On the tragedy of loss.

I lost something near and dear to me last week.

 

Two pounds.

Or thereabouts. See – at work we are doing a “biggest loser” competition. I’m a fat slob and I know it, or at least feel that way. Most people seem to say “You don’t need to lose weight!” But my pants feel tight and I don’t look so great in a mirror, plus when I hike I’m usually winding up at the back after the first few miles. So, I’m working on losing weight and getting in better shape. But those two pounds must be near and dear to me, because they are so reluctant to leave. I hate the treadmill, I hate situps and I REALLY hate pushups. I also strongly dislike SlimFast and Bananas for lunch, but I think I like those MORE than plain water and dry Special K cereal for lunch.

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My last hiking trip was a big eye-opener for me. Three days huffing and puffing through the woods was tough on my out-of shape form. Sure, I could blame my pack, maybe I could drop three pounds from it, but in reality, removing the equivalent of a half bag of sugar shouldn’t have that much of an impact on my hiking ability. Maybe next time I’ll just TAKE the half bag of sugar and eat it while I hike. That might help me speed up. My friends from that trek finished the Foothills Trail over the weekend, doing 44 miles in four days. Alas, I could not get permission to attend, however I was left wondering in my current state, would I have enjoyed it as much as some of my more lean and muscular group members. There’s nothing like the “Heartbreak Ridge” to really punish you, I doubt even olympians would go up and down that damn thing without saying “whew, what a workout!”

I’ve signed myself up for a Mountain Marathon in June, 26 miles up and down and around Caesar’s Head, from 7am until 6pm. I know it sounds like a long time for a marathon, but we aren’t wimping it out and running along flat pavement*. We’re doing this in the mountains – no bathrooms, no one handing us water (we have to collect and purify our own), and no one but the bears to offer us motivation on the sidelines. So, I have to get my flabby butt in shape for that.

In the biggest loser competition I lost 7 pounds in the first two weeks, of course one of those weeks was my hiking weekend where I walked 35 miles. Then I went on a cruise and found two pounds, which I think I subsequently lost. My belt feels less tight, anyway. I don’t own a scale, but I know when I can cinch my belt down a notch.

Unfortunately, as nice as hiking is for weight loss (you can only eat so much Idahoan Instant Potatoes and water), This month is busy, so I can’t even practice hike until the marathon. It’s just me and the treadmill. The nicest thing about the treadmill is regaining consciousness after I finish. I’m kind of tough on myself on that thing. Then I have to do sit-ups and pushups afterwards, just to practice getting ready for our next physical at work.

But, my biggest test of fitness will be getting back to hiking again when I can. After June, the summer is wide open for me, and I’m hoping that I can get my permission slip signed and go on a few more hikes. My ultimate goal is to finish the foothills trail before the end of the year, but It would likely be in November. Fall Hiking, as pretty as it is, doesn’t appeal to me as much now that I’ve learned how pissed bees are in the fall.Winter, Spring, and Summer, those are my favorite times to go now.

Unfortunately I have been a little disheartened missing out on the whole end-of-the-foothills trail hike. I haven’t really looked at my stuff. I repacked some things after my last trip, but I’m pretty disorganized at the moment. I know Mike would get a thrill out of this, but I think I do want to try a hiking kilt. My rain version was so comfortable and easy to use, having a real one would be pretty awesome. Less stuff pulling on the legs and all. I suffered some chafing on my thighs last trip, and some looser clothing may help that. Plus, I’m from Scottish descent, so it would just be right.

Someone has finally given me a trail name – I’m called “Taco”, just because I like exclusively using a hammock tent, which they say makes me a “bear taco”. Interesting choice of names, but I’ll accept it.

 

*Okay – before a bunch of runners get pissed and say “Wimping it out! How dare you! How many marathons have YOU run?”, I have previously stated how much I dislike running the treadmill. Running in the street interests me even less. Heat, rocks, other runners… no thanks. So no, I wouldn’t run one even if I thought there was a remote chance I could. Going slow and steady is how I roll. I’m not even sure I can finish this mountain version, but I hiked 18 miles last spring with a full pack. Surely 26 with a little day pack can’t be that bad, after all, we have almost 12 hours.

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My Favorites – no selfies allowed.

