01-30-2014 Day 5 Roatan

Currently we are camped at NAS/JRB, Belle Chasse, LA Temperature: 47 F, and foggy

This is fifth in a series of posts about our NCL cruise on the Norwegian Jewel to the Western Mediterranean. Read about our first day at sea here,  about an evening onboard  here, Cozumel here, and Belize here. Also, keep in mind that the link to the left for my photos on google will take you to many more images of our cruise and the ports we visited

083Thursday morning the sunrise was somewhat muted by the rainclouds and fog hanging low in the sky around the island of Roatan.  Until recently, I had never heard of Roatan, and when we booked this cruise I had to look it up.  I read a bit about the island, the port, and then was delighted when friend Jeanne sent a quick email with pictures of, you guessed it, Roatan. 

Jeanne and her sweetie Alan decided to escape the Vermont winter cold for a week on the north side of the island at a lovely boutique hotel.  Photos were attached, and emails exchanged. 

Jeanne told us which beaches to avoid and gave us the name of their driver, Alex.  A few more emails were exchanged, and by the time we docked in Coxen Hole, on the south side of the island, arrangements had been finalized with Alex.  If anyone is reading this blog and wants information about a personal driver for time in Roatan, drop an email to me and I’ll send his email address and phone number. Alex was a sweetheart and I highly recommend his services.

Once again, the timing was near perfect.  With a rainy day ahead of us, we were really happy that we hadn’t booked any kind of excursion, trapped in a crowded bus with weather too rough for any kind of snorkeling. 

cruise day 6_003As we approached the port along the southern side of Roatan, I was surprised to see jungle covered hills rising above the port. The approach was quite lovely.My first impression of the port at Coxen Hole was much better than the previous day in Belize.  (See that post here). There was plenty of room for busses and taxi’s and the exit area was open and spacious. 

007As we emerged from the only open gate, Alex was waiting for us with a big sign with my name on it.  His car is a nice newer model Toyota SUV with comfy seats and we were his only passengers.  We originally negotiated for a simple ride out to the beach and then a later afternoon pick-up, but with the rainy day, we discussed shifting to a mini tour of the island.  Alec is quite popular it seems, and his English was more than adequate for our day. For $50 US for both of us, Alex took us to a few sights on the south side of the island, before dropping us off at Sandy Beach on the north side.

003Negotiating the narrow, winding roads, Alex drove slowly enough that we could enjoy the views and conversation.  We stopped at a few historical sites, but in the rain everything seemed less than spectacular.  Once at the top of highest hill on the island, the view opened up and through the light rain that was starting we could see the ship in the harbor below. The road only opens when ships are in port.  At this view site are several covered stalls where local people were selling their wares.  We took some photos, and explored the items for sale, finding some very well priced goodies to purchase. (Can’t believe I never got a photo of Alex!)

011Even in the rain, the jungles were lush and beautiful and the ride to the next site was enjoyable.  At the butterfly/flower garden we spent $10. each to enjoy a walking tour of the grounds by Joshua, a 13 year old boy who was very knowledgeable and well spoken. It was a bit of a touristy trappy kind of place, but Joshua made it fun and interesting.

Alex then took us to a more commercial area that was some sort of “official” tourist souvenir site, and we wandered around looking at lovely items for sale, with prices up to three times as much as similar items seen at the stalls on the hilltop.  I was really glad that Alex took us to the hilltop first! After perusing the shop, we settled in for an espresso and hot chocolate while we waited for the rain to abate a bit.  The sudden runoff was thick and brown and flowing in torrents down the rough roads.

050Among the most interesting items made on the mainland in Honduras were carved chests, doors and tables, all worked by hand in Honduran mahogany.  Raw mahogany is no longer exported from the country, but crafted items made from the tropical wood are allowed.  According to our guide, people plant mahogany trees to attempt to replace the old growth mahogany from the rain forests. 

Before lunchtime, we made our way to Sandy Beach and the Blue Bahia Grill, where the open air restaurant was nearly empty.  With an agreement to pick us up at 2, Alex left us to have lunch, wander the beach, and possibly go for a snorkel.  By then the rain was coming down in torrents, so we were especially happy to have a nice place to relax  and enjoy the view through the plastic curtains that kept us dry.

