Welcome to the jungle!

We made it!  And you know what the song says – “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…”

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Hello New York, old friend, buddy, pal.  It will never not be exciting to drive in from the airport and see the skyline in the distance…. a little bit like when you’re driving to Geraldton on the Brand Highway and you round that bend and see the silos – and you know that the journey is finally coming to an end.

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Well, it’s sort of like that.

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We arranged to stay at a hotel on our first night in NYC because we’ve rented an Airbnb apartment for our stay and we didn’t want to arrive in the evening and have something go wrong – we’re safety girls!  Also last time ML stayed here with her brother and his family, they got stung with a dodgy rental – we didn’t want to take any chances, so we booked into the Sheraton just around the corner…. well, we booked in but when it came to checking in at about 7.15pm there were no rooms available.  The lady on the reception desk was very apologetic and said it should be ready in a couple of hours.

A couple of hours???

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We were tired, dirty, hungry and bordering on cranky, but we left our bags and went out for dinner.  Here’s a fun fact for those who don’t know – when I’m hungry I can’t make a decision, so ML had to take the reins and looked around, then pointed us in the direction of the first place she saw – a little Irish pub called The Playwright which turned out to be lovely.  Well done ML!

You could tell we were in an American restaurant (even though it was Irish)…

Baseball on the telly…

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Mustard and ketchup on the table…

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As we were about to leave, the sky opened up and absolutely pissed down… so we sat at the bar and had another drink which would have been great if we weren’t both tired and dirty and no longer hungry, but still bordering on cranky, and also ML isn’t drinking at the moment whilst she gets completely over her lurgy – so sitting at an Irish bar on our first night in New York City with a glass of water feeling tired and dirty – not ideal – but hey, we’re in NYC! When we got back to the hotel, the room was ready and they offered us a $100 credit on our room which was the least they could have done.

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Sleep was finally had and then we were up to meet the travelling Browns – my cousin, Peter, his lovely wife, Kay and their two adorable kiddies – Noah and Wes.  They were staying at the same hotel, so that worked out well.  The boys had written us notes and drawn us a picture to welcome us to New York – they will go up on the fridge as soon as we get to our apartment.

It was great to catch up and talk to familiar faces.

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We pushed our cases the block and a half to our apartment building on 51st Street and met Rob, our doorman – a very helpful chap who gave us the keys and pointed us to the lifts…. On the way up I said to ML “Please let this be good.”  We crossed our fingers as we ascended all 20 floors.

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And OMG – it is awesome!  We have a two bedroom, one bathroom corner apartment  with a small kitchen and a fairly sizeable living area.

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We look out over Times Square ( a few blocks away) in one direction…

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…and over the Hudson River (down the street, in-between the buildings in the distance) in the other.

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We’ve just done 3 loads of washing in the basement laundry – the commercial dryers only shrunk one top which needed some shrinking, so perfect!

Now we’re sitting here in our apartment loving ourselves sick and waiting for Pete and Kay and the boys to come over and be our first visitors.

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When we were first booking this apartment on Airbnb there seemed there was going to be a bit of a palaver when we got here – it seemed like it was quite a strict building with strict rules on who could stay (for example, we were asked if we were coming to NY for business or medical reasons??) and if was suggested that if anyone in the building asked, we should say that we were business people, but since arriving – Rob on the door only cared to see one passport and when we told him that we were going to have visitor he replied, “yeah, I’ll just buzz them up.” like he couldn’t quite understand why we were telling him.  We had to admit that we weren’t used to  having a doorman.

So, we’ve unpacked, washed and dried all our clothes, put Noah and Wes’ drawings and letters on the fridge with the fridge magnets souvenirs we’ve purchased thus far, written a shopping list and researched where the closest Whole Foods supermarket is located – it’s about 6 little blocks up and one long block to the west at Columbus Circle, so we’ll probably walk up there and catch the metro one stop home with our groceries…. we have to call them groceries now.

This is all we have at the moment – obviously left over from previous tenants (except the vegemite – I don’t leave home without it!)

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Our visitors were suitably impressed with our new abode and we sat around and chatted for a bit before facing the absolutely freezing temps outside – I didn’t pack any long jeans because I didn’t anticipate it being this cold here, so I guess that means I’m going to have to go shopping  – damn it!  Although we’ve only got one more day of cold and then she’s hitting the high 20s – which I’ve packed for, so I’m sure I can continue to wear layer upon layer until then.

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On the way home from dinner we came across another supermarket and whilst checking it out thought we might as well buy our stores from there – it is tricky to know what to purchase when you don’t know the brands.  It made me realise how important branding and packaging is with food because at home, I automatically go for the one I’m used to buying.  I know I like it, I know I’ve read the ingredients etc… before, so it’s a quick grab off the shelf – this shopping expedition took a little longer to complete and even then we left without a few items because it was just too hard to decide.  Damn you yoghurt aisle!

So we can home and our apartment was dark, but the windows were alit with the New York night – we didn’t factor this in when we chose the fabulous location!

Sleep well!

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Here’s a little ditty that explains how it feels to be in New York.  Thank you Alicia Keys.

Gator Time!

Last night when we went to bed we were still cruising somewhere near The Bahamas.  We had packed our bags and put the large suitcases out in the corridor for the porters to take off the ship and I slept soundly.  Luckily for me, but not so fortunate for ML – she is a terrible sleeper and was well and truly awake and up and ready to get going at 5.30 – having already been awake for 2 hours (something I will never be able to understand) I say it’s lucky for me because I sleep with ear plugs which completely block out ALL noise, including the alarm that I set, therefore I would have slept right through the disembarkation process!  We all have our strengths and weaknesses.

So this is what we woke to this morning.  Goodbye Caribbean – hello mainland USA!

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We decided to leave behind our trivia winnings realising that there was probably not going to be much highlighting going on in the near – distant future – maybe they can go back into the winnings pool for the next set of trivia players…. it’s only just occurred to me that the team of people who put the quizzes together only need to organise one week’s worth – they can just rehash the questions again…. then I realised how boring that would be for the questioners.

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Even though I have decided to never to another group tour, we had already booked the tour of the Everglades including a ride on an air boat – just like in the TV show from the 60s – Gentle Ben – remember that one?  A story about a family who lived in the Everglades in Florida.  The dad – he was a wildlife ranger, his wife was there being a 60s wife, their son, Mark and Ben a 700lb black bear who Mark raised from a cub and now they all ride around on this cool air boat in the Everglades.

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So this is where the Everglades are and where we were within them.

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Since the days of Gentle Ben I’ve always wanted to ride on an air boat and today was my big chance.

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There were plenty of boats there as there were plenty of groups headed for this destination today.

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Our Captain was Captain Debra and she was cool.  She knew a lot about The Everglades and gators and the eco system in the river.  Debra loves being an air boat captain.

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She sat us right at the front so we had a great vantage point for gator spotting…

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But apparently with the cool wind, it was a little cool for the gators, so they were either under the water or hiding in the thick of the reeds.  I can’t say I blame them.  It didn’t occur to us to wear jackets or long pants – so I had to purchase a sweatshirt from the gift shop – which will end up coming in handy since the next couple of days in NY are meant to have a top temp of about 12 degrees!


So no wild gators for us today.  We did see some jumping fish and some large osprey /hawk types of birds.

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Now… I want you to think about what happened here in these toilet facilities and why there was a need for this sign.

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Attached to the river is a wildlife rescue park which was a bit of a bonus on this tour – it wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the details.  They have a resident peacock who just wandered along with the group.

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They have a Gator Grill where you can try such delicacies as gator tail bites – we tried this and I can tell you that they taste exactly like frog legs.  A little like chewy chicken, but with a more sinewy texture.  Not unpleasant as long as you don’t think about it, but also not my favourite.

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Then, uncomfortably, we were then introduced to some alligators (they didn’t watch us eat their cousins, don’t fret)

There were two rescue gators in this tank – Crystal, the female who was tiny and then Cannibal who was MASSIVE – and still growing!  Apparently they live for around 90 years.  Crystal had been some idiots pet and when they have been domesticated, they can’t be put back into the wild because they are too used to humans giving them food.  Cannibal hatched 57 years ago at another facility that closed down, so these people took him on.  They are alive, which is great, but they also live in a very small enclosure, which is not so great.  The guy giving the talk was really interesting – impressively so.

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Alligators don’t do too much, which is why, according to Dalton, the talk giver, they don’t feature on shows like Animal Planet, etc… because they’re boring to watch.

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We then got an opportunity to hold a baby gator.  I wasn’t going to, but then I took this photo – look at him with his little bucked teeth – harmless, right?

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And then the lady who was holding him said – he feels just like a soft handbag which was sort of inappropriate as she was in ear’s reach of the baby, but I decided to give it a go and she was right – he was so soft and squishy, a bit like dry fish.  I’m holding him quite softly here, but in the first photo it looks like I’m squeezing him way too hard!

