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Joshua Tree

We went to San Diego to visit a very good friend of Alina, and because there were a number of things to do from the 22 things-to-do list, that my friend Stuart, compiled for our trip to the US.

We called Alina’s friend, and she said: “Oh! How nice you’re here! You have six hours to drive to our place! Come and visit us, we’re waiting!” Jaw dropped! Alina, convinced that her friend was living in San Diego didn’t bother to see that she moved a year ago, just a bit south of San Francisco.

We changed plans, visited San Diego Zoo, and other places around and the drove into Arizona desert, to Joshua Tree National Park. At the park entry, with a 20 USD bill in my hand to pay the fee, the ranger asks:

“Were are you guys from?”

I said: “Oh! Romania!”

“Are you living here?”

“No.”

He didn’t seem very happy and returned to the kiosk at the entrance. Then he came out with a notepad and said:

“Please put your wife’s name on the list and ask her to sign.”

We did so and returned the list. He handed us a plastic card and said: “This card will allow you to visit all US national parks for free, for life. It is because your wife’s handicap. I should give it only to permanent residents, but I don’t care. Enjoy your visit to Joshua Tree!”

Wow! We didn’t ask for any discount nor did we mention Alina’s handicap. He saw it and was a very nice guy. I’d wish there are more people like him back home.

Joshua Tree was beautiful: the desert, the rock formations, the scattered trees, everything. We walked for an hour or so, we had a picnic and in the evening we set off towards Nevada, on the famous Route 66.

As I was running out of gasoline, I stopped at what seemed the only gas station on a 100 km radius and to my surprise the price was double than the most expensive gasoline we bought until then.

We stayed in a motel and the next day we arrived in Grand Canyon National Park for a one-day visit.

Flying in the US is different

We left the hotel in Miami going to the airport and allowing two hours for check-in, a coffee and boarding. All well, checked-in, coffee, went through security, and while walking toward the gate we saw and airport clock: it showed that it was already two minutes past the flight departure. We ran to the gate just to see that we missed the flight and that to our (European) surprise the flight actually left 15 minutes before schedule. My wristwatch was 1 hour behind.

We asked what should we do and were directed to an airline courtesy phone for a rebooking which we did, just to find out that a rebooking would cost us 900 USD per person. I told Alina that I’d rather rent a car and drive across the south of US than paying that amount.

On our way out, we asked again an airline representative what to do. This time it was a nice girl who taught us not to say that we were late but that we went to the gate and the plane left ahead of the schedule. We tried again to rebook our flight, this time talking to a person at a counter. Miracle…the advice worked and we found a new flight just for 50 USD per person. The flight was through Minneapolis but it didn’t matter to us…until a few hours later.

I had no clue where Minneapolis was and while waiting in line at the gate I saw a display showing that the temperature in Minneapolis was -20C. Ooops! We were dressed in shorts and T-shirts, and our luggage was already on its way with the first plane.

Minneapolis

Fortunately, we didn’t have to leave the airport, or board a bus, while changing flights but were the only dressed so light and with a nice Caribbean tan. Looking out on the airport windows Paul could see snow for the first time this year.

We are used in Europe, on anything other than low cost flights, to receive a meal, a free cargo luggage, etc. Here, in the US, you get soft drinks, but that’s it. Even if the flight is 5-6 hours, even if the fares are comparable or higher than flying internationally in Europe, you still pay for your cargo luggage, any food you may want, no blankets or pillows, no fun stuff for kids. To me, they really look and feel like European low costs (at least US Airlines and Delta which we flew this time).

But…we made it well into Los Angeles, got our rental car and off we were to San Diego where we didn’t know that our plans will be hit by another surprise.

US-Florida.

We went to a resort near Orlando and during the check in we received 100 USD in cash with a tiny string attached: to sit on a one hour sales presentation of their services. Cool! These guys really know how to sell things.

Next day we headed to Disneyland. A plastic-fantastic place if you ask me, but Paul enjoyed some of it. The experience however consisted a lot into waiting in line for an hour or so to go on a carousel for am minute or two or shake hand with a cartoon character.

To my surprise there were a lot of grown-ups without children visiting the park. I remember a Brazilian couple telling Mickey mouse that they traveled all the way just to see him. Oh dear!

We stayed for the one hour sales presentation in which they tried to sell us time-sharing villas. And it took three hours eating out time from our visit to Cape Canaveral and the NASA Space Center. Which was a biiiiiig shame.

