Friday, October 25, 2013

Adventures Aboard: Caribbean Cruise

It's always a good idea to have your passport handy,  in case, say, your sister who works for a cruise line calls and needs someone to go with at the last minute. Call on the neighbor friends, rearrange a few things, beg the husband, and yep, I was good to go.
All I have to say is prayers are answered and wishes come true in the most wonderfully unexpected ways. Mine were something like this: Please let me be able to explore the world and learn from all the people in them. This trip was just exactly that!  I loved it and I have to believe my parents have a little pull on the other side. 
Thus began our pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming 11-day free exotic Southern Caribbean Cruise! 

Day 1: New York City
My sister and I flew in from our various locations. Both our flights were delayed putting us into NYC very late at night. We spent the rest of the time in the airport and that was just the beginning of our adventure.  Do you know everything is hysterically funny in the wee hours of the morning? 

Central Park

We took a taxi from the airport to the cruise port where we dropped of our luggage and then before embarkation we had a couple of hours to speed walk zombie fashion due to our sleep-deprived state, through this exciting city. We walked through Times Square, Central Park, 5th Avenue savored a slice of famous NY pizza.

Settling into life once on board the ship wasn't hard at all-- Room service, all you can eat everything anytime, and every kind of entertainment imaginable from karaoke to comedy?  We met our assigned dinner mates and enjoyed the view of the Statue of Liberty at nightfall as we dined on 3 delicious courses. 

Day 2 at Sea: The rough waters may have made others queasy but it put my sister and I to sleep instantly. After a great night's sleep we breakfasted and took our books to have a relaxing read on the sun deck (these are the things vacations are made of) I took my book about Australia and who should we run into but a family of Australians? We got to chatting--for like hours! and learned about life down under from politics to healthcare education. Fascinating. It seems Australia has many the same political and immigration problems we do? 

Day 3 at Sea: More dining, reading. We went to the evening entertainment in the garrish theatre, went to a comedy show and sat in on the most pathetic karaoke you have ever seen. Not to worry-- we livened it up with our rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. We soon found out that our cabin was directly under the karaoke bar. Wouldn't you know it but someone had to belt out "New York, New York," every stinkin' night!!! Oh the hardships of being on a cruise. 

Day 4: Grand Turk
 We booked a "power snorkeling" excursion, which is like regular snorkeling except with jet packs. Our driver told us all about the island on our way but with his thick accent (he was from Haiti) so we couldn't understand a word! Something about the salt industry and wild horses roaming the island which we did see, although they were small and thin and maybe more like donkeys. Locals rode them anyway.
Our snorkeling excursion took us on a small boat to a spot in the ocean where the sea floor dropped 7000 feet. We snorkeled along the edge of it and saw myriad fish including Dori from Nemo and coral formations that could rival any earthly garden. Coolest thing I saw was brain coral, a squid and some jelly fish. Not so cool was that my sister got stung by those jellyfish. But, we didn't find that out until the next day!

Day 5 at Sea: We both woke up with major sunburns. All the sunscreen in the world could not prevent these white girls from the effects of intense tropical sun glare. To our great surprise, our very black friends were also sunburned.  Aloe was the word of the day here--and I'll tell you the cruise gift shop  makes a killing on the stuff.  To boot, my sister's ankle was swollen and purpley red, so much so that it made walking difficult and painful. It could only have been those jellyfish! The other word of the day? Vinegar. That, folks, is the only way to neutralize a sting we learned and luckily she got a bottle free from our waiter. The smell of it will wake you up like a punch in the face.   After many generous applications, she went straight to bed and well, I snuck out for fresh air as well as take in a show and dance with my Aussie friends at the club.

Day 6: Aruba
 Beach day all day. Need I say more?
We took the public bus to this beach and plopped ourselves right on some resort chairs. Happy as clams.

