Disneyworld: The Planning Stages

Disneyworld: The Planning Stages

I’m a Disney girl. Disneyland is in my backyard, and I know it like the back of my hand. Can easily do both parks (Disneyland and California Adventure) in one day, because I have it down to an art. Efficiency is my middle name, and Disney is always such a fun challenge! So it’s been like a year and a half since we last went, and I’m needing a Disney fix. We started thinking about what day we wanted to go. As my “escape the country forever” plan is coming to fruition earlier than I originally expected, this would probably be my last Disney hoorah stateside. Wait- if that’s the case, shouldn’t I go out with a bang? Of course!! So the idea of going to Disneyworld instead was born.

Well, I rarely “simply” do anything, but for Disneyworld we are talking MAJOR PLANNING!!! Especially important because I know this is most likely the last time I’ll do Disneyworld in Florida. I have one shot at this and it has to be done RIGHT!! This includes, but is not limited to:
1. Figuring out which days the parks should be the least crowded.
2. Getting flights for those days.
3. Finding an AirBNB close by for those days that won’t break the bank.
4. Figuring out ground transportation.
5. Getting tickets.
6. Researching what are the “can’t miss” rides.
7. Getting Fast Passes.
8. And last, but certainly not least….WARDROBE!!! I don’t go to Disney without properly themed attire. Period. The ability to theme…it’s really the only time I care about clothes.

Let’s break each of these major events down, shall we?

1. Figuring out which days the parks should be the least crowded.
This is where a little thing called crowd calendars come in. I used the WDW Prep School Calendar. I knew we wanted to go in September, as I heard crowds are fairly light for that month (kids back in school and the peak of hurricane season), so I looked at the calendar, looked at flight prices, and decided on being in the parks September 15-17. Based on the calendar, we decided to do Magic Kingdom on the 15th, Epcot on the 16th (probably hopping back over to MK if we finish Epcot early), and Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios on the 17th.

2. Getting flights for those days.
We go for the cheapest flights, but are always willing to pay a little bit (not much) more for directs. We wanted to leave on Saturday and come back on Wednesday. Best options were Spirit Air (which we hate, but was by far the cheapest) from LAX-MCO arriving at 8pm with a one hour layover in Houston- $88.50 each one way. For coming back, United had the cheapest flight. A direct arriving LAX at 9:30pm for $93.50 total each one way- for a grand total of $182 roundtrip each. Neither of these flights allow carry on bags, just a personal item- as in must fit under your seat- which is going to make packing interesting! But we are not about to pay for a bag….

3. Finding an AirBNB close by for those days that won’t break the bank.
Yes, if you stay in one of the Disney resorts it’s all magical and you get a ton of perks and….you will need to take out a home equity loan. We don’t plan on spending any time in the room other than to sleep, so we don’t need a fancy, magical, perk-laden abode. Off to AirBNB! We looked at a few and decided on this one. $55 a night, about 15 minutes from door to parking lot of all the parks, superhost, great reviews, and everyone said it was CLEAN!! Clean is important, and some of the other properties that were a little closer in this same price range didn’t have the 5 star cleanliness stamp of approval…

4. Figuring out ground transportation.
Originally, I planned for us to just Uber. I mean, we’re going to be in the parks all day, not cruising around. Plus, you have to pay to park at Disney. So I popped open the app and calculated the costs of an Uber: $90 for round trip to the airport and $25 a day for roundtrip to the parks (same cost as parking). Plus, when we park hopped we were looking at even more money. Problem was that on Wednesday, our flight didn’t leave until 7:30pm. What in the world were we going to do all day? And how would we get there? I started looking at rental cars. Got one for $85 for our entire stay, which basically came out cheaper than using Uber (not including gas) plus gave us freedom on that last day. Sold. Rented from Economy Rent A Car. Take a copy of your car insurance policy with you so you don’t have to buy theirs.

5. Getting tickets.
This actually ended up being my biggest surprise thus far… Here in California, we know that discounted Disney tickets= scam. So naturally I went right to the Walt Disneyworld website to book my tickets. I wanted park hopper tickets, so plugged in my dates. The cost for both of us for 3 days would be $811. I held off because I wasn’t quite ready to get the tickets yet. But I knew I had to get them 31 days in advance, because at the 30 day mark you could book 3 Fast Passes and this is a major step in ensuring an efficient experience!! I was reading and researching every day about all kinds of things, and I came across a site called Undercover Tourist that claimed to have discount tickets. Huh. So I plugged in my dates. $785!! That was a savings of $26- my snack budget for 1:24pm-2:06pm on Monday! Could this be right? Was there some catch? Most importantly, with these tickets could I access the 30 day advance Fast Pass +? Tons of research answered these questions as Yes, No, and Yes! I bought them, linked them to our My Disney app (yes, there’s an app for that), and held my breath until Fast Pass day.

6. Researching what are the “can’t miss” rides.
I’m a spreadsheeter. It’s what I do. So I knew I needed a complete and total list of everything we HAD to do while we were there. And by everything, I mean rides. We aren’t big show people (I do have a couple planned) or parade people or meet the character people. If we stumble upon any of those things as we’re quickly and efficiently moving from ride to ride and we have time, we’ll stop for a bit. Otherwise, it’s a nope. So here’s the game plan list I came up with:

MAGIC KINGDOM EPCOT ANIMAL KINGDOM
HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
Jungle Cruise Frozen Avatar Flight Tower of Terror
Pirates Test Track Everest Toy Story Mania
Winnie the Pooh Soaring Kilamanjaro Safari Slinky Dog Dash
Philharmagic Show Spaceship Earth Tough to be a Bug
Rock N Roller Coaster
Peter Pan Gran Fiesta Tour Navi River Star Tours
Seven Dwarfs Train Journey Into Imagination Dinosaur Smuggler’s Run
Little Mermaid Living with the Land Kali River
Big Thunder Mountain Mission Space
Splash Mountain The Seas
Hall of Presidents Show
Haunted Mansion
Buzz Lightyear
Space Mountain
Speedway


Please note: There is no “It’s A Small World” on that list. I hate that insipid ride.


7. Getting Fast Passes.
This is serious the most difficult and stressful part of planning the trip!! First of all, Fast Pass + opens up at 7am EST 30 days before you arrive (if you’re staying in a Disney resort, 60 days). And you have to be ON. IT. That means a 3:50am wake up call to be ready at 4am PST. I literally woke up at 3:49am- 1 minute before my alarm. That’s how in tune I am with this Fast Pass thing! It was like Christmas freaking morning…clicking the link, waiting for the Fast Passes to appear. I knew that top priority was Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. How do I know this? Because I know the average wait times for the past 30 days and you want to book the stuff that sucks up your time if you have to wait in line!! Clock flipped to 4am, I clicked the link again, and boom…I was in!! Fast Passes galore! I scrolled down, frantically searching for Seven Dwarfs. It was at the very bottom. None available. For any time all day. Ugh- those damn resort people with their fancy magical rooms, home equity loans, and 60 days fast pass access!!! So I grabbed one for Big Thunder Mountain at 8:40, one for Space Mountain at 11:45, and one for Peter Pan at 2:15. I was under some delusion that you could get fast passes for all of your days once you reached 30 days for your first day. Wrongo. That means 2 more days of 3:50am wakeup calls…

So it’s day 1 and I’m sitting here with my first 3 fast passes, and I’m second guessing ALL OF THEM. What do I do in this situation? Go to facebook groups!!! There are 2 that I belong to- Walt Disney World Made Easy for Everyone and Walt Disney World Tips and Tricks. I was doubting myself- had I chosen correctly? Was my entire trip doomed because of some unknowingly irrational decision I made at 4am? Some people warned me about zig-zagging all over the park, some people said my last pass was too late in the day because apparently you can’t get a new pass until you’ve used all 3 of these!! EEEK!! And some said I was just fine, and to wait and change them as I needed to. Wait?? You mean to tell me I’m not locked into the decision for eternity? I can change these things!! Little cartoon birds started chirping, and my OCD went into overdrive. I proceeded to spend the remainder of the morning refreshing my pass page and managed to get Space Mountain bumped up to 9:45. The best I could do with Peter Pan was move it up 15 minutes to 2pm. But now, I have options. Options and time! And who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will open up!

Day 2, up at 3:50am to score my Epcot Fast Passes. This is a different system than for Magic Kingdom. There are Tier 1 and Tier 2 rides. Tier 1’s are the “must dos”- Frozen, Soarin’, and Test Track. And the kicker is that you can only have ONE of those as your three, and the other two have to be Tier 2.  Popped open the fast pass system at 4am on the dot and got exactly what I wanted! Mission Space at 11, Spaceship Earth at 12, and Frozen at 1:30. The plan is to RUN for Soarin’ at rope drop (for you Disney newbies, that’s the second the park opens!). After that, RUN for Test Track. Then those two Tier 1’s are out of the way, and the last one has the fast pass. The rest of the park should be a breeze. It’s not like Magic Kingdom where there are a ton of rides.

Day 3, up at 3:50am to score my last advance Fast Passes. Our final day at Disney will be 1/2 day at Animal Kingdom and 1/2 day at Hollywood Studios. Interestingly enough, the most popular ride in all four of the parks is in Animal Kingdom! It’s the Avatar Flight of Passage ride, and has average wait times for the last 30 days of over TWO hours!! Eek! However, this is also the most sought after Fast Pass, so much like Seven Dwarfs at Magic Kingdom, most likely every single fast pass has already been reserved by resort guests who get 60 days to reserve their passes. Like Epcot, Animal Kingdom uses the Tier system, and the Avatar Flight ride and the Na’vi River ride are the tier 1s. Hopefully if I don’t get Avatar, I can grab Na’vi. So, what’s my 4am verdict? Forget about Flight of Passage- those Fast Passes were gone 60 days ago. I got Na’vi River for 8:40am, Kali River Rapids for 10am, and Kilamanjaro Safari for 11:50am.

The chances that I spent more time stressing over fast passes than I ever will standing in line for anything without a fast pass is highly probable….

Spoiler Alert: In the end, this whole fast pass thing was changed COMPLETELY once we got to the parks. As in you wouldn’t even recognize them from the originals (except for Magic Kingdom, and it had changes as well). See upcoming “in park” blogs for how that all turned out…

8. And last, but certainly not least….WARDROBE!!!
I am a girl who loves a theme and loves to dress up. Halloween and Mardi Gras are my high holidays. Enough said. And there is no way in hell I’d go to Disney without properly themed attire for each day. And there is no way in hell I’d go to Disney with a man who didn’t have properly themed attire as well! Thus began the massive internet search for complementary outfits! It literally took a full 2+ weeks to gather the options and narrow them down. It’s that serious. We finally decided on our 3 outfits, that we’ll debut with photos on the trip journals. But the theme for each outfit is Haunted Mansion, Alice in Wonderland, and Jack Skellington. God, we’re freaking adorable!! 😃 Because these are clothes we can wear normally (yes, we’re those people), they won’t count toward the budget.

With all 8 of our major “to do” items checked off, it was time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the next couple of weeks until we leave! Oh…..if we were only that simple…..

Click here to read the MAJOR life changing event that changed our plans!

ITEMCOST
TOTAL$1499
Roundtrip Tickets LAX to MCO for Two$364
AirBNB 4 nights$265
Rental Car 4 days$85
Parkhopper Tickets for 3 days$785

 

 

 

 

 

Guadeloupe Days 1-8: Beaches and Road Trips

Guadeloupe Days 1-8: Beaches and Road Trips

What, Mary? EIGHT days in ONE blog?? That’s just too much. Oh, no….it really isn’t. Welcome to my “vacation” when a) Brian leaves and b) I have to catch up on a crap ton of work.

DAY 1
We packed up and left the treehouse in Martinique at 8am. It was a really rainy morning. Got to the airport and sat there together. Brian was flying to Barbados, then Miami, then Los Angeles. I was flying out an hour and a half later directly to Guadeloupe for my 3 week housesit.

Arrived in Guadeloupe and it was pouring rain. Great. I hate driving as it is, now I have to drive and navigate a foreign country in the rain! Picked up my rental car and hit the road toward Port Louis. The rain stopped just outside of town, and it was an easy and pleasant drive to Port Louis- my home away from home for the next 3 weeks. Like Martinique, Guadeloupe is France. That means good roads and drivers who don’t think trying to run tourists off the road is sport. I pulled up to a large, gated “compound” of sorts, and was greeted by the homeowner, Julie. The home is massive, but is split into different apartments- maybe 5 or so of them. Julie introduced me to the 2 kitties I’d be caring for, and we spent the rest of the afternoon talking about all sorts of things! She is French, but speaks excellent English. Also, she and her boyfriend are both marine biologists! And Julie actually works for a NGO that goes into schools and educates children about the ocean! If you know me, you know I am a serious francophile and even teach a French history course I shot on location in France. Julie took me on a quick driving tour of the little town and the GORGEOUS beach! There are tons of walking paths, one through the mangroves and one all the way to the next town over, Anse Bertrand. I’ll definitely be back here!

Julie started making dinner, a homemade quiche, and her boyfriend came home from work. We sat down, ate a fabulous meal, and talked about marine biology, french history, politics, and more. Seriously, it was like a dream evening!!

DAY 2
Julie works from home, so she worked while I tried to get caught up on my own work. My tailbone wasn’t keen on the patio chair, so I literally went back and forth all day every two hours between the chair and bed. But I got a ton of work done! That night they made coconut chicken in a tomato sauce for dinner that was wonderful! And that ended Day 2. See? Exciting, huh? 😀

DAY 3
Day 3 was departure day for the homeowners. I offered to drive them to the airport, plus I needed to do some shopping as well. They pointed out a Monoprix near the airport. Like Carrefour in Martinique, I know Monoprix from France proper! And it has been known to produce a Dr. Pepper or two!! After I dropped them off, I went back to Monoprix. The parking was ATROCIOUS. So many people, not enough spaces. I drove round and round several times before I got lucky. Went into Monoprix. How do I describe it? Like Whole Foods- lots of the same kinds of things are in different places in the store, you don’t know what the heck 90% of it is, and it’s EXPENSIVE. A roasted chicken that cost $9 in Martinique at Carrefour cost $17 here!! Ok, if they didn’t have Dr. Pepper, I was just going to go find some other place to shop. Went directly to the soda aisle, and heard the angels singing!! Well, only 2 angels. There were 2  bottles on the shelf. $4.50 each. Expensive, but oh so worth it…
So here’s what I ended up with:
2 Dr. Peppers
1 Caramel Chocolate Bar
2 bags of chips
1 bag of rice
1 bag of pasta
1 jar of pasta sauce
2 packs of instant soup
6 bananas
1 bag of frozen green beans
1 pack of butter
1 pack of cheddar cheese
1 stupid expensive deli container of scalloped potatoes that looked so warm and cheesy I couldn’t resist ($8!!!)
24 eggs
1 onion
1 frozen pizza
1 roasted chicken

Grand total? $80!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And I bought store brand, not imports. Ouchy. Came back to the house and worked and blogged the rest of the day. And that ended Day 3.