 

 

 

Some of my Facebook buddies have seen some of these already, but since they and thee are two different groups, I had to put these here. Its a shitload of pictures, but I hope you enjoy them anyway.

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Our big ass boat

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Pretty paint job for a fort.
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photobomb
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Nno one knows how to “play fort” like the Puerto Ricans.
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This thing needs big balls.
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Statue to Columbus, in San Juan.
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Outside the wall. But not waiting for the worms to come.
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Whose is bigger? San Juan boat view.
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Kaylee and Haylee (our trivia host many times over)
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Wading in the sand.
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A sand dollar, before you find it dried out in a gift shop for $4.
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Its a sea cucumber ladies, don’t get excited.

When the internet dies.

 

It says something that there are four things I plug into the generator when the power goes out.

First is the fridge. I have to have cold drinks and prevent food spoilage.

The second is a lamp. Candles during power outages are bad ideas.

Third is the TV, because how am I supposed to watch the weather channel and Game Of Thrones without TV?

Fourth is the cable modem and wireless router. Damn if I’m not going to be able to use the internet!

 

 

Impressions of my cruise

So, I went on my first cruise in ten years or so. I had been on three, back in the 90s, and since then my vacations have mostly centered around Disney World, Pensacola Beach, and one odd Washington DC thrown in there for good measure.

Disney World, first of all, is a no brainer. We’ve been so many times now, there are no unknowns. We know exactly what to expect, from the crowds to the attractions to the traffic. The thing about Disney World though, is it is NOT a vacation. “Vacation” to me means something relaxing, somewhere you get away from the hustle and bustle of life. Disney World is more hustle and bustle than everyday life. In fact it makes work look easy. You take a “Trip” to Disney World, NOT a Vacation.

Cruising is fun, but always contains some unknowns. Where are you going to go, when, where to stay, and what to do. Now that a kid is involved, it gets even more difficult, because some activities aren’t kid appropriate, so what do you do? The price of a cruise, per day, is abut the same as a Disney trip, once it is all said and done, so there’s no real advantage one way or the other. The biggest difference is, during a cruise, the people begging you for money aren’t wearing mouse ears.

So we booked a trip on the Carnival Conquest to San Juan, St. Thomas, Grand Turk, and Nassau. The first obstacle to any trip is deciding what to take. Thankfully my wife has learned as she has matured, what to pack for a trip. I know when I backpack (if I’m ever allowed to go again), I can put my entire life on my back for several days. My wife is of the opposite extreme. Several years back, a few days away required at least six suitcases, averaging thirty pounds. On our first trip, we brought one bag just for shoes. Walking around shoes, beach shoes, flip flops, pairs of shoes for each elegant night… This time? Two pair each. One set for dress up night, one set for everything else. We pack smaller now. Travel size everything… And disposable where possible. Some stuff that goes down doesn’t come back.

The trip to the boat is another issue. It’s a long damn way to Miami to get on a ship. We leave from the northeast part of SC, drive six hours to Jacksonville, Florida. We’re half way. Hitting the Florida border and seeing the signs saying “Miami 365 miles” or whatever, is really disheartening. “why don’t you fly?” you may ask. For what I would pay for 3 tickets, plus baggage, plus parking and aggravation going through security and sitting on a plane with other assholes, I can drive. It takes longer, but even staying overnight I come out ahead. Port Canaveral or even the port in Fort Lauderdale is better than going to Miami. We drove to Port St. Lucie where we had reserved a hotel room, and stayed overnight before continuing the last two hours the next morning.

Boarding the boat was a little confusing. There has been a lot of construction since our last visit. Last time there seemed to be acres of parking, through which we had to drag our 700 pounds of bags (including shoes) to the terminal. This time there was an actual parking garage, making the trip to the terminal short and easy. Plus One to the Port of Miami! Unfortunately, the porters that were so eager to help last time were sort of hidden, and one had to find us while security seemed incredulous that we didn’t check our bags. There were no signs, no instructions, nothing. Just, cross the street from the garage and you’re on your own. Once inside it was a logical, if silly, method. Just like boarding a plane.

Finally, time to go. We packed half the house in five small bags, drove twelve hours, bought 60 dollars worth of gas, and stayed in a swanky hotel with a golf course for less than the crappy place at the ski slopes.

