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):

Finally, the Cruise (Part 1)

When I walked off the ship, and headed towards the car, my first thought about my first cruise was, “never again.” In fact, for a good week afterwards, I told people, “yeah, I had a nice time, but cruising isn’t my thing.”  Now before my friends and family (aka travel companions) start a flurry of calls that sound a lot like, “wait, I thought she said she enjoyed the cruise. Did something happen?” let me explain by starting at the very beginning. As Julie Andrews taught us, “it’s a very good place to start.”

The trip started with an overnight stay in Galveston, Texas. We arrived the day before to avoid the stress of trying to drive there the day of the trip, and we’d booked a room at Ginger’s. I’m not sure who Ginger is other than a lovely hostess on Airbnb who had a lovely home that she loved to fumigate with the lovely smell of multiple scentsys.  This is important later.

That first night we piled into cars and headed out on the town to enjoy some lovely downtown Galveston seafood fare at a restaurant recommended by Ginger, whom it turns out is clearly a lot more patient when it comes to navigating torn up/destroyed streets and detours, and who also, unbeknownst to any of us, had some vendetta against me. This is important later.  The food was decent – not amazing, and in hindsight likely added to the next part of the story, but we had a great time. Everyone was excited. We were setting sail the next day!

We headed back to Ginger’s, which still looked rather unassuming at this point. I opened the door, walked in, and fell into Ginger’s scentsy pungent aromatic punji trap house of horrors, which immediately began assaulting my head. My frontal sinuses seized up, and the whole front of my head was on fire. Not to be outdone, my heart began racing uncontrollably. I couldn’t be in the house, and I dramatically exited hoping fresh air would help. I was now “that girl” and I hated being “that girl.” I wanted to be the girl that drank wine while sitting around on the couch laughing and telling stories. She seemed way more fun to be around.

I could feel my pulse as if each beat of my heart wanted to explode through my skin, and I could hear it – that whooshing sounds you hear on an ultrasound.  I started taking deep breaths, releasing each one slowly, which had exactly zero affect on my heart rate.

Now, I’m lucky to have a lot of people with medical experience in my life. Smart people. People who are just a tiny phone call away, and I thought “why don’t you call…” and I didn’t. Here’s why: When I got back from the cruise, mentioned what had happened,  said I nearly called, their response was, “I would have told you to go to a hospital. Your heart rate shouldn’t have been that high for that length of time” (over an hour). Well, I knew you guys would say that, and so I played a very risky game with my health to not be “that girl” who ruined everyone’s cruise by landing in the hospital the night before. Easily not the smartest thing I’ve done, but there it is. I didn’t want to be “the story.” And nearly a year after I destroyed my ACL and MCL, I couldn’t take what I saw as another hit. Nearly a year and a half after Jay died, I just couldn’t have another major thing blow-up and disappear. I just wanted to go on a flipping cruise like a normal human being. I mean sure, I wouldn’t have flipped the coffee table if I hadn’t been able to go. I would have started flipping cars (or making a really good go at it while my friends stood around watching silently with a, “what is she… is she trying to flip the car? Are you just going to let her? I’m not going to say anything. Ok. Well, let’s just stand here until she runs out of steam? How long do you think…? Be cool. She’s glaring at us. You go, girl! You got this! WHOOO! Beth!!! Psst, dude this is really awkward.”)

While I was outside, my fellow travelers (aka friends and family) went around and disarmed Ginger’s little olfactory booby traps that had ambushed my entire face. Then about two to three hours later I owed everyone in the house an apology as my body rejected every single toxin it had encountered. Sorry part a thousand, guys!

That’s how I started the cruise, and seven days later it still bothered me deeply. When asked along the trip which stories I would tell, this always had to be the first. It sets up my initial knee-jerk reaction, but there’s always more to a story, and there’s more to this one.

Welcome to cruise installments! (That’s right fellow cruisers, I’m dragging this bad boy out after making you wait and wade through gym stories! You’re welcome!)

 

Squirrely’s

During my summer vacation, which sounds more like a three month holiday away from school rather than a few days out of town, we decided to a make stop.  Truth be told, we made several along the way to New Orleans, because one of the more awesome traits I inherited from my mother (that did not include her looks, her unblemished skin, her fine features nor her athletic ability) was her bladder, which is exactly the size of a walnut.

