Abuse your passport

When my dad asks why I travel so much, I wonder. This is the man who took me on my first international trip when I was six months old. I celebrated my 12th birthday in Brasil, and by 20, I'd been to five continents and set my sights on all seven.
Living in: Denver, United States
  • Day8

    It's a wrap

    November 30, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 2 °C

    We wrapped up our last few hours in Iceland with a stop at the flea market downtown. Deb and Kim made a couple of purchases, and I grabbed an Icelandic novel for the plane (and Linda Robinson). We decided to grab fish and chips on our way to the airport, and we scored big with the google. Searching for the best fish and chips in Keflavik, we discovered Issi, which happened to be located right next to a gas station and on the way to the airport. It sounded like the perfect stop. As we pulled up, we noticed it wasn’t actually a restaurant, but a small “box” at the end of a parking lot. There was one table, which was already occupied, so we ordered and stood at the tiny counter. The place is all windows but not a single chair is apparently allowed to occupy space. The fish batter was as light and airy as the shop. Here, too, the fish was locally sourced and delicious. We also learned that Issi’s grandfather actually owned the first fish and chips joint in Iceland; however, he went on a bender and accidentally burned the place down in 1942.

    After eating, we topped off the gas tank for another $70 and returned the car at the airport. Because it was still light out, we got to see our surroundings, which we missed in the dark, when we arrived. The drive to the airport is a trip through a lava field; however, the airport, itself, is punctuated with lots of public art. It was fun to spend some time looking at the sculptures, paintings, etc. throughout the facility. It made our departure much more interesting.

    With the close of another trip, I think of the time spent in Iceland and reflect on my top ten list:

    10. Watching the Harpa Concert Hall turn colors, over, and over, and over, and over...
    9. Bean bag mattresses and big screens.
    8. Whooping Kim and Deb in Canasta.
    7. Seeing amazing waterfalls and walking behind the crashing water of one.
    6. Eating more fish and chips in a week than I have in the last year.
    5. Hiking onto a glacier, after passing on the last opportunity that I had.
    4. Walking in and around glacier remnants on Diamond Beach.
    3. Going into the fissure that separates the North American and Eurasian plates.
    2. Watching the Northern lights dance across the sky.
    1. Stepping foot in my 50th country.
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  • Day7

    Reykjavik: A beehive of activity

    November 29, 2019 in Iceland ⋅ ⛅ -1 °C

    For our last full day, we spent time seeing more of Reykjavik. We started with a stop at the Sun Voyager sculpture. The stainless steel piece is an ode to the Viking explorers who brought settlement to Iceland, as well as those who ventured on to Greenland and North America. The sculpture sits on the coastline, staring into the northwest, with the ocean lapping near the platform.

    Our next visit was Aurora Reykjavik: The Northern Lights Center. The exhibit is housed in a small building, dwarfed by the large ships and warehouses in the harbor. It is an intimate and small arrangement of information that is well organized and interesting. The first section covered myths, based on the siting of the lights, from different cultures. I think my favorite story was from Russia. According to Russian folklore, the lights are associated with a fire dragon that would visit villages and seduce women. The story recounts a time, when a village went to war, and all the men left for battle, except one, who was left behind to care for the women. When the village men returned, they found that all their wives were pregnant. They were ready to beat the man left behind, when he swore repeatedly that he’d done nothing; it must have been the fire dragon. Good one.

    The exhibit has a scientific area that explains how and why the lights occur, as well as an interactive display of the colors. The best part, though, was the last room. A small theater, with a wide screen, was set up similar to the Lave Center. Deb took a chair, while Kim and I went vertical on the bean bag mattresses. The 22 minute film loops video of the Northern lights. Many of the short videos were taken at locations we had visited this week: Thingvellir, Gullfoss, Kerid Crater, etc. With mellow, instrumental music playing in the background, I was entranced by the images. Had I stayed any longer, I would have been asleep. On our way out, we stopped in the gift shop for our complimentary hot beverage and look around. They provide a swivel chair and virtual reality goggles that display even more photos of the lights. We took turns “looking” at the lights and enjoying the amazing photography.

