Many thoughts about the world, meditation, parenting, Judaism, pregnancy, teaching, cancer survivorship, moving from West Coast to East and more.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Recategorizing

Today I had lunch with a woman whose daughter was my student 6 years ago.

I love shifting people from "parent-of-kid-I'm-teaching" category to "friend." It's a shame it takes so long.

Happy to add her to my very slowly growing collection of true NJ friends.

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

2nd Honeymoon -- One last adventure on the way home

Friday morning we got up in time to pack up our room, have a nice cup of tea (me anyway... U. hates the smell of tea) at the hotel, and then be on our way.

It all went smoothly... arrived at the airport in plenty of time, uneventful flight back to Dallas, picked up on time etc.

Delighted to be back with ND and intrigued to see just a little bit of anxiety from her when I left the room to do some laundry, but otherwise a fairly seamless return. A perfectly predictable balance of her being impatient with me but very snuggly and eager to sit on my lap.

However, there was still one more thing to happen before our final return home.

On Sunday, in anticipation of the long flight back to Newark, U. downloaded several episodes of Caillou on his laptop. About an hour into the flight he pulled it out to set it up and immediately arose our first moment of tension throughout the entire trip.

"My computer's off. Why is it off?"

"I didn't turn it off."

"I didn't say you did."

And subsequently a few more not-so-pleasant exchanges, not our usual MO I'm glad to say. In any case, he went to turn it on to determine just what had gone wrong. It started up and he said,

"Oh now this is interesting..."

"What?" I leaned over trying to see.

"This isn't my computer."

We froze and stared at each other until ND picked up that something was wrong.

"What? What?"

"Hang on, N. We need to figure this out."

We called a flight attendant over. She said we would just have to call the airport when we landed and see if they could find ours. Immediately I started trying to calculate and determine from U. just what information we'd actually lost.

Then I thought that probably whoever had our computer wanted theirs back just as much as we wanted ours.

But where could it be? What if it was on its way to London? To China? How could it be determined? The switch must have happened in security, so it had to be someone with flights from the same area of the airport, but we'd come so early in the day. What if their flight was much earlier?

Another crew member approached, whether flight attendant or pilot I don't know. We re-explained the situation.

"Surely this can't be the first time this has happened," I said.

"Actually, it is."

He took the computer to see if he could locate some ID. About 20 minutes later we heard over the loudspeaker, "Is there a Mr. or Mrs. ________ on board."

"He figured out who it belongs to."

A moment later we saw one of the caller light buttons go off in business class. We couldn't see the face of the woman who pushed the button, but both the flight attendant and this 2nd crew member approached, spoke to her a moment, then showed her the laptop we'd handed over.

"It's here! It's here!"

They took down her bag and handed it to her. As she opened it the flight attendant made eye contact with us back in row 23 and gave a thumbs up.

We cheered as quietly and respectfully as etiquette requires on an airplane.

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2nd Honeymoon - day 3

(No photos for this entry for reasons that hopefully will become clear as you read.)

Thursday

We woke up Thursday morning eager for our previously canceled trip to Puerto Moreles where we hoped to go snorkeling again. A few times we discussed whether or not to have an adventure that too closely resembled that of the previous day. We could now successfully cross snorkeling off our list and do something else, but after enjoying it so much, we wanted more. In addition, I at least felt that it would have been nice to have a more colorful location with even more varieties of wildlife in the reef.

Alas, as we finished packing up our things for the day, ready to go out into the lobby to wait for our ride, the phone rang and we were told that the sea was still just too choppy, that it had been closed to snorkeling. We were disappointed and mobilized immediately to plan our alternative. Kimberly, our travel agent, ran through some options with us. One involved taking a boat to an island, cruising around there and basically spending the whole day exploring. However, she kept throwing in the added bonuses of the trip such as free drinks on the boat, a place to eat lunch, more drinks, and we knew we just weren’t interested.

Remembering something he’d read about early on in our plans for Cancun, Uri suggested the Underwater Museum. It is a museum of sculptures in the ocean that eventually would become part of the natural reef as wildlife attached itself to them. In the meantime, we were mesmerized by the photos of figures under the water and that notion that we could be underneath the water with them with fish swimming past us like the day before.

We jumped into action, eager to make a reservation before the boat filled up and we made it just in time with just two spots left on the boat. We drove to Aqua World, confirmed our reservation and went out on the back porch to wait for our tour. There were many other tours from the same spot as well as a place to buy drinks. We saw a lot of other tourists there, mostly in bathing suits and many with tattoos. Everyone was relaxed and just hanging out on the dock waiting for their tours to leave.

