Friday, May 29, 2009

Dominica May 19th, 2009

Dominica appears to have ever square inch of mountain and hill covered in lush tropical greenery. It looks like something out of a Jurassic Park movie, where a dinosaur could come stomping out of the rainforest at any time. The city of Roseau is obviously poorer than most of the Caribbean islands, but part of that is just that much of the island has been left undisturbed. There aren’t the flashy resorts and designer stores that draw big money. Dominica is more of a nature lovers hideaway, a place where you could take a different hike or trail that is basically the same as it would have been two or three hundred years ago.

We took an excursion with Bumpiing Tours called Roseau Valley Treasures. Our driver’s name was Chris. He was very friendly and could answer the questions people asked of him. Plus he was a pretty good driver, which I would say is hard to do, considering that the roads are very narrow and rough here. I would not advise anyone to attempt driving them on their own. At one point we crossed a section of road that was washed out on the mountain side and cracking away on the cliff side. The van literally was only a few inches narrower than the road, and I actually braced myself thinking we for sure would shortly be tumbling down the hill.

Ti Tou Gorge was our first stop, where part of Pirates of the Caribbean II was filmed. Ti Tou gorge starts with a short cascading waterfall that pours into a rock area. Over time rushing water has carved out several rooms that funnel out into a small pond area before falling into another short waterfall.

There’s a brief hike to the pond, where the guide passes out swim belts, which will help keep you floating in the 10 foot deep water and swift currents. Then you have a choice to make- jump into the pond or walk in. Jumping in doesn’t look to scary at first since it’s not very far, but I did have a moment of hesitation. Mustering up my bravery I pushed off from the rock to hit the chilly water below. For the middle of a rainforest, the water was much colder than I expected however after swimming in it for a short time you got used to the temperature and it became quite soothing.

Swimming into the gorge against the currents took some work, but was rewarding. Roots dangle down from trees above, and plants sprout from the walls wherever sunlight seemed to hit.


After Titou Gorge, the driver took us to another group of waterfalls called Trafalgar Falls.

At the bottom of Trafalgar Falls there are supposedly little hot springs that you can swim in, but they had a lot of rain recently so we were not able to swim there.

Briefly we visited a sulpher spring, which as you can imagine, had a strong oder, hence the briefness of the visit. Chris would also stop along the way to point out a tree or view that we might find interesting. I was surprised kind of, by the quantity of fruit growing all over the island, some wild, some planted. We saw banana, papaya, pineapple, mango, orange, avocado and many others. I remember thinking that you could live off the land here for quite a while if you had to.

We were shown signs of a hurricane that happened decades ago, and finally we were taken to a look out point called Morne Bruce. From there you could see the cruise ship, and the city, including a recently built Cricket field.

That night was our first formal night. No ball gowns or tuxedos for us, but alot of people really did dress up formally. Tony and I went semi formal. I wore a skirt outfit and he had a sport coat on. Hey it's Carnival. Dressing up is really optional.
After dinner we went to one of the production shows, which was pretty lame to me. Tony didn't think it was that bad, but I thought the costumes were garish, the singing like American Idol people voted out the first week and it was just so loud! I could have skipped the show and been just fine. I think that night we also went and watched some karoke, which was pretty entertaining. All in all, a pretty good day.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

St Thomas May 18th, 2009

St Thomas was the first port that we stopped in. Pulling up to the dock and watching as the little blurbs of color dotting the hillside became homes was pretty exciting. Even though sleeping in might have been nice, I didn’t mind being up to see that for the first time. That morning we had ordered the continental room service breakfast, and ate it as we sat on our balcony absorbing the island surroundings.

After breakfast, we decided to do a little shopping. St Thomas is supposed to have some of the best shopping in the Caribbean as it is a duty free port, especially if you want to buy jewelry. We didn't ended up buying much, other than this Olympus Tough camera that I had been wanting to buy. It’s waterproof up to 10 feet, shock proof, freeze proof up to 14 degrees, and a number of other features that I had been eyeing. It was a little bit cheaper in St Thomas, plus it came with a carrying case, and a memory card that holds like 1200 pictures. I am a reformed believer in digital cameras. Up until about 3 years ago, I was pretty adamant that film cameras were far superior to digital, but that changed when Tony got his camera in Ireland. Now I love how convenient they are, and they do really take high quality photos.

Other than that we didn’t do much in St Thomas. We had plans to go to the beach, but were suffering still a bit from sleep deprivation, so we decided to just relax on the ship for the remainder of the day. I kind of wish we had gone to the beach anyway, because without that, my overall opinion of St Thomas is that it wasn’t that impressive. Nice island, just kind of plain.

Dinner that night was our first assigned seating dinner. We had a quieter table on the upper part of the Atlantic dining room. Two other couples sat at our table, and we were lucky enough to all get along very well.

One couple was from Texas and the other from New Orleans. I liked hearing about what they did at each port and then just chatting each day.
Later Tony and I went to the theater to play the Battle of the Sexes game. The room was split into men and women, with each side collectively trying to answer trivia questions that the other gender would know better. I hardly knew the answer to any of the questions, but it was still fun. Some of the girls got real huffy about the whole thing, but in a friendly competitive spirit.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

May 17th, 2009 Embarkation Day

For breakfast we went to Kasalta, a popular bakery that has been serving up tasty pastries for over 30 years. All of their local pastries, pies, cookies and treats are displayed in glass cases and if you can’t find something that looks delicious, then have your eyes checked.

