Day Five: Refunds, Rides from Strangers, and Objective Achievements (updated)

Today was a fun day, but it didn’t start out that way.

It started at 7:30 in the morning. Those of you who know me are perfectly aware that me and 7:30AM are not friends…but today was snorkeling and parasailing day, so a double dose of coffee was going to have to do the job. After getting dressed and applying sunscreen for the first time this trip, I headed downstairs to get my excursion vouchers. The gentleman at the counter was a bit surprised that the housekeeping guy didn’t leave the vouchers in my stateroom last night. I shared his sentiment, only because that guy has been amazing to me all week, so I wasn’t sure why the delivery wouldn’t have happened. Moreover, the excursion guy told me that I’d never make it to the parasailing location if I went snorkeling, so I had to pick. Parasailing it was, so yay refunds. This left me to go back to sleep, which I did for a few minutes.

I was woken up by an overhead announcement that the staff would be doing an evacuation drill, and that any passengers were not required to participate, and just to stay out of the way of the staff involved in the drill. So, I got dressed and didn’t think anything of it, but by time I was out of the shower, they did the whole “honk the horn in this particular pattern indicating that everyone must do their best Jack / Rose impression”, as well as an overhead announcement saying that passengers should report to their evacuation locations. There was no disclaimer on that announcement, so I figured, “meh, it’s just one deck, couldn’t hurt”. I asked one of the crew members what I was supposed to do as I headed down, and he indicated that I should go to my spot. He even looked at my room key and saw that I was a passenger, so I figured, “seems legit”. I head into the theater and had no less than five people on my way out tell me that it was crew only…including my DJ friend. See what I get for actually paying attention on emergency evacuation drills? I just can’t win.

As I did my walk of shame back to my cabin to get my towel and such, I noticed how utterly empty the ship was Not a soul in any of the restaurants, no movement of the elevators. It was an almost eerie sight to behold. I made sure I packed as light as possible – ship card, passport, and $30 in cash.

I met up with the other four people who intended to go parasailing. I was surprised the group wasn’t larger. We sat and talked for a bit while we waited to leave. After about 15 minutes, the crew member in charge of the excursion told us that the winds made it unsafe to parasail, and that the excursion was canceled, so I should expect a refund. The group who waited with me was cool with me tagging along with them as they went to explore the island. One of the taxi/tour people gave us an offer for a lift around the island, and over to the beach at the end, accepting money upon our return to the ship. Hubert had a name badge that resembled a taxi medallion, and two police officers from the island were nearby and not intervening, giving me the impression that he was less likely to strand us on the far end of the island and extort us for a lift home. Another family from the Carnival ship that was also docked was to be a part of our tour, as well as another woman from ours. The nine of us entered the four-row passenger van and started going around the city.

It was strange that the sketchy area from last night didn’t seem as worrisome as we drove through it. Perhaps the fact that there were lots of people there made it seem more ‘lived in’ than the near-lack of people that were there yesterday. Hubert pointed out the sign that said, “wrap ya tings”, advice that he felt may have helped him during his casanova days – he stated that he was a father of ten. A few blocks down, we passed by the Parliament, and the prison-turned-library. Over the next 45 minutes or so, we passed by the hospital, the rum cake factory, a fort that was weathered out of its utility before it was ever actually used to fend off a pirate attack, and the Queen’s Stairwell, a place I’d completely forgotten about, but instantly remembered having been to the last time I came to the island once I saw it – a family photo that hung in my hallway for many years was taken on those steps.

While there, a local police officer spent a few minutes to talk to those of us who were at the top of the steps waiting for the rest of our party to finish shopping. He said that the island doesn’t have much of a heroin problem, though marijuana and cocaine are a bit more prevalent. Most of the matters he deals with are situations like when people try to sell T-shirts to tourists without a vendor’s license, or minor parking/traffic violations; crime isn’t a frequent occurrence, as could be demonstrated by the fact that the officer was not carrying a sidearm. He answered a few more questions about the economy – while tourism was unsurprisingly the nation’s economic foundation, the banking industry is a solid second, with agriculture its third. It started to rain slightly; the officer directed me and my fellow tourists to duck under the overhang of a nearby building, though the drizzle was over minutes after it began.

Before we headed over to the island of Atlantis, Hubert took us on a quick drive through ‘da hood’, showing us how the other half lives. Some houses had cars, others did not. Some had outhouses. One house had a massive hole in its roof. The houses were colorful in that pastel shades were prevalent over the more standard white/grey/tan/wood exteriors of American homes, but most houses in this area had clearly been worn. While a part of me felt a bit bad about the fact that a poverty-laden area would end up becoming a tourist attraction, the other part said that it’s also equally important to keep in mind that even a small island whose income largely comes from the one percent (globally speaking), poverty is still a problem.

Atlantis is where the money went. Hubert told us that it’s a $3 billion resort, and it was clearly intended to attract an upscale clientele – when your shopping area is made up of Michael Kors, Gucci, Prada, and Rolex, it’s clear that my Macy’s money need not apply. Going to the “million dollar chair” wasn’t going to do me much good, as I didn’t have a camera with me (remember – I packed for parasailing). Notably, they did have an aquarium area that was visible through a window; some small sea turtles were cute and fun to watch. I was the first one to leave the interior on our stop there.