DAY 4
Day 4 was declared a day of “no sitting in chairs or cars”. I’m over this damn tailbone situation. It’s been a week and half since the accident and I’m still hurting. So I literally laid in bed all day, blogged, caught up on 80% of my work (yay!), and hung out with the cats. And that ended Day 4.

DAY 5
Day 5, I needed to get OUT!! I didn’t want to do a major excursion yet. I still want to take it super easy on my tailbone and give it a chance to finally heal without having pressure on it all the time. So I took the car down to the local beach and hiked around. I started by parking at the entrance to the mangrove boardwalk. I knew it was the entrance because fortunately mangrove is the same word in French and English! There was a GORGEOUS boardwalk through the dense mangrove forest, which then opened up into a lovely little path. That path then wound around to a beautiful mudflat. So many little habitats in one small area! So delicate. Best part? There wasn’t a single other soul back there.

A zillion air plants!!

Beautiful mud flat

I snap any wildlife I can. It’s few and far between!

The path eventually put me back out on to the road. I continued walking up it to the end, where there is another path that will take you all the way along the coast to the next town- Anse Bertrand. GORGEOUS empty beaches!! STUNNING tide pools! I really had a blast just wandering along and exploring it all! When the trail wasn’t right on the beach, it was on a wonderful little shaded path. I went a total of 1.5 miles from the car, then turned around and went back. I might get the motivation to walk all the way to Anse Bertrand (about 6 miles roundtrip) one of these days….

Blue Crab (I love this shot!)

STUNNING purple coral, just living in a tide pool!!

Chiton

Cool fish

Another cool fish (took forever to get this shot!)

MASSIVE sea urchin tests!

I ❤ these tide pools!

DAY 6
Day 6, tailbone is actually feeling a little better!! I knew giving it a break would help! However, new problem is that I’m not sleeping very well. My room doesn’t really have any windows to the outside, and it is really hot and stuffy. Even with a fan 3 feet away from me, I’m still uncomfortable at night and it wakes me up a lot. So Day 6 was spent blogging and working (sound familiar??), and following YouTube rabbit holes- in other words, RELAXING! And that ended Day 6.

DAY 7
At home, I am a hermit. A seriously introverted hermit. I live in my house with it’s high ceilings in the living room and huge window that looks out on to my courtyard garden on my 1/3 acre spread surrounded by 6-10 foot high solid hedges, walls and fences (that sounds SO much fancier than it really is. We’ve been in the midst of a massive remodel for 2 years and trust me, nothing is fancy!). No one can see in and I can’t see out and I used to go and teach live classes 1 day a week but the drive is just too much for me (because I’m ridiculous and don’t want to leave home, not because it’s that far!). I’ll go to Lowes to get plants for my yard and to the grocery store once every 2 weeks. Other than that, you need heavy equipment and a major dose of manipulation/convincing to get me out of the house. Crazy that I am also the same girl that travels the world solo!! And when I’m on a long sit and have a lot of work to do, I can easily slip into that mode if there aren’t a lot of really interesting things to do around me. And here’s a good place to have a discussion about my relationship with the Caribbean islands. Caribbean, it’s not you, it’s me. See, I’m not the girl that wants to just hang out on a beach all day. You are great, and you’ll have no problem finding someone to love you! Someone who appreciates that your main offering is sitting on a beach all day. But I need lots of terrestrial wildlife and/or lots of history. And you aren’t meeting my needs. That said, I sat inside and worked all day.

DAY 8
This is officially declared to be “Don’t be a hermit day”!! ROAD TRIP!!! I decided to explore the part of the island called Basse Terre- the mountainous part. Specifically, the southern route. I sat down and plotted out a few things (seriously, it’s hard to find anything that isn’t a beach 😕) that looked interesting and hit the road! I was gone pretty much all day. Found 5 stations on the radio that play 80s American music fairly often, interspersed with French stuff, so at least I could sing along. The best part though was hearing a song that was brand new to me!! It was a rap song- ABOUT KING LOUIS XVI AND THE FRENCH REVOLUTION!! WHAT?!!! Some of the history was off, but I forgave it. Came home and researched, and it’s actually a Mel Brooks song from 1981!! LOL!! So fun! Here it is on YouTube. Who knew??

So I’m heading out on my road trip and hit a MEGA traffic jam. Two lane road, and cars backed up as far as I could see at a dead stand still. I sat there for about 15 minutes before I decided there had to be a better way. Turned around and google maps showed me a different route. I swear to god, Google Maps is on a mission to kill me in every country!! It took me off down some crazy dirt road where there was nothing and no one and the grass was so high in the road you knew it was rarely traveled. Of course, then it started to rain. I ended up at a DEAD END. Frustration is an understatement. Somehow managed to turn around and find my way back to another paved road and got back on track. Next time, I’ll sit in traffic.

Dear Google Maps, Just because there are places for car tires to fit does NOT make it a feasible “alternate route”. Love, Mary.

First stop was something that looked cool on the map. Le Parc Archéologique des Roches Gravées. Basically Archaeological Park of Carved Rocks. Who did said carvings? The Arawaks (indigenous people of these islands). When? I dunno. From what I can figure out, around the year 400 or so? What do they represent? I dunno. Why am I so clueless? Well, EVERYTHING was in French. Le sigh. I pulled in, parked, went inside, the guy spoke enough English to tell me to join the tour that had already started. Apparently you can’t just wander through the park alone- you have to have a guide. Bonus score- no entrance fee. The grounds are gorgeous. Seriously. But I stood there kind of smiling and nodding while the very animated guide who everyone thought was hilarious and very knowledgeable based on their reactions did his thing. He pointed at rocks and talked about them. The thing that struck me is that they’re just out here in the open, exposed to the elements!! What the hell, France?! Even Malta has enough sense to put their good shit under huge coverings to protect it. #disappointed

After looking at some rocks, we went on to learning about ancient plants the Arawaks used. I can’t tell you a damn thing about any of it. Le sigh.

If you smash these red seeds in this plant, you can paint your face.

These things were HUGE! Like bigger than my hand. No idea what it is. But I did eat some of it when it was passed around. Tasted kind of nutty.

Back in the car, more driving, made it to the next stop. It was in a guidebook that I have that’s in French. Basically, some kind of lighthouse with cannons. Pointe du Vieux Fort. So….it was a lighthouse….with some cannons….and a nice view.

See the boy in the blue shirt? He’s a jumper. #shudder

Next stop, MONOPRIX!! From what I can gather, there are only 2 on the island. I took the last 2 Dr. Peppers from the one by the airport. I was praying this one would have like 10 or so. Three. Sold. At any price at this point…. And some snacks for the road.

Back on the road to the next point on the map. Anse a la Barque. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before, but Anse means cove. And everything to see or do here starts with Anse…. Granted, it was very pretty. But what do you DO here??

My little car 🙂

Next pinpoint was supposed to be some kind of hot pools. Ravine Thomas Bain Chaude. Parked and followed the signs. The pool was full of locals, I stuck out like a sore thumb, I wasn’t about to take pictures of them to get a picture of the pool, so I turned around and walked back. Woo. Hoo.

Brian, I’ve found our next remodel. Oceanfront.

It was time to turn from the coast and head inland over the mountains. It was pretty, but not Dominica pretty. And I know there’s no wildlife, so it’s not like a jungle in Costa Rica that I can stare at and imagine what kinds of things might be out there!! Last dot on the map was for Cascade Aux Ecrevisses. Basically, a waterfall. It was JAM PACKED. No parking in the lot, and cars parked up and down both sides of the road. I found a spot and walked to the falls. Pretty spot, too crowded, turned around and went back to the car. Le sigh.
And that was it. Drove back to the house just before it got dark. I was out for about 8 hours and this is all I did. It felt more like a checklist and enjoying myself. Tailbone was thrilled to be out of the car. At least the cats were happy to see me!

Guadeloupe Days 9-16 : Finally! Wildlife! And I’m French Royalty. :)

Guadeloupe Days 9-16 : Finally! Wildlife! And I’m French Royalty. :)

DAY 9
If day 8 meant I was out and about, you can bet your knickers that Day 9 meant my ass wasn’t leaving this apartment all day! And sure enough, that was the case. However, I did manage to find something of interest- a full day snorkeling tour to Petit Terre island. But I didn’t want to go alone. All day with everyone speaking French and me having zero clue and being trapped on an island didn’t sound fun. So I posted on all the female solo traveler facebook groups that if anyone wanted to tag along on a trip with me, hit me up. I couldn’t believe it, but I got a response! An Australian girl who lived in Paris for a couple of years so speaks French. She called and booked our trip for us. That means tomorrow=adventure!

DAY 10
Today is day trip day!! I was supposed to meet fellow solo traveler, Naomi, at 7am at the dock in Sainte Francois. I was there a little ahead of schedule #ocd and checked in at the office of Uhaina. The front desk guy spoke pretty good English. I told him I was waiting on my friend. He said go to the dock, boat would be leaving at 7:30. Took the ticket down the dock with me and 3 guys were there. One sorta spoke English. He asked if I spoke French. Um, nope, but pequito espanol… And wa-la (as they say in France CONSTANTLY!!), one of the other guys speaks Spanish!! I’m saved! I explained that my friend was coming. He seemed a little confused that she wasn’t with me. Anyway, he waved me on to the boat where I nervously sat at the back waiting for her. It was going to super suck if she didn’t show…

By the time 7:20 rolled around, I had given up hope. Then, I see a blond girl heading my way! Yay, Naomi!! She boarded and we found a place up front to sit. I was super nervous for 1.5 hours on my tail bone and no cushion…  Having lived in Paris, she could translate all of the details the guy was giving the group. He talked for like 10 minutes. Translation? Puke at the front of the boat, not in the bathroom. Got it. I have a feeling I missed some serious safety details in there somewhere…. We headed out on our catamaran for Petit Terre! We chatted a bit on the way out, about how we both love to travel, etc… Nice to be able to say something other than “Bon jour” or “Merci”!

It was a long, long, LONG ride out. Too long for my tastes. We did get visited by a dolphin though that raced us! That was fun. And every once in a while the Spanish speaking crew guy would come over and say something to me. Finally, we  made it to Petit Terre! We had a choice of putting our things in the dingy and swimming to the beach or putting ourselves in the dingy with our things and boating to the beach. We chose the latter! The beach and water was stunning! And the coconut grove where we could relax and our lunch would be served was just so…Caribbean!

So yeah, I have a degree in marine biology and teach it online blah, blah, blah… That does not mean that snorkeling is my favorite past time. Honestly, my most favorite travel hobby is taking pictures of wildlife- especially in the jungle. And that’s the main reason I booked this trip. Yes, there was snorkeling involved, but there was something else….wildlife!! Now, this is the Caribbean so don’t get too exciting thinking about monkeys and sloths and poison dart frogs. There is, however, an endemic species of iguana on Petit Terre. It’s known as the Lesser Antilles Iguana, and it’s scientific name is Iguana delicatissima. It’s on the ICUN critically endangered list. And I wanted to see it! As soon as we got off the boat, walked to our little area of the coconut grove, and put our things on a table, one of the guides said the walking tour of the island would be leaving in 10 minutes. YAY! I gathered around with the group. He asked Naomi to be my translator, which meant everything was going to be in French. Le sigh. I wasn’t going to learn anything. Even worse, how can I be the Hermoine of the group if everything is in French and I get the questions later than everyone else!! The horror!! The vast majority of my self worth and validation comes from going on tours and being the first to answer every question (Brian can attest to this)! I mean, why do you think I travel so much?? Being a know it all is my calling!!

I think poor Naomi was a little overwhelmed with the idea of having to translate everything. I don’t blame her. I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have no clue about anything. First stop was on the beach. The guide picked up a piece of coral and started talking about it in French. I was DYING inside!!! Coral is my specialty!! I knew I could answer any question he threw out there. 😭 He started asking questions, and no one could answer them. So in his very broken English he would translate them to me (I’m sure he could see that I was laser focused on what he was saying because I was really trying to figure it out!). And bam!! Hermoine was back! I answered question after question!! Why is some sand black and some sand white (black is volcanic, white comes from coral), what makes white sand (parrotfish), and the one that he has probably never had anyone answer- what is this pink stuff on this piece of dead coral. CORALLINE ALGAE!!! DUH PEOPLE, DUH!!!! So coralline is the same word in English and French apparently, so he knew I knew what I was talking about. Of course, he argued with me that it was a bacteria, not an algae (that’s pretty much the same word, too), but I didn’t have enough words to set him straight. I was pleased with myself, and that’s all that matters!!

We headed up the trail and were immediately met by iguanas!! There was a lighthouse up here, and we stopped for a very long lecture in French about something. I was trying so hard to pick out any word I knew and at least follow along kind of. A man walked over to me and in perfect English asked if I’d like him to translate. Yes, please!! He sat next to me on the steps of the lighthouse and told me everything the guide was saying about the history of the lighthouse, the flora on the island (it’s very desert/scrubby), and of course the iguanas!! So here’s the deal with the iguanas. There are 2 species found in Guadeloupe- the ones on Petit Terre (they call them the blacks) and the ones on the mainland (the greens that everyone is familiar with). The greens were brought here in boats back in the forever agos. Why? Because they could go a long time without water, which made them a great food source for long boat trips. Interesting! We started to walk to the next stop, but I had a question, and asked my new translator friend to ask, “Can the blacks and greens interbreed?”. The guide got all excited and said that was such a good question. Imagine me glowing and hovering about 3 inches off the ground to understand my reaction to the accolades. Apparently, the answer to that question is practically the whole story of the iguanas!! That’s why the damned Lesser Antilles iguanas are so endangered in the first place! They have bred with the introduced greens on the mainland, creating a hybrid species that has basically wiped out the native blacks!! However, here on Petit Terre (one of only 2 isolated islands in Guadeloupe where you can find the blacks), there are no green iguanas which keeps the species pure! Fascinating! I seriously live for this stuff….

Wook at that wittle dinosaur face!!!

So translator friend hung with me. He’s from Belgium, so he speaks pretty much every western European language because they start learning from such a young age. Dear United States, We suck. I know, because I can only say “We suck” in one language. Love, Mary. Next stop was on a cliff, and literally a 15 minute diatribe about reef safe sunscreen. Way, way, WAY too long. I’m not out here for a sunscreen lecture. Yes, mention it, definitely! Hell, don’t even let anyone on board with the bad kind. I don’t even use it, I use a UPF long sleeve rash guard in the water and a hat on the land. But teach me about what’s OUT here!!! Flora, fauna, history. Not sunscreen. #endrant I felt sorry for the poor Belgian guy trying to translate all of that, but didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d heard enough. After that, we walked back to the coconut grove along a lovely trail.
Back at the grove, the Spanish speaking guide was grilling lunch. He walked up to me and said something about Princess. Ok, yes I know I’m “all that” and everything, but some dude walking up and calling me a princess, as shocking as it may sound, is not an everyday occurrence. So I’m all like, “Que?” He reiterated that yes, indeed, I am a princess. I always KNEW I was French royalty!!! Confirmed by a Frenchman! Never one to take a compliment without making some joke, I slid my hand across my throat and make the “kkkkkkeeeee” noise- the universal sign for cutting off someone’s head. Hey, if I can get a French history joke in there, I’m not going to miss the chance!! He laughed and said no, no! He told me in Spanish that after lunch he would personally take Naomi and I snorkeling. Perfecto. For two reasons: a) It was a big area. I wanted to see the “good stuff”, and the explanations about where that was had all been in French  b) I’m not comfortable snorkeling basically by myself (Naomi had expressed she’s not the world’s best snorkeler either), so having someone along to save me if necessary is always welcome (it’s why I bring Brian with me!!)