Like the song says: “I’m on a Boat!”

Okay, it’s another big ass cruise ship. That hasn’t changed much. They’re all big ass cruise ships. They’re decorated differently, they go different places, but they’re all pretty much the same thing. A couple of restaurants, a big open deck with a swimming pool, several residence decks, spa, theatre, etc. One new edition that wasn’t there last time was the poolside movie screen, above the deck. TV shows during the day, movies at night. It was all pretty nice. The one thing that really hasn’t changed is the people. You get the same mix of people that I remember from last time. They range from the very young to the very old, although I was disappointed to see the scooter crowd has infiltrated cruise ships too. I guess all those TV ads for “the scooter store” paid off. There are the spring breaker college kids, the parents that let their kids run wild, the quiet groups, the average middle-aged, the former veterans… Pretty much a good cross section of every day society. Some people were a bit wild for my taste (damn it settle down and talk quietly on the stateroom decks – dont be so damn loud), which we really didn’t have a problem with on Royal Carribbean. Those people seem more genteel and less party-hungry. On the last night of the trip, some young teens were cackling and shouting in the hall outside our room after midnight. I yelled at them in English and Spanish. A good “people are trying to sleep, you need to shut the hell up”, goes a long way.

The activities have definitely increased since last trip. The shows were pretty good, like usual, but last trip seemed built around getting more money out of you. Other than gambling, the only real activity was bingo, which you had to pay for. This time there were plenty of no cost things to do. There was trivia of various kinds several times a day, interactive lessons (we learned to do the Zombie dance from the Thriller video), arts and crafts, and several things we couldn’t do while we were off the ship. I was really pleased at this new improvement. I could do as much or as little as I wanted.

Nassau was a disappointment. I had heard it was somewhat dirty and nasty. I concur on this opinion. We decided to take a walking tour on our own instead of paying someone 50 bucks each for the same privilege. Coming off the dock, everyone is hawking something. Hair braids, scarves, purses, taxi rides, horse carriage rides…almost as bad as Salvation Army bell ringers, they persist in trying to bother you into something. Walking around, while it looked like a good idea from the map, was a bit more difficult than it appeared. There aren’t many street signs where there should be, and sidewalks are evidently a luxury in a lot of places. Add to it the persistent graffiti, and the whole thing gives a tourist the idea that we are in the wrong part of town. We did see the Queens Staircase and Fort Fincastle, both of which were impressive.

San Juan was better this time around. More stuff was open for us. Last time they did a nighttime tour, so by the time we got off ship there wasn’t much open that we wanted to see. This time we toured two forts and downtown. The forts were interesting but it was sunny and hot and we got tired, and retired to the boat. One fort would have been plenty (el Morro was the best).

In St. Thomas, we headed off on a boat tour to St. John, and had an island tour on an open sided tour bus thing. Although interesting, it would have been nice to get out more at a few beaches. The place was beautiful however. It was almost impossible not to just point the camera in any random direction and take a photo that looked straight out of a travel magazine. There was the standard tour bus operator kickback agreements… He stopped at two places, one which just closed and the other where his friend was selling soursop juice at sort of a lemonade stand.

Grand Turk was a little like Nassau. It was obviously a poorer area that was dependent on tourism and shopping, and had been heavily damaged in the past ten years by a hurricane. The people didn’t beg us for the most part, they just stared, as if we were a roving band of circus performers. The most interesting part of the trip was the sea life. Our “coast to coast safari” tour guides had some starfish and sea urchins they passed around and let us hold. He then pulled out a conch shell and showed us how they turn conch into food. No PETA morons allowed on this trip. He knocked a hole in the shell and cut the creature loose. Then he peeled it and cut it up and passed pieces out. It tasted like overcooked shrimp, slightly crunchy and salty, but good. You don’t get fresher than that. Grand Turk has a donkey problem. They run wild everywhere. At one inlet we visited there was as much horse poo on the shore as shells. I guess it floats and washes up. There was a constant horse stink on the breeze. The island is only a few miles long and two wide. One guy with a rifle could solve the wild donkey issue, yet they would rather build fences around all the properties and just live with the donkeys. Strange culture.

All too soon it comes to an end, however. Seven days goes by really quickly. But, we’ve already decided that it’s been too long since our last cruise. They had a future cruise desk set up during the voyage, and we signed up for another one.

