Thursday, May 31, 2012

At The Top of Mystic Mountain, Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Bobsled Coaster Ride at Mystic Mountain, Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Zip Line at Mystic Mountain, Ocho Rios, Jamaica pt 2/2


Zip Line at Mystic Mountain, Ocho Rios, Jamaica pt 1/2

Va-cayman-tion 2012: The Cruisening: Day 6 - Grand Cayman


Due to a lot of strange things in my brain, not limited to the news story of that man eating that guy's face off, I had a dream that I ate S. Epatha Merkerson, and I did a really terrible job of hiding the body. I was really wasteful when I think about it, because I really only ate her calf, and then wrapped the rest in saran wrap and threw her in a dumpster. And I was caught and going to prison, because shock of shocks, my finger prints were everywhere. I can't even remember the last time I saw an episode of Law & Order, so why the image of her? I say image because the woman looked nothing like her, I just know in my dream it was supposed to be her.

Anyway, we had to order room service to get an early start again. This time they brought the toast in pairs, but thinking last night they wouldn't, I ordered two, and consequently got four pieces of toast.

Getting off the boat was quite the ordeal as the cruise ship had to be moored some distance offshore, and there was no pier long enough to stretch, which is surprising. You'd think they would be all over that, but why have a pier where people can just walk to shore? It's better yet to have boats that can handle 150 people at a time and take 45 minutes to load, travel the 500 yards to shore, and unload. It makes so much sense for the end of the day, too, to make everyone waiting on the pier in the hot, hot sun as they slowly load the boats. What kind of Disney ride is this?

We had good timing as we were among the last few people aboard the boat, so we walked downstairs, walked right through the checkpoint, and walked on to the boat, which immediately left and dumped us on the docks of Georgetown. There was some tourist trap shops, and LOTS of people trying to get you to go on their tour. If you get on shore and want to go on a tour and can't find one, there is something wrong with you. These people are every five feet and yelling their pitch at anyone who will hear. Which is everyone because they are loud.

We got there very early because there was a little bit of confusion between "ship time" and "island time" and what our tickets said, but we passed the time by wandering around the market which was itself a big tourist trap. There were plenty of trashy things to do, buy discounted watches, diamonds, and tanzanite (which I had never even heard of until this trip, but apparently people love this shit). You could buy various art things, Swarovski crystal in the shape of an elephant or a tiger (as Anna says, klassy (yes, with a 'K')), duty free liquor, and various tourist crap. You could go to a fancy I-talian restaurant, or you could drink breakfast at Margaritaville (tempting, I will admit).

We walked by the shore, remarking at the blue clear water, wanting to jump in it. It was really, hot and humid, moreso than any place we have ever been. There were beaches that were roped off, and little reef/coral rocks you could walk out on and watch little crab walking all creepily sideways. Crabs are creepy. They are just an underwater spider with claws. Strange. I'm able to dismiss that image entirely when I eat them.

We wandered away from the main drag and back a couple of blocks and found a chachka shop filled with all kinds of junk I would never buy, and further down the street a small park that consisted of a tree and around this tree, more wild chickens. I had a moment with one of the chicks, slightly older than a peep-chick, and almost all its baby fuzz gone. It looked at me and cocked its head. No pun intended. I tried to whistle at it at the same pitch, but ultimately I don't speak chicken, and I'm pretty sure it spoke only Castilian Spanish. I think it was swearing at me as we left, and then it hailed a cab.

Thankfully our tour started and we headed back to the tourist trap at the port. At the check in we were assigned to a bus and seated behind us was this amazing looking family. They were so good looking, they could have been models. I poked them to see if they were made of cardboard. They weren't. The husband was of Asian descent and had an athletic build, and the wife was black and had these uniquely shaped eyes and a gorgeous smile. I thought she might be Jamaican or from one of the islands, but I didn't ask; she sounded American. They had two boys, one was about seven and the other was an infant. Even the kids could have been child models; they were really adorable. God, it was annoying.

Our first stop was the glass-bottomed boat, which was a pseudo sub. We drove over two shipwrecks and a big reef. We saw tons of fish, a barracuda, a sting ray, sponges, corals, and more fish. It was very Finding Nemo. The announcer or excursion narrator, or as I like to call him, Captain Screamypants, was loud. He was very, very islander. Lots of "ya mon," and he had an interesting accent. I imagine that in the privacy of his home, his real accent is either proper British, or Texas.