If I ever want that EU passport I so desire, I know who to call!

The company served rum punch and a couple of types of fruit juice. I had juice, of course. And if you sat your glass down for one minute, it would be  COVERED in little birds!! They were so cute!! Research says Coereba flaveola, a fruit and nectar eating bird (I knew they were nectar feeders because I could see their little tongues!)

Soon, lunch was served! Huge piece of fish (kind of tuna-esque and really good), rice, cous-cous, salad- all super tasty!! After everyone ate, Prince Charming (He told me his name, but I suck at names and have forgotten it!) told me in Spanish that he had to clean everything up, and for us to meet him at the end of the beach in 15 minutes. We all got into the water. Now, Brian knows the first thing I say when we go snorkeling is “Hold my hand!!” #scaredycatmarinebiologist  Prince Charming immediately reached out his hand. I grabbed on to it, Naomi grabbed his other one, and we all snorkeled for over an hour and a half. He knew right where to go!! It was our own private guided tour!! We saw SO MANY green turtles- I literally lost count after 10. We saw fish of every shape and size solo and in big schools, corals, sponges, stingrays, a barracuda, some kind of huge fish that hangs out under the boats, it was GREAT!! After we got out, I said Naomi still needed to see a shark. Well, apparently when we were on the big reef there was a 6 foot shark Caribbean reef shark that they saw but I missed. Baby Jesus knows it’s best that I not see such things… I did, however, see a lemon shark when I was on the beach! Naomi took a ton of GoPro pics. I hope she’ll send me some.

Baby Lemon Shark!!

I thanked Prince Charming profusely in Spanish. It was time to gather our things and head back. I had already scoped out the hammock thing on the catamaran and had plans to grab a spot on it (only 3 people were allowed) and nap on the way back (and the cushion is good for the tailbone). Mission accomplished! I woke up just as the boat was pulling in to Sainte Francois. Naomi and I said our goodbyes, I again thanked Prince Charming, and that was the end. All in all, it was a really good day and I’m so glad I found Naomi online and went!

DAY 11
I worked.

DAY 12 
See Day 11

DAY 13
After 2 solid days of being in the house, another adventure was in order! It was Tuesday, and I had read that Sainte Francois (the same city the snorkel trip had left from) had a big night market on Tuesday that started at 5. It gets dark here about 6:45, it was about an hour drive, so I figured that if I got there right at 5 that would be perfect. But I wanted to see other things on the way! So I plotted out an itinerary. Brian actually found a museum online that looked cool, so that went on the list, along with a view point at the very southeastern tip of the island called Pointes des Colibris. First stop, Edgar Clerc Caribbean Heritage Museum. It holds a collection of indigenous peoples artifacts that have been excavated on Guadeloupe. The majority of the signage was in English! For a museum that was literally just in the middle of no where, it was really well done with nice modern signs and lighted displays. I was way more impressed than I expected. And it was free!

This was my favorite piece. A figure carved out of CORAL! Super unique!

Next stop, Pointes des Colibris. The drive to it was really nice! There was a heavily treed area between the road and the beach, with cars parked along it here and there. And every once in a while you’d get a glimpse of a beautiful beach and blue waters through the trees! Looked like a great place for a picnic. I’m not the solo picnic type though, so I continued on. Got to the end of the road and it was PACKED!! Took me a couple of turns around the roundabout thingy to find a place to park. There were some souvenir stands and a lady selling something called coco sorbet for 2 euros, that I put on my “to try” list before I left! I decided to do the hike first. Let me preface this by saying that my idiot self who did not learn her lesson after passing out in Malaysia not once but TWICE (and on the plane from Singapore to Greece) due to dehydration left home with no water. Ask me about corals. I’ll tell you about them ALL. DAY. LONG. Obscure and amazing facts. Ask me if I brought water for a hike in 90 degree 100% humidity weather, and you’ll get a blank stare… Oy. First, I passed by some beautiful coastline. Nice, flat trail. But I saw what was ahead. A massive hill. With a massive cross on it. Rational Mary was thinking, “I have not had a drink of water in like 3 hours, it’s really hot, I’m already sweating, climbing a hill is probably not a good idea. Let’s turn around, grab a coco sorbet, and head toward the night market.” Rational Mary had just about convinced me of her plan, when WADD Mary (that’s wildlife attention deficit disorder) looked up. And saw the biggest freaking bird I’ve ever seen in my life!!! I was at the bottom of a huge hill. This bird was soaring high above it. And it’s wingspan was still MASSIVE! First thought? Pterodactyl!! Second thought? Shut up, Rational Mary! WADD Mary, get moving and get the camera mega zoom ready!!

If you really look, you can see the bird just above and to the left of the cross. With my bare eye it was MUCH bigger!

Up, up, up I went. The last part ended up being stairs and no shade. Halfway up, Rational Mary was pitching a fit for me to cease this nonsense at once. WADD Mary was having a hard time getting the bird in the frame (because it was constantly moving and it was so high I had to do mega zoom) and figured the best vantage point was the top of the hill. By the time I got close to the top, I could feel it. That icky fatigue/nausea/dizzy feeling of dehydration. I was literally about 20 steps from the top. I knew I could not go any further up. So I steadied myself, kept my eye on this unbelievable bird soaring so effortlessly above me, and starting snapping. I’d say risking death was worth it!

Super Zoom

Super MEGA zoom! I love my jungle camera!

Once I saw it up close, I was convinced it must be an albatross! I posted it in the Wild Caribbean facebook group and found out that it’s actually a Magnificent Frigate Bird- Fregata magnificens. The largest of all frigate birds, it reaches a length of up to 4 feet and a wingspan of…get this…8 feet!! I knew I needed to go slowly and carefully on the descent. The only thing keeping me going was hope of a coco sorbet, and I didn’t even really know what it was other than coconut something! Got back to the parking area, and I was completely out of steam. There was a juice bar right at the end of the trail, no more than 100 feet from coco sorbet lady. But I needed liquid NOW. Ordered a pineapple juice for 3.50 euros that was super watered down, but at least on ice. Sat down and drank it slowly. Had a mermaid sighting. Felt better.
Passed by the coco sorbet lady on my way out, and almost got one, but really just wanted to get into the car and turn on the ac. So did that. Drove back down the beach road until I got to Sainte Francois, and followed google maps to the night market. As I approached, the first thing that hit me was the smell. Heavenly spices of all kinds combining into a very unique olfactory experience! First booth I went to was a spice booth- dozens of bags filled with spice! The woman only spoke French, but she had me try a few different ones. One of them was REALLY good!! I wanted to walk around though before I bought anything, so I made a circular gesture with my hand (the market is round) so she’d know I’d come back around. I didn’t bring the big camera in here- it seemed a little too local for that and I already stick out enough as it is, so I didn’t take a lot of pictures. There were more spice booths. Junky trinket booths. Local artist and craftsmen booths. I walked slowly and looked at things for about 15 minutes and BAM! There was the spice lady again!! That was fast! I talked her into giving me less spice for 3 euros instead of the 5 euro bag and she agreed. I’ve been seasoning potatoes and rice with it. Mmmmmmm.

I bought Espices Tiamo. No clue what that means or what’s in it, but it’s good!

Headed back home. Stopped off at Carrefour on the way home- no Dr. Pepper, but I did pick up some more groceries WAY cheaper than Monoprix the other day! Not a super full day, but a day out none the less!

DAY 14-16
See Days 11 and 12. I know, I know…I really should be the poster girl for international travel and adventure….🙄

Guadeloupe Days 17-24: The Final Days and Caribbean Wrap Up (Annie Update!!)

Guadeloupe Days 17-24: The Final Days and Caribbean Wrap Up (Annie Update!!)

DAY 17
Work (This is starting to sound like a broken record, I know….)

DAY 18
I woke up with every intention of working, but was feeling a little cabin feverish so decided to see if I could find SOMETHING to do. The only part of the island I hadn’t explored yet was Northern Basse Terre, so decided to do that. Looked up what to do and….you guessed it. Beach, beach, beach, oh! And there was a beach. 😕 But the Cousteau (yes, THAT Cousteau) reserve was over there, and they had 2 hour/3 stop snorkeling trips for 35 euros. Booked with Caraibe Kayak. Well, tried to book online with them, but my card kept getting declined over and over. Facebooked them and told them to put me on the list, I’d be there at 2 for the 2:30 trip! It was about a 1.5 hour drive from Port Louis, and I wanted to treat myself to lunch out, so I left at 10 to give myself extra time for a) unexpected traffic jams  b) unexpected sightseeing c) expected super long wait to get the bill after lunch! I researched restaurants ahead of time and decided on Le Reflet at Plage Caraibe. Popped it into google maps and headed out.

Along the way I saw a sign for a view point so I pulled over. Did a little hike down to the beach, only one family down there and this was a Saturday.
Back on the road and headed to La Reflet. Cute little restaurant right on the beach. It’s always super awkward for me to eat alone, and add the language barrier in and…..well, it’s a miracle I decided to go at all! I sat at a table and the waitress came over. She didn’t speak English, so we were trying to communicate the best we could. A woman at the next table spoke up and asked if I needed help. YES! The lady helped me get everything ordered (a mixed fruit juice and grilled fish plate), and sat back down at her table. She was with a man, but she and I continued to talk across the tables for a while. Come to find out, they are from Luxembourg. Hey, I’ve been there! I told her how much Brian and I love it and we want to go back when we have more time to explore. That we’d only driven through on a whim as we were traveling from Lille to Reims because I was filming for my French History class. Come to find out, we’re both history teachers!! WHAT?! And we both LOVE French History!! Double what?!! And I love Reims where the kings were crowned! And SHE loves Reims where the kings were crowned! And I asked her if she’d been to St. Denis Cathedral (my favorite place in Paris- where all the kings were buried) and she SQUEALED!!! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!!!!!! I DON’T KNOW ANYONE OTHER THAN ME THAT SQUEALS ABOUT FRENCH KINGS!!!!!!!!! And then, she asked me the question that almost made me just propose marriage to her on the spot….Who’s your favorite king?! Seriously, people, you do NOT understand. I have 3 favorite kings. It is a BIG DEAL. (Ask Brian, he’ll tell you.). When I said Henry IV, she squealed again!!!! OMG! I have never met another human being who knows Reims, St. Denis, AND the importance of Henry IV!!!!!! Let me tell you, I was in Heaven!!!!! The poor guy she was with probably thought we were both crazy…. We immediately became facebook friends, and she said that when we get back to Luxembourg to give her a shout out and she’d show us a bunch of history!!!!! With that, my food came. Delicious food, great conversation….I was a happy girl!

Short drive to the snorkel place, but oh my god it was PACKED! There was seriously no parking anywhere. I got there a little before 2, trip was supposed to leave at 2:30. I drove around for TWENTY MINUTES freaking out thinking I was just going to have to turn around and drive back home. Finally a family started walking out and I just slowly car stalked them and then sat there until they pulled out. I seriously would have cut someone if they had tried to take that place…. People at the booth spoke English, which was super helpful! Got a life jacket and headed to the boat with the family of 4 that was going along as well. First stop, Japanese Gardens. And it was only like 5 minutes from the dock!! Woo-hoo!! We had 25 minutes. I saw a cool black trigger and a super colorful filefish (Cantherhines macrocerus) that I fell in love with. Other than that, it wasn’t all that great. Got back in the boat for the next stop- Pigeon Islands. Another quick 5 minute boat ride. Now THIS was snorkeling!! Gorgeous corals, tons of fish, a lot of variety- plus the water was a lot clearer than it had been at the last stop, so I was more comfortable. I could have stayed there longer and explored! But 25 minutes flew by and it was time for the next stop. This was a sea grass bed for turtles. I got out, found 2 turtles and a huge starfish within like the first 15 minutes, and came back to the boat early. There was nothing else but seagrass, and I’ve seen plenty of turtles this trip. Pictures are all taken through my phone dry bag thing. Seriously, I’m pretty damn pleased with that thing!

Back in the car, with every intention of hitting up Monoprix on the way home to get Dr. Pepper. The problem is that the Monoprix by the airport is not listed in google maps, so I have to remember the exit. Well, I passed it, got off at the next exit, had no idea how to get back around to Monoprix, so ended up going to Carrefour inside of a HUGE mall in my still damp swim shorts. This Carrefour was MASSIVE!!!! Like holy hell, as big as the massive one in Paris!! No Dr. Pepper (although, in Lille, France it was in the “International” aisle, not the soda aisle, but this store was too damn big for me to try to find the international section.) Prices were good so I grabbed some more grub for the next few days. Headed home and got in right before dark.

DAYS 19 & 20
Work and work. Honestly, I’m as caught up as I can be at this point, but there just isn’t enough stuff to do on this island to warrant me getting out more often! However, there was a post on one of the house sitting facebook groups I’m on about something and I posted that I was in Guadeloupe. Well, another sitter responded that she is too! Back over on the other side of the island- north Basse Terre. We have a play date. 😀

DAY 21
Play date today with fellow house sitter, Juliet! We decided to meet at the Deshaies Botanical Garden– about 1.5 hours from me and in the same town where Juliet is sitting. I don’t mind driving, as much as I stay cooped up it’s a welcome escape to have SOMEWHERE to go! And speaking English is just icing on the day trip cake! We met at 10am at the gardens, and immediately starting walking and talking! The gardens are lovely- like way better than I expected- and I really enjoyed talking to Julie about her house sitting experiences.
As we were leaving, a rather large and lethargic Cane Toad (Rhinella marina) was on the sidewalk. I wanted to help him get off the sidewalk, but I knew he was toxic, so I didn’t. Well, I didn’t notice until I looked at the pictures that he had white secretions on his body- THAT’S THE BUFOTOXIN!! They usually do that when they are stressed. He was gone when we walked back by, so I hope he was ok.

After the garden, we decided to go to town and find some lunch. Practically everything was closed (it was 11:20). We finally found one place and sat down. One look at the menu and we got back up. $25+ for lunch? Yeah, no thanks. Found a little cafe and got a sandwich for like $5. Much better! 🙂 After that, we walked out on to the pier to get a better view of the cove. It’s a really beautiful one, for sure! The water was clear and there were a lot of fish! Managed to get a selfie, too!

