Sunday, May 17, 2015

The End of the Cruise

Our third stop was Cozumel, Mexico. Paul and I joined the rest of his family at a morning beach break. This particular beach included a huge inflated floating play structure out in the water. Apparently Paul wiped out a few times. He tells me it was very slippery - uh huh. There were also several pools, some water slides, and free food and drinks (yay for virgin pina coladas!). It was the perfect way to spend our third and final stop.

We had one final day at sea before the cruise ended. I gave the rock climbing wall a go. While I didn't make it to the top, I made it past halfway, so I consider that a success:
My mother-in-law also gave it a go and got just as far as I did.
Paul and his sister also tried out the Flow Rider. Paul stayed up for over a minute, and then kind of had to decide to wipe out to give the next person a turn. Most people make it only a few seconds. Sometimes it's hard not to hate him a tiny bit. Then again, I didn't try it, so who knows, I might have been amazing. Ha!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Lamanai

Nothing like waiting a few weeks to finish writing up our cruise.

Our second stop was Belize City, where we took a bus and then a speedboat to the Mayan ruins at Lamanai. The speedboat was pretty intense... er, fun! They drifted around many of the bends in the river. It's kind of annoying that the word 'drifting' is used for two very different boating experiences. I don't mean the version where the power is off, and you're just drifting with the currents. I mean the one where they make sharp turns while going quite fast, so that the nose of the boat cuts the tight corner and the back of the boat swings around wide. Check out this video Paul shot - you can kind of see it there. You can at least see how fast we were going:
video
They also took the time to slow down and point out some interesting wildlife, including this crazy plant growing on a tree (I can't remember what it's called):
Lamanai itself is pretty neat. There are three main pyramidal structures. Here's one:
Paul climbed to the top of two of them while I opted to wait below:
We also got to see monkeys in the wild! Way up in the trees:

I honestly don't remember a lot of what the tour guide told us about the site, but a few tidbits stuck with me. First of all, they aren't sure how much more remains unearthed, but they speculate there is quite a lot more to it, which is fun to think about. Our guide also told us about a sports game where the winner was sacrificed in what sounded like a pretty unpleasant ritual. Quite a few of us wondered if folks might try to lose on purpose - seems like that could be the game that never ended. However, of course, it was an honor to be sacrificed, so the competitors were motivated to succeed. I think they also believed in reincarnation so death wouldn't have been the end for them. I really should have paid better attention. Or written this blog post a few weeks ago....

Monday, April 20, 2015

Swimming with Dolphins

Short version: We swam with dolphins! It was awesome! Now scroll down and look at the pictures and video.

Long version: When I was a teenager, I loved dolphins, and at some point, I added "swim with dolphins" to my bucket list. I'd kind of forgotten about it, but as I was exploring the excursion options for this cruise, I realized I might be able to do just that. There were several opportunities to interact with dolphins in both Roatán, Honduras and Cozumel, Mexico. I did a bit of research and decided the only real option was the "Dolphin Swim and Snorkel" in Roatán - otherwise I'd wait until another time to swim with dolphins. Not only could you interact with a dolphin but you then got 30 minutes to snorkel with a pod of dolphins. Of course, it was also the very first excursion to become fully booked, so in between first seeing it and actually deciding to do it, it filled up, and I thought I'd lost my chance.

But then Paul's sister mentioned that a travel agent told her cruises often save a few spots for folks to reserve on the ship. We set our sights on that, thinking that we might as well try, but not holding out much hope.

The day of the cruise arrived, and after several grueling hours of waiting in lines to drop off luggage, go through security, and get our ship IDs (during which small children may or may not have been bribed with large lollipops), Paul and I dropped our stuff off in our cabin and made a beeline to the excursion desk to wait in another line. It was totally worth it. We got the tickets, and it's possible I jumped around and clapped my hands with more enthusiasm than a 5 year old.

Jump forward to day 3: Roatán. I had the norovirus on day 2, so I was still not feeling the best. In the end that may have worked to my advantage - I was too drained to be scared about swimming with dolphins.

We spent 30 minutes in waist-deep water interacting with a trainer (whose name I have forgotten) and Bailey, a teenage dolphin who liked to make a lot of noise. The excursion, of course, had the usual "you have to buy our photos if you want photos of this" portion where we posed with Bailey and received a "kiss":



However, after that they let us take our own photos, like this one:


Paul even got a video of Bailey doing some tricks: 

video
After that it was time for 30 minutes of snorkeling in that open space you see Bailey swimming in in the video above. The water was maybe 10-20 feet deep, and it was sectioned off from the rest of the ocean, so no other large creatures could get in (they do take the dolphins for a "walk" out into the ocean each day, so they aren't only stuck in that pen). I'm not quite sure how many dolphins we were swimming with - maybe 10? They would swim around us and sometimes get fairly close. I had one swim slowly straight at me early on, but I just moved out of the way. When there were no dolphins around, I checked out the pretty fish.

Then, about 2/3 of the way through, I had a dolphin come up behind me with its mouth open, and one lady was like, "did that dolphin just try to bite you?" That freaked me out a bit, but I hadn't felt any teeth or anything - I think it just nudged me. "They're still wild animals" kept repeating in my head. I swam near a trainer for the rest of the time, who after a bit explained that that's just the dolphin's attempt to play, and that if you respond to that, then it might escalate to other types of play (presumably that humans would find not very enjoyable).

