Happy in Hilo, Hawaii

It is always exciting when you get to land after almost a week at sea. No matter whether you like the port or not, there is something very “grounding” about it, for lack of a better word. Legs always feel a little funny for the first bit, especially if the seas have been rough. Kind of like the feeling of getting off an especially twisty roller coaster ride. I happen to love it. Yo ho, Yo ho, A Pirate’s life for me!

I woke up super early because I wanted to go to the special ceremony on the bow of the ship at daybreak. Several of the Hawaiians onboard were dancing and chanting performance to announce our arrival. There were a lot of other symbolic meanings that I completely missed because I was so excited about the whales. YES! Whales everywhere! The sun was just coming up and there were about a dozen humpback whales dancing in the seas around us. As we pulled closer and closer to the big island it was as if they were welcoming us, escorting us in. I couldn’t contain myself. At one point, I practically climbed right up on the railing to follow the baby whale that slapped his tail on the surface then swam right past me. He wanted to play! I could almost feel the alarm of the ship’s officers as they watched me from the bridge. “Is that young lady about to jump overboard?!” It’s easy to get carried away when there are whales around.

We went up to the lido deck for breakfast for the first time, so we could watch our ship pull into the pier. I was pleased to find that I had AT&T coverage so I checked my mails and caught up on messages. I was super-excited to find a message from McKenzie. She was on the road already and would meet us outside my ship. She only had a few hours before she had to go to work, so I felt especially honored that she would drive two hours each way just to spend a couple hours with us. I love this girl. She is a gooder.

At the end of the gangway, we were gifted with some purple orchid leis, much like the ones we made a few days before. We met Kenz and her big bad pickup truck on the corner by the Coast Guard. After a heartfelt embrace, I introduced her to Michael. Then I inspected her reconstructed hand and war wounds. She is healing up really well, and I felt so grateful to have her still. There are a few people I know that make this world a better place just by being in it, and she is one of them. A pure soul.

We climbed into her extra tall truck and we were off to the Akaka Falls Lookout. We stopped and picked up a coffee from a cute little local coffee shop. It wasn’t until we were already inside that we realized that it was called called Hilo Shark’s Coffee. Though there were offerings such as Shark Attack and Shark Bite, Kenz just got an Americano. I guess she has had enough shark for a while. I found a sweet little siamese kitty in the back and cuddled her for a while until we had to go.

We hiked the short loop and got to see beautiful super-long spout crashing down the cliff face. It was awe-inspiring. The weather couldn’t have been better, as the sun shone down on us. The forest along the path was so lush and green. It was so easy to breathe. I was feeling super-blessed to be in this space with such special people. Next we went to Rainbow Falls Park, which definitely had attracted a lot more tourists. It wasn’t as grand as the Akaka Waterfall but I appreciated it for the many small pools and the faint rainbow that appeared in the mist above the waterfall.

We decided it was lunch time so we headed in search of poke. We ended up at Suisun Fish Market, where we loaded up on a couple pounds of the freshest poke you ever did taste. We gobbled it down and watched the military planes fly past us overhead. Kenz dropped us off at the Farmers Market and we had one last hug, until next time. We wandered through the colorful fruits and veggies, passing by the vast array of crafts and handmade jewelry. Michael and I strolled down the street wandering in and out of the charming shops. I got very excited when I discovered a large health food store. I have been wanting to get a bottle of apple cider vinegar and this was just the place I needed. After finding it on sale, I got the large bottle and didn’t worry too much about not finishing it. After all, I have almost a month.

We strolled a long the main street and weaved in and out of the shops. I found a pair of good comfy used heels to replace the very sparkly but uncomfortable ones I had brought onboard. I just couldn’t bear the thought of having to wear those foot-killers again. We caught up on our online stuff in an internet cafe, that ended up forgetting to charge us for the coffee. We tried to pay them but they had already closed down the till. This is the kind of laid-back easy going nature of most of the locals around here. They just don’t get wound up about stuff. Or at least the ones we met.

We thought we had more time but were misdirected to the wrong bus, so we became quite worried that we would miss our ship. It’s true that the next island is not all that far away but I have never missed a ship yet. I didn’t intend to start today. We were lucky that Jerad from the Hoppa-on Hoppa-off bus agreed to take us. We gave him all our cash that was left, a measly $5 but he didn’t make a big deal of it. He took it smiling and reassured he would get us there in time. On the 15-minute ride back to the pier, he animatedly shared about his island living experience. I felt so grateful to have gotten “home” in time that I gave him my lei as we were getting off the bus and wished him all the good luck on his future travels.

We enjoyed a lovely dinner then made our way to the show. We enjoyed a bit of the comedian and a short version of the one-man Beatles band. It was fun but I have to admit by the end of the show I was nodding off. It was a long day and I was more than ready for bed. I filled out our room service breakfast order then tumbled into bed.