When we got to the beach, I made a deal with Hubert. He and I settled up, and I asked him if he would be willing to take me back to the ship and return me to the beach. He agreed. I went back to the boat to get my phone and a little more money, though I also changed out of my wetshoes and showered quickly. Being concerned about the possibility of not being able to get the complement of souvenir T-shirts amidst a swarm of people planning on getting them “before we go”, I took a few minutes to get the shirts I needed; the vendor and I both got a good laugh over how much easier it was to find XXL shirts than medium. The vendor was also nice enough to throw in a free shot glass. I got back to Hubert about 20 minutes after I left him, he’d decided to take a quick nap while waiting. On the way back to the beach, he and I spoke a bit more about the island and what it’s like to deal with tourists for a living. He says that overall it’s not bad. Like everywhere else, he’s had his share of rotten apples and patently unreasonable people, but he’s also had excellent groups and overall says that the tourists that he works with are pretty good to work with. That’s nice to hear. He also was able to exchange a Bahama dollar for an American dollar, so now I’ve got another foreign currency to add to my collection.

I arrived back at the beach with about an hour left before we had to leave. This was perfectly fine with me, as I wasn’t planning on swimming. It was just nice to be able to sit at the beach, in the shade (what, you thought I’d be sitting in the sun and roasting my way to a metric ton of sunburn?), hear the waves crashing and people having a good time. The sand was clearly coral in origin, rather than silica. its fine texture was fun to run my fingers through, as it felt really nice. Near the entrance of the beach, there was a lady named Olivia who was selling Piña Coladas out of a coconut, all I could drink for $20. Apparently, ‘southern hospitality’ crossed the ocean; she had that “what can I get for ya, sugar?” demeanor that was really nice, and was amusing to hear in a Bahaman accent (which sounds ‘mostly Jamaican’ with a bit of a British flair). She and I spoke a bit about what she does, and how she got into selling rum-filled coconuts to tourists; she shared a generally-positive opinion of tourists and enjoyed her ability to make a on the beach talking to everyone. As we were talking, she would nonchalantly refill my coconut, making sure I never saw the bottom of it. I was surprised that she was able to go an entire day making piña coladas on three water bottle’s worth of rum. I won’t say how many I ended up having, but “more than I planned on” would sum it up pretty well. At the end, Olivia shucked the shell off my coconut, and I was able to eat some of the meat before heading back with everyone. I once again reveled in the amusement that half the people who were showing photo ID to get back on the boat were using driver’s licenses; I was a bit annoyed that I spent as much time as I did worrying about my passport.

Our friend serendipity struck; Jon and Lauren were on the same ingress line several feet in front of me. We made plans to get together at one of the premium restaurants tonight, coincidentally the one closest to my room. Despite those plans, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so I was hoping that hitting up one of the restaurants right when they opened for dinner would hopefully avoid crowding.

The Manhattan Room was relatively empty when I got there, though it filled up fairly quickly shortly after I was seated. Nothing on the daily menu seemed terribly appetizing, so their salmon mainstay seemed a safe choice. Where I was seated, directly in front of me was a fairly large table of 10-12 people. Immediately in front of me was a girl in a wheelchair – not an “I broke my leg” wheelchair, the full-sized ones used by those with mental handicaps. An individual seated next to her (presumably her sister) fed her an ensure-like substance through some sort of a feeding tube apparatus, and her head movements seemed minimally voluntary. Despite the fact that she wasn’t physically capable of feeding herself, her hair was neat and nicely braided, and she had on a nice dress. It was clear that the family put a lot of time and effort into caring for her. Her sister, as well as the person on her other side, asked her questions, held her hand, and attempted to interact with her throughout the meal. They clearly still treated her as a part of the family, and it was so wonderful to see her being tended to with such a great amount of love and care, and somehow, this girl managed to exude a sense that there was life within her, and – dare I say it – even a sense of humor. I have no idea how she managed to express her personality despite her clear (and comprehensive) physical disabilities, but for someone to be able to express that without speaking or meaningfully moving definitely stood out.

Given that I’d been observing all of this as a result of my physical position in the restaurant, I took a moment to speak to the sister to both apologize if I came across as ‘staring’, and to express my compliments to her for how wonderfully it seemed that she was taking care of her. I wasn’t sure how that was going to be received, but she seemed to appreciate the gesture.

However, I was shot, so my next stop was to get some shut-eye.

I woke up about 9:00, though I am pretty sure I heard my cabin steward open the door, only to realize I was asleep. I really appreciate the fact that he’s been excellent to me the whole trip; on more occasions than not my occupancy of the room has made his room cleaning pattern a bit of a challenge. While it wasn’t very long before I had to meet up with Jon and Lauren, I wasn’t feeling too well. Whether it was due to the food, my higher-than-anticipated ethanol consumption, or some combination thereof, I definitely wasn’t feeling like I wanted to eat. Still, I figured I’d sit with them and chat, which I did. Jon talked to me about some of his graphic design work, though he’d never heard of Digital Juice before – that was most definitely taken care of. Lauren told us about the time she found herself amidst an audit that involved the head of finance losing her job…and having charges pressed. We talked about our feelings regarding the music that was being played across the way; “Closing Time” and “Wonderwall” were tracks that spawned discussion. It was nice to spend some time with them talking about their lives for a change; I do thoroughly enjoy their company.

We debated heading out for the night, but I wasn’t down for it as I still wasn’t feeling the greatest (though better than I had been). No, tonight would be my early night. I will be woken up by the sunrise.

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