Latest Trip

Bucket List for Today (Akumal, Mexico)

Posted on: Friday, March 20th, 2015
Posted in: Travelog, Latest Trip | Leave a comment

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A stranger buzz-crafting at the beach bar commented to me today, “There’s much better beer at the lobby bar—if you’re tired of this insipid piss!” “So I’ve heard,” I nodded, “That’s on my bucket list for today!” He laughed and slammed his beery hand. “That’s great; I though bucket lists were a lifetime thing!” “Nah,” I advised,

There is only today when on vacation; that ‘lifetime’ stuff can wait.” 

Thus we convened the committee of two and, from that spontaneous summit, this list came to life.

Bucket list for today: 11 pretty okay ideas (because ten is never enough) 

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  • Check e-mail just once a day; reply rarely and keep it to one sentence.
  • Text only when necessary for kid control or group logistics.
  • Avoid digitalia; read books; write in journal.
  • Get exercise: Swim, snorkel, paddleboard, kayak, splash, chase kids.

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  • Meditate, or approximate by hugging a tree or staring at the sea.

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  • Eat too much, and ignore the scale in the room even if you can convert kilos to pounds.

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  • Early to bed (exhaustion) and early to rise (the construction that is ubiquitous in paradise).
  • Don’t worry about a thing—especially to-do lists left at home and the Bucket List for Today.
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Afterword: Letter to My Children

Posted on: Tuesday, April 7th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 6th Stop: Minnesota (Home), Latest Trip | 7 comments

For the final Travelog entry, may I present my perfect children.  I took hundreds of pictures of them, but published only a few on this website.  In this technological era of tell-all exhibitionism and voyeurism, some of us still have a place for privacy.  Yet I proudly show off this shot, and share these parting thoughts…

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Dear Ones,

What a gift it was to lift you out of your classrooms and let you learn, instead, the lessons of experience.  To sneak you away from your world of scheduled play dates, sports teams, digitalia, and potty-mouthed pop music.  To let you live among new riddims, vistas, and cultures and, best of all, see you jump with joy at the chance.  Literally.  Over and over. 

 Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.”  Oscar Wilde

Now you will both grow up fast, then grow old gradually.  I know I’ve got MY ideas and dreams for you, like:  Let’s run away again!  Yet I honestly don’t know if we’ll be blessed with another family Sabbatical.  It’s a small miracle we managed this one, and that it went so well.  But oh my, what memories we now “carry about with us.” 

So grow ahead, already.  Grow ahead and get all independent, become skeptical of your parents, and perhaps eventually blame us for everything from zits to arthritis.  No matter what happens, we had this time together.  Just us.  I see now that, on a long list of Missions, this one mattered most. 

This photo, taken on our last full day, confirms that AllBoy has moved on; he has become Young Man. Heck, he’s strong enough to throw me in the pool, hurt me with his tackle, and outride me on the surf. He can run off alone and carry his own.  His raconteur instincts can charm a stranger or a classroom. 

CurlyGirl has grown up too, in so many ways; make way for Little Lady!  The baby teeth have shrunk and the lifetime chompers are emerging—ready to bite into bigger things.  Her speed and coordination are modeling her athletic brother’s.  Playtime drifts from Polly Pockets to Scrabble.  And she now insists on reading to me, rather than vice versa.

Let’s get together and feel alright.  Bob Marley

In this picture, the two of you together become one shadow—which signifies the connection you deepened, all by yourselves.  (Parents can’t make you do that.)  He’s 11, and she’s 5, so they played up and down or met at 8.  They became best-friend sibs—a secret society with precious privileges that last a lifetime. 

Now, firmly on home soil, they’re suddenly 12 and 6, yet the bond remains robust.  In a world in which people obsess over careers, accomplishments, and self, perhaps the ultimate legacy we can strive for is strong offspring.  No amount of time or energy given to that task—whatever may be the sacrifice—is too much. 

But yes, you can go now. Go to your friend’s house, to a movie, on a date, to play a tournament, to summer camp.  I’ve held you in my arms long enough.  But you’re still welcome there.  Any time. 

With any luck, this BreakAway showed you that—in a way that words can’t.  It also showed you that the world is so much bigger than your backyard, and its horizon is boundless.  So are your possibilities.

But before signing off, may I say “thanks.”  Thanks for agreeing to go; many kids would not.  Thanks for holding my hand during the scary parts.  For romping with me in the sun, sand, and sea.  For reminding me how to laugh and splash and play again. 