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As we looked across the cove, I noticed a cemetery. It was all the way on the other side of town where we had just come from, but we thought it would be interesting to check it out. Walked all the way over there and it was locked. A bummer, because I really wanted to look around. The cemeteries here have an unusual design.
And that was it! We said our goodbyes and I drove back to the house, stopping along the way at Monoprix which had stocked up on Dr. Pepper since I was last there. Got 3 bottles to get me through the end of the trip.

DAY 22 
Was up early and started working. A little after 6, the bed kind of shook hard. I thought it must be the cat jumping on the bed, then I realized a) There’s no cat in here and b) The cat is NOT that big! Looked to my right and the desk chair on wheels was bouncing around. Earthquake!! I started hitting refresh like crazy on the USGS live earthquake site (“live” means about 15 minutes after it happens!). Sure enough, a 4.7 southeast of here in the ocean. So that’s one earthquake in El Salvador and one in Guadeloupe. I feel like I need some kind of “Earthquake passport” that I can stamp with the country and magnitude! That was the entirety of my excitement for the day…

DAY 23
Seriously considered doing the walk to Anse Bertrand. Talked myself out of it and spent the day being lazy and watching my new favorite YouTube channel- the Lion Whisperer!

DAY 24
D-Day! As in DEPARTURE!! Got up, cleaned, did laundry, packed, and headed out the door at 11am. Easy breezy returning the car, easy breezy through security. Flight to Miami was on a smaller plane with no screens, so I amused myself by watching our progress on google maps on my phone, and taking pictures of the different islands! And because I was flying American, and that’s just like America, they had…..DIET DR PEPPER!!!!!!!! We skirted a major thunderstorm coming into Miami- it was gorgeous!

Monserrat

St Kitts & Nevis

Puerto Rico

#home

This shot of Bermuda is my favorite! You can’t tell where the water ends and the sky begins!

Hey! The ocean looks just like my thighs! #stretchmarks

Mega storm over Miami

Landed in Miami and had a 5 hour layover. I used Mobile Passport, but apparently everyone has caught on to it now, so the line was just as long as the regular one for passport control. Sigh. Then the lines for reentry to connecting flights were just STUPID. From the time we landed until the time I actually got into the terminal for my connection was 2 hours! Insanity! That left me with 3 hours, and I was going to spend that time eating! Found a burger joint (The Counter) and had the nicest waitress ever. Killed some time talking to Brian and blogging. At 8:30pm, I took 2 Zzzquils so I would sleep on the plane (I had a middle seat. Kill me.). That gave me one hour until the flight left at 9:30. Boarded and sat. And sat. And sat. My zzzquil was kicking in and I literally could not keep my eyes open! Last I knew it was 10pm and the pilot was saying something about the bags from the last flight hadn’t been removed yet, then they had to load ours (theirs, I don’t check bags). After that, I zonked out. Apparently, we sat there for over an hour!! Which meant we got to LAX after 1am. I felt so bad for poor Brian. And my poor tailbone. It hated sitting for that long…. But all’s well that ends well, and I made it back home.

LOOSE ENDS
This summer was all about experimenting with Workaway. So, what are the results? Would I do it again? The short answer is FUCK NO.

The workaway in Puerto Rico that I had lined up for the last leg of my trip flaked. Strike one.

The Antigua leg was not a good experience due to it being completely disorganized, there was too much unnecessary drama, and I couldn’t trust anything she said. Which is a damn shame because this should have been an amazing and productive effort for both of us. I didn’t detail all of the instances of it in the blog because I was there while I was blogging. Now that I’m not there anymore, I can be more candid. Let’s break down the fouls.
Completely disorganized: From day 1, after she picked me up and I realized she had no clue who I was and that I was the volunteer who was a marine biologist and educator, my alarms went off. Both of those things are major assets to her organization and don’t come around often (if ever). How the hell does that detail just slip your mind? It was a foreshadowing of just how disorganized she is… That was followed up with her not having ANYTHING prepared for me to do. I literally spent the first week pulling weeds and raking. Great if you’re doing workaway just to get free lodging. Not so great if you are there to share your skills and actually do what you agreed to do when you signed up… Once she did get around to being ready to work on her website, again she had nothing ready. No content, but not even access! It took DAYS just to be able to get the access information from the 14 year old girl who had done her previous “work”. Frustration doesn’t even begin to cover it. Once we had access, she had zero content ready. Instead of me being able to just come in, do some design work and drop in the content, I was starting literally from scratch. I worked my ASS OFF to try to get the site at least ready enough to go live with a good start of content before I left. She didn’t want to go live until the whole thing was done. It’s just ridiculous. Especially because that meant “you can just finish it after you leave”. Um, no. This is workaway, not workfromhome. I already have a job at home, thank you very much. She even offered to pay. No thanks.

Unnecessary drama: She put me in someone else’s house, and I don’t think she had the proper permission (she manages their property). They saw my blog, and she called me to tell me they were upset because I was staying there for free. Um, first of all, THAT’S THE WHOLE REASON I’M HERE. I work in exchange for FREE lodging. Seriously, when she told me that, I started crying. I was already fed up with the antics, and this was a breaking point. I felt so uncomfortable being somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. Then she starts reassuring me its fine and she’ll handle it. How about you handle YOUR messy business on your end in the first place and leave me the fuck out of it??
There were lots of other little things like that. But when she told me she got worms from Annie PEEING on the floor… Oh for fucks sake that’s not even POSSIBLE. Do you even science, lady? She insisted that she read it, but couldn’t send me the link. Uh, huh. Drama.

Trust: You may remember the dog gauntlet I had to walk through to get anywhere. I only crossed it once, and knew that one brown dog was one false move away from biting me. Before I went, I messaged her about the dogs. Was she sure they were OK with me walking by? Of course, she says! I messaged her when I got back from almost being bit. She informed me that yes, that brown one has bitten TWO PEOPLE! You crazy ass bitch… You purposefully kept that from me. I could have gotten really hurt. I was alone with no transportation and no cell signal. That pisses me off so much. Zero care for my welfare. She did the same damn thing with the PIT BULL at the other house that I had to walk by to get anywhere. It was really aggressive toward her dog. It was behind a fence and I asked if it was ever out. Oh, no! She’s never seen it out! Literally every other time we drove by, that dog was loose, even attacking her dog once! Again, what the hell! You can’t endanger people like that! I was literally trapped at both houses because of aggressive dogs. This was never disclosed to me before I came.

Basically, everything was an unorganized, unprepared, massive waste of my time and resources. Only good thing that came out of it was going boating with Nick who is super passionate about marine life, and fostering my little Annie girl. Antigua workaway, strike two.

Last but not least, Guadeloupe workaway. This was a housesit, but on the workaway platform so it counts. The people were lovely, the cats were cool, but the house was a cluttered mess and kind of dirty. It was an multiplex house, and the neighbors literally sounded like they were in the room with you. And then, the landlady came over and bitched at me one day for having the air conditioner on. Of course, she speaks ZERO English and couldn’t even use hand signals to communicate- just increasing volumes of French- so I had no idea what she was even saying. She went and got the Italian lady who speaks a little Spanish and a little English and between that I was able to figure out that I needed to turn the air off. Christ almighty. Strike three.

So I guess I should never say never. Might there be a circumstance where I would do workaway again? Possibly. But it would have to be EXTREMELY clearly defined before I ever even left home. Part of my aggravation is that overall, I’m just not a fan of the Caribbean. I don’t like islands. Too confining. There’s no terrestrial wildlife. I’m not the “go to the beach with a book” every day girl. And I’m sure all of that played a role in how I felt while I was there as well. I think this sign in Guadeloupe says it all- I should have had more of this going in to the summer!!


Now, to the good stuff….ANNIE!! Look, a LOT went on with this little pup, and I’m not going to get into all of the nitty gritty details. Just hit the highlights. She was flown to New York on July 12. She went to the Bidawee shelter in Manhattan. I was beside myself, because I had not wanted her to go into a cage. But I had zero control over any of it. She did get to fly in the passenger cabin with a lovely family who volunteered to take her. Then she rode in the car to the shelter. There was a video of her with her head out the window barking like crazy. She saw a CHALK DRAWING on a wall of a dog, and was determined to make friends!! LOL  However, that video was lost in a required “drama purge” of correspondence. The levels of crazy this entire thing went to- well, you wouldn’t believe it if I wrote it. Hell, I was living it and could barely even believe it…
Anyway, a celebrity had the honor of meeting my little star!! Bidawee was doing an adoption promo, and Kelly Clarkson was there. Here’s Annie on the left of Kelly. I had another picture of Annie playing with the dog Kelly was holding, again, lost in the purge.
So all of this was going on while I was in Guadeloupe. Brian was calling Bidawee to stay updated on her status. Because if she didn’t get adopted, I was going to fly and get her. The thought of her in a cage was just too heartbreaking. The Saturday I was to fly home, I was willing to change my ticket and fly to New York from Miami instead of going to LA. But the shelter said they had a big adoption event that day and she’d probably get adopted. I got home, we called Sunday- still there. So at that point I had to start making plans. Spoke to the shelter and decided to give her one more week. If she wasn’t adopted over the next weekend, then I would fly over and get her. They were kind enough to agree to put a hold on her as soon as I got a plane ticket. Every morning and every evening I would check the website. Her little picture was still there. The uncertainty and confusion in her eyes was killing me.
Then, on July 30, I check the website. Her picture was there in the morning, but GONE in the afternoon!! I called on July 31, and sure enough, Annie has a home!!! A woman in Westchester (a suburb area north of NYC) adopted her. Annie is going into training to be a service dog! I couldn’t be more excited for her and her new life. That little pup stole my heart. I have shed countless tears over her- from fear, heartbreak, and now joy! I’ll never see her again, but I know I gave her the best of me that I could, and I gave her the gift of love and trust. She’ll carry that with her always, and I’ll always carry the memory of my little Annie girl- she was the best thing to come out of this entire trip, and those 2 weeks I spent with her were worth all the subsequent aggravation!

 

Martinique Day 1: Pain and Heartbreak on a Full Stomach

Martinique Day 1: Pain and Heartbreak on a Full Stomach

 

Because we arrived last night instead of early afternoon as had been planned, we lost a solid ½ day in Martinique. On top of that, we did basically ZERO planning for this leg of the trip. Because of the schedule change the day before, we had cancelled our Airbnb for the night and had to scramble to find another. Found one that had really good reviews in the city of Saint Marie which was the general area we knew we were heading toward. If you stayed 3 nights, you got a welcome dinner cooked by the mom. The reviews were RAVING about the food!! We could only stay 1 night, so I asked the host if we could pay for dinner. Sure! $34. Sold. We now had accommodations and food for tonight!

Had a general idea of the route we wanted to take, but no idea of what we actually wanted to see/do along the way. So we hopped in the car and headed out. First item of business was to find a French adapter so we could charge our stuff. Somewhere along the way I lost mine. #Dominicancurse We went to the place the Airbnb host suggested, but it didn’t look like the kind of place with adapters- it was more of a home depot kind of place. Putting “electronics store” into google maps wasn’t helping either, as it kept taking us to electrical supply stores. After almost an hour of wasted time, I had a bright idea…When in doubt, there’s one place I always know will have them- the airport! And we were close. Friendly English speaking lady at the information booth told us exactly where to go, and just like that, for 11.50euro ($13), we had our adapter and were on the road!

The roads are FABULOUS. Like no potholes. And the drivers are aware of everyone’s personal mortality and conduct themselves accordingly. However, after contorting on the ferry for 2 hours yesterday to make my tailbone less miserable, I now had not only an ouchy tailbone, but a really sore lower back. Miserable was an understatement. There is a wildness to Dominica, even in the towns. There is a developed feel to Martinique, even in the wilderness. It’s gorgeous, but I have to say that Dominica is prettier. We found some little waterfall on Maps.me and hiked to it. It wasn’t really a waterfall- more like a water treatment plant. Disappointing, but it got me off my tailbone for 20 minutes. Next stop was another waterfall. This one had a pool you could swim in, but it was COLD!

Lunch time was approaching. This is France, and France is all about food. Martinique has a TON of restaurants, and they are all open!! And not only do they have restaurants, but grocery stores that are fully stocked! We shall starve no more! And not only do they have grocery stores, but they have Carrefour! A chain I know from France proper! A chain that is known to have Dr. Pepper. Alas, this one did not, but it did have huge areas devoted to the 3 staples of the French diet- fresh bread, wine, and cheese! We got a baguette and some salami to eat along the way. Delicious, and less than $3.50! There was a volcano museum in this town. We pulled in, but it was closed, so we headed down the road again. Our destination was the northernmost area of the island on the other side of Mount Pelee from where we were- Grand Rivere. Even the super rural roads were in perfect condition! The map said there was a viewpoint, so we parked and headed up the hill. A goat guarded the passage, so I had Brian hold him while I quickly scooted by. I don’t like farm animals unless they’re on a plate… We walked up and up. My back was not feeling it and it was HOT. I finally gave up and we turned around. Come to find out- the view point wasn’t ½ a mile up the road like our map said- it was more like 3 miles up! Did get one lovely shot of the beach below, and a lizard I’d never seen.

Research says: Martinque Anole (Anolis roquet summus)

By this time, I was done. I was in so much pain. We got to our Airbnb about 3pm and were greeted by Ester- the host’s mom. Ester is from St. Lucia and speaks English! YAY! We told her we’d like to eat around 5:30-6:30 and she said no problem. The bnb was a studio attached to Ester’s house- we had our own private bedroom, bathroom, and kitchenette. Perfect. I went in, laid down, and died for about an hour and 45 minutes. Literally, I didn’t even move once while I slept. I think I vaguely remember Brian checking me for a pulse at some point…

Woke up feeling a little better, and knowing dinner was coming definitely brightened my mood!! Look, I don’t know the names of everything we ate, but let me tell you this- EVERY BITE WAS PHENOMENALLY DELICIOUS!! We had some kind of little appetizer, then a salad, then rice with chicken and sauce and baked yam and oh my god we ate like KINGS!!

The wifi is great here, so I got some work done. Was talking to my son and his girlfriend (who teach in my school) and they said they wanted to facetime with me the next day. I told them I had no idea what my wifi situation would be (and they’ve never asked to do that before anyway). I was nervous. I told them to just tell me and they sent me a picture of an engagement ring! After 9 years, my son finally popped the question! I was ecstatic beyond words for them!!! Until I was informed that no parents are invited to the wedding, but we can all convene in Texas (they live in Colorado) a month after for a party. My heart broke so hard that I think I heard it crack. I won’t go into all the details, but I voiced my dismay at the situation, was reprimanded, and spent the entire night- ALL OF IT- crying. I can’t even remember another time in my life when I spent an entire night crying. To not get to see my oldest son say his vows to the woman I have loved as my own daughter for so many years…it’s painful beyond words. I have loved, accepted, encouraged and supported them in so many things and it really just feels like a slap in the face.

