Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sailing solo with Turtles.

Yesterday morning, I got off of a one week Southern Caribbean cruise on the Celebrity Summit. By myself. This was not the original plan. I was supposed to be on the ship celebrating a one year anniversary with a man I loved very much. Unfortunately, two weeks before we set sail, he decided that he did not feel the same way and announced that he would not be joining me on this or any of our other scheduled (and paid for) vacations. Why he could not hang in there one more month and at least enjoy the gourmet food and chill ports of call is both beyond me and a topic for another type of blog.

The only reason I am deviating from the norm and discussing my personal life here is because throughout this and the next couple of posts, I will be addressing the surreal experience that is cruising single. As a newbie cruiser, I had no notion of how couple-y an environment a cruise ship truly is.  I had been on one cruise, with a boyfriend, but the median age on that ship had been Jurassic and there were many widows and widowers. This one drew more of a mixed crowd but I am convinced that Noah's Ark itself had more creatures traveling stag than the Celebrity Summit did.  I suspect that the original ship's flag was just going to be a picture of two people doing it, but some prude in marketing suggested "Why not just put an X instead and let people figure it out?"
If I could offer one piece of advice to anyone who is in my flip flops- aka the recently heartbroken about to board a couple's cruise - it is to either postpone this particular adventure or steel yourself for the worst.  Otherwise, you might find yourself sobbing uncontrollably before the well-meaning but confused cabin attendant when he asks you for the third time when Mr. X will be arriving.  Or having to put in a visit to guest services to request that they kindly stop leaving the "Good Morning, Mr X and Ms Pozo" voicemails every other day. Comically enough, this resulted in me getting calls addressed to Mr. Anderson and Ms. Pozo. I have no clue who Mr Anderson is but I imagine he was probably some solo guy at the other end of the ship.  Most likely, the computer system rejected outright the notion of there being two solo travelers aboard and matched us up electronically.

Another bit of advice would be to prepared for all kinds of attention, most of it unwanted.  My saving grace was that I had two close friends, a couple of course, on board with me.  They were able to assure me that I was not imaging things when I asked "Is it just me or has every creep on this ship hit on me?"  As the lone member of the single female demographic, I became the beacon for the much larger shitty men who are looking to cheat on their wives contingent.  This is, in turn, led to my rising popularity among the 'women who like to give other women side-eye' brigade.  There was one bleached blond lady with shoulders to rival an NFL linebacker's and the stealth of a ninja who was particularly adept at this.

Our first full day on the ship was a sea day.  I had decided to re-interpret one of my favorite credos, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  I am a firm believer in drinking the tap water, eschewing the antibacterials, eating street foods...all the stuff you are not supposed to do.  How is your body going to get stronger if you don't allow yourself to develop antibodies?  This cruise was to be my emotional equivalent.  Once I survived this, I would come out the other end an spiritual superhero.

What began as a leisurely afternoon lounging by the pool quickly turned into a madcap free-for-all when I suggested the three of us join the men vs women Scavenger Hunt.  This particular contest had us seeking out the man with the hairiest back, searching for a pair of false teeth and stripping a pool attendant of his shirt and hat, which I then had to wear.  In the end, the women came out victorious leading to a near incident at sea when my friend, Lily realized that all we were getting for our troubles was a crappy medal.

We were more spectator than participant in the next event, the Officers vs. Guests pool volleyball tournament.  The two activity directors emceeing the game were hilarious, the crowd was into it and one officer in particular was exceedingly easy on the eyes. Thankfully, the day was going by quickly.

Another round of explaining to our waiter that Mr. X would not be joining us for dinner, not this or any other night, and day one was behind us.

Our first port of call was Barbados.  Luckily I had been there before and knew that the drab, industrial nature of the port was not indicative of the beauty of the island.

I had also done some research and had found a way to circumvent the pricey over-crowded swimming with the turtle tours.  For $5 pp, we could catch a cab to nearby Carlisle Bay. We lucked out when our cabbie, Michael, turned out to be a super honest and friendly guy and we ended up hiring him for the rest of the day.

