Cozumel: Now the truth can be told!

Jenn covered most of the highlights of the trip, but she did leave out a fair number of important facts and incidents. Ready? Let's go.

* Can't believe she left out mentioning that the first bank of elevators from our stateroom featured a mural of -- we think -- Icarus, whose face was clearly modeled on Jesse Eisenberg's. Whether that means he'll star in a reboot of "Clash of the Titans," I can't say. But here's the photo, and tell me we're wrong...

* That elevator had a sexy British woman announcing each deck we stopped on. But there was a long pause between the two words she said, every time. "Riviera ...... Deck." "Lido ............. Deck." So in my mind, I see this beautiful woman, but it's like she's got a speech impediment. I'll miss her.

* I'm listening to (mostly) decent music on the Serenity deck -- the programmers like Duran Duran, clearly -- and I find myself singing along to a big-band song. "Oh can't you see me standin' here, I got my back against the record ma-shee-eeen. I ain't the worst that you've see-eeeen..." That's right. Paul Anka recorded a swing cover of Van Halen's "Jump."

* Speaking of music, Mexican music video stations are weird. While drinking a Victoria Modelo in a canvas-roofed beachside bar in Cozumel, I'm watching a strange collection of English-singing acts from the '80s I have never seen, when A-ha pops in for a song. Here's the weird part: The song wasn't "Take On Me," but the video had moments of the same comic-book-style rotoscoping as their most famous song. Who even knew they had another single? (UPDATE: It was "The Sun Always Shines on TV," which allegedly made it to the Top 20, but I swear I never heard it.)

* The alleged 21-and-up Serenity deck was a mixed blessing. We had to chase off a teenager kid who tried to step into the hot tub with us. I tried nicely: "You know this is 21 and up out here, right?" Him (voice cracking): "I'm 22!" ... On the flip side, he probably would've behaved better than the couple who bogarted the tub the next night. They didn't appear to have their suits off, yet they appeared to be doing things that would've required them to have their suits off. That's all I'm gonna say. Except that I'm now glad there was enough bleach in that tub to actually whiten my blue swim trunks. True story.

* Vanilla is super-cheap in Cozumel. But, like most foreign countries, some haggling is required. One man tried to sell us on two half-liters of the stuff for $10 each. We quickly turned and started walking away, as a girl earlier desperately dropped the price of a full liter to$13, then $12, then $11 -- but at that point we hadn't done enough shopping to know what the real price should be. Sure enough, with a bit of sass, this new guy gives us the two halves for $11.

* You can buy branded tequila in the city, but it's all imported from the proper tequila region. The local liquor is mezcal, but it's not even carried in the Mega supermarket in town. I finally found a cheap bottle, just to try. Wishing I'd found the not-so-cheap bottle.

* At the final dinner, the waitstaff all gathered to sing a version of "Leaving on a Jet Plane," only changing the words to "leaving... off the fun ship!" They also thought it would be inappropriate to sing "So kiss me and smile for me," as John Denver did. So they changed it, curiously, to "So wave me and smile for me."

* There's more, but I think I'm going to let the rest of my targets off the hook.

Cozumel, Day Four (Aug. 7, 2011)

Woke up to another gorgeous sunrise, then down to the Serenity Deck for a front-row, umbrella-covered seat overlooking the water. It was a blissfully uneventful morning, except for the startling, lone appearance of what I think was a Masked Booby* flying overhead.

The day slipped away before we knew it, and soon we were watching our final sunset over the Gulf.**

We only had one more dinner to endure. Our companions were somewhat subdued, thanks to post-portum hangovers. Mrs. "To'e Up" had to Get Up to presumably Throw Up somewhere between the appetizer and entree, but it didn't ruin my meal. Enjoyed vichyssoise, salmon with grilled tomatoes, and a braised pear.*** It wasn't an ideal situation overall, but I really did like our leisurely, small courses and chatting with hubby over a cup of coffee afterwards. Going to sleep with the curtains open one last time so the last thing I see tonight will be the moon shining over the water.****

Brad's footnotes:
* Damn those masks!
** This WAS the Gulf by now, I believe. We'd watched the lights on the northern tip of the Yucatan disappear the night before. We were confused about why our boat, which had been perfectly civil to us thus far, was taking us away from Mexico. But we realized that the disappearing lights, even viewed through our tear-stained eyes, signaled our exit from the Caribbean.
*** I had the exact same dish. Well, I mean, I had my own. But I ordered the same thing.
**** Tonight's towel was a heart shape. Jenn didn't mention this, presumably because it wasn't an animal, per se. But name me an animal what doesn't have a heart.

Cozumel, Day Three (Aug. 6, 2011)

The only bad thing I can say about today is that it made me want to strap on a backpack and skip out of the country for six months.* Slept in, then enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of bagels, lox and capers in the formal dining room. As soon as we left the ship, we were accosted by hawkers of T-shirts and plastic Day of the Dead skulls. We pushed our way through the masses lining the corridors of the garish, nondescript port. As soon as we walked out the terminal door, it felt as if we had been transported. Waiting for us was a busy Mexican street lined with sidewalks, stucco houses, dive restaurants under thatched roofs or tucked away in shacks, and lots of beautiful tropical flora.

