Mammajuana Snorkel! (R&R Part Cinco)

The rain cleared up the next day, so the snorkeling trip was on. We took a short drive, then boarded a ferry. Up on the top deck, we could see forever. A couple of family shots aboard the ferry.

Ahoy matie, check out this pirate’s ship…

First stop, before snorkeling, was to pet stingrays. I’ll just say right off, I was not too happy about the conditions here. Johnny and I went to the Cayman Islands a few years ago where we took a sailing excursion. We sailed to a sandbar where the water was 3 feet deep, at which point we got in the water, were handed a bucket of shrimp, and stingrays swarmed us like drunks to a beer joint. We stood holding raw shrimp, and the stingrays swam up to us, around us, even over us, sucking the shrimp from our hands as they passed by. This had been my only experience with stingrays, and we were told at the time to just watch where we stepped, and we would be fine. We were, despite the constant screaming from one woman who spent the entire experience atop the shoulders of her significant other, but that’s another story.

This time, I felt terrible for the stingrays trapped in a small penned area just for our viewing pleasure, and for the $$ we bring to the tourism industry. There were nurse sharks in a second larger pen also. I felt guilty for participating, still I wasn’t going to jump the ferry and refuse to join at this point, but I felt kinda sick as we approached. We had no idea what the situation was for these awesome creatures.

The smaller section you see above was where we pet the stingrays. The barbs on these guys had been removed, so no danger, and thus no chance that these creatures could ever live in the wild again if for some reason they were set free. We didn’t have the opportunity to take pictures of the stingrays. The bigger portion of the pen was where we saw the nurse sharks, and Johnny snapped the picture below.

Here are all five of us in the larger pen with our snorkeling gear. Not the person on the right side, don’t know who this is but he/she does bear a striking family resemblance…

Once we left the prison cells of these poor creatures, we boarded the ferry and headed for our big snorkeling experience. It did not turn out to be so much snorkeling, but it was an experience!

We could not take such good pictures under the water because, as you know, the weather had been stormy, and guess things were stirred up. Here’s one, though.

Oh, what’s this strange white long-legged sea critter…

oh wait, that’s me. I’d know those skinny legs anywhere.

Hey there, Daniel!

About this time we started hearing a horn and lots of yelling. We had been in the water for only a short while, and I finally figured out what the commotion was about. They were yelling at us to get back in the boat. What??? Why?

Which boat, where’s the boat…

We suddenly had some serious weather. Seriously. How surprising!

In the chaos that ensued, well, don’t guess Johnny had much opportunity to document on camera, because the pictures stopped at this point. It was pouring, the seas were rolling, everyone was yelling, heads were bobbing, and I was frantically looking all around for my family. People made their way to the boat and jockeyed for position around the ladder. I saw Daniel, and we managed to grab the ladder, but somehow ended up behind it. The waves were knocking me into the boat and I had to brace myself against the boat with my legs. Just hang on to the ladder, I told Daniel, hoping I didn’t sound as panicked as I felt. We waited for others to get on board and tried to squeeze in to line up at the ladder. I saw Sara and Alex off in the distance, and yelled at them to get on the boat. They said, MOM, we are fine. Get on the boat! So, Daniel and I got on the boat, Sara and Alex got on the boat, and I did not see Johnny anywhere.

People gathered under the upper deck of the boat for shelter, except for me. I could still see bodies in the distance trying to get back to the boat. A conversation Johnny and I had before we got in the water was now stuck in my brain. Johnny was intent on signing a waiver allowing him to forego a life jacket while snorkeling since he’s practically a fish. Practically. We discussed this, and whether the kids should do this also… NOT, said mom, and not me either, by the way. I did not remember or really know if he ever signed that waiver.

Rain pouring, I was seriously in a panic by now, visions of Johnny being swept away, and single motherhood looming before me. I yelled at one of the guys working the boat… THERE IS SOMEONE STILL IN THE WATER OUT THERE!!! He said, lady, we’re getting everyone, don’t you worry. BUT I THINK THAT MIGHT BE MY HUSBAND OUT THERE!!! Then from behind me, I think it was Alex, said … Uh, Mom, Dad’s over here…

Oh, really??? Don’t you worry about me dear, I’m just over here sucking down the Mama Juana shots… Well, I’m so glad you’re safe honey!

It was a sight. Boat rocking, rain pouring, music blaring, the dancing had begun. The rain had slowed by the time this next picture was taken. I only show it to illustrate what a shot of Mama Juana can do for you. It doesn’t make you beautiful, but it can make you lose all manner of dignity and not care that you’re not beautiful, and have great fun doing it.

On second thought, this has to be someone else, it could not possibly be me…

So, in spite of my distaste for the penned up stingrays and nurse sharks during the first part of this excursion, I was grateful to the tour operators for saving our scrawny butts from the storm. It was dicey, and they did an admirable job of getting everyone back to the boat safe and sound. They were also incredibly entertaining!

