Cozumel, Mexico 2007
Rainmaker took up scuba diving in 2005, and I decided it was about time I joined him on this Carribean Trip. Not that I dive, well, not yet anyways, but who wouldn't want to enjoy a warm tropical vacation in the middle of January?
We arrived January 5th, and anticipating two weeks of fun in the sun, I brought lots of shorts,a swim suit, sketch book, and hiking shoes. Being a long distance hiker, the 1.5 miles to "town proper" from our motel, the Caribe Blue, seemed very doable. Some tourists rent scooters, hire taxis, rickshaws or bikes. I figured by foot was the safest, having been nearly run over by all of the above on our first day.
David (Rainmaker) had a good deal at the dive shop next door, 10 boat dives for about $200, and unlimited shore diving (meaning, they supply the air and tanks free). Free got my attention. But, unlike hiking, you have to get certified for this scuba stuff. Let's see, rack up $300 in instructor fees. Guess I'll pass for now.
I'll explore the island, he'll explore the ocean. We'll meet on common ground: a beautiful motel room overlooking the ocean, second floor, with private balcony.
We soon fell into a very comfortable pattern. Early each morning I would plug in our 10 cup perculator and get the coffee going. Then, steaming cup of caffiene in hand I would go out to the balcony and watch the day approach.
Pelicans, looking for breakfast, would skim the ocean near the shore, and collide with its surface. They would settle in, watchfully. Every so often they'd take a bite of something.
Below, a bathrobed woman comes out to a table coffee in hand and fires up the laptop. Together we watch the young men clean and organize the deck lounges manhandled from the previous night's guests. Even though we are right on the ocean, a lovely pool, surronded by hammocks, palm trees and cement deck gives us another place to play.
Boats matching all discriptions would head out: mostly for early morning dive trips, some carrying baggage, and some I could not fanthom. I'd count how many cruise ships were docked, and wonder how many were yet to arrive that day.
David would join me on the balcony, and we'd eat some cake-bread we'd bought at the Chedauri Store the day before.
Dive masters, divers and support crew would begin to haul dive tanks to the dock, divers in various degree of dress would gather. Plump, thin, tall, short, this sport takes them all. Once you're in the water, they tell me, it all floats anyways.
Gradually, David's caffiene works, and he starts preparing for his morning dives. He'll do 5 on a tank of air, alone, and come back with photos that afternoon of the magnificent sea life he's encountered. Scuba diving is supposed to be done in pairs. Its what some folks call an extreme sport. But my man is used to this solo stuff. He's vastly experienced, level headed, and well equipted so I won't worry. I'll plan my day's adventure.
Nearly everything is within a mile of the Plaza Principal, just across from the Main Pier. If you want a newspaper, get there around 8 a.m. Young boys will be selling them from the stacks men have brought down on their bikes. Of course, they're all in spanish, a language easy to learn; one I have worked with for years.
When the cruise ships come in, amusement is had by merely watching untamed tourism unfold. Over endulged Americans come streaming past, while vendors call out their bargains. A cold beer, only one dollar. Silver, coral, watches! Beautiful lady, are you married?
There are shops and restuarants all along here, and side streets filled with adventure. You can get the american dollars exchanged in "money" shops, or just buy something with a twenty dollar bill at the grocery. Its worth the trouble to learn the exchange plan.
There's a walled cemetary just off Calle 9 Sur that is worth the stop. Many inscriptions, plastic flowers, and open shelves await the deposit of urns. Sort of creepy, though, cause not a soul was in there, and I wondered, what if they close the gate on me?
Navigation is easy because nearly all the streets are numbered, and are either calles,which run east and west, or avenidas running north and south. Early on, I found a great little Free book called Cozumel Mexican Caribbean. It had colorful maps, and local attractions discribed in English and Spanish.
My self directed tours included :
Museum, General Hospital, City Hall, a food flea market of sorts, Plaza Langosta (a double decker shopping mall, where they speak english and carry stuff geared for rich tourists). I watched soccer at the Andres Parque and took refuge from the heat in a sweet little Catholic church filled with statues,candles and golden trinkets.
