Friday, April 26, 2013

Free Range Friday Ft. Lauderdale~ or ~ 'scuse me while I kiss the sky

SNAFU - Situation normal, all fucked up. A military term (really) which also describes that awareness when, once seated on the plane for the last half of a journey with a joyful destination, the announcement comes that the plane, let alone the passengers, will be remaining steadfastly in touch with terra cemento for the foreseeable future. In fact, all will be returning to the terminal until ssshhhhqwakkkkkscreech WEEE chuchu deeeee or other is fixed. Which took 5 hours.

In my email after I got plugged in at my brother's:

We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience you experienced on JetBlue Flight #1754. We understand how challenging it is when your travel plans are disrupted.

As a gesture of apology and goodwill, we have issued each person on this flight a service credit in the amount of $100.*

Thank you Jet Blue. I don't know who your public relations writer is but I'm sure they could always find a job in politics.

The funniest part was this (and truly, the entire staff was patient and kind and thoughtful throughout) and you have to be a regular flyer into Puerto Rico to get this, as I assume most of you are. We all troop back onto the plane. The attendant again apologizes profusely and let's us know it will be made up to us (which I assumed correctly meant free drinks, of which I promptly took advantage). That announment started up a scattering of light applause...and that's when, after hours of patience and charm, he lost it. "PLEASE! Don't CLAP!! There are some really disgusted people on this plane right now. Just please! don't clap. Please!"

I started laughing...and laughed again later when another attendant told me what happened. Apparently on St. Croix during the regular review pre-flight maintenance (do I need to go into details? Ok, I'll make it short, but you know where this is going) instead of doing the exterior of the plane first, they did the interior...and maybe not the exterior.  The upshot was there was a big hole in a screen surrounding electronics that shouldn't have been there and they needed to find this ONE engineer in BRAZIL to say if it was safe to fly. I hope he was having a better time than we were. But on a life changing scale? T'wern't no big thing...nobody died.

Leaving Culebra

I do love this wee place

I was quite looking forward to taking cloud and island photos on the second half of the trip. But there was instead the glorious full moon. Which I only saw when we were leaving the runway. At last!

This is sort of how we felt.

Ft. Lauderdale coast line!
 My brother and an old friend of ours who lives on Maui but was in the Caribbean and had popped in were there, patiently waiting for me. After lots of hugs and getting back to home base, they went to sleep, she on the couch, bro to the room. I was still wired and went for a walk to the beach. The moon shone whitely over city lights and I wanted to ask a local...'Is this the same moon that we have at home?'

Self portrait

I got back, pulled up a floor and pillows and slept awhile. Now the sun is up, it's a beautiful day and I'm heading to the intercoastal and then the beach to see what I can see.

But first. Where's the food part, MJ? Here, right here. Because when I got back I realized I was hungry, after having eaten two little bags of sesame crunchy things and one a few hours later of blue chips. With sleeping people, I didn't want to clatter much so I just poked around. And there...were sweet plantains! Perfect munchy food. One was enough. ZZZZZZzzzzzzz. The trick to these is, have a Pollo Tropical around your neighborhood, use lightly.

 Have a fly freely Friday! Do something foreseeable. HAHAHAHAHAHA

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Down Friom the Hill and Up to the Sky

Yesterday I headed over to Fajardo to see a doctor about my elbow, or leebow as we like to call it in our family. The dogs had no idea why they were getting a walk at 5 a.m. in the dark but they liked it!

On the way home on the ferry, I was riding in the wheelhouse (because I'm claustrophobic and had gotten permission a few weeks ago when I ran into the captain). I was having a great chat with the second captain, a sailor, married to a sailor - they race a lot in Texas and she used to make deliveries - when he said, 'There a fire on Culebra.' At first glance, I saw that it was most likely in the cemetery area and wasn't too concerned. That's when I saw the other fire that looked like it was in a place I really did not want to see it, close to the house I was house sitting, plus near the homes of other friends. And that's right where it was.

