Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving at Sea

This year, instead of doing the traditional Thanksgiving at our home, we went on a cruise.

The trip was a gift from my parents, Papa and G.

They originally were supposed to come with us but since G is still recovering from surgery, they were unable to go.

We look forward to sharing the photos and highlights of our trip with them when they come down to the Sunshine State for the winter, but for now, here are some of the highlights from the various ports of call:
En Route to our first port of call:
We had a great time on the cruise ship. what was neat is that in addition to doing things like swimming, playing miniature golf and ping pong, we also were able to keep the schoolwork going with a great Caribbean life set we had purchased through Laughing Star Montessori at the fall conference. These cards were such a hit with the boys! They were able to do their Montessori inspired work while we were out to sea. How cool to get to know about life in the Caribbean as you are actually en route to and then in the Caribbean! What a great investment these materials were for glad we brought them with us.

1st Port of Call: Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
We rented a car and got to experience driving on the other side of the road!
Dear Hubby did a great job at this. So glad that he was driving instead of me...

We found out that those living on the island tend to refer to it as Cayman (pronounced "K Man" with the accent on "Man") versus Grand Cayman or the Cayman Islands. The music on the radio there seems to be a mixture of Caribbean and techno-dance type music. We had not noticed the music the last time we were in the Cayman Islands, as last time, we just got around by foot...being in a rental car gave us a chance to experience their music, commercials, in addition to actually being able to see more of the island itself. If you go to Cayman, rent a car. This made it a much more enhanced experience.

We had a neat time visiting at Montessori by the Sea. Their school is on an amazing piece of the back of the toddler-casa-lower school building, there is a marsh. The upper elementary building is situated right on the sea...amazing views and a fabulous hands-on learning experience for students.

Our arrival time was during when the children had to practice for their Christmas program, so we got to spend some time with Miss K.
We did not get to catch up with some of the other friends we had made at the International Montessori Conference, due to schedule conflicts and time constraints...but our time with Miss K was great!
Big Bro and little Bro were very excited to check out the 3-6 casa and to see that their room had many works that they were familiar with very different thing though was their class pet: a scorpion! No kidding...scorpions live all over Cayman, as they refer to their island.
In addition to having a scorpion as a class pet, the school property also was home to other critters- namely chickens and a watch dog. We were told that the chickens were very friendly, but that we should steer clear of the dog, which we did. The dog was tethered outside of the upper school building. He is friendly around the older students he knows, but not so much with little ones he does not know.
So amazing, though, as most American schools have so many regulations regarding pets, etc.
There just seems to be more of a sense of peacefully co-existing with animals there and less of a concern about legal ramifications if something were to happen say near the marsh, the sea, or the animals...very interesting when you think about it...

We felt badly that we accidentally had left our care package for their school on the cruise ship and since we had to tender over to Cayman, we could not go back to get it to bring it to them in person.
We were happy to see that Miss K's class is enjoying using the Continents Albums that I had made and Miss K had won at the International Montessori Conference's silent auction.
Miss K said that some of the older 5 and 6 year old students have really enjoyed the albums, especially the one for Europe. She showed us some of the additional items they had added to the albums. We took photos and are hoping to add some of the items she had added to her albums to ours.
She also had two wonderful Cayman shelves for local geography and culture.
Made me reflect and want to have more of an area dedicated to Florida, with all kinds of local items, for our homeschool.
Seeing how nicely she had this area laid out was an inspiration!
Thanks so much, Miss K!
You were such a wonderful hostess and so willing to have us stop by and hang out with you:)

We look forward to exchanging pen pal letters, care packages, emails, and hopefully hosting Miss K and some of her colleagues when they come back next year for the conference for a nice cookout or something. Sooner or later, they will get the rest of the goodies we have for them:)

After getting to spend some time with Miss K, we then headed to a beach cove that Miss K suggested to us. The waves were pretty high and the undertow was strong, so we were only in the water for a few minutes. A dead piece of coral was laying on the sand, so we got to bring back a neat souvenir from the beach. We explained to the boys how important it is to NEVER disturb coral that is living but when it has already died and had floated to the sand and is dried out, then it is okay to have for our nature table.

