Days 1-4: Downtime

Days 1-4: Downtime

DAY 1
It’s basically summer (summer starts for me the last day of classes!). That means it’s time for my annual mega trip! And I was ready to mix it up a bit. For summer 2016, I did one long housesit in Costa Rica. For summer 2017, I did a long housesit in Malaysia, but went to Singapore, Greece, Italy, and Sweden as well. For summer 2018, I did a whirlwind European tour interspersed with a few short sits- 10 countries in 3 months. For summer 2019, I wanted to do something totally different. I knew I didn’t want a trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific flight. And I knew I didn’t want to do one long housesit. Normally, my travel plans start at TrustedHousesitters.com. This year, I skipped THS in lieu of a new site- Workaway.info. The premise of this site is that you work for people around the world in exchange for accommodations. There are tons of things like “build our house with your own bare hands out of sustainable wood you cut and mill from our property!!” or “check in guests, prepare meals,  and clean our hostel with a toothbrush in exchange for a bed in a 10 person dorm!”. Uh, yeah. Manual labor really isn’t my gig. Plus, I’m not really keen on taking away jobs that locals can/should be doing. So I thought I’d put my intellect and unique skills work. I started searching for workaways (preferably non-profits) where I could put my marine biology/teaching/researching/marketing talents to work. Enter Adopt A Coastline.

Adopt a Coastline is an organization that focuses on cleaning up the beaches of Antigua. They do this in several ways, including creating trash bins to place on the beach and educating and empowering the communities (especially youth) to become beach stewards and take care of their local beaches. Sounded like a great fit for me! I wrote the director, Jennifer, and she said she could use me in June! In exchange for a sweet little house right on the water in the fishing village of Seatons, I would be helping her with organizing reports for her UN grants, website work, and educational materials. I planned for June 4-27, and there it was…the first leg of my summer trip.

The next order of business was to find some other opportunities in the Caribbean, so back to the WorkAway site. And that’s when I found a housesit on the island of Guadeloupe! A French couple who are, get this, MARINE BIOLOGISTS, needed someone to watch their house and cat from July 4-25! Hey….I’m a house sitter AND a marine biologist! I knew I had a very good chance at getting this one! Wrote them a letter, we had a video chat, and as easy as that the second part of my Caribbean summer was finalized! Two months down, one to go!!

Next, I found a lodge in the El Yunque rainforest of Puerto Rico that was looking for volunteers. Now, I’m not going to clean rooms or anything like that, but I did send a proposal to create educational signage for their guests on their trails through the rainforest. They loved the idea, and we finalized (or so I thought…) dates for July 25-August 17. They even contacted a forest ranger who works in the rainforest who was willing to help me with plant identification. Perfect!! And with that, August was booked and my summer was set (or so I thought…). We had finalized all of that in February. I contacted them a few days ago to confirm, and they informed me that I had never sent them an airline ticket, so they had accepted other volunteers and had no room for me. I informed them that they had never even asked for a ticket to confirm. Oh well, whatever. It obviously wasn’t meant to be and something else will come along. So as of today, I do not have a ticket home and have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing when the housesit ends on July 25. Stay tuned.

So I hopped a red eye flight out of LAX on June 4, quick layover in New York, then I was on my way to Antigua. Time for your first educational lesson of this blog. Antigua is pronounced An-TEE-guh. Not An-TEE-gwuh. You’re welcome. I wasn’t expecting much for a small island nation airport, but wow, it was really nice! And immigration was so easy and friendly! Jennifer picked me up in her 100% electrical van, we stopped and picked up a donation a local swim club was making to Adopt A Coastline, then headed toward the house. We stopped for groceries along the way. Thank god, because it was now after 4pm (1pm LA time), and all I had eaten since yesterday at about 7pm LA time was a snack size bag of chips and a snack size bag of Cheezits. I was STARVING. Jennifer just hopped out of the van, windows rolled down, and started walking in. I was like, “Um, my life for the next 3 months and my life period (laptop) are in the car. Shouldn’t we lock it up?” She said no, that’s not a problem here. What?! Everywhere in Central America you don’t leave anything unattended that you don’t intend to leave as a “gift”. Refreshing. I’m not 100% sure I trust that yet, but refreshing still.   I picked up just a few things: some chicken, bag of rice, bag of beans, bananas, zucchini, canned tuna, and coconut cookies (a requirement for any vacation south of the border!). Scanned the soda shelves for my beloved maroon can, and nada. I knew that going in though. It’s the one thing I did research about this trip!! Bill- $20. Not dirt cheap, but not terrible either for a country that has to import everything.

This is in Eastern Caribbean Dollars. Divide by 2.68 to get US totals.

We drove and talked until we reached the little fishing village of Seatons. Jennifer is quite the interesting character, and reminds me a lot of me- except she’s artsy and I’m well…nope. Jennifer pointed out a little convenience store and cafe that is within walking (or kayaking) distance of the house. Then we pulled down a long private driveway. I’m home! So secluded, with no neighbors right on top of me, and it is SUCH a cute little house! Oh my gosh…There are 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and living room, and a kitchen. It’s not fancy at all, just cute and functional. And it’s RIGHT ON THE WATER!! I’m in like a little mangrove cove, and Jennifer says I can take out the kayak, paddleboards, and even snorkel right from the yard!! WAAAAAAAAAAAAT?! #awesome

Front of the house

Back of the house. I’m practically standing in the water here to take this pic!

She showed me around the property with its cute little garden, gave me the pertinent information about how things operate, and left because it was almost dark and she needed to get home to walk her pup. And just like that, I was all alone, in a little fishing village called Seatons, on an island in the Caribbean. I seriously had never even looked Seatons up on a map. I had no idea if I was north, south, east, west. And I didn’t care. This trip is seriously a “let’s not really plan and just see what happens” kind of trip. Europe was planned to the hilt last year, because there was so much fast travel. Like I said, I’m mixing it up a bit this year!

First order of business, FOOD. Cooked a little chicken and rice. Ate outside and the mosquitoes are pretty bad here. They’ve been getting a lot of rain. Every time I travel somewhere tropical, I pack my mosquito spray. I never use it. Last night, I used it! It got dark, the frogs and crickets were putting on a concert, and I was ready for bed. Which of the 4 bedrooms shall I choose….hmmmm….. NONE OF THEM!! Because I didn’t mention the bestest part of this house. There’s a queen sized bed on the porch with a mosquito net!! So I climbed in, put on my sleep mask (research says sunrise is at 5:45am), and fell asleep to the sounds of nature.

DAY 2

I woke up several times last night, but always was able to go back to sleep immediately. It rained several times. Straight down and HARD! But I slept for 9 hours!! Woke up to birds chirping. And a lizard staring me down….

My buddy. He’s here every morning! About 6″ long.

This porch is the bomb! In fact, I have moved all operations to the porch. I strung together 3 power strips so I could set up my office at the outdoor table. I unplugged the modem and brought it out here. I am eating out here, working out here, and sleeping out here! I only go inside to cook or use the bathroom! Like I said, I’m pretty secluded. And I don’t have a car. So I’ll be hanging out at the house a lot. I worked on my business (new summer semester started yesterday). I worked here at the house pulling some weeds in the garden to pay for my accommodations. After lunch I decided to really get out of my comfort zone and snorkel by myself. If you know me, you know that’s a major deal… Walked the 30 steps to the water and stepped in. Warm like a bath- perfect! There was tons of seagrass and it was super shallow. I walked out until I was about knee deep, then started snorkeling. It is seriously shallow here, but that’s fine by me. I’m not a hang-out-in-deep-water-all-by-my-lonesome kind of girl anyway. For as shallow as it was, and as near to shore, it was AWESOME!! There were lots of species of algae, huge sea cucumbers, sea urchins (watch your step!), purple gorgonians, red sponges, feather duster worms, lots of fish (I even saw some big eye squirrels, damsels, and a butterfly fish!), and even CORAL!! At least 2 different species. A mounding variety and a branching variety- both yellow. If I had to guess based on my knowledge of Indo-Pacific corals, I’d say some type of Porites sp. Brian needs to hurry up and get here with the GoPro so I can take pics and identify everything!!

I snorkeled around from one side of the property to the other. Where I got out there was a lot of seagrass. I stood up, took 3 steps, and promptly sank into the mud up to my calf! I seriously had a panic moment where I imagined myself incapable of getting my leg out of the mud, no one around, and I would just die there and be crab food until Jennifer came back in a few days….Luckily I over dramatized the situation slightly! Both of these areas I can see from my porch office!

My snorkel “put in” location.

My snorkel take out location.

DAY 3
I slept for 10 hours. Count them. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, TEN! I know my poor body and brain are in recovery mode. Too much stress when I’m home, so I have a hard time sleeping. Made breakfast, raked some leaves to earn my keep, then headed down to the water (30 whole steps away) and filmed a 15 minute video for my students about the red mangrove forest here! I’m trying to compile a little series of free videos for World Oceans Day, and this will be the first. Kind of hard without a cameraman, but I managed!

Then I decided to get crazy and go for a walk! Now, there was a pack of 5 or 6 pretty vicious sounding dogs at the corner when we drove in. Jennifer said the last volunteers were too scared to walk by them. So either I suck it up, or remain trapped. It was about 2pm when I left and hot as hell. I walked slowly by the dog house. They were on the porch and barked, but I think their bark was saying, “Hey, lady…this is Antigua. No one in their right mind is walking around in this heat at 2pm. And that includes us. Safe passage granted.” Whew. I wandered down a road, having no idea where in the heck I was going, other than Jennifer had said there was water this way. Then I saw tell-tale signs of a beast Jennifer had mentioned to the gardener had been in her yard…wild donkeys!! Apparently they were brought here in the 1600s to work in the sugar cane fields. These are the leftovers of those bygone years, and there are about 400 roaming the island- leaving a path of destruction in their wake quite often…Brian is already in love with them and insists we go on a donkey hunting adventure when he gets here!
The road literally dead ended right into the water. It was low tide. There was a really interesting mangrove root. And then I saw something that made me squeal outloud!!! INTERTIDAL ZOOANTHIDS!!! These are colonial coral polyps, and I immediately recognized them all closed up waiting for the tide to come back in. And INSANELY red/orange sponges!!! I was losing my mind and sorry that I didn’t bring my snorkel gear. I took some exciting video for my students, with the promise that I’d come back and see them at high tide.

The mangrove root

Those little greenish “balls” are actually individual coral polyps- zooanthids!! They’re all connected with a common tissue they use to transport nutrients to one another.

CRAZY red sponge, surrounded by zooanthids!

So I’m laying in bed. It’s pitch dark outside. I mean PITCH. DARK. And remember, I’m sleeping outside on the porch. I start hearing weird snorting noises. Um, that got my attention. And the weird snorting noises were getting closer- like to the point I knew whatever it was was in the front yard, inside the gate, with only six stairs and a piece of mosquito net between us! My lack of research meant that I had not had the foresight to research “Antigua Chupacabra”, so I was quite certain that that was what it was. Tentatively, I turned on my phone flashlight and shined it out into the yard. Nothing. But it couldn’t see past the fence. I didn’t know if I should run in the house and lock the doors or what…then I heard a familiar sound. You know that flap-flap-flap sound horses make when they shake their head? I heard that!! And I knew I was safe from the chupacabra (for now) and was being visited by wild donkeys!! Except I don’t know how friendly wild donkeys are to white girls from the US who sleep on porches, so I didn’t venture out for a closer look…

DAY 4
More downtime. Unfortunately, Jennifer doesn’t have much planned for me right now, so I’m kind of left to my own devices all day. I have the dog gauntlet, the heat, and the not-so-great wifi that are limiting my ability to explore and work. So I just hung out here all day. It was hot. Like REALLY hot. And I’m one who doesn’t mind the heat. As long as there’s a breeze, I’m fine. But not even a breeze. Ugh. I literally spent the day just doing nothing, counting down the hours…Jennifer is coming tomorrow to take me to a new place where there’s supposed to be….FIBER OPTIC WIFI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And that’s when our work together will really begin.

In the past, I always intend to make a list of how much these trips cost me. Uh, yeah. There’s a whole section of the road to hell paved with those….Let’s see if I can just add them in daily to each blog. Then maybe it won’t be so overwhelming at the end. Paperwork…the bane of my existence! #lookingatyouIRS

EXPENDITURES
LAX to Antigua flight on Jet Blue: $277
Travel Insurance: $187
Diet Dr. Pepper in New York: $3
Groceries: $20
Lodging: FREE! In exchange for a little gardening totaling about 2 hours over 2 days.

Days 1-4 Total: $487

Continue to Days 5-9

Days 5-9: Chillin’ at the Villa

Days 5-9: Chillin’ at the Villa

DAY 5
Last night the mosquitoes were FEROCIOUS!! I researched and found that the species of mosquito that is endemic to Antigua has evolved the adaptation of teleportation through impenetrable objects, like mosquito net! Seriously though, there is not a hole in the net, no gaps around the bottom, and where it opens I have it really layered heavily across. NOTHING should be able to get through- except Antiguan Teleporting Mosquitoes apparently….

I decided to head back down to the end of the road where I saw those zooanthid corals the other day. High tide was around 5:30am, and it was a little after 7, so I knew they’d be open! But….that meant passing the dog gauntlet again. It wasn’t hot. They were well rested. And two of them met me at the corner, barking their heads off, bearing their teeth, and making my, “It’s ok, boy…” sound pretty feeble. I had a damn good feeling that if all 6 or 7 of them were there, I’d be in a bit of trouble. I eased by them, and headed down the road. Thank god they didn’t follow me! Tide was high and there were my green zooanthids!! Open and in full glory!! At this point, I realized I should have brought my snorkel mask to take pictures through. I contemplated going and getting it, but after checking the Vegas odds, mine weren’t very good for making it safely past the dog gauntlet a total of 4 times…  This was the best shot I could get under the circumstances.

The green button looking things are the zooanthids. To the right is an anemone.

On the way back I did some more filming of the mudflats that are down there, showing the kids the difference between low tide and high tide, and I managed to find some black mangroves as well (and what I’m pretty sure is a white!) to show them the zonation in mangrove forests. Because I’m cool like that. 🤓 As I was walking back up, something big was moving through the weeds on the side of the road. It was a crab. A MONSTER crab!! I may or may not have gotten a little too excited about it…. Research says he’s a land crab. If you’re super interested, I made a blog all about him on my school’s website.

Continued up the road toward the dog gauntlet, and now the whole pack was awake. There were 5 or 6 dogs in the road. Like seriously, I was trapped. I didn’t have anywhere to go but ahead. I was afraid to pick up a stick, because it might look like aggression. I seriously didn’t know what to do. I was SO relieved when an older man was in the yard. As I approached the pack surrounded me. That nasty brown dog with the evil eyes and teeth was right on me. The man started hollering at them to get in the yard. They all went one by one, with Brownie McEvilShitHead being the last to go. Fuck that dog. I wasn’t going to go back down there, because if that guy hadn’t of been there, I am very confident that I would have been bitten.

