Maybe I started writing this post more than a month ago, when I first got back from my cruise to Central America. But then I started the new job and wasn’t hanging out on my couch all day, and had more to do than send out my resume and watch funny Youtube videos. Whatever, I’m writing about it now. Better late than never, eh?

When one has been unemployed for three months, as I was from September until January, what does one do? The answer is clear–take a vacation. Take a vacation from a vacation? Precisely. After all, one can only handle the biting cold of upstate New York for so long.

College roommate Robin was the inspiration behind this one. She and her sister used to go on cruises together as a “sisterly bonding” sort of thing. Over the summer, I asked Joanna if she was game to spend a week on a boat with me. She was more than willing to take on the challenge. And believe me, it was a challenge.

Which brings us to New Orleans the day after New Year’s. Our boat left out of NOLA, so we hopped a flight down the day before to account for potential bad weather. The skies were clear and we made it to town just in time for dinner and drinks on New Orleans’ famous Bourbon Street.  Our hostel, India Hostel, was a decent place, but not within walking distance of the French Quarter, which was all I really wanted Joanna to see in our limited time there. Famished from the trip down, we threw down our bags and headed out to catch a trolley in hopes of then catching some dinner.

At the recommendation of my good friend Jon, we had dinner at the Acme Oyster House’s French Quarter location. I’m usually anti-chain, but Jon insisted that it would be worth it. I’m also not an oyster-eater, which could have put a crimp in the plans. But one look at the menu, and my Anthony Bourdain instincts took over. Oysters charbroiled and topped with white wine, romano cheese and olive oil? I had to. I just had to. I wasn’t too keen on the texture (just as I wasn’t too keen on the texture of escargot), but the flavor was to die for.

After the oysters, I dug into my gumbo poopa. Don’t let the name throw you off: The mix of chicken, andouille sausage, rice and beans mixed together in a bread bowl was heaven in my mouth. After dinner, we walked around Bourbon Street and bought shots from random women in the street. Keeping it safe and classy, folks.

The next morning we were up early, thanks in part to the heater going bust in the middle of the night. I took Joanna to Cafe du Monde, an old favorite and one of New Orleans’ most-visited establishments. After some coffee and beignets, fried dough covered in powdered sugar, we headed to the boat.

Joanna enjoying her first beignet

Our first stop that week was Costa Maya, Mexico. You can do one of two things in Costa Maya–tour ruins or hit the beach. Despite cloudy skies and cool temperatures, we braved the beach. (Though let the record show–I really, really wanted to go to the ruins. Joanna had veto power.) I sat wrapped in a towel and am pretty sure my bathing suit never even saw the light of day. (Apparently, neither did my camera. No pics from Costa Maya!)

Day two found us in Guatemala. Joanna had signed us up for a day-long boat trip. Guatemala was wonderful. The area our guide took us to was in an isolated area along the water. We’re talking super-isolated: no roads, no cars, only boats to get from place to place. It’s the kind of place I would love to return to, just to be completely alone with my own thoughts.

My personal highlight was the coffee that our guide gave us. Since last autumn’s southeast Asia backpackaganza, I’ve developed a taste for specialty coffee. I thought Laotian coffee was my favorite, but no. I clearly just had not yet had Guatemalan coffee. This stuff was rich and full of flavor and kept me alert for the rest of the day.

The boat trip was OK–not great, not awful, just OK. There was a lot of down-time on the water, just speeding along and enjoying the view. If I wasn’t having flashbacks to the six-hour speedboat ride to Luang Prabang, Laos, I probably would have enjoyed this part of the trip more. (Oh, and I have a video of thousands of ants marching in a line, and me singing the obligatory “The Ants Go Marching” song in the background. If I get enough support, I’ll post it. But right now, Joanna’s getting on my case about putting up this post ASAP.)