We had our usual long pre-tour wait during which we wondered exactly what to expect and how even to ask questions. Eventually the tour guide, Angel, approached. He looked older than some of the tour guides we'd met previously which reassured me a little. He looked calm and willing to entertain any questions we might have, but his English wasn’t as strong. I saw a big tour boat and asked if that was what we were taking to the museum. “No,” he laughed. “We’re going in a fast boat.” Then he gave us our life vests, directed us to pick up fins and waited a bit more.

I looked around at the others in the area wondering who would be on our tour. I saw a family with young children that I knew couldn’t be coming. I also saw a blonde woman in a bikini who was flirting with some of the guides, laughing at everything she said. There were some middle-aged men and a group of teenage boys with them.

Eventually all of them, except the family, were called together with us to go onto the boat. Two young women in front of us were from Maryland and had quite a few tattoos. Later that evening when we would compare notes about the day, U. and I would both reflect on our similar reactions, that judging solely on appearances, these didn’t seem to be people who we would normally expect to visit museums.

The boat was a small one, enough to hold about a dozen tourists and about 4 guides. We buckled in and listened to the tour guides give instructions, alternating between Spanish and English. They warned that the water was a bit choppy and that the boat would be going very fast, so we shouldn’t be surprised if the boat jumped sometimes.

U. and I were sitting near the front, the guy across the aisle from us right away called for "MUSIC!" and they cranked it up as high as it would go. The boat took off, picking up speed as soon as it was able and we were speeding through the waters at about 60 or 70 MPH, if I remember correctly what the captain said. For fun the captain rocked the boat back and forth with the steering wheel. It annoyed me in theory but was actually fun and all the people behind us were cheering madly. U. joked that he thought the music was awfully loud, but saw it wasn’t really an issue because we were traveling faster than the speed of sound anyway.

It was at this point I began to wonder just a little about whether this trip was a good fit for us. I enjoyed trying to be in on the party scene for a few minutes, even though it’s not usually what I would choose, and I find myself instantly defining this lifestyle as self-destructive and in fact terrible for the environment. But I was there and that wasn’t changing, so I enjoyed it.

When we slowed down to pass through some mangroves the music was turned up even a tad louder so we could show off to the people and other tour groups on the shore. I leaned over to U. and said I understood, now , the importance of the loud music... in order to keep crocodiles away.

Through the mangroves, we raced back into much much more ocean until suddenly, in what appeared to me to be the middle of the ocean without a landmark, the captain stopped the boat. The guides handed out or goggles, attaching it to our snorkeling tours, and instructed us to proceed to the back of the boat where we would put on our fins and jump in. We were advised to hold onto the rope attached to the boat with a buoy until everyone was off the boat at which we would let go and just try to stay together. If we felt tired or anything we could signal for help and they would be able to pull us with a buoy.

All that sounded just fine. I suppose. But what we saw were waves, big waves, enormous waves that would have been very fun to ride a speed boat over, but that I could not see myself swimming in. "You've got to be kidding," we said to each other, but jumped in anyway.

Instantly I felt nauseous and searched for U. to hold hands as we had done on the previous day. We tried but could barely keep together and I kept trying to take his hand and put it onto the rope. Eventually I realized that I felt more nauseous on the rope because it was fighting the waves. So seeing that the others had let go, I let go too, trusted, and began to swim.

As challenging as it was to swim in those waters, I wanted to see the museum, so I put my head under the surface. What I discovered was that the ocean really has a completely different world beneath the water than above. It was quiet and deep, with wildlife below and a peaceful rocking sensation. I saw fish and a sea star. One of the guides dove deep to point at parts of the reef. But when I came up it was like being in a disaster movie. Bodies were bobbing around me of the other swimmers – alive bodies, but bodies that were prevented from drowning only by the life preservers. We were tiny little objects in a vast ocean.

All the time I was trying to do this while staying close to U., but he signaled a guide and said he needed to get in the boat. It was just too much. “It happens, man,” the guide said and gently took U. I didn’t know quite what the problem was, but I wanted to continue on and I knew he would want me to anyway. So a moment later I looked up, saw him on the back of the boat getting his breath, and then continued on feeling alone and not quite as brave.

Again and again I tried to enjoy the sea, looking beneath the water, then checking to make sure the group was still nearby. But I began to feel afraid too. The waves seemed to be getting stronger and stronger, especially if the boat needed to come close enough to pick up U. and, as I would later discover, several of the others as well. I ducked beneath the water and found myself remembering movies in which people had died beneath the water, how peaceful it looked, yet knowing that at least I didn’t have to worry about dying. Then I popped up and saw another wave coming my way and thinking, “Oh know, I can’t take another one.” That reminded me of giving birth to ND so many years ago, and how my contractions had come in an odd pattern of strong and then weak waves, one after another. I remembered saying, “I can’t handle another one,” and the doula saying, “No, remember, the second one is just an aftershock.” Having that memory made me say to myself, “OK, if I’m remembering that, I may very well be at my limit.”