When I got back, I hung out for a bit and then the gardener came by to weed eat the entire lawn. His name is Miah (short for Nehemiah). He was born in the Virgin Islands and went to school there, but also has roots here in Antigua and lives in Seatons now. He has a son who lives in San Diego and a daughter in Connecticut. He has also lived in Florida and New York. Really friendly, interesting guy! Was nice to have some human interaction after 3+ days without. To “pay” for my lodging for the day, I raked up grass cuttings with Miah. Took about 30 min.

Soon Jennifer showed up. Today I’m moving to the Turtle Bay area on the opposite side of the island. Jennifer brought her pup-pup, Lily, who for 10 years old acts like she’s 2! Super energetic. She seriously ran ahead of the van for probably 3-4 miles total! We stopped off at the grocery store- good thing because I’m running low on provisions! This was more of a local grocery than the more modern one we went to the first day- very reminiscent of those in Costa Rica and Panama. I got some more chicken, rice, pasta, pasta sauce, peanut butter, jelly, bread, crackers, coconut cookies (a MUST HAVE!), and a pack of gnocchi that Jennifer recommended. $25. Seriously, not terrible! Of course, I tried to steer clear of imported American stuff and buy whatever the more “local” brand was.

We drove up a bumpy half paved road to the villa. Walked in. O-M-G-Wiz Willikers!!! This villa is a 5 bedroom, 3 bath solar powered home on 2 acres full of amazing plants with an infinity pool and, get this- FIBER OPTIC WIFI!!! I don’t even have that in Los Angeles!! My office…oh, my office!! I’m on the 2nd floor huge open porch overlooking these amazing colorful trees with an ocean view on either side of them! If I position my head just right, I can’t even see the houses across the way on the other hill!! There is a constant breeze blowing- just the exact right amount to act as the most amazing natural air conditioning and to keep the bugs away!! And did I mention FIBER OPTIC WIFI!!!!! What am I paying for this? A couple hours of easy work that I enjoy every dayish and feeding two of the sweetest kitties ever. #mylifedoesnotsuck

DAY 6
Today was an easy day. Hung out at my new digs all morning and worked. Jennifer came by in the afternoon and we talked a little about what we needed to accomplish and how we were going to do that- basically a task list. I work better that way. After that, Jennifer wanted to take me down to a local beach to see some mangroves. We hiked along the coast for a while, talking, while Lily dog found every opportunity possible to get into the water! On the way back, we found a mango tree with some almost ripe ones! Jennifer said that if I just let them sit a couple of days, they’d be good. I took two. It was getting dark, and we weren’t taking the beach back- we were going some other way. And a ways into it, I realized there wasn’t really a trail and Jennifer was just heading in the general direction of the van! The light was diminishing by the second, and there were massive crab holes everywhere, like so big my foot would fit just inside, making for a wonderful ankle-breaking-test-your-trip-insurance moment. Oy. Of course, then a HUGE freaking crab (like 5″ across) comes scurrying out of the semi-darkness towards me, claws raised and ready for action. And I, of course, screamed like a girl. Oy times 2. Oh, and did I mention the bushes that were everywhere that have thorns the Romans would be pleased to make crowns out of? Oy times 3! At this point, Jennifer is telling Lily to find the goat trail. So I’m out in the middle of no where (at least as far as I was concerned) with impending darkness and a dog for a guide. Oy times 4! I was just imagining being lost in this place in the dark, stepping in crab holes, being attacked by crabs and impaled by 2″ needle like thorns while the mosquitoes drained my blood. #rationalthoughts Well, Lily turned out to be the savior. She found said goat trail and led us back to the beach! Whew! Crisis averted!

There was so much debris and trash washed up on the beach. 🙁

Adopt A Coastline to the rescue!! That old boat wouldn’t fit in here, but normal litter sure would! They make these bins out of upcycled materials. So smart.

Me with 2 very impressive aerial roots from a HUGE red mangrove. Adopt A Coastline t-shirt! 🙂

I could spend days going through all of this! So many interesting shells, rocks, and pieces of coral!

No, I’m not trying to pet the ninja death crab that tried to attack me! This is a molt that I found- you can see how big these guys are! And that claw–well, you can see why I screamed!

DAY 7
Jennifer came over in the afternoon, and we spent a few hours working on her spreadsheet for her UN funding reports and getting together the things she needs to start the website. We also discussed more educational filming ideas. After that, she asked if I’d like to go to the 150 steps. Sure! So Jennifer has been here for 20 years. When she first moved here, she moved into a house just up the hill from this one. When I say hill, let me clarify. She moved into a house that is up a road that is about an 80 degree angle from this one!! Luckily, we drove. At the top is a cute little house with a garden. And if you are a local, you know there’s a trail here to a secret cove! We followed the trail down, down, down. Jennifer assured me that we could take the stairs back up. I’m not sure how assuring that was! At the bottom was an unbelievably gorgeous rock cove, with these huge, strange, red striped boulders- with ocean crashing on to them! There was a hidden pool. Deep enough to almost swim in, but definitely to sit in and relax! And then, a channel where another pool emptied into the sea over a small cliff- like a waterfall. WHAT?! MAGICAL!!! And guess what? This idiot didn’t bring the camera!!!!!!!!!! We then went up about 150 rock stairs that had been cut into the hill. Oh man. My out of shape self had to stop at least 6 times on the way up! I swear I’m going to get the energy and mental fortitude to go back with the camera- but means braving that insane uphill road and then those stairs again! I have to though. That place is too gorgeous not to capture.

DAY 8
Today Jennifer had to go to town. I’ve been working the past two days on my new Titanic class, so I was ready to get out and see something new! She picked me up in the afternoon and we headed to town. Please don’t ask me the name of it, for I do not know. I told Jennifer I’d take her to lunch. This is for three reasons:
1. I am sick of eating chicken and rice and pasta.
2. Jennifer has been taking me to some amazing places I never would have found without her! I want to return the favor in some small way!
3. I’ve been doing more of the “away” part of workaway than the “work” part, as Jennifer doesn’t really have everything organized for me, so I feel kind of bad. Yes, I’m that person.

Along the way, we wound up next to a church having a funeral. There was a lot of traffic. Everyone was dressed to the nines. Jennifer said funerals are a BIG DEAL here. We just stopped right in the middle of the road and grabbed a fresh coconut water to tide us over.
We ran a few errands. First stop though was to meet Kerry and Charmane and see their house. Why? Well, because me and Brian’s flight leaves on the 27th at 6am. We’ll be back at the Seatons house while he’s here. We really didn’t want to drive in the dark to the airport, so I told Jennifer we were looking for an AirBNB for the night of the 26th close to the airport. She said her friends have a house right on the water that they Airbnb out private rooms and it’s 5 minutes from the airport. She checked with them- normal price, $100 a night. But they’re letting us stay for FREE!!! How cool is that??? #itswhoyouknow  Anyway, the couple is really lovely, their home is gorgeous, and it’s right on a reef with great snorkeling!! I had told Kerry we’d be driving around Antigua all day the 26th exploring (since it’s Brian’s only full day here) and would be back right before dark. He said come early so we can snorkel. Sold.

We then went to town. This was a proper town- the first I’ve seen since I’ve been here. Some places with their strip malls looked like they could have come right out of the states! Literally, EVERYONE at the errand places that Jennifer went to see was at that funeral! Met one of Jennifer’s friends, Andrea, along the way. She decided to come have a drink while we had lunch. Lovely native Antiguan lady! I really enjoyed talking to her. Lunch was beef. Cow. Something I could sink my teeth into! I chose a bacon cheeseburger with fries and Jennifer got a veggie burger with fries. So, so good…. The receipt and amount I paid was about $42. I gave the cashier $60 US. You can pay for things in US dollars here, and they will give you East Caribbean Dollars back. I needed some just in case I wanted to buy some of that roasted corn I’ve been seeing on the side of the road, so this was an easy way to get it.

After lunch, we went to the store. And when I say store, I mean ultra-mega-expat-shopping-extravaganza! Holy shit, this place is bigger than the grocery store I shop at at home (a major chain!!). They had everything, and I mean literally EVERYTHING an expat would need/want/crave to make them feel at home in Antigua- no matter what country they were from. With expat food, comes expat prices. EEE-OWZA!! I didn’t buy a single thing. Jennifer got a few things. We headed for the checkout. There was a line, and it was right next to the soda aisle, so I thought what the hell- just for fun I’ll see if they have Dr. Pepper. And there, on the bottom shelf, was my beloved maroon can!! A whole full 36 pack of them! There wasn’t a price, but I didn’t care. I grabbed 12 and was quite pleased with myself. Total was a little over $1 a can! Not too shabby at all!

We headed back. Stopped at a small grocery store so I could grab some bananas and toothpaste, plus Jennifer needed a few things too that were cheaper here. Got 6 small bananas, a tube a toothpaste, and a small watermelon. Actually, that watermelon killed me. The price wasn’t marked, but at the register I learned that it was almost $10 and no bigger than my head!!! It better be good….

Headed back home, and guess what we saw crossing the road? A MONGOOSE!! O-EM-GEE it was SOOOOOOO freaking cute!! Jennifer wanted to show me her house, so we went there first. She’s about 1/2 a mile from my house on another hill closer to the ocean. And she has one of those mega death gravity defying roads up the hill to her place! So walking over there would be some work… Beautiful home that she housesits at almost full time. We then headed down to the beach by her house. Again, just beautiful!

Cool old crab pot

Cool little palapa/beach bench!

Jennifer, with Lily and Mini (her neighbor’s dog that basically lives at Jennifer’s)

Seriously? Just stunning!

Back in home just in time for early twilight over the pool….

DAY 9
Ah!! The morning of the ninth day…the morning that I would have one of my Dr. Peppers!!!!! I have been struggling to come up with a cool marketing piece for my fall enrollments for the past couple of days. I create a new one every semester and it needs to be catchy for Facebook. No good ideas. I shit thee not, I took a couple of sips of Dr. Pepper and the most BRILLIANT idea hit me!! Caffeine- it does my brain good.

On Day 6, I picked those mangoes fresh from the tree on the hike. Today, they were soft and ready. I cracked one of those puppies open and took a bite. I let it get a little too mushy, but omg- it was SO sweet!! And gorgeous. And natural.

Worked for a few hours and then had to stop, because today I had a meeting, like a real official businessperson or something! A woman named Susan found out through Jennifer’s facebook that I was in Antigua and own an online school. She messaged me, said she teaches a class at Columbia about online schools for K-12, and would like to talk to me. She came over at 11, was impressed with my digs (who wouldn’t be??), and we sat down and had a lovely chat for about 1.5 hours. She said my model was unique and filled a niche in the market. Yep. I ain’t public school at home. 😀

After Susan left, I worked some more on some things for Jennifer. More work on the spreadsheet, lined out some talking points for a sea turtle video we want to shoot, etc… Jennifer came by to get me around 3:30. She had broken her Iphone the other day, so we had to go in and meet someone who was selling her another. We stopped at a few SPECTACULAR stands of mangroves along the way, the tallest ones I’ve ever seen!!- getting good ideas on potential filming spots for the Adopt A Coastline program.
After the phone was dealt with, Jennifer wanted to take me to Rendezvous Bay and beach, not too far away- but a world away. She is seriously taking me to the coolest places! Having a person who has lived her for 20 years as a tour guide is not a bad gig… One thing I’m missing soooooo much is wildlife. Other than the mongoose and a few birds, there’s not a lot of terrestrial critters. So as we were bouncing down the road- wait, let me back up. The road to Rendezvous is a rutted out, pothole filled 4 wheel drive road. We were in a low clearance electric van!!! I was thinking, “This woman is crazy!!”.  Anyway, as we were literally bouncing down the road, my little underused jungle eye caught a glimpse of something!! I said the word Brian is all to familiar with on road trips through interesting places- STOP!!!!!! He knows that means I’ve seen something amazing. Jennifer probably thought I was over the traversing of this insane road! But she stopped. And I got this picture of the most gorgeous caterpillar! It’s a Fragapani Catepillar, as they eat Frangapani plants. Makes sense.  Want to see what this brilliantly colored, insanely gorgeous beauty turns into??

Somehow we managed to make it down that road. I was doubting our ability to make it back out. And by the way, did I mention it was early evening, would be dark in about an hour and a half, and there was no cell signal? (This is a running theme with our adventures!) But I digress….We parked and made our way down to a gorgeous secluded beach. I swear, Jennifer keeps upping the ante on gorgeous places she takes me to every day!! We walked around the beach, with the waves crashing over rocks, zillions of gastropods of several different species (snails for you laypeople) holding on to said rocks for dear life. Around every curve was something else to stare at in wonder!

The direction we were going (with Lily in the water as always!)

The direction we came from- awesome tidal pools!

We walked along the rocks on the right to another even more gorgeous beach!!

Rendezvous Beach

It was starting to get dark by now, and the bugs were coming out, so we headed back. Lily found the shortcut path, and we headed up and back to the van-that-was-not-made-to-be-on-this-road.

Rende-VIEW (I’m so clever!) from the top

I’m not going to lie, I was nervous about a couple of the spots in the road that were particularly sketchy (hills, with ruts filled with medium sized boulders…). The first hill, we got stuck. The tires were spinning. Jennifer backed up and tried again. Same thing. Visions of all kinds of ghastly things were going through my head. However, to be perfectly honest, there was a house about a 1/2 mile up the road and Jennifer knew the lady (because she knows EVERYONE). But still. Backed up further, put the peddle to the metal (which in an electric van doesn’t mean much) and somehow made it up! There was one other sketchy spot, but she did it! How, I will never know.

EXPENDITURES
Groceries: $25 + $12 + $13
Lunch: $42
Lodging in this KILLER villa: FREE!! About 6 hours of total real work for these 4 days
4 day total: $92
8 day total: $579

Continue to days 10-12

Days 10-12: The Dog Days of Summer

Days 10-12: The Dog Days of Summer

DAY 10
So this morning I got up and worked on my stuff, and then Jennifer came over and we worked on hers for a couple of hours. I’m super happy- we really did a great job creating a mock layout of her website! But when she came over, she told a pretty disturbing story. One of her friends texted her and said that she had driven by the trash bin and there was a tiny puppy in there with a rope around it’s neck. She came home and told her housekeeper about it, who replied, “Yes, it’s been there a few days.” WHAT???????? Let me explain the trash bin. It’s the place where the village takes all of their trash for pickup. There’s a large locked chain link fence. Inside of that is another chain link fence with a roof on it- that’s where all the trash cans are. A few dozen of them. Anyway, someone dumped the puppy in there and left. I have two questions:
1. What kind of heartless mother fucker would abandon a puppy like that? Especially with a dangerous rope around its neck?
2. What kind of heartless mother fucker would see the puppy abandoned in there and be like, “eh” and leave it?
….I’m lighting a candle that karma returns the favors swiftly….