They also had lots of other reptiles – all rescue pets….  I mean who thought it would be a good idea to keep an 18 ft Burmese Python?  Or perhaps a buzzard? A couple of leopards? A racoon? A Bobtail Cat? A fennec fox or perhaps a kookaburra?  Most of the animals had a sad story of being abandoned, mistreated or simply given over once the idiot owners realised that the animal was nocturnal, loud or just huge and way too much work.

Apparently the owner of the kookaburra wasn’t aware it made a noise…


There wasn’t a huge amount of room at this refuge and they completely rely on donations to feed and take care of the animals, so it’s not over run with animals.  They rescued these ones and now use them as teaching animals – teaching people not to get inappropriate animals as pets.

It was a pleasant surprise addition to the end of our Royal Caribbean experience.  Now get me to New York!

A little bit of conversation

When you are at such close quarters with thousands of strangers, you’re bound to hear snippets of their conversations… some have been hilarious.

Here’s an example:

A father with his two young teenaged twin boys eating breakfast.  The boys had filled their plates with chocolate donuts.  Dad was explaining that this was a good opportunity for them to make good choices.

Then he said:

“It doesn’t matter what happens – I’ll always love you.”

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Without skipping a beat, one of the boys said, “What about if we killed Mum?  Would you still love us then?”

To which the dad answered: “Well, that would be sad, but I’d still love you.”

Then Mum appeared and we felt a little conflicted as to whether we should mention the conversation to her or not.

I couldn’t help think that this story sounded familiar…..

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Remember the Menendez brothers?

Remote Island

Today is a sea day as we make our way back to the United States, back to Florida and back to the port of Fort Lauderdale.

I was sitting on our balcony taking in the vast ocean when this floated into view.

We were too far away to see if there was any castaways waving at us, but if you want a remote holiday destination – here you go – it seems to come with its own lighthouse or tower of some sort.

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Labadee… Labadah… Life goes on in Haiti

This was the scene we woke up to this morning.

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Welcome to Labadee – Haiti.  The little arm of Labadee is either owned or controlled by Royal Caribbean, so the beaches are full of beach chairs and hammocks and dining areas – which Royal Caribbean run – they even take food from the ship to feed the masses.  It seemed that there were some local people working as “Beach Monitors” – they put the chairs out and put the umbrellas up, that sort of thing, but other than that, you couldn’t get to any other part of the island.

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The shop used to tender people to the island, but they’ve since built this little finger jetty which is pretty hard to believe holds the ship, but with such calm waters (at the moment) it was no problem.

With this many people there’s no point in trying to get a photo without other people in it – so thank you to this model family.

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I just wanted to add this photo in again randomly – cause it’s not very often that I take a good photo, so I’m going to milk it.

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The water was as clear as clear.  This little cove reminded me of Croatia – it would have been perfect to jump in right there in front of the ship, but the rocks were covered with sea urchins.

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There were a couple of options for a beach swim.  The ocean side which had a thin strip of clear water and then reef, so you could probably lay down flat and get your back wet (some people were taking that option) or there was the bay side where you could at least swim out of your standing depth if you could possibly avoid bumping into a group from Missouri discussing the downfall of American politics.

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Note to anyone wanting to purchase a “Lifeproof” waterproof phone case – do so, it has been a fantastic addition to our gadget collection on this trip.  We got ours from Mitchell and Brown in Geraldton – sure the underwater photography hasn’t been amazing, but that is more likely our skill set.

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These photos don’t do it justice – there were at least 3000 people on this very small beach… we found a little spot in the shade thank goodness – every second person had nearly 3rd degree burns on some part of their bodies and yet were still out there in the sun – in a different style of bather so to try to even up the redness.

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The chairs and umbrellas were $20 to hire, but since we were only going to have a swim we went without, but if we’d known you could hire these bungalows away from the hoards – we would have done that!  They had shade, a ceiling fan, day beds and people bought you drinks.

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This is the beach that we were on.  There were so many water activities to do – you could kayak, snorkel, jet ski, go on boat rides, parasail and play on the bouncy stuff (one young girl bounced wrong and was stretchered out of the water and back to the ship – apparently it was just s whiplash.  There was also a couple of ziplines – when did this become a favourite pastime?  People were literally lining up in the sun in their thousands dressed in harnesses to have a go.

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Here’s a close up of our beach and the bungalows we’ll be renting next time.  This photo was taken much later in the day – so times the number of people you can see here by 100.  After our swim, we decided that rather than elbowing our way around a buffet on the beach, we’d head back to the near empty ship and have a relaxing lunch on our own.  We also had the pool to ourself – unheard of!

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And as quickly as we arrived, we were away again.

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Tonight activities included a bout of musical trivia – rock classics where we didn’t do very well – ML was still amazing – considering they only play an ‘enth’ of the first 2 beats of the song and you’re meant to guess from that she did very well.  However we were left with a gaping hole in our highlighter collection.

With our tails between our legs we went to the main dining room for diner with Migsy and Willy.  The food onboard has been pretty good – especially in the dining room, however tonight was less than ordinary and I know complaining about somebody bringing me free food makes me sound like an entitled wanker, so please know that I’m simply describing the experience – not complaining.

We had a couple of hours to kill between dinner and the evening show – The Fine Line Aqua Performance, so we sat in the piano bar and people watched whilst listening to the dulcet tones of an amazing singer.  We could have sat there all night and listened to him, but the high divers were calling.

I’ve seen a few high diving aqua shows before, but this was completely out there.  It had everything – underwater synchronised leg dancing, stomp dance performers (in the shallow water), high divers, slack liners, high tight rope walkers, an aerial performer – all happening at once.  We got a bit of whiplash ourselves trying to see everything!

These photos don’t do it justice either on how high they were and really how small the pool was that they were diving into.  Amazing!

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It’s goodnight from us…. and out duck lip pouts.

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Hola Puerto Rico

Today’s port was San Juan – Puerto Rico…

Does this building remind anybody else of a rack of stacked bowls?

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ML has been overcome with a bit of a respiratory issue, so she is staying tucked up in bed today whilst I venture out on a tour – The Wonders of San Juan.

The tour buses are all ready and waiting!

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So my tour started out ok in that I got a window seat and a pretty cool tour leader – Luis, however that’s where the good times ended.  Unfortunately the microphone/speaker that Luis was using had a big static problem – obviously something that neither he or the driver could fix easily – otherwise one would have…  the driver’s name was Juan :-).  So Luis acknowledged there was a problem and then just turned up the volume – making it worse… now 1 or 2 of you might know that I have a bit of an issue with these types of noises, especially if I’m meant to focus on what he is saying – it’s like somebody running their fingernails down a blackboard… so I managed to get a bit of information, and then on our first stop, I got out and told Luis that I could go no further.  He was very understanding and pointed me in the direction of the town and back to the ship.

But… what turned out to be a not so good start the day actually was the best thing, because I got to see so much more walking through the town – note to self – stop booking tours!

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So the city of San Juan is a walled city – the wall still exists.  The island was originally inhabited by a few different tribes of Indians, but when Chris Columbus turned up, and the population got down to dangerous numbers due to infectious diseases and exploitation and war.

Puerto Rico – meaning Rich Port was a place where merchants used to hide their ships filled with all sorts of goods.  It was part of the Spanish Empire back in the day and has been a major military post during many wars between Spain and other European pwers.

During the Spanish–American War in 1898, Puerto Rico was invaded and subsequently became a possession of the United States, but it took until 1917 and the establishment of The Jones Act which made Puerto Ricans US Citizens.

Below is the spot where I hopped off the bus and said Adios to Luis and Juan, and just down the bottom there you might be able to see a graveyard with one of the best views in the world – Raul Julia is buried there and apparently Ricky Martin has put his name down when his time is up.

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There are 78 little villages in San Juan like this one below.  They are actually built outside the city walls on land given to them by the government.  They are like ghettos where the lower socio economic group of people live.  This one is called La Perla.  The buildings that I could see looked uninhabitable – possibly from Irma, but it’s possible that they were like that before.

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The streets are all cobblestone and the buildings are painted beautiful pastel colours.

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I passed a lovely little square …

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with a church on one side…

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and an El Convento on the other.

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I love that you could purchase water and sodas at the religious goods store. 🙂

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More of the pretty coloured buildings…

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and the shop fronts…

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Puerto Rico is quite a religious place…

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There are pictures of Jesus and nativity scenes everywhere like this one made out of a coconut shell… I don’t know, but a couple of those wise men look a bit shifty to me.

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Another thing that they love here is the Pina Colada because this is where it originated.  Not just in San Juan – but in this restaurant right here:

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They’ve got a plaque and everything.

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Another thing they love which I can completely relate to is doors.  There is a shop there that specialises in making these tiny doors which they will personalise for free.  I thought they were lovely, but would possibly break in my suitcase.

