One of the things Kathy & I are really loving about this retirement thing is the ability to pretty much come and go as we please. No, we didn’t win the lottery jackpot so we are kind of limited to what we do and how long we go, but it is no longer dictated by an arbitrary vacation allowance.
We were driving near the airport shortly after we returned from our cruise, when I asked Kathy if she wanted to just go get on a plane to “somewhere.” We didn’t have our passports with us, otherwise we might have done it, but that didn’t stop her from saying “why not?”
I suppose we’ll eventually get tired of the coming and going, but so far all we seem to have is itchy feet! And for us the cure for that is to pack up a suitcase and go somewhere.
I’ve had in my mind for a while that I wanted to check out the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi and Tennessee. So in a few days we’re going to head out on a little road trip. We’ll be hitting a few highlights only – this won’t be an in-depth trip of any kind – through Alabama to Louisiana before heading back up to Natchez and up the Parkway to Nashville. No ‘Nawlins’ or ‘Opryland’ for us this time – that will need to wait for a more focused trip. In the mean time I think we’ll have plenty to see and we are looking forward to seeing it!
I’ve been finishing up some of the photos from our first trip this year, the one to Captiva and Sanibel Islands, Florida. These are a few more from the mangrove swamp at Ding Darling NWR. Not all of these are of mangroves per se, but you get the idea.
I felt like these needed to be in black & white. Partly because of the weird color of the water due to the brackishness (is that a word?) of the marshland water but also because of the patterns themselves.
One of my many personal projects is to look for and photograph bits and pieces of the architecture on cruise ships. For that purpose I hardly go anywhere without my little point & shoot camera. It isn’t as intimidating as a regular camera and doesn’t look a lot different than a phone, which everyone is used to seeing.
There are things to see everywhere on board, just like on land. Sometimes it is simply a shadow or a reflection, and occasionally it is just a piece of glass or metal that has an interesting shape. Symphony of the Seas was no exception.
One of the paradoxes of cruising is that while the ships visit beautiful islands, their very presence can detract from what makes the islands beautiful in the first place. Each day we were in Nassau, for instance, there were 5 ships in port, with total passengers of more than 18,000! The entire island of Roatan, Honduras has a population of 50,000. And when there are 3 ships in port, that can add another 8-12,000 people just to the area around the port. Many of those people buy stuff, which is great for the economy, but it can make it hard to enjoy being there.
It’s getting to the point where if you’ve seen one port you’ve seen them all. We joke about it here in the states – every strip mall has a Subway, a dry cleaner, a nail salon and either a CVS or Walgreen’s. Throw in a Chinese restaurant or pizza joint and they are the same everywhere. On cruises – in the event that you have money left over after all the spending opportunities on the ship – you get a “Port & Shopping Map” for every port, which directs you to the so-called “ship recommended” places to buy diamonds, tanzanite (which I think was invented for the cruise passenger!), fancy watches, color changing t-shirts and tote bags, booze, chocolates and on and on. But enough – I want to talk about something fun.
Kathy & I make a point of seeking out places in each port that are off the beaten path, locally-owned & operated and provide a flavor for the place itself. Sometimes it is a nice local restaurant, a beach or just a tour. Where we can, we like to find shops selling things that we are happy to bring home. We found such a place on Roatan, Honduras.
Roatan Island Art is a small craft shop located on the “main drag” of Roatan, about 200 yards from the cruise terminal. I found it on Google Maps and am glad I did, because it isn’t listed on the “Port and Shopping Map.” But it should be! Yeah, you have to walk past all of the “ship recommended” shops and actually leave the port area. Once you say “no, thank you!” to 300 taxi drivers wanting to take you on an island tour, you get to a part of the street with a number of restaurants and the straw market. Directly across the street from the straw market in a colorful and whimsically designed shop is Island Art.