    We walked about half a mile to the Harpa Concert Hall. Relatively new, the hall was opened in 2013. Similar to Sydney, the building is right on the waterfront and boasts unique architecture. The exterior walls look like a beehive, with penta- and hexagonal shapes fitted together. The honeycombs turn different colors and, inside, light up the reflective ceiling. The interior is several stories high, with sweeping views of the bay. It’s an interesting building, and I was disappointed that we’d run out of time and wouldn’t be able to see a show here. I guess I’ll have to come back.
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  • Day6

    Reykjavik, by Rick Steves

    November 28, 2019 in Iceland ⋅ ⛅ 0 °C

    I tore the walking tour pages from my Rick Steves Iceland guidebook and played tour guide today. We’re just 10 minutes from downtown, so the drive was short. We started at Ingólfur Square, which commemorates the settling of Iceland in 874. According to legend, the Scandinavian explorer, Ingólfur Árnason, sighted the island and as was custom, he threw the wooden pillars from his best chair overboard, vowing to settle wherever they washed ashore. He temporary located on the southeast coast, where he sent a few slaves looking for the pillars. Just three years later, the poor slaves found the pillars, and the settlement was established in what its now Reykjavik. In 2001, while excavating for a hotel, construction workers happened upon, what archeologists believe to be, the longhouse of the first homestead. Although they proceeded to build the hotel, they created a small museum in the basement, preserving the longhouse and displaying other artifacts.

    Oddly, several blocks from the water is the “old harbor.” Although the area on which we stood was once the harbor, the city reclaimed a bunch of land, and now the harbor is several blocks away. Rick Steves directed us to the site of an old harbor front building, where a small tide pool still forms, connected to the ocean via an underground channel. We wandered through a quaint residential area, passing the oldest home standing in Reykjavik. We stopped at City Hall for a quick bathroom break, before strolling around “The Pond”; a lake ringed with a walking path of about a mile and highlighted by intermittent sculptures. My favorite was the dragon slayer, as it required walking around the entire sculpture to understand what the artist was getting at. As we came around the other side, several young kids were running and jumping onto the ice, sliding out as far as they could go. Younger kids had drug there scooters out to the ice and were trying to navigate to a small island protruding in the middle. Standing sentry over the water was a large church, flanked by other smaller buildings, while up on the hill stood Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church. More on that in a minute.

    We visited the Parliament building, or Althingi, which has a statue of Ingibjörg Bjarnason, who was Iceland’s first woman elected to parliament in 1922. In case you are wondering, the first woman elected to the US Congress was Jeannette Rankin, who was elected to the US House, in 1916. However, Iceland became the first modern democracy to elect a female president, when Vigdis Finnbogdóttir was elected, in 1980.

    Outside the parliament building is a square that is full of Icelandic history. Although I remember the protests in the wake of the financial collapse in 2008-2009, I learned that it was here that the local people protested and called for the government’s resignation. Thousands of people came here, banging pots and pans, whilst throwing tomatoes and eggs at the parliament members. Apparently, this episode has been nicknamed “The Kitchenware Revolution.”

    A few sites later brought us to a lunch stop. I couldn’t resist more fish and chips, with locally sourced fish. We stayed a bit longer than necessary to warm up and use the loo, as well as avoid a brief sprinkle outside. As we turned left out of the restaurant, the Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church dominates the view at the top of the hill. I read that the Catholics built a church on a hill west of here in 1929, so the Lutherans (the state church) decided to build a larger, more prominent church. Construction began in 1945 but wasn’t finished until the 80’s. The exterior recalls the basalt columns that we saw outside of Vík; tall, rectangular columns line the side of the building from its highest to lowest points. The inside, as described by Rick Steves, is austere. I’m not sure what the word is that is more austere than austere, but please insert it here. It reminded me of the mosques in Turkey; architecturally beautiful buildings, with blank walls. Here, there was just one small stain glass, mostly hidden from view, and the other windows were clear glass. Interestingly, the end of the pews were pointy, carved wood, resembling the exterior shape of the church. As our backs faced the altar, the pipe organ crowded our view. With 5,275 pipes, it’s a lot to see. There are rows and rows of pipes, and someone was getting in some practice, playing long groaning and squealing scales. Outside of the church is a large statue of Leif Erickson. It was a gift from the US to Iceland to celebrate there 1000th anniversary of the first Althingi. It doesn’t go as far to say that he discovered America, it recognizes him for discovering Vinland. Uh, Vinland is the coast of North America, so when you make sense of that, let me know. In

