Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Left Behind in Cozumel

I may have been on the brink of insanity. (By maybe, I mean I'd crossed over in a full sprint). It was that moment when Starling looked at me and said, "Okay. I'm taking you on a cruise." And how ever expensive that may have seemed; it was a lot cheaper and more productive than spending my time under 24 hour surveillance at a nut house while I talked to a white wall about how nice a time I was having.

After Lance, a friend of mine, basically prophesied that my house would be looted and burned to the ground if I so much as breathed on FB that I was out of the country for a week, I kept my big mouth SHUT. Which was quite a challenge, might I add.

Starling waited until the last possible second to book our cruise, convinced that he'd get a sweeter deal the closer it came to departure. Despite the fact that it made me a nervous wreck, he was right. We got a lovely ocean view cabin for the price of an inside cabin. (Not that it mattered to me. AT. ALL. He could have taken me to a hotel in Hattiesburg for a week and I would have been ecstatic). As far as maintenance goes, I'm the LOWEST.  

We packed Saturday night and Sunday morning to leave on that same Sunday. (Shocking, I know...). Starling was WASHING clothes to take on the cruise Sunday morning. The first time I have EVER witnessed Starling procrastinating. (Or doing laundry).

My brain was fried. My nerves were fried. And you know what they say about that. (No, I don't either- but I made up something). Once you are completely fried, you cease to stress. You simply exist. And that's where I was. Just existing and no longer able to think, worry, or care.

(This is all following my roller coaster ride with my foster babies and the latter two getting adopted by their grandparents. I'd gone through the frazzled stages of dealing with five children under four years old while still mourning my Conner, a previous foster son. Then I went through the mourning of losing two foster babies and going back to my three biological babies. And after a certain amount of crying, I just collapsed into a permanent state of exhaustion).

I packed two light bags and was done. It was the easiest packing I ever did. I walked to my closet, yanked out some sundresses, shorts and shirts, and said, "That'll do."

I left all the heavy packing to Starling. He packed the electronics, paper work, snacks (WHAT? WHY? Unlimited FREE amazingly DELICIOUS food??), drink (Again why??), and a crap load of other stuff that never crossed my tired mind to pack.

And we were off! The kids went to my parents' house and they tag teamed with my cousin Shannon.
Russ drove us to the ship where tropical flowered clad men unloaded our luggage and took it away.
The ship was INCREDIBLE! It was an enormous ship called the Norwegian Jewel headed from New Oleans to Cozumel, Belize City, Roatan, Honduras, Costa Maya, and back to New Orleans. Everywhere we turned people were waiting on us hand and foot. And just when I would think, "I can't eat another bite or the snap on my shorts is going to shoot somebody's eye out,"  someone would walk by and say, "Would you like a danish?" And I would say... "YES! THANK YOU!" And the pools and the hot tubs and the people!

We played a relay game, girls against boys, that included everything from Pow Wow Day in elementary school. Over and under with beach ball, etc. We had to swim a lap in the pool WHILE holding the beach ball and wearing a large t-shirt, take the shirt off and do fifteen push ups for boys and squats for girls. It was pretty intense. Starling and I  are a tad bit competitive. The boys ultimately WON, on account of they have the deepest voices and the winning was determined by the cheering of the crowd. But we ALL won a prize. A pen and a deck of cards. I almost drowned for a flippin INK pen. And Starling gashed open his foot for a deck of playing cards.  

But the shows and the dances! I had not danced to anything other than Disney for ages, and even then I had at least two children on each leg.

Starling is NOT a dancer. But, for me, he sacrificed his pride and danced. For a minute. He found a table of talkers where he readily joined in and left me on the dance floor. I danced until my feet moaned and my abs howled. And I would have kept dancing if Starling didn't tell me it was two in the morning and we were getting off in Cozumel at 8. (AND that the one of the ladies he was talking to was trying to hook him up with her sister). 

I slept SOOO great. I don't know if it was the steady rock of the ship lulling me to and fro OR the fact that I didn't have six other legs kicking me and climbing under me. (Most likely the latter). 

