick enough to be a natural waterfall.  Originally I kept my purse and my camera, sealed away in a Ziploc bag, but right after the first big waterhole I began to worry a bit.  At that point I had it slung over one shoulder and kept on my back, trying to keep it as high as possible; however, when the guide offered to take it for me before the second big waterhole I gladly accepted, as that one came up to my chest.  Yikes!  Turned out, *that’s* the reason Mike couldn’t bring his bag; my purse was small and portable, whereas a plastic bag stuffed with towels would have absolutely no shot of staying dry.  The water was cool and DAMN fast and hard, at points.  I didn’t have any particular trouble, nor did Mike, but I had a lady in front of me who was struggling pretty badly, while Mike had a youngish girl behind him who likewise needed help.  So, between climbing all the way up and hoisting our respective neighbors, we definitely earned our rum punch!  For those of you who are as numerically-challenged as I am, apparently 600 feet is higher than the monster boat I’m on, which is about fifteen stories high.  Something like that.  I admit to being a bit surprised at the lack of concern with potential litigation; the guide offered to hold any cameras that were not water-proof and hiked up easily holding about four cameras and a pair of glasses.  (And two bags, eventually, one of which was mine.  I tipped him extra to say thanks.)  Also, at points I swear a slide off the side of the rock would have dropped Struggling Lady about six feet down onto a large rock.  No *WAY* could you have a tour like this in the States without 1) signing away your future with release forms, 2) safety helmets, 3) maybe harnesses as well.  I’m not kidding.  But it was a lot of fun and we all made it to the top, hooray! 

 

Of course, no trip to Jamaica would be complete nowadays without an offer of . . . special refreshments.  Sure enough, on the way back to the boat we had a man introduce himself as Sonny, offer to take us on a jetski, then ask Mike if he “smoked da Bob Marley mon, ya mon, we just do a handshake and no one see, I got it right here mon.”  We said no thank you very politely several times, sorry to disappoint those of you who were hoping otherwise!

 

The ride home was longer, as we headed out to see for a good ways before turning back to the boat.  I managed to see one flying fish, which I swear looked more like a dragonfly than a fish – Rajah would chomp that thing in a SECOND.  Amusingly, they handed out rum punch as soon as we came aboard; in Mike’s words, it was definitely a little more “high octane” than the stuff they’d handed out that morning.  Combine that with a Red Stripe or two, reggae music, and a nice ocean breeze, and we had ourselves one kickassingly great outing in Jamaica J  This is one seriously beautiful island, y’all.

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Caribbean Diary, Day 3, Part 2 (written Wednesday morning)

Posted by Lissa on June 11, 2008

BOY: Do you know what polar bears are good at?

GIRL:  No, what?

BOY:  Breaking the ice!  Hi, I’m Dave.

GIRL: (gag)

 

Okay I assumed that last part about gagging, but that was a contribution from Zach at dinner last night.  He and his friend Dave were comparing ways to “break the ice” with girls they wanted to approach on the boat and the above was the example from Dave.  Seriously?  Zach’s, BTW, was much better; he usually wears two necklaces and will take one off and start fussing with the clasp, then ask a girl to help him put it on.  That way she has to touch him AND she’s kind of stuck there for a few seconds while he introduces himself.  Whereas all the polar bear line would earn you is a smack, in my opinion.  And not the good kind.

 

Dinner last night was the Venetian Fest; we started out with caprese salad and antipasti, progressed to lamb shank and chicken marsala, and ended with chocolate cake and tiramisu (me and Mike, respectively for all three).  I think Mike actually liked the lamb more than I did; I only ordered it because Dad likes it so much.  That, and thanks to Jenny’s enlightenment a few years ago, I now know that “lamb” on a restaurant means “sheep,” not “little baby cute fuzzy sheep.”  (I’d thought that lamb and veal were equivalent terms for the different animals.  Jenny pointed out that, unless you’re in England, they do not list “mutton” on the menu.  Duuuuuuuuh.  Sometimes, I not so smart.)  It was just as well though; Mike has been ordering things like chicken and fish while I’ve been ordering steak and lamb, so I feed him about half my dinner and then I can have dessert!