A more ethnic experience can be had walking down AV. Pedro Joaquin Coldwell (30th Avenue South). No one calls out to me to buy stuff. No one is nagging me to come with them for a free resort tour with complimentary breakfast. This is a real hassel on the streets fronting the main cruise ship piers, especially if you are walking alone.
After my morning expedition, I would go back to our room, take a shower, turn on tv, sketch, read and maybe fall asleep. Once David returned, we'd relax, eat lunch, and update each other with news.
Each evening, we'd walk back downtown for supper, dancing on the square, shopping, and hanging out at the Cyber Cafe. The cyber cafe is a great way to get online, visit with Grant, and check out his growing "library" of anything written in english. He won't sell you a book outright, but he will sell one if you also produce a book to add to the collection. His cafe has coffee and snacks, and was held hostage to his redecoration efforts. People come in to make phone calls there, too. One night he treated us to a new downloaded movie on his laptop.
As the days elasped, however, I gradually became bored. I'd read three novels, swam a couple times in the pool, filled up my sketch pad, shopped and hung out all I cared to. How does one become bored in paradise?
At any rate, January 20th, we returned via taxi, ferry, bus, plane, shuttle bus, and finally car. Home is where the heart is, no getting around it.
Long Trail, Vermont 2007
July 6th 2007
I look like hell. I feel like hell. After 18 hours on the greyhound bus I've arrived in New York City port authority bus terminal. What confusion. Here I change to the Bonanza bus line. The service people are rude. No one knows anything. No one wants to help. Why ask? Just show up at 10 a.m. and get on the right bus. I'll be glad to be in the woods again. Why did I leave home then? I needed an adventure. I'm learning to take it all just one step at a time. Anything more is way too overwhelming. Its 6 a.m. Four hours to kill.
On trail by 4:00 p.m. Got a ride from a guy's mom in Williamstown. I met him on the bus we caught in NYC. He lives on a houseboat on the Hudson River, in Manhattan. He fed me cheese, bread and a non alcoholic beer. Camped at Seth Shelter after hiking 7 miles in pouring rain.
As is my custom, I was up at daybreak and packing up when two southbounders headed out. The guy in the shelter and his dog were awake. The two college kids and their dog had tarped, and were apparently still asleep. Interesting flat roofed configuration using a Walmart poly tarp.
Hiked past the Congdon shelter, and amazingly 4 people were just getting ready to head out. It was nearly 10 a.m. Crossed a road and a guy in pickup truck stopped with food and sodas to entice us to stay and chat. Ate brownies and has a soda. Continued on to Goddard Shelter. 21.2 miles.
It stormed once again last night, glad to be in the new, clean wonderful shelter. Apparently the GMC has some money and help because a lot of new shelters and trail work is apparent this year.
Hiked 19.4 miles to camp at the Stratton Pond shelter, with its caretaker who collected the $5 from each of us. About 9 here, including a guy who claims to have "run" here from Route 2 this morning, 48 miles. Yeah, right. Not even muddy, in spite of the last hours of drenching rain. No one seems to believe him, but we don't want to argue.
I'm testing some prepackaged trail food (cook in the bag) that Antigravitygear gave me and its way too spicy, inadequate and puttsy. Miss my oatmeal. I remember hiking this portion with Rainmaker in 2002 when he thru hiked the Long Trail, and I thru hiked the AT. I really miss him.
I've been carrying food to get me all the way to Killington at Route 4, 100 miles away so that I can avoid a hitch into Manchester. Today it pays off when others must make that side trip. They don't seem to mind, but hitching alone has never been my first plan, and will make sacrifices to avoid that. So, crossing that Highway, I continued to Bromley Shelter, another new beauty. Five teenagers and two counselors are there from Maine. They are hiking the Long Trail in five weeks. An excellent experience. Others pull in, get water, push on. Then, some come to stay with reports from town. I enjoyed "trail magic" once again, from grade schoolers who are being taught to share without hopes of material gain. An easy day of 13 miles. Again it storms that night. Nothing drys out, the trail is muddy and slick.
