Yesterday was exhausting, and a bit emotional, so I didn’t write about it last night. It’s the next morning, the last full day of our cruise, and now I’m really getting emotional. I hauled myself out of bed and am sitting with my computer, a cup of coffee, fruit and a bit of muesli (damn I’m going to miss this). I think yesterday was exhausting for a lot of folks, and I easily found an empty table on the outside deck at the rear of the ship. It has everything to make my heart happy; warm breezes, blue waters, people to dote on me (oh dear, I’m going to cry), and the buffet right through the electric doors. I don’t even have to push a door open and there is the coffee pot ready to fill my cup that runneth over.
But, back to yesterday! The Grand Cayman Islands! We have never been to the Caribbean. Don’t hit me, but it didn’t seem all that interesting. I mean, the Romans never made it there, did they? It’s always seemed more a land of party boats, bikinis and laying on the beach with a tropical drink. Three things I am decidedly not.
Oh my goodness. The water is so blue. Royal Blue. The. Water. Is. That. Color! Lord, it is lovely. And then it changes! All my life I have known there is the color of aqua marine blue. You know that blue-green so popular decades ago. They got that color from the Caribbean! It really exists on something besides a wall! Or a 1950’s refrigerator.
I thought the Adriatic Sea was beautiful – and it is. But this was just the most gorgeous sight I have ever seen. And palm trees and beautiful flowers? Okay, I’m starting to get it. All this beauty would have to affect your personality. It would make you stop and smell the tropical flowers in life, right?
When I was booking the dolphin excursion before the trip, I remember reading something about “island time” and learning to relax. I didn’t realize this was their official (and yet very vague) warning. Take a chill pill, because there isn’t a thing you can do about it.
The ship didn’t set us up very well for it. They began disembarking passengers by shuttle boats at 6:30 am and gave extreme stern warnings that the last shuttle would leave back to the ship at 3 pm and we must be on it. Big lecture the night before at the show, big lecture in the morning.
It was no easy feat to get Emma and George up and out the door on time. There wasn’t time for a real breakfast. I trekked up to the buffet and got Emma some fruit and a roll. Inhaled a bite of fruit myself and figured we would have a wonderful seafood lunch on the beach, at the end of our dolphin swim. Paradise! It was early, but we had to meet our group and get off the ship!
Emma has been such a trooper, but you can tell that traveling with two old farts is beginning to wear on her teen nerves. We were getting someto attitude, which came out in ways that backfired on herself.
Tropical sun equals big sunburn. I hauled out the ever-depleting bottle of 100 SPF sunscreen. Emma, with her milky white complexion doesn’t want a tan. At least she says that. I suspect these days of tropical sun have made her think she might want to be a bit golden. First off, she didn’t want to put on the sunblock. All kinds of reasons. It ruins her makeup (she didn’t need makeup, she was going to be swimming in the sea and it would all run down her face); the sunblock is too sticky (that’s why it is 100 SPF!), etc. We were told to wear our bathing suits to the place, so I offered to put some on her back – NO! She had already done that. I backed off and figured she would figure it out soon enough.
She won’t admit it, but I’m sure she didn’t use any sunscreen at all. If she did, it sure didn’t cover much. By the time our poor little lobster red girl got home last night, she was in serious misery. It’s tough growing up.
I got the two grumps to our meeting location, and was seriously contemplating abandoning the excursion and letting the two of them do it on their own. George made a comment about being ready to go home, and I had a little Grandma Meltdown about the lovely prospect of spending the rest of my life on a ship – all alone and enjoying it. They both looked surprised and decided it was a good time to be mute. I asked Emma to go get a bottle of water to take with us, and she scurried off, eager to get Grandma’s good humor back. George wisely stayed very quiet and read his book.
We got off the shuttle and stepped into a big bazaar that set the female hormones in shopping mode. But our shuttle was late for our excursion, so we hurried like lemmings to the gathering spot. Lovely people with incredible accents and toned bodies met us with a grin and directed us to a line. We could see the bazaar booths and shops, but couldn’t quite reach them. Get out of line and the hundreds behind us would snatch our spot. Wiping the shopping drool from my lips, I consoled myself that we should have three hours to shop afterwards.
An hour later, we were still standing in line. Now sweating, getting hungry, and the entire group was turning mean. George doesn’t do lines well. In fact, neither Emma or George will stand in a line. Another similarity in their personalities. Rather than whack them with our beach bag, I sent them to sit on a bench and I stayed in line. Better to listen to strangers complaining than the snivelings of your own flesh and blood.