 

We also had the entertaining spectacle of watching all the waiters twirl napkins above their head ala Big Fat Greek Wedding and, all together, sing O Sole Mio.  Our waiter (I Made, from Bali; pronounced ih-MAHD-ee) came back and immediately confessed that he lip-synched J  I didn’t mind; they were all relatively in tune, even if they didn’t know the words, and god knows it beat the over-loud latino music they were playing earlier.

 

Oh, I think I’ve forgotten to mention the quinceanera girls!!  There’s a group of about fifteen girls who, the first night, were all wearing elaborate wedding dresses.  I’m not kidding, they were not prom gowns in the slightest, they were WEDDING DRESSES, big poofy embroidered ones, topped with sparkly tiaras.  Last night they changed to white skirts and turquoise blouses, but I’m still blown away by the wedding dresses.  My god, if those folks spend this much on a quinceanera dress and party, what the hell are they going to do at the actual wedding?  Raise the Titanic?  Sheesh.

 

A beautiful day is dawning; it’s such a hardship to greet said day on a balcony overlooking a beautiful ocean, with coffee and breakfast delivered to the room, and Mike earnestly explaining the concept of displacement and comparing our ship with the Nimitz.  Life is very, very good.  J

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Caribbean Diary, Day 3

Posted by Lissa on June 10, 2008

Tuesday, today, was the trip to Labadee, a peninsula off Haiti.  The weather was just gorgeous, luckily; I checked the weather forecast before we left and all four destinations had partly cloudy or chance of thunderstorms, so a beautiful sunny day was a welcome sight.  We pulled into Labadee around 8 AM; I’d put out the brochure for room service to guarantee coffee before 7:30 AM.  The first tender boat left at 8:30; we went down around 8:45 and found no line or crowds.  Labadee’s a pretty narrow peninsula; we walked about and checked out ruins (I think they’re fake!) and the flea market (I didn’t know we were supposed to haggle, but the guy I bought sunglasses from was kind enough to inform me) and a few of the different beaches.  Although there were lockers at the more popular beaches, we didn’t know that J  So when we were finished with the photography (BEAUTIFUL mountains, beautiful water, beautiful everything) we went back to the ship, dumped my camera, got rehydrated, stopped at guest relations to get small bills for tipping, and headed back to the island.  This time the line extended up at least three levels of stairs, likely more; I suppose normal people slept in and took longer to get going.  (Oh, I forgot to mention, but in Labadee and, I think, Grand Cayman,  the water is too shallow for our monster of a boat, so the boat is anchored offshore and tender boats ferry the tourists to land.  It therefore takes longer to get off and reboard the ship, but it was a minor annoyance, not a big deal.) 

 

We picked a happy beach and grabbed chairs to lounge in Delicious Sun.  Of course, when I say “we grabbed,” I mean, “we let the guy following us around fetch us two and tipped him.”  A couple down in front of us had a guy set them up chairs and then proceeded to completely ignore him while he stood there for a few minutes, after which he gave up and left, shaking his head.  Mike thinks he saw the Beach Patrol guy go over and give them a talking-to later, but I can’t say I noticed.  We pretty much threw our stuff at the chairs and sprinted to the water, knocking over a few small children and elderly hobblers along the way.  (No, not really.)  The water was a beautiful aquamarine color and yet not as warm as I expected; I thought it was going to be bathtub temperature, but instead it was cool, though not cold.  We paddled about for a while and I relished the fact that 1) the water is SO SO CLEAR you can see all the way down to the bottom, 2) because of that, you can stop worrying that a shark is about to bite off your toes, 3) turns out, I float in salt water, hooray!  (I don’t float in pool water; I almost drowned Jenny once or twice when we were kids, using her as a springboard to get to the side when I panicked and thought I was too tired to keep treading water.  See Jenny, wasn’t my fault, was just that the water wasn’t salty enough.  *Ahem.*)  (Second parenthetical – I *know* sharks aren’t actually likely to bite off my toes, and that the Caribbean is too warm for most sharks and not known for them, but dude, I saw Jaws 2 or 3 or whatever it was.  These things can happen.  And any moment that spaceship IS going to land and I AM going to see it.)

