Shark diving on the cheap and other really bad ideas for vacation adventures

It is indisputable that sharks are extra cool. Every time I go to the beach, I look in vain for a shark. I’ve never seen a real shark in the ocean, not counting the two-foot-long baby shark I saw during my disastrous canoe trip with my sister. Naturally, Shark Week is a big geek-out time of year for me and I never miss the episodes reenacting the attack on the poor slob at the beach. For those of my morbid followers who just want the link to the shark attack videos, here you go.

Since I am such a shark geek, I am dying to go shark diving. This week, I got an email offering the trip of a life time to go “Budget Shark Diving.” This causes me some concern. I think that economizing to save money is not really my primary concern when picking a shark diving outfit. If you need an explanation why, take a gander at this outfit’s liability waiver you have to sign before you hit the cage. (Note: this dive group did not offer a discount trip to me). Keep your hands in the cage kids!

If shark diving on a budget strikes you as a bad idea, how about having a guy hold you by the ankles so you can look over the edge of Victoria Falls?

This hiking trail in China looks like it was built to last. I definitely want to try this one.

I think that zoos that allow visitors to simply walk into enclosures to pet the lions are charming, and also, operate to remove stupid people from the reproductive pool.

If you are brave and/or stupid enough to want to canoe a remote part of Africa, remember that hippos are not your friend.

Yachting around the Horn of Africa is lovely, and also, exciting as you attempt to outrun the natives who would like you to the their “Guest” while they ransom you. This site as some helpful tips including Somali phrases to memorize for your captivity.

On balance, the budget shark dive seems alright.

Road Trip to Miami, Part Deux

Picking up where I left off, I arrived to rescue my sister from the hospital in Miami. Finding her proved problematic – who knew how many Jackson Memorial branches are in Miami? The GPS was not helpful as I ended up in a parking lot in Little Haiti which is, I assure you, not where I wanted to be. If you are in Little Haiti and driving a Honda CR-V with Tennessee plates and have red hair and pale skin, you will be noticed in an uncomfortable ‘I’m a suburban white girl from out of town and I am lost’ kind of way.

I finally found Susan who was ranting and raving about some Domenican nurse and a dead guy. I really did not ask questions as she was not wearing a bra (or probably underwear), looked like Medusa after a four-day bender and she was cursing in a language which might have been English, but I’m still not sure. I was not happy about having to drive to Miami, so I had already decided that if I was coming down to Miami, I was going back to the Everglades National Park to hike the Snake Bight trail which I did not get to do in December. That meant Susan was going to go with me.

Susan smelled like a wookie and her hair was terrifying so I was deciding where I could dunk her as she looked like a homeless person. The swamp seemed possible, but having some experience being dunked in swamp water, I am reasonably confident she would have smelled worse afterwards. I knew that the Flamingo marina had $3 showers for campers and I could dump her off for a shower while I hiked the trail. It was a great plan. First, though, we had to fill her prescriptions. I headed for Homestead where I knew there would be a pharmacy on the way to Everglades National Park. I did not know the prescription was for Dilaudid, but I digress.

Troy and I went to the Everglades in December at the start of the dry season. The water was much higher then and three months later, the water levels were drying up. Before Christmas it looked like this:

Anhinga trail at Christmas 2010 with stacks o' alligators

At the end of the dry season, the same place looked like this:

Anhinga trail, same place, three months later into the dry season

I was pretty stoked as I thought the trail I wanted to do would be dry and bug-free. That was a mistake. First, I had to get Susan to take a shower. I told her she was scaring small children and I loaned her some underwear and a sports bra because I am kind like that. I paid the $3 shower fee and told her I’d be back in an hour.  I told her to stand on the side of the marina and watch for manatees because they hang out there. She never saw a manatee but I did once I left:

I saw manatees while Susan was in the shower

The Snake Bight trail leads from the main road to Flamingo to Florida Bay. It’s a little shy of a mile and three quarters one way. When I arrived, it was absolutely deserted and I was the only person on the trail.

