A Travellerspoint blog

Two Girls and an Alien in a Desert Bound Impala sedan.

USA Road Trip: Wish we were dessert bound instead.

Roaaaaaaad trip! Hold up, not yet first we need to spend some quality time in the car lot at Avis working out how to use the rental car. Turns out you have to manually open the petrol tank but the car is fully automated when it comes to moving the seats. It can move you up, down, forward, back and tilt you and tip you out, however that’s if you find the lever and know what it’s for.

Success! The accelerator could be reached. We buckled up, headed along the Las Vegas strip and out into the depths of the Nevada Desert en route to Death Valley National Park. Within minutes we were cruising down the endless highway, driving into miles and miles of nothingness. I soon found the 90’s channel on the radio and began what was pretty much 3 days of non-stop singing along to all the songs I forgot I loved.

There were a few stray towns off the highway, the first of which that offered “services” was a little place called Lathrop Wells. We pulled in to the roadhouse, which along with the roadhouse on the other side of the highway encompassed Lathrop Wells.
This little stop had a gas station, a store, a 24-hour brothel and amazingly enough, a brothel museum – the only one in America it claims, so one can get a little culture with your titties, which I think adds a touch of class.

It was also advertised as being the last stop for gas before Area 51. As we drove north from Vegas the entire area of the desert to the east is ‘military’ area, in the hills and rocks lays many military airbases and government secrets. The Extra Terrestrial Highway runs parallel on the other side of the mystery lands hence Area 51 and its infamous stories of UFOs and secret research centres.

We didn’t need gas, thankfully, because gas was a major operation usually involving me having to go and ask the cashier a lot of questions regarding how the hell to get the petrol to come out. Then getting a blank look until I said gas. Turns out stealing petrol is a pastime so you have to pre-pay before the petrol comes out, made more difficult when you don’t know what a gallon is or how many gallons fit in a car, luckily $15 can buy you half a tank in a small car.

Lathrop Wells sold your basic crap, some inedible foodstuffs like jerky, trucker caps, hookers and inflatable aliens.

So we left Lathrop Wells with a packet of Starburst, a coke and green Alien named Rodney, who was to accompany us into Death Valley. We were going to take a hooker on a day trip too but space in the back seat was limited.
Rodney took to the road trip lifestyle well, buckled in the back seat, he had a brief sing along to Whitney Houston early on but then just watched on quietly as we drove deeper and deeper into the middle of nowhere on the California and Nevada State line.

We left the highway and took the little roads into the depths of Death Valley National Park. I have always wanted to see a ghost town. It my mind it would be a little wild west town with a tumble weed rolling along its main strip and the saloon door off one a hinge and swinging in the wind. It wasn’t exactly like that. Rhyolite was once a thriving town of 10,000 during the mining boom, then when everyone realised living in Rhyolite was shit, everybody left. Segments from the brick buildings have remain abandoned amongst the rocks now for nearly a century.

As we drove on there was a small road snaking off the highway into the middle of the mountains. According to my map it was an unsealed road leading to a canyon with a ghost town en route. The main roads are straight and long, so an opportunity to turn off on a desert adventure should always be taken. I think it was Bear Grylls who once said that the number one rule for surviving the desert is to take random, unsealed back roads.

Ooo sounds mysterious, so away we went turning off the main road in our Chevrolet Impala sedan. It said 4x4 ‘recommended’ but as it only recommended and not ‘required’ we kept driving along a windy, rocky narrow path through the landscape, in and among big, towering rocky ledges, between gorges and up and down the mountains.

There was not a soul around as we drove amongst the depths of the canyon. We passed another little ghost town created apparently by lies of greatness, 300 odd people arrived in middle of these canyons expecting a town.

It would have been something like this:

A carriage rolls to a stop.

*stretching* “we’re here guys”, says a lively chap waking from his boredom-induced slumber.

“I’m going to go bowling first thing”, says one miner as he grabs his giant foam finger and rave whistle in anticipation.

“bowling?”, grumbled the old one, “why, I am going to sample the local rum then pass out in a mine”.

The three men jumped out of the carriage and landed on to the dirt road with a thud, looked around at a solitary tin shed on the valley slope among the rocks, then down at their brochure, then back at the shed.

