Archive for the ‘Uncharted Territory’ category

Cura-meh-cao

April 12, 2013

***I’ve put off writing this article for lack of inspiration, but then it hit me: maybe THAT’S my inspiration.***

It probably isn’t fair to start off a report about such a beautiful and storied island like Curaçao by giving the impression that I didn’t like it. Makes me seem like I’ve got an industrial strength rod lodged in the ol’ methane-hole. The thing is, I didn’t dislike it, it simply didn’t resonate with me.

They labeled the island…just in case.

Maybe it was the fact that Achebeyo and I have traveled all over the Caribbean so this was just one more in a long line of tropical shopping malls, or possibly the fact that we must have unintentionally chosen International Non-Stop Kite Weather week for our visit (you could have stayed airborne the entire trip with the right parafoil kite). Any number of factors combined could have created this distinct lack of enthusiasm for writing this article, and that simply isn’t fair to this tropical paradise.

The island really is gorgeous, with beautiful multicolored buildings that would seem at first to riot against one another, but actually work quite well on the larger canvas of the island. The shorelines were rocky where we stayed, but there were plenty of beaches on the map boasting flour-soft sand. The people were friendly and helpful, often guiding us away from our own time-wasting ignorance, such as leading us to the pay station in the middle of the longhouse-style cafeteria when we mistakenly stood in food pick-up line. Nothing about this place was bad…it just wasn’t great.

From atop Fort Rif, defending against…loud tourists?

We arrived on a Friday afternoon and had managed not to mangle each other emotionally during what I like to call Arrival Angst. It’s that frustration that builds at the airports and parking lots and taxis until you actually flop onto the bed (minus the crime scene comforter, of course) in your destination. Aside from the typical travel warning my gastrointestinal tract issued (“Per standard operating procedures, we will be halting all functions for the foreseeable future, barring any infusion of significantly spicy food or foreign tap water.”), our arrival was uneventful.

While the room occasionally made noises like the plumbing was filled with movie-grade, mutant, angry bees, and randomly farted when neither of us was standing in that part of the room (I swear), it was a typical hotel sleeping berth. Let’s gloss over the part where our room faced a softball stadium and we occasionally heard noises from that place like someone was murdering werewolves…for fun or profit, I can’t be certain. Regardless, our first “day” was mellow and fairly uneventful. We ‘splored the surrounding mini-city of our hotel complex, but managed not to get ensnared by the excessively-marked-up name-brand stores.

Our hotel village from the pontoon bridge.

We got vague directions to the nearest dive shop and proceeded on the Renpiti plan of navigation: go in the general direction of the half-understood, vague directions until we luck out and find the place so I can dispense the I-told-you-so‘s with feigned confidence. The place was being run by a visiting couple, he of ‘merican heritage, she of Aussie descent. They were warm and friendly and booked us for a wall dive the following day. We wandered around the city some more until we felt we had accumulated enough pinkened skin, then ventured back to the hotel room. We had dinner at a local Indian place and stiffed the staff on tips because I assumed they included it in the pricey bill (like most places we visit outside of the U.S.). Yeah, I was unintentionally that guy. We slunk back to our room like the dirty foreigners we were.

Even though we would be entering the sea from the shore the following day, and not an ocean-borne vomit comet (that would be the next day), I implored Achebeyo to take some light-coma-inducing motion sickness pills just in case. With the winds nearing skin-peeling force, it’s never a bad idea to issue stand-down orders to your stomach in advance. We set triple alarms for the following morning and slept like the sweaty dead.

When we awoke and snarfed down some meager snacks, penance for the lack of tipping the previous night, we made our now-confident way back to the dive shop. We geared up and carried what might turn us into scabbed crybabies to the entry point. You never want to duck-walk in fins over gravel mounds. The entry point was along a pier and very calm. We dove to 15ft before ever reaching pukeville.

