Thursday, August 5, 2004

(My First Time Off The Ship)

O.K., sorry to keep you waiting. :) When I got to this ship, the I/S manager was WAAAY behind (as I had mentioned). Today was the first day that I was really able to even consider getting off the ship. We were in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. I was able to ask the shore excursion manager at the last second if there were any openings in any tours, and she told me that she could put me on a catamaran tour to a short hike up a local waterfall, which sounded good to me.

I got off the ship a bit early, and so wandered up and down the pier a bit. When we had been here a couple of weeks before, we had parked at a commercial pier, as another ship was here. Today, though, we were at the actual cruise pier.

I have mentioned before that there are people that constantly work on the ship. Well, as much as they are cleaning and painting the inside, the same goes for the outside. If you look closely at this picture, you can see two guys hanging from ropes. There was another at the front of the ship. It is interesting, you would think that there would be some elaborate system of doing this, probably something with winches and locked chains and levelers. However, it is quite the opposite. One guy, 12 stories off the water, ties a rope to a second guy and to the rail. He then lowers a 2x10 board over the side with a rope on each end, and ties that to the rail. The second guy steps on the board and moves to one edge. The guy lowers the opposite edge, gives the painter some slack, and the painter moves to the other side of the board. This continues 'till he gets down to where he starts. It takes a lot of trust on the part of the painter, I would think. The guy at the front of the boat actually had to lasso the anchor to pull himself close enough to reach the boat.

Something that I really don't understand (and may have mentioned this before, but I REALLY don't understand it) is that they use TINY finishing rollers to paint everything. These guys dip a 6" roller into paint, reach out with a long pole, and paint about one square foot. You'd think that they would have one of those 18" rollers with a ton of paint when painting large areas, but they only use tiny rollers no matter how much they are painting. They just painted the entire 3rd floor in the past couple of days, which is a LOT of square footage. Now I understand in the case of the guys that have to hang a long ways from the wall that they are painting. An 18" roller would weight a TON at the end of a thirty-foot pole. It is entertaining enough, watching a guy swinging back and forth and closer and farther . . . standing on a 2x10 . . .  trying to paint an area the size of a notebook with a 30-foot pole. I don't exactly envy them as I climb onto the party catamaran and sail off.

As we left, I got a really good shot of my new ship, the best one since the shot I took out of the airplane window on the way into Grand Cayman. As we headed towards the Dunn's River Falls, we passed by a dolphin watch/swim area. We also passed a golf course with some beautiful waterfalls pouring into the ocean. If you can get away from the tourist/shopping areas (more on this later), this is truly a beautiful place.

We got to a small beach and pulled up to a dock. There were several other sailboats and powerboats there, everyone does a kind of dance as each boat pulls up to the dock (which only holds one boat). It is funny, a guy stands and gives out passes to the park, and about five feet away another guy takes them. I think that I would just hand the guy 30 passes for 30 guests, but maybe they sometimes cheat. There was a really nice trimaran next to the dock also. Within sight was a house that must have cost a fortune, as it was on a fantastic piece of land.

I have to apologize for the quality of the rest of today's pictures, as I had to take them with a disposable waterproof camera. We walked along the beach, where they started filming with waterproof digital cameras and waterproof video cameras. They got everyone as excited as possible, and then started filming. Now I realize that they sell the tour cheaply, but this is something that I really hate. Every ten to twenty feet, we all had to stop. He takes a picture of every couple, every family, and (attempts to take a picture of) every single person. Then he takes a group photo, a group video, and then we would go another ten feet.

The other thing that I didn't really care for (but understood) was that they made everyone hold hands. This way if one person fell, they could take out everyone (that way there aren't any surviving family members to sue). You can see this in the picture that I took at the bottom of the falls. The waterfall is basically a whole bunch of tiny waterfalls, one right after the next (this one is when I am standing on top of a drop shooting back down). The total drop is probably a couple of hundred feet, but the tallest falls are only ten to fifteen feet. After we climbed the second drop (and went through two photo shoots) we came to the biggest one (maybe 18 feet), which worked out well for me. I thought that I got a picture of it, but it didn't seem to come back with the film (although THIS camera also suffered a light leak . . . I am either too hard on them or they just aren't very good at opening them in these labs).