The Kennedy Space Center is really worth visiting. From great presentations to shuttle launch simulation, which they say is as realistic as their simulators to train astronauts, is FANTASTIC !
We decided to ha again on our next trip to the US. One really needs a full day to enjoy this place.
On our bus tour they also pointed out to an eagle’s nest in one of the trees, that’s there for 47 years. It was about the size of a double bed and withstood a few hurricanes in all this time.
Next day we boarded a plane to Los Angeles, but first we missed it but this is a different story.

US-Arrival

Our trip to the US had multiple motivations behind. One was to offer Paul a (lame) compensation for not going to Galapagos. For us, was a breath of chillier air and searching for new places to visit.

We landed in Miami late in the evening and, maybe due to my tan, everyone addressed at first in Spanish (even a very kind police officer who helped us finding our car rental agency). It felt good to speak again Spanish but I changed to English soon as, I have to admit my Spanish is not good enough.

Miami

The car we rented was supposed to be a compact but we received a much longer one (longer than the VW Touareg, the biggest car I ever owned). The trunk was so deep that in order to collect some things from the bottom, I really had to slide in to reach them.

We stopped in Fort Lauderdale for two nights…nothing special. We didn’t made it into Miami (city) and this was the beginning of a trip during which we didn’t see any big city, except for a short stop in Las Vegas.

We were served at a terrace by a young Slovakian girl and I asked her how was her life there: “Tough!” she replied but was confident that this will change in time. She arrived there just a few months before, alone, and hoped that things will change once she will get to know more people.

Next stop, Disneyland, Orlando.

Home sickness

Yes…I am missing home big time. Our trip to the US was supposed to bring back some enthusiasm regarding sailing the Caribbean islands but it didn’t happen…probably we miss home too much.

I admire those, who probably knew how things work, and soon after their Caribbean landing took a flight home for a few weeks.

We were back in Martinique and the moved at anchor. A few more days at the beach and eventually we decided to sail south.

The dirtiness, wild west aspect of the Caribbeans had got us. I grew tired of becoming a target, the typical ignorant tourist, for most of the locals selling us whatever. This year, places deemed to be safe from burglary and theft, like the Rodney Bay Marina, were not…receiving incident reports twice a week.

We sailed south to the island of Mustique. This is the “island of billionaires”, a private island where cruisers are still allowed to get on land. Although quite expensive, it gave me a break from the Caribbean “wild west”. I don’t need anymore to lock my dinghy, my boat or watch my belongings with a hawk’s eye.

The waters are clear and we did some snorkeling, around a coral reef seeing the colored tropical fish just a few meters from the beach. Even Paul did and saw Dory, a blue fish from “Finding Nemo”.

Internet is still scarce, and blogging difficult so I guess I will have to catch up when back in Europe, which will happen somewhere in the second half of March. We have a lot of photos from the US and some from our snorkeling here. Alina took a serious number of photos from the car, while I was driving, and despite my scepticism regarding their quality some are really good.

I’m running out of battery!

 

Chat soon

Prospecting for new adventures

Just a short update…

We left Martinique for a change of climate and scenery and decided to go to the US. Our main targets were some national parks (better visited off-season) and some friends along the road. We agreed with Paul to change his plans from going to Galapagos to going to Disneyland, a lame trade off, but because he can’t swim yet and as half of Galapagos fun is about snorkeling, he accepted. So far we drove about 3600 miles (about 5000 km) and seen almost the entire US west coast, Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Las Vegas, some of Route 66, friends and family, so yeah, we were busy the last weeks.

As usual, photos and the full story, will come soon but here’s a teaser:

DSC02448DSCF0770 DSCF0766 DSCF0817 DSCF1127 DSCF0907 DSCF0936

Three weeks in Martinique

It’s now three weeks since our arrival in Martinique so I feel like drawing a line regarding our adventure so far, what we found here, joys and frustrations.