The next port of call was Belize City, Belize. After taking a tender into port, most cruisers stay on the boardwalk, taking in the sites–er, shopping–of the city. Caribbean Port Reviews calls this area the “crafts market,” but that’s a joke, unless discount designer bags, diamond necklaces and cheesy t-shirts count as “crafts.” Joanna and I pushed through the security gates and were immediately accosted by a dozen “tour operators.” Desperate to see some sort of ruins, I went along with one of the first guys we spoke to. Jo and I hopped into his dilapidated car (complete with broken doors and a windshield cracked in multiple places) and we headed toward the ruins, about 30 miles outside of Belize City. Just past the city limits, I realized that two American girls hopping into a car with a stranger in a foreign country probably wasn’t the smartest idea. I asked if we could change itineraries and just do a tour of the city instead. He reluctantly agreed, and as we drove back into town, he entertained us by reciting poetry that he’d written.

Our tour consisted of driving by a few churches, city hall and the now-closed clubs that our “tour guide” used to go to when he was younger. Not to get on my high horse about tour-giving, but really? I mean, really? The most enjoyable part of the “tour” was the rice and beans I bought from a stand at the side of the road.

We made it back to port a few hours later. At that point, Joanna was barely speaking to me and wanted to go back to the boat, but it was only noon and I wasn’t ready to call it quits in Belize. Jo and I parted ways and I headed back into town. There wasn’t much else to see in Belize City, so I just walked down streets and alleyways, popping into any shops that looked interesting. I found a small cafe and had a cup of coffee as I talked to the owner’s kids. I understood why most travelers don’t leave the port–for someone used to the comfort we live in, the hectic atmosphere, the leering men and the cat calls can be too much.

Our final stop of the trip was Cozumel, where we finally got our fun in the sun. The sun was out and it wasn’t too hot, so Jo and I spent the day alternating between our lounge chairs and splashing around in the ocean. There was an eccentric French family sitting near us that brought dog treats to feed the fish swimming around our legs. When the father saw me looking at them with a curious look, he offered up some dog treats.

Tossing dog--err, fish--food into the water

A few hours later, Jo and I realized that we’d developed some pretty awful sunburns. These burns were nothing compared to the time I morphed into a lobster in the Philippines, but it still hurt a whole damn lot.

We spent our final day on the ship sampling the last of the free food, making a few more pennies in the casino (where a guy won $40,000 in a slot machine the day before!) and hanging out with the friends we had made during the week. The last night came my final opportunity to lose my dignity at the ship’s Quest competition. Passengers who participate in the game divide into teams and then race to bring up various props and items of clothing (and nothing is off-limits, judging by the old guy in front of me who stripped down to his underwear in about four seconds flat) that are requested by the host. The good news is, I didn’t have even have a chance to lose my self-respect, because the elderly couple in front of me beat me to it. The even better news is, our quick feet and awesome team won us first place. The prize? A bucket of beer. What a solid way to end the week.

This is what victory looks like. Six fully clothed teammates and Scott, who had to trade clothes with his wife for the final round and hadn't managed to get back into his own shirt yet.

The next morning, we docked in New Orleans and grabbed a cab to the airport. Twelve hours later, we were back in Kingston, sunburnt and exhausted, but happy (and very well-fed). Reality resumed the next day I started my job Monday morning, and Joanna headed back to college a few days later. Oh, real world.

A month later, our tans have faded and Central America is a memory. It was a good trip, and I’m glad that we went, but I think my cruising days are over. (Unless, of course, you want to foot the bill. In that case, anchors away!) As much fun as it was, it was frustrating to be around so many, well, Americans. Part of the beauty of traveling is meeting new people and exploring new places. I felt as though so many of the people we were traveling with just wanted to hop onto the beach, buy an overpriced margarita and load back onto the boat at the end of the day. And that’s just fine, but it’s not for me. My mother swears by the Jersey shore (GTL, what?), other friends jet off to Europe every chance they get, and I’m content grabbing a bottle of water and hitting the streets, wherever I am. Different strokes for different folks, and that’s completely OK.

I’ve been back in the States for a month now, but we all know how good I am at staying in one place. I’ve already started to think about the next trip. Might be India, might be back to Prague, might be somewhere completely random and off the beaten path. The wheels are turning…

Almost paradise...

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