Sunday, January 29, 2012

Where the Heck is Roatan?

Madame saw a man wearing a t-shirt that said "Where the hell is Roatan? when she was in Honduras recently. That's where Roatan is; it's an island off the coast. (Click here to read about the history of the island.) Last year the cruise ship docked at Mahogany Bay a little touristy spot with lovely little shops that look like Caribbean cottages and a sky lift (think SKI lift) to take visitors over to the private beach if they don't want to walk through the lovely manicured grounds. Madame had been describing that lovely scene all week to her new friends in the hot tub or at the pool.

The danger of sharing a travel experience is that sometimes things change and then you just look, well, silly. This is what happened to Madame. This time the ship docked (or would have if another ship hadn't already been there) at Coxen Hole. The first bad sign was that there wasn't any pier and passengers had to be tendered to the dock. No big deal, tendering is actually kind of fun, unless you forget something and need to run back to the ship. Once ashore there was a charming little shopping area much like the one she remembered but at the information booth she was informed that the taxi to go to West End where there was a beach, and several restaurants and places to shop, was going to run about $25 per person. To go the mile and half or two to get to Mahogany Bay? About the same. That's a lot of money and you can negotiate with the drivers but at this point Madame wasn't in the mood.

"So there's nothing to do right here?"

The helpful retired American (there are about 1500 of them on the island) informed her that she could walk out the gate past where the taxis were and turn right--that would take them to Old Towne. Sun sparkled on the water and some men played kettle drums outside a jewelry store with white plantation shutters. Shoppers crowded the liquor stores and boutiques. MO never has figured out the numerous diamond stores at every port the ship stops. They reached the gate and stepped out into reality. A couple of children asked for money. They walked along a treacherous sidewalk. Locales gawked. Several people asked them where they were headed and offered to take them to a beach. A young man asked them if he could help them find something. Mr. Mo said he was looking for a cigar store and the three of them headed there.

It was soon obvious that this kid had attached himself to them as a volunteer guide. Madame realized that they would need to tip him. After a shop or two where he stood patiently by as they shopped, and informed Madame whether or not it was alright to haggle, he introduced himself as Elmer Welcome. He spoke perfect English, had a very good knowledge of the history of the area. They chatted as they went through town. The main street that runs through Old Town holds no resemblance whatsoever to the gleaming cheerful tourist areas. The contrast is jolting. Buildings are ramshackle, grates over gutters on the street are missing leaving dangerous holes that could swallow a small child. There are stray dogs everywhere. Skinny ones. Between dilapidated buildings Madame would catch a glimpse of the gleaming ships in the harbor. They asked Elmer about his life. He was a high school student who was hoping to go to the local college to get a degree in hospitality. His goal was to get a job as a waiter on one of the cruise ships. Madame asked him how long the ships had been coming there.

"Fourteen years." he said.

"What was it like before?"

"There was nothing here but a dirt road, everyone was very poor before the tourists came."

Mr. MO inquired about a place to have lunch. He took them to the cleanest building in town. Still simple with outdoor seating with plastic lawn chairs, but exceedingly clean. Several locals sat with their laptops. Madame suspected this was the only place in town with wi-fi. They offered to buy Elmer's lunch but he said he would rather have cash. Mr. MO handed him fifteen dollars, thanked him and wished him luck.

Bay Side Restaurant and Grille has an excellent drink menu and delicious local food. Madame asked the waitress what the typical local meal was. Conch and fried plantain was the answer.  Mr. MO ordered the shrimp ceviche. The food was delicious, and beautifully presented. Simple ingredients were combined to make a perfect lunch. The conch was cooked in a butter and garlic sauce. MO ordered up a pina colada, after double checking about the use of purified ice. It was easily the best one she's ever had. The ceviche was beautiful and super fresh. I couldn't find a website for the restaurant but here is the link to their Facebook page.

Roatan is a beautiful island with a variety of experiences to offer. MO was disappointed that she didn't get to go snorkling this time. The reef in Roatan is now considered one of the top 7 places in the world for it. She wasn't willing to do it alone, and it really wouldn't be Mr. MO's thing at all. Next time however, even if it is a lone adventure she doesn't intend to miss it.

Happy Travels, Y'all!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cave Tubing in Belize

The cruise line tries to scare you...

"Excursions not booked through the ship may not get you back on time."

"You don't know what you're getting."

"They may not get you back to the ship on time."

