The Cruise: Final Installment

I suppose I’ve dragged this out long enough. This declaration has nothing to do with me running out of story ideas. Nosirree. Well, maybe… So, let me start where we started – the part where I decided I wasn’t a cruise girl, and the why behind it, picking up after some Galveston gal named Ginger tried to do me in with her obnoxious love of Scentsy, and questionable food recommendations. (Next time, we’re going to Gaido’s. I want zero arguments on this front.)

Any of my friends will tell you I’ve always wanted to travel, and they’ll probably follow that statement up with the fact that I’m exceptionally great at coming up with excuses for not travelling. Refusing to travel because of these excuses, and therefore, having never traveled, I have learned to live rather vicariously through my friend’s adventures as they regale me with tales of the distant songs of African tribesmen approaching their lodges, of fellow German tourists incensing Chinese chefs to the point said chef felt compelled to throw a cleaver into the middle of their table, to sneaking into the Forbidden City, to their private tours of the Roman baths in Malta, to “that one time in Spain…” and to drooling over every single photo my ex-pat friend takes on her hikes around New Zealand. On separate occasions, two friends have come back from Edinburgh, and not realizing the other had said it, expressed with absolute certainty that I needed to go and would love it. Each had gone on a particular tour, they knew I would completely dig beyond reason, and they’re right. Instead, on my one trip out of the country, I went to Montreal, which was lovely but… (No offense Irina. If I’d only known you and Ben then… Well, we would have had to have received your parent’s permission to hang out with us. Is the couch still open for visits/living if I become an ex-pat myself?)

A few months before Jay passed away, I got a passport. We were going places, I was excited, we would explore the world together, and then one day in July we weren’t. And then I blew out my knee, and then Sam passed away, and all the excuses piled back up along with a firm understanding that I would always have these unrealized dreams. Forget that I have a place to stay in Japan. Forget I have a friend to hang out with in New Zealand. I wasn’t going, but I would do my best to enjoy the postcards I’d receive, and sing praises about the posted photos from friends’ trips.

So, there I was on a cruise heading to three separate ports: Cozumel, Belize City, and Roatan (off the cost of Honduras). We had excursions planned for the first two, and a relaxing day on the beach planned for the other.

In Cozumel we did a Tastes of Mexico tour where we sampled tequila, made chocolate, and enjoyed some tacos.  The tour was solid, and my take away was: I like tequila in many things, but sipping tequila, swishing it around my mouth, and holding it there doesn’t make it any better – it just kind of burns the whole inside of your mouth instead of the back of your throat, which is right and proper despite what our guide was saying. And while I appreciate that our guide’s grandmother did this daily and lived to be 200, she is tougher than I am, and she likely has no taste buds. (And also may have questionable taste – no offense.) Also, you can dress Jose Cuervo up, call it the 1800 series, and it’s still not that great (unless in a drink). I also learned I love pineapple margaritas, and have now learned how to make them. Swing by my house; I’m ready to serve! I even have the chili/salt mix to rim the glass – so much better than plain salt. We also learned that everyone at that location would like a tip, and by the time we reached the fourth tip jar, we were kind of done, which was right at the taco server’s station, and I’m pretty sure she wanted to throw tacos at our heads.

Jose Cuervo 1800 Series – “Sipping” Tequila

In Belize we drove to Xuantunich, which I mentioned is on the border with Guatemala. Here we had an amazing guide who told us about the culture, history, politics (they just recently held an election in March), and natural features of Belize. In fact, if we pointed out an animal, he’d reach down, grab a laminated info sheet, and have us pass it around. If we pointed out a butterfly, out came the laminated butterfly info sheet. I suspect, he had a laminated sheet for everything. He was kind of the Belizean Mary Poppins with a magical bag of laminated info sheets.  We learned there were two major political parties, that a disproportionate amount of critters in Belize are deadly and murderous, and the country produces a million (exact figure) varieties of mangos – along with having no zoning laws, $10/gallon gas (approximately $5 US, but still), and howler monkeys! (Also, some rather amorous lizards who perform a happy little hoppy dance at the conclusion of their good times. High claw, iguana dude! Sorry about the voyeuristic gals taking photos. Humans. Am I right?)

In Roatan, we just looked at shops, went on a nature trail, and spent the day on the beach and in the water.