Day 7: Curacao (pronounced Ker-uh-sow) or Karakwa if you're my sister. 
We walked around town through an old fort turned shopping mall, walked to the floating market where we bought fresh off-the-boat tangerines. More than 100 different ethnic groups reside here but they are subject to the Dutch King, hence the quaint well-kept painted buildings.   We were just off the coast of South America at this point so I shouldn't have been surprised my Spanish came in handy when asking for directions. Dutch is also spoken as well as a unique language called Papiamento which is a mix of all the above.
 You could pay for a $50 excursion from the ship and arrive at Mambo Beach and drink some margaritas--OR as we found out after talking to the locals you could take the mini bus for $2 and go to the same beach for free. We ain't no fools.
This beach was my heaven--a reef enclosed it like a private swimming pool and had the added benefit of providing great snorkeling! We were glad we brought our own gear.

Day 8 at Sea
Besides the Aussie's we made a few other fun friends. That is the great thing about cruising is that you can meet nice people from all over the world! We had Louie the master diver, Vinny the family man from Brooklyn, and Frank from Florida who was enjoying his 72nd cruise. His advice to us was that if you want someone to remember you "kick them in the shins." (He somehow became successful anyway). There were our three table mates who lived in New York but were originally from Grenada, St. Thomas, and Jamaica.We had our South Carolina friends, our Canadian friends, and the most charming gay couple from England who also lived half the year in France. They were fascinated to find out about our Scottish ancestry and told us more about our family history than we ever knew. Finding out we were Mormons was equally fascinating to them. They wanted to know all about it and after we took turns explaining they agreed, "We love Jesus too!"

Life on the boat was grand. We got dressed up for fine dining every night, sat on the front-row of the evening shows, and came back to a tidied up cabin with chocolates on our pillow and towel figurines. The staff was great. 

Day 9:  Jamaica
80% of the country is lush green rolling hills and although it looks beautiful,  I have to admit I was not looking forward to this particular stop.  My last memory of being here was of being yelled at and harassed for not tipping enough and again for not buying more local wares. After this new experience however, I  turned an about face. Our Canadian friends had wisely arranged for a private driver to take them all over and kindly invited us to join them! We had a lovely time driving through the fern gully, where the road was lined with natives selling their handicrafts from wood carvings to painted shells, to Bob Marley t-shirts. Beyond them loomed steamy hills of lush vegetation. We stopped at Dunn's River Falls which is spectacular to view and thrilling to climb. Here you can scale up waterfall after waterfall that spills into a beautiful beach below. 
  We were introduced to Jamaican ginger beer which is like ginger ale with non-alcoholic kick. The spicy soda turned out to have a nice medicinal effect, settling my stomach through those windy jungle roads.

Our driver is what really made Jamaica fantastic. He said "ya mon" a lot which we found very charming. Also, he taught us how to bargain with the locals. It goes like this:  whatever price they give reduce it 60% and that's the fair price. We had our first chance to put this into action when a guy walked over to our van selling handmade motorcycle figurines from wood. "$25," he declared. "How about 10" I said? "15", he countered. "$12 no more" and with exact change in my hand the exchange was made. Everyone is happy! That is how it's done gringos.  

Oh the things people will do for a tip.

 We may have gotten a little carried away with the ginger beer.
We spent the afternoon being well looked under a cabana at a private beach. Kayaks were begging to be used so we once again used our bargaining powers and got 2 for less than the price of one...and honestly we had no more cash to give! Our day in Jamaica was wonderful. If you ever go there, ask for Richard. He is the magic word around here.

Day 10:  Grand Cayman
When we got to port we didn't have a plan except to get to the famous 7-mile beach with snorkel gear in tow. But, after some browsing around in the shops, we came across a tour offering a visit to Stingray City as well as snorkeling a pristine coral reef! My sister doesn't much like to share her swimming quarters with living things, especially after the jellyfish episode.  But my excitement convinced her to take the adventure of a lifetime and swim with sting rays!! It was an unforgettable experience and I loved every minute of it! Apparently you can bargain here too because we got a great deal. There were no excuses now. I think this picture says it all...