The dive was clear and beautiful. If I wasn’t so afflicted with The Lazy, I’d pull stills from my GoPro and share them with you. Alas…

After we finished the dive, with Achebeyo deciding we didn’t need to be molecularly bonded the entire time underwater, we opted to clean up and head back into town to do two things: find an affordable place to eat, and discover the whereabouts of the elusive Piranha Jack t-shirt store. That day, we would only accomplish the former.

The place we chose to eat, after being repeatedly snubbed by a few touristy restaurants (our tipping fiasco must have been shared on the morning news), happened to be where all the locals were eating: a Nordic longhouse-style cafeteria. I sent Achebeyo off to find a seat while I stood in what I thought was the line to order food. A local soon informed me that I would need to actually place an order before standing in this line. It was fortunate he was kind enough to walk me to the ordering table, as it was buried in the middle of the rest of the tables full of happy diners. I finally ordered, paid and went back into the order placement line. After about 10-15 minutes, they took my ticket and told me to go sit among the multitudes of random faces and they would bring my food to me. I joined Achebeyo and three other friendly folks (one resident and his two visiting sisters). These people told us two fundamental facts: 1) we absolutely MUST visit Kleine Curaçao, and 2) if the cafeteria got our orders kind of right, it was as close as we would get. Fortunately for us, we got exactly what we ordered, and it was the best meal we had the entire time on the island…not to mention the cheapest.

The pontoon bridge of pontooniness.

It looks like a barge, but it handles like a skiff.

Ideas for tomorrow’s adventure burning in our brains, we wandered back across the pontoon bridge to our hotel and promptly booked the following day’s Kleine Curaçao trip. This deserted island is located 15 miles off of Curaçao’s eastern tip, and it promised to be more than simply a boat ride to a remote beach, if the shore shattering waves in the bay were any indication. Once again, we both took anti-puke-a-tron meds and sank like lead weights into sleep.

If you’ve ever been anywhere in the Caribbean (or any other island environment), you’ll know what I mean by IPT. For the uninitiated, that’s Island People’s Time. That means if you are supposed to be downstairs and ready to board the shuttle at 7am, they’ll be there at 7:45 to pick you up. I mean, I’m no stranger to The Lazy, but come on! We managed to make it to the boat in time to stand in line with all the other late-arriving passengers (otherwise known as “everyone”), and promptly made our way to the upper deck to stake our claim on…standing room only. This would actually prove to be a boon, as we’d be forced by location to stare at the horizon, instead of the bile-agitating floor of the boat’s top deck. Thus began what I like to call Puke Roulette.

On the ride out of the calm harbor, they gave us lengthy instructions in Dutch. The English version seemed like an afterthought, as the translator was on his first boat trip himself and tended to disappear below and return covered in cleansing sea water. The gist of what he told us was that if we needed external stomach-storage, he had the plastic bags. Looking around me, grinning ear to ear, I began to silently predict who would be having shouting matches with Ralph.

It was a long roller-coaster ride out to the island, and many people availed themselves of the bounty of plastic bags, including one Dutch gal whom I previously had money on making it all the way without showing her last meal. My upheaval-avoidance plan was two-fold: stare at the horizon when not predicting the yakkers, and laugh my tail off each time someone else sang the song of the stomach. You’d think karma would have visited me like a greasy avenger, but I must have banked up some cosmic favors, because I was happy and laughing the whole time. Achebeyo too, though she frequently accosted me for making her look at the technicolor contents of the plastic bags being handed forward.

We finally arrived at the island and endured a 20 minute speech IN DUTCH, extolling the virtues and explaining the dangers of the island. Once that was finished, with no translation, they began taking people to shore by Zodiac boat. I could have swam to shore with the other enthusiastic, impatient folks, but Achebeyo insisted that my life would be cut tragically short if I left her to carry all of our gear to shore on her own. I opted to live longer.

The beach of not-so-much solitude.

As the island had grown in our view from the boat, it looked like that flat patch of barren coral was flipping us the bird. Upon closer inspection, it was merely the island’s diminished manhood in the form of a lighthouse and two oddly placed outbuildings.