Wherever we may go, whatever may become of you, this is how I’ll always see you.

So here:  Take this picture with you.  Let’s keep it as proof of the blessed gift of taking our time—with nary a worry about the future or past—if only now and then. 

I’ll still see this image when you become bigger and smarter than me.  When you leave the house to find your own freedom and fates.  When my heartbeat slows to a stop.  And today, when our dreamy BreakAway has ended and carried us home, where we belong. 

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Looking Back…5 Fave Pics

Posted on: Wednesday, April 1st, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 6th Stop: Minnesota (Home), Latest Trip | Leave a comment

Seven weeks ago, a free, faraway feeling ruled the day.  Back home, not so much. Life has resumed the habit-busy ways that pass for normal these days.  Every family member has gone through permutations of the “be-backs,” from boredom to flu to winter angst.  But spring is winning the war over winter.  And the trip spark still has a faint glow. 

One views life, I think, with a more critical eye after a BreakAway from the routine into the extraordinary.  That’s a good thing, or so says Socrates, who reminds us that:  “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  That may be true, but there are risks—such as wondering,

Is that all there is?

That’s particularly true when “all there is” is less than all there was.

Investments:  way down.

Home equity:  shrunken.

Business:   sluggish.

Public morale:  low.

Moreover, a fun-filled Sabbatical can spoil a guy—whereas the kind of spoilage presently happening in the world economy just stinks.

Sabbaticals Happen, Like it or Not

For better or worse, lots of people—including many I know—are confronting the Involuntary Sabbatical:  Getting fired.  Others are taking paycuts, losing clients, or seeing sales dive.  It’s odd:  Freedom feels less free-ing when it arrives uninvited.  But lest we all get lost in anxiety and gloom, most of us have plenty we could do with that time.

On the upside, many new, improved messages—that can help folks facilitate a real BreakAway someday—are emerging from this downturn:  Live with less; build your savings; nurture the earth; hug family and friends (not just your job); try the bike and ditch the Hummer; time is the new money.

Amen to that.  Money is numbers on paper—which typically gets SPENT on stuff.  Time is…whatever you choose to DO with it.

You Gotta Go Home

Following any chosen, gratifying time of  pleasure, you gotta go home.  After 69 days on fantasy islands, I’ve done the same.  Now it’s up to me to keep the insights relevant, the boredom at bay, and the relaxation vibes alive.

Peeking at the photographs helps, despite the risk of nostalgia.  The images still look fresh—if rather surreal.  (I was there and saw that?)  These five represent some favorite moments—and shall linger vividly in my mind’s eye.

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  • Awe, Shucks  (pic of hands)

This detail, of “Christ of the Deep” in Grenada, tells many tales:  1)  Blue-sky days bring beauty.  2)  We all need to open up and beg for mercy now and then.  3)  Awe, hope, and reverence are desirable pursuits.  4)  And “Dear God, please tell me what to do?”

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  • Aquamarine Tranquillity

In meditation and biofeedback, teachers may tell you to visualize some peaceful thing or color:  a mountain (strength), the sky (openness), a pool (calm), the color yellow (I have no idea why—Corona commercials?).  My preference?  Caribbean blue.  It can provide wave after wave of serenity.  And I can stare, and stare, and stare…

(I think it’s why Johnny Depp took that role.)

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  • Inside the Pod

This image, from a botanical garden on St. Vincent, reminds me of the kind and wise West Indians, and suggests that marvels can hide underneath an exterior.  Just peel off the skin; gently dig in.  St. Vincent itself was like that; the visit was due to travel logistics, not travel gurus.  But once we were there exploring, that isle surprised us with her splendor and allure.

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  • Self-reflection in Doorway

Why this?  It’s not a great picture.  But it’s me.  And since I take 99.9% of the photos in this family, I’m not in 99.9% of them; this is rare proof that I WAS there!  Moreover, this happened on the last morning, during a solo sunrise walk.  It was a reflective stroll, and the door connotes the changes and mysteries that lie ahead after the return to Reality.