And when I first started talking about the trip, all I could say was it felt as if I never left the US thanks to the commercialization, and how everything is bent around capturing dollars from tourists – all the duty free shops, the “Made in China” goods, etc. My first trip out of the country seemed like a let down – like I hadn’t gone anywhere, and I was disappointed. And it wasn’t that I didn’t have a fine time, it just felt like I’d hit the Mercado in San Antonio and slept on a boat.

While on the ship, we’d spend the nights looking for things to do, and found ourselves at places like the piano bar with a Rod Stewart wanna be who went by the name “Roddy,” and who didn’t quite get the songs he was playing – he wins for oddest version of Bohemian Rhapsody I’ve heard to date, but let’s say that by the end of the trip I was prepared to punch anyone who started singing “Sweet Caroline.” Then there was a couple of nights listening to bad karaoke, some trivia contests, a 70’s club, and a night of 80’s Rock & Glow dancing where there was a dance-off, and I was unfazed… until I stepped away from it all, so let me recap this paragraph after having time to really think about it.

While on the ship, I danced! I had forgotten how much I missed dancing. It started in the lobby one night, then there was the night at the 70’s club while I clung to my disco ball glass that I love, and ended with all of us dancing until they closed the party down for the 80’s Rock & Glow night – where we were completely decked out in every glow stick piece of jewelry one could imagine. This was the night my beautiful cousin Kim WON the ladies dance competition, and was completely robbed when she went head-to-head against the male champion. I’m sure he cheated. 🙂 The crowd, who’d formed a circle around them, knew it was “on” when Kim kicked off her sandals.  It got real in that moment, y’all. Kim wasn’t playing! At the end of it Kim said, “if I can do that, I can do anything!” Yes, she can! She was AWESOME! and AMAZING, and BEAUTIFUL!! I may have hurt my own ears scream cheering her on. Kim had been selected from the crowd after showing us all how it was done in the Thriller dance – best ladies zombie dancer out there! I also learned I need some work on the electric slide, but I’m up for the challenge!

Dancing reinforced that my knee could take it (within reason, of course) when I really thought I would never be able to dance again.

We won not one but TWO trivia contests. The last one was 80’s music trivia where we all received medals and a golden ship. Also, I need to say here I’m embarrassed for the other participants who couldn’t identify Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” from the first two notes. Come on!! I had a good showing in the Game of Thrones trivia, but really needed someone who’d read the books on my team. Pike, are you kidding me? By the way, I kind of love it that a friend of mine found me by looking at the schedule of activities and realizing, “yep, that’s where Beth is going to be.” Also, without having ever watched GoT, she helped me answer the first question. This is the same person who knew I’d be in the gym early in the morning. My friends get me.

I swam in the ocean! I haven’t donned a bathing suit in years, and there I was bobbing away and happy as I could be. I could have stayed out there all day. The ocean was the best! I love the water!

I went to Belize! I had a two hour trip to and from the Guatemalan border learning all of these things I’d never known about Belize, and I want to go back and spend time, and eat at least a ton of the millions (actual number, as mentioned before) of mangoes. Apparently, there’s a non-stop flight from Austin to Belize City, and it turns out that I have a passport. I also climbed Mayan ruins with a banged up knee, and I didn’t get winded, AND I didn’t go tumbling down, AND I didn’t have to be part of some emergency med evac as I’d anticipated.

I did abs with Gaybor, and was happy when I could keep up, including the plank part. (We will not mention here that my planks at home always get adjusted, and I may have figured out a way to easier planking. Go me! Shifting forward makes it so much harder.)

Gaybor – Exceptionally Inspirational Ab Coach (Hey, I’m old, not dead. Plus, Heather took the photo, so… well, I know my inner 16 year old cheered when she did it. 🙂 He’s a solid volleyball player, too. Just sayin’.)

During the entire trip, I had my phone off, which was absolutely liberating. I slept better than I had in months, thus ending months of insomnia. I’ll also admit, that until the super choppy day on sea, I didn’t really feel the ship move. I could tune it in or out, so I was showing off this newly found skill whenever I could. I brought Dramamine, and I never had cause to use it.

I watched the sun rise and set over the ocean.

In sum – I laughed a lot, I danced a lot, I relaxed, and I spent a solid week with my family and my friends – uninterrupted time I never get with them. I had the absolute best time I’ve had in a long time with people I love. I couldn’t ask for a better experience.  And while I still want to travel properly – wander the hidden paths, escape the commercialism and the demands that I “consume” things, I would do this all again with the same people. (Though, I’d take on an additional friend or two who couldn’t make it.)

