Sunday, March 2, 2014

Back to the Cruise....

Nobody tells you when you get born here 
How much you'll come to love it 
And how you'll never belong here 
So I call you my country 
And I'll be lonely for my home 
And I wish that I could take you there with me 
- Rich Mullins, Land of My Sojourn



So, there were fun "extra" activities on the boat: World's Sexiest Man Competition, Men's Belly Flop Competition, various "game shows", etc.  The above picture was taken during the belly flop competition.  I was a bit sad that it was for men only.  Totally would have done that one.  There was karaoke every night, and I joined in one night.  So much to do on the boat.  But, our second stop was Jamaica, and we landed there late morning on Tuesday.  Met up with our group heading out from Falsmouth to the Ocho Rios area of Jamaica, where the first thing we did was climb Dunn's River Falls.  I was originally a little hesitant about signing up for this, because any pictures I saw online just looked like a small fall.  No.  Per wikipedia, it is 180 feet high, and 600 feet long.  Which is a little less glamorous than it sounds, as it is both naturally and, in some areas, man made terraced, so that it is not like watching water plummet 180 feet from a ledge down to the ground.  Of course, you wouldn't be able to climb it if it was that, either!  So, we climbed the Falls.  And it was a blast.  There were a ton of other people climbing the falls, and they had a photographer for each group (though ours disappeared 1/4 of the way through), but was still completely enjoyable.  There were places where you could jump into the water, and then an area where the current created a little "slide" to go down.  The whole climb up was beautiful, with the lush, semi-jungle surroundings, and the water cascading down.  We then went down and had a simple lunch (hot dogs and burgers), before going for a walk in the jungle, through what was kind of a mini petting zoo.  There was an aviary, with beautiful parakeets, lorakeets, and various other tropical birds.  Then we wound through the tropical trees down a trail to the reptile area, where I was the only one brave enough to hold a python, and then my mom and I both held a large iguana.  For an added surprise, they took us down to an area where we could hold a manta ray, and I jumped right in for that.  They were asking for tips, but we did not realize that we were going to need extra cash for tips on all these excursions, so we did not have any extra cash with us.  Lesson learned.  If you are going on an excursion off the boat, you should have cash for tips.  We were not supposed to have cameras in this area, because they took pictures they tried to sell you, but there was a sign that waterproof cameras were allowed, so we got some pictures of both of us with the manta ray before the guy told us the cameras were just in the scuba diving area, not in general.  Oops.  We had a great tour guide on the long ride to Ocho Rios and back, Nikola, and our driver, Christopher, who kept us entertained, teaching us some Jamaican lingo (important things such as: Yah, mon, No, mon, and No problem, mon), and answered our general questions about the country.  It really was the perfect distraction, since I had just gotten the news that morning that they would need to put my dog to sleep, and hiking up a waterfall was just what I needed!  Our last stop was 2 days later on the beautiful beaches of Cozumel.  There were LOTS of shops right off the port, and some neat and cheap stuff.  We took a short van ride over to the Chankanaab park, where we were scheduled for a dolphin swim.  We had waited for our specific time to head over, but a friend had suggested that we  not sign up for an excursion here, but simply take a taxi over to the area, and do things on our own, and next time, that's probably what I would do.  Either that, or take the earliest head out time, giving plenty of time to explore after.  We did the dolphin swim (which was AWESOME!), and then got to pet/feed a manatee, but then we only had about 2 hours left in the park, and by the time we ate, and then headed out, there was not near as much time as we would have like to explore, and this is one place I would have LOVED to go scuba diving.  You could just look in the water off the dock where we were swimming with the dolphins and see beautiful fish in the water.  A day and a half later we were back on dry land in the USA.  At 6:30 in the morning.  We went ahead and had one last breakfast on the boat, before taking off to explore Florida.  Our first excursion was a drive all the way down to the tip of Florida to the Everglades.  It was a beautiful drive,  with swamps, sawgrass, palm trees, and all manor of wading birds around.  Oh, yes, and alligators.  Quite a few alligators.  For birds, there were great white herons, great blue herons, ibis, roseate spoonbill, and various other birds, that I don't know the name of.  :-)  It was a great day of wildlife watching and nice, relaxing driving.  At the very last stop, before we turned to come back, there was a nesting pair of ospreys that we watched for a while.  At the end of the day, we ended up right back where we started, near Homestead, where we spent the night before heading back out again.  The next day, we took the long way across FL on the Tamiami Trail, and this was almost as good as the drive through the bottom half of the Everglades.  All along the side of the road is a river/canal, which sometimes appears as much more of a concrete/manmade area, but in the more natural/swampy areas, there are multiple areas/times for viewing birds and alligators, many times in the same area.  It was another great day of wildlife watching, culminating in finally arriving in Naples and beginning the long, slow drive out of FL.  When you have started your journey in FL at the very southernmost part of the Everglades, it takes longer than you might think to actually get out of the state, kind of like driving across Texas.  So, a mighty cheer went up in the car when we finally arrived at the state line.  We did make a quick stop in New Orleans for a delicious Cajun lunch at one of my favorite New Orleans haunts, Cafe Pontalba, and then a quick walk around the French Quarter, since it was COLD and drizzly (we were definitely not in FL anymore).  None of the street musicians or artists were out, which are some of my favorite things about the French Quarter.  After leaving there, we were planning on driving straight through home, but a massive storm moved through, and when it was pitch black outside, and the rain was coming down too hard to see to drive, we decided to go ahead and make one last stop for the night before heading home the next day.  After 3 days of driving, and only 3 hours from my mom's house, I saw blue and red lights coming towards me.  I was not speeding (I think) at that point (we won't discuss other times!), and  couldn't think of any other reason I might get pulled over, so we slowly coasted over to the side of the road, expecting the cop car to pass.  But no.  They were closing the bridge so that an oversized load could pass through.  I tried to convince him that he could let one last car go through first, and he was even nice enough to check after hearing our sob story about trying to get back to Waco, TX area, but no dice.  So we had to wait about 20 min. for the very large load to cross the bridge and then let us back across.  From there, the rest of the drive was uneventful, though, and we finally made it back to my mom's house on Tues. afternoon, Feb 11th, one month to the day before I head out on the road again.  

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