Everything I need to know I learned on a cruise ship…

Okay, well maybe not everything, but as the Everything I Know series is so immensely popular with the dozen people that I have shown it to, I thought the best thing to do would be to extend it to other vacations. I’m sure sooner or later I’ll come up with a good list. For now:

1. When your badge says “American Guard”, at least try to learn English.

I know, I know: America has no official language. If it did, it would be German, but I digress. When you are working in an American port, where a majority of the people coming through will speak a combination of English or Spanish (hey, its Miami, I know I’m a minority here), at least try to learn one of them. And what is the “American Guard” anyway? The cruise terminal version of the TSA? They aren’t TSA agents, they aren’t coast guard or customs agents. I guess “American Guard” is more appropriate than “Bob’s Security Service”. At least “American Guard” sounds official, like they might have the ability to TASER you or perform a body cavity search if you get rowdy.

2. Directions are optional, compliance is Mandatory.

Upon approaching the terminal for the first time in a while (last time I came here, getting on the internet required a phone line, there was no Facebook, MySpace wasn’t popular yet, and I didn’t own a cell phone), I was surprised at both the upgrades and the lack of instructions. We go in the wrong way and have to wrap around, because the signs telling you where to go are way past the first turnoff. Then we walk up to the gate and the first security guy says “why didn’t you check your bags?” Ummm…because no one told us too. We were on our own from the time we got off I-95. One of the porters (see last post about tipping) quickly saw dollar signs and helped us out.

Everyone kept asking us for a boarding pass. Boarding pass? I have a receipt. There was no boarding pass on my printout. They scanned us and let us on anyway, our receipt matched our passports. Don’t try to make it sound more official than it is.

3. Bringing your drink to the muster station drill is a really douchy move.

Delay your alcoholism for at least the first hour or two. I know you’ve parked the car and can quit worrying about getting that third DUI, but seriously, wait until the lifeboat drill is over. It’s the worst thing about a cruise, standing on the deck in the heat crowded together for thirty minutes or more while they tell us how not to die when the boat sinks. But thankfully you don’t have to wear the life jackets any more.

4. Wearing your bikini and wrap to the terminal seems kind of slutty.

Sure, you’ve been hitting the gym hard and avoiding things like food for months. And we’re all going on a glorious Caribbean vacation together… but wait until you’re on the boat by the pool. I wouldn’t get on Alaska Airlines in Los Angeles wearing a parka. Give it some time before you show your ass and boobs to everyone.

5. If you push your baby around the ship in a stroller, you are a lazy asshole.

Look, I understand bringing the stroller from the car to the boat. That can be a long walk. I understand if you need it on shore excursions, too. But the boat is 930 feet long. How damn hard is it to tote your offspring around? Touch the little bastard sometime, he’ll appreciate it later.

6. People will cheat like hell for a two dollar plastic ship trophy.

People like me. Damnit I’ve been on four cruises now and have yet to win a gold plastic cruise ship trophy. They do trivia several times a day and I wasn’t about to leave empty handed this trip, especially when our only real competition already won once.

7. Shopping after having rum punch is a bad idea.

I’ve shopped intoxicated a few times. The last time I had a Kidney stone, and had taken Loricet. Loricet is about the only thing that will get me inside a Target store without complaint. I hate Target. But give me half a Loricet and I’m right in there looking for the Target Dog. Give me a whole one, and I’m likely to think I can see the Target Dog. I’m a cheap date, evidently. But give me a solo cup with rum punch (especially after a hot day in the sun) and I’m ready to shop the seaside vendors in St. Thomas and buy my kid some overpriced turtle jewelry.

8. Don’t drink rum punch after a hot day in the sun when there is a 30 minute boat ride from St. John back to St. Thomas.

I have this on again-off again health issue that my wife thinks is a gall bladder problem. My last run of tests came up negative. However – here’s the thing: Eating certain combinations of foods can sometimes cause me a terrible agonizing pain, usually curable with milk and Pepcid chewables, but will subside on their own after thirty minutes or so. Example: McDonalds sausage biscuit and coke – Always a bad idea. Margarita and Fajitas – maybe. Rum punch – more likely than not. Greasy or high acid foods tend to aggravate it. So after a hot day in the sun with only some water, soursap juice, and vanilla cream cookies to eat, I drank my little cup of rum punch somewhat too quickly on the ferry as it left St. John. Within five minutes I felt like I was going to die. I spent the trip curled up on the seats in agony, and then went downstairs to the bathroom, where I wished I would throw up. No dice. I kept spitting up saliva and bile, but never tossed my cookies. So, no more rum punch On A Boat!