    We wrapped up our day at the Blue Lagoon. It is a geothermal spa that is overpriced, touristy, but a fun experience. If I understand it correctly, the water is the byproduct of the nearby geothermal power plant. After using the 474 degree water that it pipes up from below the surface, the plant releases excess water, high in minerals and not useful, into the nearby lava field. Locals noticed that bathing in the water had health benefits. Eventually, in the early 90’s, the Blue Lagoon was opened. It now has a high end spa and several amenities. We floated around for while, tried a silica mud mask, and stood under gushing falls. Our visit came to an end too soon, and we had to return to the cold car and call it a night.
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  • Day5

    A thingy or two

    November 27, 2019 in Iceland ⋅ ☀️ -5 °C

    We had a lot to see today, so “burning daylight” took on a whole new meaning. The “Golden Circle” is about four hours of driving before you include the time to dilly dally at any of the stops. The three major sites are Thingvellir national park, Geysir, and Gullfoss. With five hours between sunrise and sunset, we made sure to get on the road by dawn (a little after 9am).

    It was cold, when we arrived at Thingvellir. The sun was just below the horizon, and it was 25 degrees. We bundled up and started our walk. The historical park marks the location where local chieftains met annually, beginning in the early- to mid-900’s. The Althingi, or assembly, was a time of legislation, the settling of disputes, and needed punishment, including the death penalty by drowning, hanging, or beheading. Central to the site is the Law Rock, where the grand chieftain would make his remarks in front of the hundreds of participants. These annual gatherings took place through the mid-1200’s, then morphed into an appeals court, until 1798. The Law Rock is still significant; in 1944 Iceland used the location to proclaim its independence.

    Aside from the Althingi, the park also happens to sit on the intercontinental rift between North American and Europe. As you walk into the park, we traversed a fissure, where North America is on the right side and Europe is to the left. Even more dramatic was the roadside fissure we encountered a few minutes after leaving the parking lot. We all hopped out of the car and ran down into the split in the earth. The crack narrows and you can touch both sides of the crevice and both continents at the same time. (Technically that may or may not be true, as you can’t tell exactly where the rift is and what is a crack off of the rift, but its still fun to imagine.)

    Geysir is home to a geothermal park. Think Yellowstone on a mini scale, with bubbling pots and a shooting geyser. Wait! Did i just use the word geyser? Yes, and the origin of the word comes from here. After we watched the Stokkur geyser erupt 100 feet into the air, we walked up and around the park to the Geysir geyser. This is the original geyser, and the only one that would have been known to medieval Europeans. It was dormant through most of the 20th century, but an earthquake in 2000 woke it from its slumber, and it has began erupting again. Unfortunately, these eruptions are rare and unpredictable, so we took a few pictures and clambered over the frozen steam to parking lot.

    After backtracking toward Thingvellir a few kilometers, we turned south toward Gullfoss. Fed by the Hvitá river, the water drops from the sides of the river, instead of directly off a straight cliff. It is dramatic sight, with the river tumbling off the first set falls, (35 feet) before traveling to a longer (70 feet) set of falls. A long trail snakes out the side of the valley, where you can walk out to view the falls from the top. We also took in the view from a second vantage point that was set lower. There is a path that allows you to walk near the falls, but it was closed for the winter. The falls generate so much spray that the whole canyon is iced over. I’m sure its beautiful in the summer but the view now included icicles hanging from the cliffs and white, frozen spray blanketing the canyon walls. The spray carried to our viewpoint, and we stiffened from the cold, so we didn’t stay too long.

    The sun was still just above the horizon, when we left the falls, so we sped to our last stop. Kerid crater was created by a volcanic eruption about 6,000 years ago. The bottom, sitting about 150 feet below the rim, is filled with water; solid ice right now. The water is perfectly clear, and we would occasionally hear a pinging noise. It sounded other-worldly, and it took us a while to figure out that someone was throwing rocks on the ice. The noise it created is right out of the Jetsons. I posted a short video on FB and Instagram, if you wand to hear it.

