Thursday, 30 June 2011

All out to sea

Some things defy description. I suspect I go into things with my eyes shut most times, not actually researching where I'm going, what the place is like, what's there. Mostly it works out for me, sometimes I miss seeing some of the sights, sometimes I get surprises. I got one of those when I landed at Saint Vincent very late on Sunday night. A big surprise.

I had spent the day traveling, at the airport in Miami at 8am and arriving in Saint Vincent at 11pm. There were delays, I had a crazy itinerary that took me past Saint Vincent to Trinidad and then back to Saint Vincent, adding 4 or 5 hours to my journey. It was a little exhausting, my back pack got very heavy. Arriving at Saint Vincent at 11pm, relieved to actually be there, I was so very ready for some hot food and sleep. The customs lady questioned me about where I was staying. She wasn't smiling. It went something like this.

"Where are you staying when you here?"
"Young Island Resort." (the island bit should have given me a clue)
"How you getting to the island?"
"The island? What island? I'm on an island already."
"Young Island, it's an island, you need a boat to get there"
"Oh, no one told me that," said the idiot traveler looking a little pale.
"Well, you have to find a boat to get there, how you going to do that?" shaking her head at this idiot traveler, stamping the passport and passing her on to someone else, anyone else.

I went with my bag outside in a state of shock, starving hungry and more than a little grumpy. It had been a long, long day. The poor taxi allocator wore it. I even swore about being on an island as I grumped to him about how I was going to get there, could he provide a boat by any chance? Enter a nice young man with a taxi.

"I know the place," he said with a smile, not at all daunted by this grumpy woman and her heavy bag.

And know he did. We drove up hill and down dale for quite some time, me battling to keep awake. He pulled up at a small jetty and pointed across the water to a faint light, that's the place. He called the resort on the phone provide, no answer. I suspect we both looked a little worried. Me wondering when I was actually going to eat and him wondering when he could ditch this grumpy woman.

Then we saw the light, a small ferry coming our way. It seems that they knew I was coming and had been waiting for me despite the ferry service having finished over an hour and a half earlier. There was a young man who was charged with taking me to my room, as well as the ferry man. When I mentioned food, the young man said the resort was all closed up but there is fruit in my room. Oh no, even the bar was closed. He offered to go back across the water and find me some food, too kind after they had waited so long. I ate fruit, drank the water and enjoyed the space.

My room is a stand alone cottage with shutters all around that open to the night breeze and the sound of the sea breaking on the shore. Natural noises to lull me into a deep and restful sleep. The crickets make a racket, the sea and whir of the fan mostly drowns out their noise. The shower has indoor outdoor flow and is open to the garden and the sky. The dining room is open, sitting on the shoreline enjoying the view across the water. Breakfast was good, fish this morning along with fresh fruit and hot tea. Yum. If you want a place to recharge your batteries, I can recommend Young Island Resort.

The photos show my lovely room on the beach, the ferry coming from the mainland and the island itself, beautiful!

A bit later I write. I couldn't get onto the net or upload my photos last night so these will follow soon. The conference is finishing very late each day so I'm not getting the time to enjoy much of this place. The Eastern Caribbean is different to where I live, very different.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Getting to Miami

I was supposed to be in Miami at 3pm today. I had planned to go shopping because apparently there's good shopping in Miami and I need the odd thing for my new life in the Caymans. Instead I spent the whole day traveling. This happened largely because I forgot to use my usual process of getting the best answer to my questions. That is, asking many people the same question until I solved the issue. I also didn't know how things work around here, the rules of airport engagement. I had done my homework. I'd checked the website for American Airlines to make sure that my bag was okay, the check in time for domestic travel and the terminal and gate numbers for my flight.

It was an early one, 7am and the site advised that I be at the airport 90 minutes before my flight, fine I can do that. How busy can it be at 5.30am? When I arrived at LAX there was total chaos. It was like being in one of those airline programmes, actually it was exactly like that. High levels of angst as people tried to get important places with precious belongings to be with their loved ones for special occasions. Even the locals didn't appear to know the rules, this mostly polite New Zealander did not stand a show. For once in all my travels, my wheels became wobbly and then fell off completely as I missed my plane.