Camped by Big Branch shelter, an old place facing the magnificent river. We all took time to swim, rinse out trail clothes, and play. A large plastic box filled with cookies and candy is here, trail magic once again. My feet have deep blisters, very unusual for me who never gets blisters. I washed out my smart wool socks. Maybe its all the mud I've been walking through, and the constant wetness. I've been dealing with sharp recurring pains in my feet, reminders of past trail injuries I thought were under control with stretching, gell foot beds and great trail shoes. My knees have been a constant consideration, and the techniques I've used with my hiking poles and short steps are working somewhat.
Somehow, though, I am not feeling it. Not feeling the magic of the trail. I ask myself why. I'm camped with cool people. Tonight we have 4 AT thru hikers in the shelter. I met a girl who broke her leg last year on the Long Trail. She's back at it this year, and tells us the store we were counting on in Jonesville is closed. This means a hitch into Watesfield. Or, mail a package to the new post office in Jonesville, my choice.
In spite of 6 ibroprofen, the pain prevents sleep. Then, as the storms rage around 2 a.m, I start thinking about the young man tarping behind us. His structure seemed vulnerable. I ask the man next to me to scoot over just in case he and his dog decide to jump in. About half an hour later, the woman a few bodies down from me starts to yell. The dog has entered the shelter and starts licking her face. Being totally dark, she's not sure what it is. A flash light beams on. The dog! Not a bear. Whew. He settles in, and his master joins us.
Two hike out ahead of me. The young man with his dog whose buddy bailed because of bad knee injuries is rumored to be seriously considering calling it good enough and going home. I catch the guy hiking Vermont in 20 mile segments and he tells me about his aching feet and possibly leaving. I realize the three of us are thinking the same things. He stops to swim in a pond, and I press on.
My pain increases, I have a splitting headache. I just don't want this enough to work through the pain and loneliness. Where ever I get off this trail, a major route finding, and dreadful hitchhiking awaits me to reconnect with the bus lines to get back home. Back home is the wilderness of Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina and the great Chatooga River. These thoughts plague me for miles as I anticipate more rain, and more nights. In my heart I know these thoughts are damaging, but somehow I can't stop them. My mantra "my pack will get lighter and I will get stronger" has deserted me.
The young man and other guy had unknowingly gone into a shelter and talked it over. I passed that shelter and was surprised to have the young man come up behind me. When he told me they each had called friends via cell phone and were out of there, I jumped at the chance. "Can I get a ride from you to a bus connection?" "Sure, no problem, I totally understand" he replied.
The die was cast, on my way home. Thats how fast a bail can happen. I have some regrets now, here, in the comfort of home, at my desk. But, my feet are still in pain, my knees still recovering, and the blisters in serious shape. My partner supports my decision, I made the right choice. But it plagues me. I must let it go.
After a night in Rutland, I catch a bus which will take me to White River Junction, and the connection to NYC. I got here to the terminal plenty early, having missed this one connection by an hour yesterday and had to spend the night. I take out my note pages, and start to sketch, and write.
We forget the pain, thats why we keep going back for more. We remember the joy, the power, and in our finite world we think it actually matters to someone besides ourself. But, in the end you find, no one wins and the race was only with yourself.
I know what its like to finish, to slack, to be broke, and successful, and now to bail.
We all must fail, if not just for the humility it brings, then to know you have pressed the limits.
After 32 hours of riding, waiting in terminals, and cramped on the Greyhound buslines, I arrive in Anderson, SC. David meets me at the bus station, and we enjoy a fine dinner out. Its good to be home.
Cozumel, Mexico 2008
We're going back!
This year I am better prepared. I have a 4/3 full length wet suit, snorkel,mask and fins. All of this is dive quality, so if thats the next step, I have some gear already. David asked me to get yellow, so he can keep track of me. He is my personal Master Diver and a certified rescue diver too.
