Monday, July 19, 2010

No sleep til Brooklyn...or until the AC gets fixed

Next time someone tells me that global warming is just a myth, I am going to punch them in the face. Seriously. Don't tell me this heat we've been having (since, let's face it, April) is normal. I've been living in DC summers my entire life and we'll usually get this hot maybe around August or so for a few weeks, but never this early, and never this long. But I don't need to tell you, chances are where you live it's the same story.

So what would be the worst thing that could happen right now? That's right: for the air conditioning to break. Which is just what happened in my bedroom. See, my building is pretty old (built in the 1960s), so instead of central air, I have a convector unit in each room which is kind of like a radiator. It does AC in the summer and heat in the winter. Unfortunately, the one in the bedroom started making this really loud clanking noise on Wednesday night that was 1) too loud to sleep through and 2) made me think the motor was going to explode. It also scared the crap out of me when it woke me up around 3:00 in the morning.

Now I have this thing where I cannot sleep when it is really hot. It just doesn't happen; in fact, I like to keep it so cool that I sometimes use an extra blanket, even in the summer. Wasteful? Whatever, it's how I like it. Leave me alone. But there was no way in hell I was going to be able to sleep with no air conditioning these past few days. Which left me one option: the couch. The AC in the living room is working just fine, mostly because it broke back in May. Insert your own "fighting with the wife" joke here, but it seemed pretty sad to have to sleep on my own couch in my own house.

As Whitney pointed out, at least my couch is comfortable. But after 4 nights I found myself really longing for my own bed again. I called in a work order on the AC first thing Thursday morning, but of course they didn't get to it before the end of the day Friday. And the maintenance guys don't do work on the weekends. You can bet your ass I called the office today (Monday) as soon as they opened to ask what gives. And guess what? When I got home they had fixed it! The national nightmare is over, I can get back in my own bed!

And now I realize how incredibly lucky I am that I even have the option of air conditioning and I feel like a whiny little punk for even bitching about it. That's middle class guilt for you.

PS: this might also be the first blog post ever where when I ran spellchecker, I got the message "no misspellings found." Go me!

Monday, July 12, 2010

St. Maarten and the Floating Tiki Hut of Magic

Are we at the end already? Unfortunately, yes. Time for the last post about my Eastern Caribbean cruise vacation. Insert sad face here.

You might have noticed that I skipped a few stops, basically because when it comes to two of the islands I decided to just not to do anything and stay on the ship. I sat by the pool, read a lot, and just in general hung out and enjoyed my vacation. But the last full day of our cruise we had our final, and favorite, shore excursion. Ladies and gentleman, I give you: the floating tiki hut of St. Maarten.

Tucked in a little cove on St. Marrten in the Caribbean Sea, the floating tiki hut is just what it sounds like. A tiki hut (with bar and grill) that floats on the water. There are deck chairs, as you can see, and full snorkel gear. So basically, you can snorkel, then relax in the sun in a deck chair, grab a burger and a rum punch, and then just jump off the side and swim in the warm, clear water.

Nice, huh?

There was a boat that traveled back and forth from our cruise ship so people were free to stay at the tiki hut as long as they wanted. Which for me, Chris, and Patrick meant that we stayed there all day. They packed up around us, closed up the hut, and we took the last boat back with the staff. Because when you have that sweet a set-up, you don't leave. Unless you're Kent, in which case you head back after about 2 hours. But, bless him. It's his way.

By the end of the afternoon, when we were the only guests left at the tiki hut, the bar staff was just giving the rum punch to us for free to help get rid of it. Chris and Patrick got a bit, shall we say, toasted, but I figured one of us should stay sober-ish. So we kicked back, drank, and enjoyed the tunes piped in from the staff's iPod playlist.

Snorkeling in the cove was even more fun than our first stop since there was lots more to see. We hunted around for cannons that had blown off Fort Amsterdam in a hurricane, and looked at a sunken yacht, super colorful fish, lobsters, urchins, and the occasional scuba-diver. All in all, it was the perfect day.

And they let me drive the boat back! (not really)

So I bet you're wandering, "wow, this all looks great, but what did you guys do when you were on the boat?" And even if you weren't wondering that, I'm going to tell you. We did a lot of roh roh-ro-oh-oh-ing from Lady Gaga's Bad Romance (and Patrick and I performed an epic dance number to it in the dance club one night), we also did a lot of mocking of the Southern people we spent the day with on Dominica ("oh my word!"), and we did a lot of karaoke. A LOT of karaoke. Almost every night. And we might have done some choreographing of our karaoke routines, just to make sure we were up to snuff. But our perseverance was rewarded, as we received several medals for our karaoke performances. The karaoke lady was also very impressed with Patrick's acting fact, they showed the remake of Fame (which he appeared in) our first night on the ship. Coincidence, but a happy one.