Sunset with the Girls

So, who wants to sail with me from Miami to Havana?

Now go read the Game of Thrones series, and memorize this opening (I need you to be prepared):

A Year Ago: A Cruise Story

On March 4th, 2017, sometime after noon, I completely ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and my medial collateral ligament (MCL) after slipping in some mud on the Warrior Dash. For my efforts, I was rewarded with an annoying physical therapist who called me “Miss Beth” constantly, a metal cane, and a disabled parking permit. I got to chant things like “heaven up, hell down” to remember which leg to use when approaching a step, and I got to wince and practice not crying out whenever my leg bent beyond 90 degrees. I also got to practice not crying out over the injustices of the world, or crying out when a relative decided to tear into me, because I was clearly too stupid to have figured out I shouldn’t have been at the Warrior Dash to begin with. Super helpful! Great conversation!

When you can’t use your legs at the gym, you’re left with doing a lot of things with your arms, but forget about how much I despise the hand bike – you’ve all heard about that. Let’s talk about the fresh humiliation that came when I fell off the weight bench  into a pile on the floor… when I couldn’t bend my knee, and I had to figure out how to roll onto my stomach and use my hands to walk towards my body so I could stand again, and try  to get back on the weight bench again. You all know the rest. I cried when I was first able to row, and then I successfully rowed my little half marathon on Christmas Eve. Basically, I got stronger, and my knee became more stable until I now where I’m up to 260 lb. on the leg press. Granted, that’s not huge, but considering where I was last year, it’s huge for me, and another small win – I can dead lift again.

I met with my orthopedic guy a few weeks prior to discuss where I was at, and what I could do. We determined I should brace my knee up whenever I was in a crowd, and on uneven ground – things I’d definitely encounter on the cruise, which meant I approached this trip with a great deal of trepidation. Only 3% of the participants on the Warrior Dash are ever injured, and I had been among the 3%. I wondered what small percent I’d manage to cover while cruising. I smiled on the outside, but I kept stuffing down the feeling that I was going to get hurt, and I was going to get hurt badly. I bought my traveler’s medical insurance, and talked myself through what would happen when they had to fly me back to the States, reminding myself it would be ok. To say I was traumatized by the ACL/MCL tear would be a huge understatement. Keep in mind the day before the cruise, I had already had a bad reaction to something – either the overwhelming Scentsy smell or the food (or both), and I saw it as an omen. (The ravens and banshees really tipped the scales. I mean, given those, who wouldn’t pause and say, “hrmm… that can’t be good, right?” Did I not mention those? Never mind. Nothing to see here.)

For all of day one, I kept my brace on, and was mindful of how I felt walking around the ship, being around people, judging how the stable the ship felt, etc. By day two, the brace was off, and it remained off while I was on the ship.

On Day 2 called “A Fun Day at Sea” I rowed 12,000 meters while watching the sun come up over the bow of the boat. (An advantage to always getting up early). Nothing centers me more, nor clears my head better than going to the gym, and there Heather took one of my favorite pictures of me on this trip. (While there are better photos of me, this makes me happy – me heading to my zone.)

Rowing the Ship to Cozumel

On Day 4 we went to a Mayan ruin called Xuantunich, 70 miles to the west of Belize City near the border of Guatemala. There I climbed the structure known as El Castillo (along with climbing a few shorter structures that don’t count for the purposes of this blog, but do count to their mother and father structures, because though they’re smaller in stature, those little guys are equally loved).

At first I was struck by how people who, at their tallest would have easily been about 7″ shorter (or more) than I, were able to scramble up the gigantic stairs.

Stairs MUCH bigger in person! The camera takes off 10″. Fact.

And then I took another moment to marvel at how, nearly a year after my injury, I was standing on this amazing structure – knee stable – looking out on the beauty that was this archaeological site, that was Belize, and how lucky I was to experience this with these people I absolutely love and adore. (Also, equally super glad to get back on the ground safely without having the helicopter evac for which I had mentally prepared.)

Xuantunich, Belize (El Castillo in Background – Where I climbed to the top, and stood between those five prongs.)

 

PS – This brought to you by Indiana Johnny who, by dropping today’s ball, guaranteed you’d get a gym-esque story instead of a “funny story from the cruise”. Proceed to cast blame.

Next Up: That time on the ship I got to talk to the cruise police. (Ok, I’m kidding. Oh, not about talking to the cruise police. I totally got a talking to. I’m just not sharing that story on my blog. I think someone should buy me a drink to celebrate my silence. Just sayin’.)