People began harassing the excursion company people. They gave a laid bag wave and said we would be leaving at any time. All the other excursions were long gone. The turtle swimmers, the champagne wave tour (really was wishing I had gone with those folks) – all had left long ago. I’m seeing my three hour shopping tour after our excursion evaporating into a fish on a stick lunch and a race through the stalls.
Finally, official word came that we were waiting for enough people to fill up the luxury tour bus. We look around – no other excursions are there – where are the people coming from? Are we waiting for another cruise ship to come into port? There was some panic when we realized the company logo on the excursion embarking sign said Carnival Cruises. Had they put us in the wrong company line? The old farts were turning vicious. The excursion folks looked like they were trying to remember where they had put the mace spray, when an old, surly looking woman in dreadlocks, wearing a bus uniform sauntered up. There was a hurried conversation and they herded us to our luxury coach.
It was a small dumpy shuttle that wouldn’t begin to hold us all. We were a group of 50 and the bus held maybe 30. And we had waited over an hour to fill up the bus? The crowd came to the same conclusion and there was a crush to get on board. Don’t get left behind! It will take three more hours! Ever competitive, I shoved Emma and drug George. We were the last three to get on the bus. George ended up sitting in a seat over a wheel well which meant he had to bend his knees into his chin to sit there.
George does not bend. Over the years his body has learned to conform to the shape of our couch, which is straight. I’m still not sure how he made it, and the whole bus was trying to encourage him to bend that knee and tuck in that foot. The surly woman scowled at us, muttered something that sounded like a voodoo chant, and got behind the wheel. A cheerful woman who had ended up in a jump seat in front of the door (I was terrified the door would open and she would tumble out), asked the driver in a jolly voice if she could drive. She explained she had never driven on the wrong side of the road (obviously an American on a British road) and always wanted to do so. She was joking, but Ms. Voodoo put a metal pin straight through this woman’s heart with her eyes. The woman stopped smiling, shut her mouth and looked like she was praying.
There were large signs all over the bus that the happy employees of this bus line appreciated tips. And they took dollars. There were printed signs, and hand drawn ones were also posted. Not wishing to be cursed by the voodoo driver, I handed Emma some money to tip the driver when we got off. Emma loves to give tips, and I love to let her do it. I wanted to take a photo of her, but she was too scary to ask. She probably would have decided why poke a pin in a doll when I was so handy – just go straight for the jugular. Use your imagination.
The island is absolutely lovely, and there are chickens running everywhere! Emma revived her good mood checking out all the baby chicks scampering every direction. George just looked like he was extremely worried about being able to get off the wheel well and was refusing to speak.
We made it to the Dolphin spot and the group helped extricate George. Only two people feared Ms Voodoo enough to tip her and she glared appropriately at both of us. Without a word, she climbed aboard and drove off, presumably to purchase a new box of pins and have time to fashion 30 dolls before the return trip.
The Dolphin swim was amazing. For Emma, without a doubt, it was the highlight of our entire journey. She was, simply put, in heaven.
I was, to be frank, ready to have a panic attack. When I booked the excursion, I had to pay for George and I to also have this swimming experience – or Emma couldn’t do it. Minors cannot swim alone. I have already mentioned that I don’t swim. Let alone get my face wet – even in the shower. It is a little known fact that millions of people die each year from face drowning deaths in home showers. I know, I know, you thought it was so safe.
George has always been a strong swimmer, and I have artfully managed not to learn all these years. I was wearing my bathing suit, because I had been told to. This is not something I enjoy. It is better to maintain an air of mystery than see the virtual reality of my behind. To preserve my panicking dignity, the swimsuit bottom was covered it up with leggings and a swim suit cover that looks like a dress. Three layers in the tropical heat. No worry about getting a sunburn! My bathing suit has a little skirt to cover up my now deflated hefty hiney (I have lost 85 pounds), which has the habit of flapping and slapping if not encased in spandex. The skirt stuck in my leggings was driving me crazy, and I wanted to shove my hands down my pants and straighten it out. It might have got some old fart excited, except they were all busy coating their heads with handfuls of sun screen. Nothing like old men with globs of white goo on their heads to get women titillated. I was so hot and sticky that it was relief to take them off to take the leggings and dress off. But then reality faced me. It was time to get in the water. Could I do this?
Dolphins, and water, and me. Emma was bouncing with excitement, George was looking as excited as he could in a bathing suit and black dress shoes. I’m wondering if it would violate health laws if I threw up in the dolphin pond.