059Jeanne had warned us that West Bay and many of the larger beaches are thick with cruisers, and Alec agreed that we might enjoy the little Sandy Bay area.  There were no shops, but there was our restaurant, and the attached hotel that was evidently a popular diver’s hotel, with a dive company in the courtyard. 

Lunch was fantastic, where I tried the smoked beef brisket sandwich Jeanne recommended and Mo had a BLT that was huge and delicious.  The rain let up a bit and we decided to walk the beach, sadly carrying along our useless snorkel gear.  The water was just too rough to attempt any kind of swimming or snorkeling, even if it stopped raining.  Not a snorkel day. 

086Just down the beach from the restaurant was the hotel where Jeanne and Alan were staying a few days prior.  We walked up from the beach to check it out, and there wasn’t a soul in sight. 

The owners were nowhere to be found, but all the doors were wide open, with the front desk computer open and running, jewelry sitting on a side table for sale, the restaurant closed but cash registers all exposed, and unoccupied rooms open for viewing. 

The small infinity pool was gorgeous, and we sat in the lobby enjoying the view for awhile before we found a brochure to read about the hotel.  Prices were notably absent, but the descriptions of the amenities were glowing, and from what we could see, were not the least bit exaggerated.  Might be more than we would ever spend, but it surely would be a great place for a luxury vacation on Roatan.

057Wandering back to the beach, the rain started in earnest and we asked our waitress at the Grill if we could wait inside for our driver.  She said, “Sure!” and we settled into a table to watch the rain, share some conversation with her, and wait for Alec.  Showing up just 15 minutes late, Alec was all apologies for a delayed flight for his previous passengers, and trundled us back to the ship in plenty of time for us to relax a bit before sailing.

The cruise port area is pleasant enough, but there was nothing for sale there to compare with our perfect previous purchases, so within a few minutes we went back to the ship and our waiting comfy stateroom with a view of the island.  The port side was a good choice for this particular cruise, where we had good views of both Cozumel, Roatan, and Costa Maya, morning sunrises for most of the cruise, and sunset on our last day returning northward.

cruise day 6_006A light supper salad sustained us for our evening meal since we knew that the late evening entertainment included a Chocolate Buffet.  We ambled up to the Garden Café a few minutes early and were surprised to find a huge line of folks waiting for the doors to open.  It was a perfect example of why people often say they can’t imagine going on a cruise.  There were soooo many people!!!  And all jammed up and lots of noise and all that chocolate.cruise day 6_021

The buffet was just OK, with a few ice sculptures, a little bit of chocolate carving here and there, and did I mention the people?  I tried a couple of desserts, but they were also just ok, and Mo settled for a cup of good coffee while we watched all the activity around us. 

cruise day 6_025There was more entertainment throughout the evening, but we passed on all of it and went back to the quiet and peace of our stateroom.  Even with my ability to temporarily ignore crowd phobia, I was ready to get back home and away from all the raucous stuff.cruise day 6_009

01-28-2014 Day 3 Cozumel, Mexico

Currently we are in Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Belle Chasse, LA Temperature: 45 F, cloudy and windy  This is third in a series of posts about our NCL cruise on the Norwegian Jewel to the Western Mediterranean. Read about our first day at sea here, and about our evening  here.

turquoise water here is breathtakingCaptureMo and I have cruised the Eastern Caribbean, and I did the Southern Caribbean with daughter Deb in 2011.  For some reason we had no burning desire to cruise the Western Caribbean, but when searching for something to do from a port on our RV route this winter, this NCL cruise was our best choice.  I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again, especially to Cozumel.  The water was gorgeous breathtaking turquoise and crystal clear on the northern somewhat rocky side of the island where we docked, and I have seen photos of the quieter south side beaches. 

cruise day 3_021Having never been in this part of Mexico, we decided to simply walk the town, and see what we could see on our own.  We heard later that some folks actually snorkeled near the port, but we will save that adventure for another time.  In fact, after spending a day on the island, we decided that a nice little funky hotel on the south side beaches would be a great place to spend a couple of weeks in winter, minus the cruise ship. 

