My Beautiful Family

“A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.” ~Ogden Nash

familyMy family is small, special, loving, beautifully diverse, and at times, like all families, under the weather.

I have a loving son and a caring, soon-to-be daughter-in-law. But I also have a grand dog. Yes, you are reading this right. The cat person has fallen in love with a dog. And an amazing dog he is. He is the cutest mixture between a dachshund and a beagle, and his name is Gambit.

Gambit loves to eat. As a matter of fact, he pretty much loves to eat everything, but nothing prepared me to watch him savor a bowl of broccoli when he visited with his mom and dad this month.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 8.31.05 PMIt was wonderful to have my family here in Birmingham, it meant the world to me. And even though Idan arrived on crutches and Laura had a nasty cold, we managed to visit some of my favorite places, including Pepper Place Market. Gambit enjoyed all of the attention he got wherever we went. He felt right at home at the farmers market and acted like the connoisseur he is, daring to be picky about the treats that were so generously offered.

As always, time flew and soon it was time to say goodbye. British novelist Jane Howard said, “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” I sure know I do. Howard also knew that we all need to learn, “maybe most importantly of all, to cherish the company of those who can make us laugh, who can forgive us our shortcomings, who can restore us and evoke in us a feeling of purpose in the face of absurdity.”

A Cruise to Remember

New OrleansA Birthday like none other started with a train ride, a journey of over seven hours, from Birmingham to New Orleans. I booked a last-minute cruise that would call on ports in Mexico, Honduras, and Belize. I love trains and it was wonderful to simply board the Crescent in Birmingham, sit back, relax, and see lovely small towns along the route. The journey through Alabama and Mississippi to the final destination in Louisiana was so wonderful that I knew instantly that I would do this again.

I love New Orleans. I love everything about the city: the good, the bad, and the ugly. This was my fifth visit to Nola, the third since Katrina, and it felt so good to be back. Meeting up with Millie prior to boarding the ship was all I could have asked for.

cruiseMy first day on board the ship was exactly what I had wanted. There was no more cell phone connection and no more emails. Nothing but blue skies and the soothing waves of the sea. I loved it so much that when we arrived at our first port of call I decided that I would not join any shore excursion but simply walk around Cozumel for a couple of hours and spend the rest of the day onboard, relaxing and enjoying a pretty much empty spa.

IMG_7781Our next stop was Roatán, an island in the Caribbean, off the northern coast of Honduras. I joined a group for a visit to Gumbalimba Park, located in West Bay. While I wish I could have gone there on my own, I found what I wanted: white faced Capuchin monkeys. The monkeys were hilarious and absolutely cute, and interacting with them was unforgettable.

The little rascals where so adorable that, even though I was warned, I did not realize till it was too late that one of them had snatched my sunscreen right out of the pocket of my camera vest. But, as I said, they are so amazingly cute, that I would have given them pretty much anything but my glasses for a chance to interact.

There is so much more to see and do at Gumbalimba Park, but the Capuchin monkeys are the highlight of any visit. The park has beautiful landscaping, and I loved the flora and fauna.

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You can sign up for zipline canopy tours, snuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and more. The monkeys are the stars, but I was also amazed to see iguanas, big and small.

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Iguana or lizard? This is the question I never could solve, but I sure enjoyed meeting some of the smaller little fellows.

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Gumbalimba Park is also home to a huge population of parrots. They are so used to visitors that many will interact with you. They are stunning creatures and absolutely beautiful.

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One of the things to remember when visiting Gumbalimba Park is to respect wildlife. Do not approach the monkeys if they have a baby with them, as the mom and dad might feel threatened.

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The next port of call was Belize City. All I wanted was Mayan ruins, and so I signed up for a visit of the Mayan ruins of Lamanai. Like with everything in life, the good stuff is not in walking distance and so I went on a long, long bus ride to the Mayan site of my dreams. Be prepared for a two-hour bus ride and another hour on a boat.

IMG_5064The reward, however, is a Mayan city in the middle of the rain forest. Lamanai means “submerged crocodile” in Maya. The site is simply amazing, but nothing tops climbing to the top of the 125-foot High Temple to see the jungle canopy spreading beneath.

IMG_5053Check out the Mask Temple begun around 200 BC. Modified several times over the years, it has two 13-foot masks of a man in a crocodile headdress. Our guide told us that the two masks are the same person at different times in his life.The masks are considered some of the finest big masks in the Maya world. In order to protect the originals from the elements, the masks seen by visitors are fiberglass replicas that have been placed n front of the original limestone masks. Deep within the temple, archaeologists found the tombs of a man and a woman. Our guide told us that the women’s skull showed a fracture that indicates that she was put to death when her husband, the presumed leader of that time, passed away.

IMG_5122The next day, I went for some more Mayan history when the ship was in port back in Mexico. I had visited Tulum before and decided that this time I would head for Chacchoben, also known as “The Place of Red Corn.” The Mayan culture, customs, language, and beliefs are fascinating to me, and I hope that I can visit many more similar sites in the future.

After another day at sea, the ship returned to New Orleans, where I enjoyed a few more hours of the Nola vibe. I am grateful for all the experiences I had. I saw people work so hard, for so little, especially in Honduras and Belize. I wish for a future where cruise ships will not only bring eager visitors to distant shores but also real change to the destinations. I want to see a day where the money that guests cough up for shore excursions goes to those who really need and so deserve it.