We ported in Cozumel. I told Starling early on that he was making ALL decisions. I was on VACATION from thinking. I was just along for the ride. And, being a control freak, it was fabulous to completely let go and FLOAT. It's absolutely amazing how carefree and easy going I can be when I'm not trying to force squares into circles all day.

Starling's fluent Spanish certainly came in handy. We rented a scooter and drove out of the tourist area. The East side of the island had huge crashing waves and beautiful sea shells everywhere. I squeezed the sand between my fingers, white in color but brown sugar in texture. Iguanas sunbathed on sand stone and the beautiful tropical plants danced in the wind. We took in the beauty and I said, "I could stay here forever! One day is NOT long enough to fully enjoy Cozumel." (Talk about words that you eat later).

We stopped on the side of the road and got massages. It hurt SOOO good. The lady was speaking in Spanish but what I could decipher from my limited Spanish vocabulary was, "You have more knots in your back than a crate myrtle. I keep beating your shoulders but those knots are permanent fixtures. You need to CHILL?" I actually didn't translate that. I mostly just guessed what I would say if I were her. All I could say back was, "Ahhhhhhh. Muchas gracias."

We looked at our phone every so often, making certain we kept a firm eye on the time. After all, we didn't want to miss our ship.

Towards the end of our awesome, relaxing day we went to Cozumel's giant 2 story grocery store that puts Wal Mart to shame to buy some snorkeling gear. We happened to see a clock on the wall and it read 5:15. The time on our phone said 4:15 and we were supposed to be on the ship by 4:30. I don't suppose we would have run any faster if our butts were on fire. Huffing and puffing, we ran to the port. Phew! Our ship was still there. But it started moving just as we got to the pier.

"STOP!!! That's our SHIP!!!"

Some guy said a bunch of stuff in Spanish and Starling was rattling off in Spanish, too,  and I was just STARING at my ship driving away.

Several things went through my mind simultaneously. 'I can swim to the boat. It's RIGHT there. But I have my camera and it costs more than a plane ticket home.' Then. 'Starling's backpack is so heavy he'd sink straight to the bottom of the ocean. I wonder if I could convince him to leave it behind.' Then. 'All they have to do is throw down a life raft and that'll solve all our problems!!'

Happy that I had come up with a feasible solution, I communicated my desire to the port authority who walked up. He spoke English, so that made things easier for me. He explained that some lady got sucked under the boat last year and therefore, they no longer take people to the boat once it starts moving. He didn't care that I was willing to take my chances.

With the new laws implemented to help the tourism industry, it is not necessary to have passports to go on a cruise, just a birth certificate and a driver's license as long as the ship leaves and returns to the same location. But apparently passports are handy if you get left behind in a foreign country. Israel, the port authority, asked us for our passports and we told him that we didn't have passports......and that is when he spoke words I never thought I would hear, "You are Illegal aliens in Mexico and must come with me." 

 Starling drug a hysterical ME FROM the port to the immigration office.  

We got off the ship at exactly 8:00 a.m. synced with ship time, but SOMEHOW SOMEWAY during the day our cell phone jumped time zones and was showing one hour earlier than the time really was. Usually the ship waits up to an hour for late arrivals. 

" I'm not going to lie," said Israel, " The captain sent over your driver's license pics, and I see man looking high on something, and sorority girl, and I tell the captain, "Go. These two are hung over in a bathroom somewhere!" (The irony of the situation is that Starling and I have never even TASTED alcohol, let alone done drugs).

I glared at Starling. I TOLD him he needed to REDO his driver's license photo from college. He has a three foot tall fro and he looks like a drug dealer. And I quickly informed the Port Authority dude that I was FAR from a sorority girl in that picture. I was 8 months PREGNANT with my THIRD child! Moral of the story: Driver's license pics DO matter!

Starling and Israel, now big pals having known each other for a whopping thirty minutes, laughed about the situation and discussed routes to reunite us with our cruise ship. They said we could not cross the border to Belize or Honduras because of the passport situation.  We would have to stay in Mexico and wait for the ship to go to Belize then to Roatan and reunite with the ship at the 4th and final stop in Costa Maya, Mexico. Thank goodness the ship was coming back to Mexico one more time or we would have had to go to the embassy and declare sanctuary while waiting for emergency passports.  