Snake Bight trail, Everglades National Park

My theory that lack of water = no bugs was a major miscalculation. I have never seen so many flying bugs in my life. And they all wanted to bite me. Still, I persevered and walked very fast with the idea that I could somehow out pace them. Not possible. I walked this trail like it was the Bataan Death March because I drove to Miami in one shot dammit and I was going to do this trail. I could hear nothing but my breathing and the sounds of things rustling in the leaves off the trail. I did not investigate. I saw a giant water moccasin high tail it across the trail in front of me and I stepped up my speed. The longer I was alone on the trail the more I imagined some extra from Deliverance jumping out in front of me. I walked faster. About a quarter mile from the end I started to hear something odd. Like the squealing of piglets. I convinced myself my Deliverance fantasies were working overtime. I walked even faster until I was basically at a slow jog. The squealing got louder until it was clear I was not imagining the sound of pigs. There were pigs. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, I recalled that the Everglades have lots of wild hogs and they are not friendly. The end of the trail was close – I could hear the ocean. I could also hear piglets. Somehow, despite years of stubborn determination to finish stupid quests in the face of overwhelming evidence that quitting was the best option, I decided to turn around. In short, I walked in a bug-infested swamp with lots of snakes in hot, humid weather at top speed only to stop short one-tenth of a mile from the end. Dammit.

I picked up a slightly cleaner and less smelly Susan who laughed maniacally when I told her I did not get to see the end of the trail because of wild hogs. We drove to Homestead to pick up her prescription of Dilaudid (note: Susan had been hospitalized for acute pancreatitis). We hit the southern end of Miami on a Friday night at 5 p.m. Genius. And to make my joy complete, the air conditioning in my car chose that particular moment in time to cease working.   Susan popped a Dilaudid for the road as we had a 470 mile drive to the beach house in Carillon.

Here’s a tip for someone who might be making a seriously long drive late in the day with someone taking Dilaudid: make them take enough so that they pass out. As the sun set, and I was able to roll up the windows and not broil in the car, Susan began to shout random things out to me in a truly-alarmed tone which caused me to automatically slam on the brakes. Some examples:

  • Look out for the basketball player sleeping on the road!
  • Oh my God, it’s a dead panther!
  • Don’t hit the dolphin!
Susan was hallucinating which is very unhelpful to someone trying to concentrate on seeing the road after two days of continuous driving. We rolled into Panama City about 2 a.m. and Susan shouted “Oh my God, don’t hit the people on the scooters!” I nearly paid no attention, but there was in fact, a horde of scooters loaded with drunk college students on the highway with no lights. Moral of the story: Sometimes, even stoned people have valid things to say. I did get 24 hours at my mother-in-law’s beach house which is not a bad thing. The view:

Carillon Beach, a martini and 9 hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep = relaxation

Road trip to Miami: Part I

It’s been a hectic month. So I got a call from my niece who was on board a cruise ship in the Caribbean to tell me that my sister Susan was being pulled off the ship by Coast Guard cutter due to extreme illness. To normal people, this would be horrifying. My first reaction was “Seriously, you’re fucking with me” to which my sensible niece replied “I would never joke about something like this.” I only occasionally wonder if she’s really related to me.  My second reaction was to break into a Kathy Lee song “If they could see me now..” which is also probably inappropriate.  Sure enough, Susan got on board the ship 48 hours after having a shunt put in her liver. To most normal people, that would mean you would not get on the ship. Not Susan. I guess she was dying to sit at assigned seats for dinner, play shuffle board and be entertained by off off off Broadway musicals.

I would rather pull out my own toenails and drink them from a glass of sweat than have to cruise.

This created great consternation in the family since someone had to go get her. I made mention of my trial calendar, depositions, etc., but my Dad and uncle played the age card. Clearly, the writing was on the wall. Nashville to Miami is closer than Kansas City to Miami so I drew the short stick. I would drive to Miami since Susan could not fly.  To those who have only looked at Florida on a map, Miami is a long way from anywhere. The state of Florida is a really long state and it takes a long time to drive through.  It is full of old people who drive 30 miles an hour on the interstate and insane Yankees who drive 85 on the interstate and Europeans who don”t know which side of the road to be on. Seriously, my hat is off to the Floridians who drive there daily.

Florida has "Silver Alert" posters. To help find old people behind the wheel. For real.

