9/11 – We Remember

I originally wrote this on 9/11/01…

I, too, was stunned to hear the news this morning and continuing throughout the day.

It was just something unbelievable.  My husband and I were on a Land Rover 4X4 tour of the off-road areas of Barbados when we first got the news.

At first, when we got the very first news, around 9:30 am, I thought that it was some tale that the driver was weaving…and that there would be a punchline.  As the day wore on, more interest was on the radio than on the tour.  Some of the people in our Land Rover were from New York City and they were terrified for friends and family.

What an awful day in history this is, one of those that we’ll always remember where we were when we got the news.

Like the rest of you, I am stunned, absolutely shocked that this could happen, using our own planes, no less.  I cannot imagine the terror of the people on those planes, or in the World Trade Center…or the Pentagon.

The rest of the story:
The year of 911 my mom and my son had been with us for the first week. My son had to be back at college so on Sunday he shepherded my mom through the airport, customs and all and got her back home before he headed back to UMass/Amherst on Monday. Thank goodness they got back before the mayhem started!

On Tuesday we were out on a 4X4 from Island Safari with our favorite guide, Zario. Zario is a fun guy and and very knowledgeable about Barbados and world events. We were very happy to have him again because it was the “luck of the draw” which driver/guide we got.

I remember that morning being kind of stressed already – I was having trouble with one of my contacts and I was just grumpy.

Zario picked us up first, one of the benefits of staying at The Crane – everyone picks us first for everything and drops us off last. Then he picked up another couple from New York City who were staying at Bougainvillea.

The tour started off through the fields, down cliffs as usual. Zario had the radio on in the background. When we got to the first stop he told us that there was a “problem” in New York. That it seemed that a plane had hit a building. We thought that there was going to be a punch line somewhere. There wasn’t.

As the tour went on, the news got worse. The couple from NYC was very worried about relatives.

By the time we got to lunch and met up with the other 4x4s everyone had heard. We were in a little chattal house restaurant, the TV was on CNN and everyone was just watching in silence and horror. Usually this lunch is very festive and fun. Not a care in the world. Not today.

We left the New York people off at their hotel and went “home”. The TV was full of New York news, then Pentagon news. We know people who work at the Pentagon. The news just got worse as we went along.

We were basically stuck in Barbados.  Phones to the US didn’t work well, email was slow to non-existent, all we knew was what we got on CNN, incessantly.  My mother and son had been with us the week before and had just flown back the Saturday before.  I was so glad that they had gotten back home ok, then my son off to college.

We were supposed to fly home on the next Saturday, but if was iffy if that would happen since the airports were closed for the longest time.  We were flying into the DC area. The phone lines to the Barbados airport and to American Airlines were always busy.

Finally, we decided to give it a shot, packed up and went to the airport to see if we could fly out or not.  They could only guarantee the flight as far as Puerto Rico.

The San Juan airport was crowded with Americans trying to get home, flights being canceled due to closed airports, people sleeping all around the airport, using backpacks for pillows.  It was a very difficult time.

We did finally leave for home later that night.  This is what I wrote the next day…

I flew on American Airlines last night (9/14/2001).  We left Barbados on time but the connecting flight, originating out of Aruba was very late, and we waited for a long time in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

After that flight had arrived though, we were all sitting around, hoping they’d board the plane soon.  All of a sudden, there was cheering in the hallway.  We turned to look – our pilot and crew were marching up the hallway with a huge American flag.  He stopped and talked to us.  He explained that the copilot would hang that flag outside his window as we taxied out of Puerto Rico and into Dulles.  The flag was making the rounds of American flights all over the country and that the yellow streamers hanging down were being signed by all the American crew members.  He posed for lots of pictures (I have some I’ll post later, when my eyes are less bleary!), then, as they were going to get the plane ready, he asked us in a loud voice if we were ready to fly to Washington and everyone cheered.

Along the way, he thanked us so much for having faith and flying (like we had any choice!).  The headphones for the movie and the drinks were all free on this flight!  He also told us that there were a lot of fighter planes in the Washington to NY corridor and not to be surprised if we were intercepted by one, who would just be making sure that we were “who we said we were”.  I thought that would be kind of neat to see, but I didn’t see them.  We arrived in Dulles (Washington, DC) with a jet fighter escort.  At the time, that sounded so comforting, but it turned out that they had been there to shoot us down, if we’d made any funny moves.

