Southern Caribbean (or how I really miss my Nikon)

Just finally coming down off the high of my latest travels. I think this is probably one of the best trips I have taken if measured in terms of complete relaxation. I decided to literally go with the flow for nearly everything, which made the excursions and ship experience itself much different than previous cruises.

To boot, I’ve upgraded my bucket list; It’s my intention to eventually visit and semi-educate myself on every island in the Caribbean. Now to get a map and start working on this New List.

While my forte (do I even really have a forte?) is really not Travel Blogs per say, l’m going to give this a try.

First I should start by saying this trip wasn’t all the Southern Caribbean. It’s booked as such, but in looking information up on the islands, I found that technically only two of them; Aruba and Curacao, are considered part of the South.

That’s about as much education as you will get from this particular entry.

I think. Let’s see as we go.

Starting Destination: Puerto Rico

Let me start by saying this particular bucket list of mine will eventually rack up quite the airline miles. Outside of living in the Pacific Northwest, or perhaps Alaska I don’t think I could fly from a worse U.S. starting point for the Southern Caribbean; Los Angeles. While most of my friends were flying four, maybe five hours, my travel time was twelve hours without time change. With time change it gets a little foggy, because it calls into state my inept math skills, and my fascination and yet inability to understand time travel. (Yes, I’m aware that I am not time traveling, but it always feels that way to me). I’m four hours behind Puerto Rico time, so I guess technically I only travelled 8 hours, minus 1 between flights give or take. Whatever. It was a long fucking trip that had me in the air at 8 AM and arriving my final destination by 8:30 PM.

I won’t even get into my starvation issues on both flights, but suffice to say I will now be one of those old ladies who pulls out a baggie of snacks on planes in the future and offers you one.

Puerto Rico wasn’t my first international solo flight (and for those who correct me on the fact that technically PR isn’t international because it’s still part of the U.S., can bite me. It’s international to me. – such hostility in this blog! Ha!) – but it was the first one that I flew into alone for the first time. In other words I had zero idea of what to expect. The airport was small, and like my local airport in Orange County it apparently closes down early. We must have been the last flight in, which actually made the baggage pick up quick. I loved that a baggage/transportation guide was right there, and I never had to touch my bags (thank God because I packed a fuck ton of clothes). He grabbed them off the carousel for me, and had me nearly running after him to keep up til we hit a cab. I’d say seriously from departure of the plane to Old San Juan was maybe 30 minutes.

Puerto Rico, or Old San Juan (which is all that I really saw of it – that’s a reoccurring theme here; one destination per island) really was beautiful, and the people we encountered were so friendly. English was spoken I think literally everywhere we went, although we did have an interpreter with us when needed in the smaller establishments. It just really made things faster. English is just as prelevant there as it is here.

The first night we made the awful mistake of heading next door to our hotel; Senor Frogs. I was starved (read above about no food on the flights) and one of our roommates had headed over earlier and was told it was Ladies Night and for a small cover charge, women drink for free.

Plus they served food.

I heard food and booze and BAM! was sold. We paid something like six or eight bucks to get in, and get our little wrist band. There was absolutely no doubt that we were the oldest women in the place. And not by a couple of years. By decades. The first indication that we were not going to really score on that All-You-Can drink bennie, was the fact we had to order not from the bar, but from these strategically placed tables. The first one we went to, the bartender could a). Barely understand English (so see not EVERYONE here speaks English) and b). Couldn’t make a drink to save his life. I was ordering off his menu which clearly called out the liquors he needed, and he still had to stop and look up to see what he needed next. Eventually he realized he didn’t have even half the boozes required. In slight frustration I just revamped my order to a simple rum and pineapple juice, tipped him well, and quickly scurried away.

Being as old as we are, we were able to score the “Old Ladies Booth” (I like to call it), in the corner where the waiter kindly ran to the other manned bar-table and got us real drinks that were on the menu. The problem was it took him a good fifteen minutes between orders. The menus definitely were not highlighting the fact we were in Puerto Rico. It was chain bar food for all, except me, because I ordered spaghetti and meatball (no “s’ – meatball in the singular form). I had been taunted with it on my last flight. A bar serving spaghetti? I felt it was a sign from the Food Gods. Plus how can you really fuck up spaghetti? I was too hungry to be adventurous. With the music thumping at a bass level so high I could feel it in my chest, and conversation between me and my two friends in that screaming manner, as soon as we finished eating we pretty much hightailed it out of there.

Of course not before myself and friend sucked our drinks down as fast as possible, only to find we could have taken them with us.

The rest of the trip was a bit easier. We had a fantastic breakfast with the best coffee I had had since Costa Rica. Later we hit the large 400 year old El Morro Fort that sits on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic, with this spectacular view; as well as San Juan Cemetery, which I swear if I were inclined to be buried, I’d want to get a spot in there. We didn’t get a chance to actually head into the cemetery, but the views from above were unreal. Of course I have a weird fascination with old cemeteries, so it makes sense to me.

San juan coffee

Best. Cup. Of. Coffee. EVER. (Old San Juan)

 

One of the things this trip brought back out in me – starting in Old San Juan, was my inner amateur photographer. For reasons I am not completely certain of, after the big break-up, I just put the camera away. Whether it had anything to do with him or not, was moot. I took it out once, and it felt alien and foreign to me, and I haven’t really touched it again. Instead, I’ve relied on my iPhone which is so limiting. This was the first time I felt the longing of the lenses and the ability to get more detailed shots. I think the next vacation might require me to pick her up once again. Since I didn’t have her, I went ahead and did my best with the phone, shooting like crazy and feeling like I was missing an old friend.

San Juan Cemetery

If my body has to be buried, take me here please. (Old San Juan)

 

The rest of Old San Juan was good food, drinks and merriment. Hit La Placita de Santurce one night and it was probably one of the highlights. Even though it was teeming with American’s, it was very local and had more of the energy and flair that I hoped for in PR. We ended the night with a midnight dinner, where I opted to come out of my comfort zone and have dinner with strangers. Not random strangers. Three women who would be traveling with our group, but who I had never met. For seating purposes it made more sense that I ate with them, and in the interim, I learned a lot about them. Very sweet and funny ladies, who probably questioned amongst themselves who the kinda drunk & crazy lady that was seated with them.

We lost a day of sunshine to the unpredictable weather patterns of island living, but we made the most of it, and it gave me the opportunity to finish off a bottle of pineapple infused booze I bought at a local bar the day before. There was no way I was going to get that on the ship, so while in PR, do as the Puerto Ricans do.

San Juan Bottle

The bottle of pineapple infused “moonshine” that had to be drunk before boarding the ship.

 

Soon we were heading onto the ship where my roommate and I found the area we would be frequenting the most. It was like we planted our asses there and never left unless it was time get off the ship, or sleep, which is more often than it sounds in that statement. As I stated, it was a very relaxing trip.