“Where’s the swim up margarita bar from page 2?”

“....Ahhh shit.”

Needless to say, given that in 2011 it took us over an hour by dirt road to get to it, it’s no surprise living here didn’t quite take off and the town died out after a year.

Two and a so hours later we popped out the other side of the canyon like baby being born, popped out from the giant, dramatic landscape towering above us into vast nothingness. The mountains on the horizon were even blurred. We were in a big valley surrounded by rocks and rocky mountains. We survived our inland trek and by all accounts were in the guts of Death Valley USA.

The Impala was fine, a little dusty, well a lot dusty, there was dirt everywhere even in the boot. That night I casually read the guide to driving the park and about making sure to carry fresh water, food, petrol, warm clothing, hats and all sorts of supplies if you go off road. Let’s just keep it to ourselves shall we that we hit the treacherous roads of Death Valley in a sedan, with half a bottle of Mountain Dew and a half packet of Starburst. But really, where is their sense of adventure?

My road trip responsibilities are navigation and entertainment. The navigating duties when there is one road and you can see it disappear into the horizon ahead, are not particularly demanding so I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride, control the radio, sing to Mariah Carey and TLC (something I deem as falling under the entertainment umbrella) and enjoy the feeling of being 100 per cent in the middle of nowhere. I came momentarily into play again as we set off to find Stovepipe Wells, the town we were to spend the night. We passed the welcome sign, drove passed a building/gas station/store and out the other side of town in approximately 4 seconds. The town was the hotel. The hotel, store, gas station is all one complex, and makes up the entirety of Stovepipe Wells. I really don’t know where people who work here live.

Death Valley has some of the most dramatic landscapes I have ever seen, mountains, rocks, cliffs, vast flatness, sand dunes and salt flats all here together. It is the lowest point in America it is also the driest and hottest. You would fry in the valley in summer with temperatures having reached .

While Rodney made friends at photo stops and enjoyed being the scenery. It wasn’t long before he met his maker. Kicked the bucket. Took the early bus. His thin Alien skin just wasn’t cut out for a rough and tumble life in the desert. One carefree October morn we were playing in the Badwater Basin, the salt flats of Death Valley. I had him propped up by some salt chunks, and salt, may I just say in its natural form, is solid as a brick, one thing led to another and I grabbed him to pull him free and in the process he received a fatal graze to the lower leg. He yelped, I yelped. He deflated. But not without screaming in pain for several minutes as he lost air.
neeeeeeeeoooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwww

It was undoubtedly an untimely death for an Alien but I think if Will Smith films have taught us anything, it’s that Aliens don’t survive long on our planet with our oxygen levels as they are. Rodney, may he rest in peace, passed away in the lowest point of North America, 80-odd metres below sea level. The valley in this part looks like snow, as white salt expands across its floor for kilometres. So not a bad way to go.

After a lot of rocks, lots of mountains and lots of mountains made of rocks we headed back towards Nevada, through miles of nothingness and onto the main interstate. By now Rodney was nothing more than a flat piece of Alien shaped plastic still seat belted into the back seat.

We got back to civilisation, back to Sin City, Las Vegas, if one can call it civilisation. The car was an off shade of white, and I threw some windscreen cleaning water over the windows which made them streaky and muddy, rubbed out my name that I written in the dashboard dust and we returned the hire car and slipped away before they could ask why there was dirt everywhere and the suspension was a little off.

Or why there was a dead alien under a sheet in the boot.

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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 09:46 Archived in USA Tagged desert rental car death_valley vegas aliens nevada area 51 Comments (0)

Hell Flight Over Nevada

I like to sit at the best of times, I like free Coca Cola and I like TV so there’s not a lot about plane travel I can disagree with except for maybe the length of time it takes out of my life.

I was always a good flyer. I like planes. It fascinates me that they can stay in the air, fascinates me enough to look out the window and wonder however not enough to go to a library and borrow a book about on aeronautical engineering or gravity. I never had a problem flying but as I go on I am starting to become a more nervous flyer.

It’s almost as if now I’m just testing fate. Before it was like, what are the odds? But now, my number must nearly be up. Statistically, surely my numbers up.