Our bus driver and tour guide was Damion and he was from Jamaica originally. He riled us up by getting us to respond "ya mon" to everything he said. He really was from Jamaica, though so I didn't imagine him at home with a totally western accent. But it's funny to imagine. The next stop was Hell. This was a place where a bunch of jagged, black limestone rocks protrude from the ground across a section of land in a creepy and interesting way. It would have been more severe had the entire thing not be lined with greenery. Apparently this place is really cool at sunset, but we only had 15 minutes, and it was all we needed. There is a small wooden walkway and a badly painted standup devil with a speech bubble saying 'Welcome to Hell!' It was a little anti climactic, since what I was picturing was way more amazing than this, but when I think of attraction, I think Disney, and I have been spoiled by quality.

In their gift shop, we asked the lady if they stamp passports. She said they weren't supposed to, but as she was saying no, pulled out her stamp and pad. So now my passport shows that I have been to hell in the Cayman Islands. Gregory also bought a Cayman Island dollar. It has the Queen on one side. Helloooo!

The next stop was the Tortuga Rum factory. I wish there was more of a tour of this place with a little history and a cheesy photo op, than just dumping us at the gift shop to sample and buy. But the samples were awesome, so we bought. Rum cake party when we get back!

Next stop was the most amazing thing and worth the trip to the Cayman Islands, quite possibly the entire cruise. As in I want to come back here and do this again, but spend all day, because apparently we only saw part of the park: The Cayman Island Turtle Farm. First of all, my experience with turtles is ordinarily chocolatey with pecan clusters, or the turtles have been small and not particularly friendly. These turtles were HUGE!!! And they were so cute all swimming around with their flippers and looking around with their turtle faces. We made our way over to the younger turtles that were a little smaller and they were hilarious. Damion reached in the water and pulled one out by the shell and it started to "swim" away from him, its flippers going crazy. He handed it to someone, and as they took it, he started to gently stroke its chin and neck, and it immediately stopped flailing and stayed there docile and content to be held and petted. The shells are so cool feeling as is their scaly skin, and this kind of animal is so foreign to my simple cat-dog universe, it was fucking awesome to hold a turtle!

I want one.

Right after that, we went to the cafe and had turtle burgers.

Here's the thing about that: you don't need to do this. You can do this, but it's not like meeting a cow and then having filet mignon. You will not be wowed by the experience because turtle, although apparently quite healthy and it does has a nice flavor (it does NOT taste like chicken), is tough like a shoe. There is nothing chicken-like about this experience. Do it if you must, but I'm Switzerland here.

Incidentally there were iguanas everywhere, not just in the park, but wild, like the chickens. We would be driving by and see several on people's roofs, in gardens, or in their driveway.

Sadly our excursion was over, though not after Damion showed us a couple of homes for sale (3 bedroom condo for 650k) since some of the people on the tour were asking about real estate (show offs!), and he also drove us past the ridiculously lavish Ritz Carlton hotel and golf course. Amazing! looking… because I don't play golf, so… pretty!

As a side note we drove past the world-famous Seven Mile Beach (which is only five and half miles, but whatever), and what we were able to see of it, did not scream out best of the best beaches. And like downtown Georgetown, at the port we were just not impressed with it. We imagined that something like THE CAYMAN ISLANDS RESORT would be a lot nicer, more posh, more polished, not as dumpy as it is. The Turtle Farm by contrast, was very nice and I look forward to returning there someday.

When we returned to the ship we went our separate ways to nap, Gregory and Jill to their respective rooms and I went to the deck to work on my tan while I snoozed. But I started doing that almost asleep jerk violently awake due to squirrel attack. I realized too that the ship had turned and my sun was now gone. I have the kind of skin that can tan in the shade, but I decided to move nonetheless and went up to the back of the ship to catch the last rays of the sun before it disappeared into the slightly overcast sky.

We didn't see the sunset since our room now faced south as we headed toward Jamaica and Ocho Rios. We ate dinner in the buffet tonight instead of our assigned table, and it was good for a change. I tried not to eat too much, but might have tipped it ever so slightly. The wind really picked up toward the end of the day, and the ship has been rocking gently back and forth, just enough to make you think you are drunk already. I did my best to limit it to one bottle of wine for today. Tomorrow is a very early day: up at 7, ready to walk out the door at 7:30 since our excursion begins at 8.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hell, Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman Turtle Farm

Grand Cayman Dock

Va-cayman-tion 2012: The Cruisening: Day 5 - A Day At Sea


Today nothing happened. It was the trip from Key West to Grand Cayman, which apparently takes two days when you drive your hotel at 25mph. I'm sure the speed limit on the ocean is faster than that, but for some reason hotel no want to faster go. Since there was nothing going on today, I awoke leisurely at 8AM to go to the gym. Had to give one of the hamsters a break for a few minutes anyway. Hey who knows how long it would take us to get there if this hotel suffers from hamster strain. I refuse to be held responsible.