They gave each of us a life preserver and I cinched it so tight I could barely breathe. I got our “handler” aside and explained that I couldn’t swim, and wouldn’t it be better if I just watched from the side?
With a loud booming voice, which made everyone turn to stare, he said “VHAT IS YOUR NAME MOM?” What a lovely accent, and handsome face. Obviously, sent from the Devil.
“Kathy” I replied weakly, totally forgetting I am Margaret on the cruise ship (need to use my legal name).
“KAFY! YOU DON’T SWIM AND YOU ARE AFRAID?”
Now everyone turned to stare interestedly at the new ‘situation.’ Trying to be dignified, I explained how many people die each year in the home shower, but he pushed right past that and said come with the group, and he would make everything okay. Damn, they had made us leave all electronics in a locker, so I couldn’t Google how many non-swimmers died in Dolphin ponds last year. Emma took my hand, looked encouraging, and pulled me with the group. George, upset he had to leave his dress shoes behind, was gingerly picking his way along the walk in tender, bare feet; still limping from his ride to the pond in the bus.
The handler showed me a ramp that extended into the water and said we would all be standing on it for most of the time, and I could just stand there, if three feet of water was okay. OKAY! I can do this! And we all moseyed our way into the dolphin pond.
Isn’t the Caribbean supposed to be warm? Where the heck are those tropical seas I keep hearing about? Deep azure blue water should be bathtub temperature. The entire group was squeaking and squealing about the cold as we dutifully assumed our positions on the ramp. It did, however, take my mind off of drowning.
Our dolphin was amazing. How can you worry about drowning when this amazing creature kisses your cheek, smiles widely, imitates a motorcycle and lets you scratch his belly? We were all entranced. Totally entranced.
Then the handler shouts ‘WHO VANTS TO SVIM WITH DE DOLPHIN?” The enchantment spell was broken, but nine other people shouted loudly that they did, still obviously under the effects of the moment.
Two by two, foolish people swam far out into the pond, stuck out their right hand and the dolphin would swim into their hand to belly pull them to shore. Of course there were men older than us in the group, who easily swam out to the middle of the pond. When it was George’s turn, he started out fine, but soon tired. I could see him tiring and my heart just went out to him. He is not in good shape, and I can’t seem to motivate him to try. He doesn’t feel well, which makes him more inactive. He’s under several doctors care, and all urge him to be active, but this is a decision HE has to make. But to see someone you love struggle – it is difficult. And maddening. But at that moment, I felt my heart breaking a bit. The years when he swam easily with our little kids flooded my mind, and memories of years past encrusted my heart with a heavy weight. He acts, and feels, older than he should – and is barely able to paddle out in a pond.
But he made it, and the dolphin pulled him back. He let go too soon and was several feet from the ramp. He looked at me and said “I need help.” I tried to reach for him, but was short. Fortunately, a beautiful Spanish speaking lady had been watching him and she jumped in and pulled him to me. We helped him up on the ramp, and there was a myriad of expressions on his tired face. Oh, the decisions we make as we age are mighty. And take more effort to achieve. Please let him decide to try.
I was standing there, swamped with emotion, and suddenly the handler said “KAFY! YOU GOIN TO SVIM WITH DE DOLPHIN?” What?
The handler’s name was George (of course), and he announces once again to the group that I don’t swim, but he has a special offer for me, if I will decide to take it. Okay, don’t get put on the spot here. Am I suddenly trapped in a underwater game show? In short, he offers to have the dolphin pull me along side of the ramp, and all these people are here to rescue me, if I start drowning. I had carefully been watching to see if people got their faces wet (that is my main fear), and most of them had. Emma bounces up and down and says I can do this.
I love her with all my heart, and don’t want her to think it is okay to give up because we are afraid. I’m watching George give up way too early in life, and it angers me. So, I swallowed my fear and said yes.
The dolphin was incredible, and obligingly lined up and let me lay on his belly and swim along the pier. And it was amazing. And I kept my head cranked up so high that only my chin and lips got hit with the water. I DID IT!
Everyone clapped, even the dolphin. Emma’s smile made it all worth while. And I felt good inside. I know it was silly to everyone there, but for me it was facing up to a big challenge. I can bounce in a pool in the shallow end and even dog paddle (just have to keep that head up!). I can control my face from going under the water. But to be in water above my head and swim on a dolphin’s tummy? It was pretty big for me.