Still, there were others in the water and I wanted to see the museum. So at last I ducked under and saw what must have been one of the statues I’d seen online. I hadn’t been entirely sure what it was when I'd seen the photo… a large group of people standing around as though in a train station. In real life, I saw for sure that there were many figures, but they were pretty far beneath me, maybe about 15-20 feet below, and they were so covered in seaweed, I couldn’t make them out. I popped up, saw others bobbing around me still, then went under again. There I saw another sculpture, again a series of many figures, and again that was all I could make out.

By now I’d had enough.

I thought I’d been close to a guide all along, but when I said, “I feel sick,” the person closest to me took out her breathing tube and turned out to be one of the American women on the tour with us. She said, “If you stay under more you might not feel it as much.” I gave it a little try, but had definitely had it. I popped up again and this time waved my arm. Right away a guide was by my side and I just barely was able to say now, “I don’t feel good.” At other times during the trip I had tried Spanish wherever possible, but not this time. He handed me a buoy and pulled me with a rope towards the boat where the captain threw out another one for me to grab and dragged me in. He pulled me up onto the boat where I discovered I was completely spent. He gave me a bag in case I needed to throw up, and I gathered my strength to come up to the front of the boat with U. He was sitting as motionless as possible with his head resting on the bar in front of him, moaning now and then as the boat rocked. I joined him, feeling almost as bad as he seemed to, but a little more alert. I gradually realized that others had come back in as well, that more were coming in behind me, and then the captain called out in Spanish, “Charlie, bring them all in!” signaling with his arms.

I have no idea how long we were in the water. It was supposed to be about 45 minutes, but I don’t think I lasted more than 15 or 20. It seemed that the guides were surprised themselves of just how bad it was out there. After all, many of the ports had been closed that day. Once everyone was on board they blasted the music again, but this time I asked them to keep it down. Of the guides, one in particular was keeping an eye on us and was happy to turn it down. The guy on the aisle across from us looked disappointed, but as I think about it, I'm not sure he ever got in the water at all and so naturally was feeling the best of any of us. Later when we came through the mangroves again he yelled out “Music!” again and this time they cranked it up high.

By then I, at least, was feeling better. U. didn’t look so good. But when the guide came to ask me just what was wrong… was I hurting? Did I need to throw up? All I could think to say was, “I just want to go to sleep.” Later U. would say the same had been true for him, that he hadn’t had enough to sleep anyway, and then the sheer exertion of fighting the water had did him in. The guide also suggested I had perhaps swallowed too much salt water. I'm sure he was absolutely right on that.

The captain brought us back quickly, but obliged the thrill seekers on our boat with a few even heavier turns back and forth on the steering wheel so that we splashed down hard, close to the water and even spun the boat around a few times. I was worried about U. but he didn’t complain about it, and at the same time I kind of enjoyed the excitement, if only I could rest soon.

When we finally came in to port they brought out the tip jar that one refered to as “the happy box.” I had no issues with anyone on that boat, they’d gotten is out and back in again safely, but I couldn’t help but laugh.

Once on land I took charge, getting our bag from the car, buying a soda for U. and getting us back to our hotel. Once there, we napped a glorious nap, swam in the hotel pool, cooked up dinner of green beans, baked beans and cheese stirred together in a pan on the hotel stove, went out for a beer, packed our bags, watched Frasier, then crashed hard for the night.

Reading this now, I don't know for sure how much danger we were really in. I'm glad it's over and I never want to do it again, but there's a way in which I'm excited to have had so intense of an experience.

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2nd honeymoon -- Day 2

Wednesday

As I noted in the previous post, Chichen Itza was the most important part of the trip. This was what U. had wanted to see for ages. But as he'd planned the trip and asked me for options, I had become most interested in snorkeling.

Our travel agent from Cancunmermaid had us scheduled to go to Puerto Moreles on Wednesday. How disappointed we were when she called to say that the wind was too strong, the port was closed and we wouldn't be allowed to go today. She assured us that we could try again on Thursday. In the meantime she booked us a chance to take a jungle tour. Now I imagined that to be an exploration through a jungle. After all, that's what it sounded like! But really it meant riding in caravan on personal speed boats to a snorkeling spot within the lagoon. (See the map on previous post to see the lagoon to the west of the hotel zone.)