Paul followed the dolphins around a bit when they came close, and I think he petted a few. He also comments that "they're pretty sneaky." He said he would dive down and be looking around for them, and then all of a sudden one would zoom past him.

If you ever find yourself in Roatán, the place is Anthony's Key Resort and the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences. It was a truly awesome experience, and I definitely recommend it.

Lastly, upon our return to the ship, we hung out in the shopping area for a while (mainly to delay getting back on the ship) and snapped a selfie with a large chunk of our ship in the background:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Out at Sea

Ah, cruise ships. Such a mixed bag. On one hand, a wonderful way to see a variety of different locations while having one luxurious home base that provides all your meals. On the other, a festering Petri dish of illness. While it was a nice trip, I think it will be quite a while before I go on a cruise again. Between the norovirus, a head cold (which kicked in a few days after the cruise ended, thankfully), and still feeling like I'm rocking on a boat a week after getting off the boat (more than likely prolonged by the head cold, to be fair), I think I prefer other methods of travel. Paul did not get sick, lucky guy.

But enough whining - we went on a cruise! To Central America and Mexico! With Paul's parents, and his sister, brother-in-law, and their three kids!

We spent the first two days at sea. We explored as much as the ship as we could. Here's us hanging out on the helicopter landing pad:
The ship had a rock climbing wall, which Paul and his sister immediately had to try. I won't say who climbed faster (they didn't start at the same time), but both made it to the very top. Paul is on the far right, his sister on the far left:
We also enjoyed the opportunity to dress up for a formal dinner:
Coming up on day 3: I get to cross an item off my bucket list!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Walking Off Donuts

Tuesday, March 24 was our last day together in Portland. On Wednesday, Paul returned to Pittsburgh while I went on to attend the ACRL Conference. We wanted to get some more hiking in, so we took the advice of Nico again and explored the area of 21st and 23rd street in Portland's northwest quadrant before heading to the nearby park. We managed to snag our first (and only) Blue Star Donut: blueberry filling with a peanut butter powder coating. Mmm:
To work off that donut, we walked for a few hours in Forest Park and enjoyed the lush greenery while it alternated between rain and sun:
 


Forest Park is impressively large. We wandered along the Wildwood Trail which "meanders for 30.2 breathtaking miles" according to the Forest Park Conservancy website. It was lovely and wonderfully relaxing - just the way a vacation should be.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Books, Food, and Tea

Yesterday, my tolerant husband joined me on a tour of two libraries and a bookstore. We started the morning with a stop at the Multnomah County Central Library, which is a large, lovely library full of many great spaces:
We followed that up with a visit to the library at Portland State University, which has an interesting shape that allows for lots of great study space near windows:
The next stop was Powell's City of Books, well known for being an enormous sprawling bookstore. We poked around for a while, but didn't take any pictures.

Then it was time for lunch. Since Portland has over 600 food trucks, we figured we'd better enjoy at least a few. There's one block with parking in the middle that is lined on all four sides with trucks. We did a loop before making our selections:
Paul's grad school roommate, Nico, lives in Portland and had recommended Nong's Khao Man Gai, which was delicious. We also got pad thai and mango bubble tea from another food truck. All in all, a delicious and filling lunch, which we carried back to our hotel to eat because of the rain:
Nico and his wife had also recommended the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland - both the lovely garden itself (just one city block) and the Teahouse within. Both were quite enjoyable. We managed to time things so that we were enjoying tea during the worst of the afternoon rain. The gardens were beautiful and very peaceful:
Finally, we ended the day with dinner with Nico and family, and Nico's cousin from Belgium, at a restaurant that served Indian street food. Definitely different from the Indian food we've had before. If there's one thing to be said about this trip to Portland, it's that we are definitely eating well! Luckily, we are also doing a lot of walking to balance it out. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Waterfalls in Oregon

After chatting with Paul yesterday about life goals and whatnot, I've decided to revive this blog for our miscellaneous travels. We both really enjoy traveling and thinking about traveling, so it's nice to keep a record of where we've been that we can review when we are stuck in dreary Pittsburgh.

Right now, we are in Oregon. I have a conference that starts Wednesday, so we came out a few days early for some sightseeing. Yesterday, we rented a car (a Subaru Forester - nice car!) and drove to the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area to see some waterfalls. We stopped first at Latourell falls:

We hiked there for a bit - a nice loop trail that went up and over the falls - and enjoyed the moss-covered flora:
It's clear that Portland is very moist. Moss is everywhere, even growing on the barriers in the middle of the highway. I didn't manage to snap a photo of that though - too busy speeding along in the Subaru.

Then we drove on to Wahkeena Falls where we hiked up many switchbacks to the top and then along a trail that took us to Multnomah Falls. It got pretty rainy at points, so we got rather damp. Luckily we had thought to pack our rain jackets. Overall, it was a good few hours of hiking, which is just what I had been hoping to accomplish on this trip. Multnomah is pretty epic - a very tall waterfall:
By the time we reached Multnomah, we were very hungry. We'd only had a muffin and a scone for breakfast, and it was about 4pm. Multnomah is reasonably touristy, so they had food for sale. We had our hearts set on big dinners, so we bought some toasted (read: sugary) pecans and a large mocha coffee to share. Maybe not the best thing to eat on such empty stomachs, but wow, did those taste amazing. Then we drove another half hour to Full Sail Brewing Company for some beer and burgers.

I'm currently reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and there was nothing I wanted more than a long day's hike followed by a large meal. And I got it. But now I want another. :)