I'm sure that one day I'll see some humour in it all and there were some lovely people who helped my along the way, who did give me the best response to my questions. I can also see where I made my errors of judgement. If the first person had been at all helpful, I would not have queued for over an hour only to be told I'd missed my plane and for 150USD I could change my itinerary. You see that person should only have asked to see my ID so the auto check in could spit out my boarding pass and bag tag. How was I supposed to have known that.

It wasn't helpful when another looked at me as if I was from another planet and said that I needed to allow 4 hours for check in at the start of spring break. A rule I was not actually aware of and obviously, given the chaos, neither where others. And I am from another planet really. American Airlines were a big part of the problem, they should have better systems and more staff available if they know this is a pressure time. They should also put a note on their web site.


After passing through security, I passed the gate for my original flight. The plane was still being loaded and I could have made it, sigh. My new flight was to leave at 8.40am, no worries. It was late and didn't leave for 2 hours after that. LAX is not the best airport to be waiting in, but wait I did. I'm usually quite good at solving problems, I tend to be able to think outside the square. I was stopping in Miami and yet I was booked through to Grand Cayman. A small oversight by those who were supposed to have changed my booking. My bag was booked through and I couldn't go with it. 

On the plane I worked out a strategy, I would get it off loaded. Again I had to ask questions of many people who sent me to other people who sent me up and down the lift to yet other people. Actually, had the first person known their job they would have started the off load process as I checked in at LAX. It wasn't that difficult. Finally I got a very helpful lady who got the forms correct and a bit later I was on my way with my bag in tow. 


Altogether I spent from a bit before 5.30am until 7.30pm traveling on one flight that takes 5 hours and 20 minutes. There is 3 hours time difference between LA and Miami, so a total of 11 hours for a domestic flight. And I have to do it all again in the morning, you guessed it American Airlines to Antigua, Port of Spain and Saint Vincent. I'm wiser after today's experience, I hope I can keep being polite. Note to self, avoid LA stopovers in future. Note to self, avoid flying American Airlines when ever possible.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Manhattan Beach



Bay Watch anyone? I'm sure they must have filmed it on this lovely beach. I spent time wandering in the cool sunshine, sitting on the pier watching the surfers strut their stuff, dodging the pier supports as the rode the reasonable sized waves to the beach. Must say I was a little envious, it was really much too cold for me though. The trolley bus mentioned earlier took me to this place, through traffic that was as determined to get where it was going as the set faced drivers.

I was really hungry by mid afternoon. I had somehow managed to get a Premium seat on Qantas so had lovely food and service and a comfy seat. Just as well as I was still feeling a bit peaky after a tummy bug that I suspect came from the liquefaction dust and muck in Christchurch. It was an odd flight, having to sleep too early for me then when I needed to sleep, landing at LA. All good though and I can't fault Qantas. They are a very professional airline with excellent staff. I will be flying with them as often as I can.

Back to being hungry. After enjoying the fresh air and a walk, I found a lovely restaurant on the street above the beach. Old Venice had a menu with Greek and Italian food, I chose Julie's Pene (thought the name was apt) a delicious mix of flavours including coriander, artichoke, mushrooms and tomatoes topped with large shrimps. Very healthy too. I inhaled most of the plate without breathing out and then groaned a bit. I'm still full. Another myth exploded for me, there is good quality food here. In fact there were heaps of nice restaurants in that strip and I didn't see any fast foods.

So as I sit writing, almost ready for sleep and the next leg of my journey to Miami tomorrow, I'm reflecting that I've enjoyed this small taste of LA. I think I might stay longer next time and go further afield than I could in just a few hours. I'm heading to a conference in St Vincent so a night in Miami then off island hopping to the Grenadines. Although I'm really pleased to be going, the timing is not perfect. I feel like I need to unpack, catch up at the office and with friends and get a couple of good nights sleep at my place. That will have to wait until Friday. I think I might tote up the flying I've done since I left the UAE on 14 April, there's been a few journeys. 