A large proportion of this holiday has been spent in planes and in airports. I have taken 11 flights in the past 4 weeks, from 45 minutes to 8 hours and on all different sizes and quality of aircraft.

I had a scheduled flight from Guatemala City to Las Vegas but I had to go to Los Angeles and make a connection. I had low expectations for what Guatemala City International Airport would have in store for me but Guatemala was a dream, I boarded a lovely big plane from a newly renovated airport. Given my buff physique I was obviously asked to man the emergency exits. Both rows. I was ready to engage my flashing beacon and blow on my whistle to attract attention in my emergency life vest if need be.

Of course all I did was watch TV for 3 hours and lounge across all three seats and use all three blankets and pillows.
Now is probably a good time to reiterate that Americans have their own way of doing things. Their toilets have to flush differently, the shower handles have to be a mystery. Airports are no exception. American airports are a nightmare. By the time I make it to my plane and sit down I need a stiff drink and a lie down they are that stressful.

Firstly you have to make your way through an airport where terminals are called concourses for no reason other than to be difficult I gather and so us tourists stand there like chumps going where’s the gate? What the hell is a concourse?

When you arrive internationally, in the allocated time between your flight landing and your connection you have to disembark, or ‘deplane’ which is a word the Americans made up I’m sure, walk behind slow moving wheelie case walkers, wait behind people on escalators because Americans do not, and will not, walk up an escalator nor will they stand to one side to allow you to. It’s the American way and I’m okay with it unless I am in a hurry. You then have to join a long line and go through immigration. All the basics for a security paranoid country, eye scan, photo, left thumb, left fingers, right thumb, right fingers, a few questions and a few ma’am’s.

“How long are you intending to be in the United States ma’am?”

“Place your left thumb please ma’am, your left thumb, that’s your right ma’am.”

A bit of paperwork but hey, I’m not of any undesirable ethnicity so I’m cleared for entry to the USA.
I then have to wait until the machine decides to spit my bag out onto the conveyor belt, because at this stage you are on a schedule, this usually means it will arrive somewhere within the last 5 bags.

Got the bag, throw it onto a trolley the clock is ticking.

Then on to Border Security which is only referred to as FSB or something like that. We were like what’s a FSB? Mustn’t concern us lets go to the exit line which turns out to be for crew.

“Ma’am why are you in this line?”

Wrong line, mind you there was no one in either line, so we had to go back out and in one of those rope mazes they set up in airports. We went under to save time and back to the same desk albeit a longer route. They then obviously wanted to further screen my travel buddy because they had nothing else to do and we climbed under the rope which no doubt pissed them off.

I had a connection earlier than hers so I grabbed my bag off the trolley as she was wheeled in for anal probing and to swab the bag for drugs.
Then you have to recheck your bags to your next destination. Another line. Another interaction with customer service.
The clock is still counting down from your one hour connection they have given you.

Recheck the bags so they can scan them again because they don’t trust the Guatemalans I suppose then resticker the bags and send them to your final destination. They do not like to send bags all the way through that’s for the rest of the schmucks in the world. It’s not the American way.

Then obviously security clearance again, in case you have managed to rig a bomb in the underwire of your bra while in the immigration line.
Then to find your gate. Well first your concourse. Then your gate. Is it in terminal A,B,C,or D and north or south?
Nightmare. So you come to a screeching halt outside gate D36, a 300km trek to find yourself back at about where you got off your first flight. Exhausted.

The chance of all this going smoothly and you making your connection is slim. You should actually get a free upgrade if you can do it. When I arrived in Boston, four people were doing immigration for the 4 international long haul flights that had arrived. Needless to say we waited an hour and a half to get through. The family in front of me, grandparents, and two mum, dad and daughter sets who were en route to Florida to go to Disneyland. They had to get through this mess, pick up their bags and recheck them. I was tired and grumpy and I was not 2 years old like them and I wasn’t missing my flight to see Mickey Mouse. Needless to say they missed their flight while waiting in a stupid queue within the airport.

LAX is notoriously bad but I made my flight. Things are going my way.
Or so I thought.

