December 27, 2014

On the ocean

Posted by Xun  |  No comments

I had never been on the ocean. I had never been on the Caribbean sea. The mention of Caribbean only brings up Johny Deep and his movie Pirates of Caribbeans.

I had never been on a cruise. Though it seemed to have become one of the default vacation choices of people around me. Ah, the leisure, the fun, the food, the utter state of offline ...

I had never been to New Orleans. Voodoo, Mardi Gras, Cajun food, swamps, crocodiles, giddy and crazy musicians ...

Then for Thanksgiving, our family of five plus my mom who is visiting heading south to New Orleans.

It was 2 days on the road.

In the beginning, it was just never ending stretches of unremarkable rural scenes, barren trees. It was just grey and cold. Then it became warmer and warmer, sky got bluer, tress got greener, very green. Lush trees grew out of big swath of water. Then we were greeted by lots of exotic palm trees.

New Orleans

We were at New Orleans.

We stayed at a very Christmas-y hotel (was it Hampton?), overlooking a large yard fenced by Palm trees. The hotel partly felt like a luxurious wooden hut in a rain forest with giant indoor plants and gorgeous flowers. There were free cookies that made Yung happy. We were of course very happy that we finally could stretch out after hours of cramming in a car (even though we stayed the previous night at a different hotel). Hotels somehow always make the kids feel so very privileged and pampered. They started jumped around and squealing with delight.

The hotel was also about 10 minutes walking distance to the very famous French Quarter. We decided to check out in our CAR, All of us. That sure was a foolish mistake. First, it was impossible to drive in French Quarter; Second, French Quarter are not for Kids or my mom who was deeply entrenched in Chinese communism culture and who was aghast at such craziness and decadence.

French Quarter was lovely, fun and completely crazy. There were so many people, so many tourists, so many musicians, peddlers, human statues (as a sun, a football player, a  ghost, whatever), happily homeless people. There are so many bars, casinos, little shops selling shirts such as Bitch #1 or fancy, voodoo-ish masks, garish long scarfs. I bought a Trouble #1 shirt for Yung, a long pink feathered scarf for Annya which dropped pink feathers wherever she went. There were music bombing from every corner, tap dancing kids, kids drumming on a bucket, karate performers who were eager to let you take pictures with for Free with 1 dollar ... Beers or alcohols are sold everywhere. Prostitutes or plump girls who stripped down to almost nothing ...

Wow ... Knowing this is not a good place for kids, we had to escape quickly to our safe confines of hotel with a TV.

Welcome to almost abroad

The next day, we spent the morning shopped for a few things, including an expensive swimming suite for myself (well, walmart, for once, did not have a swimming suite in winter. Winter? Really? It felt like Spring or early summer. Does New Orleans have winter? And there is water, lakes, sea everywhere around. Does Walmart lose its senses?)

Buoyed by New Orleans' free spirit, I tried to get Louis to buy some wines. He did not listen to me.

In the afternoon, after some impatient waiting, we boarded on our cruise ship: Elation. The harbor has signs everywhere that says something like: You want fun, we have fun. And the check-in place says: Welcome to almost abroad. Cute!

So bye, coding. Bye, work. Bye, cell phones, emails.

Immediately after we boarded the ship, descended to our cabins (Louis, Yung and I shared one, my mom and Emma and Annya took the other), we dropped our suitcases and backpacks, then headed to the food place.

When you went on cruise, you know American people are spoiled. We are spoiled. There was so much food, so many people too. A lot of sun. I was sort of shocked to think that so many people in America can afford to go on cruise, year around.

On the cruise, there is lunch available to you 24 hours a day. Though we soon got tired of the hamburgers, hot dogs, lemonade fountains. Coffee tasted bland and powerless. And I was disgusted by the long line of waiting.

Dinner was more fun. Very formal. You get your own table, designated head waiter, fancy menus, fancy deserts, group of well-dressed waiters. Though you need to pay for things like Cappuccino (why?). They even had dress code for dinner. Midway during dinner, they would play music, and suddenly our waiters stared lining up, throwing their napkins in the air and dancing.

So what was there not to be happy about?

Unfortunately, we, the spoiled bunch, have hungry hearts that are impossible satisfied by food.

The first days we could not find much to do other than eating.

The boat has kids camp for all ages, which means, Yung, Annya and Emma had to be in their separate camps. Not sure what to expect, the kids refused to go to camp the first couple of days. Then what was there to do? We soon exhausted the few things available on the boat. We tried swimming, under the hot burning sun, the pool was really small, the sea water stung my eyes when I went down the water; We played ping-pong; We went to the top of the boat and played miniature golf; then we wondered around, went up and down the complicated structure, getting mad at the elevators that often than not did not work.  The little kids' feet soon got tired, mood went a little sour, and my mom obviously could not stand all that walk. There were a variety of things to do,  though they were scheduled activities and scattered in the many locations with fancy names all over the boat.

Schedule was sent to every cabin every morning. Yet, we found none too exciting.

  4:30  Country Dance at Meccado (front of the boat)
           Karoake at Romeo and Juliet (???)
  5:00  Chest-hair contest
  6:00  Early Dinner
  8:00  Kids comedy / Towel puppet theatre

So we retrieved into our cabin, Yung and Annay watched Scooby-Doo or whatever they could find on the TV with 5 channels, Emma and Grandma did their origami, I was just lying on my bed, feeling the gentle sway of the boat, or read my book on kindle.

Then we got a bit used to the rhythm of the cruise. We managed to drop Annya at her camp, she liked it. Yung was the second to go to his camp, he liked it a lot too. From there, cruise became something that was actually fun instead of soul-crushing binge eating.

The third and forth day we got off the boat and toured a bit of Mexico. We stopped at two cities off the shore: Cozumel and Progreso.

The minute we stopped at Cozumel, we were swept away to a private car that drove us to a site Mayan ruins, then we continued to visit a local beach, then back to the boat. The Mayan ruins turned out to be one of the many Mayan ruins across Mexico and we learned the main site of Mayan civilization was at Guatemala. And it basically consisted a few stone structures here and there. We were not impressed, and the old Mexican tour guide was obviously just as happy to get rid of us. Within 20 minutes, after ridiculed that: Mayans, they are short, he solemnly told us: Thank You. This is the end of my tour.

We spent quite some time at the local beach. Undeterred by cold or wet, the kids just dipped themselves in the coming waves, running, playing. I loved the waves and the sea and the gentle breeze.

Cozumel is supposedly the best city in Mexico. Still it looks just like a little undeveloped local town. Most of the buildings are small, most of them  have bright bold murals (or are they graffiti?). Beautiful palm trees loaded with coconuts are everywhere.

At Progreso, we took a bus and went to a gorgeous resort. The view was breath-taking, and there was food and drinks free for taking. American pop songs were played throughout the time. Local Mexican band serenaded each table, each person sunning in the beach. I felt totally privileged and corrupted, I also felt immensely sorry for the local people who were robed of the opportunities we have and who had to work and struggle so hard.

The fifth day we explored more of the boat, we sat at the breakfast table overlooking the ocean. It was grey, still, vast.  Yung had became a darling boy who addressed every waiter, Thank you, sir! Goodbye, sir. Hello, sir. All of the kids spent the fifth day at their respective camps.

Then we collected all of our things, souvenirs we bought on the boat and Mexico, and drove straight home.

Saturday, December 27, 2014
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