We then had a taxi take us to the port. Before really being able to see our ship, the Carnival Victory, we saw Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas and a Princess ship. They look so much bigger in person, like giant floating buildings. Our ship was huge too, very grand and sort of elegant.

I really enjoyed the whole boarding process, probably because I was just so excited to be trying something new. We arrived a little bit early, so there was a short wait before we could board, but once we got on the ship we ate lunch on the Lido deck, and walked around a bit before settling into some lounge chairs to wait for our room to be cleaned.

The room was honestly smaller than I expected. It would be very difficult to fit 4 people into one of those rooms, but doable I guess. The balcony was so worth it though. It’s not that you’ll spend a whole lot of time in your room or on the balcony, but to wake up and be able to see the dock or port as you’re pulling in, or to look out at the dark sea as the waves break from the ship, well it’s very impressive and relaxing.

Once we were able to drop off our carryons in our room, we decided to head out and explore Old San Juan a bit. Narrow streets are lined with tall houses all painted in eccentric and playful colors. Flowers hang from the balconies, and each door is unique and so sturdy looking. You can shop for the kitschy tourist stuff, and there are even a few designer stores for those who are interested.

That night was an open seating dinner, and then the dreadful muster drill. I know, it’s for our safety and required, but I felt it was poorly executed. The cruise line crams everyone into two areas, and the people who arrive on time to the drill are forced to the back of the line which gets very hot, and claustrophobic. On top of that, you can’t hear a word of what is being said, so in an emergency situation, I would not have known which life boat was mine any way, only what deck it was on. Past guests did say it took an unusual amount of time to complete the drill, so I take comfort in the fact that my next cruise drill should be a little less tedious.

After returning our life jackets to the room, despite battling fatigue, we decided to head to the deck for the sail away party, because really, how can you miss the ship pulling away from the dock for the first time? We didn’t stay very long, but we decided to try the pizza. We weren’t too impressed with it, but it worked for a quick snack. Plus by getting in that line we ended up meeting a couple who would become our "Show” friends. They were from Oklahoma and had just barely boarded the ship before the muster drill, missing dinner. I think it was Wednesday before we learned their names. (Dan and Kristy)
It’s funny like that on a cruise ship. You talk to the same people over and over again, but they all get nicknames. Like this couple got that name since we ended up sitting with them for almost all of the shows we attended in the theater. They said the same thing about us. They had called me “Candy Girl” as I had a bag of candy with me for most of the shows.

After that it was off to bed, where the gentle rocking of the ship quickly lulled us to sleep.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

San Juan May 16th 2009

After a mostly sleepless red eye flight, we arrived in Puerto Rico, somewhat bleary-eyed, but full of anticipation. The sky was a deep azure blue accented with puffy white clouds and bright yellow sunshine.

Flowering trees were blooming almost every where and each house seemed to be painted a different bold color. There were signs of poverty and neglect in many of the buildings, but they are mixed in with the resorts and richly appointed Spanish style structures. It feels very much like slipping into another country, even though it is a US territory. There's a definite flavor and vibe that is unique to Latin countries.

We stayed in a little posada or guest house called Andalucia. They are like a bed and breakfast, only without the breakfast. They have a little courtyard with tropical plants and trees.

The rooms are pretty basic, but clean and perfect for a short stopover. The host was very welcoming and friendly. He gave us a local area map and pointed out restaurants and places of interest. He also has supplies, like beach towels, chairs, and even coolers that could be borrowed for use at the beach, which was a short walk away.

The beach had plenty of sandy space to layout on, with crashing waves and kite surfers to watch. We went to a little restaurant right on the beach for lunch. The prices were really a bit too steep for lunch, so we just split a meal. It came with one of the best creme brulee desserts, by the way.

Later that evening, after a much needed nap we had dinner at Bebo's. It was a little bit of a walk from our posada, but a recommended place to eat if you are looking for great Puerto Rican food. The prices were better than what we had for lunch, although not cheap, but the plates were of good size and taste.

On the walk back we listened to the Coqui frogs sing and enjoyed the sea breezes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Our First House

Tony and I have moved into the new house. It feels very grown up and adult to be owning a home. It's fun and exciting and nerve-racking.

I am loving the pool. Just today I went swimming in it around 3pm, and the top few inches of water were so hot that it was like being in a hot tub. The bottom wasn't as warm, but it was still really nice.(We are not heating the pool at all right now, it's just like that.)

A neat feature to the pool is that it has a color changing light bulb. At night you can have a deep blue pool, or a purple pool, or aqua, or red, or whatever. (Although the yellow makes it look like pond scum.) Where we live is kind of away from lots of lights so swimming in the pool at night gives a great view of the stars, at least as far as being kind of in a city.

Also it seems like we are not having to keep the AC on as low. This house is better insulated,I guess, plus it has shade screens on the windows. My new office stays so much cooler.

One thing I don't like is all of the light switches. Each room has like 3 switches. I have to click each button to find the right one, but I am sure I will get used to it.

Anyway, we are no where near to being settled in and Tony and I leave for our cruise on Friday night. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed, to be honest. I usually like to leave my house clean before I go, but that won't be happening this time. No big deal though. If I am feeling stressed I just head to the pool and ahhh.... float away my troubles.