Mama Juana, by the way, is defined below by Wikipedia, that indisputable source of superfluous information:

Mama Juana is a drink from the Dominican Republic that is concocted by allowing rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. The taste is quite similar to port wine and the color is a deep red. It is seen and advertised as an aphrodisiac, with many natives of the Dominican Republic claiming that the drink has similar effects to Viagra. Women have also claimed that Mama Juana enhances sexual desire.”

I can vouch for the port wine taste, but that’s as far as this discussion will go…

One more post ought to do it, final thoughts and pictures regarding our experience at the resort, and our departure. You gotta stay tuned for the finale!

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And the Rains Came Down (R&R Part Four)

Oh, the rains came down and the floods came up.  They really did.  All day long the day after our trip to Saona Island, Tropical Storm Alex let loose on the Dominican Republic.  If you’ve ever wondered what rain looks like coming off of a thatched roof, well, here you go. 

  

I loved the thatched roofs.  What’s even better, they don’t leak!  We sat under them all day and watched the weather.  A couple of us even enjoyed the weather!  If you’ll notice in the background, the workers are sweeping the rain water into drains to keep it from coming into the dining area.  By the way, Daniel was NOT looking at the camera, but rather at something incredibly interesting over there

and again, Daniel was NOT looking at the camera, but this time at something fascinating up there… and Alex was NOT enjoying the rain, and was likely bummed at the prospect of little or no beach time in his immediate future.

Daniel is wearing his official USA World Cup jersey.  If I didn’t mention it before, our vacation began shortly after the World Cup started this year.  We saw World Cup jerseys from many countries, and we heard plenty of World Cup banter in various languages.  Interesting week to be in the D.R.!  

Here’s a little crab who was unfortunate enough to cross our path that morning.  He was kinda pissed at us, a bit crabby, in fact, but we didn’t have so much to do so we had to play with him.

Poor Sara was a little under the weather on this rainy day… get it, she was under the weather?  Weren’t we all?  She more so than the rest of us, though.  In fact, she stayed in the room most of the day.  We checked on her from time to time when the monsoon eased, and brought her medicine.  She finally emerged in the late afternoon, still feeling a little iffy.

Meanwhile, the rest of us had already drank our weight in alcohol for the day (well, not Daniel).  He’s only 14.  I’m not that bad of a mother.  My personal favorite was called a Banana Mama.  Not to be confused with the Mama Juana, which I’ll talk about next time.  The Banana Mama is practically fruit in a glass, with rum, of course.  See below for a possible recipe I snatched from this website:  http://www.gasblender.com/recipes.htm#BananaMama

Banana Mama

1-1/2oz. light rum
1/2oz. dark rum
1 oz. banana liqueur
1 oz. cream of coconut
1 oz. fresh or frozen strawberries
2 oz. pineapple juice

1.  In blender, combine light rum, dark rum, banana liqueur, cream of coconut, strawberries and pineapple juice with 3 oz. crushed ice.

2.  Blend until smooth

3.  Pour into goblet, and well, you know what to do next.

That’s one of the many recipes I found, but it sounds about right.  A wedge of pineapple on the side was the only visible fruit, maybe a cherry.  Should have taken a picture of one, darn!

So… we had a decent buzz going.  When it rains, you gotta do something.  Drink and play cards, I say! 

We purchased this card deck from the little store at the resort since our cards were in our room and we were not.  This deck was labeled Naipes playing cards.  Numbered 1 through 12, the cards had some funny pictures, and no face cards.  I just thought it was a Spanish deck, but I now see several descriptions of Naipes playing cards on the net (including tarot cards) so who knows what we were playing with.  I’m not sure if I’m going to hell for playing poker, playing with tarot cards, or drinking excessively.  I’m pretty sure neither of those things are acceptable tenets of Methodist doctrine…

In between games and watching the rain, we took pictures and walked around when it wasn’t pouring.  Here are a couple of more pictures of a flamingo.

and a turtle…

Here’s a picture of Sara, feeling much better!  Or could be she was under some kind of spell after that card game…

Until next time…  Stay tuned for our snorkeling excursion!

Mammajuana Go to Saona Island (R&R Part Three)

Life keeps getting in the way of my blog, yet I will eventually finish this tale, if you will just hang in there with me. 

Our first “excursion” on this vacation was a trip to Saona Island.  It took a few hours to get there from our resort.  More than an hour by land, and then the rest by sea, as you would expect because it is, well, an island. 

 

Our bus picked us up a little bleary and unfed (the dining rooms weren’t open yet) early, early in the morning and, lucky us, we were the first stop.  Meaning we spent probably 45 minutes just picking up other people at other resorts.  Nap time for Alex…

Once everyone was aboard, our driver took us through the beautiful Dominican Republic countryside and educated us a bit on the history and the lives of the people in this country. 