    Following dinner, we were playing cards, when an aurora borealis alert came up on my phone. We briefly thought about staying in for the night but decided to chase the lights one more time. Tonight was the last predicted clear night of our visit, so we grabbed our coats and ran out the door. And we were glad we did. Before we even got to the magic spot, the lights were arcing all across the northern sky, in multiple bands of green. We spent almost three hours watching the lights come and go and being grateful that we decided to give it one more try. We didn’t want to leave, but it was nearing 1am, and my camera-shooting hand was numb from the cold. I captured probably hundreds of images on my camera, but I’ve posted an accessible one caught on Kim’s iPhone.
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  • Day4

    Down day

    November 26, 2019 in Iceland ⋅ ⛅ -2 °C

    Kim woke feeling unwell, so we decided we’d burn a day. We had a down day built in, so we weren’t missing anything. We took a long walk to the store and discovered that pedestrians apparently don’t have the right of way.

    When Kim was feeling better, we played some cards and decided to drive out to see the lights again. With a bag of freshly popped popcorn and a thermos of peppermint tea, we loaded in the car and headed to our magic spot. Unfortunately, not so magic tonight. No lights; just very cold feet.Read more

  • Day3

    Vertical to horizontal

    November 25, 2019 in Iceland ⋅ 🌙 0 °C

    Our morning started with a quick stop at the local grocery store, where we procured a strong of coffee and nough sustenance to last until lunch. Our first stop was close by, so we slept in a bit this morning, making up for the lost hours of dreamtime yesterday. We literally drove around a hill to reach the Reynisfjara black sand beach. At 30 degrees, 20 mph winds, and a wind chill in the teens, we weren’t going for the beach part. After drawing my hood on tight, we walked out to the water to see the geometric formations, exposed by the waves. The ocean-facing cliff had eroded to reveal vertical basalt columns in rectangular patterns. As you approach, the columns jet upward and are very think. There is a small cave, facing the water, which has smaller columns shooting down at the viewer from different angles. Then, around the next turn, are fragile-looking thin columns, which seem to suspend from the cliff side. We didn’t stay too long, with the bitter cold, but the sound of the waves did invite us to linger just a little longer.

    Back in the car, we blasted the heat, as we headed east toward Sólheimajökull glacier. It’s a short drive but long enough to warm up. Now inland, it felt warm without the ocean “breeze.” The glacier is a 10-15 minute walk from the parking lot, although it used to terminate at the parking lot before receding to its current position. The path is cut through a hillside covered with moss and grass. It’s weird for someone from Colorado to see so much green in the cold. It seems like everything turns brown in the winter back home. The hillside sloped downward into the glacial lagoon, where a few icebergs floated motionlessly. The glacier lends itself for a visit, despite the guidebooks warning: “You’ll see a sign telling you not to proceed farther. There are several reasons for this: melting ice under sand can create a quicksand-like phenomenon, poisonous volcanic gas can be released from under the glacier, ice calving off the glacier can create small tidal waves on the lagoon, rock can slide down the slope, and people can simply slip and fall into the cold lagoon.” Duly noted. We walked past the warning sign, which most people didn’t even notice, and stepped onto the glacier. I told Kim that the only regret I had, when we climbed Kilimanjaro, was that I hadn’t walked to the glacier, when we camped in the crater. (You wouldn’t have either at 19K feet after hiking uphill all day and suffering from dehydration.) But here was my chance to touch some very old frozen water. Kim and I climbed up about 30 feet, until it became too icy and slippery. We took a few pictures, had a lick, and hiked back to the car.

    Approaching Skógafoss waterfall, we spied a food truck in the front yard of a house. A small parking lot had been scraped next to the road, and we stopped for some locally sourced fish and chips (not sure where the potatoes came from). Mia was delightful and fried up some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. A light batter and perfectly crispy chips. Yum. My tummy was so happy, until somebody said there were over 500 stairs to climb at the falls. Luckily, I try to climb the 11 floors at work each day, so the extra weight wasn’t too adverse. The falls were mighty. With a thunderous crashing sound, it sprayed mist far into the air. Kim and I took the staircase up to the top and got the aerial view of the water tumbling over the cliff. The river that feeds the falls winds it way far beyond our allotted time, originating in one of the glaciers to the north.

    Another quick drive brought us to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, as the sun was threatening to give up for the day. The 210 foot waterfall isn’t huge, but you can walk behind it and enjoy the water plunging into the pool below. Most visitors seemed to stop there, but we continued down the trail, where smaller falls came into view every 100 yards or so. Although not as dramatic, they each had their own character; some dropped, some became small creeks, and others dribbled down the side. There may have been more, but we called it quits, as our noses turned red and my fingers were starting to freeze. Before we made it to the car, the hot chocolate vendor exchanged our money for a steaming cup of joy. The hot cups warmed our hands, while we drove to the Lava Center.

