Tuesday, June 29, 2004

(Very Busy Week . . .)

I am writing this on Thursday, and this has been a pretty busy week so far. This entry will be a bit long and there will be a lot of pictures, so consider yourself warned. I think that I mentioned before that I was one of the departments in charge of crew activities for the month of June. Because the other two in my department really didn't want to do anything, it was delegated to me. I didn't necessarily want to do anything either, but I am the low man on the totem pole. It was fun, but an awful lot of work. It also meant participating in many of the activities, which are naturally late at night, so I have been even more tired than normal.

I failed to mention in last week's entry that one of our activities for last week was a trivia night. Since I grew up pretty much not being allowed to watch movies, TV, or mainstream music, trivia is often a fruitless exercise for me and I don't tend to participate. However, it was decided that Ed (the person more or less in charge of this event) did not quite have the mastery of English required to read off questions in a public event. I agreed to read off the questions on the mike if they prepared the game. When it started getting close to the day of the game, I e-mailed him to ask if they questions were ready. In the end, I ended up designing the game board and coming up with a lot of the questions. It was a bit difficult, really, as I had to reject any questions that were based on U.S. history, any kind of sports, or anything that wouldn't be worldwide general knowledge. Ed had come up with the game, which was a figure-eight board with four categories of trivia; general, Carnival, name-that-tune, and statement (where you make a series of statements about the answer, each one getting more specific, until someone gets it). The game was to be teams (preferably six), with a metal can and a spoon in the center. Anyone with the answer had to get their team leader to grab the spoon and hit the can (partially to stop the music or the countdown questions). Then they would roll a very large die with only three numbers on it, and they would advance that far on the board. We got the gift shop and the spa to donate prizes, so we had six bags with six prizes each. First prize was a massage, second was a bottle of alcohol, third was a facial, fourth was a key-ring-bottle-opener, and I don't know what the last two were (as will be explained momentarily). When it came time for the game to start (and there were the monthly posters up for three weeks, and a daily poster up for the whole day) I had a hard time (even with a microphone) to get anyone to participate. It turned out that there were four people that had decided to bring their birthday parties up to the crew bar, and none of them were wanting to participate. So much for thinking that the crowded bar was because of the contest. So, we sectioned off just half the bar and made several announcements trying to get people to organize teams. It took a while (and some booing from the partiers), but we finally ended up with four teams.

It was a bit unfairly balanced because of the tendency of the people on the boat to group with others from their own country. One team was made up almost exclusively of cruise staff (I believe that all were from the U.S., which made up nearly every U.S. citizen on the boat). The second was made up of people who spoke really good English, including one other American. The third was a bit of a mixture, and the fourth was exclusively Bulgarian. The game got pretty exciting. When we were going to use the whole bar, the plan was to have everyone stand behind a line. Unfortunately, everyone was very close, and I had a hard time keeping it fair. One guy would just grab the spoon and hold it, waiting to see if his team had the answer. He was very large, but the girl from the cruse staff (who is less than 5' tall) kept wrestling it away to actually hit the can. He couldn't seem to understand that every team had the same issues that he did. I had a hard time also because a high percentage of the questions had come from the pursers, and I made the erroneous assumption that they were correct. So, several times a question had to be skipped because of a questionable answer. In fact, one Carnival question (which we didn't have to skip since everyone was in agreement about the correct answer) asked what basketball team was owned by a Carnival company owner. The listed answer was the Miami Dolphins, which is not even a basketball team (the correct answer was the Miami Heat). Another that I thought was going to cause a fight asked how many Carnival ships are operating at this moment. The listed answer was 19, and they kept fighting back and forth about whether it was 19 or 20. Each team wanted to get it right so badly that they wanted to stop the game and go to the internet to look it up, but I wasn't about to pause the game for that long. I still don't know the right answer, but I had several people afterwards (and not even part of the game) come up to me and knowingly tell me (as if I was crazy not to know) that the answer was 19, or that it was 20. I still don't know the correct answer.