I didn’t have to walk too far really as San Juan is quite a small little place.

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I passed some fabulous old buildings…

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… and some lovely flash new ones.

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I was expecting there to be a lot of Irma damage like there was at Sint Maarten, but San Juan seems to either have been spared or they had done a massive clean up job… in fact, this was the only mishap the I saw and that could have been caused by a car backing into it.

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The entrance back to the ship was lined with market stalls selling their wares – most the same as the last.  There was a lot of handy crafts made from reclaimed wood from the storm which is great, but not so great for me bring back in Australia – I know the rules!

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Is this what happens to you when you live/travel with the same person for too long?

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This was the view from back on the ship where I went to escape the heat of the day.

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There were two other ships in port next to us – 1 x Holland America and 1 x Carnival – Here’s hoping that the tourist dollar is helping to rebuild Puerto Rico.

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Adios San Juan – you were a pleasant surprise.

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Back to life on deck… ML was feeling a touch better after her sleep in and was raring to go for a little bit of music trivia… and would you look who won – solo – like on her own – I mean, I only wrote the answers down – she was a machine! Like a solo music factory – only one team came close and when we ended up with even scores – there was a tie breaker which ML nailed and we went back to our cabin the proud owners of a highlighter each.  Not just any old highlighter – one that clips on with a carabena clip.

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Still on a high from our win we dolled up and hit the Japanese restaurant which was hilarious for all the wrong reasons….

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The food was absolutely delicious…

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…. but ML can’t use chopsticks, so we got a lesson from the waiter Ed, who is from The Philippines and then he went away and made these for her…

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Here’s a close up at his handywork

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Now there was a lady sitting behind me – in ML’s view and every time she had to read something she’d pop on her glasses – which only had one arm.  ML was trying to tell me about her without me having to turn around and every time she went to tell the story – this happened….

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We were absolutely crying… and then had to order with Ed with tears streaming down our cheeks.  Hilarious.  I don’t care if you had to be there – it was hilarious!

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Another great day!

The Devastation of Irma

Our first port of call is the island of Sint Maarten.  We weren’t sure what to expect on this island although ML has been here on her previous jaunt.  All I knew about it was that is has the beach – Maho Beach where the planes land and take off over the beach – you know the one where you can stand on the sand and be blown into the water by the jets…. in fact a woman was killed just recently doing exactly that – so of course, that was where were headed…..

Looks pretty nice doesn’t it?

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We got off the ship and headed for a taxi stand.

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The water in this bay is a glorious shade of pale blue.

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As we turned the corner across to the other side of the island things started to be put very much into perspective and we saw the devastation that Irma and the other woman did to this beautiful island…. more on that in a minute.

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Because firstly let me take you to the famous Maho Beach… when ML came here last time she said that there were only a handful of people there with a gentle reggae band playing in the distance and lots of planes landing – like every 5 minutes or so…

When we got there, this is what we found…

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No planes yet, but I did get to dip my toes in the water.

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Instead of a gentle reggae band we had a hammering of noise from these buildings….  One place had some sports game on LOUD and the other had a DJ playing at volume 13 (at least)

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It was all too much for my sensitive ears, so we got back into a taxi and waited until the bus was full before we could leave.  Obviously they were short of drivers.

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Then as we drove away about 6 planes flew in.  I wasn’t disappointed that we missed it.


Now on the way back to the ship, this is what we saw….

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Utter devastation.

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Most of the buildings had some sort of damage and lots were uninhabitable.

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Boat upon luxury boat were just washed up on their sides – some with people on them, just sitting having a cup of tea or doing a bit of repair work.

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I’m not sure what landed here in front of the Traffic Man, but it surely made a dent.

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There is so much work to do on this island that it was hard to just get back on our ship and sail away, but the people that we came across seemed to just be getting on with their lives.  Maybe in this part of the world hurricane damage is a part of that life?  Hopefully our being there, along with plethora other cruise ships is actually bringing in money for the locals to start rebuilding.

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Now, I can’t blame Irma for this devastation, but I cut my legs shaving and had to Norman Gunston them.  I’m both embarrassed and sad…. and a little bit in pain.

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Women in Harmony

Apologies for the lack of blog over the past 5 days – ML and I have been sailing the Caribbean Sea on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas…  We were going to try and go internet free for the whole week, but I caved midway through day 5… so here we are!

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Until yesterday – she was the largest cruise ship in the world…. but RC have outdone themselves and built an even bigger ship – Symphony of the Seas which is about an inch bigger apparently – that was launched this week.

This gives you an idea of how big the ship is.  Walking from pool to food – I’ve never done so much walking before!!!

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Boarding was pretty exciting after an interesting Uber ride from Miami Beach with a chap who spoke not a single word of English.  When we got to the security gate at the port, ML had to explain who he was and that he wasn’t coming with us.

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We didn’t have to wait too long before we could get into our room, so we wandered around the ship to get to know the lay of the land (so to speak) and then unpacked.  After completing the online check in asking for 2 single beds, and then writing a personal email  making sure that we would be able to have 2 single beds – there was one bed, but Winston, our Stateroom Attendant was quick to rectify the situation – but really, if they had a list of beds that need to be together or apart early on it could save them a lot of bother…. I’ll have to suggest it to Guest Services.

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Here’s a little photo montage of our first impressions of the ship.

The Promenade – cafes, bars and some shops.

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Central Park – restaurants – overlooked by the indoor cabins.

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There’s a Jamie’s and a Johnny Rockets burger joint…

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That’s the Captain taking celebrity photos with people.

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The shopping is pretty full on and expensive…. Oh look Darl, it’s Cartier!

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This tiara was quite affordable, but ML said it didn’t fit me very well….. I would have thought I could have made it work.

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There is a bar with bionic bar robots that make the drinks – this has only had a few people trying this out whenever we’ve passed it – It’s probably interesting for one drink, but where’s the witty banter?

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There’s a rock climbing wall

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Then one for the kiddies.

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You can zip line from one point of the ship to another.

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It doesn’t go very far, but it’s a good way to peer into some of the inside cabins.

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There is a carousel – or merry go round.  I walked past this one time and saw the saddest nana on there.  It was like her family had plonked her on there while they went and did something else.

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RC is very serious about hand washing so they have this Purell liquid hand sanitiser in front of every single doorway.  So the skin on my hands is quite dry and my ring has rusted a bit – potent stuff!

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This is the adults only Solarium – no pool, but 3 very hot spas… so essentially a sauna.

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Mini golf

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The bus where you drive your mates to the beach….. oops, this bus seems to be empty ML.

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There is not one, but two wave ride pools – I wasn’t game to try this myself, and my lack of interest didn’t help, but I did spend an afternoon watching other people doing it and there were some very impressive manoeuvres and some hilarious falls.

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This is called The Abyss – you climb up into the mouth, slide down one of two slides…

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… and end up on the bottom level – apparently this sort of thing is essential to cruise ships now.  The kids love it (big and small!)

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Central Park

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This is how you tell if the cabana chair is free – look for the feet.

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First things first – the safety drill at your muster station.  We were all crammed into a really small room with not a lot of space between us when our muster station attendant told us that she was waiting on 90 more people, so could we squeeze in a bit more – if the ship went down at that moment, we would have been fish food.  They did show a really cool safety video though – like a James Bond type of thing where he was searching for all the things you’re not meant to do… and then there was a song about washing your hands.

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And then we sailed out of Fort Lauderdale…

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This platform is on top of the Bridge and is glass  – so only those with a solid understanding and belief in engineering stand on it.

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As ML has sailed out of this port before – she was able to point out the house you can see here with its own wave rider pool!!!

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Then it was see you later alligator…

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As we sailed out, this plane flew overhead with this sign – “Liv P Wanna Fly To Prom With Me?”  Gee I hope she said yes and I hope she can read backwards.

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Our first dinner at the Main Grande Dining Room – Our waiters are Willy from Mexico & Miguel from The Philippines, who we have nicknamed Migsy…. he doesn’t understand why.

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Look Jen – your top got an outing!

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Our first show of the cruise was the ship’s production of Grease.  Not bad, but not spectacular – maybe for me Grease has been done to death and maybe it’s because I once starred in a university production of Grease (and when I say starred, I was in the chorus with no lines, however I did cartwheel across stage)… Also our experience was peppered with anecdotes from the chap sitting behind us – he regaled his wife with all the things he had done during the day whilst Sandy belted out “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and when I turned and gave him the finger to the lips he said “Oh, I’m fine!” and continued on….

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Day 1 – done and dusted.

 

Miami – Here we go again!

Quite early this morning we said “Adios!” to Mexico and flew back into Miami.