I have no pretense that my workouts are really doing anything for me. But I'm trying to combat some of the bad caloric choices I have made--mostly alcohol related--I'm sure in vain. Plus there are some seriously nice bodies on this ship, and it is really tough to compete with that. I'm convinced this one guy has a 24 inch waist and shoulders as wide as the doorway. He has to turn sideways to get through the door. His abs make a ringing sound like an Indian bell tree--you know like, "you will know when it's time to turn the page?" Only this is more like, "You will know when it's time to put down your second plate of pizza, fatty."

So we ate breakfast and afterward Jill split up from us and went to wander around on her own, as did we. We lazed on the deck for a while, sat in a hot tub. The day was overcast and was becoming overcasterer, and as we sat in the tub, nearing a bank of particularly forbidding clouds, I began to wonder how likely it was that the ship was creating any special kind of static electricity, and would that be enough to result in a lightning strike, and would it really hit the highest point in the boat, or would it go for the place where it was most likely to conduct. I became increasingly more convinced that we would be cooked in the hot tub like people soup and started to picture the headlines on that one, imagining the grief, confusion, and absurdity of dying from a lightning strike to the cruise ship hot tub.

Eventually it was time for our food and wine pairing. It was taught by the ship's sommelier and it was really informative. He showed us five wines, a Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc, Bordeaux, and a Chianti. They served a plate with a small piece of steak, salmon, a cracker with brie cheese, a slice of apple, wedges of lemon and lime, a strawberry and a blueberry on top of some orange marmalade and small teaspoon with some very course ground salt. We would taste a bit of something, then sip the wine and he would demonstrate combinations that both worked well, and didn't work at all. Some that made the wines taste really horrible, which was very illuminating to me, and really valuable as a lesson. It made me wonder that while I ate the cheese with certain wines that perhaps I didn't have the right kind of cheese, or perhaps that wine shouldn't be paired with cheese at all and that I should have fruit, or something more savory instead. I say that because I have had some terrible wines, and while I'm not fully convinced the wines weren't terrible of themselves, it is possible I didn't do anything to help their case.

The tasting was in the fancy steak restaurant and I felt underdressed as I was the only person there in my swim trunks and a tank top, though this was at two in the afternoon, and what did they expect? I had just come from poolside where I was slamming Rum and pineapple juice. I did mention I was working on my figure.

I wish I understood wines more, and this is of course a step to learning, but it is often so hard to figure out all the flavors the wines evoke. People were getting almond here and licorice there. I was getting notes of wine. The Chenin Blanc was my favorite by far. It was sweet and fruity, but complex and the sommelier classified it as a medium body wine. The Riesling was nice, but it just tasted like a Riesling. The Pinot Grigio was okay, but dry. Not sweet at all, and just very blah, even with the pairing. The two reds, the Bordeaux and the Chianti didn't work for either of us. I think we are too infantile in our oenology to get European wines. I think they may rely more on the pairing of food than California wines. They are complex, and just need more attention than I'm willing to give right now. Maybe someday I'll be ready to invest more time and energy. The other problem is that many of the French wines they sell in the states are second rate, ones they don't want or couldn't sell locally, or mixed with petrol (which I believe is a European varietal). France keeps its best wine for its citizens. So the chances of finding a good French wine in the states already seems like the cards are not in your favor.

After lunch, we decided to have lunch. The food on the plate at the wine pairing wasn't quite enough to satiate us until dinner, so a sandwich was in order. We stopped by the deli, as that seemed more appetizing than the pizza place. I have seen so many people walking around with huge plates of bread covered in cheesy melty, but as good as that sounds, the sight of it it really made me ill. I saw a woman--not a big woman--who had the equivalent of regular price $4, $4, $4, $4 on a tray sitting alone, and clearly had an evening planned. Or a last evening. I looked around for a defibrillator, but didn't see one. Not that I've been looking but I haven't seen her since.

What was I saying? Oh, I had a pastrami on rye and Gregory had a Ruben. It was simple and good.

Afterward Gregory returned to the room for a nap until it was time for dinner, and I decided to wander around some more. The clouds had gathered enough to close the top on one of the pools. I settled onto one of the lounges and found myself falling asleep. But I wasn't quite comfortable enough to sleep, and I kept doing that jerking thing where just before you nod off, you kick your leg or suddenly twitch your arm violently, then you try to play it off all cool. Yes, I clearly meant to lie still and then unexpectedly spasm like I had been hit out of nowhere with a cartoon taser. I got up and had a drink at the bar and watched some straight guys antic-ing around the pool. It was a welcome change from the cleavage parade I've been experiencing all week. But eventually I got bored with that, and decided to start some conversation with some people hanging out near the bar. They weren't interested in being friendly, or maybe I came off as creepy (totally a possibility--I'm not above admitting that), so I headed up to another deck. The wind was picking up and it was definitely going to rain at some point. I decided to head back to the room and ran into Jill.