The responsibility for making up the compilation CD for the Name That Tune questions was also given to me (largely because I own a CD burner and a lot of MP3 songs), and one of the songs that I had picked was "Come On Out and Play" by The Offspring. About two-thirds of the way through the game the U.S. team was dramatically in the lead (I believe they were on the last space), the second team wasn't too far behind, the third WAY behind, and the fourth wasn't on the board yet. I purposely picked it because very few people can correctly come up with the title, even though it is a very popular song (the title of most songs is the chorus, whereas you'd have a hard time coming up with this title after listening to the song). The U.S. group hit the barrel first, and incorrectly said that the name was "Keep 'Em Separated" (the name of the chorus). Then they spent quite a bit of time arguing about it, telling me that this WAS in parentheses after the title. I pointed out that it WAS after the title, and was put there in magazines and such because people DON'T know the correct name. During this, one Bulgarian (the team had pretty much all retreated to the other side of the bar after realizing that they weren't going to be able to effectively compete without understanding English) coolly weaved through the crowd, picked up the spoon, and rapped the can. He stood up, looked right at me, and clearly stated the correct name and handed me his playing piece as he grabbed the die. The other team was initially STILL trying to get me to give them the point when I pointed out that not only had they not answered the question correctly, but that their lead wasn't going to be threatened in ANY way by the team that had just gotten on the board (he rolled a 1, so just BARELY on the board). The game finally ended, with the winners in the order of their team numbers listed above. It was exciting, entertaining to watch, and a number of people congratulated me afterwards on my crowd-control ability.

This has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with me or Carnival, but I just looked up at the TV and saw Bill Gates in an interview, and (something which I would have found hard to believe if I hadn't seen it) he has changed his hairstyle for one that is MUCH worse. Don't get me wrong, I'm not particularly proud of mine. If I was the richest man in the world, though, I think that I would get a Hollywood stylist to make up a good hairstyle for me. Maybe he did, and they just really hate him.

Well, that brings me up to the actual day that I am writing about. I was on duty Monday and today, but since I knew that Mihai wasn't going to get off today, I worked late last night and got him to let me go off. I got a tour that I haven't been on before. It isn't offered as a free tour for the employees, so I actually had to pay (after the crew discount) nearly $80 for it. It was six hours long, but didn't have a lot of stops. It appealed to me because it only had one stop that I had been to before, it stopped for much longer at each stop, and served a buffet lunch. Most of the tours happen during lunch, but don't serve it or even have a place to eat. We made the obligatory stop at the Botanical Gardens. I'd like to point out here (hopefully without any offence to the Dominicans) that, while they are very proud of their parrot display there, it is really sad. They proudly take each tour to the gardens and straight to the parrot display, where there are two parrots that are in a cage quite a ways behind a fence, and they often can't be seen at all. I'm pretty sure that they hide from embarrassment. I decided (partially because I had seen it three times already) to go explore the bamboo enclosure thing that I had taken pictures of a month ago. I went inside, but didn't take any pictures as it is tough to take a picture of a room without a wide-angle lens. The only change that I would make if it was mine is that I would only have one entrance instead of 4, it would give it a more private air.

We then headed to the other side of the island (the side that I went to last week) that most tours go to. This is due in part to the fact that it is farther away (and keeps the tour operator to one tour a day rather than two) and to the fact that it is largely the part of the island that is owned by the Caribs (the actual original natives of the island). As I mentioned before, they aren't restricted in any way in the use of the land, they don't use titles or pay taxes on the land. They still have a chief, although nowadays he is elected more on his ability to communicate the community needs to the government than for his prowess with a spear. He also occupies an elected position now, for five years at a time (the election is in a couple of months). I was delighted to have a Carib guide, as she told us a bit more about their side of the island (as well as their side of the story). Our second stop was at a small building that actually had a bathroom (even though you had to get to it from the outside, like a gas station). I'm fairly sure that the stop was because very few other places we would go actually had restrooms, but (as a lot of the buildings do) it had a stairway to its roof where the view was very nice. It also had posts that stuck up around the edge of the roof, and this and the stair led me to believe that they harbor a hope at some point of adding a second story (hopefully without a second-story exterior-entry bathroom). There was a small farm next door, with an even smaller farmhouse. I COULD be wrong, but I'm guessing by the lack of wires (or solid walls, for that matter) that it didn't have electricity or plumbing. I got a bottled water and waited for the line of women to finish using the bathroom.