I got on board and to my sheer disgust it was a 60 seater, two seats on one side, one on the other. It was small and I prefer my planes to be the trucks of the sky, big and steady with room to move.

We were a little late getting off the ground which was fine as my friend was on the flight after me so it gave us a chance to bridge our gap. I was happy to have made my connection. So I thought.

The flight was a little bumpy. Given, it was a small plane but we still seemed to be going up and down a lot, and side to side and generally bumping from cloud to cloud like Carebears.

So I am sitting there casually minding my business, my ears are popping because this moron cannot fly this plane.

Then boom.

With a rattle the oxygen masks fall from above our heads.

Everyone looked around in disbelief.

What the what?

This moron not only can’t fly a plane but is going to kill us all.

I stalled momentarily as others started frantically pulling for their oxygen masks.

I opened my window shade, as it was mid-afternoon it was quite bright and I’d closed them after take-off. I figured I may as well watch my own demise.

There I was, about to meet my maker somewhere over the Nevada Desert.
I grabbed my mask and pulled it down, thinking I should probably take in a bit more of the safety demonstration instead of ignoring it in favour of the Sky Mall magazine. I didn’t really want to put the mask on because it smelled like plastic and what’s the point of breathing clean air if you are going to plummet anyways? Just to muffle your screams?

What was running through my head?
I wasn’t necessarily scared, though my heart was beating out of my chest. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. I just felt overwhelmingly inconvenienced.

Oh great, I’m going to die, now, in this shitty desert in the middle of nowhere, I haven’t even got to finish my trip. On all the flights, in all the world, this crappy little 1 hour flight was going to bring me undone.
I was mad that this pilot wasn’t doing his job well.

I looked out the window into the vast nothingness and the scarred earth of the Nevada Desert expecting to feel it’s hard surface anytime now. The plane hadn’t done any major moves since the masks came down.

Eventually Captain Moron comes on and explains that while the oxygen masks have been deployed, there is nothing to be concerned about. We are not going to die.

So it turns out the pilot not only cannot fly well but doesn’t realise that if he jumps around that much the cabin pressure will change and the masks will come out. I know that and I failed all sciences I could get my hands on (except when the assessment involved making a diorama)
So he casually informed us that we would be on the ground in 30 minutes. Hurry the hell up then idiot was the general consensus. Everyone took their masks off and casually just went back to what they were doing like thinking you are going to feature on Air Crash Investigations is an everyday event. The masks just dangled there for the rest of the flight as a cautionary reminder of your fate.

What concerned me more than anything else, mostly because I was under the impression this almighty douchebag wouldn’t even know if an engine had blown out and we were losing altitude rapidly is that the masks wouldn’t come out because they were already out. No warning signs. Just death.

Eventually my heart returned to its normal, soft jazz percussion beat and I just stared at the chair in front for the rest of the flight.

I couldn’t even play with my split ends because my hands were shaking.

We landed on time. A little shaken especially considering it was already one of the worst flights I had taken before the near death experience. My friend casually arrives an hour later on a safe, bump-free, controlled oxygen level flight.

I felt sorry for those waiting to take this flight back to LA as they were going to have to replace 60 masks but at the same time, if they knew why they were delayed they would be glad they weren’t flying on that plane.

That was my brush with a dramatic death. No time to dwell, I was to be flying again in about three days.
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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 20:45 Archived in USA Tagged planes flying flight airports Comments (0)

The New York Marathon

Yesterday was the New York marathon. People choose to run 26.2miles across the city for fun.

Meanwhile only several blocks away I was undertaking a marathon of my own.

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A pastrami sandwich from the Carnegie Deli.

I had to take a few pit stops, fight the meat sweats, throw a glass of water over my head but I got there.

After my successful completion of a $20 sandwich I walked up to Central Park to see the end of the marathon. It started at 10am and at 5pm these poor bastards were still running. The athletes obviously finished several hours ago. The ones left were the troopers. Jogging, or rather that sort of shuffle that’s kind of half way between a walk and a jog.

