"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Cruising

The in-laws came to visit back in January and at that time the possibility of taking a cruise to Cuba was discussed. We were all pretty excited about the fact that this was even an option and were really gung-ho about the whole thing.

My in-laws are Cuban and so is my dad, so by blood Carlos is full Cuban (Carlos was born in Puerto Rico, so he's Puerto Rican by birthright) and I'm half (my mom is full Puerto Rican.) This would have been my first time seeing the sister island and Carlos's second time: he visited Cuba for the first time in his late teens with his parents. 

As it would turn out, due to changes in politics that we can thank our dear current president for (in case you're new to my blog, I'm being very very veeeery sarcastic here...), while there are cruises that will take you there, going to Cuba to visit is again monumentally difficult. Not as difficult as it was pre-Obama, but more difficult than it was during the Obama administration. Tough enough that, despite the in-laws being experienced travelers that have set foot on pretty much every major continent thanks to my father-in-law's job, they decided that we were going to pass on this one. 

So then the question was: where should we go instead? We had all requested the time off from our jobs by then. 

It was decided that we would go on a 5-day cruise to Key West and Cozumel. I have never been to Mexico, so it would be my first time visiting, even though Cozumel is considered to be "Mexico-ish" because it is so heavily geared towards the tourism industry.

Carlos and I left Maryland on Thursday, June 14. Leaving Maryland involved waking up at 2:00 am so we could grab a bite before leaving the house, packing the car and leaving the apartment at 2:45 am so we could arrive at the Ronald Reagan International Airport in D.C. at 3:50 am. (It's a one-hour drive sans traffic.)

Once at Ronald Reagan, we parked in the airport Economy parking lot and took a shuttle to our terminal. 

Once at our terminal, we waited 1.5 hours to board our 6:00 am flight. Even Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks were closed at 5:00 am so no extra coffee for us. -_-

One of us is used to waking up stupid early (though not QUITE this early...) to get shit done. The other one of us is not.
I wrote and published my previous post during this two-hour flight.

Sun rising over D.C., as seen from above.
I'm afraid of heights but I love, love, love flying.
Carlos and I always fight over the window seat...guess who always wins. ;)
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale, FL at 8:00 am, where the in-laws picked us up.

We looked so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed upon arriving in Fort Lauderdale that you'd never guess we woke up at 2:00 am... I also want to note the huge involuntary grin that spread across my face when I heard Spanish being spoken around the airport as the primary language. You'll hear every flavor of Spanish, all the accents, all the different varieties of slang. Cuban, Colombian, Venezuelan, Argentinean, Salvadorean, and a little bit of Portuguese thrown in thanks to the Brazilians. I had not realized that I missed that, nor how much.
The in-laws took us to breakfast at La Carreta.

I had not seen palm trees in two years.
My second breakfast (first breakfast had been at 2:00 am) was Cuban toast, scrambled egg whites with tomatoes, a side of roasted potatoes, and cafe cubano. I also had a quesito pastry because I had not had one of those in two years and you can't find them in Maryland. Not with ease, at least. I did not take a single picture of the food because I was STARVING by then and basically inhaled everything that was put in front of me.

This is what quesitos look like. You take phyllo dough, stuff it with cream cheese, roll it up, sprinkle it with sugar, and then bake it in the oven. What comes out is this delicately fluffy, creamy-filled goodness with a crunchy sweet outer layer that is orgasmically delicious when eaten straight out of the oven, like they were for us on this day.
They are a traditional pastry dish shared by both Puerto Ricans and Cubans.

By the time we were done with breakfast, we still had a few hours to kill before we had to pick up Carlos's brother Xavier at his job and head for the cruise port in downtown Miami. So we stopped by the in-laws' house, where Carlos and his dad took naps, and I changed into workout clothes and went for a 4-mile run around the neighborhood golf course.

You guys...it was SO HOT. We've had a cool summer up in Maryland so far, with temps barely scraping into the 80s. The heat index on this day in Fort Lauderdale was 97 degrees with humidity at 60%, which was actually low for South FL in the summer but way more than I've been acclimated to recently. Halfway through the first mile my body was like, "WTF lady I don't remember how to cope in this weather!" My response: "You lived in this type of climate for 32 years. You can deal with it for 45 minutes!" I didn't push myself too hard on this run...and was quite pleased when I still clocked my first mile in at under 10 minutes! :D Each consecutive mile after that was slower, but I still completed the distance within 43 minutes, which is my solid average.
Florida is full of artificial ponds: they are water retention areas to help minimize flooding. You still get flooding, but it would be so much worse without these man-made bodies of water! They do make for pretty scenery.
All South Florida neighborhoods and streets are the same. I had chosen to run through the golf course so I could backtrack where I came through, and that's exactly what I did...and still managed to end up lost in the neighborhood right next to the in-laws' with an impending downpour rapidly rolling in.

I finally sorted out my sense of direction (it is nonexistent in the flatness of Florida so this was quite challenging) and made it back to the in-laws' front door right as the skies opened up in a typical South Florida summer afternoon thunderstorm.

Despite missing the rain, I looked like I had been sprayed down with a hose from the heat and humidity outside.

Drenched!!!

I showered, changed back into travel clothes, and we re-grouped in the living room to pile into the in-laws' SUV so we could start the next leg of our journey.

Carlos's dad drove us through the relentless Florida downpour for an hour into downtown Miami. The rain was coming down so hard the windshield wipers couldn't keep up. Typical. We arrived at Xavier's job on time, where he jumped into the car with us, and we drove the rest of the way to the port, where we parked right on schedule at 1:00 pm. Here we were met by Xavier's wife, our two nieces, and Xavier's wife's parents, who had all come in a separate vehicle. Yup: it was a pretty big group of us traveling together!

We had our luggage taken away to get loaded onto the boat and made the line to board. We had to present our passports and boarding passes to get on the ship and this is where Carlos realized he didn't remember grabbing his passport at home. Carlos's mom and I might have both been thisclose to strangling him between the two of us because the need for passports for this trip had been the main topic of conversation for the last month. I had seen his passport on top of his suitcase next to his wallet in our living room that morning so I had assumed he had put it away with his stuff. No: he had his wallet with him on his person but not his passport.