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We arrived with the knowledge that we would have to work our way through their passport control again.  You check yourself in with your passport which then takes your photo and spits out a receipt with the picture printed on it and then it is either marked with an X or it’s not.  ML’s was not so she swooped into lane C and headed straight out to baggage claim after a few routine question from a bloke in uniform.  I on the other hand had an X and was therefore told to join lane A – the lane with the longest and slowest moving line.  It probably took me an hour to get to the front and then I was treated to a lovely passport controller. “Where have you just flown in from sweetie?” he asked me and that was really it.  In fact ML got asked way more questions than I did, so the process wasn’t really painful – just long and drawn out.

Straight to our hotel – The Hotel Clinton which is a lovely place and we were upgraded to a bigger room with a view over the pool – score!

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By the way – this is the pool, so only two people are allowed in there at a time…. I may have just made that rule up then – but it makes sense.

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I do so love the art deco buildings.

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We headed down to the front promenade for some lunch and a beverage and were not disappointed.  There were cars of all sorts – Ferraris, Mustangs, Porches, Lamborghinis… I think – I wouldn’t really know.  All I do know is they were hotted up and loud – just another way for people to say “LOOK AT ME!!!!!!!!”

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There were blokes revving motorbikes with their g-string bikini clad girlfriends hanging on the back – it’s enough to give you whiplash!  We got a table right on the front with an uninterrupted view of the goings on.

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I wanted to have another look at the beach and put my feet in the water – and everybody else clearly had the same idea.  There were people everywhere.  The beach has much more of a party vibe to it than what I’m used to at home.  People were in larger groups and each group had their own music playing loudly – so it really was an assault on the ears as you casually walked down to the water.  I can’t imagine anyone was really relaxed – but maybe that’s not what it’s all about here?

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The water was a beautiful colour and really warm.  There were a few bits of weed, but only what you can see in this photo.

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There are different coloured lifeguard lookout huts, and vans where you can purchase drinks and you can rent umbrellas, loungers or tents.

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So, after much consideration, it turns out that South Beach isn’t really my vibe.  On our first time around we were gob smacked by the people, and their lack of outfits or self-consciousness and the constant stench of Mary Juana… you know how in some places you get the odd waft of something and it passes? The only way to describe this is a stench.  It’s everywhere – in every breath you take – it’s overwhelming.

So, I’m very glad that I got see Miami and have loved the buildings and the art deco architecture, but I’m not sure that it would be a place that I feel I’d want to return – it’s a party town and this party girl has well and truly hung up her dancing shoes…. and I prefer to keep my butt covered.  I mean – we saw a girl wearing this item today… I clearly don’t belong here.
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We’re boarding the ship tomorrow and we’re still in two minds as to whether we are going to purchase internet access or have the week completely digital free, so please don’t be alarmed if there is no blog for the next week.

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Bon Voyage to us!

Tulum

Today we were venturing south along the coast to a village called Tulum.  There are a couple of reasons why this was on our itinerary.  ML wanted to sit on the beach and sip a Blue Tulum cocktail (we’re not sure of the ingredients… but we’re assuming Blue Curacao is making a comeback from the early 90s!)

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The other reason is that this is quite a big archaeological area and thought we’d best get us a bit of culture before leaving Mexico.

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We chose to risk it again and hire a car as there was only one main road to really drive on and the signage on the main road is really good.  This time we asked at the hotel reception for a recommendation on car hire establishments.  Alejandra, the lovely lady behind the desk was drawing us a mud map to get to Hertz when Miguel, the porter stepped in and gave us a business card to Easy Car Hire – they weren’t a big name and we were being very cautious… but as we walked out of the door to head to Hertz 2 men walked in and then quickly followed us out.  Miguel had obviously pointed us out to them and they chased after us to tell us about their cars.  This turned out to be a fortuitous encounter because Eduardo, who was only on his 4th day of the job walked us up about 3 blocks to their lovely, clean and air conditioned office.  They were very professional and assured us that all their cars were brand new – which was true.

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We chose this little Mitsubishi, which was tiny, but suited what we needed.  The price came in at exactly a 3rd of the price that we paid for the possibly stolen heap of junk on Cozumel – we won’t be fooled again.

The road to Tulum is about a 30 minute drive south in a straight line.  Driving on the right (wrong) side of the road is becoming second nature now – but I still need to remind myself when turning right that I don’t drift over to the left.  Not really knowing what to expect of our destination, we turned left at the sign, parked relatively easily and followed the crowd.  The archeological site is about an 800m walk away from the main section of markets and restaurants, so in 38+ degrees we chose to catch the tractor train.

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As always we brought the crowd with us, so with 98 of our closest friends we lined up at one small window to buy our tickets to enter the area.

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Our transaction of “dos tickets por favor” took about 6 seconds, so I don’t know why other people took so long at the window.  Being the old ladies that we are, we dug out the fan and were the envy of many.

Ticket in hand we followed the path towards to sound of the Caribbean Sea.  The city of Tulum was also known as “Zama” (dawn) because it is one of the places where dawn first breaks in Mexico.

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The place was full of these iguana type dragons which shouldn’t have been frightening, but they were!  Their ability to scarper at the speed of a racehorse is what freaks me out…. on doing a bit more research, there are some of these lizards that are called “Jesus Lizards” because of their ability to run on water!

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This area is also a nursery to the loggerhead & white turtles.  They are punctual without fail, every year between June and October they turn up and lay their eggs.  After many years and after travelling thousands of kms, those turtles who survived to reproductive age, return to where they were born to spawn and thus repeat what has happened year after year for centuries.  Also with all this seaweed, I’m not sure how they reached the nests!

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So, in 38+ degrees how many ruined buildings is it acceptable to see before seeking the air-conditioning of a Starbucks?

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We put in a solid hour before we started to fade.  On entrance there are signs everywhere about this animal – a Mexican racoony type of thing.

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Apparently there was one there that hangs around the ticket area that was saved from illness and hand nursed back to health by the staff, so even though he is tame and friendly, he’s not a pet and must not be touched – so, he was on the floor with 4-5 people standing in a circle around him taking photos when a girl walked through the middle of the circle without seeing what was going on and stepped on his tail – to which he bit her.  We were on our way to the tractor bus – we didn’t even break stride…. I don’t think rabies is a thing in Mexico, is it?

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Back in the village we sat with a refreshing beverage right next to this fan which was not being put to good use at all!

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…and were entertained by (Thanks Wikipedia) the Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers).  It’s an ancient ceremony still performed today, albeit in modified form, in isolated pockets in Mexico. The ritual consists of dance and the climbing of a 30-meter pole from which four of the five participants then launch themselves tied with ropes to descend to the ground. The fifth remains on top of the pole, dancing and playing a flute and drum. According to one myth, the ritual was created to ask the gods to end a severe drought.

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4 men climb up and wrap individual ropes around the top of the pole and around themselves…. not much in the way of OH&S, then one of the guys – the most experienced I would guess blows a whistle whist banging a small drum, then they all drop backwards and the thing at the top spins them around while their rope unwinds… all the while the whistle blower blows and drums and the man on the ground walks around with the hat.

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When the Starbucks guy asked for my name I hesitated for a moment because usually my name “Shelley” is heard as Shirley, Cheryl, Cheryl-Lynn, Sharon, Sandra, Sharley, Sally, etc….. but I thought I’ll give it another go – I’ve never been called “Sherlin” before, so that’s a new one.

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When ML ordered her drink he asked for her name and she said just use the same name…. he obviously couldn’t remember what I’d said first, but must have remembered that it started with “Sh”… funny!

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On the way home…. this is how you transport the kids in Mexico!

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As it was our last night – I wanted to have one last look at the beach after dinner….. 

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Look at that pile of seaweed!  It’s time to go….. Mexico!

A Cozumel Catastrophe Waiting to Happen.

Just off Playa del Carmen is an island called “Cozumel” It’s quite a big island where cruise ships dock and people live and can stay.  The island offers lots in the way of water activities and has lovely beaches to swim and snorkel at etc…

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Not wanting to go on any boat trips and not really interested in snorkelling limited the activity list somewhat, so we decided (on a few recommendations) to rent a car and drive around the island checking out all the beaches.

ML had read that one of the ferry lines had been the target of a recent attack (twice) and so much preferred to travel on the other line.  Ours was a slightly older, slower ferry, but peace of mind was worth it.

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This chap is already raring to go!

