Monthly Archives: August 2017

Our First Cruise: Curacao’s Blue Bay Beach

Posted by Cassie

C B Curacao
B and Me in Curacao

Our day in Curacao also started with no set plans. We checked out the view of the city from atop the ship and wore our swimsuits and brought our snorkels in hope of walking or taking a taxi down to a nearby beach. We are so spoiled because we have beaches all around us here in Puerto Rico, but every beach is different and we wanted to see how Curacao compared. If you go on a Caribbean vacation, it is sort of a mandate that you spend at least one day at the beach, right?!

Bridge over city
Britton with Williamstad, Curacao in the background with its futuristic looking skybridge

As we were collecting ourselves off the ship, we ran into our tablemates Tiffany and Keno and asked what their plans were for the day. They said they just wanted to go to a nice, not-too-crowded beach, just like us! So we decided to share a taxi. There was a closer man-made beach called Mambo, but the taxi driver persuaded us to go a little further to Blue Bay. As we drove along, I again remarked about how very dry everything was in Curacao and we did spot a flamingo quickly out the window.

Blue Bay golf course
Blue Bay Beach  and golf course was very well maintained and obviously watered by some outside/municipal? source

Unfortunately, we didn’t bring much money because we were anticipating staying near the ship. We quickly found out that unlike in Puerto Rico, there are private beaches in Curacao and they can charge you to use them!! It was $8 per person to access the Blue Bay Beach which was located inside a golf course resort. Thankfully, Tiffany and Keno helped us to cover the shortage we had so that we could stay and not turn around and take the taxi right back! It was a stunningly beautiful beach, but I am so thankful that in Puerto Rico there are no private beaches.

Curacao colors
The beautiful waters of Blue Bay Beach. It’s easy to see how it got its name and why curacao liquor is this shade of blue

Date palm
Date palm and playground area

Golf course
The golf course attempted to keep things lush, but it is obviously still a desert

The lizards were a little different from what I’m used to as well. Keeping with the blue theme, this one had blue feet!

Keno and Tiff 2
With friends Keno and Tiffany at Blue Bay

We swam around and snorkeled for a bit. Where the dark blue waters touched the turquoise there were some incredible things to see that I haven’t seen while snorkeling in Puerto Rico such as the amazing purple tube coral (organ pipe coral) that looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss story. The way the dark waters blended with the light also had a faint quality of oil mixing with water. As I dove deep to touch the white sands and stir up the schools of blue tang, rainbow parrot, needlenosed eels and other fish I felt as if I were swimming in an aquarium. It was so fantastically wonderful.

C snorkeling
Peeking my head up for a moment while snorkeling

Britton swimming
Britton relaxing in the warm Caribbean waters

When we went back to meet up with Keno and Tiffany we asked how their snorkeling was going. They said it was fun, but they hadn’t seen anything really. I said they needed to go over by the piers and the little huts where the waters turned dark. Tiffany had a fear of deep water, but I told her there was nothing to worry about. You won’t sink! She worked through her fear and after a good long time, she slid from the pier into the water and was so excited to see some of what I had seen, though she didn’t go out as far or as deep.

Cassie and Tiffany
Talking her into it!

Showing her how simply it’s done

I scrambled up and down the rocks near the pier for a while until a Dutchman warned me of stonefish! I snorkeled with him for some time and he showed me three of them in a small vicinity. They are very good at camouflaging to their environment and I could have easy grabbed one or stepped on one had they been hiding out on the rocks.  These are fish you don’t want to encounter physically, or our stay in Curacao could have included a trip to the hospital!

Keno and blue waters
Snorkeling with Tiffany on the dark and light side of the water while Keno watched and snapped photos

C Happy Cassie
Hanging out under the palm frond palapa huts

Cassie on pier
While the water was gorgeous, the raw landscape was harsh and dry!

Cassie under
Checking out the little restaurant area

Something else we learned was that topless swimming was completely allowed. To our American eyes this started out as a little shocking, but slowly became normal as mothers and daughters walked and lazed around just as the men without anything on top!