Spa Day: A Fancy Cruise Story

I’m not really a fancy lady. I’d never gone to a proper spa nor had I ever had a professional massage until this cruise.  You see, spas and professional massages seemed like things fancy ladies did with their fancy disposable income. Whereas my disposable income tends to go towards things that appeal to say goofy men with Peter Pan syndrome. You know, the absolute antithesis (or arch nemesis, perhaps) of a proper “fancy lady,” but definitely someone Mary Martin could sing about.  And here I was on this fancy cruise, with my fancy friends and my fancy family, thinking maybe my fancy little back might deserve a fancy little rub on one of these “fun days at sea”. It turns out that for me, my fancy little traps, thanks to fancy leisurely rowing, are a little (lot) tight. In fact, they sense I’m typing about them now, and they’re tensing up just to get some attention (or it could be that I’m sitting at a desk and have been all day – or it could be that I threw a lot of axes last night (I’m not kidding, I totally did that) Anyway, I can anthropomorphize my trapezius muscle if I want to – you worry about yourself).

(For Heather :))

So, on Day 2 of the cruise I made my way to the ship’s spa and signed up. Now the original idea was to get a deep tissue massage, but that turned into The Manager’s Special with its promises of bamboo, hot oil, a facial, something with my feet, and the clear promise I’d emerge relaxed and fancy. Dream massage was sooo… dreamy.

My friend Heather prepped me on what to expect. See, one reason I dislike a lot of fancy things is that sometimes I fear there are certain unspoken rules, or rituals one must follow that everyone else is in the know about except for me. I mean, what if I did something wrong? I could be spa-shamed! Then that information would likely travel through the back channels of the masseuse/masseur world, and the next thing you know I’d be eyed warily every time I passed a spa, massage parlor, or sidewalk carnivorous foot nibbling fish bucket purveyor. I wouldn’t live it down! EVER!!! Breathe Beth, BREATHE! I can do this.

When I enter the room it’s pleasantly dim, smells delightful, the music is peaceful if a bit new age-y, and the masseuse speaks in a soothing calm voice. Whew. I can do this! She begins my brushing my arms and legs with a cactus bristle brush. She explains it’s used on autistic children to calm them down. I ummm… wait. What? What are you saying? Am I being odd? I don’t know. Quick check. Ok, well other than the talking in your head thing. People do that, you know. Don’t be a freak. Breathe. Make polite conversation. “Interesting.” Good one. Nice save. I can do this?

I’ll fast forward a bit, because pretty much it could be boiled down to: hot things on my body feel great, and all of my muscles being rubbed also feel great (save maybe some knots that couldn’t be worked out in my shoulders).  And being called “dahhh’ling” excessively is vaguely annoying, but tolerable because of the aforementioned hot things and massage. Then we hit part of the appointment that was the hard sell, and the hard sell went a bit like this:

Dahhhling, your back muscles are a complete MESS (in the most disappointed/horrified/silky voice ever). There are crystals forming in your back, and the muscles are LEECHING calcium from your bones, Dahhhling.  For $170 you can buy this amino acid that you just apply a few drops to your shoulders, and that will break up the crystals.

What? I’m not sure that’s even real science. (Inner voice)

Dahhhling, you may need a back massage once or twice a week, and it will never be right. It’s just a temporary fix, Dahhhling. Are you sure you don’t want the drops? No? Let me put those away then.

Dahhhling, your skin is so dry. You look old! You must moisturize. Here are (insert a host of products being lined up one by one starting as low as $45 and scaling up to about $80) that will make you look much younger. Even I use them, and I am 27, can you believe it?

No. I would have gone younger. (Inner voice)

Dahhhling, now here’s the final bill. You’ll see the 18% tip has been applied; however, you may tip more if you wish.

Bless your sweet little heart, darlin’, I do not wish, but thanks for the opportunity. (Inner voice)

By the time Heather got to me in the spa lobby, having had a wonderful massage, I was in a fetal position (on the inside) and feeling vaguely sticky, withered, like an un-moisturized husk who clearly looks every bit of 80. We won’t even talk about these parasitic muscles.

And that’s how I spent a part of the second day while trying to be fancy on the cruise, and six days later, when people asked for my opinion about the cruise, it added to what annoyed me. And yes, this always had to be the second story. It continues to set-up my initial knee-jerk reaction, but as I mentioned before, there’s always more to a story, and there’s still more to this one.

Welcome to installment part deux!