Martinique Day 2: A Day of Adventures, and the Source of the Curse is Revealed!

Martinique Day 2: A Day of Adventures, and the Source of the Curse is Revealed!

With a puffy face, hurting jaw and teeth from crying all night and the resulting sinus pressure, and a broken heart, we left the airbnb in the morning. I really didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to go anywhere, see anything, nothing. Poor Brian, he was trying to be so encouraging. Two items on the agenda for sure- the banana museum and the rum museum. But they didn’t open until 9 and it was 7. So Brian in a desperate attempt to get me out of the bnb and out into the world to get my mind off things we decided to drive out to the Caravelle Peninsula that was really close. Good news, my back no longer hurt, just my tailbone. Probably because the pain in my heart was taking my mind off of it…

The peninsula was gorgeous! Little fishing villages dotted the coastline. We drove all the way to the end and decided to get out and hike around. There was an attraction here called Chateau Dubuc. We had no idea what it was (that’s where not researching a trip ahead of time gets ya!), so decided to hike over and check it out. Of course, it was closed until 9, and it was only 8:30. So instead, we decided to hike through the mangroves. Beautiful mudflats and mangrove forests!

Ucides cordatus

Yellow billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus)

Got back around, and Chateau Dubuc was open. The man at the desk didn’t speak a lot of English, but was very friendly and explained enough so we understood that if we took this map and audio/pointer thingy, that when we touched it to the map it would tell us what we were seeing. Clever!! This was a sugar cane plantation built in the 1720s. And that’s about where the history of this place ends. The audio guide did a great (maybe too detailed) job of describing what each of the building ruins had been used for, but I couldn’t get a connection to the place because there was no story. Just “here is a building, and here is literally every single minute detail about how that building worked”. And it is EXPANSIVE- as in 20+ stops, each with several minutes of details. Still, it was cool to wander around the place. Today it’s in the middle of no where and you have to hike to it. I can’t even imagine 300 years ago…

It was well past museum opening times now, so we headed back toward Sainte Marie to go to the Rum Museum. First stop was the grocery store to grab a little breakfast. Holy. Shit. Every register, like 8 of them, had lines 10+ people deep!! Was a hurricane coming and people were stocking up? Was the grocery store only open one day a week? What the hell???? I stood there with my baguette, salami, and a couple other snacks for the road for what seemed like forever, while Brian went to the nearby gas station to get cold drinks. As I got closer, people with lots more groceries than me waved me in front of them in line. We didn’t speak the same language, but kindness is universal.  This is France, and there is just a certain je ne sais quoi here.

Rum museum was right around the corner, and was FREE if you didn’t want to ride the train! There were two buildings- the main building with an upstairs video (not in English) and a museum behind that that WAS in English!! St. James Rum is still being produced today, and I have to say that the museum was very nice and well done. I didn’t learn a lot (my head was NOT in the game today), but Brian ooohed and ahhed over a bunch of machinery, so there was that!

This sign was just so disturbing to me. Ugh.

These are the oldest known bottles of St. James Rum. They were in Amsterdam and were shipped back to Martinique after Mt. Pelee destroyed everything in 1902.

Really just gorgeous inside, with a history of the different distillation techniques with actual machines.

Next up, banana museum just down the road. This one I had been excited about, because I had learned SO MUCH at the rice museum in Malaysia that I was hoping this would be like that. Well, kindaish. Again, my head just wasn’t really into anything. It was like $16 for us both to get in, and it was basically a lot of signs (in English!) discussing the history of the banana. I kind of felt I could have read the banana wikipedia page and got the same information, but I’m a bitch today so I hate everything! 😕 I didn’t even take a picture of a single informational sign, at either museum, which is definitely not me. After the museum was a beautiful garden of all kinds of bananas- there are like 1000 species and 300 are edible (see, I learned SOMETHING in the museum!!). Not sure how many species were out here, but it was fun to walk through and see the different types. At the end, there was a restaurant. We shared a banana split. I told Brian they should have “banana flights”- like beer flights. Bring out a bunch (no pun intended!) of different types of bananas and let you taste them. That would have been really fun! Oh- other thing I learned- they originated in Africa and were brought to the Western Hemisphere by Europeans. There are so damned many bananas in this part of the world, I thought they came from here.

Brian knew I was bummed yesterday when the volcano museum we were going to was closed. He found another one and attempted to get me excited about going to it. Seriously, I felt sorry for the guy. Between Dominica being our worst travel experience together ever, my aching tailbone, the news about my son’s wedding….I was in a serious funk and definitely not fun to be around. Nothing was funny. Nothing was interesting. Sigh. I agreed for us to drive to the other side of the island to go check it out, because, well, volcano. So off we headed to Sainte Pierre! I had heard of Mt. Pelee, and knew it was some big old nasty volcanic disaster- but I couldn’t have found it on a map to save my life. Who knew it was in Martinique?! Well, the town of Sainte Pierre sure the hell did in 1902. Mt. Pelee is actually the deadliest volcanic eruption of the 20th century! How deadly? 30,000 people- the entire city of Sainte Pierre- DEAD deadly. Well, except for 2 people. I’ll get to one of those in a moment. That must have been one helluva lava flow, right? Wrong. Zippo lava.  None. This was a special type of pyroclastic flow- a superheated combination of ash and gas. How superheated? Oh, about 1800F. That’ll bake your cookies! It was so hot, that it ignited ships that were anchored offshore!

The ladies at the museum were so friendly (do you notice a theme here? EVERYONE is friendly!!) and spoke great English. They gave us headsets that would automatically start playing as you went around to different exhibits. I am very much a multitasking type learner- I like information from a lot of different sources all at once. (That’s exactly how I research for lesson plans.) This was cool because I could read the information on the exhibits and the headsets had totally different information- they were more like stories that supported what you were seeing. The museum was very modern and very well done. I was slightly happyish for the first time that day!

Very nice museum!

Get a load of this!! On the left, that’s BREAD! Right? That’s CHEESE!! #howveryfrench

Check out these objects that were literally melted together by superheated gas!

Just part of one wall that listed all 30,000 victims names

Mt. Pelee, towering above the little town of Sainte Pierre

When I was boo-hooing last night, Brian started researching Atlas Obscura. He knows I love any kind of crazy weird sightseeing kind of thing. He told me about the only entry for Martinique– A man named Sylbaris had been tossed into solitary confinement for fighting. The cell was made of very thick cement walls, a solid door, and just a slit facing the ocean (opposite side from where Pelee was) for ventilation. Well, this proved to be his saving grace. He was burned by the air, but not killed. In fact, he went on to join Ringling Bros and Barnum Bailey Circus, where he would tell his story and show his scars. France pardoned him for his crimes. SUPER INTERESTING! And the best part, his cell still stands amidst the ruins of Sainte Pierre! You can even go inside of it! We walked up and visited it, and I was so enthralled by this history that I even made a few educational videos!

Sylbaris’ cell

That was basically the end of our sightseeing for the day, and we headed south to Anse Noire, where I had booked us a splurge accommodation! For 2 nights, we would be staying in a treehouse on the beach! It was part of several bungalows run by a super nice man named Claude of Domaine de Robinson. We parked our car at the top of the hill, and went down WAY too many stairs to get to the beach and the treehouse! Down with bags is one thing…I was dreading up (for Brian, because I knew I wouldn’t be carrying shit!).

Path at the top of the stairs

View of the beach from the stairs. WOWZA!

Our treehouse <3

We walked through the gate that said “Private Property” and found Claude. He took us to the treehouse and loaded our luggage into a makeshift elevator. It was not for people. Something called a “monkey bridge” was for people. I don’t drink, but I am seriously concerned for the lack of discernment I apparently was exhibiting at the time of booking the zipline o’ death bnb in Dominica and the monkey bridge o’ death here in Martinique. I swear to god, neither of these things looked so high and sketch when I saw the pictures online! So I swiped right. Things online though sometimes look much better than they do in person, because I was having a serious case of wanting to swipe left after one look at that bridge….

Access to said treehouse…

Claude went up first. He said one person on the bridge at a time (don’t have to tell me twice). I didn’t even know this man 2 minutes ago, but for some reason I didn’t want to look like a total wuss in front of him. I didn’t have any time to contemplate the 80 different ways I could die on this thing before started my slow, deliberate steps. It was shaky. It was high. At the end it was steep. Even worse- at the end there was no solid board and you had to step over a damn gap of empty space!! Space that if I lost 50 lbs and my internal skeleton, I could easily slip through and plummet to my death! That one freaked me out for a second, but I pulled myself over it and on to the porch. I told Claude I was scared of heights. He said a couple of times back and forth and I wouldn’t even think about it (spoiler alert: he was wrong, but it did get minimally better).

Claude got us settled in. We had a big room with a large bed and mosquito net, a little kitchen, a shower, sink, and a separate room with a toilet. And wifi!! I said in an earlier blog I go for unique, cheap, and wifi when I’m booking, but will settle for 2 out of 3. For almost $200 a night, easily 4 times what I normally like to spend, you can see what got left out this time. But it was worth it. It was so quiet, so peaceful, so relaxing. Just the sounds of birds and frogs. We ate some food we had picked up at Carrefour on our way in and just sat on the porch, relaxing. Something we hadn’t done since we started this trip several days ago…Something we desperately needed after everything.

We had one visitor that night- a moth as big as my hand! He was amazing! Until I did research on him get an ID (literally about 5 days after seeing him while writing this blog, otherwise I would have been even more freaked the fuck out). Meet Ascalapha odorata, better known as the Black Witch moth. Silence of the Lambs- you know the larvae that the killer was putting into his victim’s mouths? It was of this moth!!!!!  And get a load of this….THE FREAKING THING HAS LEGENDS ABOUT IT BEING A HARBINGER OF DEATH AND MISFORTUNE SINCE PRE-COLUMBIAN TIMES!!!!! So yeah, if this damn thing flies into your house, death, misfortune, or a curse will befell you. He’s a little late to our pity party, but you know what they say about island time…. #fml

Black Witch Moth (Ascalapha odorata)- that’s like a 4″ wide board he’s on!

Martinique Day 3: The Last Day of “Our” Vacation

Martinique Day 3: The Last Day of “Our” Vacation

 

Woke up in our treehouse!!! Slept GREAT! Of course, I took zzquil to insure that….After the week I’ve had, it was necessary. It’s our last full day of vacation. Wanted to head out early for a snorkel. Of course, that meant having to exit the treehouse via the monkey bridge… I walked up to the edge. Two things struck me immediately. One, holy shit the bridge on this side was REALLY steep going down!! Two, that gap between the board and porch had exponentially widened over night, appearing to require a feat a tad less impossible than taking a step across the widest part of the Grand Canyon. How do I get myself into these things??? Brian went across first, and encouraged me from the other side, but I physically could not make my leg take that first step. I’ve been scared on stupid crazy scary bridges before- ones even higher and scarier than this one (side eye at you, Borneo ). But stepping across a gap like this at the top was way out of my mental capabilities. Look, let’s be real, it was about a foot wide. But my leg literally refused to go over it! Brian suggested sitting down and trying it that way. Sitting down- my tailbone’s least favorite thing to do, but I seriously didn’t have a choice. I never did manage to just step across that gap like a normal person…

Claude had told us that if we went to the sea grass bed further out, we might see some turtles! A guest had seen 5 feeding there yesterday morning. We swam out and it was nothing but sand bottom and sea grass. Hardly any fish. I was getting kinda disappointed! This was our “splurge” location chosen for the snorkeling and unique accommodation!! And then…ZAP!! ZAP ZAP ZAP!! We started getting tiny, painful stings on our arms and legs from some unseen creature! Holy shit it hurt! Like jellyfish stings! We decided to turn around, and this time follow the wall of the cove on the way back. There’s the snorkeling we wanted!! So much life! Lots of little fish and corals! It was very nice. Got back to shore and decided to walk down the dock on the other side of the beach. Water looked a lot clearer than where we had been snorkeling earlier, so we took a ladder down and decided to snorkel around the pier back to shore, then go chill out for a bit. As we rounded the end of the pier, something large caught my eye. As it got a little closer, I could see what it was…A GREEN SEA TURTLE!!! OMG!! He had a missing rear flipper, poor thing. Most likely from a boat strike or shark. We followed him for almost 10 minutes (according to gopro video length!). He came up for air a couple of times. He swam so effortlessly. Just a beauty to watch! As he turned to head out of the cove, we decided to come back in.

So those stings…when I got back in I had several large welts, like big mosquito bites on my right forearm, and one whip mark from an actual jellyfish on the back of my upper left arm that extended from my elbow about halfway to my shoulder. Research is pulling up different things for the tiny stings- larval jellyfish (I’m not convinced), hydroids (my top choice), and something called sea lice. Next time I go out, I’m wearing my long sleeve rash guard for sure. We packed up to do a little drive around this part of the island, with 2 scheduled stops: A slave museum and a slave memorial. This area is really pretty- probably one of my favorite parts along with the Caravelle peninsula.

The slave museum is called La Savane des Esclaves. And here’s the best part….everything is in ENGLISH!! We paid $9 each and were given a little numbered map and the lady explained how to work our way through. Everything is outside- it’s kind of a “living museum” I guess you’d say. There are replicas of different huts and some slave artifacts (the restraints and torture devices will give you chills for days). And the information- WOW! It’s SO WELL DONE!! I’m a teacher. I know a well done museum when I see one, and this it is! The man who created it is Gilbert Larose- a descendant of slaves. And the time, effort, and detail he has put into this place points to only one thing…passion. I got to meet him and told him that I travel the world visiting museums, and I’m extremely impressed with this one. I could tell he was pleased! I was entranced for the entire hour plus that we were there. It was powerful and real and tangible. It was so good, that I took pictures of every single sign (and there’s a lot of them!) so I can share this story with my students.

We drove around to the other side of the peninsula to visit the Anse Cafard Slave Memorial. This series of 20 eight foot tall statues are staring out to sea, where in 1830, 15 years after slavery had been outlawed in Martinique, a slave trader tried to sail his ship ashore at night to sneak in his illegal human “cargo”. The ship crashed on the rocks, killing all 40+ slaves who were shackled together in the hull. The statues are in direct alignment with the Gulf of Guinea in Africa, and are arranged in a triangle pattern to represent the triangular slave trade route across the Atlantic.

Just around the corner is beautiful Diamant (Diamond) Rock. Past that, we found a little restaurant and had lunch- fish and fries (about 5 lbs of them!!) and chicken and rice. Mmmmmmmm. Good. Except that chair and my tailbone were not on speaking terms about halfway through the meal…

Came back to the treehouse and decided to take the kayak around the point to the other cove. One cove (ours) is Anse Noire- a black sand beach. Just around the point is Anse Dufour- a white sand beach! It was an easy paddle over. The water in this cove seemed to be much deeper and clearer than in ours! Pulled the kayak up on the beach and snorkeled out. Holy moly!! This side is much better for snorkeling!! Huge reef walls full of different kinds of coral, huge barrel sponges, tons of fish (even trumpetfish), urchins, stars, and more. We had snorkeled all the way back out to the point along the reef face before we realized it and turned around! Water here was 30 feet + in places, and crystal clear. Added bonus: No stingy things. I think they come out mainly in the morning. Double bonus: Sitting on a lifejacket made a perfect seat for my tailbone where the hollow part of the jacket is! I might take this thing with me… By the way, I took these 3 photos with my phone that was enclosed in the clear dry bag Brian got me for Christmas. Pretty pleased with the result!