Eff you too, island.

We had befriended a lovely couple on the boat: he a heart surgeon living in Philly, and she a medical manager from Jamaica. We bonded over “breakfast”, a Dutch meal comprised of sandwiches and boiled eggs. The jokes shared were funny in context, but hard to relate here. For instance, “I’ve never found anything like that in my butt before, officer” doesn’t really play well out of context. Regardless, we truly enjoyed hanging out with these two, as well as the Dutch couple who’s female participant I had previously bet on not yakking on the boat. They asked to borrow our snorkel gear when we weren’t using it, and I was happy to oblige. Any chance to share one of my most favorite activities in the world.

Achebeyo and I explored the ruined lighthouse, conveniently placed in the middle of the island, and then moved on to view the results of such strategic placement.

Who needs accurate maps when you’ve got a lighthouse?

Apparently, most charts showed this island as having a lighthouse at the eastern tip of the island, instead of smack-dab in the center. Makes late-night navigation a bit…wrecky. We made our way back to the beach in time for lunch, then walked down to where we were told the turtles were out in force. We saw three.

After some snorkeling and solo exploration of the island, I was able to convince Achebeyo that my life would end tragically if I was not allowed to swim back out to the boat before everyone else made it back there, if for no other reason than to secure our previous places on the upper deck. She finally relented and I made my chubby-dolphin way underwater back to the boat…only to find others had the same idea before me. Luckily, none of them wanted to stand, so our spots were available. We eventually made it back to the cove and the buses that would deposit us where we started from that morning. We didn’t manage to get contact information from the Dutch couple, but the first couple we chatted with gave us a business card and email addresses to stay in touch…which I’ve been unable to find after unpacking.

The last day was spent in a dogged attempt to find the Piranha Jack place (a compelling logo is a compelling logo), and hanging out at the Infinity Pool at the hotel. It’s a second-floor “beach” that starts out like this…

2nd floor beach access.

shows more of itself the closer you get…

Still 2nd floor beach.

then reveals its secrets only when you risk your expensive camera by swimming to the ocean edge of the pool:

Dive off that ledge and you’ll eat delicious rocks.

It was a wonderful novelty beach, but it lacked the thrill of potential stingray and jellyfish encounters. We soaked up as much shaded sun as we could endure, then cleaned up and went to dinner one last time. I tipped graciously, seeing as how I won $22 on penny-slots at the hotel’s casino. What can I say? The hotel gave us free $5 gambling cards and we had nothing else to do. Achebeyo’s card lasted less than 5 minutes, but at least she didn’t lose her own $5. Oh, and I managed to find that darn Piranha Jack store and get the requisite t-shirt.

On the way back, I nearly lost it at Miami International airport when a bored mother decided to let the rest of the airport babysit her sugar-amped child while she buried herself in a magazine. This kid was racing around for hours, flinging saliva and noise everywhere he could, but I was the bad guy when I shooed him away from me and my bags. I can live with that.

We returned to a feline overlord with a urinary tract infection and jobs that seemed far busier than they were before we left. At least, that’s my excuse for not writing sooner. Will we go back to Curaçao? Probably not. Am I glad we went once? If for no other reason than travel-bragging rights, yes.

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Paint ’til you faint

March 6, 2013

***I promised my friend Katie at Domestiphobia that I would write this to show her that if I can do the artsy stuff, she can do a video game review. Go pester her to hold up her end of the unknown bargain.***

A few weeks ago, Achebeyo started making noises about wanting to try this:

Now, let’s forget for a moment that I’ve failed to detail here the number of times I’ve tried to get her to reconnect with her inner Picaso (or whichever artist worked best with charcoal or oils), and let’s also forget that she re-gifted all of the art supplies I bought for her early on in our relationship. Can we do that? Let’s hope you can.