I was zoned out thinking about all that food on the ship that would never touch my tongue... the cozy bed that would remain made with a little towel elephant on it, and the hot tub that I wouldn't get to sit in. My woes were great. But they got even greater when Starling and I went from hotel, to hotel, to hotel. Starling was negotiating in Spanish so I had no clue what was going on. Finally I asked and he said, "Well. I have $47. Total."

I guess I would have passed out and died, but we had just stopped to eat before our hotel shopping and I was still on a high from the food. I loved the restaurant atmosphere . The warm air carried a permanent sea breeze. Our table was outside in the candle light. (Plastic coke bottles with the tops cut off with a candle inside. Americans would call that a fire hazard, but in Mexico... it works). And it was lovely. And the food was so delicious I forgot to be upset about our situation. After we talked to some Minnesotans who were visiting the area, I felt great about our predicament. If you must be stranded, best to be stranded in Paradise.

We finally found a hotel that would accept our $47 for a nights stay. The bed spread was a dust ruffle. The television was at least 60 years old. But it had a window unit which chilled our room nicely and a hot shower. That was really all that mattered.

I quickly realized the direness of our situation when I got out of the shower. What good is getting all cleaned up if you don't have clean clothes, deodorant, a toothbrush/paste, a hair brush, make up, etc. Luckily we bought some t-shirts before we knew we were stranded so we could at least wear a clean shirt.

But it got worse. Starling, who had a double ear infection, left all of his medicine on board the ship. He also didn't have his bandages for his gashed open foot. I didn't have my medication, either. My medicine helps with anxiety and keeping me somewhat sane. Of the two of us, we were most fearful of me being without mine. I've heard horror stories of people coming off mood medication. I imagined myself going ballistic and driving the scooter off into the night and ending up in a Mexican jail for the rest of my life. But I was too tired to have a melt- down.   

We fell asleep quickly. I dreamed of gators swarming everywhere. It must have gotten pretty extreme because when Starling woke me up to go BACK to immigration to CHECK IN and finalize some paperwork, he asked, "Gators attacking at Paul B. Johnson?" Figures. I'm all the way in the beautiful Cozumel and can't stop dreaming about Paul B. Johnson.

We met our new escort, Daniel, who took us to get temporarily legal. We were given three days to get out of the country. Daniel was super great, and took us to look at real estate and to use a phone to call our bank so that it would let us take out money. He also took us to a working ATM where we got some Mexican money. I examined it. "I've never held a $200 bill before. Or a bill you can see through." And the coins are much more intricate than US coins. They probably cost more to make than they are worth.

We rented a scooter for $25 for 24 hours and went exploring.  

 The West side of the island had crystal clear, calm water that looked like a swimming pool. We put on our goggles and stuck our faces into the water literally one step into the ocean. Nemo and all of his friends where swimming around our feet. It was like swimming in an aquarium. There were tiny fish and great big fish, orange fish and blue fish, and the plants were all alive, too. I wish I would have had an underwater camera.
We spent the rest of the day enjoying the sights and getting acquainted with the people. We found giant sea shells and souvenirs for the children. (I'm just glad STARLING was the one carrying the back pack. It got really heavy REALLY quick)! We decided Cozumel was the most beautiful place on Earth and we absolutely HAD to move there.

We stayed another night in our $47 hotel. It was only 2 blocks from the main harbor and cruise terminals  so we walked down the waterfront at sunset taking in the pleasant scenery.

The next morning we took the ferry to the mainland to a city called Playa Del Carmen. It was gorgeous. Resort gorgeous. Instead of rocky, sea shell shores or aquarium water, it was like a salt water swimming pool made out of sand.

We were hungry and Starling wanted us to have an authentic Mexican breakfast. So he asked several locals and finally picked the place, a small room behind the bus station where a lady and her helper, cook for the bus station employees. She cooked the most amazing breakfast consisting of fried plantains, frijoles liquados, eggs and ham, corn tortillas, and a bottled coke. You would just have to taste it to understand.

