This adventure began back in 1995 with the Grossmont group (where Cathy used to work). They wanted to know if we would join them on a 2 week barefoot cruise in the Caribbean with a full eclipse of the sun as the highlight. For a mere $1,000 deposit we could ensure our passage. Things lied dormant until the Spring of 97 when detailed plans had to be made. Some soon to expire frequent flyer miles came in handy for Butch’s ticket, thus leaving Cathy’s ticket to accumulate even more frequent flyer miles.
What a deal!
As 1997 came to a close, the barefoot cruise people informed us it was time to complete our financial obligations. Butch was ecstatic when he found that they took Discover Card.
Since we were going to be out of the house for 2 ½ weeks it seemed like a perfect time to remodel the bathroom. This sounds like a no-brainer until you discover the dozens of details that need to be attended to. Throw in our annual trip to Tahoe in early Feb. Now add a short visit by Butch’s mom on her way back to Idaho. Then a short visit by the grand kids to see her. We’re here to tell you – this is formula that will make your life very interesting.
The morning of Feb 18th started out early since we had to move out of the bathroom & bedroom for the remodeling. Working deligently everything came together by the time we had to leave for the airport. Mother Nature threw in a small downpour at the airport to make us happy to be on our way South to a warmer place.
After a plane change in Denver and 2 "scrumptious" airline meals we arrived in balmy Miami. We had that relieved feeling when our luggage also arrived in balmy Miami.
The Florida part of the trip was planned to rent a car (Dollar), and have 3 nights lodging pre-arranged. These arrangements were all made by our travel club which we discovered just before we left went out of business. (a note about travel clubs – they remind us of the old health club fraud of selling life time memberships and then going out of business) Back to our adventure.
Getting the car was fine until Butch bought the line that their gas was cheaper than anyone else’s. Therefore you should bring the car back empty and buy the tank of gas from them. As it turns out, gas was up to 20 cents cheaper a gallon all around town. The same correspondence that had our car reservation also had our hotel reservation information on the Ramada. No phone number or address just reservation numbers. The Dollar rent a car people were most helpful in letting us know they never heard of the place but thought the Ramada had been sold. They gave us directions to where they thought it was. So in hopes that the new owners would honor our reservations we followed their directions. It turns out that it wasn’t a Ramada, but a Day’s Inn that had been sold to Red Roof Inn. The Red Roof Hotel was undergoing major renovation but was still in business. The desk clerk (Goliath was his name!) said they had a room available and would even honor the reservation rate. As it turns out we didn’t get a king bed or non-smoking room but were damn glad to have a room at all! After getting the room and before settling in, our stomachs demanded something more than airline food. Not wanting a big meal, we split a "Monte Carlo" sandwich at Benigan’s. This was a melted cheese and ham deep fried with batter on the outside. The funny thing was that it came with raspberry jam and powdered sugar! It was really good!
Near the motel was a Shony’s restaurant. Butch remembered from his earlier visit with Chet in the South that it had a good breakfast buffet. We were still in a state of jet lag – not getting to the restaurant until 10:30 am. By the time we had fruit and rolls, the majority of the breakfast entrees had been removed.
When asking people what to see, they generally suggested the Florida Keys and Key West. The rental car people said not to look like tourists – it might not be safe. With map in hand (held below the dash) we set sail for Key West. The rental car map left a lot to be desired and we soon found ourselves lost. (This is our standard procedure in any new city) Eventually we came across a major thoroughfare that led us to highway 1 south. It’s only 150 miles from Miami to Key West but even if you made all the lights it would still take about 4 hours. Highway 1 is mostly a 2 lane road that can be slow going at times. It connects many small islands or "keys" by bridges and land passages. In the more southern parts you could see the old highway – it looked pretty narrow (one way in places?). An interesting and pretty drive – but it seemed to take a long time.
We picked up a visitor’s guide and decided which hotel had the best deal in Key West. The one we picked had a pool, sauna & free breakfast. Butch’s bubble was burst at check-in when he discovered there wasn’t a room to be had in town.