Carlos had to run back outside to have one of the cruise staff members track down his suitcase so he could look through it. The suitcase had already been taken away so he was escorted to an office to wait for his suitcase to show up. This process took about 40 minutes.

His passport was, ultimately, in the outside pocket of his suitcase.

We all breathed an enormous collective sigh of relief and proceeded to get our asses on the ship before anything else could happen.

"Welcome almost aboard:" SO TRUE OMG
#lifewithamanchild
Our vehicle for this trip. :)
Once on board, we were able to grab a quick lunch before the cafeteria buffet closed.

Miami skyline as seen from the boat while still anchored.
We dropped off our carry-ons in our rooms and then we went down to one of the auditoriums for the safety briefing. And then we were all unleashed on the boat.

By then we were out at sea. Our luggage had not made it to our cabins yet so we just hung out on the 9th floor where the swimming pool and outdoor deck was located, watching the South Florida coastline become smaller and smaller in the distance.


The boat wake through a steel-blue sea.
Islanders cruisin.'
Once our suitcases were delivered to our rooms, Carlos and I realized there was enough time for us to run over to the boat gym to get in a strength training workout before dinner. It was either that or take a nap: I was not ready to wind down just yet and Carlos was well-rested after his nap at his parents' house.

The boat gym was located on the top floor, at the very front of the ship facing the ocean. It had floor-to-ceiling windows with the most spectacular view I've ever had the chance to enjoy from a gym. The weak AC and music playing through the gym speakers left a lot to be desired, but I didn't give a hoot. All for the view!

Not even kidding about that view.
We got in a one hour bodybuilding-type back and shoulder workout and then we ran back down to our cabin to shower and change to meet Carlos's family for dinner. (Poor Carlos worked out more with me on this trip than he usually does during the week on his own!)

He snagged this pic of me doing rear delt rows on the incline bench without me realizing it.
View of the ocean as seen from the hallway leading out of the gym. <3
Our cabin's light was crazy flattering. I legit laughed when I realized that not only do I currently have lower abs after all (this has been a lifelong struggle), they are marked enough to cast a shadow in the right lighting. O_o Apparently all I had to do was start eating like a normal human being in order for them to make an appearance! Go figure.
The in-laws were underwhelmed with the buffet dinner, but they had what most people would have on a cruise: a variety of pastas, meat and French fries.

Meanwhile, I was over here being stupid excited about the variety of lean proteins and salads that were part of the spread. It's been a month now, but I'm still getting used to the fact that I can eat pretty much as many fruits and veggies as I want whenever I want, which is a glorious thing to me.

Roasted chicken over a small amount of white rice on the left-hand corner of the plate, with steamed green beans and carrots, pineapple salad, and an arugula and sundried tomato salad that I could have had three more servings of, it was that amazing. And a side of honeydew and watermelon.
We then hung out outside watching the sun set over the water.



Carlos and I were passed out in bed by 9:00 pm. We had had a very, very loooooong day!

-------------------

Before I go on with my story, I want to make a note:

For 27 out of the 38 years I've been on this earth, I've had the privilege of living in places where people go on vacation: these places depend heavily on tourism to make their economy go round. Tourism is the lifeline that has kept Puerto Rico afloat despite its current bankrupt state, and Florida thrives on tourism during the winter months when the snowbirds travel south to escape the cold of their northern states. In fact, the differences between winter (high season) and summer (slow season) are so dramatic in Florida, even busy South Florida, that during the summer it was common for our hours to get cut at work, both for Carlos as a nurse and me as a vet tech working in a well-known 24-hour specialty veterinary hospital. Sometimes weeks would go by in the summer when we wouldn't have a single appointment or even a single patient in the hospital. There are only so many times you can clean an ICU from top to bottom...eventually management sends you home. This is one of the big reasons why we moved: you can't live in a place long-term when you can barely make ends meet half of the year.

So. When you visit one of these places that relies on tourism, remember that the best way for you to say "thank you for allowing me to have such an amazing time" is to post photos of what you saw, what you loved, and what you enjoyed so you can spread the word. Point the camera away from you every so often and show people what you see. Because those photos will most likely inspire other people to go visit too, thus helping that land's economy and residents in the long run. Ripple effect: you don't have to do a lot to make a big, positive difference! :)

These photos were taken to show you this experience through my eyes and everything that I loved about it. It is my thank you to Key West, to Cozumel, and to Carnival for a wonderful trip. The photos are meant to inspire you, my reader, to want to visit, to explore, and to enjoy. Telling a story with photos is called creating a photographic essay: because a picture is worth a thousand words, you only need a few photos to tell a tale. By definition, a photographic essay is meant to deliberately create a variety of emotions in the viewer. I did it with this post about Puerto Rico a couple of years ago, and I did it again with this trip on Instagram, which I am repeating here with a little more text to accompany the pictures taken.

-------------------


Friday

I was woken up at 5:00 am by the gentle swaying of the ship on choppier waters. I acknowledged the motion and rapidly fell asleep again, lulled back into dreamland by the movement. I adore to pieces everything that is related to the ocean, including the way boats move on water: the exact same thing that would make the average person sick to their stomach. It has zero effect on me, and thankfully it has no effect on Carlos as well. The feeling of land sickness, when you get off of a moving ship and you still feel the swaying despite the earth being still underneath your feet, is something that never ceases to excite us. It is akin to lying in bed after a 50+ mile endurance ride and still feeling the trotting horse underneath you.

Both Carlos and I woke up at 6:00 am, right before the alarm, when we felt the distant vibration of the ship's enormous turbines as it maneuvered into the port of our first stop: Key West.

Hello again, Key West.
The last time we visited was in 2006, when we still lived in Tampa! It had been way too long.
The port was so pretty.
Carlos and I had a quick snack, hit the gym for an hour for strength training, and then met up with the in-laws for proper breakfast. We weren't going to be allowed off the ship until 7:30 am, and we were letting the initial rush of crowds die down before stepping off the boat ourselves. 

We made it out on land by 8:30 am.