    The Lava Center is a state-of-the-art exhibit on volcanoes and earthquakes. The lobby has a display of all the earthquakes within the past 48 hours and describes the many volcanic regions in and around the country. The registration staff person was delightful and had a great sense of humor. I wondered how anyone could work with stupid tourists all day and still be so engaging two hours before closing. In an effort to be helpful, she recommended a trip outside, where we could catch a view of the sunset over the ocean, as well as the volcanoes that ring the center. We thought we were being strategic, when we left our coats in the car, so our visit to the roof was a quick one. She was right, though. The view was beautiful and dominated by four volcanoes, covered in glaciers, from north to east of the Center. We bounced down the stairs and took her second piece of advice: the cinema. The front of the theater had huge beanbag-like mats for lying down and absorbing the film. Kim and I went horizontal. I’m not sure that she stayed awake, but I enjoyed the incredible photography of volcanoes spewing lava and ash. The rest of the center had interactive displays. Each room exercised a different method of displaying information. My favorite was the last room, where you had to stand in a marked spot to activate a large screen with a floor-to-ceiling projection of the Icelandic volcanoes around the center. From my designated spot, I pointed at dots on the screen, which would then unveil some interesting fact about that volcano. I think there were about five volcanoes that could be activated in the room. It was an interesting way of presenting information. The Center also houses a little tourist information (TI) area. When we were driving away, Kim noted that the screen that displays all traveling routes and road conditions indicated that the black beach, where we started this morning, was currently closed due to a rock slide. Luck seems to be on our side.

    It was dark, but clear, when we arrived in Reykjavik. We found our apartment and hauled our luggage in from the car. We stayed long enough to cook some popcorn and brew some tea for the thermos. Bundled up, we started our hunt for the Northern lights. We decided to forgo the $70-100 tour and do it ourselves. We are staying on the edge of Reykjavík, so we were on a dark, secluded, dirt road in 15 minutes. For the first two hours, we could only see a faint hint of the lights; it looked more like fog on the horizon than anything else. It was about 11:20 and Kim and Deb were ready to head back to the apartment. I looked at my “Aurora” app and noted that the probability of seeing the lights was to increase by 5% over the next 20 minutes. Just as I was talking them into staying a few more minutes, a streak of green appeared in the sky. There was a long horizontal light, pulsating from south to north, and a cluster of lights to the north. I was beyond pleased, when my first photos indicated that I had followed the “how to photograph the northern lights” Google search results perfectly. I couldn’t believe it. There, in my little camera screen, glowed the aurora borealis. Except this time, I had taken the picture, not some anonymous photographer for NatGeo. We stood with mouths agape for quite a long time, until they fizzled out. Kim was hooked and wanted to stay longer, as our probabilities were increasing. Although we did see them again, they weren’t as defined as the first time. I think my toes were frozen together by the time we got back to the apartment. Luckily, my side of the bed was right next to the radiator, so I stuck my feet on the heat and fell asleep.
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  • Day2

    A gem of a day

    November 24, 2019 in Iceland ⋅ ⛅ 5 °C

    Northern lights? Check.

    About 40 minutes before we landed, I pulled the window shade up and took a look at the sky. And there they were. I pointed them out to Kim, and she responded that they were just clouds. I then explained that I have read a great deal in preparation for my trip and the milky white light stretching across the sky was a low activity, low KP index aurora borealis. Deb took a look and seemed to have more faith in my diagnosis. I kept an eye on them, as they came and went. About 20 minutes later, the pilot announced that the aurora borealis could be seen from the plane. Although it wasn’t the best show, I know the universe has something better in store later this week; regardless, another bucket list item gets checked!

    We arrived in Keflavik earlier than scheduled, which was good for making our way through immigration and customs leisurely. I didn’t
    sleep much on the plane, so my stress tolerance was low. Taking our time to grab our bags and a cup of coffee was welcomed. We boarded a bus with a million other people and made our way to the rental car agency. Our goal today was to drive about five or six hours to Diamond Beach, which is on the east side of the southern coast. Our vehicle is a Hyundai something, with studded snow tires and innumerable dents, dings, and “broke” parts. I was happy to know that there was little that I could do to the car to damage it further. Once we were loaded. I hopped in the car, stepped on the brake and turned the key. And turned the key. And turned the key. My sleep deprived mind ran through a short checklist of potential problems: Is the key turning all they way? Yes. Am I pressing down on the brake? Yes. Do I have it in Park? Oh. It’s a stick shift. Good job, brain. I had to dust off some old neural pathways to get the car in gear and moving down the road. Of course, the first time I came to a stop, I forgot to depress the clutch and killed it, but I wasn’t deterred. We were on a mission to get to Diamond Beach in the daylight.