But before Michael could drive us around, we had to find Neville to boat us around. Neville is the dude with the $20 small group boat tours which he caps off with a very tasty homemade rum punch. Most of the boards I read suggested just showing up and asking for him, which worked perfectly well, but I have included a link to his email address (as well as Michael's) in case anyone else is a hyper-planner and wants to contact them ahead of time.
The distance from the beach to the turtles is pretty short and on a good day, possibly swimmable but if you want to have any significant tortoise time, you'd better bring treats.  It is clear that these slowpokes of the sea have come to view the tour guides as handy food dispensers. As soon as Neville entered the water with us, they came from all angles.

As he was dispensing fish chunks, I was trying to figure out the best way to position my life vest, fix my rebellious snorkel and maneuver my brand new underwater camera- the one that I had planned on figuring out at home, but never quite got around to.  Also, I was trying my best not to kick either tourists or turtles.

I was failing on all accounts.  I was pulling an unintentional Bruce Lee on some woman who kept swimming into my feet.  I swallowed sea water.  I'm pretty sure I punted a loggerhead right in the shell. And perhaps just clicking away with a turtle in your face was not the optimal solution, particularly when there were a couple of remedial students in the bunch who kept mistaking the camera for food.

We were in the water for about 20-25 minutes, hanging with the turtles.   Eventually,  all involved learned to give me and my feet wide berth, I was able to position my snorkel so that it mostly stayed above the water line and I had figured out what most of the buttons on my camera did.

So, of course, it was time to move.  Next up was a shipwreck.  The shipwreck had no turtles, just some Sergeant Majors and other small fish.  It also had a pretty strong current so I abandoned the fight early and made my way back for that rum punch.

By the time we reached the shore, Michael was already waiting and ready to go.  We headed off to Barbados' #1 attraction, Harrison's Cave.  Located in the northern part of the island, this is a large limestone cavern featuring loads of stalactites and stalagmites.  I am not ashamed to admit I still use the childhood mnemonic device to remember which is which.  The ones coming from the ceiling are the stalactites because they are hanging on tight. The ones coming from the ground up are stalagmites and they might one day reach the ceiling.

After a short wait in a visitor's center, guests are loaded onto a tram.  There is also a walking tour option but it allegedly only available on Saturdays.  I say allegedly because while tramming through, we saw some people walking around inside so either they discovered time travel, had been hanging out in there for several days or had made a run for it during the previous tram tour.

This formation is called "The Village"

The cavern has two streams running through it and was mapped out in 1976 by Tony Mason, a Barbadian and Ole Sorenson, a Dane.  So a Dane and a Barbadian walk into a cave...(insert end of joke here).

At several spots, you are allowed to get off the tram and walk along the paved road to get a better look at the formations.  This is truly lazy person's spelunking.

After almost an hour riding around on the tram, oohing and aahing at nature's chandaliers, our attention turned to monkeys. I knew from previous visits that the island is home to wild green monkeys but even if I hadn't, there are a few less than subtle hints all over the port area.

I'd read that our best bet, other than atop beer drinking rastas and questionable public restrooms (those are the Larry Craig monkeys), was at Welchman Hall Gully.  This tropical park is located in a gully-or ravine created by water erosion-that is geologically connected to Harrison's Cave. It was actually created when parts of the cave's roof caved in.

We were each handed an informational brochure detailing information on the many plants and flowers and the shady trail made a nice respite from the heat.

But it was not until midway through our walk that we spotted, way in the distance, a troop playing in the trees.  They were too far and too sheltered for us to get a close look at them but I did manage to get one fleeing monkey shot.  I was content with this, until later at dinner, the couple we were seated with reported that they had seen them hanging out in the middle of wide open golf course.  Instead of walking through the forest, we could have simply absconded with the cave tram and continued onto the 9th hole.  Those damn simians had vexed me again.

Next up on Michael's tour was St. James' Church, the oldest on the island.  The bell on display was made by the same company that made the American Liberty Bell, but predates it by 56 years.

But Jesus and his ilk are so passe.  I wanted to see a modern day icon's digs.  That was when we drove by the home of the island's favorite daughter, Rhianna.
RiRi owns a condo in this community and bought her mom a house not too far from here.
With this, as with all the other tours, there was the pressure to be back on the ship by a certain time or get left behind.  Come to think of it, this wasn't an all-together bad option.  But then again, I had a feeling that Neville wouldn't be exactly thrilled about the prospect of taking me back to Miami in his small boat.  We returned for night three on the Ship of Love.

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