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  • Sunrise, Sunset
For my parting shot, why not?  A cliché sunrise.  Or is it a sunset?  A beginning or an end?  And of the five islands we stayed on, which provided this pristine panorama? It matters not.  When the sun goes down in one place, it’s dawn in another.  Right?  So when one Sabbatical concludes, another commences, right?  Ha!  Heck, no.
And therein lies the difference:  A BreakAway is…several weeks or months…away from home, job, and routine…intentionally chasing dreams and destinies… dedicated to a personal Mission…plus the shameless pursuit of R&R…in hopes of making yourself and your world a better place.
Mission accomplished?  Affirmative!  Now the Mission (perhaps more challenging) is to keep the faith, preserve the memories, and nurture the art of taking your time in new ways—from joyful vacations to lazy Sundays to simply sitting still sometimes.
I’ve hardly picked up my camera since we got home, but it’s time to go find it. The sun is about to rise.
I could stand to sit still.  Take a picture; seize the day. That’s a good place to start.
If you are reading this, you helped make my BreakAway, and I thank you.
Wherever you may be going, Godspeed.

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Home? Again?

Posted on: Wednesday, February 25th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 6th Stop: Minnesota (Home), Latest Trip | Leave a comment
When Dorothy gushed, “There’s no place like home,” she was not choosing between Caribbean and Cold. But she got home, as have we, and it feels odd as Oz. The kids were elated like Munchkins. The cat was more manic than the cowardly lion. And despite a palace-high pile of mail, a vibe of relief and accomplishment was also palpable.  

  • But first, Welcome to TGI Friday’s! 
One last time, we had become human cargo and endured a 12-hour travel day, from Puerto Rico to Minnesnowda.  At some point, we entered American airspace.  A layover in Atlanta took us to TGI Friday’s, which served up many “treats”, like enormous portions (compared to the Caribbean) and fast, fervent service (ditto).
After months of limited, often insipid beer selections, the large pale ale in a frost-covered mug flowed with such dynamic flavors it almost provoked a guy to proclaim, “It’s good to be home!”  Almost.
From past Sabbaticals, I’ve learned that the comedown can happen faster than a distressed 747 landing.  So my mantra for that (with apologies to Dorothy) is You can go home again.  Works real well when the Bad Thing happens—like injury and illness.  Now, though, we’re all perfectly healthy and happy—and heading into cold and flu country.
Just because you “can” go home again, does that mean you must?  Yes, I reckon, in this case.  So one must again rely on Destiny—which did recently transport us to tropical delights—to penetrate the clouds and answer that pesky question, “What’s next?”
Closing my eyes, I listen for the little voice inside me.  “Hey, how about another beer?!?” the voice enthuses.  “Yesss!” I reply—only to discover that this voice actually belongs to our comical, expeditious waiter.  Oh well.  The answer remains the same.  And like sleight of hand, he slams another mammoth, frosty pale ale in front of me.
I’ve got a feeling we’re not in the Caribbean any more.  But it’s not all bad to be home.
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  • Déjà Vu:  It’s Like 1997 All Over Again
A BreakAway Mission, for some, might be to hone up on investing—maybe clean up the portfolio and get serious about managing one’s money.  Not me.  Although my pecuniary acumen is enough to bring BreakAways to fruition, I blithely ignored fiscal fitness and ALL media (except local island stuff) throughout this spree.
So it was news to me that the worldwide financial implosion had erased twelve years of hard-earned gains.  That good people were losing jobs and homes like children lose toys. That our already debt-crazy government was casually bailing out mega-corporations that had once had more money than God.  What a buzzkill.
Ouch.  After regaining consciousness, my mind began questioning the logic of spending beaucoup bucks on a vain BreakAway.  Yet, I figured, this money did not disappear in vain—unlike money in the market.  If in stocks, that money would now be worth half as much.  Instead, we got priceless memories that will only appreciate in value over time.
Good times and good timing, right?  For sure, at least if one thinks the mug is half-full.  “How about a refill?” asked the jovial waiter.  “I thought you’d never ask,” I replied as the bottom fell out.
Another of my mantras, composed on our around-the-world BreakAway in an alleged period of productive cleverness, meandered through my beery brain:  It’s not a financial decision.  Boy, do I believe that—and wonder why some people think nothing of buying a new station wagon but then say they can’t afford a family vacation.
Some things—including kids, college, and the pursuit of pleasure—are just more important than money.
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  • Home of the Free and the Brave
Another sure sign of the homeland was the omnipresence of security.  On an island, a resort probably won’t post rules by the pool, a bar may have no closing time, and lawsuits are laughable.  In America—especially in airports—you can’t move without encountering uniforms, signs, rules, announcements, and other symbols of our “freedom” and “safety.”
Hundreds of military men in camo amplified that awareness, though they were likely merely passing through to or from one of our wars without end.  I hadn’t worried about all that in 69 days, either.  God bless.
May they come home alive and well.  We did—and we certainly won our fight for some freedom.
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  • That’s Snow Underfoot, Not Sand
As the plane landed, our sprawling metropolis glowed in fresh snow and city lights.  A blast of frigid air steamed in when the flight attendant opened the jet door.
In Minnesota, an old greeting goes, “Cold enough for ya?!”  You betcha!  It felt cold enough for polar bears too.  But the white stuff that arrived with us created a beautiful cover for the hard, dead earth underneath.  I’d prefer sand, but variety is the spice.
When the first morning had broken back home, the sun came up and pierced a crystalline sky and shone orange on the snow-white lake.  I stood alone outside and watched it, prayed the high of a great Sabbatical might last a while, and realized it might take some days, weeks, or months to readjust.  Guess that’s okay.  All we have is time.
Unpacking will also take a while, but digging out mementoes was a top priority.  Although we traveled light and brought back little, some sea treasures, carvings, masks, and paintings will grace our walls and provoke reminiscence.
Standing in the arctic air was a bitter awakening from a sweet dream:
Had we really done this thing?  How could 69 days fly by so fast?  And why didn’t we stay until, say, May? 