So that about wraps up the vacation recap. We came, we saw, we conquered, and I avoided getting a sunburn. Think of it: pasty ol' me in the Caribbean and I managed to avoid any sunburn, thanks to my trusty SPF 75. I hope to definitely go back some day, but maybe next time pick a lighter itinerary. An island a day was very ambitious. And as you can see, it takes a lot of energy to sit around and relax all the time.

Did I mention that I got a coconut monkey drink? And you know that coconut came home.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

St. Lucia and the Volcanic Mud Bath

The adventure continues! After the coral paradise of Barbados, it was back to the volcanoes on St. Lucia (pronounced Loosha). Kent and I had signed up for an excursion on this island, one that involved slathering ourselves in hot volcanic mud. Score.

But first, we had to endure a two hour drive to the volcanic park. And I say endure, because St Lucia is hilly. Actually, it's VERY hilly. I don't think we encountered a single straight stretch of road. We're talking winding, twisting roads here. The volcano might have actually only been like 30 miles from the ship, but we had to take such a circuitous route to get there it was INSANE.

But the longish drive to the volcano meant that we got a great view of the island. We did some of the scenic overlook action, and then drove up to a place called Marigot Bay. According to wiki, it's considered the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean and has been featured in movies like Doctor Dolittle (the Rex Harrison version) and Romancing the Stone. I think our guide also mentioned that they shot some scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean there, but don't quote me on that.

While driving around the island, we also a ton of banana plantations. I know it sounds crazy, but I found all the information about bananas pretty fascinating. Turns out, each tree produces only one bunch of bananas (but you can get up to 200 in a bunch), and the bunches are wrapped in these special blue bags to protect them from insects and the sun. We also drove by pineapple groves (and saw baby pineapples!) and tons of bread fruit and mango trees.

But the island is most famous for the Pitons, two large volcanic mountains that are called "volcanic plugs." Right next to them are active sulphur springs and pools of volcanic mud which were our final destination!

There was no doubt where we were when we got to the volcanic park; the smell of sulphur was very evident. Or as Kent so eloquently put it, "it smells like damn rotten eggs here." He seemed particularly sensitive to the smell, but I had spent every summer of my youth in Hot Springs, Virginia where there are natural mineral springs that smelled pretty much the same. So I guess it was familiar to me. Anyway, we got a brief tour around the park, seeing the natural springs (with temperatures over 120 degrees) and a broad volcanic wasteland area with bubbling pools of boiling mud. It looks like an alien landscape right out of Star Trek. People actually aren't allowed to walk around on it anywhere since a tour guide fell through the ground and sustained second degree burns on half his body (he survived and fell through because of air pockets underground).

Then it was on to the baths. We walked down a few stairs and there was a pool of hot mud. And it was HOT. The first time I tried to stand in it (it was about ankle to mid-calf high) I had to jump right out. But the best method was just to grin and bear it for about a minute, and then the body acclimated to the change. The mud was actually on the bottom of the pool; you just scooped it up and rubbed it all over your body. And it felt amazing. It was chock full of minerals and the bits of gravel acted like a natural exfoliant. Once we washed it all off in the shower, I could not believe how smooth my skin felt...for several days afterwards! Of course I walked around with volcanic mud under my fingernails for the next 3 days, but it was so worth it.

Me and Kent rock the "volcanic mud" look, straight from the runways of Paris and Milan.

After our mud bathing, Kent went in search of food as he is want to do and we bought some amazing fried chicken and fried bread (think of it as a pita combined with a tortilla). I know we were in a total tourtisty area, but it still felt somewhat cool to be enjoying the local cuisine. All of our meals had been eaten on ship before then, and while I'm not the most adventurous diner, I enjoyed sampling the local flavor.

Then it was back on the van for our return ride! And it seemed even more twisty on the way back. Although we did get to stop at a fab overlook restaurant to take in the view and rum punch. Ah, rum punch. It's like the water of the Caribbean.

A few more pictures:

Mangoes (yes, I think they look like balls too)

Mineral pool at the volcanic park

Me and Marigot Bay. Thanks to the nice Australians who took my picture since Kent had wandered off to look at souvenirs.