Docked sailboats
Carlos and K1, our first-born niece, checking out one of the pier store stands.
Our group walking along ahead while I stopped to take pictures. It was a beautiful day to be out exploring.
Taken from the bridge next to the Key West aquarium. The water really was that clear. Gorgeous, no? I wanted to dive head-first into it!
21st century beach bum: no roof over his head, but still able to get about thanks to his bike and able to communicate thanks to the cell phone he can charge anywhere while he sleeps.
There is a breed of bums that literally dedicate their lives to traveling from one warm place to another.  Carlos used to enjoy sitting down to talk to homeless people when he still lived in PR: many of them were American or European, and all they did was live on the streets of the most exotic places they could find. You'll find some of these individuals in Key West as well, as noted here. See also the chickens on the street!


The chickens of Key West are iconic: they are feral and are known as "gypsy chickens" by the locals. They are considered representative of Key West's character: "historic, colorful, sort of wild, a little noisy and occasionally annoying." You can read more about them here. They are one of my favorite things about Key West.
Carlos goofing off for the camera.


The Key West Memorial Sculpture Garden is a tribute to the island's most famous and influential residents.  You'll find busts dedicated to people like Ernest Hemingway and Harry Truman. 
Carlos's dad pretends to chase one of the gypsy roosters.
More iconic Key West.
Another street view.


Outdoor seating is standard in places where it is hot year-round. Note the outdoor ceiling fans as well.


"Why did the chicken cross the road?" is an existential question in Key West.
I loved the sign, "Don't even think of barking here!"
Gorgeous outdoor seating at Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe. This is where we stopped for key lime pie.
Key lime pie is my absolute most favoritest dessert. We can find it at Wegmans in Maryland, but it is NOT anywhere close to what real key lime made in Key West is like. You bet I had pie...two slices of it. I was halfway through the second slice before I remembered I should take a picture! Lol
(That's Carlos's brother Xavier in the background in the photo on the left. This stop was a planned treat for both my FIL and myself: we have a lot in common and a love of key lime pie is one of them. The family was still highly amused by how excited I was about the pie!)
There was this gorgeous pool next to our table with koi fish swimming about. (Photo by Carlos)
The fish were very curious about people. (Photo by Carlos)
This lovely gentleman was the store owner. He is originally from Maryland, specifically from Frederick County, a discovery that led to a conversation about how beautiful the region is, about island life, about being bilingual, and eventually politics. The conversation ended with him taking me to the back office so we could laugh at political memes. Sometimes my life is very strange but I wouldn't have it any other way!
K1 loves animals and wants to be a vet when she grows up. :) She made quick friends with the shop mascot, this cute doodle dog with the most adorable markings!
Green iguanas are pests in Florida, but they also remind me of my island, where they are also a huge problem. I love them anyway: they look like small dragons.


We walked past this bar. Note the misters outside through the open doors. I loved the interior and really wanted to just sit there for a bit and sip a beer, but they didn't open until 11:30 am. The clock was just turning to 11:00 am by the time we walked by and the in-laws wanted to be back on the boat by 11:30. The boat was scheduled to leave port at noon.


The family headed for the boat early while Carlos, my MIL and I continued wandering about. We walked up and down Duvall Street, which is Key West's #1 hangout area. This was one of numerous gift shops. I like the cock shirt..lol


"Clothing optional" bar...sounds just like something you would find in Key West! ;)


More beautiful outdoor seating at another place we walked past.
Find the surfboard. It's why I took this photo. :) Again reminded me of my island. Note the blue tarp on the house roof: a lot of places in Florida are still recovering from last year's Hurricane Irma.


Trolley train and tourist buses: a common sight in a land whose economy revolves around tourism.


Like I said: the chickens are very much a part of the local culture. :) Do you see the rooster in the top pic?
Key West architecture is so beautiful.
We stopped at Sloppy Joe's, where Carlos bought a Blue Moon and I drank an Island Ale while talking Europe with Carlos's mom (that's her next to me in the photo.)

We made it back to the boat on time, but not before stopping at a local coffee shop right on the pier to grab some lattes that were amazingly delicious. 

Everyone else was hanging out by the cruise pool: the nieces had wanted to go play on the water slides. I went upstairs to the gym to get in a 5-mile run while the ship left shore, then showered and changed into a bikini to meet the rest of the family at the pool.

I conked out on one of the beach chairs on the upstairs deck, lulled to sleep by the warmth of the sun and the strong breeze generated by the boat's movement, waking up two hours later to Carlos taking turns down the slides with the girls. 

The slides were pretty awesome.
Carlos's dad contemplating the sea. Like all of us, he loves the ocean.
He earned his own hashtag on this trip: #albertoandthesea
And then it was time to go dress up: it was the captain's dinner, which = formal evening in cruise-speak. 

I clean up good. ;)
The big draw of the captain's dinner on cruises are the ships' pro photographers: they'll take however many pics you want for free, then they get posted 24 hours later on one of the balcony walls. Here you can see them and choose which photos you'd like to buy, if there are any you like enough. The photographers tend to do a really good job: I have a couple of pics from our honeymoon cruise as well.

The family had pics taken with two of them. These were my favorites of Carlos and me. (Used with purchase):

Someone tried to be naughty with that hand on my chest. Boys. Lol
Which is why we were both genuinely laughing in this photo.
Sometimes we're disgustingly cute. Lol ;)
By the time we were done with the pics, we were STAAARRRRVING!!! So we went to sign up to wait for seating at the restaurant...and there was a 30-minute wait...that turned into an hour. 

All dolled up and so hungry!
Hanging out outside the restaurant, watching the live music below. This guy was really good: he played some of our favorite songs. He played every night in this same spot.

#albertoandthesea
We were finally seated. And then it took them forever to take our drink orders and bring us bread. And then it was another forever before they took our orders for food. AND THEN it was YET ANOTHER FOREVER for the actual food to arrive. 

By then I could have eaten the table itself. We were all famished: kids and adults alike. It was so bad that when the waitress stopped by to see if we needed anything, Carlos's mom said, "FOOD! We need FOOD. Please." She's usually the more reserved one of Carlos's parents! 