cruise day 3_020We have a Rocky Point friend who does that for a few weeks every winter, and now we get it.  Of course, Roatan is also a possibility for a winter getaway for us, but more about that later. There are three cruise docks on Cozumel, and we weren’t sure of our specific landing site.  When it was announced that the landing was to be at the Punta Langosta Terminal, right in the center of San Miguel, we were delighted.  The International Pier is more than 6 miles from town and would have required a taxi ride to get away from the cruise shops that are always crowded around the docking site.

cruise day 3_026It seems that walking is the best way to get a feeling for a location, and we set off early toward the central town Plaza and the artisan shops that are just south of the main square.  The square was quiet in the early morning, and there seemed to be extensive refurbishing in process.  With a bit of searching, we found the upstairs visitor center for a local map and information.

Especially enjoyable was the long walk along the beach promenade.  In the process of being refurbished, the views of the sea were gorgeous.  On the land side of the main road, the walkways were thronged with cruisers shopping and walking, but where we walked, we nearly had the walkway to ourselves.  Crossing the street requires vigilance, however, since scooters and mopeds are in abundance and come up fast.

cruise day 3_043By 11 the plaza and restaurants were getting even more crowded, so we located the Palmeras Restaurant on the square and settled in for the recommended margueritas.  Well, margueritas for me and wine for Mo.  Only after she tasted her wine did Mo remember that when in Mexico, drink beer, not wine! I later read that I should have checked for purified ice, but I neglected to do that and it didn’t even occur to me to worry about it.  Many years ago I did the same thing in Puerto Vallarta and was incredibly sick for a few days.  How could I forget?! No problem here at all, however. Lunch was excellent, with a shared plate of chicken tacos that were perfect for the two of us. 

cruise day 3_046After our leisurely lunch, we wandered into some of the back streets and bought a few little trinkets for folks back home.  The shopkeepers are quite aggressive, entreating you to come into their stores, with the most common phrase being, “Almost free!”

Funny how you can ignore most of them, but then for some reason a particular person will strike you just the right way and in you go.  We found that shop and that person for our simple purchases and it was a pleasant experience.  In fact, too pleasant!  After my marguerita I was feeling pretty happy, and after my purchase the shopkeeper offered me a taste of some kind of tequila.  I had a shot, with no idea what kind it was and it went down as smooth as butter.  Oh my. It was yummy…no salt or lemon required…and I got a lot happier.

cruise day 3_033The weather was absolutely perfect, gorgeous blue skies, crystal clear water, fresh air, it couldn’t be better.  As often is the case, the little taste of a place that a cruise ship offers is only the beginning.  However it does give enough of a taste that it is easier to determine if the area might be a place to return.  Lahaina, Maui comes to mind.  Until we dropped in one day on a cruise last year, we had no idea it might be someplace we would choose to experience in more depth.01-28-2013 Cruise Day 3

We returned to the ship in late afternoon, with some time to enjoy a poolside lounge and great reggae music from the band that sings mostly in Spanish.  Love the sound of that language in music. 

Sailaway was beautiful and I took way too many photos of the sunset before we ambled back to the Garden Café for a delicious dinner from the buffet.cruise day 3_035_01

Again, all the salads are fresh and tasty, with the choices from the Indian menu and the fresh made stir fry always excellent.  Many times there are Thai choices as well, with a tasty Thai roasted chicken and Thai noodles high on my list of favorites.

MBZ said something to me recently about cruising Norwegian that sums up the experience perfectly.  It isn’t Celebrity and doesn’t try to be.  There were so many positives that outweighed the very few negatives, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go on this cruise again for a simple getaway. 

cruise day 3_009POSITIVES:

  • The food was great, with plenty of choices and kinds of dining available
  • The crew was friendly and pleasant, and we especially enjoyed the diversity of the staff, from 60 different countries.
  • The ship was easy to navigate, big enough to be entertaining, but not so big we got lost all the time.
  • The entertainment was excellent and most of the time something was going on somewhere that was interesting.
  • There was enough time in the ports to actually enjoy them and we only had to be tendered to shore once during the cruise.
  • Embarkation and Disembarkation was slick and quick.
  • The ship wasn’t glitzy but it was clean and in good repair.  Launched in 2005 as one of the older ships, it was refurbished in 2009.
  • The bed was great.
  • We weren’t constantly harassed to buy alcohol
  • “washy washy”  I guess you had to be there to appreciate the singing, dancing staff dispensing antiseptic hand wash
  • Freestyle cruising a positive for us since we are often spontaneous with our decisions and can’t get back in time for a formal scheduled dinner
  • We enjoyed the lack of formality in the regular dining rooms
  • Our steward made great animals! 