To say that I was less than thrilled with the drive would not do justice to the word “annoyed”. Rearranging my calendar was not easy and also I had to drive through the entire state of Georgia. I should get some kind of medal for that. I had one major concern about where I would stay. This trip occurred the third week of March at the height of spring break. I should have known I would end up in Ft. Lauderdale. During Spring Break.

My personal nightmare. Katy Perry totally rules y'all!

Drunken twenty-year olds were far less traumatic than the legions of unbelievably cut gay men parading around in tiny swimsuits. If you would like to feel inadequate, put a swimsuit on and walk South Beach in the company of the gay beach brigade.

This man's ass is smaller than mine

I could never ever live in South Florida.

Cooking with Susan

As I have mentioned in the past, my parents were largely indifferent to my survival as a child and I was left to fend for myself a good bit.  Once in a while, my parents would realize that some portion of our upbringing was likely to bring shame upon them and they would take some step to remedy our filial deficiencies.  For my sister, my Mom realized that she had some natural inclination toward crafty things and so Susan was taught to sew. I got an F in home ec in 6th grade because my bean-bag frog was found wanting by Mrs. Chapman, the home ec teacher.  However, since I had exceptionally good grades, my parents were generally content to let things like my lack of artistic and/or domestic talent slide. By the time I got to college, my Mom realized she had failed me in that I had absolutely no domestic skills: my house was a wreck, my buttons were stapled on as a needle and thread were beyond my abilities, and the contents of my refrigerator included an ancient package of frozen pollock and condiments. Something had to give.  The solution: send me to culinary school, in Italy. And so it came to pass that I mastered the art of cooking. In Italy. Some would call that overkill.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my sister married and had kids. Sadly for them, Susan’s culinary talents were absolutely non-existent. Susan called me one night to ask me for the recipe for meatloaf. I gave her a recipe. Two hours later she called back for advice. This is a near-verbatim transcript of the conversation:

Susan: Hey, the meatloaf came out kind of weird.

Me: What do you mean by ‘weird’?

Susan: Well, the cheese on top kind of blew up and then deflated like a sad balloon over the meatloaf.

Me: I don’t recall telling you to top the meatloaf with cheese.

Susan: Well, after I poured the meat in the pan, it looked kind of sad so I thought I should cover it with cheese.

Me: Poured?

Susan: Well, I didn’t want to touch the meat and egg mix with my hands like you told me so I put it in the blender. Then, I only had a 13×9″ pan so I took the brick out from under the leg of the sofa and covered it with tin foil and put the brick in the pan to make it smaller like a loaf pan. Once I poured it into my new loaf pan, it looked sad, so then I thought, “cheese fixes everything” so I cut cheese slices and used the torch to seal the edges of the cheese over it so I wouldn’t have to look at the meat-like liquid. Now the cheese has blown up and burned and is floating in a sea of grease.

Me: That’s not sad, that’s tragic.

Susan: How do I fix it?

Me: Open the trash can lid and deposit the contents of the pan there. Then pick up the phone and call for pizza.

I still cannot sew and Susan still cannot really cook. Susan is now divorced (probably not related to her cooking and more related to his tendency to date girls young enough to say things like “Who is Prince?” with a perfectly straight face.)  However, I think Susan really just needs a keeper before she poisons anyone. If anyone wants to marry a 40-year-old menace in the kitchen, let me know. 

P.S. to Susan: You can thank me later.

You never really grow up

My baby sister just turned 40. This is appalling, not for her of course as the alternative was unpleasant, but for me, because that means I am positively ancient. I decided to take her for a quick trip to Florida to hang out for a few days. As we are both mature adults, we would surely have meaningful conversations about life and family. Right. All I can say is that the wench ate my eclair. I left it alone and unguarded overnight because, really, no one needs 450 calories before bed, but I knew in the morning it would be there waiting for me.  I awoke to discover the horror of an empty eclair package.

She decimated my unguarded, but much desired, eclair.

 Seriously, did I have to declare dibs before bed? Has she no shame? Apparently not.

The ocean was too calm to pass off a drowning as accidental.

I hereby declare shotgun to infinity. She will never get to ride in the front seat if I can help it. Even though I am 42.

