This is the first time we’ve gone away south in-between the change between fall and winter. When we went to the Bahamas last year it was at the end of November so it was cold when we left and cold when we came back. Other times, we’ve travelled in the springtime and the weather has always been better upon our return then when we left. But this, this is the first time we’ve gone away and the weather was nice when we left and not so nice when we got back.
Because of this, I’ve been in a semi-resentful slump since we got home a week and a half ago – the weather combined with the onslaught of all things Christmas has been a slap in the face that still has me somewhat off balance. I posted photos from the trip to facebook last weekend but the big gap on my blog has been very unforgiving everytime I open my web browser. I woke up yesterday morning to my car covered in ice, a slippery run to the trian platform and blowing snow as I braced myself for walk from the station to work. I keep peering out my window as if I can’t quite believe all this cold, stark whiteness and sitting down to summarize our trip down south – the warm weather and the margaritas and the snorkelling is my only defense against the reality outside.
We left on the Friday after Halloween, and flew into New Orleans, with an uneventful stopover in Chicago and I used up most of Miranda’s batteries playing an Ipod game, not realizing that I had packed the wrong charger and that after our first day on holidays she’d be rendered useless. After landing in New Orleans we waited in the airport for our friends Chris and Amanda (who were travelling with us) to arrive.
We stayed one night just outside the French Quarter, made the touristy mistake of eating on Bourbon (the food wasn’t horrific but, compared to what we would eat later not up to the standards of smaller, local restaurants), walked around a bit and then went to Preservation Hall to listen to some jazz. It was an early night since our day had started at 4am that morning with 3 hours sleep.
Our cruise to Mexico left the next day. We made the mistake of deciding to walk with our luggage to the terminal rather than hailing a cab and ended up having to walk around the New Orleans convention centre which easily took us 45 minutes out of our way. Amanda busted one of the wheels on her suitcase dragging it over the cobblestones and Chris ended up dragging both suitcases for part of the way, so none of us were very happy by the time we arrived to board the ship. Well, I was still pretty okay mostly because I played Vortex with Miranda and ignored the masses of old people and yelling kids while we waited, still not knowing I had packed the wrong charger.
The cruise was mostly as enjoyable as our last cruise – while the service at our dining table every night was flawless, the food in the dining room didn’t seem to be as good (at least not to me) but the 24/7 hamburgers on the upper deck were better than I remembered, and the soft-serve ice cream/frozen yogurt was a big hit everytime we were feeling hungry. It was also a great desert after breakfast. Yes, we ate ice cream at breakfast time and no, I’m not joking. But it wasn’t my idea.
The boat moved around a lot though, and Tay and Amanda both had episodes in dealing with the sea sickness. Aside from one rough night where I popped Gravol before going to dinner, I was fine. The first night on the trip the other 3 entered a raffle to win free alcohol at the duty-free shop while I napped and at 11 am the next morning, Tay’s name was drawn – he won 4 bottles of alcohol that, unlike the bottles they had bought the night before, they gave to us to keep in our stateroom. The bottle of vodka was a hit with big glasses of lemonade later that day while the guys played ping pong and Amanda and I laid in the sun.
We had two days at sea and two days in port – the first being Progresso, the second being Cozumel. We rented a jeep in Progresso and drove into Merida, the capital city. A local in the square chatted with us for a bit, recommended some places to shop and a place to have lunch. I spent much to long in one store haggling for a Mayan hammock and a wood carving, but eventually got him down to a price that I was comfortable with and got a silver bracelet that I’d been eyeing as well. I don’t think dude knew who he was up against, especially when he made a dig and told me to think about the poor Mayan people who work so hard. By then I was already pretty annoyed by the haggline game and quickly retorted that I help poor people everyday in my job back home and knocked another 200 pesos off my offering price. Dude was better dressed than I was.
When we tried to find the restaurant the local had referred us to, we walked past it numerous times and asked for directions twice. The second guy we asked showed us where it was but said it was closed for lunch. Instead, he bribed us with free margaritas and escorted us to his cousin’s restaurant two blocks back the way we had came. Dude ended up being our server and I promptly ordered a margartia and asked for guacamole. Enchiladas with green sauce and another margarita and I was more than a little tipsy as we wove our way back to the jeep.
We’d planned to go to Dzibilchaltun, the Mayan ruins on our way back and we still did, but we had very limited time so I pulled my camera out and pointed and clicked as much as I could.
The others were further back behind me as I approached one of the ruins when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to look – from where I stood, I thought it was an animal kind of like the ground hog I used to see in Colorado and as I crept closer, I kept zooming in and snapping away. Before I got close enough it disappeared into the tunnel dug into the ground – it was only when I got back to the ship and was looking at my photos did I realize it was a big iguana-lizard animal.
I’m glad it didn’t get me and eat my foot.
We didn’t spend nearly enough time at the ruins but more than enough that it meant we were late getting back to the ship. Amanda and I left the guys to return the jeep while we ran ahead to buy sundresses we had been eyeing earlier that morning – Amanda had bought hers and I was trying to buy mine when the woman selling me the dress took a step back and told me she wasn’t allowed to sell to me. She looked past my shoulder and I turned to see an official looking dude standing there shouting that the ship was ready to leave. I pressed my $20 bill into her hand, she threw the dress at me and I ran from the store and headed from the ship. Amanda followed but was shouting about the guys and I told her not to worry about them, they wouldn’t leave without them. As we ran for the ship I could hear our names over the loudspeaker and hundreds of people were on the decks above us shouting at us to Andele! All four of us finally boarded to the annoyed amusement of the crew – that night at dinner our tablemates teased us mercilessly and made sure to remind us numerous times of the departure time the next day in Cozumel.