It was a really nice atmosphere. There were still people out cheering. These were the ones doing it to raise money or doing it for themselves and their soul not for the glory. People in the crowd were shouting out encouragingly to them as they shuffled by.
“Good job Gail”
“Come on Andrew”

Some runners had their names written on their shirt. The nice thing is, they weren’t taking the piss, they were genuinely encouraging these people who had been shuffling for the past 7 hours all over New York. People were shouting reassurance, telling them that they were nearly there and were doing great. They really were. I mean clearly these people cannot run and many were old but they were about to complete the world’s biggest marathon which really is a feat for any fitness level.

It was positively inspiring.

It made me have faith in humanity. It made me want to have positive Americans around for moral support whenever I was challenged. I would have liked a cheerleader and hour earlier at the deli.

"Come on you can eat it. If you scrape off that bit of fat it will make it okay you just consumed half a kilo of cured meat and three pickles. Good job. Good eating"

And it made me, for the second time this month consider investing in runners and maybe becoming semi athletic.

Looking at these people run this last kilometre utterly exhausted, I soon came to my senses and thought better of it.

I’ll stick to sandwiches.

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 20:12 Archived in USA Tagged new_york nyc marathon deli carnegie pastrami Comments (0)

Riding an Equine.

Being hell brave in Guatemala.

This holiday wasn’t originally about facing my fears but it has turned out to be quite an adventure. So after my marine encounter I was feeling that maybe this animal thing isn’t so bad. I mean sausage dogs are funny. And pictures of them in a hot dog bun are hilarious.

A few days passed and I had said catch ya mon to Caye Caulker and Belize and headed south to Guatemala.

The beautiful Spanish colonial city of Antigua just outside Guatemala City is nestled in amongst a series of volcanos. We headed to get a closer look at one that had erupted just last year in May.

It was a mountain and a rather hefty sized one at that so we began the climb. There was an opportunity to take a horse to the top. For those who read my previous entry on marine fears you will know that horses and dogs scare me more than spiders and crocodiles. I had of course chosen to walk.

Within moments everyone else had passed me in their hiking boots and khakis. I was of course just going to do it in my blue boots, bought because they were blue, not because they were of any use in a hike.

Within moments my lovely Guatemalan morning coffee was stirring in my tummy as I was slipping and sliding on the volcanic rubble as I tried to climb. I was trying to look at my feet so I wouldn’t slip on the gravel and roll off the mountain edge but also looking left and right for approaching equines, keep up with the freakishly fast walking group and try to remember to breathe. Scaling volcanos probably wasn’t on my fitness level as it is substantially harder than walking around city streets or having a solo song and dance party on the overnight bus to Guatemala at 3am.

The back-up parade of horses and locals were all around me.

One asked if I was ok and then casually reminded me that we still had two more hours to go.

I could tell he was thinking, ‘she aint gonna make it’

And I wasn’t going to make it.

I looked at the horse following me up. He looked more like a donkey, only about 2 feet taller than I. He was old and his hair was greying. He looked like he should have been wearing a bowler hat, a bow tie and leather patched tweed coat.
He wasn’t a massive stallion that would kick at ya as soon as look at ya. He wasn’t tall and proud with a puffed up chest like those jock racehorses, he was miserable and tame.

We looked at each other. He wasn’t as scary as he could have been. I was sick of this stupid hike already only 10 minutes in. I was going to have to do it. I wasn’t going to be able to climb a volcano considering I was struggling to stay upright within the first kilometre.
I got a ‘taxi’ as they call it, and ole grey mare trudges over and stops beside me. I inelegantly and with the help of a few people get on the horse. I look to the ground and figure I could make an easy emergency dismount and commando roll from this height. Satisfied it trotted off led by a young Guatemalan boy.

We worked our way up, up and up to the top of the volcano. I led the group for a while, the most athletic I had ever been. El Capitan, said in the Spanish way, did me no wrong, ole surefooted beast. Along rocky paths and down steep hills. I had my eyes shut several times and by the time the excursion was over every muscle in my body ached because they were tense the entire time. I stressed myself a six pack.
I made it, on horseback to the top of the volcano. With a dismount like Nadia Comeneci I fell to the ground, my jelly legs sunk into the igneous rock (thanks you year 9 geography) and I nearly fell over. The recent rains, as it seems it rains a hell of a lot in Central America, had made the entire top of the volcano steam.