Anyway, after we finished, the plan was for me to go over and FINALLY see Jennifer’s studio (she’s an artist). Instead, we went down to check on the puppy. Pulled up, and sure enough- there it was. And omg it was soooooooo little! We could see it had a pink rope tied around its neck that was trailing about 3 feet behind it. It ran from us. It could go around the entire outside perimeter of the inner trash shack. I went one way, Jennifer went the other. There are a ton of bushes and stuff all the way around, and somehow it slipped past us. We then heard Lily bark- she let us know that it was in the trash bin area. By the time we got back around, it was right out front. Jennifer grabbed the rope. I went to the car and got a can of cat food we had brought from the house and a towel to wrap around it so we could get the rope off without her running away. Poor little thing ate some, and then we realized that the rope was so tight we couldn’t even slip a finger under it! Not even a finger nail!  Poor baby!!! A truck drove by, and Jennifer yelled at the guy by name and asked him if he had a knife or scissors. He didn’t, but he said to check and see if we could undo the knot. It was a slip knot!! #blondmoment We eased it off. We decided to leave her inside the trash bin until we could come back with more puppy food. Jennifer asked me if I wanted to take her home for the rest of the time I’m here, because the people coming into this house after I go back to Seatons actually emailed the owner and wanted to know if there was an organization on the island so they could foster a dog while they were here. That’s a big NOPE. Sorry, I have too much work to do. I never even do overseas housesits with dogs because they’re too much work. A 9 or 10 week old puppy like this one is way too much work + no sleep + constant pee and poo patrol + this yard isn’t set up for a puppy. Yeah. No thanks. They don’t speak Spanish here, but “No es mi problema”. I feel bad for the thing, but seriously, I have to be realistic.

So little and scared

We went to the grocery store to get some puppy food. I bought some more chicken, BACON!, some more bread (in the states, bread has so much preservatives that it’ll keep for months- the bread here lasted about 5 days.), two kinds of little cakes/breads that were sliced and wrapped in plastic wrap, and a little bag of potatoes. The chicken were those little styrofoam meat trays and there were 2 chicken breasts in them. To buy meat at this local store, you open a huge deep freezer and just start digging. There isn’t much organization. 5 of these trays were frozen solid together. I asked Jennifer for advice on how to handle this situation like a local, as I only needed 2 trays. She said give it to the man that was next to the freezer (he worked there). I told him I just needed two. He asked me to close my eyes. Like a weirdo, I did, no clue what to expect. BAM!! He dropped them on to the floor and one busted off. BAM!! Again, and another did. I said, “Ah! You do it the fancy factory way!”. He smiled and nodded.

So off to go get the dog. A little bit harder of a chase without the rope to grab on to. We cornered it and I put a towel around it. Jennifer said she wasn’t sure where she was going to take it. Oh holy christ on a stick…..here we go…..I uttered the words I’ll probably regret, “I’ll take it home.” She rode home with me on my lap. And I named her Annie for 3 reasons:
1. Jennifer insists my name is Annie and constantly calls me that!! I thought that if I would name the dog Annie, I could then retain rights to my real name again. (Spoiler alert: That was an illogical fallacy…)
2. Little orphan Annie.
3. ANNIEtigua! In fact, she has a first and middle name: Annie Teega.

We drove to Jennifer’s house to get some flea meds. Poor thing was literally crawling with them. We came back to the house, and gave her the meds. Jennifer left one of Lily’s stuffed babies with us, and then left. It was me and Annie (cue the song “We (I) Got Annie”). I haven’t had a puppy in about 20 years. And this wasn’t really a puppy- more like the saddest, most confused, vulnerable, and scared pup on the planet. She was so shy. I could barely pet her- she’d scoot out of the way. But I could feed her! I swear, I think she ate twice her weight in dry food mixed with boiled chicken broth I made her! She would literally only go from her towel (safe space) to her food bowl. That was it. Until the cats came around for dinner. They were equally curious about each other! It was bedtime. There’s a dog pen attached to the house, and originally I was going to keep her out there at night so I could sleep. Yeah, right. Originally I wasn’t going to bring her home in the first place…. When she was on the towel, that’s the only time I could pet her (and she was on the towel a lot). I scooped her up, towel and all, put her in the laundry basket, and went downstairs. Put the towel by my bed and we both fell asleep.

DAY 11
Last night she woke up once at 10:45 and whimpered by the door. Other than that, she slept through the rest of the night! I woke up at 4:45 and went upstairs. Came back down at 6 and got her for breakfast. She was still shy and I really could only pet her if she was on the towel. I tried holding a piece of food off the towel to teach her to come to me. That was a big NOPE. So I hand fed her a few pieces of food while she was on her towel. She could live with that arrangement. Then, once she understood I had food, I moved my hand further back. First, just the front paws off the towel and any further than that was the danger zone. Eventually, she stepped completely off the towel and ate from my hand! I let her have her food bowl after that, and she scarfed it up!

After breakfast I saw a tapeworm crawling on her leg!! ICK!! If smelling like the garbage dump she was found in wasn’t bad enough, this was the last straw. It was bathtime! I had to catch her when she was on her towel, because that’s the only place she won’t run from me. I wasn’t sure how she’d react, but she was great! Afterwards, I gave her a clean towel and laid her on it. It was windy out, and she was shivering, so I wrapped her up and she promptly took a long nap.

Those little eyes say it all

After her bath, I could tell she felt so much better! She actually started to play a bit! Jennifer came around 11:30. We were going to go to the tide pools to do some filming. Tide pools are MY JAM!! But I have to say, that leaving Annie made me a little nervous. The housekeeper (who is not a huge fan of dogs and informed me it couldn’t be in the house- sorry Sharon, love ya, but you’ve been overruled by the actual homeowner!!) and gardener were here, so I opted to lock Annie in the large dog pen in the garden. Jennifer brought Lily and Mini (her neighbor’s dog) and Annie was IN. LOVE. #jealous She wagged her tail at Mini and followed her around, it was so cute! And the first time her tail came from the locked position between her legs. I was hoping Mini would stay in the pen with Annie and keep her company. We tried that for like 2 minutes and Mini’s cries informed us that she was not in agreement with that arrangement. So we left Annie alone, and Jennifer, Lily, Mini, and I piled into the van and headed for the beach.

Chewing on her baby

First stop, food. We stopped at a place whose owner is a marketer after my own heart!! It’s a local joint called Grace Before Meals owned by a lady named Grace!! Jennifer got a veggie roti and I ordered stewed fish. $15 total for both- to go. We drove to Windward Beach, kind of a private area (you have to go in through a gate with a security guard), so yet again, no tourists!! Had our lunch shaded by some gorgeous cliffs.

The fish’s (whole) head is pointing toward me. Served with rice, pasta, cabbage, carrots, and plantain

After our yummy lunch, we started walking down the gorgeous secluded beach- not a soul in sight. There was so much life in the tidepools!! 3 species of urchins (black, red, and white), little fish (a blue and yellow damsel that was striking!), lots of different types of algae and seaweeds, snails, and even live coral!! It was so amazing!! We filmed 3 educational videos (sea urchins, seaweed, and coral) that we’ve named Mary’s Marine Minutes and will be posted on Adopt A Coastline’s website (if we ever get it going- I swear, the hurdles….). More to come!! I’m uploading them to the school’s YouTube channel as I get time.

There’s actually an underwater snorkeling trail here along the reef! There are signs underwater, marked by orange buoys that you follow!

Live green small polyp stony corals with sea urchins

After filming, we walked over to another beach. This one has tourists. Snorkeled for a bit around the dock and saw quite a few fish and some of the nasty, painful black long spine urchins. We made a few grocery store stops along the way, then headed back to the house. We had to be here to meet the vet at 3. Yes, vets in Antigua make house calls!! Chere came and was wonderful with Annie. She checked her temperature (normal), said she was really skinny (yup), and gave her some oral worming meds. I have to give her two more doses over the next two days. Side effect: super runny poop for the next few days #ohjoy She also said she was anemic and we should get her some liver. Jennifer wasn’t feeling driving all the way back into town for liver (and I don’t blame her). However, I was in full-fledged protective mode. My baby needs iron rich food? I’ll go kill a goat and let her drink the blood and eat the heart! No goats, we’ll find a tourist! Just get this baby what she NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDS!!!!!!!!! With no transportation, I lost the liver battle (and the goats and tourists won). Once we get rid of these damn worms, that will help a ton. Vet said bring her to the clinic on Friday for her shots. They have to start her paperwork. Because there are big changes ahead for Annie….
After the vet left, Jennifer wanted to let Annie walk with us across the property to the cottage to see what the workers had done (guests are coming tomorrow). I was leery, because catching her on the porch is a feat- on a 2 acre unfenced property???….. but she said Annie would follow Lily and Mini and she was right! Lily instantly became “momma” to Annie, and Annie wanted to follow her everywhere! #jealous Lily was not as thrilled with her newfound daughter and growled and snapped to prove it. But she never hurt Annie. So Annie would follow Lily and Lily would follow us, so it all worked out! Jennifer left and it was me and Annie again. I fed her dinner and took her down to bed, not relishing the idea of the super runny poop-poops I’d be cleaning up in the morning…

DAY 12
Last night Annie woke up twice- once at midnight and once around 2. Both times she’d make a little noise. I’d roll over to the edge of the bed, say something to her, and she would come over and WAG HER TAIL!!!!!! 😍 That’s a first at a human!! Not only that, she enjoyed me petting her! She’d stand there and lean in as I scratched her head. Normally, she just kind of tolerates it as if to say “I’ll let you do that if you promise not to kill me”. If I’d quit, she’d put her little paws up on the mattress trying to get up to me. 😍😍 That ain’t happening until worms quit pouring out of her butt! We woke up around 5. There were 2 runny poops (one with live worms in it- kill me now 😖 ). Then, she decided she was going to be my shadow- for the first time ever! She followed me upstairs, she followed me around the kitchen, she followed me back downstairs, then back upstairs! Breakthrough! Of course, if I stopped, she’d stop and keep that safe distance of about 2-3 feet between us. Because, you know, I could turn at any moment and try to kill her… I made her a breakfast of dry food mixed with warmed up wet food and a little chicken broth. She really didn’t want much of it. I thought maybe the Panacur was messing with her appetite. I made bacon for myself (and it’s real American style bacon!! Not that psuedo-bacon from Central America!!). I gave her a bite. Um, to say she liked it would literally be the understatement of the century! She immediately decided that bacon was the best thing in the entire world (who can argue with that kind of logic?) and put her paws on my chair, begging for more. I hid a piece at the bottom of her untouched dry/wet food mix, thinking she’d eat her way to the bottom. No, not Smarty McPuppyPants. She pushed all the “yucky” out of the way with her nose and found the piece of bacon! So what do you do to outsmart the smartest 8 week old pup-pup in the world? Pour bacon grease on the food! Wa-la…it then became edible. I hope whoever gives this dog her furever home is not a vegetarian…. But in case they are, she likes banana bread, too. 😀

So apparently bacon is puppy superfood!! After that, she actually became a real live puppy for the first time! I gave her more freedom by opening up the pool deck area for her and blocking off the dangerous parts. She explored all over that. Then, back to the porch to play with my swinging foot. I’m much safer when I’m laying down or sitting, and my foot was just the best toy! She mouthed it and chased it back and forth, and I petted her with it. You can tell she’s not scared of feet, but very scared of hands. Then, she barked at the plants blowing in the wind, telling them she owned this space and they better not get out of line! Then she ran and jumped and rolled and shook her baby back and forth and was just a puppy!! And the few times she would lay down to catch her breath between excited play sessions, it was no where near her towel. Because now, everywhere on the porch is her safe space. It was so good to see!! And that sad/confused/scared look in her eyes? Gone.

Since she had followed me around the house all morning, I felt confident enough to take her out into the garden for a walk. The cats even came along! She followed me, mostly. If she was being slow, I’d just hide out of her sight, and within a few moments she’d come looking for me. Getting her to follow me back into the pool area was the hard part, but I was eventually successful! At the time of this writing, she has been awake for 3 solid hours non-stop, and finally laid down on her towel and went to sleep. I wrote Jennifer about the people coming in next Saturday that want to foster a dog. I expressed concerns about whether they wanted a puppy this young because she’s up a couple of times a night and is too young to be dragged all over the place like they want a dog for- she needs her sleep. I offered to take her back to Seatons with me and bring her back here the next week before I leave. She agreed. Thank goodness, because I have done too much work with this baby and am too protective to turn her over to some dumb tourists for a week. Plus, I don’t know the laws for dog-napping in Antigua…

Worn out from all that playing and walking in the garden!

She slept like this for a while. She finally feels safe enough to not curl up into a ball.

I’m the pied piper of the Caribbean….

Crossing the bridge to the cottage

We hung out and worked until Jennifer came at 4. Guests are coming into the airbnb cottage at the bottom of the property, so we were putting on the finishing touches. Little Annie followed me back and forth about 4 times- lots of big steps! She’s going to be worn out!! The guests came- super nice people from Houston. They’ve done a good bit of traveling, so I enjoyed talking with them. OH!! And Jennifer must have known how crazy overprotective I am, because guess what she brought with her?? LIVER!! Annie had some for dinner and we went to bed early. I have a HUGE adventure planned for tomorrow and need my rest (and am already worrying about leaving Lil’ Bit alone for multiple hours….)

EXPENDITURES
Groceries: $18
Lunch: $15
Lodging: FREE!! About 7 hours of total real work for these 3 days- doing some website stuff and educational filming
3 day total: $33
12 day total: $612

Continue to Days 13-15

Days 13-15: Sea Turtle Patrolling!

Days 13-15: Sea Turtle Patrolling!


DAY 13

Annie woke up last night at 1. Normally, she goes back to bed pretty quickly. She was in play mode!! How, after the long day of running around she had yesterday, I don’t know. I gave her a little attention, but then went back to sleep and let her do her own thing. She woke up on her own at 5. Now she’s on my schedule! I got up and she had put my flip flops over in a pile with her baby. I told her I’m not pointing fingers, but my flip flops have mysterious little teeth marks in them…. We came upstairs where the cats greeted us for breakfast. After that, the cats went to lounge by the pool and Annie, who didn’t stray as far as the actual pool deck yesterday, ran out there barking at them, jumping, and running, as if to say, “There’s a new dog running this property, and you guys better shape up!” She’s such a toot. We took a morning walk in the garden and crossed our final milestone. She would walk in front of me (she was always scared to before, afraid I would catch her if her back was to me), and….drum roll….she let me bend down and pet her without jumping away and…..fireworks…..she let me pick her up from a standing position in the middle of the yard!! TWICE! This is HUGE! And honestly, it was the final behavior I wanted her to learn before she goes off to a new family. This little girl has progressed so much and so quickly. I’m super proud of her. Speaking of in the garden, every time she comes back, she looks like this:

Annie: SDU (Seed Dispersal Unit!)