I clutched the painting from Grenadian artist Francis Frances like a Bible.  Then I set it in the snow, let it catch the sunrise, and took one last picture.  The clash of climates and cultures made little sense, but not much does on some days.
Although I’ve been preoccupied with this Sabbatical idea for years, any guru in me was dumbstruck-numb this time.  One more mantra eventually bubbled up for consideration.  Translated, this one means that, with luck and faith, another BreakAway will—will!—happen, even if it’s impossible to know when:  Everything is right on schedule.
Speaking of, life here at “home” is all about schedules.  So it’s time to awaken the kids, feed them breakfast, and send them off to school.  Darn right they’re going to school today—even though we got home way late last night.  Anyway, they’re giddy about seeing their friends.  And I need some time alone.
I’d rather be on a BreakAway.  But now more than ever, the BreakAway—and the joy I experienced in the Caribbean—is alive in me.
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Faith, Give Thanks, Destiny

Posted on: Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 5th Stop: Puerto Rico, Latest Trip | Leave a comment

On Day 69—the last day—as we prepare to fly away from Temporary Retirement and Approximate Paradise, some stories stand out. Some days still glow. Some moments feel like sprouting soul-seeds rather than mere memories. Like that Sunday on Grenada…with the sailing races…           

You Can’t Do That! 
 
As we were leaving three-mile-long Grande Anse beach, a young, brawny man yelled angrily from a distance, “You not allowed to take pick-sha of da boass!  I ignored him.  So he approached me, madder and louder. 
 
I met his eyes, grinned, and responded, “Oh?  Sorry.  Too late.  (Smart ass?  You betcha.  But give me a break, rude boy.)  Now his voice boomed,
YOU KIN NOT DO DAT!  DAT MY BOAT!  YOU PAY ME MONEY NOW!  I SAY STOP!  PAY!” 
I walked away, resolutely snubbing him—with nary so much as a rising heartbeat.  Perhaps I’ve gotten used to people who believe they are right and mean no harm, but mistakenly insist, “You can’t do that! 
 
Hmmm.  But maybe I can?  Hey, I just did!  And I’ll do it again—take that picture, ride that bus, drink in that bar, haggle for that fish, laze under that waterfall, kayak in those dodgy swells, home-school my children, and run away from the routine on another BreakAway adventure. 
 
Getting the Picture(s)
 
When I snapped that photo, the third in about 55 seconds, nothing could stop me.  Not even the gnarly, noisy group of teen boys who had been partying (rather than participating) all day in the shade of a sprawling seagrape tree.
 
What were those photos?  Three homemade boats that came into my path, rather like three beached angels, as we were leaving the seashore.  All boats get names in the Caribbean, and the three that lined up at that moment were:  Faith.  Give Thanks.  Destiny. 
 
(Perfect.)
 
On this dazzling day on Grenada’s longest and most illustrious beach, the annual sailing festival of “workboats” (homemade, from plywood, bamboo, and sailcloth) had been racing for hours.  1,000 Grenadians of all ages were competing, boating, dancing, swimming, splashing, partying, feasting, and celebrating island tradition and bliss.  Lucky ducks. 
 
When dreaming and scheming a Sabbatical, visions of days like this—exactly like this—keep me striving to achieve the eventual goal of freedom, however fleeting.  Freedom of time.  Freedom from worry.  Freedom from stuff.  Freedom to wander.  Freedom of thought. 
 
  • It is a free world, right?  So we’re told.  Yet to my constant amazement, folks forget that.  As do I.
 