It sounded a little scary. I'd never done it before and don't love to have a change of plans, but we went for it. One feature we've noted of Cancun tours of any kind is that no one tells you what you're doing unless they have to. So we went to the site and waited and waited until we were handed fins and a snorkel. "I've never done this before," I said. Instead of instructions I received, "Don't worry. You'll be fine." I was reassured at least to see on the tour a family with a child about 10 years old, an Asian family that had difficulty operating their boat, and a couple who was older than us. I figured if they could do this, so could we.

We were shown how to operate the boats and then sped out across the water, bumping off waves as we went. It was fun and U. enjoyed driving us. Finally we reached an area separated out with buoys. We were given goggles, and people in the boat next to us helped us figure out how to put on our gear. Then we slid off the front of the boat and jumped in.

The reef here was very shallow. We were warned that it was easy to stand on the ground, but that doing so would destroy the reef. "Don't touch anything!" the guide, Alex, warned. But the sea was calm and we quickly learned how to peer under the water. At first I was a little disappointed as the reef was shining with the colors I've normally seen in photos of reefs. Instead it was white with tiny plants waving on us waving with the movement of the water.

U. discovered he couldn't wear his glasses beneath his goggles. He had no real trouble seeing underwater, but was worried he wouldn't be able to stay with the group as we moved through the water, so we held hands as we swam together.

Suddenly I found myself screaming a little as something bumped against me. A school of fish was swimming through and they were all around, under, over us! It was startling, and then I wanted more. Alex handed us some kind of food. The moment we brought it to the water, the fish swarmed, nibbling even on my finger so I couldn't help screaming with surprise and excitement again.

We tried to swim on, but the current kept pulling us back to our boats, so I learned a lesson from U. that I don't always have to move on, but can just enjoy where I am. We went underneath again and again looking for fish and pointing and following them whenever we could.

It was absolutely delightful. Without a doubt, my favorite day of the trip. It was a relatively short excursion, but so good it wasn't worth doing anything else important that day.

Oh yes, come to think of it, we had to run some errands... one of our bags had been broken on the airplane and we had to search out a store to buy a new one, but that was all. We would have liked to have gone to the mercado also, an outdoor market near our hotel. But alas, you can't do it all.

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We actually did it! -- 2nd Honeymoon, arrival and day 1

We've been planning for this for over a year.

We had the nerve to leave ND with her grandparents in Texas for almost a whole week while we flew to Cancun and celebrated our 10 year anniversary. She had a fabulous time, barely asked about us and is one of the best travelers I've ever met! (Thank goodness for travel playdough, Highlights puzzle books and $7.99 TV option on the plane! -- Yes, we used it.)

Sunday

We had a LOT of airport trouble. I don't want to go into details, but we were supposed to leave around 9:30 in the morning and didn't get to go until nearly 5. Don't want to think or write about the d, but ND was fine with all of it and kept busy and happy the entire time.

When we finally arrived, Savta S. had pasta and salmon for us to eat in the car on the way to their place. We repacked our things, separating ND's stuff and anything we were leaving behind from the stuff we planned to take including LOTS of food. (Nothing much Kosher in Cancun.)

To bed early, confused about whether to go to bed in this time zone's time zone or the previous, eager for the next day.

Monday

Said goodbyes and entertained last moments of worry that I've been entertaining since we first began planning this trip, but ND was fine. A hug and a kiss and she didn't look twice as we gathered our bags and headed into the airport. So strange to just be the two of us. Hard to imagine at first, and I think we both wondered if we would either get tired of each other during these days away. After the fact I'm happy to say that we didn't.

The flight left fairly early in the day, but it was a long day of traveling anyway. About 3 hours on the plane and then at least a half an hour to go through immigration, customs etc. on the Mexico side. It was pouring rain when we arrived and we needed to depend on shuttles and people we didn't completely understand to help us get where we wanted to go.

Cancun's only export is tourism. Most tourists stay on the long strip referred to either as the "7" or the "hotel zone." (Zona hotelera on the map.) These are enormous fancy hotels with private beaches and enormous hedges to block off the road from view. We had decided long before that we didn't want to stay there. Instead we stayed at El Hotel Rey Del Caribe downtown. Look closely at the map and you'll see near the top a street called Uxmal. (A German who helped me at one point when we were lost explained it's pronounced "Ooszh-mal.") Click on the link to the hotel and you'll see some gorgeous photos. They're all pretty accurate except that they do make the pool look slightly larger than it was. Also, there is no beach next to it, despite the beach photos. Who cares though?! It was one of the sweetest hotels I've stayed in my whole life. A family business with eco-sensitivity, large rooms, and a jungle in the courtyard! I very much enjoyed the little lizards that resided in there.