It was one of the coolest nature sites I have seen. We walked around on its surface, into a steaming cavernous space and makeshift sauna. I blocked out my entire experience with Capitan, the only reminder a sore leg from being about 2 foot taller than your average Guatemalan thus my leg being bent into the stirrup.

In the distance were two more big volcanos, the second shooting out the occasional puff of smoke. In the valley was solidified lava flowing into a coffee plantation from last year’s eruption.

It was rather amazing and by then I was like, hell I’m practically National Velvet so I jumped back on Capitan, well hauled myself up and almost back over the other side of the saddle and we trotted back down the hill. I think I had already outdone myself and could have comfortably just walked back down, instead we rocketed down the hill. Some regret at my own bravado slash laziness began to brew. Down steep, rocky hills and cutting through the scrub and down little trails. Every time we went steeper my eyes closed tighter because I didn't want to watch my own death from toppling off the saddle, over the horse and rolling down a volcano. Going down is a lot more terrifying than a steady climb up. I didn’t realise a sports bra was a horse riding requirement. By the time I got to the bottom I had lost my necklace in all the bumpiness and my entire body was tight and sore as it turns out I was clenching my muscles from fear the whole way down.

What a relief to be at the bottom. My body was all wobbly and I wanted to finish this mountain activity, return to the safety of town and sit down to a coffee and a bagel.

I did it. I rode a horse. And I didn’t die of fright.

So it was more a trail pony ride than any great Clancy of the Overflow sort of thing but if I hadn’t been so grossly unfit to climb a mountain I would never have had to get on the world's most terrifying creature, a horse. See being unfit can pay off.

I said adios’ to El Capitan, he was a good horse, not scary at all but the ride sure was. I think I can happily go back to a life without horses and my fear of them returned the minute I saw one of those giant police horses patrolling the streets.

Even so that is certainly enough extreme activity in one holiday for this old mare.

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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 08:00 Archived in Guatemala Tagged volcano antigua horse_riding Comments (0)

In an Octopus’ Garden

Snorkel, Snorkel

Believe it or not I am not one for adventure sports, and by adventure sports I mean most basic sports and outdoor activities. Those who know me will also know I have no affinity for animals whatsoever. I am scared of dogs and horses and just plain dislike most other animals except turtles and elephants, and I have nothing personal against giraffes.

This fear of animals also extends to the sea. I'm also scared of fish and I won't swim if I can them flippering about underneath me. Well to be fair, scared of marine life in general I’d rather not spend my time with rays, sharks, jellyfish, octopus, ugly big fish, eels and I wouldn’t fancy encountering a whale. I am scared a lobster or a crab could nip my toes. I don’t trust coral, the way it moves so slyly and has monsters hiding in its shadows. Same goes for seaweed. I don’t eat sea life and don't agree with crustacean consumption but while I don’t want the sea environment to be overfished, or whales to be harpooned or dolphins to be taught maths or any other animal rights slash environmental issue as with all animals, I don’t wish them harm, I just would prefer if sea critters kept their distance. Basically I prefer to be on the sand, or rather on a deckchair under a palm tree. A hammock is also possible.

So given all these irrational fears of living creatures and dislike for athleticism in most forms, when the opportunity to go snorkelling in the Caribbean came up, I for some reason, carpe diem, decided I would try my best not to be a big sooky baby and enrolled. I have briefly snorkelled in the shallows along the Great Barrier Reef as a 10-year old but not out at sea. During that brief expedition as I was swimming, or floating really, a ray swam under me and scared the bejesus out of me and from memory, that quickly ended my day snorkelling.

So when I signed up I figured I was in for an adventure. It was bound to be a riot. I was hoping for an unlucky day like a safari, sorry guys no fish, they must be hibernating. Luckily I wasn’t the only person scared of fish, it is quite a common thing it seems.

After I had agreed, short of throwing myself off a moving boat, I couldn’t go back. I found myself sitting on deck and heading to the reef off the coast of Caye Caulker in Belize. I was quietly nauseous with regret at my unwarranted, and frankly unnecessary bravery. The first snorkle stop was an area called Shark Ray Alley, which let’s face it, sounds horrifying to anyone.