Jennifer and I went down to the mangrove beach by the house and walked around. This was Annie’s first major outing! And she was a little trooper! She investigated a goat skull (I promise this wasn’t from a goat sacrifice I made to get her iron for her anemia!!) and went into the water for the first time! She is such a great little dog- so curious and courageous. She will just follow me anywhere.

I found this GREAT sea urchin specimen, showing how the test (what you might call the “shell”, but it’s actually the skeleton) sits just underneath the spines.

Came back and got ready for another adventure. This one was going to be waaaaay past my bedtime. Because way past my bedtime is SEA TURTLE NESTING TIME (and anything else that happens after 9pm)!! Yup…Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting sea tuwtles!! Jennifer knows a guy, Phikwe (because Jennifer knows EVERYONE) who does turtle patrols on Rendezvous Beach, and he said that I could come with him! I thought the Airbnb guests in the cottage might like to do it as well, so invited them along, too. We all 4 arrived around 7:30 and started patrol! So here’s the 411: Right now it’s Leatherback season. These are the largest of all sea turtles- 6 feet long and 2,000 pounds! I knew I would literally D.I.E. die if I got to see one! And chances were pretty good. The leatherbacks nest about every 10 days, and lay about 6 nests total. She had already nested 4 times, with the last nest being 9 days ago, so things were looking pretty good for day 10! The moon was full and GORGEOUS, lighting up the entire empty, secluded beach…just enough so you could kinda see, and enough to create shadows everywhere that would convince you a 1 ton sea turtle was dragging herself up on to the beach!

Let me tell you what turtle patrol consists of: Sit on the beach for 40 minutes, walk the entire length of the beach, rinse, repeat. We did this for 5 hours, and for naught. No mama leatherback. But at least the company was good! Phickwe said he’d come and look for turtle tracks tomorrow, and if there weren’t any we’d come back the next night. I told him I’d come look for tracks the next morning and let him know (he has a regular job in addition to staying up half the night tracking turtles!!) I was happy to get back to my little Annie at 1am, and she was THRILLED to see me. Desperate for love and attention (that’s the first time she’s been desperate for it!). I begged her to please sleep late….

DAY 14
So begging Annie to sleep late didn’t fly. We were up at 5. Me on less than 4 hours sleep is not a good me…. First item of business, to head out to Rendezvous and see if mama leatherback was late for her midnight curfew last night. Jennifer and I bounced down the road, all 3 dogs in tow- Lily, Mini, and of course Annie. The tide was really low and there were some AWESOME yellow corals exposed in the tide pools! Along with about a zillion sea urchins!
We hiked down to the beach. This was Annie’s first time at a big beach, and she loved it! Anytime she can be a part of the pack with the other dogs, she’s in heaven. We walked the entire beach and no sign of mama leatherback having hauled out of the water in the wee hours of the morning. That meant more turtle patrol tonight! We filmed some educational videos at a few existing turtle nests, then just hung out for a bit. Jennifer took Annie out into the water and let her go. She swam right back to me!! My brave little girl!!

Came home and worked. I video chatted with Brian and had a complete ugly-cry breakdown over Annie. I can’t keep her- I travel too much. But I have to make sure she gets a good home before I leave. I’m so torn up about the whole thing….

That night, Phikwe and I were back on turtle patrol. One of two things were going to happen tonight:
1. This was night 11. She would DEFINITELY come up to nest!
2. This is the end of the season and she was done.

The moon was GORGEOUS. #ilovemycamera  Did the whole, sit, patrol, rinse repeat thing until after midnight again. No mama leatherback. Sigh. Oh well, at least I can say I have been on turtle patrol! And maybe next time I do it I’ll actually see a turtle!

Came home and lil bit was SO happy to see me!! I was too tired to play, so I just brought her into bed with me. She immediately snuggled up and went right to sleep.

DAY 15

We woke up at 5am. Kill. Me. Now. Two days on 8 hours sleep with as much website technical work as I have to do….lord help me. Annie crawled up, laid on her back with her head in my armpit and just laid there. Like a little person. Full of love. 😍 We still struggle with the bending over and picking her up part of our relationship- she has a serious fear of being caught. But if I’m sitting or laying down, she’s a total snuggle head. And of course, she still follows me around like a baby duck with its mama everywhere I go! She discovered her reflection in the cabinet glass this morning, and was none to pleased about this other dog being in HER house!! She barked and barked at it! Then, the housekeeper came. Annie was having NONE of it! Now, the housekeeper was here the day after Annie was rescued. That Annie just laid on her towel. The new Annie barked and got right under my feet to protect me (or herself, I’m not sure!!). She’s going to make the best little guard dog… We took a walk in the garden and collected some new toys- sticks and other things. She had a grand old time chewing on something new.

I look up from my work somewhere in the vicinity of 300 times a day checking to see where Annie is and making sure she’s ok. I looked up, and she had piled every one of her toys and the cracker I gave her (that she didn’t really like, but took it to be polite) all together. Her baby, her 2 garden sticks, her garden seed pod thing, her bull’s foot….she’s an organizer! I’ve never seen anything like it! This stuff had been scattered everywhere not too much earlier, but when she was done playing, she put away all of her toys. 😍 It literally looked like someone did it for her!

Today we were headed back to Seatons to check on the house and do some filming on sponges and the mangroves. I had a mini meltdown with Jennifer on the phone before we left. Everything with Annie, plus I feel like I’m down to the wire on getting everything done for Jennifer and am getting no where (no fault of my own, just stuff out of my control, which to me is the worst kind of stuff). I’ve spent so much time spinning my wheels it feels like. I just don’t work well like this. I really need the structure, organization, and control to be able to do work to the best of my abilities. I hate leaving things unfinished and I’m so worried about Annie… So yeah, breakdown. I guess it worked out though. Jennifer bought me a cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake. 😋 By the way, the chocolate shakes at  Sweet T’s are divine!!

We stopped at a little organic roadside stand. They are on a farm and grow most of their fruits and veggies right there!! It was really cool! I got bananas, a pineapple, and a couple of cucumbers. It was 34ecd, so I handed her a 50. She looked at me and said, “Well……..”. I was thinking, “Does she seriously not have 15ecd for change? What kind of business is this??”. Come to find out, I handed her a 50 euro note. Multiple currency possession….the struggle is real. I went to my backpack and started digging for ecds. Found a note from Malaysia in there. Jesus. Anyway, got the correct money and we were on our way.

Got to Seatons, watered the plants, then started filming. First, did a really good video all about sponges in the little “marine biology” office Jennifer had set up for a movie that had been filmed there. Then, we went out to the mangroves. A local boy, Lukie, came with us. He’s one of Jennifer’s stewards and gets paid to pick up trash from the beaches. He’s 13 and was REALLY interested in everything I was saying about the mangroves! All of these things are in his own backyard, and he knows nothing about them. Breaks my heart (not to say that kids in the US are any better educated about the nature around them, because they aren’t- well, unless they take my classes. 😉). We made it into a whole mangrove series. First, what species are found in Antigua and where. Then, the reds. Then, the blacks. Then the life cycles. Then the conservation. I was really happy with how all of it turned out! And Lukie got to participate! I had him lick a black mangrove leaf WITHOUT telling him what I was going to have him do beforehand (good sport!) and he paddled in on the paddleboard to remove some trash off the mangrove roots. Not sure if he was more excited about being on film or getting to drive Jennifer’s van down the hill back to the house!

While we were in the water filming, Jennifer pointed down and said, “Is that a sea cucumber?”. I looked. NO!! EVEN BETTER!!! A SEA HARE!! AND HE WAS MASSIVE!! I squealed with delight as I always do when finding amazing wild critters. He was so, so beautiful. Lukie was pretty disgusted and not convinced! So what is it exactly? Basically, a massive sea slug- a snail without a shell. You can see his head antennae on the left of the pic.
Of course, little Annie was along each step of the way for all of these adventures! She got to meet one of the dogs from the dog gauntlet at the corner- Little Man. He gets around on 3 legs because one was mangled when he was hit by a car. He followed us down to the mangroves and was really nice to Annie! After Lukie finished with the paddleboard, it was just sitting on the shoreline. Jennifer said, “Look!!”. And there little Annie was. Sitting on the paddleboard, just like her idol Lily… Seriously, could this dog get any cooler??

 

EXPENDITURES
Roadside Stand: 1 small Pineapple, 4 bananas, 2 cucumbers- $13 (WAY too expensive!!!!!!!!!!)
Lodging:: FREE!! About 11 hours of total work for these 3 days (not counting 10 hours of turtle patrol)- doing some website stuff and educational filming and helping out with Airbnb guests and grounds.
3 day total: $13
15 day total: $625

Days 16-19: My Vacation Has Gone to the Dogs

Days 16-19: My Vacation Has Gone to the Dogs

Day 16

Little Miss Annie slept on the bed with me last night from about 8:30 to 3am, when she got down. She wanted back up at 5am, and then we slept another hour. Still trying to catch up from turtle patrol… And then I made a huge mistake. Jennifer cooked some chicken legs for her dog and brought 2 over for Annie. I was going to pull the meat off, but thought that with those little puppy teeth she couldn’t get though the bones. Gave it to her, literally turned around no more than 10 minutes later and it was GONE. Like GONE! There were 2 splinters, each about 2″ long left. I freaking panicked! Contacted Jennifer on Whatsapp. When to Dr. Google to figure out what to do. So cooked chicken bones are WAY WORSE than raw ones! Kill me now for being such a horrible puppy mom!!!!!!!!!! Google mentioned “cushioning foods” such as bread or rice to help surround the sharp edges as they went through the digestive tract. Rice was on the stove before I could finish reading the sentence. This dog is going to be the death of me. OH! And today is the first day you can’t see her ribs or hips sticking out anymore!!

Website. Website, website, website. Trying my damnedest to get 2 weeks of work done in 3 days. I have to face the fact that a) it’s not going to happen  b) it’s not my fault. Getting this website done was part of my duties here, but getting access to the site ended up being a complete nightmare that took forever (no one’s fault, the domain and hosting was just under someone else’s email). So that’s what Day 16 consisted of- in addition to trying to get my own work done, and trying to find Annie a home. Possible lead on that…. Dogs and Cats of Antigua is the organization here that tries to save strays and get them good homes. Most of the time, those good homes are abroad. They work with a network of rescue and adoption organizations on the east coast of the US and Canada to get these babies a forever home. Well, one of the ladies from an organization in Canada saw my post on the Dogs and Cats of Antigua facebook group about Annie, and thinks she can get her a home there! I am willing to leave right after my housesit in Guadeloupe ends on July 27 (I did get another housesit in St. Lucia for August, but I haven’t confirmed yet and won’t until I know Annie’s situation). I would then come back to Antigua and fly to Canada with Annie to make sure she feels safe and secure and gets settled in! That said, I’m still working the angle to find her a home in Los Angeles and save myself the unexpected trip to Canada. If you know of anyone wonderful that wants the most adorable, sweetest, gentlest, SMARTEST pup who loves nothing more than bacon, other dogs, and following around the person she trusts- please let me know!!!

Playing with her baby is a LOT of work!

We went for one of our multiple daily garden walks, and she immediately pooped when we got off the path! Had to be a coincidence. I mean, she’s pooped outside a couple of times, but I’m fairly certain they were accidents! We went back out later in the afternoon, and once again, and immediate poop! No poops in the house today!! We have an entire happy poopy song about it. I’ve been overly praising her for going outside the past few days (on the rare occasion it happens), but not reprimanding her in the house. I just don’t feel like that’s my role in her life right now. I don’t yell at her for chewing shoes, I keep them away from her reach. I don’t yell at her for chewing cords, I keep them up high. She’s had enough trauma, the person she trusts most in the world right now doesn’t have the heart to give her anymore. She’ll be housebroken easily, she’s too smart not to be. Just not with me. Funny thing is that the house keeper got on my case yesterday because Annie pooped in a part of the house I never go into, so I didn’t see it. Annie saw me getting reprimanded. That is the last time she pooped in the house. Is she so smart that she wanted to save her mother that humility by never doing it again? Doubtful, but it’s a nice thought. 🙂

Oh, and the videos we took the past few days of the turtle nests and the red mangroves…RUINED BY THE DAMNED WIND! Can’t hear anything I’m saying. I’m so upset about this, because it means going out and refilming everything and sucking up even more time that I don’t have. Sigh. I swear, I feel like I’m constantly 1 step forward 3 steps back around here…. I ordered a wind microphone from Amazon- Brian’s going to bring it when it comes. Too late for Antigua videos, but I’ll have it for any others I do.

We went to bed early. She wanted up on the bed and I obliged. We played a game where my hand would grab her face and gently shake it, while I growled. A game we never could have played a few days ago because she was so scared of hands. After a few minutes, she laid down next to me, still as could be, and just stared right into my eyes for the longest time. Just looked at me with this pure love and trust. I broke down bawling again….Little does she know that I’ll have to abandon her soon. I hate me for it.

DAY 17
I woke up at 4:30. That means my body has recovered from turtle patrol!! Annie slept in bed with me ALL. NIGHT. LONG!!! That means no getting down to pee. So she can hold it all night now! We went out into the garden as soon as we got up. It was really dark, so I’m not sure if she went to the bathroom. Time (tile) will tell….