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Formal Night

Same routine today as every other, except I spent a little more energy at the gym. I seem to be getting stronger. I have decided not to drink alcohol at all for the duration of this trip. I had been getting into the red wine a little too often back in Canada every time there was a hockey game on. Now that I don’t know if the Oilers are winning or losing, I find no trigger to drink. I am finding my tummy aches have all but disappeared and I wonder if its the probiotics I have been taking or the lack of booze in my body. Either way, my stamina has returned and I can really push it in the gym.

During our afternoon library time, I decided to research Hawaii since we are arriving tomorrow. I had tried to organize a visit with my long lost friend McKenzie before I left the mainland. We didn’t come up with any solid plans and I haven’t heard from her for some time so I assumed she was busy. A few months ago she survived a shark attack while surfing. She had to get surgery and I imagined that all the stress was overwhelming. Besides I realized when I looked at the map, that she would have to drive almost two hours to Hilo since she lives on the other side of the BIG island. Still a little tiny piece of me held a bit of hope, that somehow we would still be able to meet up. I miss her.

Tonight is formal night, so we decided to wash some clothes, thinking it would be less busy in the laundry room. Boy was I wrong! That place was packed, I guess everyone had the same idea. We napped until we could get a spot in one of the coin operated washers. It’s really nice to be able to launder your own clothes rather than pay for the expensive ship laundry services. On a month-long voyage, its really necessary to wash clothes, unless you pack your entire wardrobe. As it is, we will be recycling some of our formal clothes being that there are 6 formal nights.

Dinner was delicious with yummies such as garlic buttered escargot and tender seafood on offer. We decided to pack it in early since we would be an early morning. Our first port! I was so excited about getting to Hawaii I tossed and turned. Finally I drifted into a light sleep.

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Fat Tuesday

I was excited to see juicy plump blueberries on my breakfast tray this morning. You can request just about anything on a cruise ship but its hit and miss if you actually get it or not. Last night, when I was filling out the room service order, I dreamed how nice it would be to have blueberries with my morning yogurt. I wrote it down and drew a little picture of a bowl of berries, just to be clear. This morning, not only did we get blueberries but a fresh flower in a mini vase graced our tray! I guess they like drawings. I am already planning what I will draw them tonight.

The gym was quiet again, except for someone who was using “my” pilates machine for a leg press. I was annoyed while I waited, secretly scolding him in my head for misusing the equipment. When he was done, he cleaned the machine and cheerfully remarked how great the show was last night. As he made small talk, his bubbly attitude and positive energy completely disarmed me. Last night, he had been sitting next to us and I thought he was going to dance right off his seat. He was especially exuberant during the sing-along parts. I realized he was a really nice guy and felt ashamed for having judged him in my head.

After showers and lunch, we headed to the culinary demo, but quickly learned it wasn’t for us. The young lady was demonstrating all sorts of natural beauty techniques using lemons, yogurt, cucumber, and the like. It was nothing new for me and I wasn’t crazy about how she presented. I had to catch my tongue several time so I wouldn’t sound like a know-it-all correcting her obvious misinformation. It was clear she had memorized a book somewhere but several of the old ladies were drinking it up so I let it be. Michael and I wandered into the Hawaii talk in the theater. They were telling about all the creatures of the islands and I learned that there are no snakes in Hawaii. Bonus! I don’t love snakes.

At night we participated in the Mardi Gras festivities going on around the ship. There were lots of sparkly hats, colorful masks, and hundreds of beads being gifted around. People were in a good mood and I lasted for a short time before we headed back to the room to catch some Zzzs. Those old folks sure do know how to party once you get a few drinks into them!

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Rocking and Rolling

I woke up from a broken sleep because I kept falling in the crack all night. On most cruise ships, staterooms have two single beds that can be pushed together to make a queen. This makes it easier for them to sell a room to couples or friends. Anyway, inevitably the queen bed inches apart throughout the night, especially with the rocking of the ship and the rolling of the people in the beds. So by morning, someone (usually me) is wedged into a valley the size of the Grand Canyon. There was one cruise line that figured it out and had a nice thick memory foam mattress topper that kept this from happening. Not this one. On many ships, people in the know can request an “egg carton” which is one of these foam egg cartony mattress toppers.  Because of their age and flimsy nature, they don’t tend to solve the problem if you happen to be an active sleeper like me.

In the beginning, our room steward tried to take a short cut by shoving a bunch of towels in-between the beds but that failed miserably. The

next night we insisted on the egg carton and it was marginally better. I am seriously considering finding some string or rope somewhere so we can tie the beds together. I will find a way to McGuyver that bed, if its the last thing I do.

We ate up our room service delivery then made our way up to the gym. I seem to be getting stronger, even just after a couple days. It’s really nice to feel results even if I can’t quite see them yet. The best part of this gym is that they have a pilates rack. I love that I can play on it after the treadmill as its one of the best stretches I can get. It’s so gentle on my muscles and since its fun, I tend to get more of workout  than if I were going it alone on a mat.

