Sunday, May 23, 2010
We woke up at Great Stirrup Cay . The ship was moored and all people wanting to go ashore would tender over. I took one look at the “island” and decided that 2200 people on the spit of land in front of us could do without 2 additional people. The cay was pretty flat and narrow with a few palms towards the middle. There didn’t appear to be much to see so we passed on the tender adventure. We watched as the water taxi pulled up to the ship, loaded about 150-200 people on board ,traveled the five minute trip and then beached itself for people to jump off on the beach. Nearby, there were two Royal Caribbean ships pulled up near their own private island. At least theirs looked more like a tropical island even if it was smaller. We spent some time at the pool, in the hot tub and of course there was the food. I have to say, based on this 3 day cruise, NCL and their quality of food has dropped a notch or two on our level of cruises. We have taken cruises on Carnival, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and NCL. The later had been our favorite although the cruises had been week long events. Now, I think Celebrity and Royal Caribbean are tied for level of service and quality of food and entertainment. The highlight of any cruise for me is the Art Auction . Carl found a nice piece by Nicole Stahl of Dolphins to give to our granddaughter. Before we left, Steph asked us to bring her back some dolphins.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Our shore excursion tickets haven’t arrived yet. A few days ago, we went on line and put in a reservation for a clear view kayak tour in Nassau. I figured they would have delivered them to our stateroom so on our way to breakfast, we stopped by the shore excursion desk. Now, I’ve already told Carl my leg is hurting from all the stairs we climbed yesterday and as much as I was looking forward to the see through kayaks, I really wasn’t unhappy when they said they had no reservation for us. We spent the first part of the day poolside, in the sun. Of course, I smeared on the old +30 sun block. It feels like I took a bath in crude oil but, on the other hand, I spent more than a half hour in the sun and didn’t burn. After lunch, Carl decided to lay down while I took a shower and washed my hair. He slept 2 hours and after I dried off, I read some of my book, “The Vampire LeStat’. It’s the second in as series of 10 books by Anne Rice that make up the Vampire Chronicles. From the stern of the ship, we have a beautiful view of Atlantis, the billion dollar complex that used in one of last season’s Amazing Race legs. We couldn’t see the pyramid and the 60 foot waterslide but we know it’s out there. Just before we leave Nassau, there is a brief shower. It’s just enough to dampen the deck but the clouds sort of get in my way for sail away photos. I take them anyway. Paradise Island has a lighthouse at the very tip, the entrance to the harbor. I can see why. It’s really rocky out there and since it’s the windward side of the island, the breakers really pound in there. Tomorrow, our port of call is Great Stirrup Cay, the NCL privately owned island. We’ve decided to just get off the boat and wander around looking for something to take pictures of. There’s 2200 people on this boat. I wonder if I can actually find a sport or two with no people in my viewfinder.
Friday, May 21, 2010
The drive from Marco Island to Miami was uneventful and when we turned the rental car in at Thrifty, we were informed they provided a shuttle to the Port of Miami. That saved us a taxi fare of $24.00. That’s four beers on the cruise for Carl. Outstanding! The process of check in was smooth and effortless. By 1:00, we had already spent $18.75 for the soda program. For those of you who haven’t taken a cruise lately, you purchase a specific cup which can be filled with as much fountain soda as you can drink for the duration of the cruise. The cruise line charges $6.25 per day for the program and if you just purchased a soda at the bar, it would be about $3.00 with tax and the 15%autogratuity which is conveniently added for you. After the obligatory boat drill ( no life vest required this time ), we sat by the pool where there was pounding bass music with words that just repeated themselves over and over. I’m not sure if it’s called hip hop, grunge or gangster rap. I just know it doesn’t do a thing for me. I hate to admit it but I’m getting old. I want to be able to understand the words, feel all of the music and not come away with my ears hurting. We’re off to the theatre after dinner to “listen to” 70’s music. I’ll bet I know most of the words to most of the songs.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