The nieces are just going into my favorite children's age bracket: the 5-to-8-years-old era. I used to work with kids this age back in the day at the art school, and they are so much fun because they still have the wild imagination and innocence that comes with being a child, but you can also address them like adults if you need to, knowing that they will understand. We had so much fun with them on this trip. They are the happiest girls. That's K1 on the left, the eldest, and K2 on the right, who is a year younger.
In the restaurants' defense it was a really busy night because of the whole captain's dinner event. But still. SO HUNGRY.

I had two buns. And an appetizer salad. And grilled chicken with broccoli. And creme brulee for dessert. And I could have still eaten another entire entree after that. 

When I saw my FitBit data for the day, I understood why I had been so damn hungry. 

5 of those 12.42 miles were run on the treadmill, but that's still a shit-ton of walking done throughout the day. The 50 floors are real: we never did take the elevator once during this entire trip, only the stairs. Our cabin was on the 4th floor, activities happened on the 7th, 8th and 9th floors, and the pool was on the 11th floor. That's a lot of stair climbing.

K2, the younger of the two nieces, had just had her birthday that week so the in-laws asked the waitress to bring her cake so we could sing happy birthday. 


And then we took off to explore the evening's activities on the boat. There was a Latin Dance night at one of the smaller clubs, so I changed into a more appropriate dress for that type of activity and Carlos and I hit up the dance floor. The in-laws eventually met us there too, and we danced until exhaustion finally hit us.



We slept like the dead that night!


Saturday

I drifted back to the surface of wakedom in the wee hours of the morning thanks to the gentle swaying of the boat on waves. I grinned when I realized the enormous ship was creaking in the high seas: for a cruise ship to rock on the water like that, it meant that the ocean was pretty choppy indeed. I lay in bed with my eyes closed, pretending we were on a sailboat instead. The original Saiph, the character from my stories growing up and whose name I use as my pseudonym, lived on a sailboat that she had built herself. 

Old sketch of Saiph's sailboat, The Warrior. 
Saiph dancing on the railing of the rear deck of The Warrior.
She was graced with far better balance than myself, as well as a nonexistent fear of heights!
With those thoughts in mind, I drifted back into sleep, still smiling.

I woke up later with Carlos's hand on my back. The boat was swaying more than it had earlier. 

I blinked at him sleepily. "I love this," I said to him, referring to the movement of the ship.

"Me too," he said. " Except I woke up thinking, 'Jesus, I'm still drunk'...and then remembered I didn't drink at all last night!" 

We both laughed. I knew we'd have the ship to ourselves this morning. The same thing had happened during our honeymoon cruise: we'd encountered stormy seas during the first two days of travel and the majority of people onboard had remained hidden in their cabins, fighting off seasickness, while Carlos and I ran around the ship like little kids that had escaped from their parents. 

We wouldn't be arriving in Cozumel until noon, so we had plenty of time to do whatever. Carlos and I ran up to the cafeteria to grab snacks and oogle at the sea.


I could have sat and watched this for hours.


In case you're not into watching videos, this is what the ocean looked like on this morning. I loved the plumes of spray flying backwards from the crests of the waves.
 We then did our best to work out in the gym.

So "functional fitness" is a thing, yes? A lot of trainers incorporate this now into their programs, and it often involves doing work with stability balls and Bosu Balance Trainers. You do stuff like core and leg work with the added factor of instability because it forces you to engage your core muscles for balance. 

Well. If you've ever done this type of workout before, you have an idea of what it felt like to try to work out on rough seas...except multiply that times 3. To add insult to injury, the gym was on the very top floor of the ship, which meant you felt its rocking a helluva lot more than you did on the bottom floors where the cabins were located!

There were two women in the gym running, and I mean running, on the treadmills...with death grips on the side handle bars. I looked at them with my jaw on the floor. I had no idea how they were doing that without falling off. Carlos and I tried warming up on the treadmills ourselves but I gave up on that one after the first sway of the boat while attempting to just walk on the moving platform of the machine, and switched to the rower instead. 

I spent the rest of the workout (where the goal was to work legs and upper back) giggling uncontrollably as we tried unsuccessfully to find our balance with the unpredictable movement of the ship. 

Proof that we hit the gym on this particular morning. :D
Doesn't seem like much, but you try to balance while your entire world moves enough to cause dumbbells to roll on their rack! Lol In fact, I dare you to do what I was doing: walking lunges with dumbbells, and later curtsy lunges. 
Of course, the moment I turned off the cell camera after taking the video above, the boat swayed hard enough to send two dumbbells rolling!

We called it quits after an hour and a half (legs got worked super hard with the balance variable...I'd have DOMS for the next two days from this workout!), showered, changed, and met the in-laws at the cafeteria for breakfast. 

Second breakfast. I was hungry, mmkay?
Phone signal was nonexistent at this point. The in-laws had walkie talkies so we could communicate. The one in Carlos's hand was having technical difficulties, as you can tell by Carlos's and K2's matching expressions of, "WTF?" 
Then these two got into a competition of who was more fabulous. Note who's wearing the flower tiara...there's an attached purple braid that you can see trailing down the front of Carlos's shirt...
A man has to be pretty confident in his sexuality to pull this one off.
We were all roaring with laughter at our table by this point.
It wasn't long after that that we were arriving in Cozumel, where the weather was exactly as the forecast had said it would be: raining and dreary.

First glimpse of Cozumel. The waters in the bay were thankfully quiet, which would allow us to disembark safely.
We went back to the in-laws' cabin to hang out while waiting for the initial rush of crowds leaving the ship to die down.

Carlos treats his nieces like he does our cats. Here he was making K2 jump up to grab a toy. *eye roll* lol
The rain was not going to deter us. Carlos's parents had ponchos already and we bought our own as well. 

The nieces were really good girls about this whole messy experience, despite both of them being over the wet and the rain from the get-go.
Carlos and I with his dad. The white ponchos that his parents were wearing made them easily identifiable in the sea of blue that had gotten off of the ship!
We were sent through a duty-free liquor store to get from the port to the touristy area of Cozumel surrounding the Carnival pier, which is called Puerta Maya. This reminded me of the cruise port of Old San Juan in PR. Apparently American tourists are predictable?
Fat Tuesday right next to the pier.