After checking out this cool cove Miss K suggested, we then headed to Boatswain's Beach and Turtle Farm.
We all had a great time learning about the turtles, and actually got to hold some of them as well.
We did a little souvenir shopping and then headed back to the ship.
All in all, Cayman was quite interesting and enjoyable.

2nd Port of Call: Cozumel, Mexico.
My hope in Cozumel was to find this shop that had adorable tiny thimble-sized dolls. We had been to Cozumel before for our honeymoon, and I had purchased some of these dolls there and had hoped to find some again.
No such luck, though...although we did find some other neat little items.

Mexico had many decorations up for Christmas. They had several life sized Nativity scenes, all kinds of Christmas wreaths and poinsettias and ornaments for sale.
In Cozumel, we went to a nice cafe and had a delicious lunch. Right as we were getting to leave, a huge storm came ashore and forced us to spend much of the day at this cafe.
The streets were totally flooded, we saw two boats sink, and the winds and rain were very heavy.
Luckily for us, the fabulous waiter we had let us sit in the "V.I.P. section" of the nightclub portion of the cafe, which was completely covered.
Much of the cafe portion of the restaurant was flooded and some of the glassware smashed as we were sitting there.
To keep Big Bro and Little Bro from being scared, the cafe owners brought out some sombreros.
Many of the adults there also sported sombreros and some people chose to spend the time drinking shots of tequila, which helped to make it a very lively afternoon.

We felt very badly for a horse that was abandoned by its driver...the horse (still attached to the cart it had been pulling) was tied and padlocked to a pole, or else someone surely would have tried to do something to bring the horse from out of the storm.
It was a very surreal sight to see the horse against a backdrop of a horrible storm and then, to see glass smashing and boats sinking.
Luckily, we got back to port safely and moved on to our next port...

3rd Port of Call: Belize.
Belize was quite an eye opener.
Poverty like I have only seen on Christian charity commercials, only worse.
More bleak.
Poverty that seemed to be hopeless and endless.
We took a city tour and then went to the Belize Zoo.
Our tour driver gave us a very frank overview of things in Belize. He spoke about how proud Belize is in having a high literacy rate (over 96%...highest in Central America...), but then, he spoke about how having literate people can actually drain the community, because many people who can read want to go on to better jobs and since there really aren't any jobs for literate people in Belize, they all leave and the community is depleted of its best and brightest young people.
He explained the special relationship Belize shares with Taiwan and also highlighted its relationships with the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and the Mennonite and Amish communities.
We then took a long bus drive to the Belize Zoo.
On the way, we passed through several sections of the city and the country that were really run down, without any running water or electricity. We passed a jail where an inmate was cutting the lawn with a machete. Our tour driver explained that this is usually something they have a person who had been very intoxicated do as a way to punish them and to get them to sober up.
Interesting concept to have a person who is drunk and / or working hungover wielding a machete, but it seemed like he was doing it carefully enough.
we passed by all kinds of roadside barbecue stands, where people had a foil pan of food cooking over charcoal for sale. Many people live here without electricity or water, so getting a bite to eat from one of these stands is a way of life for some people. Also, women in Belize never cook on Saturdays. That is a custom in Belize, according to our tour driver, because woman in Belize are expected to do all of the family's laundry and all of the cleaning on early Saturday and then, they do not do any cooking at all on Saturdays. So, the family either eats something that was prepared the day before or they get something from one of the roadside stands or else the men cook barbecue style.
Some of the meats they eat include:
Royal Rat
Chicken - One of the most affordable meats in Belize, and is readily available (there are chickens everywhere).
Not sure if they eat dog, but there are also loads of dogs running around Belize.
The city tour and then, the subsequent long drive to the Belize Zoo was made fun by the fact that Big Bro met a sweet little girl who was on this excursion with her grandfather. The children had a great time together.
We arrived at the Belize Zoo. This was a very interesting zoo, although not at all what I had imagined.
It was in the middle of nowhere. They had signs that read that there were guards carrying guns and guard dogs, although we did not see either guards or guard dogs. What we did see was a bat hanging out above the stall in the restroom. Each and every person from our bus mentioned this to our driver, but he did not seem to be worried about it.
We then took the entire tour of the zoo with our bus driver. He really seemed to be a zoo employee and knew so much about the animals. We got to see ocelots, jaguars, tapirs, macaws, toucans, various iguanas, eagles, crocodiles, something nicknamed a royal rat (which incidentally some people in Belize eat as meat), and many types of monkeys.
The zoo was a neat experience. If you ever go to Belize, this is worth visiting...just be on the lookout for army ants! We got bitten by several, although their bite was actually not as burning as the ants in Florida...there were just more of them.
When you think zoo, really think nature preserve. Just picture being plunked in a very tropical, heavily forested place. It is kind of laid out like a corn maze, so if you do go, don't get separated for even a second from your guide.
Amazing that it started out as one woman's documentary project and has morphed into a zoo.
The other thing of note was that they had pipes for sale in the gift shop. I cannot imagine any other zoos I have been to carrying bowls like these as souvenirs in their zoo gift shop. Big Bro picked one up and thought that it would be neat for our continents box and I had to gently encourage him to find something else to remember the Belize Zoo...we settled on a wood burned Tapir key chain.
When we returned to the ship from Belize, it was actually our American Thanksgiving.
Seeing the poverty in Belize made us even more grateful for our lives in the USA.
There are so many in Belize with so little. Yet, they seem to be relatively happy and take things in stride. The people we met were generally friendly and proud to be from Belize. Would not feel comfortable spending any length of time here though. Seeing armed guards outside of banks with AK-47s makes you feel a little uneasy. Knowing that Royal rat and dog could be on the menu made us want to skip on anything to eat except for a bag of M & Ms from the zoo gift shop.
Still, very cool to see such an unusual array of animals all native to Belize. And amazing that one woman's dedication has led to such a collection.

