I’m very excited to be sharing my nieces’ first international trip. I can’t wait for them to experience the wonder of different cultures, native foods, and friendly locals. I have outfitted them with travel journals, pesos, and amazing expectations!
  • Day5

    Falmouth, jamaica

    May 30, 2019 in Jamaica ⋅ ☀️ 81 °F

    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 ⋅ 🌧 86 °F

    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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  • Day3

    Name that tune

    May 28, 2019 in Mexico ⋅ ⛅ 88 °F

    Well, Nikki and Zoe set foot in a country other than the US for the first time in their short little lives. After alighting, we found the dive agency and were escorted to their boat. Zoe was full of excitement and kept saying, “I’m so happy. I’m so happy.” She repeatedly stood to photograph the turquoise waters. It was a beautiful day; there were sporadic clouds, which occasionally floated past, interrupting the intense Caribbean sun. There was little wind and the surf was mild.

    Our boat delivered us to Palancar Reef, where our shipmates were divided into three groups of seven. Dave took responsibility for Zoe, and Nikki was assigned to our watch. Kim and I spent a few minutes making sure Nikki understood all the expectations. She made it clear that she was very interested in seeing a turtle. I didn’t want her to be disappointed, so I let her know that she might not see one. I’ve been diving for 35 years and have seen turtles on a fraction of the dives I’ve made. She was still optimistic, as we dawned our gear. One by one, each diver took a giant stride into the blue abyss. I was the last one in, and we quickly descended. Before we even reached the bottom, I saw the guide pointing upward. I lifted my gaze to meet the silhouette of a large turtle paddling above us. I tapped Nikki and pointed. She looked back at me and produced a very satisfied thumbs-up. But the show wasn’t over. Another turtle came gliding by before we could get ourselves horizantial. It appeared that we were in for a nice dive. The site is called Palancar Caves, which was fairly descriptive. I was initially worried about the kids maneuvering around the fragile coral and sponges, but they found their way like experienced divers. The coral heads loomed high overhead, as we kicked through holes and crevices, exploring the growths and protruding sponges. Yellows, reds, and greens popped from the coral skeleton, with a variety of fishes seemingly dancing around the biodiversity. As I rounded a corner, the wall dropped below me and from the deep blue came a rounded figure. The turtle soon came into detail and beat a path right to my camera lens. I switched on the video and took in the graceful movements of this creature. With little apparent effort, the turtle came toward me and then took a hard right at the coral head, floating upward to a crevice in the structure. And it was gone. I turned back to join the group, following them in and out of tunnels and touring along the wall. Nearing our safety stop, a sinking watch caught my attention. I kicked furiously to grab the wristband, snagging it in my fist just before it was out of reach. I recognized it as Nikki’s but couldn’t imagine how she could have knocked it off. As we surfaced and made our way to the boat, the word “magical” came to mind. I was happy for the kids to have experienced such a beautiful dive so early in their sporting career. For me, it made me eager to plan a dive vacation sooner than later.

    During our surface interval, I asked Nikki about her watch. She recounted, “I looked down and saw it sinking and wondered who lost their watch.” Obviously, she didn’t know how it got lose, since she didn’t even realize it was hers. Consequently, I demanded Zoe’s watch from her to prevent a second loss. Our next dive took us to Paso de Cadrel. It was disappointing only because the first dive was so beautiful and relaxing. The drift dive kept us relatively shallow, floating over coral mounds set into a sandy plateau. Fish were more abundant on this dive, but no turtles were sighted. We floated by a giant grouper hiding under an outcropping. I flicked on the video and slowly kicked into the crevice. I kept expecting him to swim off but he didn’t spook. He stood firmly until I could almost touch him before he lazily meandered across the camera lens. As he swam away, a school of wrasse came through the tunnel in the opposite direction. I followed them out of the hole and surfaced on the back side of a large coral mound. In the distance, I could see the bubbles from the other divers, so I expended some energy to return up and over the coral. We continued to move north, along the reef, frequently meeting large fish and hidden crustaceans. The guide pointed out barracuda, lobster, lion fish (boo), and a rock fish. Forty-five minutes blew by, and it was time to abandon the watery universe for the sunshine and fresh air.