NEGATIVES:

  • We missed the navigation channel on the TV which was out of order for the entire cruise
  • The daily activities sheet was very limited, had no port history, and very little information about the area we were visiting
  • There were no informational kinds of lectures on board during the cruise
  • The ship décor was kind of kitschy.
  • The patio and deck service was often very limited.
  • The food wasn’t high end gourmet cruise food (not necessarily a negative thing).
  • Regular dining room service was a bit sketchy and rushed at times.
  • Freestyle cruising – a negative if you enjoy the formal dining room meals and service of a regular dinner seating
  • Our steward was adequate, not great, he didn’t always refill our ice bucket and the mirrors were sometimes streaky

01-27 2014 Evening on the Norwegian Jewel

This is the second in a series of catch-up posts about our Western Caribbean Cruise.  If you missed the first one, find it here.

sunset from the deck on our way to dinnerWe decided that after a full day at sea, a special dinner might be in order. 

We chose the Moderna Churrascaria, a traditional Brazilian Steakhouse complete with the extensive vegetable and salad bar that characterizes Brazilian style steakhouses. These restaurants seem to be all the rage, but they are not inexpensive in the “real” world.  What better way to give it a try than a $20 cover charge, per person, complete with gorgeous ocean view and no waiting lines.

There is no such thing as “formal night” on this kind of Freestyle cruising for which Norwegian Cruise Lines is famous.  I think they were one of the first lines to promote this less formal style.

01-27-2014 Cruise Day 2There are many venues to choose from, and if you don’t wish to wait, it is a good idea to make a reservation for dinner at your chosen venue.  Throughout the ship, and on your stateroom television, are electronic reader boards, much like those seen in an airport, which lists seating times for each restaurant and how quickly those seating times are filling.

With our reservation at Moderna early in the evening, we had time to catch a quick shot of the setting sun before we were seated at our window table.  Our waiter explained the process to us, encouraging us to help ourselves to the extensive salad bar, and then showing us the “green” and “red” side of our little table cards.  These are used to say “Stop” or “Go” for the serving of the spit grilled carved meats that will continue to arrive until you are filled.

This salad bar is nothing like an everyday salad bar, and even makes the extensive choices at some of the best salad buffets seem limited.  My favorite was a succulent celery and pear salad with candied walnuts, a lovely hearts of palm salad, a piquant tomato, fresh feta, cucumber and onion salad, the fresh and delightful cheviche…oh….I said my favorite??  No way could I decide. 

01-27-2014 Cruise Day 21We had a nice glass of Zen of Zin Old Vine Zinfandel, a favorite from Lodi, California, and robust enough to handle the ten varieties of carved meats that were to follow.  In addition to the meats carved at the table by the passadores (meat waiters), we were served little Brazilian cheese breads, excellent red beans and onions with peppers, mashed potatoes, rice, and deep fried plantains. After dinner, instead of a palate cleansing sorbet, we were served grilled fresh pineapple. Our dessert, served with excellent coffee, was a traditional flan, a silky papaya crème, and a coconut bread pudding.01-27-2014 Cruise Day 22

It was a delightful meal, and we enjoyed every minute of it .  Although there is no formal night, this first night at sea was designated, “Norwegian’s Night Out” and passengers were encouraged to dress up as much as they wanted.  I like to dress in something flowing, but it was great to wear sandals and a sweater with my silky sundress without feeling the least bit underdressed.  Some of our dining neighbors were in typical cruise sparkles, and others were wearing shorts.  I thought the idea of shorts in the nice restaurant was a bit tacky, but they were treated every bit as nicely as we were.

around the shipAfter dinner we wandered toward the casino, spending a bit of change at a couple of the flashy, noisy machines and ended up with the same amount with which we started.  Too bad that little bit of luck didn’t last through the next couple of nights, but for twenty bucks, it was cheap entertainment.