It had been a couple hours since our lunch and Jill had had nothing and was hungry. Gregory had just woken up and we headed up so she could get some lunch. After, we walked around the upper deck while it rained gently (not the downpour I expected), and we just chatted about life and nothing in particular. It was close enough to dinner time that we decided to get ready. Tonight was "elegant fancy night" where we had to dress up for dinner. I guess it is more fun to eat lobster in a suit and tie. The only thing more fun than that is a little surf and turf with an extra plate of surf. Stuff yourself until your buttons pop. We may be off the coast of Cuba, but while you're on the ship, you're in A-mur-ukuh. We had alligator that had been deep fried and served with some kind of pickled veggie / tomato sauce something that was delicious, but completely overpowered the reptile. I was looking forward to experiencing the flavor, but it's not that it tasted like chicken, it just tasted like "fried with sauce." Then I had a strawberry mint bisque. It tasted like melted strawberry ice cream with delicious moments of fresh mint, interesting, but I'mma say fail on that. Because while it was fancy, it really did taste EXACTLY like melted ice-cream. For the main course, Gregory ordered prime rib and I had a plate of lobster and shrimp. Jill ordered a second plate of lobster and offered to split it with me. I accepted, though I shouldn't have. You can have too much of a good thing. At the time it's amazing, but sadly, I had no room for dessert. Because in A-mur-ukuh, you have cherries jubilee or spiced apple puffed pastry or molten choco brûlée whip alamode cake pie after your nightly Thanksgiving snow-shoveling of entrees and sides, and wash it down with a diet coke*, because I'm on a diet.

I decided to exit the restaurant early and go to the GLBT meet-up in the wine bar to meet the four other gay people on this cruise. Needless to say, this is a strange feeling that here we are, such a tiny group of people. It was both vindicating and disappointing. I have a lot of conflicting emotions about hanging out here, so I don't have too much to say about this other than I had an occasion to try the Hess 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, which we have a bottle at home. Unfortunately by now, my palette was shot and I couldn't even bring myself to finish it. It just didn't taste like anything. I suppose it doesn't pair well with frustration.

I decided to come back to the room and write this. Gregory and Jill went to the jazz show, which was apparently only so-so. Great band, marginal singing and dancing. The Ahmanson Theatre has spoiled us. Tomorrow Grand Cayman, and it's going to be an early start.

*DISCLAIMER: This was a joke. I don't soft drinks. I hate diet coke because it sucks and it's horrible and there is nothing remotely redeeming or healthy about this or any soft drink beverage.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cruise Vacation Sunset Pics



Wine Tasting & Food Pairing

Va-cayman-tion 2012: The Cruisening: Day 4 - Key West


Today, our breakfast began as I wish most breakfasts did: complimentary room service. The menu was limited, but we selected a few things. Gregory lavishly asked for TWO salmon plates and a bagel and TWO cream cheeses. I pish-poshed that idea and ordered a yogurt and whole wheat toast. By the time it was lunch, I was fucking starving. The yogurt was about half the size of a human yogurt, and by your order of whole wheat toast, they assume you mean one, as in a plate with a single slice of whole wheat toast on it. Is there anyone who doesn't get bread in a pair? I can understand if it's really thick French toast, and then you might have only one slice, but come on. Bread slices come in pairs. Which brings me to Why, Orowheat? Why do you slice your loaves into odd numbers? I always throw away the nastiest heel, but still, who out there uses one slice of Orowheat at a time? You advertise yourself as sandwich bread, but you are smaller than average sandwich bread, so maybe you should change your marketing to Finger Sandwich Bread.

I am digressing. We needed room service in order for us to be ready to go for the first of our three stops: Key West, Florida.

The area of town as soon as you exit is a big tourist trap, however there are some things that make it unique. First of all, there are wild chickens everywhere. And a lot of the hens also had baby chicks that were peeping adorably. It is hard for a baby chick to do anything not adorable. Oh! It's shitting on me, oh! it's pecking the eyes out of that dead raccoon, oh! it is stealing my identity and charging up my credit card, but it is so cute with its wittle yellow fuzzy feathers!

And there were roosters, complete with pinky shiv, some with a big bravado announcement of sunrise, a big ole cock-a-doodle-doo, to you Mr. Tourist. Um, it's noon dumbass. Other roosters sounded like they were in the process of being slowly run over with a steam roller. Like that dog toy the dog has all but destroyed, where it once made a piercing squeak, now a brittle wheeze that can signal only one thing: failure.