We disembarked the next morning to rain and wind that didn’t look promising. Tay and I had decided the day before that we weren’t going to try to dive – we didn’t really have enough time and Amanda and Chris aren’t certified – which was fine because those two margaritas at lunch the day before were just to good to pass up. Instead we caught a cab downtown where we wandered through the shops and drank $1 beer. I bought a piece of Mexican artwork and asked the storekeeper to recommend us a restaurant where the locals went. She sent us to La Choza, with a grass-like roof and a mariachi band that sang to us tableside. I promptly ordered a margarita that turned out to be the size of my head. I asked our server to recommend a meal and he suggested chicken in black sauce which he described as being a true mayan dish and very difficult to find at a lot of restaurants. The food and the drinks were absolutely outstanding, especially the hot sauce they served with corn chips.
We spent the rest of the meal trying to guess the ingredients of the sauce that had no cream or milk or cheese but that was so smooth and creamy. We eventually guessed 5 of the 6 ingredients and finally gave up – Chris and I resorting to dunking our chicken in the sauce and exclaiming tipsily over how good it was and that seriously, our tablemates absolutely HAD to try it. Tay and I ended up buying four bottles of the stuff and Chris and Amanda two. If you come visit and we offer you some, you’ll know just how special you are because already, I’m hoarding the stuff.
Halfway through the meal, these beautiful mexican women came by the table and gave us free bottles of beer. Amanda mastered drinking from two bottles of beer at the same time (she’d ordered a Corona) while I alternated between it and my margarita.
By the time we finished lunch the sun had come out and we made our way to the main street to quickly grab a cab to the beach to do some snorkelling. I told Tay to order me a Corona as I peeled off my shorts and t-shirt – grabbed my snorkel, mask and flippers and stumbled into the surf. I kept falling over into the waves as I tried to get my snorkeling gear on. I’m not 100% sure it was because of the force of the waves or if it was the tequila offsetting my balance but either way, I ended up getting scraped pretty badly ever time I fell into the rocks. Eventually I made it out to where I could submerse myself only to pop back up within seconds to tell everyone that there were FISH! Lots of FISH! Right where I was standing there was a FISH!
We didn’t get to snorkel nearly as long as I would have liked – mostly because we wanted to get back to the ship BEFORE they called our names. The taxi driver that drove us out the beach returned an hour later as he’d promised and with sand stuck to my skin and my hair standing up in every direction, we headed back to our port and onto the ship.
I swore the next day I wasn’t going to drink a drop (the midday drinking was taking a toll on me – I was in bed almost every night by 10:30 as a result) but after Amanda and I settled onto the deck that afternoon to do some sunbathing, a daquiri seemed like such a good idea. And then, when we managed to get a hot tub to ourselves (it was very breezy on deck and too cold to sunbathe), a second daquiri seemed like an even better idea. By the time we ordered our third, we were so toasty warm from sitting in the hot tub that we needed a third just to cool off. It was almost mandatory. Seriously.
We got back into New Orleans the next morning (Thursday) and stayed until Sunday. We booked a 2 bedroom apartment in the same place we stayed last time – with a kitchen and balcony that I was determined to spend time on, even if it was just to eat my breakfast in the mornings. We did a ghost tour on the Friday night which we had done before and a swamp tour on the Saturday morning, which we hadn’t done before and I held an alligator. We ate at Irene’s which is my favorite restaurant in the quarter and had lunch at a small, local dive that had the best food I’d ever eaten, brought to the table by an old, old cajun woman that looked like she had to have been 80 at least. Spent a morning shopping in the quarter, took the trolley to the city park where we picnicked on Central Grovery muffalettas. We spent a few hours in Jackson square Saturday afternoon looking at art, and went to a concert at House of Blues Saturday night.
So much of the French Quarter was the way I remembered it, and I did my best to ignore the boarded up shops, the for sale/for rent signs. I heard the tales of caution from the landlord of the apartment we rented but tried to not let it sink in too deeply – I didn’t want to feel nervous walking around the quarter in the middle of a sunny morning, but had no choice but to be sensible and cautious. The people weren’t the same people that I remembered, nor should they be after everything they’ve gone through in the past two years. I tried to look beyond some of the bitter jadeness, or their sad veneers. It was difficult to see their smiles not quite reaching their eyes. It’s still very much a beautiful and culturally rich city though, and they’re trying as hard as they can to rebuild. It wasn’t the party that Mexico or the cruise ship was, but nor did I want it to be. I wanted it to be what it was, and not make it into something that it isn’t. And for the most part it was.
And now we’re back and it’s taken me two days to write this particular blog and as I look out the window, there’s still snow, it’s still a startling white, and the air, when I breathe in, still hits me like a jack hammer. But as unprepared as I might be for all of this, it is what it is, and I know beneath my grumbling, I still love all of it, still love that Christmas is looming just around the corner. And perhaps most of all, love that all of this makes the photos and recollections of the trip that much brighter.