The evening show was a comedian who actually made both of us laugh out loud.  My cheeks hurt from laughing when it was over.  His humor was the best kind, based on simple observations of the humans around us.  It is the kind of humor that strikes a chord in most everyone.  It seems as though the older I get, the more it takes to get me to laugh like that.  Sure does feel good!cruise day 2_023

When we returned to our room, our steward had it all turned down and ready, complete with towel animals.  I think the towel animals are fading from cruise memory, so it was surprising to find them here on the Jewel.  Maybe a silly thing, but it does remind us that we are actually on a cruise.  The seas have been so calm and beautiful that there has been very little movement at all.  After my last experience crossing the incredibly rough Pacific Ocean to Hawaii, I was afraid I might not be able to cruise ever again.  A bit like getting back on the horse after a fall, and so far the horse has been just fine.

 

1-14 to 1-19-2014 Coastal Corpus Christi

the beach on north Padre IslandWe discovered almost as soon as we parked in the NAS at Corpus Christi, that our short time here would only be enough to barely get a taste of all this area has to offer.  Especially in winter, the south Texas coast draws many snowbirds from all over the country ready to experience the delights of a warm seacoast location for an extended stay. 

For years, Mo had read about the draw to the South Texas Coast for retirees and wanted to see the area.  Port Isabel, South Padre Island, and Brownsville destinations were originally on the list of places for us to go on this trip.  Initially we actually planned to drive south for a long day trip to explore from our NAS location, but discovered that the trip to South Padre Island required a 400 mile round trip inland and back out to the southern end of the island which is no longer connected in any way to the northern end.

Visiting the National Seashore was much higher on our list than checking out giant high rise condos on South Padre Island, and it didn’t take many internet searches for us to make that decision.  Instead, we stayed fairly close to our campground, taking each day to explore a different part of greater Corpus Christi.

The NAS is at point A on the google map, and other sites often required a bit of backtracking.  We actually got pretty good at figuring out how to get in and out of the base and onto the network of one way roads that parallel the main freeway that crosses from Corpus Christi Bay to Padre Island.

On our first full day here, we decided to just try to get our bearings, do some driving, and attempt to understand a part of the world that was completely new to us.  Driving….west? east??  (this place is still a directional challenge for me) oh yes…It was east and then north….we crossed the Laguna Madre, a large brackish water lagoon that extends the full length of Padre Island, the longest natural barrier island in the world, and lies between the island Captureand the mainland.

driving on the beach on north Padre IslandThese barrier islands are incredibly important on coastlines that are susceptible to hurricanes, stopping the major surge of water before it inundates the mainland with its full force.  Mustang Island is north of Padre Island, an additional island in the chain of many such barrier islands.  Mustang Island is home to a state park, some official paddling trails on the bay side, and a long, level open beach for strolling.  The beach is also for driving, a new concept to me except for a moment in Daytona Beach.

Here the beach drive makes sense.  The Gulf water is the mother of all, and tire tracks along the beach are obliterated with each movement of the water.  There are access roads from the main island highway that enter the beach between the dunes at several intervals.  4 wheel drive isn’t required, but there are warnings about getting stuck in the sand, and we did see a few stuck cars.

Padre Island and_074What was surprising, though, was how open and empty the beach seemed, even with the option of driving.  Cars and people were few and far between, punctuated rarely by a motorhome, and pickups with huge fishing poles mounted on their bumpers.  I think fishing is the big draw in this part of this area.  I had no idea what a sheepshead was but daughter Deborah caught one on this very beach. That is one scary looking ugly fish!  those teeth!!

Padre Island and_067We drove the beach slowly, enjoying the gentle surf and birds, and then continued into Port Aransas to find the free ferry that crosses the bay in just a few minutes to Aransas Pass.  It is amazing how efficiently the workers manage the load, and when we left town on Monday morning, they managed our motorhome and toad with as much ease as they had managed our previous trips with just the baby car.