First Island: St. Thomas

Our first port stop was St. Thomas, the following day. For educational purposes, St. Thomas is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and like Puerto Rico is an unincorportated territory. Just basically means it’s an area controlled by the U.S., but not in all matters. I had to look that up, because my illiterate self didn’t completely understand. I knew they were territories, but I didn’t exactly understand how or why.

Anyway, I opted out of any ship or group related excursions and trusted my roomie who had been here several times before. A group of us on her recommendation took a shuttle, and headed over to Coki Beach, which is apparently famous for its snorkeling, especially for beginners. It’s this perfect little beach cove nestled on what felt like the other side of the island. I think this was my favorite stop on all four islands visited, although I will admit the tractor-trolley type ride there had me grabbing on a few times, questioning our method of transport.

Driving thru St. Thomas won’t overly impress you if you are looking for pristine highways and drivers that stay in their lanes. It was rugged in some areas, and poorly developed in others. The drivers take these hairpin turns at terrifying speeds. Someone started to tell me the story of how one of these tractor trolleys went over an embankment a year or two ago in another location, and XX cruise passengers were killed. Not exactly the adventure I was looking for, but after this version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, I totally understood the plausibility of it happening.

Once we arrived the Cove and negotiated our chair and umbrella rental, we were set. The waters were a breathtaking turquoise and were seriously to-date the prettiest I had seen. The waters, because we were in a cove were calm, and that made wading or swimming an absolute breeze. The beach, while itself was small, was wide and had a large scape of eateries and bars that argued and vied for your business. Literally argued and vied. The place we chose eventually had the owner come out and apologize to us because of the drama between his staff and the neighboring place.

Coki2

Coki Beach, St. Thomas

 

We hadn’t been blessed with the greatest of waitresses, but I had ordered a bucket of beers and split it with a friend and was set. Taking a walk to one end of the cove placed me in the unincorporated area of Iguana City Central (I just totally made that name up), where about a half dozen carefully camouflaged iguana’s were spotted. Later a friend took the veggie remnants of her burger lunch down to the island lizards, and I clicked away on my iPhone while they slurped up bright red tomatoes. Again, my Nikon would have done a spectacular job there.

Coki

Tomato Slurping Iguana of Coki Beach (St. Thomas)

 

I really didn’t want to leave this little island paradise, and was almost granted my wish when during our group exit I came out of the bathroom and found none of my group nearby. With the roar of a nearby diesel engine I looked over and saw them all piled on the bus headed back, looking like they were willing or considering — leaving me. I am not sure I would have survived long on the island once the credit cards maxxed out, and I might have ended up on the rocks, begging for scraps with the iguana’s. I milked the fact they almost left me during the entire trip. That’s me, running a joke out until it crashes and burns.

I think on my next venture here, I’d like to take a ferry over to St. John’s, a neighboring island. St. Thomas is definitely on my list of “Y’all Come Back and See Us All Again!” places.

Second Island: St. Kitts

St. Kitts is almost the antithesis of St. Thomas. Again, I decided to go against the grain of established excursions, and follow my roommates advise, since she had travelled these waters so much before. There is nothing like the voice the of experience to guide you in my opinion.

Where St. Thomas was rugged and questionable in some areas, St. Kitts was manicured with beautiful clean roads. Where St. Thomas drivers use lanes and speed limits as a suggestion, St. Kitts follows their road rules to a T. Instead of an open tractor-trolley, we had an air-conditioned bus. The driver we got for our group, either mistook us for wanting a tour, or threw it in for free. I had the good fortune to sit up front with him, and felt bad at how much chatter was going on while he tried to explain the history of his homeland, so I really tried to seem involved and intrigued. Unfortunately a good part of the time I couldn’t quite understand him. He did get us to our destination of Cockleshell Beach.

I would never complain while on a beautiful vacation in a gorgeous location, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was underwhelmed by almost everything on Cockleshell. The water, while beautiful didn’t have the serenity that Coki did. Getting in and out of the water alone was a little more challenging than Coki and the sands were rougher on my delicate toesies. I think my daughter would call this #whitegirlproblems. “Ooo the beach sand wasn’t as soft, and I could only see thru the water to a depth of 15 feet, instead of 16 feet at the other beach”, she whined while the violins played My Heart Bleeds For You.

St kitts

There really should be a Go Fund Me for the suffering endured here at Cockleshell, in St. Kitts.

 

But wait, the whining isn’t over: The wait-staff on this beach wasn’t arguing for our business, and all but ignored us (at least when I was around).I did most of my business at the bar, which was about as friendly and helpful to customers as a blood bank is to a mosquito. Have you ever had to chase a waitress down to pay her before you leave an establishment? I have.

They did have wi-fi, and tables with umbrella’s, so I was able to take pics and load them quickly. And seriously, all kvetching aside — I was on freaking St. Kitts! So what if it took longer for me to get that delicious Mango Colada – I was freaking on St. Kitts!! Drinking fucking Mango Colado’s on a Monday, no less! To be honest, the picture opportunities were actually better for me here, and this is when the jonesing for my Nikon really took shape. That should be my theme here. Jonesing for my Nikon.

Ultimately, would I want to head back to St. Kitts? Yeah I definitely think I would. I really loved how clean and pristine the island felt. I might pass up Cockleshell, that’s all.

Third Island: Aruba

I cannot say Aruba, or think Aruba without immediately humming or singing the Beach Boys line, “Aruba, Jamaica, oooo I wanna take you to Key Largo, Montego, baby why don’t we go …..” – Not even certain if I have those lyrics in the right order, it goes thru my mind every time.

I LOVED Aruba. Of course I did, it follows every single faction of shopping in my life which is: Leave me to shop on my own for anything; clothes, shoes, handbags, homes and now vacations – and I will find and fall in love with the most expensive item there, completely unknowingly.

I believe Aruba is ultimately for millionaires, but I’m sure an average Joe can either spend one day there (as did I) or save their pennies and vacation like a Peasant.

This was the first island that I did a paid excursion on. A large catamaran that took us out onto the clearest most beautiful waters. Snorkeling, swimming, rope swing and slide, plus booze and a little bite to eat. LOVED IT. Not only could I completely see myself living in Aruba, I’d have to have one of these Catamaran’s. I could deal with a smaller one. I’m not greedy.

Getting back from the boat, we opted to stay on the beaches, which are much more expensive than the other two we stayed at. First they tried to rent us an umbrella for $50.00. We could have bought a used umbrella at that price. Then there was the bickering over who was going to pay what to sit under these thatched umbrella’s (which let’s be honest here, we could not have bought one of those) that were going for a mere $35.00. I had enough and headed down the pier in hopes to find the perfect little beach bar and as fate would have it – there she stood. From there I sipped on a local beer (which I did not reorder – Mango Colado’s had stolen my heart) served by a local who spelled her name Janet, but pronounced it Jhah-NET, which is what I think all my Janet friends should go by now. Looked over the once again, but never tired of, turquoise Caribbean waters, watched the water sports and sail boats and talked with a new friend.