    The beginning of the drive was a bit challenging, given that we didn’t know where we were going and it was still pitch black at 8 in the morning. I’ll be interested to see what we missed in the dark, when we return to Reykjavík tomorrow. Once light began to dawn, Iceland revealed an impossibly diverse landscape. On one side of the highway were waterfalls tumbling down the cliffs, while the other side of the highway looked like the moon’s surface. We drove through a lave field, where thick moss had grown over the rock, resembling something like the Hobbit’s Middle Earth. As we got further east, the mountain tops were snowcapped and appeared to be covering green vegetation. It was beautiful, in all its contrasting ways. We were tempted to stop at several of the sites, but we will return that way tomorrow. As we got closer to our destination, the highway (it’s a two lane road, with a six inch shoulders) cut through the world’s largest glacial drainage delta. Why is this interesting? You have to transit part of it via a long, one lane bridge. There are several one lane bridges in this area. The bridges get washed out so often that it’s cheaper to replace a one lane bridge than a two lane bridge. It takes a little getting used to, but I managed to get over all of them, but one, without having to back up and yield the right of way.

    We arrived at Diamond Beach, around 2pm. Although the temperature wasn’t bad, the wind from the Atlantic made it cold. We bundled up and walked out to the black sand beach. The shoreline is littered with icebergs that have washed up. Nearby, there are several enormous glaciers, making regular deposits. Some of the ice is so dense, it looks like a diamond, with incredible clarity through the whole chunk. Other pieces were dirty from the sand or eroded into odd shapes from their aquatic travels. Large pieces floated in the water, bobbing up and down with the incoming waves. We drove a short distance to Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, where the icebergs it calves float aimlessly in the lagoon before reaching the sea. Seals surfaced and swan around the chunks of ice, while tourists snapped photos endlessly. Some of the icebergs were unbelievable colors of blue, ranging from light to intensely dark. The scenery was amazing, with the glacier in the background, originating somewhere far out of sight in the cloud shrouded mountains.

    Once we were done there, we hustled down to Fjallsáflón (mountain-river lagoon) that is fed by the Fjallsjökull glacier. At 3:30, the sun was low in the sky and our daylight was coming to an end. The view of the mountains and the glacier reflected crisply in the placid lagoon, as a soft red glow grew over the western corner of the foothills. Our day ended there, leaving us with a dark drive back to Vik and an early retirement to catch up on some needed rest.
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  • Day1

    Iceland or bust

    November 23, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 8 °C

    We bought our tickets months ago, so it’s hard to believe that we are finally leaving. We’ll be hopping on a jet in a few hours that will carry us up and over the globe to Iceland. The flight clocks in at 7 hours and 25 minutes, with an arrival time of 0555 on Sunday. Although that seems early, the sunrise isn’t scheduled until 10:24.

    Iceland isn’t the premiere winter destination, with cold temperatures, high humidity, and unrelenting wind; however, it affords us great opportunities to see the Northern lights. Bucket list item 132 or so. With only 6 and a half hours of sunlight each day, I’m excited about our chances to see the aurora borealis.
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  • Day5

    Falmouth, jamaica

    May 30, 2019 in Jamaica ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    After alighting, we headed through the cruise ship shopping village to a large tour bus. As expected, the speakers on the bus piped out a steady stream of Bob Marley songs. Our tour guide provided a brief overview of the day and then instructed us on important phrases, such as “ya mon” and “no worries.” Every time I asked one of the kids a question, I received a hearty, “Ya mon.”

