Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wandering in the Western Caribbean

Last Sunday Tom and I put our Christmas preparations on hold and hopped aboard the Norwegian Spirit for the annual "Cousins Cruise." Joining us as we sailed to the Western Caribbean were 11 very special people: several of Tom's cousins with their spouses, significant others, college-age kids, a fiance and a friend, and Tom's sister and her husband. The Cousins travelled from Texas, Mississippi and Alabama to the port of New Orleans, eager to spend some quality time together, celebrate two college graduations, and escape the cold and dreary weather.

I can't share any intimate details about the trip because the Cousins have a rule: What happens on the cruise stays on the cruise. If Tom and I want to be invited to go on future Cousins Cruises, and we certainly do, (this was the first time we were able to join them) I have to follow the rules. Now, those of you who know me well are aware of how difficult that will be for me. So let me carefully say that we all had a blast and I haven't laughed so much in a long time and I have pictures to prove it. As far as I know, there are no Cousin rules about disclosing activities or pictures that Tom and I did on our own so I will share some of those with you.

I have to admit, the thought of leaving home two weeks before Christmas seemed a little crazy to me, especially since we were expecting a houseful of company two days after we returned. Would I greet them cheerfully, with the house clean, groceries in the pantry, sugar cookies baked and decorated, and presents wrapped? Or would I be stressed out from trying to finish everything, and failing to do so?

Then a cold front blew in to Houston. And then another. And the forecast for the next week was not much better - rainy, cold and dreary. I couldn't pack and get out of town fast enough. Our ship was going south, where it was warm and sunny and I could wear a bathing suit - in December. As soon as we boarded the ship, met up with the Cousins and had our first of many, many meals, all my worries slipped away.

We cruised down the Mississippi River Sunday evening and in the Gulf of Mexico all day Monday towards Costa Maya, a tiny Mexican town south of Playa del Carmen. When we arrived on Tuesday, Tom and I decided to take a cab to a local beach, any beach was fine, and relax for the day. At Tequila Beach, for $24, we had two lounge chairs, a shady palapa, a table with four chairs, some refreshing margaritas, and many beers. Life was good!

About three hours later, we saw all the other Cousins on the same beach, about 20 yards away, but don't tell anyone...

Our next port was Belize City. We decided to go cave tubing - a unique experience - tubing in a long, dark cave with head lamps, for about an hour. (No pictures of the cave because I don't have a waterproof camera).

After tubing, we stopped for lunch at Amigos, a very remote but apparently very popular hangout in Belize.

Some people like it so much, they never leave....

Some of the Cousins were on this excursion, too, but he was not one of them...

Our next stop was the island of Roatan, Honduras. We hired a driver to give us a tour of the whole island then he dropped us off at a nice but crowded beach on the West End for a few hours. Roatan is very pretty and reminded us a lot of Kauai. 

The mayor's house...

Parrot Tree Resort

West End Beach

No, he is not one of the Cousins but they might've bought a Cuban cigar from him...

Our last stop was Cozumel, which seems to have grown quite a bit since we were last there nearly 10 years ago. After walking around town for awhile we decided to rent a car and tour the island on our own. They gave us the cutest VW beetle. We took the top off and away we went. 

We headed to the east side of the island, which is unpopulated and has no electricity, and stopped at three really cool beach bars for a drink.  

Shhh....don't tell the Cousins about this place. In fact, don't tell anyone. The beaches on this side are pristine, the waves are high, the water is gorgeous, and we want them to stay that way. We are going back to Cozumel for a wedding in June so plan to go back here, and we might bring our friends.

Another relaxing day at sea then we arrived in New Orleans Sunday morning, relaxed and refreshed, ready to jump back into all the upcoming holiday festivities. We said farewell to the Cousins and headed home. 

Merry Christmas...

and Happy New Year!!!


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Final Batam Walkabout

You'd think after spending five days at an Indonesian tropical resort with two pools and a beach, Tom and I would come home with golden suntans. 

Alas, that is not the case. Tom was in Asia to work and I tagged along for fun. But once we got to Batam, we both spent three full days working - he out at the job site as preparations are being made for the project to begin next summer, and me and the two other wives who also made the trip gathering information for the families and single workers who will be moving there. It was an interesting and enlightening experience for both of us and we managed to squeeze some time out of each day to enjoy Turi Beach Resort and its sister property, Nongsa Point Marina.

Our days began early, around 5:30 am, with views like this from our ocean-front Bali-style bed and "hut" and a long walk or run along the beach...

...to the Nongsa Point Marina...

...where we gazed at the gleaming Singapore skyline across the horizon...

After breakfast Darlene, Carolina and I enjoyed touring housing developments, hotels and schools, meeting with real estate agents, shopping at grocery stores and malls, and lunching at fabulous Indonesian-style restaurants, all with the gracious help of our new friend, Karen. Naturally, I took lots of photos. Here are some of my favorite.

We toured a golf course neighborhood and homes in golf carts...

One of the malls we shopped at...great bargains in Batam!!!!

When we arrived at the Harris Hotel, the staff was DANCING for us!
Carolina, a Zumba teacher, jumped right in and danced with them.

The hotel staff also prepared afternoon tea just for us.
This is a new hotel that is opening Nov. 5 and they definitely want our future business.

This was my favorite neighborhood, Nongsa Village, featuring Bali-style houses on stilts on the ocean.
No cars allowed, walking and golf carts only.

I'm ready to totally redo my home - Bali style.

I love the Asian habit of taking off your shoes when you enter a home.
 I wonder if I could convince my guests to do that here...

A bedroom in one of the houses we toured while looking for rental possibilities.

Unfortunately, this is the type of housing most of Batam's citizens live and work in. 

And this is their typical mode of transportation...often carrying infants and small children in front of the driver, and whole families piled behind them.

We've seen similar sights in Cambodia, Thailand, and Mexico, where the average daily wage is $3 to $5 a day. The poorest of the poor in America live better than most of the citizens in these countries and have so many more opportunities. I wish they realize that and take advantage of their good fortune...to live in America. OK, I'll step off my soapbox.

Tom and I arrived home safe and sound with two weeks' worth of laundry, upside down body clocks, a mild cold for me, 50 degree weather, and internet that was not working, thus the delay of this post. Where will we go next? Stay tuned! YOLO!!