Aruba

The view I vie for during retirement (Aruba)

 

Time slipped by quick on this island, and pretty soon we were hunted down and told it was time to leave. I could have almost cried, I loved it there so much. In my retirement dream I want to find a little local wooden bar on the end of a pretty pier, that is run by a Jhah-NET, where we sit and discuss those crazy American’s and their politics and maybe the local goings on. I would erase the hotels and the fifty dollar umbrella’s and the Palapa’s (the thatched umbrella’s, and I’ll be honest I just looked up what they were called) would be free. I’d bring my freshly picked mango’s to Jhah-NET for her to slurry me up some tasty coloda’s with the local rum, and life would be GOOD.

Fourth & Last Island: Curacao

Our last island, and fifth day out to sea was Curacao. Curacao is a hard word for me to pronounce, because up until – oh this past December I had pronounced it Kur-raw-coh. Fortunately I heard someone else pronounce it while I was on my Vegas trip and realized I had been saying it wrong all these years. Not that Curacao comes into my conversation a lot over a lifetime, but I almost felt like Elizabeth Berkley in Shows girls when she pronounces Versace as as Ver-says. I looked up the phonetic pronunciation of it when I got home, and when I say the word I have to hesitate as I visualize the word Cure-ah-sow.

I’m sure when I hit the lottery and buy enough homes to island hop, that saying the word Curacao will be said so often, that I will simply slip off my tongue as easily as Peanut Butter. 😉

Curacao was the only island we didn’t beach it during the day. I had originally booked a small excursion with a bit of tour, bit of beach, but the call time to meet was 8:15 and by God this was my vacation, and I wasn’t going to work office hours by setting an alarm. I was willing to take the financial hit by simply ditching the event, but got super lucky when an honest soul took my spot on the excursion at the last moment and then later found me and paid me for it. I would have never known, and thought it quite commendable on her behalf to be so honest.

Of course I gambled this found money in the ship’s Casino the following night and lost it faster than it took for her to hand it to me.

Instead of the excursion, the roommate and a few friends ventured into town and walked the cobbled streets, which I both LOVED and HATED. I only hated it because I wanted my fucking camera so badly at this point! – This was a photographers haven, especially for people and buildings. We did our own form of a pub crawl and had a great time during it. Very relaxing, and best yet, I finally got some shopping time in.  Prior to that was me running in as quickly as possible to a small shop here and there buying my magnets. Oh and an overly priced, yet very loved ballcap. Haven’t bought one of those in years.

Curacao

Curacao

 

Curacao was seriously lovely, from the moving bridge which is similar to a drawbridge only this moves sideways, instead of up and down – to the colorful landscape and buildings, to the free roaming dogs, sometimes only with three legs. Made it back in from town onto the ship just in time to rinse, later, repeat as we repeated the same walking venture, plus about a mile or two to a hotel suggested to us by — well let’s just say fellow passengers arranged this. It’s rare that the ships dock as late as this one did (11 PM) so we took full advantage like a kid without parents for the night and headed out.

The location of the hotel itself was great, but getting there was a little more than I anticipated. Between the un-level walking that reminded me more of the streets of New Orleans, to the length of the walk itself, I was very happy that the hotel actually exceeded my expectations. When I arrived I was a grumbling little mess, but the moment I walked into the outside bar and restaurant which were nestled in this tiny little cove, all anger subsided. We had arrived just in time to get libations and watch the sun go down.

Curacao2

The sunset 430 miles north of Venezuela (Curacao)

 

428 miles from Venezuela. That’s like Vegas close. It’s the second farthest point South ever traveled for me (Costa Rica edges it out, just barely). Friendly, and clean. Not cheap, but not Aruba prices either. I would definitely come back to this last of our island travels for this particular trip.

The Ship:

The ship was a Royal, and it was nice. In fact, while I wasn’t overwhelmed by the beauty of it, it was probably one of my favorites. We had a great balcony room. I was really lucky with my roommate choice, because we just gelled really well living together for a week. We had been very new friends before, but I think the trip cemented things for us. Like, I’d have her out to my place for a weekend if she ever wanted. Can’t say that invite extends to everyone I know.

Back to the ship, there were some areas I really liked, like their promenade area, which is almost laid out like a mall. Very easy to locate what you are looking for. The nightclub was nice as well. Larger dance floor than most, and ample seating around the floor.

I can’t really report too much on the food, because that part about me taking it so very easy? It extended itself to dining hours. I literally never stepped foot in the dining room except when we were going from floor to floor in the beginning, checking things out. Plus we tend to do as our company does, and my friend almost seemed to have an allergic reaction to the dining room. While I wasn’t purposely avoiding it, and had even considered a point of going, the timing was always off for me. The buffet? It wasn’t too bad. Nothing to write home about, but I could always manage a meal when needed.

What I did get in lieu of the dining room was an evening at one of the specialty restaurants, which really did exceed my expectations. The food and service were exemplary, and the dining company wasn’t too bad either.

We only had two sea days, and those honestly flew by. Having had a lot of direct sun on those days that were at dock, I spent my at-sea days in shade, ass planted firmly in an area that had excellent cocktail service.

So that’s it. That’s my take on the four of the islands I was lucky enough to spend a small amount of time on. I still want that boat to retire on, taking it from island to island, until my time comes and they just throw me into the water and make me fish food.

Until then I will just bide my time and island explore to the best of my abilities. And take pictures of course. Lots of pictures.

Advertisements

Cancun; Hello’s, Goodbye’s and Everything In Between

image

I returned from a week long trip from the wonderful city of Cancun late last night. I usually like to wait a few days for the vacation buzz to subside before I write, but I’m feeling quite content today, and figured I’d try a new perspective of writing when the feelings were fresh and raw.

This was my first for a few things; traveling internationally alone, meeting up with friends I didn’t know really well, having a huge hotel room to myself, just to name a few. Traveling alone was pretty easy, minus the conversation waiting in lines and such. Mexican Customs makes me nervous, especially Cancun. You’re greeted in a cattle call of people waiting in line to get your passport and paperwork checked in a room that has minimal at best of air conditioning. That was fine. I put on my headphones and silently bopped to my own music, never really paying attention to the slowness of the moving lines. After that it got a bit more confusing, but eventually thru following others and finding a few officials who spoke enough English to figure out I had to pick up my checked in luggage to go thru another check point. This is where things get weird.

As honest as I am, when I’m in a store and being watched by store personnel, I always worry about them thinking I’m stealing something when all I’m doing is browsing. I think I was born with the guilt of a thief and liar. Maybe in another life I was a really bad thief, I don’t know. I get to the luggage line and am told I made an error on how much money I was bringing in the country. (You only declare if you’re bringing in more than 10k USD — in my defense the forms were in Spanish and I haven’t had to read the language beyond a menu here and there since high school freshman year). I’m hot, I’m sweaty, it took a few minutes to clarify what he wanted me to do, but I get it done and head back. All is well, and then you meet with the man with the button.