I had heard from Erin that there were “whoopers” just outside Goose Island State Park, and armed with well written directions, we drove north through Fulton Beach, across the bridge and out beyond the state park to try to find the birds.  At the time, I kept getting comments saying, “don’t miss the whoopers!”, so I figured I had better make the effort.  After we found the pair, resting in a small draw on a large field of private land, I did some searching and discovered that I had a very fuzzy image of 2 of only 457 birds that are known to exist.  Well.  Alright then!.  Being on private land, we were not able to walk close, and my lens just couldn’t quite get there.  But with the rarity of these birds, I feel pretty lucky to have any photo at all.Padre Island and_150

We were just a short distance from the famous “Big Tree”, a live oak that is more than 1,000 years old.  Folks have spent a huge amount of time and energy taking care of this tree.  I can imagine Sherry trying to hug it, but she couldn’t get close enough with the protective fences.  The stories of the hurricanes and development that this beautiful old tree has survived are uncountable.Padre Island and_127

Ambling back through Fulton Beach, we found a moderately recommended restaurant on the water for lunch.  Alice Faye’s had not a sign of “fish and chips” on the menu, the main reason Mo and I were searching for a restaurant.  Padre Island and_122Coastal locations set the mouth to watering for some real fish and chips.  Instead, once again, we found lots of shrimp and oysters, and the catch of the day, fried or naked, was pollack, and was a bit pricey for a spontaneous lunch. Instead, I had some shrimp which was OK and Mo had a French dip which was actually pretty fantastic.

We were home early enough in the afternoon on that day that I could take full advantage of the free washers and dryers at the campground to once again freshen up all the rugs and blankets and anything else that might have a trace of kitty hair on it.  Loved that most of all about that campground, I can tell you!Corpus Christi_014

On another day we opted to go downtown to check out the city of Corpus Christi.  There are some quirkie things about this city that are a bit hard to figure out.  Some areas are truly gorgeous, and the seawall and beautiful kiosks provide wonderful photo ops with all the reflections.  Corpus Christi_012

The Art Museum and Science Museum are at the end of the Ocean Drive, and the area seems a bit deserted, especially on a Saturday. Corpus Christi_025

It is worth seeking out the beautiful Watergarden falls on the grounds of the museum. The approach to the waterfall is a rippling stream with stone square blocks that create a small rapid.  The sound is gentle and lovely.  There is nothing quite like the roar of the falls down the steps within the circle of the cascading water.  It is as wild and loud as many waterfalls I have experienced. The artist understood sound as a work of art as well as vision.

In that same area were large expanses that appeared to be devastated by a hurricane and nothing had been rebuilt.  Felt a bit strange. The large bridge in the photo above is the Harbor Bridge that crosses Corpus Christi Bay northeast to Portland, Texas.01-18-2014 Corpus Christi

Looking up the history, the only really big hurricane was in 1919 and the areas we were seeing were all warehouse districts at that time.  In the same vicinity is Heritage Park, a delightful project of 9 beautiful huge homes, relocated from various parts of the city to this little neighborhood.  The craziest thing we saw was the old Nueces County Courthouse, built in 1914, with some pretty amazing historical moments in its past.  Abandoned in 1977, the huge and beautiful building sits empty and rotting behind a chain link fence right near the downtown part of the city.

the Nueces coutrhouse was abandoned in 1977 built in 1914Best part of the day for us was a visit to the Railroad Seafood Station and Brewery downtown on Chaparral. The atmosphere was typical brewery, once an old warehouse, with lots of open industrial stuff on the ceiling, dark colors and wooden tables and booths.  I tried one of their current brews, a blond something that was pretty hoppy, but just as our wonderful waiter told me, after three sips it was perfect.  The menu was fabulous, but of course, no fish and chips.  Mo opted instead for some kind of specialty onion rings, with a bit of sweetness and homemade tartar sauce with very finely chopped veggies.

something extra tasty about these onion rings and spicy tartar sauceI opted for the the specialty coconut shrimp and the two sides of veggies and potatoes I chose with a homemade sweet chili sauce were what Sean, our waiter, called the Holy Trinity of food in that restaurant.  He wasn’t exaggerating.  Those little red potatoes were buttery smooth, with edges crisped and roasted with perfectly caramelized onions.  The fresh veggies were tender crisp and only lightly seasoned with herbs and lemon.  The home made chili sauce was the perfect hotness for the best coconut shrimp ever to pass my lips. Remember, I ate coconut shrimp a few years ago in Key West!.  I ended the meal with Sean’s own homemade key lime pie.  Sean and I exchanged email addresses and he wants me to write to him when I get to Key West to let him know if their pie is any better than his.

tender roasted potatoes with caramelized onions, sweet chili sauce for the coconut shrimp and delicate tender crisp veggies in a lemony light sauceYes, it was perfect.  Soft yellow as key lime should be, with a crust thin enough that it didn’t overpower the pie, and without that fake cheesecake taste and texture you now get in some key lime pie recipes from various locations.  Yes, it was a meal to remember, and it was a good thing I didn’t completely wear out my swooning abilities because our meal with Erin and Mui was the very next day!