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After the 30 minute ferry ride across, we chose two friendly looking woman from the plethora of car touts blocking the exit from the ferry terminal.  We chose a small automatic car with air conditioning and were then walked a couple of blocks to the main office – which was a small room off the street. Flavio then did all the paperwork, answered a few personal calls and generally faffed about the office before showing us to the car.  It was already running when we got in and sounded ok as far as we were both concerned.  We waited for a massive bus to pass us, and side swipe the car parked just in front of us as it tried to turn a very sharp corner.  When the driver found that he couldn’t make the turn, he chucked her in reverse and the back corner of the bus scraped along the doors of the car it had just hit.  There was no kerfuffle at all, the owner of the car raced out of a building and just moved the car, but that was it!  We took off as soon as we could and found our way to the one main road that goes around the island pretty easily and were on our way.  On one side of the island – the one that faces the mainland there is one beach club after another.  The other side is where the free beaches are.  We decided that we’d like to check out a beach club, so we chugged along in our little (possibly stolen) car, the engine skipping every now and then and parked at one of the beach clubs that I’d read about.  You pay a fee and then you have access to the beach, beach loungers, floating, climbing things, kayaks, floating mats, a pool and bathroom facilities.  There’s also a bar and restaurant.  So we paid our money and went in.  We found a couple of loungers in the shade and went straight into the beautiful clear water for a swim.

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The water definitely felt different to home – this was smooth and heavy and much saltier.

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Here’s me doing my best Celeste Barber impersonation of her impersonating some of the ladies we’ve come across thus far…. the hand on the head is meant to be my fingers running through my hair – but as I’m super sun safety cautious, this will have to do.  I’m also enjoying the way the water is making my behind look like a caricature…. I don’t know why I don’t have a left arm.

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The sky clouded over and the wind picked up making the beach less appealing and so we headed up to the pool for a quick dip before lunch.  Yes, she’s a small pool and yes, we were expecting bigger things, but it was perfect for a little dip – and we had it pretty much to ourselves.

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We changed out of our wet bathers for a comfortable lunch and then hopped into the hot car to scoot around the other side of the island for a look at the free beaches.  Thank you Kirta for our little prize – these have come in very handy on more than one occasion!

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The car didn’t start first time and so I tried all sorts of tricks – waiting until the oil light goes off, fiddle with the steering wheel until the key turns, pump the accelerator, wind down the window (handle has no knob!) and eventually it started.  I’m not sure which of those strategies was the one that worked though….

One of the first places we stopped was this little beach.  The sea was rough, it was really windy and the shore and water were covered in seaweed and she was a wee bit smelly.  The colour of the water was beautiful though – so in less windy conditions, and at a different time of year when the weed isn’t abundant – this place would have been glorious.

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It was a little bit reminiscent of Kalbarri in WA – not the smell, but the rocks.

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There was a souvenir shop – of course…

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The car had another small attack of the “I don’t want to starts”, but after a few attempts we were good to go… Up the road a bit more, there was a beach where lots of people were swimming.  But not us – once you take wet bathers off – there’s no way they’re going back on!

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This time when we stopped we were reluctant to stop the engine – just in case… but wanted to get out and have a look around, so had no other choice.  Starting it again took all our motor vehicle knowledge combined and after a few bangs and whacks, it started, but sounded like it needed me to pull out the choke – remember when you had to do that?  We spluttered all the way back to the office where Flavio was going to get a piece of my mind.  You’re probably thinking Flavio wouldn’t have cared too much, and you would  be right.  I told him his car was a pile of junk and not fit to be on the road and he said, quite rightly, “Why didn’t you bring it back or call me?” I retorted with, “Why did you rent it to me like that in the first place? – it’s obviously junk!” and with that we came to an impasse.  My suggestion is to those heading to Cozumel and are wanting to rent a car – either don’t go through this mob, or test it out first – this man in the helmet is not Flavio.

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After that debacle we weren’t in the mood to pursue the numerous tourist stalls lining the street – all selling the exact same wares, so we passed by everything with a many “No, gracias” and headed straight for the ferry terminal and wait for the next ferry.

Once back on the mainland…. (See ya round Cozumel (can you see it in the background?)

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We sauntered back down the main street to our hotel stopping for an ice-cream – I felt I needed a little pick me up.  We chose this stall, outside a tourist stop.  You choose your ice cream at the front, then the lady writes down what you had and hands you a piece of paper and you have to go to the very back of the store to pay for it.  At the back of the store there were two cashiers who are busy ringing up hundreds of souvenirs for customers, so we got to eat our ice-cream before it melted whilst lined up at the back of this shop.  We decided that if we finished the icecream before we got to pay, we’d just leave via the side door.  I can’t say it was the best system for the customer, but maybe it works for them? Their repeat customers can’t be plentiful.

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We got back to our hotel to more towel art….

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The we popped up to the mainy for dinner.

Delicious guac…

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… and tacos (and it’s not even Tuesday!)

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And… we were treated to a show of three blokes doing a breakdance/acrobatics performance.  I’ve just been to the Comm Games and these three guys could have well and truly competed in the “Freestyle” category, if there was one – they were amazing!

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XCARET

When we were looking for things to do for the couple of days we had available before the cruise started, we initially thought driving around the Florida Keys – then Hurricane Irma happened and wiped a fair bit of the keys into the sea, so we started looking further afield and ML found this place – Xcaret – this is a privately owned theme park – but not like the theme parks that you’re used to.  This is an ecological Park that is built in the same area as the archaeological site of the same name.

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(Thanks Wikipedia) The land was originally purchased by a group of Mexican entrepreneurs, led by architect Miguel Quintana Pali. 5 hectares of the land was purchased in 1984.

When he began to clear the land, he started uncovering cenotes, sinkholes formed by collapsed cave ceilings weakened by 3 million years of erosion from underground rivers running through them and flowing into the sea.  He saw the potential for tourism and formulated the idea of an Ecological Park open to the public in December 1990.

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ML really wanted to float down the rivers, so that was our main purpose for visiting the park.  There was also exotic birds and a horse show, some other random animals – a jaguar, a tapir, a monkey and some kind of Mexican racoon.  You could also snorkel, swim with dolphins or sting rays, just swim at a little beach or have the dead skin eaten off your feet by fish…. there was really something for everyone.

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It was quite  busy tourist spot and lots of big tour groups, but besides a couple of bottle neck areas on the river, the crowds didn’t really impede on our experience.  We donned our mandatory life jackets …

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…. and headed down, down, down to the cavernous caves below.

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The water was about 22 degrees, so was chilly upon entry, but quite nice to float along to.

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We had purchased waterproof covers for our phones and then waterproof punches to put the waterproof covered phones in – you know, just in case… then hooked them around our necks so we didn’t lose them – this was my attempt at taking a photo of what was in front of me whilst treading water and trying to see what was on the screen…

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Yes, it was a little bit creepy to start off with (the caves, not my accidental selfie!), but as you went on, you noticed how clear the water was and how relaxing it was to just float along…. some people thought it was the fast lane at the local aquatic centre and kicked their way past people, but other than that, the river was full of calm, happy people just having a bit of fun.

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There were interesting things around every corner…. now this photo makes it look like there wasn’t much breathing room between the water level and the ceiling – bit it was totally fine.

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The one thing that you don’t consider is who might have worn your lifejacket before you.  There is a strap that goes from the back, between your legs and fastens at the front so your jacket doesn’t float off over your head…. funnily enough this was one of the only underwater photos that I took that actually worked out – seriously, we’ve never seen so much bare buttocks as we have done on this trip so far and it’s only been 4 days!

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The other thing that gave us a little fright was the cave full of bats!  That’s right, you read that correctly.  We floated around a bend and into a relatively dark cave and looked up!  Needless to say we swam a little faster through there – not before bravely taking a photo though.

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There was also a fabulous big room that opened up at the ceiling (people could look down over the railing above)  It was like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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The lighting was lovely and they sprayed mist from the tops of the high walls – maybe to give a rainforest effect?  I’m not sure – all I know is that it played havoc with my glasses.

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Low tide!

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This was of the many photo opps along the river.  You pressed a button and stood in the right place and a photo was taken – which you then purchase at the end.  We didn’t partake in this particular bit of fun.

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We knew we were getting close to the end and closer to the ocean when the mangroves appeared.

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A bit of underwater photography magic…

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And then the big photo opp to finish…

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This was our attempt…

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When we got out of the river we were right near the sea.  There were small little pools like this one that people were swimming in.

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And also a big row of chairs and hammocks to take in the scenery.

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Australia was on that pole somewhere…

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We sat in a couple of beach chairs and watched the parade of passers by.  There were activities a plenty going on – parasailing… no, I won’t ever be doing that again!, fast boating – also not a huge desire to do that, glass bottom boats, diving – the lot.

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After our big day we found these change rooms to get out of our wet bathers – lucky we’re not too tall or too short!  btw – these were unisex change rooms and not a single person got offended by who was changing next to them – amazing!

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We taxied back to Playa del Carmen with a relatively tame driver – our driver on the way there was like a bat out of hell and cornered like he was on rails!  So a nice sedate drive home was welcomed.

We showered and changed and headed out on the town for the evening.  We found out where Paul Stanley was headed the other night.  Apparently he works out the front of Señor Frog’s!  I’m not sure of the relevance of the skipping rope.