Anse Noire- Our black sand beach

Anse Dufour- the white sand beach

We paddled back around to our cove, put the kayak away. Came up to our tree house, cleaned off our gear, and chilled out on the patio for an hour or so. Soon it was time for sunset. The cove is positioned perfectly, so we headed down to the dock. Some local kids were jumping off of it into the crystal clear water. The sun was slowly disappearing, just like our vacation together. This has been our most challenging trip together ever (I’m blaming it on the moth), but we made it through. Tomorrow, we’ll be in different countries again- me in Guadeloupe and Brian back in Los Angeles.

 

Dominica Day 1: Starting Our Trip with a Bang….

Dominica Day 1: Starting Our Trip with a Bang….

 

I’m going to start this blog by saying this. It’s been 27 hours since our last meal. In that span of time, the following has occurred:
-A flight from Antigua to Dominica
-A car wreck
-My tailbone injured
-Getting a new rental car
-Completely changing our plans so we can find wifi and food
-Being denied food, but getting wifi so we can call insurance about the wreck
-Going to a grocery store that was all “store” and no “grocery”- not even a loaf of bread
-Searching and not finding any food
-Driving through INSANELY gorgeous country with INSANE drivers
-Going on 3 hikes, totaling about about 2.5 miles
-Snorkeling off the beach
-My camera is still cursed from the man on the donkey in Antigua and only taking blurry pics. Any clear ones on this blog were taken by a phone.
-Finally finding food

So yeah, it’s been a busy 27 hours, and the day didn’t even end when we finally found food! Let’s discuss, shall we? But before we get started, pronunciation lesson. It’s Dah-mah-NEE-kuh. Not Doh-men-EE-kuh. Think dominos, not Dominican Republic. Having a hard time getting right? Don’t worry, I say it right maybe every 3rd time! 😂

So we woke up at 4:30am to leave Kerry and Charmaine’s house and headed for the airport. The street lights along the road were all red- so they wouldn’t disturb any nesting turtles or hatchlings! That’s so awesome! Dropped off the car in the parking lot, got our boarding passes, and left at 6am.

We flew on Liat Airlines. Locals say it stands for Leave Island Any Time and Luggage In Another Terminal! Fortunately, we had no problems (yet!)

Landed in Dominica at 6:40am, ready for adventure!! Easy getting through immigration, headed for our rental car. They weren’t there yet, so we waited until about 7:20 (pick up time was 7am). Did all of the paperwork for the Suzuki 4 wheel drive, put our stuff in, and got ready to hit the road! First order of business, turn off the ac and roll down the windows. Except Brian’s window wouldn’t roll down….unacceptable. Went back in and the lady just took us to another car, without redoing the contract, and gave us a Rav 4. Not a 4 wheel drive, but the windows worked so we were good to go. Hit the road, take 2!! They drive on the left here, just like Antigua. This is not an issue for Brian, who has driven on the left in Malaysia, South Africa, Malta, and in Antigua all day yesterday. He’s driven on the left immediately after 20+ hour air travel. He’s driven on the left with a manual after 30+ hour air travel! In other words, he’s got this. We follow google maps out of the airport. The roads are narrow, pretty much exactly like in Antigua. The difference being that everyone here drives like their ass is on fire. Fast and erratic!! We came around a blind curve (there are lots of those in Dominica- way more than any other type of road), and a van was barreling toward us at mach speed in the middle of the road. Because that’s where they all drive- the middle. Not interested in the Dominican version of chicken, Brian eased over slightly more to the left to give the van more room. BAM!!!! The car jumped up in the air and somehow Brian managed to avoid us flipping over as he maneuvered to a stop on the grass. I poked my head out the open window. The tire and rim were mangled. What the hell had just happened?! We had no idea!! We looked back, and there was a god damned cement curb about 3 feet long on the side of the road behind some tall grass. We had hit it. We were in shock at what had just happened! What the hell do we do? Well, I guess we send the car rental lady a WhatsApp message, because literally we weren’t much more than a mile from the airport. But of course, I had zero signal. Let me stop here to give an announcement to all T-Mobile customers. You will rarely have a signal ANYWHERE in Dominica. It’s the worst of any country I’ve ever been to- including the depths of Borneo. So we’re standing there, dumb founded, with vans and trucks whizzing by us. The only thing to do was lock it all up and walk back.

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About that time, here comes the rental car lady on her way home. She pulls over and asks if everything’s ok. Uh, wanna see? She was stunned. And this is where things just start to go sideways. She says the collision damage waiver we signed is only for colliding with another vehicle. This wouldn’t be covered. So I asked if it would have been better if we had just hit the van. Her answer? Yes. Jesus. So now we’re kind of freaking out as to what’s going to happen to us. She takes a bunch of pictures, tells us the tow truck will be on the way and we’ll be responsible for the towing fees, plus all of the damages. There’s fluid leaking from the thing as well as the fucked up tire and rim, and god only knows what else. Then she puts us and our stuff in her car to take us back. And as soon as I climb in, this is when I feel a very ouchy pain in my tailbone. The day before we had joked about me making up a new word- shituation. I said I really needed to figure out a way to work that into the blog. Thank you, Universe, for your prompt attention to that matter…

Back to the rental car lot, where she hands us the Suzuki we had refused earlier. We were in no mood or position to argue. From accident time to back on the road time, about 30 minutes. Original plan was to go to Cabrit’s National Park and hike around. What we needed though were two things: wifi to contact American Express and Geico for how to handle the insurance situation and FOOD. We decided to detour to Portsmouth instead. Drove through some AMAZINGLY GORGEOUS country. Rainforest and ocean- just magnificent. But the scenery couldn’t fix the sinking feeling in our guts, or the worsening pain in my tailbone. The hit was on my side of the car. I must have flown up in the seat as much as the seat belt would allow, and came back down hard on some piece of the metal frame in the seat. Got to Portsmouth and even though I was in a city, still barely had a signal. Tried to google “restaurant with wifi” and only came up with one- The Champs- which was also inside of a hotel. Perfect. We headed up narrow, crowded roads until we found the place. With a huge sign outside “Restaurant open to the public at 4pm”. THE FUCK?! We sat in their parking lot trying to eek out enough signal to find somewhere else to go when the owner came out and said our exhaust was filling up her bathroom. We explained the situation and she invited us into the cafe to use the wifi. No food, but Brian got a coffee and I got a juice, and we reported the accident to American Express. Geico only had 800 numbers which wouldn’t work. Of course, the lady never changed the rental contract from the Suzuki to the Rav 4 (which was the one that was wrecked) so trying to give information was interesting…. At least the view was good.

Blurry, but beautiful, country! #cursedcamera

View from The Champs Hotel and Restaurant- taken with my phone.

Time to go find FOOD!! It was about 11am, we’re in a city, shouldn’t be a problem. That’s lunchish time, right? WRONG. Not here. Nothing was open. NOTH-ING. Ok, we’ll go to the grocery store. Found an IGA Supermarket. Perfect!! Except there was nothing super about it. There was nothing even slightly super about it. They didn’t even have BREAD!! Which meant our peanut butter went back on the shelf. Seriously, about 40% of the shelves were empty space on every aisle. I grabbed a can of cheese Pringles, declared that I didn’t give a damn how much those imported crunchy saddle shaped pieces of love and stress relief cost, and those- along with a big jug of water and some bananas- concluded our shopping trip.

Dejected and starving, we decided to just skip Cabrits, find a beach restaurant along the way (google showed lots of them!!), and take the Northern Link Highway toward some kind of scenic overlook thing I found on Maps.me and some bat cave thing that popped up as well- as these were things in the general direction of our Airbnb. Came to the first restaurant- obviously closed. 2Nd, 3rd, 4th…closed, closed, closed. One had promise!! It showed as open on google!! It wasn’t right on the road, so we couldn’t see without driving back. Awesome looking little beachfront place! Yay food! Got out, walked around, and…..closed. Saw a sign- closed Thursdays and Sundays. Today was…Thursday. Fuck our luck. Found another restaurant a bit down the road, there was a guy outside!! We pulled in, got out- no food for about 45 minutes we were told. It was already noon. Screw it. Onward and outward toward the Northern Link Highway- munching on some beef jerky, pistachios (that Brian could not throw out his window because it didn’t roll down), and of course our Pringles.

We drove through more stunning scenery. The mountains, the jungle, the ocean- it was absolutely breathtaking. The other thing that was breathtaking was the pain in my tailbone every time we hit a bump, which was about every 3.8 inches of pavement on average. We stopped at a place called Cold Souffiere. There was smoke pouring out of the side of the hill a little ways out, which didn’t look like it was cold (#volcanicactivity), but we were here so let’s give it a whirl! Walking was MUCH BETTER on the old hiney than sitting, that’s for sure. A short hike (maybe ¼ of a mile) revealed a dead end into a platform thing and a serious odor of sulfur. The water here was grayish, and it was bubbling ferociously! Boiling, I’d say, from my experience with geothermal activity. But why did it say this was called COLD Soufriere?? Because Brian’s job description for traveling with me includes “touching and picking up anything I don’t want to touch or pick up myself, but am curious about”, I told him to touch it. He’s the “show” to my “tell”. 😁I was fairly positive he’d pull back a boiled finger, which would allow him to suffer along on this trip with me and my butt. But no! It was…COLD WATER!! Just bubbling from air seepage, not heat. Super interesting!

Blurry, but beautiful, trail!

Back to the car and off to the next stop- Thibauld Bat Cave. We literally had no idea what this was other than a named icon on a map that sounded cool. Pulled into town, praying for food. What do atheists get when they pray? Probably the same thing as religious folk. And in this case, a solid helping of DENIED. Fine. Bats. Where the hell are they? Are they edible? We asked an official looking guy who was walking around the sleepy little town, and he told us to park over there, go up the hill, and find the path by the green house. Followed his instructions which lead to a very rocky, but gorgeous coastline. Followed the arrows around to an amazing cave that was full of bats!! HUNDREDS of them flying around! Then I saw this weird looking huge black mound thing toward the back of the cave. Zoomed in and holy crap, it was a mass of THOUSANDS of bats!! Super cool. We both agreed this was one of our most favorite stops of the day!

The entrance to the cave! Across a sketch bridge…there’s always a sketch bridge in every vacation I take…

In every little village we passed through, we looked for a restaurant. None. We were STARVING!! But between us and the next largeish town was a place called Batibou Beach. One of our Airbnb hosts had messaged me and said not to miss it! There was a sign saying $5 US each, but we decided what the heck- you only live once. Parked the car on the highway and decided to walk a little over a half mile to the beach. Because that’s what people who haven’t had a real meal in over 24 hours do… Got down there and WOW!! This is literally a quintessential Caribbean beach!! Beautiful sand, gorgeous cove, palm trees leaning toward the water…just WOW!! Paid the guy $10 and it was worth it. There was a security guard there so you could leave your stuff on the beach while you snorkeled (because the whole 3 other people on the beach might be thieves!!). He said that during busy season, 300-400 people were here each day! So we felt rather fortunate to basically have it to ourselves. I say this is a Caribbean beach, but really, it’s on the Atlantic side, which means pretty rough water. There was a reef just a little ways offshore that we could snorkel too, so decided to do that. As we were walking out, we saw 2 juvenile sharks!! The guy said we might see them, as it’s baby shark season. I was happy that my marine biology knowledge tells me mama sharks could care less about their babies so weren’t hanging around being protective! The snorkeling was pretty eh. Tons of algae, just a couple of corals- although I did see a Ricordea mushroom that got me all excited! Plus, with the waves, the visibility was pretty poor, maybe 8 feet if that, and it was really difficult to swim over the reef. We turned back, took a stroll down the beach, then decided to go find FOOD!!

What do starving people do? Hike, of course!

View from the top of the hill. It was so much more beautiful than this! Damn my cursed camera!!!

We had to pass back by this morning’s crime scene- the scene where my tailbone was traumatized! Car was gone. I seriously suggested maybe we just go to the airport and eat, because there HAD to be food there!! As we rounded the corner, we saw a little local restaurant. We didn’t care what they were serving. We didn’t care how much it cost. We stopped and went in. This was a VERY local place, right next to the airport. There were 3 choices- fish broth, lentil soup, or something I’d never heard of, peleau. She showed us each. The peleau looked the most like “stick to your ribs because who knows when you’ll ever eat again” food- rice and chicken. We took 2, plus one coconut water and one tamarind (maybe that’s how you spell it??) juice. There was so much food we could have easily shared one plate, even as hungry as we were!! Like $5.50 each- not bad! With full bellies, we headed off toward Kalinago territory for our airbnb!

That is the smile of a man who has finally found FOOD after 27 hours!!

So when I’m looking for an airbnb, I tend to look for three things- something unique, super cheap, and wifi. Usually the “unique” is the first causality of my searches. In this case, I was willing to go without wifi for 2 nights to stay in this crazy cool airbnb for an experience like no other- and for only $15 a night! It was called Floating Bed in the Trees…and it was owned by a Kalinago man named Denus. It was also across a river- with no bridge…just a zip line!! Normally zip lines are not my ideal mode of transportation, but from the pictures it looked pretty low to the ground (water), so I figured I could handle it. The directions were confusing (just for us- most likely because we were already so addled from the days events!!). We drove back and forth in the wrong place for a long time, because the GPS showed it in one place and we could not find the landmarks Denus described (literally a roots sign, a yellow container, a blue bin, and a parking sign- this is how addresses are done!). Finally, after driving back and forth in front of the same locals half a dozen times, we decided to stop and ask. Got directions, we hadn’t gone far enough and google maps had the wrong place pinned (shocking, but true story #eyeroll #lovehategooglemaps).

Of course, I had no signal to let them know I was there, so we kind of stood on the opposite side of the bank, hoping someone might see us. We then decided to walk down the little path. And that’s when I saw it. The zip line. Oh my god, it looked like something put together by 10 year old boys with no sense of mortality, using stuff they found in the trash. There was this blue piece of plastic that you were supposed to sit in- kind of like a piece of plastic tarp. And it looked like one false move and you would flip right out of it, plummeting to your death on the rocks about Let’s stop here a minute. There is plastic tarp all over this country. It was devastated by category 5 Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Tarp covers so many roofs still. Tarps that say “USAID” or “SAMARITAN’S PURSE”- organizations donating these tarps so people literally have some kind of roof over their head. Almost 2 years out, and that tarp is still their roof. It’s heartbreaking.