We are, after all, only human, an often-fussy species.  So instead of freedom, we feel the fear.  
Rather than celebrate our riches, we go deeper into debt.  Born with authenticity, we choose to conform.  When we could be thankful, we become resentful.  When we could take a leap, we stay put.  When blessed with enough, we get greedy.
 
Good Greed! 
 
Well, I’m greedy too.  But on my better days, my desires lean toward time (not money).  Autonomy (not conventionality).  Experiences (not possessions).  And possibility (not entitlement). 
 
So that antagonistic young Grenadian who came at me obviously didn’t know me, what I stand for, or why I took that picture.  He’s right:  There are times in life you need to ask permission, as I would have before aiming the camera at him.
 
But more often, the person you need to ask permission is:  Yourself.  Can I do this?  Who’s going to stop me—if not me?  What am I afraid of?  Do I harbor enough
 
FAITH
 
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The first boat that made me stop and snap a picture, Faith, is the one to climb aboard in order to set your course toward a Sabbatical.  If you hold the hope that—someday—you can launch yourself into a bona-fide BreakAway, the wind is at your back. 
 
Without faith, though, you’ll get stuck in the sand.  Doubt can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  But so can luck.  Throughout this trip, when people asked, “How do you do it?”  my quick reply was to shrug, “I’m just lucky.”  Many would grin like a wise friend and suggest, “Maybe you’ve learned how to make your own luck? 
 
Maybe that’s what faith is? 
 
GIVE THANKS
 
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The list of things to be thankful for—on this trip alone—would fill pages.  But here are my favorite five: 
  • The kindheartedness of strangers. 
  • The beauty of all these islands.  (Words fail to do justice; I hope some photos do.) 
  • Time to—really!—rest and relax.  In unprecedented quantity and quality.  “Just what the doctor ordered.”  Such peace of mind doesn’t last; jobs and kids and gridlock will see to that.  But at least unfettered serenity is attainable now and then. 
  • The friends, family, clients, acquaintances, and others who helped make this BreakAway possible. 
  • Time with my children, which deserves its own, final travelog post.  But for now, may I mention that a great reason to escape with your children is this:  They won’t be children for long—no matter what else may become of their…
DESTINY
 
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Destiny, like a destination, is what you steer toward.  Fate, on the other hand, is more what happens to you—both “smooth sailing” and “man overboard.”  Destiny suggests providence.  Fate connotes predetermination.
 
Life seems to offer both—but destiny keeps us aware of where the breezes can blow us.  Fate fosters acquiescence.  I was destined to take these pictures; that angry tween boy must accept that fate!
 
Rude boys and naysayers may be able to take away my camera.  And they can bark all they want about “You owe me this” and “You can’t do that.” 
 
But no one can take away my experience of that joyous festival, or make me forget that idyllic memory, or steal my right to drift toward the destiny of my choosing.
 
Dang, I hated to leave that sailing festival.  Hate to end this BreakAway.  Hate to stop this travelog.  But alas, what a nasty word, hate; mixed emotions are racing like sailboats on a blustery day.  But my heart (an overused word I try not to use) is unusually calm.  Warm.  And in awe. 
 
It’s full of faith, gratitude, and alignment.  Hey, if that’s my destiny—if only for a few hours on some of these 69 days—taking Sabbaticals is worth all the risk and hassle.  Just ask that inner voice that sometimes whispers brilliant things. 
 
Said voice suggested this destiny—and destination:
Visit the Caribbean.  Get lost on lost-in-time islands.  Bring the whole family.  See different cultures.  Play in the sea.  Leave everything behind.  Ditch winter.  Eat funny fish and drink new beers.” 
 
You know, I should really listen to that voice more often…
 
But enough of this.  Time’s up.  Anyway, I rarely enjoy reading psycho-spiritual, navel-gazing babble.  My eyes tend to roll back in my head.  The countless writers that exploit lingo like “heart,” “authenticity,” and “aligned” have gotten little attention from me.
 
Guess that’s why I’ve got to write my own.  I hope you are too.  And that your eyes are still in your sockets. 
 
Thanks, dear reader(s), for listening.  And traveling with me.  May we both ignore the folks who say, “You can’t do that!” and seek out some sublime destinies. 
 
Until then…
 
Keep the faith.  And happy sails.
 