Invasion of the Carnival blue ponchos.
We had this exact same vegetation in our backyard in Puerto Rico. I was surprised by how at home this made me feel!
Originally we were going to rent a Jeep and head to the nearby beaches to explore, but the weather and unpredictable traffic deterred us from doing that. Instead, we wandered out onto the street outside Puerta Maya. 

Street sign outside of Puerta Maya


I'm a weirdo that likes to look at things that are the same as the place that we live in, and note the differences. Like this manhole cover...
...And this Mexican license plate. PR's are also subtly different from the mainland US's.
Note the "I <3 Aruba" bumper sticker: it's in English.
The Carnival blue ponchos were the equivalent of wearing giant signs that said "TOURISTS" across our chests so we were kind of accosted by locals that wanted to show us their wares. When they realized we spoke Spanish, the conversation changed: there was the promise of, "Prices are lower because you speak Spanish!" but the topic of politics also came up. I don't think I have to explain that one. ;) 

The nieces wanted to have their hair braided with beads. We stopped at this little shop, where we took cover from the rain while one of the store ladies did the girls' hair. Carlos took this pic and it is just genius: there is so much going on here, it wordlessly tells a story. There's Xavier looking up at the rainy skies. K2 sitting in the chair having her hair braided and pouting because it hurt but she refused to cry. The in-laws watching K2. Me pointing out a mirror for K1 so she could see how she looked with the braids.
It was the tiniest glimpse, but it was cool to step onto their land and see them at home. It's the same feeling we had when we walked through the Fort Lauderdale airport and whenever we've returned to the island to visit: you stand a little taller and you walk with a little more confidence because you're on your stomping grounds, where everyone speaks your language, knows your shared history, and treats you like one of them. You are home. Even if you don't reside there anymore, you aren't surrounded by foreigners that treat you like you are less for having a different first language or looking a certain way. (Again, Carlos and I have had an overall good experience living on the US mainland thanks to deliberately choosing to live in areas where diversity is welcomed, and also thanks to the fact that we are both fluent in English and can kinda-sorta pass off as white people. Not all Latinos are as lucky, and yes, it is something that gets talked about, and yes, it is something that infuriates all of us equally, even those of us that are spared this type of negative treatment. Our cultures and histories might often be dramatically different, but these are our brothers in language and ethnicity.

Mariachis playing in Puerta Maya
Colorful croton plants. We have those on the island too.
I thought about this at the time and Carlos, who visited different parts of Mexico with his parents throughout the years while growing up, mentioned it later: Mexicans in their country are generally a happy, upbeat, welcoming people, completely different from Mexicans in the States, where they have been battered down by fear, injustice, prejudice, and being constantly treated like they are pests that must be exterminated...a treatment that often gets extended to other Latinos in this country by default because, as I've mentioned before, a lot of Americans assume that Spanish as a first language = being Mexican. To a lot of Americans, we don't speak "Spanish," we speak "Mexican." We actually got to experience that yet again on this trip. More on that later. But we all get to suffer under the same label.

And unless you live under a rock, you know about this news already. The injustice of that should not be an argument. (I’m looking at you, Facebook.) People are people, children are children. And I refuse to shut up about politics because by not talking about it, by remaining silent, we are allowing all of this to be okay, to turn into the new norm. Things don't go away or stop just because you refuse to talk about them. It didn't make Voldemort go away in Harry Potter and it certainly won't make problems disappear in Real Life either.

If you're not okay with this, by golly open up your mouth and speak against it, goddamn it!
Otherwise you are an accomplice.
#IamLatinaAndThisAffectsMe
Do you understand???

Anyway.

We wandered back into Puerta Maya. Xavier, his wife, his in-laws and the nieces elected to go back to the ship since there wasn't much more to do by that point given the incessant downpour. Neither Carlos, his parents nor I wanted to head back just yet though and were debating where to grab lunch: we didn't want to do Fat Tuesday or The Three Amigos because a) both are American chains (we are all really big on eating local when we visit new places. It's very Anthony Bourdain of us) and b) they were crawling with very, very drunken cruise travelers by then.

Carlos and I noticed a small restaurant next to a large gift shop on the far corner of the outskirts of Puerta Maya and we ran over to check the menu. We liked what we saw so we fetched Carlos's parents and in we went. 

The place was called Pancho's Backyard and it was actually a true Mexican restaurant (not an American chain). It was a lovely, quiet little spot away from the crowds.

Pancho's was lovely.
Carlos and his parents at our table.
I loved the metal lanterns!!!
I had chicken enchiladas. Carlos had fish tacos and a house margarita. The margarita only came in that size...we kind of understood then why so many Carnivalers were in such a deteriorated state despite only having been at port a handful of hours.
Our view.

The gift shop next to the restaurant was also owned by Pancho's and was a welcome respite from the other tourist-trap type stores around the port. Pancho's gift shop featured work by local artists and reminded me a lot of so many of the stores in Old San Juan. We walked around in there for about an hour. There were so many things that I would have liked to buy, but was afraid wouldn't survive the plane trip back home. 

The alebrijes were my favorites. This hedgehog!!!
Alebrijes are brightly-colored handmade wood figurines of fantastical creatures. They originated with Pedro Linares, an indigenous Mexican artist from Oaxaca, whose inspiration were spirit animals from a feverish dream he had while sick. Once recovered from his illness, he started creating alebrijes as large paper mache sculptures, which caught the eye of a famous gallery owner in Mexico. Thanks to that gallery owner, the sculptures became so popular that great Mexican artists like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo began commissioning Pedro's work! Pedro's alebrijes thus became famous both in Mexico and abroad, taking Mexican folk art in a whole new direction.
Winged kitty alebrije. He was large, almost the size of a real cat. I looked everywhere for a pocket-sized one: I really, really wanted one to take home with me!
Praying mantis alebrije!! So freaking cool.