We walked down one of the main streets, stopping occasionally into all the crap-shops (not that the shops themselves were crap, but they sold lots of crap), browsing a menu, since we all knew we would have to eat at some point, and keeping a lookout for spontaneous points of interest.

We walked down toward the end of the street to The Southermost Point of the Continental United States. If you didn't read that in a god voice with lots of reverb, try it again. But just before we got there, we stopped into a butterfly shop. Jill loves butterflies (and turtles and hummingbirds), and I was like, whatever. They had a bunch of dead ones on a variety of beautiful, however grim, displays, and it was really neat to see. Well it turned out this place was more than just a chachka shop. It was also a conservancy and for $12, you can walk through the garden habitat.

Do this.

Do not miss doing this.

I was skeptical at first, but I was thinking, well, it might be kind of cool, lot of butterflies and all. I can tell you, it's cool. It's awesome, in fact. Being surrounded by butterflies is a little bit magical, having these bright colors flitting and flashing all around you. It's kind of like being in a fairy wonderland. That might have turned some of you off, but this experience is really cool. There is something about it that doesn't quite seem real, but it is something that exists in nature.

After this we begrudgingly left to get on with our day and we walked down to the end of the street to find a large cheaply painted buoy with the phrase, Southernmost Point of the U.S. on it. The line was really long to get your photo taken in front of this thing, so we passed on that and stood in front of the fence. So the pictures where we look like prisoners in a seaside reformery, are actually us standing at the southernmost point in the continental United States. Technically there was a rock that jutted out into the ocean, and I could have stood on that, but that would have involved scaling the fence, and I'm guessing due to the existence of the fence, it's not allowed.

Next was lunch, which I needed badly. I even paid $3 for a coconut in the interim, which a guy hastily drilled a hole into and then jammed a straw in the hole and handed to me. It was refreshing and delicious, but it wouldn't sustain me for long. We ended up at a restaurant and bar called Sweet Tea. I got meat loaf because I wanted a meal, dammit! It came with some of the best mashed potatoes I have ever had. Not too smooth, not too lumpy, buttery, and with skins, plus it was made of red potatoes. Gregory ordered a white-truffle mac and cheese that was sooo good.

After a quick re-application of sunblock, we rolled out into the sweltering humidity and headed for the Hemingway House. I had some cats to see! And they were all polydactyl. No not pterodactyl. We weren't be dive bombed by winged cats, though that would have really livened up Hemingway as an author for Michael Bay to adapt to the screen. It was a really neat experience and there were many cats, however none of them wanted to cuddle, and you're not supposed to cuddle with them, or touch them or pick them up. How in the hell am i supposed to cuddle with them, then? They were sleepy, and couldn't seem to be bothered anyway, probably because it was 90 degrees and 100% humidity and they are in Key West wearing a fur coat.

It was nearing time to return to the ship, so we walked back, but before we journeyed aboard, we stopped at a toy shop in the tourist trap. It was pretty cool, but most of the toys were for young children. HOWEVER, the merch was not the draw to this place. It turned out the shop owners had a KIKACHU, which was this cute little animal, the likes of which I have never before seen nor heard. It was a little cat-like, and about the size of a cat, but it had some slight monkey-like features. It was a little girl and she was fuzzy and adorable, but very shy and basically squirmed out of her owner's arms and ran to the cash wrap, and hid in the shelf with the cash drawer. Occasionally peeking her little face out. I wanted a picture, I wanted to hold it, and I wanted it. Add it to the list of animals that I'll have in my private zoo someday. Hopefully the tiger won't eat it.

We returned to the ship and opened up a bottle of William Hill Merlot 2006. Lots of berries (raspberry and cherry) and a very nice finish. It is surprisingly big for a Merlot. I look forward to trying it tomorrow when it is fully open. After dinner, we attended one of the cruise shows: the Newlywed Game, and they had a newly wed couple, a couple married 25 years, and a couple married 50 years. This was one of the funniest things I have seen in my life. My face and voice hurt from laughing and screaming. If you have an opportunity to see something like this, you won't regret it. Unless you have no sense of humor, like the people in front of us, in which case, there's no hope for you to survive the zombie apocalypse, so start eating a lot of barbecue sauce and begin the marinating process now, because, you are going to be good eatin'.

Tomorrow is a full day at sea as we work our way toward Grand Cayman. So I plan to do a lot of nothing tomorrow, maybe sun, maybe swim, maybe sit and stare at the water.