 
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A Hazy, Crazy Ending in Puerto Rico

Posted on: Monday, February 23rd, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 5th Stop: Puerto Rico, Latest Trip | Leave a comment

Puerto Rico is a legendary island of Latino culture and independence—surrounded by a sea of Caribbeanism. With 4 million residents, it’s one of the most populated—and crowded—isles anywhere. Yet you can find a rain forest, nature preserves, private beaches, a thriving old town, and swanky night life. 

Not that I would know.  I experienced precious little of that.  Oh sure, I’d researched aplenty and was pumped about my must-see list.  But alas, we chose the mixed blessing of staying at the fabulous El Conquistador resort.  So it goes when the recession plunges occupancy rates down to 20%:  Four-star establishments get marked down to two-star prices (plus perks).  You practically own the place. 
  
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“It’s For the Kids”
So went the logic of selecting this boffo extravagance—with its brand-spanking-new waterpark (within inches of the sea).  Who doesn’t love to indulge their kids?  Spoiling them, however, essentially meant spoiling this vagabond’s only chance to salsa the into night.  We were an hour away from most action, and sequestered into gated fabulousness. 

All was not lost, though, as it was a luxury getting lost on the resort’s private island, where ecstasy (the legal kind) is for sale.  So long afternoons featured snorkeling, kayaking, Heineken, plus relentless requisite ruminating about this 69-day Sabbatical.  And about the most disturbing distraction imaginable:  Going home. 

Sunday Boat Party

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Away We Go…To Puerto Rico

Posted on: Saturday, February 21st, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, In Transit | Leave a comment

We combed and climbed much of Grenada, and fell in love with its people and pride. Nonetheless, after 28 days, it’s time to pack up and go. One last stop remains:  The most pedigreed sleep, a “Waldorf Astoria” resort on Puerto Rico. With a water park. And a private island. That’s exciting, but I still don’t want to go. Y’know?

Once again, we fly on the dreaded Liat Airlines, so you pack carefully.  They have more restrictions than a hazardous waste dump.  So if your luggage is overweight and your Liat liaison has her undies in a bunch, you’ll be on the floor re-arranging your undies til they approve.  Happens all the time.  So do confrontations and tantrums.  It’s not pretty.

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  • But First, Grenada’s Revenge

We’ve been so healthy, so sick-free during this trip, that of course the last day is when someone finally has to succumb to something.  AllBoy this time, along with another boy from a family we’ve been hanging out with.  Now, when two kids from two fams get Grenada’s Revenge, panic can hit: Might we all run into this bug?  Dare we fly manana?

I repeated a handy BreakAway Five-Word Mantra:  I knew this might happen.  I knew this might happen.  I knew this might happen.  (What we gonna do now?!)

AllBoy went through the ringer for 24+ hours, only pausing to pass out in between.  It would have carried on longer. But as the cab pulled up at 5:55 to take us to the airport, one unfortunate incident inspired me, his dad, to serve a heavy dose of Imodium.

Sorry, but Liat and island airports and a 12-hour travel day is not the time for a half-assed approach.  Needless to say the pills did their trick and we got through the day without incident.  But in the hours and days ahead, AB’s stomach grumblings ramped into to vocal protests as the Imodium worked way too well for way too long.

  • Grenada’s Revenge #2:  Customs Complications

Liat took an hour to approve us and our baggage, and then had trouble printing our boarding passes.  But the real trouble came when Customs blew a gasket over our papers.  Held us another hour.  Held up the plane!  By the time we got on that rusty winged beast, we were getting stinkeye from everybody.  Controllers, pilots, customers, gas pumpers.

The nature of this airline is that they hop around islands all day long, and guests must make connections to eventually find their desired destination.  Thus, and for a million other reasons, delays are de rigueur.  Today was our turn to disrupt that fragile schedule.

See, we had never declared ourselves or cleared customs in Grenada.  Not a good idea, and I knew it all along.  But we came by boat, and every single person I asked would just laugh and laugh.  

I’ve been here five years and I’ve never cleared!”  

I don’t think there IS a customs on this island, ha-ha!”

I asked the Attorney General for you; he says, ‘No problem!’”  

(For real.)

So we floated around the island illegally for a month.  Ha ha ha!  But the oh-so official in the gold-striped uni who held the rubberstamp when it was (past) time to board the airplane seemed to see matters differently.  She was not impressed. Not at all.

And by the way, she also knows the Attorney General!

Long (long!) story short, some yelled and waved hands.  One made vague threats.  A few more uniformed agents (one with a particularly sassy smirk) came out of nowhere to join the brouhaha.  One participant fought tears.  One bent over and held his belly.  One laid down on the floor.  Me?  I mostly just stood there and played along.