Zipline of death….

A woman appears on the other side and shouts, “Mary!”. And starts sending over the zip line. I’m telling Brian I just want to cross through the river. If you read this blog, you know I DON’T do heights (even though I always end up doing heights on every freaking vacation somehow…). I was trying to figure a way out of this situation (shituation? There’s 2), when the plastic tarp chair o’ death stopped in the middle of the river. The lady then disappears and reappears on our side. Something is wrong with the zip line (someTHING? Just from looking at it I could have named multiple someTHINGS!). Anyway, bullet dodged, we were crossed on foot. Her name was Nefertari, and she was beautiful and had this really cool peaceful vibe. We all held hands and crossed the swiftly flowing river without incident. She showed us to our hut- literally a wooden platform built into the side of a hill, surrounded by rainforest, covered with aforementioned relief tarps, with a mattress inside on the floor covered with mosquito net. She brought us some sugar cane to sample, and it was such a treat- especially since I had just visited the plantation yesterday and learned all about it! The sticks were SO juicy and refreshing! I did a little video for my students about it.

We were wiped from the day’s traumas and activities. We laid down at 6:30 and went to sleep for like an hour. Woke up, and promptly went back to sleep. The thin mattress was not very comfortable for my tail bone, and I woke up about every hour to adjust, then immediately starting worrying about Brian’s back, then would go back to sleep. It rained hard off and on during the night. What a day!!

Dominica Day 2: Indigenous People, Spectacular Scenery, and Voodoo Dolls

Dominica Day 2: Indigenous People, Spectacular Scenery, and Voodoo Dolls

 

Woke up with the sun around 5:30am. Laid there for a bit and discussed the fact that this mattress was not a good match for our current ages and various maladies. Airbnb should seriously have a filter for that….And that we really needed some wifi so we could continue working on the insurance situation and I really needed to do some work for my school. Got up and did a little walk around the lovely garden. Then decided to take a much needed bath in the river. Stripped to our skivvies, then ditched those as well. The water was really nice!! Scrubbed up, and I washed out my undies so they could dry in the car. We weren’t going to have a washing machine until we got to Martinque in 3 days, and I’d already had 4 days of no washing machine. Other than bathing our stinky selves and stinky clothes, washing in the river had another benefit- it cleansed the curse of the camera!! How or why, I can not tell you. But if a man on a donkey in Antigua ever curses you, go to Dominica and bath in the Pagua River. #truth

Brian is all Mr. Modesty until I get in and show him how it’s done!

Got back to our little hut to gather our things and cross the river. No sooner did Denus appear. I seriously wonder if he saw us nekkid in the river!! He said he was about to go across and we could go with him. We followed, and did not go down to the path to cross the river. We headed directly for the zip line o’ death. I told Brian, “We have to do this, right?”. The proper response of a loving fiance who knew I was scared to death of that thing would have been, “No, darling. I will carry you across the river on foot!”. But Brian says, “Yes.” Seriously rethinking this ring….

We reach the zip line, and not only is it a plastic tarp- IT HAS A TEAR IN THE BOTTOM, I SHIT YOU NOT!! At this point I’m ready to just move in to the hut and live out my days there… Denus shows us how it works. And you don’t sit on the tarp!! There’s a piece of hammock that your butt rests in! Ok, that’s better. We still haven’t approached a point where I’m happy with this contraption, but it is minimally better. I then look at the pulley. It was a completely rusted out assemblance of what used to be a working pulley maybe 50 years ago… Seriously, the inner ring wasn’t even complete it was so rusted. Kill me now. (Zipline: As you wish.). So Brian goes first. That way he can watch me plummet to my death from the opposite side of the river help me out of this suicide contraption if I manage to make it to the other side. And guess what?! He made it! In one piece! With all of our stuff! Ok. I have to do this. It’s one of those tests I seem to get on every vacation… As I’m trying to fit my butt into the hammock piece so I feel semi-secure, I realize that I am in a dress. And my freshly washed panties are on the other side of the river with Brian. Well, someone may be getting a show… Once I’m in, Denus starts pulling the rope and I smoothly glide over the rushing water and deadly rocks 15-20 feet below me! And guess what? I wasn’t even scared!!! And guess what? I actually enjoyed it!! And guess what? I managed to get across without flashing my lady bits!! I know this, because Brian caught it all on video!!

Walked to the car with Denus, who we were going to give a ride to. Brian reaches for the keys in his pocket. No keys. We go through the backpack, feeling for keys. Nothing. We go through our little cloth bag. No keys. Panic is setting in!! We dump everything we have out on to the hood. NO KEYS!!! We start peering into the tinted windows. NO KEYS!!! I asked Brian twice, “Did you check your pockets?”. Yes. We’re standing there, freaking out, while I’m trying to figure out how we explain THIS to the rental car agency. Then, Brian reaches around and feels something in his pocket, but not where his pocket is supposed to be. IT’S THE KEY!!! When he was in the river earlier, the pocket swooshed to the front!! Crisis averted, but god damn I am constantly on edge in this country, waiting for the next disaster.

We dropped off Denus and headed toward the Kalinago Cultural Center to learn all about the indigenous Kalinago people. It didn’t open until 9, and we had about 45 minutes to kill. I pulled up Maps.me and saw on there that there was a church really close in Salybia, and it had a short hiking trail next to it that went to a beach. Sold! Pulled up to the yellow and blue church, parked and started walking down.  And then…there was a CHURCH! I’m talking an OLD church. Ruins of an old church. And it was freaking GORGEOUS!! All I wanted to know was every bit of its history!! I wanted to marry Brian in that church! EEEEEEEEEEEEEK! There’s not a lot about this place on the interwebs, but here’s what I managed to learn. Construction began in 1913 (it looks sooooooo much older than that!). In 1916 it was almost finished when a hurricane destroyed much of it. Construction began again, and ended in 1925. Hurricanes hit again in 1926 and 1928, with the church sustaining only minor damage. Then, in 1930 another hurricane hit and basically left the ruins we see today. Sure seems like God was maybe telling them to leave the Kalinago people to their own religion! Across from the church there was a cemetery, with a stunning ocean view.
We continued walking down the path, which followed a small stream that ran into the ocean. There was a Kalinago man bathing in a small pool toward the end. And here is a good place to mention this. As we drove down the road, I saw several extremely nice looking Kalinago guys. As in, if Brian ever pisses me off, you will either find me in Paris or Kalinago Territory, Dominica! Seriously, their skin tone is gorgeous. We hiked around to another little ruin we saw. And there was grass there, growing along the path, unlike any I had ever seen before. It was almost like moss- so soft and low growing. Here and there it would grow in little mounds. At the end was a little tiny spring, running just under the grass with a little waterfall through the palms and bushes. It was literally like a magical fairy land, I’m not kidding. And we found it by sheer accident. Sometimes not planning is the way to go!

Path from the old church to the beach. Seriously, it couldn’t have been more gorgeous!

The pool the Kalinago man was bathing in

Beautiful fairy grass covered trail to a little ruin of some sort.

Magical hidden fairy waterfall

Brian photobombing my shot from inside the little ruin.

Brian’s panorama shot of the little cove

Headed back to the Kalinago Cultural Site. There, for $10 each, we had a guide (to ourselves!) who went through the entire interpretive center exhibit with us, explaining all about the Kalinago people, how they migrated here across the Bering Strait land bridge, the different islands they lived on and traded with (all the way up to the Florida Keys and down to South America!), their culture, and interactions with the other indigenous people in the area- namely Arawak and Taino. It was really interesting! After the mini-lecture, he then took us out to walk the grounds and see the different types of native buildings and plants that were used. When we were done, we went to the craft shop and met a woman named Elizabeth who was weaving baskets in the ancient tradition. They were so beautiful and intricate!! Her son carved masks out of some kind of fig bark, and I thought those would fit in the suitcase better than a basket, so I got one for $10.

This shows the changes since Hurricane Maria came through

My favorite sign in the museum. It’s a subtle, yet strong acknowledgement to the evils of Christopher Columbus.

Dominican Ground Lizard (Pholidoscelis fuscatus)- endemic to Dominica!

These red seeds are used as beads and rattles. They are GORGEOUS!

Watchmen overlooking the sea

Elizabeth, demonstrating traditional basketweaving.

Headed out down the road again toward our next stop. Emerald Pools. We drove through some more AMAZINGLY GORGEOUS country- towering mountains and lush rainforest, interspersed by the ever present completely bare trees sticking out everywhere…a reminder of Category 5 Hurricane Maria that practically destroyed the island in September 2017. And, of course, the ever present crazy drivers who think the middle of the road is their lane, even though every 100m there’s a blind curve. Between that and my tailbone, I’m never comfortable when we’re driving, and we drive a lot. We reached Emerald Pools and parked. There was an official center here with a guy in a uniform, even though the little museum was closed (so many things are closed because it’s off season). We didn’t have to pay, but he said we could swim in the falls! So we went back and got our swim stuff. As we did, it began to pour. And I mean POUR!! As in, if you walked outside and looked up for more than a few seconds, you’d probably drown! After all, we were in the rainforest. The guy said they get over 230 inches of rain a year! It didn’t last but about 15 minutes, then we headed out for the short hike down. The pools were so beautiful, with a magical waterfall pouring into them. But they were cold! Like freezing cold!! I told Brian to get in so I could get a picture of him (again, he’s the “show” to my “tell”!). He was like, “NO WAY!”. I’m very convincing. As we hiked out, it started to rain again. The rain was way warmer than the pool!

Brian, the best sport ever, taking one for the team in the freezing water!

I found an umbrella on the hike back up!

This would have been a better umbrella, but it wasn’t shaped right. Still, HUGE leave!!

Next stop, Roseau. We hadn’t had a meal in over 24 hours, and since that’s the capital city, we figured we could easily find something. Plus, I had a decent cell signal there and we needed to find an airbnb for the night that had wifi and preferably a washing machine! But first item of business, food. I looked on the map and saw that there were a lot of restaurants clustered in this one area. We turned left off the main road, toward the ocean, and regretted it immediately. The traffic was awful. As in, it took us about 40 minutes to go 8 blocks. The already narrow streets were lined with parked cars on one side, which meant two things- no parking anywhere, and very tense driving trying to make sure we didn’t hit one. The other side was lined with drainage ditches that were basically 2 foot deep cement death traps with no barriers that were just waiting for our wheels to fall off into them. The exhaust fumes were horrible. And there was literally no way out of it. Every single street, no matter which direction, was completely jam packed with a line of cars trying to get somewhere and a line of parked cars (which to the casual observer looked just about the same in terms of speed). It made my commute in Los Angeles look like a day at the park. Plus, the restaurants we did see were closed, so even if we could find parking it would have been a moot point. We were starving, tired from not such a great night’s sleep, and super bitchy at this point. When I’m so stressed and bitchy that I don’t even think to snap a picture, well…yeah. There’s a new chant we have. HELL NO, ROSEAU. We seriously hate this town, and it now will live on in our list of towns we never want to see again, including Las Tunas and Santiago de Cuba. Yeah, as much as we loved Cuba, we hated two of the towns there. And Dublin, Ireland is not on my top 10,000 list either.

The street finally dumped us out at a waterfront. I saw a cruise ship in dock!! Compared to the cruise ship we saw in Antigua, this thing was a dingy, but here’s what I know- where there are cruise ships, there are tourists. Where there are tourists coming off of cruise ships, there is money. Where there is money, there are locals trying to sell them things- including FOOD! There had to be a restaurant down here!! Quick! Follow the tourists! (That is seriously the only time you will ever read that in this blog, as normally I avoid them like the plague. But desperate times call for desperate measures). We parked, went down to the waterfront, and looked around. Nothing. We asked a security guard lady who was standing at the gangway to the ship. She said there were basically three places- two hotels and if we wanted something more local, the 2nd floor of some building she pointed to up the road. Dominica, you really need to learn how to take better advantage of tourists. #justsaying We decided to go to the closest place- a hotel with a restaurant upstairs overlooking the water. There was a lunch buffet for about $20 each, which was kinda spendy, but whatever at this point. There were two soups, salad, rice, potatoes, steamed vegetables, tuna, and chicken to choose from. It was ok, but nothing to write home about. We have yet to have an amazing meal here. The only thing amazing about the food is that we manage to find any.

We seriously considered sneaking on board just to find food…

Mermaid statue at the hotel. Why is she sad? She lives in Hell No, Roseau.

After lunch, we decided to walk back to a fancy-schmancy grocery store called Fresh Market that we had seen. It looked like it might actually have groceries in it! Yep. It was a fully stocked store! One of those kind of fancy-schmancy expat kind of stores with lots of imports, presumably for the cruise ship passengers. We got some peanut butter, bread, honey, argued over what snack to get (chocolate, cheesecake, or ice cream- I vetoed ice cream because it would melt before we got back, so we decided to do both chocolate AND cheesecake #adulting). As we walked to the check out, the soda aisle was right there, facing it. Brian went to get some cokes and what to my wondering eyes did appear?? My maroon can!! Dr. Pepper!! If you read this blog, you know that I always take a picture of it on the shelf wherever I find it. So, I snapped a pic of the single cans, and the 12 pack (which was $66 ecd, $25 US- OUCH!). Immediately a woman was on me. “We do not allow pictures in the store.”, she said none too politely. Um, excuse me? I’m sorry, but I didn’t realize Dominica kept their top state secrets on the soda aisle at Fresh Market in Roseau. Like seriously? Well, I had already snapped my pics- what was she going to do? Make me delete them? But I was pissed. Just another frustrating Dominican incident to add to the pile of things making me not like this place so much. Dear World, Never get between Mary and her Dr. Pepper. Love, Mary. It was several hours days before I quit bitching about that little encounter. #poorbrian  As we got back to the car to leave, a man in a wheelchair rolled up and started yelling something at Brian. Whatever it was, he was furious. We ignored him and drove off. Fuck this place.

Feast your eyes on these contraband pictures, and really take them in….because I’m sure I’ll be receiving a cease and desist order from Fresh Market any day now. 🙄

We found an airbnb on the phone app that had wifi and a washer and a host that had a fast response time. It was spendy at $60 for a private room, not an entire place, but with the crappy phone signal we really didn’t have the ability to go through a lot of options. Sent a request, she immediately replied, and we headed up the hill above Roseau to her place. Of course, as we were contemplating a turn because the GPS is a little slow, some local guy on a scooter screamed, “Fucking white people!” at us as he passed. This did not add to the pros column on our Dominica spreadsheet…. Found our way to the house, and I’ll say this- it was SPOTLESS, and the woman was very nice. But there were a few rooms with guests, plus a bed IN THE LIVING ROOM…someone’s getting greedy. Our room was this tiny, windowless thing that barely fit the pulled out futon and dresser. Way too overpriced for what it was. All I cared about though was getting my clothes washed and having wifi to get some much needed work done! We arrived about 3:30pm. No sooner had we gotten there, than the car rental place sent me a WhatsApp stating that they had the damage report and charges and wanted us to come to their office today or tomorrow to view them and settle up. I told them no, I wasn’t driving all the way over there (they had known we were supposed to be in Kalinago territory for our stay). She insisted we come to the office in Roseau. Um, wrong. I am already coming to your office on Sunday to drop off the car. We can do it then, as I’m not taking any time out of my very short vacation to come to your office twice for no good reason. And this is when I got really creeped out. She said, “We saw you in town.” Seriously? It pissed me off to no end, and made us really contemplate just ditching the car at their place, ditching the repair bill, and cancelling the card. Fortunately for them, we aren’t those kind of people. I insisted several times that she email us the damages and charges. She ignored me the first few times I asked, still insisting I come to the office. I finally told her that I wasn’t coming over there until I had the charges emailed to me, and I needed a contract for that car since we didn’t have one. Shortly, I had the invoices. We opened them with trepidation. About $5800. Fucking OUCH. Hopefully we can recover the charges from Geico and/or American Express.