After one of the best breakfasts my taste buds had ever encountered,  we swam in the ocean and floated on the mild waves.

Starling kept asking if I wanted to go to Chechen Itza, the huge pyramid seventh wonder of the world or to the cliffs to go cliff diving and I kept telling him, "You pick where YOU want to go and I'll happily tag along." So we got in a van headed to a place called Kantun-Chi, an eco park with underground caves, rivers, and crystal clear water called cenotes.

This Mexico van was similar to a bus in a crowded city. It made frequent stops; people were constantly getting on and off. EXCEPT of course, it was a van. A 15 passenger van carrying as many people as would fit on a bus. Starling and I were lucky enough to get a seat. In the very BACK of the van. My face was plastered against a window trying to imagine I was breathing OUTSIDE air instead of putrid man-pits, while my knees were smashed against my chest. Something fell out of my bag and I almost got a concussion when I leaned forward in a failed attempt to retrieve it. Luckily, it was a fairly short ride, and I gulped in fresh air after crawling over everyone in the front three rows. Starling, who brought his GUITAR, not only on the cruise, but on the excursion, was practically decapitating people left and right.

By the time my feet touched the ground the van had vanished. Speed limits aren't an issue to taxi drivers, apparently. We started walking the long winding path to our destination. The walk was beautiful. Trees heavy laden with fruit lined the dirt road. Then we passed a little yard full of chickens with minimum number of feathers like they'd already been plucked. Several cars passed us, the color of rust, filled to maximum capacity with riders. All passengers were quite friendly and waved.

Kantun-Chi ( is, as of yet, the most MAGNIFICIENT place I have EVER beheld with my eyes. (Old or new eyes). Jesus (pronounced hay-soos) met us at the front to be our tour guide. We were given life vests, water shoes, and we wore our own goggles. For the first time on the trip, I stood my ground vehemently refusing to let Starling take my camera into a cave where we would have to SWIM. Several people had water cameras and one girl told the tour guide to take pics of us to so she could facebook us the photos. (Too bad we lost her email address and haven't heard from her).

The caves were incredible! Unlike many of the caves where you can only see as far as your head light, these caves had lights intricately wound through out. The caves were filled with crystal clear water. The Mayans believed the caves were the home of the gods. With good reason. It seemed only fitting that kings and great rulers would live inside. In the cave, there were no fish, no bugs, no ANYTHING. Just rocks formed into breathtaking views. The cave seemed to go on forever. I obviously stayed ONLY in the lit areas. Having just had the nightmare about the gators sneaking up on my friends and me attacking us, my heart was hammering when the tour guide told me that white gators lived in the shadows. Even though he laughed and said he was kidding, I stayed in the VERY center of the group.

The cave's freshwater was refreshingly cool and deep. We were told about how the Mayan's also believed a giant snake, larger than an anaconda, with the head of a horse, lived in the caves, guarding them against mortals. Try as I might, I had a difficult time not thinking, 'Most old wives tales stem from some truth, even if just a little.' And wondering WHY the Mayans thought a giant snake lived inside the caves, or if they had seen an anaconda. And that lead to visions of the MOVIE anaconda.
I liked the parts of the cave where we weren't emerged in large gulfs of water. I liked the higher ground where I could SEE the ground, instead of my feet hovering above a bottomless pit.

After Jesus showed us where everything was located he told us we had free reign of the land until closing time at 5:30. 
When we climbed out of the cave, we went to four Cenotes (water caves) illuminated by the sunlight. They were just as crystal clear, just as lighted, and had fish swimming in them. Birds also nested in the tops of the caves. The tour guide told us to enjoy our stay ,and he went to meet a new group while We went to eat at the Mayan restaurant. The circle shaped restaurant, planted under a giant palm roof, was surrounded by a clear, blue mote with waterfalls every so often. The food was perfectly prepared and Starling and I all but licked our plates clean.