Los Angles


I was standing waiting for the bus, quietly thinking to myself how best to capture Los Angles and I glanced up and saw this sign behind the policemen at the checkpoint going into the airport. I took the photo hoping that they wouldn't think I was taking a photo of them and their big guns, no one did thankfully. LA for a day, well for an afternoon by the time I got settled, rested and showered. What to do. I had Googled for some ideas and all looked to hard for my jet lagged, sleep deprived brain so I took the safe route and asked the lovely lady at the reception counter.

She smiled at me, possible because I still looked really shabby despite showing and adding some make up to stop me looking so washed out. My washed out status is another story so back to the smiling lady. There certainly is, she said. It seems that the hotels on the strip by the airport provide the Ocean Express Trolley Bus which takes those of us here for a short stopover on a small adventure. I jumped on board after waiting a while and it was an interesting wait.

I have had some adventures getting to LA in the form of mother nature flexing her muscles. The human adventures were just as interesting. I generally find the people I meet traveling respond quite well to my smile and feeble attempts at wit. Not so the first LAX customs man, he had obviously lost the will to live and was having a bad day. He barked some questions at me, criticised my writing (apparently he couldn't read where I was staying and so rewrote this more neatly while shaking his head) and was generally unpleasant.

I love having a flash job title to flash when people like him ask so because he made me cross and I was desperate for the loo and wanted to hurry him along, I flashed it. He stopped, glanced up at me. My smile was missing and I suspect I managed that teacher look that makes naughty school kids wilt. He was a little more friendly as he let me through without further questioning and started to bark at the next person.

My bag arrived, the next lot of security took my smile at face value and waved me through and I was outside on US soil for the very first time. I looked around and reasoned that there should be a hotel shuttle and there was. The Airport Radisson is close by, so close that my view from the 10th floor is the runway and the plane parks. Good thing that the room appears to be sound proofed from the outside. The lovely reception lady got me an early check in and I disappeared to get some sleep so I could enjoy my day.

Back to the policemen mentioned above. The first person to talk to me in the US apart from the airport and hotel staff was one of the policemen. As I was standing waiting for the bus, a young man had come around the corner and lost his wheel, that is it no longer was going in the direction it was meant to and so there was a loud squeal as the car immobilised itself. I was watching, in no danger, thinking that this had happened to us during our trip to Turkey, when one of the policemen shouted over to me. I could tell it was a friendly shout so I listened after fighting the urge to run.

"Did that scare you?" he asked with a smile. I smiled back and said no, not taking my eyes off the rather large gun he had in his hands. He was dressed in blue police coveralls, trousers tucked into big lace up boots, an Uzi or similar, cap on his head and that mustache that policemen of a certain age seem to have. He looked a bit scary but as I watched the drama unfold, I could see that these older men supported the young man to get his car towed and kept him safe, chatting away to him as they directed the traffic away from his car. After the things I've seen on TV about US policeman, it was all very reassuring. An interesting way to begin my afternoon, people watching. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The best laid plans

A while ago I vowed and declared that I would not catch the flight from NZ to Australia that leaves at 6am. And I haven't until tonight. I carefully chose my Virgin Blue flights so I could have the maximum amount of time in Christchurch, that's now been cut short by most of a day. I had to rebook on Air New Zealand, thank goodness I could as I have to make my Brisbane LA connection. I'm not impressed.

It seems that the other airlines won't change their flight paths to accommodate the ash cloud from that volcano in Chile. Air NZ are choosing to fly under it, safely as New Zealand does things safely. Well I certainly hope so anyway. I will miss valuable time with the gorgeous Noah but will get added time with Eve in Brisbane. Right, procrastinating now so best I get myself packed and off to bed. The taxi comes at 4.15am, I'm not at my best then or for the next few hours after then so please be kind to me or I might just be unpleasant to deal with. Who me? So not a morning person, sigh. 