We finally had a beautiful day, the last one here before we head to the Port of Miami to board the Norwegian Sky. A call was placed to Captain Barry’s who guarantee manatee sightings or you don’t pay for the trip. Now, that is pretty good because most whale watches that you participate in don’t offer a similar guarantee. Of course, sightings are not the same as actually seeing manatees. Manatees are mammals, breathing air as we do so they must come to the surface every three to five minutes to breathe. The rest of their time is spent submerged near the bottom grazing on sea grasses or snoozing. SO, to see manatees, you must be patient, watch for noses at the surface or see a “footprint”, the disturbed water where there tail fluke was. In fact, we saw the shapes of more than a dozen manatees swimming along beneath the surface. I managed to catch a shot of a couple of noses but after having had the experience of actually snorkeling with these gentle giants in King’s Bay a few years ago, I was less than amazed with the whole trip. What was entertaining was the Osprey nest and youngster who, we’re told, just a day or two ago was testing his wings to strengthen them. Our guide, Captain George, says that once the young leave the nest, they never return. We also saw a few alligators and as it turns out, they are unusually aggressive this time of year because it’s mating season. The excitement was provided for us by two guys who had been out fishing and were cleaning their catch when we returned to the dock. The guts were tossed into the canal and caused a frenzy among the Jack fish. The water roiled as if Piranha were devouring some hapless creature. A good day for the fishermen means a good day for the Jack and everyone is happy. On our way back to the resort, we swung into the little community of Goodland for munch at a place called the Little Bar Restaurant. The food was good, the service was amiable and the bill didn’t send us into monetary shock. Filled to our max, we saw a young Osprey in the nest along the road. The only thing to put a damper on this day was I had to do laundry and pack, again. If you'd like a pleasant 1 1/2 hour tour of the waterways leading out to the Gulf, you can check out Captain Barry at http://www.see-manatees.com
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
We’re having one of “those” days. It’s getting towards the end of our fun time and each of us are a bit cranky. Carl has gone down to the hot tub and I have been performing a few domestic engineering challenges otherwise known as housework. Yes, even on vacation at a time share, there are dishes and clothes to be done as well as clutter to be picked up or straightened . The weather is sultry with little or no breeze which just adds to the tension in the air. I’m no expert but it’s almost like there’s something brewing off the coast. Our sky from the first floor balcony is gray, the same color as the gulf water and I can so only a few people walking the beach. Yesterday, I mentioned to Carl that today would be his day to decide what we were going to do and he just shrugged his shoulders. We still have tomorrow to try to visit those manatees. I wouldn’t feel comfortable chancing it today. So, after lunch, we hopped into the car and went out towards the Everglades. We stopped at 10,000 Islands State Park and walked into the observatory tower overlooking the wetlands. On the way back we saw our first wild alligator of the trip. It only took 5 days but I must confess we really hadn’t been looking that hard. We were most of the way back to the resort when we came upon this Osprey perched on top of a utility pole. I didn’t see it then but when I came back to the unit and plugged my media card in, I was able to see that Mr. Osprey had just grabbed a fish before we came upon him ( or her ).
Monday, May 17, 2010
On our way back from the Shy Wolf Sanctuary, we stopped at the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The Environmental Learning Center houses a 2300 gallon aquarium, a working lab, a short film about the importance of preserving this natural treasure, an art gallery where feature artists can exhibit their work, a small Florida friendly landscaped butterfly garden and walking paths along the mangrove lined shores of the Estuary. They also offer guided tours by kayak as well as giving avid birders the perfect place to observe countless waterfowl and nesting birds. The Rookery Bay reserve encompasses 110,000 acres of native habitats including pristine mangrove forests, upland and protected waterways. Check out their website at http://www.rookerybay.org
Today, I was kissed by a wolf named Tien. We visited the Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples. The owners rescue as many pure wolves and wolf dog crosses as they have room for. They spend weeks, months and sometimes years undoing the harm, both physical and psychological, to these magnificent creatures. Most of the time, they succeed and the animal can be adopted by people who wish to provide the right kind of loving and care. Sometimes, the animal cannot be returned to a state of grace and will live out it’s entire remaining life in their loving and capable hands. Our guide, Mark, one of the many volunteers who care for the animals, took us from enclosure to enclosure and explained about each of the animals. The sanctuary marks each enclosure with a grading system, level one through four, which tells the volunteers who may enter or who should be wary. For instance, some of the enclosures, level one, are completely off limits to visitors and most of the staff because the animal inside may be dangerous. Some of the wolves have been abused by men and this information is noted on the doors as well. We were allowed to enter most of the Level Four enclosures with our guide after we filled out a liability waiver. We were warned to remove hats, earrings, handbags and other items because some of the animals have developed attachments