For the next trick, the handler gave people boogie boards to two people at a time to again swim out into the middle of the pond. The dolphin would push them on the board back to the dock. I was really worried that George wouldn’t make it. The Spanish lady looked at me with concern, as well. The handler was busy with everyone and didn’t realize how difficult of a time it was for George. I thought he would decline to do it, but the handler sort of shoved him out in the water with the board. George tried to swim out, but got exhausted quickly. The handler kept shouting for him to swim out further. I waded over to the handler and said to stop, and explained George was tired and couldn’t go further. He realized what was going on and shouted for George to stop right there, it was far enough. George gratefully halted and the dolphin pushed him to shore. The lovely Spanish lady hauled him in, and we all breathed a sigh of relief – especially George.
The the handler once again had a special offer for me. Oh no. But then I thought, okay – the dolphin will push me along the pier, as before. And on the boogie board, my head is already out of the water. I can do this!
So George the Handler is talking, all the while taking off his tummy creel that holds the fish he is using to feed our dolphin. Then he removes his shoes. He says not to worry, he will be with me. Okay, I think doubtfully, we will both be on the boogie board? It is good sized….
He tells me to hold on to the board and float out into the water, he has the front of the board. Then he swims, towing me out into the middle of the pond! Oh whoa, this is not the pier. The water is 30 feet deep. Way deeper than a home shower! I keep saying let’s just call this off and he keeps chatting, asking me questions, obviously trying to divert my mind. Because I am a good girl, I answer his questions with my mouth, but my brain is racing overtime. Suddenly I am in the middle of the pond and there is a dolphin pushing me at supersonic speed towards the dock. I remember screaming and thinking that “I’m doing it!” At the same time. Suddenly, I am right at the dock and George and the Spanish lady are hauling me in. People clap, Emma jumps and I don’t know what to say.
I swam with the damned dolphin!
After the dolphin adventure, we hopped aboard a boat and went to Sting Ray City. The dolphins had been in a pond enclosure. By the way, these dolphins seemed to be treated well, and have special fortified fish flown in from Canada. In no way did they seem mistreated, or not enjoy their jobs. Because they are very much working animals.
We took a half hour boat ride to see the sting rays. I thought it would be similar to the dolphins and in a bay area, possibly enclosed. But nope. This is an open area, five miles from shore. It is shallow – the guy said three feet deep. I can do this! He lied. There are obviously no truth in advertising laws here. It is three feet between swells, but the swells bobbed me up so it never was over my head, and I was always able to keep my face out of the water. And there was 15,000 people there, all looking for sting rays.
I’m not sure if this is the friendliest fish in the sea, or the most stupid. For years, these stingrays have swam around humans, intent on petting them. Our stingray handler, Randy (no George this time!), picked up a huge obliging stingray and we all kissed and petted him. These silly sharks actually swim right up to you. And they aren’t trying to eat you!
For 45 minutes, we cavorted in the water, trying to avoid tourists, boat lines and not step on a stingray. Then we headed back to shore. We had sped out there lickety split, but on the way back? The boat put-putted, and it took forever. We now were rapidly running out of time, and would need to either miss lunch or shopping. The options were getting slim.
We finally made it back to the dock and our boat of 50 people now could go view the hundreds of photos taken by their professional staff of our dolphin and stingray encounters. They didn’t allow us to take photos, so we all wanted pictures. They had 50 computer monitors set up, each one with individual shots. How professional!
That, however, was the end of the professionalism. There weren’t any directions on how to choose photos, or buy them. And everyone on the boat, with the exception of Emma, was old and not born knowing how to login, as children can do today – straight from the womb.
Apparently, because it was Good Friday (although it was now Saturday) they were short handed. Which meant there was one girl to help 50 computer illiterate tourists with their pictures. Who all wanted to have time to eat and shop before the last shuttle to the ship left at 3 pm. It was now 1:45 pm and it was a 30 minute ride back to the port.
As the frustration level got higher, the old folks once again got meaner. They started sniping at each other and at one point two old gals started arguing and I thought they might physically tear the poor shop girl into two pieces. They finally brought in one of the dolphin handlers to help, but he didn’t know anything about computers and just made it worse. One old dame looked like she was going to turn violent and her husband kept trying to calm her down.
Their system was strange and didn’t make sense to anyone but Emma. We took the easy way out and purchase the entire package of pictures. It was a staggering $210, but it was easier than trying to sort through the pictures and choose the best. They have an app you download and then it posts all the pictures to your phone. The sign on the desk says you must do this before you leave the store. Then the girl says you can’t do it for a full 24 hours after you leave – then you can download it. We just paid the $210 and don’t even know if we will get the photos – because the ship was leaving at 3 pm. On blind faith hope, we forked over the dough.
