Friday, May 20, 2011

Caribbean Vacation--A Diary--Costa Rica

(Disclaimer: Only books are professionally edited. Not my blogs.)

April 16th/Day 6

Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. I’ve seen Costa Rica on the Home and Garden Channel, been envious of people who’ve vacationed and gone to live there. It was one place I definitely wanted to see.

We began our day by boarding a bus to enjoy an afternoon of hiking through the rainforest and learn how chocolate’s made.

I’ve been seeing butterfly clothes, accessories, pictures, as well as live butterflies on the trip and today I saw this:

Many butterflies were blessing our trip.

Apparently this butterfly didn’t bless this journey. The bus ride quickly went from two hours to three. A Chiquita Banana truck decided to over-turn over on the main two-lane road. Traffic was backed up for miles in each direction. It was a very. Long. Trip.

These weird-looking sacs are bird's nests.
 Question: What kind of shoes would you wear while hiking through a rainforest?

Arriving at La Tirimbina Rainforest, I noticed all but three of us were wearing flip-flops. I kid you not. We had to wait for the Clueless Clan to change into a stunning pair of galoshes that I don’t think had ever been washed. Hello foot fungus!

The suspension bridge stretched out ahead and disappeared into the lush foliage; below, a river that would become full during the rainy season. Once on the other side, we were transported into a Keebler Elf’s dream. Overhead, the dense canopy blocked the sun. Archways of vines tangled their way above our heads and around trees. A brick path complimented by wooden steps guided visitors to their destination.

The trees are alive! Can you see the face?

We found ourselves at a small, wooden structure where we would watch the entire process of how chocolate was made originally and how they do it today. The unprocessed cocoa bean is bitter and doesn’t taste like chocolate.

The fruit.

Single cocoa bean

How they ferment the beans. They cover with the palm frond and put a lid on it. Then they dry it in the sun.

They grind the dried beans and add in sugar and cinnamon.

Further grind it to make a paste. Then they mix in water for dark chocolate or milk for milk chocolate.
Fun fact of the day: white chocolate isn’t chocolate. It’s cocoa butter.
Chocolate was originally used in corn and chili. They had no idea what a sweet-tasting gold-mine they had!

During the demonstration, a butterfly came to say hi. It demanded more attention than the chocolatiers preparing our treats. There were several winged beauties soaring through the air, but this one was large and magnificent.

It had at least a 6" wing-span.
More butterflies.
I was hungry and anxious to get back after the show. So when they dismissed us, hubby and I took off. It also allowed us to get pictures, enjoy the sounds of nature, and get better pictures from the suspension bridge.

Our group wasn’t as enthused about returning. In fact, the bus driver and tour guide were looking for them. There was concern in case the accident was still causing issues on our return trip. We went to the gift shop and were halfway through our lunch by the time the group decided to show up.

Exhausted, we meandered back to the bus to discover we had a hitch-hiker—a bee decided he wanted to go back with us. I promptly got off the bus when the woman started swatting at it and no one else got on in fear of retaliation from the stingy creature.

She eventually squashed the bee, opened the window, and threw the bee out the window . . . on me. Screaming, I jumped back while she had a look of horror on her face when she realized what she’d done. We both burst out laughing. That’s okay, I got even. I took a picture of her snoring away on the way back.

The way people drive in other countries and Caribbean Islands leaves me baffled that I haven’t been in an accident. I forgot to mention we almost died in Roatan as a garbage truck decided he wanted to pull out in front of us and our driver didn’t want to use the breaks. I sat in the front seat calmly thinking, I’m gonna die today.

On the way back, I witnessed several trucks and cars playing chicken with our tour bus. It was scary at first, but soon passed the time.

There were so many trucks! And they loved to pull out in front of you.
Thankfully the accident was cleaned up and we got back in two hours.

Arriving back on board, we quickly showered, had pictures taken, and headed to the Cirque (du Soleil's) Equinox show. I’d never seen them live, only on TV. I even saw a special on HBO about how they’re recruited and train. I was so looking forward to seeing them live I talked about it for months.