9. Some people have no concept of elevator etiquette.

Look, it’s simple. When the doors open, stand to one side. Let the people on the elevator get off. Then get on. There are a lot of people who crowd the door, and jam their way in as soon as it opens. Same goes for buses. Door opens, let people off.

10. You don’t have assigned seats on tour buses for the day.

Get on the bus, grab a seat. This human need to make a nest is insane. Why do we do this? Even with all our supposed cultural development over the last 5000 years or so, we still want to claim our little territory and defend it, wherever we go. Our tour bus was three quarters full. Plenty of empty seats. People would get off and leave little trinkets on the seat showing “this seat is mine”. The more stops we made, the worse it got. Really strange.

11. When the show says “adults only”, go ahead and bring your kids.

You’re just asking for it. One of the trivia questions: “When do you think Hugh Hefner lost his virginity?” this little kid in front of me turns to his dad and says “what’s a virginity?” You asked for it by ignoring the warning, doofus.

12. Thin sun dress while wearing a thong, still in style.

This one needs no further explanation.

13. There is no need to supervise children. It’s a ship, what could happen?

Let them enjoy the run of the vessel, stay up as late as they want, and run screaming down the corridor at full volume clomping along like a pack of horses, at near midnight on the stateroom deck. Screw everyone else.

14. Be brave and wear a real thong.

Maybe you couldn’t find one at walmart where you bought your bikini. Maybe you weren’t sure you wanted to try showing your entire butt in public. That’s fine. But you don’t get to change your mind and pull your regular bikini bottom up the crack of your butt to make a thong, because it gets all bunched up and and funny looking, and really obvious. So don’t try it. Oh how I wish I had a picture…I found it much more difficult to take “people of the cruise ship” photos, than “people of Disney world” photos, if only because we are trapped on here with people and may see them over and over.

15. Elegant Night is not synonymous with Skank it Up Night.

Elegant means nice, conservative, church-like clothes (yeah I know – I don’t go to church, but thanks to organized torture when I was a kid, I know what you’re supposed to wear. Hell, watch a soap opera around xmass, they’ll show you how to dress. 364 episodes of the year they will be lying, cheating, drinking, and adulterating, but come Christmas they’re all about church and the family, a lot like some real church people). Put on something you would wear to an upscale dinner party. Elegant is definitely not your lowest cut, shortest hem dress with boobs and ass cheeks hanging out. If you can rock that look when appropriate: bravo! But – that shouldn’t be your formal dinner wear. There are plenty of dance club opportunities on ship for you to slut it up, eating should be a bit more reserved. On the other hand, elegant night means just that. Look, I hate wearing formal clothes like everyone else. Shirts, ties, suit coats… Ugh. It all sucks and I can’t wait to get out of it. But elegant night means Dress Up, if only for an hour so you can be uncomfortable eating your pork steak. But for Invisible Sky Man’s sake…don’t show up in shorts, Crocs, and and your favorite sports team t-shirt. Personally I don’t think they should let people in the dining room like that, but that’s just me.

If it smells like fish – eat it!

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I had the chance to broaden my dining horizons over the last week. Having paid for all you can eat, a cruise provides an opportunity to try new things. Carnival offered us a “didja” item on every menu, as in “did you ever want to try…”

Normally you wouldn’t go to a restaurant and order something out of your normal range of likes, especially if you didn’t know if you liked it and would have to pay a lot for it.

The first thing I tried was crawfish, which wasn’t even on the menu, it was sitting on some rice on a buffet. Easy enough, it’s a lot like a big shrimp. Passed that test.

My next Didja was alligator. It was in fritter form, which pretty much killed any flavor. Fry most anything hard enough and add enough breading, and it will be edible.

Shark came next, in a sort of egg roll form, diced up with some other stuff. It was okay, not entirely to my liking but okay.

I had sushi, which I have had before, but this was some different fish in different forms. Very tasty.