I knew this might happen.  I knew this might happen.  I knew this might happen…

There are many things to love about the Caribbean.  But one of them is NOT an occasional propensity to, when issues hit the fan, gather a committee and turn on the Patois and make a big, noisy scene.  That said, they did their work, gave us much guff, kept the plane waiting, and found a way to let us legally enter the country, then immediately exit it, without making a pit stop in jail, Jah bless.

After that, the day was dull, if tedious as we island-hopped our way to P.R.  Oh sure, there was another airport waiting room (they would not let you out of) with a broken TV and no water or AC.  We had our bags searched aggressively over and over as if in NYC the day after 9-11. And feeding the ever-hungry children was a Top Chef Quickfire Challenge.

  • Bienvenido a Puerto Rico!

With practice, anything can become easy.  That includes long travel days—even with illness, border patrol problems, and the ever-present gamble of “Will our luggage make it?  In one piece?”  We did.  It did.  And we were poolside—if dumbstruck—by sundown.

After faraway isles, Puerto Rico came on like a Spanish-speaking Mack truck.  A high-tech, mega-airport!  High-rises! Fast food!  Billboards! Big buses!  Fast freeways!  4 million people—all driving or going somewhere or working at once!

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Welcome to…America?

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G’Bye Grenada, Isle of Passion

Posted on: Friday, February 20th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 4th Stop: Grenada, Latest Trip | 3 comments
Why Grenada? Nobody we know has gone there. Research sources barely mention it. And except for that invasion in 1983, most Americans hardly know of it. Yet it rose through the sea of possibilities and became this Sabbatical’s primary destination. Destiny proved right. I love Grenada, isle of spice. Let me count five ways…

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  • Grenada is an isle of spice. Nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, of course. But “spice” also implies the zest, zeal, and color that Grenadians sprinkle into everything they do.

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  • Grenada is an isle of independence. With a population of only 100,000, they are one of the smallest nations in the western hemisphere. They take their autonomy seriously—supplying their own food, nurturing their culture, and taking care of their treasures.

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  • Grenada is an isle of beauty. Some of us just love sea, sand, and surf. But Grenada also offers mountains, rivers, waterfalls, cliffs, forests, plantations, farms, wildlife, grasslands, a volcano, and a rainforest. And that’s just the natural stuff!

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  • Grenada is an isle of compassion. In much of this world, entitlement and indifference fester. Here, not so much. People remain gentle, generous, and polite. Nothing is rushed, while moments are savored. It’s no wonder they’ve thrived through natural and political hurricanes. Grenadians openly talk about—and show—“love in their hearts.”

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  • Grenada is an isle of passion. How do you describe passion? Maybe you don’t, since it’s more of a visceral phenomenon—what you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. I’ll really miss Grenada. But the extraordinary, exhilarating sense of life with passion: That’s what I’ll miss the most.

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G’Bye, sweet Grenada. God willing, we’ll meet again.
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For A Good Vibe, Ride The “Reggae Bus”

Posted on: Wednesday, February 18th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 4th Stop: Grenada, Latest Trip | 3 comments
On the last island (Bequia), it was called the “Dollar Bus.”  Here, it costs about the same, and is sometimes called the “Reggae Bus.”  They are privately owned vans that run established routes, all across the island. They tend to be crowded but exceptionally polite.  And the drivers, just like in Bequia, are crazy.  But it’s a great ride, and great vibe.  Grenada is way laidback but with good energy.  Just check out some of these heartening bus names and messages…
 
  • Shining Light
  • No Hard Feelings
  • Yes Jah
  • Live On
  • Always Decent
  • Live Simply
  • Vision
  • No Stress
  • Faithfull
  • Vibes
  • Stamina
  • Sweet Heart
  • 100% Grenadian
  • Life Nice
  • Unity
  • Conscious
  • Good People
  • Just Simple
  • Blessings
  • Love is the Answer
  • New Beginning
  • Higher Level
  • Next Level
  • Jus Level
  • Chilaxin
  • Bless Up
 
And on the back window, many owners create customized communiqués for all to see…
 
  • The sky is wide enough for a million stars.
  • Who feels it knows it. 
  • Rise to action.
  • Positive feeling.
  • Follow righteousness.
  • God is Love.
  • All Friends, No Enemies.
  • All Right!
  • You will never fail until you stop trying.
  • Jah have a blessing for you.
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The Great Caribbean Beer-Off!

