Cruisin’: Unlikely Travel Buddies

“The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends….Friendship must be about something….Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers.” -C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

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Departure from Miami

Our second ‘date’ was 10 days long and we didn’t kill each other… so I guess we should get married, right?!

Just kidding.

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Carnival Glory

When Randall informed me just before Christmas he had two free cruise tickets from winning Employee of the Year at his work in Plymouth, Massachusetts, I jumped at his offer. I knew I would have to miss a week of my last semester of undergrad… but senioritis was kicking in, and besides, when else might I have a chance at a free Caribbean cruise?

cruise5Randall and I had met in Italy: I was in Rome for the weekend, he was there for a week or so on vacation. We sat next to one another in St. Peter’s Basilica for mass that Sunday morning. After exploring Trestavere all evening together, we discovered that we enjoyed travelling and adventuring together–but when we parted we doubted we would ever see one another again. Until now!

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Two Carnival ships

I think it’s rare that someone would go out on a limb like Randall did, and ask someone he had met only once to spend 10 days with him–and I think it is equally rare that someone would accept that invitation. But we are both at times in our lives where we are willing, and able, to try most anything for an adventure. I am thankful God placed us in one another’s lives so we could take this crazy exploration together.

We had the time of our lives. Thank you, Randall, for all your hard work, and thank you for asking me to join you in this incredible experience.

The Amber Palace

The Amber Palace, on board the Glory

10 days, Jan. 30-Feb. 8: two overnights in Boston due to early/late flights into/out of Fort Lauderdale, two days travelling and boarding/debarking, two days solely on the beautiful Carnival Glory, and four days in the middle of the trip during which we debarked in Caribbean locations for 8-9 hours during the day.

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photobomb…

The ship was gigantic–it was a floating city. There were 12 decks, approx. 18 elevators, a giant casino, more than a half-dozen restaurants, a large theatre, a water slide, multiple bars and lounges, and constant live music and stand-up comedy in the evenings. Randall’s free tickets left nothing wanting–we ate every night in the Platinum Restaurant, a private balcony, and still left some ‘cruise cash’ left over for drinks during the week. We spent our two ship days lying in the sun on the deck, watching the Superbowl on a giant outdoor screen, soaking in live music and dance, and sitting in the hot tub and looking at the stars.

cruise9cruise10We spent a day on the island of Cozumel, Mexico, where we rented a moped and zipped the 43 miles around the island, stopping frequently to visit Mayan ruins and talk to the locals. We came upon a free tequila tasting–I’ve never been a fan of tequila before, but now that I’ve had the real Mexican stuff, there’s no going back.

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Giant lizard!

Cozumel

Cozumel

We stopped once to watch the water crashing on the rocks on the back side of the island. On the way back to the dock we stopped in the town for lunch and pina coladas…and literally got caught in the rain… /cue country song/

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Belize City

Belize City

In Belize City we wandered around the city, went to the Belizean History museum, walked up and down the river, and talked to the locals. Much of the city was dilapidated, but it made for some neat pictures of staircases and walls in the middle of overgrown lots.

Miss Jenny

Miss Jenny

I ate Belizean food for lunch from a woman named Miss Jenny who served up delicious meals outdoors under a tent. As all her friends gathered around the tent they spoke quickly in Creole and smiled at me sitting wide-eyed on a tiny plastic kids chair beneath Miss Jenny’s large pots of chicken, rices, collard greens, and plantains. We met Edward, who told us about Belizean government and festivals, and I had a beer with Alan, who used to be a diving fisherman. He knew everyone on the river.

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Fishing boats on the river in Belize City

Roatan

Roatan

In Honduras we stayed on the island of Roatan, and from there took a chairlift to a smaller island with a beautiful beach. We rented snorkel gear and explored the beautiful reefs just offshore. We saw an octopus and a few squid, in addition to a plethora of brightly-colored fishes and corals.

Chairlift over the jungle

Chairlift over the jungle in Roatan

Otherwise we just lay in the sun all day: I read a book, Randall napped. That hard worker deserved it.

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Grand Cayman Island

By the time we reached Grand Cayman Island we were exhausted from the previous days’ adventures, so we decided to go with a guided tour for the main part of the day. We took a bus through the island, mostly comprised of large stucco houses and American-looking neighborhoods of American stores (vastly different from anything we’d seen on land yet), and older women going for walks in white shorts and visors. We were driving on the left side of the road: I discovered later that the Cayman Islands are British territories.

A boat took us out to the middle of the large bay where an underwater ‘beach’ came to a plateau about waist-deep, and stingrays circled our feet. Following the lead of our tour guides, we kissed and hugged stingrays, then snorkeled around the reefs. Our tour guide was Tina, and she homeschooled her son CJ and took him on all her tours. He loved to participate in fishing competitions, and wanted to go to college in New England. Randall spent most of the time on the tour talking with them.