Cancun Customs operates their random searches with a large red button that only you, the traveler, are permitted to touch. He asks the same questions; any booze, cigars, cigarettes. I reply yes to cigarettes and he asks me how many. I hesitate, because I didn’t know how many packs.  “Six I say”, wondering if maybe I brought seven. He said as long as it was less than two cartons, I’m okay. But the way he asks, was a bit intimidating. He hesitates, looks me over and then says “Señora, I need you to push this red button.” He takes a step to the side, and motions for me to press. I press, and a red light goes off. He narrows his eyes and tells me “Señora, this button detects some insincerity in your answer, and I need you to step over here” of course my first thought was maybe I did bring more than six packs,but how is a button to know this? They x-ray my luggage, and then say we still need to search it. All I can think, is who the hell smuggles INTO Mexico? By now, the heat, and the previously mentioned guilt has me sweating like I had 16 kilos of hash packed away. I’m trying to get the lock off my bag, and having a woman search my panties and zillion bathing suits, before I’m given the all clear sign. By now I see the button randomly just picks people, and I just happened to be one of the ones chosen. Great way to run a system. By now, who cares — I’m officially on vacation.

A friend graciously agreed to pick me up in a rental he had procured earlier, so I am easily able to duck and weave thru the timeshare reps who are looking for those lost looking first timers in Cancun. After a couple of texts, we are able to locate one another and soon I’m in an oh-so-appreciated air conditioned mini van, soaking in the cold blasting air. We arrive at the hotel in about ten minutes.

The staff that met us — well me, because he had already checked in, were charming and wonderful. They take me to VIP area where after about 45 minutes I am able to confirm that the ocean front room with a deck and plunge pool have been procured. By sheer luck, because it’s apparent about 50% of the people who have booked the same were being given the run around and placed in lesser quality rooms. In fact, there is a good chance that I had been given my friends room, as he initially ended up with a no patio, ocean facing room instead. Did I feel bad? Yeah, but kinda no. I REALLY wanted this room.

The room was spectacular. Huge, honestly too large for my needs. King size canopied bed, sitting area,fully stocked fridge, and of course the said plunge pool on a deck on the beach. Yeah the deck was old, and bowed in a few areas, and pool had seen better days. The fence separating me and the 20 foot drop to the sands below had seen better days, but I was on a corner with no neighbor to my left, the sounds of crashing waves, and the view of beautiful turquoise Caribbean waters. Life was good.

By now my luggage arrived by the nicest bellboy (man) who toured me around my room, explained where everything in the hotel could be found and I finally settled in. Cold cerveza, feet up on a lounge and the aforementioned view. My friend arrived soon after and he explained his debacle with not getting his room. We waited for our third friend to call and let us know her arrival, but later found her phone plan was not working in Mexico. She finally reached us when she got checked in as well. (Side note: she too didn’t get the room she ordered either, but both eventually were upgraded within days).

Now most of the people we knew on this trip had booked with a travel agency we all use on a regular basis. There were only a minute number of us who didn’t, yours truly being one of them. I procured a better rate, including airfare for a longer period of time so I went with that. This meant that evening cocktail parties, and group dinners were off limits to us. I was okay with that, because it was already all inclusive and I didn’t see the benefit of spending that extra money for those few amenities.

We cleaned up, and headed to the main bar in the lobby, where we saw this group. I knew a small handful of them from previous vacations and they were all friendly and happy to see us. Until I was introduced to a woman who seemed very angry that I chose not to book with them.

Now generally speaking I do everything possible to avoid drama and conflict. I keep my business private unless I know you quite well. I don’t cause waves. I’m friendly. But something about me from time to time sets other women on edge. I apparently in booking my trip in the manner I did, seemed to set this woman off. I politely tried to explain why, but she sort of seemed not to care why, just that I had. So I politely walked away and joined the few people I already knew. I thought it was a done deal, until later I heard atypical gossip that I had “pulled dirty looks, and blah blah blah blah” — Whatever. Except that now, the one gal who hates it, had been dragged into the circle of drama that I do everything to avoid. In her defense she did come up to me the next day to make amends, and I made it clear it was all good, but for the remainder of the trip, I did not get the warm and fuzzies about or from her. It didn’t ruin anything, but it did make me feel like that perpetual 7-year old girl on the playground who got picked on for reasons she didn’t understand. It’s my need to please all, I guess.

The resort as I mentioned was an all inclusive, which means all the booze you want, albeit lower end for the most part. This is like placing a fat kid in a bakery and telling the, while they can have all the cake they want, they should probably only have a few cupcakes. Yeah, wouldn’t work with the fat kid, and definitely didn’t work with me. I found that Vodka in Spanish means “Something clear that is a hybrid of tequila and dishwater” even if you pay for Grey Goose. Some had it smart and went into town and picked up the booze they wanted. I just learned to readjust what I wanted. Beer works. Tequila works. And slushy sweet drinks with names like Rum Runner, and Bahama Mama works. What works and probably shouldn’t is handing your bartender for the day a twenty and telling him to keep them coming.

We did exactly that the first day at the swim up bar, and proceeded to get smashed. Expected. Sunburned with 30 block. Expected when you never leave the waters edge. The morning of Day Two had my limbs barely working until a finally got more rum into my bloodstream. Which I think was more of an alcohol stream, with some blood running thru it than anything. I think that was the first night I called it a day with room service and in bed by 7PM.

The people you meet on these trips for me personally, almost seem to be the package under the pretty paper. The resort was the pretty paper, the people were the prize. Some are leaving a day after you meet so there is only a happy drunken momentary connection. Like the cop from Brooklyn who was such a knockout in her white one piece that you’d almost want to commit a crime, just for the sheer purpose of having her arrest you– ok so my bondage fantasies came out with that one. *wink*. Then there were others that were going to be there a bit longer, like the couple from–North Carolina? South Carolina? Not 100% certain! but suffice to say after a day of drinking her hubby has a booby pic of us with his wife. There goes my political career.

Which reminds me, this was an adults only resort, and topless was an option I’ll touch back on later.

Sometimes some of the friendships take a bit more to get off the ground. It’s very easy to get small talk going, because it’s always, where you all from, what do you do do in your normal life, plus booze makes most happy, and chatty. When there wasn’t a friend nearby, you made new ones. We ended making great friends with a couple of women from Texas, and before the end of the trip, really felt connected with them enough to hopefully make other vacation plans with. Things remained pretty good for the next few days. We did find that someone in the travel group we (the me we did not pay to be with) made it very clear that under no circumstances were we to be allowed to crash their cocktail parties. I felt worse for the host who had to sheepishly and embarrassingly had to tell us the last night he was there, when we joked about crashing their cocktail party. We thought he was joking at first, and made him repeat it because it seemed so ridiculous, but again– not one to cause waves, we had at one point just wanted to continue the party with the friends who were part of things. Fair enough.