Then, when we arrived at the terminal, the captain said that we were back in “the land of the free, and the home of the brave” and got some more cheers.

It was a memorable flight for someone like me, who is terrified of flying under the best of circumstances.

 

Us, on 9/10. Who knew?

9/14, San Juan Puerto Rico:
After the crew marched down the hallway.

 

The captain, letting others have a chance to fly the flag.

This young woman lead us onto the plane.

MaryOUSAheart

Costa Rica, Day Eleven: August 25, 2014

A double cortisone kind of day.  Cushies will understand!

The cleaning staff come here on Sunday and Wednesday.  They also came here on Friday because they thought we were leaving.  Wrong!  Each time they leave, we can’t find something or other.  They aren’t stealing, they’re just moving things to unexpected places.

Today, Tom couldn’t find the blister-pack pellets for his inhaler.  After looking everywhere, we concluded that maybe he’d used them all.

When I was putting in my contact lens, I noticed his bag of cough drops and – low and behold – they were in there!  Go figure!

After that, we set out to find an ATM to get the rest of the deposit for the tour company.  We found the BAC Bank near the Alto Mercado.  My debit card couldn’t be read.  Maybe the magnetic strip is gone.  Whatever.

We went into the bank and waited in a long line, which about tripled while we were in it.  I got to the window and gave the teller my card and passport – he said I had to go to the ATM, it was a cheaper rate.  I said I was willing to pay the higher fee, I just wanted the money.

The teller found someone else who went out with me and confirmed that the card wouldn’t work.  I also had a Discovercard which didn’t work since I forgot to tell them I was going out of the country.

Tom had left his walled back at the apartment :(

I had checks on the first bank and asked if I could cash one with the card and passport.  She said sure but we would have to wait in the longer line again.

Bye, bye!

Tom brought me home and he went back with another CC and got cash, no problem. He took it to the tour place and got receipt.

vision-catamaranAbout 1:30, we went back into town and met up with the tour guy who walked us over to where the boat would pick us up.  We saw a motorboat called La Orca, which I thought would be our pickup since it was circling around.

Another guy came over to collected the rest of the money and said it had to be cash.  Luckily, we had the tour guy (David) with us who confirmed that it was supposed to be credit card.

Guy 2 says, no problem, he’ll get his credit card machine working for when we get back.  Whatever.

This boat, we only had to wade into the water a little before jumping onto the Vision.  Not nearly as muddy as the trip to the rubber dinghy would have been Sunday.

The boat ride in La Orca was pretty good and we reached the Vision fairly quickly.  The transfer from La Orca to the Vision was kind of dicey, though.  I had to sit on the side of La Orca, swing my legs around to get into a smaller boat with plastic seats that was attached by rope to the Vision, then walk across the smaller boat, climb on a seat, then up the rear stair (no handrail) of the Vision.

Amazingly, I did that!

We seemed to be the only people on the boat until we realized there were folks on the roof part.  They offered us lots of fruity drinks, both alcoholic and non.  Later, I would be very glad to have gone with the non.

Later, while the crew was fixing a nice lunch, people went snorkeling or swimming with noodles over by a small beach in the Papagayo Gulf.   Tom went in but I decided it looked too far to come back and the current was kind of strong.  I watched Tom in the water and, for some reason, he decided to come right out.

After I saw him get out, I sat down in my seat.  Next thing I knew, my neck was in major pain.  Tom took one look and could see a stinger stuck in my neck, about 1/8 of an inch long and curved like a talon.  He managed to get that our fairly quickly.  He put on cortisone cream and Neosporin.  I took an extra cortisone pill and allergy medicine.

My neck got a bit red and swollen and, in a little bit, one of the crew came over and we explained what happened.  He washed off all the stuff Tom had put on and put on something else – a 10% solution of something brown and said it would feel better in 20 minutes or so.

After that, we had some of the wonderful food they had been making.  My neck still hurt to turn to the left but it seemed to be ok.

We saw a really nice sunset, then it was time to head back.  La Orca came for all the “upstairs people”, they we sailed a bit more and it came for us.

The transfer back was awful.  It was dark.  Those stairs down the back of the catamaran have no railings, no wired, nothing to hold on to…and they were slippery.