Postscript: We did get the CD and the photos were fabulous. There is even a picture of me being pulled by the dolphin, and my face looks like a shark just ate my left leg. Sadly, the disk disappeared and we lost all of the photos – and $210. I am thinking it is a sign that I should never ever get my face wet for a dolphin.
By 2:45 pm, we were all outside waiting for our bus. Which wasn’t there. There were two empty busses, with drivers, but they said they weren’t our bus. The old lady who had been getting violent looked as if she might have a stroke. I finally went over to her and reminded her we were on a Celebrity Cruise excursion, and they cannot leave port without us – it is guaranteed. So take a chill pill you old bat (I just thought this part). She asked me six times if this was true, and I swore it. She finally calmed down a bit and just moaned, while her husband wiped the foam from her lips.
It was now 3 pm and we hadn’t eaten anything since our fruit at 6 a.m. People are definitely more surly when starving. For $21 we bought a small package of peanuts, Nutter Butters, Ritz Crackers and a licorice. I mean small packages. These were the healthiest choices offered in the gift shop. I glared at George when he ate half my Nutter Butters. I haven’t had any since 2012, and if this was my lunch, I didn’t want to share. Food takes you down to the basic core of a person. Don’t mess with my Nutter Butters, old man!
Eventually, up arose a body from a parked bus in the shade – it was Ms. Voodoo, our driver. I don’t think anyone saw her sit up from her nap but me, and I thought it best to keep my mouth shut. I was afraid the old foaming lip bat might turn into Grandma Ninja and it would be a battle of Voodoo vs. Ninja, right before our eyes.
Again, we were last on the bus, and the wheel well seat was available. The others looked relieved when I took it, and George settled into a regular seat. When we got back to the port, all the booths had shut down and left for the day. Oh well, we didn’t have time to shop – or go to the bathroom. They hustled us aboard a waiting shuttle and back to the ship. As soon as we were aboard, they shut the hatches and off we steamed.
Emma, red as a lobster by this time, was in misery. I refrained from an I Told You So, and swabbed her down with sunburn ointment. She laid down on the bed, too miserable to even eat – and she was starving. George and I went to the buffet, the only thing open at this time of the day. They have “tea time” in the late afternoon. An array of meat sandwiches, sweets and fruit. Today, they had added rice and some Indian food. There was something about those Nutter Butters that had set me off. I ate a small portion of vegetarian Indian food (emphasis on small), followed by two cookies, a donut and a piece of peach pie. The sugar binge was on!
What the hell just happened? As I licked the last crumb of pie off my lips, George was staring at me in amazement. Of course, he was just finishing off a piece of chocolate cake, but that wasn’t a novelty for him.
Trying to blink through my sugar hazed eyes, I muttered something about Nutter Butters, pre-planning and oh my god – now I will have to write everyone what happened. George patted my hand and talked gently about the ying and yang of life, the balance of it all and how we learn greatly from our mistakes. I refrained from hitting him and nodding sadly, drank four cups of coffee (with cream, I was coming down slowly from this sugar/fat high), and we read books for the next couple of hours.
Oh yes, we did take a sandwich back to Emma to eat when she woke up. She slept like the dead for four hours, looking like a sweaty red hot dog against the white sheets.
Remember when I said I do fine as long as I don’t take that first bite of something sweet like a dessert? Well, I just had myself a sugar bender, and all it did was upset my stomach. I’m back on track today, and I skipped dinner last night. Not because of the calories, but because my stomach was churning like a KitchenAid mixer making a sugar cake in my stomach.
The problem stemmed from the fact I was too hungry, so I gobbled without thinking. They always tell us we can’t take food ashore with us – which isn’t a problem, because we go to a restaurant. There wasn’t an opportunity, and the food options were seriously limited. And the Nutter Butters were old. Darn, they could have at least been fresh!
Ah well, back on track this morning! A healthy, pre-planned breakfast and I’m back in the game again. My pants still fit, but there may have been a gain….we will see!
Emma woke up in time to go to the late night show. It was the best show yet, and she managed to get her autograph and souvenir CD. She can add it to her collection of CD’s that will probably never be listened to – but hopefully will mean a good time and happy memories.
Today is packing day and pay up the bill. Damn. Now I am depressed….. At least for a few more minutes, I’m sitting in a lounge chair, watching the coast of Cuba as I type this. A few more hours in paradise!