Today is my last Dr. Pepper. I had to double up a couple of days because I was so tired and stressed. And speaking of stress…. So I had this TV interview on Antiguan TV this morning. I didn’t arrange it, I didn’t choose the topic, and I didn’t even talk to a single person at the station before hand. Originally, I was supposed to go to the studio live. Then, because of my transportation situation (I have none), we decided on Skype. They sent me an email yesterday at 1pm. I responded within 20 minutes giving them all of the information they wanted, gave them some talking points, sent the videos and pictures, and asked some questions. Zero reply. Ok, I’ll be ready for my live interview at 7:00am. At 6:30, like the little efficient, professional, businesswoman I am, I got in front of the computer with Skype on. Had my slideshow all prepared. I expected they would call me a little before 7am to make sure everything was good and we could connect. 7am passes, 7:05…I’m getting kindy bitchy. First of all, I don’t like feeling unprepared, and for this, I really had no clue what they wanted exactly and what was expected. 7:10….7:12ish the phone in the house rings (there’s a land line here- like a phone connected to a wall with a cord!!). It was the studio, they couldn’t connect to me on Skype. I ran back and forth between the computer and the phone trying to troubleshoot, to no avail. They said ok, we’ll do a phone interview. I do not operate well like this… But fine, we’ll go with that. Waited for the call back, and was super nervous that I wouldn’t be able to understand their accents over the phone- it’s much easier when I can watch their mouths. I needed 3 more Dr. Peppers- STAT! Phone rings, they ask their questions. Of course I couldn’t see their faces so I can’t judge reactions (I never would have agreed to a phone only interview for TV). So I just blah, blah, blahed and I guess it went as well as could be expected. They really were lovely interviewers. If I lived here, I’d weasel my way into a regular segment!! You can watch the video of my audio here. 😄

After my brush with international fame, it was back to my main priority…Annie. In my never ending quest to find her a home, I have sent out messages to everyone I know. I even told my son and daughter-in-love who live in Colorado that if they would take her, I’d pay her food and vet bills for life! Lara wanted her!! Dylan, who is unfortunately as pragmatic as his mother, said 2 pets max, so if I shipped Annie there, I’d have to send a ticket to ship Lara’s cat OUT! Are children too old to be grounded at 27?? I asked Brian’s sister Angela, Karen (the lady who runs the program where I teach), and Tina (a friend who I met at that program about 7 years ago). Between the 3 of them, they know everyone in Los Angeles. Hell, I even asked my ex-husband on the east coast!! #nostoneunturned  Well, Tina messaged me to just bring her to LA with me and she’d definitely help me find her a home- and that turned into TINA IS GOING TO TAKE HER!!! Oh my god, Tina and her family will be the bestest!! Why? Here’s a partial list:
1. They already have dogs. Annie ADORES being with other dogs.
2. They have two kids. Annie needs playmates!
3. Those kids are homeschooled, so they’ll be with little Annie all of the time!! (Plus, that means her kids are smart. I know. I used to teach one of them. 😉)
4. They have a big yard with a pool!
5. They have huge, kind hearts and I know this will be a forever home.
6. And this is the biggie….they live like 15 minutes from me so I can be Aunt Mary and take Annie on adventures and watch her grow and thrive!!!!!

When I realized what Tina was offering, I burst into a blubbering mess (my go-to state of emotion these past few days….). But this time it was out of pure relief and joy- not sadness and fear and uncertainty. I could literally feel the burden rise off of me. Leaving her with her future up in the air has been weighing on my heart and mind constantly. Now, I can relax!!

Relax meant WEBSITE! I got a ton done today, and am finally at the stage where the framework is done and it’s time to start putting on the paint (images/content). Got the homepage 80% done today. We’ll start filling in content tomorrow and Saturday- then I’ll be back at Seatons with questionable wifi, so I really want to crank as much as possible before I go.

Jennifer picked me up to go to the store. Annie was thrilled to see Lily as usual. I got a pack of bacon (yeeeeesssssss!), a big bag of chicken breasts, a pack of coconut cookies (a different brand, they’ve been out of mine the past 2 trips), a slice of that fresh banana bread, and a Snickers bar- imported, yes, but much needed at this point, especially with the Dr. Pepper stash being gone. Jennifer bought a pack of smoked turkey deli meat- the thin sliced kind in like the 1 lb plastic bag. She gave some to Lily and some to Annie. Annie was like, “WHERE HAS THIS BEEN MY WHOLE LIFE???!!!” (all 10ish weeks of it), and scarfed it down even faster that Lily, who is approximately 20 times her size! We take off down the road, Jennifer looks in the rear view mirror, and that little toot bug had opened the box, got into the box, pulled out the pack of lunch meat, opened it, and was head deep in it!! We pulled over and got it away from her- but not before she ate a ton of it! Her belly looked like a butterball turkey!! I swear to god, she had literally eaten 4 times already today. She acts like I starve her….

We went to Turtle Bay and walked the dogs a bit. Came back, did a little website work, and called it a night. Tomorrow is a big day for Annie…a trip to the vet for her first shots!

Annie with her hero, Lily, at Turtle Bay.

My little beach pup!

DAY 18
When I left the house this morning for Annie’s vet appointment, I had no idea what I was in store for… Joy, the SAINT who runs Dogs and Cats of Antigua and has rescued thousands of animals here (with over 800 getting rehomed in the states and Canada last year alone!!) picked me up. She brought along her 2 dogs, Marina and Domino, who Annie immediately fell in love with, and sadly…as is the case most of the time…they did not return the 🐶❤. Luckily, Annie is content to calmly just sit on my lap wherever we go, so we headed off. Joy said that we needed to stop off and rescue some puppies who had been abadoned in a field nearby. Someone reported them. There were 6, but 2 had already died of exposure and starvation. JESUS. On the way, Joy’s car overheated, so we had to stop at the gas station and put in some coolant. John, the guy who knew where the puppies were, met us there, and we followed him to the field. And what we saw, I wasn’t prepared for. 4 tiny little puppies, about half the size of Annie so probably 5-6 weeks, hiding in tall grass, starving, and covered, I mean COVERED in mosquito bites, ant bites, fleas, and ringworm. It was awful. They were so young and weak that is wasn’t that difficult to catch them. I caught 2 and John caught 2. You have to understand- I picked them up by the scruff of their tiny necks. That little bit of flesh to flesh contact I had with them- their skin felt like it was covered in hard pimples- ant and mosquito bites. I can not even imagine the horrors these little dogs have been through. We put them all in one crate and loaded them into the back of Joy’s car to take to the vet with us. It was something I never want to see again. How these people do this EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. (and believe me, they’re out there rescuing dogs every day), I don’t know.

With the puppies loaded up, all 9 of us (2 humans, 7 dogs) headed to St. John’s to see the vet, Fiona. There were several people in the waiting room. Annie just sat on my lap, calm as calm could be. She knows I wouldn’t put her in a bad situation. We were called in and Fiona dealt with the puppies first. They only weighed between 2-3 lbs each. Oh my god, they were so much worse off than I imagined. Huge ringworms. Fiona tried to feed them- all but one ate. He was just lethargic and disinterested. And he had a fever. I hope he makes it…

Those markings on its head? Bites.

It’s this little brown one that isn’t doing too good…

Next it was Annie’s turn. She tipped the scales at a whopping 7 lbs!! Little roly poly puppy belly! Fiona gave her her first set of shots (she didn’t even flinch, because mommy was holding her!) and another dewormer. I paid for it, because I don’t want Dogs and Cats of Antigua to spend money on Annie- she’s my responsibility and god knows they have enough animals to take care of. Anyway, it was only $15.

Back out to the hot car. We had to stop and get puppy food and then drop the 4 pups off by another saint’s house who would foster them- in addition to about 12 other fosters he has at the moment. I can barely keep up with this one…. Dropped them off, then a long car ride back home. Is this how normal people spend their Caribbean island vacations????

I talked to Joy about how we get Annie home. She’ll come back in 3 weeks for her 2nd set of shots, rabies, and to be chipped. Her information will then be taken to the government to receive a health certificate so she can travel. So she’ll be ready to go when I get back from Guadeloupe at the end of July. Now, it’s about arranging flights. Normally, I book based on price. Now, it will be based on what can get Annie to LA fastest.

Worked on the website more and it’s really starting to come together! Hopefully I can have it live by Monday. Brian gets here Tuesday, and the whirlwind begins!! Went to bed early, per usual. Seriously, we were both exhausted after that long morning….

DAY 19
Last day at the villa!! Got up early, because today is a busy day! Started working on the website and setting up the Adopt A Coastline YouTube channel. I made bacon for breakfast. Annie was THRILLED. Got laundry going and worked on a final cleaning of my room and bathroom so I’m not a burden on Sharon, the housekeeper. More website, then because I’m such a celebrity in Antigua that a TV interview isn’t enough, I had to prep for my radio interview! This was a 15 minute interview all about home education around the world. Really nice chat, and hopefully it will be online in a few days and I can post it.

Annie helping me sweep! She literally dragged this broom in from the living room to put in “her” pile. It’s a hard knock life for us!

After that, more working on the website, then Jennifer came over. Then real estate agents came over because Farside House that I’m staying in is for sale- they took pictures. Before they were done, the next guests who are coming to stay at the villa arrived from Germany. SUPER NICE mom, dad, and 10 year old son! There is a slight possibility that they will foster Annie after I leave, and I would love for her to spend time with that nice little boy that is about the same age as the boy who will be “her” boy back in LA. But Annie is a lot of work right now- it’s like having a toddler who doesn’t wear a diaper!! I don’t know that people on vacation are ready for that kind of commitment. We’ll see. Bottom line, they seem like lovely people and I would be happy for Annie to be with them (that says a lot coming from this mama bear!!).

While all of that was going on, Jason arrived. He’s a taxi driver and was there to take me to back Seatons. Piled everything in and headed off. Jason is so nice. He told me about the land his grandfather leased from the government, and how a piece of it was passed down to him. We talked about places where houses were for sale, who lived where, and drove through some beautiful scenery.  Got to Seatons and got Annie settled in (as long as I’m here, that doesn’t take long). I decided to sleep inside rather than outside this time. Easier for Annie to get into/out of bed with me without a mosquito net barrier! 3 more sleeps, and Brian will be here!!

EXPENDITURES
Groceries: Bacon, Chicken, Coconut Cookies, Banana Bread, Snickers Bar: $17
Vet: $15
Lodging: FREE!…with about 30 hours of work.
4 day total: $32
19 day total: $657
19 day total if I didn’t fall in love with a puppy:  $640

Days 20-23: The Last Explorations of Antigua

Days 20-23: The Last Explorations of Antigua

DAY 20
Annie was extremely lethargic and felt extra warm yesterday afternoon. She was eating, but she came into the room and laid down at about 6:30 and slept all the way until 9 when I woke her up to check on her before I went to sleep. She wanted in bed with me and immediately sprawled completely out (we have a full bed here instead of the twin at the other house) and fell back asleep. She felt really warm. Granted, it’s hotter than Mordor in here, but still. All was well until sometime in the night I felt something crawling on me. The first thing I thought of was the MASSIVE spider I had seen at the other house. I swatted it off, looked at Annie who was still in the same position and fast asleep, and went back to sleep. I was awakened again by something on me. I sat up and looked and it was HUGE and on my leg!! I couldn’t make out exactly what it was in the dim light, but I screamed loud enough that it’s rather concerning the neighbors DIDN’T show up, and swatted it off. That woke Annie up, but she literally didn’t move. Just opened her eyes. She felt really hot and she was breathing really fast. This was a little after midnight, so I texted Brian. We thought maybe it was the shot she had making her feel crappy. And I was still concerned about that damn chicken bone she had eaten whole the other day. I was really worried. This is my little bay-bay!! I sent him this pic.

So it’s after midnight, I’ve been assaulted by some heinous insect the size of a small car that I can not find anywhere, and my Beauty Girl (nickname) is feeling awful and there’s nothing I can do. I’m guessing there’s not a 24 hour vet in Antigua, and even if there was I had no way to get there. After about an hour and a half I finally got back to sleep.

Woke up the next morning and Lil Bit (other nickname) was off the bed laying amongst her catches- THREE HUGE FUCKING ROACHES!!!!!! She was protecting her mommy!!! And boy, but was she full of piss and vinegar this morning! Back to her old self. Thank god, because I had an adventure to attend to, and if she had still been sick I would have had to cancel…

So like I’ve mentioned, Jennifer knows everyone. And one of the everys she knows is a man named Nick Williams. Nick owns the only fly fishing charter in Antigua. And he is catch and release ONLY!! He offered to take me out on his skiff and show me around the reefs and mangroves in the Seatons area. Annie had to sit this one out at the house by herself- the skiff is small and homemade and not dog friendly! But it is just the perfect size for two people to easily get into the reef shallows and edges of the mangrove forest!

Our first stop was a perfectly pristine section of mangrove called Laurys Bay. Nick began pointing out the vast amounts of wildlife on the seafloor and attached to the thick tangle of mangrove roots. Sponges, tunicates, mussels, corals, sea grass, cucumbers, sea stars, urchins, crabs, and more!! It’s amazing the amount of life you can find just on one mangrove root… All filter feeders, meaning their strain their food (bacteria or plankton) from the water. I did a video on the tunicates and an amazingly MASSIVE starfish we encountered!

Orange sea sponges, green algae, and black tunicates- all living on a mangrove root!

Pulled this shot from the video I did. I couldn’t believe how huge it was!

Nick is, as we determined rather quickly, a “weirdo” like me. He prefers fish to people. The things he likes to talk about are not the typical small talk chit-chat most people infuse their lives with. He reflects on the deeper issues. And there are a lot of issues in this very small part of this very small island. Primarily, development. I could hear the concern in his voice as he showed me where parts of Laurys Bay are currently under development. As the hills have their vegetation removed and dirt graded to prepare for building roads and homes, all of that sediment runs down into the bay. That, in turn, literally suffocates the entire ecosystem- the seagrass, the filter feeding animals, the mangroves- everything. On top of that, once the development reaches a certain point, people want their waterfront properties. That property is currently populated by mangrove forests. They will be destroyed so people can get their views. An entire ecosystem, gone forever. If I come back here in 5 years, maybe less, I will not see what I saw today.

Beautiful Laurys Bay, with the tell-tale signs of development just over the hill- a crane and electrical lines.

We followed the land around, until we could see the entrance to open ocean, and glided over some shallow reef areas. They were basically lifeless. Patches of corals here and there and no fish. Nick asked me if I had any idea why this was happening. I didn’t. It looked like the perfect location for a healthy and vibrant reef system. We pulled around to an island with cliffs that literally looked like someone had personally stacked layers of rock on top of each other- the sedimentary layers were that uniform! We pulled up to the shore to take a quick hike to the top. As we approached, you could see that nets were choking the mangroves and shoreline in multiple places. The view from the top was amazing!!

View from the top!

Wild orchids

We headed back out over the reef, and Nick (who has the keenest eye on the water I’ve ever witnessed in my life!) spotted something. A ghost net, tangled up on the reef. Ghost nets are nets that have been abandoned or torn off of fishermen’s boats. They float through the oceans, continuing to fish and kill animals that are unlucky enough to get trapped in them. Because the nets are made of such strong material, they can continue to “fish” the oceans for decades. It’s estimated that almost 650,000 tons of fishing gear like this is lost in the ocean EVERY YEAR. Nick got out and removed the net from the reef- saving fish, turtles, and other wildlife. I’ve known about this nets for a long time, I even teach about them. But to see them up close and personal- it’s a sobering experience.
“Eagle Ray Eye Nick” then spotted something else, and yelled “Permit!!” in a voice I know all too well- the voice of someone so passionate and excited about seeing wildlife that they can barely contain themselves!! Permit are one of the game fish that Nick brings his clients out to catch (and release!). I looked in the general direction he was pointing, and saw this massive fin come out of the water over the super shallow reef! WOW! Nick explained that they come up on the reef to hunt for their favorite food- crabs. It was awesome to finally see some large ocean life in what to this point had looked more like a patchy wasteland.