I eventually got down there and into the middle boat.  I had to stand on a plastic seat to sit on the side of the third boat.  As soon as I put my foot on that seat, my foot slide out from under me and my left knee hit the railing of the third boat and my right hit the seat on the second boat.  OWEEE!

La Orca got us back close to shore and the crew member joked that he would swim to shore with me on his back.  Not amused!  We got fairly close to shore, I got off and walked to the beach.

The guy who we owed money for this trip was not there so we have to track him down somehow else.  There was a group of homeless people and one woman came begging for money.  Tom gave her a small amount and she said she’d pray for him (or someone).

When we were coming back, there was a man by the side of the road with a motorcycle on his leg.  Tom asked if he was hurt and he said “Yes” so we agreed to send help.  No way were we going to get caught in some kind of ambush.  We tried to tell the security guard here what we had seen but he spoke no English. Finally, reinforcements came and people went to help the man, if he was still there.

When we got back, I looked up flying insects in Costa Rica that met the description of the stinger that Tom had removed and came up with African (or Africanized) Killer Bees.  It occurred to me thats/he was attracted to my orange shirt and the scent of my sunscreen.  Maybe, I made him angry that I wasn’t a flower.  Whatever!

From my search: http://www.cupotico.com/info/General/Insects_Costa_Rica.html

African (killer) bees arrived in Costa Rica in 1982, and you would do well to assume that all bee colonies are now Africanized. Keep your distance from hives or swarms. The stings of Africanized bees are no more venomous than those of your garden-variety bee, but these insects are aggressive and attack with less provocation. The cumulative effect of many bee stings is dangerous. If you’re attacked, move in a zigzag motion; you can probably outrun them. Head for water if any is nearby, and cover your head. If someone with you is attacked and cannot move, cover both of you with something light in color and get the person to safety. Remove stingers with a knife or fingernails, being careful not to squeeze more of the stinger’s venom into the bite. Apply ice or cold water, and, if badly bitten, see a doctor.

Early to bed – our bus picks us up tomorrow morning at 5:00 am to go to Nicaragua.

Costa Rica, Day Ten: August 24, 2014

Stressful day, for me, anyway.

The signs that the elevator is broken are gone but were not taking a chance, so we walked up the stairs just before 8:00am.

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There were more landslides overnight during that thunderstorm.

 

We went looking for the snorkel place where we were supposed to be at 8:15 –  and rode around for 30 minutes. We had “directions” and a “map” but we still couldn’t find a restaurant called “Gloria and Claudio” where we were supposed to meet.

Tom asked in two other restaurants.  It turns out that we weren’t told we were supposed to part on the street and walk up the boardwalk to find Gloria and company.

Finally, at 8:45, we were walking up the boardwalk and someone approached us and asked if we were O’Connors – right place!

She complained that we were keeping everyone else waiting and said to take off our shoes.  We started wading through the low-tide mud and surf towards a rubber dinghy that was to take us to the snorkel boat. Tom said NO and we left.  The person who met us was astounded that we wouldn’t do that. Fortunately, we had our car there so we weren’t stranded.

In our driving, we had seen a tour place. We went there to sign up for a tour to Nicaragua. We’re not using the tour place here anymore. We signed up for 3 things and got discounts on all, more than what we lost on today’s trip.  The guy wanted $150 US in cash as a deposit.  The rest could be paid by credit card on the actual trips.  We only had $60 between us so we owe him $90 on Monday at the first trip.  Watch for Monday’s post!

Upcoming tours: Monday, a different snorkel trip; Tuesday, Nicaragua;  Wednesday, break!; Thursday Monteverde; Friday, NYC; Saturday home

Tom got our money back – grudgingly – for today’s trip – I don’t know how he does that.

At 4:00 we were supposed to do a presentation.  Over the years, we have done several timeshare presentations. AARRGGHH! It was supposed to be 90 minutes. It turned into 4 hours. We told them we weren’t going to buy but they kept pushing and pushing.

They said they weren’t selling timeshares, they are selling vacations.

 

It started with lunch/dinner here and the first guy. In passing, he asked about our place here and we mentioned the front light and elevator.  He called someone called “Dan” and said he didn’t want something like this interfering with “his sale”.

Then, he took us to Ocotal to see some of the rooms and we talked to another guy.