Through the window
Through the looking glass of a gorgeous view

It was a wonderful day, but we came back sunburnt, salty and hungry! There also wasn’t time to explore much else in Curacao before heading back onboard. I am sure that the rest of Curacao is very different from this resort, but it was just the perfectly picturesque vision many people have of a Caribbean vacation and I was ok with that too.

A postcard perfect day

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Our First Cruise: Bonaire

Posted by Cassie

After traveling throughout the night we arrived in Kralendijk, Bonaire making it our first stop of the cruise. Our cruise, as it turned out, was to all Dutch or formally Dutch islands. I know very little about Dutch or Holland, and barely skimmed the surface of Dutch colonialism in our stops. Three of the four stops were also to the southern Caribbean closer to South America than north, the exception being St Maarten.

Overlooking Bonaire
Overlooking Bonaire from upon high -notice all the lounge chairs are empty as nearly everyone had left.

We got in the habit of checking out the port cities from high above on the cruise ship each day before exiting. This gave us the ability to see from a bird’s eye view what was walkable and anything else of interest. The boat was eerily vacated by the time we descended and left, but I much preferred it to the crowd of masses on sea days. It was only on port days that we enjoyed the pool and other areas that were otherwise way too packed.

At the pool
Enjoying one of the empty pools on a port day

Since it was our first stop, we thought we would play it by ear and just wander around near the port of Kralendijk. The process to leave the ship was very simple. There were no customs agents of any sort. No passport stamping at all coming or going. When we exited the boat, they simply scanned our Sea Pass card and we descended. To reboard, we rescanned and went through a metal detector by the security company hired by the cruiseline.

Mind Your Head -I thought this sign was interesting for a few reasons

Britton and flowers
It started as a bit of a cloudy day and then turned hot and sunny

Being the anti-authoritarian rebel I am (haha), when they said to go left for “great shopping” we went right to see what Kralendijk was really like. We ended up in sort of a ghetto neighborhood and in an Asian grocery store.

sodas Liquor
Some things on the shelf of the store

I enjoyed looking at all the products I have never seen elsewhere. One thing about being on a cruise with all the gourmet foods you can stuff in your system is that you don’t have a desire to try any of the local cuisine of the stops you take which is a shame because you can learn a lot about a culture through its food.

Britton beers
Britton hot and sweaty with two different beers we have never seen before

We did, however, get a chance to try local light beers at each of our stops. These included Zulia, Claro, Bright, and a different variety of Amstel.

Let Op
I loved seeing all the road signs in Dutch. Let OP! Drempels

I stopped in to a photocopy shop to get copies of our passports because they said onboard that we should have some sort of identification with us, but that a copy would suffice. I talked with the woman behind the counter and she spoke more Spanish with me than English though it was interspersed with what I think was Dutch. I ran into some Dominicans, Colombians and Venezuelans in the stores too, a reminder of how much impact Latin America has on these Dutch islands.  This was also our first introduction to Papiamento, the pidgin and commonly spoken language in the A, B, C islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.

Cactus fence
The first signs we weren’t in the lush tropics anymore, but rather a desert were these cactus fences. Also, note the milkweed to the right where we also saw a lot of butterflies feeding

As I was inside the photocopy shop, Britton waited outside and set down the bag of goodies that we bought in the grocery store in order to throw away a beer bottle. When he came back to it 30 seconds later, he found someone rifling through it. He yelled that it was his bag and the guy started to give him aggressive attitude and posturing. Britton said he started to feel the heat rise and tried to diffuse the situation speaking in Spanish and English “it’s ok, amigo, friend” and finally the guy left the bag alone. After that we grabbed it, got the heck out of there and went left after all.

Street Scene Bonaire
Street scene in Bonaire

Flamingo Express po
Bonaire is known for its flamingos and nearly everything uses this spirit animal including the post office

Building in Bonaire
Apparently this was some sort of government building whose sign I didn’t understand because I again got ushered out

Downtown Bonaire
Cool old Dutch architecture – and cannons!