Store employee.
Carlos and I discovered this awesome little coffee shop called Cafe Punta del Cielo, also authentic Mexican. We wandered in while the in-laws were checking out some of the other gift shops. I immediately zeroed in on the cafe de olla (the translation would be "pot coffee"), which is known as Mexican spiced coffee in English. It is made by boiling fine coffee, cinnamon, brown sugar, orange peel and cloves together in a pot. This is strained through a colander into cups and can be served with milk, which is how we ordered it. Here is a recipe if you want to try it yourself at home. :)

OH MY GOD you guys. It was amazing. Cafe Punta del Cielo's version had the slightest touch of heat that you felt at the very end of each sip. Carlos and I walked around with our coffees, and once finished returned to get a second round of cafe de olla

Me and my cafe de olla!
We finally slowly made our way back to the boat. 

Drunken cruise crowds at Fat Tuesdays tell the tale of why we wanted to be as far away from them as possible.
I deliberately blurred out the one guy's face for privacy: it showed up too clearly in the photo, and his state of inebriation was so dramatic that it made the photo even creepier than it looks with his face blurred out. Note the woman dancing on the table in the back: they actually had poles at the tables for the tourists to dance on. You do you on vacation, but remember that your behavior creates an impression of your people whether you're American, Latino, European or whatever: regardless of where you come from, you are representing your homeland and your people when you are in a foreign land, and no amount of alcohol or money is going to erase that fact.
There were moments where I wanted to die of embarrassment over being associated with these people given their behavior as visitors.
I loved, loved this mural on the side of The Three Amigos and I love the way the photo came out because it is a statement:  look through the window on the left to see more drunken tourists dancing on tables.
Colorful chairs and tables at the back of Fat Tuesday, facing the pier.
Photo taken as we were walking back to the boat.
They started playing Despacito at Fat Tuesday as we walked down the pier. I stopped dead in my tracks and was like, "Awww hell no!" And while the drunken American crowds danced on tables in the bar, I gave Carlos's mom my phone and we proceeded to dance. Sober. In the rain. Right there on the pier. And Carlos with his coffee in hand. ;) And we behaved, because this was a very PG-13 version of how reggaeton is supposed to be danced...


As we walked back to our ship, we shook our heads silently at some of the people around us. One trio of women in particular were having a really hard time putting one foot in front of the other, and one of them kept tripping over her own feet and falling: she was that drunk. 

Once on the boat, I got a 5-mile run in on the gym treadmill while Carlos took a nap in our cabin. Afterwards we met up with the family for an early dinner in the boat cafeteria. 

Another boat cafeteria dinner: beef & shrimp broccoli stir-fry with an assortment of salads. The in-laws kept complaining about the food. I still have no idea what they were talking about. I was so excited about my dinners!

Once darkness fell, we went outside to watch our departure. The boat left almost an hour late: they kept calling over the loudspeakers for three missing passengers that we're not sure ever showed up. 

Moral of the story: if you get so wasted while abroad on a cruise trip that you're having a hard time getting back to the ship, the boat will wait for you...but only for a limited amount of time. After that, you're on your own.

Cozumel at night, as seen from the deck above the swimming pool. 
The ship at night.
There was an outdoor stage next to the pool where a DJ materialized as we were leaving port and started playing music. Carlos's family wandered off to see what else was going on around the ship, but Carlos and I were getting amped up with the music and chose to stay to dance outside. 

Note: we were absolutely, 100% sober. I did not have alcohol at all on this day, and Carlos's one drink had been the margarita at Pancho's at lunchtime. This is just us being us. :)

Two Puerto Ricans goofing off to LMFO's Party Rock Anthem. 
This song brings back some really awesome memories of clubbing in South FL for us. 
(Carlos's freestyle dancing makes more sense when you know he learned to dance at raves first.)


Carlos took a break and I kept on dancing on my own. Freestyling to Technotronic's Pump Up The Jam


Stills from the dancing video.
A month of CrossFit has done for my legs what a year of bodybuilding wasn't able to do. I hadn't really noticed the difference until I was choosing these stills. O_o


Two songs later, the open space on the deck below had filled with people and the DJ was calling out line dancing steps. Carlos and I ran down to join the crowd. We. had. SO. MUCH. FUN!!!

We were a sweaty mess by the time we decided to call it quits. By then the ship had made it back out onto open rough waters and the swaying was adding an extra challenge factor to the line dancing! :D We grabbed ice cream because by then we were famished again, and were in bed by midnight-ish.

My FitBit date for Saturday. O_o


Sunday

This was our day out at sea: no stops made on this day.

We rolled out of bed at 8:00 am. Snack, gym for strength training, shower, breakfast with the in-laws.

There's a reason why they call him The Crazy Uncle. ;)
Father's Day pic. Carlos joked his kids are named Zombie and Aengus.
There is definitely such a thing as "cruise culture." This is a great article explaining the phenomenon. Whether you've been on a cruise before or have yet to experience it, it's a pretty accurate read. And yup: it is 100% true that cruises do not offer any kind of fundamental knowledge about the places they are stopping to visit. Everything I talk about here regarding what we learned/discovered is what I already knew (Key West) or that I took the time to research on my own (Cozumel.)
The in-laws went to play trivia games while Carlos and I hung out outside.

Carlos and I discovered that we could get to the very front of the ship.