    Once our diving excursion was completed, we met up with Deb and Kathryn over some guacamole on the pier. We spent a bit of time shopping before boarding the boat and closing out our stop in Mexico. But the fun wasn’t over. After dinner, we headed to the bar for a cutthroat game of “Name that 80’s tune.” Dave and I were feeling confident with our abilities, but Kim, Nikki, and Deb were there for back-up. As we got close to the end, Kathryn and Zoe came to add their input. We managed to get 17 of 19 songs correct, but we weren’t certain it was enough to win. The host began, “Who got 10 right?” And there were many howls and hoots. “15?” brought fewer responses. “16?” he asked and then “17?” There were still other players left, so we were about to admit defeat when he asked, “Who got 18 right?” Nobody answered. That’s right, we were tied with a couple of other teams and went to sudden death. A few songs later, and we walked away with prizes. Although the prize was lame, the intrinsic satisfaction of the team effort made us all happy. Especially Dave.
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  • Day2

    A day at sea

    May 27, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 75 °F

    We hit the slides right away, before the crowds arrived this morning. The ship has a slide, rafty, water ride that was a blast. Nikki and I went, while Kim waited in line. As soon as we got down, I got in line, and Nikki hooked up with Kim, who was just getting to the front of the line. We repeated several times, until my legs couldn’t take another walk up the tower stairs.

    We spent the rest of the day lounging and reading on different decks of the boat; sometimes in the sun and sometimes not. The weather was perfect, and the kids seem to be having a great time. Tomorrow, we are in Cozumel, where me, Kim, Dave, and the girls will be diving for the day. The last time I dove in Cozumel was 1988, and Dave was 16 years old; the same age as his daughter, Zoe. Funny how life works out sometimes.
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  • Day1

    On cruise control

    May 26, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 72 °F

    As much as I hate getting up in the wee hours of the morning, the advantages are abundant. As we we neared our departure, I ordered a Lyft and was a bit surprised, when my phone indicated our wait to be two minutes. Usually the ride shares are trolling Broadway, and I expect a 5-8 minute wait. “Hurry up! You’ve got two minutes!” I yelled. Kim’s response was not enthusiastic, nor fit for print, but she was able to get herself together by the time “Michael” arrived.

    The other benefit of early morning travel is the security line at DIA. We checked in at Southwest and breezed through the checkpoint in near-record time. Boarding was efficient and, before we knew it, we were landing in Houston. Our Lyft driver had been a planner in LA, so Kim and she started talking shop, which always leads to an in-depth discussion of marijuana regulation. Even though it’s been legalized for several years now, these discussions always catch me by surprise.

    We easily hooked up with Dave, Kathryn, and the girls at the port. It was oddly smooth, and it was fun to see the girls so excited. Their enthusiasm waned little, as we weaved around the ribbon barriers that corralled the line toward the security check point. Naively, we thought we were in the clear after the security screening, but we met another maze of humanity to queue up for our ID cards. The benefit of all this line waiting is to enjoy the matching tee shirts, purposely printed for a variety of occasions. I don’ recall this phenomena, but our last cruise was in the late 1990’s (I’m not counting the trip to Antarctica. Although it was a large ship, it was not a cruise. Feel free to verify with Kim.) Apparently, if you are traveling with a group, for a specific purpose, tee-shirts are distributed for adornment on day one. There was the “No time to snooze, we’re on a cruise” or the popular “On cruise control.” We saw groups traveling for honeymoons, weddings, family reunions, and a whole lot of old people with nothing else to do.

    Our state room is on deck two. I was excited, thinking we were on the second deck from the top, then I realized that the numbers get smaller the farther into the bowels of the ship you go. Deck two puts somewhere in the the small intestine. No matter, we won’t be spending much time there. The point is to be out and about, enjoying ourselves. And we got to it quickly. Since we hadn’t eaten since pre-dawn, we were starving by the time we got on the boat. We met everyone in the buffet, where I watched Zoe devour everything in sight. I was surprised to hear that her goal was to eat 24/7 and put on as weight as possible. I was delighted to see that this 16 year old has no body image issues whatsoever. Right on, sister!

    When we moved down to the espresso cafe, Zoe found a free sandwich, which she was still chewing, when her sister brought her a piece of pizza. Nikki (14) is thoughtful like that. I shared with the girls that my dad had informed me that there is always a soft serve ice cream machine by the pool. “Can you imagine eating all the ice cream you want?” Nikki then informed me that her friend got in trouble, when she was on a cruise, because she cleaned out the ice bucket and filled it at the soft serve ice cream machine. I call that creativity, but it sounds like the parents called it “naughty.”

    I managed to stay up till about 8. Since we’re sharing a triple cabin with Deb, I scuttled up the aluminum ladder to the top bunk and quickly fell asleep, after a long day of travel and ship exploring.
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