Thursday, July 09, 2015

Motorboatin' in the Ocean

Well after two solid days of lounging in the condo's pool we decided to mix it up a little.


Since we took the economic route and rented a condo instead of an all inclusive resort, none of the tour companies knew where the heck we were staying. So we just told them we were staying at the nearest resort and walked over and stood in front of the hotel gates waiting to be picked up. I think that worked rather well.




We picked a nice leisurely pontoon boat cruise tour. You can see mid picture where the workers had to rake an opening through the seaweed mass on the beach so we could get to the boat.


The first part was some snorkeling. I like a good snorkel. This particular area didn't have a whole lot to see but it was still fun playing around with it. It was our friend Kayla's first time snorkeling so that made it more fun.


Next they took us to a "natural swimming pool" which was just ocean that was really shallow. There were other tour groups there as well so we all got into the water and had a little swim party.


This is that seaweed stuff up close.


There was so much floating around that wearing it on our heads seemed like the thing to do. It's not quite as awesome as the Spanish moss in Louisiana, but it'll do.


One interesting thing was this big jug of wine looking liquid with brown bark stuff floating in it that the staff was passing around to the guests. I tried it and was impressed that it had a unique taste. I asked the jovial staff member who poured it what I was drinking and he laughingly replied what I thought was "marijuana!" I figured he was joking and I was annoyed because I really wanted to know. Turns out I just misheard. It's called mamajuana. Wikipedia, hit it! "Mamajuana is a drink from the Dominican Republic that is concocted by allowing rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. The taste is similar to port wine and the color is a deep red." Boom.


Fun was had and then they returned us to shore.


I'm pretty much over buying things in gift shops but looking around in them is still fun for a brief period of time.


A shot of the condo's pool. The rooms were nice enough but had one little memorable quirk. The water in the Dominican is not drinkable. Fine. There was a big jug water dispenser thing in the kitchen so that was covered. The weird thing was that the water that came out of all of the sinks and even the shower head was salt water! It was so weird. It's like they knew their water sucked so they just gave up and started pumping it straight out of the ocean. All of the bathroom hardware was heavily corroded from the salt.


I think construction in other countries can be pretty interesting. This thing looks like some ancient Mayan ruin or something.


For dinner we at a place called Pastrata that was also walkable from our place. We didn't go to this place I just liked their sign.


Lydia got some sort of tacos.


I had these really really good coconut shrimp.


Fish and chips I want to say.


Boom. Day accomplished.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

A Lazy Day in the Dominican

Our first full day in the Dominican Republic was a lazy one. We had plenty of food and booze from yesterday's grocery store visit and the condo had a nice pool. That was that.


We eventually gathered the willpower to visit the beach but it was pretty nasty looking really. There was a thick layer of sea plants everywhere.






There were several restaurants within walking distance of the condo so we hit one up for dinner. La Posada de Gladys was definitely the most legit Dominican food we had on this trip. Our waiter was a real nutjob and drug us along on a really weird conversation. He seemed to definitely be on something. He said he used to live in Boston but said he left because there were too many rules. Ok, I can believe that the US has more rules by comparison. Then he got around to telling us there was a drunk driving incident. What a surprise.


While the staff bordered on psychopathic the food was pretty good and cheap. I had the grouper. You can see I avoided the fresh vegetables for my delicate tummy's sake.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Punta Cana With Friends

So yeah, we just got back from a month in Europe. But moving is hard! We needed a mini-vacation, plus we are still exercising our Southwest Airlines Companion Pass super powers. I think after this Costa Rica might be the only foreign destination that they fly to that we haven't visited yet. This trip began in St. Louis which was super exciting: no long drive to Tulsa or Kansas City for us!


Lydia refuses to use hotel shampoo so we had to refill our tiny travel bottles up first.


Unfortunately the TSA heard we were coming and our boarding pass printed out with the dreaded "SSSS" code on it. I didn't know what that meant but Lydia did from the flight she was pulled off in New York for being a security risk. The Southwest desk lady knew what it meant too because her eyes went wide and she asked a coworker what she should do before eventually handing them over.




Our theory on "SSSS" is Super Secret Sufferin' Suckatash or Super Sexy Sensitive Search, which unfortunately is what was about to happen to me.

When we got to the security line and the guard lady scanned our tickets the scanner went red and made an ominous beep for both of us. We each got a TSA agent assigned to us who followed us through the line. I felt kind of like a super villain from the X-Men. When I sat my luggage on the scanner another agent followed my bags while my original pig tail followed me, lest I use my power over magnetics to mess with the scanners.

I then got patted down which was made much worse by the slow, creepy description of how I was about to be patted down beforehand. "I'm going to use the back of my hand on your sensitive areas." Is the federal government allowed to tell me where I'm sensitive?

After this every little pouch of my backpack was opened and swabbed then run through a machine that checks for werewolfs or something. I had to turn my computer on to prove its innocence as well.

After that they take my passport and one goon says to another that he's going to "call it in to CC". After a long wait Captain Crunch apparently gave me the go ahead and they gave me my passport back and said thank you or something. The one that patted me down tried to kiss me on the cheek but I politely refused.