The best view on the boat!
The wind was crazy strong.
We took all of these pictures and then realized on the way back indoors that we weren't supposed to be in this spot at all...whoops. 
Cruises are infamous for the 24/7 food and people returning home with an extra 10-20 lbs. You know what? This was our second cruise together. It's honestly not hard to maintain your weight or even lose some if you stay active (aka take the stairs. Walk everywhere. Explore. Dance. Swim. You don't even have to use the boat gym!) Yes, it's true about the food, but just because it's there doesn't mean you are obligated to eat it. You don't clean everything out of your fridge or pantry at home in a 24 hour period just because they're stocked, no? Same thing here. Cruise food is decent, but it's not so decadently irresistible that it warrants people gorging themselves on it. You will have access to steak and pasta again in your life. And just because you can eat pizza and ice cream at 2:00 am doesn't mean that you should, especially if you're not legitimately hungry. There are plenty of options on board that allow you to eat healthy while on the ship. My abs look stunning here thanks to the lighting and my position. Did I gain water weight? Yup. Exactly 0.8 lbs of it, and it was a result of the extra sodium in cruise food. Water weight gain is typical while on vacation when you have to eat out for several days. The water weight was gone within 24 hours of returning home.
As noted in my previous post: I'm currently working with a sports nutritionist to both learn about eating for performance and for accountability. This trip was factored into the mix. Tracking macros can be difficult on vacation because it can be hard to measure food servings and know what, exactly, went into meal preparation, but you do the best you can. Thanks to being allowed to eat normal amounts of carbs for someone as active as I am and more reasonable amounts of fat, it was pretty easy to fit in all the fun foods I ate while away, as long as I worked them in by compensating for them elsewhere. It sounds like a PITA but this is SO easy now after the stress of carb cycling for the better part of a year. You can still be disciplined without being deprived.
We later disappeared into the 21+ age area so we could lounge in the sun. It's the first time I was still for the entire trip. I actually skipped running on the treadmill entirely on this day in favor of resting. I slept for a few hours while Carlos hung out with me reading, though he later fled indoors: he might be Puerto Rican but he burns just like any other fair-skinned person does.

 We met up with the family later in the early evening for dinner, and hung out at the table talking. It was the second formal evening on the ship so the cafeteria was pretty quiet. We just wanted to be comfortable so we had passed on dressing up.

Dessert was a variety of cheesecakes, which is a weakness for both Carlos and me. They had sheets of cheesecake, cut into bite-sized pieces like you would brownies. He brought a plate a slice of each for us to try and yes, I had several bites a bite of each one. They were delicious. Thanks to being in competition prep in some shape or form for the last year, I had not had cheesecake in just as long.

We later listened to the guitarist playing in the ship lobby. Carlos's dad and I have a lot of things in common: we love cars, good coffee, the sea, being in motion all the time (Carlos lovingly calls him "Culillo," which is slang for "Ants in his pants." Lol) and we also share the same fear of heights. This is a pretty common thing when the family is hanging together: everyone else will be leaning on the railing of wherever looking down and talking animatedly, while Carlos's dad and I are usually standing as far away as possible from the railing, often leaning against a wall behind us and apparently with matching crossed arms, as you can see in these two pics! Carlos and his mom think it's hysterical.
We packed our suitcases and went to bed early because we had to get up at the crack of dawn the next day to disembark in Miami.



Monday

This was such a loooong day.

I was woken up shortly before the alarm at 5:45 am by the distant humming of the ship's great motors as it maneuvered to park in the Miami port. We got dressed (I elected workout clothes and my running shoes: I wanted to be comfortable, as these were the same clothes I'd be wearing all the way back to D.C.) and then met the family in the cafeteria at 6:30 am for breakfast.

We were allowed to disembark at 7:30. This was ultimately a clusterfuck: Xaxier's father in law has mobility issues thanks to complications from diabetes and he can't be on his feet for long, which involved them constantly having to take the elevators to get from one floor to the other throughout this trip. There were only two sets of elevators on the entire ship, which is kind of scary considering how many people were onboard. By 7:00 pm there was so much traffic at the elevators from crowds trying to get ready to exit the ship, that just getting on the elevators involved an almost 30-minute wait.

We were supposed to leave through one exit for people with early flights. Carlos had asked four different cruise employees about this over the course of the last two days, and we had been told there would be a line at the 7th floor for us. Well, we finally made it there only to realize we were supposed to have been on the 8th floor. By the time Carlos and I were able to physically make it to the 8th floor (this involved going up the stairs going against a flood of people pouring down the stairs...I felt like a salmon swimming upstream in a river trying to return home!) the line for early flights had been closed.

So then we had to make it back down to the 7th floor. I was starting to stress out by then, but we didn't have to be at the airport until 11:30 am at the very latest and it was still 8:00 am. Barring unforeseen traffic circumstances, we still had plenty of time to get from Miami to Fort Lauderdale.

We actually were able to get off the ship in less than 30 minutes. Carlos's mom was talking to K1 in Spanish while waiting for their turn in line when a (still) very drunken woman behind her started asking her if she was speaking Mexican. Carlos's mom politely corrected her, explaining that she was speaking Spanish.

"Well, that sure sounds Mexican to me!"

-_-

That kind of idiocy makes me want to smack shake people. Carlos's response to that kind of comment (which he also occasionally gets at the hospital from patients) is usually along the lines of, "Well, 'fuck you' is American, right?" (Again: this doesn’t happen regularly where we live, but it would be nice if it didn’t happen at all ever.)

Thankfully the majority of my readers are aware of these problems. Sadly the people that should read this are the ones least likely to read it. :/ But I talk about these things here for the benefit of those that might not be as aware, or who might legit think that things are "not that bad." And also because it affects us. It's part of our reality. The current political environment here hasn't made things better for "others" in this country, especially for those of us that are Latinos, whether citizens or not. Citizenship has nothing to do with it when Latinos all get lumped together under the same category by people who are too close-minded to bother to educate themselves. And there just comes a time when there is only so much willful ignorance that we are willing to put up with.

It's not just the assumption that we're all Mexican. It's also the assumption that speaking Spanish as a first language = getting here illegally. Whether Mexican or not, most of us got here 100% legally and have the papers to prove it. Speaking Spanish at home is not an indicator of our birthplace either: I was born here on the mainland, yet my first language is Spanish. Referring to Spanish as "Mexican" is also ignoring the facts in the picture above: Spanish is spoken in 21 countries including Spain, which is where the language originates. Mexico is not the only country where our language is spoken, so referring to the Spanish language as “Mexican” is all levels of inaccurate. Spanish is spoken as a native (first) language by more people around the world than English. 437 million of us, to be exact. We are second in numbers only to Mandarin Chinese. English is the third: 360 million people around the world speak English as their native tongue.