Our next stop was to be at a pair of waterfalls, we were to be here for a couple of hours and could swim. She said (as did the description of the tour) that it would be a fairly rigorous hike. Now, you have to keep in mind that they also say this (in the same words, actually) about the hike to Trafalgar falls. Last time I went to Trafalgar, there were 3- and 4-year-olds walking on it without any problem as well as people with canes. So, I took this with a grain of salt, as did the rest of the tour. She also said that the second part of the hike (from the first fall to the second) would be MUCH more rigorous, so I figured that a few people would have to skip the second fall. We started by walking down a "road" that was too muddy to take the bus, where it started raining. We were soon in forest so thick that very little rain actually hit us, and it made the temperature pretty nice. My bag has a waterproof cover, so I wrapped it in this to keep the camera dry (and put my shirt in the bag to keep it dry also). There were a number of plants that I hadn't seen before, and the guide was very knowledgeable. I didn't take any pictures, as the forest was a bit dark and I didn't want to get the camera wet. The rest of the hike to the first waterfall was impressive, it was pretty steep and had sections of trail that were less than a foot wide (but had a rail and lots of trees, it was just a very steep slope rather than a cliff). A couple of people decided part-way to forgo going the rest of the way to either of the falls. Two of a group of three girls in their early 20's (from Ohio) were complaining about how hard it was. The third (and more adventuresome) of the three confided that this day was mostly for her, all of the other days were to just be drinking and party excursions.

We got down to the first waterfall, and the last bit was very steep and quite slippery. Not enough for me to have to put the bag on my back, but enough where I almost had to use my free hand. Most people stopped there to take pictures, but an adventurous few of us actually climbed down to the water. Only two of us went in (the more adventurous of the Ohio threesome) the water, which was really nice. Since there were only three of us down there, we all agreed to help take pictures of each other from the recess of a cave (to keep the cameras out of the rain). Because the waterfall comes down into what is basically a large hole in the mountain, there isn't anyplace to back away far enough to get the whole thing. Here is the top, here is a picture of me after getting out of the water next to it, and one of me behind it. Here is the wall around the waterfall, which gives you an idea of why I couldn't back away from it (and you can't see it at all on the trail at all, as the foliage is very dense). The rain stopped as we finished shooting.

After we all exchanged cameras it was decided that only three of us would move on to the next waterfall. If I had thought that the last bit of the trail had been steep, it was only because what I thought was part of the wall was the next bit of trail. In fact, the next part shouldn't really be called a trail. It could much more accurately be called a "Rope Running Next To Some Footholds." You would put your foot on a rock, then use a large yellow rope to pull yourself to where there was a bit of tree root sticking out, at which point you could grab a vine and put your foot next to the trunk of a small tree. I imagine that there are those that think that I am exaggerating, but unfortunately I wasn't able to grab my camera to give you proof. If it tells you anything, the guide didn't even come. She just pointed at the rope and told us to follow it. Needless to say my bag was now attached to my back and I was using both hands. If you look at this picture, you can see where the trail levels out (and goes over the tree roots to the left). One of the two girls (who didn't swim at the last waterfall either) stopped at the tree roots, so took a couple of pictures, gave her my camera and forged on to the water. You can see by the last picture that, even more than the first, this one comes down basically inside a green-walled tube. I realize that it is a bit too bright to see me, but this after I swam (or stumbled, as it were) to the other side of the pool. I then climbed out of the water, stood next to the waterfall, and went behind it to stand under the water in a place where it didn't fall quite as hard. Here is a parting shot of the top of the waterfall. One girl put her camera in my bag. She had it tucked in her suit top when the going got rough, but she was too wet on the way back, and you definitely needed both hands.

After hiking back across the other waterfall, back up the trail, and back up the mud road back to the bus. While waiting for stragglers, the bus was parked next to what I can only describe as the local equivalent of a night club. The inside is infinitely nicer-looking than the outside, and the bathroom was outside and behind it (which was becoming a theme). I bought a bottled water, and then the guide assured us that we were about to go eat. This was definitely welcome, as it was after one and I was hungry. Some more driving, a bit of narration, and a few riddles. One of them I have also heard from another tour guide, it seems to be one that they really like. Keep in mind that they speak a mixture of English and Creole, so they pronounce "bear" and "beer" the same way. I will recite it here, not necessarily because it is good, but because it will give you an idea of their humor and the fact that they poke fun at their own accent (or, which may be more likely, that they don't know that there is a difference between "bear" and "beer"):

You are in the woods. You have a rifle with only one bullet. You stumble upon a bear, a jaguar, and a tiger. What do you do, how do you use your one bullet? I'd stop here and give you time to reflect upon the answer, but there honestly isn't any hope that you will stumble upon it. The answer is: you shoot the tiger, drink the beer, and drive off in the Jaguar.