My strangest Didja on the ship was frog legs. Not very good. Greasy and oily, like dark meat chicken with less flavor. So he brought me a crab cake, not exactly weird, but a first for me.

Probably my oddest off ship eating adventure came from a tour operator. He pulled a conch from the water, removed it from the shell, killed it and peeled it right in front of us. After cutting it up he passed it out. It was mildly pleasant, like an over cooked shrimp.

Of course, no cruise is complete without a drink or two. A nice 12 year Glenmorangie single malt went very well with dinner one night. Another first…

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Everyone’s got their hand out.

I’m going on a cruise pretty soon. No, I’m not telling you when. You’ll find out soon enough, because there will be copious pictures. I like cruises; I haven’t been on one in ten years, but they are a great way to experience the world and have fun. Thankfully, unlike some other vacations, most everything is paid for before you go. You really don’t need any money once you board the ship, unless you want to drink or gamble. If that’s your thing, knock yourself out, but I don’t do much of either. For what people charge for drinks, I can buy a bottle of good hooch and get way more wasted much cheaper. Gambling to me is more of a spectator sport. We play the nickel or dime slots, but nothing involving throwing tons of money down the tubes. I like to watch the craps players, though. Those people run through some cash. However, most of it is going down the little slot in the edge of the craps table, not into their pockets.

So if you don’t drink, don’t gamble, and don’t buy lots of crap like shirts and shot glasses in port, you don’t need much money. You don’t even have to carry cash for tips any more. They add those automatically to your onboard account. In one sense, that good, because you don’t have to have envelopes full of cash waiting around to the end of the trip, and you don’t accidentally put them through the little slot at the edge of the craps table. On the other hand – since they are doing it for you, you don’t have much choice in the matter.

See – we never tipped the Maitre’ D in the past. Seriously, what does he do? I never saw him, but I’m supposed to tip him almost as much as the waiter? No thanks. Same with the head waiter… why should he get as much as the guy doing the real work coming to the table? The room steward always got the best tip, if only because it’s a nice idea not to let these people get disgruntled, as they are in charge of getting your bags off the boat at the end of the trip. Unless you want your suitcase floating in the bay instead of resting on the pallet on the dock, tip the room steward.

I’m okay with those guys. They do a lot of hard work and put up with snooty assholes that don’t understand manual labor. I worked in restaurants, I at least know what the waiter is feeling, and living with my kid, I know the pain of the room steward.

Unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones with their hands out. The whole country is tip crazy. There are tip jars everywhere, everyone thinks they deserve extra pay just for doing their job. I wish we would abolish the whole practice, except maybe for waitresses. Why should I supplement someone’s crappy payroll budget by paying for the employees directly? Pay your people a decent wage and get rid of the tip jar.

So – you don’t really need money on ship any more. But watch out if you get off the boat. Sooner or later you will, and you’ll probably go on one of those ship-arranged shore excursions. So, you pay some slightly inflated fee for a guy to drive you around the island on a bus and point out monuments or beaches or something, and at the end out comes the hand. Wait, I just paid 69.95 for adults, and 59.95 for kids for you to drive me around and point out the old sugar mills and Spanish forts for an hour or two. Why do you deserve a tip? That’s why I paid the 69.95 and 59.95 respectively. The bus holds 20 tourists. At 70 bucks a pop you’re making plenty to avoid the necessity for tips. You want a tip, then do something special, not just your job. Go inside the rum distillery and bring out a few samples, take us on a side trail overlooking the nude beach and loan us your binoculars, help us sneak some shells back through customs (yes, in some places you can’t remove washed up shells and coral – it’s ridiculous. I have a piece in my bathroom from some island; I was scared to death I was going to wind up in jail with the other smugglers – them with their coke and cash and weed, and me with my coral).

Hey, if you’re the scuba instructor and you fire a spear gun at the shark sneaking up behind me, you get a tip. But if I go down to the reef, breathe through the hose and come back up, that’s what’s SUPPOSED to happen. If you take us to “stingray city” and hand out free morphine before you pull the bard out of my thigh, again, you get a tip. But if we feed the things and leave, you earned your $99.99 plus tax, what else is there to do?

If you think I’ve done a good job with my last few posts, Send me a tip through paypal.