The whole interaction and having to insist on getting a bill had us both frustrated. That, combined with the stress of the roads, my tailbone, hardly any sleep, eating one meal a day because there are no restaurants in this country or decent groceries, the cluster fuck that is Roseau…well, we were over it. Even though this is the top 1 or 2 most beautiful countries we’ve ever been to, it hates us. We’re cursed here. Seriously, worst travel experience ever, and it’s not all Dominica’s fault. It just is. We discussed maybe just catching a flight out the next day and leaving this place. Until we looked at the cost of flights to our next destination, Martinique, that is literally the next island over (all with 12 hour layovers somewhere!!). Then, we needed to book our ferry out for Sunday. When I had looked at the schedule back in February, it left Dominica at 10:30 and arrived Martinique at 12:30. Well, it has changed since then. Now it’s 4:30-6:30pm!! FUUUUUUCK! Our Airbnb in Martinique was on the other side of the island, it gets dark at about 7:30pm, and once we got off the ferry and went through immigration, we still had to find a taxi to the airport and pick up our car! We’d never make it! This required us to a) cancel the first night of our airbnb b) find a new airbnb close to the airport c) change our car pickup time. Points b and c were easy. But the people who we had originally booked 2 nights with refused to allow us to cancel the first night- even though they had a flexible cancellation policy with airbnb which meant I had up to 24 hours before check in to make changes or cancellations for a full refund. Because they refused to work with me, even after I explained the situation, I just cancelled the whole damn thing. I wasn’t paying for 2 airbnbs for Sunday night! They didn’t like that one damn bit, and it led to a back and forth messaging relay where I kindly explained how Airbnb works and why I was in the right and that if they had just honored my request they would have only lost out on 1 night instead of 2. So now, we have to find an airbnb for night 2 in Martinique. Fuck it, we’ll just fly by the seat of our pants, figure out where we end up at the end of the day (since our schedule is now completely off due to the ferry being a half day later than we thought). Just one more aggravation to the growing list….

So now I’m ready to work. My 2nd summer session for school starts in less than a week, and I needed to get class access instructions out to everyone and set up the rosters. Enter another aggravation. The main reason we booked this place was wifi. And it was not cooperating. I realized I only had 1 bar of signal. I messaged the lady to find out where the router was. It was in the bar next door. Fucking seriously?? No wonder it kept cutting in and out. I literally fought it for almost 5 hours and got nothing- not one single thing- done. I paid $60 a night for a crappy room, crappy bed, and non-existent wifi in a town I hate. Pissed is an understatement. At least laundry got done. So with no signal, I decided to download the days pictures and get them ready for the blog. Pulled Day 2 from the SD card on the camera, popped them into their folder on my laptop, deleted them off the SD card, went back to the folder and….THEY WERE GONE!!! I searched and searched and nothing. I was SICK about it! Will someone please take the pins out of my vacation voodoo doll? Then, get me off this island, stat.

Dominica Day 3: Recovery

Dominica Day 3: Recovery

I woke up this morning, sick about my missing pictures and videos from yesterday. The wifi signal was actually decent (maybe 4:30am is prime wifi signal time in Hell No, Roseau?), so I googled how to recover deleted files from an SD card- with low expectations of it actually being a possibility. Came across a program that said it would recover up to 2GB of files for free!! After that, it would be $69. I didn’t think I had that much data. Hmmmm. You had to download it on to your computer, which always makes me nervous, so I researched the program and found that it was highly recommended! With nothing to lose, I downloaded it, followed the steps, and damn if all of my pics and videos magically appeared!! I saved them all to the folder on the PC again, double checked they were there, and wa-la! Crisis averted! I hereby declared to Brian that today was going to be recovery day- not just for my files, but for this trip in general!

After recovering the files, I finished almost all of the work I needed to do- at least enough of it that I wasn’t freaking out. The signal died right when I was doing the very last set of tasks, but I can live without those for now. We drove out of town at 9am, hoping to keep the gestapo car rental place from seeing that we were here and making another demand that we waste our time by coming into the office. We drove up a road called Valley road toward Middleham and Trafalgar falls. Oh man, was the scenery FANTASTIC! Just a few miles out of Hell No, Roseau and it was like being in a different world! It’s this amazing valley, with towering green mountain walls on either side. So lush and primitive looking that I told Brian I expected a dinosaur to be standing around the next blind curve (which would have been more welcome than a car in the middle of the road barreling toward us!).
After about 45 minutes we reached a fork in the road. Left was Middleham Falls, right was Trafalgar falls. We decided to go left. Found the parking lot, and headed down the trail. Let me preface this with we had done zero research on this. Well, enough to put it on our “to do” map, but there were no notes or anything about it. We figured it couldn’t be too far down. So with just the camera, we headed down the trail. Just the camera. No water, no snacks. The trail turned into rainforest stairs. Around every curve was another huge set of steps, carved into the side of the mountain and held into place with a piece of a log. Up and up and up we went. It was pretty damn hard core, especially for couch potato me who never works out. The only saving grace was that it was overcast. Had the sun been out, we wouldn’t have made it. It would flatten out a bit, we’d get excited, and then more stairs. We checked the gps to see if we were even getting close to the damn thing. Who knows since we were doing more “up” than “over”. We had no clue how far away it was. It could be 10 miles one way for all we knew. I was getting a lot tired and a little bitchy- about ready to turn around. We then came to an intersection where there was a sign that said Middleham Falls! About that time, something on the opposite trail jumped out of the bush, on to the trail, and back into the bush on the other side! I excitedly declared it to be an agouti rabbit! It had the size and body shape of an agouti, but a back end like a rabbit. Brian said it was an agoutibit. Research after the fact says it was in fact just an agouti, no rabbit hybrid. (Side note: I’ve eaten agouti in Belize. We should have caught the damn thing and saved it for later. #thefoodstruggleisreal) Other than that, the only wildlife we saw were 2 black snakes that crossed our path, which I thought was a rare treat!

This is the face of someone who is not interested in climbing yet another huge, endless line of rainforest stairs….

We had to go down to this bridge. And then right back up…. Had it not been for Brian, I would have turned back.

Finally! A sign indicating we are on the right path! Little did I know there was a long, long climb down (which meant a return trip UP!)

Black snake. Research says most likely Alsophis antillensis- harmless.

We followed the sign toward the falls. And the trail went down. Down, down, down a zillion stairs. I knew that meant we’d have to come back up them. The stairs turned to slippery boulders. I was sure we were going to break an ankle and I’d be testing my trip insurance’s medical evacuation rider… I considered turning around several times, because again- we had no idea how much further the falls were. Brian is the only thing that kept me going. Finally we saw a glimpse of it through the trees! I said, “There it is! Now let’s turn around!”. No such luck. We forged ahead over damp roots and logs and boulders and finally made it to the end. It was MASSIVE- pouring off a huge cliff. We reached it at 11am. So a little over an hour in. Probably about 2.5 miles or so, which felt like 20. It was another climb down another trail to get to the pools. No thanks. This was beautiful and it was enough! We headed back, and my knees were dreading the back up to the intersection, then all of that down, down, down. Honestly, it went a lot faster than the going up seemed. We made it- about 5 miles total I’d say! Hot, sweaty, a bit dehydrated because we didn’t bring water like idiots, but satisfied with our accomplishment!

Brian’s gorgeous vertical panorama shot of the 200 foot waterfall

Drove back down the road to the fork, and went the other way to Trafalgar, eating a little jerky and some pistachios along the way. I declared that if it was more than 2.5 miles round trip, it was not happening! And that we had to get more water!! Along the way, a man put his hand out. We stopped to give him a ride. His name was Anthony. He asked how we liked driving here. I asked if he wanted us to be polite or tell him the truth. He laughed. He said the tourists here don’t know how to drive on the left. They mess up and drive on the right sometimes. And that the left side is the right side and the right side is the suicide! Ha!! There were lots of big, gorgeous houses up here. I asked him if this is where all the rich people live. He said no. That every house is owned by the bank, and if you don’t pay them back within 25 years, you lose the house. That’s not rich. He’s right. We told him we needed water. The market on the main road was closed, but he said he knew another that was in town down some narrow streets. Sure enough, there it was! Brian got out and got water- we never would have found it without Anthony! A bit further up the road and he said this was his stop. We bid him farewell and headed toward the falls. $5 US each to get in. I asked how long was the walk. 10 minutes there. PERFECT! Paid our money and headed….up. Ugh, more stairs! I told Brian these people need to put their waterfalls on flat land. He said they do, they’re called rivers. Smart ass.

Who is richer? He who has a big, fancy house owned by the bank, or he who owns his small, simple house outright?

A short hike up led us to a MAGNIFICENT set of twin waterfalls! Oh my god, it was gorgeous!! Huge canyon walls around us. Wow. Just WOW! We scrambled up some boulders and found a secluded little pool about 12 feet wide with a mini waterfall pouring into it. Normally, river water is COLD. This water was literally perfect! Brian went in first. There were spots where he couldn’t even touch the bottom! I really wanted in, but had left my swimming shorts at the car. I’ve swam in my bra (which looks like a swimsuit top anyway) and panties before. What the hell. Went to pull off my dress and realized I hadn’t worn a bra! I sat there, sulking, lamenting a society that lets Brian run around with his tits out but frowns upon me doing so. Fuck it. I’m going in. I had Brian do a quick check for incoming people, peeled off my dress, and slipped into the water. It was so nice. Like to die for so nice!! Especially after that long, sweaty hike! So far, this is my most favorite place in Dominica! I want it in my backyard!
Dominica Waterfall Tips:
If you want to do one waterfall, pick Trafalgar. If you want to do both, do Middleham first, then Trafalgar where it’s easy to swim and cool off after the massive hike to Middleham!

Puerto Rico Crested Anole (Anolis cristatellus). Introduced species.

WOW!! Stunning falls!! We went up the one on the left.

Our gorgeous pool with perfect water temperature (and that’s saying a lot coming from perpetually cold me!) that we want to buy and never leave!!

I’m sure I’m breaking multiple Dominican laws. After what I’ve been through though, it’s worth it!

Our view looking out from the pool…

After we swam, we walked back to the car and headed back toward Hell No, Roseau- this time on a different back road than we came in on. It’s lovely back here. Lovely and peaceful with a great vibe! Got to town, and headed south toward our next stop of the day- Champagne Beach. This was a big tourist spot, so there were bound to be some restaurants! Um, nope. Not a one. We parked on the side of the road, grabbed our snorkel gear, and headed to the beach. A man was down there renting snorkel gear and such, and told us it was $5ecd per person to snorkel here (I was a little suspect about that….). We hadn’t brought money down, so he said we could pay after. He told us where to go- between the rocks for squid, and out to the white log for the bubbles. We walked down toward the big rocks, put our stuff on the beach, got our gear, and headed into the water. Oh my gosh!! There were so many little fish!! Tangs and damsels and butterflies and wrasses and huge schools of snapper and puffers and filefish!! And squid! We saw 8 baby squid!! A few corals, not many. Some beautiful sea fans. The water got deep fast, probably 15-20 feet, but the visibility was AMAZING, the water was warm and calm, and I wasn’t scared one bit! We got to the white log area, and bubbles were flowing up through the rocks. It was literally magical! Brian was using the GoPro for the first time, and got some decent shots for being a newbie! We learned how to better position the camera for next time, as it wasn’t seeing what Brian was seeing most of the time, so we missed capturing so many things. Snorkeled for over an hour and hated to get out. I highly recommend this beach for a wonderful snorkling adventure, perfect even for scardey cats like me! #yesiamamarinebiologist

It was a short drive up the road to our final destination of the day- Soufriere. We turned a corner, and there it was- wonderfully bright colored houses tucked into the side of the mountain! So charming! What wasn’t so charming was google maps, leading us down not one, not two, but THREE dead end windy narrow roads with no place to turn around, all while insisting it was not a dead end and was the way to our airbnb… Love-hate relationship with google maps, always.

Gorgeous Soufriere- Our favorite area of Dominica!

Finally got the right road (thanks to the property manager, not google maps), and pulled into our Airbnb. We have been SO looking forward to this one!! I found it back in February and it was so gorgeous, so perfect, and so US, that I had to have it! But it was a 2 night minimum and we could only stay one. I asked the kind owner, Kathleen, to please accommodate us and she did! Never hurts to ask! And from the second we set foot inside, I didn’t want to ever leave. The gardens, the surrounding mountain walls, and the HOUSE! My god, this house! And only $68 a night! No wifi, but who cares!! I’ll let the pictures do the talking, because I’m at a loss for words…

View from the main room to the garden. There is one main room with a kitchen on one side and bedroom on the other. Bathroom is a separate little building a few steps away.

View from the main room to the bathroom

The lovely outdoor garden shower

As is par for the course in Dominica, we hadn’t had a meal in over 24 hours. We asked Ralf, the property manager, where a good place to eat was. He suggested Pinky’s Street Food, within walking distance of the house. We headed down there and met Pinky (I assume!), who had a little building with a counter, some shelves, and a bbq pit. It was literally a part of her house- no sign. We had passed it on the way and not even noticed it. We got two chicken, mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes, and salad dinners for $20ecd!! That’s $7.50US!! Walked back to our heaven house and O.M.G. Best meal we’ve had in Dominica, best meal I’ve had in the Caribbean period!! We both said we could have eaten another!

Best meal in the best house in the best part of Dominica after the best day!!

It was dark, out and a flash of light from outside caught my eye. Then another. FIREFLIES!! Magnificent, HUGE, neon green ones! Not the puny ones I’m used to seeing! These were so big they were like laser pointers, and the light even shined (shone? I dunno, I’m a science teacher, not English!) through the glass bottles! Again….just magical! It was the perfect ending to an absolutely perfect day. So yesterday, we were done with Dominica. We were ready to cut our trip short and just get the hell out of here before something else went wrong. Apparently, Dominica heard our despair…and her reply? “Sit down, bitch, and hold my beer.” Well played, Dominica. Well played indeed.