If you click on my google photos link on the left side of the blog, there are a ton of photos there if you are interested.

Next up: Padre Island National Seashore and a morning kayak at Shamrock Cove

Internet Magic

Currently in Lake Charles, LA sunny and 53 F with a very light breeze

Mustang cove day_062Our time at the NAS Shields Campground between Corpus Christi and North Padre Island was idyllic, and yet it seemed to fly by much more quickly than I ever imagined it would.  Except for the winds, our weather was perfect for exploring in a light jacket, and sadly for the drought-stricken Texas coast, we had no rain.  Sometimes a cloud cover would pop up, just enough for making photos interesting, but never a drop did fall.  At other times, we were shrouded in foggy mornings, but while we were there, the fog always seemed to lift just in time to give us views of whatever vista we had chosen for the day.

When I planned this trip, I had no clue what the weather might be, because as all Coastal Texans know, it is wildly unpredictable.  I also didn’t know whether we would even like the area enough to want to spend more time here, or if we would be disappointed that our reservation didn’t run out sooner.  I guess that is one of the delights of travel to new places.  Wait and See.

silty beach with lots of shells on the Corpus Christi Bay at NASNone of it mattered, however, because I would have come to this area no matter what on my trip east for other reasons.  Daughter Deborah lived near enough when she was in Texas that she fished for sheephead and even caught a Manta Ray on the beach at Port Aransas.  She wanted me to see it.  But the biggest draw for me was a meeting with a friend that I had looked forward to ever since I knew that we would be in the same area at the same time.

I archive email messages that I receive from fellow bloggers, and gmail just informed me this morning that I have 269 messages from EE.  The first one was back in November of 2011, when I had been reading her blog and admiring her wonderful static maps that always work.  Erin wrote back to me with detailed information about how to do it, and that began an online friendship that included comments of each other’s blogs, and private emails over the years.

Mustang cove day_043Since Erin and Mui travel so much of the world, I treasure her writing and photography.  She goes places I dream of and may never manage.  Erin’s info guided Mo and I during several legs of our trip to Alaska and through some of Alberta, and I pay attention to the parks where they have stayed since full-timing.  I won’t repeat the stories, but they are a great example of a couple who planned to go full time, planned it carefully and carried out the plans. 

Yes, we clicked.  Somehow that just happens.  But it wasn’t just Erin that I clicked with, it was Erin and Mui as a couple that I so respected.  Erin is the blogger and photographer, and Mui is the video king, fixit king, and cooking king superb.  In their blog I saw that the two of them are a couple, not linked totally at the hip, but in a solid union of like-minded best friends.  Through emails and comments, I learned that they were bright people, without being the least bit pretentious, and that they had a great sense of humor and an artistic eye. 

How do we do thisMo and I spent time both on Mustang Island, on the Padre Island National Seashore, and in downtown Corpus Christi while we were here, but before I write about those adventures, I wanted to share a bit about our visits with this truly delightful couple I was lucky enough to find through the magic of the internet.

We gave ourselves a day to get our bearings around the area before our planned lunch get together on Thursday the 16th.  Thinking originally that we might kayak before lunch, the wind completely nixed those plans and I actually had enough time to write and catch up on bills and such before we drove the short distance back toward the city to an area along Highway 358 that has several big restaurants and box stores.  Even though there are good chain restaurants nearby that we enjoy, we decided instead to go for the true Texas thing and met at Rudy’s BBQ.

Texas BBQ a new experienceYes, it was the real Texas BBQ experience, the one my daughter talks about with nostalgia.  We got there a bit early and had a few moments to try to get our bearings and figure out just how to manage a meal in this big barn like place with lots of people running around and no one paying a bit of attention to a couple of Yankees with wide eyes.