A few acrobats dressed in elaborate costumes entertained the audience. Several times they startled people who were oblivious to their presence to include me and Travis. One guy dropped down from the ceiling and patted me on the top of my head. Later, Travis kissed me on the cheek and I looked over and started laughing. He turned to see what I was laughing at and jumped when he saw a woman staring at him with a funny expression.

Then the show started. It was incredible!!!! If you ever get a chance to see them, do.

What made their balancing skills more remarkable was the fact the ship was gently swaying during their entire performance.

After the show, we went to another specialty restaurant, The Silk Harvest (Asian Cuisine) where we had an amazing break-through! Travis finally learned how to eat with chopsticks! We ate peanuts with our chopsticks until dinner arrived.

We didn't have a sunset that night so I leave you with our moon pictures.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Caribbean Cruise--A Diary--Day Four/Roatan, Honduras

April 14th

Exploring a new country—Central America. Roatan, Honduras was gorgeous. Our ship docked off a beautiful reef, and we were greeted by native dancers and singers.

I want to live in the house with the red roof on the hill.

The beautiful reef.
Today’s exciting adventure: swim with the dolphins. I’m happy to say we did have some time to shop. I found a butterfly shirt.

After piling into an over-crowded van taxi, we were shuttled to St. Anthony’s Key Resort.

St. Anthony’s was as romantic as it was beautiful. Tranquil water surrounded the secluded island housing many cabanas. The only way across to the restaurant and main island was by boat.

Left: Cabanas Right: Dolphin Pen

Close-up of cabanas

We boarded a small dive-boat and headed to the dolphin pen. When we arrived, the dolphins greeted us and were anxious to show us their amazing tricks and give their kisses.

Dolphins greeting us.
I have an issue with getting into cold water—anything below 85 degrees. From the time we planned the vacation, I prayed the water would be warm enough for me to get in. I guess I left out the I hope there’s no cold wind part. It was breezy—a nice breeze if you were walking around, but not so nice when you’re trying to talk yourself into getting in cool water.

The water got to my bare stomach causing me to shiver. Trainer and dolphin awaited us much deeper in. Thankfully, the water warmed up and engaging with the dolphin distracted me a bit.

The dolphin, Mr. French, allowed us to touch his skin, fins and even his teeth. After a brief introductory of dolphin anatomy and many mackerel awards, we got our pictures taken with him. We were even “French” kissed.

Trainer is pointing to a small hole which is his ear.
Most dolphins will not hold a mackerel in their mouths. They're too busy inhaling them.

Posing for the camera was no easy feat. Mr. French was quite heavy, the waves were knocking me around, and my feet were slipping in the sand.

Then Mr. French got to do what dolphins do best, play and show off.

Our sunset for the evening.

Fun dolphin fact: they make their noise through their blow-hole, not their mouths.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Caribbean Vacation--A Diary--Day 3 Cozumel/Tulum Repost

(Disclaimer: only my books are professionally edited. Not my blogs)

They deleted my original blog. Here is the repost.

April 13th,

In 2006 I went to Cancun for 4 days to celebrate my new life after my divorce. While there, I traversed through the Mayan ruins deep in the Yucatan jungle, Chi-Chen-Itza. Due to my short stay, I never got to see the other Mayan ruins near Cozumel, Tulum.

I began researching our excursions for our Caribbean cruise and saw, to my delight, Tulum was included! Finally, after nearly 5 years, I had a chance to go. As I read through the description of the tour, they mentioned having to go to the main land via ferry boat. Our ship had to dock on the island of San Miguel De Cozumel because there we no where to dock on the main land. The part that troubled me was that the water may be rough and to take precaution.

Armed with Dramamine and bread products for breakfast, I headed to the dock. I was feeling good until I saw the “ferry.” It was an enclosed pontoon speed boat. I kept looking for the windows—there had to be windows. They were covered up with black netting!