It worked out well because while everyone was climbing the "easy" side, the guy pointed at the vertical side and said that if I wanted to go up that way I could. I jumped at this, as did two teen-age guys who were tired of the whole hand-holding thing also. They looked a bit surprised that I took the guy up on it, but I was eager to go. I had to close my eyes to keep my contacts from washing out, but it only took me a couple of seconds to climb it (which made me feel good, as the two teens took a couple of minutes each). I had just passed the whole group in one fell swoop. Rather than hang out for them to catch up, I continued up the "harder" part of the falls and kept stopping to watch, making sure not to get back with the group again. I didn't want to get too far ahead, as there were groups in front of me, and I didn't know how far up we were going. As I was always on the opposite side, I kind of felt like a casual observer.

It was just beautiful. They did make a footpath that runs parallel to it, with an occasional overlook. However, it isn't very obtrusive, and rarely mars the view. Here's another shot of the cattle line coming up behind me. Between the slow and unsure people and the constant photo/video stops, by the time I got to here I was way ahead of everyone. It was so beautiful, I sat on the edge of one fall and just let the water flow by. Eventually everyone caught up and it became obvious where we were getting off (by the huge sign saying not to go any further). At the top, of course, there were places to buy things and get hair braided. Oddly enough, though, the guides strongly recommended that we NOT shop there, as they don't allow enough time on the tour. In the center of the small shopping area was a gorgeous tree, a banyan or something similar. For those who are curious, I did NOT buy the video or photos. It would be cute if I was there with family, but instead of remembering a beautiful hike, I think that it would be the memory of being photographed that they would think of.

The trip back was nice, lots of people drinking and dancing. The boat kind of went past the ship a bit, turned around, and came back. Not much in the way of boating, but it was nice to be on the water (being inside a floating mega-hotel doesn't quite feel the same). They only put up the main sail, and I think that was just for looks as it was never adjusted no matter which way we went, and rarely filled with wind as we constantly motored.

When I got back, I still had some time and decided to go walking. Here is the part of Jamaica that I have heard of and REALLY hate. I walked away from the ship. As soon as I got to the populated areas (and past the people begging for change and money), I was immediately inundated. I think that over the course of an hour, I seriously doubt that I ever made it more than ten feet in peace. At nearly every step I was aggressively cornered by either a shopkeeper, a cab driver, or a drug dealer. I would walk past five cabs, and EVERY driver (and others driving by in the street) would ask if I needed a cab, then try to cajole me into getting in their cab, even after seeing me turn down several others. They would promise to find me anything I wanted, etc. I made the mistake of stepping into what I thought would be a quaint local shopping market (like the ones in Dominica). These people were ten times more aggressive, and then would try to make you feel bad for not stopping to talk to each and every one of them, accusing ME of being rude as they are yelling at my back. I skipped actually looking at anything and headed back out.

Now, you would think, by the openness of the drug dealers, that drugs are legal there. This is NOT the case. However, they are just SO overwhelmed by the volume that it is hard to make a dent in it. In fact, one tour sold from the ship (the Bob Marley tour, of course) is only 18 and up, the reason is that drugs are openly used in abundance there, and it is far enough out of the way that the cops just don't bother. I honestly don't care if the drugs ARE legal. I personally believe that killing yourself in your own way should be a personal choice, and it isn't the drugs that kill you as much as it is your own stupidity. However, I wish that the annoyance was illegal. The people of Jamaica are really nice in general, the tourism trade is just such a cut-throat thing that it is terrible to have to deal with. I'm sure that in another couple of years Dominica will succumb to the same thing.