I had a bath and the we went up for lunch where I had salad and fish again. The fish had bones today so I didn’t eat it and stuck to the greens. We spent some time in the library in our favorite chairs before deciding to go to the Dutch Tea service in the dining room. It turned out to be mostly sweets and pastries so we could look but not touch. We had one of each of the four savory offerings, smoked salmon, egg salad, brie, and smoked ham. The tea was nothing special but the view sure was. We got a table for two by the window so we were able to watch the waves roll off the side of the ship. The captain had mentioned in his daily update that the swell would increase for the next 24 hours. He warned us that by tonight we could reach 16 foot waves.

After tea time, we tried at the jigsaw puzzle in the library and I was able to fit in two pieces, contributing to the group effort. I felt another serge of energy so we went for about 10 laps around the ship on the promenade deck. Every four laps is equal to one mile and it’s nice to have the seas throbbing around you. By now, the ship was really bouncing in the active ocean so I was glad our walk was even more intense. It takes a lot more muscle to stabilize and keep balance when the ship is so rocky. We had worked up quite a sweat by the end so we returned into our cabin for a shower before dinner.

Dinner was tasty and we got what is becoming our usual table. We made it to the show which turned out to be a tribute to the Beatles. It was a talented young man who was accompanied by the HALcats, the ships band. Half way through the show, the singers wife came out on stage and stole the show. It was a cute act, and I was impressed by how many songs he sang that I knew. I remember singing “I’d like to be, under the sea, in an octopuses garden, in the waves” when I was in kindergarden. It was one of my favorite songs! Did you know they have over 200 songs? And this guy knew every one of them. Infact, he challenged the audience to stump him, and it couldn’t be done.

We got another movie which we didn’t even finish, before we drifted off to sleep. The ship was really moving and I didn’t sleep well because of it. There were times that I thought I would roll right out of bed! I propped a couple pillows around me like a nest. It was a rough night indeed. My poor flower fell out of her glass when it tipped over. I decided it was time to take her out and dry her upside-down so I would have her for the rest of the trip. Our leis are still doing ok although I think another couple days and they will be over. No matter, since by then we will be in Hawaii. Then there will be no shortage of tropical flowers and fresh leis.

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Baths at sea

Woke up at 7am when room service began rapping at the door. We thought because the clocks went back last night, that we should order breakfast early. I was too tired and groggy to enjoy the egg white omelette so I spooned the yogurt into my mouth before crawling back into bed. We watched a show about Supermarkets on the TV while we cuddled in bed, then finally readied ourselves for our two hour gym session.

After the gym, I took a bath (yes, a bathtub on a cruise ship is a very luxurious thing) while Michael tried to shave. He discovered that the outlet in our bathroom was non functioning so he wandered out into the cabin to trim his beard. One complain is that so many cruiseships have one outlet in a cabin. One. Not even a double outlet but one single outlet. It’s not very efficient and I wonder who planned out the electrical. Clearly not anyone living in the 21 century. We had thought about bringing a power bar onboard and now I wish we would have.

After lunch, we went to the library once again. I guess the two hour work outs are having an impact because we were both very tired. We played a little bit of Yahtzee and Apples to Apples while the maintenance man fixed the air conditioning in the room. We decided to take a little nap before dinner, but the nap lasted longer than we expected. We were an hour late for our reservation so we decided to skip dinner in the main dining room in favor of the buffet upstairs. The food is generally the same but the presentation is not. I had swai fish, asparagus and a big salad.

Its becoming our habit to peruse the shops after dinner. Since nothing ever changes except the “Scent of the Day”, we usually end up playing in the fragrance section. Today the actual tester had gone missing so we tested a few other flavors. We joked around and got silly all the while listening to the lounge singer crooning his version of Stings “Fields of Gold”. I love that song. After we were properly scented, perhaps a little too much, we continued on to the theater for the show. I was a little self conscious that the people sitting near us would be offended by our enthusiasm in the perfume shop…but then I remembered the mean age on the ship. If they could smell it, it would be competing with their own over perfumed selves. Why do old people always bathe in perfume?

The theater was very small and more like a lounge with a stage. I found it quite quaint and personal. Tonights act was a comedian so I steeled myself for the pain. I generally do not find comedians very funny. Majority of them resort to simple minded potty humor or illicit nervous laughter with the shock value of xxx jokes. It’s rare to find a true talented comic who can find the fine line between tasteful and trashy, edgy and offensive, and sarcastic and cruel. I always give a chance though. One.

The guy came on stage and started out with a bunch of impressions. He was not half bad at it, if only I knew half the people he was impersonating. The ones I did know, he nailed. His Jack Nicholson was spot on and as Tom Jones was creepily accurate slithering around the ladies in the front row. He made fun of a few different locales but stayed away from the Canadians. Wise choice, since majority of the crowd seemed to be from the Great White North. It’s hard to offend us Canucks, we are tough. But I think its easy to hurt our feelings, even if we don’t show it and the older generations are softer still. He made a lot of old people jokes and the crowd loved it.

We skipped the opening of the Tiki Bar which was happening up on the lido deck. They were offering free jello shots with every drink…no one needs to see a pile of 80 year olds hopped up on jello shots. We borrowed a movie, Zodiac, from the movie library and retired to our cabin. The movie was creepy especially because it was based on a true story. But I really enjoyed watching the sets and the scenery as it took place in the Bay Area. I loved that I could recognize half the locations it was shot because I had been there and in some cases, lived down the street. I tried to put the disturbing movie out of my mind as I fell asleep, so I wouldn’t have bad dreams.