to these items and delight in snatching them from unsuspecting visitors. One of the wolf dogs has even been known to nip people on the backsides as they leave his enclosure. It doesn’t matter how much “wolf” is in the animal for each of them carry their own baggage. In fact, the animal to be most cautious around was more dog than wolf. The sanctuary does not charge an admission fee and is completely dependant on donations. There is good news for the Sanctuary. The owners have recently purchased a much larger piece of land and, in time, will be able to not only increase the number of rescued animals but will also be able to provide even more room for these beautiful creatures to roam than they have now. If you find yourself on the gulf coast of Florida, I urge you to give them a call. Please check out their website for more information about the work they do and the animals which also includes 4 panthers, a couple of arctic foxes, a half dozen prairie dogs and a handful of tortoises. Here’s the link http://www.shywolfsanctuary.com
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Those gathering clouds I mentioned from last night didn’t go away and I wasn’t thrilled about finding myself in the Everglades in a small boat during a storm. We passed on a small Manatee Watch today but we may go another day. By late afternoon, the rain was falling fast and hard but their wasn’t any lightening show. Oh, and I was called by Security about 9:30 this evening because my drapes were open. The Loggerhead turtles are coming ashore to lay their eggs on beaches all over SW Florida. The beach out in front of our resort is no exception. Marco Island has passed a "blackout" ordinance from May through September. Lights on shore confuse the turtles who exhaust themselves during the ordeal of laying their eggs. In this confused state, they sometimes mistake the resort lights for the moon and head inland instead of returning to the ocean. And, of course, I complied with the request as soon as I was off the phone.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Today, we woke up in Florida. We’ve been here many times. In fact, this is the first time share we bought on Marco Island more than 25 years ago. We love it at Eagle’s Nest but don’t get here very often because we trade for other destinations. After complimentary coffee and donuts accompanied by the obligatory pitch on things to do in and around the resort, we used the rest of the day to get unpacked, find some groceries and locate a favorite Pizza Buffet called CiCi’s. We first ate at a CiCI’s in Albuquerque, NM in 2006 while we were at the Balloon Fiesta. It’s inexpensive ( about $5.00 for all you can eat ) and they have some crazy pizzas to choose from. The one they advertise is macaroni and cheese pizza which is pretty good but today Carl had a ham and egg pizza and I had a Taco Salad pizza. I haven’t seen the peanut butter and jelly pizza we found out about on the food network yet, but it’s only a matter of time. ( This is really yummy, BTW )This just proves that if you can think it they can make it. Later, we went for a walk on the beach before sunset. The sun is strong here even at 6:00 in the evening. We could tell by the incoming clouds that the sunset would be less than spectacular and we were right. The sun went down but there wasn’t any show with the event. I had to point my lens elsewhere. A hot bath and a light meal of baked chicken with fresh asparagus and I’m in heaven. It’s just possible we’ll be going to the Naples Zoo and Botanical Gardens on Sunday, weather permitting.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Travel Day! We rise early and eat the last bits of food in the refrigerator, a yogurt, two slices of cold meat and some lettuce. Everything else gets tossed, the last of the margarine and a partial jar of miracle whip. We arrive at the airport, turn in the rental car and are informed that due to impending bad weather , they would like us to take an earlier flight to Trinidad. We agree. Of course, that’s means a longer wait at the Port Of Spain airport. All in all, the trip was great. I must say, however, the best time to go to Tobago is at the end of the rainy season so the waterfalls and rivers will be full. I don’t think there is a “cool” time to go. But, going or not going is not an option. It’s a wonderfully friendly island with a wide ethnic diversity. It shows in the type of foods available, the way people dress, the amount of churches and schools and even in the way their businesses are conducted. We talked with many people who took advantage of the marvelous diving available all around the island and I think it’s safe to say that we definitely missed a beautiful part of the island, beneath the waves. Would we go back? There are so many places I want to see before I’m no longer able to travel so time may not allow it. Upon reflection, Yes, we can go back. There’s still the whole middle of the island to discover.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