Snorkeling was awesome. I saw and dodged lots--o-jellyfish which our guide assured us were the harmless kind but big sister wasn't takin' no chances. She stayed cozy in the boat. I went off on my own a bit so I could see more than Japanese tourist legs.   The reefs were amazing with purple fan coral, large brain coral  and again fish in all their color and variety. A gentle spotted eagle ray glided past. Deep down in a crevice I spotted something very creepy looking and began to feel like I had wandered maybe a tad too far out on my own. I swam back and asked the guides about the strange creature. They knew exactly what I described--a moray eel!  Our guide dove in and brought me up big beautiful Conch shell. So cool! I have been working to de-stinkify ever since. (there is something to be said for buying them at the gift shop)

Can you believe this water??? An afternoon downpour forced us back to port and on the ship, otherwise I may never have left the Cayman Islands!

Day 11:  Last Day at Sea
Had a read-a-thon on deck while soaking up our last chance for tropical sun. Enjoyed a wonderful chocolate buffet and participated in the Thriller dance lesson on the Lido deck. Ow! 

Day 12: Debarkation in Tampa, Florida
With our trip ending on the Gulf side of Florida and a few hours before our flights took us home, we decided to end with a bang and visit the Top Rated Beach in the Sunshine State!... rented a car for the day and drove here:

As the sign says, this beach had it all--fun shops, warm water, shells for collecting, and you could see the fish swimming around you. Most remarkable of all  was the sand. It was like walking in powdered sugar!!
 There's nothing like being on the same boat for 11 days to mend a relationship. My sister and I did have a rough patch when our mom died last year but we have forgiven and moved on and that is life. You don't have to spend a vacation together but you do have to forgive. In our case it's a good thing too because we make excellent travel buddies. 

Back home I spoiled the family with t-shirts, dolls, and nick-knacks. Of course I've been sharing ginger beer with anyone willing to try. The time has come to retire the suitcases for awhile.  I've exhausted my friend equity for one lifetime and anyway the best place of all is in the loving arms of my husband and kids. Awwww. They missed me and I missed them!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Conference at Our House

When you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints it is a special occasion when you can stay home on Sunday, wear your PJ's and watch church on TV! It deserves special celebrating with family and treats--lots of them.
 I realized when I took all the kids to the candy store with instructions to pick out their favorite goodie that I have totally turned into my mom!
The veggie tray is my own contribution to the tradition. Surprisingly they got eaten!  Besides good food, we cherished this conference as a time to spend with family and enjoy inspiring messages from men and women and our Prophet. I have to agree with President Monson that this was a most inspiring Conference!

Be meek and lowly of heart  control your temper  Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith  Member and missionaries must work together  Slow down, rest up, replenish and refill (or you'll get sick) 15 million members strong For those with emotional or mental illness: God expects you to get a Priesthood blessing AND the best medical help available. For those who know or care for those with mental/emotional illness--be merciful, non -judgmental and kind.  Be bold in sharing the Gospel--pray not to be afraid.  It is impossible to fail when we do our best.  80,000 missionaries
Take someone by the hand and introduce them to Jesus Christ. ASK, SEEK, KNOCK.  Know the desires and dreams of your spouse's heart--be ONE.  Courage not Compromise  Man's laws cannot make moral what God has declared immoral.   Lay aside the things of this world and seek for a better.   Then don't stand idly looking on, the fight with sin is real. Come help the good work move along put your shoulder to the wheel.  To be in spiritual shape, like physical shape, takes DEDICATION, PERSEVERANCE and SELF-DISCIPLINE.
Live a life of selfless service. Patience is required.  Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve we would remain as we are, never progressing.  The stronger the wind the taller the trees. How we preserve TIME for FAMILY is vital issue--Let's be on the forefront.    Attend all three church meetings wherever you are.  10 Commandments. Look up
 I am a Child of God  Chastity before marriage, complete fidelity in marriage.   Marriage protects the powers of procreation. 41% of births in U.S. are outside of marriage.  LOVE.  The Savior is always near, especially in sacred places and especially in times of need.