New plan – we’ll drive back north until we find a vacancy. This turned out to be about 8 miles when we came upon the Caribbean Village lodging. We were in luck! They still had 1 room left – we could have it for only $108. The room featured a TV with 50 channels on cable and no remote, a navy air station with jets taking off & landing at all hours and the pleasant sounds of road noise of cars and trucks whizzing by. In general the room was your average $40 a night motel room. Being smarter than the average bear, and assuming rooms would be hard to come by Friday night in Key West, we booked a second night in the room farthest from the highway.
We should throw in a few comments about the couple who managed the place. The guy had a faint fragrance of alcohol. When asked if they had a swimming pool he said "We sure do, it’s called the Gulf of Mexico". It was very entertaining watching them interact like a slapstick comedy team. The sad news is – they were doing the best they could.
On Friday we packed our belongings since we were changing rooms and headed to Key West. Here we walked on the beach, toured the town on the Concha Train and had lunch in an open air café. Finally a day of vacation!
When we returned to the motel to claim our new room they asked "can we help you?" Butch could see that our name had been erased from the reservation book and there was a lot of bantering between them as they tried to figure out how such a mistake could have been made. As it turns out the room was still available and we took it.
What luck! This room had a remote control for the T.V. As luck would have it though, some one had stolen the batteries. With calm determination Butch and the remote headed to the front desk. After re-identifying himself – since they had already forgotten again who he was (they hoped to rent him another room) Butch showed them that there were no batteries in the remote. They responded – "What would you like us to do?" To which Butch responded – "You could see if you have any batteries." After an exhaustive search they came up with 2 batteries that were too small. Butch, determined not to squat in front of the T.V. changing channels all night, suggested they supply $2.00 to procure the necessary batteries from the Circle K store across the street. This fired off another round of bantering among the managers. After the dust settled, the lady paid Butch $2.00 from the cash drawer. At the Circle K store, Butch discovered the double AA battery hooks empty. Hidden at the bottom of the rack was a single 4 pack of AA batteries which he immediately purchased. Voila! With batteries inserted and the remote pointed at the T.V., he possessed all the power a channel surfer could hope for.
For dinner we went to the Holiday Inn seafood buffet. The buffet was nothing special until you came to the unlimited supply of Alaskan crab legs. When the feeding frenzy was over, there were several plates of crab shells. The new room was bigger and quieter and we both had a sound nights sleep (Cathy’s started during the TV shows).
With our belongings loaded in the car from hell, we pointed it north. A note about Florida drivers – those that are not aggressive have long ago died waiting for an opening on the highway. The main road hazard on the way north was the many flea markets that created major traffic jams. Ranking Key West as one of those places where we’ve "been there, done that", we decided to visit the Everglades national park. Reminding us of the swamps of Louisiana, we decided not to spend time there and returned to Miami. There is a tram tour that sounded good if we ever make it back to the Everglades.
With Cathy driving and Butch navigating we arrived at the hotel on the first try. With pleasant surprise, a room (non-smoking) with a King bed awaited us. Good job Goliath! But…..no remote. What are the odds that 3 rooms in 3 nights would not have functional remotes?? A Trip to the front desk produced a remote that didn’t work (dead batteries). Another trip to the front desk produced new batteries. The remote then worked – sort of. Every button you pushed would change the T.V. to the next higher channel. But we could live with this.
Next came the logistical problem of returning the car and getting back to the hotel. This was accomplished by using the rental car shuttle to the airport and the hotel shuttle back to the hotel. This feat was accomplished in a mere 2 hours and involved losing a bottle of cheap wine (splat!). And guess what?? We saw the shuttle for the elusive Ramada Inn North – it must really exist?