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Shaky town

It's fantastic being in Christchurch spending time with Noah, Tim and Sarah. Not so fantastic waking up to a 4.4 earthquake, a shallow one that went on for ages. The hard shaking was okay, the lingering feeling of being on top of jelly was not so comforting. There were a few today, I only felt one other, but it gives me an idea of what it's like to live this day in, day out.

We went for a drive through the streets, around the red zone and over to Lyttleton. Lyttleton has been hard hit and many of the places where I used to love to eat have gone. The roads were rough, the tunnel a scary place to travel through. This place will never look the same again, everywhere I look there are buildings on a lean, in a pile on the road or gone completely. I'm not sure how many times I cried out in shock at the state of this place.

I can only be very thankful that my family are all safe. There is more to come and I hope that it gets no worse than it is. Sarah and I watched a documentary this morning called 5 Days in the Red Zone I hope the link works for you as it shows the true horror and destruction of that day in February that terrified us all, at home and overseas, as we felt and watched the the situation unfold.

On a better note, we had some fun tonight with this website. Doggelganger lets you take a photo of yourself, webcam required, then matches you to the dog that looks most like you. The dogs are ones in need of a home, the site's aim is to get those making the match to adopt the dog they match. Easy when you get a cute one like I did, a young German Shepherd/labrador cross. It's actually heaps of fun on a wet Saturday night. 

Friday, 17 June 2011

Aotearoa

I'm heading to the land of the long white cloud, Aotearoa or New Zealand, this evening. It could be called the land of the long white ash cloud as the volcano in Chile, Puyehue-Cordon Caulle, is sending her plume our way. I must confess, I'm not that fussed on flying when there's dangers such as this about but then I am going to the shaky isles where there is plenty of danger anyway.

The news and photos out of Christchurch look grim and I'm hoping that the earth will stay still while I'm there. I struggle when I see those websites that show the actual quakes, hundreds of them exploding on the screen. I've stopped looking now. By all accounts my city will never be the same, I'm not looking forward to seeing the changes that this latest destruction has caused.

I am very much looking forward to catching up with friends and family. I don't have a lot of time so hope that I do get to see everyone. Noah will be my main focus, getting some much needed grandma time. Eve has been a treat, I'm so very lucky to get this time with them both. The plan for today is to get out and about in Brisbane, lunch and then off to the airport. Not a bad way to spend the day. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

On holiday

Brisbane is turning out to be a bit of a treat. Nick came up from Melbourne, a lovely surprise, and I'm getting heaps of grandma time with Eve. She is small and very cute, very alert and knowing. She relaxes into my arms, over my shoulder and burps on cue. She is wide eyed and alert and mostly in control of her movements. Eve is a delight, she knows who is who in her world and that her needs will be met.


We caught the city cat on Monday and wandered around South Bank with the hordes out enjoying the  public holiday. I haven't been to South Bank for years and was amazed that it has recovered so well from the recent floods. We had a discussion about the bloke pictured below, he was just hanging around above the crowd. One of us thought he might just be one of those statue buskers, the others mocked and laughed. I'm still not completely convinced myself. 



Sunday, 12 June 2011

Brisbane

Brisbane is surprisingly cold, freezing by Brisbane standards. I was hoping to be able to acclimatise before heading to a New Zealand winter but it's straight into it. I suspect it's even colder in New Zealand. It is warm at Kieran, Sasi and Eve's place. Eve is just beautiful, alert and knowing. She gazes up at me with her big eyes, dark blue at the moment, know that someone different has her and responding to me with the beginnings of a smile. She has dimples when she smiles.

We went for a wander, trying to stave off my jet lag, to keep me awake. Breakfast in the local cafe was lovely, French toast, the best coffee and even better company. I've so missed spending time with Kieran. It's been a year since I've seen him and then it was not for very long. Sasi is fantastic, a lovely young woman who is loving being a mum. They are the best parents, enjoying Eve. Like her dad, she loves being part of family life. She sleeps best knowing there are people around and enjoys being held.