Thanksgiving shopping: Black Friday preview

Thanksgiving is the day we are all supposed to come together and eat turkey, giving thanks that our ancestors were saved by people they would subsequently pillage and infect with smallpox. To celebrate, some people sit in silence with their families simmering with unspoken resentment, eating high calorie foods while watching football. My family traditionally gets hammered and trots out my ancient and deaf grandmother to sit in the corner and shout out vaguely inappropriate comments randomly as the day progresses. (On an unrelated side note, I am grateful my grandmother does not text ,which is something to be thankful for on this day).  Since I no longer live within driving distance of my family, I have created my own traditions. Thanksgiving is now the day I get on line to see what I can buy for Christmas gifts without ever having to leave home. Ebay is a good place to start. My mother-in-law has a sitting room in her home devoted to animal prints so I came up with this:

The perfect gift to and from a person with the social conscience of a flea

What exactly is the companion piece for this lamp? An elephant leg trash can?

An imaginary conversation between two people who would own this lamp:

“What a lovely lamp.”

“Thanks. I shot this zebra on safari in Botswana last year and had lamps made. It goes perfectly in the game room with the African white rhino head hanging above the mantel with the inlay of tortoise shell above the pool table with the carved elephant tusk legs next to the leopard skin rug we bought from that nice man in Russia last summer.”

“It is just darling. Harold and I are going to Canada in June to club baby seals. How is Frank?”

My sister thinks I am deranged, but she’s the one sitting next to me on the Imac looking up hydroponic growing systems. I bet I know what she’d be thankful for.

Canoeing with Susan: a lesson in why kids should be sent to summer camp

My little sister is turning 40 soon and we planned to head to Florida to recover from the horror; her from turning 40 and me from having a little sister who is 40. The house we are staying at is on the beach but also is adjacent to a brackish water lake and they rent canoes.  I love to canoe and all things water-related.  I also know how to canoe. I assumed that Susan knew how to canoe because my parents also sent her to camp where I had learned to canoe. Big mistake. Susan has no idea how to canoe.

My Dad is a salt of the earth type whose parenting skills included spouting such gems as “life is hard in the far west” when confronted with a reasonable request for assistance. Dad also believed I should go to 4H camp so I could “toughen up”. At 11, I discovered that 4H camp meant get in a canoe, try to stay afloat and catch and make your own dinner.  My formative summers were spent in exotic locations like Kansas and Missouri canoeing and illegally trawling for bass to stay alive. I assumed Susan got the same treatment, but I never asked since she was younger than I am and was completely beaneath my notice. So when Susan said “hey let’s rent a canoe”, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia and though it would be a lark, especially since I could spend an enjoyable day in the sun paddling around the beach and then head out for a nice dinner without having to catch it first.  I did not consider the danger of Susan.

The site of the canoeing debacle, except the lake was attached to the ocean

To start with, Susan is a completely charming and utterly dangerous human to hang out with. She thinks nothing of lighting a cigarette with a map gas torch while driving down the highway.  She once blew the doors off a microwave while boiling eggs in a Pyrex bowl because “it seemed like a good idea.”  This is the person I decided to canoe with. In my defense, I had no idea she had never canoed because she had been to camp.

Getting in the canoe was the first trick. She almost took a header out of the canoe because she did not understand that the canoe was balancing in the water. I pressed on with the adventure because I thought she was just rusty and would remember how it all worked soon. The concept of balance remained elusive as she continuously lurched over the side to try to reach things in the water. Then, because there is such a thing as a “tide” and she did not heed commands to paddle hard, we foundered on a sand bar.  People from the beach could see us. They were laughing at us. Susan picked that time to jump out of the canoe to “push us off the sand bar”. Genius. Never mind that there were drop-offs everywhere around us.  Drop offs with sharks. She did manage to free us and somehow get back in the canoe just as this swam past us.

OK., this was not really us and this did not really happen, but we did see a 3 foot long baby shark 60 seconds after she got in the canoe. Of course there were bigger sharks just waiting to eat her out of my line of sight.

The bigger question for me was why did she not know how to canoe? The answer was that she got to go to civilized camp. With air conditioning, and three meals a day brought to her by people interested in her survival. Obviously, as the first born, I was expendable since they had a spare. So Dad, remember it will probably be me pushing your wheelchair and I am holding a grudge.

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