Our day in Bonaire was pretty short with a departure time of just 5pm, so we just barely got a feel for it and went back aboard the ship to take more pictures from above. If we had gotten up earlier or had more time in general I would have liked to have seen the flamingos, some of the beaches or gone on the ATV tour, but for our first stop we felt pretty content with just walking around a bit.

Britton Bonaire
Britton and Bonaire

Bonaire sea cow
I thought the Sea Cow was a pretty funny little boat

That evening as the ship left Bonaire on the way to Curacao, we watched a lovely sunset off the deck and prepared for another exciting port day.

Watching the sunset BC boat sunset

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Our First Cruise: The Ship At Sea

Posted by Cassie

C Cruise Ship
The huge cruise ship was filled with 3000 passengers and about 1500 staff

When we moved to Puerto Rico, the idea was for it to be our launching pad to see more of the world: To live a life transplanet. Over the last four years we have been very involved in improving the land, tearing down the existing abandoned house, building the cabin in the jungle, planting trees and making trails that we have hardly had a chance to lift our heads up and look around. Yes! We live on a beautiful tropical island, but what else is out there? This week we finally took our trip off the island.

Cruise Ship from above
By land, sea and air. Our cruise ship is just to the left under the wing

For me, I haven’t left Puerto Rico in 3 years, 11 months so I was pretty excited. We figured checking out some of the rest of the Caribbean would be a good start for us. How about going on a cruise? I have been somewhat reluctant to take a cruise because I really have a disdain for anything mass-produced and I hate feeling like one of a crowd. A sheeple if you will. However, after a long talk we decided this might be just what we needed to recenter, reconnect with civilization and remember why we chose to be jungle hillbillies in the first place.

Small commuter plane

We took the small commuter plane out of Mayaguez because you can just leave your vehicle there without any cost to park. It was a beautiful short little flight of only 30-40 minutes. When we arrived in San Juan we took a taxi to the port. I was a little overwhelmed by the people, the process and the sheer scale of what we were about to embark upon. We had also not eaten anything in anticipation of the gluttony that was about to ensue. However, that made it even harder to concentrate on the stimulation all around.

During the drill

After arriving on the ship, checking in and getting the all-important Sea Pass Card that would act as both identification and the main/only monetary instrument onboard we attempted to explore the ship a little. We found our tiny 100-square foot room and tried to find a snack only to be told that all dining halls were shut down for the required safety drill. They blasted a horn and then filed us out like cattle and showed us where the life boats were. It was hot and uncomfortable to be pressed so closely to strange people especially when feeling inundated with everything around us. After that chaos we settled into our room and prepared for our first meal in the dining hall.

Our table
At our dining table

As luck would have it, we had an awesome table of people who were outgoing, cheerful, helpful and just plain fun. As the week progressed we got to know each of them even more and started to spend time with them outside of the dining hall. Each night I looked forward to not just the amazing gourmet meals that we would have at dinner, but hearing about each of our table-mate’s days and seeing our awesome waitstaff. Especially Willy from Philly (which was actually the Phillipines) who would sing Kenny Rogers and other songs to us and spin and toss his serving tray. I am not sure if everyone was as fortunate as we were in that regard.

Live music by the pool
Live music poolside

Man with the cans
This guy was so funny dancing with 4 huge cans of Fosters on his head

The next day was “at sea” which meant we would spend the whole day with everyone else on the ship. It was a great chance for us to wander around and explore the boat. The pool was definitely the place to be. There was not a single lounge chair available and it felt very crowded, so we didn’t spend much time there even though it had a great atmosphere. Probably my biggest complaint about being on the cruise in general was just that there were almost always people EVERYWHERE.