Oh! the water! last thing, where we are off the coast of Florida, the water has this deep navy blue color to it. It is beautiful. It's how water is supposed to look. When we first took off from the coast of Florida it was teal, but here it's almost indigo, it's so dark blue. Beautiful to watch a gold and red sun sink into. Good night.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Butterfly at the conservation center

If you ever come to Key West, visiting this place is a must.

At the southernmost point

Gregory and Jill at the southernmost point of the continental United States.

Joe at the Butterfly Conservative

Va-cayman-tion 2012: The Cruisening: Day 3 - Ft Lauderdale to Key West


Day 3 - from Ft Lauderdale to Key West

You are the small fragments of stone and sand and shell
and the water can't decide if I should have you,
as it pulls you from under my feet and like a child
brings you back

The morning began with a very Nana breakfast. I love being fussed over and I think she enjoys fussing over her family a little. I think every mother does. There's something in their nature to care for people. Though I found it strange how she rushed us out the door and slammed it behind us. I think she was glad to see us leave.

As we packed the car, we could hear what sounded like Nana chanting in the distance and--was that burning sage I smelled? Whatever.

We set out for the car rental return and I was lamenting having pre-paid for a tank of gas to realize we had only used about a third. It's hard to gauge how far one will drive in Florida. It would be easier if there were any fucking mountains in this godforsaken shithole. I mean, gosh! who knows how--oh fuck it. Get some landmarks! I read somewhere the highest point in Florida is the Everest Ride in Orlando (right after I wrote it).

Getting on to the cruise ship is a line-a-palooza. You stand in line to check your bags, then you stand in line for security to approve your worthiness, then you stand in a line to go through the actual checkpoint machine, then you stand in a line to get your room assignment, then you stand in a line to get on the ship, then you stand in a line to get food because by now it has been eight hours and people are dropping dead all around you from starvation. Kidding. Half the people on cruises are from the mid west. We just eat them for sustenance. You'd be surprised how far a woman in her 30's will go. I'd wager we fed twelve people before we had to start eating her offspring.

Finally on the boat, our luggage was going to be delivered to our rooms, right after they went through it and tried on all our underwear. Many of the waitstaff are Asian, so I imagine they try to see how many of them can fit in just one pair. I'm sure three maids and one steward can fit in a pair of BVD's from Alabama.

So we eat the food and drink the drinks and finally the ship embarks from its… holding place, and we go up to the top and take a bunch of pictures. It is actually really beautiful.

My biggest concern with being on the boat was getting motion sick. So, naturally, I decide to go to the gym, while Gregory and his mom went to light the shopping scene. It is a very strange experience to run on a treadmill while on a ship. I feel like I'm giving one of the hamsters in the engine room a break. It seemed like there were a lot of people there, and I'm not sure if that's just a first day thing, or what. We'll see how many returning faces I see throughout the week. And I didn't barf! Yay me!

We were late for dinner which we thought would start anytime after 8:15, but apparently it starts right at 8:15. We tried to get to know our table mates, but I'll have to talk more about them later, as I can't exactly recall their names, what they do, or where they are from. I sat next to a nice girl. That's about all I know.

After dinner there was an Opening Night Welcome Spectacular, which featured hot chick dancers with prominent cleavage and some guys that were so-so dancers (it was the floor show equivalent to straight-porn), and a couple singers, and a couple of comedians, all accompanied by a really great big band (also a lot like porn).

After that we decided to head over to the comedy club, to see one of the comedians full acts. It got really awkward when he asked, "Who here supports same sex marriage?" And the three of us were the only people in our section that clapped and hollered. Everyone else was silent. Same with the "Who here thinks gays should be able to serve in the military?" Though they laughed at all the punchlines, though, like "think of how fabulous the parades will be."

Seriously? That joke isn't even that funny. I could give a fuck about designing a float.

It occurred to me that a number of people in that section probably agreed with that preacher that gay people should be corralled into concentration camps. I don't have a stick up my ass about making fun of people, or being racist for comedy's sake, or whatever. Go 1st amendment, for real. Say all the shit you want to say, good, bad, ugly, hurtful, shameful, degrading, funny, sexy, supportive, endearing. It's just when you are in a room full of hostile people who don't think you deserve any rights as a human being, and you can FEEL it, there is something wrong with that situation.

So we jumped over two sections and exited with other people who were applauding their support, or indifference--because really, who gives a fuck? Honestly, if you care that much, you… need a hobby… or else, is there something you'd like to tell us?

By this point, I was exhausted and it was time for bed. So we went gambling at the casino. Gregory had received a free $5 coupon for the roulette table, so he got some chips, and it was fun.

I kind of wanted to get drunk after the whole comedy club thing, but, Ugh! Calories! Besides, I'd rather spend those delicious little dollars on real key-lime pie tomorrow.