This year I will not neglect the ocean.
Also, I have my Laptop, WIFI enabled, whereby I can get online, work on my writings, and download digital photos to my hearts content.
Cozumel, Tuesday 15, 2008
Today I found my "market" way off the main drag. I believe its on 3 Calle, about 7 blocks down from the main piers. Its very authentic, and a must visit if you are to have anything other than a glorified view of this island.
We got our snorkel gear and dive gear down to the Caribe Blue dive shop. David will be doing boat dives with them. Generously, they gave us two lockers so we don't have to carry our stuff down there each day, and haul it back wet. David took me ocean snorkeling. Its way harder than I thought it would be. First, as opposed to your average lake, there are large waves and rocky bottoms which make walking backwards in fins challenging. Secondly, when (not if) you get water in your eyes, nose and mouth, it stings because its salty. And, lastly there are some serious creatures out there who will eat you if given half a chance.
David was so patient, and kind. He kept having to remind me to relax and just go with the flow. I could feel panic welling up every so often when breathing became labored, and I could feel myself getting tired. He held my hand as we swum together so that we would not get seperated. We watched a manta ray, which I'm told is a rare event, even for divers.
Anyways, got the wireless connect finally working. The owner, Bill, had to call in his expert, who finally gave me his password and user name for the unsecured network he uses. Vista operating system strikes again. No amount of reconfiguration on his end or on mine would allow me to use AguaSafari systems.
We ate at Chedari last night. For 18 pesos ($1.80) I got three tacos which consisted of 6 tortillas, my choice of meat and gravy topping, salsa and onions, with beverage. Wonderful. David spent about that much, and got rice, beans, 4 tortillas, and bottled water. You just can't get a better value.
We're eating hot oatmeal and coffee with fruit for breakfast. Snacking during the day on whatever suits our tastes, then supper together.
I walked north on the island, and saw some pillars of cement, with wonderful base relief overlays. This will inspire future works I plan to do with cement.
Thursday I had a much better experience ocean snorkeling mainly because I got the mask under control and didn't swallow so much salt water. I now know you have to make a total commitment to the mouth piece. Smiling and laughing can cause water to get into it. We saw two different rays, and stayed over an hour. Lots of beautiful fish. Two large buses, and several taxis arrived and let loose about 100 kids with yellow vests into the ocean near us to swim. Because they spoke English, I figured they were from the Carnavel Cruise ship, anchored near the plaza principal.
What kills me is how relaxed these kids are. All these odd sensations which send warning messages to my brain somehow never register in an 8 year old brain. Each day I get better, and learn to overcome all the awkwardness I encountered the first day.
we went snorkeling by first walking, fully prepared, down the beach sidewalk, then putting on our fins and masks while standing in the ocean. This way we could drift with the current, or swim against it, but bottom line, really relax. I am very glad I have my 4/3 wetsuit, even though the water is 80 degrees and the sun is out. After awhile I get cold. Then instead of drifting with the current, I swim against it awhile and warm up. There's alot of stuff down there to see! Today went very well, and I didn't have any problems with leaking masks or snorkels. We saw 4 divers repairing the pen being built to hold in some stingrays and also an eel. We kept track of each other visually, and did not need to hold hands.
Cozumel is really cruise ship oriented. Its a little crazy. Tons of taxi drivers are needed for the unloading and carting around of these visitors. The vendors get hawkish, and that is tiresome. But, this is a large part of their economy, and one can't blame them for trying their best to get a sale.
Sunday a huge Norte blew in and the harbor was closed. David could not go shore diving, nor was it feasible to snorkel. This is a good time to catch up on reading.
Monday morning by 10 a.m all was open again, even though there was rain and good sized waves. We went snorkeling first, then David did some shore diving.