The barf boat/Cozumel ferry
I’m claustrophobic, and the thought of being stuck in that thing for 30-45 minutes was making me feel uncomfortable.
I can’t get out.
I can’t see.
I wasn’t happy.

Think of Tulum. Pretty water. Ruins. Anything but this.
They shut the doors. My heart nearly leapt out of my chest.
You can do this, I tried to encourage myself. My stomach wasn’t buying the psycho babble.

Most tours hand out complimentary drinks or a snack.
They handed out barf bags.
Oh, Holy Hell!

Then they started the TV with the sound at a piercing volume. I thought if I watched it, it would relax me. Focusing on it made me sick. Travis and I discovered if we closed our eyes it made us feel better. I had to work hard on finding my happy place. He fell asleep.

Finally the engine slowed; the doors opened. I couldn’t get out fast enough. But what greeted me made it worth while. Turquoise water caressed soft, white sand. A light wind tickled palm fronds lining the beach.

We were quickly herded into our excursion category and told we couldn’t shop at any of the stores. My husband saw a Green Bay Packer’s poncho hanging in one of the shops and vowed, come hell or high water, he’d buy one.

After a 45 minute bus ride and a 10 minute walk, we arrived at Tulum. It was beautiful, but was disappointed that the ancient buildings were roped off, including the grass. At Chi-Chen-Itza you get to climb and touch the buildings, except for the large pyramid. Too many people were falling off of it, and after climbing up to the observatory on small, damp steps, I could see why.

We only got to walk around for 45 minutes, which included the 10 minute walk back to the bus. This gave me little time to enjoy what I was seeing. It was click-a-picture-and-run.

Local inhabitant

They had workers in red shirts working on a few of the buildings who ended up in our photos, which was kind of annoying.

Tulum was worth seeing, but I didn’t have the same amazing experience as I did at Chi-Chen-Itza. I felt cheated on time to fully explore and interact with history.

The ride back to our ship loomed in the back of my mind. I kept asking God if it were possible to sit near a window this time. Maybe I could pull back the netting just enough to see. My prayer was answered when we were the first group on. I ran for the front row window.

This ferry was larger and had regular pull-down shades. Immediately, I opened the shade. I didn’t care what anyone said. Apparently no one else cared, either, because every shade was pulled up. The twelve miles back was much more enjoyable.

As soon as we docked, Travis ran for the shops. We had twenty minutes before we had to board ship. Travis started asking the shop vendors, who were relaxing outside, if they had the Packers poncho. Sure enough, one of them got up and found the item. Meanwhile, I found a Cozumel tee-shirt with the Mayan Calendar and a gecko that changed colors in the sun.

There were other items I wanted to buy, but we were short on time and Travis brought the wrong credit card. I personally think it was a plot to keep me from spending money.

That night we ate at our first specialty restaurant, The Murano. It was the best dinner I’ve ever eaten in my life.

To clean our pallet, we were given salmon mousse with caviar. In all honesty, it tasted like tuna fish and I don’t do caviar. I gave it to Travis who loved it. I had crispy, seared sweetbread followed by a fancy salad that looked like art while hubby had the warm goat cheese souffle and creamy maine lobster bisque.

The main course was the Surf and Turf, fillet minion with red wine veal sauce and the largest lobster I’ve ever seen done Thermidor style.

Dessert consisted of a selection of six shot-glasses filled with yummy goodness. After dessert, they gave us more chocolates. Now I’m a person who never, ever gives up sweets, but I was so full, I had them package it to go.

We decided to walk off the dinner. We made our way to the upper deck to walk the track around the ship.

Lesson: never walk in the wind with a flowy dress. A gust of wind came up behind me and blew the back of my dress nearly over my head so everyone could view my polka-dotted Victoria’s Not-So-Secret underwear. Frantically, I recovered the dress to its desired position.

I turned to see if anyone saw the display and, sure enough, there was a young guy behind me with a look on his face of shock. I just started laughing hysterically. Travis was clueless to the entire event.

That was a good way to end a perfect day for sure!