Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Vegas, Baby!

In 2003, some of my friends started turning the big 4-0! In order to celebrate this event, we decided to take a group road trip to Vegas. We also celebrated the Sept/Oct birthdays at that time too, since the trip was made in late Sept.

On the way to Vegas, we stopped at the Hoover Dam for a much needed stretch and to take a few pictures.
Once at Vegas, the fun began. We checked into our hotel, went to dinner, and then headed to the bars and casinos. Following the advertising campaign "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" you will see only one juicy detail, and that's saved for the very end of this post.

The next morning, we met for a breakfast (brunch) buffet and then headed down the strip to check out the other hotels and casinos.

Checking out the Flamingo hotel

Lobby of the Alladin

Our group has an orange plastic martini glass that we bring along when we travel. Its name is Benigni. Here Benigni makes an appearance with a statue in Ceasar's Palace. We also got some of the costumed people who walk around Ceasar's to pose with Benigni, but they wouldn't hold or touch it. We had to place it on the ground in front of them. (After Phil took it into the bathroom with him, none of us were too eager to touch it either!)

We also took Benigni to visit "Paris", and pose near this fountain. We decided to scope out Paris, since many of us will be staying here in July to attend the AG.
Arc de Triomphe at "Paris"
Eiffel Tower
at night and with Benigni
On the second night, we had our big fancy birthday dinner at a steakhouse. We had a great time, despite the inappropriate t-shirt that Phil wore and Doug sweating up a storm as he tried to complete a giant steak. We saw his arteries blocking with each bite. Pamela, the lone vegetarian in our group wasn't too thrilled about having bloody steak juice splashed from a passed plate and across her lap.
The next morning we all headed to brunch, then packed back in the van for the trip home. Hopefully this is the start of an annual birthday roadtrip.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Caribbean Cruise (Aug 2003)

My sister and I found a pretty good deal on a cruise, and decided to give it a try. We booked a 7 day Eastern Caribbean cruise, leaving Ft. Lauderdale and stopping at St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Princess Cays in the Bahamas. My friends Christine and Mark were also on the cruise. After two rather dull days at sea, with mediocre food and bad entertainment, we finally docked at St. Thomas. I hopped off the ship as soon as we docked and caught the ferry at Red Hook to St. John.Once on St. John, I took a cab ride from the dock at Cruz Bay to Waterlemon Bay on the other side of the island. The driver stopped at scenic overlooks so I could take pictures of the various beaches on the way.Trunk Bay - early morning
Cinnamon Bay
The Leinster Bay trail is 0.8 miles one-way to Waterlemon Bay, starting at the picnic area at Annaberg Sugar Mill.

The trail is a flat trail and follows an old danish plantation road, a small stretch across the beach, and then a little bit through some underbrush. Once at Waterlemon Bay, it is a 0.1 mile swim to Waterlemon Cay. Then you can swim around the cay. Click here to see snorkeling pictures that include coral, starfish, sea turtles, and lots of fish.

After snorkeling, it was time to hike back to the road and catch a cab .

After taking a quick dip at Trunk Bay, it was back to the ferry and back to the ship.
Back on the ship to head to St. Martin / St. Maarten.

The excitement continues......

Snorkeling in the Caribbean

These snorkeling pictures were taken with a disposable plastic underwater camera at Waterlemon Cay CoralElkhorn Coral
Sea grass Sea Fans

Sea turtle

Needle-nosed fish

Fish at Princess Cays, Bahamas

While snorkeling on St. Thomas, I didn't want to leave my regular camera (which was fairly new since I broke my old camera in Venezuela) on the beach, even though there weren't that many people around. I wrapped it in 3 zip bags and put it in a water-resistant fanny pack while I snorkeled. I had an other zip bag with my passport and money. The money stayed dry. My camera got soaking wet and destroyed.