I used my lycra tights and sleeveless nylon top under my wetsuit, and this was nice and warm. I could definitly tell the difference. You don't want the wetsuit too loose because its more air space to warm up. By wearing this "exposure" type thing underneath, it snugged up nicely. I spent about an hour in the water, came home in driving rain, and took a shower. That evening we took a walking tour down to 30th Avenida, around 8 p.m. Saw some places for rent.
Tuesday I went snorkeling again, then checked the store for bananas before heading back. I usually have a couple hours to work online before David returns from his stuff. We did some camera shoots, and even made a couple short "movies". I saw a trumpet fish today, along with tons of other beautiful fish. David is an excellent instructor, patient and nonjudgmental. Its taken me a week, but I now feel confident enough to snorkel alone in the ocean. It will be important to stay out of shipping lanes and use his "diver's sausage", a long yellow and orange safety tube you inflate up and hook to your belt so they can see you below the surface.
Wednesday, Jan.23 I snorkeled for 45 minutes alone. It was alot of fun. A couple times the "sausage" while floating on the surface bumped me, and I quickly looked up to be sure it wasn't a predator. After I finished that, I went to the main plaza to sketch tourists and get an ice cream cone.
Thursday My feet are really getting sore from walking everywhere on cement. Note to self, next time bring serious hiking shoes, with good cushioning. If you have foot injuries, don't attempt to spend much time walking in flip flops, or off brand crocs. I enjoyed snorkeling with David today for over 75 minutes. Alot of purple and yellow fish swarmed, and swam with us, making it more like a mystical event than just a regualar day.
David and I continue our nightly walks in the neighborhood, playing with the idea of renting an apartment next year for a month or two.
Friday I took the day off from snorkeling because David was doing his boat dives. Instead I took No-Name-Bar Grant some books. Last year we enjoyed using his cyber cafe, and he has such a passion for knowledge, I promised to bring some. Didn't promise what they would be! Surprises in store with unusual titles like "Dog Tricks" "How to Avoid Burnout" "You're Smarter Than You Think" some novels, and "Cluetrain".
Some clowns were performing on the square last night, along with tons of new food booths set up, we know something is in the air. The party is getting started. Checked out a Panaderia (bakery) next door to a house for rent. Wintering here is taking on a life of its own.
Saturday, 26th Snorkeled early, brought everything back here to rinse out thoroughly and dry in preparation for packing tomorow, and catch an early ferry on Monday. David will boat dive tomorow, then he'll do the same. It will be wonderful to be back home in the mountains, but leaving here brings some sadness as well.
Later that evening we enjoyed a special treat: Carnavel. For several hours magnificent floats, with costumed entertainers, danced,( yes the floats Danced!) down one side of the main street, and then came back down the other side. This main street which fronts the ocean, is a devided Avenida. At one point, both sides of this devided avenue had floats traveling down them, one side going north, then returning coming south. We watched from our balcony while eating toastadas we "cooked" in our motel room. A local group of "fire dancers" put on a performance on the main square. We watch as shirtless men with torches dance to the drums. Very exciting in many ways.
Sunday Rainmaker when boat diving for the last time before packing up his stuff, and returning home. That evening the parade, same floats, put on the same show as last night. But, certainly a very enjoyable experience once again. I marvel at the turn out, even though candy and sometimes t-shirts are thrown to the crowd from the floats sponsored by local businesses. Music blares so loudly, we can not hear each other.
Monday we get up early, catch the 7 a.m ferry, and then the connecting bus, do the airport thing, and by evening we brace for the cold of the mountain reality.
Tuesday, Novemeber 18, 2008 David and I parked the Geo at the Charlotte Airport and caught an early flight to Montego Bay, Jamaica. We were so looking forward to this vacation since booking it in July.
David is a very experienced Scuba Diver. You may read his trip report about Negril, Jamaica on his scuba webpage.
After a 3 hour flight and a two hour bus ride, we arrived at our motel, Hidden Paradise, in Negril, Jamaica. The bus driver was very entertaining with a rich Jamaican accent.