Again: Carlos’s and my experience stateside has overall been wonderful amongst Americans that I am proud to call my friends. But that woman at the pier, some of the attitudes appreciated in Cozumel, and the arguments on Facebook over separating children from parents, have all been a reminder that this country still has a long way to go when it comes to true (and educated) acceptance of diversity. 😢

Once outside, we said our good-byes to Xavier and his side of the family, then jumped into Carlos's dad's SUV and headed towards the airport still with plenty of time to spare.

I hated Miami as a South Florida resident, but oh my gosh do I love it as a visitor who knows its ins and outs from having lived there.
The downtown Miami area has grown, with newer and fancier high rises cropped up all over the place. The art deco historical district has been completely renovated, which was awesome to see...and I didn't get to take pics because we saw that part of it from the highway.
We had so much time, in fact, that Carlos's dad pulled into The Latin American bakery so we could grab cafe cubano.

Front window at the cafe, where we placed our orders. I liked the Anthony Bourdain feel of this view so I snapped a picture. I loved that man and grieved when I heard the news of his death. He has a great episode on South Florida in one of the older seasons of Parts Unknown. The Puerto Rico one was also on point and it was what made me fall in love with him.
Closed bar at the Latin American: it was 9:00 am. :)
Carlos and his mom.
Cafe cubano (Cuban espresso with steamed milk) in front of me, and colada in front of Carlos's dad on the left.
Colada is super strong Cuban espresso with sugar already mixed in. I don't like the taste of straight coffee, but I will drink colada. It is served in tiny little shot glasses like this one. Once you've tried it, you'll understand why. ;)

From there we headed for the Fort Lauderdale airport, which was thankfully an uneventful and traffic-free drive.

We made it to our terminal with two hours to spare so we sat down to wait. I edited and posted a ton of these pics on IG while we waited. Our flight was full so the airport staff was recommending we check in our carry-on luggage. Carlos and I shrugged and decided to go ahead and check ours in: less of a PITA to get it all in the overhead bins with so many people on board.

I again won the window seat. ;)

South Florida from the sky.

We arrived in D.C. on time at 3:00 pm. We then had to wait for our luggage, which took about 30 minutes. We then had to take a shuttle to get back to the economy parking lot. We initially got on the wrong shuttle and had to get off and walk back to the terminal so we could take the correct shuttle. This was another 30 minutes.

We got on the second shuttle and it broke down. As in, overheated: the heat index was close to 100 degrees in D.C. on this day, actually hotter than it had been in South Florida when we left. The shuttle driver turned off the bus and we waited for a few minutes. Carlos and I were already talking about getting off and starting over yet again when the driver turned the vehicle back on and it worked: no "overheated" buzzer going off.

It took another 15 minutes to get through the mile from the airport terminal to our parking area because of rush hour traffic around the airport.

We unloaded all of our stuff and got it in the car.

And the car wouldn't turn on.

The battery was dead.

It was hot and we were starving and had no water with us at this point. Carlos called our insurance, which offers roadside assistance and he was told that our policy had been cancelled.

"WHAT???!!" The payment had been deducted from our bank account on time the previous week! No way. We've had our insurance with the same company for the last 8 years. You can't drive without insurance here.

So I got on the phone to argue with them while Carlos went to track down a parking employee: it turned out the airport offers free assistance for minor issues like having to jump a car or change a tire. Assistance was called for us.

In the meantime, I had given up with the woman on the phone about our insurance and had resorted to looking up the information online. As it would turn out, our insurance was current and in effect: Carlos had given them the wrong policy number. -_-

By then the airport assistance had arrived. Our car got jump-started without issue and we drove off.

We initially hit so much traffic trying to get out of D.C. that Carlos voiced what I had been thinking, "It's like the powers that be are trying to keep us from getting to Frederick."

"I know," I said. "I'm just assuming there is an exterior reason why we weren't supposed to get there earlier. As long as we make it there safely now, I don't care." I was still shaky from the insurance misunderstanding.

No sooner had Carlos and I commented on that, the roads magically cleared. I'm talking 5:00 pm on a Monday in the D.C./MD/NoVa region, you guys. It's usually bumper-to-bumper traffic until 7:30 pm.

Nope. We cruised at 60 mph up I-495 to I-270 without a hitch all the way home.

In fact, there was enough time to make it to CrossFit's Strength class...they had barbell squats on the program.

"OMG," I told Carlos, "I need to go lift heavy shit to decompress. Can we go?"

Laughing, he swung by our box and dropped me off. He had worked out for 5 consecutive days already and was taking the day off, so he went home to start unpacking while I played with barbells.

My precioussss I love you!
He had to leave for Baltimore again at 5:00 am the next morning for a 2-day work conference which involved more packing, but I had the day off. He picked me up after class so we could do a grocery run and grab sushi for dinner.

And that is the story of our trip. :)


5 comments:

  1. What a wonderful photo essay. And you answered a question for me: there is no way we could ever do a cruise - J would be sick the entire time.

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    1. There were ship employees that were sick, too. It was not a good couple of days for those susceptible to sea sickness!

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  2. Thank you for this post. It sounds like just what you needed (minus the Ugly Americans). I'd like to do an Alaskan cruise some time.

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    1. It was a wonderful getaway. I've heard the Alaskan cruises are magical!

      The news about children being separated from their parents at the border was all over the news on the ship and it really hit home with the in-laws: they arrived here (legally) as political refugees from Cuba when they were kids themselves. Same thing with my dad. And a lot of family friends on both sides: Carlos's and mine. And it's just stirred up the anti-Latino sentiment all over again among certain groups of people. *sigh*

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  3. Wow, they don't speak Spanish in Portugal! I'm an idiot. But apparently they say Por Favor. When I did endurance in central Oregon, I had a little FM radio and it was all Spanish. I loved that - I had no idea what they were talking about, but it set the tone for my 50 miles.

    Your tour also reinforced my fear of cruise ships. The elevator/stair story especially.

    I wanted to thank you for your comment today, and say that there are very few horses in blogland I wish to ride. Two of them: 1. Ashke, cuz I know he'd act just like Baasha (they're related, and from what I have read, behave identically). 2. Gracie. I want to feel that gait and I know I could just sit back and enjoy it. If I ever make it to your side of the country....

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