In that picture above, you’ll notice what appears to be a Sesame Street “which one of these” conundrum. Typically, if those three words are together, it’s because someone (usually female…or the same sex equivalent) has dragged you to a pretentious show where the main redeeming factors are the copious amounts of fermented grape juice and some flimsy snacks to cram your face-hole with. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy art, I simply cannot abide the snobbery associated with it.

Getting back to that sign, were it to be missing one element (not hard to imagine which one), I might have begged off to immerse myself in endless asteroid mining for imaginary profit online (EVE). However, the element of tighty-whitey loosening beverages was enough to get me to readily agree. Well, that and wanting to spend some time with Achebeyo out of the suburban cave doing something new.

Luckily for us, two doors away from this alcoholic artist’s dream is a wine shop with unique and varied wines I’ve never seen in any of the fine grocery store shelves I’ve perused previously. Some I just wanted to buy for their fun or funny labels (here’s where a picture of those labels would have really cemented this into reality for you), and some were necessary to ensure my paint-pimp hand didn’t commence with erratic and definitively inartistic canvas-slapping.

We opted for a wine called Electra:

If you’re the type of professional wino who prefers to have their mouth assaulted with sharp, dry wines that drive you to act as if you’re having cake when you’re wishing you were having cake instead, this isn’t the wine for you. This is more like dude, we totally spiked the grade school fruit punch. Make a note, teachers: nap time will never be more quiet.

We walked in to a clean, tidy room with everything already waiting for us…

plus the smock wall (who doesn’t love the word smock? Those who don’t, it’s only one letter away from physical abuse, so get back on board, will you?)…

and walls covered in the kind of inspiration I’d need to attempt even a basic, monochromatic jab at covering a canvas. We were set.

At some point while we sipped wine and waited for everyone else to arrive (I loathe getting anywhere “on time”, which I call “almost late; this is a frequent point of contention between Achebeyo and I), talks began of trying this again, perhaps on the uber-challenging paint your pet (or as Achebeyo called it after a glass of wine, pet your paint) night. I told her I’d have to wait and see how this session turned out before I’d commit to making a greater fool of myself.

Once everyone was situated and ready to rock and/or roll, our guide began giving us basic instructions…which I promptly lost track of while taking this establishing shot of my canvas:

Thankfully, the patient guide happily reiterated her instructions: we would be painting an impressionistic version of a waterfall, tree and multicolored mountains of varying distances. My painting would require quantum physics to explain some of the irregularities in the terrain, it turns out.

Using acrylic paints, we started brushing on colors, and mixing colors and watering down colors to the sounds of the party music coming from the back room where a private group was holding creative court. I got this far before the giggling couple behind me began to make me feel self-conscious:

Understand that they weren’t laughing at me or my frantic efforts to get it right, dude! They were having their own fun with their own canvases. But when you walk into something like this already digesting failure pie, innocuous giggling can make you twitchy. Oh, and the wine was no help after all, because I became so engrossed in what I was doing that I forgot to drink. It felt like sacrilege.

With all of my focus on not screwing my painting up, and not snapping on the giggling couple behind me, I also forgot to take additional in-progress pictures. You’re left to figure out on your own how we got to the point where mountains can exist both in front of and behind each other:

Achebeyo would later (lovingly) comment that my tree reminds her of an ant. Apparently a genetic abomination of an ant, with no head and disproportionate appendages. Her painting is better, but she made me swear, on pain of permanent guest room sleeping, not to post hers. Take my word for it, she’s the artistic one of the two of us.

After we finished, we wandered around to see the different takes everyone had on the project. Most were similar to ours with subtle variations that might indicate precise personality differences, if one were inclined to analyze them. One guy had apparently just returned from Mordor, because his painting reflected a recent terror-ridden flight from Mount Doom. Still pretty cool, but I wouldn’t want to see how long it took my skin to dissolve in his waterfall.

Even though I entered this adventure with some trepidation and anxiety, I actually had a lot of fun painting with Achebeyo, and will likely try it again. Just not on kindergarten skills aren’t going to cut it night.


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