This is it, the day I decide we will drive along the Atlantic coast the entire length of the island. Tobago is on 26 miles long and from Crown Point were we’re staying to Charlottesville should only take about an hour. That’s a laugh. The roads twist and turn, are narrow, rutted and non existent in a couple of places. They climb up steeply and plunge down the other side just as fast. In a couple of places, they were one lane wide around a blind curve. All in all, it was quite an adventure. I had to watch both sides of the road, look for photo opportunities and give Carl enough warning for him to safely pull over. There were many instances where I would see something to photograph after we were way by it so I tried to make note of the area for the trip back. We traveled through Scarborough along the ocean’s edge where the road was protected from the pounding by a sturdy concrete wall. When we arrived in Speyside, the Atlantic ocean was free to run wild through the streets and I could see erosive evidence of just such an instance. The big draw in Speyside was a restaurant called Jemma’s but we missed it on the way up. Come to think of it, we missed it on the way back, too so we stopped at a place called the Birdwatchers. The food was good, the breeze was refreshing and the cost was more than reasonable. Among our stops was a gray sand beach and an old sugar mill. We had a great day. Our “last meal” was free rum punch and a BBQ at Poolside. We returned to our villa to pack and it was suddenly pouring out. It rained hard for most of the night. The locals will be happy to have it.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
The weather is beginning to change, so the locals say. The skies today are mostly cloudy and the breeze has freshened from the north. We can see rain off in the distance but it never seems to come close to shore. The air is so thick I think you can actually see it. Anyway, I’m feeling lazy and just satisfy myself with taking a couple of photos at the resort and doing some laundry. That’s another way of saying I stayed in the air conditioned 4 bedroom villa we have here. We decided to eat lunch at the resort today and Roti is on the menu, a misnomer because there is only every one main plate offered. Your choice usually comes in as the protein. Most places offer their plates with either chicken, fish, or goat. So we have the Roti at the resort restaurant. It comes disassembled. The soft “bake” is warm in a towel covered basket while on the plate is my chicken, a chickpea blend, some cubed and boiled potatoes, and something called amkhar which I never did find out what it was. It was hard, fibrous and I didn’t particularly care for the flavor. I chose the chicken while Carl had the goat and again there were bones but at least this time we could pick them out and then put together our Roti.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Today we took a 4 x 4 jeep safari around the island.The driver, Fabio, used old plantation roads to get us to a high overlook where we could see Pigeon Point and The Sisters, a large outcropping of volcanic rocks jutting from the ocean. From there, we went further into the interior where the driving got even more rough and stopped in a shady spot to prepare for what the lady at the orientation described as a leisurely walk into a lovely waterfall. The walk took about 30 minutes, wandered along the Courland River and finally came to the falls. Fabio apologized for the lack of water, this being the dry season. The Highland Falls were pretty enough but the effort I had to expel for that walk was almost too much for me. By the time we returned to the jeep, I was pretty sore. We had a light lunch of coconut bread with cheese and a freshly picked ripe mango Fabio had gathered along the way. He also served us a fruit juice mixture which didn’t set well on my stomach. Back in the jeep, the roads smoothed out for a bit and we traveled through tiny hamlets with names like Arnos Vale, Golden Lane and Black Rock. These villages are perched on the sides of steep hills and are a mixture of well manicured homes and one room shanties. From time to time we would drive through light rain showers, just enough to dampen everything and raise the humidity. As we traveled, there were large numbers of chickens and dogs wandering about. We even came across a few cattle and goats wandering the roads. Back onto the old plantation roads, we headed towards the Hillsborough Dam for a short walk into the reservoir. The walk was no more than 10 minutes along the southern edge of the Tobago Forest Reserve but I chose to stay in the jeep. Carl came back with a photo or two of some of the local cayman that hang out there but the waterfall at the Hillsborough Dam was dry. The last stop on our bumpy tour was an old sugar mill. Although the sugar industry relied heavily upon slavery, the history of the trade was interesting none the less. Fabio gave a pretty good demonstration of the process and then took his machete and hacked into a fallen rubber tree. The liquid white latex was used to seal the barrels before they were loaded on the ships headed for England or Europe. Then it was a twenty minute ride back to Sandy Point where both Carl and I noticed a pretty good sunburn acquired through the haze of the day as well as more than a few aching muscles.