Sun Feb 22: We woke, showered and had breakfast (at Shoneys). Then off to the airport with only one small hitch. The driver thought Cathy said TWA instead on BWIA (British West Indies Airlines) – so we had to loop around again and we got to see more of the Miami airport than we really wanted. BWIA is a low volume airline so we had to camp out about a half an hour waiting for the desk check in to open – only to find out that we were on the later flight. We met up with the rest of the group and flew to Antigua.
Remember the warm fuzzy feeling you get when the bags all show up at the airport? Well this time that feeling wasn’t there – it was more a lump in the throat as we found that our bag with toiletries, Butch’s underwear and the snorkels went vacationing somewhere without us.
Then the cab ride from the airport on the wrong side of the road – although at times it didn’t seem to matter which side of the road they were on. The roads were very bumpy! Then to the party! Rum swizzles and a buffet dinner with live music and dancing on the other boat (the Legacy). Our cabin was small – the bed takes up most of the space and the bathroom is all "purpose". You can sit on the toilet and take a shower - all at the same time! A fun night though – at last a real vacation feeling. Cathy visited the local casino but no bare feet were allowed so she borrowed Carrie’s lucky sandals and won an $8.00 jackpot on a quarter machine!
Mon Feb 23:
We wandered into town, looked at an old church that was very poorly kept on the outside but beautiful on the inside. Also very old gravesites back to the 1700’s.
Then all aboard for sailing! Only it took us two tries to get out of the harbor. Then we had our drill with the life jackets. Our captain is small with a large mustache and a good sense of humor. Lunch was pizza with shrimp – really good! We had interesting "potato chips" for our 5 pm snack – made of some type of sweet potatoes? Then dinner – so so salmon but delicious cauliflower soup (dinner was downhill from there – the salmon was long on bones and short on taste!) At night – beautiful stars. Then a rough night at sea – things were clanging and the boat was a rocking.
Tue Feb 24th – St Barths – a French Island. Last call to breakfast finally got us going this morning. Upon getting we noticed squashed chocolates in our bed. What a waste! They had put candy kisses on the bed when they turned it down.
We went ashore and bought our bottle of cheap wine for the wine & cheese party. Then we walked to Sea Shell Beach. Found a great miniature concha shell. We also discovered that no French beaches are immune from topless sunbathing of the female variety. We then returned to the boat at lunch time to connect with the rest of the party. After lunch alone (a great shepherds pie) we returned to the island. To make a long story short we ended up with a $10 cabbie tour of the island. We wandered around on very narrow roads with steep sides! Very beautiful beaches – especially near the airport.
Then "Carnival". Their Carnival was a parade of wild people in wild costumes with live music. It was a hot muggy afternoon and nature was calling so after the parade we went to a French Bar for a beer. (Where our captain was also have a few beers). Then back to the boat. Dinner was great – barbecue ribs and chicken.
Wed Feb 25th – St Kitts. After breakfast and the captain’s talk we felt the best approach was a rental car. We buddied up with Dan and Arlene and set forth to find a rental car. Since it is a British Island, everybody stood back leaving Butch to drive. As it turns our we found a taxi tour that for the same price as a rental car would give us an all day tour of the island. There is lots of sugar cane on the island – still harvested mostly by hand. The population is mostly Black and there were many poor small towns. We visited a Batik factory with beautiful grounds. Cathy bought a boiled shirt. Then we went to an old British Fort that took 100 years more or less to build. It had a fantastic view! Then we went to Turtle Beach – we finally got in the water. It was so warm! The snorkeling was not great (no fish or coral or turtles).
On return we fumbled around in our cabin for about 15 minutes before realizing that our last bag was sitting on our bed. Cathy even had set some stuff on top of it and didn’t notice. A real treat came after dinner when Pinky Nelson, a former astronaut, described his 3 trips into space. They turned off the deck lights – you have never seen stars shine so bright! Several people slept on deck anticipating seeing lava flow at 5 or so in the morning on the island of Monserrat. However a rain shower at 3 am sent them running for cover. We slept through until 7 am – so we didn’t miss much after all.
Feb 26th – Eclipse Day!