But here is how Culebra works. As I'm pacing the wheelhouse taking calls from people, one of the calls was from a friend saying she was on her way to the house to get the dogs. When she got here, another friend was here on the same mission. One friend took the dogs to a safe place, checking first on other friends. The other friend went and fought fire on another hillside, next to another home where the owners were in the states.

Dogs taken care of, I wet the grounds around the house with the hoses and tried to keep in touch with what was happening on the other hillside where the homes were in more danger. The bomberos were up there with a truck and people were all working together. I finally met up with a neighbor here which felt better for both of us. When fire was starting up a back road (on the other side from the house side) I thought it might be time to move the car, just in case.

Your foot is in this strange world. One, I do NOT want to be encircled by fire. Two, I do not want to leave when I could still do something. But Nature took care of my decision... Sitting down the hill a ways and watching the smoke, it looked like it was going to be alright. And it was. The flames died out. Hot spots remained but the wind, high for days, had also died down. I went and got the dogs and we walked around, smelling the camp fire odors and looking at smoky wisps and glowing embers, below and above us on the neighboring hill (where all was also well, with the hard work of a lot of people).

Another day in Paradox.

Today, I fly to the states, an early Mother's Day/birthday gift from my son and brother. From Florida, my bro and I will drive to the mountains and meet up with my son, coming in from California. I'm only telling you this so that when you see photos of densely tree covered mountains you won't wonder where I've been hiding them on Culebra.

Life is good!

So long, Culebra at sunrise! Don't be on fire when I get back. Oops.

I'm not sure what is fun about pounding into waves on a go-fast little boat. But it was fun to watch.
I got to the doctor's and after filling out all the words, there was plenty of time for a walkabout. I forgot how much I liked this little strip of Fajardo from another time in the neighborhood.

Beautiful ginger

I know I've posted this before but I'm still singing, why shouldn't you?

There are a lot of banyan trees around the hospital. The roots always capture me.

Saving the stone

I never saw bags like this before...

This is not my doctor. But as I waited for him I got an idea of what he might be like. We got along just fine. Word on the elbow? Play with rubber bands and if that doesn't work, I'll be fast asleep and not watch what he does next.

I decided to walk part of the way back to the ferry, since I had the time. You can't tell how sparkly these tiles are on this decrepit wall, but they are. I'm assuming the electric pole there was another 'art' expression.

This is a wonderful old bar. I don't know if it is ever open but at least I have this murals before they are gone.

I love the flamboyant over head (along with everything else)

Get lucky!

At first I only saw this wonderfully unusual rock wall. But there it was, the Lamb.

These steel walls hide whatever was and is behind the lovely stone wall

I've seen a lot of stone walls but none like this. Ever.

Is it just me or is there a Chinese factor in this architecture?

I swear I think that brown-ness is coffee. It is the Burger King parking lot, after all.
 Once on the ferry, the ferry that, by the way, is one of two our elected officials are letting go back to Texas to leave us swinging in the wind again, I was intrigued by the wheel house. There are two stations: this one looks aft because, the capt. told me, there are often cranes on there when this boat is working in the oil fields of the Gulf, which it was originally designed to do. The ferry must hold steady for hours in all weathers while the cranes do their work. Yes, I can see why the reluctance to leave here...

Station forward

If it had to be the last ride on this ferry, I'm glad I got to be where I was.

Only two vehicles and 21 passengers in late April at 1 o'clock. About right.

We went on the backside of Palamino. I commented on never realizing we were doing that and never doing it on another ferry (this is not the island of Palamino, but part of the rocky uninhabited chain that goes up the east side of our own larger chain of islands). He told me a charter captain complained they were washing out the sands of one of the tiny islets on the other side (which I seriously wonder about, but need to research more), so they obligingly started going on the backside. It was fun to see it from a water perspective; usually I only see them so closely from the air)
And then he saw the smoke. And then I saw the smoke he meant first but I didn't see. And then I was driving up to the hillside, saying, go slow go slow an accident is not going to help. I went slow. Thank you, Teresa and Francie, for being here for the dogs!

The first three were with hose in one hand and phone camera in the other. Any shakiness was involuntary.