There were scammy-sounding schemes where we gave them some of our existing timeshares and a pile of money and we would live happily ever after, vacationing all over.  We had no way of leaving because we were in the middle of nowhere with no car.

They had some units built and they were building 40 more (construction noise OR an untruth).

Tom gave the second guy suggestions on quitting smoking and agreed to be a contact on LinkedIn.

Finally, they got the message that we would not buy today no matter what and took us back to Coco Bay.

On the way, guy number one asked if our light was fixed, could he make “his sale”.  NONONO!  English is even his first language.  We kept getting big hints that if they didn’t sell 10 of these in some amount of time, he would be fired.  Yada Yada, violins in the background.

We got back here and there was a third person for “another company” trying to get some of our money.  Apparently the first 2 people had included his “services” in their presentation and he was there seeing if he could salvage anything out of this non-deal.

Finally back up the mountain, down the 4 flights of stairs and our light was fixed.  One good thing out of four wasted hours.

Costa Rica, Day Nine: August 23, 2014

This was another easy day.

When Tom was making reservations for Costa Rica, he set out searches on both RCI and Interval.  We had one week here at Coco Bay Estates, then we were going to move to Flamingo Beach Resort.  That was ok, sort of.  Then a second week became available here but we kept the second week at Flamingo and gave it to friends, Bev and Pete.

We mostly spent the morning online checking Facebook, I worked some on a final exam that is due at 9:00 am Monday – UK time on a Coursera course – and trying to figure out how to get to Flamingo Beach Resort.

flamingo-routeWe had all kinds of maps, including the Google one at right.  The trouble with all of them is the route numbers.  None of the roads here have signs that say what the route number is, or the name of any street.

The little directions that come with that map were also no good since we were to go through the towns of Filadelfia, Belén and Huacas.

Luckily, we had been through Filadelfia before, when we went to Palo Verde but the other ones had no signs letting us know where the town limits were, “Welcome to Huacas” signs or anything.  The maps would be better if they said turn right at the fruit stand or something.

We rented a GPS when we first got here but today it had trouble acquiring satellites and we would be driving along and it appeared to suddenly download new (or updated) software, then restart.

But, as always, we persevered.

2014-08-23 11.28.15 2014-08-23 11.28.29We set out about 11:30 am.  Before we even got to the little town, we saw an odd sight.

That boat, aptly named Fear Not,  is being towed by that backhoe(?).  The boat is taller than the electrical wires above so the guy on the left, in orange, is standing up, holding up the electrical wires with a piece of wood.  The woman is holding a piece of aluminum or metal.

 

We retraced our steps towards the Liberia Airport but when we got to that fruit stand, we turned right instead of left.  All new territory now.  Between the in-and-out GPS and sporadic signs to Playa Flamingo, after only one wrong turn, we made it to our friends place about 12:45.

flamingo_beach_resortWe met them in the lobby and then went and had a very nice lunch in the little outdoor restaurant.

We went out on their beach (white sand) and got a view of the buildings just up the coast.

I have to sat that their place is much nicer than ours on a whole – room is smaller – and more friendly/helpful people around.

Here, we’re kind of by ourselves on this mountain and have to drive to even get to the pool.  Most of the “staff” here seem to work for another company which is selling timeshares/vacation clubs/something slimy.  More on that later.

Our front light is still out and our elevator may or may not be working after nine days here.  We still have our 15 issues since day one and some new ones have been added.  Those will be in a summary after we get home.

But, I digress.  We had a great time with our friends but had to head home at 4:30 or so since it gets dark at 6:00.  On the way back we were stopped by police for a routine traffic stop.  Tom said it was right around Costa Rican Mother’s Day when all the family gathers at home.  That may involve drinking and/or fighting which may have triggered the traffic stop.  In any event, they let us go after seeing Tom’s driver’s license.

Most of the drive went well except when we went around a corner and there was a kid skateboarding in the street.

We got back to our place just as a big storm was brewing.

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And there was a huge thunderstorm.  The power went out on one wall where modem, router and telephone is.  Then the fridge went out but it came back fairly soon.

Someone came to our door to ask if we’d reported a fire.  Uh, no.  We wouldn’t be sitting around if the place was on fire.  We don’t even have a phone to report a fire.