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Not wanting to go too far from the hotel after our big swim, we stopped at a Mexican place on the main drag where were escorted by a poncho wearing Mexican man.  He plonked us at a balcony table upstairs and we ordered ML her first ever tequila.  I suggested a Patron because I’d tasted it once before and wasn’t immediately sick, so I thought that would be a good start.

The waiter carried the drinks down a flight of stairs on his head which was clever, but such showmanship didn’t bode too well for the quality of the food.  He later carried down two full margarita glasses, one on top of the other on his head.  Impressive, but unnecessary.

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So ML’s first taste of tequila – straight.

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And she was not fussed.  We only got one shot to share – in Mexico a shot is 44mls (1.5oz) and as we weren’t going to shoot it, I thought it best to share and sip.  After ML’s initial taste we decided to add some salt and lime which helped the medicine go down.

Keeping the Mexican theme going – we ordered those margaritas – the ones he carried on his head.

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It was a good spot – up high on the balcony, but not the best vantage point for people watching… we did however manage to spot someone who we thought could possibly be Olivia Newton-John’s missing husband!!!

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I can see clearly now the rain has gone…

Well, that was quick!  Jose, the valet from Miami was right – the weather really does move quickly in these parts because today we woke to sunshine and warmth, but unfortunately the seaweed had quadrupled – so no ocean (or sea) swimming for us today.

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We did check out our hotel pool though and thought we’d give that a crack a bit later in the day.

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If you got too close to the fence this is what you overlooked… someone’s backyard complete with very well looked after plants.  It’s probably somebody’s oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the tourists…. and here we are photographing it!

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I do have questions about how he is going to get this kayak down to the ocean though.

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Followers of previous blogs will know our love of the store – Walmart and as luck would have it there is a store in walking distance of our hotel!!!  We headed straight there.

On our way we passed a cute shop where somebody was sewing oddly shaped bags and cases…

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And some pretty impressive murals…

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And then Walmart!

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It started well with a lovely flower display…

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And then there were the Mexican wrestling masks…

Now granted ML had never worn a wrestling mask before this and so the holes in the front were a mstery to her… admittedly, she does have a lot of hair to contend with.

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I simply learned from her traumatic experience and placed the holes over my eyes, nose and mouth for a snug fit with optimal seeing and breathing.

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The rest of the store however, was a little underwhelming.  I tried to try on some bathers, but the change rooms had no locks on the doors and the crotch had a security tag pinned through both the front and the back of the material in a very awkward place making it impossible to put on… so they got flung back on a shelf and we left pretty much empty handed.

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On our way back, we stopped off at a fairly dodgy back street cafe for a drink.

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ML was reluctant to touch the furniture, but she eased into it and the grimace on her face started to subside somewhat when we were approached by a woman in her 50s asking if we were Australian.  We told her we were and she, also being Australian – hailing from Cairns started chatting and telling us her life story.  Mid sentence she asked if she could sit with us… which she did and ordered herself a drink.  We learned that Fiona had recently moved to Playa del Carmen after only visiting the place for 2 days last August.  She loved it so much that she went home, sold everything and moved here for good.  She is in the process of gaining residency and once that’s through in the next couple of weeks she’ll be able to leave the country and visit her boyfriend in Belize.  She speaks fluent Spanish and has purchased an apartment where she has parties all the time with her new local and expat friends.  She is also part of a book/wine club and volunteers with helping secondary students learn English and reads primary kids books in Spanish.  She has no family in Australia, but has cousins in Georgia and South Carolina.  She was on her way to the visa office, so she up and left as quickly as he’d arrived – knowing only our names and that we arrived yesterday.  I hope we can stay in touch.

This is not her – but it could be.

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Due to ML’s delicate stomach and need to eat in a clean establishment we headed back to a place we’d seen earlier near our hotel and had the most delicious guacamole and tequila cheese dip (that you eat in a little soft tortillas).

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and the walls had cool murals…

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This was also the BEST place for people watching…

I want to know how this man got into these clothes… was there perhaps an oil spray used?

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You know how there’s usually an invisible line between where you should wear  beachwear and underwear (covered by some clothes)… and the further away from the beach that you are – the more clothes one should put on?

This lady never saw that sign…. or the line…. and there cant be any extra clothes in that backpack.

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This poor chap has got suitcases and a backpack full of what I assume can only be shirts, but no hands free to stop and pop one on….. it is also possible that he is in fact Clark Kent on his way to finding a phone box, so we’ll let this one slide… and also, he has more clothes on than some other men we saw.

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One thing that ML didn’t realise is that if you do eat at a dodgy cafe, there is a 24 hour doctor right around the corner – so why not try one of those snags that are sitting out on the street in the blazing sun in easy reach of the passers by… medical help is close by.

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After a little walk up the street where I’m sure we were the subject of other people sitting in the cafes doing a bit of their own people watching, we came across a small shopping centre with a shop called Bari – which is what Marie’s name sounds like when you’ve got a problem with your adenoids.

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And just outside we spotted this man having his Nike sneakers washed – as you do.

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Just wondering if anybody would like us to bring back one of these little souvenirs?  Lightweight, easy to pack…. the first 10 people to let me know will get one.

Kirta – don’t you worry, cause we have already sent yours home. Without asking or even thinking we knew straight away that you’d want to add this little baby to your collection. You’re welcome. x

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Just another couple of sights whilst sitting and watching the world go by…

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There is a Frida Kahlo exhibition on right across the road from our hotel and tonight there was Frida herself selling the tickets.

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And randomly…. Paul Stanley from Kiss was there.

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Ah Mexico – so random!

Ola’ Lady

We woke this morning to find that there’d been a little bit of rain overnight, but nothing too terrible, so we packed and got our overstuffed suitcases down three flights of stairs much to the astonishment of the man behind the counter.

We booked the shuttle bus to take us to the airport but had about an hour before it arrived, so we popped over to Bacon Bitch for some brekky.

We ordered our Bitches – I went for a ‘naked’ whilst ML went for a ‘fancy –  minus the lobster’ (so not too fancy really). The meals were average at best, but the woman serving behind the counter was extremely friendly and really happy to be at work, which gave it a nice vibe.

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As punctual as we could be, we got back to the hotel for the shuttle bus pick up smack on the dot of 10am, but there was no shuttle bus to be found….

Looking around while we were waiting we noticed this couple with matching t-shirts – his said: “She is my Queen” and hers said “He is my King”.  It was their 18th wedding anniversary.  I offered to take a photo of them – which I did on their phone and when I asked to take one on my phone they both looked a little perplexed until I told them that I write a blog, then they relaxed again and said “oh, ok, great!” not asking what type of blog…

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After 15 minutes of no transfer bus, we were told that it could take up to an hour to get to the airport, which didn’t leave us any wiggle room, so we ordered an Uber – how much do we love Uber?  Howard arrived in his Honda Civic less than 30 seconds  later and told us all about Miami and the famous people who live there… Gloria Estifan, Ricky Martin, and lots of tennis players – his favourite sport.  We told him the story of how ML’s mum, Shirl thought that Rafael Nadal was a bit of an asshole because of his pre serve bum picking routine and he nearly wet himself laughing.   Howard got us to the airport in plenty of time and we checked in with no real issues.

Then we played a game of “Man or Mannequin?

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Up until 12 months ago ML loved to watch “Plane Crash Investigations” on the telly until one day she called me and said that with our trip coming up, she wondered if she should probably stop watching it….. I agreed that it was probably best, but today’s flight brought it all back for her as our plane went through some of the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced.

Apparently that light rain we had last night was a massive cold front which according to Jose, the hotel valet, was colliding with the warm air and causing lots of rain, but not to worry cause the weather moves pretty quick in this part of the world…  So we landed after some pretty intense breathing techniques to stop me from being sick and ML to not panic with all her knowledge of plane crashes and their causes… and we landed to torrential rain.

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All the airport pick up people are obviously not allowed into the actual terminal because two feet outside the doorway were about 200 people all holding up signs with the name of their shuttle company or passengers names or names of tours, etc…. We were accosted before getting to this door by not one, but two people who professed to work for the airport but appeared to be standing pretty close to the timeshare desk.  When we said that we didn’t really need their help, but gracias anyway, he seemed offended saying, “But I just wanted to help you and give you this free map.”  Sure he did…. We took the map.

We found our shuttle bloke pretty easily in amongst the throng of drivers and guides and we were handed over to Miguel to drive us to Playa del Carmen about 30 minutes away.  Miguel was only a wee chap and had to get right up close to the steering wheel so he could reach the pedals.  He didn’t speak any English, and as I’ve only been in Mexico for 2 minutes, my Spanish isn’t yet perfect, so we drove in silence… except for his excellent choice in 70s disco music.

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and thank goodness because Miguel needed to concentrate!