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Valentine’s Day in the Pacific Ocean

Today we woke up at around 830 and made our way up to the Lei making class on the Lido deck. A perfect Valentines Day activity. There were about 10 tables with individual piles of purple orchids in front of each chair. I claimed an couple of chairs at an empty table near the back. Michael went to the buffet to get some breakfast (aka bacon) and coffee so we would have some fuel for the gym later. HAL seems to have brought onboard some Hawaiian locals to teach us the culture of the South Pacific. From learning to Hula to playing the Ukelele to history lectures, the attempt to educate us happens several times a day.

I have tried to make leis before but it turns out it is much easier with the proper tools. The long 8 inch needle skewered the tender flower and I pulled them down the long thread, one by one. Then I got brazen and started doing 3 or 4 at a time. In the end, I think I must have threaded 40 flowers onto my lei. I was very proud of it and decided to make another one, since there were several unclaimed piles. No use in wasting the precious flowers, and I had a feeling there would be someone who I could give it to later. Lei making is actually a real profession and to get a job doing it, you must be able to make 60 leis an hour. Thats one a minute. Thats about quadruple the time it took me. I guess I will keep my day job. Michael and I lei’d each other and then kissed, which is the tradition.

From the lido deck, Michael went to the room to drop off our crafts, and I headed up to the gym to start my workout. I was pleased to see the nearly empty room, and had my pick of any of the dozen treadmills. On other longer cruises I have been on, there have been serious issues in the gym. Gym rats can be quite temperamental when someone is messing with their routine. I remember my 40 day cruise to Asia years ago and having to fight every day for a machine, no matter what time of day it was. If you went so much as one minute past your allotted 20 minute allowance, there was a line of anxious cardio freaks boring holes into your back with their evil stare. So, it was quite a relief to see that this cruise would be much more chillaxed. I hopped on my machine, set up my Macbook Air and interval trained while catching up on my favorite cooking shows. Michael showed up a few minutes later and did his routine. It was a good morning.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the dining room, where the staff was busy decorating with hundreds of red balloons for the special day. We got lucky with a table for two by the window and were able to watch the frothy, hypnotic wake trail behind the ship. I was particularly pleased with my salad which is one thing a lot of cruise lines drop the ball on. HAL seems to take special care, adding juicy bits like pecans, avocados, cherry tomatoes and goat cheese. I had my perfectly baked tilapia on top of my fresh greens for a perfect light lunch.

We ended up switching rooms with our neighbors and I took the opportunity to gift the extra lei we made to the young lady. She was excited and touched so it made the move a little less tedious. After the “movement”, we decided to head up to the library which is quickly becoming one of our favorite spaces.The Explorer Lounge is one of the most inviting libraries I have encountered on any cruise ship. It’s very well laid out and has quite a large selection of books, board games, and magazines. There are tons of leather couches, comfy chairs and computer terminals. People are playing cards, puzzling over jigsaws, constructing emails to their grandkids, perusing the bookshelves, and even sleeping. There is a nice low murmur of people chatting littered with hearty laughter, with the occasional snoring added for good measure. It’s a very laid back vibe. Smack dab in the middle is a coffee shop serving specialty coffee. If it weren’t for the faint binging and ringing of the slot machines in the casino down the hall, it would be perfect.  We plopped down in a couple of Herman Miller chairs facing the large picture windows looking out into the calm Pacific ocean. I found Michael an Anthony Bourdin (his hero) book to read and I was able to catch up on my writing.

We had a little nap then readied ourselves for our first formal night. Michael wore a tux and I wore a long skirt with a long flowy top. On the way into the Rotterdam restaurant, all the ladies were given roses, of every different color of the rainbow. Mine was coral colored with pink edged petals. It matched my skirt perfectly. We enjoyed a tasty romantic valentines dinner before taking a stroll through the ship. I found a cute purse covered in elegant shells, that was on clearance for $15 (less than half price) in one of the shops. Michael noticed that it was precisely the one I have been lusting after on every other cruise we have been on. (almost every cruise ship, no matter the line, carry almost all the same stock in the shops) I never let myself buy it because it is not a need, but a want, and always overpriced. But today it was underpriced AND it matched my outfit, so there was no question it should be mine. Plus, my iPhone fit snugly inside like a bug in a rug. Bonus!

We headed back to the cabin and while I was perusing the list of a thousand DVD’s for borrowing, I learned that Michael has never watched Gladiator. I called the front desk and it happened to be in. I know it’s not really a romantic movie but it certainly is a classic for me. I was happy to share it with him and though I have seen it before, several times, I was surprised how well it kept my attention. The TVs onboard are not the newest or best quality so many of the gory fight scenes were quite dark and hard to see. Probably for the best. I can’t stomach violence on the best of days. Overall, it was a fun and romantic Valentines Day at sea.