Grabbed a map of the island and walked three miles to a museum of cultural and natural history I read about on Lonely Planet's website.Along the way, we saw butterflies, Great-tailed Grackles, and even an iguana sunning himself on the sidewalk.** A Magnificent Frigatebird soared over the water without ever flapping its wings. The plants were stunning, but we couldn't identify anything. One had thick, waxy, lily-pad shaped leaves that shielded grape-like bunches of fruit. Another had mimosa-like leaves, bright orange clusters of flowers and foot-long seed pods. Worn limestone, each like a giant stone sponge, was strewn about everywhere.***

The first floor of the museum held a traditional Mayan house, a modern art gallery, and displays on the four island ecosystems, wildlife, geology, and coral reefs. The second-floor Mayan archaeology**** exhibit was the highlight of the museum. The Mayan docent was eager to answer our questions, and he filled us in on everything from the face jugs used to burn offerings to the hand-carved canoe that could carry 25 men.*****

After the museum, we wandered the back streets until we found an open-air restaurant where we could rest with a couple of Sols.****** We enjoyed the shade at Abuelo Gerardo for half an hour before walking back to another restaurant, Antojitos Ambar, whose friendly owner and sidewalk menu had intrigued us earlier. The food was ridiculously good. Our waitress brought out corn chips fresh from the oven and an assortment of sauces including a nuclear garlic paste, cilantro-vinegar salsa verde, and thermonuclear pico de gallo. Fantastic flavor, though I had to wedge my tongue down a bottle of Pepsi Lite to ease the pain.

Lunch was simple, fresh, and exquisite: corn tostadas covered with a thin layer of black bean paste, fried fish, pickled red onion, and tangy, smooth, cool sour cream. The owner's wife was crocheting, so I mimed to her that I like to knit. She disappeared into the back room and returned with a photo of an elaborate, traditional dance costume she had knitted for her 4-year-old daughter Ambar, the restaurant's namesake.

If they offered me a jar of pickled onions, I might have stayed here forever.

Begrudgingly, we began the walk back to the port, stopping halfway at a thatched-roof restaurant on the beach where I searched for a small piece of limestone as a keepsake.

Avoided our obnoxious dinner companions altogether by sneaking in to the early seating. My three courses: mango bisque, broiled pike, and a tiramisu split with Brad. His choices: fried mozzarella wedges and tiger shrimp. Spent the rest of the evening lounging on the Serenity Deck, watching the moon, soaking in the hot tub, and listening to the churning water.

Tonight's towel animal: an oliphant.

Brad's footnotes:
* This is bad?
** Two iguanas. Jenn keeps forgetting about one we saw scurry quickly into a marsh when OTHER tourists made lots of noise as they passed. Bastiges.
*** Well, in lots of places. But not, say, on the road. Or the sidewalk. But lots of other places.
**** Jenn's a showoff and likes using three vowels in a row sometimes.
***** Mayans must have been small.
****** And maybe a tequila shot. I'm just saying.

Cozumel, Day Two (Aug. 5, 2011)

Slept with the curtains open so we could wake up to sunrise over the Gulf.* Massive clouds shrouded the sun, turning pink as it rose. The water is a mesmerizing midnight blue, and it's been surprisingly calm and glassy. Staring out the window of the gym, it looked as if the boat were skating on top of the surface.

Grabbed a plate o' fruit before heading back to the Serenity Deck. It was a full morning of reading, napping, soaking in the hot tub, napping, staring at water, and napping.

Ate a light Caribbean-style lunch, then went to a pitiful little affair that tried to pass itself off as a wine tasting. Note to self: check the wine list prior to paying. If Woodbridge white zinfandel is on the flight, run. Like the wind. The chardonnay was so bad, I couldn't stop taking tiny sips, trying to figure out if the bouquet were more like dirty socks or high-school-cafeteria-floor-cleaner fumes.**

Back to the room to dress for "Elegant Night," then to a pre-dinner Just Rock music revue in the Mikado Lounge, a production filled with such show-stoppers as Billy Don't Lose My Number and Endless Love. The thin-voiced, pompadour-sporting lead singer was unbearable. Had it not been for an ABBA medley (complete with silver wigs and white bell-bottomed jumpsuits), the experience would have been a total waste of time.***

Dinner was, um, interesting. Doogie and his friends had clearly done a sizable amount of drinking throughout the day, and they ordered a staggering amount of food. Two and three appetizers were brought to each person, and five at our table ordered second plates of lobster, shrimp, and mashed potatoes. It was nauseating. Crass innuendos were dropped throughout the meal, everyone spoke loudly and often, and while sharing plans for our upcoming day in Cozumel, the A&P teacher informed us she would be "to'e up from the flo' up." Klassy. I'm not sure who was more annoyed, us or our knowledgeable yet patient waiter Marcus. I'd rip out my pinky nail if we could score a private table next time.****

At least the food was fabulous: I had filet of basa with sun-dried tomatoes over a potato galette, strawberry bisque, and a plate of fruit.***** And on the bright side, we returned to the room to find our towel animal was a monkey.