Walking through the mall pushing a pram was a treat for me, getting to carry Eve and watching her taking in the bustle of a mall Saturday was a privilege. Having a granddaughter is an unexpected pleasure. My family was all boys until she arrived. I'm off to enjoy some more Eve time now, waiting for Nick to arrive from Melbourne, another unexpected treat. His arrival means that I will see all of my children and grand children this trip, fantastic. More about my journey and photos to follow.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Off again

I'm leaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again...... really, I'm not actually sure when I'll be back in my own bed. I'm heading to Brisbane and it only seems like yesterday that I arrived in this place. I feel really settled here, not quite ready to depart these shores yet, but I'm so excited to be going to meet Eve in person. 20 plus hours of flying excited. I've got a pile of work with me so hopefully in my down time will get some of the thinking work done that can't be done with almost constant interruptions. Long plane journeys are good like that.

No business class or lounges for me this trip though, I'm out of Emirates main flying zones. I should rack up a few Qantas points so the point gathering begins again. I've got a bit to do before I leave as well, it's 9pm here and I'm struggling with the thought of packing and packing up my valuables in case there's a hurricane in my absence. That's possible apparently as the signs are all there. My lovely friends will keep an eye on my house and car, after dropping me at the airport in the morning. I also have an early start, an appointment with a TV show.

There have been many firsts for me lately, tomorrow I get one I didn't expect and am, quite frankly, dreading. I'm going to be interviewed on the local morning show, live. I should be getting organised now, going over my notes and getting my clothes ready. I'm still not sure what to wear so I'm procrastinating, one art I've perfected over the years.

Back to the, I'm not sure when I'll be back. It seems that I'm off to a regional conference in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Look that up on a map, it's kind of southern Caribbean and a wee way away from here. I may get back for one night then have to fly via Miami, I'm not sure I will. I have left it to others to book and organise so it could be interesting. I think I might also pack clothing suitable for a four day conference. I may need to thaw out after my southern experience so that part of the Caribbean may well suit.  

Monday, 6 June 2011

I have wheels

It's been a nice weekend, a peaceful weekend where I've managed to tick off a few of my to do list items. My bike is now mobile, the back wheel that gave me so much grief is in and working. I had a roll around on the driveway of my complex feeling very smug. I won't say exactly how long it took me, or the underhand methods I used, but it felt good to be on my wheels after such a long break. I suspect the break through came when I figured out that putting the bike up the right way would make things easier. I plan to do some riding when I come back from my Aussie/NZ trip, can't wait.

I'm off to Brisbane on Thursday, well the trip starts Thursday and ends on Saturday morning, to meet Eve. And to see her mum and dad of course. I thought I was coming closer to home coming to the Caymans and the flights are shorter. It's the stop overs that make the trip a bit tricky and I just love hanging out for hours in airports. That novelty wore off a while ago. I've got a lot of time in LA and may just risk leaving the airport, we shall see. After my Miami saga, I'm not sure that US airports are that user friendly. On the way back I'm staying in LA the night, works better for my connection home. I'm quite looking forward to having about 20 hours there, just enough to see if I want to return.

I made blueberry muffins tonight. It's been a while since I baked and they turned out well. There is a plentiful supply of early summer fruit here, all the berries and so very fresh. The mangoes, local mangoes, are particularly good. They grow on trees around here, tress laden with the fragrant sticky sweetness that are fresh mangoes. The ones we buy in New Zealand are bland and stringy, the ones here are just delicious. I realised this morning that I always stand when I'm eating mangoes. They're not easy to eat many places other than over the kitchen sink.

I did experience a place where they are even more delicious. Eating mangoes in the sea is the very best way to eat them, the mix of sweet and salty. The best way to eat them in the sea, I've had lessons from the locals after I amused them with my unorthodox methods, is to bite out the top and then squish the soft insides up through the hole. I need a little more practice and there's never a shortage of mangoes when I'm out and about.