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Last night , we did something extraordinary. Sadly, because of the nature of the event, I have but one picture to show for the experience. We went, with a nature guide to the beach where the Leatherback Turtles come out of the ocean and lay their eggs almost every night between April and June. We were instructed to keep all flash off when taking photos because the lights would disorient them. It was amazing to see this huge animal dig a 3 foot deep hole in the sand with it’s flippers. I wish they had given us all infrared headlamps like the biologist was wearing so we could have seen more clearly how she deposited anywhere from 80 to 200 eggs into this hole and then spent a huge amount of energy to fill it back in and disguise the site. She will repeat this 2 to 2 ½ hour ordeal every 10 days for two months and then will head back out to sea. It was amazing to discover the turtle knows just how much pressure to put on the sand, enough to break the bones of a grown man’s hand, to maintain the proper incubation temperature inside the nest. The guide told us if the eggs hatch during the day, the half dollar sized youngsters will be all males while the females will hatch out at night. I do have to comment on the driving skills of these island maniacs. They are on par with the cabbies of Cairo, all crazed maniacs controlling a ton of steel, beeping their horns to let people know they were passing, shifting, talking on the cell and explaining bits of information to his passengers at the same time. The only difference is these guys did use their headlights whereas the drivers in Cairo do not.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
After more than 12 hours of travel yesterday, we awoke to a virtual paradise but even in paradise, there are “snakes”. You can find them in any number of places. For instance, everything in paradise comes with a cost. Your “knowledgeable guides can direct you for ONLY ### or you can enjoy our sumptuous buffet for ONLY ### and then there is my personal favorite, the heat. Yes, I know I’m only 11 degrees above the equator and it’s supposed to be hot so what am I doing in Paradise? And after the hustle and bustle of “got to check in no later than and get through security without any alarms and make sure you make this flight or arrive at the gate in plenty of time, then you arrive in the island which definitely runs on it’s own time. The case in point was made at the orientation breakfast this morning. Elvira, the activities director, tells us of African Drummers who will be here tonight at 7:00 but to come down at 8:30 and they will be ready to play then. Another example is the sauna. If you want to use it at 7:00 call the desk and allow time for them to turn it on and then allow 15 more minutes for the sauna to heat up. SO, I ask you, if the temperature is 95 and you are sweating by just opening your front door, why would you want to sweat some more in the sauna? Our unit is lovely and we have two outside patios to dine on. The main patio over looks a courtyard where beautiful flowering trees abound even though the management tell us that Tobago hasn’t had rain in three months and are in a “drought condition”. We have a garden villa but, if you stand in the triangular shaped dormer in the master bedroom, you can see the ocean from there.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
To paraphrase Peter, Paul and Mary, " All my bags are packed. I'm ready to go..." Tomorrow is the big day. We head for Boston by way of Concord to catch the bus. We'll stay one night in the big city of Boston ( no slander intended here. Whitefield is a population of 2,500 in the summer, 1,000 in the winter if you count dogs ) and then catch a 5:30AM plane out of Logan bound for the beautiful and sometimes very humid island of Tobago. It's only 11 degrees above the equator so I have packed my 300+ sunblock and every piece of clothing I can find that will just barely keep me covered and not once ounce of thread more than I need. Tobago is a deeply religious island and topless even if I was prone to that sort of thing IS NOT AN OPTION. We'll spend a wonderful week there, hunting for waterfalls, sunrises and sets and anything else that attracts my camera lens. That's the idea behind going there. And if you believe that one, I have some swamp land in FL I will sell you cheap. The truth of the matter is, it's a beautiful tropical paradise with bath water warm oceans to swim in, gorgeous scenery and an exchange rate to die for. One US dollar will get you $6.00 Tobagon. This is a place where gas is about $1.35 per gallon and you can buy a beer at a hotel bar for about $1.28. Of course the people who serve you that beer make about $80.00 per week. And Paradise wouldn't be worth going to if there wasn't some risk involved. They drive on the left, on roads that would make our cars groan and there is a very real threat of Malaria and Dengue Fever so along with the super sunblock, they recommend a bug repellent on steroids. One last thing about "Paradise", they let you in with no trouble at all, stay as long as you like but you must show a return ticket and when you leave you must pay a departure fee. In this case, its TT100 or about $16.00 US. I plan on posting every day with a new and even more beautiful photo than the last, but truthfully, I haven't a clue if they have internet there so I will post blogs when I can and date them when i wrote them and not when they actually got posted. We'll see you all at the end of May in North Conway for our first show of the season. It's going to be a good one, I can just tell.