"Some of them are shady."

"Did we mention, that they may not get you back to the ship on time?"

Normally, if Madame is traveling alone, she books through the ship. She wants someone to hold her hand, put a sticker on her, and remind her what bus to get on after she's had a margarita...or two.

But in Belize this time Mr. Owner went with her and they ran into a couple who had done their research ahead of time. They took the tour with Once they found their seat on the bus, the guide, Speedo, gave a little introductory talk...

"We know what the cruise lines tell you: that we are shady, that you don't know what you are getting, that we might not get you back to the ship on time. We PROMISE to get you back on time and give you an awesome experience today."

And they did.

It was about a 45 minute bus ride into the jungle to get to the site. After a quick stop to let off the people who were doing the ATV ride instead of jungle hike, Madame and Mr. MO  were on their way. They ended up at the same place that their fellow cruisers did. The  fellow cruisers who were paying $79 while they were paying $45. The fellow cruisers who had fancy life vests, and helmets with lights.

Helmets? Madame wondered what she'd gotten herself into.

The hike through the jungle was on a path that was easily traversed, though occasionally hilly, or muddy, it was not all that physically taxing. No one was out of breath enough to keep them from chattering with fellow travelers and ribbing the patrons of other companies. Once they neared the river Madame heard splashing. Well timed splashing...

She had a moment of panic thinking she might have to jump into the river. As she rounded the edge of a cliff she could see the platform. One guide held the inner tube as Speedo held the person's hands and lowered them, carefully, into a sitting position on the tube. Madame was wearing a tank top over her swim suit and during the entire adventure it didn't get wet.

Once a group of 8 is secured together ( the maximum number of people per guide allowed--this was checked at the entrance by an official) the float into the caves begins. Head lamps are provided as the caves are lengthy enough to be quite dark inside. The instructions given before entering the water included heeding the "Butts up!" call to avoid certain rocky areas. The men seemed to be paying extra careful attention to that part of the speech.

The river was smooth, the caves beautiful and mysterious, and the guides in complete control at all times. It soon became clear that the helmets and industrial strength life vests on the other tubers were overkill. Even what the guides called "rapids" were only ripples in the water to experienced canoers like MO and her husband.

The scenery was stunning and the experience seemed both exotic and relaxing. Upon exiting the river after about an hour long float (Madame is guessing) the bus took them to a hut for a lunch that was included in the price of the tour. It was an authentic chicken tamale (whole chicken leg included) wrapped in a banana leaf. This is not the small tightly wrapped tamale you may get in the States but is more the size of an enchilada. After lunch and drinks, it was time to board the bus for the trip back to the pier to catch the tender for the ship. There was still plenty of time for shopping and drinks before that. did exactly what they promised, for half the price of the excursion booked through the ship.

Happy Travels, Y'all!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Traveling Mad Hatters

 My grandmother was a hat box so I have a soft spot for millinery. That was back in the day when people knew how to dress...and travel. Madame Owner loves the pink one with the leopard print bow in this pic.

"I don't look good in hats" is something women say all the time. But maybe you just haven't found your style. Unless you've spent time in a hat shop where you felt comfortable trying on lots of styles you may not know which one is good for you. 

Is it a newsboy? Cowboy? Bowler? Beret? 
How to find your your chapeau style anyway? 
Cloche? Fedora? Bucket? Tam? 
No need to take a pillbox exam. 

Enter Carol Schaffield, the owner of Peaches Fine Millinery located at 102 Lee Avenue in Chickamauga Ga. 

Peaches feels like home!
Carol is the charming and fun loving angel residing over her own slice of hat heaven. If you've ever been intimidated in a hat shop by a judgmental, stuffy staff ( a certain New Orleans store comes to mind) you will appreciate Carol's easygoing manner and true desire, not just to sell you a hat but find a shape that works for your face and relate to you her vast knowledge of hat history. She has several vintage hats (and boxes!) and sometimes people who come to own hats by way of inheritance pass them on to her to make sure they have a good home where they are appreciated.

The Food Maven channels Carmen Miranda!
The Food Maven and My Owner spent a lovely hour or so catching up with Carol during our annual visit and trying on different hats (and personalities). They also spent some time indulging in a little impromptu therapy.
Okay, it's more than a hat shop.  

It's a place to play dress-up for grown up girls who are in the midst of redefining themselves. 

What hat are you wearing today?

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