I had already decided swimming with sharks and rays was well and truly out of my depth as rays scare the crap out of me and sharks, are, well sharks and I ain’t no fool. If Steve Irwin came off second best to a ray what hope do I have? My travel buddy went in because she is a fearless fool, it was decided beforehand if she was eaten I could have her iPad so I watched on with interest.

Hmmm, I could get the Farmville app and work on my agricultural skills daily…

The rays wobbled around like monsters and I was terrified at the idea of being anywhere near them. The instructor picked one up for people to touch, just casually flipped out its barb stinger to show everyone exactly what could pierce their aorta. I watched on from the boat. I had taken on the role of look out of the boat to make sure it wasn’t hijacked by pirates and had taken to just quoting Finding Nemo regularly to express my underwater knowledge. He then picked up one of the Nurse Sharks and held it up and I touched its belly which I thought was incredibly brave of me. By touched I mean quickly poked for fear if I didn’t participate he would heave in into the boat and let it attack me.

I was adjusting to the idea of being in the water with animals and I had committed to doing the next dive stop. I got my flippers on and my mask and with some trepidation jumped in. By jumped I mean inelegantly toppled overboard. I choked on the snorkel, my mask filled with water, salt water went up my nose and we spend forty minutes doing a big circuit of a reef channel. It was exhausting and claustrophobic. It was like looking at the sea on through a TV screen. I had sharp eyes looking for danger and keeping my distance from most objects, eels, groupers and the creepy non-colourful coral.

With twelve people floating around the surface looking down all you really do is bump in to each other and get flipper slapped in the kisser. I slowly got used to the snorkel and felt less and less like I was going to drown in my own water filled mask and have my remains picked at by Krill. The current was strong and it was an exhaustive flip back to the boat trying to outrun the inevitable foot cramp.
I enjoyed my complimentary fruit break even more this round as I had actually exerted some energy.

There I was snorkelling in the Caribbean. Sure, I was done and was happy to then dry off and flip through the Captain’s local fish book and laugh at fish names like Jewfish, and anal fin. But alas we had another free snorkel session around the reef so off I was again.
By then obviously I was a fusion of Jacques Cousteau and Arial, the Little Mermaid and snorkelled the crap out of the place keeping a safe distance from any underwater life.
So it turns out I didn’t get eaten by a fish. No one was so I also didn’t get an iPad but I do feel like I outdid myself. I went and got a cocktail to celebrate a possible new career move under the sea (as a sea princess). For my next snorkel adventure I would prefer less marine life, less wavey water, less saltiness and more flat bottom water free of vegetation (sea caves for eels and sea monsters). Basically I would prefer to snorkel in a pool.

The whole event spelled disaster for my hair, I looked like a sea wench with hair of sea urchins by the end and had to dedicate a good half an hour to conditioner upon return to land. And we all know how much having to brush my hair is an inconvenience.

It was a good experience. I felt brave like I could maybe face more animal fears, I think as I confidently strut down the shore line, wind in my hair urchins...
"Oh shit a dog, a dog, stay calm, it's probably got rabies, oh god, oh god *hides behind nearest tree/person/object*"

In a few days’ time I have the chance to ride a horse up to a volcano. Would it be too much too soon to conquer two fears in one holiday? I think I’d rather be snapped by a Snapper than go anywhere near an equine.

I do however wonder if anyone looks good in a snorkel? Surely even Angelina Jolie looks like a tool. Food for thought.

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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 18:57 Archived in Belize Tagged fish marine sharks belize underwater snorkel rays caye_caulker Comments (2)

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Road Trip USA

There was a time back in the early noughties when I was slightly obsessed with the occult. Not in a devil worshipping way I just wanted to be a witch. As I wasn’t actually able to cast spells (cough, muggle, cough) I became fascinated with astrology, tarot and considered becoming a Wiccan only it seemed like too much work to have a religion while I was trying juggle high school and getting up early on weekends to tape my video clips from Rage to VHS.

Given the family penchant for all things historical this fascination with witchcraft included a lot of detailed reading as a 15-year old on the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts. I found the whole period fascinating. I then read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and had always wanted to go to this small town north of Boston to see what was left of this early settlement and its witchy inhabitants.