Posted on: Tuesday, February 17th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 4th Stop: Grenada, Latest Trip | 6 comments
Beer tastes better down here (if that’s possible). It goes well with seafood, sailing, sunning, and as a palate (and/or body) cleanser for the salt after swimming. While all beer is good food, a few barely pass the smell test. So please open your palate, mouth, and mind. It’s time for the Great Caribbean Beer-off!
 
AND THE WINNER IS…STAG! 
 
HERE ARE THE FINAL RESULTS… based on ratings in 10 categories worth 10 points each—possible 100 points.
1st Place:  Stag, 85 points
2nd Place:  Heineken, 70 points
3rd Place:  Hairoun, 69 points
4th Place:  Carib, 55 points
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  • 1st Place:  STAG  (pronounced:  STOG!)
Name:  8.  A bit tacky, but easy to say after you’ve had a few.  Unique.  Macho. 
Story:  7.  Supposedly from Trinidad, a place that makes most people agog and afraid. 
Marketing:  10.  Virtually none—a dark horse.  How cool is that?  Like a private club. 
Smell Test:  8.  Smells pretty okay, for a beer. 
Taste:  10.  Once drinkers discover it, they stick with it. 
Availability:  7.  Pretty common in the southern islands, but nowhere north.  Exclusivity brings bonding? 
Tepidity:  9.  Stands up to the sun, if necessary.  Your best bet when cold can’t be found. 
Size Matters:  7.  Usually in large bottles.  But occasionally a bar fools you with smalls. 
Price:  9.  More than Carib, but much less than Heinie.   
Bonus:  10.  What’s not to love? 

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  • 2nd Place: HEINEKEN  (pronounced:  I-nuh-KEN!)
Name:  8.  Comfortable, familiar, ever-cool.  It’s the International Budweiser.  
Story:  8.  Comes from Holland, or whatever they’re called now.  They need attention. 
Marketing:  9.  Always classy and calming  Love that little red star. 
Smell Test:  4.  Smells skunky, if in a good way.  An acquired scent. 
Taste:  9.  Bottled all over, yet eternally consistent.  Effervescent, welcome mouthfeel. 
Availability:  10.  If any Caribbean joint has only 2 beers, one will be Heinie. 
Tepidity:  6.  Not good warm, but it disappears fast, so… 
Size Matters:  6.  Bad:  usually comes in mini-bottles (250 ml).  Good:  cute little cans. 
Price:  5.  Costs more for less liquid.  Ish! 
Bonus:  8.  Like and old friend.  Plus you look Euro and suave, if you wish. 
 
Our Island, Our Beer
  • 3rd Place:  HAIROUN (pronounced:  I-ROON!)
Name:  7.  Fun to say.  You sound local once you get it right.  Odd spelling, though. 
Story:  10. What St. Vincent used to be called, so big ups for nostalgia and stubbornness.
Marketing:  9.  Vincies love their homegrown.  “Our Island, Our Beer.”  Whoa! 
Smell Test:  5.  Could be worse. 
Taste:  7.  Goes down easy.  No problem, mon. 
Availability:  3.  Unheard of after you leave the SV Grenadines.  Withdrawal risk. 
Tepidity:  5.  No loitering.  Great ice-cold, but the warmer it gets, the more it sucks. 
Size Matters:  9.  Only seen it in 12 ounce bottles.  But never on tap loses a point. 
Price:  7.  Cheaper than Heineken, but not cheap enough.  
Bonus:  7.  Didn’t get tired of it for several weeks.  Great memories. 

Carib:  Worst Caribbean Beer?
  • 4th Place:  CARIB  (pronounced:  CA-RIB)
Name:  9.  Almost Caribbean.  Named after fearless, feral Indian settlers. 
Story:  5.  Not much “there” there.  Brewed in many ports, with many ? waters. 
Marketing:  5.  Little to see beyond omnipresent personal endorsements. 
Smell Test:  3.  Smells so bad it’s often served with a lime. 
Taste:  3.  Kinda Corona-like, maybe worse.  Watery, wimpy colon-cleanser.   
Availability:  6.  Mostly avails S of the N/S Grenadian meridian; occasionally N. 
Tepidity:  1.  Not good cold, worse warm.  Must be ice-cold and pounded carelessly.   
Size Matters:  6.  Good: only comes in large units.  Bad:  only comes in large units. 
Price:  10.  Cheapcheap.  + sold where people party by renegades at miniscule markups.   
Bonus:  7.  Good: often served w/ lime; can be on tap.  Bad:  On tap can be flat & insipid. 
 
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