As said before, we visited the island by car, on which occasion we went to a short of botanical garden, Jardins Balanta, just to find out that the admission price for the three of us was equal to the price of any European zoo, somewhere close to 50 EUR, but the offering considerably smaller. We soon realized that Martinique is an expensive place to be…at least as a tourist.
The same day we visited a waterfall,  spectacular in photos but in fact quite small. However, going there through the forest was interesting as it was really a tropical forest, humid and thriving with life,  trees with huge leaves, flowers.
We went up close to the peak of the highest mountain,  Montagne Pelée, à former volcano, and the views were spectacular. 
Unfortunately the path to the top was to long and to difficult to be walked with Paul, who anyway was asleep when we reached the end of the road.
Next stop: an old rum distillery, Distillerie Clément. Even if the visit was paid it was worth the money.  Very nice and well maintained, very interesting history good rum.
We became big fans of rum and we’re now at our third bottle, when at home one bottle lasted for six months. We mainly drink punch as neither of us drinks strong alcohol. I have to say that the last purchase was in the form of boxed, 3 litter, bag of rum, the same way wine is sold back home.
We tried the local market and bought christophines, something like potato but firmer. We cooked it with good results. We also tried some local fruits for which I can’t tell you their names, but they were good. Local oranges and lemons are green in color and look “bad” by our usual standards, however very tasty.
The disappointment was the price. Everything was around 3 EUR a kilo, and that’s a lot for something local. Tomatoes, even local were 5 EUR, avocado 3 EUR (but at least very tasty).
On December 17, our port days were over so we moved with the boat in the nearest anchorage, where we stayed for  more than a week. The longest I’ve stayed at anchor so far. The good side is that finally I could jump in the water in the morning and swim. The not so good side was that going to the village meant going by the inflatable boat for about 500 m, and if the wind was blowing stronger, it also meant ending up on the shore, wet.
We went to the beach every day and ate fish at our favorite beach bar: Abdelito’s Paradise. Abdel, the owner, treated us very nice, prices were more sensible and fish fresh and good.
We took a few walks and saw in the evening, tens of red crabs, coming out from under every rock, root or other hiding place. Like all tourists, we marveled at all the fruits that seem to grow everywhere… coconut, banana, passion fruit, bread fruit and a lot with local names which I don’t remember.
We’re now into another anchorage, Grande Anse D’Arlet, surrounded by high hills (more than 400 meters hight) covered in green forests. Proper tropical surroundings.
Tomorrow we go back in Le Marin, where we will leave the boat for a month to pursue a different way and place to explore.

My frustrations revolve mainly around the lack of time to myself. With a four year old kid, my attention was seriously distracted and boat stuff takes also its share. I hardly manged to finish a book I started reading in Barcelona. Obviously I didn’t learned to play the flute, nor did I manged to make a planned introspective inquiry into “who I am, what I know, what I have and who I know “. When I was in Spain, I met am old man, the grandfather of a friend, who, when he was in his forties, decided he won’t work anymore but decided to retreat to a farm, and dedicate his life to…thinking.The meeting was very interesting as any meeting with someone who has seen a lot in life and left me with a “homework “. But about this on anther occasion, when I’ll have more time (for me :)).
The blog had an audience far beyond I ever thought. More than a thousand visits in one month and more than 200 visitors, from 15 countries. Thank you all. This is very supportive and encouraging.
Two more things: photos will come soon and more important I wish you a very Happy New Year!

Martinique

We arrived at 6:30 in the morning and were surprised of how crowded the port and anchorage was. Disappointing!

However, being welcomed on the pontoon by fellow boats was a great feeling. Celebrating with a bottle of wine before breakfast, hmmm,,,that was new.

Then parties begun. And rum punch. And kept going for a week.

We rented a car, and during the first day of our rental we managed to get lost in the small island of Martinique (about 40 km on its longest axis). The next day, being more careful, we managed to drive to the top of the Montagne Pelee, a former volcano, some waterfall, by far not so spectacular as in photos all driving between banana tree plantations.

A few days ago we had the biggest surprise of the season. A friend, who crossed the Atlantic last year, sent us a bottle of champagne, to be savored in a restaurant with a great sea view. Many thanks, my friend!

The photos will follow, but unfortunately just a few as some were on Alina’s iPhone. Well, she fell into the water getting off the dinghy (our inflatable boat). The iPhone was slightly wet, but died and is not working anymore. Ridiculous! (for such a praised phone). I’ll stick to mine which still works after rain, sea water, and other abuse. I used to be an Apple fan, but I am less and less.

Let the party begin
Let the party begin

 

With colors
With colors
Lovely girls
Lovely girls
And crazy dancing
And crazy dancing
But some didn't make it all the way through
But some didn’t make it all the way through
Passion fruits
Passion fruits
Sunset at anchor
Sunset at anchor
Aren't we looking good
Aren’t we looking good
And happy
And happy
The view from our favorite beach bar
The view from our favorite beach bar
At the restaurant
At the restaurant
The biggest surprise since arrival
The biggest surprise since arrival
Chilled
Chilled
Cheers! And many thanks!
Cheers! And many thanks!