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Boarding the Statendam

I woke up to the swoosh of 747’s over my head and remembered where I was. I got excited and scrambled over to the balcony to look up. I have to say, it never gets old. As I gazed over the bay, I saw that our ship had come in. There just 10 blocks away sat the Holland America Statendam, waiting for us to board. She is a smaller, older ship but I know better. Gone are the days when I wanted on the biggest and newest ships on the sea. They are cold and sterile to me now. After taking the sister ship of the Love Boat a few years on a trip to India, I was hooked. There is a a romantic charm and nostalgia that comes with the first generation of cruise ships. It cannot be recreated when you have thousands of passengers onboard and everything is automated.

Michael made us a coffee and we set about repacking what I had strewn around the room. I had been neglecting my nails for months and still had remnants of chipped polish from 3 months ago clinging on. I decided now was a good time for a mani-pedi. Michael joined me as we made our way to the local nail shop. All went well except for the massive cut the young lady made in my finger when filing absentmindedly. I guess you get what you pay for with the cheap nail places. Lena’s only charges $12 for a manicure, but next time I will shell out the extra $3 and go somewhere more professional.

We got our bags and took a cab down to the pier where we checked in and boarded the Statendam. We looked at each other and didn’t have to say a word, when we realized that we were at least 30 years younger than the typical cruiser on this voyage. We knew that would happen but it’s always a bit of a shock when you are actually in it. The ship was well maintained and looked like I had imagined. We dropped our backpacks in our cabin, then wandered up to the lunch buffet. We tasted fish, chicken, and pork ribs as well as some creamy spinach and cheesy cauliflower. Michael was famished having skipped breakfast, so he devoured his plate, then some of mine.

As we were finishing up, I got a call from Flywheel who apologized profusely for the despicable treatment we had from the taxi drivers they sent us. Ben assured me they had already removed the one shady driver who tried to scam us from their database. I was impressed to hear back from them and doubly impressed that they not only took action but in such a timely manner. Ben thanked me for my detailed and honest letter of what had happened and gave us some Flywheel credits to use in the future. It’s nice when companies have customer service agents who understand accountability.

We explored the ship and then were called to the mandatory Muster drill. Luckily our station was outside on the deck, which made it much more enjoyable in the warm rays of the sun. After the drill, we had a slight hiccup with our room and had to sort that out with the front desk. It seems that there were many hiccups and the supervisor was overwhelmed. She decided to disconnect and shut down, so speaking with her was quite a task. There was no one to escalate to and nothing was getting solved. She had become curt and ornery and I was already out of patience for it. It was clear nothing was going anywhere, so we decided to leave it until another time.

It took until halfway through dinner that I recovered from her verbal abuse. With a little gentle coaxing from Michael, finally I was able to finish my meal, and smile. I helped that the servers were especially sweet and attentive, even if they did bring Michael the wrong entree. He stayed positive and saw it as a plus, two entrees, yay! Most of all, he loved the coffee. In fact, even as I sit here and type this he is going on about how great the coffee is in the dining room, compared to the buffet area.

After dinner, we showered and tucked into bed where we finished watching the Imitation Game, which was a great show BTW. I was a long day and I had no problem falling asleep to the rocking of the ship.

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Snow to Sun

I went to bed too late and woke up too early. After getting into SFO at 5pm, BARTing home to Alameda, sorting through 3 months of mail, we decided to head to Park street to grab a bite to eat. There was nothing in our fridge so it was either that or order in. In hindsight, we should have ordered in. We have a months worth of packing to do before bed and travel days are hard enough. Travel nights are worse. After some way too spicy Mexican food, we padded back to the house to begin our effort.

I was too tired to be smart and efficient about it, so I am sure I overpacked. Well, I threw stuff in a pile for Michael to Tetris in our big pink hard sided luggage. The luggage that United baggage handlers manhandled, cracking the sides and losing several feet off them. The handle will never be the same either. I normally would never bother complaining, since my experience with airline customer service agents has never been a positive one. But we trudged over to ask, just to see. To my surprise they were very receptive. They also said that had it been domestic, there is nothing they could do. But when your stuff is damaged on an international flight, they have options, such as fixing the broken pieces. They made a report and now we will wait until they email us. Most of all, it was just nice being acknowledged and heard.

So when we thought we had it all done, we both fell into bed for the short 5 hour nap before we caught a Flywheel to the airport. I was groggy and too exhausted to fight, so when I saw that the driver’s meter was already past $4.30 as we got in the car, I didn’t say anything. He was pleasant enough and chattered on about his upcoming trip to the mountains. At the end of the ride, he seemed to forgot to turn off the ride charge so it kept charging us. When I was standing in the security line, I finally called the guy and he said he was having trouble with his phone. In the end, the fare was double what it should have been. He told me to contact Flywheel to rectify the problem. Ugh. Not a great day to start the day.