We came around toward another island, and the mangroves were magnificent!! Huge, thick clusters of roots- providing the basis of an ENTIRE ECOSYSTEM. Think rainforest. Now think what happens when you take the trees out of the rainforest. Every other plant and animal in that ecosystem dies along with them. And that is what is happening to the mangrove forests in Antigua. Not just the animals that live out their lives in, on, or near the mangroves, but reef fish as well that use the mangrove forest as a shelter when they’re juveniles. Those juveniles then head out to the reef as adults, and many of those species are important food fish species. It’s all connected.

As we turned to head back, Nick shouted once again- TARPON!! What? Where? I mean, seeing the permit was fairly easy, with that fin sticking out. But this tarpon was beneath a surface of shadowy water. How in the world did he see that thing!! No matter, I was just excited that I got to see two of the major game fish here. Ahead of us was a huge hill that had its entire top cut off for development- a massive scar, surrounded by soon to be destroyed pristine mangrove forests. Nick explained that this was the Yida Project (read this). The Antiguan government had allocated 2,000 acres of pristine MARINE RESERVE (let me repeat that, MARINE RESERVE) to Chinese developers. Their plan is to turn it into a massive residential, tourist, and industrial site- practically it’s own independent full-service city. And if that isn’t enough of a blow to an already fragile ecosystem, get a load of this….they are also allowed to set up a seafood harvesting facility that the investors will keep 90% of the profits on!! So let’s see, they get to develop a pristine marine reserve, destroying the ecosystem and the life it supports there forever, and whatever life is left out in the water, they can go after that as well. And they won’t be paying taxes on ANY OF THIS. I felt for Nick, and all of the people who love and appreciate this natural treasure. And my heart ached for the beauty and wildness that would soon be paved over and decimated- gone forever. You feel helpless. How do you fight against corrupt governments and investors who only care about money they can make today?

This is how “progress” looks.

We returned to Seatons and Nick dropped me off at the house. I had learned so much with him and seen so many things. He is truly one of the good guys and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to spend time with him in the environment he is so passionate about.

Annie was waiting for me on the porch, and I spent the rest of the day working on the website. But getting the images of barren reefs, mangroves tangled with nets, ghost nets being pulled off the reef, and the massive destruction the Yida Project was going to bring to this area, literally putting the death nail in the coffin of this ecosystem was impossible. It’s haunting. You can read about these things all day, but seeing them with your own eyes and heart is a different matter entirely

DAY 21
Most. Boring. Day. EVER. Stayed here all day and worked on the website for over 9 solid hours, then worked on my own stuff for another few, then back to the website for a couple more. Comfortable furniture for working on the laptop for hours on end is non-existent here, so by the end of the day I was achy and bitchy. But Brian was catching his flight tonight and would be here tomorrow!! We went to sleep about 9pm, and Annie woke up at 10:45 and wanted out (she has only had 1 pee and 1 poop accident in the house since we arrived, and that was the first day before she knew what the lay of the land was!!). I opened the slider, put her out, and went back to bed to check my phone for about 5 minutes. Back out to get her and the damn slider wouldn’t open!! I literally couldn’t even budge it. It’s a struggle to deal with on the best of days, but this was just stuck solid. At almost 11pm. And it was pitch black out. I had to go out the front door, walk all the way around in the dark to get her. After the long day I’d had, that adventure was most unwelcome and didn’t help my bitchyness. Plus, I had a hard time getting back to sleep after that. Sigh.

DAY 22
Day 22 is hereby known as BRIAN’S ARRIVAL DAY!!!! YAY!!! Annie and I got up early (as usual), I worked for a little over an hour on some things Jennifer had emailed me, and then made the last of our bacon for breakfast. Took a walk in the garden. Then, it was bath time for Annie. She’s so good!! Then, back to website stuff, and Tuesday is grading day for the school, so I had to do that. The wifi here is being challenging- sometimes it works absolutely perfectly, and other times, well….not so much. Today, it fell into the latter category. Which really sucked because Tuesday is my crunch day for school!! After talking myself out of tying a rock around my neck and jumping into the ocean (which probably wouldn’t have done much, seeing how it’s like a foot deep!), Jennifer said the problem was she was out of data!! She topped it off, and all is well in the world again…. Except now it’s time to go get Brian!

Jason, the taxi driver from the other picked me up. Rode the 20 minutes or so to the airport. $40. I almost passed out- Jennifer had told me $30 and I thought that was insane! I can go from my house to LAX which is about an hour away for $40 in an Uber!! Picked up Brian, got the rental car, and headed to Seatons to get Annie. I just knew he’d fall in love with her- and he did! She took a few minutes to warm up to him, then she realized he will pet and play with her NON-STOP. Now it’s like I’m the mom and he’s the brother! First item of business was FOOD! It was 3pm, Brian had been traveling for about 14 hours, and I hadn’t had lunch. We put Annie’s brand new harness and leash on her and headed out to the car. She was as good with it as could be expected! Put restaurants into google maps and found Ounces Ice Cream and Grill. Perfecto! I was super excited for the possibility of another delicious milkshake. Ordered a classic burger with fries. Brian ordered the same. And happily asked for a chocolate milkshake. Response from lady? “No.” Um, is she the Milkshake Nazi “No milkshake for YOU!!” or what? I didn’t ask. Just got a water. ☹ Annie sat calmly under the table with her harness and leash on and we fed her bits of meat and fries. We looked at the map the rental car company gave us and decided to check out Half Moon Bay.

It wasn’t very far of a drive, maybe 20 minutes. And WOW!!! It was STUNNING!! We let Annie off the leash, and of course she followed us like the little duckling she is. She realized that Brian= PUPPY PLAY and started chasing him down the beach, barking her little head off, wagging her tail, and having a grand old time jumping and playing in the sand and water. There weren’t a lot of people on the beach, but the ones we passed just oooo-ed and ahhh-ed over her! They said it was so cute how she would just follow us down the beach, and how well behaved she was to be so young. #proudpuppymomma

DAY 23

This was our last day in Antigua, and we had to make the most of it!! It was the first time in over 3 weeks that I had the freedom to explore! Brian did a little paddleboarding and then we reshot some mangrove educational videos that crappy audio from the wind. While I was standing in the water filming, Annie actually climbed over the mangrove roots to come out to me. Sweet little girl…
We loaded up for our day long road trip. Annie, who has adopted Brian as her own, helped him drive. I’d be jealous, but I’m still her “mom” and the one she follows everywhere! We didn’t really have a plan per se. Just looked at what sights maps.me pulled up and went to those.

First stop was a place called Devil’s Bridge. It’s a natural arch eroded out of the side of the ocean cliffs. Quite beautiful! Research says it got the name because slaves used to go here to commit suicide. Ugh. In true Jimmy Buffet style, I blew out my flip flop on the way back to the car. I swear….

Back on the road and found something called Betty’s Hope Plantation. Thought we’d see what it was all about. SO GLAD WE DID!! It was a great learning experience about a sugar cane plantation that was built here in the 1650s. There was a really cool little museum where I learned all about sugar cane! Fascinating!! Here’s the basic facts. Cane was cut. It was then put into the crusher to crush out all of the juice. That windwill looking tower is what powered the crusher. The juice would drop through the floor into the boiling room. (Most plantations used pipes that lead away from the crusher to a nearby boiling room. Betty’s Hope was more efficient with this set up). The juice was boiled. A skim would form on top- that would be removed and fermented to make rum! The remaining juice would be boiled down. Some of it was evaporated to form sugar crystals, and the rest was molasses! Three products from one plant! And, sadly, slaves were used for all of this labor. It was so fascinating, that I actually created an educational video on the fly about it for my students!

Model of how the plantation looked.

The wind driven crushing tower. It had a turret so the blades could be moved to be in line with the wind. Clever!

The crushing mechanism

We kinda just picked a place on the map to head toward next, with no real destination in mind. Went toward an area called Five Islands. Drove through all kinds of neighborhoods, came around a corner, and WOW!! Massive cruise ship!! It just towered above the harbor and city.
More aimless driving and we found ourselves on some local beach that no one was on. Figured it was a good place to walk around a bit and let Annie get some exercise and take a potty break.

It was food time!! Two different locals had suggested a place called OJs in Crab Hill, so we headed that way. The water on this side of the island is STUNNING!! The seaside table was STUNNING, the view was STUNNING. We ordered lionfish because we’d never had it. Expensive and not so stunning. 😕

The road from here climbed into a part of Antigua I’d never seen- lush forest! It really was a lovely drive through this area. Then, I saw a man on a donkey. And I thought it would be a good idea to take his picture as we whizzed by. Do you see that look on his face? Do you see the quality of this photo? It’s not blurry from the speed. He cursed my camera! I’m certain of it! Because for the next few days, no matter what setting I used or resetting the entire camera, every picture I took turned out blurry and I had to use Brian’s phone!! #lessonlearned

Next was the crappiest part of the whole day. Dropping off my little Annie to Jennifer, who would take care of her until I came back after my housesit in Guadeloupe. On the way to Jennifer’s, I made Brian stop so I could take a picture of the trash bin where we had found her. She’s come so far from being a stinky, skinny, scared little pup to a twice bathed, follow me everywhere, sleep in my bed (on my pillow, none the less!), fat, confident little darling!! It’s amazing what food and love will do. We left her, her carrier, harness, and leash and I promised I’d be back for her soon. Brian said he was shocked I didn’t cry (he’s seen me ugly cry more than once over this pup!). But I knew that Jennifer would take good care of her, I’d see her again, and she was going to have an awesome forever home!! From there, we headed toward Galleon Beach just to check it out and walk around a bit. There are some resident sea turtles here, but we didn’t have time to snorkel. It was getting late. Last tourist stop, we drove up to Shirley Heights for a gorgeous view of English Harbor.

I’ve been cursed! Rightfully so for rudely snapping a picture of a person from a car.

Blurry blue church!

Blurry trash bin where we found Annie.

Blurry Galleon Beach

Blurry English Harbor as seen from Shirley Heights

After that, we drove to Hodges Bay near the airport. This is where wonderful Kerry and Charmaine (friends of Jennifer) were letting us stay in their home for the night, since we had a 6am flight and didn’t want to drive the Antiguan back roads from Seatons in the dark. What a lovely couple and what a gorgeous, ocean front home with a beautiful garden! If you’re in the area, I highly recommend you check out their Airbnb.

I give up on expenditures. Once Brian gets here, everything gets all mixed up!! Let’s just say we travel cheap and leave it at that. 🤑

Days 1 & 2: “Swizter” Translates to “Disney”- Basel

Days 1 & 2: “Swizter” Translates to “Disney”- Basel

 

Time to leave Romania. ☹ I really did enjoy this country way more than I imagined I would, and wish I had more time to explore. 10 days really isn’t anywhere near enough, and I only covered a small portion of the middle of the country. Got an uber, and had a wonderful driver. We chatted about tourism in Romania, and he echoed the sentiment of Alex from last night- the government just doesn’t seem interested in promoting it. Such a shame. Or a blessing. I guess it depends on how you look at it.

Another day, another European budget airline. This time, Hungarian carrier Wizz Air. I had priority which allowed me a carry on and a personal item, so I wasn’t worried about baggage issues. About 2 hours to Basel in a middle seat, which kinda super sucks, but such is life. I’m not paying extra for a seat on such a short flight.

Got to Basel Airport (which is actually in France), and made kind of a boo-boo. At passport control, the officer asked me where I was coming from, and I hesitated, then asked myself out loud, “Where AM I coming from?”. Seriously, it’s all kind of blurring together. That started a mini-interrogation, well deserved because I admit that was dumb. Got my stamp and headed out. Then I saw the most FABULOUS sign I’ve ever seen in any airport!!

Ha!! The countries in Europe are so close together that your choice of exit determines your location! Oh, France, you know I love you, but I had to go right- into a brand new country. Switzerland.

Again, not interested in dealing with busses and baggage, so called an Uber. Here they use Swiss Franks (CHF), not Euro. I really, REALLY don’t want to have to get cash. Since I’ll be here for a little over 2 weeks though, it’s probably inevitable. But not yet. CHF is almost exactly the same rate as the dollar. The 15 minute trip cost me $25. I’m not in Romania anymore… Oh, and Switzerland has not one, not two, not three, but FOUR different official languages!! French, German, Italian, and Romansh. I had my fingers crossed for French. I was met with German. ☹

Checked into my airbnb. Now, this is not one that I booked way in advance like the rest. In fact, I only realized I hadn’t booked one a few days ago, and kinda had to scramble. Airbnb is EXPENSIVE here. No awesome $15 a night private apartments…more like $70 a night for just a room. So I did something I never do. I booked a room for $35 a night that didn’t have any reviews. It was a new property, and I thought they were probably doing what I do when I list a new property- super cheap rate to attract guests and get those much needed reviews, then you jack up the price to market rates. You would also expect the host to be going above and beyond to make sure those first reviews were stellar. Ok, look. The place was in a nice neighborhood (I’m not sure there’s any other kind in Switzerland). It was within walking distance to the old town, where the things I wanted to see were, AND to the train station I needed to leave from in a couple of day. And it was half the price of everything else in the area. But it wasn’t very clean. When you get a message that says, “If your sheets don’t seem fresh, there are fresh ones on the shelf.” That says to me, “We aren’t going to change your sheets. If they’re covered in bodily fluids, here are some spares.” I set my black backpack down on the floor. I had to flip it over to get my laptop out, and the side on the floor was covered in dust. The trash cans in my room, the bathroom, and the kitchen were full. And there was just a general “not filthy, but not clean” feel to everything. Sigh. I could live with it for 2 nights for the price. I’ve stayed in worse…

My phone was in desperate need of a charge, so I pulled out my adapter. It didn’t fit! They don’t use the European 2 prong here- they use the 3 prong. Grrrrrr! First item of business in a new place is usually groceries. Now, it was new adapter.  I googled for electronic stores and found one about .8 miles away. Headed over, and found one for only $10 on sale, except it was a 2 prong to 3 prong adapter- meaning I had to plug it in to my existing adapter. #firehazard

Next stop, groceries. I googled for Carrefour, since we’re right next to France, but no luck. There was a Coop right next to the electronics store, so I headed in there. YEE-OUCH!!!!!!!! No wonder everyone is so skinny here- who can afford food?! I passed on the insect balls. I ended up with a part of a rotisserie chicken (leg/thigh/breast) and a pack of French bread from the bakery. $8!!!!!!!! And no Dr. Pepper. ☹  Holy crap, I miss Romania!!!!