The captain’s talk was followed by astronaut Pinky Nelson talking about the formation of the universe. This fascinating talk also described the formation of the earth & went into some detail about eclipses.
The boat supplied glasses that filtered out most harmful rays so we were able to follow the progress of the eclipse. It all started about 1 PM with total eclipse around 2:30. It was awesome! With very few clouds – it was well visualized. It darkened enough to see the planets (Venus esp). You could talk off the glasses and look directly at the sun when it was totally eclipsed. It was great - the horizon was lit up like sunset all the way around. What an experience!
The captain brought the boat around so we could see Monserrat spewing ash. You could see the lava flow which looked like someone poured cement down the valley. To finish off the day we were furnished with a spectacular sunset.
Party night! People did some really creative things with togas. Butch was "panty man" enough said.
Feb 27th (Cathy’s Birthday) Friday – Nevus
We went to town for a short exploration & came to the conclusion that it is hard to know which island you’re on. Many things look the same on all of them. Nevus is a British island with many poor Blacks and a lot of free running chickens and live stock. The island has a lot of churches with cemetaries.
Snorkeling in the afternoon. The big thrill was the speedboat ride out. We convinced ourselves that both of our snorkels were in good working condition. Butch quickly found the error in this assumption. At the boat he was able to exchange the snorkel for one of theirs. We saw a live lobster and held a spiny starfish. It was a so – so place since there weren’t large numbers of fish or varieties.
There were 2 seatings for the captain’s dinner. Half of our group went to the first seating at about 6:30 and the second seating was supposed to be at 8 pm. As it turned out, the first seating didn’t clear until 8:30 and the second one didn’t start until 8:45. We didn’t get our actual dinner until 9:30. The boat was rocking and rolling during dinner but it was good. Prime rib, double cooked mashed potatoes and a fruit flambee (with candles and a round of "Happy Birthday" for Cathy).
Saturday Feb 28: Antigua. A rock and roll at sea and then the captain having a shouting match in the wee hours of the morning about where to dock the boat. We rented a cab and saw English Harbor, Nelson’s dockyard, Shirley Heights (a fort overlooking the harbor), and the Interpretive Center. The ship docked shortly after we returned and we boarded for dinner. Dinner was great – peppered steak, mashed potatoes, and ice cream with the crew! Then at last a perfect nights sleep. The boat was moored (no rocking) and the other passengers were off. Not so! There was a revival meeting going on and it was real loud from 10 pm until 4 am or so. Butch resorted to putting tissue in his ears as earplugs.
Sunday Mar 1 – On to Tortola (British Virgin Islands)
Packing was the first order of the day followed by breakfast. After gathering at the gangplank the captain appeared and proceeded to take Carol’s luggage off the dock. Butch made several of his usual wisecracks – Carol’s a poor tipper and that we planned to walk clear to the airport. On Saturday we had arranged to hire a cabbie for the afternoon which caused a big commotion with the cabbies at the dock. This excited the captain, who used his favorite saying "don’t give me that shit" to the cabbies. Then the captain said his good byes – especially to Carol.
With a little quick math we realized that one cab wasn’t going to be enough so 4 of us took off in the early cab with the intention of checking our luggage and meeting up with the group later. That all changed in a heart beat at the American Airlines counter when they offered us a direct flight that left in 50 minutes. The American Airlines agent gave us a telex print out and sent us to Liat airlines counter. When we got there the Liat check in line was snaked around. Krissy showed up & told us we needed to let an agent know about our early flight. We did this and were told to come forward when the flight was called. Now get back in line. 10 minutes before the flight was to leave we were called up. The ticket agent became extremely flustered not understanding what the American agent had done. At this point we were holding up the plane. She gave up figuring it out, stamped our documents, gave us boarding passes & sent us to the gate.
The next surprise was that we saw our luggage being loaded as we got on the plane. We handed the stewardess our boarding pass expecting directions to a specific seat. This airline was not that sophisticated and we filled in where space permitted. The flight lasted about an hour and was a one bounce landing.