The next stop was at an actual set of Carib huts. Now, keep in mind that the fact that they are natives does not in any way imply that they didn't move forward with the times. Just like Native Americans don't run around in headdresses and war paint anymore, these people have houses, electricity, running water, etc. 3/4 of them are mixed, as they often marry outsiders. There IS some distinction of ancestry that determines whether or not you can claim Carib land, but for all intents and purposes they look like the rest of the Dominicans. They have almost completely absorbed the modern culture and have lost their language altogether. However, they still make a lot of carvings (and a lot of what is sold in the market next to the boat is bought from them and re-sold), and some still live in huts and move around on a semi-regular basis. This little "camp" is meant to reflect their heritage to an extent. You can see my trusty bag in the bottom right-hand corner of this last picture.

She told us that they were about to serve lunch, and we could walk to the river behind it and swim. As you can see, the table was set beautifully, and was under a roof of palm leaves. She also told us that the meal consisted of nothing but local food, and no meat. This, of course, meant a table of carbohydrates, so I resigned my self to this being my "sugar day" this week. There was a breadfruit salad (very similar to potato salad with a lot of garlic), fried plantains, stir-fried rice (I don't recall seeing rice patties anywhere . . . ), fresh pineapple (which, of course, I did NOT eat), a type of root that they eat (and that I do not remember the name of), a mixed bowl of something I don't remember, pumpkin soup and a really good bread. My favorite was the breadfruit (although, if there had been butter or Brummel and Brown in copious quantities, it would have been the excellent bread). The fried plantains, mixed bowl of something, soup, and rice were good. The root thing was not. Actually, I shouldn't say that it wasn't good, but it really wasn't anything. It was kind of like eating a slightly-baked potato, but with less flavor. I think that with enough garlic, salt, butter and brown gravy it would have carried all of the condiments to my mouth rather well. I have a strong suspicion that its popularity has a lot more to do with the price and copious quantity in which it grows than with the taste. Mangoes also grow like crazy. They have people about every 50 feet around town half-heartedly trying to sell them by the bucket. At the end of the day, I gather that they just leave the bucket with whatever is left in it, as it isn't worth carrying them back home where another couple of hundred await them in the morning. The meal was served with water and grapefruit juice.

You will wonder at this point why I don't have pictures of the river. Yes, I did walk to it and swam (or rather, stumbled) across it. It was only knee-deep, although a section just up from me was deep enough that kids were swinging out and diving into it. However, there were a number of women washing clothes in the stream, along with a number of kids running around. There was a blanked with a nude (his clothing, presumably, being washed) baby, face-down and sound asleep. The baby and the washing would have made good pictures. However, something occurred to me: what would you (or your mom) think if someone came to her house, while she was in her work clothes, totally not looking her best, and elbow-deep in washing water . . . to take her picture? I realize that it was a public place, but I decided that it would have been rude and that if asked, none of the women would be keen on having pictures of themselves this way on the 'net. It was definitely a picturesque scene, and I sat on the hillside watching for a bit. I love hard work like that, I can watch it all day.

In fact, I watched for long enough that I missed part of the show. The stage that you probably saw to the left of the first pictures was for a group of Caribs that put on a traditional song and dance. Now, even though they don't know the language any more, they still remember a couple of songs. It was like going to see a foreign dance where you don't know the words, but neither do the singers. It was cute, the costumes were appropriately colorful, and we clapped. There were also a couple of tables of the required local crafts, one of which was run by the tour guide's daughter.

From here we got on to a road that was MUCH smaller than the roads we had been on all day (of which I describe in more detail in earlier entries). This was truly one-lane, and if we had met a larger object we would have been backing up for a long way. Instead of winding this road around and along the mountain, the road was the ridge. There was a perfect and beautiful view on both sides of the road, as the peak of the ridge was coincidentally the width of a road. Dominica sits right on the border of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and we were looking right at one of these. The first picture actually WAS bisected by a power line, but thanks to the miracles of Photoshop it no longer is. I have another view of it here, where you can see a heavy rain coming at us. It had been really sunny since the second waterfall, so having it rain once inside the bus I considered to be perfect timing. Here is another view of the valley opposite of the water. All of Dominica reminds me of Tennessee or North Carolina, but more lush and with more rugged mountains. However, if you look at a close-up of the last picture, you will see that a large percentage of the trees are palm trees rather than pines. In TN or NC, you will travel upwards for hours before actually reaching mountain ranges. Here, you go from sea level to nearly a mile high in a half hour or less. It is very distinct when viewed from the water. On a really clear day you can see San Juan from where I was, but this was not a really clear day. We drove back, the patch of rain that you saw caught us and just as abruptly left. When I got back to the ship, it felt good just to sit for a while and read before dinner.

My plan was to include the next night's party in this entry, but I hate having any one entry to be so long, so I will continue next month . . .