Erin and Mui showed up almost right away and the four of us negotiated the ordering counter and the big iced bin of adult beverages.  We paid for our BBQ by the pound, with individual side dishes, and carried it all back to the table in what looked like a square laundry basket.  Plates were large torn off sheets of butcher paper.

carry your food in a deep tray because there is a lot of it and its goodThe bbq was fall off the bone fabulous, but the meeting with new friends was even more so.  It is just so wonderful to have a real conversation with people who talk enough to be entertaining, who bring in fascinating subjects, and then ask real questions and actually wait for you to answer those questions with interest.  My kind of conversation!  I just hope I can do it as well as Mui and Erin.

Even before we met for lunch, the two of them had already invited Mo and I to their home the following Sunday for hamburgers.  I guess Erin was optimistic that our meeting would go well and there would be no surprises.  We parted after a reasonable time for a first visit, looking forward to the next time.  Erin and Mui are great friends for us in many ways, especially since we have similar styles in the “togetherness” thing.  We love a good time together, and then we each appreciate time to do our own thing.  That works perfectly for people like us.

Mustang cove day_046On Sunday, after our morning kayak on the bayside of Mustang Island, we were very excited to go to Gulf Waters Resort where Erin and Mui are staying.  By then, I knew that “hamburgers” had morphed into a full fledged Turkish meal, with all the fixin’s and yes…all those great little bowls of veggies that go with any good Turkish meal.

Their home is as beautiful as they are, and Mui’s cooking skills were beyond description. Mui started our afternoon meal with homemade hummus, drizzled with a couple of kinds of olive oil and pita crackers.  I think he mentioned that his Turkish mother said something about, “Did you peel the garbanzos”?  You have to be kidding me!  and no, he didn’t peel the garbanzos, but the hummus was the best I ever tasted.

Mustang cove day_054It was coolish and breezy outside, so we were invited indoors to a beautifully set table and Mui poured a great bottle of red something or other that was perfect. While we ate, Mui talked about meals in Turkey, where eating goes on for hours, with many courses offered one at a time and often lasting until midnight.  Erin told stories of their life and we talked about so many interesting subjects, not one of which had to do with politics, religion, other bloggers, or grandchildren.  Such wonderful conversation.  And yet I didn’t feel as though I had to be “smart” or “witty” or say the right things.  How many times do you really get real conversations like that in your life from new friends?!

cacık (cold cucumber soup with cucumbersThe meal was just so incredible, and I spent as much time swooning and ooh-ing and aah-ing as I did actually eating, but still managed to have seconds of everything except dessert.  Mui bbq’d perfect little Turkish meatballs, flattened a bit, that tasted rich and just a tiny bit like falafel.  We had köfte (meatballs) and domatesli pilav (rice made with tomatoes), cacık (cold cucumber soup with yogurt, piyaz (white bean salad), and zeytinyağlı taze fasulye (green beans cooked in olive oil). All but the soup was served at room temperature in the traditional Turkish style.  Mui explained that this tradition accounts for the very long time spent actually eating the meal.  Keeping food hot would be impossible.

köfte (meatballs) and domatesli pilav (rice made with tomatoes), cacık (cold cucumber soup with cucumbers, piyaz (white bean salad), and zeytinyağlı taze fasulye (green beans cooked in olive oil).After our extended afternoon meal, Erin, Mo and I opted for a long walk on the beach, just across the dunes from their beautiful site in the park.  The sand was the perfect texture for long easy walking, and waves were gentle and musical, the skies were clear with just that little bit of mistiness that seems to hang around these beaches.  Have I mentioned the conversation?  I noticed the sun beginning to descend to the horizon before I realized just how far we had walked and we all decided to turn back.

We had a wonderful time during our stay in this lovely part of Texas, but this meeting and yes, this meal, were the highlight.  Somehow Erin was exactly the person as I knew her to be.  Isn’t it amazing how that can happen?  Yes, the internet can be incredibly magical.  In another life and another time I would have certainly missed out on these delightful friends.  Mustang cove day_072Mustang cove day_070

Next: Visiting Padre Island National Seashore and Aransas Pass