Caribbean Cruise - St. Martin

St. Martin (French) / St. Maarten (Dutch)
My sister and I decided to go Dutch today and split a cab on St. Maarten.
Actually, we headed straight to the French side of the island and to Marigot. We did a little bit of shopping, but for some reason the bottoms of my shoes were really slippery. I was slipping and sliding (and falling) everywhere. We went into one mall and I could barely stand up. It was funny, weird, and annoying all at the same time.
After spending a few hours in Marigot, we had lunch and then hired a cab to drive us on a tour of the rest of the island. One of the places we stopped was near Ance Marsel.
We also headed towards Orient Beach
The driver stopped right at the junction that separated the regular beach ...
from the nude beach
After a brief stop in Philipsburg (Dutch side)
it was back to the ship for dinner and bad entertainment.
After another dull day at sea, we had a nice relaxing day at Princess Cays in the Bahamas. The next day.... back to Ft. Lauderdale and work.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Isla Margarita, Venezuela (June 2003)

If you want to relax and get away from it all, Margarita Island, Venezuela is the perfect place to go. This Caribbean Island is full of beaches, rum, and laid-back friendly people.

When I visited in June of 2003, the "unofficial" exchange rate was 2,000 Venezuelan bolivars per US dollar. That means the $500 in travelers checks that I took made me a MILLIONAIRE!

I picked Margarita Island to visit because I got a really great deal. I won a bid for a week at the Hilton for $2 on SkyAuction. You can't beat that - even after they added another $195 of fees and taxes. The Hilton was located on Moreno Beach, in the Costa Azul region of Porlamar.

Trying to grab a coconut on the Hilton grounds.

Moreno Beach
Playa el Agua. This is the longest and most developed beach. There are numerous restaurants and shops along the road next to the beach.
Typical beach restaurants consisted of a kitchen, bar, and outdoor tables, usually surrounded by lots of stray dogs. I ate at this restaurant on Playa Guacuco and had a fabulous meal. After eating, I relaxed on a beach chair under this sun shade, so the waiter could bring me a continuous supply of drinks. If you tip well, they will watch your stuff while you play in the ocean.
The man in the background is doing the Guacuco dance, which basically looks like he's doing the Twist. As he wiggles from side to side, his feet dig up clams/oysters, which he puts into the bucket he's carrying. Then, when he has enough, he takes them to his beach stand and sells plates full of the fresh seafood.I left Phoenix to visit a place that looked exactly like Phoenix! Macanao, the western peninsula of Margarita is very rocky and dry, with a lot of cactus, prickly pear, and scrub brush. I took a jeep tour to this peninsula.
Punta Arenas a long smooth sandy beach at the very western tip of Macanao. We ate lunch and relaxed there for a while, then visited several rocky beaches that could only be reached by 4WD.

On this jeep tour, We also visited the national park of Laguna de la Restinga. We took a boat tour through several of the 110 canals in the park. This was a beautiful mangrove area, with bright orange starfish found at the base of many trees, and oysters clinging to the aerial roots. I'm told that there are also sea horses, but I didn't see any. These are the only 2 pictures I have from Restinga, because my camera broke and Penelope's ran out of film.

I took a catamaran trip to Coche Island for a fun day in the sun. This is a view of Porlamar from the catamaran. This was the only thing I did that wasn't worth the time or money. Coche is a big flat island with not much of interest, other than lying on a beach. The water at the beach is very calm, so you can't even splash in the waves.
On the way to Coche, there wasn't enough wind to get there, so they had to take down the sail and use the engine. On the way back it was very windy, with lots of waves. The ride back was cold, wet, bumpy, and a lot of fun!
Attack of the Creature from the Black Lagoon?
No, it's just my guide on the excursion to Isla de Coche.
Not too far from the beach are old salt mines. The guide took us there to see them. Just under the surface of the ground is a black mud that smells of sulfur, but is supposed to contain minerals that are good for the skin. The guide "proved" this by smearing it all over his body - and parts of ours!!!