As a note about the hotel, though, one morning I was davening outside in the early morning on a platform above the spa that you can see behind the pool. I was just about to begin the amidah when I looked up and discovered I was facing a totally unacceptable-to-daven-in-front-of Mayan image. I took a step away from it to the right in front of a little cavern in the wall for a light fixture and heard squeaking. After having watched them swinging through the air already looking for bugs, I knew this was a bat. I finished my prayers indoors.

After we settled into the hotel we tried to go for a walk. The truth is there wasn't much to get to in that area, but we find a little bar next door at the Best Western. We had lemonades and made friends with Umberto who was very happy to serve us there as we determined the value of our money and tried to figure out how much wasn't too much for a tip.

Tuesday

This was the most important reason we came to Cancun... to see Chichen Itza. As U. describes, part of how we chose Cancun as the spot for our vacation was by drawing a radius around either set of grandparents on the map and seeing what there we already wanted to see. He had long been fascinated with these Mayan ruins and we scheduled them for our first full day there in order to guarantee the chance to see them.

It was raining, but we didn't mind at all. It meant it wouldn't be so hot, and also added a nice sort of melancholy to the day that felt very reflective.

We were signed up for a tour and a bus came to pick us up at 7 AM. The drive to Chichen Itza is only supposed to be about 2 1/2 hours away, but this trip took us also to a cenote and to a place for lunch. The lunch place was somewhat of a waste for us because we had to bring our food anyway, and there was also 45 minutes set aside there for shopping. We finished shopping quickly, the most important of which was a hammock chair I couldn't resist but which would later become a real pain to schlep.

The cenote, though, was another story. We arrived at a little farm that had the cenote on premises. Our tour guide was very enthusiastic and for the entire ride had already been talking nonstop in English and Spanish, switching back and forth between the two so quickly that I couldn't always identify what he was saying. At the farm he pointed out all sorts of features including fossils in a stone near the entrance, different plants that produced antidotes to each others poisons and more. He talked and talked and talked and talked and finally brought us to the cenote with the words, "You have 15 minutes."

If there is any one regret U. and I have from this trip it is that that was all he gave us. We would have much preferred to have the time to change into our swimsuits that we'd been carrying during this time and to really explore down there. Instead we descended into the ground, allowed ourselves to be awed and, in my case at least, a little scared of the steep steps and the enormity of the cavern. We walked around the perimeter, carefully helping each other over the slippery parts, finally having our picture taken on the platform placed there for that purpose.

Much later we would also see 2 cenotes at Chichen Itza, the famous sacred one mentioned on the link above under "cenote" above. This cenote was used for sacrifice and archaeologists have found many bodies inside. We also saw another that I will refer to briefly later.

It was early afternoon when we at last reached Chichen Itza. We had been driving for miles through sparsely populated areas, now and then passing small buildings or shacks belonging to descendants of Mayans.

The park of Chichen Itza was itself very touristy. Every step of the way we were approached or called to by vendors with all sorts of crafts to sell. We kept hearing these frightening sounds that we gradually discovered were toys you blew into to mimic the sound of jaguars.

After we got through the initial tourist information spot and received our tickets, we came through, walking into a courtyard that led us directly to the famous main pyramid. We abandoned our tour guide, eager for time just to explore on our own and circled the pyramid, learning whatever we could by reading plaques or each sharing observations or memories of what we'd read previously.
After circling it once we explored the buildings around it too including the famous ball court and so on. The best part was searching for the observatory. The Mayans were some of the first really high quality astronomers and had made observations before anyone else about how to predict alignment of stars and planets. We had to walk quite a way to find it, however, and found ourselves going through a quieter and more secluded path in the jungle. We were not allowed to climb on most of the monuments, but there we found the old marketplace where we side-stepped up and looked around a moment and where a boy pointed us down the path towards the observatory.

Somewhere else along the path at one point, I saw a small boy and girl, probably siblings. The boy was maybe 7 or 8, the child closer to 4. The boy looked protectively towards the girl and was guiding her past a barrier that we weren't supposed to cross. I assume they were part of one of the families selling souvenirs and were on their way home. I loved the look the boy gave me, checking me over to see if I would notice he was going where I wasn't allowed to.

Along that path U. and I had a few moments all alone and found the second cenote I mentioned above. We could hear and feel the quiet aliveness of the place in a way that we couldn't with a tour.

Eventually the tour did catch up to us and the guide made a joke that implied he was offended by our departure, but we had gotten what we'd come for.

It was a long long drive back to the hotel and we didn't arrive until 9 PM. But we were satisfied to have fulfilled the first step of the journey.

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