I could have stayed for a week and not tired of the park. Being surrounded by such natural beauty was riveting. Starling, so taken with the wonder of it all, went to meet the owner. I swung in a hammock under the shade of the palms while Starling and the owner talked business. Starling, always on a venture to expound his knowledge, wanted to know EVERYTHING about the land and if the caves were synched with any excursions from the cruise ships. The guy said he'd mostly turned things over to his son but that they were unfamiliar with connecting to the tourist areas. As Starling presented the man with a few ideas, the man got very excited.  He introduced Starling to everyone that works for him. He and Starling exchanged information and  he encouraged Starling to return to live there as soon as possible. (Starling's wheels STILL haven't stopped turning).

With our adventure complete at the caves, as complete as ONE day allotted us, we resumed our walk back to the main road. A taxi van nearly took us out, swerving in front of us to take us on our way. The back was solid full. The driver told us to ride in front with him. Wow. WHAT a RUSH. There was the driver, Wendi, and Starling. ALL crammed in the front seat. Going 112 miles per hour. The windshield seemed a little too close for comfort for my face and despite how frantically my hands searched, I never found a seat belt. I glanced behind me to see a mom holding her newborn baby on her lap. Van STILL going 112 miles per hour. I thought we were going to die at LEAST 7 times. My knuckles were white from gripping the edge of my seat and my knees were shaking, but we made it to Tulum. With rides like that who needs Six Flags!

In Tulum, we literally shopped until we dropped. Starling FINALLY found a use for the stupid guitar he had drug around poking out his backpack the WHOLE time. He traded it for a hideously curious hand carved Mayan Mask that we are going to hang on our wall somewhere. Starling LOVES the mask and I... well I am going to let him display it because he loves it. It's certainly unique.

When our eyes were droopy, we bought bus tickets heading towards Costa Maya where our ship would dock and we could re-board.   

The bus ride was nice. We were in a first class ADO bus comparable to a Greyhound. We had planned to sleep but we just talked about how cool it would be to move to Playa del Carmen and start a business doing  excursions to the caves and leading scuba diving trips to the second largest coral reef in the world.  When the bus driver announced our stop we climbed out and the bus moved along. Starling and I just stood there gaping at the rickety abandoned looking shanty in front of us. Not a bus station. Not a light in sight. Two a.m. in the morning. We didn't know WHERE the heck we WERE. Only that we were supposed to be in a city called Lemones.

We saw a food stand down a ways, so we walked over to talk to them. No busses would run until five in the morning. I wanted to walk. It was like fifty miles or so. I figured we could walk until we got too tired, take a nap, and catch a bus when we woke up. But APPARENTLY that wasn't a good plan to my traveling companion. His foot, still cut open from the relay event on the cruise ship, was filled with salty sand and swollen. I just started walking while Starling talked to some people on the side of the road. After I got 100 yards down the road he caught up to me running and yelling saying something about I was going to get kidnapped and held for ransom. The way I was looking and smelling? I was 99.8% sure nobody would want to TOUCH me. Then I saw an 18 wheeler and asked, in my broken Spanish- and attempt at Charades,  if we could hitch a ride to Costa Maya. Starling firmly gripped my wrist, talked Spanish to the guys, and then they left. Well. That royally pissed me off. I had worked HARD to get us a ride and he'd dismissed them. But he assured me they were not the people to travel with as they had marijuana leaves on their hats and looked stoned out of their minds on something much stronger than marijuana.  Whatever.

So we went to another little restaurant/house where people were STILL awake and outside eating. (In the middle of nowhere at 2 a.m). And Starling yapped with them about who knows what.  I was still sulking from the missed ride.

One of the guys said he would drive us to our port in Costa Maya for an agreeable sum of money, so we hopped in his car and went.

We got to the port, interrupting the little guard dudes' game of poker. It was probably three a.m. or so by that point and there was NOTHING around. NOT that it would have mattered if there was a cozy hotel nearby since Starling had taken out the max the atm would ALLOW which was JUST enough to pay the guy who drove us. We looked around for a place to sleep. Literally NOTHING. The port was gated and the port dudes acted shady about letting us in. After sitting around for an hour or more, one of the guys told us we could step through the gates and sleep in the resort.  19 or so investors built the port resort after Hurricane Rita leveled the majority of Costa Maya. It was magnificent, even in the dark.