 

We played on the beach for a little over an hour, alternating Happy Sun Consumption with Happy Ocean Paddling Without Fear of Unseen Menaces, then headed over for the lunch Royal Caribbean set up on the beach.  Mom, if you’re reading this, do take comfort in the fact that your jerk chicken is WAY better than theirs.  No comparison at all.  We came back around two and showered off the sand and chugged water and settled in for a quiet afternoon.  (They SAY several times that if you miss the last tender at 4:15 you will get a lovely picture of the boat as it pulls away, because it is NOT waiting for you.  I think that’s slight exaggeration, but we’ve no desire to test their sincerity.)

 

All in all, a lovely, relaxing, sun-drenched, water-filled, happy day!  VERY EXCITED to do Jamaica tomorrow!!!

P.S. In the elevators here, there’s a panel right by the entrance with the day of the week.  Thank goodness.  Because I’ve already mixed it up three times today.

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Caribbean Diary, Day 2

Posted by Lissa on June 10, 2008

Lovely, lovely, lovely.  Mike being the insane Boy Scout that he is woke up early to go work out today.  Me, I considered that I’d had four hours of sleep the night before, and some food and wine, and that the 9th (today)  was the only day for a while that I had to sleep in if I wanted, and told Mike to let me sleep.  He did, honestly, but that deed was somewhat sullied by the phone ringing to tell me that my facial appointment was confirmed.  Which would be great . . . if I’d MADE a facial appointment.  I assured them they had the wrong room and collapsed into sleep.  The second ring also woke me up, but since that was room service telling me they were delivering coffee-and-food soon, that was not a problem J

Our activity for the morning was the Rock Wall.  I have a bunch of good pictures of each of us going up, and even better pictures of us looking like absolute morons in our helmets and harnesses.  We both made it to the top but I freely admit that the woman on the belaying line gave us help; it was in her interests to keep us moving and get us to the top, as there was a rather long line behind us.  Even so, my fingers were awfully tired for the next few hours.

After the Rock Wall we went to the Port Shopping seminar, for about five minutes.  Then we realized that the information on the agenda was not about food, or credit cards versus cash, but was instead advice about where to buy diamonds (“Seventy percent of you will end up shopping for diamonds!”  Riiiiiight.  Mike:  “They’ve got to be counting everyone who WANDERS BY and says, “Ooo, shiny!” “) and brand-name designer clothes for less (I thought TJ Maxx was the place for that).  So we skipped and grabbed lunch instead (got to sit by the window this time, almost dead stern, SUCH a great view).  After that, a quick shower and I was off to sun worship again.  Mike joined me after an hour or so; we found a (small) pool that was adults-only and far enough away from the (god-awful knock-off) steel drum band that I didn’t have to constantly grind my teeth.   Shockingly, the cruise staff are very, very good about coming by frequently and offering to grab you stuff from the bar; Mike’s favorite is the Miami Vice, while I’m more partial to the Bahama Mama.

I came back from sun worshipping to find Mike with a bottle of champagne (real champagne, not sparkling wine, for those of you who are interested) and chocolate-dipped strawberries, a gift from his folks for my birthday.  The sun wasn’t too hot at that point, the breeze was wonderful, and the ocean was the bluest thing I’d ever seen; some incredibly vibrant shade of blue that you don’t see on land.  (Lissa:  “Do you think that’s cobalt blue?  Is that the shade?”  Mike:  “I think it’s . . . *ocean* blue.”  Lissa: Smack.)  Just so, so lovely.  Did I mention that we have a balcony off our stateroom???  J  (Which is far roomier than I expected, and the bed is very comfy; I was rather expecting a shoebox.)

A quick nap and then it was time to dress for the fancy dinner.  Mike brought a suit and I had a formal black dress with red heels; we looked pretty snazzy, if I do say so myself.  We went down to the fifth floor, the Promenade, which is the row of shops.  They had a tiny orchestra and two lounge-type singers (both of whom were good!  Yay!)  and I got to wander around and gawk at other women’s dresses.  (I tried to explain this to Mike – my comparison was driving around a country club and admiring Benzes while shaking your head at jalopies – and I think I failed.)  Dinner was lovely; I got brave and tried the escargot.  No, they don’t really look like snails, and yes, they just taste like butter-garlic; delicious.  Then filet of beef and a Gran Marnier soufflé, before Mike rolled me back to our room.