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Paul Revere statue outside Old North Church

Paul Revere statue outside Old North Church

I had a night in Boston before I had to leave the following morning, so Randall took me downtown to Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, and Old North church. It was cold, and we were both missing the sun, but we had a great time seeing a bit of the old city and drinking Sam Adams in the Black Rose Tavern. It was a bit strange to be blistered all over with sunburns but also be chilled to the bone because I did not have sufficient jacket or shoes.

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Nailed it.

Midwest from above

Midwest from above

But it was worth it.

On Motion: January Roadtrips

“To me–a blank fortune is…an open sky on the horizon. Fill in the blank. A fortune no one’s ever written up ahead of time, because no one could imagine a life as strange and as beautiful as the horse you’re about to jump on.”  -Sarah Ruhl, Late: A Cowboy Song

There is something beautiful and exhilarating about constant motion, something powerful. Motion accomplishes something that stillness cannot. Perspective changes: physically, and then psychologically.wisco1

Such were my thoughts as I pushed through the West, then the Midwest, changing landscapes falling behind me and looming before me, one after one after one, the blue hood of my Dodge pickup pressing on in front of me like the prow of a ship.

January was full of time in the car, most of it alone. I didn’t mind: in fact, I had been looking forward to the trip for weeks.

I get excited when I drive. Sometimes a good song comes on the radio, or a prayer rises in my heart, and I laugh. It bubbles up, and I roll down my window and lean out up to my waist, feeling the wind and the tears running out of the sides of my eyes, and I yell at the world in happiness.

This was my first drive from my home in Western Montana to Nebraska in the winter or alone. I have made this same trip eight times before, but always with someone else, and always sometime between April and August (although we still hit white-out blizzards even in that time frame). I needed to get my truck and my college belongings back to Nebraska for the upcoming semester.

I looked around for a driving buddy for a while but I wasn’t too disheartened when none surfaced. Every brain needs a rest from constant interaction.

I began my journey January 2, and that first day on the road was glorious. I missed being behind the wheel while I was in Italy. I spent 14 hours flying across beautiful Montana and south through Wyoming, leaving my beloved mountains in my rearview mirror for seven months. I had heard there was a storm on my tail, but I had a good chance of outrunning it for the first day.

I always make a few calls while I drive, catching up with old friends. Some people tell me it’s dangerous, but if you have ever driven alone across eastern Montana and all of Wyoming in one day, you know it’s much safer to be on the phone: otherwise you risk falling asleep out of sheer boredom (although as long as you keep the steering wheel straight you may still stay on the road at least until you run out of gas, probably 30 miles from the nearest gas station).

wisco2I found a tiny motel in Cheyenne for only $55. I could hear the man snoring next door, and there was a wind (not draft) coming in through both the rotting wood around the window in the bathroom and the 3/4-inch gap around the front door; but all I really needed was sleep, and I can sleep through anything. I just used an extra blanket or three.

The second day was a white-out blizzard. I spent six hours gripping the wheel as the wind whipped white sheets across the road, erasing any remains of asphalt to my view. I arrived at my apartment in Nebraska exhausted.

But the next morning, I was up early and out on the road for another 10-hour adventure: I wanted to visit a friend from Italy before the semester got started.

I spent four delightful days roaming around Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It was in the single digits all week, and the wind chill put us deep in the negs. However my friend Anthony, who had also studied in Florence last semester, still managed to give me a grand tour of downtown Oshkosh during my stay.

wisco3We hit up Peabody’s where they offer live jazz every Sunday night, and we attended The Traveling Suitcase’s debut concert for their new album. Anthony knew the lead singer/drummer Nicole Rae (he knows everyone in that city).

I also stopped for a night to see my brother Kevin at his school in Mequon, and he treated us to Panera. We don’t have those in the West. I also hung out with his college buddies, some of whom I remembered from my visit last March.

Over the week, as I socialized with Wisconsinites, one thought pervaded my mind:

Wisconsin is the South of the North.

I am always struck by Wisconsinites’ superb hospitality. I know the Midwest is known for this trait in general, but Wisconsinites’ love for their Home and their Guests is a thing to behold.

The drive to Nebraska was blessed by good weather, although I counted over three dozen cars and six semi trucks off the road in mangled fashions, a result of the storm the previous day. I heard about a 190-car pile-up in Illinois just east of where I passed through.

I was home for only one weekend before I piled into a car with six other people and drove through the night to Louisville, Kentucky, for a travel conference (ironic, I know).

wisco4There is not much to say about this weekend except that I experienced my first two all-night drives, and that I got to spend a Saturday evening in downtown Louisville. We all grabbed a few drinks at Sully’s downtown. There were so many lights in the walking district that it reminded me of what I imagine New York City to look like (a future bucket list location).

In true college-student fashion, we managed to fit 14 people into two hotel rooms, 10 in one and four in the other. Thankfully I had a sleeping bag with me: the gypsy life, my friends, and the beauty of constant motion.