"For how many is this your first time in Jamaica?" he asked as we settled down in our seats. Most raised their hands.
In a serious voice he continued, "What took you so long?"
Then, passing a KFC restaurant he asked us,"Do you know what that sign means?" and we called out "Kentucky Fried Chicken!"
"No mon, Keep From Cooking", he replied.
Montego Bay is a large, modern city. I quickly noticed the difference as we travelled through the country side : goats grazing on the hills near the roadway, cattle crossing the highway, villages with small, colorful houses, uniformed children getting out of school, narrow streets in Lucea with tight dangerous corners, lush landscape all bordering the ocean, and many views which left no doubt about the prevailing poverty.
We arrived at our motel after dropping off other vacationers at fancy gated golf resorts along the way. I was glad we'd be in Negril, within walking distance of downtown. You get the whole flavor of a place that way.
Wednesday we made a pot of early morning coffee, then went to breakfast, included with our room. It was served in a wonderful gazebo next to the pool. We chose from the menu, and our chef cooked it fresh. Absolutely delicious.
Due to the weather, David couldn't go diving, so we spent the day walking around, first visiting the beach, then heading downtown, and going grocery shopping. We changed some money at the bank: Seventy two Jamaican for one dollar. The restaurant last night gave 65 per dollar, so its an advantage to use Jamaican money.
Thursday again no diving for David. This makes for a long day for him, but after breakfast we were able to go on a filming expedition. I posted two films at Youtube which I hope you enjoy. That night we went to hear a live band perform and watch a firedancer.
Friday David finally got to put in a couple dives. The company he went with picked him up, and I spent the morning reading, watching t-v, and walking on the beach. Its really nice and warm. When David got back, we went snorkeling. Before supper, we sat on our private patio enjoying the scenery and smells of Negril. Ganja is commonly in the air.
Saturday was very similar to Friday. After we take an afternoon nap, we walk downtown to shop, eat out, and fend off persistant taxi drivers. One evening we counted 27 attempts to get our buisness while walking downtown. This becomes very annoying because of all the horn beeping, calling out to us, and general harrassment. We noticed a guy sleeping in the ditch on the way back, using a large plastic bag as a blanket. We noticed that every night he sleeps there in that exact same spot.
Sunday I found a good place to buy t-shirts and have become more comfortable with the locals trying to start up conversations and sell stuff. I met a man with a photo album of all the tours he's given, and family members.
That night the best music on the beach was coming from a local place. A security guard informed us it was a private wedding as we tried to enter. Most music here starts 10 p.m and goes until 2 a.m.
Monday while at breakfast, we were treated to a side dish of ackee, the Jamaican National Dish. Made with salt fish,it resembled deep yellow scrambled eggs with a smooth spungy texture.
Later, while snorkeling two jet skis came very near me to ask if I wanted to rent one. This is not a safe environment because you can't hear them, and due to the waves they may not see you in time to stop. Swimming and boating are done in the same area, apparently. I will definitly miss the warm weather here, and lush greenery surrounding this motel.
Tuesday we were awaken by our next door neighbor's loud complaining. We figured there could soon be violence if she didn't relent. We turned on the t-v, and waited while the office took care of matters. Turns out she was on the phone, so no shots were fired, nobody beaten.
After finishing breakfast, our taxi driver arrived to take us to the airport. This was an amazing adventure, and seldom does one's life come so near termination as riding 50 miles to Montego Bay with a guy like this. Aparently there is nothing preventing oncomimg traffic from passing slower vehicles the same time you are. All four vehicles involved somehow make it work. I decided to listen to the reggea our driver had turned up, and not watch. I figured he must value his life as much as I did mine. 70 minutes later, we reached the airport.
I was patted down, my bags searched, while David sailed through. Interesting. Our flight was noneventful. Arriving in Charlotte, I donned more clothing, we reunited with the Geo, and were happily homeward bound.
I started making short "films" for YouTube in May 2008. This first attempt was so much fun, I plan a whole series of clips dealing with backpacking and survival skills.