Everything in the store is sourced and hand-crafted by Yourgin Levy, his wife and sons. Yourgin is a native Honduran and is intimately familiar with the indigenous wood, stone, shells and other materials he uses in his work. He speaks passionately about his island, his crafts and his family, and told us that he got his start selling his jewelry on the beach. With encouragement from his wife, family and others he worked hard to get a storefront to sell his goods. The items in the shop and the shop itself reflect the passion he has for his work and his island.
I was especially impressed by the different kinds of wood that Yourgin uses in his work. I don’t remember all the names now, but cedar, mahogany and rosewood were common. These woods are not easy to work with, even with power tools! And the results are just beautiful, with Yourgin’s passion for Roatan showing in each piece, and especially in his descriptions when he tells you about them.
Kathy and I ended up buying a couple small items, a sea jade necklace and a wood wall hanging, mostly because it was the first stop on our cruise and we didn’t want to chance running out of room in our luggage or breaking something on the way home. On a future cruise which stops in Roatan I would definitely plan on buying something larger, like one of the beautiful hand-carved sailboats, a cutting board or serving tray.
Whatever you choose to do on Roatan – and you should do something because it is beautiful – have your driver drop you off at Roatan Island Art. Or just walk there from the ship. And when you get there, take the time to talk with Yourgin and experience the passion and love he has for the island of Roatan and for Honduras. I’ve written this because in my own heart I feel strongly that this man and his shop deserve the publicity. Go there!
Spending a week (or two) aboard a cruise ship with 6000 or so of ones closest friends can be a little challenging, especially for someone who tends to be a little introverted. Yeah, that’s me. Kathy too.
We’ve been on enough cruises to know how to find our own space and can usually do so pretty reliably. During the day there are always a few spots on board that are out of the way and quiet. That usually involves a lounge or the library, but could also mean a sun deck away from the pool or the Promenade, where there is no food or bar service! Of course we could always retreat to the balcony of our own stateroom. We found such places on Symphony of the Seas, but there were also places where it was so noisy that individual voices pretty much disappeared. Those places were never our first choice, but sometimes finding a comfy seat in a noisy place was preferable!
We have come to really enjoy cruising. After this last cruise, which was actually two separate cruises that we sailed back to back, we’ve been on 25 cruises! And we have two more booked, one for later this year and one more in January next year. Needless to say it is an important part of our travel plans.
I’ll have more to say and photos to post about some of the specific ports and experiences from this recent cruise soon. And I still have some posts to write from our trip to Florida. I’d better hurry up though, because it won’t be long until we embark our our next adventure. Stay tuned!
Kathy & I spent the day yesterday exploring the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. I was channeling my buddy Don Brown just a little bit, as he is one of the best bird shooters I know. I was handicapped a bit by a 200mm lens on my Fuji, not really long enough for serious wildlife work. But I came away with a few shots that are reasonably well exposed, acceptably sharp and representative of what we saw.
The most amazing thing we saw I wasn’t even able to record! we walked back a trail into a wood, and soon found a group of egrets lounging in an area well off the beaten path. There were easily a hundred or more there, but the brush was so thick that there was no way to make a photograph. But the sound! I said it sounded like the morning after a frat party – lots of guttural sounds and weird noises. It was quite an experience, but you’ll just need to take my word for it!
I’ve written previously about how Kathy & I like to seek out train stations on our travels through different areas. I hadn’t paid too much attention to train stations when we planned this trip to Florida, but almost by happy accident I realized that southern Georgia and Florida contain many examples of train stations. Here more so than in other states they seem to generally be in pretty good shape, many of them currently used as museums, social halls or offices.
While we were visiting the station in Avon Park, a volunteer at the museum there told us that the Silver Star passenger train passes through there daily, and that it would be there within the hour. He also mentioned that there is a station in Sebring that hadn’t come up on my search, even though the Sebring station is an active Amtrak station.
While we were in Avon Park, a CSX freight train came through, then we drove to the Sebring station in time to catch the Amtrak train making its stop there. We aren’t usually fortunate enough to actually see trains while we are at these stations, so to catch two on the same day was a real treat!