4th Port of Call: Roatan, Honduras.
This was a cool Port of Call!
As we pulled in, we heard musicians playing traditional Roatan music, wearing traditional island clothing. Their music was a mixture of instruments and chanting. The drums were more like bongos versus steel drums. They used conch shells as horns. Neat way to wake up in the morning...made for quite an alarm clock...
The landscape is lush and mountainous. Beautiful flowers, very unique palms that look like huge fans. The barrier reef is something to see. Even though we were there on a pretty lousy weather day, the scenery was gorgeous. There is poverty in Roatan, but somehow, their situation seems more optimistic...seems that things will continue to get better for people on this lovely island off the mainland of Honduras.
We had a private tour of the island with Ali from Victor Bodden Tours.
Ali was a class act, and so was Victor Bodden. Victor personally meets every person who books a tour with his company at his stand right by the port. He introduced himself and then, introduced us to Ali.
Victor's story is really a true success story. Victor (who incidentally is of Cayman heritage, although he has lived in Roatan his whole life) had been a cab driver in Roatan and was so personable that people really felt they had a connection with him. A few years back, when visitors would arrive to Roatan, Victor would meet them and give them a personal tour, complete with a stop by his own home to taste some of the tropical fruits he had on his property. Well, people started writing about what a good time they had with him on his tours and someone offered to make him a website and he was featured on Trip Advisor. Then, Bam!!!
Business went through the roof and Victor started hiring other drivers to do the same sort of thing he had done...give people a close-up and personal tour of the island. Victor's family had a monkey as a pet and then, they realized that people loved seeing the animals native to Roatan so he has set up a wonderful little petting zoo of sorts. The animals are incredibly well cared for. The people were so nice and friendly. Ali was just great, too.
Ali shared much about the island, as well as his personal life...
One of the most interesting facts about our driver, Ali, was that in addition to being a full time driver, he is also a full time pastor for a small Christian church called Bethel Holiness Church.
People here seem to be very trusting of each other and are very peaceful and kind.
You do not see the barbed wires, guards with guns, etc. like you do in Belize. The mayor's mansion does not have bars on the windows, gun wielding guards at metal gates, or any of the other security details that one might expect for a high ranking official.
If you read this and love to scuba or snorkel, then Roatan is a great spot for you to visit.
We had planned on stopping to snorkel, but the weather was rainy, so we decided against it.
We really enjoyed this port of call, though. There are other neat opportunities, such as a Mayan zipline, a nice spa, and shopping. We did not do much shoopping, other than the items we purchased at Victor Bodden's little souvenir shop. He had some beautiful handmade items and they were all fairly priced. We bought some small things for our continents boxes but mostly, we just enjoyed taking in the scenery and did not do much shopping. We did take loads of photos and I will post many of them when we get the chance to go through them.
We left Roatan feeling very hopeful for the people of Roatan and the future of their economy.
Although there is tremendous poverty in Roatan, as well as mainland Honduras, the attitude of the islanders of Roatan is very enthusiastic. You feel safe and welcomed in Roatan. You feel as if they want to make progress and have embraced the idea of tourism as a great means to an end.
There were signs of progress all over the island. The schools, the hospital, the water company, the stores all gave a good impression. We did see some very poor areas, but generally, every person we saw greeted us with a smile.