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ML was having a heart attack looking forward, but I put my head down and got my Spanish app out to start learning, with the hope that I could at least say thank you to our driver when we arrived at our destination in one piece.

For those of you coming to Cancun – we chose Cancun Shuttles and so far – so good on their service.  I’ll let you know if they remember to pick us up on the way home before fully endorsing them.

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We’re staying at the Illusion Boutique Hotel – right smack in the middle of everything touristy and this is a very touristy place… We popped our bags away and stepped straight out for some lunch and some of the best nachos that we’ve ever tasted.  They’re not like our nachos – they’re way tastier.  I would have taken a photo of them, but we were too hungry and they were half gone before I thought of it.

This was the cute place where the tasty nachos were served.  When I said to ML that we forgot to take a photo – she said, “Oh, don’t you worry, we’ll be back here to have more of these before we go.”  So watch this space.

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Too early for beers – so juices.

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By the time we’d finished lunch the rain had subsided, so a meander down the mainy was in order.  It was one tourist shop after another with a few cafes thrown in, then a tequila tasting shop, then more souvenir shops.

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There were a couple of these bars – with swing seats which looked like fun…. or an accident waiting to happen – it could have gone either way.

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This might be the best souvenir that I’ve ever seen.  Shout out if you think you might like a set.

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This cowboy called out “Ola Lady!” and I managed to have an entire conversation with him in Spanish.  Sure, we didn’t cover many topics, but we learned how we both were and he learned that I wasn’t interested in his shoes.  It was electric!

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ML has stated that she would like to try tequila for the first time whilst she’s in Mexico – something that I’m none too keen on doing if I’m honest, but maybe one of these tasting places might be the go for that exact, one time only purpose?

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There are colourful buildings everywhere…

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In the middle of the touristy street is a narrow church that was full of people all singing.  It sounded lovely, but we didn’t recognise the hymn.

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Our hotel is only this far from the beach, but it wasn’t looking as good as it did in the brochures today with all that rain and cold fronts hitting warm air, etc…

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It was also clumped with seaweed with an aroma that reminded us both of home…

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Hopefully tomorrow will bring better weather and clearer water.  They also don’t take their lifeguarding as seriously as the Aussies or the Americans.

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With the dark clouds starting to loom again we agreed to find shelter with a view to have a beer and watch the rain over the ocean…

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ML’s first ever Sol… I know, right?

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And our view of the locals having their own version of 5sies – standing around a carton of beer on the beach… their version is not that much different to ours really – just that the beers are a bit warmer.

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In the end there wasn’t any more rain and we learned very quickly that ML can’t stay awake after one beer… we’ll blame the jet lag – this time!  So we headed back to our hotel for an early evening.

Jen, Col – I’ve ordered us some of these stools for the kitchen.

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Kitty

Whenever I travel with companions who aren’t Me Jenny I like to have a kitty purse that we all put money into so that when we have drinks or meals or buy tours or tickets, etc…. it’s much easier and quicker to do it with one payment rather than work our who owes who what each day or worse – with each purchase.  I like to have a new kitty for each trip and this is who made it on this one.

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And we’re off – Miami here we come!

It was my job as Aunty Shellenski to get Archie off to day care this morning, then I swapped travel stories with a cool Uber driver before checking in – all before 9.30am!  I can’t quite believe that the day has arrived.  We’ve been so long in the planning of this trip, that it seemed easy to wish away the days, but now that it’s here, I want time to slow right down – otherwise we’ll pass ourselves over the Pacific and be home before we’ve even left!

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I’ve chosen to fly with Air NZ this time, so that means flying through Auckland.  I’ve never been to NZ before, but it is definitely on my list and next time I plan to see more than the airport!

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As some/most of you will know I am a pretty good sleeper and managed to get in a few zzzzz in before landing in LA.

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A quick turn around there before heading to Dallas where I stayed the night.  I collected my bag from the conveyor belt and headed outside where I could see my hotel in the distance – across the other side of the multi story car park.  I asked an official looking chap if it was possible to walk there and he gave very precise instructions of how I would do just that.  So after pushing 2 cases (1 small and 1 large) through a car park and up and down numerous steps I found myself at the front of the hotel – giving way to he shuttle bus that had just picked up people from my plane.

Needless to say I caught the shuttle bus back to the airport the next morning (at the crack) for an early flight to Miami – my final destination to meet Marie.

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ML & I had timed out flights perfectly and as I sat in the foyer trying to get my portable wifi to work in order to contact her, she appeared.

We’re staying at the Shelley Hotel for one obvious reason, but also because she it was a cute art deco building, had two double beds and was relatively cheap…. it also had paper-thin walls, ear shattering music playing in the foyer & no lift – we were on the 3rd floor.

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So in hindsight, perhaps not the most salubrious place to have stayed, but it was for one night and the beds were super comfy.  I walked into the bathroom and noticed 2 lots of Bvlgari toiletries on the bench, complete with a compact mirror and hair brushes.  I thought this is pretty bloody fancy for the Shelley Hotel and said so to ML…. she laughed as she told me that she’d just put them there from her Business Class plane gift!  And to think I was nearly going to take them with me!

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And right next door was this place which we’re going to try for breakfast…

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On our arrival we wandered down to the street that runs along the beach for a quick look and a quick bevvie.  ML had her first ever Corona – I know you’re thinking what I was thinking – where the hell has she been?  But she’s never been big beer drinker, so fair enough.

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3/4s of the way through this one she stated that she probably shouldn’t drink anymore beer.

Now those of you who have been to Miami Beach before will understand that here anything goes as far as dress sense / fashion / or lack there of….  In fact, the less you wear, the better apparently.  Showing off your curves is also popular and more power to them – there has clearly been no body shaming here in Florida and it is both glorious and eye popping to witness such confidence.  I tried to get some photos, but it was just too obvious… and I don’t want to shame anybody – except this girl and that is only for her choice of skin coloured bike shorts.  This is not ok – no matter where you live.

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As luck would have it, my cousin Peter (pronounced Peeterrr in the US), his lovely wife Kay and their adorable children, Noah and Wes are travelling in the USA as well at the moment and had arrived in Florida on the same day – so we caught up with them for the arvo/evening.

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We wondered the beach – and immediately jumped to help a distraught chap try to find his wedding ring in the sand.  He had been playing ball with his buddy and it slipped right off.  So if you see a gold band with “a 1 carat diamond, no wait – 1.5 carat diamond” on Craigslist, then that could be it!  We searched around for a bit, but to no avail, so we bid them good luck and slowly backed away before we were enlisted to find him a metal detector.

This is Pete & Noah doing a bit of looking…

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We wandered around looking at the art deco architecture…

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And the groovy cars.  Mostly people are driving Porches, Ferraris and other random convertible name brands, but there were a few lovely old ones like this parked around….

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We Ubered down to a shopping/cafe strip that Pete & Kay had seen earlier in the day and was a little quieter and more our scene for a drink and dinner, then strolled back to our hotels to walk dinner off.

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Pete & Wes chatting about how many days it would take him to walk a million steps.  Wes wasn’t convinced that his dad would know the maths to help him work it out.

It was lovely to catch up and get a few travel tips from these seasoned travellers. Looking forward to catching up with them again in New York.

Final Day – Day 8 – Netball

Today is the last day of the Games for me and I’m flying solo.  My Team Aus buddies had to head back to Victoria for a family matter, so the journey down to the Gold Coast wasn’t nearly as exciting…. there also wasn’t as many people on the train or at the station or on the shuttle bus – it was like the Games had finished for everybody…. but when I got to the GC Convention Centre, where the netball was being played…. I found everybody.

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A lovely lady called Leanne, but we call her Wesley-Anne (where’s Leanne? Get it?) was able to take the tickets at the last minute when my team realised that they would have to pull out of the event.

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Wes and I used to work together in Melbourne and we are 2/3s of a girl band called “Sharalea” with our lovely friend Sarah.  We didn’t play any gigs as such, but we did come up with a number of song titles over Friday night drinks.  And we made our own band t-shirt – so we were totally legit.

So Leanne now lives on the Gold Coast and had her Mum, Joy and niece, Sally staying during the Games and they gladly took the tickets.  So great for me to have some companions but also to catch up with Wes.

Today’s schedule was terribly exciting.  We saw 2 games – the first two teams were vying for 7th & 8th place and the other two were battling it out for 11th & 12th – so the excitement level gave us a lot of time to catch up.

For some random reason Anna Meares was there – she walked the game ball out onto the court.

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And these were our seats.  The centre was absolutely freezing, so by half time of game two we’d all had enough and Joy needed to thaw out.

Joy is a spritely lady, but has a bit of trouble walking long distances, so we borrowed a wheelchair and let me tell you – it was great for getting to the front of lines and through special entrances!  Settle down – I wouldn’t try to exploit this unnecessarily…. but when the opportunity arises…

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After the game we headed into Broadbeach for a quick drink and a people watch, where Joy accosted a lady with a dog in a pram and swiftly swept him up for a cuddle.  He was happy to oblige.