About three days before we left we met three adorable women from Georgia. The first we had seen topless the entire week. These women were — well words sort of escape me at the moment — confident, heroic, beautiful, outrageous, funny — doesn’t really seem to convey the point I’d like to make, but it will have to suffice. Two were breast cancer survivors and they were put there with their scars, and their reconstruction, and beautiful bodies, just baring it all. The had more confidence than 40 of the most gorgeous 20 year olds pulled together. Their confidence was just really the beginning, because their personalities just mirrored the people they were. One had recently lost her husband and they were there to scatter his ashes on the beach. About half way thru the day of the afternoon we were really getting to know them I had a chance to have a semi-private conversation with her. I was in awe over the way she carried herself despite these circumstances life had been dealing her. I asked her about her husband, and as she explained to me how me she loved him, I found myself tearing up. I thought it was the sadness, maybe the empathy of her situation, and I briefly explained losing Kurt. And then it happened. I lost it.

The tears were pouring faster than I could casually catch them under my sunglasses. I felt foolish, and like I had jumped on her train of mourning. The worst things I wanted to do was elicit sympathy when someone else was going thru something so traumatic. But I couldn’t stop. I excused myself from the group, and tried to gain composure, but no sooner would I come back and there they would be. The water works. Now I know two huge factors contributing to this were alcohol and someone else’s loss. But I also knew these were also bottled up emotions that I firmly (or not so firmly) capped weeks after Kurt’s death.

I also knew the entire trip, something was off about me. I was me, but I wasn’t. I was much more subdued. The flirt in me was shelved, and solitude I was feeling, both self-imposed and otherwise felt right and yet wrong. Quite often I would find myself just wanting to be alone. I do need my downtime, but this was just — different. The parties we WERE allowed to attend with the group — I didn’t really want to be there. The friend I travelled to meet? I found myself getting rude with her at times because of the constant chatter. Often I just wandered to a section of the pool to soak in the atmosphere and beauty, but I wanted to do it alone. My senses, the emotional ones were heightened.

Finally the last day we were there we attended a full blown foam pool party at the VIP pool area. I had really looked forward to this, but as soon as it really got going, I felt claustrophobic and almost disoriented. THAT wasn’t the booze. I ran into friends from the group who were on the sidelines and tried to sit with them. One, a closer friend than the rest made a joking comment about how no, I couldn’t sit with them and that was it. The 7-year old in me that I mentioned above? I lost it. I told her I didn’t know why so many of these women had to be so fucking mean, and burst into tears. Was I really upset about that? No. Again, those emotions were at the surface, raw and ready for someone to set them afire. She immediately was there for me, and said said she understood what was really going on. I apologized (again) for crying, and blamed it on the tequila (again) and she told me no. No need to apologize, no it wasn’t the booze, no it wasn’t the few women who weren’t overly friendly it was a death, that might take me years to get over. That it was okay to cry (which I continued apologizing for, fearing bringing people down). She invited me to dinner with them (I think I needed that change of pace) and for reasons I’m not sure of, the rest of the night felt — calmer. I think I finally embraced that I didn’t have to be that Gina. The flirty fun one. That overly chatty one. The life of the party one. After dinner I headed back to my room soon after. I texted my daughter and told her I was homesick, which for as much fun as I had been having, I really was.

Then I went back to my room, upgraded both legs of my flight to first class and enjoyed the almost full moon alone on that not-so-perfect deck, alone.

Did I enjoy and learn anything on the vacation? Absolutely. I made friends with a woman in the group who I had from afar found intimidating (she was an absolute sweetheart). I made friends with women; Texas and Georgia that I sincerely hope to vacation with again. I learned I need to pack sunscreen for my lips and remove about four outfits from the luggage because I probably won’t wear them. I took my first baby steps in traveling alone (which is honestly on my bucket list one day). I realized I want to go there with my Besties, even my girls if time permits.

But the biggest lesson? Grief doesn’t end just because you go back to real life of work, and socializing. It sometimes peeks its head out, ugly or otherwise when you are sharing empathy, or soaking in beauty. Or maybe even drinking mass quantities of funny sounding rum.

24 Hours for Mardi Gras

la-attr-frenchquarter

Well it’s been a little short of two weeks since I returned from my first cruise outside of the Mexican Riviera, and my first Caribbean trip, beyond the Mexican waters. It was doubly sweet, because one of my wish list cities was included in our point of departure; New Orleans.  The upside to everything? Mardi Gras week was going on when we arrived. Doesn’t get much better than having your first New Orleans experience coincide with the craziness of Mardi Gras.

I’m a fickle creature when it comes to domestic travel, with honestly very few cities on my bucket list. Most are on the West Coast, which I’ve already seen; San Francisco revisited (I was born there, but left at a young age), Portland, Seattle. A few on the East Coast that I’ve yet to see; New York City obviously, Boston and the  New England area in general. A small handful in the South; Most are music related, like Austin and Nashville. And then there stands the gem of it all, New Orleans, which really holds nearly every appeal that I have for each city previously listed all rolled into one fantastic place.

I feel like there is this weird connection I have with New Orleans, most of it based solely on my Ex and his relationship with the town.  NOLA was almost like the other woman during our tenure together, with him constantly disappearing there. Later when he and I ended, she had that “meet my new girlfriend” vibe about her, and it created this combination of jealous and curious vibes intertwined. But it’s the New Girlfriend that you realize you would have really liked had the circumstances not been so strange. So while I wanted to hate the state of Louisiana, I was drawn to her at the same time. Start reading Anne Rice and tell me you wouldn’t want to visit. Watch Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and again tell me this isn’t on your list. Alas, time, money and parental commitments kept me from fulfilling the dream of visiting sooner, but I always knew I would end up there sometime. I just don’t think I knew how strongly I would connect.

So much time has passed between my ex and I, that it felt like a clean slate arriving. I wasn’t going based on his memories, or visiting places based on his recommendations. I joked with my daughter about whether or not I should contact him when I got there to see if he wanted to meet up, but we have a very strange relationship at best now, so that was never going to happen. Instead I had taken copious notes from a network of current friends on what areas I needed to visit and what foods and drinks I needed to try. Unfortunately our time there was so very limited I didn’t even hit on a tenth of them. Fortunately I was able to pick and choose what mattered most to me, and my travel partner was either easy going enough to comply or had the same on his wish list.

Is it weird to say that at my age, this was the furthest east I had ever flown, outside of connecting a flight thru Miami a few years back? As much as I love to travel, I have to admit my circle has been oh-so-limited. Oh talk to me about the ports of Mexico and I’m a pro. Ask me about that one time in Costa Rica and I can go on forever. But outside of that, I am a blank canvas. Flying in and seeing the Mississippi River beneath me was sort of surreal. This is the M-I-Double S-I-Double S-I-P-P-I  RIVER for Gawds sake! Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn!! I felt like a child seeing an ocean for the first time. I was both repelled by the brown churning earthiness of it, and enthralled by the vast history and size of it.