With 2 minor customs checks – we then were met by a van for the Flying Cloud and taken to town. The town was closed and we found Possers a combination store & restaurant where we had a very long lunch. Butch bought a really neat hat there.
At 5 PM we rode in the launch to the ship to be met by snacks & run swizzles. The boat is smaller than the Fantome with only 3 masts and the cabin was very very small (6x6). The shower operates with a spring loaded button that you have to push in to get water & it stops when you let go – a real challenge. After settling in we were called to dinner which was a buffet featuring chicken and shrimp. That night a steal band played Caribbean music.
Monday - Mar 2
After breakfast we had story time – the British captain explained how things worked on his ship and told some funny stories. He also introduced the ship's black cat Isis. We then took a tour of Tortola. The driver was a health nut – he offered several natural remedies using herbs and plants. The roads were typical – narrow, windy, steep and bumpy. At one point we were on a road on the divide looking at the Atlantic on one side and the Caribbean on the other. Before going around curves the drivers honk in the hopes that whoever might be coming will move over. Then we reached a beautiful beach with run down buildings. At the beach the driver gave us some fruits of the island to sample – small bananas, papaya & passion fruit juice. Then we returned to the ship and had lunch (baked potatoes with all the fixings). Then swizzles and pizza. Then dinner – split pea soup, lamb chops or blackened mahi-mahi. It was good! We went to bed before the "naughtical naughties" game – a mistake as Butch would have been good at that!
Tues Mar 3: One of the Dog Islands
Serious snorkeling today on an uninhabited island (except for a large rat that visited Rosie). Lunch was on the beach (sub sandwiches). Then we had a party night with a buffet and costume contest (a toga party!). Butch dressed up in a toga as "Long John Silver" (enough said).
Wed Mar 4: Virgin Gorda
The second largest island in the BVI (Tortola being the largest). The Baths is a famous area with large rocks and beautiful snorkeling. After a couple of snorkeling sessions, we stopped at a restaurant that had a fresh water pool you could swim in and then made our way back to the boat for wine and cheese. After dinner we took the launch to town for a high priced beer and a loud band.
Thur Mar 5: Jost Van Dyke
We snorkeled off a small uninhabited island called Green Cay. This island was used in the Bayer Aspirin commercial. We had a great turkey sandwich on the island. Then back to the boat for a nap on deck and Rum Swizzles. Then a lightening storm after dinner so we decided to stay on the boat.
Fri Mar 6: Peter Island
Sailed through the straits to Peter Island. We were able to snorkle right off the boat! Thousands of tiny fish swarmed around us and there were huge corals. It was some of the best snorkeling of our trip. At night we had the captain’s dinner followed by the flaming flambeau and crab races. Harry’s system failed us badly. Getting dressed in a straight jacket would have been easier than packing in that room.
Sat Mar 7: Travel day
After a buffet breakfast we said good-bye to Harry and Sally and caught a cab with the rest of the group to Beef Island’s airport. You could only imagine the horror we felt when we showed the airline ticket agent our tickets and were informed that our reservations had been cancelled. It seems that when American Airlines changed our flight to Tortola that all the rest of the flights on that ticket were cancelled also. The news got worse. She told us that all the flights off the island were overbooked. That’s when Butch informed her that we had tickets and that we weren’t the ones that cancelled them so they had better get us off the island! The flight from San Juan to Miami was also overbooked but she added our names. She then proceeded to check our luggage and do all the customs paperwork. Next couple of hours we were kind of anxious. That was a waste of anxiousness as we got on the flight to San Juan, then breezed through customs and got boarding passes on the overbooked flight to Miami. It seems Murphy was just playing with us again.
After checking in at the Red Roof Inn we had the luxury of a real shower. It was enough to make a person want to sing. After showers we did a little power TV watching. We met the gang at Brennigans pub for our farewell dinner. With the promise of a get together next time we were in San Diego, we said our good-byes.
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