Labadee tomorrow, hooray!  We don’t have a real excursion planned tomorrow; it’s our first day on land and I think it’s mostly shopping stuff, so we may just lounge about on a beach.  (Boy, do I hate doing that.  Really, really hate it.)  But we have an excursion to climb Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica and to go horseback riding in Cozumel, hooray!

A few asides:

1)      I was very careful in packing my cosmetics case; I actually brought a spare toothbrush, in case Mike forgot his, along with tweezers and makeup and toothpaste.  Too bad that very carefully packed case is sitting in my bathroom right now.  Grrrr.

2)      The bow is up front and the stern is in back; forward is, well, forward, and aft is back (towards the stern).

3)      Today is Labadee, an island off the coast of Haiti that is sort of leased by the cruise companies, Royal Caribbean among them.  Tomorrow is Jamaica (whoo-hoo!), Thursday is Grand Cayman (and my birthday), Friday is Cozumel and Saturday is the second boat day, on the way back to Miami.

4)      Half the crew here is from Jamaica, seems like; they all say they’re from Kingston but I asked and confirmed that they just say that because they think that’s the only place in Jamaica anyone’s ever heard of. 

5)      Speaking of Jamaica, I have instructions from Mom to try eatie-oatie apples, neesberries and sweetsops; while the tourist information specifically tells me not to eat the local fruit, I will risk a stomach upset and try it anyway.  The Jamaican cruise staff I spoke with assured me there would be local fruit vendors.

6)      This vacation RULES.  Jenny, we’re SO going on a cruise some day, even if it’s just a cruise-to-nowhere off Boston.  In fact, we may prefer that.

 

Yay for boat!!!!

 

EDIT:

7) BTW, I think the way this thing works is that the first time you post comments I have to approve you; after that I believe it will just let you comment.  We’ll have to see. 

8) The bandwidth here is both sort of slow and really expensive, so with the exception of Jamaica photos will probably have to wait till I’m home.

9) Jenny, thank you for feeding/watering Travis :)

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Caribbean Diary, Day 1

Posted by Lissa on June 10, 2008

I knew I fucking hated Cuba.  I don’t blame the people at all for suffering under their regime of unbending Communism, but DUDE.  We were on the ship with NO LAND IN FUCKING SIGHT except for Cuba in the far FAR distance, and I got bit by a fucking mosquito.  WHO ELSE DO YOU KNOW THAT COULD GET BITTEN BY A GODDAMNED MOSQUITO IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN EXCEPT FOR ME????  The only silver lining is that I felt the little bastard and killed it whilst it was sucking my blood.  Take that, vampire bug!! 

Anyway, let me recount all the happy stuff, which is pretty much . . . oh, everything besides getting a welt from a Cuban mosquito J  I *know* the diary says Day 1, but this is actually Day 2, only I’m *writing* about Day 1, and the title will reflect such.  This has been the most WONDERFUL AWESOME INCREDIBLE vacation I’ve EVER had. 

Yesterday we wandered about the ship and explored the different levels and areas and pools and activities and food-providing places and it was wonderful.  Mike also took a nap while I pledged the Sun Goddess my undying love and affection, if she would only grace me with her radiant . . . um . . . rays.

 

We had dinner in the fancy dining room, which was nice, and the food was quite nice also.  I admit to being a bit disappointed in our table; I was hopeful it would contain people roughly our age with whom we might make friends, but it had one family, with a husband-and-wife along with two teenagers and an eight-year-old (roughly).  They were nice, but rather self-contained.  (Just in case you were wondering, yes, I did memorize their names; Bob, Holly, Zach, Aubrey and Hannah.  See, I *can* remember names. Sometimes.  When I’m lucky. Eh.)  The server assured me that there would be more people tomorrow, and I hope he’s right.

 

Speaking of tomorrow . . . that leads to the Caribbean, Day 2!

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