Just before bed, I stood out on the balcony and just listened to the ship cutting through the waves, and churning the wake. It was so warm and humid, a light breeze and no jacket needed at 1AM. Just the sea and the stars. I'm starting to get the draw, Jack Sparrow.

Internet service for the remainder of the trip will be intermittent. There will be daily updates written, but they will possibly be posted in groups. Internet service is available, but expensive and roaming charges are somewhere around $495/MB or something like that.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Va-cayman-tion 2012: The Cruisening: Day 2 - The Beach

Today started off with a family breakfast at Benny's on the Beach. It was fairly typical what you'd expect for breakfast fare, however Gregory ordered crab cake benedict and that was amazing. I hate benedicts because I'm not a fan of liquid chickens, much less having them ooze all over my food, but this was amazing to the point, were I to return there, I would order this. I would just have to find a way beyond imagining their little faces dribbling across my plate.

It was nice to see Ace, Karen and their son Michael again, and to meet Michael's family. Carla, his wife was charming, and their two little girls were adorable. The older one was in the quiet, shy-around-strangers phase (and I don't blame her. who, really, is stranger than your relatives? it's best to say as little as possible), and the younger one was in the noisy, gregarious infant stage. I don't mind kids making noise if it's happy noise. If it's annoying or they are old enough to know better, their parents need to threaten them with exile in the spider closet. Or I will. Are you listening parents? I hope so, or get ready for years of therapy.

"mommy that stranger said you'd lock me in the spider closet."

"we don't have a spider closet."

"he said you'd say that!"

There's an idea in there somewhere for a twisted superhero.

We checked back in with Nana after breakfast. She didn't join us as she wasn't feeling well, so we stopped by her apartment to see her and change for the beach. She was feeling better, but contemplated taking a nap in order to feel well enough to join us for dinner. She wasn't interested in the beach, since the bright sunlight mixed with her macular degeneration makes it difficult for her to see anything at all. It's like having a constant glare in your eyes, so she keeps her apartment fairly dark. Girl after my own heart.

We slathered on sunblock, which must have contained zinc since it turned my pale skin even paler, it looked like I was going for that certain undead look, and changed and set out for Spanish River Park. I was concerned that being the Saturday of a holiday weekend that it would be completely full, but it was surprisingly empty and remained so all afternoon.

Florida beaches are quite nice, particularly around Ft. Lauderdale and Boca Raton (which I like to call by it's literal translation Rat Mouth, yep, real good ta' be back in ol' Rat Mouth!).  The sand is fine and littered with shells, and the water is blue and warm. You can just walk right in and it's shallow for quite a ways out. It is just a very nice experience. We spent the afternoon just listening to the waves and soaking up the warm humid sun.

It was a beautiful afternoon. We talked, sipped on water, ate some crackers, stared at the people braver than us. Wow, she's wearing a thong. Alright. No judgement. You go girl. Whew! Okay just a little bit of judgement: damn, baby! Are you sure? Okay, okay. If you feel sexy you go right on ahead.

The only bummer is that I burned my feet. I don't know why I have a block on adequately protecting the tops of my feet. About eight years ago or so, I burned the tops of my feet very badly: second-degree burns, that blistered up and I couldn't properly wear shoes for weeks. Today wasn't nearly as bad as that, but still they all red and hurty, and on the first day!

After the beach we stopped by a Dunkin Donuts for a donut. Gregory and his mom each got one. I refrained. I honestly don't get the draw to Dunkin, but then I'm not a big donut person anyway. I did have a bite of a raspberry filled something, and while Gregory was oohing and ahhhing over it, I just didn't get what the big deal was. Sorry to Dunkin fans out there. You should be thanking me. More for you.

Dinner was at the Longhorn Steak House, which I'm guessing is similar to the Outback. I got a rare prime rib as did Gregory and it was very, very good, bordering on great. Nana was feeling better by then, and joined us for dinner, as did Ace and Karen, and we had a very nice time.

After dinner Gregory decided he wanted to see a movie and so we saw Men In Black 3 in 3D. It was a very nice way to wind down the day. Tomorrow we get on a boat!

Va-cayman-tion 2012: The Cruisening: Day 1 - LA to FLA

The first thing I think of when I'm sick of LA (that's Los Angeles, not Louisiana and no, I'm not going start putting L. A. to differentiate), is F LA. And that leads me to FLA, as in Florida, and then to the sandy beaches of Fort Lauderdale, and then to thoughts of Nana, whom we haven't seen for years. We were faced with a dilemma this year, to travel to a friend's wedding or to put the money toward a trip to see Nana. These are dear friends starting their lives together and even though we don't see them often, it was really difficult to decide.