Breakfast with a view
Buffet breakfast/lunch at the Windjammer had a beautiful view

At the Windjammer buffet breakfast/lunch/snack (and dinner if you chose) area, it lived up to its name by jamming everyone in there to jam lots of food in their system. We couldn’t find a seat to eat and ended up taking our plates out to other decks. They don’t provide you with trays either (probably in an attempt to limit the all-you-can-eat scene) so it was kind of a balancing act especially because all the elevators were so full that we had to use the stairs with 2 plates of food and drinks in our hands.

B in an elevator
A rare moment when we got to use the glass elevator

Life saver
Checking out the safety equipment

They do a pretty good job of attempting to keep you busy and entertained, especially on the At Sea days. We watched a super high quality ice skating show (and then went ice skating, yes, ice skating on a cruise ship!!), enjoyed a dancing and singing spectacle, watched the FlowRiders, climbed the rock wall, saw a couple of comedy show and other activities. It truly is like a little (and by little I mean huge in terms of density in population) floating city. I tried to check out some of the behind-the-scenes staff work areas, but was always ushered out and scolded. The staff members were always helpful and fairly friendly but it was obvious that the line between staff and guest was a sharp one, and something else that I didn’t exactly care for in my egalitarian mindset.

Dance show
Dance show

Flowrider wave machine

Rock climbingClimbing the rock wall on a port day

Ice Skating show
Ice skating show

Cassie ice skating
Having fun ice skating

As for what was included and what had an additional charge, here’s how it worked. Almost all the food and entertainment was part of the cruise price. All the buffet which was open almost always as well as all the food in the dining hall. What wasn’t were any drinks besides iced water, coffee, tea, lemonade and OJ served in the Windjammer. This meant that any sodas or alcohol had an additional charge. They also had specialty restaurants on board that weren’t included. We avoided anything that had an extra fee especially because they were extra expensive and had a very easy time smuggling on alcohol both from home and from the ports. One thing we were a little shocked by was the automatic charge of $13.50/per person/per day on our Sea Pass for tips to the waitstaff, maître d, and room attendants. We also quickly and thankfully learned that we could take that off and pay an amount of our choosing if we wanted.

Cost of beer
With prices like this you can see why smuggling booze is a popular pastime for many passengers

Cassie on boat
Watching the deep blue ocean was also very intriguing to me

We were slightly concerned about sea sickness as both Britton and I have experienced that in small boats. On a ship like this there is hardly any rocking at all. There is a slight unevenness almost like feeling drunk and unsteady. Sometimes the hangers would rock in the closet and we could feel a rumble beneath our feet of the massive engines that powered the ship.

Britton and Jason
Britton and one of our tablemate friends, Jason enjoying the adult-only hot tub.

I enjoyed the adult only areas a lot more because it meant fewer people in general though the teenagers as they have done throughout time immemorial always tried to pass as adults. We also felt a lot more “grown up” because we dressed up more. It was required every night to wear at least pants (no shorts) to the dining rooms and the two nights at sea were formal. We don’t have any truly formal wear (like a tuxedo or evening gown), but we definitely cleaned up well. I really like dressing up, so this was something pretty fun for me.

Cleaned up
Feeling fancy and elegant!

Sometimes in Puerto Rico I have felt that our differences as “gringos” are more noticeable than our similarities to Puerto Ricans, but on the cruise ship there was an instant camaraderie to anyone from Puerto Rico. Suddenly on a ship with people from all over the world we had more in common than different and the conversations were always around which city we were from and how we “Puerto Ricans” were well-represented on the ship. It was pretty cool to feel included as an adopted Boricua. We also met people from Italy, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, India, Phillipines and from all over the US. At the Latino bars when they played merengue, bachata, salsa and reggaeton I felt at home and Britton had to remind me that we would get plenty more of that when we got back so we should check out the other bands all over the ship.

An evening full of people in the Promenade, a successful attempt at imitating a busy downtown of a city where our room was unfortunately located directly above a loud bar that played music until 1am every night

Overall, the culture on the ship was unique due to so many factors. Like a floating island, we learned about the language spoken (English officially, Spanish and then other languages unofficially), the television (of 20 channels about 10 of them were about the ship, excursions, the spa, shops, and other ways to take more of your money), the money system (Sea Pass was gold), favorite locations and secret spots, food, customs (for instance hand washing stations everywhere!), taboos (like going into staff areas), pastimes and more.