Went back and only ate part of the part of chicken so I’d have some for tomorrow. Did some work and some blogging. It was so freaking hot in my room! I had the window wide open, but there was zero breeze. By the time I went to sleep, I had two choices, window open and lots of noise, or window closed and suffocate to death in the heat. I chose window open until it was after midnight and I still couldn’t sleep. Closed the window. Tossed and turned all night. Sigh.

Day 2: Today was adventure day!! Except I felt like I’d been hit by a truck since I’d basically had no sleep. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do today. I really had stopped my research after I finalized everything for Romania a few months back, and figured Switzerland would just kind of fall into place. I searched for free walking tours- only on Sundays. I searched for paid walking tours. There was one at 2:30 for $20, but it was in both English and German, and the reviews were a lot of English speakers complaining about having to wait around for the German explanations at each stop. So I just looked at the walking tour itineraries, looked at few blogs, and pieced together a few of what seemed like the “must see” places in Basel. Mapped them, ate a little bread, and headed out.

I wandered down narrow cobblestone streets with shops of all sorts on either side- clothes, watches, old historical prints, shoes- each with nice little window displays. It literally looked like Main Street if Switzerland was Disneyland! Honestly, it doesn’t feel old and historic like most of “Europe Proper” does. I swear, it almost felt manufactured to look like how you would expect a Swiss street to look! Almost TOO perfect and stereotypical! It was early, and there were no tourists out yet. Just locals who all seemed to be going somewhere with a purpose.

I made it to the first place, the Marketplatz- basically market square. The draw here is the Rathaus, or city hall. It’s over right at 500 years old. And I swear to you, it looks like Walt Disney told his architects to build it. It is SO whimsical and colorful! And it just doesn’t have that old look or feel to it. I have decided that Switzer means “Disney”… You walk inside, and the courtyard area is just as fun and colorful!! I was very close to the Rhine River, and saw a bridge on Google Maps, so decided to go check it out. Turns out, this is Mittlere Brücke, or Middle Bridge, and is the oldest crossings over the Rhine! The original was built in 1226! But I’m telling you, this city is just so Disney-esque, that it’s hard to believe anything was here before 1950!! I crossed the bridge and then crossed back again. On my way back, there were people floating down the Rhine on little fish shaped floaties. It was so freaking hot, that as much as I’m adverse to the idea of getting into water, had Brian been here I totally would have done it! Later, I passed a store that was actually selling the little floaties! I was seriously tempted to buy one, because #fish. But didn’t because #cheapass.

Across the water from me was a building. And the three words on it were in Frenc- Les Trois Rois. Hot damn, I knew exactly what that meant!! THE THREE KINGS!!!!!! EEEEEE!! I just so happen to love three kings!! Henry IV, Louis XIV, and Louis XVI!! Could it maybe have anything to do with French kings?? I had to take a detour and find out! As soon as I saw the figures above the door, I knew it was the 3 wise men of Frankincense, Gold, and Myrrh fame. Bummer. But I did do a little research, and during the French Revolution, when kings weren’t exactly on anyone’s Christmas list, it was renamed Hotel aux trois magots (Hotel at the three bundles). And then I turn around, and what does the universe greet me with in a 2nd story window?? Oy.

I walked up some narrow cobblestone, mostly deserted streets. The buildings here were really old. Not because they looked old (because NOTHING looks old- it’s “Swizter”land, afterall!!), but because there were dates from the 1400s and 1500s on some of them. And things are just so damn….WHIMSICAL! I really should look up another word for that in the thesaurus…. This was the part of town where I most wished I had a guide to give me some of the history.

I made my way to Munsterplatz, which wasn’t a cheese plaza, but a cathedral plaza (cheese/cathedral, same thing). Dominating the plaza is the Basler Münster, or Basel Minster- built between 1019 and 1500 (with an earthquake in between for good measure). It looks suspiciously like a Catholic cathedral you would see if you went outside of Disneyland Switzerland into France or Germany. And it used to be. But today, it’s Protestant. However, there are some signs of whimsy on the outside! For example, I’m not sure what that knight is doing to that puppy pigeon with a fish tail, but hey, it works! There was a crypt below, where there was a sarcophagus of someone named Bischof Ruodolf and the date 917!! Well, apparently survey says that there was a Hungarian invasion of Basel in 917, and the Bishop was killed. Obviously, that was about 100 years before this church even started being built, so not sure how he ended up here. Honestly, I had a hard time finding much information about the whole thing.

Those roof tiles look so much like the ones in Romania! I don’t ever remember seeing those kinds of tiles anywhere else in Western Europe…

I wandered through more Disney-esque streets with perfect little buildings all in a row. Heck, there is even an entire “monorail” system that runs all over! In fact, you see very, very few cars. It’s all these green trains and bikes. Because #switzerland

Last stop, Tinguely Brunnen (Tinguely Fountain). C’mon now, Basel?? Seriously?? You can not get any more whimsical (ok dammit, I’m stopping to look this up in the thesaurus- nope, not a better word to be had) than this fountain! It was built in 1977 right outside of the theater, and is just so much fun to watch! Because #disney  Definitely watch the video to see it in action, because a picture can’t capture it!

Came home and was EXHAUSTED- both from not sleeping and from the heat. I thought maybe I’d feel better if I took a one hour nap. I woke up 3 hours later… Ate the rest of my chicken and bread and then just worked and relaxed the rest of the day.

CONTINUE TO DAY 3

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Days 3-6: Adventures in Housesitting- Root, Switzerland Edition!

Days 3-6: Adventures in Housesitting- Root, Switzerland Edition!

 

Day 3: Woke up and got ready to head out- happy to be out of that airbnb. I swear, I have used every form of transport on this trip- planes, cars, ferries, trains…today is another train. From Basel to Lucerne, continuing to Root where my 2 week housesit would be. Walked the ½ mile to the station and was a sweaty mess by the time I reached it, even though it was only 8:30am. This European heat wave is just insanity. Easily found my platform and got on my train. I adult pretty good.

It was about a 2 hour ride, with a easy change in Lucerne, and on to the Gisikon-Root station. The scenery wasn’t spectacular along the route- nice, but not WOW!! Got off the train and the homeowner, Katja, was there to meet me! She drove me the very short distance to the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, Florian. Oh my god- you could not possibly meet two nicer people!! And their apartment- it’s FANTASTIC!! Large, open, a balcony, lots of plants, and a view of Mt. Pilatus to die for!! I didn’t get to meet Rio, the cat. He’s “free range” in the hills during the day, but they assured me if I…get this…rang a bell around 9pm, he’d come home. The cat is trained to come to a bell!!

Florian was still working before they left on their holiday to Italy, so Katja showed me around and even walked me around the neighborhood so I could get a lay of the land. Train station and grocery store, less than half a mile away! After showing me around, Katja and Florian were kind enough to take me out to lunch- their treat. So nice! I got a pizza ($25!! Ouch!!). After that, they handed me the keys and bid me farewell. I wouldn’t see them again, as in two weeks I was leaving in the afternoon and they wouldn’t be returning until the evening.

I had enough pizza leftover to make it through dinner, so I didn’t worry about groceries. What I needed was wifi!! It was time to play serious catch up with work. Until the wifi wasn’t cooperating. I couldn’t upload any files (um, my work IS uploading files!!). I so hated to bother them, so I decided to just chill for the rest of the afternoon and maybe it would be better tomorrow. At 9pm, I rang the bell out the window. And damn sure enough, in about 5 minutes, Rio was downstairs waiting for me!! CRAZY!! 🐺🛎 Fed him, brushed him, and headed to bed.

Day 4:  Woke up to the most STUNNING view out of the living room window!! A full moon over Mt. Pilatus!! My camera has mega-zoom (I bought it so I can take a picture of an insect at the top of a 100 foot tree in the jungle 😀), so I decided to zoom in on the moon. DAMN!!

Got Rio his breakfast, and he was ready to go out immediately, so I took him downstairs (it’s 4 floors) and let him out into the wild.  Then it was time for me to figure out breakfast for myself. That mean time to grocery shop! There was a Coop here (like in Basel), so I walked down and grabbed a few things….Pasta, sandwich meat, salami, a pack of frozen broccoli to ward off traveler’s scurvy, pretzels (because they were like $2 a bag and chips were $6!!), bread, soup mix for my tuna pasta casserole, tuna, peanut butter, bananas, and of course, chocolate!! Got to the check out, and of course here we go again- another place that requires you to weigh your bananas before you check out! Because everyone is super nice here, the lady got up, went and weighed my bananas, brought them back, and the people in line behind me did nothing but smile! Big difference from having a receipt thrown at me in disgust in Romania… Grand total- almost $37. OUCH.

Got back and the wifi was still being a pain. The homeowners had already taken time out of their holiday to write me a very detailed “guide to what to do and where to go” around Switzerland WHILE they were on holiday!! Seriously, can these people possibly get any nicer? So I really, REALLY didn’t want to bother them with the wifi issue, so I took it as a sign to just chill for the rest of the day. I knew I needed it, physically and mentally, so I didn’t feel bad.

That evening, the cat didn’t come home at 9. I rang again several minutes later and checked again. No cat downstairs. And again. So I did the back up plan- which is to walk over to the bottom of the hill and ring from there. Did that, and all of a sudden an orange BULLET was speeding down the hill at me!! He literally ran right by me and I said “Rio!!”. He skidding to a stop, turned around, and was like, “Oh, there you are!”. We walked back together, him right against my legs the whole time. Better than any dog on a leash…

Day 5: Still craptastic wifi. Ok, I can’t live like this. So I had to text the homeowners. They said they haven’t had any problems (of course), but would call the provider. Nothing changed all day. I’m getting further behind in work… Brian is doing his best to help me out, because for some reason I can upload if I use google drive, but not through my ftp (for work) or to facebook (blog). Super slow, super frustrating.

Day 6: Still bad wifi. Then bad wifi went to NO wifi. Zip, zilch, none. Had to bother the poor homeowner’s AGAIN. The technician was working on the wires in the building. When he was finished, I had GREAT wifi for about 3 hours, then back to crap. I finally just texted the homeowners and asked that if the provider spoke English, that if they gave me the information I’d deal with it on my end.

Yeah, super exciting start to my housesit, right?? It will get better in the next blog! I promise!!

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Days 7-10: Exploring Lucerne-land!

Days 7-10: Exploring Lucerne-land!

 

Day 7: Still horrible wifi, but….today I have an adventure!! So who cares! 😀 Florian was kind enough to tell me that August 1 is National Day here in Switzerland, but there would be a celebration in Lucerne on July 31 at 4pm by the train station. Wonderful! The Lucerne Free Walking Tour didn’t fit into my schedule (too early), so I figured get into Lucerne around noon, give myself a walking tour based on the cool things Florian recommended and some things I found on my own, get to the festival at 4, hang out for an hour or so, and be back in plenty of time for cat o’clock (9pm when I ring the bell!). Warning: I’ve been cooped up and sitting on my ass for a few days straight, so this is a LONG post- I crammed in a ton of adventures!!

Took the train into Lucerne- it’s like $15 roundtrip, which for public transport to a place that is about 6 miles away is kinda pricey… And it doesn’t matter if you take the bus or the train- from everything I see on the sbb.ch website, it’s the same price! Stepped off the train into the city, and got a grand welcome! Turned left and walked along the Ruess River. You know how Disneyland separates its areas? Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, etc…? Well, I have already said that “Switzer” means “Disney”. I was in Basel-land for days 1 & 2. Now I am in Lucerne-land. I swear, everything here is just so well manicured and gorgeous and appealing and picturesque! I seriously expect Mickey Mouse to come popping out from behind a corner at any minute for a photo op! There was even what looked like the Cinderella’s Castle on a hill above the city (ok, it’s a hotel, but work with me). Even the water in the river is this weird blue/green hue- almost EXACTLY the color of the dyed water in the “rivers” and “lakes” at Disney!! Coincidence?? I think NOT! 😉

I had mapped out everything I wanted to see in Lucerne, so popped open Maps.me (I really need to do a blog post on how I create a google map with pinpoints, put it into Maps.me, and still use google maps to navigate (because Maps.me seriously sucks battery…). First up, the Jesuit Church. It was built in 1666-1677. I was on the same side of the street as it, so this pic is one I took later in the day from across the river. It was closed, so I couldn’t go in.

Next, I needed to get on the other side of the river. There were a few bridges, but I was going to take a very special bridge across- Spreuerbrücke. This is one of 2 covered wooden bridges. The first bridge at this crossing was built in 1408. It was destroyed in a flood in 1566 and rebuilt. Other than being a super cool, old, covered wooden bridge, there is something quite interesting in it’s rafters…a series of paintings called the “Dance of Death”. Originally, there were 67 paintings, 45 are left. And since they were painted in from 1616-1637, that’s quite a feat! The paintings depict death being present in many different situations, showing that it is constantly present, and no matter your status, death is there.

From this side of the river, I could head up to my next destination, Museggmauer & Türme (Town Walls and Towers). It was up, up, up hill!! Google maps tried to trick me, but I outsmarted it! (Follow the signs, not google) The fortifying wall and its towers were built in the 1300s (but still, they just look “Disneyesque” instead of “impressive historical monument”!). I walked to the end of the wall that was accessible, and went inside the first tower. Oh HELL NO!! These weren’t stairs, they were more like heavily tilted ladders! So steep- not my idea of fun…but I got here and had to do it. Fortunately,  it wasn’t very crowded so I just waited for a few people to come down so I would have the stairs all to myself and could go just as slowly as I wanted and whimper as loudly as I wanted! Somehow I made it up about 4 flights of these to the top of the tower. Then, I had to go down, which is worse for my height-o-phobia than going up. I needed to go to the 2nd floor and then out on to the wall. Except I was so focused on looking at the step directly under my foot and nothing else, that I wound up back at the bottom and had to go back up another floor!!  Got out on to the wall, and more traumatizing height obstacles. The wall had a rail on one side, which if you got too close and fell over, you would plummet to your death. Ok, not so easy to fall over the side (you’d have to physically try to fall over it!), but still. I hugged that wall like it was my long lost love….

Made it to Tower #2 and started climbing. The last section was the worst, because it went from wooden stairs to metal grid stairs that I could see through, with the open room and potential death on the other side of the handrail. I honestly had to talk myself into going up those. Glad I made it, because the view was awesome!

Back down, back along another section of wall, to tower #3. This is the clock tower, and whereas the other towers are basically empty rooms, this one had several clock mechanisms in it! It was all in German though, so I couldn’t understand what each one was. The top floor required a new type of death obstacle- rock stairs that were like a foot and a half high each! No way was I going to navigate that, and no amount of talking to myself could convince me otherwise. I turned around and went back down to the wall.

Standing behind the actual clock- you can see one of the hands (that black bar). This is the oldest clock in Lucerne!

Got to the final tower, and was pretty damn proud of myself for dealing with all of these insanely steep stairs!! Made it to the top, and inside of being in an enclosed room with windows, you were actually on the top of the tower! The views were IN-CRED-I-BLE!!!