The native people are descendants of Spaniards and Africans.  The Africans were brought to the D.R. as slaves in the early 1500’s, as the world seemed wont to do during that period.  Most people today are poor and live in villages.  Their houses are what we in  the U.S. might refer to as shacks.  The nicer houses are made of concrete, and painted in various colors. 

Farming is the main industry in the D.R., the chief crops are sugar cane and tobacco, but also fruits such as papayas, mangos and bananas.  Cattle farming is another big industry here.  While in the U.S. meat processing takes place beyond consumers’ eyes, not so here.  They skin the bodies right on the street, which we witnessed outside some of the shops that we passed by.

Not many cars in the D.R.  Most people travel by scooter, if they have a vehicle at all.  They carry multiple people on these little scooters and transport EVERYTHING.  Our driver told us that he once saw someone toting a washing machine on the back of a scooter, and we did see several people carrying propane tanks on their scooters.  I tried to get a picture, but moving targets, you know.

We drove through the main city in the region, Higüey, past the shops and daily commerce.  As you can tell by the clouds and the wet roads, it was raining off and on.

Here is a park in Higüey.  Note the murals of the Disney characters!

…and the most famous and significant landmark, La Basilica de Higüey, the religious destination of locals and foreignors alike.  Except for us.  We were on our way to an island, but the driver slowed down so we could snap pictures.  Apparently, the interior is also a marvel to behold.

During our ride, we were cruising down the road and heard a loud snap, of sorts.  Not such a good noise.  We stopped, and the driver got out and examined the bus, then came back to tell us we had ourselves a situation.  While it was not a mechanical emergency, we had a choice to make.  We could limp to a little store and wait for a new bus, or we could suffer to our destination and a new bus would be there at the end of our trip.  We chose to suffer, and suffer we did.  No air conditioning.  As I mentioned earlier, the humidity in the D.R. is incredible.  We put on our big girl panties and endured.  We were not so sweet smelling when we finally arrived at our drop off point, but we finally arrived, sweat and all.  I don’t remember what this place was called, but it looked a little like a bombed-out war zone.

 

This was a resort under construction, but the developer was stopped for non-payment of taxes.  Not an uncommon sight in the region.

We walked down the path you see in the picture above to the pier to catch our speedy ride to the island.

Back to the deep blue sea.  You can see our ride at the end of the pier in the picture above, but here’s what we looked like while we were riding…

This was actually another boat on the same excursion, but as you can’t get a picture quite like this of yourself riding in a speed boat, we’ll just have to assume that we looked way cooler than they did.

See what I mean?

A little scenery as we’re passing by.  Look at this blue-green water!

 

We stopped in the middle of the boat ride to cool off, and search for starfish and such on a little sand bar.

Notice (several pictures above) the bow of the boat.  At high speeds like this, the bow is so high you wonder how the captain can even see to drive.  Well, turns out he can’t.  We were speeding along, and suddenly our captain swerved mightily, we heard a sickening metal kabam, and felt a jolt.  We stopped, and here’s why…

We seriously hit this boat.  Apparently unattended, maybe a runaway from a not so far away dock, I still hope.  We circled the boat a few times, didn’t see any sign of life… gulp… and forged ahead.  No damage, or not much to our boat.  Yep, we just left this little boat in the middle of the ocean for someone else to find.  I’m hoping they at least radioed to someone, anyone, to come fetch this little runaway, but it was out of our hands.

Close call, but here we are, finally, on the island. Yes, I am taking a long time to get to the point, aren’t I? But, you know what they say, it’s all about the journey…

The beautiful Island of Saona.  We had a lunch of questionable worth here (not complaining, but hey, it just wasn’t so good), but considering all the excitement so far, and the fact that we had not eaten yet, we had no problem chowing down.  The beach here was not any more beautiful than the beach at our resort, and there were more shells and so it was tough on your feet entering the water.  Still a beautiful place, though. 

Johnny and I took a walk, and it started to pour.  It started to pour every time we took a walk on the beach during our trip .  Yeah, thank you Alex!  Tropical Storm and soon to be Hurricane Alex!

The rain didn’t persist the whole time, so we still had fun.

 

We were told, rather warned, ahead of time of the commerce on the beach.  We were approached right in our lounge chairs by people selling hats, jewelry, cigars. 

Cigars, anyone?

 

Palm frond hats?

Time to leave.  The trip back was on a sailboat instead of a speedboat.  Slower paced, probably safer, unless the weather picked up again…

 

Great picture of Dan the Man…

The day was now etched into our memories, and onto the bottle of mamajuana herbs below.     

Mamajuana, sweet nectar of the Dominican Republic!  It’ll put hair on your chest!  Hmmm, think I’ll have some.

More to come…