I also found out that Joy was a champion diver in her day – she was great the 3 metre board, but would have loved to try the higher boards, but the Chiltern Aquatic Centre didn’t have one.  She is also quite adept at the lawn bowls…. so this is my brush with athletic fame today.

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Then just like that… after 2.5 hours on the train home – that was it.

The Games was over.

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Day 7 – Athletics!

Tonight is all about the Athletics – track and field….. a little like country and western – you either love it or your hate it, but you can’t have one without the other.

We were all geared up and kept ourselves amused for the journey back down to the Gold Coast.

There were practice OWAF jumps all over the place while we waiting for Rob’s mate Tammy to join us.

And a bit of fun with the vollies….. they love a high five!

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Let me just take you back briefly to the 2012 London Olympic Games where Madds and I (along with our “Livin’ the Dream” companions Lu & Vinnie) saw our good mate Usain win the gold – so you could say that we are pretty spoilt for track and field viewing….. but just wait until you hear what we got to see at the 2018 Brisbane Comm Games!

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That’s right…

We saw:
* the mens long jump final – Australia’s Henry Frayne won Silver

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* the mens high jump – Australia’s Brandon Starc won Gold

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* the mens shot put – Australia’s Cameron Crombie won Gold & Marty Jackson won the Silver

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* the women’s javelin – Australia’s Kathryn Mitchell won Gold and broke the Games record! & Kelsey-Lee Roberts won the Silver

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* the T35 womens 100m – Australia’s Isis Holt won Gold & Brianna Coop won the Bronze!

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* the woman’s steeplechase – why you’d want to run around the track with wet feet is beyond me – there were a couple of Aussies in there who won participations awards.

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It was a great night – and luckily Madds was there with her enormous finger to point things out to me…

There was a great crowd and we even managed a Mexican wave….


We took a little pair of binoculars this time and we tried hard to spot if our good mate Usain was there watching…. we’d read that he had flown into Brisbane that morning, so he was bound to show himself.

Is that him?

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What about that guy?  Both possibilities!

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But so we can be really sure we enlisted the help of the chap in front of us who had a massive zoom lens…. he also happened to be 400m relay 2014 Comm Games (Scotland) champ Graig Burns!!!!  Not only a famous athlete, but he was also 1 half of the first same sex marriage in Australia on the 9th of Jan – they got married at midnight…. you might have seen them on A Current Affair or in New Idea or something.  What you wouldn’t have seen in New Idea though is this couple in the top right photo bombing and the man on the left ‘scratching’ his nose.  So Craig zoomed around the stadium to see if he could find him, but to no avail…. I heard later that he was probably at the netball watching the Jamaicans.

Naturally Madds and Craig are now lifelong friends.

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Team Australia had a new ring in member tonight in Rob’s mate, Tammy – she was a welcomed member and new everything about all the sports – so she came in very handy when a tricky question was bandied about that Craig couldn’t answer.

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At the end of the session – after the last race 90% of the spectators stood up and headed for the doors….. there was still medal presentations and flag raises and anthems to be sung…. I felt bad for those medal winners who were going to come out to nobody!

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But we stayed until the bitter end.  Yes it does look like I’m squeezing Tammy a little too hard here, but I can assure you she was fine.

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She waited for a break in security and jumped the fence to get a touch of the track…. but lost her nerve in the end, did a little dance and then jumped back over.

On your marks…..
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Get set…
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Go!
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And it’s GOLD to Madds for the statue race.
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Another great Games sister….. let’s start planning the next one!

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GC2018 – Day off / Day 6 – Squashed it!

Yesterday was our Monday day off and that’s exactly what we did – Nothing!  Part of the team (GK & Erin) went to the swimming which  they said was awesome and we watched whatever we could at home on the telly – there was lots of lawn bowls, women’s weightlifting and netball – where the scores were over 100 vs less than 10!

Then Day 6 – First job of the day was the team photo…

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GK & Erin were heading to the beach volleyball in Coolangatta, Rob headed back to the hockey and Madds and I hit the squash courts.

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We were a little apprehensive  at the thought of squash, but to our surprise and delight – it was really exciting!  We found ourselves in the crowd at the ‘show court’ which is clear on all four sides watching  New Zealand vs England and it was a great game.  It was funny, the crowd was generally quite reserved throughout the day, but this game got the people revved up and people got up on their feet on the last point.  So exciting.

Because of the 4 glass sides and because the players wipe their sweaty hands on the walls, there had to be a team of cleaners on hand to do emergency wiping.

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We found ourselves sitting next to a bloke who once played against some famous squash player – he named dropped a bit which was wasted on us…. and the man on the other side of me runs the squash courts in Goondawindy – so we were in great company.

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We were there to see the doubles and mixed doubles – I didn’t even know you could play squash in doubles, but they have built courts with movable walls – ingenious…. this is either what’s left over after they’ve moved the walls to the courts on the left and right, or….. it’s a court for the individual pursuit…. or where you practise your straight shots… or where you get put if you break the rules.  Who knows?

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Here’s the view from the other side.  It was a little disconcerting having the ball hurtling towards you though.

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For some random reason Anna Meares was there and got to have an interview with this bloke.

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Then straight after the exciting NZ vs England game – which went to 3 games, the Aussies played against Guyana which was over in about 14 minutes.  Go Aussies!

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On the way out we found that GK & Erin were on the same train, so we found them and debriefed on our respective sports all the way home.

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We are loving The Games!

 

 

 

GCCG 2018 Day3 (day off)/Day 4

So when you’re a Team Aus Spectator, you need a day off every now and then – especially when you are travelling nearly 2 hours each way to the venues… it can take it out of you, so today I stayed home whilst Rob went to the hockey with his mates and Madds went to the cycling with her cycling mates…

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GK, Erin, Archie and I stayed home to play at the park and cook for the troops, which turned out to be a fairly full on day but without the travel.

Here we have a plate full of Thai Pork Balls which were delicious!  The recipe says it makes 24, but when you double it, it somehow makes 98!

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Here’s the recipe:

750 gms pork mince
1 medium zucchini  – grated
3 medium garlic gloves – minced
1 cup almond meal
3 tbsp spring onions – finely chopped
1 medium free range egg
30 mls fish sauce
30 mls tamari
¼ tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil

1. combine all the ingredients (except the coconut oil) using your hands then shape into balls
2. heat a large pan on medium heat and add in coconut oil.
3. grill the meatballs for about 10 minutes occasionally turning

Then…. Day 4 arrived and we were all up and awake at the absolute crack of dawn – in fact, before the crack… you could say that dawn wasn’t even aware that the crack was nigh.  We made salads for the day’s munchies, coffees to get us going and put stickers on our faces so that the general public would know we were supporting.

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This is all pretty tricky work when getting a group of people, who have varying morning person traits, out the door, but triple that when you have a team member who is only 3.5 years old.  Yes, there were some tears – and not all of them belonged to Archie.

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Once we were on the train, everybody was happy and we were ready for our day at the hockey.

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Like father, like daughter!

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GK’s new name is Tommo for the remainder of the Games

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Off the train and straight onto the shuttle bus where once everybody had boarded, the driver announced that this was the bus to Caloundra and then wet himself laughing!!! (note, you might need to google the bus driver that accidentally drove 100kms in the wrong direction after he entered the wrong information into the GPS with 2 Beach Volleyball players from Grenada onboard and then had to get a police escort to get them to the match on time)

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Through security and straight into our first tri-generational OWAF jump.  The judging panel is still adjudicating.

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We were allocated a section of seating and then it was general admission within that section, so we choose these seats just behind the goals.

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Happy Campers!

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Today’s weather forecast was “mostly cloudy” and 28 degrees….. but let me tell you – it was more like 47 degrees with maybe 2 clouds that weren’t above us!  So within 7 seconds of sitting in the sun I pulled out my trusty wrap and fan and contemplated how much I actually loved hockey to gauge whether I would keep sitting there. #nomionionomaforme

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Turns out – not so much because I managed to watch approximately 13 minutes of the first game between England & India, which wasn’t too exciting and ended in an upset with India taking the game 2-1, before seeking the only shade here in this muddy patch of grass, but there were picnic benches and beanbags, so that was enough for me.

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During my “Shade Sit-in” I hosted many a family trying to get out of the sun and at half time, our whole Team Aus appeared.  We had a couple of beers and watched the world go by.

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This is where I stayed for the day except for the last 15 minutes of the second game between NZ & Canada which was really exciting and ended with an even more exciting score of 0-0.

By the end Archie had had enough, so was REALLY ready to go and then as we were leaving the stadium – this happened…

He only managed to stay knocked out until we got to the train.

I asked Rob to carry me like that as I was also a little tired.

He said no.