I will say, it wasn’t terribly crowded, but I encountered several American families here. I haven’t heard ‘merican English for quite some time! It’s ever long enough…. The next destination was one I was really excited about, because it had direct ties to one of my French kings!! Unfortunately, though, it’s a rather sad connection… The kings of France routinely hired Swiss guards. Even Swiss soldiers to help out in wars. Versailles was guarded by the Swiss- in fact the direct guards for Marie Antoinette were Swiss. I always knew they had been killed with the palace was mobbed and broke into Marie Antoinette’s bedroom (she barely escaped with her life). Hundreds of Swiss soldiers also died during the subsequent attack on the Tuilleries Palace (where Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and their children were held under watchful eye during those early years of the revolution).  This is the Löwendenkmal (Lion Monument), in honor of those Swiss soldiers who so bravely tried to protect monarchs that weren’t even their own. The dying lion is laying on a fleur de lis crest (symbol of the French monarchy), with the Swiss crest next to him. Super, super sad. 😢

I google mapped my next location, and I was right on top of it! Gletschergarten- a glacier museum!! I was really excited about this, because it would fit right in with the stuff I filmed in Iceland and Romania for my Earth Science class that starts this fall!! And for $15, I couldn’t beat the price!! And my, oh my, but it turned out to be so super cool that I would have paid twice that if I knew what all was in here! There were basically 3 different parts. The first part was the glacier garden. Only 20,000 years ago, Lucerne was covered in glaciers. As those glaciers moved and scraped their way across the landscape, they left this area which was discovered by a man excavating for a wine cellar in 1872. The huge boulders are actually several different types of rocks- dragged here by the glacier as it moved past different mountains. I found that to be so fascinating!! The really cool thing though are the glacier pots. I had never even heard of such a thing! Melt water from the glacier runs through crevasses, getting underneath the glacier. Under there, the pressure is ENORMOUS, and whirlpools of melt water can be created- swirling at about 125 miles per hour! The meltwater is filled with dirt and pebbles, which along with the swift water carve out the rock below into a “pot”. So cool!! From there, I walked the second area- the Glacier Museum. I wasn’t expecting much. Um, I was blown away! I wanted to bring my students here so bad!! It was a really well done museum, with great information (in English!!), awesome exhibits, and even a hands on area! I learned so much and did a ton of filming for class. Wanna see inside? Take the class. 😜

The museum kind of emptied out into a mansion kind of thing with a lot of different exhibits. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it was in German. There was an exhibit that showed you how Lucerne looked 20,000,000 years ago- a tropical beach!! I found a gorgeous mermaid chandelier. And then, even though I couldn’t read anything, I saw something from across the room and immediately recognized it- VERSAILLES!!! I practically ran over to it, and it was in German- but I could read Louis XIV and Versailles. 😊

I don’t even know how to describe this next part!! It didn’t fit in with the theme of glaciers or history at all, but it was SO. MUCH. FUN!! It was a mirror maze. It was built for a national exhibition in Geneva in 1896, and moved here in 1899. Go. Just freaking GO!! Because you HAVE to see this! You walk in, and are surrounded by mirrors and designs, and you have to find your way through it all (hopefully without knocking yourself out by walking into one of the mirrors!). It really distorts your perceptions to the point where you second guess yourself a lot! It’s just gorgeous inside, and sometimes there are things you can see from a distance (like the peacocks), but it takes a while to actually reach them because you’re just seeing their image reflecting down tons of corridors! It feels like some Middle Eastern palace inside…I freaking LOVED this!!!!!!

Me taking a picture of me taking a picture of the peacocks!

Outside, the grounds are lovely. And there’s even a gnome trying to lure you into some cave. #becauseDISNEY

Next stop, Old Town. Which should be called “Old Town Land”, because again, this place is straight outta Disney!! You’d never imagine these buildings are from 1300s-1600s. They’re all painted with these fairy-tale like designs and script. It’s just…I don’t know. I keep saying this, but it’s just so whimsical and doesn’t even look old. It looks like someone built it new to make it look old!

 

Time to head back across the river to the other side, where the National Day festival was. I had mapped all this out…I crossed back over on the 2nd of the 2 covered wooden bridges- this time the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge). This one was built in 1333- Almost 80 years OLDER than the other bridge!! It also has paintings in the rafters, but these depict various scenes from Swiss history and saints instead of death. Those saints didn’t stop the bridge from being severely damaged by a fire in 1993. Ugh. I seriously cannot imagine seeing something that old and beautiful on fire!!! Beside the bridge is a tower from the 1200s.

My timing was spot on perfect! I got to the festival area at like 5 minutes after 4. There were little picnic tables set up and a stage, where there was some live music playing. This is a hard situation for me, one where I feel very socially awkward being alone. But by god I was determined to sit down, have an early dinner, and listen to some traditional music, dammit! Early dinner…eeks. The hardest of social situations to overcome. There were some food vendors on the side of the venue, so I walked by them every so slowly, trying to see if there was any English (no), and then trying to determine what other people were getting so I had some kind of clue what was being served. Ooooo!! Bratwurst looking sausage! Score! I went up and spoke English to the lady. She didn’t speak it, but another guy in the booth did. They had a few types, and I chose beef. A nice sized brat and a piece of bread- only $7!! Which considering this is Disney Switzerland AND a special event is a freaking steal! I was quite pleased. Except the lady told me $9. I really didn’t feel like arguing it, so I handed her a 10. She gave me 2 back and a green plastic chip. The English speaking guy explained that when I was finished, to bring my paper plate and napkins back, give them the green chip, and I’d get my extra $2 back. He said, “To keep the city clean.” HOW FREAKING AWESOME IS THAT????

I went and sat at one of the long picnic tables with some other people and ate. OMG, it was soooooooo good!!! The band on stage ended, and some guys started playing traditional alphorns!! Not only that, but guys in front of them were twirling flags!! (I was a total band geek and in the flag core during marching season. And people wonder why I’m socially awkward…). Then, a woman YODELED!! Oh my god, the whole thing was just so much fun!! (🎥Watch the videos below!!) It was just so stereotypically Swiss, that I was eating it up! Speaking of eating, after I ate I actually had enough confidence to go find desert, and lord oh lord did I find it. A piece of the most delicious, delicate, moist chocolate cake, with some kind of melted chocolate on top that was still soft, but not runny, sprinkled with coconut. $2.50. I seriously cannot tell you how good that cake was…Holy crap, I could eat here every freaking day and not complain about the prices!! The first band came back on stage and played a set.

Brian, you get to play, “Which would Mary rather??”. Take a guess…. 😉 #engagednotdead

I had been there a little over an hour total, so when they were finished I decided to head back. Hopped the train, quick 15 minute ride, walked home full, happy, and thrilled with my day!

Days 8-10 consisted of me staying in the apartment trying to work while fighting the internet. I even had a replacement modem sent that I installed. It helped, but didn’t fix the problem. Work that should take 2 hours to do was taking almost or more than twice that. Extremely frustrating, especially when I had deadlines to meet…

Day 1: BuchaREST

Day 1: BuchaREST

 

Up at 4:45. After sleeping for 10 hours straight, I felt like a new person! My body just needed rest! My flight was leaving Rome at 8:30 for Bucharest, Romania. Brian’s was leaving at 11:30 for Los Angeles. The plan was to take an Uber to Termini station, then take the train from there to the airport. I didn’t want to walk to Termini in the dark, because that area is pretty sketch. I checked the cab fares. 10 euros to Termini, then it would be 28 euros for us to take the train. I checked the cab fare from our door to the airport. 37-42 euros. SOLD! It ended up being 38 euros- the same cost as taking a cab to the train and the train to the airport.

We got to the airport super fast (by like 5:45am- because the cab driver was driving like a bat out of hell), and started looking for food. Oh gee, guess what? Just like yesterday, zero protein, all pastries. UGH!!!! Brian went up to get a coffee, and brought me back a fresh squeezed orange juice because he loves me. We then figured out that his Norwegian flight was in the same terminal as mine, so we decided to go into the main area past security and look for more food. We did find pizza there. Minimal protein, but better than nothing. I was getting sadder and sadder. I didn’t want Brian to go. And I didn’t even want to go to Romania without him. Like seriously, if it weren’t for my housesit in Switzerland that was coming up, I might have flown back to Los Angeles with him. But I would never leave a homeowner in a bind by cancelling. Plus, I knew I’d regret it if I went back early. That said, my fast travel experiment for this summer has already taught me that I’m not a fast travel girl. It’s ok in short spurts, but for me, not sustainable for weeks on end. It’s exhausting both mentally and physically. But I’m glad I tried it, because now I know and can plan accordingly for the future. This Romania leg is the last leg of ridiculous go-go-go, so I can do it!

All too soon it was time for me to leave my baby and go to my gate (it was through passport control, so Brian couldn’t come with me). Exactly one more month from today, and I’ll see him again… Today would be another European budget airline with crazy baggage restrictions- Blue Air. They have the same tiny dimensions as Ryan Air for your carry on, PLUS you can only take one bag. So if you have a purse or something, it has to fit in your carry on bag. I was stressing a bit about this, because I was a tad over size and about 3 kg overweight. If they were being strict, I’d have to put on about 6 layers of clothes… Got to the gate at 7:45 (about 30 minutes before boarding was supposed to begin), and the line was RIDICULOUSLY long. Everyone on this flight was already in line. That made me even more stressed, because I worried about being able to fit my bag on the plane. The good news was that pretty much everyone had a carry on bag and a personal item like a small backpack or a purse. Once the line started moving for check in, it went fast. I was 6th in line from the back… Not even a blink at my bags. We had to board a bus to go to the plane, and I situated myself at the door to get ahead of everyone and on the plane as fast as possible.

I boarded from the back of the plane because less people were queued there, and looked for seat 17D. From the back all the way to my seat, every single overhead was full. Got to my seat, pulled out my laptop, crammed my daypack under the seat, and a flight attendant came to me and led me forward to an overhead with space. Bless her!! No one said a word about my second bag, and unlike on Ryan Air where I had to literally stand on the seat and cram it into the overhead, it fit easily. Other people’s bags, not so much. It ended up being a complete cluster fuck right before take off because so many people put their bag in end to end ways and the doors wouldn’t close. So the attendants were scrambling to get those bags turned sideways, which meant moving bags all over the place, which meant heated conversations in languages I didn’t even recognize…all while babies were screaming in surround sound. Ryan Air is a flying bus. Blue Air is a flying chicken bus. However, they are a chicken bus that actually gives you a drink and a snack without charging you 8 euros for the privilege, so kudos to them!!

Arrived and breezed through passport control. One thing I’m learning on this trip… I have the ability to navigate public transportation with the best of them. I can climb on buses and figure out stops and blah, blah, blah. This is easily within my skill set. I also have a healthy bank account (due to the fact that I am a cheap ass), and frankly, I’m learning that the headache, hassle, and aggravation of navigating public transportation with luggage isn’t always worth the savings. I am learning that I will splurge on easier transport, and that my savings from staying in cheap airbnbs, housesitting, and rarely eating out MORE than offsets it. That said, and the fact that Romania doesn’t use Euros even though they’re in the EU and I had no interest in trying to change some out for bus money, meant Uber to the rescue!! 40 lei (about $10 usd, basically divide by 4) for a 35 minute door to door ride. Sold.

The drive through Bucharest wasn’t very exciting. No buildings that made me gasp in awe. Got to my little neighborhood-for-a-night and met the host’s mother outside. She doesn’t speak any English, but we had no problem communicating which of the 4 keys to use for which of the 4 doors, where everything was in the house, and she was quite proud that she knew the word for kitchen. 😊 And with that one word, she knows more English than I know Romanian… This place is great for $22 a night! Huge room, really clean, great location within walking distance to everything I want to see! First order of business, food. I googled for grocery stores and saw there was a Carrefour right around the corner! I know Carrefour- that and Monoprix are my French go-to grocery stores! Odd to find one here. Went, and it was an express- meaning more of a convenience store. I walked out. Looked on the map, there was another grocery store just down the block! Went in and EVERYTHING was in Russian! There was a bulk Pelmini freezer that looked very interesting, but I wasn’t interested in cooking.
Looked at the map again, and found another Carrefour a bit further down. Motherlode! This was a two story mega grocery store!! As always, I had fun wandering up and down the aisles trying to figure stuff out! If you love canned fish, there are about 899 brands here. I couldn’t figure out if any of them were exactly what I wanted (canned tuna salad that I could just pop open and spread on bread), so I gave up. I ended up with my staples- peanut butter (there are only 2 brands!), chips, granola bars, crackers (my Tucs that I love so much!!), cookies, salami, bread, water, bananas and….what is the main staple of my diet??? DR PEPPER!!!!! And only about $.83 per can for Diet!! Dear Romania, You rock. I have never in my life seen a store in another country with THREE varieties of Dr. Pepper!! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart. With love and admiration, Mary.

Now for the hard part. Check out. I started putting my stuff on the belt, and the cashier said something to me in Romanian. I smiled my most charming and helpless smile and asked, “English?”. She just looked at me in disgust. Okey dokey then…. She got to the bananas and started saying something else in Romanian. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was supposed to have weighed and tagged them in the produce section. She wasn’t pleased. Abandon bananas! Abandon bananas! I set the bananas aside gently and with an apologetic smile. I put my card in the machine, it went through without a hitch, and I swear to god she THREW the receipt at me. What the fuck?! You know how when you are completely disgusted with something, like a dirty rag, and you flick your wrist in that “I’m completely disgusted” kind of way? That’s what she did with me. It kind of fluttered down on top of my groceries at the end of the checkout stand. Um, ok. I bagged everything up in my canvas bag and backpack and left. She couldn’t shake me though….I had 8 Dr. Peppers!! Every single one of the zeros and diets on the shelf. 😊 And had spent less than $20. Not super cheap, but livable.

Walked back, snapped a couple of pictures, got all the right keys in the right doors, took a shower, ate, texted with Brian who was now in the Oslo, Norway airport waiting for his flight to LA, and rested. I originally had 3 adventures planned for this afternoon…two sites that I want to see, and a walking tour at 6pm. I decided that rest was more important. The next 10 days are going to be INSANE travel days, and I don’t want to get run down. I’ll hit the 2 sites in the morning before I check out at noon, and will live without a walking tour of Bucharest. For tonight, I’ll just listen to the yells out the window- knowing that is my cue to refresh my google screen to see the score of the France-Croatia World cup final. I know I’m in Eastern Europe, but #gofrance! While I’m writing this, France scored first, there was a yell. Then, Croatia scored- a MUCH louder yell!! Who needs to refresh for the score? I just have to judge the decibel of the yells. 😉 Spoiler alert: France won.

Jewish Synagogue by the bnb

CONTINUE TO DAY 2

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