Dolphins swam in a pool bordering the beach. Sparkling pools glistened in the moon light. Large hotels stood lighted against the darkness. Ah... to sleep in a cozy bed.

But NO cozy bed for us. The dude brought us to our sleeping spot. The beach. He pointed to lawn chairs. Awesome.

 We settled down in lawn chairs under a tikki hut.  The wind was blowing in time with the waves. And it was chilly. I still had on my three day old shorts and swimsuit top, after all.

As soon as the port guy was out of sight, I ripped out my camera and ran to the dolphin pool. Starling, who was falling asleep rapidly, shouted, "WENDI, do NOT get in that pool with the dolphins. SERIOUSLY. I know you!"

I waved him off. I whistled a few times and three dolphins swam to me immediately. I tried taking their pictures, but my camera was having SERIOUS difficulty focusing in the pitch black. So I abandoned my camera for a min and talked to the dolphins. They were like water puppies. HUGE puppies. They started squeaking at me and doing little tricks. I was considering rather or not to just stick my legs in the water to get a LITTLE closer, when the port guy came back.

"No picturas! Beach Private! Go sleep!"

I went back to a sleeping Starling and balled up my body as tight as I could on a beach chair, trying to reserve my body heat. It did NOT work. My teeth were chattering and the wind continued to whip over me. Starling pulled all our souvenir shirts out of his backpack and covered me in them. The fact that they all smelled like Kamper Park didn't even bother me. Then Starling turned beach chairs horizontally in front of us to block some of the wind. It helped for sure, but I was still freezing.

At some point I finally dozed off. I only know this because I couldn't believe I was being woken back up when it was STILL dark outside.

A string of Spanish from port man.

"The boat is coming in," Starling translated for me.  

After we went through ANOTHER hour of paper work with a NEW port authority, we were FINALLY allowed to board our ship.

Despite the fact that my hair was three days unbrushed and looked like a mangy fro and my clothes looked like I'd rolled out of a trash can (and probably smelled equally delicious), Starling and I ran straight to the breakfast buffet and ate waffles with gobs of melting butter drenched in syrup, fresh strawberries and whip cream. And fifty other things offered on the buffet just as scrumptious.

Then we fled to our room where I took the longest, hottest shower I've ever had. I melted off the grime and scrubbed off about six layers of skin. When I was done and smelled as fresh as a glade plug in, I basically fell into the bed and passed out. Starling followed suit.

During my coma I heard a knock in my subconscious, but I ignored it. Then I heard someone say, "ooooo!" I was vaguely aware that someone had come in and gone out, but I couldn't make my eyes open. I was under a sheet so I wasn't too worried about it anyway.

Later, when I woke up and fumbled my way to the bathroom, I happened to turn and look at my bed. The sight I saw sent me into hysterical giggles as I realized what our steward had seen upon entering our room. Starling was flopped out facedown ON TOP of the blankets, BUTT naked. I laughed and laughed at the little guys, "oooooo!!" I woke up Starling to tell him our little crew guy was off somewhere burning his eyeballs out.

The poor guy couldn't make eye contact with Starling for the rest of the trip.

I finally got my hair brushed out, and I mean literally- most of it got brushed OUT, as in detached from my scalp. When the trash is changed someone is going to think I killed a small animal.

We resumed our cruise life being spoiled with food, sun, and shows. Everyone told me to take books because I would have a lot of down time. I didn't open a book, open my laptop, or ever think- I'm bored. We bounced from one activity to the next and kept going until our bodies collapsed in exhaustion, grabbed a few hours of sleep, and jumped into more activities again.

I was NOT ready to leave. I wanted to bring at least one of the cooks home with me. After all, we have no problem housing crap loads of people. But the one I approached said something about having to get a work visa to come into the US. Bla Bla.

We missed our babies, though, so I wasn't completely crushed to leave the life of luxury. (And I love my little darlings SO MUCH MORE having been away from them for 7 days).

So, if one day, after I've accumulated five children again, I suddenly disappear; you know where to find me. On a ship to Mexico.