Grabbing a cab to head to our hotel I couldn’t help but absolutely wonder at every minute detail I could absorb. This is the SOUTH, I screamed internally! That piece of trash lying next to that bus stop, is Southern trash! That homeless man is a Southern homeless man!! Bus stop, BMW, local delivery truck. All Southern. Unfortunately all airports are about the same once you exit with the bustling taxi’s and corporate or industrial vibe, so the fact this stuff was Southern vs So Cal really shouldn’t have made a difference. But it did. Cause that’s how I roll. I like to be all chill on the outside, but inside I’m as big a goober of a tourist as the woman in brightly colored floral prints calling out loudly to her husband Floyd that she thinks she just saw a movie star. You’d just never know it by looking at me.

The cab ride didn’t offer too much in sites as we weren’t heading into downtown New Orleans. We had a hotel about 10 miles outside in Metarie, and unbeknownst when we booked it, it was a pretty industrial area. I could have been in Fresno, or Bakersfield for all the culture it provided. The hotel wasn’t something I would recommend, but it wasn’t awful. It just had this sort of dank, humid smell to it and a slightly too dark for my taste, hallway. Maybe all hotels in New Orleans are like that. I only know from this one. Plus,  I’m weird about hotel hallways. Too much Stephen King, and of course nightmares of my haunted hotel experience in Hood River, Oregon that cemented it for me. After getting settled in we looked for a place to grab a bite to eat, and pick up a bottle of hootch to smuggle on the cruise ship later. Neither of us wanted the hassle of bringing a bottle onto the plane from Los Angeles, and where better to get more booze than the capitol of drinking?

He looked up a local place that we could walk to for both and we headed out; Across a fast food parking lot, and industrial complex until we arrived in a sprawling outdoor mini mall that afforded us everything we needed – except the bottle of booze. We ate at an English Pub, which I found sort of ironic. Here I am in the mega city of good eats, and the only thing we can find is an English Pub. Scratch muffaletta’s, or po’ boy’s from the dinner menu. I got over that quickly, especially considering how starved I was. I let an icey martini wash over me and release the stress of two airports and rude airline workers and rushing here and there. Suddenly, all was right in the world. It wasn’t until after we ate and walked more that we realized we had mistaken a Sprint store for a Spirits store. See the letter connection? Sprint? Spirit? When I say we, I am being generous in absorbing some of the blame by the way. 😉

Can I just cut to the chase and say in the end we decided against the hassle of trying to locate and carry a bottle around New Orleans, and decided to go for the outrageous cost of buying it direct from the ship. We had committed ourselves to a poker and shot crawl, otherwise I think we would have just scrubbed the whole idea.  It just dawned on me that I still owe him half for that bottle.

The next day we decided to grab a cab and head to downtown. Our original plan was to start at the top of Canal Street and see a cemetery or two (we are both fortunately weird in that way. Or I am, and he is accommodating in that way), and then take the trolley down Canal Street to the French Quarter. At this point I can’t say I was disappointed in New Orleans, I was just a little disappointed in the lack of stereotypical culture I was hoping to see. Where were my Southerners goddamn it?! The closest to old southern architecture I had seen were a group of condos with a slight fake antebellum vibe about them.

Ask and ye shall receive. Our cab driver couldn’t have been more of a stereotype, had he been written by a comic book; Thick, lunk-headed, bigoted, deaf, good ol’ boy. I think at first we were shocked at his lack of filtering when talking about the different races in New Orleans. He must have taken our silence or lack of agreement with him as judgment because he went into a tirade about how in California races were different than they are in the South, blah blah blah. He peppered his racist rants with a booming HUH?! after everything we said. It was so clichéd it was comical. He did have that thick Nawlins’ accent I had so wanted to hear and he was born and raised in Loo-see-anna, he explained. I realized that I should be a tad more careful in my wishful thinking moving forward.

He explained to us between scattered vitriol about the locals, that the trolleys weren’t running because of Mardi Gras, so we had to quickly scratch our plans and make new ones. We asked if we could walk Canal Street down to the Quarter, and while he said it was possible, he didn’t advise on it, because of some of the *ahem* neighborhoods we would have to walk thru. After assuring him we were fine with those neighborhoods, he dropped us atop the main parade route at Carrollton.

Getting out of that stifling cab made me feel like a kid with an all-day pass to Disney! “We were here!” I wanted to scream to Tony, but I think he was sort of feeling it too. I didn’t care what we did or where we went, we were technically in the city of New Orleans, baby!

The walk down to the Quarter was a good couple of miles, and I loved nearly every moment of it. I had the option of bringing my good camera, but all I heard were horror stories of thieves and con men who were on the lookout for such a Noob as myself. So instead I opted for the good ol iPhone camera, which did a decent job. Let me say, this walk was a photographers paradise, once you understood to watch your step. The sidewalks and gutters would dip and rise like a raging mini volcano’s, and not paying attention I imagine, could cost you a scraped face or worse. Next time, con men be damned, I’m bringing the good camera. The architecture alone was worth it.

It’s funny — that just made me flash on a guy I dated when I was very young. He was a few years older than me, and a student of architectural studies. He would take me downtown to look at all the different styles of buildings in Los Angeles, and I didn’t get it. I mean I saw the difference, I just didn’t get the love. I would smile weakly, or nod to agree with whatever he was telling me, but I thought he was a tad crazed.  Once I got into photography and saw the beauty in angles, and styles I totally understood his fever. No big surprise after a date or two we realized we didn’t have that much in common. I wonder if he ever became an architect?

Anyway I was snapping away at this picture and that. Houses. A huge old church. Huge columned homes that had been turned into businesses. I would have really loved to have taken pictures of a lot of the people, but I’m still a little shy when it comes the invasiveness of taking pictures of strangers. The camera would have helped because it gives me some distance with a good lens and I can be a lot less intrusive. The street was starting to line up with groups; families, friends all vying for perfect positions as the parade comes by. Some had barbeques going, and although I wasn’t hungry the smell of smoking ribs, or even burgers was so enticing, my stomach rumbled more than once in agreement. Music blared from boom boxes that could be heard even from the center islands where most people had set up camps. Hard rock, hip-hop, classic R&B, it just seemed to flow from group to group.

After about an hour of walking we found ourselves again in a more industrialized area of Canal. No people lining the streets here. A teaching hospital, a few medium sized corporations. I was beginning to wonder when we would ever hit Bourbon Street. We ran into a couple of police officers and asked them, while explaining the story of the cabdriver we had earlier. They were sweet and apologized on behalf of the people of New Orleans. They explained we were about half way to Bourbon Street, but headed in the right direction. You never realize how far two miles is until you start to walk it.