Wall E
Watching Wall-E in our tiny room was somewhat ironic because we felt like the floating, wastefully consumptive blobs of the movie

We also learned of the social strata and structure with the Captain basically acting as the leader of the community, but the Cruise Director as the main face of the ship. As guests I felt more like a product than a person because we had to be managed and squeezed of as much money as possible. There was an air of luxury, of course on a luxury liner, but also of trying to pull it off while having us sleep on what was essentially a bunk bed with no box springs. It was a magician’s trick and if you let the illusion lull you, it could work quite well. But underneath, you could see all the work it took to maintain a place without any plant or animal life whatsoever. It was a fabrication of fantasy and not close to real at all.

To give you a sense of the falseness of this, the ship traveling through the heat of a Caribbean summer was actually too cold for me and we attempted to turn off the air conditioning in our room, but it was still cold from the base temperature of the ship. Perhaps we have just acclimated to no air conditioning, but it seems strange to be too cold in the tropics.

Just a fraction of the staff (in this case dining staff) that it took to pull off the illusion

Like in the awesome hypnosis show in which our tablemate friend Tiffany fell entranced, we were enchanted by the ship

Cool dress and shirt
More fun dressing up in Caribbean attire at the Promenade

Two monkeys in a window
A towel monkey made by our room attendant and a Cassie monkey in our bay window over the Promenade with artificial lights that never went out and made it difficult to sleep

If I had to say only one thing about the cruise though, it was food. Perhaps it is because we live where food is pretty much always the same and pretty hard to come by certain things (like asparagus, King Crab, green beans, lamb, duck, etc) and definitely hard to find gourmet preparations. This made it gluttony at sea! We were so stuffed every night it was actually quite uncomfortable and I am happy to be back to eating very little again (well almost) -haha!

Table of food
You can order as many starters/entrees and desserts as you wish

Fancy deserts Lobster dinner
Fancy desserts and lobster tail night where I ate TWO lobster tails!

Fun with friends Girls dance
We found ways to work off some of that food though, dancing in the night club

The impact of 2000-3000 people and a huge ship that is larger than the Titanic showing up in your little island every day is hard to comprehend. I suppose as humans we can adjust to anything and perhaps it’s because of our life surrounded by hundreds or acres of jungle and very few people or luxuries, but the cruise ship industry still seems almost like science fiction of the 1800s if you think about it at any depth. I tried not to think too much about the inauthenticity of the illusion and instead tried to learn,  have a lot of fun and gorge myself on delectable foods I won’t see for a long time.

Adventure of the seas
Imagine an 11 story skyscraper filled with thousands pulling up into your town daily!

Stay tuned for more about our stops and other adventures on our first cruise ever.

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Beachy Days

Posted by Cassie

Cassie at steps
Enjoying Steps Beach

Most things on the island revolve around the beach at least to some extent. We don’t always go swimming or into the water, but we are often near it in one way or another. Here are a few fun random pictures near the sea.

Britton climbing a coconut palm

Ismael and Angel
Meeting new friends in Aguadilla- Ismael and Angel at bar called El Varadero

Madeline and the tree
Behind the bar that is built around a huge Maria tree

Fish face
And this guy with his fish that he just caught

Boats in Aguadilla
Right across the street on the malecón of Aguadilla

Cassie beer 2
Enjoying a cold one on Sandy Beach, Rincón

Celebrating our anniversary at Carbón de Palo, Mayaguez right on the water

Maureen Michelle BK
Meeting up with friends Maureen and Michelle at Villa Cofresí to watch the sunset

Cassie snorkel
Fun snorkeling at Steps

Long tree down
Exploring new and strange sights
With Omar
With friends Omar and Christopher at our favorite bar, Olajas right on the water in Aguada

Cassie cool pic 2
Relishing in the beauty of the beach

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