They do cause some strife here, people debate over who has the best tree, which breed are the nicest and who makes the best mango jam. This can lead to mishaps. One of my friends shared with me some of the stories passed about here, like the one where two neighbours had a machete incident because one took the other's fruit. Growing up we enjoyed other peoples fruit too, that was the best sort. 

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Friday!



Well it's just what you do on a Friday after a busy week. Mine's the GnT in the foreground. The sunset is the one we watched from our bar perches. The Friday crew are a Canadian, an American and a new friend fresh from the UK. Add a kiwi to that and I'm sure it has the makings of a joke. The bar is a lovely place where many people do Friday night drinks, apparently if you get there early enough there is free food. We usually only manage the bar snacks.

There is also Tarpon feeding there at 9pm. Tarpons are a scary looking, very large fish that make me think twice about swimming anywhere near the restaurant strip. They love to be fed and seem to know when to come to the light. Small children feed them, sometimes they jump and so do the kids. Amusing but we had gone before feeding time this night. There are photos just in case you think this is one of my tall stories, see told you they were big.

I got home a little later than I had planned as I had another social engagement, much to the amusement of my friends. You see I've been here five weeks now and I have social engagements stacking up, what can I say. The second occasion was with the lovely people I went out on the boat with. We had a nice time eating, drinking and dancing by the side of a canal. It rained a bit, warm, sticky rain that freshened the air and made us retire to the dry places. It was a lovely, relaxed night out with people who are fast becoming good friends. 

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Cayman Brac

I went to another tropical island today, flew over in a pedro the baby plane. Pedro the baby plane was a character in one of my kids story books. He won me a quiz question once so I always think of him struggling to fly over Aconcagua in a storm whenever I have to climb into a plane that only seats a few.

Today's Pedro was a de Havilland DHC6 Twin Otter. Truly a baby plane, I thought as I ducked my petite frame to clamber over legs while finding a seat. The plane was full, there were no seat numbers. There was a wonderful view of the island as we took off and flew over my place, actually we could see pretty much the whole island even though we were flying quite low.

Getting on the plane was interesting. My only other experience of Owen Roberts Airport was flying in at night, jet lagged and not sure what to do next as I arrived for the first time in the Caymans. Today the airport looked a little more friendly. What I didn't realise was that there is only one departures lounge and it's for international and island hoppers. So through I went, not realising this, not realising that they were quite serious about security.

I must have asked quite a few times, "I'm just flying to the Brac, are you sure I have to go through there?" Yes I did it seems, so off I went though security. Those in front lost their water, I chose to keep my tea in my bag. It was in a camouflaged travel cup, no one could see it as it blended in to the mess that was my bag. Or so I thought. An alarm went off, much like the one on Monsters Inc, when my bag went  through the xray. I was taken aside, "But I'm only going to the Brac" I said wistfully, innocently.

I tipped out my tea, returned my cup to my bag, carried the cup through the standing xray much to the horror of the security staff. Too late, the lady snatched my cup, put it back through machine shaking her head and off I went. And guess who got bomb checked? That would be me. I suspect I had been highly amusing to those watching as the man who checked my bags laughed when I said I just wanted my morning cuppa and I was only going to the Brac. At least he appreciated my early morning humour.

I landed safely on Cayman Brac after flying over another island I found out was Little Cayman. It is little, the Brac is not that much bigger but certainly had more interesting terrain. There is a high bluff, a cliff with caves that I could imagine pirates stowing their loot in. It would be great to explore on a mountain bike, not sure if Pedro could fit mine in his hold.

I can certainly see why the Brackers enjoy living there, it's beautiful and temperate and interesting. You can even travel over to Little Cayman by boat or plane to visit the lovely beaches there. I got to land there on the way back. I had a great day out, being driven around and visiting all I had to visit, a day of meeting new people and seeing a new place, not a bad day really. Thanks Brackers for my warm welcome, I'll be back again soon I'm sure.