We ultimately decided to put the money on Nana and she promptly collapsed under the weight. Next time bills, not nickels.

It is actually a good thing we did not attend our friends wedding as my family experienced a sudden tragedy that same week, in the death of my uncle, and we would not have been able to attend the wedding since we would have to divert our plans to be able to attend the memorial service, which happened the day prior. There's no way we would have been able to be there for the family in the way we needed to be and still make it from North-Eastern Nevada to Minneapolis Minnesota in time.

So once the decision was made, our Florida trip did expand beyond a simple family visit, partially because we can't do anything simple, no matter how much I try. So after a few days catching up and welcomingly disrupting Nana's day to day, we are setting out on a cruise with stops in Key West, Grand Cayman, and the apparently most homo-hostile place on earth outside of the middle east, Jamaica (which is where they actually make abs. Ironic.).

Getting ready for a week-long vacation is always a task best left until the last possible minute. Because why would i want to even consider in advance that changing the cat box requires cat litter? So leave it another week for our intrepid cat-sitter to enjoy, or hop in that time machine and go to Costco the night before? And I always have a million things to do, which never get done. It is more exciting to try and figure out how to clean up the cat bathroom, while packing, deciding whether or not I should cut my hair, make a new YouTube video, and try to reorganize my life, wondering if I should clean out the cable bins I've been meaning to get to for the last few years, or if that wall would look nice in a deep soldier blue.

Did I mention it is already 10:30 pm when the madness starts? And where did the earlier part of the evening go you ask? We were hanging out with friends, of course. Why focus on the task at hand when we can instead drink a casual glass of wine with our meat salad and some lively conversation? And why stop at dinner? Why not order dessert? Oh! Yes! Because I'm leaving town tomorrow, for a week, and have million things to do, but let's not order it from here, for the sake of convenience. Let's drive half way across Los Angeles, to our favorite hole in the wall in Beverly Hils and spend $50 on cake.

In all seriousness, we were entertaining some friends from out of town and this was the only night they were available. I will gladly sacrifice a measure of sanity it if gets me more face time with people I care about. At least I did laundry the night before. My craziness is only temporary anyway. At least Gregory hopes it is.

After 12 years, he knows it isn't.

Which is why we were meant for each other. Or doomed. Horribly, lovingly doomed.

At 7:30AM, we oozed through 405 traffic, wondering at several points if we should have given ourselves an additional half hour, or better yet, if we should have packed prior to meeting our friends and just drive straight to LAX and slept in the car (we could have gotten that left over cake to go and just had it for breakfast, or used it as a bargaining chip, against any angry homeless people (they get angrier the closer you get to the airport)).

It ended up only taking an hour to get to LAX, which was a pleasant surprise. We had a Groupon for a car-rental place, but they were full, so we immediately hopped over to our old standby The Parking Spot. One of our shuttle mates was born from the ashes, no not the Phoenix kind, the unfiltered kind. Made me wish I had one of those You-Reek-A shirts, so I could have at least gotten something out of the experience. Our flight was on Virgin America, which is a strange novelty airline experience. Sadly we didn't have seats together (though Gregory was probably thankful for a moment's reprieve from my endless tirade).

It was a quick flight, but my seat was uncomfortable, and I was surrounded by these "pretty girls." I don't quite know how to categorize them. They were very chic and pretty and a little bitchy and I think had fake boobs. I found them a little appalling, but some of the other guys kept trying to talk to them. I have a feeling the girls were nice and engaging since they knew the ritual would end when the flight did.

We arrived in one piece which basically will earn any Airline five stars from me. Satisfied at our whole, unbloodied personness and the extreme present quality of our luggage, we met Gregory's mom, Jill, at the rental car counter, picked up our full-size Ford Escape (the car that says, get me the fuck away from here! (that really should be their tagline)), and headed to Nana's.

it's a short drive and she had dinner prepared for us when we arrived. It was great to catch up, and after dinner Jill shared her pictures of their recent Grand Canyon trip, We had seen most of them, so Gregory and I ran down to the beach to stand in the surf for just a couple of minutes. The guy was nice enough to let us park for free since the park was closing in 15 minutes, so we just walked out to the beach, which was completely dark, and stood there in the warm surf surrounded by thick 82-fahrenheit-degree air (at 10PM) while the warm water washed up around our feet.

A little glass of Chalone 2009 Merlot (undecanted, so a little tanniny), and a small dish of ice cream (where Nana tried to fatten me up by pulling out the chocolate syrup, the butterscotch topping and my arch nemesis: the Nutella. She clearly wants to cook and eat me.) We wrapped up a long day of travel. It's nice to have this brief moment of rest before the excitement of the week begins.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

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