And then the flames were gone. What seemed like hours...were hours.

 I hadn't seen the cat and figured cats can handle this, but I was worried. After I retrieved the dogs, I got back to the house to find the cat was supremely upset.

 Have a take to the skies Thursday! Do something by trial and testing.

p.s. I don't really have time to edit this so all errors? Be nice. Nice is good.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

And Now, Here's Chuck

This was such an interesting story, as Chuck's stories usually are, I thought I'd let him guest host post for today. Enjoy!

  I had a really nice stay in the Philippines. Most of the time was spent with a friend in the outer islands of the Province of Palawan and I got a little bit of time in the capital city of Manila on my way in and out of the country.

All photo credit - Chuck Handy

   Manila is a sprawling metro center that puts the very wealthy, the destitute and all those in between in close proximity. I am staying in a very nice, moderately priced hotel right on Manila Bay and across the street from the US Embassy in the neighborhood of Ermita. It is not as posh a neighborhood as Makati or as artistically oriented as Quezon City but it is quite acceptable. 

During the day it is very busy with a big park (Rizal Park), an Ocean Park Aquarium, the biggest and most modern mall in all of Asia (MOA, the Mall of Asia), the Manila Yacht Club (which proved its worth by denying riff raff like me from entering) and many historical and cultural sites. The streets seem very safe, even a couple of blocks from the waterfront which are filled with small shops, money changers and hotels. At night it remains very busy but a whole new set of inhabitants appear and it doesn’t feel quite so safe. Street children run in groups begging for hand-outs. I am told that many of these street children are controlled by gangsters who take the money that they receive from their begging. Homeless families sleep on mats and cardboard and cook their rice over small fires. I wonder what they do when the rainy season starts in a month or so. It is a city of amazing contrasts in a country of amazing contrasts. I loved it!

   We flew to the Palawan Islands from Manila landing in the Provincial capital, Puerto Princesa. Google it! It’s a fascinating place with much natural beauty including the longest navigable underground river in the world and El Nido, another designated UN World Heritage site and the site of some wonderful diving, spectacular scenery, hidden beaches and stunning sunsets.

   I did not expect to be too impressed with the underground river but I was. It is the home of over 50,000 bats and thousands of swallows along with cave dwelling manatees. The stalactites and stalagmites are beautiful and some areas open up into huge cathedral type rooms. The Natural Resources Department of the Philippines only allows tours to go in a couple of kilometers, less than half way. The rest is protected. The tour operators collect all the many, many tourists at a nearby town wharf and shuttle them by boat to a mangrove area near the cave entrance. 

From there we were put into smaller boats that a guide paddled into the cave with about 8 of us on each craft. I got to hold the light! I had to laugh at the start… While on the town wharf and waiting for our shuttle some enterprising vendors were selling tubes of sun block at highly inflated prices and they were selling like hotcakes. Most of the tourists were diligently smearing themselves with the stuff. I thought to myself, “Are we not going into a cave? Wouldn’t that constitute the best possible sun block in the world?” I did not buy any…

Travel around Palawan is difficult with very poor roads.  Fortunately we were met at the airport there by Rolando, a friend of a friend of a friend who had a brand new 2013 Mitsubishi King Cab pick up truck and he drove us to El Nido in 4 hours, a trip that can take up to 16 hours by public transport. 

When we stopped for a snack we left our gear in the back of the truck and I asked Rolando if it was safe there. He said “Yes, it’s safe. This is Palawan, not Manila!”. He also lined us up with a dive operator with whom we made 5 different dives over 2 days. The price was about $75-$80 per person per day and included all our gear, beautiful boat rides, coffee and cookies between dives and lunch. 

(I think this is my favorite photo - MJ)

Each day was an 8 hour adventure. The dives were spectacular. I saw things I have never seen before and I am a certified divemaster and have been diving for over 40 years! Great stuff!

   I look forward to another trip to the Philippines but now I must prepare for a side trip to Yap on my way back to Majuro. I’ll let you know what I find there…

   Cheers, Crew.
   Carry On!

Have a take a trip Tuesday! Do something travel worthy.