I waited at the boarding area while Michael went to fetch some coffees. He was hungry so I caved and let him get the overpriced $10 subpar breakfast burrito. He purposely went out of his way to get Peet’s which is more local than the Starbucks looming in front of our gate. We were proud of ourselves for not getting on that wagon until our first sip of Peet’s. No joke, it was so bad I almost spit it out. Three minutes later, I barely made it to the restroom. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Dizzy and 10 lbs lighter, I made it back to Michael just as he handed the boarding pass to the staff for scanning. We both left our barely touched coffees by the trash before getting on the plane. It was a rough morning to say the least.

Southwest doesn’t assign seats so we were lucky to get to sit together. I really needed to be able to sprawl all over Michael. A couple hours later, we landed in San Diego. It was sunny and warm, which lifted my mood instantly. We opted to try Flywheel again on this end, especially since they had a $10 off your ride promotion running this weekend. Well, the first attempt failed when the airport traffic police aggressively accosted our would-be driver, threatening him and us with tickets and fines if we went through with the ride. Apparently Flywheel is not allowed at the San Diego airport. Uber is. I guess they have paid the 2 million dollar fee to be allowed. We walked down the terminal where the traffic police were not, and tried again. This time it worked. Kinda.

Our Flywheel driver decided to take us on the very scenic tour, despite our protests, and ended up charging us more than $15 more than the ride should have been. Then he tried to convince us to pay him in cash because his app wouldn’t charge us as it was broken. I could see he was lying because it was still charging us as he spoke! It was heartbreaking to realize as we were being ripped off, that there was nothing we could do about it. Since these companies already have your credit card in the system, and you get automatically charged, you can’t argue the fare. Not without hours of emails, tweets and Facebook complaints. Which is how I spent my morning in San Diego. I wasn’t going to hold my breath though, but I had to try. I absolutely hate being taken advantage of by smarmy tact drivers. And twice in one day? I was seething.

As we rocked up to our Airbnb house, we were both overwhelmed with how close the plane was that flew over us. The house is directly under the flight path and you can see right up into the bottom of the plane. I could see a rock stuck in the planes tires, it was that close. It reminded me of Airport beach on St. Maarten. Michael and I were excited, as we are both nerds for this kind of thing. As we were walking up the steps, the next plane plowed by practically scraping our heads. It was awesome.

Our Airbnb host, Michael, was so very friendly and kind. He showed us around and let us store our stuff since we were there hours before checkin time. He gave us the house tour and we were in awe of the love and care he has put into the property. It truly is a labour of love and we were in one of the best rooms. Our second floor Blue Room had a view of the city, the harbor and the planes were now even closer as they flew down. We had a fireplace and our own private balcony. Life was looking up!

We made our way down to the waterfront and walked along absorbing the sun. My whole demeanor changed and suddenly, it was easier to breathe. The atmosphere in San Diego is very relaxed and I could actually feel the stress melting away. We found our way to the famous Fish Market, where we had our lunch. The place is gorgeous in dark wood decorated very tastefully. We slurped up some fresh salty oysters, had a delicious plate of sashimi and shared a light flakey fish entree. The sushi master, Teiji, came over and gifted us with a sample of his favorite fish. It was a very sweet gesture and we were impressed with his generosity and deep knowledge about all things fishy.

We walked along the waterfront and then had a coffee break at Lion Cafe. My feet were very sore by this point, as it has been a while since I have worn sandals. We decided to hit the mall that was close by to hunt for an alternate summer shoe. We tried on a lot of different styles in several different stores, even getting a digital foot analysis done. In the end, we both ended up with a new pair of Reef sandals. And I found some funky new knee high socks in every color of the neon rainbow. Their bright vivid hues matched my mood.

Next, we hit CVS to pick up some sunscreen which is not my normal way. But 30 days in the South Pacific, I don’t want to take a chance. After much deliberation and smelling of all the different offerings, we settled on a bottle of sport spray 30 SPF. We also picked up a travel size jar of Noxema, just in case the burn does happen. Noxema is my favorite after burn care and works wonders at healing sore skin. I was getting tired so we made our way back in the direction of home, when we stumbled upon a place called Spike Africa’s. They had really good happy hour specials so we decided to dive in for a snack. Michael seems to always be hungry and if he doesn’t get some food, he had the tendency to become hangry. After chowing down on some more fresh oysters, fish taco, calamari and delectable mussels, we gambled on the free Yelp dessert. When you check in here, you get a free dessert but I don’t put a lot of hope in a butterscotch pudding. Really? Who has pudding for dessert in a restaurant? Well, I was so very wrong. My one bite turned into a lovefest with the creamy sweet pudding topped with thick warm caramel balanced with just the right amount of sea salt flecks. I was high off the yumminess of it. We thanked our server Bryan who was ever so gracious, and continued our trek home.

After some more walking, Michael started complaining about how heavy the bags were. I decided to give up my old sandals that were no longer needed to a homeless girl sitting on the curb. She was really thankful especially since she was pregnant, she informed me. It felt nice to be able to give someone a break. We stumbled up on a local mexican dive where Michael picked up his supper from. It was super cheap and quite busy, so I guessed it was going to be yummy. Even though, I decided not to get my own, and only have a few bites of his giant chimichanga. I wish I had gotten my own. When we tucked into it back at home, it was clear I had made a big mistake. Taco Rey is some of the best mexican I have had in a long time, maybe ever. I vowed to head there in the AM for breakfast burritos. We ended the night lounging in the big jazuzzi tub and watching the Imitation Game. I felt asleep exhausted but happy.