We did pass by three orphanages, though. This made us sad to think of children living in orphanages for their whole lives, but Ali said that their government and the people of Roatan in general are not fans of adoption, because of a horrible situation a few years ago where a woman who had adopted an infant stuffed the infant's body with cocaine and tried to sneak it into another country.
This tale has scared off all locals from the possibility of ever wanting any children to be adopted from their lovely island. They seem to have a strong belief that it is a far better thing to take care of their own vs. accepting money for a child and having a baby meet up with such a horrible fate.
Made me really tear up though, as since we lost our precious little one I was carrying last year on Christmas Eve, I just pictured what a life we would be able to offer a baby, such as one from this little island.
Our day was wonderful, thanks to the kindness and professionalism of Ali.
If you get to Roatan, ask for Ali and go through Victor Bodden Tours.

If you are looking to donate to a charity for this holiday season, I would highly encourage you to donate to one of the three Roatan orphanages or else Bethel Holiness, the little Christian church run by our driver, Ali. They are such sincere, good people. If you were to send a donation to them, I honestly believe that they would actually make certain that they money went to people versus administrative costs, etc. like other charities.

This is our plan...we will post the addresses soon.

One other thing to note:
We did not see so much as one bottle of Purell in our Ports of Call.
Not in Cayman, not in Cozumel, not in Belize, not in Roatan.
But, as soon as you enter the port for the cruise ship, the Purell is everywhere. EVERYWHERE...literally...cannot even imagine the Purell bill for Carnival (or for any other ships heading out to sea from the USA).
Not sure if it is more scary that in the USA, we are SO obsessed with germs and practically bathe in hand sanitizers and soaps or if it is more scary to think that these countries that gladly let you get up close and personal with every imaginable kind of creature don't seem to focus much on the potential for spreading disease either from people to the animals or from the animals to the people. Makes me want to start a campaign to educate people to thoroughly wash their hands before and after touching animals in these countries.

Well, that pretty much wraps up our Ports of Call.

As far as the cruise itself, the cruise was really a great way to take a family vacation!
Carnival made it fun for all ages. The entire Carnival staff was great.

Big Bro and Little Bro went to Camp Carnival a few times and enjoyed their time with children from all over the place. There were 800 children on our particular cruise. Big Bro was also excited when his new little friend would show up for different events. The two really have forged a neat friendship. We are looking forward to connecting with her family in the near future.

In addition to Camp Carnival, both Little Bro and Big Bro loved the miniature golf, the pools, hot tubs, and the ping pong tables on the ship.

If you want to get away, taking a cruise is a great way to go!

Truly a memorable Thanksgiving week!

For those of you who celebrated Thanksgiving this past week, hope that you had a blessed holiday.

We truly fell blessed and are so thankful that we had such an opportunity to take in a little slice of the culture in these different countries.

Thanks to Papa and G!
We will post photos soon:)


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing! Sounds like you had a wonderful time.

Janet said...

We live on Roatan and are very happy that you enjoyed your short day here. Doug & I have lived here for 13 years and are from Minnesota. Your description of the people here was great and so positive. It gives us another perspective after a tough year on Roatan.
Thanks for your welcomed words.

The Sunshine Crew said...

Jody, we really did have a great time. We enjoyed our time in all of the ports, as well as on the cruise ship.

Jan, thanks for sharing about the fact that you and your hubby live in Roatan. What a change from Minnesota! Are you there as missionaries or for another reason?
Have you been snorkeling or scuba diving while living in Roatan?
We would have loved to have gone snorkeling...maybe next time...have you been by to see Victor Bodden's monkeys and the other animals? His place was such a hit with our boys.

bathmate said...

I liked it.

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