We see the sign on the way to Houston for a place called Buc-ee’s.  Now I’ve never heard of this place and all I see is a gigantic, happy squirrel head on a sign accompanied by some bad puns.  Oh sure, it’s a beaver to the rest of you, but my brain wouldn’t let the whole squirrel thing go and try as I might to get it right, it stuck in my head that we were going to Squirrely’s.  April assumed I had to be familiar with Squirrely’s since it was a Texas thing.  It may be a Texas thing, but it’s never been on my Texas radar. You see my car only drives two ways – one is on IH35 north of Austin, the other is northeast to Nacogdoches.  Now before you think I’m a complete big box convenience store newbie, I had actually heard of and even been to both Love’s and Stuckey’s.  I’ve even been to Robertson’s in Salado on a number of occasions, but never a Squirrely’s.  Never heard of it.  So, it’s basically not my Texas, it’s someone else’s Texas.

We pull up and Squirrely’s is just huge.  I’ve never seen a Stuckey’s or a Love’s quite so large – it might compare to a mini Wal-mart (there is actually such a thing).  We go in and like the Tardis, it’s bigger on the inside and offers an assortment of everything.  It’s the kind of store where you become a little concerned you’ve stepped into a Grimm’s fairy tale and feel the need to worry that if you grab too much of whatever some cantankerous, hoarder hermitess (I cannot believe that word made it through spell check – who knew it was real) will grab you up then pop you into a special people cooking oven. My only comfort was the knowledge that I would avoid the oven, because well I’d like to see a hermitess try – I border on ”immovable object” – a good thing when facing down fairy tale cannibals.  Solid planning on my part! In the store is a wall of candy (you see the analogy here, right?), fresh fruits, snacks that involve cheese (ok, that’s my love of cheese shining through), sodas with special crunchy ice, computer stations to order fast food (I guess you can’t just walk up to a person an order), clothes, knick-knacks, do-dads, toys and 100 super clean bathrooms.

I took pictures and I walked out with a Squirrely puppet.  Of course I did.  I decided this little squirrel would have be included in the vacation. Being mid puppet show, it was obvious that this pairing of girl and squirrel were meant to be.  A friend of mine sent me a text post purchase, after I shared a photo of the Squirelly and me, basically asking, “how is it you’re more ridiculous than I am?” Oh young Jedi, it takes focus and dedication – years of being a ridiculous human, but I’m straying off topic.

Squirrely!

I start posting these ridiculous photos with this ridiculous squirrel (yeah, yeah, yeah beaver) and I discover there’s this whole crazy convenience store cult lurking among my Facebook friends that simply adore Buc-ee’s. PIcture the martians in Toy Story and “the claw”.  You could hear them all say the words in unison, “the Buc-ee’s” or 100 Homers saying “donuts”. You get the idea.  It was a bit eerie.  I was genuinely blown away by the envy pouring my way. Some were excited for me – hooray, she’s finally arrived at this consumer’s paradise. It was as if I had been transported to whatever place you find to be the most magical and it made my friend’s happy. Mine involves ornate outfits – the bigger the skirt the better, a gigantic library, and a lovely stroll-worthy garden. Oh, and access to all of our modern conveniences, because let’s face it if we go back in time people were rather stinky with bad teeth.  Plus, in this fantasy world I have pets and pets need good vets and also I’d like a recycling program in place – very important. Oh, and cheese.  Did I mention I’m a huge fan? Right, that’s my place – theirs was Buc-ee’s.  You would have thought, based on the ecstasy that followed the announcement that I’d been to the store and as the doors swished open angels began to sing.  It was crazy.

Now, I don’t mean to put down Buc-ee’s.  It’s a great place to stop.  It’s clean, the bathrooms are great, the ice is cheap, there are a ton of gas pumps, but it is a convenience store – a very large convenience store.

I do admit that on the way back home we did made another stop there (my request), because I just had to. I drank that Kool-aid.  When we did stop in again, a person dressed as Buc-ee (a happy gigantic squirrel if you’re me) was strolling the store. You could have your picture taken with him.  I did do this.  It was hysterical.  You will never see that photo, but know that Buc-ee hugged me.

I guess a small part of me has been inducted into the cult. Please don’t tell them I still think it’s just a large convenience store until I’ve studied their inner circle.  They don’t need to know that I don’t believe as some do that it might be the place where Greek heroes go after they die. (There are still Greek heroes, right? Zeus still catting around. I digress. I always digress.)

That’s my report.