In 1692 nineteen “witches” were hanged and one stoned to death in the small puritan settlement of Salem. The staunchly religious settlers in New England were shaken by some young girls’ sudden flights of uncharacteristic fancy. A Caribbean slave named Tituba had been sharing stories with the girls. They had been captivated and its believed began acting out the stories. Doing normal things that kids do. To the puritans suddenly the girls started acting very peculiar as puritan children were to be seen and not heard so obviously the only explanation to such behaviour was that they were in fact possessed by the devil. It became a big game and before long it was believed witches were at fault possessing the young girls and they started pointing fingers with dire consequences. The hysteria became so widespread people were accusing their neighbours and their foes for monetary gain. At its peak it is believed 150 people were in the tiny dungeons of Salem awaiting trials in a time when the area only housed 200 families. The drama was eventually shut down after the governor’s wife was accused. By then 19 had been hanged in the gallows, more specifically from the branches of a tree and left to rot.

While it was by no means the only instance of witch burnings it became a shameful scar on the history of America. A period of such shame, the nearby towns of Danvers and Peabody changed their names and distanced themselves from the events. Salem on the other hand has wholly embraced their past, their spooky witchy connections and every October is Haunted Happenings, a town wide Halloween festival.

Salem lives for Halloween. In fact many things don’t even bother opening the rest of the year until all the autumn fun. Modern day witches have been drawn to the town by its history and its now openly tolerant acceptance of the supernatural and particularly of modern day Wiccans. You can get your aura photographed, your tarot cards thrown or your palm read. Kitschy museums and specialty shops entertain the tourists as do the haunted houses and anything else spooky they can cash in on, Frankenstein and pirates. You can have a witch photo shoot where you get dressed up and pose in front of witchy backdrops. You can get witch themed everything, a witch hat and matching apron for cooking, jack’o’lantern chocolates, pumpkin ale even hot chocolate that turns orange. You couldn’t live in Salem if you thought Halloween was just another over-commercialised holiday. Samantha Stevens is even cast in bronze and watches over the town from the square.

While the windows are full of ghoulish decorations and pumpkins sit on the doorsteps what gives Salem its real spook factor is of course its wicked history. Were they actually witches hanged for their devilish ways? Had they actually caught real life witches? All sorts of people were accused, particularly poorer people, your everyday cat ladies were a target, anyone who skipped church for a lie in as well as mid-wives who were blamed for still births. There was even a book written by Cotton Mather’s about how to spot a witch. Red hair and freckles were a dead giveaway. A birthmark of any description would have got you in trouble. There was no rhyme or reason. In fact scientists today have even thought that it may have been a bacteria, or a mold on the seasons harvest that may have caused the weird behaviour and hallucinations which were mistaken for being a sign of being possessed.

Hysteria is usually the term thrown around as young girls were testifying in courts that women had made them ride with them on broomsticks and all sorts of nonsense. Sheer fear allowed it to escalate. In the town now a memorial to the victims of the Witch trials sits by a real 17th century cemetery. The real colonial houses associated with the trial are of course haunted as are many other sites around town making it the perfect place to scare the wits out of yourself on night tours.

Salem, like much of New England is at its most beautiful in the autumn, not only for Halloween but traditionally it was the harvest so pumpkins sit on the porches of the houses. Fresh apples are sold by the side of the road, as well as turned in to pies and cider. Corn mazes pop up for some harvest season fun. The leaves are falling and there is a crisp chill in the air of the coming winter.

A few days before our arrival a couple got so lost in the corn maze in Danvers they called the police and there was a big search operation to get the fools out. May I emphasise “corn” maze, the walls are made of stalks of corn. Bendable, push throughable corn. Beside the maze is a pumpkin patch where you can pick your own pumpkin to take home. Fun for the whole family.

The fall season comes alive in Salem. All the trademark Halloween tack, a novel slice of the occult and a splash of historic spook make it a wicked concoction of fun. Plus it is the only place where you can walk the streets in a cape and not get a second glance.
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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 15:55 Archived in USA Tagged fall halloween autumn witches salem pumpkins witch_trials Comments (1)

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