Finally, our modem, router and phone came back and all was well for another day…

Costa Rica, Day Eight: August 22, 2014

A “Rest-Up” Day after Arenal Volcano

We spent a leisurely morning checking the internet and email.  In the early afternoon, we got a snorkel trip lined up for Sunday.

Then we set out to find Playa Hermosa.  Not too exciting.  When we found the beach, an aging hippy materialized from nowhere and demanded money to park on “his beach” so we just left.

When we first came down, I wanted only carryon baggage because our flight times were so tight and there wasn’t much time in New York to get from one terminal to another.  I also hate paying checked baggage fees!  JetBlue doesn’t have them but our flight from DC to NYC does.  So…we didn’t bring some stuff we would normally bring to a place like this, like snorkel, mask and especially fins.

There is no way I will use a snorkel they provide as a loaner.  I’m ok with mask and fins but not snorkel.  So, we spent the rest of the afternoon in dive shops around looking for two snorkels.  The price we paid for those was more than we would have paid for the checked baggage to bring ours from home in.  Oh, Well.  There was still the time in the airport to consider.

Since it was a boring day, I’ll share some food info…

casadoAs I mentioned earlier, beans and rice is the basic variable in almost all Costa Rican cuisine. A typical meal is the casado, the name referring to the eternal “marriage” of its components. Consisting of rice and beans, meat or fish, fried plantains, and a carrot, tomato, and cabbage salad, this basic and well-rounded meal strikes a good nutritional balance.

The plantain, or plántano, is the typical Tico (Costa Rican) snack. It looks like a large banana, but can’t be eaten raw. It is sweet and delicious when fried or baked, and will often accompany most meals. When sliced thinly and deep fried, the plantain becomes a crunchy snack like potato chips.

Arroz is a dish of fried rice which may be offered with chicken (pollo) or shrimp (gambas). For breakfast, it is common to be served a hearty dish of black beans and rice (gallo pinto) seasoned with onions and peppers, accompanied by fried eggs, sour cream, and corn tortillas.

 

Costa Rica, Day Seven: August 21, 2014

Volcán Arenal aka Arenal Volcano

A majorly early day, we had to be up the 4 flights of stairs by 6:45am. There is still no sign of anyone fixing the elevator. Our driver (Ernesto) and guide (Jorge) arrived just after 7:00 and we were off. We had 3 stops to pick up others. At the 3rd, there was a slight holdup since one of the women fell in the lobby. She turned out to be ok and sat behind us on the bus.

map-arenalThe total bus trip to Arenal was about 4 hours and I learned a LOT about the folks sitting behind us, including entire highschool dating scene.

We made a stop along the way at Aroma Tico in Tilaran for a bite to eat, then we were on our way again, always climbing up the steep roads.

Arenal volcano was dormant for hundreds of years but in 1968 it erupted unexpectedly, destroying the small town of Tabacón. Due to the eruption three more craters were created on the western flanks but only one of them still exists today. Since October 2010, Arenal’s volcanic activity appears to be decreasing and explosions have become rare, with no explosions reported after December 2010.

We finally arrived at our spot on the Arenal Volcano to hike through a bit of the rainforest/meadow. Tom said our hike was 2.5 kilometers (about 1.6 miles) – not so bad but it was all UP. It wouldn’t have been so bad for me, except someone had put in “stairs” for much of the way.

These stairs were made of the mud from the trail, held back with vertical pieces of metal, They were uneven height and many reached nearly to my knees so these were very hard for me to climb.

When we got to the top, our bus was waiting. We didn’t have to go back. HOORAY. There were other busses there letting people off to hike down. I wonder if that would be easier?

We went to lunch in La Fortuna and had another tipical meal, except we could choose the meat (or vegetarian) off the menu. I had pork chops along with the casado, plantains, salad, fried plantains, white cheese and corn tortilla. We all had rice pudding for desert. It was a wonderful meal and I was stuffed.

Next stop was the hot springs at Baldi Hot Springs.  There are 25 pools that are large and small, hot and cold with walking paths between them and beautiful landscaping.  We were here about 2 hours, then it was time to eat again.  I just wasn’t that hungry, although they had a fantastic buffet.  I had only onion soup, salad, roll, pineapple and a tiny piece of cake.

Then, the long, long ride home and sleep!

My pictures:

DSCF0552

Bird (or big insect!) nests

DSCF0566

The lava flow shows up fairly well in this picture

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