Insult to injury was that throughout they were either ignorant or lying about why this was happening. I heard "random security check" at least twice which clearly isn't true because it happened to both Lydia and I and it happened to her last week. One told Lydia that it had something to do with our airline which also seems to be nonsense.

I'm not sure why we've been flagged as super villains but my best guess is our visits to Russia, Turkey, and Egypt, although all three are well established tourist destinations so I dunno. I suppose flying to Russia and not even staying 24 hours is out of the ordinary.

Well I managed to conceal my evil plans once again so on to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic!




I know what you're thinking, "John, if you want to go to every country in the world wouldn't it be efficient to just pop over to Haiti?" Yes, annoying question thinker, yes it would. The universe likes to torture me though, and the cheapest way to fly from Punta Cana to Haiti involves going back to Florida first. We looked at buses but they sounded crappy and it would have been a four day round trip. I'll just visit some other time. Womp womp.


There were several wedding parties on the flight so the plane was especially rowdy. One girl spilled a drink on herself so bad that she had to change clothes. One of the couples getting married was asked to come to the front of the plane and were presented with crowns made from swizzle sticks and peanut packets.






I was especially impressed with Punta Cana's airport. It could have easily been the check in area for a resort. It had a thatched roof and the immigration officers just had polos on, no scary military uniforms here. Topping it off was a band playing some live Caribbean music. This is how a tourist destination airport should be. I'm looking at you, Montego Bay, Jamaica!

Lydia and I, her work friend Kayla and husband Aaron were adventuring together so we booked a condo to escape the expensive resorts.

I thought I was pretty smart and even had planned out the specific grocery store that I wanted the cab driver to take us to in order to stock up on cheap food. Well we had mixed results. The local beer was $10 a six pack. I went for the can six packs since they looked cheaper but the price posted was PER CAN!




The condo was pretty solid. We spent a lot of time in the pool.






This fearsome beast was guarding one of the houses in our neighborhood.


Monday, July 06, 2015

Moving!

Moving day is here! We got everything from the apartment and Lydia's classroom packed up into an even bigger U-Haul than last year.








The opportunity I wanted to move here for in the first place didn't end up working out but living in Neosho was a good experience for us I think. Plus it put us in road trip range of lots of fun places we hadn't been before. I'm happy I came and I'm happy to go home. Good deal.


I am going to miss the motivational bumper stickers. It reads "Don't let the car fool you, my treasure is in heaven."

Monday, June 29, 2015

Left Italy, Interrogated in the US

Well it was finally time to come home. Time for the obligatory pictures through the plane window!


Lydia was still coming down from her nutella experience so I got us both these little snack packs that even included a drink. Fun!






We again booked the cheapest flight possible and ended up on Meridiana, an Italian airline. It reminded me of the Transaero flight that started this whole adventure: decent enough food but pretty outdated plane. How would you like to fly a transatlantic flight on a plane with no air vents?!


This poor guy looked like a guy who was dressed as a pilot for Halloween.


This awesome little dog and owner sat near us. It was funny because he was unleashed during takeoff for some reason and started sliding down the walkway and nearby passengers had to sort of push him back to his spot underneath a seat. We were on the plane together so long that we're on a first name basis. His name is Caesar.




We landed and got to the Global Entry kiosks which are awesome. We are almost to the customs door when I realize my little printout has a huge X through my face and reads "see an agent" or something threatening like that. Ruh roh.

I show an agent and he asks me lots of questions. He asked me if I'd been to any of the three or four countries in Africa on the Ebola list. I said no, but I saw him holding up my passport to compare the stamps to those of the Ebola countries. Ok. Then he says he needs to take me somewhere else where they are going to ask me more questions.

I'm walking along side of him and he stops to talk to someone and he grabs the top handle of my backpack to get me to stop. He's holding my passport at this point so it's not like I'm going to make a run for it.

Nameless Homeland Security man drops me off in this waiting room looking place with more guards at computers, but they are high up and looming, like at a pharmacy. One calls me over and proceeds to go though my passport and ask me about most of the stamps in there, which as you can imagine took some time. He asked if I'd been to Iran or Syria. At this point I have a pretty righteous beard going so I'm wondering if they think I've gone extremist or something.

Both this guy and the last guy had an annoying way of asking the same question twice like trying to trip me up or something. Like:

"Did you travel to Africa?"
"Yes, but just to Egypt."
"Did you travel to... Liberia?"
"No."

"Did you travel with anyone?"
"Yes, my girlfriend."
"So she's not your wife or anything?"
"Argh! You caught me! Death to America!"

Well eventually they let me go and Lydia and I had an extended laugh over the whole thing. I honestly felt kind of cool like I traveled so hard that I broke a government computer somewhere.

Well we were on our Southwest plane out of New York and everyone was seated, just about to roll when they call Lydia's name. They ask her to bring her bags with her and the TSA get her and take her back to security and run her through the deluxe treatment because she's "been flagged as a security risk". Lydia said that once the TSA lady saw her get off the plane she turned and said "she's not a security risk" into her radio. It was pretty funny. Lydia and I are definitely on the naughty list for some reason.