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Winter in Canada = Check!

Sitting on a plane from Edmonton to San Francisco. I don’t know why but no matter how much I fly, I always get a little nervous. But it’s usually much worse on the way to a trip than from a trip. I suppose when I’m coming home, there is less to look forward to. It’s like, “Well, if the plane crashes, at least I had my fun.” Yeah, I know it’s morbid. Then I think about how I am tempting fate but saying, “Hey its ok if I die”….I suppose the only way to battle the “end-of-the-trip death acceptance” attitude is never letting the trip end. So that seems to be my way…

We had a great few months in Edmonton, and I got to see my family and some of my friends. The weather was quite warm for the peak of winter so once again, we got lucky. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely got our share of blizzards…but January was so unseasonably warm, it was hard to get a jacket on Michael. I got to spend a lot of time with my parents and Michael was so kind to help my Dad with some home renovations. It was amusing to watch him taking “suggestions” from my Dad on how exactly it should be done…he has the patience of a saint. In the end, the two of them had bonded and my mom was thrilled to finally have her new ceiling in her kitchen. I was upset that they didn’t have even one functioning smoke alarm in the whole house, so after we got them three and installed them, I was able to relax. It’s really important to take care of your parents when they get older…sometimes they spent so much of their energy taking care of you growing up, that they are tired and need a little help. It’s such an honor to be able to drive them to doctors appointments, especially when I know how hard it is for my Dad to ask for help…now I know where I get it from.

I am over the moon to be able to set my parents up with an iPad. My dad is nuts about word searches and luring him in free word search apps was my sneaky way of getting him over his fear of electronics. I showed him how easy it was to play with the colorful and shiny touch screen and he was hooked. The “computer” has been one major source of separation between my mom and dad. She is well versed in the inter webs and he is not. I imagine he feels a little left out and intimidated by it all but now he seems to be warming up. He is very old school but it appears we have found a way to draw him in to the 21 century.

All my friends are becoming parents lately, but I am happy not to be bringing new life into the world. I am grateful to have my parents to parent. Some people don’t have that, and I know that when the day comes that they are not around anymore, I won’t have any regrets. Like a hungry squirrel forging acorns for winter, I am gathering up and storing a ton of memories with them now so that in the future, I won’t miss them so much. Well, I hope that’s how it works.

Suddenly, the plane got cold. Man, that is one thing I am really looking forward to is not having snow. I like snow to look at but I just can’t stand the cold. I did get out skiing this trip, which was something I haven’t done in decades. I surprised myself with my skills and only fell down once. But that once was enough. It was extra fun because we wore our giraffe and bear onesies. In fact we wore those onesies as often as we could. Because inevitably some random would yell appreciative comments out of passing cars. It was a great way to cheer people in the otherwise cold long dark nights.

We spent my birthday at Fantasyland hotel in the Roman Room, which was way more fun than I ever expected. I think this is a must do for anyone who has the chance. They usually have  great sales around the holidays so we took advantage of that. I was expecting it to be really corny but it was very luxurious, with marble columns, giant jacuzzi and mirrors everywhere, even on the ceiling. Perhaps my favorite was the round bed enclosed in gossamer curtains. We spent a good hour planning how we could get a round bed in our dream house. And important on a birthday are balloons. The candle, I can take it or leave it, along with the sugar bomb cake…but the balloons I must have. I got a few holographic silver stars and one happy face that bobbed around behind me as we wandered around every corner of West Edmonton Mall.

I had planned to go to the gym a lot when I was home but we only got there once, because I got quite sick. For a good month I just couldn’t kick the cold/flu. I was pretty miserable and drank way more neocitrin than any sane human should. But I was able to heal and afterwards, even (very reluctantly) went to the doc for a full check up. She said all was well, so I can stop feeding any hypochondriacal monster that may be lurking inside.

So now we head back to San Francisco but only for one night. We have to pack our bags for a very exciting trip to Hawaii, Tahiti, Bora Bora, the Maquesas, and a few that I’d never heard of, like Nuka Hiva and Kirabati (Fanning Island). It was highly discounted so it was an offer we really couldn’t refuse, especially since we both haven’t been to French Polynesia. It’s the kind of place I have never thought about going, mostly because it seems very uneconomical. It is extremely expensive to get there and once there, accommodations are insanely steep. This is where you find those little grass huts built over turquoise clear water. They are generally upwards of $1000 a night. At that price, we would have to fly in, stay one night, then fly out the next day. It just never made any sense. BUT going on a cruise ship and island hopping, while we can stay overnight on the ship, that made sense. We will visit an island so tiny that one big tidal wave would wash it all away. Exciting!