    Our first stop was Dunns River Falls. When we arrived at the bottom of the falls, it was a chaotic scene with a thousand tourists zigzagging up the falls. I had a moment of regret, thinking that I know better than to take a tour like this, but we had a great guide. He lingered at the bottom, letting us adjust to the cool water and describing our mission: we were walking in the falls from bottom to top. We started with a quick slide down a rock. Going all the way under, I was thoroughly cooled from the hot, humid air. We made our way up another level of the falls, and I noticed that the crowds were thinning, and there was no one behind our little group. Our guide showed us small pools, where we all took a Nestea tea plunge, and he led Dave to a a rock face, where the water fell about six or seven feet. He had Dave lean up against the rock, where his head sprayed the tumbling water out in all directions. It was a weird phenomenon that made the water look like an umbrella over Dave’s head. As we moved away, I noticed that there were just a few people on the falls. I don’t know how our guide did it, but he managed to separate us from the masses, so that we had a great experience. None of us had actually climbed IN falls before, so the hike was unique. The girls loved the time in the water, and it ended way too soon.

    We returned to the bus and the looping Bob Marley tunes for a quick stop at a souvenir store. There wasn’t much calling my name, so I decided to save my money for something else. We all boarded the big bus again and headed to the beach. The girls commented on all the wild dogs, so we told them about the boonie dogs in Guam. Like the one that got roasted on a spit next to a pig for our neighbor’s party. They didn’t appreciate the story as much as I hoped, so I stayed quiet and enjoyed the scenery as it passed.

    We arrived at Bamboo Beach, just as a little rainstorm passed through. The servers brought us drinks and slowly distributed our lunch. We started with a small salad, followed by jerk chicken, and a dessert. In between servings, we splashed in the water and walked in the sand. It wasn’t much of a beach, although Kim and the girls enjoyed some snorkeling. The water was shallow, making anything but wading up to your knees impossible. It was a bit disappointing, so it was good that we didn’t stay too long. As they gathered us up to head back to the ship, the adults looked at the time and did some quick calculating; is it even possible to get back to the ship by the time it departs?

    A whole bus load of very anxious passengers arrived at the dock a minute or two ahead of the scheduled departure time. I was surprised that the tour wasn’t better timed, but it’s Jamaica, and there’s no worries, mon.
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  • Day5

    Amen to the Cayman

    May 30, 2019 in Cayman Islands ⋅ 🌧 30 °C

    We arrived in Grand Cayman around 9:45, about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Since we were up and all together, Dave, me, and the girls headed into port to take a look around before meeting up for our dive. We walked along Harbour Street, which reminded me of my visit long ago to Turks and Caicos. The whitewashed buildings are individualized with colorful shudders, setting each apart from the other. As we walked through the short-bladed grass of an apartment building, the peat under our sandals gave way with each step. It was like walking on an air mattress that depressed with our alternating weight. The girls giggled, as their feet squished down. It was cheap entertainment, only topped by the roaming herd of lizards. Dave saw one on the tree and, suddenly, they seemed to be everywhere in the bushes. Some were so small, they even traversed the length of the plants’ leaves. Nikki and Zoe pulled out their cameras to capture the wonder of reptiles.

    We joined the dive crew back on the pier. A few faces were familiar from yesterday’s dive, but there were several newcomers. Our numbers were again manageable, with 20 divers and 3 guides; although, our group (the A team) included eight divers. We were led by a spunky Brit, named Lauren. She was seemingly excited to take us down and show off the beauty of Cayman. We were told that the dive sites are all first come first serve, so we mothered along looking for a site with open mooring. Our first dive was “Giant Slide,” but the crew couldn’t clarify if it was named after a “big” slide or if it was a slide that only a giant might use. Regardless, the water was stunning when we dropped in. Visibility was at least 80 feet and the water was warm and clear. The coral is in terrific shape here and some of the tube sponges seemed to be four feet tall and a brilliant yellow. Without the current that w experienced yesterday, Zoe and Nikki were able to obtain buoyancy and enjoy the dive without much struggle.

    Our second dive provided more practice for the kids’ skills. We dove the wreck of the Oro Verde, which was a banana transport in the seventies. it was confiscated by the government in the eighties, after the crew killed the captain, ran aground, and scattered to avoid prosecution for running drugs. Apparently, bananas weren’t paying the bills. The government eventually sunk the boat to create an artificial reef; however, the boat has been tossed and turned through som many storms that it is a pile of steel, with only a small portion still intact.. The boat sits in the cure of a hotshot shaped reef called “Paradise.”I buddied with Nikki on this one. Her eyes got big in her mask, when she saw the wreck. She explored each hole and cranny, looking for fish and various marine life. I got her attention and pointed to a Christmas tree.. I made sure I had her attention and drew my finger near the tip of the tree and
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