Tomorrow will be better. Brad and I have decided to skip the pre-planned excursions to wander about the island on our own. All I want to do is watch a few birds and find a dive restaurant where we can eat some real Mexican food.

Brad's footnotes:
* For some reason, I thought we were in the Gulf of Mexico the whole time. I learned the next day that somewhere in there we crossed the arbitrary-ish line into the Caribbean.
** It really was this bad. And it started about 20 minutes late, leaving us to stare at full wine glasses that we weren't to touch. The assistant maitre d' led the course, and she kept scolding the room with comments like, "This is not a wine PARTY. It's a wine tasting. You are here to learn." And then she wouldn't teach us anything. She would read notes — so slowly that most everyone in the room lost interest within minutes.
*** The ABBA didn't do much for me, for the record. I do like "Super Trouper." They began singing this song, but curiously cut away from it, just as they approached the bridge, which is the best part. My bigger issue with the show was the male lead's tendency to punctuate the end of his numbers with the word "rock!" All well and good if you're, say, David Lee Roth. But dude was not just a gigalo.
**** The crassness included the invention of the term "Hanging Sally," which I personally found funny. And -- SPOILER ALERT -- we scored a private table the next night, and Jenn, being a big, fat liar, still has the same number of pinky toenails she started with.
***** I had lobster and shrimp. One course. A total of five people at our table ordered second entrees of lobster. I didn't hate our dinner companions, but this needless extravagance was a nail — a pinky toenail, why not? — to the chalkboard of my sensibilities. I can't stand gluttony, in general, and from Americans in particular.

Cozumel, Day One (Aug. 4, 2011)

After working tons of overtime last month, Brad and I scheduled three days off, but we only had one day to plan the actual vacation. We hoped to find a last-minute deal on a flight to Puerto Rico or Costa Rica, anyplace that wouldn't require lots of travel time. No such luck. Desperate to see another country, we booked cheap tickets on a Carnival* four-day cruise to Cozumel. Cruises have never interested me (something about being trapped on a floating village with the People of Walmart), but we took a chance.**

So today we threw some things in a bag, drove to Mobile, Ala., and hopped on a 13-story boat. Initially mortified by the number of a) screaming children, b) heavily perfumed women, and c) passengers who went straight to the lunch buffet, I felt much better after Brad found the no-children-allowed Serenity Deck, where we spent the rest of the afternoon watching pelicans, gulls and terns chase us into the Gulf of Mexico.

The formal restaurant has assigned seating, generally ten to a table, so we hoped our dinner companions would be fun. They seem nice, but I don't think we'll be hanging out apart from meals. There's a biology teacher and her military boyfriend; her fellow A&P teacher (who graduated from Brad's high school alma mater***) and husband; a Neil Patrick Harris look-alike banker and his wife; and their friends, both teachers and apparently married, despite the fact that the husband was a raging queen****. As a card-carrying Friend of Dorothy, I was puzzled why he kept up such a ruse.

Dinner was delicious. Mine: fruit plate, pumpkin and yam pot pie, and a cheese course. Brad's: duck medallions on glass noodles, flank steak, and the same tasty, stinky cheese course. Will definitely go to the gym in the morning.

p.s. Towel animals make everything better. Tonight's was a walrus!

Brad's footnotes:
* Jenn didn't name the cruise line in her original post. We were on the Carnival Elation, if that means anything to anyone.
** I'd been on one before, about three years ago for my parents' 50th anniversary. I had a good time, but Jenn couldn't go and I was more than a little concerned about how she would like the experience, for the very reasons she mentioned. On the plus side, I knew that I'd have an even better time with her by my side.
*** Albeit four years later. We probably had friends in common, but there were so many conversation hogs at the table, that over the course of four nights, we never got to explore the possible shared history. C'est la vie -- or, as Mexicans might say, esta bien.
**** This is true. I knew it immediately, and I almost never pick up on this stuff. He was also probably the nicest person at our table. Ourselves included.

Skull duggery (Spring '09)

Here's another Paris video I put together. Assembled this one much closer to the actual trip, but never got around to posting it. Sue me.

These are photos from the catacombs, beneath the city. Pretty cool (as evidenced by this National Geographic piece), if not, you know, The Louvre. I take the blame for likely mis-translations from the engravings and signs. Babel Fish will only take you so far. Jenn, who knows Kindafrench, tried to help. But these cryptic riddles and puns challenged her as well.

Musee d'Orsay avec Avetts (Spring '09)

Unforgivable, that what, two years later, I'm just now really sorting through Paris pictures. We'd done a slideshow of our catacombs visit early on, but the best photos languished.

Last night I worked through the stuff from our Musee d'Orsay visit (we also saw the Cluny, the Louvre and the Pompidou as well, all in chronological order), and set it to "Colorshow" by the Avett Brothers. Fun times! See what ya's think, and show us some amour!