And a couple days ago, I happened upon an opportunity that was also, too good to pass up. We had discussed getting to AfrikaBurn this year, and a few months ago, even filled out the volunteer applications. We all but gave up on that when suddenly, a FREE cruise came our way. It just happened to start in Cape Town and ended in London. It seems a lot of people had canceled because of the fear of Ebola in West Africa, which happened to be where a few of our ports are.. I was happy to jump on board and was overjoyed to finally be able to share one of my very favorite countries with Michael. He casually mentioned how cool it would be if AfrikaBurn happened around then, and guess what? It starts one week before we board the ship. The timing could not be better. When I checked into flights, I was able to secure a steal of a deal, on a one way ticket from SFO to Johannessburg for less than $700. The routing is awesome too as we only have one change in the States before the 16 hour flight all the way there. We will be able our air miles to get back from Europe at the end so this trip is turning out to be a real gift. I love it when a plan works out!

So tonight we have to pack and tomorrow AM we leave for San Diego, where we will AirBnb it before boarding for our month on the Pacific seas.

Grateful for going to places I thought I never would.

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Training for the Trip of a Lifetime

2012-03-04 12.21.16Well, its been a while since I have posted. I guess life got in the way. To be honest, there were some really exciting travels that have been filling up my mental hard drive. I plan to catch up on those soon, but we all know its not quite the same if you wait to write it all down. The best travel stories are best recorded when they are still fresh in your mind, when you can still taste the flavors and the aromas have fragranced your clothes.

I miss writing daily, but I find it especially difficult to take the time when I am not traveling alone. Perhaps when there is someone else to talk to, the need to decompress into my journals diminishes. For so many years, my journal was my confidant, my therapist, sometimes my only friend. I admit that I know that regular journalling is good for my health, somehow it just keeps me sane. But on the upside, when I do recall my adventures from the past couple years, I have a second pair of eyes, ears and memory to draw upon. In fact, my stories may be that much more accurate and well rounded by having another perspective. Luckily Michael is a photographer so I have that added resource. But deep down, I know that the best stories will be etched in my memory forever. Those are the moments I want to share, the ones that have changed me are timeless.

So now I have to begin writing again because I can already tell I am rusty. I have to “train” because I have a very important trip coming up. I would liken it to a travel marathon of sorts. A definite Trip of a Lifetime. Since last year we have been planning and its all starting to come together. In September, I will go to Iceland (first time ever), Edinburgh, Spain, on a Mediterranean cruise, then a transatlantic Disney cruise, south Florida, and home to the Alameda Classic Car Show. I know its no big deal for me to do big trips like this, and I have even proven I can do them with Michael. But this time, we are traveling with my parents. This is a dream come true for me. I finally get to share with them what makes me tick. They get to see me in my natural habitat.

A couple years ago, I strongly encouraged them to get their passports. They did. We went on a few practice runs, some cruises and even a Mexican resort trip. Dad fared much better than I would have guessed. Though his health is sometimes sketchy, he manages and even seems to enjoy the variety travel provides. My Mom is in her element. She is like me, endlessly curious and brave to a fault.

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So, last Autumn, I found this phenomenally good deal ($800 for 11 days!!) on a Disney cruise from Barcelona to Miami. Michael and I booked it immediately. This would be an epic adventure and I mentioned wistfully how nice it would be to share it with Mom and Dad. Michael pushed me to ask them, but I knew it would be no use. It was too big, too far, too much of a commitment. They had never flown across the sea. They have never left North America. They have never even been to Hawaii! No, no, I argued, they would never agree to Europe. My parents weren’t that adventurous. He nudged me to ask, because it wouldn’t hurt, and “Wouldn’t it make them feel nice to at least be asked?” I sighed and agreed. I like being invited, even when I can’t go. It’s nice to be wanted. So I made the courtesy call.

Well, Dad loves himself a good deal, and Mom has always wanted to go to go to Scotland. It took about 90 seconds for them to think about it before they told me to go ahead and book it. My jaw dropped and Michael grinned smugly.  Both my parents have their roots in Europe but neither have set foot on the continent that bore their history.  But it is a BIG trip, a BIG commitment, like I said, a Trip of a Lifetime. Dad’s not getting any younger so I am aware we have one shot at this. I want to show them about travel, culture, and help them experience the world…most of all make some of those unforgettable memories together.

You know when you love a book or a favorite movie, and you just want to share it with those you love? It’s almost more enjoyable to experience it through their eyes. Well thats how I feel about travel. I am so honored that they are open and willing and even excited to come on a grand adventure halfway across the world with me. It wasn’t that long ago that they shook their head at me disapprovingly for quitting corporate America to backpack around the world. I would have never in a million years dreamt that they would be coming with me a decade later.

I love my parents more than anything in the world. And to be able to share the one thing in the world I believe in most, is beyond words. It’s also a huge responsibility. I know traveling is not always easy and there will be times they will need extra “coaching”. I have already watched them grow so muchIMG_1806 just from short times in cruise ports. I can only imagine how they will respond when completely immersed. And to top it all off, they will come visit our home in California. I have arranged it so Dad will be a special guest at the Alameda Classic Car Show. My Dad loves classic cars even more than I love travel. I am so grateful for the opportunity to share the best parts of ourselves with each other.

 

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