Soon the industrial area gave way to a poorer section. Old hotels and theaters boarded up, but still retaining some of that Nawlins’ charm with the old neon signs, and brick everywhere. Freeways above us, and traffic around us. I still didn’t care.

Once when I was at Disneyland with my oldest daughter, we were having a hell of a time finding the characters. I wasn’t sure if it was because it was a week day, or if they all took lunch at the same time, but no Mickey. No Minnie, or Donald or Pluto. It was my daughters first venture and she was so young, that there wasn’t any disappointment in her eyes, but there was in mine. Somehow in stopping to rest, we ended up near a small alcove and lo and behold there they were. An entire nest of them. We must have found the wormhole where the characters enter and exit the park, because suddenly a drove of them were there. We quickly grabbed the snapshots we needed and headed on our way, pleased that we had been able to gain such access to them all at once.

That’s how I felt when we hit a street filled with sirens, and float after float after float passed by us. We had found the New Orleans wormhole from where the floats came from. Granted the floats were empty, but you saw where the beads would later hang, or the balls or whatever that float was throwing to the crowds. They were almost eerie in their quiet emptiness, with large sculpted heads, and garish loud colorfully painted characters and themes. We couldn’t cross the street, and the parade seemed never ending, so we did what anyone would do and took picture after picture. Finally we found a lull and slipped between and crossed over.

We knew that we must be getting closer to our destination because the crowds were thickening on the streets. We had at one point not come across another person for blocks and little by little we starting to fit nearly shoulder to shoulder in some areas. The streets were definitely more bustling than before, and open businesses were more abundant. Young girls in skimpy colorful outfits, and small kiosks selling purple, green and gold feather boas, hats and tees.  We stopped into a liquor store tourist trap for a bottle of water, and thirty dollars later had a couple of souvenirs. We knew Bourbon Street must be close.

I don’t know if I expected a huge sign announcing the entrance, or what but somehow we walked right past it. We figured that out when we hit the Mississippi. Turning around and finding a map showed us we were about 5-6 blocks too far. As we headed up, Tony bought me my first Hurricane from a restaurant that had a side window that specialized in just that. As we stood there a woman came up to us, asking if we were with the cruise group. She had recognized us from Facebook. We immediately hit it off, and asked her to join us. She ended up being one of my favorite new meets of the week and I look forward to vacationing with her again soon.

Bourbon Street felt a tiny bit Disney-fied when we first hit it. Much smaller and narrower than I expected. While you can walk the streets, literally in the street like an outdoor promenade, occasionally a car will be brave enough to slide thru. As we got deeper into the Quarter though, I did start to see the charm of it all. It was still relatively early by Mardi Gras standards. Maybe noonish. We hopped from shop to shop, each looking for something different. My new friend told me not to buy beads, I’d have plenty of them by the days end, but I couldn’t help picking up a strand or two that were more unique and definitely not something you’d catch from a balcony. Tony did the same, picking up a strand that paid homage to his Irish roots. But she was right. Before the end of the day I didn’t want anymore. I was weighed down enough by what I had, and not a boob to flash to obtain one of them. 😉 After we had all found what we were looking for, we decided to let the drinking commence!

It seems like every place in the Quarter is selling some fruity high octane concoction, and the first place we hit up, –this dive-ish bar with great ambience– was no different. We started off with a Hand Grenade, a super sweet bright green drink with a little plastic hand grenade in it. It wasn’t bad. As I’m want to do, I struck up a conversation with the two people sitting next to us; two college graduates that decided on impulse to drive from Virginia Beach to Mardi Gras the night before. Fifteen hours straight thru. They found a last minute place on AirBnB, and soon I was hearing their life stories. He a graduate heading to Med School, she a graduate working for in the defense industry. They were super cool and nice and soon talked us into our second drink; a Shark Attack. Same premise of brightly colored and overly sweet alcohol-laced-party-in-a-cup, but this came with more toys; a small plastic gator that floats atop your drink until a loud whistle was blown and a large, cup sized shark is dumped upside down into your drink with loads of red (grenadine perhaps?) liquid permeating the drink, giving the illusion of blood stained waters. Cute, but way too sweet for my taste. Doesn’t mean I didn’t drink it though.

Shark attack

We ran into that couple on the street later, and by then we were all happily buzzed and in the “I love you maaan!” phase of our drinking. Tony gifted the gal Heaven (yes her real name) with a strand of beads you could only get in Las Vegas at the Rio, so they were special. She was so happy (and pretty drunk), she actually teared up a bit. In the meantime her friend was being accosted by two women tying him up with caution tape. The revelry in the streets was definitely happening now.

This sort of seemed the rinse, lather, repeat. Hitting different bars, and drinking fruity concoctions. While I got pretty drunk, I was not the blitzed, wasted shell of a being that I was warned about becoming by drinking the lethal Hurricanes. In fact, by count – one at the restaurant on Canal, one at the dive bar, two at lunch (which were far better than any I had anywhere. I only wish I could recall the name of the bar that served them) and at least two more in Pat O’Brien’s I should have been plastered up against a wall holding on for dear life. Instead I was able to walk my way over to Café Du Monde and try the infamous beignets and chicory coffee. This was after we lost our new friend, who thankfully made it back to her hotel room safe and sound.

Here is where I need to interject that sometimes the hype of the local Must-Have/Must-Do is not all that it lends itself to be. Pat O’Brien’s we actually found by accident. We had slipped off of Bourbon Street and onto St. Peters, actually attracted to a VooDoo-ish type of shop that both Tony and I wanted to check out. As we came out, VOILA there it was, one of the most famous bars in the nation. The bar itself was pretty cool, but of course this being Mardi Gras week and all, it was packed.  We had to order the infamous Hurricane seeing as we were at the original location of the drink, so one would think this is where they are the best. Mmmmmm — not so much in my opinion. The bar we had lunch at, a smallish narrow little dive on that originally lulled us in with a small two piece live music show had in my opinion the best Hurricane’s of all. Pat O’Brien’s were almost too tart for me. Too slushy.

It’s all a matter of taste. But the same held true for the beignets. Now I love me a fried pastry. I mean I can go all Homer Simpson on your ass with just a glimpse of a pink bakery box; It’s my Achilles Heel. So trying these little fried concoctions were top of my list (even if they were last on what we did). I was impressed with Café Du Monde. We had a sweet Beignetslittle French waitress who barely seemed old enough to work there. The vibe was almost 50’s, with the bright lighting or maybe it was just the bright glare against the darkness we had been in for so long. (Or so it seemed. Later I would learn how absolutely early it was when we got there. Just one more reminder that the Hurricane’s were a tad stronger than I wanted to admit.) We were lucky and were able to walk right in and get a table, instead of waiting in these monster lines I had heard tales of. I think it was timing. I over ordered as I’m known to do. If they were that good, I didn’t want to take a chance of having to actually wait for a second order to come thru. They were good. Very good. But were they Wait-In-An-Hour-Line-To-Try worthy? Not so much. I liked the coffee more. Deep, dark and full of chicory flavor. I could have lapped that up for hours. But again, if you don’t like a dark bold black coffee, this might not be for you. Plus no free refills. I think I spent more on coffee than on pastries.

Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t try a Hurricane at Pat’s or a beignet at Du Monde. It’s sort of like coming to L.A. and not seeing Hollywood. You sort of have to say you’ve at least tried it. But would I say go there for the experience, or go there for the product? I’m going to say in these two situations, pick the former vs the latter.

This is where the New Orleans for a Day trip, sort of ends. We lucked out on snagging a cab as we came out of Café Du Monde. Both of us were pretty tired, even though it was so very early in Mardi Gras time. The cab ran us twice as much as it did going because we hit a horrible traffic jam on the freeway. Sometimes things just make you feel right at home, and sitting in traffic, watching the meter go up up up in a cab was just like L.A..

I have to end this by saying I absolutely have to go back. I was thrilled with what we got to do, and doing it during Mardi Gras was a boon, but even a day or two more is absolutely necessary. I want to take that trolley down Canal. See those magnificent cemeteries, and pop over to the Garden District. I need to take more pictures, and have lunch at the Commander’s Palace with 25 cent martini’s. I need to hear a Jazz trio, or better yet a small informal Blues band. I need a bite of a muffaletta, a bowl of authentic jambalaya and most definitely a pecan praline.

It’ll happen. Sooner than you think. 😉

Traveling with Phil

 

 

Travel to Live

In the midst of the happiness and cheer in my life (because honestly it really is going pretty well, despite the minor challenges that are a constant for me … for every living, breathing, person out there) there is this small little part of my brain that I feel sits on what I am going to call the Death button. Maybe not sitting on it, but definitely watching it. It’s that nagging little part of your brain that starts to question the stress induced chest tightening as possibly something a little more.  I’m certain it’s a jumbled recipe of recent personal circumstances, media fed pharmaceutical commercials reminding me that women my age may die suddenly, spurts of bad but yet-oh-so-good living, genetics, and lastly with what feels like a death parade of some of my favorite rock stars since the start of the new year. It just all adds up to being there. To questioning mortality. Let’s just add into the fact that the New Year as fresh as it may seem, is also a signifier that we are all about to be one year older. That’s my Anti-Pollyanna reminding me of darkness I refuse to embrace.

I don’t obsess over my age. I’m good with it. But —- Neither of my parents lived to see their sixties. While I feel far from cursed, I can’t help but wonder; What’s my unlucky number? Will it be the long slow ride to 90, where I fear my mind turning to mush or are these the last few good ones left? Truth be told, my parents deaths were not life’s cruel twisted joke; it was hard living on both their parts. Some might say karmic retribution in one respect, but I’ll leave that for my Daddy Issues blog when I finally get around to writing it. ;-). I know I am not either of my parents, but yet – I am. And therein lies that small part of my brain that sits and watches that internal Death button, waiting for the imaginary results on that bump, or lump, or cough.

I know I don’t always take good care of myself. I tend to live with vigor, and when I indulge I sometimes forget to shut off the “That’s enough” valve. My blood pressure has sent a scare into me more than once, where I start making false promises to myself and any entity that might have their hand on the paging Death button. But then I’m okay, and the promises turn into smoke and nervous yet reassured laughter. Add to that, my imagination which has always been a bit on the theatrical side.

It sounds crazy and a bit like hypochondria, but I never expected myself by my very early 50’s to have experienced death so many times. My family went thru a death crisis about 15 years ago, where like the aforementioned rock stars, family members were dropping like flies. While the number wasn’t huge, the percentage was, and it was like a small European village being wiped out of existence. They simply ceased to exist, leaving the survivors to stumble around wondering what the fuck just hit them. When it was all said and done, nearly every one of us had lost a parent. Soon after I was fortunate enough to experience a death free lull for about a decade, until it started to hit friends and acquaintances in the same fast, bullet spitting fashion. By then I was experienced, although I’d be lying to say that each one didn’t steal a little piece of me away.

The upside to this? There is always an upside to time and tragedy. For me, I’ve decided there is no time like the present, to live life a little fuller. Bump up that Bucket List while you still have the mental marbles to do so. You just never really know. I expanded a bit on my dreams and pushed the reins out of the hands of Awkwardness and Fear. (Fear holds those reins very tightly)

I started with Travel.

Travel for me was something  I wanted to achieve, but never realized how I would grow to love it so much. I was lucky in my last relationship because he liked travel as much as I did, so that’s probably where I got my feet wet. But travel as a couple, versus travel as a single is different. I can’t exactly say how different, because I’ve only recently put my toes out there in the past year or so. Small places, girl trips, built up to slightly larger and now I have a couple of trips lined up throughout the year, and cannot wait to line the following year up.

In my 20’s, Greece was the big objective, followed by what I could only imagine as the breathtaking Tuscany region. By my 30’s I wanted to rest my ass in Ireland because it was so beautifully green, and the lilt of the Irish brogue has always sang so sweetly to my ears. But it wasn’t until the action of actually doing some travel, that I got it. The country that really did it for me was Costa Rica; even though the circumstances of that trip are yes, something I can laugh about now, but definitely not at the time. Since then, travel for me has become a bigger piece of the pie. No longer are the dreams a bit on the sparse side, to be done tomorrow.

I always figured someday, myself and my husband, Phil Intheblank, would go back and visit that proverbial little island in Greece; perhaps staying at that magical place we spent our honeymoon. Only, I haven’t yet done Greece. Or the honeymoon. Or even Phil for that matter. It took me getting to this point, Age and the Death button to realize “I don’t need no stinkin’ Phil to make the magic happen!”, and that ultimately time really isn’t your friend and isn’t good for anything but a little bit of wisdom you can’t take with you anyway. Get while the getting is good. So I started to travel a bit sans a relationship. Baby steps at first. I joked in a previous blog about Eat, Pray, Love, but I don’t know if I yet have it in me to travel half way across the world alone.

Note the word yet. It’ll happen.

For now I am still sticking with my side of the hemisphere. Tracking down the tropical places I’ve want to say I at least stepped foot in. There are so many of them, and I am barely getting started. Maybe I will be lucky enough to sip a libation with a local, chow down on a new dish, or run my toes thru the earth. For today,  I’m using the safety and comfort of cruise ships and travel with friends, because it feels good to know I might be sort of traveling alone, but I’m not really alone. But soon I’ll put my big girl panties on, and just go – without the ship. Maybe even without the friends. Fly 12 hours, and rent that car, driving and relishing in the abandonment of lost fears.

I figure Greece will definitely be there waiting for me, maybe along with Italy and Ireland if I hit the lottery. Who knows maybe even my Phil to share it with. When I’m there I might get brave enough to flip off Death. But then again maybe not.

Either way, I’m going.

Travel